January 31, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 PM


A Graceful Guide to Vietnamese History and Cuisine (Warren Johnston, 1/31/07, Valley News)

In 1975, just days before the North Vietnamese Army swept into the city, 6-year-old Andrea Nguyen and her family escaped from Saigon to a new life in California.

Along with than a change of clothes and few other things, one of the most valuable possessions the family took was her mother's small recipe notebook. That little orange book and her parents' passion for the distinctive Vietnamese cuisine molded Nguyen's life and became the essential link to the family's rich heritage and cultural past.

When she decided to write a cookbook, her mother gave her the orange notebook, which became the basis of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which was published in December.

"So, consider this book a new, expanded version of that notebook. I present it to you from the heart and soul of our family kitchen," Nguyen writes in the introduction.

The book is a lesson in the history of a proud country and a doorway into the culture of Vietnam, where the food reflects centuries of influence from foreign occupation and strife, as well as the ingenuity and creativity of the people who live in the beleaguered nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 PM


Forget constitution or we veto all plans, Britain tells the EU (Philip Webster, 2/01/07, Times of London)

Britain will refuse to sign up to minor changes in the running of the European Union unless it secures a pledge that there will be no revival of the European constitution, The Times has learnt.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have agreed that the Government should take a tough line to avoid the constitution dominating British politics for the two years leading up to the next election.

As we watch Baghdadistan struggle it's all too easy to forget how quickly political situations change. Recall just how recently the EU was thought to be inevitable, but now it's not only the continental states but the party of the British Left that are dispatching it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


An intelligent approach to intelligent design (Michael Balter, January 31, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Given the theory of evolution's monopoly in the classroom, one might think that it has gained a steady stream of converts over the years. But a recent poll taken for the BBC found that the British public was split on the issue: Only 48 percent of respondents thought evolution best explained the development of life on earth, while 22 percent chose creationism, 17 percent intelligent design, and the rest said they did not know.

As depressing as those figures might be to scientists, they are pretty good compared to the results of similar surveys in the United States. A Gallup poll in November 2004 found that only 13 percent of respondents thought that God had no part in the evolution or creation of human beings, while 45 percent said they believed that God had created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so.

To be sure, this chronic skepticism about evolutionary theory reflects the continuing strong influence of religion. Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life's complexity.

Could it be that the theory of evolution's monopoly in the classroom has backfired?

With all due regard to Mr. Balter, you have to laugh at the notion that religion is the only basis for continuing skepticism about Darwinism. Heck, catch them with their guard down and even the most vocal of the adherents don't really believe natural selection suffices.

And, of course, the honest ones are beyong redemption, Why Do We Invoke Darwin?: Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology (Philip S. Skell, 8/29/05, The Scientist)

Darwin's theory of evolution offers a sweeping explanation of the history of life, from the earliest microscopic organisms billions of years ago to all the plants and animals around us today. Much of the evidence that might have established the theory on an unshakable empirical foundation, however, remains lost in the distant past. For instance, Darwin hoped we would discover transitional precursors to the animal forms that appear abruptly in the Cambrian strata. Since then we have found many ancient fossils - even exquisitely preserved soft-bodied creatures - but none are credible ancestors to the Cambrian animals.

Despite this and other difficulties, the modern form of Darwin's theory has been raised to its present high status because it's said to be the cornerstone of modern experimental biology. But is that correct? "While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that 'nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,' most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas," A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays, wrote in 2000. "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one." [...]

Darwinian evolution - whatever its other virtues - does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology. This becomes especially clear when we compare it with a heuristic framework such as the atomic model, which opens up structural chemistry and leads to advances in the synthesis of a multitude of new molecules of practical benefit. None of this demonstrates that Darwinism is false. It does, however, mean that the claim that it is the cornerstone of modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from a growing number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs.

-The Evolution of Ernst: Interview with Ernst Mayr: The preeminent biologist, who just turned 100, reflects on his prolific career and the history, philosophy and future of his field On July 5, renowned evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr celebrated his 100th birthday. He also recently finished writing his 25th book, What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline [Cambridge University Press, in press]. A symposium in Mayr's honor was held at Harvard University on May 10. Scientific American editor and columnist Steve Mirsky attended the symposium and wrote about it for the upcoming August issue. On May 15, Mirsky, Brazilian journalist Claudio Angelo and Angelo's colleague Marcelo Leite visited Mayr at his apartment in Bedford, Mass. (Scientific American, 7/06/04)
Claudio Angelo: What is the book about?

Ernst Mayr: What the book is about. (Laughs.) Primarily to show, and you will think that this doesn't need showing, but lots of people would disagree with you. To show that biology is an autonomous science and should not be mixed up with physics. That's my message. And I show it in about 12 chapters. And, as another fact, when people ask me what is really your field, and 50 years or 60 years ago, without hesitation I would have said I'm an ornithologist. Forty years ago I would have said, I'm an evolutionist. And a little later I would still say I'm an evolutionist, but I would also say I'm an historian of biology. And the last 20 years, I love to answer, I'm a philosopher of biology. And, as a matter of fact, and that is perhaps something I can brag about, I have gotten honorary degrees for my work in ornithology from two universities, in evolution, in systematics, in history of biology and in philosophy of biology. Two honorary degrees from philosophy departments.

Steve Mirsky: And the philosophical basis for physics versus biology is what you examine in the book?

EM: I show first in the first chapter and in some chapters that follow later on, I show that biology is as serious, honest, legitimate a science as the physical sciences. All the occult stuff that used to be mixed in with philosophy of biology, like vitalism and teleology-Kant after all, when he wanted to describe biology, he put it all on teleology, just to give an example-all this sort of funny business I show is out. Biology has exactly the same hard-nosed basis as the physical sciences, consisting of the natural laws. The natural laws apply to biology just as much as they do to the physical sciences. But the people who compare the two, or who, like some philosophers, put in biology with physical sciences, they leave out a lot of things. And the minute you include those, you can see clearly that biology is not the same sort of thing as the physical sciences. And I cannot give a long lecture now on that subject, that's what the book is for.

I'll give you an example. In principle, biology differs from the physical sciences in that in the physical sciences, all theories, I don't know exceptions so I think it's probably a safe statement, all theories are based somehow or other on natural laws. In biology, as several other people have shown, and I totally agree with them, there are no natural laws in biology corresponding to the natural laws of the physical sciences.

Now then you can say, how can you have theories in biology if you don't have laws on which to base them? Well, in biology your theories are based on something else. They're based on concepts. Like the concept of natural selection forms the basis of, practically the most important basis of, evolutionary biology. You go to ecology and you get concepts like competition or resources, ecology is just full of concepts. And those concepts are the basis of all the theories in ecology. Not the physical laws, they're not the basis. They are of course ultimately the basis, but not directly, of ecology. And so on and so forth. And so that's what I do in this book. I show that the theoretical basis, you might call it, or I prefer to call it the philosophy of biology, has a totally different basis than the theories of physics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Chirac tells U.S. to join climate protocol or face taxes (Katrin Bennhold, January 31, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

[I]n an interview, Chirac warned that if Washington did not join a global climate accord, a Europewide carbon tax on imports from nations that have not signed the Kyoto Protocol could be imposed to try to force U.S. compliance. The European Union is the largest export market for U.S. goods.

"A carbon tax is inevitable," Chirac said. "If it is European, and I believe it will be European, then it will all the same have a certain influence because it means that all the countries that do not accept the minimum obligations will be obliged to pay."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM

LAND OF MAKE-BELIEVE NOT (via Kevin Whited):

Welcome to Palestine (Caroline Glick, 1/31/07, Real Clear Politics)

In the world of international diplomacy few issues receive more wall-to-wall support than the notion that it is essential to establish a Palestinian state. Leaders worldwide are so busy speaking of how essential it is for a State of Palestine to be founded that none of them seems to have noticed that it already exists.

This state was officially founded in the summer of 2005, when Israel removed its military forces and civilian population from the Gaza Strip and so established the first wholly independent Palestinian state in history. Israel's destruction of four Israeli communities in Northern Samaria and curtailment of its military operations in the area set the conditions for statehood in that area as well.

And so it is that as statesmen and activists worldwide loudly proclaim their commitment to establishing the sovereign State of Palestine, they miss the fact that Palestine exists.

Having recognized that rather obvious fact, consider what a gratuitous and counter-productive affront it is to maintain the political fiction that it isn't a state yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


A Health-Care Bargain (DAVID GRATZER, January 31, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Three years ago this month, insurance companies began offering Americans a new type of medical coverage: health savings accounts, which marry low-cost, high-deductible health insurance policies with pre-tax accounts to pay for day-to-day health care. But the anniversary is muted. A slew of reports have been critical, dismissing consumer-driven health care as unpopular and harmful; and with the Democrats in control of Congress, Washington's enthusiasm for the concept has cooled. Nevertheless, the Republicans should take credit where due. The White House ought to build on the growing success of HSAs, which are integral to the president's vision of "affordable and available" health care.

An executive of an upstart airline recently described her company as having three 757s, more than 200 employees, and one big headache: rising health-care costs. Thus, they made the switch to HSAs in 2006, and premiums rose just 5%, compared with a national average of over 8%. Such successes aren't making the news, but overwhelmingly negative stories are. A much reported Commonwealth Fund survey, for example, concluded that enrollment in consumer-driven plans is stagnant, people are grossly dissatisfied, and care is delayed. But the report was flawed on its face: For one, it was unrepresentative, drawn from a pool of "Internet users who have agreed to participate in research surveys."

Here's the untold story: Despite recent entry into the market, these plans are gaining popularity. Drawing on information from major insurance carriers, William Boyles, publisher of the Consumer Driven Market Report, estimates that enrollment in HSA-type plans or HRAs (a forerunner to health savings accounts) more than doubled since January 2006, to 13.4 million Americans. The estimate is plausible, as last year twice as many employers offered this coverage than in 2005, and the number of financial institutions supporting HSAs tripled.

Early data suggest good results. [...]

Looking back on GOP-era Capitol Hill, welfare reform stands out as the greatest achievement; health savings accounts may eventually be considered a close second.

Except that HSA's will eventually be universal, so they are far greater.

Bad Plan, Necessary Step: The progressive case for Bush's health insurance tax deduction (Paul Starr, 01.24.07, American Prospect)

Anyone with a long view of the struggle for universal health insurance ought to be in favor of it.

Before I bring down a chorus of disapproval, let me explain.

Ever since the 1940s, when employment-based insurance took off, proposals for universal coverage have faced a huge barrier in public opinion. The millions of people receiving employer-provided coverage have had no idea how much it costs.

Many employees believe they are getting coverage essentially for free. Or else they see their own share of the premium -- say, 20 percent -- and mistake it for the whole cost. New taxes inevitably seem to them an extra burden, and they are easily recruited into the opposition.

To get a clear and fair debate over progressive proposals -- whether those are for single-payer or other alternatives -- requires that Americans understand how much health insurance already costs. The Bush proposal is a step in that direction. It would eliminate the tax-free status of employer payments for health insurance, which means everyone would see on their W-2 how much they were paying for coverage. Then there would be a $15,000 deduction for a couple ($7,500 for a single person) regardless of whether they bought health insurance directly or received it via their job.

Is this more equitable than the current system? Yes, actually it is.

Imagine Democrats trying to take the burgeoning savings accounts of the hundreds of millions of healthy Americans?

A Tax Increase You Could Love (AMITY SHLAES, January 26, 2007, NY Sun)

[T]he big change here isn't in the pennies and dimes. It is in the way the plan lodges responsibility for a family's health budget with the family, instead of employers. This isn't merely a tax shift but also a cultural shift, Republicans say. It would make Americans feel stronger and more economically secure.

And they are right. In fact, the move is long overdue. The old system of employers providing health care is as much a result of historical accident as of coherent policy. Back in the 1930s, Congress and President Roosevelt created Social Security over corporate protests. A national system of payment for health care seemed next. In 1945 Harry Truman would go around talking about "the right to adequate medical care."

Terrified employers raced to pre-empt Presidents Roosevelt and Truman by proving they could handle health themselves. They contracted with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to provide benefits for employee pools. The tax treatment came last -- in fact no one knew for a while whether companies really could claim the insurance deduction.

But World War II made the new arrangement seem doubly logical. Congress imposed an "excess" profits tax of as much as 90% and froze wages. Paying for health insurance was a way to reduce tax bills and keep workers, who were suddenly scarce. Unions were pleased. By 1945, 32 million Americans were in health-insurance programs, many sponsored by companies, up to 13 million from 12 million just five years before.

Though such fringe benefits quickly came to feel as American as a Ford in the driveway, the arrangement affected our culture in ways that were not all positive. It helped give rise to the Organization Man of the 1950s, a fellow dependent on his employer to the point of caricature. Corporate health plans also smothered incentives to economize. Having three parties responsible for health-cost decisions meant that no one was. Needless to say, innovations from magnetic-resonance imaging devices to the heart stent -- you name it -- only expanded spending.

Fast forward to today and the accidental health insurance exclusion has morphed into a giant revenue drain. In 2007, the federal government will forgo about $150 billion in tax revenue by way of this break. That figure is higher than the cost of either of two other such deductions, one for home-mortgage interest and the one for state and local taxes. It is something like paying for an extra Iraq every year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM

OUTLASTED ANOTHER ONE... (via Ed Driscoll):

Molly Ivins Dies of Cancer at 62 (KELLEY SHANNON, 1/31/07, Associated Press)

Best-selling author and columnist Molly Ivins, the sharp-witted liberal who skewered the political establishment and referred to President Bush as "Shrub," died Wednesday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 62. [...]

"I'm sorry to say (cancer) can kill you but it doesn't make you a better person," she said in an interview with the San Antonio Express- News in September, the same month cancer claimed her friend former Gov. Ann Richards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


How Does Grossman Rank Among the Worst Super Bowl QBs? (ALLEN BARRA, January 26, 2007, NY Sun)

Let's compare Grossman with the leading competition for Worst Super Bowl QB:

Joe Kapp, 1969, Minnesota Vikings. Kapp passed for just 1,706 yards but had a respectable 7.3 yards per throw and an okay TD-to-interception rate of 19-13. Kapp's Vikings got stuffed in the Super Bowl by Kansas City, 23-7.

Terry Bradshaw, 1974, Pittsburgh Steelers. Later, Bradshaw would develop into a great and one of the greatest of postseason quarterbacks. In 1974 he was dreadful, completing just 67 of 148 passes for 785 yards and a horrendous 5.3 YPP and 7 TDs against 8 interceptions. [...]

Craig Morton, 1977, Denver Broncos. The much-maligned Morton wasn't bad in '77, passing for 1,929 yards and a 7.6 average with 14 TDs and 8 INT. Lost to history is the fact that in '77, at least, Morton was as good a passer as his Cowboy opponent, the great Roger Staubach. But Staubach's Cowboys had the better defense and won 27-10.

Vince Ferragamo, 1979, Los Angeles Rams. Ferragamo's name has pretty much become a joke among NFL history buffs, and it's true he had just 5 TD passes to 10 interceptions that season, throwing for only 778 yards. [...]

David Woodley, 1982, Miami Dolphins. There's no getting around it: Woodley was one of the worst ever to make it to the big game, passing for only 1,080 yards with a dreadful 6.03 average and 5 TDs and 8 Ints. [...]

Drew Bledsoe, 1996, New England Patriots. One of Bill Parcells's great achievements was going to the Super Bowl with a quarterback as undistinguished as Drew Bledsoe, whose numbers are fairly similar to Rex Grossman's this year: 4,086 yards but a only 6.56 YPP average. [...]

Kerry Collins, 2000, New York Giants. Kerry Collins should just have gone out on the field with the word "Mediocre" stitched to the back of his uniform. [...]

Trent Dilfer, 2000, Baltimore Ravens. Truly the 2001 Super Bowl matched the two most perfectly ordinary quarterbacks in the game's history. Dilfer threw fewer passes than the Ravens other QB, Tony Banks, 225 to 274. But Dilfer had a better YPP, 6.7 to Banks' 5.8, so by the end of the season, he was Baltimore's starter. He wound up with a measly 12 TDs against 11 interceptions. [...]

Brad Johnson, 2002, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Like Dilfer, Johnson played QB for a team with a truly great defense. Unlike Dilfer, Johnson made some small contributions: 3,049 yards passing, 6.8 YPP, and, best of all, a TD-INT ratio of 22-6.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM


Biden Unbound: Lays Into Clinton, Obama, Edwards (Jason Horowitz, 1/30/07, NY Observer)

"Are they going to turn to Hillary Clinton?" Biden asked, lowering his voice to a hush to explain why Mrs. Clinton won't win the election.

"Everyone in the world knows her," he said. "Her husband has used every single legitimate tool in his behalf to lock people in, shut people down. Legitimate. And she can't break out of 30 percent for a choice for Democrats? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a place where 100 percent of the Democrats know you? They've looked at you for the last three years. And four out of 10 is the max you can get?"

Mr. Biden is equally skeptical--albeit in a slightly more backhanded way--about Mr. Obama. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he said. "I mean, that's a storybook, man."

But--and the "but" was clearly inevitable--he doubts whether American voters are going to elect "a one-term, a guy who has served for four years in the Senate," and added: "I don't recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic." [...]

Mr. Biden seemed to reserve a special scorn for Mr. Edwards, who suffered from a perceived lack of depth in foreign policy in the Presidential election of 2004.

"I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about," Mr. Biden said, when asked about Mr. Edwards' advocacy of the immediate withdrawal of about 40,000 American troops from Iraq.

"John Edwards wants you and all the Democrats to think, 'I want us out of there,' but when you come back and you say, 'O.K., John'"--here, the word "John" became an accusatory, mocking refrain--"'what about the chaos that will ensue? Do we have any interest, John, left in the region?' Well, John will have to answer yes or no. If he says yes, what are they? What are those interests, John? How do you protect those interests, John, if you are completely withdrawn? Are you withdrawn from the region, John? Are you withdrawn from Iraq, John? In what period? So all this stuff is like so much Fluffernutter out there. So for me, what I think you have to do is have a strategic notion. And they may have it--they are just smart enough not to enunciate it."

This is what makes the Joe Biden of Richard Ben Cramer's What it Takes so endearing: he combines the rare capability of offering both the most intelligent analysis of the political situation with verbiage that effectively buries his chances of being taken seriously.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 3:09 PM


Memo to Republicans: Shut up, shut up, shut up! (Ted Rall, 1/30/07, United Press International)

The accompanying picture does indicate momentary self-control, as Mr. Rall is not sticking out his tongue or making any funny faces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


Whose Iran? (LAURA SECOR, 1/27/07, NY Times Magazine)

Early on, Ahmadinejad's faction was expected to win last month's elections handily. But the results contradicted the conventional wisdom about the Iranian electorate. The president put forward his own slate of candidates for the city councils. It was trounced. By some reckonings, reformists won two-fifths of the council seats and even dominated in some cities, including Kerman and Arak. Some conservative city-council candidates did well, particularly in Tehran, but they were not the conservatives associated with Ahmadinejad: rather, they belonged to the rival conservative faction of the current Tehran mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. And most significant, the vote for Rafsanjani for the Assembly of Experts dwarfed that of Mesbah-Yazdi by nearly two to one. By mid-January, Ahmadinejad's isolation even within his own faction was complete: 150 of 290 members of parliament, including many of Ahmadinejad's onetime allies, signed a letter criticizing the president's economic policies for failing to stanch unemployment and inflation. A smaller group also blamed Ahmadinejad's inflammatory foreign-policy rhetoric for the United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran. As if that were not enough, an editorial in Jomhouri Eslami, a newspaper that reflects the views of the supreme leader, accused the president of using the nuclear issue to distract the public from his failed policies. Ahmadinejad's behavior was diminishing popular support for the nuclear program, the editorial warned. The Iranian political system seems to be restoring its equilibrium by showing an extremist president the limits of his power. But is it an equilibrium that can hold?

In part, last month's election results reflected the complexity of Ahmadinejad's skeptical, conditional and diverse constituency. They also demonstrated his isolation within the powerful conservative establishment, whose politics, however opaque, are determinative. At its center, Khamenei commands a faction known as the traditional conservatives. No elected leader can serve, let alone execute a policy agenda, without the acquiescence of the supreme leader and his associates. But was Ahmadinejad one of the leader's associates? Or was he, like his predecessor, Khatami, something of a political rival? The answer to this question should determine the extent to which Ahmadinejad's foreign-policy extremism and authoritarian tendencies are taken seriously as a political program. But it is a puzzle that has vexed political analysts since the president took office in August 2005, bringing with him a faction that was largely new to the post-revolutionary political scene. Composed partly of military and paramilitary elements, partly of extremist clerics like Mesbah-Yazdi and partly of inexperienced new conservative politicians, those in Ahmadinejad's faction are often called "neoconservatives." But to the extent that they have an ideology, it is less new than old, harking back to the early days of the Islamic republic. Since that time, the same elite has largely run Iranian politics, though it has divided itself into competing factions, and the act of wielding power has mellowed many hard-liners into pragmatists. Ahmadinejad's faction, on the other hand, came into power speaking the language of the past but with the zeal of the untried.

...but seldom as wrong as it was about the Ahmedinejad election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Senate Republican challenges Bush on war powers (Laurie Kellman, 1/30/07, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"Read the Constitution," [Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California] told her colleagues last week. "The Congress has the power to declare war. And on multiple occasions, we used our power to end conflicts."

Congress used its war powers to cut off or put conditions on funding for the Vietnam war and conflicts in Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia.

Doesn't she know we're all ignoring the Democrats stab-in-the-back of South Vietnam?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


The Secret of Obama's Appeal Stays a Secret (Andrew Ferguson, Jan. 31, 2007, Bloomberg)

Barack Obama's book ``The Audacity of Hope'' is well into its fourth month on the bestseller list, and even a professional sourpuss (not that I know any) can see why.

``I am new enough on the national political scene,'' he writes in the book's prologue, ``to serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.''

Never mind the mixed metaphor about striped people projecting on screens (a rare infelicity from such a graceful writer). The statement is the purest Obama, the kind of sentiment that people seldom get from a career politician: knowing, self- aware, candid, vivid in its expression and -- most amazing of all -- true.

``The Audacity of Hope,'' in fact, can best be understood as an extended effort on the part of the first-term Illinois senator to keep that screen as blank as possible.

He's been so successful that already some of his would-be supporters are expressing frustration at their inability to pin Obama down on their favorite causes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Scots Guard: How Anti-Scottish sentiment will crush Britain's Labour Party. (Alex Massie, 01.31.07, New Republic)

Like Bute before him, Brown has found himself subject to trial by tabloid in London. And he, too, is being found wanting.

The current tensions have arisen as a result of a Labour government's decision to establish a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh in 1999. This was, as John Smith, Blair's predecessor as Labour leader and another Scot, put it "the settled will of the Scottish people." Unfortunately, no one thought to ask the English what they thought of this disruption to what they had assumed was a great and happy Union. Since devolution, the English have come to suspect they have received the leaner half of the bargain first made in 1707 when the Scots and English parliaments first agreed to unite. And, now that Brown is on the point of succeeding Blair, the English are revolting.

The 59 Scottish MPs who remain at Westminster may (and do) vote on laws affecting England but not Scotland, while English MPs have no reciprocal right to legislate or vote on matters reserved to the new parliament in Edinburgh. Worse, the English look north and see a Scottish parliament that lavishes baubles--such as free university tuition and health care for the elderly--upon Scots that are unavailable in England. Annual identifiable government spending remains approximately $3,000 per capita higher in Scotland than England, providing grounds for English grousing that the Scots are little more than subsidy junkies. And English discontent is granted righteousness when Blair's government relies upon the votes of Scottish Labour MPs to provide its majority for increasing college tuition fees in England.

So these are chilly times for Scots at Westminster. A cry of "English votes for English laws" can be heard whenever the English stir themselves to contemplate the Union. According to a poll for the BBC's "Newsnight" program, 61 percent of them now favor an English Parliament. The programs' host, Jeremy Paxman, has complained that the English are compelled to suffer under a "Scottish Raj." It is time, The Daily Telegraph's Simon Heffer wrote recently, for "English independence from Scotland."

No representation without legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


Bush Seeks Less Money for Farm Programs (Greg Hitt, 1/31/07, WSJ: Washington Wire)

Plowing into the sensitive political debate over farm policy, the Bush administration is proposing to lift spending on conservation initiatives but trim the commodity subsidies that support farm production. The plan, to be unveiled today by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, is designed to pull agriculture spending $10 billion below the controversial farm program adopted in 2002. [...]

The more market-oriented program will undoubtedly spark sharp debate in the Democratic-led Congress, where lawmakers are gearing up to overhaul the 2002 program. The new program will be touted as consistent with President Bush's call to eliminate the federal deficit. But in taking on the politically sensitive subsidy issue, the Bush administration is also making an effort to signal a new seriousness in the Doha Round of global trade talks, bringing domestic programs in closer alignment with the course of negotiations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Iranians Overwhelmingly Reject Bin Laden (World Public Opinion)

Although the U.S. government has accused Iran's government of sponsoring international terrorism, the Iranian people themselves are somewhat more likely than Americans to oppose attacks that deliberately target civilians. [...]

Both Iranians and Americans have strongly negative views of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Three in four Iranians (74%) and more than nine in ten Americans (94%) view bin Laden unfavorably, including large majorities (68% and 89%, respectively) who view him very unfavorably. Only 10 percent of Iranians look at the al Qaeda leader favorably (2% Americans). [...]

At the most general level, respondents were asked: "Some people think that bombing and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified while others think that this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that such attacks are often justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?"

A very large majority of Iranians (80%) take the strongest position that such attacks "are never justified," and another 5 percent say they are rarely justified. Only 11 percent call them sometimes (8%) or often (3%) justified.

Americans largely concur but at lower levels of intensity. Forty-six percent say that such attacks are never justified, while 27 percent say they are rarely justified. Twenty-four percent see them as sometimes (19%) or often (5%) justified.

Iranians were also asked specifically about attacks on American and Iraqi civilians, with "sometimes" or "never" justified the only options given. Nine in ten Iranians (88%) say that "attacks against Iraqi civilians in Iraq" are never justified. Nearly as many (76 percent) say "attacks against American civilians living in the United States" are never justified (15% sometimes justified).

Respondents were then asked to think "in the context of war and other forms of military conflict" and to consider whether certain types of civilians could be a legitimate target. Overwhelming majorities of Iranians reject as "never justified:" attacks on women and children (91%), the elderly (92%), and "wives and children of the military" (86%).

Americans largely agree, though larger percentages in each case said such attacks are rarely justified. This is true for attacks on women and children (72% never, 15% rarely), the elderly (71% never, 16% rarely), and wives and children of the military (74% never, 12% rarely).

Three more questions dealt with targeting civilians employed by the government. Here again, Iranians are more unequivocal than Americans in their rejection of such attacks, whether the targets are civilians employed by the government, policemen, or intelligence agents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


Schoolyard penis seen from space (EducationGuardian.co.uk, January 31, 2007)

Two pupils who drew a giant penis on a school lawn using weed killer two years ago can still admire their work from satellite photos now posted on the internet.

Despite the school re-seeding the area, the penis has turned up on satellite image search engines because a photo was taken before the new grass could conceal the appendage.

The unnamed pair of year 11 pupils from Bellemoor school for boys in Southampton, burned the 6-metre (20ft) phallus into the grass as an end of term joke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


Bush pushes free trade at tractor plant: Campaigning to renew his fast-track powers, the president also gets a chance to drive a giant earthmover (James Gerstenzang and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, January 31, 2007, LA Times)

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, signaled a readiness Tuesday to work with Bush on the issue, saying he was trying to get the two political parties out of "divorce court."

"If we don't give trade promotion authority [to the White House], we've got to have a good reason for not giving it," he said during a committee meeting. [...]

Bush's audience, 300 plant workers and company managers, was generally subdued. But it came alive, just as he did, when he described his encounter with a D10 track-type tractor, a behemoth of a machine.

He climbed aboard, telling reporters, "I would suggest moving back. I'm about to crank this sucker up."

With that, the machine came to life, moving forward on its yellow metal treads, until the president brought it to a halt about 20 feet down the line and started it on a backward turn. When Bush climbed down from the cab, the inner boy was shining through, and a broad, sheepish grin crossed his face.

"Oh, yeah," he said.

"If you've never driven a D10," he told the workers and managers a few minutes later, "it's a cool experience."

Mr. Rangel is about as pro-trade as his party gets these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


In Legacy of a Revered Martyr, Saudi Shiites Find Sustenance: Lessons From Killing of Hussein in 7th Century Define Lives, Ambitions of His Followers Today (Faiza Saleh Ambah, 1/31/07, Washington Post)

To many of the region's historically persecuted Shiites, the death of Hussein in what is now Karbala, Iraq, the event that triggered the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, remains central to their lives. Shiite belief that Hussein and his descendants were robbed of their rightful succession as rulers of the Islamic world heightens their sense of persecution and victimization.

The story of Hussein, who chose to confront an enemy army with only a small band of men rather than bow to an oppressive leader, permeates Shiite life from childhood, Hani said.

"You cannot understand Shiites if you don't understand the lessons of Hussein's death," the 44-year-old author added. "Hussein taught us not to fear death because you can achieve victory even through death, as long as you fight injustice and stay true to your principles."

That lesson has not been lost on Saudi Arabia's long-suppressed Shiite minority, a 2 million-strong community living mainly in the oil-rich Eastern Province. Shiites here have only recently been granted greater religious freedoms, including the right to commemorate Ashura publicly. But fears in the Arab world of growing Shiite clout have raised concern among local Shiites that sectarian tensions could roll back some of the progress.

Shiite Iran's increased regional influence, Iraq's newly dominant Shiite majority and the push for more power by Lebanon's Shiites have led to a closing of Sunni ranks in many countries of the region and calls for quashing a Shiite revival.

Shiites, who make up less than 15 percent of the kingdom's 16 million citizens, are considered heretics by the Wahhabi Sunni ideology practiced in the kingdom.

Emboldened by Iran's 1979 revolution, Saudi Shiites began staging demonstrations during Ashura demanding more rights and freedoms. This led to a brutal government crackdown that resulted in scores of deaths, hundreds of arrests and tense relations in the 1980s.

The situation improved after Shiite exiles returned in 1994 following a truce with the government. And several years ago, reform-minded King Abdullah launched a policy of openness, allowing the community to build mosques and once-illegal community centers called husseiniyas. Shiites have also been granted a small measure of political power with wins in local municipal elections in 2004. But many complain that they still face severe discrimination in government positions, in the military and in schools.

Now, after a lull, Wahhabi clerics have again started issuing fatwas, or religious edicts, labeling Shiites infidels who are more dangerous to the faith than Christians and Jews.

They've got the three right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


FBI probing Rep. Miller's land sales: The Diamond Bar congressman made millions but avoided taxes by saying the sales were forced. Cities that were the buyers deny it (William Heisel, January 31, 2007, LA Times)

The FBI is investigating Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) for a series of land transactions in which he avoided paying capital gains taxes after saying he had been forced to sell under eminent domain in Monrovia and Fontana.

The federal investigation was initiated after The Times reported in August that officials in both cities denied that they had acquired Miller's property using eminent domain, which enables governments to buy land for certain purposes even if owners do not want to sell.

After a land sale in Monrovia in 2002 and two subsequent sales in Fontana in 2005 and 2006, Miller claimed an exemption under Internal Revenue Code Section 1033, which grants those forced to sell property through eminent domain at least two years to reinvest the profits without paying capital gains taxes.

Miller's repeated use of the forced-sale exemption has enabled deferment of capital gains taxes through at least 2009.

Dick Singer, a spokesman for Monrovia, said federal agents had interviewed city officials and requested a videotape from a City Council meeting in 2000 cited by The Times in which Miller asked city officials four times to buy his land.

Thank goodness we threw the bums out....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


HOSTILE ACTS: "The Sarah Silverman Program" puts the mean back in funny. (TAD FRIEND, 2007-02-05, The New Yorker)

Hostility may be the engine of humor, but the broadcast networks dread its snarl. Whenever they air a truly mean sitcom, such as the long-gone "Buffalo Bill" or "Action," the audience flees, so TV executives have learned to muffle their comedies' barbs in "Only kidding" smirks and "You're the greatest" hugs. Even on "Seinfeld," which forbade hugs and learning, the core foursome reserved their mockery for outsiders, for the close-talkers and re-gifters. They were there for one another--the network made sure that we saw the love beneath.

So "The Sarah Silverman Program," much the meanest sitcom in years--and one of the funniest--premières this week, perforce, on Comedy Central. Silverman, the telescope-necked comedienne, has had trouble finding the right showcase for the contrary elements of her persona: the post-feminist tomboy who's sexually cocky and emotionally frigid, the eerily alert counterpuncher who's totally self-involved. (In her 2005 concert movie, "Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic," Silverman makes out with her own mirrored image.) She is best known for jarring "The Aristocrats," the documentary about a legendary joke, with her deadpan claim that "Joe Franklin raped me," and for dropping the epithet "chinks" into a joke on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." Unlike many comedians, Silverman excavates prejudice less by digging into her own background (though in one episode she insincerely promises "full-frontal Jew-dity") than by strip-mining the turf of other minorities, particularly blacks and gays. Her game is to throw out stereotypes in a little-girl voice and with a winsome look that suggests no offense can legitimately be taken. You might admire Silverman's boldness, or you might feel that there's something sneaky in her appropriation of slurs that never wounded her--that it's the standup equivalent of the person who cuts in line and then can't believe you object.

Ah, the mental calisthentics a liberal has to go through to laugh at others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Shoppers see red and President feels the heat over tomatoes: Robert Tait finds the Iranian people and parliament in revolt (Robert Tait, January 28, 2007, Observer)

History is not littered with cases of heads of state being brought down by the price of tomatoes but, with his critics growing by the day, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could be in danger of earning such a distinction.

Besieged by denunciations of his economic and nuclear policies, the President was put further on the defensive last week by MPs complaining that the cost of tomatoes had soared to 30,000 rial (£1.65) a kilo - an unthinkable price in a country where the average worker scrapes by on £225 a month.

Prices subsequently slipped back in response to the outcry. But the startling statistic crystallised popular anger over runaway inflation, which has eaten into the living standards of the army of low-income Iranians whom Ahmadinejad came to office pledging to help. [...]

More threatening to Ahmadinejad's authority is the increasing assertiveness of Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President and head of the powerful expediency council. Rafsanjani - whom Ahmadinejad defeated in the last presidential election - believes Iran faces a crisis and must negotiate on the nuclear case, even if it means backing down.

Rafsanjani last week voiced his concerns about the economy and the nuclear strategy to 100 MPs. He said the expediency council would scrutinise Ahmadinejad's budget and criticised 'high-ranking officials' for under-estimating the international threat.In remarks interpreted as designed to show the President's waning influence, Rafsanjani described how a top-level official had been slapped down by Khamenei. 'We had a session with the supreme leader and a group of officials,' he said. 'Somebody said, "the threats are not serious and there is no need for concern", to which Ayatollah Khamenei replied, "the threats are serious".' The unnamed official is broadly assumed to have been Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani reminded MPs that the 'highest religious duty' of officials was preserving Iran's Islamic system - implying this might mean making painful compromises with the West.

Rafsanjani was pushing at an open door. Parliament is in open revolt, believing the President guilty of incompetence, arrogance and self-indulgence.

Moves were afoot to rein him in even before Rafsanjani's pep talk. A petition is being circulated to summon Ahmadinejad for questioning over his economic and nuclear policies, while impeachment proceedings are under way against four ministers.

Emad Afrough, a fundamentalist MP, said parliament would start dictating to Ahmadinejad unless he learnt the art of consultation. 'The political situation is going to force the government to consult more. If not, some issues be dictated to them,' he said. 'The government cannot count on the fundamentalists like before.'

A reformist MP, Akbar Aalami, said disenchantment had reached unprecedented levels. 'This government lacks the maturity to fulfil its legal duties and exercise authority,' he said.

With Ahmedinejad isolated those above and below him the U.S. should be addressing both.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


No Joke: Hillary's failure to connect (Jonah Goldberg, 1/31/07, National Review)

A weird thing happened in Iowa this week. Hillary Clinton was campaigning for president -- no, that's not the weird thing -- and she paraphrased a question from the audience about what in her experience prepared her to deal with "evil and bad men." Before she could answer, the audience burst into laughter, and Clinton joined in.

It was such an awkward moment, much of the commentariat hasn't figured out exactly what to say about it, starting with Clinton herself. At first she tried to explain that she was thinking of Osama bin Laden and Bush's inability to capture him. Later, she claimed she was making a joke -- just not about her husband.

From my own viewing of the video -- you can find it on YouTube and elsewhere -- Hillary wasn't making any joke at all. She was merely the butt of one and laughed along with the crowd -- without getting the joke -- in an excruciating "I meant to do that" sort of way.

When asked whether the joke was about Bill, she said, "Oh, come on. Well, I don't think anybody in there thought that." But of course everyone thought that.

If there's one fact the Left doesn't want to face it is that all comedy is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


'The Supreme Court': PBS Does Justice to History (Tom Shales, 1/31/07, Washington Post)

Although the idea of spending four hours listening to professors and law clerks might not sound precisely irresistible, "The Supreme Court" -- a two-part history of "the most powerful judicial tribunal in the world" -- bravely upholds a PBS tradition. Namely, providing television for people who have a serious interest in the country and world around them.

The film is rarely as dry as one might fear, filled as it is with the stories of epochal cases -- Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade-- and illuminating details, such as the fact that President Dwight D. Eisenhower only appointed Earl Warren to the court because of a promise made at the 1952 Republican convention. Or that when the court handed down its decision on Marbury v. Madison in 1803, it lacked a home of its own and was forced to convene in a hotel lobby.

History is inherently dull stuff only to the determinedly uninformed, but obviously presentation counts, especially in television. Executive producer Jody Sheff keeps "Supreme Court" (airing in two two-hour segments) arrestingly visual. There are various historic photographs, well-shot and edited close-up interviews with authoritative figures -- including current Chief Justice John Roberts, who proves a highly telegenic communicator. And there are printed or written words from key decisions that are pulled from documents, magnified and swept across the screen -- a case in which taking words out of context, literally, is helpful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


"Goodnight Moon" | Gentle, playful and musical (Mary Murfin Bayley, 1/31/07, The Seattle Times)

It is hard to imagine a more still and quiet picture book than Margaret Wise Brown's 1947 "Goodnight Moon," or one less likely to become a full-length musical complete with tap-dancing bears. The book's lovely illustrations by Clement Hurd show the same simple green room and small bunny going to bed as each page gets darker and the stars outside the windows get brighter. The text is a series of goodnights: to mittens and kittens; to comb, brush, and bowl full of mush; to the pictures on the walls; and to a quiet old lady whispering hush. The goodnights gradually open out to include the moon, the stars and the air.

Despite adding some scenes of showbiz razzle-dazzle and high-energy slapstick, the Seattle Children's Theatre version retains much of the gentle mood of the book.

Nothing has contributed more to reduced fertility rates than the stage in toddlers' development where they make their parents read this book repeatedly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Air Force tanker request gives Boeing edge, for now (Alicia Mundy, 1/31/07, Seattle Times)

After a behind-the-scenes battle in which politics counted as much as procurement goals, the Pentagon on Tuesday unveiled its rules for a potential $100 billion contract to replace the Air Force fleet of refueling tankers -- and the balance of power tilted toward Boeing.

The request for proposal (RFP) issued by the Pentagon "inherently favors Boeing" against its only competitor, a partnership between European Aeronautics Defence & Space (EADS), and Northrop Grumman, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


One thing China can't offer Africa (Bright B Simons, Evans Lartey and Franklin Cudjoe , 2/01/07, Asia Times)

China's model is much too dependent on the extravagant profusion of resources and too unproductive to be of much use. The African connection in this context is discussed in detail in the second half of this article.

In the past decade, China has moved mountains to effect radical, wholesale changes to the way its defense industries are organized and their output calibrated to the global projection needs of its evolving geopolitical strategy. The impression has been given that reforms will be bold and sweeping and will manifest in a clear break from the traditional approach of melding technical progress to political priorities in China.

But clearly, from the results, it does not seem as if Chinese leaders had been prepared to move sufficiently away from their comfort zone, because they have only imported the most bureaucratic, centralist, crony-based aspects of military-industrial complexes in operation elsewhere, so that the long-lamented issue of the coupling of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) bureaucratic inefficiency to a resource-intensive approach to military innovation has now been compounded with and magnified by the admission of private sector's "rent seekers" (corrupt influences) into the fold.

It makes one wonder whether China has been taking lessons from fabulously Dirigiste France. The French military-industrial complex, which has spawned white elephants such as the fancy-ballroom aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is a perfect study of how anti-competitive, over-subsidized, crony-dependent, pork-barreled institutional frameworks can handicap even the finest engineering and managerial talent.

The extent to which France's Grande Ecole and Ecole Polytechnique old boys' networks have become stumbling blocks in the reform of that country's stagnating defense industry cannot be summarized here; that the country's defense industry was nearly bankrupted in the mid-1990s ought to suffice as a hint.

Two hundred and twenty years after the Revolution they haven't figured out that the French model doesn't work?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Dems want trade talks to include protections (David J. Lynch, 1/30/07, USA TODAY)

President Bush and congressional Democrats fired the opening salvos Tuesday in what could become a major debate about whether the U.S. pursues additional trade agreements. [...]

The looming battle about an extension comes amid what Democrats say is rising economic insecurity despite an unemployment rate of 4.5%.

...besides unprecedented global growth and democratization, deflation, full employment, and $53 trillion in household net worth?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Essay linking liberal Jews and anti-Semitism sparks furor (Patricia Cohen, January 30, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

The American Jewish Committee, an ardent defender of Israel, is known for speaking out against anti-Semitism, but this conservative advocacy group has recently stirred up a bitter and emotional debate with a new target: liberal Jews.

An essay the committee features on its Web site, ajc.org, titled 'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, says a number of Jews, through their speaking and writing, are feeding a rise in virulent anti-Semitism by questioning whether Israel should even exist. [...]

By spotlighting the touchy issue of whether Jews are contributing to anti-Semitism, both admirers and detractors of the essay agree that it aggravates an already heated dispute over where legitimate criticism of Israel and its defenders ends and anti-Semitic statements begin.

January 30, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 PM


How Mitt Romney Avoided Campaign-Finance Rules (Wall Street Journal, 1/30/07)

Federal law limits how much money individuals can give to presidential candidates -- $2,300 per election. But what about Compuware Inc. founder Peter Karmanos? Last year, he gave $250,000 to presidential aspirant and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Since 2004, 15 other Romney backers have sunk at least $100,000 each into the Republican's coffers, sometimes with a series of checks issued on a single day.

Because he doesn't hold federal office, Romney became subject to the federal rules only after he set up a presidential exploratory committee earlier this month. Until then, his team took advantage of a little-noticed gap between federal and state law. While most states limit political donations, about a dozen don't. Romney's political team set up fund-raising committees in three of those: Michigan, Iowa and Alabama. During that time, his political action committees raised $7 million.

As a result, Romney was able to hit the ground running, a big advantage in what has already become a feverish race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Job offers topped seekers in '06; unemployment down (Japan Times, 1/31/07)

The average ratio of job offers to job seekers topped 1.0 in 2006 for the first time in 14 years, while the unemployment rate for the year fell to an eight-year low, government statistics showed Tuesday.

Last year's ratio of job offers to seekers rose 0.11 point from 2005 to 1.06, meaning there were 106 offers to every 100 people seeking work, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM

FILTHY EUROS (via brian boys):

The man who knows why we're so hooked on coffee: Starbucks plays on our secret desires and trains us to speak its language. After visiting 400 outlets, one academic reveals how it's done (David Smith, January 28, 2007, The Observer)

The reason for the remarkable growth of one of the social markers of the past two decades - upmarket coffee shops such as Starbucks and Caffe Nero - could now be a little clearer thanks to an American academic who has undertaken a remarkable personal odyssey to try to get to the bottom of the conundrum. Bryant Simon spent a year visiting more than 400 of its coffee shops in several countries, observing customers for around 12 to 15 hours a week. [...]

There are 530 branches in the UK and, with profits soaring, the company has said it aims to add 50 per year, about half of them in the south east of England. Anyone can now calculate their 'Starbucks density' using a locator on the company website: a person in Regent Street in London is within five miles of 166 branches.

It is proof the formula works even in a nation of tea drinkers, but Simon feels one element was lost in the move across the Atlantic: 'Starbucks is dirtier in Britain. Americans have been taught to do part of the labour, and they clean up after themselves. In the US, part of Starbucks' appeal is its cleanness.'

Don't they all have maids and butlers to pick up after them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


A Fundamental Evil (Doug Soderstrom, 31 January, 2007, Countercurrents.org)

I have come to the conclusion that the Christian fundamentalists, also known as the religious right, are the most evil people in the world

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Republicans clear way for minimum-wage rise (Reuters, 1/30/07)

Full Senate approval is now possible because Democrats agreed to Republican demands to include tax cuts for small businesses to help cover the cost of raising the minimum wage over two years to $7.25 per hour from $5.15 per hour.

On an 87-10 vote, the Democratic-led Senate agreed to end more than a week of debate and hold a vote in coming days on the bill to increase the minimum wage and provide about $8.3 billion in tax breaks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Court reinstates key Padilla charge (CURT ANDERSON, 1/30/07, Associated Press)

A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a key terrorism charge, the only one carrying a potential life sentence, against suspected al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with federal prosecutors in Miami that the charge that the U.S. citizen and his two co-defendants conspired to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas did not duplicate other counts in the indictment.

The Atlanta-based court reversed a decision last summer by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who said the three charges in the indictment contained nearly identical elements and could subject the defendants to extra punishment for the same act, violating protections against double jeopardy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM

THE STEFANI WIVES (via Bryan Francoeur):

Chairman: Bush officials misled public on global warming (AP, January 30, 2007)

The Democratic chairman of a House panel examining the government's response to climate change said Tuesday there is evidence that senior Bush administration officials sought repeatedly "to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming."

Because the Left can't tolerate doubt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


China's getting old before it becomes rich: AGING POPULATION LACKS SUPPORT OF PENSIONS, FAMILY (Evan Osnos, 1/30/07, Chicago Tribune)

A generation after China adopted its unprecedented one-child policy, the world's most populous nation is aging faster than any major country in history. The graying of the population, lost in the astonishing statistics on China's economy, threatens to hinder growth and strain a frayed public-welfare system, say researchers in China and abroad.

``They are looking at 400 million old people, 30 years from now, the vast majority of whom will not have pensions or health care or extended family,'' said Richard Jackson, director of the Global Aging Initiative at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``This is social and political dynamite, and the government knows it.''

The problem is a peculiar side effect of progress. For most of Chinese history, people over 60 rarely numbered more than 7 of every 100 people. But improved health care, sanitation and living standards since the Communist Revolution have allowed the average citizen to live more than 30 years longer than in 1949. At the same time, China has restricted family size since the late 1970s in an attempt to control population growth.

The result is a China-size version of America's Social Security crunch, in which there are neither enough offspring nor pension funds to finance tomorrow's retirements. But China faces an even greater hurdle, because its per-capita income remains barely a tenth of U.S. levels. As economists put it, China is getting old before it has gotten rich.

``Feeding the people is the most common problem in developing countries, and taking care of the elderly is the most common problem in developed countries. China has to solve both at the same time,'' said Hu Angang, an economist at Qinghua University in Beijing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:46 AM


U.S. missile defense maturing, latest test a success (Andrea Shalal-Esa, 1/30/07, Reuters)

[Brig. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, deputy director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency,] said there would be no formal announcement that the system was operational. He predicted the capability to defend against enemy missiles and to continue testing and development work would be achieved within a year.

"It's just a matter of maturation," he told reporters after a speech hosted by the George C. Marshall Institute, a public policy group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Iranian President's Setbacks Embolden His Domestic Critics: Establishment Rivals Fault Populism, Foreign Policy; Nuclear Deadline Looms (BILL SPINDLE, January 30, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Many of Tehran's elite politicians and even clerics have long harbored concerns about Mr. Ahmadinejad, who ascended to the country's top political post from outside the traditional ruling circles. But the immense popularity he generated among Iran's poor and working-class voters kept many of his critics from speaking out or openly moving against his policies. [...]

a round of elections late last year -- for local municipal and village leaders as well as an important national consultative body -- has undermined Mr. Ahmadinejad's political momentum and unleashed a flood of public criticism and moves to clip his wings. Candidates whom Mr. Ahmadinejad supported fared poorly in the elections, while key adversaries re-established themselves as fixtures of the political scene.

In Tehran's city council, from which Mr. Ahmadinejad launched his campaign for president two years ago, his supporters went from a majority to a handful of seats. Meanwhile, Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom Mr. Ahmadinejad defeated in the presidential election two years ago, dominated the voting for seats on the Assembly of Experts, the body charged with choosing a new Supreme Leader when the 67-year-old Mr. Khamenei steps down or dies.

Since those public votes, a drumbeat of criticism against Mr. Ahmadinejad's administration has emerged from within Iran's Parliament and among some senior regime officials. The president even found himself confronted by a crowd of jeering students during an appearance at a Tehran university campus, with a video of the incident distributed on the Internet3.

"The elections opened a space and legitimized criticism of him," said Nasser Hadian, a political-science professor at the University of Tehran. "There are going to be more attempts to contain him."

The poor showing by candidates associated with Mr. Ahmadinejad in local elections -- and the relatively better performance of reform candidates opposed to him -- resulted from the sort of strong turnout that generally favors reformers. The country's conservatives also failed to rally behind a single slate of candidates, as they did during the earlier presidential election. But high on many voters' minds is Iran's increasingly muddled economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Iran and Saudi Arabia mediating in Lebanon crisis (Michael Slackman, January 30, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Leaders of Hezbollah, the Iranian- backed party trying to overthrow Lebanon's government, have recently visited the Saudi king in Riyadh, according to officials who attended the meeting. And Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi chief security adviser, has met with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larijani, in Riyadh and Tehran to try to stop Lebanon's slide into civil war. [...]

Members of Lebanon's governing party say that the dynamics inside Iran, where the firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be losing political strength, have led Tehran to lean on Hezbollah. [...]

[T]he fight is also over who will be the next president, whether Hezbollah will be allowed to keep its weapons, how to rewrite the nation's electoral laws, whether UN troops will remain on the southern border with Israel and, more fundamentally, whether Lebanon will lean toward the United States and Europe or Iran and Syria.

There have been proposals that each side has presented as compromises only to be rejected by the other as insufficient.

"It is true, whoever governs will decide Lebanon's political direction," said Muhammad Fneish, a senior member of Hezbollah who said he recently attended a meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been involved in Lebanese affairs for decades. Saudi Arabia has close ties with the Hariri family and has invested large sums of money in rebuilding Beirut. Recently, as Iranian-backed parties have taken over in Iraq and as Iran has tried to establish itself as the regional superpower, Saudi Arabia has begun, at American urging, to press back.

But in Lebanon, political leaders and diplomats said, both see a common interest in calming sectarian tensions, at least for now. The fight has effectively divided the country between the predominantly Shiite Muslim opposition and the predominantly Sunni Muslim governing alliance. Lebanon's Christian community is divided between the two.

If the four parties can agree to make the implicit dividing line permanent and the U.S. and Israel recognize the advisability of such a solution it'd go a long way not just to quieting down South Lebanon but to undercutting Assad and Ahmedinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


See Sarah Swear (BRENDAN BERNHARD, January 30, 2007, NY Sun)

Ms. Silverman's specialty is to take false problems, like overdeveloped racial or gender sensitivities, and then make inhuman, "daring" little jokes about them -- fake humor about fake dilemmas. In a scene from this episode, for instance, Sarah compliments a 70-year-old black woman on how young she looks, and then, when the woman is so pleased she tries to give her a kiss, Sarah suddenly reverses herself and says, actually, she does look her age. "Bitch," the woman mutters, walking away. Of course, had she taken a course in "Cultural Theory," she'd have known to call her a "meta-bitch."

Ms. Silverman -- or the version of herself she plays here -- is a bit like Lenny Bruce in a world in which obscenity, or mock obscenity, has been mandated by the Entertainment Authorities. Rather than being jailed, hounded, put on trial for making dirty jokes, and winding up dead from an overdose of heroin, you are prescribed anti-depressants, appear on television, and are profiled at length in the New Yorker, four-letter words included. Your ironic brand of "meta-comedy" also provides fertile fodder for endless ponderings, as in this analysis, from Slate magazine:

"Silverman is a prototypical ironist -- someone who says things she doesn't mean and (through more-or-less subtle contextual winks) expects us to intuit an unstated, smarter message underneath. But what is that message? Does she, like Socrates, play dumb in order to make us smart? Or just to experience the cheap thrill of public racism? Every ironic statement, should, in theory...." Etc., etc.

Ms. Silverman has been called "the funniest woman alive" by Rolling Stone, which is enough to make one weep for women. But perhaps it would be more to the point to weep for critics.

The irony is instead that she says exactly what she means and what her audience is constrained from saying themselves by Political Correctness. It's pretty basic Relief Theory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Senate to Consider Minimum Wage Bill With Tax Breaks (KATE ZERNIKE, 1/30/07, NY Times)

Aides to some House leaders say they would be willing to allow some of the tax breaks. But others, including Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, are insisting that they will not concede any tax cuts. [...]

"We are still operating on the assumption or hope that the Senate will pass a clean minimum wage bill," said Stacey F. Bernards, a spokeswoman for Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic leader. "If it doesn't happen, it's because a minority of Republicans held it up. It's their fault."

That simple approach to raising the minimum wage failed in the Senate last week. Sixty votes were required to cut off debate on the bill, sending it for a vote, but Democrats were able to enlist just five Republicans, for a vote of 54 to 43.

"The only way we're going to get a minimum wage increase through the Senate is if it is accompanied by tax breaks for small businesses," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader. "I haven't seen a diminution of the opposition."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


What the President Got Right: Give Bush credit for his energy proposal. (Gregg Easterbrook, Jan. 29, 2007, Slate)

Last week Bush proposed something environmentalists, energy analysts, greenhouse-effect researchers, and national-security experts have spent 20 years pleading for: a major strengthening of federal mileage standards for cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. The number-one failing of U.S. energy policy is that vehicle mile-per-gallon standards have not been made stricter in two decades. Nothing the United States can do in energy policy is more important than an mpg increase. Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton, and, until last week, George W. Bush had all refused to face the issue of America's low-mpg vehicles, which are the root of U.S. dependency on Persian Gulf oil and a prime factor in rising U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. But now Bush favors a radical strengthening of federal mileage rules, and last week to boot became the first Republican president since Gerald Ford to embrace the basic concept of federal mileage regulation (called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard).

This should have been Page One headline material--PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DRAMATIC MPG REGULATIONS. Instead, most news organizations pretended Bush's mpg proposal did not exist, or buried the story inside the paper, or made only cryptic references to it. In his 2006 State of the Union address, when Bush said America was "addicted to oil" but proposed no mpg improvements, critics rightly pummeled the president. Now Bush has backed the needed reform, and the development is being downplayed or even ridiculed.

What's going on? First, mainstream news organizations and pundits are bought and sold on a narrative of Bush as an environmental villain and simply refuse to acknowledge any evidence that contradicts the thesis. During his term the president has significantly strengthened the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution caused by diesel fuel and diesel engines, to reduce emissions from Midwestern power plants, to reduce pollution from construction equipment and railroad locomotives, and to reduce emissions of methane, which is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. You'd never know these reforms even happened from the front page of the New York Times, which for reasons of ideology either significantly downplays or fails to report them. Second, with the war in Iraq appearing a fiasco of the first magnitude, editors and pundits feel Bush must be ridiculed on all scores--even when he offers intelligent, progressive proposals.

As with Margaret Thatcher, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair, it is extremely difficult for a Third Way politician like George W. Bush to get credit even when he shares his opponents ends.

MORE (via Kevin Whited):
"The Bush Administration is Caught Half-Way Across a Bridge": President George W. Bush's former speechwriter David Frum coined the phrase "Axis of Evil." In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE he accuses the White House of serious mistakes in Iraq and in the war on terror. (Der Spiegel, 1/23/07)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is Bush "the last neocon in power," as Bill Kristol recently wrote?

Frum: The story of the Bush Administration is a story of absorbing certain doctrines that are called "neo-conservative," but entrusting them to be executed by people who did not believe in those doctrines. And by always limiting the applications of those doctrines, so as not to touch on the really deep American commitments to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. If Bush were a neo-conservative, as everybody said, then his response to 9/11 would have been that this originated in an extremism that the government of Saudi Arabia has whipped up in order to protect itself from the consequences of its own corruption.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has the Iraq chaos discredited the essentially correct vision of democracy for the Middle East?

Frum: No, the idea will go into hibernation, but it will be back more powerful than ever. The diagnosis that the problems of the Middle East are traceable to the failures of the way they govern themselves strikes me still as very deeply true.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn't there proof now that you shouldn't try to change the political landscape by force?

Frum: Force is always the last resort. But if you use it there has to be real democratization afterwards.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your colleague, Joshua Muravchik from the American Enterprise Institute argues that the neocons should now make the case for bombing Iran.

Frum: It's not a good idea to begin talking about things that would shatter the unity of the Western approach to Iran. It's not necessarily true that bombing is the only answer. We are learning more and more every day about the economic vulnerability of the Iranian regime.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will history say about this president?

Frum: On his tombstone could be written: "He tried a lot." He dreamed big. But it's a dangerous question because presidents are like stocks, their reputations rise and fall. He will get marks for being willing to take on the problem of Islamic extremism more broadly. He will suffer for having underestimated Iraq. That will be held against him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Bernanke quietly guides economy: On Thursday, Ben Bernanke will have been Fed chairman for a year. He has steered the central bank through an economic turning point. (Sue Kirchhoff, 1/30/07, USA TODAY)

As he finishes his first year as chairman, the unassuming Bernanke, 53, doesn't have Greenspan's head-turning sway over the general public, at least not yet, but he does have firm control of the central bank and the growing confidence of financial markets.

The former Princeton professor, Fed governor and White House adviser has steered the central bank through a turning point in an economy that was confronting a tumbling housing market and uncomfortably high inflation. The Fed, which meets here today and Wednesday to review interest rate policy, has held the target for short-term interest rates steady since June after two years of raising it to combat inflation. Economic growth slowed in the second half of 2006, but the job market strengthened.

"I congratulate you and the Fed in keeping interest rates where the American people can stand and the economy can prosper," Jim Bunning, R-Ky., the sole senator to oppose Bernanke's nomination, told him this month.

Working with other regulators, the Bernanke Fed has also tightened guidelines for commercial real estate and mortgage lending and toughened standards for complex financial products misused by energy giant Enron.

Fear of prospective inflation can contribute to inflation, but at some point you have to stop fighting an imaginary beast.

Bullish on Bernanke: Turnaround Earns Him Praise from Wall Street to Capitol Hill (Nell Henderson, January 30, 2007, Washington Post)

The new chairman of the Federal Reserve got off to a rocky start last spring. Inflation was surging, the housing market was slumping, and Ben S. Bernanke's initial responses caused turmoil on Wall Street.

But a year into Bernanke's tenure, the picture has turned considerably brighter. Inflation is falling; unemployment is low; wages are rising; and the economy, despite continued problems in housing, is growing at a brisk clip. Bernanke is earning plaudits from Wall Street to Capitol Hill.

90% of success is just showing up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


16 states see road deaths slashed (Larry Copeland, Alan Gomez and Oren Dorell, 1/30/07, USA TODAY)

Traffic deaths dropped substantially in 16 states last year, in many cases reflecting stepped-up enforcement and education campaigns, according to a USA TODAY analysis of statistics reported by the states. [...]

Illinois saw traffic deaths fall below 1,300, the lowest total since 1924. Road deaths there have been dropping every year since 2003, when the state enacted a law that allows police to stop motorists solely for not wearing seat belts.

"These numbers represent clear and convincing evidence to us that the law is working and seat belts really do save lives," Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says.

Last year, three other states -- Alaska, Kentucky and Mississippi -- enacted such laws, bringing the number to 25. All three states reported declines in traffic deaths. Officials in Kentucky and Mississippi attributed the drops to the new law.

Among other factors cited in states that had drops in traffic fatalities: stiffer drunken-driving laws, police checkpoints aimed at aggressive driving, improved highway design, and graduated license programs and other safety efforts targeting young drivers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


New Thesis on Vietnam Aimed at 2008 Election (SETH GITELL, January 30, 2007, NY Sun)

A new thesis about the end of the Vietnam war is making the rounds in the context of the debate over Iraq. It holds that President Nixon and Henry Kissinger -- not the Democratic Congress and public opinion -- were chiefly culpable in America's betrayal of South Vietnam.

The managing editor of Foreign Affairs, Gideon Rose, is the most vocal proponent of this revision of history. According to Mr. Rose's writing in Slate, "the settlement the Nixon administration negotiated left the South vulnerable to future attacks." More recently, writing for the New Republic online, Rick Perlstein stated, "there is a popular fantasy that liberals in Congress, somehow, at least metaphorically, abandoned American troops in Vietnam."

The importance of this argument has to do with the debate that is taking place for the 2008 presidential election. There is a growing sense that the Democratic leadership in the Congress will try to force a retreat in Iraq by defunding the war, which is what happened in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese, like the American people, were unfortunate enough to get stuck with the awful combo--the liberal Realists in the White House and the liberal fantasists in Congress. But even so, they managed to fight on bravely until Ted Kennedy took advantage of the pusillanimous Gerald Ford and ended even the minimal support we were giving them after the despicable Paris Peace Accords.

But that history is insignificant to Iraq, where there is no parallel for North Vietnam, China, Russia, Laos, Cambodia, the Buddhists, Nixon, Kissinger, Ford, etc., etc., etc..

Group reports increase in number of displaced Iraqis: Baghdad's neighborhoods are being reshaped along sectarian lines as victims flee to safer areas (Paul Richter, January 30, 2007, LA Times)

Sectarian violence has driven 181,000 Baghdad residents from their homes in the last three months, and more than 1 million more could be forced to flee in the next six months if trends continue, an international relief group said Monday.

International Medical Corps, based in Santa Monica, said in a study that 546,078 Iraqis had been displaced since the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra intensified sectarian fighting.

Eighty percent of the departures have been in ethnically mixed Baghdad, the site of bitter fighting between Sunni Arab insurgents and Shiite Muslim militias. [...]

The departures are reshaping the city along sectarian lines, much as Sarajevo was reshaped by ethnic fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s. Unlike displacements that occurred before the February bombing, the most recent moves appear to be permanent, the study says. Earlier movements often were forced by short-term military operations, but these departures often involve the sale or abandonment of property, the study notes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Bush's three-front blunder (Gareth Porter, 1/31/07, Asia Times)

US President George W Bush's State of the Union address appears to confirm other indications in recent weeks that he is not merely sending more troops to Iraq to do more of the same, but has adopted a new strategy of fighting all three major Iraqi Arab political-military forces simultaneously. [...]

One veteran military expert on Iraq, retired US Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, said Bush's new policy is a "war against all" in Iraq and called it "a blunder of Hitlerian proportions".

The difference, obviously, being that FDR and America had little trouble winning a multi-front war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


The writing's on the wall for Iran (Leon Hadar, 1/31/07, Asia Times)

The Israelis, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have been playing into the hands of US warriors by suggesting that an Iranian nuclear bomb would pose an "existential" threat akin to the European Holocaust and that if US diplomatic and/or military power failed, Israel would have no choice but to "take care of the problem". The warnings were buttressed through a series of public statements, including a visit by Olmert to Washington, and leaks to the press, including a recent British newspaper report that Israel could use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's nuclear military sites.

At the same time, the Saudis have been warning that a nuclear Iran would help transform Tehran into a hegemonic power in the Persian Gulf and provide it with an opportunity to lead an alliance of Shi'ite Mideast factions, from Iran to Israel/Palestine through Lebanon, in a way that would threaten Saudi Arabia and other pro-US Arab-Sunni regimes.

The sense of alarm perpetuated by the Saudis was reinforced through press leaks suggesting that the members of the hawkish wing of the Saudi royal family, led by former ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan, were gaining strength, and that the Israelis and the Saudis, backed by Washington, have been conducting secret talks to coordinate the anti-Iran strategy.

Indeed, according to Israeli press reports, Olmert and Prince Sultan have met to discuss Iran and related issues. The meeting and other signs of coordination on Iran among Washington, Jerusalem and Riyadh have raised the possibility that the Bush administration is trying to draw the outlines of a new strategic consensus involving it, Israel and the pro-US Arab-Sunni regimes (Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states, and Egypt and Jordan).

These reports recalled a similar "strategic consensus" that evolved in the 1980s during the Ronald Reagan administration, when the Americans, Israelis and Saudis - and, yes, then-US partner, Saddam's Iraq - were cooperating in dealing with both the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and with the challenge from revolutionary Iran.

And anyone who knows how to assess the balance of power in Washington will tell you that when the Americans are joined by the Saudis and the Israelis and their powerful supporters in Washington in a coordinated effort to harm you, run fast for cover.

This saber-rattling could hardly have been more effective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Helton talks are off: Choice of prospects is the deal-breaker (Nick Cafardo, January 30, 2007, Boston Globe)

Helton is Epstein's type of guy, a tough out who wears down pitchers (.430 career on-base percentage) and a tough player. So Epstein listened and listened. He laid down the ground rules to the Rockies:

take on two big veteran salaries, pay some of Helton's contract, and we'll also give you one or two mid-level prospects.

But when the Rockies asked for more, the deal broke down, and the collapse became official last night. [...]

In the end, the Red Sox and Rockies were far apart on two major issues: how much of Helton's $90.1 million contract the Rockies would be willing to assume , and which prospects the Red Sox were willing to part with.

While numerous reports and sources indicated the Rockies were willing to eat half of Helton's salary, the last amount the Red Sox heard was about $27.5 million, or just more than a quarter of the contract.

Also, the Rockies wanted to choose one or two players from a list of Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen, and Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox wouldn't part with any of them. Epstein countered with more of a second-tier prospect list, and that's when the negotiations broke down.

Having Colorado pick up half or more of the contract was what made the deal worthwhile, so if they weren't going to it's fine to have bailed. But if the stumbling block was really just a relief pitcher -- the most overrated commodity in baseball -- that would be silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


'Hobbit' human 'is a new species' (BBC, 1/30/07)

The researchers believe the 1m-tall (3ft) people evolved from an unknown small-bodied, small-brained ancestor, which they think became small in stature to cope with the limited supply of food on the island.

The little humans are thought to have survived until about 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption devastated the region.

LB1 possessed a brain size of around 400 cubic cm (24 cu inches) - about the same as that of a chimp.

Long arms, a sloping chin and other primitive features suggested affinities to ancient human species such as Homo habilis.

There's another name for human species: human.

January 29, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 PM


Iraqis Describe Plot To Kill Shiite Clerics: Cult Leader, Many Allies Died in Siege (Joshua Partlow and Saad Sarhan, 1/30/07, Washington Post)

A Shiite cult leader, who claimed to be a revered Muslim figure who vanished in the 10th century, was killed Sunday along with scores of fighters who were poised to attack a holy city in southern Iraq and assassinate the country's Shiite religious leadership, Iraqi officials said Monday. [...]

The cult leader killed Sunday probably sought to assassinate conservative Shiite religious leaders because they likely would have disputed his claim to be the Mahdi, said John O. Voll, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, in a telephone interview.

The tough part of the WoT is gathering the loons in big enough bunches to kill them efficiently. Nice when they take care of the clustering for us.

Battle-ready Iraq cult leaves casualties and questions (Richard Mauer and Hussam Ali, 1/30/07, McClatchy Newspapers)

Even in Iraq's volatile and violent brew of sectarian, political, tribal and ethnic factionalism, the explosive emergence of the religious group Soldiers of Heaven stands apart as a reminder of how little understanding there is of the country's complex web of militias.

The group's leader, who was known by several names, including his birth name of Diya Abdul-Zahra Kadhim, believed he was the earthly representative of the "Hidden Imam" of Shiite theology, Mohammed al-Mahdi.

Police said Monday that Kadhim, who reportedly was born in 1969 in Hilla, planned to attack the Shiite commemoration of Ashoura today in the holy city of Najaf, an event expected to draw as many as 2 million pilgrims.

Police said Kadhim's motive in planning the assault was to hasten the return of the Mahdi, an event that Shiite theology predicts will lead to peace, justice and the conversion of the world to Islam.

Sunni Muslims don't believe in the Hidden Imam, but the concept is a driving force in Shiite belief. Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr drew the name for his Mahdi Army militia from that theology.

In the absence of hard evidence about the group and its connections, Iraqis have been speculating wildly and contradictorily, asserting that they recognize elements of Shiite, Sunni and other influences among the militants.

Asad abu Kalal, the governor of Najaf, said as much himself on Monday.

"In external form, the way they look is Shiite, but its reality is something else," Kalal said. "They meant to destroy the Shiite and kill the Grand Marjiyas and occupy the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali." The Grand Marjiyas are the four leading ayatollahs in Najaf. They are led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric.

Doomsday cult said to be at center of Iraqi battle: Authorities say Iraqi and U.S. forces fought disciples of a renegade Muslim leader intent on killing Shiite pilgrims (Louise Roug and Saad Fakhrildeen, January 30, 2007, LA Times)
Iraqi officials said the militants had been holed up with their wives and children stockpiling food and weapons in the village of Zergha on the opposite bank of the Euphrates River from Najaf. According to some reports, women and children were among the casualties in the intense ground and air assault.

Abdul-Zahra was a charismatic figure, Iraqi officials said, whose tale conjures up American religious zealots Jim Jones and David Koresh.

The officials said Abdul-Zahra, also known as Thamir abu Gumar, was arrested twice during the rule of Saddam Hussein on charges of claiming to be Imam Mahdi, the revered Shiite Muslim saint who disappeared more than 1,000 years ago and whose return is said to herald a new dawn of justice.

After Hussein was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Abdul-Zahra's group appeared to be a legitimate political movement "coming out of the new civil freedoms," said Ali Jarew, Najaf's provincial security advisor.

But soon Abdul-Zahra, who is in his mid-30s, began telling followers that he was the reincarnation of the Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, another revered Shiite saint.

Jarew described Abdul-Zahra as tall, fair-skinned, rugged and handsome. His followers were said to include Sunnis and Shiites, Iraqis and foreigners, men and women.

They apparently came to believe that the man from the small Shiite town of Hillah was Mahdi, and the chaos engulfing Iraq an omen of the coming apocalypse.

The Iraqi Cabinet, in a statement, described the Heaven's Army as an "ideologically corrupted group" led by a man with "a suspicious history."

Shiites' Ashoura holiday points to past and future (Borzou Daragahi and Raed El-Rafei, 1/30/07, Los Angeles Times)
Ashoura, the 10-day ceremony that culminates today and marks the run-up to the 7th-century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, has leapt in importance in the Arab world since the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Sunni regime.

"Ashoura is the marquee event of Shiism," said Vali Nasr, a scholar at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and author of "The Shia Revival." [...]

For centuries, Shiites communities were considered an underclass in Arab countries, oppressed by powerful and wealthy Sunni leaders, even where Shiites constituted a majority as in Iraq and Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf. While Iran is predominately Shiite, it was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that produced the Arab world's first Shiite-controlled country, an event Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Iraq's main Shiite political coalition, calls the "Ashoura Revolution."

The effect throughout the Middle East and beyond has been electrifying. In Sunni-ruled Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where Shiites until recently were barred from celebrating Ashoura, Shiites pressed for more rights. In Saudi Arabia, Shiites demanded they be granted the right to celebrate Ashoura in the open. The Saudi government nervously complied.

Shiites' demands for rights have upset the centuries-old balance of power in the region but also created new democratic openings in autocratic Sunni regimes.

But the emergence of Shiite Arabs as a significant player on the world stage has been riddled with conflict. Sunni Arabs often refuse to embrace Shiites as fellow Arabs, sometimes deriding them as Persian agents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 PM


Bush Directive Increases Sway on Regulation (ROBERT PEAR, 1/30/07, NY Times)

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president's priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

The President has steadily, though without fanfare, chipped away at the permanent bureaucracy which is the greatest extant threat to the Republic, since the courts have been tamed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 PM


Elderly most at risk of theft by own children (Sarah Womack, 30/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Greedy middle-aged sons and daughters are the people most likely to rob their parents of money, valuables and even their homes, according to a report today.

The findings, published by Action on Elder Abuse, are based on a study of calls to the charity's helpline last year.

They show that far from the family being a haven for the elderly, many pensioners are victims of their close relatives' avarice and psychological cruelty. They are regarded as easy targets if they have disabilities or suffer dementia.

What makes euthanasia personal issue isn't the desire to control when one dies but to control when one can whack a dependent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Mexico's Calderon Urges Region to Reject Turn to Failed Past (Juan Pablo Spinetto and Patrick Harrington, Jan. 29, 2007, Bloomberg)

Mexican President Felipe Calderon warned that Latin America is splitting into two economic camps, one embracing a failed past of state control, the other seeking growth with foreign investment.

Calderon, 44, used the global audience provided by the World Economic Forum in Davos for some of the sharpest language of his 60-day presidency to deride a push, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for increased state control of the region's economies. In the past six months, Venezuela and Bolivia have moved to nationalize foreign assets and Ecuador is threatening to default on its foreign debt. The countries are also weakening central bank autonomy.

``Many countries in Latin America have chosen a move toward the past, and among their most harmful decisions are seeking nationalizations, expropriations, state control of the economy and authoritarianism,'' Calderon said in an interview in Davos. ``Mexicans have decided to look to the future and to strengthen democracy, markets and investment.''

Latin American nations must choose a path of democracy and free markets or risk falling behind competitors in the rest of the world, Calderon said. Mexico, by asserting the rule of law and luring investment, will become one of the world's largest economies in coming decades, he said.

He leads an emerging Red State.

Five lessons that Latin America could learn from India (Andres Oppenheimer, HACER)

First lesson: Continuity pays. Unlike many Latin American countries, which change economic policies with each new government, India has stayed the course of its economic reforms. Since 1991, India has opened up most sectors of its economy to the private sector, including airlines, railroads and telephone companies.

While India is a messy democracy, with a few communist-ruled states and dozens of ethnic enclaves that in some cases have violent separatist movements, there is a consensus that stability brings about investment and that there is no growth without investment.

Even India's communists have turned pro-investment. Earlier this month, the communist government of India's West Bengal state made headlines by granting rural lands to India's Tata Motors for a car manufacturing plant, despite violent protests from local farmers and peasants.

Second lesson: There is more than one way to privatize. Unlike several Latin American countries, which sold major state-run monopolies to private investors, India has most often left state-owned companies alive, but forced them to compete with new private firms. That helped reduce social opposition to privatizations, officials say. [...]

Third lesson: Gradualism pays. Unlike in many Latin American countries, where governments privatized state monopolies overnight, India opened its economy gradually over the past 15 years. That made these measures politically easier to implement.

Fourth lesson: Investment in education pays. [...]

Fifth lesson: Meritocracy has its merits. While education is largely free in India, the country has set up a meritocratic school system, in which students have to pass a rigorous high-school exam, whose grades determine which university students can attend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 PM


A railway that did Nazis' bidding: France's state railroad is being sued by Holocaust survivors and their families. (Mary Papenfuss, 1/29/07, The Inquirer)

Sonia Jeruchim heard that "something big" was about to happen to the French Jewish community in July 1942. Her husband, a watchmaker, dismissed the rumors as bubbe meises - Yiddish for "grandma tales."

But within days, the French police rounded up about 13,000 Jews for deportation to German death camps. And Jeruchim found herself sobbing in the home of a sympathetic Christian family, pleading that they arrange safe passage for her three children.

"I remember she said: 'If anything happens to me, please see my children get an education,' " recalled Simon Jeruchim, 77, a retired package designer from Pomona, N.Y., who was 12 at the time.

Within hours, the children were whisked away to safety in rural Normandy. But their parents were soon arrested and forced onto a French train. Final destination: Auschwitz.

"It makes me so angry," said Simon's younger brother, Michel Jeruchim, 69, of Paoli, who was 5 when he last saw his mother. "The pain of my parents' loss is a wound that never heals."

The Jeruchims are among more than 100 Americans who have joined a groundbreaking legal action in Paris against the French state-owned railway, Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer, which shipped thousands of Jews to transit hubs on their way to liquidation. It is the same railway that now carries French commuters to their jobs. About 76,000 Jews in France were transported to German death camps; only 2,500 survived.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Edwards says he may have been too inexperienced in 2004 (AP, 1/29/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


DAVOS-Top Kremlin official Medvedev woos world forum (Clara Ferreira-Marques, Jan 27, 2007, Reuters)

Reserved at home, [Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev appeared relaxed and chatty at the forum, leading a Russian charm offensive aimed at restoring a national image tarnished by spats with its neighbours and accusations that Moscow wields its huge resources as a diplomatic weapon of blunt nationalism.

In his keynote speech in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, he outlined a three-point plan for Russia's development: diversify the economy, overhaul infrastructure and develop human capital.

He then concluded in fluent English.

"We realise the problems we are facing -- excessive dependence on (natural resources), corruption, a declining population," he said, adding Russia would woo the West not with force but with its achievements, while also protecting its own strategic assets.

"We are not trying to push anyone to love Russia." [...]

Quizzed on the succession, Medvedev said a transparent process would be a test of the maturity of Russian democracy.

"As I see it, the difference between a democratic state and a non-democratic state is the path to power," he said.

The hope all along has been that after Mr. Putin used a period of rather authoritarian measures to regain control of the country he would be able to hand over power to more liberal forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


Only the US hawks can save the Iranian president now: Ahmadinejad is failing to deliver for the poor and losing support, but he could yet survive because of the international threat (Ali Ansari, January 30, 2007, The Guardian)

Ahmadinejad was elected on a platform of anti-corruption and financial transparency, and few appreciated how rapidly he was intoxicated with the prerogatives of his office. He very soon forgot the real help he had received in ensuring his election, basking in the belief that God and the people had put him in power. Ahmadinejad soon had a view for all seasons: uranium enrichment. Of course Iran would pursue this, and what's more, sell it on the open market at knockdown rates. As for interest rates, they were far too high for the ordinary borrower, so cut them immediately. And then there was the Holocaust.

None of this might matter so much, if the president had based his rhetorical flourishes on solid policies. But much to everyone's surprise nothing dramatic materialised. Ahmadinejad appeared to follow the dictum of his mentor, Ayatollah Khomeini - "Economics is for donkeys". Indeed, his policies could be defined as "anything but Khatami" (his predecessor). So the oil reserve fund was spent on cash handouts to the grateful poor, and the central bank, normally a bastion of prudence, was instructed to cut interest rates for small businesses.

These had the effect, as Ahmadinejad was warned, of pushing up inflation. The rationale for high interest rates was to encourage the middle classes to keep their money in Iran. Now they decided to spend it. Richer Iranians, worried about rising international tension, decided it would be prudent to ship their money abroad. This further weakened the rial, and added to inflationary pressure. In the past few months the prices of most basic goods have risen, hurting the poor he was elected to help. Moreover, far from investing Iran's oil wealth in infrastructure to create jobs, he announced recently that Iran's economy could support a substantially larger population, as if current unemployment was not a big enough problem.

Views such as these, along with his well publicised unorthodox religious convictions, have earned him the ridicule of political foes. What is more striking perhaps is the growing concern of those who should be considered his allies, especially in the parliament. These are people who supported him and expected results. They expected their populist protege to overturn the heresy of reform.

Much to their irritation, not only has Ahmadinejad singularly failed to consolidate and extend his political base, the recent municipal elections saw his faction defeated throughout the country. Traditional conservatives and reformists reorganised and hit back, ingeniously using technology to work round the various obstacles placed in front of them. Now, over the past weeks, with biting weather, shortages of heating fuel are further raising the political temperature, while his political opponents point to the burgeoning international crisis for which the globetrotting president seems to have no constructive answer. Talk has turned to impeachment.

Mr. Anasi, interestingly enough, makes the same mistake that the hawks and Mr. Ahmedinejad himself did, imagining that he ever had support from above or below. In fact, it was only because Ayatollah Khamenei underestimated how much he'd alienated the reformers and how few would turn out to vote that such a whack job won election in the first place. From there he's just played into the hands of both the conservatives and the reformers and greased his own skids.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM

HOLD THE PEANUT PRODUCTS (via David Hill, The Bronx):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 AM


3 Weeks to Pitchers and Molinas (JACK CURRY, 1/29/07, NY Times)

The energetic, young children scampered along a bumpy dirt infield, chased baseballs around an outfield that was missing almost as much grass as it contained and sidestepped a leaning light tower that was a miniature Tower of Pisa. Still, to them, this tattered field in Vega Alta, P.R., is hallowed ground.

Actually, Jesus Rivera Park is sacred to little ones and not-so-little ones because it is a place where three neighborhood legends once played. It is a field where the Molina brothers -- Bengie, José and Yadier, all catchers -- rumbled through the divots as they developed into major leaguers.

From the time they sip their morning coffee until hours after they have eaten dinner, the people who hang around the park can boast that the Molinas stand apart from the 18 other families that have sent at least three brothers to the major leagues.

The three DiMaggio brothers had superb careers and featured one of the most famous Joes to ever hit or throw a ball. The three Alou brothers combined for strong careers during a collective 47 seasons. But only the three Molinas all ended up behind the plate and only they, of all those 18 other groups of brothers, can each claim a World Series championship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Pelosi, two other Democrats failed to disclose roles in family charities (Matt Kelley, 1/29/07, USA TODAY)

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and two other prominent Democrats have failed to disclose they are officers of family charities, in violation of a law requiring members of Congress to report non-profit leadership roles.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana also did not report they serve as family foundation directors, according to financial disclosure reports examined by USA TODAY.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Senate Dems' anti-surge vote hits snag (ROBERT NOVAK, 1/29/07, Chgicago Sun-Times)

The Democratic plan was for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden to sit down over the weekend with his longtime Republican colleague, Sen. John Warner, and hammer out a consensus bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge in Iraq. But Warner, who has been making backroom deals for 28 years in the Senate, informed Biden late last Thursday: no deal.

Warner wrote that the "will of the Senate" should be determined in "open" session, not closeted negotiations. That killed the Democratic leadership's dream of passing a Biden-crafted anti-surge resolution by 70 votes or more. Such a proposal now cannot get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster (and could fall short of the 50 senators needed for a simple majority). Conceivably, no resolution may be passed by the Senate.

Despite new Democratic control, the Senate remains sluggish, quirky and madly frustrating for anybody with an agenda. [...]

[B]iden was surprised Wednesday afternoon to receive a blunt letter from Warner and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. They asserted that "issues set forth in [the resolution] should occur as a consequence of the will of the Senate, working in 'open' session." In other words, no private negotiations.

That stand poses a dilemma for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid because of bipartisan support for Warner's resolution. Besides Ben Nelson, co-sponsors include Democrats Mary Landrieu (La.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Ken Salazar (Colo.), and Republicans Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Gordon Smith (Ore.). If they all stick together, Biden cannot change the Warner resolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Late economist Friedman left mark on history (TERRY SAVAGE, January 29, 2007, Chicago Sun-Times)

Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, also a renowned economist, explained that inflation was not caused by full employment and wage demands pushing prices higher. Instead they demonstrated that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon."

Inflation increased when the Federal Reserve, the nation's central bank, created too much money or credit. The last two decades have shown that you can have strong economic growth, the lowest unemployment rate in history, a bull market in stocks -- and low inflation, if the Fed keeps a stern watch on the appropriate level of money supply.

Leo Melamed, chairman emeritus of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, remembers the importance of Friedman's endorsement of his concept of a financial futures market.

Says Melamed about his late good friend, "His greatest contribution worldwide was to prove that you cannot run an economy in a command form, that a government can't dictate pricing. . . . He convinced a generation of policy makers and average citizens that market forces of supply and demand can be the only determinants of fair market value." [...]

Today has been declared Milton Friedman Day, and he will be honored today at the University of Chicago Rockefeller Chapel at 2 p.m., a ceremony that will be open to the public, and is co-sponsored by the University of Chicago and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

If you want to know more about his formidable influence, you can watch his biography, "The Power of Choice" on PBS tonight.

Back before PBS was reduced to showing only self-help and pop reunion shows for aging boomers, it telecast Free to Choose in 1980 -- which you can stream here -- and signalled that even the liberal establishment had lost confidence in the New Deal/Great Society.

The Power of Milton Friedman (AMITY SHLAES, January 29, 2007, NY Sun)

The first thing this excellent program reminds us is what Friedman and his Chicago friends were up against. Between the 1940s and 1970s, America's political leaders really did believe in John Maynard Keynes's old rule that "a large extension of the traditional functions of government" was necessary in the new era. In those days, too many economists (even GOP economists) believed they should manage the economy almost hour by hour, using any number of devices that have since proven to be perverse or destructive.

After the Englishman died, John Kenneth Galbraith, a nearly-Englishman from Canada, preached the Keynes message to the Yahoos in America. "The Power of Choice" contains a wonderful clip of Ambassador Galbraith on a talk show sometime in the 1970s, archly telling the audience that "wage and price controls are an indispensable part of any economic policy that this country can have."

Friedman, as this program demonstrates, attacked such thinkers first of all on the economic plane. His "Permanent Income Hypothesis" demonstrated that citizens don't respond so much to their government's short-term behavior as to their own assessments of what will happen to themselves economically during the course of their lifetimes. If voters or taxpayers expected government -- the man on the porch, as it were -- to change its mind frequently, they would be less likely to change behavior on the basis of its offers. An even more important contribution from Friedman came on the monetary side. Friedman and his partner, Anna Schwartz, showed with their landmark monetary history that the Great Depression was caused by government failure to recognize deflation --not the failure of the stock market.

But Friedman also battled successfully on the political plane, including presidents from Ford forward. Friedman judged President Nixon the most intelligent but found that President Reagan understood his arguments best -- in part, perhaps, because Reagan was old enough to have been educated before Keynes took hold. Friedman's own famous documentary, "Free To Choose," aired in 1980, the year Reagan ran for the presidency.

A million viewers crowded before TV screens to watch Friedman reach for the "STOP" button at the printing presses at the United States Mint to show how you checked inflation.

Plato's Republic or Milton Friedman's Market? (Arnold Kling, 29 Jan 2007, Tech Central Station)
Friedman's insight is that a market limits the power that others have over us; conversely, limiting the power that others have over us allows us to have markets. Friedman argued that no matter how wise the officials of government may be, market competition does a better job of protecting us from idiots.

Of course, Friedman's blindness is the belief that markets can function in the absence of government.
-TRIBUTE: Economist on a White Horse: How Milton Friedman saved the world (John O'Sullivan, National Review)
-Milton and Rose Friedman: Liberty's Couple: On Free to Choose (Lawrence B. Lindsey, December 19, 2005, National Review)
-Milton, the Affable Tactician: He knew what to say, but he also knew how to say it. (Greg Kaza, 1/29/07, National Review)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Saudi king invites Palestinian factions to talks (Greg Myre, January 28, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called Sunday on the rival Palestinian factions to hold emergency talks in the holy city of Mecca in the latest bid to halt some of the worst ever Palestinian internal fighting.

As the two main factions, Hamas and Fatah, waged a fourth straight day of fighting in the Gaza Strip, leaders from both groups said they would take up the invitation by the Saudi monarch, though no date was set. [...]

Saudi Arabia does not have a tradition of such direct involvement in Palestinian affairs. But as one of the most important figures in the Arab world the king, by his decision to hold the talks in Mecca, could increase the pressure on the Palestinian leaders to find a compromise.

It is the traditions of the Middle East that we went there to chuck in the wastebin of History.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Progress is Impressive in Indonesia (Ian Bremmer, 1/29/07, Real Clear Politics)

Amid all the fears in the United States and Europe that direct elections in the Muslim world breed only political radicalism and an anti-Western agenda, recent developments in Indonesia have gone virtually unnoticed.

Over the last decade, Indonesia has endured the unexpected implosion of former President Suharto's 31-year authoritarian rule, the Asian financial crisis, ethnic and religious violence, the loss of East Timor, separatist movements, terrorist attacks, a tsunami that killed 168,000 of its people, and a volcano last September that left thousands homeless as it buried villages in rivers of mud. But a visit to the country today reveals plenty for both Indonesians and foreigners to celebrate as the country's first directly elected president makes steady progress toward political and economic reform.

Since his inauguration in October 2004, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has brought real stability to Indonesia. That's no mean accomplishment in a nation comprised of thousands of islands scattered across the Pacific, home to more than 300 local languages and a diverse range of ethnic groups. This stability is transforming the archipelago into a promising long-term investment bet.

Knitting Indonesia into the Axis of Good has been nearly as great an achievement for this administration as forging a special relationship with India.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Admit it - you really hate modern art (Spengler, 1/30/07, Asia Times)

The most striking difference between the two founding fathers of modernism is this: the price of Kandinsky's smallest work probably exceeds the aggregate royalties paid for the performances of Schoenberg's music. Out of a sense of obligation, musicians perform Schoenberg from time to time, but always in the middle and never at the end of a program, for audiences flee the cacophony. Schoenberg died a poor man in 1951, and and his widow and three children barely survived on the copyright royalties from his music. His family remains poor, while the heirs of famous artists have become fabulously wealthy.

Modern art is ideological, as its proponents are the first to admit. It was the ideologues, namely the critics, who made the reputation of the abstract impressionists, most famously Clement Greenberg's sponsorship of Jackson Pollack in The Partisan Review. It is not supposed to "please" the senses on first glance, after the manner of a Raphael or an Ingres, but to challenge the viewer to think and consider.

Why is it that the audience for modern art is quite happy to take in the ideological message of modernism while strolling through an art gallery, but loath to hear the same message in the concert hall? It is rather like communism, which once was fashionable among Western intellectuals. They were happy to admire communism from a distance, but reluctant to live under communism.

When you view an abstract expressionist canvas, time is in your control. You may spend as much or as little time as you like, click your tongue, attempt to say something sensible and, if you are sufficiently pretentious, quote something from the Wikipedia write-up on the artist that you consulted before arriving at the gallery. When you listen to atonal music, for example Schoenberg, you are stuck in your seat for a quarter of an hour that feels like many hours in a dentist's chair. You cannot escape. You do not admire the abstraction from a distance. You are actually living inside it. You are in the position of the fashionably left-wing intellectual of the 1930s who made the mistake of actually moving to Moscow, rather than admiring it at a safe distance.

That is why at least some modern artists come into very serious money, but not a single one of the abstract composers can earn a living from his music.

One is reminded of the opening lines of Tom Wolfe's devastating critique, From Bauhaus to Our House: O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within they blessed borders today?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Iranian Reveals Plan to Expand Role in Iraq (JAMES GLANZ, 1/29/07, NY Times)

Iran's ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq -- including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital -- just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs. [...]

The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called "the security fight." In the economic area, Mr. Qumi said, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for Iraq reconstruction, an area of failure on the part of the United States since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago.

"We have experience of reconstruction after war," Mr. Qumi said, referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "We are ready to transfer this experience in terms of reconstruction to the Iraqis."

Common interests create strange bedfellows.

Another illusion out of the Iraqi hat (Sami Moubayed , 1/30/07, Asia Times)

Had Maliki been prime minister of a real state he would have had a lot of explaining to do when mortars hit an all-girls secondary school three days later, on Sunday, killing five students. All of them were Sunnis. A Sunni group called the General Conference of the People of Iraq accused Shi'ite militias of carrying out the attack, saying that the markings on the mortars indicated that they were "made in Iran".

Also on Sunday, Iraqi and US forces reported that they killed "several hundred gunmen" who were said to be planning an attack on a Shi'ite shrine. In a battle in the holy city of Najaf that raged all day, a US helicopter crashed, killing two troops.

More than 150 people were killed in the week preceding the attack on the girls' school, most targeting Shi'ites as they prepared to celebrate the holy day of Ashura on Tuesday.

Preceding all this bloodshed was the much-publicized shootout between Sunni militants and US troops, backed by Iraqi security, in Haifa Street in Baghdad in which 30 militants died. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the government, said it was aimed at eradicating "terrorists and outlaws" from the neighborhood.

The Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni group, claimed that the Haifa Street attack was "genocide", using it as further evidence to blame the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government of persecuting Sunnis. [...]

A major cause of concern over the past six months has been Maliki's alliance with the Mehdi Army of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

It is accused, among other things, of kidnapping Sunni notables, assassinating Sunni clergy and burning Sunni mosques. The hanging of Saddam Hussein on December 30, which fueled Sunni anger not only in Iraq but throughout the Arab world, was carried out by members of the Sadr movement, who chanted Muqtada's name in the Iraqi dictator's face before telling him to "go to hell".

Maliki never lifted a finger to stop them. When Iraqi troops stormed Muqtada's districts in late 2006, the prime minister apologized and released the arrested Sadrists. While he cracks down routinely on Sunni militias, Maliki refuses to harass Muqtada's Shi'ite militias or his rival in Shi'ite politics, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

Some of Maliki's personal guards, it is reported in Baghdad, are members of the Mehdi Army. During the latest holy month of Ramadan, Hakim gave a banquet in honor of the premier. Maliki attended and promised to bring security to Baghdad, while disarming the militias. Those guarding him and his cabinet at Hakim's banquet were members of the Badr Organization, one of the militias the premier promises to "disarm".

In a very simple equation of the patron-client system of the Middle East, Maliki offers them protection, exemptions and "above the law" treatment, while they offer him allegiance. [...]

Muqtada is under heavy pressure to dismantle the army, he added, and has even brought the matter before the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Although leading Shi'ite cleric Sistani is a wise man who is unimpressed by Muqtada's revolutionary and adventurous conduct, and is even threatened by his rising cult status in Shi'ite politics, Sistani very well might have advised against dismantling the Mehdi Army at this stage.

Because of rising Sunni anger in Iraqi with Shi'ites, there is a need for some kind of credible, loyal and experienced armed protection for Shi'ite neighborhoods. Sistani cannot provide this; Muqtada can.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


As Spending Deadline Looms, Congress Debates Earmarks: Lawmakers Can't Agree on What Outlays Are Wasteful (Lyndsey Layton, 1/29/07, Washington Post)

[W]hat precisely is an earmark?

That question has been at the heart of passionate negotiations across the capital as lawmakers, federal agencies and lobbyists argue over what constitutes waste and what is legitimate spending.

"I heard an appropriator say this week that it was like Justice [Potter] Stewart's definition of pornography -- it's hard to define an earmark, but he knew it when he saw it," one Democratic staffer said.

The debate goes beyond semantics. The stakes are huge -- deciding how to spend $463 billion between now and Sept. 30 on thousands of programs run by local communities, states and federal agencies. While public debate on Capitol Hill has been dominated by the war in Iraq, closed-door arguments about what the federal government will fund this year have been nearly as intense.

The Congressional Research Service says there is no widely accepted definition of "earmark." The White House won't take a stab at it either, saying through a spokesman that it will be addressed when the president presents his fiscal 2008 budget next month.

"Defining earmarks is a little like defining a terrorist," said Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group aimed at making government more transparent. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Part of the problem is there is no standard. Some of the earmarks are good stuff that government ought to be doing. This has the potential of throwing the baby out with the bath water."

As with terrorists, most folk would be comfortable with following Abbott Amaury's advice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Just like Scotland, I'm in the middle of an identity crisis (Niall Ferguson, 28/01/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Having once been the best educated and most entrepreneurial part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has become a byword for big government, high unemployment and low achievement. Southern Ireland -- once regarded by Scots like me as a benighted outpost of Popery and poverty -- has eclipsed Scotland at everything from foreign direct investment to football.

The answer, argue the Scot Nats, is independence. And the "Celtic Tiger" is not their only role model. The SNP website also lauds the achievements of Australia, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Montenegro, New Zealand and Norway, all places where "independence has worked".

It is, of course, a little premature to conclude that independence has worked in Montenegro, which has enjoyed self-government for less than eight months. Still, the point is superficially a reasonable one. There are indeed plenty of countries smaller than Scotland (population 5.1 million) that have prospered under their own flag. And it is not wholly implausible to imagine an independent Scotland as Finland West or New Zealand North.

On the other hand, there are plenty of countries with populations of around five million that have made rather less of a success of independence. Sierra Leone springs to mind. As does Eritrea. As does Turkmenistan. Small isn't always beautiful. The question therefore arises: Just when does it make sense for a people to go it alone?

The past century has seen a remarkable global experiment in what used to be called "self-determination", so we have plenty of evidence to go on. Back in 1913, around 82 per cent of the world's population lived in some 14 empires. Nation states were the exception, not the rule. But two world wars, a depression and a spate of revolutions shattered the old imperial order, ushering in an era of almost incessant political fragmentation. In 1946, there were 74 sovereign states in the world. By 1995 there were 192.

It's hardly a purely economic question, but from an economic perspective there is no question that an island people who were colonized by the Brits will succeed on their own and smallness is a huge boon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Are Democrats Surging Out West? Numbers Say No (Stuart Rothenberg, 1/29/07, Real Clear Politics)

More than a few journalists and political pontificators have noted recent Democratic gains in the Mountain West, which includes Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Some see those gains in 2004 and 2006 as shattering a reliable Republican region, while others argue recent wins are only the beginning of a Democratic rally that will continue in 2008 and beyond.

After one of the best newspapers on the planet screamed "West Is Going Democrats' Direction" and "Political Shift in Mountain States" in headlines, I figured I'd look at the numbers myself to see how much of an opportunity Democrats have to turn the Mountain West blue, or at least purple.

After dissecting the historical data over the past 25 years and comparing it to election results from the past few cycles, it's very clear that not much is going on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Border-Patrol Two Deserve Jail: Law enforcement defends its honor, despite the "hero" propaganda (Andrew C. McCarthy, 1/29/07, National Review)

A solid law-and-order conservative, [Johnny] Sutton's position, United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas, is a unique perch from which to appreciate hundreds of dedicated Border Patrol agents, to grasp in a real way -- not a bandwagon way, but a rubber-meets-the-road way -- that these men and women truly are our last line of defense against the hordes for whom our political elites are determined to put out a big, fat welcome-mat reading "AMNESTY."

He has thus vigorously supported them. Sutton's office prosecutes their cases against alien smugglers and narcotics importers at an impressive clip. It is not for nothing, moreover, that badlands are called "badlands." Illegals and their facilitators routinely assault the agents. Frequently, there is gunfire. Sutton knows the outnumbered agents have to be able to defend themselves and impose what passes for order. Since he's been U.S. attorney, there have been several incidents in which agents have shot at hostiles, including four resulting in fatalities. In each, Sutton's office investigated the matter thoroughly and the agents were cleared without charges being filed.

So why are some Border Patrol agents vilifying Sutton today? Why are they joined by a full-throated chorus of union reps, anti-immigration activists, media heavyweights, and a small but vocal cabal of mostly Republican congressmen? Because two rogues who had no business wearing badges and carrying guns have managed to entangle their gross malfeasance in the impassioned politics of immigration, that's why.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Categorizing Minor League Pitchers: Part One - The Starters (Rich Lederer, 1/29/07, Baseball Analysts)

I have listed the top 25 pitchers in the northeast quadrant by strikeout rate. Ages are as of July 1, 2007. Organizations, for the most part, are updated to include trades. Levels are based on classifications where the pitcher threw at least 50 innings in 2006. Stats have been combined for those who competed at more than one level, provided they pitched a minimum of 50 innings at each of the stops.


Yovani Gallardo 21 MIL A+/AA 31.70% 47.14%
Philip Hughes 21 NYY AA 31.44 50.72
T. J. Nall 26 LAD AA 28.17 46.61
Wade Davis 21 TB A 27.82 48.25
Franklin Morales 21 COL A+ 27.37 53.18
Michael Bowden 20 BOS A 27.09 51.10
Dana Eveland 23 MIL AAA 26.42 53.05
Samuel Deduno 23 COL A+ 26.18 60.26
Chi-Hung Cheng 22 TOR A 25.84 49.48
Adam Miller 22 CLE AA 25.61 53.92
Sean Gallagher 21 CHC A+/AA 25.33 51.24
Carlos Carrasco 20 PHI A 25.21 48.23
Tom Gorzelanny 24 PIT AAA 25.20 45.88
John Bannister 23 TEX A+ 25.06 49.64
Jonathon Niese 20 NYM A 24.67 48.84
Mitch Talbot 23 TB AA 24.41 50.68
Cory Wade 24 LAD A 24.35 53.15
Renyel Pinto 24 FLA AAA 23.94 47.71
Ryan Tucker 20 FLA A 23.33 47.99
Kevin Roberts 23 MIL A 23.13 46.60
Justin Thomas 23 SEA A/A+ 23.01 51.02
Kason Gabbard 25 BOS AA/AAA 22.92 59.13
Adam Daniels 24 STL A 22.70 51.75
Jonathan Barratt 22 TB A+ 22.52 47.76
Zach Ward 23 MIN A 22.20 67.44

When separating the wheat from the chaff, it helps to look at age vs. level. Yovani Gallardo, Philip Hughes, and Sean Gallagher all pitched in Double-A as 20-year-olds. T.J. Nall pitched in Double-A as a 25-year-old. All else being equal, you take the younger pitcher every time. Nall isn't the only Dodgers hurler that needs to be discounted due to his age. Cory Wade spent the majority of the season pitching in Low-A as a 23-year-old. He was promoted to High-A (Vero Beach, Florida State League) and got clobbered (2-4, 8.24 ERA with 9 HR in 39.1 IP). Despite Wade's excellent K and GB rates at Low-A, he is NOT a legitimate prospect.

Gallardo won't turn 21 until next month, yet is about as polished and mature as any minor leaguer. Milwaukee's second-round draft pick in 2004 ate up hitters in High-A (6-3, 2.09 ERA) and AA (5-2, 1.63) although his K and GB rates dipped at the higher level. The righthander out of Mexico led the minors with 188 strikeouts in 155 combined innings while only allowing 104 hits and 6 HR. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he combines size with stuff (including a low-90s fastball, a slider, and changeup), command, and performance. Unlike Nall and Wade, Gallardo is the real deal.

Hughes, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander, went 12-6 with a 2.16 ERA in 146 combined innings in the Florida State (A+) and Eastern (AA) Leagues. The first-round draft choice in 2004 was a dominant force down the stretch (5-0, 1.43 with 62 SO, 21 H, and 9 BB in 44 IP) and in the first game of the playoffs (13 punchouts in 6 IP vs. Portland, the team that won the EL championship). He throws a heavy two-seam fastball, a four-seamer that sits at 93-95, a plus curve, and is working on developing his changeup. Hughes will begin the season in Triple-A at the Yankees' new Scranton/Wilkes Barre affiliate and should reach the Big Apple no later than this summer.

New York Yankees Top Ten Prospects (Kevin Goldstein, 1/29/07, Baseball Prospectus)
Excellent Prospects
1. Philip Hughes, rhp
2. Jose Tabata, rf
Very Good Prospects
3. Joba Chamberlain, rhp
4. Humberto Sanchez, rhp
5. Dellin Betances, rhp
Good Prospects
6. Kevin Whelan, rhp
Average Prospects
7. Tyler Clippard, rhp
8. J. Brent Cox, rhp
9. Ian Kennedy, rhp
10. Alberto Gonzalez, ss

1. Philip Hughes, rhp

DOB: 4/24/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, California HS

What he did in 2006: 1.80 ERA at High A (30-19-2-30), 2.25 ERA at AA (116-73-32-138)

The Good: The total package, making him the best pitching prospect in the game. His 92-96 mph fastball has good movement to go along with outstanding location, and his hard curveball gives him a second major-league-quality out pitch. His change-up is at least average, and has nice fade and deception. His size is ideal and his mechanics are nearly flawless.

The Bad: 2006 was Hughes' first season with no health problems, and he was treated with kid gloves at the end of the season. He's yet to prove that he can hold up under a full-season workload, although he was as dominant as ever at the end of the year.

The Irrelevant: In the first inning of games, opposing hitters facing Hughes hit .125 (11-for-88) with 34 strikeouts.

In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An absolute ace--a legitimate No. 1 on any team.

Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - The Yankees insist that they want Hughes to begin the year in Triple-A, but if he's lights-out in spring training, it will be hard to send him down. No matter what happens in March, he should be up before the All-Star break.

2. Jose Tabata, rf

DOB: 8/12/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2005
What he did in 2006: 298/377/420 at Low A (363 PA)

The Good: Plus hitting skills and a mature approach well beyond his years. With outstanding bat speed and excellent hand/eye coordination, Tabata projects through the roof offensively based on what he's already been able to do at such a young age. He's a tick-above-average runner and a solid outfielder with a good arm.

The Bad: While nobody questions Tabata's ability to hit for average down the road, his power projection is a matter of some debate. Some feel that his pure hitting skills are enough to project for plus power, with others are concerned that his smallish frame will limit him to no more than 15-20 home runs annually.

The Irrelevant: In 2006, Tabata hit .261 with the bases empty, and .331 with runners on base.

In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A star corner outfielder, but whether he competes for batting titles or slugging titles is still up in the air.

Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Tabata will begin the season in the High-A Florida State League as an 18-year-old. There's no reason to rush him.

For all the big names and bigger contracts the Yankees have collected, you'd have to think their success this season will be determined to a staggering degree by whether Philip Hughes is ready to contribute at the major league level. No other player who may make their major league squad is likely to contribute more this year than he has in the past and most of the rest may decline significantly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Helton's Sox interest at Fever Pitch (Michael Silverman, 1/29/07, Boston Herald)

Josh Beckett has been aware for some time that the prospect of Todd Helton getting traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Red Sox [team stats] was at least being discussed.

Having known Helton for a long time and sharing the same agent as the first baseman, the pitcher also was fully aware of how Helton feels about the idea of playing in Boston.

"I know Todd wants to be a Red Sox," Beckett said yesterday by telephone while watching "Fever Pitch" at home. "He's pretty excited about it - at least excited about the chance of it happening." [...]

Sources close to the Red Sox indicated the club is not only unmotivated to tinker with its roster, but also have not yet seen a proposal it would consider serious. That could change, of course, depending on how much of Helton's remaining salary -90.1 million is due during the next six years, including a buyout in 2012 - the Rockies are willing to pay.

While it's generally recognized that the Sox got Dice-K at a price absurdly far below market value and the JD Drew contract compares quite favorably to that of a Bobby Abreu or Carlos Lee, it's generally forgotten that they signed Beckett and David Ortiz to extensions during last season that look like real bargains now. If they were to add an $8 million a year Todd Helton to their line-up they might not only be the best team in baseball but one of the most underpaid--especially if they jettison Mike Lowell and Julian Tavarez in the process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Pub law U-turn will curb opening hours (Sam Coates, 1/29/07, Times of London)

The Government is preparing to make a substantial U-turn over 24-hour drinking by making it harder for pubs to open later in future amid the first signs they realise that the policy went too far too fast.

Tessa Jowell will unveil the latest controversial change to social policy tomorrow by announcing the location of Britain's first super-casino, which will bring £1 million slot machines into this country for the first time.

But The Times can reveal that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is attempting to curb the development of a 24-hour drinking culture by changing the guidance to councils to spell out that there is "no general presumption in favour of lengthening licensing hours".

January 28, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


A deal in the desert for Sen. Reid?: A bill he wrote could have affected the friend who sold the land. (Chuck Neubauer and Tom Hamburger, January 28, 2007, LA Times)

It's hard to buy undeveloped land in booming northern Arizona for $166 an acre. But now-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid effectively did just that when a longtime friend decided to sell property owned by the employee pension fund that he controlled.

In 2002, Reid (D-Nev.) paid $10,000 to a pension fund controlled by Clair Haycock, a Las Vegas lubricants distributor and his friend for 50 years. The payment gave the senator full control of a 160-acre parcel in Bullhead City that Reid and the pension fund had jointly owned. Reid's price for the equivalent of 60 acres of undeveloped desert was less than one-tenth of the value the assessor placed on it at the time.

Six months after the deal closed, Reid introduced legislation to address the plight of lubricants dealers who had their supplies disrupted by the decisions of big oil companies. It was an issue the Haycock family had brought to Reid's attention in 1994, according to a source familiar with the events.

If Reid were to sell the property for any of the various estimates of its value, his gain on the $10,000 investment could range from $50,000 to $290,000.

It is a potential violation of congressional ethics standards for a member to accept anything of value -- including a real estate discount -- from a person with interests before Congress.

And we thought everything would be different....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM



Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan said, "Deborah was one of the nation's finest political reporters. She was never part of press group-think that so often rules Washington.

"Common sense ruled her mind, not dogma. I will miss her advice, and The Post's readers will miss her honesty and wisdom."

Orin-Eilbeck, 59, joined the New York Post in 1977 after a stint with the Long Island Press, and she immediately made her mark on New York politics.

When the Post dispatched her to Washington in 1988, she quickly emerged as one of the nation's top political journalists.

She covered four presidencies, interviewing leaders and dignitaries including President Bush, Barbara Bush, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell.

Even one of her biggest sparring partners, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), reached out to wish her well during her illness.

"As hard as it is to believe, we really miss you around here," Clinton wrote.

Deborah Orin of 'NY Post' Dies at 59 (Editor & Publisher, January 28, 2007)
Orin-Eilbeck, a native New Yorker, graduated with honors from Harvard University. She received a master's degree from Northwestern University, Rubenstein said. She attended the schools on scholarships, he said.

Orin-Eilbeck, who was fluent in French, also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, he said.

She was a gourmet cook and an avid gardener and was passionate about politics.

President and Mrs. Bush Saddened by Death of Deborah Orin-Eilbeck (George W. Bush, 1/28/07)
Laura and I were saddened to learn of the death of Deborah Orin-Eilbeck. Deb had a distinguished, decades-long career as a journalist, covering every Presidential campaign since 1980 and joining the New York Post's Washington bureau in 1988. Deb fought a valiant battle against cancer with the same tenacity, devotion, and determination that she brought to her work in the White House briefing room through numerous Administrations.

Laura and I send our condolences to Deb's husband Neville Eilbeck, and to her family, friends, and colleagues. She will be missed by all of us at the White House who cared deeply for her.

She spent a day traveling with the candidate -- who I think was her classmate at Harvard -- when I worked on the NJ gubernatorial campaign. We typically only had three men in the car -- the candidate, me, and a cop -- and it was pointed out to us on more than one occasion that it was kind of a Little Rascals Road Show. She fit right in though and was more fun than a bag of cats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Raids foil plot to kill Shia pilgrims (Stephen Farrell in Baghdad and Hassan al-Jarrah in Najaf, 1/28/07, Times of London)

Iraqi troops backed by US tanks and helicopter gunships fought insurgents near the Shia city of Najaf yesterday as the Government said it had foiled an attempt to kill pilgrims during a key religious festival.

A US helicopter crashed during the fighting. Witnesses said that they saw it come down after trailing smoke during a machinegun battle.

Iraqi police officials in Najaf said that 250 insurgents were killed during bombing raids and gun battles, although similar claims have been wildly exaggerated in the past. [...]

Ghanim al-Qureyshi, the provincial police chief, said that halid Al-Senjeri, a Sunni, was dismissed as mayor amid suspicions that he was collaborating with Sunni insurgents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


"Progressive" anti-Semitism?: S.F. meet considers phenomenon (Ben Harris, Jan. 23, 2007, JTA)

On Jan. 28 the ADL will try to do more than just douse fires when it convenes Finding Our Voice, a daylong conference in San Francisco aimed at empowering Jewish progressives to respond to anti-Semitism on the left.

Co-sponsored by more than 50 Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum -- including the ADL, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Americans for Peace Now and the Jewish Labor Committee -- the conference aims to empower participants to respond to what organizers describe as an alarming trend. [...]

The left's tolerance for anti-Jewish bigotry is considered strange by many progressive Jews in the Bay Area, who noticed a marked increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric following the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Several anti-war protests in San Francisco organized by the ANSWER Coalition featured imagery and slogans some considered anti-Semitic, including the burning of the Israeli flag, chants of support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Nazi-like arm salutes.

Conference participants say that while some of this activity reflects a sinister political agenda, much of it stems from ignorance of the complexity of the Middle East conflict.

Some say a tendency to project familiar tropes of imperialist aggression or American racial politics onto the conflict produces a simplistic narrative in which Jews are the "white" oppressors and Palestinians the "black" victims. [...]

Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of Tikkun and perhaps the most well-known Jewish progressive in the country, will be in Washington on the day of the conference protesting the Iraq war.

A spokesperson for Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal advocacy group working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said: "From our perspective, you cannot get to the roots of anti-Semitism in the progressive movement without honestly addressing the severe human-rights violations that Israel engages in every day. Judging by the lineup, that kind of honest examination is not likely to happen at this conference."

Translation: We deserve it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Was 9/11 really that bad?: The attacks were a horrible act of mass murder, but history says we're overreacting (David A. Bell, January 28, 2007, LA Times)

Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction? Is the widespread belief that 9/11 plunged us into one of the deadliest struggles of our time simply wrong? If we did overreact, why did we do so? Does history provide any insight?

Certainly, if we look at nothing but our enemies' objectives, it is hard to see any indication of an overreaction. The people who attacked us in 2001 are indeed hate-filled fanatics who would like nothing better than to destroy this country. But desire is not the same thing as capacity, and although Islamist extremists can certainly do huge amounts of harm around the world, it is quite different to suggest that they can threaten the existence of the United States.

Yet a great many Americans, particularly on the right, have failed to make this distinction. For them, the "Islamo-fascist" enemy has inherited not just Adolf Hitler's implacable hatreds but his capacity to destroy.

Mr. Bell tiptoes right up to the edge of an insight here, but flinches. Hitler, of course, had no capacity to destroy this country, nor did he ever inflict so much as one casualty on our soil. Even the Japanese only inflicted about the same amount of damage as al Qaeda and only in a territory, not in the States. Consider our "over"reaction to the original Axis and you see that history does indeed teach us quite a bit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


EXCERPT: from Words that Work by Frank Luntz

How "Words That Work" Are Created

"If you think about it, talking to a polling company is an odd way to behave. Strangers ask you to give them time and personal information for nothing so that they can profit from it."
--Nick Cohen, Sunday Observer (London)

"If I need five people in a mall to be paid forty dollars to tell me how to do my job, I shouldn't have my job."
--Roger Ailes, President, Fox News Channel

This story may get me barred from the United States Senate, but it was how I established my credibility with the toughest, most skeptical organization in America. Back in 1998, I was asked to create and then present new language on environmental issues to a meeting of the entire Republican Senate Conference. Helping members of the House is easy: They are open-minded, creative, and focused. The Senate, however, is a different animal entirely. They're generally older, uncompromising, and don't take kindly to others telling them either what to think or what to say. They also demand proof that your conclusions and recommendations are based on fact. I knew that to convince these senators that I had created the right language, I had to do something so novel, surprising, and provocative (rule five of successful communication) that even the most determined cynic would accept the results.

And so I arrived there armed with a video presentation that I knew could cost me dearly with four specific senators but would earn me the confidence I needed with everyone else. On that tape were speeches that I had written for these four senators. More accurately, I had written just one speech, and I had four senators read exactly the same text, word for word. I then had the speech "dial-tested" using a Madison Avenue technique described later in this chapter. The presentation video was a compilation of the results -- each senator's second-by-second score.

On a big screen in front of the room, the senators watched as computer-generated lines created by a focus group of swing voters rose and fell based on how those thirty individuals felt about each word and phrase. But instead of showing each Senate speech individually, I had the tape edited to show how each paragraph fared, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, senator by senator. Sure enough, it didn't matter whether the speech was well delivered or mangled. It didn't matter whether the senator had a rich southern accent or flat northwestern inflection. The senator's gender didn't even matter. Regardless of the senator or the delivery, the good language scored well and the bad language scored poorly. And so the more than forty senators in the room were mildly amused to see that their four colleagues had unknowingly delivered the exact same speech, but they were impressed and convinced that good language does well no matter how good or bad the speaker. The methodology for creating words that work passed their stringent credibility test, and I have been invited back more than two dozen times.

Here's where I need to address the profession -- the methodology -- and give you a peek behind the one-way glass and word-laboratory curtain. My editors wanted this section to be very brief: to them, how words that work are created is less important than the words themselves. But I insisted that the process of word creation is and should be just as important as the outcome. So if you are just trying to pick up the language lingo, you may want to skip this section. But if you are in the business of language, or you enjoy the "making of" DVD "extras" as much as the movie itself, read on.

Let's start with the practitioners.

It's hard to tell who is in greater demand today: the Madison Avenue branding experts who are brought in to teach political parties how to define themselves, or the political consultants brought into corporate boardrooms to teach businesses how to communicate more effectively. The tools and techniques invented on Madison Avenue firmly took hold in Washington during the Reagan years -- and they continue to drive our politics today. Similarly, more and more companies are turning to political professionals for help achieving the speed, agility, and linguistic accuracy that were once the unique province of electoral campaigns.

Pollsters and the polling they do are unnecessarily shrouded in a cloud of mystery, much of it their own making, in the mistaken assumption that the less people understand about the pollster's craft, the more the pollster can charge. The two best-known pollsters of the modern political era are Pat Caddell, who did the numbers for the Carter White House from 1977 through 1981, and Dick Morris, who became more of a general political advisor to President Clinton for most of his political career. Both men took on almost mythical proportions in the eyes of their clients and the media for their uncanny ability to translate staid numbers into vibrant political and linguistic strategy. And both men broke the first professional rule of thumb (and by the way, the term "rule of thumb" is based on an archaic rule where a husband was not allowed to beat his wife with anything thicker than his thumb) that the pollster is not the maker of public opinion but the translator of it.

Nevertheless, they forever changed the world of public opinion gathering. Caddell was the first pollster to test and turn language into a powerful political weapon, applying the art of "wordsmithing" to the science of opinion gathering. Morris, through the actual polling services of Mark Penn and Doug Schoen, was the first outside political advisor to essentially drive White House communication strategy. Between them, they applied the techniques of ongoing public opinion sampling and the application of language as an instrument of policy to create the permanent presidential campaign.

Today, polling is no longer a black art. There is a poll on every possible topic, and some Americans follow polls the way Wall Street follows the market. I am constantly amazed that the Q&A periods following my speeches across the country to various corporate and association audiences are consistently peppered with questions about some specific polling result in the news that day and its veracity -- usually asked by someone who holds a contrary point of view.

The truth is, Americans are drowning in polling numbers. National news organizations poll on a monthly or even weekly basis, and the results are given more weight, space in print, and time on air than what the politicians are actually saying. Most recently there have been times when polls about the war in Iraq drowned out the real, actual events of the day. Unfortunately, while the media have all the numbers they can possibly crunch, most surveys and their accompanying analyses are lacking in meaningful insight.

I don't seek to undermine the profession that built my home and pays my mortgage, but telephone surveys have serious limitations that most readers would acknowledge -- if they were in fact polled. The first is the increasing difficulty of getting a truly random sample of the population. The increase in cell-phone usage, particularly among those under age thirty, has made it extremely difficult to sample younger Americans (because some cell-phone calling plans charge individuals for incoming calls, it is not acceptable to poll cell phones). Similarly, the rise of "do not call" lists, the increase in unlisted phone numbers, and a general unwillingness of some Americans to answer questions from a stranger are all challenges that pollsters have to overcome every day.

Another problem with telephone polls, and Internet surveys as well, is that Americans don't want to respond yes or no to alternatives that are either unacceptable or require clarification. In the context of today's political environment, there are too many shades of gray, too many "Yes, but what I really think is . . ." attitudes, too many voter priorities that cannot be ranked and explained over the phone. You can test a few words or slogans, but after about fifteen minutes, the respondent will stop responding. Internet surveys have an even shorter patience threshold before respondent fatigue sets in.

Even more problematic is the ordering of questions. Opinion pollsters know full well that where they ask a question within the survey exerts tremendous influence on what answers they receive. If a pollster has just spent fifteen minutes with you on the phone, grilling you about the frustrations of dealing with your HMO, and then closes the survey by asking you to rate the importance of health care reform against a host of other issues, you're far more likely to pick health care as highly important than you would be if it had been the first question in the survey. Likewise, laying out a new corporate pension policy to your employees will generate a strikingly different reception if you've first explained to them that the current policy is bankrupting the company and will lead to layoffs.

And even if the ordering of questions is correct, too many polls report what voters or consumers think without explaining how they feel -- and why. They measure thoughts and opinions, but they don't provide a deeper understanding of the mind -- and the heart. Feelings and emotions are what generate words that work.

That's why I am a committed disciple of focus groups in general and the "Instant Response Dial Session" in particular. A focus group is often nothing more than a formal discussion for ninety minutes or two hours with eight to twelve people who have similar backgrounds, behaviors, opinions, or some other commonality. Madison Avenue has been commissioning focus groups for more than half a century, and virtually every aspect of every major new product launch will involve a dozen or more of these sessions. Political researchers were slower to apply the value of face-to-face discussions to politics, as they are somewhat less profitable and somewhat more labor-intensive than traditional telephone surveys.

Focus groups have been much maligned by the media as a rogue science, designed to learn how to obscure and/or manipulate. True, they do have their limitations, most important among them the scientific inability to project the results of a discussion with two or three dozen people to a population of thousands or millions. They are reflective of the people in the session, not the total population.

But a well-run focus group is the most honest of all research techniques because it involves the most candid commentary and all of the uncensored intensity that real people can muster. As in telephone polling, focus groups begin by gauging respondent awareness and superficial opinions and attitudes. But unlike telephone polling, the superficiality is then stripped away, revealing deeper motivations, associations, and underlying needs. The interaction between a professional moderator and the participants encourages more honesty and less pandering, while measuring the intensity of opinion as well as individual motivation. That's where you'll find the words that work.

A well-run focus group is a laboratory for social interaction and word creation -- yet it is one of the most obscure components of audience research. The composition of the focus group must be arrived at scientifically and statistically, and most Americans will never be invited to participate simply because most Americans don't qualify.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


EXCERPT: Introduction: Welcome to the Buffyverse (The Physics of the Buffyverse by Jennifer Ouellette)

"Hell's empty, and all the demons are here."
--Ariel, The Tempest

It begins with the sound of shattering glass. A young man and his pretty blond date break into the science lab at the local high school late one night for a bit of mischief -- most likely to engage in some extracurricular hanky-panky on the roof. The girl appears nervous, starting at every sound, fearful that someone, or something, with evil intentions, is lurking in the darkened school. The young man has all the arrogance of youth, dismissing her fears and assuring her with an insinuating leer that they are quite alone. Whereupon the girl's face transforms into that of a fanged, yellow-eyed demon, and she sinks her teeth into her soon-to-be-former date's neck.

This is the weird yet wonderful world of the Buffyverse, where magic, vampires, and demons are real, and mystical convergences and otherworldly phenomena are everyday occurrences. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted as a midseason replacement in 1997, few industry insiders expected it to do well. After all, the campy film version had tanked at the box office. Actor Kiefer Sutherland -- whose father, Donald Sutherland, co-starred in the film -- reportedly was so pessimistic about its chances that he told the show's star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, not to worry, because she was bound to get another series later on. But the TV show defied the naysayers and ended up running for seven seasons. While it never achieved the blockbuster popularity of mainstream sitcoms like Friends or Seinfeld, Buffy quickly attracted a strong cult following, drawn by its unique blend of horror, science fiction, and high school melodrama. The show also became a critics' darling, thanks to generous sprinklings of mythology, literary allusion, biting wit, and a lexicon of its own hip teen lingo (dubbed "Buffyspeak").

The premise is simple enough: "Into every generation, a Slayer is born, one girl with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires." That girl is fifteen-year-old Buffy Summers. In the pilot episode ("Welcome to the Hellmouth"), Buffy moves to the fictional town of Sunnydale, California, with her divorced mother, Joyce, after Buffy is expelled from her former high school in Los Angeles. (She burned down the gym, but there were extenuating circumstances: It was full of vampires.)

Sunnydale is not the picture-perfect town that it seems to be on the surface. It is located squarely on top of a Hellmouth, a mystical portal between the world of Sunnydale and a separate hell dimension. The Hellmouth emits all kinds of bad juju, and its energy draws evil beings to the area like a giant magnet of badness. Buffy's job is to keep the demons at bay and prevent hell from erupting on Earth. She does so for the next seven years, beating back everything from vampires to hell gods to the very First Evil, while simultaneously grappling with the usual travails of high school, college, and the onset of young adulthood -- all of which can be scarier than any demon horde.

Fortunately, she doesn't fight alone. Buffy is aided by her oh-so-British Watcher, Rupert Giles, and her new friends: Willow, Xander, and Angel -- a reformed vampire cursed by gypsies who restored his human soul. In 1999, Angel became the star of his very own eponymous spinoff series (Angel). He sets up shop as a private investigator to fight injustice and help the hopeless in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles -- which usually involves killing demons and battling other forces of evil. The characters and events that populate these two series make up what is known as the Buffyverse.

On the surface this surreal, fictional world would appear to have very little to do with the world of science. Science, especially physics, views the universe as a gigantic, complex machine that operates in accordance with a handful of underlying fundamental principles: the laws of physics. Magic and superstition rightly have no place in serious science. Tell a physicist that you're interested in exploring the physics of the Buffyverse, and the most likely response will be a blank, puzzled stare, followed by a dubious observation: "But vampires aren't real . . ." The skepticism is understandable. But look a bit closer, and you'll find that science lurks everywhere in the Buffyverse, from the "Big Picture" framework to the nooks and crannies. It's not just relegated to Sunnydale High School's science lab.

For instance, many of the monsters' traits are drawn from real-world biology, such as demons that inject their victims with poisonous toxins to paralyze them before they feed. Vampirism could be viewed as an infectious disease, spreading through contamination of the blood, almost a modern metaphor for AIDS. The ancient demon Illyria reemerges from a multimillennium-long sleep in "A Hole in the World" (Angel, Season 5, or, henceforward, A-5) as a form of biological warfare. Just like a virus, she infects her host, killing that host so that she can inhabit the shell that remains. The host becomes a potential weapon of mass destruction. Any attempt to extract Illyria from her victim would make the virus "airborne"; thousands would die, instead of just one person.

Chemistry is plainly evident in the concoction of brews and potions for the casting of spells. In "Witch" (Buffy, Season 1, or, henceforward, B-1), Xander and Willow make use of the ingredients in their science class to concoct a potion that will tell them if their classmate Amy is a witch -- although they have to improvise a bit, obtaining the "eye of newt" during their dissection of a frog. When Buffy's mother becomes mysteriously ill ("No Place Like Home," B-5), Buffy suspects that it might be the result of a magic spell. She performs her own spell called tirer la couture -- literally, "pull the curtain back" in French, although Buffy (who didn't do well in French class) mistranslates it as "rotate many foodstuffs." All spells leave a trace signature normally invisible to humans, and her spell enables Buffy to see these traces to determine whether a spell has been cast. The concept is very similar to chemical elements' having distinct "signatures," in the form of emitted light (electromagnetic radiation) that is undetectable to human eyes. We can detect this light with instruments called spectrometers. The color of the light tells us which elements are present in a given sample, while the intensity of that color indicates how much of a particular element is present.

As for physics, writers for both series have openly drawn on specific concepts in quantum mechanics, relativity, and string theory to develop innovative plots for episodes. A high school girl becomes invisible after months of nobody noticing her -- a clever twist on the quantum notion that observation determines the outcome of a subatomic-scale experiment ("Out of Mind, Out of Sight," B-1). There are teleporting demons, temporal folds, time loops, and dimensional portals, conceptually similar to the hypothetical wormholes proposed by real-world physicists. And one critical scene in an Angel episode takes place at a scientific symposium on string theory ("Supersymmetry," A-4). The Buffyverse has seeped into physics in turn. In December 2005, astronomers found that a small object in a ring of icy bodies near Neptune (known as the Kuiper belt) had an unusually tilted orbit. They dubbed the object "Buffy," in part because -- like many things in the Buffyverse -- its orbit can't be explained by the prevailing scientific theories of how the outer solar system formed.

More generally, Buffy and her entire gang of "Scoobies" -- a reference to those meddling kids in the cartoon Scooby-Doo -- know the value of doing their homework. When some new evil comes to town, the first thing they do is launch into "research mode." Angel and his team of fellow demon hunters adopt the same approach. Skipping that vital step is usually a recipe for failure. In the same way that scientists must first understand the nature of a problem before they can design successful theories and experiments, the Scoobies and "Team Angel" understand that they must first understand the nature of the thing they are fighting in order to defeat it.

There are technological parallels as well. The books in the library of Wolfram & Hart (aka "the devil's law firm") on Angel are blank until someone asks for a specific tome. Then the pages fill with the requested text. Electronic paper is a similar real-world technology that is already being used for commercial signage in the marketplace. In "Witch" (B-1), Buffy uses a mirror to reflect the energy of a witch's spell back onto the witch. The technique is similar in concept to Alexander Graham Bell's photophone, an early forerunner to fiber optic communication. The photophone transmitted sound on a beam of light to a mirror, causing the mirror to vibrate in response. The instrument then captured the vibrations that reflected off the mirror and transformed them back into sound.

Even the most familiar technology gets a new twist. The demon puppets in "Smile Time" (A-5) use the TV signal of their hit children's show as a two-way conduit. They graft a hidden carrier signal onto the regular broadcast signal -- camouflaged by a magic spell -- that enables them to communicate individually with their young viewers and sap their innocence away. In "I Robot, You Jane" (B-1) a demon who has been bound into an ancient mystical book goes binary, unleashed on the Internet when Willow scans the text into a computer. The demon's essence is broken into electron "bits," much like radio and TV signals, and then digitized into the "bytes" used in computers. Giles and the school's computer science teacher, Jenny Calendar, must combine magic with information technology to defeat the demon: They form a virtual mystical circle in an online chat room to cast a "rebinding" spell.

This melding of magic and science is a defining feature of the Buffyverse. Buffy and Angel creator Joss Whedon has said that the original series was intended as a metaphor for how high school can sometimes seem like hell to teenagers. He made his fictional high school a literal hell, with vampires and other monsters embodying humanity's inner demons. The same can be said for the physics in the series. Sometimes it takes center stage, but more often than not, it's woven into the fabric of the fictive framework, and works best on a metaphorical level. The Buffyverse is ruled largely by metaphysics. Try to interpret things too literally, and one quickly runs into absurdities, much the same way that attempting to precisely determine two mutually exclusive properties of a subatomic particle leads to unwanted mathematical "singularities."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


Nuclear plans in chaos as Iran leader flounders: Boasts of a nuclear programme are just propaganda, say insiders, but the PR could be enough to provoke Israel into war (Peter Beaumont, January 28, 2007, Observer)

Iran's efforts to produce highly enriched uranium, the material used to make nuclear bombs, are in chaos and the country is still years from mastering the required technology.

Iran's uranium enrichment programme has been plagued by constant technical problems, lack of access to outside technology and knowhow, and a failure to master the complex production-engineering processes involved. The country denies developing weapons, saying its pursuit of uranium enrichment is for energy purposes.

Despite Iran being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world peace - in particular by an increasingly bellicose Israel and its closest ally, the US - a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian programme have told The Observer it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the materials for industrial-scale production.

Just as Cold Warriors strangely overestimated the efficacy of Communism, so too is it putative anti-Islamists who bizarrely have the greatest faith in the capacities of Islamism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Awash in Words: Why the SAT makes lousy shower reading (Joel Achenbach, January 28, 2007, Washington Post)

One of the great traditions and cultural hallmarks of Western civilization is reading in the bathroom. In my house, this has taken on a dramatic new element with the acquisition of a shower curtain filled with 500 common SAT words. Santa Claus brought it as a lovely Christmas present for a teenager who understands that her societal worth and the honor of her family hinge entirely on her SAT score.

The shower curtain gives very brief definitions of the kinds of use-at-your-risk words that appear only on standardized tests. The vocabulary in our house is, I can proudly report, effervescing. And yet, despite my strict policy of avoiding arguments with inanimate objects (exception: CD wrapping), I find myself getting highly annoyed with the shower curtain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Jeb Bush Rallies Conservatives at Summit: Non-Candidate Shows Ability to Excite the Party (Zachary A. Goldfarb, 1/28/07, The Washington Post)

"Don't take offense personally if I get mad at Congress," the Republican former Florida governor began. "It's important for us to realize we lost, and there are significant reasons that happened, but it isn't because conservatives were rejected. But it's because we rejected the conservative philosophy in this country."

He added, "If the promise of pork and more programs is the way Republicans think they'll regain the majority, then they've got a problem."

Bush's speech prompted three standing ovations from the audience of hundreds at the National Review Institute's conference at the JW Marriott Hotel, reflecting the widespread concern among conservatives that exorbitant government spending led to the loss of majorities in the House and Senate and concern about whether Republicans would again embrace the traditional principles.

To Ed Gillespie, a prominent lobbyist and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Bush's two terms in Tallahassee -- where he developed a reputation as a tax-cutter and staunch spending hawk -- exemplified conservative politics at its best, and what makes for a compelling presidential candidate.

"For those who are worried if you can put forward a vigorous conservative policy agenda in a state like Florida and still get elected and still be popular: Our keynote speaker left office with approval ratings above 60 percent," Gillespie said.

"If he were former two-term governor Jeb Smith, he might be in Des Moines today," Gillespie said, alluding to presidential hopefuls' campaigning.

VP for four years and then he runs in his own right in '12.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Bin Laden, The Left and Me (Dinesh D'Souza, January 28, 2007, Washington Post)

[I] uphold Edmund Burke's view: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."

Immediately following 9/11, there was a wondrous moment of national unity in which the American tribe came together. "Why do they hate us?" some wondered, but no one wanted to comprehend the enemy -- only to annihilate him. And I shared this view.

But five years later, that unity has dissolved amid a furious national debate over the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. I thought it was time to go back and reconsider 9/11; in so doing, I concluded that the prevailing conservative and liberal theories explaining Muslim rage were wrong.

Contrary to the common liberal view, I don't believe that the 9/11 attacks were payback for U.S. foreign policy. Bin Laden isn't upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.) He isn't upset because Washington is allied with despotic regimes in the region. Israel aside, what other regimes are there in the Middle East? It isn't all about Israel. (Why hasn't al-Qaeda launched a single attack against Israel?) The thrust of the radical Muslim critique of America is that Islam is under attack from the global forces of atheism and immorality -- and that the United States is leading that attack.

Contrary to President Bush's view, they don't hate us for our freedom, either. Rather, they hate us for how we use our freedom. When Planned Parenthood International opens clinics in non-Western countries and dispenses contraceptives to unmarried girls, many see it as an assault on prevailing religious and traditional values. When human rights groups use their interpretation of international law to pressure non-Western countries to overturn laws against abortion or to liberalize laws regarding homosexuality, the traditional sensibilities of many of the world's people are violated.

This argument has nothing to do with Falwell's suggestion that 9/11 was God's judgment on the ACLU and the feminists for their sins. I pose a simple question: Why did the terrorists do it? In a 2003 statement, bin Laden said that to him, the World Trade Center resembled the idols that the prophet Muhammad removed from Mecca. In other words, bin Laden believes that the United States represents the pagan depravity that Muslims have a duty to resist. The literature of radical Islam, such as the works of Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb, resonates with these themes. One radical sheik even told a European television station a few years ago that although Europe is more decadent than America, the United States is the more vital target because it is U.S. culture -- not Swedish culture or French culture -- that is spreading throughout the world.

What would motivate Muslims in faraway countries to volunteer for martyrdom? The fact that Palestinians don't have a state? I don't think so. It's more likely that they would do it if they feared their values and way of life were threatened. Even as the cultural left accuses Bush of imperialism in invading Iraq, it deflects attention from its own cultural imperialism aimed at secularizing Muslim society and undermining its patriarchal and traditional values. The liberal "solution" to Islamic fundamentalism is itself a source of Islamic hostility to America.

Contrary to the accusations of Alan Wolfe and others, I have no sympathy for bin Laden or the Islamic radicals. But I do respect the concerns of traditional Muslims, the majority in the Muslim world. In fact, the United States cannot defeat terrorism without driving a wedge between radical Islam and traditional Islam, because the latter has been the main recruiting pool for the former.

All my arguments can be disputed, but they are neither extreme nor absurd.

I haven't read Mr. D'Souza's book yet, but having just finished Lawrence Wright's excellent, The Looming Tower, don't find his critique of the role of globalism in motivating Islamists to be objectionable. Indeed, one of the striking things about the early Islamist movement and Qutb, as Mr. Wright details the matter, is how easily their criticisms fit with that of any conservative/religious American politician or thinker of recent decades.

It is on the question of what is to be done about the problem that conservatism diverges from Islamicism. Islam hasn't found its Burke yet and, so, is left with nothing to offer but a return to the imagined conditions of the 7th Century -- a nihilism disguised as utopianism they borrowed from Western rationalists -- whereas conservatism is long reconciled to human progress.

If Mr. D'Souza really wanted to get in trouble he could flesh out the odd strain of homosexual/misogynist tension within the movement --- most evident in Mr. Wright's portrayals of Qutb and Mohammed Atta.

-ESSAY: THE MAN BEHIND BIN LADEN: How an Egyptian doctor became a master of terror LAWRENCE WRIGHT, 2002-09-16, The New Yorker)
-ESSAY: THE MARTYR: THE MAN BEHIND BIN LADEN: How an Egyptian doctor became a master of terror (LAWRENCE WRIGHT, 2002-09-16, The New Yorker)

Why do they hate us? How about because, Girl of 14 who was a boy until she was 12 (ALLAN HALL, 29th January 2007, Daily Mail)

Even at the age of two, Tim insisted he was a girl trapped in a boy's body.

And when puberty began to approach at the age of 12, he convinced his parents that something had to be done.

With their agreement, he became the youngest sex-change patient in the world, receiving hormone injections which arrested his male development.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


A surefire breakfast treat: Let them eat coffeecake (Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, January 28, 2007, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

While most tea- and coffee-drinking societies always have served treats alongside those steaming cups and mugs, 1950s American housewife culture is credited with the creation of the coffeecake.

Easy enough to make on a whim, yet tasty enough to serve to friends, quick breads will keep at room temperature, loosely covered, for 2 to 3 days, according to Lou Seibert Pappas in her new book, "Coffee Cakes: Simple, Sweet and Savory."

Almost all coffeecakes freeze well for up to one month, according to Ms. Pappas. Let them cool to room temperature, then freeze them in resealable, heavy-duty plastic freezer bags. (You can also slice the cake first, then freeze individual slices to defrost and toast for breakfast as needed, or microwave briefly while still frozen. Don't microwave too long, though, or the slice will toughen.)

To defrost, you should let the coffeecake stand at room temperature fully wrapped but with the wrapping loosened a bit to let moisture out, according to Ms. Pappas. When thawed, reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cake.


* 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
* 1 1/4 cups mashed bananas (about 2 1/2 large ripe bananas)
* 2 large eggs
* 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (choose a buttery, mild one) or canola oil
* 2 tablespoons dark rum or amaretto liqueur
* 1/2 cup sour cream
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
* 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) chopped macadamia nuts or pecan halves
* 1 tablespoon granulated sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan or round cake pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and brown sugar. Stir to blend.

In a blender or food processor, combine the bananas, eggs, oil, rum or amaretto, sour cream and vanilla, and blend until smooth. Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Stir in the coconut.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with the nuts. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the batter.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is golden-brown and a cake tester or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan on a wire rack, then remove the pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature after cutting into wedges.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


All lies! L'affaire Ségo stirs up dirty tricks battle in France (Matthew Campbell, 1/28/07, Sunday Times of London)

Gérald Dahan, 33, said he had telephoned Royal on Wednesday pretending to be Jean Charest, Quebec's premier, and had spoken to her for 11 minutes. He has a record of hoaxes, including fooling Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the former French prime minister, into thinking that Philippe Douste-Blazy, his health minister, had been caught by police with a prostitute.

In 2005 Dahan phoned Zine-dine Zidane, the footballer, just before a match against Ireland, pretending to be President Jacques Chirac. He asked "Zizou", nickname of the former French captain, to get the team to sing La Marseillaise with their hands on their hearts. The players happily complied.

Dahan said he managed to convince five Royal advisers that he was Charest by putting on a Quebec accent: "I don't know Quebec's prime minister and neither does she, apparently."

Royal was already in hot water over her suggestion that she was in favour of independence for Quebec. This had drawn a rebuke from Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister.

The comedian told her that a French person backing Quebec's sovereignty was like a Canadian urging independence for Corsica. Royal laughed and, in an extract of the conversation that was broadcast on radio, was heard saying: "The French people would not be opposed to that idea . . . Don't repeat that though. It would cause another incident in France. It is a secret."

After controversial comments about Iran, the Middle East and China, opponents seized on this as fresh evidence of her inexperience and inability to govern: the idea that France might be willing to grant Corsica independence is anathema. The Mediterranean island is seen as an integral part of the nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Shore leave: Wellfleet shellfisherman pulls oysters from sea to hibernate in his back yard (Mat Schaffer, January 24, 2007, Boston Herald)

Commercial oyster-farming on Cape Cod is a bit of a shell game in winter -- ice and cold can damage both oysters and equipment. That's why shellfishermen such as Jim O'Connell of the Wellfleet Shellfish Co. "pit" their oysters -- moving them from the metal racks on the ocean floor where they grow to an onshore pit or cellar to sit out the coldest months.

O'Connell usually pits his oysters in December. But because of this year's unseasonably warm weather, he waited until mid-January. Transferring his 250,000 oysters -- in mesh bags and plastic baskets -- from the sea floor off Wellfleet to a cellar in his back yard takes several days, and a trio of teenage assistants.

Pitting "protects my investment of time and money and it protects the oysters I'm trying to make a living with," O'Connell said. "They go into a root cellar where they can live a long time."

Until "the first big tide of March," to be specific. Oysters consider the cool and humid conditions of O'Connell's cellar, with its plastic tarp entrance, concrete walls and dirt floor, perfect for hibernation.

"Oysters go dormant in the winter," he explained. "When the water gets below a certain temperature there's no algae in the water, there's no food. So, from the layman's point of view, they fatten up (beforehand) to get through the winter."

January 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 PM


Helton to Red Sox? (Buster Olney, 1/27/07, ESPN)

For financial superpower Boston...Helton could be an extraordinary find, even at high cost. He is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, having won that award three times, and he would complement their offense perfectly, with his ability to hit doubles, draw walks and drive up pitch counts; he is considered to be among the best two-strike hitters in baseball. Last season, in what was regarded as a subpar offensive season for Helton, he drew 91 walks, struck out just 64 times, registered a .404 on-base percentage, and averaged 3.93 pitches per plate appearance.

"His swing is not a power swing," said one National League talent evaluator. "And he hasn't been healthy. Our team was able to pound the hell out of him last year, pitch him inside, much better than you used to. It'll be interesting to see how healthy he is, and he needs to come back, if he's going to take a serious run at Cooperstown." (Helton has 286 career homers, 996 RBI, 1,700 career hits, nine straight seasons of averages better than .300).

"He's a line-drive-type hitter, and for the kind of money Colorado is paying him, they need power.".

The Sox are apparently looking at paying just $8 million a year for him and dumping both Mike Lowell and Matt Clement (and possibly Julian Tavarez) in a deal where the main guy going to Denver would be Craig Hansen. Kevin Youkilis just moves over to 3b, where he may even be a better fielder than Lowell at this point.

A trade with possibilities: Helton would be intriguing acquisition (Nick Cafardo, January 28, 2007, Boston Globe)

Major league sources told me yesterday that the Red Sox aren't jumping through hoops to make this deal. It's been proposed to them by the Rockies. The Sox love the concept, but they won't do anything that stretches their boundaries financially or means giving up prominent young players.

According to a Rockies official, they would have to get one or two young players who would make an impact in the near future. Colorado doesn't want to lose the popular Helton, take on a veteran at the end of his contract, and a year later have nothing to show for it.

"They [Red Sox] like their team as it's constituted," said one of the sources. "It would be surprising if they gave up young pitching. Helton would be a great hitter in that ballpark and he's their type of player in that he's patient and he'll work the count."

Helton is 33 and has five years remaining on his deal at $90.1 million (including a $4.6 million buyout for 2012). There is concern that as he ages, he'll decline to where his production doesn't match what you're paying him.

Presumably, the Red Sox wouldn't be against giving up Mike Lowell (possibly to San Diego for a reliever such as Scott Linebrink) and moving Kevin Youkilis to third. Or they might get Colorado to bite on Lowell; the Rockies already are interested in Julian Tavarez. That way, the Sox could keep their young pitchers, but you have to think Colorado would need at least one young pitcher in a package deal.

Helton trade up in the air (Tracy Ringolsby, January 27, 2007, Rocky Mountain News)
Boston, in an effort to get rid of contracts it doesn't want, has proposed including third baseman Mike Lowell and right-handed reliever Julian Tavarez in the deal to offset some of Helton's contract. Lowell will earn $9 million in 2007, the final year of his contract. Tavarez is guaranteed $3.1 million in 2007 with a $3.85 million option for 2008 that is guaranteed if he makes 65 appearances in 2007.

The Rockies had a strong interest in Ramirez, anxious to add his bat to the middle of the lineup, and moving Ramirez was an original off-season priority for the Red Sox, who in the midst of the annual winter meetings last month suddenly did an about face.

Lowell and Tavarez could have short-term interest to the Rockies, but only if the Red Sox included top-line pitching prospects in the deal, as well.

The Rockies could play Lowell at third base, moving Garrett Atkins back to first base, his original position in pro ball, with the anticipation that within the next year highly-touted Ian Stewart would be ready to come to the big leagues. That would keep them from having to try and move Stewart to the outfield this spring. Also, Joe Koshansky, who has led the organization in home runs the last two years, is expected to play first base at Triple-A Colorado Springs this season, and could enter the picture if Helton were dealt.

Tavarez would provide a veteran arm for middle relief. He was 11-5 with a 4.42 ERA for the Rockies in 2000 when he bounced between the bullpen and rotation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 PM


Gordon Brown will rely on unions to escape £40m 'black hole' (Patrick Hennessy, 1/27/06, Sunday Telegraph)

Gordon Brown will shun the appointment of a powerful Lord Levy-type fundraiser as he grapples with a "black hole" of more than £40 million in Labour Party finances, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

The Chancellor must tackle debts of around £25 million, attracting interest charges of more than £1.2 million a year, and build up a war chest of about £15 million for the next general election if, as expected, he takes over from Tony Blair this year.

Mr Brown is likely to rely on a mixture of individual donations and more money from trade unions as he prepares for the next election, possibly in 2009. The party's finances are in such a parlous state after the cash-for-honours affair that it is thought highly unlikely that Mr Brown would want a poll before then.

It would be tragic for the Blair era to end with his party back in thrall to the unions he broke them free of.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Researcher is amazed by honest results of his private wallet test (Shane Graber, 01/07/2007, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH)

Paul Kinsella lost his wallet 100 times on the dot, all in the pursuit of knowledge. Call his study an exercise in vigilante research.

Kinsella wanted to know whether folks could be trusted, whether they're honest, upright citizens. So he took the research into his own hands.

He spent a month dropping wallets around town. He then tracked whether the finders would return the wallet and its contents -- $2.10 and a fake $50 gift certificate in each -- to the rightful owner.

And here's the good news: They did. Oh, how they did. By a 3-1 ratio, they did.

"They actually took the time to do it," said Kinsella, 35, a website designer.

Of the 100 "lost" wallets, 74 were returned to Kinsella.

There's an interview with Mr. Kinsella here and his website is WalletTest.com.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Ex-Cheney aide details media tactics (MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press)

Wilson's charges first surfaced, attributed to an unnamed ex-ambassador, in Nicholas Kristof's New York Times column. But Martin testified she felt no urgency to set him straight because Kristof "attacked us, our administration fairly regularly."

But by July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote his own account in the Times and appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC.

After that much exposure, Cheney, Libby and Martin spent the next week trying get out word that Cheney did not know Wilson, did not ask for the mission to Niger, never got Wilson's report and only learned about the trip from news stories in 2003.

Cheney personally dictated these points to Martin. She e-mailed them to the White House press secretary for relay to reporters.

When the story did not die, Martin found herself in a bind because Cheney's office was known for disclosing so little.

"Often the press stopped calling our office," Martin testified. "At this point, they weren't calling me asking me for comment."

So she had to call National Security Council and CIA press officers to learn which reporters were still working on stories.

Once Martin got names, Cheney ordered his right-hand man, Libby, rather than lowly press officers, to call -- a signal of the topic's importance.

Top levels of the Bush administration decided that CIA Director George Tenet would issue a statement taking the blame for allowing Bush to mention the Niger story. Cheney and Libby worried Tenet would not go far enough to distance the vice president from the affair.

Libby asked Martin to map a media strategy in case Tenet fell short.

A Harvard law school graduate, Martin had succeeded legendary Republican operative Mary Matalin as Cheney's political and public affairs assistant. Matalin had brought Martin to Cheney's office as her deputy and trained her.

Martin offered these options in order:

_Put Cheney on "Meet the Press."

_Leak an exclusive version to a selected reporter or the weekly news magazines.

_Have national security adviser
Condoleezza Rice or Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hold a news conference.

_Persuade a third party or columnist to write an opinion piece that would appear in newspapers on the page opposite the editorials.

Not only did Tenet leave unanswered questions about Cheney, his remarks came out late on a Friday, the government's favorite moment to deliver bad news.


"Fewer people pay attention to it later on Friday," Martin testified. "And in our view, fewer people are paying attention on Saturday, when it's reported."

As Martin rated their options, putting Cheney on "Meet the Press," NBC's Sunday morning talk show, "is our best format." Cheney was their best person for the show and "we control the message a little bit more," according to Martin.

The downside was that Cheney could "get pulled into the weeds and specifics. We like to keep him at a pretty high level," she said. Also, it "looks defensive to rush him out on `Meet the Press.'"

Next they could give an exclusive or leak to one reporter and she considered David Sanger of The New York Times, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, or Time or Newsweek.

Because reporters are competitive, "if you give it to one reporter, they're more likely to write the story," Martin testified.

Plus an official can demand anonymity in return for the favor. "You can give it to them as a senior administration official," she said. "You don't have to say this is coming directly from the White House."

As folks predicted long ago, it is the press that comes out of this whole dustup looking worst. Well, other than Scooter Libby who lied about pretty basic political manuevering.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


US: Use mirrors to solve global warming (Bonnie Malkin, 27/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The US government has called on the world's scientists to research using giant mirrors or reflective dust to slow global warming. [...]

Scientists have previously estimated that reflecting less than 1 per cent of sunlight back into space could compensate for the warming generated by all greenhouse gases emitted since the industrial revolution.

Possible techniques include putting a giant screen into orbit, thousands of tiny, shiny balloons, or microscopic sulphate droplets pumped into the high atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


Mitt Romney's Conversion: His pro-life turn is more recent than you think. (Jennifer Rubin, 02/05/2007, Weekly Standard)

In the spring of 2002 Romney completed a Planned Parenthood questionnaire. Signed by Romney and dated April 9, 2002, it contained these responses:

Do you support the substance of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade? YES

Do you support state funding of abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women? YES

In 1998 the FDA approved the first packaging of emergency contraception, also known as the "morning after pill." Emergency contraception is a high dose combination of oral contraceptives that if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can safely prevent a pregnancy from occurring. Do you support efforts to increase access to emergency contraception? YES

Romney also completed the questionnaire of the National Abortion Rights Action League, or NARAL (now called NARAL Pro-Choice America), with this statement:

I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government's. The truth is no candidate in the governor's race in either party would deny women abortion rights. So let's end an argument that does not exist and stop these cynical and divisive attacks that are made only for political gain.

As he had with Planned Parenthood, Romney answered "Yes" to questions asking whether he supported Roe v. Wade and opposed attempts to restrict abortion. After completing the questionnaire, Romney met with three NARAL executives. In this meeting, NARAL executives recount, Romney evidenced no hesitation about his pro-choice views. He also tried to pique the executives' interest in endorsing him by bluntly acknowledging that he had higher political aspirations, saying, "You need someone like me in Washington." Moreover, those present recall that Romney argued that his election would make him credible in the Republican party nationally and thus help "sensible" Republicans like him overshadow more conservative elements in the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Saudis want to hold down the price of oil (Jad Mouawad, January 27, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Saudi Arabia, which benefited immensely from record oil prices last year, has sent signals in the last two weeks that it is committed to keeping oil at around $50 a barrel -- down $27 a barrel from the summer peak that shook consumers across the developed world.

The indications came in typically cryptic fashion for the oil-rich kingdom. In Tokyo last week, Ali al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, said that Saudi Arabia's policy was to maintain "moderate prices." The previous week, on a stop in New Delhi, he effectively put his veto on an emergency meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to prop up prices after oil briefly dropped below $50 a barrel, the lowest level in nearly two years.

The events that propelled oil prices above $77 a barrel last July then dragged them down again were beyond the control of any single producer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Rockies launch talks on Helton: Red Sox explore deal for veteran (Troy E. Renck, 1/26/07, Denver Post)

Helton's future became a central issue this week after owner Charlie Monfort told The Denver Post the franchise remains open to dealing the most accomplished player in the Rockies' history.

Helton has six years and $90.1 million remaining on his contract, and the Red Sox could face luxury-tax penalties if they acquire the first baseman, issues that would have to be resolved.

The Rockies, however, have shown a willingness to eat a portion of Helton's remaining salary in any deal, which, depending on the amount, would have an impact on the type of players they would receive in return.

Colorado's first priority has been to add young pitchers, which Boston possesses. The Rockies have asked about reliever Manny Delcarmen, 24, in previous talks regarding other players and considered selecting pitcher Craig Hansen in the first round of the 2005 draft.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


After laughter, action (Courtney E. Martin, January 7, 2007, Baltimore Sun)

Satire, of course, has a long and proven history as the source of bona fide social change. Aristophanes' Lysistrata, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, George Orwell's Animal Farm - all of these led to new public awareness that then led to protest, even some pragmatic reforms. But does the one-millionth joke about President Bush's preschool perception of global geography really regain the trust of the international community?

It seems that the difference between a satire such as Animal Farm and The Daily Show is that the latter too often makes us comfortable, satiated, even happy, as opposed to the very motivating and sometimes terrifying disequilibrium caused by Orwell. Rebels distributed copies of Animal Farm, a novella satirizing totalitarianism, to displaced Soviets in Ukraine right after World War II. The occupying American military discovered them and confiscated 1,500 copies that would later be handed over to the Russian authorities whom the Americans were, at least temporarily, trying to aid. The vicious and powerful humor contained within that small book sure scared the corrupt leaders of that time.

Mustn't we assume that an essay comparing Marxist brutality to W's geography is itself satirical?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Beefed-up LAPD presence in skid row begins paying off: Areas have been swept clean of homeless encampments and crime is down 35% this month. Still, some ask if the commitment will be long term. (Richard Winton, January 27, 2007, LA Times)

Five months into the Los Angeles Police Department's crackdown on crime in skid row, there is little doubt that the neighborhood is changing.

Last year, the district that for decades led the city in drug crimes recorded an 18% decline in major crime -- more than 1,000 fewer incidents, according to LAPD figures.

So far this year, the drop in crime has accelerated. It fell 35% during the first four weeks of January, with 106 fewer crimes. The campaign has resulted in more than 1,000 drug arrests alone.

"In the last 24 hours we had one [serious] crime for the entire downtown compared with 22 crimes last year," said Capt. Andrew Smith, who commands the Central Division.

Among downtown residents and advocates for the homeless, there is consensus that the 50 extra officers the LAPD assigned to the district have improved the situation -- though they say the area remains mired in poverty, blight and drugs.

They also remain skeptical about whether the LAPD's commitment to the area is long term. They say they have seen crackdowns reduce crime before -- only to see it return when resources were focused elsewhere.

"Are we seeing and feeling a different level of crime on skid row? Yes. Have we turned a corner for skid row? I'd say it is too early to tell," said Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Assn., a business owners group. "To break the back of crime in skid row will require more than six months."

Even the Blue cities in America are Red.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Ground zero in Bolivia's dispute: Cochabamba, scene of rioting, symbolizes the nation's rift and calls president's leadership into question (Patrick J. McDonnell, January 27, 2007, LA Times)

Embattled President Evo Morales launched his second year in office this week, mocking his political opponents and vowing that "this Indian is going to be around for a while."

But recent turmoil in this city long regarded as a bastion of support for Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, has raised new questions about his leftist government's ability to serve out its five-year mandate. [...]

[T]he paroxysm of rage has reverberated in national politics at a time when Morales' "democratic revolution" was already facing fierce resistance.

"If you'd asked me six months ago if Evo's government would survive, I'd have replied, 'Yes, absolutely,' " said Jim Shultz, a Californian who works with a nonprofit pro-democracy organization here. "I still say 'yes' today, but the possibilities of 'no' are rising."

Bolivia has a long history of forced ousting of governments, including many military coups. Morales won the presidency after protests chased out two previous presidents.

Outlasting another one....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Top 10 Solutions for a More Perfect Union (Katrina vanden Heuvel, January 27, 2007, The Nation)

The "thumping" taken by the Republican Congress on election day was not just a rejection of K Street corruption and the catastrophe in Iraq. It was a call to action on issues that are more immediately relevant to people's lives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will begin to answer that call by pushing a "100 Hours" agenda -- including common-sense legislation to increase the minimum wage, cut interest on student loans and open the way for Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

That's a good beginning, but it's only a down payment on a broader agenda. Progressives now have the opportunity to develop a new vision that returns power to the American people for the first time in generations. But to-do lists don't add up to a vision. But Democrats must show they are serious by passing bold measures that define a new "people's agenda." With that in mind, here are ten existing pieces of legislation that deserve to be passed by our new Congress. Some of these bills are eminently passable, a few are related to the "100 Hours" agenda and others can be seen as long-term goals. But all would help return our nation to the path to a more perfect union (note: Bill numbers may change in the new Congress).

The impossibility of even a single item from the progressive wish-list becoming law gives you a nice sense of how insignificant the Democratic Congress is. They're a placeholder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Along Beirut's Line of Confrontation (Anthony Shadid, January 27, 2007, Washington Post)

During Lebanon's 15-year civil war, the Green Line divided Beirut into predominantly Christian and Muslim halves along a road that became a symbol as telling as it was intimidating. In time, in a war in which more than 100,000 people were killed, it was less a front line and more a no man's land, named, some say, for its unkempt weeds and bushes.

Little remains of the Green Line today, save the Barakat Building near the downtown, its stately columns and arches still honeycombed by the damage of war. Like much of Lebanon itself, the other scarred buildings along the road are sheathed in a thin facade of concrete, stone and glass.

These days, the front has shifted to the Old Airport Road, a mile-long stretch of which divides its residents by Muslim sect -- Sunni or Shiite. The emerging border evokes the old and the new of Lebanon's two-month-old crisis: civil war memories and the sectarian schism transforming Lebanon and the region around it.

The pretense that the Lebanon is a nation is belied by a de facto internal border.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Pelosi, Maliki Discuss Timing of Drawdown (Ernesto Londoño, 1/27/07, Washington Post)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), visiting Baghdad on Friday in her new capacity as House speaker, that he would like to see 50,000 U.S. troops leave by the end of the year, Iraqi officials said.

Pelosi's primary concern in meeting Maliki appeared to be to determine how soon he thought the United States could withdraw its soldiers from Iraq, said Ali Dabbagh, the prime minister's spokesman. [...]

Pelosi, a critic of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, told the prime minister that she and fellow Democrats are eager to see a prompt transition of authority, Maliki's office said in a statement.

"The prime minister assured them that they could speed up the withdrawal of the troops if the equipment and training of the national forces could be speeded up," Dabbagh said Friday night in an interview.

Everyone -- except the neocons and al Qaeda for very different reasons -- wants the same thing in Iraq, the Democrats are just bickering about the pace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Rebus on draught (IAN RANKIN, 1/27/07, The Scotsman)

When I first went to the Oxford Bar in the 1980s, I was struck by this great mix of students and lawyers, police officers and mechanics, the unemployed, the disenfranchised, the political, the apolitical, the upper classes, the lower classes. It was a wonderful melting pot.

That's also what makes a pub a great place for a cop. If a detective wants to find out how a city works, a pub is the place to go. You'll overhear stories, you'll be told stories. And, at the end of your working day, where else are you going to let off steam? The vast majority of us let off steam in the pub.

A pub is also a kind of community. The regulars who drink with Rebus in the Oxford Bar are as close to a family as he's got. Ironically, sometimes these are people whose surnames he doesn't know, and he doesn't know what they do for a living. But for an hour, or a couple of hours, they know each other and they relax.

Pubs are the measure of community in modern Britain. You see that in the soap operas. The two most successful soaps in the UK - EastEnders and Coronation Street - both revolve around a pub, and there's a good reason for that. Pubs localise things. The "local" is where the people from that city or town or village discuss the issues that are relevant to them.

I think Rebus likes the fact that in a pub you can strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, you don't have to give too much of yourself away. It's a refuge from the real world, but at the same time, you can find out quite a lot about the real world in a good pub.

Few scenes on television afford more comfort than a British detective entering a pub, especially Morse, of course.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Devout Poles show Britain how to keep the faith (Stephen Bates, December 23, 2006, Guardian)

One little-noticed side effect of the influx of young Poles to Britain since their country's accession to the European Union in 2004 has been an extraordinary boost to Catholic worship. Congregations that were formerly waning have been restored and expanded by the arrival of devout young Poles from the land of Pope John Paul II and they may yet change English Catholicism for ever.

A church which was amalgamating parishes, having difficulty recruiting priests - even from traditional sources of supply such as Ireland - and was seeing declining attendances has suddenly experienced a dramatic infusion of new blood. Most English parishes experience such huge congregations rarely, perhaps only for the Christmas Eve midnight mass, where revellers from the pubs on their annual visit to church boost the numbers in the pews for one night only. In English churches where separate monthly masses are held for local Poles they are often better attended than ordinary Sunday services.

"It is the Catholic community's biggest opportunity and biggest challenge," said Francis Davis, director of the Von Hugel Institute at Cambridge who is carrying out a study of the new arrivals for Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O'Connor, leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who heads the Birmingham diocese.

"In terms of its own life this is a huge opportunity. They are bringing new energy, new life and new resources and networks into the Catholic community. They are bringing a faith of their own that is so vibrant you can chew it. And they will have an unquantifiable effect on the whole debate about the future of faith schools.

"The challenge is in the mutual lack of understanding, not only between the local population and the new arrivals, but within the Polish community, between those who came because of Communism and the young economic migrants. There are 35,000 in the Southampton area alone - more than was expected for the whole country. "

Funny thing is, if they were coming here Tom Tancredo, Lou Dobbs,m and Pat Buchanan would be greeting them at the docks with bouquets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Extinction of Australian 'megafauna' linked to humans: From fossils of dozens of species, researchers suggest man's use of fire is a more likely cause of death than climate change (Alan Zarembo, January 27, 2007, LA Times)

Three Australian caves have yielded a treasure trove of fossils of ancient kangaroos, marsupial lions and giant lizards that roamed the outback for hundreds of thousands of years.

These so-called megafauna went extinct about 45,000 years ago, shortly after humans arrived on the continent.

Researchers, writing in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, suggest that the extinction was the result of the human use of fire for hunting -- and not climate change, as some scientists have suggested.

Darwinism's Dilemma is much deeper than even his critics understood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


A Contrarian View: Save Less, Retire With Enough (DAMON DARLIN, 1/27/07, NY Times)

Could it be possible that you are saving too much for your retirement?

Such an idea would fly in the face of almost every exhortation to a nation of spendthrifts that saving more is an imperative. After all, even as people are living longer, corporate pension plans and Social Security can no longer be relied on to ease most Americans through their retirement years. Fidelity, the nation's largest provider of workplace retirement savings plans, says the average 401(k) account balance is only $62,000.

Beyond that, the national savings rate -- the difference between after-tax income and expenditures -- is actually negative, government statistics show.

Nevertheless, a small band of economists from universities, research institutions and the government are clearly expressing the blasphemy that many Americans could be saving less than they are being told to by the financial services industry -- and spending more -- while they are younger. The negative savings rate, they say, is wildly distorted.

According to them, the financial industry, with its ostensibly objective online calculators, overstates how much money someone will need in retirement. Some, in fact, contend that financial firms have a pointed interest in persuading people to save much more than they need because the companies earn fees on managing that money.

The more realistic amount could be as little as half the typical recommendation made by Fidelity, Vanguard or any number of other financial institutions.

While the conventional wisdom is always wrong, it is never more wrong than about Americans and their savings. The idea that a country with $54 trillion in household net worth has a negative savings rate is especially delicious because so obviously wrong and so often repeated by the elites.

January 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Edwards Home County's Largest (Don Carrington, 1/26/07, Carolina Journal)

Presidential candidate John Edwards and his family recently moved into what county tax officials say is the most valuable home in Orange County. The house, which includes a recreational building attached to the main living quarters, also is probably the largest in the county.

The Edwards residential property will likely have the highest tax value in the county,- Orange County Tax Assessor John Smith told Carolina Journal. He estimated that the tax value will exceed $6 million when the facility is completed.

The rambling structure sits in the middle of a 102-acre estate on Old Greensboro Road west of Chapel Hill. The heavily wooded site and winding driveway ensure that the home is not visible from the road. "No Trespassing" signs discourage passersby from venturing past the gate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Fish Capable of Human-like Logic (Robin Lloyd, 1/24/07, LiveScience)

Fish have the reasoning capacity of a 4- or 5-year-old child when it comes to figuring out who among their peers is "top dog," new research shows.

Stanford University scientists made the discovery--said to be the first demonstration that fish can use logical reasoning to figure out their social pecking order--by studying fights among small, highly territorial, spiny-finned fish called cichlids, common in freshwater in tropical Africa, including in Lake Tanganyika in central Africa.

Logan Grosenick, a graduate student in statistics, and his colleagues found that a sixth fish could infer or learn indirectly which were the 1st through 5th strongest simply by observing fights among them in adjacent, transparent tanks, rather than by directly fighting each fish itself or seeing each fish fight all four others.

This type of reasoning, called transitive inference (TI), is a developmental milestone for human children, showing up nonverbally as early as ages 4 and 5; it also has been reported in monkeys, rats and birds. It allows thinkers to reason that if A is bigger than B, and B is bigger than C, then A is also bigger than C.

Anthropomorphizing animals, or casting human intentions on them, is a mistake, Grosenick said...

Thereby indicting not just himself but the rapidly shrinking Richard Dawkins as well, who hilariously wrote:
Like successful Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behavior.

If it weren't for their constant invocation of intelligent design they'd have no theory at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


Wal-Mart And The Great Income Divide (Martin T. Sosnoff, 01.26.07, Wal-Mart)

The Congress is just waking up to the great divide. Holdouts on the minimum wage issue are seeing the ground cut out beneath them. Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed got it right years ago. Unskilled single mothers need to hold down two jobs to make ends meet.

No, they need to marry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


Should You Have a Physical? (Steve Gordon, 1/26/07, Valley News)

An editorial in a medical journal a few years ago posed this scenario to physicians: An apparently healthy 45-year-old woman comes to you requesting a physical. She has no medical problems, and her cholesterol was fine when last checked two years ago. You ask her a range of questions about her life and lifestyle: about depression, for instance, and smoking and alcohol use. No red flags emerge.

"Your assistant" the editorial continues, "has recorded the patient's blood pressure (normal) and weight (10 pounds above ideal). You examine the patient's breasts and pelvis while counseling her to lose 10 pounds, wear seatbelts, take calcium and visit a dentist regularly. As you leave the room, you tell her to come back in three years unless (her Pap) smear is abnormal or she experiences new symptoms of concern.

"Would this patient feel well-cared for?

"Probably not."

What, no blood test? No X-rays? No rectal exam? No chilly stethoscope on the chest or back?

The routine physical, often done annually, was once a staple of every general medical practice. Over the years, it has included blood tests, listening to the lungs, looking into the eyes and ears, checking blood pressure, testing reflexes, even taking chest X-rays, among other things. It had a cookie-cutter quality: Pretty much everyone got pretty much the same thing.

Today, though, the routine physical exam is a discredited anachronism.

Well, sort of.

Major medical organizations such as the American Medical Association have been saying for more than 20 years that physicals have no clinical value that justifies the time and resources involved. In other words, they haven't been shown to catch or prevent serious illness or lengthen patients' lives.

But, as surveys and studies consistently find, patients still want them.

No straight male has ever wanted one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:41 PM


Kosovo Wins Support For Split From Serbia: U.S., European Allies Agree to Secession With Ongoing International Supervision (R. Jeffrey Smith, 1/26/07, Washington Post)

Nearly eight years after NATO warplanes intervened in a bitter ethnic conflict between Serbs and rebellious Kosovo Albanians in the former Yugoslavia, the United States and its European allies have agreed to support Kosovo's permanent secession from Serbia under continuing international supervision, according to senior U.S. and European officials.

The decision is likely to lead, possibly as early as this summer, to the formal creation of a new Connecticut-size country in southeastern Europe with membership in the United Nations and, eventually, its own army, the officials said. [...]

Historically a province of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999. That year, a 78-day air campaign by NATO forced out the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, ending its brutal war against guerrillas fighting for self-rule for the province's ethnic Albanian majority. Many members of Kosovo's Serb minority have since fled Albanian retribution.

The new plan, a culmination of lengthy diplomatic consultations between nervous continental Europeans and more enthusiastic Americans and British, is meant in part to alleviate continuing intense pressure from the Albanians for independence. Western officials fear that without official action on the issue, new violence might break out this summer.

Officials say that finally allowing Kosovo to stand mostly on its own also has a major economic impetus: They anticipate it would open the door to private investment, new Western lending and aid, supplanting more than $2.5 billion already poured into the province by foreigners since 1999 with only a slight impact on a faltering and highly corrupt economy.

Kosovo has Europe's largest deposits of lignite coal. Economic planners hope that the new state might build power plants and emerge as a primary supplier of electricity to its Balkan neighbors.

Some diplomats caution that achievement of consensus by the Western powers might not be the end of the tale: Serbia's leaders have persistently and heatedly campaigned against any forced separation of one of their country's provinces.

It's a model for The Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq, at a minimum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


Political muscle raises hopes of saving Doha (Larry Elliott, January 26, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Hopes of a final breakthrough in the long-running global trade talks rose today as President Lula of Brazil joined Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in calling for a speedy end to the stalled negotiations.

Ahead of a meeting of 30 trade ministers in Davos tomorrow, the head of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy, said the involvement of political leaders and finance ministers had changed the atmosphere of the talks.

"The winds have restarted blowing in the direction of a conclusion of this round", Mr Lamy said this afternoon.

The best thing about an agreement from an entertainment perspective will be watching Democrats try to explain away how out of step they are with the rest of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


Oh, That Meddlesome Priest (JAMES BOWMAN, January 26, 2007, NY Sun)

"Becket" is very much a movie of its time -- that is, 1964. Edward Anhalt's adaptation of Anouilh's play (directed by Peter Glenville) retains a lot of the playwright's sensibility, particularly his conception of the 1170 murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, by agents of King Henry II, in terms of the questions of morality and honor raised by the collaboration of a conquered people with their conquerors.

Though obviously an important subject for a Frenchman in the post-war years, this now appears slightly bizarre. To start with, it is doubtful that Becket was, as Anouilh imagined him, a Saxon who first became the best friend of the Norman King Henry and then turned against him, or that the English clergy were all-Saxon while the nobility were all-Norman, like rival football teams.

Without these assumptions, the carefully built-up but rather strained self-hatred of the film's Becket (Richard Burton) makes no sense. Also, its ideas of honor and duty are confused and confusing. And yet, at this distance of time, it comes as a shock that a movie should have concerned itself with such matters at all. [...]

Inspired partly by the postwar rage for psychotherapy, the intellectual spectacular derived a lot of its kick from the illusion that this or that historical figure had been "explained" in terms of what, a few years later, were to be described as his "hang-ups." Oh, so that's what the Reformation or the Renaissance -- or whatever large historical phenomenon you like -- was all about.

This is one, of many, works that we'd classify as accidentally good, the natural drama having usurped the author's intended ideological ends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


Unwinding the gyroball: The physics behind the mysterious pitch and the burning question of whether Matsuzaka throws it (Brett Bull, 1/26/07, SI.com)

"It is a pitch with a gyro spin," explains Dr. Ryutaro Himeno, the director of the Advanced Center for Computing and Communication at the physics and chemistry research institution Riken in Saitama Prefecture.

Himeno, who has done computer simulations of the gyroball's movement since the late 1990s, says that the pitch is delivered much like a "football pass," speeding toward the plate in a tight spiral. In 2001, he co-authored the book Makyu no Shotai (The Truth about the Supernatural Pitch) with baseball instructor Kazushi Tezuka. "Tezuka is the godfather of the gyroball," Himeno says of his associate, who operates sports clinics in Tokyo and Osaka. "I just proved that the pitch exists."

Since Matsuzaka's signing, U.S. newspaper stories have compared the gyroball's elusiveness to that of a ghost or the Loch Ness Monster. Graphs have apocryphally approximated the degree of the pitch's break, showing a sweeping turn as it crosses the plate -- a movement so large that it exceeds even that of a curveball.

But Matsuzaka has never admitted to more than occasionally experimenting with the gyroball; often, he has denied using it at all. The diverging opinions of Himeno and Tezuka, the foremost experts on the pitch, only add to the uncertainty. In fact, reaching some kind of concurrence on what the gyroball is and whether Matsuzaka throws it is about as easy as hitting a Matsuzaka delivery -- any one of them.

In the highlights that have been shown on tv, his best pitch seems to break in on righthanders, suggesting more of a classic screwball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Cooperative tone of Sadr surprises U.S.: The Shiite cleric's movement, long a foe of America, says it backs the new Iraq security plan (Borzou Daragahi, January 26, 2007, LA Times)

Muqtada Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, has backed away from confrontation with U.S. and Iraqi forces in recent weeks, a move that has surprised U.S. officials who long have characterized his followers as among the greatest threats to Iraq's security.

Thursday, a leader of the Sadr movement in one of its Baghdad strongholds publicly endorsed President Bush's new Iraq security plan, which at least some U.S. officials have touted as a way to combat Sadr's group.

"We will fully cooperate with the government to make the plan successful," said Abdul-Hussein Kaabai, head of the local council in the Shiite Muslim-dominated Sadr City neighborhood. "If it is an Iraqi plan done by the government, we will cooperate."

Over the last several weeks, the Shiite cleric and his followers have dropped their threats to quit Iraq's U.S.-backed government, and after years of shunning the "occupier," they have allowed their emissaries to meet with U.S. officials.

To admit surprise at this is to implicitly acknowledge that they simply don't understand the country at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


The Dawkins Delusion (Alister McGrath, January 26, 2007, AlterNet)

Every worldview, whether religious or not, has its point of vulnerability. There is a tension between theory and experience, raising questions over the coherence and trustworthiness of the worldview itself. In the case of Christianity, many locate that point of weakness in the existence of suffering within the world. In the case of atheism, it is the persistence of belief in God, when there is supposedly no God in which to believe.

Until recently, western atheism had waited patiently, believing that belief in God would simply die out. But now, a whiff of panic is evident. Far from dying out, belief in God has rebounded, and seems set to exercise still greater influence in both the public and private spheres. The God Delusion expresses this deep anxiety, partly reflecting an intense distaste for religion. Yet there is something deeper here, often overlooked in the heat of debate. The anxiety is that the coherence of atheism itself is at stake. Might the unexpected resurgence of religion persuade many that atheism itself is fatally flawed as a worldview?

That's what Dawkins is worried about. The shrill, aggressive rhetoric of his God Delusion masks a deep insecurity about the public credibility of atheism. The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure atheists whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers, and others seeking for truth. (Might this be because the writer is himself an atheist whose faith is faltering?) Religious believers will be dismayed by its ritual stereotyping of religion, and will find its manifest lack of fairness a significant disincentive to take its arguments and concerns seriously. Seekers after truth who would not consider themselves religious may also find themselves shocked by Dawkins' aggressive rhetoric, his substitution of personal creedal statements for objective engagement with evidence, his hectoring and bullying tone towards "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads," and his utter determination to find nothing but fault with religion of any kind.

It is this deep, unsettling anxiety about the future of atheism which explains the high degree of dogmatism and aggressive rhetorical style of this new secular fundamentalism. The dogmatism of the work has been the subject of intense criticism in the secular press, reflecting growing alarm within the secularist community about the damage that Dawkins is doing to their public reputation. Many of those who might be expected to support Dawkins are running for cover, trying to distance themselves from this embarrassment.

Pity the poor Darwinists, it's just one embarrassment after another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Japan Mulls Importing Foreign Workers (JOSEPH COLEMAN, 1/20/07, The Associated Press)

The prospect of a shrinking, rapidly aging population is spurring a debate about whether Japan _ so insular that it once barred foreigners from its shores for two centuries _ should open up to more foreign workers.

Japan's 2 million registered foreigners, 1.57 percent of the population, are at a record high but minuscule compared with the United States' 12 percent.

For the government to increase those numbers would be groundbreaking in a nation conditioned to see itself as racially homogeneous and culturally unique, and to equate "foreign" with crime and social disorder.

"I think we are entering an age of revolutionary change," said Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute and a vocal proponent of accepting more outsiders. "Our views on how the nation should be and our views on foreigners need to change in order to maintain our society."

Oizumi's more than 6,500 foreigners, mostly Brazilian, provide a glimpse into what that change might look like.

Walk down the main drag and it's obvious this is no typical Japanese town. Among the convenience stores and coffee shops are tattoo parlors and evangelical Christian churches. At the Canta Galo grocery, people line up at an international phone to call family 10,000 miles away.

The only reason these foreigners are able to be here is their Japanese descent, which entitles them by law to come here as guest workers.

Watanabe's grandparents emigrated to Brazil decades ago, and he and his friends stand out in Japan with their non-Japanese features, booming voices and backslapping manners. At 2 a.m., after a night out with friends, his manner becomes even less Japanese _ shirt off to expose a hefty belly, howling farewells as he drives off in a beat-up car.

Not everyone feels as isolated as he does. Another Brazilian, Claudinei Naruishi, has a Japanese wife and two kids, and wants to buy a house. "I like it here," he says.

Still, City Hall officials are clearly overwhelmed trying to plug the holes in a social system that seems to assume that everyone living in Japan is Japanese.

"We're kind of an experimental region," said Hiroe Kato, of the town's international section. "Japanese people want immigrants to come here and live just like us. But foreigners are different."

Speaking poor Japanese, they tend to be cut off from their neighbors, unable to _ or critics say, unwilling to _ communicate with policemen, file tax returns or understand notices to separate plastic garbage from burnables.

Schooling is compulsory in Japan until age 16, but only for citizens. So foreign kids can skip school with impunity. Arrangements such as special Japanese classes for newcomers are ad hoc and understaffed. Many of the foreigners aren't entitled to pensions or the same health benefits as Japanese workers because they're hired through special job brokers.

Above all, the differences are cultural and rife with stereotypes: Latinos playing music late on weekends; teenagers congregating in the streets at night, alarming police.

"We have people who don't follow the rules," said Mayor Hasegawa. "So then we have a lot of cultural friction."

All the same, demographics suggest Japan has little choice but to open the doors a little further.

The population is 127 million and is forecast to plunge to about 100 million by 2050, when more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older and drawing health and pension benefits. Less than half of Japanese, meanwhile, will be of working age of 15-64.

Fearing disastrous drops in consumption, production and tax revenues, Japan's bureaucrats are scrambling to boost the birthrate and get more women and elderly into the work force. But many Japanese are realizing that foreigners must be part of the equation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


Capitol idea: Senator Schilling? Curt's not so sure, but fans think he's just the ticket (Jesse Noyes, January 26, 2007, Boston Herald)

Curt Schilling seemed surprised yesterday by the sudden groundswell of local supporters hoping to draft him into national politics and a 2008 Senate run against John Kerry. [...]

"I couldn't rule it out because it's not something I ever thought about in a serious capacity," Schilling told the Herald.

"I envision that I will probably be pretty busy in 2008," he said. "But I'm flattered as hell to even make this phone call."

The chatter around Schilling taking on Kerry in a senate race started on talk station WRKO-AM (680) yesterday, when a caller to the Todd Feinberg show suggested Schilling would be the best candidate for the job.

"It just kind of energized from there," Feinberg said. "He became the popular candidate."

Oddly enough, the other Hall of Famer in the Senate was likewise a Philles pitcher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Angry Dispute Erupts Among Iraqi Lawmakers (MARC SANTORA, 1/26/07, NY Times)

Mr. Maliki made his threat to arrest the Sunni lawmaker shortly after promising once again that a crackdown on illegal activity and would be carried out with equal vigor in Shiite as well as Sunni communities.

The prime minister's claim was challenged by Abdul Nasir al-Janabi, who represents a powerful Sunni Arab bloc. "We can not trust the office of the prime minister," he said over jeers from the Shiite politicians before his microphone was cut off.

Mr. Maliki could barely contain his rage, waving his finger in the air and essentially accusing Mr. Nasir of being a criminal.

"I will show you," Mr. Maliki said. "I will turn over the documents on you" showing all your crimes, "then you can talk about trust," Mr. Maliki said.

Shiite politicians in the room erupted in applause.

But Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of Parliament and a Sunni Arab, slammed his gavel down and condemned the prime minister and those who applauded.

"That is unacceptable, Mr. Prime Minister," Mr. Mashhadani said over the tumult. "It is unacceptable, Mr. Prime Minister, to make such accusations against a lawmaker under the dome of Parliament."

But Mr. Maliki pressed on. "What about the 150 people kidnapped near al-Bairaat," he said, referring to an area by a lake south of the Baghdad where Mr. Nasir has his base of support.

In an interview after the session, an Iraqi lawmaker asserted that Mr. Nasir's brother had been implicated in the deaths of more than a dozen Shiites who were killed recently as they returned to Iraq from the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and that this might have been the incident Mr. Maliki was referring to.

As the prime minister continued, Shiites encouraged him on and Sunni Arabs tried to shout him down.

It's haunting how much the demands from the West that Maliki accommodate such Sunni gangs parallel the insistence that Diem play patty-cake with Tri Quang and his "Buddhist" movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


India takes a slow road (Sudha Ramachandran, 1/26/07, Asia Times)

India's involvement with road-building is bitterly opposed by both the Taliban and its sponsors in Pakistan, as the highway under construction not only will boost Afghanistan's connectivity and trade ties with the outside world, it will also enhance the trade and influence of Iran and India - countries whose relations with Islamabad and the Taliban are hardly friendly. Pakistan fears that with the completion of the highway, India's presence and influence in its neighborhood to the north, ie Central Asia, will increase manifold.

India's Border Roads Organization (BRO) is constructing the 217-kilometer Zaranj-Delaram highway in the southwest of the country. It will link Zaranj, which lies on Afghanistan's border with Iran, to Delaram, situated on the "garland highway". The garland highway links Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz. Once the highway is completed, Zaranj will be linked to several Afghan cities.

This highway will connect Iran with the garland highway, too. Iran has been working on improving road links from its ports to towns that lie on its border with Afghanistan. It has completed construction of a vital bridge on the Helmand River marking the frontier between itself and Afghanistan, and is busy upgrading the road from Chabahar, where its new port on the Makran coast is coming up, to Zaranj.

So once the Zaranj-Delaram highway is completed, goods from Afghanistan's main cities can be brought overland to the border with Iran from where they will be transported to Chabahar, and vice versa. The Zaranj-Delaram highway will provide landlocked Afghanistan with a valuable lifeline.

One of the hidden benefits of the American-Indian special relationship is that they can broker, and will apply pressure for, our rapproachment with their ally, Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Fear of a Shia full moon: Events are proving that the king of Jordan was right to warn of a 'Shia crescent' across the Middle East - even though the phrase was a tad undiplomatic (Ian Black, January 26, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Late in 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan coined a controversial phrase that still resonates powerfully in the Middle East: there was, he argued, a "Shia crescent" that went from Damascus to Tehran, passing through Baghdad, where a Shia-dominated government had taken power and was dictating a sectarian brand of politics that was radiating outwards from Iraq across the whole region.

The king's words were certainly prescient: the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims looks like being one of the big themes of 2007 as both come to terms with the apparently unstoppable chaos in Iraq, the rise of Iran as a regional power, and the fear of new and catastrophic consequences if the US and/or Israel enter into armed confrontation with the Islamic republic.

Now some scholars are even talking of a new "30 years' war" between the two branches of Islam - something akin to the struggle between Protestants and Catholics in 16th-century Europe. [...]

Protests from Iraq itself and from Lebanon were predictable. But there was nervousness in the Gulf, too, where Bahrain has a Shia majority and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (in its oil-rich eastern province) sizeable Shia minorities.

The Thirty Years War analogy is entirely apt. Note that the divide isn't just religious, but is between authoritarian regimes vs. their own people and the proto-democracies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Energy roadmap backs renewables (BBC, 1/26/07)

Half of the world's energy needs in 2050 could be met by renewables and improved efficiency, a study claims.

It said alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, could provide nearly 70% of the world's electricity and 65% of global heat demand. [....]

The report calls for ageing fossil fuel and nuclear power plants to be replaced by renewable generation when they reach the end of their operational lives.

"Right now, we have five main sources of energy - oil, coal, gas, nuclear and hydro. In our scenario, we have solar, wind, geo-thermal, bio-energy and hydro," Mr Teske told BBC News.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Best Just Got Better In the American League (TIM MARCHMAN, January 26, 2007, NY Sun)

[N]ot only has the AL improved, its best teams have done the best job with their resources.

Atop any list of the off-season winners must be the defending pennant winner, the Detroit Tigers, and the Yankees. The Tigers, with an impressive mix of young players and veterans who can still play well, only had one obvious need, and that was for a lineup anchor with a high on-base average. Trading some live arms for Gary Sheffield was therefore quite the wise idea. Sheffield, who will be 38 this year, posted a fine .355 OBA in limited time last year; it was the first time it had dipped below .379 since 1993. When you win the pennant and then fill your one need, you're counted a winner. The Yankees did an even better job, by clearing out Sheffield, Jaret Wright, Randy Johnson, and other expensive veterans while filling out the pitching staff with several of the best starters available on the market, who were signed to short-term contracts. The rest of the league should be scared of these teams.

The clubs that did the next best jobs were, alarmingly, also among the league's elite. Boston can be marked down a bit for the drama surrounding the contract of hangnail-prone outfielder J.D. Drew, which was finally settled yesterday after four years of negotiations, but they also picked up a fine middle infielder in Julio Lugo and the best available player in starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, filling clear needs with both moves. Chicago, meanwhile, took advantage of the ludicrous market for starting pitching by shipping off two starters at the likely peak of their value -- Freddy Garcia and Brandon McCarthy -- while receiving a bounty of high-end prospects in return. Everyone says that cheap, adequate pitching is the most valuable thing in the game; Chicago GM Kenny Williams, unusually, actually acts like he believes it. Good for him.

January 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Make a Deal With Syria and Weaken the Iran-Hezbollah Axis (Martin Van Creveld, Jan 26, 2007, The Forward)

Both Iran and Hezbollah are committed to a radical version of Shi'ite Islam. Since the regime in Damascus is secular, Assad finds him in a rather uncomfortable position. Were Shi'ite fundamentalism to gain a stronger foothold in Syria, it might upset the delicate religious-ethnic balance that for the past quarter-century has kept the country stable. Should the United States evacuate Iraq and some kind of Iranian-guided Shi'ite entity established in Baghdad, Damascus will find itself in a less comfortable situation still.

Add to that the fact that Hezbollah, far from being controlled by Damascus, is to some extent a loose cannon -- one that someday may drag Syria into a war against a much more powerful Israel. Should such a war break out, Tehran's willingness -- and certainly its ability -- to come to Assad's aid will be strictly limited.

All this, of course, does not come as news to Assad, and it is because of his weak position that he has been going out of his way during recent months to call for peace talks with Israel. So far, Israel has rejected the outstretched Syrian hand, either because Washington cast a veto or due to other reasons.

If Washington and Jerusalem's aim, however, is to dismantle the alliance between Syria and Iran and in the process leave Hezbollah high and dry, then perhaps Assad's calls for peace talks deserve a more positive response.

There you go--all Israel has to do is prop up another regime that's hated by its people and thwart four popular governments and everything will be just fine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 PM


In perjury trial, testimony by Cheney aide damages Libby (Neil A. Lewis, January 25, 2007, NY Times)

Cathie Martin, who was Cheney's chief spokeswoman, was the fourth witness for the prosecution in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of Libby, who is charged with lying during an investigation of who leaked the name of the CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, and why. Unlike the previous three witnesses, who worked at the CIA and State Department, Martin provided an insider's perspective, one from directly inside the office of the vice president.

The perspective she laid out under questioning from a federal prosecutor was damaging to Libby. She testified that both Cheney and Libby were intensely interested in Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on a mission to Africa to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger for his nuclear weapons program.

Martin's testimony was damaging for Libby in two respects. She bolstered the prosecution's assertion that Libby was fully aware of Wilson's identity from a number of administration officials, and did not first learn about her from reporters, as he has claimed. Perhaps more important, she testified as a former close colleague of Libby's and demonstrated her familiarity with him by repeatedly referring to him by his nickname, Scooter.

As is usually the case in these White House scandals: he did nothing wrong until he started lying about what he did do. Then he obstructed justice just as fast as he could.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Davos: Demographics, Economics, Destiny: With the help of workforce consultants, some governments are addressing the economic shortcomings that a dearth of workers portend (Christopher Power, 1/25/07, Business Week)

A talk with some of the top brass of Manpower (MAN) of Milwaukee is very revealing. In 2005, Manpower's network of temp services and human resources operations put 5 million people to work around the globe. With more than $17 billion in revenue, it ranks with Swiss-based Adecco (ADO) as the world-class provider of workers to the top corporations on the planet. Manpower's studies of global workforce trends are some of the best available.
Joining the Union

Take their study on the European labor force. Corporate affairs boss David Arkless says Manpower estimates that in a few decades the European Union will have a shortfall of 60 million people of working age. "And that includes the newly admitted member states of Bulgaria and Romania," says Arkless.

This presents an enormous opportunity for workforce companies such as Manpower, which is advising European governments on bringing older workers back into the workplace, loosening labor rules, seriously retraining workers, and expanding the Continent's pool of part-time workers. All this will help Europe's looming labor shortage. But Manpower figures it won't be enough without a massive revision of immigration laws in Europe. Turkey and Egypt have the people--if Europe will have Turkey and Egypt. [...]

Still, even China cannot escape demographic destiny. China has a rapidly aging workforce and faces pension shortfalls in the trillions. Eventually, these choke points will affect China's supercharged growth. That's why Arkless figures India, with its superyoung population, could eventually surpass China in economic importance. Demographics cannot be denied.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM


Dems' beauty skin deep: Ugly cuts straight to bone (Kyle Whitmire, 1/25/07, Birmingham Weekly)

Three years ago, when he held the second spot on the Democratic ticket, [John] Edwards spent his one and only campaign stop here with this schedule: Rubber chicken fundraiser at the Summit Club (30 minutes), unannounced/unpublicized visit to local headquarters (20 minutes), dinner at Bottega (3 hours). At least he set foot here, which is more than his running mate, John Kerry, could claim. Dinner at Bottega is fine dining, but working the lines at the Fish Market, with camera crew in tow, is smart campaigning. Instead, to paraphrase Steve Miller, he took the money and ran. Alabama voters not dining so well that night were left again to feel lonely and unappreciated.

But something funny happened on the way to the White House this time. Alabama has moved its primaries to February 2008. Supposing other states don't try to leapfrog ahead of us (and they very well might), this state will have much to say in who will be the next presidential nominees. And someone like Edwards, with his Southern boy credentials, could theoretically do well here. He speaks about God, country and family in our familiar inflections. He says "y'all" a lot. Last Friday he had a second chance to make a first impression.

"I grew up in the rural South, in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina, small towns the whole time," Edwards said to a group of TV reporters in a suite at the Wynfrey Hotel. "I think I have a good understanding of what people in Alabama care about. They care about their faith, they care about their family, and they care about their work, in that order."

If only that were true. In fact, what Edwards didn't say, and what the TV cameras didn't show, was what was going on downstairs: the Mid Winter Conference of the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association. That's right. Edwards was here, in his first campaign visit, to take money from trial lawyers. If he had performed an abortion and married another man, he could have hit the trifecta for running crossways of Alabama values.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


The squeeze is on: A new economic history argues that Europe's institutions must adapt if the continent is to thrive in future (The Economist, Jan 25th 2007)

More recently...Europe has tended to lag behind America. And that, concludes this sympathetic American observer (a professor at the University of California, Berkeley), gives rise to doubts about the old continent's future economic prowess.

The key to these two facets of the economy lies in Europe's institutions. In lesser hands, "institutions" might be a lazy, catch-all explanation. Mr Eichengreen, though, crafts his arguments well. Western Europe's rapid post-war growth, he says, stemmed from more than the free play of market forces: cohesive trade unions and employers' associations, often inherited from pre-war times, and growth-minded governments were needed too. Hence the "co-ordinated capitalism" of his subtitle.

He makes a strong case that Europe did not start from scratch after the war. A good deal of physical capital remained; and of the roads, railways and factories that had been destroyed, much could be quickly rebuilt. By 1947, industrial production had surpassed 1938 levels, if Germany is left out of the European average; by 1948, production was as high as it had been a decade earlier even if Germany is included. The continent also had plenty of what economists call human capital and the rest of us call skilled and educated people.

Co-ordinated capitalism worked well in those countries that had it. Britain, with its fragmented unions and employers' groups, was a conspicuous exception, and its attempt to mimic French indicative planning in the 1960s was a conspicuous failure. Co-ordination crossed borders too, in the shape of what eventually became the European Union.

Strains showed even when co-ordinated capitalism was in its prime, most clearly in the series of exchange-rate realignments from the 1950s to the 1990s. Pride played as big a part as economics in patching up the system: just about every devaluation of the French franc seems to have been dressed up as a revaluation of the D-mark.

Europe's institutions served it less well once it had more or less caught up with America. They were much less good at fostering "intensive growth"--pushing back the bounds of economic possibility as opposed to merely catching up with them. Even in the 1950s and 1960s, while America put its research and development dollars into aerospace and electronics, Europe went for marginal improvements in chemicals, textiles and machinery--in Italy, for example, adding numerical controls to existing textile looms rather than coming up with altogether new machines. This was already beginning to matter by the end of the 1960s, with labour tight and living standards getting close to American levels. It is not clear that Europe has cracked this problem even now.

The "genius" of the Marshall Plan and the Cold War lay in locking Western Europe into its suicidal institutional shackles rather than forcing a genuine rebuilding of a failed continent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Weighing the universe: How scientists are trying to find where Einstein went wrong (The Economist, Jan 25th 2007)

FAMILIAR as it may seem, gravity remains a mystery to modern physics. Despite several decades of trying, scientists have failed to fit Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity holds big objects together, with the quantum mechanics he pioneered, which describes the tiny fundamental particles of which matter consists and the forces by which they interact. Recent discoveries have highlighted further problems.

Many physicists are therefore entertaining the idea that Einstein's ideas about gravity must be wrong or at least incomplete.

The ironic thing is that having gotten everything wrong should have no impact on the choice of Einstein as the Man of the 20th Century: a hundred murderous years dominated by ideas that proved ridiculous, not just his but those of Darwin, Freud and Marx as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Rehabilitating Robert Moses (ROBIN POGREBIN, 1/23/07, NY Times)

FOR three decades his image has been frozen in time. The bulldozing bully who callously displaced thousands of New Yorkers in the name of urban renewal. The public-works kingpin who championed highways as he starved mass transit. And yes, the visionary idealist who gave New York Lincoln Center and Jones Beach, along with parks, roads, playgrounds and public pools.

This is the Robert Moses most of us know today, courtesy of Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography from 1974, "The Power Broker," which charts Moses' long reign as city parks commissioner (1934-60) and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1946-68). A 1,286-page book that reads like a novel, it won a Pulitzer Prize and virtually redefined the biographical genre by raising the bar for contemporary research. Today it remains the premier text on the evolution of 20th-century New York, a portrait of a man who used his power without regard for the human toll.

But according to the Columbia University architectural historian Hilary Ballon and assorted colleagues, Moses deserves better -- or at least a fresh look. In three exhibitions opening in the next few days -- at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and Columbia University -- Ms. Ballon argues that too little attention has been focused on what Moses achieved, versus what he destroyed, and on the enormous bureaucratic hurdles he surmounted to get things done. [...]

As for Mr. Caro, 71, he said he was not informed of the exhibitions in advance, nor is he part of a symposium Thursday at the Museum of the City of New York or other panel discussions pegged to them. Asked how he felt about having been excluded, Mr. Caro said: "When I am writing a book, I try always to give all sides a chance to express their viewpoint. I guess they didn't want my viewpoint expressed, and not inviting me is certainly an effective means of accomplishing that."

He will make a solo appearance at the museum on Feb. 11, but only because one of the exhibition's financers, the philanthropist Roger Hertog, argued that Mr. Caro should be included.

"The exhibition elevates Moses' achievements to historic -- almost grandiose -- accomplishment, yet he's a complicated person," Mr. Hertog said. "If you're going to really think about this, there is this looming presence, this thousand-pound gorilla, in the middle of the room, and it's Caro. His interpretation has to be heard as well."

Mr. Caro spent seven years on his book, conducting 522 interviews and combing thousands of personal and public documents. To scholars who take a revisionist approach, he urges caution. "The enduring legacy of Robert Moses includes magnificent achievements, which I celebrated in 'The Power Broker,' " he said. "But it is also necessary to look at his overall impact."

He cited the ouster of more than half a million people from their homes in the Bronx, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, in Sunset Park in Brooklyn and on Long Island farms for the sake of new highways or "slum clearance": evictions that largely could have been avoided by using alternate routes and that in some cases helped create new slums.

"His highways and bridges and tunnels are awesome all right, but no aspect of those highways and bridges and tunnels is as awesome as the congestion on them," Mr. Caro said. "Congestion was always going to be inevitable in New York, but it could have been substantially less had he only combined his roads with the mass transit suggested by so many planners."

Caro's story, of a humanist who becomes anti-human is perhaps the great novel of the 20th Century, all the more poignant because biography instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


Obama: "The Time Has Come For Universal Health Care In America" (TPM Cafe, 1/25/07)

It's time to act. This isn't a problem of money, this is a problem of will. A failure of leadership. We already spend $2.2 trillion a year on health care in this country. My colleague, Senator Ron Wyden, who's recently developed a bold new health care plan of his own, tells it this way:

For the money Americans spent on health care last year, we could have hired a group of skilled physicians, paid each one of them $200,000 to care for just seven families, and guaranteed every single American quality, affordable health care.

So where's all that money going? We know that a quarter of it - one out of every four health care dollars - is spent on non-medical costs; mostly bills and paperwork. And we also know that this is completely unnecessary. Almost every other industry in the world has saved billions on these administrative costs by doing it all online. Every transaction you make at a bank now costs them less than a penny. Even at the Veterans Administration, where it used to cost nine dollars to pull up your medical record, new technology means you can call up the same record on the internet for next to nothing.

But because we haven't updated technology in the rest of the health care industry, a single transaction still costs up to twenty-five dollars - not one dime of which goes toward improving the quality of our health care.

This is simply inexcusable, and if we brought our entire health care system online, something everyone from Ted Kennedy to Newt Gingrich believes we should do, we'd already be saving over $600 million a year on health care costs.

The federal government should be leading the way here. If you do business with the federal employee health benefits program, you should move to an electronic claims system. If you are a provider who works with Medicare, you should have to report your patient's health outcomes, so that we can figure out, on a national level, how to improve health care quality. These are all things experts tell us must be done but aren't being done. And the federal government should lead.

Another, more controversial area we need to look at is how much of our health care spending is going toward the record-breaking profits earned by the drug and health care industry. It's perfectly understandable for a corporation to try and make a profit, but when those profits are soaring higher and higher each year while millions lose their coverage and premiums skyrocket, we have a responsibility to ask why.

At a time when businesses are facing increased competition and workers rarely stay with one company throughout their lives, we also have to ask if the employer-based system of health care itself is still the best for providing insurance to all Americans. We have to ask what we can do to provide more Americans with preventative care, which would mean fewer doctor's visits and less cost down the road. We should make sure that every single child who's eligible is signed up for the children's health insurance program, and the federal government should make sure that our states have the money to make that happen. And we have to start looking at some of the interesting ideas on comprehensive reform that are coming out of states like Maine and Illinois and California, to see what we can replicate on a national scale and what will move us toward that goal of universal coverage for all.

But regardless of what combination of policies and proposals get us to this goal, we must reach it. We must act. And we must act boldly.

Since Mr. Obama seems unable to come up with a single concrete proposal for this central problem facing the country, even in his big Health Care Speech, why don't the Democrats nominate Mr. Wyden instead? No wonder no one believes in gravity anymore...

Obama's Appeal to Blacks Remains an Open Question (Michael A. Fletcher, 1/25/07, Washington Post)

The question of how Obama chooses to define and approach race looms large as he moves closer to formally launching his campaign next month. Although he rides a wave of enthusiasm among Democrats who like his vision of a different kind of politics and see him as an alternative to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), it is not clear that his multiracial message can excite black voters hungry for affirmation of their top concerns.

What difference does his race make -- especially when he's devoid of even a single significant idea?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Boeing cuts 787 wireless system (Dominic Gates, 1/25/07, Seattle Times)

Boeing has abandoned its plan to install a wireless inflight-entertainment system on the 787 Dreamliner, one it had touted earlier as saving weight and complexity by eliminating wires.

Boeing will substitute a wired system with cables running to each seat row, instead of a wireless antenna at each row, to feed movies and music to passengers' seats.

Mike Sinnett, director of 787 systems, said the switch will ease the plane's development schedule rather than cause any delay. Paradoxically, he said, the change will reduce weight.

"We're putting in about 50 pounds of wiring and taking out about 200 pounds of other gear" including wireless antennae, wireless access points and thickened ceiling panels, said Sinnett. "And from a schedule point of view, it makes life easier for us."

...even your biffs work out well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Experts Examine Bush Health Plan (Christopher Lee and Lori Montgomery, 1/25/07, Washington Post)

Under the plan, which would take effect in 2009, winners would vastly outnumber the losers -- at least at first.

Families that spend less than $15,000 on their health coverage (either on their own or with an employer's contribution) would come out ahead, because the new deduction would apply to all of the money spent on premiums. A family that spends, $13,000 a year on health insurance could claim the full deduction. The administration says about 100 million people with employer-sponsored coverage would see their tax bills go down.

Other winners include the 17 million people who buy health insurance on the individual market, who would for the first time enjoy a tax break on the money they use to pay health premiums.

On the losing side are consumers with more expensive policies, especially those financed by employers, who would have to pay taxes on the money used to pay premiums exceeding $15,000. About 30 million people with employer coverage would see their tax bills go up in the first year, the administration says.

"You've got a Republican president willing to take from the rich and redistribute to the poor, which, symbolically, is a really big deal," said Thomas A. Scully, a former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Bush. "It's breaking the ice to where the real source of revenue is and redistributing it from overinsured people to poor people. . . . The concept is a huge step in the right direction."

Advocates said the proposals would hold down health-care costs by motivating people to seek plans that cost $15,000 or less, and would help put basic insurance within reach of about 5 million of the uninsured. Still more people would gain coverage with the help of another Bush proposal to redirect some federal health money to new grants to assist states in finding innovative ways to cover the uninsured.

"It gives everyone a strong incentive to search for less-costly health care," said Mark B. McClellan, a health economist and former Bush adviser. [...]

Others fear the plan would prompt more employers to drop health coverage and offer employees an immediate increase in wages to buy coverage on the individual market. But those plans tend to be more expensive, less comprehensive and harder to get for consumers who are already sick.

No one expects government to be efficient, but the idiocy of covering every person of every age with a comprehensive health plan is so obvious that even the Left ought to be able to figure it out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


U.S. motorists cutting back a bit: Americans cut miles driven for the first time since 1980. High prices are behind the change in transportation habits. (Elizabeth Douglass, January 25, 2007, LA Times)

[T]o the surprise of many economists, U.S. motorists changed their ways enough to cut the nation's per-driver mileage by 0.4% in 2005, ending a string of increases dating back to 1980, government data show.

Other reports over the last year on mass transit ridership, total miles driven nationwide, gasoline demand, vehicle sales and retail and restaurant spending reinforce the notion that U.S. drivers made significant -- and in some cases, lasting -- adjustments to offset steadily rising gasoline prices.

"In 2005 and into 2006, we did see consumers start to change their driving behavior," said David Portalatin, director of industry analysis at NPD Group Inc., which tracks consumer spending. "That's a very hard thing to change, because I've either got to change where I work, where I live, or what kind of car I drive in order to actually consume less gasoline."

It's a small but important shift for a nation that many believed was impervious to rising gas prices because drivers were unable or unwilling to rein in their gas-guzzling ways. Lofty energy costs have generated such concern that President Bush devoted a significant chunk of his last two State of the Union speeches to addressing the nation's oil addiction.

"The message is that price matters," said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a Boston-area consulting company that recently published an analysis called "Gasoline and the American People."

Funny how subjectivity made them doubt the most basic tenet of their profession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Liberians love their Iron Lady, for now: The woman who would heal the nation has no illusions and few tears (Robyn Dixon, January 25, 2007, LA Times)

Johnson-Sirleaf is under no illusions: A few more months or a year without bringing jobs and her people's love and admiration will themselves blink out. But for now she offers hope of a new beginning to a nation torn by war's atrocities, many of them committed by doped-up children who fought in drag and believed magic could protect them from the bullets.

When she changes into colorful Liberian costume for official functions, Johnson-Sirleaf seems to blossom like a tropical flower. Her raspy, charismatic voice rises powerfully as she addresses the crowds.

She is divorced with four sons and six grandchildren, and comes from a pious family. As a student, her only ambition was to be a schoolteacher like her mother. Both her grandmothers, one of whom had a market stall, were illiterate.

She played soccer with the boys, a rarity in those days. She was a lethal volleyball player, leaping up and whacking the ball two-handed across court, a shot that almost never failed.

After studying in the United States, she returned home to become finance minister under President William Tolbert in the early 1970s. After she was jailed by the regime of Samuel Doe in 1985 and was charged with treason under Taylor in 1997, she went into exile. She worked for the World Bank, Citibank, the International Monetary Fund and other organizations. [...]

Though few doubt that her toughness and piety signal a break from the theft and violence of previous regimes, her task is immense.

Liberia today seems a country of slogans, acronyms and good intentions. Crudely painted notice boards tell the population (more than half of which can't read) how to live: "Stop mob violence; use the law." "Say no to cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco." "Raped? Get help." Some are slapped up on walls by indignant residents: "Only dogs urinate here."

The acronyms of dozens of international nongovernmental organizations litter the country, proclaiming their intended sites for schools and clinics.

In Monrovia, the capital, a teeming population jostles and hustles. The smell of sewage pervades some streets. The city seems to exhale grime, leaving a grubby sheen upon the skin.

The hip-hop song about Johnson-Sirleaf is called "A Letter to the President."

Hello, Ma. See, what we need is change, a change from suffering, a change from poverty. You can make it, Ma. We trust you; that's why we voted for you.

To help jump-start the economy, Johnson-Sirleaf is relying on an end to diamond sanctions imposed by the United Nations, a revival of the rubber and timber industries, and an iron ore project by Mittal Steel offering more than 3,000 jobs.

A key donors conference is to be held in February. And moves to resolve the country's IMF debt are crucial if Liberia is to borrow from countries such as China, which wants to invest $1 billion thanks to Liberia's abundant resources. [...]

Johnson-Sirleaf has drastically cut the civil service, restored power and water to parts of Monrovia, pursued corrupt former officials and pressured the international community to help the country by lifting the diamond sanctions and forgiving its unsustainable level of debt.

Her government is admired abroad -- in Washington, she won a standing ovation at a joint session of Congress last year -- but is often lambasted in the independent local press. To her opponents, her famous tough exterior translates as vindictiveness; to supporters, it shows she's the only one strong enough to save Liberia from itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Iraqi Official Offers Terms From Militia to Avoid Fight (SABRINA TAVERNISE, 1/24/07, NY Times)

An Iraqi official authorized to speak on behalf of field commanders for the country's most powerful militia has approached Western military officials and laid out a plan to avoid armed confrontation, senior Iraqi and American officials said this week.

The official is Rahim al-Daraji, the elected mayor of the Sadr City district, the vast grid in the northeast corner of the capital that is the stronghold of the militia, the Mahdi Army. Mr. Daraji has met twice in the past two weeks with Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, a British officer who is the deputy commanding general in Iraq, said a senior Iraqi official in the office of the prime minister.

During the meetings, which took place on Jan. 17 and, most recently, on Monday, Mr. Daraji laid out a proposal from what he said were all the major political and militia groups in Sadr City, the senior Iraqi official said. The groups were eager to head off a major American military offensive in the district, home to two million Shiites, as the Americans begin a sweeping new effort to retake the streets of Baghdad.

Troops Battle Insurgents in Central Baghdad: U.S. and Iraqi Forces Are Attacked From High-Rises; Sunni Area Was Scene of Recent Clash (Ernesto Londoño and Joshua Partlow, 1/25/07, Washington Post)
With attack helicopters circling overhead, U.S. and Iraqi forces waged an intense battle Wednesday to clear armed men from high-rise buildings in a strategic Baghdad neighborhood that had been the scene of a similar day of combat two weeks ago.

The fighting along Haifa Street, a Sunni-dominated area on the west bank of the Tigris River, began before dawn and lasted well into the day, with insurgents firing down from tall buildings, U.S. military officials said.

"We have intelligence information that the terrorist group is back and trying to take some other places," said Ali Dabbagh, a spokesman for the prime minister. "It's a very strategic and important location. It's in the middle of Baghdad; it has a view of all of Baghdad."

If we do their fighting for them the Sadr militia can stand down for now.

In a new joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, Americans go first (Damien Cave and James Glanz, January 24, 2007, NY Times)

In the battle for Baghdad, Haifa Street has changed hands so often that it has taken on the feel of a no man's land, the deadly space between opposing trenches. On Wednesday, as American and Iraqi troops poured in, the street showed why it is such a sensitive gauge of an urban conflict marked by front lines that melt into confusion, enemies with no clear identity and allies who disappear or do not show up at all.

In a miniature version of the troop increase that the United States hopes will secure the city, American soldiers and armored vehicles raced onto Haifa Street before dawn to dislodge Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias who have been battling for a stretch of ragged slums and mostly abandoned high rises. But as the sun rose, many of the Iraqi Army units who were supposed to do the actual searches of the buildings did not arrive on time, forcing the Americans to start the job on their own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Ray gun brings some zap to the battlefield (Matt Weaver, January 25, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

The American military has unveiled its latest hi-tech weapon - a virtual flame-thrower on top of a Humvee that microwaves enemies at 500 paces. [...]

The futuristic new weapon, called the Active Denial System, was tested yesterday on 10 journalists who volunteered to be fired at. [...]

The system uses tiny waves, which only penetrates 0.4mm of the skin, just enough to cause discomfort. By comparison, common kitchen microwaves penetrate several centimetres of skin. The system was developed by the military, but the two devices currently being evaluated were built by defence contractor Raytheon.

Airman Blaine Pernell, said he could have used the system during his four tours in Iraq, where he manned watchtowers around a base near Kirkuk.

"All we could do is watch them," he said. But if they had the ray gun, troops "could have dispersed them".

Say Hello to the Goodbye Weapon (David Hambling, Dec, 05, 2006, Wired)
The beam produces what experimenters call the "Goodbye effect," or "prompt and highly motivated escape behavior." In human tests, most subjects reached their pain threshold within 3 seconds, and none of the subjects could endure more than 5 seconds.

"It will repel you," one test subject said. "If hit by the beam, you will move out of it -- reflexively and quickly. You for sure will not be eager to experience it again."

But while subjects may feel like they have sustained serious burns, the documents claim effects are not long-lasting. At most, "some volunteers who tolerate the heat may experience prolonged redness or even small blisters," the Air Force experiments concluded.

The reports describe an elaborate series of investigations involving human subjects.

The volunteers were military personnel: active, reserve or retired, who volunteered for the tests. They were unpaid, but the subjects would "benefit from direct knowledge that an effective nonlethal weapon system could soon be in the inventory," said one report. The tests ranged from simple exposure in the laboratory to elaborate war games involving hundreds of participants.

The military simulated crowd control situations, rescuing helicopter crews in a Black Hawk Down setting and urban assaults. More unusual tests involved alcohol, attack dogs and maze-like obstacle courses.

In more than 10,000 exposures, there were six cases of blistering and one instance of second-degree burns in a laboratory accident, the documents claim.

The ADS was developed in complete secrecy for 10 years at a cost of $40 million. Its existence was revealed in 2001 by news reports, but most details of ADS human testing remain classified. There has been no independent checking of the military's claims.

The ADS technology is ready to deploy, and the Army requested ADS-armed Strykers for Iraq last year. But the military is well aware that any adverse publicity could finish the program, and it does not want to risk distressed victims wailing about evil new weapons on CNN.

If you intervene in civil wars you have to be able to repel the friendlies without killing them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


When Does Green Rage Become Ecoterrorism? (Matt Rasmussen, January 25, 2007, Orion Magazine)

The crimes to which the six confessed included seventeen attacks, all but one of them arson or attempted arson. The actions took place in five western states between 1996 and 2001. No one was injured. Sport utility vehicles were burned at a Eugene car dealership. So was a meat-packing plant in Redmond, Oregon. Other targets included federal facilities in Wyoming and California and Oregon, where wild horses and burros were let loose and buildings burned down. And in the most notorious action, a spectacular nighttime blaze high in the Rockies destroyed several structures at the Vail ski area. Many of the attacks were followed by communiqués issued under the banner of the Earth Liberation Front, a shadowy, leaderless offshoot of the group Earth First!, and by its sister group, the Animal Liberation Front.

Prosecutors say those who did the crimes took extraordinary means to conceal their involvement. They met in secret gatherings they called "book club" meetings, discussing details such as computer security, target surveillance, and lock-picking. They required that each attendee describe actions they took to avoid detection while traveling to the meeting sites. They used nicknames and code words. They called their criminal actions "camping trips," and dubbed the timing devices they attached to incendiary bombs "hamburgers."

"Terrorism is terrorism -- no matter the motive," FBI director Robert Mueller said in January 2006, after the Bush administration announced indictments in an investigation it calls Operation Backfire. "The FBI is committed to protecting Americans from all crime and all terrorism, including acts of domestic terrorism on behalf of animal rights or the environment."

Many were appalled. How could anyone possibly use that singularly loaded word to describe these acts?

The problem lies in thinking of it as a loaded word to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


GOP ready to pounce on vulnerable pol (Dave Wedge, January 25, 2007, Boston Herald)

Bay State Republicans are circling like vultures around a politically weakened John Kerry, vowing to field a strong challenger that may be able to capitalize on his fractured image and snatch his coveted U.S. Senate seat.

One potential GOP challenger, state Sen. Scott Brown, said last night that he "would consider" a run against Kerry in 2008 and that the senator is ripe for the picking.

"I think he'll get a challenge this time. I don't think he'll get a free ride," Brown (R-Wrentham) said. "His handling of himself during this Iraq situation has been outrageous. He needs to be held accountable. Whether I'm the guy to do it or someone else, I think people are tired of his poor representation."

Mr. Romney could make up for not holing the governor's seat by winning the Senate seat. Hopefully the Herald is just kidding with their photo of Senator Kerry crying as he makes his announcement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 AM


Ayatollah's snub pressures Iran president (Con Coughlin, 25/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Internal pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to abandon his confrontational policies with the West has intensified after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme spiritual leader, snubbed a request for a meeting on the country's controversial nuclear programme. [...]

"It is a clear indication that the cracks are starting to appear in the highest echelons of the Iranian regime," said a senior Bush administration official with responsibility for monitoring Iran. "If the country's leading religious figure is not talking to the political leadership then obviously something is going seriously wrong." [...]

[T]he country's growing international isolation, together with a dramatic decline in the economy, has seen opposition to Mr Ahmadinejad harden. Last week 150 Iranian parliamentarians took the extraordinary step of signing a letter blaming him for the country's economic woes.

The Ayatollah finally figured out he was being too subtle to get through to Westerners.

Clock may be ticking on Iran's fiery leader (DARIUSH ZAHEDI and OMID MEMARIAN, Peninsula On-line)

THE BUSH administration's decision to step up pressure against Iran by going after Iranian agents inside Iraq, coupled with the Islamic Republic's increasing economic and diplomatic isolation, have pushed conservatives inside Iran to further distance themselves from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Many pragmatic and traditional conservatives, such as former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, who is the secretary of the Council of Guardians, were critical of Ahmadinejad's management of Iran's economic and foreign policies before US military forces recently detained members of the Revolutionary Guard and Iranian intelligence agents in Irbil, Iraq.

This incident, coupled with the UN Security Council's imposition of sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to abandon its nuclear program, has reportedly prompted 50 parliamentary members to sign a letter calling on Ahmadinejad to appear before parliament to explain himself.

There have also been reports that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given a green light to parliament to criticise the president's performance. Coupled with the country's deteriorating economy, these developments could push Ahmadinejad's opponents to replace him with a less doctrinaire politician.

Recent elections throw a spotlight on rumbles against the regime (Christine Spolar, 1/24/07, Chicago Tribune)
Even as Tehran ignores threats from the U.S. and other foreign powers, shouts and murmurs from within may begin to take a toll on the conservative mullahs running Iran. The Islamic Republic's version of Generation Next, eager for wider economic and educational horizons, is finding its voice.

The challenge was heard a few days before local elections late last year. Students at prestigious Amir Kabir University in Tehran rallied against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a speech. In a nation where "Death to the United States" is a routine chant during Friday prayers, student protesters - angered in part by the regime's renewed purges of professors - unleashed a loud and stunning rebuke: "Death to the dictator."

The elections themselves presented an apparent backlash against the ruling class. Moderately conservative candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad - a leader who seems to revel in bombast designed to isolate Iran from Western values and allies - made unexpected gains. In polls where voter turnout topped 60 percent, the shift was widely seen as a comeuppance to the hard-line conservatives and military guard who engineered Ahmadinejad's rise two years ago.[...]

In dozens of interviews in Tehran and other cities last year, Iranians from all walks of life - shop owners, homemakers, university professors and the vast student class - pointed out Iran's failings. The government, a ruling theocracy that controls all horizons, has fallen short. It is hard to find a good job, difficult to pay the bills and, for a population where the median age is just a shade under 25, the future seems bleak.

The nuclear standoff has, again, left Iran battling the world.

"The government doesn't care what we want. If they want (nuclear power) for agriculture and industry, then it's good. But if they want to start a Hiroshima, we don't want it," 20-year-old Arman Azizi, who ran a small jeans shop in Tehran, said a few months ago.

Iran: Moving Toward Negotiations (Statfor, January 25, 2007)
[I]t appears Iran is using Saudi Arabia as a conduit to send messages to the United States, especially since the Iranians are well aware of the close relationship between Bandar and the Bush administration. Just last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Saudi Arabia, after which she traveled to Kuwait for a meeting with representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council states, Egypt and Jordan to discuss Iran and Iraq.

This is not just the Iranians warming up to the Saudis. On Tuesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry, National Security Council and executive branch issued a flurry of statements saying Iran is willing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed this in a live television appearance, saying the government is trying to prevent another U.N. Security Council resolution against the Islamic republic.

In another development, Ahmadinejad told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Wednesday that Tehran is "fully ready for any cooperation which will lead to security and peace in Iraq." This comes after Talabani told Saudi-owned Arabic daily Al Hayat that, during a recent visit to Tehran, Iranian officials said they are ready to negotiate a settlement with the United States on issues ranging from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

The Iranians are moving toward a conciliatory approach on all fronts, which has been made possible in part by what appears to be a reining in of Ahmadinejad and his ultraconservative faction.

A World Without Ahmadinejad? (Ludwig De Braeckeleer, 1/24/07, Ohmy News)
None of the policies conducted along his "redistributive Islamic socialism" are helping the poorest people and some have clearly worsened their situation.

One of his plans to eradicate poverty was to offer discounted shares of Iran's biggest state-owned companies to the neediest people. The initiative completely failed as these people have no money to buy these shares, even at discounted prices, and anyway most of these companies fail to make a profit.

"Since the privatization process ... failed to produce the desired results, one question that arises is how the present administration intends to move forward in containing the role of the state," the Iran Daily asked.

The massive injunction of oil money into the Iranian economy has only fueled inflation and accelerated unemployment.

The cost of necessities such as bread, fruits, vegetables, poultry and meat has increased by 25 percent since the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in late December. Rents are up 30 percent and so is the average rate of unemployment, which is even worse among young people.

As a result of the Ayatollah's pro-birth policies, the Iranian population is very young. Two-thirds of the 70 million Iranian people are less than 30 years old. In such context, the opinion and aspirations of the youth can hardly be ignored.

On Dec. 11, Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at the Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran. For the first time, he got a taste of what may be waiting for him if he does not manage to deliver on his promises.

To his surprise, students interrupted his speech. They set fire to pictures of their president while chanting "death to the dictator."

On a Web site, the students accuse him of corruption, mismanagement and discrimination. "The students showed that despite vast propaganda, the president has not been able to deceive academia," a statement said.

Some students were also angry over the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust. "The conference was shameful and had brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world," a student said.

On the country's annual student day, 2,000 students protested at Tehran University. They denounced the crackdown on university professors. Since Ahmadinejad was elected, many intellectuals have been forced to take an early retirement.

The 2006 elections for the Assembly of Experts and local councils were the first nationwide elections since Ahmadinejad became president. Sixty percent of the voters showed up and inflicted a humiliating defeat to his political allies. Ninety percent of them failed to retain their seats.

"The results show that voters have learned from the past and concluded that we need to support moderate figures," the daily Kargozaraan wrote.

"This is a blow for Ahmadinejad and Mesbah-Yazdi's list," an Iranian political analyst was quoted as saying.

Presidential Skeptics in Iran (Lionel Beehner, 1/23/07, CFR.org)
While most Middle East analysts have focused on the region's Sunni-Shiite divide, the main Shiite champion, Iran, is undergoing internal rifts of its own.

Iran's post-election balance: Iran's enigmatic supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is manoeuvring behind the scenes to take power from the country's maverick president (H Graham Underwood & Ali Afshari, 22 - 1 - 2007, Open Democracy)
On 15 December 2006, as the world focused on Iran's nuclear sabre-rattling and holocaust-denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic Republic quietly held simultaneous elections for the Assembly of Experts and city councils throughout the country. The official results of the contest offer several important lessons that provide a glimpse into the complex, opaque internal politics of the regime's power-brokers.

The big winner of these two elections - even though his own seat was not up for election - was supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [...]

What, then, are the implications of these elections for the current and future political development of Iran? First, these elections were merely a competition amongst groups inside the current regime. Independent political groups and civil society were entirely absent from this picture, and the results of the election will have little direct impact on the democratisation of Iran.

Second, the elections show that Iran's transformation from an Islamic theocracy to a military autocracy has been suspended. The paramilitary Basij forces and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that brought Ahmadinejad to power were conspicuously absent from these elections. This shows that it is not Ahmadinejad who controls these forces, but rather the supreme leader.

The most pressing question is why Khamenei did not use these forces to support and mobilise for Ahmadinejad.

Because he never supported Ahmadenijad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bush proposal revives private-school vouchers (Greg Toppo, 1/24/2007, USA TODAY)

On the heels of the State of the Union address, the Bush administration unveiled its education wish list Wednesday. It proposes more leeway for administrators to move good teachers into poorly performing schools and would provide a $4,000 check for students who would rather leave the public system for private school.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings released the 15-page plan as Congress gears up for hearings on reauthorizing President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Hearings could come as early as spring; the law expires this year.

Under the plan, school districts would be required for the first time to send parents a "report card" showing how students do both on state skills tests and on a more rigorous national test. In many states, the majority of students meet state standards but not national requirements.

The move could force schools to toughen coursework in math and reading.

He never gives up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Lebanon strike vanishes: An uneasy calm follows the deadly protests a day earlier. The change underscores who has a say on the nation's fate (Megan K. Stack, January 25, 2007, LA Times)

By the time morning commuters headed off to work Wednesday, the fires had been snuffed out. The roadblocks had melted away. The rampaging youths who had been burning cars and choking off the nation's roads seemed to have evaporated.

As quickly as they had mobilized a vast network of demonstrators to lay siege to much of the country, the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and its anti-government allies pulled Lebanon back from a fiery day of sectarian tensions and street fights by calling off a general strike.

The sudden peace Wednesday was nearly as disconcerting as the explosion of violence the day before, which left three people dead and more than 100 injured, including nearly 50 who suffered gunshot wounds. Like the massive strike led by Hezbollah, the calm was a reminder that the country's fate is under the control of a few political leaders, especially the Shiite Muslim movement's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

January 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 PM


Ryszard Kapuscinski (Daily Telegraph, 25/01/2007)

Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died on Tuesday aged 74, was Poland's most renowned foreign correspondent and a witness to much of the turbulent birth of the Third World; he later translated his experiences into a series of books which also brought him acclaim in the West.

In 1962 Kapuscinski was appointed the Polish Press Agency's sole correspondent for the Third World, with responsibility for more than 50 countries. By the time the Polish government stripped him of his press credentials in 1981, for his involvement with the Solidarity movement, he had covered 27 revolutions and coups.

Kapuscinski's hallmark was his determination to venture into what he called "the bush". There he met and befriended some of the prime movers of independence, including Che Guevara in Bolivia and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. "Empathy," he said later, "is perhaps the most important quality for a foreign correspondent. If you have it, other deficiencies are forgivable; if you don't, nothing much can help." This understanding, combined with reckless daring, often enabled Kapuscinski to outstrip his better-resourced Western colleagues. [...]

From 1962 Kapuscinski began writing books, convinced that his necessarily brief reports could not adequately convey the true nature and resonance of the events he witnessed. The first to be translated into English was The Emperor, a portrait of the final years of the reign of Haile Selassie. Ostensibly told through interviews with former courtiers, the uniform tone of irony and lapidary style show it to be a work as much of fiction as fact.

This pursuit of literary rather than literal truth disturbed some critics. Others praised it as black comedy, with the corrupt and paranoid autocrat an allegory of the Communist regime. It was adapted for the stage by Jonathan Miller and Michael Hastings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


Chocolate macadamia nut pie (San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 24, 2007)

Chocolate crust:
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter ( 1/2 stick)
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups halved macadamia nuts

To make crust, use an electric mixer to cream 3/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar together on low speed. Add egg yolk, cream and vanilla and mix well. In another bowl, combine flour, cocoa and salt. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients, mixing until incorporated. Press into a square on a piece of plastic and wrap well. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.

Remove dough from refrigerator, unwrap and knead on floured work surface until dough is pliable. Roll out dough to a round 1/4-inch thick and 12 to 13 inches in diameter. Spray an 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom with vegetable spray. Carefully transfer dough to pan and press down on the bottom and sides. Using a rolling pin, press down on edges of pan to trim off excess dough. Refrigerate tart pan for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line tart shell with foil (no weights). Bake 15 minutes or until pastry begins to pull away from sides of pan. Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing foil. Decrease oven temperature to 300 degrees.

To make filling, melt 4 tablespoons butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Stir in chocolate until completely melted. In bowl, mix, eggs, sugar and corn syrup. Add chocolate mixture to eggs and mix well. Add vanilla and nuts and mix well. Pour filling into prebaked shell. Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes, until filling puffs up in center but is not cracked. Allow to cool on rack, then refrigerate 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Olmert says nuclear attack not imminent: Prime minister on Iranian threat: No force in the world can destroy us, we will defend ourselves (Yaakov Lappin, 1/24/07, YNet)

An Iranian nuclear attack on Israel is not an imminent threat, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Herzliya Conference Wednesday evening. [...]

"There is no near threat of a nuclear attack on Israel," Olmert said. "At the stage we are in, there is still time - though not unlimited amounts, to stop Iran from going nuclear... We are not apathetic. We can't afford to be apathetic. We are addressing the Iranian threat." [...]

"Our desire for peace should not be seen as weakness but source of strength. Those who threaten our existence, (should know) we have the ability to defend ourselves. We won't endanger the lives of our nation. We have the right to fully act to defend our vital interests. We won't hesitate to act. No one should confuse our restraint with hesitancy to act.

"There is no force in the world that can destroy us, and neither will there be one. We refuse to be dragged into atmosphere of fear. We have much strength and nothing to fear, and we won't fear. We can stand against nuclear threats, and thwart them," the prime minister stated.

What's the Weekly Standard going to do with that fallout shelter now?

Stop Obsessing About Iran (Peter Beinart, 1/19/07, TIME)

Iraq poses big problems, but becoming Iran's flunky probably isn't one of them. There are three main reasons: Iraq's Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds.

Sunni Iraqis have feared Persian domination since before there was an Iraq. That fear reached fever pitch after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Sunni politicians regularly call their Shi'ite rivals tools of Tehran. If Iraq's Shi'ite leaders want the Sunnis to end their insurgency, they'll have to seriously distance themselves from the mullahs next door. If they don't, the Baghdad government will lack influence over large chunks of the country, since even with Iran's help, Iraq's Shi'ite militias won't easily defeat a Sunni insurgency stocked with Saddam's former officers and bankrolled by oil money from the gulf.

In fact, Tehran probably fears an Iraqi civil war more than it relishes calling the shots in Baghdad. One big reason is the Kurds. The more Iraq unravels, the closer Iraq's Kurds will edge toward outright secession. And the closer they get, the more likely it is that their Kurdish brethren across the border--who make up 7% of Iran's population--will try to join them. As non-Persians (and Sunnis to boot), Iran's Kurds get nothing but abuse from their Shi'ite masters in Tehran. In July 2005, Iranian police killed a Kurdish opposition figure, strapped his body to a jeep and dragged it through the streets of a Kurdish town, sparking riots that lasted six weeks. Many Iranian Kurds would love a country of their own, and events next door could provide the inspiration they need. Instead of Iran's subverting Iraq's stability, it could turn out to be the other way around.

Were Iraqi Shi'ites really an Iranian fifth column, all this might be cold comfort. But the truth is more complicated. Though many Sunnis won't admit it, Iraqi nationalism runs deep among their long-repressed countrymen. As historian Reidar Visser has observed, Iraq's Shi'ites have never launched a broad-based movement to secede. When Baghdad and Tehran went to war in the 1980s, Iraq's Shi'ite soldiers fought fiercely, especially after Iranian forces crossed onto Iraqi soil. It's true that one major Shi'ite party, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa, took refuge in Iran during Saddam's rule. Another, SCIRI, was actually born there. But since entering government, leaders of both parties have carefully displayed their independence from Tehran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Ethanol Boom Helps Cut $31 Billion From Farm Subsidies (NewsMax.com, Jan. 24, 2007)

The fuel ethanol boom and high crop prices will cut U.S. farm subsidy spending by $31 billion through 2016, a dramatic drop in the cost of the farm program, the Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday.

In a semiannual report, CBO estimated farm subsidies would cost $10 billion this year and the annual cost "will range between $8 billion and $10 billion over the next decade."

What shall we do with the surplus?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


US Senate panel rejects Iraq plan (BBC, 1/24/07)

A US Senate committee has rejected President Bush's plan to send extra troops to Iraq, passing the measure to the full Senate for a vote next week. [...]

Before the hearing Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed the objections, saying: "It won't stop us, and it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Kerry won't run for president in '08 (Rick Klein, January 24, 2007, Boston Globe)

An emotional Senator John F. Kerry today said he will not run in the 2008 presidential race and vowed to use his Senate perch to hasten an end to the war in Iraq, saying he would work with lawmakers from both parties to reverse President Bush's troop "surge" and force him to withdraw virtually all troops from Iraq by early next year.

Teresa has to be shopping for fresh blood if this shlub has topped out at junior senator from MA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Tax Breaks Sidetrack Minimum Wage Bill (JIM KUHNHENN, 1/24/07, The Associated Press)

Democrats' promise of a quick increase in the minimum wage ran aground Wednesday in the Senate, where lawmakers are insisting it include new tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses that rely on low-pay workers.

On a 54-43 vote, Democrats lost an effort to advance a House-passed bill that would lift the pay floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour without any accompanying tax cut. Opponents of the tax cut needed 60 votes to prevail.

The vote sent a message to House Democrats and liberals in the Senate that only a hybrid tax and minimum wage package could succeed in the Senate. But any tax breaks in the bill would put the Senate on a collision course with the House, which is required by the Constitution to initiate tax measures.

On to '08.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


The Knee-Jerk Opposition (Ruth Marcus, January 24, 2007, Washington Post)

If George W. Bush proposes something, it must be bad. Such is the knee-jerk state of partisan suspiciousness that when the president actually endorses a tax increase -- a tax increase that would primarily hit the well-off, no less -- Democrats still howl.

Such is the level of distrust that when the president finally disavows the free lunch and comes up with a program not financed with deficit spending -- indeed, one that would actually bring in extra revenue as the years go on -- Democrats still howl.

Listening to Democratic reaction to Bush's new health insurance proposal, you get the sense that if Bush picked a plank right out of the Democratic platform -- if he introduced Hillarycare itself -- and stuck it in his State of the Union address, Democrats would churn out press releases denouncing it. [...]

The Bush plan starts with an assessment that has long been clear to sensible people across the political spectrum: The way the tax code now treats health insurance is unfair, regressive and counterproductive.

The fact that employers can deduct the full cost of health insurance premiums means that the richer you are, the bigger tax benefit you reap. That built-in advantage is exacerbated by the fact that the better-paid tend to have pricier insurance.

This unlimited subsidy increases wasteful spending, encouraging employers to purchase gold-plated plans and employees to use them. This drives up the cost of health care and, ultimately, insurance in a vicious cycle that ends up increasing the ranks of the uninsured.

Meanwhile, those who don't have employer-sponsored coverage get no tax break; the Bush plan would not only help those who already buy insurance on the private market, it would also encourage those currently uninsured to purchase coverage.

As Jason Furman, a leading Democratic economist, wrote last summer in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, "[R]educing subsidies for pricey plans would likely lead to a health insurance system that includes more cost sharing, promotes more consumer consciousness, and plays a modest, but potentially meaningful, role in restraining health spending."

It's kind of fun to listen to the Left and far Right shriek about the President in two-part harmony though.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Iranians Want Capacity to Enrich Uranium But Accept NPT Rules Against Developing Nuclear Weapons (WorldPublicOpinion.org, 1/24/07)

An in-depth survey of public opinion in Iran reveals that most Iranians want their country to have the capacity to enrich uranium for nuclear energy, but a majority also agrees that Iran should comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which forbids Iran from developing nuclear weapons. A parallel poll in the United States shows that a majority of Americans are ready to accept a deal allowing Iran to engage in limited enrichment if it also agrees to give UN inspectors full access to ensure Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.

The concurrent surveys of public opinion in Iran and the United States were conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org in partnership with Search for Common Ground. Steven Kull, who directed the surveys, comments, "The polls show that majorities in both countries are deeply suspicious of each other, but nonetheless agree on a wide range of issues."

Iranians and Americans support international non-proliferation rules as well as a stronger United Nations and reject Osama bin Laden. Majorities or pluralities favor a variety of steps to improve U.S.-Iranian relations and neither side believes conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable.

The poll of the Iranian public was unprecedented in scope. The questionnaire included 134 substantive questions on a wide range of international issues, administered in face-to-face interviews in rural and as well as urban areas. Both the Iranian and U.S. surveys were probability-based national samples of 1,000 respondents or more. [...]

Large majorities of Americans and majorities or pluralities of Iranians endorse a variety of ways to strengthen ties, including increased trade (Iranians 52%, Americans 65%), direct talks between the two governments on issues of mutual concern (Iranians 48%, Americans 79%), greater access for each other's journalists (Iranians 51%, Americans 68%), and more cultural, educational, and sporting exchanges (Iranians 46%, Americans 72%)

Only our respective leaderships stand in the way of normal relations.

In 2003, U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue: Some Officials Lament Lost Opportunity (Glenn Kessler, June 18, 2006, Washington Post)

Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

Last month, the Bush administration abruptly shifted policy and agreed to join talks previously led by European countries over Iran's nuclear program. But several former administration officials say the United States missed an opportunity in 2003 at a time when American strength seemed at its height -- and Iran did not have a functioning nuclear program or a gusher of oil revenue from soaring energy demand. [...]

The document lists a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests." Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, with possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of negotiating road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


BAD PRECEDENT: Andrew Jackson's assault on habeas corpus CALEB CRAIN, 2007-01-29, The New Yorker)

By late 1814, it was clear that America was not winning the War of 1812. Washington, including the Capitol and the White House, was in ashes. New Englanders were so demoralized that they were considering secession. When British troops, hardened from battling Napoleon, set sail for Louisiana, some feared that America might not be able to hold on to its recent acquisition.

Into the national gloom, however, light broke. On January 8, 1815, a major general from Tennessee named Andrew Jackson stopped the British from taking New Orleans. The battle lasted less than two hours, but more than two thousand British soldiers were killed or wounded, compared with only a few dozen Americans. The victory had almost no practical effect. Although the news hadn't yet reached the Western Hemisphere, British and American representatives had negotiated peace, on Christmas Eve at the Treaty of Ghent, restoring the pre-war territorial boundaries. Nonetheless, Jackson's victory was a public-relations triumph. It "restored and inflamed the national self-love," as James Parton puts it in an elegant, pleasantly cynical 1860 biography. He achieved sudden and overwhelming popularity, which became, according to Parton, "the principal fact in the political history of the United States" for the next generation, a period that Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., famously called the Age of Jackson.

In the two months immediately following the Battle of New Orleans, however, Jackson put his glory in jeopardy, keeping a tight grip on civil liberties and seeming to take personally the restlessness of those under his control. He censored a newspaper, came close to executing two deserters, and jailed a state congressman, a judge, and a district attorney. He defied a writ of habeas corpus, the legal privilege recognized by the Constitution which allows someone being detained to insist that a judge look into his case. Jackson was fined for his actions, and, for the rest of his life, was shadowed by the charge that he had behaved tyrannically. In retirement, after two terms as President, he called on his reserves of political clout to get the fine refunded, and Congress ended up debating the legality of his actions in New Orleans for nearly two years. As Matthew Warshauer argues in a lucid and well-researched new book, "Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law", the debates changed the definition of martial law in American jurisprudence. They also set a precedent for granting emergency powers to the executive branch which remains a troubling legacy today.

What wouldn't most pols give for the sort of "shadow" that gets them elected president twice?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


A referendum could heal the Palestinian rift: Let Palestinians themselves speak on the recognition of Israel's right to exist (Sami Abdel-Shafi, 24 January 2007, Independent uk)

Some think that a unity government between Hamas and Fatah may be rendered unnecessary by the holding of early presidential and parliamentary elections, as called for last December by President Abbas. But, if early elections were held over the objections of Hamas and other Palestinian factions, their outcome would probably be unsustainable.

As a result, violent confrontations between Fatah and Hamas could resume; and a practical split in authority could lead to a Fatah-centric, side-government sprouting in the West Bank. Hamas would continue to govern in the Gaza Strip while East Jerusalem would face an uncertain destiny.

If agreement cannot be reached between Hamas and Fatah, let Palestinians themselves speak on the recognition of Israel's right to exist, the issue that has become so divisive. Perhaps, a public referendum could be held with the sole question being whether Palestinians recognise Israel's right to exist, provided that Israel recognises theirs as well.

If nothing else, despite such recognition having been signed in an agreement between the PLO and Israel years ago, such reaffirmation would clarify to politicians of both parties as to where the Palestinian mindset lies and would ease their way forward.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Les Bienveillantes: Tobias Grey discusses the impact of a controversial historical novel that has become a literary sensation in France, and asks some French-based commentators and historians for their reactions. (Tobias Grey, February 2007, History Today)

'Imposteur ...' 'genie ...' 'farceur ...' Jonathan Littell attracts French epithets the way other writers do free lunches. Six months ago nobody in France had heard of this thirty-nine-year-old American-born novelist whose only previous literary output was a little read sci-fi novel written when he was twenty-two. Now his name and that of his novel Les Bien­veillantes (The Kindly Ones) - a Dante-esque plunge into the daily toil of an ideologically confused SS officer - is on everyone's lips.

Over 900 pages long and full of unsettling descriptions of the Holo­caust, Les Bien­veillantes (the title of which refers to the Erinyes of Greek myth), has become an unlikely best­seller. It has already shifted well over 400,000 copies in France alone. An English trans­lation is planned for spring 2008.

Littell's tale is told through the eyes of a cul­tured, homosexual senior SS officer, Maximilian Aue, part of an Einsatzgruppen serving on the Russian front, during the years 1941-44. Aue is eventually tasked with step­ping up the German war effort through increased Jewish labour, an under­taking which is doomed to failure. Along the way he runs into, and up against, Adolf Eichmann, Albert Speer, Rudolf Hess and, in the final pages, Hitler.

Littell takes his cue from Hannah Arendt by stressing the banality in his protag­onist's make-up. 'I am a man like anyone else,' says Aue. 'I am a man like you ...' Later Aue remarks: 'Like most people I did not ask to become an assassin. If I had had my way ... I would have gone into literature.' [...]

The day after Littell won the Prix Goncourt, the historian Edouard Husson described Les Bienveillantes 'as a massive practical joke', going on to add, 'The very idea that anyone can become an exterminator, in the way that Jonathan Littell sets down, just serves to relativize Nazi warcrimes.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Exporting Freedom (ANDREW FERGUSON, January 24, 2007, NY Sun)

[T]here's nothing straightforward about making the domestic liberty of other nations the principal purpose of American foreign policy. That's the message -- though definitely not an intentional one -- of this year's annual survey of political rights around the globe issued by the admirable do-gooders at Freedom House, a nongovernmental organization based in Washington.

They have compiled their survey since 1972, tracing the condition of human freedom from the darkest days of communism's advance into Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe -- an advance that only ended with the revival of American military and diplomatic power in the early 1980s.

In 1981, researchers at Freedom House graded one out of every three countries "free." Today nearly half of the world's countries qualify as "free," meaning they allow competitive elections, a free press, and room for civic life to flourish independent of government control. [...]

"When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit," says Freedom House's director of research and author of this year's report, Arch Puddington.

"In the Baltics, in Eastern Europe, these were countries ripe for democracy, culturally and politically and historically, with close proximity to Western Europe," he says. "Now we're left with much harder cases, in China, Africa, the Middle East." [...]

By the way, Freedom House over the years has usually designated Iraq as "not free." Now, several years into the freedom agenda, Iraq's designation is unchanged.

Do you suppose Abe Lincoln thought he led a not free country?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Fresh ideas for tortillas (Hsiao-Ching Chou, 1/24/07, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

With sincere apologies to Mexican-food purists, here are some atypical ways to use tortillas. [...]

3. Make apple pie

Cut four peeled and cored Granny Smith apples into 1/4-inch slices. Toss the apples with 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/2 cup apple juice or water. In a pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the apples and cook for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Set aside. Fill 6-inch tortillas with the apple mixture and fold in half like a taco. In a skillet, melt a little butter over medium heat. Add the pie and brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side.

To serve: Dust each pie with powdered sugar and cinnamon. [...]

8. Make lasagna

Layer tortillas with seasoned and cooked ground meat, black beans, tomato sauce and shredded cheddar. Continue layering until you end up with cheese on top. Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly. [...]

10. Make panini

This is a glorified quesadilla, but indulge me. Between two tortillas, add ham or prosciutto, mozzarella, fresh basil and tomato slices. Heat in the panini grill. Cut and serve. The fillings can vary according to your whims.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Bush Revives Some Past Proposals and Offers a New Initiative on Health Insurance (ROBIN TONER and ROBERT PEAR, 1/24/07, NY Times)

Aside from energy, the major focus of Mr. Bush's domestic proposals was an effort to expand access to affordable health insurance, by creating a new tax benefit for those buying insurance on their own rather than through their employer. The new benefit would be part of a sweeping change in the tax code under which employer-provided health insurance, which is how more than half of Americans get their coverage, would be treated as taxable income. For decades, those benefits have been exempt from income and payroll taxes.

In effect, the president is proposing a new standard deduction for health insurance -- $15,000 for families and $7,500 for individuals. That would mean lower taxes for more than 100 million Americans with employer-provided coverage worth less than the standard deduction, Mr. Bush said. But it would raise taxes for about 30 million people with more expensive plans, unless they switched to less costly alternatives, White House officials said.

Mr. Bush said the tax proposal was an effort to "level the playing field" between Americans buying insurance on their own and those who get it through their employers. "For the millions of other Americans who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan within their reach," he said. "Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans."

Democrats, labor unions and some consumer advocates said the proposal would shake the foundations of the nation's health insurance system, still largely built around the workplace.

Congressional Democrats described the plan as a middle-class tax increase that would penalize people with good health benefits. They praised the new focus on health care, but said the Bush proposal was more likely to yield partisan debate than a search for consensus.

"It's difficult to imagine a proposal like this making it through the House or the Senate," said a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader.

In order for market mechanisms to lower the cost of health care you need to use government to re-create the market.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Fast Food (KERRY J. BYRNE , January 23, 2007, Boston Herald)

James Coppinger lives to fight fires. Next week he heads to New York City to ignite one under the judges of the Tabasco "Cook & Ladder" competition.

His Tabasco-soaked "barn-burning" catfish recipe will be pitted against dishes from nine other firefighters from all corners of the country. [...]


6 eggs
2 oz. Tabasco green pepper sauce
15 oz. garlic-flavored bread crumbs
6 T. garlic power
6 T. Italian seasoning
10 catfish fillets
2 lb. bacon (maple-flavored preferred)
5 oz. Tabasco habanero pepper sauce
8 lemons, quartered

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix eggs and green sauce in a bowl or pan. In a separate bowl or pan, mix together bread crumbs, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Wrap each catfish fillet in bacon. Dip bacon-wrapped fillets in egg wash, then bread crumbs, coating fillets generously. Place fillets on a lightly greased baking pan, and draw an "S" pattern on the top of each with habanero pepper sauce. Bake for 45 minutes, until bacon is crispy and fish is flaky. Serve fillets with the remaining habanero sauce and fresh-squeezed lemon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Frustrations in Iran (Arab News, 24 January 2007)

The growing criticism of Ahmadinejad's presidential performance is, therefore, unlikely to be spontaneous. Somewhere in the spiritual leadership, whether from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, or perhaps from the six members of the powerful Guardian Council which he appoints, there appears to have been approval for a modest campaign against the country's president. Criticism from Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri of both Ahmadinejad's domestic shortcomings on the economy and his confrontational approach to the international community over the uranium-enrichment issue -- this week banning IAEA inspectors from entering Iran -- are perhaps not so surprising. The 85 year-old dissident's past outspokenness is believed to have lost him the opportunity to succeed as supreme leader. But the censure is broader. Normally quiescent newspapers have begun to question the wisdom of challenging Washington and the UN and have expressed concern about the sanctions which Ahmadinejad has dismissed as unthreatening. The problem for the president is that the economy is weak, the weaker for his failure to implement the privatization of the 85 percent of the economy that has rested in state hands since the time of the Shah. Despite its oil wealth, life is hard for ordinary Iranians, particularly for the "Bazaari" merchants who were key opponents of the Shah during the revolution. There is therefore a groundswell of frustration because of the president's economic neglect.

A bellwether of the change taking place may be the surprising decision by the Iranian Parliament to effectively foreshorten Ahmadinejad's term of office by a year. In choosing to hold the four-yearly parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time, legislators have cut the present president's incumbency to three years. He will need to stand for re-election in 2008.

open source intelligence

Tehran power struggle intensifies (Robert Tait, January 24, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative who was defeated by Mr Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election, believes Iran may have to yield to western demands to suspend uranium enrichment in order to save the country's Islamic system from collapse.

He is trying to persuade the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - who has the final say in all state matters - that further negotiations are essential to avoid a potentially disastrous conflict with the US or Israel.

Mr Rafsanjani demonstrated his growing influence over the nuclear issue in a meeting today with Britain's ambassador to Tehran, Geoffrey Adams. He told Mr Adams that Iran was willing to submit to "any verifying measures by the responsible authorities" to prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme, which many in the west suspect is aimed at developing an atomic bomb. [...]

"Before the sanctions, Rafsanjani hoped Iran could obtain its enrichment objectives through mutual understanding with the west. But now he thinks we have reached a dangerous point and that a step should be taken backwards in the hope that two forward can be taken later." said Mohammad Atrianfar, a respected political commentator and associate of Mr Rafsanjani.

"He doesn't see negotiation as a sign of weakness. He wants to limit the impact of the sanctions and get Mr Khamenei and the government to accept that if Iran faces mounting sanctions or a military attack or any crisis which damages the economic life of the people, then there is a possibility of the whole system collapsing," he said.

"Things have changed since the early days of the Islamic revolution, when people would sacrifice their lives. Now they will only defend the system if it provides them a safe life."

Disclosure of Mr Rafsanjani's move to re-establish himself comes after the Guardian last week reported that Mr Ahmadinejad's authority was under pressure from critical MPs and an increasingly concerned Mr Khamenei.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


N.Korea Shows Flexibility on Nuclear Talks: Seoul (Reuters, 1/24/07)

North Korea appears more open to U.S. and South Korean incentives to scrap its nuclear weapons program, Seoul said on Wednesday, providing further hope for progress in talks on the communist state's atomic ambitions.

North Korea's chief envoy to the six-country negotiations hinted on Tuesday there could be a change to his country's demand for an end to a U.S. crackdown on its finances before returning to the talks.

``South Korea and the United States have put forward, through close consultations, an aggressive proposal for the implementation of the September 19 joint statement,'' South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters. [...]

North Korea has agreed to freeze its nuclear reactor and accept inspectors in return for energy aid, according to South Korean news reports, but officials have declined to confirm the details of any proposal made to the North.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Indian economy 'to overtake UK' (Damian Grammaticas, 1/24/07, BBC News)

Within a decade India can overtake Italy, France and the UK to become the world's fifth largest economy if it keeps up it's current pace of expansion, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs.

India has shifted into a higher gear, they believe, because a decade of reforms have opened the country to greater competition, and spurred industries to become more efficient.

By 2050 India's economy could be larger even than America's, only China's will be bigger, the bank predicts.

The result will be huge demand from this new giant.

Within 15 years Indians should, on average, be four times richer than today, buying five times as many cars, and the country will burn three times as much crude oil to power its growth, putting yet more strain on the world's resources.

Yet the Realists still want to yoke us to Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


'Have fewer children' says Israeli millionaire: Hi-Tech mogul Benny Landa calls on leaders to 'act responsibly' and take measures to bring down Israeli birth rates as these are becoming a 'burden on the economy' (Tani Goldstein, 01.24.07, Ynet)

Israel should work to lower the birth rate in the country, millionaire Benny Landa, founder of Indigo, a market leader in digital color printing systems, said Tuesday. [...]

Landa also said that although he knew he might be called anti-Jewish and a racist, he urged leaders "to assume their leadership and take unpopular steps" to reduce the birthrate in Israel.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Are Saudis waging an oil-price war on Iran? (Robert Windrem, 1/23/07, NBC News)

Oil traders and others believe that the Saudi decision to let the price of oil tumble has more to do with Iran than economics. [...]

Moreover, the traders believe the Saudis are not doing this alone, that the other Sunni-dominated oil producing countries and the U.S. are working together, believing it will hurt majority-Shiite Iran economically and create a domestic crisis for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose popularity at home is on the wane. The traders also believe (with good reason) that the U.S. is trying to tighten the screws on Iran financially at the same time the Saudis are reducing the Islamic Republic's oil revenues.

For the Saudis, who fear Iran's religious, geopolitical and nuclear aspirations, the decision to lower the price of oil has a number of benefits, the biggest being to deprive Iran of hard currency. It also may create unrest in a country that is its rival on a number of levels and permits the Saudis to show the U.S. that military action may not be necessary.

Reducing their dependence on domestic oil is far more important than reducing ours on foreign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Evolve, pizza pan!: A new cast-iron number brings a pizza lover out of the Stone Age. (Amy Scattergood, January 24, 2007, LA Times)

GROWING up with neither Neapolitan grandmother nor local pizzeria (lived in Iowa, ate haggis), I learned how to make my own pizza out of pure desperation, often, and with giddy pleasure. Maybe this giddiness is why I've broken all four pizza stones I've owned. So when I saw a beautiful persimmon cast-iron pizza pan in a store recently, it was both its sturdiness and its color that caught my eye. So what if it was Mario Batali's persimmon: I once bought a pair of Emeril clogs too. I couldn't wait to get it home and start throwing dough.

My new pan's charms were immediate: The clarion tones it made when I dropped it while getting my groceries through the door was a huge improvement on the sound of broken pottery. And for making pizza, it blew my old pizza stones out of the water -- well, oven.

The pan made glorious pizza, with gorgeously burnished outer crusts and a bottom crust that remained perfectly crisp under the bubbling toppings. The pizza and its attendant pan moved easily from counter to oven and back again, thanks to its handles, easy-to-grasp enamel-coated half-moons. The pan retained heat and thus kept the pizza warm; it was also pretty enough to bring to the table.

And it made other unpromised things too: sandwiches, fajitas, pancakes, crepes. As with a pizza stone, you preheat the Batali pan in the oven before laying the uncooked pizza on it. But the Batali pan is a lot easier to use than a stone: It's smaller, and therefore it fits better in my oven. It's much easier to transfer fragile laden pies across the expanse from counter to waiting open oven. And unlike a stone, you can actually remove a hot Batali pan from the oven, thanks to the handles.

But best of all, that crust really rocks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


South Korean race is a liberal-free zone: Judging by the nation's mood and who's leading in the polls, the left's decade-long grip on the presidency may be over (Bruce Wallace, January 24, 2007, LA Times)

A Gallup Korea poll released Monday said the former Seoul mayor [Lee Myung-bak of the opposition Grand National Party] had the backing of half of the decided voters; other polls have his support even higher.

Polls show that Lee's closest challenger is Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a former president and also a member of the conservative Grand National Party, or GNP.

Either way, it is not difficult to predict that the liberal left's decade-long grip on the presidency will end this year. The governing Uri Party is a shambles, crippled by factional fights and wounded by disillusionment with President Roh Moo-hyun, whose approval ratings have dipped below 10% in some polls.

Roh is constitutionally banned from running for another five-year term, but the disarray in the Uri camp is so deep that the party is poised to take an extraordinary step before the next election: It plans to dissolve. The Uri Party's biggest factions say they will give themselves a new name and seek an alliance with other liberal and regional parties.

South Korea's liberals have no credible presidential candidate to challenge Lee or any other GNP candidate. Neither of the Uri Party's two prospective candidates is on the voters' radar. And last week, the leading moderate candidate for president, independent Goh Kun, a former prime minister, withdrew from the race, citing his inability to build momentum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Protests bring Lebanon to a halt: Hezbollah supporters block roads with piles of blazing tires and challenge soldiers, who don't interfere (Megan K. Stack, January 24, 2007, LA Times)

The opposition, dominated by the powerful Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, had called for a general strike Tuesday, and the roadblocks gave people little choice but to stay home.

The roads to Beirut's airport were impassable, blocked by sand berms, garbage and roaring fires. Some flights were canceled, and arriving passengers languished at the airport.

The roadblocks in the capital were being cleared overnight, but the opposition threatened further escalation if the government didn't step down.

Hour after tense hour, the army and security services gave free rein to the protesters. While young men barricaded neighborhoods and halted cars to interrogate the drivers, soldiers and police officers stood by and watched. Security forces in riot gear lined some streets, and armored personnel carriers crunched over the rubble. But to the delight of some Lebanese and the disgust of others, they didn't interfere.

"They are on our side," crowed Kamal Yehiya, a 20-year-old Hezbollah supporter who was hurling rubble into a fire near downtown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Debunking Iran's nuclear myth makers (Kaveh L Afrasiabi , 1/25/07, Asia Times)

"It is starting to look like a real tragedy," a Tehran political-science professor told the author, adding, "An inexperienced mayor [of Tehran] with no previous international exposure was put at the helm, and he brought in his aides who were equally novices in the realm of international politics, at a critical time in Iran's foreign relations. The result has been near-disastrous. But, hopefully, other leaders will put a stop to this nonsense."

That hope is based on the fact that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, has made known his displeasure with Ahmadinejad's hardline politics through an editorial in the newspaper Jomhuri Eslami, which has called on the president to stay out of the nuclear issue.

This sentiment has been reflected by another newspaper, Kargozaran, associated with the technocratic elite, some of whom, such as Ali Larijani, the head of powerful Supreme National Security Council, proposed a temporary freeze early last year (see Sideshows on Iran's frogmarch to the UN, Asia Times Online, February 7, 2006).

What would a temporary suspension achieve? The answer is: it would satisfy, albeit temporarily, the United Nations Security Council's demand, reflected in Resolutions 1696 and 1737, for a halt to the enrichment activities, given the fact that these resolutions refer to the IAEA resolutions that requested these suspensions as a "non-legally binding" and "voluntary" measure.

In other words, no matter how insistent the United States and its European allies are on a permanent suspension, there is nothing in either the UN resolutions and/or the IAEA resolutions that would endorse their unreasonable demand, which lacks a legal basis. Also, a one-year suspension would deflect the US military threat and prevent "lame duck" US President George W Bush from initiating military action against Iran.

Since 2003, Iranian officials have admitted that their previous declarations to the IAEA were inaccurate and have promised to take "corrective steps" to redeem the past shortcomings, a promise they have executed in good faith through increased transparency, IAEA access to military sites, and a nearly two-year suspension of the enrichment program as per the terms of the so-called Paris Agreement (for more on the collapse of the agreement, see Myth of the EU olive branch, August 30, 2005).

Today, a re-suspension of the enrichment program would fit in the framework of those "corrective measures" and create the space for negotiations and long-term agreements, not to mention averting the crisis and putting a stop to the collateral damage caused by sanctions and the threat of war that have scared away foreign investors, caused capital flight, and put the nation's economic projects in jeopardy.

An Iranian rapproachment is just sitting there waiting for the President to step up and grab the opportunity. An Asian legacy that included Iraqi liberation, a Palestinian state, creation of the special relationship with India and normal relations with Iran could hardly be improved upon.

In 2003, U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue: Some Officials Lament Lost Opportunity (Glenn Kessler, June 18, 2006, Washington Post)

Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

Last month, the Bush administration abruptly shifted policy and agreed to join talks previously led by European countries over Iran's nuclear program. But several former administration officials say the United States missed an opportunity in 2003 at a time when American strength seemed at its height -- and Iran did not have a functioning nuclear program or a gusher of oil revenue from soaring energy demand. [...]

The document lists a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests." Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, with possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of negotiating road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


Analysts See A Chance for Maliki Success (Walter Pincus, 1/24/07, Washington Post)

[Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and chairman of the National Intelligence Council] gave the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence a rare preview of what the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) will say when it is completed at the end of the month.

"Gains in stability could open a window for gains in reconciliation among and between sectarian groups and could open the possibilities for a moderate coalition that could permit better government," Fingar said in response to a question written by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and read by Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), which sought the intelligence community's judgments as reflected in the NIE.

"It will be very difficult for the Maliki government to do this," Fingar said, "but he [Maliki] does not wish to fail or to preside over the disintegration of Iraq."

Why not?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Bush Seeks Vast, Mandatory Increase in Alternative Fuels and Greater Vehicle Efficiency (EDMUND L. ANDREWS and FELICITY BARRINGER, 1/24/07, NY Times)

The centerpiece of Mr. Bush's proposal, which he said would cut the projected use of gasoline by 20 percent over the next decade, was a nearly fivefold mandatory increase in the production of ethanol and other alternative fuels for cars and trucks. The most obvious beneficiaries would be makers of ethanol and other biofuels, but it could also promote the production of liquefied coal.

Mr. Bush called for a mandatory requirement that makers of fuel produce 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels a year by 2017, replacing about 15 percent of the projected gasoline use in that year.

A second major plank of Mr. Bush's energy proposal calls for increasing fuel-efficiency standards of cars and trucks by 4 percent a year -- about one mile per gallon -- starting in 2010 for cars and 2012 for trucks.

That was a significant change from Mr. Bush's approach last year, when he called for "reform" of the corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, rules, but avoided suggesting specific mileage requirements.

In a third proposal, Mr. Bush called for doubling the amount of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to about 1.5 billion barrels of oil. The doubling would take place at a snail's pace over the next 20 years. Even so, advance word of the idea helped push up oil prices by $2.46 a barrel on Tuesday to $55.04.

"It's a big change that the president has endorsed these new fuel-efficiency standards," said Frederick W. Smith, the chief executive of the FedEx Corporation and a co-chairman of the Energy Security Leadership Council, a group of executive and retired military officers. These standards, he said, match their recommendations, "which are achievable."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Long Love Affairs With Libertarianism (MICHAEL SHERMER, January 24, 2007, NY Sun)

I attended one of these seminars in 1981, when a close friend told me about Andrew Galambos, a retired aerospace engineer and physicist teaching private courses through the Free Enterprise Institute (hundreds of such organizations come and go throughout Mr. Doherty's history), under an umbrella field he called "Volitional Science." The introductory course was V-50. This was Econ 101 on freemarket steroids, an invigoratingly muscular black-and-white world where Adam Smith is good, Karl Marx is bad; individualism is good, collectivism bad; free economies are good, mixed economies bad.

Galambos's course was popular in Orange County, Calif. (labeled by our neighbors in L.A. County as the "Orange Curtain"), and the time was right with President Reagan in office and conservatives on the ascendant. Where Rand advocated for limited government, Galambos proffered a theory in which everything in society would be privatized until government simply falls into disuse and disappears. Galambos identified three types of property: primordial (one's life), primary (one's thoughts and ideas), and secondary (derivatives of primordial and primary property, such as the utilization of land and material goods). To Galambos, capitalism is "that societal structure whose mechanism is capable of protecting all forms of private property completely." To realize a truly free society, then, we have merely "to discover the proper means of creating a capitalist society." In this free society, we are all capitalists.

Galambos's story is not unusual in the history of this oft-fringy movement. He had a massive ego that propelled him to a successful career as a private lecturer, but led him to such ego-inflating pronouncements as his classification of all sciences into physical, biological, and his own "volitional sciences." His towering intellect took him to great heights of interdisciplinary creativity, but often left him and his students tangled up in contradictions, as when we all had to sign a contract promising that we would not disclose his ideas to anyone, while we were also inveigled to solicit others to enroll. ("You've got to take this great course." "What's it about?" "I can't tell you.") And he had a remarkable ability to lecture for hours without notes in a colloquial style, but when two hours stretched into three, and three hours dragged into four, his audiences were never left wanting for more.

Most problematic, however, was any hope of translating theory into practice, which is where the rubber meets the road for any economic or political principle. Property definitions are all well and good, but what happens when we cannot agree on property rights infringements? The answer was inevitably something like this: "In a truly free society all such disputes will be peacefully resolved through private arbitration." Sounds good in theory, but I would like more data from the real world.

What do Rationalists have to do with the real world? It's all in their heads...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The transformation of the IRA shows why Israel should talk to Hamas: Only negotiations with both main Palestinian parties can deliver the peace deal that the two peoples now support (Jonathan Freedland, January 24, 2007, The Guardian)

Before he can even think about reconciling with Israel, Abbas has to reconcile Fatah and Hamas.

How to navigate around this landscape is the challenge I found Israelis and Palestinians grappling with this week, whether in Jerusalem or Ramallah. Israel's officials speak of presenting Palestinians with a choice. Either they take the path embodied by Abbas, of negotiation and compromise, and reap the rewards - or they stick with the hardliners of Hamas and face the consequences, including economic isolation and a cold shoulder not only from Israel but from the European Union, the US, and beyond. To make that choice easier, Israel will sketch out the "political horizon", explaining what the Palestinians would gain if the Abbas approach prevailed - chiefly a rapid move to statehood on a substantial chunk (but far from all) of the West Bank and Gaza, with resolution of the thorniest issues to come later. That's the choice. As one official put it: "Go with Hamas, and it's isolation, stagnation and a dead end. Go with the moderates and it's international support, an energised process and a clearer horizon than ever before."

It sounds simple enough, but that approach carries multiple problems. The first is credibility. Too many Palestinians will say they've heard Israeli promises before that have come to nothing. They point to the December 23 meeting between Abbas and Olmert where the latter promised prisoner releases and relaxation of checkpoints, none of which materialised. What's more, the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told me yesterday, moderates face an uphill task when they argue that diplomacy gets results: "Unilateralism badly damaged that idea. Palestinians say, why should we make concessions when Israel has already given away land without any concessions from us?"

Above all, Israel's approach involves a selective blindness, lavishing attention on Abbas as if Hamas did not exist and did not command a parliamentary majority. But there could be another, riskier way - one that would benefit not only Israel but the wider world too.

If Israel decided not to shun Hamas, but to reel it into the peace process, everything could look different. Hamas almost benefits from its isolation, retaining its status as the pure party, unsullied by compromise. If, though, it could, at long last, be brought into a national unity government with Fatah, it would soon have to get its hands dirty.

Until now, the sticking point has been Hamas's refusal to sign up to the three conditions set by the EU, US and UN: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and a commitment to abide by existing Palestinian agreements with Israel. The international stance has been clear - either Hamas says yes three times, or it stays in the cold.

But, says one Palestinian analyst, instead of such a black-and-white choice, the international community should start seeing shades of grey. If Hamas can agree with one or two of that troika, then a process of engagement could begin. The trick would be to call on the peace negotiator's old friend, "constructive ambiguity". So if Hamas says it can "respect" existing agreements, rather than "commit to" them, maybe that should be enough (that linguistic difference is the current sticking point between Abbas and Hamas).

For Israel, the advantages would be clear. First, once locked into the process, Hamas would lose its above-the-fray status. Second, it is not a monolithic organisation, and differences between moderates and hardliners would soon be exposed. Third, Israel always used to say that it was not interested in the words Yasser Arafat uttered, it was his deeds that mattered. Well, now Israel could apply that same logic to Hamas - no longer obsessing over the statements Hamas is prepared to make, but over its deeds. If the movement continues, and entrenches, its current ceasefire and, alongside Fatah, works to enforce it among fringe groups such as Islamic Jihad, that should surely speak louder than any number of declarations.

And there is a larger interest at stake here. Currently, the isolation of Hamas has driven it into the arms of Iran, which has been only too happy to play the deep-pocketed sugar daddy, boosting Tehran's ambitions as a regional superpower. But this is a frail alliance. Palestinians are Sunni and wary of any kind of Shia hegemony. Tellingly, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the wider Muslim Brotherhood movement of which Hamas is a part, issued a recent warning against the growing power of Iran and Shi'ism. So Hamas is eminently separable from Iran, which could break up the Shia "arc" of influence that so troubles London and Washington.

The problem for Israel in trying to cut a deal while ignoring Hamas is that it will be future Hamas governments that it has to depend on to enforce the deal.

Of course, they're making the same mistake in trying to cut a deal with the Syrian Ba'athists, What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground? (MICHAEL B. OREN, 1/24/07, NY Times)

The last thing Washington wants is a Syrian-Israeli treaty that would transform Mr. Assad from pariah to peacemaker and lend him greater latitude in promoting terrorism and quashing Lebanon's freedom. Some Israeli officials, by contrast, see substantive benefits in ending their nation's 60-year conflict with Syria. An accord would invariably provide for the cessation of Syrian aid to Hamas and Hezbollah, which endanger Israel's northern and southern sectors.

More crucial still, by detaching Syria from Iran's orbit, Israel will be able to address the Iranian nuclear threat -- perhaps by military means -- without fear of retribution from Syrian ground forces and missiles. Forfeiting the Golan Heights, for these Israelis, seems to be a sufferable price to pay to avoid conventional and ballistic attacks across most of Israel's borders.

The potentially disparate positions of Israel and the United States on the question of peace with Syria could trigger a significant crisis between the two countries -- the first of Mr. Bush's expressly pro-Israel presidency. And yet, facing opposition from a peace-minded Democratic Congress and from members of his own party who have advocated a more robust American role in Middle East mediation, Mr. Bush would have difficulty in withholding approval from a comprehensive Syrian-Israeli agreement.

Mr. Bush may not have to make that decision for some time, if ever. For all his talk of good will, Mr. Assad has made no Sadat-like gestures to Israel, and many Israelis agree with Mr. Bush that Syria should not be rewarded for its assistance to terrorism and its denial of Lebanese liberty.

Side with oppressors instead of their people and you can't wonder why you're viewed as an oppressive force.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


U.S. Stages 2nd Airstrike in Somalia; Ethiopians Leaving Capital (Karen DeYoung and Stephanie McCrummen, 1/24/07, Washington Post)

[A] long line of Ethiopian artillery, armored vehicles and trucks loaded with soldiers rolled toward the edges of Mogadishu, beginning a withdrawal from a fragile capital that many residents fear will now slip further into chaos.

A spokesman for Somalia's transitional government, Abdirahman Dinari, said that the Ethiopians may take several weeks to complete a full withdrawal from the country and that a large force would remain on the Ethiopian side of the Somalia-Ethiopia border.

The Ethiopians have remained in the capital to protect the nascent transitional government, which hardly has enough forces to secure the oceanside city.

Without the Ethiopian muscle, Somali officials have a "deep concern" about Islamic fighters who remain hidden in the city and have asserted responsibility for a recent string of attacks against Ethiopian and Somali government troops, Dinari said.

Somali airport comes under fire (BBC, 1/24/07)
In Kenya, the US envoy held talks with a top Islamist leader in custody.

US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger met Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed at an undisclosed location in Nairobi, a US official told the BBC.

No details were given about what was discussed at the meeting.

The chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts, who is the first Islamist leader to be captured since they fled an Ethiopian advance in December, is seen by the US as a moderate. [...]

Ambassador Rannenbergaer said that if Mr Ahmed renounces violence and extremism he could play a part in a future administration in Somalia.

The US and the UN have both urged the Somali government to seek reconciliation with moderate Islamists, but the interim government is opposed to talks with them.

Surely the Somalis will thank us for that brief bit of mayhem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Anti-Christian Mythology of Phillip Pullman (Annalee Newitz, 1/23/07, AlterNet)

For several years I've heard Philip Pullman's young-adult fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials called an anti-religious response to the mega-Christian Chronicles of Narnia. Progressive fantasy about troubles with an otherworldly version of the Christian right? I'm there. So I snapped up Pullman's three novels -- The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass -- each named after a magical device that aids our heroes in a quest through parallel universes, including a parallel Oxford, England.

Right away, however, I discovered that these are not antireligious novels. Certainly, there are some bad Christians, but there are also a god and tons of angels. Plus, all the universes are united via a spiritual substance called Dust -- or, in our world, dark matter. Turns out dark matter is a kind of psychic life-essence that fuels angels and souls. The Dust thing really bugged me. I expect magic in fantasy worlds, but Pullman turns astrophysics into spiritual goo. It was a rhetorical move right out of Jesusland, where believers have managed to convert science into intelligent design. [...]

But the problem here isn't Christianity itself. It's with a bunch of antipleasure adults who want to torture erotic desire out of kids in the name of God. In addition, as we learn in the later books, a similar social problem has emerged in the world of angels. The Christian God is actually a frail old creature being kept alive by fascistic, high-level angels who are using his reputation to reestablish the authority of the kingdom of heaven throughout all the parallel universes. And somehow, because our heroes are fighting to stop these power-mad angels and bad-actor Christians, we're supposed to think the book is antireligion?

Perhaps the West is so steeped in Christian mythology that we can't imagine an outside to Christianity.

Sucks to be trapped in Creation, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Four teams that could surprise in '07 (Ken Rosenthal, 1/24/07, FOXSports.com)

To start with, some parameters.

A team can't qualify as a surprise if it won 87 games last season (the Blue Jays), if it contended as recently as 2005 (the Indians) or if it spent $300 million this off-season (the Cubs).

No, to qualify, a team must be coming off a putrid year, must be a considered something of a longshot and must perform a reasonable impersonation of the '05 White Sox or '06 Tigers by contending deep into the season, if not beyond.

So with that in mind, here are four clubs that stand a chance at shocking us in 2007...

Yet another scribe who hasn't noticed the real sleeper.

January 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 PM


President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address (President George W. Bush, 1/23/07, United States Capitol)

Thank you very much. And tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own -- as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker. (Applause.)

In his day, the late Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. from Baltimore, Maryland, saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum. But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy, presiding tonight as Speaker of the House of Representatives. (Applause.) Congratulations, Madam Speaker. (Applause.)

Two members of the House and Senate are not with us tonight, and we pray for the recovery and speedy return of Senator Tim Johnson and Congressman Charlie Norwood. (Applause.)

Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

The rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour -- when decisions are hard and courage is needed. We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors underway, and others that are ours to begin. In all of this, much is asked of us. We must have the will to face difficult challenges and determined enemies -- and the wisdom to face them together.

Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate -- and I congratulate the Democrat majority. (Applause.) Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities. Each of us is guided by our own convictions -- and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we're all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this nation's prosperity; to spend the people's money wisely; to solve problems, not leave them to future generations; to guard America against all evil; and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us. (Applause.)

We're not the first to come here with a government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on -- as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. (Applause.) Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and to help them to build a future of hope and opportunity -- and this is the business before us tonight.

A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy -- and that is what we have. We're now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth, in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs -- so far. Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move, and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government, but with more enterprise. (Applause.)

Next week, I'll deliver a full report on the state of our economy. Tonight, I want to discuss three economic reforms that deserve to be priorities for this Congress.

First, we must balance the federal budget. (Applause.) We can do so without raising taxes. (Applause.) What we need is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009, and met that goal three years ahead of schedule. (Applause.) Now let us take the next step. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. (Applause.) I ask you to make the same commitment. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government, and we can balance the federal budget. (Applause.)

Next, there is the matter of earmarks. These special interest items are often slipped into bills at the last hour -- when not even C-SPAN is watching. (Laughter.) In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate -- they are dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You didn't vote them into law. I didn't sign them into law. Yet, they're treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice. So let us work together to reform the budget process, expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress, and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session. (Applause.)

And, finally, to keep this economy strong we must take on the challenge of entitlements. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are commitments of conscience, and so it is our duty to keep them permanently sound. Yet, we're failing in that duty. And this failure will one day leave our children with three bad options: huge tax increases, huge deficits, or huge and immediate cuts in benefits. Everyone in this chamber knows this to be true -- yet somehow we have not found it in ourselves to act. So let us work together and do it now. With enough good sense and goodwill, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid -- and save Social Security. (Applause.)

Spreading opportunity and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life. Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, preserving local control, raising standards, and holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap.

Now the task is to build on the success, without watering down standards, without taking control from local communities, and without backsliding and calling it reform. We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools, and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose someplace better. (Applause.) We must increase funds for students who struggle -- and make sure these children get the special help they need. (Applause.) And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future and our country is more competitive by strengthening math and science skills. The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children -- and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law. (Applause.)

A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. (Applause.) When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. And we will meet those responsibilities. For all other Americans, private health insurance is the best way to meet their needs. (Applause.) But many Americans cannot afford a health insurance policy.

And so tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance. First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents. Families with health insurance will pay no income on payroll tax -- or payroll taxes on $15,000 of their income. Single Americans with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $7,500 of their income. With this reform, more than 100 million men, women, and children who are now covered by employer-provided insurance will benefit from lower tax bills. At the same time, this reform will level the playing field for those who do not get health insurance through their job. For Americans who now purchase health insurance on their own, this proposal would mean a substantial tax savings -- $4,500 for a family of four making $60,000 a year. And for the millions of other Americans who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan within their reach. Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans. (Applause.)

My second proposal is to help the states that are coming up with innovative ways to cover the uninsured. States that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens should receive federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick. I have asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with Congress to take existing federal funds and use them to create "Affordable Choices" grants. These grants would give our nation's governors more money and more flexibility to get private health insurance to those most in need.

There are many other ways that Congress can help. We need to expand Health Savings Accounts. (Applause.) We need to help small businesses through Association Health Plans. (Applause.) We need to reduce costs and medical errors with better information technology. (Applause.) We will encourage price transparency. And to protect good doctors from junk lawsuits, we passing medical liability reform. (Applause.) In all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors. (Applause.)

Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America -- with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we're doubling the size of the Border Patrol, and funding new infrastructure and technology.

Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border -- and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won't have to try to sneak in, and that will leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists. (Applause.) We'll enforce our immigration laws at the work site and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers, so there's no excuse left for violating the law. (Applause.)

We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. (Applause.) We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty. (Applause.) Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate, so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law. (Applause.)

Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, and raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy.

It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. (Applause.) We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- (applause) -- using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it's not going to eliminate it. And so as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. (Applause.) And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Applause.)

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change. (Applause.)

A future of hope and opportunity requires a fair, impartial system of justice. The lives of our citizens across our nation are affected by the outcome of cases pending in our federal courts. We have a shared obligation to ensure that the federal courts have enough judges to hear those cases and deliver timely rulings. As President, I have a duty to nominate qualified men and women to vacancies on the federal bench. And the United States Senate has a duty, as well, to give those nominees a fair hearing, and a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. (Applause.)

For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We've had time to take stock of our situation. We've added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us -- unless we stop them.

With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled: that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. (Applause.)

From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same.

Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them. (Applause.)

Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that's the case, America is still a nation at war.

In the mind of the terrorist, this war began well before September the 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.

Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: "We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse." Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.

In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers had ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people. (Applause.)

This war is more than a clash of arms -- it is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred, and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come and kill us. What every terrorist fears most is human freedom -- societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments. Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies -- and most will choose a better way when they're given a chance. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates and reformers and brave voices for democracy. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must. (Applause.)

In the last two years, we've seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East -- and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution, they drove out the Syrian occupiers and chose new leaders in free elections. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections, choosing a transitional government, adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world, and then electing a government under that constitution. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity that we should never forget. (Applause.)

A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon's legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia -- and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. (Applause.) Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory. (Applause.)

We're carrying out a new strategy in Iraq -- a plan that demands more from Iraq's elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission. Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror.

In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we're deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods, and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units. With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down the terrorists, insurgents, and the roaming death squads. And in Anbar Province, where al Qaeda terrorists have gathered and local forces have begun showing a willingness to fight them, we're sending an additional 4,000 United States Marines, with orders to find the terrorists and clear them out. (Applause.) We didn't drive al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.

The people of Iraq want to live in peace, and now it's time for their government to act. Iraq's leaders know that our commitment is not open-ended. They have promised to deploy more of their own troops to secure Baghdad -- and they must do so. They pledged that they will confront violent radicals of any faction or political party -- and they need to follow through, and lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and coalition forces, so these troops can achieve their mission of bringing security to all of the people of Baghdad. Iraq's leaders have committed themselves to a series of benchmarks -- to achieve reconciliation, to share oil revenues among all of Iraq's citizens, to put the wealth of Iraq into the rebuilding of Iraq, to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's civic life, to hold local elections, and to take responsibility for security in every Iraqi province. But for all of this to happen, Baghdad must be secure. And our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital and make good on its commitments.

My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching.

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger. (Applause.)

This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you've made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field, and those on their way. (Applause.)

The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. And that's why it's important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. It's why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. We'll show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.

And one of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. (Applause.) Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. (Applause.) A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.

Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle because we're not in this struggle alone. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism. In Iraq, multinational forces are operating under a mandate from the United Nations. We're working with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the Gulf States to increase support for Iraq's government.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. (Applause.) With the other members of the Quartet -- the U.N., the European Union, and Russia -- we're pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. (Applause.) In Afghanistan, NATO has taken the lead in turning back the Taliban and al Qaeda offensive -- the first time the Alliance has deployed forces outside the North Atlantic area. Together with our partners in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, we're pursuing intensive diplomacy to achieve a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

We will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma -- and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur. (Applause.)

American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger and poverty and disease -- and that is precisely what America is doing. We must continue to fight HIV/AIDS, especially on the continent of Africa. (Applause.) Because you funded our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the number of people receiving life-saving drugs has grown from 50,000 to more than 800,000 in three short years. I ask you to continue funding our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over five years so we can combat malaria in 15 African countries. (Applause.)

I ask that you fund the Millennium Challenge Account, so that American aid reaches the people who need it, in nations where democracy is on the rise and corruption is in retreat. And let us continue to support the expanded trade and debt relief that are the best hope for lifting lives and eliminating poverty. (Applause.)

When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, courage, and self-sacrifice of the American people. You see this spirit often if you know where to look -- and tonight we need only look above to the gallery.

Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine -- but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. (Laughter.) Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth, or the duty to share his blessings with others. He built a brand new hospital in his old hometown. A friend has said of this good-hearted man: "Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things." And we are proud to call this son of the Congo a citizen of the United States of America. (Applause.)

After her daughter was born, Julie Aigner-Clark searched for ways to share her love of music and art with her child. So she borrowed some equipment, and began filming children's videos in her basement. The Baby Einstein Company was born, and in just five years her business grew to more than $20 million in sales. In November 2001, Julie sold Baby Einstein to the Walt Disney Company, and with her help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business. Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America. And she is using her success to help others -- producing child safety videos with John Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Julie says of her new project: "I believe it's the most important thing that I have ever done. I believe that children have the right to live in a world that is safe." And so tonight, we are pleased to welcome this talented business entrepreneur and generous social entrepreneur -- Julie Aigner-Clark. (Applause.)

Three weeks ago, Wesley Autrey was waiting at a Harlem subway station with his two little girls, when he saw a man fall into the path of a train. With seconds to act, Wesley jumped onto the tracks, pulled the man into the space between the rails, and held him as the train passed right above their heads. He insists he's not a hero. He says: "We got guys and girls overseas dying for us to have our freedoms. We have got to show each other some love." There is something wonderful about a country that produces a brave and humble man like Wesley Autrey. (Applause.)

Tommy Rieman was a teenager pumping gas in Independence, Kentucky, when he enlisted in the United States Army. In December 2003, he was on a reconnaissance mission in Iraq when his team came under heavy enemy fire. From his Humvee, Sergeant Rieman returned fire; he used his body as a shield to protect his gunner. He was shot in the chest and arm, and received shrapnel wounds to his legs -- yet he refused medical attention, and stayed in the fight. He helped to repel a second attack, firing grenades at the enemy's position. For his exceptional courage, Sergeant Rieman was awarded the Silver Star. And like so many other Americans who have volunteered to defend us, he has earned the respect and the gratitude of our entire country. (Applause.)

In such courage and compassion, ladies and gentlemen, we see the spirit and character of America -- and these qualities are not in short supply. This is a decent and honorable country -- and resilient, too. We've been through a lot together. We've met challenges and faced dangers, and we know that more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence -- because the State of our Union is strong, our cause in the world is right, and tonight that cause goes on. God bless. (Applause.)

See you next year. Thank you for your prayers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Lebanon's political crisis deepens: Violence at sectarian flash points during a Hizbullah-backed opposition strike prompts fears of renewed civil war (Scott Peterson, 1/24/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Tuesday marked a violent turn in the opposition's campaign for new parliamentary elections and a national unity government in which Hizbullah and its allies - including a Christian faction led by Michel Aoun - would have veto power in the cabinet. After months of fruitless negotiations, the opposition began camping out in front of key government buildings on Dec. 1. [...]

It was unclear if either the government or the opposition were gaining the upper hand in the standoff. But the way that the clashes erupted at sectarian flash points is prompting fears here of renewed civil war - with sparks flying between those loyal to the Shiite party of Hizbullah and its allies, and Sunnis supporting the government, as well as among divided Christians.

Since neither will be governed by the other, they'll divide into separate nations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Ethiopia rides the tiger (Immanuel Wallerstein, January 23, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

The prime minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, must have been studying the magnificent successes of the U.S. pre-emptive invasion of Iraq and Israel's recent foray into Lebanon. He has clearly decided to emulate them. His argument is exactly that which was given by George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert: We must attack our neighbor because we have to keep Islamic terrorists from pursuing their jihad and attacking us.

In each case, the invader was sure of his military superiority and of the fact that the majority of the population would hail the attackers as liberators. Zenawi asserts he is cooperating in the U.S. struggle against terrorism. And indeed, the United States has offered not only its intelligence support but has sent in both its air force and units of special troops to assist the Ethiopians.

Still, each situation is different. And it is worth reviewing the recent history of the Horn of Africa, where countries have switched geopolitical sides with ease in the last 40 years.

The difference is instructive, because it illustrates why our war is unloseable while theirs are unwinnable. In Iraq we toppled a minority secular regime and installed government by a popular majority. The Israelis and Ethiopians seek to thwart popular native majorities and install secular puppets. We went with the tide of democracy, they're fighting it.

N.B.: Note that the Left and neocons believe we lost in Iraq because they'd prefer a secular regime irrespective of the wishes of the Iraqi people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


No Easy Answers (Simon Blackburn, 01.18.07, New Republic)

Bernard Williams was a moral philosopher, but his work covered much more than this term usually implies. His earliest papers included a good number on metaphysics, while an ongoing preoccupation with skepticism and philosophical method produced work on Wittgenstein and was crowned by a book on Descartes. A principal thesis of that book is revisited in one of the finest essays of his later years, and the one that is nearest to being a summary of his aims and methods, "Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline," reprinted in the collection bearing its title. Williams defends the ability of science to put us on the road toward an "absolute" conception of the world "which is to the largest possible extent independent of the local perspectives or idiosyncrasies of inquirers." This may sound bland enough, and such a view is probably implicitly held by most scientists; but for a long time the climate in philosophy, history, and the sociology of science has tended to emphasize constructivism over realism, and to celebrate the thickness of the spectacles, or paradigms, through which the scientist peers at nature. Williams, by contrast, commented dismissively on the "remarkable assumption that the sociology of knowledge is in a better position to deliver truths about science than science is to deliver truths about the world."

By opposing that picture, Williams raised controversy, although as the essay shows, he was particularly irritated by the travesty occasionally foisted on him that we could have a description of the world without deploying our own language or employing our own concepts. This was never the idea. What Williams believed was that science had a title to knowledge that did not depend on the history, culture, values, or interests of those engaged in it, and in this way it was distinguished from other inquiries, including philosophy itself.

Hard to get much funnier than a philosopher whose philosophy of science holds that science is uniquely not subject to philosophy. The key to the success of the Anglo-American model is that we accepted the futility of his argument four centuries ago. His argument is the circular one the French followed to their detriment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Quebec 'gaffe' causes Royal grief (BBC, 1/23/07)

French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has denied interfering in Canada's affairs, after she voiced apparent sympathy for Quebec's freedom.

Ms Royal told reporters on Monday she supported "sovereignty and liberty" for Quebec, prompting a rebuke from Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

She now says she meant that "the people who vote are sovereign and free".

She makes that other famous French pol, John Kerry, sound like Daniel Webster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Muslims see no conflict between Islamic law and democracy: poll (Jocelyne Zablit, 1/23/07, AFP)

Muslims worldwide believe Islamic law is compatible with democracy and most admire values championed by the US but doubt Washington is serious about implementing them overseas, according to a poll.

The Gallup poll, conducted in the Palestinian territories as well as nine predominantly Muslim countries representing more than 80 percent of the global Muslim population, showed that majorities believe Sharia law and democracy can co-exist in a government and that Islamic law should be at least a source of legislation.

In Egypt, for example, 66 percent of those polled said Sharia must be the only source of legislation while in Pakistan 60 percent felt that way, in Iran 17 percent and in Turkey nine percent.

Interestingly, Gallup posed the same question to Americans, 55 percent of whom felt that the Bible must play a role in legislation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


Aircastle set to buy 38 aircraft (Doug Cameron, January 23 2007, Financial Times)

Aircastle, the only listed aircraft leasing group, yesterday announced plans to buy 38 aircraft from a Chicago-based investment group for $1.6bn, in a move which highlights the improving prospects of the cargomarket.

The portfolio includes 12 Boeing 747-400 freighters, the largest commercial cargo aircraft, with UPS expected to confirm this week that it has cancelled the sole remaining order for the Airbus A380F.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


Mary Chain to re-form for US gig (Rosie Swash, January 23, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

The Jesus and Mary Chain, a group famed for their violent stage shows and continuous infighting, have surprised fans by announcing their appearance on the bill of the Coachella festival in California this April.

The Scottish post-punkers were at their most prominent in the mid-eighties, and although the band never achieved widespread commercial success they had a deep impact on the music industry, dividing opinions and courting controversy.

The Mary Chain officially disbanded in 1999, although the classic line-up had split in 1986, with drummer Bobbie Gillespie going on to front Primal Scream. Furious bust-ups between brothers William and Jim Reid marred the band's last years together and they acquired a reputation for being moody and uncooperative.

Why be a rock god otherwise?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Criticism of Ahmadinejad mounts (Frances Harrison, 1/23/07, BBC News)

It is becoming clear that the green light has been given from the very top for open debate of President Ahmadinejad's record in power.

Normally compliant newspaper editorials have suddenly started criticising his handling of the economy and his undiplomatic language.

Now the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, has voiced public criticism of President Ahmadinejad's tendency towards a highly centralised state-controlled economy.

Mr Rafsanjani, who is a capitalist, has invoked the supreme leader, suggesting the leader was pained by the very slow pace of privatisation under Mr Ahmadinejad's government.

There has also been criticism from the speaker of parliament, who, in a veiled reference to the president, complained about some figures in Iran having the wrong view of investment.

All this suggests that many in the top echelons of power are beginning to realise that Mr Ahmadinejad's confrontational foreign policy and populist rhetoric internally carry a heavy cost for Iran's future.

No economic growth, no Islamic Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Breaking silence and legal ground: a review of Supreme Conflict The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court by Jan Crawford Greenburg (David J. Garrow, January 23, 2007, LA Times)

[A]BC News reporter Jan Crawford Greenburg's account of what's been happening at the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years is the richest and most impressive journalistic look at the panel since Woodward co-wrote "The Brethren" in 1979. [...]

There are so many standout stories in "Supreme Conflict" that the book is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the court. Take Bush vs. Gore, the 5-to-4 decision that resolved the 2000 presidential election. O'Connor told Greenburg that the Florida Supreme Court, whose approval of a partial recount had left the outcome up for grabs, was "off on a trip of its own."

Kennedy was even more outspoken. "A no brainer! A state court deciding a federal constitutional issue about the presidential election?" he exclaimed when Greenburg asked why the justices decided to step in. "Of course you take the case." Alluding to Democratic candidate Al Gore's initial challenge to the Florida tally, Kennedy added that "it would be odd if the people that brought the litigation would later say the courts shouldn't intervene." O'Connor admitted to Greenburg that the written opinion was not "the Court's best effort" and that "given more time, I think we probably would've done better" in explaining the decision, but "it wouldn't have changed the result." Kennedy too told Greenburg that "the problem with Bush v. Gore was that it came so fast, it had to be decided so fast," although "conceptually, it was a case of medium difficulty" and no more. Greenburg's portrayals of O'Connor's and Thomas' experiences on the court break significant new ground. Soon after O'Connor joined the panel in 1981, liberal icon William J. Brennan Jr. criticized her reasoning in language she found personally offensive. The most pointed remarks were penned by Brennan's law clerks, but their off-putting effect, Greenburg argues, "helped keep the Court's first female justice in the conservative camp longer than she might have been otherwise." O'Connor's move to the center accelerated when Thomas joined the Court in 1991. Although some analysts and pundits disparagingly characterized Thomas as Scalia's "intellectual understudy," Greenburg dismisses those claims as "grossly inaccurate" and describes how Thomas "acted independently of Scalia right from the start."

In persuasive and highly readable detail, Greenburg traces how Thomas, from his first case, "acted as a catalyst, spurring the other justices -- O'Connor, in particular -- to rethink their positions and realign themselves." In that initial case, Thomas hesitantly voted in lone dissent, but then Scalia, Kennedy and the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist changed their votes to side with Thomas. In a second case a few days later, Scalia again "changed his vote to join Thomas," as he also did "on several other occasions" during Thomas' first year.

Far from being anyone's follower, Thomas' forceful intellect served to "reshape the Court" in unexpected ways. Just as O'Connor earlier had shied away from moving leftward because of Brennan, Thomas' starkly conservative views "actually pushed moderates like O'Connor further to the left" during the 1990s.

One of the President's key insights was that to influence the direction of the Court it is more effective to add collegial figures like Harriet Miers, instead of merely adding more ideologues who will fiercely defend their own peculiar views even against each other. He appears to have struck gold with John Roberts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Bush wants states to plan coverage of uninsured: Critics say the proposal to give governors more leeway with federal dollars could undermine health programs (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, January 23, 2007, LA Times)

President Bush's top healthcare official on Monday proposed a strategy for covering the uninsured that would offer incentives to each state to develop its own plan for expanding access, but stopped short of guaranteeing universal protection.

With Bush expected to address concern about rising premiums and shrinking coverage tonight in his State of the Union speech, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt offered governors greater leeway in how they use federal healthcare money for the poor if they would take the lead on offering help to the estimated 47 million now uninsured.

"The president will make clear he believes the federal government should not run healthcare," Leavitt told reporters. "He wants to partner with states." Leavitt said he expected a dozen or more states to pursue health reform efforts this year.

Except that Democrats and federal bureaucrats lose control that way, Health-care plan may boost demand for HSAs (Sara Hansard, January 22, 2007, Investment News)
Bankers are salivating over the prospect that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to provide universal health care in California might lead to increased use of health savings accounts there.

And Democrats on Capitol Hill fear they may be correct.

California is "one of the biggest markets in the country, so this is a massive benefit," said Kevin McKechnie, staff director of the Health Savings Account Council, which is a part of the American Bankers Association in Washington.

The proposal, unveiled early this month, would require all California residents to have health insurance.To reach that goal, employers with 10 or more employees would be required to offer those employees coverage or be assessed a fee equal to 4% of payroll. Although coverage for the poorest Californians would be free, all other residents would be required to buy health coverage or be assessed a tax equal to the cost of coverage through a state-run insurance pool.

The proposal also would allow the same tax deduction on state income tax returns for a health savings account as is allowed on federal taxes.

Policyholders with high-deductible health insurance plans may set up HSAs to fund their out-of-pocket expenses. The market for HSAs, which were first allowed in 2004 under the Medicare Act of 2003, has mushroomed, with about 40% of employers now offering them, up from 7% in 2004, according to the HSA Council.

Since assets in HSAs are managed much in the manner of those in individual retirement accounts, advisers increasingly are taking an interest in HSAs.

What's the over/under on how long it takes the Right to figure out that the GOP congress they hated and the liberal George W. Bush effected the HSA revolution?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link: U.S. warnings of advanced weaponry crossing the border are overstated, critics say. (Alexandra Zavis and Greg Miller, January 23, 2007, LA Times)

In his speech this month outlining the new U.S. strategy in Iraq, President Bush promised to "seek out and destroy" Iranian networks that he said were providing "advanced weaponry and training to our enemies." He is expected to strike a similar note in tonight's State of the Union speech.

For all the aggressive rhetoric, however, the Bush administration has provided scant evidence to support these claims. Nor have reporters traveling with U.S. troops seen extensive signs of Iranian involvement. During a recent sweep through a stronghold of Sunni insurgents here, a single Iranian machine gun turned up among dozens of arms caches U.S. troops uncovered. British officials have similarly accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, but say they have not found Iranian-made weapons in areas they patrol.

The lack of publicly disclosed evidence has led to questions about whether the administration is overstating its case. Some suggest Bush and his aides are pointing to Iran to deflect blame for U.S. setbacks in Iraq. Others suggest they are laying the foundation for a military strike against Iran.

The next war we start without a bogus pretext will be the first.

Prominent lobbyist Perle: U.S. will attack Iran if it obtains nukes (Yossi Melman and Mazal Mualem, 1/23/07, Haaretz)

President George Bush will order an attack on Iran if it becomes clear to him that Iran is set to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities while he is still in office, Richard Perle told the Herzliya Conference on Sunday. Perle is close to the Bush administration, particularly to Vice President Richard Cheney.

The difference between an empty threat and a real threat is the respective military capabilities and geopolitical histories of Iran vs America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Clinton Bid Heralds Demise of Public Financing (Dan Balz and Matthew Mosk, 1/23/07, Washington Post)

The public financing system designed to clean up presidential campaigns in the wake of the Watergate scandal may have died on Saturday when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced her bid for the White House.

Little noticed amid the announcement rollout was a page on her Web site in which she asked potential contributors to give her campaign checks of up to $4,200. That figure signaled not only that she plans to forgo public funds for primary season but also that, if she becomes the nominee, she will not take public money for the general election.

The notion of the state funding elections was one of the most pernicious the Left ever cooked up. Its death is cause for democrats and republicans to celebrate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Internal Rifts Cloud Democrats' Opportunity on Warming (Juliet Eilperin and Michael Grunwald, 1/23/07, Washington Post)

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (Mich.) -- the longest-serving House member and a legendary defender of his committee's prerogatives as well as the carbon-emitting auto industry of his home state -- had made it clear that he expected to lead the party's global-warming debate in a rather leisurely fashion. Pelosi was end-running him.

When "Big John" chaired Energy and Commerce from 1981 to 1995, the prickly power broker displayed a prominent photo of the Earth to illustrate his view of the panel's jurisdiction. Now the photo is back, along with Dingell's determination to resist interference. A few hours after Pelosi presented her plan to the caucus, Dingell convened the 31 Democrats on Energy and Commerce. Predictably, he saw Pelosi's new committee as a recipe for duplication, incompetence and the suppression of democracy.

Less predictably, Dingell was supported by a longtime Energy and Commerce rival, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California liberal who agrees with Pelosi about global warming and persuaded her to co-sponsor his own aggressive climate bill last year, but who also wants her to respect her chairmen. That's because he chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he plans to hold hearings on his bill. At the Energy and Commerce meeting, he warned that Pelosi might be scheming to write bills out of her own office.

"That's the way the Republicans did it," Waxman said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


The End of Sovereignty (Sean Gonsalves, January 23, 2007, AlterNet)

Sovereignty: The idea that nations can determine the direction of their own development without military intervention from other nations; a concept enshrined in the charter of the United Nations -- an imperfect international organization created by the United States after two bloody world wars, leaving even "realist" hawks looking for ways to settle conflicts peacefully. [...]

Literary master E.B. White had a slightly more jaundiced view. "Justice and (international) law do not now operate and will never operate until there is international government." The problem, as E.B. saw it, "under all the steady throbbing of the engines: sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty."

After truth, the second casualty of the U.S.-led war in Iraq was the meaning of the word sovereignty.

Much confusion here -- not least the failure to understand that Realists always favor peace, because they don't give a rats patootie what sovereigns do to their own people -- but some wisdom, both in understanding that the isolationist sovereignty favored by Realists is a dead letter and that sovereignty (in its more nationalist iteration) is the main obstacle to transnationalism abroad.

Of course, it is America that destroyed that original concept of sovereignty, over the past couple centuries, and that was never going to allow world government, both for the same reasons: we require adherence to liberal democratic norms before we're willing to recognize sovereignty as legitimate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Calling an end to oil alarmism (Philip E. Auerswald, January 23, 2007, Boston Globe)

Consider the following facts:

Oil producers don't like oil prices that are "too high." Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, offered this frank assessment to The Wall Street Journal in 2004, just as oil prices began to increase sharply: "We've got almost 30 percent of the world's oil. For us, the objective is to assure that oil remains an economically competitive source of energy. Oil prices that are too high reduce demand growth for oil and encourage the development of alternative energy sources."

In response, Saudi Arabia ramped up oil production, from 8.5 million barrels per day in 2002 to 11.1 million in 2005. Far more dependent on oil revenue than we are on oil, the Saudis lose if a high price today prompts their customers -- us -- to develop substitutes for use tomorrow.

The upswing in the price of many commodities, including oil, over the past five years reflects positive economic developments. In the next two decades or so, most of the world's population -- including a couple of billion in China and India -- will finally become full partners in the world economy.

This is good news. For the foreseeable future potential supply problems -- whether caused by terrorism, political disputes, or other issues in the Middle East or elsewhere -- will have far less of an impact on prices than these changes on the demand side.

Oil can't easily be used as a strategic instrument of aggression against the United States. Petro-alarmism focused on the Middle East often emphasizes the concentration of oil reserves and spare production capacity in a few oil-producing nations, particularly Saudi Arabia. But reserves are only useful as a strategic weapon in pushing prices down. Only by withholding output -- and threatening their own livelihood -- can producers push prices higher.

The impact of higher fuel prices on most US consumers is minimal. From 1980 to 2005, the share of consumer spending on energy actually dropped from 8 percent to 6 percent...

To have any real impact on consumer behavior you're going to have to impose artificial price hikes via taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Kosovo breakaway could raise Scot Nats' hopes (Simon Tisdall, January 23, 2007, The Guardian)

The breakaway British region of Scotland could be among the beneficiaries of this week's expected UN recommendation that Kosovo be granted provisional independence from Serbia, leading in time to full sovereign status. If the plan backed by the US, Britain and Germany is formally accepted by the UN security council, it will be taken as an important international legal precedent by would-be separatist movements from Georgia to Moldova to Chechnya, and possibly also the Scottish National party.

Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president who is the UN's point man on Kosovo, will put forward his proposals on Friday, when he meets the Kosovo contact group in Vienna. If he follows the expected script and backs independence, the implications will be explosive not only for Serbia but for EU unity and Russia's touchy relations with the west.

Kosovo has been part of Serbia since the Middle Ages. By comparison, the Act of Union binding Scotland and England dates back a mere 300 years, to 1707. Serbs view Kosovo as integral to their history and nationhood. Most are adamantly opposed to a breakup, as shown by nationalist success in Sunday's election. But opinion polls suggest many English voters view the prospect of Scotland's secession with equanimity.

To each "species" his own niche.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Sunni sheik declares war on the insurgency: A business-minded tribal leader in Al Anbar forges an alliance with U.S. forces (Tony Perry, January 23, 2007, LA Times)

At 35, he is younger than many sheiks. And his Sunni Arab tribe is not one of the largest in Al Anbar province. But Sheik Sattar Bazeaa Fatikhan projects the aura of power and seriousness that comes to a man who has taken a stand.

After Sunni insurgents killed his father and four of his brothers last year, Fatikhan declared war against the insurgency.

He convened a summit of about a dozen prominent sheiks. From that meeting came a document called "The Awakening," in which Fatikhan persuaded all but one sheik to join him in opposition to the insurgency.

The sheiks pledged to encourage young men to join the police force and even the Shiite-led army. The document states that killing an American is the same as killing a member of their tribes. Since the gathering, Fatikhan said, the sheiks have "eliminated" a number of insurgents. [...]

Fatikhan, who wears tailored suits when not in traditional clothing, understands U.S. politics. He told a visiting journalist, "Please take a message to the Democrats: Let the American forces stay until we can hold Iraq together. Then we will have a party when American forces go."

Outside Fatikhan's meeting room, other sheiks, some much older, waited to talk to him. So did Iraqi police officials. The sheik's bodyguards were nearby.

He offered his American and British visitors sweet tea and insisted that they stay for a lunch of goat, rice and sauces.

"The terrorists are not here for the interests of Iraq," Fatikhan said. "We don't need them here to say they're here to defend us. If Iraq was in danger, the real people of Iraq would stand up and defend Iraq."

He referred to the U.S. and Britain as "the two great nations."

British Lt. Gen. G.C.M. Lamb was quick to return the compliment.

"Baghdad was once considered the center of the civilized world, so I believe we have three great nations engaged in a great purpose," Lamb said.

"The British had an empire and lost it," he added, "and so we have learned that we do not know everything, that there is wisdom in many places."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Gonzales' Trojan Horse: FISA-approved surveillance may not be a civil-liberties coup (Patrick Radden Keefe, Jan. 19, 2007, Slate)

When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sent a cryptic, four-paragraph letter to the Senate judiciary committee Wednesday, maintaining that from now on, the Bush administration will conduct its domestic surveillance program "subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," it looked like the administration was backing down. "Bush Retreats," the Washington Post declared, adding that the letter marked the president's "latest step back from the expansive interpretation of executive power."

But civil libertarians and administration foes should keep the Champagne on ice for the moment, because while Gonzales' letter looks like a surrender, it may prove to be a Trojan horse. A close read of the administration's Delphic pronouncements on this about-face reveals a major, unresolved contradiction: The National Security Agency surveillance program and the FISA system, as it currently exists, are fundamentally incompatible. Any hasty reconciliation of the two will involve either a dramatic revision of our espionage activities or a very creative reading of the wiretapping statute. For this marriage to work, one of them must be compromised. The question is, which one?

Hint: the Administration isn't going to err on the side of bureaucratic niceties over national security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bush expected to hold firm on main policy issues: No compromise seen on Iraq, stem cell funding (Susan Milligan, January 23, 2007, Boston Globe)

[W]hile Bush's rhetoric appears more conciliatory now that he faces a Democratic-controlled Congress for the first time in his tenure, the president has shown no sign of compromising on the substance of his domestic or foreign policy goals, according to lawmakers in both parties who have had discussions with the White House.

As administration officials are reaching out to the new majority, the president has made it clear he will not give in on his strategy to send a "surge" of 21,500 more troops to Iraq, despite a skeptical American public and bipartisan opposition to the idea on Capitol Hill. Bush has said he will veto a bill easing federal funding for stem cell research if it reaches his desk, and he has issued a negative assessment of a House-passed bill that would cut the interest rates on student loans.

On the issues of healthcare and global warming , which are expected to be central themes of Bush's domestic policy agenda tonight, the White House has indicated no willingness to move closer to the approaches favored by the Democratic leadership. Democrats want mandatory limits on fossil fuel emissions and expanded employer-based health insurance.

Democrats having stalled out before their 100 hours was even up, what incentive can the President have to yield to them?

January 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


CNN debunks false report about Obama (CNN, 1/22/07)

Allegations that Sen. Barack Obama was educated in a radical Muslim school known as a "madrassa" are not accurate, according to CNN reporting.

Insight Magazine, which is owned by the same company as The Washington Times, reported on its Web site last week that associates of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, had unearthed information the Illinois Democrat and likely presidential candidate attended a Muslim religious school known for teaching the most fundamentalist form of Islam.

Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, from 1967 to 1971, with his mother and step-father and has acknowledged attending a Muslim school, but an aide said it was not a madrassa.

...a madrassa is a Muslim school and, as Lawrence Wright reports in The Looming Tower, something like 90% of all Muslim schools in the world are funded by the Sa'uds so that they can spread their peculiar brand of Islam, Wahhabism. None of that means that Senator Obama was attended a "radical Muslim school," but those would appear to be CNN's words, not Insight's or the Clinton campaign's.

Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background (Insight, 1/16/07)

An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.

"He was a Muslim, but he concealed it," the source said. "His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign."

When contacted by Insight, Mr. Obama's press secretary said he would consult with "his boss" and call back. He did not.

Sources said the background check, conducted by researchers connected to Senator Clinton, disclosed details of Mr. Obama's Muslim past. The sources said the Clinton camp concluded the Illinois Democrat concealed his prior Muslim faith and education. [...]

The sources said the background check concerned Mr. Obama's years in Jakarta. In Indonesia, the young Obama was enrolled in a Madrassa and was raised and educated as a Muslim. Although Indonesia is regarded as a moderate Muslim state, the U.S. intelligence community has determined that today most of these schools are financed by the Saudi Arabian government and they teach a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims.

Although the background check has not confirmed that the specific Madrassa Mr. Obama attended was espousing Wahhabism, the sources said his Democratic opponents believe this to be the case--and are seeking to prove it. The sources said the opponents are searching for evidence that Mr. Obama is still a Muslim or has ties to Islam. [...]

The sources said Mr. Obama spent at least four years in a Muslim school in Indonesia. They said when Mr. Obama was 10, his mother and her second husband separated. She and her son returned to Hawaii.

"Then the official biography begins," the source said. "Obama never returned to Kenya to see relatives or family until it became politically expedient."

In both of his autobiographies, Mr. Obama characterizes himself as a Christian--although he describes his upbringing as mostly secular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Climate scientists feeling the heat: As public debate deals in absolutes, some experts fear predictions 'have created a monster' (ERIC BERGER, 1/22/2007, Houston Chronicle )

Problem is, global warming may not have caused Hurricane Katrina, and last summer's heat waves were equaled and, in many cases, surpassed by heat in the 1930s.

In their efforts to capture the public's attention, then, have climate scientists oversold global warming? It's probably not a majority view, but a few climate scientists are beginning to question whether some dire predictions push the science too far.

"Some of us are wondering if we have created a monster," says Kevin Vranes, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado.

Vranes, who is not considered a global warming skeptic by his peers, came to this conclusion after attending an American Geophysical Union meeting last month. Vranes says he detected "tension" among scientists, notably because projections of the future climate carry uncertainties -- a point that hasn't been fully communicated to the public.

The science of climate change often is expressed publicly in unambiguous terms.

For example, last summer, Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, told the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce: "I think we understand the mechanisms of CO2 and climate better than we do of what causes lung cancer. ... In fact, it is fair to say that global warming may be the most carefully and fully studied scientific topic in human history."

Vranes says, "When I hear things like that, I go crazy."

Not before?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


A Mission to Convert (H. Allen Orr, 1/11/07, NY Review of Books)

Dawkins's first book, The Selfish Gene (1976), was a smash hit. An introduction to evolutionary theory, it explained a number of deeply counter-intuitive results, including how an apparently self-centered process like Darwinian natural selection can account for the evolution of altruism. Best of all, Dawkins laid out this biology--some of it truly subtle--in stunningly lucid prose. (It is, in my view, the best work of popular science ever written.)

As if it weren't embarrassing enough to be that enamored of a philosophy book that David Stove left nothing more than a smoking crater, it vies with Population Bomb and Silent Spring for the most dubious scientific content of modern bestsellers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


The surprising Stephen Harper: The Canadian Prime Minister has the power to allay fears of a 'hidden agenda.' (Rondi Adamson, 1/23/07, CS Monitor)

Even Harper's foes bow to his political savvy, focus, and intelligence. He has navigated the past year with only a minority government, meaning he needs opposition support to pass legislation. As a result, he has done little domestically that could reasonably be called radical. He has replaced left-leaning spending and social engineering with centrist spending and social engineering. For example, a national day-care plan proposed by his liberal predecessors was scrapped in favor of issuing monthly $100 checks to parents of children under the age of six. He has cut Canada's goods and services tax by 1 percent. And while he has made cuts to social programs, he has steered clear of touching the "third rails" of Canadian politics - socialized healthcare and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. [...]

This kind of principled stance and impressive leadership has earned him some respect, and cost him some support. It has also earned him the nickname, "Bush Lite." Many who know Harper call this unfair, saying these have always been his ideals, not something newly acquired to please Washington.

Whereas Chretien was Chirac-Lite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


Western Europe's America Problem (ANDREI S. MARKOVITS, 1/19/07, The Chronicle Review)

Any trip to Europe confirms what surveys have been finding: The aversion to America is becoming greater, louder, more determined. It is unifying Western Europeans more than any other political emotion -- with the exception of a common hostility toward Israel. Indeed, the virulence in Western Europe's antipathy to Israel cannot be understood without the presence of anti-Americanism and hostility to the United States. Those two closely related resentments are now considered proper etiquette. They are present in polite company and acceptable in the discourse of the political classes. They constitute common fare not only among Western Europe's cultural and media elites, but also throughout society itself, from London to Athens and from Stockholm to Rome, even if European politicians visiting Washington or European professors at international conferences about anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are adamant about denying or sugarcoating that reality.

There can be no doubt that many disastrous and irresponsible policies by members of the Bush administration, as well as their haughty demeanor and arrogant tone, have contributed massively to this unprecedented vocal animosity on the part of Europeans toward Americans and America. Indeed, they bear responsibility for having created a situation in which anti-Americanism has mutated into a sort of global antinomy, a mutually shared language of opposition to and resistance against the real and perceived ills of modernity that are now inextricably identified with America. I have been traveling back and forth with considerable frequency between the United States and Europe since 1960, and I cannot recall a time like the present, when such a vehement aversion to everything American has been articulated in Europe. No Western European country is exempt from this phenomenon -- not a single social class, no age group or profession, nor either gender. But the aversion reaches much deeper and wider than the frequently evoked "anti-Bushism." I perceive this virulent, Europewide, and global "anti-Bushism" as the glaring tip of a massive anti-American iceberg.

It's got nothing to do with W, as demonstrated by the fact that Israel is the other object of their hatred. It's just the inevitable divide between secular rationalists and the leading powers of Christianity and Judaism. Their societies arose out of a rationalist reaction to God--why be surprised that they react badly to us?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


Blood Oil
: Could a bunch of Nigerian militants in speedboats bring about a U.S. recession? Blowing up facilities and taking hostages, they are wreaking havoc on the oil production of America's fifth-largest supplier. Deep in the Niger-delta swamps, the author meets the nightmarish result of four decades of corruption. (Sebastian Junger, February 2007, Vanity Fair)

This is why oil is so valuable: one tank of gas from a typical S.U.V. has the energy equivalent of more than 60,000 man-hours of work--roughly 100 men working around the clock for nearly a month. That is the power that the American consumer can access for about $60 at the gasoline pump. If gasoline were a person, we would be paying 10 cents an hour for his labor. Easily accessible reserves are running dry, though, which means that the industry must develop increasingly ingenious--and costly--techniques for getting at the oil. Deepwater drilling, for example, now happens so far offshore that rigs can no longer be anchored to the seabed; they must be held in place by an array of propellers, each the size of a two-car garage. The cost of deepwater drilling is close to twice that in shallow water.

As a result, oil is one of the few commodities with virtually no surplus production; just about every drop of oil that gets pumped gets used. The world currently goes through 84 million barrels a day, a figure that is expected to rise to almost 120 million barrels in the next 25 years. As that happens, oil will become more and more expensive to extract. When oil was first exploited, in 1859, the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil was required to pump 50 barrels of oil out of the ground. Now that ratio is one-to-five. Thus far, nearly half of the proven, exploitable oil reserves in the world have been used up. Barring the discovery of new reserves or new drilling technology, some experts predict the world will run out of oil by 2040.

Added to these technological problems is the fact that--as if by some divine prank--most of the world's oil reserves happen to be in politically unstable parts of the world. (The alternative theory is that oil exploitation tends to de-stabilize underdeveloped countries.) Because of the financial risks involved, oil reserves in politically stable countries have more value, per barrel, than oil in politically unstable countries. As we speak, the value of Nigerian oil--as a function of the capital investment that must be risked to produce it--is in steady decline.

That is MEND's trump card. It has several times threatened to shut down all Nigerian oil production, but it's possible MEND doesn't quite dare, because of the chance it will provoke a military retaliation it wouldn't survive. By the same token, the Nigerian military has threatened to sweep the delta with overwhelming force, but it doesn't know whether that might force MEND to carry out one devastating counterstrike--taking out the Bonny Island Liquefied Natural Gas facility with a shoulder-fired rocket, for example. An act of sabotage on this scale could drive Shell and the other oil companies from Nigeria for good, completely wiping out the national economy. One major company, Willbros, has already discontinued operations in Nigeria because of the security threat.

On the world stage, as well, MEND's political power depends on its ability to cause economic pain in other countries. Some industry experts contend that new market mechanisms and the availability of U.S. petroleum reserves would mitigate the effects of even a complete shut-in of Nigerian oil. "Look at Katrina," one oil analyst at the Department of Energy told me. "There was a spike in oil prices for a couple of weeks, but then demand shifts and there is a little bit of conservation. Two years ago we were at $28 a barrel and now we are in the mid-50s. Short-term market predictions are a fool's game."

The Oil ShockWave panel wasn't so sure. It found that a complete shut-in that coincided with another event--a terrorist attack in the Persian Gulf or even an exceptionally harsh winter, for example--could trigger a major recession. Furthermore, there seemed to be no good options for dealing with it. Opening up the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve--some 700 million barrels of oil in underground salt caverns along the Gulf Coast--would lower oil prices for the whole world without providing a long-term solution. Begging Saudi Arabia for more oil could compromise the United States politically and damage our long-term interests in the region. And sending the U.S. military into the Niger delta would be politically risky and possibly unfeasible, given American commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That did not stop the U.S. government from authorizing a joint training exercise with the Nigerian military in 2004. It was reported to have been focused on "water combat."

Two weeks after our first trip to the creeks, Jomo told me by e-mail that he would arrange for MEND to take us into its camp. It was deep in the mangrove swamps, and he said that no journalist had ever been there. Allegedly, the only foreigners who have ever seen the MEND camps were hostages.

The best thing we could do for several of the worst places in the world is drain their oil of value so that their governments become reliant on their people instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Sarkozy Vows Tax Cut if Chosen President (The Associated Press, 1/22/07)

French Interior Minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to reduce France's overall tax take by four percentage points of gross domestic product if elected, in an interview published Monday.

Sarkozy, the candidate of the conservative governing Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, also criticized the 35-hour week introduced by the last Socialist government in an attempt to create more jobs, in the interview with the Le Monde newspaper.

"France's moral crisis has a name -- it's a work crisis," Sarkozy said.

It's actually a spiritual crisis--it manifests itself in the lack of ethics, not least the work ethic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Collapsing Venezuela (Richard W. Rahn, January 22, 2007, Washington Times)

Since 2004, the Venezuelan Central Bank has transferred about $22.5 billion to accounts abroad by the Chavez government, and about $12 billion of that remains unaccounted for. It has also been reported that the gold reserves have been removed from the Central Bank.

Mr. Chavez has also set up a "development bank," which operates without transparency. As the Chavez government takes over more and more of private industry, it also ceases reporting on the financial results of those industries, such as the state-owned oil company, which operates Citgo in the U.S. Mr. Chavez announced this month he will take over the privately owned telecommunications and power companies, and we can expect that shortly after he does so his government will also stop reporting their finances. Increasingly, Mr. Chavez uses the massive oil revenues the country receives, as well as other government revenues, as his own private piggy bank.

Where has all the money gone? It has gone to buy foreign political influence and loyalties in places like Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and even the United States (notably to subsidize some New England fuel oil consumers through a company controlled by members of the Kennedy family). The money has gone to buy weapons from Russia, Spain and elsewhere, endearing those countries to Mr. Chavez. The money has gone to local cronies for inflated infrastructure and economic development projects and to buy the loyalty of government officials and supporters, including judges. [...]

Mr. Chavez and his cronies had already been spending far more than they were taking in before the recent drop in oil prices. Without a big jump back up to $70 a barrel or more for oil, the Venezuelans will be increasingly squeezed, and you can bet the blood from the innocent Venezuelan people will be drained long before those on the take from Mr. Chavez agree to have their looting stopped.

They're paying a high price as the Western Left tries one more time to show that socialism really can work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


Iran's strongman loses grip as ayatollah offers nuclear deal (Marie Colvin and Leila Asgharzadeh, 1/21/07, Times Online)

Alarmed by mounting US pressure and United Nations sanctions, officials close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei favour the appointment of a more moderate team for international negotiations on the supervision of its nuclear facilities.

The move would be a snub to the bellicose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose threats to destroy Israel have left Iran increasingly isolated and facing a serious economic downturn.

Tehran sources said the impetus for a policy switch was coming from Khamenei, who has ultimate power over Iran's foreign policy, security and armed forces. [...]

In a sign that his power is waning, Iranian MPs have criticised Ahmadinejad for his handling of the nuclear negotiations and the country's mounting economic crisis.

Sa'id Leylaz, a leading economist, said: "The future of the nation has never been this dark, both economically and politically."

Iranians face rocketing prices for food and housing and sharply increased unemployment, estimated at 30%.

"Ahmadinejad is under extreme pressures from his own supporters to change policies," said Leylaz. Sources in Tehran say Ahmadinejad could be vulnerable, as Khamenei has clearly signalled his displeasure and has the power to dismiss him.

Khamenei rarely speaks in public, but the Islamic Republic, a newspaper he owns, launched a strong attack on Ahmadinejad's "personalisation" of the nuclear issue. In an editorial, it stated: "Our advice to the president is to speak about the nuclear issue only during important national occasions, stop provoking aggressive powers like the United States and concentrate more on the daily needs of the people, those who voted for you on your promises."

Ahmadinejad's weakness is being exploited by Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a conservative pragmatist and former president who was defeated by him in elections in 2005.

It's sort of like calling Tony Blair a strongman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM

MATERIAL GRILL (via Brian Boys):

Why Do Good? Brain Study Offers Clues (Forbes, 01.22.07)

People may not perform selfless acts just for an emotional reward, a new brain study suggests. [...]

"Perhaps altruism did not grow out of a warm-glow feeling of doing good for others, but out of the simple recognition that that thing over there is a person that has intentions and goals. And therefore, I might want to treat them like I might want them to treat myself," explained study author Scott Huettel, an associate professor of psychology at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C.

Boy, no one believes in Darwinism any more....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Faith in Quick Test Leads to Epidemic That Wasn't (GINA KOLATA, 1/22/07, NY Times)

Dr. Brooke Herndon, an internist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, could not stop coughing. For two weeks starting in mid-April last year, she coughed, seemingly nonstop, followed by another week when she coughed sporadically, annoying, she said, everyone who worked with her.

Before long, Dr. Kathryn Kirkland, an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth, had a chilling thought: Could she be seeing the start of a whooping cough epidemic? By late April, other health care workers at the hospital were coughing, and severe, intractable coughing is a whooping cough hallmark. And if it was whooping cough, the epidemic had to be contained immediately because the disease could be deadly to babies in the hospital and could lead to pneumonia in the frail and vulnerable adult patients there.

It was the start of a bizarre episode at the medical center: the story of the epidemic that wasn't.

For months, nearly everyone involved thought the medical center had had a huge whooping cough outbreak, with extensive ramifications. Nearly 1,000 health care workers at the hospital in Lebanon, N.H., were given a preliminary test and furloughed from work until their results were in; 142 people, including Dr. Herndon, were told they appeared to have the disease; and thousands were given antibiotics and a vaccine for protection. Hospital beds were taken out of commission, including some in intensive care.

Then, about eight months later, health care workers were dumbfounded to receive an e-mail message from the hospital administration informing them that the whole thing was a false alarm.

Not a single case of whooping cough was confirmed with the definitive test, growing the bacterium, Bordetella pertussis, in the laboratory. Instead, it appears the health care workers probably were afflicted with ordinary respiratory diseases like the common cold.

Now, as they look back on the episode, epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists say the problem was that they placed too much faith in a quick and highly sensitive molecular test that led them astray.

They should have been particularly dubious when an infectious disease specialist assumed she had an infectious disease. Talk about subjectivity...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Emerging Grievances Within Party Likely to Test Pelosi (Jonathan Weisman, January 22, 2007, Washington Post)

Powerful committee chairmen have bridled at the California Democrat's decision to impose six-year term limits on them. Liberal Democrats say she is being too cautious in confronting President Bush on the war in Iraq. Rank-and-file Democrats say she erred in denying Republicans more say in the early legislation, making the speaker appear autocratic.

And many Democrats complain that Pelosi is relying too heavily on a coterie of liberal allies from her home state and Massachusetts to the exclusion of more conservative lawmakers from the Midwest and the South.

The friction will present a growing challenge as Democrats move from the poll-tested, popular items that breezed through the House this month to more difficult legislative ventures, such as efforts to stem global warming, overhaul the nation's immigration laws, shrink the budget deficit and resolve the war in Iraq. It could also hand Republicans a powerful political weapon as they seek to regain power in 2008 by challenging the crop of new Democrats hailing from Republican-leaning districts.

Time for a change on the Hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


Peretz: Hamas may be a partner (Hanan Greenberg, 01.22.07, YNet)

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Monday that he viewed any Palestinian elements recognizing the State of Israel as a partner for negotiations "even if it is Hamas."

There's no point dealing with parties that can't win elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


In China, Obedience Isn't a Virtue Anymore: A growing number of bishops, priests, and faithful of the official Church are refusing to submit to the communist authorities. The pope and cardinal Zen are encouraging them: "Enough with the compromises." And a book breaks the silence on the Catholic martyrs during the Mao years (Sandro Magister, January 19, 2007, Chiesa)

Beginning today, a "sub secreto" meeting is taking place in the Vatican on the subject of the Church in China. Participants include key members of the secretariat of state and of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples, but also personalities from outside the curia: the bishop of Hong Kong, cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (in the photo, with the pope); cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-shi, of Taiwan; the bishop of Macao, José Lai Hung-seng; and professor Anthony Lam, from the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong.

At the center of attention is a question evoked by Benedict XVI in the Angelus of December 26, 2006. After recalling the protomartyr Saint Stephen and all those who today "are persecuted and suffering in various ways for their witness and service to the Gospel," Benedict XVI continued:

"I think of those Catholics who maintain their fidelity to the See of Peter without ceding to compromises, sometimes at the price of grave sufferings. The whole Church admires their example and prays that they have the strength to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are the font of victory, even if at that moment they can seem a failure."

The news from China in recent weeks confirms this rift between the Christians who bow to the commands of the communist authorities, and those who resist them; between the official Church created by the regime in opposition to Rome, and the one that is united with the pope and not officially recognized by the state.

But the same news shows the divisions and developments even within the official Church. Eight out of ten official bishops have sought and received approval from Rome. And now they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation of twofold obedience: to the universal Church, and to the anti-Roman politics of the communist authorities.

Cardinal Zen, a leading exponent of the Vatican's new politics with China, comments:

"This compromise cannot last forever. To be in communion with the Holy Father and at the same time remain in a Church that calls itself independent is a contradiction. The Holy See generously tolerates this. But the time has come to abandon this contradiction."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


The Second Holocaust (BENNY MORRIS, January 22, 2007, NY Sun)

The second Holocaust will not be like the first. The Nazis, of course, industrialized mass murder. But still, the perpetrators had one-on-one contact with the victims. They may have dehumanized them, over months and years of appalling debasement and in their minds, before the actual killing. But, still, they were in eye- and ear-contact, sometimes in tactile contact, with their victims.

The second Holocaust will be quite different. One bright morning, in five or 10 years' time, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran's acquisition of the bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convoke in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go ahead.

If you want folks to take your warnings seriously, it's best not to advertise your ignorance so spectacularly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


Bloomberg Pushes Lawsuit Cap: New York's Future as Financial Capital at Risk, Report Says (JILL GARDINER, January 22, 2007, NY Sun)

Warning that New York's status as the world's financial capital is in jeopardy, Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Schumer today will recommend ways to stop the loss of finance jobs here and to ensure Wall Street's dominance in the global business market. [...]

Messrs. Bloomberg and Schumer, who first teamed up on the subject in November when they co-authored an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, are now calling on Congress to consider a number of actions.

The recommendations include capping punitive damages in securities lawsuits, increasing the number of visas for skilled immigrants, and recognizing international accounting standards so that foreign companies don't have to comply with two sets of standards.

Their report also says instructions for complying with the post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley Act need to be clearer and calls on the federal government to revise guidelines for the so-called "Section 404," which has emerged as the most controversial part of the law regulating publicly traded companies. Many American and foreign businesses have viewed Section 404 as prohibitively expensive and burdensome for doing business here.

The report zeroes in on easing the regulatory environment, tamping down the litigious business atmosphere, and making regulations easier to comply with.

It notes that in Britain there is just one entity dictating regulations, while navigating regulations here is far more cumbersome. It also says that that legal realities in Britain make for far fewer frivolous lawsuits. America logged $10 billion in class action settlements in 2005, a record that some say is scaring away foreign investment here.

Senior staffers for the senator and mayor -- who briefed reporters yesterday on the McKinsey report yesterday on the condition that the report was not discussed with anyone until today -- said that if the actions outlined are implemented America's financial service sector could add between $15 billion and $30 billion in incremental revenue in 2011. That translates into 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.

While the Senator is trying to protect his hometown industry the rest can just fold damage caps for everyone into the bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


Woods of Germany are home to wolves again: Their status as a protected species has hunter and biologist snapping at one another in Saxony. (Jeffrey Fleishman, January 22, 2007, LA Times)

THERE'S blood on the frost and blame in the air.

The wolves are back, hunting in the night, skulking through gardens, making the farm dogs restless. Sleek and mystical, they have roamed through folklore and fairy tale, a bit of enticing danger at the forest's edge.

But Joachim Bachmann, a hunter with a wall full of trophies, is not so lyrical when it comes to the wolf's reappearance amid the birch and pine of the eastern woods in Saxony.

In today's Germany, the wolf is a "protected species." Mention these two words and you'd better duck, because Bachmann can't quite get his mind around how a sheep-eating machine should not be shot on sight. It bothers him even when he sits at the big table in his big house looking out the window to a damp land speckled with paw prints.

"What positive thing does a wolf bring to nature? Nothing," he says, cutting his schnitzel and salted potatoes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


Bush set to tackle global warming: Plan to reduce emissions expected in State of Union (Rick Klein, January 22, 2007, Boston Globe)

President Bush this week is prepared to unveil what his aides have billed as a bold new national strategy to confront global climate change and work toward energy independence, even as Democrats push their own, more aggressive approach to the issue.

In previewing the State of the Union address the president will deliver tomorrow, administration officials have strongly hinted that Bush would outline steps the government will take to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which most scientists believe contribute to global warming.

The White House has refused to discuss details in advance of the president's speech, though many in Congress and the energy industry expect it to include raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles, more support for renewable energy sources, and efforts to control emissions at utility plants and other big polluters.

You don't need to cap emissions, just tax them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Lobbyists find new Congress is open for business (Tom Hamburger and Janet Hook, January 22, 2007, LA Times)

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi terrified the oil industry late last year when she outlined her priorities for the new Democratic majorities in Congress. Within the first 100 hours, she promised, they would "roll back the multibillion-dollar subsidies for Big Oil."

Last week, however, when Pelosi (D-San Francisco) won House approval of the much-touted bill socking it to the oil companies, it turned out to be considerably less drastic than many in the industry originally feared. Out of an estimated $32 billion in subsidies and tax breaks that the oil companies are scheduled to receive over the next five years, the final House bill cut $5.5 billion.

It's not just oil: From one end of the House Democrats' "first 100 hours" agenda to the other, businesspeople and their lobbyists have found success amid the fear in dealing with the new Congress.

Surprising as it might seem in view of the Democrats' public rhetoric, business groups are getting their telephone calls returned. And they're getting plenty of face time with the new House and Senate leaders.

Lobbyists, of all people, has to know better than to think they couldn't buy Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


The Blogosphere, as these hilarious results demonstrate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


None (but Me) Dare Call It Treason: a review of THE ENEMY AT HOME: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 By Dinesh D'Souza (ALAN WOLFE, NY Times Book Review)

Dreadful things happened to America on [9-11], but, truth be told, D'Souza is not all that upset by them. America is fighting two wars simultaneously, he argues, a war against terror abroad and a culture war at home. We should be using the former, less important, one to fight the latter, really crucial, one. The way to do so is to encourage a split between "radical" Muslims like bin Laden, who engage in jihad, and "traditional" Muslims who are conservative in their political views and deeply devout in their religious practices; understanding the radical Muslims, even being sympathetic to some of their complaints, is the best way to win the support of the traditionalists. We should stand with conservative Muslims in protest against the publication of the Danish cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad rather than rallying to the liberal ideal of free speech. We should drop our alliance with decadent Europe and "should openly ally" with "governments that reflect Muslim interests, not ... Israeli interests." And, most important of all, conservative religious believers in America should join forces with conservative religious believers in the Islamic world to combat their common enemy: the cultural left.

The "domestic insurgents" who, in D'Souza's view, constitute the cultural left want "America to be a shining beacon of global depravity, a kind of Gomorrah on a Hill." "I intend to name the enemy at home," D'Souza proclaims, and so he does. Twenty recent members of Congress, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ted Kennedy, are on one of his lists, and 17 intellectuals (one dead, one British) are on another, with similar numbers of Hollywood figures, activists, foreign policy experts, cultural leaders and organizations. Some of those he identifies -- Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, Ward Churchill -- might not be surprised to find themselves here. Others -- the sociologist Paul Starr, the historian Sean Wilentz, the clergyman Jim Wallis, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum -- are less obvious candidates for inclusion. (One person, Thomas Frank, is mentioned on two different lists.) All these people might charge D'Souza with "McCarthyism" for supposedly exposing them, but he accepts the challenge. McCarthy, after all, was "largely right."

That much is hardly arguable. The USSR was never a threat to make us communist, but, unchallenged, the Left might have had some success in making us a secular society. Defeating Eastern Europe was quite secondary to avoiding the suicidal fate of Western Europe. Once Ronald Reagan ended the liberal epoch at home the far enemy fall quite quickly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Rice: Olmert, Abbas agree to informal talks on Palestinian state (Aluf Benn, 1/21/07, Haaretz)

At the end of her Middle East tour, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) agreed to "informal talks" about the nature of a future Palestinian state.

In a conversation with U.S. reporters who traveled with her, Rice said talks in the current climate are much more likely to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement than was the case in the 2000 Camp David talks, due to political changes on both sides.

Rice also called on the sides not to stall on the first phase of the road map and to discuss the broader issues. She mentioned talks on security arrangements and the nature of the democratic institutions in the Palestinian state.

Such negotiations are always a pointless delay between parties who have already agreed. Indeed, they're counter-productive because they just exacerbate tensions between the parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Iranian cleric attacks president (Frances Harrison, 1/23/07, BBC News)

Senior Iranian dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, has attacked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over nuclear issues and the economy. [...]

The grand ayatollah complained that people kept on shouting slogans about nuclear rights, but he asked: "Don't we have other rights too?"

It was a pointed reference to concerns about diminishing freedom of speech in Iran under Mr Ahmadinejad.

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri also launched a scathing attack on the president's handling of the economy.

He said some gentlemen claimed inflation was only 13% in Iran, but everyone knew the cost of housing had risen more than 50%.

He asked why the government went on useless trips and spent money on others abroad, seemingly a reference to President Ahmadinejad's recent tour of Latin America and Iranian aid to Palestinian groups like Hamas.

The neocons would do well to note how robust the opposition is in a country they believe totalitarian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Libya to lay off 400,000 workers (Aljazeera, 1/21/07)

The reforms aim to ease budget pressures and stimulate the private sector, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi told the General People's Congress, the national parliament, on Saturday. [...]

Mahmoudi added that he wanted to improve health and education and encourage the private sector to make manufactured goods of sufficient quality to compete with imports.

Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader, regularly scolds the country of 5 million for its over-reliance on oil, which is the source of almost all Libya's hard currency earnings.

Gaddafi has also said that Libyans are too dependent on foreigners and imports of consumer goods.

"The objectives of this budget are to increase Libyans' standard living by the rate of 5 percent during this year and to promote productive activities"

Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi, Libya's prime minister

He is pushing for more economic self-reliance and private sector-friendly reforms to fight an unemployment rate of at least 13 per cent.

The state-dominated economy has long been enfeebled by international sanctions, old-fashioned centralised management, a primitive banking sector, corruption and red tape.

But hopes of change have risen with the revival of diplomatic relations with Washington.

Realists will be upset about our causing such instability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Iran being hit in the pocket (Amandeep Sandhu, 1/23/07, Speaking Freely: Asia Times Online)

Oil prices have fallen 17% over the past few months, now heading toward US$50 a barrel. Surprisingly, the Saudis are not interested in stemming the price drop. Ibrahim al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, during a recent trip to India said oil prices were headed in the "right direction". A close US ally, Nigeria, has Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries chairmanship, and even though Venezuela and Iran have requested an early OPEC meeting, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf have all refused to schedule one to discuss oil prices.

This is in line with the Saudi plan laid out by Nawaf Obaid - a former special adviser to the Saudi ambassador in Washington - in the Washington Post a few months back in which Obaid outlined Saudi Arabia's course of action in the face of the growing conflict in Iraq and the probable US withdrawal from that country. The Saudis, Obaid stated, would act to lower global oil prices to weaken Iran and intervene in Iraq by supporting Sunni tribes.

The idea is to weaken Iran financially, because 85% of Iran's export income comes from oil and 40% of gasoline used in Iran is imported (even though it is the fourth-largest producer of crude oil) because of a lack of local refining capacity.

Financial-futures analyst Gary Dorsch reports that, contrary to analysis in the press that holds warm weather as the cause of falling oil prices, the real reason is that an excess of 700,000 barrels of oil is being produced by OPEC countries. Only Saudi Arabia has the spare capacity to bring market prices down.

Fortunately, the Sa'uds don't understand that oil price wars are ultimately fatal to their regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Faith and risk in the Cold War: a review of The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister by John O'Sullivan (Spengler, 1/22/07, Asia Times)

John O'Sullivan's account of the Western victory over communism should have a place in the medicine cabinet of every literate family, as an antidote to the stultifying academic drivel and the self-serving bureaucratic memoirs that may cause choking.

O'Sullivan's Cold War, spent in part advising British prime minister Margaret Thatcher (now Baroness Thatcher), was strange, even miraculous. Who could have predicted that a broken-down movie star, a grocer's daughter from the English provinces and a Polish priest would become the improbable protagonists of the great conflict of the 20th century's second half? Perhaps because their own rise to power was so implausible, bearing the burden of uncertainty came naturally to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Karol Wojtyla.

Interweaving these three improbable stories produces a narrative that is strange, even uncanny. The sense of the uncertain, even the miraculous, that O'Sullivan conveys sets his book The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister apart from many others reporting the same events. Especially convincing is the parallel that O'Sullivan draws between the faith with which pope John Paul II offered stern moral resistance to the Soviet Empire in Poland, and the faith that led Ronald Reagan to offer the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) as an alternative to the horrid doctrine of mutually assured destruction. [...]

Reagan was less the great communicator than the Great Destabilizer, subverting the principle of strategic balance that had ruled US thinking since the late 1940s.

People -- the experts in particular -- are confused by the Reformation in the Middle East because they fail to grasp that the instability we've created is intentional. Given that we've so far destabilized tribes, kings, imperialists, racialists, Applied Darwinists, and communists, you'd think they might figure out that it is no coincidence when we start toppling Islamic totalitarians and authoritarians as well.

January 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 PM


The Vietnam history you haven't heard: Before judging the Iraq war, get the facts on what really happened in the critical early years of the Vietnam War (Mark Moyar, 1/22/07, CS Monitor)

During 1963, in contrast to later years, the American press corps largely favored American involvement in Vietnam. Many also believed, however, that the South Vietnamese president had to be replaced before the war could be won. Perhaps not fully aware of cultural differences, they faulted Mr. Diem for refusing to afford dissidents - and US reporters - the same freedoms they enjoyed in peacetime America. [...]

Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow would play crucial roles in events that fomented the coup that removed Diem on Nov. 1, 1963. Their anti-Diem information, much of it from ill-informed or agenda-driven sources, gave Diem's opponents in the US government the reasons they needed to remove what they considered to be an ineffective allied government. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge accepted their reports, spurring him to incite the coup.

As good as Mr. Moyar's book is about Vietnam, it's even more useful when applied to the current war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 PM


After House's '100-hour' rush, a Senate slowdown: Senators from both parties predict that every part of the House's agenda will see changes (Gail Russell Chaddock, 1/22/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

[T]he Senate's rules virtually guarantee that things move more slowly, even though Democrats now control that chamber, too. For one, they amplify the rights of minorities, including those of a single disgruntled senator. And if 41 of the 49 Senate Republicans stand together against a bill, they can ensure that it never comes to a vote.

As a result, senators on both sides of the aisle predict that every part of the House's 100-hour agenda will see changes before it clears Congress. Even those modifications, though, may not be able to avert a presidential veto in a majority of the bills.

When you're as whipped as the Democrats, it doesn't matter if you ever pass legislation..just finishing your busy work feels like victory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 PM


With Calderón in, a new war on Mexico's mighty drug cartels: Mexico's new president is tackling some of the country's toughest problems, but what will it take to succeed? (Sara Miller Llana, 1/22/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Authorities in Operation Michoacán have arrested dozens of people, including suspected drug lords. They have seized firearms, bulletproof vests, antennas, and telephones, and destroyed more than a thousand acres of marijuana fields. The goal, says General García Ruiz, is to disrupt both the cartels' economic means and modes of communication.

This past weekend, Calderón was praised by US officials for taking key steps toward that goal with his decision to extradite four major drug traffickers - including the alleged head of the notorious Gulf cartel, Osiel Cardenas - to the US. Mexican and US officials say this will end Mr. Cardenas's ability to conduct turf wars against rivals from his cell in a maximum-security prison near Mexico City.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 PM


Whether the Pats win or not there's been a nice illustration today of why Bill Belichick is the best coach in football. While the CBS announcers drone on about how great Adam Vinateiri is, he's killing the Colts on kick-offs. Meanwhile, not only has Stephen Gostkowski made his field goals but just booted his last kick-off out of the end zone.

Of course, by going to the prevent at the end of the 1st half Belichick got the Colts offense back in the game...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Iowa poll at 2% for Tancredo: But he, Gingrich may influence GOP, pollster Zogby says (M.E. Sprengelmeyer, 1/19/07, Rocky Mountain News)

Zogby's latest telephone poll in Iowa shows former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leading the Republican field with 19 percent, followed by Arizona Sen. John McCain, 17 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of Georgia, 13 percent; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 9 percent; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 5 percent; Tancredo, 2 percent; Sen. Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, 2 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Sadr group ends political boycott (BBC, 1/21/07)

The political followers of Iraq's radical Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr, say they are ending a two-month boycott of Iraq's parliament and government.

The boycott was imposed as a protest over a planned meeting between Iraq's prime minister and President Bush.

Correspondents say the move signifies an easing of tensions among Shia groups in Iraq's government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Hands up if you've lost the plot: First, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad alienated the rest of the world with his religious extremism, nuclear ambitions and global grandstanding. Now, due to domestic failures and economic incompetence, he is doing the same to ordinary Iranians (Gethin Chamberlain, 1/21/07, Sunday Telegraph)

Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 promising to use oil money to cut the gap between rich and poor. If he has succeeded, it is only because both groups are now struggling to make ends meet.

Had he nailed the economics, his critics might have had more stomach for his political grandstanding and nuclear brinkmanship. Instead, while the Iranians are at the Americans' throats throughout the region, internal inflation and unemployment are running at 30 per cent and rents and property prices are 40 per cent higher than six months ago. Even former supporters are questioning whether turning the entire United Nations Security Council against Iran was a bright idea.

Last week, 150 parliamentarians -- just over half of Iran's 290 MPs -- took the extraordinary step of signing a letter blaming Ahmadinejad for the country's woes and accusing him of planning to squander the country's oil earnings, which account for about 80 per cent of its revenues, in next year's budget. "The government's efforts must be focused on decreasing spending and cutting its dependence on oil revenues," the MPs wrote.

It was a sure sign that what limited backing Ahmadinejad had from Iran's supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had evaporated. The hard-line conservative newspaper Jomhouri Islami, a reliable indicator of Khamenei's thinking, spelled it out. "Speak about the nuclear issue only during important national occasions, stop provoking aggressor powers like the United States and concentrate more on the daily needs of the people," it wrote.

The warning signs were already there. Last month, the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily opponent of the current incumbent, came out on top in elections to the council of experts, the body responsible for choosing Iran's supreme leader. And while Ahmadinejad's sister, Parvin, picked up a seat in local elections, other supporters of the president were routed, securing just 20 per cent of the votes. The elections were regarded as a referendum on the president's first 18 months in power.

Iranian economists say that Ahmadinejad's domestic problems stem from his devotion to the khodkafai economic model of Iranian self-sufficiency, rather than the alternative Chinese model -- favoured by Rafsanjani -- which embraces markets and international trade. "He believes the economy should be subservient to his political aims," said Amir Taheri, a prominent Iranian-born journalist and author. "He believes international trade is a bad thing because it will pollute our economy and culture."

An awful lot of folks who should know better managed to convince themselves both that he was popular and that Iran could avoid massive economic reform.

Ahmadinejad dismisses effects of UN sanctions on Iran (Nazila Fathi, January 21, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Ahmadinejad appears to be under pressure from the highest authorities in Iran to end his involvement in its nuclear program, a sign that his political capital is declining as his country comes under increasing international pressure.

Just one month after the Security Council imposed sanctions, two hard- line newspapers, including one owned by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Ahmadinejad to stay out of all matters nuclear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


"Monk": obsessing into a fifth season (Hanh Nguyen, 1/21/07, Boston Globe)

In November, viewers gained some insight into Monk's past after meeting his dad Jack (Dan Hedaya), who abandoned his son at a young age. Now, Adrian Monk reveals just how much his childhood loneliness affected him.

In the episode "Mr. Monk Makes a Friend," he laments, "I always wanted a best friend. I used to pray for it every Christmas. A best friend: That's what was missing. One friend would have made it all bearable."

At the local grocery store, Monk bumps into jolly everyman Hal Tucker (Andy Richter), and oddly enough, they hit it off. Before you know it, Monk is "hanging" with his pal Hal and even attending bloody, saliva-ridden hockey games, all in the name of friendship. [...]

They're also continually sticking him into new situations that highlight his persnickety ways. In the upcoming "Mr. Monk at Your Service," a wealthy man (Sean Astin) mistakenly hires Monk to be his butler, a job for which he finds himself remarkably well suited.

Some of his duties include setting up a new housecleaning schedule, overseeing an upscale luncheon and scrutinizing other sundry details. "Basically, I was just doing in the episode what I do at home, you know, with my own family," says the actor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Uncommon bonds: Can the glue of economic populism hold the Democrats' unlikely new majority together? The coming battle over immigration may be the test. (Drake Bennett, January 21, 2007, Boston Globe)

That freshmen Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, for example, would be members of the same party might at first glance be rather puzzling. Shuler is pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and a tax-cutter. Brown is pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and unapologetic about his support for big-government solutions to social and economic problems.

Still, on two hot-button issues-- trade and immigration --the two men sound much more similar: That is to say, they sound like economic populists. Both campaigned as staunch opponents of trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA, blaming them for costing Americans jobs and wages. And while Shuler's campaign rhetoric was sharper on immigration, both presented themselves as tougher than their Republican opponents on illegal immigration and the threat they said it posed to American workers and wages.

Among their newly elected Democratic colleagues -- a group whose views on social issues run the gamut from Shuler's to Brown's -- this skepticism about the benefits of trade and immigration is common. Freshman Democrats like Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Virginia's James Webb in the Senate and Pennsylvania's Jason Altmire, Chris Carney, and Patrick Murphy, Indiana's Joe Donnelly, and Iowa's Bruce Braley in the House ran on similar platforms. And while polls show that Iraq and corruption in Congress were the overwhelming concerns of most voters in the midterm elections, unease about the effects of globalization played a major role, especially in districts hard hit by job losses.

"The sense of populism out there among voters was palpable enough that it made a significant difference with a lot of Democrats who ran," says Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

On one level, then, the midterms might be seen as a vindication of left-liberal writers like Thomas Frank, author of the 2004 bestseller "What's the Matter with Kansas?," and politicians like Howard Dean, who have counseled the Democrats to run on economic issues such as trade and wages that appeal to the white working class more than so-called "cultural" issues like abortion and gay rights.

But as this Congress moves beyond its first 100 hours, economic populism may prove to be a less durable bond than some would hope -- and the politics of immigration, in particular, shows how that strategy may complicate the Democrats' ability to govern.

The deeper the Democrats get in bed with Labor the more opportunity for Republicans to peel off Latinos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Plumbing, then political science: Mass. vocational schools steering students to college (Maria Sacchetti, January 21, 2007, Boston Globe)

More vocational schools across Massachusetts are preparing their students for colleges, some as elite as MIT, shedding a long-held reputation for steering students only toward blue-collar professions.

Nearly half of the state's vocational students now enroll in a two- or four-year college after graduation, more than double the rate in 1990, according to the state. Some schools are urging more students to take the SAT and offering college-level advanced placement classes -- many in the last five years. Most schools, prodded by the state, are finding ways to teach high-level math and English in traditional shop classes.

When they ought to be encouraging more of the college bound kids into vocations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


The Cause Bush Did Justice To (Jan Crawford Greenburg, January 21, 2007, Washington Post)

Bush's decision to nominate Miers was driven by his determination not to repeat his father's mistake with Souter. Of all the possible nominees, he knew Miers best, and he knew she would not change. She had been involved in the selection of Roberts; in fact, Miers had originally worried that he wasn't conservative enough. Bush was confident that she wouldn't disappoint.

Coincidentally, the opposition of conservative groups to Miers also was driven by the Souter nomination. To conservatives, Miers was an unproven and untested nominee, just as Souter had been. How could she stand up to the liberal intellectual heavyweights on the court, such as Stephen G. Breyer? Who could say she wouldn't change once Bush left town and headed back to Texas? Conservatives would not be fooled again.

Alito was waiting in the wings when Miers's nomination fell apart. Unlike Reagan, who appointed the more liberal Kennedy to the court in 1987 after his nominations of Robert H. Bork and Douglas H. Ginsburg went down in flames, Bush had no problem seeking another solid conservative. With a Republican majority in the Senate, he did not compromise. Alito was considered a solid conservative, though not combative like others, and he had hired liberal law clerks. Bush hoped that Alito, like Roberts, would prove effective in building coalitions.

The call from the White House surprised Alito. Living in New Jersey, he had been insulated from the negative Washington buzz over Miers. He had absorbed the disappointment about being passed over and had come to terms with remaining a federal appellate judge. Alito didn't know that he had been Miers's choice for the O'Connor vacancy after Roberts got the nod for the top spot. She liked his quiet confidence; he didn't seem to be pushing too hard for the job. When Alito was nominated just four days after Miers dropped out, she greeted him warmly in the White House, moments before Bush introduced him as his next nominee. [...]

[N]o historian will be able to write that Bush failed to follow through on his campaign promises regarding the Supreme Court. His nominations of Roberts and Alito -- two of the most conservative justices to reach the court in many years -- will be felt for decades to come.

Bush fulfilled his early vow to appoint justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. Together with those two justices, Alito and Roberts make the Roberts Court the most conservative Supreme Court in half a century. Roberts and Alito will not be as forceful as Scalia and Thomas on the bench or in their opinions; they are unlikely to push moderates away with their strong views. For that reason, they may be more effective than Scalia or Thomas in finally removing the court from the contentious social issues that conservatives think belong in legislatures. With the court now poised to recede from some of those divisive cultural debates, George W. Bush and his lawyers at the White House and Justice Department will continue shaping the direction of U.S. law and culture long after many of them are dead.

Alito is obviously not as trustworthy as Miers, from a personal perspective, but is still an excellent choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Buchholz on fast track (Maureen Mullen, January 20, 2007, Boston Herald)

Despite having just 39 professional games under his belt, the accolades are beginning to roll in for Clay Buchholz.

The 22-year-old lefty was named the Red Sox [team stats] minor league pitcher of the year for 2006 and recently was ranked by Baseball America as the organization's No. 2 prospect as well as its pitcher with the best curveball. [...]

"I just want to go into spring training ready," said Buchholz, who compiled a record of 11-4, with a 2.42 ERA between Single-A Greenville and Wilmington. Buchholz led all Sox minor leaguers with 140 strikeouts, an average of 10.6 per nine innings, while holding opponents to a .208 average. [...]

Buchholz, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound Texan drafted with the team's third pick in 2005 out of Angelina Junior College in Lufkin, Texas, possesses a mid-90s fastball backed by a sharp 12-to-6 curveball, slider and changeup.

The Sox would like to see him throw that fastball for first-pitch strikes more consistently.

Kind of odd, for those of us who'd like nothing better than to throw 95mph, that youngsters so often have to be taught to throw their fastball more at the major league level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


The Eastern league calls: Nitkowski takes his game to Japan (Associated Press, January 21, 2007)

Packing suitcases is nothing new for the 33-year-old [C.J.] Nitkowski, who grew up in Suffern, N.Y., and went to college at St. John's. He has pitched for 11 major league organizations, including both New York teams, Cincinnati, Detroit, Texas and Atlanta - and has almost every cap and locker nameplate to prove it. [...]

The No. 9 overall pick in the 1994 draft, Nitkowski has an 18-32 career record and 5.37 ERA mostly as a middle reliever.

He hasn't pitched in the bigs since 2005 and his career hit a lull when he spent all of last season with Pittsburgh's Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis.

"Honestly, physically, I feel like I'm still on top of my game," he said. "I know a lot of older guys probably say that, but there's no doubt in my mind that I've been the best I've ever been these last two years. When you struggle for a while, it's hard to get opportunities. You just have to fight your way through it."

With no set Major League Baseball deal and the possibility of spending another year riding buses in the minors, Nitkowski weighed his options. He got a call in September from former major leaguer Lee Tunnell, one of his previous coaches.

Tunnell now works for the Hawks and asked Nitkowski if he was interested in coming to Japan.

After turning down an opportunity to play there in 2003, he and his wife thought the idea of going to the Far East was, well, far out.

"The fact that it's guaranteed money, it's a no-brainer," he said. "I had to take it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


It's time to talk 'smack': Pats' best bet is to turn this championship bout into a slugfest (Michael Felger, 1/21/07, Boston Herald)

[A] funny thing happened the last two times out against the Colts in the regular season: The Pats never got the chance to flex their muscles. The corners played off the line, the big hits at the second level never came and Harrison and Wayne had a field day. Everyone got off the ball cleanly and Manning looked like a different guy as a result. The Colts won the games by a combined score of 67-41.

Was it all because of the "point of emphasis" the league put on contact in the secondary after the Pats battered the Colts in the 2003 AFC title game? Colts president Bill Polian and coach Tony Dungy, each of whom was a member of the league's competition committee at the time, complained bitterly after that game and the league's powerbrokers listened. Did their whines hit home or was it just a coincidence that the Patriots' power play disappeared soon after? [...]

Polian was back at it last week, kvetching to the Colts' Web site about the illegal contact his receivers were subjected to in the divisional round in Baltimore. Dungy didn't exactly shy away from the topic, either.

"I'm a little concerned that we don't turn into a third period or overtime of NHL hockey games," Dungy said, referring to the clutch-and-grab tactics often seen on the ice. "Hopefully, what was a penalty in the first game of the regular season is still a penalty in the playoffs. That's all you can hope for."

In the Colts' 27-20 win over the Pats at Gillette Nov. 5, the Pats were flagged for six pass interference/illegal contact penalties, including one of offense. Clearly, the officials that day were more interested in a game resembling flag football than real football. Today's referee is veteran Bill Carollo, whose regular-season crew threw the fourth-fewest flags.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


The right slice: We rate the best and worst frozen pizzas (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/21/07)

Over two hours on a recent afternoon, 14 members of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette features department staff ate 13 pizzas, trying out thin crusts, self-rising crusts and plain cheese pizzas before rising in rebellion against the final category -- supreme pizza -- and declaring they could eat no more. Until then, each was asked to grade each pizza's texture and flavor on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 5 (awesome), for a maximum score of 10.

The results? A dark horse, the flatbread-style California Pizza Kitchen Crispy Thin Crust White pizza, was the surprise winner. Even next to saucier, more mainstream competitors such as DiGiorno, Freschetta and Red Baron, the pizza's fresh taste, multiple cheeses, snappy texture and zesty garlic flavor wowed nine of the 11 participants who completed their survey forms, winning their votes for best pizza overall with 87 out of a possible 110 points.

That pizza also won its thin crust pizza category, of course, while the winner of the self-rising category, DiGiorno Rising Crust Sausage and Pepperoni (76 points), came in second place overall for its good mixture of crispiness and chewiness in the crust, spicy sauce and meaty chunks of sausage.

And while participants were underwhelmed by DiGiorno's Thin Crispy Crust Four Cheese pizza -- "crust lumpy, sauce OK" and "pretty cheesy" were among the most flattering comments -- and awarded it just 57 points, it was judged to be the best of a mediocre lot. (Palate fatigue and rising indigestion might have contributed to the relatively low scores given to all the cheese pizzas.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


Don't you know your left from your right?: As a child of politicised parents, Observer columnist Nick Cohen followed in their tradition and became a trenchant voice on the liberal-left in the 1980s and 90s. But the Iraq War changed all that and forced him to rethink. In an exclusive extract from his incendiary new book about the failings of the modern left, he argues that anti-Americanism has left it blind to the evils of militant Islam. (Nick Cohen, January 21, 2007, Observer)

I still remember the sense of dislocation I felt at 13 when my English teacher told me he voted Conservative. As his announcement coincided with the shock of puberty, I was unlikely to forget it. I must have understood at some level that real Conservatives lived in Britain - there was a Conservative government at the time, so logic dictated that there had to be Conservative voters. But it was incredible to learn that my teacher was one of them, when he gave every appearance of being a thoughtful and kind man. To be good you had to be on the left.

Looking back, I can see that I got that comforting belief from my parents, but it was reinforced by the experience of living through the Thatcher administration, which appeared to reaffirm the left's monopoly of goodness. The embrace first of monetarism and then of the European exchange-rate mechanism produced two recessions, which Conservatives viewed with apparent composure because the lives wrecked by mass unemployment and business failure had the beneficial side-effect of destroying trade-union power. Even when the left of the Eighties was clearly in the wrong - as it was over unilateral nuclear disarmament - it was still good. It may have been dunderheaded to believe that dictators would abandon their weapons systems if Britain abandoned hers, but it wasn't wicked.

Yet for all the loathing of Conservatives I felt, I didn't have to look at modern history to know that it was a fallacy to believe in the superior virtue of the left: my family told me that. My parents joined the Communist Party, but left it in their twenties. My father encouraged me to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn's exposés of the Soviet Union and argue about them at the dinner table. He knew how bad the left could get, but this knowledge did not stop him from remaining very left-wing. He would never have entertained the notion that communism was as bad as fascism. In this, he was typical. Anti-communism was never accepted as the moral equivalent of anti-fascism, not only by my parents but also by the overwhelming majority of liberal-minded people. The left was still morally superior. Even when millions were murdered and tens of millions were enslaved and humiliated, the 'root cause' of crimes beyond the human imagination was the perversion of noble socialist ideals.

Every now and again, someone asks why the double standard persists to this day. The philosophical answer is that communism did not feel as bad as fascism because in theory, if not in practice, communism was an ideology that offered universal emancipation, while only a German could benefit from Hitler's Nazism and only an Italian could prosper under Mussolini's fascism. I'm more impressed by the matter-of-fact consideration that fascist forces took over or menaced Western countries in the Thirties and Forties, and although there was a communist menace in the Cold War, the Cold War never turned hot and Western Europe and North America never experienced the totalitarianism of the left.

There were many moments in the Thirties when fascists and communists co-operated - the German communists concentrated on attacking the Weimar Republic's democrats and gave Hitler a free run, and Stalin's Soviet Union astonished the world by signing a pact with Nazi Germany in 1939. But after Hitler broke the terms of the alliance in the most spectacular fashion by invading the Soviet Union in 1941, you could rely on nearly all of the left - from nice liberals through to the most compromised Marxists - to oppose the tyrannies of the far right. Consistent anti-fascism added enormously to the left's prestige in the second half of the 20th century. A halo of moral superiority hovered over it because if there was a campaign against racism, religious fanaticism or neo-Nazism, the odds were that its leaders would be men and women of the left. For all the atrocities and follies committed in its name, the left possessed this virtue: it would stand firm against fascism. After the Iraq war, I don't believe that a fair-minded outsider could say it does that any more.

Folks who supported the North Vietnamese, Castro, etc. didn't just now stumble from the path of the righteous in the Middle East.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Arctic magic: It is Europe's oldest known music, with its own bloody history. Now the 'yoik' of the Sami people is being revived - with a hip new twist, reports Chris Campion from the Arctic Circle (Chris Campion, January 21, 2007, Observer)

Nilas Porsanger, a small, sprightly 83-year-old wearing a flat cap and large square-rimmed glasses, kneels in front of a campfire. Sound comes out of him in a keening burr, as he rocks forward slightly; he appears to fan the flames with his breath.

His 'song' comprises a short syllabic phrase, repeated but never quite the same. Other voices slowly join in, more it seems in cheery discord than perfect harmony, each tracing the melody to their own subtle rhythm, together producing a hypnotic modulating effect.

This is the yoik - the song of the Sami, the aboriginal people of arctic Scandinavia - and the oldest extant music tradition in Europe, dating back more than 2,000 years. The yoik has been alternately banned and suppressed for centuries.

It is a sound now being revived by a group called Adjagas, itself a Sami word that denotes the mental state between sleeping and waking. Lawra Somby and Sara Marielle Gaup, two Sami in their twenties with a proud history to uphold, formed Adjagas in 1994.

They hit on the idea of starting a festival called Juiogan Reimat ('a Yoik gathering') to bring together the best yoikers in Samiland as a celebration of the music, although the event seems to be largely a family affair. Lawra's father Ande, a renowned yoiker himself, acts as MC. Sara and her family - mother, father and younger brother - have taken care of the logistics for preparing and operating the camp. Her father, Ante Mikkel Gaup, is also a yoiker of note.

With just seven performers, an audience of around 20 and no stage to speak of this could be the most intimate music festival in the world. But it's no walk in the park to get there, requiring a three-hour drive from the nearest city (Tromso in Norway) and a 20-minute cruise across Kilpisjarvi, the lake that straddles the border between Sweden and Finland, to get anywhere near the site.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Hillary runs for the White House as 'new Thatcher' (Sarah Baxter, 1/21/07, Sunday Times of London)

HILLARY CLINTON is to be presented as America's Margaret Thatcher as she tries to become the first woman to win the White House. As she entered the 2008 presidential race yesterday, a senior adviser said that her campaign would emphasise security, defence and personal strengths reminiscent of the Iron Lady.

"Their policies are totally different but they are both perceived as very tough," said Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign chairman.

Stupid line: if she wants to win -- more importantly if she wants to be a good president -- her policies need to be the same too, just like her husband's, VBlair's, and W's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Testing the role of trust and values in financial decisions (Evelyn Iritani, 1/21/07, LA Times)

Paul Zak scanned the UCLA computer lab where 18 young men were tapping away at keyboards.

Some of the students had been administered a dose of testosterone the evening before. Now, Zak was monitoring their behavior as they played an experimental game designed to measure trust. He was curious about how these hormonally fueled "alpha" males would behave. Would they be more selfish or generous? Helpful or aggressive?

The Claremont Graduate University researcher was exploring new avenues not in psychology or behavioral studies but in economics. Along with like-minded scholars, he is trying to prove that good behavior, rather than self-interest, "is really what makes the economy work."

In exploring the morality of economic behavior, they aim to put a more positive spin on Western-style capitalism. They want to demonstrate, in a post-Enron world, that markets are driven not by greed but by positive behavior. [...]

With their findings, they hope to persuade political and business leaders to rethink the way they manage corporations and the marketplace. One goal is to reduce government regulation, which they believe has led people to rely too heavily on legal penalties and has discouraged them from adhering to their own sense of right and wrong.

"Free enterprise has been badly described and badly sold," said Monika Gruter Cheney, executive director of the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research. The think tank in Portola Valley, Calif., is sponsoring a project dubbed Free Enterprise: Values in Action, which supports research by Zak and others. [...]

Zak, director of Claremont's Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, believes humans are hard-wired to trust and cooperate. By linking brain chemistry to financial decision making, he believes he can prove it.

In earlier research, Zak found that people who inhaled oxytocin, a brain chemical associated with breastfeeding and sex, were twice as likely to risk their money with strangers while participating in a trust game. In his UCLA experiment, he is trying to determine what role testosterone might play in driving people's financial decisions.

The night before the UCLA research was conducted in the fall of 2005, half of the male participants received a patch containing the male sex hormone. The others were given a placebo.

The next morning, after having their blood drawn, the students were herded into a computer room and assigned to machines.

The young men then were matched anonymously with partners and given $10 to spend. Half of them were told they could send any of their money, or nothing, to their partners. Whatever they sent would be tripled, and then their partners could send any amount back.

In previous studies, three-quarters of the people gave up some of their money, and an even higher proportion of the recipients sent some of their earnings back, Zak said. His explanation: People generally believe that when someone does something nice to them, they should reciprocate.

Although the testosterone study has not been completed, Zak said, the early findings might surprise some people. The alpha males, those who were given a dose of the hormone, were found to be more generous.

There are two truisms involved here: (1) morality is male; and, (2) the more law you have, the less morality.

January 20, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 PM


Bush to Urge New Tax Plan for Health Care Coverage (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and ROBERT PEAR, 1/21/07, NY Times)

White House officials say Mr. Bush has decided to forgo the traditional formula for the State of the Union -- a laundry list of ideas, many of them dead on arrival -- in favor of a more thematic speech that will concentrate on a few issues, like health care, immigration and energy, on which he hopes to make gains with the new Democrat-controlled Congress.

The basic concept is that employer-provided health insurance, now treated as a fringe benefit exempt from taxation, would no longer be entirely tax-free. Workers could be taxed if their coverage exceeded limits set by the government. But the government would also offer a new tax deduction for people buying health insurance on their own.

"I will propose a tax reform designed to help make basic private insurance more affordable," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday, "whether you get it through your job or on your own." He did not offer specifics, but an administration official provided details of the plan. [...]

White House officials say the health tax plan would neither increase spending nor reduce tax revenues. Supporters say it would expand coverage to some of the 47 million uninsured. But critics say it would, in effect, tax people with insurance to provide coverage to those without it.

That would amount to a tectonic shift in the way people get and pay for their health coverage, and historically it has been all but impossible to win Congressional approval for such changes. When President Ronald Reagan made a proposal similar to Mr. Bush's in 1986, it died in Congress, with Mr. Rangel helping to lead the opposition. [...]

In his radio address on Saturday, Mr. Bush described his proposal as a way to "treat health insurance more like home ownership," giving people tax deductions for their health insurance in much the same way as they get tax deductions for home mortgage interest. He said the current system "unwisely encourages workers to choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans," driving up the overall cost of coverage and care. [...]

In preparation for the president's speech, the White House has been shopping the idea around Capitol Hill, trying to sound out lawmakers like Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon.

The administration official said Mr. Wyden's plan contained tax provisions similar to the one proposed by the president.

To maximize the value of HSAs to society you need to force folks into them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


A Chance For Unity On Iraq (David S. Broder, January 21, 2007, Washington Post)

When Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander in Iraq, goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, lawmakers are likely to hear a very different presentation from what they usually get from the Pentagon.

Rather than ask the senators to grant him free rein to operate as he wishes, Petraeus is ready, I am told, to invite and encourage the closest kind of congressional scrutiny of what is happening in Iraq.

The suggestion made here last week that Congress require frequent briefings from Petraeus and the embassy in Baghdad, to ensure that Maliki is keeping his promises to supply troops and avoid political interference, is one that Petraeus is prepared to endorse.

Because Iraqi politicians shouldn't determine the future of Iraq, American pols should?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM

PLAY BALL ALREADY (via Rob Swadosh):

Round One (Nate Silver, January 19, 2007, Baseball Prospectus)

Just a very preliminary attempt to spit out team projections for the Yankees and the Red Sox based on the PECOTAs.

Yankees 918 774
Red Sox 913 772

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


Palestinian president in Damascus for crucial talks with Hamas chief (albawaba.com, 20-01-2007)

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was in Damascus for talks with Syrian leaders and Palestinian factions aimed at ending a battle for power with the rival Hamas party. Abbas was greeted at the Damscus airport by Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and then went to the presidential palace for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Abbas could also hold a meeting with the exiled political chief of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal. Asked about a possible meeting with Meshaal, Abbas told reporters on his arrival in Damascus Saturday: "All the parties are present here. Those who want to meet will be welcome to."

The front is in Damascus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


How America Met the Mideast: The U.S. encounter with the Middle East began centuries before the Iraq War, propelled by idealists eager to tranform the region in their own image. : a review of POWER, FAITH, AND FANTASY: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present by Michael B. Oren (Robert Kagan, January 21, 2007, Washington Post)

As a historian, Oren is more storyteller than grand theorist, so as a study of the complex and contradictory motives of American behavior, his book is a bit thin. Nevertheless, three powerful themes emerge from his tales: that from the Founders onward, Americans have repeatedly tried to transform Arab and Muslim peoples -- politically, spiritually and economically -- to conform to liberal and Christian principles; that since the days of the Puritans, many Americans have been obsessed with the idea of "restoring" Palestine to the Jews; and that from the colonial era to the present, many (and perhaps most) Americans have regarded Islam as a barbaric, violent and despotic religion. Whether these purposes and perceptions have been intelligent or misguided, based on reality or fantasy, Oren shows that they have been the dominant features of our foreign policy tradition in the Middle East.

Oren demonstrates that suspicion and hostility toward Islam are almost as old as the nation. John Quincy Adams called it a "fanatic and fraudulent" religion, founded on "the natural hatred of Mussulmen towards the infidel."

This was partly religious prejudice, of course, but that prejudice was reinforced by unfortunate experience. In the perilous early years of the republic, the Muslim Barbary powers preyed on American shipping and captured, tortured and enslaved hundreds of innocent men and women. When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson implored the pasha of Tripoli to stop, Oren recounts, the pasha's emissary insisted that the Koran made it the "right and duty" of Muslims "to make war upon" whichever infidels "they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners." George Washington raged, "Would to Heaven we had a navy to reform those enemies to mankind, or crush them into non-existence." And Congress did create a navy in the 1790s primarily to crush the Barbary powers and protect American traders and missionaries. President Jefferson -- so often mislabeled as an idealist, pacifist and isolationist -- eagerly launched the war and ordered the permanent stationing of U.S. naval forces thousands of miles from the nation's shores.

As Oren relates, the modest number of 19th-century Americans who lived in the Middle East largely considered Islam -- in the words of a former Confederate officer hired to improve the Egyptian army -- a religion "born of the sword," one that was "opposed to enlightenment" and crushed "all independence of thought and action." They found the oppression of Muslim women appalling. Being Americans, they thought the best antidote was a thorough transformation of culture and society. Protestant missionaries utterly failed to convert Muslims to Christianity, but they did work to spread the "gospel of Americanism": liberalism, technology and democracy.

Over the next century, American politicians and policymakers repeatedly imagined they could liberalize a people who seemed to them bursting with "democratic aspirations," as one New Dealer put it in 1943.

Yet, at the crucial moment -- after we'd won WWI for the Allies -- Woodrow Wilson chose to push his pet transnational project at the cost of putting the Middle East back under the colonial thumb. An unforgivable and un-American blunder they and we are still paying for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM



[I]t's important to keep in mind that the Chinese carefully timed the launch of their kinetic kill vehicle so that it would intercept the known position and orbit of the satellite it was aiming for--intercepting a target in an arbitrary orbit is a much more difficult proposition.

The Chinese targeted a low-orbiting, obsolete, weather satellite, where the kinetic kill energy was very great. However, the really strategic satellites fly much higher--the navigation network is 20 000 km up, and the communications constellations are in a geosynchronous arc at 40 000 km. At geosynchronous altitudes, the orbital velocities are so much lower that the impact energy would be only about a tenth as high as in last week's test.

Distance introduces a second burden: terminal navigation. When a target satellite is close to the Earth, ground radars can track it and relay final course corrections, both to the rocket during its ascent and to the kill vehicle, once it has been deployed on its hoped-for collision course. Radar operates at an inverse fourth power law, which means that for the Chinese system to aim many times farther than low Earth orbit--as it would have to do to track objects geosynchronously--the demands on a ground-based radar would be simply impossible. The engineering challenges don't need much description for this audience.

The Chinese weapons system has so far demonstrated only that it can pose a threat to low-orbiting objects, of which the most important are reconnaissance satellites. But these satellites have backup. [...]

Objects can hide in space, to a greater or lesser degree, by lowering their radar reflectivity or optical brightness along the attacker's expected line of approach. This makes terminal navigation and guidance more difficult. That effect can be augmented with decoys, which can either be deployed when an attack is detected or can be sent, as a matter of routine, to fly in formation with the high-value target. A decoy doesn't have to be a throwaway subsatellite, it could be an inflatable spar a few tens of meters long with a pseudo-target at the end to attract the on-rushing kinetic kill vehicle away from the real spacecraft. Such a decoy could be deployed in a matter of minutes, and even re-stowed afterwards for future re-use.

Even the simple suspicion that a target may have such a capability would discourage a potential attacker. And the realization that a target might also be able to detect and characterize even a failed attack would be an additional deterrent. There would be no way for the attacking country to get away with attempted mayhem.

These engineering angles to China's ground-launched kinetic kill system suggest to me that the hardware's intended target isn't up in space at all.

It's media hysteria?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


When Stephen met Bill ... (Matea Gold, January 20, 2007, LA Times)

"You're going to be in character here; I'm not going to be able to get one straight answer outta ya, am I?" O'Reilly asked.

"Bill, I promise you, I'm going to mean everything I say," Colbert responded obsequiously.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Conservative core seeks a contender: The right is despairing over its picks so far for a 2008 presidential run. (Mark Z. Barabak, January 20, 2007, LA Times)

For decades, the conservative movement has been the animating force of the Republican Party, providing the ideas and energy that catapulted candidates to the GOP presidential nomination and, often, the White House.

But as conservatives survey the 2008 field -- and, particularly, the early Republican front-runners -- many are despairing. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani have all broken with conservative orthodoxy at one time or another. Many activists have neither forgiven nor forgotten. [...]

"Each of these guys is jostling each other, McCain, Giuliani and Romney, to be dead center of where Reagan was. No one is competing to run as the Nixon Republican, or the Rockefeller Republican," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, which asks every presidential candidate to sign a pledge vowing never to raise taxes. So far, Brownback and Romney have taken the pledge, the latter after declining to do so while Massachusetts governor.

"Strong national defense, individual freedom and responsibility, traditional moral values -- the ideas are still there," said Lee Edwards, a conservative scholar at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. [...]

McCain, whose 2000 rivalry with President Bush lingered long after, has become one of the president's strongest supporters in Iraq and eased his opposition to tax cuts he once deemed excessive. He has signed up conservative activists in Iowa and South Carolina, states he lost in 2000 and, most conspicuously, reached out to religious conservatives -- including the Rev. Jerry Falwell -- whom he once dubbed "agents of intolerance."

Romney, who said he favored abortion rights when he ran for governor in 2002, now describes himself as "firmly pro-life." After once casting himself as a strong supporter of gay rights, Romney has become an outspoken foe of same-sex marriage.

Giuliani, who has favored legal abortion, gay rights and certain gun controls, is expected to stress leadership over ideology if he decides to run.

But many activists remain to be convinced. McCain's support for a friendlier immigration policy continues to rankle -- the National Review dubbed him "Amnesty John" -- as does the campaign-finance law he championed. Earlier this week, Christian leader James Dobson said he would not support McCain under any circumstance. The senator, who has a solid anti-abortion record but opposes a federal ban on same-sex marriage, said he would like to talk.

Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, suggested that conservatives would eventually support the GOP nominee. "Social conservatives understand in their bones, in their genetic structure, that what's at stake in [2008] is probably the Supreme Court for the rest of their lifetimes," Land said. "I don't see social conservatives sitting this one out."

John McCain isn't just a natural heir to Ronald Reagan but was handpicked by the Gipper, who even worked to get him released from North Vietnam. What confuses the wahoo Right is that the Reagan mantle doesn't cover their ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Martinez Takes Over as Leader of RNC: Florida Senator Aims to Reach Out To Minority Voters (Shailagh Murray, 1/20/07, Washington Post)

A small group of conservative RNC members had announced their opposition to the first-term senator because they viewed him as overly tolerant of illegal immigration.

But to many Republicans, Martinez represented a fresh face for the party, a first-generation American whose background and congenial personality could widen GOP appeal to vast new voter groups. Martinez called for greater tolerance for all groups during his inaugural address yesterday.

"To be the party of the future means that we also have to be a party that opens the door wide open so that all Americans feel welcome," he said.

Martinez said that as a Cuban American, "it was easy for me to understand that the Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan, was a party for us," because the two sides shared a strong opposition to the communist rule of Fidel Castro.

"I want to make sure that we take that message to the broader Hispanic community, to the African American community, and to all communities that may never have believed that Republican ideals spoke to them," Martinez said.

Your minute is over, men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Labor Groups, Business Seek Immigration Law Overhaul (Krissah Williams, 1/20/07, Washington Post)

Pressure has been building on employers and labor as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency becomes more active. Last month, its agents raided Swift & Co., a participant in a government pilot program that runs Social Security numbers through a federal database. The raids sent hundreds of undocumented immigrants to detention centers and jolted business groups.

"It proved that the current system doesn't work . . . and is failing everybody," R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the chamber, said during a conference call Thursday.

Business groups paint a dire picture of a U.S. economy without the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. The National Restaurant Association says jobs in food service are growing one and a half times as fast as the U.S. labor force. And the construction industry needs 250,000 new workers per year to replace its aging workforce, according to Associated Builders and Contractors.

Proponents of a plan to legalize undocumented workers say this year offers an important window. President Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress have called immigration reform a priority, and the coalition considers a Senate bill last year that provided a path to citizenship for undocumented workers a blueprint for the policy. That legislation stalled in November when the House and Senate could not hash out a compromise.

The table is now set, said Cecilia Muñoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights group. "Over the course of the last year the policy ideas have really come into focus."

To hold the marriage of business and labor and right- and left-leaning politics together, the coalition's ideal bill would include both a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here and more visas for temporary workers, said Douglas G. Rivlin, spokesman for the National Immigration Forum, which is a member of the alliance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


High Court To Revisit Campaign Finance Law: New Lineup on Bench Will Consider Ad Limits (Robert Barnes and Matthew Mosk, January 20, 2007, Washington Post)

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to revisit the landmark 2002 legislation overhauling the nation's campaign finance laws, moving to settle the role of campaign spending by corporations, unions and special interest groups in time for the 2008 presidential primaries.

It would be the first time the court has reviewed the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 since justices ruled 5 to 4 three years ago that the act was constitutional. Since then, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was in the majority, has been replaced by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. [...]

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, joined by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David B. Sentelle, said the proper way to evaluate the ads was to look simply at what they said. They found that the ads neither endorsed nor opposed Feingold, did not mention his upcoming election and did not tell listeners whether the senator had been a part of the filibuster. They agreed with the antiabortion group's contention that the ads were "textbook" examples of issue ads.

But dissenting District Judge Richard W. Roberts said courts must view the ads in context. In this case, Wisconsin Right to Life was a longtime opponent of Feingold and had made his defeat one of its priorities. Although the language in the ad was neutral, it referred listeners to a Web site that contained highly critical reviews of the senator.

And Roberts said there could be credence to the defendants' argument that the ads were a "sham" designed to test McCain-Feingold rather than to argue for a point of view. There were no filibusters at the time that the group wanted to run the ads, and the group could have paid for them through a political action committee, upon which the restrictions would not apply.

Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the Supreme Court challenge is "going to be a prime opportunity for opponents of campaign regulations to make some headway in watering down the standards."

He said the decision by the two-member majority of the lower court that context should not be considered in evaluating the ads is "opposite what the majority of the Supreme Court found" when upholding McCain-Feingold three years ago.

What could make the outcome different this time, he said, is "simply the replacement of Justice O'Connor with Justice Alito."

Justice Alito is a safe enough vote, but here's where Justice Kennedy could go wobbly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Leading Senator Assails President Over Iran Stance (MARK MAZZETTI, 1/20/07, NY Times)

The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday sharply criticized the Bush administration's increasingly combative stance toward Iran, saying that White House efforts to portray it as a growing threat are uncomfortably reminiscent of rhetoric about Iraq before the American invasion of 2003.

He's the President. They're a foe. It's his job to manufacture a pretext for war. Memo to Iranian Navy: avoid the Gulf of Tonkin....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Doherty from Mamas and Papas dies (BBC, 1/20/07)

Canadian singer Denny Doherty, from the 1960s folk-pop group the Mamas and the Papas, has died at the age of 66.

He died at his home near Toronto after a short illness, relatives said.

The music is excruciating, but he redeemed himself as the Harbourmaster on the great show, Theodore Tugboat.

Denny Doherty, 66, Mamas and Papas Singer, Dies (BEN SISARIO, 1/20/07, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Barack Obama Needs to Fill in the Blanks (John Nichols, January 19, 2007, AlterNet)

Barack Obama surprised even some seasoned political observers when he coupled the announcement that he had formed an exploratory 2008 presidential campaign committee with the news that he is all but certain to formally enter the race for the Democratic nomination on February 10. But there was nothing surprising about the message he presented.

It was more of the same vaguely satisfying criticism of "the smallness of our politics" and the way government is "gummed up by money and influence," along with flowery promises to "tackle the big problems that demand solutions" and help us "come together around our common interests and concerns as Americans."

To his credit, Obama recognized in his announcement many of the challenges that face the United States: skyrocketing healthcare bills, lost pensions, the high price of a college education, the need to break our dependence on foreign oil and, above all, the fact that "we're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged."

But, as has been the case since speculation heated up about a run by the freshman senator from Illinois, Obama was long on personal appeal and short on policy specifics.

The seriousness with which he approaches the task of defining his politics between now and February 10 will go a long way toward deciding whether Obama wins his party's nomination. If he's going to secure the critical support of grassroots Democrats in key early caucus and primary states, these coming weeks must be less about celebrity and more about policy.

The premise of the Obama candidacy has to be remaining amorphous enough that voters will read into him what they hope to find. If he defines himself as far to the Right as winning the presidency would require he can't win the nomination. If he defines himself as far Left as the Party requires, he can't win the general. He needs to remain a pretty cipher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Behold the Rise of Energy-Based Fascism (Michael T. Klare, 1/20/07, Tomdispatch.com)

[T]he world actually faces a far more substantial and universal threat, which might be dubbed: Energo-fascism, or the militarization of the global struggle over ever-diminishing supplies of energy.

Unlike Islamo-fascism, Energo-fascism will, in time, affect nearly every person on the planet. Either we will be compelled to participate in or finance foreign wars to secure vital supplies of energy, such as the current conflict in Iraq; or we will be at the mercy of those who control the energy spigot, like the customers of the Russian energy juggernaut Gazprom in Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia; or sooner or later we may find ourselves under constant state surveillance, lest we consume more than our allotted share of fuel or engage in illicit energy transactions. This is not simply some future dystopian nightmare, but a potentially all-encompassing reality whose basic features, largely unnoticed, are developing today.

It's amazing how little you grasp you have to have of economics in order to be a liberal. Particularly amusing here is not just that we'd still be using gasoline years ad infinitum after shortages became that acute but that the government, rather than the price itself, would stop you from consuming mass quantities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Trash talking on mute: Colts players know better (Steve Buckley, January 20, 2007, Boston Herald)

Tomorrow's AFC Championship Game between the Patriots [team stats] and Colts has turned into the Decorum Bowl, with players from both teams competing to see who can make the nicest comment about the opposition.

And the champion of that little contest is the embattled Colts, who have apparently learned from the mistakes the dead-and-buried San Diego Chargers made last week.[...]

In fact, the Colts are so respectful of the Pats that even simple slips of the tongue were pulled back and corrected. Here's a classic: Free safety Bob Sanders, after pointing out that Brady is 12-2 in the postseason, was told that the Pats quarterback actually is 12-1. When Sanders was asked if he was including a loss tomorrow, he quickly jumped in and said, "No . . . no, really. I ain't gonna jump that far ahead."

"A life lived in fear is a life half lived."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Too much Globe-trotting?: 'Editor' Welch calls for more local coverage (Jesse Noyes, January 20, 2007, Boston Herald)

Jack Welch gave a glimpse yesterday of what life might be like at The Boston Globe under his ownership.

During a segment titled "Why Jack Wants The Globe" on the CNBC show "Squawk Box," the former General Electric Co. chairman said local newspapers should get out of Iraq and focus on news closer to home.

"You've got to make the newsroom not control the world," Welch told the cable show's host Carl Quintanilla and Michael Wolff, a media critic for Vanity Fair magazine.

"I'm not sure local papers need to cover Iraq, need to cover global events," Welch said. "They can be real local papers. And franchise, purchase from people very willing to sell to you their wire services that will give you coverage."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Sticker shock for state care plan: Average premium of $380 outlined (Alice Dembner, January 20, 2007, Boston Globe)

A state panel yesterday outlined for the first time the minimum requirements for coverage under the state's new health insurance law, a package estimated to cost $380 a month on average for an individual, more than $100 above recent estimates.

Panel members struggled yesterday to balance affordability with protection from catastrophic medical bills and remained divided on many issues.

"If we're going to mandate this, people need to see that they're getting some value," said panel member Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But, he added, the premium is "bad news." [...]

Immediate reaction to the requirements was negative. Advocates for the uninsured were stunned at the price, considerably higher than the $200 estimated by Mitt Romney when he was governor and first proposed universal coverage.

January 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Talk of rift adds to intrigue of France's power couple (Katrin Bennhold, January 19, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Lovers for 26 years, Royal and Hollande became rivals for the Socialist nomination last year.

Royal prevailed in party primaries. Now that she is the star, is Hollande living up to his official mission -- and presumably personal pledge -- to support her?

"He wants her to win, but he does not want to be relegated to the back seat, that is becoming very clear," said Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, a member of the Socialist Party's top leadership. "This is a new situation -- for them, for the party and for the country." [...]

When Hollande announced last week that a future Socialist administration should increase taxes for anyone earning more than €4,000, or $5,190, a month, Royal swiftly retorted: "I'm not in favor of increasing taxes."

Then, late Wednesday, one of Royal's spokesmen, Arnaud Montebourg, told a television interviewer that Hollande was a liability. "Ségolène Royal has only one flaw -- and that is her partner," he said, adding quickly that he was joking. Royal was not amused, and suspended Montebourg for a month.

That came on top of media reports all week -- most spectacularly in Le Monde, whose reporter got an unidentified Socialist party leader to keep a phone line open during a strategy meeting -- suggesting that the Socialists were at a loss to understand Royal's campaign, and how to participate.

Royal's poll rating took its first serious hit in months, slipping five points. A survey published this week by the CSA institute showed that in a straight run-off, Royal's center-right opponent, the interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, had overtaken her at 52 percent.

With the political differences between Royal and Hollande in headlines all week, speculation about infidelity, and separate apartments resurfaced. Some commentators pondered whether all that was left of the couple was a facade of a political partnership of convenience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


General sees new troops exiting Iraq before fall (David S. Cloud and John O'Neil, January 19, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

General George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, said Friday that the additional troops being sent to Iraq could begin to be withdrawn by late summer if security conditions improved in Baghdad.

Presumably W understands that more troops are useless but by pretending to send then you can make withdrawal sound like build-up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


McCain hires Boston political operative (AP, Jan 19, 2007)

Sen. John McCain has hired a Boston political operative with intimate knowledge of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his changing political positions to work on his presidential exploratory committee.

Rob Gray, president of Gray Media, served as the top political adviser to Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey last fall in her unsuccessful campaign to succeed Romney as governor. That campaign suffered, in part, as Romney adopted increasingly conservative positions that differed from the moderate platform he and Healey campaigned on in 2002.

Intimate knowledge is hardly needed--an 8th grade social studies class could carve the Governor up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Detroit Tigers Top Ten Prospects (Kevin Goldstein, 1/19/07, Baseball America)

1. Cameron Maybin, cf

DOB: 4/4/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, North Carolina HS
What he did in 2006: .304/.387/.457 at Low A (445 PA)

The Good: On sheer athleticism and tools, Maybin is the total package, with a brutal home park hurting his nonetheless impressive numbers, as evidenced by road line of .333/.416/.517. Excellent hand-eye coordination and big time raw power that should begin to show up more in games as he improves his pitch recognition. Plus-plus runner who almost effortlessly covers the outfield from gap to gap and has a strong arm.

The Bad: Maybin has trouble with breaking balls, and is prone to chasing pitches, which led to a lofty strikeout total. He needs to improve the accuracy of his throws.

The Irrelevant: In 11 at-bats with the bases loaded, Maybin had three singles, a double, two grand slams and 16 RBI.

In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A healthy Eric Davis.

Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Maybin will likely start the year in the Florida State League, which means the power surge might have to wait another year.

2. Andrew Miller, lhp

DOB: 5/21/85
Height/Weight: 6-6/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, University of North Carolina
What he did in 2006: 0.00 ERA at High A (5-2-1-9); 6.10 ERA at MLB (10.1-8-10-6)

The Good: Considered by many to be the best talent in the 2006 draft. 92-96 mph fastball has touched 98, while height and angular delivery add downward plane and strong deception. Hard slider features depth and tilt, with late, quick break out of the zone.

The Bad: While Miller's stuff is there in every outing, his control is not, and he clearly had problems finding his rhythm while coming out of the bullpen during his big league debut. His changeup needs work.

The Irrelevant: A third-round pick by the Devil Rays in 2003, Miller was the highest unsigned pick from that year's draft.

In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An All-Star lefthander.

Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Miller will likely be on the Justin Verlander plan, beginning the year in the Florida State League and quickly moving up to Double-A once things warm up in the Eastern League cities.

3. Gorkys Hernandez, cf

DOB: 9/7/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2005
What he did in 2006: .327/.356/.463 at Rookie level (217 PA)

The Good: Five-tool Venezuelan teenager had impressive stateside debut, showing the holy trinity of bat speed, raw power and the ability to make consistent contact. Plus runner who should develop into an above-average center fielder.

The Bad: Despite his production, Hernandez is still raw in many phases of the game. His swing-at-everything approach will hurt him against more advanced pitching. He needs to improve his jumps and routes in the outfield.

The Irrelevant: In 59 GCL at-bats against lefthanders, Hernandez was the anti-Three True Outcomes hero with one home run, one walk, and three strikeouts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Hernandez has star potential, but it's too early to say in what role.

Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very High. Hernandez will make his full season debut at Low-A West Michigan, not the easiest place to have a breakthrough season.

No wonder they call it the Renaissance Center....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Stand up and be counted (Joe Dwinell and D. Craig MacCormack, January 19, 2007, Boston Herald)

Bay State officials seeking to save a coveted congressional seat are turning for help to residents who can't even vote: illegal immigrants.

A census of the often-maligned underground residents - who face constant calls for their deportation - could be critical to reaching a population total that could preserve the seat.

"We need to chase them," Secretary of State William Galvin said yesterday, stressing the need for an "all local" hunt for everyone living here.

Crucial to the census success: Convincing the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 illegal immigrants that they will simply be counted, not arrested.

"This is for real. A congressional seat is on the line," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Demographics is such an exquisite taskmaster: as the secular Europeans have to import Muslims to have any kind of future, so to do the Blue states have to attract Christian Latinos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


A Talking Head Meets His Comic Doppelgänger, and Sparks Fail to Fly (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 1/19/07, NY Times)

The exchange was billed as the ultimate cable news vs. fake news smackdown: Stephen Colbert, who pretends to be a Bill O'Reilly-esque television pundit on his comedy show, "The Colbert Report," was a guest on Mr. O'Reilly's show on Fox News last night, and Mr. O'Reilly appeared on Mr. Colbert's mock talk show on Comedy Central.

And Mr. O'Reilly deserves credit for being a good sport, because his was the thankless role. The imitation was a lot funnier -- and sharper-edged -- than the real thing.

At the core of the argument that all comedy is conservative lies one obvious truth: there is no difference between the shtick of Mr. Colbert and Mr. O'Reilly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


White House Shifting Tactics in Surveillance Cases (ADAM LIPTAK, 1/19/07, NY Times)

On Wednesday, the administration announced that an unnamed judge on the secret court, in a nonadversarial proceeding that apparently cannot be appealed, had issued orders that apparently both granted surveillance requests and set out some ground rules for how such requests would be handled.

The details remained sketchy yesterday, but critics of the administration said they suspected that one goal of the new arrangements was to derail lawsuits challenging the program in conventional federal courts.

"It's another clear example," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, "of the government playing a shell game to avoid accountability and judicial scrutiny."

In other cases, too, the timing of litigation decisions by the government has been suggestive.

Shortly before the Supreme Court heard a set of three detainee cases in 2004, the administration reversed course and allowed two Americans held incommunicado by the military to meet with their lawyers, mooting that issue.

After the court ruled that one of the men, Yaser Hamdi, could challenge his detention in court, the administration instead freed him and sent him to Saudi Arabia.

And just as the Supreme Court was considering whether to review the case of the second man, Jose Padilla, he was transferred to the criminal justice system last year, mooting his appeal.

The great thing for the Administration is that its critics are so beaten down that they eagerly grab onto mere changes in tactics and trumpet them as reversals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Rebuke in Iran to Its President on Nuclear Role (NAZILA FATHI and MICHAEL SLACKMAN, 1/19/07, NY Times)

Iran's outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be under pressure from the highest authorities in Iran to end his involvement in its nuclear program, a sign that his political capital is declining as his country comes under increasing international pressure.

Just one month after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program, two hard-line newspapers, including one owned by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the president to stay out of all matters nuclear.

In the hazy world of Iranian politics, such a public rebuke was seen as a sign that the supreme leader -- who has final say on all matters of state -- might no longer support the president as the public face of defiance to the West.

Indeed, it's so hazy that these guys can't even figure out that the Ayatollah never supported Mahmoud.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


Robert Moses's Vision of New York (FRANCIS MORRONE, January 19, 2007, NY Sun)

Robert Caro's spellbinding study of Robert Moses, "The Power Broker," appeared 33 years ago. [...]

At 68th Street and Colonial Road, the charmingly named Owl's Head Park (though many locals call it Bliss Park) sits atop the beginning of the great glacial moraine that cuts a swath across Brooklyn. Like Fort Greene Park, Owl's Head is largely in the form of a hill, with breathtaking views across New York Harbor. The park had been part of the estate of the redoubtable Brooklyn civic leader Henry Murphy, then of industrialist Eliphalet Bliss. In 1928, after Bliss's death, the city purchased the land. Moses shaped the park when he became parks commissioner in 1934. Less than half the Bliss land went to the park; the rest got swallowed by other uses, including Moses's Belt Parkway, construction of which began in 1934.

Moses completed the parkway in 1940. The New York Times called it "the greatest municipal highway venture ever attempted in an urban setting." The Belt Parkway begins at Owl's Head Park and arcs 34 miles along the edges of Brooklyn and Queens to the Nassau County border. Along the Bay Ridge stretch, from Owl's Head to Fort Hamilton (at 101st Street), the Belt Parkway parallels old Shore Road -- in much the way the Henry Hudson Parkway parallels Riverside Drive.

Moses had recently built parks and parkways farther out on Long Island, opening up formerly inaccessible lands for recreational uses, such as his Jones Beach. The Belt Parkway provided city dwellers with a means to access the amenities of Nassau and Suffolk counties. In addition, Moses saw the Belt Parkway as an opportunity to build new parklands between Shore Road and the Upper Bay. Today these parks contain recreational piers (like the one at 69th Street), playgrounds, bike paths, jogging courses, the beguiling Narrows Botanical Gardens, and more. Benches in the parks and on Shore Road provide mesmerizing views, unlike anything else in New York.

Moses made the views more awesome when he added the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the picture in 1964. Nowadays a New Yorker can take the R train to Bay Ridge, enjoy a lovely dinner in one of that neighborhood's many good restaurants, then sit dreamily on a Shore Road bench watching the lights of the bridge twinkle in the dusk. That perfect New York evening is ours in part by way of Robert Moses.

Mr. Morrone loses his own argument when he opts for the train.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


Much More to this Contest Than Brady vs. Manning (MICHAEL DAVID SMITH, January 19, 2007, NY Sun)

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL Everyone who watched football this season thought the Colts run defense would be their downfall come playoff time. But through two playoff games, not only has the defense not hurt the Colts, it has come through and led them to victory against both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. In two playoff games, the Colts have allowed just 127 yards on 37 runs. [...]

[T]he Colts are lining up their defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage to help in run support.

That last tactic is something both Kansas City and Baltimore failed to capitalize on. Now it's New England's turn. Look for Brady to pass to Reche Caldwell early and often. In their first meeting Caldwell, who led the Patriots in catches and yards this season, caught just one pass, but in general no. 1 receivers have burned the Colts' secondary. Caldwell figures to have a big day Sunday -- especially if Sanders and the rest of the secondary are focusing on the running game. [...]

New England's rushing attack will come from veteran Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney. Both are effective runners, and the Colts' success the last two weeks aside, it's hard to envision Indianapolis shutting both of them down. Even counting the playoffs, the Colts have allowed 5.2 yards a carry this season, the worst in the league. To put that in perspective, 5.2 yards a carry was Jim Brown's career average, which means the Colts have made the average runner look like the greatest runner in the history of the game.

Unless Bob Kraft fires Bill Belichick and hires Herm Edwards or Brian Billick by Sunday, the Pats won't run the ball that little.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 AM


NL Central might be full of surprises (Tracy Ringolsby, January 19, 2007, Rocky Mountain News)

If there is a division ripe for a surprise, it's the National League Central.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


Tancredo's Dubious Allies (The Prowler, 1/16/2007, The Spectator)

According to campaign finance reports, one of Tancredo's biggest financial backers has been the family of Dr. John Tanton, the founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Wall Street Journal editorial-page features writer Jason Riley wrote a devastating piece about the organization back in 2004, in which the group's pro-abortion and pro-eugenics roots were revealed.

Tanton is also one of the most prominent conservative financiers of Planned Parenthood in the United States, having helped found in the mid-1960s the first Planned Parenthood chapter in northern Michigan.

Tancredo appears to have embraced FAIR's extreme and repugnant policy positions, having accepted more than $20,000 from the FAIR PAC and personal donations from Tanton between 1996 and 2006.

There can't really be people dense enough not to realize that nativism, nationalism, racism, abortion, and eugenics all go hand in hand, can there?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Maple, oat and fig cookies (San Jose Mercury News, 1/17/07)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup finely chopped dried figs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

With electric mixer, combine butter and sugar until lightened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add syrup, egg and vanilla and continue to blend. Sprinkle with flour, baking soda and salt, and mix just until incorporated. Add oats and figs and stir to incorporate.

Drop batter onto baking sheets by the tablespoon, 2 inches apart. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden and bottoms have browned. Let cool on sheet until crisp enough to transfer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Think We're Losing Iraq? Take a Look at the Dinar (YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, January 19, 2007, NY Sun)

[T]he Iraqi currency is rising in value.

Tuesday, the rate of exchange had reached 1,308 dinars to the American dollar -- up from 1,470 last November. Money changers in Baghdad say they cannot keep up with the demand and that Iraqis who used to hang on to their American dollars for dear life are rushing to exchange them.

What gives?

The Shi'a are close enough to winning for a bet on the Iraqi future to be sensible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


The Radical Christian Right Is Built on Suburban Despair: Millions of Americans live trapped in soulless exurbs which lack any kind of community, leaving them feeling isolated and vulnerable (Chris Hedges, January 19, 2007, AlterNet)

When Mr. Hedges is dodging cabs on his way to the local bodega do you suppose he stops to talk to any of his neighbors?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Senate Passes Ethics Package: Parties Reach Hard-Fought Deal On Lobbying and Other Reforms (Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, 1/19/07, Washington Post)

The measure appeared dead Wednesday night after Republicans refused to allow passage without a vote on an unrelated amendment that would hand the president virtual line-item veto authority. For nearly two days, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) -- who jealously guards the Senate's prerogatives on spending matters -- single-handedly blocked efforts to come to an accord on that line-item veto vote.

Democrats and government watchdog groups angrily pointed their fingers at the Republicans, charging that their demand for a vote on such an extraneous provision was simply an indirect way to kill popular legislation they dared not vote against.

But Reid found a path around Byrd, offering Republicans a chance next week to add the spending control measure to a bill to raise the minimum wage if they can find the votes. That broke the logjam, and the Senate then began debating several amendments to the bill, with an eye toward completing work late last night.

The bipartisan vote masked furious backroom lobbying on a measure too popular to kill in public. One provision that was stricken from the bill last night would have forced interest groups to disclose funds spent on grass-roots campaigns that implore the public to contact their representatives about legislation.

That provision -- to force the disclosure of pseudo-grass-roots campaigns -- had raised the ire of an odd coalition that included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Traditional Values Coalition, the American Conservative Union and the National Right to Life Committee, which worked hard to strip it out or even block the whole bill.

The Family Research Council met with lawmakers and their staffs, conducted interviews on radio talk shows, extensively e-mailed its members and notified other organizations, asking them to contact their senators to express opposition, according to Tony Perkins, the group's president. In the end, the Senate struck the measure, 55 to 43.

"This is an issue about free speech, not an issue that is either Republican or Democratic," said Marvin Johnson, legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, during the coalition's telephone news conference yesterday.

In another defeat for watchdog groups, the Senate overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to create an independent ethics counsel to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Senate. The 71 to 27 vote was the second time that Congress has rejected the proposal in recent years.

Opposition from so many conservative activists had raised accusations from Democrats that Republicans were doing their bidding by blocking passage, but other opponents were less partisan. Lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, also talked to lawmakers about excluding from the measure's travel ban trips to Israel sponsored by the group's nonprofit foundation affiliate. The legislation, as written, would allow those trips to continue.

In what conceivable sense is it less partisan to be a member of the pro-Israel faction than the pro-life?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Picking up the Pieces: If the surge fails, head for the provinces. (Charles Krauthammer, 1/18/07, National Review)

If we were allied with an Iraqi government that, however weak, was truly national -- cross-confessional and dedicated to fighting a two-front war against Baathist insurgents and Shiite militias -- a surge of American troops, together with a change of counterinsurgency strategy, would have a good chance of succeeding. Unfortunately, the Iraqi political process has given us Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite coalition.

Imagine Mr. Krauthammer's response if al-Maliki told him Israel ought to govern in coalition with Hamas?

January 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 PM


McCain does about-face on grassroots reform bill (Alexander Bolton, 1/18/07, The Hill)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has told conservative activists that he will vote to strip a key provision on grassroots lobbying from the reform package he previously supported.

The provision would require grassroots organizations to report on their fundraising activities and is strongly opposed by groups such as the National Right to Life Committee, Gun Owners of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

While grassroots groups on both sides of the political spectrum oppose the proposal, social conservative leaders such as Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, who broadcasts a radio program to hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians, have been its most vehement critics.

Endorsement to follow. These guys are good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 PM


Winners, losers and more from a busy offseason (Scott Miller, 1/18/07, CBS SportsLine.com)

The best -- and worst -- of everything this winter:

Best contracts

1. Boston, Matsuzaka, six years, $52 million. The contract was brilliant. Especially when you see what Ted Freakin' Lilly and Gil Freakin' Meche are getting. The tough thing to swallow is the $51 million the Red Sox paid simply for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. [...]

5. Boston, Julio Lugo, four years, $36 million. If Lugo plays like he did with the Dodgers last summer, this could backfire. And the Red Sox already have been there, done that with Edgar Renteria. Here's guessing Lugo will revert back to his old, steady form in his return to both a league and a position in which he is comfortable. Compare this contract to Rafael Furcal getting $13 million a year, and Boston did well. [...]

Most improved teams [...]

3. Boston. Anybody who watched Matsuzaka work in last spring's World Baseball Classic knows he is capable of making a big difference in the AL East -- or anywhere else. [...]

Good gambles [...]

4. The Yankees getting prospects for Johnson and Sheffield. We have no idea right now whether Humberto Sanchez (from Detroit in the Sheffield deal) or Ross Ohlendorf (from Arizona in the Johnson deal) will turn into All-Stars or busts. But Johnson is going to wake up finished one of these mornings, and Sheffield wasn't a long-term guy for the Yanks. At some point, New York must get somebody into its system other than Philip Hughes who maybe can develop into a starting pitcher one day. That process started this winter, and it's smart baseball on the part of Cashman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 PM


Iranians' love affair with America: The US mustn't squander the vast majority of Iranian hearts and minds that it has already won (Ali G. Scotten, 1/19/07, CS Monitor)

After speaking with numerous Iranians from all walks of life - lower and upper class, religious and secular, Westernized and traditional, government- affiliated and civilian - I became convinced that this vilified member of the "Axis of Evil" is actually one of the most welcoming places for Americans to travel in the Middle East. Indeed, all Iranians with whom I spoke shared a positive opinion of Americans. [...]

One encounters this sentiment in even the most unexpected places. For instance, when I ran into problems renewing my visa, an austere senior official at the immigration ministry offered to help. "Because you're American, I'll do this for you," he said. This was not unusual. Generally friendly to foreigners, Iranians were especially friendly to me once they discovered I was American. It was as if they were trying to prove a point. "Go home and tell the Americans we like them," the official continued. "You know, I have family in Chicago. Can you help me go see them?" On the way out, a soldier in the lobby was excited to see my passport, handling it as one would a priceless object. "How can I come study in America?" he wanted to know.

Heck, we can figure out a way to screw that up, The Nonwar War Against Iran (Laura Rozen, Jan. 18, 2007, National Journal)
While the Iraq debate was gripping Washington over the past few weeks, the Bush administration was also shifting its policy toward neighboring Iran -- in a more confrontational direction.

U.S. officials, who asked not to be identified, say that the Iran policy has expanded from focusing chiefly on Iran's nuclear ambitions to challenging Tehran's suspected misbehavior across the Middle East. Indeed, one source said succinctly that the new policy is geared to "confront Iran in every way but direct armed conflict, using all means short of war."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


The Poor Get Richer: Incomes in the developing world start to catch up (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, January 16, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Here's bad news for those who oppose global free trade: Not only did the world-wide trend toward greater economic liberty hold steady over the past year, but the incomes of poor individuals across the globe are rising as result. The world isn't only growing richer. The gap between the per-capita income of have-not populations and that of the developed world is narrowing.

This good news for human progress is documented in the 2007 Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal 2007 Index of Economic Freedom, released today. Neither another year of Islamic terrorism, nor record high oil prices, nor fear mongering on Capitol Hill about the China peril have been able to reverse a gradual global shift that reflects the basic human longing for individual liberty. While not all of mankind is participating in this advance, in those places where freedom has increased, people are becoming decidedly better off.

The average freedom score this year for the 157 countries ranked is the second highest since we began measuring economic freedom 13 years ago. It is down a fraction from last year, but each region of the globe enjoys greater economic freedom than it did a decade ago. Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia are the three freest economies in the world this year, in that order. The U.S. ranks No. 4.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


Exclusive: Pelosi Won't Block Iraq Funding to Stop Troop Surge (Jan. 18, 2007, ABC News)

There may be a growing battle between Congress and the president over the Iraq War strategy, but new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she won't block funding for additional troops.

Pelosi's position, revealed in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, came a day after a group of senators announced a bipartisan resolution condemning the Bush administration's plan to increase U.S. forces in Iraq by more than 20,000 troops.

While the Senate resolution would be non-binding, it would send a message to the president..

How little they matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Inflation down - but far from conquered: 2006 saw prices rise at their slowest pace since 2003, but economists see a recovering economy (Ron Scherer, 1/19/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

"It's too early to declare victory on inflation," says Richard DeKaser, chief economist at National City Corporation in Cleveland. "Inflation may be down, but it's not out."

On the surface, the inflation numbers appear to be relatively benign. Thursday, the Labor Department reported that the December Consumer Price Index rose 0.5 percent, reflecting a hike in the price of gasoline. The so-called core rate of inflation, the inflation rate without food and energy, rose just 0.2 percent in December. However, economists are quick to point out that so far in the month of January, the price of energy is down substantially, reflecting the warm winter. "Most people have probably forgotten the rise in December already," says Mr. DeKaser.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


More evidence of Taliban leader hiding in Pakistan : A captured spokesman says Pakistan is harboring Mullah Omar, stirring international uproar (David Montero, 01/19/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

A captured Taliban spokesman [Abul Haq Haqiq, also known as Dr. Mohammad Hanif] says Mr. Omar is hiding in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan Province, under the protection of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). [...]

If true, Hanif's taped confession would constitute the highest level official statement from the Taliban that Omar is in Quetta. It would also verify that the operational center of the movement is in Pakistan. Many have long claimed this, chief among them Mr. Karzai, who last February delivered a series of dossiers to Islamabad detailing the addresses of Taliban leaders in Quetta.

It's one thing not to be able to control the tribal areas that no one has ever controlled, another not to control your own turf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Obama's Past Offers Ammo for Critics (RYAN KEITH, January 17, 2007, The Associated Press)

He voted against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive. He supported allowing retired police officers to carry concealed weapons, but opposed allowing people to use banned handguns to defend against intruders in their homes. And the list of sensitive topics goes on.

With only a slim, two-year record in the U.S. Senate, Obama doesn't have many controversial congressional votes which political opponents can frame into attack ads. But his eight years as an Illinois state senator are sprinkled with potentially explosive land mines, such as his abortion and gun control votes.

Obama _ who filed papers this week creating an exploratory committee to seek the 2008 Democratic nomination _ may also find himself fielding questions about his actions outside public office, from his acknowledgment of cocaine use in his youth to a more recent land purchase from a political supporter who is facing charges in an unrelated kickback scheme involving investment firms seeking state business.

Obama was known in the Illinois Capitol as a consistently liberal senator who reflected the views of voters in his Chicago district.

What wouldn't you give to be Hillary's Carville? It's going to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Iran's discontent with Ahmadinejad grows (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 1/18/07, Associated Press)

Prices for vegetables have tripled in the past month, housing prices have doubled since last summer -- and as costs have gone up, so has Iranians' discontent with hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his focus on confrontation with the West.

Ahmadinejad was elected last year on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. Now he is facing increasingly fierce criticism for his failure to meet those promises.

He is being challenged not only by reformers but by the conservatives who paved the way for his stunning victory in 2005 presidential elections. Even conservatives say Ahmadinejad has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. speeches and not enough on the economy -- and they have become more aggressive in calling him to account.

"The government has painted idealistic goals like tackling housing problems and unemployment ... but no solution has been offered," said Mohammad Khoshchehreh, a prominent conservative lawmaker, told The Associated Press.

Ahmadinejad's government "has been strong on populist slogans but weak on achievement," said Khoshchehreh, who campaigned for Ahmadinejad during the election.

A president under fire at home (The Economist, 1/18/07)
IN THE higher echelons of the Islamic Republic, people may be losing patience with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Informed Iranians do not think he risks losing his job. But plainly he is not as safe as he was. Conservatives in Iran's parliament and press blame his extravagance at home and braggadoccio abroad for Iran's worsening economic malaise and for the unpleasant sense of being ever more squarely in the Americans' firing line. [...]

Already cock-a-hoop over the defeat of Mr Ahmadinejad's allies in local elections last month, his domestic critics are keen to blame him for the latest round of American sabre-rattling as well as for last month's sanctions resolution passed against Iran in the UN Security Council. It seems that a clutch of senior figures in the regime, perhaps including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have endorsed the criticism. [...]

A recent statement signed by 150 members of parliament imposed conditions on the president in drawing up the budget for the next Iranian year, which starts in late March. The MPs are now calling on him to defend his record before parliament. [...]

A sudden decision last year to raise the minimum wage had to be reversed when it caused job losses and strikes across the country. On his weekly trips to the provinces, the president is in the habit of dishing out government largesse to petitioners for local causes. And parliament has accused the government of favouritism in giving big contracts to the Revolutionary Guards without going to tender.

This lavish and sometimes whimsical spending has pushed up inflation and made Iran more vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations.

Runaway inflation is the death of governments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Zogby New Hampshire: 3 Dems In Tight Race; McCain Leads Republican Field (Zogby, 1/18/07)

On the Republican side, maverick Sen. John McCain leads with 26% support, six points ahead of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a race where the two with reputations for independence outdistance the field in a state where independence is a valued trait. In a distant third place is former Gov. Mitt Romney, who led neighboring Massachusetts for one term before leaving office just over two weeks ago.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


Saudis Push Bush Team On Peace Plan: Riyadh Assuring Palestinians That Arab States Will Back Deal (Nathan Guttman, Jan 19, 2007, The Forward)

Saudi Arabia is stepping up efforts to make its peace initiative -- based on a quick Israeli return to the 1967 borders and prompt establishment of a Palestinian state -- a key plank in American foreign policy.

According to American and Arab diplomatic sources in Washington, the Saudis have been pressing for a more active role in attempting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [...]

In addition to attempting to line up Israeli and American support, Saudi leaders have been assuring the Palestinians that they would have wide Arab support for a final deal with Israel, diplomatic sources said.

The Palestinian leaders obviously won't get the borders they want, but the Sa'uds and others will provide the imprimatur they need to take a deal to the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Top Dem Wesley Clark Says 'N.Y. Money People' Pushing War With Iran (Nathan Guttman, Jan 12, 2007, The Forward)

Retired general Wesley Clark drew harsh criticism this week after reportedly saying that "New York money people" are pushing America into a war against Iran. [...]

The flap comes as Israeli politicians in the government, as well as the opposition, have been lobbying more publicly for an international hard line against Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Until the middle of last year, Israel focused its efforts on more behind-the-scenes international diplomacy, making its intelligence information available to world powers in order to convince them that Iran is becoming a growing threat to the entire region. Lately, Israel decided to take the Iranian issue to the public arena, as well, making it the leading issue on the agenda in public speeches and press briefings. [...]

Clark made his alleged remarks to liberal blogger Arianna Huffington in response to a United Press International column by Arnaud de Borchgrave. The column described the efforts of Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud -- to compare Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, and the current geopolitical situation to pre-World War II Europe. The article quotes Netanyahu's call to "immediately launch an intense, international, public relations front first and foremost on the U.S. The goal being to encourage President Bush to live up to specific pledges he would not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons."

Des Moines Speech (Charles Lindbergh)
The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.

Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that the future of mankind depends upon the domination of the British empire. Add to these the Communistic groups who were opposed to intervention until a few weeks ago, and I believe I have named the major war agitators in this country.

I am speaking here only of war agitators, not of those sincere but misguided men and women who, confused by misinformation and frightened by propaganda, follow the lead of the war agitators.

As I have said, these war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence. Against the determination of the American people to stay out of war, they have marshaled the power of their propaganda, their money, their patronage.

Let us consider these groups, one at a time.

First, the British: It is obvious and perfectly understandable that Great Britain wants the United States in the war on her side. England is now in a desperate position. Her population is not large enough and her armies are not strong enough to invade the continent of Europe and win the war she declared against Germany.

Her geographical position is such that she cannot win the war by the use of aviation alone, regardless of how many planes we send her. Even if America entered the war, it is improbable that the Allied armies could invade Europe and overwhelm the Axis powers. But one thing is certain. If England can draw this country into the war, she can shift to our shoulders a large portion of the responsibility for waging it and for paying its cost.

As you all know, we were left with the debts of the last European war; and unless we are more cautious in the future than we have been in the past, we will be left with the debts of the present case. If it were not for her hope that she can make us responsible for the war financially, as well as militarily, I believe England would have negotiated a peace in Europe many months ago, and be better off for doing so.

England has devoted, and will continue to devote every effort to get us into the war. We know that she spent huge sums of money in this country during the last war in order to involve us. Englishmen have written books about the cleverness of its use.

We know that England is spending great sums of money for propaganda in America during the present war. If we were Englishmen, we would do the same. But our interest is first in America; and as Americans, it is essential for us to realize the effort that British interests are making to draw us into their war.

The second major group I mentioned is the Jewish.

It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.

No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.

Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.

Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.

We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


The best size for a nation may be a small one :The possibilities of Scottish independence are more clear cut now than 30 years ago (Adrian Hamilton, 18 January 2007, Independent)

With modern communications it is possible to centre businesses almost on anywhere where there is a combination of economic inducement, stable law and an educated workforce - all of which Scotland has.

Politics, too, has changed in favour of the smaller nation state. Although Scottish as well as English ministers make much of the issue of parliamentary democracy and the value of Scottish participation in a central Commons, the truth is that parliament is less and less the focus of national debate and the advantage of minority membership such as Scotland's are fading.

The decision to go to war is the most obvious example, of course. The debates were on the street and on the airwaves. But it's also true of the other debates which ministers keep telling us are the crucial questions of our time - pension, energy security, environmental protection, global warming, health priorities. In none of these cases could it be said that the public, or even the participants, looked first to parliament to see the issues aired or the policy options decided.

Parliament, in that sense, has become just the place where the details of legislation are decided and the more particular, the more parochial indeed, the stronger it is. On the bigger questions of war, the environment and world trade, the question moves up to the international sphere and different regional and global institutions to be debated. If the war ever had a real debate it was at the UN in New York rather than Westminster.

It may be, indeed, that the best size for a country today is the medium one, such as Ireland, large enough to support ambitions as a global player but small enough not to be burdened with the post-imperialist delusion of importance that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown seem to harbour.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Big Dipper: Suit up for the Super Bowl with these game-day tips (Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, 1/18/07, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


This can be made in the microwave or oven.

* 1 cup sour cream
* 4 ounces (1/4 pound) cream cheese, softened
* 1 can (14 ounces) artichokes in water, drained
* 1 box (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (about 1 cup spinach after water is removed)
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese mix, divided
* Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Microwave directions

In food processor or blender, combine sour cream and cream cheese and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Add artichokes, spinach and garlic. Process or chop until well combined, scraping sides of the work bowl or blender jar as needed.

In a large mixing bowl, combine artichoke mixture, lemon juice, half the grated cheese and salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to a 1-quart microwave-proof baking dish and spread smoothly.

Cover with a paper towel and microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until bubbly around the edges. Remove bowl (it will be hot) and sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Microwave on high for 1 minute, until cheese is melted.

Oven directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add final sprinkling of cheese to top of dip and bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until slightly browned and bubbly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


Saudis plan to increase oil production and refining (Reuters, The Associated Press, January 18, 2007)

Saudi Arabia plans to increase its crude oil production capacity nearly 40 percent by 2009 and double its refining size over the next five years to keep pace with growing global demand, the country's oil minister said Thursday.

The minister, Ali Naimi, said the plans were part of a $80 billion commitment that Saudi Arabia -- the world's biggest oil exporter -- had made to increase oil supplies in the global market.

"Saudi Arabia is committed to increasing the availability of energy to global markets," he said.

The country's priority is in investments to increase sustainable oil production capacity to 12.5 million barrels daily by 2009, from 9 million barrels now, Naimi said.

The best carryover from the incipient oil battle between the Sa'uds and Iran/Iraq is that it will deal the death blow to Hugo Chavez.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


Republicans Halt Ethics Legislation: Senators Sought Virtual Line-Item Veto (Jonathan Weisman, January 18, 2007, Washington Post)

Senate Republicans scuttled broad legislation last night to curtail lobbyists' influence and tighten congressional ethics rules, refusing to let the bill pass without a vote on an unrelated measure that would give President Bush virtual line-item-veto power.

The bill could be brought back up later this year. Indeed, Democrats will try one last time today to break the impasse. But its unexpected collapse last night infuriated Democrats and the government watchdog groups that had been pushing it since the lobbying scandals that rocked the last Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Ahmadinejad be damned (Pepe Escobar, 1/19/07, Asia Times)

It's all over the Iranian press: President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, self-described "street cleaner of the people", is in deep political trouble at home, subjected to crossfire from conservatives and reformers alike. All the more ironic considering the biblical tsunami of Washington spin portraying Ahmadinejad as the newest "new Hitler" (Saddam Hussein, after all, fell victim to a lynch mob).

As far as geopolitical strategy is concerned, it's as if Ahmadinejad might be as clueless as his US counterpart, President George W Bush.

Hardly surprising that folks who believed Saddam's claims about Iraq believe Ahmedinejad's about Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Married, Not Dead: A wedding ring shouldn't mean the end of a happy sex life�though it usually does. (Nora Shelley, January 16th, 2007, Village Voice)

"I just had sex with E.L.," she blurts out. I am speechless. She is my best friend. And she had sex. With her husband. I feel like I've been stabbed in the back. I am tempted to throw one of us off the nearby balcony.

"Morning sex?" I manage. It comes out more hostile than I plan, though Carmichael barely notices. Why should she? She just had morning sex.

"Oh my God, yes! Morning sex. Like a high school senior. It is too incredible. I had sex with my husband and I liked it." I stare at her, incredulous. I haven't had sex, morning or otherwise, in three months. Neither had she. I trusted her. I know it's a free country and people have sex in it. Apparently even my best friend. But still. How dare she?

"We're back, Nora. We're back. I can't believe it. Don't be mad."

"I'm not mad," I lie. "I'm happy for you."

"You and J.P. will have sex soon. Don't be so hard on yourself." I want to scream in her face, "I don't need your pity. You giant, awful bitch." But I don't. I can't. I'm like a deer caught in the headlights. I vow to find new friends. Better friends. Ones that don't have sex with their husbands. And then, sensing I can no longer be in a store called Forever 21, Carmichael takes me by the arm and leads me toward the exit. "C'mon, let's go to City Bakery. I'll buy you a cold hot chocolate."

We cross 14th Street and I'm still mad, but if sex really happened, I sort of need to hear about it.

"OK, Carmichael," I say. "Where? When? How? Why?"

"Well, it'd been months, you know. I was so off my game I couldn't even deal with it. Do you know what it's like when you're off your game?"

I nod maniacally because of course I know.

"I invented 'off your game,' for God's sake. Please. Are you crazy?"

"All right, so you know. Every night is like a standoff. I read in bed until I'm sure he's sleeping. He stays in his office surfing the Net until he's sure I'm sleeping. And then if we accidentally touch each other, we panic. The tension just builds and builds because you know you're going to have to do it soon, and you're afraid to. Afraid it's going to suck. Afraid you won't remember how. Well, today," Carmichael continues, "I dropped Chloe off at school, and for some reason that I will never understand, I came home and was horny. I took off my pants and I was weighing whether it was worth remaking the bed and taking care of business myself when I remembered that I actually had a husband working from home this week. I could take care of business with him. So I took off the rest of my clothes, except my new Cosabella underwear, and I went into his office and stood there until he noticed me."

"How long did that take?"

"He was researching printers online, so a while. Then when he did see me, he stared at me, totally confused. I think he thought I was having a nervous breakdown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Airbus A380 costs are ballooning: Despite some positive news at Airbus, parent company EADS issued a profit warning as costs soar for its A380 airplane (LAURENCE FROST, 1/18/07, Associated Press)

The two-year delay to the Airbus A380 is proving costlier than expected, parent company EADS said Wednesday in a profit warning that sent shares lower as the aircraft maker confirmed it had lost its five-year lead in orders to Boeing. [...]

Shortly before the orders announcement, EADS said an unspecified fourth-quarter accounting charge tipped Airbus into an operating loss for 2006 that will ''roughly balance'' earnings before interest and tax from other divisions. Full-year results will be released March 9.

Hans Peter Ring, chief financial officer for both EADS and Airbus, said the ''bulk of the charges'' were previously disclosed but had now been brought forward -- including costs linked to the A380 setbacks and restructuring plans.

''We're accepting a bigger hit in 2006 to prepare a better future,'' Ring said, declining to provide any breakdown of the losses. The A380 problems would wipe 4.8 billion ($6.2 billion) from 2006-2010 profit, EADS said last October.

In its statement, however, EADS also blamed the Airbus loss on new A380-related costs that were ''not originally envisaged.''

The great thing is that since it's basically just a jobs program the costs can never go so high nor the number of orders so low that they'll kill it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


'Scrubs' takes a turn for the better with musical (Matthew Gilbert, January 18, 2007, Boston Globe)

One of the sideways jokes on "Scrubs" has always been the man crush between Turk and J.D. The two doctors are both straight, but they've been having a raging heteromance for six seasons now, displaying all the intimacy, possessiveness, and nutty joy of lovers. Not only are they frat-house bozos, they're beaus, too.

So it is truly satisfying in tonight's extraordinary musical episode of "Scrubs," ... when the platonic pair erupt into an ultracheesy ballad called "Guy Love." The song, and the entire episode, is a perfect showcase for the brilliance of "Scrubs," a sitcom that lives in the sweet spot where irony meets sincerity. In "Guy Love," Turk and J.D. goof on their matching bracelets, but, you know, they're also tender. In the next scene, they walk the hospital halls with an arm around the other's neck.

And "Guy Love" is but one of the pleasures of tonight's half-hour, which is among the best song-and-dance episodes of a TV show I've seen, rating close to the unforgettable "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" musical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Give us guns - and troops can go, says Iraqi leader (Stephen Farrell, 1/18/07, Times of London)

America's refusal to give Baghdad's security forces sufficient guns and equipment has cost a great number of lives, the Iraqi Prime Minister said yesterday.

Nouri al-Maliki said the insurgency had been bloodier and prolonged because Washington had refused to part with equipment. If it released the necessary arms, US forces could "dramatically" cut their numbers in three to six months, he told The Times.

In a sign of the tense relations with Washington, he chided the US for suggesting his Government was living on "borrowed time". Such criticism boosted Iraq's extremists, he said, and was more a reflection of "some kind of crisis situation" in Washington after the Republicans' midterm election losses. Mr al-Maliki conceded that his administration had made mistakes over the hanging of Saddam Hussein. But he refused to accept all criticism over the execution. When asked about the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi's attack on Iraq's capital punishment laws, Mr al-

Maliki cited the Italians' summary killing of Benito Mussolini and his stringing-up from a lamppost.

Asked how long Iraq would require US troops, Mr al-Maliki said: "If we succeed in implementing the agreement between us to speed up the equipping and providing weapons to our military forces, I think that within three to six months our need for American troops will dramatically go down. That is on condition that there are real, strong efforts to support our military forces and equipping and arming them."

George Bush has begun basing our policy in Iraq on the headlines in our papers, rather than on what the Iraqis need, which is a sure indicator that it's time to go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Drink Up: Chinese Five-Spice Hot Chocolate from "Hot Chocolate" by Michael Turback (SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, January 18, 2007)

1 star anise

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

1 cinnamon stick

6 whole cloves

10 whole Szechuan peppers

4 cups whole milk

16 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Basic Whipped Cream for serving (see below)

Ground cinnamon for serving

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the anise, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, peppers and milk, and bring to a simmer.

Remove from the heat and let steep for 5 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the spices and return the milk to the saucepan over medium-low heat.

Stir in the chopped chocolate until melted completely. Bring to a slow simmer and whisk for 30 seconds.

Pour the hot chocolate into warm mugs and top with freshly whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Linguine with bacon and onions (San Jose Mercury News, 1/17/07)

6 ounces thick-sliced bacon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional if needed
2 large onions, sliced 1/2-inch thick (about 3 cups)
1 1/2 cups hot chicken stock
1 pound linguine
3 egg yolks
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper

Bring 6 quarts salted water to the boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.

Cut bacon slices crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring, until lightly browned but still soft in the center, about 6 minutes.

The amount of fat in the skillet will vary depending on the bacon. If there is more than 3 to 4 tablespoons of fat in the pan, pour off the excess. If there is less than 3 to 4 tablespoons, add enough olive oil to measure that amount. Add the onions and cook until wilted but still crunchy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and adjust the heat to a lively simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.

Meanwhile, stir the linguine into the boiling salted water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, about 8 minutes.

Ladle off about 1 cup pasta-cooking water and reserve. If skillet is large enough to accommodate sauce and pasta, fish the pasta out of the boiling water with a large wire skimmer and drop it directly into sauce in skillet. If not, drain pasta, return it to the pot, and pour in sauce.

Bring sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Sauce should coat the pasta generously. If necessary, add more chicken stock or pasta-cooking water to achieve the right consistency.

Remove pan from heat and add egg yolks one at a time, tossing well after each. (A salad fork and spoon work well for this.) Add grated cheese, then black pepper, tossing well, and serve immediately in warmed bowls.

Bacon's new sizzle: UPSCALE BRANDS, A CHANGE IN TASTES HELP MAKE IT HOT AGAIN (Aleta Watson, 1/17/07, Mercury News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


The shifting power equation of globalization (Jonathan Schmidt and Howard Davies, January 17, 2007, YaleGlobal)

A few short years ago an antiglobalization coalition severely disrupted a World Trade Organization summit meeting in Seattle and began a wave of demonstrations against the institutions seen as being "responsible" for globalization. At the time, most of the protests centered around the perceived inequities between North- South economies. Western corporations were thought to be gaining a disproportionate share of benefits of globalization. That kind of disruption seems less likely in 2007. And full frontal attacks on globalization seem distant memories.

But this relative calm on the streets does not mean that all the arguments have ended -- they have just changed character. While most people may accept that the trend towards greater interconnectedness between the world's major economies is unlikely to be reversed, there is increasing focus on the resulting winners and losers. In the long run, the economic theory of comparative advantage tells us that globalization should result in a net increase in human welfare; however, it is not likely that all boats will rise at the same time or to the same extent on this incoming tide, and some may be shipwrecked. Indeed, "The Shifting Power Equation" will be the overarching theme of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos next week. There participants will try to make sense of the various ways that power is being transferred and redistributed in our ever more connected global polity.

One dimension of this debate is geographical. Over the coming decades there could well be a massive transfer of wealth from the industrialized Western economies to the fast-growing countries of South and East Asia in particular. This argument is most loudly advanced in what Donald Rumsfeld used to call "Old Europe."

That is surprising, in a sense, since recent figures show that in fact the European Union has maintained its share of world trade over the last decade.

As all of the jobs of an elderly Europe are taken by immigrants who are sending money home there'll be a tremendous shift.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


One and the same: Belichick, Brady enjoy rare bond (Karen Guregian, 1/18/07, Boston Herald)

Maybe there is a duo out there in another sport that can lay claim to being the best coach-player combination, such as Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan. It just doesn't seem possible to vault anyone to the head of the class when you consider what the Patriots have in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

The relationship between the genius coach and the clutch quarterback is at the foundation of the success of the Patriots. It's in the special Tuesday meetings they've shared the past years during off days. It's in the tremendous amount of respect they have for one another.

It's in the competitive bond they share.

Yesterday, we got a glimpse of that, as Brady spoke about the relationship, and how he and Belichick are so much in tune with football.

"It's very good with coach Belichick. I think I've said before, we have the same goals," Brady said. "We meet at the beginning of every week and just get a feel for what he saw in the previous game and what he sees in the upcoming opponent. We do the same (on Tuesdays). Sometimes it's all football. Sometimes we talk about other stuff. We've been doing that for four years. So it's a great relationship."

It's a relationship that's produced three Super Bowl wins, a 12-1 postseason record and an 82-25 record overall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Pop not a question: Sanders has brought hard hits back to Colts' defense (Christopher L. Gasper, January 18, 2007, Boston Globe)

It's Colts third-year free safety Bob Sanders, who is to the Indianapolis defense what Harrison is to New England's, maybe more. At 5 feet 8 inches, 206 pounds (a generous listing), Sanders is the Colts' most physical player and the heartbeat of their defense. [...]

[Said Colts coach Tony Dungy:] "He's got a lot of pop in his body. He's a strong hitter. But probably more than anything else, I think he just loves to play the game. He's excited about practice. He plays with high energy. He's an emotional guy. Our players pick up on that and they feed on that. He does help everybody play a little bit better."

Never has that been more apparent than in the playoffs as the Colts' defense, which allowed a league-worst 173 rushing yards per game during the regular season, has gone from porous to impregnable. Indianapolis has allowed one touchdown in eight quarters of playoff football and is surrendering just 185 total yards per game, 147.2 fewer than the regular season, and in the starkest turnaround, only 63.5 yards on the ground.

It's not a coincidence that the defensive revival coincides with Sanders playing back-to-back games for the first time since the first two games of the season against the Giants and the Texans.

Herman Edwards is such an awful coach it was no surprise to see him hold Larry Johnson to 13 carries, but Brian Bilick is supposed to be a good offensive coach, so him holding Jamal Lewis to 13 was a shocker. Bill Belichick has set things up perfectly to have Lawrence Moroney carry 25 or 30 times, which the Colts defense can't withstand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Battle for closer may go into season (Ian Browne, 1/18/07, MLB.com)

The closer's spot for the 2007 Boston Red Sox is currently wide open. Applicants need not send in their resumes. The Red Sox have them on file, and are willing to let the multilayered situation sort itself out. [...]

The slight favorite: When news broke that the Red Sox had signed free-agent right-hander Joel Pineiro, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The last thing the Red Sox needed was another starting pitcher, right?

But once it became clear that the Red Sox viewed Pineiro as possible closing material, the move made more sense. Still, there's no way of knowing if Pineiro -- who gained experience as a setup man late last season in Seattle -- can make the transition to closer, particularly when he is coming off a sharp decline in performance over the past couple of years.

But the Red Sox feel it is worth the gamble. And if all else fails, Pineiro could help the team in middle relief and as a spot starter. [...]

The safest choice: If the Red Sox truly wanted to get conservative -- and that is typically not their nature -- they would entrust the job to Mike Timlin and his 139 career saves. [...]

The young gun: When the Red Sox drafted Craig Hansen in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, they did so with the thought that he could be their closer of the future. Is the future now?

Probably not right out of the gate -- but don't rule out the scenario of Hansen moving into the closer's role by mid- to late-season. But after his mighty struggles of a year ago, it would be hard to envision the former St. John's star winning the job out of camp.

"I don't know if the time is now -- it's not my decision," said Hansen. "But I know what kind of shape I'm in, physically and mentally. Basically, all I can do is go into Spring Training and compete for the job -- any job that it might be."

In order for Hansen to become closer material, he needs to stop falling behind in the count and start establishing his fastball. Only then can he effectively use his slider, which is a lethal pitch when it's on.

"Craig is a guy that's still in the early stages of what should be a very successful career," said Farrell. "The physical abilities are outstanding. He has every physical attribute that you look for in a successful big-league pitcher. I think the fact that he's come to the big leagues so quick ... There's still some things to learn, and he would probably acknowledge that."

Staying with the "young gun" theory, what about Manny Delcarmen? The local product has a mid-90s fastball and a gorgeous curveball. However, Delcarmen -- one of the nicer guys you will meet -- doesn't seem to have the closer's mentality.

There just aren't many curveball reliant closers--Gregg Olson comes to mind--because your manager has to be confident you'll have the touch on it from the first batter 50-70 times a year. Hansen, as is not uncommon for youngsters, ended up pitching backwards: it's easy to get minor leaguers out with a slider, but you really need to throw predominantly fastballs in the majors or your dependence on sliders seems to rob you of velocity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Dodgers reach deal with Tsao: Oft-injured righty gets fresh start in Los Angeles (Ken Gurnick, 1/18/07, MLB.com)

The Dodgers have acquired a right-handed counterpart to left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo.

On Wednesday, they reached agreement with Chin-hui Tsao, like Kuo, a native of Taiwan who signed for a whopping bonus only to have his career derailed by multiple injuries.

Tsao, once the top prospect in the Colorado farm system, was non-tendered by the Rockies after missing the entire 2006 season and most of 2005 with shoulder labrum and rotator cuff problems. He underwent arthroscopic surgery in May 2005 and hasn't pitched in a regular-season game since.

Folks like to complain that poor teams can't compete with rich, but then you notice that the rich teams take sensible risks like Tsao, Joel Piniero, etc., and you realize they're just run better.

January 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 PM


Cheap, safe drug kills most cancers (Andy Coghlan, 1/17/07, New Scientist)

It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their "immortality". The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe.

It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body and found that it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells. Tumours in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks. [...]

DCA can cause pain, numbness and gait disturbances in some patients, but this may be a price worth paying if it turns out to be effective against all cancers. The next step is to run clinical trials of DCA in people with cancer. These may have to be funded by charities, universities and governments: pharmaceutical companies are unlikely to pay because they can't make money on unpatented medicines. The pay-off is that if DCA does work, it will be easy to manufacture and dirt cheap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


SAS seizes Taliban leader in secret war (Tom Coghlan, 18/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

A team of SAS soldiers captured a key Taliban commander yesterday in a lightning raid on a heavily-fortified compound in southern Afghanistan.

Without a shot being fired, the force of fewer than 30 elite soldiers, backed by Afghan troops, achieved "total surprise" and seized Mohammad Nabi in the early hours of the morning near Gereshk, in Helmand province.

Nabi is believed to be a key commander in the Taliban insurgency in the neighbouring province of Kandahar.

The compound, which had been under observation by Nato forces for around two weeks, was typical of the heavily-fortified homes favoured by the Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan, which often boast battlements and watch towers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


Royal is accused of dodging tax on her wealth (Peter Allen, 18/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Ségolène Royal, the doyenne of the French Left, suffered an embarrassing blow to her image as a presidential candidate yesterday when she was accused of tax dodging.

Faced with taunts about being a "gauche caviar", the Gallic equivalent of a champagne socialist, she denied being rich, instead claiming that she was just "well off". [...]

The revelations, which originally emerged on internet sites critical of the hypocritical Left, are particularly embarrassing for Miss Royal because she recently launched a tirade against Johnny Hallyday, the rock star, for moving to Switzerland to avoid high French taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 PM


Hong Kong birth ban on women from China (Richard Spencer, 18/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

An invasion of pregnant women from mainland China flooding into Hong Kong to give birth has forced the territory's authorities to take action to turn them back at the border.

Tens of thousands of women in the past three years have crossed into Hong Kong, checked into hospitals to give birth, and returned home again, often without paying their bills.

By doing so, they can evade China's one-child policy, and gain automatic residency rights for their child in Hong Kong.

Because, Hong Kong isn't China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 PM


Exclusive: Jimmy Carter Interceded on Behalf of Nazi SS Guard: A former U.S. Justice Department official disclosed to Arutz-7 that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's advocacy extended beyond the Palestinians, when he interceded on behalf of a Nazi SS man. (Ezra HaLevi, 1/18/07, Arutz Sheva)

Neil Sher, a veteran of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigation, described a letter he received from Carter in 1987 in an interview with Israel National Radio's Tovia Singer. The letter, written and signed by Carter, asked that Sher show "special consideration" for a man proven to have murdered Jews in the Mauthausen death camp in Austria. [...]

[Martin] Bartesch, who had immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Chicago, admitted to Sher's office and the court that he had voluntarily joined the Waffen SS and had served in the notorious SS Death's Head Division at the Mauthausen concentration camp where, at the hands of Bartesch and his cohorts, many thousands of prisoners were gassed, shot, starved and worked to death. He also confessed to having concealed his service at the infamous camp from U.S. immigration officials.

"We had an extraordinary piece of evidence against him - a book that was kept by the SS and captured by the American armed forces when they liberated Mauthausen," Sher said. "We called it the death book. It was a roster that the Germans required them to keep that identified SS guards as they extended weapons to murder the inmates and prisoners."

An entry in the book for October 10, 1943 registered the shooting death of Max Oschorn, a French Jewish prisoner. His murderer was also recorded: SS guard Martin Bartesch. "It was a most chilling document," Sher recalled. [...]

The family approached several members of Congress. "The congressmen would, very understandably, forward their claims over to our office and when they learned the facts they would invariably drop the case," Sher recalled.

But there was one politician who accepted the claims without asking for any further information.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 PM


Saudi Arabia casts wary eye on its Shiites: With a Sunni-Shiite cold war descending on the Middle East, Saudi Arabia appears to be hardening its sectarian battle lines (Michael B. Farrell, 1/18/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

[M]any worry that their steady progress is being checked. With a Sunni-Shiite cold war descending on the region, Saudi Arabia appears to be hardening its sectarian battle lines. That, experts say, could mean that it once again will regard its Shiite minority, mainly clustered in eastern oases like this one, solely as enemies of the state. [...]

Shiites make up about 10 to 15 percent of the country's roughly 16 million nationals, according to a 2005 International Crisis Group (ICG) report. Most live in the Eastern Province, where oil was first discovered and which remains the base for much of the petroleum industry. While they have been persecuted since Saudi Arabia's formation in 1932, it wasn't until their coreligionists in Iran overthrew the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, that Shiites were emboldened to challenge the Saudi monarch.

There's a good bit in Lawrence Wright's Looming Tower, where the Sa'uds realize -- after their first official census -- just how few Arabs there actually are in their kingdom, so they just double the number. Ever since the figures have apparently been mostly made up. Given the likelihood that they radically underestimate their own internal cohort and the help that might come from Iraq and Iran, would anyone be surprised if the Sa'uds came out on the short end of a showdown with the Shi'a?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Syrian, Israeli backdoor talks now emerging: Hizbullah's growing threat may drive Israel to fashion a peace deal with Syria (Ilene R. Prusher, 1/18/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Proponents of talking see Damascus as holding the key to reining in Hizbullah, stopping the flow of arms from Iran into Lebanon, and sizing down the tactical might of Hamas, whose most powerful Palestinian figure, Khaled Mashal, resides in the Syrian capital.

And ever since the end of the brutal war last summer in Lebanon, opinion-makers here have been trying to point the nation's compass for compromise in the direction of Syria. Only a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, some analysts say, can prevent Israel from finding itself in another war with Hizbullah.

The obvious point there is that Israel's real war is with Damascus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM


Court Rules for Wal-Mart in Maryland Suit (MICHAEL BARBARO, 1/17/07, NY Times)

A federal appeals court ruled today that Maryland violated federal law when it required Wal-Mart Stores to increase spending on employee health insurance, in a decision that appears likely to end a bitter yearlong legal battle that pitted state legislators, organized labor and health care advocates against the nation's largest retailer.

The 2-to-1 ruling by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is a major setback -- if not a fatal blow -- for a nascent campaign, called "fair share," that sought to move millions of America's working poor off of state-sponsored insurance programs, like Medicaid, and on to employer-based plans.

Even a Timesman can't seriously believe there's any purpose but to screw Wal-Mart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


A New Consensus on Universal Health Care (Steven Pearlstein, January 17, 2007, Washington Post)

[A] consensus...has been taking shape in Washington over the past two years, in behind-the-scenes negotiations among health insurers, hospitals, physicians, business and labor groups, drug companies and consumer groups such as Families USA. The first draft of their effort will be unveiled tomorrow. And while the "consensus" will fudge some of the most difficult issues in an effort to keep the coalition together, the outlines of a genuinely comprehensive reform plan are coming into focus.

What does that consensus look like?

It starts with universal coverage, accomplished either through a mandate on everyone to purchase basic health insurance or a mandate on all employers to offer it.

It includes subsidies for families with incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty level to help defray the cost of that insurance and the deductibles and co-payments that go with it.

It involves changes in tax law so that individuals who purchase health insurance enjoy the same tax benefits as those who get it as a fringe benefit at work.

It sets up a pooling arrangement in every state to allow individuals and small businesses to buy health insurance at the same price as large corporations.

Finally, it sets a deadline for physicians and hospitals to switch to computerized health records, along with a program to provide no-interest loans to buy the necessary hardware and software. [...]

Conservatives and their small-business allies would have to swallow some form of "pay or play" -- either providing employer-paid health insurance or paying a tax to the state subsidy pool.

And liberals would have to accept a "basic" insurance package that provides full coverage for preventive care and catastrophic illness but requires patient cost-sharing for routine care.

These concessions won't come easy, which is why there has been no significant progress on health-care reform in the decade since the Clinton debacle. But the current system has become such a problem for so many providers and consumers that many are now willing to compromise on long-held positions.

If they can cut a deal before Democrats figure out that we'll all be lining our pockets with what's left over after the out-of-pocket the GOP should leap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


Rogue State America: Has America become a rogue state? (John B. Judis, 1/17/07, TNR Online)

What exactly are we doing in the Horn of Africa, where we have encouraged the Christian government of Ethiopia to invade Somalia and replace its Islamic government? As far as I can tell, we have violated international law, committed war crimes, helped Al Qaeda recruit new members, and involved ourselves in a guerrilla war that could last decades. It's Iraq writ small. And it can't be blamed on Donald Rumsfeld.

There's an old principle of international law, going back to the seventeenth century, against one nation violating the sovereignty of another. It was often breached, but, after two world wars, it was enshrined in the United Nations charter. We criticized the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and justified the first Gulf war on these grounds. The purpose of this principle has been to prevent wars that could arise if more powerful countries simply took it into their hands to dominate smaller, less powerful ones. [...]

In the 1990s, foreign policy experts, eager to identify a new enemy, hit upon the concept of a "rogue state." A rogue state operated outside the bounds of international norms and had to be restrained. The obvious candidates at the time were Libya, Iraq, and North Korea. But the Bush administration has turned the United States itself into a rogue state. Tough-minded conservatives, flexing their "muscular" inclinations from comfortable sinecures in Washington, may dismiss concerns about international law and war crimes as inventions of silly panty-waist liberals. But these inventions, which, in the modern era, were championed by Theodore Roosevelt, were meant to protect Americans as well as other peoples from the wars and the inhumanity that prevailed for thousands of years. We ignore them at their peril, whether in Haditha or Ras Kamboni.

Mr. Judis is correct about the intervention being a mistake vis-a-vis the Somali people, but if he's just now noticing that we're a rogue state and sovereignty is a dead letter he doesn't pay much attention to American history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM


Bacon drippings jazz up popcorn (San Jose Mercury News, 1/17/07)

Didn't get enough bacon at breakfast, lunch and dinner? Popping corn in bacon fat is a sure-fire way to add rich flavor to the homey snack.

Joanna Pruess, author of ``Seduced by Bacon,'' suggests substituting fat reserved from cooking bacon for the oil or butter in the basic directions for popping corn:

Warm 3 tablespoons of fat in a heavy 3-quart saucepan with lid. Add 1/3 cup of kernels, or enough to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer. Raise heat to medium and cover pan, shaking it gently to keep kernels from burning. When first few kernels begin to pop, remove the pan from the heat for exactly 1 minute. Then return pan to fire and continue shaking until the corn stops popping.

If you're honest you'll be able to admit that just reading that had a strangely Viagra-like effect on you....

Bacon's new sizzle: UPSCALE BRANDS, A CHANGE IN TASTES HELP MAKE IT HOT AGAIN (Aleta Watson, 1/17/07, Mercury News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


The real healing begins for mother of Iris Chang (L.A. Chung, 1/17/07, San Jose Mercury)

Perhaps it is fate that makes 2007 different. Perhaps it is will. When her daughter, the shining, driven luminary Iris Chang, committed suicide in November 2004, Ying-Ying Chang plunged into a dark chasm of unrelenting grief. [...]

But in 2007, Ying-Ying Chang has emerged into the sunlight, into a confluence of events that have manifested Iris' spirit everywhere.

A new documentary, ``Nanking,'' initiated by AOL Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis, makes its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week. [...]

Leonsis, an AOL executive and owner of the Washington Capitals hockey team, was inexplicably drawn to Chang's obituary buried deep inside the New York Times. Hungry for something to read aboard his yacht, Leonsis had bought 45 days' worth of outdated papers during a shore visit in the Caribbean.

Iris' story and her picture haunted him. When a maid tried to take the papers away, he stopped her, plucked the page from the trash, and looked up everything he could about Iris, John Rabe and the rape of Nanking.

"In Chinese, we think it is something like fate. . . . Some way, something provides that you meet this person, that you are bound to this person, somehow,'' said Ying Ying, who, with her husband, had dinner with Leonsis in Washington last year. "For some reason, he didn't know why, he couldn't forget about the obituary.''

Leonsis persuaded Oscar-winning filmmaker Bill Guttentag, who teaches at Stanford, to tell the story of Rabe and the dozen or so Westerners who risked their lives to create a safety zone to protect 250,000 Chinese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


Braves trade LaRoche to Bucs for Gonzalez (Jerry Crasnick, 1/17/07, ESPN.com)

The Pittsburgh Pirates, filling their need for a left-handed power bat, acquired first baseman Adam LaRoche from the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday for lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez.

The Braves will receive another as yet unidentified player. Neither team would comment and an announcement is not yet scheduled.

The Pirates and Braves had been discussing a LaRoche-Gonzalez swap for weeks. Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield was looking to upgrade an offense that ranked last in the National League with 141 home runs and a .397 slugging percentage.

LaRoche hit 32 homers and drove in 90 runs last season and finished in a tie for seventh in the National League with a .561 slugging percentage.

Their our 2007 version of the Tigers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


Top al-Qaeda-linked militant killed (AP, 1/17/07)

A top al-Qaeda-linked militant accused of masterminding the kidnapping of three Americans who was long wanted by U.S. and Philippine authorities has been killed, the military said Wednesday.

Jainal Antel Sali Jr., popularly known as Abu Sulaiman -- a top leader of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group -- was fatally shot in a fierce gunbattle Tuesday in a clash with army special forces, military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said.

Sulaiman is the highest-ranking Abu Sayyaf commander killed by U.S.-backed troops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


What's Wrong With Vocational School?: Too many Americans are going to college. (CHARLES MURRAY, January 17, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college--enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.

No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because "vocational training" is second class. "College" is first class.

Easy rule of thumb: if you were meant to be there your name would be chiseled over the entryway of one of the buildings....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


The Personal Is Political (ANDREW FERGUSON, January 17, 2007, NY Sun)

The personal-is-political method is also commonly employed in its negative form: Your political position is somehow illegitimate if you haven't had certain experiences.

Opponents of the Iraq war, for example, routinely suggest that any policymaker who hasn't served in the military shouldn't send others to fight.

Never mind that this notion, by extension, would undo the tradition of civilian control of the military, and never mind that any argument about policy should be judged on its merits, independently of the people who make the argument.

The intention here is something else: to remove the issue from the realm of objective argument and plunge it into the realm of the personal, where emotion and passion hold sway.

Consider the horrifying exchange in a committee hearing last week between Senator Boxer of California and Secretary of State Rice.

Ms. Boxer grilled Ms. Rice in her trademark style, which is notable more for its exuberance than its coherence. She got personal immediately, suggesting that the administration's plan to send more troops to Iraq was illegitimate because -- well, because neither she nor Ms. Rice has children fighting in Iraq.

"I'm not going to pay a personal price," Ms. Boxer said. "You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family."

Ms. Boxer appeared to be attacking Ms. Rice for being unmarried and childless. And so, in one of those strange inversions that have become increasingly common in contemporary politics, Republicans accused Ms. Boxer of being insufficiently feminist.

Ms. Boxer's questioning of Ms. Rice, said the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, was a "great leap backward for feminism."

But Ms. Boxer's transgressions against feminism are nothing compared with her transgressions against reason and logic. Perhaps Mr. Snow was reluctant to criticize her for those because they are now almost universally shared.

The difference, of course, is that liberalism is centered on the self, so particular individual experience is a necessity to understanding anything. Universalism is the domain of the opposition Judeo-Christians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


Matsuzaka needs to shoot for Nomo's numbers (Rob Neyer, 1/17/07, ESPN Insider

[W]e do have one interesting point of comparison: Hideo Nomo, who pitched brilliantly in Japan before joining the Dodgers when he was only 26. [...]

Here's what he did in his last three seasons in Japan's Pacific League and his first three in our National League:

Pacific Lg. 574 3.63 5.5 9.9
National Lg 627 3.34 3.7 10.1

Somehow Nomo cut his walk rate significantly, which allowed him to lower his ERA as well. Does anybody want to explain how this particular pitcher improved upon facing tougher competition? We may theorize, of course. Perhaps Nomo benefited from better medical attention, or better instruction, or less strenuous workloads. Or perhaps he was, at 26 during his first season with the Dodgers, just hitting his stride.

Here again are Nomo's last three seasons (1992-94) in Japan, now accompanied by Matsuzaka's last three (2004-06):

Nomo 574 3.63 5.5 9.9
M'zaka 545 2.41 2.1 9.1

Obviously, Matsuzaka compares favorably to Nomo. He's slightly behind in both innings and strikeout rate, but has big edges in ERA and walks. Of course, we're considering neither ballpark nor league contexts, so all comparisons must be taken with a few grains of salt. And while Nomo and Matsuzaka were roughly the same age when they signed to play in the U.S. -- both of them rookies at 26 -- they're entirely different types. Nomo featured a devastating forkball/splitter, a passable fastball, and not much else. Matsuzaka is famous for his wide assortment of pitches: good fastball and splitter, yes, but also a changeup, slider, curveball, cutter and shuuto.

The point, though, is that we've seen exactly one top Japanese starting pitcher join our major leagues, and he was immediately outstanding; over Nomo's first three seasons (1995-97), he struck out 703 batters. Only John Smoltz (710) struck out more during those three seasons, and right behind Nomo were Pedro Martinez (701), Roger Clemens (681) and Randy Johnson (670).

Based purely on Matsuzaka's numbers in Japan, does he look like the next Nomo? Here are projections for 2007 from three respected outfits:

Baseball Forecaster 3.46 185 51 196
Baseball Prospectus 4.01 182 51 162
Baseball Primer (ZiPS) 3.44 186 34 131

If Matsuzaka nails the average of those projections, he'll finish in the top 10 in the American League's ERA rankings, and the Red Sox will have gotten their money's worth. Considering Nomo's early successes, there simply isn't any reason to believe that Matsuzaka will find his new opponents significantly more difficult than his old ones.

Projecting the 2007 Red Sox (Yanksfan vs. Soxfan)

Using James' Pythagorean theorum and PECOTA's seemingly more realistic projections, 964 runs scored and 710 runs allowed would project roughly (I used the power of two instead of the power of 1.83) to a 105-57 record. Um, wow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Jazz mourns an icon (MARK STRYKER, 1/15/07, Detroit FREE PRESS)

Of all the musicians forged by the golden age of jazz in Detroit in the mid-20th Century, Alice Coltrane, who died Friday in a suburban Los Angeles hospital of respiratory failure at age 69, traveled the farthest from her roots. It was a remarkable journey.

She started as a nimble, Detroit-born bebop pianist in the '50s named Alice McLeod, but under the sway of her husband, revolutionary saxophonist John Coltrane, she adopted an expressionistic style on piano, harp and organ and became an icon of the avant-garde in the decade following his death in 1967.

On piano she favored rhapsodic arpeggios that fused with celestial modal harmonies and dark bass notes that seemed to grow from Middle Earth. On Wurlitzer organ she created a signature ululating wail. The music was redolent of meditation, Eastern tonality, the church, John Coltrane and the great beyond. Her records, such as "Universal Consciousness" and "Ptah, the El Daoud," helped define an era in which non-Western modes of consciousness were gaining currency.

The music was a bridge into a new life for Coltrane as a Hindu mystic and religious teacher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


NATO says Taliban commander captured (FISNIK ABRASHI, 1/17/07, Associated Press)

NATO-led troops and Afghan forces detained a prominent Taliban commander during a raid on a compound in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said Wednesday.

The commander was the leader of the insurgents in Panjwayi district of neighbouring Kandahar province, where last summer NATO troops waged their biggest ground offensive in the Western alliance's history, said NATO spokesman Squadron Leader Dave Marsh.

"This seizure of a Taliban commander once again shows that there is nowhere to hide for insurgent leaders," he said.

The captured militant, whom NATO did not identify, had fled another recent offensive by Afghan and NATO forces in the south of the country, the alliance said. He was captured in the Gereshk district of Helmand province late Tuesday.

Zawahiri's plans for seizing-back-the-intiative are working about as well as Harry Reid's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


So, our youngest is watching Star Wars III -- for the umpteenth time -- and it was just at the part where George Lucas delivers his stinging rebuke to the other George, with Annakin Skywalker saying to Obi Wan; "If you aren't with me, you're my enemy." Obi Wan's response: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."

The suggestion that the two are not enemies, or that Obi Wan could be kind-of-pro-Dark-Side, is insipid even by the low standards of these philosophically incoherent films. Perhaps all you really need to know about the dismal state of liberalism is that it has trouble even saying that it would oppose the Dark Side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Senate Votes to Disclose Pet Projects (JIM ABRAMS, January 16, 2007, The Associated Press)

The Senate voted Tuesday to shine more light on thousands of expensive pet projects buried in legislation every year after the new Democratic majority bowed to a successful push by Republicans to make new disclosure rules even tougher than originally planned.

The vote was 98-0 to require senators to reveal the water projects, hiking trails, defense contracts or tax breaks for specific industries they insert in legislation. That unanimity came five days after Democrats, holding a slim majority, were thwarted by a GOP-led rebellion in advancing their own version of "earmark" reform. [...]

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the author of the amendment to the ethics bill, said the ability of the two sides to come together on the issue was "a good signal for the new Congress."

Translation; their need to bend to our will promises a fruitful two years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Frist looking at governor run in 2010 (Sam Youngman, 1/17/07, The Hill)

Former Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is seriously considering a gubernatorial run in Tennessee in 2010, possibly setting up a White House bid further down the road.

Sources in Washington and Tennessee say Frist, who will turn 55 next month, is leaning heavily toward a run for the governor's office, where he could gain executive experience that might position him to try for the presidency in either 2012 or 2016.

"It's a done deal," said a source with knowledge of Frist's plans.

Outstanding--he can best serve the Party by developing it in his own state. Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Mitt Romney, Duncan Hunter, Tommy Thompson, Bill Owens, and Mike Huckabee should likewise take on tough statewide races.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Success of Medicare Part D is a Bitter Pill for Democrats (Rich Lowry, 1/17/07, Real Clear Politics)

Democrats hate that Republicans are willing, on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research, to let their straitened moral views supposedly stand in the way of medical progress. But Democrats have their own ethical problem with medical progress - based on their moral qualms about the profit motive.

During the 2006 campaign, Democrats argued that President Bush's prescription-drug program - Medicare Part D - could never be cost-effective unless the government was allowed to negotiate directly with drug companies. According to the Democrats, the ''D'' in Medicare ''Part D'' stood for ''dystopia,'' forcing dazed and confused seniors to be ripped off by ravenous drug companies.

They never bothered to notice that Medicare Part D has been an unexpected success.

As much fun as it is to bash Democrats, isn't this is the first time anyone at National Review has noticed either?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


The War Against Global Jihadism (Peter Wehner, 1/16/07, Real Clear Politics)

Shiites believe that the Twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, is merely hidden from view and will one day return from his "occultation" to rid the world of evil. Legitimate Islamic rule can only be re-established with the Mahdi's return because, in the Shiite view, the imams possessed secret knowledge, passed by each to his successor, vital to guiding the community. [...]

It's worth noting that Shia have historically been politically quiescent, with "[the return of the Mahdi] remaining in practice merely a sanctifying tenet for the submissive acceptance of the status quo." [...] "For all his talk of the war between civilizations," Professor Noah Feldman has written:

"bin Laden has never spoken of the end of days. For him, the battle between the Muslims and the infidels is part of earthly human life, and has indeed been with us since the days of the Prophet himself. The war intensifies and lessens with time, but it is not something that occurs out of time or with the expectation that time itself will stop. Bin Laden and his sympathizers want to re-establish the caliphate and rule the Muslim world, but unlike some earlier revivalist movements within Sunni Islam, they do not declare their leader as the mahdi, or guided one, whose appearance will usher in a golden age of justice and peace to be followed by the Day of Judgment. From this perspective, the utter destruction of civilization would be a mistake, not the fulfillment of a divine plan."

Many Sunnis, then, look toward the rise of a new caliphate; Shia, on the other hand, are looking for the rule of the returned imam -- with the extremist strain within Shia believing they can hasten the return of the twelfth imam by cleansing the world of what they believe to be evil in their midst.

Other prominent Shia, like Iraq's Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, "take a more fatalist stance, and prefer to believe that the mahdi's coming cannot be hastened by human activity...." Indeed, Ayatollah Sistani was a disciple of Ayatollah Abul-Qassim Khoei in Najaf, who was from the "quietist school" in Shiite Islam and attempted to keep Khomeini from claiming the mantle of Shiite leadership. [...]

Since the attacks of September 11, we have learned important things about al Qaeda and its allies. Their movement is fueled by hatred and deep resentments against the West, America, and the course of history.

In Islam's first few centuries of existence, it was a dominant and expanding force in the world, sweeping across lands in the modern-day Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and elsewhere. During its Golden Age -- which spanned from the eighth to the 13th century -- Islam was the philosophical, educational, and scientific center of the world. The Ottoman Empire reached the peak of its power in the 16th century. Islam then began to recede as a political force. In the 17th century, for example, advancing Muslims were defeated at the gates of Vienna, the last time an Islamic army threatened the heart of Europe. And for radicals like bin Laden, a milestone event and historic humiliation came when the Ottoman Empire crumbled at the end of World War I.

This is significant because for many Muslims, the proper order of life in this world is for them to rule and for the "infidels" to be ruled over. [...]

The theocratic and totalitarian ideology that characterizes al Qaeda makes typical negotiations impossible. "Anyone who stands in the way of our struggle is our enemy and target of the swords," said Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the late leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Osama bin Laden put it this way: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

This struggle has an enormous ideological dimension. For example, both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two leader of al Qaeda and its ideological leader, were deeply influenced by Sayyid Qutb, whose writings (especially his manifesto Milestones) gave rise and profoundly shaped the radical Islamist movement. Qutb, an Egyptian who was killed by Egyptian President Gamal Nasser in 1966, had a fierce hatred for America, the West, modernity, and Muslims who did not share his extremist views.

According to the author Lawrence Wright:

"Qutb divides the world into two camps, Islam and jahiliyya, the period of ignorance and barbarity that existed before the divine message of the Prophet Mohammed. Qutb uses the term to encompass all of modern life: manners, morals, art, literature, law, even much of what passed as Islamic culture. He was opposed not to modern technology but to the worship of science, which he believed had alienated humanity from natural harmony with creation. Only a complete rejection of rationalism and Western values offered the slim hope of the redemption of Islam. This was the choice: pure, primitive Islam or the doom of mankind."

Sunni jihadists, then, are committed to establishing a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. Ayman al-Zawahiri, for example, has spoken about a "jihad for the liberation of Palestine, all Palestine, as well as every land that was a home for Islam, from Andalusia to Iraq. The whole world is an open field for us."

Their version of political utopia is Afghanistan under the Taliban, a land of almost unfathomable cruelty. The Taliban sought to control every sphere of human life and crush individuality and human creativity.

Based on the recommendations of folks here, I've been listening the Lawrence Wright book and it is not just packed with insights but written with unusual clarity. It's a must-read for understanding the dynamics of the current confrontation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy (DAVID LEONHARDT, 1/17/07, NY Times)

The human mind isn't very well equipped to make sense of a figure like $1.2 trillion. We don't deal with a trillion of anything in our daily lives, and so when we come across such a big number, it is hard to distinguish it from any other big number. Millions, billions, a trillion -- they all start to sound the same.

The way to come to grips with $1.2 trillion is to forget about the number itself and think instead about what you could buy with the money.

Here's the easiest way to wrap your mind around it: for about 10% of one year's GDP we liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, democratized Palestine and brought about elections everywhere from Egypt to Saudi Arabia. It'd be interesting to hear the Left make an honest argument that Arab Muslims aren't worth even such a minor investment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Far-right group in disarray as MEPs seek to end its funding (Stephen Castle, 17 January 2007, Independent)

A new far-right group in the European Parliament is in disarray after one of its MEPs disowned a colleague for attacking the "Jewish establishment" and for accusing Roma parents of selling their daughters into prostitution.

The rift emerged at yesterday's press conference to launch an ultra-nationalist group called Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty. It is led by Bruno Gollnisch, of France's National Front, who is awaiting a court verdict on charges of Holocaust denial. [...]

The only British parliamentarian in the far-right grouping, Ashley Mote, a former Ukip MEP, turned on his 23-year-old Bulgarian colleague, Dimitar Stoyanov, over comments made in yesterday's Independent. Mr Stoyanov, of Bulgaria's Ataka Party and the parliament's youngest MEP, had denied being anti-Semitic but said he opposes the "Jewish establishment", which uses normal Jewish people "like pawns". Justifying criticism of Roma communities, he argued: "If you put the children in a bad parental environment you cannot expect them to integrate. If you turn a daughter into a prostitute when they are 12 years old you cannot expect them to develop a moral awareness.

"They are sending their daughter out begging or selling them to older men. Sometimes you forget about human rights because of ethnic rights."

Poor Mr. Mote, he thought there was a good kind of nationalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Dirty Work: What are the jobs Americans won't do? (Daniel Gross, Jan. 12, 2007, Slate)

What are these jobs that Americans will not do? Do they exist? Or are they a figment of the business community's imagination? It turns out that their claims are largely true--there are plenty of jobs Americans avoid. Let's take a tour of them. Americans shun pretty much any unskilled labor that requires them to get their hands dirty: landscaping, entry-level construction, picking fruits and vegetables (Reuters reports that "up to 70 percent of U.S. farm workers are estimated to be undocumented, totaling about 500,000 people"), cleaning hotel rooms, busing tables, and prep cooking in urban restaurants.

But the refusal to do jobs is moving up the value chain. American workers appear to be less interested in some kinds of factory jobs. The Washington Post, for example, recently reported that Georgia's carpet factories are increasingly dominated by Mexican immigrant workers.

Americans, it seems, are also less willing to take stressful jobs that require lots of training and long hours, and that require them to work in unpleasant environments. For example, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing is warning of a nursing shortage. This survey from the American Hospital Association says there are 118,000 nursing vacancies in the United States. Meanwhile, a 2003 report by the Council on Graduate Medical Education suggested there could be a shortage of anywhere from 65,000 to 150,000 doctors in 2020. (Given the time it takes to educate and train a physician, it's not too soon to worry.)

Spending your days tethered to a computer is also work that many Americans avoid. The Information Technology Association of America notes that 77 percent of companies it polled said there was a shortage of qualified IT talent in the United States. The solution: Import more geeks. The ITAA (and pretty much every technology company) supports boosting the number of H-1B visas above the current limit of 65,000 per fiscal year.

The more one looks, the more shortages of willing workers appear. Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe last month reported that the Pentagon is "considering expanding the number of noncitizens in the ranks--including disputed proposals to open recruiting stations overseas and putting more immigrants on a faster track to U.S. citizenship if they volunteer." Today, about 2 percent of the soldiers protecting America--about 30,000--aren't technically Americans. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on a dire shortage of professors of accounting, finance, and management that may cause some schools to curtail course offerings. "AACSB International, the accrediting organization for business schools, estimates a shortage of 1,000 Ph.D.s in the U.S. this year that will grow to 2,400 by 2012." (Apparently, American citizens with Ph.D.s in accounting, finance, and management can get high-paying, satisfying jobs in the private sector. Who knew?)

On the bright side, the more jobs we won't do the more new Americans we get to import.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Third terror suspect has disappeared, Reid admits (Nigel Morris, 17 January 2007, Independent)

John Reid faces intense embarrassment after admitting that a terrorist suspect vanished within days of being issued with a control order that was meant to restrict his movements.

The authorities have now lost track of three of 18 men they believe to be such a serious threat to security, either at home or abroad, that they have to be constantly monitored.

In a further damaging blow to the embattled Home Secretary, a Home Office report raised serious questions over border controls at major airports.

Kind of touching that the Euros care more about the freedom of terrorists than their own safety. Rather, touched.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Knowing look from sidelines: NFL assistants weigh in on Colts (Mike Reiss, January 17, 2007, Boston Globe)

"When we played the Patriots, they were happy to take the 3-, 4-, 5-yard routes, Tom wasn't trying to force the ball 20-30 yards down the field," [Jaguars defensive line coach Ray Hamilton] said. "They ended up with around seven third-and-1's, which is a lot for a game. But by taking the short passes, it keeps the clock rolling and makes for manageable third downs. That would be an effective approach to keep Manning on the sidelines, whether by running or dinking and dinking."

After not watching much football for 15 years -- The Wife despises it -- two changes are particularly striking, both likely related to free agency as much as typical copycat coaching: (1) fundamentals, especially tackling, have eroded significantly; (2) it's incredible how many teams use this stupid three-yard passing offense, making repeated completions but not first downs. They're running an offense that's premised on just getting the ball in Jerry Rice's hands, but he's not actually the guy catching it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


War, after the smoke clears: a review of This Mighty Scourge Perspectives on the Civil War by James M. McPherson (Tim Rutten, January 17, 2007, LA Times)

In "This Mighty Scourge" -- a riveting collection of 16 masterfully written essays -- James M. McPherson again demonstrates that he is our greatest historian of the war. Now 71 and an emeritus professor of history at Princeton, McPherson is author or editor of more than two dozen books on the Civil War, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Battle Cry of Freedom," which is the best and most eloquent single-volume account of the conflict. [...]

The two essays in the book's final section deal with the compelling figure of Lincoln. McPherson has been a public opponent of the current war in Iraq and in "As Commander-in-Chief I Have a Right to Take Any Measure Which May Best Subdue the Enemy," he analyzes Lincoln's abrogation of civil liberties during the war, including his suspension of habeas corpus, which was held illegal by then U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney -- author of the notorious Dred Scott decision. The legal issue, by the way, was never whether the "Great Writ" could, in fact be suspended, since Article I of the Constitution provides for such a step "when in cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." The argument was over whether Congress or the president had the power to do so.

McPherson quotes contemporary legal scholar Michael Stokes Paulsen's approval of Lincoln's initiative as a defense of the Constitution itself: "A part cannot control the whole, to the destruction of the whole." Lincoln, one of his era's great trial lawyers, preferred a homespun analogy to surgery: "Life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through preservation of the nation."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Creators of Kazaa unveil Web TV service (Dawn C. Chmielewski, January 17, 2007, LA Times)

The duo behind the blockbuster Internet applications Skype and Kazaa think they have the secret to online video: Make it more like TV.

Joost (pronounced "juiced") seeks to merge the best features of Internet file-sharing technology -- such as its ability to deliver content efficiently -- with a television-like viewing experience. Industry insiders who have seen an early version of the Internet television service extol the full-screen video quality and the simple interface, which is more of an electronic channel guide than the lists of videos on popular sites such as YouTube.

"Joost offers a very Mac-like experience," said Adam Ware, head of business development for United Talent Agency, who has been testing the service that was developed by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis and unveiled Tuesday.

Skype founders name new video start-up Joost: Company aims to a provide a fast, efficient and cheap distribution method to transmit high-quality video over the Internet. (Greg Sandoval, January 15, 2007, CNET NEws)
Their sparkling track record of creating hit companies aside, Friis and Zennström face a crowded field of competitors, such as YouTube and Apple, which are already well on their way to establishing themselves as video-distribution platforms.

Most important, Joost has yet to strike any marquee partnerships with top film or TV producers. Without them, the company's challenge is a tough one: convincing studio executives and the like to turn over their content to Joost when it has yet to attract a big audience.

BitTorrent, the San Francisco-based distributor of a competing peer-to-peer company, is also vying to license technology to Internet video companies. Another threat could come from the growing number of sites that offer top cable and movie channels without permission. One such company, TVU Networks, made a splash last summer by offering soccer fans the ability to watch World Cup matches on their PC. For a while, TVU Networks was offering HBO, CNN, the Disney Channel and NBAtv before many of those companies forced TVU to cease the practice.

What Joost has going for it is that the software replicates the TV viewing experience better than many of the other companies trying to wed TV to the PC. And this is a time when Hollywood is experimenting with the Internet. During the past year, Warner Bros. cut distribution deals with Guba, a little-known video-sharing site, and BitTorrent, a company that many consider to be synonymous with digital piracy.

Joost's nifty technology may be enough to sway the entertainment industry to place a bet on proven winners in Friis and Zennstrom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Game time in Vietnam (John Boudreau, 1/17/07, Mercury News)

The singing begins Saturday for employees at the online gaming start-up VinaGame. Instead of beer-bash Fridays, the company hosts cafeteria karaoke contests.

``It's a Silicon Valley trend here. We do that so people will stay in the office,'' joked chief executive officer and Santa Cruz native Bryan Pelz.

Pelz, who with several others co-founded Vietnam's biggest online gaming company, is helping usher in the Internet era. His start-up symbolizes the swift changes occurring in the country of 84 million people, which just joined the World Trade Organization.

Vietnam's economy is roaring at about an 8 percent rate of growth a year. Young people pack electronics stores, buying everything from digital music players to expensive mobile phones. High-tech giants, from Intel to Canon, are setting up operations. The government estimates about 20 percent of the country is now online.

``From an American perspective, the last thing you think about is an Internet culture in Vietnam,'' said Henry Nguyen, managing general partner of IDG Ventures Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, which invests in tech companies, including VinaGame. ``This illustrates what modern Vietnam is like.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Miracle Vote: Churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rejoice over first free elections in 46 years. (Isaac Phiri, 1/17/2007, Christianity Today)

When CT last traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, ministers prayed passionately and tearfully for an end to war. They prayed for successful elections later in the year. They asked for a miracle.

Peaceful elections on October 29 led the BBC to acknowledge, "That miracle appears to have taken place." [...]

"Church leaders are unanimous in thanking God," said Gwendolyn Lusi, who operates a health service ministry in Goma. "There were many attempts to destabilize the process. The whole thing could have turned into a catastrophe." [...]

The October runoff was even more intense. Isaac Mwanaume, pastor of one of the largest churches in northeast Congo, organized prayer conferences. World Vision's Goma office launched more peace and reconciliation programs. Mennonite churches arranged for outside observers and trained thousands as mediators.

"The church is everywhere," the BBC reported. "Taxi drivers play gospel music."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Israeli army chief of staff resigns over Lebanon failures (AP, 17 January 2007)

Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz has resigned, yielding to vocal demands that he pay the price for Israel's flawed summer war in Lebanon. [...]

The country went into the war as a united front against Hezbollah, but that solidarity collapsed after the fighting ended. Critics questioned whether Israel went too hastily to a war that ended without achieving its declared aims - recovering the captured soldiers and crushing Hezbollah.

Cold comfort, but, while the invasion was obviously a disaster in the short term, by empowering Hezbollah it may well lead to creation of a separate nation of South Lebanon which would be a long term victory for Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Complaints flood in over 'racist bullying' of Indian actress on Celebrity Big Brother (AURA SABADUS, 1/17/07, scotsman.com)

CELEBRITY Big Brother was at the centre of a major storm last night over claims that one of the contestants was being racially insulted and bullied by the other celebrity contestants.

More than 10,000 complaints have been made over the treatment housemate Shilpa Shetty, a Bollywood actress, at the hands of fellow contestants including Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara.

Actress and author Meera Syal, the star of The Kumars at No 42 and Goodness Gracious Me, criticised the programme for the treatment meeted out to Shetty in recent episodes, while the issue is also set to be debated in parliament.

In one incident, O'Meara, a former singer in SClub7, declared that Indians are thin because they are always ill as a result of undercooking their food. Housemates also poked fun at Shetty's Indian accent and complained that she had touched other housemates' food with her hands. Lloyd, a former Miss England, sneered: "You don't know where those hands have been."

Art should be aspirational and inspirational, not squalid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


There have to be less scary ways to remind kids to stay celibate.

January 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 PM


Growing criticism of Ahmadinejad in Iran (UPI, 1/16/07)

There is growing criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, including a parliamentary drive to summon him to answer questions, a report says.

Even previously friendly hard-line newspapers have taken him to task for being too hostile towards the West since the passage of a U.N. sanctions resolution, the BBC said.

About 50 members of parliament are believed to have signed a resolution that would force him to come before the body. But 75 signatures are needed for the resolution to take effect.

A letter asking the president to be more realistic in the assumptions behind his next budget has received the signatures of 150 members of parliament, the report said.

W's going to outlast him too.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 10:24 PM


Castro surgery seems to have been botched: experts (Tom Brown, 1/16/07, Reuters)

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has long prided himself on Cuba's doctors and free public health care system, but that system seems to have let him down after he fell ill in July , U.S.-based doctors said on Tuesday.

Based on a report in Tuesday's edition of Spain's El Pais newspaper, the doctors -- who have no first-hand knowledge of Castro's condition -- said Castro had received questionable or even botched care at the hands of health experts on his communist-ruled island.

"It's not a good story. Too bad they didn't send him to Miami for surgery," said Dr. Charles Gerson, a clinical professor of medicine in the gastroenterology division of New York's Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

According to two medical sources cited by El Pais, the veteran revolutionary was in "very serious" condition after three failed operations on his large intestine for diverticulitis, or pouch-like bulges in the intestine, complicated by infection.

The sources in El Pais were from the same Madrid hospital where a surgeon who visited the 80-year-old Castro in late December works.

The Spanish surgeon, Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, had not changed his opinion that Castro was slowly recovering after stomach surgery for an undisclosed ailment, his secretary said.

But El Pais said Castro was being fed intravenously and his outlook was bleak. If confirmed, the newspaper's account was the first with details of Castro's clinical history since he first underwent surgery six months ago. His condition is considered a state secret inside Cuba.

Here's to you, Mr. Fancypants Tenured Screwball who never shuts up about Cuban health care.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


Insurgencies Rarely Win - And Iraq Won't Be Any Different (Maybe) (Donald Stoker, January 2007, Foreign Policy)

Myths about invincible guerrillas and insurgents are a direct result of America's collective misunderstanding of its defeat in South Vietnam. This loss is generally credited to the brilliance and military virtues of the pajama-clad Vietcong. The Vietnamese may have been tough and persistent, but they were not brilliant. Rather, they were lucky--they faced an opponent with leaders unwilling to learn from their failures: the United States. When the Vietcong went toe-to-toe with U.S. forces in the 1968 Tet Offensive, they were decimated. When South Vietnam finally fell in 1975, it did so not to the Vietcong, but to regular units of the invading North Vietnamese Army. The Vietcong insurgency contributed greatly to the erosion of the American public's will to fight, but so did the way that President Lyndon Johnson and the American military waged the war. It was North Vietnam's will and American failure, not skillful use of an insurgency, that were the keys to Hanoi's victory.

Similar misunderstandings persist over the Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan, the other supposed example of guerrilla invincibility. But it was not the mujahidin's strength that forced the Soviets to leave; it was the Soviet Union's own economic and political weakness at home. In fact, the regime the Soviets established in Afghanistan was so formidable that it managed to survive for three years after the Red Army left.

Of course, history is not without genuine insurgent successes. Fidel Castro's victory in Cuba is probably the best known, and there was the IRA's partial triumph in 1922, as well as Algeria's defeat of the French between 1954 and 1962. But the list of failed insurgencies is longer: Malayan Communists, Greek Communists, Filipino Huks, Nicaraguan Contras, Communists in El Salvador, Che Guevara in Bolivia, the Boers in South Africa (twice), Savimbi in Angola, and Sindero Luminoso in Peru, to name just a few. If the current U.S. administration maintains its will, establishes security in Baghdad, and succeeds in building a functioning government and army, there is no reason that the Iraqi insurgency cannot be similarly destroyed, or at least reduced to the level of terrorist thugs.

Properly understood, the United States was the insurgency in Vietnam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Russia sees Muslim population boom (Jonah Hull, 1/13/07, Aljazeera)

Low domestic birth rates and rising immigration from the former Soviet republics have produced an explosive growth in Russia's Muslim community. [...]

There are around 25 million Muslims in Russia today, a rise of 40 per cent since 1989.

By 2020, with the continued growth rate, Muslims will account for one-fifth of the entire population.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


Never forget Saddam Hussein's cruelty: The Iraqi dictator's inhumanity to mankind was almost beyond imagination in its scope and butchery (John Hughes, 1/17/07, CS Monitor)

Tapes of what he said long ago were played in a Baghdad courtroom last week as the case continued against some of the six major defendants still on trial. Wrote John Burns, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times: "In the history of war crimes prosecutions against some of the last century's grimmest men, there can rarely have been a moment that so starkly caught a despot's unpitying nature." [...]

The Times reporter chronicles one significant exchange that revealed the lengths Hussein went to cover up Iraq's efforts to attain weapons of mass destruction. To the general who dealt with United Nations weapons inspectors before the US-led invasion in 2003, he urged caution in the figures being divulged about raw materials for chemical weapons so as to disguise the use of unaccounted-for chemicals in the attacks upon Kurds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Islam's Sunni-Shiite split: A look at the historic divide within the Muslim world. (Dan Murphy, 1/17/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

The fact that Shiites have long been oppressed - first under the Ottoman Empire, later under states like Iraq and Saudi Arabia - has led to a strong identification with the injustices suffered by Hussein, and have lent a political dimension to Shiite worship. Ashura celebrations, for instance, were banned under Saddam Hussein, who feared they could lead to spontaneous uprisings. [...]

Most Shiites believe that there were 12 legitimate successors to Muhammad as caliph, and that the final imam, now called the Mahdi, disappeared when he was taken up in the arms of God. Many Shiites believe the Mahdi will return to earth one day and play the role of savior. A battle between the forces of good and evil will ensue, ending in a thousand-year reign of peace and the end of the world.

These are the two elements that make Shi'ism the ideal third foundation of liberal democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


Pakistan airstrike targets tribes: Recent attacks seem to contradict a peace deal signed with Taliban-linked militants in September of last year (David Montero, 1/17/07, The Christian Science Monitor )

What's the use...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


What Congress Can (And Can't) Do on Iraq (David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, January 16, 2007, Washington Post)

Congressional Democrats (and Republicans) who oppose President Bush's decision to send additional American troops to Iraq may frustrate his plan, but not -- as suggested by Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn -- by imposing 21,500 strings on the 21,500 new troops. Just as there are constraints on the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, there are limits on Congress's ability to direct presidential action. In particular, Congress cannot use its power of the purse to micromanage the president's execution of his office. Indeed, although the prosecution of the Iraq war looms large in today's political discourse, the consequences of substantive decisions related to the war are dwarfed by the imperatives of protecting the integrity of the core rules governing interactions between the executive and legislative branches, which are rooted in our distinctive constitutional fabric.

This constitutional fabric features two coordinate political branches, with unique responsibilities and independent legitimacies. Thus, even if one assumes that, as critics allege, the November election results were a call for disengaging from Iraq, efforts by some congressional Democrats to chastise the president through a resolution of "no confidence" in his Iraq policy have no place in our constitutional culture. The Framers did not establish a parliamentary system.

This does not mean, of course, that Congress is powerless. It could -- if the leadership mustered veto-proof majorities -- immediately cut off funding for U.S. operations in Iraq. Alternatively, Congress could refuse to pass new appropriations once the current ones expire. The refusal to pay for particular policies -- whether in war or peace -- has been the most important check on executive power in the Anglo-American political tradition, dating to the British Parliament's ancient insistence on the right to seek redress of grievances before voting supplies (i.e., money) to the monarch. Under our constitutional system, however, the power to cut off funding does not imply the authority to effect lesser restrictions, such as establishing benchmarks or other conditions on the president's direction of the war. Congress cannot, in other words, act as the president's puppet master, and so long as currently authorized and appropriated funding lasts, the president can dispatch additional troops to Iraq with or without Congress's blessing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


OPEC is urged to wait before making output cuts (The Associated Press, January 16, 2007)

Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations should wait until February before deciding on further cuts in their crude oil output, Nigeria's oil minister, Edmund Daukoru, said Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Will a Larger Military Mean Lower Standards? (Robert Haddick : 16 Jan 2007, Tech Central Station)

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld worked strenuously to avoid the very announcement Mr. Gates made last week. Mr. Rumsfeld hoped that "transformation" would reduce the number of soldiers required to achieve battlefield effects that previously required vast hordes to accomplish. Technology, as exemplified by the Army's Future Combat System, is only part of the transformation story. The Marine Corps's "distributed operations" concept will achieve immense effects on the battlefield, with platoons doing the work of battalions and companies doing the work of regiments. Under distributed operations, the Marine Corps will reorganize its infantry battalions to allow sergeants and lieutenants to lead wide-ranging patrols deep through enemy terrain. A battalion commander previously maneuvered with three rifle companies. Under distributed operations, that battalion commander will employ a dozen to 30 or more mobile, elite teams to find the enemy, direct airpower, or mass for attack. Small unit leaders will be given unprecedented authority and responsibility. However, the Marine Corps requires only the best recruits, trainable to elite standards, to make distributed operations a reality.

Mr. Gates is leading in the wrong direction. Rather than reinforcing failure, what the U.S. government should be learning from Iraq is a new way to fight its wars. Instead of using massed legacy American forces, the U.S. should move to a model that employs highly-trained U.S. teams either working in a distributed fashion to identify enemy targets, or as advisors to local allies and proxies.

This was where Mr. Rumsfeld was driving. Now Mr. Gates is steering the Defense Department off the road. Instead of being allowed to develop high quality recruits into elite warriors prepared for a complex battlefield, Mr. Gates is going to dump more marginal misfits on the sergeants and lieutenants. Let's hope someone can stop this ride before it ends up in the ditch.

Someone being W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


McCain aims to make amends with conservative Christian leader (Associated Press, Jan. 16, 2007)

Sen. John McCain said Tuesday he hopes to patch things up with conservative Christian leader James Dobson, who recently said he wouldn't support the Republican's presidential bid under any circumstances. [...]

"I'm happy to say that I've established a dialogue with a number of other leaders," including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, "Purpose Driven Life" author Rick Warren and Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

McCain has reached out to conservatives he once crossed. Last May, he spoke at Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia. In 2000, Falwell opposed McCain's campaign for the GOP nomination and supported George W. Bush. At the time, McCain labeled Falwell and others on the right and the left as "agents of intolerance."

During his 2000 presidential bid, McCain also criticized Bob Jones University, a Christian fundamentalist college, for its ban on interracial dating. [...]

McCain said last year that he wouldn't turn down an opportunity to speak at Bob Jones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Royals have a potential star in Gordon (Keith Law, 1/16/07, ESPN.com)

When Dayton Moore took over as general manager of the woeful Kansas City Royals, he inherited the worst 25-man roster in the big leagues and an organization almost completely devoid of pitching. But the cupboard wasn't bare, as the Royals had two impact bats already in the barn in Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Butler is promising because he can hit, but Gordon has star potential because he also plays a skill position.

Gordon is something of a left-handed Lance Berkman. He has a compact swing and has plus power, partly a function of his swing and partly a function of his raw strength. He uses the whole field well, with excellent plate discipline and plate coverage. His peak should approach Mike Sweeney's, and perhaps even surpass it in the power department. He jumped directly from college to Double-A, unusual even for top college players, and didn't miss a beat, hitting for average and power while showing good patience and even some baserunning skills.

The Royals somehow managed to get nothing for Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco and Runelvys Hernandez, so it may be too early to hold out any hope for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans': As 20,000 more US troops head for Iraq, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the only correspondent reporting regularly from behind the country's sectarian battle lines, reveals how the Sunni insurgency has changed (Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, January 13, 2007, Guardian)

One morning a few weeks ago I sat in a car talking to Rami, a thick-necked former Republican Guard commando who now procures arms for his fellow Sunni insurgents.

Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad." [...]

"Its not a good time to be a Sunni in Baghdad," Abu Omar told me in a low voice. He had been on the Americans' wanted list for three years but I had never seen him so anxious; he had trimmed his beard in the close-cropped Shia style and kept looking towards the door. His brother had been kidnapped a few days before, he told me, and he believed he was next on a Shia militia's list. He had fled his home in the north of the city and was staying with relatives in a Sunni stronghold in west Baghdad.

He was more despondent than angry. "We Sunni are to blame," he said. "In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: 'This is not jihad. You can't kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs - why provoke them?' "

Then he said: "I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming."

This man who had spent the last three years fighting the Americans was now willing to talk to them, not because he wanted to make peace but because he saw the Americans as the lesser of two evils. He was wrestling with the same dilemma as many Sunni insurgent leaders, beginning to doubt the wisdom of their alliance with al-Qaida extremists.

Another insurgent commander told me: "At the beginning al-Qaida had the money and the organisation, and we had nothing." But this alliance soon dragged the insurgents and then the whole Sunni community into confrontation with the Shia militias as al-Qaida and other extremists massacred thousands of Shia civilians. Insurgent commanders such as Abu Omar soon found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, fighting organised militias backed by the Shia-dominated security forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM

...AND LOWER...:

Crude tumbles as Saudis play down output cut (Myra P. Saefong & Ciara Linnane, Jan 16, 2007, MarketWatch)

Crude for February delivery was last down $1.39, or 2.6%, at $51.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract struck a 20-month intraday low of $51.25.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told reporters at an oil conference in India that the market is "significantly healthier" now than it was in October, when OPEC agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels a day, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

OPEC decided on a second output cut at a meeting in December but deferred that cut --another 500,000 barrels a day -- until Feb.

Data suggest, however, that individual OPEC members have been lax in implementing the agreed-on cuts, further weighing on oil prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


The Bush Economy (New York Sun Staff Editorial, January 16, 2007)

Here's one story that has had a hard time muscling past the dirge of negativism on the war that dominates the front pages these days. It turns out that the Bush Boom is gaining a new wind as the economy heads into 2007, with growth running ahead of expectations, employers expanding the payroll, tax revenues cascading in from the supply-side tax cuts, the deficit projections falling, inflation in check, and the war accounting for only a sliver of our national economy. No wonder it is the war on which the Democrats are trying to put President Bush on the defensive.

No, the remarkable economic data don't quite fit the Reid, Pelosi, Clinton, Edwards narrative. But the fact is that it is the Bush administration's pro-growth policies that have supplied the vigor to the national economy. Inflation fears prompted the Federal Reserve Board to tighten money last year, taking some steam (or more precisely, hot air) out of the housing market. But tighter money also broke gasoline prices, which are now down some 33% from last year's peak, as our David Lombino reported on page one here last week. Employment continued to rise, and retailers reaped a year-end bonanza as shoppers came out in force to do their Christmas buying. The year ended with the national economy humming at above the 3% annual growth average. As Bear Stearns economist David Malpass observes in the latest issue of Forbes, "employment, wages and profits are at record levels." The federal budget deficit is far below projected levels, on a trend-line that would bring it into balance in three years - and wouldn't that be something to see after years of left-wing maundering about the war deficit, Mr. Bush finishing his term with the deficit a mere cipher. Even inflation, which the Keynesians used to tell us was the handmaiden of growth, seems to have been contained by the Fed measures.

George W. Bush will have to answer to history for four things, two concerning decisions he made as President and two he made as a politician: (1) Why'd he wait so long to withdraw from Iraq after winning the war?; (2) Why did he operate the national security apparatuses in so much secrecy after the Cold War revealed that greater openness is more efficient? ; (3) Why didn't he reveal his DUI arrest in the 90s?; and, (4) Why did he base the '06 midterm on his unpopular war instead of his booming economy?

Working Independently, Working Together: The Challenge of Managing National Security (Garry Emmons, 1/10/07, HBS Alumni Bulletin)

Associate Professor Jan Rivkin joined the HBS faculty in 1997 as a member of the Strategy Unit. His special area of interest is examining the interactions that occur between and across the various functional and product boundaries of the firm, which is the subject of his popular MBA elective Advanced Competitive Strategy: Integrating the Enterprise.

Rivkin's most recent case, coauthored with former HBS colleague Michael Roberto and published this year, is "Managing National Intelligence (A): Before 9/11." The case plumbs the background of what will likely be remembered as one of the most tragic organizational failings in American history: the inability of the country's government and its relevant agencies to forestall the deadliest attack ever on U.S. soil. The case is dedicated to Waleed Iskandar (MBA '93), a colleague of Rivkin's at Monitor Company, who died in the 9/11 attacks. [...]

Q: Do you think these changes are a step in the right direction?

A: It depends on how the DNI role plays out. I see three possible outcomes--two bad and one good. One possibility is that we give in to the temptation to centralize--give all the decisions to the "best and brightest" at the top. A lot of the rhetoric about the need for an "intelligence czar" points in this direction. But we've seen in the private sector that, in highly turbulent environments, overly centralized organizations get overwhelmed by the informational burdens placed on them. So while it makes good political theater to give responsibility to a strongman or strongwoman at the top, I hope the intelligence community can resist that.

A second possibility is that the DNI becomes a mere figurehead for the intelligence community and a new layer of bureaucracy. That's the last thing the community needs.

My hope is for a third outcome: The DNI becomes the centralized provider of the leadership and infrastructure that allow the community to take decentralized yet coordinated action. That's what we see in really effective private-sector firms, like what Jack Welch put in place at GE.

One concern in this process of change is that of overwhelming oversight. Oversight is clearly important, but I see some weariness among intelligence personnel who have to answer questions again and again and have been reorganized only to have the reorganizations reorganized. As one pundit put it, some overseers seem to be preparing not for the next 9/11 but for the next 9/11 Commission.

Q: It's been said that, post-9/11, the intelligence community's culture must change from "Withhold, and share by exception" to "Share, and withhold by exception." Have private-sector firms undergone similarly rapid, wholesale reinvention?

A: I would say that IBM's transformation under Lou Gerstner (MBA '65), with its shift from hardware to software and services, is an example of that. However, while IBM's situation required urgent action, it enjoyed the luxury of time, relatively speaking, to find its new identity. By contrast, the intelligence community's national-security imperative puts great pressure on it to change immediately.

Consider the challenge facing the FBI, for example. The FBI's historic mission has been to solve crimes after they occur. They are phenomenal at that, as in the way they tracked down the Lockerbie perpetrators, to cite one case. That's a very different role from preventing terrorist attacks before they occur, which is their top priority now. The FBI was pursuing both missions to some extent before, but its "product mix," unlike IBM's, changed in a single morning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Your granddaddy may be part Neanderthal (RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, 1/17/07, Associated Press)

A skull found in a cave in Romania includes features of both modern humans and Neanderthals, possibly suggesting that the two may have interbred thousands of years ago.

Neanderthals were replaced by early modern humans. Researchers have long debated whether the two groups mixed together...


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


Overdue book comes to $171.32, and he's fine with it: Pacoima teacher insisted on paying the late fee on a volume he checked out in 1960. He's touted as a model of integrity -- if not punctuality. (Charles Proctor, January 16, 2007, LA Times)

It took him nearly 47 years, but Robert Nuranen finally returned his overdue library book.

He also insisted on paying the library's late fee -- all $171.32 of it.

A social studies teacher at Pacoima Middle School, Nuranen returned the book, "Prince of Egypt," to his hometown library in Hancock, Mich., because he figured it was the right thing to do.

That, and he wanted to finally be rid of it. "I mean, I've probably had overdue library books before," Nuranen said, "but nothing to this degree."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Mideast leaders agree to meeting: Olmert and Abbas will hold talks with Rice next month about final steps toward peace and a Palestinian state. (Paul Richter and Richard Boudreaux, January 16, 2007, LA Times)

Seeking a fresh start for stalled Mideast peace efforts, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday won promises from the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to meet with her next month for their first discussion of a final peace deal in more than six years. [...]

U.S. officials believe that by shifting the focus to what the outcome would look like, they could galvanize a process that has been bogged down for four years in discussion of difficult preliminary issues. [...]

The goal is to move the two sides toward such "final-status" issues as the shape of the new Palestinian state, the claims of Palestinian refugees to return to sites now in Israel, and the fate of Jerusalem.

New momentum would help build Palestinian support for the moderate, politically weak Abbas, and would encourage Arab governments to provide crucial help to the United States in its efforts to pacify Iraq and contain Iran's influence.

Invite Hamas too and present the Palestinians with a state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Burden Set to Shift On Balanced Budget: Bush Likely to Force Democrats' Hand (Lori Montgomery and Nell Henderson, January 16, 2007, Washington Post)

When he takes the House rostrum next week for the State of the Union address, President Bush will list among his goals a balanced federal budget, a shift for a president who has presided over record deficits while aggressively cutting taxes.

Politically, analysts say, the president is calling the bluff of Democrats, who won control of Congress in part by accusing Bush of reckless fiscal policies. While Bush now shares the Democrats' goal to erase the deficit by 2012, the politically perilous work of making that happen -- cutting spending or raising taxes -- falls to the Democratic-run Congress. [...]

Budget experts and economists from across the political spectrum, including some who worked in the Bush White House, say that Bush is unlikely to offer real concessions toward a balanced budget in the plan he delivers to Congress next month. [...]

Historically, the deficit is not particularly large. During Bush's presidency, it peaked at $413 billion in 2004, the biggest ever in dollars. At 3.6 percent of economic output, however, it did not approach the historic high, in 1943 during World War II, when the deficit exceeded 30 percent of gross domestic product . Last year, the deficit dropped to $258 billion, or about 1.8 percent of the economy.

In fact, there's a greater danger that U.S. debt could go too low to sustain the global economy than that it would go too high to sustain our own. But it's just another easy way to twist the Democrats in knots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Unlikely allies advocate healthcare overhaul: Businesses, unions and others team up to offer proposals to expand insurance coverage. (Tom Hamburger and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, January 16, 2007, LA Times)

In a sign of how the political climate is shifting, powerful business interests that once teamed up to defeat Democratic healthcare plans are joining with labor unions and other unlikely allies to advocate extending medical insurance to millions of Americans. [...]

The broader coalition of insurance companies, doctors and activists on Thursday will present a detailed proposal to expand healthcare coverage to as many Americans as possible -- starting with children. Coalition members range from generally conservative groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Families USA, a liberal advocacy group that was one of the principal champions of the Clinton healthcare proposal.

After the collapse of the Clinton plan, healthcare moved off center stage in Washington. President Bush has avoided sweeping proposals, focusing instead on tax credits to make insurance more affordable for individuals and small businesses.

Bush has been a strong advocate of health savings accounts, in which people pay out-of-pocket, usually routine medical bills from a tax-sheltered savings account while carrying lower-cost catastrophic insurance for major expenses.

Many businesses have started offering these accounts to employees, but it's not clear whether large numbers of previously uninsured people are signing up. [...]

One Democratic senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon, is expected to introduce a healthcare bill this week. His proposal -- which was unveiled in December and combines Republican and Democratic ideas -- would mandate that individuals get their own coverage but require most employers to contribute to the cost.

Just make HSAs the universal mandatory minimum with obligatory contributions from employers and subsidies for the poor and you end up with the Right getting the market mechanisms it wants, the universality the Left wants, an insurance boom with that industry wants and not just lower but predictable health care costs which business wants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Rumors of a split in China's elite (David Fullbrook, 1/17/07, Asia Times)

In China, what promises to be a year rich in rumor has begun with a whopper: Vice President Zeng Qinghong will take over the presidency, one of three top posts currently held by Hu Jintao, the country's No 1 leader. That may be signaled when deputies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) get together in Beijing this autumn for its biggest meeting since 2002. [...]

Moreover, in the current political structure in China, the state presidency is an honorary or nominal post with little real power. It puzzles political analysts in Beijing that if Zeng were capable of challenging Hu to force him to cede the presidency, why he would not have demanded a more powerful post such as deputy party chief or CMC vice chairman.

"If Hu did give up the presidency, it would only come in the event China was already facing some kind of political or economic crisis," said Eric Harwit, a China specialist at the University of Hawaii.

Talk of sharing the presidency is a reminder that some dispute the wisdom of putting three top posts in one pair of hands, a practice that began with Jiang. Sharing the posts might avoid a dangerous concentration of power and ease disaffection within the party.

"This, I believe, would be step toward greater stability and political maturity," said Harwit. "By empowering more individuals with leadership responsibility, it would further the goal of establishing norms for more predictable transfers of power among experienced officials."

On the other hand, China's leader might need such power to pull together a country rent by huge forces of change and provinces increasingly inclined to go their own way, picking and choosing which edicts from Beijing to follow.

It doesn't make the rumor true but, not only do they already face numerous crises but it would seem an ideal compromise that he be forced to give up a post for purposes of symbolism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Israelis, Syrians reach secret understandings (Akiva Eldar, 1/17/07, Haaretz)

In a series of secret meetings in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006, Syrians and Israelis formulated understandings for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.

The main points of the understandings are as follows:

# An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.

# As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.

# At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.

# Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.

# The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.

# According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran.

Once the Israeli military announced it didn't consider possession of the Golan Heights necessary to the defense of the nation a deal was all but done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Is Rudy Likely to Be a Favorite or a Flop? (Stuart Rothenberg, 1/16/07, Real Clear Politics)

[T]he mayor's weaknesses as a Republican contender were apparent well before his campaign memo was released, and they are as serious as they are quick to list.

First, Giuliani disagrees with his own party on abortion, gun control and gay rights. These aren't just peripheral matters. They are core issues.

And second, his personal life would be a problem. It's not merely that he is on his third marriage. It is that just before the World Trade Center attacks, New York tabloids were filled with stories about the mayor's marital troubles and his apparent adultery. The former mayor's personal and professional relationship with former New York City Police Chief Bernie Kerick, who has his own legal troubles, also could pose problems for Giuliani, who understands that all of his business dealings would be fair game as a presidential hopeful.

I really don't think it's all that close of a call which of the two lines of argument -- Giuliani will be embraced by Republican activists and voters looking for a winner, or he is unacceptable to too many GOP conservatives to be nominated -- is more persuasive. Put me squarely in the second camp. I find it very difficult to believe that Giuliani could be nominated as president by the Republican Party, as it's currently constituted. [...]

Giuliani's strong showing in GOP polling reflects his celebrity status and the reputation he earned after the terrorist attacks. But if and when he becomes a candidate, that will change. He will be evaluated on the basis of different things, including his past and current positions and behavior, and he'll be attacked by critics and opponents. A Giuliani nomination would also generate a conservative third-party candidate in the general election and tear the GOP apart, thereby undercutting Giuliani's electability argument.

So, the former mayor might make a terrific general election candidate, but I don't see how he can get there as a Republican.

It's amusing the way the exactly same folks who object to John McCain because he appeals across party lines argue that the Mayor is viable because he's "electable." Even funnier, Mr. Giuliani is a big supporter of McCain-Feingold, the issue that particularly sticks in the far Right craw.

Deconstructing Giuliani (Tom Bevan, 8/10/06, Real Clear Politics)

It seems clear Rudy Giuliani is going to run for president. What isn't clear is whether he has any chance of winning the Republican nomination. Some, like RCP's own Ryan Sager, have been pointing to early horserace polls and other anecdotal evidence, assiduously trying to deconstruct the conventional wisdom that says Giuliani's positions on social issues will doom him with conservative base voters. That debate, however, isn't likely to be settled any time soon, and the truth of the matter is that it's Giuliani's position on other issues that may end up disqualifying him with many Republicans.

Set aside for the moment Rudy's well-known liberal views on "God, gays, and guns" and the messy details of his personal life. Let's look at how he stacks up against his most direct rival, Senator John McCain, on three of the most important issues to Republican primary voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Jimmy Carter's heart of dorkiness (Spengler, 1/17/07, Asia Times)

It is easy to dismiss Carter as the most egregious dork in US politics. He nearly lost the Cold War, and nearly destroyed the US economy. By the most objective measurement of failure, namely margin of loss in a failed bid for re-election, Carter stands at the absolute bottom of the list of all US presidents. In 1980 he lost to Ronald Reagan with 49 electoral votes to Reagan's 489. The next-worst performer, Herbert Hoover, had a stronger showing against Franklin D Roosevelt during the depths of the Great Depression in 1932 (49 electoral votes to FDR's 472).

John Lewis Gaddis summarizes the Carter administration as follows:

Americans seemed mired in endless arguments with themselves, first over the Vietnam War, then Watergate, then, during Carter's presidency, over charges that he had failed to protect important allies like the Shah of Iran ... The low point came in November of [1979] when Iranians invaded the United States embassy in Tehran, taking several dozen diplomats and military guards hostage. This humiliation, closely followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few weeks later, made it seem as though Washington was on the defensive everywhere, and Moscow was on a roll.

After Iran let the diplomats go, the provincial peanut farmer who stumbled into the presidency flew to the US air force base in Germany to meet them. He asked the Central Intelligence Agency psychiatrists who were debriefing the hostages, "Didn't the Iranians know what they were doing was wrong?" Call it the heart of dorkiness: Carter was so horrified by the Iranians' capacity for evil that he could not absorb the information, even when it grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him out of the White House.

Where the Palestinians are concerned, Carter keens the same trope. It is repulsive to think that a people of several millions, honeycombed with representatives of international organizations, the virtual stepchild of the United Nations, appears doomed to reduce its national fever by letting blood.

Spengler's own point seems to elude him when he compares Palestine to the Confederacy (we might also compare it to Vietnam). No matter how devastated it is at the end of its war with Israel (the dustup between Hamas and the PLO is too bloodless to even earn the name "war"), it just isn't that hard to develop a functioning economy based, initially, on providing cheaper labor than your more developed neighbor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Another Vietnam?: We can still lose this war, but it will have to be lost politically. (Thomas Sowell, 1/16/07, National Review)

Despite all the politicians who were demanding more troops a year ago, and who have turned around and are now demanding that no more troops be sent to Iraq, the purely military aspects of the war have gone better than in most wars.

We have learned the hard way, notably in the Vietnam war, that military victories are not enough. American troops scored a big victory on the battlefield in 1968 that was presented in the American media as a big defeat -- and that began the political unravelling of the Vietnam war.

Many in the media seem to think that they did something noble, to get us out of an "unwinnable" war. But the war was unwinnable only because they made it so politically. Even after American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, South Vietnam was able to hold off the invaders from North Vietnam.

Only after Congress cut off financial support for South Vietnam, while the North Vietnamese continued to get support from the Communist bloc, did South Vietnam fall.

Since then, even the Communist conquerors have admitted that they did not win on the battlefield, but in the American media and in the American political arena, surrounded by an atmosphere created by a defeatist media.

Most of the today's media, led by the New York Times, has been even more blatantly one-sided in their reporting. Everyone I have heard from in person who has actually been in Iraq paints a far different picture from that of the gloom and doom of the media.

Make no mistake about it, we can still lose this war, but it will have to be lost politically.

How? Are the Shi'a, he Iranians, and we all going to stand back and allow a new Sunni totalitarian to take over? The notion is too inane to be credited. It's an unlosable war--the only question remains, as it has been since the start, whether the Sunni will accede to being governed by an elected government or whether they will have to quit Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Castro prognosis 'very grave' after failed surgery (Guardian Unlimited, January 16, 2007)

Fidel Castro is in a "very grave" condition after three failed operations, a Spanish newspaper reported today in the first detailed account of the Cuban leader's illness.

El País said Mr Castro was suffering complications from an intestinal infection known as diverticulitis.

It cited two unnamed sources from the Gregorio Marañón hospital in Madrid. The hospital employs the surgeon José Luis García Sabrido, who flew to Cuba in December to treat the 80-year-old leader.

Summing up his condition, El País said: "A grave infection in the large intestine, at least three failed operations and various complications have left the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, laid up with a very grave prognosis."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


The Republican to Watch: Mike Huckabee? (E. J. Dionne, 1/16/07, Real Clear Politics)

Huckabee is the Republican to watch, especially if former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts doesn't gain traction. Like Romney, Huckabee was a governor and can brag about expanding health coverage in his state (even if Romney's plan was bolder).

But Huckabee is also a Southerner with unassailable Christian evangelical credentials: a Baptist minister, he attended Ouachita Baptist University and was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Huckabee makes the case that he was as an effective governor who happens to be a serious evangelical, not the other way around. "I'm unapologetic with the conservative evangelicals, and pro-life,'' he said. "But if people look at my record, what they're going to see is that the focus of my time as governor was education reform ... transportation ... health initiatives. ...''

An aide helpfully interjects "large tax cuts,'' and after talking about those, Huckabee goes on: "I think the Republicans have got to be engaged in the protection of the environment. We've not been on the front of that. We need to be. From my perspective, that's a position that I ought to have not only as a Republican conservative, but as an evangelical. Evangelicals ought to be concerned about the stewardship of the earth.''

If it all works, Huckabee would become The Next New Republican Thing: an affable evangelical who talks about issues that secular and middle-of-the-road voters care about. The potential downside -- "by trying to please everyone, will Huckabee please no one?'' -- was nicely captured a couple of years ago by the Arkansas Times, a progressive paper that will be must-reading if Huckabee runs. "Will moderates who like his positions on health care and education be turned off by his uncompromising social conservatism?'' the paper asked. There's the rub.

What Huckabee understands better than most Washington-based Republicans is why, with the call-ups of so many National Guard members and reservists, the Iraq War is creating such apprehension, even in the conservative heartland.

He'd have no shot against McCain in NH but can do surprisingly well in IA and make a good showing in SC and then it's just a matter of whether the field is down to two. As the only alternative to Maverick he might win a couple states late. At any rate, he's really running for Secretary of HHS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Pakistani airstrike destroys suspected Al Qaeda camps (The Associated Press, January 15, 2007)

Pakistan's army destroyed suspected al-Qaida hideouts in an airstrike near the Afghan border on Tuesday, killing 10 people, officials said. [...]

The raid in South Waziristan came days after the U.S. intelligence chief said leaders of both al-Qaida and Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban militia were finding shelter in Pakistan's lawless frontier areas.

An army statement said intelligence sources confirmed the presence of 25 to 30 foreign terrorists and their local facilitators occupying five compounds in the area of Zamzola -- a village about three kilometers (two miles) from the frontier.

Pakistani forces backed by helicopter gunships attacked them, destroying three of the compounds.

Does the fly ever learn not to love the paper?

Top Taleban spokesman 'arrested' (BBC, 1/16/07)

Afghan intelligence agents say they have arrested a leading spokesman for the Taleban near the Pakistan border.

Intelligence service spokesman Sayed Ansari named him as Dr Muhammad Hanif, who has been speaking for Afghanistan's former rulers since October 2005.

Mr Ansari told the Associated Press the spokesman had been detained on Monday. He did not say where he is being held.

Dr Hanif's capture, if confirmed, would be a notable success for the Afghan government as it battles the Taleban.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Netflix offers instant access (Michael Liedtke, 1/15/07, Associated Press)

After accepting a computer applet that takes less than a minute to install, subscribers will be able to watch six hours to 48 hours of material a month on an Internet streaming service that is supposed to prevent piracy.

The allotted viewing time will be tied to how much customers already pay for their DVD rentals. Under Netflix's most popular $17.99 monthly package, subscribers will receive 18 hours of Internet viewing time.

Apple keeps Leopard under wraps (First Post, 1/16/07)

Last week's MacWorld Expo keynote address was Steve Jobs's most eagerly anticipated ever, yet finished up notable in some ways for how little he said. There was no news about Leopard, Apple's forthcoming answer to the Windows Vista operating system, nothing about Apple's iLife core suite of lifestyle software, and not a squeak about .Mac, the expensive and much-derided email and online synching service begging for an overhaul.

However, just before the 90 minutes spent spectacularly giving birth to the ultimate smartphone, he did demonstrate Apple TV - a small and smart box designed to use your home WiFi network to grab video, audio and photographs from your computer and send them to your HD widescreen television. (With a 40GB hard drive, it will store a sizeable chunk of digital entertainment, too.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


War on Terror More Expensive Than Vietnam (Yassin Musharbash, 1/16/07, Der Spiegel)

According to the US government's Congressional Research Service, the Vietnam War cost the US the equivalent of $662 billion (€512 billion), in today's dollars, between 1965 and 1975. The Los Angeles Times has compared this figure with the costs for the War on Terror, which began in 2001, and come up with the conclusion that this year the costs will be surpassed.

Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, has calculated that between Sept. 11, 2001 and the end of the 2006 fiscal year the US spent around $400 billion under the heading of "fighting terrorism." This covers the expenditure on the Afghanistan war and the operations in Iraq since March 2003, but also includes spending on Bush's other "wider global war against terrorism," Kosiak told the Los Angeles Times.

In the 2007 fiscal year there will be the additional $70 billion that has already been approved by Congress, not to mention the additional $100 billion that Bush is expected to ask Congress for. When all the numbers are added up, the US will have spent at least $670 billion by the end of the year -- more than on the whole of the Vietnam War.

The figures illustrate just how expensive the war in Iraq has been. During World War II -- the biggest armed conflict in the history of mankind -- the US only hit the $600 billion mark (in today's dollars) in mid-1943. By that stage, the Germans had already been pushed out of North Africa, a large part of the Japanese fleet had been destroyed and the big offensive on European territory, which would eventually lead to the end of the war in Europe, had begun.

The Iraq War is by these standards hardly comparable -- but it is already so expensive that its price tag is beginning to reach "historic proportions," writes the Los Angeles Times.

My math isn't so hot, but color us skeptical that WWII could cost only whatever 600 billion/14 trillion is as a percent of one years GDP. Indeed, the cost of liberating the Kurds and Shi'a was so low--and casualties so light--that it raises the question of how we can countenance any totalitarian regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


With New Urgency, U.S. and South Korea Seek Free-Trade Deal (CHOE SANG-HUN, 1/16/07, NY Times)

United States and South Korean officials resumed free-trade talks Monday amid growing skepticism that the two governments can narrow their differences before President Bush's authority to move an agreement quickly through Congress expires.

Success would give Washington its biggest trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement a decade ago, while expanding market opportunities for exporters in both countries. [...]

Under the fast-track mechanism, President Bush can submit an agreement deal to Congress for a straight yes-or-no vote. An agreement would have to go to Washington by the end of March because lawmakers would need to review it before a vote. After President Bush's authority expires, however, the Congress -- now controlled by the Democrats -- can place amendments on the trade deal, crippling its chances of speedy ratification.

Funny how even Al Gore's greatest moment is so at odds with his party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 AM


Bush May Get Democrats' Help to Meet Energy-Independence Goal (Brendan Murray and Tina Seeley, 1/16/07, Bloomberg)

Administration officials say Bush's seventh annual address to Congress on Jan. 23 will reiterate his vow to cut Middle Eastern oil imports by 75 percent by 2025 and curb what he describes as a national ``addiction'' to fossil fuels. Democrats and the White House are likely to agree to boost support for biofuels, increase federal funding for electric-powered vehicles and sweeten incentives for the use of solar and wind power, lobbyists and industry experts say.

``We're prepared to do more, so I hope we will be working in partnership with Congress on what makes sense,'' Rob Portman, Bush's budget director, said in an interview.

``There's a lot of common ground'' on alternative energy, says Senator Jeff Bingaman, 63, a New Mexico Democrat who heads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Democrats can only help the President pass agenda items that have been bottled up, not do anything they want but he doesn't.


A Nuclear Power Renaissance
: With concerns about global warming and energy security on the rise, countries the world over are taking a new look at nuclear energy. Some are building new reactors as fast as they can. (Rüdiger Falksohn, 1/17/07, Der Spiegel)

The explanation for the government's enthusiasm for nuclear power can be found in a report by nuclear physicist and former IT manger Ziggy Switkowski. As if on cue, he enthuses about the need for more nuclear power plants: Australia must start building reactors so that the first one can be completed in 2020. If a concerted effort is made, another 25 could be online by mid-century. On the one hand, this would help the country improve its poor record of carbon dioxide emissions. On the other, it would allow Australia to tap an almost inexhaustible source of energy; the country possesses more than 38 percent of the world's accessible uranium reserves.

The international atomic energy lobby loves such talk. Almost 21 years after the Chernobyl disaster, and just a couple months after the most recent breakdown at Sweden's Forsmark reactor last July, the risks associated with nuclear power are largely fading into the background. So too are questions about the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and atomic weapons. The industry, in short, is preparing for a new boom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Couple captures curious orb on film: Fausts say it might be spirit activity (TOM LOEWY, January 12, 2007, The Register-Mail)

Ectoplasm? Ghost balls? The energy from a trapped spirit?

Or is the strange floating orb Allan and Joyce Faust captured on their digital camera nothing more than a lens flare or a trick of light?

Whatever you decide, the Fausts just don't want to be thought of as a pair of squirrels.

"People will think we are nuts. Squirrely. Really, I'm worried about it," Allan said Thursday morning while he sat in the kitchen of the couple's brick Cape Cod style home at 1343 Jefferson St.

Allan held an enhanced picture in his hand and studied it. It showed a small ball of light floating not far from him.

"But when we saw these pictures and saw the orb, Joyce said we should maybe call the paper," Allan said. "I never believed in ghosts before - but I do now. I believe in orbs."

As Brother Boys points out, given the couples' name it seems hasty to rule out the possibility that they've seen Mephistopheles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Reche play a hit (Albert Breer, January 16, 2007, Boston Herald)

Despite being held to two catches for 12 yards in the first half, Caldwell made an impact with a 9-yard catch on a third-and-5 with 17 seconds left in the second quarter. The reception, which moved the ball down to the Chargers 18, provided the difference between kicking a field goal and scoring a touchdown, which the Patriots did three plays later to close the deficit to 14-10 at the half.

Caldwell was hardly done making a contribution to the victory.

First, after wideout Troy Brown [stats] breathed new life into the Patriots with his strip on Marlon McCree's interception of a Tom Brady [stats] pass, Caldwell worked to get open for a 4-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone with 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, setting up a two-point conversion that tied the game at 21-all. Then came Caldwell's biggest play of all, with the Pats facing third-and-10 at their own 34-yard line. The receiver came off press coverage from cornerback Quentin Jammer and beat his former teammate down the sideline for a 49-yard catch that set up Stephen Gostkowski's game-winning 31-yard field goal.

"(Brady) told me to run a 'go' route and I froze (Jammer) at the line," said Caldwell, who was unable to stay inbounds along the right sideline. "I should've scored."

The play represented what the Patriots have been working on for weeks, developing the long-absent downfield passing game. The catch was Caldwell's third of 49 or more yards in the last three weeks.

"We hit the deep ball to Reche," Brady said. "(That's) something we haven't done a lot this year."

Bill Belichick is undoubtedly an uber-genius, but the way he's used his receivers this year suggests he may have bought into his own press clippings. Everyone writes about how decimated the receiving corps is, so they haven't thrown the deep ball much, even though Reche Caldwell and Chad Johnson are more than capable and it would open the field tremendously for Brady and Moroney.

Colts look Super (Gary Myers, January 15th, 2007, NY Daily News)

The Colts are the best team this decade, maybe the best in two decades, that's failed to break through and get to the Super Bowl. That's about to change.

No team is more resourceful this time of the year than the Patriots. Tom Brady didn't play well in San Diego until it mattered most, preserving his reputation as the best two-minute playoff quarterback of his generation, and right up there with Joe Montana and John Elway. And it seems the Pats are always on the receiving end of a team imploding, as the Chargers did Sunday.

But this finally is the time the bully gets bullied.

All these years, when a playoff matchup with New England seemed inevitable, the Colts' goal has been to make sure that when they meet in January they get them indoors in Indy.

Now, after losing in Foxborough in the 2003 AFC title game and the 2004 divisional round, it's finally happened. This is the best chance Manning ever has had to get to the Super Bowl, even if his performance in the playoff victories over the Chiefs and Ravens - one TD, five INTs - could have ended Indy's season.

The Colts master plan was to get Brady infdoors where he's undefeated, including two upset Super Bowl wins? Okay....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Europe creates attractive clean energy scene (James Kanter, January 16, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Making solar panels on the cloudy Welsh coast may seem an odd choice for a politician turned investor like Robert Hertzberg, who hails from a sunny and environmentally aware state, California, and hobnobs with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But a commitment by European governments to budding clean-energy entrepreneurs is creating a more welcoming environment than in America, where erratic support and onerous financial rules have given pause to some start-ups and investors.

One of the benefits of not being an ideologue is that President Bush doesn't need to believe in man-made global warming in order to use it as a wedge with which to force American industry to innovate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Dodd's Quest: A Long Haul: White House Run To Test All Of Senator's Skills (DAVID LIGHTMAN, January 16 2007, Hartford Courant)
Blockquote>It was a vintage Chris Dodd moment, that morning last summer in Fort Lauderdale, one that could, perhaps, put the shot in long shot.

The Connecticut senator had addressed a small group at the Florida Democratic State Convention. Dodd didn't dominate the event, but that didn't matter. He just kept shaking hands in the cavernous convention center.

"Where's he from? Vermont?" party activist David Dew whispered, as the Connecticut senator addressed a small lunchtime group.

Leaving his hotel later, Dodd walked with an aide through a lobby swarming with people who didn't recognize him.

A car waited outside to take him to the airport - but wait a minute! Dodd dashed back into the gift shop to talk to the woman behind the racks of suntan lotion, gum and Gold Hyatt logo items. He then stopped at the reception desk to ask the two clerks who they were and, by the way, did they have any concerns; anything they wanted to discuss? Even as he walked out the door, he was reaching out, making friends, chatting with the bellman, soaking up information, even as his aide kept glancing at his watch.

The Connecticut senator will need all of that effortless charm, that eagerness to engage people and that passion for Democratic causes as he launches his campaign for the nation's highest office.

Conventional wisdom says the 62-year-old senator is a second-tier candidate for the presidency. He barely registers 1 percent in most polls, when he registers at all.

Many political observers have deep doubts about Dodd's candidacy. They say he may not be able to raise the enormous amount of money he'll need. They say that he's a New England liberal and that he can't distinguish himself and his views from better-known candidates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Lemon Garlic Tilapia (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 16, 2007)

4 tilapia fillets

juice of 1 fresh lemon

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Rinse tilapia fillets under cool water, and pat dry with paper towels.

Place fillets in baking dish. Pour lemon juice over fillets, then drizzle butter on top. Sprinkle with garlic, parsley and pepper.

Bake in preheated oven until the fish is white and flakes when pulled apart with a fork, about 30 minutes.

January 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


High-Speed Railways in Spain (Cynthia Graber, 11/07/06, Technology Review)

The sensation of riding on Spain's high-speed rail from Madrid to Seville is more than anything one of smoothness, without the bumps and jostles common on conventional rail. The journey passes so comfortably, in fact, that it's easy for a rider to forget the speeds at which the train is traveling--unless, of course, the rider happens to stand in the conductor's cabin. From the conductor's vantage point, scenery zips alongside as tunnels loom ahead, then the train quickly plunges into darkness before darting out once again into the light. The speed, the most important trait of high-speed rail, turns from simply a number on paper into something visceral.

Spain has embarked on an ambitious project to develop high-speed rail connections in every major city, spanning out in a web all around the country and connecting the urban dots along the coast. By 2020, the country plans to have 10,000 kilometers of high-speed rail completed, placing 90 percent of the population within only a few dozen kilometers of a high-speed rail line and shooting Spain to the world's top ranks in terms of total high-speed rail on the ground.

In the process, Spanish industry has taken advantage of the country's new focus on high-speed rail to develop new products to meet the demand of Spanish market, and to innovate and compete on the world market for parts and services.

Too bad there'll be no Spaniards left to ride them....

Posted by Matt Murphy at 7:08 PM


Should Politicians Customize the Constitution? (Nancy Gibbs, 1/15/07, Time)

Wisconsin prizes its history as a lab for progressive ideas, but customizing the Constitution may not be one the rest of the country wants to embrace.

On Tuesday the City Council in Madison will vote whether elected officials or city appointees can add to their oath of office, in which they swear to uphold the state and federal constitutions, a rejection of the parts they don't like.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Hangings Are Meant to Kill Efficiently (MARIA CHENG, 1/15/07, AP)

There is nothing kind or gentle about a hanging. It is a process scientifically designed to break the neck and choke a person to death as efficiently as possible.

In the recent Iraqi executions, former president Saddam Hussein and two of his accomplices, his half brother and the former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court, were hanged from a gallows.

In such judicial hangings, the victims are typically dropped a distance greater than their height through a trapdoor. At this point, the rope becomes rigid, and the force of the noose should break the victim's neck, causing immediate paralysis and unconsciousness.

The procedure causes a classic "hangman's fracture" -- a break between the head and the neck, effectively snapping the upper cervical spine. In most cases, the victim dies of asphyxiation.

Though nobody really knows how long it takes a person to die from hanging, experts say it is probably anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

In judicial hangings, as opposed to suicides, there is significant damage to the spinal cord. If the victims fall more than the prescribed distance, they may even pick up enough speed that the noose itself decapitates them, as happened Monday to the former Iraqi dictator's half brother Barzan Ibrahim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Alice Coltrane, Jazz Artist and Spiritual Leader, Dies at 69 (BEN RATLIFF, 1/15/07, NY Times)

Ms. Coltrane lived in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles near the Sai Anantam ashram in Agoura Hills, which she had founded in 1983. Known as Swami Turiyasangitananda, Sanskrit for "the highest song of God," she was the guiding presence of the 48-acre ashram, set among the Santa Monica mountains, where 25 to 30 full-time residents study the Vedic scriptures of ancient India, as well as Buddhist and Islamic texts. [...]

As a pianist, her playing was dense with arpeggios that suggested the harp; the instrument had an important place in her life. One of her childhood heroes was the Detroit-based jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby, and she was later motivated to study that instrument by Coltrane, who loved its sound.

Raised in a musical family in Detroit, Ms. Coltrane played piano and organ for church choirs and Sunday school from age 7. As a young musician in Detroit, she was studying classical music and playing piano in jazz clubs, in a group including her half-brother, the bassist Ernie Farrow, and the trombonist George Bohannon.

In her early 20s she lived briefly in Paris, where she studied informally with the pianist Bud Powell, and was briefly married to the singer Kenny (Pancho) Hagood, with whom she had a daughter, Michelle. She returned to Detroit, playing in a band with her brother, and then moved to New York in 1962. A year later she met John Coltrane.

She was playing vibraphone and Powell-inspired bebop piano in a group led by the drummer Terry Gibbs at Birdland, on a double-bill with Coltrane's quartet. Coltrane was well established by the beginning of the 1960s, though she hadn't known about him for long before moving to New York; the first time she ever heard him, she said, was on the 1961 album "Africa/Brass."

They connected instantly; she moved in with him and traveled with the Coltrane band. By the summer of 1964 they had relocated from New York City to a house in Dix Hills, on Long Island. They married in 1965 in Juárez, Mexico, coinciding with Coltrane's divorce from his first wife, Naima Grubbs. By that time she and Coltrane had already had two of their three children together -- John Jr., who died in 1982, and Ravi, who by his 30s had become an acclaimed jazz saxophonist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:50 PM


Pawlenty to co-chair McCain '08 exploratory committee (Associated Press, 1/15/07)

Gov. Tim Governor Pawlenty says he's co-chairing a committee that will explore the possible presidential candidacy of U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Pawlenty tells Fox News this morning that McCain is a once-in-a-generation leader who can bring the country together.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


After Trimming the Fat, Yanks' Future Looks Bright (TIM MARCHMAN, January 15, 2007, NY Sun)

The Bombers outspent the Red Sox by more than $200 million from 2004 through 2006, and for the money got 14 more wins and one fewer world championship.

This makes the team's refusal to add more long-term commitments very good news, a much bigger deal than the moves to get rid of Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, and Jaret Wright, to whom the team only had short-term commitments. This is largely just a function of necessity -- this wasn't a strong free agent market -- but the Yankees are suddenly, on paper, in frighteningly good shape for the future.

As of right now, the Yankees have $66 million committed for the 2009 payroll, all of it earmarked for five players -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Kei Igawa. Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, and Melky Cabrera will all be eligible for arbitration, and the three of them will collectively make about half what they'd be worth on the open market, probably something like $20 million all told.

There are no obvious albatross contracts here. For the past few years, looking at future Yankees ledgers has shown preposterous sums owed to players unlikely to be worth their salaries. Those types of commitments, to players like Jason Giambi, will all be done with in the next two years. Matsui and Damon aren't likely to be star players in 2009, but they are likely to be perfectly solid players for their positions. Every other player to whom the Yankees have a commitment is likely to still be a star or making a relatively paltry sum in 2009.

So, this is all to the good, right? The Yankees will have a bunch of good and great players under contract and a sum equivalent to Boston's payroll left over to spend on the rest of the team, and will thus be a monster. This is the hope, but there are some reasons for concern.

The first is that the young players who are suddenly part of the Yankees' core pose an odd dilemma. Wang finished second in the Cy Young balloting, Cano third in the batting race, and Cabrera put up a .360 on-base average as a 21-year-old. With performances like that, you have to look at these players as very important parts of the team's future, but it's hard to tell how important they'll be, as there are reasons to think they're all illusions. Wang doesn't strike anyone out, Cano's value is extraordinarily dependent on hitting for a high average, and Cabrera hasn't hit for power yet, and may never do so. This makes it hard to plan around them. You can't just pencil in Wang for star performance, because if his one trick stops working, he won't be a star. Not having a firm idea of how good your players will be makes it hard to tell how good you need to rest of your players to be, and thus what sort of players you need to acquire. The Yankees, being so rich, are better situated than any other team to tolerate this sort of uncertainty, but it will still be something a problem over the next few years.

The problem with this iteration of the Yankees isn't just that the few youngsters are so deeply flawed but that there is no #1 starter you could look to as a guy who'll carry you deep in the post-season and they're only as good as average at maybe three defensive positions, below everywhere else. No offense, no matter how good, overcomes bad pitching and bad defense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Just a flash in the pan: Chargers' terrific season is over in an instant, and Schottenheimer might be too after Patriots' 24-21 win (Sam Farmer, January 15, 2007, LA Times)

For some of the Chargers, the bitter disappointment of that became tinged with anger after a few Patriots turned toward the San Diego sideline and taunted them with celebrations. Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin clutched his throat as if choking himself. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork did a mocking version of Merriman's "Lights Out" dance, the one in which the Chargers star reaches up and toggles the light-switch tattoo on his forearm.

Wilfork's sideshow so incensed the normally mild-mannered Tomlinson that San Diego teammates had to hold him back -- even though Wilfork outweighs him by more than 100 pounds.

"To do the dance that Shawne Merriman is known for, that's disrespectful," Tomlinson said.

Mr. Tomlinson is by all accounts an even better person than football player, which suggests at least the possibility of a Virgin Birth, but shouldn't he pick the fight with Shawne Merriman who, as he points out, is known for showboating (oh, and steroid use)?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Ayn Rand No Longer Has Script Approval (KIMBERLY BROWN, 1/14/07, NY Times)

BACK in the 1970s Albert S. Ruddy, the producer of "The Godfather," first approached Ayn Rand to make a movie of her novel "Atlas Shrugged." But Rand, who had fled the Soviet Union and gone on to inspire capitalists and egoists everywhere, worried aloud, apparently in all seriousness, that the Soviets might try to take over Paramount to block the project.

"I told her, 'The Russians aren't that desperate to wreck your book,' " Mr. Ruddy recalled in a recent interview.

The interesting this is how Soviet the novel is: grey, blocky, unlovely, doctrinaire, and devoid of decency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Dr Strangelove saves the earth: How big science might fix climate change (Economist.com, Jan 15th 2007)

[The] gloomy outlook has encouraged new interest in a technological fix. A scientific journal, Climatic Change, published a series of papers on the subject in August, including one by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel-prize-winning atmospheric chemist. Other journals followed up. In November the Carnegie Institution and NASA held a conference.

Many big ideas for global cooling have been suggested over the years. They include seeding the skies with compounds to encourage the formation of low-lying, cooling clouds; building a giant sun-shade in space; and dumping iron in the oceans to encourage the growth of algae that would take in carbon when alive and trap it in on the sea floor when dead.

Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution, says the most promising idea may be to spray tiny sulphate particles into the upper atmosphere, where they will reflect incoming sunlight. Nature has already done the proof-of-concept work: volcanic eruptions spew such particles into the air, and the cooling effect is well documented.

Schemes of this kind may sound half-crazy; and, admittedly, they do tend to have some technical and aesthetic complications. Deliberately polluting the stratosphere would make the sky less blue, although sunsets would probably be prettier. Blocking out the sun might keep the planet cool, but it would do little to address other effects of high carbon-dioxide levels, such as the acidification of the oceans.
Deliberately polluting the stratosphere would make the sky less blue, but sunsets would probably be prettier

A more fundamental objection is that the models used in geo-engineering are similar to those used in forecasting climate change. Which is to say, they rely similarly on assumptions and extrapolations.

So if you're ready to act on their forecasts even the enviros admit they're totally bogus?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


If Tehran Knew (Ahmed Al-Rabei, 1/15/07, Asharq Alawsat)

In America, they lie for tactical reasons, stating over and over that military action against Iran is unlikely. However in Iran, out of ignorance, they reiterate that American military action against their country is impossible because the US is "unable" to do so!

We say and hope our analysis is wrong. A possible military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is in the final stages. Unless a political miracle occurs that revives the halted dialog between Iran and the international community, Iran and its neighboring countries should not be surprised by a scenario that includes American military action.

There are a number of common illusions in the Arab and Muslim mind in general, illusions that on several occasions in the past have been tried and proven unsuccessful. It was proven that the Arabs confuse their hopes with reality, and between what the other wants and what we think they are planning for.

There is an illusion that Iran is a huge military state with decisive striking power. This would be true if Iran was to confront one of its neighbors, but the fact is that in any confrontation between America and Iran, Iran would be a tiny helpless state. It will suffer what the Arabs suffered in 1967 and what Iraq suffered when Saddam stubbornly rejected all peaceful solutions. America will be able to impose its conditions. This has nothing to do with love or hatred. Geographically and historically, Iran is closer to us than America, and the cultural and historical relations we have with Iran outweigh our ties with America. Rather it is the facts, reality that show that the balances of power tilt flagrantly in favor of the United States and the Western alliance, particularly the European one!

Another illusion is that America is "rolling in the Iraqi mud." I wish that the Arab world would not believe such a statement; Iraq is not another Vietnam, and America is able to conduct more than one war because of its huge political and technological capabilities.

Tehran needs to reconsider its political discourse.

The funny thing is that the American Left and far Right share the delusion that Iraq has hamstrung us while the neocons share the delusion that Iran is mighty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Crowded sky clouds future of U.S. air traffic (Matthew L. Wald, January 15, 2007, NY Times)

By 2025, government experts say, America's skies will swarm with three times as many planes as now, and not just the kind of traffic flying today. There will be thousands of tiny jets, seating six or fewer, at airliner altitudes, competing for space with remotely operated drones that need help avoiding midair collisions, and with commercially operated rockets carrying satellites and tourists into space.

To keep passengers moving safely and on schedule, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to replace a half- century of outmoded technology with a new air traffic control system. But almost everything about the proposed system is unsettled -- not only its digital nuts and bolts but also the leadership, financing and staffing of a modern aviation network.

What technology will be adopted, and how will airlines and the government, with its Aviation Trust Fund at its lowest level in decades, pay their shares? How will the government hire and train all the air traffic controllers it needs -- almost as many new recruits, in the next seven years, as are at work today? And how will the aviation agency coordinate with NASA, the Pentagon and others?

"There's a consensus that there is technology out there that could help," said Roger Cohen, the president of the Regional Airline Association, one of many interest groups in the fractious aviation world.

"There certainly isn't a consensus, from the aviation community, on how the system will get paid for," Cohen said. "That's pretty obvious." So far, he said, "there's no consensus on any of the details."

But an overhaul is essential.

No one modernizes just because it's rational and makes economic sense. Start grounding flights and the airlines will replace the system posthaste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Homer holds key to season (John Fay, 1/14/07, Cincinnati Enquirer)

It's going to come down to Homer.

For the Reds to have a chance to break through and leave the trail of losing seasons behind, Homer Bailey is going to have to be part of the rotation and pitch well. [...]

If Bailey can do for the Reds in 2007 what Justin Verlander did for the Detroit Tigers in 2006, the Reds can be contenders for the postseason. [...]

Verlander was 23 when the '06 season started. He pitched three years of college ball.

Bailey doesn't turn 21 until May 3.

Verlander's numbers in the minors in 2005 were better than Bailey's were in 2006, and Verlander was given two starts in the majors at end of '05.

So it may be a stretch to hope that Bailey can be close to having the success Verlander had.

But if I'm running the Reds, I take a shot on Bailey.

You'd think a Homer Bailey makes the team if for no other reason than marketing opportunities. But, the big question isn't whether he can get major leaguers out, but whether a manager who just rode Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo like red-headed rented mules -- Arroyo was first in pitches per start, Harang fourth; they were first and third in innings pitched; and only Livan Hernandez threw more pitches in a start than the 135 Harang was once left out for -- -- should be allowed anywhere near him. It'd be like trusting recent Cub managers with Kerry Wood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Economists upgrade US outlook after surprisingly strong data (AFP, Jan 14, 2007)

Economists are hastily upgrading their forecasts for the US economy after a series of surprisingly strong reports suggesting the so-called "soft landing" may be over and growth is accelerating. [...]

The latest data defy predictions that the slump in real estate would filter into other areas of the economy, notably consumer spending.

The latest data showed US employers added a healthy 167,000 new jobs in December, with unemployment holding at a low 4.5 percent. Average wages were up 4.2 percent annually.

A separate report Friday showed US retail sales increased 0.9 percent in December.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


EU's surprise far-right coalition (Alix Kroeger, 1/15/07, BBC News)

The first full session of the European Parliament this year gets under way on 15 January, with the inclusion of a new far-right group. [...]

They say they are in favour of the "recognition of national interests", a "commitment to Christian values... and the traditions of European civilisation", and the traditional family. They oppose a "unitary, bureaucratic European super state".

They call themselves Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty - or ITS, for short.

Most of the parties in ITS are vehemently anti-immigration, but they reject the "far-right" label. They say they are near the centre of the political spectrum.

"We got 25% of the vote at the last European election," points out MEP Philip Claeys of Belgium's separatist Flemish Interest party.

"We can hardly be described as extremists."

The leader of ITS, Frenchman Bruno Gollnisch, is awaiting the verdict of his trial on charges of Holocaust denial.

...find a racist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


When Britain and France nearly married (Mike Thomson, 1/15/07, BBC)

Formerly secret documents unearthed from the National Archives have showed Britain and France considered a "union" in the 1950s.

On 10 September 1956 French Prime Minister Guy Mollet arrived in London for talks with his British counterpart, Anthony Eden. [...]

[W]hen Eden turned down his request for a union between France and Britain the French prime minister came up with another proposal.

This time, while Eden was on a visit to Paris, he requested that France be allowed to join the British Commonwealth.

A secret document from 28 September 1956 records the surprisingly enthusiastic way the British premier responded to the proposal when he discussed it with his Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook.

It says: "Sir Norman Brook asked to see me this morning and told me he had come up from the country consequent on a telephone conversation from the prime minister who is in Wiltshire.

"The PM told him on the telephone that he thought in the light of his talks with the French:

* "That we should give immediate consideration to France joining the Commonwealth

* "That Monsieur Mollet had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of her Majesty

* "That the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis"

Seeing these words for the first time, Henri Soutou, professor of contemporary history at Paris's Sorbonne University almost fell off his chair.

Stammering repeatedly he said: "Really I am stuttering because this idea is so preposterous. The idea of joining the Commonwealth and accepting the headship of Her Majesty would not have gone down well. If this had been suggested more recently Mollet might have found himself in court."

They've been on the wrong path since 1789. It was probably too late by 1950, getting off it sooner would have been better than later.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Beckham's away win (Economist.com, 1/12/07)

DAVID BECKHAM gained the nickname "Goldenballs" as much for his earning power as for his footballing skills. Even if the latter may be in decline, the news this week that England's most famous footballer would join Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of Europe's domestic season confirmed that he has lost none of the former. He will leave Real Madrid, one of Europe's top clubs, in return for a five-year deal worth as much as $250m. The ex-captain of England is set to end his career with a team that is not even the best among the dozen clubs of America's top league, Major League Soccer (MLS). But salary, image rights and a share of the profits should see Mr Beckham rake in the sort of sums he has grown used to having in Europe.

What America stands to gain in return is less obvious. Association football--soccer--has always struggled for popularity in the United States. LA Galaxy and America's football authorities apparently believe that buying a 31-year-old megastar, albeit one near the end of his career, may somehow give a jolt to the game, encouraging the creation of similar audiences to those attracted by baseball, basketball and American football.

But Mr Beckham is unlikely to have a big impact.

His nickname siggests why he'll make no dent in the sports consciousness--his appeal is to women and (at least) metrosexuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Religion, Born Again: Amid wrenching change worldwide, people are returning to old-time religion. In the name of God, terrorists are happily maiming and killing; in the United States, the Christian Right has a stranglehold on government. On this increasingly God-fearing globe, only Western Europe looks like the last bastion of secularism - or are the faithful here too returning to the fold? (Rainer Traub, 1/15/07, Der Spiegel)

The resurgence of religion has been one of the most striking and dramatic phenomena of our time, and has taken some disturbing turns. Terrorists ignite bombs in the name of Allah. The White House is occupied by a U.S. president who calls himself a born-again Christian, prays in public, seeks divine guidance on policy matters, and wraps his policies up in religious garb.

At the dawn of the 21st century, religion is strutting onto the world stage as a powerful though volatile actor, playing in an ever-changing range of roles - a development that was inconceivable to most Westerners a generation ago. Then, the triumph of modernity was supposed to be accompanied by the inexorable demise of religion around the world.

That was flat wrong. Indeed, on the continents of Africa and Asia, where religion is gaining in influence, it was never the case.

Yet beyond a few big media events, the balance in Germany has tilted so far toward modernity that religion seems to have lost its moorings. "The day is no longer far off," prophesied Klaus Harpprecht in Germany's Die Zeit newspaper, "when the religious foundations of our civilizations will be as alien to most Germans as those of ancient Egypt and the Aztecs."

The comparison is apt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


We Might 'Win', But Still Lose (Fareed Zakaria, 1/22/07, Newsweek)

Administration officials have pointed to last week's fighting against Sunni insurgents in and around Baghdad's Haifa Street as a textbook example of the new strategy. Iraqi forces took the lead, American troops backed them up and the government did not put up any obstacles. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger concluded that the battle "looked like a successful test of unified [American-Iraqi] effort."

But did it? NEWSWEEK's Michael Hastings, embedded with an American advisory team that took part in the fighting, reports that no more than 24 hours after the battle began on Jan. 6, the brigade's Sunni commander, Gen. Razzak Hamza, was relieved of his command. The phone call to fire him came directly from the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite. Lt. Col. Steven Duke, commander of a U.S. advisory team working with the Iraqis, and a 20-year Army veteran, describes Hamza as "a true patriot [who] would go after the bad guys on either side." Hamza was replaced by a Shiite.

Joint operations against Shiite militias are far less likely, and not only because of political interference from the top. Groups like Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army don't generally start fire fights with the Americans or attack Iraqi forces. Their goals are different, quieter. Another U.S. adviser, Maj. Mark Brady, confirms reports that the Mahdi Army has been continuing to systematically take over Sunni neighborhoods, killing, terrorizing and forcing people out of their homes. "They're slowly moving across the river," he told Hastings, from predominantly Shiite eastern Baghdad into the predominantly Sunni west. If the 20,000 additional American troops being sent to the Iraqi capital focus primarily on Sunni insurgents, there's a chance the Shiite militias might get bolder. Colonel Duke puts it bluntly: "[The Mahdi Army] is sitting on the 50-yard line eating popcorn, watching us do their work for them."

He hears the quacking but can't accept the duck.

U.S. and Iraqis Are Wrangling Over War Plans (JOHN F. BURNS, 1/15/07, NY Times)

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

"We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem," said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. "We are being played like a pawn."

The American military's misgivings came as new details emerged of the reconstruction portion of Mr. Bush's plan, which calls for more than doubling the number of American-led reconstruction teams in Iraq to 22 and quintupling the number of American civilian reconstruction specialists to 500. [Page A7.]

Compounding American doubts about the government's willingness to go after Shiite extremists has been a behind-the-scenes struggle over the appointment of the Iraqi officer to fill the key post of operational commander for the Baghdad operation. In face of strong American skepticism, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has selected an officer from the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq who was virtually unknown to the Americans, and whose hard-edged demands for Iraqi primacy in the effort has deepened American anxieties.

The Iraqi commander, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, will be part of what the Americans have described as a partnership between the two armies, with an American general, Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of the First Cavalry Division, working with General Aboud, and American and Iraqi officers twinned down the operational chain.

For the Americans, accustomed to clear operational control, the partnership concept is troublesome -- full of potential, some officers fear, for dispute with the Iraqis over tough issues like applying an equal hand against Shiite and Sunni gunmen.

It would be like going after both the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese Army just to be even-handed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Pizza Chain Takes Pesos, and Complaints (GRETEL C. KOVACH, 1/15/07, NY Times)

Jose Ramirez and two friends stopped by a Pizza Patrón here after work on Thursday for a carry-out dinner. Mr. Ramirez, his jeans dusted with white chalk from the construction site, ordered a Hawaiian and La Patrona -- a large with the works.

The pies cost him almost 220 big ones. Pesos, that is.

Mr. Ramirez, 20, received his change in American coins and said he liked the chain's new "Pizza por Pesos" promotion. He had been in the United States for 15 days -- his home is in Guanajuato, Mexico -- and he wanted to spend the last of his Mexican currency.

"I just arrived," he said in Spanish, smiling nervously. "It's my first time here."

The employees at this Pizza Patrón in East Dallas, one of 59 in five Southwestern and Western states, were still puzzling over the conversion rates almost a week after the chain started accepting peso bills on Jan. 8.

But the promotion has already hit a nerve in the nationwide immigration debate.

Having decided as a society to make them affluent, we can hardly be surprised that businesses want them as customers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Saddam Hussein's co-defendants hanged (QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, 1/15/07, Associated Press)

Saddam Hussein's half brother and the former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court were hanged before dawn Monday, two weeks and two days after the former Iraqi president was executed in a chaotic scene that has drawn worldwide criticism.

Geez, and all I did was savor a Sam Adams....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Conservatives see validation in fight over 'pork' (Donald Lambro, January 14, 2007, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Led by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, conservative Republicans overcame initial opposition from Democratic leaders to a broader definition of pork in a rules change that will require full disclosure from each lawmaker who sponsors so-called "earmark" provisions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had wanted a narrower definition of pork, which Mr. DeMint and his supporters said would have only applied to 5 percent of the billions of dollars in pork-barrel spending that Congress approves each year.

After Republicans, with the help of a handful of Democrats, beat back an attempt to table or kill the DeMint amendment, Mr. Reid refused to move to a final vote Thursday -- an attempt that triggered an outcry from Republicans and conservative bloggers.

When the smoke cleared Friday after a bitter two-day exchange of charges and countercharges, Mr. Reid agreed to an "earmark disclosure that is even stronger than what I had originally proposed," Mr. DeMint said.

It was a strategic victory for Republicans, who had lost the support of many fiscally conservative voters angered by the pork-ridden bills the Republican Congress enacted over the past several years. A number of Republican state chairmen said pork-barrel spending was one of the reasons behind the party's House and Senate losses in November's midterm elections.

"American citizens want to see earmarking come to an end, and now that they have to put their names to it, the real question is, will this stop earmarking? Have we really accomplished much?" said Ron Carey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.

Of course not--it's only pork if your constituents aren't getting it, which is wny the minority party is always shrieking: "Treif!".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM

DOESN'T ANYBODY KNOW THEIR CARL SAGAN (via Bryan Francoeur and Mike Daley):

Scientists to move 'Doomsday Clock' hands (Reuters, Jan 12, 2007)

The keepers of the "Doomsday Clock" plan to move its hands forward Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

Bushfires' colossal effect (Matthew Schulz, January 12, 2007, Herald-Sun)
VICTORIA'S monster bushfires have generated the power of more than 100 atomic bombs and pumped out millions of tonnes of pollution, greenhouse gas and toxic clouds, scientists say.

The tens of million of tonnes of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by the 1 million ha blaze exceed the combined emissions of the state's power stations, industry and cars by about 30 percent, according to figures compiled for the Herald Sun online by the CSIRO.

Victoria produced about 7.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the past month from burning coal, petrol and gas; while bushfires raging in the same time pumped out 10.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

In a prior episode where "science" was made subservient to liberal ideology Carl Sagan argued that the particulate matter released by nuclear detonations would cause "Nuclear Winter," just as the release from volcanoes tends to lower temperatures. Both these fires and the sort of half-assed nuclear war a North Korea might provoke ought to be good news for the global warming zealots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Lost ground in the push for folic acid (Melissa Healy, January 15, 2007, LA Times)

Each year since 1998, a campaign to boost young women's intake of a B-vitamin called folate has saved an estimated 1,000 American babies from early death or lifelong disability.

But the drive to prevent neural-tube defects in newborns is stalled, sliding backward down the road to public health victory.

It's been just eight years since American food manufacturers, complying with new federal guidelines, began adding folic acid -- a readily usable form of folate -- to all wheat, rice and corn products that bore the label "enriched." The new rules quickly translated into a nationwide increase in the folate levels of women in their childbearing years and a marked decline in babies born with birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly -- abnormalities of the spinal cord and brain. By 2002, those birth defects had been driven down by 32% from levels of a decade earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the time, the March of Dimes declared the news "very encouraging."

Now, it seems, even that first sign of progress is eroding -- an apparent victim of dietary shifts, obesity and the stubborn resistance of women in their childbearing years to taking a multivitamin. [...]

Adriane Griffen, chairwoman of the National Council on Folic Acid, says it's particularly frustrating not to be able to sell Americans on the benefits of folate when it's so readily available and appears to have a growing list of benefits. In recent years, adequate folate levels have been linked to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. And a study published last week in the Archives of Neurology found that adult men and women with the highest intake of folate were least likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, suggesting that the B-vitamin may also protect the brain as it ages.

Experts believe that if all women who may become pregnant took in 400 micrograms daily of folic acid, both through vitamin supplements and from legumes, liver and leafy green vegetables, the incidence of spina bifida in the United States could be reduced by 70%. To minimize spina bifida risk, women should be getting that much folate even before pregnancy -- and the fact that roughly half of pregnancies are unplanned underscores the importance of getting folate well before conception.

But just one-third of women of childbearing age -- down from 40% a few years ago -- take a vitamin supplement with folate, according to the March of Dimes. Cost, lack of awareness and a widespread belief among Latinas that a vitamin supplement could cause weight gain, all have held down folate supplementation in pill form.

CDC experts believe that many factors may have contributed to the decline in folate levels generally, including the trends toward low-carbohydrate diets and toward whole-grain foods, which are not fortified with folate. Women on low-carb diets avoid most of the enriched grain, rice and cereal products that, since 1998, have had folic acid added under a federal mandate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Bush insists Congress can't halt Iraq buildup: Amid growing criticism, the president and Cheney seek to reassert the strategy of additional troops. (Nicole Gaouette, January 15, 2007, LA Times)

As Congress and the administration gird for conflict over troop levels in Iraq, President Bush is asserting that he has the power to send more U.S. forces, regardless of what lawmakers want.

"I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it," Bush said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes." When asked whether he thought he had the authority to send additional troops in the face of opposition from the Democratic majority in Congress, Bush said: "In this situation, I do, yeah."

The president's comments were part of an administration effort to quell the growing roar of criticism about its Iraq strategy, as Democrats plan nonbinding resolutions opposing the troop increase and as some Republicans echo their resistance to the plan.

Bush acknowledged that some of the administration's steps had contributed to Iraq's instability and said any mistakes should be laid at his feet. "If people want a scapegoat, they've got one right here in me because it's my decisions," the president said.

"No question, decisions have made things unstable," he added. "But the question is: Can we succeed?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Don't believe this claptrap. Migrants are no threat to us: Immigration energises our economy, and has made many Britons more productive. We should welcome it (Philippe Legrain, January 15, 2007, The Guardian)

[I]t is claptrap to blame migrants for overcrowded roads, trains and hospitals, which are largely the result of rising affluence and decades of underinvestment. On the contrary, were it not for foreign doctors and nurses, the NHS would collapse.

Britain's open door for eastern European workers is a huge success. It has proved to be a revolving door - and far from bringing Britain to its knees, temporary migrants fill vital gaps in the labour market. Mostly young and single, they pay taxes but cannot claim most benefits (6% claim child benefit), so they are not a drain on the state but a boon. Nor do they steal our jobs: the employment rate is virtually unchanged on a year ago, while average wages are up 3.8%. Unemployment has nudged up, but not because of migrants. Just as women entering the workforce did not cost men jobs, nor do foreigners: they create jobs as they spend their wages.

"Those parts of the country that are seeing job losses are not those where migrant workers are most prevalent," notes Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary. "They will go where there are job vacancies, not dole queues" - even to the Scottish Highlands, where Poles are reviving communities that young Scots have fled. Precisely because they are more willing to move to where the jobs are, and to do dirty, difficult and dangerous work that young Britons shun, migrants have helped sustain Britain's longest-ever economic boom without sparking inflation.

Consider old-age care, the fastest-growing sector of employment. Young Britons eschew it. To persuade them otherwise would require a huge wage hike - and since public finances are strained, that implies either pensioners making do with less care, budget cuts elsewhere, or tax rises. But immigrants face a different set of alternatives: since wages in London are five times higher than in Warsaw, they are happy doing such work. This is not exploitation: it makes everyone - migrants, taxpayers, Britons young and old - better off. Where there is abuse, legal migrants have recourse to unions and the law. It is illegal migrants, victims of our callous but ineffective border controls, who are most at risk: remember the cockle pickers of Morecambe Bay.

Migrants from poor countries working in rich ones send home much more - $200bn a year officially, perhaps another $400bn informally - than the miserly $80bn western governments give in aid. These remittances go straight into local people's pockets, paying for food, clean water and medicines, enabling children to stay in school, and benefiting the local economy. Just as EU trade barriers that prevent African farmers selling the fruits of their labour in Britain are unfair, so are immigration controls that stop Africans selling their labour here.

Immigrants also make native workers more productive: nurses from the Philippines allow doctors to provide more patients with better care. They also add diversity and dynamism, stimulating innovation and enterprise, and thus economic growth: witness the buzz of a cosmopolitan city such as London. Innovation most often comes from groups of talented people sparking off each other. If they have different perspectives they can solve problems better. Look at Silicon Valley: Intel, Yahoo!, Google and eBay were all founded by migrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 AM


O'Farrill Brings the Roots of Latin Jazz to Life (WILL FRIEDWALD, January 15, 2007, NY Sun)

During the opening riff to Dizzy Gillespie's classic composition "Manteca," the legendary trumpeter-composer usually had the members of his band chant "I'll never go back to Georgia" over and over. It was an extraordinary thing that the single most important figure in the development of the medium now known as Latin jazz was not Latin himself but rather a black man from the American South; it was as if the creator of Viennese waltzes had come from Shanghai or the originator of the Argentine tango had been born in New Jersey.

Gillespie's contributions to the medium were the subject of a tribute concert Friday and Saturday night at Rose Theater by the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is the Latin wing of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Titled "Cubana Be, Cubana Bop," after one of the Gillespie band's breakthrough works, the concert was directed by the pianist Arturo O'Farrill. Mr. O'Farrill is the son of the late Chico O'Farrill, one of the most distinguished composerarranger-bandleaders in all of Latin jazz and, not coincidentally, one of Gillespie's closest collaborators. [...]

Mr. O'Farrill began with "Tanga," a composition frequently cited as the first true work in the nascent Latin jazz idiom, composed for the bandleader Machito by the trumpeter Mario Bauzáá. The song had a profound influence on Gillespie, who put his own Latin pieces together in the late 1940s, adding Latin elements to his big band while encouraging a new wave of Latin bandleaders to add jazz soloists to theirs. Latin jazz was Gillespie's next step following his crucial role in the bebop revolution. By fusing Cuban music and bop, he created a new medium that was, in a move largely new to both of its predecessors, equally at home in concert halls and dance clubs. [...]

The central piece of the evening, though, was Chico O'Farrill's "Second Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite" of 1951, a brilliant work that is obscured in favor of its predecessor, the famous original suite from three years earlier that featured Charlie Parker -- and also because, perhaps, the composer didn't bother to give it a more memorable title. The 1951 suite is striking in its use of classical elements, opening as it does with a mixture of oboe, flute, and bass clarinet over congas (from a time when those instruments were rarely used in jazz), and also including a remarkable, non-Latin interlude that seemed inspired by Woody Herman's "Four Brothers."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 AM


Globalizing King's Legacy (TAYLOR BRANCH, 1/16/06, NY Times)

[D]espite our high-stakes national commitment to advance free government around the world, we consistently marginalize or ignore Dr. King's commitment to the core values of democracy.

His own words present a vast and urgent landscape for freedom. "No American is without responsibility," Dr. King declared only hours after the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" repulse of voting rights marchers in Selma, Ala. "All are involved in the sorrow that rises from Selma to contaminate every crevice of our national life," he added. "The struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land." [...]

Dr. King's ideas are not so much rebutted as cordoned off or begrudged, and for two generations his voice of anguished hope has given way to a dominant slogan that government itself is bad.

Above all, no one speaks for nonviolence. Indeed, the most powerful discipline from the freedom movement was the first to be ridiculed across the political spectrum. "A hundred political commentators have interred nonviolence into a premature grave," Dr. King complained after Selma. The concept seemed alien and unmanly. It came to embarrass many civil rights veterans themselves, even though nonviolence lies at the heart of democracy.

Every ballot - the most basic element of free government - is by definition a piece of nonviolence, symbolizing hard-won or hopeful consent to raise politics above anarchy and war. The boldest principles of democratic character undergird the civil rights movement's nonviolent training. James Madison, arguing to ratify the Constitution in 1788, summoned "every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government," and he added that no form of government can secure liberty "without virtue in the people."

By steeling themselves to endure blows without retaliation, and remaining steadfastly open to civil contact with their oppressors, civil rights demonstrators offered shining examples of the revolutionary balance that launched the American system: self-government and public trust. All the rest is careful adjustment.

Like Madison, the marchers from Selma turned rulers and subjects into fellow citizens. A largely invisible people offered leadership in the role of modern founders. For an incandescent decade, from 1955 to 1965, the heirs of slavery lifted the whole world toward freedom. [...]

His oratory fused the political promise of equal votes with the spiritual doctrine of equal souls. He planted one foot in American heritage, the other in scripture, and both in nonviolence. "I say to you that our goal is freedom," he said in his last Sunday sermon. "And I believe we're going to get there because, however much she strays from it, the goal of America is freedom."

Only hours before his death, Dr. King startled an aide with a balmy aside from his unpopular movement to uplift the poor. "In our next campaign," he remarked, "we have to institutionalize nonviolence and take it international."

The nation would do well to incorporate this goal into our mission abroad, reinforcing the place of nonviolence among the fundamentals of democracy, along with equal citizenship, self-government and accountable public trust.

Fans of Dr. King and Gandhi tend to gloss over the fact that they realized that non-violence would work precisely because those in power were not living up to their own Judeo-Christian/Anglo-American ideals. Where those ideals do not already prevail--where the Bible and Madison and Magna Carta and the Declaration and Edmund Burke and the rest are not the basis of the society--non-violence is a recipe for self-annihilation. Recall that Gandhi counseled the Jews to go willingly to their doom to teach Hitler a moral lesson.

Likewise, it was when Dr. King departed from Anglo-Americanism, when he began to insist on equalitarianism of results rather than equality of political/moral standing, that the movement he led lost its credibility. He took his power from the ideas of his culture and lost that power when he moved into opposition to that culture.

[originally posted: 1/16/06]

January 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 PM


Two Alliances: President Bush has managed to divide and conquer the Middle East (EDWARD N. LUTTWAK, January 14, 2007 , Opinion Journal)

It was the hugely ambitious project of the Bush administration to transform the entire Middle East by remaking Iraq into an irresistible model of prosperous democracy. Having failed in that worthy purpose, another, more prosaic result has inadvertently been achieved: divide and rule, the classic formula for imperial power on the cheap. The ancient antipathy between Sunni and Shiite has become a dynamic conflict, not just within Iraq but across the Middle East, and key protagonists on each side seek the support of American power. Once the Bush administration realizes what it has wrought, it will cease to scramble for more troops that can be sent to Iraq, because it has become pointless to patrol and outpost a civil war, while a mere quarter or less of the troops already there are quite enough to control the outcome. And that is just the start of what can now be achieved across the region with very little force, and some competent diplomacy. [...]

Although it was the U.S. that was responsible for ending Sunni supremacy in Iraq along with Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, it remains the only possible patron for the Sunni Arab states resisting the Shiite alliance. Americans have no interest in the secular-sectarian quarrel, but there is a very real convergence of interests with the Sunni Arab states because Iran is the main enemy for both.

Typical of the experts, he's picked the wrong side

Posted by Matt Murphy at 10:52 PM


You've got mail but not privacy (Tom Teepen, 1/11/07, Cox Newspapers)

It turns out that as the holiday season was nearing its annual peak of panic and few were paying much attention to anything else, President Bush declared, in effect, that he is welcome to open your mail if he wants to. (Well, not him personally. The president is a busy man. He would have his agents to it.)

If not a full-blown flap, then at least a flaplet has been stirred by the New York Daily News' discovery that Bush, as is his habit, first signed new legislation and then declared it null and void, sort of. The device was the "presidential signing statement," a traditional option that in the past was used rarely and mainly just to clarify a statute's technical ambiguities. [...]

In the instant matter, Bush signed a law declaring that the government must get warrants to open first-class mail. But he attached a signing statement saying his administration would take the provision as meaning "in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances."

Translated, that means be circumspect in your love letters.

The president's spokesman, Tony Snow, shrugs the matter off. Bush, he says, was only reaffirming an authority sanctioned by longstanding law letting the U.S. Postal Service open first-class mail if there is good reason to suspect it contains a bomb or other material posing an immediate threat to public safety.

That would indeed be fine. But, then, why this therefore-redundant codicil? And why is the administration resisting efforts to determine the extent and in what way it may be recording envelope information from presumably unopened first-class mail?

Let's see if we can follow this: Tony Snow notes it's a reaffirmation, Mr. Teepen says if that's the case then everything is fine, and then asks why the president is repeating himself if it's just a reaffirmation? He then wonders why the president isn't game for arguing about definitional matters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 PM


Why Europe Abandoned Israel (Richard Baehr, 1/14/07, Real Clear Politics)

Let us look at some numbers: The EU now has 27 countries with a GDP over $13 trillion. The EU countries have almost 500 million people. The United States with 300 million people, also has a GDP of about $13 trillion, so obviously per capita GDP is much higher in the US than in Europe (60% higher per capita in fact). Europeans claim that the greater income disparity among Americans means the real gap in per capita income is narrower between most citizens of the US and Europe.

Add Turkey and the non-EU Eastern European nations, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro (reuniting Yugoslavia within the EU!), and the EU could soon be well over 500 million people. Russia has another 150 million people, Ukraine 40 million, though these countries are not currently considered potential members.

But there is little or no population growth within Europe, and with the exception of some of the Eastern European economies, Ireland and Scandinavia, relatively slow economic growth overall. In the US, the 1950 population of 150 million has doubled 55 years later. In the US, we have replacement population growth from the birth rate, plus immigration, mostly from Mexico and East Asia. Europe's population, which grew only 20% the past 55 years, is now stagnant, and headed downward sharply, given today's low birth rates.

Defense budgets in Europe are dropping. The US defense budget is larger than the next 20 largest defense budgets in the world combined. The European solution is to solve problems multilaterally, and not by military means. Why? If a military solution is required, then Europe must follow the American lead and be in America's shadow. This is a dignity issue. If international problems are addressed multilaterally, then Europe has 27 EU nations, and in international forums like the UN, Europe has more than 30 votes, and the US just one.

But there is also an attitude or life style issue at play between Europe and America.

Western Europeans want to believe that all international disputes can be resolved amicably, or as they call it, diplomatically, and multilaterally. Deal with diplomatic issues in Geneva or at the UN. Resolve economic problems in Davos. Address war crimes disputes in Brussels. One explanation for this somewhat naïve view of addressing the world's problems is that Europe is militarily and spiritually weak and willing to appease those who might threaten the European life style. The Europeans' new ethos is the New York Times' editorial page social philosophy writ large: tolerance for everything - euthanasia, gay rights, drugs, abortion, Islam. The only intolerance that is allowed is towards Christianity, America, and Israel. Bruce Bawer, who left America for what he thought was a better place in Western Europe, has documented the spiritual emptiness of this new multicultural ideology in his recent book While Europe Slept.

Look at lifestyle issues. In the US, average hours worked per year is close to 1900. In Germany it is now below 1400. Europeans work less, retire earlier, and are better secured cradle to grave through an extensive and expensive social net than we are here. But this social system is paid for with much higher taxes than I believe would be accepted in the United States. And the high cost to business to pay its share for this rich safety net means few workers are hired, hence close to 10% unemployment is a near constant level for some countries on the continent. The population in Europe is aging almost as quickly as Japan's. Europeans have the lowest birth rates in the world. All countries in Europe except Ireland, have below-replacement fertility rates. Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain have an average of 1.1 or 1.2 births per female of child bearing age. In Northern Italy, the fertility rate (number of children per woman of child bearing age) has fallen below 1, a first in world history.

The most up to date demographic forecasts project that every single European country will have a smaller population in the year 2050 than today with the possible exception of Ireland and France. Ireland has a high birth rate by European standards. France still has sufficient immigration to counter declining fertility rates. Some of the former Soviet states already have declining population. In Russia the death rate is now 1/3 greater than the birth rate. Russia may be half its current size in 50 years, as might some of the Baltic States. Italy is projected to be 1/4 smaller. Every minute on average, there are 3 births and 4 deaths in Russia. Mark Steyn in his new book America Alone, argues that demography is destiny. He concludes, a bit hyperbolically, that Europeans are in the throes of a death spiral.

So Europe's population is aging and declining, and workers want to work less. This creates huge social issues. Who will do the work that Europeans increasingly do not want to do themselves (maid service, child care, working with the elderly, dishwashers)? Who will pay the taxes to support the social services which are skewed, as in the US, towards the elderly, a rapidly growing bloc? [...]

In Europe the elites have a far different role than they do in the United States. The elites of Europe are the coffee shop philosophers: leftists who romanticize the violence of Che Guevara, Yassar Arafat, and the Sunni killers fighting our forces in Iraq. They fancy themselves revolutionaries fighting western hegemony, colonialism, militarism, imperialism, etc. In the US we have such people too. They make up the humanities faculties of most colleges and universities, particularly at elite schools.

In America the leftist academics prepare petitions and write their drivel for academic conferences, but they really do not much affect public policy. Yes, there is a soft leftist mind set that wafts out of academia and courses through the media that has a real influence over the messages that are communicated in our society. This is what Bernard Goldberg has written about in his book Bias. But it is not the harsh anti western nihilistic nonsense that is so prevalent in academia. It is easy to forget that in the 1960s, the Kennedy administration seemed to take half of Cambridge, Massachusetts with it to Washington. That kind of academic influence on policy, whether in a Democratic or Republican administration, no longer exists.

Europe is very different. The elites are public intellectuals and have a major role in making government policy. [...]

Jews are now less than 2% of America's population, down from 4% in 1950, and our numbers have declined from six to just over five million, according to one population survey, and held steady at six million according to a more recent survey. Muslims and Arabs may together be 3 to 4 million, certainly not the 6 to 7 million they claim, but their numbers are rapidly growing.

The decline in church membership in America is in the liberal Protestant churches - the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians - the groups least sympathetic to Israel. Their members, of course, behave like most liberal Jews: they read the New York Times, listen to NPR, vote Democratic, and attend Michael Moore movies.

Evangelical Christians and practicing Catholics, on the other hand, are growing in numbers. And especially among evangelical Christians, support for Israel is very strong. This community, which has an above average number of births, is growing as a share of the population. That is good for political support for Israel here.

In Europe, the number of practicing Christians has fallen very far very fast. In Europe the elites routinely ridicule Christianity ( in fact they ridicule all religions, other than Islam), in the fashion of Bill Maher or Maureen Dowd. Europeans now have the lowest church attendance in the western world. In Britain, of those who attend Anglican church services, more than half are African or Caribbean blacks. There are exceptions of course - Ireland and Poland are countries where many white Europeans still go to church. Current estimates are that 10% of Europe's population are practicing Christians, about double the number of Muslims on the continent. What is left - the vast majority of Europeans - are secular humanists or anti-religious right wingers, and Israel has no biblical or moral significance for either group.

In the case of the secular humanists, Israel's alleged misbehavior with the Palestinians is viewed as a thorn in the side of good relations with their Muslims. Israel's strongest supporters in Europe, much as in America, are the religious Protestants on the continent.

It's sort of strange to even ask the question of why a continent that has abandoned God has abandoned His Chosen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 PM


Hilali like Hitler: Muslim leader (Natasha Robinson and Richard Kerbaj, January 15, 2007, The Australian)

A PROMINENT Muslim leader has likened Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali to Adolf Hitler, saying the outspoken mufti is doing as much damage to Islam in Australia as the German dictator did to Christianity.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Council's legal adviser, Haset Sali, labelled the sheik's recent diatribe on Egyptian television against Western "liars and oppressors" as insane and said the comments had horrified thevast majority of Australian Muslims.

"He has been about as helpful to Islam in Australia as Adolf Hitler was to Christianity during the Second World War," Mr Salisaid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 PM


Campaign to split UK 'may fuel race tensions' (Brendan Carlin, 15/01/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Campaigners fighting to break up the historic Union of England and Scotland are today warned they could end up fuelling racial tensions.

On the eve of the 300th anniversary tomorrow of the Treaty that paved the way to the Act of Union, Trevor Phillips, head of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, raises fears that the break-up of the UK could help reduce the British people to "a collection of ethnic tribes".

Nationalism is racism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 PM


Nominated, Sarkozy stresses values of 'republican right': In bold speech, presidential candidate sets vision for France (Elaine Sciolino, January 14, 2007, NY Times)

[H]is core message seemed aimed at wooing France's right-wing voters rather than those in the center or on the left who potentially could support his main rival, the Socialist party candidate, Ségolène Royal.

"My values are yours, those of the republican right," Sarkozy said. "These are the values of fairness, order, merit, work, responsibility. I accept them. But in these values in which I believe, there is also movement. I am not a conservative. I do not want an immobile France. I want innovation, creativity, the struggle against injustices."

Despite the French republican ideal that ignores religious and ethnic differences, for example, Sarkozy broke with tradition by referring to the French as the "heirs of 2000 years of Christianity."

He said that Turkey "does not have its place" as a member of the European Union.

In a veiled reference to those Muslims and immigrants who resist the French model of integration, he said it was unacceptable to "want to live in France without respecting and loving France," and learning the French language. He added, "If you live in France then you respect the laws and values of the Republic."

He said that as president he would enforce French laws against polygamy and female circumcision.

He characterized France's generous social services safety net as in crisis because people do not work long and hard enough. "The problem is that France works less when others work more," he said, adding, "You have to love labor and not hate it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 PM



A 400-YEAR epoch of world history is about to draw to a close. If Britain's current Labor government has its way, Britain's Royal Navy will mothball at least 13, and perhaps as many as 19, of its remaining 44 ships, or nearly half its effective fleet.

With one bureaucratic stroke, the Ministry of Defense will end a naval tradition reaching back to Sir Francis Drake - reducing the Royal Navy, which 40 years ago was still the second-largest fleet in the world, to the size of navies of countries like Indonesia and Turkey.

This decision, of course, has to be set against the background of Britain's decades-long decline as a world power. But it also reflects a struggle for the soul of Great Britain that has been going since World War II: Is Britain part of an English-speaking, Atlantic-based strategic alliance that includes the United States and Canada? Or is it part of Europe as envisioned by technocrats in Paris, Brussels and Berlin?

Maybe they're just moving into the 21st Century and realize the Navy is as useless as the Cavalry was in the 20th?

Recessional (Rudyard Kipling, June 22, 1897)

Far-call'd our navies melt away--
On dune and headland sinks the fire--
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM


Brady rallies Pats into AFC title game (Associated Press, January 14, 2007)

Brady overcame three interceptions, his career playoff high, to lead the Patriots to 11 points in 3:26 late in the game. He now has a 12-1 postseason record heading to Indianapolis for the AFC championship game next Sunday.

The winning points came on a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 1:10 left. That capped a 72-yard drive highlighted by a 49-yard pass to Reche Caldwell, who left the Chargers as a free agent after last season.

With the Patriots trailing 21-13, Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to the wide-open Caldwell with 4:36 to play. The Patriots tied it on a tricky 2-point conversion, snapping the ball directly to running back Kevin Faulk [stats], who was standing next to Brady and ran through the middle of the line.

Folks are reluctant to give Bill Belichick his props, but only a genius could have drawn up that fumble-recovery-after-the-interception play.

More Brady lore: QB comes through yet again (Steve Buckley, 1/15/07, Boston Herald)

If Tom Brady has the ball in his hands late in the game with a chance to win, it'll be a sure sign that it's time to get ready for another Padres baseball season.

And so it came to pass yesterday, because Tom Brady came to pass. Did he ever. And it all happened in a predictable, fourth-quarter blur, with Brady delivering the latest of the great throws for which he will be forever remembered.

This time, it was a bomb - yes, kids, a deep ball - to Reche Caldwell for 49 yards, a play that put the Patriots in position for rookie Stephen Gostkowski to kick the 31-yard field goal that lifted the Patriots to their 24-21 playoff victory at Qualcomm Stadium. [...]

"Even when we're down," said Caldwell, "if you were in our huddle you'd think we were winning. Because of how calm, how cool, how collected (Brady) is in the huddle, and the confidence he shows in us. In the pressure situations, that's when he's at his best."

Pats kick it up a notch: Comeback win adds to legacy (John Tomase, January 15, 2007, Boston Herald)
There was really only one question worth asking as yesterday's AFC divisional playoff ticked down: How the heck are the Patriots still in this game?

From a talent standpoint, they had no business sharing the field with the Chargers.

They were older, slower, less athletic, less talented, less everything, almost across the board.

But they're the Patriots. And it's the playoffs.

And that's the great equalizer.

Patriots flying high: N.E. stuns Chargers, 24-21; AFC title game next (Dan Shaughnessy, January 15, 2007, Boston Globe)
Chargers fans did not see their Bolts lose a game at Qualcomm Stadium in 2006. But this is January, and that is when the Patriots steal your lunch money. The Patriots exposed and exploited a talented but inexperienced Chargers team that had nine Pro Bowlers, including league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.

Clutch performances? Brady (12-1 in the playoffs) threw a whopping 51 passes and orchestrated tying and winning drives in the final six minutes. It was the Full Montana. Fourteen-year veteran Troy Brown saved the game when he caused a Chargers fumble seconds after Brady was intercepted. Meanwhile, mad genius Belichick overwhelmed counterpart Marty Schottenheimer (5-13 in the playoffs), calling a trick play (direct snap to Kevin Faulk) for a 2-point conversion when the Patriots needed a deuce for the tie with 4:36 left. Poor Marty was ignored as he tried to call timeout when the Patriots were setting up the play.

The Chargers fell hard in a hail of turnovers, dropped passes, bad decisions (Marty went for it on fourth and 11 from the Patriots 30 in the first quarter) and immature penalties. They led by 8 points with less than five minutes to play, but repeatedly shot themselves in the cleats down the stretch. In popular sports parlance, they choked. New England players don't know the meaning of that word. They simply did what they have been doing since Brady took over the team in 2001. They played smart, strong, blood & thunder football when it mattered most.

In Brady they trust (Bob Ryan, January 15, 2007, Boston Globe)
In Tom They Trust.

Fallow stretches, uncharacteristic bad picks, whatever. Doesn't matter. Remember Magic Johnson's celebrated "Winnin' Time?" Mr. Tom Brady has one, too.

"That's Tom Brady," said Heath Evans, spare back and special teamer extraordinaire. "He's the one guy we don't ever worry about."

Tom Brady was not Tom Brady for long stretches of this memorable game, and a lot of that had to do with the San Diego Chargers. "That was as tough a game as I ever remember playing," said Brady, who had to air it out 51 times yesterday in order to produce a 24-21 triumph. "We were doing everything we could to gain 5 yards out of them."

Brady's final numbers weren't that dazzling (27 of 51, 280 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and a pedestrian 57.6 rating), but when has Tom Brady ever been about the numbers? Tom Brady is about one thing, period.

He's about winning the game.

It was quite a display (Ron Borges, January 15, 2007, Boston Globe)
Chargers front office representatives met last week with city officials in San Diego to plan the logistics of their victory parade after the Super Bowl. Memo to the Chargers: There's no parade for one and done. [...]

While the top-seeded Chargers were planning parades and beating their chests about their 14-2 record, the Patriots