February 29, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


Ex-Islamists start moderate thinkthank (Owen Bowcott and Riazat Butt, March 1 2008, The Guardian)

The Quilliam Foundation believes Muslims should shake off the "cultural baggage of the Indian subcontinent" and the "political burdens of the Arab world".

Its director is Maajid Nawaz, 30, who was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International after being jailed in Egypt for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Since returning to London he has written pamphlets criticising the party.

His deputy is Ed Husain, 32, the author of The Islamist, which details his youth in east London moving through radical groups including Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The policy institute, to be launched next month, is named after Shaikh William Henry Abdullah Quilliam, an English solicitor and convert, who founded the UK's first mosque in Liverpool at the end of the 19th century. [...]

Its aim was to "revive a western Islam" by removing certain "obstacles". "We consider these to be scriptural literalism, extremism, Islamism, and foreign ideological influences and interferences with western Muslim communities.

"Western Muslims should be free from the cultural baggage of the Indian subcontinent, or the political burdens of the Arab world. We were born and raised in a milieu that is different from the Muslim east. Our future and progeny belong here."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


High Democratic Turnout Sends a Mixed Signal for November (Kent Garber, February 28, 2008, US News)

[F]or starters, primary turnout rates (in terms of ballots cast) historically tend to be higher for Democrats than Republicans. From 1972 to 2004, there were only two primary elections in which Republicans had a higher cumulative turnout: 1996 (when Bill Clinton, as the incumbent, essentially made Democratic primaries that year irrelevant) and 2000 (when Al Gore, as the sitting vice president, made quick work of Bill Bradley and clinched the nomination early in the campaign). Much of this trend reflects the fact that Democrats, for the past 36 years, have been "out of the White House" more often than in it and therefore have greater incentive to vote in primaries, as well as the rather sizable advantage—17 million more people are registered Democrats than Republicans, as of 2004—they hold in overall voter registration. In fact, even in 1980, when Jimmy Carter, the Democratic incumbent, was on the ballot, the number of votes cast in Democratic primaries exceeded the Republican total by 6 million, or nearly 50 percent.

Second, record turnouts during primaries often fail to yield general election victories in November. Two notable examples would be 1988 and 2000. In 1988, the Democratic Party, bolstered by eight years of a Republican in office, set an all-time primary high of 23 million votes (compared with 14 million in 2000 and 16.2 million in 2004), before losing again to another Republican (George H. W. Bush). The Republicans experienced a similar—if less consequential—problem in 2000. That year, the party had its highest primary turnout in history: More than 17 million votes were cast, breaking the previous record by more than 3 million votes. In November, however, Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore by more than 500,000 votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


Not so exceptional: French industry is taking on more Anglo-Saxon characteristics (The Economist, 2/28/08)

Some French firms now want to curtail production at home and switch to cheaper manufacturing abroad. Michelin (profits up 35%) and ArcelorMittal (up 30%) both plan to close French factories to improve their international competitive positions. Lakshmi Mittal, boss of ArcelorMittal, has refused government aid to keep a factory in the Moselle region open: he wants to close a plant that is no longer economic, aid or no aid. Similarly, Michelin, a global brand as well as a French star, is consolidating the smallest of its 32 factories in Western Europe (16 of them in France) for economies of scale. But it plans to expand production in Mexico, Brazil, India and China by 60% in the next few years. [...]

As le Meccano industriel has gone out of fashion, activist investors, led by firms such as Wendel (a listed, family-controlled investment firm) and AXA, an insurance group, have been championing a more Anglo-Saxon style of French capitalism. Both are involved in a simmering row at Saint-Gobain, a building-materials firm. Wendel has taken an 18% stake, thinks the firm's assets could be sweated harder, and is demanding seats on the board.

But Jean-Louis Beffa, the veteran chairman of Saint-Gobain, wants to cancel the double-voting rights of long-term shareholders to stop Wendel taking control. Saint-Gobain's employee shareholders support him because they fear tougher management. For the first time, French managers are under pressure from stable shareholders who want them to improve returns—not just shelter from hostile bids.

Might have been helpful if it hadn't taken them two centuries to figure it out....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


Hope and fear: Democratic economic policy sounds worryingly populist (The Economist, 2/28/08)

FOR a man who has placed “hope” at the centre of his campaign, Barack Obama can sound pretty darned depressing. As the battle for the Democratic nomination reaches a climax in Texas and Ohio, the front-runner's speeches have begun to paint a world in which laid-off parents compete with their children for minimum-wage jobs while corporate fat-cats mis-sell dodgy mortgages and ship jobs off to Mexico.

John McCain needs to cast this as Mr. Obama being hostile to Mexico in particular posthaste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM

"An Al-Qaeda fugitive from Egypt"?:

'US missiles' kill 13 in S Waziristan (The Nation pk, 2/29/08)

At least 13 militants, including some foreigners, were killed and 11 others were critically injured as three missiles, allegedly fired by the US forces, hit a house in Kaloshah area of Wana District in South Waziristan Agency on Thursday, eyewitnesses said.

Immediately after the attack, the militants encircled the area and local people were barred from entering the site.

However, the locals informed that three missiles fired from an unknown direction hit the house of Malik Khel Wazir at Shero Village, Kaloshah Azam Warsak area at midnight, killing at least 12 people, mostly foreigners, and injuring 11 others critically.

Several rooms of the house were completely destroyed in the attacks.

Exact identity and strength of the foreigners killed in the incident has not yet been determined, but the locals informed that they were either from Arab countries or Central Asia. An Al-Qaeda fugitive from Egypt is also reported to be among them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM


No Obama Care for Terri Schiavo (George Neumayr, 2/29/2008, American Spectator)

IT IS NOW A cliche that the GOP blew it by defending Schiavo so loudly. The truth is that moment represented one of the few honorable acts of a dishonorable GOP Congress, and if the Republicans had any sense they would revisit these fundamental moral issues, which provide the starkest dividing line between liberalism and conservatism.

Why let Obama occupy the moral high ground? For all his pious progressive prattle, for all the windy talk about human rights, he leads a party whose platform rests on the gravest human rights abuses imaginable.

The Democrats support killing unborn children at the beginning of life, the elderly at the end of it, and not so long from now the disabled in between. (If you doubt the latter, look at the now-routine eugenics aimed at the disabled unborn, the logic of which applies to the living disabled.) Whatever national health care plan the Democrats eventually enact will incorporate and accelerate this grim harvest.

In every liberal scheme of human improvement, no matter how mellifluous the rhetorical bells and whistles that accompany it, the final solution is death. What Obama means by "progress" is more like regress into a pagan past. Instead of abandoning babies on hilltops and the doddering to snow drifts, Obama Care will let Ivy League doctors get the job done.

Obama in effect casts himself as a moralist, appealing to the better angels of our nature. But in reality all the old Democratic demons hover above him, counseling despair, not hope. "Yes, we can," he says to starry-eyed affluent voters. No, we can't, he says to the voiceless weak who need hope the most.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Cuba signs 2 human rights treaties (James C. McKinley Jr., February 29, 2008, IHT)

Just days after Raúl Castro took office as this country's new president, Cuba's Communist government has signed two important international human rights treaties that Fidel Castro had long opposed, another sign the new administration might set a new course. [...]

Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said the signing was "positive news because the signing of these pacts is an old demand from inside Cuba and from the international community."

"I hope Cuba honors the letter and spirit of the law of these pacts, but I am not sure it will," Sánchez told The Associated Press.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Michelle’s Struggle: Mrs. Obama empathizes in hard-hit Ohio. (Byron York, 2/29/08, National Review)

As she has many times in the past, Mrs. Obama complains about the lasting burden of student loans dating from her days at Princeton and Harvard Law School. She talks about people who end up taking years and years, until middle age, to pay off their debts. “The salaries don’t keep up with the cost of paying off the debt, so you’re in your 40s, still paying off your debt at a time when you have to save for your kids,” she says.

“Barack and I were in that position,” she continues. “The only reason we’re not in that position is that Barack wrote two best-selling books… It was like Jack and his magic beans. But up until a few years ago, we were struggling to figure out how we would save for our kids.” A former attorney with the white-shoe Chicago firm of Sidley & Austin, Obama explains that she and her husband made the choice to give up lucrative jobs in favor of community service. “We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do,” she tells the women. “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.” Faced with that reality, she adds, “many of our bright stars are going into corporate law or hedge-fund management.”

What she doesn’t mention is that the helping industry has treated her pretty well. In 2006, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mrs. Obama’s compensation at the University of Chicago Hospital, where she is a vice president for community affairs, jumped from $121,910 in 2004, just before her husband was elected to the Senate, to $316,962 in 2005, just after he took office. And that does not count the money Mrs. Obama receives from serving on corporate boards. She would have been O.K. even without Jack’s magic beans.

So her struggle appears to be somewhat different from the struggles of the women sitting at the table. In addition to its below-average median household income, Muskingum County’s unemployment rate has risen in recent years. And it is not filled with Harvard-educated lawyers. According to census data, just 12.2 percent of adults in the county have a bachelor’s degree or higher — well below the Ohio and national average. About 20 percent don’t even have a high school degree. They won’t face the wrenching choice of whether to go into hedge fund management or the helping industry.

She may be Karl Rove's greatest invention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


Clinton: Rival Obama Is a 'Blank Screen' (CYNTHIA McFADDEN and KINGA JANIK, Feb. 29, 2008, ABC News)

"I think the best description, actually, is in Barack's own book, the last book he wrote, 'Audacity of Hope,' where he said that he's a blank screen. And people of widely differing views project what they want to believe onto him. And then he went on to say, 'I am bound to disappoint some, if not all of them.'"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Hoosier Fixer: Indiana governor Mitch Daniels has brought a corporate mentality to the job of streamlining state bureaucracies. (Christy Hall Robinson, February 29, 2008, The American)

Government is “the last monopoly,” he said, and it “lacks accountability.” The only way to make it effective is to “implant” a system of accountability to measure and count results as businesses do, because “what gets measured gets done.” For example, Daniels said, a visit to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles—the kind of trip most Americans dread—now has an average wait time of eight minutes and ten seconds, down from over 40 minutes. Customer satisfaction has surged to 97 percent. The fact that Daniels refers to patrons of the bureau as “customers” speaks volumes about his corporate mentality.

During his tenure, Indiana has reduced the number of state employees by 10 percent. This reduction, even with the institution of a pay-for-performance system that provides much larger rewards for good workers, has allowed Daniels to operate with a state payroll that is lower than it was four years ago. Daniels’s emphasis is on “managing for results,” and he is not necessarily against government doing the job. But if the private sector is more capable of administering a project effectively, reducing costs, and operating “at the speed of business, not the speed of government,” he supports privatization. That is why IBM has replaced the state bureaucracy in administering welfare programs—which has saved Indiana roughly $1 billion. Daniels also brought $4 billion to the state by privatizing Indiana’s toll road, and he deregulated the telecommunications industry.

Daniels joked that he achieved success through what might appear to be a “very mysterious process,” but the practical reforms he implemented to control annual expenditures and streamline government operations are rooted in basic business principles. When Daniels became governor in January 2005, the state’s deficit was $600 million. Within one year of his inauguration, Indiana had a $300 million surplus. Cutting employees and expenditures was not the only contributing factor. Under Daniels, Indiana has improved its business tax climate, attracted a surge of foreign investment (particularly from Japan), and brought its unemployment rate to the lowest level in six years.

One big project Daniels hopes to finish this year is property tax reform. He plans to offer Indianans immediate relief on property taxes by using the revenue from an increased sales tax along with part of the state’s $300 million budget surplus, and he hopes to put a permanent cap on property taxes starting next year.

He'd bring John McCain the sort of comprehensive Third Way vision his campaign currently lacks, but it's hard to see a modern political pairing of two little bald white guys.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


Teaching The Federalist in South Korea: Reflecting on the principles of limited constitutional government (Peter Berkowitz, 2/29/08, National Review)

So what did these students think of The Federalist? In Hamilton’s assertion in Federalist l — that, were Americans to fail to establish free and democratic government by ratifying the new Constitution, it would “deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind” — they found an expression of American exceptionalism. Some saw arrogance in the fact that, even from the beginning, Americans attributed universal significance to their political challenges. But all were also open to appreciating a certain modesty in Hamilton’s assertion that the moral and political principles that applied to Americans applied with equal force to all human beings.

In Madison’s caution in Federalist 10 that “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” they found easy application to their center-left president and his center-right challenger (who was elected in a landslide on December 19). But they were pleased to ponder Madison’s insistence that, in all cases, liberal democracies should be built to withstand the folly of unenlightened statesmen.

In Madison’s examination of the separation of powers in Federalist 51, they saw grounds for preferring the South Korean system of appointing judges — wherein the chief justice confers with the president on nominees before they are sent to the legislature for confirmation — because it assigned a role to all three branches, while the American system provides no role for the judicial branch in filling its own bench. But they had no trouble appreciating that Madison’s larger lesson goes not to a particular constitutional scheme for judicial appointments but to the need to achieve a delicate balance in the blending of separated powers.

Like American college students, my Korean college students, whose democracy is barely two decades old, have never known anything but freedom and equality under law. Also like their American counterparts, they were intrigued by The Federalist’s harsh assessment of the diseases to which liberal democracies are prone, and its calm explanation of the institutional remedies for preserving liberty. This compelling mix enabled them to make sense both of their low opinion of their own politicians and their genuine excitement over a democratic future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


The clash of peoples (Jerry Z. Muller, February 29, 2008, IHT)

Projecting their own experience onto the rest of the world, Americans generally belittle the role of ethnic nationalism in politics. They also find ethno-nationalism discomfiting both intellectually and morally. Social scientists go to great lengths to demonstrate that it is a product not of nature but of culture, and ethicists scorn value systems based on narrow group identities rather than cosmopolitanism.

But none of this will make ethno-nationalism go away. Immigrants to the United States usually arrive with a willingness to fit into their new country and reshape their identities accordingly. But for those who remain behind in lands where their ancestors have lived for generations, if not centuries, political identities often take ethnic form, producing competing communal claims to political power. The creation of a peaceful regional order of nation-states has usually been the product of a violent process of ethnic separation. In areas where that separation has not yet occurred, politics is apt to remain ugly.

While the Left would like to imagine that it is our "Imperialism" that causes violence in the world, it is actually our unwillingness (or inability) to make others more like us that results is the cause.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:40 PM


Clinton ad cites 'dangerous world' (Johanna Neuman and Mark Z. Barabak, 2/29/08, Los Angeles Times)

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign unleashed a new television ad today designed to show that unlike her opponent, Barack Obama, she has the experience to "lead in a dangerous world."

In the ad, a phone rings in the background as children sleep. An announcer says, "It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call, whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military, someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world."

John McCain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:21 PM


Did 'SNL' Go Beyond the Pale With Fauxbama?: Lorne Michaels Defends Casting Of Non-Black Man in Sketch (Paul Farhi, 2/29/08, Washington Post)

Is Fred Armisen, who is not African American, "black enough" to embody Obama on "Saturday Night Live"?

Debate over that question has been pinging around the Internet since Armisen, a veteran cast member, donned darker makeup to portray the Democratic candidate for the first time Saturday. Armisen played Obama opposite Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton in a sketch satirizing the supposedly cushy treatment his candidacy has received from the media.

"SNL" impresario Lorne Michaels said yesterday by phone that he thought the sketch played so well that the show intends to air another Obama/Clinton debate spoof tomorrow night, with Armisen and Poehler reprising their characters.

Kind of awkward for Obama supporters to be insisting on a quota hire to play Fauxbama, isn't it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


McCain is Right About Barack H....Obama (Michael Reagan, February 29, 2008, FrontPageMagazine.com)

During his introductory remarks to the audience [Bill] Cunningham repeatedly referred to Sen. Barack Obama as a “hack” and as Barrack Hussein Obama with the emphasis on Hussein, Obama’s middle name -- a tactic used by critics who insist that Obama is really a Muslim.

McCain, who was not in the hall when Cunningham spoke, reacted angrily, telling reporters, “I take responsibility and I repudiate what he said. A person came out here before I arrived and made some disparaging remarks about Senators Obama and Clinton and I regret that. In my entire campaign I have treated Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign."

For his part, Cunningham acted like a spoiled child being punished by his parents, threatening to vote for ultra-liberal Hillary Clinton in response to McCain’s scolding.

...a radio personality acting like a spoiled child...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


Rays of hope: Overhaul of talent, attitude has team thinking big (Scott Miller, Feb. 28, 2008, CBSSports.com)

Yes, just like George Jefferson himself, these Rays, finally, seem to be movin' on up.

Of course, posting the first winning season in franchise history would be evidence.

But if you talk to one particular veteran talent evaluator, who just happens to have specialized in pitching ninth innings during most of his career, he'll tell you that this well could be a -- gulp -- playoff team in the very near future.

Even if the Rays still reside on the same block as resident bullies Boston and New York.

"The talent level is here," says veteran closer Troy Percival, "I got abused when I signed with Detroit (before the 2005 season) because they had lost 120 games (119, actually, in '03). But I went through that roster before I signed, and that team was really talented. Two years later, they were in the World Series.

"I did the same thing here. What I liked was that there were young, talented starting pitchers here. And young, talented players."

Percival signed with the Rays this winter after his longtime friend, manager Joe Maddon, placed a few recruiting calls. Maddon's basic message: This place was a mess last year, but that has been fixed. And there's some outstanding talent.

"The pitchers I'm seeing around here this spring," Percival says. "When I went to Detroit, I was seeing (Joel) Zumaya and (Justin) Verlander and two or three other kids who threw 95, 96. I came here and I'm seeing the same thing.

"Price, the ball is just jumping out of his hand. Jeff Niemann ... we have those arms here."

None from the group of Price, McGee, Davis and Niemann (ranked 99th on Baseball American's Top 100 prospects) project to crack Tampa Bay's opening day rotation. Right now, that's reserved for Scott Kazmir (currently shelved for two weeks after a strained left elbow sent shudders through Rays camp this week), Garza, James Shields (184 strikeouts against only 36 walks while posting a 3.85 ERA in 215 innings pitched last year) and, at this point, Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson.

Upton, just 23, smashed 24 homers, collected 82 RBI and compiled a .386 on-base percentage last year. Left fielder Carl Crawford, a veritable old man on this team at 26, is a two-time All-Star.

The Rays fielded the second-youngest club in the majors last season at 26.7 years, and though they finished with baseball's worst record (66-96), what playing all those kids did was allow, as Friedman says, the club to "decide who we were going with for the long haul."

Dukes and his criminal record? Young and his penchant for not running out ground balls? No longer around to drive management crazy, or to tempt other kids to go half-speed.

"There was a sense of entitlement last year," Maddon says. "There was a scholarship program. We don't have that anymore. The attitude has just been tremendous."

Instead of young punks thinking they're owed something, there are veterans like Percival and outfielder Cliff Floyd who are looking to give back some of what veterans offered them when they were young. And that peer group influence has been especially dramatic here in Rays-ville.

Example: Coach George Hendrick gathered the outfielders for a session the other day, then asked Floyd if he'd like to add something.

"He absolutely nailed it," Maddon says. "He was talking not only about defense and positioning, but about communicating with each other. He eloquently explained it. I had been a big fan of his, but I really became one at that moment.

"When a peer brings the message, a student will not find any allies if he has complaints about that message."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Nasir Abas, terrorist defector, aids Indonesian police (Seth Mydans, February 29, 2008, IHT)

Once a high-ranking commander in the region's deadliest terrorist group, Abas, 38, has been born again as an antiterror evangelist. Working with the police, he visits his former comrades in jail in an effort to persuade them to cooperate and to mend their ways.

He appears at public forums and he has published a book called "Exposing Jemaah Islamiyah," the terrorist group he once belonged to, which is linked to Al Qaeda and has been behind most of the major attacks in the region in recent years.

His conversion is a boon to the police, who have taken what Indonesia's counterterrorism chief, Asyaad Mbai, calls a "soft, humane approach" to detainees, treating them as wayward brothers rather than as criminals. They are given special privileges in prison and in some cases their families receive financial support.

"It has the dual function of tainting some who accept and also winning members to a cooperative stance, so the police get more intelligence than before," said Sidney Jones, a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group and an expert on terrorism.

As part of this approach, Abas said he tries to persuade detainees that their view of holy war is misguided, that the police are not evil and that cooperating with them is not a sin.

"I explain to them that it is wrong killing people with bombs," Abas said. "This is not jihad in Islam. You are killing unarmed civilians. It is a shameful thing."

Even the Realists are finally figuring out what W has been up to with India, but it'll still be years before they figure out the centrality of Indonesia to the Axis of Good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The Cuban Economy: After the Smoke Clears : For most Cubans, life remains a slog. But here's the surprise: There's plenty of potential for growth in everything from oil exploration to upscale tourism (Geri Smith, 2/29/08, Business Week)

Farther offshore, in a triangular section of the Gulf of Mexico that belongs to Cuba, things look even better. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that as much as 9.3 billion barrels of oil may lie in the 6,000-foot-deep waters. A half-dozen foreign outfits, including the state oil companies of China, Norway, and Venezuela, have snapped up exploration rights and are conducting seismic studies. Several expect to drill exploratory wells next year. Cuba has encouraged investment by offering standard international production-sharing deals, giving foreigners a percentage of output. "We have tried to make the contracts as fair and flexible as possible because we are interested in finding oil quickly," says Tenreyro-Pérez. Within a decade, he says, Cuba could be a net exporter of oil.

Major offshore discoveries would have important geopolitical ramifications: Cuba could reduce its dependence on the charity of the mercurial Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, who now sends 92,000 barrels a day of oil to the island at heavily subsidized prices. And it would provide the Cuban government with funds needed to improve living standards, which could buy it more years in power. "Even if Cuba simply becomes self-sufficient, that would be a very big change," says Jorge I. Dominguez, a Latin American studies professor at Harvard University. "And Cuba as an exporter of energy would make things even more interesting."

It's far from certain, though, that Cuba will ever get there. As long as the U.S. embargo remains, Havana would have nowhere to send the crude for processing, since nearby refineries are either operating at capacity or are U.S.-owned. And if Cuba's economy keeps growing as fast as it has, consumption will surely climb, too.

Tourism is similarly promising—and faces similar problems. Cuba has long attracted plenty of tourists, but not Americans, who are barred from visiting the island without special permission. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Raúl persuaded a reluctant Fidel that they should open the borders to foreign visitors so the country could earn needed hard currency. Cuba began pitching its white sands and turquoise waters to armies of budget vacationers from Canada and Europe. It went from receiving just 340,000 tourists in 1990 to more than 2 million by 1994 and 2.3 million in 2005. Today, package-tour visitors burn themselves to a crisp on the beaches of Varadero and Cayo Coco, while the more adventurous dodge 1950s Buicks and Chevys in the streets of Old Havana looking for the Floridita and other bars where Ernest Hemingway used to toss back daiquiris.

Now, Cuba wants to go upscale. Officials aim to attract richer tourists by constructing dozens of new four- and five-star resorts and restoring some 50 historic buildings as boutique hotels. [...]

Another potential moneymaker: tapping Cuba's huge corps of doctors to offer foreigners a tummy tuck or help in kicking a drug habit. Cosmetic surgery and other procedures in Cuba can cost less than half what they do in the U.S. Last year, 6,000 foreigners visited Cuban hospitals and clinics for treatment, bringing in a total of $22 million, and Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona has checked in twice to overcome a cocaine addiction. "By charging [foreigners] for these services, we help defray the cost of our universal health system," says Gelacio Aday, director of international services for Cubanacan, the health tourism agency.

American business, meanwhile, is eager to join the party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Prince Harry goes to war: British officials confirm he's in Afghanistan after media leak (JILL LAWLESS, 2/28/08, AP)

Prince Harry has been serving on the frontline in Afghanistan with the British Army, calling in airstrikes on Taliban positions and going out on foot patrols, the British ministry of defence announced yesterday.

Officials said the prince, a lieutenant in the Blues and Royals regiment, was still deployed in the country.

"His conduct on operations in Afghanistan has been exemplary," the head of the army, Gen. Richard Dannatt, said. "He has been fully involved in operations and has run the same risks as everyone else in his battle group."

Harry, who is third in line to the throne, has been in the southern Helmand province since December.

Such service is not necessary for an ordinary citizen, but is for a prince.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Putin’s Anointed Heir Shows Hints of Less Icy Style (C. J. CHIVERS, 2/29/08, NY Times)

Now, Mr. Medvedev, the presidential successor personally selected by Mr. Putin, is creating his own public identity according to a choreographed script. And here, in a mix of Soviet and Russian symbols, the man rising to Kremlin power avoided the stern themes that have often accompanied Mr. Putin’s appearances.

He wanted to talk about living conditions, for soldiers and civilians alike. “Let’s talk about the problems that exist,” he said to the soldiers beside him before a bank of television cameras. “Let’s have a normal conversation. Please.” [...]

As he has become the country’s second most-watched man, he has implicitly presented himself as both a Putin loyalist and a president-in-waiting who will wield power in a manner more gentle than the world has seen under Mr. Putin’s brand of rule.

Whether this is a pose is an open question. Mr. Medvedev, in commentary outside of official Russian circles, has been cast as a puppet, a president who will labor according to Mr. Putin’s command.

But he has made unanticipated moves. In a speech on Feb. 15, he said liberty was necessary for the state to have legitimacy among its citizens. And he has laid out domestic policy goals in what seems like a communiqué to Russia’s expanding consumer class.

Mr. Medvedev has also struck a campy pose — hamming it up with Deep Purple, the British heavy metal band whose music was popular in Soviet times — that suggested a dormitory-life playfulness that is decidedly not Putinesque.

His words and behavior have raised unexpected but pervasive questions. Does Mr. Medvedev mean what he seems to say? Can he ease the grip on Russian political life that has been a central characteristic of Mr. Putin’s rule?

And if he does, will he clash with Mr. Putin, his principal source of power?

Like the surge, classic fascism is meant to be an interlude, not permanent. For cultural reasons Russia is likely to remain more authoritarian than we, and, as a dying nation, it probably requires less freedom than if it had a potential future. But it can certainly enjoy greater liberty as it fades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


McCain steps up criticism of Obama (Julie Bosman and Elisabeth Bumiller, February 29, 2008, IHT)

"On the issue of my differences with Senator Obama on Iraq, I want to make it very clear: This is not about decisions that were made in the past," McCain said. "This is about decisions that a president will have to make about the future in Iraq. And a decision to unilaterally withdraw from Iraq will lead to chaos."

McCain, the likely Republican nominee for president, was reacting to Obama's response to a hypothetical question in a debate in Cleveland on Tuesday night, when Obama said that although he intended to withdraw American forces as quickly as possible, he reserved the right to send troops back if Al Qaeda were forming a base in Iraq.

"Al Qaeda is there now," McCain said in Houston, with a tone of belittlement in his voice. "So to state that somehow if Al Qaeda were there that he would consider going back militarily is really a remarkable comment, and I don't think displays an understanding of the size of the threat and what's at stake in Iraq."

We can argue about whether it's a good or a bad thing, but it pretty undeniably seems to be te case that Maverick dislikes even the usual political back and forth with colleagues he respects, but revels in going after those he holds in contempt. Thus, the gentlemanly tenor of his contest with his main GOP rival, Mike Huckabee, as opposed to the cold-bloodedness with which he dispatched the poseur, Mitt Romney. Because of this dynamic, he'd be fairly unlikely to really pummel Ms Clinton, who he likes, but appears eager to get it on with Senator Obama. The free ride Mr. Obama has received from the press and his fellow Democrats will serve him ill in this regard, as he's utterly unprepared to deal with criticism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Israeli minister warns of Palestinian 'holocaust' (guardian.co.uk, February 29 2008)

An Israeli minister today warned of increasingly bitter conflict in the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians could bring on themselves what he called a "holocaust".

"The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defence minister, told army radio.

Shoah is the Hebrew word normally reserved to refer to the Jewish Holocaust. It is rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi extermination of Jews during the second world war, and many Israelis are loath to countenance its use to describe other events.

The minister's statement came after two days of tit-for-tat missile raids between Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli army. At least 32 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed since the surge in violence on Wednesday.

...is an awfully high price to pay to deny people self-determination. Israel has really squandered the opportunity that the election of Hamas afforded.

February 28, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 PM


Staying to Help in Iraq: We have finally reached a point where humanitarian assistance, from us and others, can have an impact. (Angelina Jolie, February 28, 2008, Washington Post)

The Iraqi families I've met on my trips to the region are proud and resilient. They don't want anything from us other than the chance to return to their homes -- or, where those homes have been bombed to the ground or occupied by squatters, to build new ones and get back to their lives. One thing is certain: It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people. But it is not too early to start working on solutions. And last week, there were signs of progress.

In Baghdad, I spoke with Army Gen. David Petraeus about UNHCR's need for security information and protection for its staff as they re-enter Iraq, and I am pleased that he has offered that support. General Petraeus also told me he would support new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis "to the maximum extent possible" -- which leaves me hopeful that more progress can be made. [...]

My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.

Today's humanitarian crisis in Iraq -- and the potential consequences for our national security -- are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won't explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?

What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money -- but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.

As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.

It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


Nader chooses Matt Gonzalez as his running mate (AP, 2/28/08)

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader selected Matt Gonzalez, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, to be his running mate.

Nader, who launched his fourth White House bid last weekend, made the announcement Thursday at a news conference. The Texas-born Gonzalez ran for mayor of San Francisco as a Green Party candidate in 2003 but lost to Democrat Gavin Newsom after a surprisingly close runoff election. Gonzalez, a lawyer, has been largely inactive in city politics since then.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Bush roasts, toasts champions (Bryan Bender, February 27, 2008, Boston Globe)

The World Series Champs, decked out in their Sunday best and accompanied by manager Terry Francona and rest of the coaching staff, were led out of the White House residence to the rhythms of a military band and as slugger David Ortiz carried the World Series trophy.

But the star of the show quickly became Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers and fan-in-chief who was clearly enjoying the opportunity to mingle with ballplayers after more substantive meetings earlier in the day with the prime minister of the Czech Republic and a special envoy from the Organization of the Islamic Conference:

Singling out ace hurler Daisuke Matzuzaka, Bush made reference to the large group of Japanese reporters who were on hand, joking, "His press corps is bigger than mine." He then noted another similarity he said he shares with "Dice K": "We both have trouble answering questions in English." [...]

But he couldn't help but note the absence of Manny Ramirez, who also did not attend the first Red Sox visit to the Bush White House after the 2004 World Series.

"I'm sorry [Ortiz'] running mate, Manny Ramirez, isn't here. I guess his grandmother died again," Bush quipped, drawing laughter form he crowd but quickly adding, "Just kidding. Tell Manny I didn't mean it."

"And how about Jonathan Papelbon? The guy pitches almost as well as he dances. And I appreciate the dress code. Thanks for wearing pants."

It can hardly be a coincidence that the three successful presidents of the past fifty years--Reagan, Clinton, and W--so obviously enjoyed the job the most.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


Poll: McCain looking good in FL (Domenico Montanaro, 2/28/08, First Read)

McCain leads both Obama and Clinton in potential general-election match ups with either candidate in the all-important swing state of Florida, according to a Mason-Dixon poll out today.

McCain leads Obama 47%-37% and Clinton 49%-40%. The Arizona senator leads the Democrats across the board. About 80% of Republicans are behind McCain. Only 66% of Democrats are behind Obama and 72% are backing Clinton in one-one-one match-ups with McCain. Currently, 17% of Democrats indicate that in a match up with Obama, they'd support McCain; 16% say so in a match up with Clinton.

With the exception of Ohio, John McCain will not have to defend a single state that W carried. On the other hand, with his appeal to Latinos, Rust Belt Catholics, and Jews he can force the Democratic nominee to spend the Fall just trying to defend the states they have to carry to avoid a landslide and loss of Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


Dems face 'sucker punch' on taxes (David Rogers, Feb 28, 2008, Politico)

A year ago, healthy revenue projections allowed the new majority to sail past the question of whether Congress would extend all or only part of President Bush’s tax cuts, due to expire after 2010. Today’s budget landscape is much more difficult, and the tighter margins give Republicans more leverage to demand that Democrats spell out what tax cuts they would keep — and which would be lost.

“That is the sucker punch they want. They want that fight,” says Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), watching from the relative safety of the House. And given Senate rules allowing dozens of targeted budget amendments, it could be open season for Republicans, who are eager to draw a sharper line between their likely nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and the two leading Democrats, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Mr. Emanuel unwittingly echoes Friend Perlstein's comment yesterday about conservatives being con men. At the point where you think the other side is cheating just because you have to defend your ideology, you've lost the argument.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:03 PM


Obama: A Harsh Ideologue Hidden by a Feel-Good Image (Rick Santorum, February 28, 2008, Philadelphia Inquirer)

John McCain's campaign and conservative pundits have listed the numerous times in Obama's short Senate career where he sided with the extremes in his party against broadly supported compromises on issues such as immigration, ethics reform, terrorist surveillance and war funding. Fighting on the fringe with a handful of liberals is one thing, but consider his position on an issue that passed both houses of Congress unanimously in 2002.

That bill was the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. During the partial-birth abortion debate, Congress heard testimony about babies that had survived attempted late-term abortions. Nurses testified that these preterm living, breathing babies were being thrown into medical waste bins to die or being "terminated" outside the womb. With the baby now completely separated from the mother, it was impossible to argue that the health or life of the mother was in jeopardy by giving her baby appropriate medical treatment.

The act simply prohibited the killing of a baby born alive. To address the concerns of pro-choice lawmakers, the bill included language that said nothing "shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand or contract any legal status or legal right" of the baby. In other words, the bill wasn't intruding on Roe v. Wade.

Who would oppose a bill that said you couldn't kill a baby who was born? Not Kennedy, Boxer or Hillary Rodham Clinton. Not even the hard-core National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). Obama, however, is another story. The year after the Born Alive Infants Protection Act became federal law in 2002, identical language was considered in a committee of the Illinois Senate. It was defeated with the committee's chairman, Obama, leading the opposition.

Let's be clear about what Obama did, once in 2003 and twice before that. He effectively voted for infanticide. He voted to allow doctors to deny medically appropriate treatment or, worse yet, actively kill a completely delivered living baby. Infanticide - I wonder if he'll add this to the list of changes in his next victory speech and if the crowd will roar: "Yes, we can."

How could someone possibly justify such a vote? In March 2001, Obama was the sole speaker in opposition to the bill on the floor of the Illinois Senate. He said: "We're saying they are persons entitled to the kinds of protections provided to a child, a 9-month child delivered to term. I mean, it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal-protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child." So according to Obama, "they," babies who survive abortions or any other preterm newborns, should be permitted to be killed because giving legal protection to preterm newborns would have the effect of banning all abortions.

Of course, he supports adulticide too, as in his regret at not having helped kill Teri Schiavo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 PM


It takes a neighborhood to cut crime (Tim Harford, February 27, 2008, Sac Bee)

Could economics say anything about what makes our neighborhoods defend us or abandon us? I discovered that it could. Economists can now tell us why neighborhoods go through dramatic transitions from dangerous to safe or rich to poor; they have established a clear link between urban architecture and crime; they can even shed some light on whether local crime is contagious. And they can tell us what difference law enforcement really makes when the streets are peopled by those who try to kill for no reason.

Cities frequently fall into a sharply defined patchwork of thriving areas and struggling ones, often divided along racial lines. It is easy to see this as the result of bitter prejudice. But the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling proved decades ago that the motivations that lead to segregation may be less entrenched than you might suppose.

In the days before computer simulations, Schelling demonstrated his theory with a game played with randomly distributed pennies and nickels on a checkerboard. He invented a simple rule for how the coins moved: A nickel could be happy as long as it was touching two or more other nickels. But if it touched only one other nickel, it would hop elsewhere, leaving its former neighbor isolated. One coin after another would move in a chain reaction. Schelling's game seemed to make possible a mixed checkerboard, but the result was always segregation.

The lesson? Even if everyone were comfortable living in a mixed neighborhood, extreme segregation -- by race, class or income -- could still emerge from people's mild preferences not to be outnumbered.

Countless individually rational decisions can snowball into a socially regrettable outcome.

Schelling's successors are exploring ways in which societies can "flip" from bad situations to good ones. City streets can be unsettlingly empty or reassuringly thronged with passers-by. The safer and livelier the streets feel, the safer and livelier they become.

This virtuous circle means a small catalyst can transform a neighborhood from struggling to thriving.

Architecture matters, too, something we feel intuitively but find hard to prove or quantify. Think of high-rise apartments. Do they make a city safer by packing more people into an area and giving the streets a greater bustle? Or are cities safer if most buildings are low-rise, so people feel a connection to the street? Two new-wave economists, Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth, matched crime figures with data on building height and discovered that the residents of high-rise apartments are much more likely to be crime victims, specifically street crime. The effect remains similar after statistically adjusting for poverty, demographics and public housing: It's the height of the building itself that matters.

These insights apply to numerous issues, not least why urban intellectuals advocate the politics of atomization and dependency on the state--since it just reflects the lives they lead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Cauliflower Popcorn (Marlene Parrish, 2/28/08, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

* 1 large head of cauliflower
* 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut cauliflower in half. Remove core with small knife and discard. Break into florets, about 3/4-inch pieces. Place in bowl. Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 35 to 40 minutes until soft and golden brown.

Use pot holders to shake pan gently several times so cauliflower doesn't stick.

Transfer cauliflower to platter. Add salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


29 Taliban killed in clashes, bombing in southern Afghanistan (Associated Press, February 28, 2008)

Insurgents ambushed the drug eradication force Wednesday in Marja district of Helmand province, killing one police officer and wounding two, said Gen. Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, the provincial police chief.

Police launched an attack afterward, killing 25 Taliban fighters, including a senior regional militant commander, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. [...]

Separately, four militants died and another was wounded Thursday when the roadside bomb they were planting on a road in Helmand exploded prematurely, Andiwal said. Militants regularly target Afghan and foreign troops with roadside bombs, though many civilians are killed by the blasts.

Last year was the deadliest in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. More than 6,500 people -- mostly militants -- were killed in insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press count.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


Democrats Rile Canada, Mexico: Vows To Renegotiate Nafta Met With Stiff Resistance (JOSH GERSTEIN, February 28, 2008, NY Sun)

Canada and Mexico are rebuking the top Democratic presidential candidates, senators Clinton and Obama, for vowing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and threatening to pull out of the pact altogether if America's neighbors refuse.

"Nafta has been a win-win-win for Mexico, the United States and Canada, proving that a rising tide can lift all boats," the Mexican ambassador to America, Arturo Sarukhan, said in a written statement. "Mexico does not support reopening Nafta. It would be like throwing a monkey wrench into the engine of North American competitiveness."

On the bright side, they aren't serious about changing the deal. It's just racial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Obama Rebuffs Challenges on His Israel Stance (Jonathan Weisman, 2/28/08, Washington Post)

In the Democratic presidential primaries, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) has run well ahead of Obama among Jewish voters in states with large Jewish populations, taking 67 percent of the Jewish vote in Nevada, 63 percent in New Jersey, 65 percent in New York and 60 percent in Maryland. Obama narrowly won the Jewish vote in Arizona, California and Massachusetts, and captured 61 percent in Connecticut.

"The campaign's going to have to make a strong effort against these rumors," Cohen said.

Alan Solomont, a Boston financier who is Obama's Northeastern finance chairman, said he has been fielding almost daily calls from Jewish friends, asking about Obama's position on Israel and on other policy issues important to them.

Another issue for Obama besides Farrakhan and White has been his campaign's association with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert Malley, two prominent foreign policy experts whom some Jews regard as anti-Israel.

Obama took on those issues in Cleveland when he told Jewish leaders that Brzezinski, a national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, is not a key adviser but merely someone he had lunch with and exchanged e-mails with "maybe three times." Malley, a State Department official in the Clinton White House involved in failed efforts to complete a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, "is one of hundreds of people who have sent advice to the campaign," Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), an Obama supporter, wrote in the Jerusalem Post yesterday.

The persistence of the changes against Obama has left his supporters pointing fingers, both at the GOP and at the Clinton campaign. Wexler pointed to a Newsweek article this week that said Clinton senior adviser Ann Lewis had called Brzezinski Obama's "chief foreign policy adviser" during a conference call in January with leaders of major Jewish organizations.

Sounds like a sinister plot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


The dark side of Obamamania (Robert Sibley, February 28, 2008, The Ottawa Citizen)

When the post-election realities become evident to the electorate, as they always do, there is inevitably a harsh and bitter reaction from those who are disappointed that the man or woman they voted for didn't live up to their hopes. The consequence of this disappointment is, of course, greater cynicism toward politics and politicians.

Politics is not something from which we should be saved, any more than life is an illness in need of a cure. As [late political philosopher Michael Oakeshott] put it, politics is not "an encounter of dreams," a "jump to glory," or the means for making people better.

This attitude probably has few adherents nowadays. Many assume the function of government is to serve our wants and desires. Some even think it's the government's obligation to improve our lives, make us healthy.

Oakeshott thought people should behave like adults, take responsibility for their behaviour, and accept the consequences of their actions. Such a disposition places a restraint on attempts to use politics for grand social engineering schemes. Oakeshott certainly wouldn't have thought much of a political program based on slogans as mindless and banal as "change we can believe in."

...their irrational emotional disorder is brought on by their very Rationalism

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


ONE NATION, UNDER VANDEN HEUVEL: Mugger kinda likes the little liberal weekly. What’s up with that? (Russ Smith, 2/28/08, NY Press)

Perhaps I’ve been snoozing, but when did The Nation morph into such a pleasantly quaint magazine? It’s not that the weekly, founded in 1865, has been left behind by the melding of print and web. Just as The National Review made itself relevant again several years ago by establishing a vigorous online presence, its left-wing counterpart is also energetic on that front. And in contrast to the fading New Republic, The Nation’s paid circulation has swelled during the Bush years. As a longtime subscriber, I scare myself upon retrieving the slim weekly from the mail slot on whatever day it arrives. I place it, along with The Weekly Standard and The New Yorker on top of a must-read (or, more accurately, must-look-at) pile. [...]

One aspect of The Nation’s content I appreciate is that there’s no pretense of humor, satire or celebrity worship.

The humorlessness of a Leftwing rag can hardly be news anymore, but this makes a nice bookend with an older piece from when folks were just realizing that all humor is conservative, Bubble Wrap:
The Nation vs. The Weekly Standard
(John Powers, 8/30/02, LA Weekly)
[O]ver the last two decades, the joy has gone out of the left -- it now feels hedged in by shibboleths and defeatism -- while the right has been having a gas, be it Lee Atwater grooving to the blues, Rush Limbaugh chortling about Feminazis or grimly gleeful Ann Coulter serving up bile as if it were chocolate mousse, even dubbing Katie Couric "the affable Eva Braun of morning television." (Get your political allegiances straight, babe. Katie's the Madame Mao of morning television. You're Eva Braun.)

These same high spirits course through The Standard, whose editor William Kristol constantly shows up on TV grinning like a catfish. His magazine features catchy covers, a reader-friendly layout, breezy headlines (a hit piece on Lula was called "Brazil's Nut") and a core of enjoyable writers, notably David Brooks, Christopher Caldwell (whose article on Islam in France is one of the best things I've read this year) and David Tell, probably the country's most compelling editorialist. Although driven by a devout ideological agenda -- it's for unfettered free trade and war on Iraq -- Kristol and executive editor Fred Barnes know how to mix things up, running a parody page (often mirthless, to be sure), funny articles by the likes of P.J. O'Rourke (who reminds us that reactionaries make better humorists than liberals) and sharp, short items designed to keep readers amused on that long march to Baghdad. Snappy and pointed, it's designed to compete in a world that has many magazines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Abortions earmarked by race: An investigation of Planned Parenthood’s money (Lila Rose, Winter 2008, UCLA Advocate)

Over the summer, The Advocate investigated the financial dealings of Planned Parenthood and made some shocking discoveries about the clinic-owning "nonprofit." We obtained the information by having an actor call clinics across the country and pose as a donor. The actor who called, The Advocate’s advisor, communicated to them a very racist agenda—the one that Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood’s founder, had envisioned. He then asked to donate money specifically for the abortions of African-American babies in order to "lower the number of blacks in America."

Despite his bigoted requests, no Planned Parenthood employee (or director of development, in one case) declined the tainted money. Some even asked to speak with other employees to get permission. In the first day of calling seven clinics, not a single Planned Parenthood representative expressed outrage or concern at the racism behind donations specifically "to reduce the number of blacks." In fact, some even went as far as agreeing with the anti-black agenda.

SpokesmanReview.com reports that the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is marred by "the presence of an ugly strain of racism." An actor posing as a racist donor called several Planned Parenthood centers and asked that his donation be earmarked specifically to fund the abortions of African-American babies in order to lower the number of black people. Every branch agreed to process these donations, and none expressed concern about the racist intentions of the donors. Following is a transcript of a portion of the actor's call to Planned Parenthood (PP) of Idaho:

Donor: I want to specify that abortion to help a minority group, would that be possible?

PP Rep: Absolutely.

Donor: Like the black community for example?

PP Rep: Certainly.

Donor: The abortion—I can give money specifically for a black baby, that would be the purpose?

PP Rep: Absolutely. If you wanted to designate that your gift be used to help an African-American woman in need, then we would certainly make sure that the gift was earmarked for that purpose.

Donor: Great, because I really faced trouble with affirmative action, and I don't want my kids to be disadvantaged against black kids. I just had a baby; I want to put it in his name.

PP Rep: Yes, absolutely.

Donor: And we don't, you know we just think, the less black kids out there the better.

PP Rep: (Laughs) Understandable, understandable.

Back in the pre-Falwell/Reagan/John Paul '70s, people used to at least be more honest about supporting abortion as a means of controlling the poor generally and minorities in particular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


China considers ending one-child policy (Tania Branigan, 2/28/08, guardian.co.uk)

China could scrap its one-child policy, a senior family planning official said today, acknowledging concerns about its effects in creating an ageing society and gender gap. [...]

Although the population has yet to peak – it is expected to rise from 1.3 billion now to 1.5 billion in 2033 - the birth rate has dropped below the replacement rate of 2.1. [...]

Zhao also acknowledged the problems posed by the longstanding cultural preference for boys and warned that in future the use of ultrasound to predict the sex of a child – and terminate female fetuses – could become "a big issue" for China.

It already has 118 male births for every 100 female; way above the global "normal" ratio of between 103 and 107 boys for every 100 girls.

...it's easy to dehumanize your society, hard to reverse the process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


A Remarkable Man: In memory of William F. Buckley Jr. (Joseph Lieberman, 2/27/08, National Review)

Buckley's life is an extraordinary one. Upon leaving Yale, he became well known for a book he wrote — God and Man at Yale — about what he saw as the hostile environment there toward people of faith. He started National Review in the mid-1950s. I remember reading once that he had said in the founding issue that the publication would derive from the original ideas of the moral order. Bill Buckley was a person who studied history, studied literature, and learned from it. He was also infused with a deep and profound commitment to his Roman Catholic faith. I believe that was the origin of the moral order which he gave expression to in his writing for National Review, and in speaking out and conducting himself as a provocative, loving American.

He believed that ideas mattered, and they do. National Review, in some sense, gave birth to the modern American conservative movement. It wasn't necessarily a Republican movement; his conservatism was a matter of ideals and ideas and philosophy. He rejected extremism. To his everlasting credit, he took on the John Birch Society when it wasn't popular to do so.

Buckley's conservative ideology was not always favorable to Republican candidates. I recall reading National Review’s endorsement of General Dwight D. Eisenhower for President. While everyone else was echoing the slogan "We Like Ike," Buckley's editorial said "We Prefer Ike.” He was more thrilled, of course, by the candidacy of Senator Barry Goldwater, and then most of all by the candidacy of President Ronald Reagan.

At one point in the mid-60s, Buckley ran for Mayor of New York, as kind of a joyous, thought-provoking, elegant, eloquent exercise in being involved in the marketplace of public ideas. Perhaps the most famous, if not the most substantive, thing he said in that campaign was when they asked him what he would do if he was elected. Bill Buckley famously said, "Demand a recount."

Guru of the Right was guided by a rebel's sensibility (John B. Judis | February 29, 2008, The Australian)
WILLIAM F. Buckley Jr, will, of course, be remembered as the man who was most singly responsible for the modern conservative movement. Before 1955, when Buckley founded National Review, there were disparate strands of an American Right, from free-market anti-New Dealers to traditionalists and anti-Semitic crackpots.

Through National Review, Buckley constructed a new conservatism by knitting together the traditional and free-market strands of the Right with the militant anti-communism of former communists and Trotskyists such as Whittaker Chambers and James Burnham, and by casting out of the new mix the various anti-Semites and kooks. Barry Goldwater was around, too, but Goldwater's politics - set forth in a book ghosted by National Review editor L. Brent Bozell Jr, Buckley's brother-in-law - were inconceivable before National Review. Buckley provided the synthesis.

Buckley didn't necessarily provide the theory. He was a brilliant impresario and editor and later became an exceptional columnist and television personality. He yearned to write what he called a "big book" on the model of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind - it was to be called The Revolt Against the Masses - but he gave up in the early 1960s and settled for the fast lane of punditry, hosting Firing Line on TV, and later novel-writing. A conservative by political reputation and a traditionalist in his faith, he was nonetheless at home, and reached the peak of his success, during the frenetic '60s. He was most comfortable in the role of a rebel. And, as Dwight Macdonald wrote in a review of Buckley's first book, God and Man at Yale, he had much of the temperament and sensibility but none (or very little) of the political outlook of the left-wing rebel.

-William F. Buckley Jr., one private memory (Andrew Malcolm, 2/28/08, LA Times: Top of the Ticket)
And then his eyes lit up and he smiled. He wanted to share a recent story about "a dear friend." That dear friend, again surprisingly, was Hubert H. Humphrey, the former pharmacist, Minneapolis mayor, Minnesota senator and vice president whose liberal politics were about as far from Buckley's as Tokyo from Connecticut.

Buckley was famous for skewering liberals lke Humphrey during the 1,504 episodes of his TV show, recalling on-air to one famous New York Democrat how many times he'd been on "Firing Line." And then, adding, "Tell me, Mark, have you learned anything?"

Humphrey was called "the Happy Warrior" for his endless enthusiasms and energies to fix things. He had returned to the Senate after being crushed by Richard Nixon and Humphrey's own badly-fractured Democratic Party in the antiwar violence, assassinations and political violence of 1968.

As Buckley talked that evening, the world silently knew that Humphrey was dying from cancer, slowly and surely. But the Minnesotan wouldn't let on.

Buckley had been on a recent flight from New York to Britain, he said. The in-flight movie projector had broken so he was reading, legs crossed, Santa Claus spectacles perched on his nose. When, abruptly, a noisy ruckus erupted behind and above him.

Buckley wheeled and there, coat off, sleeves rolled up, he saw Hubert H. Humphrey mounting a ladder and inserting himself into the broken projector situation and the aircraft's ceiling, muttering constantly to himself while he tried to fix the balky machine, without success as it turned out. "That's Hubert," Buckley thought with affection.

A flight attendant approached. She said the captain was a fan and was inviting Buckley into the cockpit to watch the landing in the London night. Buckley recalled being awed by the scene approaching ahead, the horizon aglow from the ancient city, the modern airport closer with all the lights, some flashing, many colored as the giant plane slowly descended through the darkness toward the earth.

Suddenly, the cockpit door flew open. "Bill!" shouted the senator. "What are you doing in here? Why wasn't I invited? What's going on? Oh, my goodness! Bill, will you look at that sight? Isn't that beautiful? Oh, my. Look!"

And, Buckley recounted, instead of the outside scenery, he ended up that night in the dark cockpit watching instead his dying friend in admiration, still excited, still himself, exulting at the world's beauty as he came down slowly for a landing at the end of a long trip.

Then, Buckley looked at me and took a sip of his drink. "I hope at the end," he said, "I come in for my last landing the same way."

I think he did.

William F. Buckley Jr., RIP (Ben Johnson, 2/28/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

Aloise Buckley Heath once reminisced that, when her brother set out to establish National Review in the mid-1950s, “Our most deeply buried fear was that Gerald L.K. Smith was the only other conservative in America.” Fifty years later, William F. Buckley Jr.’s “weekly journal of opinion” (now bi-weekly) reaches more than 150,000 subscribers, including the president of the United States, and is recognized as the intellectual fountainhead of modern conservatism.

This sea-change can largely be attributed to the work of its founder. More than anyone else, William F. Buckley Jr. came to embody conservatism itself. He made the term “conservative” respectable, realigned the Republican Party (permanently, one hopes) to the Right, and set in motion a movement that saw two of its members elected president of the United States.

-Remembering William F. Buckley Jr.: The Economic Man (NY Sun, February 28, 2008)
-Remembering William F. Buckley Jr.: A Stupendous American (R. EMMETT TYRRELL JR., February 28, 2008, NY Sun)
-William F. Buckley: RIP., Enfant Terrible (Ann Coulter, 2/28/08, Real Clear Politics)
-William F. Buckley, Amiable Combatant (David von Drehle, Feb. 27,
2008, TIME)
-William F. Buckley: Mandarin of Right-Wing TV (RICHARD CORLISS, 2/27/08, TIME)
-OBIT: William F. Buckley Jr. is dead at 82 (Douglas Martin, February 28, 2008, IHT)
-William F. Buckley, Jr. Remembered (David Horowitz, 2/28/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)
-Conservatism's Heart and Soul (Alfred S. Regnery, 2/28/2008, American Spectator)
To say that Bill Buckley caused a sensation, when he first emerged on the scene with the publication of God and Man at Yale in the spring of 1951, would be an understatement. Just 25 and a recent Yale graduate, he was well known on campus, having been the editor of the Yale Daily News where his editorials were debated, reviled, and praised. But, as wrote John Chamberlain in his preface to the book, nearly everybody on campus thought young Buckley was fighting a losing fight. He was, they thought, on the side of the past.

Yale was in the throes of celebrating its 250th anniversary, and was braced for a rousing good time and expecting praise from every quarter. But the celebration would soon be upstaged by Buckley's first book, which reported that, contrary to what it was telling its donors and trustees, Yale was not a Christian institution but instead promoting socialism and collectivism. It noted that academic freedom was a hoax as far as anything other than leftists was concerned, and suggested that the alumni should begin to direct the course of education at Yale instead of the administration and faculty.

Within weeks after the book appeared, Buckley was a national phenomenon, and the publisher was having a hard time keeping the book in stock.

-SPEECH: Man of Manifold Marvels: WFB and his mighty pen (Norman Podhoretz, 2/28/08, National Review)
-"The Sacred Elixir of Life": Bill’s large life (Michael Knox Beran, 2/28/08, National Review)
-INTERVIEW: W Buckley: Listening to Mr. Right: William Buckley's advice for Christian activists. (Michael Cromartie interview with William Buckley, 10/02/1995, Christianity Today)
-INTERVIEW: Buckley on Belief: A 1997 Books & Culture interview with William F. Buckley, Jr. (Interview by Michael Cromartie, November / December 1997, Christianity Today)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Is the Terror Threat Overrated? (David Ignatius, 2/28/08, Real Clear Politics)

The heart of [Marc] Sageman's message is that we have been scaring ourselves into overexaggerating the terrorism threat -- and then by our unwise actions in Iraq making the problem worse. He attacks head-on the central thesis of the Bush administration, echoed increasingly by Republican presidential candidate John McCain, that, as McCain's Web site puts it, the United States is facing "a dangerous, relentless enemy in the War against Islamic Extremists" spawned by al-Qaeda.

The numbers say otherwise, Sageman insists. The first wave of al-Qaeda leaders, who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, is now down to a few dozen people on the run in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The second wave of terrorists, who trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s, has also been devastated, with about 100 hiding out on the Pakistani frontier. These people are genuinely dangerous, says Sageman, and they must be captured or killed. But they do not pose an existential threat to America, much less a "clash of civilizations."

...he might put two and two together and recognize that the WoT has been a perfect pretext for bringing the End of History to the Islamic world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Missile Kills 13 in Pakistan (Reuters, 2/28/08)

A missile struck a house in a Pakistani region known as being a safe haven for al Qaeda early on Thursday, killing 13 suspected militants including foreigners, intelligence officials and residents said. [...]

A security official said he believed the missile was fired by U.S. forces who are operating in neighbouring Afghanistan, and the house belonged to a Pashtun tribesman, Sher Mohammad Malikkheil, known as Sheroo, who is believed to have links with militants.

...is the American word for "target rich environment."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Louisiana governor pierces business as usual (Adam Nossiter, February 28, 2008, NY Times)

Downstairs, legislators gnashed their teeth, while upstairs at the Capitol here this week, the new governor claimed victory against the old customs down below.

Six weeks into the term of Governor Bobby Jindal, an extensive package of ethics bills was approved here this week, signaling a shift in the political culture of a state proud of its brazen style. Jindal, the earnest son of Indian immigrants, quickly declared open season on the cozy fusion of interests and social habits that have prevailed among lobbyists, state legislators and state agencies here for decades. Mostly, he got what he wanted.

Jindal, an outsider to that rollicking if sometimes unsavory banquet, a Republican with a missionary's zeal to smite Louisiana's wickedness at one of its presumed sources, called on the Legislature to reform itself and its high-living ways.

Grudgingly, pushed by public opinion and business pressure, it went along.

...a Republican governor delivers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Bush and Czech Leader Close to Deal on Radar (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 2/28/08, NY Times)

President Bush and the Czech leader said Wednesday that they were close to an agreement on a plan for the United States to install an early warning radar system in the Czech Republic, a key component of a missile defense system that has drawn stiff opposition from Russia.

“There are only three words remaining to resolve,” said the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, speaking through an interpreter, after meeting with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office.

February 27, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Lessons on the Long War: Understanding the stakes and strategy in Iraq. (Pete Hegseth, 2/27/08, National Review)

While traveling to Baghdad, I had plenty of downtime to re-read large portions of House to House, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia’s memoir of urban combat in Fallujah, and the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual authored by General David Petraeus and (new Vets for Freedom board member) Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl. The two books highlight fundamental aspects of the Iraq war today — and are must-reads for anyone who wants to understand the enemy we face and the strategy we’re currently employing against them, with great success.

Congressional Medal of Honor nominee David Bellavia’s first-person account of deadly hand-to-hand combat in Iraq paints a realistic and detailed picture of the enemy he faced in Fallujah — what he called “an insurgent global all-star team” that included “Chechen snipers, Filipino machine gunners, Pakistani mortar men, and Saudi suicide bombers.” The insurgents were not ordinary Iraqis fighting for their freedom against an invading power — but international Islamic militants supported by al-Qaeda. “They seek not only to destroy us here in Iraq, but to destroy American power and influence everywhere. They revile our culture and want it swept clear, replaced with Sharia law.” If only certain U.S. Senators truly understood the global nature of our vicious enemy in Iraq.

The second book outlines the military doctrine behind our counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq — and is a testament to military adaptation and leadership. In the military theater, Petraeus’s manual calls for “securing and controlling the local populace,” but also for “providing essential services” and “supporting government reforms and reconstruction projects” — all of which requires “a high ratio of security forces to the protected population” (i.e., enough troops). Meanwhile, on the home front, the manual warns that “protracted counterinsurgency operations are hard to sustain. The effort requires a firm political will and substantial patience by the government, its people, and the countries providing support.” In light of today’s Senate fights, these words are painfully prescient.

The extent to which our military and government can internalize and implement the lessons these books provide will determine whether or not we succeed in Iraq and in the broader war on terror.

The motley nature of the insurgency and its inability to appeal to the broader population is actually the most important lesson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


It's OK to vote for Obama because he's black (Gary Kamiya, Feb. 26, 2008, Salon)

[I]f Obama weren't black, he would not be the Democratic front-runner.

I believe that most of Obama's supporters are voting for him for the same reason. Like me, they're drawn to his idealism, his youthful energy, his progressive politics. But it's his blackness that seals the deal.

And that's OK. In fact, it's wonderful. [...]

It's true that voting for Obama is in some ways a symbolic gesture, one that won't instantly solve America's race problems. But it will help. Symbolism is powerful.

The problem with arguing that it is okay to vote for Senator Obama just because he's black and your vote is symbolic way of siding with black empowerment is that you then have no rational basis for arguing that it is wrong to vote against him because he's black and because your chosen symbol is your own race. That's not a big deal in much of America, where blacks and whites aren't generally locked in a power struggle. But it matters very much in a number or urban areas and certain regions of the country where blacks are contesting political power with other ethnic cohorts--Latinos, Jews, Asians, etc.

Indeed, the open appeal to racial identity and the tensions especially with Latinos and Zionists combined with John McCain's Christian/post-racial politics (as it manifests itself on immigration and Israel in particular) creates a set of peculiar voting dynamics for the Fall. As the New Republic [presumably] unwittingly reported today, white nationalists feel right at home with Mr. Obama's identity politics. In fact, the most racist are not unlikely to vote against John McCain because they recognize him as a friend to Jews and Hispanics.

Such is the malignancy of the sort of racialism that Mr. Kamiya here celebrates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 PM


Televangelist Supports McCain (Laura Meckler, 2/27/08, Wall Street Journal: Washington Wire)

Sen. John McCain took a step toward making peace with the evangelical community as he picked up the endorsement of televangelist John Hagee, a leading Christian supporter of Israel and pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church.

Hagee praised McCain’s positions on abortion, Israel, the war in Iraq and immigration. “John McCain will be a strong, courageous and effective leader from the first day he steps into the Oval Office,” he said. “I am very honored today to lend my vigorous, enthusiastic and personal support to an American hero.”

Hagee, a fundamentalist Christian, preaches a health-and-wealth belief: if congregants’ faith is strong enough, God will reward them. He has devoted a great deal of energy to raise money and awareness for Israel. He is a leading figure in the “Christian-Zionist” movement, a political philosophy rooted in biblical prophecies and a belief that Israel’s struggles signal a prelude to Armageddon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


In shift, G.O.P. welcomes Iraq debate: Republican senators see the issue as a plus for the presidential campaign. (Gail Russell Chaddock, 2/28/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

In a surprise move, Republicans stunned the Democratic leadership by voting to debate a bill that requires the Pentagon to begin the "safe redeployment of US troops" within 120 days. [...]

Democratic leaders had planned to use this week's floor time to debate high-profile legislation on relief for Americans facing home foreclosures. "It is obvious to me what the game plan is: They want us to slow the Senate down from getting things done," Senator Reid said, after the 70-to-24 vote to take up the Iraq bill.

The only thing they said they'd do if they were elected was bring the troops home. Here's their chance to get the thing done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


Democrats duel, then McCain pounces (Brian Knowlton, Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny, February 27, 2008, NY Times)

[I]n the debate, Obama - who like Clinton has promised to withdraw U.S. troops quickly from Iraq - was asked whether as president he would reserve the right to send American troops back into Iraq to quell a civil war or uprising.

Obama said that "if Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad." [...]

"When you examine that statement, it's pretty remarkable," McCain told a crowd in Tyler, Texas. "I have some news. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It's called 'Al Qaeda in Iraq,' " McCain said, The Associated Press reported.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM


Race Man: How Barack Obama played the race card and blamed Hillary Clinton (Sean Wilentz, February 27, 2008, New Republic)

After several weeks of swooning, news reports are finally being filed about the gap between Senator Barack Obama's promises of a pure, soul-cleansing "new" politics and the calculated, deeply dishonest conduct of his actually-existing campaign. [...]

Misleading propaganda is hardly new in American politics --although the adoption of techniques reminiscent of past Republican and special-interest hit jobs, right down to a retread of the fictional couple, seems strangely at odds with a campaign that proclaims it will redeem the country from precisely these sorts of divisive and manipulative tactics. As insidious as these tactics are, though, the Obama campaign's most effective gambits have been far more egregious and dangerous than the hypocritical deployment of deceptive and disingenuous attack ads. To a large degree, the campaign's strategists turned the primary and caucus race to their advantage when they deliberately, falsely, and successfully portrayed Clinton and her campaign as unscrupulous race-baiters--a campaign-within-the-campaign in which the worked-up flap over the Somali costume photograph is but the latest episode. While promoting Obama as a "post-racial" figure, his campaign has purposefully polluted the contest with a new strain of what historically has been the most toxic poison in American politics.

More than any other maneuver, this one has brought Clinton into disrepute with important portions of the Democratic Party. A review of what actually happened shows that the charges that the Clintons played the "race card" were not simply false; they were deliberately manufactured by the Obama camp and trumpeted by a credulous and/or compliant press corps in order to strip away her once formidable majority among black voters and to outrage affluent, college-educated white liberals as well as college students. The Clinton campaign, in fact, has not racialized the campaign, and never had any reason to do so. Rather the Obama campaign and its supporters, well-prepared to play the "race-baiter card" before the primaries began, launched it with a vengeance when Obama ran into dire straits after his losses in New Hampshire and Nevada--and thereby created a campaign myth that has turned into an incontrovertible truth among political pundits, reporters, and various Obama supporters. This development is the latest sad commentary on the malign power of the press, hyping its own favorites and tearing down those it dislikes, to create pseudo-scandals of the sort that hounded Al Gore during the 2000 campaign. It is also a commentary on how race can make American politics go haywire. Above all, it is a commentary on the cutthroat, fraudulent politics that lie at the foundation of Obama's supposedly uplifting campaign.

The New Republic will endorse Maverick this Fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Model behaviour: William F Buckley, who died today at 82, genuinely respected his ideological adversaries - in stark contrast to today's demonisation of political opponents (Rick Perlstein, February 27, 2008, The Guardian)

William F Buckley was my friend.

I'm hard on conservatives. I get harder on them just about every day. I call them "con men". I do so without apology. And I cannot deny that Buckley, the founder of National Review and leader of the conservative movement, said and did many things over the course of his career that were disgusting as well. I've written about some of them. But this is not the time to go into all that.

My friend just passed away at the age of 82. He was a good and decent man. He knew exactly what my politics were about - he knew I was an implacable ideological adversary - yet he offered his friendship to me nonetheless. He did the honour of respecting his ideological adversaries without covering up the adversarial nature of the relationship in false bonhomie. A remarkable quality, all too rare in an era of the false fetishism of "post-partisanship" and Broderism and go-along-to-get-along. He was friends with those he fought. He fought with friends. These are the highest civic ideals to which an American patriot can aspire. [...]

Nice people, friends, can disagree about the most fundamental questions about the organisation of society. And there's nothing wrong with that. We must not fantasize about destroying our political adversaries, nor fantasize about magically converting them. We must honour that some humans are conservative and some humans are liberal, and that it will always be thus.

And some, simply are mensches. Last year Bill called me to ask if I would blurb his next book, about Goldwater. I chose not to. But damn: I bit my nails a little. I wanted him to blurb my book! Now he'd certainly take out his revenge by refusing. That's the way you're supposed to behave in the literary game.

He didn't. Instead, when a reporter came calling to ask him about Rick Perlstein, he said something remarkably sweet for the record - for all I know, one of his last public utterances. Then, after sending him the galleys of my next book, I heard back from him post-haste: another self-reproach. He would love to endorse it, but could not. He was too frail. This in an email obviously drafted by himself. Letters were missing, words garbled.

Buckleyism to the end: friendship and adversarialism coinciding. All of us who write about politics, may that be our role model.

-VIDEO: Buckley on Buckley (The Open Mind, 1996)
-ETEXT: Odyssey Of A Friend Whittaker Chamber S Letters To William F. Buckley Jr 1954-1961 (1956)
-ESSAY: Buckley: The Right's Practical Intellectual (E. J. Dionne Jr., October 11, 2005, Washington Post)
-TRIBUTE:The Unbought Grace of Life: Remembering William F. Buckley, Jr. (Myron Magnet, 27 February 2008, City Journal)
-TRIBUTE: How William F. Buckley Changed America (Dinesh D'Souza, Feb 27th 2008, AOL News)
-OBIT: William F. Buckley, Jr., R.I.P. (The Editors, 2/27/08, National Review)
-TRIBUTE: William F. Buckley Jr., RIP (Roger Kimball, 2/27/08, Roger's Rules)

This morning, I got the very sad news that my friend William F. Buckley Jr died earlier today. He was 82. I cannot say that the news was entirely unexpected—Bill had been seriously ill for months—but it was nevertheless shocking. I am one of a host of Bill’s friends who contributed a few words about him to NRO. I’d like also to share the some portions of the review I wrote of his “literary autobiography,” Miles Gone By, partly because it allows me to speak about him in the present tense:...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 2/27/08, NY Times)

William F. Buckley Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Conn.

Mr Buckley, 82, suffered from diabetes and emphysema, his son Christopher said, although the exact cause of death was not immediately known. He was found at his desk in the study of his home, his son said. “He might have been working on a column,” Mr. Buckley said.

Given how much he wrote, that seems fitting.

Mr. Buckley is the common thread that runs throughout the entire history of the modern conservative movement, from having Albert Jay Nock as a family friend to employing Whittaker Chambers, Willmoore Kendall, Frank S. Meyer, James Burnham, Jeffrey Hart, etc. in the early days of National Review, to inventing Barry Goldwater to promoting Ronald Reagan and so on and so forth. He was in many ways the most influential political figure of the 2nd half of the 20th century.

You can hardly go wrong picking up any of his work, but two in particular that we'd recommend are: The Unmaking of a Mayor, which ranks right up there with Richard Ben Cramer's What it Takes as a look at American politics in action; and Stained Glass, the best of the Blackford Oakes thrillers.

Hopefully it wasn't being mentioned in the same breath as a mere blogger that killed him...

Here's his fine summation in the famous Panama Canal Treaty debate with Ronald Reagan:

-Q&A on William F. Buckley (The New York Times, 2/27/08)

Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of The Times Book Review and Week in Review, is writing a biography of William F. Buckley Jr., who died Wednesday. Mr. Buckley was for decades the intellectual standard bearer for American conservatism, and he was also one of the 20th century’s truest men of letters: a magazine editor, newspaper columnist, novelist and essayist — the author of 45 books.

Sam is taking reader questions about Mr. Buckley. What do you want to know? Ask your questions in the comments field below, and we’ll get to as many as we can.

-VIDEO: William F. Buckley (C-APAN: American Writers)
-ARCHIVES: William F. Buckley Jr. Archive on National Review Online
-ARCHIVES: Featured Author: William F. Buckley Jr. (With News and Reviews From the Archives of The New York Times)
-ARCHIVES: William F. Buckley (NY Times)
-REVIEW ESSAY: The Right Stuff (Michael M. Uhlmann, Summer 2005, Claremont Review of Books)
-The Hoover Institution has a number of Firing Line episodes on-line
-PROFILE: William F. Buckley Jr.: A friend of one of the country's leading conservatives looks at WFB's career as a writer and editor, his public life and the time he spent as an undercover CIA agent. (Chris Weinkopf, Sept. 3, 1999, Salon)
-AUDIO ESSAY: How Is It Possible to Believe in God? by William F. Buckley, Jr. (Morning Edition, May 23, 2005, This I Believe)
-VIDEO: WFB on Charlie Rose
-ARCHIVES: WFB on Real Clear Politics
-OBIT: William F Buckley Jr dies at 82 (Mark Tran, February 27 2008, Guardian)
-OBIT: William F. Buckley Jr., 82; author and founder of modern conservative movement (Scott Kraft, February 27, 2008, LA Times)
-OBIT: William F. Buckley Jr. Dies at 82 (HILLEL ITALIE, 2/27/08, The Associated Press)
-ARCHIVES: on the Right by WFB (UExpress)
-ARCHIVES: Buckley Online (Hillsdale College)
-ESSAY: Political Animals: Vidal, Buckley and the ’68 Conventions (Harry Kloman, University of Pittsburgh)
-INTERVIEW: NEARER, MY GOD (David Gergen, December 24, 1997, NewsHour)
-REMEMBRANCE: Mr. Conservative (WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR. , 5/31/98, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Barack Obama Would Take Back Vote Helping Terri Schiavo Avoid Euthanasia (Steven Ertelt, February 26, 2008, LifeNews.com)

Senator Barack Obama debated his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night and said his biggest mistake was voting with a unanimous Senate to help save Terri Schiavo. Terri is the disabled Florida woman whose husband won the legal right to starve her to death. [...]

During the Tuesday debate, Obama said he should have stood up against the life-saving legislation.

C'mon, the guy's pro-infanticide--can anyone really doubt his anti-human credentials?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


This is no time for a celebrity in the Oval Office (Greg Sheridan, February 28, 2008, The Australian)

There is something a little weird about the Obama phenomenon. It's a bit like the Princess Di obsession. His is a candidacy of celebrity and identity. But we live in a world of celebrity and identity, and for a time the world probably would fall in love with president Obama.

At a deeper level, Obama's soaring rhetoric seems to serve no purpose beyond itself. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt used magnificent speeches to argue specific causes: ending slavery, defeating Nazism. Obama's cadences are superbly non-specific: "Yes, we can!"

Nonetheless, Obama does have a record and it places him generally on the Left of the Democratic Party, although he has often used centrist and sometimes even hawkish rhetoric. But his closest advisers all come from the Left of the party.

This is bad for Australia in four ways. It has led Obama into protectionism, he campaigns against Clinton because her husband passed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Second, the Left of the Democratic Party has no interest in Asia and can barely find it on a map.

Most important, Obama steadily increases the stridency of his opposition to US troops in Iraq. [...]

Obama is all over the place on foreign policy. He has threatened to bomb Pakistan to kill terrorists (imagine if Bush or McCain had said such a thing) but also to journey to Tehran to fix a grand bargain with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His rhetoric on foreign policy, apart from Iraq, is scattered, which is a sure sign that he's never given the matter any serious thought.

Finally, the Left of the Democratic Party cares least for the military and for alliances. But the chief way Washington conceives of Australia is as an ally, and the chief US thinkers about us are the military.

Thoughtless isolationism is supposed to be the province of the far Right, not the cosmopolitan Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


GOP banks on McCain to lure Hispanic vote (Stephen Dinan, February 27, 2008, Washington Times)

Two years ago, Republicans fought over immigration and hemorrhaged Hispanic voters. Now they are poised to nominate the one man who can rebuild the Hispanic voter coalition that pushed President Bush twice to victory, the architects of that coalition say.

"I think the only candidate that Republicans have running for president who could retain those votes is in fact Senator McCain," said the Rev. Luis Cortes Jr., president of Esperanza USA, founder of the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and a key player in helping Mr. Bush connect with Hispanic voters during his two runs for office.

The electoral math gets pretty formidable if the Democrats can't count on carrying Latinos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Raúl Castro gives signals that Cuba will change ()James C. McKinley Jr., February 26, 2008, NY Times)

Most Cubans seem unwilling to believe it yet, but there are reasons to think a turning point has come to the island, and Raúl Castro plans to chart a different course for the communist state than his older brother, Fidel.

Raúl Castro's willingness in his first international meeting to embrace the Vatican's top diplomat, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a possible go-between with the United States and Europe, fits with his pragmatic, no-nonsense style.

It is just one of many signs the newly appointed 76-year-old president has given that he will be a more practical leader than his more doctrinaire and romantic brother, who ran this country for 49 years as if it were his own business, signing off on almost every government decision.

Raúl Castro has said the government needs to shrink. He has promised "structural changes" and "big decisions" in the near future. "We have to make our government's management more efficient," he said Sunday, adding, "We have to plan well and we cannot spend more than we have."

Forget the intermediary, W should go there himself and offer to lift the embargo and give back Gitmo in exchange for a prisoner release, free trade agreement and elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Hugo Control Problem: Does the U.S. want health-care shortages? (Thomas Sowell, 2/27/08, National Review)

Venezuela is currently giving us a lesson on the consequences of price controls. The government of leftist President Hugo Chavez has imposed price controls — and seems to be surprised that lower prices have lead to reduced supplies, even though price controls have led to reduced supplies in countries around the world and for thousands of years.

There were price controls back in the days of the Roman Empire, under the Pharaohs in Egypt, and in ancient Babylon. There is plenty of history to look at, if we bother.

Price controls under the Roman Emperor Diocletian led to a decline in the supply of goods. The same thing happened under President Richard Nixon’s price controls in the 1970s. It has happened in Zimbabwe within the past year.

Rent control laws led to housing shortages in Cairo — and in Berkeley, Hanoi, Paris, and other cities around the world.

When price controls in Venezuela led to food shortages, Hugo Chavez accused companies of “hoarding” food. The emperor Diocletian was similarly accusatory when his price controls reduced supplies, many centuries ago.

Political leaders always find someone else to blame for the bad consequences of their own policies.

...and mostly a waste of money, there's a reasonable argument to be made for imposing price controls and thereby demolishing the industry. But that's not the argument the Left is making, is it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Michelle is Barack’s weak link (Charles Laurence, 2/27/08, First Post)

America might have gone gooey for Barack, but there is something about the missus that raises the national hackles. [...]

[T]he remark still stinks in a nation in thrall to a jingoistic sense of patriotism. Just because she is black, does she not feel proud of WWII, men on the moon, truth, justice and the American way?

Michelle comes across as a bit prickly. She doesn't have Barack's charm or politician's polish. Early on, she revealed that she made him quit smoking as a condition for being allowed to run for the presidency, and would kick him out of bed in the morning for being 'stinky'.

Many a true word is said in jest, and it seems that the potential future president needs his wife's permission. That jibes with the charismatic leader on a mission for change.

Michelle Obama And The Rage Of A Privileged Class (Steve Sailer, 2/25/08, V-Dare)
Two weeks ago, I noted:

"Now, Obama is a smooth operator. But the two people who have had the greatest influence on his adult life—his wife Michelle and his spiritual advisor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.—are not. They feel a deep racial anger and are not terribly good at hiding it."

Right on cue, Michelle Obama has now begun attracting skeptical attention for the first time after making hundreds of speeches on her husband's behalf. In Milwaukee last week, she proclaimed:

"Hope is making a comeback, and let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country."

It's not so much that Michelle has a tin ear for rhetoric as that her husband's ear could be made out of the same mimetic poly-alloy as the liquid metal shape-shifting cyborg from the future in Terminator 2. Like most human beings, however, Michelle is prone to the occasional gaffe in which she lets us know what's really on her mind.

For example, in an early February speech she let herself sound like the Khmer Rouge Minister of Propaganda. While this excerpt may resemble an old Dead Kennedys punk rock parody of leftist authoritarianism, such as Holiday in Cambodia or California Uber Alles, she was serious:

"And Barack Obama will require you to work.

He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism, that you put down your division, that you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones, that you push yourselves to be better, and that you engage.

Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual - uninvolved, uninformed..."

More people are beginning to notice that the candidate's superbly crafted image as the postracial uniter doesn't quite add up. He is supposed to bring us together to overcome our tragic history of racial enmity, etc. Yet his role-model magic doesn't seem to have worked on his own wife, who continues to vent her anger over the racial indignities she feels she endured more than two decades ago at ultra-liberal Princeton and Harvard Law School. She remains perennially peeved by her relatively poor performance on standardized tests.

Or, perhaps, what he tells her in private isn't what he tells us in public?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


New Poll Finds Majority of Israelis Support Talks with Hamas: A new poll in Israel says a majority of Israelis would support holding talks with Hamas Islamic militants who control the Gaza Strip. (Jim Teeple, 2/27/08, VOA News)

According to the poll that was commissioned by the left-of-center Haaretz newspaper, 64 percent of Israelis say their government should hold talks with Hamas militants - to end the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip and obtain the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Finding Their Way Home, or at Least to the Garden (JON PARELES, 2/27/08, NY Times)

Monday’s set started with “Had to Cry Today,” which declares in its first words, “It’s already written that today will be one to remember.” Yet Mr. Clapton and Mr. Winwood carried themselves modestly, without bravado: just a couple of musicians doing their job.

They were looking for the mysterious spark that transforms capable, proficient blues or rock into something startling and exalted. It wasn’t always there. Old blues songs still came across as the work of skilled, dutiful students, chugging steadily through “Crossroads” or easing back for Mr. Clapton’s near-homages to B. B. King, Albert King and Buddy Guy in “Double Trouble.”

Mr. Clapton and Mr. Winwood were serious about songs like “Sleeping in the Ground,” which Blind Faith performed in 1969, with raspy vocals, splashy barrelhouse piano from Mr. Winwood and a stinging, Chicago-style lead from Mr. Clapton. But it was musicianship, not alchemy.

Fitfully, they found it: in a slow, aching version of “Georgia on My Mind” by Mr. Winwood alone at a Hammond organ; in Mr. Clapton’s Blind Faith song, “Presence of the Lord,” with two very different vocal approaches from Mr. Clapton and Mr Winwood; in the Traffic instrumental “Glad” topped by a frenetic raga-tinged solo from Mr. Clapton; and in Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” which built to a searing guitar solo by Mr. Winwood. If anything, it was Mr. Winwood’s night; his Blind Faith song “Can’t Find My Way Home” held both anguish and camaraderie as he and Mr. Clapton let their guitar picking entwine.

By a strange coincidence, they feature in two very similar stories of my concert-going. Went to the Garden once because I really wanted to see Robert Cray, who was opening for Clapton. I expected the blues from the former and a lifeless imitation from the latter, but Cray was wildly over-produced and didn't vary one lick from his album, while Clapton was excellent. Around the same time I went to the Garden State Arts Center to see a Winwood show with Jimmy Cliff and, given that Mr. Winwood had played every instrument on his last album, half expected him to accompany canned music. Instead he had a good backup band and was in peak form while Cliff was deadly dull.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


2008 ZiPS Projections for Diamond Mind 9 and Microsoft Excel, Build 1.1 (Baseball Think Factory, 2/02/08)

Projections for 1036 pitchers and 1005 hitters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Brain food (Toronto Star, Feb 27, 2008)

Good news for kids and nutritionally minded parents. Weston Bakeries has introduced Wonder+ Headstart 100 per cent whole-wheat bread, this country's first sliced bread with Omega-3 DHA. Science has shown that this essential fatty acid is important for development of a child's brain and vision. Since few children get the recommended two servings of fish per week, this bread is an easy way to get more Omega-3 DHA into their diet. It still tastes and feels like original Wonder bread and makes wonderful, easy-to-chew toast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Lebanon Crisis Getting More Complex: Mediator (Reuters, 27/02/2008)

The standoff is at the heart of a diplomatic rift between Syria and Saudi Arabia, whose King Abdullah is unlikely to attend the Arab summit unless the conflict is resolved.

The crisis has led to the worst street violence since Lebanon's civil war, aggravating old communal tensions between followers of rival sectarian leaders.

It has also created new animosities between Sunni Muslim followers of governing coalition leader Saad al-Hariri and Shi'ite Muslim supporters of Hezbollah.

Moussa described Lebanon as a microcosm of the Middle East.

"Any splits, if they happen, can spread and threaten the rest of the countries. Therefore it is up to everyone who has a link to the Lebanese situation to sense the danger and bear their responsibilities," he said.

The splits are the point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Most Muslims 'desire democracy' (BBC, 2/27/08)

The largest survey to date of Muslims worldwide suggests the vast majority want Western democracy and freedoms, but do not want them to be imposed. [...]

[O]ne of the book's authors, John Esposito, says the survey's results suggest Muslims - ironically even many of the 7% classing themselves as "radical" - in fact admire the West for its democracy and freedoms. However, they do not want such things imposed on them.

"Muslims want self-determination, but not an American-imposed and defined democracy. They don't want secularism or theocracy," said the professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington.

"What the majority wants is democracy with religious values."

Mr Esposito said "radical" Muslims believed in democracy even more than many of the moderate Muslims questioned.

"The radicals are better educated, have better jobs, and are more hopeful with regard to the future than mainstream Muslims," he added.

"But they're more cynical about whether they'll ever get it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Taking Microfinance to the Next Level (Jennifer L. Schenker, 2/27/08, Der Spiegel)

In 2001 a pair of Europeans, Jean-Philippe de Schrevel and Cédric Lombard, discovered they shared a mutual conviction that the best way to cure poverty is through the capital markets. So they began lending money to microfinance institutions through a Geneva vehicle called BlueOrchard. Belgian de Schrevel, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant, got his MBA at Wharton, while Lombard hails from one of the families behind Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch, among Switzerland's oldest private banks. (Lombard is no longer involved with BlueOrchard, but has founded a Geneva company called Symbiotics that provides consulting and services to the microfinance industry.)

Seven years later, BlueOrchard Finance manages a loan portfolio of more than $710 million through different funds launched in partnership with major international banks such as Dexia, Rothschild, BBVA and Morgan Stanley. Along the way it has forged relationships with more than 107 microfinance institutions in 36 countries.

Now, BlueOrchard wants to do for microfinance institutions what local lenders do for loan recipients: help them expand their businesses. It is launching a Luxembourg-based private equity fund it hopes to grow to $100 million by the end of 2008. The fund is aimed at buying into microfinance institutions around the world and helping them launch new services for people without access to banks, including savings accounts, mortgages, and insurance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


EU fines Microsoft record $1.3 billion for charging rivals too much (Associated Press, February 27, 2008)

The European Union fined Microsoft Corp. a record $1.3 billion on Wednesday for charging rivals too much for software information.

EU regulators said the company charged "unreasonable prices" until last October to software developers who wanted to make products compatible with the Windows desktop operating system.

Microsoft immediately said that these fines were about past issues that have been resolved and the company was now working under new principles to make its products more open.

It's revealing that Bill Gates is bailing out now that the company isn't being run as a criminal enterprise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Anti-war movement wrestles with 1968 (Ryan Grim, Feb 27, 2008, Politico)

A coalition of anti-war groups is vowing to protest this summer’s Democratic National Convention in Denver under the rubric “Re-create ’68,” prompting criticism from some on the left who are loath to revisit what they see as a disastrous time for both the anti-war movement and the Democratic Party.

Capping a year that saw the assassinations of both the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the 1968 Democratic National Convention erupted in violence as thousands of Chicago police officers, supported by U.S. Army troops and National Guardsmen, battled in the streets with activists protesting the Vietnam War. Inside the convention hall, the Democrats chose as their presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, who went on to lose the general election to Richard Nixon.

Re-create ’68?

Why wouldn't nihilists want to re-create '68?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Rare Criticism in Iran of Ahmadinejad Rhetoric on Israel (AFP, 2/27/08)

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said that Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community.

"Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?" Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran. [...]

Rowhani warned starkly: "If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

"We must act in such a way that the world understands that we are ready for more flexibility and more dialogue."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


US must adopt a tough Al Qaeda policy (Harold Gould, February 27, 2008, Rediff)

The United States must henceforth adopt policies that treat Al Qaeda and the Taliban as a hostile state.

I have chosen my words carefully here: I am saying that Benazir Bhutto was executed, not assassinated.

What her death on December 27, as well as the previous attempt on her life after she reached Karachi, really exemplifies is the fact that the Taliban/Al Qaeda nexus has created the rudiments of a radical Islamic state in the mountain fastness of the Hindu Kush, with enough power, cohesion and political reach to ordain and carry out executions of its ideological enemies anywhere in the region. [...]

[I]t is a mistake not to believe that what has taken form in Waziristan and its montane environs is anything less than a form of nascent state-formation, which has already attained the level of a rudimentary governmental system capable of managing domestic affairs within its 'borders' and propagating its policies and decrees well beyond them; with a paramount leadership consisting of Osama bin Laden (who fancies himself as a medieval Caliph, indeed a reincarnation of Saladin); Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, the second and last 'emir' of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (who serves as Osama's lieutenant); and Mullah Mohammed Omar, a saintly Pashtun cleric (who provides the doctrinal and demographic link between the Taliban and al Qaeda).

'Taliban/Al Qaedaland,' ruled by this fanatical triumvirate and their true-believing followers, encompasses Northeast Frontier Area, Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Swat.

Within this domain lie two urban centres, Kandahar and Quetta whose cosmopolitan facilities are for all practical purposes at their disposal, affording connections with the global economy and international media networks.

They have mobilised the region's human and material resources sufficiently to raise an army able to not only conduct guerrilla warfare, including suicide bombings, throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan and across the frontier into India, but as well to engage the regular Pakistani army in direct military engagements.

"In two of the seven FATAs," says de Borchgrave (Ibid, December 27), "the Pakistan army in the past two years sustained more than 1,000 killed and 3,000 injured fighting Taliban guerrillas and their Al Qaeda allies."

They conduct their own foreign policy through their access to Al Jazeera and other mass-media outlets.

They operate their own 'educational system' in the form of the thousands of madrassas that dot the countryside.

Within the portions of the Afghan hinterland which they control, Taliban/Al Qaedaland harvests an abundant share of the capital-generating, opium-based agricultural economy which last year yielded 8,000 tons and "supplies Taliban with cash for modern weapons." (Ibid, December 31).

Finally, they promulgate their own 'judicial system' under the aegis of their arcane interpretation of Shariah law, which in their view affords them the legitimacy and sanctity to carry out 'public executions' of persons adjudged to be enemies of the state, as exemplified by their ordaining the execution of Bhutto.

The important idea here is that Pakistan has no claim to sovereignty over the region because it does not exercise same. It is, therefore, basically a free-fire zone that we can attack at will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


The Specter of Stagflation (Robert J. Samuelson, February 27, 2008, Washington Post)

"Stagflation" is back in the headlines -- but the term is being misused. Eminent commentators describe stagflation as the messy mixture of high inflation and high unemployment. It isn't. Stagflation, at least as the concept was initially understood in the 1970s, meant something different. Yes, it signified the simultaneous occurrence of high inflation, high unemployment and slow economic growth, but its defining feature was the persistence of this poisonous combination over long periods of time.

Let's see why this is a distinction with a difference. The coexistence of high (or rising) inflation and high (or rising) unemployment is not an abnormal event. But it's usually temporary, because the higher unemployment -- stemming from an economic slowdown or recession -- helps control inflation. Companies can't pass along price increases; they're stingier with wage increases. It's only when this restraining process is not allowed to work that inflationary psychology and practices take root, creating a self-fulfilling wage-price spiral. Higher wages push up prices, which then push up wages. Then we get stagflation: a semipermanent fusion of high joblessness and inflation.

And not only does economic growth prevent that joblessness but the Reagan/Thatcher breaking of Labor and the globalized economy mean that workers have no power to command higher wages.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Two studies in the charisma of hope: Obama and Bill Clinton (Richard Bernstein, February 27, 2008, NY Times)

One of the advertising posters prominently on view in New York City's subways these days shows a man's head in silhouette beneath a dreamy blue bubble inside of which is this caption: "If I can dream it, I can win it."

The poster is an inducement to buy tickets for the state lottery, the profits of which go to the worthy cause of public education. So why not? Buy lottery tickets. They're only a dollar apiece, and, as that subway poster says just below the dreaming man: "Hey, you never know."

Well, actually, you do know, or you should know, because the lottery's official Web site tells you. The odds that a single ticket purchase will get you the jackpot, currently $12 million, are exactly 175,711,536 to 1, the Web site informs us. To have a 50-50 shot of winning the $12 million, you would have to buy roughly 88 million $1 tickets.

In other words, being able to dream it has nothing to do with being able to win it. And yet, as they say, hope does seem to spring eternal, and never more so than in America these days.

It is, needless to say, Barack Obama who has explicitly put hope way up there on the national agenda and it's been that way since the beginning of his national prominence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Obama and the Farrakhan Trap: The Democratic frontrunner stepped in it Tuesday night. (Byron York, 2/27/08, National Review)

Talking to reporters after the Democratic debate here at Cleveland State University, David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s closest adviser, insisted that Obama didn’t try to spin his way through a question on Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who recently praised Obama as “the hope of the entire world” who is “capturing audiences of black and brown and red and yellow.” “I thought that he was very forthright about it,” Axelrod explained. “The point is this: Louis Farrakhan said kind things about [Obama]. From what I read, he didn’t say it was an endorsement, and I think Sen. Obama made clear what his position on Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic statements was.”

The question stemmed from Obama’s initial answer when NBC’s Tim Russert asked, “Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?” Obama might have said, “No.” But instead, he seemed to go out of his way to denounce some of Farrakhan’s statements while not taking on Farrakhan himself (and even using Farrakhan’s preferred honorific in the process). “You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments,” Obama said. “I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can’t censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we’re not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally, with Minister Farrakhan.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Michelle Obama in spotlight's glare: As the Democratic front-runner's wife, even her minor gaffes can morph into full- fledged political issues. (Robin Abcarian, 2/21/08, Los Angeles Times)

On Wednesday, according to the Associated Press, she clarified her Monday remarks in an interview with a Rhode Island TV station. "What I was clearly talking about was that I'm proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process," she said. "For the first time in my lifetime, I'm seeing people rolling up their sleeves in a way that I haven't seen and really trying to figure this out -- and that's the source of pride that I was talking about."

Still, her comment was in keeping with the generally bleak view of the country that is the heart of her stump speech, a departure from the usual chauvinism of the campaign trail. There have been rumblings about her portrait of a man who is lowering himself to politics. She talks about how brilliant he is and often implies that voters would be crazy not to vote for her husband, calling him "the only rational choice." She calls his candidacy a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to be graced with a man like him."

"The question," she often says, "is not whether Barack Obama is ready. The question is, are we ready for him?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A surprise show of force in Pakistan (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 2/28/08, Asia Times)

On Tuesday, it was announced that the high-profile Qari Saifullah Akhtar, named by former premier Benazir Bhutto in a book published after her death in December as the mastermind of an attempt on her life in October, had been arrested.

Akhtar was seized with his three sons in Ferozwala, near Lahore. He had not previously been named as a suspect in the October attack in Karachi in which about 200 people died. Blame for this, and the attack in Rawalpindi that did kill Bhutto in December, was laid on Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban commander.

The decision to arrest Akhtar, therefore, can be interpreted as a sign of the security apparatus flexing its muscles in the face of what it perceives as a potential political softening against militancy. [...]

In August 2004, Akhtar was arrested in Dubai and then extradited from the United Arab Emirates to Pakistan, allegedly in connection with assassination attempts on Musharraf and for involvement in terror training camps in Afghanistan. He was released from the custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the middle of last year without standing trial.

He is also said to have been the mastermind of "Operation Khilafat" to topple Bhutto's government in the mid-1990s, for which he and several army officers were arrested.

Some time later, Akhtar was released and went to Afghanistan, where he became the only Pakistani to be appointed as one of Taliban leader Mullah Omar's advisors (equal to a minister) and he was also very close to al-Qaeda's leadership.

Akhtar is the founding father of the Harkat-i-Jihad-i-Islami (Islamic Movement for Jihad) which was set up in the early 1980s to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was the only organization to separate itself from the clutches of the security apparatus and merged with the Taliban. It is still the only outfit to have shifted its base to the Waziristans and it represents Pakistani fighters in the Taliban-led resistance in Afghanistan.

The news on Tuesday of Akhtar's arrest immediately created a stir within militant camps as such a high-profile apprehension had not been expected as Musharraf's pro-United States camp is on the run and calls are mounting for the former general to be placed on trial for his actions against militants. These include military operations in the Waziristan tribal areas, in Balochistan province and against the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad last year.

If the new government won't fight the militants it makes it all the easier for us to ignore their concerns.

February 26, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 PM


Olympics water diversion threatens millions (Jamil Anderlini, February 26 2008, Financial Times)

The diversion of water to Beijing for the Olympics and for big hydropower projects threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers in China’s north-western provinces, according to a senior Chinese government official.

In an interview with the Financial Times, An Qiyuan, a member and former chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee for Shaanxi province and former Communist party chief of Shaanxi, warned of an impending social and environmental disaster because of overuse of scarce water resources.

In a critical tone seldom heard from Chinese officials, Mr An called on Beijing to provide compensation to the provinces that have been told to pump their cleanest water to the capital in order to ensure potable supplies during the Olympics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 PM


Animal rights group asks Sri Lankan rebels to leave animals out of conflict after zoo attack (AP, 2008-02-18)

An international animal rights group called on Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers to "leave animals out" of the armed conflict, two weeks after a grenade attack blamed on rebels at the island's main zoo.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said in a letter dated Feb. 15 to Velupillai Prabhakaran, the reclusive rebel leader, that "the explosive device that was set off near the zoo's bird enclosures terrified many animals at the zoo."

PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk pleaded with the rebel leader "to leave animals out of this conflict," the letter said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


McCain would beat Obama and Clinton, poll says: A Times/Bloomberg poll finds McCain ahead of both Democrats in head-to-head matchups. Respondents give the Republican higher marks on handling Iraq and fighting terrorism. (Peter Wallsten, 2/27/08, Los Angeles Times)

Despite Democrats' excitement over the presidential nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both candidates would lose to presumptive Republican nominee John McCain if the general election were held today, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

The findings underscored the dramatic challenges facing Democrats as they hope to retake the White House during a time of war, with voters giving McCain far higher marks when it comes to experience, fighting terrorism and dealing with the situation in Iraq. [...]

Overall, McCain would beat Clinton 46% to 40% and Obama 44% to 42%. His lead over Obama is within the poll's three-point margin of error.

The Arizona senator also scored higher marks than Clinton or Obama for experience and strength. On the issue of "honesty and integrity," he beat Clinton and was tied by Obama. McCain is viewed favorably by 61% of all registered voters, including a plurality of Democrats.

Imagine how well he'd be doing if, as out Beltway betters assure us, the base didn't hate him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


No foxing, this is the real Kevin (Dennis Shanahan, February 26, 2008, The Australian)

IT was always going to be thus; sooner or later, the "progressives" were going to ask Kevin Rudd to drop the charade he adopted just to get elected and reveal the real Labor agenda.

Like survivors from the carpet-bombing of the culture wars, a number of academics and commentators have emerged from the shelters and debris holding a wish-list of progressive thinking for the Labor Government. It is also a political death list.

While every Labor MP, factional warrior and ambitious progressive has kept absolutely tight-lipped and unified in the first months of the Rudd Government, the idea that it's time for Rudd to unmask and reveal his hidden leftist social agenda has come from outside the party. [...]

There are two barriers to the implementation of most of these grand ideas: they are political suicide and Rudd doesn't agree with them.

And then you wake up the next morning, realize that Tony Blair really is a Tory and you'd gnaw your own arm off to get out of there...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


McCain May Target Upper Midwest and Hispanic Voters for Fall (Kenneth T. Walsh, February 26, 2008, US News)

McCain insiders say several important big states should be in play, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, partly because of McCain's special appeal to independents.

McCain strategists also argue that the Arizona senator can battle effectively for Hispanic votes in a number of states, since he has opposed draconian measures to deal with illegal workers and he has advocated a "path to citizenship" for such workers—two popular positions among Latinos.

This could help McCain contest several states that usually go Democratic, including California, and may blunt Democratic surges in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Waiting for a US-Iran handshake: Iran's diplomatic elite believe that the time has come to lead the region. (Iason Athanasiadis, February 27, 2008, CS Monitor)

Alireza returned to Iran two years ago, after growing up in New York and studying at an elite Canadian university. His bilingual ability in English and Farsi, fluent Arabic, and good government connections will serve him well in the evolving Islamic Republic of the 21st century.

He is, ultimately, a symbolic face of Iran's diplomatic future. And if Iran's growing regional clout compels Washington years from now to offer Tehran allied status, Alireza could quite possibly be part of the handshake that confirms the deal.

...his hands won't have age spots yet when the shake occurs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


Temperature Monitors Report Widescale Global Cooling (Michael Asher, February 26, 2008, Daily Tech)

Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile -- the list goes on and on.

No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But now, that evidence has been supplanted by hard scientific fact. All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA's GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously.

Meteorologist Anthony Watts compiled the results of all the sources. The total amount of cooling ranges from 0.65C up to 0.75C -- a value large enough to erase nearly all the global warming recorded over the past 100 years. All in one year time. For all sources, it's the single fastest temperature change ever recorded, either up or down.

Scientists quoted in a past DailyTech article link the cooling to reduced solar activity which they claim is a much larger driver of climate change than man-made greenhouse gases.

It can hardly be a coincidence that global cooling follows Al Gore's yearlong discharge of global warming hot air into the atmosphere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Turkey in radical revision of Islamist texts (Amberin Zaman, 26/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Turkey is working on a revolutionary new interpretation of the Prophet Mohammed’s reputed sayings, known as the Hadith.

The project is aimed at allowing millions of Muslims to re-evaluate their religious obligations in the light of modern ways of living.

The sayings of the Hadith hold the key for Muslims worldwide to interpret the Koran. Sharia or Islamic law is also rooted in the Hadith.

Turkey, Nato’s sole Muslim member, is a crucial ally in the war against global terrorism. Critics charge that the project is part of a US inspired plan to combat radical strains of Islam.

One of the great ironies of 9-11 from a historical perspective will be that it made George W. Bush the Martin Luther of Islam.

Turkey strives for 21st century form of Islam (Ian Traynor, 2/27/08, The Guardian)

Turkey is engaged in a bold and profound attempt to rewrite the basis for Islamic sharia law while also officially reinterpreting the Qur'an for the modern age.

The exercise in reforming Islamic jurisprudence, sponsored by the modernising and mildly Islamic government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, is being seen as an iconoclastic campaign to establish a 21st century form of Islam, fusing Muslim beliefs and tradition with European and western philosophical methods and principles.

The result, say experts following the ambitious experiment, could be to diminish Muslim discrimination against women, banish some of the brutal penalties associated with Islamic law, such as stoning and amputation, and redefine Islam as a modern, dynamic force in the large country that pivots between east and west, leaning into the Middle East while aspiring to join the European Union.

A team of reformist Islamic scholars at Ankara University, acting under the auspices of the Diyanet or Directorate of Religious Affairs, the government body which oversees the country's 8,000 mosques and appoints imams, is said to be close to concluding a "reinterpretation" of parts of the Hadith, the collection of thousands of aphorisms and comments said to derive from the prophet Muhammad and which form the basis of Islamic jurisprudence or sharia law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Democrats vs. Trade (The Editors, 2/26/08)

Even if Hillary Clinton comes back to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, there will be no Clinton Restoration in economics. The Democratic party is well to the left of where it was in the 1990s. For evidence, look no further than the dispute over the North American Free Trade Agreement developing in the state of Ohio. [...]

The Republican nominee, John McCain, is a stalwart free trader. We hope he pushes back against the economic nonsense coming from the Democrats. He should also point out their geopolitical hypocrisy. Unilateralism has been one of the chief Democratic indictments of the Bush administration. Supposedly Republicans have alienated world opinion, and even our natural allies, with their high-handed ways. But the Democrats would reject trade deals with countries that need them and want to be our friends, and for the most parochial of reasons: the desire to win their party’s primaries.

The Democrats also claim to be the party that cares the most about the world’s poor. But their opposition to free trade would have the effect of shutting the richest market in the world to countries desperate to export their way out of poverty.

It’s too bad that the Democrats have lost their way on trade and now repudiate the successes of the 1990s.

Nothing brings a smile more surely than the National Review defending the conservatism of both Bill Clinton and John McCain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Tigers’ Off-Season Moves Forge a Lineup Without a Weak Link (JOE LAPOINTE, 2/26/08, NY Times)

Like the Mets, the Tigers finished second in their division in 2007 after leading it much of the season, and then were dramatically active in the off-season. The Mets acquired Johan Santana, perhaps the best left-hander in baseball. The Tigers added a star left-handed pitcher, Dontrelle Willis, who came in the trade that brought Cabrera from Florida. Rentería arrived in a trade with Atlanta and Jones in a deal with the Chicago Cubs.

Leyland will have other difficult decisions about who bats where, but Rodríguez made this one easier. He asked Leyland, “Am I hitting eighth or ninth?” and told him he did not care where he batted.

“I already had my talk with Pudge,” Leyland said. “He said, ‘Whatever’s best for the team.’ That’s why I have the utmost respect for him.” Rodríguez batted .281 last season with 11 home runs and 63 runs batted in.

For his 17-year career, Rodríguez has a .303 average, 288 home runs and 1,182 R.B.I. In his four seasons with the Tigers, Rodríguez has been a major factor in transforming a team that improved from baseball’s worst record in 2003 to a World Series appearance in 2006.

The Tigers briefly had the best record in the majors after last year’s All-Star break, but finished 88-74 for second place behind Cleveland in the American League Central division.

Injuries hurt pitchers like starters Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman and relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Bonderman has recovered from his sore elbow and Rogers from shoulder and elbow problems.

But Zumaya is out until midseason after shoulder surgery and Rodney’s shoulder is hurting again. If Rodney does not recover by the start of the season, “We’ll pitch someone else,” Leyland said.

Zumaya, who hurt his pitching hand playing a video game in 2006, said he hurt his shoulder moving boxes during the wildfires in Southern California last fall. The lack of a setup man for closer Todd Jones could be a big void for an otherwise formidable team.

The left-handers Bobby Seay and Tim Byrdak have a chance to fill that gap. But there are also questions about Willis, who slipped to 10-15 last season as his earned run average grew to 5.17. He is 68-54 in a five-year career, with an E.R.A. of 3.78.

Fernando Rodney would be the primary setup guy on the Sox, Yankees, Angels and Ms. Only Rafael Betancourt is better on the contenders and he should be closing, in which case Rodney would be the Tribe's primary setup guy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Roger Clemens may have joked about wife's chat with Jessica Canseco (TERI THOMPSON, CHRISTIAN RED, NATHANIEL VINTON and MICHAEL O'KEEFFE, 2/26/08, NY DAILY NEWS)

Congress is believed to have received new evidence over the past 10 days that may further undermine Roger Clemens' sworn testimony that he did not attend a suddenly notorious 1998 party at Jose Canseco's South Florida home.

The Daily News has learned that in the days since the Feb. 13 public hearing on steroids in baseball, another major leaguer has informed congressional investigators that Clemens often joked in the clubhouse about a memorable account of the party - a scene in which Debbie Clemens and Canseco's ex-wife Jessica compared the results of their surgical breast enhancements.

...what kind of guy puts his wife through this sort of humiliation? Is his HoF vote really more important than her last shred of dignity?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


New York Philharmonic to play in North Korea: The musicians hope their concert this week will present a positive image of Americans in a nation where the U.S. is vilified. (Barbara Demick, 2/24/08, Los Angeles Times)

Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel caused more controversy with remarks suggesting that the United States shouldn't criticize North Korea's human rights record because of its own treatment of prisoners at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw bricks, should they? Is our standing as a country -- the United States -- is our reputation all that clean when it comes to prisoners and the way they are treated?" the 77-year-old conductor said in an interview with the Associated Press the night before the orchestra's departure for Asia.

Chuck Downs, a former Pentagon official and board member of the Washington-based U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said the orchestra's visit is a propaganda coup that gives Kim the appearance of legitimacy.

"It is really not helpful to have the New York Philharmonic as an institution making light of the North Korean regime's abuses of human rights," Downs said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


Post-Presidents Day Salute: A.L. Levine (The Blog at 16th & Q, February 18, 2008)

[F]or the time being Jewish Presidents belong to the realm of fiction, which brought to mind Michael Halberstam’s 1978 bestselling novel The Wanting of Levine. It is long out of print, though it appears in the catalog of the Montgomery County Public Library system. When I went seeking a copy this weekend, the librarian I consulted noted the book had not circulated in five years and was probably long-gone from the shelves. Lucky for me, she was wrong. [...]

The novel is one-part political insider fiction, one part-late seventies sex romp, one part liberal Jewish wish-fulfillment and one-part a canny take on the rhythms of political enthusiasm and what Americans want from a President. Written as it was in a pre-AIDS, pre-Reagan, pre-Internet and pre-collapse of the Soviet Union (just to mention a few epoch shaping “pre’s”) era, the novel obviously has limits when applied to today’s political landscape. Certainly, Levine, with a libido Bill Clinton could only envy, would not be electable, never mind even runnable in today’s climate. But certain aspects of Levine’s character — his “firstness” to coin a phrase, his lack of governing experience, his personal charisma do bring to mind the current campaign. In one stump speech he says:

This is the first time I have run for office. It’s an advantage not to be a politician because like all occupations, politics puts a mark on a man. Politics is a worthy, noble profession, but a lifetime in it requires so much compromise, so much dealing, that a person tends to forget what his real principles were in the first place. … Compromise is necessary, but a lifetime of it leaves a mark. It is fine for a career in the Senate, but not necessary or even desirable in a president. I am, I believe, experienced in politics, but not a politician.

I haven't read it in 30 years, so my memory may be even less precise than usual, but if i recall correctly one scene in particular has bearing on the '08 race. Levine is a guest at a dinner hosted by a black political organization and is served a plate of feces formed to look like a steak. The leader of the group informs him that he's the first Democrat ever to call them on the ruse, that most happily shovel down the dish rather than risk offending them by complaining. Thus far Ms Clinton and the media seem, likewise, to afraid of causing offense to call Senator Obama on what he's serving up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


Turning Obama Into Jimmy Carter (Steve Kornacki, February 25, 2008, NY Observer)

Late in the summer of 1976, President Gerald Ford and his inner circle huddled in Vail, Colorado, facing the grimmest general election outlook for a Republican since the L.B.J. landslide of ‘64.

An unelected president, Ford had barely secured the Republican nomination against a fierce challenge from Ronald Reagan, leaving the party’s conservative base dispirited and even more distrustful of Ford than they already had been. And the stench of Watergate—and Ford’s politically damaging pardon of Richard Nixon—stubbornly hung in the air. After eight years of Republican rule, an amorphous but potent yearning for change had taken hold.

At the Vail strategy session, the Ford team zeroed in on the chief vulnerabilities of their Democratic opponent, Jimmy Carter: His lack of experience, his lack of accomplishments and his lack of specificity on the issues. These had to be exploited mercilessly.

And they were. Ten weeks later, Ford came within an eyelash of a political miracle. After trailing by 33 points around Labor Day, he was edged out by a handful of electoral votes—and just two points in the popular vote. If the campaign had lasted even a week longer, many believe, Ford would have won.

Gerald Ford, of course, suffered from the exact same weaknesses, but Jimmy Carter was at least a Southern Evangelical governor, which was enough to be the weakest nominee of either party in the modern era.

By contrast, John McCain is well-known, well-liked, and accomplished, while Barack Obama sets off every weirdness alarm on the political landscape without having any of the natural advantages Mr. Carter enjoyed.

Military fears 'unknown quantity' (Rowan Scarborough, February 26, 2008, Washington Times)

Members of Washington's military and defense establishment are expressing trepidation about Sen. Barack Obama, as the Illinois senator comes closer to winning the Democratic presidential nomination and leads in national polls to become commander in chief. [...]

"We're very concerned about his apparent lack of understanding on the threat of radical Islam to the United States," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who is pro-Iraq war and a Fox News analyst. "A lot of retired senior officers feel the same way."

Mr. Obama also has stirred concern in national security circles by pledging to talk to the leaders of rogue nations, such as Iran and North Korea, without preconditions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM

SHEPARD OR SHEEP? (via Brian Boys):

Homeless: Can you build a life from $25?: In a test of the American Dream, Adam Shepard started life from scratch with the clothes on his back and twenty-five dollars. Ten months later, he had an apartment, a car, and a small savings. (Peter Smith, 2/11/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.

The effort, he says, was inspired after reading "Nickel and Dimed," in which author Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of low-paying jobs. Unlike Ms. Ehrenreich, who chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor, Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty.

Ms Ehrenreich's mind-numbingly stupid book is frequently assigned as reading for in-coming college freshman, any number of whom have written to thank us for simply pointing out that in order to struggle getting by she has to behave like a sociopath.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Bonds Could Actually Make Rays a Contender (TIM MARCHMAN, February 26, 2008, NY Sun)

In any reckoning of a potential relationship between Bonds and the Rays, the fact that the team is actually pretty good is certain to go lightly noted. This is understandable — the franchise is a laughingstock, and if they manage not to lose 90 this year, it will be the first time they'll have avoided doing so. Even so, while signing Bonds would be generally taken as desperate flailing on the part of a sad-sack franchise, it would in truth be more like a shrewd bet on the part of a team that's much closer to a playoff spot than most realize.

Baseball is all about talent, and the Rays, even after trading off bad citizens Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes this winter, have gobs. First baseman Carlos Pena, 29, ranked second in the league in home runs, third in walks, and third in OPS last year, more than fulfilling his long-lost early promise. B.J. Upton, 23, hit .300 BA/.386 OBA/.508 SLG, and finally settled on center field as a position after years of fruitless attempts to master the infield. Left fielder Carl Crawford, 26, is as good a hitter as Johnny Damon was in his prime. And third baseman Evan Longoria, 22, is by acclamation the best position prospect in the league, ready to make as strong an impact as David Wright did on his debut. Even their lesser players are solid. Shortstop Jason Bartlett, 28, is a terrific fielder and passable hitter who never got a fair shot in Minnesota, and right fielder Rocco Baldelli, 26, is, while injury-prone, otherwise just as good as Crawford.

On the pitching side of the ledger, the Rays are nearly as strong. Scott Kazmir, 24, and James Shields, 26, struck out 423 in 421.2 innings last year. No. 3 starter Matt Garza, 24, put up a 3.69 ERA in half a season's worth of starts for the Twins last year, and has long been considered one of the safest bets among all pitching prospects to have a solid career. The team's bullpen is a travesty, and the back of the rotation is nothing much, but on the other hand the team has a horde of potential top line starters, such as David Price and Wade Davis, in the minor league system. [...]

Early statistical projections tip the Rays as about a .500 team — and that comes playing in the stronger league, with the Yankees and Red Sox taking up about a quarter of their schedule. The only clearly superior National League teams are the Mets and the Cubs. The Rays might be widely regarded as a joke, but that probably has more to do with the unfortunate color of their uniforms and the beasts atop their division than anything they're likely to do this year. I think they'd give the Mets a tougher race than Philadelphia will. (Phillies fans are more than welcome to remind me of this claim in September.)

Whether anyone likes it or not, if they sign Bonds, the Rays will be, on paper, something like an 85-win team.

Especially if the Yankees are foolish enough to try moving Joba to the rotation, the Rays also have a better bullpen than New York (Troy Percival, Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Scott Dohmann, Chad Orvella, Kurt Birkins & Juan Salas). Plus, remarkably enough, it is the big payroll Yanks who are force feeding young pitchers while the Rays depth (the 4th and 5th starts, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine, are both breakout candidates) allows them to be a bit patient with Price, Davis, Jacob McGee & Jeff Niemann. They may be too young to put it all together right away, but they're a better team already than either the Sox (whose pitching gives them an edge for now) or Yankees...and the rest of that talent is coming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


The Real McCain: Any decent person who looks at John McCain's record sees that while he has faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. (David Brooks, 2/26/08, Der Spiegel)

You wouldn't know it to look at them, but political consultants are as faddish as anyone else. And the current vogueish advice among the backroom set is: Go after your opponent's strengths. So in the first volley of what feels like the general election campaign, Barack Obama has attacked John McCain for being too close to lobbyists. His assault is part of this week's Democratic chorus: McCain isn't really the anti-special interest reformer he pretends to be. He's more tainted than his reputation suggests.

Well, anything is worth trying, I suppose, but there is the little problem of his record. McCain has fought one battle after another against lobbyists and special interests. And while I don't have space to describe all his tussles, or even the lesser ones like his fight with the agricultural lobby against sugar subsidies, I thought that, amidst all these charges, it might be worth noting some of the McCain highlights from the past dozen years.

The Left, not atypically, took away the wrong lesson from the Kerry campaign. They believe that the swiftboating of the Senator relied on taking his strength, Vietnam, and turning it into a weakness. So they're going after Maverick where he's strongest.

The reality is that Mr. Kerry's Vietnam record was a weakness all along. Americans, though they may not have enjoyed the war much, despised the anti-war movement for which he became a spokesman. That's why his opponents were so happy to keep it the main topic of conversation.

If Democrats really want to keep Senator McCain's record on special interests, campaign finance, and budget goodies at the center of this campaign they'll just drive independents further towards his side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


NAFTA Nonsense (Rich Lowry, 2/26/08, Real Clear Politics)

For Barack Obama, hope can triumph over anything, except for open trade with a neighboring country with an economy 1/20th the size of ours. Then, all is despair.

Obama’s culprit is Mexico, our third-largest trading partner. It is trade deals like NAFTA — the 1993 accord eliminating tariffs among the U.S., Mexico, and Canada — that “ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with teenagers for minimum wage at Wal-Mart,” Obama intones. Feel inspired yet?

The big picture doesn’t justify this Dickensian evocation of gloom. Since 1993, the U.S. economy has grown by 54 percent. The jobless rate has dropped from 6.9 percent in 1993 to 4.9 percent today. Manufacturing output has increased by 63 percent. Canada and Mexico are our first- and second-largest export markets, and U.S. merchandise exports to them have increased at a slightly faster clip than exports to the rest of the world.

Democrats have the isolationism and protectionism of the far Right down, but the full-blooded nativism probably won't come until Latinos, Indians, etc. give most of their votes to the GOP. Of course, that could come as soon as 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Anti-War Democrats Ponder Next Step (ANNE FLAHERTY, 2/26/08, Associated Press)

In recent months, violence in Iraq has declined and the Baghdad government has made small steps toward political reconciliation, including plans to hold provincial elections on Oct. 1. While Democratic voters remain largely against the war, the security improvement has helped to cool anxiety among Republicans and stave off legislation demanding that troops start coming home.

The Senate was expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to order troop withdrawals to begin within 120 days. With that legislation's failure almost assured and lacking a veto-proof majority in Congress even if such a proposal passed, Democrats are talking about whether to shift their strategy.

...to argue that this Congress has been less conservative than those that came before it over the past decade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


U.S. Expands Sanctions Against Junta Supporters (Abid Aslam, 2/25/08, IPS)

The U.S. government on Monday slapped fresh sanctions on businesses and individuals tied to Burma's military rulers and urged stronger international pressure for democratic change in the country, also known as Myanmar.

"The situation in Burma remains deplorable," President George W. Bush said in a statement highlighting "severe human rights abuses by the Burmese Army, including burning down homes and killing civilians."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Hindus have the lowest divorce rate in US: Survey (Aziz Haniffa, February 26, 2008, Rediff)

Not only are the Hindus and Mormons the most likely to be married (78 percent and 71 percent respectively), but also the most likely to be married to someone within their own faith (90 percent and 83 percent respectively), a landmark survey that details the religious affiliation of the American public and explores the remarkable dynamism taking place in the US religious marketplace has found.

The study, titled the US Religious Landscape Survey, released on Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, also found that Hindus also have the lowest divorce rate of any group --only 5 percent have been divorced.

It also noted that nearly half of Hindus in the US, one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained postgraduate education, compared with only about one-in-10 of the adult population overall.

Yet the Right thinks there should be quotas on them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Democratic Governors See McCain As Formidable: They Cite His Life Story, His Appeal to Independents (Dan Balz, 2/26/08, Washington Post)

"To quote President Bush, McCain is never to be misunderestimated," said Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, McCain's home state. "He's a tough campaigner."

"In some ways," said Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a state that is considered a must-win for any Democratic nominee, "he's the ideal [Republican] candidate for Pennsylvania." [...]

"He is appealing in Michigan," said Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who supports Clinton. "He does appeal to independent thinkers -- at least he did in the past -- and we have a lot of those in Michigan. Whoever the Democrat is, Michigan is a state where we're going to have to work."

Rendell, also a Clinton supporter, said McCain can compete for votes in southeastern Pennsylvania, where suburban voters generally favor abortion rights, and in western Pennsylvania, where many strongly oppose abortion.

"He's going to contest for those suburban voters that have been delivering Pennsylvania to Democratic presidential candidates for the last four elections," Rendell said. "He will be the strongest Republican to contest for their votes. And he does it without sacrificing the ability to go after conservative, pro-life Democrats in the western part of the state."

Napolitano, who backs Obama, acknowledged that with McCain as the GOP nominee, Democrats may face a stiffer challenge in winning Rocky Mountain states that have voted Republican in most recent elections but whose changing demographics make them Democratic targets.

The only way this presidential campaign could have been lost is if Republicans had followed the party intellectuals and voted for Rudy or Mitt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Muslim leaders write 'harmony' letter to Jews (Jonathan Petre, 26/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Signatories of the letter include Professor Akbar Ahmed, a former High Commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain, who also signed a similar statement earlier this year from Muslim scholars to Christian leaders around the world.

The new letter said: "Deep-seated stereotypes and prejudices have resulted in a distancing of the communities and even a dehumanizing of the 'Other'. We urgently need to address this situation. We must strive towards turning ignorance into knowledge, intolerance into understanding, and pain into courage and sensitivity for the 'Other'."

It added: "There is more in common between our religions and peoples than is known to each of us. It is precisely due to the urgent need to address such political problems as well as acknowledge our shared values that the establishment of an inter-religious dialogue between Jews and Muslims in our time is extremely important.

As the Pope has explained, Muslim leaders have some considerable clean-up to do in their own house before good neighborliness is likely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Tide of cheer as mullahs are ousted (Isambard Wilkinson, 26/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

A tide of cheer has greeted the end of the five-year rule of an alliance of religious parties that did little apart from ban music and dancing. [...]

"We will change every MMA policy on culture. Everything is open. All those edicts will be changed," said Zahid Khan, the spokesman for the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pushtun nationalist party that won the most votes.

Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, an ANP leader, said dancing and singing had broken out as election results came in.

"We Pushtuns love religion but we are not puritanical", he said. He added a mullah had asked him to stop the dancing. "I replied, 'We are Muslims and Pushtuns but we are not mullahs'."

February 25, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 PM


Mansion 'mistake' piles the pressure on Barack Obama (James Bone in New York and Dominic Kennedy , 2/26/08, Times of London)

A British-Iraqi billionaire lent millions of dollars to Barack Obama's fundraiser just weeks before an imprudent land deal that has returned to haunt the presidential contender, an investigation by The Times discloses.

The money transfer raises the question of whether funds from Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britain’s wealthiest men, helped Mr Obama buy his mock Georgian mansion in Chicago.

A company related to Mr Auchi, who has a conviction for corruption in France, registered the loan to Mr Obama's bagman Antoin "Tony" Rezko on May 23 2005. Mr Auchi says the loan, through the Panamanian company Fintrade Services SA, was for $3.5 million.

Three weeks later, Mr Obama bought a house on the city's South Side while Mr Rezko's wife bought the garden plot next door from the same seller on the same day, June 15. [...]

The spotlight fell on Mr Rezko's ties to Mr Auchi last month when the Chicago businessman was thrown in jail for violating his bail terms by failing to declare a different $3.5 million loan from the British billionaire, made in April 2007. Prosecutors feared Mr Rezko, who travels widely in the Middle East, might flee to a country without an extradition treaty such as his birthplace of Syria.

'Realism' in Syria (New York Sun Staff Editorial, February 15, 2008)
What in the world are advisers to both Senators Obama and Clinton doing in Syria in the middle of a presidential campaign — and why are the two campaigns so unforthcoming about the details of the visits? The same week that a terrorist mastermind harbored by the Baathist regime in Damascus was assassinated by a car bomb, both one of Mr. Obama's foreign policy counselors, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a long-time critic of Israel, and one of Mrs. Clinton's national finance chairs, Hassan Nemazee, were meeting with President Assad.

Mr. Brzezinski himself issued a statement to the Baathist controlled press in Damascus, where he was quoted by the official Sana News Agency as saying that the "talks dealt with recent regional developments, affirming that both sides have a common desire to achieve stability in the region, which would benefit both its people and the United States."

Unfortunately, Senator Obama is such a cipher that it's hard to tell coincidences from connections. Ms Clinton would be doing her party and her country a favor if she'd stop giving him a free pass.

Indyk Rushes to Ohio for Clinton (JOSH GERSTEIN, February 26, 2008, NY Sun)

Jewish and Israel-related issues are bubbling to the surface of the presidential contest as senators Clinton and Obama tussle over the Jewish vote in Ohio and Republicans seize on Ralph Nader's new claims that Mr. Obama until recently harbored "pro-Palestinian" views.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Obama spent an hour trying to address the concerns some Jewish leaders in Cleveland had about his candidacy. Last night, President Clinton's ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, arrived in Ohio for two days of meetings that Mrs. Clinton's campaign arranged to reach out to Jewish voters and rabbis. [...]

"The main reason she wins and will continue to win the majority of the Jewish vote is this is a community very much about 'Show me, don't tell me,'" Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida told The New York Sun yesterday. "With Senator Obama, although he says all the right things, he just doesn't have that longevity to prove to Jewish voters that he will be there like Hillary Clinton."

Asked if there was anything specific in Mr. Obama's record that should give Jewish voters pause, the congresswoman said, "There's no pause….It's just that he's starting completely from scratch."

A few of Mrs. Clinton's supporters are willing to raise substantive questions in public about Mr. Obama's record on Israel. They question his stated willingness to meet heads of rogue states such as Iran. "There are some in the Jewish community who would not like the U.S. president meeting with Ahmedinejad," the vice-mayor of Parkland, Fla., Jared Moskowitz, said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 PM


US Study challenges immigration fears (One News, Feb 26, 2008)

Immigrants are far less likely than the average US-born citizen to commit crime in California, the most populous state in the United States, according to a newly-released report.

People born outside the United States make up about 35% of California's adult population but account for about 17% of the adult prison population, the report by the Public Policy Institute of California showed.

According to the report's authors the findings suggest that long-standing fears of immigration as a threat to public safety are unjustified. The report also noted that US-born adult men are incarcerated at a rate more than 2 1/2 times greater than that of foreign-born men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


US-India defence deal 'to counter China' (Rahul Bedi in New Delhi and Richard Spencer, 26/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

America is attempting to forge a strategic alliance with India with a series of arms deals as the South Asian nation bolsters its defences against China.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, will arrive in New Delhi to strike a common position on Beijing with the Indian government.

His arrival comes as New Delhi decides whether the US firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing, or Russian and European rivals, will win a contract to supply the Indian air force with 126 combat aircraft in a £5 billion deal.

But the wider battle is for influence in Asia, with America seeking to shore up a tentative and controversial alliance with what it sees as a democratic counterweight to China.

Let's pretend it's just coincidental that India has nukes pointed at Pakistan and the willingness to use them, plus the capability of seizing control of the Pakistani arsenal....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


Legal immigrants to U.S. face endless wait: With its backlogs and bureaucracy, the immigration system is punishing for those who play by the rules. (Anne Noyes Saini, 2/26/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

Immigration has been a hot topic of late. But amid the furor over illegal immigrants, the plight of legal migrants caught in a system that is slow, erratic, and often unresponsive is largely ignored.

The result: talented, hardworking people who play by the rules are trapped in limbo, and even close relatives of American citizens may wait up to a decade to enter the US.

The nativist position on immigration is the same as Bill Clinton's on abortion: it should be legal, safe and rare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


The future that young Russians want: The Putin generation is often worldly, optimistic, and enthusiastic about democracy – as they define it. (Christa Case Bryant, 2/26/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

Born amid the fervor of Mikhail Gorbachev's economic and social reforms, Shchitov's generation was expected by liberals to build on Mr. Gorbachev's effort. Instead, they have thrown their weight behind a man seen as rolling back democratic reforms in the name of a more stable, prosperous, and powerful Russia. In Sunday's polls, young Russians – 92 percent of whom approve of Mr. Putin – are likely to join Shchitov in endorsing their leader's eight-year tenure by electing his handpicked successor.

They are the Putin generation: young, often worldly, optimistic about their country's future, and enthusiastic about a democracy they see as having more to do with higher living standards than checks and balances or freedom of speech. Acquainted only through history with the Soviet Union's oppressive grip, but distinctly aware of their parents' challenges during the tumultuous 1990s, they live in a Russia of unprecedented opportunities – ones shaped profoundly by Putin's strong hand over the past eight years.

From the comfort of a stable liberal democracy it's always easy to decry another's necessary fascist interlude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


The Myth of the Surge: Hoping to turn enemies into allies, U.S. forces are arming Iraqis who fought with the insurgents. But it's already starting to backfire. A report from the front lines of the new Iraq (NIR ROSEN, Mar 06, 2008, Rolling Stone)

Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."

At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites. Operating as a contractor, Osama runs 300 of these new militiamen, former resistance fighters whom the U.S. now counts as allies because they are cashing our checks. The Americans pay Osama once a month; he in turn provides his men with uniforms and pays them ten dollars a day to man checkpoints in the Dora district — a paltry sum even by Iraqi standards. A former contractor for KBR, Osama is now running an armed network on behalf of the United States government. "We use our own guns," he tells me, expressing regret that his units have not been able to obtain the heavy-caliber machine guns brandished by other Sunni militias.

The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector — more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups."

But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.

And they'd lose the civil war again. The surge has been about consolidating Shi'a power and identifying exactly which Sunni they'll have to kill if the shooting starts again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Gates praises Indonesian military but cautions on human rights: The Defense secretary says the U.S. is willing to sell weapons to the key Southeast Asian ally. (Peter Spiegel, 2/25/08, Los Angeles Times

During the last three years, the Bush administration has moved to lift restrictions on military ties between the two countries that were first cut after Indonesian military atrocities committed in East Timor in 1991.

Congress has moved to withhold some of the aid until past abuses by the Indonesian military were accounted for, and human rights groups have argued that the armed forces still are not fully answerable to civilian authorities.

Gates' address followed his afternoon meetings with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono. U.S. officials traveling with Gates said he pushed to deepen security ties with Indonesia, which as the world's largest Muslim country has become a key ally in the region and a model of the kind of secular Muslim state the Bush administration hopes to replicate elsewhere.

Boy, the stuff you miss while staring into the Atlantic....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


U.S. and Vatican urge Raúl Castro to loosen state's grip on people's lives (Reuters, February 25, 2008)

The new Cuban president, Raúl Castro, came under international pressure to release political prisoners and allow more dissent on Monday, after taking over from his ailing brother, Fidel, who ruled for almost half a century.

Raúl Castro, 76, is expected to open Cuba's economy somewhat, but hopes of radical change were dashed when he vowed to stick to socialism and to consult his brother on important issues and named members of the old guard to top posts.

Cuba's archfoe, the United States, and the Vatican started to lean on the former guerrilla fighter to ease the government's grip on life, turning the spotlight on dozens of prisoners jailed for disagreeing with the Castros.

"U.S. and Vatican" is such a natural pairing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Barack Obama's Middle East Expert (Ed Lasky, 2/23/08, American Thinker)

Barack Obama's real thinking about Israel and the Middle East continues to be an enigma. The words he chose in an address to AIPAC create a different impression than the composition of his foreign policy advisory team. Several advisors have evidenced a history of suspicion and worse toward Israel. One of his advisors in particular, Robert Malley, clearly warrants attention, as does the reasoning that led him to being chosen by Barack Obama.

A little family history may be in order to understand the genesis of Robert Malley's views. Normally, one should be reluctant in exploring a person's family background -- after all, who would want to be held responsible for the sins of one's father? However, when close relatives share a strong current of ideological affinity, and when a father has a commanding persona, it behooves a researcher to inquire a bit into the role of family in forming views. That said, Robert Malley has a very interesting father.

His father Simon Malley was born to a Syrian family in Cairo and at an early age found his métier in political journalism. He participated in the wave of anti-imperialist and nationalist ideology that was sweeping the Third World. He wrote thousands of words in support of struggle against Western nations. In Paris, he founded the journal Afrique Asie; he and his magazine became advocates for "liberation" struggles throughout the world, particularly for the Palestinians.

Simon Malley loathed Israel and anti-Israel activism became a crusade for him-as an internet search would easily show. He spent countless hours with Yasser Arafat and became a close friend of Arafat. He was, according to Daniel Pipes, a sympathizer of the Palestinian Liberation Organization --- and this was when it was at the height of its terrorism wave against the West . His efforts were so damaging to France that President Valerie d'Estaing expelled him from the country.

Malley has seemingly followed in his father's footsteps: he represents the next generation of anti-Israel activism. Through his writings he has served as a willing propagandist, bending the truth (and more) to serve an agenda that is marked by anti-Israel bias; he heads a group of Middle East policy advisers for a think-tank funded (in part) by anti-Israel billionaire activist George Soros; and now is on the foreign policy staff of a leading Presidential contender. Each step up the ladder seems to be a step closer towards his goal of empowering radicals and weakening the ties between American and our ally Israel.

Can Friends of Israel--and Jews--Trust Obama? (Martin Peretz, January 31, 2008, New Republic)
There are all kinds of spooky rumors that a man named Robert Malley is one of Obama's advisers, specifically his Middle East adviser. His name comes up mysteriously and intrusively on the web, like the ads for Viagra. Malley, who has written several deceitful articles in The New York Review of Books, is a rabid hater of Israel. No question about it. But Malley is not and has never been a Middle East adviser to Barack Obama.

The War Over the Wonks (washingtonpost.com, October 2, 2007)
A list of the national security and foreign policy advisers to the leading presidential candidates from both parties.


Barack Obama [...]

Robert Malley, President Clinton’s Middle East envoy and now International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa program director, national security adviser

Smearing Rob Malley (MJ Rosenberg, February 18, 2008, Huffington Post)
Robert Malley is a creative scholar and diplomat who was a key player in the Clinton negotiating team that worked tirelessly to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the late 1990s through 2001. Recently, he signed ons an unofficial adviser to the Barack Obama campaign, while maintaining his close ties to his former Clinton colleagues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


Filibuster fight among grudges conservatives bear against McCain (Carl Hulse, February 25, 2008, NY Times)

Back in 2005, Senator John McCain of Arizona and fellow members of the so-called Gang of 14 were hailed as heroes in some quarters when the group fashioned an unusual pact that averted a Senate vote on banning filibusters against judicial nominees.

Now McCain's central role in that effort, which cleared the way for confirmation of some conservative jurists, is cited as one reason for lingering distrust of him among many conservatives.

...Maverick was, unforgivably, right about the deal, which made them look bad. Liberals are supposed to be guided by emotions and ignore results, not the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM

60 IN '08:

Huckabee for Senate -- for Real: From taxes to spending, he is decidedly more pro-growth than Mark Pryor (Phil Kerpen, 2/25/08, National Review)

On a wide range of policy issues, from tax hikes to union-card-check legislation, the balance in the U.S. Senate could shift in the 2008 election, with big-government-leaning senators in both parties nearing the magical number of 60 needed to pass controversial measures. The core policy objectives of the Huckabee presidential run would be buried if that happened.

The March 10 filing deadline in Arkansas for the U.S. Senate race is fast approaching. There is presently no Republican in the race, with only Green party candidate Rebekah Kennedy challenging incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor. Political handicappers are already calling this race an easy reelect for Pryor. And if Huckabee’s not interested, the GOP is unlikely to find a credible candidate.

That’s bad news for pro-growth conservatives.

Mark Pryor’s moderate-Democrat image is largely undeserved. I learned this first hand when I spent 2006 focused on the effort to repeal the federal death tax. After encouraging talks on the issue with Pryor’s staff, I thought his support for repeal was assured when he posted this message on his official Senate website: “I support the permanent repeal of an estate tax that harms small businesses and family farms.” He then went to the Senate floor, broke with Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and obliged Senate majority leader Harry Reid to vote against repeal.

Huckabee, in contrast, has been a staunch supporter of death-tax repeal throughout his campaign. But his low-tax agenda goes further. He has campaigned on the fundamental tax reform known as the FairTax, a bold proposal to repeal not just the death tax, but also the income tax, the payroll tax, and every other tax presently levied by the federal government, replacing all these with a national retail sales tax. The plan is considered a long shot to ever become the law of the land. But it is a starting point for a meaningful discussion of fundamental tax reform that has, unfortunately, been moribund since the report of President Bush’s tax-reform panel landed with a thud.

By emphasizing the FairTax’s territoriality — our current system double taxes our exports and un-taxes imports, which is one reason why manufacturing has clamored for, and received, a weak and weakening dollar — a Senator Huckabee could help pave the way to a border-adjustable tax system that would place American manufacturers on a level playing field with the rest of the world without the persistent need to devalue the currency.

With a top of the ticket that features John McCain vs, Barack Obama, the Huck could easily pull an upset here and solidify his claim for next in line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


German Politician Blames Communism for Child Killings (Der Spiegel, 2/25/08)

Wolfgang Böhmer, governor of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, faces opposition calls to resign after he said women in the east had "a more casual approach to new life" than in the west.

Böhmer, who trained as a gynaecologist, was responding to research showing that the risk of a baby being killed by its mother is three to four times higher in the east than it is in the west of Germany.

Barely a month goes by in Germany without media reports of infanticide.

Is it really fruitful to argue about which sectors of pst-Christian Europe are the most anti-human?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


Battle brews over federal funds, religious groups (Amy Fagan, February 19, 2008 , Washington Times)

There's a heated behind-the-scenes battle brewing in the Senate to kill language in a mental health and social services law that allows religious groups who receive federal funds to continue hiring only people of their particular faith.

A coalition of mostly liberal groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, with some religious groups, oppose the language — known as charitable choice — which was added to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) law in 2000. [...]

Supporters of charitable choice said before it was in place many faith-based groups were treated poorly by government agencies and shied away from applying for federal money, fearing they would have to change their religious nature. Many of these groups are highly effective in helping the addicted and mentally ill, supporters said, and without charitable choice, many of them won't apply for federal aid, perhaps dropping out.

"We need all hands on deck; we need everyone involved in this effort, including faith-based organizations," said Arne Owens, a top adviser at SAMHSA, who noted that 23 million Americans have substance-abuse problems requiring treatment. "Our concern is that if this language is taken out, it will have a severe chilling effect on the faith-based group participation."

The charitable-choice policy was added to the SAMHSA law toward the end of the Clinton administration. Congress has included it in at least three major federal programs over the years, beginning with welfare reform in the mid-1990s. President Bush has been a strong advocate for it. In his State of the Union speech last month, he asked Congress to make charitable choice a permanent part of federal law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


...if we weren't so busy shoveling....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Muslim scholars decry terrorism (Sanjoy Majumder, 2/25/08, BBC News)

The Deoband school promotes a brand of Islam which some say was an inspiration to Afghanistan's Taleban.

The school has always denied this.

Opening the conclave the head of the Deoband school, Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, described terrorism as a thoughtless act which is against the teachings of Islam.

He said that the killing of innocent people of any religion was prohibited by the Koran, the Muslim Holy Book.

Many participants said they want to change popular perceptions in which, they say, terrorism is being equated with Islam.

Others said that while Muslims should not be harassed because of anti-terrorism operations, the community also needed to be more introspective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


McCain’s Veep Problem: If he chooses a solid conservative, he’ll have a running mate who disagrees with him on some key issues (Byron York, 2/24/08, National Review)

John McCain faces a dilemma when it comes to choosing a vice president. He needs a running mate who will be a contrast to him in a few key ways — younger, more knowledgeable about economic issues, and, especially, more conservative. But if McCain selects a running mate whose conservative credentials are beyond dispute, he’ll be choosing a candidate who likely disagrees with him on some issues of great importance to the Republican base.

On Sunday, I spoke with two leading contenders for the McCain ticket, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, both in Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association. While each expressed strong support for McCain, neither would deny differences with the candidate on two of the issues that have caused McCain the greatest trouble with the conservative base: immigration and campaign-finance reform.

Polls could hardly be more consistent in showing that no one outside of Washington much cares about campaign finance but, to the extent that they do, even Republicans support not just reforms but public financing, which would be truly horrid. And, on immigration, Republicans track the rest of America in supporting the sort of comprehensive solution that features making illegal immigration, legal immigration easier, and granting current illegals legality if they jump through a few hoops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Obama's women reveal his secret (Spengler, 2/25/08, Asia Times)

"Cherchez la femme," advised Alexander Dumas in: "When you want to uncover an unspecified secret, look for the woman." In the case of Barack Obama, we have two: his late mother, the went-native anthropologist Ann Dunham, and his rancorous wife Michelle. Obama's women reveal his secret: he hates America.

We know less about Senator Obama than about any prospective president in American history. His uplifting rhetoric is empty, as Hillary Clinton helplessly protests. His career bears no trace of his own character, not an article for the Harvard Law Review he edited, or a single piece of legislation. He appears to be an empty vessel filled with the wishful thinking of those around him. But there is a real Barack Obama. No man - least of all one abandoned in infancy by his father - can conceal the imprint of an impassioned mother, or the influence of a brilliant wife. [...]

Never underestimate the influence of a wife who bitch-slaps her husband in public. Early in Obama's campaign, Michelle Obama could not restrain herself from belittling the senator. "I have some difficulty reconciling the two images I have of Barack Obama. There's Barack Obama the phenomenon. He's an amazing orator, Harvard Law Review, or whatever it was, law professor, best-selling author, Grammy winner. Pretty amazing, right? And then there's the Barack Obama that lives with me in my house, and that guy's a little less impressive," she told a fundraiser in February 2007.

"For some reason this guy still can't manage to put the butter up when he makes toast, secure the bread so that it doesn't get stale, and his five-year-old is still better at making the bed than he is." New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported at the time, "She added that the TV version of Barack Obama sounded really interesting and that she'd like to meet him sometime." Her handlers have convinced her to be more tactful since then.

No one will ever meet the media version.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


Myanmar opposition calls for boycott of Beijing Olympics (The Associated Press, 2/25/08)

Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar called Monday for the world to boycott this year's Beijing Olympics over what they said was China's continuing support of Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The 88 Generation Students group, which was instrumental in last year's pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar, urged "citizens around the world ... to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics in response to China's bankrolling of the military junta that rules our country of Burma with guns and threats."

..there is no bad reason to humiliate the PRC, only bad ones to honor them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Nader unloads on Obama, Clinton (Mike Allen, Feb 25, 2008, Politico)

Ralph Nader tells Politico he’s launched his independent candidacy for president in part because of what he sees as the spinelessness of the potential Democratic nominees, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

Nader said in an interview that Obama is an overly cautious captive of his handlers who has a “relatively mediocre” Senate record.

Senator Obama doesn't have enough of a record for it to be judged mediocre, does he? It's like saying Brady Quinn is a mediocre NFL quarterback.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Who Are We?: a review of My Correct Views on Everything, by Leszek Kolakowski; edited by Zbigniew Janowski (Timothy Fuller, Spring 2006, First Principles)

We recall that the transformation of society foretold in Marx’s thought requires the dictatorship of the proletariat. This must mean the suspension of procedural rights and the rule of law, coupled with the conviction that a proletarian dictatorship will be self-liquidating when its work is done. That its work could never be completed is not a theoretical assumption but an empirically verified fact. Procedural rights and the rule of law were not constructed in order to prevent human perfection but out of the realization that human perfection is impossible, that dictatorships are dictatorships (proletarian or otherwise) and subject to all the temptations of power and brutality that spring forth when political power is unchecked.

Kolakowski brings before us once again the old question, “Was every attempt to implement all the basic values of Marxist socialism likely to generate a political organization that would bear the unmistakable marks of Stalinism?” His answer is: Yes. This is because the leader whose task is to implement the ideology must insist on unswerving loyalty and obedience, while those under him are tempted to appeal to the ideology itself. The resulting divided loyalty is intolerable. The leader will equate the ideology with his own insight and implementation of it. Thus even the most loyal are, to the leader, suspect; everyone is a potential threat to the revolution towards socialist perfection, even the most loyal party members. Kolakowski calls this the “egalitarianism of slavery,” which is at the essence of totalitarian regimes:

The liberal concept of freedom implies that my freedom inevitably limits the freedom of my fellow men, and this is indeed the case if the scope of freedom coincides with the scale of ownership. Once the bourgeois order is replaced by a system of communal property, this machinery no longer has any purpose. Individual interests converge with universal ones, and there is no more need to shore up society’s unstable equilibrium with regulations that define the limits of individual freedom…nothing is left except the individual and the human species as a whole…they will have no need of political institutions or traditional national ties to mediate this experience of their identity.

Liberation, on these grounds, means unity in collective identity. This unity precludes politics, as Aristotle saw in his observation that the polis requires different kinds of people. In the sinister Nazi version, “The Third Reich was an exquisite example of the ideological state…the truth of which was guaranteed by the higher wisdom of those in a privileged cognitive position…the supreme race and its leaders…have a deeper insight which no arguments based on ordinary logical criteria could invalidate.”

Embedded in Marxism is a soteriological myth, disguised in the language of the social sciences of the nineteenth century, which demands the unification of civil society and politics. The myth suggests that a communal way of life can be erected on an individualist foundation, the impossibility of which has been laid out by numerous thinkers as, for example, Benjamin Constant in his distinction between the ancient and the modern ideas of liberty. This putative harmony was to lead to the withering away of the state, making the end of politics to bring politics to an end.

Though folks, particularly the partisans of either ideology, tend to think of libertarianism and Marxism as polar opposites, you can see in the above just how similar they are in terms of the errors they make about human nature and, therefore, the possibility of establishing their Utopias. Getting the Beginning and the End wrong they can do naught but create misery for men in the middle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


The Campus Rape Myth (Heather MacDonald, February 25, 2008, City Journal)

It’s a lonely job, working the phones at a college rape crisis center. Day after day, you wait for the casualties to show up from the alleged campus rape epidemic—but no one calls. [...]

The campus rape industry’s central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years (completed rapes outnumbering attempted rapes by a ratio of about three to two). The girls’ assailants are not terrifying strangers grabbing them in dark alleys but the guys sitting next to them in class or at the cafeteria.

This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm. By the early 1990s, campus rape centers and 24-hour hotlines were opening across the country, aided by tens of millions of dollars of federal funding. Victimhood rituals sprang up: first the Take Back the Night rallies, in which alleged rape victims reveal their stories to gathered crowds of candle-holding supporters; then the Clothesline Project, in which T-shirts made by self-proclaimed rape survivors are strung on campus, while recorded sounds of gongs and drums mark minute-by-minute casualties of the “rape culture.” A special rhetoric emerged: victims’ family and friends were “co-survivors”; “survivors” existed in a larger “community of survivors.”

An army of salesmen took to the road, selling advice to administrators on how to structure sexual-assault procedures, and lecturing freshmen on the “undetected rapists” in their midst. Rape bureaucrats exchanged notes at such gatherings as the Inter Ivy Sexual Assault Conferences and the New England College Sexual Assault Network. Organizations like One in Four and Men Can Stop Rape tried to persuade college boys to redefine their masculinity away from the “rape culture.” The college rape infrastructure shows no signs of a slowdown. In 2006, for example, Yale created a new Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center, despite numerous resources for rape victims already on campus.

If the one-in-four statistic is correct—it is sometimes modified to “one-in-five to one-in-four”—campus rape represents a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. No crime, much less one as serious as rape, has a victimization rate remotely approaching 20 or 25 percent, even over many years. The 2006 violent crime rate in Detroit, one of the most violent cities in America, was 2,400 murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 inhabitants—a rate of 2.4 percent. The one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, millions of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience. Such a crime wave would require nothing less than a state of emergency—Take Back the Night rallies and 24-hour hotlines would hardly be adequate to counter this tsunami of sexual violence. Admissions policies letting in tens of thousands of vicious criminals would require a complete revision, perhaps banning boys entirely. The nation’s nearly 10 million female undergrads would need to take the most stringent safety precautions. Certainly, they would have to alter their sexual behavior radically to avoid falling prey to the rape epidemic.

None of this crisis response occurs, of course—because the crisis doesn’t exist.

If you drive past the Dartmouth campus at night it looks like K-Mart in its heyday, with glowing blue lights every hundred yards or so. That's because several years ago they installed 31 Code Blue phones clustered so tightly as to suggest that young women must have to race from one to the next just to enjoy some minimum level of security as they negotiate the obviously treacherous paths of the college. The reality is, of course quite otherwise. Co-eds are quite safe at Dartmouth...or at least they are until they start drinking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


The Carrier Cold War (Reuben F. Johnson, 2/25/08, The Weekly Standard)

When the Russian state arms export agency Rosoboronexport (ROE) made the carrier deal, the vessel was scheduled to be delivered to the Indian Navy in 2008. ROE must not have known what they were getting themselves into and as of last summer the bad news for the Indians could no longer be kept secret. As reported by Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts, "the money [$1.5 billion] was allocated, but the work was never done."

Another Russian military commentator, Pavel Felgenhauer, stated the situation more bluntly in one of his columns on the carrier entitled "Sold: The $1.5 Billion Lemon."

The Gorshkov is roughly have the size of a U.S. carrier and was originally designed with a flight deck large enough only for a vertical take-off and short landing (VSTOL) airplane like the famous Harrier jump jets operated by the U.S. Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. Russia's Cold War-era answer to the Harrier was the Yakovlev Yak-38, a lackluster performer and an airplane so dangerous that was referred to as "the widowmaker."

In order to accommodate the MiG-29K, the Gorshkov requires an extension to its flight deck to accommodate a CV capable airplane, installation of an arrested landing system like that used on U.S. and French carriers, plus a replacement of its maintenance intensive steam propulsion system with a diesel powerplant. All of this has proven to be too much to do for the original price agreed, so ROE are now demanding an additional $1.2 billion to finish the job. The Indian Navy's chief Admiral, Surreesh Mehta, has obliquely suggested in the local press that this is little more than blackmail given that the Indians have already sunk so much into the program that it is too late to back out now.

Enter the United States. According to numerous sources inside India, when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits New Delhi late in February (provided his Tuesday Potomac Primary Day broken shoulder does not alter his itinerary) he will be carrying a signed letter from U.S. President George W. Bush offering a better deal for India than the one they have been struggling to get out of Moscow for four years now. The Indian Navy will reportedly be offered the soon-to-be decommissioned USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) aircraft carrier for free--provided the Indian Navy will agree to purchase 65 of the newest model Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to be operated off of it.

If true--and if New Delhi accepts--this can do more than just sink the Russian carrier deal and the MiG-29K contract. The Indian Air Force (IAF) are deep in the throes of a tender to purchase almost 200 new fighter aircraft, with Boeing and RSK-MiG both in the field of six contenders. An order of 200 fighter airplanes is unheard of--larger than any such export sale in more than 20 years. In an era where sales of 12, 20, or 40 fighters are more common, this is the PowerBall Lotto of export competitions.

If the Indian Navy decide to take on the F/A-18E/Fs, it makes logistical sense for the IAF to do the same and the competition for this massive sale would probably be over for all of the other competitors before it gets started. This would be a huge blow to the fortunes of RSK-MiG, who are bidding an advanced, developed MiG-29 model they have now re-labeled the MiG-35. It could make it hard for the famous Russian planemaker to stay in the military aircraft market.

Just last December Boeing placed $1 billion worth of outsourced production with India's HAL. To run for 10 years, this contract will have the Indians building portions of the F/A-18E/F, the Chinook CH-47 helicopter, and other Boeing platforms. This incentive--plus the carrier deal--could make the Boeing Super Hornet the proverbial offer that is too good to pass up.

Moscow's reaction is likely to be less than joyful.

...why was it a foreign policy expert like David Ignatius who needed a blogger to tell him that India matters and Europe doesn't?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Obama's women reveal his secret (Spengler, 2/25/08, Asia Times)

America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America is the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Between half and nine-tenths of the world's 6,700 spoken languages will become extinct in the next century, and the anguish of dying peoples rises up in a global cry of despair.

This mere parenthetical is more insightful than just about anything else you'll read today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Conscientious Voting: Doing injustice. (Ramesh Ponnuru, 2/25/08, National Review)

The Washington Post has published an angry attack by Joe Feuerherd on this country’s Catholic bishops. (He closes by damning them.) He takes the bishops to be edging up to the proposition that he has put his soul in danger of eternal damnation by voting for Barack Obama (or any pro-choice politician).

Feuerherd doesn’t take the tack that it is wrong in principle for the bishops to suggest that some types of political behavior can endanger people’s souls. It is hard to see how he could take that tack, given that he appears to believe, first, that there is such a thing as an eternal soul that can be damned or saved, and second, that moral choices can affect the outcome. Nor does Feuerherd argue, exactly, that the bishops are wrong to regard abortion as a grave injustice. He says that he is himself pro-life. Evidently, then, he believes that abortion is the unjust killing of innocent human beings, and the “right” to abortion therefore amounts to a license to commit an injustice of the gravest kind.

...how do you derive a "but" that allows you to support its advocate?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The Left Offers Obama a Strategy (Ronald Radosh, 2/25/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

Tom Hayden is, of course, no longer a major public figure with great influence. His words, however, resonate with scores of activists as well as liberal intellectuals, who will take them to heart and seek to up the ante on the Obama campaign. Hayden, who clearly views Iraq as another Vietnam, is seeking to move Obama to adopt the prescriptions of the most left-wing sectors of the Democratic Party constituency.

Pointing to Obama’s victory speech in Houston last week, Hayden has noted that Obama has shifted his position, to one of calling for withdrawal of all American troops in the first year of his administration, not over a lengthier time span. Does Obama mean it? Hayden has one suggestion: the Left and antiwar forces must hold Obama to his word. More importantly, he argues that sentiment among Obama’s base “is running strongly enough to push the candidate forward to a stronger commitment,” strong enough to move him away from the words in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope, in which Obama wrote that a complete withdrawal was a matter of “imperfect judgment” and “best guesses.”

It is clear from Mr. Hayden that his supposition - and that of the Left he represents - (his comments appear in The Nation magazine website) believe that the United States should not be involved on a “so-called war on terrorism,” a phony concept developed by evil and strong neoconservatives who falsely believe there is something called “Islamofascism.” Obviously believing that there is not such force in the world, he argues that its advocates, including Senator John McCain, favor a “permanent war against Muslim radicals” that is really about one thing: “American access to oil.”

Why wouldn't access to our main energy source be a worthwhile thing to defend?

February 24, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


Labor considers US missile shield: PINE Gap may become part of a US-led strategic missile defence shield as Labor considers reversing its opposition to the controversial scheme - a move that could create tensions with China and Russia. (Paul Maley, February 25, 2008, The Australian)

In Opposition, Labor was against Australian involvement in a program to build a national missile shield protecting the US, but supported a limited theatre-based system that could be deployed in war zones.

But Foreign Minister Stephen Smith yesterday said missile defence technology had evolved and that the Government was now giving "careful consideration" to participating in the missile shield.

Last year, then defence minister Brendan Nelson told parliament the US-Australian defence facility at Pine Gap could form part of a missile shield by providing early warnings of ballistic missile launches.

Any about-face on missile defence could stoke tensions within the Labor Party, with opposition to the joint facilities being an article of faith for many on the party's Left.

Funny how power imposes maturity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


The 'Virtual Fence' Has Its Limits (Keith Epstein, 2/24/08, Business Week)

[H]omeland Security Dept. officials have decided that an experimental 28-mile "virtual fence" meant to extend the U.S. Border Patrol's eyes and ears along the U.S.-Mexico border—a web of radar, infrared cameras, ground sensors, and airborne drones—won't be copied anywhere else in its entirety.

The yokels never do figure out Three Card Monte.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Obama Knocks Clinton, But Wouldn't Ax NAFTA (JAKE TAPPER, Feb. 24, 2008, ABC News)

Appealing to union voters in a dry wall manufacturing plant in this crucial primary state, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sunday afternoon said that even though he has repeatedly said the passage of NAFTA was bad for the country, he would not try to repeal it.

"I don't think its realistic for us to repeal NAFTA," he said during a town hall meeting on the economy.

He argued arguing that because the trade deal had been passed more than a decade ago, it was entrenched in the economy, and any attempt to repeal it "would actually result in more job loss ... than job gains."

How conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Two Winnable Wars (Anthony H. Cordesman, February 24, 2008, Wasington Post)

The military situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are very different. The United States and its allies are winning virtually every tactical clash in both countries. In Iraq, however, al-Qaeda is clearly losing in every province. It is being reduced to a losing struggle for control of Nineveh and Mosul. There is a very real prospect of coalition forces bringing a reasonable degree of security if decisions such as Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's announcement Friday to extend his militia's cease-fire six months continue over a period of years.

Military victory is far more marginal in Afghanistan. NATO and international troops can still win tactically, but the Taliban is sharply expanding its support areas as well as its political and economic influence and control in Afghanistan. It has scored major gains in Pakistan, which is clearly the more important prize for al-Qaeda and has more Pashtuns than Afghanistan. U.S. commanders privately warn that victory cannot be attained without more troops, without all members of NATO and the International Security Assistance Force fully committing their troops to combat, and without a much stronger and consistent effort by the Pakistani army in both the federally administered tribal areas in western Pakistan and the Baluchi area in the south.

...is nowhere more evident than in the reduction of al Qaeda from an organization with transnationalist dreams to a Pashtun tribal gang.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Livni, Barak: Whatever happens, Hamas will be responsible (JPOST.COM, 2/24/08)

Israel will not intervene in any demonstrations that take place in the Gaza Strip, but should those demonstrations spill into Israeli territory, Hamas would be responsible for the repercussions, a joint statement issued by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday. [...]

Palestinian officials on Sunday announced that they intend to protest the ongoing economic sanctions and blockade of the Gaza Strip on Monday morning by forming a human chain which will span from the Rafah Crossing in southern Gaza, to the Erez Crossing in the north.

Palestinian violence has always played into Israeli hands. Their greater weapon is Israel's democratic ideals and fundamental decency. Ariel Sharon was trying to force a state on them before they deployed those weapons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM

THE ROVEBOT LIVES (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Ralph Nader enters presidential race (CNN, 2/24/08)

Ralph Nader is entering the presidential race as an independent, he announced Sunday, saying it is time for a "Jeffersonian revolution."

"In the last few years, big money and the closing down of Washington against citizen groups prevent us from trying to improve our country. And I want everybody to have the right and opportunity to improve their country," he told reporters after an appearance announcing his candidacy on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Asked why he should be president, the longtime consumer advocate said, "Because I got things done."

Heck, he's passed as much legislation in the Senate as Mr. Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Did You Hear the One About the Christian Comedian? (MIMI SWARTZ, 2/24/08, NY Times)

The William Tell Mom, as she is sometimes identified on YouTube, is named Anita Renfroe. She is 45 and lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband, John, a Southern Baptist minister; her daughter, Elyse, 18; and her mother, Kay Pulliam. Renfroe’s two sons, Austin and Calvin, who are in their 20s, live close by. Last Mother’s Day, at the urging of her kids, she posted on YouTube the film clip of her performance at the Dozier Center for the Performing Arts in Kennesaw, Ga., and promptly forgot about it. “I thought it would be a nice thing to do,” she says. “I thought maybe 1,000 people might see it.”

Turns out that was optimistic. Over Mother’s Day weekend, the clip got about 500 hits. But Renfroe never got around to taking the video down, and as the summer progressed, its popularity continued to grow. By Labor Day, it had passed the 800,000 hit mark. Then the blogosphere discovered it: Mommyneedscoffee.com and hotmomsclub.com thought it was hilarious. “That’s when it went bazooka,” Renfroe says.

By Oct. 1, approximately 1.5 million people had seen the video. By Oct. 19, the number had risen to 8 million; the video had gone viral. “That’s pretty impressive until you realize that the guy who eats live locusts has, like, 12 million hits,” Renfroe told me. Then a producer from “Good Morning America” called at 5:30 one morning to ask whether the show could run the clip. The song got even bigger when iTunes put the video on its lineup. After that, Renfroe was fending off offers like a Hollywood starlet.

Renfroe is a suburban mom from flyover country — specifically, Cobb County, Ga., home of Newt Gingrich. She is round and soft, loves butter, carbs and sugar and worries routinely about her weight. She is maternal to just about everyone, even people she doesn’t know very well. She pinches pennies and worries that her spotless house isn’t clean enough. Renfroe is a former stay-at-home mom who for some years home-schooled her kids. Now that those children are past the age of consent, she still cannot stop telling them what to do; she is always just a little bit anxious.

Renfroe is also a devout Christian and for about eight years has been slowly building a career as a comedian on the Christian women’s circuit. Like Mike Huckabee’s easy humor, Renfroe’s wit comes as a surprise to nonevangelicals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


The Running Mate McCain Needs (George F. Will, February 24, 2008, 2/24/08, Washington Post)

In politics, gratitude is optional but admirable, and McCain is indebted to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, 51, who endorsed him on the eve of his state's primary. [...]

Crist remains popular but not more so than his predecessor, Jeb Bush, 55. Bush, however, seems determined to take a sabbatical from politics. And it might seem tribal to have a Bush on the national ballot for a seventh time in eight elections.

Three two-term governors might help McCain, including Mississippi's Haley Barbour, 60. He has two things McCain lacks -- impeccable conservative credentials and a genial disposition. He was conspicuously competent in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. As a political director in the Reagan White House and as national party chairman, 1993-97, when Republicans ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House of Representatives, Barbour demonstrated political subtlety and an agreeable absence of righteousness, qualities McCain as president would need close at hand. Unfortunately, Barbour also was a lobbyist for a while, and the right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances" is another part of the First Amendment that the co-author of McCain-Feingold finds unimpressive.

South Carolina's Gov. Mark Sanford, 47, is more of a maverick than McCain, and Sanford faults his state party for being insufficiently conservative. His frugality has had him at daggers drawn with the state Legislature, which Republicans control. His populism is an acquired taste -- he should not have lugged those two live pigs into the Legislature to express his disapproval of pork -- but he favors expanding school choice, eliminating the state income tax and, at the national level, reforming entitlement programs.

Finally, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty, 47, is national co-chairman of McCain's campaign. His is the only state (10 electoral votes) to go Democratic in the past eight presidential elections.

...it would be someone with the qualities he lacks:

* Someone with executive experience

* Someone young, telegenic, and eloquent

* Someone with a definite conservative philosophy to run on

* Someone trusted by Christians

* Someone the Beltway Right doesn't have major objections to

* Someone who can help him cut into the Catholic and Latino vote

His name is Jeb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


The week the Obama backlash started (Paul Harris, 2/24/08, The Observer)

Thus the long-forgotten meeting resurfaced late last week in a detailed news story on the respected politics website Politico under the blaring headline: 'Obama once visited 60s terrorists.'

For a candidate long used to an overwhelmingly positive press, it was a jarring headline. But with Obama's new status as the Democrats' clear frontrunner, a media backlash is now showing clear signs of gathering pace.

The Politico story was not alone last week. In the New York Times, two influential columnists weighed in with brutal attacks against Obama. David Brooks called him a 'trophy messiah' and Paul Krugman claimed Obama's campaign was '...dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality'. Meanwhile, in the Boston Globe, Obama supporter Margery Eagan expressed her own doubts about her pick. 'I'm nervous because John McCain says Obama is an "eloquent but empty call for change" and in the wee, wee hours a nagging voice whispers: "Suppose McCain's right,' Eagan wrote.

Nor was it confined to print. On television, ABC's respected Nightline show ran a segment on Obama's often wildly enthusiastic supporters and compared 'Obama-mania' to the Beatlemania of the Sixties. Anchor Terry Moran asked: 'Is this a political movement or a personality cult?' On cable channel MSNBC, a hapless Obama backer, Texan state senator Kirk Watson, was harangued by host Chris Matthews to 'name any' of Obama's legislative achievements. When Watson failed, the clip became a huge Youtube hit.

...you half expect the group sitting there to be holding Scientology E-meters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


In Toledo, Promises Of Change Ring Hollow (Michael A. Fletcher, 2/24/08, Washington Post)

[B]arack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have each called for significant infrastructure investment, development of alternative energy and other "green-collar" jobs, while promising to toughen environmental and labor standards that accompany free trade deals.

Those ideas are welcome here in heavily unionized and heavily Democratic northwest Ohio, but at the same time, no one seems to believe they go far enough to reverse the powerful tide of globalization that many blame for the constant manufacturing job losses.

"They identify with the situation, but they don't do anything about it," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, (D-Ohio), whose district includes Toledo. "They are descriptive, not prescriptive. We want more detail and we want it now."

This is the dilemma facing the Democratic candidates as they campaign in Ohio's scarred economic landscape. The problems confronting places like Toledo are so deep and complex that there may not be answers that are both viable and popular.

Anglospheric politics has realigned so far to the Right that the Democrats can't propose the sorts of solutions the Left favors without making the party nonviable. They too live in the world that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


The End of the Republican Split (Steve Chapman, 2/24/08, REAL CLEAR POLITICS)

Those who had been angered by McCain's gentle treatment by liberal journalists were angered to see him handled roughly by the same scribes. They quit attacking McCain and began blasting The New York Times, which had given them plenty of ammunition. Note to the Times: When Sean Hannity sounds like the voice of responsible journalism, you've done something wrong.

And with that, the great Republican civil war was pretty much over.

Any pretext would have sufficed, but banding together against the Times made their falling back into line even easier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Crime as a Campaign Issue (David Broder, 2/24/08, Real Clear Politics)

From Pakistan to Serbia, and recurrently in Iraq, the headlines point to the dangers of the world -- most notably the threat of terrorism. And yet when the polling firm Cooper & Secrest Associates asked
1,139 Americans in December which threat they took most seriously, 69 percent chose violent crime and only 19 percent named terrorist attack.

The survey was part of a striking report released Saturday (Feb. 23) by Third Way, a liberal think tank, and several governors, warning that the crime issue, which has slipped off the political agenda since its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, is about to return.

...that Senator Obama wants to reduce sentences for crack dealers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Sympathy for the Devil: Progressive scribe Rick Perlstein made his reputation finding the good in conservatives. Then they really started screwing up the country. (Harold Henderson, January 24, 2008, Chicago Reader)

Nixonland, which will be published by Simon & Schuster, takes its title from a coinage of former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, who once described “Nixonland” as a place with “no standard of truth but convenience, and no standard of morality except sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call.” In his forthcoming book, Perlstein characteristically points out that Stevenson’s own rhetoric sometimes partook of sly innuendo, and he recasts “Nixonland” to mean “the America where two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears co-exist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans.”

You might well ask, which Rick Perlstein will show up in this book, the empathetic historian or the implacable advocate? Says Frum, “We’ll all be waiting with bated breath.”
But perhaps a better question is, how do the historian (who admires and respects much about the conservative movement) and the advocate (who’s appalled by its results) manage to live together at all? It may help that Perlstein takes both William F. Buckley and John Kenneth Galbraith as role models. His favorite New Left writer from the 1960s and 1970s is the late Paul Cowan, author of The Making of an Un-American as well as The Tribes of America. Cowan is remembered best, when he’s remembered at all, as the Village Voice reporter who covered a bitter book-burning fight in 1974 between bomb-throwing fundamentalists and liberals in Kanawha County, West Virginia, and was able to write empathetically about where the fundamentalists were coming from. Perlstein describes him with awe as “a journalist who threw himself into situations that might just change his mind.” (Perlstein’s and Cowan’s exact opposite may be David Horowitz, who managed to switch ends of the political spectrum from far left to far right without showing empathy for much of anyone. In August he called Perlstein “a political piranha with intellectual pretensions.”)

On the simplest level, empathy and solid historical research are the high road to good advocacy. (Or, if you prefer, the most devastating intelligence is gathered by a spy who at heart is half traitor.) Before the Storm has inspired and instructed the netroots, a vital part of the Democratic coalition these days. And it has unmasked some conservative fictions passing as history. Perlstein quotes Goldwater’s version of his family history: “We didn’t know the federal government. Everything that was done, we did it ourselves.” In fact, as Perlstein points out, the Arizona frontier was almost entirely a government creation. “The money to build Big Mike’s first Goldwater’s store in 1872 came largely from contracts for provisioning Army camps and delivering mail.” It’s hard to take Goldwater’s ideas quite as seriously after that.

He’s also punctured a few liberal balloons. For instance, it’s hard to take Ronald Reagan’s political acumen lightly after hearing the key story of his 1966 underdog campaign for the California statehouse. Reagan’s professional pollsters told him not to talk about the student revolt at the University of California at Berkeley because it didn’t show up in their polling. Reagan knew they were missing something, because wherever he went people asked him what he was going to do about Berkeley and the question itself drew applause. Reagan rode the latent resentment of student radicals to victory, revealing a type of tactical talent that few Democrats have displayed. Lew Koch, who covered radical politics during the period Perlstein describes in Nixonland and has become his friend, says, “He astonishes me. He’s writing about an area I covered as a reporter and he’s come up with things I didn’t know. It pisses me off.”

Perlstein’s empathy runs deeper than historical research requires. “My fantasy for the blog,” he says, “was that readers would send posts to Aunt Millie—that it would be a way to get people talking. But people aren’t forwarding them to conservative relatives and friends. They aren’t talking to them.” Perlstein, on the other hand, is. “I have a group of four very different conservatives I’ve been e-mailing back and forth [as a group] since 2003. I can’t imagine living my life, intellectually and politically, without keeping these lines of communication open to people I disagree with.”

And he doesn’t just disagree with them; he appreciates that “people genuinely believe that good order has to be protected from people with scary values.” By his reckoning even Watergate, the ultimate dirty trick, sprang from a genuine fear that if George McGovern were elected president it would spell disaster for the country. No doubt Perlstein would’ve thought the same thing of Nixon’s reelection that year, if he’d been 30 and not 3, but he can still recognize himself in the ideological mirror. He says, “If I were an academic, I’d be talking about ‘incommensurate apocalypses.’”

The point is, if you can’t feel what they feel, then you can’t take them seriously as political opponents. You see only the flimsy intellectual foundations and miss the motivating power of strategically harnessed resentment. From Adlai Stevenson to John Kerry, high-minded liberals have acted as if they were blind to the root feelings that feed the followers of politicians like Nixon and Bush. Instead, they alternate between expecting a fair fight on the issues (and getting swiftboated instead) and imagining that once people realize what a bad person Nixon or Bush is, the people will turn against him.

Conservatism isn’t just a temporary delusion or a wacky distraction. In Perlstein’s view, it’s a deep-seated expression of human nature. He recalls the Gilbert and Sullivan song from Iolanthe about two kinds of babies: “I often think it’s comical / How nature always does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative.” His point: “We’re not going to eliminate them. The best we can do is to win our 51 percent. What’s fascinating is that we share this country together.”

All that said, empathy hasn’t caused Perlstein to lose his mind. He knows that many people avoid political conversations with friends and relations who voted for Bush because there’s no there there.

Friend Perlstein is an interesting illustration of how liberalism's selfishness and emotionalism deranges its believers. He only hates President Bush because W happens to be the conservative whose presidency he's an adult for. Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan are tolerable because he didn't have to endure them. But W has won on every issue Mr. Perlstein cares about for the past 8 years and caused him personal emotional pain.

Had Mr. Perlstein just been born in 1999 instead of 1969 his first book, forthcoming in a few years, would be about how the Left underestimated the importance of W as a thinker and the benevolent influence of his Third Way domestic politics and the global liberalizing crusade he led.

NB: Isn't there something inherently unbalanced in quoting a mere blogger and William F. Buckley in the same paragraph, as if they were peers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


In Cuba, Hopes for a New Capitalist Season: Castro Resignation Could Open a Path For Small Businesses (Manuel Roig-Franzia, 2/24/08, Washington Post)

[Idalberto] Estrada's experience as a mini-capitalist in this socialist nation was made possible by a mid-1990s reform that legalized about 150 types of micro-businesses and was pushed for by Fidel Castro's brother, Raúl. Fidel, 81, announced his retirement Tuesday after half a century of dominance, and Raul, 76, is expected to be named president when the National Assembly meets Sunday.

Estrada and the 100,000 to 150,000 other self-employed Cubans provide a glimpse of what the future might look like here, and help explain some of the low-intensity excitement about the possibility of historic change. Estrada sometimes earns three or four times what he made before quitting the Cuban navy six years ago, when his pay was the equivalent of $17 a month. He still struggles to make ends meet, but he is much better off than the overwhelming majority of his neighbors who live in rotting homes with spotty plumbing and have to feed themselves on state salaries as low as $11 a month.

Raul, who has been interim president in the 19 months since Fidel underwent multiple intestinal surgeries, has stoked hopes of even more dramatic change by hinting for months about "structural and conceptual" shifts in Cuba's economy. Economists and many islanders see much in Raul's track record to suggest that he may expand private business opportunities and perhaps even restore some of the vaunted mid-1990s reforms that his all-powerful brother dismantled.

"I see it as a great possibility that Raul will make changes to Cuba's economy," Óscar Espinosa Chepe, a former Cuban government economist and diplomat who was imprisoned in a 2003 crackdown on dissidents, said in an interview. "He is much more pragmatic than his brother."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Sun Sets on Cold War Mentality (David Ignatius, 2/23/08, Real Clear Politics)

"When it comes to foreign policy, experience is a highly overrated asset." So says a former British foreign service officer named Jonathan Clarke, who has created a blog called theswoop.net that has dedicated itself to undermining Washington's fondness for conventional wisdom.

What my friend Clarke means is that the set of issues and strategies that shaped the Cold War generation has passed. He's a product of that generation himself, having served at the sharp end of the spear for the British government in various Cold War hot spots. But that era is over. The intellectual matrix formed by the Soviet threat, and before that by Hitler's rise in Germany, needs to be reworked. There is a new set of problems and personalities -- and if America keeps trotting out the same cast of characters and policy papers, we will fail to make sense of where the world is moving.

The only place you find Atlanticists anymore is in Academia and editorial board rooms. For 8 years this president has said that Russia is too insignificant to be a threat, Western Europe can join us in liberalizing Africa and the Islamic world or buzz off, and that the Axis of Good runs through places like India, Mongolia, the Philippines, etc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


In Mosul, a Hopeful Partnership: U.S. Is Betting Iraqi Forces Can Take Lead Against Insurgents (Joshua Partlow, 2/24/08, Washington Post)

[I]nstead of storming the buildings themselves, standard procedure for them over the past five years, the American soldiers deferred on this night to their partners. Dozens of Iraqi soldiers jumped down to the pavement and searched 22 buildings as the Americans watched from their vehicles. No weapons were found, and the soldiers drove back unharmed.

"It cuts down on the danger to American forces," said Sgt. Christopher Sherman. "It's nice to have some people helping us kick in doors."

With just 2,000 American soldiers to patrol a city of 1.8 million people -- the Iraqi Sunni insurgency's most formidable urban stronghold -- the U.S. military strategy in Mosul relies to an unprecedented degree on the Iraqi security forces. U.S. military officials here say there will be nothing like the "surge" of thousands of American troops that helped ease the fighting in Baghdad and no major effort to search for insurgents block by block. Instead, they are betting that 18,200 Iraqi soldiers and police can shoulder the load against the kaleidoscope of insurgent groups fighting in the city.

"We see the Iraqi security forces, more and more, take the lead and take the fight to the enemy," said Maj. Adam Boyd, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's intelligence officer. "You do see a capability that we have not seen before."

In recent months, three Iraqi army battalions have returned to Mosul from deployments in Baghdad. The Interior Ministry has approved 2,000 additional police recruits for the city, and a new Iraqi operations command is coordinating the efforts of the Iraqi security forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Obama's Red-State Prospects Unclear: Democrat's Support May Have Limits (Alec MacGillis, 2/24/08, Washington Post)

[T]he picture emerging of his appeal in GOP strongholds and in swing states, even as he widens his delegate lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), is more complex than his claim to broad popularity in "red state" America would have one believe.

Obama (Ill.) posted big wins over Clinton in caucuses in Plains and Mountain states such as Kansas, Nebraska and Idaho, but Republicans in those states scoff at the suggestion that victories in the small universe of Democrats there translate into strength in November. In Tennessee and Oklahoma, Obama lost by wide margins to Clinton, who lived in nearby Arkansas. He narrowly won the primary in the swing state of Missouri, but did so thanks to the state's solidly Democratic cities, losing its more rural, and more conservative, areas to Clinton.

"If he's the nominee . . . he'll start off with a good urban base, but he'll have to get out and develop these other areas," said former Tennessee governor Ned McWherter, a Democrat and Clinton supporter.

How's that unclear? It's an urban party and he'd be strong in urban areas, because of his identity politics. If that won national elections the only Democrats to be elected wouldn't be white Southern governors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Parliamentary uproar in this age of 'bipartisanship' (Dennis Shanahan, February 23, 2008, The Australian)

THE first people's Friday sitting of parliament turned into farcical Friday, and the tragedy of an unworkable House of Representatives.

A mixture of bullying, pure politics, personal animosity, flawed execution, confusion and angst bookended Labor's triumph on its first sitting day two weeks ago with a debacle on its last.

Determined to make a point that Kevin Rudd would not be attending the new backbenchers' Friday, the Coalition was prepared to break almost every parliamentary convention.

Determined to make a point that they were in charge, the Government brooked no suggestion of compromise and toughed out some of the most torrid parliamentary behaviour in years. As a result, the speaker's position was compromised, parliament became unworkable - suspended twice - and, as deputy speaker Anna Burke said, her position was untenable.

There were as many Government MPs unsure of what was supposed to be happening as Coalition MPs, and that wasn't just newcomers. The whole idea of a day of private members' speeches without ministers unravelled. [...]

In the end, the challenge for the Coalition is that it will face some public hostility for its antics yesterday and have to decide if it can keep it up.

For the Government, the challenge will be to decide if parliamentary uproar in the long term does enough damage to a new Government for it to drop "the new politics of bipartisanship".

At the moment bipartisanship looks like a game of water polo, all sporting and action above the water and all kicking and gouging beneath.

If bipartisanship were a good thing we'd only have one party.

February 23, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Japain: The world's second-biggest economy is still in a funk—and politics is the problem (The Economist, 2/21/08)

Similarities exist between Japan then and America today, notably the way that a financial crisis threatens the “real” economy. But the differences outnumber them. Japan should indeed be a source of worry—not, however, because other rich countries are destined for the same economic plughole, but because it is the world's second-biggest economy and it has not tackled the fundamental causes of its malaise.

Even by today's gloomiest assumptions, Japan's bust dwarfs America's, if in part because its boom did too. Take for instance the collapse in the equity market. America's S&P 500 is down just 8% from its 1999 peak. The Nikkei 225 share index is now nearly two-thirds below its 1989 peak. In commercial property the comparison between the two boom-and-busts is almost as dramatic.

The more important difference, though, is how each country got into its mess and then responded to it. In America, the government can be blamed for inadequate oversight of the vast market in slicing and dicing mortgages, but it has reacted aggressively to the bust, with monetary and fiscal stimulus. Financial institutions are busy declaring their losses. In Japan, the government was deeply complicit in puffing up the market and complicit, too, in hiding the ensuing mess for years.

Japan's economy is still held back by its politicians

Japan actually has negative population growth, which would be called decline if any country had ever experienced it before. Its malaise is spiritual, not political.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM

FORCE THE CRISIS (via Mike Daley):

U.S. should revive flagging ties with Taiwan: study (Paul Eckert, 2/23/08, Reuters)

U.S. neglect of its traditionally close ties with Taiwan is raising the risk of a damaging conflict as the island faces military and diplomatic pressure from China, a study warned on Friday.

To defuse mounting tensions across the Taiwan Strait, the Taiwan Policy Working Group recommended that Washington step up official contacts with Taiwan -- dealings that have declined in frequency and level in recent years under Chinese pressure.

"A broken dialogue increases the likelihood that what is now a dangerous situation will develop into an even more dangerous crisis," their study said.

The one China fiction serves no one but the PRC. Just recognize Taiwan as a nation and be done with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 PM


Conservative Postmodernism, Postmodern Conservatism (Peter Augustine Lawler, Fall 2002, First Principles)

What has distinguished the modern world, above all, is a particular definition of what a human being is. That definition does not describe a real or complete human being. It was not even meant to be completely true, but mainly to be useful as a fiction in the pursuit of unprecedented freedom, justice, and prosperity. Modern thought has held that a human being is an individual, and the modern individual is an abstraction, an invention of the human mind. That individual is made more free from social and political constraints, and less directed toward duty and goodness by God and nature, than a real human being ever could be. The modern individual is distinguished from the political animals—the citizens, statesmen, and philosophers—described by the Greek and Roman philosophers, and from the social, familial creatures described by Christian theologians. The modern individual is liberated from the philosopher’s duty to know the truth about nature, from the citizen’s selfless devotion to his country, from the creature’s love and fear of God, and even from the loving responsibilities that are inseparable from family life. Conservatives today oppose liberal individualism both because its understanding of the human being is untrue and because that definition erodes all that is good about distinctively human existence.

The modern world has now ended only in the sense that we have now seen enough of it to judge it. Although we have reason to be grateful for the wealth, health, freedom, and power that modern achievements have given us, we know that the individual’s pursuits of security and happiness will remain always pursuits—and not possessions. So even as the modern world continues to develop, we can be free of its characteristic delusion, its utopianism. We can speak of its strengths and its limitations from a perspective “outside” modernity, and that perspective is the foundation of conservatism today. Conservatives can be (perhaps the only) genuinely postmodern thinkers. The reason we can see beyond the modern world is that its intention to transform human nature has failed. Its project of transforming the human person into the autonomous individual was and remains unrealistic; we can now see the limits of being an individual because we remain more than individuals. The world created by modern individuals to make themselves fully at home turns out to have made human beings less at home than ever.

Conservative thought today is authentic postmodernism, but it is, obviously, not postmodernism as it is usually understood. Most allegedly postmodern thought emphasizes the arbitrary character of all human authority, the freedom of each human being from all standards but his own will or creativity, and the death not only of God but of nature. These allegedly postmodern characteristics are really hypermodern; they aim to “deconstruct” as incoherent and so incredible any residual modern faith in reason or nature. They shout that everything modern—in fact, everything human—is nothing but a construction.

Postmodernists in the usual sense often do well in exposing liberal hypocrisy, but they can only do so in the name of completing the modern project of liberating the individual’s subjective or willful and whimsical perspective from all external constraints. Conservative postmodernism, by acknowledging and affirming as good what we can really know about our natural possibilities and limitations, is radically opposed to liberated postmodernism—and to the modern premises it radicalizes. [...]

It is no longer enough for Americans to be abstracted modern individuals most of the time and full human creatures only in fleeting private moments. All of our institutions must be consistently understood in light of what we really know about human nature. We have religious liberty because human beings, by nature, really are open to God, and because what we really know about nature points to the real possibility that we are created. We have political liberty because we are more than citizens, but that liberty is compatible with political responsibility because we are, among other things, citizens. Because human freedom and human responsibilities make possible and necessary both virtue and spiritual life, we can live well with death. The beginning of the postmodern world is the replacement of the individual by the whole human being, and the using of our natural capabilities for thought and action to make the world worthy of him. This is not to say that any particular changes to our form of government are now necessary. Our constitutionalism might actually be better defended from the perspective of the created human being than that of the abstract individual—as Orestes Brownson in the nineteenth century and Robert Kraynak and Carey McWilliams very recently have explained. Postmodern conservatism is quite compatible with liberal or limited and democratic government, and it certainly has a higher view than does liberal individualism of the capacity of the ordinary person to choose truth and virtue over security and comfort.

Conservatives today rightly attack so-called postmodernists for their attacks on truth, science, virtue, and God. But those attacks on our ability to perceive the truth and goodness of nature and human nature are actually modern in origin. The promiscuously ironic professor of philosophy Richard Rorty once described himself as a postmodernist bourgeois liberal. That particular self-description turns out to be neither irony nor an oxymoron. Postmodernism as it is usually understood, Rorty appreciates, does not really offer any challenge at all to modern or liberal individualism. Because we conservatives aim to conserve the full truth about human and natural reality, we have no interest in conserving the modern error of mistaking the abstract individual for the real human being.

Thus Mr. Rorty's insight that he and his fellow travelers are just freeloading atheists, who have to adopt the Christian morality that their philosophies can not render if they are to achieve any kind of decent society. Thus too the fact that the End of History is turning out to be terminal for secular societies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Brown v. Board of Education (Peter Augustine Lawler, 02/21/08, First Principles)

In retrospect, the Court clearly should have been bold enough actually to reverse Plessy by affirming Harlan’s view of the colorblind intention of the Fourteenth Amendment. The confusion created by Brown was largely responsible for some of the worst moments in recent U.S. history, including the South’s “massive resistance” and the chaos and resentment caused by court-ordered busing. Americans needed and still need to be taught why segregation is wrong, and they need to understand that affirmative action is wrong because it is too much like segregation. Racial distinctions, in both cases, are allegedly being used for the public good, but with both segregation and affirmative action the race that was monstrously degraded by slavery is again being stigmatized. The contemporary Supreme Court now regards all references to race in the law with strict scrutiny, and conservative justices have been doing well in explaining why. Brown is, of course, not going to be reversed, but its opinion has very little value as a precedent for today’s Court.

The Court waited a year before deciding how to implement its Brown decision. In its second Brown decision, the Court refused to grant immediate relief to the individuals whose rights it had decided had been violated. Implementation was remanded, with very little guidance, to the federal district courts. The local courts were to require that admission to public schools “on a racially nondiscriminatory basis” be achieved “with all deliberate speed.” The vagueness of that mandate placed local judges faced with hostile public opinion in an untenable position, which fact can be traced in part to the Court’s failure in Brown to articulate a principled argument against segregation. Instead of giving relief to individuals whose constitutional rights were violated, the remedy was given only in some indefinite point in the future. There was no guarantee at all that the plaintiffs—the children—who brought suit in Brown would ever get to go to a desegregated school. The subtle but real racism of the remedy of Brown II ended up paving the way for the busing ordered in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971). In both cases, expediency justified significant and damaging deviation from sound constitutional principle.

The most intriguing recent conservative criticism of Brown is found in Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995). There he writes that “Brown I itself did not need to rely upon psychological or social science research in order to announce the simple, yet fundamental truth that the Government cannot discriminate among its citizens according to race.” That is because the principle of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is “that the Government must treat citizens as individuals, and not as members of racial, ethnic or religious groups.” Thomas’s is a noble but perhaps too transparent effort to say what the Court should have said, an effort to find principle in the Brown opinion—principle that just isn’t there.

There was one other too-little considered option available to the Court. They could have enforced the equal clause and required that those entities which wished to maintain separation had to then provide correspondingly equal facilities and services to blacks. Not only would this have turned the racists own argument against them but, had they not just conceded defeat and integrated, would have required a massive expenditure in black communities to bring their schools, hospitals, bus lines, etc. up to standard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


Boston Brown Bread (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 21, 2008)

* 2 28-ounce clean and empty food cans
* 1 cup whole wheat flour
* 1 cup rye flour
* 1 cup yellow cornmeal
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 2 cups buttermilk
* 3/4 cups dark molasses
* 1 cup raisins, optional

Grease and flour cans. Grease two pieces of foil large enough to cover top of each can.

In large bowl mix all ingredients with a spoon or whisk until well blended.

Divide batter between cans. Tightly cover the top of the cans with the greased foil. Tie kitchen string around the foil. Place cans in a large pot.

Pour boiling water into pot to come halfway up sides. Bring water to a boil again then reduce the heat to low. Cover pot with a tight fitting lid and simmer until tester inserted into center of the bread comes out clean (about 3 hours).

Remove cans from pot and cool on a cooling rack (about 15 minutes). Run a butter knife between the cake and can then gently shake to remove the bread.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM

THE CRYING GAME (via Kevin Whited):

Hillary Richardson: The Democratic party has a new star. (Mark Steyn, 2/23/08, National Review)

The Clintons turned the Democratic party into a star vehicle and designated everyone else as extras. But their star quality was strictly comparative. They had industrial-strength audacity and a lot of luck: Bill jumped into the 1992 race when A-listers like Mario Cuomo were too cowed by expert advice that Bush Snr. was unbeatable. Clinton gambled, won the nomination and beat a weak opponent in a three-way race, with Ross Perot siphoning votes from the right. He got even luckier four years later. So did Hillary when she embarked on something patently absurd — a First Lady running for a Senate seat in a state she’s never lived in — only to find Rudy Giuliani going into instant public meltdown. The SAS, Britain’s special forces, have a motto: Who dares wins. The Clintons dared, and they won — even as almost everyone else in their party lost: senators, congressmen, governors, state legislators. Even when they ran into a spot of intern trouble, sheer nerve saw them through. Almost anyone else would have slunk off in shame, but the Clintons understood that the checks and balances don’t add up to much if you’re determined not to go: As at that 2000 convention speech, they dared the Democrats not to cheer.

With hindsight, the oral sex was a master stroke. Bill Clinton likes to tell anyone who’ll listen that he governed as an “Eisenhower Republican,” which is kind of true — NAFTA, welfare reform, etc. If you have to have a Democrat in the Oval Office, he was as good as it gets for Republicans — if you don’t mind the fact that he’s a draft-dodging non-inhaling sex fiend. Republicans did mind, of course, which is why Dems rallied round out of boomer culture-war solidarity. But, if he hadn’t been dropping his pants and appealing to so many of their social pathologies, his party wouldn’t have been half so enthusiastic for another chorus of “I Like Ike.”

Hillary is what the Clintons look like with their pants up.

While we're all thankful for the pants up part, Hillary's problem all along has been that she's never committed to running as the distaff Bill. She reflects a considerable gender confusion about whether to grab onto the more male Third Way and run with it or fall back to the more natural, but utterly orthodox female, Second Way. Her obvious inability to settle on a political persona can't help but make voters uncomfortable with her and combines with the unpleasant initial impression she'd left from her 8 years in the White House to make her unelectable in a general election. It also left her flailing for a strategy to deploy against the rise of Barack Obama. Where Bill Clinton took quite evident glee in flaying Jesse Jackson, in order to demonstrate for white voters that he'd be willing to take on his own party's special interests, even blacks, Ms Clinton has seemed terrified of the potential repercussions if she doesn't treat her fellow Senator like a saint. Refusing to move Right left her with too few policies on which they differ and refusing to play political hardball has given him a free ride.

Meanwhile, except for her occasional lachrymose moment, she's somehow even ceded to Senator Obama the position of the more feminine candidate in the race,

Clinton's problem is that leader still translates as male (ELLEN GOODMAN, 2/21/08, Boston Globe)
These are disheartening days for Hillary supporters. Not just because of the string of losses but because of the kind of loss.

This was nothing if not a careful campaign. Neither the strategists nor the candidate had illusions about the hurdles that would face the first woman president in American history. They knew women have to prove and prove again their toughness. They knew women have to prove and prove again their experience.

They began as well by framing Clinton as the establishment candidate. But then the establishment became "the status quo" and the historic candidacy became "old politics." She even got demerits for experience.

Something else happened along the way. If Hillary Clinton was the tough guy in the race, Barack Obama became the Oprah candidate. He was the quality circle man, the uniter-not-divider, the person who believes we can talk to anyone, even our enemies. He finely honed a language usually associated with women's voices.

At the point where she's not even the woman candidate in the chick party primaries she's really wasted every advantage she had.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Terrorists' rights (Paul Greenberg, February 23, 2008, Washington Times)

In another case of gross disregard for due process, a senior leader of Hezbollah was blown apart on a Damascus street last week without even a by-your-leave, let alone being read his Miranda rights.

Imad Mughniyeh's dossier may have been extensive, but he never got his day in court.

...that if Barrack Obama said that at a Democratic debate he'd be taken seriously by the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


After suspense, Iraqi cleric extends truce: In well-planned move, Sadr asserts his rising authority and status. (Alexandra Zavis, 2/23/08, Los Angeles Times)

Everything about Muqtada Sadr's announcement Friday that he was renewing a six-month cease-fire by his Mahdi Army militia appeared choreographed to reinforce his ascent from rabble-rouser to respected Shiite Muslim cleric and political power-broker.

Until the last minute, Sadr kept Iraq on tenterhooks about whether he would extend the truce, which has been credited with helping to reduce sectarian violence and attacks against U.S. forces.

The order to extend the cease-fire for another six months was delivered to loyalist clerics in sealed envelopes and revealed to followers during midday prayers in a flourish highlighting the importance of his cooperation as the U.S. starts to draw down extra troops deployed last year.

In a statement welcoming the announcement, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's office said Sadr's movement was "an essential pillar in the political process and the march toward a new Iraq."

The U.S. military signaled that it was ready for dialogue with Sadr's followers. U.S. officials, who a year ago described Sadr's movement as the single greatest threat to Iraq, have begun referring to him as "the honorable" Muqtada Sadr. They say his cease-fire has contributed to a 60% decline in violence since June.

The America/Mookie alliance has delivered big dividends for everyone but al Qaeda, the Ba'ath, and the anti-Iraq Left, there was never any chance he'd do other than re-up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


50 crime writers to read before you die: From G K Chesterton to Elmore Leonard, The Daily Telegraph presents a list of of its favourite crime writers of all time (Daily Telegraph, 2/23/08)

GK Chesterton 1874-1936
The most fluent journalist of his generation, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was also a master of the detective story. Father Brown - his sceptical and worldly-wise priest - featured in dozens of exquisite entertainments. Settle into a comfy chair and enjoy. SL

Read: The Complete Father Brown (1986)

Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930
Conan Doyle's pipe-smoking detective is so well known that Sherlock has become a synonym for sleuth. He never said the catchphrase; the illustrator gave him the hat; continuity errors abound… but he's brilliant. SL [...]

Dashiell Hammett 1894-1961
It’s a cinch to argue that Hammett was the most influential stylist of the past century and probably the father of the modern literary novel. After honing his style on pulp magazines, he famously proved that high literary art was not only possible, but best achieved, through spare rather than florid or heavily mannered prose.

He influenced Raymond Chandler, who then inspired generations of writers to explore the lyrical possibilities of laconic, muscular writing while instinctively rejecting popular pre-Hammett styles as dull or overwrought. Hammett created revolutionary models for the morally ambiguous hero (Sam Spade) and the equal partnership of modern marriage (Nick and Nora Charles) now so universal that we have forgotten our debt to him.

Reprinted in 2004, his Continental Op stories proved so stunningly fresh that the 1920s hero could have carried a Blackberry without raising eyebrows unduly. JJ

Read: The Maltese Falcon (1930)

Raymond Chandler 1888-1959
He may have forgotten to tell us who murdered the chauffeur in The Big Sleep, but otherwise Chandler can't be faulted. Every reluctant step Philip Marlowe takes through California's mean streets carries him further into legend. JK

Read: Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

A list like this that doesn't include James M. Cain, Ross MacDonald, Loren D. Estleman, Ian Rankin would seem to have missed the point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Talk radio static (Kenneth Tomlinson, February 23, 2008, Washington Times)

Last summer, as the debate over illegal immigration legislation simmered in Washington, I found myself focused more and more on conservative talk radio.

Rush Limbaugh was doing a daily number on the immigration bill, as was Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, and that was really swimming against the political tide because everyone from President Bush to Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy and, for that matter, the Wall Street Journal editorial page were backing the legislation.

But the more I listened the more I recognized Mr. Limbaugh et al. were absolutely annihilating the intellectual case for the immigration-reform legislation. It was amnesty — a reward for illegal behavior. Simpson-Mazzoli, that original immigration reform measure of the 1980s, had proven to be a disaster. Why would not Simpson-Mazzoli II be even worse?

Disaster? Would you rather have the economy and declining social pathologies America has had for the twenty years since the Reagan amnesty or the economy we had for twenty years after the Coolidge immigration restrictions passed?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Anti-Immigrant Effort Takes Hold in Md.: Grass-Roots Movement Expands Beyond Montgomery in Targeting the Undocumented (Pamela Constable, 2/23/08, Washington Post)

Maryland's nascent movement against illegal immigration, which began with protests over a day-laborer center in Gaithersburg, is moving beyond Montgomery County as advocates reach out more broadly, to African Americans and other groups and to rural counties.

"I have nothing against anyone who wants to come to America, but don't expect us to open our arms if you are not willing to do what it takes to become a citizen," said Natalie McKinney, a newly minted activist who hands out leaflets at her gym in Waldorf, at crowded bus stops and at a farmer's market in La Plata.

McKinney's message is new not only to Charles County, where she heads a fledgling chapter of Help Save Maryland, a group that opposes illegal immigration. It is also new to Maryland's African American community, which until now had been largely silent on the issue or had found common cause with the struggle of Latino immigrants.

Blacks are the nativists natural allies, though for quite different reasons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


'Green Berets' author also wrote 'French Connection' (February 23, 2008)

Born Robert L. Moore Jr., he wrote several books under the pen name Robin Moore.

"The French Connection," published in 1969, was about a New York drug bust. It inspired a 1971 film that won five Academy Awards, including best picture.

"The Green Berets," published in 1965, became a bestseller and was made into a movie starring John Wayne in 1968.

Moore also co-wrote with the late singer Barry Sadler "The Ballad of the Green Berets," which became the signature song of the Special Forces unit.

February 22, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Intellectual blasphemy: Alexander Cockburn tells spiked that when he dared to question the climate change consensus he was met by a tsunami of self-righteous fury. (Alexander Cockburn, January 2008, spiked review of books)

While the world’s climate is on a warming trend, there is zero evidence that the rise in CO2 levels has anthropogenic origins. For daring to say this I have been treated as if I have committed intellectual blasphemy.

In magazine articles and essays I have described in fairly considerable detail, with input from the scientist Martin Hertzberg, that you can account for the current warming by a number of well-known factors - to do with the elliptical course of the Earth in its relationship to the sun, the axis of the Earth in the current period, and possibly the influence of solar flares. There have been similar warming cycles in the past, such as the medieval warming period, when the warming levels were considerably higher than they are now.

Yet from left to right, the warming that is occurring today is taken as being man-made, and many have made it into the central plank of their political campaigns. For reasons I find very hard to fathom, the environmental left movement has bought very heavily into the fantasy about anthropogenic global warming and the fantasy that humans can prevent or turn back the warming cycle.

This turn to climate catastrophism is tied into the decline of the left, and the decline of the left’s optimistic vision of altering the economic nature of things through a political programme. The left has bought into environmental catastrophism because it thinks that if it can persuade the world that there is indeed a catastrophe, then somehow the emergency response will lead to positive developments in terms of social and environmental justice.

What's more natural than that coercive utopians imagine they can control the biosphere?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Quick, look idle: Why every company has a useless VP, paid to sit at a mahogany altar (BRIAN BETHUNE, Feb 21, 2008, Macleans)

The question of the idiot boss is tied to a classic problem: the problem with rewarding talent, honesty and hard work in the office, a place where, Harford argues, those qualities are inherently hard to measure. There are too many variables, for one thing. The more precisely employers define what they want to reward, the more employees will rationally cut back in other areas: offer incentives for speed, and quality will suffer. A common response is to offer rewards for “good work” without being too precise about its definition. But all solutions carry the seeds of unintended consequences, Harford notes before he sums up the problem with this one: “Managers are lying weasels.” In other words, any manager—but especially one whose own salary is linked to cost-containment—has a powerful incentive to wriggle out of bonus payments, something easily done when management defines arbitrarily what’s “good.” And a reward employees suspect might never be paid doesn’t exactly spur them on.

That problem is answered by the most common pay structure in use today, which rewards relative rather than absolute achievement. The economists who study it call their work tournament theory, because a tournament is exactly what the pay system becomes. Just as Tiger Woods does not have to reach an arbitrary standard of “good” golf—say, a minimum of six holes-in-one—to win the U.S. Open, in an office tournament the winning worker, the one rewarded with cash or promotion, merely has to be better than his co-workers. Since someone has to be best, just as someone has to win the Open (even if, in a bad year, he comes in at two over par), employees will buy into a reward system based on relative effort, and will also pay attention to all aspects of their work.

Solve one problem, create another. What Harford, laughing, calls the “horrible, beautiful thing” about workplace tournaments is the way they “explain the misery of the office with remarkable accuracy.” Employees soon learn there are two ways to win. “Do a great job or make sure your colleagues do a bad one.” No other reward structure makes it more rational to stab your co-workers in the back. A study of 23 Australian firms found that under this system, workers did indeed put in more effort—days off fell significantly—but refused to lend equipment, tools or advice to their colleagues. (That was the behaviour they were willing to admit to; some, at least, would have taken the logic of their situation to its limit and offered wrong advice.)

How does the tournament create the idiot boss? For incentive, Harford says, nothing beats the combination of money and idleness: “The more grotesque your boss’s pay and the less he has to do to earn it” the bigger the motivation for you to strive to reach the same level of nirvana. The salary of vice-presidents is not, according to tournament theory, there to motivate vice-presidents, but to motivate their juniors.

...that would be less effective is it was cut in half. One of the biggest problems being that these guys are rewarded for doing well at the tournament, not at having any clue how the lower level employees create the product the company sells or how to do so better. Indeed, the winner of the tournament is likely to be the guy who takes other employees away from the company's core task for the most time in order to squander hours on human resources hooha.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Covers and Classical Moves From a Bluegrass Virtuoso (STEPHEN HOLDEN, 2/22/08, NY Times)

To call the 27-year-old mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile the Les Paul of his instrument describes only one aspect of a musician who could just as rightly be compared to a great classical guitarist. Although Mr. Thile, an alumnus of Nickel Creek, can toss off witty, jazz-flavored bluegrass solos with breathtaking velocity, his technique is merely the starting point for serious experiments in genre bending that incorporate music ranging from Bach to Radiohead.

On Wednesday evening at the Allen Room, where he appeared as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, Mr. Thile and his newest band, Punch Brothers, performed Radiohead’s “Morning Bell,” the Beatles’ “Baby’s in Black” and the Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage.”

But the evening’s centerpiece, in which Mr. Thile demonstrated his sensitivity as a composer, ensemble player and singer, was his four-movement, 40-minute suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” from the group’s forthcoming album, “Punch” (Nonesuch).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Covers and Classical Moves From a Bluegrass Virtuoso (STEPHEN HOLDEN, 2/22/08, NY Times)

To call the 27-year-old mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile the Les Paul of his instrument describes only one aspect of a musician who could just as rightly be compared to a great classical guitarist. Although Mr. Thile, an alumnus of Nickel Creek, can toss off witty, jazz-flavored bluegrass solos with breathtaking velocity, his technique is merely the starting point for serious experiments in genre bending that incorporate music ranging from Bach to Radiohead.

On Wednesday evening at the Allen Room, where he appeared as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, Mr. Thile and his newest band, Punch Brothers, performed Radiohead’s “Morning Bell,” the Beatles’ “Baby’s in Black” and the Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage.”

But the evening’s centerpiece, in which Mr. Thile demonstrated his sensitivity as a composer, ensemble player and singer, was his four-movement, 40-minute suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” from the group’s forthcoming album, “Punch” (Nonesuch).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:00 PM


Clinton Debate Gibe: 'Change You Can Xerox' (JOSH GERSTEIN, February 22, 2008, NY Sun)

"I think if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words," Mrs. Clinton replied. "That's I think a very simple proposition. Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox," she said, delivering the most memorable line of the night, but also eliciting a chorus of boos from the audience at the University of Texas at Austin.

"That's not what happened," Mr. Obama insisted.

"You know what, Barack, it is," she said, as the booing continued. "If you look at the YouTube of these videos, it does raise questions."

Good line, but it would be better if anyone under 40 knew what a Xerox was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


A glorious moment in Chet Baker's twilight (John Vinocur, February 22, 2008, IHT)

As a young player of really exceptional melodic gifts, it was surely his moody handsomeness and softly sleek singing voice that made him famous. Years later, when his playing deepened, and became remarkable for its cloudbursts of lyricism and emotionality, what stuck was his drug addict's imploded face, his jail time, his slipping dentures, his edge-of-destruction wandering among what remained of Europe's jazz clubs.

Twenty years on since his death on May 13, 1988, at 58, you could say stop and enough. This biweekly space, which is about enjoyment in full roar (or melancholy's pleasures) wants to make the case that there is a Chet Baker double CD and DVD brilliant enough to muffle the tales of the freak show.

The album, with a quartet, is called "Chet Baker in Tokyo," and the DVD, containing two additional tracks, "Chet Baker: The Complete Tokyo Concert."

The material was recorded live in June 1987, about 11 months before his death.

The performances are remarkable because they take in, at the highest level, everything that people said Chet could do - play ballads with almost painful, poetic eloquence - and what many said he could not: blow hard and tough enough so as to make the trumpet sound its essence.

That meant, using a phrase from Art Farmer, a contemporary fairly dismissive of Baker, "you're supposed to play it like you're calling out the troops."

On "Four," a Miles Davis tune, or "Arborway," by the Brazilian musician Rique Pantoja, Baker, moving effortlessly in and out of double-time, plays runs of increasing intensity and originality that portray him as a gutty hard-bopper.

On Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," Baker captures its yearning by holding tight to the melody almost as if he were reading sheet music. With his sound and pace, the track distills what Charlie Parker said of "that little white cat" who blew "sweet, gentle, yet direct and honest."

On "My Funny Valentine," Baker's trademark tune, and the best track, the emotion and velvet is there in the brief vocal, but in contrast, so are chorus after chorus of tough, in-your-face trumpeting.

It's not calling out the troops, but jazz in its great power. It is Baker's two voices superimposed. It is as if Chet, pushing aside the years of wreckage, said: Here's the musician I am.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


U.S. display of antisatellite capability leaves rivals uneasy (Thom Shanker, February 22, 2008, NY Times)

Videotape of the U.S. Navy mission to shoot down a dying spy satellite made available shows an interceptor missile ascending atop a bright trail of burning fuel, and then a flash, a fireball and a plume of vapor. A cloud of debris left little doubt that the missile had squarely hit its mark as it spent its final days orbiting high above the Pacific Ocean.

A different kind of doubt still lingers, though, expressed by policy analysts, some politicians and scientists, and not a few foreign powers, especially China and Russia: Should the people of the world be breathing a sigh of relief that the risk has passed of a half-ton of frozen, toxic rocket fuel landing who knows where? Or should they be worried about the latest display of U.S. technical prowess and see it as a thinly veiled test for a shadow antisatellite program?

Enemies should be afraid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


CBS to put TV library on the Web (Alex Woodson, Feb 22, 2008, Hollywood Reporter)

CBS said Thursday that it will put such library TV shows as "Star Trek" and "The Twilight Zone" on the Web through its Audience Network.

The company said it will stream full-length episodes of old titles on a free, ad-supported basis. The shows will be syndicated across the CBS Audience Network, which encompasses more than 300 destinations, including AOL, Microsoft, CNET Networks and Comcast. [...]

This week, NBC Universal put old shows on several of its Web sites. That content is syndicated through Hulu, the network's online video joint venture with News Corp., that is distributed through Yahoo, AOL, News Corp.'s MySpace and other Web destinations along with its own stand-alone site.

Do they really show anything better on their networks now than the stuff they have in their libraries? Why not test at least one time slot where you just show a classic from your own archives?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


N.Y. Times Gets Flak From All Sides on Explosive Story (Howard Kurtz, 2/22/08, Washington Post)

Minutes after the Times posted the piece on its Web site Wednesday night, conservative commentators -- who had recently been ripping McCain's White House candidacy -- rallied to his side against one of their perennial targets.

Why, Bay Buchanan asked on CNN, didn't the Times run the piece in December, before primary voters went to the polls? Rush Limbaugh yesterday said the story -- which said McCain aides nearly a decade ago feared that the senator was having a romantic relationship with Iseman -- is "gossip" that the Times put out "just prior to McCain wrapping up the nomination." Fox's Sean Hannity called the article a "disgrace."

Media analysts are divided over the bombshell piece, which relied heavily on unnamed sources. If the Times couldn't make the case that McCain and Iseman had an intimate relationship -- and both have denied it -- was it fair to raise the issue? If a crucial allegation was that McCain aides, in 1999 and 2000, told the senator they were worried that the relationship appeared inappropriate and warned Iseman to stay away from their boss, is that worthy of front-page display? If the relevance rests on McCain having written letters to federal regulators nearly a decade ago that would have benefited Iseman's telecommunications clients, is that less newsworthy because it was reported at the time?

"This is a story that rests on the suspicions, unproven, of unnamed sources," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism. "That creates a problem for the New York Times. We're not in an age of trust-me journalism. . . . What you have is a story that some staffers were worried about something. Their worries could well be unfounded, and we don't know that."

McCain turns tables on Times (Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen, Feb 21, 2008, Politico)
Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign claimed vindication Thursday night after a sophisticated 24-hour counterattack turned a potentially lethal story in The New York Times into a conservative call to arms.

The piece about McCain’s friendly relations with a telecommunications lobbyist—long-discussed in political circles and planned for weeks by McCain operatives—was the first test of his ability to confront a public-relations crisis since becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee.

But the reaction may have said as much about the mindset of the conservative movement on the brink of the general election as it did about McCain and his team.

“Even if they want to quibble within our own tribe, they’ll circle the wagons when we’re attacked by the Times,” said McCain campaign senior adviser Charlie Black.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Obama once visited '60s 'terrorists' (Ben Smith, Feb 22, 2008, Politico)

In 1995, State Senator Alice Palmer introduced her chosen successor, Barack Obama, to a few of the district’s influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

While Ayers and Dohrn may be thought of in Hyde Park as local activists, they’re better known nationally as two of the most notorious – and unrepentant — figures from the violent fringe of the 1960s anti-war movement.

Now, as Obama runs for president, what two guests recall as an unremarkable gathering...

The point being what sort of person you have to be to find it unremarkable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Britain reveals CIA flights on territory: New information about unauthorized refueling stops sparks anger in Parliament and raises questions about trust. (Kim Murphy, 2/22/08, Los Angeles Times)

The British government acknowledged Thursday that it had been misled when it pledged to Parliament that British territory had never been used for controversial CIA flights transporting terrorism suspects, after the U.S. revealed that two such flights occurred in 2002.

The revelations sparked an outcry in Parliament, which had long voiced suspicions that the much-criticized and highly secretive rendition flights had refueled in British territories.

There's a British spy show called Spooks, or MI-5 when it's shown here on BBC America. They showed the first couple seasons on A&E, but it suffered from the all too common defect of claustrophobic plotting--if there was a terrorist incident in Grozny or Ulan Bator the brother, sister or former lover of one of the main characters would always turn out to be involved somehow and the super-efficient evil-doers could always find the good guys closest family members and take them hostage. It didn't just strain credulity but kicked it in the teeth.

So I'd not seen it in awhile but noticed that they'd changed the cast which now includes Hermione Norris, who'd done a nice turn as D.I. Carol Jordan on Wire in the Blood, so checked it out. In the intervening years they'd made it absurdly anti-American. The supposedly tough-as-nails head of the agency tends to mewl about how much he disapproves of our methods in the WoT and how mean we are to guys at Gitmo. Until, that is, the episode where a terrorist with an ebola-like virus is loosed upon Britain and folks start dying left and right. At which point he has his team kidnap the heads of the American, French and Russian intelligence services in Britain and injects them with the virus to make them tell what they know about the attack but aren't sharing.

Now, one might reasonably expect that being brought to this hypocritical extreme might produce just a smidge of re-examination on the part of the characters in the show, but, no. The next week they were right back to the self-righteous denunciations of the brutal Yanks. It made the show laughable, demonstrating, yet again, that all comedy is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Oil Prices: It's Not About the Oil: Crude oil prices are again breaking records, but not because of real issues with supply and demand (Moira Herbst, 2/22/08, Business Week)

Oil prices have resumed their wild ways. On Feb. 20 crude oil settled at $100.74—the highest ever settlement price—the second consecutive session with a settlement above $100. The spike was produced by a laundry list of news, from cold weather to a refinery explosion in Texas to the (falsely) rumored murder of a Nigerian militant leader. But when government inventories on Feb. 21 showed the nation's crude oil supplies rose more than expected last week, West Texas crude shed $2.51, to close at $98.23.

What's driving oil prices? Economics 101 says price is determined by the balance of supply and demand. But when it comes to the oil market, fears and expectations have been trumping economic rules and carrying the day.

Rational markets are as real as Piltdown Man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Pak army gave instructions for fair poll: Report (PTI, February 22, 2008)

The Pakistan Army had issued clear instructions to police and local government officials across the country to not interfere in February 18 polls, a media report said in Islamabad on Friday.

The local administrations, especially the nazims or mayors, were told by the "relevant centres of power" that the polls had to be "very free and fair" and "no nonsense was to be tolerated", a key decision which turned the balloting into a free and fair exercise, it said.

The instructions issued by the military authorities were a follow-up to the announcement made by the army before the election that it would not be responsible for the quality of polls.

The President was certainly right about General Musharraff.

Islamic stronghold in Pakistan goes secular: Residents in the northwest signaled their frustration with Islamic parties' poor governance. (Mark Sappenfield, 2/22/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

The religious parties that held 46 of the 96 provincial parliamentary seats won only nine this time. Moreover, they have been replaced by the secular Awami National Party (ANP).

It is an important development in the province nearest Pakistan's tribal areas, known to host Al Qaeda and the Taliban and the new focus of US antiterror policy. The ANP is expected to marshal all the province's resources – police, politics, and the law – against extremism, whereas the mullahs had refused even to condemn suicide attacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Bush encouraged by Africa trip: His five-nation tour emphasized reconciliation, growth and fighting disease. It ends in Liberia, where he focuses on education. (James Gerstenzang, 2/22/08, Los Angeles Times)

For Bush, this visit was all about Africa's economic growth, political reconciliation in many parts after years of violence, and success in fighting the scourges of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Besides Liberia, he visited Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana.

The journey was "one of the most exciting" of his presidency because of its focus, Bush told reporters on the flight home. It offered "a chance to herald courageous people in their efforts to deal with hopelessness," he said.

"I would hope that [the United States] never says, 'Well, it's not worth it over there, what happens over there,' or it says, 'Well, we've got to take care of our own first, exclusively,' " Bush said, seated at a conference table and wearing a blue Air Force One windbreaker, warm-up pants and plastic clogs without socks. "My answer is, we can do both. We're a generous country."

Bush 'at home' with allies in Africa (Jon Ward, February 22, 2008, Washington Times)
President Bush completed his Africa tour yesterday by meeting with one of his strongest allies on the continent and thanking the African people for their wildly enthusiastic reception of him over the past week.

"Though we are 4,500 miles from home, I feel at home here," Mr. Bush said in remarks under a hot sun on a parade grounds in front of more than 600 Liberian soldiers.

Mr. Bush arrived in Liberia early yesterday morning and was greeted, as he was at every stop on this five-country trip, by thousands of onlookers along the motorcade route — many of them waving U.S. flags and cheering.
Wait, that doesn't fit the media narrative....

VIDEO: Bush dances his way into Liberian hearts (guardian.co.uk, February 22 2008)

President's David Brent-style gyrations take US-Liberian relations to a whole new level during a visit to Monrovia

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Most Children Still Live in Two-Parent Homes, Census Bureau Reports (SAM ROBERTS, 2/20/08, NY Times)

In 1970, 85 percent of children were living with two parents and 11 percent with their mother only, proportions that shifted to a little more than 70 percent and slightly more than 20 percent, respectively, in 1990.

The comparable figures in 2004 were about 70 percent and 23 percent. The figures suggest that the tumultuous shifts in family structure since the late 1960s have leveled off since 1990.

“We’re not seeing the rapid change that was going on between 1970 and 1990,” said Rose M. Kreider, a Census Bureau demographer and author of the study of children’s living arrangements. “Evidently, we’re at a place where things are not moving very fast.”

Thanks, Reverend Falwell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


The Sy Empire (ZEV CHAFETS, 10/14/08, NY Times Magazine)

Geographically speaking, the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn — 75,000 strong and growing fast — inhabits an enclave running from Avenue I in the north to Avenue V in the south and stretching eastward to Nostrand Avenue from West 6th Street. But the community’s true boundaries are at once more expansive and more constricted.

The SY’s, as the community members call themselves (pronounced “ess-why” — it’s a shorthand for “Syrian”), live in a self-created entrepreneurial and mercantile empire whose current sources of wealth are found everywhere from Coney Island to Shanghai. They are rich beyond the dreams of their immigrant forebears. Many live in multimillion-dollar mansions in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, summer in fabulous seafront homes on the Jersey shore and repair to winter enclaves in Florida. They have their own synagogue in China. Businessmen from the community spend so much time on the road that a small shop called Seuda’s in the Brooklyn enclave prepares packages of kosher Syrian delicacies that can be picked up on the way to the airport.

Yet no matter how far they roam or how worldly and successful they become, the SY’s of Brooklyn are bound by an invisible fence known as the Edict — a rabbinical threat of excommunication so dire and so powerful that it has fixed the true parameters of the community for generations.

The Edict was issued in Brooklyn by five Syrian rabbis in 1935. They had a simple goal: to preserve the age-old Syrian Jewish community in the New World. [...]

In the old country, the Syrians had been merchants for generations, and they started off in America as peddlers. As they prospered, they began opening stores in Manhattan. Conducting business outside the enclave meant meeting and dealing with non-Syrians, speaking proper English and demonstrating at least a rudimentary understanding of the customs and practices of the new land. These were skills worth learning. SY kids were sent to public schools to assimilate — though only up to a point. The goal was to produce children who, in the words of a community maxim, were “100 percent American in Manhattan and 100 percent Syrian in Brooklyn.”

In school, though, the SY kids mixed with other children, not only J-Dubs but also gentiles. The gentiles posed the gravest concern. Friendships with them developed, love affairs sprouted. There were intermarriages. Some Christian partners even volunteered to convert to Judaism.

Enter the rabbis with their Edict, in 1935. They wanted to build an iron wall of self-separation around the community. They couldn’t do this the Hassidic way, dressing the men in costumes of ancient design, physically segregating women and making sure that children received nothing in the way of useful secular education. After all, the Syrian men couldn’t be expected to make money if they looked like figures from 18th-century Poland.

And so the rabbis turned to the heart of the matter: matrimony. Most American Jewish communities in those days (and many today) viewed intermarriage as a taboo. Conversion, however, was a loophole. The Edict intended to close that loophole. It proclaimed, “No male or female member of our community has the right to intermarry with non-Jews; this law covers conversion, which we consider to be fictitious and valueless.”

A 1946 clarification added specifics: “The rabbi will not perform Religious Ceremonies” for such unkosher couples. “The Congregation’s premises will be banned to them for use of any religious or social nature. . . . After death of said person, he or she is not to be buried on the Cemetery of our community . . . regardless of financial considerations.”

With these words, Chief Rabbi Jacob Kassin effectively excommunicated any member of his flock who married a partner with gentile blood. (There have been exceptions for converts judged to be “sincere” — that is, those who converted without the intention to marry — but these have been extremely rare and always controversial.)

The Edict was a bold move. No Jewish community in the world (other than two small Syrian congregations in Mexico and Argentina) has ever had such an extreme rule.

Of course, enforcing it is something else. The rabbis had no means of coercion. If the Edict was going to work, it would be up to the tightly-knit clans of the enclave to enforce it on their own children.

At the end of this past August, Jakie Kassin, a community leader, grandson of the author of the Edict and son of the current chief rabbi, received a laminated wooden plaque measuring 4 feet by 2 feet for his inspection. It was the most recent incarnation of the Edict. The original Edict was a document signed by five dignitaries. Since then, it has been reaffirmed in each generation by a progressively larger number of signatories. The newest version, issued last year, was signed by 225 rabbis and lay leaders, testimony to the growth of the community and the enduring power of the Edict.

“Never accept a convert or a child born of a convert,” Kassin told me by phone, summarizing the message. “Push them away with strong hands from our community. Why? Because we don’t want gentile characteristics.”

...so too the nativists have sense enough not to talk about who actually doesn't assimilate, unlike Latinos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Violent Femmes: Steve Moxon’s provocative assault on feminism seeks to change people’s minds about who’s been oppressing whom all this time. (Iain Macwhirter, 2/23/08, Sunday Herald)

STEVE MOXON is a brave man. The Woman Racket, his new book, is a sustained and intemperate assault on the conventional wisdom that women have been disadvantaged and discriminated against by a male-dominated patriarchy. In publishing it he risks incurring the wrath not only of the women's movement, but of the entire female race with his anti-feminist epistle.

Moxon argues that it's men who are discriminated against in the workplace, separated from their children, neglected by the health service, wrongly accused of abuse and rape and effectively robbed of their legal rights. Domestic violence? It's mainly women who abuse men, he says. "Not only are women responsible for most domestic violence, but they also account for most of the initiation."

The fact that women get 20% less pay than men? Not nearly enough, he says. "Not only is the pay gap not due to discrimination, but that it's as low as it is indicates sex discrimination against men." Besides, he thinks women don't do well in high-status jobs because of their "brain patterning" and because their brains are 10% smaller than men's. Nor are they motivated to compete for the best-paid jobs, because they are not biologically equipped for it. "Only 5% of women want careers," he says.

On the other hand, they dress like tramps, put out like harlots and you no longer have to marry them or take care of their kids. They're oppressing themselves.

February 21, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 PM


Spectators warn of chaos at Beijing Olympics (Richard Spencer, 22/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Foreign spectators at a key test event for the Beijing Olympics have questioned the city's readiness to host the Games in August.

Visitors from Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere attending the event said the ticket allocation system broke down, officials excluded them from events arbitrarily and few allowances were made for disabled people.

There was chaos yesterday at the entrance to the World Diving championships in the "Water Cube", the showpiece swimming venue.

Long queues formed as scores of touts offered tickets at prices up to five times their face value under the noses of police officers and officials.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Defining Developed (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, 12 Feb 2008, TCS)

It might be argued that a country ceases to be underdeveloped when its citizens shift their anger from other people's wealth to the quality of the services their own wealth is paying for.

Note that the Second Way is premised on the immature focus on redistribution while the Third seeks to provide services better, the politics of grown-ups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


Conservative Media Attack New York Times (JENNIFER PARKER, Feb. 21, 2008, ABC News)

There is nothing in it here that you can say is true," said conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh on his radio show Thursday afternoon of the story.

"It is beyond disgraceful," said Sean Hannity on his radio show Thursday afternoon. "There's not throughout this entire article, a shred of evidence to corroborate or back up what the lead of this entire story is."

Hannity's guest, Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has endorsed McCain, said the Times "puked up a nine year old rumor and put it on the front page of the New York Times with no corroboration, no named sources."

Were one conspiracy minded, it woul;d be easyt to imagine that Maverick planted the story himself knowing that the Beltway Right would side with him against the Times. Especially since it's a story attacking him where he's invulnerable. It's 8 years too late to try and portray him as an insider peddling influence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Another ex-dhimmi for Darwin ... (Denyse O'Leary, 2/21/08, Post-Darwinist)

I just received this message from Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design:

There was a time when I would half-heartedly join in the chorus that praises Darwin as a great scientist, even though some of his ideas were mistaken. Now, when I look for Darwin's positive contributions to biology, I see only that he made a persuasive case that something analogous to artificial selection operates in natural populations (a case also made by others, including A.R. Wallace). That and a few minor studies on barnacles, orchids, and such. But natural selection has never been shown to accomplish anything more than its artificial counterpart -- which is to say minor changes within existing species.

All of Darwin's Big Ideas -- universal common ancestry, the origin of species by natural selection, inheritance by pangenesis -- are dead or dying. The last (pangenesis) has been disproved as decisively as any scientific hypothesis can be disproved; the second (speciation by natural selection) has never been observed, and all attempts to demonstrate it have failed; and the first (universal common ancestry, or UCA) has serious and growing problems with the evidence.

Having failed utterly as science,. Darwinism is moving to the ground where it always belonged, philosophy, Moral thinking: Biology invades a field philosophers thought was safely theirs (The Economist, 2/21/08)
WHENCE morality? That is a question which has troubled philosophers since their subject was invented. Two and a half millennia of debate have, however, failed to produce a satisfactory answer. So now it is time for someone else to have a go. And at a panel discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, a group of biologists did just that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


Raul Castro asks Lula da Silva help with transition process (MercoPress, 2/20/08)

Cuba’s interim president Raul Castro requested advise and help from Brazil’s Luis Inacio Lula da Silva “to accelerate the political and economic transition process” in the island according to Wednesday edition of the prestigious Folha de Sao Paulo.

The newspaper reports that during the January Brazilian presidential visit to Havana, Raul Castro praised Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez for having helped Cuba “in a particularly tough moment of the ongoing confrontation with the United States George W Bush administration”.

Nevertheless Fidel Castro brother is quoted saying that Brazil “is a far more convenient associate than Venezuela’s Chavez”, for the transition period.

It's almost worth having Fidel survive another year or two just so he has to watch the Cuba/America rapproachment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


"Life of Pi" tipped as Booker of Bookers favorite (Reuters, February 21, 2008)

Bookmakers installed Canadian writer Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" on Thursday as favorite to land a "Best of the Booker" award marking the 40th anniversary of the prestigious book prize.

...when a book folks have actually read and enjoyed might win? There's a sweet illustrated now too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Mega Military Deals Expected at India's Largest Arms Fair (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS, 12 Feb, 2008)

The United States has overtaken Moscow, India's primary weapons supplier, by sending 46 firms to DefExpo compared to 24 Russian defense production units, Kumar said.

"Business transactions are going on and several announcements may be made at DefExpo," he told reporters.

India is likely to make a formal announcement on the awarding of a one-billion dollar contract to Lockheed Martin for six Hercules transport planes in the biggest military aircraft deal with the U.S. in five decades, defense officials said.

U.S.-based Lockheed is also in the race for a 10-billion dollar contract to sell 126 fighter jets to the Indian air force and the tenders will be handed out next month.

India is also in talks with BAE Systems for 40 Hawk trainer jets worth 872 million dollars in addition to 66 aircraft it purchased for 1.45 billion dollars in 2004 from the British company.

India may also announce a two-billion-dollar contract with U.S.-based Boeing for eight long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft during the event besides forging several tie-ups between the Indian private sector and global companies.

The upcoming arms bazaar will also see 91 new product launches including the latest weapons and platforms which are desperately needed by India's technology-starved armed forces, defense ministry officials said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


The newest frontier: Immigrants are transforming some surprising parts of America (The Economist, 2/21/08)

MILWAUKEE is a striking example of how much America owes to German immigrants. The city is a paradise for beer-swillers and sausage-scoffers (it was the scene of the “sausage summit” between Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl in 1996). The grandest hotel is the Pfister, the local theatre is the Pabst, and one of the main streets is North Teutonia Avenue. The phone book lists 40 pages of Schmitts and Schmidts.

And yet today this frozen chunk of Greater Germania is being transformed by people from much sunnier climes. Milwaukee's 80,000 or so Hispanics make up almost 15% of the population. A company called El Rey Mexican Products owns a tortilla factory and five shops that sell everything from hot sauce to Mexican-bottled Coca-Cola. There are several local bilingual newspapers, including Voces de la Frontera. Pentecostal churches are popping up in disused stores and offering fiery services in Spanish.

When people think of recent American immigrants—particularly Latino ones—it tends to be in terms of a handful of states (California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida) and a handful of gateway cities (New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Chicago). But this is a habit that needs to be broken. One of the most striking demographic trends of the past couple of decades has been the dispersal of America's immigrant population. Immigrants are settling in small towns as well as big cities, in suburbs as well as inner-city ghettos, in rural areas as well as metropolitan ones, in the great American interior as well as on the coasts. The proportion of Mexican-born people living in states other than the four border states plus Illinois increased from 10% in 1990 to 25% in 2000.

It'd be nice to go to a department/grocery store that had more than one cash register open and not to pay tree removal guys more than lawyers. Of course, Real Americans want the stinkin'
Krauts deported too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Islam at the Ballot Box (AMIR TAHERI, February 21, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

The Islamist defeat in Pakistani confirms a trend that's been under way for years. Conventional wisdom had it that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the lack of progress in the Israel-Palestine conflict, would provide radical Islamists with a springboard from which to seize power through elections.

Analysts in the West used that prospect to argue against the Bush Doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East. These analysts argued that Muslims were not ready for democracy, and that elections would only translate into victory for hard-line Islamists.

The facts tell a different story. So far, no Islamist party has managed to win a majority of the popular vote in any of the Muslim countries where reasonably clean elections are held. If anything, the Islamist share of the vote has been declining across the board.

Meet the weak horse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Morocco: Terrorist network dismantled (ANGELA DOLAND, 2/21/08, Associated Press)

Morocco's government said it has dismantled a terrorist network that had plotted to assassinate Cabinet ministers and members of the North African kingdom's Jewish community.

Authorities believe the network has links to al-Qaida and local terror groups, the official MAP news agency said late Wednesday. A total of 32 people were arrested in sweeps this week, Moroccan newspapers said.

Morocco also has banned an Islamist political party, Al Badil Al Hadari, because some members were linked to the network, the Interior Ministry said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


New parliament, new policies?: It's no longer reformists against conservatives in Iran but pragmatic conservatives against the hardliners (The Economist, 2/21/08)

ITS rulers have long boasted that Iran has the only democratic government in a region of despots and monarchs. The country's parliament, or majlis, is certainly not the rubber-stamp body that rules most of the Arab roosts. But the election due on March 14th shows why Iran's system of government is so hard to categorise. The ballot may be neither free nor fair, but the candidates vary, competition can be fierce and the results are hard to predict. Virtually no one predicted victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential race three years ago.

For observers who regard this democratic glass as half-full, the mere fact that the election's results are hard to call is a cause for celebration. “With all its serious flaws,” says Mohsen Milani, a leading Iranian scholar, “it is through this process that changes in Iranian policy and behaviour can be expected.” [...]

Mr Ahmadinejad's weak spot is the economy. Thanks as much to his mismanagement as to international sanctions, Iran is a rare big oil-producing country where economic conditions have worsened despite a tripling of oil prices. This may help the pragmatic conservatives. But it is hard to gauge feelings outside the capital. Though Tehran is Iran's political heart and soul, the low turnout among disaffected urban sophisticates means they no longer set the political pace. And Mr Ahmadinejad has been careful to lavish spending on the provinces.

Iranian politics are dominated by personalities and factions rather than political parties. This confers an advantage on the hardliners, who can call on state organisations such as the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia to turn out their vote. Yet elections in Iran often surprise. The pragmatists might still do well in the majlis elections. That would not change Iran at a stroke: the lesson of the Khatami era was that real power lay with the supreme leader rather than with parliament. But a rebuff in the majlis election could damage Mr Ahmadinejad's chances of remaining president after June next year—and send a powerful signal of discontent to the supreme leader himself.

Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were pragmatic conservatives, but you'd be hard pressed to say they weren't reformers. Ayatollah Khamenei has as much reason to reform the economy as anyone, because he's trying to save the Republic. That's why he opposed Ahmedinejad to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


Iraq's Sadr expected to extend militia truce: sources (Mariam Karouny and Wisam Mohammed, Feb 21, 2008, Reuters)

Powerful Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is expected to extend a six-month ceasefire by his Mehdi Army militia, two senior officials in his movement confirmed for the first time on Thursday.

They said Sadr had issued a declaration to preachers to be read during midday prayers on Friday at mosques affiliated with the cleric, whose militia was blamed for fuelling sectarian violence with minority Sunni Muslims in 2006 and 2007.

U.S. officials say the ceasefire has helped to sharply reduce violence in Iraq, and an extension of the truce would be widely welcomed.

He had nothing to gain and much to lose by turning on his American allies, so he didn't. That's news?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Republicans Stand Out on Immigration, Bloomberg Says (RUSSELL BERMAN, February 21, 2008, NY Sun)

Mayor Bloomberg today singled out for praise three Republicans — Senator McCain, Michael Huckabee, and President Bush — for their positions on immigration, suggesting they have been more "pro-immigration" than the Democratic presidential candidates.

"In terms of immigration policy, the ones who have stood out, interestingly enough, are the three Republicans. Huckabee and McCain and President Bush have all been much more pro-immigration than the other candidates," Mr. Bloomberg told reporters here in response to a question from The New York Sun on the immigration stances of Mr. McCain and Senators Clinton and Obama. "Now hopefully the other candidates are starting to understand the value of immigration and changing. And I don't know what their policies necessarily are. I haven't seen them stand up and talk about immigration."

It's no coincidence that if you add the equally pro-immigration Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Jeb Bush, and Rick Perry and you've got every past and potential Republican president of the past thirty years. Meanwhile, given that the immigrants are generally Christian social conservatives and a threat to the power of feminists, gays, Big Labor, blacks, etc., it's hardly surprising that the GOP leaders are better on the issue. The Democrats are the natural nativist party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


Obama's New Vulnerability (KARL ROVE, February 21, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

In campaigns, there are sometimes moments when candidates shift ground, causing the race to change dramatically. Tuesday night was one of those moments. [...]

Mr. Obama had not been so effectively criticized before. In the Democratic contest, John Edwards and Mrs. Clinton were unwilling to confront him directly or in a manner that hurt him. Mr. McCain was rightly preoccupied by his own primary. On Tuesday night, things changed.

Perhaps in response to criticisms that have been building in recent days, Mr. Obama pivoted Tuesday from his usual incantations. He dropped the pretense of being a candidate of inspiring but undescribed "post-partisan" change. Until now, Mr. Obama has been making appeals to the center, saying, for example, that we are not red or blue states, but the United States. But in his Houston speech, he used the opportunity of 45 (long) minutes on national TV to advocate a distinctly non-centrist, even proudly left-wing, agenda. By doing so, he opened himself to new and damaging contrasts and lines of criticism.

...has been impossible for the Democrats to defend since at least 1964, more like 1948.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


Heraldists want penis reinstated on military badge (The Local 21 Feb 08)

Sweden's chief heraldists remain dissatisfied with a decision by the Nordic Battlegroup to remove a lion's penis depicted on its coat of arms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


Death & Politics (Joseph Bottum, June/July 2007, First Things)

“Society rests on the death of men,” the Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once declared. He probably intended nothing more than a sour comment on the mass of humankind: that violent, childish, unpleasant crew, never to be fully trusted. But it seems, nonetheless, a curious formulation. In what sense could society rest on the death of men, rather than being damaged or threatened by human mortality?

There are too many movable parts for all this to come clear in an instant. It’s like one of those giant jigsaw puzzles, thousands of pieces scattered across the table—except we’ve lost the box they came in and can’t quite remember the picture they’re supposed to make.

Here, for instance, is a piece: The question of private property has always been one of the central concerns of political philosophy. If death and politics are joined down at the root of human experience, then we should find death involved somewhere in ideas of property—intruding and impinging on any theory of ownership.

And, sure enough, death soon appears, as questions of property quickly raise questions of inheritance. In fact, the relation probably began the other way around. As Holmes himself notes in his famous 1881 study of the common law, the legal analysis of inheritance came first, historically—and definitions of property and contracts in early English law grew from concerns about inheritance: the attempt of dying parents to pass their possessions on to their children, the attempt of living children to preserve the gains of their deceased parents.

Holmes was interested primarily in the transmission of English common law into the American legal context, and so he made no particular use of this fact that common law about inheritance precedes common law about property. But taken simply on its face, it seems deeply suggestive about the priority of death in our experience of social organization.

Unfortunately, suggestive is all it can be. No single piece will reveal the whole picture or solve the entire puzzle. Later in this essay, I take up what may be the largest piece—the fact that, at a very abstract level of logic, freedom of the will is closely tied to a world with death in it: If nothing really dies, then we have no freedom of choice; if we lack significant freedom of choice, then death will prove unreal.

The argument is complicated, and, even when complete, it leaves us a long way from demonstrating the connection between death and political society. Nonetheless, it reveals a pattern that will play itself out at far less abstract levels. Ancient Roman Stoicism is a good example: A philosophy that generally disparages grief and downplays death will eventually arrive at a denial of free will. Early modern Ottoman Islam and Buddhist Tibet form, perhaps, other examples: A culture that generally embraces fatalism will also tend to deny meaningful death.

Even free will, however, is only one more suggestive part of death’s relation to politics. Think of all this in terms of the violence praised by a surprisingly large range of modern political theories. Why does death manifest itself—a sudden, miraculous, culture-forming power—whenever a thinker turns against the Enlightenment? What logic compels political philosophers, from the most radical right to the most radical left, to embrace murder when they renounce the poverty and weightlessness of modern culture? And why does literature show us again and again characters who imagine they can resolve the anxieties of modernity by drenching it in blood?

Or think of death’s role in the odd, disturbing moments we always encounter in ancient texts. What exactly is the outrage that Achilles commits in the Iliad when he drags Hector’s corpse in angry rings around the walls of Troy? For that matter, why does Achilles—Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles / Who would not live long—choose the immortality of fame from death in battle, instead of the long and happy, quiet and soon-forgotten, life he was offered by the gods?

Think of this, too, in terms of the family. In all Western cultures, a person was once “gathered to his fathers.” But constant relocation and the urban distaste for cemeteries have made care of graves difficult. Why shouldn’t we expect family tradition to weaken at the same time as family graves begin to disappear?

Indeed, the logic loops back on itself to spiral downward: The failure to maintain the family graves increasingly leaves the family name without meaning, and the emptiness of the family name increasingly becomes a reason not to have family graves. The modern failure of funerals serves as both a cause and a symptom of the shattering of culture, first into the nuclear family, then into atomized individuals, and at last into nothingness—with, for instance, the increasing use of “anonymous death,” a European innovation now beginning to appear in America, where the dead are abandoned without ceremony in deliberately unmarked graves, or their corpses are cremated with the ashes spread across large and indifferent spaces.


None of these individual pieces—the origins of property law, the logic of free will, the murderousness of radical politics, the ancient literary hints, the weakened family—are sufficient to show the exact relation of death to political community. With enough of them put together, however, a picture starts to appear.

What I am proposing is a complete revaluation of political theory: a return to an extra-political, even metaphysical, foundation for thought about politics. Death—the death not of ourselves but of others—becomes the key for understanding human association when we grasp three propositions about death and politics:

(1) The losses human beings suffer are the deepest reason for culture,
(2) The fundamental pattern for any community is a congregation at a funeral,
(3) A healthy society requires a lively sense of the reality and continuing presence of the dead.

Perhaps the central way in which the acceptance of death has shaped the West's uniquely healthy culture is that we know that our society will not be perfected while we are alive, but only when the Messiah comes. This reality has inoculated us against all the various isms to which other societies have succumbed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Texas cities oppose border fence (Jerry Seper, February 21, 2008, Washington Times)

Chad Foster, mayor of this Texas border city whose motto is "Where Yee-Hah meets Ole," isn't itching for a fight with the federal government over the construction of a 15-foot border fence along the Rio Grande. But if one comes, he's ready.

As is Efrain V. Valdez, mayor of Del Rio, Texas, located 56 miles upriver from here, who also has vowed to challenge a $1.2 billion plan by the Department of Homeland Security to build security fences along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a 65-mile stretch on the western edges of Del Rio and Eagle Pass.

"I'm speaking for 45,000 people when I say that those who want this fence don't understand the border, don't understand our sense of community," Mr. Valdez said. [...]

They are not alone in their opposition. Similar concerns are being expressed all along the south Texas border, where many civic and community leaders, along with private landowners, have been threatened by the federal government with eminent domain challenges or served with lawsuits.

Why do newspapers have Comics sections?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Has the BJP become pseudo-secular? (Amulya Ganguli, February 21, 2008, Rediff)

Has the anti-north Indian violence in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra made the Bharatiya Janata Party wake up to the values of Indian pluralism? Such a presumption is possible if one reads the latest editorial in the RSS journal, Organiser, for it suggests that the party is veering dangerously close to the pseudo-secular line. Arguing that Raj Thackeray has 'got his priorities wrong', the editorial says 'any attempt to divide the country in the name of caste, region, language or religion strikes at the root of Indianness and politicians who play such a divisive game to further their obnoxious self-interest should be abhorred.'

Well, well, well. Wonders will never cease. Or has L K Advani been re-reading Mohammed Ali Jinnah's peroration on how everyone can do his own thing where religion is concerned and that politicians have no business to interfere? In what can sound like music to the ears of secularists, Organiser goes on to say that 'for centuries it (Mumbai) has been the confluence of cultural streams, it beckoned people from all walks of life and created a proud, glorious tradition.'

Either the writer got carried away his own eloquence or the party is in for a serious rethink. The most interesting passage, of course, in this paean to multiculturalism relates to the attempts to divide the country in the name of religion. Yet, this is exactly what the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been doing all their lives. Their entire focus has always been on widening the Hindu-Muslim divide and mocking those favouring a composite culture as bleeding heart liberals and Muslim appeasers.

The reasons, however, for the dawning of sense -- if it is really that and not a temporary lapse into sanity -- are not far to seek.

That darn End of History, democratic parties have no choice but protestantism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Cuba expected to turn over new leaf in farming: Reforms are also seen as likely in the oil industry and monetary system in the post-Castro era. (Carol J. Williams, 2/21/08, Los Angeles Times)

Without Fidel Castro as president, Cuba is more likely to launch reforms to boost food production, create oil industry jobs and put more pesos in citizens' pockets, analysts said Wednesday.

Some changes, probably starting with efforts to help farmers, are likely to occur during the next year, some analysts said.

Raul Castro, the president's 76-year-old brother and potential successor, and other Cuban leaders for months have indicated that farmers may receive legal rights to their land and guaranteed market prices for their produce.

Those changes and other economic improvements could happen more quickly following Fidel Castro's announcement Tuesday that he would step down as head of state after nearly half a century running the island nation, analysts said.

"I don't know that Cubans would be expecting something in the next two weeks. But I do think Raul has raised expectations to a degree that they're expecting something in the course of this year," said Phil Peters, Cuba analyst for the Lexington Institute think tank near Washington.

Raul has been so honest about the failings of the regime that he's left himself little choice but to change it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


How Bush's Africa visit trumps China's foray (Howard W. French, February 21, 2008, NY Times)

Something powerful happened on President George W. Bush's way to Africa.

Listening to Bush's statements in appearance after appearance, one gets the impression of a major diplomatic shift. It is as if a switch had been flipped, relegating the ever-present war on terror to the background and emphasizing classical, uplifting themes with roots in the U.S. Great Society era of the 1960s.

There was the president, speaking forcefully in Tanzania about long-held American values; not just freedom as an obligatory throw away line, but of democracy in terms of good governance, and of the importance of heeding the people and serving their needs.

"I'll put it bluntly - America doesn't want to spend money on people who steal the money from the people," Bush said, addressing the news media together with his Tanzanian counterpart, Jakaya Kikwete.

"We like dealing with honest people and compassionate people," he added. "We want our money to go to help the human condition and to live human lives." [...]

Beyond the words and the cash, the very logic of Bush's itinerary is illuminating. In six days, in addition to Tanzania, he is visiting Benin, Ghana, and Liberia, all of which are small democracies, and post-genocide Rwanda, which although not democratic, has established a reputation for clean, effective government.

The symbolism was strengthened by the fact that none of Bush's stops are in Africa's emerging natural resource powerhouses: important yet highly corrupt places like Nigeria, Angola and Congo, to name three of the biggest, which either lack democracy altogether, or have recently suffered erosion in their democratic credentials.

Although Bush cannot fairly be said to have only now "discovered" Africa, this trip - from its itinerary to its rhetoric - shows that America is serious about reasserting its interest in the continent.

...the press doesn't pay attention to what W's been doing and then when they discover it they mistake their discovery for changes in his policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


An NRO Q&A: Death Be Not Proud: Europe’s not looking good. (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 2/21/08, National Review)

Europe is in a bad way. And as studly as he can be, Nicolas Sarkozy isn’t likely to save it from itself. So Bruce Thornton argues as he shines a bright light on suicidal tendencies across the pond. Thornton, a professor of classics and the humanities at the California State University at Fresno argues in his new book Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide.

Lopez: Is it overdramatic to say Europe has “abandoned God and country”?

Thornton: Certainly not, if one is speaking, as I do, of the European political and cultural elite. Refusing to acknowledge, in the European Constitution, the historical fact of Christianity’s role in creating Europe in the first place is pretty dramatic. So are the empty cathedrals across the continent. And the creation of the European Union, which requires the ceding of some national sovereignty, is a dramatic sign of the discrediting of the nation state and patriotism. Time will tell whether these attitudes reach beyond the E.U. elite into the mass of Europeans.

Lopez: How might Europe get on a 12-step program to recovery? Who might lead it from the edge?

Thornton: Alas, I don’t think there is any program that can restore a civilization’s self-confidence and willingness to die and kill for its values, once these have been eroded. Particularly when life seems, for the moment, so good for many Europeans, and their security is underwritten by their boorish American cousins. I think the question is not “who” but “what” will bring Europe back to its senses. A serious economic crisis, or more and more terrorist attacks, might wake enough people up. The problem is, what sort of reaction would ensue? A violent fascist revival is not out of the question. Something else that might help is for the United States to stop enabling Europe’s delusions by giving Europeans a free security ride. The European dolce vita is subsidized by America, for Europe simply doesn’t spend the money on defense necessary for the West to police the world and allow the global economy that makes Europe rich flourish in the first place. An American withdrawal from NATO might concentrate the E.U. mind wonderfully and induce Europe to shoulder its fair share of the security bill.

When he spoke here the other night, Mark Steyn too struggled with the question of how Europe could save itself, but hit the bull's-eye when he said it would have to vastly reduce the statism that atomizes its population. Of course, that isn't likely to happen and so, as Brother Cohen is fond of pointing out, that means that the point at which Europe could have been saved was immediately after WWII, when it couldn't afford its cradle-to-grave welfare systems and faced a threat from the USSR. But America--to what degree consciously is a subject for argument--chose to enervate Europe instead, sending Marshall Plan money to prop up their socialist states and taking over their defense. In effect, after getting drawn into three European wars we put them out of our misery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Michelle Obama in spotlight's glare: As the Democratic front-runner's wife, even her minor gaffes can morph into full- fledged political issues. (Robin Abcarian, 2/21/08, Los Angeles Times)

Americans, she says, have become "cynical" and "mean" and have "broken souls." For regular folks, life is bad and getting worse.

People can't raise a family on one salary anymore, she says. They can't afford to get sick even if they have insurance because of deductibles, premiums and the high cost of medication. They can't confidently send their kids to neighborhood public schools because so many of them are so bad. Young people can't afford to attend college to become teachers or nurses or journalists because those jobs don't pay enough to repay college loans.

"We don't need a world full of corporate attorneys and hedge-fund managers," she told a crowd in a Baptist church in Cheraw, S.C., last month. "But see, that's the only way you can pay back your educational debt!

"The life that I am talking about that most people are living has gotten progressively worse since I was a little girl. And this is through Republican and Democratic administrations. It doesn't matter who was in the White House. . . . So if you want to pretend there was some point over the last couple of decades when your lives were easy, I wanna meet you!"

Her rhetoric is jarring given that the Obamas themselves are a stunning embodiment of the American dream. Michelle Obama and her brother, Craig Robinson, the men's basketball coach at Brown University, attended Princeton University. Barack and Michelle Obama both earned law degrees from Harvard, another of the nation's most prestigious schools, and are facing the possibility of raising their two daughters in the White House.

The couple's combined salaries were more than $430,000 in 2006, according to their tax return. In addition, Barack Obama earned $551,000 in book royalties. The family lives in a $1.6-million home in Chicago.

Ms Obama was a little girl in the early 70s. It's hard to think of anyone on the planet--with the exception of Communist dictators--for whom life hasn't become almost absurdly easier since.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Clinton aides split on how to take on Obama (Adam Nagourney, February 21, 2008, NY Times)

Some — led by Mark Penn, her chief strategist — have been pushing Clinton to draw sharper and deeper contrasts with Obama, arguing that she has no other option, campaign officials said.

Others, particularly Mandy Grunwald, her media adviser, have pushed for a less aggressive approach, arguing that attacks would not help Clinton's campaign in an environment in which she is increasingly appearing to struggle, aides said.

This latest division within the campaign reflects intense frustration among Clinton's advisers as they look for ways to turn around their campaign against Obama, an opponent whose appeal and skills as a candidate caught them by surprise. So far, her own positive message has been outshone by his, and every line of attack on him has fallen short, fizzled or backfired.

In a speech in New York on Wednesday, Clinton said, in sometimes stark language, that Obama did not have the credentials to lead the world during a dangerous time. Yet rather than taking the scorched-earth approach that had been urged by some of her associates, much of what she said echoed the criticisms she has aimed at him throughout the campaign.

Her television advertising, a key barometer for testing the tenor of a campaign, includes no overt attacks on Obama at the moment, though aides said they were still debating whether to raise the volume.

You can understand why they'd be so skittish about attacking the black guy when they're party is dependent on getting 90% of the black vote at the national level, but it's pretty hard to beat an opponent if you give him a free ride. In its own way such a concession is racist. Imagine if she was up against any other first term senator with no accomplishment to his name?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Navy Missile Hits Satellite, Pentagon Says: No Confirmation It Ruptured Tank Containing Toxic Fuel (Marc Kaufman and Josh White, 2/21/08, Washington Post)

Before last night's intercept, some experts had expressed doubts about the seriousness of the risk and questioned whether the shot was an excuse to perform an anti-satellite test that many people around the world found controversial. Skeptics in the arms-control community have speculated that the administration chose to undertake the shoot-down partly to test missile defense technology.

They say that like it's a bad thing. Nevermind missiles though, America ought to have a sufficient anti-satellite program that we can blind China at will, in conjunction with a first strike.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Kenyan government expects deal by Friday to end crisis (The Associated Press, February 21, 2008)

A political deal to end Kenya's deadly postelection crisis is expected by Friday as the two sides have "largely agreed" on a new government structure, officials said Thursday.

"I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel," former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is mediating the talks, said in a statement.

The Dec. 27 election, which foreign and local observers say was rigged, returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for a second five-year term after opposition leader Raila Odinga's lead evaporated overnight. The controversy has stirred up grievances over land and poverty that have bedeviled Kenya since independence in 1963.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Say Hello to Unlimited Minutes: Verizon Wireless offers unlimited calls for $100 a month, others follow suit, and Wall Street shudders at the prospect of a price war (Olga Kharif, 2/21/08, Business Week)

As a communications consultant, Carlyn Taylor knows her way around a wireless bill. So when her mobile-phone provider, Verizon Wireless, began offering unlimited calling for $100 a month, it didn't take Taylor long to figure out that the new plan would have sliced more than $500 from her bills in the past six months.

Taylor quickly made the switch, and she reckons that a slew of wireless consumers may soon do the same math. The Feb. 19 price change by Verizon Wireless was swiftly matched by AT&T Mobility (T) and T-Mobile USA. In all, 5% to 15% of the combined customer base of these three of the four largest U.S. cell-phone service providers will probably save by converting to the all-you-can-talk calling plans, says Taylor, who heads the communications and media practice at consultancy FTI (FCN).

The moves fueled concern that the U.S. mobile-phone industry would become locked in a price war and sent mobile-phone company stocks lower. Indeed, service providers could lose 25% to 40% of the revenue from some of their most lucrative customers, and more attractive wireless plans will probably entice consumers to disconnect traditional phone services, Taylor says: "There's no question they are trying to lure people away from landlines."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


McCain aides issue rebuttal (Politico Staff, Feb 21, 2008)

Aides to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have released a remarkable 1,500-word document outlining what his campaign calls "some of the facts that were provided to the New York Times but did not end up in the story." Here is the full text:

February 20, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


A radical turnabout in Pakistan: In just five months, public approval of Osama bin Laden has dropped by half. (Kenneth Ballen and Reza Aslan, February 21, 2008, CS Monitor)

Last August, Terror Free Tomorrow (TFT) conducted a survey across Pakistan showing that from one-third to one-half of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of Al Qaeda and related radical Islamist groups. Nearly half of respondents had a positive view of Osama bin Laden.

But now, the momentous events of the past several months – President Musharraf's crackdown against the press and opposition figures, mounting terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the assassination of Bhutto, and the campaign leading up to Monday's unprecedented election – have resulted in a sea change in Pakistani public opinion.

In a new nationwide survey conducted last month, Pakistani public support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden and other radical Islamist groups has plummeted by half – all the way down to the teens and single digits. The bottom has fallen out for support of the radicals.

If Al Qaeda had appeared on the ballot as a political party in the election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would have voted for them. The Taliban would have drawn just 3 percent of the vote.

Even in areas near or in their home base, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are losing public support. Favorable opinions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province have sunk to single digits. In August, 70 percent of the population of this region expressed a favorable opinion of bin Laden. Today just 4 percent do.

I was fortunate enough to get to hear a presentation by Mark Steyn at Dartmouth College last night, an experience you really ought to avail yourself of if the opportunity ever presents itself. It was a conversational setting, a smaller room with about 45 people seated around joined tables in a large rectangle. He gave about a twenty minute precis of his book, America Alone, and then took questions. Seemingly everyone got to ask one--indeed, the poor guy could barely escape after an hour and a half. He was informative, funny and courteous, serious without being too alarmist, honest about the problems of Islamism as a political movement, without being offensive.

My own question drew upon several points he'd made as he went along: "I get how the disappearance of secular Europe is bad for secular Europeans, but I'm not really getting how it's bad for us. You've noted that China isn't a threat because they're getting old before they get rich. You've noted that Communism and Nazism proved incapable of running states effectively. And you've noted that it is dependence on and atomization by the cradle-to-grave social welfare state that has brought about the European implosion. But is there any reason to believe that Islamicism, should it manage to come to power anywhere, will be any more effective at organizing states or that Islam won't succumb to that same statist machinery that's destroyed Europe? Aren't Muslim immigrants inheriting the machinery of state that will destroy them too?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Tyrant of Cuba will suffer in history (Luis Garcia, February 21, 2008, The Australian)

IT was never meant to end this way. Those of us who have waited years (no, make that decades) for Fidel Castro to finally step down as Cuba's undisputed Lider Maximo always thought the Castro era would end with a bang. After all, the old dictator has always said that his "revolutionary duty" was to stay at the helm until death. No golfing retirement for him. Instead, the Castro era appears to have ended, formally at least, not with a bang but a whimper. [...]

The most pressing problem, however, is the economy. This has always been one of the most visible failure of the Castro era. From the beginning, Fidel Castro set about transforming one of the strongest economies in the western hemisphere into a tropical version of an eastern European economic basket case. As a result, the Cuban economy remains a mess, despite billions of dollars worth of aid from Moscow between 1960 and 1990, and more recently from Venezuela and China.

Even by the regime's own reckoning, public transport is in permanent crisis, housing is abysmal (residential buildings in Havana crumble every second week), wages are low (the equivalent of $16.40 a month) and prices, which are set by the state, are outrageously high for most goods.

Most galling of all for ordinary Cubans is the two-currency system, originally invented by Castro to fleece tourists. It means that while Cubans get paid by the state in ordinary pesos, goods deemed to be luxuries by the regime - such as soap, toothpaste, toilet paper and clothing - must be purchased in state-controlled shops that accept only foreign currency or the second national currency, the convertible peso, which is worth about 25 ordinary pesos.

While we did the people of Cuba a terrible moral injustice by not regime-changing them and blockading them instead, by any realpolitik standard the economic war was a tremendous success. Cuba's GDP per capita is $4,500. Puerto Rico's is $19,600. Thus was a regime that once imagined it could punch at our weight rendered a nullity in international affairs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Obamamania verges on obsession (Lisa Lerer, Feb 20, 2008, Politico)

"This is not a campaign for president of the United States, this is a movement to change the world," [Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings] said as he introduced Obama last week in Baltimore.

"You do not get 13,000 people in this auditorium with a campaign."

As over the top as it may have sounded, Cummings' sentiments weren't all that unusual.

Because when it comes to Obama, hyperbole seems to be the rule, not the exception.

His charms seem tough to resist, even for some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

"He walks into a room and you want to follow him somewhere, anywhere," George Clooney told talk show host Charlie Rose.

"I'll do whatever he says to do," actress Halle Berry said to the Philadelphia Daily News.

"Cut your hair and let me call you Ted?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


Unscrambling the myths of eggs and cholesterol (Samara Felesky-Hunt, 2/20/08, The Calgary Herald)

Increasing understanding about the causes of high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels has helped us unscramble the difference between cholesterol in the blood and cholesterol in food.

Cholesterol is made naturally in the bodies of all animals and humans. It is necessary for the production of hormones and vitamin D, and to keep cell walls healthy. The liver makes most of the cholesterol needed by the human body so you shouldn't have to worry about getting enough from your food.

Dietary cholesterol is found in animal foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and, of course, eggs. While the cholesterol in food can raise your blood cholesterol levels, researchers now know that consuming too much saturated fat and trans fat generally contributes more to unhealthy serum cholesterol levels.

Some research has even questioned the connection between egg consumption and cardiovascular disease. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women did not increase with increasing egg consumption. In fact, it showed quite the opposite. From their findings of analyzing more than 27,000 subjects, they indicated that the egg consumers actually had lower serum cholesterol levels than those subjects who abstained from eggs.

The Harvard School of Public Health's research showed the dietary cholesterol in eggs does not have a negative effect on blood cholesterol levels of healthy people. This and numerous other studies have shown there is no link between eating eggs and a higher risk of heart disease or stroke for healthy adults. Some recent studies have even shown that HDL (good) cholesterol increased when people ate an egg-supplemented diet.

Given this research, most of us can eat eggs without guilt.

So, basically, in trying to put an end to my Friday trip to Mickey D's for the steak and egg bagel The Wife is trying to kill me?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


A democratic surprise (Greg Sheridan, February 21, 2008, The Australian)

In this week of momentous events it is worth reflecting on the quality and purpose of American influence in the world.

Kosovo is a newly independent, Muslim-majority nation that won its independence from nominally Christian Serbia. Its independence, and the avoidance by its population of ethnic cleansing or genocide, are a result entirely of US military power.

Yet, isn't the US on a crusade against Islam?

In Cuba, the chief non-Islamic voice of anti-Americanism over the past 50 years, Fidel Castro, has, in the way of socialist dynasties throughout the world, handed over power to his brother. Thus, five decades of one-man Stalinist rule ends only because of ill health and involves power being retained by the royal family of Cuban communism.

So American influence means limits on dictators, elections, self-determination and independence, and anti-American radical chic means 50 years of Stalinism and poverty.

The result in Pakistan is hopeful on many fronts. Pakistan is still in a world of pain and prospects are bleak in many ways, but with Pakistan you take your good days whenever they come, and this election represented the best day in Pakistan in a long, long time.

First of all, and amazingly, the election was relatively peaceful despite dreadful bloodshed, including the assassination of Bhutto, in the lead-up to the poll.

Secondly, the results seem credible, broadly genuine.

Undoubtedly there was some vote-rigging, but the anti-Musharraf vote was obviously so overwhelming that even the regime could not rig the vote enough to change the basic result.

The party backing Musharraf, the PML-Q, was trounced, with many of its leaders losing their seats. Its parliamentary leaders and Musharraf have accepted the results. This in itself is a very good sign.

The biggest winner was Bhutto's PPP. The second biggest party was Nawaz Sharif's PML-N.

But the biggest loser of all was the overtly Islamist alliance of parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which had been the third biggest force in parliament but lost nearly 50 seats. It has been all but wiped out in the new parliament.

This is an extraordinary result and on its face perhaps the single most important part of the election results. Most Pakistanis hate what has happened to their country, the rise of extremist violence and suicide bombings throughout Pakistan.

Musharraf did not lose support because he fought extremism but because he so obviously walked both sides of the street at once, and because he often connived with the extremists he claimed to be fighting.

In allying themselves with us, such dictators accept our values and routinely end up having themselves voted out of office. The Left always sees this as a defeat, though it means that the Crusade has worked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Liberians Eager for Bush Visit (Nico Colombant, 20 February 2008, VOA News)

In the busy Nancy B. Doe Jogbeh Town Market, recently renovated by Liberia's government, Lusu Boakai is selling homemade spices. She is also overjoyed by Mr. Bush's visit.

"First of all, I tell him, God thank you," said Lusu Boakai. "Please help our government. War made [our country] to go bad and behind. Please help our government, our president to come up, because one hand, it cannot make it. The American people are part of Liberia, as we used to see it. But since the war came, we came behind. I can tell him please, help our government. We depend on you, please, that is what I can say."

The Liberians interviewed for this report said they have always felt close to the United States and want more U.S involvement rather than less.

...that the media ignores the successful unilateral regime changes in Liberia, the Sudan and Haiti because they don't fit their own narrative about the President.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Row over Ahmadinejad Imam beliefs (Frances Harrison, 2/20/08, BBC News)

Iran's former nuclear negotiator, a cleric, has said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government is encouraging superstitious practices.

The remarks have intensified the debate over the return of the Shia saviour, the 12th Imam known as Mehdi. [...]

Iran's former nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, has complained about what he calls games, superstitions and trickery that make a mockery of the people.

Hassan Rowhani said Imam Mehdi himself made it clear that anybody who claimed to have seen him would be a liar.

Mr Rowhani asked how two or three years ago one person could have said Mehdi would return in a couple of years.

Although he does not mention his name it is clear Mr Rowhani is referring to President Ahmadinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows: Former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy explains why he advocates talks with Hamas. (Laura Rozen, 2/19/08, Mother Jones)

It's fair to call Efraim Halevy—who served three Israeli prime ministers as chief of the Mossad, Israel's national intelligence service—a hawk. He negotiated a covert peace deal with Jordan that preceded the countries' public treaty in 1994. Nine years later, he resigned as head of Israel's National Security Council over policy differences with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. And when he left the Mossad, Halevy received the prestigious CIA Director's Award from then-director George Tenet for his assistance to the U.S. intelligence service—the exact details of which Halevy cannot disclose. [...]

Mother Jones: Mr. Halevy, in your memoir you make clear your belief that Europe, and to a lesser extent the United States, have not fully come to terms with the national security threats posed by Islamic militancy and terrorism. Yet you've also said it would be a grave mistake for the West to treat all Islamist terrorist groups the same way, and argued that Israel should have some sort of process for talking with Hamas. If the West, led by Washington, continues to shun Hamas as an illegitimate terrorist group, do you see a risk that the group could take on a more nihilistic type of violence, a la al Qaeda?

Efraim Halevy: Hamas is not al Qaeda and, indeed, al Qaeda has condemned them time and time again. Hamas may from time to time have tactical, temporary contact with al Qaeda, but in essence they are deadly adversaries. The same goes for Iran. Hamas receives funds, support, equipment, and training from Iran, but is not subservient to Tehran. A serious effort to dialogue indirectly with them could ultimately drive a wedge between them.

MJ: Why do you think Israel and Washington should talk with Hamas?

EH: Hamas has, unfortunately, demonstrated that they are more credible and effective as a political force inside Palestinian society than Fatah, the movement founded by [former Palestinian Authority president] Yassir Arafat, which is now more than ever discredited as weak, enormously corrupt and politically inept.

[Hamas has] pulled off three "feats" in recent years in conditions of great adversity. They won the general elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006; they preempted a Fatah design to wrest control of Gaza from them in 2007; and they broke out of a virtual siege that Israel imposed upon them in January 2008. In each case, they affected a strategic surprise upon all other players in the region and upon the United States, and in each case, no effective counter strategy mounted by the US and Israel proved effective.

Security in the West Bank is assured not by the fledgling and ineffective security forces of Abu Mazen now undergoing training once again by American-led instructors. It is the nightly incursions of the Israeli Defense Forces into the West Bank, their superior intelligence, together with that of the Israel Security Agency that does the job.

Current strategy in the West Bank to forge a credible Palestinian security capacity is floundering; indeed, several of the deaths of Israelis at the hands of West Bank terrorists were perpetrated by none other than members of the units under the command of Abu Mazen.

It makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one. No side will gain from a flare up leading to Israel re-entering the Gaza strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005.

Just recognize them as the sovereign elected government of the state of Palestine and tell them what their borders are. Their electorate will do the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


A Card to Play for Cuba's Freedom (Robert Kagan, February 20, 2008, Washington Post)

The long-awaited "resignation" of Fidel Castro may give both Cubans and Americans a chance to escape the trap they've been in for more than four decades. Fidel's brother Raúl will now officially become Cuba's maximum leader, a role he has held unofficially throughout Castro's long debility. That the Cuban leadership has finally reached the point where it must announce a changing of the dictatorial guard indicates this is a good time for the United States to suggest a different and more hopeful course. Instead of passing the torch to a new generation of dictators, Cuba's leaders could commit themselves to hold free and fair elections by the end of this year. And they could begin by unconditionally releasing all the political prisoners held in their jails.

To encourage the broader transition to democracy, the United States should be more than a passive spectator. It can now use the leverage it has long held but been unable to use while Fidel was in charge. In exchange for Cuba's holding free and fair elections, monitored and certified over the entire electoral cycle by respected international election monitors, the Bush administration could offer to ease and eventually lift the economic embargo against Cuba and to restore full political, diplomatic and economic relations with the island nation.

The lifting of the embargo could be undertaken in stages linked to the fulfillment by the Cuban government of key conditions necessary for holding elections. These would include allowing genuine independent opposition parties to function, freeing the press and other media and opening them up to the opposition, allowing international nongovernmental organizations to provide elections training and technical assistance to the Cuban people -- in short, taking all the steps necessary to hold a full election campaign in which opposition parties have an equal chance to participate and compete.

After spending his final quarter century as nothing more than an afterthought, Castro will be forgotten completely within an incredibly brief period of time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Does Obama Want a Trillion-Dollar Global Tax? (James Pethokoukis, 2/20/08, US News)

Back in December, Obama sponsored the "Global Poverty Act," a bill that proposed the following (Efharisto to the American Thinker for spotting this one):

To require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the [U.N.] Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day.

What this bill would do, in short, is commit the United States to the U.N. declared goal that industrialized countries should spend 0.7 percent a year of their gross domestic product on foreign aid. Over the next decade or so, that would work out to around $850 billion. When the bill passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Obama said that "as we strive to rebuild America's standing in the world, this important bill will demonstrate our promise and commitment to those in the developing world. Our commitment to the global economy must extend beyond trade agreements that are more about increasing corporate profits than about helping workers and small farmers everywhere."

How to pay for our penance? Economist Jeffrey Sachs, an advocate of this idea, has a suggestion:

We will need, in the end, to put real resources in support of our hopes. A global tax on carbon-emitting fossil fuels might be the way to begin. Even a very small tax, less than that which is needed to correct humanity's climate-deforming overuse of fossil fuels, would finance a greatly enhanced supply of global public goods.

So not only does Obama want to raise taxes on Americans making over $250,000 a year and eliminate the $102,000 wage cap on Social Security taxes, he perhaps wants to tack on another trillion dollars in taxes to pay for dramatically increased foreign aid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Whose Kremlin is it? Medvedev's economic plan rocks the boat (Judy Dempsey, February 20, 2008, IHT)

Medvedev, if one believes a ground-breaking speech he gave last week in Siberia, stands for a genuine modernization of the Russian economy. He has a vision of a stronger private sector, less influence for the big state corporations and less interference from the security forces, or siloviki, that have been dominating the Kremlin. But as Putin's protégé and longtime manager of the most powerful state company, Gazprom, it is not clear how serious he really is about making a break with the old guard.

There is also the influence of Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, responsible for economic policy, who is one of Medvedev's main rivals and who at one stage was thought likely to succeed Putin. He has established his own views about Russia's economic future, which are more in line with the interests of the siloviki.

In a speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy this month, Ivanov proposed establishing new state-run corporations - aircraft engineering, shipbuilding, atomic energy missile, space and nanotechnology - which would be subsidized by at least $40 billion in state funds.

Ivanov's plans exposed the debate inside the Kremlin over the economy. "Essentially, you have two competing strategies," said Oksana Antonenko, a Russian expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "One is the Ivanov plan, which involves big state corporations. But they are so big, they would be unable to modernize. Money would be poured into them with little effect," she said. Then there is the Medvedev plan. "He wants to engage the private sector and promote public and private ownership."

Medvedev, a soft-spoken bureaucrat who rarely gives interviews shook the conservatives in the Kremlin with his Siberian speech.

He spoke about the "Four I's": institutions, infrastructure, innovation and investment, sectors that until now have been neglected by the Putin administration. Medvedev said he would invest in these sectors in order modernize the economy and start diversifying to lessen its dependence on energy as the prime source of income for the budget.

He also said it was time to get rid of administrative barriers and reduce taxes to encourage innovation and private investment. And then he violated a taboo in the Kremlin: Government officials, Medvedev said, should stop holding positions on the boards of companies. "Truly independent directors should replace them," he added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


McCain's Rise May Upset Democrats' Western Strategy (Jonathan Weisman, 2/20/08, Washington Post)

For Democrats, 2008 was supposed to be the year of the Mountain West, when three years of relentless Republican attacks on undocumented immigrants would fuel a backlash among Hispanics that would change the playing field in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, and perhaps alter the landscape of presidential politics for a generation.

But the emergence of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the likely standard-bearer for the GOP may have scrambled the equation, cooling a potential political revolt among Hispanics and sending Democrats in search of a new playbook.

"It completely screws it up," said Charles Black, a senior McCain adviser. "We nominated the one person who will not suffer that backlash." [...]

Even as McCain moves to heal intraparty wounds on the immigration issue, Democratic community organizers in the West say his past battles with other Republicans over a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants left an imprint on the Latino community that will not quickly fade.

"The issue of immigration is a litmus test in the Latino community," said Grace Lopez Ramirez, director of the Mi Familia Vota campaign in Colorado. "They will at least be more interested in listening to him."

While the Latino vote wasn't a major factor all along, it's interesting to note that Ike was the last elected Republican from outside of CA and TX.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


McCain's Wisconsin Victory Speech (John McCain, 2/19/08, Real Clear Politics)

Thank you, my friends, for your support and dedication to our campaign. And thank you, Wisconsin, for bringing us to the point when even a superstitious naval aviator can claim with confidence and humility that I will be our party’s nominee for President. I promise you, I will wage a campaign with determination, passion and the right ideas for strengthening our country that prove worthy of the honor and responsibility you have given me.

I, again, want to commend Governor Huckabee, who has shown impressive grit and passion himself, and whom, though he remains my opponent, I have come to admire very much. And, of course, I want to thank my wife, Cindy, and my daughter, Meghan, who are here tonight, and the rest of my family for their indispensable love and encouragement.

My friends, we have traveled a great distance together already in this campaign, and overcome more than a few obstacles. But as I said last week, now comes the hard part and, for America, the bigger decision. Will we make the right changes to restore the people’s trust in their government and meet the great challenges of our time with wisdom, and with faith in the values and ability of Americans for whom no challenge is greater than their resolve, courage and patriotism? Or will we heed appeals for change that ignore the lessons of history, and lack confidence in the intelligence and ideals of free people?

I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people. Our purpose is to keep this blessed country free, safe, prosperous and proud. And the changes we offer to the institutions and policies of government will reflect and rely upon the strength, industry, aspirations and decency of the people we serve.

We live in a world of change, some of which holds great promise for us and all mankind and some of which poses great peril. Today, political change in Pakistan is occurring that might affect our relationship with a nuclear armed nation that is indispensable to our success in combating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere. An old enemy of American interests and ideals is leaving the world stage, and we can glimpse the hope that freedom might someday come to the people of Cuba. A self-important bully in Venezuela threatens to cut off oil shipments to our country at a time of sky-rocketing gas prices. Each event poses a challenge and an opportunity. Will the next President have the experience, the judgment experience informs, and the strength of purpose to respond to each of these developments in ways that strengthen our security and advance the global progress of our ideals? Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan, and sitting down without pre-conditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?

The most important obligation of the next President is to protect Americans from the threat posed by violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself. They are moral monsters, but they are also a disciplined, dedicated movement driven by an apocalyptic zeal, which celebrates murder, has access to science, technology and mass communications, and is determined to acquire and use against us weapons of mass destruction. The institutions and doctrines we relied on in the Cold War are no longer adequate to protect us in a struggle where suicide bombers might obtain the world’s most terrifying weapons.

If we are to succeed, we must rethink and rebuild the structure and mission of our military; the capabilities of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies; the purposes of our alliances; the reach and scope of our diplomacy; the capacity of all branches of government to defend us. We need to marshal all elements of American power: our military, economy, investment, trade and technology and our moral credibility to win the war against Islamic extremists and help the majority of Muslims, who believe in progress and peace, win the struggle for the soul of Islam.

The challenges and opportunities of the global economy require us to change some old habits of our government as well. But we will fight for the right changes; changes that understand our strengths and rely on the common sense and values of the American people. We will campaign:

to balance the federal budget not with smoke and mirrors, but by encouraging economic growth and preventing government from spending your money on things it shouldn’t; to hold it accountable for the money it does spend on services that only government can provide in ways that don’t fail and embarrass you;

to save Social Security and Medicare on our watch without the tricks, lies and posturing that have failed us for too long while the problem became harder to solve;

to make our tax code simpler, fairer, flatter, more pro-growth and pro-jobs;

to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil with an energy policy that encourages American industry and technology to make our country safer, cleaner and more prosperous by leading the world in the use, development and discovery of alternative sources of energy;

to open new markets to American goods and services, create more and better jobs for the American worker and overhaul unemployment insurance and our redundant and outmoded programs for assisting workers who have lost a job that’s not coming back to find a job that won’t go away;

to help Americans without health insurance acquire it without bankrupting the country, and ruining the quality of American health care that is the envy of the world;

to make our public schools more accountable to parents and better able to meet the critical responsibility they have to prepare our children for the challenges they’ll face in the world they’ll lead.

I’m not the youngest candidate. But I am the most experienced. I know what our military can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do. I know how Congress works, and how to make it work for the country and not just the re-election of its members. I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don’t. And I know who I am and what I want to do.

I don’t seek the office out of a sense of entitlement. I owe America more than she has ever owed me. I have been an imperfect servant of my country for many years. I have never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I haven’t been proud of the privilege. Don’t tell me what we can’t do. Don’t tell me we can’t make our country stronger and the world safer. We can. We must. And when I’m President we will.

Thank you, and God bless you.

One excellent sign for the GOP, Mr. McCain seems to be nearly as contemptuous of Barack Obama's candidacy as he was of Mitt Romney's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Clintons Make Financial Appeal to Jews, Immigrants (JOSH GERSTEIN, February 20, 2008, NY Sun)

Senator Clinton is turning to well-heeled members of the Jewish community, as well as various immigrant groups, to close her financial gap with Senator Obama's prolific and unflagging fund-raising operation.

President Clinton quietly swept through Los Angeles yesterday for a $2,300-a-ticket morning fund-raiser that prominent Jewish philanthropists organized to benefit Mrs. Clinton's presidential bid. Mr. Clinton's Southern California visit came after stops in the San Francisco area on Monday, where the former president sought money from Asian Americans and Americans of Indian descent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Decadent King Arthur lava cakes from a mix (Misty Bailey, 2/20/08, Dallas Morning News)

Who knew that lava cakes could be so easy? At a recent dinner party, I whipped up single-serving desserts from a canister of King Arthur Flour All Natural Chocolate Lava Cake Mix. The only ingredients to add were hot water, butter and eggs, and six mini cakes baked in less than 20 minutes.

The results were decadent, and the guests never suspected that dessert was made from a mix.

But the Wife and Kids swear by them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


US pats Musharraf, says Pak elections were fair (Rediff, 2/20/08)

Terming the elections in Pakistan "largely fair", the United States on Wednesday said President Pervez Musharraf [Images] appeared to have put the country back on the "road to democracy" and hoped whichever party forms the government there would be no change in Islamabad's anti-terror efforts.

Once again we see a rightwing (military) ally hold free and fair elections and accept the results. The Left always holds particular animus towards such men, unable to recognize instinctive democrats engaged in the often necessarily brutal work of securing democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Supreme Court to review 'exclusionary rule' on evidence: Conservative justices have their eyes on the controversial doctrine that requires judges to throw out anything improperly obtained by police. (David G. Savage, 2/20/08, Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to reconsider the reach of the "exclusionary rule," a doctrine that has been controversial since the 1960s because it requires judges to throw out evidence if it was obtained improperly by the police.

Several of the court's conservatives, including Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia, have signaled they would like to rein in this rule.

Every day, police officers stop cars or make arrests by relying on information in the files or on the computers of a police department. On occasion, the information is outdated or inaccurate. What should be done, then, if the officer finds drugs or guns in a stopped car, only to learn later that he relied on faulty information when he stopped the vehicle?

Judges have been divided on that question. Some have said the evidence is tainted and should be suppressed. Others have said the evidence should be used if the officer was not to blame for the error.

Justice requires that those who obtain evidence improperly be punished accordingly but that all pertinent evidence be admitted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Palestinians 'may declare state' (BBC, 2/20/08)

A senior Palestinian official has said the Palestinians ought to unilaterally declare a state if peace talks with Israel do not succeed.

Yasser Abed Rabbo is a top aide to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and a member of the team currently negotiating with Israeli officials.

He said the Palestinians deserved independence more than Kosovo.

His comments come a day after talks between Mr Abbas and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert closed without visible progress.

Indeed, the only reason not to declare one is if you care more about destroying Israel--by claiming full citizenship rights--than about statehood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Activists Target the 'Genocide Olympics': Saying China's oil purchases support violence in Darfur, human-rights groups are pressuring McDonald's and other sponsors of the Games (Aili McConnon, 2/20/08, Business Week)

There are still six months to go before the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics this summer, but the heat is already on McDonald's (MCD) and other sponsors of the games. Human-rights groups are stepping up pressure on multinational advertisers that haven't spoken out against the killing in the Sudanese region of Darfur. Activists maintain that China's purchases of oil from Sudan support the Khartoum regime despite global sanctions over its human-rights record. "We will use our elbows if it helps the people of Darfur," says actor Mia Farrow, chairman of a group called Dream for Darfur.

Farrow's group started politely last summer, when it asked 19 corporate sponsors to contact the International Olympic Committee and the Chinese government about Darfur and to sign a statement of concern about violence there. In November the group released a "report card" on the issue, giving General Electric (GE) the top score, a C+, because it got in touch with the IOC and provided $2 million in aid to refugees in Darfur. McDonald's and Adidas (ADDDY) "barely passed," according to the group, but they got credit for meeting with Dream for Darfur and reaching out to the IOC and others. The rest got Ds and Fs, says the group's director, Jill Savitt. "None of these companies really wants be the spouting whale that gets the harpoon from China," she says.

Now, Dream for Darfur is preparing to toughen its tactics. The group aims to target the different "exposures and weak points" of specific brands, Savitt says. Plans include large-scale demonstrations, online videos, and stickers such as "McDonald's: Proud Sponsors of the Genocide Olympics" aimed at prodding the fast-food chain and other companies to do more for human-rights issues. They want companies to send executives to meet with Farrow, contact the U.N. about the state of peacekeeping in Darfur, and call for Sudanese war criminals to be banned from attending the Olympics.

One gropes to find a reason why Darfurians matter more than Uighurs, for instance, but anything that turns this celebration of an evil regime into a humiliation is worthwhile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Lebanon: Where Do We Go From Here? (Huda al Husseini, 2/20/08, Asharq Alawsat)

[T]here is a problem in Lebanon, namely Hezbollah's arms. Those who are closely affiliated with Hezbollah question: If Hezbollah were to disarm, what would guarantee that figures from its leadership would not end up in Guantanamo, seeing as the party is on the top of the US most-wanted terrorist list?

Moreover, Hezbollah demands a large share of the Lebanese regime and feels that it constitutes- and is entitled to- one-third. It also views itself as the most powerful and believes that no party can help give it what it wants since each party believes that it has a smaller share than it deserves. The conflict today is one about the fate of Lebanon. [...]

The game is now known, Hezbollah's disarmament can never take place without clear and open discourses and concessions. In the case of a civil war, it would be impossible to disarm the party since weapons will become reinforced and Lebanon will witness an arms race that is even more frantic than the present one – and Hezbollah will turn their guns internally.

Lebanese politicians must return to the land of reality. When matters reach the boiling point, the US will send ships – to evacuate its citizens, no more. And whether we like it or not, those affiliated to Hezbollah and the pro-Syrian Lebanese represent half of the Lebanese population. Thus, it would be best to avoid any further deterioration and let the Lebanese leadership propose a system that can save the state.

Why should such an unnatural state be saved, nevermind, how could it be? When you enter the land of reality there are two Lebanons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


A cultural history of terrorism: a review of Blood and Rage by Michael Burleigh (Nigel Jones, 2/17/08, Daily Telegraph)

In the winter of 1869-70, an impoverished Fyodor Dostoyevsky, eking out a penurious exile in Dresden with his young wife and new-born daughter and casting about for ideas for a new money-making novel, read newspaper reports of a sensational crime in his native St Petersburg.

A charismatic young Nihilist, Sergei Nechaev, had created a small cell of student revolutionaries and then made them - seemingly to cement their ties with bonds of blood - participate with him in the gruesome murder of one of their number, Ivanov.

Instantly it seemed to Dostoyevsky that he had found his theme: the corruption of innocent idealism by brutal violence, and the placing of abstract and absurd political goals before basic human decency.

As he set about writing the masterpiece that became The Devils the great Russian novelist was also, says Michael Burleigh in his own factual exposé of terrorism and the wretched recurring mindset that so often motivates it, revealing a template common to many terrorist movements.

It is a template that has held true from Nechaev's own Nihilists, through the international anarchists that plagued the Western world at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries or the playboy revolutionaries of Germany's Baader-Meinhof gang, down to the Islamist fanatics of our own era.

Most, if not all such terrorists, says Burleigh, whatever the ostensible causes for which they bomb, shoot or stab, share common traits of more interest to the psychiatrist than the rational political analyst.

These include a secure economic background; a chilling disinterest in - or even a sadistic enjoyment of - the suffering they inflict; and a zombie-like distance from the mundane realities of everyday life.

Beyond the terrorists themselves, there is another, larger group that comes under the lash of both Burleigh and Dostoyevsky: the protective penumbra of left-liberal, bien pensant opinion that comfortingly surrounds the terrorists, glossing over or excusing the crimes they commit, and obsessively attacking verbally the society the terrorists assail physically.

It is these fellow-travellers of terrorism - the lenient judges, the lying lawyers, the cosily tenured academics, the establishment 'radicals' with a permanently open microphone at the BBC - who are the real targets of Burleigh's own righteous indignation.

His barely suppressed rage, not only at the casual cruelty he describes, but also at the weaselly excuses and justifications of the terrorists' apologists, make his book - though far from a rant - a refreshing douche of cold anger at our weak postmodern moral evasions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


The Triumph of Narrative: Of all the things Barack Obama has done right this campaign, none may be more important than the fact that he has told a story perfectly keyed to the current moment in history. (Paul Waldman, February 19, 2008, AMERICAN PROSPECT)

[O]bama has been telling a story perfectly keyed to the current moment in history.

As Obama tells it, the country is held hostage by a political class that sows partisan and cultural division, making solving problems ever more difficult, while the country yearns for a new day of unity. As the youngest candidate, the only post-boomer candidate, the only bi-racial candidate, and the one candidate with a preternatural ability to obtain the good will of those who disagree with him, he can bring all Americans together and lead us to a future built on hope.

His narrative is essentially an argument for a McCain presidency. If the premise of your campaign is that you hope to one day be the kind of leader who gets things done in bipartisan fashion, then why shouldn't voters just choose the guy who already is that leader?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


The Dems Move on to Texas and Ohio (MICHAEL DUFFY, 2/20/08, TIME)

Notching his ninth straight win in roughly two weeks' time, Barack Obama forged another broad coalition of whites, blacks and political independents to cruise to a resounding victory over Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin on Tuesday. The streak continued with a tenth win in Hawaii later that day. Obama's victories, though widely predicted, were by a wider (double-digit) margin than many had expected in Wisconsin, lending him an unusual and enviable momentum as the race turns now to Ohio and Texas on March 4.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Florida's Darwinian Interlude (Ben Stein, 2/20/2008, The American Spectator)

[T]he state of Florida, the glorious Sunshine State, was (I am told), until recently, considering legislation that would make it illegal to allow teachers or students in public schools to discuss any hypothesis about origins of life or the universe except that it all happened by accident without any prime mover or first cause or designer -- allowing only, again, the hypothesis, which is considered Darwinian, that it all started by, well, by, something that Darwin never even mentioned.

That is, the state of Florida was considering mandating that only Darwinian-type suppositions can be allowed about scientific subjects that Darwin never studied. (This is not to mention that we know now that Darwin was wildly wrong about some subjects such as genetics, and, again, although he wrote about the evolution of species, never observed an entirely new species evolve.)

This was beyond Stalinism. Stalinism decreed that only Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin knew all the answers, but it did not say that subjects they never mentioned could only be studied if the student guessed at what they might have said. The proposed law in the state of Florida was an anti-knowledge, anti-freedom of inquiry law on a scale such as has rarely been encountered. Maybe in Pol Pot's Kampuchea there were such laws, but they have been unknown in the USA until now.

By an incredible miracle of good sense, at the last minute, the state of Florida changed the proposed regulations. They backed off powerfully saying that only Darwinism could possibly make sense and said they would allow discussion of differing theories about the origins of life. That's the current proposal as I write this on the afternoon of the 19th of February.

...rightly fear the marketplace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Demystifying Messiaen, With a Little Help From the Birds (ANTHONY TOMMASINI, 2/18/08, NY Times)

One of the best talkers about music in the business, and a formidable conductor to boot, is David Robertson, the music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Robertson brought the orchestra to Carnegie Hall for two programs over the weekend. And at a “Discovery Concert” on Friday night he gave an engaging, informative and unabashedly quirky demonstration of how to demystify a daunting contemporary work for the public.

The work was Messiaen’s visionary, boldly complex and sprawling “Turangalila Symphony,” a 75-minute score composed from 1946 to 1948, when Messiaen was in his late 30s. A practicing Roman Catholic and a musical modernist, he took a fiercely original approach to creating this idiosyncratic work. Written in 10 unconventionally structured movements, “Turangalila” takes its title from a composite of two Sanskrit words with multiple meanings. The piece is a meditation on joy and creation, on love that leads to death as inevitable transcendence of human life and on nature in both its bucolic and violent manifestations.

In a 40-minute introduction, with the orchestra onstage to play excerpts, Mr. Robertson described this cosmic score as “the best possible free-association canvas,” to which listeners can bring their own imagery. But he kept the metaphysics to a minimum, focusing on the musical particulars.

February 19, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


How to make authentic Texas chicken-fried steak: Celebrating honest-to-goodness, mouth-watering chicken-fried steak like Gennie used to make (KIM PIERCE, 2/19/08, The Dallas Morning News)

2 pounds round steak, more if desired

Vegetable shortening (for frying)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

Pan gravy (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to lowest setting. Place the round steak on a cutting board. Trim bone and excess fat and discard. With a meat mallet, tenderize each piece back and front. Or ask the butcher to run the steak through a mechanical tenderizer. Cut steak into individual portions.

Place a cast-iron or other good, heavy skillet over medium flame. Add shortening and start heating. The shortening should be no deeper than ¼ inch. Heat until it's hot enough to set the breading on the steak when it's dropped into the skillet. Don't heat to smoking; this will ruin the shortening.

Meanwhile, combine salt, pepper and flour in a large zip-top plastic bag. Mix well. Pour milk into a large bowl. Dip a steak in milk and shake off the excess. Then enclose in bag and shake to coat. Shake off excess. Lay steak in hot fat. Repeat with additional steaks until skillet is full, but not crowded. When each steak sears, the bottom crust is set and it starts sizzling, turn it over and set the other side. You may need to do this in batches.

Keep steaks warm on a platter in the oven while you cook remaining steaks and make the gravy. Makes 6 servings.

Pan gravy: In a heavy, 2-quart saucepan, heat 3 cups milk but don't let it boil. Using the skillet in which you cooked the steak, pour off excess grease, leaving about 4 or 5 tablespoons in the pan. Over medium flame, heat the drippings and add 3 tablespoons flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue stirring to brown flour. When brown, hot and bubbling, add hot milk. Stir constantly until thick and creamy. Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, or to taste.

After returning from working on a geoseismic crew in Texas there were exactly four foodstuffs I missed: biscuits & gravy, Wolf Brand chili cooked on a truck manifold, Shiner Beer and chicken-fried steak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Eclipsed Moon, Saturn to Feature in Celestial Show (Alicia Chang, 2/19/08, Associated Press)

The last total lunar eclipse until 2010 occurs Wednesday night, with cameo appearances by Saturn and the bright star Regulus on either side of the veiled full moon.

Skywatchers viewing through a telescope will have the added treat of seeing Saturn's handsome rings. Weather permitting, the total eclipse can be seen from North and South America. People in Europe and Africa will be able to see it high in the sky before dawn on Thursday.

As the moonlight dims -- it won't go totally dark -- Saturn and Regulus will pop out and sandwich the moon. Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Obama echoes Patrick again (Mike Allen, Feb 19, 2008, Politico)

Here is Deval Patrick on June 3, 2006, according to an 11-second YouTube video posted Tuesday afternoon:

"I am not asking anybody to take a chance on ME. I'm asking you to take a chance on your OWN aspirations."

Here is Barack Obama on Nov. 2 in Manning, S.C., according to an 11-second YouTube video posted nine minutes later:

"I'm not just asking you to take a chance on ME. I'm also asking you to take a chance on your OWN aspirations."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


The 'People's Mufti' (Jay Tolson, 2/19/08, US news)

Like many moderates within Islam, [Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt] views himself not as a reformer or modernizer but as a traditionalist. He considers fatwas a bridge between the rich traditions of Islamic law (with four major schools and literally scores of minor schools of interpretation) and the modern world, and he is very concerned about self-appointed muftis who, with only the scantest knowledge of those traditions, issue judgments to support extreme or rigidly puritanical understanding of sharia. The grand mufti believes that such extremism tends to come from the so-called modernizers and reformers of Islam, including the Wahhabis, the Salafists, and the various Islamists who seek to make Islam into an all-encompassing political ideology.

Whether Ali Gomaa and other like-minded Muslim scholars have enough influence to counter the extremist tide is one of the questions I will be exploring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Crocodile Hunter's Son Bitten By Baby Boa (Indy Channel, 2/19/08)

Robert Irwin, the 4-year-old son of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin wasn't at all alarmed when he was recently bitten by a baby boa constrictor, according to his mother.

Irwin's widow, Terri, said Monday at an appearance at FAO Schwarz with her two children that he picked one of them up and it bit him on the finger. She said he was so proud to have "copped his first hit."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Cindy McCain responds to Michelle Obama “proud” comments (Mosheh Oinounou , 2/19/08, Fox News: Embeds)

“I am proud of my country. I don’t know about you? If you heard those words earlier, I am very proud of my country,” Mrs. McCain said while revving up the crowd and introducing her husband. [...]

Speaking in Wisconsin Monday, Michelle Obama caused a stir when she said, “for the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

Even from the ladies' tee, that one'll play.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:41 PM


Supreme Court rejects wiretap suit: The domestic spying case ends quietly as the justices issue a one-line order dismissing the ACLU challenge of the Bush program. (David G. Savage, 2/19/08, Los Angeles Times)

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that this dispute went beyond whether the nation's spy agency could intercept international phone calls and e-mails. It raised the question of whether the president must abide by the law, they said.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, a Cold War-era compromise, said the president could order secret wiretapping within the United States, but only with the specific approval of a special court.

But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush issued a secret order to the National Security Agency that authorized it to intercept phone calls or e-mails coming into or going out of this country if there was a "reasonable basis" to believe there was a link to Al Qaeda. More significantly, the NSA did not need the approval of the FISA court to conduct this spying, according to the order.

When Bush's order was revealed in 2005, the president defended his decision as necessary for protecting against another attack within the United States. He also argued that the president, as commander in chief of the armed services, had the constitutional authority to act in the national interest, even if a law stood in the way.

The ACLU's lawyer urged the courts to take up the issue and rule that the law must be followed. "The president is bound by the laws that Congress enacts. He may disagree with those laws, but he may not disobey them," the ACLU said in the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Not that it's difficult, but it's certainly monotonous the way the Idiot-in-Chief keeps reading the Constitution with greater comprehension than the critics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM

Moroccan stew combines chicken and prunes: Chicken plus flavors from afar add up to a low-fat meal (JILL WENDHOLT SILVA, 2/19/08, McClatchy Newspapers)

1 yellow onion, roughly cut into 1 ½ -inch pieces

1 green pepper, seeded and roughly cut into 1 ½ -inch pieces

1 red pepper, seeded and roughly cut into 1 ½ -inch pieces

1 yellow squash, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (14.5-ounce) can fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ cup dried pitted plums (prunes)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Hot cooked couscous or rice, optional

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted, optional

Preheat oven to 450 F. Coat a large baking sheet with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Place onion, peppers and squash in zip-top plastic food bag; drizzle with olive oil and mix together in bag. Pour vegetables onto baking sheet. Place chicken on another baking sheet that has been coated with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

Place both pans in oven (on different racks if needed) and roast 10 minutes. Remove vegetables from oven and stir. Return to oven. Remove chicken from oven and turn over; return to oven and roast chicken and vegetables 10 to 15 additional minutes or until chicken is done and meat thermometer registers 170 F and vegetables are tender and golden.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine remaining ingredients except couscous and almonds. Simmer 10 minutes. Add roasted vegetables to saucepan. Dice chicken into cubes and add to saucepan. Stir well and heat through.

Serve over hot couscous or rice and garnish with slivered almonds, if desired.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Guantánamo, the image and the reality (William Glaberson, February 18, 2008, IHT)

This spring, the stoner screwball movie of 2004, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," will get a sequel. This time, because of some unfortunate confusion on an airplane between a "bong" and a "bomb," our slacker antiheroes are shipped off to the moviemakers' idea of the worst prison imaginable.

On April 25, on a screen near you: "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay."

Seriously, dude.

The millions who'll see such a movie recognize that Guantanamo is comic. Intellectuals think it tragic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Wal-Mart can be good for your health: The medical establishment is opposed to drop-in clinics in Wal-Marts and other retail stores. But self-interested doctors need to get over their archaic ways of doing business. (Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., Feb. 19, 2008, Salon)

Doctors are naturally nervous about the rapid growth of retail clinics. About a dozen companies have opened some 400 shops with slogans that range from catchy, such as "You're sick, we're quick" (MinuteClinic), to direct, such as "We Make Quality Care Affordable and Convenient" (QuickHealth). According to industry experts, the number of clinics is expected to grow to over 700 this year. Wal-Mart began dabbling in retail health in 2005, when it opened 76 clinics. It says that over the next three to five years, that number could expand to 2,000.

Many medical groups, like the American Academy of Family Practice and the American Academy of Pediatrics (to which I belong), have published position papers opposing retail clinics. Their basic argument is that retail clinics run counter to the concept of "a medical home," a place where patients receive care for any and all of their problems. They worry that patients will have no sensible place to follow up their test results, and that putting a clinic in a mall or a Wal-Mart could expose shoppers to people with a contagious illness.

The medical community needs a second opinion. Retail clinics are good for American healthcare. By giving doctors a run for their money, they force us to do something we don't do well: innovate. At their best, retail clinics can make doctors look like smart entrepreneurs instead of a self-interest group futilely trying to protect archaic ways of doing business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


Unilateral Strike Called a Model For U.S. Operations in Pakistan (Joby Warrick and Robin Wright, 2/19/08, Washington Post)

The missiles killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander and a man who had repeatedly eluded the CIA's dragnet. It was the first successful strike against al-Qaeda's core leadership in two years, and it involved, U.S. officials say, an unusual degree of autonomy by the CIA inside Pakistan.

Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was notified only as the operation was underway, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

Officials say the incident was a model of how Washington often scores its rare victories these days in the fight against al-Qaeda inside Pakistan's national borders: It acts with assistance from well-paid sympathizers inside the country, but without getting the government's formal permission beforehand. [...]

Independent actions by U.S. military forces on another country's sovereign territory are always controversial, and both U.S. and Pakistani officials have repeatedly sought to obscure operational details that would reveal that key decisions are sometimes made in the United States, not in Islamabad. Some Pentagon operations have been undertaken only after intense disputes with the State Department, which has worried that they might inflame Pakistani public resentment; the CIA itself has sometimes sought to put the brakes on because of anxieties about the consequences for its relationship with Pakistani intelligence officials.

U.S. military officials say, however, that the uneven performance of their Pakistani counterparts increasingly requires that Washington pursue the fight however it can, sometimes following an unorthodox path that leaves in the dark Pakistani military and intelligence officials who at best lack commitment and resolve and at worst lack sympathy for U.S. interests.

Is anyone even making a counterargument anymore to the basic idea that we're entitled to take unilateral action where there is no sovereign government?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Clinton's struggle vexes feminists (Susan Milligan, 2/19/08, The Boston Globe)

As Hillary Clinton struggles to regain her momentum in the presidential race, frustrated feminists are looking at what they see as the ultimate glass ceiling: A female candidate with a hyper-substantive career is now threatened with losing the nomination to a man whose charismatic style and powerful rhetoric are trumping her decades of experience. [...]

Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said the senator from New York is being hurt because she is not the "glamour" candidate.

"She characterizes herself as being a workhorse and not a show horse," said Burk, who has endorsed Clinton. "She is being punished in a certain way for being competent and not jazzy. If he were female, with his credentials, age, and track record, I don't think he'd be anywhere near the presidency of the United States," Burk said.

Many feminist leaders were careful to say that they do not think Clinton lacks the ability to connect with voters or that Senator Barack Obama is without substance.

If either were a white male they'd be Mike Gravel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Truce! (The Editors, 2/13/08, National Review)

Most Republican voters have taken a sensible view of this question. A Gallup poll released yesterday showed that nearly half of them would have preferred someone else as the nominee. (Us, too.) But most Republicans, and most conservatives, nonetheless have a favorable view of McCain. [...]

Conservatives and McCain should neither pretend that we have no differences nor obsess about those differences. We should instead work on the common task of building a center-right majority in this election year and future ones, each appreciating that the other will play a different role in that task. So we ask the senator, and his conservative supporters and critics: Any takers?

Nice of them to run up the flag of surrender, though persisting in juxtaposing "Conservatives and McCain" reveals their pettiness. As their own essay admits, actual conservatives recognize the nominee as one of themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


What about all the other Kosovos? (Philip Bowring, February 18, 2008, IHT)

Thus far there have been remarkably few post-colonial formal splits. The major one was the creation of Bangladesh out of an untenable Pakistan divided by a thousand miles and an equally large cultural gap. Singapore's separation from Malaysia was peaceful. Eritrea's from Ethiopia was not.

But African and Asian nations still worry deeply about national integrity. The end of formal Western empires (most recently the Russian one) is still far too close for successor nations to be confident that their borders will survive. So they are particularly sensitive when they find the West instinctively supporting separatist movements, even if only verbally.

Whether the issue is Darfur, West Papua, Nagaland or the Shan states, the old colonial powers are often seen on the side of difficult minorities opposed to the central governments the powers themselves created. [...]

Take Sri Lanka. Kosovo logic suggests that the Tamils in the north deserve a separate state, an eventuality that would have huge implications for an India which can only exist if its major constituent parts - be they Tamil, Sikh or Bengali - accept an overriding identity and the benefits of diversity and size.

None of this is to argue that minority rights do not matter - that China can suppress Tibet and (Turkic) Xinjiang, that Russia can brutalize Chechnya, that Thailand can submit its Malay/Muslim minority to alien laws and language, and so on.

That's actually exactly what the argument is. To use Mr. Bowring's "logic" none of these places ever should have been decolonized, if we don't care about self-determination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 AM


When the Magic Fades (DAVID BROOKS, 2/19/08, NY Times)

As the syndrome progresses, they begin to ask questions about The Presence himself:

Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word?

Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?

If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper.

And should we be worried about Obama’s mountainous self-confidence?

These doubts lead O.C.S. sufferers down the path to the question that is the Unholy of the Unholies for Obama-maniacs: How exactly would all this unity he talks about come to pass?

How is a 47-year-old novice going to unify highly polarized 70-something committee chairs? What will happen if the nation’s 261,000 lobbyists don’t see the light, even after the laying on of hands? Does The Changemaker have the guts to take on the special interests in his own party — the trial lawyers, the teachers’ unions, the AARP?

The Gang of 14 created bipartisan unity on judges, but Obama sat it out. Kennedy and McCain created a bipartisan deal on immigration. Obama opted out of the parts that displeased the unions. Sixty-eight senators supported a bipartisan deal on FISA. Obama voted no. And if he were president now, how would the High Deacon of Unity heal the breach that split the House last week?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Dawn of a new silence (Janet Albrechtsen, February 20, 2008, The Australian)

BIPARTISANSHIP is ushering in a new era in politics. We are witnessing an "epiphany" where politicians work together, discarding partisan politics, in the search for the best policies for this country. February 13 marks a "seismic change in our nation", according to effusive letter writers. Is it possible the Opposition's backflip yesterday on Labor's workplace reforms is the first real sign of the dawning of some new age of bipartisanship?

Not so fast. The Opposition's backflip is simple paranoia about the consequences of a double dissolution. And as for Kevin Rudd's bipartisanship on indigenous policies, it is also pure politics. Bipartisanship may be the new Rudd Government buzzword, but it is an alluring word that masks a darker motive, a word chosen to deliberately deceive. Bipartisanship is a dangerous move if it is code for saying no more criticism, thank you very much.

Such is the impulse that lurks behind the bizarre notion that Barack Obama, the most pro-death candidate ever to run for president, is uniquely qualified to unify the country. When only 20% of the public agrees with him on permitting infanticide it's hard to see how he could be more marginal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Ordained as a Nation: a review of The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anti-Colonial Nationalism by Erez Manela (Pankaj Mishra, February 2008, London Review of Books)

Trawling through four national archives, Manela has produced an immensely rich and important work of comparative politics centred on the ‘Wilsonian moment’, which he dates from autumn 1918 to spring 1919. ‘Disseminated to a growing global audience’, Wilson’s rousing speeches leading up to the Paris Peace Conference earned him, as Maynard Keynes later recorded, ‘a prestige and a moral influence throughout the world unequalled in history’. Emboldened by him, nationalist leaders in Egypt and India joined Sinn Féin in seriously challenging British authority, and China and Korea grew more aggressive in their demands for political and economic autonomy.

Anti-colonialists everywhere had been transfixed by the swift rise of the United States, a new political and economic power rare among Western nations for possessing a strong tradition of anti-imperialism. For much of the 19th century, the United States had been isolationist in its foreign policy and protectionist in its economic; and its footprint was light in Asia and Africa, where, as even Raymond Aron conceded, the natives did not need to read or even understand Lenin, or have to deal with a repressive imperial police state, to identify Europe with imperialism. There was enough evidence for it in everyday life and memory: ‘the exploitation of raw materials without any attempt to create local industry; the destruction of native crafts and the stunted growth of industrial development that resulted from the influx of European goods; high interest rates on loans; ownership of major businesses by foreign capitalists’.

The war, which enfeebled the economies of the major imperialist powers – Britain, Germany and France – and further discredited their regimes, endowed America with both power and moral prestige. Wilson, who barely had a foreign policy before war broke out in Europe in 1914, wasn’t slow to realise the implications of European turmoil for the United States; and he fleshed out a new and noble American sense of mission before he reluctantly took his country into the European war. ‘We are provincials no longer,’ he famously declared in his second inaugural address in March 1917. Though still publicly opposed to American intervention in the war, he insisted that ‘our own fortunes as a nation are involved whether we would have it so or not.’

In speeches addressed to ‘the peoples of the countries now at war’ he burnished his credentials as a mediator who could negotiate what he called (borrowing the phrase from Walter Lippmann, the energetic young editor of the New Republic) a ‘peace without victory’. Later, he would propose a much more unusual and high-minded plan for enduring peace – replacing militarist regimes with democracies – which liberal intellectuals as well as conservative politicians would invoke with diminishing returns throughout the 20th century, culminating in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which inspired the New Republic to declare George W. Bush ‘the most Wilsonian president since Wilson himself’.

Wilson had begun to outline the American preference for regime change in unfriendly countries well before he declared war on Germany. Faced in late 1913 with revolution and the likely rejection of American influence in Mexico, he had decided to ‘teach the South American republics to elect good men’. ‘When properly directed,’ he claimed, ‘there is no people not fitted for self-government.’ Wilson was also convinced that proper direction in the postwar order could be provided only by the United States. When his peace overtures failed, he went to war in April 1917, still confident that ‘we are chosen, and prominently chosen, to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty.’

Wilson, an academic by training, was fortified in his convictions by such liberal intellectuals as John Dewey, Walter Lippmann and Herbert Croly (co-founder of the New Republic), who believed that by joining the war America would make the world safe for democracy rather than, as was the case, help the Allied powers deliver a knockout blow to the Germans. As Randolph Bourne, a young critic whose opposition to American intervention made him an outcast among liberal intellectuals, pointed out as early as August 1917, the United States had lost whatever leverage it had as an impartial mediator when it declared war on Germany.

Nevertheless, Wilson pressed ahead with his scheme for a democratic international order, which he hoped would be cemented by a League of Nations.

Self-determination and transnationalism are naturally at odds with one another and he disastrously opted top push the unAmerican latter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Cause for a pause: Stuck in a moment in time (Detroit News, 2/19/08)

Los Angeles Angels catcher Jeff Mathis was a prominent story on ESPN this winter. Well, a back story anyway.

He was the batter on ESPN most often being K'd by Roger Clemens when the cable channel was teasing a story about Clemens.

"How many times did I strike out this winter?" Mathis joked with reporters. "About 250 times on one of the ugliest swings I've ever seen."

And seen and seen ...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Mandatory, Minimum, and Misguided: On crack-sentencing guidelines, the Justice Department is doing what it can to keep the Reaganites' must-punish mania alive." (Niko Karvounis, February 15, 2008, Mother Jones)

Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert warned that shorter crack-cocaine sentences will cause a "loss of the public's trust and confidence in our criminal justice system"—a possibility that is only slightly less troubling than Attorney General Michael Mukasey's claim that reduced sentences will mean that "1,600 convicted crack dealers, many of them violent gang members, will be eligible for immediate release into communities nationwide."

These statements are scare tactics aimed at reversing a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency responsible for setting sentencing rules in the federal courts, which has pegged March 3 as the first day federal prisoners doing time for crack offenses are eligible to petition for reduced sentences. This countdown comes just after the Commission's introduction of less-harsh crack-sentencing standards in November, and the December announcement that this reduction will be applicable to inmates currently incarcerated as well as future offenders. The Justice Department, citing "public safety risks," is trying to overturn the rule. But giving inmates the chance to obtain shorter sentences won't spur a mass prison exodus: Judges will still decide which inmates deserve a reduction and which don't. No one is guaranteed an early release.

As such, there's little practical reason to be alarmed by the Commission's decision. But what may be alarming—at least to the Bush administration—is that other crack-sentencing reforms are also possible. Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) currently has a bill before Congress called the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act, which would eliminate the longstanding disparity in crack-cocaine and cocaine powder sentences, increase funding for drug treatment, and get rid of the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for crack-cocaine possession. It would also increase the amount of crack needed to trigger other mandatory minimums.

Thankfully the Democrats are running featherweights this year--imagine how Bill Clinton would have used this issue against his own party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


No Intelligence Allowed!: a review of Expelled (Tom Bethell, February 2008, The American Spectator)

Dressed in his squarest business suit, Ben Stein has heard about this controversy and so he sets forth to investigate -- his clumpy sneakers striking a defiant note. As always he makes us laugh, less by his words than by the way he so plainly emphasizes them. Can it be, when openness and diversity and freedom of speech are so admired, that a defensible point of view has been suppressed? In America? Ben can hardly believe it. We know it's true, of course, so we relish the prospect as he girds himself for shocking discoveries and starts knocking on doors in search of the truth.

I can only say that his interviews, conducted in a wide variety of locations, from Paris to Jerusalem and from London to Seattle, are outstanding. There are many of them, and they are edited and knitted together with such skill that the whole film is pleasure to watch. By turns serious and hilarious, it manages to be instructive without ever being didactic. (I stress that I didn't see the film in its final form. Some segments may be cut and others added.)

Incompatible worldviews are at stake, and the debate between the advocates of chance and design, often a proxy for combat between atheists and churchgoers, can become acrimonious. In the movie there are somber moments, as when Stein visits World War II death camps and traces the Nazi philosophy back to the godless Darwinian world in which fitness must prevail and everything is permitted. More commonly, however, the movie defuses the underlying tension with lightness and comedy.

It is surely the best thing ever done on this issue, in any medium. [...]

What I had not expected was that the film would take the war to the enemy. Ben Stein pays a call on leading Darwinians, among them Oxford's Richard Dawkins, William Provine of Cornell, and P.Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota. Dawkins and others later complained that they hadn't been warned that the movie would be unsympathetic to their cause. In response, Ben Stein said that no one he interviewed asked what the film would be about, and the co-producer Walt Ruloff said at the preview that interviewees were paid and were even told ahead of time what the questions would be.

The double irony is that Dawkins's second encounter with Ben Stein is perhaps the high point of the film. Dawkins, speaking with refreshing frankness, comes across as not in the slightest bit confused or caught off guard. He allows that science knows nothing about the origin of life, and that, yes, the Darwinian message is antithetical to religion. He surprises us, too, by allowing that if life really was designed, the designing must have been done by intelligent beings elsewhere in the cosmos who themselves evolved by naturalistic means. Their designs were then somehow transported down to Earth. (Francis Crick of DNA fame took the same view in the 1980s.) Cornell's Provine was also excellent, pulling no punches in telling how his own youthful faith did not long survive his instruction in the Darwinian catechism.

Dawkins and Provine are among those evolutionists who unflinchingly accept the logic of their own position and reject what might be called the diplomatic option. This seeks to keep everyone happy by agreeing that evolution happened on schedule but allowing also that God arranged things that way. It's the position taken by Ken Miller of Brown University, Francis Collins of the Human Genome Institute, and by many religious figures. It puts diplomacy before truth and adopts the Rodney King mantra: "Can't we all just get along?"

Indeed, folks who insist that Darwinism is compatible with a Creator just don't understand the theory or its intent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Illegal immigrants from India rise alarmingly in US: Report (Rediff News, February 19, 2008)

Quoting a US Department of Homeland Security report, mercurynews reports that Indians are the fastest-growing group of illegal immigrants in the United States.

The report says there are 2,70,000 unauthorized Indians in the United States - a 125 percent jump since 2000, the largest percentage increase of any nation with more than 100,000 illegal immigrants in that country.

The report says though the number of Indian immigrants is low when compared to people from Mexico, the Indian context is appalling as the illegal immigrants mostly consist high-skilled workers. Illegal immigrants from other countries are mostly low-skilled workers.

Mercurynews, in its report, also says if the trend continues India will only trail only Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala in illegal immigration.

The report quoting experts says virtually all immigrants enter the US legally and then violate the visa terms, thus becomimg illegal immigrants.

Same for all the Aussies, Brits, Germans....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Iran Reinstates More Candidates for Election (AFP, 2/19/08)

Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodaei said that in addition, "251 of the candidates for the eighth parliament (since the Islamic revolution) have been reinstated," according to the IRNA news agency.

"These were the people who either had not qualified or their qualifications were not confirmed," he added.

He said those reinstated include both reformists and conservatives but media have said reformists are the main beneficiaries, in a possible boost to their chances of having an impact on the vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Pakistan's pro-Musharraf party concedes defeat (Associated Press, February 19, 2008)

Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat today after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

A leading opposition figure suggested that Musharraf should listen to the "verdict" of the people in the Monday balloting and step down.

As partial returns pointed to an opposition landslide, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told AP Television News that "we accept the results with an open heart" and "will sit on opposition benches" in the new parliament."

The thing about elections is that voters expect you to deliver stuff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Bush demands democracy as Fidel Castro quits (Bonnie Malkin, 19/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

US President George Bush has hinted at a possible reconciliation with Cuba following the resignation of Fidel Castro, describing the step as an opportunity for a "democratic transition" in the country.

Speaking a news conference in Rwanda, Mr Bush said: "I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of a democratic transition."

Putting forward the promise of an end to the 46 year blockade of the island nation, the American president promised that he stood ready to help Cubans realise the "blessings of liberty."

"Eventually this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections, and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy," he said.

Only Kim Jong-il, Hugo Chavez, and Baby Assad to go.

Fidel Castro Resigns as Cuba’s President (JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr., 2/20/08, NY Times)

Fidel Castro stepped down Tuesday morning as the president of Cuba after a long illness, ending one of the longest tenures as one of the most all-powerful communist heads of state in the world, according to Granma, the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party.

In late July 2006, Mr. Castro, who is 81, handed over power temporarily to his brother, Raúl Castro, 76, and a few younger cabinet ministers, after an acute infection in his colon forced him to undergo emergency surgery. Despite numerous surgeries, he has never fully recovered but has remained active in running government affairs from behind the scenes.

Now, just days before the national assembly is to meet to select a new head of state, Mr. Castro resigned permanently in a letter to the nation and signaled his willingness to let a younger generation assume power. He said his failing health made it impossible to return as president.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Cult of Obama Will Turn Off Independents (Froma Harrop, 2/20/08, Real Clear Politics)

Volunteer trainees at Camp Obama are told not to talk issues with voters, but to offer personal testimony about how they "came" to Obama. Makes the skin crawl.

Centrists generally do not find cults of personality entertaining. The mass hypnosis reminds them of the mortgage frenzy -- all these people buying into a dream and not caring about the fine print.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, has given them a choice. This is despite the best efforts of its right wing to pick a candidate against whom any Democrat would be better. And the more the radicals beat up on the Arizona senator, the more he looks like a contender to moderate Democrats.

Why might this group like McCain? Count the ways. He had the fiscal discipline to vote against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and the decency to complain that they unfairly favored the rich. He's OK on the environment, concerned over global warming and against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He supported tighter fuel-economy standards and opposes torture. John McCain is not an embarrassment.

Inspired, But Not Inspirational (J. Peter Freire, 2/19/2008, American Spectator)
THE BIGGEST thorn is not Hillary Clinton, but John McCain. It was an unexpected twist. At the end of the Bush administration, weren't the Democrats supposed to have this down? Their candidate was supposed to be, well, the Messiah, come to bury the failures of the Republicans' supposedly false one. It didn't happen. Instead, they're arguing about which candidate is the least likely to get buried. With the nomination for the Republican Party decided, the Democratic contest is eclipsed by McCain. McCain who was always a maverick. McCain who has his own cult of personality, but also war experience, foreign policy expertise, and, most important, time to gather his base. This was never supposed to happen.

Which is why Obama's campaign is so fascinating to watch as it unravels. Even if he doesn't admit it, he has taken huge hits. His personality, and the integrity that seems so engrained in it, is open to debate. While he has lived up to his promise of running a clean campaign, it seems just as much politically expedient as it does seem honorable. And his campaign contribution flap has placed serious doubt in whether he is a man of his word anyway. And Obama's use of funds to effectively bribe super-delegates is hardly reassuring when considering the "new" politics about which he's so excited.

Additionally, his speeches are now being derided as empty. A stumped reader writes in to WaPo:

...The Cult of Obama is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen. When I hear things like "We are the ones we have been waiting for" and "We are the change we seek," I want to scream.

And David Brooks picks up that thread, asking with laser-point accuracy, "If we are the change we have been waiting for then why have we been waiting since we've been here all along?"

When you're in a cult you think it's about to become a mass movement. When you're outside you think: "What a bunch of weirdos."

Obama Wave Stuns Clinton's Black Supporters (Kevin Merida, 2/20/08, Washington Post)

Obama has swamped Clinton among black voters in each of the 20 contests that had exit polls and large enough samples of African Americans to be meaningful. Just to put that kind of shutout in perspective, black voters represent the only demographic group that the New York senator has not carried at least once during the Democratic primary campaign. Obama now has such a lock on the loyalties of African Americans -- 84 percent of the black vote in Alabama, 87 percent in Georgia, 84 percent in Maryland, and on and on -- that the black vote is no longer contestable.

Which brings us back to the dilemma facing some of Clinton's high-profile black supporters -- those with titles and constituencies of their own. They are feeling some kind of crazy pressure. Last Friday, about 25 of them held an hour-long conference call to discuss what one described as an effort to "pester, intimidate, question our blackness" for not supporting Obama.

The catalyst for the call was a report in the New York Times that Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was wavering in his support of Clinton. Lewis would not comment, but according to the Times, the congressman had indicated he was prepared to fully flip and back Obama and thus be more in step with his congressional district, which voted 3-to-1 for Obama on Super Tuesday. This bit of news was extremely significant, for Lewis is one of the coveted "superdelegates," those 796 elected officials and party insiders who are not bound by anything that has or will happen at the polls. They are free to choose the candidate of their liking, as unpledged delegates to the national convention. And with the nomination fight so razor-close, they are being wooed -- some say harassed -- like never before.

Lewis's office tried to put the brakes on the notion that a switch of allegiance to Obama was imminent. But too late. Some of Clinton's other black supporters decided to rally and try to blunt the fallout. Among those on the conference call were Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer, former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, and congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio.

Palmer was among the more forceful voices, urging others on the call, as he put it yesterday, "to stand up and say why you're for Hillary Clinton in the face of adversity. We can't afford to be wishy-washy . . . Stand up. Fight. Advocate for your candidate. Don't capitulate. . . . Don't let nobody intimidate or threaten you. Just hold on."

In an interview Palmer still sounded riled about a few things he had heard about. One of them, reported by the Associated Press, was a private conversation between Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a Clinton supporter, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), one of Obama's national campaign co-chairmen. Both lawmakers are superdelegates. Jackson had asked Cleaver if he wanted to go down in history as someone who prevented an African American from occupying the White House for the first time.

Just in case you thought his candidacy was about more than identity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Democracy takes revenge: Pak media (Rezaul H Laskar, February 19, 2008, PTI)

'Democracy takes revenge', this brief headline in a Pakistani newspaper on Tuesday summed up the result of the general election in which the opposition Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz have emerged as key players.

With the PML-Q, derisively referred to as the 'King's party' for backing President Pervez Musharraf [Images], heading towards the exit, the Daily Times carried a banner headline that read: 'All the King's men, gone!'

"President Pervez Musharraf's political allies, the PML-Q, appear to have lost their grip over the country's parliament, with the PPP (of slain leader Benazir Bhutto [Images]) and the PML-N (of former Premier Nawaz Sharif) overtaking the 'bicycle' in the election race," the Daily Times wrote. The bicycle was the PML-Q's election symbol.

In Pakistan, the revenge of democracy (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 2/20/08, Asia Times)
Incoming results from Pakistan's general elections on Monday show a landslide victory for opposition parties with the ruling party of President Pervez Musharraf and his allies headed for a crushing defeat. The greatest gains have been made by the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former premier Nawaz Sharif. Stinging defeats have been handed to several stalwarts of the ruling party.

Analysts say the margin of difference is so decisive that pro-Musharraf forces throughout Pakistan face an uncertain political future. Still, as no single party has won an overall majority, it seems a coalition government will need to be negotiated once the final votes are counted.

"All the scripts of the pasts are now outdated and a new script will now be written in which the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People's Party will be at the helm of national affairs in the future. The set-up will be without ... Pervez Musharraf. This is what Ms Benazir Bhutto used to call the 'revenge of democracy'," Professor Husain Haqqani, director of the International Relations Department at Boston University, told Asia Times Online by phone from Washington.

The Rediff Interview/Pakistan analyst Dr Shirin Mazari: 'Musharraf's legacy will not be negative' (Rediff, February 19, 2008)
In the first part of her interview to rediff.com Managing editor Sheela Bhatt, Dr Shirin M Mazari, an Islamabad-based analyst, spoke on what to expect from the elections in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, if, as you say that violence is not about religion then what is the political issue on the minds of terrorists?

There is a war on terror going on. There are people in the Pashtun belt who have a strong problem with the US war that inflicted collateral damage killing civilians. They see certain people as supportive of the US. Unfortunately, their action to target certain people is motivated by political ends.

If this assessment is right then how do you address the problem?

We need a realistic approach. We can't go and kill everybody in the tribal areas. We will have to do what Americans haven't been able to do. We need to isolate terrorists from innocent tribals. We need to enforce law and order and bring in economic development. These areas are very underdeveloped. When people have stake in the system they will isolate themselves from violence. Today, people feel they have no stake. The government has to show its presence in the tribal belt.

There is a perception in the Western media that the outcome in the war on terror is not satisfactory. That Musharraf has not done enough to make the global war on terror successful.

Excuse me! The government of Pakistan is the only government which has managed to catch terrorists and hand them over to the Americans. What has America been able to do in Iraq or in Afghanistan? But for Pakistan's help, the Americans would not have been able to achieve anything. It is absolutely nonsensical, the rhetoric of the West that Pakistan needs to do more. We have done what we should have done. We got the leaders of Al Qaeda.

There is a debate on Pakistan's role because people with guns are hurting Pakistan itself as they are now entering your cities.

Yes, it is hurting us and this is the problem. We have a problem of internal terrorism. That is the sectarian problem, the problem of militancy. Also, we have the left-over of the so-called first 'Afghan Jihad'. In addition to this, we have to deal with America's war on terror. Did anyone ask the Americans that when they started bombing north Afghanistan why didn't they seal the south? The Americans allowed terrorists to escape from the south.

There are too many complications and we will have to fight the terrorists because they are problem for us. Our policy to fight terrorism is not going to be military-centric like the Americans. We can't bomb our villages because we can't afford collateral damage. They are our people, we can't go on killing them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Obama's Ties to Left Come Under Scrutiny (RUSSELL BERMAN, February 19, 2008, NY Sun)

As an Illinois state senator in 2001, Mr. Obama accepted a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founding member of [violent left-wing activist group the Weather Underground] that bombed the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon during the 1970s.

Mr. Ayers wrote a memoir, "Fugitive Days," published in 2001, and on the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he was quoted by the New York Times as saying: "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."

He and Mr. Obama served together on the nine-member board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago nonprofit, for three years beginning in 1999, and they have also appeared jointly on two academic panels, one in 1997 and another in 2001. Mr. Ayers, who was never convicted in the Weather Underground bombings, is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Does Obama Have an Asian Problem? (Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, 2/18/08, TIME)

In California, where Asian-Americans make up 8% of the electorate, a CNN exit poll found they voted three to one in her favor. In New York, the Asian American Legal Defense Fund's exit poll concluded that 87% of Asian-American Democrats backed their state's senator. In New Jersey, it was 73%. From no other group did Clinton command that kind of loyalty; she won 69% of Latino voters in California, for example, compared to 75% of Asians. Publications including AsianWeek and some local editions of ethnic newspapers like Sing Tao have endorsed her, as have prominent politicians including former Gov. Gary Locke of Washington and Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

And while Asian-Americans, accounting for just 5% of the population, may not have the numbers to sway the nomination one way or another, their overwhelming support of Clinton has led to a serious debate about what might lie behind it. Experts have speculated about a variety of possible reasons having little to do with race: Like other new immigrants, Asian-Americans are more conservative in their choices for leaders, and therefore likely to go with the known entity — which in this race, thanks to her husband and her time in the White House, is Clinton. Many Asians are business owners who prospered under Bill Clinton. Just 34% of Asian-Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 vote, according to a slick commercial by MTV's Choose of Lose Campaign, which may eat into Obama's poll numbers. Perhaps most significantly, the Clinton campaign had long ago locked up support from local politicians, who hold unusual sway over their ethnic communities.

But the touchy question about race is the one getting the most attention.

Suffice it to say, if Senator Obama is the nominee he'll have to defend the West Coast, unheard of in recent cycles for a Democrat.

February 18, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


FATAH FALLS APART? (Barry Rubin, 2/17/08, GLORIA)

In short, PA and Fatah politics are a mess. This has long been true but few noticed and it didn’t matter when Arafat was alive since he kept the lid on everything, while playing off his subordinates against each other, and provided unity.

Now, however, things are different. It is amazing that since Fatah and the PA are the West’s candidate to make good use of almost $7 billion, beat Hamas, establish a Palestinian state, and make peace with Israel, few observers take note of this disastrous situation or factor it into their policies.

Unless Fatah changes its ways, and there is no reason to believe it will do so, one can only wonder if Hamas will be controlling the West Bank, too, within five years. Certainly, one can expect the aid money to disappear without helping the Palestinian people much and be sure that this divided, quarreling leadership will not be able to make peace with Israel.

...is basically a hate crime against the Palestinian people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


RNC donor event outlines Obama attack plan (Jeffrey Ressner, Feb 17, 2008, Politico)

RNC Chairman Duncan as well as Co-Chairman Jo Ann Davidson opened the Sunday session with a Power Point presentation outlining five main strategic attacks against the Obama candidacy. A Politico reporter witnessed the document, but not the presentation.

The first called for pointing out what the GOP views as a seeming incongruity between Obama and the mantle of commander in chief. The second point harkened back to Obama’s days in the Illinois state Senate, noting how his “pattern of voting ‘present’ offers many openings to question his candidacy.” The third offered hope to the GOP faithful that “we can be confident in a campaign about issues.” A fourth bullet point relayed how “undisciplined messaging carries great risk,” while the fifth and final attack point stressed, “His greatest weakness is inexperience. He is not ready to be commander in chief. He is not ready to be president.”

The RNC event also broached taking control of traditionally Democratic issues such as health care, with even Rove stressing a need for Republicans to start addressing the matter.

...he's just Carol Moseley Braun with a penis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Taiwan has no right to Kosovo opinion - China (AFP, 2/18/08)

CHINA reacted angrily to Taiwan's expression of support for Kosovo's independence declaration, bluntly telling the island it had no right to offer an opinion on the subject.

"It is known to all that as a part of China, Taiwan has no right or eligibility to give the so-called 'recognition' (to Kosovo)," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement.

Mr Liu was responding to a statement from Taiwan welcoming Kosovo's unilateral declaration yesterday of independence from Serbia.

"Self-determination is a right recognised by the United Nations, and it is the people who are masters of their nation's future," the Taiwanese foreign ministry said in a statement.

Announcing that his administration would urge the Kosovo option upon Taiwan and recognize its independence would not only put John McCain in the moral right but serve him well with the Christian and Paleo Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Bill James has made the sports world a better place (Joe Posnanski, 2/.17/08, Kansas City Star)

[I] think Bill [James] has changed the landscape of what it means to be a 21st-century sports fan. He was not the first guy to shake his head at conventional wisdom (like, who says that pitching is 75 percent of baseball), then dive into the data and try to find real sports answers. No. Bill was just the guy who made it seem like fun.

It has been fun for him. James was inducted into the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday — along with World Series hero Joe Carter, college baseball legend Phil Stephenson and former major-league pitcher Brian Holman — and at the ceremony he told the story of playing on his high school baseball team in Mayetta, Kan. One day his coach held a team meeting and explained what each player’s role would be … but he didn’t mention Bill’s name. When the meeting ended, Bill went to the coach and asked, “What’s my role?”

His coach said: “If you behave yourself, you can sit on the bench.”

Bill has never been much about behaving himself. He went to college, went to the army, went to work. And when he was supposed to be working as a security guard at the Stokely-Van Camp plant in Lawrence — I guess he was supposed to keep the pork from attacking the beans or vice versa — he was in fact tabulating box scores and breaking down the game and trying to figure out why in the heck Enos Cabell was playing every day.

He wrote about baseball, but in a different way. He was an outsider, and he embraced that role. He wrote sacrilegious things, wrote batting average was no way to measure a hitter, wrote that ballparks could make a break or a player’s numbers, wrote that counting errors was a pretty pointless way to measure a guy’s defense. At the time the stuff was so different from what was in the papers and on television that many people took to mocking Bill James. That was OK. He mocked back. He was better at it.

Over time, of course, people began to realize that most of what Bill was saying was true — or at least a lot more true than the conventional wisdom. Batting average is, in fact, a ridiculously flawed statistic because it doesn’t bother to count walks. Ballparks, as anyone who watched Neifi Perez hit .321 at Coors Field, do have huge effects on ballplayers’ numbers. And you cannot judge a fielder by his errors anymore than you can judge a pitcher by his wild pitches.

As the years went along, Bill’s ideas started to make an impact on the game. The Oakland A’s built much of their moneyball philosophy on Bill’s writing. The Boston Red Sox hired him to be an adviser and, though Bill says his role is small, they have won two World Series since.

But I think Bill’s biggest impact has been on fans — we don’t just take what coaches and analysts spoon feed us. No, people look for themselves these day. Is Derek Jeter a good defensive shortstop? There are a lot of numbers that indicate no (and few statistics that say yes). Does defense really win championships in the NFL? Maybe. Maybe not. Is time of possession really the most important statistic in football? Doubtful. Do players miss more free throws with fans waving their arms behind the glass? Someone should look it up. Someone is looking it up right now.

This is the age of questions, and Bill had a lot to do with that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


The Water Cure: Debating torture and counterinsurgency—a century ago. (Paul Kramer, February 25, 2008, The New Yorker)

U.S. forces seized Manila from Spain—keeping the army of their ostensible ally Aguinaldo from entering the city—and President William McKinley refused to recognize Filipino claims to independence, pushing his negotiators to demand that Spain cede sovereignty over the islands to the United States, while talking about Filipinos’ need for “benevolent assimilation.” Aguinaldo and some of his advisers, who had been inspired by the United States as a model republic and had greeted its soldiers as liberators, became increasingly suspicious of American motivations. When, after a period of mounting tensions, a U.S. sentry fired on Filipino soldiers outside Manila in February, 1899, the second war erupted, just days before the Senate ratified a treaty with Spain securing American sovereignty over the islands in exchange for twenty million dollars. In the next three years, U.S. troops waged a war to “free” the islands’ population from the regime that Aguinaldo had established. The conflict cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and about four thousand U.S. soldiers.

Within the first year of the war, news of atrocities by U.S. forces—the torching of villages, the killing of prisoners—began to appear in American newspapers. Although the U.S. military censored outgoing cables, stories crossed the Pacific through the mail, which wasn’t censored. Soldiers, in their letters home, wrote about extreme violence against Filipinos, alongside complaints about the weather, the food, and their officers; and some of these letters were published in home-town newspapers. A letter by A. F. Miller, of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment, published in the Omaha World-Herald in May, 1900, told of how Miller’s unit uncovered hidden weapons by subjecting a prisoner to what he and others called the “water cure.” “Now, this is the way we give them the water cure,” he explained. “Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.” [...]

On July 4, 1902 (as if on cue from John Philip Sousa), Roosevelt declared victory in the Philippines. Remaining insurgents would be politically downgraded to “brigands.” Although the United States ruled over the Philippines for the next four decades, the violence was now, in some sense, a problem in someone else’s country. Activists in the United States continued to pursue witnesses and urge renewed Senate investigation, but with little success; in February, 1903, Lodge’s Republican-controlled committee voted to end its inquiry into the allegations of torture. The public became inured to what had, only months earlier, been alarming revelations. As early as April 16, 1902, the New York World described the “American Public” sitting down to eat its breakfast with a newspaper full of Philippine atrocities:

It sips its coffee and reads of its soldiers administering the “water cure” to rebels; of how water with handfuls of salt thrown in to make it more efficacious, is forced down the throats of the patients until their bodies become distended to the point of bursting; of how our soldiers then jump on the distended bodies to force the water out quickly so that the “treatment” can begin all over again. The American Public takes another sip of its coffee and remarks, “How very unpleasant!”

“But where is that vast national outburst of astounded horror which an old-fashioned America would have predicted at the reading of such news?” the World asked. “Is it lost somewhere in the 8,000 miles that divide us from the scenes of these abominations? Is it led astray by the darker skins of the alien race among which these abominations are perpetrated? Or is it rotted away by that inevitable demoralization which the wrong-doing of a great nation must inflict on the consciences of the least of its citizens?”

Responding to the verdict in the Glenn court-martial, Judge Advocate General Davis had suggested that the question it implicitly posed—how much was global power worth in other people’s pain?—was one no moral nation could legitimately ask. As the investigation of the water cure ended and the memory of faraway torture faded, Americans answered it with their silence.

Americans are quite pragmatic idealists. We generally choose to do what has to be done and not dwell on it, rather than paralyze ourselves by analyzing minor contradictions between our ends and means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Pro-life groups choose McCain (Stephen Dinan, February 18, 2008, Washington Times)

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has exhibited a striking opposition to abortion in most of the major fights, including partial-birth abortion.

Pro-lifers are the first part of the conservative base to rally around Sen. John McCain, overcoming past fights to embrace him as strong on their core issue and a clear choice over the two Democrats he could face.

"He is pro-life in his heart of hearts, in my opinion," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and a pro-life movement leader, who said Mr. McCain's commitment stretches back across decades of votes in the House and Senate.

The rest are wings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


McCain vows tax, spending restraint Joseph Curl, February 18, 2008, Washington Times)

Sen. John McCain, all but certain to become the Republican presidential nominee, yesterday previewed the strategy he will use against his Democratic foe in the fall: No new taxes, spending restraint, success in Iraq, and private but affordable health care, not socialized medicine. [...]

Making clear he will run as a conservative, Mr. McCain used an appearance on ABC's "This Week" to say Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton spouts a "liberal Democratic view" and that her challenger, Sen. Barack Obama, is "the most liberal senator in the United States Senate."

"I'm proud of being a conservative Republican," he said. "I can out-campaign them, and I can out-debate them, and I can out-perform them in what I think my vision for America is more in keeping with the majority of Americans."

Asserting that he would reject all proposed tax increases — "No new taxes," he said firmly — the senator said he also opposes the 2010 expiration of the tax cuts signed into law by President Bush in 2001 and 2003.

Get him to the point where he feels his honor is invested in a position and he'll be stubborn as an ox.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Spielberg's stand (Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2008)

Steven Spielberg has salvaged something of great value: his reputation.

The film director withdrew as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics, coming up this August. He took his time making the decision; it's not as if he became skittish at the first hint of controversy. He's already been criticized for his participation in the Games. [...]

One film that will forever be associated with Mr. Spielberg's name is Schindler's List, which was about the Holocaust. That might be why, of all the reasons for refusing to cozy up to Beijing, Mr. Spielberg chose Darfur. China is underwriting death and displacement on a massive scale. That's nothing to celebrate.

Not every artist and athlete preparing to take part in the Games will have as much influence on China as Mr. Spielberg. But his example should remind them that their Olympic host has crimes to answer for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


The enigma of Muqtada al-Sadr: As a truce nears its end, the spotlight on a key Shia cleric intensifies (The Economist, 2/14/08)

AFTER hours of negotiations in the smoke-filled reception room of a sheikh's villa in the western Baghdad district of Hay al-Amil, community leaders—among them shopkeepers, lawyers, teachers and a police captain—thought they had finally clinched a deal. Displaced Sunni families in the district could return to their homes across the street in a mainly Shia housing estate. And Shia families who had been kicked out of their homes on the mainly Sunni side could go back to their old properties too. Both sides would be honour-bound to guarantee the safety of those who returned.

But as they began to sip celebratory tea, Ali Hamdoun, the robed sheikh on whose gold-tasselled couches they sat, held up his hand for quiet. “And what does our brother from the Jaish al-Mahdi [the Mahdi Army] have to say?” he asked of a darkly clad man in the corner.

“Arrest these people, and you have our blessing and that of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr,” replied the man, who had been silent. He then handed the sheikh a piece of paper with the names of three local Sunnis who had allegedly been firing at a checkpoint of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Mr Sadr, a Shia cleric who has probably the largest following of any leader in Iraq. Mr Hamdoun squinted at the list, then at the Sunni Arab contingent sitting along one side of the room. They nodded.

Neighbourhood reconciliation and security meetings like this are happening across Baghdad, said Mr Hamdoun, as he relaxed afterwards, drawing on another cigarette.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Straight outta Compton: You have heard of white flight. Now consider black flight (The Economist, 2/14/08)

Victorville's gain is Los Angeles' loss. Since 1990 the city's black population has dropped by a quarter, from 488,000 to 364,000, even as the overall number of residents rose. The exodus is most noticeable in areas where blacks were once concentrated, such as Compton and Crenshaw. The population of the 35th congressional district, over which the old-fashioned race warrior Maxine Waters holds sway, is now less than one-third black. “It's becoming hard to find black neighbourhoods,” says Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California.

It is not easy to find them in Victorville, either. The city has black apartment buildings and the odd black street but no black districts. Nor do the other cities to which blacks are moving. So far, at least, southern California's ghettos seem to be disintegrating, not relocating. Price alone seems to determine where the new arrivals settle. “If you've got the money, you can move wherever you want,” says Eloise Gibson, a retired teacher in Victorville.

A similar drift is evident in northern California, where blacks are leaving the Bay Area for inland spots such as Stockton and Sacramento. Across America blacks are leaving inner-city areas. William Frey, a geographer at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, calculates that the black population of suburban counties increased by a startling 26.5% between 2000 and 2006. They seem to be moving farther out of the city, and faster, in southern California than anywhere else.

A big reason is immigration. New arrivals from Latin America and Asia have pushed up rents in the metropolis. Until recently they pushed up house prices, too, benefiting the roughly 40% of black householders in south-central Los Angeles who own property. They could afford to move on. Immigrants have also blurred racial lines, producing a kind of confused tolerance. Boundaries that might be stark if there were only two races are a lot harder to police when there are more, especially since the groups are gradually blending.

Most of all, Mr Myers says, high house-prices have forced different groups together. In southern California people will happily trade ethnic homogeneity for an extra bedroom. It helps that most of the places blacks are moving are fast-growing, with little sense of history. Victorville has no traditionally white areas because it has no traditional areas of any kind.

Black churches are the clearest sign of Victorville's changing demography.

Is losing your ghettos really a loss?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


India Mulling Sweeping Trade Pact With Africa: India is considering lifting certain trade duties with African countries. The move is aimed at countering China's increasing business ventures in the resource-rich continent. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi. (Steve Herman, 14 February 2008, VOA News)

Government and industry sources here say India is planning to announce a major trade and investment plan when it hosts an unprecedented summit with African countries in early April.

Under consideration: duty free imports of some items from Africa. The plan is being prepared at a time when China has been edging out India for some lucrative African contracts. Beijing and New Delhi are in competition for resources abroad to meet the energy needs of their rapidly growing economies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


But could he deliver?: It is time for America to evaluate Obama the potential president, not Obama the phenomenon (The Economist, 2/14/08)

His immediate effect on international relations could be dramatic: a black president, partly brought up in a Muslim country, would transform America's image. And his youthful optimism could work at home too. After the bitterness of the Bush years, America needs a dose of unity: Mr Obama has a rare ability to deliver it. And the power of charisma should not be underrated, especially in the context of the American presidency which is, constitutionally, quite a weak office. The best presidents are like magnets below a piece of paper, invisibly aligning iron filings into a new pattern of their making. Anyone can get experts to produce policy papers. The trick is to forge consensus to get those policies enacted.

But what policies exactly? Mr Obama's voting record in the Senate is one of the most left-wing of any Democrat.

The oft-repeated mantra that he is uniquely a "unifier" not only ignores his do-nothing record in the Senate and his failure to bridge the various ethnic and class divides in his own party, but necessarily assume one of two things: either he plans to completely abandon that left-wing politics as president or 60% of his fellow citizens will abandon their moderate-conservatism to embrace everything from infanticide to making concessions to Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. Yet there's no reason to believe either, which means he'd likely be a more divisive figure than Hillary Clinton, who actually has worked across the aisle in the Senate and may have learned in her husband's administration that a Democrat has to govern pretty far to the Right.

February 17, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 PM


Obama's rhetoric getting some friendly help? (Mike Allen, Feb 17, 2008, Politico)

A rival campaign circulated a pair of YouTube links on Sunday that make the point vividly.

Here's Patrick at a rally for his gubernatorial campaign on Oct. 15, 2006, during the final stretch of his successful campaign against then-Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R):

“But her dismissive point, and I hear it a lot from her staff, is that all I have to offer is words — just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, [applause and cheers] that all men are created equal.’ [Sustained applause and cheers.] Just words – just words! ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words! ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words!”

Here’s Obama on Saturday night at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Founders Day Gala in Milwaukee:

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words! [Applause.] ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words — just speeches!”

Patrick, Obama campaigns share language of 'hope' (Scott Helman, April 16, 2007, Boston Globe)
Of all the things Deval Patrick's Republican opponent threw at him in last year's governor's race, one charge that stuck in his craw was that his speeches were more fluff than substance -- that they were, in Patrick's telling, "just words." So he devised an artful response.

" 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal' -- just words," Patrick said at a rally in Roxbury right before Election Day. " 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' -- just words. . . . 'I have a dream' -- just words. They're all just words."

The crowd erupted as it got Patrick's point about the power of language. But perhaps no one at the rally understood the point better than Barack Obama, who had joined him on stage that night.

Not five months later, Obama, his presidential campaign gaining steam, had this to say about legendary Chicago organizer Saul Alinsky in The New Republic: "Sometimes the tendency in community organizing of the sort done by Alinsky was to downplay the power of words and of ideas when in fact ideas and words are pretty powerful. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal.' Those are just words. 'I have a dream.' Just words."

In the midst of his improbable run for office, Obama and his advisers have evidently studied Patrick's up-from-nowhere victory in Massachusetts and are borrowing themes, messages, and even specific lines for the presidential campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Parent Shock: Children Are Not Décor (JULIE SCELFO, 2/14/08, NY Times)

WHEN Jacqueline Brown and her husband, Gavin Friedman, were in their early 30s, they lived in a condominium in Santa Monica, Calif., with a black leather Ikea couch Mr. Friedman had bought for law school, a few modest pieces from Pier 1 Imports and assorted hand-me-down furnishings. Within a few years, though, having acquired professional and financial stability — both were litigation associates at prominent law firms — they bought a house in Cheviot Hills, an affluent neighborhood in West Los Angeles, and began remodeling and decorating.

During two renovations, each costing more than $100,000, they built a two-sided fireplace to separate the living and dining rooms, put in a wine cellar and installed a sleek maple and granite kitchen. They bought molded-wood chairs in the Arne Jacobsen style, Murano glass pendant lamps and a custom walnut entertainment unit. Ms. Brown, who had become obsessed with interior design in law school, poured heart and soul into the projects.

But just as Ms. Brown and Mr. Friedman were establishing their first truly grown-up residence — she was 38, he 37 — Ms. Brown gave birth to their first child, Harrison, a boy who turned out as bouncing as most.

Suddenly they were confronted with a question that had never before occurred to them: given the way baby gear and toys take over households, the uncivilized habits of toddlers and the dangers posed by sharp-edged contemporary furniture, could Ms. Brown and Mr. Friedman continue to live their high-design dream? [...]

“Going from being a couple to becoming a parent, your whole world changes,” said Robin Gorman Newman, who four years ago started a support group called Motherhood Later ... Than Sooner in New York (it now has chapters across the country), after becoming a first-time mother at 42, 10 years into her marriage. “Once you become a parent, your home is not your own,” she added. “I think you mourn your previous life, at least for a while. You’re never going to have what you had.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


The Totally Coolest Candidate Ever: Can Obama become too hip for his own good? (John Dickerson, Feb. 15, 2008, Slate)

If you insist on being that party-killing skeptic, it either means you're a Washington cynic, supporting the worst elements of Clinton's campaign, or you're cluelessly out of step with the sway of the culture. On Facebook, people write about dreams featuring Obama. There is only one correct reaction to the will.i.am "Yes We Can" video and that is to start chanting along. That's why the Obama campaign sent it out to supporters. He is the sun, the moon, the Ambien and the Red Bull. [...]

So far, no one seems to much care. There have been a few pieces from columnists questioning the messianic impulse with Obama, and a mocking Web site, but that's it for backlash. OK, so I'll say it: Some of Obama's supporters have gone around the bend. There was the woman in New Hampshire who compared him with Christ. There was Maria Shriver's comparison of the candidatewith the state of California, with the rhetorical fervor usually seen only after a preacher shouts, "You are healed!"

There is also plenty of self-hype to knock down. Obama is not as bold as he claims and doesn't tell as many hard truths as he professes to. His Senate record of bipartisanship is fine as far as it goes, but that isn't as big a deal as he makes it seem. Cooperating with Republicans on nuclear proliferation and lobbying reform is not nearly as hard, nor does it require the same skills, as forging agreement on taxes and spending, judicial nominations, or electronic surveillance. On the day Sen. Patrick Leahy endorsed Obama and I asked him what problem Obama could solve with his powers of bipartisanship, the Democrat from Vermont asserted Kennedy parallels rather than name one.

Sooner or later they better serve you the steak.

The Charisma Mandate (KATE ZERNIKE, 2/17/08, NY Times)

Would we call this a cult of personality?

Today that term is all around Barack Obama — perhaps because there seems so little other way to explain how a first-term senator has managed to dazzle his way to front-runner in the race for the presidency, how he walks on water for so many supporters, and how the mere suggestion that he is, say, mortal, risks vehement objection, or at least exposing the skeptic as deeply uncool.

It’s far too soon to know what role Mr. Obama will play in history, let alone whether he can be compared to F.D.R., or, as he is most commonly, to John F. Kennedy. But it is perhaps time to look more closely at this label that attaches to him, and how it has been applied in the past.

The “cult of personality” is used in the pejorative. But recast as a different name — call it charisma — and, as Roosevelt and other examples show, it can be a critical element of politics and its practical cousin, governance. It just can’t be the only element.

“Today, attacks on the cult of personality seem really to mean attacks on the ability to make speeches that inspire,” Mr. Caro said in an interview. “But you only have to look at crucial moments in the history of our time to see how crucial it was to have a leader who could inspire, who could rally a nation to a standard, who could infuse a country with confidence, to remind people of the justice of a cause.”

Still, Mr. Caro adds a caveat: “That doesn’t always translate into a great presidency.”

FDR required Hitler to get him out of the Great Depression, which his own policies deepened.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


Obama's Trillion-Dollar Spending Plan (James Pethokoukis, 2/14/08, US News)

Here are the priciest parts:

* A $65 billion-a-year health plan
* $15 billion in green energy spending
* $85 billion in tax cuts and credits
* A $25 billion-a-year increase in foreign aid
* $18 billion a year in education spending
* $3.5 billion for a national service plan

Put it all together, and we are talking about a $200 billon plan, $800 billion over four years. And that does not even include fixing the alternative minimum tax, a $50 billion-a-year item that will assuredly get passed.

Folks are so caught up in racial identity they're losing track of the Senator's political identity: standard issue liberal. The GOP can win these contests in its sleep.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Baseball's top fielders ranked in new statistical system (Randolph E. Schmid, 2/16/08, AP)

Based on his time with the Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez is one of the game's best shortstops, according to researchers led by Shane T. Jensen of the University of Pennsylvania. Rodriguez now plays third base for the New York Yankees.

Using a complex statistical method, researchers concluded that one of the worst at shortstop is A-Rod's teammate, three-time Gold Glove-winner Derek Jeter. The findings were presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That method involved looking at every ball put in play in major league baseball from 2002 through 2005 and recorded where the shots went. Researchers then developed a probability model for the average fielder in each position and compared that with the performance of individual players to see who was better or worse than average.

Comparing Jeter and A-Rod, Jensen said, "suggests the Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops." A-Rod won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop before he came New York in 2004.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


. . . and now for somewhere completely different (David Pilling, February 15 2008, Financial Times)

I got to thinking about the question of Japan’s uniqueness after reading Japan Through the Looking Glass. Its author, Cambridge anthropologist Alan Macfarlane, contends that Japan is not just “trivially different from the west and other civilisations, but different at such a deep level that the very tools of understanding we normally use prove inadequate”. When I called him at his home in England, he professed to be just as confused after 15 years of thinking about Japan as Hearn was. “In Japan, I start off with a feeling of similarity and then, growingly, things become more strange,” he said. “Japan is unique in that it combines two different sides: the surface of a modern, rational economy with politics and law and so on, but behind that a set of social norms and religious beliefs that are totally at variance with that. Almost every aspect of life, from sumo wrestling and tea ceremony, even business, has a feeling of something other than itself, beyond itself.”

I had been confronted with the idea that Japan was different – differently different – even before I set foot there as the FT’s correspondent five years ago. Back then I had read, as everybody does, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, the classic western anthropological study of the country by Ruth Benedict. The first sentence of the book is an affirmation of strangeness: “The Japanese were the most alien enemy the United States had ever fought.”

Based on interviews with Japanese immigrants, Benedict describes a society operating on entirely different lines. She famously characterises it as a culture of shame rather than of (Christian-style) guilt, one with a samurai-derived honour code of mysterious (and not straightforwardly translatable) principles of giri, on, haji and gimu. We learn of the honour of the vendetta and seppuku (belly-slitting suicide), and the shame of surrender. Reading the book, by no means discredited today, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Japan is another world.

To lay my cards on the table, I have always been suspicious of this view. I start from the principle that people are people and that any attempt to render them otherwise probably has an ulterior motive, such as laying the groundwork to fight them. To start with the conclusion first, my basic view still holds that Japan is no more different than Guatemala or Madagascar or Britain. But my conviction has been sorely tested.

When I arrived in Tokyo in 2002, there were a few things to get used to besides blue trees. Early on, for example, when I was taking a distinguished TV presenter of advancing years out to lunch, I horrified restaurant staff by plonking myself down in the seat furthest from the door. This seat, known as oku, is for honoured guests. My appropriation of it was roughly the equivalent of pouring a pint of beer over the well-known personage’s head. (The host is supposed to sit with his back to the door, the position that in ancient times was most vulnerable to ninja attack.)

There were other things. Building workers did group calisthenics to piped music outside my house at 6am – something you don’t see often in west London. I grappled too with a language that, in every way, seemed back to front and set with social landmines. I wondered at people’s obsessive punctuality, politeness, cleanliness and the absolute seriousness with which they conducted every activity. I struggled to make anything but polite acquaintances, or even to make eye contact in the street.

More than these minor adjustments of culture, I was told almost daily by Japanese acquaintances that it was “difficult for westerners to understand Japan”. Though sometimes purely an interviewee’s attempt at obfuscation, there did seem to be a genuinely held belief that – in matters of economic and family relations, and in the spheres of aesthetics, morality and seating arrangements – Japan was radically different. No one bangs the drum of Japanese uniqueness more than the Japanese themselves.

So-called Nihonjinron, or meditations on Japaneseness, has a long tradition that reached fever pitch in the 1980s when some Japanese became convinced that their innate superiority was playing out on the stage of global capitalism. At its worst, Nihonjinron builds on the phoney concept of a racially homogenous society – look at the faces on any Tokyo subway to dispel this myth – to create a thesis of a race apart. This would have it that the Japanese are co-operative rice farmers not garrulous hunter-gatherers; have unique sensitivities to nature; communicate without language; use instinct and “heart” rather than cold logic, and have a rarefied artistic awareness. Many people who know Japan would recognise some half-truths in these observations, but Nihonjinron elevates them into a world view.

Yet, just because the discussion can be taken to ridiculous, even objectionable, extremes, doesn’t mean we should shun it altogether. Macfarlane’s book made me think I should tackle the subject afresh.

It's no coincidence that just about the only useful book about Japan from the 80s was Bill Emmott's Sun Also Sets, which calmly described why Japanophobia was misplaced and how the "differences" in the culture were pretty much all flaws.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Happy, hokey stories in nice DVD sets: Making a case for Charlie Chan (Jonathan Storm, 2/17/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who think Warner Oland made the best Charlie Chan, and those who think Sidney Toler was better.

"Contradiction, please: Opinion like tea leaf in hot water. Need time to brew. Most sprouts know nothing of humble self."

"Golly, Pop, you've got it right again. Gee, you're swell."

"Uncle Chuckie," as we have called him in our house since watching the ancient films beamed from Boston to the Vermont hills in the early '70s on some low-rent, late-night movie show, kept Fox in business in the '30s. The B movies, churned out as many as five times a year, consistently filled Depression-era theaters.

Oland, the original, more mystical Chan, died in 1938, and the studio has released most of his movies (some are lost) on DVD. The first four Toler films (one from 1938, the rest from '39) hit the stores last Tuesday in a boxed set, Charlie Chan Vol. 4 ($49.98).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


That sinking feeling: Hillary Rodham Clinton faces two unpleasant alternatives at this critical moment in her campaign. (Dick Polman, 2/17/08, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Now that her dreams of a Democratic coronation have been dashed, Hillary Rodham Clinton is left with only two options: Lose gracefully, or win ugly. [...]

[H]er only option is to defeat Obama in the smoke-free rooms and risk plunging the Democratic Party into civil war.

Even her allies are glum about the prospect of winning at a strife-torn national convention, with thousands of young Obama fans screaming betrayal in the streets, with Obama delegates claiming that they had been disenfranchised in a power play every bit as odious as the Supreme Court's decision to award the 2000 election to George W. Bush.

Democrats don't want to talk about this openly, lest they give the media fresh ammunition for a "Democrats in disarray" story line, but those with long memories feel the fear.

Anybody expect to read similar stories about Senator Obama running an ugly effort if Ms Clinton pulls ahead of him in the coming primaries that favor her?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


Clinton's attacks on Obama's oratory called into question (Donald Lambro, February 17, 2008, Washington Times)

"Speeches don't put food on the table," she said last Thursday at a General Motors plant in Warren, Ohio. "Speeches don't fill up your tank, or fill your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills."

"My opponent gives speeches. I offer solutions," she said.

It is a staple line in her campaign speeches in one form or another. "You can choose speeches or solutions. You can choose talk or action," she said in Cincinnati on Friday.

But some party strategists who have been involved in many presidential campaigns think the attack strategy is ineffective at best and self-defeating at worst because it seems to smack of a self-acknowledgement that Mr. Obama has better communications skills — a chief requisite for an effective presidency.

"I don't think it's a smart attack, unless she can make the 'all talk, no accomplishments' charge stick. Clearly, when good oratory is linked to action, it enhances the effectiveness of the action," said a veteran Democratic adviser who asked not to be identified.

...that there are no corresponding actions. His rhetoric is especially empty because he's never done anything with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Midsomer murdered: Tycoon buys village which has been home to TV and movie favourites ... and bans film crews (ALEXIS PARR, 16th February 2008, Daily Times)

With its Norman church, quaint cottages, mill, manor house and inn, the picturesque village of Hambleden is a familiar sight to fans of the TV series Midsomer Murders.

Scenes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 101 Dalmatians and Poirot have also been filmed in the Buckinghamshire village, until recently owned by the heir to the WH Smith stationery dynasty, Henry Smith, son of the Fourth Viscount Hambleden.

Days in the rural haven ticked over contentedly. But then a stranger moved in ... and stirred up a hornet's nest.

...Tom Barnaby to be investigating his murder soon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Evidence of Evangelical Shift is Still Slim (Nathan Gonzales, 2/17/08, Real Clear Politics)

Evangelicals may be shifting away from the Republican Party, but a recent poll doesn’t offer compelling evidence to support that claim.

How exactly would the party of abortion, infanticide, Darwinism, etc. sell itself to Christians?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


McCain welcomes Bush help on campaign trail (DON FREDERICK and ANDREW MALCOLM, February 17, 2008, LA Times)

The Republican Party's presumptive nominee for president, Sen. John McCain, said he would be "proud" if President Bush campaigned with him in the general election. On "Larry King Live," McCain -- once a bitter enemy of Bush's -- said: "I would be proud to have President Bush campaign with me and support me in any way that he feels is appropriate. And I would appreciate it."

King, seemingly surprised, asked, "Despite his low popularity?"

McCain replied: "I'm not the kind of person that looks at people's popularity. I have a very good relationship with this president. I'm glad he won in 2000 and 2004. We have had some disagreements, but we share many, many values and principles of our Republican Party. And I'm not going to -- it's just not me to say that somehow because someone may not be popular that they shouldn't campaign with me. In fact, I welcome it."

...is if he cast his candidacy in terms of finishing the parts of the Bush legacy that are still hanging: personalizing SS; extending education vouchers; broadening HSAs into a universal health care program; shifting the Court further to the Right; liberalizing immigration; formalizing the League of Democracies; and supporting democratization in the Islamic world. That and reconstituting the President's GOTV operation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Robert Jastrow, 82; astrophysicist helped shape NASA's space exploration (Thomas H. Maugh II, 2/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

As the founder and 20-year head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, he oversaw planning for the Pioneer, Voyager and Galileo space probes, which returned the first good information about other planets in the solar system. The institute also played a key role in research on the use of satellites to study climate and weather on Earth.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, who thought scientists should remain secluded in their laboratories, Jastrow was a frequent guest on CBS and NBC during the missions to the moon, educating millions of Americans about orbital mechanics and the physics of spacecraft, as well as the history of the solar system.

He later hosted more than 100 programs for CBS explaining space and other scientific problems.

"He had a deep sense of the need to interpret science and make it available to the public," said Johns Hopkins University planetary scientist Albert Arking, a former student of Jastrow. "His enthusiasm for science was infectious."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Trading Down: On economics, Mr. Obama goes populist. (Washington Post, February 17, 2008)

And then there are moments like last Wednesday, when Mr. Obama struck some unusually sour notes in what was billed as a major economic policy address. Yes, there were the trademark invocations of "shared sacrifice and shared prosperity." But Mr. Obama's remarks were also tinged with an angrier, and intellectually sloppier, message. We thought we'd heard the last of class warfare and populism when former North Carolina senator John Edwards finally bowed out of the race. In his speech, Mr. Obama quoted Mr. Edwards approvingly; he then echoed him in implying that he could pay for new domestic programs with an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and in exaggerating the "millions" of job losses attributable to trade agreements. Mr. Obama even seemed to draw a line connecting the current subprime mortgage crunch to "decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China."

These simplifications might help Mr. Obama beat out Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the dubious prize of an Edwards endorsement. They might play well in Ohio, where foreclosures are rampant, some plants have shut because of international competition -- and the Democrats hold a crucial primary on March 4. But they are not worthy of a candidate whose past speeches and writings demonstrate that he understands the benefits of free trade. "I won't stand here and tell you that we can -- or should -- stop free trade," Mr. Obama declared, candidly, then quickly promised that "I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers." It's not clear what he means by this. Mr. Obama supported the Peru Free Trade Agreement, which contained such protections, but he opposes the proposed pact with Colombia, which has labor and environmental provisions similar to those in the Peru deal. To account for the seeming contradiction, Mr. Obama echoes organized labor's exaggerated complaints about human rights violations in Colombia. He doesn't support the Korea Free Trade Agreement, which promises the greatest benefits of all the pending trade deals to the U.S. economy -- but is fiercely opposed by a narrow slice of the auto industry and the auto workers union.

Thanks in large part to former president Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party abandoned protectionism and embraced the challenges of economic globalization. Still, like the campaign of 2004, in which eventual nominee John Kerry railed against "Benedict Arnold CEOs," the 2008 Democratic primary is in large part a contest for the support of the party's most anti-trade elements (especially labor unions) and thus has prompted populist rhetoric from the major candidates, who feared being outflanked by Mr. Edwards.

....but even worse is leading the Left's retribution against old anti-communist allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


A smiling, fidgeting McCain, learning to rein himself in (Mark Leibovich, February 17, 2008, NY Times)

Senator John McCain was sitting in the front of his fancy-pants front-runner's plane, trying to get comfortable. He fidgeted, occasionally lapsing into un-McCainlike blandness: "There is a process in place that will formalize the methodology," he said in describing how his free-form campaign style will assume the discipline expected of a probable Republican standard-bearer.

The position is unnatural to McCain, who has typically floundered when not playing the insurgent role. But now he is in the midst of an at-times awkward transition — from being one of the most disruptive figures in his party to someone playing it safer, not to mention trying to make nice with Republicans he clearly despises and who feel similarly about him.

"I'm trying to unify the party," he says a lot these days, as if reminding himself. He is trying to remain "Johnny B. Goode" (the song blares over a loudspeaker at some McCain rallies), giving relatively cautious answers and trying to rein in his pugnacity, if not his wisecracks.

He needs to forget about the Right, they'll follow him whether they like it or not. Time to concentrate on the general and pretend to be the underdog facing overwhelming odds, which is when he's most natural and appealing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


McCain draws criticism on torture bill (Michael Cooper, February 17, 2008, NY Times)

McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has led the battle in recent years on a number of bills to end torture by the United States. He said he voted against the bill Wednesday because legislation he had helped to pass already prohibits the CIA from "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment."

McCain, of Arizona, said he believed it would be a mistake to limit CIA interrogators to using only those techniques that were enumerated in the Field Manual, which he noted was a public document.

"When we passed the Military Commissions Act, we said that the CIA should have the ability to use additional techniques," McCain told reporters Friday in Oshkosh, Wisconsin "None of those techniques would entail violating the Detainee Treatment Act, which said that cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment are prohibited."

...like the prospect that one will get to be the hangman in the morning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Kosovo prepares declaration of independence (The Associated Press, February 17, 2008)

By sidestepping the United Nations and appealing directly to the United States and other countries for recognition, Kosovo set up a showdown with Serbia - outraged at the imminent loss of its territory - and Russia, which warned that the declaration would set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army whose ethnic Albanian guerrillas clashed with Serbian troops in a 1998-99 conflict that claimed 10,000 lives, was expected to convene an extraordinary session of Parliament on Sunday afternoon to proclaim the Republic of Kosovo.

On the eve of the Serbian province's bid for statehood, Thaci hailed it as "a historic day in our effort to create a state."

It's odd but instructive how long it takes even a nation that has our support to declare its independence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Islam needs democracy (Waleed Ziad, 2/17/08, IHT)

This may come as a surprise to Americans, but the Wahhabist religion professed by the militants is more foreign to most Pakistanis than Karachi's 21 KFCs. This is true even of the tribal North-West Frontier Province.

Last month I was in the village of Pakpattan observing the commemoration of the death of a Muslim Sufi saint from the Punjab - a feast of dance, poetry, music and prayer attended by more than a million people. Religious life in Pakistan has traditionally been synonymous with the gentle spirituality of Sufi mysticism, the traditional pluralistic core of Islam.

Even in remote rural areas, spiritual life centers not on doctrinaire seminaries but Sufi shrines; recreation revolves around ostentatious wedding parties and Hollywood, Bollywood and the latter's Urdu counterpart, Lollywood.

So when the Taliban bomb shrines and hair salons, or ban videos and music, it doesn't go down well. A resident of the Swat region, the site of many recent Taliban incursions, proudly told me last month that scores of citizens in his village had banded together to drive out encroaching militants. Similarly, in the tribal areas, many local village councils, called jirgas, have summoned the Pakistani Army or conducted independent operations against extremists.

The hard part is finding an instinctive democrat who doesn't mind shedding enough blood to establish/re-establish security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?: McCain Works to Bury Hatchet With Those on Receiving End of His Temper (LIBBY QUAID, 2/17/08,
The Associated Press)

His irascibility fits with McCain's proud image as a straight talker willing to say what people don't want to hear.

Yet McCain's temper hinders his efforts to make peace with his critics and rally Republicans behind his candidacy for president. That could be a big problem, because his most persistent foes conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson talk to tens of millions of people each day.

McCain and his advisers insist the acrimony is about matters of policy: "We have disagreements on specific issues from time to time," McCain recently said of his critics.

In fact, the disputes often are as much about style as they are about substance.

McCain's tone was certainly on Dobson's mind when he issued a stinging anti-endorsement on Super Tuesday. He mentioned various issues, but Dobson also said the senator "has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language."

Privately, some conservatives grouse that McCain can seem more convivial toward his liberal colleagues. Just last week, McCain had an animated conversation and shared a belly laugh with liberal Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, his partner on controversial immigration reforms, on the Senate floor.

And then there is his choice of words not just the expletives, but also the use of dismissive phrases such as "agents of intolerance" to describe televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Yet McCain reconciled with Falwell before his death in 2007 and has done so with many others.

His temperament is likely to make him a bad president, but cursing out fellow pols will only help him with the electorate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Right slams Obama as 'shady Chicago socialist': Republicans are out to crush Barack by painting him as a leftwinger with dubious support (Sarah Baxter, 2/17/08, Times of London)

“It will be easy to portray him as even harder-left than Hillary,” said Norquist. “Hillary could lose the election, but Obama could collapse. People already know Hillary and she is not popular, but the disadvantage for Obama is that Republicans can teach people who don’t know him who he is.”

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and Republican guru, recently described Obama as the “most leftwing candidate to run since George McGovern” – a reference to the anti-Vietnam-war Democrat who lost 49 states out of 50 to Richard Nixon in the 1972 election. Norquist believes Obama’s questionable Chicago connections will stir things further.

The city has a reputation for corruption from the days when Al Capone and his mob ran the town in the 1920s. Obama is tainted by his long association with Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a Chicago property developer who is scheduled to go on trial for extorting kickbacks in return for political favours on March 3, the day before the Ohio and Texas primaries. [...]

Clinton briefly raised the question of Rezko, whom she described as a “slum landlord”, in a televised debate with Obama in California, but was silenced when a 1990s picture emerged of her with Rezko and President Bill Clinton. Obama has returned around $85,000 in campaign contributions from Rezko.

“Hillary put the issue into the bloodstream, but it didn’t get focused on,” said Norquist. He believes that well financed “527” attack groups – named after their tax-exempt status – will mercilessly pursue Obama over his ties to Rezko. It was a conservative “527” group, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who did grave damage to John Kerry’s reputation as a war hero in the 2004 White House race.

Democrats are setting themselves up for a disaster by letting racial sensitivity prevent them from vetting his candidacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Obama, Crowds, and Power (Jim Sleeper, February 13, 2008, TPM Cafe)

[O]bama hasn't said much about the inevitable temptations to self-congratulation and self-righteousness that also come with success, the almost irresistible seductions of power that accompany cascades of money and applause. Overcoming such temptations will test his faith and prowess and his supporters' character in new ways. [...]

Now Obama will have to teach the secret of the dangers of collective power to his supporters, and they to one another. His movement needs teachers, mentors, and lieutenants who can strengthen it in a faith deep enough to transcend power's illusions. A movement's and a republic's power lies not only in its armies, lawyers, and wealth, indispensible though they are, but, ultimately, in the very vulnerability a republic sustains in a canny ethos of trust.

That's what people have managed to sustain in movements that have been successful. If they can't sustain it now, what seems irresistible in the movement of this moment will not endure, and what seems powerful in it will not leave its supporters free.

What a surpassing odd idea, that an avatar of liberalism--which is collectivist/statist--will warn folks about the dangers of collective power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Forever Young (Leon Wieseltier, February 12, 2008, New Republic)

And into this unirenic environment strides Obama, pledging to extract us promptly from Iraq and to negotiate with our enemies. What is the role of a conciliator in an unconciliating world? You might think that in such conditions he is even more of an historical necessity-but why would you think that all that stands between the world and peace is one man? George W. Bush was not single-handedly responsible for getting us into our strategic mess and Barack Obama will not be single-handedly responsible for getting us out of it. There are autonomous countries and cultures out there. The turbulence that I have described is not caused by misunderstandings. It is caused by the interests of powers and the beliefs of peoples. Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, Islamabad, Gaza City, Khartoum, Caracas-does Obama really believe that he has something to propose to these ruthless regimes that they have not already considered? Does he plan to move them, to organize them, to show them change they can believe in? With what trick of empathy, what euphoria, does he hope to join the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds in Iraq? Yes, he made a "muscular" speech in Chicago last spring; but I have been pondering his remarks about foreign policy in the ensuing campaign and I do not detect the hardness I seek, the disabused tone that the present world warrants. My problem is not with "day one": nobody is perfectly prepared for the White House, though the memory of Bill Clinton's "learning curve" is still vivid, which in Bosnia and Rwanda cost more than a million lives. My problem is that Obama's declarations in matters of foreign policy and national security have a certain homeopathic quality. He seems averse to the hurtful, expensive, traditional, unedifying stuff.

"False hopes?" Obama told a crowd in New Hampshire. "There's no such thing." How dare he? There is almost no more commonplace trait of human existence (and of African American existence) than false hopes.

Perhaps the most interesting notion of those who claim that we are insufficiently respectful of other countries is their contradictory belief that we control those countries by our own behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


History Lessons from Poland
: Until now, no one has managed to force open the darkest corners of Poland's "sealed memory." Andrzej Wajda's new World War II drama, "Katyn," succeeds. It tells the long-taboo tale of the roughly 14,500 Polish military officers murdered by the Soviet army in 1940. (Olaf Sundermeyer, 2/15/08, Der Spiegel)

The film shows how things went in Poland after it became a subjugated satellite state following the war. "The double tragedy of Katyn is the pairing of crimes and lies," Wajda says. The lie of Katyn -- that German soldiers committed the massacre, rather than the Soviets -- could not be broached in Poland during the half-century that the country spent as a part of the Eastern Bloc. One crime followed another. So many in Poland -- and especially the young -- did not know the truth. They hadn't even learned it in school. So, when the movie came out, it was a national sensation. Over three million people in Poland went to see the movie.

Wajda prefers to take his artistic cues from important moments in Polish history. "Canal" (1957) was set in the final moments of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, and he explored Poland's Solidarity movement in "Man of Iron" (1981). That film marked the last time he was nominated for an Oscar -- 26 years ago. "I'd like to show the world glimpses of Polish history," Wajda said after "Katyn" was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category this year. And that he does.

Sometimes Wajda gets a bit overdramatic, especially when it comes to how he depicts the suffering of the wives and families of the imprisoned officers before they meet their deaths. But the last 20 minutes of the film number among the most impressive of any film based on World War II. The execution of the officers is depicted in great detail. Handcuffed men are kicked off a truck and driven into a forest. Then comes the shot of the military pistol in the back of the head. By the dozens. Lifeless corpses fall with a thud into sand pits dug for this very purpose. A bulldozer stands by to fill in the mass grave.

No documents from that time, no work of literature has yet managed to capture the memory of Katyn. The event lay buried for decades, hidden in "sealed memory." Polish historian Adam Krzeminski, who is often quoted in Germany, believes "Katyn" is a film that "closes a huge gaping hole."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


First in Politics: If you’re not the candidate of Change, be the candidate of Have Another. (Richard Brookhiser, 2/15/08, National Review)

Washington also knew how to handle his friends, sometimes a harder task. By the time he retired, he had become convinced that Thomas Jefferson and his friends would drive America off a cliff if they ever came to power. But Jefferson, then vice president, was the darling of Virginia. Washington tried to encourage Virginians who shared his views to run for office. One of the men he thought of was John Marshall, a bright Richmond lawyer who had served under him as a captain in the Revolution.

Washington invited Marshall to Mount Vernon in 1799 to make his pitch. Marshall idolized Washington, but he wanted to make money, and tried to beg off. Washington would not let him. Marshall finally concluded that he would have to escape from Mount Vernon at day break. He found when he got up, however, that Washington had gotten up earlier, and donned his Revolutionary uniform. Marshall obeyed orders, and began the career that would make him, in less than two years, chief justice.

There was a lot more politics in Washington’s life, much of it intricate, some of it sordid. It should encourage us to know that the ways and means of politics, however clownish and grubby, have also served great men and great ends. It’s possible to do what you have to do, and do the right thing.

...you aren't fit to run a great country, let alone Found one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


U.S. visitors optimistic about N. Korea:
The delegation finds Pyongyang open to discussions about shutting down its nuclear facilities. (Barbara Demick, 2/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

The former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory said Saturday that North Korea is serious about denuclearizing and is willing to contemplate a program such as that used to help former Soviet republics destroy their nuclear weapons.

"This is a big deal," said Siegfried Hecker, referring to North Korea's accomplishments so far in shutting down its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang.

Hecker, a professor at Stanford University, had returned earlier in the day from a four-day trip to North Korea, where he said he enjoyed "remarkable access" to North Korea's nuclear facilities.

Hecker compared the high-security compound he visited in North Korea to the national security research institution in Los Alamos, N.M. He said he observed an exceptional working relationship between North Korean technicians and U.S. teams supervising the dismantling of a nuclear reactor, a factory to make nuclear fuel rods and a reprocessing plant, which was used to make weapons-grade plutonium.

"My feeling coming away from this visit is that the level of cooperation is good, better than I've seen in the 10 years I've been visiting the facility," said Joel Wit, a former State Department official who traveled with Hecker.

February 16, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


300 Candidates Are Reinstated in Iran (Agence France-Presse, 2/17/08)

Iran on Saturday reinstated an additional 300 mainly reformist candidates who had been disqualified from standing in next month’s parliamentary elections, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The Guardians Council, Iran’s hard-line vetting body, which has the final say on who is permitted to run in the March 14 polls, had already reinstated 280 of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM

HATING THE FUTURE (via Lisa Huang Fleischman)

Epater Le Bébé!: A French author has finally declared baby backlash—when will fertility-frantic New York feminists follow suit? (Lizzy Ratner, October 23, 2007, NY Observer)

[W]atching the parade of moms it was hard not to wonder, at what point did child-bearing become such an inescapable component of the New York woman’s dream? And at what point did New York City, historic refuge for the quirky, carefree and childless, turn into a Den of Procreation?

“It’s like a cult,” said a 34-year-old not-yet-parent named Alison who works in advertising and lives with her husband in Lower Manhattan. “It’s like a cult, complete with the required reading, the clubs, the gurus, the dues, the inclusion, the excommunication, the hierarchy.

“And the pressure,” she continued, “starts in the missionary position.”

Raised on the old baby-versus-career debates, women of Alison’s generation always anticipated that the big discussion would be about if they wanted kids, not whether they planned to have three or even four. Certainly when they chose to settle in New York, a town that regularly undershot the national birth rate and was proud of it, they had reason to expect that they were not on the soccer-mom track.

But sometime during the past few years, something strange happened to these historically reticent reproducers. They freaked out, got busy and turned themselves into mascots for the new maternity. In just five years, between 2000 and 2005, the number of children under five living in Manhattan ballooned more than 32 percent, according to Census figures.

It probably didn’t help that in 2006 the Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines recommending that all women of childbearing age be considered “pre-pregnant,” chomp folic acid and avoid smoking. In 2001, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine launched a “protect your fertility” campaign, complete with posters of baby bottles in the shape of quickly draining hourglasses. Meanwhile, the fashion industry has been churning out empire-waist dresses and billowy blouses that make even the skinniest ingenues look like expectant mothers.

Somewhere along the way, the powerful feminist idea that having children was a choice disappeared into the trousseau chest.

Over in France, a similar fertility push, which has helped give that country the highest birthrate in Europe, has sparked something of a backlash in the form of a best-selling book by a writer and psychoanalyst (naturalement!) named Corinne Maier. Titled No Kid: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children, the book is part angry manifesto, part modest proposal urging adults—and above all women—to remain “without descendants.”

“No children, no thank you,” writes Ms. Maier, 43, in the conclusion of No Kid, which is currently being shopped to American publishers. “Women, the future of our country depends on you. The last freedom is to say, ‘I prefer not to.’”

You can actually cut that down to just, "I," since it's nothing more than the obsession with the self.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Elections Are Not that Complicated (JEFFREY KLUGER, 2/15/08, TIME)

Ockham was known in his time as William of Ockham, the prolific English philosopher most famous for one big hit: the eponymous Ockham's razor. A champion of simplicity, Ockham made it his mission to argue that things should never be made more complicated than they have to be. If there are a lot of ways to explain a phenomenon, slice your answer as finely as you can.

For six and a half centuries, Ockham's razor has demonstrated its power across all disciplines. We figured out that infinitesimal viruses existed long before we could see them, simply by filtering the bigger bacteria out of infectious fluid and finding that it still made lab rats sick. Economics relies on Ockham too. The very best way to increase tax revenue is — sorry to say — to increase taxes. And criminal lawyers absolutely love Ockham: Motive, opportunity and your fingerprints on a weapon don't always mean you did it, but they do often enough that, odds are, you're going away for a reason.

Apply the Razor to a conservative white male vs an extremely liberal black and the answer it renders is too obvious for pundits to accept.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


Battling Bolshevism: a review of The World on Fire by Anthony Read (Victor Sebestyen, 2/16/08, Daily Telegraph)

The Western powers were terrified, but were split over how they might halt the spread of Bolshevism. In Britain, Winston Churchill, then Minister for War, wanted to conduct a military campaign to topple the new Russian government - "one might as well legalise sodomy as recognise the Bolsheviks", he told a Cabinet colleague.

The prime minister, Lloyd George, put a stop to the idea, arguing that a war with Russia was the best way to strengthen support for Communism. The American president, Woodrow Wilson, idealistically setting up the League of Nations at the time, vetoed an invasion of Russia, while the French leader, Georges Clemenceau, seemed to formulate a different policy each week.

At length, the countries reached a compromise. They blockaded ports and sent small numbers of troops to a few isolated areas in Russia to supply and aid the White Russians in their war against the Reds. It was doomed from the start.

It's remarkable the degree to which the problems of the last hundred years trace to President Wilson's pursuit of his transnational pet project instead of an American insistence on self-determination for all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Why McCain Endures: The Candidate Knows That Hopefulness Sells (Michael Gerson, February 8, 2008, Washington Post)

Early in this cycle, many elements of the Republican coalition rooted for -- and fully expected -- a decisive, ideological break from the compromised Bush years on issues such as immigration and foreign policy.

Those hopes have been disappointed.

First, tough immigration restrictions were supposed to be a unifying rallying cry -- the defining domestic commitment of the post-Bush Republican coalition. [...]

As the primaries progressed, John McCain was forced to trim on the immigration issue. But he did not surrender his previous convictions like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee -- who used their white flags as campaign banners. The most pro-immigration Republican candidate is likely to be the Republican nominee -- not because his view on this topic prevailed, but because a strong, appealing presidential candidate does not target millions of men and women as a political strategy.

Second, some conservatives expected the Republican nominee to play down Bush's foreign policy idealism and focus narrowly on direct American interests. Bush's democracy agenda was criticized by some traditionalists and realists as "utopian Wilsonianism" and "as un-conservative as it can be." Fred Thompson attempted to curry conservative favor in South Carolina by deriding Bush's increases in global AIDS funding as a diversion from real American needs.

But John McCain displayed the most ideological continuity with Bush's moral internationalism.

...to be surprised that the candidate who most resembles the Gipper and W was going to be the Republican nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


The Population Gap (James C. Capretta, February 14, 2008, Washington Times)

Over the medium and long term, the United States retains an important economic advantage over much of the rest of the world. That advantage is a growing population of younger workers. In contrast, Europe and Japan are on the verge of an unprecedented labor-force contraction, which will slow their economies markedly in the years ahead.

The size of a country's economy depends fundamentally on two factors: how much each worker, on average, can produce and the absolute size of the active workforce. Business investment in new technology, modern production plants and better equipment are crucial, as these investments increase worker productivity, which in turn boosts total output, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP).

But a vibrant economy is just as dependent on a ready supply of skilled workers as it is on continuous capital investment. The National Center for Health Statistics reported in January that there were 4.3 million births in the United States in 2006, the most since 1961. We are now experiencing something of a baby boomlet in this country, with the fertility rate inching up to 2.1 children per woman -- the magic level needed to sustain a population across generations.

Some time around 2030, those babies born in recent years will become indispensable participants in our economy, earning a living, producing goods and services and paying taxes. And we will need every bit of their output to meet the consumption needs of an aging population. Projections for Social Security show the number of Americans age 65 and older will nearly double in the next two decades, rising from 38 million in 2006 to 70 million in 2030. Thanks to our relatively high fertility rates, these same projections show the number of Americans aged 20 to 64 will increase from 183 million in 2006 to 201 million in 2030.

Even with a growing workforce, these projections point to an increase in financial stress. The ratio of the elderly population to the working-age population in the United States will rise from .21 in 2006 to .35 in 2030; and it will get worse from there.

But the situation is far worse in Europe and Japan. According to the European Commission, in 2004 the countries of the European Union (EU) had, in total, a fertility rate of around 1.5 children per woman, with some countries as high as 1.8 and others as low as 1.2. Japan's birth rate stands at about 1.3 children per woman, according to U.N. estimates.

Thus the global dependence on American debt and the danger of reducing same.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 AM


You Say You Want a Revolution: Political worshippers of the new Messiah. (Mark Steyn, 2/16/08, National Review)

The Bush-assassination fantasies are concocted by his political opponents and at least arise from his acts — invading the world; slaughtering 14 million Iraqi civilians or whatever it’s up to by now; shredding the constitution. By contrast, the Obama-assassination porn is written by his worshippers and testifies to one of the most palpable features of the senator’s campaign — its faintly ersatz quality, its determination to appropriate Camelot and every other mythic narrative. A few days ago, a local news team went to shoot some film at the Houston campaign headquarters for Obama. Behind the desks of the perky gals answering the phones were posters of Che Guevara and Cuban flags. Needless to say, the news reporters were either indifferent to this curious veneration or too sensitive to mention it, and it was left to the right-wing extremist Roy Rogers fascists of the blogosphere to point it out.

Do Obama’s volunteers even know who Che is? Apart from being a really cool guy on posters and T-shirts, like James Dean or Bart Simpson, I doubt it. They’re pseudo-revolutionaries. Very few people in America want a real revolution: Life is great, this is a terrific country, with unparalleled economic opportunities. To be sure, it’s a tougher break if you have the misfortune to be the victim of one of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs or a decrepit inner-city grade school with a higher per-student budget than the wealthiest parts of Switzerland. But even so, to be born a U.S. citizen is, as Cecil Rhodes once said of England, to win first prize in the lottery of life. Not even Obama supporters want real revolution: They’re messy, your cities get torched, the economy collapses, much of your talent flees. Ask the many peoples around the world for whom revolution means not a lame-o Sixties poster above your desk but the carnage and horror of the day before yesterday.

Poor mean vengeful Hillary, heading for a one-way ticket on the oblivion express, has a point. Barack Obama is an elevator Muzak dinner-theater reduction of all the glibbest hand-me-down myths in liberal iconography — which is probably why he’s a shoo-in. The problems facing America — unsustainable entitlements, broken borders, nuclearizing enemies — require tough solutions not gaseous Sesame Street platitudes. But, unlike the whose-turn-is-it? GOP, Mrs. Clinton’s crowd generally picks the new kid on the block: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. I wonder if Hillary Rodham, Goldwater Girl of 1964, ever wishes she’s stuck with her original party.

Obama Casts His Spell (Charles Krauthammer, 2/16/08, Real Clear Politics)
There's no better path to success than getting people to buy a free commodity. Like the genius who figured out how to get people to pay for water: bottle it (Aquafina was revealed to be nothing more than reprocessed tap water) and charge more than they pay for gasoline. Or consider how Google found a way to sell dictionary nouns -- boat, shoe, clock -- by charging advertisers zillions to be listed whenever the word is searched.

And now, in the most amazing trick of all, a silver-tongued freshman senator has found a way to sell hope. To get it, you need only give him your vote. Barack Obama is getting millions.

This kind of sale is hardly new. Organized religion has been offering a similar commodity -- salvation -- for millennia. Which is why the Obama campaign has the feel of a religious revival with, as writer James Wolcott observed, a "salvational fervor" and "idealistic zeal divorced from any particular policy or cause and chariot-driven by pure euphoria."

It's asking a lot even of the black Jesus to keep this state of euphoria going for another 9 months. The length of the American presidential election process is poison to flavors of the month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Minority Rules (MELINE TOUMANI, 2/17/08, NY Times Magazine)

In Turkish media coverage of P.K.K. attacks, there is little discussion of Kurdish civilians being killed by Turkish soldiers — still less about why a child growing up in the southeast might be driven to sympathize with the P.K.K. The young victim in Demirbas’s picture frame, Kaymaz, played a role in another of the lawsuits against the mayor. Directly across the street from the entrance to the Sur district office building, Demirbas erected a sculpture: an abstract and striking figure made of stone, with its arms curved up into the air. The statue has 13 small, identical round holes carved into it; these represent the 13 bullets with which Ugur Kaymaz was killed. The words on the statue are paragraphs from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in Turkish. For erecting such a memorial Demirbas was accused of “misuse of municipal office and resources” once again.

Children have a special place in Demirbas’s work. He served as the head of the Diyarbakir teachers’ union for 18 years — he was fired for criticizing the nationalist school curriculum — and as mayor championed children’s festivals, libraries, music groups and the free distribution of children’s activity books in Kurdish, Turkish and Assyrian. He was likely to take the opportunity to explain why the Turkish primary-school experience is a particularly sensitive issue for Kurds. Most Kurdish children in poor, rural areas start school without knowing how to speak Turkish. Demirbas told me that on his first day of school, at age 6, his teacher lifted him up by the earlobes because he did not know how to say “my teacher” in Turkish. “I am 41 years old,” Demirbas says. “But I can never forget that teacher and that school.”

Demirbas’s colleague Osman Baydemir is six years younger but has similar stories. A lawyer by profession, Baydemir is mayor of the greater Diyarbakir municipality, which encompasses Sur and 31 other districts. Baydemir faces more than 50 investigations and also risks prison for a long list of cultural offenses. Baydemir, too, started school without a word of Turkish. He recounted to me the informal “web of espionage” that characterized his childhood years: in his Kurdish village near Diyarbakir, a few children kept track of which kids spoke Kurdish in the village and reported the names to their teachers, who levied punishments accordingly. Baydemir, who has published health brochures and a book of baby names in Kurdish, among other materials, said that in meetings with the public in this part of the country, if politicians don’t speak Kurdish most people do not understand them: “If we carry out a public-service campaign in Turkish only, there are limited results.”

But the use of Kurdish is not simply a matter of linguistic comprehension. Sometimes it is a form of diplomacy. One of the most aggressive legal investigations against Baydemir concerned a series of public statements he made in Kurdish in March 2006. In a battle that month between P.K.K. militants and Turkish soldiers, 14 Kurds had been killed. Diyarbakir exploded in mass demonstrations that ultimately became violent. Baydemir begged the crowd — in Turkish — to settle down, to refuse further violence, to go home and rest. The crowd chanted P.K.K. slogans, like “Teeth to teeth, blood to blood, we are with you Ocalan,” referring to Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the P.K.K. whom Baydemir, as a lawyer, had defended after his capture in 1999. Desperate to subdue the crowd, Baydemir switched to Kurdish. “You claimed your identity,” he told them. “With burnt hearts, you claimed your people and your pain. We are also with you. Be sure of this. But for the sake of peace, for the sake of your success, we have to listen to each other under the leadership of the party” — the Democratic Society Party, or D.T.P., Turkey’s only legal “pro-Kurdish” party. “We fear,” he went on, “that this mobilization from now on will harm our nation and our people. From now on, we all will go back to our homes quietly.” Sixteen people were killed in the rioting that subsequently spread across the southeast and into Istanbul. The mandate — the ordeal — of a mayor in a Kurdish town was clear: a kind of internal mediation of the highest order, the challenge of connecting to the hearts of the Kurdish population while governing according to the laws of the state.

Nearly all of the prominent Kurdish politicians accused of language violations are members of the D.T.P. But the latest front in the party’s legal battles is not crimes against the alphabet but the status of the D.T.P. itself. On Nov. 16, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, applied to the Constitutional Court to ban the D.T.P., arguing that it is merely a suit-and-tie-clad front for the P.K.K. “The party in question has become a base for activities which aim at the independence of the state and its indivisible unity,” the prosecutor wrote in his statement.

This move to ban the pro-Kurdish party, likely to last several months in court, is in some ways less surprising than the fact that the D.T.P. made it to Parliament at all. In the past several years, at least four Kurdish parties have been banned or forced to dissolve in Turkey, always under the accusation of supporting the P.K.K. and threatening Turkey’s unity. But the D.T.P. has been different. In last July’s elections, it became the first Kurdish party to have a strong presence in Parliament in more than a decade. It did so by running its candidates as independents in order to get around a 10-percent minimum (of the total vote) that a party would need to achieve in order to actually win seats. Supporters saw its victory as a chance to address Kurdish issues in Turkey through democratic means. D.T.P. members took great pains to assert their desire to work within the law, to give voice to the economic, social and cultural concerns of their constituents and to bridge the deep chasms between their group and Turkey’s old guard, which is represented by the Republican People’s Party and the Nationalist Action Party.

But from the new Parliament’s opening session in August, the D.T.P.’s presence set in motion a circus of hostile and even juvenile behavior. At the helm of Parliament, the neo-Islamist Justice and Development Party has been the most neutral. But throughout the late summer and fall, Turkish society was captivated by play-by-play scrutiny of who would shake whose hand and who would be invited to whose parties. Some representatives of nationalist and secularist camps took to calling their D.T.P. colleagues “separatists.”

The remnants of empires are always especially inorganic and nationalism drives the constituent pieces apart rather than holding them together. Kurdistan is separate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Bush Proposes Linking the Medicare Drug Premium to Beneficiaries’ Income(ROBERT PEAR, 2/16/08, NY Times)

President Bush proposed legislation on Friday to increase prescription drug premiums for higher-income Medicare beneficiaries.

The proposal, which the administration said would generate $3.2 billion of additional revenue for Medicare over five years, was part of a broader package that is intended to rein in Medicare costs while advancing the Republican vision of a larger private role in the health care system.

The Democratic-controlled Congress is unlikely to approve Mr. Bush’s legislation. Indeed, though the 2003 Medicare law requires the lawmakers to consider it on a speedy timetable, that law does not guarantee even a vote on the package.

But Republican supporters will be able to force Congress to debate the ideas. With Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund expected to run out of money in 11 years, Democrats acknowledge that Congress and the nation will eventually need to consider such proposals.

John McCain should run on means-testing as an "economic justice" issue and let Democrats explain why Bill Gates deserves the same welfare handouts as the mythic burger-flipper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


PECOTA Projected Standings are up, and PFM (Nate Silver, 2/16/08, Baseball Prospectus)

We’ve kept this a little under the radar, but the first version of the PECOTA projected standings are fired up and ready to go.

For the most part, these numbers conform pretty well to conventional wisdom. In the American League, you have five teams fighting for the four playoff slots, and it looks like the Tigers and Indians — whom we have dead-even at 89-73 — will fight the most compelling battle, as both the Red Sox and Yankees are just a hair ahead of them. And there’s really not anyone who’s all that close to breaking into that hegemony, although the Devil Rays — who we’re showing one game over .500 — could make things interesting if their young pitching pulls together. PECOTA’s also not buying the Mariners as contenders; we simply don’t think they’re going to score enough runs. [...]

And the Mets really might be the best team in baseball, regardless of what league they happen to play in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Hispanics for Hillary (Robert Novak, 2/16/08, Real Clear Politics)

Reps. Hilda Solis and Lucille Roybal-Allard, Hispanic-American Democrats from California, have been busy on the House floor lobbying uncommitted Democratic super-delegates to support Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama.

Hispanic voters have been the element in the Democratic coalition that has proved most resistant to Obama and faithful to Clinton. They were most responsible for Clinton's win in the Feb. 5 California primary, where non-Hispanic Caucasians broke evenly.

Southern Baptists Diversifying to Survive: Minority Outreach Seen as Key to Crisis (Jacqueline L. Salmon, 2/16/08, Washington Post)
These days, the faith that was once proudly white now touts the fact that almost 20 percent of its congregations are predominantly black, Latino or Asian. Hundreds of minorities serve in leadership posts in its state conventions, seminaries and other organizations.

The SBC Mission Board estimates that the number of black members has doubled to about 1 million since the 1995 apology.

Southern Baptists are starting churches in black communities and, while they insist they don't recruit from predominantly black denominations, the outreach strategy includes welcoming black preachers from those bodies and offering them multi-day "boot camps" -- intensive teaching in starting Southern Baptist churches.

"I wish it was all just spiritual, but some of it is pragmatic as well," said the Rev. Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "Our highest growth is coming in ethnic congregations, so it's very important for the growth of our convention . . . If we're going to reach our nation, we're going to need to reach ethnic groups."

The SBC encourages new pastors to network with other black Southern Baptist leaders, offering them names and contact information. A recent publication details African Americans' involvement in the SBC since its founding, although it omits any mention of past racism and the 1995 apology.

Redmond, 40, was a member of the predominantly black Progressive National Baptist Convention and a professor of Bible and theology at Washington Bible College in Lanham when he was asked to fill in as minister at Hillcrest Baptist Church in 2001.

The Progressive and the Southern Baptists are just two of several U.S. Baptist denominations. There are at least four historically black Baptist organizations, five in the evangelical tradition, plus at least one more in the mainline tradition, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Redmond was attracted by the Southern Baptists' theologically and socially conservative stances on abortion and same-sex marriage and the conviction that the Bible is the word of God and entirely without error. Black Baptist preachers generally place a greater emphasis on social justice and activism than their Southern Baptist counterparts.

"For an outsider, we think of the old convention with all its cultural conservatism, separatism and fundamentalism," Redmond said. "But what I found were people that were seeking to be very welcoming to African Americans in particular and to ethnic minorities in general."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Democrats and the Politics of Identity (Blake D. Dvorak, 2/16/08, Real Clear Politics)

My colleague Jay Cost, as someone who not only knows what an ordinary least squares regression analysis is, but also knows how to perform one, has calculated that each of the states Obama has won since Super Tuesday played heavily to at least one of Obama's demographic strengths: states with either large African-American populations or, somewhat counter-intuitively, "homogeneously" white populations; states with high median incomes for white voters; states with low Hispanic populations; and states with low union membership.

Using this formula, Cost noted that it is possible to forecast the upcoming contests. So, for instance, Obama should do well in Oregon (homogeneously white) while Clinton should do well in Kentucky (low median white income). The model does not account for momentum, however, which Obama might have picked up by winning the last eight contests. But the larger point is that, given the demographic makeup of the remaining states, one can predict, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, just which candidate should do well in which state. In fact, on average, the remaining states favor Clinton slightly. Good news for her tear ducts.

But bad news for a Democratic Party that can no longer deny that it has a serious problem of identity politics.

...what do you call a party that's trying to nominate a candidate who can only carry majority black/upper middle class states?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Barack Obama's Messiah Complex (Jonathan Stein, 02/13/08, Mother Jones Blog)

This is our moment to do what? To march? To organize? No. To vote for Obama. As if simply by voting for one man, we make a mark upon this country as indelibly as those who fought the Nazis or sat at lunch counters.

But the easiness of Obama's movement isn't what bothers me most. I am profoundly troubled that any candidate would chart the course of American history as follows (and I'm rearranging Obama's history here to make it more chronological):

American Revolutionaries -> Manifest Destiny -> Slaves/Abolitionists -> Suffragettes -> the Labor Movement -> the Greatest Generation -> the Civil Rights Movement -> Himself.

The Obama Mystery (David Ignatius, February 17, 2008, Washington Post)

"Why is the press going so easy on Barack Obama?" asks a prominent Democratic Party strategist, echoing a criticism frequently made by the Clinton campaign. It's a fair question, and now that Obama appears to be the front-runner in terms of his delegate count, he deserves a closer look, especially from people like me who have written positively about him.

The reason to look closely now, quite simply, is to avoid buyer's remorse later.

The Streets Are Alive with the Sound of Politics (Richard Reeves, 2/16/08, Real Clear Politics)
At my house a couple of nights before, someone said that if black people thought Barack Obama were cheated out of the Democratic nomination, they would boycott the election -- and that would be the end of the Democrats. "I'd boycott, too," said half a dozen people around the table -- and they were all white.

There are dangers in all of this, of course, as we learned in 1968. For those who have forgotten or never knew, the Democratic Party tore itself to pieces in battles in which young and often privileged students -- devoted to everything from love and peace to anarchy and war -- taunted policemen trying to make enough money to send their own kids to college, and the cops started swinging.

And middle America cheered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


What Went Wrong? Scientific Materialism and the Abolition of Man: excerpted from Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science (John G. West, 02/15/08, First Principles)

An idea’s consequences may not be fully anticipated by its proponents. Nathaniel Hawthorne wryly observed that “no human effort, on a grand scale, has ever yet resulted according to the purpose of its projectors . . . We miss the good we sought, and do the good we little cared for.” Scientific materialism was supposed to be a great engine of human progress in politics and culture. It was not. And its failures continue to influence American public policy.

One consequence of scientific materialism for politics was the elevation of technocracy—rule by scientific experts—over democracy. Since science was supposed to be the true source of objective information about the world, proponents of scientific materialism logically concluded that scientists—not the general public, or their elected representatives—should be the ultimate arbiters of public policy.

At its core, this message was profoundly anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic. Speaking before the Second International Congress of Eugenics in 1921, Alleyne Ireland declared that current conditions had rendered America’s original form of government established by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence “utterly unsuitable.” America’s Founders believed that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and they set up arrangements “designed with a view to making abuse of power difficult.” But in an age when government must increasingly provide a wide range of social services, society could no longer afford to rely on government by nonexperts. Ireland stated that it was “imperative . . . that the omnipresent activity of government should be guided by the light of scientific knowledge and conducted through the instrumentality of a scientific method.”

The claim that society should place its faith in scientific experts rather than ordinary citizens or elected officials was a common refrain in public-policy debates colored by scientific materialism. To be sure, few were as blunt as Ireland in directly attacking the Constitution or demanding a governing role for scientists. Yet in controversy after controversy, the message was unmistakable. Whether the issue was education or welfare or crime, members of the public were urged to place their trust in the findings of scientific experts rather than their own core beliefs or the views of political and religious leaders. Science with a capital “S” dictated the replacement of punishment with treatment in the criminal-justice system, the enactment of forced sterilization in the welfare system, and the substitution of “value-free” information from sex researchers for traditional moral teachings about family life in public schools. In each of these areas, the claim was made at least implicitly that scientific expertise should trump other sources of knowledge, including ethics, philosophy, tradition, religion, and common sense.

Much could be said in favor of the authority of scientific expertise in modern life. In an increasingly complex and technologically driven world, the need for scientific input on public policy would seem obvious. Since many policy questions today arise in such science-based fields as medicine, transportation, and ecology, why shouldn’t politicians and voters simply defer to the authority of scientific experts in these areas?

Although this line of reasoning exhibits a surface persuasiveness, it ignores the natural limits of scientific expertise. Scientific knowledge may be necessary for good public policy in certain areas. But it is not sufficient. Political problems are preeminently moral problems, and scientists are ill-equipped to function as moralists. C. S. Lewis warned about this drawback of technocracy in the 1950s. “I dread specialists in power, because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects,” Lewis wrote. “Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value.”

To cite a concrete example: Wildlife biologists may be able to provide policymakers with information about which species are in danger of extinction and perhaps predict some of the costs of their extinction to biodiversity. But they have no more authority than anyone else in determining whether a particular endangered species is more valuable than the jobs that may be lost trying to save that species from extinction. Politics is largely about ranking and reconciling competing goods. But the ranking of goods involves questions of justice and morality, and as Lewis pointed out, “a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value” on such questions.

Technocracy poses a further difficulty: Experts can be wrong, sometimes egregiously. If the history of scientific materialism in politics shows anything, it is that scientific experts are as fallible as anyone else. They are capable of being blinded by their own prejudices and going beyond the evidence in order to promote the policies they favor. Alfred Kinsey’s empirical claims about the sexual behavior of the general American public were junk science, given his deeply flawed sample population; yet that did not stop him from boldly making his claims and vigorously defending them as sound science.

What is true of individual scientists can be true of the scientific community as a whole. For decades, eugenics was embraced as legitimate by America’s leading scientists and scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Critics of eugenics, meanwhile, were stigmatized as antiscience and religious zealots. Yet the critics turned out to be right. Similarly, the lobotomy was uncritically embraced for years by the medical community as a miracle cure, and the scientist who pioneered the operation in human beings won a Nobel Prize for his efforts. Only after tens of thousands of individuals had been lobotomized did healthy skepticism prevail.

To cite a more recent example, various scientists and medical professors into the 1990s continued to invoke Haeckel’s discredited theory of embryonic recapitulation to supply a scientific justification for abortion. And in 2003, hundreds of scientists in Texas defended inaccurate biology textbooks they likely had never read because they were more interested in safeguarding the public image of Darwin’s theory of evolution than they were in presenting students with accurate facts.

Any suggestion that policymakers should simply rubber-stamp the advice of the current majority of scientists is profoundly subversive of the fundamental principles of representative democracy. As equal citizens before the law, scientists have every right to inform policymakers of the scientific implications of their actions. But they have no special right to demand that policymakers listen to them alone.

Unfortunately, a growing chorus urges that public policy be dictated by the majority of scientific experts without input from anyone else. This bold assertion is made not just with regard to evolution, but concerning a host of other controversial issues such as sex education, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning, and global warming. Any dissent from the orthodoxy of “experts” on these issues allegedly represents a “war on science.” But that’s just not the case.

A second consequence of scientific materialism for public policy was the cultivation of a vigorous form of utopianism. Believing they possessed the key to understanding and ultimately controlling human behavior, defenders of scientific materialism were confident that science could usher in heaven on earth—if only they tried hard enough.

Their heady optimism is not difficult to understand. By the late nineteenth century, science had produced marvelous advances in medicine, agriculture, sanitation, and transportation. Why couldn’t the triumphs of the scientific method over the natural world be extended to the social sphere? If science could prevent the spread of physical diseases like smallpox, why couldn’t it also prevent outbreaks of social diseases like crime and poverty? If science could breed better strains of cattle and corn, why couldn’t it breed better kinds of people?

Addressing the American Breeders Association in 1913, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson acknowledged that the wholesale replacement of “inferior” human stocks with “the best part of the human race . . . at first seems like an Utopian vision,” but he then quickly added: “Why should it not come? Must science stop in its beneficence with the plant and the animal? Is not man, after all, the architect of his own racial destiny?” Wilson’s rosy rhetoric revealed the startling naïveté at the heart of the scientific-materialist agenda.

Scientists and policymakers who were readily skeptical of claims made by religion or tradition turned out to be supremely credulous when it came to claims made in the name of science. They accepted at face value the purported benefits of such procedures as lobotomies, psychosurgery, and forced sterilization. They made grand promises about how science could solve intractable social problems such as crime and poverty. They showed little appreciation for the fact that science, like all human endeavors, could be misused, especially when allied with political power. Eugenist Herbert Walter sanguinely predicted that nothing like “the Spanish Inquisition or . . . the Salem witchcraft persecution” would take place in an age of modern science. Only two decades before the Nazis ascended to power in Germany, Walter predicted that “it is unlikely that the world will ever see another great religious inquisition, or that in applying to man the newly found laws of heredity there will ever be undertaken an equally deplorable eugenic inquisition.” Harry Laughlin asserted with confidence that no one—not even one person—had been wrongly sterilized in America. AAAS president Charles Eliot at least acknowledged the prospect that physical and chemical science could be enlisted “as means of destruction and death.” But even he thought the application of biology to society held no danger: “Biological science has great advantage in this respect over physical and chemical [science]. It can not so frequently or easily be applied to evil ends.” Eliot wrote those words in 1915 as the eugenics movement was well on its way to compelling the sterilization of thousands of people across America.

Prior to the rise of scientific materialism, a strong anti-utopian sentiment in American political culture counterbalanced the zealousness of reformers. America’s Founders, in addition to their idealism, displayed a keen realism about the imperfections of human nature. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” wrote James Madison in The Federalist. “The best Institutions may be abused by human depravity . . . they may even . . . be made subservient to the vilest of purposes,” echoed George Washington. Nathaniel Hawthorne satirized the overblown hopes of contemporary reformers in his short story “Earth’s Holocaust” (1844). There he described how militant do-gooders planned to cleanse the earth of imperfection by creating a giant bonfire out on the western prairies on which they could throw every conceivable cause of social evil. The great conflagration burned for days and consumed everything thrown into it, but the fire still did not produce the perfect society. Hawthorne’s punch line was that the reformers failed because they could not reach the ultimate cause of human misery, the human heart. Social conditions might wax and wane, but sinful human nature was unchangeable this side of heaven.

Scientific materialism tried to refute this kind of political realism.

Does Darwinism Devalue Human Life? (Richard Weikart, Spring 2004, The Human Life Review)
A number of years ago two intelligent students surprised me in a class discussion by defending the proposition that Hitler was neither good nor evil. Though I kept my composure, I was horrified. One of the worst mass murderers in history wasn't evil? How could they believe this? How could they justify such a view?

They did it by appealing to Darwinism. Their pronouncement on Hitler occurred while we were discussing James Rachels' book, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (Oxford University Press, 1990). Darwinism, these students informed us, undermined all morality. This was not the first time I had heard such a view. In fact, at that time I was in the beginning phases of a research project on the history of evolutionary ethics, and I had already reviewed the work of some scientists and social scientists who believed that Darwinism undermined human rights and equality.

Before reading Rachels' book, however, I hadn't thought much about whether or not Darwinism devalued human life itself. Rachels, a philosopher at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, best known for his contributions to the euthanasia debate, argues that Darwinism undermines the Judeo-Christian belief in the sanctity of human life. The title of his book comes from an observation Darwin makes in his 1838 notebooks, "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity. More humble and, I believe, true to consider him created from animals." Rachels assumes the truth of Darwinism and uses it as a springboard to justify euthanasia, infanticide (for disabled babies), abortion, and animal rights. Stimulated by his book, I continued my research on evolutionary ethics, but now with two new questions in mind: Does Darwinism undermine the Judeo-Christian understanding of the sanctity of human life? Does it weaken traditional proscriptions against killing the sick and the weak?

As I read more about the development of evolutionary ethics, I discovered that many scientists, social thinkers, and especially physicians in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Germany did indeed use Darwinian arguments to devalue human life. In the second edition of his popular book, The Natural History of Creation (1870), Ernst Haeckel, the leading Darwinist in Germany, became the first German scholar to seriously propose that disabled infants be killed at birth. Darwinists were in the forefront of the eugenics movement, which often taught that disabled people and non-Europeans were inferior to healthy Europeans. They argued that Darwinism implied human inequality, since biological variation has to occur to drive the process of evolution. Haeckel even suggested that Darwinism was an "aristocratic" process, favoring an aristocracy of talent (not the traditional landed aristocracy, for which Haeckel had no sympathy). Since Darwinism provided a naturalistic explanation for the origin of ethics, many of its adherents dismissed human rights as a chimera.

Darwin expressed incredulity when critics assailed him for undermining morality. In his Autobiography, however, Darwin rejected the idea of objective moral standards, stating that one "can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones." Friedrich Hellwald, an influential ethnologist, promoted a Darwinian view of social evolution in his major work, The History of Culture (1875). Hellwald was quite radical in exalting the Darwinian process of the struggle for existence above all moral considerations. "The right of the stronger," he insisted, "is a natural law." (2) He clarified this idea further:

In nature only One Right rules, which is no right, the right of the stronger, or violence. But violence is also in fact the highest source of right, in that without it no legislation is thinkable. I will in the course of my portrayal easily prove that even in human history the right of the stronger has fundamentally retained its validity at all times.

This Darwinian undermining of human rights would be fateful for the Judeo-Christian vision of the sanctity of human life.

When the secular intellectual class clings to a belief that is patently false as science but justifies empowering themselves at the expense of democracy, morality, etc., it's safe to assume that the dehumanization is the basis of their faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


An Iranian Revolutionary, Dismayed but Unbowed (MICHAEL SLACKMAN, 2/16/08, NY Times)

MR. YAZDI opposed the student takeover of the United States Embassy in 1979, but that is not to say he was pro-American. He was a critic of Washington’s policies toward Iran, and an enemy of Zionism. But he wanted a normal state, one recognized by the international community, not a pariah, isolated and radicalized. He says he knew that taking diplomats hostage would lead to the kind of Iranian state that exists today, one that continues to reward the most radical ideas.

Unexpectedly, Mr. Yazdi finds himself today aligned with some of those hostage takers, like Abbas Abdi, who, like Mr. Yazdi, now want to reform the system, and, like Mr. Yazdi, have been marginalized for their views.

“We thought we knew a lot of things back then,” Mr. Abdi said. “Everything was simplified. We thought, if only the shah goes, everything will be solved and finished. But the revolution was right, there was no alternative, no solution.”

Mr. Yazdi says he is a fundamentalist, but what he means is that he is a Muslim intellectual, traditional in his adherence to ritual and teachings. But he is a staunch democrat who defines democracy not by the mechanics of governance, not by elections and institutions, but by ideas.

“We recognize tolerance as a basic component of democracy,” he said. “God has not created all of us alike — we are different — human society is a pluralistic society. In the Koran, God is telling us that man is created to be free. So we are free to think, and think different. So the aim of democracy is to recognize the pluralistic nature of human society. The second item is tolerance, I have to tolerate my opponent. With tolerance comes compromise; without compromise democracy doesn’t exist.”

February 15, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 PM


Bush branded 'cowboy of space' after decision to shoot down malfunctioning satellite (Daily Mail, 15th February 2008)

President Bush was branded a cowboy last night amid claims that his decision to shoot down a failed satellite could spark a confrontation with Russia and China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 PM


Ronald Reagan Would Back John McCain (Michael Reagan, February 15, 2008, FrontPageMagazine.com)

In 1976 the Ford vs. Reagan campaign for the Republican presidential nomination got so heated it looked as if my father and Jerry Ford would never again talk to one another.

When it was over and Ford had won, what did Ronald Reagan do? He simply went all-out to help Ford win his re-election, as did I and as did my sister Maureen. My dad simply followed his rule of backing the Republican candidate no matter who he was.

Assuming that John McCain will be the Republican nominee, you can bet my father would be itching to get out on the campaign trail working to elect him even if he disagreed with him on a number of issues.

Unlike my father, a lot of conservatives stayed home in 1976, and we got four years of Jimmy Carter...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 PM


The Situation in Iraq: A Briefing from the BattlefieldAnthony H. Cordesman, 2/13/08, CSIS Reports)

No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. A combination of the surge, improved win and hold tactics, the tribal uprising in Anbar and other provinces, the Sadr ceasefire, and major advances in the use of IS&R have transformed the battle against Al Qaida in Iraq. If the US provides sustained support to the Iraqi government -- in security, governance, and development -- there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.

The attached briefing provides detailed graphs and maps taken from material provided to me during my visit to Iraq. The briefing is an update on the situation throughout Iraq, and shows the trends over the past year. These graphs and maps measure major acts of violence, ethno-sectarian violence, and trends in IED and other forms of attack. These same trends emerge from a detailed examination of what is happening in Baghdad, Anbar, and Central Iraq. They show the war is far from over, but the violence has been sharply reduced, and perhaps to the minimum levels possible until Iraq improves its governance and development and moves much further towards political accommodation.

At the same time, this progress is dependent on major additional Iraqi government action well beyond the passing of the Iraqi FY2008 budget, the provincial powers act, and the laws easing de-Baathification. Major improvements are still required in the Iraqi government and in governance at the national, provincial, and local levels. Budgets need to be spent effectively and without corruption. Counterinsurgency must be followed by creation of the rule of law. Major moves are still needed to establish political accommodation in an enduring form, and to conduct elections that have true political legitimacy at every level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 PM


Hamas tells Egypt ready to discuss Israel truce (Reuters, 2/15/08)

Hamas said on Friday it has told Egyptian officials it would consider a ceasefire with Israel if it lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip and ceased military operations in all Palestinian territories.

Hamas also discussed with Egyptian officials this week the possibility of a prisoner deal that could lead to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, seized by Hamas in a 2006 raid, in exchange for Israel freeing several hundreds of Palestinians from its jails, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Sources close to Hamas said Egypt, which brokered a year-long truce between the Islamist group and Israel in 2005, had wanted to explore Hamas's position before holding any possible talks with Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Syria 'to name Mughniyeh killer' (BBC, 2/15/08)

Syria has said it will soon present "irrefutable" proof of who was behind the killing of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in the capital, Damascus.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem would not discuss the ongoing investigation, but insisted the world would "soon hear the results of this mighty effort".

...the result would be self-humiliation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Obama's Big-Government Vision (LAWRENCE KUDLOW, February 15, 2008, Creators Syndicate, Inc.)

Mr. Obama unveiled much of his economic strategy in Wisconsin this week: He wants to spend $150 billion on a green-energy plan. He wants to establish an infrastructure investment bank to the tune of $60 billion. He wants to expand health insurance by roughly $65 billion. He wants to "reopen" trade deals, which is another way of saying he wants to raise the barriers to free trade.

He intends to regulate the profits for drug companies, health insurers, and energy firms. He wants to establish a mortgage-interest tax credit. He wants to double the number of workers receiving the earned income tax credit, the EITC, and triple the EITC benefit for minimum-wage workers. The Obama spend-o-meter is now up around $800 billion. And tax hikes on the rich won't pay for it. It's the middle class that will ultimately shoulder this fiscal burden in terms of higher taxes and lower growth.

This isn't free enterprise. It's old-fashioned-liberal tax, and spend, and regulate.

John McCain--helped by attacks on his Right--has tremendous credibility as a deficit hawk. All this is right in his wheelhouse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


The day politics stopped working: It is exactly five years since at least a million people took to the streets of London in protest at Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq. Britain had never before seen a public outcry like it. So why, asks John Harris, haven't we seen one again since? (John Harris, 2/15/08, The Guardian)

It seems an awfully long time ago now, that chilly winter's day. Iain Duncan Smith, as zealous an advocate of military action as Blair, was the leader of the Conservative party; Charles Kennedy was in charge of the Lib Dems. The UK's bestselling pop single was the work of a faux- lesbian Russian duo called Tatu. BBC Choice had just become BBC3; that year's hot tips for the Oscars included Chicago, The Pianist and Bowling for Columbine.

At first glance, the march seems every bit as far-flung - though it does not take much to bring the memories back in a properly Proustian flurry. [...]

But what happened? Where did all that energy go? There are all kinds of possible answers, focused on everything from the tactics of the organisers to the idea that modern protest might be a banal matter of registering one's individual dissent - "Not in my name," as the slogan put it - then going home happy.

Bingo! The protest wasn't about Iraq but about the self.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Limbaugh keeps pressure on McCain, spotlight on self (Jacques Steinberg, February 15, 2008, NY Times)

[T]he daily spankings Limbaugh has been administering over the air to McCain are about more than the host's practiced outrage over the senator's olive branch to liberals and moderates.

Limbaugh has also seized on the ascension of McCain to remind the world that his nationally syndicated program still matters and that he has not lost his long-demonstrated penchant for making mischief.

If his show mattered why would John McCain have won? Mr. Limbaugh is a gifted comic, but, as always in comedy, a healthy portion of the act depends on the audiencve laughing at him, not just with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


In War: Resolution (Victor Davis Hanson, Winter 2007, Claremont Review of Books)

[W]hat is missing from the national debate over the "worst" war in our history is any appreciation of past American military errors—political, strategic, technological, intelligence, tactical—that nearly cost us victory in far more important conflicts. Nor do we accept the savage irony of war that only through errors, tragic though they may be, do successful armies adjust in time to discover winning strategies, tactics, and generals.

Preoccupied with the daily news from Baghdad, we seem to think our generation is unique in experiencing the heartbreak of an error-plagued war. We forget that victory in every war goes to the side that commits fewer mistakes—and learns more from them in less time—not to the side that makes no mistakes. A perfect military in a flawless war never existed—though after Grenada and the air war over the Balkans we apparently thought otherwise. Rather than sink into unending recrimination over Iraq, we should reflect about comparable blunders in America's past wars and how they were corrected. Without such historical knowledge we are condemned to remain shrill captives of the present.

Take one of this war's most controversial issues, intelligence failures. Supposedly we went to war in 2003 with little accurate information about either Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or its endemic religious factionalism. As a result the U.S. government lost credibility and goodwill at home and abroad, and is now plagued by enormous political and military problems in trying to stabilize a constitutional government in Iraq. Have lapses of this magnitude been unusual in past wars?

Not at all, in either a strategic or tactical context. American intelligence officers missed the almost self-evident Pearl Harbor attack, as an entire Japanese carrier group steamed unnoticed to within a few hundred miles of Hawaii. After fighting for four long years we were completely surprised by the Soviets' efforts to absorb Eastern Europe. Almost no one had a clue about the Communist invasion of South Korea in June 1950—or the subsequent Chinese entrance en masse into North Korea months later. Neither the CIA nor the State Department had much inkling that Saddam Hussein would gobble up Kuwait in August 1990.

We should remember that long before the WMD controversy, the triggers for American wars have usually been odd affairs, characterized by poor intelligence gathering and inept diplomacy—and thus endless controversy and conspiracy mongering: for example, the so-called Thornton affair that started the Mexican War; the defense and shelling of Fort Sumter; the cry of "Remember the Maine!" that heralded the Spanish-American War; the murky circumstances surrounding the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania that turned public opinion against the Kaiser; the Pearl Harbor debacle; an offhand remark in January 1950 by Secretary of State Dean Acheson that South Korea was outside our "defense perimeter"; the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; and an American diplomat's apparent signal of unconcern to Saddam Hussein immediately before he invaded Kuwait.

At the battlefield level, America's intelligence failures are even more shocking. On April 6, 1862, Union forces at Shiloh allowed a large, noisy Confederate army under General Albert Sidney Johnston to approach unnoticed (by both Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman) to within a few thousand yards of their front with disastrous results. Grant—still clueless as to the forces arrayed against him—compounded his error by sending an ambiguous message for reinforcements to General Lew Wallace, resulting in a critical delay of aid for several hours. Hundreds of Union soldiers died in the meantime. Following the battle Union generals knew even less concerning the whereabouts of the retreating, defeated Confederate forces and thus allowed them to escape in safety. The hard-won Union victory became an object of blame-gaming for the remainder of the 19th century.

Perhaps the two costliest intelligence lapses of World War II preceded the Battle of the Bulge and Okinawa—both towards the end of the war, after radical improvements in intelligence methods and technology. Americans had no idea of the scope, timing, or aims of the massive German surprise attack through the Ardennes in December 1944, despite the battle-tested acumen of our two most respected generals, Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, and British and American intercepts of Wehrmacht messages. At Okinawa, American intelligence officers grievously underestimated the size, position, and nature of the Japanese deployment, and thus vastly overestimated the efficacy of their own pre-invasion bombing attacks. Yet Okinawa was not our first experience with island-hopping. It unfolded as the last invasion assault in the Pacific theater of operations—supposedly after the collective wisdom gleaned from Guadalcanal, the Marianas, Peleilu, the Philippines, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima had been well digested. Yet this late in the war, over 140,000 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing in the Ardennes and on Okinawa.

If we'd just messed Iraq up as badly as we did post-WWII Germany, half the country would be ruled by Ba'athists with our approval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Ideologies of Redemption: a review of Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics from the Great War to the War on Terror (Richard M. Gamble, 01/30/08, First Principles)

Dictatorship as religious faith has dominated the recent scholarship of British historian Michael Burleigh. In his authoritative Third Reich (2000), Burleigh diagnosed the spiritual pathology of Nazism. Then in Earthly Powers (2005) he provided wider context for Europe’s political gnosticism by reaching back to the French Revolution and following the story through World War I. Now, in Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics from the Great War to the War on Terror, Burleigh enters the dark inner world of totalitarian political religions, interpreting them to a large degree as variations on the Jacobin effort to supplant Christianity. “The plot,” he amply demonstrates, “had largely been scripted in Paris in 1789.”

In order to analyze political religions in their twentieth- and now twenty-first-century manifestations, Burleigh relies on the interpretive framework provided by the German political philosopher Eric Voegelin, French sociologist Raymond Aron, British journalist Frederick Voigt, and other observers of the West’s descent into madness in the 1930s, all of whom were distressed by totalitarianism’s immanentization of the sacred and eternal. Italian fascism, German Nazism, and Russian bolshevism all promised a kingdom very much of “this world” to replace the hope of the transcendent world to come. Burleigh builds on a helpful distinction made by a Catholic journal in the 1930s between a “substitute for religion” and a “substitute religion.” Totalitarianism became an ersatz faith for many millions of people. It did more than fill the spiritual void left by a supposedly secularizing civilization. Totalitarian regimes carried farther the determination of nation-states in the nineteenth century to become the locus of man’s primary allegiance. Worship did not go away in the secular age. The nation-state redirected veneration to itself for its own intramundane ends. These regimes were not atheistic. Their gods were themselves—“strange gods,” Burleigh writes, that emerged as “alternative objects of religious devotion.” Mussolini made this point emphatically in 1926: “Fascism is not only a party, it is a regime, it is not only a regime, but a faith, it is not only a faith, but a religion that is conquering the labouring masses of the Italian people.”

Fascism, Nazism, and bolshevism transposed the language, symbolism, and promises of Christianity into their own perverted cult. The regimes built on these religions offered political saints and martyrs, substitute heretics and infidels, new rituals, liturgies and catechisms, new symbols for veneration (especially flags), and above all new sacred stories of redemption. While Jesus insisted in his testimony before Pontius Pilate that his kingdom was “not of this world,” the political religions insisted that salvation would be achieved within this earthly realm—and soon.

Which is why the Long War, properly understood, began in 1789

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


The Last Days of Darwin?: A Brief History of the Revolution (James M. Kushiner, February 2008, Salvo)

As early as 1951, biophysicist Harold Morowitz was trying to find the cell’s “information content.” He eventually concluded that it was impossible for life to have arisen without some large infusion of information. Not a theist, he nonetheless created space for an Intelligent Designer.

At the Darwin centennial, naturalist Ernst Mayr and geneticist Sewall Wright could not agree on the mechanism of Darwinism (genetic change or natural selection), yet everyone swore fealty to “gradualism,” even though no one really knew what the gradual steps were. Gradualism was the crucial feature of Darwin’s theory, as it claimed that minute random steps, accumulated over time, eventually produced a wide variety of species.

Mathematicians using the newly invented computer soon threw a monkey wrench into gradualism. Witham recounts the 1966 debate at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia. Both Murray Eden of MIT and Marcel P. Schützenberger (later a member of the French Academy of Sciences) argued that it was “mathematically impossible for Darwin’s tiny variations to add up to a new organism.” Their opponents “could not explain the major gap in their theory: How does the random shuffling of a one-dimensional string of genetic codes create a highly coordinated multidimensional organism?” Eden and Schützenberger declared “this gap to be of such a nature that it cannot be bridged within the current conception of biology.”

Wider gaps appeared: The fossil record was not what Darwin predicted. Paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould created a theory of “punctuated equilibrium” to explain the sudden appearance of species in the fossil record and their relative stability over time. It was another direct assault on Darwinian gradualism. Paleontologists, but not the public, knew what the fossil record really showed.

Paleoanthropologists could not (and still cannot) agree on the supposed lines of human descent based on fossil finds. Louis Leakey’s son Richard “acknowledged his father’s tendency to alter criteria to make his fossils Homo, and said the Homo habilis category was ‘a grab bag mix of fossils; almost anything around two million years that doesn’t fit the robust [ape] definition has been tossed into it.’”

Witham also reviews the discoveries and emerging debates in physics and cosmology, especially as they inched closer to the “God questions” of purpose and design in the universe.

The understanding of science itself was also evolving. In 1958, chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi published Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, an effective assault on the myth of a purely materialistic and objective science. In 1962, Harvard physics instructor and historian Thomas Kuhn started a great debate among scientists by arguing in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions that, “far from being magisterial in its objectivity, science was conditioned by history, society, and the prejudices of scientists.”

...is the mature confidence of the skeptics and the juvenile hysteria of the ideologues. If Richard Dawkins still believed in Darwinism he wouldn't be reduced to raving like a lunatic. But given how the ground has moved out from under him, you can hardly blame him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Utility Futility: South Africa is in the grips of an energy crisis. The solution lies in privatization and free-market reforms (Richard Tren, February 14, 2008, The American)

The minister of public enterprises, Alec Irwin, proposes rationing and price hikes to deal with the problem and has threatened to outlaw the export of high grade coal so that the government can direct the fuel to power stations. South Africa has had a particularly wet summer, and Irwin has claimed that the wet coal is, in part, a cause of the power outages. (Irwin is the same man who, several years ago, blamed a power outage at South Africa’s only nuclear power plant on saboteurs, when in fact it was caused by poor maintenance.)

Meanwhile, at a special sitting of parliament, the minister of energy and minerals, Buyelwa Sonjica, made the laughable suggestion that South Africans should “go to sleep early so that you can grow and be cleverer; boil less water; use the microwave rather than stove; take a shower rather than a shallow bath.” [...]

In all likelihood, it was the ANC’s obsession with changing the racial makeup of companies, both state-owned and private, that led to the current problems. In practice, this meant firing white workers and hiring black ones. Transforming Eskom so that it better reflects the country’s demography is one thing, but doing so in a way that alienates the current employees and robs the organization of years of expertise was shortsighted. As we now see, it has been enormously costly to all South Africans, regardless of their skin color.

President Thabo Mbeki’s government is constantly accused by the hard-left trade unions and the South African Communist Party of being too pro-market and economically liberal. If only these charges were true. In fact, Mbeki has prevented the privatization of state-owned enterprises for far too long. If he had privatized electricity production and opened up the market so that any producer could supply power, South Africa probably would not be in its current predicament.

The energy crisis can be overcome if South Africa embraces such free-market reforms. Meantime, Mbeki should fire his incompetent ministers and sack the inept Eskom officials. But given the ANC’s track record, this may be too much to hope for.

...that it does about Iraq?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Factions and friction (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 2/16/08, Asia Times)

[A]s with the mass rallies this week celebrating the revolution, elections are primary instruments of political socialization, that is, a process by which the Iranian people acquire the values and opinions that motivate their "presence on the stage", to paraphrase the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution's founding father who left a legacy of ensuring that no specific political faction monopolizes political power, a legacy continued by his successor, Ayatollah Seyed Ali al-Khamenei.

This has not been an easy responsibility for the supreme leader, the final arbiter of policies who is, simultaneously, cast in the role of constant arbiter between and among (increasingly) fractious politicians representing diverse interests and orientations.

A factor of systemic stability, the leader has intervened in the torrent of accusations and counter-accusations following the mass disqualification of hundreds of candidates for the Majlis, urging a trust in the due process of law and the people who implement them. The key term utilized by government leaders and yet contested by the disqualified candidates as falling short in practice is "election ethics".

As usual, the initial sound and fury of objections to the disqualifications has given way to a politics of bargaining and mediation, with the competing factions making recourse to the office of leader, the Guardian Council, and even the Majlis itself, in their race to determine who is and who is not eligible to run. And this while utilizing the media to enhance their relative gain. The intervention of some key leading clergy, like Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, exhorting the government to reconsider the disqualifications, which include some representatives of the leader as well, has also been instrumental, reflecting the role of countervailing power centers in today's Iran.

As a result, hundreds of disqualified candidates have been reinstated already, thus bringing it closer to the spirit of "competitive" elections. Nonetheless, serious problems persist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Epstein has the look of a winner (Dan Shaughnessy, February 15, 2008, Boston Globe)

He's 34 years old now, with two World Series titles and a newborn son.

So, how's it going, Theo? Any change in the work schedule?

"No, everything's pretty much the same," Theo Epstein said yesterday on the first day of his sixth season as general manager of the Red Sox. "No bags under my eyes."

He's more guarded than he was when he was the Boy Wonder back in 2003, but he's still got the BlackBerry to his ear, still carries himself with Marine posture, still goes out for a run around the Sox complex late in the afternoon.

And now he's got new cachet. Already respected and revered throughout New England, Epstein made himself positively bulletproof when the 21st-century Sox won a second World Series last autumn. Now, Theo can sign an overweight, 41-year-old blowhard for $8 million, find out the big lug may never pitch again, and still not get harpooned by the normally carnivorous Boston media.

NESN has spring in its step (Nancy Marrapese-Burrell, February 15, 2008, Boston Globe)
The Red Sox are in Fort Myers, Fla., and NESN has some innovative programming, 250 percent more than in 2007, designed to give the Nation its fix. The 36 days of spring coverage began Wednesday and continues this morning with a two-hour broadcast of "Red Sox Spring Break LIVE," hosted by Tom Caron at 10, which will be replayed in full at 3:30 p.m. and in a condensed version at 6:30 and 10:30.

Joel Feld, NESN's vice president of programming and executive producer, thinks showing the workouts will go a long way toward giving fans a preview of what to expect as the Sox defend their world championship.

"It's a great opportunity for us to cover the team as extensively as we can while they're at spring training," said Feld. "The team is on the field in the morning, generally to work out and train, and we thought that would be the best opportunity to capture what is going on down there. I think being live is always preferable."

Feld said the network transported the stage setup that it normally uses for the pregame shows from outside Fenway Park.

"We're going to have cameras covering the different practice fields," he said. "We certainly hope we'll have an assortment of players and coaches and writers and ownership joining us on the show as their time permits."

As much interest as baseball generates in New England, there is still much to be learned about the 2008 Olde Towne Team, and Feld believes NESN can provide that insight.

What Celtics? Who Pats?

February 14, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Breaking OPEC’s Grip: A flex-fuel mandate would stop the U.S from funding its enemies. (Robert Zubrin, 2/14/08, National Review)

Consider the following: In 1972, the U.S. paid out $4 billion for oil imports, an amount equal to 1.2 percent of our defense budget at that time. In 2006, we paid $260 billion — about half of what we paid for national defense. Over the same period, Saudi oil revenues have grown in direct parallel: from $2.7 billion in 1972 to $200 billion in 2006 — which will likely exceed $300 billion this year. Much of that money is being used to fund an international network of front organizations and Wahhabist madrassas devoted to spreading terrorist ideology. Meanwhile, Iran is using its share of the take to fund its nuclear bomb program, as well as terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

If something isn’t done to break the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — the cartel that dominates and manipulates the global oil market — the situation is likely to get much worse: With China and India industrializing rapidly, world demand for fuel is going up. OPEC is positioned to exploit this new demand with radical price hikes that go well beyond the 50-percent increase it effected during 2007 alone. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are already calling for prices of $200 per barrel. In short, we Americans are financing a war against ourselves — and the way things are going, we may soon be paying the enemy more than we are paying our own military.

The enemy’s unconstrained ability to loot us is also threatening our economy. Consider this: Congress is raiding the public purse to put $140 billion back in the pockets of American consumers, in the hope that this will provide an economic stimulus to prevent recession. Yet by paying $100 per barrel of oil, we are allowing OPEC to set oil prices high enough to take more than triple that amount out of Americans’ pockets. If Chávez and Amadinejad have their way, our economy will soon be drained at a rate of nearly $900 billion per year, an economic de-stimulus tax package six times as large as anything Congress has put on the table to push the other way. [...]

[T]here is now a way to break OPEC, a surprisingly simple one. What is needed is for Congress to pass a law requiring that all new cars sold (not just made, but sold) in the U.S. be flex-fueled — that is, be able to run on any combination of gasoline or alcohol fuels. Such cars already exist — two dozen different models of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are being produced by Detroit’s Big Three this year — and they only cost about $100 more than identical models that can run on gasoline only.

...just tax gasoline to the point where it's nonviable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


The Wrong Stuff (James Bowman, 2/12/2008, American Spectator)

The other week, Barack Obama came up with what he doubtless saw as a snappy comeback in answer to Hillary Clinton's oft-repeated boast that she would have the experience to be ready to govern "on Day One" by saying that "it is important to be right on Day One." I hold no brief for either of these candidates, but this, clearly, is exactly wrong, and a reinforcement of Mrs. Clinton's attempts to portray Mr. Obama as callow and inexperienced rather than an answer to them. For being "right" is no more an option for a president than it is for anyone else. Doubtless he will be right sometimes, but he will also be wrong a lot of the time. That is not something he can promise not to be without appearing either to be a fool himself or to be fooling the electorate. It is tantamount to a promise not to make mistakes. How can we take a man seriously as a potential president who would make such an unwise -- indeed, mistaken -- promise?

But Mr. Obama is surely aware that his claim to electoral advantage on the grounds of being right is an appeal to a particular constituency that is sure to be influential in the selection of the Democratic nominee -- and in the enthusiasm with which he (or she) is supported and campaigned for in the November general election. This is the MoveOn constituency, the "Not in Our Name" crowd. Above all it is those with the bumper stickers about a village somewhere in Texas which has mislaid its idiot. For such people -- and, to a disturbing extent these days, the Democratic Party as a whole -- pride of intellect is politically debilitating. They have no political philosophy or program apart from not being so stupid as they are now so heavily invested in representing George W. Bush as being. [...]

That he has not been laughed off the national stage for such foolish presumption is one measure of the eagerness in his party to welcome a political savior, a fantasy figure and superhero who can put everything right. My impression is that this eagerness, this willingness to see a one-term senator from Illinois as an object of veneration, as if he had accomplished some great deed instead of just promising "change," exists not just on the media fringe but among people who would once have scorned such childishness. Oh how certain sorts of Democrats want to believe in their infallible superman! It's the closet utopian in them who desperately need to believe that if you're smart enough -- as, in effect, Barack Obama is promising them he will be -- they won't have to fight anybody! They believe, as utopians of all descriptions have always believed, that peace and prosperity will come at the bidding of the smart.

As Eric Hoffer put it, "The intellectuals and the young, booted and spurred, feel themselves born to ride us."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM

Beef and Onion Stir-Fry (Every Day with Rachael Ray , February 2008)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup fish sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into

1 1/2-inch cubes

2 yellow onions, quartered and layers separated

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

In a large bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of the olive oil with the garlic, fish sauce, sugar, pepper and salt. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Add the beef and toss to coat. Marinate for 20 minutes (or refrigerated, up to 3 hours).

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the onions and saute until slightly softened, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, strain the beef, discarding the marinade. Add the meat to the skillet and cook, tossing, for 6 to 7 minutes for medium-rare. Top with the cilantro.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Silencing the Opposition (David Schenker, 2/14/08, The Weekly Standard)

With the onset of the brief period of glasnost known as "Damascus Spring," which commenced upon Bashar Assad's anointment as president in 2000, Seif's pro-democracy political reform activities increased: there were more meetings and forums, and even talk of establishing a political party called the Social Peace Movement Party. Then he stepped up his attacks on the government from his perch in parliament. A February 2000 speech to the prime minister and cabinet, which Seif wrote about in 2007, provides a good sense of how far he was pushing the envelope:

"breaking the [Baath party] political monopoly is a necessary condition to implement the principle of transparency . . . any monopoly cannot help but breed sterility and stop development and growth. It is not possible to separate economics from politics . . . the political monopoly necessarily results in other economic, cultural, and educational monopolies . . . "

The Baathist majority struck Seif's statement from the parliamentary record, but his comments were not forgotten. When "Damascus Spring" ended in February 2001, the regime moved precipitously to strip Seif of his parliamentary immunity. Arrests of reformers commenced that summer.

But even from jail, Seif continued to push for reform in Syria. Perhaps his crowning achievement in this regard came in 2005, when he co-authored from Adra prison the "Damascus Declaration," which among other things demanded an end to the Assad regime and Baath party monopoly of power, a suspension of the Emergency Law, and the drafting of a new Syrian constitution.

When he was arrested last week, Seif was participating in a meeting of the Damascus Declaration National Council, an umbrella organization dedicated to the implementation of these reforms.

Not content with merely preventing Seif from seeking treatment abroad, the Assad regime has now seemingly condemned Syria's leading reformer to death behind bars. His incarceration is a strong message to would-be Syrian democrats. But it's also a clear message for Washington: the Assad regime is not interested in political liberalization. As the ongoing Syrian obstruction of Lebanese presidential elections would also suggest, the Assad regime's interventionist and destabilizing foreign policies are not up for discussion, either.

The Assad regime is unrepentant about Seif's unusually harsh treatment. Last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem had the temerity to blame the human rights community for the arrest. "The importance given to the case of Riad Seif," he told the Austrian Foreign Minister, "encouraged him to break the law."

For the Bush administration, Seif's death sentence should be a defining moment. Given the circumstances, last week's perfunctory condemnation calling on Syria to "modify its behavior . . . and provide its citizens with the rights they deserve," is not sufficient. Seif is far and away the most credible Syrian oppositionist. He is not particularly close to Washington--which has enhanced his local appeal--but administration concerns about undermining his position in Syria via a Western embrace ignore the urgency of the situation.

...how hard can Baby Assad be?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


Candidates' Earmarks Worth Millions: Of Front-Runners, McCain Abstained (Paul Kane, 2/14/08, Washington Post)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton helped secure more than $340 million worth of home-state projects in last year's spending bills, placing her among the top 10 Senate recipients of what are commonly known as earmarks, according to a new study by a nonpartisan budget watchdog group.

Working with her New York colleagues in nearly every case, Clinton supported almost four times as much spending on earmarked projects as her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), whose $91 million total placed him in the bottom quarter of senators who seek earmarks, the study showed.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the likely GOP presidential nominee, was one of five senators to reject earmarks entirely, part of his long-standing view that such measures prompt needless spending.

You can almost hear the mea culpas from the "conservatives."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Clinton and McCain jab at Obama, who offers details of his jobs program (Michael Cooper, February 14, 2008, NY Times)

Obama seemed to allude to the criticism of his rivals who suggest that he excels at rhetoric, but falls short on details, by saying at the outset of his remarks that he was going to "take it down a notch" by giving a speech that he said would be "a little more detailed, a little longer, with not as many applause lines."

He went on to call for a decade-long investment in a $150 billion plan to create five million so-called "green-collar" jobs to develop energy sources that are friendly to the environment. He also called for a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, a $60 billion program, which he said would create two million jobs for rebuilding highways, bridges and airports.

What's green about projects to increase travel by car and plane, other than the money he'll spend on the boondoggles? You could at least take the environmental shtick a little bit seriously if he were proposing to pay for the stuff with gas taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Conservatives top talk radio (Jennifer Harper, February 14, 2008, Washington Times)

Conservatives and right-leaners still rule the talk-radio universe.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage are the top three "most important" talk radio hosts in the country, according to the annual "Heavy Hundred" list released yesterday by Talkers magazine, an industry publication.

Laura Schlessinger is in fourth place followed by Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Don Imus, Ed Schultz, Mike Gallagher and Neal Boortz.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Integrating Islam into the West (Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst, February 14, 2008, IHT)

Clearly, the integration of Islam into secular democracies is a challenge that confronts the Western world as a whole and Europe in particular. Regrettably, there are problems with all the existing secular models of integration. British and Dutch versions of multiculturalism hoped to ensure the equal rights of all citizens, but both countries - in abandoning the cultural cohesion based around religion - lost the very medium in which majorities and minorities could share.

Germany eschewed its own Christian legacy in favor of an ethnic account of its identity. Though it grants generous socio-economic rights, the German model still refuses Muslim "guest workers" citizenship and thus participation in civic life.

In France, the Republican ideal appeals to immigrants, but its secular reality denies the primary religious form of their identity. Moreover, the Muslim population is discriminated against in the labor market and tends to be confined to the banlieues. The French model's refusal to accommodate religion prevents France from broadening its concept of French identity.

The trouble with all the European models is that they enshrine the primacy of secular law over and against religious principles. Far from ensuring neutrality and tolerance, the secular European state arrogates to itself the right to control and legislate all spheres of life; state constraints apply especially to religion and its civic influence. Legally, secularism outlaws any rival source of sovereignty or legitimacy. Politically, secularism denies religion any import in public debate and decision-making. Culturally, secularism enforces its own norms and standards upon all other belief systems. In consequence, the liberal promise of equality amounts to little more than the secular imposition of sameness. As such, contemporary liberalism is unable to recognize religions in their own right or grant them their proper autonomy.

By contrast, the United States offers a strong integrated vision that allows for the public expression of religion under the auspices of a state that guarantees not just individual rights but also the autonomy of religious communities. Even though minorities in the United States have suffered discrimination, the American model of religious integration explicitly shields religion from excessive state interference. Thus loyalty to the state is not necessarily in conflict with loyalty to one's faith. Perhaps this explains why American Muslims appear more integrated and less alienated than their European counterparts. In part, this is because the European Enlightenment sought to protect the state from religion, whereas the American settlement aimed to protect religion from the state.

The point of multiculturalism is to annihilate culture and leave only the atomized individual and the state upon which he is dependent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Reagan regarded as best president (Hsin-Yin Lee, February 14, 2008, Washington Times)

While millions of voters have been casting ballots to show support for their favorite 2008 presidential candidates, a poll released yesterday showed that the public regards Ronald Reagan as the best president since World War II and George W. Bush the worst.

The research, conducted by Harris Interactive, also found a strong partisan split. When asked to pick the best president since and including Franklin D. Roosevelt, half of the Republicans chose Mr. Reagan, compared to 6 percent of Democrats. Overall, Mr. Reagan won 25 percent support, while in second place, Mr. Roosevelt had 21 percent of votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


U.S. trade gap narrowed in 2007 (The Associated Press, February 14, 2008)

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the deficit dropped to $711.6 billion last year, a decline of 6.2 percent. [...]

The country's trade performance is expected to be a major issue in the upcoming presidential campaign, with Democrats arguing that the huge deficits have contributed to the loss of more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2000 as U.S. companies moved production to low-wage countries such as China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Spielbergian Snub - Blow To Cultivated Image (Antoaneta Bezlova, Feb 14, 2008, IPS)

For image conscious China the public snub by Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, withdrawing involvement with the Beijing Olympics to protest the country’s indifference to the Darfur crisis, is seen as a setback to painstaking efforts to stage the perfect ‘coming-of-age’ party.

Having sought Spielberg’s talents to help orchestrate the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic games this summer, Beijing was left deeply uncomfortable when the director abandoned his role this week, saying the country was not doing enough to help end violence in Darfur.

"Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes but the international community and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering," the director said in a statement this week.

In Beijing, the announcement by Spielberg was met with official silence coupled with a blackout on news regarding the pullout both in the sanctioned print media and the semi-official Internet sites.

Chinese leaders regard the Games as a symbolic endorsement of their country’s growing global clout but do not relish the intensified scrutiny of their domestic and international record that go with the games.

International activists have mounted a campaign to spotlight the communist regime’s record and called for a boycott of the Olympics if Beijing does not live up to its promises for an improved human rights climate and total press freedom before and during the Games.

Bush says won't use Olympics to criticise China (Reuters, 2/14/08)
U.S. President George W. Bush said he would go to China for the Olympics but would not talk publicly there about Beijing's policies since he urges its president in private to do more to relieve suffering in Darfur.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


President orders new Syria sanctions (Associated Press, February 14, 2008)

President Bush ordered new sanctions Wednesday to punish officials in Syria, saying Damascus undermines stability in Iraq and meddles in Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy.

Bush, in an executive order, said he was expanding penalties against senior Syrian officials and their associates deemed to be responsible for, or to have benefited from, public corruption. [...]

A White House statement on Wednesday said Syria was undermining efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Syria's government "continues to pursue other activities that deny the Syrian people the political freedoms and economic prosperity they deserve, and that undercut the peace and stability of the region," according to the statement.

"Syria continues to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy, imprison democracy advocates, curtail human rights and sponsor and harbor terrorists," it said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


End of a Hezbollah militant: Imad Mughniyah began his career in Lebanon's civil war and rose through the ranks of the Shiite group. (Josh Meyer, 2/14/08, Los Angeles Times)

Former CIA agent Robert Baer said Mughniyah eliminated every piece of paperwork about himself, including the passport photo in Lebanese government files. "He erased his past," Baer said.

Mughniyah changed his radio frequency every day, never took the same route twice and met only in buildings with more than one exit, Baer said.

"In terms of terrorism he was the best there was, truly a professional. I chased him for 15 years, but saying I chased him implies that I actually got close to him. And I'm not sure that I ever did." [...]

Intelligence officials said they could never pin down his exact role as a liaison between Hezbollah and the intelligence services of Iran and Syria, which support the group, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

Matthew Levitt, a former senior counter-terrorism official for the Treasury Department, discounted speculation that Mughniyah had been marginalized in recent years. "He continued to operate as he was," said Levitt, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. [...]

Despite their lack of intelligence, the hunt for Mughniyah was intensely personal for the U.S. military and the CIA, which suffered casualties in Hezbollah attacks and kidnappings.

The Justice Department indicted Mughniyah in 1985 in the hijacking of a TWA plane and fatal shooting of a passenger, Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem. Agents with the FBI, along with the CIA, had been hunting him since.

"Certainly within the U.S. intelligence community, some were as eager to get Imad Mughniyah as they were Bin Laden," Ranstorp said. "I'm sure there will be champagne corks popping" in Washington.

"Many people in the intelligence community, successive U.S. presidents, have waited for this day, to extract a price for the American lives that he has taken.

"There are people who have spent most of their career trying to track this guy down."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


McCain and Obama take their senatorial rivalry into the presidential race (Jeff Zeleny, February 14, 2008, NY Times)

"George Bush may not be on the ballot this fall, but his tax cuts and his economic policies are," Obama said. "And if John McCain wants to debate the specifics of how well the economy has worked for ordinary families over the last seven years, that is a debate that I am happy to have, because the American people know that Bush's policies have not worked for ordinary Americans."

As Obama seeks to paint McCain as an extension of the current White House, McCain is seeking to raise questions about Obama's readiness for the presidency. His critique carries a familiar frequency to questions that Clinton raises.

He said Wednesday: "I've not observed every speech that he's given, obviously. But they are singularly lacking in specifics."

Indeed, for all his complaints about Bushonomics, the only specific change Senator Obama offers is to raise taxes on the top 1% of taxpayers, which is sufficiently punitive to appeal to the Left but insignificant as an economic matter. All Maverick has to do in a debate is ask him what other parts of the economy he wants to tamper with and Mr. Obama has to either dodge the question or, by answering, drive away votes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


How Low Will the Fed Go?: Chairman Bernanke is hearing it from all sides, but the rate doves appear to have the upper hand (Peter Coy, 2/13/08, Business Week)

Investors seem to expect that big cuts will win the day. As of Feb. 13, the fed funds futures market was betting the funds rate to be cut from 3% to 2.5% at the next Fed rate-setting meeting on Mar. 18, according to a Bloomberg Financial Markets calculation. Further out, the futures market anticipates the fed funds rate will go to 2% by June.

Robert DiClemente, Citigroup's (C) head of U.S. economic and market analysis, is predicting a bottom of 2.25% but concedes it could well go lower. Says DiClemente: "There's this very nasty chemistry between economic weakness and financial instability and back. It just keeps feeding on each other until the Fed breaks the circle." One of Wall Street's biggest bears, David Rosenberg, North American economist for Merrill Lynch (MER), thinks the funds rate will hit 1%.

...when there's an oil/gold correction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Why We Fight: a review of Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory by Randall Collins (GRAEME WOOD, February 13, 2008, NY Sun)

Violence simply does not happen as readily as we suppose, he says, and because it is so exceptional, many of our guesses about its origins and nature have missed their marks.

Previous approaches tried to identify "violent individuals," and to discover whether a blend of, say, poverty and desperation and broken home life made them violent. Mr. Collins argues that this broad sociological approach won't explain anything, because the most important factor — the overwhelmingly most important factor — that determines whether one resorts to violence is not one's past but one's present. Sociologists could find that a history of childhood abuse correlates with a violent adulthood, but most abuse victims aren't violent. The broad approach over-demographizes the problem, focusing on background instead of moment-by-moment situations, tension-wracked instants as they are actually lived. Mr. Collins's method — serious and painstaking but also endlessly diverting — is to hunt down first-person accounts, newspaper clippings, witness testimony, and, if possible, video and photographs of the perps in flagrante. Mr. Collins dips into a robust range of sources, from his own fieldwork among goons on the streets of Boston to the "Iliad" to studies of hazing rituals at elite British boarding schools. Long and entirely worthwhile diversions explore the history of dueling, of violence in sports, and countless other examples of violence in controlled and chaotic environments. The result reads like a social science survey crossed with a work of comparative military theory and a self-defense manual.

How lovely to have a book so unsubmissive to the conventional tropes that misinform our notions of how violence actually plays out! It is a very rich study indeed that provides such an illuminating taxonomy of personalities found on preschool playgrounds, but also tells us the self-soiling rate of American soldiers in World War II (5–6% overall, one in five on the front lines) and examines the phenomenon of pillow fights in prison cells (all fun and games, till the strong gang up on the weak, and fill pillowcases with books or stones). Or that tells us that soldiers often regard elite snipers — even those on their own side — as social lepers, because of their unsettling comfort with death. Almost every page in this long book offers insight into lives lived in extremis. Mr. Collins's most distinctive point — that we have to overcome a very high threshold of fear and tension before we become violent — seems, under the weight of his anecdotes, difficult to deny. He repeats the famous military finding that soldiers in combat only very rarely fired their weapons at the enemy with the intention of killing. All evidence suggests that the typical frontline infantryman fought not with a frenzied, sexual thrill, as was suggested by Joanna Bourke, but with jelly-guts and a whimper on his lips. In not especially severe cases, some men under fire will lie down exposed in an open field and cover their eyes and head, hoping to make the violence go away by not looking at it.

Under these conditions of fear, few will fight. Violence happens only when the fear-stricken desperados find a path around their paralysis, often through "staged violence" — the highly stylized dueling rituals so popular in 19th-century Europe, or informal "fair-fights" staged outside bars or after school today — or by finding a weaker victim to gang up on; Mr. Collins calls one common variety of this "forward panic," a manic orgy of violence as in My Lai or Nanking. Providing a weak target sometimes suffices to tip a situation from tense to violent. In moments of tightly wound panic, begging for mercy can itself provoke slaughter.

So we ought hold out little hope for President Obama's plan to go grovel before the leaders of the Arab world?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Hillary's Audacious Hope: Dark Whispers in the Media (Tony Blankley, 2/13/08, Real Clear Politics)

Starting about a week ago, we started seeing references in the national media (ABC, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times) to Obama spawning a "cult of personality" -- a theme that had existed back in Illinois for some time but mysteriously didn't substantially appear in the national media until about Super Tuesday. [...]

The Clintons (presumably) are suggesting, in effect, that he may be delectable, but he's not electable; that it is unhealthy to adore a leader -- undemocratic, in fact.

But beyond that are dark hints of yet to be revealed facts about Obama. I was chatting with a senior Clinton surrogate in a cable TV green room late last week -- a former Clinton White House senior appointee. He mentioned to me that, while they couldn't bring it up, Obama said (unspecified) things back when he was in the Illinois Senate that may be on news videotape. He said it was way beyond what a general election electorate could swallow (implicitly: too leftish for the public). Obama is just not electable, he suggested.

Undergirding the entire "unelectable Obama" message is the perhaps racially polarized electorate. While many commentators beyond the Clintons are suggesting this, it was, of course, the Clinton team (starting with Bill) who actually tried to induce the condition by playing the race card.

So, the quiet Clinton message for the time being is that Obama may be winning now, but he can't win in the fall; while Hillary may be losing now but is the Democratic Party's great white moderate November hope.

The two campaigns are so content free that all they have to quarrel over is personality and process. A story came across the wires yesterday about Hillary "going negative" on Obama. What idea of his was she attacking? None, of course, because he doesn't offer any. Instead she's attacking his refusal to show up for a debate, though the debate would be about nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Using Nature as a Design Guide: Janine Benyus, dean of the burgeoning "biomimicry" design movement, helps companies look to the natural world to help take their business green (Matt Vella, 2/14/08, Business Week)

Spot the common theme: a bullet train with a distinctly bird-like nose; massive wind turbines whose form was inspired by the shape of whales' fins; ultra-strong, biodegradeable glues developed by analyzing how mussels cling to rocks under water. The creators of each product used nature as their guide. In the past 10 years the practice, known as biomimicry, has yielded a variety of compelling, quirky, and elegant innovations across industries. And as consumers and companies alike find themselves grappling with ever-larger ecological footprints, the design method is taking its place as a core sustainability strategy.

Enter Janine Benyus, the driving force behind the movement. Benyus is the biologist-cum-evangelist who first defined its contours in her 1997 book, Biomimcry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In it, she detailed how companies could study nonpolluting, energy-efficient manufacturing technologies that have evolved in the natural world over billions of years, delivering in the process a lesson on the importance of living in harmony with nature.

February 13, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


$1.6 Trillion. Now We're Talking Stimulus: That's how much is just sitting on U.S. company books. And for what? Corporations with fat cash reserves aren't doing much for investors—or the economy (Roben Farzad, 2/06/08, Business Week)

For all the doomsaying, corporate cash abounds. According to Moody's Investors Service (MCO), a record $1.6 trillion in cash sits on the books of nonfinancial U.S. companies, $600 billion more than was there five years ago. This is both an asset and a liability, as the 13-figure mother lode is sure to draw hungry eyes.

The stars have aligned for corporations to start shelling out. Assets are in play or just plain cheaper than they were months ago; buyout shops are overextended and actually backing out of deals; debt is vexingly hard to score. Snooze, and some Beijing banker or Gulf sheikh will beat you to the punch.

So why the holdup? Obviously, executive worry outweighs opportunism. Defaults are on the rise, rekindling memories of all the bankruptcies of the last bust. A peerless credit rating, backed by triple reinforcements of cash, means something again. "CEOs want to be vindicated for sitting on their hands for all these years," says one analyst. But what good is cash that just sits there forever? Fred Lane, a veteran Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette dealmaker who now runs his own banking boutique, feels that most CEOs who hoard cash don't really understand how attractive that in-house financing is for opportunistic deals: "I tell my clients, 'I don't get you guys. Why are you so passive?'"

One wonders if, looking back at this period, the inchoate unease in American society during an obviously prosperous period won't be traced to a sort of free-floating anxiety brought on by 9-11. The problem is finding a positive event of similar magnitude to break the spell and it's hard to think of what such an event could even be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Old policies hurt today's Dems (Peter A. Brown, Feb 13, 2008, Politico)

[4]0 years after the more liberal elements of the party seized control of its presidential selection process from the political bosses in smoked-filled rooms, the Democrats may again pay a big price for those reforms.

Their slavish commitment to representation for all led to rules, still in effect today, that have produced a seemingly unending fight for the presidential nomination. This battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama could leave the eventual winner at a disadvantage when it comes time to focus on the November election. [...]

[D]emocrats are playing by rules enacted at a time when the party still dominated American politics. At that point, winning was often taken for granted. Now, Democrats have lived through three decades of GOP White House dominance and have 12 years of Republican control of Congress fresh in their minds.

But the rules enacted back then have the practical effect of lengthening the primary process, thereby slowing the Democrats’ ability to settle on a presidential nominee.

The quicker a party can settle its internal battle and focus on the November electorate, the better its chances of winning. That’s because once a candidate wins over party activists by catering to their ideological priorities, he or she can focus on the much larger and less ideological group of voters who decide the November election.

Had Ms Clinton managed to build a lead a case could have been made that Senator Obama should bow out, for the good of the Party, and he'd be the overwhelming favorite in 2012. But this is her only shot. She has to fight to the bitter end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


A pink elephant could crash Dem party (Terry Michael, Feb 13, 2008, Politico)

The pachyderm I am describing is a big problem that Democrats could face if, unlike Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, a significant number of Latino participants in key Democratic primaries “see race” when they cast their votes.

Hard as that will be for the elders and matrons of the Inclusive Party to admit, it suggests a more convincing scenario for why, to date, Hillary Rodham Clinton has outpolled Barack Obama in many of the barrio precincts. The polite explanation has been that Hispanic voters love the Clintons on their “issues” — whatever those are now or were in the 1990s.

Such possible electoral manifestation of prejudice is a two-way street, of course. You would have to be blind not to have observed the black and brown gang warfare that has gone on in some of our inner cities in recent decades, the jagged tip of an ugly social-cultural iceberg.

If one of the two finalists in this history-making election had not been black but had been named Juan, a different kind of cross-racial discrimination would be the subject of this essay.

So why do I risk being hated on by my friends in the Democratic Party for bringing this up?

Well, we are about to witness bloody hand-to-hand combat for every single delegate to the convention that will be held in Denver next August. And street fighting can bring out the worst among even the most enlightened multiculti paragons of virtuous political diversity (i.e., left-liberal Democrats). [...]

All of this could have been predicted for a political party (I lament it is mine) that has been playing identity politics with a vengeance for the past several decades.

With an unfortunate focus on granting entitlements based on tribal affinity rather than celebrating the rights, liberties and personal responsibilities of individuals in a pluralistic democracy, strengthened by civic cultural assimilation, we Democrats have been courting racialist warfare for a long time.

As I tell my students, if you want to end race consciousness in America, stop being race conscious.

Despite Jeb not running, the GOP still ended up with the second best nominee for taking advantage of the Democratic fissures and appealing to a disgruntled Latino cohort.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Bush's unfinished Africa legacy: He has done well with health and foreign aid, but his vision for a new US military role still needs defining (February 14, 2008, CS Monitor)

When AFRICOM was rolled out last February, its purpose was described as bringing peace and security to Africa by promoting health, education, democracy, and economic growth. That sounds like nation building – a job better handled by diplomats and aid professionals.

The Pentagon has since emphasized more conventional security roles – training African Union forces, helping to professionalize national militaries, assisting in humanitarian disasters (the US military spread a lot of goodwill when it helped after the Asia tsunami and Pakistan earthquake).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Matthews: Obama Speech Caused 'Thrill Going Up My Leg' (Brad Wilmouth, February 13, 2008, Newsbusters)

During MSNBC's live coverage of Tuesday's presidential primary elections, after the speeches of Barack Obama and John McCain had aired, Chris Matthews expressed his latest over the top admiration for Obama's speaking skills as the MSNBC anchor admitted that Obama's speech created a "thrill" in his leg: "It's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often."

Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters (Andrew Sullivan, February 2008, Atlantic)
The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama. It has little to do with his policy proposals, which are very close to his Democratic rivals’ and which, with a few exceptions, exist firmly within the conventions of our politics. It has little to do with Obama’s considerable skills as a conciliator, legislator, or even thinker. It has even less to do with his ideological pedigree or legal background or rhetorical skills. Yes, as the many profiles prove, he has considerable intelligence and not a little guile. But so do others, not least his formidably polished and practiced opponent Senator Hillary Clinton.

Obama, moreover, is no saint. He has flaws and tics: Often tired, sometimes crabby, intermittently solipsistic...

At the point where Andrew Sullivan calls you solipsistic you pretty
much ought to collapse in on yourself like a black hole.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


...so can anyone tell me, if 68% of GOP voters in VA self-identified as "conservative" and the Huck won them by 16%, then what percentage of the remainder did Maverick have to carry to win overall by 9%?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Who Is “Fascist”?: The abuse and proper use of a politcal label (Thomas Sowell, 2/13/08, National Review)

Because the word “fascist” is often thrown around loosely these days, as a general term of abuse, it is good that Liberal Fascism begins by discussing the real Fascism, introduced into Italy after the First World War by Benito Mussolini.

The Fascists were completely against individualism in general and especially against individualism in a free-market economy. Their agenda included minimum-wage laws, government restrictions on profit-making, progressive taxation of capital, and “rigidly secular” schools.

Unlike the Communists, the Fascists did not seek government ownership of the means of production. They just wanted the government to call the shots as to how businesses would be run.

They were for “industrial policy,” long before liberals coined that phrase in the United States.

Indeed, the whole Fascist economic agenda bears a remarkable resemblance to what liberals would later advocate.

Actually, that economic agenda is the mainstream politics of both American parties. It is the Third Way reforms of Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that are specifically borrowed from a fascist model, Pinochet's legacy still flourishes (Tom Burgis, 17 January 2005, New Statesman)
The military government's apologists always said the omelette of an "economic miracle" is not made without breaking a few eggs. If we are to believe [the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington] they may have been right. Chile's 6 per cent growth rate and booming exports, she says, are founded on "the continued implementation of the policies of the military regime".

"The basic ideas of the system today," says Victor Hugo de la Fuente, founder of the Chilean Social Forum, "are the same as those founded by Pinochet and the Chicago Boys [acolytes of Milton Friedman, father of neoliberalism]: disarming the social apparatus, privatising to the maximum, free-market competition."

Chile is the gold tooth in the IMF's grin. President Ricardo Lagos is nominally socialist, but devoted like no other leader in South America to the Third Way and the free market. Chile has signed six free-trade agreements, including one with the US; a score more are under discussion. Two-thirds of mining resources are owned by foreign corporations, as are swathes of salmon stocks. Workers' rights are minimal; the social security system stays privatised (George W Bush is modelling the new US private pension scheme on Chile's); copper and cellulose giants ignore what environmental regulations there are.

It's hardly fair for those of us who believe in privatizing Social Security to accuse others of fascism. Instead the Right ought to resist the unfortunate reflexive tendency to use fascist as a pejorative.

The Franco Era, 1939-75 (CountryStudies)

A further impetus to economic liberalization came from the September 1953 signing of a mutual defense agreement, the Pact of Madrid, between the United States and Spain. In return for permitting the establishment of United States military bases on Spanish soil, the Eisenhower administration provided substantial economic aid to the Franco regime. More than 1 billion dollars in economic assistance flowed into Spain during the remainder of the decade as a result of the agreement. Between 1953 and 1958, Spain's gross national product (GNP) rose by about 5 percent per annum.

The years from 1951 to 1956 were marked by substantial economic progress, but the reforms of the period were only spasmodically implemented, and they were poorly coordinated. One large obstacle to the reform process was the corrupt, inefficient, and bloated bureaucracy. A former correspondent of London's Financial Times, Robert Graham, described the Franco era as "the triumph of paleocapitalism--primitive market skills operating in a jungle of bureaucratic regulations, protectionism, and peddled influence." By the mid-1950s, the inflationary spiral had resumed its upward climb, and foreign currency reserves that had stood at US$58 million in 1958 plummeted to US$6 million by mid-1959. The standard of living remained one of the lowest in Western Europe, and the backwardness of agriculture and of the land-tenure system, despite lip service to agrarian reform, kept farm productivity low. The growing demands of the emerging middle class--and of the ever greater number of tourists--for the amenities of life, particularly for higher nutritional standards, placed heavy demands on imported foodstuffs and luxury items. At the same time, exports lagged, largely because of high domestic demand and institutional restraints on foreign trade. The peseta fell to an all-time low on the black market, and Spain's foreign currency obligations grew to almost US$60 million.

A debate took place within the regime over strategies for extricating the country from its economic impasse, and Franco finally opted in favor of a group of neoliberals. The group included bankers, industrial executives, some academic economists, and members of the semi-secret Roman Catholic lay organization, Opus Dei (Work of God).

During the 1957-59 period, known as the pre-stabilization years, economic planners contented themselves with piecemeal measures such as moderate anti-inflationary stopgaps and increases in Spain's links with the world economy. A combination of external developments and an increasingly aggravated domestic economic crisis, however, forced them to engage in more far- reaching changes.

As the need for a change in economic policy became manifest in the late 1950s, an overhaul of the Council of Ministers in February 1957 brought to the key ministries a group of younger men, most of whom possessed economics training and experience. This reorganization was quickly followed by the establishment of a committee on economic affairs and the Office of Economic Coordination and Planning under the prime minister.

Such administrative changes were important steps in eliminating the chronic rivalries that existed among economic ministries. Other reforms followed, the principal one being the adoption of a corporate tax system that required the confederation of each industrial sector to allocate an appropriate share of the entire industry's tax assessment to each member firm. Chronic tax evasion was consequently made more difficult, and tax collection receipts rose sharply. Together with curbs on government spending, in 1958 this reform created the first government surplus in many years.

More drastic remedies were required as Spain's isolation from the rest of Western Europe became exacerbated. Neighboring states were in the process of establishing the EC and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). In the process of liberalizing trade among their members, these organizations found it difficult to establish economic relations with countries wedded to trade quotas and bilateral agreements, such as Spain.

Spanish membership in these groups was not politically possible, but Spain was invited to join a number of other international institutions. In January 1958, Spain became an associate member of the Organisation for European Economic Co- operation (OEEC), which became the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) in September 1961, and which included among its members virtually every developed country in the noncommunist world. In 1959 Spain joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These bodies immediately became involved in helping Spain to abandon the autarchical trade practices that had brought its reserves to such low levels and that were isolating its economy from the rest of Europe.

Spain traditionally paid close attention to events in France and was often influenced by them. In December 1958, the French government adopted a stabilization program in order to overcome a severe economic slump; this program included devaluation of the franc, tax increases, and the removal of restrictions on most of France's trade with OECD countries. The French action removed whatever doubts the Spanish authorities had harbored about embarking on a wholesale economic transformation. After seven months of preparation and drafting, aided by IMF and French economists, Spain unveiled its Stabilization Plan on June 30, 1959. The plan's objectives were twofold: to take the necessary fiscal and monetary measures required to restrict demand and to contain inflation, while, at the same time, liberalizing foreign trade and encouraging foreign investment.

The plan's initial effect was deflationary and recessionary, leading to a drop in real income and to a rise in unemployment during its first year. The resultant economic slump and reduced wages led approximately 500,000 Spanish workers to emigrate in search of better job opportunities in other West European countries. Nonetheless, its main goals were achieved. The plan enabled Spain to avert a possible suspension of payments abroad to foreign banks holding Spanish currency, and by the close of 1959 Spain's foreign exchange account showed a US$100-million surplus. Foreign capital investment grew sevenfold between 1958 and 1960, and the annual influx of tourists began to rise rapidly.

As these developments steadily converted Spain's economic structure into one more closely resembling a free-market economy, the country entered the greatest cycle of industrialization and prosperity it had ever known.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


You Think It’s Easy to Schlep Those Cases in Four-Inch Heels? (EDWARD WYATT, 2/13/08, NY Times)

For the 26 women who take the stage each week on the NBC hit game show, life is not all glamour and sequins and witty repartee with the host, Howie Mandel. At this taping in mid-January, for instance, there was the 14-hour workday, 8 ½ hours of which involved some or all of the models standing on an Arctic-like soundstage in short, short sleeveless dresses and four-inch heels.

The models are a popular part of this game show that “has no trivia, no stunts, no skill,” as Mr. Mandel put it. “The first time I heard about it, I thought, there’s no game.” One television critic, Phil Rosenthal of The Chicago Tribune, put it less delicately, calling the program an elaborate version of “How many fingers do I have behind my back?”

The game is played like this: A contestant chooses one of 26 suitcases, each worth an amount of money, from 1 cent to $1 million. Leaving that chosen case unopened, the contestant opens the remaining cases, a few at a time, and the amounts assigned to them are wiped off the board. Periodically a caller known as the banker and working for the producers offers the contestant an amount of money to stop playing and give up the sum in the originally selected case. The trick is, that amount might be $1 million — or 1 cent.

Despite having no contestant win the $1 million grand prize in two and a half years of production, “Deal or No Deal’ is an unqualified success.

...where everyone guesses right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Obama, Muslims, the Potomac Primaries and a Changing America (Tariq Nelson, 2/12/08, American Muslim)

The Democratic and Republican primaries will be held in Maryland, DC and here in Virginia today, insha Allah. Obama is looking very strong across the country. With John McCain - who wants more wars for a hundred years - having all but wrapped up the GOP nomination, some Virginia Republicans are considering crossing over to vote for Hillary because she is perceived as the weaker candidate. The “Keep her in it, so we can win it” strategy.

From what I can see, the Muslims in this area are pretty solidly behind Barack Obama because he is against the war in Iraq (and more wars) universal health care, and will implement a different economic policy. [...]

What does he offer? First and foremost: his face.

Peace, pabulum & pigment isn't much of a platform, but it's enough for some.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


Scalia accepts infliction of pain to get key information (The Associated Press, February 13, 2008)

[Justice] Scalia, visiting London during a break in the court's calendar, referred generally to those methods as "so-called torture," and said practices prohibited by the Constitution in the context of the criminal justice system -- including indefinite detention -- are readily allowed in other situations, such as when a witness refuses to answer a question in court.

"I suppose it's the same thing about so-called torture," he said. "Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to find out where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited by the Constitution?

"Is it obvious, that what can't be done for punishment can't be done to exact information that is crucial to the society? I think it's not at all an easy question, to tell you the truth."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:28 PM


Muqtada, the man who would be ayatollah (Babak Rahimi, 2/14/08, Asia Times)

Muqtada's attempt to become an ayatollah follows his earlier call to suspend operations by his militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi (The Mahdi Army, or JaM) in the summer of 2007. Together with his decision to study in Najaf, this has marked a decisive new beginning in the organizational structure and leadership dynamics of the Mahdi militia.

The decision to suspend JaM was made largely because of the outbreak of violence between Mahdi forces and the rival Badr Organization in Karbala in August 2007. The incident was a major embarrassment for al-Sadr, who had been seeking the support of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Shi'ite Iraq's grand cleric, and the conservative establishment in Tehran against the rebellious splinter groups within his own militia since 2005.

The suspension, which came in August 2007, was a way to ensure his Shi'ite partners that he was willing to restructure his forces for the sake of Shi'ite unity at a time when US - or Israeli - forces seemed to be on the brink of starting a major military conflict with Iran.

The call was welcomed by al-Sistani, who had been encouraging al-Sadr to arrive at such a decision since January 200. The two met in June to discuss the problem of JaM splinter groups.

Najaf and Tehran both share an interest in containing Muqtada and his militia, as well as bringing his paramilitary organization - and other shadowy anti-Najaf movements - under the control of the Shi'ite clerical establishment. For Najaf and Tehran, the best way to tame Muqtada is to chip away at his popular base through the electoral process and intra-Shi'ite negotiations, such as the October 2007 cooperation pact with rival Shi'ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. This would, accordingly, diminish his status as a charismatic militant leader defiant of existing institutions.

He wants to be an establishment figure and the establishment wants to perpetuate itself, an ideal marriage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Iraqi lawmakers pass 3 crucial laws (Alissa J. Rubin, February 13, 2008, IHT)

Using old fashioned behind the scenes politicking, Iraq's parliamentary leaders pushed through three divisive laws that had been held up for months by bitter maneuvering between factions and, recently, threats to dissolve the legislative body.

The three laws are the 2008 budget, a law outlining the scope of provincial powers - a crucial aspect of Iraq's self-definition as a federal state - and an amnesty that will cover thousands of the detainees held in Iraqi jails. They were put to a vote as a single package and passed Wednesday afternoon.

"The Iraqi Parliament has approved the three laws, and this is the greatest achievement possible for the Iraqi people," said Adnan Dulaimi, the head of the National Accordance Front and a Sunni.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


U.S. consumers go back to shopping (The Associated Press, February 13, 2008)

U.S. shoppers put aside worries about a slumping economy to go to the malls and auto dealerships in January, propelling retail sales to a surprising rebound following a dismal December.

The U.S. Commerce Department reported Wednesday that retail sales rose 0.3 percent last month. Sales had fallen 0.4 percent in December as retailers experienced their worst holiday shopping season in five years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


Obama's Wiretap Votes (Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2008)

"We lost every single battle we had on this bill," conceded Chris Dodd, which ought to tell the Connecticut Senator something about the logic of what he was proposing. His own amendment -- to deny immunity from lawsuits to telecom companies that cooperated with the government after 9/11 -- didn't even get a third of the Senate. It lost 67-31, though notably among the 31 was possible Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton was absent, while John McCain voted in favor.)

It says something about his national security world view, or his callowness, that Mr. Obama would vote to punish private companies that even the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee said had "acted in good faith." Had Senator Obama prevailed, a President Obama might well have been told "no way" when he asked private Americans to help his Administration fight terrorists. Mr. Obama also voted against the overall bill, putting him in MoveOn.org territory.

With a perfectly adequate excuse to dodge the vote, his campaign had him vote for terrorists and against business? He's already winning the caucuses, which is the only place such extremism helps him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Behind Buffett's Bond Gambit: The Berkshire Hathaway chief's offer to reinsure $800 billion in munis may signal a move to dominate the bond insurance biz (David Bogoslaw, 2/12/08, Business Week)

The role of the white knight who swoops in to rescue a business in distress is one that Warren Buffett plays well, and he's profited nicely from it in the past. Remember his bailout of Salomon Brothers in the early 1990s? But the financial guaranty outfits whose municipal-bond liabilities the billionaire investor offered to take over last week may not wish to take part in Buffett's latest performance.

In an interview on CNBC Business News on Feb. 12, Buffett said that in the prior week his company Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) had offered to reinsure about $800 billion worth of tax-exempt municipal bonds insured by three leading financial guaranty firms, which would allow them to preserve their coveted triple-A ratings. He would also put $5 billion of capital into his new bond insurance company, Berkshire Hathaway Assurance, to provide it with the wherewithal to cover the assumed liabilities. [...]

Buffett has made it very clear that there's nothing altruistic about his offer. He stands to make a lot of money by assuming these policies, given that the cities and towns that issue munis hardly ever default on their debt. When they do, the recovery rate is more than 90%, compared with a 50% recovery rate in corporate debt defaults, says Tilson.

...you only have to be as smart as a Chinese textile worker. Nothing is as secure as American debt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Iran Reinstates Khomeini's Grandson for Election: Report
(AFP, 2/13/08)

Iran has allowed a grandson of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and other reformists to stand in parliamentary elections after initially disqualifying them, reports said on Wednesday.

Ali Eshraghi was one of more than 2,200 mainly reformist candidates disqualified in the initial phase of vetting to the dismay of moderates but has now been reinstated by the hardline Guardians' Council.

The Guardians' Council, Iran's main vetting body, announced on Tuesday that 280 of the candidates disqualified in the original vetting were being reinstated to stand in the March 14 elections.

People spend a lot of time fretting about the various biases of the media, but what should really concern is the incompetence. Iran's may not be the most transparent regime going, but any casual observer knew this was coming. Only the "experts" didn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


A Rainbow of Blame: If Obama falls short, do blacks blame Latinos? (Jim Geraghty, 2/13/08, National Review)

The Republican party did not earn this kind of good luck.

Somehow, just as they’ve managed to come through a primary with a nominee who happens to be the candidate with the best appeal to independents and matches up best against the Democrats, the opposing party is still fighting tooth and nail, and looks set to do it for a long while, perhaps all the way to the convention.

Even more strikingly, the Democratic clash of the titans is showcasing an obvious and deepening fault line between one of the party’s most important and loyal demographics — blacks — and the key emerging demographic for both parties, Latinos. And with each racially tinged exchange or mini-controversy — an accusation of “insensitivity” here, a poor word choice there — a lingering resentment that impacts general-election turnout becomes a bit more likely.

...it's preferable for the GOP that Senator Obama get the nomination and make Democrats the black party and Republicans the brown. Of course, if the various tribes voted ideology rather than identity the GOP would get the majority of both.

Obama, Clinton fight for Latino vote (Gebe Martinez, Feb 13, 2008, Politico)

Set back by low support among Latino voters on Super Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is moving quickly to try to cut into Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Latino support in Texas by stacking the state with money, top staffers from earlier caucus states and high-profile endorsements.

The Obama campaign Tuesday began running a Spanish-language radio ad in eight Texas media markets to coincide with Clinton campaign events in the state. The radio spot highlights Obama’s decision to pass up a high-paying job and work as a community organizer in South Chicago.

Key staffers who organized the Obama campaign in early caucus states have arrived in Texas to set up 10 field offices, and a high-level staff meeting will occur there this weekend.

Debate intensifies over role of super delegates in Clinton-Obama race (Peter Wallsten and Peter Nicholas, 2/13/08, Los Angeles Times)
With victories Tuesday in three more elections, Barack Obama has now won 23 of the 35 sanctioned Democratic primaries and caucuses so far. But he has not yet solved his problem with Mannie Rodriguez.

Rodriguez supports Hillary Rodham Clinton -- and his vote matters more than most. He is a "super delegate," one of the 796 Democratic Party insiders who will break the tie if neither Obama nor Clinton emerges from the primary balloting with a clear victory, a strong possibility even after Obama's wins Tuesday. [...]

Rodriguez, a party official from Colorado, reserves the right to back Clinton, no matter that Colorado and a majority of other states have so far chosen Obama.

"I do not go with the candidate who is always winning. I go with the candidate I believe in," he wrote recently to a voter who asked how he could side against the Democratic voters in his own state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Don’t Cry for Me, America (Michael Knox Beran, 2/13/08, National Review)

There are two traditions of modern female leadership, the do-it-yourself tradition and the widow-orphan tradition. Hillary’s problem is that right now she’s squarely in the widow-orphan camp. If she wants to win, she needs to get with the do-it-yourself gals.

At this stage in the race, it won’t be easy.

The widow-orphan tradition includes the two Gandhi-Nehru dowagers, Indira, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, and Sonia, the widow of Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi; Eleanor Roosevelt, relict of Franklin D.; Soong May-ling, better known, after her marriage to the future Generalissimo, as Madame Chiang; and Eva Perón, the second consort of Juan Domingo Perón. Jiāng Qīng, Madame Mao, of “Gang of Four” fame, also has a place in this club.

At the top of the do-it-yourself list are Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir.

In fairness to Ms Clinton, America is unique in that the leader of the party is chosen in the open, rather than behind closed doors. She, therefore, has to play up her womanhood to get the nomination of the female party, making herself unelectable in the general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Hezbollah: Top U.S. Target Killed (Anthony Shadid and Alia Ibrahim, 2/13/08, Washington Post)

Imad Mughniyeh, a senior but shadowy Hezbollah commander accused by the United States and Israel of masterminding suicide bombings, hijackings and hostage-taking that spanned 25 years, was killed by a car bomb in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Shiite Muslim group and other officials said Wednesday.

Hezbollah accused Israel of carrying out the attack on Mughniyeh. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mark Regev, said Olmert's office had no comment.

The elusiveness of Mughniyeh, the target of several assassination attempts and kidnappings by the United States and Israel, rivaled only that of Osama bin Laden and stretched over many more years. Until Sept. 11, 2001, the attacks for which the United States blamed him represented some of the deadliest strikes against Americans. Along with bin Laden, he was included on the list of 22 "most wanted terrorists" released by President Bush a month after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Lesson: immigration is a dud issue (David Hill, 02/12/08, The Hill)

The anecdotal evidence pours in daily that immigration is a dud as an electoral issue, even in a Republican primary. And even the empirical results of exit polls are starting to demonstrate the same point.

You’d think that someone would notice that the first candidate to drop from the GOP field, Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.), was also the candidate who built his campaign almost entirely around the immigration issue. You might also think it worth mentioning that the only significant candidates to still be competing on the Republican side — John McCain and Mike Huckabee — have the least strident views on immigration. Immigration baiters, like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani went to the showers early. Someone should ask: If the immigration issue is such a “killer” issue, why are its staunchest advocates such losers?

Looking at exit polls from Super Tuesday, I focused on mid-America’s Missouri to try and understand how this issue has fizzled. Missouri’s heterogeneous electorate provides an interesting cross-section that includes urban, suburban and rural voters. It’s not an immigration hot spot like some border or Sun Belt states, but it is being touched by immigration, just as most parts of the nation are. Estimates of the number of illegal aliens residing in Missouri range from 35,000 to 65,000.

The exit poll predictably found that a majority of Missouri primary Republicans took the harshest position on immigration.

Fifty-five (55) percent say the answer to illegal immigrants is to deport them. Only 22 percent favor a guestworker program and 21 percent support a path to citizenship. While most Americans and even most Republican identifiers would not be so callous — majorities seldom champion mass deportation — it is not surprising that primary Republicans would talk tough.

But tough talk wasn’t followed by any meaningful action. Just ask the Mitt Romney campaign. Of the Missouri Republicans who favored deportation, just 34 percent voted for Mitt Romney. He was tied by Mike Huckabee, the guy with the soft heart that anti-immigration zealots fear would give away the store to illegals. Even John McCain, architect of the Senate’s guest-worker program that some call amnesty, received the votes of 25 percent of the deportation crowd. Add up Huckabee’s and McCain’s votes and you get almost 60 percent, crushing Romney’s 34 percent.

...that the American voter has left himself a choice among only the four open border candidates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Where Huckabee Goes from Here: He says he’s in until it’s over. Probably not. (Byron York, 2/13/08, National Review)

The main reasons are that Huckabee can afford to keep going, he thinks he can do well in Texas, and that, as the sole recipient of votes from conservatives unhappy with McCain, his support has actually increased.

Mitt Romney pulled out of the race because did not see the purpose in keeping his extremely expensive campaign going in the face of terrible odds; it would have been impossible to imagine a greatly scaled-down Romney operation, going into primaries on a shoestring. Huckabee, on the other hand, has always operated on a shoestring. In fact, as McCain’s last major opponent, he is positively living large, compared to the campaign’s earliest days. Part of that is because his campaign has displayed a genius for stretching a dollar. Huckabee won Georgia even though he couldn’t afford to purchase TV ads in Atlanta; instead, he bought time in places like Macon. He won Alabama without spending much in Birmingham, opting instead for the less expensive Huntsville. And the campaign just loved twofers. “If we could find a media market that covered two states, we were all over it,” the Huckabee aide told me. “Chattanooga, Fort Smith, Joplin – it’s called bang for your buck.”

There are plenty of small markets in Texas, too, and Huckabee will undoubtedly advertise in them. But the state’s two top markets, Dallas and Houston, reach about half of the Republican primary electorate and are very expensive. Normally, they would be beyond Huckabee’s budget, but the campaign aide told me that “we’ve squirreled away a good amount of money.” When I asked whether Texas would be the place to spend it, he answered yes, leaving the impression that such a campaign would be Huckabee’s last stand. [...]

Huckabee got a lot of applause Saturday when, addressing the question of his delegate gap, he said he didn’t major in math, he majored in miracles. But he doesn’t need a math degree to face up to those numbers. And when the figures make their way into the general conversation in Republican political circles, the pressure on Huckabee to withdraw will increase.

Whenever he goes, Huckabee will leave with a stature far higher than when he began the race. He is now a national figure in GOP politics, widely admired as the best natural campaigner in the 2008 field. Good, and perhaps even greater, things await. And it is unlikely that Huckabee wants to do anything in the last days of his campaign to diminish all the gains he has made.

With his speaking ability, dexterity with the media, amicable relationship with the nominee and deep ties to the Evangelical community, the Huck is the natural RNC chairman. Not only would he help the Party but he'd help himself. Recall that both Bob Dole and George HW Bush held the job before winning the nomination. It's a networking bonanza.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Clinton plays election roulette (Jeanne Cummings, Feb 13, 2008, Politico)

Hillary Rodham Clinton is now on a path to the Democratic nomination that is remarkably similar to the one that failed for Republican Rudy Giuliani.

Just as the former New York mayor pinned his hopes on a late Florida victory to sling-shot him into front-runner status among Republican candidates, the New York senator is banking on wins in Ohio and Texas next month to revive her campaign after a February string of back-to-back-to-back losses.

It’s a high-risk play for the once undisputed Democratic front-runner. It also may be the only maneuver she has left after rival Barack Obama managed to effectively counter her planned Super Tuesday knock-out punch.

...that the Mayor needed the votes of pro-Death Republicans, a surpassing rare creature. Ms Clinton only needs women and Latinos--there are lots of both in TX. Ohio could be tricky.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Iraqi Shi'ite Cleric Al-Sadr Says Kidnappers Agree to Free CBS Journalists (VOA News, 13 February 2008)

The office of radical Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says it has reached a deal with kidnappers to release two journalists held captive since Sunday.

Representatives for the cleric in Basra announced Wednesday, the kidnappers have agreed to free the journalists, who are employed by the U.S. television network CBS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Violinist trips and breaks Stradivarius (Stephen Adams, 13/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

A musician dubbed the David Beckham of the violin proved his talent lay all in his hands when he tripped up at the end of a concert and fell on his 300-year-old Stradivarius.

Blond-haired David Garrett fell on the 1710 masterpiece as he finished up at the Barbican, leaving it with damage that could cost £60,000 to repair. [...]

German-born Garrett, 26, said: "I had just played a concert. I was all packed up and ready to go when I slipped and fell.

"People said it was as if I’d trodden on a banana skin.

"I fell down a flight of steps and on to the case. When I opened it the violin was in pieces. I was just sitting there on the floor," he recalled.

If he were the Walt Frazier of the fiddle it wouldn't have a scratch. In his Pulitzer-worthy eponymous biography, Clyde tells about the time he was sitting at a bar and accidentally set his drink on a piece of ice. As it melted the glass slid towards his lap, but he struck, cobra-like, and not only caught it but managed not to spill a drop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


McCain signs up a Bush fund-raising organizer (Elisabeth Bumiller, February 13, 2008, NY Times)

Senator John McCain began tapping into President George W. Bush's prized political donor base on Tuesday as his campaign announced that Mercer Reynolds, who helped Bush raise a record $273 million for the 2004 re-election campaign, would be the national finance co-chairman for McCain.

The development was a major sign that the Republican financial establishment was coalescing around McCain, who has often been at odds with his own party, particularly conservatives. It also signaled that Bush's political apparatus was moving into action for McCain, a onetime insurgent and competitor to Bush in 2000 who has had a difficult relationship with the president.

What they really need is to resurrect the GOTV operation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Executions May be Carried Out at Gitmo (AP, 2/13/08)

If six suspected terrorists are sentenced to death at Guantanamo Bay for the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. Army regulations that were quietly amended two years ago open the possibility of execution by lethal injection at the military base in Cuba, experts said Tuesday.

Any executions would probably add to international outrage over Guantanamo, since capital punishment is banned in 130 countries, including the 27-nation European Union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


A sleeper in Sox' bullpen: After surgery for his apnea, Hansen works on solid rest (Gordon Edes, February 13, 2008, Boston Globe)

Sufficiently concerned about why he seemed to be tired no matter how many hours he'd slept, and told that there were times he'd wake up in the middle of the night choking and gasping for air, he submitted to a round of testing of his sleep patterns. He was hooked up to equipment that monitored his heart, lungs, and brain activity.

Finally, an answer: Hansen was suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax. When that happens, according to MayoClinic.com, the airway narrows, or closes, and breathing may be inadequate for 10 to 20 seconds, leading to a drop in blood oxygen.

"Your brain senses this inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway," the website states. "This awakening is usually so brief that you don't remember it."

These interruptions, which often are accompanied by a snorting, gasping, or choking sound, can occur 20-30 times an hour for someone with obstructive sleep apnea, interrupting deep sleep without the person knowing it. In Hansen's case, he was told it was happening 56 times an hour, which basically means he was getting just a couple of minutes of rest per hour.

"I had no clue," he said. "I thought I was getting eight hours' sleep and wake up still tired. I was basically getting two hours' sleep total."

Hansen said he informed the Sox of his condition. Surgery was required to correct the condition, but with spring training about to begin and the operation requiring a month's recovery time, the decision was made to postpone his surgery until after the season.

He underwent the procedure in November, after spending some time pitching in the Arizona Fall League while the Sox were playing in the postseason. The surgery, performed by Dr. Mack Cheney at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, involved the repair of a deviated septum as well as the removal of his tonsils. Essentially, he said, doctors had to fracture his nose to fix the problem. [...]

Hansen said he went willingly to Arizona for the Fall League, which is traditionally a steppingstone for players on their way up to the big leagues, not a place for those who already have been there. Fellow reliever Manny Delcarmen, he said, proved he deserved to be back in Boston; Hansen acknowledged he still had work to do.

But he's excited, he said, that with the help of Pawtucket pitching coach Mike Griffin, he has greatly improved the mechanics on his slider, the pitch - along with his high-90s fastball - that had set him apart in college.

Basically, the Sox version of Joba is unlikely to make the big league team. Nice luxury.

February 12, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 PM


Pettitte told Congress Clemens admitted to using human growth hormone (CBSSports.com, 2/12/08)

Roger Clemens told Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte nearly 10 years ago that he used human growth hormone, Pettitte said in a sworn affidavit to Congress, the Associated Press learned Tuesday.

Pettitte disclosed the conversation to the congressional committee holding Wednesday's hearings on drug use in baseball, a person familiar with the affidavit said. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the document had not been made public.

According to the person familiar with the affidavit, who said it was signed Friday night, Pettitte also said Clemens backtracked when the subject of HGH came up again in conversation in 2005, before the same House committee held the first hearing on steroids in baseball.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 PM


Planned Parenthood takes aim at McCain (Mosheh Oinounou, 2/11/08, Fox News)

With enemies like this, who needs friends? Could a Planned Parenthood radio ad launched Sunday taking aim at John McCain’s pro-life record actually help the Arizona Senator within the conservative activist community (on top of his Gary Bauer endorsement today) as McCain seeks to reach out to his right flank?

The ad attacks McCain’s “anti-choice” stance, noting that his “plan to outlaw abortion threatens the lives and health of women.” The 60-second spot will air in the DC area through Tuesday and adds that McCain has a “zero percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the lowest rating in the US Senate.” The group promises an “aggressive effort” to educate voters about McCain’s pro-life record through the general election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


McCain Takes Virginia (DAVID ESPO, February 12, 2008, AP)

The victory means all 60 of the national convention delegates at stake go to the front-runner.

Another big win that the press missed because they're underpolling Maverick's support among conservatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


New Pakistan Army Chief Orders Military Out of Civilian Government Agencies (SALMAN MASOOD, 2/11/08, NY Times)

The new army chief of Pakistan has ordered the withdrawal of military officers from the government’s civil departments, officials said Tuesday, an action that reverses an important policy of his predecessor, President Pervez Musharraf.

The order by the army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was the boldest step he has taken to disentangle the military from the civilian sphere of the government since President Musharraf stepped down as military chief in November and General Kayani replaced him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Bigamist caught out when he invited the same guest to BOTH his 'weddings' (ANDREW LEVY, 12th February 2008, Daily Mail)

The golden rule of getting away with a bigamous wedding must be this: Don't invite anyone who was there the first time round.

Sadly, this small yet crucial detail escaped Randolf Edge, 54, in his haste to marry a woman 33 years his junior.

A guest who had also been at his first wedding tipped off King's Lynn Register Office in Norfolk.

"Golden rule" seems out of place there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Obama Adviser Leads Delegation to Damascus (ELI LAKE, February 12, 2008, NY Sun)

A foreign policy adviser to Senator Obama is scheduled to arrive in Syria today as the leader of a RAND Corp. delegation.

Zbigniew Brzezinski will travel to Damascus for meetings as part of a trip Syria's official Cham News agency described as an "important sign that the end of official dialogue between Washington and Damascus has not prevented dialogue with important American intellectuals and politicians."

One would prefer that a presidential candidate be on our side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Take It As a Compliment (HILLEL HALKIN, February 12, 2008, NY Sun)

[W]hat shall we say about many Jewish prayers, such as the High Holy Day one that goes: "Our God and God of our fathers, rule over the world in Your glory … and may every creature understand that You created him, and may all that possesses the breath of life say, 'The Lord God of Israel is king and His kingdom reigns everywhere'"?

Is this not a prayer for Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus to abandon their religions and accept the Torah of Israel? What would Jews say if the leaders of the world's religions turned to them with the demand that it be deleted from the Jewish prayer book? Would they agree?

The issue, when you think of it, is not only respect for the other person's religion. It is respect for one's own religion, too. If a Jew sincerely believes that it is God's will that the entire human race one day recognize the truth of Judaism, he would be showing disrespect for Judaism by excising this belief from the Jewish liturgy in order to prevent it from offending others. And by the same token, if a Christian believes that Jesus was born on earth to save all mankind, Jews included, he would be slighting Christianity by refusing to say so. [...]

Frankly, I don't see how it's possible to be a believing Christian without hoping that the Jews will one day accept Jesus. If they don't need him for their salvation, why does anyone? Even those Christians (and there is a growing number of them today) who are aware of how Jewish the historical figure of Jesus was, and who have a genuine appreciation of Judaism and even a feeling of closeness to it, are convinced that in the end the Jewish people will recognize this figure as the Messiah they gave to the world. I know such Christians. Not only do they not have an anti-Jewish bone in their bodies, they think far more of the Jews than many Jews do.

When He comes (or comes back), two of three of the Christian, the Jew and the Shi'a will be surprised by His identity. But the argument will be settled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


NAACP Head Calls On Democrats to Seat Florida, Michigan Delegates (BETH FOUHY, 2/11/08, AP)

A prominent civil rights leader has told the Democratic National Committee that refusing to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan would disenfranchise both states' minority communities.

In a Feb. 8 letter to DNC Chairman Howard Dean, NAACP chairman Julian Bond expressed "great concern at the prospect that million of voters in Michigan and Florida could ultimately have their votes completely discounted." Refusing to seat the states' delegations could remind voters of the "sordid history of racially discriminatory primaries," he said.

Sure, Democrats may not have a useful political idea in their pretty little heads, but they sure provide full value for your entertainment dollar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Senate backs Bush on broader spy powers (Eric Lichtblau, February 12, 2008, NY Times)

After more than a year of heated political wrangling, the Senate handed the White House a major win Tuesday by voting to broaden the government's spy powers and to give legal protection to phone companies that cooperated in President George W. Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program.

The Senate rejected a series of amendments that would have restricted the government's surveillance powers and eliminated immunity for the phone carriers, and it voted in convincing fashion - 69 to 29 - to end debate and bring the issue to a final vote. That vote was expected later Tuesday afternoon, with the result all but assured.

The House has already rejected the idea of immunity for the phone companies, and Democratic leaders reacted angrily to the Senate vote. But congressional officials said it appeared that the House would ultimately be forced to accept some sort of legal protection for the phone carriers in negotiations between the two chambers this week.

Dragline didn't beat Luke this bad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


Juggling free speech for Beijing Olympics: As Britain shifts position, U.S. Olympians learn they can say what they want -- in certain areas (Philip Hersh, February 12, 2008, LA Times)

A member of the U.S. Olympic team would face no official rebuke for wearing a T-shirt that said, "Free Tibet," while walking the streets of Beijing during the 2008 Summer Games.

Wear that shirt in the Olympic Village or any sports venue, and the athlete might be on the next plane home after violating the international Olympic Charter.

U.S. athletes can criticize China's human rights record if asked about it at any time or place -- as long as it isn't at a news conference specifically organized for that purpose in an "Olympic area."

Athletes from other countries may have to be even more careful about what they say and where they say it.

Having established what we are, these are just negotiations over our price.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


Lebanon: The Only Option Left is War (Tariq Alhomayed, 12/02/2008, Asharq Alawsat)

The drums of war can be heard beating in Lebanon and all that remains is the actual war – it is clear that all indicators point towards an impending war. Since the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the string of assassinations that followed, the country has been heading towards a state of suffocation in a surprisingly fast manner.

Hezbollah's political dominance and the persistence of its adherents in accusing others of being informers, and the suspicion campaigns that are launched in the media at the expense of many Lebanese, in addition Hezbollah's domination of the city's public squares in Beirut – are all indicators that foreshadow war. The disruption of the state's economy, forcing it to submit to foreign control also signals an inevitable war that even the election of Lebanese Army Chief General Michel Suleiman cannot prevent. [...]

May God forgive what has passed, Arabism and nationalism does not mean spilling blood and the division of Arab states into smaller states and that the power hungry are left to play with our fate and future.

All pan-Arabism, like any nationalism, means is spilling blood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


How 'blackness' has figured in the Obama campaign (Ginger Thompson, February 11, 2008, NY Times)

Glimpses inside the Obama campaign show, though, that while the senator had hoped his colorblind style of politics would lift the country above historic racial tensions, from day one his bid for the presidency has been pulled into the thick of them.

While his speeches stay focused on unifying voters, his campaign has learned the hard way that courting a divided electorate requires reaching out group by group.

Instead of following a plotted course, Obama's campaign has zigged and zagged, reacting to outside forces and internal differences between the predominantly white team of top advisers and the mostly black tier of aides below them.

The dynamic began the first day of Obama's presidential bid, when white advisers encouraged him to withdraw an invitation to his pastor, whose Afro-centric sermons have been construed as anti-white, to deliver the invocation at the official campaign kickoff.

Then, when his candidacy was met by a wave of African-American suspicion, the senator's black aides pulled in prominent black scholars, business leaders and elected officials as advisers.

Aides to Obama, who asked not to be identified because the campaign would not authorize them to speak to the news media, said he stayed away from a civil rights demonstration and rarely visited black churches when he was struggling to win over white voters in Iowa.

When Representative John Lewis's endorsement of Clinton set off concerns about black voters' ambivalence toward Obama, the campaign sprinkled his stump speeches with African-American idioms and deployed his wife, Michelle, whose upbringing on the South side of Chicago was more similar to that of many blacks than Obama's biracial background.

The campaign's early-state strategy left Obama vulnerable with Latinos, which hurt him in California and could do the same in the Texas primary March 4. Faulted by Latino leaders for not being visible enough and understanding what issues resonated with immigrants, the campaign has been trying hard to catch up, scheduling more face-to-face meetings with voters, snaring endorsements from Latino politicians and fine-tuning Obama's message.

Obama has resisted any attempt to suggest that his success is a black-only phenomenon or that presidential primaries are breaking along racial lines.

If he were white he wouldn't be running. He'd be Dick Durbin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Candidate Purge Smacks of a "Vendetta", Critics Say (Omid Memarian, Feb 12, 2008, IPS)

[F]or the first time since the 1979 Revolution, a member of Ayatollah Khomeini's family is among the disqualified nominees. Ali Eshraghi, a grandson of Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, was rejected because of "lack of loyalty to Islam and the constitution".

"Among political activists and candidates, there are several types of opinions and approaches to [the upcoming] elections," said Zahra Eshraghi, Ali Eshraghi's sister and also a sister-in-law to Khatami. "Some of them say that they will not run any candidates -- though they are not condoning a boycott, because boycotting the elections may facilitate the election of individuals who might make things even worse."

"Another group states that they will participate, offering a list of candidates, however, advising people to choose whomever they wish," Eshraghi told IPS, "Yet another group says that they would settle for the bare minimum, meaning that even if one, two, or three of their candidates are elected to Parliament, it is better than sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing."

The unprecedented disqualifications, whose scale is greater than it was in elections four years ago, will almost certainly retain the conservatives' absolute majority in the next parliament.

Last week, Khatami called the mass disqualifications of reformist candidates a "disaster" and warned against "pre-determining people's votes".

...though it didn't work last time, when he added Moin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


A New Middle East, After All (Reuel Marc Gerecht, 2/12/2008, The Weekly Standard)

George W. Bush staked his presidency on his response to 9/11: on the proposition that the United States had to defeat the virulent forces loose in the Muslim world directly and militarily. In his last State of the Union address, delivered shortly after his first and only grand tour of the Middle East, Bush reaffirmed his intention to continue the fight everywhere he has committed American arms. It is way too soon to give the president a final grade, and it is surely tempting to flunk him, given the high-wire act the country has endured in Iraq. The denizens of the Middle East, however, will remember Bush as the most momentous American leader since an angry Thomas Jefferson sent men-of-war in pursuit of the Barbary pirates. His successor will not be able to walk away from what he has wrought. Let us consider the issues one by one--leaving aside for another day Iran and the menace of a Persian bomb. [...]

Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Syria

The Levant has not been kind to the Bush administration. On virtually every issue in this region, the White House has misfired, not fired at all, or been worn out by contradictory aspirations. The Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is as it was in 2000: an event controlled by the continuing Islamist evolution of the Palestinian people, who do not in sufficient numbers countenance peace with a Jewish state. The only real question remaining is whether the Fatah dictatorship on the West Bank will evolve quickly or slowly into a spiritual twin of Hamas. Contrary to what has been endlessly suggested by foreign-policy "realists," democracy did not destroy Fatah or undermine the chances for peace. Fatah destroyed Fatah. Westernized secular autocracies have similarly squandered their legitimacy throughout the Middle East ever since World War II. Elections will inevitably give expression to this failure.

No elected Muslim Arab government is likely to embrace Israel for many years to come. President Bush got the order backwards in his post-Annapolis speeches, suggesting that the Palestinians need to be able to envision a complete state living side by side with Israel so that democracy can triumph. Democracy did triumph among the Palestinians--Hamas won. Arab autocrats sign peace treaties with Israel; Arab democrats won't. That explains the Israelis' preference for Muslim dictatorship over Muslim democracy. Believing Muslims first have to figure out how to reconcile parliamentary legislation and the Holy Law; how to accept a Jewish state on land that devout Muslims see as part of the historic umma is much farther down this evolutionary path. Max Boot's parallel with the English and the Scots, who made war on each other for centuries, is apt--but the religious, social, cultural, political, and economic differences between the Jewish Israelis and the Muslim Palestinians dwarf the historic divide between Britain's warring peoples.

The preeminent issue for Palestinians, as for others in the region, is responsibility: Will Muslims become responsible for themselves, ethically and politically? Will they stop blaming others and blame themselves for their problems? It's very difficult to see how the Islamic, especially Arab, world can confront its manifest problems without Muslims, individually and collectively, assuming responsibility for their actions. Democracy is a good idea for the Middle East not because it will improve Western-Muslim relations. Odds are, in the short term, it will do the opposite. Increasingly, Muslims, especially devout Muslims, are backing democratic politics because they see this as the only way to restore legitimacy to government. Democracy, not dictatorship, opens societies to debates, which fundamentalists may well win. Elections that allow fundamentalists a chance to triumph--not police-state repression or antiterrorist pronouncements by the co-opted official clergy of the challenged regimes--are the key to eventually destroying the appeal of the violent extremists. As always, bin Laden is a helpful guide: If he loathes democracy among Muslims, it's a good reason to support it.

Hamas's triumph in the Palestinian elections of January 2006 probably put the last nail in the coffin of the Bush administration's efforts to encourage reform in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two countries that drove the spread of modern Islamic radicalism. From the beginning, Bush's democracy-and-reform agenda was largely rhetorical, undermined consistently by America's deference to Saudi oil and the senior cadre of the State Department's Near Eastern Bureau who saw the status quo as a safer bet than the convulsive, unsettling world of representative politics among Muslims. Like those American supporters of Israel who have grown queasy at the sight of democracy on the West Bank and in Gaza, the State Department's senior Arabists see the current regimes as bulwarks against radical Islam. They may admit that these autocracies have helped to radicalize their populations through repression. They may be uncomfortable with the aid these regimes have given to conservative religious forces to thwart more radical religious groups. They may even be distressed to see Egypt's ruler, Hosni Mubarak, harass and jail liberal democratic dissidents and critics (though if the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, is upset by this, he's doing a good job of hiding it).

But they are unwilling to risk the unknown, which is what greater democracy would produce.

Rather, it is we democratizers who are unwilling to risk the necessary outcomes of our own crusade. We should be, if not supporting, at least receptive to the prospect of popular government by Hamas, Hezbollah, & the Muslim Brotherhood, which will be moderated by the demands of their own peoples for improved standards of living and rather easily restrained on the national security level by the ease with which we can annihilate regimes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Obamania: Curb Your Enthusiasm (Charles Marowitz, February 11, 2008, Swans)

The pro-Obama video making the rounds of the Internet at the moment is entitled "Yes We Can" attributed to "Will I Am," which I assume is some kind of inspirational nickname for those avidly supporting the candidacy of the senator from Chicago.

It is a fervent, hypnotic chant assuring its listeners that change is definitely in the offing if the right forces combine to bring it about. Obama's words are counterpointed by the incessant and hypnotic drone, "YES WE CAN" and there are shots of various celebrities from the world of entertainment individually intoning the message to those who may have any doubts that Obama can effect the social and political reversals he has so eloquently described in debates and stump speeches throughout the country.

The din of that mesmerizing chant is highly reminiscent of the kind of pro-Nazi collective mania we associate with the Nuremberg Rallies; an attempt by the National Socialist Party and its charismatic leader to sway the general populace towards the marvels the Third Reich would bring to a troubled Germany.

I don't mean to suggest there is any polemical resemblance to Barack Obama and the insane leader who conquered Europe, murdering millions of Jews...

One of the "shocking" post-Election results will be President McCain carrying the Jewish vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Airbrushing Ronald Reagan (John J. Pitney, Jr., February 12th, 2008, Britannica Blog)

Reagan’s deeds were as balanced as his words. In his first year as governor of California, he learned that state finances were worsening badly. To balance the budget, he agreed to the largest tax increase in the state’s history. In his first year as president, he did persuade Congress to cut income tax rates. During the following year, however, concern about deficits prompted him to sign the largest peacetime tax increase in American history up to that time. In reacting to the measure, a junior House member spoke for many conservatives:

The fact is, on this particular bill, the President is trying to score a touchdown for liberalism, for the liberal welfare state, for big government, for the Internal Revenue Service, for multinational corporations, and for the various forces that consistently voted against this President.

The speaker’s name was Newt Gingrich.

Reagan followed suit several more times. In inflation-adjusted dollars, federal revenues grew 21 percent between 1981 and 1989. Spending grew 23 percent, so the deficit got bigger.

The increase in spending may surprise those who remember Reagan as the scourge of big government. At the start of his administration, some of his supporters talked about scrapping some Cabinet departments. By the end, all the departments were still standing, along with a new one: the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Conservatives rightly remember Reagan for winning the Cold War. But they forget that the endgame entailed friction between Reagan and his political base. In an interview with television broadcasters, he complained about conservative opposition to an arms pact. “Now, I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting any understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the two superpowers.”

Conservative senators reacted angrily.

If Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were running in the 2008 GOP primaries the Right would rank them well to John McCain's Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Bush's controversial decisions to be back in spotlight in 9/11 case (Steven Lee Myers, February 12, 2008, IHT)

Harsh interrogations and Guantánamo Bay, secret prisons and warrantless eavesdropping, the war against Al Qaeda and the one in Iraq. On issue after issue, President George W. Bush has shown little indication that he will shrink from the most controversial decisions of his tenure.

With the decision to charge six Guantánamo detainees with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to seek the death penalty for the crimes, many of those issues will now be back in the spotlight. In an election year, that appears to be exactly where Bush wants the focus to be.

Why would he hide a rebuke to his opposition?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Does Britain have a moral duty to spread democracy? (Daily Telegraph, 2/12/08)

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, is to argue that mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan must not derail Britain’s efforts to foster democracy throughout the world - through military action if necessary.

In a speech he will deliver in Oxford entitled The Democratic Imperative, Mr Miliband will warn that the spread of democracy is far from guaranteed and that Britain has a moral imperative to intervene in the future.

“My plea is not to let divisions over these conflicts obscure our national interest, never mind our moral impulse, in supporting movements for democracy,” he will say.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


A Craven Canterbury Tale (Anne Applebaum, February 12, 2008, Washington Post)

I understand, of course, that sharia courts vary from country to country, that not every Muslim country stones adulterers and that some British Muslims volunteer to let unofficial sharia courts monitor their domestic disputes, which is not much different from choosing to work things out with the help of a marriage counselor. But the archbishop's speech actually touched on something far more fundamental: the question of whether all aspects of the British legal system necessarily apply to all the inhabitants of Britain.

This is no merely theoretical issue, since conflicts between sharia law and British law arise ever more frequently. One case before the British court of appeals concerns a man with learning disabilities who was "married" over the telephone to a woman in Bangladesh.

Though British law recognizes sharia weddings, just as it recognizes Jewish or Catholic weddings, this one, it has been argued, might be considered so "offensive to the conscience of the English court" that it cannot be recognized -- unless, of course, the fact that the marriage is legal under Bangladeshi sharia law is the most important consideration. Meanwhile, police in Wales are dealing with an epidemic of forced marriages, honor killings remain a perennial problem, and British law has already been altered to accommodate "sharia" mortgages. The archbishop is absolutely right in his belief that a universalist Enlightenment system -- one in which the legitimacy of the law derives from democratic procedures, not divine edicts, and in which the same rules apply to everyone living in the same society -- cannot easily accommodate all of these different practices.

Many explanations for the archbishop's statements have already been proffered: the weakness of the Church of England, the paganism of the British, the feebleness of Williams's intellect, the decline of the West. At base, though, his beliefs are merely an elaborate, intellectualized version of a commonly held, and deeply offensive, Western prejudice: Alone among all of the world's many religious groups, Muslims living in Western countries cannot be expected to conform to Western law -- or perhaps do not deserve to be treated as legal equals of their non-Muslim neighbors.

As Maurizio Viroli notes in Republicanism:
Classical republican theorists also stressed that the constraint that fair laws impose on an individual's choices is not a restriction of liberty but an essential element of political liberty itself. They also believed that restrictions imposed by the law on the actions of rulers as well as of ordinary citizens are the only valid shield against coercion on the part of any person or persons. Machiavelli forcefully expressed this belief in his Discourses on Livy (I.29), when he wrote that if there is even one citizen whom the magistrates fear and who has the power to break the law, then the entire city cannot be said to be free.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Many in Iran bear the U.S. no ill will (Michael Slackman, February 11, 2008, NY Times)

Generally speaking, Iranians like Americans, not just American products, which remain very popular, but Americans. While that is not entirely new - Iranians on an individual level have long expressed desires to restore relations between the two countries - the sentiment seems much more out in the open now.

It is spreading not just on the streets of Tehran, but in the way politicians talk. A former student hostage taker; the mayor of Tehran; even the supreme leader himself, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said it was not out of the question to someday restore relations with the United States.

That change of tone, combined with Khamenei's recent mild criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, seems to have given Iranians license to express their frustration with their situation and their longing for normal relations.

They do not necessarily see themselves as having any connection to the extreme radical ideas of their leaders, whether in religious or geopolitical terms, and calculate that Americans are equally disconnected from their leaders' decisions, political and social analysts said.

"I think the problem we have with the Americans is the way Americans perceive Iran as a threat, as a rogue state," said Masoumeh Ebtekar, a member of the Tehran City Council who served as a spokeswoman for the students who stormed the U.S. Embassy and seized 52 hostages in 1979. "This perception has to change. I believe if they understand who we really are, the basis for reconciliation will be based on respect and equality."

She framed the conflict as a matter of perception, of misunderstanding. But there was a time when such talk was seen as subversive. Now, there is Baskin-Robbins. Not the real Baskin-Robbins, apparently, but an Iranian bootleg version with its own display of 31 flavors.

"I used to be the one who chanted death to America," said Abolfazl Emami, owner of the ice-cream shop in Mohseeni Square. "It was a slogan that came up during the revolution. People don't mean it now."

With a smile and his hand raised in the air he said: "I like American goods, and I prefer American people. It's just the government I don't like."

It may be hard to reconcile the images of men punching their fists into the air and chanting "Death to America" with a man serving scoops of peanut-butter chocolate ice cream in pink paper cups and sugar cones. But it is in some ways a measure of how distant many Iranians feel from the radical government of Ahmadinejad.

"We never like our own government, never, ever," said Morad Saghafi, a writer and philosopher in Tehran. "So it is a big concern for our government that it is not loved."

And when it happens it will happen fast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


You Are What You Spend (W. MICHAEL COX and RICHARD ALM, 2/11/08, NY Times)

[I]f we compare the incomes of the top and bottom fifths, we see a ratio of 15 to 1. If we turn to consumption, the gap declines to around 4 to 1. A similar narrowing takes place throughout all levels of income distribution. The middle 20 percent of families had incomes more than four times the bottom fifth. Yet their edge in consumption fell to about 2 to 1.

Let’s take the adjustments one step further. Richer households are larger — an average of 3.1 people in the top fifth, compared with 2.5 people in the middle fifth and 1.7 in the bottom fifth. If we look at consumption per person, the difference between the richest and poorest households falls to just 2.1 to 1. The average person in the middle fifth consumes just 29 percent more than someone living in a bottom-fifth household.

To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households. [...]

At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent.

While the Fed fights "inflation"...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Pakistani militant's reputation grows
: Baitullah Mahsud is blamed for Bhutto's assassination, but his power may be greatly exaggerated. (Laura King, 2/12/08, Los Angeles)

Not so long ago, Baitullah Mahsud was an obscure tribal sub-chieftain, little known outside his ancestral district set amid the forbidding, snow-shrouded mountains and valleys of South Waziristan.

Now, in a matter of months, he has emerged as the most notorious insurgent commander in Pakistan, blamed by authorities not only for masterminding Benazir Bhutto's assassination, but for waging a virtual one-man jihad against the government of President Pervez Musharraf.

Mahsud, who late in 2007 became the leader of Pakistan's Taliban movement, is accused of sending dozens of suicide bombers into Pakistani cities over the last year. He is also said to have unleashed a guerrilla campaign that has rattled Pakistan's powerful military and brought pitched battles to the doorstep of Peshawar, capital of the volatile North-West Frontier Province and gateway to Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal belt.

Some observers regard Mahsud as the most potent threat to emerge in years from the tribal milieu, a leader who has shown himself capable of unifying an array of disparate homegrown groups, even while exchanging crucial logistical aid, know-how and resources with Al Qaeda. If his coalition holds firm, these observers say, he could be in a position to threaten not only Musharraf but the Pakistani state.

Mahsud aloso won the "Most Likely to Be Vaporized by a Hellfire" portion of this year's Mr. Taliban Contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Getting to 270: Can John McCain win in November? (John Fund, February 11, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

[J]ohn McCain will now begin to assemble his fall election team with surprisingly good poll results. The average of all the recent national polls summarized by RealClearPolitics.com show the Arizona senator leading Hillary Clinton by 47% to 45% and trailing Barack Obama by only 44% to 47%. Both results are within the statistical margin of error for national polls, so it's fair to say Mr. McCain starts out with an even chance of winning.

How could that be? The answer is that the same maverick streak and occasional departures from conservative orthodoxy that make conservatives queasy have the opposite effect on independents and even some Democrats. Mr. McCain's favorable numbers with independents exceed those of Barack Obama, who has emphasized his desire to work across party lines. [...]

Mr. McCain also puts several Midwest battleground states in play. Should he pick Minnesota's Gov. Tim Pawlenty as his vice presidential choice, he might have a leg up on carrying both Minnesota and Wisconsin, which went narrowly for Mr. Kerry in 2004.

"The media markets in western Wisconsin get Minneapolis television and are oriented to their news--Pawlenty would be a plus there," says Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican. "McCain's independent stands would play well in that region--which is exactly where GOP presidential candidates have done poorly enough so that they lost statewide by 12,000 votes or so in both 2004 and 2000."

Mr. McCain can be competitive in other blue states. Michigan went Democratic in 2004 by only 3.4% of the total vote, and Oregon by just over 4%. The latest Field Poll in California puts Mr. McCain and Hillary Clinton in a statistical tie. If Democrats have to spend valuable time and resources holding down California, it will make it more difficult for them to take states they lost in 2000 and 2004.

Mr. McCain could even make a foray into the Northeast, where his support from Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Party's 2000 vice presidential candidate, could put Connecticut in contention. Ditto New Jersey, which Mr. Bush lost by only 53% to 46% in 2004.

Then there is Pennsylvania, which John Kerry carried by only 2.5% points in 2004. Michael Smerconish, the most popular talk-show host in Philadelphia, believes Mr. McCain has a real chance to carry the state.

February 11, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 PM


An intriguing morsel: Republicans are happier than Democrats (ERIC WEINER, 02/08/2008, PIONEER PRESS)

A 2006 Pew Research poll found that 45 percent of Republicans describe themselves as "very happy," compared with only 30 percent of Democrats (and 29 percent of independents). This is a sizable gap and a remarkably consistent one, too. Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey, conducted biannually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, began asking about happiness in 1972. [...]

The most obvious place to look for an explanation is, of course, with money. Wealthy people are marginally happier than poor ones, and Republicans, according to some surveys, tend to be wealthier than Democrats, so that must be why they're happier, right? Nice try, but no dice. Even after adjusting for differences in income, the Pew researchers still found a marked happiness gap: Poor Republicans are, on average, happier than poor Democrats, and wealthy Republicans are happier than wealthy Democrats. [...]

Basically, Republicans have in spades all the things that combine to make us happy. Church attendance is particularly crucial. People who attend religious services regularly are more likely to report being "very happy" than those who don't - 43 percent vs. 26 percent (a happiness boost, by the way, that cuts across all the major religious denominations). In addition, Republicans are more likely to be married than Democrats, and married people are happier than singles.

...while Republicans just want liberty. It's the difference between a failed life and a successful one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Jeb Bush: John McCain (Mark Silva, 2/11/08, The Swamp)

Now that President Bush has shown his hand -- all but endorsing Republican presidential candidate John McCain in a Fox News interview held at Camp David over the weekend in which Bush called McCain a true conservative -- the president's younger brother has stepped forward.

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, added his name today to McCain's campaign endorsements. However, while the endorsement was made public by the campaign today, Bush tells the Swamp that he wrote a check to Sen. McCain last week.

"John McCain is a patriot and devoted conservative leader," Jeb Bush said, in a statement distributed by the McCain campaign. "Like no other candidate in the field, John McCain has made tremendous sacrifices for this nation.

"He is beholden to no interest other than that of the public good,'' Jeb Bush said. "He is determined and steadfast in his commitment to reducing the burden of high taxes, restoring the people's trust in their government, and winning the war against radical Islamic extremists.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Lent fast re-branded as 'Christian Ramadan' (Bruno Waterfield, 12/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Dutch Catholics have re-branded the Lent fast as the "Christian Ramadan" in an attempt to appeal to young people who are more likely to know about Islam than Christianity.

...but Merry Mohammedmas is going too far....

Posted by Matt Murphy at 7:57 PM


Finally, it was time to vote for a woman (Shannon Reed, 2/8/08, Tribune-Democrat)

All over the country on Tuesday, women began weeping at the polls. I know. I was one of them.

At 6:15, the very first voter in my precinct, I teared up behind the thick plastic curtains.

Throughout the day, I heard from my women friends and co-workers a story similar to what I had already experienced [...]

Looking at the choices, we began, by rote, to reach up toward the candidate we liked the most, or respected most deeply, or felt was the most competent, or had settled on as the lesser of two evils.

And then, our hands stretched out, we froze. We realized, in a moment of quiet joy – we could vote for a woman.

...unless you're a glutton for punishment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Iran's Clerical Old Guard Being Pushed Aside (Thomas Erdbrink, 2/11/08, Washington Post)

If the clerics have a chance at regaining the political prominence they enjoyed in the years following the 1979 revolution, analysts say, it will be under the leadership of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an ayatollah and former close aide to Khomeini who lost the presidential election to Ahmadinejad in 2005.

During Rafsanjani's two terms in the 1990s, his faction controlled several important executive and economic institutions in Iran, among them the Oil Ministry. He helped bring cleric Mohammad Khatami to power as his successor in 1997.

Khatami's supporters, known here as reformists, included many onetime revolutionaries, such as former students who came to regret their 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which led to the severing of ties between Iran and the United States. Rafsanjani's political allies teamed with the reformists and together they began arguing that Islamic law is dynamic and adaptable. They also favored reestablishing relations with the United States through compromise and proposed minor democratic reforms. Later, political fights broke out between the two groups.

Although they held executive power, Khatami and his supporters were prevented from carrying out most of their plans by the judiciary and the Guardian Council, a 12-member body that answers to the supreme leader. Both were dominated by opponents of relations with the United States and of political or religious change.

Most of the candidates disqualified last month belong to Khatami's broad reformist coalition, which sought to compete with the newcomers in this year's parliamentary elections. The Guardian Council is considering appeals and will announce its decisions March 5.

Rafsanjani's supporters, whom the newcomers have accused of corruption, a lack of revolutionary zeal and even spying, decided not to stand in the upcoming elections, although they have not given an explanation.

"We believe we should open the atmosphere in the country, give more freedom and practice detente in the international arena. The newcomers are dogmatic and don't believe in the wishes of the people," said Montajabnia, the cleric, who is a member of the National Trust Party and part of the reformist coalition. "This is a power struggle for the political direction of this country."

The struggle began almost four years ago with the surprise election to parliament of a majority representing the newcomers, and it continued with Ahmadinejad's presidential victory and the subsequent replacement of tens of thousands of experienced government managers.

The newcomers, some of whom had spent years in secondary positions in the Iranian system but had no prominent role in the revolution, have taken over important positions traditionally held by clerics. Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a former student of physics and deputy minister of education, became the first non-cleric to head parliament following the 2004 election.

The top negotiator on nuclear issues, cleric Hassan Rowhani, was replaced by Ali Larijani, a former head of Iranian state television. Larijani was replaced in October by Saeed Jalili, another non-cleric and a close ally of Ahmadinejad.

Among the newcomers are a few clerics, almost all of whom studied at a religious school in the holy city of Qom known for its strict interpretation of Islam.

Ahmadinejad's faction, which calls itself "principalist," consists of newcomers who say they want to act according to the principles of Islam and the revolution. Many members are former commanders in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a force created after 1979 to protect the revolution. Members of another, more technocratic group have similar ideals and backgrounds but are at odds with the government on how to implement those principles. Larijani, who is seeking election to parliament, is emerging as the head of that faction.

"After a purge, the remaining faction divides. The split in the newcomers group will finally result in two main new groups in Iranian politics," said Iraj Jamshidi, political editor at Etemaad newspaper. [...]

Still, Rafsanjani holds one last trump card. In September he was chosen as chairman of the Assembly of Experts, an elected council of 86 clerics that selects, supervises and can dismiss the supreme leader.

"We don't know what's happening in the assembly," Serjooie said. "But we can be sure the new generation is now trying to get as many other institutions as possible under their influence, to cement their newly attained power."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


As voting pattern emerges, so does need to break it (John Harwood, February 11, 2008, NY Times)

The pattern stems in part from what is sometimes called identity politics — not surprising in a race with two history-making candidates.

Clinton, of New York, who would be the first woman to be president, has dominated among women; according to exit polls, they have consistently constituted 55 percent or more of the Democratic electorate. Obama, of Illinois, who would be the first black president, has dominated among blacks by even more lopsided margins.

But with the exception of a few states like South Carolina and Georgia, where blacks represented a majority and Obama won, they have represented a far smaller share of the vote.

Clinton, drawing on memories of prosperity during her husband's presidency, has held steady advantages among Hispanics, older voters and blue-collar whites. Obama's inspirational "Yes We Can" message has produced an edge among young people, independents, college graduates and higher-income Democrats.

Those disparate collections can to some degree be distinguished using labels — Clinton's as more moderate, Obama's as more liberal. But "the ideological differences clearly seem to be driven by demographics," said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.

Those differences have helped define another important element.

While Clinton has performed best in primaries, like New Hampshire and California, Obama has excelled in caucuses that turn on organizational prowess, from the kickoff event in Iowa to the Washington and Nebraska contests over the weekend.

That is partly because Obama invested more heavily in grass-roots organization in his bid to overcome Clinton's establishment advantages. Moreover, the time and information required for caucus participation attract demographic elites drawn to the Illinois senator in the first place — his "Starbucks Democrats," rather than Clinton's "Dunkin' Donuts Democrats," as Chris Lehane, a former aide to Al Gore, puts it.

Thus it is easy to project coming areas of strength for each candidate.

For instance, in order to win the presidemncy Senator Obama would require, at a minimum, that we switch from voting to caucusing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


Good Days Have Arrived, but Bad Times Have a Say (STEPHEN HOLDEN, 2/11/08, NY Times)

Lean and agile, executing low kicks on high heels, [Bettye] LaVette, whose acclaimed latest record is “The Scene of the Crime” (Anti Records), is living proof that classic soul is as durable a style as any brand of American music. Ms. LaVette remarked that because she grew up in Detroit, Motown Records might have seemed her natural destination. But her voice and attitude were apparently too raw to be fitted into the sleek 1960s Sound of Young America envisioned by Berry Gordy; she eventually recorded for the label (briefly) in the early 1980s.

Like Ms. Turner since her resurgence two decades ago, Ms. LaVette has astutely broadened her repertory to include pop and rock songs outside the traditional purview of soul, and the earthy directness she imparts to them can be revelatory. Backed by muscular, gleaming blues arrangements featuring Al Hill on piano, Brett Lucas on guitar, Chuck Bartels on bass and Daryl Pierce on drums, she sang material by the likes of Lucinda Williams (“Joy”), Fiona Apple (“Sleep to Dream”) Joan Armatrading (“Down to Zero”) and Sinead O’Connor (“I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”).

The most compelling performances were expressions of painful self-recognition by characters who have absorbed life’s lessons the hard way. Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s obscure “Talking Old Soldiers” (from the 1971 album “Tumbleweed Connection”), is the fatalistic monologue of a barfly who has outlived his hard-drinking army buddies. The alcoholic narrator of the old George Jones hit “Choices” acknowledges the destructive consequences of a lifetime of bad decisions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Brownie Ice Cream Cake (Tracy Uhlman, February 07, 2008, Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

* 1 package Turtle Brownie Mix
* 1 quart Turtle variety ice cream; remove from freezer 30 minutes before using
* 8-ounce package Cool Whip
* 1 cup Heath candy bars, crushed

Make Turtle Brownie mix according to directions, setting aside the caramel topping. When brownies are done, let cool on a wire rack; do not remove from the pan.

Spread the caramel across the top of the cooled brownies.

Place in freezer and let harden, approximately 1 hour.

Remove brownies from freezer, and spread 3/4 of the Turtle ice cream over the brownies. Return to freezer until ice cream hardens, approximately 1 hour.

Remove pan and spread Cool Whip on top of ice cream. Sprinkle crushed Heath bar pieceson top and return pan to freezer for at least 1 hour. To slice easily, allow cake to soften on the kitchen counter for about 15 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM

Mocha Banana Cream Pie is a low-fat delight (Associated Press, 2/11/08)

3 medium bananas, thinly sliced

1 (9-inch) reduced-fat prepared chocolate pie shell

1/3 cup sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated low-fat milk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping (recipe follows)

Arrange banana slices over the bottom of the pie shell. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan off the heat, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and espresso powder. Whisk in the evaporated milk and egg.

Place the pan over medium-low heat and whisk constantly until the mixture is thickened and steaming, about 6 minutes. Add chocolate chips and continue whisking until the chips have melted and the mixture comes to a simmer.

Remove the pan from heat and whisk in vanilla. Pour the filling over the banana slices in the pie shell.

Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the filling (this prevents a skin from forming on the pudding). Refrigerate the pie until the filling is firm, about 2 hours.

Once the pie is firm, make the topping.

Topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups reduced-fat whipped topping, 1-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder. Spoon the topping into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe a decorative border around the edge of the pie.

Alternatively, spoon the topping into a large zip-top plastic bag, snip off one corner of the bag, then pipe the topping around the edge of the pie by gently squeezing the bag.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Graft Paper: The economics of assassination might surprise you as much as they did Harvard's Ben Olken (Michael Moynihan, January/February 2008, The American)

In his nondescript office on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, nestled in a far-off corner of Harvard Square, Ben Olken ruminates on the economic consequences of tyrannicide, the damaging effects of television on social cohesion, and the byzantine system of bribery in Indonesia. Olken, a 32-year-old with an undergraduate degree from Yale (in mathe­matics and “ethics, politics, and economics”) and an economics doctorate from Harvard, is a ris­ing star in the field of developmental economics. [...]

In “Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War,” Olken and Jones looked at the effects of political assassination, using a strict empirical methodology that takes into account economic conditions at the time of the killing and what Olken calls a “novel data set” of assas­sination attempts, successful and unsuccessful, between 1875 and 2004.

Olken and Jones discovered that a country was “more likely to see democratization follow­ing the assassination of an autocratic leader,” but found no substantial “effect following assassinations—or assassination attempts—on democratic leaders.” They concluded that “on average, successful assassinations of autocrats produce sustained moves toward democracy.” The researchers also found that assassinations have no effect on the inauguration of wars, a result that “suggests that World War I might have begun regardless of whether or not the attempt on the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 had succeeded or failed.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Passing Judgment: Bush's latest controversial judicial nominee opposes abortion and gay rights. But there's a reason why he may not be so bad on the bench. (Stephanie Mencimer, 2/08/08, Mother Jones)

On Feb. 12, the Senate will hold a confirmation hearing for several of Bush's judicial nominees to the federal trial courts. Among them is Richard Honaker, a former Wyoming state legislator who led several efforts to abolish abortion in the state. He has a fairly long record of Bible-thumping and a very public disdain for separation of church and state. During his speech at the State Home School Convention in 2005, Honaker said, "We would like to see political liberty established in an Islamic country—Iraq—but the question is, how will political liberty sustain itself in the absence of a Judeo-Christian base?" For 15 years, Honaker also has served on the board of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which along with defending home-schooling parents from child abuse and neglect charges, has lobbied against gay marriage, sex education, and multicultural classroom material.

No surprise, then, that liberal legal groups, women's organizations and pro-choice activists have begun mounting opposition to Honaker's nomination. "He believes the law should reflect Christianity," says Simon Heller, legal director for the Alliance for Justice, a liberal activist group opposing Honaker's nomination. [...]

Honaker's website boasts that the lawyer won an $8.6 million settlement for a man who lost both his legs in a catastrophic railroad accident, the largest of its sort in the country, ever. Current cases include suits against oil and gas companies on behalf of workers injured on drilling rigs, class actions over dangerous prescription drugs, and many garden variety negligence suits against nursing homes and the makers of other dangerous products. As the president of the Wyoming bar association, Honaker even wrote an article for the Wyoming Lawyer opposing restrictions on medical malpractice lawsuits in 2003. He is, in short, precisely the kind of lawyer that Republicans love to hate.

That's why, despite his stance on abortion and sex ed, it's entirely possible that the average Jane would be much better off appearing before Judge Honaker than before most of Bush's other nominees. Many of Bush's appointees cut their teeth in corporate defense law and as judges they can't get plaintiffs out of their courtrooms fast enough. (And of course, they all oppose abortion and gay marriage, too.) Their rulings have made the federal courts increasingly hostile territory for the type of people Honaker has represented. His long history of fighting for the little guy suggests a Western populist streak that may transcend his recent membership in the right-wing Federalist Society.

Indeed, conservative Christian plaintiff lawyers like Honaker have much in common with liberals once they get beyond religious hot-button issues like abortion. After all, the Bible does say, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits" (Exodus 23:6).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


Immigrants to get residency more quickly (MARISA TAYLOR, 2/11/08,
McClatchy Newspapers)

In a major policy shift aimed at reducing a ballooning immigration backlog, the Homeland Security Department is preparing to grant permanent residency to tens of thousands of applicants before the FBI completes a required background check.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


Breast milk contains stem cells (Catherine Madden, 2/11/08, Science Network)

The Perth scientist who made the world-first discovery that human breast milk contains stem cells is confident that within five years scientists will be harvesting them to research treatment for conditions as far-reaching as spinal injuries, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Embryonic Debate: A Reply to William Saletan, liberal bioethics writer, former embryo. (Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, 2/11/08, National Review)

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, William Saletan of Slate reviewed our new book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. Saletan is a deservedly respected bioethics journalist. While he is a determined defender of legal abortion and the public funding of embryo-destructive research, he is not unsympathetic to the concerns of those opposed to these practices. Unsurprisingly, then, his review of our book, though critical, was neither ungracious nor even unyielding on some important points. Saletan praised the book’s “essential and timely message.” He conceded that embryos have a certain moral standing — one that is, presumably, not enjoyed by mere gametes, tissues, or organs: “We should never create and destroy embryos lightly. We owe them our respect.” Yet the respect to which embryos are entitled, Saletan evidently believes, is not inconsistent with what he himself describes (in considering cloning) as “the mass production, exploitation, and destruction of human embryos.”

In attempting to resist our conclusion that human embryos ought not to be exploited and killed, while at the same time acknowledging their moral standing and the special respect they are owed, Saletan gets himself into a jam. To meet our argument that a human embryo is, as a matter of scientific fact, a developing human being — i.e., a living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stages of development — and thus, as a matter of basic justice, a possessor of inherent dignity and a right to life, Saletan is driven to deny that human embryos are whole entities, as opposed to mere parts (such as gametes, tissues, or organs). He denies that embryos are determinate individuals, and he seems to doubt that they are organisms at all. But if these denials and doubts are warranted, then there is no rational basis for believing that human embryos “deserve our respect” or that “we should never create or destroy them lightly.” Saletan is trying to find a plot of solid ground lying between the views of radical liberal bioethicists, on the one side, and defenders of the pro-life view, on the other. The failure of his effort shows that the middle ground is nothing but quicksand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Can They? It’s Doubtful: Young voters will help, but can’t elect, Obama (Mark Stricherz, 2/11/08, National Review)

Obama’s appeal to the young helps rather than hurts him. But Obama cannot expect young people to deliver him the presidency, to “reshape the political landscape” this fall. To achieve that feat, he would need to overcome two political laws.

The first law is that young voters are notoriously fickle. They might vote; then again, they might not. Fred Dutton in the McGovern campaign found this out the hard way. “What surprised me,” he told me in 2003, “was that young people didn’t vote until they were 35.” John Kerry learned a similar lesson. While Kerry won 56 percent of the youth vote, young people voted in the same numbers as they did in 2000, and this was despite a massive registration drive by progressives. Obama’s strategists may have already concluded that the youth vote is limited. On Super Tuesday, Obama’s strength among young voters was trumped by Clinton’s appeal to older voters. As Ronald Brownstein explained in a post-election analysis:

In each of those states, and almost all of the other major contests on the board, seniors over 60 cast a larger percentage of the vote than young people did. And those voters almost invariably preferred Clinton: She won seniors everywhere except Illinois, Georgia, and Connecticut. In hotly contested states such as Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, Clinton won about three-fifths or more of the vote among seniors.

The second law is that registering young people is not nearly as important as wooing swing voters. For every person who switches his or her vote, a candidate must register two new voters. The McGovern campaign was obsessed about registering young people, to the point of plastering on its walls the figures of each state’s young voters. In so doing, they forgot to appeal to undecideds. Kerry’s strategists did the same.

Perhaps Obama can break one of those political laws, or both. If he wins his party’s nomination, the 46-year-old stands a shot against the 72-year-old John McCain. Even so, Obama would need to find a bloc of voters outside his coalition of blacks and yuppies.

But the history of the post-1968 Democratic party suggests that Obama would struggle in wooing a new constituency. The national party has pursued the votes of young people, minorities, and liberated women first and foremost — and those of the white working class and Catholics second, if at all. As a result, only two of the party’s last seven presidential nominees have won. Obama could be the third winner, but he will need more than hope.

...and then voters go out and do the same thing as last time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Super Tuesday Results Show Split Between Evangelicals and Their Spokesmen: Dobson's anti-McCain e-mail doesn't seem to have made a difference. (Collin Hansen with reporting by Sarah Pulliam, 2/06/2008, Christianity Today)

A nationwide Super Tuesday primary may have tightened Sen. John McCain's hold on the Republican presidential nomination. But his candidacy has already exposed divides between evangelical voters and their spokesmen. A[...]

Evangelical Republicans divided their votes nearly evenly between the top three candidates, according to exit polls. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee collected 34 percent, while former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney earned 31 percent. McCain followed closely with 29 percent.

Huckabee, despite little official support from conservative leaders, won five Southern states with large numbers of evangelicals. Romney, the preferred candidate of many high-profile conservatives, could not top either Huckabee or McCain in any Bible Belt state.

"Trying to pigeonhole evangelical voters by looking at a few leaders is probably a big mistake," said John Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum.

Protestants don't have leaders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Unbending on Spending: McCain could become the Reagan of fiscal discipline (Deroy Murdock, 2/11/08, National Review)

For nearly a decade, Republicans have indulged in a spending bacchanal that shredded their moral authority and shocked Republican believers. Like a latter-day Martin Luther, a President McCain may nail his own 95 Theses to the U.S. Capitol’s front door and shame Congress, before it spends again.

Cato Institute researcher Michael Tanner illustrates how Washington’s spending has waned and waxed since 1980. Under President Reagan, overall federal outlays decreased from 22.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product, to 21.2. On President G. H. W. Bush’s watch, spending increased to 21.4 percent. During the Clinton years, expenditures fell to 18.5. And during President G. W. Bush’s tenure, spending boomeranged to 20.7 percent of GDP.

Indeed, to the extent that the conservative psychosis is shaped by spending, Reagan wasn't a conservative and Clinton was. Of course, given that Bill Clinton also hated immigrants because Marielista riots cost him a re-election, he was pretty much hard right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Climate change, is democracy enough? (David Shearman, 17 January 2008, Online Opinion)

[T]he savvy Chinese rulers may be first out of the blocks to assuage greenhouse emissions and they will succeed by delivering orders. They will recognise that the alternative is famine and social disorder

Let us contrast this with the indecisiveness of the democracies which together produce approximately the other half of the world’s greenhouse emissions. It is perhaps reasonable to ask the reader a question. Taking into account the performance of the democracies in the reduction of emissions over the past decade, do you feel that the democracies are able and willing to reduce their emissions by 60-80 per cent this century or perhaps more importantly by approximately 10 per cent each decade?

If you say “yes” then you fly in the face of a track record of persistent failure in a wide range of environmental management leading to depletion of natural resources and fresh water, biodiversity and ecological service loss, loss of productive land and depletion of essential food sources such as ocean fish. In Australia, a surfeit of democracy carries much responsibility for the demise of the Murray Darling River, where debate has replaced action.

Such an analysis of democracy is conducted in the book The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy, co authored by myself and Joseph Wayne Smith, in a series from the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. The fundamental reasons why democracy is shackled in its present form relate to its fusion with the needs of corporate enterprise but also important is the human denial to recognise its limitations and the inhibition to criticise democracy and implement reform.

Liberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the USA, unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens. The subject is almost sacrosanct and those who indulge in criticism are labeled as Marxists, socialists, fundamentalists and worse. These labels are used because alternatives to democracy cannot be perceived! Support for Western democracy is messianic as proselytised by a President leading a flawed democracy

There must be open minds to look critically at liberal democracy. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties.

While one must quibble with Jonah Goldberg's choice of terms--fascism--the Left is undeniably in love with authoritarianism/totalitarianism. An inevitability since a free people won't adopt their kooky ideas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Replacing ourselves (Ottawa Citizen, February 11, 2008)

Worrying about the declining birth rate can seem like standing against the tide. It's a worldwide trend with complex causes. It is, however, not irreversible.

The birth rate in the United States recently hit a 35-year high. For the first time since the early 1970s, women there are finally having enough children to replace the population.

That replacement rate is 2.1 children per women. In Canada, each woman will have, on average, 1.5 children. Most industrialized countries are in similar situations; the United States is an exception. But if the U.S. can reverse a decline in fertility, perhaps Canada can too.

All it would take is a Great Awakening, mass immigration of the religious, and a redefinition of Canada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


The Politics of Doing Nothing (Thomas C. Reeves, 2/10/08, HNN)

Libertarianism often seems to be a mixture of innocence, greed, and Social Darwinism. Clearly the faith contains a rosy and therefore faulty view of human nature. Brett Stephens of the Wall Street Journal wrote recently, “Mankind is not comprised solely of profit-and-pleasure seekers; the quest for prestige and dominance and an instinct for nihilism are also inscribed in human nature, nowhere more so than in the Middle East. Libertarianism makes no accounting for that. It assumes the relatively tame aspirations of modern American life are a baseline for human nature, not an achievement of civilization….It is beguiling, and parochially American, to believe that things go better when left alone. In truth, as Yeats once wrote, things fall apart.”

Well, of course. The Judeo-Christian concept of original sin is an insight into the incredibly complex nature of human conduct that is strong evidence of its authenticity. The inclination in us all toward evil must be tamed and contained if we are to be civilized and live in peace and prosperity. We can do this by example, education, prayer, and, if necessary by force. To do nothing, hoping that the natural goodness of man will bear fruit for all, is silly and dangerous, being opposed to all we know of human history.

In fairness, while they are immensely silly they're too trivial to be dangerous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Taliban commander killed after gunfight with Pakistani forces (Rosalind Ryan, 2/11/08, guardian.co.uk)

A senior Taliban leader was killed today during a raid in Pakistan, according to military officials.

Taliban commander Mansour Dadullah was captured with four other men after a gunfight between Taliban and Pakistan security forces in south-west Pakistan.

A senior military official told reporters that Dadullah died of his injuries while being transported by helicopter to a hospital, but this was yet to be confirmed by the interior ministry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


India pushing nuke deal (Greg Sheridan, February 11, 2008, The Australian)

KEVIN Rudd is set to meet twice with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this year in a sign that India's nuclear ambitions are back on the negotiating table. [...]

The Rudd Government has reversed the decision by the Howard government to sell uranium to India even though India is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

However, the visit of [Indian Science and Technology Minister Kapil] Sibal, a key figure in the Indian cabinet, so soon after that of Mr Saran, indicates the intense nuclear diplomacy still going on between New Delhi and Canberra.

Mr Sibal, in an exclusive interview with The Australian, said the Indian Government was confident its negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency would be completed soon and that this would result in an India-specific safeguards agreement that would allow nuclear trade with India.

After the obligatory period of pretending the Rudd policy will be the Howard policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


GOP Has Some Growing Up to Do (Mark Davis, 2/10/087, Real Clear Politics)

One of the stock lectures conservatives deliver to liberals involves accepting the marketplace and dealing with it as it is without whining about it.

Whether in politics, the economy or popular culture, the lesson preaches the value of changing the marketplace if possible; if it's not possible, the responsible thing to do is deal with it like an adult.

A lot of people who have delivered that lecture would now do well to listen to it.

The marketplace is speaking loudly. Republican voters are choosing John McCain as their party's nominee for president.

Lecturers aren't listeners.

February 10, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Learning to Fight a War (David Ignatius, 2/10/08, Washington Post)

Traveling in Iraq and Afghanistan in late January, I kept encountering two themes that cut across the usual U.S. political debate about these conflicts: The hard-nosed operations of U.S. Special Forces are increasingly effective, and so are the soft-power tactics of Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

The debate over troop numbers may be missing the point. What's making the real difference isn't how many Americans are on the ground, but how they are being used. That's true at both ends of the spectrum -- hard power and soft. And, as commanders learn to use these tools of counterinsurgency effectively, they may also be able to operate with fewer people and a lighter footprint.

Let's start with the Special Forces: U.S. commanders say they are having increasing success targeting al-Qaeda operatives and sectarian militias in Iraq. "We're killing a lot of people," is how one top officer bluntly puts it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


Azerbaijan, stuck between U.S. and Iran: The Caspian nation, a key oil source and an ally of Washington, alleges that Tehran is trying to stoke militancy. (Kim Murphy, 2/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

The fact of "an increase in Iranian subversive activities in Azerbaijan" coincides with growing Iranian fears that Azerbaijan could be used as a launchpad for an American attack on Iran, said Svante E. Cornell, deputy director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University. "It's basically telling the Azeris, 'This is the damage we can inflict on you,' " he said.

Iran is also keenly aware of Azerbaijan's potential ability to stir up the estimated 20 million ethnic Azeris who live in northwest Iran, an area many in Baku pointedly refer to as "Southern Azerbaijan." Some Iranian officials fear that the U.S. is pushing ethnic minorities to confront the Iranian leadership.

Mindful that the country is walking on a political knife edge, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly said they would not allow their country to be used in any military action against Iran. Yet Baku is already comfortably part of the Western infrastructure aimed at Afghanistan, Iran's eastern neighbor, and signs of a U.S. military presence are not hard to find.

"It's an open secret that Azerbaijan is essentially set up as a sort of rapid deployment location for the U.S.," said a Western political analyst who has spent a great deal of time in the country.

"Almost anyone with a trained eye at Baku airport can see there's this whole section with unmarked planes. For almost all the military flights into Afghanistan, the refueling takes place in Baku, and you only have to walk into one of Baku's carpet shops to figure out how many American soldiers are overnighting there.

"Essentially, it's already part of the system."

...the sooner such problems go away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Ehrhardt, Mets Sign Man, dies at 83 (The Associated Press, 2/10/08)

[Karl] Ehrhardt's block-lettered signs served as color commentary for both fans in the stands and TV viewers at home. He carried dozens to each game, some witty, some biting.

"Jose, Can You See?" was a regular when Mets outfielder after Jose' Cardenal struck out. "It's Alive!" was for hitters who broke out of a slump.

"Just Great!" was for more spectacular moments.

Only the Mets 1969 World Series victory left him speechless. The sign he raised high after the last out read, "There Are No Words."

At one point he had about 1,200 signs to choose from.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


On judges, don't doubt McCain's conservatism (Carl Tobias, February 11, 2008, CS Monitor)

Critics often target McCain for working with moderate Republicans and Democrats to assemble the despised "Gang of 14." The action of those 14 senators in 2005, however, precluded the Republican majority from detonating the "nuclear option," which would have prevented filibusters for judicial nominees. McCain critics seem to forget that this endeavor ensured that the Senate would not filibuster Justice Alito. The effort also led to the prompt confirmation of many conservative judges, including such luminaries of the right as District of Columbia Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown and Eleventh Circuit Judge William Pryor.

Some observers have vilified McCain for cooperating with Democrats and reaching across the aisle, practices typified by his involvement with the Gang of 14. Nonetheless, bipartisanship and consensus-building may be attributes that will serve McCain and conservatives well over the longer term.

...he'd have ignored Senate history and blown up the institution so that change was easier, right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


Officials to review gag on Olympic athletes (Paul Kelso, 2/11/08, The Guardian)

The British Olympic Association is to review its athletes' contract for the Beijing Games after criticism of a clause which had prevented competitors from making political statements in China.

The clause, which appeared to go beyond the requirements of the Olympic charter, will be softened although athletes who engage in overt political demonstrations or statements could still risk being sent home.

...what would be the point of pretending otherwise?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Bush: McCain 'true conservative' (Associated Press, February 10, 2008)

John McCain is a "true conservative," President Bush says, although the presumptive Republican presidential nominee may have to work harder to convince other conservatives that he is one of their own.

McCain "is very strong on national defense," Bush said in an interview taped for airing on "Fox News Sunday." "He is tough fiscally. He believes the tax cuts ought to be permanent. He is pro-life. His principles are sound and solid as far as I'm concerned."

But when asked about criticism of McCain by conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, the president said, "I think that if John is the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative and I'll be glad to help him if he is the nominee."

Bush said some of the criticism of the Arizona senator was the result of "probably, some personal animosity toward me. You can't please all the people all the time."

Bingo! As open borders men, neither W nor Ronald Reagan are "conservatives" either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


796 Insiders May Hold Democrats' Key (Matthew Mosk and Paul Kane, 2/10/08, Washington Post)

For months, Patsy Arceneaux sat on the fence as key aides to the presidential campaigns of Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama made gentle but persistent inquiries. Ann Lewis, a close Clinton adviser, called weekly. The 2004 Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), called, urging her to jump behind Obama.

They all wanted to know the same thing: how she planned to vote in her role as a superdelegate at this summer's national convention.

Last week, the Baton Rouge party loyalist, one of 796 Democratic insiders who may well determine the eventual nominee, got the call that finally persuaded her -- from former president Bill Clinton, the man who 10 years earlier gave her husband a job.

"When the president called, I said to him, 'I guess I've moved to the top of the food chain,' " Arceneaux laughed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


The real danger in Darwin is not evolution, but racism (Tony Campolo, 2/10/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

In reality, those writings express the prevalent racism of the 19th century and endorse an extreme laissez-faire political ideology that legitimizes the neglect of the suffering poor by the ruling elite.

Those who argue at school board meetings that Darwin should be taught in public schools seldom have taken the time to read him. If they knew the full title of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, they might have gained some inkling of the racism propagated by this controversial theorist. Had they actually read Origin, they likely would be shocked to learn that among Darwin's scientifically based proposals was the elimination of "the negro and Australian peoples," which he considered savage races whose continued survival was hindering the progress of civilization.

In his next book, The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin ranked races in terms of what he believed was their nearness and likeness to gorillas. Then he went on to propose the extermination of races he "scientifically" defined as inferior. If this were not done, he claimed, those races, with much higher birthrates than "superior" races, would exhaust the resources needed for the survival of better people, eventually dragging down all civilization.

Darwin even argued that advanced societies should not waste time and money on caring for the mentally ill, or those with birth defects. To him, these unfit members of our species ought not to survive.

In case you think Darwin sounds like a Nazi, there is a connection. Darwin's ideas were complicit in the rise of Nazi ideas. Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson, in her insightful essay on Darwin, points out that the German nationalist and anti-Semitic writer Heinrich von Treitschke and the biologist Ernst Haeckel also drew on Darwin's writings to justify racism, nationalism and harsh policies toward the poor and less privileged. Although these men's lives much predated Hitler's rise to power, their ideas were very influential as he developed the racist ideas that led to the Holocaust. Konrad Lorenz, a biologist who belonged to the Nazi Office for Race Policy and whose work supported Nazi theories of "racial hygiene," made Darwin's theories the basis for his reasoning.

Gee, urban whites embrace an ideology that would exterminate lesser races...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


In manga Bible, the tough guy is Jesus (Neela Banerjee, February 10, 2008, IHT)

Ajinbayo Akinsiku wants the world to know Jesus Christ - just not the gentle, blue-eyed Christ of old Hollywood movies and many illustrated Bibles.

Akinsiku says his Son of God is "a samurai stranger who's come to town, in silhouette," here to shake things up in a new, much-abridged version of the Bible rooted in manga, the Japanese form of graphic novels.

"We present things in a very brazen way," said Akinsiku, who hopes to become an Anglican priest and who is the author of "The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation." "Christ is a hard guy, seeking revolution and revolt, a tough guy." [...]

Akinsiku, 42, who uses the pen name Siku, grew up in England and Nigeria in an Anglican family of Nigerian descent. He recently graduated from theology school in London. For years, he has worked as an artist, and a rendering of the Bible was the best way of glorifying God, he said by telephone from London.

While younger adults and teens are the most avid consumers of manga, Akinsiku said he had heard from grandmothers who picked up the book as a gift for their grandchildren. The book is meant to be a first taste of the Bible, which many feel too intimidated to read, Akinsiku said. Every few pages, a small tab refers to the biblical verses the action covers.

"For the unchurched, the book is to show that this thing, the Bible, is still relevant," he said, "because it talks about what human beings do when they encounter God."

Christian thinkers have tried to make the Bible accessible for centuries, scholars said. Stained-glass windows related Bible stories when Europe was largely illiterate. New printing technology in the 19th century made it possible to mass-produce Bibles, including illustrated versions, said Peter Thuesen, acting chairman of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Hillary Clinton's discovered her F Factor (Liz Hunt, 10/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

[W]hat is this once-ardent feminist doing trading make-up tips with America's womenfolk? We know now that her bespoke plummy lipstick is called "Debate" and she is using "violet illusion" eye shadow as she battles to win the Democratic nomination.True, it was make-up artist Kriss Soterion who let us in on the secret of Hillary's new and much-lauded "dewy, no-wrinkle" look, but she wouldn't have done so without permission.

The "liberal" Mrs Clinton has also wholeheartedly embraced family values - or rather the value of her own family in furthering her political ambitions. She is constantly reminding voters that yes, she's a wannabe president but she's a mother and a daughter too. (They don't seem to need reminding she's a wife which is why, presumably, Bill has been deployed as an "attack dog".)

It seems that Hillary, who was never overtly maternal during her time in the White House, cannot resist an opportunity to parade Chelsea alongside her. As for her mother, well, 88-year-old Dorothy Howell Rodham, a woman who is said to value her privacy highly, has braved the snows of Iowa on the stump, and appeared in a campaign commercial. She regularly gets a mention in dispatches. In the wake of not-so-Super-Tuesday, Mrs Clinton brought a tear to many eyes, including her own, when she thanked "my mother, who was born before women could vote and is watching her daughter on this stage tonight…"

So what has made the legal eagle with a lust for power and a passion for policy-making go soft?

When she was just the wife of a relatively conservative politician she could be rather manly. But if she wants the nomination of the female party she has to play more womanly. As the Obama folks realize, it's just about emotions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Europeans Are From Venus: WHERE HAVE ALL THE SOLDIERS GONE?: a review of The Transformation of Modern Europe By James J. Sheehan (GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT, 2/09/08, NY Times Book Review)

[I]t’s a surely astonishing fact that no European war has been fought for more than 60 years, at least outside the ruins of Yugoslavia. Western Europe has become politically and socially demilitarized to a degree once unimaginable; after so many centuries of bloody conflict, Europeans don’t want to study war no more. In his scintillating tour d’horizon — and de force — Sheehan suggests that such obsolescence of war is specifically “the product of Europe’s distinctive history in the 20th century,” and he argues that it has created a new kind of European state along with “a dramatically new international system within Europe.” [...]

By the second half of the 20th century, having given a most vivid demonstration of Walter Benjamin’s saying that civilization and barbarism are far from incompatible, Europe was exhausted and ashamed. For all the exigencies of the cold war, there was an overwhelming desire never again to see real war, between France and Germany or among their neighbors.

The trente glorieuses after VE-Day saw three decades of astonishing economic growth, which coincided with another most remarkable change: “With or without a fight, Europeans abandoned their empires.” This proved pure benefit for Europe, if not for the former colonies, and its further significance was that, as Sheehan says in a typically perceptive phrase, the brute force with which empire had been won and held now seemed anachronistic, “part of a vanished world in which the ability to wage war had been centrally important to what it meant to be a state.”

From the 1970s the economy stalled while Europe faced numerous social problems. And yet as the cold war ran down the clock, it became gradually clearer that liberal democracy and a market economy mitigated by welfare had won a complete political victory over “actually existing socialism.” At the same time Europe was fully “civilianized”: conscription was abandoned, armies themselves assimilated the values of civilian society and, as the great English military historian Michael Howard has put it, “death was no longer seen as being part of the social contract.”

Lifeless modern Europe is an almost wholly American creation, or rather destruction. Leaders like Harry Truman and George Marshall, who had fought both WWI and WWII and were bracing for WWIII, had no desire to see their country ever drawn into another war on the continent, so they made the Europeans welfare queens. We effectively took over their national security and we pumped in enough money to prop up their welfare systems. The statism we rejected at home was perfect for them, a kind of machinery for developing Europeans of such spiritual lassitude that they'd never bother anyone again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Obama basic training: Volunteers told to share personal conversion stories with voters - not policy views (John Hill, January 21, 2008, Sacramento Bee)

In a storefront on Q Street in Sacramento, Kim Mack told a crowd that spilled out onto the sidewalk how she came to back Barack Obama.

With a son serving in the Iraq war, which she opposed, Mack was looking for a like-minded presidential candidate. She was impressed by the Illinois senator's books.

But the clincher came on March 17, when she met the Democratic contender face to face. She describes how he lit up the room with his wide smile, shook her hand and thanked her for volunteering.

"He looked at me, and the look in his eyes was worth 1,000 words," said Mack, now a regional field organizer. Obama hugged her and whispered something in her ear – she was so thrilled she doesn't remember what it was. [...]

She told the volunteers that potential voters would no doubt confront them with policy questions. Mack's direction: Don't go there. [...]

"Values are not just concepts, they're feelings," [Marshall Ganz, a one-time labor organizer for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers] said.

The appeal to pure emotion is the quintessence of the politics of the female party. But the entire electorate isn't this labile and while they focus on the sweetness of the nothings that the Senator whispers in their ears, the rest of us can't help noting the nothingness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Present at the Destruction The eyewitness story of the 1967 riot: how programs that were supposed to create a heaven turned Detroit into a hell. (Michael Barone, January/February 2008, The American)

In the small hours of Sunday, July 23, Detroit police raided a “blind pig” (an after-hours bar) at 12th and Clairmount—about a mile from where my mother grew up. There were protests as police made arrests, but then people in the crowds started breaking windows, looting stores, and set­ting fires. The police, heavily outnumbered, made no efforts to stop them; Commissioner Ray Girardin felt that would only invite more violence.

“A spirit of carefree nihilism was taking hold,” said the Kerner Commission Report, which was supposed to be the definitive statement on America’s urban unrest. It was an odd descrip­tion of what was going on. Firemen, unprotected by police, abandoned 100 city blocks. The loot­ing and arson continued during the day even as Representative John Conyers, then serving his sec­ond term in the House and now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called on rioters to stop and as Cavanagh met with black leaders at police head­quarters at 1300 Beaubien (a building site familiar to readers of the crime novels of Elmore Leonard). I arrived at the City-County Building around noon and found my way into meetings. At one point Mayor Cavanagh asked me, fresh from my first year of law school, whether he had the power to declare a curfew. He ordered one at 7:45 p.m., and by 9:00 p.m. Governor George Romney had declared a state of public emergency.

I kept no diary, and my memories of the days and nights that followed are jumbled. State police were sent in by the early hours of Monday, and the National Guard was summoned from summer training camp 200 miles away. But as the looting, arson, and killing continued on Sunday night and Monday morning, it was plain that city and state police forces were too small to be effective and that the National Guard, with no riot training, was shooting off its weapons far too much. By noon Monday, President Lyndon Johnson had ordered troops to a nearby Air Force base. After a late after­noon tour of the city, Deputy Defense Secretary Cyrus Vance and General John Throckmorton decided the soldiers weren’t needed. But when darkness fell after 9:00 p.m. the rioting continued in full force, and by midnight the decision to deploy federal troops had been made. The Army wound up using much less firepower than the National Guard had—and it was far more effective.

I remember listening to the police radio in the commissioner’s office, probably on that night. A call came in that police were withdrawing from one square mile of the city, followed by a simi­lar call a few minutes later. I knew large parts of Detroit block by block: the neighborhoods where my relatives lived; the long avenues radiating out of downtown Detroit, lined with stores and churches and auto dealerships; the big auto factories well into town but on its periphery when they were built between 1905 and 1930. When my father used to take me with him on his Saturday hospital rounds, he would point out neighborhoods—whole square miles—that had been all white the year before and now were well on their way to becoming all black.

When I got my driver’s license in 1960, I liked to drive around Detroit, exploring and seeing the effects of what we called neighborhood change. It didn’t occur to me then not to spend the evening in an art theater or a jazz club in what had become a black neighborhood. Now, I was in what was called the Command Center as large parts of the city were being looted and torched. As I drove home on the freeway in the daylight I could see smoke rising from the fires; at one stoplight I pulled up next to a tank.

The rioting continued on Tuesday and Wednesday, then ceased Thursday; it had gone on for five nights and much of the days in between. In all, 43 people were dead, 33 of them black; 7,200 people had been arrested. (At one point I was told to find 2,000 mattresses for prisoners; after much calling around, I got them from the Salvation Army, to which I contribute every year.) My initial reac­tion to the riot was that we needed to show that we could maintain basic order. The official response was different. Almost all political and civic lead­ers sought to understand the rioters’ grievances. The Kerner Commission Report, issued in 1968, pontificated, “What the rioters appeared to be seeking was fuller participation in the social order and the material benefits enjoyed by the majority of American citizens.” Certainly, blacks in Detroit had grievances: the residential segregation then universal in America was a disgrace, and the city’s police force was only 4 percent black. But I believe the rioters were making a different calculation. They knew about the riots in other cities, and they figured that if enough people started looting and firebombing, no one would stop them. Riots occur when people expect a riot to occur and think they can get away without punishment. That may not exactly be “carefree nihilism,” but it’s also not “seek­ing fuller participation in the social order.”

The riot set in motion decisions and actions that physically and spiritually destroyed much of the city over the next four decades. It sped the exodus of whites from the city to the suburbs north of Eight Mile Road; it staunched the flow of investment into the city; it led to a vast increase in crime. Coleman Young, Detroit’s mayor from 1973 to 1993, was blatantly hostile to whites and seemed entirely unperturbed by the city’s crime. Today when I drive in Detroit I see neighborhoods with burned-out, abandoned houses and empty lots once inhab­ited by middle-income homeowners. Detroit had 1,600,000 residents at the time of the riot. The lat­est Census estimate is about 919,000.

My political views have changed over those years, more because of what has happened to Detroit than anything else.

A couple weeks earlier, The Other Brother and I were playing in our East Orange, NJ yard and we could see smoke rising from Newark. Then a cop car went by and it had some kind of strange plastic thing bolted over the window (it turned out to be bulletproof glass). The cops came back and told us to go inside, lock the doors, and tell our parents to listen to the radio to find out what was going on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Honor Politics: McCain's is a peculiar conservatism (Yuval Levin, February 7, 2008, National Review)

Conservatives fear John McCain because they assume he approaches politics the way most people do, and so take his substantive views to express an underlying liberalism. That is certainly mistaken. McCain is neither a liberal nor quite a conservative. Even if his actions do not always live up to his own standards, McCain is an honor politician - aggressive in opposing corruption, hypersensitive to inauthenticity or dishonesty, addicted to big causes, essentially uninterested in what most conservatives take to be the substance of politics, and, lest we forget, supremely vain. This is not a wonderful combination, but it is not a terrible one, and it could well be a winning one in November. Conservatives should view McCain not as a hostile force, but as a foreign and unfamiliar presence, bearing real potential as well as real risk.

To make the most of McCain's potential - his appeal to voters, his personality and force of character, his immensely impressive personal history, his patriotism and devotion to America - conservatives should seek ways to make their causes his, and so to focus on the elements of honor and of greatness in the defense of the American family and the country's freedom and prosperity. They should emphasize the elements of their worldview that speak to honor, just as McCain should emphasize the elements of his that speak to freedom, family, and limited government.

Conservatives should also use this period of the campaign to extract very specific commitments and promises on the substantive issues that move them, but seem to mean so little to him. A man of honor does not break a promise, and this is the time to invest McCain's honor in the Right's crucial aims.

...your voting record is. You have to ignore his in order to even pretend confusion about his views.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


The Conservative Hissy Fit (Dinesh D'Souza, 2/07/08, AOL)

Hillary Clinton wants to raise taxes. She wants the government to take over one-sixth of the economy in the form of the health care sector. She wants to retreat in Iraq. She wants abortion on demand, however "safe" and "rare.' She wants more social liberals of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg stripe on the Supreme Court. She loathes conservatives who represent to her a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

I cannot believe that Coulter would seriously consider voting for such a person. So her threat to actually campaign for Clinton is pure rhetorical buncombe. Coulter specializes in outrageous, attention-getting statements like this. But this one is especially ill-timed and foolish.Equally over-the-top are Rush Limbaugh's attacks on McCain. Limbaugh too has intimated that McCain as president would be worse than Hillary. What did we as conservatives do to deserve such spokesmen? Several years ago Al Franken described Limbaugh as a "big fat idiot." Rush isn't big and fat anymore, and he certainly is not an idiot. But he is an egomaniac. And he has grown accustomed to conservative bigwigs worshiping at the Shrine of Rush.

The one good thing that would come of a rightwing boycott is precisely the citizenship for Mexicans that they so fear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


A Conversation with Osvaldo Golijov (Habitus)

Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentine Jew with a global imagination, is one of the most celebrated composers in the world today. The New York Times suggests that Golijov is “profoundly shifting the geography of the classical music world, dumping the old Eurocentric map.” He has crafted his own vernacular from his experiences in Argentina, Israel, and the United States—along with his learned grasp of the Western tradition and an expansive ear for pop and folk sounds from around the world.

In 2000, he was commissioned to create a Latin American interpretation of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos, based on the Gospel of Mark, boldly recasts the story of Christ’s death with Cuban drums, flamenco guitars, Brazilian dance and percussion, cantorial melodies, a choir and soloists singing Spanish and Aramaic texts. The piece ends with a melancholy setting of the Kaddish. It’s both an inward turn and an empathetic leap from a composer who has taken what he calls a “step towards the Other.” [...]

Many people describe Argentina as a place where you can take ownership of the European tradition from afar, with a kind of freedom to re-imagine.

Right. Borges said something about being absolutely aware of tradition but not having the burden. You have the ability to reinvent it.

The reason I became a composer was probably [tango composer] Astor Piazzolla. His way of approaching music—he was not afraid to be both high and low, popular and classical. I understood right away that Piazzolla wasn’t simply using notes, he was distilling all of life in Buenos Aires: the way people talked, walked, flirted, fought.

He skirted all of the big European existential questions. But we didn’t have to ask ourselves those same questions. We did not attempt to destroy the world. [laughter]

People like Piazzolla or Borges could own all of Western culture, but they could approach it with playfulness. What was exciting for me in Piazzolla was not so much his tango roots, but his transmutations of Bartók, Stravinsky, and life in the streets into a new and vital music. [...]

How about the synagogue where you grew up?

It was officially Orthodox, but it was very chaotic and sui generis. Anarchy is always lurking in Argentina. The synagogue was in the same building as the basketball court and the Jewish community center. I would be playing basketball on a Saturday and they would come ask us to help complete the minyan.

We used to play street hockey in the parking lot at the Orthodox Temple in our town and when they couldn't make a minyan they'd ask for volunteers. Nick Furis always went.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Why Bill Gates Hates My Book (WILLIAM R. EASTERLY, February 7, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Mr. Gates seems to believe that the solution is to persuade for-profit companies to meet the poor's needs by boosting the "recognition" of corporate philanthropy. But the dossier of historical evidence to suggest this would work is as thin as Kate Moss on a diet. First of all, the recognition motive has proven to be awfully weak compared to the profit motive. Otherwise we would have had a lot more than the $5.1 billion of annual American corporate philanthropy to the Third World (as of 2005, which has the most recent reliable figures). That was four one-hundredths of 1% of the $12.4 trillion of U.S. production for the free market. Is it really the poor's only hope that the Gap will donate a few pennies per sexy T-shirt for AIDS treatment in Africa?

Profit-motivated capitalism, on the other hand, has done wonders for poor workers. Self-interested capitalist factory owners buy machines that increase production, and thus profits. Capitalists search for technological breakthroughs that make it possible to get more output for the same amount of input. Working with more machinery and better technology, workers produce more output per hour. In a competitive labor market, the demand for these more productive workers increases, driving up their wages. The steady increase in wages for unskilled labor lifts the workers out of poverty.

The number of poor people who can't afford food for their children is a lot smaller than it used to be -- thanks to capitalism. Capitalism didn't create malnutrition, it reduced it. The globalization of capitalism from 1950 to the present has increased annual average income in the world to $7,000 from $2,000. Contrary to popular legend, poor countries grew at about the same rate as the rich ones. This growth gave us the greatest mass exit from poverty in world history.

The parts of the world that are still poor are suffering from too little capitalism. Foreign direct investment in Africa today, although rising, amounts to only 1% of global flows. That's because the environment for private business in Africa is still hostile. There are some industry and country success stories in Africa, but not enough.

You can't expect a guy who built his company on criminality, not competition, to appreciate capitalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Whose Coalition Is Bigger? (Ronald Brownstein, 2/08/08, National Journal)

Obama almost everywhere carried young people, independents, well-educated voters, men, and African-Americans. In most places, Clinton carried seniors, partisan Democrats, voters without college educations, women, and Latinos.

These trends occasionally wavered: Clinton carried young people in California and Obama won women (albeit narrowly) in Delaware, Missouri, and Utah. But mostly, Tuesday's results followed the demographic grooves apparent not only in their January contests but also in polling stretching well back into 2007.

Given that stability, it is reasonable to assume that the patterns of support for Obama and Clinton may not change much going forward. If so, it raises an obvious question: If each candidate holds roughly his or her existing coalition, whose side of the party is bigger?

The answer isn't so obvious. No previous Democratic presidential candidate has joined well-off whites to African-Americans as Obama is doing: It is as if he is melding the constituencies of Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson from 1984. Clinton's lunch-bucket coalition of core Democrats motivated by material needs is more familiar -- Walter Mondale, who ran against Hart and Jackson in 1984, would surely recognize it -- but she adds to that familiar picture a new gender twist and a dominant position among Latinos. [...]

March 4 looms as the critical date for Clinton. That's when Texas and Ohio vote, and both are the sort of brawny blue-collar states that favor her. If Obama generates enough momentum in February to swipe either, it could trigger a rush toward him from party leaders eager to end the race (especially because John McCain seems likely to claim the GOP nomination by then). But if Clinton holds both, she could consolidate an advantage over Obama in the other beefy states that follow: Pennsylvania in April, and then Indiana and Kentucky -- which don't vote until May and may find their decisions more relevant than they, or anyone else, had expected.

The ideological Democrats obviously aren't going anywhere, but with such a racially-benign Republican nominee can the Party count on blacks or Latinos to stay put?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


The Poverty Myth: a review of WHAT MAKES A ­TERRORIST: Economics and the Roots of ­Terrorism By Alan B. Krueger (Walter Reich, Winter 2008, Wilson Quarterly)

It turns out that members of Islamist terrorist ­groups—­Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.—tend to be from relatively privileged back­grounds. “As a group,” Krueger notes, “terrorists are better educated and from wealthier families than the typical person in the same age group of the societies from which they originate.” For example, one study compared 48 Palestinian suicide bombers from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad with 18,803 fellow Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and found that the bombers were less than half as likely as the general population to come from families below the poverty line, and that “almost 60 percent of the suicide bombers had more than a high school degree, compared to less than 15 percent of the general population.”

The same general pattern holds for terror’s most avid supporters. Opinion polls, Krueger notes, show that “the ­best-­educated members of society and those in ­higher-­paying occu­pations are often more radicalized and sup­portive of terrorism than the most dis­advan­­taged. The illiterate, under­employed popu­lation is often unwilling to express an opinion about policy issues, probably because they have more pressing matters on their minds.” If anything, it has been the lack of civil liberties in their societies, rather than excessive poverty, that has helped foster terrorism.

Krueger concedes the possibility that ­well-­to-­do terrorists are motivated by the poverty and deprivation that bedevil their societies. But he is skeptical: “A range of socioeconomic ­indicators—­including illiteracy, infant mortality, and gross domestic product per ­capita—­are unrelated to whether people become involved in terrorism.” Besides, if poverty breeds terrorism against the West, why isn’t it being carried out by people from places much poorer than many countries in the Muslim ­world—­large swaths of ­sub-­Saharan Africa, for ­example?

We shouldn’t need Krueger’s book to be persuaded of his conclusions. Arab writers have been making similar arguments for years. Saudi commentator Muhammad Mahfouz, for example, has argued that religious teachings inciting violence, rather than poverty, are the main cause of terrorism among Saudi youth. “These youths,” he writes, “were brought up in a special cultural atmosphere which finds its roots in a stereotyped understanding of religion. This understanding serves as a basic incubator to this group.”

The Lost Art of War: Hollywood’s anti-American war films don’t measure up to the glories of its patriotic era. (Andrew Klavan, Winter 2008, City Journal)
During World War II, Hollywood stars like James Stewart and directors like Frank Capra enlisted in the military to combat dictators as willingly as Sean Penn and Michael Moore now tootle down to Venezuela and Cuba to embrace them. More to the point, yesteryear’s studio heads—many of them conservative Republicans—worked in cooperation with a Democratic administration to produce top-notch entertainment supporting the war effort. The result was not only rousing combat tales like 1943’s Sahara, Bataan, and Action in the North Atlantic—all still watchable today—but also some of the finest motion pictures ever made: 1942’s Casablanca and Mrs. Miniver, for instance, and the terrific yet all-but-forgotten They Were Expendable (1945). It was one of the film industry’s finest hours.

Much has changed in Hollywood since then. The fall of the business-driven studio system has freed creative types to make more personal films, just as the internationalization of markets and multiple methods of distribution protect them from the financial consequences of alienating the nation’s mainstream. If their anti-American labor of love bombs in Peoria, their investors will probably still make their money back in Europe and on the DVDs.

One doesn't like to use a word like "traitors" lightly, but what would we call filmmakers who'd made movies that reinforced the Nazi view of the West during WWII? If your "art" serves the enemy, aren't you the enemy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Trading top pitcher for prospects often a winning move: Recent deals show long-term benefit for rebuilding clubs (Childs Walker, February 10, 2008, Baltimore Sun)

[T]he Orioles were guaranteed only two years of Bedard, 28, and seem unlikely to contend for the playoffs in either season. To keep him longer, they probably would have had to offer a five-year extension worth $90 million or more.

Very few pitchers, even excellent ones, prove to be sound investments over such a long period. For proof, simply look at the top 10 ERA leaders from 2002. None of them was among the top 10 in 2007.

Sure, there are John Smoltzes and Mike Mussinas in every generation. But as a seven-year bet, pitchers are hardly blue-chip investments.

Given that reality, many rebuilding clubs have tried to convert precious aces into packages of young talent in recent seasons. Here are a few of those deals and how they worked out.

By the time Adam Jones is as good as he will get the guys like Ichiro, Kenji Johjima, Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, etc. will be well past their sell-by date. It makes sense for the Mariners to get the likely Cy Young winner and try to win this year, though in the Sox, Tigers, Indians, and Angels they face especially tough competition. The Orioles, on the other hand, are a long way from having a solid enough everyday lineup that winning is even an option, but Jones & Nick Markakis are at least a start.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Not a long walk, but a short step, to disaster (Feargal Keane, 10/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Two years ago [Jacob Zuma, next in line for South Africa's presidency] was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. Mr Zuma told the court that he had unprotected sex with the woman despite knowing she was HIV positive. But he said that he had taken a shower afterwards to reduce his chances of infection. Mr Zuma is a former head of the country's anti-Aids campaign.

Yet to the poor in the townships, squatter camps and rural locations he is a hero. Zuma walks among them as one of their own. He is the unschooled Zulu boy who herded cattle on a hillside, the guerrilla fighter who served time with Mandela on Robben Island. Above all, he is the prophet of better days ahead. The promise rings louder than any doubts about his character.

The incumbent, President Thabo Mbeki, may have presided over steady economic growth, but that means little if you are among the millions without proper homes or work. A study by South Africa's Institute for Race Relations found that the number living on less than a dollar a day had more than doubled since the end of apartheid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Egypt Recognizes Right of Muslim Converts to Return to Former Faith (VOA News, 10 February 2008)

An Egyptian court has ruled the government must recognize the right of Christians who had converted to Islam to return to their old faith.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled Saturday in the case of 12 former Coptic Christians. After converting to Islam, they had been prevented from returning to Christianity on the grounds that Islamic law would consider it an abandonment of the faith.

The Associated Press quotes an attorney Mamdouh Naklah for the Christians as saying the ruling is a victory for human rights and freedom of religion in Egypt.

February 9, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


CPAC: Draft Huckabee! (for Senate) (Brian Faughnan, February 9, 2008, Worldwide Standard)

[I] want to see Huckabee serve in the Senate starting in January, 2009 -- and cast the decisive vote to return Harry Reid to his previous job as Minority Leader. The Arkansas GOP currently lacks a strong contender in the race against incumbent Senator Mark Pryor. The race would be sure to be close, in a purple state, if Huckabee were the Republican nominee. And given the big boost to his profile as a result of his presidential race, he might enter the race a favorite. He'd certainly be able to raise the needed money.

The Arkansas filing deadline is March 10, so there's plenty of time for Huckabee to change gears. A Senate run in a key state would give him the chance to win over fiscal conservatives who were skeptical of him as a presidential candidate. A term in the Senate (or part of a term) would allow him to burnish defense and foreign policy credentials that hurt him in his presidential run.

Mitt Romney would, likewise, do the Party a service and earn some chits by knocking off one of the Democrats in MA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Sanctioned States Put Democrats in Quandary (Dan Balz, 2/09/08, Washington Post)

"The Florida and Michigan situation is untenable in its current form and unacceptable to go into a nominating convention [where Clinton and Obama] could be separated by the number of delegates in those states," said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist and veteran of presidential delegate wars. "If you go into the convention with that kind of cloud hanging over your head, it's a very dangerous situation."

Under the original allocations, Florida was to have 210 delegates and Michigan 156, making Florida's the third-largest delegation to the convention and Michigan's the fifth-largest. The Democrats might have done what the Republicans did to states that violated the rules, which was to cut their delegations in half. Instead, the DNC took the nuclear option. Now everyone is left to clean up the mess.

One solution is for the two states to organize caucuses for this spring, perhaps in May. But the cost and complexity of running caucuses in states as large as Florida and Michigan make this more difficult than it sounds.

When the DNC was still trying to decide what to do about Florida's decision to move up its primary, there was talk of setting up 150 caucus sites. That compares with the almost 2,000 sites that Iowa had, and ignores the reality that Iowa has a long history of running caucuses and Florida does not.

There is talk among Michigan Democrats now about trying to set up caucuses, but nothing official has happened. Before anything could take place, the states would have to submit plans to the DNC and have them accepted. So far, there's no movement. Meanwhile there is growing ill will between supporters of Obama and Clinton in Florida and the potential for that to get worse.

Short of scheduling sanctioned events, this will have to be resolved by DNC Chairman Howard Dean and the two presidential campaigns. But the campaigns are already dug in, if the rhetoric about Florida is any guide. Clinton has called for seating the state's delegation, and under the results of the beauty-contest primary there, she would be awarded 105 delegates to Obama's 67, with the rest going to Edwards.

Devine believes that Clinton and Obama should look to resolve the issue through the DNC long before they go to Denver. The challenge will be finding a solution that does not trample on the voters but that also takes into consideration that the candidates did not truly compete in those states. Devine said what's needed is "a mechanism that takes account of what has happened but doesn't unfairly penalize Senator Obama for not fully participating."

So a fair mechanism that benefits Mr. Obama?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Illegal immigrant found cleaning Commons (Melissa Kite, 09/02/2008, Daily Telegraph)

An illegal immigrant was able to work at the House of Commons using a fake identity pass in a serious breach of security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


A Conversation with Jorge Luis Borges: Translated by Jennifer Acker (Habitus)

This interview—which has never appeared before in English—was conducted in 1984 by Professor of Philosophy Tomás Abraham, associate professors Alejandro Rússovich and Enrique Marí, and their students in the Psychology Department of the University of Buenos Aires.

[BORGES:] Sometime ago I said that philosophy is a fantastic branch of study. But I didn’t mean anything against philosophy, on the contrary; it could be said, for example, that it was exactly the same [as poetry] maintaining that the syntax is from two distinct places, [and] that philosophy deserves a place in the order of aesthetics. If you look at theology or philosophy as fantastic literature, you’ll see that they are much more ambitious than the poets. For example, what works of poetry are comparable with something as astonishing as Spinoza’s god: an infinite substance endowed with infinite attributes?

Every philosophy creates a world with its own special laws, and these models may or may not be fantastic, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve entered into poetry, and also fables, that is, I’m not a novelist. I’ve read very few novels in my life; for me the foremost novelist is Joseph Conrad. I’ve never attempted a novel, but I’ve tried to write fables. I’ve dedicated my life to reading more than anything, and I’ve found that reading philosophical texts is no less pleasant than reading literary texts, and perhaps there is no essential difference between them.

My father showed me his library, which seemed to me infinite, and he told me to read whatever I wanted, but that if something bored me I should put it down immediately, that is, the opposite of obligatory reading. Reading has to be a happiness, and philosophy gives us happiness, and that is the contemplation of a problem. Quincy said that discovering the problem is no less important than discovering a solution, and I don’t know if any solutions have been discovered, but many problems have been discovered. The world continues to be more enigmatic, more interesting, more enchanting.

I said a moment ago that I’ve dedicated my life to reading and writing. For me they are two equally pleasurable activities. When writers talk about the torture of writing, I don’t understand it; for me writing is a necessity. If I were Robinson Crusoe I would write on my desert island. When I was young I thought about what I considered the heroic life of my military elders, a life that had been rich, and mine… The life of a reader, sometimes rashly, seemed to me a poor life. Now I don’t believe that; the life of a reader can be as rich as any other life. Suppose Alonso Quijano had never left his library, or bookstore, as Cervantes called it, I believe that his life reading would have been as rich as when he conceived the project of turning himself into Quixote. For him the latter life was more real, for me reading about him has been one of the most vivid experiences of my life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Solar Activity Diminishes; Researchers Predict Another Ice Age (Michael Asher, February 9, 2008, )

Dr. Kenneth Tapping is worried about the sun. Solar activity comes in regular cycles, but the latest one is refusing to start. Sunspots have all but vanished, and activity is suspiciously quiet. The last time this happened was 400 years ago -- and it signaled a solar event known as a "Maunder Minimum," along with the start of what we now call the "Little Ice Age."

...the Suburban is idling even as we speak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


Powerful Shiite cleric quiets in Iraq (HAMZA HENDAWI and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, 2/07/08, Associated Press)

Recently...al-Sistani has noticeably lightened his schedule, according to a range of officials interviewed by The Associated Press.

They include well-connected clerics, lawmakers and employees at al-Sistani's office. They all spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

They also cautioned against interpreting their comments to mean that al-Sistani is seriously ill or incapacitated, stressing he has slowed down considerably due to his age and heart condition.

But their accounts offer a portrait of al-Sistani in his twilight. They said al-Sistani - who does not grant media interviews - has turned over many duties and decisions to his son, Mohammed Redha, who also is his most trusted aide.

The cleric has stopped teaching seminary students and has restricted his political meetings to a small and select group of mostly Shiite clerics involved in politics, they said.

Al-Sistani now spends much of his day in a residence adjacent to his modest, two-story headquarters on a small alley in the old quarter of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad and the foremost center of religious study for the world's Shiite Muslims - who make up the majority in Iraq and neighboring Iran.

Al-Sistani does not project the charisma or bluster of other Shiite leaders - most notably Mahdi Army militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr - who rose to prominence after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But al-Sistani's stamp is on nearly every pivotal decision since the U.S.-led invasion, even though he refuses to meet directly with American envoys.

He forced changes to key political blueprints for Iraq, such as insisting that Iraq's first parliament be directly elected, rather than assembled through a caucus system proposed by Washington. He prevailed again when he demanded that only elected legislators draft the country's constitution - effectively sidelining Sunnis who boycotted elections.

Al-Sistani also is viewed as an important buffer against clerics with known anti-U.S. sentiments, such as al-Sadr, and has encouraged Shiites to support the U.S.-allied government. In 2004, al-Sistani helped negotiate an end to fierce battles in Najaf between the U.S. military and al-Sadr's Mahdi militia.

Al-Sistani has one more key appeal for Washington: his ideological break with Iran's ruling clergy, which he sees as monopolizing the political voice at the expense of secular politicians. The United States has accused Iran of using Shiite militias in Iraq as proxy fighters.

In return for his support, Shiite politicians consult him before announcing new policies and seek his counsel on major issues. The practice gives al-Sistani the unique role of godfather and guarantor to the Shiite-led leadership.

Al-Sistani, who moved to Iraq more than 50 years ago after studying in Iran, is one of four grand ayatollahs in Najaf, but clearly retains the most prestige and standing among his peers.