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Willisms

« June 2006 | WILLisms.com | August 2006 »

Ignorance Is The Real Enemy

For those who think diplomacy is the solution to the War on Terror, I ask you: how can you have diplomacy with this?

flagchew.jpg

The man is chewing the UN flag after breaking into the UN headquarters in Beirut out of hatred because Israel bombed the town of Qana in southern Lebanon. In what reality or alternate universe could that possibly make sense? Kofi Annan has called an emergency meeting of the Security Council in response to the Qana bombing, and has denounced the bombing in the most strenuous way.

And that, somehow, makes the UN an enemy of the Lebanese people?

Hitler was a carpet-eater. According to William L. Shirer in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich "Hitler had been in such a maniacal mood over the Czechs the last few days that on more than one occasion he had lost control of himself completely, hurling himself to the floor and chewing the edge of the carpet. Hence the term 'carpet eater.'" There is actually some speculation that Hitler feigned this behavior to instill a fear of his 'madness' in his enemies.

Now we have the flag-eater - the perfect illustration of the ignorance and irrational emotionalism that creates Islamofascism. The man chewing the flag is in such a froth, he doesn't even know who his friends are. Due to his upbringing, his brain cannot comprehend the bewildering array of forces and influences that operate in the world, so he seizes upon a symbol, any symbol, of the foreign world to attack. It is a simple equation: if it is not familiar, it must be the enemy. Only in this wilderness of ignorance can the UN become part of the obvious worldwide zionist conspiracy worthy of his spittle.

Be encouraged by this, not disheartened. Such people are incapable of defeating wealthy, technologically-advanced societies using free markets and the rule of law to bring progress. Ignorance, even the most malevolent ignorance, is no match for reason. Like the barbarians at the gates, they can make inroads on the empire, and inflict defeats on occasion. But the fate of the Islamofascists is the fate of all ignorant hordes: which is to pass meekly into history while a more informed, effective and humane liberty marches by.

Ignorance is what created and what drives the worldwide Islamofascist movement. It is a creeping stupidity that works by filling all the tabula rasa not yet occupied with a more worthy weltanschauung. A more complete knowledge of others' ways and lives, and a marketplace of competing ideas effectively defeats Islamofascism, just as it defeated the stifling regress of totalitarian communism. Humanity is much more of a bottom-up than top-down operation, which is why the life of any totalitarian regime is limited.

This is not advocacy for inaction. Though the natural weight of liberty will prevail eventually, why wait?

Posted by Ken McCracken · 30 July 2006 08:40 PM · Comments (8)

Olmert's Folly

olmert.jpg
Ehud Olmert

If Ariel Sharon were running Israel - and what a shame for the free world that he isn't - one could argue that Israel's present strategy of patience and restraint in Lebanon is required so that a wider conflict can be avoided. Instead, in Sharon's absence the question arises as to whether Olmert and his untested cabinet even understand the stakes involved. When Israel's reaction to Hezbollah's attacks began, there was wide hope that something definitive, something final could be achieved here against the terrorist enemy. Israel was poised to exterminate the fanatical terrorist group Hezbollah and humiliate and chasten its puppet masters in Damascus and Tehran.

Now it is becoming clearer that this is not to be. Last Wednesday, Israel announced that its goals in Lebanon were exceedingly modest: "it intends to damage Hezbollah and establish a "security zone" stretching 1.2 miles into Lebanon from the Israeli border, maintained by an international force. Free of guerrillas, such a zone would prevent Hezbollah from carrying out cross-border raids like the one that triggered the current offensive." Israel seeks to replace UNIFIL, a group of blue helmets unwilling to confront Hezbollah, with a European force that will no doubt be equally unwilling to fight Hezbollah's depredations. Instead of protecting Israel, UNIFIL has proven to be a net detriment. UNIFIL is in semi-collaboration with Hezbollah and is rebuilding the roads the IDF destroyed in order to limit Hezbollah movements. UNIFIL simply gets in the way of things without deterring anyone, and serves up propaganda coups for Hezbollah when UN observer posts are accidentally hit. There is absolutely no reason to think a European force would be categorically better at keeping Hezbollah away from Israel. This proposed security zone is very thin, and will be porous for native Hezbollah fighters that look more like civilians than troops. And of course a 1.2 mile barrier does absolutely nothing to stop rocket attacks that have been landing as far away as Haifa.

This is worse for Israel than the status quo ante - Olmert's strategy amounts to defeat for Israel. As in 2000, when Israel last occupied Lebanon, the failure to destroy Hezbollah - leaving their leadership and forces intact, and leaving them as a still-viable party in Lebanon's parliament - amounted to a huge victory for Hezbollah. Now once again Hezbollah can say they went toe-to-toe with the IDF and weren't beaten, which is tantamount to utter victory for Hezbollah, resulting in a huge boost for their prestige, morale and recruitment. It will increase Hezbollah's thirst for more of the same.

Attracted to Hezbollah's success, al-Qaeda now wants to get into the act, as Ayman al-Zawahiri tells us: "We cannot just watch these shells as they burn our brothers in Gaza and Lebanon and stand by idly, humiliated . . . all the world is a battlefield open in front of us. . . the war with Israel does not depend on cease-fires . . it is a jihad (holy war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq . . . we will attack everywhere."

Some in the Israeli government do understand the gravity of what needs to be done. Justice Minister Haim Ramon reportedly said -

"We received yesterday at the Rome conference permission from the world . . . to continue the operation, this war, until Hezbollah won't be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed."

The minister, who is said to be close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, added that the Israeli air force should bomb villages -- even at the expense of flattening them completely -- before ground forces move in. "These places are not villages. They are military bases in which Hezbollah people are hiding and from which they are operating."

Europe, deeply concerned for Hezbollah's fate, naturally denies any such 'green light' was given.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that the IDF has done "enormous" damage to Hezbollah and that it would "not return to what it was." It is hard to see how this will be true, given that Hezbollah will simply be able to operate freely as before, uncontested, once Israel has its thin security border along southern Lebanon. Once the runways in Beirut are repaired, and once the threat of air strikes over land routes are gone, Tehran-via-Damascus will begin to generously replenish Hezbollah. Hezbollah has lost much hardware and many fighters, but these can be replaced given enough time.

And time is exactly what Olmert is promising them.

Update: We've heard all this before -
When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, pundits and diplomats bent over backwards to argue that, having achieved its military goals, Hezbollah would finally abandon its revolutionary garb as an Iranian-backed militia. It would transform itself into a Lebanese political party, finally becoming a legitimate part of Lebanon’s political life. Its proximity to power would inevitably enhance the group’s pragmatism, ultimately turning Hezbollah into a reliable interlocutor.

A similar argument in favor of engagement with Hamas was made earlier this year, when Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Both Israel and the West should engage Hamas, the argument went, in order to strengthen the “moderate” and “pragmatic” elements within the organization . . .

Also, Walid Jumblatt theorizes that Hezbollah is testing Iran's weaponry and Israel's military responsiveness in anticipation of a direct conflict with Iran itself.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 28 July 2006 05:26 AM · Comments (3)

Social Security Reform Thursday: Week Fifty-Nine -- Defined Benefit versus Defined Contribution Lessons from Private Industry

reformthursdayblue.gif

Thursdays are good days for reform, because they fall between Wednesdays and Fridays. And reform is a long-haul process, not a fleeting event. So we're going to keep plugging along with the case for reform, even as the issue goes off the political radar screen.

That's why WILLisms.com offers a chart or graph, every Thursday, pertinent to Social Security reform.

(Check that, Will offered a Chart or Graph, I just offer words. But, hey, Will isn't paying me so live with it people.--Justin)

This week's topic:

Private Industry's Transition from Defined Benefit Plans to Defined Contribution Plans.

Imagine if Congressmen and Congresswomen had to actually deliver on their promises to the voters that elected them. They were judged on results, much like the CEO of a company. Sure CEO's have expectations in the here and now like delivering earnings that meet the market's demands, but they also have to be keenly aware of the future. And for most CEO's of Fortune 500 Companies, Pensions are a thing of the past.

The transition from traditional pensions to 401(k) plans has been occuring for the last two decades. Pensions have bankrupted the Airline and Automotive industries, pushing companies like GM and, well, all the airlines to the brink of folding. Pensions are a fixed or defined benefit program where the company makes promises, often decades in advance, then has to pay out an annuity to the worker when he/she retires. 401(k) plans are fixed contribution plans where the company matches a certain percentage of the employee's contribution, but the money belongs to the employee and is portable.

Which one sounds like Social Security? You guessed it. Social Security is making promises for the future that politicians today are not accountable for. The CEO's at the Airlines that negotiated the Union deals that put the Airlines in the pension pickle are long since gone, but we keep sending folks like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd back to the Senate.

IBM is doing their part to reform their pension program because despite having a surplus of $48B dollars, yes that is forty eight billion dollars just to clarify, the company sees the future and is preparing. The move effectively ends one of the most lucrative pensions in all of the business world.

BOSTON -- IBM's freeze of its otherwise healthy U.S. pension plan will reverberate through industry not only because it illustrates the erosion of traditional benefit packages, but also because it sharpens the focus on 401(k) plans as a source of retirement security.

With the 401(k) increasingly becoming a de facto pension for many American workers, several experts suggest reforms are in order.

International Business Machines Corp.'s announcement this week drew attention because the security of the technology giant's $48 billion U.S. pension fund stands in contrast to endangered plans run by airlines and other large companies.

However, retirement analysts found IBM's enhancements to its 401(k) more notable, saying the company is transplanting some virtues of traditional pensions that generally have been absent from newer kinds of plans.

When the pension freeze takes effect for IBM's 125,000 U.S. employees in 2008, IBM will match their 401(k) contributions dollar-for-dollar on up to 6 percent of salary; previously the match had been 50 cents on the dollar, a common figure.

Perhaps more important, the company will automatically contribute an extra amount equal to 1 percent to 4 percent of employees' pay into their 401(k) plans in an attempt to make sure every employee participates.

Those notions of universal participation and automatic security were hallmarks of traditional pension packages known as "defined-benefit" plans.

Newer plans such as 401(k) packages are known as "defined-contribution" plans because that's all the company is promising -- to contribute a set amount, if it offers a match. The size of the retirement benefits depend on the vagaries of investment portfolios, shifting the risk from the company to the employee.

In 1985, 89 percent of Fortune 100 companies offered traditional pension plans, but that had fallen to 51 percent by 2004, according to Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a human-resources consulting firm. Some 11 percent of the plans were frozen or terminated for new employees, up from 5 percent in 2001.

Note that Stockholders did not refer to the change as a "risky scheme putting poor workers at risk". The CEO did not ignore the fact that today's surplus is already committed to future benefits. As you would expect, workers are not pleased. "We worked our whole lives for this and the rug is being pulled out from under us." Yep.

Hard decisions must be made at GM, Delta, United, IBM, and other companies. Benefits that were once thought to be guaranteed will bankrupt these giants of industry. But CEO's know it is their job to make tough decisions sooner rather than later or risk leaving all of their employees at the Unemployment line. And the companies that waited too long are already on the brink of extermination. New companies don't carry the pension burdens and have the capital tied in these plans available to expand and take market share.

This is a metaphor for our country. We must make hard decisions. If Harry Reid were the CEO of IBM and denied that a pension time bomb loomed, he would find himself looking for a new job when the analysts and institutional investors reviewed the books. But most Americans are not investors. And our CEO's like Reid, Pelosi, Kennedy, Boxer, etc., are denying there is a problem.

We are all shareholders in this corporation and it is time we vote our shares.

It's time for reform.

The clock is ticking.

--------------------------------

Previous Reform Thursday graphics can be seen here:

-Week One (Costs Exceed Revenues).
-Week Two (Social Security Can't Pay Promised Benefits).
-Week Three (Americans Getting Older).
-Week Three, bonus (The Templeton Curve).
-Week Four (Fewer Workers, More Retirees).
-Week Five (History of Payroll Tax Base Increases).
-Week Six (Seniors Living Longer).
-Week Six, bonus (Less Workers, More Beneficiaries).
-Week Seven (History of Payroll Tax Increases).
-Week Seven, bonus (Personal Accounts Do Achieve Solvency).
-Week Eight (Forty Year Trend Of Increasing Mandatory Spending).
-Week Nine (Diminishing Benefits Sans Reform).
-Week Ten (Elderly Dependence On Social Security).
-Week Eleven (Entitlement Spending Eating The Budget).
-Week Twelve (Benefit Comparison, Bush's Plan versus No Plan).
-Week Thirteen (Younger Americans and Lifecycle Funds).
-Week Fourteen (The Thrift Savings Plan).
-Week Fifteen (Understanding Progressive Indexing).
-Week Sixteen (The Graying of America).
-Week Seventeen (Debunking Myths).
-Week Eighteen (Debunking Myths).
-Week Nineteen (Reform Needed Sooner Rather Than Later).
-Week Twenty (Global Success With Personal Accounts).
-Week Twenty-One (GROW Accounts: Stopping The Raid).
-Week Twenty-Two (Millions of Lockboxes).
-Week Twenty-Three (Support for Ryan-DeMint).
-Week Twenty-Four (KidSave Accounts).
-Week Twenty-Five (Latinos and Social Security).
-Week Twenty-Six (AmeriSave).
-Week Twenty-Seven (Cost Of Doing Nothing).
-Week Twenty-Eight (Chile).
-Week Twenty-Nine (Entitlement Spending Out Of Control).
-Week Thirty (Reform Better Deal Than Status Quo).
-Week Thirty-One (Social Security As A Labor Cost).
-Week Thirty-Two (Social Security And Dependence On Government).
-Week Thirty-Three (Social Security, Currently A Bad Deal For African-Americans).
-Week Thirty-Four (Longer Life Expectancies Straining Social Security).
-Week Thirty-Five (Howard Dean & Salami).
-Week Thirty-Six (Growing Numbers of Beneficiaries Draining Social Security).
-Week Thirty-Seven (The Crisis Is Now).
-Week Thirty-Eight (Disability Benefits).
-Week Thirty-Nine (Broken Benefit Calculation Formula).
-Week Forty (German Social Security Disaster).
-Week Forty-One (Crumbling Pyramid Scheme).
-Week Forty-Two (Overpromising, Globally).
-Week Forty-Three (Demographic Wave).
-Week Forty-Four (The Jerk Store).
-Week Forty-Five (Defined Benefit Plans).
-Week Forty-Six (Even The Empty Promises Are A Bad Deal).
-Week Forty-Seven (Our Aging Population).
-Week Forty-Eight (The Tax Increases Required To Cover Social Security's Costs).
-Week Forty-Nine (Much Longer To Get Your Money Back From Social Security).
-Week Fifty (A Vote, At Last).
-Week Fifty-One (We Can Do Better).
-Week Fifty-Two (Socialist Security).
-Week Fifty-Three (China Has The Same Problem, Only Worse).
-Week Fifty-Four (Potential Crisis Size).
-Week Fifty-Five (The Crisis Moves Closer).
-Week Fifty-Six (Big Brother Social Security).
-Week Fifty-Seven (Personal Accounts Are Awesome).
-Week Fifty-Eight (Private Accounts and Presidential Proposals).

Tune into WILLisms.com each Thursday for more important graphical data supporting Social Security reform.

Posted by Justin B. · 26 July 2006 11:42 PM · Comments (0)

Big Dig Fix: Duct Tape

The Federal government has a soft place in its heart for duct tape - that indispensable flexible can-do-it-all wonder that works great on everything but ducts. First, NASA puts duct tape aboard the Space Shuttle (to give the astronauts false hope, kinda like oxygen masks aboard airliners? h/t Tyler Durden).

Now, the Feds want to use duct tape to help repair Boston's Big Dig. Sadly, not kidding here.

Look up the word 'boondoggle' in any dictionary, and this is what you will find:

bigdig.jpg

The Big Dig is a salient example of 'project inflation' - "Although the project was estimated at $2.5 billion in 1985, when the last major highway section opened in December 2003, over $14.6 billion had been spent in federal and state tax dollars as of 2006."

A passenger in a car was killed and the driver injured on July 10 when a ceiling panel collapsed in a Big Dig tunnel. It is sad and pathetic when a federal project grows so big and expensive, that the very size and expense of it demands that it be completed to keep it from being a complete waste. It is tragic when such a bloated federal project actually kills someone. Apparently the epoxy bolt hangers were not strong enough to hold up the panels - and there are 1,146 bolt hangers that now need to be replaced.

69% of people polled said they would avoid using any part of the Big Dig system. The Big Dig is now officially radioactive.

Bruce F. Webster at And Still I Persist has the complete roundup of the Big Dig Crumble fiasco as of late, including such hits as

"Inspectors keep finding more problems, and more of the Big Crumble has been shut down."

"MTA chief Amorello has filed [suit] to keep his job — he’s using public funds to pay for the law firms representing him."

"Back in 1999, a Big Crumble safety officer warned that the concrete ceiling panels might collapse."

Bruce's extensive Roundup of Roundups can be found here.

So just remember that when John Kerry says something really silly like "If I was president, this wouldn't have happened," he was no doubt talking about duct tape, 'cause it fixes everything.

redgreenshow.jpg
Federal engineers are on the job!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 26 July 2006 04:49 PM · Comments (10)

Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 63

This week's WILLisms.com Caption Contest photograph:

rice-abbas.jpg
The actual caption:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L) looks at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their joint news conference at Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 25, 2006.
They expect us to believe that caption? Tell us what it should really say.

Entries will remain open until 11:59 PM, Central Standard Time, Tuesday, August 2. Submit your captions in the comments section, or email at mccracken.ken@gmail.com.

Last week's photo:

mudgirl.jpg

Winners from last week: 1. Radio Free Fred:

I'll Answer The Question, As Soon As The Room Quits Spinning.

2. The Adjustah:

Press conference? No, I ordered a gin and tonic.
3. Bob:
Johnny Depp at the world premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean XIX: A Pirate Looks at 70.

Honorable Mention #1 Rob B :
Due to years of substance use, Keith now employs the use of a exoskeleton.

Honorable Mention #2 Zsa Zsa:
What a drag it is getting old.

Honorable Mention #3 Rodney Dill :
Keith Richards with new love interest, Calista Flockhart.

When you caption, we all win. Enter today!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 26 July 2006 02:37 PM · Comments (25)

The Devil Hath Power to Assume a Pleasing Shape

With the current Israeli counterattacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon, the issue of delineations has come to the forefront once again. With Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Palestine Authority, the lines of demarcation between governments and terrorist organizations are growing more and more blurry. Likewise, the distinctions between combatants, guerrillas, terrorists, and civilians is becoming more and more difficult to discern.

How does one define a nation? Hezbollah has a clearly defined geographical area, a military force, provides services to those who live in its territory. They even have their own flag, which features a hand clutching an AK-47. It has been seen waving proudly next to the UN flag in a UN base in southern Lebanon. Hamas has all that and more -- they won an election to control the Palestinian Authority. And the Taliban was the de facto government of Afghanistan.

Finally, all three organizations have openly declared and waged war against established nation states.

The difference between combatants and civilians used to be a binary factor, a simple matter of black and white. If one was a combatant, one put on a uniform and fought. If one was a civilian, one did one's level best to stay out of the line of fire.

Guerrillas began to blur the distinction. They were combatants who doffed their distinctive uniforms, fading into the wilderness or general populace when not actively fighting. Finally, civilians who took up arms when convenient and carried out their attacks became "terrorists."

So, how does one differentiate a terrorist from a civilian? Sadly, unless one catches the terrorist in the act of committing terrorism, it's very difficult. Once the terrorist drops his gun or bomb, he's just another civilian. Further, terrorists make an art out of appearing like civilians; that's why the suicide bombers are so successful.

Hezbollah claims that only a few of their fighters have been killed, and the vast majority of those who have died were civilians. Perhaps many were, but I strongly suspect that a large number were Hezbollah members or supporters. As Ralph Kinney Bennett notes, the civilian populace is a nuisance to Israel -- but an invaluable, essential resource to Hezbollah.

The answer, I believe, lies in the Geneva Conventions.

I have written at length about the Conventions, and how they are no longer relevant to the situation in the world today. I still stand by those criticisms, but they are of the Conventions' current application and interpretation. I harken back to the basic precepts of the Conventions, and one principle in particular:

It is the obligation of the combatant to protect the innocent from harm.

This is being applied to Israel to denounce their strikes, but there is a further application. It is the duty of the combatant to protect the innocent by absenting themselves from civilians. To get away and stay away from those who are not actively involved in the fighting.

The Geneva Convention is explicit on this matter: civilians are never to be used as human shields. To willingly endanger civilians thusly is explicitly forbidden, and the responsibility for any casualties is solely upon those who seek such shelter -- and not upon their enemy who fires the fatal shots.

The complication is that Hezbollah is not a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. And as a non-state entity, nor are they eligible to sign on to them.

I believe we should consider treating certain non-state entities as the equivalent of states. When an organization reaches a certain point of activity and prominence, it is essentially a state in all but name. While others may reject the notion of granting these groups the status and legitimacy of statehood, the advantages of holding them to that level of accountability are numerous.

The first is that acts of war could be answered with declarations of war. In the current example of Israel vs. Hezbollah, Israel could simply declare that a state of war exists between the two, and it intends to do war upon Hezbollah until it is destroyed or surrenders. Hezbollah has repeatedly stated that it considers itself at war with Israel, so the concept of Israel simply returning the animus is not so great an extrapolation.

As a de facto state, further, Hezbollah could be held accountable to higher international standards. It can be argued that Hezbollah has taken over a portion of Lebanon and is the rightful successor to the Lebanese government – and as such, is bound by the international agreements and covenants the Lebanese government has signed.

In the case of Hamas, it is even easier. “Palestine” does not have official sanction as an independent nation, but Hamas has won and election and assumed the reins of power over the Palestinian Authority. They levy taxes, pass and enforce laws, regulate their borders (albeit in a very sloppy and self-serving way), make agreements with other nations – in brief, they fulfill nearly all the perquisites for a legitimate government. Therefore, acts carried out by their members in their name, when not repudiated and rectified, are to be considered actions of a national government.

If those actions are acts of war, then it is upon the aggressed-upon party to determine whether they will accept or decline the invitation to wage war.

I recognize the problems some may have with giving such recognition and status to what are little more than politically-motivated criminals and sociopaths, but overall I think the “advantages” they receive will be outweighed by the tremendous simplifying effect this will have on nation-states currently bedeviled by such amorphous bodies.

Posted by Jay Tea · 26 July 2006 05:00 AM · Comments (31)

Democrats Have Union Labels On Their Bumper Stickers.

I sometimes get slightly irritated these days. I learn fewer new things each day, it seems. It's just the way it is. I try to branch out and learn new skills, new information, and so on, but it just seems like I have hit a point where I don't learn thousands of new things each day. And within the field of politics, there's just next to nothing left to learn (so it seems). But I did make one random discovery recently. Indeed, I learned something new.

Democrats-- most of them, at least-- have union labels on their bumper stickers. And if you don't have one, you are seen by left-wing purists as a sell-out, or too moderate, or not sufficiently Democratic.

Take this Russ Feingold bumper sticker I picked up at a recent gathering of young left-wingers in the Midwest, for example:

russfeingoldsticker.gif

Okay, pretty poor sticker, I agree, but it, along with tons of other stickers I picked up, has this somewhat annoying squigly label thing on it. It's so small, one cannot even really read it, even with a magnifying glass. So I scanned it on ultra-high resolution. Here it is:

unionlabel.gif

And nearly all of them have this label. All the weird "progressive" groups with stickers about bucking Fush and impeaching Bush and otherwise hating Bush. Nearly all of the wannabe-2008ers have the union label. All the pro-abortion, environmentalist, and other left-leaning special interest groups all have the insignia.

It's highly foreign, having grown up in states with weak unions, having such extraneous information on a bumper sticker. And you can't even read it. You can barely notice it, except to be slightly distracted by it... and to notice that nearly all of the insignias on the stickers have eerily similar designs.

If it weren't there, people would notice. It's just another symbolic, "I AM A DEPENDABLE ANTI-BUSINESS SOCIALIST" type of statement Democrats communicate surreptitiously with "the base" without anyone else really noticing.

Now, I have been keeping a keen eye out over the past few days, and not all liberal bumper stickers have union labels on them. Former Virginia Governor, Democrat Mark Warner, for example, has no union label on his stickers. It's likely part of his "moderate" image he so carefully cultivates. Then again, he's not officially running, and the stickers are all part of a manufactured "draft Warner" type of movement.

Indeed, at the recent gathering of young liberals, people actually did notice the union labels, or lack thereof. Few people were interested in signing up with-- and learning more about-- Mark Warner. Far more wanted to hear from the Russ Feingold folks. Overheard, more than once, in slightly different forms: "Warner can't be a true progressive without a union label on his bumper."

And that's how I even noticed the union label on all the stickers. I might have completely overlooked them had I not heard those sorts of comments.

So, if you want to judge the ideological purity (on labor issues, at least) of your local Democrats, and see if they might be running for President in 2008, check out their campaign paraphernalia. Look for the union label. If it's not there, your local Democrat probably has very little shot at getting a national Democratic nomination.

Who knew?

Incidentally, as the strength of the "progressive grassroots" community increases, the chances of Democrats ever winning a national election draws closer and closer to nil. Those people are literally insane. Literally.

Posted by Will Franklin · 25 July 2006 05:25 PM · Comments (10)

Quoth The Craven: Nevermore

One of the recurring elements of the Israeli War On Terror has been the use of human shields -- often willing ones. And while it says something about the courage of those people, it reveals far more about their cowardice.

The idea, to me, seems an evolution of Mahatma Gandhi's "nonresistance," the tactic he used against the Colonial British -- to great success. The idea of meeting force with resolve, violence with peace, hatred with acceptance has an enormous moral power.

However, it has one critical flaw, one Achilles heel that keep it from being a guaranteed success: it depends on your opponent having a conscience.

In India, the British thought of themselves as the wogs' benefactor. The Colonial relationship was seen as symbiotic, a boon to both. Only when they were confronted with the simple fact that a large portion of the Indian people wanted the British to leave, to the point of death, that Gandhi won his victory.

Likewise, in the United States, the civil rights movement could have threatened far more violence. Many believed that the root causes of the Civil War had festered for a century, and could only be cured by a second. But leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King saw that the surest, cleanest road to victory lay through forcing America to confront not the protesters, but themselves. It was that non-violent resistance, in the face of brutality and savagery by the segregationists, that led to the ultimate passage of the Civil Rights Act and the fulfillment of the promises of the Civil War.

Those stunning successes gave the nonresistance tactic far more power than it deserved. It became embraced as the ONLY moral way to confront oppression.

Sadly, it is not. The Hungarians tried to escape the Soviets in 1956, and were crushed. The Czechs tried a variation in the "Prague Spring" of 1967, and were crushed by the Soviets. And in 1989, the Chinese tried to appeal to the conscience of their Communist masters -- and found them sorely wanting in that element.

Now, we have a new form of conflict. Nations find themselves challenged not by other nations, but terrorist organizations. Groups with access to more and more potent weaponry and technology, which grants them destructive power on a scale heretofore the exclusive bailiwick of other nation-states. The old paradigms simply do not apply.

The nation-states being challenged have been forced, through the brutal force of applied Darwinism, to adapt to these new threats. In Afghanistan, we overthrew an entrenched government largely through airpower and careful support of indigenous rebels. In Iraq, we are finding success more elusive, but we have made tremendous strides at defeating the terrorists there. And in Lebanon, Israel is discovering what happens when a terrorist organization becomes the government next door, either de jure (with Hamas) or de facto (Hezbollah).

In the light of these new circumstances, the anti-war side has not bothered to change their tactics. Their only concession to the new reality is to realize that in these new conflicts, one side is utterly immune to their policy of nonresistance. And instead of trying to find a way to adapt to the challenge, they have redoubled their efforts on the other side.

In the current fighting in the Middle East, one doesn't see large protests against Hezbollah or Hamas for their indiscriminate attacks on civilians. The International Solidarity Movement doesn't send its members on Israeli buses and into marketplaces to serve as "human shields" against Palestinian suicide bombers. And "peace activists" aren't fanning out across northern Israel to appeal to Hezbollah's better nature and cease their random bombardment.

It appears that these noble, worthy, high-minded anti-war activists lack the convictions of their heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. They either cherish their own lives too much to put them at risk, unwilling to put their principles to the ultimate test, or in their heart of hearts they know what many of us already believe: those we fight have no consciences, no "better natures" to appeal to -- or, at least, are unwilling to pay the horrific butcher's bill of innocent blood required to finally reach that.

Until that day, when those high-minded and hazy-thinking moral exemplars finally acknowledge the essential vacuousness of their actions, they will continue to provide nothing but an annoying distraction to those who honor the threat. And their every action -- and inaction -- will continue to put the lie to their noble words.

Posted by Jay Tea · 24 July 2006 05:00 AM · Comments (13)

And Now The Peace Offensive Begins

Is it all ending not with a bang but a whimper?

Israel's defence minister, Amir Peretz, yesterday endorsed the deployment of an international force, possibly led by Nato, in southern Lebanon

Aren't there international forces there already called UNIFIL and UNDOF? Why Israel would put so much faith into this again is beyond me - though your safety is probably far more secure in NATO's hands than the UN's.

Condoleeza Rice arrives today in Jerusalem, and she has the linchpin Syria on her mind. Condi stated that the United States' poor relationship with Syria is overstated, and that

"It is very important to establish conditions under which a ceasefire can take place. We believe that a ceasefire is urgent. It is important to have conditions that will make it also sustainable."

At least one member of Syria's government, information minister Mohsen Bilal, sees things differently -

Madrid, July 23: A Syrian Minister warned Israel in an interview published today that a major ground incursion into Lebanon would draw his country into the Middle East conflict.

"If Israel makes a land entry into Lebanon, they can get to within 20 kilometres of Damascus," Information Minister Moshen Bilal told a Spanish newspaper.

"What will we do? Stand by with our arms folded? Absolutely not. Without any doubt, Syria will intervene in the conflict."

Bilal said Syria wanted above all a ceasefire "as soon as possible" combined with a prisoner exchange and indicated he was working to that end with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whom he met in recent days in Madrid.

But he added, "I repeat, if Israel makes a land invasion of Lebanon and gets near US, Syria will not stand by with arms folded. It will enter the conflict."

Syria wants to use diplomatic leverage to regain the Shebaa Farms and all of the Golan Heights territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 24 July 2006 12:02 AM · Comments (2)

War In Lebanon: The IDF Moves In

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The original UNIFIL map is here.

Casualties thus far are "more than 350 Lebanese and 34 Israelis dead since July 12 when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers."

Israeli ground forces have now entered southern Lebanon in force,
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Golani
occupying the towns of Maroun al-Ras, Aytarun and Marwahin. Bill Roggio at Counterterrorism Blog tells us the towns marked red on the map above have been warned by the IDF to evacuate. Bill came up with the idea of modifying the UNIFIL map, and he has a superb analysis, much fuller than mine, and I use many of his links, so I owe him lots of credit.

Maroun al-Ras is strategically very important, at 911 meters (3,000 feet) high, it overlooks the Israeli village of Avivim just over the border. "The commander of IDF ground forces said Saturday that the IDF has won control of the village Maroun al-Ras in southern Lebanon, allowing troops to overlook Hizbullah command posts in the area. Maj.-Gen. Beni Gantz also said the soldiers had found a mosque in Maroun al-Ras that contained stockpiles of weapons, including rockets." Maroun al-Ras was a forward observation post for Hezbollah, and lays along Hezbollah's supply line from Syria.

The Herev battalion, made up of Druze fighters (Druze have served with the IDF from the beginning of Israel) moved into Lebanon - "On Saturday, the Herev battalion operated in Marwahin, about two kilometers into southeast Lebanon, and discovered a great deal of Hizbullah weapons there. While forces were operating, shells were fired at them from a neighboring village. The Air Force was prepared to back up troops operating on the ground."

The next major goal of the Golani Brigade, the main force entering Lebanon, is the 'Hezbollah capital' of Bint Jubayl. The eventual goal of the IDF is to push Hezbollah 20 miles into Lebanon, beyond the Litani River, and the IDF ordered all Lebanese to move north of the Litani.

P.S. I forgot to link to the photo album with more awesome pics of the Israeli military.

P.P.S. and almost forgot the Herev pic!
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Posted by Ken McCracken · 23 July 2006 12:17 PM · Comments (3)

A Time For War And A Time For Peace

Earlier this week, over at Wizbang, I discussed the difficulties in arranging a cease-fire in Lebanon. As the fighting has continued, and in many ways intensified, so have the calls. And even more complications have come to mind.

As I said, one challenge is that Israel has laid out its terms for a ceasefire, and they are imminently reasonable: the return of its kidnapped soldiers, the cessation of attacks on their civilian populace, and the disarming of Hezbollah. Lebanon is also eager for a ceasefire, but that is largely irrelevant: they are not a party to the fighting. The group Israel is fighting, Hezbollah, has expressed no interest in ending the fighting; in fact, they have ratcheted up their attacks and their rhetoric (a feat I would have thought unachievable, but nonetheless they have managed to do so) in light of events.

But this begs the question: with whom shall the ceasefire be negotiated? Hezbollah has no Secretary of State, no Negotiator In Chief, no single person or body with the designated authority to speak for the whole organization and make binding agreements with. Even if a spokesman for the group were to make a deal with The Criminal Zionist Occupying Entity, it would last just long enough for the first "rogue element" to rearm and launch a new attack. At that point, the situation is not back to where it stands today, but possibly even worse.

Beyond the lack of that second party to any peace talks, there is no body that can serve as a broker for any deal.

There's an old saying that "it takes two thieves to make an honest bargain." The way I've most often heard it applied is when there are assets to be apportioned between two parties. The first party divides the assets into two portions, and the second party chooses which party gets which portion. This is the simplest way I've seen to guarantee honesty.

However, when the dispute does mandate a third party, then it should be a party that both sides are willing to trust. And in this current situation, the two most likely candidates are disqualified.

The United States certainly has the influence over Israel to achieve such an agreement, but we would be unacceptable to Hezbollah. Likewise, entering into negotiations with Hezbollah is utterly unacceptable to the United States. Not only is Hezbollah on the list of terrorist organizations, making any official contacts with them a violation of US law, but they are a sworn enemy of the United States. Several Hezbollah members are near the top of the United States' list of most wanted terrorists, but prior to 9/11 they had killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization in the world.

The other body that might be called in to moderate the fighting would be the United Nations. But there are two great obstacles to this one -- one obvious, one more subtle.

The first is that Israel has no reason to trust the United Nations to be a fair broker in any matter, but in one such as this especially. As Meryl Yourish brought to my attention, nearly six years ago a group of Hezbollah terrorists invaded Israel under false guise as UN Peacekeepers, attacked an Israeli military patrol, and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers. They then fled back to Lebanon, where the soldiers were killed and their bodies traded for live Hezbollah prisoners.

Virtually the whole incident was observed and recorded by United Nations Peacekeeping forces, who had been bribed to allow the attack to take place. And the United Nations, on direct orders from Secretary General Kofi Annan, did everything humanly possible to cover up their involvement. They denied everything, destroyed evidence, refused to turn over that which they did not destroy, and eventually censored that which the did give to Israel to make it worthless.

And while they stonewalled, those three Israeli soldiers died brutal deaths.

(For full details, see here, here, and here).

This is just one particularly heinous example of how the UN treats Israel. For more examples, see here.

On a far more profound level, though, by brokering an agreement between Israel and Hezbollah, the United Nations would be drawing an equivalency between a free, democratic, independent nation and a terrorist group. (The cynic in me points out that it would merely be not overly significant; the UN routinely denounces Israel as "criminal" and "terrorist," to this would simply formalize the position.) This would grant Hezbollah the standing and status of a modern nation, with none of the attendant responsibilities and obligations and duties inherent therein. This would be an unprecedented victory for terrorists.

There is a very simple solution to this problem. It arose because Lebanon failed to fulfill its obligations as a sovereign nation and assert control of its southern territories. It needs to wrest those areas from Hezbollah, rigorously patrol its lands, and enforce the peace -- the basic obligations of any nation-state.

With luck, Israel's ongoing destruction of Hezbollah personnel and ordnance will weaken that terrorist organization to the point where Lebanon can achieve that. Then -- and only then -- should a ceasefire be arranged, and between Lebanon and Israel only. Hezbollah should not be a party to those talks.

In the meantime, the United States gains the satisfaction of seeing an old enemy suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of an old ally. We should offer support and encouragement to our friend, shield them from their enemies at the United Nations, offer any assistance they might require (short of intervening directly ourselves), and let them continue doing what has needed doing for far too long.

The Bible states clearly that "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven... a time of war, and a time of peace." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3:8)

This is a time of war against Hezbollah. Let us not call for peace until we are certain it will be a lasting one.

Posted by Jay Tea · 22 July 2006 08:00 AM · Comments (3)

Attaining Class Mobility Through Economic Growth

The greatest component of attaining class mobility and redistribution of wealth in a society is growth. It seems that folks that have money tend to keep it, so if not for growth, the redistribution of wealth is impossible without Government Intervention or Violent Revolution. But through growth of an economy, there are opportunities for new players to accumulate wealth.

To total output of a society should constantly be increasing as it not only provides opportunity, but signals new efficiencies. New efficiencies are created by innovation and new companies that innovate come along and take market share from existing companies (and by extension their stockholders) by making a better product for cheaper. The old guard slowly watches their market share and wealth erode if not invested in new companies or new innovations, which triggers further growth through capital investment. Stagnant economies provide the rich an opportunity to sit on their money and remain rich while there are fewer opportunities for the poor to achieve wealth.

Think about this for a moment—IBM in the 1980’s was THE leading PC computer maker in the world. That was just 20 years ago. Now IBM does not even make PC’s anymore (ever heard of Lenovo?). PC’s used to cost $2000 or more for an entry level PC. Now Dell and others offer PC’s for $300-400. As a result, IBM’s shareholders watched as Michael Dell and his shareholders suddenly became wealthy. Microsoft and Walmart have similar stories. Sam Walton, Michael Dell, and Bill Gates were not wealthy to begin with. Sears, IBM, and well, IBM, were the major players and their shareholders were [getting] rich. Innovation led to growth in these industries and the newcomers made the world more efficient and took market share and wealth from the previous companies and their investors. The old guard watched their relative wealth invested in old companies erode while new wealth was created for new innovators as well as those investors that put their capital in the new companies. Ultimately the consumer benefited with lower prices and better products.

So which would you prefer? A stagnant economy with little economic opportunity or a vibrant and growing economy?

BRUSSELS (AFX) - EU statistics office Eurostat confirmed that euro zone growth was 0.6 pct in the first quarter compared with the fourth quarter of 2005, but the EU Commission unexpectedly lowered its forecasts for growth in the second and third quarters. The commission trimmed its euro zone GDP growth forecast for the second quarter to 0.4-0.8 pct from a previous range of 0.5-0.9 pct.

Economists had been expecting a further acceleration in growth in the second quarter following recent strong survey data. The commission also cut its forecast for third quarter growth to 0.3-0.7 pct from 0.5-0.9 pct. It revised its forecast for fourth quarter growth only marginally, to 0.5-1.0 pct from 0.4-1.0 pct. The 0.6 pct first quarter growth figure was unchanged from Eurostat's previous estimate, published on June 1.

Eurostat revised down its figure for first quarter year-on-year growth marginally to 1.9 pct from 2.0 pct previously.

First, let’s compare apples to apples. A 0.6% quarter over quarter growth rate equates to approximately 2.5% annual growth rate. Let’s compare this to the US:

Real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- increased at an annual rate of 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2006, according to final estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

These are real world numbers that you feel in your pocketbook over time. This only tells half of the story though. These numbers are for the entire EU. France and Germany are growing even slower than that at .4% approximately which equates to 1.6-1.7% per year. The rest of Europe and mostly the old Soviet Block countries are growing rapidly or things would look far worse for the EU.

Growth is the best way to achieve economic equality. It provides opportunities. In Europe, especially France and Germany, a Muslim and youth underclass is growing and their discontent is evident from the December riots. There is no opportunity for the youth and Muslims youth are particularly affected as unemployment rates hover around 20% for those under 30 and almost 50% for Muslim youth. The economy is stagnant and union labor and big government discourage growth.

Opportunity versus Stagnation. Policies Matter. Leadership Matters.

Posted by Justin B. · 21 July 2006 01:09 PM · Comments (8)

Flashpoint: Lebanon

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LEBANON

GlobalSecurity.org: Lebanon

CIA World Factbook: Lebanon
The Council on Foreign Relations has some superb backgrounders on the conflict in Lebanon:
Lebanon's Weak Government
Syria, Iran, and the Mideast Conflict
Hezbollah (a.k.a. Hizbollah, Hizbu'llah)
Profile: Hassan Nasrallah
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Casualties thus far in the conflict: "Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora put the death toll at more than 330 - at least 11 of them killed Thursday - with 1,100 wounded. At least 32 Israelis have been killed, including 17 service members - three of them killed in military operations Thursday and early Friday."

Brigadier-General Alon Friedman stated that air strikes have destroyed about 50 per cent of Hezbollah's arsenal.

Thousands of IDF troops are now operating inside Lebanon.

Hezbollah has fired over 1,000 rockets so far, and the IDF fears they may be trying to move rockets into Gaza, shortening the range to hit Israel. So far, indiscriminate Hezbollah rockets have hit a UN Post, Nazareth (killing two children), Haifa, Acre, Tiberias and several other towns.

LEBANESE RELIGIONS
from Encyclopedia of the Orient
Islam 2,000,000 54%
Shi'i 1,200,000 32%
Sunni 750,000 20%
Alawites 50,000 1.4%
Christianity 1,450,000 39%
Maronite Catholics 850,000 23%
Melkite Catholics 400,000 11%
Syrian Catholics 25,000 0.7%
Armenian Catholics 20,000 0.5%
Roman Catholics 20,000 0.5%
Chaldean Catholic 12,000 0.3%
Armenian Orthodox 120,000 3.2%
Syrian Orthodox 2,000 0.05%
Greek Orthodox 1,000 0.03%
Druze 210,000 5.7%
Baha'i 4,000 <0.1%

Lebanon is an incredibly diverse place religiously and politically with a long history of war and civil war since 1975. Nearly half of the population is some flavor of christian, while the unique Druze religion, Shia and Sunni Islam round out the rest. The Lebanese Constitution reflects the importance of these factions, and it requires that:

  • the President must be a Maronite Catholic Christian.
  • the Prime Minister must be a Sunni Muslim.
  • the Speaker of the Parliament must be a Shi'a Muslim.
Hezbollah has 35 seats in Lebanon's parliament. Hassan Nasrallah is the leader of Hezbollah, but does not hold a seat in the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah was formed in 1982 by Iran in an attempt to export its revolution. Hezbollah is believed to be responsible for 838 terrorist fatalities, and widely acknowledged to be behind "a series of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon, including several Americans, in the 1980s; the suicide truck bombings that killed more than 200 U.S. Marines at their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983; the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, which featured the famous footage of the plane’s pilot leaning out of the cockpit with a gun to his head; two major 1990s attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina—the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy (killing twenty-nine) and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center (killing ninety-five); a July 2006 raid on a border post in northern Israel in which two Israeli soldiers were taken captive. The abductions sparked an Israeli military campaign against Lebanon to which Hezbollah responded by firing rockets across the Lebanese border into Israel." The FBI has a $5 million dollar reward for the capture of Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyah, for 'air piracy resulting in murder' among other things, and Mugniyah is believe to have carried out the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut.

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Hassan Nasrallah

There is no definitive answer on how much Iran gives in financial support to Hezbollah. Estimates range from 100-200 million dollars annually to just $25-50 million annually. Hezbollah had an estimated 3,000 hardcore fighters as of the beginning of the conflict, and as many as 13,000 rockets. Israel claims that it has seriously degraded Hezbollah's command and control, and its supply of Katyusha rockets (a Russian design from World War II), and 'Fajr' type rockets of Iranian manufacture, the most powerful of which is the 333mm Fajr-5 rocket with a range of 75 km. Hezbollah's arms come from Syria, or from Iran via Damascus. However, the IDF reports that some of the Fajr rockets landing in Haifa were actually of Syrian manufacture.

Hezbollah also has the 610 mm Zelzal-2 'missile' (it is really an unguided rocket) which might be capable of launching half a ton of chemical weapons as far as Tel Aviv.

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Syrian still exercises considerable de facto power in Lebanon through its political allies, even though Syria's security forces left Lebanon completely in 2005.

Émile Lahoud

Lebanon's President is Émile Lahoud, a Maronite Christian and minion of Damascus, "owes his position to the Syrians," says Richard Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia. Murphy also says. "He's not seen as a forceful or particularly capable leader, or as a figure with any personal following. He has Syria's blessing, period." Lahoud is unfortunately the nation's commander-in-chief and in nominal control of Lebanon's army, a large percentage of which is composed of poor Shia recruits.

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Fuad Saniora

The army may fracture into pro- and anti- Hezbollah factions if forced to confront Hezbollah - thus goading the Lebanese army into attacking Hezbollah may be worse for Lebanon than having them sit on the sidelines.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora - a Sunni who was once a close aide to Rafik Hariri - has turned against Hezbollah, stating that it was a 'state within a state' and should be disarmed, and was taking orders from Syria and Tehran. Indeed, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 (02 September 2004, China and Russia abstaining) states that the Security Council -

1. Reaffirms its call for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon;

2. Calls upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon;

3. Calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias;

4. Supports the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory.

It appears that Israel is doing the job requested by the Security Council. Thus one can presume that Israel's actions are legal (not to mention Israel's inherent right to self-defense, as per UN Charter Article 51).

Parlimentary seats are divided as follows, among 128 seats altogether (from the Council on Foreign Relations):

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Said Hariri

Tayyar al-Mustaqbal (Future Tide) coalition, 72 seats. An anti-Syria opposition coalition led by Said Hariri, a 35-year-old businessman and son of the former prime minister. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, joined forces with Walid Jumblatt, [who recently told Al-Arabiya that "the war is no longer Lebanon's ... it is an Iranian war."] head of the minority Druze community and leader of the al-Taqadummi al-Ishtiraki, or Progressive Socialist Party. Jumblatt led a Syria-backed armed militia against Christian groups during the civil war; after the war he served as a cabinet official in several pro-Syrian Lebanese governments. In 1988, Jumblatt responded to attempts by Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to strip him of power by leaving government and joining the anti-Syria opposition movement. Future Tide also includes several notable Christian politicians.

Amal Party/Hezbollah, 35 seats. Hezbollah is an armed Shiite militia backed by Iran that has wide support in Lebanon's Shiite south, where it is credited with ending the Israeli occupation. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, formed a coalition with the Amal Party, a Shiite group led by Nabih Berri, a former military officer considered one of Syria's main collaborators in Lebanon. The Amal/Hezbollah group, which polled strongly in the south, is now the main Shiite party in Lebanon.

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), 21 seats. General Michel Aoun, the FPM leader, is a Maronite Christian and former military officer who led a failed coup against Syria in 1989 and served briefly as Lebanon's prime minister and acting president before fleeing to France. He returned to Lebanon May 7 after 14 years in exile. Aoun shocked many supporters by forming a last-minute alliance with Suleiman Franjieh, a Maronite Christian former cabinet minister and part of a prominent pro-Syrian clan. The alliance made strong gains in the third week of voting in the Christian areas of central Mount Lebanon and the eastern Bekaa Valley. That showing made Aoun the most influential Maronite leader in the country. "It's clear now that Aoun speaks for the Maronite interests," says Hussein Ibish, vice chair of the Progressive Muslim Union and former Washington correspondent for Beirut's Daily Star. Maronite Christians in Lebanon's heartland voted overwhelmingly for Aoun and against the Christian leaders who ran on their own or joined the Future Tide coalition.

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There is a also a ghost army of blue helmets in Lebanon, the 2,000 man force called the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon or UNIFIL Milos Strugar, senior adviser to UNIFIL said that due to being hemmed in by war damage to the south Lebanese infrastructure, it is no longer able to patrol the blue line, which is its mandate, and part of its mission:

"According to Security Council resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978) of 19 March 1978, UNIFIL was established to:

  • Confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon;
  • Restore international peace and security;
  • Assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area.

Most recently the mandate of UNIFIL was extended until 31 July 2006 by Security Council resolution 1655 (2006) of 31 January 2006."

Hezbollah has violated these Security Council Resolution 425 numerous times, attacking the Shebaa Farms often since Israel's pullout from Lebanon, and in one instance UNIFIL was accused of being complicit with Hezbollah in a kidnapping. UNIFIL is as equally pointless a military organization as the Lebanese army right now, and the only thing it has accomplished is establishing that the duration of the official United Nations unit of time known as the 'Interim' lasts approximately 30 years.

There is also the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force or UNDOF, a force of 1,000 troops stationed between the Golan Heights and Syria.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 21 July 2006 04:27 AM · Comments (3)

Israel: Plenty Of Money To Finance War

More bad news for Hezbollah:

JERUSALEM, July 19 (Reuters) - Israel may be forced to increase its defence budget this year if fighting with Hizbollah continues for another three weeks, a senior Finance Ministry official said on Wednesday.

But the overall budget is in such good shape that it can fund an extended conflict without harming its fiscal targets much more easily than in the past, Yossi Gordon, Israel's deputy budget director, told Reuters.

If the United States is not willing to help Israel directly with military involvement or support, the least we can do is help Israel in the event that a lengthy war depletes their treasury, which thankfully does not seem to be the case yet. It is the least we can do for our allies in the War on Terror now doing some real heavy lifting.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 20 July 2006 10:03 PM · Comments (3)

Saudi Sheik Issues Fatwa Against Hezbollah

As evidence that Hezbollah has no support from anyone outside of Iran and Syria, check this out:
CAIRO, Egypt - One of Saudi Arabia's leading Wahhabi sheiks, Abdullah bin Jabreen has issued a strongly worded religious edict, or fatwa, declaring it unlawful to support, join or pray for Hezbollah, the Shiite militias lobbing missiles into northern Israel. The day after Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers on July 12, Sheik Hamid al-Ali issued an informal statement titled "The Sharia position on what is going on." In it, the Kuwaiti based cleric condemned the imperial ambitions of Iran regarding Hezbollah's cross border raid.

This is unprecedented. Even the Wahabis give Israel a green light again Hezbollah, and seem to understand the danger of Iran's 'imperial ambitions'. Iran has made a huge geopolitical and military blunder by ordering its proxies to attack Israel, and has reminded the Arab world that there is an enemy they loathe even more than the United States.

Well done, Iran.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 20 July 2006 06:38 PM · Comments (8)

Defeating The Modern-Day Hydra

The other day, while discussing Israel's current fighting with Hamas and Hezbollah, I referred to them as "two heads of the Hydra" of terrorism.

The metaphor of the Lernaean Hydra is an apt metaphor for Islamic terrorism. The terrorists all have different names, different tactics, and different priorities, but their core beliefs are pretty much the same:

1) The removal of Western influence from the Middle East.

1A) The elimination of Israel as an outpost of Western beliefs, carefully overlooking the Israelis' presence in Israel for several millenia before Mohammed was born.

2) The elimination of secular Islamic governments, to be replaced with theocracies.

3) The restoration of all lands once held by Islam.

4) The "re-establishment" of the Caliphate, the fictional Islamic government that unites all Muslims.

5) The expansion of the Caliphate from the Dar al-Islam ("The House of Islam" -- the portion of the world that is Islamic) to envelop all of the Dar al-Harb ("House of War" - the portion of the world that is not part of Dar al-Islam).

With all these groups -- Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Jemaa Islamayah, Al Qaeda -- all working (mostly) independently towards a common goal, the metaphor of the Hydra with its many heads seems appropriate.

Further, with a closer examination the Hydra of myth, the metaphor seems to fit even better.

Whenever one of the Hydra's heads was cut off, two more would grow back from the stump. Heracles (Hercules in the Roman version of the Greek myth) only defeated the Hydra by having his nephew, Iolaus, cauterize each neck with a firebrand as it was severed. Then, when the final, immortal head was severed, Heracles buried it under a great rock. Thus was the Hydra slain.

With terrorism, we have seen that when we do cut off the head, oftimes two more do grow back. When terrorist organizations are defeated, but not crushed, they do come back with a vengeance. We saw this especially well in the 1990s with Al Qaeda, when we would lop off a head or two after each attack, only to see them come back and hit us harder than before. The doctrine of "measured and proportional response" and "using the legal system" culminated in nearly 3,000 dead Americans on September 11, 2001.

What Israel is doing right now in Lebanon has the hallmarks of a firebranding. They have decided that the fiction of Hezbollah's "political" and "militant" wings cannot stand, and are systematically destroying every trace of Hezbollah they can reach. Furthermore, their attacks on airports, highways, and naval blockade are aimed at giving Hezbollah no ready way to retreat. The Israelis intend to have a toe-to-toe fight with Hezbollah, and are not going to let them try the "he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day" tactic that has served so many so well in the past.

Israel is simply expanding on the concepts we first applied in Afghanistan: if you harbor and shelter and support terrorists within your borders, you have forfeited your national sovereignty. And if you welcome active terrorist organizations into your government, then you bear a portion of the onus for their deeds.

That principle is not a time-honored and traditional one. In fact, it flies in the face of much of what we considered civilized intercourse between nations. But it is a necessary adaption to the changing times .

Yes, ultimately, terrorism might prove to have that one immortal head and be unkillable. But severing all the mortal heads, searing the stumps, and burying that final head under a great rock will greatly diminish the threats it poses.

(Update: Correction made, as per plasmapal's observation. Thanks for the correction.)

Posted by Jay Tea · 20 July 2006 06:00 AM · Comments (15)

Social Security Reform Thursday: Week Fifty-Eight -- Private Accounts and Presidential Proposals

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Thursdays are good days for reform, because they fall between Wednesdays and Fridays. And reform is a long-haul process, not a fleeting event. So we're going to keep plugging along with the case for reform, even as the issue goes off the political radar screen.

That's why WILLisms.com offers a chart or graph, every Thursday, pertinent to Social Security reform.

This week's topic:

Testimony of James Roosevelt, Jr., Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy at the Social Security Administration.

In school I was always taught that before solving a math problem, you need to define the terms. Once you know what the issues and problems are, you can come up with a solution. From James Roosevelt, Jr.'s Testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee:

Changing Demographics

I have mentioned "demographics" in a general way, but I have some specific facts to share with you that may be helpful to our discussion today:

  • In the U.S. in 1995, the elderly population (aged 65 and over) was about 34 million, making up about 12% of the population. In contrast, there were about 9 million aged people in the U.S. in 1940, and then they accounted for less than 7 percent of the population.
  • And Americans are living longer. When benefits were first paid in 1940, a 65-year old on average lived about 12 ½ more years. Today, a 65-year old could expect to live about 17 ½ more years and by 2070, life expectancy at age 65 is projected to be an additional 20 ½ years.
  • The elderly population growth rate is expected to be modest from now through 2010, but it will increase dramatically between 2010 and 2030 as the baby-boom generation ages into the 65-or-older age group. For every 100 working age people, there will be more than 35 people aged 65 and over by 2030.
  • In 1994, 60% of the elderly were women and 40% were men. Among the oldest of these (85 or older), over 70% were women and fewer than 30% were men.
Clearly, many millions of people are depending on us for strong and decisive action to preserve and protect the multi-tiered structure of retirement income security. [The] President... stated that we must act now to tackle this tough, long-term challenge.

So we all understand the problem, right? Let's come up with a solution, there Jimbo:

Three weeks ago, in his State of the Union address, [the] President... proposed historic steps to ensure the solvency of Social Security. When putting together his framework for a solution to the long-range Social Security solvency problem facing our country, [the]President... wanted to increase national savings to reduce burdens on future generations, and reduce publicly held debt. His plan, therefore, draws on the approach taken by Canada and Sweden and State and local pension systems in this country to diversify the fund portfolio. Through the provision of Universal Savings Accounts (USA accounts), the President's framework draws on the experience of countries that have added individual retirement accounts as a voluntary supplement to social insurance protection.

Specifically, the President proposed the following three actions to solve the Social Security program financing problem:

  • Transfer 62 percent of projected federal budget surpluses over the next 15 years-about $2.8 trillion--to the Social Security system and use the money to pay down the publicly held debt, which would strengthen our economy for the future. Thus the President's plan provides for debt reduction while giving Social Security the benefit of the gains from reducing publicly held debt.
  • Invest a portion of the trust funds, which would never exceed about 15 percent, in the private sector to achieve higher returns for Social Security. Funds would be invested in broad market indexes by private managers, not the government.
  • A bipartisan effort to take further action to ensure the system's solvency until at least 2075. There are hard choices that we must face. To assure confidence in Social Security it is important to bring the program into 75-year actuarial balance.

I like it. Makes sense right? President Bush proposed this and Harry Reid had this to say about Social Security Privatization:

But maybe most of all, the Bush plan isn't really Social Security reform. It's more like Social Security roulette. Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings. But that doesn't mean taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it. And that's coming from a senator who represents Las Vegas.

Funny thing was that this was not President Bush's Commissioner for Social Security or Bush's plan, but rather that of PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON IN 1999. Regardless of party and regardless of politics, it seems that now the Democrats have not only poo-poo'ed the solutions they themselves advocated for, but went one step further and denied the problems that they themselves testified would bankrupt the country in 1999. Were they lying about the problem in 1999 to be overly dramatic or are they lying now about the fact that no problem exists?

I guess if they can blame Bush for the Intel that Clinton provided on WMD's and get away with it, why not call Bush a liar on Social Security too.

THEY ARE GAMBLING WITH MY KIDS' FUTURE over petty politics.

It's time for reform.

The clock is ticking.


--------------------------------

Previous Reform Thursday graphics can be seen here:

-Week One (Costs Exceed Revenues).
-Week Two (Social Security Can't Pay Promised Benefits).
-Week Three (Americans Getting Older).
-Week Three, bonus (The Templeton Curve).
-Week Four (Fewer Workers, More Retirees).
-Week Five (History of Payroll Tax Base Increases).
-Week Six (Seniors Living Longer).
-Week Six, bonus (Less Workers, More Beneficiaries).
-Week Seven (History of Payroll Tax Increases).
-Week Seven, bonus (Personal Accounts Do Achieve Solvency).
-Week Eight (Forty Year Trend Of Increasing Mandatory Spending).
-Week Nine (Diminishing Benefits Sans Reform).
-Week Ten (Elderly Dependence On Social Security).
-Week Eleven (Entitlement Spending Eating The Budget).
-Week Twelve (Benefit Comparison, Bush's Plan versus No Plan).
-Week Thirteen (Younger Americans and Lifecycle Funds).
-Week Fourteen (The Thrift Savings Plan).
-Week Fifteen (Understanding Progressive Indexing).
-Week Sixteen (The Graying of America).
-Week Seventeen (Debunking Myths).
-Week Eighteen (Debunking Myths).
-Week Nineteen (Reform Needed Sooner Rather Than Later).
-Week Twenty (Global Success With Personal Accounts).
-Week Twenty-One (GROW Accounts: Stopping The Raid).
-Week Twenty-Two (Millions of Lockboxes).
-Week Twenty-Three (Support for Ryan-DeMint).
-Week Twenty-Four (KidSave Accounts).
-Week Twenty-Five (Latinos and Social Security).
-Week Twenty-Six (AmeriSave).
-Week Twenty-Seven (Cost Of Doing Nothing).
-Week Twenty-Eight (Chile).
-Week Twenty-Nine (Entitlement Spending Out Of Control).
-Week Thirty (Reform Better Deal Than Status Quo).
-Week Thirty-One (Social Security As A Labor Cost).
-Week Thirty-Two (Social Security And Dependence On Government).
-Week Thirty-Three (Social Security, Currently A Bad Deal For African-Americans).
-Week Thirty-Four (Longer Life Expectancies Straining Social Security).
-Week Thirty-Five (Howard Dean & Salami).
-Week Thirty-Six (Growing Numbers of Beneficiaries Draining Social Security).
-Week Thirty-Seven (The Crisis Is Now).
-Week Thirty-Eight (Disability Benefits).
-Week Thirty-Nine (Broken Benefit Calculation Formula).
-Week Forty (German Social Security Disaster).
-Week Forty-One (Crumbling Pyramid Scheme).
-Week Forty-Two (Overpromising, Globally).
-Week Forty-Three (Demographic Wave).
-Week Forty-Four (The Jerk Store).
-Week Forty-Five (Defined Benefit Plans).
-Week Forty-Six (Even The Empty Promises Are A Bad Deal).
-Week Forty-Seven (Our Aging Population).
-Week Forty-Eight (The Tax Increases Required To Cover Social Security's Costs).
-Week Forty-Nine (Much Longer To Get Your Money Back From Social Security).
-Week Fifty (A Vote, At Last).
-Week Fifty-One (We Can Do Better).
-Week Fifty-Two (Socialist Security).
-Week Fifty-Three (China Has The Same Problem, Only Worse).
-Week Fifty-Four (Potential Crisis Size).
-Week Fifty-Five (The Crisis Moves Closer).
-Week Fifty-Six (Big Brother Social Security).

Tune into WILLisms.com each Thursday for more important graphical data supporting Social Security reform.

Posted by Justin B. · 20 July 2006 12:01 AM · Comments (3)

Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 62

This week's WILLisms.com Caption Contest photograph:

keith.jpg

The actual caption:
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards attends a press conference in Milan July 10, 2006. The Stones will play their first concert since Richards' injury on July 11 in Milan. (ITALY)
There must be a better caption than this! America, We Can Do Better.

Entries will remain open until 11:59 PM, Central Standard Time, Tuesday, July 25. Submit your captions in the comments section, or email at mccracken.ken@gmail.com.

Last week's photo:

mudgirl.jpg

Winners from last week: 1. Julie:

It suddenly occurred to Bridget that the only difference between a spa treatment and her mudwrestling gig was who got paid.
2. Rodney Dill:

OK, so not everyone is a fan of Sesame Street's Big Bird.
3. Radio Free Fred:
Mudders Little Helper.

Honorable Mention #1 Hoodlumman:
Both candidates promised to run clean campaigns, free of mud slinging, but Bridgett Terrell learned the hard way that Suzy Jones was a lying poopy-head.

Honorable Mention #2 Zsa Zsa:
A day at the zoo for this young lady turned into a messy situation while visiting the elephants... Have you heard about the elephant with diarrhea???? It is all over town.

Honorable Mention #3 RealityBasedBob:
Bridget Terrell recounts her recent visit with Karl Rove in his GOP campaign war room.

Captioning keeps the nation strong. Enter today!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 19 July 2006 12:48 PM · Comments (20)

Breaking Down the 40M+ are Uninsured Myths

Who are the 40M+ Uninsured that Progressives keep talking about? It makes sense to know who makes up this number and a little googling yields some interesting results. This Demographic Report is from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) which collects nationally representative data on health care use, expenditures, sources of payment, and insurance coverage for the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population. Let's look at some figures from 2001 (most recent available):

  • In the first half of 2001, 16.7 percent of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population were uninsured.
  • Among the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population under 65, more than a third of Hispanics (37.7 percent) and 20.2 percent of black non-Hispanics were uninsured during the first half of 2001, compared with 14.9 percent of white non-Hispanics.
  • Among people under 65, Hispanics accounted for one-fourth (26.3 percent) of the uninsured civilian noninstitutionalized population even though they represented only 13.1 percent of the overall population this age.
  • Young adults ages 19-24 were the age group at the greatest risk of being uninsured, with one-third (33.9 percent) of this group lacking health insurance.
  • Persons who never married accounted for nearly a quarter (23.2 percent) of the non-elderly population but over a third (35.3 percent) of the uninsured population (data not shown).

So let's tear this down a little bit. Of the 48M uninsured, approximately 12M of them are Hispanics. This corresponds neatly to the fact that there are approximately 12-20M illegal immigrants in this country. While I do not have exact figures, Illegals and the children of Illegals that they themselves may in fact be citizens make up a substantial portion of the uninsured.

fig2.jpg

Next, almost a full third of the uninsured are persons that are unmarried and never married. These are single people that make conscious choices to not have health insurance. Most forego the insurance to make more money. And why shouldn't they? They have no dependants and are unmarried. Do they not have the right to choose to not have health insurance?

fig1.jpg

The Hispanic population in this country, both legally and illegally, is approximately 13% of the total population or 40M people. Of these, almost 40% are uninsured which is more than double the rate of blacks and 2.5 times the rate of whites to be uninsured. This can only be attributed to illegal immigration. Imagine if the 12M illegals were not here and not included in these numbers and caused Hispanic uninsured to be roughly the same as Whites and Blacks. The total of uninsured would be cut by approximately 20%. If we take away the unmarried twentysomethings, you can scratch another 35% off that total. So 55% of the total uninsured that we hear so much about are either illegals or 20somethings.

Why not talk about why people are uninsured as part of the problem definition phase before throwing out the "solutions"? How much is our society willing to pay in higher taxes and slowed growth to insure illegal aliens and 20somethings that do not want to carry health insurance? If we need to know why terrorists hate us before we figure out how to deal with them, why not know why people don't have health insurance before we figure out how to deal with that? Is big government and nationalized healthcare for a single 20 year old or for an illegal immigrant worth having a French socialist tax structure?

What exactly do we "owe" to the 20somethings and illegals that are over half of the problem?

Posted by Justin B. · 18 July 2006 03:16 PM · Comments (6)

A Difference Without A Distinction

One of the polite fictions that has finally gone to its well-deserved oblivion with the latest round of violence in the Middle East is the notion that an organization can have a "political" and a "militant" wing.

It started, I believe, in Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army set up a political party, Sinn Fein, whose members supported the IRA but were insulated from its actions. They quickly became known as the "polite face" of the IRA, speaking against the violence from both sides but constantly excusing that of their colleagues as "provoked."

When the Islamists saw how well that seemed to be working, they decided it was a notion worth appropriating. However, they didn't fully appreciate the subtle nuances involved in pulling off this chicanery, so they simply announced that their established groups would henceforth have two faces: a "political wing" and a "militant wing." Hamas and Hezbollah began doing charitable works, backing politicians, setting up schools and hospitals and the like while continuing their practices of wholesale murder and carnage.

At its core, it's a fraud. It is a form of moral equivalency that is reprehensible.

In essence, the conceit behind the "political wings" and "militant wings" is that one's good deeds balances out the atrocities of the other. It seeks to establish an equivalence, a form of moral currency. A 400-bed hospital equals so many suicide bombers. A school buys some rocket attacks. And so on. And so on.

Back in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church made a tidy bit of change selling "indulgences" -- allowing people to atone for future sins. Once they had paid the penalty, they could go forth and commit the sin freely. It was one of the elements that triggered the Protestant Reformation, and ultimately rejected as morally reprehensible.

But the principle has returned, with these polite fictions that terrorists aren't terrorists all the time, and that we should tolerate them when the aren't actively killing people.

A terrorist who does good deeds is still a terrorist. And as the saying goes, the only good terrorist is a dead terrorist.

Israel is busy reforming terrorists by the acre in Gaza and Lebanon. We should not only deny the terrorists any succor, but do all we can to assist Israel. For the enemy they are fighting is merely another head of the Hydra we are fighting in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and threatens others all around the world.

Posted by Jay Tea · 18 July 2006 07:00 AM · Comments (12)

Tweaking The Map: Texas Redistricting.

I'm sure you heard or read the news a couple of weeks ago: "High court upholds most of Texas redistricing map."

Indeed. Most of the map was upheld. Some was not. It was indeed a victory for Republicans, by and large. But it was also a minor victory for absurdity.

The current districts in question (.pdf):

currentdistricts.gif


The proposed new map (.pdf):

newdistricts.gif

[The explanation from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott: .pdf]

Musical chairs.

And why are we seeing these musical chairs?

Because the Supreme Court, interpreting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (in LULAC v. Perry, .pdf), mandated 6 "Remedial Latino-Opportunity Districts" in South and West Texas. Under the current map, there are only 5 such districts.

Sure, the new map likely will not add or subtract from the Republican and Democrat House delegations. Sure, the same exact four members of Congress will (likely) remain in Congress. Sure, the new map won't guarantee a new Latino House member.

But now-- and this is stunningly ridiculous-- heavily Latino districts in South/West Texas will go from having one white Democrat, one Latino Democrat, and one Latino Republican...

... to one white Democrat and one Latino Democrat.

Thus, under the new plan, Latino districts actually lose Latino representation (albeit a Republican one) in Congress. Meanwhile, a mostly white district (my district) loses a white Republican (Smith) and gains a Latino Republican (Bonilla). Both are good conservatives. That's not the issue. The required "candidate of choice" is. The required candidate of Latinos in South/West Texas: must be a Democrat, if I am understanding Justice Kennedy's opinion correctly.

It boggles the mind. It defies logic.

But the new map is really the only way forward, without pairing current incumbents or gerrymandering one party or another to 3 of 4 safe seats.

All this, because the Supreme Court of the United States of America believed it was unfair (according to the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act) for Latinos in South/West Texas to be represented by a Latino Republican. A Latino Republican (Henry Bonilla) couldn't possibly be the Latino district's "candidate of choice." But-- and stay with me here-- a white Democrat (Lloyd Doggett) could be.

The only fortunate thing about this whole fiasco is that the Latino Democrat, Henry Cuellar, is one of the few worthy Democrats in the entire House of Representatives. Not that that even really matters. It's just nice to know.

The most unfortunate chapter in this entire saga is that the House of Representatives just reauthorized the Voting Rights Act, as is, 390-33, after rejecting four reasonable amendments (#1: Norwood of Georgia; #2: Gohmert of Texas; #3: King of Iowa; and #4: Westmoreland of Georgia).

Ugh. The Voting Wrongs Act. This is 2006, not 1965.

No racial group, in 2006, ought to be guaranteed any particular partisan (or racial) representation in Congress. This ought to be a bipartisan no-brainer.

The Voting Rights Act hurts minorities by relegating them to a single acceptable party. It protects the broken status quo in many inner cities, in terms of failing government-monopolized schools, high crime rates with no end in sight, and notoriously rampant corruption.

The Voting Rights Act hurts Republicans by denying many minorities even the remote possibility of Republican representation in Congress, by branding a label of "unacceptable" (insinuation: the GOP is racist) on GOP candidates, and by creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of mostly white people voting for Republicans, Republicans representing mostly white people, and so on.

The Voting Rights Act hurts Democrats by concentrating minorities into districts such that surrounding districts-- and more of them-- become increasingly white and increasingly Republican. The Voting Rights Act, ironically, nets Republicans a few extra safe seats in the House of Representatives, because of this. Meanwhile, the Democrats are burdened and tarnished with embarrassments such as Georgia's Cynthia McKinney, a product of the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act hurts us all by producing fewer contested Congressional seats. It protects race-based political machines in cities across the country. It is polarizing. It is divisive. It is racist. It is very antiquated.

Most of all, it runs counter to the very concept of an American melting pot. The Voting Rights Act contradicts and undermines Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream of a colorblind America, where people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

But, politically, opposing the Voting Rights Act is poison, so only 33 Republican House members had the guts to oppose it; Republicans couldn't even muster enough votes to make a few common sense, timely amendments to the thing.

Logistically and legally, the new plan is not a sure thing just yet. And even so, the details on special primary re-votes are-- at this point-- just hypothetical. It appears that four districts, including my own, will require recontested primary elections. If precedent is followed, we may have our primary-- but only for the U.S. House-- on election day in November, with the general election coinciding with already-scheduled runoff elections in December. Or maybe we'll have a special primary election pre-November. It's all speculative at this point.

It also may mean that Club For Growth-backed Democrat Henry Cuellar will once again have to fend off Kos-backed Democrat Ciro Rodriguez.

And don't even get me started on United States District Judge Sam Sparks' "DeLay Must Remain On Ballot" decision, now in appeals.

UPDATE:

Comments are not functioning very well right now, but commenter Ironman asks about the Bonilla/Cuellar plan:

Didn;t Cuellar and Bonilla submit a better map?

Posted by: Ironman at July 18, 2006 06:29 AM

Here's my reply, that really would normally just go under the comments section, if it were working properly:

They did, and it's pretty good. But it does not remedy what Justice Kennedy thought was wrong about the current map. It does not reunite Laredo (and Webb County) into one district.

Apparently Laredo has a right to one-- and only one-- member of the House. It's apparently in the Constitution.

So, yeah, the Cuellar/Bonilla/Smith plan is great (and bipartisan), but it doesn't fix what was allegedly one of the big problems with the current map.

Posted by Will Franklin · 17 July 2006 11:08 PM · Comments (3)

Roadmap to Peace is a One Way Road

Bill Roggio at Counterterrorismblog.org reports on Israel's moves inside Southern Lebanon:

After a weekend of repeated Hezbollah missile strikes into Israel, including hits in Afula and the surrounding communities, and Haifa, the Israeli Defense Force has launched a ground incursion into Lebanon. The IDF "briefly entered southern Lebanon to target Hizbullah bases along the border in order to push the terrorist group out of rocket-firing range," according to the Jerusalem Post.

This ground strike is limited in nature, and does not appear to be the start of a larger push into southern Lebanon or the Bekaa Valley. "IDF troops had leveled land inside Lebanese territory extending up to one kilometer from Israel's northern frontier," Haaretz reports, with the goal being to "prevent the reestablishment of Hezbollah guerrilla posts along Israel's border."

If you are not a regular at Counterterrorism Blog, you should be. You may remember Bill from his work as an embedded blogger in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last several months and from my former "political blogging" home at The Fourth Rail. There is much more detailed technical information at CT Blog and worth reading.

As I stated yesterday, the net result of all of this is that Hamas and Syrian backed attacks have effectively set back the roadmap to peace to pre-mapmaking status. There is no roadmap. There will be no peace until the three soldiers are returned. And the UN and Israel depended on the PA and Lebanon to prevent the continued violence in their own territories in exchange for Israel withdrawing and the PA and Lebanon failed to do so. Breach of Contract. And now Israel has no choice but to retake the areas and possibly re-occupy them. And all of this comes because of Hamas and by proxy Iran and Syria deciding to attack Israel. And it comes at great loss of life, and most of that is Muslim lives. Just as car bombings in Iraq are not killing the Jews or the Crusaders or the Occupiers, but local civilians. There is no roadmap or reason until these organizations and "Charities" no longer exist.

Posted by Justin B. · 17 July 2006 03:16 PM · Comments (7)

Quote Of The Day

Howard Dean apparently said this with a straight face:

"If you think what’s going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control, it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today. We would have had the moral authority that Bill Clinton had when he brought together the Northern Irish and the IRA, when he brought together the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Isn't seeing the words 'moral authority' and 'Bill Clinton' in the same sentence a little jarring? My speculation is that psychotropic drugs are responsible for his Israeli/Palestinian remark.

(h/t LGF)

Posted by Ken McCracken · 16 July 2006 11:18 PM · Comments (9)

Pundit Roundtable

Hello again! This is an Open Mic edition of the Pundit Roundtable, I am your host Ken McCracken. First, some very useful links regarding the war in the Middle East:

Pajamas Media has been bringing consistent updates on the war - this is actually the best starting place in my opinion.

And do go check out Tigerhawk's excellent analysis Israel At War.

Commenter Lester brings us ShiaChat.com, a forum with updates on the war in Lebanon, obviously from a Shia perspective.

Israellycool is liveblogging the war very thoroughly, obviously from an Israeli perspective.

AllahPundit has been all over the conflict as well, over at HotAir.

The Truth Laid Bear has a superb roundup of Palestinian, Israeli and Lebanese blogger reactions.


Now, we did get a couple of responses to the topic for this week:

Israel is now fighting a two-front war against Hezboallah and Hamas. Tell us what outcome you would like to see, and make a bold prediction and tell us what you think will actually happen.

Give us any good links or juicy information you have on this conflict.

Please welcome Roundtable newcomer Bruce "McQ" McQuain from QandO:

"Oh, man, what I’d like to see is the destruction of the militant wings of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the repudiation of them and their tactics by the Palestinian and Lebanese people, not to mention the international community. I’d also like to see Syria and Iran humiliated in the process.

Talk about pipe dreams.

The outcome of all of this is, however, very much in doubt. While I don’t buy the “proportional response” argument that France, the UN and others are making against Israel, I think there is a chance of Israel going too far in its response to the attacks by Hezbollah. By that I mean that the destruction of Lebanon and the collapse (or further alienation) of Lebanon’s government are not in Israel’s best interest. In fact that would strengthen the hand of just about every one of Israel’s enemies. Hezbollah, which has come under attack from within and without Lebanon (Saudi Arabia has even criticized them) stands to recover if Israel continues its offensive. And of course, Syria and Iran also stand to gain politically from an extended conflict. What Israel needs to do is clean out the south completely near its borders, smack Hezbollah around for a few days and then demand the government of Lebanon complies with the UN resolution which calls for the disarming of Hezbollah. While I don’t want to see further destruction of Lebanon for the reasons stated, the government of Lebanon must be made to realize that if they want to be treated as a sovereign nation, they are indeed responsible for what goes on within their borders. When, within 48 hours, 500 rockets are fired over their borders into another sovereign nation, it becomes pretty lame to claim “we didn’t know” or “we aren’t responsible.”

Unfortunately I don’t see this ending well unless the two soldiers kidnapped (captured?) by Hezbollah are somehow recovered fairly quickly. While PM Olmert has claimed Israel won’t stop their offensive until Hezbollah is disarmed, recovery of the soldiers would provide an acceptable excuse to stop the offensive. Hezbollah, however, is not likely to capitulate by surrendering them, and, I’m pretty sure the soldiers are being kept well away from the fighting so it is unlikely they’d be accidentally recovered. I’d also guess that both Syria and Iran are advising Hezbollah not to surrender them, understanding that the longer they can keep Israel on the offensive in Lebanon, the better it works for them, both regionally and internationally. Anger within Lebanon, and among other Arab nations, at the actions of Hezbollah will quickly change sides when it is perceived, whether reasonably or unreasonably, that Israel is doing more than it should in the name of ‘self-defense’. I’m afraid that time is nearing.

So, 2 predictions for the price of 1, both premised on the action of Israel.

Prediction 1: if Israel calls off the offensive soon, and demands that Lebanon take charge of its country and borders as well as disarming Hezbollah, and condemns Syria and Iran’s role in the Hezbollah attacks, Israel comes out on top while the stature Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are diminished.

Prediction 2: if Israel continues the offensive until perceptions change as I’ve argued might happen, then the stature of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran is enhanced within the region, and Israel’s is diminished. In that case, you’ll most likely see Lebanon’s government collapse and Syria quietly infiltrate the country again in an effort to reassert its authority there. A puppet Lebanon is very useful to both Syria and Iran.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit pessimistic about this particular dust-up, as I’m of the opinion, based on statements made by Israel’s leadership, that it may paint itself into a political corner and be unable to gracefully stop and do what is called for in prediction 1. I therefore am reluctantly drawn to conclude that prediction 2 is the most likely.

Our own Justin B. of Ski-Blog.com (and now WILLisms.com also!) comes by for a visit:

"Personally, I think the end result of this week will be that Israel is simply back to where it was before the ill-fated "Roadmap to Peace" started and that is occupying Southern Lebanon and Gaza. All the PA and by Proxy, Iran and Syria did is justify Israel never making any concessions for peace again and building higher and thicker walls and further isolating the Palestinians.

The reconciliation period is over. Israel knew it was at war despite giving back the disputed lands, which it only occupied as a buffer zone to prevent attacks. They tried the roadmap and negotiated in good faith and the PA did nothing and did not live up to a single promise.

Here is my bold prediction--the condemnations from the UN Security Council against Israel will be fare more harsh than those for North Korea and Iran over their missile and Nuke programs. Syria and Iran will not even get a UN slap on the wrists for their actions in provoking this.

Less bold prediction--Muslim "Charities" will see an unexpected surge in charitable contributions for Palestinians injured at work, but only if their work involves killing babies in cafes and grandmothers on busses.

Anyone that thinks this week was some major escalation in the conflict is smoking crack. There was a temporary lull in the fighting, but the war was still occurring and the PA, Iran, Syria, Hamas, et al, were just regrouping to wipe Israel off the map. Note to nutjobs in Middle East--stop f-ing with Israel. These people survived ovens, gas chambers, France selling them out, and 60 years of hell and Muslim attacks while establishing their country. They ain't rolling over. When you see people with tattoos on their forearms of numbers, these people are not intimidated by a couple of kids being abducted and by a few rockets. Iran--Drop a nuke on 'em. If it kills 6M of them, you have barely scratched the surface of what they endured in WWII. If a complex system of ovens and gas chambers could not wipe the Jews off the map, me thinks that a country whose military might consists of 18 year olds with bombs made into vests is not going to do what Germany and its war machine and technical knowhow could not.

Least bold prediction of all--Israel will NOT BE WIPED OFF THE MAP by the Syrians or Iranians. I wish Iran or Syria would push this just one step further and let Israel attack their infrastructure. Israel has battle plans for everything that has happened and already knew every single target to attack. These terrorists can stage a little ambush here or there and abduct a kid or two. You are fighting what amounts to the second best military power in the world. A kidnapping is not going to intimidate them.

The Host's Last Word: What I'd like to see happen - I'd like to see Hezboallah erased from the map, such that even the memory of them is lost to history. It is an absolute abomination that the potential of a democratic, pluralistic and modern Lebanon is held hostage by well-armed Islamofascist terrorists bent on returning the entire region to the seventh century, and waging permanent war upon Israel.

I'd like to see Bashar Assad's regime toppled by the Syrian people themselves, as they wake from their slumber and try to pull themselves into the 21st century.

I'd like the Palestinian people to finally realize that they are beaten, and that their own leadership is a far worse enemy to them than Israel could ever be.

Bold Predictions: Hezboallah will go into hiding, avoid direct confrontation with the Israelis, and manage to survive on as a cancer in the region. The Lebanese army will not be successful in rooting them out. Israel will run out of targets to hit, will not get their soldier hostages back, and Israel will withdraw from Lebanon and Gaza, and the status quo ante will continue. Israel will not attack Syria at the behest of the United States, in order to prevent a wider conflict with Iran that will lead to stepped-up Iranian attacks on Iraq.

In short, the conflict will achieve nothing.

I hope I am wrong.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 16 July 2006 02:40 PM · Comments (5)

Backtracking the missile

The other day, an Israeli warship was operating off the coast of Lebanon when two missiles were fired from the shore. One struck an Egyptian merchant vessel and sunk it; the other hit the Israeli ship and badly damaged it, killing four sailors.

A lot of people are a bit surprised and concerned at this attack, as this demonstrates an increase in the firepower Hezbollah has access to, as this missile represents at least a whole order of magnitude above their prior attacks. They have prior used mortars, rockets, and very primitive missiles.

The missile that nearly sank the Hanit, a Saar-5 missile corvette, is believed to have been a C-802 missile, designed in China, built in Iran.

Terrorists don't build cruise missiles. Terrorist organizations don't build cruise missiles. They don't steal and then use cruise missiles. These weapons are too valuable, too expensive, too sophisticated to be developed by anyone without the backing of a national government. Especially one as advanced as the C-802, regarded as one of the top two or three anti-ship missiles in the world today (rivalled only by the US Harpoon and, possibly, the French Exocet).

Now, this is not to say that terrorists wouldn't love to get their hands on weapons such as cruise missiles. The problem is that they are incredibly demanding to care for and use. They are considerably more complicated to use than a mortar, or even the home-made rockets that the Palestinians cook up in their basement. It takes a lot of training, involving some very sensitive and classified material, to get one to work.

Here, Hezbollah fired two, and hit two targets -- on their first attempt.

That, to me, tells me one of three possibilities:

1) Hezbollah stole the missiles from Iran, along with the necessary documentation, and got incredibly lucky their first time out.

2) Iran gave Hezbollah the missiles, along with all the other support needed for them to be used effectively.

3) Iran transported the missiles and the operators to Lebanon, and launched the missile itself in cooperation with Hezbollah.

The first explanation seems so unlikely as to be impossible. One cannot simply read the manuals and figure out how to fire something as complex as a modern cruise missile successfully -- let alone the first two times. This is, literally, "rocket science."

The second is more plausible, but not much. This would presume that Hezbollah would find members willing to undergo the training and discipline required to maintain and launch these missiles, then exert the restraint to not use them at the first opportunity. It also places a very valuable asset of Iran's in the hands of an outside body. True, Hezbollah is almost entirely a puppet of Iran's, but it is still a tremendous risk.

The final possibility is the most likely. Iran would take one of its crack missile units, strip them of their uniforms and identification, and ship them off with all their equipment to Lebanon, where Hezbollah would shelter them and arrange for them to deploy when needed. And once they had exhausted their missiles, the fighting ended, or their usefulness had expired, they would be brought home.

But that leaves a few questions unanswered: what should Israel do about it? What can Israel do about it?

The first option that springs to mind is to publicly announce that Israel will take Iran at its word, and accept that it has not sent any forces into Lebanon. Therefore, any Iranian caught by Israel is acting as a terrorist or mercenary, and will be treated accordingly -- not as a prisoner of war. They could even say that they are looking into setting up their own version of Guantanamo.

Alternately, they could simply present any Iranian prisoners to the United Nations, and call for sanctions against Iran. But that would be yet another exercise in futility; the United Nations almost never misses an opportunity to denounce and condemn Israel.

Another idea would to simply not take any Iranians prisoner. There are numerous ways to achieve this; they could simply refuse to take any live prisoners, or they could quietly "disappear" any Iranians that happen to get rounded up. This is the most brutal and inhumane solution, one Israel is not likely to undertake (it smacks of the Nazi "Final Solution," a period of history never far from any Israeli's mind), but paradoxically the one most likely to be effective.

Regardless, here we have a nation that is technically at war with Israel that has, to a near metaphysical certitude, committed an open act of war against Israel. Will Israel respond? Should Israel respond?

That's for Israel to decide.

Posted by Jay Tea · 16 July 2006 07:00 AM · Comments (11)

Pundit Roundtable Open Mic

Update: I bumped this up to keep it going! My apologies to my co-bloggers Jay Tea and Justin B. (who I hope will both chime in at some point).

And do go check out Tigerhawk's excellent analysis Israel At War.


I want to open up the Pundit Roundtable for this Sunday to anyone who wants to prepare something to send in, or just get their thoughts together and comment on this question:

Israel is now fighting a two-front war against Hezboallah and Hamas. Tell us what outcome you would like to see, and make a bold prediction and tell us what you think will actually happen.

Give us any good links or juicy information you have on this conflict.

Sharpen your prognostication skills and tell us the future! May the best pundit win.

If you are a blogger who has been to the Roundtable before and want to join in again, email me something by noon Sunday.

If you want to be a guest, by all means email me at mccracken.ken@gmail.com.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 15 July 2006 12:52 PM · Comments (3)

Leftist Bloggers Catblog While Middle East Burns

To visit the Left side of the blogosphere, you would have no idea that Israel, Hamas and Hezboallah are at war. Is it that they don't know this, or that they don't care?

I think they don't know it. It has no connection to their seizing of power and saving this nation from an impending Reichstag Fire, and so it just isn't that important, you see. Just look at some of the issues being covered by some of the 'top' leftie blogs:

Firedoglake: Ned Lamont! And doesn't that Wilson/Plame couple look dashing?

Atrios: Wankers, pictures of cats, and open threads.

Kos: Breakdowns of many more elections they are going to lose. One analysis of Israel's war did slip over the transom - a suggestion that Iran would be right to wipe out Israel.

MyDD: People don't like conservatives! They really don't!

Oliver Willis: Pictures of dogs, Republicans are racist, school vouchers are baaaad.

The candidates these people support are often just as, or more clueless, about the real issues of the day. Is it any wonder America does not trust them with its security?

Notice I haven't provided any links. I have just done you a huge favor, you owe me.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 15 July 2006 12:42 PM · Comments (12)

Trying to see the big picture

As an amateur military scholar (very amateur), one of the things I've learned is the difference between strategy and tactics. There are a lot of ways to differentiate the two: strategy is what you want to do, tactics is how you do it; tactics are used by small groups, strategies by large; and so on.

The basic principle, though, is simple: there is a difference between small-scale, immediate concerns and large-scale, long-term goals. It is a key difference, though, and oftimes it is extremely difficult to differentiate between the two. In fact, many major blunders in world history have resulted from conflating the two; some historians even argue that World War I arose from the leaders at the time focusing on tactical concerns to the point where not a single one had any grand strategic vision.

Right now, the United States faces many challenges and crises. Looking at them, though, most of them can be considered tactical problems, deriving from two strategic concerns.

The first big threat is Islamism (or, if you prefer, militant Islam). This is an ideology, a mindset, that divides the world into two spheres -- Dar Al Islam (House of Islam) and Dar Al Harb (House of War). The first sphere is the portion of the world currently under the sway of Islam. The second is everything else. And the goal of its proponents are to have the first subsume the second.

There are numerous factions working towards this goal, all using their own best ideas to achieve them. Iran thinks that the key is in obtaining nuclear weapons, and using that clout and prestige to become the dominant power in the Middle East. Al Qaeda believes it is the West's influence in the region that holds it back, and is attempting to drive us out. Others are obsessed with Israel living in their midst, and want to first destroy them before moving onward.

Each group has their own map, but they all share a common destination.

Likewise in Asia, we have the Chinese with their strategic goal: the domination of their region in every meaningful area: economic, social, military, technological. Towards that end, they are engaging in numerous tactical moves aimed at increasing their prominence and diminishing that of their rivals -- mainly the US and Japan; South Korea, India, and Australia to a lesser extent. In service to that overarching goal, they are waging a covert economic war on the US; they are encouraging (or, at least, tolerating) North Korea's antics; they are fomenting trouble among the Islamist factions in many nations; and they are working on a space program, which will yield them untold benefits on all four fronts.

When fighting a grand strategy, it is critical to make note and attempt to counter their tactics -- but the danger is in seeing those tactical moves as the end product.

In the struggle against Islamis, Osama Bin Laden is a tactical piece. He has been largely neutralized. On a purely emotional level, I want to see him dead -- preferably after lengthy suffering, but as long as he's dead I'm happy. But intellectually, I've stopped caring about him. He is an irrelevancy now. Where he once ruled a vast network and held sway over an entire nation, he now ekes out a living in hiding, stripped of the trappings of his former prestige, a shell of his former status.

Likewise, Al Qaeda has been more than decimated. Almost all its senior leadership is dead or imprisoned. They had their moments of glory, but ever since they peaked on 9/11, they have not been able to pull off any operations that come close to that magnitude. Their most prominent figure, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ended up alienating far more people than he swayed, and is now dead.

Iran was heading towards the limelight, but then Hamas and Hezbollah pushed their way to the front pages -- and aren't exactly shining in the renewed attention from Israel.

But again, these are tactical concerns. While certainly important, they are not the be-all and end-all. Iraq itself -- an operation I've often called "the Iraqi campaign in the War on Terror" -- is not the summation of the conflict. While it is certainly a major element in the war, victory or defeat for the US and the West will not be the end.

And in Asia, North Korea's tirades and tantrums and threats are -- currently -- serving Chinese interests. They force the US and our allies to focus attention on that tiny portion of a single peninsula, force us to ratchet up our military, and give the Chinese a good look at our systems in action. They provide the Chinese a way of testing our resolve -- and our abilities -- without risking a face-to-face confrontation. How we deal with the North Korean threat will directly affect our future struggle with China.

The key to working towards strategic goals is to continually play "and then what?" and "what if this plan doesn't work as we wish?" without extending too far, overrunning our headlights, and degenerating into the paralysis of analysis. Right now, I think the Bush administration is playing just the right game with the threat from Islamism, but I don't think they quite have the right handle on the Chinese issue.

I'm not ready to panic about that yet, though. The Chinese are long-term thinkers and planners, and their vision will take years and years to come to fruition. The United States, on the other hand, has made an art out of responding to crises faster than anyone thinks possible, and pulling rabbits out of our hats at a moment's notice.

I'm just not overly sanguine over depending on that factor.

Posted by Jay Tea · 15 July 2006 07:00 AM · Comments (23)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 348 -- Sarbanes-Oxley Is Bad For America.

Cumbersome Regulations Are Holding The American Economy Back-

Americans For Tax Reform put together this graph, which I found rather interesting (.pdf):

sarbox.gif
Instead of stepping up enforcement efforts, the new legislation placed an onerous burden on productive companies, which has forced them to waste productive resources monitoring their activities rather than spending on new investment and job creation. The new internal controls being forced on companies have been found to use up 35,000 hours of internal manpower and to increase compliance costs for large companies by $4.6 million.

Sar-Box makes it almost not worth it to be a public company. And who could have expected anything else? That's what overkill regulations like the Sarbanes Oxley Act do-- they drive entrepreneurs elsewhere. They drive money away. They hurt business. They harm America.


-------------------------------------

Previous Trivia Tidbit: Our National Wealth Overwhelms Our National Debt.

Posted by Will Franklin · 14 July 2006 08:44 PM · Comments (4)

Budget Deficits and the Economic Horizon

Let’s talk about Budget Deficits and look at the meaningful numbers. Democrats consistently attempt to attack the economy and the Budget deficit as an indication that Bush’s tax cuts are hurting “our children’s future”. Every year, someone states that "This year's budget deficit of $XXX Billion is the highest on record." But few politicians state, this year's GDP and government revenue is the highest on record also. GDP measures the entire size of the economy, so it only makes sense to discuss budget deficit as a percentage of GDP since this takes into account the overall size of the economy. This allows us to compare a relatively small economy to a large one and get a frame of reference. In order to reduce the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP, the choices are simple--grow, cut spending, or increase tax revenue (most think this means raising taxes). Some economists believe that by doing the first, you actually simultaneously accomplish the third by growing the economy, but more on that later. First, let’s look at Europe with their progressive economic policies paying particular attention to GDP growth and Deficits as a Percentage of GDP:

The expected recovery in Europe has failed to appear; quite to the contrary, economic expansion faltered and the GDP growth forecast for 2005 was 1.2 percent. For 2006, an economic expansion of 1.8 percent is projected; for Germany and Italy forecasted output growth is even more modest at 1.2 and 1.4 percent, respectively. …Long-term growth of an economy is determined by three main factors: employment, productivity growth, and capital formation. The aging European population is a big hurdle for more healthy growth rates; and rising social security spending is a burden for fiscal policy. France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Portugal are all expected to exceed the 3 percent GDP cap stipulated by the Stability and Growth Pact.

In the US, we had a huge budget deficit outlay, yet our TAX CUTS effectively did what spending cuts could not—drastically increased growth and tax revenues which cut the deficit. As a percent of GDP, France and Germany already have larger budge deficits than the US. And the outlook does not look good. If France and Germany continue to experience the slow growth that plagues the last couple of decades and lag behind the US in terms of growth, their woes will only deepen. Their budget deficits in terms of GDP are already worse than ours. Growth, tax or revenue increases, or spending cuts are the only way to fix the problem and Europe’s high taxes, social programs, and stagnant growth are not changing any time soon.

This was from the White House several months ago before the most recent revenue report came out earlier this month revising the 2006 figures:

In last year’s Mid-Session Review, the Administration forecast a higher nominal deficit for 2006, in part reflecting the implementation on January 1, 2006 of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. With the unanticipated spending associated with relief and recovery efforts in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the deficit is now expected to be larger than previously forecast. We now project that the 2006 deficit will come in at 3.2 percent of GDP, or $423 billion.

While this increase in the deficit is unwelcome, a deficit at this level is still well within the historical range. At 3.2 percent of GDP, it would still be smaller than the deficits in 11 of the last 25 years. More importantly, if we build on the policies of economic growth and spending restraint reflected in this Budget, the deficit is projected to return to its downward trajectory and stay on track to meet the President’s goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009.

For 2007, the Budget forecasts a decline in the deficit to 2.6 percent of GDP, or $354 billion. By 2009, the deficit is projected to be cut by more than half from its projected peak to just 1.4 percent of GDP, which is well below the 40-year historical average deficit.

Again, note that this was before last week’s news:

WASHINGTON – A buoyant President Bush seized on newly reduced federal budget projections Tuesday as proof that his tax cuts are working, saying his previous pledge to slash the deficit in half by 2009 is being fulfilled well ahead of schedule.

Democrats pooh-poohed the figures released by the White House budget office and said that the $296 billion projected deficit for the current fiscal year would still be the fourth-highest ever.

...

“Tax relief is working, the economy is growing, revenues are up, the deficit is down,” he said.

The Bush administration projected in February that the 2006 deficit would reach $423 billion, a significant jump from the $319 billion level of last year. Budget officials attributed the lower projection of $296 billion to an unexpected surge in tax revenues to the government.

Instead of our Deficit in Terms of GDP being at 3.2%, the Bush tax cuts have already reduced that to approximately 2.4%. The GDP is growing in leaps and bounds at over 5% in the First Quarter 2006. It seems that the economic news only paints a better and better picture of a growing and vibrant economy. Too bad most Americans don’t realize how good we have it economically right now. The Democrats must have a heck of a PR machine to convince Americans with record homeownership, rising wages, and a vibrant and growing economy creating almost 4M jobs in the last three years how bad we have it. France only wishes they had this bad of an economy.

Policies Matter. Leadership Matters.

Posted by Justin B. · 14 July 2006 01:03 PM · Comments (0)

Bastille Day

bastille-day.gif

Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé.

- La Marseillaise

 

Is Bastille Day France's 'birthday', as July 4th is for the United States? Well I don't know, though it is certainly France's national holiday (as of 1880); France has suffered through the Terror, had emperors, twelve constitutions, five republics, and been conquered by the Germans twice since the mob stormed the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. Hardly an unbroken reign for the democratic ideals of the revolution, but they seem to have sorted it all out for the most part.

I know that France is not exactly the most dependable ally, and that Americans (especially conservatives) like to berate and belittle the French - and the term "cheese eating surrender monkeys" sounds mean and undeserved, but they do eat cheese and they do surrender a lot, so they have themselves to blame for at least a bit of that.

But in the end, they have proven themselves to be lovers of liberty, and who can really hate a nation that gives such wonderful presents?

liberty.jpg

Posted by Ken McCracken · 14 July 2006 12:35 PM · Comments (4)

A Couple Things To Think About

From an interesting piece at California Conservative (possibly the prettiest blog out there!) called Pelosi Brow-Beating Caucus:

The goal, those close to Pelosi say, is to rev up Democrats in advance of the August recess, focusing them on the economic and national security priorities outlined by party leaders throughout this year. Next month’s break will mark the longest sustained period of time that Members will be in their districts before the pre-election recess. The New Direction agenda, however, is separate and distinct from the campaign platform Democrats will later unveil. “We’re going to lay out what we want Members to be talking about back home during the break,” Clyburn said. “I think when we get back in September, we’ll lay out our ’06 agenda.”

I had the privilege of speaking with Speaker Hastert when he headlined a fundraiser for Michele Bachmann during the 4th of July weekend. One of the first things he asked me was “how much of a new direction will they be able to go in with John Dingell, who’s been in the House 52 years chairing a committee, with John Conyers, who’s been there 45 years, chairing the House Judiciary Committee and Charley Rangel, who’se been in the House 36 years, chairing the House Ways and Means Committee”?

Also, CC brings us something that I can scarcely believe is true:

In this segment, Stoddard discusses the dynamics within the US Border Patrol that have led to over 70% of the department now being comprised of Mexicans who hold dual citizenship. He also advises that a majority of these still view their primary allegiances to Mexico—not the USA. These include agents at some of the highest levels within the US Border Patrol. Stoddard also speaks about Mexican US Border Patrol agents who regularly engage in both drug smuggling and human trafficking. When caught, they flee back to Mexico.
That is pretty shocking in my estimation, but could explain a lot about our border security problems.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 14 July 2006 11:29 AM · Comments (0)

Meet The Squaretable

squaretable.jpg

Feel free to copy this if you like it!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 14 July 2006 10:23 AM · Comments (1)

Quote Of The Day

From Peter Berkowitz, also quoting Pulitzer Prize winning historian Gordon Wood in part:

The name the founders' era gave to the new type of aristocrat was "gentleman." Unlike aristocrats in the old world, the gentleman in America was defined not by lineage and inherited goods, but rather by the qualities he exhibited and the character he cultivated. Civility and refinement were of the essence. The gentleman was also expected to be "reasonable, tolerant, honest, virtuous, and 'candid,' an important eighteenth-century characteristic that connoted being unbiased and just as well as frank and sincere." He was a democrat in the crucial sense that he did not consider himself to be born of, or cut from, finer materials than the people. And he was a liberal in an old-fashioned and equally crucial sense: He believed in natural rights and that under a government that protected them one could attain a wider, freer, more generous vantage point. His ideal was "grace without foppishness, refinement without ostentation, virtue without affectation, independence without arrogance."
I heartily encourage you to read the entire piece, it is most inspiring.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 13 July 2006 10:18 PM · Comments (0)

All Roads Lead To Damascus

The White House today blamed Syria and Iran for the Hezboallah attacks from southern Lebanon. Hezboallah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers Wednesday morning near Israel's western border, causing the IDF to launch attacks into Lebanon seeking their release. Israel has now attacked Lebanon for its support of Hezboallah, which is part of the Lebanese government. Israel has attacked Beirut's airport, which is a supply route for Hezboallah, and has blockaded Lebanese ports. Roland Watson: "I think we can expect a day or two more of the Israeli bombardment of Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon. The Israeli military justified today's bombing of Beirut airport because they said it was used freely to channel arms from Iran to Hezbollah. Despite pressure from hawkish elements in the Israeli military establishment, there is no plan at present to take military action against Syria."

assad.jpg
Bashar Assad

Perhaps there should be a plan to take military action against Syria, other than just rattling Bashar Assad's windows. There will be no permanent solution to Israel's security problems until Syria is brought to heel. Damascus is terrorism's regional hub, as it were. Syria gives Hezboallah its lifeblood in military, economic and political support, and if Israel does not sever that tie it can expect several more generations of rocket attacks and kidnappings from these Islamic totalitarians (Michael Totten has a harrowing description of their self-governed enclave in southern Lebanon).

According to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad Syrian newspapers "glorify the terrorists as resistance fighters . .. " and that Syrian authorities "allow youngsters misguided by al-Qaeda – from Saudi Arabia, from Yemen, from North Africa – to fly into Damascus International Airport, attend training camps and then cross into Iraq . . . "

Syria gives shelter to Hamas terrorist-in-chief Khaled Mashaal (who looks disturbingly like George Clooney in Syriana, by the way) and perhaps to Imad Mugniyah, last seen being feted by none other than Bashar Assad in Damascus last January (no thanks to France which had a chance to arrest Mugniyah in 1985, and Saudi Arabia, which let him slip out of the country in 1995). Mugniyah has also been seen living in Lebanon, where he masterminded the 1983 Marine barracks explosion. If anyone proves the lie that Shi'ite, Sunni and secular terrorist organizations in the Middle East would never work together for a common cause, it is Mugniyah. A leader for Hezboallah (shi'ites supported by Iran), he has allegedly participated in many of al-Qaeda's major attacks, including Khobar Towers, the east African embassies, and the USS Cole. Even howling moonbat Larry Johnson says that Mugniyah has met with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and they have probably forged operational ties. The fact that Mugniyah would sit down in a meeting with secularist Ba'ath party leader Bashar Assad, also a member of the Alawite sect of Islam, which is considered heretical by Wahabbis, should tell you all you need to know about the supposed intractable differences seperating the various terrorist factions in the Middle East. For more information on the absolutely impossible Shi'ia/Sunni terrorist connections see Al-Qaida's Links to Iranian Security Services.

This does not even begin to scratch the surface of Syria's support for, or cooperation with terrorist organizations. The list of terrorist groups linked to Syria is a veritable Who's Who Of Terror, including the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK), the Basque ETA, and the Tamil Tigers. Perusing the list of Palestinian terrorist organizations, it seems that Damascus supports every single one of them. Hamas, for example, even had a terrorist training camp since 1991 in Yarmouk outside Damascus. There are reputed to be scores of such terrorist training camps throughout Syria.

Syria provides terrorists exactly what they need to thrive in the Middle East: a safe haven, 'diplomatic immunity' for terrorist leaders, banking, training, logistics, propaganda and operational support.

Israel has to consider wiping out this nexus of terror, all the more so because it is eminently attainable: the IDF will be able to attack Syria with almost complete impunity - the Syrian ground and air forces just cannot compete with the IDF due to Israel's vastly superior armament, training and morale. The Iranian ability to retaliate against Israel is next to nil at the moment, other than through its proxy Hezboallah. Iran has Shahab-3 missiles with the range to hit Israel, but as yet no nuclear warheads. Israel may be looking at its last opportunity to clear out the rats' nests of terror in Syria without risk of a retaliatory nuclear strike.

Maybe Israel should strike while the iron is hot.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 13 July 2006 01:34 PM · Comments (6)

Is the world of tomorrow stamped "Made In China?"

With the increased tension regarding North Korea, their missiles, and their potential nuclear weapons, a great deal of attention is being paid to that region of the world. And as Sherlock Holmes would point out, the truly fascinating element is the "dog that does not bark."

China is, for better or worse, the dominant player on the Asian front. It has the most people, a very powerful military, and a tremendous economy -- the three elements a nation needs to be considered a "superpower." Further, for over half a century, they have been North Korea's patron, to various degrees. In fact, at several points over that time, North Korea could have been considered a vassal state to China.

Right now, North Korea's conduct is serving China's interests. They are drawing attention to themselves, they are keeping the other Asian powers (mainly the United States and Japan) on edge, and they could provide very useful real-world intelligence on those nation's defensive systems, especially in regards to anti-missile systems.

For years, China has expressed great interest in American military secrets. During the Clinton administration, they went on a buying spree and helped themselves to some of our most sensitive
technologies. They carefully studied our performance in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they saw our stuff take on Soviet-made stuff and absolutely destroy it. As a great deal of Chinese military hardware is either Soviet-designed or derived from them, this was of extreme interest to them -- and what they saw was not encouraging.

This has, if anything, intensified their efforts. They know who has the best weaponry, the most advanced and effective military technology, in the world, and they want to know how it works.

Likewise, China is pushing the hell out of its economy. Its economic ties to the West are almost uncalculable. With its nigh-infinite pool of skilled workers and cheap wages, it can freely undercut most other manufacturers and steal away tremendous amounts of business. One need only go as far as the nearest Wal-Mart to see shelf after shelf after shelf of merchandise that literally sailed around the world to sell for a fraction of what the plant down the street would have had to charge.

Now I'm no Sinologist, but I do know enough to see that China is playing a very different game than any we have played before. They see themselves as dominating first their region of the world, and then eventually the whole world. They see themselves not only as a superpower, but the logical and rightful heir to America's title as "hyperpower."

How badly do they want it? Badly enough to build up a huge military. Badly enough to embark on a plan that has taken them decades to reach this far. Badly enough to wait even more years to achieve it.

The question is not whether the United States and China will eventually have a showdown. That is inevitable. The questions are much simpler: when, how, and who will win.

Our conflict with China will be unlike any other. We may never fight them on the land, on the water, under the water, in the skies, among the stars, or in places we can't even imagine. It's already taking place in the stores. And they're winning.

So, what is the next move in the Chinese playbook towards domination? I haven't the slightest clue. But it is coming.

They intend to win, too. Can we say the same?

Posted by Jay Tea · 13 July 2006 04:30 AM · Comments (11)

Where In The World Is WILL?

I get emails occasionally these days from readers who are wondering where I am these days, why I am not posting much (if at all), when I am coming back, and all that good stuff.

Well, I am doing not-so-top-secret GOP political stuff, in 12 states, until the election. Although it's not all that top-secret, I still can't really blog about it. I can still blog about charts and graphs. I can still do all kinds of classic WILLisms.com type stuff.

But I unfortunately cannot blog about specifics regarding my job, my travels, and so on. And I rarely have the time or energy left after all the meetings and travel and politicking to compose the sorts of fact-based, research-intensive posts with which I like to have my name associated.

I will say this: I am enjoying being all over these 12 states. I am enjoying seeing the United States. Sometimes it's weird and disorienting waking up in the morning and-- for a few milliseconds-- wondering where the heck I am. At times, the places and days and people begin to blend together. But it's fun and rewarding work.

Here's my plan from now until November: I will try to find the time to make one or two posts per week. Ken will take over a couple of the weekly features, in addition to his essays and such. I would also like to add a chart/graph/numbers type of blogger. Know anyone who fits that bill?

And some exciting news: the illustrious and prolific Jay Tea, of Wizbang blog, has offered his unique and original perspective for the near term to keep the site fresh and stirred up. Sweet.

Posted by Will Franklin · 12 July 2006 11:09 PM · Comments (9)

Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 61

This week's WILLisms.com Caption Contest photograph:

mudgirl.jpg

The actual caption:

Bridget Terrell, 9, shows off her mud hairstyle while playing in a mud pit during the annual Mud Day event at a public park in Westland, Michigan July 11, 2006. Hundreds of children played in the shallow mud pit that holds 200 tons of topsoil and 20,000 gallons of water.
Oh come on, there's gotta be a better caption than that!

Entries will remain open until 11:59 PM, Central Standard Time, Tuesday, July 19. Submit your captions in the comments section, or email at mccracken.ken@gmail.com.

The winner gets: a hearty handshake, the warm glow of victory, and bragging rights.

The losers get their entry fees refunded!

Captioning makes everyone happy.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 12 July 2006 10:42 AM · Comments (25)

Quote Of The Day

I think the Republican Party has few allies more effective than the Daily Kos.
- Newt Gingrich (h/t Wizbang).

Update: Is Kos really a Rovian operation???? Some think the proof is piling up:

one must consider all of the rumors going around that The Daily Kos blog is a Bush-CIA-RNC Nixonian construct designed to discredit the Democratic Party. Since all of the Rovian hallmarks are there, I suspect that it is likely, but I can't prove it.

Just think about it: you set up a couple of websites to get a million angry amateurs and mentally unstable kooks (many of them probably CIA junior staff guys and RNC junior staff folks having great fun posting and cheerleading, plus thousands of Christian right-wing extremist volunteers) to dig into the core of your opposition, and weaken it from within. What could be more Rovian? More devilishly ingenious and convoluted? And to hire a haute-nurdy ex-Army guy for cover... too clever to be an accident. Don't ya think?

Posted by Ken McCracken · 11 July 2006 12:32 AM · Comments (14)

Dealing With Captured Terrorists

One of the unintended consequences of the insistence of rights for Guantanamo detainees is that life might become far more nasty, brutish and short for terrorists captured on the battlefield. As Ralph Peters writes in his article Kill, Don't Capture (h/t Powerline):

Traditionally, those who masquerade as civilians in order to kill legal combatants have been executed promptly, without trial. Severity, not sloppy leftist pandering, kept warfare within some decent bounds at least part of the time . . .

. . . Consider today's norm: A terrorist in civilian clothes can explode an IED, killing and maiming American troops or innocent civilians, then demand humane treatment if captured - and the media will step in as his champion. A disguised insurgent can shoot his rockets, throw his grenades, empty his magazines, kill and wound our troops, then, out of ammo, raise his hands and demand three hots and a cot while he invents tales of abuse.

Captured terrorists become such a liability once they are in custody, why not just kill them? It is indeed the legal, customary way of dealing with them, and has been in international law for hundreds of years. Emmerich de Vattel in his 1758 book The Law of Nations, which was enormously influential among America's Founding Fathers, stated that such belligerents were no more than robbers fit to be hanged.

The 1942 Supreme Court in Ex Parte Quirin summed up the law as it addresses unlawful combatants:

. . . 'Scouts or single soldiers, if disguised in the dress of the country, or in the uniform of the army hostile to their own, employed in obtaining information, if found within or lurking about the lines of the captor, are treated as spies, and suffer death.'

. . . 'Armed Prowlers, by whatever names they may be called, or persons of the enemy's territory, who steal within the lines of the hostile army for the purpose of robbing, killing, or of destroying bridges, roads, or canals, or of robbing or destroying the mail, or of cutting the telegraph wires, are not entitled to the privileges of the prisoner of war.'

. . . 'persons who take up arms and commit hostilities' without having the means of identification prescribed for belligerents are punishable as 'war criminals'. 'All war crimes are subject to the death penalty although a lesser penalty may be imposed'.

. . . "anyone who participates directly in hostilities without being subordinate to an organized movement under a Party to the conflict, and enforcing compliance with these rules, is a civilian who can be punished for the sole fact that he has taken up arms" and that "anyone who takes up arms without being able to claim this status [of a "lawful combatant"] will be left to be dealt with by the enemy and its military tribunals in the event that he is captured."

Quirin notes the difference in treatment between lawful and unlawful combatants - "Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful." The Geneva Conventions, far from providing 'rights' to such unlawful combatants, seeks to punish them for committing unlawful acts of war by removing all protections for them.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch are arguing for far more lenient treatment of unlawful combatants, saying, "The Supreme Court found that common article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions applies to the armed conflict with al-Qaeda. Common article 3 provides that all detainees, whether prisoners of war, civilians or so-called unlawful combatants, are legally entitled to humane treatment “in all circumstances.” They may not be subject to “cruel treatment and torture” or “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.”

This is not what Common Article 3 says. It states that the "passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

Article 5 of the Third Geneva Covention states that "such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."

After that, the captured terrorist may be hauled before a military commission, which is the 'regularly constituted court' traditionally convened for such a purpose, and the defendant is summarily executed. Much less messy, it turns out, than dragging them down to Camp X-ray.

I am not advocating that terrorists captured on the battlefield should be executed in order to avoid meddlesome legal proceedings. Such prisoners could provide valuable intelligence, and maybe there is some propaganda advantage to being perceived as a benevolent captor. Personally, I think the enemy needs to know that fat and lazy Americans can ruin your day; but be that as it may, what Human Rights Watch and other liberal groups are advocating completely undermines the intent of the Geneva Conventions: which is to reward proper, lawful conduct on the battlefield with good treatment for POWs. Further, what these groups seek is to grant the full panoply of constitutional rights to terrorists that not even lawful combatant POWs enjoy! They are advocating a perverse outcome.

This does not even get to the question of how al-Qaeda treats prisoners - why should their agents be treated any better than those they capture?

The inevitable argument is that this leads down a slippery slope that somehow unravels our democracy. I don't know why such an argument should be made, there simply is no evidence for it. Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeus corpus, far from being detrimental to democracy, hastened its return throughout the nation. Woodrow Wilson wrapped up dissenters during the Palmer Raids of 1918-21. The Supreme Court's Korematsu decision backed up FDR's decision to intern Japanese-Americans, and yet our Republic somehow survived. The Allies committed what could objectively be called war crimes on a mass scale to defeat the Axis, such as the firebombings of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, and many other cities, and the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet democracy did not collapse.

One could argue that such severe actions actually saved far more lives than it spent, considering how much they shortened the war. If true, is that not the real humanitarian outcome? It may well be so with the Gitmo detainees, where misplaced 'humanitarian' concerns fail to deter future enemies, and in fact gives jihadis further chances to agitate against the U.S.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 10 July 2006 08:27 PM · Comments (3)

The Left(?) Eats Its Own

Get this: Noam Chomsky is a Controlled Asset Of The New World Order:
Since 9-11, he has steadfastly refused to discuss the evidence of government complicity and prior knowledge. Furthermore he claims that the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Bilderberg Committee, and Trilateral Commission are “nothing organizations.” When critiquing poverty, he never mentions the Federal Reserve and their role in manipulating the cycle of debt.

Similarly, he claims the CIA was never a rogue organization and is an innocent scapegoat; that JFK was killed by the lone assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; that the obvious vote fraud in 2004 did not occur; and that peak oil is real and good for humanity.

What he does advocate is population control, gun control, support for U.N.E.S.C.O., and the end of national sovereignty in favor of a one-world government under the UN. In other words, the major goals of the New World Order.

I can't figure out if this is a spoof or not. Is it possible people really believe all this kind of stuff? At some point, hardcore conspiratorialism defies notions of right versus left - it's just in a league of its own . . .

Posted by Ken McCracken · 9 July 2006 04:03 PM · Comments (5)

Pundit Roundtable

Hello once again! Welcome back to the PUNDIT ROUNDTABLE, and sorry for the hiatus - I am your slacker-in-chief Ken McCracken, and here are our topics for this week:

Topic 1: North Korea tested seven missiles this week. What, if anything, can or should be done about Kim Jong-Il, his missiles, and his nuclear program?

Topic 2: How far should the administration push back against leaks by the New York Times and other news outlets? Is the media paying a price with the public for their actions?

Topic 3: What is your favorite place you have been to?

I am pleased to welcome back Pundit Roundtable stalwart Rick Moran of Right Wing Nuthouse. Welcome back Rick, what's on your mind?

"Topic 1: There really isn't that much more we can be doing about North Korea than what we are doing now. China is the key to Kim's heart, being the only thing standing between the NoKo's and total collapse. Beijing supplies Kim with the food and fuel his country needs to survive on a day to day basis. And even with China's help, there are indications that thousands are starving to death every month.

But why should China pull our chestnuts out of the fire? We are currently in a full blown competition with them in east Asia and anything that ties us down is just fine with them. So China plays a very interesting and dangerous game; keeping the fires of crisis stoked at a low level while walking a tightrope with us on one side and the North Koreans on the other. They don't want to appear too uncooperative in getting Kim to give up his nukes while at the same time, it is in their interest for Kim to be threatening Japan, South Korea, and us.

The solution will have to come with us putting a little more overt pressure on China. At the moment, China still needs us a little bit more than we need them. We must use that fact to our advantage and get both Russia and China to knock some sense into the North Korean dictator.

Kim, by the way, is not crazy - not in the sense that he hears voices or wears a lampshade to Politburo meetings. But his society is the most insular in the world and he really has no clue how his pronouncements or actions come off to the rest of us. Former Secretary of State Albright was struck by this fact when she visited in 1997. It's like living on a different planet being in North Korea.

Topic 2: One of the really beautiful things about America is freedom of the press. Unlike Great Britain, we have no Official Secrets Act which makes our press free to publish anything it desires, using only its own conscience as a guide.

I'm not sure why Bill Keller and the Times went with the bank monitoring story. The program was by all accounts legal and that the publishing of it embarrassed people in Europe who were helping us at great personal risk to their own careers and position. My only speculation there is that the Times has decided to take an absolutist position on the Bill of Rights - or at least those portions they feel the Bush Administration is violating. Not an indefensible position but certainly troubling.

As for the leakers, it is past time that there be examples made of them. We need arrests, prosecutions, and jail time for people who flout their oaths and damage our security by circumventing the whistleblowing system we have already in place in our intel agencies and blabbing some of most closely held secrets to the Washington Post or New York Times. If their consciences are bothering them so much about a specific action, there are procedures they can take short of talking to the press that would address their concerns. There simply is no excuse for their actions which leads one to the conclusion that they have ulterior motives in leaking. But personal or partisan, their motivations are irrelevant when we are talking about breaking the law.

Topic 3: Glen Lake, Michigan. It doesn't exist anymore, at least not as I remember it. But when I was a kid, it was as close to heaven as this suburban boy was ever likely to get. There were forests full of deer to explore. There were sailboats and rowboats and swimming all day. There was a picnicking. There was also no TV and no phone which made curling up next to a roaring fire to keep out the northwoods chill with Edgar Rice Burroughs or Alexander Dumas such an utter joy. There was the first kiss as well. The first time I drank coffee. The first time I smoked a cigarette. The last time I saw my grandfather.

When my family started to take vacations there 44 summers ago, there may have been 2 or 3 motor boats on the entire lake. Today, thanks to making the Sleeping Bear sand dunes a national park, there are dozens of developments around the lake, even a high rise hotel. It is no longer the place it was in my youth. But it still exists in my mind as a magical, carefree place where our family was oh so close and where many of the mysteries of growing up were asked and answered.

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Glen Lake, in Glen Arbor, Michigan


Next we have returning pundit and author of Ski-Blog.com, Justin B. Justin took me to task this week for being a slacker in not posting the Roundtable the last few weeks. His punishment for this completely justified swipe at me? Why, an invitation to the Roundtable, of course!

"Topic 1: China and Russia at very least refuse to put adequate pressure on North Korea and at worst case are actually enjoying the NK menace since the missiles are not aimed at them and since it diverts US attention off their own Human Rights abuses. And without their cooperation (as we saw in Iraq), North Korea will continue with their plans. In Iraq, Russian Intelligence actually helped Saddam move things from former WMD sites right before the war. The problem is our “allies” are not really allies at all, just as we saw in Iraq. We need to ratchet up the pressure on China and Russia if we are really serious about North Korea, but ultimately that may not be worth the cost. If we are unwilling to do that, then the answer is we are really doing nothing. Everything we say or do is just window dressing unless China and Russia want NK to change their behavior. The UN has an opportunity to actually work and preserve peace; yet again the US is forced to lead via diplomacy or possibly via military action.

Topic 2: The Administration needs to push back hard on the NYT politically and needs to cite Republican leadership in creating Homeland Security, reforming the CIA-FBI-NSA-etc., SWIFT, Patriot Act, Wiretapping, etc. Let the American people know that these programs are why there have been no attacks since 9-11 and put it squarely on the NYT that they have taken away the Administration’s ability for fight the WOT. Choose the NYT and Liberal ACLU types plan on how to protect us, or choose the kind of plans that the NYT keeps outing. This is a repeat of Valeria Plame and Joe Wilson. The Administration cannot defend its record on the WOT and the programs that Bush and the NSA are using to catch terrorists without outing details of the programs, but now that the programs and details are out thanks to the NYT, the Administration can openly talk about them AND TAKE CREDIT FOR THEM. Admit that the Republican Party is the only party that supports looking at bank records and call logs. And the way that the outings worked and the response of the far left and several key Democrats to pander to the far left made it appear that the Democrats don’t support wiretapping and eavesdropping and looking at bank records to keep us safe. The NYT gave the Administration the ability to talk about their own secret programs that are keeping us safe and most American support.

The Republican Party wins when it runs on a platform that keeps the WOT front and center. If an attack happens, it is because the NYT and the left did not allow water boarding at GITMO, outed SWIFT and eavesdropping, and the NYT made all these details public. And if an attack does not happen, it is because Republicans are keeping you safe. Either way, it again gives Americans the choice between a party that has plans and ideas and a track record of keeping us safe, and an opposition party of the ACLU, NYT, Pelosi, Dean, Moore, etc., who want to shut down GITMO and Abu Ghraib and not listen to terrorist’s phone calls or track their bank records.

Topic 3: Seattle. I mean, sure there is a homeless heroin addicted kid with dreadlocks panhandling left and right, a hippie working at Starbucks on every corner, and it rains all the time. It is as blue of a city as there is where they protest every WTO or World Bank meeting and chain themselves to trees to save owls. But you go there and you just walk around in anonymity and people watch and it makes for great entertainment. Add in the fact that you can sit in a boat on Puget Sound at basically sea level and look 60 miles away at Mount Rainier just dominating the skyline, the near perfect weather (if you like mid-60’s and rain), and the heart of 1990’s Grunge Metal and you have just an awesome city. I always stay in a hotel right downtown where you can walk everywhere worth going and where there is always a concert worth seeing or a football or baseball game.

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Seattle, Washington

The Host's Last Word: as far as North Korea goes, I think Rick has half the story. China has an interest in keeping us tied down there, surely, but the other half of the story is that China cannot risk the entire population of North Korea flooding into northeast China, which is exactly what would happen if the Pyongyang regime collapses. South Korea still has the DMZ and its billion or so mines there keeping out any unwanted refugees. China has no such buffer, and already has a refugee problem from North Korea. (China would like their trains back, however).

China also dreads the idea of a united Korea. South Korea alone has the world's seventh-largest economy - reunification would hamper the South for a while, but only for a while, and then Korea could become a direct economic threat to China as a whole. There isn't a lot of love lost between the Chinese and Koreans in any event.

Thus, political realities limit the effectiveness of China as a mediating influence on Kim Jong-Il.

The emerging key element is Japan. The threat of Japan becoming a military and possibly nuclear power seems to be the only thing that chills Kim Jong-Il at the moment, and there seems to have been more to Koziumi's Graceland visit than meets the eye - Japan and the U.S. have not been this close diplomatically since the Cold War.

Rearming Japan is the best way to deal with North Korea. Japan is no longer a nascent imperial power just waiting for the right moment to reconquer East Asia. And could any nation be trusted to understand the responsibility of having nuclear weapons more than Japan? Japan has dealt with all six powers in good faith in my estimation, and they have proven themselves to be a dependable ally. They have even more to lose than we do, because Kim might actually be able to hit them with his missiles (it is no accident that Kim's missile tests are usually aimed at Japan).

As for the New York Times, the SWIFT story presents a great political opening for prosecutions. It is of great concern that Bill Keller and the Times lack the basic judgement to know when national security trumps the public's right to know - it is of greater concern that some CIA employees lack this basic judgement also. Finally, at long last, at least one of these CIA leakers needs to be prosecuted to set an example. The Department of Justice needs to empanel a Grand Jury to find the leakers - and then prosecute the Times as well, if the law allows it. There simply is no immunity for journalists in this type of case - though a sort of precedent of immunity is being set by a DoJ that until now has done nothing to stop these leaks (Plame, not being a real 'leak' implicating actual national security concerns, is quite beside the point). Our national security is too important for this type of 'immunity' to solidify into ongoing practice. Enough is enough.

My favorite place? It ain't glamorous, it ain't chic, but I love my hometown of Downers Grove, Illinois. I've been around the world, I've seen some crazy stuff, but I always end up at or near my home in the western 'burbs.

That's it kids! Come back next time for another edition of PUNDIT ROUNDTABLE!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 9 July 2006 01:51 PM · Comments (2)

America's Spectacular Economy

Via RealClearPolitics, we find Larry Kudlow making this extraordinary claim:

Did you know that just over the past 11 quarters, dating back to the June 2003 Bush tax cuts, America has increased the size of its entire economy by 20 percent? In less than three years, the U.S. economic pie has expanded by $2.2 trillion, an output add-on that is roughly the same size as the total Chinese economy, and much larger than the total economic size of nations like India, Mexico, Ireland, and Belgium.
The next time someone mentions how great the Chinese economy is doing, tell them that Bush creates that entire economy every three years! It is a staggering accomplishment.

Well, any day now we can expect the press to start gushing about how George W. Bush is one of the greatest presidents ever. After all, his economic achievments have been dwarfing those of Bill Clinton (4.6% unemployment right now, ahem), and the fleeting prosperity of the Clinton dot.com bubble years were reason alone to put Clinton in the pantheon of great or near-great presidents, right?

All the more so for GWB then.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 8 July 2006 10:05 AM · Comments (12)

Bush: We Coulda Shot That Sucker Down

. . . well, what he really said was "I think we had a reasonable chance of shooting it down, at least that's what the military commander has told me," regarding North Korea's recent (abbreviated) missile tests over the Sea of Japan.

Meanwhile, a North Korean spokesman says that they consider any sanctions in the wake of the missile tests as an "an act of war" and that "North Korea will launch a missile at any country that joins such a resolution."

Posted by Ken McCracken · 7 July 2006 07:20 PM · Comments (3)

Al-Qaeda Training Manual Found In Iraq

The document, apparently written before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, could bolster the Bush administration's contention that Saddam Hussein was providing support for Islamic extremists who were plotting against America.

The training manual warns, in stark how-to terms, of the dangers of "information leaks," and instructs Arab operatives inside Afghanistan to dress like Afghan tribesmen, to avoid being followed ("Routine is the enemy of security"), to always be armed, and "to behave as if enemies would strike at any moment."

Haven't we been told ad infinitum that Islamic extremists would never cooperate with 'secular' Ba'athists?

Isn't that idea sounding sillier and sillier all the time?

Posted by Ken McCracken · 6 July 2006 06:37 AM · Comments (14)

Rails To Sikkim . . . ?

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Click to see a larger map of the entire subcontinent region.

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Now that China has completed its rail link to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, it has further plans to extend the rail line to the disputed Sino-Sikkim border region. Some Indians are concerned that Delhi is napping on this issue, and have failed to push infrastructure into this remote region. Sikkim is occupied by India, and China has had long-standing claims to it as part of Tibet, and invaded this region in 1962 in the Sino-Indian War. Relations have thawed on this issue however, and China may be on the verge of officially recognizing Sikkim as part of India.

You have to pardon my blogging on this issue - I have been to Nepal and Ladakh in India, and have a fascination with Tibetan culture. This is one of the most mysterious and exotic regions of the world, and the Himalayas are just stunning as you can imagine.

Reserve your tickets now!

P.S. I forgot to mention that trade has now opened up along the old Silk Road between China and Sikkim.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 6 July 2006 02:22 AM · Comments (1)

Ken Lay Dies Of Heart Attack At 64

Enron's former chief executive was to be sentenced this October.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 5 July 2006 09:54 AM · Comments (8)

Ever Seen A Wooden Bike . . . ?

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Charles Johnson at LGF gave me permission to post this pic, which I wanted to do because of the novelty of this item.

Plus, look at the design of it - very nice sort of an art-deco-meets-Buck-Rogers feel to it. Probably not very practical, but certainly unique!

Update: and then Randomscrub shows us this . . .

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Not as stylish as its cousin above, but certainly more power!

Posted by Ken McCracken · 5 July 2006 09:08 AM · Comments (3)

Sy Hersh Runs Interference For The Mullahs

Seymour Hersh, in an article entitled 'Last Stand' posted today in The New Yorker, claims that Pentagon sources believe the U.S. cannot destroy Iran's nuclear program:

Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President’s plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.

A crucial issue in the military’s dissent, the officers said, is the fact that American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities; the war planners are not sure what to hit. “The target array in Iran is huge, but it’s amorphous,” a high-ranking general told me. “The question we face is, When does innocent infrastructure evolve into something nefarious?” The high-ranking general added that the military’s experience in Iraq, where intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed, has affected its approach to Iran. “We built this big monster with Iraq, and there was nothing there. This is son of Iraq,” he said. [emphasis added].

This screed by the great wizard Seymour Hersh, with his magical anonymous sources that for some reason never want to talk to anyone else, is completely contradicted by what we know about the Iranian nuclear program. The Iranians, far from denying that they are enriching uranium, have proudly announced that fact. Inspection teams from the IAEA have had extensive looks at the Iranian nuclear program, and have reported their findings - the Iranian nuclear program is not some phantom that might not actually exist. The IAEA has even reported finding trace amounts of highly enriched uranium in Iran. This just doesn't happen on its own. And the IAEA knows exactly where this enrichment is taking place.

Hersh seems to be trying to forge a new meme here: that no WMDs in Iraq turned up (untrue) and likewise no WMDs will turn up in Iran, so it is folly to contemplate an attack. As enticing a line of logic this is for the anti-war types, the obvious weight of evidence against it coupled with Hersh's lack of credibility will likely prevent even this idea from taking flight.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 3 July 2006 10:23 AM · Comments (5)

Mexican Election Is A Photo Finish

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As predicted, the Mexican presidential election is very, very close, and it appears that Felipe Calderon has a slight edge, with 37.1 percent over Andres Manuel López Obrador's 36.1 percent, and 80 percent of polling places reporting so far.

Candidate Roberto Madrazo, of the once-mighty PRI is a distant third. Vincente Fox threw his support behind Calderon.

López Obrador's followers are already claiming fraud and Operador vowed - "We will defend our victory . . . I want the Mexican people to know that our figures show we won."

The independent federal electoral institute is supposed to announce a winner on Wednesday.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 3 July 2006 04:48 AM · Comments (1)

Rails To Lhasa

China has finally finished a railway line to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in what is now the world's highest railroad, and now the trains are rolling:

The first of an expected 4,000 passengers a day will set off from the Chinese capital at 9.30am on a 48-hour journey to Lhasa. They will travel across mountain passes, alpine deserts and the vast plains of the Qinghai plateau. Some are likely to require oxygen, which will be available under the seats, because of the thin air.

At its highest, the railway hits an altitude of 5,072 metres (16,604ft), higher than any European mountain peak and more than 200 metres higher than Peru's railway in the Andes - previously the world's highest. The Chinese track, which cost 34bn yuan (£2.4bn), was completed a year ahead of schedule despite the permafrost under much of its route.

The Dalai Lama has cautiously approved of the line, but notes the danger of 'cultural genocide' that may be more likely now that the rail line is completed. Or . . . it could increase tourism that can highlight the Tibetans' plight, and open a door to the world from this previously isolated region through which an increased prosperity and communication becomes possible, actually aiding some kind of autonomy.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 1 July 2006 01:05 PM · Comments (5)