Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Brigadier John Platt pictured in 1944 after he was given the DSO by King George. He would suffer indignity many years later at the hands of Salisbury District Hospital
A dying 101-year-old war hero was sent home from hospital by taxi wearing only a nappy and a set of ill-fitting pyjamas.
Brigadier John Platt, who won the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery in battle, was left ‘degraded and humiliated’ by his treatment by Salisbury District Hospital, his family say.
Brig Platt had spend five days on a mixed-sex ward during which his hearing aid was stepped on and crushed, his false teeth went missing and his soiled pyjamas were piled up in a locker by his bed for the duration.
He was unable to feed himself and was discharged in an incontinent and confused state, clutching a bag of his dirty clothes.
Brig Platt, who took part in one of the fiercest battles of the Italian campaign during the Second World War, died several days after his hour-long journey home to Morpeth, in Northumberland.
His daughter-in-law Amanda described his treatment as ‘disgraceful’.
She added: ‘All that he had at the end of his 101 years was his dignity and they took that away from him.
‘You just don’t do that to people … I was so furious. I think respect in that situation is the same as compassion.
‘I just can’t believe that any hospital would keep excrement-covered clothing in a locker for five days. I got the impression this lack of attention must be endemic because it was so lightly treated.’
Brig Platt was awarded the DSO for bravery after leading men of the 2nd Bn, the Somerset Light Infantry, in an assault across the Gargliano River in May 1944.
He was wounded twice during the operation.
Hero: Brig Platt pictured at his 100th birthday party. At the age of 101, he was sent home from hospital wearing only a nappy and ill-fitting pyjamas
Mrs Platt said: ‘Everybody’s got to die. He was obviously going to die and he wanted to die.
‘It wasn’t because he was a heavily decorated soldier – but I felt they didn’t acknowledge he was an old man of 101 who deserved respect.’
In a statement, the hospital said: ‘Some aspects of Brig Platt’s discharge from hospital in 2006 were unacceptable and the trust apologises for any distress that this has caused.’
By Noel Sheppard (Bio Archive)December 31, 2008 - 11:38 ET
Comedienne Roseanne Barr called Israel a "NAZI state" Tuesday, while declaring "The destruction of the jews [sic] in Israel has been assured with this inhuman attack on civilians in gaza [sic]."
She also liked Hamas to a bunch of street gangs while depicting Israel's military action "equivilent to los angeles [sic] attacking and launching war on the people of watts [sic] to attempt to kill the bloods [sic] the crips [sic]."
Such was actually posted at her blog Roseanne World Tuesday.
The entire disgraceful rant is below the fold for those that can stand it (h/t Mere Rhetoric):
I said Israel will attack any boat carrying doctors and medical supplies--they have turned away the red cross already and all medical and food assistance. Israel is a NAZI state. The Jewish Soul is being tortured in Israel. The destruction of the jews in Israel has been assured with this inhuman attack on civilians in gaza. Hamas is the street gangs---this is equivilent to los angeles attacking and launching war on the people of watts to attempt to kill the bloods and the crips.
You know what's most amazing about this? Much of her Hollywood friends -- along with the vast majority of like-minded Netroot denizens -- silently -- and, for the latter, not so silently! -- agree with her.
Dec. 25, 2008Caroline Glick , THE JERUSALEM POST
Both Iran and its Hamas proxy in Gaza have been busy this Christmas week showing Christendom just what they think of it. But no one seems to have noticed.
On Tuesday, Hamas legislators marked the Christmas season by passing a Shari'a criminal code for the Palestinian Authority. Among other things, it legalizes crucifixion. (my emphasis)
Hamas's endorsement of nailing enemies of Islam to crosses came at the same time it renewed its jihad. Here, too, Hamas wanted to make sure that Christians didn't feel neglected as its fighters launched missiles at Jewish day care centers and schools. So on Wednesday, Hamas lobbed a mortar shell at the Erez crossing point into Israel just as a group of Gazan Christians were standing on line waiting to travel to Bethlehem for Christmas.
While Hamas joyously renewed its jihad against Jews and Christians, its overlords in Iran also basked in jihadist triumphalism. The source of Teheran's sense of ascendancy this week was Britain's Channel 4 network's decision to request that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad give a special Christmas Day address to the British people. Ahmadinejad's speech was supposed to be a response to Queen Elizabeth II's traditional Christmas Day address to her subjects. That is, Channel 4 presented his message as a reasonable counterpoint to the Christmas greetings of the head of the Church of England.
Channel 4 justified its move by proclaiming that it was providing a public service. As a spokesman told The Jerusalem Post, "We're offering [Ahmadinejad] the chance to speak for himself, which people in the West don't often get the chance to see."
While that sounds reasonable, the fact is that Westerners see Ahmadinejad speaking for himself all the time. They saw him at the UN two years in a row as he called for the countries of the world to submit to Islam; claimed that Iran's nuclear weapons program is divinely inspired; and castigated Jews as subhuman menaces to humanity.
They saw him gather leading anti-Semites from all over the world at his Holocaust denial conference.
They heard him speak in his own words when he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
And of course, over the years Ahmadinejad has often communicated directly to the British people. For instance, in 2007 he received unlimited airtime on UK television as he paraded kidnapped British sailors and marines in front of television cameras; forced them to make videotaped "confessions" of their "crime" of entering Iranian territorial waters; and compelled them to grovel at his knee and thank him for "forgiving" them.
The British people listened to Ahmadinejad as he condemned Britain as a warmongering nation after its leaders had surrendered Basra to Iranian proxies. They heard him - speaking in his own voice - when he announced that in a gesture of Islamic mercy, he was freeing their humiliated sailors and marines in honor of Muhammad's birthday and Easter, and then called on all Britons to convert to Islam.
Yet as far as Channel 4 is concerned, Ahmadinejad is still an unknown quantity for most Britons. So they asked him to address the nation on Christmas. And not surprisingly, in his address, he attacked their way of life and co-opted their Jewish savior, Jesus, saying, "If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers."
He then reiterated his call for non-Muslims to convert to Islam saying, "The solution to today's problems can be found in a return to the call of the divine prophets."
THE FACT of the matter is that Channel 4 is right. There is a great deal of ignorance in the West about what the likes of Ahmadinejad and his colleagues in Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas stand for. But this isn't their fault. They tell us every day that they seek the destruction of the Jews and the domination of the West in the name of Islam. And every day they take actions that they believe advance their goals.
The reason that the West remains ignorant of the views and goals of the likes of Hamas and Iran is not that the latter have hidden their views and goals. It is because the leading political leaders and foreign policy practitioners in the West refuse to listen to them and deny the significance of their actions.
As far as the West's leaders are concerned, Iran and its allies are unimportant. They are not actors, but objects. As far as the West's leading foreign policy "experts" and decision-makers are concerned, the only true actors on the global stage are Western powers. They alone have the power to shape reality and the world. Oddly enough, this dominant political philosophy, which is based on denying the existence of non-Western actors on the world stage, is referred to as political "realism."
The "realist" view was given clear expression this week by one of the "realist" clique's most prominent members. In an op-ed published Tuesday in Canada's Globe and Mail titled, "We must talk Iran out of the bomb," Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that given the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the dangers of a US or Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear installations, the incoming Obama administration must hold direct negotiations with the mullahs to convince them to end their nuclear weapons program.
In making this argument, Haass ignores the fact that this has been the Bush administration's policy for the past five years. He also ignores the fact that President George W. Bush adopted this policy at the urging of Haass's "realist" colleagues and at the urging of Haass himself.
Moreover, Haass bizarrely contends that in negotiating with the mullahs, the Obama administration should offer Iran the same package of economic and political payoffs that the Bush administration and the EU have been offering, and Teheran has been rejecting, since 2003.
Even more disturbingly, Haass ignores the fact that Teheran made its greatest leaps forward in its uranium enrichment capabilities while it was engaged in these talks with the West.
So in making his recommendation to the Obama administration - which has already announced its intention to negotiate with the mullahs - Haass has chosen to ignore Iran's statements, its actions, and known facts about the West's inability to steer it from its course of war by showering it with pay-offs.
Haass and his colleagues in the US, Europe and on the Israeli Left are similarly unwilling to pay attention to Hamas. In an article in the current edition of Foreign Affairs, Haass and his colleague Martin Indyk from the Brookings Institute call on the Obama administration to either ignore Hamas, or, if it abides by a cease-fire with Israel, they suggest that the Obama administration should support a joint Hamas-Fatah government and "authorize low-level contact between US officials and Hamas." The fact that Hamas itself is wholly dedicated to Israel's destruction and Islamic global domination is irrelevant.
Similarly, Haass and Indyk assume that Damascus can be appeased into abandoning its support for Hizbullah and Hamas, and its strategic alliance with Iran. Syrian President Bashar Assad's views of how his interests are best served are unimportant. Both Assad's statements of eternal friendship with Iran and his active involvement in Iran's war effort against the US and its allies in Israel, Iraq and Lebanon are meaningless. The "realists" know what he really wants.
MUSLIMS AREN'T the only ones whose views and actions are dismissed as irrelevant by these foreign policy wise men. The "realists" ignore just about every non-Western actor. Take Iran's principal Asian ally, North Korea, for example.
This week North Korea's official news agency threatened to destroy South Korea in a "sea of fire," and "reduce everything treacherous and anti-reunification to debris and build an independent, reunified country on it," if any country dares to attack its nuclear installations.
North Korea made its threat two weeks after Kim Jung Il's regime disengaged from its fraudulent disarmament talks with the Bush administration. Those talks - the brainchild of foreign policy "realists" Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill - were based on the "realist" belief that the US can appease North Korea into giving up its nuclear arsenal. (That would be the same nuclear arsenal that the North Koreans built while engaged in fraudulent disarmament talks with the Clinton administration.)
After Pyongyang agreed in February 2007 to eventually come clean on its plutonium installations (but not its uranium enrichment programs), and to account for its nuclear arsenal (but not for its proliferation activities), Rice convinced President Bush to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terror and to end its subjection to the US's Trading with the Enemy Act this past October. And then, after securing those massive US concessions, on December 11 Pyongyang renounced its commitments, walked away from the table and now threatens to destroy South Korea if anyone takes any action against it.
North Korea's behavior is of no interest to the "realists," however. As far as they are concerned, the US has no option other than to continue the failed appeasement policy that has enabled North Korea to develop and proliferate nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. As the Council on Foreign Relations' Gary Samore said, "I think we're sort of condemned to that process, because we don't really have any alternative."
Samore and his colleagues believe there are no other options because all other options involve placing responsibility for contending with North Korea on non-Western powers like China, South Korea and Japan. More radically, they involve holding North Korea accountable for its actions and making it pay a price for its poor behavior.
As the "realists" claim that the US has no option other than their failed appeasement policies, back in the real world, this week military officials from the US's Pacific Command warned that North Korea may supply Iran with intercontinental ballistic missiles. These warnings are credible given that North Korea has been the primary supplier of ballistic missiles and missile technology to Iran and Syria and has played a major role in both countries' nuclear weapons programs.
Defending Channel 4's invitation to Ahmadinejad, Dorothy Byrne, the network's head of news and current affairs, said, "As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."
When you think about it, broadcasting Ahmadinejad really would have been a public service if Byrne or any of the delusional "realists" calling the shots were remotely interested in listening to what he has to say. But they aren't. So far from a public service for Britain, it was a service for those who, unbeknownst to most Britons, are dedicated to destroying their country.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Much of the world's response is a false moral equivalence that simply encourages the terrorists.
By Alan M. Dershowitz
from the December 31, 2008 edition
Cambridge, Mass. - Israel's decision to take military action against Hamas rocket attacks targeting its civilian population has been long in coming. I vividly recall a visit my wife and I took to the Israeli city of Sderot on March 20 of this year. Over the past four years, Palestinian terrorists – in particular, Hamas and Islamic Jihad – have fired more than 2,000 rockets at this civilian area, which is home to mostly poor and working-class people.
The rockets are designed exclusively to maximize civilian deaths, and some have barely missed schoolyards, kindergartens, hospitals, and school buses. But others hit their targets, killing more than a dozen civilians since 2001, including in February 2008 a father of four who had been studying at the local university. These anticivilian rockets have also injured and traumatized countless children.
The residents of Sderot were demanding that their nation take action to protect them. But Israel's postoccupation military options were limited, since Hamas deliberately fires its deadly rockets from densely populated urban areas, and the Israeli army has a strict policy of trying to avoid civilian casualties.
The firing of rockets at civilians from densely populated civilian areas is the newest tactic in the war between terrorists who love death and democracies that love life. The terrorists have learned how to exploit the morality of democracies against those who do not want to kill civilians, even enemy civilians.
The attacks on Israeli citizens have little to do with what Israel does or does not do. They have everything to do with an ideology that despises – and openly seeks to destroy – the Jewish state. Consider that rocket attacks increased substantially after Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, and they accelerated further after Hamas seized control last year.
In the past months, a shaky cease-fire, organized by Egypt, was in effect. Hamas agreed to stop the rockets and Israel agreed to stop taking military action against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. The cease-fire itself was morally dubious and legally asymmetrical.
Israel, in effect, was saying to Hamas: If you stop engaging in the war crime of targeting our innocent civilians, we will stop engaging in the entirely lawful military acts of targeting your terrorists. Under the cease-fire, Israel reserved the right to engage in self-defense actions such as attacking terrorists who were in the course of firing rockets at its civilians.
Just before the hostilities began, Israel reopened a checkpoint to allow humanitarian aid to reenter Gaza. It had closed the point of entry after it had been targeted by Gazan rockets. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, also issued a stern, final warning to Hamas that unless it stopped the rockets, there would be a full-scale military response. The Hamas rockets continued and Israel kept its word, implementing a carefully prepared targeted air attack against Hamas targets.
On Sunday, I spoke to the air force general, now retired, who worked on the planning of the attack. He told me of the intelligence and planning that had gone into preparing for the contingency that the military option might become necessary. The Israeli air force had pinpointed with precision the exact locations of Hamas structures in an effort to minimize civilian casualties.
Even Hamas sources have acknowledged that the vast majority of those killed have been Hamas terrorists, though some civilian casualties are inevitable when, as BBC's Rushdi Abou Alouf – who is certainly not pro-Israel – reported, "The Hamas security compounds are in the middle of the city." Indeed, his home balcony was just 20 meters away from a compound he saw bombed.
There have been three types of international response to the Israeli military actions against the Hamas rockets. Not surprisingly, Iran, Hamas, and other knee-jerk Israeli-bashers have argued that the Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians are entirely legitimate and that the Israeli counterattacks are war crimes.
Equally unsurprising is the response of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and others who, at least when it comes to Israel, see a moral and legal equivalence between terrorists who target civilians and a democracy that responds by targeting the terrorists.
And finally, there is the United States and a few other nations that place the blame squarely on Hamas for its unlawful and immoral policy of using its own civilians as human shields, behind whom they fire rockets at Israeli civilians.
The most dangerous of the three responses is not the Iranian-Hamas absurdity, which is largely ignored by thinking and moral people, but the United Nations and European Union response, which equates the willful murder of civilians with legitimate self-defense pursuant to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
This false moral equivalence only encourages terrorists to persist in their unlawful actions against civilians. The US has it exactly right by placing the blame on Hamas, while urging Israel to do everything possible to minimize civilian casualties.
• Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School. His latest book is "The Case Against Israel's Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace."
'Zombie' driver warning over call for introduction of car speed-limiting devices
By John Vinocur
Monday, December 29, 2008
AMSTERDAM: Two years ago, the Dutch could quietly congratulate themselves on having brought what seemed to be a fair measure of consensus and reason to the meanest intersection in their national political life: the one where integration of Muslim immigrants crossed Dutch identity.
In the run-up to choosing a new government in 2006, just 24 percent of the voters considered the issue important, and only 4 percent regarded it as the election's central theme.
What a turnabout, it seemed - and whatever the reason (spent passions, optimism, resignation?), it was a soothing respite for a country whose history of tolerance was the first in 21st-century Europe to clash with the on-street realities of its growing Muslim population.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the Netherlands had lived through something akin to a populist revolt against accommodating Islamic immigrants led by Pim Fortuyn, who was later murdered; the assassination of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, accused of blasphemy by a homegrown Muslim killer; and the bitter departure from the Netherlands of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali woman who became a member of Parliament before being marked for death for her criticism of radical Islam.
Now something fairly remarkable is happening again.
Two weeks ago, the country's biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch "tolerance."
It came at the same time Nicolas Sarkozy was making a case in France for greater opportunities for minorities that also contained an admission that the French notion of equality "doesn't work anymore."
But there was a difference. If judged on the standard scale of caution in dealing with cultural clashes and Muslims' obligations to their new homes in Europe, the language of the Dutch position paper and Lilianne Ploumen, Labor's chairperson, was exceptional.
The paper said: "The mistake we can never repeat is stifling criticism of cultures and religions for reasons of tolerance."
Government and politicians had too long failed to acknowledge the feelings of "loss and estrangement" felt by Dutch society facing parallel communities that disregard its language, laws and customs.
Newcomers, according to Ploumen, must avoid "self-designated victimization."
She asserted, "the grip of the homeland has to disappear" for these immigrants who, news reports indicate, also retain their original nationality at a rate of about 80 percent once becoming Dutch citizens.
Instead of reflexively offering tolerance with the expectation that things would work out in the long run, she said, the government strategy should be "bringing our values into confrontation with people who think otherwise."
There was more: punishment for trouble-making young people has to become so effective such that when they emerge from jail they are not automatically big shots, Ploumen said.
For Ploumen, talking to the local media, "The street is mine, too. I don't want to walk away if they're standing in my path.
"Without a strategy to deal with these issues, all discussion about creating opportunities and acceptance of diversity will be blocked by suspicion and negative experience."
And that comes from the heart of the traditional, democratic European left, where placing the onus of compatibility on immigrants never found such comfort before.
It's a point of view that makes reference to work and education as essential, but without the emphasis that they are the single path to integration.
Rather, Labor's line seems to stand on its head the old equation of jobs-plus-education equals integration. Conforming to Dutch society's social standards now comes first. Strikingly, it turns its back on cultural relativism and uses the word emancipation in discussing the process of outsiders' becoming Dutch.
For the Netherlands' Arab and Turkish population (about 6 percent of a total of 16 million) it refers to jobs and educational opportunities as "machines of emancipation." Yet it also suggests that employment and advancement will not come in full measure until there is a consciousness engagement in Dutch life by immigrants that goes far beyond the present level.
Indeed, Ploumen says, "Integration calls on the greatest effort from the new Dutch. Let go of where you come from; choose the Netherlands unconditionally." Immigrants must "take responsibility for this country" and cherish and protect its Dutch essence.
Monday, December 29, 2008
By BY Kim Kreidler Correspondent
Monday, December 29, 2008
To save the earth, the U.S. government might be leaving some people short of breath.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency have banned production, as of Dec. 31, of all inhalers using chlorofluorocarbons to propel medication into people's lungs. CFCs deplete the ozone layer, which protects us from damaging ultraviolet light.
But 40 million Americans rely on inhalers, and not all of them are convinced the new inhalers — which rely on environmentally friendly aerosol hydrofluoroalkane, or HFA — are as medically effective. The new inhalers also cost about $50, more than twice the price of the ozone-depleting versions.
"It works to a certain extent, but not as well," said 19-year-old Delaney Gatz, a Palm City resident diagnosed with asthma at age 6. "I feel like it's a smaller dosage and that the inhaler size itself is not as big."
Dr. Michael Light, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach, has heard similar complaints from his patients, many of whom are from the Treasure Coast. Doctors, including Light, still are researching the effectiveness of the environmentally friendly inhalers.
"If the amount of drug that is being delivered to the lung is not adequate, then clearly the solution is not to switch over from CFC to HFA," Light said. "I think that you have to listen to people when this happens."
That is exactly the battle cry of the National Campaign to Save CFC Inhalers.
With the total ban on CFC inhalers, U.S. lawmakers overreacted to problem of ozone depletion, organization President Art Abramson said. The CFCs eliminated by the inhaler ban will create a small improvement in the ozone layer, but a large problem in the lives of people who need the medications.
So far, the National Campaign to Save CFC Inhalers has collected more than 3,800 signatures. Abramson said that number might triple by the end of the year as pharmacies run out.
"I am a liberal, tree-hugging hippie, card-carrying member of Green Peace and Sierra Club. I care about the Earth. I don't want to see us destroy it," said Christine McKean of Vero Beach, 28, who has cystic fibrosis, another common ailment that requires the use of inhalers. "If I thought that the CFCs in inhalers were a major factor in the destruction of the ozone layer, I might be more against them."
Kim Kreidler is a Florida Atlantic University student working as a correspondent for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers as part of a senior-level journalism course.
"Stalin - born an ethnic Georgian - was riding high for many months and was in the number one slot at one point until the show's producer appealed to viewers to vote for someone else, says the BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow. "
Sunday, December 28, 2008
BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
Starting Monday, hundreds of thousands of descendants of Spaniards who went into political exile around the world will be able to petition for Spanish citizenship under the provisions of a law intended as reparation for past injustices. In Havana, hundreds of people have been standing in line since Thursday outside the Spanish Embassy to obtain the necessary application forms.
Estimates indicate that some 200,000 Cubans on the island could be eligible for Spanish citizenship.
In South Florida, where about 1.3 million naturalized U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin reside, Santiago Cabañas, Spanish Consul General in Miami, said he believes that thousands may petition for citizenship, especially among the Cuban and Venezuelan communities.
It is estimated that 500,000 to one million people around the world could benefit from the so-called ''Law of Grandchildren,'' approved in December of 2007 to grant the rights of citizenship to the descendants of Spaniards who were exiled for political reasons.
Spain's civil war in the 1930s and the ensuing Franco dictatorship sent tens of thousands of Spaniards into exile, especially to Latin American countries such as Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela.
The Spanish consulate in Miami, charged with processing petitions from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, warned potential applicants not to try visiting the consulate first because the initial step of the process is to request an interview through its website,
''It is important that the petitioners know that the first step is to request an appointment online,'' Cabañas said. ``If you don't have an appointment, going to the consulate is a waste of time.''
Venezuela to seize gold concessions as oil falls, Chavez says
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela will seize several gold mining concessions that previous governments granted private operators, in a bid to supplement falling oil prices with proceeds from state-controlled gold, President Hugo Chavez said Saturday.
Chavez named no specific contracts or companies to be affected, but his mining minister has vowed to next year take over the country's largest mine, Las Cristinas, which is operated by Canadian mining company Crystallex International Corp.
"We are taking back some concessions that former governments have given, and whose permits are still held by some rich people," in order to reduce public reliance on oil, Chavez said.
Venezuela relies on oil for 94 per cent of exports and roughly half its federal budget, making it unlikely that its largely undeveloped gold reserves could compete.
But Chavez said Venezuela must "increase the country's income through non-oil exports," including its world-famous cacao and products from recently nationalized steel and cement companies.
Chavez acknowledges that oil prices - down 70 per cent since topping US$147 a barrel in July - will affect Venezuela, but he insists the wealthy will suffer more than the country's poor, who benefit from record social spending programs that he vows to continue.
"Social investment will not be halted," Chavez said Friday. "This, for us, is sacred."
Calls to Crystallex's Toronto headquarters went unanswered Saturday, but a Dec. 11 statement said the company had "received no official communication concerning changes" at Las Cristinas.
Crystallex won a contract to develop the mine in 2002, but was forced to halt construction after Venezuela's environment ministry denied its final permit last May.
Chavez's government nationalized four major oil projects in 2006, and has clashed over permits and labour disputes with several international gold mining companies this year.
Mining operations have not yet begun at Las Cristinas, located in Venezuela's biologically rich Imataca Forest Reserve, which covers 35,000 square kilometres. Environmentalists warn that mining there could upset the delicate ecology.
Venezuela produced roughly 4.3 tonnes of gold in 2007. The country is also rich in diamonds, bauxite and other minerals.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
By Richard Galpin BBC News, Moscow
The former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin may have killed millions of his own people but this weekend he could be chosen by Russians as their greatest-ever countryman.
Inspired by the British competition 100 Greatest Britons, one of Russia's biggest television stations Rossiya has been conducting a nationwide poll for much of this year.
From an original list of 500 candidates now there are just 12 names left from which viewers can select their all-time hero.
The winner will be announced on Sunday.
More than 3.5 million people have already voted and Stalin - born an ethnic Georgian - has been riding high for many months.
In the summer he held the number one slot but was knocked down several places after the producer of the show appealed to viewers to vote for someone else.
Amongst the others on the list are Ivan the Terrible, Lenin, Catherine the Great and Alexander Pushkin.
The fact that Stalin has been doing so well comes as no surprise to members of the Communist Party, which remains one of the biggest political parties in the country.
"Stalin made Russia a superpower and was one of the founders of the coalition against Hitler in World War II," says Sergei Malinkovich, leader of the St Petersburg Communist Party.
"In all opinion polls he comes out on top as the most popular figure. Nobody else comes close. So for his service to this country we can forgive his mistakes."
Not only is Mr Malinkovich prepared to forgive Stalin's "mistakes", he also wants the man who is regarded as one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants of the 20th Century to be made a saint.
As I was interviewing him, he held a small neatly framed icon of Stalin's face.
Last month an Orthodox priest also displayed an icon of Stalin in his church near St Petersburg.
Although he was eventually forced to remove it, he vowed he would not be silenced and went on to describe Stalin as his "father".
Many in Russia do still revere Stalin for his role during World War II when the Soviet Union defeated the forces of Nazi Germany.
But now there is a much broader campaign to rehabilitate Stalin and it seems to be coming from the highest levels of government.
The primary evidence comes in the form of a new manual for history teachers in the country's schools, which says Stalin acted "entirely rationally".
"[The initiative] came from the very top," says the editor of the manual, historian Alexander Danilov.
"I believe it was the idea of former president, now prime minister, Vladimir Putin.
"It fits completely with the political course we have had for the last eight years, which is dedicated to the unity of society."
But the campaign goes further than reinterpreting history for schoolchildren. It is also physical.
Earlier this month, riot police raided the St Petersburg office of one of Russia's best-known human rights organisations, Memorial.
Claiming a possible link with an "extremist" article published in a local newspaper, the police took away 12 computer hard-drives containing the entire digital archive of the atrocities committed under Stalin.
Memorial's St Petersburg office specialises in researching the crimes committed by the Soviet regime.
"It's a huge blow to our organisation," says Irina Flige, the office director.
"This was 20 years' work. We'd been making a universally accessible database with hundreds of thousands of names.
"Maybe this was a warning to scare us?"
Irina Flige believes they were targeted because they are now on the wrong side of a new ideological divide.
The new ideology is "Putinism" which, she says, has evolved over the past two years and is based on a strident form of nationalism.
It seems Russians are to be proud of their history, not ashamed, and so those investigating and cataloguing the atrocities of the past are no longer welcome.
"The official line now is that Stalin and the Soviet regime were successful in creating a great country," says Irina Flige.
"And if the terror of Stalin is justified, then the government today can do what it wants to achieve its aims."
The outrage at what has happened to the Memorial archive spreads beyond Russia's borders.
The British historian Orlando Figes worked with Memorial when he was researching his latest book The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia.
"By conservative estimates 25 million people were repressed in the Soviet Union [under Stalin] between 1928 and 1953," he says.
"That means people executed, arrested and sent to prison camps or turned into slave labourers or deported.
"Virtually every family was affected by repression."
"What we have now [in Russia] effectively is the KGB in power," he adds.
"Opposition forces and awkward historians reminding the Russian population of what the KGB did 50 years ago is inconvenient for these people."
So it seems whoever is voted the country's greatest citizen on Sunday, it is Joseph Stalin who is the biggest winner this year as he is rehabilitated in Russia's brave new world.
Friday, December 26, 2008
By PHIL GUNSONSpecial to The Miami HeraldCARACAS -- The surprise electoral defeat last month of Hugo Chávez's candidate for metropolitan mayor of the capital Caracas -- and the consequent change of city government -- has helped cast light on some of the more unsavory activities that went on under outgoing mayor Juan Barreto.
One result is that a large, though so far undetermined, number of hired gunmen may suddenly be out of a job.
The gunmen, belonging to armed political organizations loyal to the leftist government, are thought to be among some 4,000 city employees who have failed to show up for work since the new mayor, Antonio Ledezma, was sworn in two weeks ago.
''Altogether, we've found more than 9,000 employees on short-term contracts,'' said Richard Blanco, a top city official. ``We're carrying out an investigation to find out who and where they all are.''
According to the new mayor's spokesman, David Pérez Hansen, many of the missing 4,000 worked as bodyguards and motorcycle escorts for leading Chávez supporters, known as chavistas, who had no direct connection with City Hall.
''They include members of parliament,'' Pérez Hansen said.
When Barreto took over the metropolitan authority, in 2004, he put leading members of the Tupamaro urban guerrilla organization in charge of the police.
The Tupamaros are just one of a large number of armed chavista groups based in the 23 de Enero slum district west of the presidential palace.
Plain-clothes gunmen, riding police motorcycles without license plates, immediately began to proliferate in the streets of Caracas.
Control of the police (known as the PM after its initials in Spanish) has now been transferred to the interior ministry, but equipment, including motorcycles and weapons, continues to circulate illegally, officials said.
''More than half the 310 motorcycles assigned to the city authority are still missing,'' incoming Caracas security chief Angel Rangel said. ``The worst thing is that some are alleged to have been used in acts of violence, including robberies.''
Caracas is one of the world's most violent cities, and often sees a couple of dozen murders in a single weekend. Police officers, many of whom are known to have criminal records, are frequently among those accused of the killings.
On Monday, Rangel and his team were ousted from their offices by chavista groups claiming the right to occupy them. Much of the information relating to missing equipment and personnel is now out of their reach. Despite complaints, the national authorities have failed to intervene.
An investigation by The Miami Herald, prior to the change of government, found that some of the chavista gunmen operated out of the Phelps Building, a downtown office block not far from City Hall.
During Barreto's time as mayor, blue Yamaha motorcycles like those used by the PM -- though without license plates -- were usually to be found lined up outside the building. Heavy-set men in civilian clothes, often with police badges and guns, hung around the main entrance.
A close associate of Barreto, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said around 50 were employed by a ''community development coordination body'' set up in October 2005, and based in the Phelps Building.
Their role, the associate said, was political enforcement, ''intelligence work'' and carrying out attacks on the opposition.
''This was also the group that attacked the ambassador,'' he said, referring to an incident in April 2006 in which former U.S. ambassador William Brownfield (now assigned to Colombia) was followed by a gang of motorcyclists who pelted his motorcade with vegetables.
This group was composed of Tupamaros, according to the Barreto associate. But several other 23 de Enero-based groups have also been mentioned in press reports as supplying ''enforcers'' to City Hall during Barreto's time as mayor.
The leader of one of the groups, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed this to The Miami Herald but defended Barreto. He said the policy was, ``more a question of keeping them on the inside so they don't cause so much trouble.''
Julio López Pacheco, who was director of the Metropolitan Police Training Institute at the time, described them as ``quasi-police.''
''I don't agree with it,'' he told The Miami Herald in 2006, ``but I have no influence over that -- the mayor's office is the authority in charge.''
Attempts to reach Barreto for comment on the allegations were not successful. The former mayor has made no public appearance since leaving office, and a message on his cellphone says it has been ``temporarily disconnected.''
City Hall, now in the hands of the opposition, has the feel of a building under siege. Its ground floor is shuttered and the art deco facade splattered with multicolored graffiti.
''We are bad losers,'' is one phrase favored by the graffiti artists. The adjacent Plaza Bolívar has seen acts of violence against opposition activists. Nonetheless, the investigation continues.
On Monday, Richard Blanco, Ledezma's second in command, had a news conference to accuse Barreto's administration of misusing at least $10 million in city funds, paid out for services or equipment that was never delivered.
Blanco declined to estimate how many gunmen, or from which groups, were employed by Barreto, saying his team was still compiling the documentary evidence. ''We will present a report in the next few days,'' he said.
Ironically, the 4,000 missing employees are still entitled to one last payment, under the terms of the contracts signed with the outgoing administration. No one knows how many will show up on New Year's Eve to collect their checks.
September 17, 2005
Harvard hugs a homophobe
Academia never learns. The more outrageous the 'educator,' the more likely he is to turn up at some place like Harvard. This storied institution has taken it over the top, though, by inviting in an authentic thug from Venezuela to "educate" its students. It's no exaggeration to call him that — what else can anyone call a man who chased another man around at Caracas airport with a smashed booze bottle ripped away from the duty—free, to retaliate against a protestor? It's on film.
Today, he's lecturing students at Harvard .
Who is this thug? Why, one of the mayors of Caracas, a guy named Juan Barreto, known for his loyalty to Marxist—Leninist dictator Hugo Chavez, in addition to his utterly 'third—world' lack of self—control reminiscent of dictatorships in the 1970s, or in any case, someone only V.S. Naipaul could do justice to. He sounds just perfect for present—day Harvard.
He's more than a rough guy who can't control himself, though, he is also a rabid homophobe who continually yells about gays. He's been caught on tape screaming about 'patiquines maricones' — derisive vulgar Spanish words for gay people, against his political opponents. It sounds a little odd, because anti—gay sentiment is something often associated with the 'religious right' in the U.S. and based on arguments over laws.
It's different in Venezuela, where it's used to assault people. There, it's an intolerance based on repression and deeply rooted in the culture of Chavismo. Barreto hurls accusations of 'maricon' against people he politically opposes. Some Venezuelans speculate that Barreto is so vehement he seems like an angry closeted gay.
He certainly has a dehumanized view of women — he publicly called women 'animals who bleed once a month.' One wonders how that would go over at the school that raked president Larry Summers over the coals for mere speculation about mental differences between men and women. Barreto's remarks are those of a stone—cold misogynist and theoretically consistent with those of a angry closeted gay. It wouldn't be the first time — this strange culture was prevalent among the Marxist Sandinistas of Nicaragua in the 1980s.
Barreto's also a fan of 'naming names.' As mayor of Caracas, he's launched a 'Plan Barreto' program to force local taxi drivers in Caracas to formally train as spies in an 'intelligence network' informing on their riders. To 'defend the revolution' or quite possibly collect information about their personal lives. His idea is not going down well in Caracas.
What is most incredible is that Harvard wants a maniac of this distinction now to lecture them. His hatred of President Bush (Barreto recently announced he was going to 'corral' Bush) and the U.S. is evidently so strong a plus for Harvard that violent personal behavior and rabid homophobia are excusable, evidently. Is this really something that will please the state Barney Frank represents? Do Harvard's many gay organizations know about this? Or does being an enemy of the U.S. permit anti—gay ravings?
This grotesque spectacle at Harvard today is the handiwork of the Venezuelan Information Office, which is Marxist Venezuela's propaganda arm. Staffed by former Global Exchangers, they've put on quite a 'people—to—people' friendship show in Boston this week, spreading disinformation about Venezuela being a wonderful friend and via Citgo, investor to the U.S. — a bizarre sales effort given Hugo Chavez's recent ravings AGAINST Citgo for exactly those reasons. Congressman Bill Delahunt happily propaganized on Chavez's behalf this week, but a more serious retort about the Chavez claims, by a serious—minded Venezuelan can be read here.
A.M. Mora y Leon 03 17 05
Thursday, December 25, 2008
For the second night running unrest broke out in the Stockholm suburb of Tensta. A massive police presence managed to gain control of the situation in the early hours of Christmas Eve.
The Local reported on Tuesday that the fire service had come under attack from stone-throwing youths in the predominantly immigrant-occupied area of Tensta in north west Stockholm on Monday evening. When police units arrived at the scene youngsters were found to have set fire to car tyres, rubbish bins and a skip.Jannes Hedlund at Stockholm county police described Tuesday's rioting as in principle a repeat of the events of the night before. "Among other things they had set fire to a skip and thrown a Molotov cocktail at a police vehicle," Hedlund said.The police were prepared for the possibility of renewed unrest and had deployed eight specially trained units to the area. Hedlund said that he believed that similar preparations were in force for any potential trouble on Christmas Eve. Several cars were also set alight in Vårberg in southern Stockholm, although local police were not connecting the incidents to the unrest in Tensta
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Sand on roads worse than salt, environmentalists say
By Susan Kelleher and Warren Cornwall Seattle Times reporters
Sand — one of Seattle's main weapons against icy streets — is more likely to harm aquatic life than the salt the city refuses to use out of concern for its environmental effects.
That's the opinion of scientists who have studied the issue and officials from other cities that use salt to clear icy roads.
Seattle doesn't use salt, an effective ice-buster used widely by other cities and the state Department of Transportation, because of environmental concerns.
Since last Thursday, Seattle has sprinkled more than 6,000 tons of sand on city streets and this week ordered 700 more tons for storage.
Instead of clearing major roads, Seattle aims to create a "hard-packed" snow surface suitable for all-wheel and four-wheel-drive vehicles, and front-wheel-drive vehicles with chains. The packed snow is then sprinkled with sand and sprayed with de-icer.
The strategy failed to clear ice from many streets, leaving drivers struggling to navigate this week. More snow was expected overnight.
Richard Sheridan, of the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the city is less concerned about sand because the streets are swept once the snow is gone. Seattle has not used salt since the mid-1990s, he said, because it corrodes metal bridges and "degrades" the marine environment. But he could not say which areas the city is concerned about.
Sheridan said sand is more environmentally friendly than salt, but scientists say sand damages waterways by clogging the spaces in gravel where insects live, making it hard for them to cling to rocks. Insects, a key part of the food chain, are an indicator of stream health.
Melting snow dilutes salt
Salt is less an issue because melting snow dilutes it, according to two scientists who studied effects of road salting on aquatic life.
"In general, what my colleagues have found, and I have found, is that sand actually has a greater impact, at least on stream systems," said University of Dayton (Ohio) professor Eric Benbow, an aquatic ecologist. "Sand's the problem, as much as people don't want to recognize it."
Canadian studies on road salting in the late 1990s found potential impacts on groundwater, roadside plants and creatures in streams near roads where large amounts of salt were used.
In a place such as Seattle, where salt is used infrequently, Benbow said he couldn't imagine the concentrations getting high enough to do any harm.
Doug Myers, of the environmental group People for Puget Sound, said salt on city streets would not likely impact saltwater in the Sound. He said he is concerned about the impact on creeks that feed the Sound because they may contain species sensitive to salt or creatures already compromised by toxic chemicals. The group has not taken a position on the use of sand, he said.
Seattle's aversion to salt is shared by Bellevue and Spokane, which use chemical de-icers.
Judy Johnson, Bellevue's street-maintenance superintendent, said the city used nothing to clear icy streets for a while. But the streets were too slick, so the city started using calcium chloride, which contains a rust inhibitor to protect cars.
"We needed something in the toolbox for ice, for safety reasons," Johnson said, noting the decision to use chemicals was driven in part by concerns about the harm from sand.
"It's a balancing act," she said. "You don't want to use a lot of any of this stuff. It's all got environmental effects."
Tacoma uses a saltwater brine before and after it snows, then follows up with a mixture of salt and sand. It has used 2,000 tons of the salt and sand mixture already this year.
Environmental concerns about salt haven't garnered a lot of attention in Tacoma, but community-relations manager Rob McNair-Huff said sand is actually of larger concern. "It both clogs up the drainage systems and can be damaging as far as the habitats of macroinvertebrates [insects] and salmon," he said.
Everett has tried several products, but its standby is an 8-to-1 mix of sand and salt, said Kate Reardon, the city's spokeswoman. Since the city's drainage is treated in combined sewers or detention ponds, it doesn't drain directly to the Sound, she said. Vancouver, B.C., also uses salt and sand.
Decisions about snow clearance are influenced as much by social, financial and political concerns as by science, said Mark Devries, chairman of the winter-maintenance committee for the American Public Works Association, a professional organization.
Budgets play big role
"We're driven by our budgets, we're driven by the level of service we're expected to give and we're driven by what's available to us in our areas," said Devries, the maintenance supervisor for McHenry County, Ill.
Professor Wilfrid Nixon, a winter-highway-maintenance expert at the University of Iowa College of Engineering, said salt is the best ice-buster around and that using it should be weighed against the environmental costs of other measures.
Plows burn more fuel when they have to plow more, and accidents caused by icy roads have environmental consequences, too, he said.
"Every crash in the winter is an environmental disaster," Nixon said. "You have spills of engine oil, gas, coolant. ... It may not be hundreds of miles of road, but the effect is intensely local."
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The experimental program, scheduled to start this spring, would make SFO the first airport in the nation - possibly the world - to offer fliers the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets.
"We'd like people to stop and consider the impacts of flying," said Steve McDougal, executive vice president for 3Degrees, a San Francisco firm that sells renewable-energy and carbon-reduction investments and is teaming up with the airport and the city on the project. "Obviously, people need to fly sometimes. No one expects them to stop, but they should consider taking steps to reduce their impacts."
San Francisco's Airport Commission has authorized the program, which will involve a $163,000 investment from SFO, but is still working out the details with 3Degrees. Because of that, McDougal said, he can't yet discuss specifics, such as the cost to purchase carbon offsets and what programs would benefit from travelers' purchases.
But the general idea, officials said, is that a traveler would approach a kiosk resembling the self-service check-in stations used by airlines, then punch in his or her destination. The computer would calculate the carbon footprint and the cost of an investment to offset the damage. The traveler could then swipe a credit card to help save the planet. Travelers would receive a printed receipt listing the projects benefiting from their environmental largesse.
The carbon offsets are not tax deductible, said Krista Canellakis, a 3Degrees spokeswoman.
"While the carbon offsets purchased at kiosks can't be seen or touched, they are an actual product with a specific environmental claim whose ownership is transferred at the time of purchase," she said.
Mike McCarron, airport spokesman, said the projects offered will be chosen by the mayor's office, in conjunction with 3Degrees, from a list certified by the city's Environment Department. Airport Director John Martin told the commission that projects could include renewable energy ventures in developing countries, agriculture and organic waste capture, coal mine methane capture, and sustainable forestry.
Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, said a portion of each offset purchase would go to the San Francisco Carbon Fund, which supports local projects such as energy-efficiency programs and solar panel installations for low-income housing, as well as efforts to convert waste oils into biodiesel fuels.
The cost of offsets for SFO travelers is still being negotiated, McDougal said, but figures on the company's Web-based "carbon calculator" suggest that a two-hour trip uses about 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person, and the cost to offset that would be about $4. Offsetting a trip to Europe would cost $36.
"It's definitely not going to double your ticket or anything," he said. "It's going to end up being a small percentage of your total airfare."
Under the agreement, the airport will provide the kiosks and 3Degrees will supply the software and the certified carbon offsets being sold and will operate the program. Kiosks will be placed throughout the airport, with locations at the customer service desk in Terminal 3 and two wings of the International Terminal. 3Degrees will get 30 percent of each purchase, with the rest going to carbon-reduction projects. The agreement calls for a one-year program, with a possible extension.
"The carbon kiosks will not only reduce global warming," Ballard said, "they will serve an educational function. It's something interesting to do while you're killing time at the airport."
Given the innovative nature of the venture, airport officials said they don't expect 3Degrees will turn a profit - at least not at the outset. McDougal said it's impossible to predict how many passengers will want to make what is essentially a voluntary contribution to compensate for the impacts of their air travel. But he hopes the program takes off.
"Hopefully, it will be successful," he said. "But if we just have a lot of people stop and read the information and think about it, that's something we've accomplished."
For decades the government has done things to help Americans to realize the
dream, e.g., graciously allowing citizens to keep some of their own money to
help pay for the interest on a mortgage (the official term for this is a “tax
deduction,” but I prefer my locution since it emphasizes the fact that it is
YOUR MONEY we are talking about).
But what about people who do not work hard (if they work at all)? What
about people who have not saved up for a down payment? What about people who do not pay their bills on time (if they pay them at all)? Why shouldn’t they get to
live the American dream?
That was the question that led to (drum roll, please)
“The Community Reinvestment Act” (see here for more).
* The original Community Reinvestment Act was signed into law in 1977
by Jimmy Carter. Its purpose, in a nutshell, was to require banks to provide
credit to “under-served populations,” i.e., those with poor credit.
The buzz word was “affordable mortgages,” e.g., mortgages with low teaser-rates, which required the borrower to put no money down, which required the borrower to pay only the interest for a set number of years, etc.
* In 1995, Bill Clinton’s administration made various changes to the
CRA, increasing “access to mortgage credit for inner city and distressed rural
communities,” i.e., it provided for the securitization, i.e. public underwriting, of what everyone now calls “sub-prime mortgages.” Bottom line? It forced banks to issue something on the order of $1.5 trillion in sub-prime mortgages.
$1.5 trillion, i.e., one and a half thousand billion dollars in sub-prime,i.e., risky, mortgages, in order to push this latest example of social engineering.
But wait: how did it force banks to do this? Easy. Introduce a federal
requirement that banks make the loans or face penalties. As Howard Husock,
writing in City Journal way back in 2000 observed:
“Bank examiners would use federal home-loan data, broken down by neighborhood,
income group, and race, to rate banks on performance. There would be no more A’s
for effort. Only results—specific loans, specific levels of service—would count.” Way back in 1994, for example, Barack Obama sued Citibank on behalf of a
client who charged that the bank “systematically denied mortgages to African-American applicants and others from minority neighborhoods.”
* In 1997, Bear Stearns –- O firm of blessed memory –- was the first to
get onto the sub-prime gravy train.
* Fannie Mae & Freddy Mac — were there near the beginning, too.
Anatomy of a bubble
Step 1. The intoxication: “My house is worth millions!” From 1995 -
2005, the number of sub-prime mortgages skyrocket. So did the house
Step 2. The hangover: “Oh my God, my house isn’t selling. What went
Why didn’t someone try to stop it?
Someone did: “The Bush administration today recommended the most significant
regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan
crisis a decade ago,” The New York Times, September 11, 2003.
But someone intervened to stymie the Bush administration. Who? The New
York Times reports:
Supporters of the companies said efforts to regulate the lenders tightly under those agencies might diminish their ability to finance loans for lower-income families. . . . “These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. “The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”
Why didn’t someone else ring the alarm?
Someone else did. In 2005, John McCain co-sponsored the “Federal Housing
Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act,” which among other things provided for
more oversight of Freddie & Fannie. The bill didn’t pass. Guess who blocked
it? The bill was reintroduced in 2007. But again, no luck. Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac had friends in the Senate:
* Chris Dodd, a recipient of “sweetheart” loans from a Freddie and Fannie backed company.
* The junior senator from Illinois, i.e., Barack Obama, who turned to Jim Johnson, former head (1991-1998) of Fannie Mae, to help advise him on whom to pick for the vice-presidential slot on his ticket. From 1985 to 1990, incidentally, Johnson was managing director of Lehman Brothers. Remember them?
* You might also want to check out one of Barack Obama’s other advisors: Franklin Raines, former CEO of Freddie Mac: see here, for example, or here, or here. (And thanks again to this great video for the outline I précis above.)
The dog that didn’t bark.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Times’s little drama that
casts George Bush as the protagonist of our economic tragedy is not what’s in it
but what isn’t. You will search in vain for the name “Barney Frank” or the
phrase “Community Reinvestment Act.” But telling the story of our economic
crisis with out those elements is like staging Macbeth without Macbeth or the
There is a great refusal in operation here, a refusal to face up to
facts. Thomas Sowell touched on this in a typically percipient column
a few months ago when he wondered, not without exasperation, whether facts still
mattered in our political life. The current economic crisis seems to have
benefitted Democrats. But how could that be? Sowell reminds us of some forgotten
Fact Number One: It was liberal Democrats, led by Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, who for years –- including the present year -– denied that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taking big risks that could lead to a financial crisis.
It was Senator Dodd, Congressman Frank and other liberal Democrats who for years refused requests from the Bush administration to set up an agency to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
It was liberal Democrats, again led by Dodd and Frank, who for years
pushed for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to go even further in promoting
subprime mortgage loans, which are at the heart of today’s financial
Alan Greenspan warned them four years ago. So did the Chairman of
the Council of Economic Advisers to the President. So did Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, five years ago.
Yet, today, what are we hearing? That it was the Bush administration
“right-wing ideology” of “de-regulation” that set the stage
for the financial crisis. Do facts matter?
None of this is new. But Gide was right: although everything has
already been said, no one was listening, so it is always necessary to start over
again. Go into your local bank. Look around. Somewhere you’ll see posted on the
wall a notice advising customers that the bank’s lending practices follow the
dictates of the Community Reinvestment Act and that federal bureaucrats
regularly stop by to make sure the bank is abiding by its ruinous stipulations.
When will it stop?
There are four factors that helped drive up the price of real estate in the United States and create the housing bubble: The GSEs (Fannie and Freddie), the Community Reinvestment Act, expansionary monetary policy starting in 2001, and the 1997 Taxpayer Relief Act that for the first time let people avoid capital gains on home price appreciation without having to rollover the gains into a bigger house.
All of these factors pushed up the demand for real estate. But by how
much? Over the last few weeks I have been focusing on the capital gains change
because the run-up in housing prices began in either 1997 or 1995 depending on
which data you use.
This New York Times article from today is the first one I've seen that focuses on
the role of the 1997 tax change in the mortgage mess:
By itself, the change in the tax law did not cause the housing
bubble, economists say. Several other factors — a relaxation of lending
standards, a failure by regulators to intervene, a sharp decline in interest
rates and a collective belief that house prices could never fall — probably
played larger roles.
But many economists say that the law had a noticeable impact, allowing
home sales to become tax-free windfalls. A recent study of the provision by an economist at the Federal Reserve suggests that the number of homes sold was almost 17 percent higher over the last decade than it would have been without the law.
Vernon L. Smith, a Nobel laureate and economics professor at George
Mason University, has said the tax law change was responsible for “fueling the mother of all housing bubbles.”
By favoring real estate, the tax code pushed many Americans to
begin thinking of their houses more as an investment than as a place to
live. It helped change the national conversation about housing. Not only did real estate look like a can’t-miss investment for much of the last decade, it was also a tax-free one.
The authors do a nice job looking at the politics and some of the
economics. But they miss one key point. They did not look at prices, and focused
instead on sales. But it is prices where the impact is going to start and it is
the increase in prices that made all of the other mistakes possible.
Follow the link to read the rest.
I read your blog on a daily basis and I've noted your skepticism about the
monstrous bailout package being considered by the incoming Obama administration.
In reading all of the econblogs I can find, I'm struck by the lack of practical
knowledge both there and within the circle of advisers Obama has
I work for the DoD and when the Department of Homeland Security was
established,we helped them with many things, not the least of which was
contracting. To make a long story short, you cannot juice up a government
agency's budget by tens of billions (or in the case of the stimulus package,
hundreds of billions) and expect them to be able to process the paperwork to
contract it out, much less oversee the projects or even choose them with any
kind of hope for success. It's like trying to feed a Pomeranian a 25 lb turkey.
It was years before DHS got the situation under control and between the
start and when they finally assembled a sufficiently capable team of lawyers,
contracting officials, technical experts and resource managers, most of the
money was totally wasted. Now take the DHS situation and multiply it by 20 and
you've got the Obama stimulus package. Even if they hand the money to existing
governmental agencies, the situation will be the same. Those existing agencies
are working full time administering thebudgets they have. They can't just add a
zero at the end of each contract and be done with it.
Lastly, I've seen no business case analysis for this investment. I've
seen lots of people referring to models and charts and graphs and history, but
I've seen no analysis indicating that any of this will give you even a modest
Stop looking at models and equations and theoretical constructs for a
while and look at the practical considerations of the stimulus package. I've
been doing this sort of thing for quite a while and I'm convinced it's doomed
from the start. If they feel the need to blast a trillion dollars into confetti,
then tax cuts would make the most sense. Even if the public used the money to
pay down debt, that would be a good thing as it would transfer the debt burden
from the consumer to the government making the consumer feel a little bit like
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The Centre For Social Cohesion December 22 2008 By Hannah Stuart
Asghar Bukhari, co-founder and spokesperson for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC UK), has this week made comments which glorify terrorism, including:
"Muslims who fight against the occupation of their lands are 'Mujahadeen' and are blessed by Allah. And any Muslim who fights against Israel and dies is a martyr and will be granted paradise."
"There is no greater oppressor on this earth then [sic] the Zionists, who murder little children for sport."
Read the full press release here
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Tables turn on FBI agent in Stevens' case
An investigator in the Sen. Ted Stevens case is now being accused in U.S. District Court in the District of doing the same things that led to the Alaskan Republican's convictions.
A whistleblower complaint by an FBI agent states that investigators and prosecutors committed serious and possibly criminal misconduct, which included hiding evidence and having inappropriate personal relationships with witnesses.
According to the complaint, another FBI agent had improper relationships with witnesses, including star witness Bill Allen, a wealthy oil magnate who paid for the renovations to Stevens' home. The agent shared meals and confidential law enforcement information with Mr. Allen and others, according to the complaint.
The agent also accepted help finding a house to buy, artwork and employment for a relative from at least one person cooperating with the investigation.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan noted the irony of that accusation, pointing out in his ruling "that the defendant in this case was convicted for failing to disclose that he had accepted multiple things of value and, in fact, the trial included testimony about his receipt of artwork and employment for a relative."
Defense attorney Robert M. Cary wrote "the parallel is stunning."
The name of the FBI agent who made the complaint, along with virtually every other name in the document, was redacted. But defense attorneys say the complaint clearly shows that "government representatives lied to the court or stood by silently while other members of the prosecution team represented facts to the court that simply were not true."
In response to the explosive accusations revealed Monday, Stevens' attorneys have again asked Judge Sullivan to throw out the case, or, at the very least, order a new trial.
Stevens, 85, was convicted on seven felony counts of failing to include on Senate financial-disclosure forms more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home. Stevens, who lost re-election in November after 40 years in the Senate following his conviction, is awaiting sentencing.
The case has seen accusations of prosecutorial misconduct and an unusual amount of post-trial activity, including a letter sent to the judge from a witness claiming he committed perjury and prosecutors knew it, as well an admission from a juror that she lied about the death of her father to get out of deliberations and attend a horse race.
The new complaint also accuses prosecutors of purposely failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. This was an issue during trial, when prosecutors revealed they had failed to turn over evidence, but maintained it had been a mistake. Judge Sullivan ultimately determined that the misconduct was not serious enough to dismiss the case.
According to the complaint, the evidence had been concealed purposely, and one member of the prosecution team was against turning over the exculpatory evidence at all.
The complaint cast suspicion on another contentious move by the government during the trial.
Prosecutors had sent a potential witness back to Alaska without telling the judge or defense attorneys, drawing the ire of both. But prosecutors said they had to send Rocky Williams home because he was in failing health.
The complaint says that was actually an excuse contrived after prosecutors decided he was "not a witness the prosecution wanted to use."
Release of the complaint, which was made Dec. 2 and is being investigated by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, came after a sealed motion and a closed hearing. Prosecutors argued against revealing the complaint, saying the individuals named in the complaint did not testify at trial and the issues involving disclosure of evidence to the defense had already been handled at the trial.
The judge said their argument "misses the mark."
"It seems abundantly clear that providing public access to this complaint, which raises issues that question both the integrity of the proceedings and the law enforcement process in this case, is appropriate and, indeed, required," he wrote.
But he also wrote, "whether the allegation in the complaint is true and, if true, whether it bears on the outcome of the trial remains to be seen."
Monday, December 22, 2008
so unresponsive when trying to turn himself in for murder that he hopped a bus to Toledo and confessed there instead.
Detroit schools haven't ordered new textbooks in 19 years. Students have reported having to bring their own toilet paper. Teachers have reported bringing hammers to class for protection. Declining enrollment has forced 67 school closures since 2005 (more than a quarter of the city's schools). The graduation rate is 24.9 percent, the lowest of any large school district in the country. Not for nothing did one frustrated activist start pelting school board members with grapes during a meeting. She probably should've reached for something heavier.
An internal audit, which was 14 months late, estimates next year's city deficit to be as high as $200 million (helped along by $335,000 embezzled from the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion). With a dwindling tax base--even the city's three once-profitable casinos are seeing a downturn in revenues (the Greektown Casino is in bankruptcy)--the city has kicked around every money-making scheme from selling off ownership rights to the tunnel it shares with neighboring Windsor, Canada, to a fast food tax. It's perhaps unsurprising that Detroit now has the most speed traps in the nation.
It also has one of the highest property tax rates in Michigan, yet has over 60,000 vacant dwellings (a guesstimate--nobody keeps official count), meaning real estate values are in the toilet. Over the summer, the Detroit News sent a headline around the world, about a Detroit house that was for sale for $1. But it's not even that uncommon. As of this writing, there are at least five $1 homes for sale in Detroit.
The city council has been such a joke that one former member demanded 17 pounds of sausages as part of her $150,000 bribe. Its prognosis for respectability hasn't grown stronger with Monica Conyers, wife of congressman John Conyers, taking the helm. She has managed to get in a barroom brawl, threatened to shoot a mayoral staffer as well as have him beaten up, and twice called a burly and bald fellow council member "Shrek" during a public hearing. But with all the problems facing the city, the council still found time to pass a nonbinding resolution supporting the impeachment of George W. Bush.
How bad is Detroit? It once gave the keys to the city to Saddam Hussein.
Over the last several years, it has ranked as the most murderous city, the poorest city, the most segregated city, as the city with the highest auto-insurance rates, with the bleakest outlook for workers in their 20s and 30s, and as the place with the most heart attacks, slowest income growth, and fewest sunny days. It is a city without a single national grocery store chain. It has been deemed the most stressful metropolitan area in America. Likewise, it has ranked last in numerous studies: in new employment growth, in environmental indicators, in the rate of immunization of 2-year-olds, and, among big cities, in the number of high school or college graduates.
Men's Fitness magazine christened Detroit America's fattest city, while Men's Health called it America's sexual disease capital. Should the editors of these two metrosexual magazines be concerned for their safety after slagging the citizens of a city which has won the "most dangerous" title for five of the last ten years? Probably not: 47 percent of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate.
On the upside, Detroit ranks as the nation's foremost consumer of Slurpees and of baked beans on Labor Day. And as if all of this isn't humiliating enough, the Detroit Lions are 0-14.
The best description of the feel of the place came to me from Jason Vines: "We're all Kwame-fatigued, the economy is crap, and the Lions suck. We're tired." A former executive with both Ford and Chrysler, Vines spun me around the decimated, half-abandoned neighborhood of Highland Park, which Chrysler left in the early '90s for the greener pastures of Auburn Hills. It's hard to fault them, he notes, since bullets used to occasionally whiz into the Chrysler buildings from the surrounding neighborhood.
Like many Detroiters (he lives in a posh suburb, where houses on his block have remained unsold for six years), he's bracing for one or all of the Big Three going down. He predicts millions will be thrown out of work, right down to the diner owner in Utah who serves lunch to the people who produce the screws which are bought by the widget manufacturers who produce a component that goes into a seat of a Ford automobile. The diner owner thought he wasn't in the auto business. "But he was," says Vines. "He just didn't know it."
Precisely what caused all this mess is perhaps best left to historians. Locals' ideas for how it happened could keep one pinned to a barstool for weeks: auto companies failing or pushing out to the suburbs and beyond, white flight caused by the '67 riots and busing orders, the 20-year reign of Mayor Coleman Young who scared additional middle-class whites off with statements such as "The only way to handle discrimination is to reverse it," freeways destroying mass transit infrastructure, ineptitude, corruption, Japanese cars--take your pick.
What's clear, though, is that Detroit has failed, that it's broken and cracked. It is dying. But it's not yet dead. Although it has lost over half its population since 1950, 900,000 people still live there. I went to Detroit to experience a cross-section of those who live between its cracks, who either choose or are stuck with living among the ruins.
For many, Detroit is identified with cars or soul music, with the novels of Elmore Leonard or the architecture of Albert Kahn. If they really hate Detroit, they might recall that its suburbs coughed up Madonna. But for me, Detroit has become synonymous with one man: Charlie LeDuff. "
By Mail Foreign Service
A Saudi court has rejected a plea to divorce an eight-year-old girl married off by her father to a man who is 58, saying the case should wait until the girl reaches puberty.
The divorce plea was filed in August by the girl's divorced mother with a court at Unayzah, 135 miles north of Riyadh just after the marriage contract was signed by the father and the groom.
Lawyer Abdullar Jtili said:"The judge has dismissed the plea, filed by the mother, because she does not have the right to file such a case, and ordered that the plea should be filed by the girl herself when she reaches puberty."
Grooms take part in a mass wedding ceremony in Riyadh in June. Governor of Riyadh Prince Salman and a local group organized a mass wedding for about 1600 couples to help people unable to afford expensive ceremonies
"She doesn't know yet that she has been married," Jtili said then of the girl who was about to begin her fourth year at primary school.
Relatives who did not wish to be named said that the marriage had not yet been consummated, and that the girl continued to live with her mother.
They said that the father had set a verbal condition by which the marriage is not consummated for another 10 years, when the girl turns 18.
The father had agreed to marry off his daughter for an advance dowry of £5,000, as he was apparently facing financial problems, they said.
The father was in court and he remained adamant in favour of the marriage, they added.
Mr Jtili said he was going to appeal the verdict at the court of cassation, the supreme court in the ultra-conservative kingdom which applies Islamic Sharia law in its courts.
Arranged marriages involving pre-adolescents are occasionally reported in theArabian Peninsula, including in Saudi Arabia where the strict conservative Wahabi version of Sunni Islam holds sway and polygamy is common.
In Yemen in April, another girl aged eight was granted a divorce after her unemployed father forced her to marry a man of 28.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe says it will close its mission in Georgia early in 2009 because of Russian opposition.
Delegates said Moscow refused to back down during a row over the status of the breakaway regions of Georgia.
By Mark Steyn
‘See the USA in your Chevrolet!” trilled Dinah Shore week after week on TV.Can you still see the USA in your Chevrolet? Through a windscreen darkly.General Motors now has a market valuation about a third of Bed, Bath And Beyond, and no one says your Swash 700 Elongated Biscuit Toilet Seat Bidet is too big to fail. GM has a market capitalization of just over two billion dollars. For purposes of comparison, Toyota’s market cap is one hundred billion and change (the change being bigger than the whole of GM). General Motors, like the other two geezers of the Old Three, is a vast retirement home with a small loss-making auto subsidiary. The UAW is the AARP in an Edsel: It has three times as many retirees and widows as “workers” (I use the term loosely). GM has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to a million people.How do you make that math add up? Not by selling cars: Honda and Nissan make a pre-tax operating profit per vehicle of around 1600 bucks; Ford, Chrysler and GM make a loss of between $500 and $1,500. That’s to say, they lose money on every vehicle they sell. (my emphasis)Like Henry Ford said, you can get it in any color as long as it’s red.In the 20th century, most advanced nations made automobiles but only America made them mythic: “Drive the USA in your Chevrolet!” sang Dinah. “America’s the greatest land of all!” America had road movies. With car chases. Thelma and Louise drove their vehicle off the cliff and, unlike the Old Three, they didn’t demand American taxpayers come along for the ride. But, if you didn’t want to hit the open road, you could just hang around being cool. In Chuck Berry’s immortal quatrain:
Riding along in my automobileMy baby beside me at the wheelCruising and playing the radioWith No Particular Place To Go…
Not if you were a European teen. Cruising was an American activity. A Saturday night out for a Brit meant hanging around at a rain-streaked bus shelter hoping the night service would show up. Even if you had a particular place to go, you had no means of getting there.So many areas of endeavor that once embodied the youth and energy of this great land are now old and sclerotic. I include, naturally, my own industry. I loved the American newsrooms you saw in movies like The Front Page, full of hardboiled, hard-livin’ newspapermen. By the time I got there myself, there were no hardboiled newspapermen, just bland anemic newspaperpersons turning out politically correct snooze sheets of torpid portentousness. The owners of The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune recently filed for bankruptcy protection. The New York Times is mortgaging its office to fund debt repayment. The Detroit Free Press is cutting out home delivery except on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, thereby further depressing sales of delivery trucks in the Motor City.The newspapers blame the Internet, just as Detroit blames Japan. But the Japanese have problems of their own. One day they’ll get theirs. That’s the beauty of capitalism. Nothing is forever. The big railroad barons smoking cigars and enjoying pheasant under glass in the dining car on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe thought Henry Ford was a schmuck. Who’d want to ride around in that thing? Next thing you know everyone’s getting their kicks on Route 66:
You’ll see AmarilloGallup, New MexicoFlagstaff, ArizonaDon’t forget WinonaKingman, Barstow, San Bernadino…
Ah, California. The Golden State! To a penniless immigrant called Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was a land of plenty. Now Arnold is an immigrant of plenty in a penniless land. What’s the motto on the license plates? “Ah’ll be back …for more of your money!” In California you don’t have to be an orange to have your pips squeezed. The Terminator makes Gray Davis look like Calvin Coolidge. Care to terminate a government program, Governor? Hey, great idea! We’ll hire 200 people to do an impact study on terminating the Department of Impact Study Regulation and get back to you in a decade. And when Governor Girlyman has run out of state taxpayers to fleece for his ever more bloated bureaucracy, he’ll go to Washington to plead for a federal bailout of Cantaffordya.California! The state that symbolizes the American Dream! If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere! No, wait, that’s New York. “This is the worst fiscal downturn since the Great Depression,” announced Governor Paterson. So what’s he doing? Why, he’s bringing in the biggest tax hike in New York history. If you can make it there, you’ll be paying state tax on it, sales tax, municipal tax, a doubled beer tax, a tax on clothing, a tax on cab rides, an “iTunes tax” on downloads from the Internet, a tax on haircuts, 137 new tax hikes in all. Call Albany today and order your new package of tax forms, for just $199.99, plus 12% tax on tax forms and 4% tax-form application fee partially refundable upon payment of the 7.5% tax-filing tax. If you can make it there, you’ll certainly have no difficulty making it in Tajikistan.Hey, and who needs to make it there when you can just get appointed there? Governor Paterson is said to be considering appointing Princess Caroline of Kennedy to Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat. After two and a third centuries of republican experiment, America has finally worked its way back to the House of Lords. “Friends Say Kennedy Has Long Wanted Public Role”, Anne Kornblut assured readers in an in-depth Washington Post tongue-bath. She hasn’t “long wanted” it to the extent of, you know, running for dog catcher in Lackawanna and getting — what’s the word? — “elected”, but, if you have a spare Senate seat, she’s graciously indicated that she’d be prepared to consider accepting it. As lady-in-waiting Anne Kornblut pointed out, she is highly qualified, being “the author of several books”. It’s true! She’s an experienced poetry editor. She edited The Best-Loved Poems Of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie Kennedy wrote poems? Of course! She wrote so many poems that some are better loved than others.See the USA from your Chevrolet: An hereditary legislature, a media fawning its way into bankruptcy, its iconic coastal states driving out innovators and entrepreneurs, the arrival of the new Messiah heralded only by the leaden dirge of “We Three Kings Of Ol’ Detroit Are/Seeking checks we traverse afar”, and Route 66 looking ever more like a one-way dead-end street to Bailoutistan. Boy, I sure could use a poem by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis right now, even one of the lesser-loved ones.“I feel like I lost my country,” said the Hudson Institute’s Herbert London the other day, wondering whatever happened to the land of opportunity and dynamism. But I’m more of an optimist. Maybe Princess Caroline will be appointed CEO of GM and all will be well. Or maybe Bed, Bath And Beyond will put wheels on the Swash 700 Elongated Biscuit Toilet Seat Bidet.And on that cheery note let me wish you a very Hopey Changemas.