President Obama has laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda since LBJ, and now all he has to do is figure out how to pay for it. On Tuesday, he left the impression that we need merely end "tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans," and he promised that households earning less than $250,000 won't see their taxes increased by "one single dime."
Saturday, February 28, 2009
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY Posted Friday, February 27, 2009 4:20 PM PT
National Security: Imagine one of China's and Saudi Arabia's mouthpieces in America writing intelligence reports for the White House. Meet Chas Freeman, who will soon fill all three roles.
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair has named Freeman to head his council of advisers, an influential post that, regrettably, does not require Senate confirmation.
As National Intelligence Council chairman, Freeman will serve as a key intelligence adviser to President Obama and will prepare his daily briefings and the all-important National Intelligence Estimate on foreign threats.
Chas Freeman, right, shakes hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao, left, at a reception in Washington on April 20, 2006. Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Freeman has been tapped as head of President Obama's National Intelligence Council, but has come under withering criticism for his close ties to the Saudis and for taking the side of China's regime after Tiananmen.
The job demands an uncompromising objectivity that Freeman can't possibly deliver, given his conflicts of interest involving two nations potentially hostile to the U.S.
Freeman for years has showed an almost slavish zeal in defending Riyadh and Beijing from well-deserved criticism. This has undermined Israel and Taiwan, both key American allies.
A former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Freeman heads the Saudi-funded Middle East Policy Council, an influential organ for the kingdom. In that role, he has missed few chances to bash Israel.
In 2007, he said the chief reason America was a terror target was its tacit support for "the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that is about to mark its 40th anniversary." In another speech that year, he scolded the U.S. for backing "Israel's efforts to pacify its captive and increasingly ghettoized Arab populations."
His position on Afghanistan? Let the Taliban run it again, a burning desire of his Saudi patrons, who originally funded and recognized the fundamentalist Taliban regime.
Freeman does business with the bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia, and in the weeks after 9/11 he didn't even consider halting his dealings with them. Through his firm, Projects International Inc., he continued discussing proposals with the bin Ladens, who also contribute heavily to the Middle East Policy Council.
Freeman also co-chairs the U.S. China Policy Foundation, part of the pro-China lobby. His son works for the China Alliance, which advises clients on China trade.
The elder Freeman, who once worked at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, apologized for the communist regime's bloody crackdown on young Tiananmen demonstrators. If anything, it was "overly cautious," he said, ignoring how the Beijing butchers turned the pro-democracy students into human paste with their tanks.
"I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government," he added.
Never mind if "normal" means communist police state.
Freeman also would let Beijing annex democratic Taiwan. "My own view is that reunification would be very beneficial for all concerned," he told China's official state organ, the People's Daily. "It would remove the only potential cause of conflict between the U.S. and China."
That's his new boss's attitude, too. Blair once called Taiwan the "turd in the punch bowl" of U.S.-China relations.
"China's proposal for reunification would leave Taiwan's armed forces intact and continue to make them, rather than the People's Liberation Army, primarily responsible for Taiwan's defense," Freeman said. "The PLA would not garrison Taiwan.
"As I understand it," he added, "the Chinese proposal would allow Taiwan to continue to choose its own leaders through elections, and would not assign any government personnel to the island from the mainland. Taiwan's newly democratized political system would not be affected by reunification."
The Politburo could not have said it better. Truth is, the PLA has a stated goal of military and political hegemony in Asia. It's called the "Island Chain Strategy." Perhaps Freeman should read it.
Both Freeman and Blair want to return to the Clinton administration's Chinese "engagement" policy. Freeman served as Clinton's assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs before leaving to lobby for China.
It's no coincidence that a PLA general used him to deliver a thinly veiled threat to the White House over Taiwan, warning that the U.S. risks a Chinese nuclear strike if it intervenes in a conflict between China and Taiwan.
Freeman also apologized for Beijing's clumsy influence-buying during the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign, arguing that it was simply trying to compete with the Taiwan lobby.
Blair says the country is fortunate to have Freeman contributing his "remarkable skills toward further strengthening the intelligence community's analytical process."
We're just not sure how pandering to foreign dictators is a worthy analytical skill.
Combine Obama idolatry with malignant fanning of racism, and you get today's winner. The title goes to Jon-Christopher Bua, political analyst for Sky News, whose embarrassing near-orgasmic tribute to Obama betrays a singular lack of knowledge, combined with a malignant fanning of racism. Hyper-portentously, Mr. Bua announces an event so historical (His piece is titled "Obama: Everlasting Magic"!) that only world-changing matters bear comparison:
Just like the Berlin Wall crumbling, this was a moment long overdue whose time had finally come.
For those who believed they had the power to change things and have been chipping away at the injustices of racism brick by brick, this moment almost has a surreal quality.
What could possibly live up to this analogy: A White House performance by Stevie Wonder, as it happens.
... the arts and spirituality have returned to centre stage at the White House.
The message here is one of America's greatest gifts to our world community.
Those of us who have been around long enough to remember fire hoses, attacking police dogs and the raging face of hatred can remember "Little Stevie Wonder".
He was advertised on a billboard over the steel pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey - America's Blackpool - that this now icon was once the hope of white and black kids alike.
He seemed transcendent in this moment of his and our glory.
Tonight white and black, young and old came together in the East Room of the White House to honour one of America's greatest modern musicians - Mr Stevie Wonder.
If the Gershwin Boys were alive tonight they would be very proud.
A ten second investment in a Google Search reveals that Black artists were not absent from White House performances during the 43rd president's two terms in office. Mr. Bua remembers Pablo Cassals performing in the Kennedy White House, but apparently nothing since.
But why let the facts get in the way of a gush worthy of a teenage girl swooning over the lead singer of a boy band.?And what on earth do firehoses have to do with it?
Hat tip: Jeanette Colville
Will any Human Rights group complain? No, as they're all beholding to the Islamists or frightened of them
By LYNN BERRY, Associated Press Writer
GROZNY, Russia – The bullnecked president of Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and with chilling composure explained why seven young women who had been shot in the head deserved to die.
Ramzan Kadyrov said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the roadside, had "loose morals" and were rightfully shot by male relatives in honor killings.
"If a woman runs around and if a man runs around with her, both of them are killed," Kadyrov told journalists in the capital of this Russian republic.
The 32-year-old former militia leader is carrying out a campaign to impose Islamic values and strengthen the traditional customs of predominantly Muslim Chechnya, in an effort to blunt the appeal of hardline Islamic separatists and shore up his power. In doing so, critics say, he is setting up a dictatorship where Russian laws do not apply.
Some in Russia say Kadyrov's attempt to create an Islamic society violates the Russian constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women and a separation of church and state. But the Kremlin has given him its staunch backing, seeing him as the key to keeping the separatists in check, and that has allowed him to impose his will.
"Kadyrov willfully tries to increase the influence of local customs over the life of the republic because this makes him the absolute ruler of the republic," said Yulia Latynina, a political analyst in Moscow.
Kadyrov's bluster shows how confident he is of his position. "No one can tell us not to be Muslims," he said outside the mosque. "If anyone says I cannot be a Muslim, he is my enemy."
Few dare to challenge Kadyrov's rule in this southern Russian region of more than a million people, which is only now emerging from the devastation of two wars in the past 15 years. The fighting between Islamic separatists and Russian troops, compounded by atrocities on both sides, claimed tens of thousands of lives and terrorized civilians.
Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia. Women and girls are now required to wear headscarves in all schools, universities and government offices.
Some Chechen women say they support or at least accept Kadyrov's strict new guidelines.
"Headscarves make a woman beautiful," said Zulikhan Nakayeva, a medical student whose long dark hair flowed out from under her head covering, her big brown eyes accentuated by mascara.
But many chafe under the restrictions.
"How do women live in Chechnya? They live as the men say," said Taisiya, 20, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of retribution. She was not wearing a headscarf while shopping in central Grozny, which she said was her way of protesting.
Most women now wear headscarves in public, though the scarves rarely fully cover their hair and in some cases are little more than colorful silk headbands. Women who go out without a headscarf tend to tuck one into their bag for use where headscarves are required.
Many people suspect Kadyrov is branding the seven late November slayings honor killings to advance his political agenda. He said the women were planning to go abroad to work as prostitutes, but their relatives found out about it and killed them.
Few Chechens believe that.
"If women are killed according to tradition then it is done very secretly to prevent too many people from finding out that someone in the family behaved incorrectly," said Natalya Estemirova, a prominent human rights activist in Grozny.
Estemirova said two of the women were married, with two children each. Their husbands held large funerals and buried them in the family plot, which would not have happened if the women had disgraced their families, she said.
Kadyrov's version also has been contradicted by federal prosecutors in Moscow, who have concluded relatives were not involved. No arrests have been made and the investigation is continuing. Kadyrov's office refused to comment on the investigators' conclusion.
The Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that some of the women worked in brothels frequented by Kadyrov's men. Many Chechens say they suspect the women were killed in a police operation. The truth of the killings may never be known, given how much Kadyrov is feared.
Rights activists fear that Kadyrov's approval of honor killings may encourage men to carry them out. Honor killings are considered part of Chechen tradition. No records are kept, but human rights activists estimate dozens of women are killed every year.
"What the president says is law," said Gistam Sakaeva, a Chechen activist who works to defend women's rights. "Because the president said this, many will try to gain his favor by killing someone, even if there is no reason."
Sakaeva also said she worried that Chechen authorities would now be less willing to prosecute men suspected of killing women.
Kadyrov inherited his position from his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, a Muslim cleric and former rebel commander who fought the Russians during Chechnya's war of independence in 1994-1996. Shortly after war broke out again in 1999, the elder Kadyrov switched sides and brought Chechnya back into Moscow's fold.
Ramzan Kadyrov worked as the head of his father's security force, which was accused of kidnapping, sadistic torture and murder. After Akhmad Kadyrov was killed by a terrorist bomb in 2004, power passed to his son.
Vladimir Putin, then president and now prime minister, embraced the younger Kadyrov, who has succeeded in ending a wave of terror attacks that haunted the early years of Putin's presidency. But as Kadyrov has consolidated his power, many of his critics and political rivals have been killed. Some have been gunned down on the streets of Moscow, including journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose death in 2006 shocked the world.
In one of the most recent killings, a Chechen who had accused Kadyrov of personally torturing him was shot last month as he walked out of a grocery store in Vienna, Austria.
Kadyrov has denied any involvement in the killings.
The Kremlin appears willing to continue allowing Kadyrov to rule as he wishes, as long as he prevents another outbreak of violence. And Kadyrov has won the grudging respect of many Chechens for bringing a measure of peace and stability.
"People want to believe that things are getting better," said Sakaeva. "They are tired of war."
By Rob SteinWashington Post Staff WriterSaturday, February 28, 2009; A01
The Obama administration's move to rescind broad new job protections for health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable triggered an immediate political storm yesterday, underscoring the difficulties the president faces in his effort to find common ground on anything related to the explosive issue of abortion.
The administration's plans, revealed quietly with a terse posting on a federal Web site, unleashed a flood of heated reaction, with supporters praising the proposal as a crucial victory for women's health and reproductive rights, and opponents condemning it as a devastating setback for freedom of religion.
Perhaps most tellingly, the move drew deep disappointment from some conservatives who have been hopeful about working with the administration to try to defuse the debate on abortion, long one of the most divisive political issues.
"This is going to be a political hit for the administration," said Joel Hunter, senior pastor of the Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., whom Obama recently named to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. "This will be one of those things that kind of says, 'I knew it. They talk about common ground, but really what they want is their own way.' "
Administration officials stressed that the proposal will be subject to 30 days of public comment, which could result in a compromise. They said they remain committed to seeking a middle ground but acknowledged that will not always be possible.
"We recognize we are not going to be able to agree on every issue," said an administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process has just begun. "But there remains a substantive area of common ground, and we continue to believe we can make progress and will make progress."
The announcement capped a week when anger among conservatives was already running high because of the ambitious progressive agenda outlined in the administration's proposed $3.6 trillion budget.
The debate centers on a Bush administration regulation, enacted in December, that cuts off federal funding for thousands of state and local governments, hospitals, health plans, clinics and other entities if they do not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other employees who refuse to participate in care they feel violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.
The rule was sought by conservative groups that argued that workers were increasingly being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways for trying to exercise their "right of conscience."
Women's health advocates, family-planning proponents, abortion rights activists and others condemned the regulation, saying it created a major obstacle to providing many health services, including family planning and infertility treatment, and possibly a wide range of scientific research. After reviewing the regulation, newly appointed officials at the Health and Human Services Department agreed.
"We've been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written, it could make it harder for women to get the care they need," said an HHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for the same reason. "It is worded so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family-planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care."
An array of family-planning groups and others praised the move.
"The Obama administration is taking the right step forward to rescind this misguided rule," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who has introduced legislation to overturn the regulation.
But the Family Research Council, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and others condemned it.
"It is open season to again discriminate against health-care professionals," said David Stevens, head of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. "Our Founding Fathers, who bled and died to guarantee our religious freedom, are turning over in their graves."
The announcement -- which follows an administration decision to lift restrictions on federal funding of international family-planning groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information -- was also disappointing to some who have been working more closely with the administration on reducing the number of abortions.
"I think what was in place was as good as one could find in terms of seeking and securing common ground," said the Rev. Frank Page, the immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and another member of Obama's faith council. "It's a matter of respect. I felt like what was in place was that middle ground of common respect."
Administration officials stressed that the president remains committed to protecting the rights of health-care workers who do not want to participate in abortions; such rights have been guaranteed for decades by several federal laws.
"We recognize and understand that some providers have objections to providing abortions. We want to ensure that current law protects them," the HHS official said. "But the Bush rule goes beyond current law and seems to have upset the balance."
The administration is open to a new rule that would be more focused on abortion, the official said, adding, "We believe that this is a complex issue that requires a thoughtful process where all voices are heard."
Some predicted that the administration will produce a narrower regulation that protects workers who object to abortion but ensures access to other types of care.
"If the president kept in place the conscience clause in regard to abortion but reversed it in regard to birth control, most Americans would agree that's common ground," said Rachel Laser of the group Third Way, which is working to find compromise approaches to a number of contentious issues.
But Page noted that some health-care workers consider certain forms of birth control, such as the morning-after emergency contraception pill, to be the moral equivalent of abortion.
"If they choose not to be part of the distribution of that, that should be their conscience and their right," Page said.
While some family-planning groups acknowledged privately that they might consider a compromise, others said they are doubtful that any regulation is needed.
"Our general feeling is this was an area that does not cry out for further clarification," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "I would be skeptical."
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been marking his 85th birthday at a lavish party paid for by supporters.
The backers raised $250,000 (£176,000) for the event in Chinhoyi, north-west of the capital, Harare.
The event comes days after Zimbabwe asked other African countries for $2bn (£1.4bn) to rescue its failing economy.
Mr Mugabe told the rally in Chinhoyi there would be "no going back" on planned and already executed seizures of land owned by white farmers.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal in Namibia had no right to intervene on the farmers' behalf, he said.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the new prime minister and former opposition leader, did not attend the celebrations despite earlier indications that he might.
Mr Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, told Reuters news agency he had opted out of the event after realising it had been organised by the president's Zanu-PF party.
"People should not read this as a snub - he excused himself," Mr Charamba said.
Mr Mugabe turned 85 on 21 February but his party is being held a week later.
Mr Mugabe said neither white farmers who had lost their land nor those whose land was about to be seized would regain it.
"Farms will not be returned back to former farmers," he told the audience.
"Some farmers went to the SADC... but that's nonsense, absolute nonsense, no-one will follow that.
"We have courts here in this country, that can determine the rights of people. Our land issues are not subject to the SADC tribunal."
In November, the tribunal ruled that Zimbabwe's plans to seize dozens of white-owned farms were illegal under international rule and should be halted immediately.
The birthday celebrations come as Zimbabwe struggles with the world's highest inflation, food shortages and a cholera epidemic which the World Health Organisation says has killed 3,894 people since August last year.
There have been more than 84,000 reported cases, says the WHO.
More than half the population is believed to need food aid, while just 10% of adults have a regular job.
John Makumbe, a political analyst and critic of Mr Mugabe, said that to stage such extravagant celebrations when so many people were suffering was "obscene and a sign of an insensitive leadership".
"In a normal country this kind of party would not be taking place in this kind of environment where so many people have no food," he added.
Mr Tsvangirai - who was sworn in two weeks ago in a unity government with Mr Mugabe ending months of political deadlock - has said it will cost as much as $5bn to fix Zimbabwe's economy.
The country has asked for $2bn in emergency aid to revive public services and the business sector.
Following a two-day meeting of regional ministers in Cape Town, South Africa, members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union pledged to "pursue measures in support of Zimbabwe's economic recovery programme".
But Western donors have said they are waiting for proof that the unity government is really working before sending in funds.
Friday, February 27, 2009
New York, NY, February 26, 2009 …
Calling it a "blatant attempt to politically exploit an international sporting competition," the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticized the decision of a Swedish city council to use upcoming Davis Cup tennis matches between Sweden and Israel as a device to express anti-Israel bias.
After publicly noting that they would prefer to boycott Israel by canceling the match, city officials in Malmo, Sweden elected to bar spectators from the team competition, scheduled for March 6-8, citing "security concerns." Malmo's mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, was quoted as saying "we shouldn't have any matches with Israel."
"Sports should not be politicized, and the eagerness of Malmo city officials to use this tennis match to demonstrate their anti-Israel prejudice is a blatant attempt to politically exploit an international sporting competition," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "Barring Swedes from coming to support their own national team in the most prestigious international men's tennis team competition shows how far Malmo city officials are willing to go to express their hostility toward Israel.
"In light of reports that local police did not see a problem with the event, the security concerns cited by the city council are merely an unconvincing pretext which cannot hide the true anti-Israel motives behind the city's decision," Mr. Foxman added.
The League also expressed disappointment that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) acceded to the political bias demonstrated by the Malmo city council.
"We hope the ITF will soon follow the example of the Women's Tennis Association, which imposed penalties on the promoters of the Dubai tournament where Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer was prevented from playing," Mr. Foxman said. "If the city of Malmo will not treat Israeli athletes with respect, no international sporting organization should sanction competitions there."
Thursday, February 26, 2009
This is going to be some trick. Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can't possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama's new spending ambitions.
Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and "the wealthiest 2%." Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That's about 7% of all returns; the data aren't broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% -- about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 -- paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income.
Note that federal income taxes are already "progressive" with a 35% top marginal rate, and that Mr. Obama is (so far) proposing to raise it only to 39.6%, plus another two percentage points in hidden deduction phase-outs. He'd also raise capital gains and dividend rates, but those both yield far less revenue than the income tax. These combined increases won't come close to raising the hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue that Mr. Obama is going to need.
But let's not stop at a 42% top rate; as a thought experiment, let's go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.
Fast forward to this year (and 2010) when the Wall Street meltdown and recession are going to mean far few taxpayers earning more than $500,000. Profits are plunging, businesses are cutting or eliminating dividends, hedge funds are rolling up, and, most of all, capital nationwide is on strike. Raising taxes now will thus yield far less revenue than it would have in 2006.
Mr. Obama is of course counting on an economic recovery. And he's also assuming along with the new liberal economic consensus that taxes don't matter to growth or job creation. The truth, though, is that they do. Small- and medium-sized businesses are the nation's primary employers, and lower individual tax rates have induced thousands of them to shift from filing under the corporate tax system to the individual system, often as limited liability companies or Subchapter S corporations. The Tax Foundation calculates that merely restoring the higher, Clinton-era tax rates on the top two brackets would hit 45% to 55% of small-business income, depending on how inclusively "small business" is defined. These owners will find a way to declare less taxable income.
The bottom line is that Mr. Obama is selling the country on a 2% illusion. Unwinding the U.S. commitment in Iraq and allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire can't possibly pay for his agenda. Taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise as well.
On that point, by the way, it's unclear why Mr. Obama thinks his climate-change scheme won't hit all Americans with higher taxes. Selling the right to emit greenhouse gases amounts to a steep new tax on most types of energy and, therefore, on all Americans who use energy. There's a reason that Charlie Rangel's Ways and Means panel, which writes tax law, is holding hearings this week on cap-and-trade regulation.
Mr. Obama is very good at portraying his agenda as nothing more than center-left pragmatism. But pragmatists don't ignore the data. And the reality is that the only way to pay for Mr. Obama's ambitions is to reach ever deeper into the pockets of the American middle class.
Feb. 26, 2009RAFAEL MEDOFF , THE JERUSALEM POST
Are 25,000 Jews living happily and securely under the most repressive and anti-Semitic regime in the world?
Apparently the answer is yes, if one is to believe New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who in a February 23 op-ed reports that what he saw recently in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran demonstrated "Iranian civility toward Jews."
Cohen was especially impressed by the fact that "there are more than a dozen synagogues in Teheran," as well as several more in Esfahan. He attended a prayer service and described it in rather picturesque terms.
Cohen is hardly the first American to be misled by the existence of synagogues in totalitarian countries. Assessing the status of Jews in Nazi Germany in October 1936, president Franklin D. Roosevelt likewise put too much stock in the scenes at the synagogues. "I have just seen two people who have toured through Germany," FDR told American Jewish Congress leader Stephen Wise. "They tell me that they saw that the synagogues were crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong in the situation [of Germany's Jews] at present."
Interestingly, the Jews whom Cohen met in Iran had only positive things to say about their anti-Semitic government. Soleiman Sedighpoor, who led the prayer service in Esfahan, said he has "never had a problem" as a Jew in Iran. Morris Motamed, former occupant of the lone "Jewish seat" in parliament, said the Ahmadinejad regime exhibits "deep tolerance here toward Jews."
RABBI HASKEL LOOKSTEIN of New York City's Kehilath Jeshurun, who visited the Soviet Union in the 1970s to teach Judaism and assist would-be emigrants, points to an incident at the Moscow synagogue which demonstrated the perilous reality of Jewish life in the USSR. It was Simhat Torah, and the service was crowded, no doubt as crowded as those synagogues in Germany in 1936 or in Iran in our own time.
"As we danced with the Torahs," he recalls, "the Jews exchanged the traditional greeting, 'Let's meet again, God willing, next year.' One man leaned over and whispered in my ear, 'Let's meet again, God willing, next year - but not here in the Soviet Union.' He was so terrified of what might happen if he was overheard, that he could only whisper those words."
Cohen's encounter with the Jewish former member of Iran's parliament reminds Lookstein of his own encounter with Rabbi Yakov Fishman, chief rabbi of the Moscow Synagogue, in 1972. "Rabbi Fishman sat down next to me, to show me a publication from a British group critical of the Soviet government's treatment of the Jews," Lookstein recalls. "He was afraid that such criticism would 'make things worse' for the Jews in Russia. That's why you can never take at face value what a Jew in a totalitarian state says to a foreigner. They are captives of the regime, and whatever they say is carefully calibrated not to get themselves into trouble."
THE STATE DEPARTMENT's most recent annual report on international religious freedom paints a picture of Jewish life in Iran that is at odds with Cohen's description. The report says Iran's Jews live in "a threatening atmosphere" and suffer "officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education and housing." The government "limits the distribution of Hebrew texts, in practice making it difficult to teach the language." Government pressure resulted in the shutdown of the Jewish community's newspaper, Ofogh-e-Bina. And "officially sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda" permeates "official statements, media outlets, publications and books."
Three-quarters of Iran's Jews have emigrated in the 30 years since the Khomeini revolution, and the State Department notes that some Iranian Jews are continuing to emigrate, "in part due to continued anti-Semitism on the part of the government and within society."
Obviously others choose not to emigrate. Sometimes factors such as family ties, poverty or hope for a change in government are sufficient to persuade people to stay in a country where they are mistreated. In fact, in 1937 - fully four years after Hitler's rise to power - Germany was still home to more Jews than any other Western European country. That was not because they enjoyed Hitler's rule.
The situation of Iranian Jewry must not be turned into a political football. The dangers and discrimination that Iran's Jews face should not be minimized to advance a particular policy agenda. Cohen urges the West to adopt an approach of "compromise" and "engagement" with Teheran, and it is possible the Obama administration will follow his advice. But if it does, one hopes that decision will not be influenced by misleading reports which see "civility" in Iran's uncivil treatment of its Jewish citizens.
The writer is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.
It’s a rule-of-thumb among many well run U.S. companies that they must routinely make redundant the 5 to 10 percent of their least productive employees. One obvious reason for doing so is to keep costs down, but there are many other reasons unrelated to cost for doing so.
For one, just as bad apples in sports tend to ruin chemistry such that total team performance declines, subpar performers in an office setting tend to worsen the performance of the most productive for wasting resources, all the while giving the productive an unworthy benchmark of success that allows them to become needlessly satisfied. To shed the least effective is to infuse a more competitive atmosphere among the survivors that aids the bottom line, plus the departed are a flashing signal to the survivors of their fate should they stop working hard.
But most important for an economy very much reliant on the efficient deployment of what is precious human capital, it’s frequently the case among those made redundant that they were misapplying their talents. Layoffs and the feeling of failure they engender are remarkable for focusing the minds of those let go on the kind of work that best suits them, not to mention that while painful, failure is a wonderful teacher that focuses its beneficiaries on mistakes to avoid in the future.
Alcoholism and a drug arrest forced Dominic Dunne out of a cushy Hollywood life into a rented room lacking television and telephone at the Twin View Resorts in rural Oregon. Finished as a Hollywood movie producer, Dunne was in his fifties when he gambled on a career as a writer. Though his first script was roundly criticized, and his first book (The Winners) was a flop, Dunne wrote in his journal, "I have never believed in myself more than when I was writing my script. I was never happier with myself." With a burning desire to succeed while in possession of very few options, Dunne persisted and today is one of the best-known writers of criminal fiction in the world.
While coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Buddy Ryan cut talented, but drug-abusing wide receiver Cris Carter. Happily, from the devastation of the waiver wire emerged one of the most productive receivers of the modern NFL era; Carter at present a strong future bet for the Hall of Fame. Salomon Brothers let millionaire partner Michael Bloomberg go in 1981, and thank goodness it did because freed of the firm’s bureaucracy, the well-to-do Bloomberg later emerged the billionaire head of an eponymous market-data firm whose terminals are a must-have among traders.
But with company layoffs on the rise, the federal government seeks to make them less frequent by offering tax cuts for the employers that choose to keep their worst employee matches and least productive on the payroll. And as has realistically been the case since the introduction of the income tax, the most economically productive workers are "rewarded" with tax penalties for being that way, while the least productive either pay little or no taxes, or are actually given rebates for not making a lot of money.
Moving to housing, the Obama administration plans to spend $275 billion in order to aid homebuyers who borrowed irrationally in order to buy that which they couldn’t afford. Proponents of the plan suggest that this will be economy enhancing, but in truth, efforts meant to cushion the failures of the bottom 10 percent of homebuyers will be economically retarding for turning the above-mentioned business logic on its head.
For one, it’s well known at this point that subsidization of mistaken investment insures more of the same, and in shielding the profligate from failure, the government shields them from lessons that will help them not to fail in the future. Failure is an excellent teacher, but those most in need of instruction will not be taught if the allegedly soft view of the housing problem prevails.
Less spoken of is the obvious problems that will result from keeping people in houses that in a free system, they couldn’t remain in. For one, it’s fair to presume that a certain portion of strapped homeowners live in parts of the country underperforming economically. In this case, measures taken to keep them tied to a specific location mean that they will be less able to chase economic opportunity that exists elsewhere. In this case, both the individual and the broader economy suffer thanks to housing serving as the proverbial ball-and-chain.
Of course, much ink has been spilled and many words have been spoken about how neighborhoods will be ruined if many of their residents are forced to foreclose. An interesting thought, but if we ignore how federalization of home ownership is blatantly unconstitutional, have our nannies in Washington ever stopped to consider how the saving of the irresponsible could similarly destroy neighborhoods? Indeed, have they considered how once peaceful neighborhoods could be balkanized between those current with their mortgages, and those not but who are being subsidized by their neighbors? Is it unrealistic to suggest that violence could break out, or that the responsible, so offended by their parasitical neighbors, might move elsewhere thus similarly destroying these neighborhoods in crisis?
Advocates of the Obama housing plan say with straight faces it’s not fair that buyers purchased houses that are in certain instances worth much less today. But if we apply the illogic of such reasoning to its logical conclusion in the business world, companies such as Webvan, eToys and theglobe.com would still be in business; wasting human and financial capital in ways that our economy would be even worse off. The reality is that investors in anything frequently find that what they’ve purchased is worth less, but far from a call for more government handouts, this is often a signal telling them to cease throwing good capital after bad. And these failures teach us what not to do in the future.
In the aftermath of the Korean War, North Korea imposed the notion of “songbun” on its citizenry. The poor and shiftless for being poor and shiftless had “good” songbun, and today they are the privileged class for having failed most impressively. The successful in North Korea were demonized for being that way, and today they are the bottom caste in a society that has committed economic suicide right before our eyes.
So while it’s surely a reach to suggest the U.S. is going the way of North Korea, it’s also true that bad policy has a way of slowly wrecking societies over time. At present, with the federal government creating incentives whereby companies will be rewarded by the tax code for not laying off unproductive employees, and just the same where irresponsible homebuyers are being sanctified for being irresponsible, the U.S. political class is imposing its own, minor form of songbun; these actions signaling our nation’s long-term economic decline.
Previous Ban Expired in 2004 During the Bush Administration
By JASON RYAN
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2009—
The Obama administration will seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.
"As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons," Holder told reporters.
Holder said that putting the ban back in place would not only be a positive move by the United States, it would help cut down on the flow of guns going across the border into Mexico, which is struggling with heavy violence among drug cartels along the border.
"I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum." Holder said at a news conference on the arrest of more than 700 people in a drug enforcement crackdown on Mexican drug cartels operating in the U.S.
Mexican government officials have complained that the availability of sophisticated guns from the United States have emboldened drug traffickers to fight over access routes into the U.S.
A State Department travel warning issued Feb. 20, 2009, reflected government concerns about the violence.
"Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades," the warning said. "Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico, but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez."
At the news conference today, Holder described his discussions with his Mexican counterpart about the recent spike in violence.
"I met yesterday with Attorney General Medina Mora of Mexico, and we discussed the unprecedented levels of violence his country is facing because of their enforcement efforts," he said.
Holder declined to offer any time frame for the reimplementation of the assault weapons ban, however.
"It's something, as I said, that the president talked about during the campaign," he said. "There are obviously a number of things that are -- that have been taking up a substantial amount of his time, and so, I'm not sure exactly what the sequencing will be."
In a brief interview with ABC News, Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association, said, "I think there are a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill cringing at Eric Holder's comments right now."
During his confirmation hearing, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee about other gun control measures the Obama administration may consider.
"I think closing the gun show loophole, the banning of cop-killer bullets and I also think that making the assault weapons ban permanent, would be something that would be permitted under Heller," Holder said, referring to the Supreme Court ruling in Washington, D.C. v. Heller, which asserted the Second Amendment as an individual's right to own a weapon.
The Assault Weapons Ban signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 banned 19 types of semi-automatic military-style guns and ammunition clips with more than 10 rounds.
"A semi-automatic is a quintessential self-defense firearm owned by American citizens in this country," LaPierre said. "I think it is clearly covered under Heller and it's clearly, I think, protected by the Constitution."
I love the justification that it will help Mexico control the drug gangs. Huh? I don't believe the gun gangs restrict themselves to American weapons. They can buy automatic weapons far easier from China or Venezuela, the latter probably at a discount from crazy Hugo. So, we are supposed to give up our Second Amendment rights because some other country cannot control its criminals, nice!
But, Mr. Holder's approach is the policy promoted by the UN. The UN wants to ban private handgun ownership ostensibly so they can cut down on international violence. In reality they want to ban guns to increase the power of government.
By Fred Childers - bio email
SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Giving the republican response to President Obama's speech Tuesday night, Governor Bobby Jindal pointed out fundamental differences in how republicans and democrats see the economy. "But what I don't understand from Governor Jindal is what would he do?," asks Joe Biden while on the Early Show. And That rhetorical question to Governor Jindal on the Early Show, was followed with this. "in Louisiana there's 400 people a day losing their jobs, what's he doing?" asks Biden. But that claim is wrong, if you look at the numbers from the Louisiana Workforce Commission. "In December, Louisiana was the only state in the nation besides the District of Columbia, according to the national press release that added employment over the month," says Patty Granier with the Louisiana Workforce Commission. According to her, not only is Louisiana not losing jobs. "The state gained 3,700 jobs for the seasonally adjusted employment," Granier said of the most recent figures. You don't even have to take my word for it, these are number you can check out yourself if you just go to laworks.net, there you can find the latest unemployment statistics, statistics that appear to directly contradict what the vice president said this morning. The latest stats show this - from the week ending January 17th there were 4,527 claims for unemployment insurance in Louisiana, for the next week, that number receded to 4,179. Folks who crunch the numbers credit a diverse economy for Louisiana's resilience to unemployment. It's unclear where the VP gets his numbers, but they certainly don't match numbers from the labor department. The unemployment rate in Louisiana has gone up, from 5.3 to 5.9. Some blame that on a bigger workforce in the state. However, that rate is still less than the national average, which sits at 7.2%. We called the Whitehouse press office today and left a message for the vice president's office, but have not received a call back.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Exhibit A: California “drought” coverage.
Here’s the reality. California has had a really dry couple of years and this year’s January — usually a wet and wild month — was eerily mild and bone dry. This state of affairs triggered the state and the national media to go big with the OMG IT’S a DROUGHT! coverage. And rightly so. The pattern was alarming.
But then Feburary comes along and the rain starts dumping. Pouring. Build and Ark! kinda rains. Rain totals that were at 60% of normal are now up to 85 and 90%. Some places in the Southland are brimming at 120% and 130%.
The crisis is clearly over. But not the media narrative.
The San Francisco Chronicle, to cite but one example, goes front page today with DROUGHT! coverage, continuing to sound the alarm about dangerously low reservoir levels.
But you read along and you come by this bit of information:
San Francisco, for example, draws its water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite. Normally, the reservoir runs at about 70 percent of capacity at this time of year - currently it’s 67 percent.
Here’s a banner story about the “drought” in San Francisco’s paper of record, and the actual news is that the city’s water source, Hetch Hetchy, is at 95.7% of normal. WTF?!
Now, alarmism about a drought is easy enough to dismiss. But this First Law of Editorial holds true across other domains — and I fear that we’re going to see this hold true in economic reporting even as the economy shows signs of inching out of its nosedive.
You wouldn’t know it from the OMG, IT’S THE NEXT GREAT DEPRESSION coverage, but top economic forecasters are now predicting growth in the 4th quarter of this year. That’s right 2009. Money quote from Reuters:
Economic activity is expected to turn up in the second half of the year and 2010 is expected to see modestly above-trend growth of 3.1%.
Given the role consumer confidence is going to play in our ultimate economic recovery, the media’s implacable torrent of doom and gloom runs the danger of not only misleading the public, but deepening the nation’s economic malaise.
Exhibit B, today’s HuffPo front page:
For the youth today it is hard to understand parents who don't support Obama. This is common for many of the young people of this generation, just as the youth back during the civil rights era had parents who just didn't understand the racism like they saw it. Many of you are struggling with the fact that your parents just don't get it. They don't feel the same about Obama the way that you do. They still cling to their old ways of guns and bibles and greedy capitalism. You know better. You know that Obama, and the Democratic marjority, can run things better than those greedy corporations. You know that the best way to run an industry is to nationalize that industry.
That is why this thread has been created. For you, the future of our nation, to let us know who your parents are. Tell us the names of those who do not support Obama the way that you do. Let us know if your parents own guns, or wish ill will toward the government. Let us know before it is too late for you and too late for your country.
It is the patriotic thing to do. Let the government take care of this problem for you.
List your parents name here.
It's worked so well in the past for Mao, Stalin, Castro, Pot, etc...
It's not quite clear to me whether this is meant to be spoof or serious (the fact that it's hard to tell says something about the current state of the world).
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
By Richard L. Cravatts
The fragile ceasefire between Hamas and Israel in the recent Gaza incursion may have brought a tentative peace to that region, but on campuses in California -- the veritable ground zero of anti-Israel sentiment in the academy -- the debate over the 60-year conflict has gained a new, and more insidious, momentum as student demonstrations, protests, and denunciations of racist Zionism, a "brutal occupation," and "genocide" of Arabs were heard on campuses worldwide.
The virulence of anti-Israelism and antisemitism at The University of California, Irvine campus, for instance, has been so flagrant and endemic in recent years that it actually prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the findings of which were issued in a damning 2007 report. But San Francisco State University is not far behind in the ignoble way it has enabled its Muslim students' organizations to create a veritable reign of terror on campus against Jewish and pro-Israel students, while simultaneously attempting to silence voices of opposition, a situation made evident this January when SFSU's College Republicans were once again pushed into the limelight for their outspoken challenges to the school's ubiquitous Palestinianism.
Playing off the recent indignity suffered by former president Bush when an insolent reporter hurled a shoe at the President's head during a press conference, the College Republicans had set up a booth to let students who so wished to sign an anti-Hamas, anti-terror petition and throw a shoe at a Hamas flag. Deeply "offended" by the Republicans for daring to condemn terrorists, rather than the Israeli state in defending its civilians from genocidal attack, members of SFSU's General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) and socialist club overturned the table, seized the Hamas flag, and were physically aggressive enough in their assault of the Republican students to result in two of their members, Muhammad Abdullah and Jeremy Stern, being put under arrest.
The outcome of this event, one would think, would be fairly straightforward, since the pro-Hamas protestors clearly violated SFSU's own rules for student behavior, which clearly prohibit "conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person within or related to the university community, including physical abuse, threats, intimidation, [or] harassment," all of which the Republican group experienced.
But in the morally-inverted world of academia, the Republican group, for the third time, find themselves the target of punishment and censure, not their attackers, and the "offended parties -- the GUPS and the socialist club -- have made some breathtakingly audacious demands to the SFSU administration: the College Republicans must be punished or sanctioned for throwing shoes at the Hamas flag; pending charges should be dropped against the two protestors who assaulted the College Republicans and seized the Hamas flag; and, most ominously for defenders of free expression on campus, a forum should be created to "educate" students about what forms of speech the "offended" students deem acceptable or unacceptable, including what the Left regularly tries to proscribe as "hate speech."
The idea that one group of college students believe they can and should decide what acceptable speech is at any given moment is a particularly chilling concept, particularly when those same students have defined their political beliefs with an unwavering support for the jihadist aggression of groups that threaten not only Israel, but the West, as well.
Two years ago, the College Republicans held a similar anti-terrorism rally at which SFSU students were invited to stomp on the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah, and with similar punitive results: the complaining students accused the Republican group members of "acts of incivility" and "intimidation," suggesting that they created a "hostile environment" by publicly walking over the terrorist flags, which, unbeknownst to the Republican students, happen bear the name of Allah in Arabic script.
While college demonstrators here and abroad regularly burn, deface, and desecrate the flags of Israel and the United States, something that the courts have repeatedly upheld as Constitutionally-protected speech, only on a campus controlled by Left-leaning faculty and radicalized students could the protest against the flags of genocidal terrorist thugs be considered, as it was here, an attempt to "incite violence," "hateful religious intolerance" and an act by those who "pre-meditated the stomping of the flags knowing it would offend some people and possibly incite violence." Thanks to the intervention of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that defends campus free speech, the Republican club was exonerated, but only after they had been dragged through proceedings by University officials who had to be reminded by FIRE that "speech does not constitute incitement if a speaker's words result in violence because people despise what the speaker said and wish to silence him or her."
Were only the College Republicans acting out in a provocative way on an otherwise peaceful SFSU campus, they might well be rebuked for being crude and demonstrating impolite and impolitic behavior. But not only has the campus gained notoriety for the outrageousness of some of its morally-defective protests, but the same "offended" parties who sought punishments for the College Republicans, the General Union of Palestinian Students, have continually been at the center of a succession of riots, protests, and anti-Israel, anti-American hate-fests and counter-protests at which radical speakers regularly, and with unbridled invective, denounce and demonize Jews, Zionists, Israel, Republicans, and America.
Most notorious, for example, was the Muslim student-sponsored, pro-Palestinian April 2002 demonstration that included odious flyers and posters depicting a dead Palestinian baby on a soup-can label imprinted with the words "Palestinian Children Meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license," echoing the centuries-old blood libel of European antisemitism that accused Jews of murdering Gentile children and using their blood to bake matzos -- a slander that has, not surprisingly, currently gained credence in the Arab world. Even if the perpetrators of this cruel protest consider this type of expression merely "academic free speech" and legitimate debate about Zionism, and also disingenuously claim that that there is no underlying Jew-hatred here, only debate about Israeli policies, and even if they are to be believed, might not such flyers possibly offend Jewish students on campus? Could accusing an ethnic group of infanticide possibly be construed as "intimidation" or fostering "incivility" on campus?
Not content to mount their own vile protests against Zionism, Jews, and Israel, the pro-Palestinian student groups took it upon themselves the following month to disrupt a vigil for Holocaust Remembrance Day where some 30 Jewish students who were reciting the Mourners' Kaddish -- the Jewish prayer for the dead -- were shouted down by protesters who countered with grisly prayers in memory of Palestinian suicide bombers. The pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators, armed with whistles and bull horns, physically assaulted the Jewish students, spat on them, and screamed such charming epithets as "Too bad Hitler didn't finish the job," "Get out or we will kill you," "F**k the Jews," "Die racist pigs," and "Go back to Russia, Jews." The violence escalated to the extent that San Francisco police officers finally had to usher the Jewish students to safety off campus. "This is not civic discourse, this is not free speech," lamented Laurie Zoloth, SFSU's Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the time of the incident, "this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control."
Is this merely academic debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or is something more insidious finding expression in the minds of these hate-filled students blinded by their obsession with the plight of the Left's favorite third-world victims, the Palestinians? Claims by pusillanimous college administrators that hate-filled protests against Jews and Israel are merely conversations about politics are more than disingenuous; while universities see no difficulty is making moral judgments about "hate speech" when it is aimed at groups who have achieved status as victims in a world bereft of social justice -- blacks, gays, Palestinians, illegal aliens, among them -- that same moral recognition is oddly absent when vitriolic charges of racism, imperialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, occupation, and genocide are carelessly lodged at Israel and its supporters in the U.S. and the West. Victim status also insulates members of those groups from criticism; only the acts and behavior of the "other," the oppressors, are subject to critique, a convenient way for SFSU's jihad-supporting student groups to justify their ideological onslaught against the Zionism and Jews.
How has this corruption of what should be legitimate academic debate come about? Irwin Cotler, a Canadian MP and former minister of justice and attorney-general, believes that this pernicious ideology has manifested itself so "that Israel is delegitimized, if not demonized, by the ascription to it of the two most scurrilous indictments of 20th-century racism -- Nazism and apartheid -- the embodiment of all evil. These very labels of Zionism and Israel as ‘racist, apartheid and Nazi' supply the criminal indictment. No further debate is required."
Given this false sense of moral superiority by the libelous framing of Israel as the singularly most evil nation on earth, its campus enemies at SFSU and elsewhere feel free to speak against it in the most destructive and hurtful way possible. At the same time, pro-Israel, anti-terrorism voices are marginalized, disregarded, shouted down, or, as in the case of the College Republicans most recently, denounced as hate speech, unworthy of being part of an ongoing, vigorous debate, and deserving only of being punished and silenced by those who want only one side of the debate to be heard in what should be a vigorous, thoughtful debate in the ‘marketplace of ideas.'
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., director of Boston University's Program in Publishing at the Center for Professional Education, is currently writing a book about higher education, Genocidal Liberalism: The University's Jihad Against Israel.
8% TAX Enterprise sues city over attempt to force collection
February 24, 2009
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
How would you like to rent a car in Waukegan or St. Charles, only to be slapped with the 8 percent "transaction tax" that applies to Chicago car rentals?
Brace yourself. With a burgeoning $50.5 million budget gap, Chicago is reaching into suburban pockets. And Enterprise Rent-a-Car has filed a lawsuit challenging the Daley administration's effort to collect the tax from drivers who rent cars in the suburbs.
Enterprise Rent-a-Car has filed a lawsuit challenging the Chicago's effort to collect an 8 percent tax from drivers who rent cars in the suburbs. (AP)
The suit was filed last week in Kane County after an administrative ruling by the city's Department of Revenue that City Hall will "presume" that all car rentals in the six-county area are subject to Chicago's 8 percent transaction tax.
To be excused from the tax, the city is requiring rental companies to photocopy customers' driver's licenses and obtain a sworn statement from customers that they won't be spending more than 50 percent of their time driving in Chicago during the rental period. Without that, the city is demanding the companies collect the tax and turn the money over to the city. Audits will be conducted. At least one is already under way.
Enterprise is asking a judge to declare the city's action unconstitutional.
"Can you imagine if all municipalities did that?" said Stan Kaminski, an attorney for Enterprise. "We feel it's an intrusion of privacy to ask for a copy of the driver's license and a sworn affidavit signed under penalty of perjury on where they might hypothetically use the vehicle."
Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department, said the tax applies to rentals outside the city "when the vehicles will primarily be used in Chicago."
"We're not asking them to impose the city's tax on all of their transactions," Hoyle said. "We have provided them with an affidavit for their customers to fill out so they can determine whether or not the tax applies."
Monday, February 23, 2009
Sunday, 22nd February 2009
After I wrote the assessment below of the threat already posed by Obama’s policy towards Israel and the Islamist war against the west, news emerged of a further possible appointment to his administration which exceeds in sheer brazenness the malice even of the others. Chas W. Freeman Jr., a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who is tipped to become chairman of the National Intelligence Council, is a piece of work.
In 2008, he told the Middle East Policy Council:
Hamas’ ascendancy as an elected government in Gaza has been accompanied by new extremes in suffering for the Palestinian people... How can there be two states when one of them is limited to less than 11 percent of the original territory of the Palestine mandate? How can there be two states when one state has the sovereignty that we accord to Indian tribes, rather than the sort of sovereignty that is generally recognized internationally as pertinent to a state?
In September 2005, he told the National Council on US-Arab Relations:
As long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected. Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent. ...And as long as such Israeli violence against Palestinians continues, it is utterly unrealistic to expect that Palestinians will stand down from violent resistance and retaliation against Israelis...
And that in turn paled by comparison with these remarks by Freeman in 2006, reported on the Saudi/US Relations Information Service:
There will be no acceptance of Israel, by the Arabs or by the Muslims - including the Iranians, and the Indonesians, and others, if Israel does not find a way of coexisting peacefully with the other inhabitants of the land in which it has established itself... Demonstrably, Israel excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace... For the past half decade Israel has enjoyed carte blanche from the United States to experiment with any policy it favored to stabilize its relations with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors, including most recently its efforts to bomb Lebanon into peaceful coexistence with it and to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle.
...Tragically, despite all the advantages and opportunities Israel has had over the fifty-nine years of its existence, it has failed to achieve concord and reconciliation with anyone in its region, still less to gain their admiration or affection. Instead, with each decade, Israel's behavior has deviated farther from the humane ideals of its founders and the high ethical standards of the religion that most of its inhabitants profess.
He even blamed Israel for 9/11 and the Islamist war upon the west:
We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel's approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home. We are now paying with the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on battlefields in several regions of the realm of Islam, with more said by our government's neoconservative mentors to be in prospect.
So close is Freeman to Saudi Arabia that Ed Lasky previously remarked he should more properly be described as Saudi’s ambassador to America:
As head of the Middle East Policy Council, he has promoted the interest of Saudi Arabia. He shares Board membership with executives from major multinationals with major markets in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, Frank Carlucci-head of the Carlyle Group, George McGovern, and...a representative of the giant Saudi Binladin Group.
If he is appointed to this new intelligence role, Freeman will shape the intelligence assessments that will tell America, among other things, what threats are posed to America and the free world by the Iranian regime. We already saw, with the misleading and manipulatively spun NIE two years ago which facilitated the demonstrably false conclusion that Iran had stopped working on the bomb – a conclusion almost immediately disproved by further intelligence but which was used to head off action against Iran – how such politicised intel can be used to thwart attempts to stop the Iranian bomb.
With such viciously prejudiced views and such an intimate association with the principal force behind the Sunni division of the Islamic jihad, can anyone apart from the west’s gloating Jew-haters doubt that the appointment by America’s 44th President of Chas W Freeman as chairman of the NIC would be a stunning coup as a weapon in the armoury of the enemies of the Jewish people and the free world?
Amnesty International calls for U.N. arms embargo on Israel and Palestinians
Group says both sides used weapons from abroad to attack civilians in Gaza conflict
Amnesty issues a 38-page report detailing "evidence of war crimes" by all parties
Amnesty said it found munitions fragments in school playgrounds, hospitals, homes
(CNN) -- The human rights group Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on Israel and the Palestinians, saying both sides used weapons supplied from abroad to carry out attacks on civilians during their three-week conflict in Gaza.
The London-based group issued a 38-page report Sunday night that detailed "evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law by all parties."
Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the United States, killing hundreds of civilians and destroying homes, the group said.
The use of white phosphorus is restricted under international law. In the early days of the Gaza conflict, the Israel Defense Forces denied using the ordnance. But later, Israeli officials said only that any shells fired in Gaza were "in accordance with international law."
Amnesty said its researchers found munitions fragments littering school playgrounds, hospitals and homes after the 22-day fighting in Gaza ended in January.
Many of the munitions used by the Israeli army were American-made, and included bombs, white phosphorus remains and missiles seemingly launched from unmanned drones, Amnesty said.
"To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the U.S.A. and paid for with U.S. taxpayers' money," Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East director, said in the report.
He called on the United States to immediately suspend military aid to Israel.
The United States is to provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel under a 10-year agreement that runs till 2017 -- a 25-percent increase compared with the period preceding the Bush administration, Amnesty said.
The group also took to task Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007. It said it found remains of Qassam and Grad rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups in civilian areas.
Grad rockets have a longer range than the crude, home-made Qassams. Israel said Palestinian militants have fired about 10,000 rockets and mortars into Israel in the past eight years.
"These unsophisticated weapons are either smuggled into Gaza clandestinely or constructed there from components secretly brought in from abroad," Amnesty said.
Israel's foreign ministry responded harshly to the report, calling it biased and "dedicated almost exclusively to the censure of Israel."
The ministry said the report does not mention Hamas' "deliberate use" of civilians as human shields. It also said Israel's use of weapons complied with international law and denied that its forces targeted civilians.
"The comparison of the supply of weapons to Israel and the Hamas in inappropriate," the ministry said in a statement. "Israel is a sovereign nation that is obligated to use force to protect its citizens, while Hamas is a terror organization."
Israel launched the attack on Hamas in Gaza on December 27 with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks on southern Israel.
More than 1,300 Palestinians died and about 5,400 others were wounded. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers, were killed in the fighting.
Since the two sides declared a cease-fire on January 21, militants have sporadically fired rockets into Israel. Israel has responded with airstrikes.
What do these have in common: genocide in Darfur; child soldiers in Chad and Congo; compulsory sterilization of women in China; suppression of dissent in Cuba, Iran, Syria and Russia; rape as a political weapon in Zimbabwe; sex trafficking in Asia; denial of human rights to minorities and women in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries?
Answer: None of those gross abuses has drawn the notice of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
No, the council has had other matters to attend to, the vast majority of which focused on Israel. Pretty much whenever an Israeli soldier has responded to terrorism, the group has cranked out a formal condemnation. Twenty in less than three years.
But now the council has broadened its portfolio. It has turned to brainstorming over the ills likely to flow from the global economic meltdown - meaning, let's figure out how to heap blame on the U.S. It also has decried the human rights threat posed by global warming, declaring:
"The inundation and disappearance of small island States would have implications for the right to self-determination."
Take that, global warming.
As for female genital mutilation in Africa - who cares?
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Can the editor tell me where he found this "right to know" clause in either the state or federal constitution?
Published Friday, February 20, 2009
Concealed weapons permits in Florida
347,350 in 2005
540,991 in 2009
95,000 applications waiting to be processed
Four of every 100 adult Floridians now has a permit to carry a concealed gun, and 95,000 are awaiting action on their application for one. But while the number of concealed weapons permit holders has jumped 56 percent in four years, no one knows their names. In 2006, the Florida Legislature exempted the concealed weapons permit database from public view. Permit holders may like that no one knows they may be carrying a gun. What about the other 18 million Floridians? The right to carry a concealed weapon should not trample the right to know who has a permit to carry one. Those carrying guns might feel safer, but what about everyone else who cannot know if their neighbor or co-worker is carrying one? Lawmakers should remove the exemption from the public records law and make the names of permit holders' public again.
By MARK SHERMAN Associated Press
Feb. 22, 2009,
WASHINGTON — Ignacio Carlos Flores-Figueroa, an undocumented worker from Mexico, made a curious and undeniably bad decision. After working under an assumed name for six years, he decided to use his real name and exchanged one set of phony identification numbers for another.
The change made his employer suspicious and the authorities were called in. The old numbers were made up, but the new ones he bought happened to belong to real people. Federal prosecutors said that was enough to label Flores-Figueroa an identity thief.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday on prosecutors’ aggressive use of a new law that was intended to strengthen efforts to combat identity theft. In at least hundreds of cases last year, workers accused of immigration violations found themselves facing the more serious identity theft charge as well, without any indication they knew their counterfeit Social Security and other identification numbers belonged to actual people and were not made up.
The government has used the charge, which carries a mandatory two-year minimum prison term, to persuade people to plead guilty to the lesser immigration charges and accept prompt deportation. Many of those undocumented workers had been arrested in immigration raids.
The case hinges on how the justices resolve this question: Does it matter whether someone using a phony ID knows that it belongs to someone else?
The government, backed by victims’ rights groups, says no. The “havoc wrecked on the victim’s life is the same either way,” said Stephen Masterson, a Los Angeles-based lawyer, in his brief for the victims’ rights groups.
On the other side, Flores-Figueroa and more than 20 immigrants’ rights groups, defense lawyers and privacy experts say that the law Congress passed in 2004 was aimed at the identity thief who gains access to people’s private information to drain their accounts and run up bills in their name. Surveys estimate that more than 8 million people in the United States are victims of identity theft each year.
Flores-Figueroa acknowledges he used fraudulent documents to get and keep his job at a steel plant in East Moline, Ill. But he “had no intention of stealing anyone’s identity,” his lawyers said in their brief to the court. He traveled to Chicago and bought numbers from someone who trades in counterfeit IDs.
Had he been caught while using the fictitious name and numbers that went with it, he could not have been charged with the more serious offense.
Federal appeals courts in St. Louis, which ruled against Flores-Figueroa, Atlanta and Richmond, Va., have come down on the government’s side. Appeals courts based in Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have ruled for defendants.
The government’s use of identity theft charges in immigration cases was on full display in last year’s raid on a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. Authorities charged 270 undocumented workers with identity theft, including its threat of two years in prison.
Chuck Roth, litigation director for the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, called the charge “a bludgeon” that was intended to elicit guilty pleas to lesser charges. Roth’s group joined one of the briefs supporting Flores-Figueroa.
All 270 workers accepted plea deals in which they also agreed not to contest deportation.
An additional 100 workers arrested in the same raid were using unassigned numbers and faced charges with little prospect of prison time.
The case is Flores-Figueroa v. U.S., 08-108.
By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY Posted Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:20 PM PT
Competitiveness: When Silicon Valley-based Intel said this week that it would invest $7 billion to expand, it should have been a time of rejoicing for California. But it isn't. Indeed, it only underscores the state's problems.
The world's leading maker of microprocessors plans to create 7,000 jobs in new and expanded plants that will churn out computer chips 30% more powerful than the current generation of chips.
But California-based Intel won't make them in California.
Instead, the company is expanding in Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico. Anywhere but California, which is now so unfriendly to business, even its home-grown firms don't want to expand there.
This is bad news for the Golden State, which has one of the worst business environments in the country. And it won't be helped a bit by the recent budget deal reached between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-led legislature.
That deal seeks to shrink an expected $42 billion state deficit with spending cuts of $15 billion, a $13 billion "temporary" tax hike and billions in aid from President Obama's stimulus plan.
Democratic lawmakers were able to get the last Republican vote needed to pass their tax hikes by trading a planned 12-cent-a-gallon hike in gasoline taxes for a quarter-point jack in the state's already-high income-tax rate. Some deal. It will only make living and doing business in the state costlier.
As Intel shows, businesses are struggling to stay and grow in California. In the first 10 months of last year, the state lost 25,000 high-quality manufacturing jobs — and has lost 25% of its industrial work force since 2001, according to the California Manufacturers & Technology Association.
As a story in the Wall Street Journal recently noted, "Several Western states are launching aggressive efforts to poach jobs, talent and industry from California, sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the Golden State's current political and financial woes."
Well-trained, well-educated Californians are leaving in droves — and are being replaced by poor immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Since 2005, there's been a net outflow of middle-class Californians — and 260,000 people left for other states in 2007.
Think this hasn't further hurt California's housing market? Nothing wrong with immigrants, mind you, but the last thing you want as a state is to lose the entrepreneurs and intellectual capital that made you great.
The simple reason for this is California has priced itself out of the market. Its environmental and industrial regulations are among the nation's strictest. Its taxes are high, and so is the cost of living.
Businesses face huge costs to remain or expand. According to the Milken Institute's Business Cost Index, California businesses face overall costs that are 23% higher than other states on average.
Taxes are 21% higher, and industrial and commercial space costs more. Even wages in a state that has millions of low-paid illegal immigrants are on average 15% higher than other states' wages.
This week, a business group criticized the Western Climate Initiative, an environmental pact among seven Western governors and four Canadian provincial premiers that seeks to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2020.
For largely rural Western states and Canadian provinces, this shouldn't be much of a problem. But it will de-industrialize already costly California by hiking its energy costs sky-high.
This didn't just happen; it's been going on for years. As the state's leading historian, Kevin Starr, told author Joel Kotkin, "California is in no way a role model for anyone from outside the state."
Sad, but true. At one time, California meant business. Today, its political leaders are almost entirely lacking in understanding how a free economy works. For the once-Golden State, it's a real pity.
Did you know that government workers in California get 16 holiday days off while the private sector acknowledges 6.
The state teachers union has so much power that they have run the school system into the ground, yet they always want more money to provide even worse results.
The bureaucrats and elected officials think of themselves above the law: a planning board commissioner in Sebastopol did not pay her property taxes for years and was accused of vandalizing her neighbors car because she didn't like where he parked (legally, I might add). Government is the big money pot and that's where the crooks and miscreants head.