Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton object.
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
Hugo Chávez's coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the nation's constitution.
It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran Constitution to his liking.
But Honduras is not out of the Venezuelan woods yet. Yesterday the Central American country was being pressured to restore the authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya's abuses, also wants him back in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their ground.
That Mr. Zelaya acted as if he were above the law, there is no doubt. While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite, the power to open that door does not lie with the president. A constituent assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by its Congress.
But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do.
The top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told the president that he would have to comply. Mr. Zelaya promptly fired him. The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated. Mr. Zelaya refused.
Calculating that some critical mass of Hondurans would take his side, the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court's order.
The attorney general had already made clear that the referendum was illegal, and he further announced that he would prosecute anyone involved in carrying it out. Yesterday, Mr. Zelaya was arrested by the military and is now in exile in Costa Rica.
It remains to be seen what Mr. Zelaya's next move will be. It's not surprising that chavistas throughout the region are claiming that he was victim of a military coup. They want to hide the fact that the military was acting on a court order to defend the rule of law and the constitution, and that the Congress asserted itself for that purpose, too.
Mrs. Clinton has piled on as well. Yesterday she accused Honduras of violating "the precepts of the Interamerican Democratic Charter" and said it "should be condemned by all." Fidel Castro did just that. Mr. Chávez pledged to overthrow the new government.
Honduras is fighting back by strictly following the constitution. The Honduran Congress met in emergency session yesterday and designated its president as the interim executive as stipulated in Honduran law. It also said that presidential elections set for November will go forward. The Supreme Court later said that the military acted on its orders. It also said that when Mr. Zelaya realized that he was going to be prosecuted for his illegal behavior, he agreed to an offer to resign in exchange for safe passage out of the country. Mr. Zelaya denies it.
Many Hondurans are going to be celebrating Mr. Zelaya's foreign excursion. Street protests against his heavy-handed tactics had already begun last week. On Friday a large number of military reservists took their turn. "We won't go backwards," one sign said. "We want to live in peace, freedom and development."
Besides opposition from the Congress, the Supreme Court, the electoral tribunal and the attorney general, the president had also become persona non grata with the Catholic Church and numerous evangelical church leaders. On Thursday evening his own party in Congress sponsored a resolution to investigate whether he is mentally unfit to remain in office.
For Hondurans who still remember military dictatorship, Mr. Zelaya also has another strike against him: He keeps rotten company. Earlier this month he hosted an OAS general assembly and led the effort, along side OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, to bring Cuba back into the supposedly democratic organization.
The OAS response is no surprise. Former Argentine Ambassador to the U.N. Emilio Cárdenas told me on Saturday that he was concerned that "the OAS under Insulza has not taken seriously the so-called 'democratic charter.' It seems to believe that only military 'coups' can challenge democracy. The truth is that democracy can be challenged from within, as the experiences of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and now Honduras, prove." A less-kind interpretation of Mr. Insulza's judgment is that he doesn't mind the Chávez-style coup.
The struggle against chavismo has never been about left-right politics. It is about defending the independence of institutions that keep presidents from becoming dictators. This crisis clearly delineates the problem. In failing to come to the aid of checks and balances, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Insulza expose their true colors.
Ending any speculation about another possible run for governor, Rochester businessman and Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano said Thursday he will be moving his legal residence to Florida to escape New York state taxes.
Golisano told a gathering of Rochester business executives that he will remain as owner of the Buffalo hockey team, but he is fleeing the Empire State to avoid paying $13,000 a day in state income taxes.
While Golisano said his move will not end his role as outspoken critic of New York state government, it remains uncertain how seriously his cause will be taken at the State Capitol as a resident of the Town of Naples, Fla.
The billionaire earlier this year told The Buffalo News that the only thing keeping him in New York was his family. “The only reason I’m staying in this state is I have family here. Economically, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said in February.
But since then, Gov. David A. Paterson and lawmakers approved a state budget that will raise $4 billion in new income taxes this year on wealthier residents. In Golisano’s case —and anyone else making more than $500,000 this year — he is seeing his state tax rate go from 6.85 percent to 8.97 percent.
Monday, June 29, 2009
It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?
Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Horne v. Flores drives another nail into the coffin of bilingual education, the teaching theory in which immigrant children are segregated by language and taught primarily in their native language while being taught English on the side.
Bilingual education is a documented failure in school systems across the country, and the 5-4 decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., involving Arizona's Nogales Unified School District emphasizes this failure with a stark conclusion: Teach English. Specifically, the high court recognizes the demonstrated effectiveness of structured English immersion (SEI) methods for teaching English language learners (ELL).
In 1992, some students and parents in the district sued the state, claiming it wasn't taking "appropriate action" to overcome barriers to ELLs in schools. The state responded with English-immersion techniques. (Thomas Horne is the state school superintendent for public instruction.) Here's what the high court concluded: "Research on ELL instruction indicates there is documented academic support for the view that SEI is significantly more effective than bilingual education. Findings of the Arizona Department of Education in 2004 strongly support this conclusion."
The Supreme Court also concluded that a lower court had failed to adequately consider whether the Nogales school district's implementation of SEI was a "changed circumstance" warranting relief.
SEI has proved its superiority to bilingual education wherever it has been implemented. The English-advocacy group ProEnglishfiled a Horne friend-of-the court brief, and it is significant that the ruling cites Arizona data provided by the organization.
In fact, new numbers just released by the Arizona Department of Education estimate that 40,000, or 29 percent, of ELLs enrolled in SEI classes passed the English fluency exam and will transition into mainstream classes this year. That is up from just 17,813 students, or 12 percent, of ELLs who passed the English-fluency exam after being enrolled in bilingual education classes in 2006-07.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Nogales school district is doing exactly what the law requires - taking "appropriate action" through English immersion techniques to teach English to students who grew up speaking another language.
The Supreme Court could have cited many more SEI success stories. Massachusetts, for example, effectively uses English immersion as opposed to bilingual education. The June 7 Boston Globe reported on that state's top-performing high school graduates - the valedictorians - including a boy from Haiti who arrived in Boston four years ago without knowing a word of English. The paper reported that Edner Paul not only leads his school but won a four-year scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Furthermore, according to the Globe, immigrant students were class valedictorians in 17 of the 42 high schools in Boston - and most arrived a few years ago barely knowing English.
A recent study by the Editorial Projects in Education also spotlights Massachusetts education and chronicles further encouraging news about English learners. Compared to English learners across the country, 36 percent of the state's ELL students reached a proficient level in English, as opposed to just 16 percent nationwide. If that level of success holds true each year, most kids would learn English quickly enough to be out of special programs in two to three years at most.
Nogales school officials were trying to follow a successful model in spite of a vocal multilingual lobby that seeks to coddle non-English speakers in our classrooms. Yet polls continue to show that more than 90 percent of all Americans view English is the nation's unifying language - a common tongue that enables job-seeking legal newcomers to participate in the American dream. The Supreme Court couldn't have sent a clearer signal: Get rid of bilingual education and give English language learners a real opportunity to learn English and succeed.
Phil Kent is a board member of ProEnglish, based in Arlington.
Obama creates a deadly power vacuum
There's a joke about a man who tells a psychiatrist, "Everybody hates me," to which the psychiatrist responds, "That's ridiculous - everyone doesn't know you, yet." Which brings me to Barack Obama: one of the best-informed people in the American security establishment told me the other day that the president is a "Manchurian Candidate". That can't be true - Manchuria isn't in the business of brainwashing prospective presidential candidates any more. There's no one left to betray America to. Obama is creating a strategic void in which no major power will dominate, and every minor power must fend for itself. The outcome is incalculably hard to analyze and terrifying to consider. Obama doesn't want to betray the United States; he only wants to empower America's enemies. Forcing Israel to abandon its strategic buffer (the so-called settlements) was supposed to placate Iran, so that Iran would help America stabilize Iraq, where its influence looms large over the Shi'ite majority. America also sought Iran's help in suppressing the Taliban in Afghanistan. In Obama's imagination, a Sunni Arab coalition - empowered by Washington's turn against Israel - would encircle Iran and dissuade it from acquiring nuclear weapons, while an entirely separate Shi'ite coalition with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would suppress the radical Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was the worst-designed scheme concocted by a Western strategist since Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery attacked the bridges at Arnhem in 1944, and it has blown up in Obama's face. Iran already has made clear that casting America's enemies in the leading role of an American operation has a defect, namely that America's enemies rather would lose on their own terms than win on America's terms. Iran's verbal war with the American president over the violent suppression of election-fraud protests leaves Washington with no policy at all. The premise of Obama's policy was that progress on the Palestinian issue would empower a Sunni coalition. As the president said May 18:
If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians - between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.Israel's supporters remonstrated in vain. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Obama supporter, wrote, "If there is to be any linkage - and I do not believe there should be - it goes the other way: it will be much easier for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank if Iran does not have a nuclear umbrella under which it can continue to encourage Hamas and Hezbollah to fire rockets at Israeli civilians." No matter: America made clear that it had annulled the George W Bush administration's promise that a final settlement would allow most of Israel's 500,000 "settlers" to keep their homes, in order to launch the fantasy ship of Iranian cooperation with America. That policy now is in ruins, and Washington has no plan B. David Axelrod, Obama's top political advisor, told television interviewers on January 28 that Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who spent the last week denouncing the United States, "Did not have final say" over Iran's foreign policy and that America still wanted to negotiate with Iran. This sounds idiotic, but the White House really has painted itself into a corner. The trouble is that Obama has promised to withdraw American forces from Iraq, and Iran has sufficient influence in Shi'ite-majority Iraq to cause continuous upheaval, perhaps even to eventually win control of the country. By a fateful coincidence, American troops are scheduled to leave Iraq's urban centers on June 30. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein left Iraq open to Iranian destabilization; that is why the elder George Bush left the Iraqi dictator in power in 1990. Offering Iran a seat at the table in exchange for setting a limit to its foreign ambitions - in Lebanon and Gaza as well as Iraq - seemed to make sense on paper. But the entity that calls itself revolutionary Islam is not made of paper, but of flesh and blood. It is in danger of internal collapse and can only assert its authority by expanding its influence as aggressively as it can. After the election disaster, Iran's revolutionary leadership urgently needs to demonstrate its credibility. Israel now can say, "A country that murders its own citizens will have no compunction about massacring its enemies," and attack Iran's nuclear capacity with fewer consequences than would have been imaginable in May. And if an Israeli strike were to succeed, or appear successful to the world, the resulting humiliation might be fatal to the regime. Israel may not be Tehran's worst nightmare. Iraq's Sunnis are testing the resolve of the weakened mullahs. The suicide bombing that killed 73 people at a Shi'ite mosque in Kirkuk on June 20 and a second bombing that killed another 72 Shi'ites in Baghdad's Sadr City slum most likely reflect Sunni perceptions that a weakened Tehran will provide less support for Iraqi Shi'ites. Although Shi'ites comprise more than three-fifths of Iraq's population, Sunnis provided the entire military leadership and are better organized on the ground. America's hopes of enlisting Iran to provide cover for its withdrawal from the cities of Iraq seem delusional. What move on the chessboard might Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei venture to pre-empt an Israeli air raid against the nuclear facilities? Iran has the rocket launchers of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and terrorist sleeper cells throughout the world. Iran might seek to pre-empt what it anticipates to be the next move from Israel by demonstrating its capacity to inflict injury on Israel or on Jewish targets elsewhere. That would require careful judgment, for a heavy handed action could provide a pretext for even more serious action by the Israelis and others. The same sort of consideration applies to Iranian support for Pakistan Shi'ites, for Hezbollah, and other vehicles of Iran's program of imperial expansion. The Obama administration has put itself in a peculiar bind. It has demanded that the Pakistani army suppress the Taliban, after Islamabad attempted a power-sharing agreement that left the Taliban in control of the Swat Valley. To root out the largely Pashtun Taliban, Pakistan's largely Punjabi army has driven a million people into refugee camps and leveled entire towns in the Swat Valley. Tens of thousands of refugees are now fleeing the Pakistani army in the South Waziristan tribal area. Punjabis killing Pashtuns is nothing new in the region, but the ferocity of the present effort does not augur well for an early end to the conflict. While the Pakistan army holds nothing back in attacking the Taliban, American troops in Afghanistan have been told that they no longer can call in air strikes if civilians are likely to suffer. That will put American forces in the unfortunate position of the Pirates of Penzance, who exempted orphans. Once this became generally known, everyone they attempted to rob turned out to be an orphan. The Taliban need only take a page from Hamas' book, and ensure that civilians are present wherever they operate. The US has made clear that it will not deal in civilian blood, the currency of warfare in that region since before the dawn of history. It will not be taken seriously in consequence. What will the administration do now? As all its initiatives splatter against the hard realities of the region, it will probably do less and less, turning the less appetizing aspects of the fighting over to local allies and auxiliaries who do not share its squeamishness about shedding civilian blood. That is the most dangerous outcome of all, for America is the main stabilizing force in the region. The prospect of civil wars raging simultaneously in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer improbable. The Israel-Palestine issue is linked to all of these through Iran, whose credibility depends on its ability to sustain such puppies of war as Hezbollah and Hamas. Whether or not the Israelis take the opportunity to strike Iran, the prospect of an Israeli strike will weigh on Iran's proxies in the region, and keep Israel's borders in condition of potential violence for the interim. America's great good fortune is that no hostile superpower stands ready to benefit from its paralysis and confusion. When Soviet troops landed in Afghanistan in December 1979, America was in the grip of an economic crisis comparable to the present depression. American diplomats at the Tehran Embassy were still hostages to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The price of gold doubled from around $400 to $800 after the Russian invasion because most of the world thought that Russia would win the Cold War. If America lost its dominant superpower status in the West, the dollar no longer could serve as a global reserve currency. To the superpower goes the seigniorage, the state's premium for providing a currency. By contrast, the gold price barely fluttered all through the present crisis. America remains the undisputed global superpower for the time being. America's creditors express consternation about its $1.8 trillion budget deficit and many trillions more of guarantees for the banking system, but there is nothing they can do about it for the time being but talk. That is how one should interpret a June 25 Reuters report that a "senior researcher with the ruling Communist Party" had urged China to shift some of its $2 trillion in reserves out of dollars and into gold.
Li Lianzhong, who heads the economic department of the Party's policy research office, said China should use more of its $1.95 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to buy energy and natural resource assets. Speaking at a foreign exchange and gold forum, Li also said that buying land in the United States was a better option for China than buying US Treasury securities. "Should we buy gold or US Treasuries?" Li asked. "The US is printing dollars on a massive scale, and in view of that trend, according to the laws of economics, there is no doubt that the dollar will fall. So gold should be a better choice." There is no suggestion that Li, even though he is a senior researcher, was enunciating an agreed party line. The last thing China wants at the moment is to undercut the US dollar, for three reasons. First, as America's largest creditor, China has the most to lose from a dollar collapse. Second, Americans would buy fewer Chinese imports. And third, the collapse of the dollar would further erode America's will to fulfill its superpower function, and that is what China wants least of all. America remains the indispensable outsider in Asia. No one likes the United States, but everyone dislikes the United States less than they dislike their neighbors. India need not worry about China's role in Pakistan, for example, because America mediates Indian-Pakistani relations, and America has no interest in a radical change to the status quo. Neither does China, for that matter, but India is less sure of that. China does not trust Japan for historical reasons that will not quickly fade, but need not worry about it because America is the guarantor of Japan's security. The Seventh Fleet is the most disliked - and nonetheless the most welcome - entity in Asia. All of this may change drastically, quickly, and for the worse. Obama's policy reduces to empowering America's enemies in the hope that they will conform to American interests out of gratitude. Just the opposite result is likely to ensure: Iran, Pakistan and other regional powers are likely to take radical measures. Iran is threatened with a collapse of its Shi'ite program from Lebanon to Afghanistan, and Pakistan is threatened with a breakup into three or more states. Obama has not betrayed the interests of the United States to any foreign power, but he has done the next worst thing, namely to create a void in the region by withdrawing American power. The result is likely to be a species of pandemonium that will prompt the leading players in the region to learn to live without the United States. In his heart of hearts, Obama sees America as a force for evil in the world, apologizing for past American actions that did more good than harm. An example is America's sponsorship of the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the left-leaning government of Mohammed Mossadegh. "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," the president offered in his Cairo address to Muslims on June 5. Although Iran's theocracy despises Mossadegh - official Iranian textbooks call him the "son of a feudal family of exploiters who worked for the cursed Shah, and betrayed Islam" - Iran's government continues to reproach America for its role in the coup. "With a coup they toppled the national government of Iran and replaced it with a harsh, unpopular and despotic regime," Ahmadinejad complained in a January 28 speech. It is s a bit late to offer advice to Obama, but the worst thing America can do is to apologize. Instead, it should ask for the gratitude of the developing world. Weak countries become punching-bags in the proxy wars of empires. This was from the dawn of history until the fall of the last empire - the "evil" empire of Soviet communism. The Soviets exploited anti-colonial movements from the 1917 Bolshevik coup until the collapse of the Afghanistan adventure in the late 1980s. Nationalists who tried to ride the Russian tiger ended up in its belly more often than on its back. Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Angola and numerous other weak countries became the hapless battleground for the contest of covert operations between the Soviet Union and America - not to mention Vietnam and Korea. The use of developing countries as proxy battlefields and their people as cannon fodder came to an end with the Cold War. As a result, the past 20 years have seen the fastest improvement in living standards ever in the global south, and a vast shift in wealth towards so-called developing countries. By defeating Russia in the Cold War, America made it possible for governments in the global south to pursue their own interests free from the specter of Soviet subversion. And by countering Soviet subversion, America often averted much worse consequences. Many deficiencies can be ascribed to the Shah of Iran, but a communist regime in the wake of a Mossadegh administration would have been indescribably worse. The septuagenarian Mossadegh had his own agenda, but he relied on the support of the communist Tudeh party. The US feared a Soviet invasion of Iran, and "the [Harry S] Truman administration was willing to consider a Soviet invasion of Iran as a casus belli, or the start of a global war", according to Francis J Gavin's 1999 article in The Journal of Cold War Studies. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with help from British intelligence helped the shah overthrow the left-leaning regime. But this was no minor colonial adventure, but a flashpoint with the potential to start a world war. It is painful and humiliating for Iranians to recall the overthrow of a democratically elected government with American help. It would have been infinitely more humiliating to live under Soviet rule, like the soon-to-be-extinct victims of Soviet barbarism in Eastern Europe. The same is true of Chile, where the brutal regime of General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, with help from the CIA. Allende was surrounded by Cuban intelligence operations. As Wikipedia reports:
Shortly after the election of Salvador Allende in November 1970, the [Cuban Directorate of Intelligence - DI] worked extremely closely to strengthen Allende's increasingly precarious position. The Cuban DI station chief Luis Fernandez Ona even married Salvador Allende's daughter Beatrice, who later committed suicide in Cuba. The DI organized an international brigade that would organize and coordinate the actions of the thousands of the foreign leftists that had moved into Chile shortly after Allende's election. These individuals ranged from Cuban DI agents, Soviet, Czech and North Korean military instructors and arms suppliers, to hardline Spanish and Portuguese Communist Party members. My Latin American friends who still mourn the victims of Pinochet's "night and fog" state terror will not like to hear this, but the several thousand people killed or tortured by the military government were collateral damage in the Cold War. Like Iran, Chile became the battleground of a Soviet-American proxy war. The same is true in Nicaragua. (Full disclosure: I advised Nicaragua's president Violeta Chamorro after she defeated the Cuban-backed Sandinistas in the 1990 elections; I did so with no tie to any government agency.) Obama's continuing obsession with America's supposed misdeeds - deplorable but necessary actions in time of war - is consistent with his determination to erode America's influence in the most troubled parts of the world. By removing America as a referee, he will provoke more violence than the United States ever did. We are entering a very, very dangerous period as a result.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, Associate Editor of First Things (www.firstthings.com) (Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.
The news that President Obama's much vaunted transparency promises have already gone the way of all flesh comes as no surprise to me. The farce on the House floor yesterday was a good example of why they couldn't survive. For those who missed it (and Andy's post doesn't quite convey the whole story of the farrago), Rep. Mike Pence started the debate yesterday morning by pointing out that the House leadership had dropped a 300-page amendment to the already 1200-ish page Waxman-Markey energy tax bill at 3:09 in the morning. Clearly, debate started before anyone had had a chance to read it properly, but the House leadership just didn't care. Then, mid-afternoon, Reps. Louie Goehmert (who did a splendid job all round) and Energy & Commerce Ranking Member Joe Barton (who clearly couldn't believe what was going on) raised a series of Parliamentary Inquiries as to whether there was a copy of the amended bill anywhere in the House for members to read. Chairman Markey was dismissive, saying there was a copy on the wesbite, which, Rep. Barton pointed out, was not much help to members on the floor of the House actually, you know, debating the bill. Eventually the Chair, who was very fair throughout the afternoon, admitted that the Clerk was in the process of integrating the amendment into the hard copy in the House. So for most of the day the House was debating a bill that didn't actually physically exist, never mind having had a chance to read, digest, and consider it.
Let me just state this as simply as I can: This is a gross abuse of the Parliamentary process and represents nothing less than contempt for the people of the United States of America.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened this year. As I suggested during the Stimulus idiocy, a simple constitutional amendment might help:
Before voting on any Bill, a Senator or Representative shall certify to the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House respectively that they have read the Bill in full.
One reader had similar ideas, suggesting (link may be broken):
“No bill shall be deemed to have passed the House of Representatives or the Senate unless such bill shall have received a majority of yeay votes from the membership of each House; yeay votes shall only be counted from members who swear under penalty of perjury that they have read the entirety of the text of each bill.”
Another reader agreed, saying,
I say "Amen". Some would complain that this would slow Congress down, allowing only for a few bills to be passed per session. To which I say "Amen", yet again. It's like putting money in the bank and making even more with compounding interest. One good things leads to more good things with this. Excellent idea, Iain. Where do we get the process started?
Good question. On the principle that social media is the future of political campaigning, I've set up a website for Read The Bill, which is currently just a skeleton, although I'll copy these posts there. I also think a pledge by lawmakers that they will read a bill and not vote for any rule to allow debate on a bill they haven't read might be a useful idea, and that might be a good way to start. Ideas are welcome — head over there and sign up. Let's see if we can reach critical mass.
I add here that this is a purely personal idea, not affiliated with CEI or National Review (unless they want to come on board) and is intended as a completely nonpartisan initiative. I cannot believe that liberals of good faith are happy with the idea that our Congress is routinely voting on bills they haven't read. So I hope some liberals will come on board and will help promote the idea as well. This is an initiative on behalf of the people, so let's see what the people say, and where they lead us.
Monday, June 29, 2009By Marie Magleby and Monica Gabriel
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
(CNSNews.com) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) will not give the public a week to review the final text of a health-care reform bill before it is voted on later this year.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) has also declined to commit to giving the public a week to read and consider the final health-care bill.At her press briefing on Thursday, Pelosi was asked whether the health-care bill would be handled differently than the stimulus bill, which came up in February. The 1,071-page final text of that bill was posted on the House Appropriations Committee’s Web site late on a Thursday night and then voted on the next day.“When the stimulus bill came out earlier this year, members and citizens had less than two days to review the final version that came out of the conference committee before it was voted on,” CNSNews.com asked Pelosi on Thursday. “Will you commit to giving Americans at least a week to review the full conference version of the health care bill before it is voted on? And also will you commit to submitting the final version to the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] so that they can report the cost to the public?”Pelosi would not commit to giving the public a week to review the bill, and did not respond to the question of having the CBO report on the cost of the final bill.“Well, we will abide by the regular order. You heard the question,” she said. “It was about having the health care bill out there a week in advance. We will have the regular order in terms of the appropriate amount of time, 48 hours in advance for amendments before you file the bill, another day before you can take up the bill.“But this bill is something that has been unfolding before the American people for a long time now. The areas of controversy are well known,” said Pelosi.“The issue of a public option is probably the most significant debate that we will have in the House on the legislation, as I see it now. But the bill will come forth under the regular order, and that's why the three chairmen put out the draft now,” she said. “They put out some principles earlier on. The President put out his principles. We had a month before the Memorial Day break for everyone to see what was happening there to take ideas from our members.“So it was in the public domain, but not as a bill,” said Pelosi, continuing to respond to the question of whether she would give the public a week to review the final bill. “Now they have put out this draft which has been well received, and I'm very proud of the work. It's a well managed approach to how we go forward. And when we are ready with a draft then we will put that forth, but as I say, it will be under the regular order.”The three House committees working on the health-care plan have released what they call a “discussion draft” of the legislation. It is 850 pages long.The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has produced its own 615-page draft that is missing key sections, including the section that would explain the “public option”—or government-run health insurance organization.After the House and Senate actually pass bills, the two versions of the legislation will go to a House-Senate conference committee where they will be reconciled and where entirely new provisions can be added. The final version of the bill that emerges from this conference committee will be voted on by both houses, and if passed, sent to the president for his signature before it can become law.This final bill is likely to be well over 1,000 pages long and will include mandates and regulations that could permanently transform the U.S. health care system.Like Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also said last week that he would not commit to giving the public a week to review the final text of the health-care bill.“We are going to follow the rules and do the best we can so that the new rules we have for transparency will be effective,” Reid said at his own Thursday news briefing when asked about giving the public a week to read the final health-care bill.“We have been putting things online. We’re doing so much more than we did just a year or two ago, so I think there’s no secrets, we try to be as upfront as we can, give everyone as much opportunity as we can to move forward,” he said.House and Senate rules differ slightly, but basically the House allows a vote three calendar days after the conference committee’s report is posted and the Senate allows a vote after 48 hours.House Rule XIII, section 4. (a)(1), says: “. . . it shall not be in order to consider in the House a measure or matter reported by a committee until the third calendar day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays except when the House is in session on such a day) on which each report of a committee on that measure or matter has been available to Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner.”Senate rules allow a voted 48 hours after the conference committee version of the bill has been posted.Senate Rule XXVIII, Section 9. (a)(1) says: “It shall not be in order to vote on the adoption of a report of a committee of conference unless such report has been available to Members and to the general public for at least 48 hours before such vote.”In February, lawmakers had less than 48 hours to review the final conference report on the economic stimulus bill before voting for it.President Obama is pushing for both houses of Congress to vote on health-care legislation before they take a recess in August. He wants the bill on his desk by October. Republicans argue that such a sweeping reform should not be rushed. “This is much more serious than the rushed and ill-conceived stimulus legislation,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said last week. “If we fail to do this the right way in order to simply check the health reform box, we will all suffer the consequences for the rest of our lives.”
JOSEPH Massad's schol arly contribution during his decade as a faculty member of Columbia University's Middle East Studies Department may be summed up as follows: Israel is racist, and homosexuality is an insidious Western invention.
Yet that was enough for Columbia, which officially -- if quietly -- awarded Massad tenure earlier this month.
Columbia's process for reviewing tenure candidates is as rigorous as any Ivy League school's. Ordinarily, an academic of Massad's caliber would be bounced from Morningside Heights. And in fact, the system did work -- it denied Massad tenure two years ago.
But now the school's academic standards have succumbed to ideological tensions and campus politics -- in what appears to be a remarkable manipulation of the tenure process and a breach of fiduciary trust.
First, a little background on Massad.
A Christian secularist of Palestinian-Arab descent, Massad has dedicated his academic career primarily to encouraging the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Criticism of Israel is far from unusual in his field, but Massad goes much further, taking arguments to bizarre ends. "The ultimate achievement of Israel," he writes, is "the transformation of the Jew into the anti-Semite, and the Palestinian into the Jew." In a book, he rails against the "Zionist theft of Palestinian Arab food (e.g., hummus, falafel)."
In a recent work, "Desiring Arabs," Massad claimed to expose yet another plot against the Muslim world -- the "Gay International." He describes how a vast conspiracy of gay activists descended on Arab countries and endangered the lives of "practitioners of same-sex contact" by transforming them into "subjects who identify as 'homosexual' and 'gay.' "
Nor is Massad fond of the women's rights movement, or "colonial feminism," as he calls it. He bristles at the attention paid to the Muslim practice of honor killings, which he likens to "crimes of passion," accusing women's groups of ignoring "rampant Western misogyny."
He specializes in reductio ad hitlerum. "If Germans spent the day on the beach when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, and Americans cheered in bars and at home the fireworks light show the US military put up over Baghdad while slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in 1991 and in 2003, Israeli Jews insisted on having front row seats on hills overlooking Gaza for a live show, cracking open champagne bottles and cheering the murder and maiming of thousands of civilians, more than half of whom were women and children," he wrote in a February essay, referring to the Gaza War.
Four years ago, it seemed as if Massad would be on his way out of the Broadway gates. A university probe backed up students' complaints that he disparaged Jewish students who disagreed with him. In one instance, while lecturing near campus, he responded to an Israeli student who asked a question by demanding to know how many Palestinians he had killed.
But faculty members opted instead to lionize Massad as a supposed martyr of academic freedom. A crucial ally for him was Dean of Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks, whose wife taught a class with Massad.
In 2007, months after Massad completed his latest book, a committee rejected his tenure application. Tenure candidates rarely get a second shot at Columbia, but Dirks intervened and pushed for a second committee, sources say.
Oddly, the professor who led the first review of Massad refused to serve again. Even odder, the administration justified the do-over by claiming that Massad had switched his field of specialty from political science to cultural studies.
After the second committee approved Massad, President Lee Bollinger and Provost Alan Brinkley took extraordinary measures to protect the secrecy of Massad's tenure case and guard against an outcry from Jewish alumni and donors.
The last step in the process was the trustees. The administration refused to share with the trustees any list of who was on the two tenure committees. The board was also kept in the dark as to why Massad failed the first review. Bollinger and Brinkley also refused to discuss in detail why Massad was permitted another shot.
Instead, the administration -- apparently more interested in managing public relations than dealing with the substance of the underlying problem -- simply provided the trustees with a set of talking points with "helpful facts" about the university's Jewish student center.
When I tried contacting trustee Esta Stecher, a senior administration official alerted the board about my inquiries and reminded the trustees that the university doesn't comment on tenure cases.
In the end, Columbia's board of trustees approved Massad's tenure appointment before ever getting answers.
Which raises the question: Just what does a trustee do? Are they merely fund-raisers? Do they view the title as a ceremonial honor? What's the point?
As for Bollinger, one wonders how he allowed his faculty to undermine his authority and the university's reputation.
The promotion of Massad isn't a victory for academic freedom but a cheapening of it. The freedom extended to a Columbia faculty member isn't the same as the rights of a soapbox crank. Protecting free inquiry and valuing scholarship are not mutually exclusive goals, but together define the university ideal.
If the trustees and Bollinger haven't figured that out, Massad's enduring presence at Columbia will help remind them.
Focus on Highly Paid Retirees Is Aimed at Cutting Future Public Benefits, but Critics Say Most Payouts Are Far Smaller
Legislators' cars cost taxpayers $3.2 million in three years
Sunday, June 28, 2009
An Understated Stoning
Daniel Greenfield Bio
By Daniel Greenfield Sunday, June 28, 2009
The reviews of “The Stoning of Soraya M.”, a movie that tells the true story of a woman being stoned to death in fundamentalist Iran, are in… and the critics seem to have a common complaint, that the movie is just too outraged by the whole stoning business
At the Boston Globe, critic Wesley Morris complains that “The Stoning of Soraya M.” is ”less a movie than a blunt instrument, a bit of political parable, a bit more outrage, and nary a scrap of real drama or finesse.”
In other words there just isn’t enough finesse to the whole blunt stoning business. It lacks the kind of nuance that a John Kerry or Barack Obama could bring to the story of a woman being stoned to death.
At Slant Magazine, Nick Schager posits that the movie, ”...requires a defter hand than that shown by Nowrasteh, who—aside from a nicely surrealistic aside involving a travelling carnival troupe—resorts to such overblown histrionics (wailing music, kneeling characters beseeching the heavens, Saturday Morning serial-evil villains, an embarrassing “triumphant” coda)”
Yes sadly there just aren’t enough surrealistic asides, instead there are evil villains, regional music and kneeling characters praying. Which continues the theme of “there’s just not enough nuance”.
At the Village Voice, Vadim Rizov dismisses it as a movie for those people ”ambivalent about whether stoning women to death is a cruel punishment or not… self-congratulatory fare for people who feel more ‘politically conscious’ when reminded that women in the Islamic world can have it rough”. Because naturally the only justification for a movie dealing with the consequence of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran is for people who are “ambivalent” about it. Meanwhile good progressives who are already know about it and have dismissed the issue in favor of more vital stuff, like agitating for Leonard Peltier, can sneer at anyone who still cares about it for not being truly “politically conscious” like them.
Scott Tobias at the Onion A.V. Club however discards with all the ducking and weaving of the previous reviews to say what they really mean;
It takes zero political courage to speak out against the obvious barbarism of public stonings or the oppressive patriarchy of sharia law , but the film whips out the megaphone anyway, eager to extrapolate the martyrdom of an innocent woman into a broader condemnation of the Muslim world.
Get that? It takes zero political courage to speak out against Sharia law. Which the growing death toll in Tehran testifies to. Now though it takes zero political courage for Hollywood to attack the War on Terror, the Onion A.V. Club praised ”In The Valley of Elah”, Uncovered: The War on Iraq, War. Inc, Body of War, Stop Loss and just about any half-assed rant against the Bush Administration hammering the same message into the ground. By contrast with Phil Donahue’s propaganda piece or an MTV movie against the war, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” clearly lacks “political courage.”
Except of course the slams from left wing movie critics demonstrate the exact opposite, that it takes far more political courage to create a movie condemning the murder of countless women in Iran… than it does to trot out another self-congratulatory Hollywood movie or documentary based on a mostly fictional article in a trendy magazine some producer read while waiting for his dentist’s appointment.
The arrogance of a white liberal film critic condemning an Iranian-American filmmaker for lacking political courage by making a movie protesting against the abuse of women in Iran is truly stunning. So stunning that I suspect Tobias would never get it. In his narrow leftist little world the only Iranians who have political courage are those who denounce George W. Bush.
Tobias complains that the movie extrapolates this to the entire Muslim world, which of course naturally takes even less political courage, what with criticizing Islam being a criminal offense in much of the Muslim world. He follows this up with a series of by the book leftist smears that remind you that the progressive left so often trades in dogmatic ideological condemnations for actual original thought, that no content remains.
“The Stoning Of Soraya M. has a neocon’s sense of good and evil, which could politely be called “moral clarity,” but is more accurately described as narrow, tone-deaf, and thoroughly banal.”
This is a variation on the complaint that “The Stoning of Soraya M.” isn’t nuanced or subtle enough, it has a sense of good and evil, rather than being broadminded and sophisticated enough about stoning women to death.
How would one go about making a broadminded and sophisticated take on stoning a woman to death. I suspect that it would involve her husband working for the CIA and the oil companies, and the entire movie turning on the revelation that it was American colonialist involvement in the region that was responsible for her suffering. Plug in a guest starring role for George Clooney as a slimy oil executive and CIA agent, it would be a lock for next year’s Oscars.
Now that would be true “political courage”.
With a more shrill outlet at his disposal, Tobias takes the offensive with a preemptive attack of “neo-con”, which follows up his earlier claim that the movie is an attack on the entire Muslim world. Which of course means that supporting it makes you a genocidal warmonger just like George W. Bush.
Tobias finishes this off with, “There’s no denying the dramatic force of the killing—just as no right-thinking person would endorse the odious practice, or the outrageous miscarriage of justice that leads to it. But Nowrasteh constantly overplays his hand, not realizing that some horrors speak for themselves.”
But of course how exactly do horrors speak for themselves anyway? And isn’t ”some horrors speak for themselves” really just a subtle way of saying, ”shut the hell up about those horrors already, because these aren’t the horrors we’re interested in.”
All this call for nuance, for an understated stoning, was absent when it came to the shrillest anti-war movies and documentaries. Which was par for the course when it came to lambasting the Bush Administration. But when it comes to “The Stoning of Soraya M.”, it’s suddenly a time for nuance, for subtlety, for being broadminded and sophisticated about it. It’s not a time to be blunt about what happens to women like her under Islamic law.
Tobias claims that ”no right-thinking person would endorse the practice” and yet by attacking a movie on the subject matter alone, as Tobias, Morris and Rizov do… that is exactly the message being sent. They may not endorse stoning a woman to death, but they endorse a politically enforced silence on the topic, a whitewashing by default.
It isn’t murder, it isn’t an outrage, it’s “the practice.” What better way to render a gruesome act into neutral colors than to describe it as “the practice.”
And it is of course precisely reactions like this that justify The Stoning of Soraya M’s so called heavy-handedness, and its forcible outrage. Because the truth of the matter is not nuanced or sophisticated or deft. It isn’t sipped over cocktails or reduced to a neutral formula. It isn’t “the practice”, it’s blood, bone and flesh being spilled, broken and torn.
It’s a good rule of thumb that people want to see blunt depictions and and an uncompromising stand on the things that outrage them, and want to see finesse, nuance and deftness on the things whose blunt depiction make them too uncomfortable and conflict with their politics.
It’s why progressives wallow in endless depictions of Bush’s decision making and the hunt for WMD’s, because it diverts them from having to deal with the reality of Saddam’s brutality and the extent to which their anti-war activism was complicit in it. And remains complicit in dictatorships all over the world.
It’s why the reality of Islamic law is such an uncomfortable subject that it has to be finessed by claiming that only the naive and the unsophisticated need to see a movie about it. The progressives have condemned it. Finished, now let’s move on. But no, the killing continues and we can’t move on.
So if “The Stoning of Soraya M.” can remind morally deadened progressives of the blunt reality of the “practice” they would rather deftly finesse, so much the better.
By HARRY STEIN
June 28, 2009 --
The phone messages and e-mails from fellow conservatives started coming early on election night 2008 and continued well into the next day. Some were anguished, some merely fatalistic. But all featured at least a dollop of gallows humor.
As the dimensions of the disaster became apparent, my friend Cary announced he might have to skip work.
"For how long?" I asked.
"I'm thinking a year."
Who could blame him? Obama may be our worst nightmare, front man for every species of noxious, left-wing activism going, but at least he generally makes open-minded noises. In Manhattan offices like Cary's, the Chosen One's acolytes often don't even bother pretending to be civil toward those on the other side of the political spectrum.
Conservatives come in all stripes, but those of us who live in New York tend to share certain characteristics, Starting with independent judgment, a fair amount of backbone and, yes, the capacity to laugh at (if not necessarily with) those around us. How else to deal with all the stuff that would otherwise put a crimp in your day -- the sweet old lady in the elevator snarling about "those goddamn Republicans," the street lectures from 20-year-old environmental zealots, or the random leftist idiot at a dinner party waxing self-righteous and quoting George Soros?
The fact is, conservatives living and working among the liberals, among them but not of them, are not unlike field reporters for "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom"; we know them better than they know themselves. Since there is an approved left-of-center position on every subject -- just check out The New York Times or NPR -- We know in advance how they'll react to every controversy, every utterance by a public figure; we anticipate, politically and public policy-wise, their sighs, their frowns, their ups, their downs.
Yet, as we are frequently reminded, they know us hardly at all. What they think they know is this: Conservatives are greedy and hard-hearted -- when we're not busy being racist, sexist and homophobic. We're not merely wrong. We are evil.
Living contentedly among liberals, then, requires a fair degree of finesse. My own little town, Hastings-on-Hudson, is in most ways as attractive as the name suggests, a leafy suburban enclave for the most part populated with kind-hearted and generous souls. But a word of warning: Don't get into politics. To say Hastings is liberal is like saying Saudi Arabia is Muslim. We are a more bucolic version of the Upper West Side -- the very area from which many of my neighbors decamped in settling here. Almost all of them vote Democratic for the same reason they watch their diet and floss their teeth -- it's what smart, responsible, healthy, forward-thinking people do.
This is to say that when at a neighborhood gathering, if one of these people suddenly learns that your views deviate from everyone else's on the war, affirmative action, big government, feminism, the reliability of the Times, (or hell, fill in the blank), his or her face will register stunned surprise and deep confusion. You can almost see the wheels turning within and hear the electronic drone: Does not compute. After all, in most ways, you seem reasonable; your knuckles don't drag the ground. Yet, the things coming out of your mouth sound so wrong -- almost conservative!
How to survive with your sanity and good cheer intact? First, for intellectual sustenance and emotional succor, we conservatives learn to seek out our own kind. This is not always easy, since many of us tend to lay pretty low. Still, like communists of old, we have ways of sniffing one another out. For instance, at a social gathering, as soon as the talk inevitably turns to the manifold glories of Obama, I always look around to see who else is staying silent. Bingo -- a soulmate!
Sometimes such a being will simply appear out of the proverbial blue. Not long ago on, I was stopped at a traffic light when She emerged from a shop hauling some trash out to the curb, a heavy-set, middle-aged bottle blonde wearing a "Freedom is NOT Free" T-shirt.
"You're pretty brave to be wearing that around here!" I called out as the light changed.
"Hey," she shouted after, "I don't give half a fñ-ñ-ñ- what anyone thinks!"
Not exactly my style, but in these parts right-wingers can't be choosers. I returned to Main Street later that day, hoping to find the woman and get her story, but no one had seen her or seemed to know who she was. It was like trying to hunt down the elusive One-Armed Man in "The Fugitive," and after a while I began to wonder if she might have been a figment of my desperate conservative imagination.
Something else some of us like to do, just for kicks, is stir up ideological mischief at dinner parties. Given the depth of liberal hypocrisy on certain issues, this is easier than it might sound, and occasionally even provokes actual thought in one's prey. My favorite tale in this regard comes from a friend who lives in Park Slope. She reports creating level-red discomfort, when the talk on a recent evening turned to gay marriage. Everyone was for it, of course, including my friend. "But wouldn't it bother you if your own children were gay?" she added, all innocent curiosity. "After all, isn't it natural to want your kids to mirror your experience? To have a traditional marriage and raise children in the traditional way? I can't think of anything that would make them more foreign."
She reports that, hearing this, the liberals around the table "got very flustered -- because of course they feel exactly the same way. There was a long silence, and then someone said: 'I would be much more upset if my kids were Republican,' and that let everyone off the hook. But afterward, one liberal friend came and whispered in my ear 'I would be really devastated.' "
Indeed, if one keeps things polite in such situations, those on the other side are all but helpless, robbed of their chief weapon: Insults. For many liberals in these parts, dismissive contempt toward the other side is a reflex. So, for the enterprising conservative, pointing out, "that's not an argument, that's name-calling" is enough to stop them dead in their tracks. After lifetimes spent casually referring to those on the right as "haters" or "fascists," they are truly unaware there is anything wrong with it. While afterward they'll continue to believe you are a fascist, and say so behind your back, at least you'll have a momentary triumph.
For conservatives in places like New York, that's about the best that can be hoped for. As a species, adamant liberals are not exactly known for graciousness. Even in the wake of their triumph last November, many seem Constitutionally unable to stop bashing Bush, Cheney or Palin. And talk about gloating. Having in many cases defiantly left on their Kerry-Edwards stickers through Bush's second term, can anyone doubt that, even if unemployment reaches 20%, their Obama stickers will still be in place on the Volvo when it gets towed off to that great recycling heap?
Of course, that's just another difference between us and them -- we tend toward optimism and good grace. Rotten as times seems now for conservatives, we face life as it is and press on, plucky as colonial Brits in those old movies on TCM. Just a day after the election, one friend remarked that he'd already taken the McCain sticker off his car, adding that Obama was our president now, and he was willing to give him a chance. "Still," he added, smiling, "I kept on the one for the New York Rifle & Pistol Association -- just in case anyone thinks I've gone soft."
Harry Stein is the author of 'I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican: A Survival Guide for Conservatives Marooned Among the Angry, Smug and Terminally Self-Righteous" (Encounter Books), out now.Home
Funny - Not that democrats are perfectly polite, but this sort of arrogance and self-righteous ignorance reminds me of nothing so much as the average Republican. Remember that you guys are responsible for creating Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush and Sarah Palin and Ken Starr and D. Cheney (hey, the Post's profanity filter won't let me write his first name, I've just discovered) -- to take just a few names at random -- and have never put any distance between yourself and them. Until that changes, I think that rather than call Democrats arrogant and hateful, you ought to look in the mirror.By the way, while I lean left, as a thinking person I always reserve the right to have political opinions from all across the spectrum; and I know many other people on the left who would say the same. But right-wingers tend to go all the way on every issue, from deregulation to Israel; they buy the whole conservative package. That, to me, is evidence of an interest in ideology rather than facts.
That would be the same Barney Frank who famously boasted that the two federal agencies -- which lost billions by making improvident loans -- were "fundamentally sound financially and [can] withstand . . . disaster scenarios."
Then came the disasters.
But to Barney Frank, Fannie and Freddie are essentially taxpayer-funded social-service agencies whose mission is to turn all Americans into homeowners -- whether or not they can afford it.
Fannie and Freddie recently announced that they would no longer guarantee mortgages on condos where fewer than 70% of the units have been sold; the previous threshold was 51%.
The agencies also said they'd no longer guarantee mortgages in buildings where 15% or more of the owners are behind in their condo dues or where more than 10% of the units are held by a single owner.
And they've raised fees on buyers whose down payment is less than the standard 25%.
The tightened standards are intended to limit the exposure of the two agencies -- which purchase or guarantee most US mortgages -- in buildings with potential financial problems.
Obviously, this means that some condo owners may find it more difficult to sell their units -- because buyers will find it more difficult to get mortgages.
Enter Barney Frank -- backed by New York's own Rep. Anthony Weiner, who aspires someday to be mayor.
The congressional pair terms the standards "too onerous" and wants them rolled back to the same levels used by the Federal Housing Administration.
Here we go again.
Frank, it should be noted, declared last fall that "we'll have to raise taxes, ultimately" to pay for all the increased government benefits he's also demanded in order to alleviate the crisis his bad advice helped create.
To say that Barney Frank has a bad track record here is putting it mildly.
Problem is, he's also chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, so his "suggestions" have political muscle behind them.
But following Barney Frank's advice is a prescription for disaster.
"Zelaya, a leftist elected in 2005, has found himself pitted against the other branches of government and military leaders over the issue of Sunday's planned referendum. It would ask voters to place a measure on November's ballot allowing the formation of a constitutional assembly that could modify the nation's charter to allow the president to run for another term.
Zelaya, whose four-year term ends in January 2010, cannot run for re-election under current law."
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Jacob LaksinA Study in DefeatBruce Bawer calls out Western apologists for radical Islam.
26 June 2009
Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, by Bruce Bawer (Doubleday, 352 pp., $24.95)
With the release of his new book, Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, the American writer and critic Bruce Bawer (some of whose work has appeared in City Journal) may have committed a crime in his adoptive Norway. In 2005, Norway’s politically correct parliament passed the so-called Discrimination Act, a law that, among other curbs on free speech, criminalized “utterances” that may be “insulting” to those of certain religious beliefs. Since Surrender is a searing indictment of Western opinion makers, especially in the media, for capitulating to the rise of radical Islam in Europe, and since Islamic extremists are bound to take issue with the author’s appeal for a sterner defense of Western freedoms, it’s a real possibility that Bawer could be prosecuted for what he has written.
That it has come to this in politically progressive Norway makes Surrender urgent reading. It also serves to bolster Bawer’s chief contention: that many in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States, are prepared to roll back essential civil liberties in order to pacify (or so they hope) Muslim radicals. Bawer embarks on a broad offensive, counting leading political, religious, and academic figures among the defeatists. Mainly, though, he directs his rhetorical fire at the press. In their eagerness to forfeit the free-speech rights on which they depend—whether through self-censorship or through craven reporting that casts avowed Islamists as “moderates”—journalists may present the most agonizing illustration of Bawer’s theme that, for too many in the West, surrender is indeed an option.
In Bawer’s telling, the white flag first waved in 1989. That year, Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, earned him a fatwa from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. In his decree, Khomeini called on Muslims across the world to hunt down and kill Rushdie and anyone involved in the book’s publication “so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctities again.” The fatwa forced Rushdie into hiding and led to the murder of his Japanese translator. But while many writers rallied to Rushdie’s defense, some perversely blamed the novelist for provoking his own death sentence. Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper sneered that he “would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring Mr. Rushdie’s manners, were to waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them.” At the time, he writes, Bawer dismissed the Trevor-Roper view as an anomaly. Surely, he reasoned, most civilized people would defend free speech against its Islamist despisers. He was wrong.
Fast-forward to November 2004. Dutch filmmaker and provocateur Theo Van Gogh has just been savagely murdered on an Amsterdam street by Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri. The Dutch-born son of Moroccan immigrants, Bouyeri killed Van Gogh for the offense of making Submission, a documentary-style film highlighting the mistreatment of women in Islamic societies. If Bouyeri had hoped to silence criticism of Islam, he succeeded: the response to this deadly act of censorship was more censorship. In the most depressingly ironic instance, shortly after Van Gogh’s death, Submission was withdrawn from a festival of censored films by its producer, Gijs van de Westelaken, who feared that it would incite Muslim violence. “Does this mean I’m yielding to terror?” asked Westelaken. He candidly answered his own question: “Yes.”
Similar scenes have played out across Europe. In January 2006, Vebjørn Selbekk, the editor of the small-circulation Christian journal Magazinet, became a public enemy in Norway when he reprinted the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that had triggered an uproar in the Muslim world when they first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in the fall of 2005. Selbekk did so in protest against what he saw as a culture of self-censorship among Western newspapers, most of which refused to publish the offending caricatures. For a time, he stood by his decision, even as everyone from his fellow editors to Norway’s foreign minister pressed him to apologize. Ultimately, Selbekk, too, gave in, lamenting that he had not understood “how wounding” his decision had been for Muslims.
Bawer also condemns the Western press for downplaying the abundant evidence of extremism in Muslim communities. Of the many examples he provides—Surrender is meticulously sourced, and Bawer includes a comprehensive list of notes and quotations—the most outrageous may be a May 2007 Pew Research Center poll on Muslim attitudes. One of the poll’s more widely publicized findings was that 80 percent of young American Muslims opposed suicide bombings, a statistic presented as proof that, as a Washington Post headline trumpeted, Muslims are “opposed to extremism.” Few in the establishment press deigned to notice the disconcerting fact that a double-digit percentage of Muslims in the U.S. supported suicide terrorism. It was a spectacular case of what journalists call burying the lead.
Bawer finds many such cases in the course of his thorough—and thoroughly disheartening—account. In Amsterdam, a series of violent attacks on gays—often in broad daylight—has destroyed the city’s reputation as one of the most tolerant in Europe. Muslim immigrants from Morocco have committed most of the attacks, but this fact is apparently too controversial to mention, leaving the press to grasp for any explanation save the obvious one. The German magazine Der Spiegel demonstrated perfectly the absurd lengths to which the press will go to evade inconvenient facts. In 2007, the magazine’s website ran a story on Amsterdam’s anti-gay violence that found any number of ways to account for the attacks—perhaps society had stigmatized the perpetrators, or they were “struggling with their own sexual identity.” That the violence could have something to do with the attackers’ Islam-inspired hostility to homosexuality never came up.
Evasiveness of this sort often coexists with another media sin: the tendency to define Muslim moderation down. Take the high-profile case of globetrotting celebrity Islamist Tariq Ramadan. Time and again, Ramadan has belied his media-made reputation as a “moderate.” For instance, he has refused to condemn outright the Islamic practice of stoning women for adultery, advocating only a “moratorium,” while at the same time defending the “right” (often forced) of Muslim women to wear the veil. But to Stéphanie Giry, an editor at Foreign Affairs, Ramadan is merely encouraging “modesty among Muslim women.” The writer Ian Buruma has been equally generous. In a New York Times Magazine profile of Ramadan, he noted approvingly that “unlike some Islamic activists, Ramadan has not expressed any hostility to Jews in general.” If this is now the standard of moderation, then Bawer is surely right to scoff that the term “moderate Muslim” has come to denote “someone who might not stone an adulteress to death himself, but who would defend to the death another Muslim’s right to do so.”
It has become unacceptable to point all of this out. If there is one thing the media like less than challenging Islamic radicals in print or pixels, it’s being called out on their cowardice. Thus Bawer decries the oft-heard admonition to marginalize extremists “on both sides,” a refrain that more often than not draws a moral equivalence between Islamic terrorists and extremists and those who speak out against them. Bawer may not be entirely disinterested here: already, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet has denounced Surrender for perpetuating “foaming-at-the-mouth racist fantasies,” notwithstanding the reviewer’s notable failure to find evidence of either racism or fantasy in the book. But the fact that Bawer may have a score to settle with some of his more unscrupulous detractors hardly justifies their attempts to equate jihadism’s critics with its practitioners.
Surrender at times treads closely on the heels of Bawer’s 2006 book, While Europe Slept. The sections on Theo Van Gogh and the assassinated Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, especially, read like summaries of his earlier work. On the other hand, given the prominent role that both men have played in the debate over extremist Islam, some repetition is inevitable, and perhaps necessary. Moreover, because Bawer pulls no punches—he spiritedly dismisses one writer for composing a “breathtakingly mendacious tissue of calumnies”—his book is a bracing and lively read.
And even his critics cannot accuse Bawer of exaggeration. If you think the book’s title overstates his case, listen to Columbia University’s Mark Lilla, who instructed his readers in 2007 “to recognize that coping [with Islam] is the order of the day, not defending high principle, and . . . our expectations should remain low. So long as a sizeable population believes in the truth of a comprehensive political theology, its full political reconciliation with modern liberal democracy cannot be expected.” Doubtless some see this as an admirable expression of pragmatism. Bawer rightly recognizes it, instead, as a declaration of defeat—and he, for one, is not about to give up the fight.
Jacob Laksin is a senior editor at Front Page Magazine. He is coauthor, with David Horowitz, of One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy.
Ashok MalikIn diplomacy, messages are often not direct or straightforward. Sometimes lessons from one theatre have relevance for another. The belligerence of North Korean dictator Kim Jong II over the past few weeks is a sobering reminder of how things can go wrong if a paramount power decides to speak softly without waving a big stick.On May 25, Pyongyang tested a nuclear device. A North Korean ship is currently on the high seas, apparently carrying an illegal cargo of missiles and other weaponry to Burma. On July 4, Independence Day in the United States, Mr Kim has promised to fire a missile in the direction of Hawaii. The expected range of the Taepodong-2 is 6,500 km and Hawaii is just over 7,000 km from the launch site. Chances of the missile entering American waters/territory are small, but it will travel over Japan. On the whole, it will be the most serious infraction in the US’s Pacific region since Pearl Harbour.It is ironical the North Korean leader’s muscle-flexing has taken place only months after a new and supposedly conciliatory resident arrived at the White House. After all, US President Barack Obama’s team made effusive noises about the conduct of foreign policy that would be different from President George W Bush’s sledgehammer, “with us or against us”, approach.How did North Korea behave in the Bush years? As far back as 2002, Mr Bush named the Pyongyang regime as part of the “Axis of Evil”. In 2003, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and in 2006 tested a nuclear device. The then American President pushed for economic sanctions and used China — the one country with influence on Mr Kim — to bring North Korea to the negotiating table.North Korea did not give up its clandestine mission. Nevertheless, it checked itself. There were no overt displays of aggression. Mr Kim agreed to shut down some nuclear facilities. He recognised that in Mr Bush he had an implacable foe, one who would hit back and hit back hard if provoked.Six months after the Republican President left Washington, DC, the North Korean megalomaniac has triggered an East Asian crisis. He has reneged on his promise to close nuclear installations and reverted to Bomb-making.What does this tell us about Mr Kim and about political adventurism in general? The North Koreans have indicated they don’t think much of the Obama crowd, they see America’s resolve as weakening. They have also paid a left-handed compliment to Mr Bush —acknowledging he put the fear of god into them.There are three implications to the crisis. First, it will give others ideas. Teheran has already more or less rebuffed Mr Obama’s offer of talks. In backing the wrong horse in the recent election — and misreading the mood of the Iranian people — the US State Department didn’t help its cause. Of course, domestic unrest in Iran is at its most potent in some 30 years and this will allow the Americans to claim the moral high ground. However, it will amount to a tactical rather than strategic advantage. In the larger reckoning, Mr Obama cannot talk his way out of trouble on the Iranian front.In the battle against Osama bin Laden and the international army of Islamists, Mr Obama has not backed down, but he has occasionally sent ambivalent signals. His speech in Cairo earlier this month pandered to the sort of negativism and overdone self-pity that is the staple of Al Qaeda apologists. Perhaps Mr Obama was only using the polite phrases to set the stage for stern decisions. That remains a prospect for the future. For the moment, the Cairo speech can only be seen in isolation, and can get very qualified applause.Second, Mr Obama is being put to test. He came into office with limited experience and with the reputation of being a foreign policy lightweight. To be fair, Mr Bush too had very little international exposure in January 2001, but was backed by a formidable Republican machine.In contrast, Mr Obama’s original foreign policy advisers — some of whom he has despatched to relatively inconsequential posts in the United Nations — were the liberal extreme of his country’s strategic affairs establishment. Mr Obama campaigned on a theme that promised to end wars, not take the US further into conflict, work within multilateral systems, be cautious rather than impulsive.All of that sounds nice — until one is faced with a first-rate, real-life crisis. If North Korea indeed gets a missile close enough to Hawaii, Mr Obama will encounter media frenzy. What will he do?In a sense, this could lead to a microcosmic examination of the theory which holds that, if a 9/11-style attack were to repeat itself in his presidency, Mr Obama will be obliged to strike back with greater lethality than Mr Bush. His political and personal background will make it difficult for him to do otherwise, lest the public see him as ‘weak’.Third, Afghanistan or Pakistan, North Korea or Iran, even India or China: The more Mr Obama tries to distance himself from the Bush template, the closer he moves towards it. Mr Obama’s broader strategy for the war on terrorism is no different from the one Mr Bush set out. His easy touch has not worked with North Korea and Iran and sooner or later tough measures will be called for to tackle two nuclear programmes that America and its allies — in two separate parts of Asia — see as non-negotiable. For all the early camaraderie with Beijing and neglect of New Delhi, recent interactions between the Obama team and Indian interlocutors suggest the honeymoon with China is going to be short-lived.Different global environments call for different modes of diplomacy. After 9/11, Mr Bush correctly calculated the world was headed for a Hobbesian interlude. Maverick actors — dictators like Kim, freelance commanders like bin Laden, mobster institutions like the Pakistani Army — would need to be treated with a mix of straight talk and unvarnished power projection. That realism was a critical element of the Bush doctrine. It remains the former President’s most abiding foreign policy legacy. Mr Obama can paint it in another colour, give it a new name; ultimately, he has to embrace it.
By: Matthew SheffieldManaging Editor06/26/09 7:39 PM EDT
The House just passed the sweeping carbon tax bill commonly known as Waxman-Markey by the thinnest of margins, 219-212. Right-leaning groups felt very strongly about the measure and pulled out all sorts of stops to get Republicans in line against it.
Those efforts, and those of the House GOP leadership, worked for the most part except for 8 Republicans, most of whom are likely to face significant pressure from the base for their vote. They are as follows:
Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Mike Castle, Mark Steven Kirk (Ill.), Leonard Lance (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), John McHugh (NY), Dave Reichert (Washington), Chris Smith (NJ).
Caracas mayor compares Venezuela's situation with Iran's
In a private meeting in the residence of his New York counterpart, Michael Bloomberg, Ledezma had the opportunity to explain the situation of ungovernability facing Caracas
During his visit to the United States, Caracas metropolitan mayor Antonio Ledezma said that the political crisis facing Iranians brings out into the open the "truths" that President Hugo Chávez Frías tries to conceal about the reality of Venezuela, which have led to violence, poverty and insecurity. "It is a way to expose the reality that hits the Venezuelan people. President Chávez says that Venezuela is a wonderland without poverty, corruption and with a full-fledged democracy. In fact, the situation is almost as serious as what is happening in Iran." In a private meeting in the residence of his New York counterpart, Michael Bloomberg, Ledezma had the opportunity to explain the situation of ungovernability hitting Caracas, the serious problems faced by the workers of the Metropolitan Mayor's office, said a press release. Ledezma assessed the experience of Mayor Bloomberg, who explained to him "how he has managed to reduce the crime rate in New York by 17 percent (…) We also talked about the programs for garbage collection and disposal of New York," Ledezma said. Bloomberg invited Ledezma to participate in a summit on "Job Creation and Workforce Development," at the Columbia University
Friday, June 26, 2009
Matt Walker Editor, Earth News
Scientists think they have resolved one of the most controversial environmental issues of the past decade: the curious case of the missing frogs' legs.
Around the world, frogs are found with missing or misshaped limbs, a striking deformity that many researchers believe is caused by chemical pollution.
However, tests on frogs and toads have revealed a more natural, benign cause.
The deformed frogs are actually victims of the predatory habits of dragonfly nymphs, which eat the legs of tadpoles.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers started getting reports of numerous wild frogs or toads being found with extra legs or arms, or with limbs that were partly formed or missing completely.
The cause of these deformities soon became a hotly contested issue.
Some researchers believed they might be caused naturally, by predators or parasites.
Others thought that was highly unlikely, fearing that chemical pollution, or UV-B radiation caused by the thinning of the ozone layer, was triggering the deformations.
Once they grab the tadpole, they use their front legs to turn it around, searching for the tender bits, in this case the hind limb buds, which they then snip off with their mandibles Biologist Stanley Sessions describes the dining habits of dragonfly nymphs
"Deformed frogs became one of the most contentious environmental issues of all time, with the parasite researchers on one side, and the 'chemical company' as I call them, on the other," says Stanley Sessions, an amphibian specialist and professor of biology at Hartwick College, in Oneonta, New York.
"There was a veritable media firestorm, with millions of dollars of grant money at stake."
After a long period of research, Sessions and other researchers established that many amphibians with extra limbs were actually infected by small parasitic flatworms called Riberoria trematodes.
These creatures burrow into the hindquarters of tadpoles where they physically rearrange the limb bud cells and thereby interfere with limb development.
"But that was not end of the story," says Sessions.
"Frogs with extra limbs may have been the most dramatic-looking deformities, but they are by far the least common deformities found," he explains.
"The most commonly found deformities are frogs or toads found with missing or truncated limbs, and although parasites occasionally cause limblessness in a frog, these deformities are almost never associated with the trematode species known to cause extra limbs."
The mystery of what causes frogs to have missing or deformed limbs remained unsolved until Sessions teamed up with colleague Brandon Ballengee of the University of Plymouth, UK. They report their findings in the Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution.
For a decade, Ballengee and Sessions have collaborated on a series of art and science projects that image amphibians' bodies to show the detail within, the most recent of which is funded by the Arts Catalyst organisation, based in London.
As part of this work, Ballengee and Richard Sunter, the official Recorder of Reptiles and Amphibians in Yorkshire, spent time during the summers of 2006 to 2008 surveying the occurrence of deformities in wild amphibians at three ponds in the county.
In all, they found that between 1.2% and 9.8% of tadpoles or metamorphosed toads at each location had hind limb deformities. Three had missing eyes.
"We were very surprised when we found so many metamorphic toads with abnormal limbs, as it was thought to be a North American phenomenon," says Ballengee.
While surveying, Ballengee also discovered a range of natural predators he suspected could be to blame, including stickleback fish, newts, diving beetles, water scorpions and predatory dragonfly nymphs.
So Ballengee and Sessions decide to test how each predator preyed upon the tadpoles, by placing them together in fish tanks in the lab.
None did, except three species of dragonfly nymph.
Crucially though, the nymphs rarely ate the tadpoles whole. More often than not, they would grab the tadpole and chew at a hind limb, often removing it altogether.
"Once they grab the tadpole, they use their front legs to turn it around, searching for the tender bits, in this case the hind limb buds, which they then snip off with their mandibles," says Sessions.
Remarkably, many tadpoles survive this ordeal.
"Often the tadpole is released and is able to swim away to live for another day," says Sessions. "If it survives it metamorphoses into a toad with missing or deformed hind limbs, depending on the developmental stage of the tadpole."
If tadpoles are attacked when they are very young, they can often regenerate their leg completely, but this ability diminishes as they grow older.
The researchers confirmed this by surgically removing the hind limbs of some tadpoles and watching them grow. These tadpoles developed in an identical way to those whose limbs had been removed by dragonflies, confirming that losing a limb at a certain stage of a tadpole's development can lead to missing or deformed limbs in adulthood.
Adult amphibians with one one hind limb appear able to live for quite a long time, Sessions says, explaining why so many deformed frogs and toads are discovered.
Why do the dragonflies like to eat the hind legs only?
As toad tadpoles mature, they develop poison glands in their skin much earlier than those in their hind legs, which could make the hind legs a far more palatable meal.
The front legs of tadpoles also develop within the gill chamber, where they are protected.
Sessions is careful to say that he doesn't completely rule out chemicals as the cause of some missing limbs. But 'selective predation' by dragonfly nymphs is now by far the leading explanation, he says.
"Are parasites sufficient to cause extra limbs?," he asks. "Yes. Is selective predation by dragonfly nymphs sufficient to cause loss or reduction of limbs. Yes. Are chemical pollutants necessary to understand either of these phenomena? No."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. has backed off his plan to investigate purported wrongdoing by the liberal activist group ACORN, saying ?powers that be? put the kibosh on the idea.
Mr. Conyers, Michigan Democrat, earlier bucked his party leaders by calling for hearings on accusations the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) has committed crimes ranging from voter fraud to a mob-style "protection" racket.
"The powers that be decided against it," Mr. Conyers told The Washington Times as he left the House chambers Wednesday.
The chairman declined to elaborate, shrugging off questions about who told him how to run his committee and give the Democrat-allied group a pass.
Conyers spokesman Jonathan Godfrey said late Thursday, several hours after the first request for comment, that the chairman had been referring to himself as "the powers that be."
Pittsburgh lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh, whose testimony about ACORN at a March 19 hearing on voting issues prompted Mr. Conyers to call for a probe, said she was perplexed by Mr. Conyers' explanation for his change of heart.
"If the chair of the Judiciary Committee cannot hold a hearing if he wants to, [then] who are the powers that he is beholden to?" she said. "Is it the leadership, is it the White House, is it contributors? Who is 'the power'?"
The comment spurred similar questions by House Republicans, who asked whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was involved in blocking the probe.
"Chairman Conyers has a responsibility to explain who is blocking this investigation, and why. Is it Speaker Pelosi? Others in the Democratic leadership? Who in Congress is covering up ACORN's corruption?" said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, ranking Republican on the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, said the chairman should be calling the shots.
}Mr. Conyers, who heard the allegations against ACORN, was sufficiently impressed to realize a future hearing was needed to thoroughly investigate the matter," he said. "It's unfortunate that people who didn't hear the testimony are making the decisions. The Democratic leadership should step up to disclose who instructed Mr. Conyers to drop his plan."
The office of Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, did not respond to questions about Mr. Conyers' comments.
Capitol Hill had bristled at the prospect of hearings because it threatened to rekindle criticism of the financial ties and close cooperation between President Obama's campaign and ACORN and its sister organizations Citizens Services Inc. and Project Vote.
The groups came under fire during the campaign after probes into suspected voter fraud in a series of presidential battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada.
ACORN and its affiliates are currently the target of at least 14 lawsuits related to voter fraud in the 2008 election and a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act complaint filed by former ACORN members.
The group's leaders have consistently denied any wrongdoing and previously said they welcomed a congressional probe.
The group did not respond to questions about Mr. Conyers being convinced to drop those plans.
Ms. Heidelbaugh, who spearheaded an unsuccessful lawsuit last year to stop ACORN's Pennsylvania voter-registration drive, testified in March that the nonprofit group was violating tax, campaign-finance and other laws by, among other things, sharing with the Barack Obama campaign a list of the Democrat's maxed-out campaign donors so ACORN could use it to solicit them for a get-out-the-vote drive.
ACORN also provided liberal causes with protest-for-hire services and coerced donations from targets of demonstrations through a shakedown it called the "muscle for the money" program, said Ms. Heidelbaugh, a member of the executive board of the Republican National Lawyers Association.
Mr. Conyers, a fierce partisan known for his drive to continue investigating President George W. Bush's administration, had been an unlikely champion for opponents of ACORN.
Before calling for the probe, he frequently defended ACORN. In October, he condemned an FBI voter-fraud investigation targeting the group, questioning whether it was politically motivated to hamper a voter-registration likely to turn out supporters for Mr. Obama's candidacy.
But in March, Mr. Conyers dismissed the argument made by fellow Democrats that accusations of voter fraud and other crimes should be explored by prosecutors and decided in court, not by lawmakers in Congress.
"That's our jurisdiction, the Department of Justice," Mr. Conyers said in March. "That's what we handle voter fraud. Unless that's been taken out of my jurisdiction and I didn't know it."