Friday, December 29, 2006

More on Nigeria Oil Crisis

I got an Email from someone who read my post on the deaths in Nigeria from that oil explosion.  My understanding was that there was a leak, and that the poor from the area were trying to get some oil in order to survive.

The reader pointed to this fine article from the Virginia Quarterly Review by John Ghazvinian who took a trip to Nigeria and details exactly what’s going on with the oil industry and the locals who get no benefit from the vast oil reserves lying beneath them.

      The Niger Delta is made up of nine states, 185 local government areas, and a population of 27 million. It has 40 ethnic groups speaking 250 dialects spread across 5,000 to 6,000 communities and covers an area of 27,000 square miles. This makes for one the highest population densities in the world, with annual population growth estimated at 3 percent. About 1,500 of those communities play host to oil company operations of one kind or another. Thousands of miles of pipelines crisscross the mangrove creeks of the Delta, broken up by occasional gas flares that send roaring orange flames into the already hot, humid air. Modern, air-conditioned facilities sit cheek-by-jowl with primitive fishing villages made of mud and straw, surrounded with razor wire and armed guards trained to be on the lookout for local troublemakers. It is, and always has been, a recipe for disaster.

      The problem, in a nutshell, is that for fifty years, foreign oil companies have conducted some of the world’s most sophisticated exploration and production operations, using millions of dollars’ worth of imported ultramodern equipment, against a backdrop of Stone Age squalor. They have extracted hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, which have sold on the international market for hundreds of billions of dollars, but the people of the Niger Delta have seen virtually none of the benefits. While successive military regimes have used oil proceeds to buy mansions in Mayfair or build castles in the sand in the faraway capital of Abuja, many in the Delta live as their ancestors would have done hundreds, even thousands of years ago—in hand-built huts of mud and straw. And though the Delta produces 100 percent of the nation’s oil and gas, its people survive with no electricity or clean running water. Seeing a doctor can mean traveling for hours by boat through the creeks.

If you’re interested, and you’ve got the time (it’s pretty long) I recommend this article for an in depth look at oil in Nigeria.

Invasion trouble

In the news this week, we have a country that has an unstable government, recognized but over run by Islamic extremists, who are trying to expel the recognized government. Another country decided to come in and help, so provided troops to fight the terrorists back so that the official government could re-take the capital city. The foreign troops are not exactly loved by the population, in fact they hurl rocks and insult them. However the foreign country maintains that it will leave as soon as the problem is averted and the Islamic extremists are sent packing.
Sounds familiar, right?
Somalia's prime minister promised thousands of war-weary Somalis peace and stability Friday as he formally took control of the battle-scarred capital for the first time since his government was formed two years ago.

Ali Mohamed Gedi drove through the streets of Mogadishu in a heavily armed convoy a day after Islamic fighters fled and his Ethiopian-backed troops seized the city.

Recall that Ethiopian and Somalian peoples hate each other with Hatfield and McCoy-like angst, due to frequent conflict over border disputes. Yet Ethiopia was more afraid of the Islamics than anything, especially since the Islamic Court (what they call themselves) vowed that after setting up a Taliban-like government they were going after Ethiopia next.
Some people are downplaying this apparent victory by the recognized government over terrorism and Islamic Extremism, and it might be. But as America has discovered, it's not over until people accept the new government and terrorists decide to take their business elsewhere.

With an Outrageous Accent

One has barely to go a couple of days before we get the pleasure of hearing another set of outrageous statements from the President of Iran. 

      The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) said in an editorial on Tuesday: " On the eve of the auspicious birthday of Jesus Christ when all Muslim and Christian believers extend best wishes to each other on the onset of the new year, leaders of Christian states took an unacceptable action toward Iranians by passing a resolution against (Iran's) national nuclear program which surprised every individual in Iran."

      The IRIB described the sanctions as "surprising," as "the Islamic Republic of Iran has designed the national nuclear program for civilian use and all Iranian nuclear sites are under (the) supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."

      The statement continued: "(The) IAEA has installed cameras on all Iranian nuclear sites monitoring them 24 hours and (the) Islamic Republic of Iran regards (the) nuclear bomb as forbidden in accordance with the lofty teachings of Islam."

So Iran is saying that the UN ruined Christmas for them.  Boo hoo.  The UN certainly can’t be accused of caring about religious holidays, so this certainly doesn’t surprise me, and considering the actions of Iran lately, I’m sure there are many people inside Iran who are only surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

And considering they’ve been threatening it for some time, Ahmadinejad can’t really say he’s surprised, unless the surprise is because he thought the UN would never be brave enough to defy him.

I love the twisting of truth in the second couple of paragraphs above.  I can see the logic that Iran believes it needs nuclear power in the future, as reports are now coming in that the oil industry there is going to come to a crashing halt within a decade or so.  Perhaps they feel they need this to compensate for that.  However, within a nation so rich in oil, it’s not like they use tremendous amounts for general use by the public.  Like most oil dictatorships, the money travels to the top.

However, the design of a nuclear program in Iran has historically included producing weapons, and the whole reason that we have a UN action is because Iran has made supervision by the IAEA all but impossible.  They have cameras installed everywhere?  Right.  That makes me feel all warm and safe.

I also hardly see why anyone should buy that nuclear bombs are somehow forbidden by the “lofty teachings of Islam” either, when every other weapon of war seems to be just okey dokey with Shiite leaders.  What makes nukes so different?

Ahmadinejad spends considerable rhetoric on the religious tenet that Jesus will return with the Imam Mahdi to usher in a new kingdom, a nice take on the Christian doctrine of the 2nd coming.

      "God willing, Jesus would return to the world along with the emergence of the descendant of the Islam's Holy Prophet, Imam Mahdi and wipe away every tinge of oppression, pain and agony from the face of the world," Ahmadinejad said.

Oh, good gracious.  If the Mahdi comes back to wipe away all oppression, what, pray tell, will they say about your treatment of your own people?  You mean like the pain and agony felt by the Israelis and Lebanese by your continued support of Hezbollah?  They pain and agony felt by Iraqis from your support of insurgents and Shiite radicals? 

Stay tuned for more outrageous statements.

Ding Dong...

Saddam Hussein was executed at 2:43pm, Iraqi time.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nigerian corruption

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, due to its location in western Africa along the coast with tons of fertile land due to the last stretch of the Niger River, which crosses the country before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  It also enjoys a rich deposit of crude oil, making it one of the world’s leading exporters of the substance. 

Early Tuesday a gasoline line ruptured in the capital city of Lagos.  As is the case in countries where poverty is rampant, there were hundreds of people by the rupture stealing gasoline, but sometime this morning the rupture burst into flames, killing at least 200 people.  A recent explosion also killed 150 people in Lagos.

For such a country rich in oil, for there to be people desperate enough to steal gas from a dangerous break in a pipeline can only mean that the government is corrupt in some way, and the article implies that.

However, another pointer to corruption in that country isn’t getting much press in this country, but is of high importance to Nigerians.  This article by our local Willamette Week breaks a story about a high ranking council at Portland General Electric, who was apparently has been laundering money to Nigeria for a while now.

      News about Mabinton and Uba's relationship with Obasanjo and the expenditure of some of the mysterious cash directly for the president's benefit proved explosive in Nigeria, generating such headlines as "Obasanjo's Aide in Money Laundering Mess," "Corruption Scandal in Aso Rock [the presidential seat]" and "Andy Uba: The Face of a Fraud."

      When they put all the pieces together, the agents investigating Mabinton believed she was helping launder funds for a top official of the Nigerian government.

      While such conduct might be unusual for utility lawyers, it wouldn't have shocked those who follow Nigerian politics. According to Transparency International, a German nonprofit that compiles an annual assessment of more than 150 countries, Nigeria's government is among the most corrupt in the world.

      "In Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission estimates that over the years $350 billion in oil money has simply disappeared," says Daniel Smith, a professor at Brown University and author of the recently published book A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria. "One former president allegedly took $10 to $12 billion himself."

Loretta Mabinton is the PGE worker.  Emmanuel “Andy” Uba is like Karl Rove to the Nigerian Presidency and Olusegun Obasanjo is the President of Nigeria currently.

The author of the article speculates that prosecution and investigation has been difficult in part because the US government does not want a rocky relationship with one of the countries that we buy oil from.  What with rocky relationships we’ve got with pretty much ALL the world’s oil generating countries, complications with another would strain our oil imports.  Which is true, but doesn’t justify curtailing justice, and in this case I think that Nigerians would happily have us nail their President to the wall if he indeed was guilty.

But, admittedly, the list of oil exporting countries that are friendly and not corrupt is small.  The U.S. (do we export any?), Iraq (only just), Russia (do they count as not corrupt and friendly?).  Anyone else?  Doesn’t this just scream, “develop gas alternatives!” at the top of your lungs?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I've never read the Koran. However I've read the Bible many times, and can tell you that extracting meaning out of the text can be a challenge. There's the translation issues, the cultural issues and the application issues to deal with before you come to the truth behind the words.
The truth behind the words is the issue at hand for Rachid Benzine, a French Morrocan, who is stirring things up by proclaiming a fresh way to interpret the Koran.
In debates about Islam, he says, the Koran has become "a text of slogans, a supermarket" for adversaries to choose quotes to impose what they think is the only valid reading.

"No interpretation can pretend to be the only right one," insists Benzine, whose 2004 book "The New Thinkers of Islam" highlights the work of Muslim reformers. He plans to publish a book on interpreting the Koran in 2008.

It's not unheard of for Christians to do this sort of thing. Pulling out verses to justify behavior or tradition is an age old flaw in the human psyche. Biblical scholars are taught to read verses from scripture in the context in which they were given, which clears up a whole lot of bad theology.

Benzine refuses to give a ready answer when asked if the Koran requires the headscarf for women, asking instead whether fixed rules for such issues can be based on a religious text.

"Rules must be put into historical context. A rabbi once said tradition has a right to vote but not to veto," he said.

Religious rhetoric is often used in Muslim countries today to mobilise people for political purposes, he added.

Politicizing religion is the best way to destroy it. Like Christianity, Islam is a religion that should be respected by its followers. However, using that religion as a political force to mandate edicts, even if consistent with the religious doctrine, is wrong. Religion is, above all things, a personal thing, in that it defines the relationship you have with your maker.
Saying that you or I are wrong about what we believe is fine, and debate should happen so the truth can be discerned. However, forcing your views on doctrine upon those who disagree will foster hatred, and eventually religion loses the very thing it needs: willing belief.

More troops?

There's been plenty in the news lately about Bush possibly sending more troops to Iraq, as opposed to the general complaint that we should be reducing troop levels, i.e. bring them home and such.
I feel for President Bush at this point. For years he's had to deal with many different voices in the public square. Many are pointing out that we've never had enough troops and certain generals have been calling for more troops, but at the same time calling for re-deployment, i.e. up and quitting.
But at the same time, here come the generals again stating that we don't need any more troops, and that adding more won't help the situation.
And care of Instapundit, here's Bill Roggio with some very sensible ideas for the future of our military engagements.
I thing that it's constructive, or would be, to have a civil debate on what the troop needs in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently. It's not like the answer is obvious, and partisan bickering isn't going to help.
And neither is crap like this:
Additionally, Mr Bush's critics have seized on such a plan as more evidence that the President is out of touch with both the reality in Iraq and the mood of the country. "Bush does not seem to have understood the message of mid-term elections," said Andrew Burgin, spokesman of the Stop the War Coalition. "It's a fantasy to believe that the American people will agree to increased numbers of American troops being killed in Iraq .It's the same with [Tony] Blair and people like Margaret Beckett. The whole political class appears to be out of touch with how this war started, what is happening in Iraq now and what the future holds."
No, I think that Bush isn't any more out of touch than Mr. Burgin. Noted that this article didn't even attempt to find a view supporting the administration, or even one that sounded even handed. But also note how Burgin worded it: "will agree to increased numbers of American troops being killed in Iraq." Is that what we're discussing here? Bush is trying to debate whether or not to increase the number of US troop deaths? Is this what I was referring to as civil debate? Try again.

Difficulties, tech and non-tech

Been soft on the blog lately. It's been a combination of things. Sometimes there's nothing I feel like blogging, although that's rare. Other times I'm just too busy, which is more common. Also, lately, the server has been rejecting many of my posts, and I'm too frustrated to want to re-write them. So if you see giant lags in the time between posts, that's probably why.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Victoria Cross bravery

What a great piece of wartime news!  Read the story of a man who won the British Victoria Cross, which is their highest medal of honor in the military.

      In order to regain the initiative, Corporal Budd decided to assault the enemy and ordered his men to follow him. As they moved forward the section came under a withering fire that incapacitated three of his men. The continued enemy fire and these losses forced the section to take cover. But, Corporal Budd continued the assault on his own, knowing full well the likely consequences of doing so without the close support of his remaining men. He was wounded but continued to move forward, attacking and killing the enemy as he rushed their position.

      Inspired by Corporal Budd's example, the rest of the platoon reorganized and pushed forward their attack, eliminating more of the enemy and eventually forcing their withdrawal. Corporal Budd subsequently died of his wounds, and when his body was later recovered it was found surrounded by three dead Taliban.

There’s more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

World Events - Monday

What’s going on in the world today?  Without going into a  huge investigation of all the news sources out there, I read a bit about these topics.

Chile:  Augusto Pinochet, the fascist dictator of yesteryear, finally cashed it all in, dying of old age this week.  Of a heart attack.  Some mourned with tears, but I suspect most citizens of Chile celebrated the ex-general who escaped ever being prosecuted, jailed or otherwise brought to justice for his brutal reign.

      Pinochet took power on Sept. 11, 1973, demanding an unconditional surrender from President Salvador Allende as warplanes bombed the presidential palace. Instead, Allende committed suicide with a submachine gun he had received as a gift from Fidel Castro.

      The U.S. had been working to destabilize Allende's Marxist government and keep Chile from exporting communism, but the world reacted in horror as Santiago's main soccer stadium filled with political prisoners to be tortured, killed or forced into exile after Pinochet came into power.

      Although his dictatorship laid the groundwork for South America's most stable economy, Pinochet will be remembered as the archetype of the era's repressive rulers who proliferated throughout Latin America and, in many cases, were secretly supported by the United States.

Nice.  Good to know we were on the right side there (sarcasm).  That’s one difference between Republican administrations of the past and Bush.  Our current president is less likely to side with a dictator just for the sake of curbing some greater evil.

Iran is sponsoring a conference discussing the reality of the Holocaust, inciting Jews everywhere.  The article says that no one is disputing that Jews were killed, but there’s some dispute as to whether they were really gassed.  Which seems to me like a stupid point.  Either 6 million Jews were held in prison camps until they became emaciated and then brutally killed or they weren’t.  I’m not sure why anyone thinks that arguing that the gassings didn’t occur makes it NOT a holocaust, but this is, of course, all political in some attempt to discredit Israel.

      "The aim of this conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocaust," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in a welcome address. "Its main aim is to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust."

This also might be some play on Ahmadinejad’s part to slap the United State’s face on an issue of free speech.  Question, if this sort of thing were held in the US, would it be tolerated?  It certainly is anyone’s right to speak their mind, even when they’re horribly misguided, but what would the obviously visceral reaction be?

By the by, check out this report of a student protest of a speech made by Ahmadinejad at a university in Iran.

      As Ahmadinejad approached the podium to speech, the members of the Islamic Students Association -- a banned group -- began booing and chanting, while some even burned pictures of the Iranian president, ADWAR reported.
      , according to ADWAR. He added that he loved each one of them and said, "You insult me but I will respond to you calmly."

And Ahmadinejad responds:

      "A small number of who claim there is suppression here are themselves creating a suppressive atmosphere and will not allow the majority to listen," FARS quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Another play by the Iranian leader at claiming free speech as his own.  Clever, and ironic to the last. 
An interesting point to take from this is one of the things that the students were chanting.  We often think it’s just extremists and extreme Islam that displays fanatics chanting “Death to America” or “Death to whoever”, but when the opposition to the theocracy is chanting “Death to the dictator” it kind of makes you wonder.  

Turkey has been trying for some time now to get into the European Union.  It’s a long and arduous process and involves a lot of demands on Europe’s part.  It seems now that Europe wants Turkey to open relations with Greek Cyprus, which is Turkey’s Achilles Heel, for sure.

      From the beginning, Turkey's path to the European Union was a diplomatic minefield. The country is large, 99 percent Muslim, prone to military coups and economic crises, and developed to European levels only in small pockets. It has problems with torture, violence, freedom of expression, corruption and minority rights. The vast majority of its land mass is in Asia Minor, where battles against Kurdish separatists have killed some 37,000 people. Most pressingly, it has 40,000 soldiers occupying part of another EU member country, Cyprus, which it invaded more than three decades ago.

Turkey has claimed Cyprus for it’s own forever now, and the country is still divided, with a DMZ like strip of no-man’s-land dividing much of the country.  Despite the quote from above, Turkey has been a secular government for all it’s existence (80 years or so) and while the country is prone to moving in an Islamic direction, they are usually rescued from becoming theocratic by the secular military.  It’s an interesting process, and most of their problems, like the Kurds and Cyprus, are nationalistic problems, not religious problems.

It’ll be interesting to see how Turkey ends up responding to this latest demand of the EU.  Will they soften on the Cyprus issue, or will this break the camel’s back, ending Turkey’s quest for EU membership, and all the benefits that it brings?

Kofi Annan delivered his farewell address to the UN, since he’s on his way out.  He decided it was time to get a little tough with the US.

I don’t really have the time to go into this in detail.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.  However I have one thing to say about leadership.  Mr. Annan criticizes the US on leadership issues, urging us to go back to the type of leadership that Truman exhibited in the 1940s.  What Annan is referring to here is Truman’s instrumental role in creating the UN and allowing the UN to be the instrument in Korea, instead of going in without the UN’s permission.

But I think that Kofi suffers from a vast misunderstanding of what true leadership is.  Would the UN have gone into Korea without the US’s urging and support?  Was the US following the UN, or was the UN following the lead of the US on that point?  

Was it easier for the US to make the case to enter Korea in 1950 than it was for us to make the case for Iraq now?  Sure, but why?  I don’t think that Korea was any more or less a compelling case for the world to demand action, but the politics are different now.  And I would argue that true leadership is knowing that something HAS to be done, even when that something is difficult and especially when political opposition demands that you not do it. 

It seems to me that the leadership in the UN has been very flaccid as of late, especially in regards to Islamic terrorism and fascist dictatorships.  Kofi Annan and the bureaucrats in Geneva have stood by and watched while one genocide after another crosses in front of their ivory tower and did nothing.  Is that leadership?  Kofi turns a blind eye when important committees, like human rights committee, are populated by documented human rights violators.  Is that leadership?  Kofi has presided, and it’s debatable that he did or didn’t know what was going on, over the largest corruption scandals the world has ever known; engineered by people working for the UN.  Is that leadership, Mr. Annan?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Truckin' along

I was having a discussion with another parent at a boy scout campout about the war in Iraq and generally all things foreign policy, and the discussion fell to a particular point of fact and where those facts were coming from.  When I asked where he got his ideas from on the point, he declared that he read it in the paper (or saw it on the TV news, I forget exactly).  At this stage I pointed out that his error was listening to the news. 

He ridiculed me that I was disputing his point because he read the news and, apparently, I did not.  Ordinarily you would think that he’d have me on this point, but I begged to differ.  It’s not that I don’t read the news, it’s just that the TV news and the local paper is most definitely NOT the only source of information I get. 

Today’s traditional media formulates it’s news gathering around a central theme and that theme is money.  Shocking, you say.  How can this be so, you ask.  Typically people have no problem criticizing the actions of the President as motivated by oil or economic advantage, or criticizing big industry for the same reasons.  It’s all about money.  Which is true, it’s how our society works.  Money, or just compensation for effort, is the pillar of capitalism and has allowed our society to progress at a faster rate than any other in history and allowed us to live in comfort no known in the history of the world.

However, you can’t really insulate any part of industry from that, unless you get a tight group of high minded people working for a non-profit, which most media outlets are not.

Part of the underlying problem with news today is that it is supported by multinational conglomerates who only really have to answer to stockholders and not to you and me, the consumer of that product.  Actually, that’s not totally true, as when the value of their news gathering diminishes (i.e. people start figuring out that the news they see is deficient in some way) they’ll stop consuming the product and the media company will lose money.

But until that happens, news organizations are under almost no compulsion to give us all the information we need to be adequately informed on any given topic.  It seems that, short of outright libel that a judge could identify and prosecute, they’re not under any obligation to tell the truth either.

      In Baghdad, the local AP team has been using a man who calls himself Police Captain Jamil Hussein for more than a year. AP claims he works in the Yarmouk police station on the west side of Baghdad - and he's been a source for several stories on killings of Sunni civilians over the past two years. He was AP's main source for a Thanksgiving-week report that four mosques had been attacked and burned and/or blown up, with six Sunni worshippers burned alive.

      But the Iraqi government and the U.S. Army have long warned the AP about its use of "spokesmen" who don't exist. Indeed this time it appears that there is no such officer in the Iraqi police force in Baghdad. More, they could find no evidence of such an attack (though they did see that one mosque had been hit with some gasoline and had some smoke and scorching damage in the entryway).

      Did the AP retract or reinvestigate? Nah. Instead, in a follow-up story a few days later, it simply noted the old (2005) news about efforts to plant Coalition press releases in the Iraqi media, accused the Iraqis of censorship and claimed that it had found three more (anonymous, naturally) witnesses. In effect, AP said that, no matter what the Iraqi police headquarters said, Hussein is one of its spokesmen after all.

This is certainly not the only case of media outlets modifying or falsifying information meant for the general public.  There seems to be no true repercussions for agencies like this short of consumer dissatisfaction and reaction.   But that won’t happen until people generally understand that what they get from mass media isn’t unbiased journalism all the time, and that we as a nation of people need to digest the news we get with a grain of salt and a discerning eye.

Because the paper and TV media just keeps on truckin’ as long as they’re making money, and the most surefire way to make money in the news business is not to sell the truth, but to sell an over-glamorized distortion of the truth designed to shock us into staring at the boob tube.

Certainly there are many journalists working for the AP and the NY Times and Reuters that have integrity and desire to tell the truth as best as they can, but they all aren’t, as well as their editors.  Think about what you’re reading, and make sure that you are getting your news and commentary from more than one source.

Reversing secularization

Interesting “letter” the Bogster posted on his site.  I haven’t seen this one in Email form yet, but I imagine I will.  I’ve been pretty irritated by the PC attitude surrounding Christmas lately, but I have to give credit to the person who wrote this letter (in lieu of Jesus), in their attempt to get us back on point.

      (Jesus talking…) How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate my birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that, let me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting my birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all my followers did that, there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Panel says: as you were

Of all that I’ve read recently and over the last few years involving our mission in Iraq and the President’s responses and actions, I’ve come to the conclusion that not many people really have a grasp of events and the big picture.  This is not a ringing endorsement of Republicans, who can be just as short term in their thinking as anyone, but a repudiation of critics of the Bush administration who are demanding that he change his stance on withdrawal of troops.

This is also not to say that Bush shouldn’t face certain amounts of criticism for his actions home and abroad.  However, we, as a nation of peoples, need to be honest with the facts and wider in our vision of what’s going on in the world.  It’s a fact that gets lost that Iraq is a smaller part of a greater struggle, and that accepting a certain amount of chaos there might be necessary for the larger struggle.  I.E. we’re losing a battle, not the war itself.  Don't quit now!

So now there’s this panel of folks intending to drive our policy in Iraq consisting, among others, of James Baker and Lee Hamilton.  They’ve come up with some recommendations going forward.  The President and Tony Blair have been reviewing them, and are correctly saying that they might implement some of them or many of them, but probably not all of them.  I don’t think that we can pretend that the Baker/Hamilton commission is a non-political one and that some of the recommendations it made are going to be sound and non-politicized. 

One of the things that struck me during this process was the Democratic realization (or, if they didn’t get this during the hearings I don’t know what it’ll take) that Bush is in fact listening to his military leaders and commanders in Iraq on what troop requirements they need.    Bush later said as much, that he didn’t want to make scheduled troop reductions and instead would listen to the advice of commanders in charge of Iraq related objectives.

Which makes sense, if you think about it.  What political advantage does Bush have in not reducing troop levels in the Middle East?  Really, if he didn’t think he needed the troops over there, he could start bringing some home and build some political capital with the moderates here in the States. 

      The president said he would take the recommendations seriously. But he noted, "Congress is not going to accept every recommendation in the report and neither is the administration."

      Asked specifically whether U.S. combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by 2008, Bush said that "we'd like our troops out as fast as possible," but that "our commanders will be making recommendations based upon whether we can achieve our objectives."

      Asked bluntly if he was still in denial about the situation in Iraq, Bush grew emotional. "I talk to the families who die," he said. "I also understand how brave our men and women who wear the uniform are. I understand how hard it is on wives and families, especially as we come into the holiday season." Still, Bush said, he believes U.S. and British forces will prevail.

      "Our job is to help the forces of moderation," he said. Calling Sept. 11 "a wake-up call for the American people," he said that "a threat overseas can come home to hurt us here.… I wouldn't have our troops in harm's way if didn't believe that."

I think the President, while not a perfect human being, gets the big picture still.  As the leader of this nation who makes the tough decisions, I would hope that he listens to advice and decides what makes sense in light of the global situation and what doesn’t.  Some of what the commission above recommends might make good sense.

But it’s still apparent that the press doesn’t get the global aspect to what we’re trying to accomplish in Iraq.  I don’t know what purpose asking the President if he’s in denial about the situation in Iraq is supposed to accomplish other than to try and rankle the President and get some sound bite that can be used against him later.  Indeed, the President, by virtue of his position and security clearance, is much more in touch with reality than the press.  If the press people are truly wondering why the President talks in such positive terms about a tough situation, perhaps they should all take a course in positive thinking.  People in positions of leadership commonly talk in positive terms when managing a project or mission that must succeed.  Which doesn’t mean that they aren’t also grappling with the difficulties on the ground.

  It’s apparent that DC press and media people are, in fact, out of touch with reality, just as it’s apparent that congress-people are increasingly out of touch in their insular Washington environment.

Jonah Goldberg on the Corner:

      I've been thinking. As many have noted, the ISG's recommendations are mostly nothing new. The draw down of troops, the imbedding, the training, the pressure on the Iraqis etc, etc: all of these things are either already being tried, have been tried or are about to be tried. The report undercuts the Murtha crowd by delegitimizing the quick bug-out (AKA redeployment) option and makes staying in Iraq at least until '08 the "conventional" or "mainstream" point of view.

      For Bush, isn't this the only part of the ISG report that matters? And when it comes to the actual situation in Iraq, the report basically confirms established policies of the White House and the Pentagon. So, in effect, doesn't the heralded bipartisan commission in effect give Bush the leeway to — ahem — stay the course?

      Of course, the ISGers want Bush to endorse the entire report, hence all of that boilerplate about how everything reinforces everything else etc etc. They could never contemplate that such Olympian wisdom might be dissected. Could it be that this was the price Baker had to pay to Panenta and others to get agreement? Because it seems to me that Bush is perfectly at liberty, politically speaking, to cherry pick policies from  the report that  he likes and disregard the rest. And when he does so he can say he is following the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Critics can complain he's not buying all of them, but that's hardly going to be a devastating complaint. Indeed, what are critics going to say? That he can't follow the ISG's advice on increasing troops for training without also haggling with Syria over Israel?  I doubt it.

My emphasis.  This should all be a real wake up call to those who insist that Bush can do nothing right, but I’m sure they’ll find some way to spin this in the other direction.

More from Instapundit:

      COMMENTS ON THE ISG REPORT, from Sgt. T.F. Boggs, back from his second deployment in Iraq. Excerpt: "I thought old people were supposed to be more patient than a 24 year old but apparently I have more patience for our victory to unfold in Iraq than 99.9 percent of Americans. Iraq isn’t fast food--you can’t have what you want and have it now."

On another political note, please pay attention to the heroics of two Senators, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint.  They’ve engineered a continuing resolution that effectively prevents over 10,000 of the earmarks from the remaining appropriations bills for the year. 

      Because of the courageous work of a few senators, led by Coburn and DeMint, taxpayers will save billions. And, from all indications, the fireworks will continue. Armed with a bagful of wrenches, you can expect Coburn and DeMint to shut down the liberals' big-government machine if (or more likely when) it starts up next year in the 110th Congress.

There are many of us out there with actual conservative values that believe that the federal government should not be used in the callous cash-cow way that Senators have treated it for decades now.  But since both Republicans and Democrats have been treating it so, what hope did we have that the chain would be broken and someone courageous would stop the bleeding.

I see a light up ahead.

Geography in 2006

I’m back, after a long family trip that I can’t possibly describe in one post.  Needless to say that I am not well rested, physically, but well rested mentally.  And we had a great time.

In the mean time, as I love all things geography, here’s a list of the best of 2006 from Ben Keene, who is the editor of the Oxford Atlas of the World.  This is a list of things that had the greatest geographic impact, according to Ben.  Note this one.

    Over the summer in the United States, President Bush designated roughly 140,000 square miles of Pacific reefs and atolls as a National Monument. This act makes the Northwest Hawaiian Islands—which cover more surface area than 46 of the 50 states—the single largest protected marine sanctuary on Earth, just edging out the 133,000 square miles of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Bet you didn't read about that in the paper.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Start Your Own Country Day

November 22nd was, apparently, Create Your Own Country Day.  I can’t find a site talking about it specifically (yet), but I did find this site that talked about the idea started at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, of creating these autonomous entities that offer freedom from whatever the creator is seeking freedom for.  It’s fun to scroll down and read the different ideas of sovereign localities, or even mobile ones.  I think the idea is mostly for fun and posterity, but I’m sure there are those who are more serious about it.

It brings up some interesting ideas of what people are thinking regarding this.  You’re always going to find people who want to live where they live, but don’t want to live under the construct of current government (whether it be dictatorship or democracy).  But how does that work.  If you and some others declare independence from a country, in general, how much do you have to think through to make everything work correctly.  For starters,  you have to think about all the services you now receive from the government in one form or another, like police, utilities, armed protection from external threats (not that you’d always need that, but the larger the country you are, the more of these things you’ll need.

Police for instance.  If I declared my block an independent country, the police and fire departments wouldn’t automatically be obligated to protect me if someone crossed my borders to rob my house, or set it afire, or whatever.  That stuff is paid for by the taxes you provide, but it’s assumed that you wouldn’t be paying those taxes anymore.  Or would it?  I suppose that you could work out an “international agreement” with the local government  you were surrounded by and offer them a fee for providing services to your tiny country.

Also, although some of these countries identify vast freedoms, like this one called Freedom Ship: ” A city that floats around the world and allows freedom from restrictive government.”  But unless you want your citizens to eventually start killing or cheating each other, there have to be rules.  A society without rules will eventually destroy itself, thus our Constitution and rule of law.  So you can never get completely away from “restrictive” government.

A more serious question.  If a group of people really disliked a country, say the U.S.A., and wanted to secede, would the U.S. let them?  How resistant would our country be if someone wanted to separate on their private property?  At what point do you claim that this is overtly restrictive on the part of our government when you might argue that the Kurds should have been able to separate from Iraq under Saddam or from Turkey and Iran.  If you think that Tibet should be it’s own country, how can you argue that people can’t unite to form their own country out of a portion of North America where they live?  And conversely, if you don’t support that type of thing here in America (a-la President Lincoln, Civil war, etc.) can you argue for Tibet?


PS.  There are also books out there on how to start your own country.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It must be said

I’ve read here and there an ongoing discussion about Islam and Democracy.  There are some who would proffer that Islam is incompatible with Democracy and Islam is a religion of hate and violence.  These views are definitely in the minority, but Muslims the world over seem to want to perpetuate the stereotype time and time again.

I would admit, if I were you, that there are many, many Muslim people who are not violent, have a healthy respect for all people, and regard their religion as something that can exist separate from government.  Are they a majority of the world’s Muslim population?  That theory has been pushed time and time again, that there is a “silent majority” out there that needs to stand up and take on the more radical and violent inside of their religion.

Some might compare this with Christianity, that there are some that promote a very conservative brand of the religion, and in some cases are quite violent and intolerant themselves.  But I think this is unfair to do, as the vast majority of Christians don’t act this way, and when some do there is a sizable reaction within the Christian community itself.

Not so with the Islamic community.  But why is this?
Nonie Darwish is a Muslim who immigrated from Egypt when she was very young.  She wrote a book called “Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror.”  Needless to say, she gets a lot of flack from the Islamic community because of the book.  Recently she was supposed to speak at Brown University, but pressure from the Muslim groups on campus, and finally the bowing over of the Jewish campus group, Hillel, caused her speech to be canceled.

From the NY Post:

      Darwish argues that her own community - in the Middle East and in America - is hostile to criticism, even from Muslims. After 9/11, she says, many in Egypt refused to believe that Muslims were responsible. Instead, they blamed "the Zionist conspiracy." From her childhood in the '50s, she's seen seething animosity toward Jews, Israel, America and non-believers generally pervert her culture. "I asked myself, as a Muslim Arab child, was I ever taught peace? The answer is no. We learned just the opposite: honor and pride can only come from jihad and martyrdom." In elementary schools in Gaza, where she lived until age 8, Darwish learned "vengeance and retaliation. Peace," she says, "was considered a sign of defeat and weakness."

Which explains some things.  Like why America is considered weak, and invites terrorism when we back down from places like Somalia.


      An event in 1996 inflamed her longstanding frustration with her community. Her brother suffered a stroke while in Gaza, and his Egyptian friends and relatives all agreed: To save his life, he needed to go to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, not to Cairo. Even though they had spent their lives demeaning Israelis - and boasting of Arab supremacy. Hadassah saved her brother's life; understandably, her appreciation for Jews and Israelis grew. Today Darwish preaches not only the almost embarrassing lengths to which Jews go to seek dialogue and peace, but also their cultural, political, scientific and economic contributions.

But when Muslims want to speak out against this kind of thing, it’s suppressed, sometimes with threats and violence. 
This brings up a point about Islam that I’m hesitant to make, but should for the sake of discussion.  While there are many peaceful Muslims throughout the world (though, probably mostly here in North America), radicalism and/or the tendency to interpret their religious teachings in a way that promotes hatred, discrimination and violence is much more widespread and problematic in Islam than in any other religion in history.  It’s not enough for some Muslims to come out and proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace.  Really? 

How many Islamic countries in the world allow Christians to live and practice their religion freely?  How many of those country’s governments arrest, torture and otherwise freely discriminate against those who are not Muslim?  How many countries (and I can think of a few) treat a woman’s or a Christian’s opinion (like in court) as half or a quarter that of a Muslim man?  This isn’t simply a minority discriminating in everyday live.  This is government sanctioned oppression.  How many countries carry the death penalty for a Muslim converting to any other religion?

Which brings me close to my point.  My wife and I once knew a Muslim who challenged us to read the Koran, saying that just reading it would somehow convince us to the superiority of the Islamic faith.  Now, having not read it yet (although not opposed to doing so someday), I have a difficult time not laughing at that statement, because it seems to me that Islam is a very, very weak religion.  This is a religion that, over the centuries has spread and gained converts by force and coercion.  From the beginning, the prophet Muhammad declared that the method of choice for spreading the word would be conquest.  Even during the enlightened era of the Islamic Empire at the turn of the last Millennium, Islamic converts were gained because Muslims were not taxed, but non-Muslims were.

All that leads to today, where even self criticism is suppressed to the point that there will never be a public argument against Islam that will be responded to with rational, clear headed defense.

If you can’t defend your religion without threats, violence and oppression, what good is your religion?  Is your God so weak that he can’t defend himself?

Hat tip on the Post article goes to Judith at Kesher Talk, via Instapundit.

Saving Billions

The resurrection of the fiscal conservative in the Senate.  Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint worked hard to block wasteful pork in the last session, and now have the Senate in a position where they won’t enact any more meaningful spending legislation until the Democrats take over.  Until then there’s a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund discretionary spending at the same levels as last year until January.   When the Democrats start as majority party they have to deal with this before anything else.

Andrew Roth (via Instapundit) thinks that it’s likely that the Democrats might just continue the CR through the remainder of the year.  If that happens, Coburn and DeMint’s efforts will have saved taxpayers about $17 billion.

I bring this up because it would be nice if the public noted this behavior in the two senators listed above, decided that it’s a nice trait to have in a Senator, and repeated that by electing Senators in 2008 with the same fiscal tendencies.

The Godfather

Do we need to start treating Vladamir Putin like a thug?  A former KGB agent was poisoned in England this week, while he was investigating the killing of Russian journalist Anna Polikovskaya, which is thought to be government related.

      Earlier on Monday, Goldfarb told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that the former agent was poisoned because of his opposition to the Russian regime.
      "It's very difficult to imagine the president's ordered the killing, it's true, and nobody's saying that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin personally ordered it, though it's very likely," Goldfarb said.

If this is true, and recent events inside Russia make this likely, and Putin’s thuggery stretches outside his own country, then he becomes an international criminal and menace and should be dealt with harshly.  However, I doubt anything significant will be done in the U.N. or in Europe.

Russia is still looking more and more Autocratic, with Putin accused of gangster style murders and vote fraud over the past few years.  This just adds another arrow in the quiver for us to treat them as something other than the democracy we hoped they’d turn into.

Incidentally, check out the description of the poison used.

      Thallium is frequently referred to as the poison of choice: Only a gram of the colorless, odorless, water-soluble heavy metal can kill. It is as toxic as arsenic, and even more so than lead.

“What you do not smell is called Iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.”

“Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.”

“I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.”
“Iocane powder.  I’d bet my life on it.”

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bomb Iran

This editorial in the LA Times argues that the time has come to make a decision whether we are going to accept a nuclear Iran, or if we are going to attack them.
So if sanctions won't work, what's left? The overthrow of the current Iranian regime might offer a silver bullet, but with hard-liners firmly in the saddle in Tehran, any such prospect seems even more remote today than it did a decade ago, when students were demonstrating and reformers were ascendant. Meanwhile, the completion of Iran's bomb grows nearer every day.
Our options therefore are narrowed to two: We can prepare to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or we can use force to prevent it.
But he argues that just accepting that fate can't be compared to the standoff that we had with the Soviets or the Chinese. Simply, Iran can feed those weapons off to terrorists and we'd have a hard time retaliating on the hunch that Iran was ultimately to blame.
He also argues that the politics of the region would change dramatically for the worse.
But such ethnic-based analysis fails to take into account Iran's charisma as the archenemy of the United States and Israel and the leverage it achieves as the patron of radicals and rejectionists. Given that, the old assumptions about Shiites and Sunnis may not hold any longer. Iran's closest ally today is Syria, which is mostly Sunni. The link between Tehran and Damascus is ideological, not theological. Similarly, Iran supports the Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which are overwhelmingly Sunni (and as a result, Iran has grown popular in the eyes of Palestinians).

Can President Bush take such action after being humiliated in the congressional elections and with the Iraq war having grown so unpopular? Bush has said that history's judgment on his conduct of the war against terror is more important than the polls. If Ahmadinejad gets his finger on a nuclear trigger, everything Bush has done will be rendered hollow. We will be a lot less safe than we were when Bush took office.

Finally, wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay. But the alternative is worse.

After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime. His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea.

The costs were avoided, and instead the world was subjected to the greatest man-made calamities ever. Communism itself was to claim perhaps 100 million lives, and it also gave rise to fascism and Nazism, leading to World War II. Ahmadinejad wants to be the new Lenin. Force is the only thing that can stop him.
So, what do you say? Do you say that we should continue to let the UN work it's magic? That dog has sailed, and considering how effective they've been at solving Iraq and the Sudan, it's apparent that they'll never come up with a solution.
The nuclear non-proliferation treaty? That's over and done as well. The minute North Korea lit up a small warhead and nothing was done to stop them, every tin-pot dictator in the world was put on notice that acquiring nukes will not get you any trouble from the international community. There was never anything in place to police the non-proliferation treaty that held any water. Once again, it's going the be the U.S. or nobody.

Friday, November 17, 2006

RIP Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman, the father of modern Libertarianism, has died at 94.  You can find many links and remembrances over at Instapundit, who is a natural libertarian.

Myself, although I lean farther to the right on social issues, have a strong libertarian streak that was started in the early 90s when a roommate of mine gave me a book by Friedman, Free to Choose.  Up until that point I had been fairly liberal and tended to vote Democrat.  Needless to say, he changed my thinking on economic policy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Reading assignment

Reading assignment for all of you.  This regarding the constant battle between secularists (read:  science and logic vs. religion) and religion in the political sphere.

The first is by Donald Sensing, who argues that modern western science is, in fact, at it’s core a religion.

      And so, following Polanyi's line, we have a culture that is scientistic as well as scientific. Scientism is faith in science. As the dominant world view of the West, it is considered self-validating. Scientism makes two major claims, neither of which, however, are testable using the scientific method:

      (1) only science reveals the Real and only science can discover truth;
      (2) scientific knowledge of reality is exhaustive, not inherently limited, is holistic and sees reality as reality really is.

      Early modernity’s mechanistic view of creation was originally proposed as a way to preserve God’s agency. This view was soon supplanted by the view that knowledge about the world beyond the self was limited to what could be known through sense-perception of material things. The materialism of the modern world view is its central feature. Thus, “the modern world view simply has no natural place for God in it,” as philosopher of science Langdon Gilkey put it.

There are very few Christians (and western based Muslims) who feel that science has no place in religion.  They can coexist in harmony, as long as scientific revelation consists of honesty, instead of pretending it has foundational truths instead of what it actually has, which are theories about how the universe operates.

      The tension between Islam's historic traditions and modern pressures of scientific modernity is found throughout the Muslim world. Many Arab intellectuals know that their countries have fallen behind most of the rest of the world. They want to gain the benefits of technological society, but without the cultural baggage that comes with it. They want to modernize their societies but not Westernize them. Their vision of modernization is mostly technological, such as communications, medical science, education, transportation, and consumer goods. They want our DVD players but not our DVDs. Even al Qaeda will accept the trappings of technology, they just reject the foundation.

Contrast that with this article from the Washington Post about a new think tank in Washington designed to promote “rationalism” as the basis of public policy.

      The brainchild of Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, the small public policy office will lobby and sometimes litigate on behalf of science-based decision making and against religion in government affairs.

There’s a list of issues that the article brings up in regards to “faith based” governing that they are concerned with, but I must print this quote first.

      While the speakers at the National Press Club unveiling were highly critical of Bush administration policies regarding stem cell research, global warming, abstinence-only sex education and the teaching of "intelligent design," they said that their group was nonpartisan and that many Democrats were hostile to keeping religion out of public policy.

First of all, I’m not sure what the global warming issue has to do with “faith.”  Both Darwinism and Global warming have a lot to do with perception of facts and limited knowledge of the limited data that gets force fed to Americans.  The dispute is the interpretation of data by many scientists who believe that the warming going on is mostly natural and cyclical.

Abstinence-only is more of a moral issue, but it needs to be studied further to see if it works well.  I can’t see how it would be such an anathema to scientists when if the plan were followed, it would indeed curtail the spread of HIV and other STDs.  There’s even some evidence that it does work.

Stem cell research plods on, but the issues involved circle around the use of a particular type.  This is less religious (unless you consider fetuses just useless tissue when not used for stem cell research) than it is ethics related.  We should be cautious when rocketing down new scientific paths, lest the ethical horrors happen after significant study has been made.

      "In the current climate there is an implicit, if demonstrably false, sense that if your actions are based on a belief in God you are good person, and if they are not you are a bad person," Krauss said. "We should be very concerned that our political system reinforces the notion that the more you pray for guidance, the better suited you are to govern."

I’m not sure where this angst is coming from.  Where in the current culture do you see people arguing that doing anything in particular just out of faith in God automatically makes you a good person?  On the contrary, never in our history has religion been so non-mainstream and subject to scrutiny than in the present.

New management

Update on my political post from  yesterday.  I was thinking that the Democrats might change their behavior regarding Iraq now that they are in power and are ultimately more responsible for what happens from here on out.  They’ve been criticizing Bush for years about not listening to the military and the generals regarding strategy in Iraq, but the recent hearings where the generals argued against timetables for withdrawal.

So, as Glenn Reynolds points out, either the Democrats were keeping hush hush about what the generals and the military in general actually thought about strategy in Iraq and went with the populist cut and run rhetoric, or they are ignorant as to what military thinking is currently and should have kept their mouths shut.

And now they govern.

Seriously, though, I hope these hearings and commissions are an excuse for the Democrats to get more serious about the war effort.  I’m sure they’ll be able to spin their past behavior in a better light and move on (so to speak).  But if they don’t, what credibility do they have left on the issue?

And read down on the Instapundit post, where Glenn prints part of a letter that indicates rank and file non-coms feel like getting the Iraqi army ready to take over for themselves will take up to 5 years.

And despite this, Senator Reid is STILL calling for withdrawal
Note this ABC post reminding us that some Democrats, including Harry Reid, also took money and gave favors to Jack Abramoff.  How refreshing not to have those corrupt Republicans in power now, isn’t it?

Update:  Also, don’t forget that Nancy Pelosi seems to want to put Alcee Hastings on the Intelligence Committee as chair.  This is the same Alcee Hastings that was impeached from the federal bench for corruption, taking bribes from the mob.  From the New Republic.

      There's ample reason to think that Americans cast a negative vote last week--not so much for Democrats as against Republicans. Over the next two years, voters will be watching to see whether Democrats are up to the responsibility of governing, and doing so with the national interest in mind. If Nancy Pelosi bases her decision about such a critical position on a combination of personal feuding and identity politics, she won't just do Republicans a favor by giving them a readymade bogeyman to attack. She will have shown voters that she's unable to push aside petty institutional politics in the name of the national interest.

Not a good sign when you’ve just been elected into the majority on the basis of criticizing the other party of corruption and there are already corruption issues in your own party that you have to deal with.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On the Election

I have finally decided to issue a few thoughts on the election last week.  I’ve been exceedingly busy these last few days, and up until the election I spent considerable time looking at some of the local issues.  So you might wonder what I thought of the age we live in now that the Democrats have taken not only both Federal houses, but also both houses and the Governorship of Oregon.  It’s getting increasingly difficult for a Republican to win in this state, although Gordon Smith is still pretty popular as an incumbent.

First the Senate/House races.  So the Democrats took back over from a pitiable Republican contingent.  When the Republicans took over 12 years ago, they were replacing a ages old Democrat led institution because moderate America was looking for a slightly more conservative congress in the fiscal area.  There were some other reasons too, but the Contract with America was all about the moral and core values of conservatism, and people believed that they had a shot at changing what up until that point had been a basically stagnant Democratically

controlled congress.

So they get elected and for the next 6 years fight with Bill Clinton to get stuff passed.  Some of which they did, due to Clinton’s smart move to the center of politics.  Some they also didn’t get through, due to the fact that Clinton is in the opposing party as much as anything.  In the same hour, the economy churned

forward with the added productivity that the internet fashioned.  And so we had limited spending, due to all the vetoes and budget battles, and we had extra tax revenue due to the burgeoning economy.   And so you get a budget surplus.

Now, after 12 years, the last 6 of which were spent under a Republican President, with the exception of support for Bush during the War on Terror, we have a congress who have ramped up federal spending to heights that congresses back from antiquity couldn’t imagine.  Definitely backing out of a few of those promises from the Contract with America, me thinks.

They’ve also spent some time doing terrible damage control from events that they never had much control over, like the Foley incident, or Hurricane Katrina.  Truly these events could not be blamed on the Republicans as a whole, and yet that’s what American has just done.  They’ve sunk the Republicans not because they’re wrong on foreign politics and the war, but because they abandoned conservative ideals and pushed the pork.

And yet that’s not what the Democrats are about.  They are going to be emboldened with the knowledge that America voted them into power because Bush is wrong on the war and we need to cut our losses and get troops out of Iraq.   They tried to look tough, but the leadership has been making cut and run

noises for some time now, so I guess we have to live in hope that Bush can control congress and finally reach out across the aisle in order to maintain what is the correct course of action (by which I mean continuing toughness in the greater war, not specific operations in Iraq). 

However, from what I’ve been reading about the committee that was set up to study the effort in Iraq and make recommendations (like deployment or some such), it sounds like Democrats have an out here.  Except for those in the Senate who are vehemently opposed to us being there, the rest of the Democrats can wait until this committee has finished and then decide if staying the course is the right thing to do, or whatever the recommendation is.  Now that Democrats are in power, they have a bit more responsibility to conduct foreign affairs sanely instead of just criticize everything the Republicans were doing.  So perhaps saner heads will rule.  Here’s hoping.

But I reject the notion that the Democrats have a “mandate” to do anything.  I’ve read several stories about how the election was a mandate for larger government (not in a positive way), or a mandate to get our troops out of Iraq, or a mandate for minimum wage and universal health care.  Just read a bit on the politics of the change in majority and you’ll see this type of talk.

However, considering that the Democrats had no over-reaching vision in this last election, and that the Republican losses appear to have more to do with general dissatisfaction with many Republican congressmen straying from core conservative values, I’m wondering if you can pull anything substantial from the voting public in this last election.  The Democrats didn’t really push anything hard this year, except for nailing Republicans on ethics and economic issues, where they were weak.  They spent a particular amount of time on Iraq as well, but Bush’s numbers are up in that arena in the last couple of months, and the “cut and run” philosophy of the Democratic base can hardly be the carrot that enticed moderate voters.

I think this was more Republican voters straying elsewhere or staying home.

If I had one message for the Democrats who are wanton to ad lib the “mandate” talk, it would be thus:  Be Statesmen and women, not political myna birds.  Don’t govern by polls, do what you think is right, not what you think will get you elected, or what your party is forcing you to do.  That would be a nice piece of advice for any politician, but I think Dems need to stop focusing on what they think the public put them in office for.

I look forward to a two year period where either Bush and Congress are held static, dug in their trenches, or Bush and the Democrats learn to work together unlike the two have done for the past 6 years.   If the former happens, at least spending will be held in check for a couple of years.  However if a Democrat wins the Presidency we’ll have a situation we haven’t in a while, which is full Democratic control of the federal government, and won’t it be interesting to see how they react in that mode.  Will it be any different than what we just had for 6 years?

By the by, normally I link to the stuff I've been reading which contributed to the thoughts you see on this page.  However, this is a  collection of thoughts over a week, and the links inherent would be difficult to amass, and so if you want to find out where all this is coming from, just look at any paper or blog over the last week or so. 

Middle East happenings

News from the Middle east not having to do with Iraq:
Arabs are going to start giving money to the Palestinians despite the international ban on giving until the Hamas government recognizes Israel.

The Arab nations are pushing Hamas to attend a peace conference with Israel, but it still hasn’t met the international stipulations, and if they start getting money from some other source, I don’t think they’re going to start.

The Arab nations apparently are going to give money as a protest to the UN over the U.S. veto of resolutions designed to chastise Israel over the latest strike in Gaza.

Tony Blair is asking Syria and Iran to “help” stem the violence in Iraq.  All they need to do is renounce terrorism and any nuclear ambitions they might have.  Seems like not a lot, right?

Lebanon’s cabinet approved UN plans for setting up an international tribunal to try suspects from the investigation of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  Also, a few pro-Syrian members of their parliament have resigned too, so things are looking ok in Lebanon.  Except for all that rebuilding they need to do after the Israeli attack a few weeks ago.

Violence by the government backed Janjaweed militants in the Darfur region has spread to neighboring Chad.   “Everything was burned to the ground — even the Koran was burned.”  I guess you can’t argue that they’re a religious militia.  It appears to be entirely ethnic, and further supports the idea that this is, indeed, genocide.  But you already knew that, right?  Someone please tell the UN.

Oh, and by the way, if I were the president of Chad, I’d be pretty pissed right now.

In other news, Kofi Annan decided today that the real cause of tension between the west and the Islamic world is, of course, just politics.

      Political tensions, rather than religious differences, are the source of the rift between the West and the Muslim world, and any resolution must include an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday.

      His claim that religion was not the root of the conflicts that have multiplied since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States contradicted those of some theorists who believe cultural and religious identity emerged as the main source of tension following the Cold War.

      In a challenge to that theory, Annan traveled to Istanbul to attend a meeting of the U.N.-backed "Alliance of Civilizations Initiative," which enabled a group of experts and luminaries to draft a report on how to promote peace.

Oh, is that all we need?  We need a group of experts to draft a report and then we’ll have peace?  And I was so worried!

I think the terrorists would have something to say about what the core issues in the aforementioned tension would be, don’t you?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Unified Palestine?

Palestinians look like they are moving toward a unified government, with Hamas and Fatah playing nice. 

      Until now, the efforts have gone nowhere, because Mr. Abbas - who heads the Fatah faction - has insisted that any new government accept commitments made by previous Palestinian governments, such as recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting peace agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians. These are issues that Hamas has refused to accept.

Abbas has wanted a unified government and reduced Hamas control, or a change in their stance toward Israel, in order to try and re-qualify for loans from Europe that they’ve been living without for a while now.  One of the main reasons that the loans were discontinued was that the Hamas government didn’t recognize Israel and wouldn’t renounce violence. (Note:  I guess that’s two reasons)

They’re not really saying in this article why the parties are now moving toward unity, and there’s no indication that Hamas is giving in on the Israel recognition, so what gives?  Hamas and Fatah live in a state of constant tension with each other, so I wonder how long it will be before they are back at each other’s throats.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Oregon Measure 46 and 47

Yes, we have lots of ballot measures to think about here in ole Oregon this year.  And these are just the state-wide ones.

Measures 46 and 47 are out campain finance solutions.  Or, rather, someone's attempt at a solution.  The first one just modifies the constitution to allow limits on campain contributions.  As it stands now, the constitution plainly states that you can't limit it in any way.  In that way Oregon is one of the least controlled environments for election contributions in the United States.  Do we think that's a problem?
Measure 47 is, then, a limit on contributions to campains that is pretty far reaching.  All contributers to all sorts of political action is touched by this measure. 

I might be amenable to the first measure, seeing as there might be some reason to limit contributions for something, like, for instance, money coming in from out of state (there, my hat tip to all the nuts who put that as their reason for opposing some of the other measures).  However, it's far from certain where this opening would take us.  Just look at the second measure I'm referring to, measure 47.  It places limits on everybody, limits candidates spending on their own campains, and has unspent money reverting to the government after the election is over!  What, is that a tax?
Oh, my, gracious does the text of this revision to Oregon statues take up pages and pages of the ballot guide.  Do we really want that kind of trash added to the state books?  Even Willamette Week, who seemingly endorsed the measure, admitted that their eyes glazed over after a period of trying to wade through all the regulations involved with the bill.  (Here's WW's endorsements of all the measures and Candidates, most of which I disagree with).
Anyone wanting to know what limiting campain contributions does just has to look nationally.  People with money and some agenda will find a way to get that money into the process for the purpose of influence.  Wouldn't you like that transfer of money to be a little more obvious to follow?
If you want to improve this, go for more transparency laws in contributions and in the bill making process.  See where the money is coming from during election time, and where the money is going during legislative sessions.  That might be a measure I'd vote for.
Voting: NO on both.

Side note.  Interesting collection of folks opposing these measures.  The ACLU is opposed.  As is the right wing Oregon Family Council.

Oregon Measure 45

More local blogging.

OK, I'm kind of bringing up the rear with these last few state ballot measures.  The vote is on Tuesday, and since our state is vote-by-mail, most of you have already sent in your ballots, I'm guessing.  I've looked somewhat at these, but I'm running out of time to do any thorough research, so I'm going to wing it a bit and just give you my opinion about where I'm at.

Measure 45 is about term limits.  The rule would be 6 years in the House and 8 years in the Senate and no more than a total of 14 in both (which just adds up, so why even say it).  I'll admit right now that this measure tugs at my heart strings.  I've never wanted to vote for a measure concerning a limit on political terms so badly in my life.  Why?  Well, all you have to do is look nationally, where the longer a person lives in Washington, presuming to represent the boys and girls back "home" the longer they seem to entrench in a pseudo-corrupt, pork infested and insulated world and lose any conception of how regular people think and what people really need.
However, two things cross my mind before I look into the arguments.  One is that this isn't the national congress, and that means that a. congresspeople are not living thousands of miles away and b. they aren't full time and have to return home for part of the year and tend to their actual life, job and all.
Two is that the limits on tenure are pretty small.  Three terms for House and 2 terms for Senate.  Is that too short a time to really get to understand the runnings of our government? 
Also, I'm naturally opposed to amendments to the state's constitution unless I think they're a really REALLY good idea that is necessary to the underlying structure of the government.

Anyway, I looked throught the arguments and here's what I'm thinking. 
The major arguments of the opposition that were persuasive boil down to the effectiveness of the legislature.  Argued over and over again, with some detail, was that without some legislators that have been there for long periods of time, the experience to handle bureaucrats and other parts of government that don't cycle in and out like congress people dimminishes. 
I'm slightly less convinced that influence by lobbyists would be more pronounced.  I think the supporters argument that lobbyists rely on long term relationships and legislator's desires to stay in office after the next election make long-term legislators more beholden to them.  But that's just my logic working it's way out.  And government has never been a very logical place.
However, I've read and heard from several sources that the 90s was a particularly chaotic place for legislative action, and wonder if it's right that experience is a necessary thing.  Gridlock was pronounced in the 90s, and there was trouble trying to solve funding for education and other things.   Is this because legislators weren't experienced enough, or is it because bureaucrats are too powerful in the government?
I am sympathetic to the supporter's argument that the citizens of Oregon voted for term limits, and the decision to turn back was not placed back on the citizens lap, but was reversed by the legislature and the courts.   Would the public have agreed? 
I'm generally against this measure, but on principle I like the idea.  I wish that the legislature would understand that it's not about being in power, but I think that the only way to really solve that is going to be to remove the power from the government, i.e. reduce the size significantly (and no, I don't think there's been a Democrat or Republican who's ever put up more than petty and insignificant ideas to reduce only peripheral areas of government.  No one's really serious about it).  The more money the government takes from us, and the more it tries to do "on our behalf,"  the more power it offers to the bureaucrat AND the elected official AND the lobbyist.  Only by reducing it will we lessen the lure of the career politician and corrupt state.
But for now, I'm voting: NO