19 August 2010

The same box

Those with the best reputations seemed to me nearly the most deficient…while others with more paltry reputations seemed to be men more fit in regard to being prudent.
-Socrates, Apology of Socrates

When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box.

Obama hits new polling low
President Barack Obama's approval rating has dipped to a new low. Obama's 44 percent average approval in Gallup's daily tracking polls last week marks the weakest level of support he has registered since taking office.

Obama, the one-term president
Honest to goodness, the man just does not get it. He might be forced to pull a Palin and resign before his first term is over.

I am not saying Obama is not smart; he is as smart as a whip. I am just saying he does not understand what savvy first-term presidents need to understand:

You have to stay on message, follow the polls, listen to your advisers (who are writing the message and taking the polls) and realize that when it comes to doing what is right versus doing what is expedient, you do what is expedient so that you can get reelected and do what is right in the second term. If at all possible. And it will help your legacy. And not endanger the election of others in your party. And not hurt the brand. Or upset people too much.

It is far better for a president to do nothing than to choose a side. Even if the side he chooses is the right one from an ethical or moral perspective, it is a “blunder” politically because inevitably it will upset some people.

The problem for Obama is that he appears to have taken seriously all the “change” stuff he promised during his campaign. And he has been unable to make the transition from candidate to president.

You can go back to the mid-1800s and find a lot of legislators saying that Abraham Lincoln should stop lecturing people about ending slavery and listen to them about keeping it.

And there were plenty of lawmakers who said President Dwight D. Eisenhower was “disconnected from the mainstream of America” when he ordered the 101st Airborne Division to go down to Little Rock, Ark., to make sure some black kids could go to school with white kids.

Both decisions may have been “off-message,” which is about the worst sin you can commit in Washington. But what’s so wrong about being off-message if you are right about the issue?

And what’s the point of doing the right thing if your party is going to lose seats because of it?

Maybe Obama is disconnected. After all, as a former professor of constitutional law, he actually knows what the Constitution says.

31% of Republicans believe Barack Obama is Muslim
Nearly a third of all Republicans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim, according to an astonishing new poll released overnight.

During the presidential campaign, Obama — whose father was raised as a Muslim — repeatedly found his faith questioned, most often in smear e-mails that suggested he was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and harbored a secret Islamist agenda.

Obama confronted the rumors head-on during a debate in January 2008. "Let's make clear what the facts are: I am a Christian,” he said then. “I have been sworn in with a Bible. I pledge allegiance and lead the Pledge of Allegiance sometimes in the United States Senate when I'm presiding."

Still, more than a year into Obama’s presidency, his faith remains a mystery for many. Only 34 percent of Pew’s respondents identified Obama as Christian — down 14 percentage points since last year. And 43 percent said they don’t know what Obama’s religion is.

Either way, only a relatively small minority of Americans believe Obama is relying too much on his religious views as he does his job. Eleven percent of Pew’s respondents said Obama relies too much on his religious beliefs, while 48 percent said he relies on them the right amount and 21 percent said he relies on them too little.

Last US combat brigade leaves Iraq
The last US combat brigade has withdrawn from Iraq, more than seven years after the US-led coalition invaded the country in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 US troops.

The brigade left the country in the early hours of Thursday morning, two weeks before an August 31 deadline for the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom pledged by President Barack Obama upon taking office.

Many Iraqis have mixed feelings about the troop pullout fearing more violence.

About 50,000 US troops will remain in the country in an advisory capacity, helping to train Iraqi forces in a new mission codenamed Operation New Dawn, which will run until the end of 2011. "They will, however, have the right to defend themselves against attacks if they are targeted," our correspondent said. "But they will not be stepping in, they will not be conducting any military operations per say, unless they are specifically called on to do so by the Iraqi government."

The war, which began when a US-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein, has proven costly to America both in terms of dollars and human life. Operation Iraqi Freedom has cost more than $900 billion and seen 4,415 US troops die.

Concerns have been raised that the US is pulling out of the country too soon, most notably by Lt Gen Babaker Zebari, Iraq's most-senior army officer, who warned last week that his forces would not be ready to take control of security until 2020.

Afghan ban on contractors could spark 'chaos'
The behaviour of some of these trigger-happy soldiers for hire has gone so much out of control that Hamid Karzai, the president, recently accused them of "being thieves during the day and terrorists at night".

A presidential decree is calling for these companies to be shut down within four months. The Afghan government says that they constitute a parallel force and are a cause of instability.

Boxer and Burr launch Military Family Caucus
Sens. Barbara Boxer and Richard Burr announced the creation of the Senate Military Family Caucus Wednesday to improve conditions for families of those in the armed services.

Mosque a long shot to be built
When President Barack Obama turned the battle over a planned New York Islamic center into a national debate over religious freedom, he unwittingly allied himself and his party with an ill-planned, long-shot development project described by one of its most prominent allies as “amateur hour.”

The efforts to launch the $100 million Cordoba House (now dubbed Park51) two blocks north of the World Trade Center site have been an uphill battle from the start, and not just because of controversy. And even as the “Ground Zero Mosque” emerges as a hotly debated national symbol, New York government officials and real estate insiders are privately questioning whether the project has much chance of coming to fruition.

The Cordoba Initiative hasn’t begun fundraising yet for its $100 million goal. The group’s latest fundraising report with the State Attorney General’s office, from 2008, shows exactly $18,255 – not enough even for a down payment on the half of the site the group has yet to purchase.

The group also lacks even the most basic real estate essentials: no blueprint, architect, lobbyist or engineer — and now operates amid crushing negative publicity. The developers didn't line up advance support for the project from other religious leaders in the city, who could have risen to their defense with the press.

For all its problems, the project does have a solid chance of accomplishing one thing: further embarrassing the president.

Heh! Bush ‘Miss Me Yet’ T Shirts More Popular on Martha’s Vineyard than Obama Shirts
Rumor has it that George W. Bush is now more popular than Obama. I guess people stopped listening to his speeches, when he never fails to mention the mess he inherited. Even his trip to Martha’s Vineyard hasn’t generated enough buzz for vendors to sell to many Obama T-shirts. But George Bush T-shirt sales are quite brisk.

Wear wristwatch? Use e-mail? Not for Class of '14
For students entering college this fall, e-mail is too slow, phones have never had cords and the computers they played with as kids are now in museums.

The Class of 2014 thinks of Clint Eastwood more as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry urging punks to "go ahead, make my day." Few incoming freshmen know how to write in cursive or have ever worn a wristwatch.

Remember when Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Dan Quayle or Rodney King were in the news? These kids don't.

Ever worry about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.? During these students' lives, Russians and Americans have always been living together in outer space.

15 August 2010

This plague-spot of civilization...

…that worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor... This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -- how passionately I hate them!
-Albert Einstein

US helps Russia tackle wildfires
The first US air force planes have arrived in Russia loaded with equipment to help tackle wildfires that have been raging across vast areas of the country for weeks.

Valery Shuikov, the deputy head of the international department of the Russian emergencies ministry, welcomed the assistance. "We will always remember this gesture, this arm that was extended to us at a very difficult time," Shuikov said.

Obama mosque dispute: In backing plans, he parts with many Americans
"Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground," Obama told attendees at the second annual White House Ramadan dinner Friday night. "But let me be clear: As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

While Obama and George W. Bush before him have urged Americans to distinguish between Islam and violent jihadism and to step carefully around Muslim sensitivities, the Cordoba House represents for many Americans less a religious-liberties issue and more a lack of respect for those who died on 9/11.

Prayer hall or provocation?
The project is popularly called the "Ground Zero mosque", perhaps a slight misnomer on two counts. It will not be located at Ground Zero, but rather at 45-47 Park Place, two city blocks (200 metres) north of the World Trade Centre site. The buildings currently at that location were damaged during the September 11 attacks.

Nor is it only a mosque: Planners will spend up to $100 million to build an Islamic community centre called Cordoba House, which will house a mosque, an auditorium, a swimming pool and a bookstore.

Critics say it would be inappropriate to build a mosque on the "hallowed ground" of Ground Zero. Yet there is already a mosque two blocks north of the Cordoba House site, Masjid Manhattan, which has been open since 1970. As several commentators have pointed out, there is also a strip club - New York Dolls - just one block north of the mosque site. No one has complained about that profaning of the sacred.

"My job is not to vet clergy in this city," Bloomberg said. "Everyone has a right to their opinions. You don't have to worship there... [this country] is not built around only those religions or clergy people that we agree with. It's built around freedom."

Russia to finish Iran nuclear plant but won't deliver missiles
Russia's state nuclear agency, Rosatom, announced that in one week's time it will load nuclear fuel into Bushehr's Russian-made reactor, which is the first step to making it fully operational. "The fuel will be charged in the reactor on 21 August. From this moment, Bushehr will be considered a nuclear installation," said Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov, in a terse announcement. "This will be an irreversible step."

In recent months, Kremlin insiders who favor better relations with the United States and a more Westernized course for Russian foreign policy have gained the upper hand, analysts say.

Russia's acceptance of the new sanctions compels it to shelve a lucrative contract to provide advanced S-300 air defense systems, roughly comparable to the US Patriot missile, under an $800-million contract that was signed between Moscow and Tehran in 2005, but repeatedly delayed by the Kremlin for apparently diplomatic reasons.

Obama signs $600m US-Mexico border bill
US President Barack Obama has signed into law a $600m bill providing increased security along the US-Mexico border. The funds will mostly be directed to activities on the south-west border, such as hiring 1,000 border patrol agents. Money will also pay for surveillance technology, including unmanned drones. A further 250 immigration and customs enforcement agents will also be funded by the bill.

Some Republicans appear unsatisfied though, with Senator Jeff Sessions calling the bill "a small measure" which "if it is not followed by strong, sustained action, it is yet another gesture without consequence".

The $600m will be paid for by raising fees on some foreign work visas.

13 August 2010

The Stimulating Assertion

In management, it’s the stimulating assertion, not the tested hypothesis, that grabs folks.
-Up in the Air

We must be honest with ourselves. No nation, no matter how powerful, can prevent every threat from coming to fruition.
-John Brennan

The Obama presidency increasingly resembles a modern-day Ancien RĂ©gime: extravagant and out of touch with the American people
The First Lady’s ill-conceived trip to Marbella and the complete disregard for public opinion and concerns over excessive government spending is symbolic of a far wider problem with the Obama presidency – the overarching disdain for the principles of limited government, individual liberty and free enterprise that have built the United States over the course of nearly two and a half centuries into the most powerful and free nation on earth.

There is however a political revolution fast approaching Washington that is driven not by mob rule but by the power of ideas and principles, based upon the ideals of the Founding Fathers and the US Constitution. It is a distinctly conservative revolution that is sweeping America and is reflected in almost every poll ahead of this November’s mid-terms. It is based on a belief in individual liberty, limited government, and above all, political accountability from the ruling elites. The Obama administration’s mantra may well be “let them eat cake”, as it continues to gorge itself on taxpayers’ money, but it will be looking nervously over its shoulder as public unease mounts.

Obama as border cop: He's deported record numbers of illegal immigrants
In 2009, the United States deported a record 387,790 people – a 5 percent increase over 2008. Nearly two months before the end of the 2010 federal fiscal year, the deportation rate is down slightly from 2009, but the number of removals is still likely to be more than triple what it was in 2001.

We have never, ever deported so many people from the country as we are doing now,” says Douglas Massey, an immigration expert at Princeton University in New Jersey.

Hispanic media turn on President Obama
Latinos are tired of the speeches, disillusioned by the lack of White House leadership and distrustful of the president.

“He has a credibility problem right now with Latinos,” Ramos said. “We’ll see what the political circumstances are in a couple of years, but there is a serious credibility problem.”

Words matter”...“Words are not enough”...“Obama came up short”...“Cheap and easy rhetoric

“When you have a Univision and a Telemundo taking an aggressive and active role pointing to the White House inaction, it calls attention,” said Jose Cancela, president of the media consulting firm Hispanics USA. “It is not helping the administration at this point in time.”

Obama vs. Obama On Endless Wars: Who Wins?
Back in early 2007, when the Bush administration was insisting that its military intervention in a faraway land was not open-ended, Senator Barack Obama wasn't buying it.

Senator Obama was particularly skeptical about the administration's alleged "benchmarks" for success. He wanted to know exactly what they were -- and what would happen if they weren't met. And he wanted to know the answer to this question: "At what point do we say: 'Enough'?"

Three and a half years later, that's an excellent question for President Obama, about Afghanistan. But he doesn't have an answer.

Wars and Retardation
US engineer sold military secrets to China
A jury in Hawaii has convicted a former US engineer of selling military secrets to China. Noshir Gowadia, who helped design the propulsion system for the B-2 bomber, was found guilty on multiple counts - including conspiracy and money laundering.

The case is one of a series of major prosecutions targeting alleged Chinese spying in the US. According to prosecutors, Gowadia helped China to design a stealth cruise missile. It involved an exhaust nozzle that would evade infrared radar detection and US heat-seeking missiles.

Iraq army 'not ready' until 2020
Iraq's most senior military officer has said that his security forces will not be able to secure the country until 2020 and that the US should delay its planned withdrawal.

Lieutenant General Babaker Zerbari said that his forces - particularly the air force - were not ready to take over. He said the planned withdrawal will create a "problem" and increase instability in Iraq. "At this point, the withdrawal is going well, because they are still here," Zerbari told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. "But the problem will start after 2011 - the politicians must find other ways to fill the void after 2011. If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020."

Mullen says US has Iran strike plan, just in case
The U.S. military has a plan to attack Iran, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday, although he thinks a military strike is probably a bad idea.

Not long after Adm. Mike Mullen's aired on a Sunday talk show, the deputy chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard was quoted as saying there would be a strong Iranian response should the U.S. take military action against his country.

"I think the military options have been on the table and remain on the table," Mullen said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "It's one of the options that the president has. Again, I hope we don't get to that, but it's an important option and it's one that's well understood."

Gates seeks to trim US military
The US defence department has unveiled a series of initiatives to reduce overhead, duplication and excess that will shed thousands of jobs and shut down an entire military command.

The cost-cutting initiatives include scaling back the number of generals across the US military and slashing funds for defence department contractors by 10 per cent each year for the next three years – a potentially massive reduction involving thousands of people.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said on Monday he hoped the shakeup will show congress that the Pentagon will spend wisely during tough economic times and address long-standing concerns about wasteful expenditure. He however warned against cutting down on overall defence budget, which stands at nearly $700bn including war spending.

"My greatest fear is that in economic tough times that people will see the defence budget as the place to solve the nation's deficit problems," Gates said. "As I look around the world and see a more unstable world, more failed and failing states, countries that are investing heavily in their militaries ... I think that would be disastrous."

Iran 'digging mass graves for US troops' in case of invasion
Iran has dug mass graves in which to bury US troops if America attacks the country, a former commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard has said.

The digging of the graves appears to be a show of bravado after the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said last week that the US military had a contingency plan to attack Iran, although he thought a military strike was probably a bad idea.

"Iran will have no choice but to strike the American bases in the region," he said. "The heavy costs of such a war will not be just on the Islamic Republic of Iran. America and other countries should accept that this would be the start of an extensive war in the region."

American boy plans NKorea trip to pitch peace idea
A 13-year-old American plans to visit North Korea this week and perhaps meet leader Kim Jong Il to pitch his idea for a "children's peace forest" in the demilitarized zone.

Jonathan said he expects to meet with North Korean officials and will propose the children's peace forest, "one in which fruit and chestnut trees would be planted and where children can play."

The DMZ that has separated North and South Korea for more than a half-century is one of the most heavily guarded areas in the world. Combat-ready troops stand guard on both sides, and the land is strewn with land mines and laced with barbed wire.
Is this kid a peacenik or a sadomasochistic deviant who is devising a master plan to condemn the playground bullies that stole his lunch money to a certain death by inviting them to play in a forest laced with land mines and barbed wire?

13 June 2010

Humanity does not ask us to be happy

Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf. Survival first, then happiness as we can imagine it.
-Mazer Rackham, Ender’s Game

Did Reuters Crop a Photo to Remove a Peace Activist's Weapon?

Another Cropped Reuters Photo Deletes Another Knife - And a Pool of Blood

Turkey flays Israel over killings
Turkish leaders have criticised Israel further over their deadly raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

"I am speaking to them in their own language. The sixth commandment says "thou shalt not kill". Did you not understand? I'll say again. I say in English "you shall not kill". Did you still not understand? So I'll say to you in your own language. I say in Hebrew 'Lo Tirtzakh'."

Those troublesome Jews
The blockade is not just perfectly rational, it is perfectly legal. Gaza under Hamas is a self-declared enemy of Israel -- a declaration backed up by more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilian territory. Yet having pledged itself to unceasing belligerency, Hamas claims victimhood when Israel imposes a blockade to prevent Hamas from arming itself with still more rockets.

Oh, but weren't the Gaza-bound ships on a mission of humanitarian relief? No. Otherwise they would have accepted Israel's offer to bring their supplies to an Israeli port, be inspected for military materiel and have the rest trucked by Israel into Gaza -- as every week 10,000 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are sent by Israel to Gaza.

Why was the offer refused? Because, as organizer Greta Berlin admitted, the flotilla was not about humanitarian relief but about breaking the blockade, i.e., ending Israel's inspection regime, which would mean unlimited shipping into Gaza and thus the unlimited arming of Hamas.

As sanctions loom, is Iran sending peace signals to the US?
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei declared on Monday that countries around the world “thirst” for Iran’s message of “values, humanity and deliverance of nations from the grip of domineering powers.”

As viewed from Tehran, positive Iranian steps in recent weeks include Iran’s decision to embrace a nuclear fuel swap deal – a plan to export 1,200 kg of Iran’s homemade low-enriched uranium. Iran rejected a similar plan last October, when it was backed by the US and the UN, but accepted it last week after intense mediation with Turkey and Brazil.

But Washington’s “answer,” as described by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was that the permanent five UN Security Council members had agreed on “strong” sanctions package against Iran.

Iran sanctions cripple the UN
Most commentators agree that Resolution 1929 is so watered down - as a result of Chinese and Russian efforts - that it will have little or no impact on Iran’s nuclear energy programme or Iranian trade and economic development.

To the great majority of the people of Iran and the wider world, the UN Security Council is growing increasingly irrelevant and biased.

The US' games have in effect crippled the UN.

South Carolina head scratcher: More curiosities in election of Alvin Greene

[Cool or fraud? His winning on mostly-military absentee ballots doesn't necessarily indicate fraudulent activity considering his background, but it does sound pretty shady...]
Is he a working class hero, proof that anyone can make it in politics? Or did someone put Alvin Greene up to it, paying his way to sabotage the Democratic statewide primary to take pressure off South Carolina Republican incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint?

As calls for an investigation into Mr. Greene's surprise election widened on Saturday, more irregularities cropped up as details emerged about a US Senate race that, in essence, pitted a well-known candidate, Charleston County Council member Vic Rawl – who logged nearly 17,000 miles on the campaign trail – against a jobless guy who lives with his dad and who described his own campaign as "nothing fancy." Greene came away with 59 percent of the vote, to Rawl's 41 percent.

So far, there are far more questions than answers in the curious case of Alvin Greene, the Senate candidate with $114 in his campaign chest.

Obama's National Security Strategy: Is 'I'm not Bush' ending?
President Obama’s first National Security Strategy, to be unveiled by the administration this week, is being summed up in some circles as a repudiation of President Bush’s reliance on “unilateral” American power.

“Every presidency starts off defining itself by trumpeting the opposite of whatever its predecessor did, and that’s been true in spades going from George W. Bush to Obama,” says Robert Lieber, a professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington. “But at a certain point that gets old, and we’re at a point where the overplayed ‘we’re not Bush’ mantra is raising anxieties among friends and allies in Asia and the Middle East.”

GOP: No notice on tanning tax?
When the IRS made about $40 billion in tax credits available for small businesses in accordance with the health care overhaul, it sent out 4 million postcards informing likely participants about the credit.

Now, Republicans are asking why a similar campaign isn’t in the works to inform tanning salons and customers that they’re about to get hit with a 10 percent tax on their services.

“Every tanning salon or other business that offers separately-priced tanning services will be forced to administer this new tax and every consumer receiving services subject to this new tax will be required to pay it, regardless of their income levels or other characteristics,” Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote Friday to IRS commissioner Douglas H. Shulman. “Please describe what similar measures (e.g., mailing postcards) the IRS plans to take to notify potentially affected businesses and consumers about this new $2.7 billion tax.”

Report: WHO overstated H1N1 threat

[While I have no doubt that they trumped it up, I will definitely tell you that it is not a complete sham. IT IS REAL! And the symptoms are NOT "mild..."]
A joint report into the handling of the H1N1 outbreak has found that some scientists who advised governments to stockpile drugs, had previously been on the payroll of big drug companies.

Laboratory tests have confirmed more than 18,000 deaths from H1N1 infection, according to WHO figures, but the virus has turned out to be less deadly than feared.

A report by the Council of Europe, also released on Friday, accused the WHO of a lack of transparency over the pandemic announcement - saying it wasted huge sums of money and provoked "unjustified fears".

S Korea seeks UN action over ship
South Korea has filed a formal complaint with the UN Security Council over the March sinking of one of its warships in disputed waters in an incident it has blamed on North Korea.

"If we are to once again tolerate North Korea's blatant act of violence, then I believe that will not promote but endanger the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and that of Northeast Asia.

Russia terror attack kills six, wounds dozens in North Caucasus
An explosion killed at least seven people and wounded more than 40 others Wednesday evening in Stavropol, a southern Russian city that had seemed immune from growing violence in the north Caucasus.

The explosive used in the attack appeared to be homemade, reports Russian video news outlet RT, and was packed with shrapnel. A 12-year-old girl was among those killed.