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Thursday
Jan132005

Heritage Weblog: Social Security Polls

The Heritage Foundation's Heritage Policy Weblog has posted results of several recent polls on Social Security reform, and provides an analysis that, Heritage says, "illustrate(s) that how pollsters ask questions about reform can make a big difference."



Among other results they cite, 82 percent of Americans, according to Gallup, say it is "very important" or "extremely important" for "Congress and the President to deal with Social Security in the next year."



Many of the polls reviewed examine public opinion toward private retirement accounts/partial privatization of Social Security.

Wednesday
Jan122005

Iraq: Stay Determined

Joe Roche has a message for anyone gloomy about election prospects in Iraq:

Our country is fortunate to have the orderly and time-honored traditions of elections and transfers of power. These are the most important events in democracy.

I spent fifteen months in Baghdad, Iraq, deployed as a soldier in the U.S. Army. My fellow soldiers all knew that the enemies we faced there could never defeat us militarily in Iraq. It was clear to us, therefore, that what they were really aiming at was to terrorize freedom-loving Iraqis and their supporters worldwide. We need to be careful to protect from letting our political freedom become a license for self-inflicted injury to be exploited by our enemies abroad.

Iraq today is a place where the Arab people are fighting for the very future and survival of their civilization. Issues of freedom and democracy have long been alien concepts, talked of only to justify the repression of unpopular causes and people. We have planted the roots of real freedom and democracy there and this is causing a huge region-wide transformation to occur. We should be proud and remain committed to seeing its success.

My unit, the 16th Engineer Battalion of the 1st Armored Division, had a big role in liberating and empowering the people of Baghdad. When we arrived, it was full of chaos and anarchy. Saddam's regime had been such a total tyranny that when it was removed, everything broke down. We rolled in to bring order.

We did this by building up much of Baghdad in ways that benefit the people for their future. This was no easy task. Often our missions were conducted in dangerous environments right in the face of terrorism and insurgency and frequent ambushes. Nonetheless, we were relentless in our projects, always facing down the enemies of freedom with our resolve and determination. Yes, we were afraid, but we knew that freedom is not free, and that this is a cause worth fighting for.

The Arab people appreciated this greatly. Not only did we have Baghdadis emboldened and empowered by what we did, but Arabs from other parts of the region came to help and to learn.

My battalion cleared a massive amount of weaponry left by Saddam's forces that included tens of thousands of explosives spread over several hundred sights in Baghdad and among hundreds of military vehicles. We completed several dozen major infrastructure projects that covered countless miles of roads, 224 neighborhood projects, and also extensive sanitation and irrigation enterprises. The most important were the major power stations such as Taji and Al Mansour, including over two-dozen sub-stations scattered throughout the city. Not only did we restore them, but we also improved them.

Many people make the mistake of calling this "rebuilding.” For the vast majority of the people, this was all new stuff that they had never enjoyed. For example, near the base that my unit was operating from there was a vast trash waste sight. It was heavily populated, and some of the people had never left it their whole lives. One boy I met there was 17.

We went on to repair and build 28 primary and secondary schools, as well as 67 projects to improve Baghdad University and Mustansariyah University, which included seven colleges, dormitories and building many internet and computer labs. We also filled them full with books from all of the seven liberal arts that distinguish American colleges.

To sustain these missions, my battalion had to conduct constant missions that involved clearing 96 roadside bombs and confronting dangerous elements, including conducting raids on enemy locations. It was all worth it.

Take note that the primary targets of all the terrorism and violence in Iraq are the Iraqi people and Arabs from Iraq's neighbors. Even the top anti-US and anti-United Nations terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before bombing the UN building in 2003, first hit the Jordanian Embassy. He did this because he knows that the biggest enemy he faces is not the US or the UN, but other Arabs benefiting and learning from what we have brought to Baghdad.

The Iraqi people are an extremely traumatized people. They suffered terribly from the 8-year Iran-Iraq War, and had to survive under the tyranny of Saddam. That is all they knew for much of their lives, and now suddenly they have this new freedom.

They are flocking to the information superhighway of radios, TV and internet to learn about the world they never knew before we came, and they are seeking to empower themselves as no Arab regime has allowed it's people to do as of yet. This is a very inspiring time. As such, it is also the most serious and threatening challenge to those who would keep the Arab people under tyrants and who would deprive Arab civilization of its full potential.

I remember the missions we conducted to restore and improve the Museum of Natural History in Baghdad. Baghdadis poured out to thank us and support us. All the time, however, from just thousands of enemies hell-bent to reverse these virtues for the 6 million people of Baghdad, we faced attacks. Well, we did our mission and now the millions who support us are benefiting.

This is no easy job, and the enemies we face have some advantages over us. That is why my battalion secured and turned over many major government buildings, hotels and banks to the new leaders of Iraq, and built 13 police stations in some of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad, such as in Sadr City.

When foreign jihadists and regime-holdovers ignited uprisings, my battalion along with my whole division was extended three more months after a year of service in Baghdad. We went right into the most dangerous areas of Baghdad, and down to Karbala and Najaf, to hold police stations, government buildings and other critical sights. It was very difficult facing a second hot summer in Iraq, and our loved ones back home grieved, but we did it and, over time, our enemies fell back because of our resolve.

The Iraqis are now in the front line in defending and advancing their new freedoms. The elections are just a step, but a giant step for Iraqis and the Arab world. Women are becoming empowered as never before, while minority groups all over the Arab world are finally getting a chance to make their cause for respect and liberation felt. Religious freedom and intellectual freedom are putting up a great struggle to succeed against some of the most vile and desperate forms of terrorist actions.

These are noble causes that we must support. They are opposed by all those elements in the Arab world that feel threatened by freedom and democracy. If we value our democracy and our own political freedom, however, we must not betray the Iraqi people, and from them the Arab people as a whole, by letting down on our commitment to see them succeed. Don't lose your confidence in America's mission in Iraq, and don't let the enemies of freedom deny Iraqis the dignity and respect that is a part of democracy.

As a soldier who saw the sacrifice and cost of this conflict with my own eyes, I am telling you it is a noble cause and one in which we should be supremely proud. Stay determined to see it through.

Wednesday
Jan122005

SinclairAction: Intransigent, But Why?

While preparing for a talk radio interview about the Staples - Sinclair - Media Matters issue, husband David noticed that the liberal activist group SinclairAction still has this graphic up on its website:



This seems at odds with the facts.



I commented about this graphic on January 8. To my mind, it should not have been up then, either, but one always has to allow some time for website changes. Four more days have passed, though, so we must assume the group means to keep insisting that Staples is boycotting Sinclair. Given Staples' insistence that this is not so, does SinclairAction's action reflect access to information to which we are not privy, or wishful thinking on its part?



Meanwhile. I continue to receive e-mails from Sinclair supporters who are waiting to see Staples advertise once again on Sinclair news broadcasts, such as this one:

Thank you for the Staples update.



Personally, I do not know which Staples person's version of this fiasco to believe. Until I am convinced that Staples is not acting politically against Sinclair Broadcasting, my purchase of a computer system from Staples will be held up and I'll shop elsewhere, likely at Reliable, for office products. This is admittedly not going to harm Staples' bottom line, as I'm a small business owner/operator. But I will sleep better knowing I am standing up for freedom of speech.



Thanks, again, for your efforts.



Harold M. Molter

Auburn, MI

Wednesday
Jan122005

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Letter from a Russian prison

Mikhail Khodorkovsky writes from a Russian prison, as published by the International Herald Tribune:

The destruction of Yukos is almost done. I did everything I could to prevent the authorities’ personal animosity toward me from harming minority shareholders, ordinary employees and the country as a whole.

Half a year ago I offered to surrender my shares to satisfy the claims against the company. However, another way was chosen - that of a selective application of the laws, of retroactively imposing new legal standards and interpretations, of a straightforward and public destruction of the business community’s confidence in arbitration courts and any authority in general.

The coordination and utter shamelessness of the measures taken by tax, law-enforcement and judicial organs and by companies linked to the government, as well as the unmitigated pressures put on managers and employees of the company whose only crime was that they once worked under Khodorkovsky, leave no doubt that the whole process was concocted…

It has become clear that not only political interests are involved, but others as well, since the methods used harm both the reputation of the authorities and the national economy. But those who concocted this affair don’t seem to care about such trifles.

The issue today is not the fate of Yukos. It is probably impossible to save the company. The question is what lessons will the country and society draw from the Yukos case, whose finale has become the most senseless and destructive event for the national economy in all the time President Vladimir Putin has been in office…

Yes, over the past year, the $15 billion fortune of which Forbes wrote has almost reached zero, and it will soon become absolute zero. But I understood that this would happen, and I asked only that the company and its minority shareholders not be touched, since I felt a direct responsibility before the 150,000 Yukos employees, the 500,000 members of their families and the 30 million residents of cities and towns who depend on the smooth and uninterrupted operation of Yukos enterprises…



In 1995, when I and my team took over Yukos, the company was losing money, it had not paid wages for six months, and it was $3 billion in arrears on debt payments. Yukos was operating in only nine regions of Russia, extracting 40 million tons of oil a year, and the production was constantly falling.

By 2003, there were already Yukos operations in 50 Russian regions, annual oil production amounted to 80 million tons and was growing. Yukos was paying high and regular wages: up to 7,000 rubles a month in European Russia and up to 30,000 rubles in Siberia. The company was the second largest taxpayer in the country (after Gazprom), accounting for almost 5 percent of the federal budget.

I don’t want to go in detail into what amazing imagination it took to invent the taxes that Yukos purportedly owes - according to experts at the Ministry of Taxation, Yukos should have paid more in taxes than it received in revenues. This will someday be cited as a bad joke in textbooks on taxation law, since they proved that oil production in Russia is not profitable. Bureaucrats will stop at nothing to redistribute property…

This is, indeed, the only possible and correct choice - the choice of freedom.

I have great pity for those authorities who sincerely believe that they are doing a good thing for the country, for the people. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Further down this road they will realize that repressive methods and the forced redistribution of wealth are not compatible with modern economic development. And they will not be able to limit this assault to Khodorkovsky, Yukos or the oligarchs - their victims will be many, including those who created this machinery….

 

Wednesday
Jan122005

AP Rewrites History

The AP Begins a report today saying:

The search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has quietly concluded without any evidence of the banned weapons that President Bush cited as justification for going to war, the White House said Wednesday...
So subtle, so wrong, and so damaging.



The war was never only about WMDs and the phrase "without any evidence" is incorrect.

Wednesday
Jan122005

Pittsburgh Steelers Resource

As the Pittsburgh Steelers continue their all-but-inevitable acquistion of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, folks might find it handy to have this list of Pittsburgh-area blogs.



Meanwhile, kudos to Pittsburgh's rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who announced Tuesday he will donate his first NFL playoff paycheck (January 15, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Jets) to the tsunami relief effort.



Some of you may not be rooting for the Steelers (rumor has it), but if you think about it, I have every confidence you will see the error of your ways.



Addendum (Jan. 15; 9 PM): Whew!



Addendum 2 (Jan. 23; 11 PM): Ouch.

Tuesday
Jan112005

Everything I Know Is Wrong in Philadelphia Inquirer

Congratulations to Sean at Everything I Know Is Wrong for being cited by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a resource on global warming.



Despite all the snow at the top of his blog, Sean has had some mighty good posts on global warming.

Tuesday
Jan112005

France: Hopeless Even When It Means Well

If the official French attitude toward the United States and the American military has frustrated you, you will very much appreciate this post on Bloggledygook.



Appreciate, that is, in a sad and perhaps pitiful kind of way. (It would be much nicer to appreciate competence and brilliance.)



If you like the Bloggledygook post, be sure to read the post Bloggledygook is writing about, for more details.

Tuesday
Jan112005

Peter Roff: Torture and Gonzales

Peter Roff of UPI has a standout opinion column out tonight on torture and Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales. It begins:

"Your college-age junior comes to you with plans to spend mid-winter break in Florida rather than come home. Against your better judgment but recognizing that all children eventually grow up and leave the nest, you assent and, grudgingly, even help out with some spending money.



With a kiss on the forehead, you see them off at the airport, but not before extracting a promise of a phone call as soon as the plane lands in south Florida. Traffic being what it is, the drive back from the airport take several hours. Drained, you can do little more than flop down in front of the television -- just in time to see a breaking news bulletin explaining that your child's plane was blown out of the sky over the Gulf of Mexico by what witnesses said looked to be a surface-to-air missile fired from a ship.



There are no survivors.



The subsequent investigation reveals terror-war detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, planned the attack. Had effective methods of interrogation been available to U.S. personnel, it could have been uncovered and prevented.



Now, do complaints that Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales might have placed the safety and security of U.S. citizens over the interests of captured detainees still bother you? Or are you grateful that he did?"
Read the whole thing here.



Addendum:: A e-mail I received about this post today reads:
Came across Amy Ridenour's endorsement of Peter Roff's argument that torture ought to be accepted based on a hypothetical attack conducted by Gitmo

prisoners, who in the fantasy would have given up their plan if they'd been tortured some more.



The fictional character could just has easily been killed by a drunk driver, and following the logic of this piece, Americans should reinstate prohibition.



Conservatives would hardly accept this kind of reasoning regarding gun control, yet it makes perfect sense to them as a justification for torture.



It's incredibly lazy thinking.



Chris Burgoyne
Reply: If you knew someone was about to get drunk, get in a car and kill someone, would you stop him? I would. Maybe Mr./Ms. Burgoyne would not? (Actually, he/she probably would.)



The gun control analogy is too far afield to apply. Furthermore, Mr. /Ms. Burgoyne ignores everything Peter Roff wrote about the word "torture" being "defined up."



But thanks for writing anyway.

Tuesday
Jan112005

Staples - Sinclair - Media Matters: Who's on First?

A very brief update on our coverage of Staples - Sinclair - Media Matters...



This article on the Staples affair ends on a funny note:

...As for how the issue will eventually be settled between Staples - which now says it will advertise during Sinclair's newscasts - and Media Matters, [Media Matters spokesman Sally] Aman is unsure.



"Frankly, I'm confused myself," she said.
(Maybe it would be less confusing if Media Matters would name names. Who are the Staples "officials" Media Matters says approved the original Media Matters press release making the claims about Staples that got all this started?)



Meanwhile, I received the following in my e-mail box Monday:
I called my Staples representative to inform him I was firing Staples. He gave me their 1-800 number for the office of the President. I called, their story was that they were not cancelling "all of their advertising on Sinclair" just on I think the news shows. I told her that had to be politically motivated and I would vote with my feet. I also advised her that I feel a larger share of their customer base would be against their move than would favor it. In my company, which I own, I have informed my people that I will not pay to Staples nor reimburse for receipts from Staples.



Perhaps Staples will more clearly understand the freedom of speech issue, and that it has to work on all sides of an issue.



I would have to hear Sinclair come out and declare that Staples is fully advertising as before this issue prior to any change in my position.



Sincerely,



Winston Crawford
So the confusion continues. I suggest we just wait and see. Staples will either advertise on Sinclair's news broadcasts this year, or it won't.



By now, Staples knows we all are watching.

Tuesday
Jan112005

No WASPs Need Visit

Maybe if you are white, middle-class, middle-aged and don't use a wheelchair the British government will still let you in if you pretend to need a wheelchair?



Which does add an ironic twist to the fact that these programs are called "walks..."

Monday
Jan102005

Michelle Malkin: Google News Blackout?

Michelle Malkin is wondering if Google News has a biased algorithm, since the CBS story is all over the Internet, yet the CBS report does not appear on Google's list of top U.S. news stories.



Here's my guess, and it is only a guess: The Google News algorithim may have been written to overlook the names of major news publications in stories. Otherwise, terms such as "CBS," Washington Post, etc. would end up with a high placement on Google news, because all the stories these institutions publish carry their name.



If I'm right, ordinarily, this is good. But it does not work very well when a publication name is also the subject of the story.



Just my two cents.



Addendum: UNCoRRELATED says: "Algorithms don't conspire" -- and explains.



Addendum 2 (1/11): There's a "Watching Google Like A Hawk" website (it linked to this post and Michelle's).



Who knew?

Monday
Jan102005

Rethinking No-Fault Divorce  

Boots and Sabers makes a good point about this article on rethinking no-fault divorce.

Monday
Jan102005

Where is Putin Taking Russia?

Mark McDonald of Knight Ridder provides an unhappy assessment:

"We're in a downward spiral, and it's a tragedy," said Alexei Kondaurov, a former KGB general who's now a millionaire businessman and an opposition member of the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament. "I have no illusions about who rules Russia and what goes on here. All my forecasts are negative."



Nikolai Zlobin, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information, a global-security research center based in Washington, thinks "the United States no longer regards Russia as a democratic country ... and Putin is no longer perceived as a democrat in the Western sense of the word."
(I can't believe I just quoted both a former KGB general and the Center for Defense Information -- in both cases, probably a first for me.)

Monday
Jan102005

Interesting Concept, But It Will Never Catch On

Why isn't Al Gore's name on this e-mail?



Hat tip: Slashdot.

Monday
Jan102005

Malpractice Crisis is Real

This USA Today editorial says:

Chris Heffner, a neurosurgeon in southern Illinois, stopped treating head-trauma patients when his annual malpractice insurance premium doubled to $265,000. With only two neurosurgeons in the area, brain-trauma victims now have to be airlifted to St. Louis...



The malpractice crisis is real, though concentrated in high-risk specialties. One in seven obstetricians/gynecologists have stopped delivering babies, and three-quarters have been sued at least once, a 2003 survey found. Physicians have faced double-digit-plus premium increases for years.



We all pay for this broken system. High premiums force physicians and hospitals to raise fees. Doctors engage in defensive medicine, performing unnecessary tests that might protect them in a lawsuit. That costs at least $60 billion a year, notes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And patients can have a harder time getting care, even in urgent circumstances.



Reform measures passed the House of Representatives last year but failed in the Senate. It's an uphill battle as trial lawyers allied with Democrats duel the insurance and medical industries, which favor Republicans...

Monday
Jan102005

Child Free

I know I just linked to Eric Berlin yesterday, so I probably should not do it again so soon, but he has an eye-popping post up about people who seemingly hate children.



He's not kidding, either. I visited the website he mentioned and the very first post I saw urged donations to charities aiding animals hurt by the tsunami: "...if you're tired of the hoopla about the children you can send something to help the nonhuman victims."



Or this post, the point of which seems to be that adults should be rude to well-behaved children on commercial airlines.



A repeated theme seems to be frustration with friends who have kids and then don't have as much time to "hang out" with them. (Tragic, really.)



Eric has more examples.



I could go on about how hostile and self-centered (and in some instances, scary) these people seem, but I suspect I'd be overstating the obvious.



Ebay was advertising on this site when I was there, though I doubt Ebay even realizes it. Probably part of a package ad buy. The ad seemed incongruous, though, Ebay being a good place to get bargains to help raise kids... You know, the kids who will grow up to join the military to defend the freedoms of these yahoos, and pay the Social Security taxes necessary to feed them as they slide ever further into their dotage...

Sunday
Jan092005

Regret The Error: Rich Guys Look Alike...

Regret the Error has found a funny error in the Wall Street Journal.

Sunday
Jan092005

Arguments Against Social Security Privatization Demolished

Eric Berlin quotes and then demolishes a New York Times op-ed against Social Security privatization.



Sample comments from a piece that deserves to be read by everyone:

If you, as an individual, put a certain amount of money into the Social Security fund, and later in life you receive benefits whose value is less than that contribution... how is that good?
and
If the stock market has provided better returns than treasury bills since damn near the beginning of time, which I believe is the case, then I can live with the idea of "no guarantee."
and
Which do you think is more likely to be transparent: A private company beholden to its customers and stockholders, or a government program that you can't get out of no matter what?
and
Man, do I hate comparisons between casinos and the stock market. It's so easy, and so wrong. The stock market trends upwards every year and has since its creation. If you, as a young person, put money in a fund that tracks the S&P 500 (diversification! risk management! 500 stocks at once!), you will, when you retire, have more money in your possession when you retire 25 years later. If you go to the casino every week for those 25 years, you will be broke.
Read the whole thing.



Addendum: Hmmm.... I see that Paulie at The Commons at Paulie World tried to do a trackback to this post and it did not work. Maybe my trackback system isn't operating properly... Thanks for trying, though, Paulie. Tells me I have a problem, even though I haven't a clue why.

Sunday
Jan092005

Ryan Sager: Law and the Armstrong Williams Case

I've been reading various bloggers' takes on the Armstrong Williams case (La Shawn Barber, Ramblings' Journal, Booker Rising, Michelle Malkin, Croooow Blog, Tapscott's Copy Desk, Joust the Facts, She Who Will Be Obeyed! and many, many others), but I didn't see anyone address the issue I was wondering about: What does the law actually say about the legality of the kind of payments the Department of Education made?



That's is, until I saw Ryan Sager's blog, Miscellaneous Objections. Check it out if you are past the outrage stage and what to learn what the law actually says.



It seems to me the law itself is the paramount issue. If this is legal, and folks don't think it should be (as I don't), the law should be changed. If it isn't legal and it happened anyway, why and how can it be stopped? It is easy enough to say Armstrong should not have quietly taken the payments, but he's still just one person. If he stops, that doesn't stop the practice by anyone else, now and in the future.



As a side note, Mark Tapscott's coverage of this includes some very useful information and a number of links about filing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests without paying legal fees. Some folks might want to bookmark it.



Oh, and as another side note, since The National Center for Public Policy Research sponsors Project 21, the national leadership group of black conservatives: The National Center/Project 21 has never received, nor applied for, federal funding nor funding from any state.