Monday, August 9, 2010

Political Digest August 9, 2010

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with every—or any—opinion in the posted article. Nor that I disagree with them, of course.
More Random Thoughts
I was tied up with the granddaughter, Britnye over the weekend, so only a few things to post. But I did leave this, if you missed it on the blog.

Britnye mentioned something she wanted. “When I was your age, I just wanted to be good looking,” I said.

“Well, that didn’t work out,” she shot back. Life isn’t tough enough, now I have to take abuse from 9-year-olds?

25 years murder-free in 'Gun Town USA'
Excerpt: As the nation debates whether more guns or fewer can prevent tragedies like the Virginia Tech Massacre, a notable anniversary passed last month in a Georgia town that witnessed a dramatic plunge in crime and violence after mandating residents to own firearms.
In March 1982, 25 years ago, the small town of Kennesaw – responding to a handgun ban in Morton Grove, Ill. – unanimously passed an ordinance requiring each head of household to own and maintain a gun. Since then, despite dire predictions of "Wild West" showdowns and increased violence and accidents, not a single resident has been involved in a fatal shooting – as a victim, attacker or defender. The crime rate initially plummeted for several years after the passage of the ordinance, with the 2005 per capita crime rate actually significantly lower than it was in 1981, the year before passage of the law. Prior to enactment of the law, Kennesaw had a population of just 5,242 but a crime rate significantly higher (4,332 per 100,000) than the national average (3,899 per 100,000). The latest statistics available – for the year 2005 – show the rate at 2,027 per 100,000. Meanwhile, the population has skyrocketed to 28,189. By comparison, the population of Morton Grove, the first city in Illinois to adopt a gun ban for anyone other than police officers, has actually dropped slightly and stands at 22,202, according to 2005 statistics. More significantly, perhaps, the city's crime rate increased by 15.7 percent immediately after the gun ban, even though the overall crime rate in Cook County rose only 3 percent. Today, by comparison, the township's crime rate stands at 2,268 per 100,000. This was not what some predicted. In a column titled "Gun Town USA," Art Buchwald suggested Kennesaw would soon become a place where routine disagreements between neighbors would be settled in shootouts. The Washington Post mocked Kennesaw as "the brave little city … soon to be pistol-packing capital of the world." Phil Donahue invited the mayor on his show.

Oh no! Greenland glacier calves island 4 times the size of Manhattan
Excerpt: Posted on August 6, 2010 by Anthony Watts. Greenland glacier calves island 4 times the size of Manhattan, UD scientist reports it last happened at this scale in 1962. Must have been climate change back then too. Watch the media now as this story is only about an hour old. BTW it fractured, not melted, and in case some people forget: glaciers calve to the sea there, it is what they do. – Anthony (When I read this two days ago, I didn't consider it "interesting to enough people" to send it to Bob for the blog. Since then, it has been seized upon, not so much by the media, as by one of my least favorite politicians. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) suggested a novel use Saturday for a 100-square-mile ice sheet that has broken off Greenland. “An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country," Markey said in a statement. (From The Hill, Markey, who is out there with Kucinich and the rest of the space cadets not only got the science wrong, The Hill doesn't seem to have checked very far, either. Here is the actual story and the facts. Markey is one of the reasons I am sometimes ashamed to be "from Massachusetts;" at least I'm not in his district. Ron P. And Peru is having record cold that has killed hundreds. And Mars and the other planets are warming…~Bob)

Science Turns Authoritarian
Excerpt: While nobody would dispute the value of a good PR department, we doubted that bad or insufficient PR was the primary reason for the public’s declining trust in scientific pronouncements. Our theory is that science is not losing its credibility because people no longer like or believe in the idea of scientific discovery, but because science has taken on an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by pressure groups who want the government to force people to change their behavior. In the past, scientists were generally neutral on questions of what to do. Instead, they just told people what they found, such as “we have discovered that smoking vastly increases your risk of lung cancer” or “we have discovered that some people will have adverse health effects from consuming high levels of salt.” Or “we have found that obesity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.” Those were simply neutral observations that people could find empowering, useful, interesting, etc., but did not place demands on them. In fact, this kind of objectivity was the entire basis for trusting scientific claims. But along the way, an assortment of publicity-seeking, and often socially activist, scientists stopped saying, “Here are our findings. Read it and believe.” Instead, activist scientists such as NASA’s James Hansen, heads of quasi-scientific governmental organizations such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editors of major scientific journals, and heads of the various national scientific academies are more inclined to say, “Here are our findings, and those findings say that you must change your life in this way, that way, or the other way.” So, objective statements about smoking risk morphed into statements like “science tells us we must end the use of tobacco products.” A finding of elevated risk of stroke from excess salt ingestion leads to: “The science tells us we must cut salt consumption in half by 2030.” Findings that obesity carries health risks lead to a “war on obesity.” And yes, a finding that we may be causing the climate to change morphed into “the science says we must radically restructure our economy and way of life to cut greenhouse gas emissions radically by 2050.”

A Rather Angry America
Excerpt: Unemployment is still high, growth low, deficits huge. States are cutting out everything from streetlights to paving. Public pensions are exploding everywhere. A class war looms between retirees who want their sweet-heart obligations honored, and strapped, poorer taxpayers who feel about those bloated payouts as they do their underwater mortgages. In a progressive culture, where ads blare hourly about skipping out on credit card debt, shorting the IRS, and walking away from mortgages, did the public employee unions really think they were exempt from a Chrysler-like renegotiation? In the age of Obama, there is no real contractual obligation: everything from paying back bondholders to fixing a BP penalty is, well, “negotiable.” When the money runs out, the law will too. Law? There is no law other than a mandated equality of result.

As They Live off Us, Some Federal Workers Pocket Fraudulent SS Benefits
Excerpt: The Government Accountability Office issued a report that showed at least 1,500 federal employees may have wrongly received benefits. The group's investigation, which focused on two Social Security programs for people who have limited incomes due to disabilities, found several specific cases in which beneficiaries were earning well above the income cap while still receiving benefits. In one case, a Transportation Security Administration screener was overpaid $108,000, according to the report.

Shirley Sherrod's perfect scam
Excerpt: The story is told of a USDA employee recently seen moping aimlessly around the agency's corridors. When asked why he was so sad, he answered, "My farmer died." It has come to that at the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1839, Congress set aside $1,000 to fund a program within the Patent Office for "agricultural purposes." At the time, more than 9,000,000 Americans lived on farms and made up nearly 70 percent of the labor force.
The infusion of government dollars has swelled as the number of Americans on farms has continued to shrink. This year, the USDA will manage to spend $134 billion on the fewer than 3,000,000 people who live on farms – less than 3 percent of the workforce. In the last decade, no American has milked the USDA cash cow more successfully than Ms. Shirley Sherrod. As is well enough known, an edited version of Shirley Sherrod's speech before the NAACP provoked national headlines and caused a panicky Obama administration to fire Sherrod from her position as the Georgia director of rural development for the USDA.

WikiLeaks Says It Will Publish More Secrets
Excerpt: WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website that posted thousands of secret Afghanistan war documents, says it intends to keep publishing secret government files from all over the world even though the United States has demanded that it stop, as least insofar as the war is concerned. In an interview in Berlin Saturday with the Associated Press, a WikiLeaks spokesman said, "I can assure you that we will keep publishing documents -- that's what we do." The spokesman, who told the AP he was using the name Daniel Schmitt to protect his identify, said posting the Afghanistan war reports helped the public understand the conflict. He rejected charges that their release threatened national security and put lives at risk. "We have tried our best and we are still working on minimizing the harm that has been caused," Schmitt said. (I'm sure the victims-to-be are very thankful Wikileaks has tried their best. Now, perhaps the Justice Department will also try Wiki's best (and worst) in side by side courtrooms. Ron P.)

WikiLeaks not shielded by Swedish law: experts
Excerpt: Rules on source protection are written into the Swedish constitution and effectively block individuals and government agencies from attempting to uncover journalists’ sources. Revealing the identity if sources who wish to remain anonymous is a punishable offence. But the law only apply to websites or publications that possess a special publishing licence (utgivningsbevis) granting them constitutional protection, and WikiLeaks has not acquired the requisite paperwork, local newspaper Sydsvenskan reports [article in English]. "To my mind, it is too simple to claim that all Wikileaks sources are totally protected in Sweden,” deputy Chancellor of Justice Håkan Rustand told the newspaper. Author and journalist, Anders R Olsson, who specializes in Swedish freedom of expression issues, said he found it strange that WikiLeaks did not appear fully aware of the legal situation. (Wiki appears to have screwed up; not clear what good that will do us. Understandable, but imperfect, translation from Swedish. –Ron P.)

When Islam Acts Like a Conquering Army
Excerpt: One does not celebrate a victory by planting one's flag on the soil of the enemy unless he is occupying that land or intends to occupy it. If the Mosque is to be built in New York next to Ground Zero, then we might as well move Iwo Jima Memorial to Japan. Some 25 years ago, I met at the infamous Le Fouqet in Paris with a Saudi national businessman who was very close to the al-Saud. It was a business meeting but because of few drinks the Saudi had, the conversation quickly turned to politics. Knowing I held a US passport as well as a Saudi one, he had a message for the US: Saudi Arabia will become the most powerful country and we will conquer all lands. It was almost comedic hearing a Saudi, half inebriated, claim world dominance. The connect between his words and reality were so far apart, I did not give it too much thought at the time, nor did I fully understand what his words meant. These were the words of a drunkard fool after all. Saudi Arabia controls Makah and Medina, the two Holiest Places in Islam. This means that 1.5 billion Muslims turn their heads and kneel for Saudi Arabia five times a day as a reminder of their piety but more importantly their submission. What the Saudi businessman was telling me twenty five years ago was "It's not the oil stupid, it's religion". If we let Saudi Arabia fund and build the Mosque in New York as a token of their triumphalism over the US for 9/11, we are in fact not applying the Freedom of Religion laws but rather, we are giving my religion the chance to conquer New York by planting its flag of victory. Mayor Bloomberg is focused on one set of laws when he should be investigating every religious edict or Fatwa of Islam that emanated from our scholars the last 25 years. But what if religion acts like a conquering army? How could we reconcile this fact with our laws? Being an American, laws will always prevail, but being a Muslim also, I have a warning: We will conquer you if you do not change your laws accordingly. The US better reconcile between Freedom of Religion and Islam as a conquering army soon. The two cannot co-exist for long--By Farid Ghadry, Reform Party of Syria

Battle Looms Over Huge Costs of Public Pensions
From the NYT! Excerpt: There’s a class war coming to the world of government pensions. The haves are retirees who were once state or municipal workers. Their seemingly guaranteed and ever-escalating monthly pension benefits are breaking budgets nationwide. The have-nots are taxpayers who don’t have generous pensions. Their 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts have taken a real beating in recent years and are not guaranteed. And soon, many of those people will be paying higher taxes or getting fewer state services as their states put more money aside to cover those pension checks. At stake is at least $1 trillion. That’s trillion, with a “t,” as in titanic and terrifying. The figure comes from a study by the Pew Center on the States that came out in February. Pew estimated a $1 trillion gap as of fiscal 2008 between what states had promised workers in the way of retiree pension, health care and other benefits and the money they currently had to pay for it all. And some economists say that Pew is too conservative and the problem is two or three times as large.

In Va.'s 5th, incumbent Democrat Tom Perriello sees voter frustration firsthand
Excerpt: The crowds that have been showing up for Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello's town halls have been smaller and more polite than the angry throngs he saw during last August's raucous congressional recess. Catcalls about socialism and death panels have given way to substantive and pointed questions -- about the intricacies of the new health-care law and financial regulations, finding alternative energy sources, and that most perennial of Virginia problems, traffic. Most of all, people want to talk about the economy.

A mother's death; a daughter's letting go,0,1976316.column
Good article on IPF, my particular challenge.

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