Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Political Digest September 1, 2010

I post articles because I think they are of interest. Doing so doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree (or disagree) with every—or any—opinion in the posted article.

The 900
The Old Jarhead now has 900 followers, up from a respectable 550 last January. My thanks to all who do me the honor of reading and to the many who contribute items.

Important: The Roads to Fiscal Ruin
Have I mentioned lately that the collapse is coming? ~Bob. Excerpt: DECLINE? OR FALL? If the U.S. stays on its present course to fiscal insolvency, what exactly are we to expect? We should know that a profligate America is an enfeebled America, that if the spending continues, if the debt climbs and the iron laws of compound interest kick in, we face a period of decline. Like some waning empires of the past–Habsburg, Ottoman, British–we will fight a twilight battle to preserve our comfortable way of life while others gradually fill our shoes. There's no shortage of people in the world hoping for this outcome; there are plenty in the U.S. who wouldn't be all that upset. It's not the only possibility, however. The exit of other bankrupt regimes from the stage has been a lot bumpier. When Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General to Versailles in May of 1789, he did so because the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution had effectively bankrupted him. He was deep in debt and couldn't dig out because the richest estates, the clergy and the nobility, paid little or no tax. When assembled, they remained inflexible, the Third Estate (everyone else) took over, and the French Revolution was under way. Exactly 200 years later, another seemingly unshakable regime also collapsed quite suddenly of its own weight No extreme of brutality could make the Soviet system of collectivized agriculture productive enough to feed its people. A spike in oil prices in the 1970s provided the temporary means to buy foreign grain, but as prices fell, the Soviets became heavy borrowers. The jig was up in 1989, when Solidarity took control in Poland and the Soviets failed to intervene. They had no choice. More loans were needed from the West, and borrowing would be impossible if the tanks rolled. Two years later, in December of 1991, after violent internal struggle but without a foreign shot being fired at it, the Supreme Soviet voted to dissolve itself, a month after being informed by the state bank that its foreign reserve balance was exactly zero. These were despotic governments that had it coming to them. But Weimar Germany, with its progressive constitution, was the darling of democrats. It had many problems-including war damage, reparations, deep disunity-but the direct agents of its failure were fiscal. The rampant printing of money was the least-resistance way to meet huge deficits. The resulting hyperinflation destroyed the foundations of democracy. There followed a bitter struggle over German social-welfare policies. To pay for them, German taxes had risen sharply from their prewar levels. The beginning of the end of democracy came in 1930. The last coalition government failed over the issue of tax increases to save the state's unemployment fund, buckling under the 1929-30 economic collapse. Power was thereafter exercised by presidential decree, and passed from hand to hand in the back room to its final destination in the hands of Adolf Hitler. History is littered with bad ends to fiscal irresponsibility. Juan Peron in Argentina, Salvador Allende in Chile and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe are among the most familiar names who brought their countries to ruin….. Actuarially, existing entitlements have already bankrupted us. Mighty and exceptional as we think we are, demography and arithmetic are mightier still. Everyone knows it. They have known it for some time. Yet none of these programs has ever been cut back in a material way, so powerful and tenacious are the attending lobbies….. It does not promise us a stately and peaceful decline. We will have what others have had: at the very least a divisive and even violent struggle as the crisis mounts. The longer we dither, the worse it will be, fed by the uniquely bitter passions that men have always reserved for governments that betray them, and being bankrupt, are too weak to help themselves.

Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea: What Are We Waiting For?
Excerpt: American businesses pay billions of dollars in tariffs each year on exports to countries that are willing to eliminate those tariffs. Why? Because Congress has failed to ratify three key trade agreements already negotiated and signed by the United States. Free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea would eliminate taxes on American goods. The pacts were negotiated under President Bush, but have been put on hold since 2007, when the Democratic-controlled House refused to approve them. Increasing U.S. exports could create jobs without cost to taxpayers. In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama said that doubling exports over the next five years is one of his primary goals. One of the easiest steps to reach that goal would be to approve and implement these pending trade agreements. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce: Exports of goods and services supported 10.3 million jobs in 2008. Those 10.3 million jobs represented 6.9 percent of total U.S. employment in 2008. In 2010, it is estimated, every $185,000 in exports supports one job. Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Under the provisions of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, 90 percent of Colombian goods enter the United States duty-free. This means that a free trade agreement would have no major negative economic impact for American companies, since they already compete with Colombian goods domestically. In Colombia, however, American companies still pay tariffs for U.S. goods to enter. The agreement would eliminate this obstacle and immediately boost U.S. exports. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, under the Colombia free trade agreement: (When liberals say they want to help poor people in third world countries, they mean they want to send them taxpayer dollars, which often go into the pockets of tyrants. They don’t mean they want them to have a good economy and jobs for poor people. ~Bob)

The Folly of Subsidizing Unemployment
Excerpt: Congressman John Boehner recently suggested that President Obama replace his top economic advisers. I think he may have a point. The economic "recovery" has been disappointing, to put it mildly, and it has become increasingly clear that the blame lies with the policies of the Obama administration, not with those of its predecessor. In general, the current administration has been too focused on expanding government, redistributing more from rich to poor, and stimulating aggregate demand. I have previously criticized the stimulus package as cost-ineffective. In particular, whatever tax reductions were in the package did not involve the cuts in marginal income tax rates that encourage investment, work effort and productivity growth. Now the administration wants to kill the 2003 income-tax cuts, at least the parts that reduced marginal income tax rates for high-income earners and for all recipients of dividend income. This proposal is particularly disturbing because the 2003 law was George W. Bush's main economic achievement; unlike most of Mr. Bush's policies, this one was well-conceived and effective. I want to focus here on another dimension of the Obama administration's policies: the expansion of unemployment-insurance eligibility to as much as 99 weeks from the standard 26 weeks. The unemployment-insurance program involves a balance between compassion—providing for persons temporarily without work—and efficiency. The loss in efficiency results partly because the program subsidizes unemployment, causing insufficient job-search, job-acceptance and levels of employment. A further inefficiency concerns the distortions from the increases in taxes required to pay for the program. In a recession, it is more likely that individual unemployment reflects weak economic conditions, rather than individual decisions to choose leisure over work. Therefore, it is reasonable during a recession to adopt a more generous unemployment-insurance program. In the past, this change entailed extensions to perhaps 39 weeks of eligibility from 26 weeks, though sometimes a bit more and typically conditioned on the employment situation in a person's state of residence. However, we have never experienced anything close to the blanket extension of eligibility to nearly two years. We have shifted toward a welfare program that resembles those in many Western European countries.

Republicans have biggest lead ever on question of which party voters would support for Congress, poll shows
Excerpt: Pollsters offered some more glum news for Democrats on Monday night: Republicans have their biggest lead ever on the question of which party voters would support for Congress. Gallup's "generic ballot" - a staple of election prognostication - shows Republicans with a double-digit advantage. In the latest Gallup polling, 51 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the GOP candidate in their district if the election were held today; 41 percent say they would support the Democrat. That represents the biggest such lead for the Republicans in Gallup polls back to 1942, and it marks the fourth straight week they have had the edge on the Democrats, who are seeking to retain control of the House and Senate. Before this year, the largest-ever GOP lead in Gallup polls was five points. That occurred in 1994 and 2002, both years in which Republicans picked up significant numbers of congressional seats. If history holds, this Republican advantage will increase once Gallup and other pollsters switch to measuring likely voters from registered to vote. (Many a military victory has been lost because the “winners” stopped to loot and celebrate. Work now, celebrate November 3. ~Bob)

Gallup vs. Newsweek on the Generic
Excerpt: Two national polls released today and over the weekend report very different results leading to very different conclusions: On Friday, under the headline "Democrats May Not Be Headed for Midterm Bloodbath," Newsweek reported results from a new national poll of registered voters showing Americans evenly split (45% to 45%) on the question of whether they would vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress in their district. This afternoon, Gallup released another national survey of registered voters, also conducted last week, showing Republicans with an "unprecedented 10-point lead" (51% to 41%), the largest Republican advantage Gallup has measured in its nearly sixty years of tracking the so-called "generic ballot." So what's going on?

Democrats seek separation from Nancy Pelosi
Excerpt: Some of the Democratic Party’s most endangered lawmakers are taking steps to distance themselves from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an attempt to inoculate themselves from charges that they are beholden to the unpopular House leader and supportive of the ambitious national Democratic agenda. Three vulnerable Democrats from conservative-oriented districts are already running TV ads spotlighting their defiance of Pelosi. One freshman incumbent recently joked about the possibility of Pelosi not being able to take up the gavel next year because she might pass away. Another member from a tough district suggested he might run for speaker himself. The roster of Democrats currently playing six degrees of separation from Pelosi spans the map, from the Northeast to the South and across the Midwest to South Dakota. The GOP has used Pelosi, who represents a liberal San Francisco congressional district, as a wedge against vulnerable Democrats for almost as long as she has been in Democratic leadership. But with Election Day just nine weeks away, the sprint away from the House speaker highlights the increasing urgency with which the party’s most vulnerable legislators are trying to prove their independence from Democratic leaders and the Capitol Hill agenda that has defined President Barack Obama’s first term in office. “Republicans have worked to define her as what’s wrong with Democrats,” said Dave Beattie, a Florida-based Democratic pollster who is working on several top-tier races. “It’s playing to partisan stereotypes and she’s just a vehicle for that.”

Public sours on health care reform as midterms loom
Excerpt: A new poll shows that public support for health care reform dropped sharply in August — a dagger in Democrats’ hopes that their landmark legislation will help them in November’s midterm. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll has support for the bill dropping 7 percentage points in August — down to 43 percent — while opposition rose 10 points to 45 percent. That’s the weakest showing since May — and a far cry from the bump proponents had hoped to see as some of the law’s more consumer-friendly provisions kick in. Democrats said throughout the year-long debate on Capitol Hill that support for the overhaul would increase once the bill passed and Americans were able to take advantage of some of its benefits. But it appears voters’ opinions of the legislation were set more firmly than anyone thought during the bruising political fight. “Public opinion on health reform has been stuck in a fairly narrow band and is not changing dramatically,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “And with concerns about the economy and jobs dominating the public’s agenda, and local issues always so important in midterm elections, it is not clear that health reform will play a significant role at the polls in November.” Respondents listed health care as the third most important factor in deciding how they’ll vote this fall — behind the economy and “dissatisfaction with government.”

Wealthy lawmakers increased their riches as economy sputtered in '09
Excerpt: The wealthiest members of Congress grew richer in 2009 even as the economy struggled to recover from a deep recession. The 50 wealthiest lawmakers were worth almost $1.4 billion in 2009, about $85.1 million more than 12 months earlier, according to The Hill’s annual review of lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) tops the list for the second year in a row. His minimum net worth was $188.6 million at the end of 2009, up by more than $20 million from 2008, according to his financial disclosure form. While the economy struggled through a recession during much of 2009 and the nation’s unemployment rate soared to 10 percent, the stock market rebounded, helping lawmakers with large investments. The S&P 500 rose by about 28 percent in 2009. (Hey, Kerry needs the dough, now that they caught him avoiding half a mil in taxes by docking his new yacht in RI. ~Bob)

Broke City Breaking Employee Contracts
Excerpt: The city of Miami is so broke it's forcing employees to take pay cuts, even though they're under contract. Mayor Tomas Regalado said he's never seen a financial mess like this before, and his options are grim. “It's either that or we layoff 1,000 employees or we raise taxes to the max, and we're not raising taxes to the max,” the mayor said. The city is operating under a state of "fiscal urgency," declared earlier this summer. The budget deficit for next fiscal year is about $110 million. The proposed cuts in salary, pension contributions and health insurance costs amounts to about $86 million in savings for the city. That fiscal urgency declaration allows city commissioners to impose salary cuts on employees, despite their contracts.

Social Security Bait and Switch
Excerpt: This Obama-Van Hollen line of attack is figuring in races across the country, and union groups are spending heavily to give it a political impact, the facts notwithstanding. Earlier this summer the Strengthen Social Security Coalition magically emerged, its backers a roll-call of the progressive left: the AFL-CIO, SEIU, American Federation of Teachers,, Campaign for America's Future, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. In Nevada, Harry Reid & Co. are inundating the airwaves with claims that Republican challenger Sharon Angle favors cutting off Social Security checks. Mr. Obama showed up at a Las Vegas fund-raiser to chime in that "she wants to phase out and privatize Social Security and Medicare. Phase out and privatize them. . . . I'm not making this up. Harry, am I making this up?" Cognitive dissonance evidently does not afflict this President. Not long after this Socratic dialogue with Harry, at a recent event in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Obama explained that "what we've done is we've created a fiscal commission of Democrats and Republicans to come up with what would be the best combination to help stabilize Social Security for not just this generation, but the next generation. I'm absolutely convinced it can be done." This campaign strategy won't stop huge Democratic losses in a year when the economy is the dominant issue, but it surely will reinforce Republican fears that the deficit commission is nothing but a political trap. Mr. Obama wants the GOP to support entitlement reforms in exchange for tax increases, but when they do he'll pocket the revenue and slam the GOP for the entitlement "cuts."

The Most Fiscally Irresponsible Government in U.S. History
I believe Zuckerman is considered a liberal! ~Bob. Excerpt: There is an instinctive conclusion among the American public that President Obama's stimulus package has failed to create a sustained recovery. Unemployment has increased, not declined; consumers have retrenched; housing starts have crashed along with mortgage applications; and there is a fear that a double-dip recession may very well be in the pipeline. The public perception, reflected in Pew Research/National Journal polls, is that the measures to combat the Great Recession have mostly helped large banks and financial institutions, and that's a view common to Republicans (75 percent) and Democrats (73 percent). Only one third of either political leaning thinks government policies have done a great deal or a fair amount for the poor. There is another instinctive conclusion among the American people. It is that the national deficit, and the debts we have accumulated, are of critical political importance. On the national debt, the money the government has spent without the tax revenues to pay for it has produced mind-numbing numbers so large as to be disconnected from reality. Zeros from here to infinity. The sums are hard to describe; it is hard to describe an elephant, but you know one when you see one. The public knows that, shuffle the numbers as you may, the level of debt is unsustainable.

Dutch arrests may have been dry run, U.S. source says
Excerpt: Two men held in the Netherlands may have been trying to test U.S. airport security by putting bottles with electronic devices attached in checked baggage, a U.S. law enforcement source said Monday. The men were taken into custody after landing in Amsterdam on a flight from Chicago, Illinois, Dutch prosecutors said. Both men were being held at Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport at the request of Dutch national police, airport spokesman Robert Kapel said. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said they were arrested after "suspicious items" in their luggage raised concern. "The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves, and as we share information with our international partners, Dutch authorities were notified of the suspicious items," the U.S. agency said. "This matter continues to be under investigation." Those items were an empty shampoo bottle with watches attached to it and an empty bottle of a stomach medicine with mobile phones attached, according to the U.S. law enforcement source, who has been briefed on the investigation. That has raised concern that the men may have been testing a future terrorist plot, the source said.

Investigators seek origin of AK-47s found in W. Valley
Excerpt: Three of the four men arrested in the case were in the United States illegally, according to Maricopa County Superior Court records. (Doing jobs Americans won’t do, I guess. ~Bob)

Perry Offered Consolation Meeting After Request for Obama Face Time Denied
Perry wants to close the border to “Undocumented Democrats,” Obama doesn’t. What’s to talk about? ~Bob. Excerpt: The White House apparently offered a consolation meeting to Texas Gov. Rick Perry after he was denied face time with President Obama on his trip to Fort Bliss Tuesday. A governor's spokesman said Perry's request for a presidential meeting was rebuffed. Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the Republican governor had asked to meet with the president on Tuesday to discuss border security. Cesinger said Monday that White House aides said the president would not be available for such a meeting. But White House spokesman Luis Miranda said Perry "was offered but declined" a meeting on border security with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.

Glenn Beck's Happy Warriors
Excerpt: Pundits will debate whether the crowd at Glenn Beck's Saturday rally in Washington was the largest in recent political history, but it was certainly among the most impressive. Mr. Beck is a television host and radio broadcaster with a checkered past and a penchant for incendiary remarks. But if he's judged by the quality of people of all colors that he attracted to the Lincoln Memorial, his stock can't help but rise. One would not be able to find a more polite crowd at a political convention, certainly not at a professional sporting event, probably not even at an opera. In fact, judging by the behavior of the attendees following the event, you'd have a tough time finding churches in which people display more patience as others make their way to the exits. This army of well-mannered folks that marched into Washington seemed comprised mainly of people who had once marched in the U.S. Army or other military branch, or at least had a family member who had. Perhaps that's not surprising, given that the event was a fund-raiser for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides scholarships to the children of elite troops killed in the performance of their duty. (...) Not only was the rally akin to a "huge church picnic" (in one Journal reporter's description), but one had to wonder if the over-achievers in this crowd actually left the area in better shape than they found it. After the event, walking from the Lincoln Memorial's reflecting pool through Constitution Gardens, this reporter scanned 360 degrees and could not see a scrap of trash anywhere. Participants and volunteers had collected all their refuse and left it piled neatly in bags around the public garbage cans. Near Constitution Avenue, I did encounter one stray piece of paper—but too old and faded to have been left that day. (I'm not really one of Beck's fans (like Bob, I don't like shouting people), but he seems to have done a good thing. The MSM has gone to great lengths to avoid making any estimates of the crowd size, and particularly not the size of Sharpton's much smaller counter demonstration. I'm wondering what would have happened if Beck had publicly invited the counter-demonstrators to join with the Restoring Honor group. If they refused, it would've told America clearly which group was exclusionary. Ron P.)

Judge sides with UVa in climate case, dismissing Cuccinelli demands
Excerpt: An Albemarle County judge has dismissed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s demand that the University of Virginia turn over documents related to the research of a prominent climate change expert. Cuccinelli, a vocal climate change skeptic, had been investigating the possibility that climatology professor Michael Mann fraudulently obtained five taxpayer-funded research grants while employed at UVa between 1999 and 2005. In an opinion issued this morning, Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli failed to show a sufficient “reason to believe” that UVa possessed any documents related to Mann that suggested a fraud occurred. (…) Peatross added, however, that the attorney general is within his rights to issue CIDs — which carry the legal weight of subpoenas — to investigate taxpayer-funded research grants awarded to professors such as Mann. (Basically, the judge said the AG did have the authority to demand the documents, but lacked any valid reason to do so. The demands were dismissed "without prejudice," meaning if the AG finds any evidence to justify demanding the documents, he can refile and will be upheld. Ron P.)

Alleged Drug Kingpin Is Arrested in Mexico
But can they keep him? ~Bob. Excerpt: Mexican police said Monday they had captured Edgar Valdez Villareal, an American-born alleged drug lord nicknamed "La Barbie," giving the government of Felipe Calderón a much-needed win in its escalating war against the country's powerful drug lords. A police spokesman said Mr. Valdez Villareal, 37 years old, was captured in central Mexico on Monday. The spokesman didn't give any more details.

Review Finds Flaws in U.N. Climate Panel Structure
Excerpt: The United Nations needs to revise the way it manages its assessments of climate change, with the scientists involved more open to alternative views, more transparent about possible conflicts of interest and more careful to avoid making policy prescriptions, an independent review panel said Monday. The review panel also recommended that the senior officials involved in producing the periodic assessments serve in their voluntary positions for only one report — a statement interpreted to suggest that the current chairman of the climate panel, Rajendra K. Pachauri, step down. (Ron P. sent this to me ahead of the NYT’s discovering it. I was out of town, but we still had it up before them. And this site is free. ~Bob)

Afghan authorities take over biggest bank to avoid meltdown
Excerpt: Afghanistan's Central Bank has taken control of Kabul Bank, a politically potent financial institution partly owned by President Hamid Karzai's brother, and ordered its chairman to hand over $160 million worth of luxury villas and other property purchased in Dubai for well-connected insiders, according to Afghan bankers and officials. The Central Bank's intervention aims to shore up Afghanistan's largest private bank, whose faltering finances threatened to wreak both economic and political havoc. Kabul Bank handles salary payments for Afghan soldiers, police and teachers, and has taken in more than $1 billion in deposits from ordinary Afghans. U.S. officials have long worried that trouble at Kabul Bank could trigger financial mayhem, a prospect that would leave Afghan security forces without pay, threaten unrest by angry - and often armed - depositors, and gravely undermine President Obama's entire Afghan strategy. The decision to move on Kabul Bank was made by Karzai after evidence was presented to him about the bank's illicit dealings by the Central Bank governor, Abdul Qadir Fitrat, at a meeting about a month ago. Top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus was present for the meeting, according to Kabul Bank insiders, who spoke on condition of anonymity and said that Petraeus urged Karzai to take action. (I suggest President Obama send over IL State Treasurer and Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias, who has experience with failed banks and lending to corrupt gangsters. ~Bob)

At Least 8 Killed in Cancun Bar Attack
Every drug abuser and drug dealer in the US is an accomplice to murder. ~Bob. At least eight people were killed Tuesday when Molotov cocktails were tossed into a bar popular with tourists in the Mexican resort town of Cancun, officials said. According to witnesses, six men threw the Molotov cocktails at the Castillo de Mar, a tourist hot spot that had reported two attempts at extortion, allegedly by the Zetas drug cartel. "The death of eight people is confirmed. Six on site -- including four women -- and two others in hospital, also women," prosecutor Francisco Alor Quezada, from the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, told AFP. Local media reports said the attack happened at around 1am local time Tuesday. It set off a fire which destroyed the bar, which is in a residential area not frequented by tourists, officials said. The brutal Zetas, first set up by former paramilitaries in the 1990s, have grown in force since splitting off from the powerful Gulf gang, whom they are now fighting for control of drug trafficking routes.

What say you, SEIU, AFL-CIO and AFSCME members? Do you want a check for $1,000? Or more of your money wasted on Democrat losers?
Excerpt: CFIF notes that two of the nation's largest unions -- Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) -- will spend about $100 million supporting Democrats in the 2010 midterms. In addition, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) will donate an additional $50 million to the Democrat cause. Not only do they think you're stupid, they think their members are even dumber. After all, that money could be spent on member benefits. Like a $1,000 check for 150,000 members. Or putting some money into the dramatically under funded pensions.

Fed agents frustrated by judges’ immigration decisions
Excerpt: In March, Jose Manuel Gonzalez-Sandoval — who had committed serious crimes in the United States since 1998 — stood before Florence, Ariz., Immigration Judge Bruce Taylor on a deportation hearing. That day the judge canceled his removal proceedings, allowing him to stay in the United States. Four months later, Sandoval was arrested again on an outstanding warrant but was released. Three days after that release he led police on a 100 mph car chase. Then in August, in response to a 911 call from his family, he shot at Arizona deputies who came to his home. That night, he escaped. He later turned himself into authorities after they began a public manhunt for him. Sandoval, who had resident status, is only one example of a legal system that lacks working mechanisms for deporting criminal aliens, said Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and former judge.

Arizona colleges sued for discrimination
Excerpt: The U.S. Justice Department says it has filed an immigration lawsuit against Arizona authorities alleging hiring discrimination by schools in the state. The lawsuit alleges a group of community colleges acted illegally in requiring non-citizens to provide their green cards before they could be hired for jobs, The Washington Post reported Monday. Justice Department officials said the Phoenix-area Maricopa Community Colleges discriminated against nearly 250 non-citizen job applicants by forcing them to fill out more documents than required by law to prove eligibility to work, a violation of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act. The district, which did not require the extra documents from U.S. citizens, stopped the practice in January during a yearlong Justice Department investigation, The Arizona Republic reported. (Voter intimidation in Philly? No Problamo. Checking legal status? An outrage! ~Bob)

Instead of mosque, build more sex stores
Excerpt: More sex and less religion? Personally, I find this to be a very promising development on the right! In the heyday of Irving Kristol and Ed Meese and his self-parodying Commission on Pornography, one can bet that we would have heard about these “sleazy shops” long ago. But their presence is really not a defense of the proposed mosque. In fact, I say: all the more reason to protest it. Instead, let’s build more sex shops. First of all, I like sex. I don’t like Islam and Islam doesn’t like sex, so I figure I’m striking two blows against religious puritanism with such a proposal. America’s refusal to censor pornography and sexual expression is glorious. Contrary to the overtones of the self-righteous neo-Victorians of the left, complaining about “sleaze,” there’s really nothing wrong with strip clubs or sex stores. Would Ayman al-Zawahiri frequent the Pussycat Lounge? I’m not being facetious. I loathe this proposed mosque. The imam is clearly a “moderate” only insofar as he doesn’t want to blow up buildings, and, as an atheist, I don’t exactly oppose Islam on the grounds that Muslims need them some Jesus. Moreover, I’m a proponent of what pretentious academics call “low culture” — the fast-food joints, sex clubs, and novelty shops that are such “eyesores” to Nicolaus Mills of the Christian Science Monitor. Remember Britney Spears’ recent #1 hit “3″ — a song about a one-girl/two-guy threesome — with its immortal line “Livin’ in sin is the new thing”? That’s what Islam needs. It’s not just Mr. Mills of the Monitor who is engaging in this nonsense. Run a simple Google search and you’ll find thousands of supporters of the mosque project complaining about the strip club. The right can take solace from this fact, I suppose: beyond allowing their teenage daughters to use birth control, the left is basically as sexually hung up as the right is. But the fact that there are strip clubs near Ground Zero is precisely why we shouldn’t promote mosques nearby. What an ugly contrast: a shrine to an ancient book of myths juxtaposed with sexual freedom. What better way to demonstrate our differences with Islamic totalitarianism than to declare proudly that we, as a culture, are okay with sexual expression? Let’s ditch this mosque and build another sex store. Alex Knepper is an undergraduate at American University. (Guy’s a bit out of control, but I take his point. In a sex shop, they are teaching exploding orgasms. In some—note I said some—mosques, they are teaching exploding people. ~Bob)

Rethinking American Options on Iran
Excerpt: Public discussion of potential attacks on Iran’s nuclear development sites is surging again. This has happened before. On several occasions, leaks about potential airstrikes have created an atmosphere of impending war. These leaks normally coincided with diplomatic initiatives and were designed to intimidate the Iranians and facilitate a settlement favorable to the United States and Israel. These initiatives have failed in the past. It is therefore reasonable to associate the current avalanche of reports with the imposition of sanctions and view it as an attempt to increase the pressure on Iran and either force a policy shift or take advantage of divisions within the regime. My first instinct is to dismiss the war talk as simply another round of psychological warfare against Iran, this time originating with Israel. Most of the reports indicate that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. From a psychological-warfare standpoint, this sets up the good-cop/bad-cop routine. The Israelis play the mad dog barely restrained by the more sober Americans, who urge the Iranians through intermediaries to make concessions and head off a war. As I said, we have been here before several times, and this hasn’t worked. The worst sin of intelligence is complacency, the belief that simply because something has happened (or has not happened) several times before it is not going to happen this time. But each episode must be considered carefully in its own light and preconceptions from previous episodes must be banished. Indeed, the previous episodes might well have been intended to lull the Iranians into complacency themselves. Paradoxically, the very existence of another round of war talk could be intended to convince the Iranians that war is distant while covert war preparations take place. An attack may be in the offing, but the public displays neither confirm nor deny that possibility.

The Mosque Controversy by Thomas Sowell
Excerpt: The proposed mosque near where the World Trade Center was attacked and destroyed, along with thousands of American lives, would be a 15-story middle finger to America. It takes a high IQ to evade the obvious, so it is not surprising that the intelligentsia are out in force, decrying those who criticize this calculated insult. What may surprise some people is that the American taxpayer is currently financing a trip to the Middle East by the imam who is pushing this project, so that he can raise the money to build it. The State Department is subsidizing his travel. The big talking point is that this is an issue about "religious freedom" and that Muslims have a "right" to build a mosque where they choose. But those who oppose this project are not claiming that there is no legal right to build a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center. If anybody did, it would be a matter for the courts to decide -- and they would undoubtedly say that it is not illegal to build a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attack. The intelligentsia and others who are wrapping themselves in the Constitution are fighting a phony war against a straw man. Why create a false issue, except to evade the real issue?

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