Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Woman who mailed pig foot shot by police in apparent jihad attempt

A Marietta grandmother who mailed a package containing a bloody pig foot to N.Y. Rep. Peter King and a Curious George doll to N.Y. State Senator Greg Ball earlier this year was killed by police on Christmas Day at her home. Her death came a few weeks after her indictment and plea of not guilty in federal court for mailing threatening communications. The federal judge had ordered her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation according to WSB TV. She was reportedly out on bond.

According to reports of the incident, Jameela Barnette, 53, a self-described “Messenger of Allah,” was killed by Cobb County police officers responding to a panic alert triggered from her apartment. Barnette allegedly attacked the officers with a gun and a knife when they responded to the alarm. The officers shot her in the course of defending themselves.

Examiner readers may remember that the Atlanta Conservative Examiner published a series of articles on the mail incident beginning on April 18, 2011. The original article appeared on my personal blog,, simultaneously with its publication on Barnette, herself a blogger who waged an internet campaign against people and websites that she perceived as anti-Muslim, read the article on Captain Kudzu and left several comments. I subsequently published some of these comments in a second Examiner article on April 19. Barnette also posted several comments on a Captain Kudzu Easter article, “In defense of miracles,” during the same time period.

I was able to obtain her email address through the comments she left and attempted to contact Barnette to learn why she sent the packages. Although she initially had no interest in telling her side of the story, she later consented to an email interview and provided me with the now-famous picture with Dustin Hoffman. The email exchanges culminated in an article simultaneously published on Examiner and on April 26.

After that article was published, she thanked me for my objectivity and “unbiased honesty” in another email. Other than occasionally receiving more of her messages “from Allah,” which were soon relegated to my spam folder, I had no other contact with her after that. Until her death made the news this week, I was not even aware that she had been indicted for her mailings. She had been confident that she would escape prosecution because she didn’t make any overt threats.

In our correspondence Jameela was always polite and respectful. It was only when she got up on her Islamist soapbox, that she spouted hatred. Her messages are some of the most vile, racist and profane missives that I have ever read. Although a former Jew, she unapologetically likened Jews to apes and pigs (Surah 5:60) and was no friendlier to Christians who worship “a bloodied, battered and partially-eaten and bled-out, rotting DEAD [emphasis hers] Jew.” She was not shy about her desire to turn the United States into a Muslim nation in which “white b-----s” [expletive deleted] name their children Mohammed and wear veils in accordance with Islamic law.

A major reason that I gave Jameela the chance to speak out in my column was that I felt that she provided a valuable insight into the minds of radical Muslims. Jameela might have been a loner in Marietta, but there are thousands of other Muslims in this country and millions around the world who share her beliefs. It was people who shared Jameela’s beliefs that carried out the 9/11 attacks. It is people who share Jameela’s beliefs that have been at war with the United States for decades, much longer than the United States has been in Iraq or Afghanistan.

While not all Muslims share Jameela’s fanatical and racist ideology, even a small percentage of them can add up to thousands of extremists in this country and millions around the world. A withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan will not change the attitudes of these radicals. For them, it was never about Iraq or Afghanistan. It is about spreading their brand of orthodox Islam around the globe and ridding the world of the Jews.

Even though I had not thought of Jameela in months, I cannot say that I was surprised to hear of her death. My initial thought was that the incident sounded like what is often called “suicide by cop,” in which someone who wants to die threatens police in order to get them to kill him. After more consideration, however, I no longer believe that to be the case.

My opinion is that Jameela launched her own terrorist attack against representatives of the United States. Lacking the knowledge and materials to build a suicide bomb vest, she summoned police with the intention of killing as many as possible and then becoming a martyr. In her twisted theology, she likely believed that the police were infidels who doing the bidding of their Jewish masters in tormenting her. In the end, she was no different from the terrorists in Iraq and Palestine who believe that sacrificing themselves to kill innocents is a worthy and noble cause that will secure their place in heaven.

To most of us, Jameela’s words and actions seem crazy. If she was crazy though, what does that make the multitudes of other radical Muslims around the world who share her beliefs and are also willing to martyr themselves?

I wish to extend my condolences to Ms. Barnette’s family, especially her grandchildren, who will now have to grow up with the shame of her actions on top of the loss that they will undoubtedly feel after her death. I also pray that God will have mercy on her poor misguided soul.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ron Paul phenomenon

Ron Paul is beginning to frighten me.

To be totally accurate, it isn’t just Dr. Paul that frightens me, but his followers as well.  The relationship between Ron Paul and his followers seems to be almost unique in modern American politics.  Dr. Paul’s followers, often referred to as “Paulestinians” by talk show host Michael Medved (listen to Medved on Atlanta’s AM-920 WGKA), are fiercely loyal to their candidate, which explains why Paul often wins straw polls.  These contests are not normal elections, but consist of activists who often have to pay or go out of their way to take part.  Paul’s supporters, while small in number, are fully dedicated to Paul’s success.

Ron Paul is in the Republican Party, but is not of it.  He was originally sent to Congress as a Republican, but later left the party to run for president as a Libertarian in 1988.  He was re-elected to Congress as a Republican in 1996 and has run for president twice, both times as a Republican, since then.  When he failed to win the Republican nomination in 2008, Paul did not support John McCain.  Instead, he endorsed Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party candidate.

Most of his supporters do not seem to consider themselves Republicans either.  In fact, the majority of Ron Paul supporters that I have come in contact with see both major political parties as two sides of the same coin.  Recently, a Ron Paul supporter told me that it was her opinion that Obama was “Bush’s third term.”  This is not the view of a majority of the Americans regardless of their party affiliation.

Many of the other views of Paul and his disciples are not shared by other Americans.  Paul criticized President Obama for ordering the raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout and his foreign policy platform smacks of isolationism.  He has favored extending friendship to Iran, rather than threatening sanctions or attacks to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Paul claims to be for “nonintervention” rather than isolationism.  In a speech posted on Youtube, Paul explains that this means he is for trade and talk between countries, rather than for sealing the country off from other nations.  He doesn’t explain how he would protect Americans abroad (or at home for that matter) without intervening militarily against foreign threats from people who have no such compunctions about using military force against Americans.

Many Ron Paul supporters also seem to be more at home with members of the Occupy Wall Street movement than with the Tea Party.  When I visited Occupy Atlanta last October, more occupiers professed an admiration for Ron Paul than any other presidential candidate, including Barack Obama.  Paul supporters are often quick to parrot liberal criticism of the Tea Party and the Koch brothers, even though Paul is widely considered to be one of the inspirations of the Tea Party movement.

Paul’s most vocal supporters seem willing and even eager to believe the most outlandish conspiracy theories.  Ron Paul supporters have argued with me that Israelis are not really Jewish, that FEMA is secretly building concentration camps around the country, and that American soldiers are required to take an oath to kill their own families if ordered to do so.  Many are believers in the 9/11 truther and birther movements as well.  These are only a few of the many paranoid fantasies that Ron Paul supporters have supported in dialogues with me.  The only requirement seems to be that the conspiracy must be anti-American and anti-Israeli.

Even Paul himself has seemed to endorse conspiracy theories as well.  He says at a gathering recorded and posted on Youtube that the government investigation of the attacks was “a cover-up, basically.”  As late as 2007, Paul told that he believed that there was a cover-up of 9/11, even though he denied being a truther.  In an article from his newsletter posted on, Paul shared “research” that speculated that the U.S. government created the AIDS virus.

Paul also has a history of racist statements in his newsletters.  I could find no statement where Paul has renounced the racist statements in his newsletters or the anti-Semitic comments of his supporters that are common on websites dedicated to Paul.  While Paul cannot be held responsible for the behavior of his supporters, there is evidence that he authored or had direct knowledge of the contents of his newsletters.  When asked to condemn the behavior of his supporters by “American Spectator” blogger Jeffrey Lord, he failed to do so.  He is, however, on record as saying that “the philosophy of white supremacy is wrong and immoral” in an interview posted on Youtube.

Paul and his supporters both seem to agree that he is the only candidate who is worthy successor to the Founding Fathers as an upholder of the Constitution, yet they both misunderstand American history.  For instance, Paul criticizes the Federal Reserve as unconstitutional, but fails to note that Congress established a central bank, the Bank of the United States, in 1791.  This was only three years after the Constitution was ratified. 

Likewise, Paul criticizes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as unconstitutional.  He fails to note, however, that Article I Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations,” such as genocides and crimes against humanity.  Military interventions are not new.  According to “the Savage Wars of Peace,” U.S. Marines landed abroad 180 times between 1800 and 1934, with one of the first actions, the war against the Barbary pirates, occurring during Thomas Jefferson’s administration in 1801.

As disturbing as their political beliefs is the ardor with which Paul’s disciples support their man.  Their fervor approaches the point of becoming a cult of personality.  They seem to see him as a Messiah-figure.  Many unabashedly pronounce their belief that Ron Paul is the only hope for the country and the world.  The only thing that comes close in recent U.S. history is the leftist adoration of Barack Obama prior to the 2008 election. 

When others fail to see the world as the Paulestinians do, they are denounced as “sheeple,” unthinking people who follow the crowd and do what they are told.  When presented with evidence contrary to their beliefs, they cite a conspiracy to cover up the “truth” (even though Paul hasn’t been silenced over his long career and the conspiracy sites are still up).  When Ron Paul suffers an electoral defeat, it is because he was ignored by the media, not because his ideas only appeal to a small, vocal minority.  (In 2008, he won less than three percent of the Republican primary votes in Georgia and less than two percent of delegates nationally.)

Admittedly, there are some casual supporters of Paul.  These are people who may have heard him in the debates and like his fiscal policies, without knowing the details of the man, his platform and his disciples.  Their existence is illustrated by Paul’s recent rise in the polls as Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich faltered.  These people have not yet been swept up into the world of paranoid fantasies that the Paulestinians inhabit.  Some will.  Others will take a closer look at the candidate and reject him as they have rejected other Republicans this primary season.

Nevertheless, if, by some miracle, Ron Paul became the Republican candidate in 2012, I would support him.  In spite of the good doctor’s foreign policy failings and questionable attitudes about race, his economic policies would make him a better president than Barack Obama…  but just barely.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Georgia Tech plays role in Climategate 2.0

Two years ago, before a UN climate conference in Copenhagen, an anonymous hacker revealed a trove of private emails in which climate scientists apparently colluded to cover up the lack of scientific evidence for global warming and discredit climate change skeptics. Several investigations of the emails in the US and the UK did not find wrongdoing on the part of the scientists. Under the Obama Administration, the scandal had little effect on federal climate policy.

Recently, just before the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, history repeated itself. A hacker calling himself “FOIA,” a reference to the Freedom of Information Act, released another bundle of more than 5,000 hacked emails. Many of the same figures from the 2009 release figure prominently in the 2011 release as well. The emails from both releases are compiled on the website in a searchable database. The emails span over ten years with the most recent dated November 10, 2009. Few media outlets in the US have picked up the story of the 2011 release.

The emails contain many examples of climate scientists making unguarded comments that are starkly different from their normal public statements. One scientist, Tommy Wils of the University of Swansea, cast doubt on the notion that climate science is settled: “Scientists talk about probabilities, not about truth or knowledge….” He continued, “What if climate change appears to be just mainly a multidecadal [sic] natural fluctuation? They'll kill us probably...” (1682).

Several scientists acknowledged the flaws in current climate models. Phil Jones, a prominent climatologist at the University of East Anglia, wrote that the “basic problem is that all models are wrong - not got enough middle and low level clouds” (email 4443). Rob Wilson of Edinburgh University wondered whether the sun might be responsible for warming. He wrote that “by weighting the solar irradiance more strongly in the models, then much of the 19th to mid 20th century warming can be explained from the sun alone” (2267). He worried that “Jeez - I sound like a sceptic [sic] - this is not my intension [sic].”

The Medieval Warm Period, a 400 year period from the 9th to the 13th century when temperatures were warm enough to allow limited agriculture in Greenland, was difficult for the climatologists to rationalize. Edward Cook of New York’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory wrote that the MWP “was more regionally extreme (mainly in terms of the frequency and duration of megadroughts [sic]) than anything we have seen in the 20th century, except perhaps for the Sahel. So in certain ways the MCA [Medieval Climatic Anomaly] period may have been more climatically extreme than in modern times.”

In another email, a Chinese scientist, Rean Guoyoo, wrote that “we did some analyses of the urban warming effect on surface air temperature trends in China, and we found the effect is pretty big…” (0044). Guoyoo went on to say, “Unfortunately, when we sent our comments [on how urban heat skews temperature readings] to the IPCC AR4 [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report], they were mostly rejected.” Guoyoo’s research seems to support anthropogenic warming locally, rather than globally.

In another email from 2004 that preceded the common usage of the term “climate change,” Asher Minns of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Bo Kjellen of the European Institute for Policy Studies discuss how “global warming freezing,” the idea that global warming might lead to a colder climate, causes public relations problems (4141). They discuss rebranding global warming as “climate change” to provide “a new story for the old news.”

A number of the emails refer to Georgia Tech. A Tech student, Jun Jian, requested and received climate data from East Anglia’s Phil Jones (1320). The email containing the data was also sent to Dr. Peter Webster, a professor at Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Dr. Webster apparently told Canadian mathematician and climate change skeptic Stephen McIntyre about the data. At the time, McIntyre was performing a statistical analysis of the famous “hockey stick graph.”

When McIntyre asked Jones for a copy of the data supplied to Georgia Tech, Jones apparently refused to supply it. According to one email (125676554), McIntyre then submitted a request for the data under the Freedom of Information Act and was again refused. When Jones refused requests for the data citing confidentiality agreements, readers of McIntyre’s blog,, submitted requests for the agreements and only a few were found to exist. Neither Webster nor McIntyre were immediately available for comment.

This is not necessarily conclusive proof that global warming is not real. As the Atlanta Creationism Examiner wrote in a recent article, there is still strong evidence that the human activity is warming the earth. However, the comments in many of the emails do show that the data is not as convincing as many would have it appear.

Some hardliners evidently took pains to hide this doubt. Phil Jones himself wrote that “one way to cover yourself… would be to delete all emails” (2440). Jones also said, “I've been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts.” Further, Jones wrote that “Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get - and has to be well hidden” (1577). Duke University’s Thomas Crowley assured Jones that “there will be no dirty laundry in the open” (2733). Crowley continued in another email (4693) that “truth” may not always be “worth reaching if it is at the cost of damaged personal relationships.” This attitude of secrecy and hiding data is at odds with the scientific ideal of objectively making predictions that can be verified and tested in the future.


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Parental Advisory: Xbox Kinect game contains bestiality

gunstringerThere have been numerous debates about sex and violence in such popular video games as “Grand Theft Auto,” but many parents would probably be surprised to learn that a popular game being sold in a bundle with a sensor for Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect video game system contains scenes of graphic bestiality.

On a recent visit to an Atlanta-area Best Buy electronics store, the game was playing on the in-store Kinect demonstrator. The game, “The Gunstringer,” featured a skeletal cowboy who fights a surly lumberjack in a flashback. In the course of the fight, the lumberjack falls from a high platform and lands atop a large alligator. In a long scene, the lumberjack writhes atop the alligator in an unmistakably sexual manner.

The scene cuts away from the two to a movie audience, most of who look appalled with eyes wide and mouths agape. In one instance, a man watches laughing and the woman next to him angrily hits him. As the scene shifts to the next level of the game, the narrator speaks about the “terrible union” and the cowboy, now back in present day, must fight the offspring of the lumberjack and alligator.

The Gunstringer” is made by Twisted Pixel Games and is rated “T for Teen.” According to the company’s website, the game is about a “skeleton cowboy marionette” out to get revenge on members of his former posse who left him for dead. The website says that the Gunstringer witnessed the conception of the “gatorjack,” who is now one of the hero’s archenemies.

The manager of the Best Buy said that he was unaware of the content of the video game demo and stated that he would look into the situation. He agreed that the content was not appropriate for an open store floor where children of all ages could see and play the game.

Best Buy’s central customer service had a similar response in an email. A company spokesman wrote, “I wouldn’t want to pick up a demo to play and see that” (emphasis in the original) and promised to forward the information to “corporate offices and store upper management so this doesn’t happen in any store.” The email ended with an apology. On a subsequent visit to the same store, the Kinect demo was not playing at all.

A representative from Microsoft’s Xbox support team pointed out that the Xbox Kinect allows users to limit the type of content viewed on the game system based on the rating level of the game. This includes online and offline content such as video games, movies, and television shows. He apologized for the inappropriate content of the game and said that the Xbox Development Team would investigate “the Gunstringer” to determine whether the “T for Teen” rating is appropriate for the game.

Video games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This is not a government agency, but a self-regulating trade group. According to the group’s description of the ratings on its website, “T for Teen” games may include “violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.” “Suggestive themes” are defined as “mild provocative references or materials.” “Crude humor” is “depictions or dialogue involving vulgar antics, including ‘bathroom’ humor.” ESRB content ratings for “the Gunstringer” also note that it contains “sexual themes.”

The response from Twisted Pixel Games was lukewarm and brief. Company spokesman Jay Stuckwisch said in an email, “Thanks for your concern and sorry you were offended by the game. We appreciate your feedback and understand why you would not be interested in purchasing the game.”

The problems with “the Gunstringer” illustrate the difficulties facing parents in protecting their children from inappropriate and offensive material. Dr. Phil recommends that, in addition to reviewing ratings for video games, movies and television shows, parents check company websites and talk to other parents to find out the details about what their children are being exposed to.


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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Ron Paul can’t win

Ron Paul is a frequent winner of straw polls and has a loyal following among libertarians. In spite of winning these polls, Paul has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. This is not because of a Republican or media (or Bilderberger or Illuminati or any other) conspiracy. The reason lies in Paul’s political beliefs and the nature of the straw polls that he wins.

Paul, a Republican congressman representing a Texas house district, is not a normal Republican. Between terms in Congress as a Republican, he ran for president as a Libertarian Party candidate. Even today, his platform is starkly different than those of other Republicans.

One of the issues where this is most apparent is drug legalization. Ron Paul has supported the decriminalization of narcotics and an end to the drug war. While the American public is almost evenly split on the issue of marijuana legalization according to an October 2011 Gallup poll, only 35 percent of Republicans are in favor. The fact that Paul is out of step with Republican voters hurts him as a candidate in a Republican primary.

While Paul opposes attempts to redefine traditional marriage, he opposes a federal marriage amendment, which is the only way to prevent the courts from imposing same-sex marriage. As with drug legalization, this is an issue on which the American public is divided according to a recent Associated Press poll, but support for traditional marriage is stronger among Republicans and conservatives. When voters have had a chance to vote on definition of marriage laws or amendments, they often pass by a large margin. Georgia voters approved a marriage amendment with 76 percent in favor in 2004.

On other issues Paul is similarly out of step. After U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, Paul said in an interview on Iowa’s WHO radio that he would not have ordered the raid. As reported by ABC News, Paul said that the raid was “absolutely not necessary” and did not reflect “respect for the rule of law and world law, international law.” Paul said that he would have favored cooperation with Pakistan to arrest bin Laden.

Paul’s position again conflicted with the beliefs of most Americans. According to a Washington Post/Pew poll, by a margin of 34-8 percent most Americans believed that Pakistan had done more to hurt U.S. efforts to find bin Laden than to help. Seventy-two percent of Americans felt relieved that bin Laden was dead. Bin Laden’s death made 60 percent of Americans feel proud and 58 percent felt happy. These percentages are probably even higher among Republicans.

Even more current and troubling to most Americans is Paul’s position on Iran. CNS News reports that Paul said, “For them [Iran] to be a threat to us or to anybody in the region, I think it’s just blown out of proportion.” Paul opposes sanctions or military action against Iran and says that the U.S. should offer friendship instead, a position closer to that of Barack Obama than his fellow Republicans.

In contrast, a UPI poll released on November 12 shows that 50 percent of Americans support U.S. military action against Iran and 57 percent support an Israeli attack on Iran. According to a CBS/Global Research poll, only 17 percent of Americans do not believe that Iran poses a threat.

As the polls were released, the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report that confirms that the Iranian nuclear program is focused on developing weapons rather than nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Coming on the heels of the FBI’s disruption of an Iranian assassination plot in Washington, D.C. in October, it is likely that many more Americans are coming to see Iran as a dangerous threat that will not respond to anything short of military action.

On the other hand, Paul’s long-time advocacy of government spending cuts is now being supported by a majority of Americans according to Gallup and there are signs that his desire to bring back the gold standard is gaining support as well. A Rasmussen poll from October surprisingly showed that 44 percent of Americans favored the gold standard compared to 28 percent opposed. When the question was phrased to say that the gold standard would reduce the powers of “bankers and the political class,” support increased to 57 percent and opposition dropped to 19 percent.

Rep. Paul’s call to “end the Fed” may be gaining support, but is still a minority position. A Bloomberg poll from December 2010 showed that only 16 percent wanted to abolish the Federal Reserve. That number was twice the eight percent who favored abolishing the Fed in October of that year. Even if most Americans don’t favor shutting down the Federal Reserve, 39 percent did want to make it more accountable and only 37 percent favored the current model with an independent Fed.

Ron Paul’s economic policies are finding favor in the current climate of massive government spending and deficits. On domestic issues and foreign policy, however, he is out of step with most Americans and even more out-of-step with Republicans, whom he must win over to reach the general election. Consequently, he stays below ten percent according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, even as he wins unscientific straw polls where his supporters turn out in droves. In Georgia polls, Paul remains similarly in the single digits, near his under-three percent finish in Georgia’s 2008 primary election.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Who will benefit from Cain collapse?

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign will likely collapse soon under the accumulated weight of sexual harassment charges, ill-advised remarks, and a lack of foreign policy experience. As the current favorite of the “anyone-but-Romney” wing of the Republican Party, the Georgia businessman’s decline will leave many voters up for grabs. The question is who is most likely to benefit from Cain’s misfortune.

Cain captured frontrunner status from Rick Perry after Perry’s lackluster performance in several debates. By now, it is becoming more and more apparent that Perry would not be a formidable opponent to President Obama in the general election. This realization is seen in the Real Clear Politics average of polls which showed Perry’s support plunge to ten percent from a high of 31 percent in September. Perry’s introduction of an optional flat tax plan has not stopped his slide in the polls.

Mitt Romney is also unlikely to pick up Cain’s supporters. Romney’s support has remained in the 20-25 percent range for the entire race. A large segment of the Republican electorate seems uncomfortable with Romney’s tendency to change his mind on important issues and his background as the facilitator of healthcare reform in Massachusetts, which became a prototype of Obamacare and has led Massachusetts to become one of the most expensive states for healthcare in the nation.

Likewise, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and Michelle Bachmann are unlikely to get a bounce from Cain’s fall. Ron Paul, the perennial candidate whose platform is far out of the Republican and American mainstream, has remained stuck in the eight percent range. Similarly, Huntsman would seem to be more at home in the Democratic or Libertarian parties. Bachmann, who had a worse case of foot-in-mouth disease than Cain, rose as high as 14 percent in July before plummeting bottom tier status in the race.

The only remaining options are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Of the two, Gingrich, another Georgian, has had much more traction than Santorum. He has shown himself to be very articulate and knowledgeable in the debates and is one of the few candidates who targeted President Obama’s policies more than those of his fellow Republicans.

In the most recent Real Clear Politics average of polls, Gingrich has increased from a low of four percent in September. In the weeks since the Cain scandal became news, Gingrich has shown another surge to 12 percent. As the Cain campaign falters, Gingrich’s numbers will likely increase as he becomes the next “not-Romney.”

President Obama would benefit in some ways from Cain’s fall, but would be hurt in others. Obviously, the departure of the only black Republican candidate

would help Obama solidify the Democratic minority vote. A white challenger would be more vulnerable to the charges of racism that seemed transparent and contrived when leveled at Cain.

On the other hand, Cain is a weak candidate in many respects, despite his charm and charisma. His tendency to speak without thinking and his inexperience on foreign policy, as well as the sexual harassment claims, would undoubtedly be ruthlessly exploited by the Obama campaign. Current polls show that Obama fares better in a matchup with Cain than Romney.

The current state of the Republican race shows the application of the “Buckley Rule.” William F. Buckley famously advised voters that they should vote for the most conservative candidate who could win. All of the Republican candidates are more conservative, and therefore more desirable to Republicans, than President Obama. The question is which of them is most likely to be able to win the general election. That several candidates have been considered and then cast aside for someone else as their flaws are found is evidence that Republican voters are looking for a winner.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cain is down and probably out

Two weeks ago it seemed that Herman Cain was poised to become the Mike Huckabee of the 2012 presidential election. In 2008, Huckabee was a political outsider with little money. His homespun humor combined with his sharp wit and conservative message to make him the surprise winner of the Iowa Republican presidential primary. Before last week, Georgia native Herman Cain may have been positioned to make a similar impact in 2012.

That was before accusations were leveled that Cain had sexually harassed female employees fifteen years ago. At this point, a total of four women have accused Cain of harassment, but only two have stepped forward publicly. Karen Kraushaar worked with Cain at the National Restaurant Association and received a $45,000 payout from the group according to Yahoo News. (In contrast, Bill Clinton paid $850,000 to Paula Jones according to according to Although she has not said exactly what Cain allegedly did, she described him as “a monster” to ABC News.

Sharon Bialek, another NRA employee, is the other woman to come forward publicly. Bialek claims that Cain put his hand under her skirt and pushed her hand toward his crotch according to the Washington Post. The incident allegedly occurred at a meeting after Bialek had left the association.

Another woman who worked with USAID in Egypt said that she and colleague had dinner with Herman Cain after he addressed their seminar. In an ABC News video she said that Cain had initially asked to meet a woman that had asked a question during his address. She said that this may have been an innocent request. In the end, Cain had a “nondescript” dinner with the two USAID employees. Her only notable recollection of the event was that Cain allegedly ordered two expensive bottles of wine and stuck the women with the tab.

In a press conference on Tuesday and in a statement on, Cain categorically denied the allegations. Cain denied harassing Krausharr and said that the only incident that he remembers involving her was comparing her height to that of his wife. He said that he does not remember Bialek at all.

On Wednesday, new information was revealed about both accusers. The Associated Press reported that Krausharr filed a complaint three years later against a subsequent employer when she was not allowed to work at home. Bialek apparently has a history of financial trouble including bankruptcy filings, unpaid rent, and a paternity suit. Television personality Bill Kurtis, who worked with Bialek, has alleged on WLS radio, which was then picked up by the Mark Levine Show, that she “has a history” and might have actually been the one to come on to Cain.

Ultimately, it might not matter whether the accusations are true or not. The damage has been done to Cain’s reputation and no one will ever know the truth of what actually happened. Many will assume Cain to be guilty and others will never doubt his innocence. To many others, the whole matter will simply be a joke (for instance, Cain’s “6-9” plan).

It is difficult to imagine how Cain cannot be negatively affected by the scandal in the polls. According to Real Clear Politics, Cain remains neck in neck with Mitt Romney in national polls of Republican candidates. Cain has an edge on Romney in polls from the battleground states of Florida and Ohio, as well as the early primary state of Iowa, where Mike Huckabee won in 2008. Cain’s poll numbers are likely to suffer as he is unable to shake the accusations.

As troubling as the accusations themselves was Cain’s lackluster early response. In spite of being contacted before the accusations went public by Politico, the website that initially broke the story, the Cain campaign seemed unprepared to deal with them. Cain’s initial response was evasive, denying knowledge of the accusations or settlements, which only added fuel to the fire.

The scandal also comes in the wake of other Cain missteps. Over the summer, Cain lost key campaign staffers in Iowa and New Hampshire, two vitally important early primary states. Cain has been criticized for several comments, including a joke that an electric fence should be placed along the border and told the Wall Street Journal that if people were not wealthy, they could blame themselves. He was also forced to backtrack and apologize after saying that he would not hire a Muslim in his administration.

More worrisome to some is Cain’s lack of experience on foreign policy. While he does have experience leading businesses, Cain has even less international experience than President Obama did before taking office. With international crises looming in the form of Iran’s nuclear program, radical Islamists co-opting the Arab Spring, a financial crisis in Europe, a resurgent Russia, and a China that is increasingly threatening both economically and militarily, the paucity of foreign policy experience is an important omission.

In spite of his popularity over the past few weeks, Cain’s campaign was beginning to fizzle. The sexual harassment scandal, whether true or not, has only accelerated that process.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Transgender children

Over the past few weeks and years, “transgendered” people have become a fashionable cause. One of the first well known transgenders was Chaz Bono, the only daughter of Sonny and Cher. Chaz, born Chastity Bono, went through a “gender-change” operation and legally changed his name and gender – in California, of course – in 2010.

Even before Chazz, there was Thomas Beatie who was billed as the world’s first pregnant man. Beatie, who had a sex-change in 2002, still has female reproductive organs. This allowed him to give birth to three children. Beatie was granted male legal status by Hawaii.

It may be surprising for many people to learn that a person can legally have their gender changed, but many states, even Georgia, allow it. According to the Mega Family Project, Georgia law allows “all transpeople” to change their names, but will only reissue birth certificates or change the sex listed on a driver’s license if the person can supply a notarized affidavit from a surgeon that they “are undergoing or have undergone gender-reassignment surgery.” Mega Family would like to eliminate the surgery requirement.

It is damaging enough to society when adults suffer from gender confusion, but it is even worse when the problem spreads to children. In the past month, there have been a number of cases in which transgender children made the news.

In the first story, an eleven-year-old California boy is being allowed by his two lesbian parents to have hormone therapy to block male puberty. In another story, a seven-year-old Denver boy was allowed to join Girl Scouts. also featured a story about a young boy who, from age four, wanted to live as a girl. The boy’s mother is regional director of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

The debate can be framed by comments taken from the Girl Scout story. Fox News reports that the troop leader initially refused the boy’s request to join because “It doesn’t matter how he looks. He has boy parts, and he can’t be in Girl Scouts.” In reversing the troop leader’s decision, a Girl Scout statement said, “If a child identifies as a girl and the child's family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout.”

On one side of the issue are people who say that gender is a fact that can’t be changed. If a child is born as a boy or girl, then that child remains a boy or girl because they have the appropriate parts. If their genitals are mutilated by surgery and their body is distorted by hormones, it does not change the fundamental fact that they are the same person that they were when they were born.

On the other side are people who feel that physical characteristics are not as important as how a person feels. If a person identifies with members of the opposite sex more than their own, then it must mean that they really are a member of the opposite sex. Rather than learning to be happy in their own skin, these people believe that gender-confused people should have hormone therapy and surgery to make their body match their feelings.

The adults who encourage these children to live out their transgender fantasies do real damage to the kids. Any parent knows that kids can say and do some outlandish things. It is the responsibility of the parent to guide their children along the right path and get them appropriate help when needed. It is difficult to imagine that it would be appropriate to help a child embark upon a lifelong journey of running from their true identity to pursue a transgender dream. It would probably be more helpful to the child to learn to accept and be happy in their own skin.

Focus on the Family notes that most children who are gender-confused “grow out of it” by their teens or early adulthood. The group recommends that parents lovingly direct their children toward appropriate gender roles: “For boys, the mother should be the one to ‘push’ the child from feminine behavior, and the father should ‘pull’ the boy toward more masculine play and interests.” The group also notes that one of the worst courses of action is to shame boys for “girl-like” behavior.

Some parents probably believe that by indulging their children in their gender disorientation in ways from allowing them to dress and style their hair in the fashion of the opposite sex, to calling themselves by a opposite sex name, to allowing hormone therapy and surgery, they are helping to alleviate their child’s anxiety. In the short term this may be true. In the long term, they are likely causing severe damage to their child, however. Such damage to children may ultimately prove to be one of the strongest arguments against same-sex marriage.

There are numerous studies that indicate transgender people are at a substantially increased risk for other forms of mental illness as well. MSNBC reports that nearly half of transgender people have attempted to commit suicide due to higher rates of depression. They face other health risks as well, including an HIV infection rate of over four times that of the general population.

For the LGBT community, the answer to these problems seems to be to change the rest of the world rather than to cure the illness of Gender Identity Disorder. In effect, this is asking society to honor the fantasy that gender can be changed even though when hormone therapy is stopped the transgendered person’s body starts to revert to its natural state.

Many readers will probably view this as hate or homophobia, but is it really hate to point out the truth that virtually everyone knows and yet is hesitant to say? It is arguably more disrespectful to pretend that a man can change himself into a woman (or vice versa) and more loving to help them become the people that they were born to be.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Bank of America’s retreat show limit of corporate power

When Bank of America retreated from its plan to charge a $5 fee to its account holders who use debit cards, it was a victory for consumers. Bank of America’s announcement of the fee a month ago sparked widespread anger and was a factor in the birth of the Occupier movement.

Many on the left are suspicious and angry at corporations. A common theme among progressives is that the government is more responsive to the people because government officials are elected by and are responsible to the people. On the other hand, this view holds that corporations are responsible only to their officers and shareholders, people whom consumers have no voice in choosing. The Bank of America saga gives lie to this idea.

Even though Bank of America can rightly be considered an international mega-corporation, the prospect of hemorrhaging account holders and deposits brought it to its knees in a matter of weeks. Consumers exercise this same power over almost every corporation in existence. Consumers have the right to fire any company that does not earn their business. If the company is fired by enough customers, it will either change its ways or go bankrupt.  Corporations can only thrive and survive by giving people what they want.

A similar corporate turnaround occurred several decades ago with an Atlanta-based mega-corporation. In 1985, Coca-Cola decided to replace its century-old soft drink recipe with a new one. The introduction of New Coke went down in the annals of business history as “the biggest marketing blunder of all time.” It took Coke about six weeks to bring back the original formula as Coca-Cola Classic. New Coke has not been produced since 2002.

It is only in the rare case of a monopoly that companies have little incentive to try to please customers. There are very few monopolies today, however. Federal antitrust laws allow the government to veto mergers and break up companies that control too large a share of their markets. Standard Oil and “Ma” Bell Telephone are two examples of mega-corporations that were broken up by the federal government. Most monopolies today exist only in cooperation with government. Local cable television and telephone monopolies are examples.

Even where monopolies do exist, technology is making them less of a factor. Cable companies are vulnerable to competition from satellite television providers such as Dish Network and streaming web content on sites like Landline telephones are increasingly an anachronism as they are replaced by wireless telephones and voice-over-internet phone calls.

The only real monopoly that exists in the United States today is government. No American has any choice when it comes to dealing with the government. Taxes must be paid to the IRS. Cars must be registered with the DMV. There is no alternative to participating in Social Security and Medicare.

In 2010, the federal government made a marketing blunder on the level of New Coke. Over the loud objections of a majority of the American people, Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. According to Rasmussen, immediately after passage of the law, Americans favored its repeal by a margin of 55-42 percent. In the most recent poll, repeal is still favored by 54-39 percent, yet Congress continues to reject legislation to do just that.

It is true that elected officials can be fired by their constituents, but only at multi-year intervals. Many congressmen were fired in 2010 and, if the current mood persists, many more will be fired in 2012. On the other hand, the nameless bureaucrats that operate the machinery of government on a daily basis are untouchable to normal citizens and are even difficult for their bosses to fire. In contrast, normal citizens can fire any corporation that they do business with at any time.

Consumers should also remember why Bank of America decided to start charging the $5 fee to its customers in the first place. The move came as a result of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which also became law in 2010. The law limited the amount that banks could charge merchants for using debit cards. Since banks couldn’t charge merchants, Bank of America decided to charge its cardholders. Despite the public outcry, Congress shows no signs of repealing this law either.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Israeli attack on Iran may be imminent

As Iran inches toward production of nuclear weapons, speculation is growing that Israel may be preparing to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Middle East observer Joel Rosenberg notes on his Flash Traffic blog that recent comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the Knesset, the Israeli legislature, may hint that Israel’s patience with diplomacy is coming to an end.

As quoted on Flash Traffic, Netanyahu said, ““If I had to summarize what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty.” He continued, “The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the bloody incidents in Syria, the American forces leaving Iraq, the new government in Tunisia, the upcoming elections in Egypt and many other events – these are all expressions of the immense changes occurring around us. These changes can increase the instability within these countries, and the instability between countries….A nuclear Iran would pose a terrible threat on the Middle East and on the entire world. And of course, it poses a great, direct threat on us too….A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone. It must also include offensive capabilities, which is the very foundation of deterrence. We operate and will continue to operate intensely and determinately against those who threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is ‘if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,’ and the second is ‘if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.’”

Rosenberg also cites an October 31 article on the Israeli news site which reports that the Obama Administration is pressuring the U.N. for new sanctions on Iran in order to preclude an Israeli strike. The U.S. diplomatic effort was prompted by an IAEA report that showed significant progress in the Iranian nuclear program.

Israel has ample reason to believe that Iran would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons to attack the Jewish state if it is able to produce them. Iran’s rhetoric has long stated its intention to wipe Israel off the map. Iranian surrogates such as Hezbollah and Hamas have been launching rocket attacks on Israeli cities with conventional warheads for years. These attacks led to the recent wars in Lebanon and Gaza as Israel sought to stop these launches.

Israel is widely believed to be responsible for covert attacks against the Iranian nuclear program over the past few years. These attacks include assassinations of leading Iranian nuclear scientists and a cyber attack on Iranian computer systems using the Stuxnet virus.

Israel successfully destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 that was the heart of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program. The attack involved an airstrike on the Osirak reactor outside Baghdad using F-16 Falcon fighter-bombers. The attacking Israeli force did not lose a single plane.

A similar attack on Iran would be much more difficult. Where Iraq’s nuclear facilities were concentrated around Baghdad, the Iranian facilities are dispersed around the country in at least nine separate locations according to a Congressional Research Service report. An attack on Iran would also require attacking planes to travel much farther, refueling from tankers in the air, and traversing several hostile countries, which would increase the risk of detection.

Israel reportedly tested a new long-range missile on November 2, 2011 that is capable of striking targets in Iran with a nuclear warhead. Using the new “Jericho” missile would eliminate many of the risks that a strike with manned aircraft would entail. A nuclear strike would be most likely to destroy the Iranian facilities, but would open Israel to world condemnation. A conventional missile strike would be far less certain, but might be coupled with a strike by manned aircraft.

A nuclear-armed Iran could conceivably threaten the southeastern United States as well as Israel. Iran has experimented with launching SCUD missiles from cargo ships. With a range of almost 450 miles according to the Federation of American Scientists, if SCUDs were launched from ships in international waters most of the large cities on the east coast would be within range and warning time would be minimal. A missile launched hundreds of miles off the Georgia coast could target Atlanta.

Iran also has a close relationship with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. In a move reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis, Iran might base longer range ballistic missiles in Venezuela. Iran’s long range Shahab-5 and -6 ICBMs have a range in excess of 4,000 miles according to the FAS which would put most of the continental U.S, from Boston to Seattle with their range. The Shahab could be used for direct attacks on American cities or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could destroy much of the electrical grid across the United States, plunging the country into chaos.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the Iranian nuclear program, it is impossible to know with any certainty just how long it will be before Iran produces an operational nuclear weapon. The one certainty is that time is running out. If the Iranians are to be prevented from becoming a nuclear power, someone, most likely Israel or the United States, must take action soon. The choice may be between a conventional Middle East war in the short term or a nuclear war in the long term.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Republicans are wrong on immigration

When the discussion about securing the border started five years ago, it was tied to national security concerns. In the midst of a global war against Islamic terrorists, it seemed unwise to many to leave our long borders with Mexico and Canada unmanned and undefended for much of their length.

Some of the concerns were prompted by Ahmed Ressam, the attempted Millennium bomber from 1999, who attempted to enter the U.S. from Canada where he had refugee status. Ressam, an Algerian, was arrested by alert border guards in Washington state.

There have long been similar worries about terrorist groups seeking to enter the U.S. through Mexico. A 2003 report by the Library of Congress Federal Research Division noted that a Mexican national security advisor and U.N. ambassador had stated “Spanish and Islamic terrorist groups are using Mexico as a refuge.” These fears may have come close to realization recently. On October 11, 2011 the U.S. government reported that it had disrupted a plot by the Iranian government to use Mexican narco-terrorists to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.

While the threat is real, the Republican reaction is misguided. The “secure the borders” movement quickly turned into an anti-immigrant movement in some quarters. Illegal aliens were portrayed as people who snuck across the border to take American jobs and government benefits. Harsh rhetoric allowed the left to paint Republicans as racist and may have helped to tip the scales toward Obama in the 2008 election when Hispanics voted Democratic by more than two-to-one. That image was reinforced when a handful of states, including Georgia, passed state laws to further restrict illegal immigration in response to a perceived failure of the federal government to address the problem.

In reality the federal government began cracking down on the hiring of illegal immigrants under the Bush Administration. Under President Obama, the federal government has deported over one million illegal immigrants, almost as many as during George Bush’s two terms according to Reuters.

Further, as the economy crashed and jobs disappeared, illegal immigration began to disappear as well. CNN reports that arrests of illegal immigrants at the border dropped by 58 percent between 2006 and 2011. This was largely due to fact that the economy and increased numbers of border patrol agents deterred would-be immigrants from attempting to cross the border in the first place.

Now the effects of these policies are becoming evident. Georgia farmers were short by as many as two-thirds of their normal number of hired hands according to the Atlanta Journal. Farmers attempted to replace immigrant labor with unemployed local workers but had little luck because the work was temporary, hot, and physically demanding. Some farmers resorted to paying signing bonuses to pickers. Farmers in California, Idaho, Oklahoma, Washington, Vermont and Alabama have similar problems.

A recent Wall Street Journal article cites a University of Georgia study which found that Georgia lost $391 million and 3,260 full-time jobs that were dependent upon the crops harvested by the illegal immigrant laborers. These jobs were in industries such as food production, packaging and transportation. cites several studies that show that immigrants – legal and illegal – create as many jobs as they occupy and actually have an upward impact on the wages of American citizens.

Nevertheless, in the Republican debates immigration remains a big issue even though illegal immigration is on the decline. The preoccupation with illegal immigrants may cost the Republicans the votes of many conservative Hispanics who would otherwise vote against President Obama and his failed economic initiatives.

Republican candidates should refocus the debate toward national security and away from the otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants. Like the ancestors of most natural-born U.S. citizens, immigrants, legal or otherwise, merely want to come to the United States to make better lives for themselves. Many come from countries where there are even fewer jobs than in the U.S. and where the political climate is one in which policy debates turn violent easily and often.

Waves of anti-immigrant opinion have periodically swept through America. At one time or another, the Irish, the Catholics, the Chinese, Japanese, Eastern Europeans and others have found cold receptions in the U.S. These immigrants gradually gained acceptance by assimilating into the “melting pot” of cultures. A major problem today is that the diversity movement actually discourages assimilation and promotes maintaining separate cultures.

Much of the anti-immigrant fervor will likely fade as the economy recovers and unemployment declines. This will not resolve the national security issue, however. It is this aspect of the border issue that the Republicans should focus on.

The best solution to the border issue seems to be a multi-faceted solution. In some areas, a fence is needed. In others, where terrain makes a fence impractical, remote sensors can monitor and alert Border Patrol agents to human activity.

The farm situation from 2011 shows that just staunching the flow of illegal immigrants is not enough. The economy has grown dependent upon labor from migrant workers, many of whom are in the country illegally. If these jobs cannot be filled by Americans when the unemployment rate is over nine percent, they likely will not be filled by Americans at all. A similar gap exists with high end, skilled labor jobs where immigrants come to the U.S. to study but have difficulty getting a visa to stay and work after they graduate. These American educated, highly skilled workers often end up working in other countries for companies that compete with American business.

A lesson of the Georgia farm labor fiasco is that restrictions on illegal immigration must be accompanied by immigration reforms that make it easier for workers to come into the U.S. legally. In this situation everyone would win: The foreign workers could earn money to support their families, American employers would have workers, and the government would be able to keep track of who was entering the country. Additionally, this would expand the tax base by bringing the black market wages for illegal immigrant labor into the light.

Attacking immigrants is likely to backfire on Republicans. A better alternative is to propose a revamped immigration system that will bring much needed workers into the U.S. economy while at the same time securing our national borders against terrorists.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Iraq War is not ending

Contrary to most news accounts, the Iraq War is not ending. It is presumptuous and a bit America-centric to believe that the war will end just because U.S. troops are being withdrawn. There are other warring parties who will in all likelihood continue to fight for long after the last American soldier has left the country. There are only two ways to end a war: One side can be effectively beaten or the warring factions can negotiate a peace. Neither has happened in Iraq.

The situation bears an eerie resemblance to the end of the Vietnam War. By the early 1970s, using General Creighton Abrams’ “clear and hold” strategy, U.S. and ARVN troops had pacified much of South Vietnam and broke the back of the Viet Cong insurgency. The situation allowed President Richard Nixon to negotiate “peace with honor” in the Treaty of Paris with North Vietnam. The Vietnam War officially ended on January 27, 1973 and U.S. combat troops were withdrawn in March of that year.

Unfortunately, the war did not end for the Vietnamese. Two years later, the North Vietnam launched a massive invasion of South Vietnam. Because congress, including several members who continue to serve today, cut off funding for the combat operations in Southeast Asia, the United States could not honor its treaty obligation to help defend South Vietnam or even resupply the beleaguered South Vietnamese troops. South Vietnam fell in 55 days.

Many civilians died fleeing the invading communist army. The History Learning Site estimates that as many as 1.5 million more South Vietnamese became “boat people” and fled the country by sea. As many as 200,000 boat people died before reaching safety. Of those who stayed, about 65,000 were executed by the liberating “People’s Army” and another million were imprisoned in reeducation camps. Some 165,000 South Vietnamese died in these camps.

In the Iraq War, Iran plays the role of North Vietnam. Iran borders Iraq and the two nations have a history of hostility. During the 1980s, the two nations fought a long and bitter war. There is little doubt that Iran has aided and funded the Iraqi insurgents. The only question is to what extent Iran was involved.

According to a Federation of American Scientists report to Congress from 2007, Iran is widely believed to be responsible for training Iraqi insurgents in IED techniques and training them in advanced bomb-making techniques, such as how to create an explosively formed projectile (EFP), an IED that is capable of destroying American armored vehicles. Iran is also believed to have supplied insurgents with advanced technology such as passive infrared sensors for triggering IEDs.

Further, weapons of Iranian origin have been captured in Iraq. ABC News reported in 2006 that IEDs and anti-tank weapons had been recovered that were manufactured in Iranian factories in that same year, suggesting that Iran was funneling weapons directly to the insurgents without even routing them through the black market. Coalition forces have captured at least 20 Iranian agents smuggling arms into Iraq according to the Washington Post. In December 2009, a skirmish erupted after Iranian troops seized several oil wells in a disputed oil field along the Iraq-Iran border north of Basra. The standoff ended several days later. A New York Times report notes that several of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi army fighters are believed to have trained with the Revolutionary Guards in Iran and Iranian-supported Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.

There is also a question of how much control Iran holds over the Iraqi insurgents. Many of the insurgents are Sunni while Iran is predominantly Shia. The Sunni insurgents, many of whom are former Baathists and backers of Saddam Hussein, are arguably more autonomous than the Shiite militias.

Many of the Shiites are led by Moqtada al Sadr. In the first years after the fall of Saddam, Sadr’s Mahdi army fought the coalition forces and provisional government for control of the country. Sadr has since lived for long periods in Iran where he has studied towards becoming an ayatollah. His followers have been a major political force in Iraqi elections and have gained seats in the Iraqi cabinet.

Reportedly, during President Bush’s troop surge in 2007, Sadr went to Iran and instructed his followers to avoid confrontation, although fighting continued later that year and in 2008. In August 2008, Sadr ordered a halt to combat operations. Similarly, in the fall of 2007, Iran pledged to stop the flow the weapons and support to Iraqi insurgents. Coinciding with the surge, Iran’s pledge came shortly before attacks in Iraq dropped off sharply. Sadr issued another such order in September 2011. The implication is that Iran and Sadr may have been intentionally avoiding conflict with U.S. troops in the hopes that President Obama would withdraw American forces.

An American withdrawal will almost certainly embolden the Iranians. Its leaders, who believe in the apocalyptic Twelver sect of Islam, will view the unilateral departure of U.S. troops as a gift from on high. President Ahmadinejad, exemplified the view of Iran when he told CNN last week that “The United States has become weaker and weaker. Now they are hated in the region.” The absence of American forces in the region will almost certainly make the Iranians become more aggressive. The question is what form their aggression will take.

The worst case scenario would be a full-scale conventional invasion of Iraq by the Iranian military. This is the same scenario that played out in Vietnam after the U.S. withdrawal there. The picture of an American helicopter perched atop a Saigon apartment building while refugees clamber up a wooden ladder to escape the invading North Vietnamese army is an enduring image that has shaped U.S. foreign policy for four decades.

Although the Iraqis fought the Iranians to a standstill in the brutal war of attrition in the 1980s, it is unlikely that the newly reformed Iraqi army could stand up to an Iranian onslaught. To prevent the country’s fall, American assistance would undoubtedly be needed, but it is doubtful whether it could be expected. Bipartisan opposition in congress would make it difficult for President Obama to redeploy troops to Iraq in an emergency, assuming he even wanted to.

More likely though, Iran will try to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence through threats, diplomacy and coercion. It is possible that Iran will rekindle the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq before the surge in order to undermine the Iraqi government. Supporters of Moqtada al Sadr, a stalwart Iranian ally, can be counted upon to look out for Iranian interests.

The absence of American power in the Middle East will create a power vacuum that the Iranians will try to fill. Saudi Arabia and Turkey will be their principal competition. Both nations have formidable militaries, but cannot compete with a nuclear armed Iran. With the apparent resignation of the west to a nuclear Iran, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are reported to be developing nuclear weapons. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East among Islamic nations seeking to counterbalance Iranian influence appears increasingly likely.

As America’s influence in Iraq wanes, the Iraqis already appear to be moving closer to Tehran. The Wall Street Journal reports that Iraq, Iran and Syria, an Iranian client state, recently agreed to build an oil pipeline through the three countries. Iraq has also been on e of the few nations to support Syria’s beleaguered President Assad, who is the target of an Arab Spring uprising.

Iran and Iraq together control 18 percent of the world’s oil reserves according to an estimate by Finance Manila. The two countries rank third and fourth in the world respectively, trailing only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. If Iran could gain control or influence over Iraqi oil, the world’s economy would be threatened. The interruption of Libyan oil, which constitutes only three percent of world reserves, threatened to crash the world economy once again and forced NATO to go to war.

The Iraq War is not over just because U.S. troops are leaving. Rather, it is entering a new and perhaps even more dangerous phase. In a disturbing replay of events, the U.S. is once again ignoring an enemy that is already at war… and has been since 1979.


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Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Wall Street’s “One Percent” myth

One of the pervasive myths of the Occupy Wall Street movement is that one percent of the population controls 99 percent of wealth. Conversely, the occupiers, who claim to be among the other 99 percent, are left with only one percent of the nation’s wealth. The truth is available in online data from the U.S. government.

According the IRS, there were 2,196 people with a net worth of more than $1.5 million each in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available. Their combined net worth was $9.7 trillion. According to the 2004 edition of the CIA World Fact Book, the GDP of the United States in 2004 was $10.9 trillion. This works out to only about 88% of the GDP for the top seven percent of the population (using a census estimate of 308,745,538 Americans in 2004). This is a far cry from one percent controlling nine percent of the total American wealth. This is even assuming that all of the wealth of the top seven percent is in the United States when in reality much of it is probably international.

The census data also lists individuals with more than $1.5 million in net worth by state. The 2004 data reveals that Georgia was home to 56 of these high net worth individuals. Ironically, most of the states with the largest numbers of high net worth residents are blue states. Of the states that were home to more than 100 high net worth residents, three states, California, New York, and Illinois are reliably Democratic. One state, Florida, is a swing state, and one, Texas, is an established red state.

The statistic is harder to disprove when it is applied to the world at large because many countries simply do not generate reliable statistics. However, a World Bank poverty report from 2008 shows that poverty rates around the world have been falling since 1980. If the world's poor are getting richer, it would seem that they would also be controlling a larger share of the wealth.  The report also shows that most of the world’s poor live in underdeveloped and authoritarian regions of the world, particularly Africa, central and southeast Asia, and the former Soviet bloc countries of Europe.

Similarly, in the United States the poverty rate has remained consistently between 12 and 15 percent for the past half century according to census data. In most cases, Americans do not stay in poverty. As the St. Louis Fed pointed out in a 2010 article, there is ample movement between income classes in the United States. Americans might be in poverty after graduating from college or while changing jobs or careers, then quickly move to an upper income bracket. Ironically, the U.S. poverty rate was at the highest level in 20 years as the Great Recession, slow economic growth, and high unemployment took their tolls.

The protesters at Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Atlanta, and the other encampments around the country also ignore an important fact: That the top one percent of income earners pays more than their share of taxes. According to IRS data from 2008, the most recent year available, the top one percent of income earners pays 38 percent of all income taxes. The top ten percent of earners pays 70 percent of all taxes. The bottom 50 percent of earners pay only three percent of taxes. By this measure, the U.S. tax system is one of the most progressive in the world.

If the occupiers believe that millionaires are the root of all that is wrong with America, then they should be encouraged by statistics reported in the Wall Street Journal on August 17, 2011. The number of millionaire tax filers declined by 39 percent from 2007 to 2009. The number of filers with more than $10 million declined by 55 percent. The tax contributions of these demographics declined accordingly as well as the recession hit the wealthy. There is some speculation that the number of millionaires may be on the rise as stock markets recover, however.

In the end, even if the one percent statistic is false or unverifiable, it is still a potent propaganda tool. It is easy to understand, easy to communicate, and ubiquitous. As one of the Occupy Atlanta activists put it, regardless of whether the statistic is verifiable or not, he believes it because it should be “obvious” from “what you see.”

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