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 It is presumptuous and a bit America-centric to believe that the war will end just because U.S. troops are being withdrawn.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 The Vietnam War officially ended on January 27, 1973 and U.S. combat troops were withdrawn in March of that year.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.


As published on Examiner.com:


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.”

As published on Examiner.com:


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Atlanta occupiers look to GOP

On a recent visit to Occupy Atlanta in Woodruff Park, the Atlanta Conservative Examiner recently discovered that many of the activists there are so dissatisfied with President Obama that they are considering Republican presidential candidates in 2012. Although not a statistically valid sample, the candidate who was mentioned the most by the activists was libertarian-leaning Republican, Rep. Ron Paul. Several also expressed interest in pizza executive and talk show host Herman Cain.

The anecdotal data from Occupy Atlanta reflects the same disappointment with President Obama that was recently reported in a poll by Douglas Schoen in the Wall Street Journal. Schoen posted the complete results of the poll on his personal web site. The poll of Wall St. occupiers reveals that the New Yorkers disapprove of President Obama’s job performance and that many may stay home from the polls in 2012 even though they are politically active progressives.

Unlike their fellow occupiers on Wall St., the Atlanta occupiers seem more moderate. Several of the signs around Woodruff Park point out that the activists there aren’t against all corporations or capitalism in general, but that they do oppose the collusion of business and government at the expense of taxpayers.

These reports confirm the earlier polling showing that President Obama’s support is eroding badly. Obama is losing ground in the three demographic groups where he held a heavy advantage in 2008: blacks, Hispanics, and young voters. Two of these groups, blacks and young voters, were heavily represented at Occupy Atlanta.

It is unsurprising that people are becoming disillusioned with President Obama and the Democrats. The president’s vaunted stimulus bill and subsequent economic initiatives failed to budge the unemployment rate and the economy has remained sluggish even though the country technically emerged from the recession in 2010.

Two of Obama’s core demographics, blacks and the young, have been disproportionately hurt by the high unemployment rate. According to CNN, black unemployment, which is over 16 percent, is at its highest rate since 1984. Youth unemployment is at a staggering 48 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both are much higher than the national average.

Far from being an outpouring of support for the Democrats, the occupation movement is an expression of disillusionment in both the Democratic Party and President Obama. Many of the activists realize that it is the Obama Administration that has pursued the majority of the corporate bailouts and even institutionalized “too big to fail” in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Likewise, Obama’s numerous connections to Wall St. are well known among the left.

It seems that President Obama has succeeded in unifying America only on the notion that the country is on the wrong track. A new Rasmussen poll shows that 85 percent of Americans no longer believe that the United States is headed in the right direction. That is about as close to unanimous as any poll is likely to get and it reflects deep discontent on both the right and the left.

The path to victory for Republican candidates in 2012 is to focus on economic issues. Virtually the entire country agrees that the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction. Most of these people also believe that President Obama’s policies are not working. Republican candidates should focus on the issues where most people agree rather than on social issues where public opinion is more evenly divided.

Read this article on Examiner.com:


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A visit to Occupy Atlanta

Protesters on Peachtree (David W. Thornton)
As Occupy Atlanta entered its second week, I decided to see for myself what was going on at Woodruff Park. With my three-year-old daughter in tow, I set out for downtown Atlanta to find out if the local occupiers were as rowdy as the Occupy Wall Street crowd in New York.

My first brush with the activists occurred as I was driving down Peachtree St. toward Woodruff Park. Appropriately enough, as I approached Peachtree and Wall St., I heard drums and saw marchers parading up the sidewalk, accompanied by a bicyclist who was somewhat reminiscent of Grizzly Adams. I snapped a couple of pictures as they passed by and then continued toward the main encampment.

Woodruff Park, a small green space located in the midst of downtown Atlanta, was mostly quiet early in the afternoon. As I approached, the site of scores of tents was contrasted with a light jazz music that seemed to be emanating from speakers around the park. The activists, who probably numbered between one and two hundred, were almost equaled by curiosity seekers and locals enjoying the tables by the fountains or playing chess with oversized pieces. There were also a number of people who appeared to be homeless and may or may not have been connected with the occupiers.

A large tent at the entrance to the park beckoned visitors. Another sign proclaimed the rules: “Love everybody, no alcohol, no drugs, [and] no weapons.” An American flag fluttered in a tree behind the welcome tent. Other facilities including a tent offering free child care, a first aid tent with a sign on the adjacent trash can warning “do not pick from this trash can it is right by the medic station.” A “free store” was a large tarp in the center of the encampment with a few clothing items arrayed. Wal-mart, it wasn’t.

In contrast to reports from other cities, Woodruff Park was not covered with litter. There were protest signs scattered on the ground, but the area seemed clean otherwise. A number of porta-potties were set up on a street beside the park. Police officers and downtown ambassadors, both of which were present in force, said that the protesters had not caused any trouble.

There seemed to be relatively few activists around. Many were sleeping or lounging in the shade. One played plastic bucket drums. On the other side of the park, another activist painted designs on more bucket drums. One small group sat under the trees listening to a young man strum a guitar. Few seemed to pay attention to the sight-seers wandering in their midst.

One of the first activists that I spoke with was a black Marine Corps veteran. He offered one of the few concrete reasons for taking part in the protest. He was upset that his mortgage rate was over seven percent after Congress had given trillions of dollars to bail out Wall St. investment firms and provide capital for banks. Even after President Obama’s mortgage modification program was enacted, the man had still not been able to get his loan refinanced in spite of being charged numerous fees to apply for a new loan.

One man, Logan, held a sandwich board that read, “Close your account now.” I asked what he suggested that people do with their money after they closed their accounts. “Try a credit union,” he suggested. That’s hardly radical. I am a longtime credit union member myself. Mainstream consumer activists like Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey would probably approve as well.

Another sign that the activists were not totally sour on corporations and capitalism was the presence of an ice cream vendor just outside the encampment. Although not exactly doing a brisk business on the pleasant afternoon, Bo, the operator of the stand, said that the occupiers were friendly and recognized that he worked for a small, local company. One might wonder how big and successful or in how many cities a company must be before it becomes evil and greedy.

Signs hinted at a smattering of progressive causes. A hand-lettered sign proclaimed the park to be “Troy Davis Park,” a reference to the convicted cop-killer executed by Georgia recently. Another sign said “MARTA cop killed Joetavius Stafford.” Yet another decries “four years of education [and] ten years of debt.” Anti-war messages were sprinkled throughout the encampment, as were signs requesting donations.

A tall, black man who wore a paramilitary uniform drew my attention. I recorded a video of him talking to several people and explaining what the activists believe. Later, he said that his name was Wilgeens Rosenberg. Rosenberg said that he was general in Haiti Sovereignty Initiative, which opposes U.S. and U.N. involvement in Haiti. Indeed, a common thread among all the activists was an isolationist bent, opposing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

I asked Rosenberg, the most outspoken of the activists, if he knew the origin of the occupier statistic that one percent of the population controls 99 percent of the wealth. He acknowledged that there was probably no factual basis for the claim, asking me what agency would compile such data for the U.S., let alone the world, but said that he believed it nonetheless because it seemed “obvious” from “what you see.”

The Atlanta occupiers seem somewhat more moderate than their Wall St. counterparts. Two signs seemed to capture the mood. One said, “I’m not against corporation[s] just greed.” The other read “separation of corporation and state.” Most of the activists that I spoke with did not seem to be angry at capitalism itself. Rather they were angry at the collusion of government and capitalism, what John Stossel calls “crony capitalism.”

The activists were not campaigning for Obama. In fact, most of them seemed to feel disappointed in President Obama. They were aware of Obama’s numerous connections to Wall St., and did not seem placated by his health care reform, which was not even mentioned. To my surprise, more often than not they expressed interest in Republican candidates for president in 2012. In particular, several seemed interested in Ron Paul and Herman Cain.

I only witnessed one altercation while at the encampment. This was between a conservative visitor and another man who identified himself as a Democrat. Much of the exchange was captured on video. Even this was not violent, but merely a spirited discussion.

On economic issues, the activists at Occupy Atlanta seem to hold views similar to the Tea Party. On social issues they remain left of center, which probably explains the fascination with Ron Paul. Paul melds conservative economics with libertarian social policies, which are similar to leftist positions in many cases.

By and large, the occupiers are not a pro-Democratic Party group. Their existence is symptomatic of the failure of the president’s policies to resolve the economic crisis. While they are a left-leaning group, many of them seem open to new ideas and new faces. Even though many, perhaps most, of the occupiers will vote Democratic, the occupation movement signals dissatisfaction among the Democratic base and is a harbinger for the party of problems to come.

Read this article on Examiner.com:

Friday, October 14, 2011

What a Greek default could mean for you


The Greek government has been in a financial crisis for the past several years. There have been several attempts to restructure Greek debts and pass “austerity budgets” with draconian cuts to government spending, but the nation is edging ever closer to a default on its national debts. The situation has deteriorated to the point where Bloomberg estimates that there is a 98 percent chance that Greece will default within five years.

The fundamental problem is that Greece has spending much more than it earns in revenues. It has been making up the shortfall in revenues with loans, primarily from European banks. The problem for the European banks is similar to the U.S. banking crisis of 2008. In the U.S., the crisis was caused by the epidemic of mortgage defaults, which led to freezing of capital markets. Banks could not lend because no one knew the extent of the “toxic assets” in their holdings. They were forced to keep their cash on hand to cover possible defaults.

In Europe, the problem is several orders of magnitude larger. Instead of homeowners defaulting, the prospect is that entire nations will default on their loans. Greece is merely the first. Beyond Greece, there is also the possibility that Ireland, Portugal, Italy, and Spain will default. CNN Money notes that while Greece has over $400 billion in loans, the combined total for all five nations is $3.8 trillion.

Although most of the loans at risk are held by European banks, that does not mean that the United States is immune from the financial crisis. Nations around the world are interconnected through trade and a European financial crisis could easily spread across the Atlantic.

The panic of 2008 was set off when one company, Lehman Brothers, went bankrupt. Investors knew that the same systemic problems affected many other companies as well and reacted accordingly. Similarly, if Greece defaults, the ripples will be felt throughout the European and world economies. Dexia, a Belgian bank that failed and was nationalized in early October due to its large exposure to Greek and Italian debt, may be the Bear Stearns of the European crisis. Bear Stearns failed in March 2008 and was bought by J.P. Morgan Chase at a bargain-basement price in a deal orchestrated by the federal government.

American banks may not have many loans that are directly at risk in the crisis, but American companies do business in Europe. If the European economy crashes, it will affect the bottom line of American companies who have operations in Europe. European manufacturers would likely be caught in a credit crunch forcing a slowdown of operations and massive layoffs. Georgia companies such as Coca-Cola, Gulfstream Aerospace, Delta Air Lines, and UPS that are heavily involved in international business might be among the first American businesses to feel the effects of the crisis.

The crisis would quickly spread to the American Main Street as European investment evaporated and imports from Europe slow to a trickle. With the weak U.S. economy already verging on a double-dip recession, the crisis would likely spread quickly. Americans could soon be experiencing an economic crisis as bad or worse than the 2008 crash. Companies that depend on exports to Europe would quickly find their markets closed, leading to more layoffs and higher unemployment rates.

As in 2008, the effects would then ripple throughout the economy. As more workers lose their jobs, demand for goods and services would plummet, causing layoffs in other companies. The crisis would spread from country to country and company to company until many of the world’s economies were stricken.

In 2008, the federal government’s solution was TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. TARP was essentially a bank bailout in which the federal government made loans and took equity stakes (purchased stock) in banks to provide an infusion of capital and liquidity. Although much criticized on both sides of the political spectrum, the original TARP did stem the crisis.

A program modeled on TARP for European banks and debtor countries might be a viable solution to the crisis. One potential problem is that Europe is 17 nations instead of one. A bailout deal must be approved by multiple national legislatures. As in the United States, bailouts of banks are not always popular in Europe and there may find significant political resistance to bailout plans.

A second problem is that the European Central Bank may not be up to the task. A Columbia University study cited in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the bank holds enough risky bonds that its own survival may be at stake. Instead of allowing the Greeks to write off as much as 50 percent of their debts, the ECB may elect to enact their own “quantitative easing” by printing money and allowing Greece to pay its debts with inflated euros.

A Greek default of some sort is almost guaranteed. Once the defaults start, no one knows for sure how fast and far it will spread, but given the weak economic situation in the United States, it is likely that European defaults would cause the American economy to slip back into recession. An old adage states that “when America sneezes, the world catches cold.” In this case, it is likely that a Greek sneeze will cause America to contract the Greek flu.

Read this article on Examiner.com:


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Herman Cain leads presidential pack

Herman Cain is the new frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary according to a new poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC. The poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults and was refined to 336 Republican primary voters, indicated that Georgia native Herman Cain was the first choice of 27 percent of Republican voters. Cain was followed by Mitt Romney with 23 percent and Rick Perry with 16 percent. At 11 percent, Ron Paul was the only other candidate to score in double digits.

The poll also indicated that Cain generates the most enthusiasm among Republican voters. Forty-five percent of Republican voters said that they would vote for Cain with enthusiasm. Thirty-nine percent would enthusiastically vote for Romney and 35 percent for Rick Perry. Conversely, only 27 percent had some reservations about Cain, while 40 percent had reservations about Romney and 39 percent had reservations about Perry.

Among all voters, 74 percent said that they country was on the wrong track and 57 percent disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the economy (39 percent approve). The president’s total approval rating was 44 percent with 51 percent disapproval.

Republican candidates still have work to do to unseat Mr. Obama, however. Mitt Romney was the Republican candidate who came closest to beating the president. Romney was favored by 44 percent to President Obama’s 46 percent in a head-to-head matchup. Rick Perry scored 39 percent to Obama’s 51 percent. Herman Cain matched Rick Perry with 38 percent to President Obama’s 49 percent.

The poll reflects Cain’s stellar performance in Tuesday night’s debate and the media attention from his 9-9-9 plan for tax reform. The former WSB AM-750 talk radio host has also released a new autobiography, “My Journey to the White House.” Cain, who emceed the Douglas County, Ga. Tea Party in 2010 seems to be winning over Republican voters, but still has a long way to go to convince most Americans that he can solve the country’s economic problems.

The poll also reflects Rick Perry’s fall from prominence after several lackluster debate performances, as well as continuing doubts about Mitt Romney. Perry leapt to frontrunner status quickly after entering the race, but seems to have disappointed many potential voters. Romney, whose Mormon religion has caused controversy of late, is viewed with some suspicion because of his role in Massachusetts’ health care reform, as well as his late conversion to the pro-life movement.

The Republican primary race has been very fluid with many different candidates generating enthusiasm at various times. It remains to be seen whether Cain will be able to hold the lead until the voting starts. His newfound frontrunner status will generate increased scrutiny of his economic proposals and record as a businessman and Federal Reserve member. He will likely also face increased attacks from the other Republican candidates as well as Democrats and liberal pundits. Indeed, some on left have already accused Cain of being a racist and a bigot.

Read this article on Examiner.com:


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupiers vs. the Tea Party

The recent movement to “occupy” Wall St. and various American cities is being likened to a progressive Tea Party by many on the left and in the media. There are important distinctions between the three-year-old Tea Party movement and the three-week-old occupations.

The most obvious is that the Tea Party is a right-wing movement made of conservatives and libertarians. These are people who do not normally take part in demonstrations. Conversely, the left-wingers that make up the occupation movement will typically demonstrate at the drop of a hat. Over the years there have been leftist demonstrations to save the whales, encourage a nuclear freeze, end global warming, save the spotted owls, and end whichever war is going on at the time, among many others.

Along the same lines, the Tea Partiers go home. Most of them have jobs and families to go home to. Many of the occupiers seem to be young people who recently graduated and have not been able to find jobs. This explains why they are able to stay in their occupation zones for so long. The occupations started on September 17, approximately three weeks ago, and they show no signs of going home.

The Tea Party also offered concrete ideas for reform in contrast to the occupiers, who don’t seem to know what they want, other than to rail against Wall St. and capitalism. The Tea Party advocates cuts in government spending and a return to a more limited role of government. In particular, they opposed the passage of Obamacare and press for its repeal.

The occupiers have yet to find a voice, however. The Occupy Wall St. web site itself contains a discussion titled “Occupy Wall St. demands are abstract.” The “about” section of the site says that “our species and our world are in crisis” and that the “U.S. has an important role to play in the solution,” but it doesn’t say what they imagine the solution to be.

Ominously, another difference in the Tea Party and the occupiers is the propensity for racism and violence. Arrests at Tea Party events were rare if they happened at all. Already, however, there have been arrests at the sites of many occupations including Wall St., Des Moines, San Francisco, and Seattle. Although there is an Occupy Atlanta encampment in Woodruff Park, thus far no arrests have been reported there.

The hacker group Anonymous has threatened to attack financial company computer systems on behalf of the occupiers after violence between protesters and police broke out when the occupiers decided to stop traffic. There have been more direct threats of violence as well. Politico reports that state legislators in New York received an email message that threatened to “kill the wealthy.” The email, which contained talking points from the Occupy Wall St. movement such as the claim that one percent of the population controls 99 percent of the wealth, said that if New York did not renew the surtax on millionaires that “I’m going to pay a visit with my carbine to one of those tech companies you are so proud of and shoot every spoiled Ivy League [expletive] I can find.”

Racism at Tea Parties was an oft made charge, but there was very little evidence to back up the claim. On this the occupy movement is also different. Several videos have surfaced of occupiers making anti-Semitic comments and voicing conspiracy theories about how the “Jews control Wall St.”

There may be racism against some minorities as well as anti-Semitism. At the Occupy Atlanta encampment, the protesters refused to allow John Lewis, a U.S. congressman and hero of the civil rights movement, to speak. In fairness, this might not have been racism as much as disenchantment with the political process and political parties in general. Regardless, the video of the incident, with occupiers repeating the words of each speaker en masse, is amusing to watch.

In general, while the Tea Party is largely mainstream in their composition and beliefs, the occupation movement is made of left-wing radicals that most Americans would find out of the mainstream. While Tea Partiers typically say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” the occupiers seem to feel ill at ease in America. This is an obvious explanation for the phrase “occupy Wall St.” They are in the midst of an ideological war against the rest of the country. This includes the current Democratic administration, which is probably fooling itself if it thinks that the occupations will help its reelection campaign.

Oh, and by the way, about that claim that one percent controls 99 percent of the wealth? It isn’t true. You can look it up for yourself here.

Read this article on Examiner.com:


Monday, October 10, 2011

Fast and Furious primer

The first major scandal of the Obama Administration was not the recent revelation that Obama’s Department of Energy had expedited federal loans to solar panel maker Solyndra for political reasons. The first scandal came much earlier but received scant attention in the media in spite of spawning a congressional investigation. Arguably, the first scandal is more important than Solyndra because it involves the deaths of more than 200 Mexican nationals and a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Operation Fast and Furious was a sting set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) as part of Project Gunrunner, a long-running program focused on preventing American firearms from being smuggled into Mexico for use by drug cartels.

The stated intention of Fast and Furious was to track straw purchasers, people who illegally buy guns with the intent to sell them to criminals on the black market, of guns from American stores and then trace the path of the guns as they were smuggled to Mexico. The operation apparently began in late 2009 in ATF’s Phoenix, Az. division according to “The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Fueling Cartel Violence,” a congressional report on the subject.

According to the report, in late 2009 an abnormally large number of weapons from the Phoenix division’s area were noticed by ATF officials in Mexico. The ATF agents there contacted the Phoenix office with their concerns, but the flow of guns continued unabated.

Unknown to the ATF attaché in Mexico City, what was happening in Phoenix was apparently that ATF agents were intentionally letting illegal gun purchasers complete their transactions and smuggle the guns to Mexico. Whistleblowers later told Congress that when local firearms dealers tipped the ATF off to suspicious purchases, the ATF agents often instructed the dealers to complete the transaction. John Dodson, an ATF Special Agent, specifically told Congress that “We were mandated: Let these guns go.”

Hundreds of weapons traced to the Fast and Furious purchases were recovered in separate crime scenes in Mexico. These weapons included military style guns such as AK-47s, AR-15s, and Barrett .50 caliber rifles. In addition, 40 Fast and Furious guns were recovered in El Paso, Tx. in January 2010.

The guns were traced to Phoenix using an ATF computer system called eTrace and the ATF’s Suspect Gun Database, a collection of information on weapons that the ATF believes might be used in a crime. The congressional report notes that Phoenix agents deliberately slowed traces of Fast and Furious guns to prevent ATF agents in Mexico from learning the origin of the weapons.

As the number of gun seizures in Mexico increased, ATF agents there were raising the alarm. After getting reassurances but no action from Phoenix, the ATF attaché in Mexico City first contacted Dan Kumor, the ATF’s chief of international affairs. According to the whistle-blowing agents, they eventually contacted many members of the ATF’s senior management including Bill McMahon, the deputy assistant director for field operations, Mark Chait, the assistant director of field operations, Bill Newell, the special agent in charge of the Phoenix division, and even the Acting Director of the ATF, Kenneth Melson. Even Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer discussed the case in meetings with ATF’s agents in Mexico.

In their conversations with ATF management, the Mexican ATF agents were led to believe that Fast and Furious was being shut down in the summer of 2010. In reality it continued.

On December 15, 2010, Border Patrol agents encountered a group of men who were preying on illegal aliens near Rio Rico, Az. A firefight ensued and Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed. As many as three guns, including two AK-47s, from the incident were traced to Fast and Furious. The following month the program was shut down.

In May 2011, several months after Terry’s death, cartel members used a .50 caliber rifle to attack a Mexican federal police helicopter, forcing it

to make an emergency landing. The rifle fire punctured the “bullet proof” glass in the helicopter’s cockpit and wounded two officers. After the police raided the cartel stronghold several days later, several of the weapons found were traced back to Fast and Furious. Heavy duty body armor was also found for the first time.

Fast and Furious is embarrassing to the Obama Administration for several reasons. First, during the same time period that Fast and Furious was active, Attorney General Eric Holder and other members of the administration were using the issue of U.S. weapons linked to Mexican violence as a means to push for more gun control in the U.S., including a new “assault weapons” ban. Members of the administration propagated the myth that 90 percent of guns seized in Mexico came from the United States at the same time that the ATF was letting thousands of illegal guns “walk” across the border to Mexico.

Fast and Furious has caused an international crisis with Mexico. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has said that the United States bears some of the responsibility for cartel violence. Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said that if the ATF intentionally allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico that those involved should be prosecuted.

Fast and Furious is damaging to Obama because the trail leads directly to the White House. In particular, Attorney General Eric Holder may have perjured himself when he denied knowing about Fast and Furious until recently. Recently released documents show that Holder got at least five briefings on Fast and Furious since July 2010. If Holder was aware of Fast and Furious then other members of Obama’s inner circle, and possibly the president himself, were likely involved as well.

It has been suggested that the ATF and the administration purposely allowed the guns to walk in order to use Mexican violence as a means to push for gun control at home. Investor’s Business Daily notes that not tracking the guns past the border “seems odd if the purpose was to catch gun traffickers and their drug-lord bosses. It makes sense, however, if the real purpose was to perpetuate… the administration's gun-control agenda….”

In aftermath of the scandal, the Department of Justice shook up the management of the ATF. Acting Director Kenneth Melson was forced to resign. Mark Chait was reassigned to lead the Baltimore office. Bill McMahon and Bill Newell were rewarded with promotions to ATF headquarters in Washington.

In addition to attempting to silence whistleblowers, the government has also tried to intimidate journalists covering the story. Sharyl Atkisson, a CBS reporter, told talk-show host Laura Ingraham that White House and Justice Department officials yelled and screamed at her because she was not being “reasonable” in her pursuit of the Fast and Furious story.

Recently the administration has attempted to justify Fast and Furious by claiming that a similar program was active during the Bush Administration. So far there is no indication that the Bush-era program, Operation Wide Receiver, was connected to the White House the way Fast and Furious is. However, if the ATF did let guns walk across the border during the Bush Administration, whether with or without White House approval, it still does not excuse the Obama Administration for following a similar policy.

Most importantly, Fast and Furious matters because allowing illegal guns to be smuggled across the border for whatever reason was a violation of the public trust. The thousands of guns that the ATF allowed to walk resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Mexican citizens and at least one American. The majority of the guns are still unaccounted for so law enforcement officers in both countries will be dealing with the legacy of Fast and Furious for years to come.


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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nobel Prize winner beat scientific consensus

When the 2011 Nobel Prize winners were announced this week, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Israeli scientist, Dan Shechtman. Shechtman’s prize was the culmination of thirty years of struggle against conventional scientific wisdom.

According to a profile of Shechtman’s discovery in Business Week, Shechtman’s discovery was originally made on April 8, 1982 at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. After Sheckman rapidly chilled a molten mixture of manganese and aluminum, he noticed, while looking through an electron microscope, that concentric circles of ten dots each had formed. The formations violated the laws of nature.

When he reported his findings to his fellow scientists, most did not believe him. Shechtman was ridiculed. The head of his laboratory suggested that he read a textbook on crystallography to understand why what he saw could not be. A two-time Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling said at a conference, “Danny Shechtman is talking nonsense. There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists,” according to Shechtman’s recollection in Haaretz.

Shechtman said in an interview reported in the Atlanta Journal, "I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying. I never took it personally. I knew I was right and they were wrong."

Shechtman persisted and published his findings in 1984. Soon, other crystallographers were discovering previously unheard of crystal patterns. In 1992, ten years after Shechtman’s discovery of quasicrystals, the International Union of Crystallography changed its definition of crystals. In 2009, naturally occurring quasicrystals were discovered in Russia.

In Shechtman’s case, there was a scientific consensus that quasicrystals could not exist. This is not the first time that a scientific consensus has been wrong, nor will it be the last. Men of reason and logic once believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. The science of medicine once involved bloodletting to heal the sick. Astronomers mapped Martian canals that were not really there. The theory of eugenics, which was once widely accepted, held that some races were naturally inferior to others.

As Shechtman said in an MSNBC article, “A good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he read in the textbooks."

Being wrong occasionally doesn’t mean that scientists are bad or that science is not valuable. It does mean that scientific claims should be questioned and verified. In two of today’s most controversial scientific topics, evolution and global warming, one side tries to shut down debate by arguing that there is a scientific consensus. Those who are skeptical of this so-called consensus are ridiculed. Scientific journals blacklist scientists who question the consensus and refuse to publish their papers.

As Shechtman said in Haaretz, “In the forefront of science there is not much difference between religion and science. People harbor beliefs.”

Science is based on seeking the answers to questions about our world. To shut out skeptics of the consensus is contrary to the whole purpose of science. Many of the greatest discoveries in human history would remain unknown if independent thinkers had not questioned the consensus of their day. As in the case of Shechtman’s crystallography text, science books often have to be rewritten when the consensus changes. Not all skeptics are destined to win a Nobel Prize as Shechtman did, but those who would close off scientific debates are decidedly ignoble.

Thanks to Don Thornton for providing the idea for this article.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Iran’s apocalyptic vision

Lost amid the debates over the economy is Iran’s nuclear program. In spite of years of diplomatic efforts by Presidents Bush and Obama, Iran is inching ever closer to obtaining operational nuclear weapons.

It is unlikely that diplomatic efforts will convince the Iranians to abandon their quest for a nuclear weapon. In their desire for a diplomatic solution, many western observers fail to take into consideration the religious beliefs of the Iranian leaders. Much of Iran’s leadership, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, belongs to a sect of Shia Islam called the “Twelvers.”

The Twelvers await an Islamic Messiah called the Mahdi, who will one day emerge to lead the world to peace and prosperity under Muslim rule. The Mahdi, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al Mahdi, was a Shiite Imam who lived in the ninth century. According to Shia tradition, the Mahdi was taken into occultation, supernaturally concealed from mankind by Allah. Twelvers believe that he will return to earth, followed by Jesus, at a time of great chaos and war to rescue mankind.

When Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he became the first Shia leader since Imam al-Mahdi to take the title of Imam. Khomeini was believed by many Iranians to be the Mahdi, but when he died in 1989 he had still not ushered in the era of Islamic peace and prosperity.

Since Khomeini’s death, Iran’s leaders have more overtly voiced belief in the Mahdi. Shortly after his election in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations. His speech closed with a prayer to Allah to hasten the coming of the Mahdi:

From the beginning of time, humanity has longed for the day when justice, peace, equality and compassion envelop the world. All of us can contribute to the establishment of such a world. When that day comes, the ultimate promise of all Divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being who is heir to all prophets and pious men. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace.”

"O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.

Ahmadinejad, who appropriated $17 million to the Jamkaran mosque, a shrine to the Mahdi in Qom, Iran, later described the speech in a DVD translated by PBS:

On the last day when I was speaking before the assembly, one of our group told me that when I started to say "In the name of God the almighty and merciful," he saw a light around me, and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself.

I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink. When I say they didn't bat an eyelid, I'm not exaggerating because I was looking at them. And they were rapt.

It seemed as if a hand was holding them there and had opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic republic.

In March 2011, the Iranian government released a documentary film, “The Coming is Near,” that postulated that the Mahdi’s arrival was imminent. The film also hints that both Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, are precursors to the Mahdi’s coming.

Even though many westerners are secular and pay little attention to end-times prophecies, the important thing is that the Iranians, including members of the Iranian government who will soon have their fingers on the nuclear trigger, do believe the prophecies of the Mahdi’s return. The fact that western powers are in disarray due to the economic crisis and that coalition forces are perceived by Muslims to be in retreat in Afghanistan and Iraq must seem a divine opportunity for those who believe that a world filled with chaos and war is needed to open the door for the messianic Twelfth Imam.

Iran’s leaders have made plain that they will use nuclear weapons if they can build them. According to the Iran Press Service, Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a prominent cleric, said, “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the [nuclear] arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” President Ahmadinejad said in a 2005 speech to the “World Without Zionism” conference that Israel “must be wiped off the map” (translation by the N.Y. Times). Supreme Leader Khamenei has long agreed. In 2000, CNN reported that he said, “Iran's stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon (Israel). We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region.” To that end, Iran has long sponsored terrorism against both Israel and the United States using surrogates such as Hezbollah and al Qaeda.

To ignore the Iranian leaders when they they call for the destruction of Israel, the “little Satan,” and the United States, the “great Satan,” is akin to leaders of the past who ignored Adolf Hitler’s intentions that were clearly spelled out for the world in “Mein Kampf.”

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Obama by the numbers

7.6 percent: Unemployment rate in January 2009 (BLS)

9.1 percent: Unemployment rate today (BLS)

10.4 percent: Georgia unemployment rate January 2009 (AJC)

10.2 percent: Georgia unemployment rate today (Ga. Dept. of Labor)

14-20 percent: Percentage that Obama claimed health insurance premiums would be reduced by Obamacare (CBS News)

9 percent: Percentage that health insurance premiums increased in 2011 (PBS)

$666 billion: Cost of the stimulus law (Weekly Standard)

2.4 million: Number of jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus according to the Council of Economic Advisors (Weekly Standard)

$278,000: Cost per stimulus job “created or saved” (Weekly Standard)

$535 million: Amount of federal loan guarantees lost in the bankruptcy of Solyndra

$10 billion: Total amount of federal loan guarantees to “green” companies (IBD)

283: Number of “green” jobs created (IBD)

$23 million: Cost in federal loans per “green” job created (IBD)

10 percent: Federal deficit as a percentage of GDP in 2009 (USgovernmentspending.com)

11 percent: Estimated federal deficit as a percentage of GDP in 2011 (USgovernmentspending.com)

$10.632 trillion: Federal debt in January 2009 (Treasurydirect.gov)

$14.856 trillion: Federal debt today (Treasurydirect.gov)

84 percent: Federal debt as a percentage of GDP in 2009 (USgovernmentspending.com)

102 percent: Federal debt as a percentage of GDP in 2011 (USgovernmentspending.com)

2.8 percent: U.S. economic growth rate in 2010 (Indexmundi.com)

1.3 percent: U.S. economic growth rate in second quarter 2011 (Tradingeconomics.com)

Over 2,500: Estimated number of guns that the BATFE allowed to be smuggled to Mexico under Operation Fast and Furious (CBS News)

More than200: Number of Mexicans killed by guns connected to Fast and Furious (Townhall.com)

1: Number of Border Patrol agents murdered by guns connected to Fast and Furious

0: Diplomatic successes in which Iran agreed to stop developing nuclear weapons

65 percent: President Obama’s approval rating in January 2009 (Rasmussen)

42 percent: President Obama’s approval rating today (Rasmussen)

23: Number of senate seats held by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents that are up for election in 2012

4: Number of seats needed by Republicans to take control of the Senate

1: Terms that President Obama is likely to serve

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