Monday, October 31, 2005

State and Federal Treasuries "Profit" More from Gasoline Sales than U.S. Oil Industry
High gas prices and strong oil company earnings have generated a rash of new tax proposals in recent months. Some lawmakers have called for new “windfall profits” taxes—similar to the one signed into federal law in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter—that would tax the profits of major oil companies at a rate of 50 percent. Meanwhile, many commentators have voiced support for the idea of increasing gas taxes to keep the price of gasoline at post-Katrina highs, thereby reducing gas consumption.

However, often ignored in this debate is the fact that oil industry profits are highly cyclical, making them just as prone to “busts” as to “booms.” Additionally, tax collections on the production and import of gasoline by state and federal governments are already near historic highs. In fact, in recent decades governments have collected far more revenue from gasoline taxes than the largest U.S. oil companies have collectively earned in domestic profits.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the domestic profits of the 25 largest oil companies in the U.S. have been highly volatile since the late 1970s.

As illustrated in Figure 1, between 1977 and 1985, the oil industry recorded relatively high profits—averaging nearly $33 billion per year, after adjusting for inflation. These good times were followed by ten years of relatively flat profits, averaging just $12.3 billion per year. In 1996, profits began to rise again but have been anything but stable, ranging from $9 billion to nearly $42 billion per year. Between 1977 and 2004, the industry’s domestic profits totaled $643 billion, after adjusting for inflation.

Figure 1. State and Federal Taxes on Gasoline Production and Imports Exceed Oil Industry Profits in Most Years ...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Church's Hell House draws on Sept. 11 tragedy
Victorious Life Church puts on a Hell House each year that creators say depicts the real threat posed by the devil and his minions.

But what makes this year's rant against the forces of darkness stand out is the over-arching theme of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. Scenes are worked into the plot line that inevitably lead sinners into the abyss, and saints on to glory. ...

...One of the scenes depicts a young woman showing up early for her abortion appointment, "because I start a new job today and I need to get to work in the twin towers." While a demon narrates, the curtain is thrown back after the procedure to reveal a medical container with the "fetus," a kewpie doll covered in dark red, lumpy syrup. The demon sticks her finger into the pan, then into her mouth and says, "This one tastes like a boy."

One teen girl in a Friday tour gagged at the sight of shelves containing numerous large jars of aborted "fetuses," the demon's trophy collection.

Later, at ground zero, a demon named Carnage describes his glee at "all of man's pride and accomplishments tumbling down." The condemned souls are hauled away, screaming, by hideous creatures into the pit. The righteous are escorted by white-clad angels with swords into their final reward, through the pearly gates.

Mixing in news footage of Sept. 11 with clips from the Jesus video, viewers are challenged to make their commitment to be born-again into God's kingdom. ...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Wal-Mart Warms to the State
...And yet, let us think this through. Might there be another reason Wal-Mart would advocate a higher minimum wage?

Before looking at the evidence, let's do some a priori theorizing based on the history of US corporate regulation. Historians such as Robert Higgs, Butler Shaffer, Dominick Armentano, and Gabriel Kolko have chronicled how the rise of business regulation, including intervention in market wages, was pushed by large companies for one main reason: to impose higher costs on smaller competitors.

This is how child labor legislation, mandated pensions, labor union impositions, health and safety regulations, and the entire panoply of business regimentation came about. It was pushed by big businesses that had already absorbed the costs of these practices into their profit margins so as to burden smaller businesses that did not have these practices. Regulation is thus a violent method of competition....

...Moving from theory to reality, we find that this is precisely what Wal-Mart is up to. The hint comes from the news stories: "Wal-Mart maintains that it pays above the current $5.15 an hour minimum wage to its employees."

Now, most readers might just look at this as a case of leading by example. Would that everyone were as fair as the wonderful Wal-Mart! But a second look suggests another interpretation, namely that it wants to slam its smaller competition, which will be seriously harmed by having to pay more for labor.

The current minimum is $5.15. According to studies, Wal-Mart pays between $8.23 and $9.68 as its national average. That means that the minimum wage could be raised 50% and still not impose higher costs on the company.

Wal-Mart itself makes even more elaborate claims on "The national average for regular hourly Walmart wages is nearly twice the federal minimum wage, and higher in urban areas." If true, the national minimum could be raised by 100% and leave the company unaffected.

So who would it affect if not Wal-Mart? All of its main competition....

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The new F-word?
...Charles Derber: You are very critical of organized religion and clerical hierarchies. Is religion bad for democracy today? Is it always bad for democracy?

Davidson Loehr: Literalistic religion is always bad for democracy and is, in fact, one of its mortal enemies.

There’s a Buddhist metaphor that says all religions, gods, saviors, sages, and teachings are so many fingers pointing to the moon. The object, of course, is to see where they’re pointing, not to worship the finger. While democracy demands civil behavior and encourages all citizens to grow into their best selves, it also recognizes that there are many roads—many fingers—and makes sure you are free to find the path toward our common behavioral goals that fits you. That’s part of the moral reasoning behind the separation of church and state.

But when you are stuck in that deadening literalism, you aren’t looking for the light; you’re worshiping the finger. Then other paths threaten the primacy of your own path and must not be allowed. So literal religions are natural allies of authoritarian and repressive governments, but are never happy residents in a democracy where people are free to shrug off literalist notions of salvation.

Derber: You also are very critical of existing concepts of God. Under the existing orthodoxy, is God a fascist? Is any concept of God consistent with critical thought and humanism?

Loehr: When God is a finger, he’ll be looking for a trigger to pull....

...Derber: You describe fascism as a kind of political fundamentalism. Can you explain what you mean by this?

Loehr: I think it’s useful to see fascism as political fundamentalism, and fundamentalism as religious fascism. They have nearly identical social and political agendas. They both want men on top in every way; women defined by their biology—and by men; literal rather than liberal understandings of religion; and obedience rather than empowerment. Both also operate on a foundation of fear rather than trust.

When you find virtually identical agendas, they must have preceded the individual examples of fundamentalism or fascism, and this is the case. One of the most important things we need to understand about these agendas is that their roots are biological. They are a kind of biological default setting of sexually dimorphous territorial animals, including us. ...

... Last year, Alan Ziobrowski, a professor at Georgia State, headed the first-ever systematic study of politicians as investors. Ziobrowski and his colleagues looked at six thousand stock transactions made by senators between 1993 and 1998. Over that time, senators beat the market, on average, by twelve per cent annually. Since a mutual-fund manager who beats the market by two or three per cent a year is considered a genius, the politicians’ ability to foresee the future seems practically divine. They did an especially good job of picking up stocks at just the right time; their buys were typically flat before they bought them, but beat the market by thirty per cent, on average, in the year after. By those standards, Frist actually looks like a bit of a piker.

Are senators really that smart? The authors of the study suggest a more likely explanation: at least some senators must have been trading “based on information that is unavailable to the public”—in other words, they were engaged in some form of insider trading. It’s impossible to pin down exactly how it happened, but it’s easy to imagine senators getting occasional stock tips from corporate supplicants, and their own work in Congress often deals with confidential matters that have a direct impact on particular companies....

Southern Baptists Slow to Embrace Rosa Parks
Baptist Press on Tuesday devoted a 1,770-word tribute to Rosa Parks, a black Christian woman credited with starting the civil rights movement in 1955.

Commenting on her death at age 92, several Southern Baptist leaders praised Parks as a courageous woman who changed a nation.

But history records a different reaction from white Southern Baptists at the time. A 1999 essay by Andrew Manis, then at Mercer University, described Southern Baptist resistance to the civil rights movement.

The title, “Dying From the Neck Up,” was from a 1956 quote by W.A. Criswell denouncing liberals who sought the end of Jim Crow. "Let them sit up there in their dirty shirts and make all their fine speeches. But they are all a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up," said the Dallas pastor, who went on to become SBC president and spiritual father of the “conservative resurgence.”

Manis said that while current Southern Baptists are far from liberal on issues related to race, virtually no one still holds the hard-line stance that compelled many to oppose desegregation in the 1950s. The SBC adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation confessing past racism in 1995....

...By refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott that propelled Martin Luther King to national prominence. At first, Manis said, most Southern Baptist spokespersons kept their criticism of King private, at least until after his death, when criticism began to emerge more regularly in Baptist media.

One exception was Henry Lyons, pastor of Highland Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., who used a weekly radio broadcast to defend segregation with the Bible. Significantly, Manis observed, Lyons was elected president of the Alabama Baptist Convention in 1955 and 1956.

After the Montgomery bus boycott’s successful close and founding of the mostly black Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, Manis said most SBC agency heads, with the exception of Foy Valentine at the Christian Life Commission, tried to remain neutral on race issues.

After helping to negotiate a solution to the impasse over desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957, U.S. Congressman and SBC president Brooks Hays called on Southern Baptists to embrace the cause of integration. The following year, convention messengers sought to pass a resolution commending Hays for his stand on integration, but segregationist sentiment was strong enough to force deletion of that part of the statement....

...That fall, when desegregation of Birmingham’s public schools began, the county sheriff asked ministers to use their pulpits to call for order and peace. Many white ministers did, but others called on parents to keep their children out of integrated schools. After one minister’s speech, high school students stormed the mayor’s office waving Confederate flags, dropping lighted cigarettes on the carpet and standing on the mayor’s desk.

The next morning a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which had been the center of demonstrations, killing four young girls as they studied a Sunday school lesson.

The following week a member of the SBC Executive Committee proposed a resolution of support to the pastor and membership of the Sixteenth Street Church. The Executive Committee not only defeated the resolution, Manis said, but instructed Baptist state newspaper editors to remain silent on debate about the resolution.

Most Southern Baptist newspapers avoided specific mention of King, Manis said, until his assassination on April 4, 1968.

While some ministers and editors lamented King's death, others leveled harsh criticism. Responses from laypersons were even more vitriolic. One wondered why King did not go preach the gospel in Africa, "the home of his ancestors, where they still live like savages."

Even theological moderates like Oklahoma City pastor Herschel Hobbs, known to many as "Mr. Southern Baptist," were critical of King. In a letter to Alabama editor Leon Macon, Hobbs expressed the private opinion that King was a "rabble rouser" and a "troublemaker."

In 1968 the Southern Baptist Convention made an official response to the racial crisis in America, in effect a response to the King assassination, without mentioning him by name.

By November 1968 a survey by the Home Mission Board revealed that only 11 percent of Southern Baptist churches would admit African-Americans. Later that month the SBC Crisis Statement was reaffirmed by only eight state Baptist conventions, none of them in the Deep South....

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

BUSH, TORTURER-IN-CHIEF: We are constantly told that the United States does not torture or abuse detainees as a matter of policy. President Bush has told the American people exactly that. Two facts in the news today show otherwise. The first is evidence of how many detainees have actually been tortured to death by the U.S. Over a hundred detainees have died in captivity. The ACLU looked at the records of 44 such deaths and concluded that 21 were homicides and that "at least eight resulted from abusive techniques by military or intelligence officers, such as strangulation or 'blunt force injuries', as noted in the autopsy reports....

Monday, October 24, 2005

Coming Soon to a Church Near You
Hollywood Skips Movie Theaters With 3,200-Screen Opening

"Left Behind: World at War," the third movie based on the Left Behind series of novels about Armageddon and the Second Coming of Jesus, will open tonight on 3,200 screens across the country. But it will not be shown in a single commercial theater.

Although more than 70 million copies of the novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have been sold, the previous two movies flopped at the box office. So, this time, Sony Pictures Entertainment is leaving the multiplexes behind. "World at War" will break out exclusively in churches.

Marketing executives say the decision is part of a major trend. The entertainment industry has discovered there is power, power, product-moving power in selling movies, books and music through churches -- particularly the suburban megachurches that draw thousands of well-heeled worshipers....

...The leading apostle of marketing through churches is the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, a much-emulated megachurch in Lake Forest, Calif. Since January 2003, he has sold 23 million copies of his book "The Purpose Driven Life" without any significant print, radio or television advertising, or even a conventional book tour.

He did it, he said, by creating "a whole new distribution channel," offering the book directly to ministers and congregations in bulk quantities, along with suggested sermons and study guides.

Although Warren calls his network of pastors "a stealth movement," his huge sales have registered on publishers' radar screens. "More than anything else, the success of Rick Warren's book has proved to a lot of marketing folks that tapping into churches is a profitable strategy," Thumma said....

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Christian leanings at the Jerusalem Post
The strange and uneasy embrace between the Jewish state and America's evangelical right is being tightened. At the beginning of next year Israel's oldest English-language paper, the Jerusalem Post, is to launch a Christian edition. The Post, a widely respected paper until it fell into former owner Conrad Black's clutches, is seeking to bolster its North American circulation by building on the blossoming relationship between the Israeli right and Christian fundamentalists.

The relationship is not an easy one. Bush-backing evangelists are among Ariel Sharon's best friends in a hostile world. The politics mesh easily but underpinning them is a belief among the fundamentalists that the revival of the Israeli state is a precursor to the Second Coming. And with that goes a desire to get Jews to recognise the First Coming and save themselves from eternal damnation. Israel passed laws against that kind of evangelising decades ago, but these days the Jerusalem Post, like the government, is less concerned with the hereafter than the here and now.

The paper is getting together with the International Christian Embassy (ICE) in Jerusalem - an organisation that says it exists to "comfort Zion" and "declare the purpose of God to the Jewish people" - to publish a monthly Christian edition from January principally aimed at American fundamentalists.

"The content is going to be jointly put together by the Jerusalem Post and the International Christian Embassy," says the Post's editor, British-born David Horowitz. "It'll be things like archaeology and tourism and ideological arguments and dilemmas and so on. Obviously, when your predominant mindset is a Jewish audience there are different stresses that go into providing content, whereas if you're doing it for a Christian audience there are going to be very different emphases and different focuses."

The Post's brand of politics should appeal to the targeted audience with its emphasis on the shortcomings of negotiations over tanks. But the paper even surprised some of its own readers last year with a leader calling for the assassination of Yasser Arafat. Its columnists spend a good deal of time insisting that there never was a country called Palestine, and therefore never should be, on the same comment page that each day states the paper is published by the Palestine Post Ltd.

But Horowitz recognises that an overt relationship with the evangelists is a tricky one. "The International Christian Embassy has been operating in Israel for many years and they are very aware of the framework. There are laws in Israel against giving inducement to people to convert and that organisation has operated within the framework to the satisfaction of the Israeli government. That is actually very important to me."

The Israeli government has good reason to be pleased. The ICE today launches a campaign against the growing support within the Presbyterian and other churches to divest from Israel in protest at the occupation. ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bush the Budget Buster
When it comes to spending, George W. Bush is no Reagan. Hell, he's not even
Clinton. Or Nixon.

The Bush administration recently released its mid-session review of the federal budget for fiscal 2006. The new data reveal that in spite of repeated promises of fiscal responsibility by the Bush administration and congressional Republicans, things are bad and getting worse. After five years of Republican reign, it's time for small-government conservatives to acknowledge that the GOP has forfeited its credibility when it comes to spending restraint.

"After 11 years of Republican majority we've pared [the budget] down pretty good," Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) crowed a few weeks back during ongoing budget deliberations. But nothing could be farther from the truth, at least since the GOP gained the White House in 2001. During his five years at the helm of the nation's budget, the president has expanded a wide array of "compassionate" welfare-state, defense, and nondefense programs. When it comes to spending, Bush is no Reagan. Alas, he is also no Clinton and not even Nixon. The recent president he most resembles is in fact fellow Texan and legendary spendthrift Lyndon Baines Johnson—except that Bush is in many ways even more profligate with the public till....

... Bush and LBJ alone massively increased defense and nondefense spending. Perhaps not coincidentally, Bush and LBJ also shared control of the federal purse with congressional majorities from their own political parties. ...

Birth control, not liberalism, explains mainline decline, researchers say
CHICAGO (ABP) -- The decline of mainline church membership over the last century had more to do with sex than theology, according to research by a trio of sociologists.

The popular notion that conservative churches are growing because mainline churches are too liberal is being challenged by new research that suggests a simpler cause -- the use of birth control -- explains most of the mainline decline.

Differences in fertility rates account for 70 percent of the decline of mainline Protestant church membership from 1900 to 1975 and the simultaneous rise in conservative church membership, the sociologists said.

"For most of the 20th century, conservative women had more children than mainline women did," wrote three sociologists -- Michael Hout of the University of California-Berkley, Andrew Greeley of the University of Arizona, and Melissa Wilde of Indiana University -- in an Oct. 4 article in Christian Century.

"It took most of the 20th century for conservative women to adopt family-planning practices that have become dominant in American society," the writers said. "Or to put the matter differently, the so-called decline of the mainline may ultimately be attributable to its earlier approval of contraception."

While mainline churches could claim 60 percent of the total Protestant congregants in 1900, their share fell to 40 percent in 1960. Many religious observers and some sociologists attributed the drop -- and simultaneous growth of conservative churches -- to the lethargy of liberalism and the appeal of biblical certainty.

But simple demographics can account for almost three fourths of the mainline decline, the trio of sociologists said.

"In the years after the baby boom, the mainline [fertility] rate declined earlier than did the rate of conservatives. Only in recent decades has the fertility rates of the two groups become similar."...

..."Higher fertility and better retention thus account for the conservatives' rising share of the Protestant population," they concluded.

However, the authors suggested, the trends underlying the mainline's decline "may be nearing their end."

Fertility rates are now virtually the same between the two groups and will produce only a 1 percent decline in mainline membership over the next decade, they noted. "Unless conservative Protestants increase their family size or mainline Protestants further reduce theirs, this factor in mainline decline will not be present in the future."

Moreover, fewer people are now switching membership from mainline churches to conservative ones. While 30 percent of conservatives in the 1930s had come from mainline churches, only 10 percent of those counted among the conservatives in the early '90s had made the switch, the authors said. ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Monitors in Iraq Review Votes Where 'Yes' Ballots Hit 90%
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 17 - Iraqi election officials said Monday that they were investigating "unusually high" vote totals in 12 Shiite and Kurdish provinces, where as many as 99 percent of the voters were reported to have cast ballots in favor of Iraq's new constitution. The investigation raised the possibility that the results of the referendum could be called into question.

In a statement on Monday evening, the Independent Election Commission of Iraq said the results of the referendum on Saturday would have to be delayed "a few days" because the apparently high number of "yes" votes required election workers to "recheck, compare and audit" the results.

The statement made no mention of the possibility of fraud, but said results were being re-examined to comply with internationally accepted standards. Election officials say that under those standards, voting procedures should be re-examined anytime a candidate or a ballot question got more than 90 percent of the vote.

Members of the commission declined to give any details. But one official with knowledge of the balloting said the 12 provinces where the "yes" votes exceeded 90 percent all had populations that were majority Shiite or Kurdish. Leaders from those communities strongly endorsed the proposed constitution.

Some of the provinces, the official said, reported that 99 percent of the ballots counted were cast in favor of the constitution....

Monday, October 17, 2005

For U.S., a Hard Road Is Still Ahead in Iraq
For the Bush administration, the apparent approval of Iraq's constitution is less of a victory than yet another chance to possibly fashion a political solution that does not result in the bloody division of Iraq.

Publicly, administration officials hailed the result but privately some officials acknowledged that the road ahead is still very difficult, especially because Sunni Arab voters appeared to have rejected the constitution by wide margins. As one official put it, every time the administration appears on the edge of a precipice, it manages to cobble together a result that allows it to move on to the next precipice.

A defeat of the referendum would have been disastrous for the administration, and U.S. officials worked strenuously in recent weeks to avert that possibility. Some officials pointed to the relatively low level of violence -- achieved during a three-day lockdown of the country -- as an especially positive sign.

Even so, the constitution appears to have been soundly rejected in two Sunni provinces, indicating deep opposition to the document in the areas most crucial to ending the insurgency and binding Iraq's political wounds.

"This thing is an enormous fiasco," said Juan Cole, a University of Michigan historian and a specialist on Shiite Islam. He said having such a solid bloc in opposition to the constitution "really undermines its legitimacy, and this result guarantees the guerrilla war will go on."...

Administration's Tone Signals a Longer, Broader Iraq Conflict
WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 - For most of the 30 months since American-led forces ousted Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has argued that as democracy took hold in Iraq, the insurgency would lose steam because Al Qaeda and the opponents of the country's interim government had nothing to offer Iraqis or the people of the Middle East.

Over time, President Bush told troops at Fort Bragg, N.C., this spring, "the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits, and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world."

But inside the administration, that belief provides less solace than it once did. Senior officials say the intelligence reports flowing over their desks in recent months argue that even if democratic institutions take hold, the insurgency may strengthen. And that possibility has created a quandary for an administration that desperately wants to equate democracy-building with winning the war, but so far has not been able to match the two.

That internal struggle was evident this weekend, as Mr. Bush returned to Washington sounding less celebratory about Iraq's constitutional referendum - whose outcome is suspected but still unknown - than he did after Iraq's elections last January. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking from London on "Fox News Sunday," was somewhat more definitive: "The Sunnis are joining the base of this broad political process," she said. "That will ultimately undo this insurgency. But of course, they can still pull off violent and spectacular attacks."

Mr. Bush's own way of talking about the future, in Iraq and beyond, has undergone a subtle but significant change in recent weeks. In several speeches, he has begun warning that the insurgency is already metastasizing into a far broader struggle to "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia." While he still predicts victory, he appears to be preparing the country for a struggle of cold war proportions.

It is a very different tone than administration officials sounded in the heady days after Saddam Hussein's fall, and then his capture.

After an extensive debate inside the White House, Mr. Bush has begun directly rebutting the arguments laid out in manifestos and missives from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mr. bin Laden's top aide.

He did so again on Saturday, quoting from one of Mr. Zawahiri's purported letters - one whose authenticity is still the subject of some question - which predicted that the Iraq war would end as Vietnam had, and that, in Mr. Bush's words, "America can be made to run again." The president argued anew that the terrorist leader was "gravely mistaken."

"There's always the question of whether we give these guys more credibility by directly addressing their arguments," one of Mr. Bush's most senior aides said recently. "But the president was concerned that we hadn't described Iraq to the American people for what it is - a struggle of ideologies that isn't going to end with one election, or one constitution, or even a string of elections."

For an administration that has recalibrated and re-explained its strategy in Iraq many times in the past 30 months, this latest turn may be a recognition of changed realities.

A year ago, Mr. Bush interpreted his re-election as the nation's embrace of his strategy and its willingness to bear the cost in lives and money to get Iraq on its feet. But now, the pressure is building for a pathway out. The passage of the constitution, some of Mr. Bush's political aides say, would be bound to fuel those calls.

"All fall, we've been hearing the question, 'When does this begin to end?' " one of Mr. Bush's senior strategists said a few weeks ago, insisting on anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue inside the White House. The White House, he added, was trying to head off what some officials fear could be a broader split in the party over the war come spring, as midterm elections approach and Republicans seeking re-election are tempted to join the call for a timetable for drawing down troop levels.

The change is clear in what Mr. Bush is saying - but also in what he and his aides are no longer saying.

In the prelude to the war and in the early days of the occupation, Mr. Bush and top members of his national security team compared the effort to remake Iraq to the American occupations of Japan and Germany. As the insurgency grew - a feature missing from those two successful occupations - they dropped that comparison. Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state under Colin L. Powell, argued in an interview recently published by an Australian magazine, The Diplomat, that it was a flawed way of thinking from the start.

"Those who argued at the time that the acceptance of democracy in Iraq would be easy, and who drew on our experience with Japan and Germany, were wrong," he said. "First of all, Germany and Japan were homogeneous societies. Iraq is not." He added that the German and Japanese populations were "exhausted and deeply shocked by what had happened," but that Iraqis were "un-shocked and un-awed." ...

Friday, October 14, 2005

A tale of two scares
President Bush wants us to fear bin Laden; everyone else wants us to fear bird flu. We should tell both sets of apocalypse-mongers to get a grip.

First, an article slamming President Bush and his administration for their cynical terror alert in New York at the end of last week, when they claimed - on the basis of a hoax, it later transpired - that there was a 'specific threat' to the New York subway and that a terrorist attack was possible 'in the coming days'. Second, you will see an article slamming President Bush and his administration for not taking seriously enough the threat of a bird flu pandemic across the Western world, which apparently is the real 'chief bioterrorist in our midst', threatening to burst America's 'bubble of privilege', kill 100million people and leave entire cities devastated (1). So it is the birds, not bin Laden, that will bring down the United States.

In the same breath, many of a left or liberal persuasion have a pop at Bush for using the politics of fear, and then use the politics of fear to have a pop at Bush. They criticise the Bush administration for trying to ratchet up fear down New York way in a cynical bid to shore up support for the war on terror and the war in Iraq, and then criticise it for failing to warn people about what they claim is the most grievous threat facing mankind, the real 'exterminatory threat' - where 'the chicken, probably first domesticated in South-East Asia some 8,000 years ago, might prove the death of many of us'.

In this tale of two scares, both sides transform what are undoubtedly real problems - terrorism and Avian Flu - into promises of apocalypse, constantly flagging up the worst-case, 'What if?' scenarios. And if anything, the left's fearmongering over bird flu is even more poisonous, insidious and anti-human than the right's cheap terror-talk....

...The terror-talkers and the bird-flu panic merchants play the same game. But those ratcheting up fear about bird flu - and left-liberals and environmentalists are often at the forefront of this - are doing even more damage than the anti-terror brigade. Their message about humanity is even more degenerate and degraded than that spouted by the Bush administration....

Lawyer: Ailing Vet Deported From Canada
SEATTLE (AP) - An Army veteran who fled to Canada to avoid prosecution for growing marijuana to treat his chronic pain was yanked from a hospital by Canadian authorities, driven to the border with a catheter still attached, and turned over to U.S. officials, his lawyer says.

He then went five days with no medical treatment and only ibuprofen for the pain, attorney Douglas Hiatt said.

Steven W. Tuck, 38, was still fitted with the urinary catheter when he shuffled into federal court for a detention hearing Wednesday, Hiatt said.

"This is totally inhumane. He's been tortured for days for no reason," Hiatt said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue ordered Tuck temporarily released so he could be taken to a hospital for treatment....

Ohio Police Arrest Woman For $1 In Unpaid Taxes
LOVELAND, Ohio -- An Ohio woman was arrested after she didn't pay just more than $1 that she owed in income taxes, WLWT-TV in Cincinnati reported.

Deborah Combs owed the city of Loveland $1.16 last year, but she also hadn't filed her city income tax forms in five years, the television station said.

She said officers pulled her over and acted as though she were a violent criminal.

"One sheriff approached my car with his hand on his gun," she said. "Another from the other side of the car leaned in and said, 'Are you Deborah Combs?' He said, 'We have a warrant for your arrest.' I was absolutely shocked."...

Private Schools in the Poorest Countries
In April 2004, the Global Campaign for Education launched its self-styled “World’s Biggest Ever Lobby,” where “politicians and leaders in 105 countries came face to face with children.” Nearly one million people joined in “to speak out for the right to education.” Nelson Mandela added his voice to the “millions of parents, teachers and children around the world” “calling on their governments to provide free, good quality, basic education for all the world’s children.” However well-intentioned, the Global Campaign for Education is overlooking something rather important that is happening in developing countries today: the phenomenal growth of private schools for the poor.

I first discovered for myself the phenomenon of private schools for the poor while consulting for the International Finance Corporation, the private finance arm of the World Bank, in Hyderabad, India, in 2000.

I’d just published an argument for privatization of education, Reclaiming Education, and was wrestling with the criticism from even sympathetic readers that what I’d argued might be good for the middle classes, or richer countries, but what about the poor, especially in poor countries? That criticism bothered me. I knew from my reading of E. G. West’s book Education and the State that the poor in Victorian England were largely provided for by private education, before the state got involved. Why wouldn’t the same be true of the poor today? Out of curiosity, I left my work—looking at private schools for the elite and middle classes—and took an autorickshaw into the slum areas behind the imposing 16th-century Charminar in the center of the Old City. And to my surprise, I found private schools on almost every street corner. Inspired by that, I grew to know many of the school owners, teachers, parents, and children; I learned of their motivations and difficulties and their successes and requirements.

Since then I have found private schools in battle-scarred buildings in Somaliland and Sierra Leone; in the shanty town of Makoko built on stilts above the Lagos lagoons in Nigeria; scattered among the tin and cardboard huts of Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, Kenya; in the teeming townships perched on the shoreline of Accra, Ghana; in slums and villages across India; among the “floating population” in Beijing; and in remote Himalayan villages in China. Indeed, I have yet to find a developing country environment where private schools for the poor don’t exist. My teams have combed poor areas—slums or shanty towns in and around the major cities and villages inhabited by peasant farmers and fishermen—going down every lane and alleyway, asking people in marketplaces and on the streets where the poor are sending their children to school. And while we’ve been conducting the censuses, we’ve been finding out as much as possible about the schools, what their facilities are like, whether teachers are teaching, building up a comprehensive picture of the private schools and comparing them with the government alternative. Then, most important of all, we’ve been comparing the achievement of students in the private and public schools serving the poor areas; testing a stratified random sample of 4,000 children in each country, chosen equally from registered private, unregistered private, and government schools; and using advanced statistical techniques to control for as many background variables as we can, to find out whether the poor are better served by public or private education. Although the study is ongoing and additional findings are anticipated, there are seven themes that have emerged from the data that I can report on in general terms.

Seven Features of Private Education for the Poor

First, there are startling facts about the private-sector provision of schools for the poor. In each of the poor areas studied in detail, we’ve found that a large majority of the schools serving the poor are private, with either a large majority or a substantial minority of poor parents taking the private option.

Second, contrary to expectations, we find that the majority of private schools are run not as philanthropic endeavors but as businesses. Those private schools are created largely by local entrepreneurs responding to the needs in their communities. In general, after studying the reported income and expenditure of the private schools, we can see that they are profitable institutions—which of course helps explain why there are so many of them—with the vast majority of income coming from school fees rather than, as some might expect, philanthropic donations.

Third, there are large differences between the pay and commitment of the teachers in public and private schools serving the poor. Private school teachers are recruited locally from the communities served, unlike public school teachers who are bused in from outside. Teachers in private schools are paid considerably less than are teachers in the government schools. Yet the private schools do not in general suffer from teacher shortages, suggesting that the market rate for teachers is considerably lower than that set by teachers’ unions in the public schools. When our researchers have called unannounced in the classroom, in every case they have found significantly more absenteeism among the public school teachers than among those in the private schools. And when teachers are present, the researchers found much higher levels of teaching activity in the private than in the public schools.

Fourth, we have found considerable statistically significant differences in inputs between the public and private schools. The pupil/teacher ratio is lower in the private than in the public schools—with the unregistered private schools usually having the lowest of all—and school facilities such as libraries, toilets, and drinking water are usually better provided in the private than in the public schools.

Fifth, there are differences between countries in the relative costs of public and private schooling. In countries where public schooling is entirely free at the point of delivery—India for instance—clearly, the private schools cost more for parents. But in other countries—China and Ghana, for instance—where public schools charge low fees or “levies,” we find that sometimes the private schools are undercutting public schools, because the really poor can’t afford the public option. What makes the private schools financially attractive is that they allow the parents to pay on a daily basis—perhaps 10 cents a day—rather than to pay for the full term up-front as they must for the public schools, even though this might work out more cheaply if they could afford to pay it. In Kenya, the government has recently introduced “free primary education,” but our interviews with parents point to many “hidden costs” of public schools, such as the requirement for full uniforms, which mean that, in practice, private slum schools often turn out to be less expensive.

Sixth, private school owners themselves are very much aware of the plight of the poorest of the poor: for those parents who are too poor to send their children to private school, or as an aid to those children who have been orphaned or who are from large families, the school entrepreneurs themselves—in nearly 20 percent of all places in one Indian sample and nearly 10 percent in the Nigerian sample—offer free or subsidized scholarships.

Finally, our first results on the achievement of pupils show that the private schools substantially outperform the public schools in mathematics and English, after controlling for the school choice process and for a range of background factors. All this is for considerably lower per pupil costs. If our results withstand scrutiny, then it would seem that the poor are making sensible choices by sending their children to private, rather than public, schools....

What Arctic Warming?
...At, we analyzed surface temperature data collected by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and prepared temperature graphs to underscore this point.

If you look at the temperature trends for the Arctic region since 1880, it appears that the Arctic generally warmed somewhat until about 1938. From 1938 until about 1966, the Arctic cooled to about its 1918 temperature level. Then, between 1966 and 2003, the Arctic warmed up to just shy of its 1938 temperature. But in 2004, the Arctic temperature again spiked downward.

Now if the 1880-1938 warming trend had continued up until this day, there certainly would be some significant warming in the Arctic region to talk about. From 1918 to 1938, alone, the Arctic warmed by 2.5 degrees Centigrade. But the actual temperature trend is much different, showing that there’s been hardly any overall temperature change in the Arctic since 1938.

Not only does the temperature data contradict the claim that global warming is overtaking the Arctic, but data on greenhouse gas concentrations ought to drive a spike through the heart of the claim.

During the warming period from 1880 to 1938, it’s estimated that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide – the bugbear of greenhouse gases to global warming worriers – increased by an estimated 20 parts per million. But from 1938 to 2003 – a period of essentially no increase in Arctic warming – the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased another 60 parts per million. It doesn’t seem plausible, then, that Arctic temperatures are significantly influenced by atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases.

And even when the Arctic re-warmed between 1966 and 2003, the warming occurred much less aggressively (about 50 percent less) than the 1918-1938 warming and at about the same rate as the period 1880-1938, despite much higher greenhouse gas levels in the 1966-2003 time frame.

Global warming worriers can take no comfort from South Pole data either.

Over the last 30 years, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide increased by about 15 percent, from about 328 parts per million to about 372 parts per million. But the Antarctic temperature trend for that period indicates a slight cooling. This observation contrasts sharply with the relatively steep Antarctic warming observed from 1949 to 1974, which was accompanied by a much more modest increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.

The hypothesis of global warming alarmism posits that increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide should lead to increasing temperatures, particularly with respect to Antarctica’s super-cold, super-dry air mass. But the data seem to indicate just the opposite.

Getting back to the New York Times article, so why is the Arctic ice cap shrinking if air temperatures aren’t really warming in any significant way? Oregon State Climatologist George Taylor wrote that “Arctic sea ice has undergone significant changes in the last 1,000 years, even before the mid-20th century ‘greenhouse enhancement.’ Current conditions appear to be well within historical variability.”...

Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged
WASHINGTON - It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions
President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday's vote on a new Iraqi constitution. ...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sectarian resentment extends to Iraq's army
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Swadi Ghilan's two sons were dropping their sister off at high school earlier this year when a carload of Sunni Muslim insurgents pulled up and emptied their AK-47s into their bodies. In broad daylight his children were torn to pieces, their blood splashed against the windshield as they screamed and died.

Ghilan is a major in the Iraqi army and a Shiite Muslim, the sect that makes up some 60 percent of Iraq's population. Now, more than ever, the grieving father says he wants to hunt down and kill not only Sunni guerrilla fighters but also Sunnis who give those fighters shelter and support. By that, he means killing most Sunnis in Iraq.

"There are two Iraqs; it's something that we can no longer deny," Ghilan said. "The army should execute the Sunnis in their neighborhoods so that all of them can see what happens, so that all of them learn their lesson."

The Bush administration's exit strategy for Iraq rests on two pillars: an inclusive, democratic political process that includes all major ethnic groups and a well-trained Iraqi national army. But a week spent eating, sleeping and going on patrol with a crack unit of the Iraqi army - the 4,500-member 1st Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Division - suggests that the strategy is in serious trouble. Instead of rising above the ethnic tension that's tearing their nation apart, the mostly Shiite troops are preparing for, if not already fighting, a civil war against the minority Sunni population.

Ghilan's army unit is responsible for security in western Baghdad, where many Sunnis live. But the soldiers are overwhelmingly Shiite, and, like Ghilan, they're seeking revenge against the Sunnis who oppressed them during Saddam Hussein's rule.

U.S. officials hope that Saturday's constitutional referendum will help salve the nation's wounds. Many of the Shiite officers and soldiers said they look forward to the constitution and December elections for a different reason. They want a permanent, Shiite-dominated government that will finally allow them to steamroll much of the Sunni minority, some 20 percent of the nation and the backbone of the insurgency.

American commanders often refer to the 1st Brigade as a template for the future of Iraq's military. It was the first in the nation to get its own area of operations, the tumultuous western side of the Tigris River in Baghdad, and one of the first to take over a base from U.S. forces. It's one of the rare Iraqi units with a command competent at the brigade level, instead of just smaller company or battalion-based units.

The Iraqi troops consult with American advisers daily. On big raids in dangerous areas, the Americans often take the lead with their superior firepower.

But day to day, the Iraqi officers mostly run their own show, carrying out most of the patrols and running checkpoints without help. Increasingly, however, they look and operate less like an Iraqi national army unit and more like a Shiite militia.

The brigade last week raided the home of Saleh al-Mutlak, one of the most prominent Sunni politicians in the country, a day after an Iraqi soldier was shot and killed in the neighborhood. Soldiers said some gunfire had come from the direction of Mutlak's house during the raid on his neighborhood.

Arab satellite news stations carried images of a car with its windows smashed in Mutlak's driveway, and Mutlak held a news conference, saying that the soldiers who came into his home were thugs.

Sgt. Maj. Asad al-Zubaidi said Mutlak was lucky he wasn't shot.

"When we are in charge of security the people will follow a law that says you will be sentenced to prison if you speak against the government, and for people like Saleh Mutlak there will be execution," Zubaidi said. "Thousands of people are being killed by Saleh Mutlak and these dogs." ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Christian Paradox
...Other End-Timers are more interested in forcing the issue—they’re convinced that the way to coax the Lord back to earth is to “Christianize” our nation and then the world. Consider House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. At church one day he listened as the pastor, urging his flock to support the administration, declared that “the war between America and Iraq is the gateway to the Apocalypse.” DeLay rose to speak, not only to the congregation but to 225 Christian TV and radio stations. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “what has been spoken here tonight is the truth of God.”...

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Central Pillar of Iraq Policy Crumbling
WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. officials have begun to question a key presumption of American strategy in Iraq: that establishing democracy there can erode and ultimately eradicate the insurgency gripping the country.

The expectation that political progress would bring stability has been fundamental to the Bush administration's approach to rebuilding Iraq, as well as a central theme of White House rhetoric to convince the American public that its policy in Iraq remains on course.

But within the last two months, U.S. analysts with access to classified intelligence have started to challenge this precept, noting a "significant and disturbing disconnect" between apparent advances on the political front and efforts to reduce insurgent attacks.

Now, with Saturday's constitutional referendum appearing more likely to divide than unify the country, some within the administration have concluded that the quest for democracy in Iraq, at least in its current form, could actually strengthen the insurgency.

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey, has acknowledged that such a scenario is possible, while officials elsewhere in the administration, all of whom declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, say they share similar concerns about the referendum.

Iraq's Sunni Muslim Arabs, who are believed to form the core of the insurgency, are bitterly opposed to a constitution drafted mainly by the country's majority Shiite Muslims and ethnic Kurds. Yet from all indications, the Sunnis will fail to muster enough votes to defeat it.

"It could make people on the fence a little more angry or [make them] come off the fence," said a senior U.S. official who requested anonymity.

A growing number of experts outside the administration and in Iraq agree with such assessments.

"If the constitution passes in a non-amicable way, the violence will increase," said Ali Dabagh, a member of Iraq's transitional National Assembly who is believed to be close to Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari.

The White House has consistently linked the building of democracy in Iraq and the broader Middle East with the defeat of the insurgency....

Sunday, October 09, 2005

worst church idea of the month award
sorry for the days of silence — busy, busy. just flying home from seattle, where i presented the CORE (ys’ one-day training thingy) yesterday. my two kids were with me and we stayed in the home of friends; so it was fun and tiring both.

now, onto the award…

an pastor said to me that he loves to try new things. and the thing he’s trying right now that he thinks is such a good idea? [drum roll, please — and brace yourself]] he’s paying his staff based on how many people, on average, attend the ministries they are in charge of. he grinned as he told me that, for example, one of the pastors has a fairly low monthly salary, because he’s new and his particular ministry is average-sized; but if the ministry reaches x-amount on average, his pay will bump to another level, and at xx-amount, to another level, which is a great salary for their area. he said it’s a great system because it builds self-motivation in automatically....

Friday, October 07, 2005

One reason Miers' evangelical belief is important
...Friends and colleagues say Miers is not likely to pay much heed to how Ivy League law professors could praise her if she only “evolves” by becoming liberal. Miers has never run in those circles -- and beyond that, they say she’s centered on Christ. My Monday Worldmagblog mention of her servant disposition, that includes bringing coffee and donuts to church, has already brought gibes from some fellow columnists, but a self-effacing nature bodes well for the upholding of an originalist position wherein justices are servants of the text rather than masters of it.

Columnist Michelle Malkin argues well that “a good heart does not a great Supreme Court justice make.” No, but it might make a person remain an originalist. Heart: In so many ways this appointment is classic Bush. Nearly six years ago, when asked in an early debate among Republican presidential candidates to name his favorite philosopher, W famously said, “Christ, because he changed my heart.” The pooh-poohing of his answer then (favorite philosopher – the question was about mind, not heart ) anticipated the current debate among conservatives: Suffering servant? Why not intellectual leader?...

Donning Clerical Collar, Danforth Slams GOP's Religious Rhetoric
Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 6 - As a three-term U.S. senator and a former ambassador to the United Nations, Missouri Republican John Danforth has all the right credentials and connections to savor the spoils of his party's dominance in Washington.

Instead, at age 69, Danforth is combining his status as an elder statesman with his lesser-known role as an ordained Episcopal priest to raise uncomfortable questions about what he sees as the hefty costs paid for using religious rhetoric to fuel a political agenda.

Since publishing two confrontational op-ed pieces in The New York Times earlier this year, Danforth has accepted a series of invitations to take his provocative questions on the road. This fall, he's a panelist at Notre Dame, a guest preacher at Harvard and Yale, and a featured speaker for Roman Catholic and Episcopal groups in Washington.

In late September, he ascended the ornately carved oak pulpit at Harvard's Memorial Church and let it fly before a rapt crowd of about 300.

"I've been away from (the Senate) for more than 10 years, and I see politics from a distance. And I'm appalled by what I see," said Danforth, who uses the nickname Jack.

"Right there in the midst of all the partisanship, in the midst of all the nastiness, right there with their wedge issues and litmus tests and extreme rhetoric, right there as the most divisive force in American life, are my fellow Christians." ...

Al-Qaeda's Next Generation: Less Visible and More Lethal
...Compounding the threat posed by the next, larger generation is the possibility that analysts underestimated the first generation's size. Western leaders have consistently claimed large al-Qaeda-related casualties; currently, totals range from 5,000-7,000 fighters and two-thirds of al-Qaeda's leadership. If the claims are accurate, we should ponder whether the West has ever fought a "terrorist group" that can lose 5,000-7,000 fighters, dozens of leaders, and still be assessed militarily potent and perhaps WMD-capable? The multiple captures of al-Qaeda's "third-in-command"—most recently Abu Ashraf al-Libi—and the remarkable totals of "second- and third-in-commands" from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organization suggests the West's accounting of Islamist manpower—at the foot soldier and leadership levels—is, at best, tenuous....

`Road map is a life saver for us,' PM Abbas tells Hamas
Selected minutes acquired by Haaretz from one of last week's cease-fire negotiations between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and faction leaders from the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular and Democratic Fronts, reveal some of the factors at play behind the scenes in the effort to achieve a hudna. ...

...According to Abbas, immediately thereafter Bush said: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

BBC will report Bush told Palestinian leaders that God told him to end tyranny in Iraq
President George W. Bush allegedly told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq - and create a Palestinian State, the BBC will report in a program slotted to run Oct. 17, RAW STORY can reveal....

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

An Open Letter to My Libertarian Friends Who Don’t Understand My Opposition to the War in Iraq
...Just as your local policeman can protect Ms. Jones from her husband's physical abuse but can't hope to counsel their marriage into a happy one, so, too can a military remove a tyrannt like Hussein but can't hope to cure that society of what really ails it....

Monday, October 03, 2005

How dying Orwell avoided the clutches of the taxman
George Orwell, author and lifelong socialist, entered into a tax avoidance scheme on his deathbed as money began to flood in from the success of his final two books, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

He was seeking to escape the full weight of the Labour government's punishing surtax regime as all his royalties arrived in a short period and he feared leaving his widow and six-year-old son with a gigantic bill for death duties....