Friday, January 29, 2010

bin Laden backs Democrats' Climate Initiatives

It looks as though Osama bin Laden wants to take action against Global Warming. The big question is whether he will hire Al Gore to take his case to the world. Reporters hope to question bin Laden on his views about the Cap-and-Trade proposals now before Congress. But, so far, he has refused to grant any interviews, preferring, instead, to voice his complaints about the world through the president of the US.

Bin Laden blasts US for climate change

Jan 29, 7:46 AM (ET)


CAIRO (AP) - Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has called for the world to boycott American goods and the U.S. dollar, blaming the United States and other industrialized countries for global warming, according to a new audiotape released Friday.

In the tape, broadcast in part on Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden warned of the dangers of climate change and says that the way to stop it is to bring "the wheels of the American economy" to a halt.

He blamed Western industrialized nations for hunger, desertification and floods across the globe, and called for "drastic solutions" to global warming, and "not solutions that partially reduce the effect of climate change."

Bin Laden has mentioned climate change and global warning in past messages, but the latest tape was his first dedicated to the topic. The speech, which included almost no religious rhetoric, could be an attempt by the terror leader to give his message an appeal beyond Islamic militants.

The al-Qaida leader also targeted the U.S. economy in the recording, calling for a boycott of American products and an end to the dollar's domination as a world currency.

"We should stop dealings with the dollar and get rid of it as soon as possible," he said. "I know that this has great consequences and grave ramifications, but it is the only means to liberate humanity from slavery and dependence on America."

He argued that such steps would also hamper Washington's war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The new message, whose authenticity could not immediately be confirmed, comes after a bin Laden tape released last week in which he endorsed a failed attempt to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day.

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How to Cause a Credit Crisis

When companies issue debt they submit themselves to the Rating Organizations for an examination. However, the impact of the received rating is affected by the reality that the major Rating Organizations have a government seal of approval. The rating is viewed as though it were issued by the government itself. The prevalence of this sensibility led to an unwarranted level of confidence in the ratings. It led to a disaster.

Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization

A Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization (or "NRSRO") is a credit rating agency which issues credit ratings that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) permits other financial firms to use for certain regulatory purposes.

As of September 2008, ten organizations were designated as NRSROs:

Moody's Investor Service
Standard & Poor's
Fitch Ratings
A. M. Best Company
Dominion Bond Rating Service, Ltd
Japan Credit Rating Agency, Ltd
R&I, Inc.
Egan-Jones Rating Company
LACE Financial
Realpoint LLC

Ratings by NRSRO are used for a variety of regulatory purposes in the United States. In addition to net capital requirements (described in more detail below), the SEC permits certain bond issuers to use a shorter prospectus form when issuing bonds if the issuer is older, has issued bonds before, and has a credit rating above a certain level. SEC regulations also require that money market funds (mutual funds that mimick the safety and liquidity of a bank savings deposit, but without FDIC insurance) comprise only securities with a very high rating from an NRSRO. Likewise, insurance regulators use credit ratings from NRSROs to ascertain the strength of the reserves held by insurance companies.


The use of the term NRSRO began in 1975 when the SEC promulgated rules regarding bank and broker-dealer net capital requirements. The idea is that banks and other financial institutions should not need to keep in reserve the same amount of capital to protect the institution (against, for example, a run on the bank) if the financial institution is heavily invested in highly liquid and very "safe" securities, such as U.S. government bonds or commercial paper from very stable companies. The safety of these securities, under this approach, is reflected in their credit ratings, as determined by certain highly respected credit rating agencies ("CRA").

In the early 1980s, there were seven NRSROs, but, due to mergers, this number dropped to three during the 1990s. Recently, the SEC, arguably as a result of political pressure and/or concern about concentration in the industry, added to this number, first with Dominion Bond Rating Service (a Canadian CRA) in 2003, and A.M. Best (highly regarded in particular for its ratings of insurance firms) in 2005.

In 2007, the SEC added two Japanese rating agencies, Japan Credit Rating Agency, Ltd. and Ratings and Investment Information, Inc. and a Philadelphia area based firm Egan-Jones Rating Company (EJR).

Originally, NRSRO recognition was granted by the SEC through a "No Action Letter" sent by the SEC staff. Under this approach, if a CRA (or investment bank or broker-dealer) were interested in using the ratings from a particular CRA for regulatory purposes, the SEC staff would research the market to determine whether ratings from that particular CRA are widely used and considered "reliable and credible." If the SEC staff determined that this was the case, it would send a letter to the CRA indicating that if a regulated entity were to rely on the CRA's ratings, the SEC staff would not recommend enforcement action against that entity.

These "No Action" letters were made public and could be relied upon by other regulated entities, not just the entity making the original request. The SEC later sought to further define the criteria it uses when making this assessment, and in March 2005 published a a proposed regulation to this effect.

Until recently, the SEC staff used several criteria when determining whether a CRA publishes ratings that the market considers reliable and credible. According to the SEC's Concept Release:

The single most important factor in the Commission staff’s assessment of NRSRO status is whether the rating agency is “nationally recognized” in the United States as an issuer of credible and reliable ratings by the predominant users of securities ratings.

The staff also reviews the operational capability and reliability of each rating organization. Included within this assessment are: (1) the organizational structure of the rating organization; (2) the rating organization’s financial resources (to determine, among other things, whether it is able to operate independently of economic pressures or control from the companies it rates); (3) the size and quality of the rating organization’s staff (to determine if the entity is capable of thoroughly and competently evaluating an issuer’s credit); (4) the rating organization’s independence from the companies it rates; (5) the rating organization’s rating procedures (to determine whether it has systematic procedures designed to produce credible and accurate ratings); and (6) whether the rating organization has internal procedures to prevent the misuse of nonpublic information and whether those procedures are followed. The staff also recommends that the agency become registered as an investment adviser.

Credit Rating Agency Reform Act of 2006

In 2006, following criticism that the SEC's "No Action letter" approach was simultaneously too opaque and provided the SEC with too little regulatory oversight of NRSROs, the U.S. Congress passed the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act. This law required the SEC to establish clear guidelines for determining which credit rating agencies qualify as NRSROs. It also gives the SEC the power to regulate NRSRO internal processes regarding record-keeping and how they guard against conflicts of interest, and makes the NRSRO determination subject to a Commission vote (rather than an SEC staff determination).

Notably, however, the law specifically prohibits the SEC from regulating an NRSRO's rating methodologies.

In June 2007, the SEC promulgated new rules (Oversight of Credit Rating Agencies Registered as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations) which implemented the provisions of the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act.


Many private users (pension funds, banks) of ratings data now demand that ratings be from an NRSRO. Consequently, there is some debate that, by "recognizing" certain CRAs, the SEC has bestowed a competitive advantage on them. This view is supported by the vigor by which many non-NRSRO CRAs seek NRSRO recognition.

On the other hand, historically, many private users of ratings data have "defaulted" to Standard and Poor's and Moody's when specifying which ratings must be used for their own purposes. (S&P and Moody's are the oldest, most widely respected, and by far the largest of the CRAs.)

Accordingly, it is conceivable that the NRSRO designation has actually increased competition in the industry by providing an unintended government "seal of approval" on certain smaller CRAs (such as Fitch, DBRS, A.M. Best, and now, Egan-Jones). If true, this, of course, raises the question of whether this is something the government should do, and whether the NRSRO recognition process is the best mechanism to achieve this goal.

The larger NRSROs have also been criticized for their reliance on an "issuer-pays" business model, in which the bulk of their revenue comes from the issuers of the bonds being rated. While this is recognized by regulators as a potential conflict of interest (since the bond issuer paying for the rating has an incentive to seek out the CRA most likely to give it a high rating, possibly creating a "race-to-the-bottom" in terms of rating quality), the larger NRSROs claim that the issuer-pays model is the only feasible model for them.

This is because, in an age of email and faxes, the ratings of the larger CRAs are so widely and so quickly shared that a subscription-based model would not be profitable. Furthermore, the larger CRAs often receive non-public information from issuers and, under the SEC's Regulation FD, a CRA may only use such information if their ratings are made available to the public for free.

However, some smaller CRAs, including Egan-Jones, rely on a subscription-based business model where the ratings are not made public but are available only to subscribers. These firms argue that such a business model makes them less reliant on the good will of the issuers they rate, thereby eliminating one major potential conflict of interest.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye -- Final Chapter

J.D. Salinger, Author of 'The Catcher in the Rye,' Is Dead at 91

J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the mostimportant American writer to emerge since World War II butwho then turned his back on success and adulation, has diedin Cornish, N.H., where he lived in seclusion for more than50 years, his son told The Associated Press. He was 91.

Mr. Salinger's literary reputation rests on a slender butenormously influential body of published work: the novel "TheCatcher in the Rye," the collection "Nine Stories" and twocompilations, each with two long stories about the fictionalGlass family: "Franny and Zooey" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction."

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's the Economy -- As If We Didn't Know

Someone has to tell Obama the US economy can create a lot of jobs if it is set free to create them. But if we are going to stifle job growth due to unfounded claims of risks to the atmosphere that will take 100 years to affect us, then we have submitted our future to the whims of the cranks and nuts who fail to understand that it takes cheap energy to build a nation and to advance the world.

Public's Priorities for 2010: Economy, Jobs, Terrorism
Energy Concerns Fall, Deficit Concerns Rise

Summary of Findings

As Barack Obama begins his second year in office, the public’s priorities for the president and Congress remain much as they were one year ago. Strengthening the nation’s economy and improving the job situation continue to top the list. And, in the wake of the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, defending the country from future terrorist attacks also remains a top priority.

At the same time, the public has shifted the emphasis it assigns to two major policy issues: dealing with the nation’s energy problem and reducing the budget deficit. About half (49%) say that dealing with the nation’s energy problem should be a top priority, down from 60% a year ago. At the same time, there has been a modest rise in the percentage saying that reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority, from 53% to 60%.

Other policy priorities show little change from a year ago. For example, despite the ongoing debate over health care reform, about as many now call reducing health care costs a top priority (57%) as did so in early 2009 (59%). In fact, the percentage rating health care costs a top priority is lower now than it was in both 2008 (69%) and 2007 (68%).

In addition, the percentage placing top priority on providing health insurance to the uninsured stands at 49%. That is little changed from a year ago and off its high of 61% in January 2001. Notably, there is now a wider partisan gap in opinion about this issue than for any of the other 20 issues in the survey: fully 75% of Democrats rate providing health insurance to the uninsured as a top priority compared with just 26% of Republicans.

More than six-in-ten Americans say securing the Social Security system (66%) and securing the Medicare system (63%) should be top priorities for Obama and Congress. About as many (65%) say that improving the educational system should be a top policy priority. For all three items, public evaluations are not significantly different than they were one year ago.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the public does not place increased financial regulation among its top policy priorities. Fewer than half (45%) say stricter regulation of financial institutions should be a top priority for the president and Congress.

Budget Deficit and Energy

The priority given to reducing the budget deficit has risen seven points over the last year; in early 2009, 53% of the public called deficit reduction a top priority compared with 60% in the current survey. Both Republicans (+10 points) and Democrats (+8 points) have become more likely to say this is a top priority.

Global Warming and the Environment

Dealing with global warming ranks at the bottom of the public’s list of priorities; just 28% consider this a top priority, the lowest measure for any issue tested in the survey. Since 2007, when the item was first included on the priorities list, dealing with global warming has consistently ranked at or near the bottom. Even so, the percentage that now says addressing global warming should be a top priority has fallen 10 points from 2007, when 38% considered it a top priority. Such a low ranking is driven in part by indifference among Republicans: just 11% consider global warming a top priority, compared with 43% of Democrats and 25% of independents.

Jobs, Economy and Terrorism Defense

Strengthening the nation’s economy, improving the job situation and defending the country from future terrorist attacks are far-and-away the top three policy priorities for the public. No other item comes within 14 points. Last year, both the economy and jobs edged ahead of defending the nation against terrorism as top priorities. In 2008, the economy and terrorism defense were virtually tied atop the priority list, while somewhat fewer people expressed concern over jobs. In 2006 and 2007, the public was more concerned about terrorism than it was about economic issues.

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There is no Sputnik in China

The US bolted into action after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. Instantly everything was clear. The next great frontier was space. And its time had arrived. The Soviets made it clear that the race was on and the winner would plant its flag on the Moon.

China has thrown down a new challenge. Not a stark challenge with a goal visible to everyone who looked up into the night sky. But something general and practically invisible to the eye. But not to the economy.

Will the US respond to the Chinese challenge by out-producing them? Will we outrun them like we outran the Soviets? Yes. Our research quality is better. There is no doubt. But our edge might disappear. Their best students study in the US and take their knowledge home, which is unlike the old Soviet experience. What they learned in Russia, stayed in Russia. No US schools for them.

Hence one of our greatest exports is high-tech education. Science at the doctoral and post-doctoral levels.

China scientists lead world in research growth
By Clive Cookson

Published: January 25 2010

China has experienced the strongest growth in scientific research over the past three decades of any country, according to figures compiled for the Financial Times, and the pace shows no sign of slowing.

Jonathan Adams, research evaluation director at Thomson Reuters, said China’s “awe-inspiring” growth had put it in second place to the US – and if it continues on its trajectory it will be the largest producer of scientific knowledge by 2020.

Thomson Reuters, which indexes scientific papers from 10,500 journals worldwide, analysed the performance of four emerging markets countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China, over the past 30 years.

China far outperformed every other nation, with a 64-fold increase in peer-reviewed scientific papers since 1981, with particular strength in chemistry and materials science.

“China is out on its own, far ahead of the pack,” said James Wilsdon, science policy director at the Royal Society in London. “If anything, China’s recent research performance has exceeded even the high expectations of four or five years ago, while India has not moved as fast as expected and may have missed an opportunity.”

Although its quality remains mixed, Chinese research has also become more collaborative, with almost 9 per cent of papers originating in China having at least one US-based co-author.

Brazil has also been building up a formidable research effort, particularly in agricultural and life sciences. In 1981 its output of scientific papers was one-seventh that of India; by 2008 it had almost caught up with India.

At the opposite extreme is Russia, which produced fewer research papers than Brazil or India in 2008.

Just 20 years ago, on the eve of the Soviet Union’s disintegration, Russia was a scientific superpower, carrying out more research than China, India and Brazil combined. Since then it has been left behind.

The Thomson Reuters figures show not only the “awe-inspiring” expansion of Chinese science but also a very powerful performance by Brazil, much slower growth in India and relative decline in Russia.

According to James Wilsdon, science policy director at the Royal Society in London, three main factors are driving Chinese research. First is the government’s enormous investment, with funding increases far above the rate of inflation, at all levels of the system from schools to postgraduate research.

Second is the organised flow of knowledge from basic science to commercial applications. Third is the efficient and flexible way in which China is tapping the expertise of its extensive scientific diaspora in north America and Europe, tempting back mid-career scientists with deals that allow them to spend part of the year working in the west and part in China.

Although the statistics measure papers in peer-reviewed journals that pass a threshold of respectability, “the quality [in China] is still rather mixed,” says Jonathan Adams, research evaluation director at Thomson Reuters. But it is improving, he adds: “They have some pretty good incentives to produce higher quality research in future.”

Like China, India has a large diaspora – and many scientifically trained NRIs (non-resident Indians) are returning but they go mainly into business rather research. “In India there is a very poor connection between high-tech companies and the local research base,” says Mr Wilsdon. “Even the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the highest level institutions in the system, find it difficult to recruit top faculty.”

A symptom of this is the poor performance of India in international comparisons of university standards. The 2009 Asian University Rankings, prepared by the higher education consultancy QS, shows the top Indian institution to be IIT Bombay at number 30; 10 universities in China and Hong Kong are higher in the table.

Part of India’s academic problem may be the way red tape ties up its universities, says Ben Sowter, head of the QS intelligence unit. Another issue is that the best institutions are so overwhelmed with applications from would-be students and faculty within India that they do not cultivate the international outlook essential for world-class universities. This looks set to change as India’s human resource minister has stepped up efforts to build links with US and UK institutions.

In contrast to China, India and Russia, whose research strengths tend to be in the physical sciences, chemistry and engineering, Brazil stands out in health, life sciences, agriculture and environmental research. It is a world leader in using biofuels in auto and aero engines.

Russia produced fewer research papers than Brazil or India in 2008.

“The issue is the huge reduction in funding for research and development in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” says Mr Adams. “Although there has been an exodus of many of the rising stars of Russian research, there is still a great pool of talent there. It is not in the interests of the rest of the world for the exodus to continue, and we need more co-funding arrangements to help Russian research get back up to speed.”

Haiti -- Where Prayer Replaces Preparation

150,000 Haiti quake victims buried, gov't says

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The truckers filling Haiti's mass graves with bodies reported ever higher numbers: More than 150,000 quake victims have been buried by the government, an official said Sunday.

That doesn't count those still under the debris, carried off by relatives or killed in the outlying quake zone.

"Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble — 200,000? 300,000? Who knows the overall death toll?" said the official, Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue.

The hapless government has no basis for determining the number of people killed by the earthquake. Worse, the government seems to lack the understanding of how Haiti's own lack of safety standards contribued to the massive death toll.

When an earthquake of slightly higher magnitude hit northern California in 1989 -- postponing the World Series -- less than 70 people were killed. Wny? American building codes. The building codes mandated safety standards that made the difference.

Dealing with the living, meanwhile, a global army of aid workers was getting more food into people's hands, but acknowledged falling short. "We wish we could do more, quicker," said U.N. World Food Program chief Josette Sheeran, visiting Port-au-Prince.

In the Cite Soleil slum, U.S. soldiers and Brazilian U.N. peacekeeping troops distributed food. Lunie Marcelin, 57, said the handouts will help her and six grown children "but it is not enough. We need more."

Where is the help promised by the long list of grandstanding nations? Only a handful have actually delivered.

International experts searched for sites to erect tent cities for quake refugees on the capital's outskirts, but such short-term solutions were still weeks away, said the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency.

"We also need tents. There is a shortage of tents," said Vincent Houver, the Geneva-based agency's chief of mission in Haiti. Their Port-au-Prince warehouse has 10,000 family-size tents, but some 100,000 are needed, he said. The organization has appealed for $30 million for that and other needs, and has received two-thirds of that so far.

Haiti is about to become the tent capital of the world. Given its well demonstrated inability to develop housing, Haiti will become a nation with a permanent set of tent-dwellers. Undoubtedly people moving into tents will remain in them until they are nothing but tatters.

One who wouldn't die in Port-au-Prince was Wismond Exantus, who was extricated from the rubble Saturday. He spoke with the AP from his cot in a French field hospital on Sunday, saying the first thing he wanted to do was find a church to give thanks.

He spent the 11 days buried in the ruins of a hotel grocery store praying, reciting psalms and sleeping, he said. "I wasn't afraid because I knew they were searching and would come for me," he said.

It seems Haitians believe prayer is behind rescue missions conducted by humans. It would add to Wismond Exantus's story if we knew who had rescued him.

With such rescues now increasingly unlikely, Haiti's government has declared an end to search operations for the living, shifting the focus more than ever to caring for the thousands surviving in squalid, makeshift camps.

The World Food Program had delivered about 2 million meals to the needy on Friday, up from 1.2 million on Thursday, Sheeran said. But she acknowledged that much more was needed.

"This is the most complex operation WFP has ever launched," she said. "Food distribution is very difficult," said Dr. Henry Ariel of the Haitian Health Ministry. "The food doesn't reach up to now everyone."

The scene Sunday at Cite Soleil, the capital's largest and most notorious slum, showed the need.

Thousands of men, women and children lined up and waited peacefully for their turn as the American and Brazilian troops handed out aid — the Americans gave ready-to-eat meals, high-energy biscuits and bottled water, the Brazilians passed out small bags holding uncooked beans, salt, sugar and sardines, as well as water.

Americans and Brazilians to the rescue. Any other nations heard from?

The need for medical care, especially surgery, postoperative care and drugs, still overwhelmed the help available, aid agencies reported. In the isolated southern port city of Jacmel alone, about 100 patients needed surgery as of Friday, the U.N. reported. Medical personnel were there, but not the necessary surgery supplies.

In Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, the aid group Doctors Without Borders said its inflatable hospital — six large inflatable tents flown in from France — was preparing for its first operations.

At the Choscal hospital in Cite Soleil, the operating room has been busy with obstetric cases and some machete and gunshot wounds, Doctors Without Borders said, as looting and violence sputtered on among the ruins. The numbers of young men scavenging for goods seemed lower, however, since most shops were already entirely cleaned out.

Obstetric cases? Babies? Machete and gunshot wounds? None a result of the earthquake. More evidence of a country in a state of anarchy. Is there any chance Haiti will recover from this catastrophe? Yes, -- IF -- the US and/or the UN takes control of the country and forces the changes needed to create a nation with a rising standard of living. But it will take FORCE. Not hand-holding or sensitivity. If prosperity is to arrive, then Haiti's traditions have to go. A new national mindset has to arrive. Otherwise, Haitians will live in misery until the next catastrophe makes life even worse.

The world's nations have pledged some $1 billion in emergency aid to Haiti. Organizers of Friday night's "Hope for Haiti Now" international telethon reported the event raised $57 million, with more pledges from ordinary people still coming in.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Healing Haitian Quake Victims with Scientology, or is it Voodoo?

Okay. The day has been saved. At last the forces of mind control have arrived in Haiti.

Church of Scientology Sends Healing Teams to Haiti

Amid the mass of aid agencies piling in to help Haiti quake victims is a batch of Church of Scientology "volunteer ministers", claiming to use the power of touch to reconnect nervous systems.

Clad in yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the controversial US-based group, smiling volunteers fan out among the injured lying under makeshift shelters in the courtyard of Port-au-Prince's General Hospital.

A wealthy private donor provided his airplane to fly in 80 volunteers from Los Angeles, along with 50 Haitian-American-doctors, in a gesture worth 400,000 dollars, said a Parisian volunteer who gave her name as Sylvie.

"We're trained as volunteer ministers, we use a process called 'assist' to follow the nervous system to reconnect the main points, to bring back communication," she said.

"When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we re-establish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch."

Next to her lay 22-year-old student Oscar Elweels, whose father rescued him from the basement of his school where he lay with a pillar on his leg for a day after the deadly January 12 quake.

His right leg was amputated below the knee and his left leg was severely bruised and swollen.

More than half of his fellow students died in the rubble of his school, although the rest of his family was unscathed, he said, thanking God.

"One hour ago he had no sensation in his left leg, so I explained the method to him, I touched him and after a while he said 'now I feel everything'," said Sylvie.

"Otherwise they might have had to amputate his other leg. Now his sister knows the method and she can do it."

Asked about the method being used on him, a smiling Elweels described it as "a sort of harmony between the nerves, a kind of exercise. I couldn't feel at all, but then I could."

Does he know Scientology? "Yes, it's a French organization," he said.

"All the patients are happy with the technique," said Sylvie. "But some doctors don't like the yellow T-shirts. It's a color thing," she insisted.

Another group of Scientologists distributed antibiotic pills. "The doctors said give everyone with wounds antibiotics," said Italian volunteer Marina.

Some doctors at the hospital are skeptical. One US doctor, who asked not to be named, snorted: "I didn't know touching could heal gangrene."

When asked what the Scientologists are doing here, another doctor said: "I don't know."

Do you care? "Not really," she said, wheeling an unconscious patient out of the operating room to join hundreds of others in the hospital's sunny courtyard.

Water, the Ultimate Resource

What is the true threat facing humanity? Not Global Warming. Not Overpopulation. Not Nuclear Winter. Not AIDS. The real threat is having too little clean water. There's plenty of water. Far more than humans will ever need. But most of it is undrinkable.

Fortunately, supplies of drinkable water are easily increased. Modern nations are experts when it comes to cleaning water. And Nature is a big help. But people live virtually everywhere on the globe and some of those places have limited supplies of drinkable water.

We can supply water anywhere. But unless a country has a government that operates for the benefit of the people, existing supplies are likely to fall short. As they do in Haiti, most of Africa and in many nations around the world.

As a result, some pundits predict trouble tied to water is ahead.

Water Shortage May Bring Wars, Epidemics, Famine:

Jan. 23 -- Son of a shipwright and architect, James Watt started tinkering with instruments as a teenager.

In 1763 he was asked to repair a model of the Newcomen engine at the University of Glasgow and came up with the modern steam engine.

Watt’s invention jump-started the industrial revolution, as the latent power of water was exploited for industry, agriculture, trade, travel, communication and war. It also led to the growth of great cities, as water for drinking, cooking and sanitation became readily available.

Now the world is facing a crisis: As fresh water becomes increasingly scarce and the human population continues to expand, we will likely see war, failed states, famine, genocide, epidemics and mass migrations.

I spoke with Steven Solomon, author of “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” (Harper), on the following topics:

1. More Precious Than Oil

2. Hydraulic Civilizations

3. Seminal Invention

4. China’s Achilles’ Heel

5. America’s Water Wealth

Abject water poverty is rampant in Haiti. Nearly half of all Haitians are among the world’s 1 billion without satisfactory access to clean drinking water; over two-thirds are counted in the 2.6 billion without adequate sanitation.

Only one-fourth of city dwellers have plumbing connections, and service is unreliable. Each day means foraging for enough water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning from water tanks, street vendors, and wells, by illegally tapping water mains, and as a last resort, drawing from unclean streams and ditches. Water is the main source of Haiti’s terrible illness and mortality rates — average life expectancy is only 53.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

A Non-Delirious New York

Recovery should not mean a return to the excess that betrayed so many.

Midway through the first intoxications of borrowed money that does not exist, and the red-hot bearings of presses that roll to correct such inconsistencies, lies a wonderland in which human nature can become a subsidiary of the making and spending of money. Not steadily and honorably in furtherance of well being, charity, and art, but at the speed of summer lightning and for its own sake.

When pay-out exceeds pay-in, balance is maintained only by the weight of illusion—as in real-estate bubbles, or welfare states in which benefits vastly exceed contributions. Within such failing systems one finds nevertheless highly visible concentrations of wealth, like lumps in tapioca, that persist in setting a tone that has long gone flat.

Take Manhattan, but first take the Hamptons, where symptoms are readily apprehended, just as the pulse at the wrist is a telltale of the heart. Mere multimillionaires cannot afford anymore to go where within living memory actual people made a living from the farms, clam beds, and sword-fishing grounds. Now the potato fields are covered with houses that look like the headquarters of Martian expeditionary forces, ice-cream factories, vacuum cleaners on stilts, the Seagram building on its side, or shingled New England cottages monstrously swollen into something you might see after eating a magic mushroom. In simple and quiet towns that once deferred to the majesty of the ocean, the streets are now clogged with a kabuki theater of Range Rovers and $35,000 handbags.

In Manhattan the knock-the-wind-out-of-you rich used to be a relatively silent freak of nature who could easily be ignored, but of late they are so electrically omnipresent, jumping out of every flat screen and magazine, that they indelibly color the life of the city. Having multiplied like Gucci-clad yeast, they have become objects of impossible envy.

You cannot ignore them as you sit in your $2,000 a month 7 x 10 "efficiency," eating your $5 street pretzel. Or when private schools—where scholarships are reserved for peasants who subsist on $300,000 or less, and where if you haven't been admitted by the time you're an embryo you're toast—have become like the class redoubts of Czarist Russia.

Or when Mayor Michael Bloomberg spends a hundred million of his own money, $175 per vote, to crown himself like Napoleon, perhaps forgoing the purchase of the presidency because at that rate he would have to fork over $22 billion. What if he had spent comparably to his predecessors—Fiorello La Guardia, or even Jimmy Walker, whose corruption when compared to Mr. Bloomberg's well-established honesty seems nonetheless like the innocence of a fawn? (It is possible that he would not have won on his own merits.)

Ostentation has always been a hallmark of mankind, and part of the price of freedom and power in ascendant nations. But the day the baubles shine most brilliantly is the day when the civilization, distracted from what made it, begins to go down the drain. This is not an argument for restricting economic liberties, but rather a lamentation of circumstance and a condemnation of taste. The right may envy by competition and the left by expropriation, but the objects of such envy are not worthy of its ruinous influences, and the city is at its best when the fury of acquisitiveness is least.

Now that New York may be exiting yet another of many eras of irrational exuberance, it presents an opportunity in the midst of defeat, for when it is quiet it is far more lovely and profound than when it is delirious. For a long, clear moment, September 11 blew the dross away and the real city appeared. When such things arrive, as they always have and always will—whether in the form of conquest, riots, depression, epidemics, or war—they and their aftermath should be the cause of reflection.

Whenever New York has endured a blow, its real strengths have emerged. If it is now on the verge of a long-term diminution of wealth, or at least a roughly attained sobriety, all the suffering should not be for nothing. Recovery should mean not just a return to the fascination with excess that betrayed so many. For one, excess is too limited a thing to be genuinely satisfying. Grab the first billionaire you see (it should be easy) and he will tell you that stuff simply doesn't do the trick.

This is why New York has for too long been a city in which even the rich are poor. To the contrary, it should be a place in which even the poor are rich. How to accomplish this is a riddle to which public policy often proves inadequate and is anyway just a distant follower of forces of history that assert themselves as far beyond its control as the weather. As the waves of history sweep through the present what they leave will depend in large part upon how they are perceived and how each individual acts upon his perceptions, which law and regulation follow more than they shape.

How things will turn out is anyone's guess, but it would be nice if, as in the quiet during and after a snow storm, Manhattan would reappear to be appreciated in tranquility; if cops, firemen, nurses, and teachers did not have to live in New Jersey; if students, waitress-actresses, waiter-painters, and dish-washer-writers did not have to board nine to a room or like beagles in their parents' condominia; if the traffic on Park Avenue were sufficiently sparse that you could hear insects in the flower beds; if to balance the frenetic getting and spending, the qualities of reserve and equanimity would retake their once honored places; if celebrity were to be ignored, media switched off, and the stories of ordinary men and women assume their deserved precedence; and if for everyone, like health returning after a long illness, a life of one's own would emerge from an era tragically addicted to quantity and speed.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Game Change for Climate Change

Eventually people begin to see through ruses, scams, deceptions and attempted bamboozlements. The latest canard to succumb is Climate Change, which, until recently had been known as Global Warming. However, when doubts about warming trends overwhelmed the claims from the Global Warming camp, the leaders of the Global Warming movement took the strategic step of renaming to problem with a neutral term for which there is no disproving evidence.

Clever? Global Warming? Can't be proved. Climate Change? Well, the climate is always changing, is it not? Anyway, there are plenty of people who feel that a little increase in global temperatures might increase agricultural output, which would come as good news for nations with too little food. Higher temperatures mean more moisture is absorbed by the atmosphere. That means more rain will fall, and falling rain is the chief course of fresh water for billions of people.

More fresh water sounds like good news -- for everyone, except people determined to acquire power by using the usual strategy of creating fear about the arrival of a distant, powerful, approaching, imaginary force. Works most of the time.

UN abandons climate change deadline

The timetable to reach a global deal to tackle climate change lay in tatters on Wednesday after the United Nations waived the first deadline of the process laid out at last month’s fractious Copenhagen summit.

Nations agreed then to declare their emissions reduction targets by the end of this month. Developed countries would state their intended cuts by 2020: developing countries would outline how they would curb emissions growth.

But Yvo de Boer, the UN’s senior climate change official, admitted the deadline had in effect been shelved.

“By [the end of] January, countries will have the opportunity to . . . indicate if they want to be associated with the accord,” he said. “[Governments could] indicate by the deadline, or they can also indicate later.”

“You could describe it as a soft deadline,” Mr de Boer said. “There is nothing deadly about it. If [countries] fail to meet it, they can still associate with the Copenhagen accord after.”

Countries pushing for a new legally binding treaty on climate change will be disappointed, as The waiving of the deadline sets a bad precedent for efforts to finalise a deal this year. The next scheduled meeting is not until late May, in Germany, with another in late November, in Mexico but many officials say more will be needed.

India, China, Brazil and South Africa, which meet this weekend, are likely to insist on deep cuts from developed nations but offer few concessions of their own.

The result of Tuesday’s Massachusetts senatorial election, which took away Barack Obama’s super-majority in the Senate, is likely to push climate change further down the US agenda. It was the latest in a series of setbacks that have caused efforts to push a cap-and-trade bill through the Senate to grind to a halt, making it harder for the White House to participate meaningfully in global climate negotiations.

Instead, the administration has been pressing ahead with steps to limit the US’s carbon emissions through regulation. The Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled new draft rules that would sharply tighten regulations on smog-building pollutants, or ground-level ozone, and has cracked down on greenhouse gas emissions by ruling that carbon dioxide and five other gases pose a danger to health.

True Confessions -- John Edwards Admits What We Knew

There was probably a time when John Edwards believed he could approach the American public as though it were a jury. It seems he felt that if he were able to arrange for the public to vote like a jury over accusations that he fathered Rielle Hunters' child, he could sway the national jury into voting in his favor and that, like a jury verdict, would end his troubles.

However, as he now realizes, things go a different way in the Court of Public Opinion, especially when the National Enquirer writes its own rules for evidence submitted to the jury.

Edwards says he's father of Rielle Hunter's child

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has finally come forward to admit that he fathered a child with a videographer he hired before his second White House bid. "It was wrong for me to ever deny she was my daughter," he said Thursday.

Edwards confirmed this in a statement released to The Associated Press, after initially denying that he'd fathered a child during an affair with campaign aide Rielle Hunter.

"I am Quinn's father," the former senator declared in his statement, as the second birthday of Frances Quinn Hunter approaches.

Elizabeth Edwards, whose cancer returned in an incurable form in March 2007, has stood by her husband despite the affair. She has said that it does not matter to her whether her husband fathered a child with Hunter, saying, "that would be a part of John's life, but not a part of mine."

In the statement Edwards released Thursday, he said, "I will do everything in my power to provide her (Frances) with the love and support she deserves. I have been able to spend time with her during the past year and trust that future efforts to show her the love and affection she deserves can be done privately and in peace."

Edwards also said, "It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me."

"I have been providing financial support for Quinn and have reached an agreement with her mother to continue providing support in the future," the statement said. "To all those I have disappointed and hurt, these words will never be enough, but I am truly sorry."

Harrison Hickman, Edwards' longtime political adviser, called the situation "a lot more complicated than people think."

"There are a lot of adults involved," Hickman said in an interview broadcast on NBC's "Today" show. "I think they wanted to handle this in the right way."

"Elizabeth thinks that he should acknowledge this," Hickman said. He said it "has been a very difficult time for everyone ... but especially for Elizabeth."

Edwards adamantly denied during an interview with ABC News last summer that he had fathered a child with Rielle Hunter, and he welcomed a paternity test.

Fred Baron, who was Edwards' national finance chairman and a wealthy Dallas-based trial attorney, said last year he quietly sent money to Hunter and to resettle Young's family.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tough-Guy Writer Kicks Bucket

Robert Parker was once a teacher of mine. When it came to teaching people about writing, he knew what he was doing.

His Spenser Novels Saved Detective Fiction

In American popular culture, the private detective is a unique heroic figure: champion of last resort for the vulnerable client, a knight-errant for hire, bringing rough or poetic justice to cases unserved by more official powers that be.

In the past quarter century, it could be said, no writer of private-eye fiction was more popular or prolific than Robert B. Parker, who died Monday at the age of 77. His nearly 40 books involving the no-first-name Boston P.I. Spenser—starting in 1973 with "The Godwulf Manuscript" and ending, it would seem, with "The Professional," published three months ago—made the Massachusetts-born Mr. Parker a best-selling author and a household-name in all homes where mystery fiction was consumed.

Building on aspects developed by illustrious predecessors (aspects he studied as the author of a doctoral dissertation on the private eye in American fiction)—the bantering dialogue of Raymond Chandler, the concern for young people expressed by Ross Macdonald, the swift action of Dashiell Hammett, even the violence of Mickey Spillane—Mr. Parker created a hero and a series of books that revivified the P.I. genre, making it fresh and viable through the end of the 20th century and into the next.

Spenser brought his own quirks and special experience to the traditional private-detective role: He was a good cook and, for the most part, a one-woman man. His closest associate was an African-American "enforcer" with whom he felt much in common. And the self-educated Spenser, like his well-educated creator, was surprisingly well-read—often quoting from the likes of Frost, Auden, Shelley, Shakespeare, and such popular songwriters as Kris Kristofferson and Matt Dennis.

But Spenser's more fundamental nature was informed by that classic mixture of confidence, ability and courage—grace under pressure—that has characterized all American adventurer-investigators from James Fenimore Cooper's day through our own.

The Boston detective also had a rueful, self-deprecating streak to balance his brash self-confidence. Of his presence at a cocktail party of smartly dressed and glamorous young types, the ex-amateur boxer and ex-football player said of his sport-coated self: "I felt like a rhinoceros at a petting-zoo."

Spenser's equally athletic creator sometimes also expressed a similarly endearing side, once telling a roomful of librarians, booksellers and readers: "Please buy my book. I'm too old to get a real job."

But Mr. Parker—whose oeuvre also included series with a small-town sheriff, Jesse Stone, and a woman P.I. named Sunny Randall, as well as a handful of westerns and other novels—of course had a very real job, working five days a week turning out five pages a day. "It's like running a small business," he told fellow writer Stuart Kaminsky, adding: "'Writer's block? That's just another word for 'lazy.'"

"I like to make things," the fictional Spenser told a fictional interviewer in 2007. "I know how to do it." He had good carpentry skills, he said, and could build a house—as could (and had) Mr. Parker. No surprise then that the Spenser books were well-constructed, functional, and comfortable to spend time in.

Spenser himself seemed comfortable in his own skin, and in his own life. Asked "Is there anything you wanted to accomplish that you haven't?" by a Harvard professor in that fictional interview written by Mr. Parker, the private eye answered: "No. I am everything I wanted to be. I've done everything I ever wanted to do. . . . I would be pleased to live this life and do what I do . . . forever. But I have no need to improve on it."

Mr. Parker gave a reader all that was needed. He could set a scene in a few spare sentences and make you see it, as in these lines—from a piece in the recently published anthology, "The Lineup"—that describe a Boston afternoon: "It was one of those days in late June. The temperature was about 78. There were maybe three white clouds in the sky. The quiet breeze that drifted in from the river smelled fresher than I knew it to be." Sense of place, overtones, undertones—the bare essentials, and just a bit more.

He wrote dialogue that at once informed, amused and gave a sense of character; and he conjured characters a reader wanted to spend more time with—especially Spenser, a fixed point in a footloose world, take him or leave him. A pragmatist whose ethics were situational. A tough and decent type who did what needed to be done in the service of a moral cause, affirming the worth of the individual regardless of race, sexual orientation, social status, age or occupation. He made timeless points that need to be remade every generation, in a society ever able to find ways to betray the public and private trust.

The books were addictive, entertaining, amusing—and, in their low-key way, moving. Critics prefer the earliest ones as being more substantive. Readers gobbled up the later ones for their sensibility, tone of voice, and point of view: that wised-up, can-do attitude, with no phonies allowed.

"I'd been in the infantry in Korea and met some pretty bad people," Mr. Parker told Mr. Kaminsky, "but many, maybe most of the people I met in university life were the worst people I'd ever met."

The Spenser chronicles were created to be read in the moment. Time alone knows whether they'll survive their creator. But one sign of how important a writer was to us is how death, in an instant, can turn a name-brand author from taken for granted to one of a kind. Right away, we miss Robert B. Parker.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Geert Wilders and Freedom of Speech

Why I Stand with Geert Wilders

by Daniel Pipes
National Review Online
January 19, 2010

Who is the most important European alive today? I nominate the Dutch politician Geert Wilders. I do so because he is best placed to deal with the Islamic challenge facing the continent. He has the potential to emerge as a world-historical figure.

That Islamic challenge consists of two components: on the one hand, an indigenous population's withering Christian faith, inadequate birthrate, and cultural diffidence, and on the other an influx of devout, prolific, and culturally assertive Muslim immigrants. This fast-moving situation raises profound questions about Europe: will it retain its historic civilization or become a majority-Muslim continent living under Islamic law (the Shari'a)?

Wilders, 46, founder and head of the Party for Freedom (PVV), is the unrivaled leader of those Europeans who wish to retain their historic identity. That's because he and the PVV differ from most of Europe's other nationalist, anti-immigrant parties.

The PVV is libertarian and mainstream conservative, without roots in neo-Fascism, nativism, conspiricism, antisemitism, or other forms of extremism. (Wilders publicly emulates Ronald Reagan.) Indicative of this moderation is Wilders' long-standing affection for Israel that includes two years' residence in the Jewish state, dozens of visits, and his advocating the transfer of the Dutch embassy to Jerusalem.

In addition, Wilders is a charismatic, savvy, principled, and outspoken leader who has rapidly become the most dynamic political force in the Netherlands. While he opines on the full range of topics, Islam and Muslims constitute his signature issue. Overcoming the tendency of Dutch politicians to play it safe, he calls Muhammad a devil and demands that Muslims "tear out half of the Koran if they wish to stay in the Netherlands." More broadly, he sees Islam itself as the problem, not just a virulent version of it called Islamism.

Finally, the PVV benefits from the fact that, uniquely in Europe, the Dutch are receptive to a non-nativist rejection of Shari'a. This first became apparent a decade ago, when Pim Fortuyn, a left-leaning former communist homosexual professor began arguing that his values and lifestyle were irrevocably threatened by the Shari'a. Fortuyn anticipated Wilders in founding his own political party and calling for a halt to Muslim immigration to the Netherlands. Following Fortuyn's 2002 assassination by a leftist, Wilders effectively inherited his mantle and his constituency.

The PVV has done well electorally, winning 6 percent of the seats in the November 2006 national parliamentary elections and 16 percent of Dutch seats in the June 2009 European Union elections. Polls now generally show the PVV winning a plurality of votes and becoming the country's largest party. Were Wilders to become prime minister, he could take on a leadership role for all Europe.

But he faces daunting challenges.

The Netherlands' fractured political scene means the PVV must either find willing partners to form a governing coalition (a difficult task, given how leftists and Muslims have demonized Wilders as a "right-wing extremist") or win a majority of the seats in parliament (a distant prospect).

Wilders must also overcome his opponents' dirty tactics. Most notably, they have finally, after 2½ years of preliminary skirmishes, succeeded in dragging him to court on charges of hate speech and incitement to hatred. The public prosecutor's case against Wilders opens in Amsterdam on January 20; if convicted, Wilders faces a fine of up to US$14,000 or as many as 16 months in jail.

Remember, he is his country's leading politician. Plus, due to threats against his life, he always travels with bodyguards and incessantly changes safe houses. Who exactly, one wonders, is the victim of incitement?

Although I disagree with Wilders about Islam (I respect the religion but fight Islamists with all I have), we stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the lawsuit. I reject the criminalization of political differences, particularly attempts to thwart a grassroots political movement via the courts. Accordingly, the Middle East Forum's Legal Project has worked on Wilders' behalf, raising substantial funds for his defense and helping in other ways. We do so convinced of the paramount importance to talk freely in public during time of war about the nature of the enemy.

Ironically, were Wilders fined or jailed, it would probably enhance his chances to become prime minister. But principle outweighs political tactics here. He represents all Westerners who cherish their civilization. The outcome of his trial and his freedom to speak has implications for us all.

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One Middle East Nation Sends Rescue Team to Haiti

Despite wall to to wall coverage of the earthquake and devastation in Haiti, little has been said about the herculean rescue efforts of Israel.

Meanwhile, muslim countries are doing nothing. But the international community has not noticed. Despicable on both counts. However, when it comes to muslims performing rescue work in other countries, the world has low expectations. Saving non-muslims is not part of their plan. When earthquakes strike muslim countries, muslims show the usual muslim incompetence for rescuing muslims. Hence, if muslims were to head for Haiti -- I do not know how they would get there since muslim nations have no capable navies and no aircraft for far-away humanitarian missions -- they would only get in the way.

However, the middle east is the site of one country doing extraordinary rescue work in Haiti. It should surprise no -- except muslims -- that the country is Israel.

Fortunately, the Israeli press is on the scene. Other media organizations are catching on. Some headlines follow:

No muslims to the Rescue -- As Usual

Praise for Israeli mission in Haiti: 'Only ones operating' Y Net news
Israeli field hospital earns accolades as only aid mission able to do complex surgery in devastated country.

The valiant work of Israel's rescue mission to Haiti has been widely covered in the Israeli press. Now it has earned praise from a surprising source: On Monday, US media broadcast items praising the assistance provided by Israel.

CNN reported that Israel is the only state so far to have sent a field hospital equipped with all that is required for surgical operations. Doctors from various missions send patients requiring surgery to Israel's makeshift hospital, particularly those whose condition is critical, the news network said.

According to the report, other field hospitals contain no more than stretcher beds and medical teams who administer first aid, and they are not prepared for complex surgery

UPDATE: Another team is enroute:

An additional IDF rescue and medical aid team is scheduled to depart to Haiti Monday night and will include Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Director General of the Ministry of Health Dr. Eytan Chai-Am, and Surgeon General, Brig. Gen. Nachman Ash.

The delegation will deliver relief reinforcements that include medicine and additional equipment and will examine the needs of the IDF medical staff on the scene.

Haiti: Woman gives birth in IDF field hospital
Article by E.B. Solomont, JPost Correspondent in Port-Au-Prince, January 18, 2010

Rescuers describe 'Shabbat from hell'
Article by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, January 15, 2010

Dr. Besser Assists in Haitian Baby's Birth
Video Clip: Dr. Richard Besser helps a woman deliver her child amid the chaos in Haiti. January 18, 2010

Video Clip: Infections 'Out of Control'
Elizabeth Cohen visits an Israeli hospital in Haiti.
January 18, 2010

ISRAEL: Sending Soldiers of Peace to Haiti
Article by Batsheva Sobelman, January 17, 2010

Friends of the IDF reports:

As a response to the disaster in Haiti , the IDF has sent a Medical and Rescue Team of over 220 members, among them Search and Rescue teams, doctors, nurses, members of the Communications Corps, and more. The IDF delegation arrived in Port-Au-Prince , Haiti and immediately set up a Communications Center and a Field Hospital in a soccer field near the air port, equipped with some of the finest medical and logistical equipment Israel could provide. They began accepting and treating the wounded right away, while Search and Rescue forces continued to locate and rescue survivors trapped in the rubble, including many who were injured during the collapse of the UN headquarters.

The IDF delegation to Haiti, led by the Commander of the Land Search and Rescue Squadron of the Home Front Command, Brig. Gen. (res.) Shalom Ben-Aryeh, will stop searching for people trapped under ruins in Port-au-Prince starting on Tuesday, Jan. 19th. More than four days after the severe earthquake, and upon evaluation of the situation by commanders of the delegation in the field and in Israel, it has been decided that at that time there will be a zero percent chance of finding survivors. However, Home Front Command forces will remain with the delegation for the next two weeks, assisting the Medical Corps in manning the IDF field hospital in the disaster zone.

As of Monday, Jan. 18th, the IDF Medical Corps has treated approximately 200 injured people. 30% of the injured in the hospital are in serious condition, 50% are moderately injured and the rest are lightly injured. More than half of the injured are under the age of 16. The majority of injuries are limb injuries and bone fractures. 25 life-saving surgeries have been performed.

The director of the Haiti field hospital, Col. Dr. Itzik Reis, explained that the IDF delegation is also giving assistance “to people from emergency crews from all over the world – who simply are not capable of dealing with everyone who needs help and giving them treatment.” Col. Reis added: “We have all of the necessary equipment here, it is exactly like a hospital in Israel .”

Today, Monday the 18th, the Israeli forces running the hospital were joined by 9 volunteer doctors from Los Angeles. With so many wounded and so many medical needs to address in this time of crisis, all the help provided by the various countries coming to the aid of the people of Haiti is crucial.

An additional IDF aid delegation is scheduled to depart to Haiti tonight, Monday the 18th. The delegation will be headed by the GOC of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, and will also include the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Eytan Chai-Am, and the Chief Medical Officer, Brig. Gen. Nachman Ash.

The delegation will deliver relief reinforcements that include medicine and additional equipment. Upon its arrival, the delegation will examine the needs of the IDF medical staff on the scene. The duration of the Israeli forces' stay in Haiti has yet to be determined, however their devotion to the mission of helping the local population is unwavering, and they continue to work around the clock to provide the medical attention so direly needed in the region.

As news of the earthquake in Haiti started to emerge, the Israeli government immediately began to make plans to send a delegation to aid in the relief efforts.

On Friday, two Israeli jets carrying nearly 10 tons of medical equipment, doctors, nurses, medics, police forces and an elite search and rescue team landed in Haiti. The 220-person delegation is led by Brig. Gen. Shalom Ben-Aryeh (Res.), the commander of the Home Front Command's National Search and Rescue Unit.

Thus far, the Israeli search and rescue units have rescued 70 people from beneath the rubble.

In addition to deploying search and rescue units to find survivors, Israel established a field hospital that includes 40 doctors, 24 nurses, medics, paramedics, x-ray equipment and personnel, a pharmacy, an emergency room, two surgery rooms, an incubation ward, a children's ward, a maternity ward, and more. The field hospital is capable of treating nearly 500 victims per day and performing initial surgeries.

The IDF's chief medical officer, Brig. Gen. Nachman Esh, said that while the field hospital will largely treat trauma patients, similar to those encountered in a war, specialists in various other fields have also been sent.

"We expect to have to deal mainly with trauma cases, but when we arrive there, we also expect to encounter the secondary wave of infections and diseases, as well as the routine cases that the local hospitals would usually deal with," Brig. Gen. Esh said.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Sleep-away Camp for Terrorists

AFP/File – Beds with folded prayer mats and headwear in a common cell

Maybe the prisoners would rather be outside looking in -- while they are attempting to kill US military personnel -- but based on the photo above, life inside looks pretty cushy for jailbirds.

Pentagon releases names of Bagram prisoners

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Pentagon has for the first time made public the names of 645 detainees held at the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, a US human rights group said Saturday.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the list of names, dated September 22, 2009, was released by the US defense secretary after the group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The list is the first official information about the detainees held in a prison sometimes referred to as the "Afghan Guantanamo," but it was released in a heavily-censored form, the ACLU said.

"Vital information including their citizenship, how long they have been held, in what country they were captured and the circumstances of their capture has been redacted," the group said in a statement.

The ages of the detainees was also not provided.

"Hundreds of people have languished at Bagram for years in horrid and abusive conditions, without even being told why they're detained or given a fair chance to argue for release," said ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking the information in September 2009, after an April request was rejected by the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency.

Since US President Barack Obama announced his administration would work to close the prison at Guantanamo, where 198 detainees remain, human rights groups have turned their attention to the US prison at Bagram.

NATO and Afghanistan signed an agreement in early January authorizing the transfer of the prison to Afghan authorities, though no date was set for the handover.

In September, the Obama administration announced it would allow prisoners at the facility to view some of the evidence against them and the right to challenge their detention before limited military tribunals.

In the United States, courts are considering whether non-Afghan detainees who were captured outside of Afghanistan should have access to the US justice system to challenge their detention.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Bank Tax -- Boon and Bane

James Surowiecki of the New Yorker thinks stripping $117 billion from large banks is a good idea that will barely ripple the waters of the banks and their customers. Not likely.

However, imposing the Bank Tax is probably some of the best news ever for smaller banks. But don't look for deals at your local savings bank. The tax on the big banks will kill any incentives for the small banks to cut you a break.

The Two Worst Arguments Against the Bank Tax

Posted by James Surowiecki

The Obama Administration’s proposed bank tax doesn’t solve the too-big-to-fail problem. And it’s arguably too small, although I think one barrier to making it bigger was the issue I mentioned yesterday, which is that the balance sheets of at least some of the big banks are still a bit shaky, and taking substantial amounts of capital out of them this early in the recovery may have seemed injudicious. (I’m thinking here especially of Citigroup.) But for all that, it’s a good proposal that will raise a significant amount of money ($117 billion over ten years is not, even by today’s standards, trivial) and will provide a disincentive (a too-small disincentive, but still a disincentive) for banks to keep getting bigger.

This seems like such a reasonable proposal, in fact, that I’m a bit surprised that anyone to Obama’s right (that is, anyone who thinks the plan is too harsh, rather than too soft) is arguing against it. But they—with “they” meaning, above all, the banking industry—are. Two main arguments seem to have emerged. The first argument (which, oddly, some people on the left as well as the right are making), is that any tax would be passed along to consumers. Now, this is an argument that can be, and is, made against any corporate tax, and given the fact that Americans think that corporate taxes make sense generally, there’s no obvious reason why this tax should be an exception. More important, it’s unlikely to be true. To be sure, some of the tax will be passed along. But the Obama proposal exempts banks of less than $50 billion from the levy, which means that to the extent that the big banks raise prices in response to the tax, they’ll be making themselves less competitive in the marketplace. Now, it may be that in arguing that consumers will end up paying this tax, what bank lobbyists are really admitting is that smaller banks just aren’t real competitors to the big banks and serve as no competitive check on their prices. But I don’t think that’s an argument—“the big banks are so powerful that they can pass any cost increases along to consumers”—that bank lobbyists really want to be making.

Here's what will happen. The big banks will pass along the tax to borrowers in the form of interest rates that reflect their operating costs. The smaller banks -- those untouched by the bank tax -- will find themselves in the glorious position of having a government mandate granting them the right to earn more on a loan than the large banks paying the extra tax. The smaller banks will price their loans slightly beneath the levels of the big banks. Slightly below. Just enough to lure some customers away from the big banks. But as a result of their better tax status, the smaller banks will earn much bigger margins on their loans .

The Bank Tax will work like import tariffs on cars. When Congress hit Japanese car-makers with big tariffs, Americans were penalized. In response to the tariffs, GM was able to Raise its prices, increasing them to reflect the artificially higher price imposed on imports. Thus, when GM most needed to improve its operations, the government simply mandated higher margins instead. Where did that get the world's biggest carmaker?

The second argument is even more dubious, namely that the tax will crimp lending. Jon Hilsenrath offers up a sophisticated version of this argument, saying that since banks need to increase liabilities to fund new loans, any tax on liabilities will also reduce the number of loans. Now, in the first place, it isn’t true that banks have to increase liabilities to fund new loans: they can also fund them by raising capital. In other words, instead of borrowing money that they re-lend, banks could raise money by selling equity, and then lend that out. The truth is that the tax is too small to fundamentally shift the way banks fund themselves, but anything that encourages banks to rely more on equity and less on debt is a good thing.

More concretely, Hilsenrath’s argument implies that the banks are currently lending to their full capacity, so that if they want to do any more lending they’d need to expand their liabilities, which the tax will discourage. But this isn’t even close to being true: banks currently have more than a trillion dollars in reserves, which is effectively cash just sitting in the bank. If they wanted to lend—and if there was sufficient demand for lending—they have more than enough capacity to do so without taking another dime in liabilities. In other words, the impact of this tax on lending will be, to the nearest approximation, zero.

Surowieki believes banks can raise equity to expand lending. That's true. But the banks best able to sell equity to expand lending will be the banks untouched by the Bank Tax. The last of the mutual savings banks might go public to capture the opportunity the government is granting them. Then what?

Then we will see a resumption of bank mergers and takeovers. The small and medium-sized banks will combine to form bigger organizations, but they will form organizations that are not too big. They will limit their size to reflect the Bank Tax. Thus, as in too many other examples, the managers of this business will base some of their biggest decisions on tax policy.

A similar situation arose in the mid-1980s when the government imposed itself on the long-distance telephone market. Government intervention hit AT&T's long distance business with extra costs. The result was a government mandate allowing MCI to earn more money per call than AT&T. Suddenly MCI was almost printing money and it went on to great success during the early years of the revolution in the long-distance market, which followed the break-up of the Bell monopoly.

However, there is no monopoly in banking. Just like there was no monopoly in the auto industry. Thus, the Bank Tax is just a way to give some players an advantage they will milk it for all it's worth.

Will consumers enjoy any benefits from this Bank Tax. Not a Chance. It will result in the unintended consequence of higher borrowing costs for all. But that's the Obama administration for you.

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Cars, Cars Everywhere

Do Americans want small inexpensive cars? We shall see. Tata, the leading automobile company of India is expected to start selling its cheapest vehicles here. Its Nano model is small, goes 50 miles on a gallon of gas and is expected to cost 20% less than the Hyundai Accent, which sells for $10,000.

What does the arrival of this car mean? It means the number of cars on the road will increase -- a lot. The Global Warming alarmists have many problems. Among them is their difficulty with math.

Tata Motors wants to put 100 million new Indian drivers behind the wheel. One Hundred Million New Drivers -- One Hundred Million New Cars. One Hundred Millon New Consumers of Gasoline. The Global Warming Alarmists hate cars, but they want new cars to get better and better gas mileage. Okay.

But somehow they fail to understand aggregate numbers. They hate Hummers. But they accept cars like the Nano. But there are few Hummers in the world. However, considering India's population of 1.3 Billion, Tata's Nano can become the Model T and sell 100 million units. Thus, the world's fleet of Nanos will consume far more gasoline than all the Hummers ever built.

In short, increases in prosperity are reflected in many ways, including the number of cars on the road. Thus, a richer world is a world with more cars.

Today, the fleet of vehicles in the world totals about 750 million. But as a result of increasing prosperity in China, India and many emerging nations, the number of cars in the world is expected to reach 3 Billion by mid century. By that time the population of humans is expected to hit 9 Billion.

Therefore, aggregate oil consumption will increase. Consumption of almost everything will increase. But Global Warming Alarmists want to hold back the tide of humanity and restrict human desires. On the other hand, Tata Motors will do its best to give people what they want.

Cheap car from India could cost $8,000 in US

Ultracheap Nano could come to US in 3 years with $8,000 price tag

DETROIT (AP) -- The world's cheapest car is being readied for sale in the U.S., but by the time India's Tata Nano is retrofitted to meet emissions and safety standards, it won't be that cheap.

Tata Technologies Ltd., the global engineering arm of the Tata group conglomerate, brought the tiny car to Detroit as a publicity stunt for the engineering group.

Tata officials, while maintaining that they couldn't speak for Tata Motors, maker of the $2,500 Nano, said they were involved with the Nano from concept until it launched last July in Mumbai.

They wouldn't say when the Nano might arrive in the U.S. or how much it might cost here, although Ratan Tata, chairman of the group of Tata companies, has said it should be ready for U.S. distribution in about three years.

Tata Motors already has made a European version of the four-seat car that will cost about $8,000 when it debuts in 2011, and a Tata Technologies official said privately that the U.S. version is expected to have a comparable price. The official did not want to be identified because the price has not been made public.

Warren Harris, Tata Technologies president, would only say that the price would be more than the roughly $2,500 charged in India.

"The structural changes that would need to be made, the changes that would be required as far as emissions are concerned, and some of the features that would be appropriate to add to the vehicle for the North American market, obviously that would drive up the price point," he said.

Tata Technologies could be involved in bringing the car up to U.S. standards, said Tony Jones, associate vice president of the global automotive practice.

Before it can be sold here, the car's two-cylinder, 623cc engine would have to be engineered to meet stronger U.S. pollution standards, he said. Airbags would have to be added, the roof strengthened and the front bumper lengthened to meet U.S. requirements to limit damage in a 5-mph crash.

The Spartan interior, with flat bucket seats, three knobs, a horizontal switch and a steering wheel, also would have to be changed to comply with U.S. safety standards that limit movement of passengers not wearing seat belts.

Jones said the Nano Europa has airbags and has passed European safety tests with flying colors.

The Nano, with 12-inch diameter tires, electric windows in the front and crank windows in the back, gets 50 mpg on the highway and has a top speed of 65 mph.

If the $8,000 price tag holds true, it would cost far less than the $9,970 Hyundai Accent, currently the car with the lowest base sticker price in the U.S., according to the automotive Web site. The price excludes shipping

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Danny Glover blames Haitian Earthquake on Copenhagen

When a country has a government that has failed to function for 200 years, it should surprise no one that country with a useless government is unprepared for a national emergency.

The impact of the earthquake was many times worse than the same quake in the US because Haiti has no building codes. No standards for safety. Flimsy buildings go up, and flimsy buildings fall down.

Nevertheless, Danny Glover thinks the trouble began in Copenhagen. Yikes.

As more reports come in, things continue to worsen.

Obama admin allows Haitians in USA illegally to remain...

Advocates pushing to relocate Haitian children to America...

Haiti's Streets Called 'Tinderbox' as Hunger, Thirst and Anger Grows...


Despair, Panic Set in as Food, Water and Medical Supplies are Delayed...

UN to launch Haiti emergency appeal for $550M...


U.S. military mobilizes thousands...

War Zone: Gangs do battle in streets with machetes over food...

WIRE: Angry Haitians block roads with corpses...

HORROR: Corpses impede traffic, pyres of burning tires incinerate cadavers...

Survivors Face Diarrhea, Malaria Outbreaks Amid Lack of Clean Water...

Actor Danny Glover Says Quake 'Response' For Screwing Up Climate Summit In Copenhagen...

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

A God Who Hates -- One Woman Fights Islam

The Courageous Woman Who Speaks Out Against The Evils of Islam

Wafa Sultan, an ex-Muslim dissident from Syria, has written a book about Islam, "A God Who Hates" (St. Martin's Press - 2009).

In the book she delivers a searing portrait of Muslim culture.

The subtitle of the book describes Sultan as "the courageous woman who inflamed the Muslim world" as she "speaks out against the evils of Islam." The reader is left with no doubt that Sultan is a woman who is willing to endanger her life to preserve, protect and defend Western civilization.

She reveals that, contrary to popular opinion, it is not a few "radical Jihadists" who are guilty of distorting otherwise warm and fuzzy Islamic precepts, but rather the culprit driving the hatred and bloodlust is none other than the Koran itself. The Koran is part of a holy trinity of terror that includes the prophet Muhammad and the "god" known as Allah. She refers to Islam, as "the ogre" as she explores the psychological roots of a nomadic people who invented this religion to assuage their own paralyzing fears and overwhelming feelings of desperation and helplessness.

Wafa Sultan was raised in a devoutly Muslim home in Syria. She recounts her personal stories of the barbarism of Islam and how that barbarism was imposed on her and her family. Sultan recalls how her grandmother, mother and sisters, who were virtual slaves to their husbands and their father, were subjected to humiliating degradation, a fact of life for Muslim women.

The world of Muslim men has declared that women are inferior beings to be treated with contempt and loathing. The evidence is everywhere. Especially in today's alarming escalation of "honor murders" in which Muslim men brazenly murder women for alleged transgressions of Sharia law. There is also female genital mutilation.

Women's inhumanity to other women is also explored. Sultan tells us of the abusive treatment of daughters-in-law by their own mothers-in-law, who punish them in the same way they themselves were tormented as young brides.

To keep them locked in a permanent state of servility in the Islamic world, education for females in Islamic society is limited and discouraged. Their treatment of children is also examined. When their children do not pray or follow the rules of Islam, they do as the Koran demands by disciplining them with corporal punishment. They hit their kids.

Sultan herself was fortunate. She was educated as a physician in Syria and was able to escape from the tyranny of this oppressive religion. Moreover, as a physician in Syria, she saw the glaring inequities of medical care. Women are short-changed.
Luckily, Dr. Sultan met an educated man who respected her. After their marriage they moved to the United States. She and her family live in Los Angeles where she now practices medicine.

By citing Koranic verses and providing concrete historical evidence dating back to the 7th century, Sultan shows that Islam reaches its goals through fear, violence, hatred of the other, theft and murder.

The author shows us that from the birth of Islam, Arab nomadic tribes raided one another in bloodthirsty rampages that produced death and devastation. Little has changed since those early days.

She describes the terror and desolation felt by the Arab peoples during centuries of desert dwelling. Sultan shows us how the fear of dying in the desert from hunger, thirst, illness and the imminent attacks by other tribes created an anxious and violent nation whose sole objective was daily survival at any cost.

Says the author, "Arabs who lived in the environment that gave birth to Islam were powerless in the face of the challenges presented by this environment, which threatened their lives and their welfare. Because they felt so helpless they felt a need for forcefulness and created a god who would fulfill this need. When the Arab male lost his power he felt the need for a forceful god. And so he created a forceful god in the image of his need - but this god was not powerful."

Thus, the religion of Islam instills a hatred of the infidel, "the other" and anyone who does not accept the terms of their angry belief system. History has recorded how Allah’s followers murdered Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs.

Why do they murder? Their god is described in the Koran as "The Harmer:, "The Avenger", "The Compeller" and "The Imperious". It is Sultan's view that the Islamic people have internalized such labels and have sought to emulate the character of their deity. Anyone they see as a threat, even fellow muslims, face brutal savagery. She says this is how Muslims actualize their "godly" traits.

She describes the prophet Muhammad as a man withut moral authority; a pedophile and a purveyor or violence and falsehood; He gives his followers approval to commit hostile acts of religious zealotry, without regard for human life. He says his path is “holy”.

Sultan tells us Islam is filled with strife, negativism and banal hatred, which is evident in its language and speech. As such, Muslims do not speak in a calm and reasoned manner, but rather are strident, resorting to shrieking, yelling, bellowing and shouting while engaging in acrimonious, ad hominem attacks against those with whom they are purportedly conversing.

That segues into a chapter titled, "Who is that woman on Al Jazeera?". Dr. Sultan's opinions were well known through the Arab and Muslim countries. For that reason, the Al Jazeera television network invited her to debate a domineering Islamic cleric on the topic of "the connection between Islamic teachings and terrorism."

It was in this venue that Dr. Sultan, delivered her case in erudite and eloquent terms without raising the volume of her voice; in contrast to her adversary who hit listeners with an ear-popping rant.

While she was concluding her thoughts during the last few seconds of the show, Dr. Sultan was once again interrupted by the clergyman. But this time she told him to "Be quiet! It's my turn!".

To Westerners who watch television debates, a rejoinder like this is often heard. But these few words sent shock waves throughout the Muslim world.

"I uttered this sentence without realizing it would open a new chapter in Arab and Muslim history. Never in the history of Islam has a woman clearly and forcefully told a Muslim man to be quiet because it was her turn to speak", says Dr. Sultan.

Throughout this compelling book, Sultan praises on her adopted country. She acknowledges her appreciation for the rights, individual freedoms and liberties that she has enjoyed in the United States for the last 21 years. She urges America to stand strong in the face of global radical Islam.

“America” she says, "is freedom."

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2, 4, 6, 8, Who Shall We Assassinate?

Whether Iran's claims are true or not, an Iranian nuclear scientist is dead and that is good news for those who understand Iran's ambition. The death of one Iranian scientist is a small price to pay for stopping the detonation of a few nuclear weapons that will kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in Iran and Israel. Those who will benefit most from the death of the scientist are the Iranians.

Iran Says U.S., Israel May Be Behind Killing of Nuclear Expert

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Iran said U.S. and Israeli spy agencies may have conspired with dissident Iranians to kill a nuclear scientist in a bomb attack today in Tehran.

Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, a professor of nuclear physics, was killed by a remote-controlled device planted on a motorcycle in front of his home in the Qeytarieh neighborhood, state-run Press TV said. The Kingdom Assembly of Iran, a political group that seeks to end Iran’s religious rule, took responsibility for the bombing in a statement, the state-run Fars news agency said.

“Signs of evil by the triangle of the Zionist regime, the U.S. and their mercenaries in Iran can be seen in this terrorist incident,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was cited as saying by Fars. “Such terrorist acts and the elimination of the country’s nuclear scientists will certainly not halt the scientific and technological process.”

The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, while the Persian Gulf country says it wants the technology for peaceful purposes. State media didn’t say whether Ali-Mohammadi was involved in Iran’s nuclear program. The Iran Atomic Energy Organization spokesman, Ali Shirzadian, wasn’t immediately available for comment.

State television identified the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s Mossad as having possible involvement. Press TV said the killing may be linked to Israel’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear development.

There have been no arrests in the case, Tehran prosecutor- general Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi told the state-run Iranian Students News Agency.

Loyal to Government

The killing of Ali-Mohammadi, who taught at Tehran University, was “a terrorist act by anti-revolutionary elements,” state television said. He was “a revolutionary,” it said, a term used by the government to describe individuals who are loyal to the country’s Shiite Muslim leadership.

Iran has been in political turmoil since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June, which provoked the biggest street protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He denies allegations by opponents that the vote was rigged.

Anti-government demonstrations flared up again last month in Tehran and other major cities, prompting a crackdown by security forces that authorities said had left eight people dead.

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Because She is Stunning...

Wow. A knockout.

The Coming NJ Department of Pot

What's ahead for New Jersey after it enacts its Medical Marijuana law? Here's what. The state will form a new bureaucracy to ensure that only approved citizens are getting pot prescriptions. Auditors and investigators will monitor doctors who prescribe pot and the pharmacies that hand it over to patients.

Thus, it will become necessary for New Jersey to increase its taxes to pay for the new employees and the organization that will maintain compliance with the new drug laws.

This effort seems amusing after considering the fact that though it is illegal, marijuana is the leading cash crop in a number or states around the country. Meanwhile, the sources approved for providing the medical marijuana will undoubtedly provide an inferior product. That has been the case in other venues taking this path. Thus, in the end, those with legitimate prescriptions will quietly switch to a pot supplier able to deliver a quality product. Those supplies will come from the unlawful market. Pot growers should cheer this development. But it will increase the work for law enforcement.

NJ 'joint' vote to legalize medical pot

New Jersey moved to the brink of legalizing medical marijuana last night when both houses of the state Legislature voted that it's high time to make the move.

The bill was expected to be signed into law by Gov. Jon Corzine before his term ends next week and incoming Gov. Chris Christie takes over.

It would let patients with severe and painful diseases, like AIDS, multiple sclerosis and cancer, buy up to 2 ounces of pot a month.

The weed would be doled out by authorized state suppliers under the bill, which would make the Garden State the 14th to allow purchase of pot for medical reasons -- though the home-grown type would still be outlawed. Driving while high would also still be illegal.

Christie had said he'd support legislation legalizing medical marijuana as long as the measure is restrictive enough. Other lawmakers expressed similar concerns.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a bill co-sponsor, says New Jersey's Compassionate Use Marijuana Act would be the nation's strictest law of its kind.

But Gusciora, a Democrat, also said the bill was designed to help suffering patients -- adding that there's no evidence medical marijuana causes an increase in overall drug use.

"I don't think we should make criminals out of our very sick and terminally ill," he said.

The legislation allows New Jersey's Department of Health to give registry ID cards to patients with "debilitating medical conditions."

The cards would allow patients to use marijuana and be immune from arrest or prosecution.

In order to get the cards, patients must show that they have severe or chronic pain, or other symptoms such as nausea, seizures, muscle spasms or wasting syndrome.

Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, which advocates for drug-policy reform, called the passage of the bill, "a triumph of compassion."

But there was some opposition to the measure. Before the vote, Republican Assembly member John Rooney asked colleagues to let Christie, a former US Attorney re-work the bill.

"There are other drugs. There are many ways to relieve pain," Rooney told the Newark Star Ledger. "The US attorney is an expert in the area of drug enforcement, let him recommend controls. There are too many loopholes."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Doctor's Orders -- Smoke Pot in New Jersey

The latest legislative move in New Jersey pushes the country a little closer to the slippery slope of drug legalization. However, until that time, New Jersey is likely to experience the arrival of ill migrants drawn by the fact that they can get a weed prescription from a doctor.

Will medical insurance cover prescriptions for pot? Seems as though it will. How long will it take for the list of pot-treatable ailments to reach epic length? Undoubtedly anorexics will get a double dose. Drs Cheech and Chong will make house calls, delivering good weight priced at insurance-company rates.

New Jersey Lawmakers Pass Medical Marijuana Bill

The New Jersey Legislature approved a measure on Monday that would make the state the first in the region and the 14th in the nation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

The measure, passed on the final day of the legislativesession, would allow patients diagnosed with severe illnesses like cancer, AIDS, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis to have access to marijuana distributed through state-monitored dispensaries.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he would sign it into law before leaving office next Tuesday.

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Muslims and Female Genital Mutilation

It is close to impossible to think of another aspect of muslim life that is as abhorrent as Female Genital Mutilation. Beheadings, maybe. But performing this grotesque abuse of women seems to have achieved a level of acceptance in muslim countries that beheadings have not. Is there any more compelling proof of a mentally ill society?

According to the United Nations, it is estimated tht over 130 million women have had some form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) performed on them.

This practice is often associated with the religion of Islam, and is most often perfomed in Middle Eastern and North African countries. In both of the African nations of Somalia and Djibouti, 98% of women have had this procedure.

Because of immigration, however, the practice of FGM has recently become more prevelant in Europe and North America. Concerns for the health of women and girls as young as three who are subject to this procedure, have led to legislation making FGM illegal in the United States. In 1994, a bill to ban FGM was introduced in the House of Representatives by Pat Schroeder (D-Colo). This bill, H.R. 3864, was later combined with H.R. 941 and passed into law in September of 1996.

A Practice of Custom or Religion?

Female Genital Mutilation is not a religious practice required by the Islamic faith. It has, however, become a "law by custom." The practice has become important to Islam because it is associated with female sexual purity.

Female Genital Mutilation is intended by its practitioners to both control women's sexual drives and also to cleanse women's genitalia by removing the clitoris which is seen as masculine, a female penis. Because of its association with purity, young women who have not been excised have little chance of marriage in the countries where FGM is practiced

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