Archive for August, 2010

In Iraq, official U.S. optimism contradicts (lack of) progress on ground

In a speech Monday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vice President Joe Biden was upbeat about developments in Iraq, where U.S. forces have officially withdrawn from combat operations:

First, violence in Iraq has decreased to such a degree that those who last served there three or four years ago—when the country was being torn apart by sectarian conflict—would hardly recognize the place. Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Shiite extremists remain dangerous, and their attacks still claim innocent lives. But they have utterly failed to achieve their objectives of inflaming sectarian conflict and undermining the Iraqi government.

Second, Iraq’s security forces—now more than 650,000 strong—are already leading the way to defend and protect their country. We have transferred control over hundreds of bases, and many thousands of square miles of territory. Some said that our drawdown would bring more violence. They were wrong, because the Iraqis are ready to take charge. And in recent …

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Housing market, economy still deep in a post-binge hangover

Yesterday’s housing news — a July decline of 27 percent in sales of existing housing, about twice as deep as predicted  — added to the sense that the economic recovery has stalled.  A big part of the decline can be explained by the fact that federal tax subsidies for homebuyers ended in June. People who wanted or needed to buy a home had jumped into the market earlier, while the $8,000  tax credit was still in effect, leaving demand in July to collapse.

The fact that housing prices nonetheless rose slightly last month over a year ago, suggesting that the prices being demanded by sellers still have not come into balance with the prices that buyers are willing to pay.

(On a side note, the Christian Science Monitor has identified six cities in which housing prices are actually rising. Atlanta is not among them. In the healthiest housing market in the country, median prices actually rose 17 percent in the second quarter of 2010 compared to a year earlier. So load up your …

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Our extremists – Gingrich, et al. – boost Islamic extremists

From NPR:

Experts worry the controversy surrounding an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing right into the hands of radical extremists.

The supercharged debate over the proposed center has attracted the attention of a quiet, underground audience — young Muslims who drift in and out of jihadi chat rooms and frequent radical Islamic sites on the Web. It has become the No. 1 topic of discussion in recent days and proof positive, according to some of the posted messages, that America is indeed at war with Islam.

“This, unfortunately, is playing right into their hands,” said Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks these kinds of websites and chat rooms for Flashpoint Global partners, a New York-based security firm. “Extremists are encouraging all this, with glee.

“It is their sense that by doing this that Americans are going to alienate American Muslims to the point where even relatively moderate Muslims are going to be pushed into joining extremist movements like …

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Judge’s ruling on stem-cell research may politicize issue

According to a ruling Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, U.S. law forbids federal funding of any scientific research using human embryonic stem cells. The decision invalidates an executive order issued by President Obama shortly after taking office in 2009 that expanded federal support for such research, and for that reason was quickly applauded by the Family Research Council and other right-to-life groups.

In issuing

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Wilson, Bowers good choices to probe school testing scandal

Gov. Sonny Perdue chose wisely and well.

Bob Wilson and Michael Bowers, appointed last week by Perdue to lead an investigation into cheating scandals in public schools in Atlanta and Dougherty County, are experienced prosecutors. Perhaps more importantly in this context, they have also proved to be persons of good judgment, capable of sifting truth from fiction and the important from the inconsequential in what promises to be a complicated probe.

So far, previous investigations have been able to document only that cheating occurred. Armed with subpoena authority and the resources to investigate fully, Bowers and Wilson may be able to dig deeper, getting at the important questions of how the cheating happened and why.

But it’s unfortunate it had to come to this. The appointment of Wilson and Bowers is necessary because for at least the second time in this scandal, local leaders have proved more interested in protecting their institutions and their reputations than in getting …

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Ron Paul: Mosque opposition ‘all about hate and Islamaphobia’

While I’m no fan of Ron Paul’s politics, I confess I do admire the man’s willingness to speak truth to power, even on the many occasions when his version of the truth directly contradicts my own.

On the proposed Manhattan mosque, he doesn’t disappoint:

Is the controversy over building a mosque near Ground Zero a grand distraction or a grand opportunity? Or is it, once again, grandiose demagoguery?

It has been said, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Are we not overly preoccupied with this controversy, now being used in various ways by grandstanding politicians? It looks to me like the politicians are “fiddling while the economy burns.”

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding …

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Aug. 23, 2010: Just another day in Disinformationland

Pop culture critic Neal Gabler, writing in Politico, notes that more and more Americans — including 31 percent of Republicans — believe incorrectly that President Obama is Muslim. The finding offers still more evidence that we live today in what Gabler rather clunkily — but accurately — labels “Disinformationland.”

“With more of us attending college, we might even be smarter. But higher education rates and easier access to information have been undermined by what amounts to a vast and insidious revolutionary force – a kind of anti-Enlightenment in which facts yield to rumor, reason to uninformed opinion and objectivity to proudly declared subjectivity. We swim in a limitless sea of misinformation, even disinformation, without much inclination to separate truth from fiction…. The idea that there is such a thing as verifiable truth – like Obama being a Christian – is increasingly seen as elitist. It’s as if truth were yet another scheme by the powerful to impose their …

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Back in the saddle, again….

or at least I will be tomorrow.

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Time to hang out the “Gone fishin’ sign once again

Last week, we were talking about having a soul-themed edition of Travelin’ Music, and I still think that’s a great idea. But not tonight. When we all step aboard the Soul Train, I want to be here. And tonight, I’m not.

In fact, as I mentioned in comments earlier, I’m not going to be around for the next two weeks. And unlike my recent cross-country “vacation,” this time I’m not bringing you with me. As Rick said to Ilsa, “Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of.” I’m headed out to the high desert of Oregon again for a couple of weeks of whitewater rafting, fishing and camping, and among that region’s many charms is the fact that cell phones and computers are utterly useless out there.

So for tonight, I’ll leave you with this, a piece that serves as the official theme song for the group of guys who have made this same trip annually for almost 20 years now. In fact, somebody at work asked me the other day whether I was ever going to get …

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Kagan confirmation vote a sign of future troubles

With yesterday’s Senate confirmation, Elena Kagan is now a Supreme Court justice. She has the intellect and experience to do well in that post.

For the moment, though, I’d like to focus on the fact that 37 senators voted against her confirmation, which is perilously close to the 40 votes that would have been required to filibuster her nomination. I think that’s an ominous sign, confirming a sense that American government is coming close to a breakdown.

As an Obama nominee, Kagan is of course going to be different than, say, a Palin or Romney or Gingrich nominee. That’s how the system works. The right to make such nominations is part of the “spoils of war” that come with winning the presidency. Historically, the Senate has respected that reality.

Kagan is also well within the legal mainstream and eminently qualified for the court. In fact, one of the worst things you could say about her is that she has spent her life and career trying to avoid controversies that might prevent …

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