Archives for the Month of August 2006 on Through the Magnifying Glass

Should Pelosi be Speaker?

Based on the hypothetical scenario if Democrats won control of the House, would the party push forward and nominate California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the next Speaker of the House?

Pelosi would then be third person in succession after Bush and Cheney for the Presidency. It's pretty much traditional for the minority leader be chosen if her party regains control of the House, but is she the right person for the Democratic Party? Could she be too liberal, and would it result in a brief tenure as Speaker if the Democrats return control back to the Republicans in 2008?

For one thing, she's from San Francisco, a city which is really up the wazoo about "tolerance" and loves to dictate what is "good" for the public. This is the same city that rejected having the retired battleship U.S.S. Iowa berthed in their harbor.

Honestly, the moment Pelosi becomes Speaker, she will act just like the Republicans did when they took control. Same person, just different party.

Shutting down debate

It is necessary to preserve the integrity of having a sensible debate on important policy issues. I always find it ridculous that instead of responding against an allegation or a rebuttal on issues, individuals and groups choose to discredit the other side by finding any skeletons in their closet, use falsified facts, and other dangerous means. Both political groups on either side are to blame, and they are responsible for the lack of intellectual knowledge in our society.

Source

In 22 years as head of a public policy research organization, I have never before seen a more concerted effort to shut down debate on important public policy issues. That this effort is coming from the liberal end of the political spectrum, which historically has defended unfettered intellectual inquiry and free speech, is both surprising and disturbing.

Early Signs

During the past year, prominent conservative and libertarian writers and activists, including Doug Bandow, Peter Ferrara, Michael Fumento, Steven Milloy, Grover Norquist, and Armstrong Williams, were accused of failing to report possible financial conflicts of interest. In each case, liberal advocacy groups used sympathetic reporters to “out” their more conservative opponents.

In some instances there may have been actual conflicts that should have been reported in bylines, but most of the allegations relied on guilt by association or accounts of fundraising tactics widely used by groups on both the left and the right. Several people had their careers adversely affected by the attacks.

Fast Food Fiction

Eric Schlosser, the anti-fast food crusader who wrote Fast Food Nation, has a new “children’s book” out on the same subject, titled Chew on This. I put “children’s book” in quotation marks because while this book has pictures and simplifies complicated issues, it delivers a mostly grown-up message about how evil big corporations exploit farmers, hide the harmful health effects of their products, pay their employees too little, put profits before people ... well, you know the litany.

Heartland Science Director Jay Lehr wrote a review of Chew on This pointing out its flaws and chastising Schlosser for trying to change public policy by targeting kids. A few years ago, Schlosser might have responded by answering Lehr’s charges in writing or in interviews. But times have changed.

Houghton Mifflin, Schlosser’s publisher and one of the largest book publishers in the world, hired an outside public relations firm to investigate Heartland’s history and funding and to warn editors against publishing or reporting what we might say.

Unbelievable, you say? In an interview with Bloomberg LLC, Schlosser accused Heartland of being an “Astroturf” organization and a “fake grassroots organization.” (Heartland was founded by a group of small business owners 22 years ago and has 1,400 donors. What’s “fake” about that?) He even claimed Heartland was “originally created with money from the tobacco industry.” That statement is patently false and obviously intended to defame us. It was retracted by Bloomberg after we threatened legal action for libel.

Gore: The Debate Is Over

Al Gore has been trying to shut down debate on global warming since at least 1988. More recently, in a June interview with ABC News host and fellow Clinton administration alum George Stephanopoulos, Gore said, “the debate in the scientific community is over.”

Actually, the debate is just starting. Most climatologists disagree with the alarmist perspective Gore presents in his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and Gore’s lies and exaggerations are getting more attention thanks to a widely circulated essay by Dr. Richard Lindzen, one of the world’s most respected astrophysicists.

But Gore and his allies no longer want to argue about the facts. Global warming, Gore says, is a “moral issue.” In his movie and in interviews, Gore repeatedly compares people who disagree with him to people who denied that smoking causes cancer, and he claims they are all stooges of the oil industry.

Gore’s allies orchestrate daily, weekly, and monthly media events to create the appearance of a scientific consensus and an urgent need for immediate action to “stop global warming pollution.” Every day we read about “new research” proving global warming is imminent, though often the research is not new or not about global warming. Once a week or so we read about politicians and sometimes business leaders calling for expensive (but largely symbolic) government programs.

Gore’s people are also paying an outside public relations firm, this time to place phone calls to thousands of households urging them to attend his movie. Can you imagine? Automated phone calls urging people to attend a movie?

Carmona: The Debate Is Over

On June 27, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard.”

Most people can be forgiven for having thought the truth lay somewhere in between: Working in a smoke-filled bar for 20 years seems likely to pose a risk to your health, but our bodies can probably tolerate occasional exposure to cigarette smoke.

Science writer Michael Fumento reminds us that secondhand smoke is a dramatically diluted substance compared to what active smokers breathe in. Spending an hour in a typical bar back in the 1970s was the equivalent of smoking only .004 cigarettes. The level of smoke contaminants in today’s bars is much lower, and several orders of magnitude less than OSHA indoor air quality standards.

Proof that exposure to secondhand smoke is dropping rapidly can be found in the amount of cotinine in the blood of nonsmokers. It fell 68 percent for kids and 75 percent for adults from 1988 to 1991 ... before nonsmoking sections in restaurants were the rule instead of the exception, and before the recent rush to ban smoking in public places and massive tax hikes.

I won’t recite the litany of fallacies behind the secondhand smoke scare, partly because I’ve described them before in this space, and partly because, according to General Carmona, they no longer matter. Carmona, like Schlosser and Gore, is annoyed by critics who keep poking holes in the public health crisis that pays the mortgage on his home.

Is defending smokers as important as defending modern agriculture and fossil fuels? Absolutely. What’s happening to smokers and their still-legal product could happen to all of us and our favorite-but-slightly-risky products or activities. Small hypothetical health threats are being used to justify bans and tax levels that vastly exceed any reasonable computation of the costs smokers impose on the rest of society.

Why Is This Happening?

Name-calling and ad hominem attacks have always been used in debates over public policy, but in my memory they have never before risen to the heights to which they’ve been employed by today’s left. They are no longer just tactics. They constitute a carefully chosen and massively funded strategy of the left: Inundate the public with the message that “the debate is over” and demonize anyone who dares to say otherwise.

The left’s sudden intolerance for debate reflects the movement’s intellectual bankruptcy. The American public doesn’t support bigger government and higher taxes. It doesn’t trust elected officials or unelected bureaucrats to “manage” the economy or tell them which schools their kids must attend. Yet these unpopular policies form the core of what liberals have to offer.

No wonder they want to stop debate. They always lose.

What We Can Do

It is critically important that we use every opportunity to explain and demonstrate that debates over the important issues of the day are not over. The moment debate ends, dogma and propaganda start, and they are poor guides to good public policy.

We can’t “take a vacation” from the debate and expect it to be the same as when we left it. We need to reject and disprove every claim that the debate is over, because otherwise there will be no debate when we return.

We also need to defend the free-market organizations the left is seeking to demonize. When you see a free-market group or one of its spokespersons being attacked in the press, I urge you to take a moment to write a letter, send an email, or place a phone call to the publisher or broadcaster and defend that victim. Tell them it isn’t fair to attack people’s motives or to make allegations about “who funds them.” Such rhetoric does more to mislead than inform the audience.

The left has changed the rules of engagement. We have no choice but to change our own tactics.

Scenario: House and Senate in Democratic Control?

The most telling generic poll was sponsored by National Public Radio, and conducted jointly by Democratic and Republican pollsters. In a survey of the 50 most competitive districts in the country, as determined by the Cook Political Report and others, the poll (done in late July) gave Democrats a plus of about six points. In 2004, the total vote in those districts went Republican by some 12 points.

Will the Democrats take control of Congress?

The Democrats need a net gain of only 15 seats to take over the House, where the balance is currently 231 Republicans to 201 Democrats, with one independent and two vacancies. In the Senate, Democrats must win a net gain of six seats take control.

Polls do show a climate that favors a change in control. The electorate is largely unhappy with the direction of the nation and President Bush and Congress have been chronically unpopular. Democratic insiders have become far more optimistic now than months ago. James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, said "We have to go back to 1974 (during Watergate) to find such a favorable environment. If we can't win in this environment, we have to question the whole premise of the party." (Bloomberg, Democrats See Victory in U.S. House Races, Senate Within Reach, 28-Aug)

In the same article, even some Republicans agree. "The issue matrix and political dynamics are not good for us," says Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican. "Only some big national or international event before the election can change that." Republican pollster, Bill McInturff, stated that "people are angry about Iraq, about gas prices, about health care."

In fact, congressional leaders are prepared to look at a loss of 20 to 30 House seats!!! In the Senate, they will barely hold on to their majority. This is quite a negative outlook. Is it possible that national sentiment is clearly against the GOP?

Still, Election Day is still about two months away. Could anti-Republican opinion maintain its intensity? Will voters be interested in voting in a midterm election and how likely they are to turn out to vote? One factor that will play a part in the election are state and local issues that could create waves against incumbents.

Pennsylvania: Climate against the GOP is negative due to recent actions of the state legislature. Top Republican members lost their jobs in the party primary back in May.

Ohio: Local "climate" problems. Rep. Bob Ney scandal with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Coingate scandal has damaged the reputation of the GOP party. Outgoing Governor Taft became first governor to be charged with a crime while in office, pleading no contest to four criminal misdeameanors.

Indiana: Anti-incumbent climate. One Republican congressman embarassed for being delinquent in paying property taxes.

I would figure that if Ohio and Pennsylvania end up fully Democratic, it will spell doom on Republican chances for maintaining federal control. However, even though Democrats will likely make gains in the Northeast and Midwest, we may end up with a return to political normalcy: divided government.

If Democrats took control of both houses, you still got Bush in the White House. It is basically the reverse when Republicans took control in 1994 when Bill Clinton was President.

Honestly, the GOP base will also come out in huge numbers because they would not want to see the Democrats take full control of Congress. Perhaps Republican turnout will be slightly lower. The reason? High spending, lack of a solution or progress in dealing with illegal immigration, the government handling of Hurricane Katrina when it heavily damaged the Gulf region and New Orleans, mistakes in handling post-war Iraq and the Israel/Hezbollah conflict, underestimating the cost of the passed Medicare legislation, and a largely bloated government bureaucracy.

We can also look at some historical facts. Besides the upset of 1994, neither party has made a net gain of more than 10 House seats over the last twenty years. Maybe 2006 will be another exception.

It can also be alleged that media polls purporting to show low approval ratings for Bush are overpolling Democrats and underpolling Republicans. USA Today tends to lean Democratic, but I think Rasmussen offers a better picture.

USA TODAY/Gallup - Latest figures: 42% Approve, 54% Disapprove (Aug 18-20)

Rasmussen Reports - Latest figures: 40% Approve, 57% Disapprove

Rasmussen's outlook for the Senate: 50 Republicans, 47 Democrats, 3 Toss-Up. As for the House, Rasmussen has a generic ballot set up where Democrats are leading 46% to Republicans 38%.

My Call:
House - Democrats take control
Senate - Republicans maintain control with Cheney's Tie-Breaking Vote

The Last Word
Republicans have been in control of the White House and Congress for mostly six years. The national debt has risen from $5.8 trillion to $8.5 trillion. Government bureaucracy is the largest ever. Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. We have sacrificed our international leadership during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. Honestly, Republicans have become more interested in staying in power than meeting the needs of the people. Yet, I don't think the Democrats have a better plan. I would really prefer a divided government than having one party being in control of everything. Stuff may get done slower but at least there is more compromise and more sensible legislation.

West Ham United FC - 06/07 Season

westham1.jpgWhen I was enjoying my foreign assignment in London, United Kingdom for the last two year, I got caught up in the wonderful world of European football (known as soccer to the North American folks). My colleague took me to a West Ham game (they played Ipswich Town) in East London. The game ended in a draw even though West Ham took the lead in the first half. After that game, it was an experience that I would never forget. West Ham United employs an entertaining, attacking football style ever since its founding in 1900. Regardless of their status at any given time, the club has never sacrificed its long-held football principles.

That year (2005), West Ham went on to get promotion to the top flight, the Barclays Premiership League, after a two-year absence. That's right, if your team does a poor job during the season, it gets relegated to the lower division. Imagine if we can do that with a few of the MLB and NBA teams. Anyways, after promotion, I went ahead and purchased a season-ticket for the 2005/06 season, much to the delight of my West Ham fan colleague.

It was the most fortunate decision I have ever made, much to the jealousy of my colleague and his West Ham die-hard fans. For the 2005/06 season, West Ham did well in its first season back amongst the elite clubs, placing 9th out of 20 teams. It even went on to reach the 125th FA Cup Final to play against Liverpool FC. Unfortunately, we lost in penalties after a 3-3 draw, but since Liverpool had qualified for the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Cup spot (which is usually given to the winner of the FA Cup) was handed over to us. This would be our first trip to European competition since 1999.

The start of the 2006/07 season (the first 3 games) has been pretty much identical. Our first game was Home v Charlton Athletic, a London club in the Southeast. The Hammers (their nickname) won 3-1, which was identical to the score against Blackburn Rovers the year before. In both games, a player from the opposing team was sent off. The second game was away v Watford, which got promoted from the Coca-Cola Championship (Tier 2) last year. The scored ended in a 1-1 draw, identical to last year's draw against Newcastle United. The third game ended in a loss. West Ham traveled to Liverpool for a replay of the FA Cup match final. Even though the Hammers took the lead in the beginning, Liverpool came back to win 2-1. This was identical to last year's home loss against Bolton Wanderers.

westhamlogo.bmp
So after three games, West Ham United FC is currently 6th with 4 points. For its London rivals, Chelsea FC (Premiership League champions of last year) are in 4th with 6 points. Fulham FC is 10th with 4 points (goal difference). Tottenham FC is 15th with 3 points. Charlton Athletic is 16th with 3 points. Arsenal FC is 17th with 1 points. Watford FC is 18th with 1 points.

West Ham forward Bobby Zamora is currently the top scorer with 4 goals (2 against Charlton, 1 against Watford, and 1 against Liverpool).

The next game is the following Sunday, September 10 which is Home against Aston Villa. Last year, West Ham routed Aston Villa, 4-0, with a Marlon Harewood hat-trick.

Links

West Ham United FC

Barclays Premiership Football League

Sky Sports

No sex in the fast lane

Two colleagues at work were driving to work on the NJ Turnpike, and the car in front of them in the fast lane (the left lane) was going quite slow. When an opening on the right was offered, they made the attempt to pass the slow-moving car.

The reason for the slow car: the driver was getting pleasured

8 planets now

Time to change those space brochures, the science textbooks, even the solar system exhibit at the Space Center museum.

Pluto is no longer a planet!

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has stripped Pluto of its planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930.

Membership will be limited to the eight "classical" planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

I guess the only other people who are still upset are the ones that believe Earth is the center of the universe, not the sun.

Decision was made at a conference of 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries in the Czech Republic.

CNN.com - Pluto gets the boot

38th in US News

Case Western Reserve University is also ranked 38th in US News 2007 College Rankings. It is tied with UC-San Diego and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Carnegie Mellon is ranked 21st.

Princeton is 1st, followed by Harvard, then Yale.

But really, does an Ivy League education on your resume gets you a better job? Much has changed from the 1990's, and corporations/companies are looking a lot at internship, work-study, co-op as major factors towards job employment.

Link

Banning Hotel Porn

It seems that a coalition of conservative groups are out to get the government involved in regulating what entertainment can be offered in your hotel room. About thirteen of these groups -- which also includes the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America -- took out full-page ads in some editions of USA Today earlier this month urging the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate whether some of the pay-per-view movies widely available in hotels violate federal and state obscenity laws.

They even went onto suggest that offering hotel porn would "increase" sexual abuse cases, equating lodgings to be like strip joints or porn stores.

First, honestly, getting the FBI and Justice Department speaks volumes of hypocrisy. Conservatives are supposed to advocate less government intervention not more.

Second, you can ask the hotel front desk to turn off adult movies. It is quite simple, and it is very easy. Use your personal responsibility (aka "your mouth"), go to the front desk, and politely ask that the hotel turn off the adult movie titles. Or when you enter your hotel room, switch on the in-room entertainment system, and turn off the adult movie option.

I find it ridiculous to believe that a hotel offering no adult movies is somehow more safer and family-oriented. That would only happen if the rest of the TV channels are censored, no profanity, and you can enjoy any sexual entertainment with your wife, lover, mistress, gf, or bf.

Somehow I think they are just looking for another industry to emplace their "values" without offering everyone else the ability to make a decision for themselves.

Citizens for Community Values -> Censors for Their Values, not Yours

CNN - Conservatives ask FBI to investigate hotel porn

If Russia can pay its debt off, why can't the US?

Reborn Russia clears Soviet debt, By Edmund Conway, Economics Editor

The Russian Federation has paid back its entire Soviet-era debt to the Paris Club. It used to owe approximately $60 billion when communism fell, and Russia took on all of the foreign debt owed by former members of the USSR (how sweet of them!).

The paid off debt is clearly a sign of the country's financial independence. Of course, it is contributed by large amounts of revenues that have been taken in by high oil and gas prices.

It is quite a turnaround for this "lesser" superpower. Eight years ago, it suffered a financial crisis when it could not pay its debt payments on $40 billion of domestic debt, sparking a run on the ruble currency and plunging thousands of its citizens into poverty.

Today, it is projecting a budget surplus of $56 billion next year. Of course, the US is projecting a $260 billion budget deficit for this year. Russia is also the world's third-largest reserve of foreign currencies holding $277 billion. China ($941 billion) and Japan ($864 billion) are the only two countries that are higher. (Source: Wikipedia) The US only has about $67 billion in foreign reserves.

By paying off the debt, Russia will save more than $12 billion in interest over the next 14 years. In reverse, the US had to pay $352 billion in interest payments for 2005, and it has already paid $360 billion for 2006 (Source: Dept of Treasury)

Now, I do not know if comparing Russia with the US is a good example. But really, compare the financial responsiblity. Who's better?

Campus Speech: Georgia Tech

Effort loosens Tech's muzzle

By RUTH MALHOTRA, ORIT SKLAR

Published on: 08/18/06

In March, we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Georgia Tech for its blatantly unconstitutional speech policies.

Our love of liberty and for Georgia Tech have compelled us to take this stand so every student's rights to free speech and religious liberty will be respected.

The purpose of the lawsuit has been seriously distorted in the media and on campus. The suit was filed to hold Tech accountable for selective enforcement of its speech codes. This resulted in mainstream conservative speech being banned as "hate speech." Politically charged, far-out-of-the-mainstream leftist speech was considered part of the "intellectual diversity" purportedly valued by Tech.

We also challenged Tech's unlawful refusal to fund religious and political groups.

This week, we won a decisive victory when a federal judge ordered the repeal of Tech's speech code. The speech code violated our First Amendment rights because it prohibited any kind of student speech that administrators subjectively deemed intolerant or offensive. It was not a narrow policy that only affected campus housing, but was used against us several times to censor activities all around campus.

Over the past three years, we've had our speech censored, and we've had our protests shut down by campus police. Tech officials have repeatedly warned us against speaking out on important public issues when we did not conform to their unbalanced agenda. Contrary to the spin that the administration and many in the media have placed on the case, we have never sought the right to "insult" or "demean" any person. Our desire is to debate ideas, not attack individuals.

The nature of speech codes, however, has proved to be arbitrary and one-sided. Consider this: Our peaceful and respectful protests — including one against the feminist play "Vagina Monologues" and another against affirmative action — were aggressively silenced. But Georgia Tech has done nothing to stop the blatant personal attacks that we have encountered.

The "tolerant" left has used explicit racial and sexist slurs against us. Students handed out fliers in dorms calling Ruth, a person of Indian descent, a "Twinkie" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). On Internet sites, we've seen swastikas superimposed on our faces. We have received an avalanche of vile, personally insulting hate mail. We have even been physically threatened. All the while the administration stood silent.

Although such reactions are disturbing and we are disappointed that fellow students would act in such a manner, we don't need a speech code to protect ourselves. We simply want the opportunity to speak and express our ideas without fear of censorship or punishment.

We believe in legal equality for all students in the marketplace of ideas. May the best ideas win. But Georgia Tech believes that its ideas are not strong enough to withstand scrutiny, and it apparently has decided that it knows all the answers to the major political and even religious issues of the day. That is why it pushed to silence us. That is why it de-funds student political and religious organizations at the same time that it tries to teach us what our religious beliefs should be (to give you a hint: Georgia Tech prefers Buddhists over Baptists). This is disingenuous, unconstitutional and demonstrates the selectivity in enforcement.

With this week's court order, we won an important victory for free speech. But the case is not over, and we will not rest until the school we love abides by the Constitution that protects us all.

Musician Pete Doherty must be jailed with no parole

Pete_Doherty.jpgWhile in the UK, I cannot help but shake my head at the crazy and dangerous antics of musician Pete Doherty. He is the on-off boyfriend of supermodel Kate Moss.

The latest incident is his guilty plead to five drug charges. Obviously, he is a crack cocaine and heroin addict for a number of years. On April 20 of this year, he was caught in possession of cocaine and diamorphine as he drove in his car. On April 29, he was caught again with cocaine, this after he was out on bail. On August 7, he was caught a third time with crack cocaine.

His defense lawyer, Sean Curran, said "The are facts clear but I would urge the court to consider that Mr Doherty has made every effort to improve his situation." He told the court that Doherty's career would "suffer" greatly if he was jailed.

The prosecution cited Doherty's inability to steer clear of drugs while on bail as a cause for concern.

The shock of this is that Magistrate Mrs A. Rose (the person overseeing the case) granted bail to this drugged music artist. The three conditions were:

1. Live and sleep at the Prioy clinic
2. Daily curfew from 10pm to 8am
3. He cannot leave the clinic between those times

Honestly, do you really think he is going to come out drug-free out of that drug rehabilitation clinic. One of his close friends even said that "Pete was not a criminal... it will give him a chance to continue to recover." Bollux! Bullsh*t! A complete lie!

This is the same person who squirted a MTV cameraman with a syringe filled with is own blood, and he apparently injected himself with heroin prior to the interview. This is the same person that returned to the UK after a failed attempt to get himself "clean" at a rehab clinic in Arizona. He got arrested in Birmingham for driving a stolen vehicle. He was arrested for injecting himself with drugs on a budget airline.\

In April, he pleaded guilty to seven counts of drug possession, and the judge sentenced him to community service with a 2-year supervision order and 18 months of drug rehab. C'mon! Any other regular person would have been sentenced to prison.

pdoherty-inject.jpgAlso in the same month, The Sun published pictures of him injecting heroin into the arm of a passed out fan. The image shows him holding the syringe as the girl lies unconscious on a kitchen floor. In his defense, he said it "was only a joke" and that it was staged. LOL! The girl was even defending the crack singer saying that the Doherty was extracting blood, not injecting any drug substance.

Really, enough is enough.

Someone ought to tell Magistrate Rose to rescind her conditional bail, send the police to the Priory Clinic and drag Pete Doherty to prison with no parole.

He has gotten PLENTY of slaps on the wrist for his many arrests. In the UK, he is committing a Class A Drug Possession violation - the category that includes hard-core substances as cocaine and heroin.

Send him to prison please. Every day he is out free sends a terrible message to the rest of society.

Fox News - Brit Singer Pete Doherty Pleads Guilty to Drug Possession

SF Gate - Pete Doherty

E Online - Doherty Draws Blood?

Plane Passengers doing the "profiling"

Daily Mail article - Link

While it may seem that some of the passengers' actions in forcing two men of Asian appearance off a Monarch Airlines ZB 613 flight (Malaga to Manchester, UK) was done with good intentions, it creates more harm than good in letting the terrorists dictate our actions and reactions to the latest scare.

It seems that some of the 150 passengers overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking in Arabic. A female passenger near them allegedly heard some comments that were "disturbing" to her. Worries among the people began to spread. Further suspicion was aroused because since it was hot, the two men were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers (sweaters) and were regularly checking their watches. Of course it is unclear whether the departure lounge was air-conditioned, plus we all look at our watch when a flight is being delayed on a normal basis.

At first, six passengers refused to board the flight. Further surprise was made when a family group stood up and walked off the plane, followed by other passengers. Essentially, they refused to board the plane until the two Asian men were removed. The two Asian passengers were escorted off the jet, then three hours later, after another security sweep, the aircraft was cleared to leave.

The two men were later cleared by airport security and rebooked to travel to Manchester on a later flight.

Patrick Mercer, the Tory (opposition) Homeland Security spokesman, said that it was a "victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally." The Civil Guard in Malaga responded, "These men had aroused suspicion because of their appearance and the fact that they were speaking in a foreign language thought to be an Arabic language, and the pilot was refusing to take off until they were escorted off the plane."

So was it right for these passengers to judge the appearance of these two Asian men and decide that they are a threat to the security of the aircraft? These two men were security-checked. In a different incident, two British women with young children complained about flying with a bearded Muslim even though he had been security-checked twice before boarding.

Was it the right thing to do? Could this happen on an American flight? It would seem that anyone of "color" could "threaten" the safety of all the passengers and crew. It is true that we may give a "second look" to Muslims, but could it spread from there? A security scare in West Virginia led to the detention of a woman of Pakistani descent. Could this lead to more apprehension among passengers about Pakistani people in general? The only problem is that Pakistani and Indian come from the same region, so they would have similiar features. Indian people could also find themselves under more scrutiny. If it was an Asian terrorist plot, then Chinese, Japanese, and Korean people fall under the scope.

Seriously, this could bring about a precedent where another passenger can decide whether you, a fellow passenger, are a threat to them, and because of the increase in the security threat, the crew would, for the sake of convenience, choose to remove the person rather than ignoring the passengers' concerns. Look at the numbers. Should we remove two passengers? Or ignore the concerns of the other 148?

I can also find it disconcerting if a person who is of a minority group attain a first-class ticket on a long-haul flight, and the rest of the first-class cabin (which likely could be caucausian) can view that person with suspicion. Their first suggestion in their mind is whether this person is a terrorist. It may seem paranoid to suggest such a thing, but I believe it does happen.

Profiling by passengers is a dangerous combination, whether it results in something good or bad. We leave it to our government to maintain and enforce our security checkpoints and the airline's staff and crew to keep the plane secured. There are at times where we must leave it to the professionals to determine what proper action should be taken.

Plurality v Majority Voting

The battle over which governance practices are best keeps on going. Recently, USG amended their election bylaws where all races will be decided by plurality. Before, candidates running for USG Officer positions (President, VP-Development;Finance;Academic Affairs;Public Relations) were decided by majority. The aforementioned election format has been in place for probably decades.

The reasons for changing the election rules might have ranged from choosing plurality voting because it is the most common winner method to avoiding the need to waste time and energy to conduct runoff elections for any of the officer positions.

A bit of overview between the plurality and majority methods. Plurality voting is the most common winner method used in the world today. Basically, the candidate that receives the most votes win. Majority voting means a candidate wins if he/she receives at least 50% of the votes. If none of the candidates do so, then a runoff election is held between the two candidates that had the most votes cast.

I ran for VP Finance for the 1999-2000 year and fortunately I won unopposed. I would still prefer the majority voting method for the officer positions because of the importance of electing the proper candidate for such a high-level position. In most cases, we have had 3-4 candidates run for an officer position, and one candidate managed to acquire the necessary majority threshold to win the election. Before I ran for VP Finance, I did run for VP Academic Affairs. I managed to secure a plurality of the votes, but I did not attain a majority victory. In the runoff, I lost to the candidate that received the second most votes after me. I was not really unhappy about the loss nor was I upset that I managed to get the most votes in the first round, but lost in the second round.

I believed that majority voting for the officers gave them a special place in our student governance structure. It seems quite difficult to comprehend if you had five candidates running for USG President, and a person won the election with only 25% of the vote. It can only be a proper result if the candidate is preferred by a majority of the student body, rather than the plurality of the minority.

Some may argue that the plurality method works well in our congressional and senatorial races, but we are talking about a two-party system which bascially ensures that most of the votes cast will be for the top two candidates (Republican or Democrat). In a few places, you may see an independent third-party candidate win. Plus, in a substantial number of races the candidate that won the plurality of the votes also won a majority of the ballots.

My concern is that plurality voting gives the advantage to certain groupings in the student body to take over the government. While I am sure it would not happen, the possiblity is there. Certain groups can ally together to ensure that their candidates will win the election. Since there is no worry to attaining that 50%, all you can do is to get a few more votes than the other candidates, and you're set. How can a student feel confident if a person that won USG VP of Development with only 19% of the vote? It just does not feel right.

If we are so interested in plurality voting, why not amend the criteria that is set to amending the USG bylaws or the constitution? Why is there a need for two-thirds approval? Why does it take a two-thirds vote to recall a USG rep or officer? I am confused to how we make it to so easy to elect a person, we make it so difficult to remove that person or change our governing document.

Plurality makes the most sense if there are only two candidates running for a position. It does not work out for all if you get a low voter turnout and a winning candidate that does not command a true majoritarian mandate of the student body. While we do have several candidates running for the class officer positions, they do not exact more importance than the officer positions.

USG should review its electoral format and reinstate the majority voting method or something similar to the USG officer positions for the next executive elections.

Regards,

James Chang '00
Former VP Finance 99-00
Magnolia House Rep 98-99
Constitution Chair 97-98
Tyler House Rep 96-98

Airport Security & Carryon Luggage - Part 2

Link - CNN.com readers share their travel woes

Let's take a look at some of these thoughts and opinions. Some focused on the delays and inconvenience that the high security alerts that occurred during the past several days. One was upset because security would not allow him to pass because there was "gel" contained in shoe insole. Another had her asthma inhaler confiscated.

Some hoped that their loved ones are getting to and from their destination without incident. There is a sense of helplessness when your family on the plane and there is nothing you can do if something bad happens, but only pray for their safe journey.

A few were concerned because their travel arrangements are close to 9/11 and whether they should still go on their flight or re-book them.

One reader wonders if passengers are not allowed to carry water or juices on the plane, why can't the airline provide them?

That's called beverage service. Of course it would be nice for the FA's to bring the drinks around more often.

Another reader believes that people should not whine and complain about the "inconveniences" imposed by the new security rules. Even one thinks there should be no carry-on luggage whatsoever. [They] suggest that the people that are complaining do not believe in airport safety and start appreciating the fact that they are alive, thanks to the authorities.

I need to respond to this on behalf of the security-conscious and vigilant travelers out there. We do believe in strong airport security. We really do thank the British authorities for being able to break this terrorist plot to destory planes in midflight between the US and UK. I am sure we are willing to sacrifice our water bottle or Gatorade sports drink for public safety. I have to state what one reader submitted, "it confirms that Al Qaeda is succeeding in paralyzing the US via terrorist attacks (or attempts). They did not succeed in taking lives, but they succeeded by instilling fear in millions of travelers, by causing the American and British governments to scramble with new regulations..."

Listening to the experts and implementing their "suggestions" would result in no luggage at all! Flying has been quite safe since 9/11, but the reality of liquid-based bombs is really nothing new. The possibility of someone mixing benign liquids into a volatile mixture during a plane in mid-flight is remote. If such an attempt was made, I am quite sure the flight crew and the passengers themselves will take the proper action to prevent such a thing from happening. Over the past few years, there have been incidents of people trying to cause a disturbance in the flight cabin, and were quickly subdued by crew and other fellow passengers. I am sure we can all rely on the vigilance of these people to keep everyone out of harm's way.

We are looking at reasonable and proper security precautions to be done at every airport. Recently, airlines were testing new technology that will allow passengers to use their mobile (cell) phone in mid-flight. I guess the technology will now be put on hold indefinitely. The idea that your electronic device (CD player, mp3 player [iPod], laptop, mini-DVD player) could be used as a potential arming device reminds us about the guy MacGyver, but if anyone on the plane notices a person trying to take apart a laptop or iPod player, action will be taken. Do you think no one would notice a fellow passenger taking apart his laptop or CD player to effect a "repair" on it?

Electronic watches are also suspected because they contain enough electrical charge (as suggested by the security experts) to explode a device. Are we getting a bit ridculous here?

Would people with pacemakers be allowed to board the plane? People who need liquid-based allergic medication? Would vitamins be allowed to be carried on the plane? Could we please use some common sense here?

Safe travel, yes, but not overzealous security regulations.

One person asks why train stations are not equipped with these security regulations. Let's be realistic here. I doubt that you can properly enforce transit systems where millions of people use it everyday. The only way here is to have a vigilant staff and updated security camera technology, and a public who are more aware of their surroundings.

This is a reaction to fear, and we are going way overboard on it. Let's take a step back and think this through properly. Security must be strong, but sensible and effective. Strong security does not mean a 3-4 hour checkpoint for a short-haul domestic flight, and double for international.

So should we ban everything else from your carryon luggage?

image_security_lines.jpgHomeland Security and TSA have announced that any liquid substance (i.e. water bottles, toothpaste, lip gloss) will be banned from customers' carryon luggage at every US airport starting tomorrow. So far the only exception to this rule is baby formula and perscription medicine.

There will also be double-screening in place. Once at the main checkpoint, and the second at the departure gate. Again, such procedures were done after the events of 9/11.

Airport security experts have indicated that laptops, mobile/cell phones, and watches can pose a potential danger to the safety of an aircraft. These plus anything else that uses a battery (electronic devices) should be prohibited from any flight.

Can this be a realistic scenario?

Laptops are pretty much the lifeblood of the business person. We also use laptops to play songs, videos, or games while on a long-haul flight. I usually bring my laptop on my holiday trips because I can upload my pictures from my digital camera memory card without the need to buy spare memory cards. Plus, since hotels offer free internet access, that laptop is useful for tourism and planning out sightseeing trips.

Mobile/cell phones are practically a part of your daily life. We have looked at that phone as an emergency aid. When I was on a plane on the ground, we were delayed for two hours because of a stoppage, and the crew allowed the passengers to use their phones to contact their friends, relatives about the delay. If a serious incident occurred, that phone could be a life saver (i.e. how would the passengers on United 93 be able to figure out what was going on?).

Watches could be considered optional. But over time, it becomes an inconvenience if you need to buy a new disposable watch everytime you travel.

Other electronic devices (CD player, iPod, mp3 player, USB device) could be tolerated, of course what can you do if you are stuck on a 14-hour flight. Or a really long-haul flight from new york to sydney. Obviously, I am sure you can bring a book onboard (with the exception of today's crisis), but if your flight got a poor IFE, that long-haul flight becomes quite uncomfortable. However, if every other airline implemented Virgin's on-demand IFE system, then we would be quite content with being entertained.

The experts talk about the need for safety. Of course we know that. Passengers are more aware and vigilant in reporting suspicious activity. In reality, it is hard to enforce even the most stringent security regulations at the airport. Should we really ban flying altogether? Has the costs and risks outweigh the benefits? The end result is enduring a multi-hour check-in. Quite inconvenient! Of course we can adapt to these new security changes, but such change will need to expand to almost our whole daily routine. Like if you need to go on a corporate or leisure trip, instead of leaving 2 hours ahead of time, you may need to get their 4 hours ahead just for a domestic flight or in a worse case, take the whole day off for an international flight. Honestly, we are approaching the point where air travel becomes impractical. Instead of flying, taking the train or driving would be a better choice, but look at the scenario if safety steps taken on planes were done the same way on trains. Or what if that toll plaza when travelling from Jersey to Delaware becomes a checkpoint? Are we becoming a prison-like nation?

Duty-free shopping will practically disappear since travelers won't be able to purchase any perfumes or liquor products. Tourism would be impacted too. Some of your fragile souvenirs that cannot be checked into the hold would have to be left behind. Liquor and perfume products bought at tourist spots will have to be discarded. You might need to ship everything back home instead.

Security experts even noted terror attacks can occur in an airport terminal, not on a plane. How can we handle this too? A bomber could detonate an explosive device in the checkpoint area where hundreds of people will be waiting in line to get through. Should we build baggage drop-off points away from the airport?

Let's be realistic! We cannot ban everything. In order to make security more effective, we have to look at the security checkpoint process. In some airports, it is quite inefficient and dangerous if some incident were to happen. Banning everyday items is unenforceable. You might as well have everyone strip naked just to be sure everyone is safe.

Friday News

All airports have banned liquids and gel-based products such as toothpaste and makeup onto planes. They must be checked at check-in. Hmm, I have to wonder if duty-free products are also banned.

For Passengers Leaving the UK

According to The Sun newspaper...

BANNED

NO liquids other than those above are allowed — including bottles of duty-free alcohol on flights to the US. Travellers to other countries may still stock up on duty free.

ELECTRIC key fobs, mobiles, iPods and all electrical equipment, including cameras. Books and magazines.

MEDICINES in liquid form are also not allowed unless verified.

CONTACT lens solution and spectacle and sunglass cases. Wheelchairs other than the airport’s own.

ALLOWED

WALLETS and purses plus contents including money, credit cards and identity cards.

ESSENTIAL travel documents such as passports and tickets.

PRESCRIPTION medicines and medical items sufficient and essential for the flight including diabetic kits.

GLASSES and sunglasses and contact lens holders.

BABY food and milk for travelling tots — but the milk must be tasted by the parent or guardian.

NAPPIES, wipes, creams and nappy sacks — but only enough for the flight.

FEMALE sanitary products essential for the flight, unboxed — tampons, pads, towels and wipes.

KEYS and tissues, so long as they are not in a box, handkerchiefs.

ALERT: UK Terror Plot to Blow Up Transatlanitc Fights

Breaking news from the UK

As of 7AM EST (12PM BST)

Scotland Yard has arrested 21 individuals in connection with a plot to blow up either American, United, and Continental airlines travelling between the UK and the US in mid-flight. Estimated number of flights targeted: about 10 (according to BBC News).

As a result, UK airports are under "critical" alert. Short-haul flights (3 hours or less) have been cancelled. Long-haul flights are still coming in and going out, but are under severe delays.
-Heathrow Airport:
Latest reports show that airport is closed to all incoming flights that are not already in the air, while outbound long-haul flights are going out very slowly.

-Gatwick Airport:
All flights suspended.

-Stansted Airport:
Massive delays.

Israel has cancelled all flights to London today

Brussels Intl Airport has cancelled all flights to London today

US has issued "severe" alert on all UK incoming flights today.

All Italian airports' security have been increased.

All other European airports have cancelled their short-haul flights to London.

Sky News (UK)

BBC News

CNN.com

Fox News

9:00AM Update

Irish airline Ryanair has cancelled all flights for today

Reports that lines at Terminal B at Newark Intl Airport is six football fields long!

TSA bans all liquids from passing thru security checkpoints at all US airports. (exception: baby formulas, perscription medicine, insulin)

All hand baggage banned from any aircraft departing any UK airport. These must be checked into the luggage hold.

Continental Airlines has issued a travel notice

US overall threat on aviation sector increased from ELEVATED TO HIGH, it is SEVERE for all UK incoming flights

Destination of the planes targeted were New York's JFK, Washington Dulles, Los Angeles, and Miami International.

9:45AM Update

2-3 hour delays reported at New York's JFK & Newark airports

UK easyJet have cancelled all flights in and out of London for the rest of the day

OAG reports that more than 400,000 travellers have been affected by the delays and cancellations in the UK.

Airline Iberia have cancelled all incoming flights until 3PM to London

Airline Lufthansa have cancelled all incoming flights until 4PM to London

Airline KLM reports that their flights have resumed, but with massive delays

Airline British Airways have cancelled all incoming flights until 3PM to London

Airline BMI recommends people to rebook their flights

Sky News have given a summary report on London/UK airports

10:00AM

Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney has activated the National Guard to help with airport security at Logan Intl Airport.

11:45AM

During Mayor Bloomberg's news conference, a reporter actually asked if he would consider banning liquid substances from being taken aboard a NYC subway train. Bloomberg replied, "I don't think we are going to prevent any New Yorker from carrying their coffee onto the train."

12:00PM

President Bush: said it was "Islamic facists" even though the UK law enforcement forces have not released any details on the suspects yet.

2:25PM

UK police are actively searching for 5 suspects connected to this morning's counter-terrorist operation.

Three more arrests, total number of suspects in custody: 24

All are British muslims of Pakistani descent.

3:00PM

National Guard activated in New York, Massachusetts, and California.

Verizon is killing the Chocolate!

As a followup to LG Chocolate Arrives in the US entry, let's see how Verizon is showcasing the US version of the LG Chocolate phone.

Now, a few of my colleagues were considering getting the phone, but it seems the US phone is somewhat more tackier than its European version. One of two co-workers ventured over to the Verizon Wireless shop to check out the phone, then compared it to my phone (which I bought in Vienna, Austria).

Weight:
European version: 83 grams (2.92 oz)
US version: 99.22 grams (3.5 oz)

What did they add in there? It could be the internal slot for external memory.

Measurements:
European version is very slightly thinner though it could be rounded off, but a few colleagues did notice the difference anyways.

Verizon then goes ahead and offers different bundles with the phone. Of course it fails to let the customer know that the usual accessories are already added, and tries to trap the customer into buying the $199.99 and $249.99 packages instead of the base $149.99 version. I doubt you would need the leather case or the music essentials kit. The microSD 2GB card can be bought at Best Buy at a cheaper price. The worry about converting music files is overexaggerated. Just plug the phone USB cable into your computer and it will just open a normal explorer window, and you can drop pictures or mp3's into the appropriate folders.

It is really much easier to handle regardless of what CNET thinks about it.

Again, the phone is much more known for its stylish design and red-lighted touchpad. Having a speakerphone for calls seems unnecessary because the mobile phone is not meant for it; you can find the proper accessory cable to attain it; you do not want to annoy other people around you; and it is better for playing songs.

Standby time and talk time are decent. I think CNET's beef is with the rest of the features, you may not have enough battery power left. I don't really see it as your mp3 player replacement. I would leave 20 songs or so on it so you can customise your ring settings, but if you want to play mp3's, get an iPod.

People should probably wait until the phone becomes available at Cingular or T-Mobile. I am sure it won't be too long. T-Mobie is also a provider in Europe, so the Chocolate phone is more available over there. Besides, they are already releasing different colors in the European market.

It seems to me that Verizon is trying to do a hype overload on the Chocolate since they are the only provider offering the phone, and by doing that, they are giving the phone a bad name. Two-year agreement, and the usual $175 termination fee. Still a rip-off unfortuantely.

Lieberman Loss: Anti-War Win?

Joe_Lieberman.jpg
US Senator Joe Lieberman, former vice presidential candidate and three-term incumbent lost to Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman who used a good portion of his personal wealth and voters' frustration with the current elected politician. In yesterday's Democratic primary, Lamont won with 52 percent of the vote, with 99% precincts reporting.

Liberman vowed to run as an independent, stating that "for the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."

Ned_Lamont.jpg
Mr. Lamont spent at least $4 million of his own money on hard-edged television commericals. One example was Mr. Lieberman's face changed into President Bush's as an announcer said the senator "talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush."

Lieberman's dependency on his traditional Democratic interest groups should have resulted in victory, not defeat. He had a good standing among environmentalists, abortion rights groups, and labor unions. Foreign policy usually does not emerge as a top vote factor among the populace. We could be more worried about taxes, Social Security, health care, inflation, and public services than about war.

Generally, for a Democratic or Republican member of Congress, you would earn a primary challenger if you were to oppose a powerful local group on an issue it deemed critical (NY Times). Example: If you represented a Rust Belt district, you could all but count on winning your party's nomination every two years as long you voted with the local union on trade legislation.

However, this was not the norm this time. MoveOn.org and Democracy for America (Howard Dean's incarnation) bascially concentrated on the most liberal position of their platform: anti-war. They do not care if you brought more jobs to the state, help fight polluting corporations, preserve the ANWR region from drilling, and saving Social Security. If you sided with Bush on Iraq, you're not the candidate for them. The main goal of these two advocacy groups is to denounce Republicans whenever possible and to block the administration's agenda whenever possible. Bipartisanship is essentially a no-no in their book.

For Connecticut, a Lieberman loss will likely not result in a loss of a Democratic Senate seat. The GOP has a weak candidate, Alan Schlesinger, and the Party is considering whether they should continue to back their candidate, try to find a replacement to take advantage of a possible scenario with Lieberman running as an independent (though Schlesinger refuses to step down), or help finance a Lieberman's independent campaign. However, I think Bush showing up to help support an Independent Lieberman may not bring out a positive result. :) As for the state, it is pretty much a Democratic win in November. Now if this were to happen in Ohio, Michigian, or Illnois, or a swing-state then the effects would be on a much larger scale.

However, I do not see this win for Lamont, a win for the anti-war groups. The national effect will not be that substantial. I am sure other Democratic leaders that voted to authorise the Iraq war would certainly consider the opinions of the "peace" liberals, but Lieberman was probably more vulnerable during his primary loss. The public does have a short-attention span, and domestic issues could rise to the forefront of voters' minds. It is just timing. Fortunately for MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, they got it right on for Connecticut.

World Trade Center premieres August 9th

worldtradecenter_poster.jpg

True story of Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, two Port Authority police officers who rushed into the burning World Trade Center on 9/11 to help rescue people, but became trapped themselves when the tower collapsed. A race against time ensued to free them before their air ran out.

So where were you on Sept 11, 2001? I can still remember what happened during that day almost five years ago. I stood along the Jersey City waterfront and watched the towers fall. I saw the ending of the second plane exploding on the South Tower from the Hoboken pier. But I saw how the people came together to help each other, to support each other during that awful day.

It is time to reflect and remember. It is time to remember our heroes.

Moviefone - Listings & Showtimes

Fandango - Listings & Showtimes

First day: Approx $4.4 million in movie box receipts

So if you use your TI calculator...

to calculate what is 7 x 5, are you just lazy, dumb, or just a habit? Or how about the square root of 81? Or, for heavens sake, 9 divided by 1?

I probably have seen one person at a large group at dinner take out his calculator and started calculating the tax and tip. Is that weird? Normal? Or you just unable to calculate a quick approximation of how much you are willing to put in?

The cursed "Region 1" DVD restriction

Being back in the states, all my Region 2 dvd's cannot play on my family's DVD players. Obviously, they only Region 1. The free region dvd player that I brought back is on the fritz. Seems the video output won't register on the TV, and on the other television sets show a rolling screen. I wonder if the trip from London to NJ via Air Freight caused some damage.

Now the site to go to: http://www.videohelp.com/ is quite useful if you need to make a DVD player region-free, or you could go to Amazon.com or some reseller web site and the DVD players they are selling come region-free. In any case, I really need to finish watching Alias Season 4 and it's good to watch it on the widescreen TV than on my flat monitor. =)

Update:

It seems my Pioneer DV-370 has a problem playing PAL DVD's (which unfortunately most of my UK movies fall under). It did play the NTSC discs fine with no problem. So it could be a problem with the video since the player should be able to play both NTSC/PAL formats. Given that the player is like two years old, and it is still giving me trouble with the PAL discs, I went to Best Buy and bought the Samsung HD-860 player.

As for the Region 1 restriction, a visit to videohelp.com offered a way to re-program the coding. Now I can play NTSC/PAL and any region I want. Success! =)

The diplomats are a failure

Let's look at the word diplomacy. Wiki described it as an art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or nations. The name itself comes from the Greek language, and roughly means "(having) double eyes" (suggesting that a negotiator's main attribute should be the ability to understand the interests of all participants). It can also be defined as an employment of tact to gain strategic advantage, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational, or social manner.

As we review the diplomats' performance in addressing the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, it is really an utter failure.

The attempt of a UN ceasefire resolution has done nothing to stop the violence. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the measure "the first step, not the only step." Of course, the resolution calls for a cessation of hostilities. A second resolution would be needed to authorise a multi-national force and buffer zone to separate the two warring parties.

The impact of the first resolution, if it passes, is likely to be negligible. The Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers have rejected the resolutions outright, obviously. Lebanon's parliament speaker and Hezbollah's negotiator, Nabih Berri, said the plan was unacceptable since it would leave Israeli troops on Lebanese territory. Interestingly enough, he also chooses to include additional demands on behalf of Beirut -- release of prisoners and a dispute over the Chebaa Farms border area.

The Lebanese government had the nerve to ask the UN to revise the resolution, demanding that Israel pull its forces out immediately with the end of hostilities. Yet, it could not explain how it would go about stopping rocket attacks conducted by the Hezbollah terrorist forces, nor it would explain the presence of Iranian and Syrian security officers assisting with the training and equipment of these forces. It also failed to explain why the official Lebanese military forces were unable to disarm Hezbollah over the last year. It has been reported by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that Hezbollah had amassed an arsenal of about 10,000 (ten thousand) rockets over the past six years, and about 3,000 (three thousand) have been fired at Israel so far.

Complaints about the Israeli offensive can only be measured when compared with the 1982 offensive. During the previous conflict, Israeli troops reached as far as Beirut resulting in over 6,000 Lebanese deaths. Today, over 600 civilians are dead and over 10,000 Israeli troops are concentrated in south Lebanon. The difference is that Israeli are trying their best to hit targets with precision strikes in order to minimise civilian losses. However, it is quite difficult since Hezbollah forces are firing their rockets from civilian areas.

International decision making would not have any effect until those blue-helmet troops touch the ground, but they are already there. There is actually a UN mission being conducted there called UNFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). It was created back in 1978 to confirm Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, to restore the international peace and security, and help the Lebanese government restore its effective authority in the area. Now, after hearing this, you ought to have concluded that this UN mission has been a COMPLETE FAILURE!

The force has nearly 2,000 troops and 50 unarmed military observers and according to their UN fact sheet, it was tasked with seeking to maintain a ceasefire along the 70-mile UN "Blue Line" between Israel and Lebanon, by patrolling, observing, reporting violations and liaising with the parties. What a job performance, and you really have to thank the diplomats because their mission mandate is pretty much restrictive, they could not do anything about the violations occurring on the Lebanese side.

It would seem that when a second UN resolution is passed to authorise an international stabilisation force, it would likely replace UNIFIL, but how effective would this force be. It will likely be lead by the French. However, the US, Canada, and the UK would not send troops. Italy, Greece and Turkey may send some. Indonesia and Malaysia were also willing. NATO and EU organisations as a whole are not willing to send troops in their name. But the biggest question is whether this force will be STRONGER than the UNIFIL force that is currently in place? Would it be given the authority to disarm Hezbollah? How much authority would be given to enforce the peace?

In any case, much of the international community have been unhappy with the diplomatic performance of the United States. Most would believe that the US was slow to respond to what is becoming an extraordinary destructive conflict that threatens a wider war. If the US was busy criticising the UN for inaction, it seems hypocritical for the lone superpower to do the same thing. Again, the international standing of this great American power has probably been knocked down several pegs. Even the UK's Tony Blair may have lost some credibility with his Labor party and the populace back home for siding with President Bush during this crisis.

The diplomats should learn to act, and act quickly instead of watching and commenting on how violence does not solve everything, civilian deaths, the need for humanitarian aid, and so on. There is a time for political posturing, and there is a time to ignore the political consequences and do what is right to preserve the peace and stability of the entire Middle East region.

Note: Ever wonder if those two Israeli soldiers that were kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12 are still alive? Since that day, this conflict has been going on for about 25 days.

Channel News Asia - Asia calls for Mideast intervention, mulls sending troops

Associated Press - Israel hits hard but suffers 15 deaths

CNN.com - Hezbollah rockets pound northern Israel

UNIFIL Fact Sheet - URL


Increasing the Federal Govt Power at the expense of the States?

The United States National Guard is a component of the US Army (the Army National Guard) and the US Air Force (Air National Guard).

However in each of the 50 states of the US, they maintain their own military forces (New York National Guard, New Jersey, Texas, etc.). These forces are federaly recognised, but are separate from the National Guard and are not meant to be federalised, but rather service the state exclusively, especially when the National Guard is deployed and unavailable.

As for being used by the government, National Guard units can be mobilised at any time by presidential order to supplement regular armed forces, and upon declaration of a state of emergency by the governor of the state in which they serve. Unlike Army Reserve members, National Guard members cannot be mobilised individually, but only as part of their respective units.

Note that these state defense forces are under the command of the governor, as these forces are distinct from the National Guard in tht they are not federal entities. At the present time, approx 25 states, in addition to Puerto Rico, currently have active State Defense Forces, each with different levels of activity, state support, and strength. They generally operate with emergency management and homeland security missions.

Ok, that's the background. Now it seems there is a provision in the House-passed defense authorisation bill that would end the historic link between the states and their Guard units. It would give the President authority to take over National Guard troops in case of natural disaster or homeland security threats.

Now, it does make sense to most people. The President, in case of a national emergency, needs to take certain steps to protect the country from attack. Now what's wrong with that? Well, the legislation, for one thing, would remove the state Governor's command authority on the use of his/her forces. In the past, the President would usually ask the Governor of such a state to activate the Guard in case of a domestic crisis or something similar of that nature. Historically, governors have maintained control of the National Guard during domestic deployments because it gives them more flexibility in how to rotate them out of active duty, the length of time needed, level of training, and so forth. This would manage the strain on the force.

Some people would note that any governor may not know what is at stake, and the President may have more information to make the right decision. Possibly, but then it is also essential for the federal government to notify their state governor of any such emergency, and the reasons for it.

Why should the federal government take over the state militias? We got an active US army, air force, and navy right? This is true, but in light of events in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everywhere else, active US forces, in terms of equipment and manpower, have reached the breaking point, and the only choice left is to use the Army/Air National Guard and the state militias. Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, states that moves to deploy the National Guard "underscores again how operational our Guard and reserves are. They're an operational force, not a strategic force."

Recently, at the National Governors Association, the chairman, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R), brought up the provision in the House defense bill at a closed door luncheon. He told reporters that the move to shift control of the Guard to the president during national emergencies "violates 200 years of American history" and is symptomatic of a larger federal effort to make states no more than "satellites of the national government." Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, called the proposal "one step away from a complete takeover of the National Guard, the end of the Guard as a dual-function force that can respond to both state and national needs."

Huckabee and Vice Chairman, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D), had planned to ask all the governors at the session to sign a letter of protest aimed at killing the provision when House and Senate conferees meet next month on the bill.

According to Vilsack, the provision was tucked into the House version without notice to the states. I am trying to find out whether this is true or not, but it would seem disrespectful for the federal government not to inform the states that they are taking their power away.

Calls to the White House National Security Council were not returned. Obviously. They might have been hoping that no one would noticed such a provision in a multi-hundred page legislation document.

Huckabee believes that Congress and the administration -- run by fellow Republicans -- have moved far from what he called the "traditional states' rights position" of conservatives. Is it possible that Republicans are bent on consolidating their strangehold on the entire government and feel that states may try to rein them in? There is a thing called "checks and balances" and it seems there are certain particular people in the government that are bent on using the fear of "terrorist attacks" and other "emergencies" to throw all those "limitations" out of the window.

If the federal government is so worried about manpower and domestic emergencies, it should act to increase the size of our active military forces and give more flexibility to the states. In this case, there has been no evidence that would require this extreme course of action. If this was a reaction to Katrina, that was an isolated incident, and it is the opinion of this blogger that it is just an attempt to use that event to further certain agendas in the government for more power.

Washington Post - Governors Wary of Change on Troops

I knew it! the US is bankrupt! =)

What's the real federal deficit?

How many billions (or trillions) of dollars depends on how you do the accounting

By Dennis Cauchon (USA TODAY)

The federal government keeps two sets of books.

The set the government promotes to the public has a healthier bottom line: a $318 billion deficit in 2005.

The set the government doesn't talk about is the audited financial statement produced by the government's accountants following standard accounting rules. It reports a more ominous financial picture: a $760 billion deficit for 2005. If Social Security and Medicare were included — as the board that sets accounting rules is considering — the federal deficit would have been $3.5 trillion.

Congress has written its own accounting rules — which would be illegal for a corporation to use because they ignore important costs such as the growing expense of retirement benefits for civil servants and military personnel.

Last year, the audited statement produced by the accountants said the government ran a deficit equal to $6,700 for every American household. The number given to the public put the deficit at $2,800 per household.

A growing number of Congress members and accounting experts say it's time for Congress to start using the audited financial statement when it makes budget decisions. They say accurate accounting would force Congress to show more restraint before approving popular measures to boost spending or cut taxes.

“We're a bottom-line culture, and we've been hiding the bottom line from the American people,” says Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a former investment banker. “It's not fair to them, and it's delusional on our part.”

The House of Representatives supported Cooper's proposal this year to ask the president to include the audited numbers in his budgets, but the Senate did not consider the measure.

Good accounting is crucial at a time when the government faces long-term challenges in paying benefits to tens of millions of Americans for Medicare, Social Security and government pensions, say advocates of stricter accounting rules in federal budgeting.

“Accounting matters,” says Harvard University law professor Howell Jackson, who specializes in business law. “The deficit number affects how politicians act. We need a good number so politicians can have a target worth looking at.”

The audited financial statement — prepared by the Treasury Department — reveals a federal government in far worse financial shape than official budget reports indicate, a USA TODAY analysis found. The government has run a deficit of $2.9 trillion since 1997, according to the audited number. The official deficit since then is just $729 billion. The difference is equal to an entire year's worth of federal spending.

Congress and the president are able to report a lower deficit mostly because they don't count the growing burden of future pensions and medical care for federal retirees and military personnel. These obligations are so large and are growing so fast that budget surpluses of the late 1990s actually were deficits when the costs are included.

The Clinton administration reported a surplus of $559 billion in its final four budget years. The audited numbers showed a deficit of $484 billion.

In addition, neither of these figures counts the financial deterioration in Social Security or Medicare. Including these retirement programs in the bottom line, as proposed by a board that oversees accounting methods used by the federal government, would show the government running annual deficits of trillions of dollars.

The Bush administration opposes including Social Security and Medicare in the audited deficit. Its reason: Congress can cancel or cut the retirement programs at any time, so they should not be considered a government liability for accounting purposes.

The government's record-keeping was in such disarray 15 years ago that both parties agreed drastic steps were needed. Congress and two presidents took a series of actions from 1990 to 1996 that:

•Created the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board to establish accounting rules, a role similar to what the powerful Financial Accounting Standards Board does for corporations.

•Added chief financial officers to all major government departments and agencies.

•Required annual audited financial reports of those departments and agencies.

•Ordered the Treasury Department to publish, for the first time, a comprehensive annual financial report for the federal government — an audited report like those published every year by corporations.

These laws have dramatically improved federal financial reporting. Today, 18 of 24 departments and agencies produce annual reports certified by auditors. (The others, including the Defense Department, still have record-keeping troubles so severe that auditors refuse to certify the reliability of their books, according to the government's annual report.)

The culmination of improved record-keeping is the “Financial Report of the U.S. Government,” an annual report similar to a corporate annual report. (The 158-page report for 2005 is available online at fms.treas.gov/fr/index.html.)

The House Budget Committee has tried to increase the prominence of the audited financial results. When the House passed its version of a budget this year, it included Cooper's proposal asking Bush to add the audited numbers to the annual budget he submits to Congress. The request died when the House and Senate couldn't agree on a budget. Cooper has reintroduced the proposal.

The Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, established under the first President Bush in 1990 to set federal accounting rules, is considering adding Social Security and Medicare to the government's audited bottom line.

Adding those costs would make federal accounting similar to that used by corporations, state and local governments and large non-profit entities such as universities and charities. It would show the government recording enormous losses because the deficit would reflect the growing shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare.

The government would have reported nearly $40 trillion in losses since 1997 if the deterioration of Social Security and Medicare had been included, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the proposed accounting change. That's because generally accepted accounting principles require reporting financial burdens when they are incurred, not when they come due.

For example: If Microsoft announced today that it would add a drug benefit for its retirees, the company would be required to count the future cost of the program, in today's dollars, as a business expense. If the benefit cost $1 billion in today's dollars and retirees were expected to pay $200 million of the cost, Microsoft would be required to report a reduction in net income of $800 million.

This accounting rule is a major reason corporations have reduced and limited retirement benefits over the last 15 years.

The federal government's audited financial statement now accounts for the retirement costs of civil servants and military personnel — but not the cost of Social Security and Medicare.

The new Medicare prescription-drug benefit alone would have added $8 trillion to the government's audited deficit. That's the amount the government would need today, set aside and earning interest, to pay for the tens of trillions of dollars the benefit will cost in future years.

Standard accounting concepts say that $8 trillion should be reported as an expense. Combined with other new liabilities and operating losses, the government would have reported an $11 trillion deficit in 2004 — about the size of the nation's entire economy.

The federal government also would have had a $12.7 trillion deficit in 2000 because that was the first year that Social Security and Medicare reported broader measures of the programs' unfunded liabilities. That created a one-time expense.

The proposal to add Social Security and Medicare to the bottom line has deeply divided the federal accounting board, composed of government officials and “public” members, who are accounting experts from outside government.

The six public members support the change. “Our job is to give people a clear picture of the financial condition of the government,” board Chairman David Mosso says. “Whether those numbers are good or bad and what you do about them is up to Congress and the administration.”

The four government members, who represent the president, Congress and the Government Accountability Office, oppose the change. The retirement programs do “not represent a legal obligation because Congress has the authority to increase or reduce social insurance benefits at any time,” wrote Clay Johnson III, then acting director of the president's Office of Management Budget, in a letter to the board in May.

Why the big difference between the official government deficit and the audited one?

The official number is based on “cash accounting,” similar to the way you track what comes into your checking account and what goes out. That works fine for paying today's bills, but it's a poor way to measure a financial condition that could include credit card debt, car loans, a mortgage and an overdue electric bill.

The audited number is based on accrual accounting. This method doesn't care about your checking account. It measures income and expenses when they occur, or accrue. If you buy a velvet Elvis painting online, the cost goes on the books immediately, regardless of when the check clears or your eBay purchase arrives.

Cash accounting lets income and expenses land in different reporting periods. Accrual accounting links them. Under cash accounting, a $25,000 cash advance on a credit card to pay for a vacation makes the books look great. You are $25,000 richer! Repaying the credit card debt? No worries today. That will show up in the future.

Under accrual accounting, the $25,000 cash from your credit card is offset immediately by the $25,000 you now owe. Your bottom line hasn't changed. An accountant might even make you report a loss on the transaction because of the interest you're going to pay.

“The problem with cash accounting is that there's a tremendous opportunity for manipulation,” says University of Texas accounting professor Michael Granof. “It's not just that you fool others. You end up fooling yourself, too.”

Federal law requires that companies and institutions that have revenue of $1 million or more use accrual accounting. Microsoft used accrual accounting when it reported $12 billion in net income last year. The American Red Cross used accrual accounting when it reported a $445 million net gain.

Congress used cash accounting when it reported the $318 billion deficit last year.

Social Security chief actuary Stephen Goss says it would be a mistake to apply accrual accounting to Social Security and Medicare. These programs are not pensions or legally binding federal obligations, although many people view them that way, he says.

Social Security and Medicare are pay-as-you go programs and should be treated like food stamps and fighter jets, not like a Treasury bond that must be repaid in the future, he adds. “A country doesn't record a liability every time a kid is born to reflect the cost of providing that baby with a K-12 education one day,” Goss says.

Tom Allen, who will become the chairman of the federal accounting board in December, says sound accounting principles require that financial statements reflect the economic value of an obligation.

“It's hard to argue that there's no economic substance to the promises made for Social Security and Medicare,” he says.

Social Security and Medicare should be reflected in the bottom line because that's the most important number in any financial report, Allen says.

“The point of the number is to tell the public: Did the government's financial condition improve or deteriorate over the last year?” he says.

If you count Social Security and Medicare, the federal government's financial health got $3.5 trillion worse last year.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, a certified public accountant, says the numbers reported under accrual accounting give an accurate picture of the government's condition. “An old photographer's adage says, ‘If you want a prettier picture, bring me a prettier face,' ” he says.

A difference between Israelis and the terrorists

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Definitely true.

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Even the most extreme terrorist groups do not care about innocent lives during a crossfire.

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Another example as above. Despite the reasoning of whether the appropriate responses were made by either side during this conflict, we know there is at least one difference between THEM and US.