30 July 2009

40-Days of Mourning for Neda

The traditional forty days of mourning for Neda Soltan were concluded today with thousands of protesters in the street. Defying orders to appear near the mosques and squares, mourners and protesters poured into the streets. This is similar to the beginning of the end for the Shah, thirty years ago. The continued crackdown on protests large and small seems to be splitting the armed security forces and Basij, possibly signaling fractured support for the government. The reports of death and torture of the arrested protesters is also fueling anger, particularly among student groups.

Revolutionary Road has a time count of the protests from today.

Sacrifice and Service

Some things need no comment.
(CNN):
'Where were you on the night of July 15? You may not even remember, but for me it was an extraordinary evening, an evening of unimaginable triumph and unbearable tragedy. But I would not actually know everything that happened until the night was long over. A couple of weeks before July 15, a friend who works with injured troops emailed me to say it was time for Andrew's going away party. Andrew Kinard is a young Marine I first met a few years ago at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington where he was recovering from a devastating IED attack in Iraq. He had stepped on the roadside bomb and lost his entire body below the hips. The party being arranged was Andrew's farewell to D.C. Andrew is off to the rigors of Harvard Law School. He's says he's itching to get into a courtroom. You need to remember the name Andrew Kinard. Many of his friends believe Andrew is such an amazing man that he will become president of the United States. If I had to bet, I'd say it could happen. ... In the very hours we were celebrating Andrew in Washington, tragedy was unfolding in Texas. Lt. Col. Raymond Rivas, a 53-year old civil affairs officer who had dedicated his career to rebuilding war torn countries, was found dead in his car in the parking lot of Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio Texas. Colleagues of Ray's said prescription pills and notes he wrote to his family and wife, Colleen, were found. A military source told me all indications are Ray took his own life. ... A close associate tells me that at first, despite being diagnosed with traumatic brain injury in Iraq, some doctors thought Ray might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They didn't realize he had all the symptoms of traumatic brain injury. He had trouble talking, reasoning and remembering. ... But by all accounts from his friends, Ray had become seriously debilitated by the injuries to his brain. A private email shown to CNN revealed that Ray had been diagnosed with rapidly emerging Alzheimer's disease. The cumulative impact of all those bomb blasts were destroying his brain. Colleagues say Ray knew he might have to move to an assisted living facility. A colleague told me Ray was tired and in pain on the night of July 15. He was found in his car in the parking lot at the army hospital where he had spent so long trying to get better. But Ray will be remembered for all he did for others. Even with all his suffering, he wanted to make sure other injured troops were helped. In April he and his wife Colleen went to Capitol Hill to testify with other wounded warriors about their needs. Sitting on that panel with Ray was Andrew Kinard.'

25 July 2009

CBO Expanding Its Analysis

The CBO Directors' Blog states:
'In this year’s discussion of health reform, many people have put forth the goals of “bending the curve” of the federal budgetary commitment to health care, the federal budget deficit, or overall national health expenditures. Accordingly, Members of Congress are asking CBO to analyze the extent to which different health reform proposals meet these goals. Last month we wrote to Senator Conrad and Senator Gregg: “CBO does not provide formal cost estimates beyond the 10-year budget window because the uncertainties are simply too great. However, in evaluating proposals to reform health care, the agency will endeavor to offer a qualitative indication of whether they would be more likely to increase or decrease the budget deficit over the long term.” ... We are very reluctant to extend these extrapolations further into the future, because the uncertainties surrounding them magnify considerably. Although we publish projections of the federal budget 75 years ahead, those projections are inherently uncertain and are designed to identify broad trends rather than to reflect specific pieces of legislation. Trying to project several decades ahead not just the evolution of the health care system under current law but also the effects on that system of a particular comprehensive and interacting set of reforms is extremely difficult. One particular challenge is that our long-term projections under current law incorporate changes that we expect would be made by state governments and the private sector in response to the growing burden of health care spending (responses which could occur under current federal law). Because that burden will mount over time, the responses will likely increase in intensity as well; as a result, determining whether reforms proposed in current legislation might ultimately have occurred through the actions of these other agents becomes increasingly complicated as the time horizon lengthens. Indeed, our Panel of Health Advisers has encouraged us to focus on estimating the effects of legislation during the next couple of decades and not to attempt to estimate effects further out.'
I can't help noticing two items. 1. It appears that Congress is putting some pressure on CBO to project past the point where statistical analysis can comfortably take them. Hence, CBO will attempt a qualitative assessment, that they warn should be taken with a good dose of salt. 2. In reading the whole blog, one gets the feeling that the pressure is to make some sort of an indication that the very long-term effects of the proposed health-care reform will have a positive effect on the deficit and multi-decadal debt. It leads me to wonder if Congress may be giving up on selling the proposals as fiscally prudent in the short-term.

23 July 2009

A Tale of Two Daughters and A Tale of Silence

Tale 1: Two Daughters of Reserve Officers Stay Strong

As a former ARNG officer with a young daughter, and as daughter of a retired naval officer, I related-well to the story of these candid and strong young women: 'Two Military Daughters Start Sisterhood For Teens.'
'On the Internet, there are all kinds of videos of teenagers being teenagers. Some are breathing helium and then talking like Donald Duck. Others are squealing because they got asked on a date. There are endless variations of kids getting grossed out by pimples. But a recent posting on YouTube.com is different. "I'm Moranda Hern, and I'm a military teen," says a young woman who looks like a cheerleader. "I'm Kaylei Deakin," her friend says, wearing a bright blond mohawk. "I'm 16, and I'm also a California military teen." The girls look straight into the camera, and sound proud. "During my dad's deployment, it was a really tough time for my family," Hern continues. "And the more we identified with other military youth from across California, we saw they had the same need." The high school girls, who will start their senior year in the fall, have decided to do something that nobody has done before — not Pentagon officials, not governors, not mayors (at least, NPR can't find a record of it). They are trying to organize the first major get-together for the children, specifically daughters, of troops who have gone to war. "We'd like to boost these girls and their self-esteem and their self-confidence," Deakin tells the camera. "We are growing the sisterhood, with our mantra: unite, inspire, lead," Hern adds. They call their conference "The Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs" — a play on the title of a popular novel and Army speak for battle uniforms.'
Apart from the annoying 'Army speak' description (BDU is an acronym for Battle-Dress-Uniform), the interview (the link at the top will take you to both a full transcript of the story and to an audio link) was excellent. I'm donating to their fund-raising effort, and encourage readers to consider doing the same.

Tale 2: The 'Silent Riot' in Iran

(Mass execution at Evin Prison on or around June 28)


He's Barack Obama - He's Come to Save the Day!

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22 July 2009

UPDATED: President's Press Conference on Health Care

Update 1: Text of the President's prepared remarks (prior to questioning) may be found here.

Live blogging President's press conference:

Claims and comments that jump out:

1. The 'Recovery Act' has already saved new jobs and created new ones: where?
2. Investment in green energy is what will make the economy ready to compete in the 21st century.
3. Failure to act 'now' on health care will prevent elimination of the deficit.
4. "The reform we're proposing will ... keep government out of health care. ... prevent out of pocket costs ... "
5. The failure of Congress [over 50 years] is a major reason he 'inherited' a 1.3 trillion deficit (umm - try looking at what the deficit was on the day you took office Mr. President and then look at the contributions of TARP 1 and TARP 2 and the stimulus and your budget and the health care proposals and .....)
6. If Congress would only take on the President's cost-saving proposals, all would be well.
7. Any opposition is just about people wanting to 'play politics as usual,' and to 'get' the President.
8. Medicare should be cut- that will help the elderly.
9. People are skeptical about the proposals because they're cynical [yes, we are, but that's not entirely the point].
10. "The plan that I put forward ... the estimates are that it will cover 97 - 98%." According to the Dems, part of the problem is that the President hasn't actually put forward a plan, and that various parties and interests in and out of Congress are the ones making the plans.
11. The August deadline isn't really a deadline, it's just a goal to make sure Congress is debating and working.
12. "You haven't seen me out there blaming the Republicans." Huh???!!!
13. "If they've [the Repubs] got a good idea, we'll take it." Guess you haven't read any of the alternate plans.
14. Taxation is OK, as long as it's not on the middle class.
15. Jake Tapper: "Experts say ... Americans giving up tests, referrals, choice, end-of-life-care. When you talk about [it] you, understandably don't talk about sacrifices ..." Asks the President to state what sacrifices are really there. Reply: "They're going to have to give up paying for things ..." That answers the question (not)! Goes on to rhetorically ask why we would want to pay for what doesn't work. Still not answering the actual question. Wait, maybe: "It will require doctors as well as patients to be more discriminating consumers." Dancing up to the edge of discussing rationing. Moves on to deficit and debt, and concerns people have, then say those concerns are no more than, "...that argument has been used by those who don't want to reform health care." No - it's been used by those of us who are completely fed up with government take overs and expenditures and taxes.
16. "If we had done nothing, you'd have a 9.3 trillion-dollar deficit over the next nine years. Because of the changes we've made, we'll have a 7.1-trillion-dollar deficit ... but it's 2.2-trillion less than what we would have had we kep the policies in place when we came in." Complete and utter B.S. that. The deficit expansion is utterly due to the stimulus and budget and TARP. "Health care reform is designed to lower it [the deficit]." Not according to CBO.
17. Sacrifice question on current and future beneficiaries of Medicare. "It's not going to reduce Medicare benefits, it's going to change how those benefits are delivered so it's more efficient." Not if one reads the bill - the plain language of the bill (and the language of Pelosi and others in leadership) make it clear that both total benefit dollars and benefit allottment will be reduced. Savings from private monies from Pharm. doesn't mean that benefits aren't being reduced.
18. Slam! Called on transparency promises vs. what's really happening. Interesting that his own IG on TARP says transparency isn't happening.
19. Anything bad (deficit, TARP, etc.) is all inherited.
20. Moving far afield (it is a press conference and they can ask what they want): financial regulatory reform is next up. Government will be able to step in to ensure share-holders are aware of compensation packages. May impose fees for 'risky' investments. Who defines what's 'too risky?' I don't mind the first idea, but the second is a non-starter.
21. "To follow up on Jake's question, sir ... Can you guarantee that this legislation will lock in, that the goverment will not deny any coverage ... and that you and the Congress will abide by the same plan." President says that the reform plan will be the same thing as the fed. employee plan. Moved on to talking about decision-making about what's best for patient-care, by not doing unecessary procedures. Great, but who decides what's necessary. You, Congress, some faceless bureaucrat? Decision-making means someone has to make those decisions. Cited the Mayo and Cleaveland Clinic as examples. Mayo Clinic has rejected the House plan as it stands, and the proposed reform of Medicare.

Here are some articles to be considering while you consider to the sales pitch.

Blue Dogs. Taxation. Cost. Partisanship. More costs.

I strongly suggest (and hope you sign) the: Responsible Health Care Reform Pledge.
Text:
'All 535 Members of the U.S. House and Senate have received multiple copies of the Pledge by fax, email, regular mail or personal visitation. Any Representative or Senator not shown on the list of signers below may therefore reasonably be classified as having declined to sign. A few Senators have insisted that although they are supportive of our Pledge, they have adopted a blanket policy against signing pledges that prevents their signing ours. Although Let Freedom Ring believes that that they should make an exception for our pledge, because it is narrowly drawn and quite specific, we have agreed to post letters from those Senators in a separate section following the list of signers. You may read the letters by clicking on the Senators’ names.'

20 July 2009

40th Anniversary of the Most-Watched Walk

Today is the fortieth anniversary since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their famous walk on the moon. Newly restored, high-definition video from NASA can be seen here.

Most of the media is covering this anniversary to some extent or another, but there seems to be a major question being asked in that coverage along the lines of: 'should we have bothered to go, and should we cancel future plans?' It's a disturbing question. Apart from the push forty years ago to be the best in the world (a drive the West in general seems to be losing on many different fronts), the question assumes that we can not or should not value endeavor. In a deep recession, it's easy to see why we wouldn't want to expend the funds right now, but in ten years? It's hard to see how we're going to accomplish anything further in space with the budget for NASA taking the brunt of science-spending cutbacks (over a decade). At a certain point, programs and personnel are cut to the point where the programs can not be easily restarted and important institutional knowledge is lost.

17 July 2009

UPDATED: Rafsanjani Speaks (Don't Let Them Be Forgotten)

UPDATE: During today's Friday prayers, Ayatollah Rafsanjani spoke against Ahmadinejad and his supporters. Shortly after, protests erupted at and near Tehran University.
'"We could have taken our best step in the history of the Islamic revolution had the election not faced problems," he told worshipers in and around Tehran University. "We are in doubt today. Today, we are living bitter conditions due to what happened after the announcement of the election result. All of us have suffered. We need unity more than any time else." Even before Rafsanjani's speech began, security forces were stuffing young men into waiting police vans. Helmeted Basiji militiamen aboard motorcycles began pushing forward. After the speech, downtown Tehran erupted in violence as security forces attacked crowds of demonstrators, older and grayer than recent gatherings, who were chanting "Death to the dictator!" and "God is great."'
The movement toward freedom appears to be intact, and its demands, unabated.

16 July 2009

40th Anniversary of Apollo 11

From Fox News:
'Forty years ago Thursday, Apollo 11 blasted off on its 280,000-mile journey, fulfilling President Kennedy's 1961 call to reach the moon by the end of the decade. To commemorate the anniversary, NASA released newly restored video footage of the Apollo 11 moon landings — but the fabled "lost" moon tapes weren't among them. Those tapes, alas, which preserved the highest-quality raw feed from the moon in July 1969, appear to have been accidentally erased. Instead, what NASA officials unveiled at a press conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., were partially restored versions of the compressed signal sent to Mission Control in Houston from three ground receiving stations in California and Australia.'

You can hear radio feed from Mission Control here, and the video library is here.

A great event to remember and celebrate.

UPDATED: A Perversion of Faith (and an interesting development in Iran)

Update 1: Atlas Shrugs has an interesting time line on confrontations with radicalized Muslims in the US. While she and I would disagree on the fundamental nature of Islam, she makes a good argument and certainly presents a disturbing trend.

CNN reports on 'Young Pioneers,' a Hamas-run kids program:
'It's meant to be a children's program, but "Young Pioneers" on Hamas-run television is well-known for pushing the boundaries of what most people would deem suitable content for children. [That's an understatement.] One episode raised eyebrows when it first aired two years ago on al Aqsa TV, featuring two young Palestinian children being shown a re-enactment of their mother's preparations for and execution of a suicide bombing. The show was recently aired for the children of the bomber and other youths in a studio audience. The young anchor sounds a defiant note: "And here we say to the occupier that we will follow her doctrine, the doctrine of the martyr mujahida Reem Riyashi, until we liberate our homeland from your illegitimate hands." Riyashi killed four Israelis in a 2004 attack at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel. In the video, an actress playing her prepares explosives for her mission, ignoring her children's questions about what she is doing. "Mummy, what are you holding in your arms -- a toy or a present for me?" her daughter asks. Her daughter then sees a news report about the suicide bombing and sings, "Only now I understand what was more important than us."The camera cuts back to the faces of her two children watching the re-enactment. ... Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a leading Palestinian psychiatrist in Gaza, worries about how glorifying suicide bombers affects children. "Three years ago, we did a study on children in Gaza between the ages of 12 and 14, and we asked them, what would you like to be when you are 18?" Sarraj said. "At that time, 36 percent of boys said, 'I would like to be a martyr,' and 17 percent of the girls said the same."'
Apart from the obvious pathology of training kids to glorify death and murder, the abuse and manipulation of the feelings of the children whose mother was herself subverted into murder, is a complete perversion of all teachings in Islam (much less other faiths). Islam in the hands of many of the leaders and governments in the mid East and central Asia has become only (and nothing more than) the Islam of terrorism.

On a separate note, the BBC is reporting that the head of Iran's nuclear program (and the country's VP), Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, abruptly submitted his resignation three weeks ago.
'The report said the nuclear chief had submitted a letter of resignation to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nearly three weeks ago. It was not immediately clear what triggered the resignation.'
Aghazadeh is a veteran bureaucrat, who has served in several different ministries (including oil). It would be interesting if this move is further indication of developing splits within the government.

15 July 2009

Pay Us to Outcompete You (No, You Can't Recoup the Cost)

I don't claim to know the best way to reform the health care system, although I'm pretty sure tort reform should be a big part of it, but I do know this is the wrong way.
'WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - A group of Democrats on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday called for health insurers to pay fees worth up to $100 billion over a decade to help pay for the overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system. The proposed fees are among the options being discussed by the committee, Senator Charles Schumer told reporters at a briefing with fellow committee Democrats Debbie Stabenow, Robert Menendez and Jay Rockefeller. ... Schumer said an effort would be made to prevent insurers from passing the costs along to consumers.'

14 July 2009

Spending, Deficit and the Dollar

Secretary Geithner now says that he sees signs of confidence and a strengthening of the dollar:
'U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Tuesday he saw signs of confidence returning to the U.S. financial sector and pledged that the United States would pursue policies that preserve the dollar's value. ... "We are seeing very active issuance in corporate bonds and equity markets and the banking system itself in the United States shows signs of more confidence," Geithner said. ... He said a $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus program, designed to boost demand over a two-year period, will have its largest impact on the spending side over the next six months. Geithner made no mention of calls from some U.S. lawmakers to consider another stimulus package, instead emphasizing the need for patience with the current one. ... That is "slower than typical for recoveries, but recovery nonetheless," Geithner said.'
He says this while many objective signs are heading in the other direction however. The US deficit topped $1 trillion this week, with every indication that it will continue to climb to levels never seen before either in terms of percent of economic spending or in terms of absolute value.
'The Treasury figures showed that the budget deficit so far in the financial year, which runs to 30 September, was $1.086 trillion - a widening of $94.316bn from the month before. And the situation has led to increasing anxiety among the foreign buyers of US debt, including China. It may force the Treasury to pay higher interest rates to those who buy its debt, to make it a more attractive long-term prospect, observers say. "These are mind boggling numbers," said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at the Smith School of Business at California State University. "Our foreign investors from China and elsewhere are starting to have concerns about not only the value of the dollar but how safe their investments will be in the long run."'
The Wall Street Journal discusses how deficits of these levels not only impact the strength of the dollar, but the spending plans and economic recovery.
'The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday said the government's annual deficit reached almost $1.1 trillion by the end of June, a once-unthinkable level that could threaten any nascent economic recovery by undermining the dollar and driving up interest rates. ... Surging deficits could also tie the administration's hands in responding to the economy's problems, by eroding support among voters and making Congress leery of adopting policies -- such as an overhaul of the health-care system -- that the administration believes are necessary for sustainable growth. It could be hard to win congressional approval for another round of fiscal stimulus, if that was seen as necessary, even as the economy continues to lag and the unemployment rate continues to rise, hitting 9.5% in June.'
However, getting the deficit under control is a matter of political will, and given the super-majority in the Senate, and total Democratic control of both the legislative branch and executive branch, the necessary push back will have to come from within. The Blue Dog Dems have already begun this process with their opposition to the health care proposals as they stand.
'But events are pushing Obama to a crucial decision: when and how to plunge more directly into the specifics of the sensitive negotiations. In particular, he is under mounting pressure to spell out where he stands on two of the most divisive questions confronting lawmakers: how to pay for an overhaul that will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 10 years, and whether it should include a new government-run insurance program as an alternative to private coverage.'
Of greater concern is the long-term impact on the strength of the dollar and the ability of the economy to recover within the next two year. The prior history of deficit-spending compared to strength of the dollar is not encouraging.

13 July 2009

UPDATED: Bodies of Slain Protestors in Tehran Returned to Families

From Revolutionary Road:
'While many of prisoner's families are still worried about their loved ones and everyday are getting astonished by going from this union to that organization and from this prison to that court and they are not getting any response from authorities,they invite some other families to an unknown place and after justifying what they have done and threatening them about other family members being in danger,make them commit not to inform anyone of their children deaths and also make them sign some papers stating that their loved ones have died in car accident or other natural accidents and then deliver the bodies to scathing families.
Quoting from one of this families who did not want her name to be revealed ; They have taken her to a cold storage for keeping fruits and dairy products in south-west of Tehran and have showed her a photo album of more than 100 killed people to identify her child's body.She also has said : It has taken about half an hour to see killed people's photos.
She added while she has been going out of cold storage she has seen hundreds of martyr's bodies which were put over each other.

This scathing mother says though i did not find my child's body there but by seeing all those corpses which were depot , I collapsed and when I regained my consciousness i was in car out of cold storage.

All these happening while Iran militia authorities have rejected using of warm weapon in recent clashes in Tehran and it's not clear how all these killed and martyr people whom their names are daily publishing have been killed.'
Saeed Valadbaygi II
"Delivery of dead bodies to their families has started in Tehran and other cities. Judicial and security organisation were waiting for July 9th to pass and then start deliverying dead bodies which mostly were dead on June 15 and days after that on the streets or under torture in prisons.In Shahpour police station,50 photos are available for families to go and identify their beloved ones..."

11 July 2009

Dumbing Down Democracy

Much has been made in the blogosphere of President Obama's apparently contradictory positions on 'meddling' in other countries' affairs. On the one hand, he took a definite and hard position on the outer of the Honduran President Zelaya (who had tried to illegally extend his term, and for whom a legitimate arrest warrant was made out) and feels secure in directing Israel to cease all settlement building, including expansion relative to populations growth. On the other hand, other than threatening tougher sanctions should Iran fail to halt its nuclear program, and asking for a halt to the violence, Obama is unwilling to employ the harder side of diplomacy with regards to Iran.

The real problem to my mind is that President Obama, in his rush to disavow all things Bush and avoid falling into the trap of democratizing the world, is failing to support a genuine yearning for freedom. Thursday's issue of the Wall Street Journal labeled Obama's willingness to abdicate the discussion on Iran that 'dumbing down of democracy.'
'When the people of Iran filled the streets of their country demanding a fair election, the U.S. clutched for a week. Uncertain of whether U.S. interests lay with the nuke-building ayatollahs or the democracy-seeking population, the Obama team essentially mumbled sweet nothings through the first days of the most extraordinary world event in this young presidency's term. That moment of hesitation, when a genuine and strategically useful democratic moment needed support, could prove costly. When the Group of Eight nations tried to shape a response to the Iranian government's repression, Russia knew what to say about Iran. "No one is willing to condemn the election process," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, "because it's an exercise in democracy." Behold the official dumbing down of democracy. ... Dmitry Peskov was defining democracy in a way that could hardly be more different than the system of political pluralism developed over the past 300 years in the West. He couldn't have been clearer: We are changing the rules. Get over it. n this light, President Obama's performance in Moscow was disconcerting, to put it mildly. In Mr. Obama's worldview, political systems apparently don't compete. They simply . . . are. "America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country," he said, "nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country." Mr. Obama's political equivalence, conventional wisdom now among many Western sophisticates, is wrong and dangerous. Unless the West, led by the U.S. under this president, offers active push-back against the Russian definition of democracy, their version inexorably will back out ours.'
Whether we are nation that supports the growth of freedom and democracy in other countries or not, is a question that goes to the heart of nation and should not be decided by knee-jerk opposition to Bush or neo-cons or some other straw man. Supporting freedom doesn't require the use of 'hard power,' but it does require firmness of purpose and acting without fear of being accused of meddling or of being Bush.

UPDATES: Religious Persecution in Iran

UPDATED: From Revolutionary Road: The mother of a slain student speaks out and reports from inside Evin Prison

Saeed Valadbaygi II: "Marzieyeh Aminzadeh,30 and 27-year-old Maryam Rostam Pour are imprisoned, in fact for changing their religion to Christianity for more than 4 months, but officially announced that they are in jail for acting against national security and they are being interrogated in Evin. Maryam and Marzieyeh's lives are exteremly in danger especially after recent protests."

An article in today's Wall Street Journal, details some of the internal dynamics in Iran.

10 July 2009

L'Aquila is Good for the Soul

President Obama has apparently discovered that recovery is 'a long way off.' Doubtless he'll admit at any moment that the stimulus is just not working. 'President Obama said Friday that leaders of the industrialized nations have agreed to continue fueling economic growth while strengthening regulatory measures but they also realize that full recovery is "still a ways off."'

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, the 'Blue Dog' Democrat coalition is putting its foot down on the health care bill:
'As the Democratic leaders worked feverishly to finalize details of the legislation for a planned Friday rollout, the Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter late Thursday night saying the bill "lacks a number of elements essential to preserving what works and fixing what is broken." ... Pelosi repeated her pledge earlier Thursday that a government run health care plan would be included in the House bill. Ross said conservative Democrats have major reservations about how a public option would work. In the letter and in the meeting, the conservative Democrats stressed they did not want a "Medicare-like" structure for a public option.'
Maybe something in the air of Italy is good for the soul, or at least the debate, in America.

What is He Talking About?

The President is giving his 'wrap-up' news conference at the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy. These sentences jumped out at me:
"International organizations must set international norms that countries are willing to meet ... [but] ... must [we must be willing to engage in] international intervention."
What?

09 July 2009

UPDATED: Ongoing Clashes in Iran

UPDATE 3: From Saeed Valabaygi: "Plainclothes forces with hot and cold weapons(gun and knife) along with organized cyclists attacked some of the politechnic dormitories. Plainclothes forces in a attack to Golashan dormitory in Beh Afarin St beaten up several students and dormitory's guards."

UPDATE 2: Reportedly, the owner of the openDemocracy blog, who has written about equal rights for women, has been arrested.

UPDATE 1: The BBC is confirming heavy riot police and Basij presence at and around Tehran University and the use of tear gas and the cut-off of mobile text messaging services. Reportedly arrests have been made, including the arrest of Mohammad ali Dadkhah, a lawyer representing the Human Rights Defender's Center.

Revolutionary Road is live blogging protests in Tehran that are being held on the tenth anniversary of the 1999 student uprising. If you're on Facebook, you can link to Saeed's FB updates off the Revolutionary Road website. He's reporting seeing military helicopters, tear gas attacks, random Basij attacks on buses and bystanders, and protests at the Chinese embassy.

The BBC has documented protests and clashes beginning yesterday, as has the Associated Press.

More to follow later this afternoon.

08 July 2009

Cyber v. Missile Attacks

The Guardian reported today that both South Korea and the US have been plagued by cyber-attacks originating out of North Korea starting on Saturday.

'North Korean hackers are suspected of launching a cyber-attack on some of the most important government offices in the US and South Korea in recent days, including the White House, the Pentagon, the New York Stock Exchange and the presidential Blue House in Seoul. The attack took out some of South Korea's most important websites, including those of the Blue House, the defence ministry, the national assembly, Shinhan bank, Korea Exchange bank and the top internet portal Naver. ... John Bumgarner, director of research at the US Cyber Consequences Unit, said: "There's been a lot chatter recently about cyber-war. The North Koreans may have felt they were not getting enough attention launching missiles so they moved into another potential warfare – cyber. It's a form of sabre rattling. But the big question is, did the North Koreans launch it themselves or did someone do it for them?"'
Also on Saturday, North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles (two medium-range and five short-range) capable of striking all of South Korea and much of Japan, over the objection of the UN Security Council. Their apparent moves to test-launch another long-range missile appear to have been smoke, at least for the moment.
'"The members of the Security Council condemned and expressed grave concern at the launches, which constitute a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to regional and international security," council president Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda said. North Korea, which was banned from ballistic missile launches in a Security Council resolution passed last month, "must comply fully with its obligations," Rugunda said in an oral statement read to journalists.'
I wonder what part of 'they really don't give a s**t' the Security Council doesn't get. They seem to believe that stating objections will do something to deter North Korea from acting like a spoiled brat. Right now, our direct interests are not much affected by North Korea's missile program. We do have shipping and security interests that could be impacted, but our greater concern is the continued participation in illegal arms sales. So far, we've done nothing but issue empty threats on that front as well. We should be (but maybe aren't) concerned about the risk to sworn allies, but that may or may not fully materialize. Certainly Japan and South Korea are themselves concerned.

For now, the cyber-attacks may be the worst threat North Korea can offer as an immediate response. The arms trading and missile development, however, can not be dismissed.

04 July 2009

Freedom is Not Free - Happy Independence Day

'The holiday was first observed in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, at which time the Declaration of Independence was read aloud, city bells rang, and bands played. It was not declared a legal holiday, however, until 1941. The Fourth is traditionally celebrated publicly with parades and pageants, patriotic speeches, and organized firing of guns and cannons and displays of fireworks; early in the 20th century public concern for a "safe and sane" holiday resulted in restrictions on general use of fireworks. Family picnics and outings are a feature of private Fourth of July celebrations.'

We'll be at the beach seeing fireworks over the water, some of our family are celebrating far away (Cambodia and Indondesia), friends and colleagues are where they have to be extremely careful of even declaring themselves to be American, but wherever we are, we are grateful for this country.

If you've never read the Declaration of Independence, now's the time. It's pasted below and linked here. For an interesting cross-post on the risks the signers took, hop over to Uppity Woman.

Happy Independence Day!

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

01 July 2009

UPDATES: Protest Videos

UPDATES: The person, from whom many of my recently-posted videos and notes come, would like me to go ahead and site his blog by name. While this does reveal his name, he is firm in his desire to openly confront what he sees around him. The blog is Revolutionary Road. I am also placing it in my blogroll. Saeed is determined to call the regime what it is and demand justice and freedom. I hope you'll take the time to look at his site, and support him.

Hopefully, this post will work. Everytime I try to load some of these videos into a separate post (like the last one), the links don't correctly work. These are primarily from students I have contact with in Iran, although some are from regional news services and one is from the Times Online.

20 June 2009:

video

23 June 2009:

video

24 June 2009:

video

Tehran University

video

Candlelight Memorial and Vigil:

video

Basij Kill a Protestor:

video

Riot Police Crush Protests in Tehran (Times Online):

video

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