Friday, August 31, 2007

Congress Trashes your Privacy

By Bob Barr
For the Journal-Constitution Published on: 08/22/07

It's been a little over two weeks since Congress, rushing to get out of town for its August recess, greatly expanded the power of the Bush administration to conduct surreptitious surveillance of Americans' international calls and e-mails.

While we have no idea how many such transmissions have in fact been monitored, the universe of such communications is vast, as is the government's ability —- and now its legal authority —- to intercept, gather and retain such data. Given the administration's propensity to gather as much information on as many people as possible and sort it out later, it is reasonable and prudent to conclude the number of communications already gathered and retained is extremely large.

It therefore appears timely for Americans to understand just a little bit about how extensive this new power granted the administration really is. (To continue: Congress Trashes ...)

Bob Barr Gets it. Where is the Democrat Majority?
Bob Barr explains in this article that the old law did indeed need to be updated due to changing technology, but this new law goes way beyond what was necessary and gives the President broad new powers to spy on Americans. This new law makes virtually all international calls and emails subject to monitoring without any court oversight. This is a shedding of the 4th Amendment! The good news is that the law must be reviewed again in six months.

I am proud of those handful of "movement conservatives" such as Barr who are standing by conservative principals of distrust of government and standing for Constitutional governance. Bob Barr is one of the four conservative founders of the American Freedom Agenda, which is described as "a coalition established to restore checks and balances and civil liberties protections under assault by the executive branch."

While I do not approve of those Republicans who supported this bill and think one should always put country above party, I can understand party loyalty and understand why the majority of Republican sided with the President and gave him the benefit of the doubt. I do not understand, however, why the Democratic majority are rolling over and playing dead. Is not one of the benefits of divided government, that the "loyal opposition" will provide greater scrutiny of the administration than when the administration and legislative are of the same party? The bill passed the house with a forty vote margin and passed the Senate by a whopping 60 to 28. While the President has a job approval rating of about 30% the Congress has an even lower approval rating of 24%. They have earned it.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Iraq fraud whistleblowers vilified

Cases show fraud exposers have been vilified, fired, or detained for weeks
The Associated Press
Updated: 1:57 p.m. CT Aug 25, 2007

One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers — all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees. (To continue: Iraq fraud

This is an outrage!
This is shameful. Why is the Congress not investigating? Why is this not more widely reported? Why are the editorialist not editoralizing? This is not some obscure left-wing rag making these claims, but The Associated Press. These are not vague accusations, but name names of the victims. Why is no Presidential contender making this an issue? It is unbelievable: An American Navy man is imprisoned for reporting illegal arm sales! Are those arms arming the insurgents? Are we selling the insurgents arms to kill American soldiers? I would like answers. I would think everyone in Congress should want answers. It should not matter whether one is Democrat or Republican, supported or opposed the going to war, supported or opposed the surge, this is something everyone should be outraged about. Where is the outrage! Rod

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Who is Ron Paul?

This is John Paul.

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Who is Ron Paul?

This is Rupaul.

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Who is Ron Paul?

This is Ron Paul.

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Who is Ron Paul?

It is "Ron Paul"; not Ron, Paul, Ringo and George

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In a Nutshell, Ron Paul is a Nut. Too Bad

I Would like to like Ron Paul. Like many Republicans, I am not excited by any of the Republican candidates running for President. I am looking for a true conservative (whatever that means). I want someone whose foreign policy is principled, realist, and pragmatic and rejects the neocon idealism of the Bush administration. I want a candidate who is socially conservative but not too tied to the religious right agenda. I want an advocate of economic liberty, individualism, free trade, and small government. I guess I am looking for the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

I would settle for less. But, I see no one who remotely excites me. There is no one I want to send a contribution to or volunteer to help get elected.

There is a lot I like about Ron Paul. Many of his principles I agree with. He supports lower taxes, free trade, and smaller government. I agree with him that we should lift the embargo on Cuba. I like it that he receives almost all of his political contributions from small contributors and is not in the pocket of large donors. He seems sincere, honest, modest and principled. He appears to be a real good person.

Having a libertarian streak myself, I like his position on drug laws and states rights and his opposition to Real ID. I agree with his position that the rest of us should not subsidize the flood insurance of those who choose to live in flood plains, and that we should not subsidize farmers.

I admire him for being one of the few members to oppose the Iraq war. And, when he says the war was sold to us with false information, I think he is right. I admire him for his criticism of the Bush civil liberties record and constitutional abuses.

But, I fear Ron Paul is too extreme, naive, and ideological to be president. He opposes US membership in the UN, NATO, The World Trade Organization, and would repeal NAFTA. He wants to abolish the Federal Reserve and return the US to the Gold Standard. That is radical!

In my opinion, he was correct to oppose the war in Iraq, but he also opposed the first gulf war, the authorization to use military force following 9/11 and the war in Kosovo. He advocates an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, which I fear would have terrible humanitarian consequences and lead to a much wider regional conflict. We just can’t “get out”, we need to use care in how we get out. Ron Paul appears to wish the US to withdraw from the world. In a complex dangerous world we do not need an isolationist president.

Ron Paul is no doubt a good man. I agree with many of his principles. But in a nutshell, Ron Paul is a nut. Too bad.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Googlefighting with Ron Paul

Have you ever heard of the game Googlefight? If you are an adult you probably have not. I was introduced to it by my 14-year-old nephew, Joey. Go to Googlefight and put in any two key words and the number of hits on Google for each word are compared. It is a lot of fun, if you have nothing productive to do.

I just did a “Ron Paul” vs. “Hillary Clinton” fight and got 48.8 million hits for Ron Paul and only 8.4 million for Hillary Clinton. Do a “Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani Googlefight and it is Ron 48,800,000 and Rudy 2,050,000. Compare Ron Paul to the Democrat fringe candidate Dennis Kucinich and it is still Ron 48.8 million to Dennis Kucinich’s 1.9 million.

I spend a lot time on the Internet. I read a large amount of mainstream news and opinion but also visit a fair number of blogs and advocacy websites. I am amazed at the amount of support on the Internet for Ron Paul. I have joined about a dozen yahoo groups with names like, Conservative Majority, Libertarian Republicans, Republicans of America Unite, and Republican Party. I sought groups where I thought I might find intelligent conversation of interest to a Republican. What I find is that fans of Ron Paul dominate most of these groups. You quickly bore of them. They are too fanatical. They remind you of pushy religious fanatics.

I guess it should not be surprising that positions that are less represented in the mainstream press are over represented on the Internet. The Internet is fertile ground for the fringe, the underrepresented, conspiracy theorist and the weird. If the evening TV news and daily newspaper is fairly representing your position or your cause, then you probably feel less need to promote your cause on the net.

Nevertheless, the amount of support on the net for Ron Paul is amazing. Numerous You tube videos, radio interviews, and newspaper article on Ron Paul are reproduced and people are constantly promoting his candidacy. Many of his supporters think there is a conspiracy to keep his position form being heard and many think the polls are under representing his popular support.

If intensity of support counted, Ron Paul would be the next President. If the election where held today, and only people who play on the Internet got to vote, I think Ron Paul would be the next President. In the most recent polls (Fox, Gallop, CNN, USA Today, etc.) Ron Paul only scores 1 to 3%. If people only interact with other people who agree with them, gravitate toward those Internet sites that they agree with, and do not remain skeptical they can get a very distorted view of reality. Your Internet experience may not be the real world.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Will Obama's Stance on Cuba Hurt?

By Tim Padgett/Miami
(This is a good analysis and insight on Obama's bold Cuban policy initiative. Rod)
Conventional political wisdom in the bellwether state of Florida has always focused on Cuban-Americans, especially those influential exiles who take a hard line against any U.S. engagement with Fidel Castro's Cuba. Cross them, says the presidential candidate handbook, and say adios to the Sunshine State's 27 electoral votes.

So why would Barack Obama — who is scraping to keep up with Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — ignore that seemingly golden rule? Why, in a Tuesday op-ed piece in the Miami Herald, would he challenge the Cuban-American elders and call for dismantling President Bush's hefty restrictions on Cuban-Americans making visits and sending money to relatives in Cuba?

Maybe it's because Obama knows a new conventional wisdom may well be taking shape in the state — one that could actually make his declarations this week an asset when Florida holds its primary election next January. (Continue reading: Will Obama's Stance..)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Our main goal: Freedom in Cuba

Miami Herald, Tue. Aug 21, 2007

When my father was a young man living in Kenya, the freedom and opportunity of the United States exerted such a powerful draw that he moved halfway around the world to pursue his dreams here. My father's story is not unique. The same has been true for tens of millions of people, from every continent -- including for the many Cubans who have come and made their lives here since the start of Fidel Castro's dictatorship almost 50 years ago.

It is a tragedy that, just 90 miles from our shores, there exists a society where such freedom and opportunity are kept out of reach by a government that clings to discredited ideology and authoritarian control. A democratic opening in Cuba is, and should be, the foremost objective of our policy. We need a clear strategy to achieve it -- one that takes some limited steps now to spread the message of freedom on the island, but preserves our ability to bargain on behalf of democracy with a post-Fidel government.

The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people, who ultimately hold the destiny of Cuba in their hands. (To continue reading: Our Main Goal....)

My Commentary
I agree with Mr. Obama and applaud him for having he courage to call for a change in our policy toward Cuba. The only other presidential candidates breaking with the status quo is Democrat Chris Dodd and Republican Ron Paul. (For a summary of the position of all presidential candidates visit: The Candidates on Cuba Policy)

It is a past time for a change in US policy toward Cuba. At one time, when Cuba was sending its army around the world and fomenting revolution in Africa and Latin America our policy made sense. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of Cuba’s benefactor the Soviet Union, there has been little logic to our policy. Our current policy is a relic of the cold war and remains due to the political might of the Cuban-American Community. The restriction on tourism lacks all logic when Americans are not prohibited from visiting countries such as Iran or North Korea.

The thing that makes totalitarian governments “totalitarian” is that there are no other meaningful spheres of influence. When total power and influence flows from the government and there is no private business sector, no non-governmental educational establishment, weak religious institutions, no trade unions, no sources of information other than the government press, then that society is totalitarian. The government can exert absolute authority and exercise thought control and make people totally dependent on the government for their survival.

Political democracy may not immediately flow from the growth of the non-governmental sectors, but there is a degree of freedom one can have without political freedom when there are other influences in society than government only. With the growth of the non-governmental sectors a demand for democratization is bound to follow. In Poland we saw the fall of the Communist regime due to the power of Solidarity and the Catholic Church. Trade has changed China. China is still an authoritarian government but is Communist in name only. It is doubtful that we could again see a return to a Maoist China.

What will hasten the democratization of Cuba is contact with people from democratic countries and increase in trade. With trade and investment can come a demand that the Cuban government make concessions. Foreign investors will not make massive investments in countries without a predictable legal system and some guarantee to the ownership rights of their investment.

As Cubans increase their income from tourism and foreign trade opportunities, they will want a better standard of living and consumer goods to purchase with their new income. Creeping capitalism will weaken the state. The people will also learn more of the outside world and increasing want an end to the status of permanent revolution and the policies that keep them in poverty. Simply allowing Cuban Americans to increase the amount of money they are allowed to send home and allowing increased visitation, will hasten a lessening of dependence on the government and a desire for change on the part of the Cuban people. It is high time we end our illogical policy toward Cuba.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Four Presidential Candidates Worse Than Bush and One Leader

Watching the ABC News Iowa Democratic debate this morning and the Republican debate last week, I was most interested in what the candidates had to say about Iraq and foreign policy. While I am deeply concerned about the other issues of the day, to me, all other issues are a distant second in comparison. For the first time in my life, I could be persuaded to vote for a Democrat if I thought that person had the wisdom to disentangle our country from the mess that is Iraq and leave the world a saver place. While I am sure I would disagree with a Democratic candidate on tax policy, health care policy, Supreme Court nominees and most other domestic issue, if someone can show the wisdom to get us out of Iraq, then they could win my support.

I was not impressed by what I saw this morning or last week. Most of the candidates played it safe and where short on specifics. I guess that is the way to stay in the game. Bearers of bad news don’t inspire a lot of enthusiasm. So candidates sell their “experience”, or “leadership” or they position themselves as the “candidate of change”, but they avoid letting the people have specifics by which to critique them.

Of all the candidates, there were four that convinced me they would screw up getting us out of Iraq worse than Bush did in getting us into Iraq. These four candidates, who by comparison, would make Bush look like a genius, are Democrats Make Gavel, Bill Richardson, and Dennis Kucinich and Republican Ron Paul. The solution of these four candidates appears to be to pull out as quickly as possible and to hell with the consequences. They would race each other to the border.

Things are bad now, but they could get much worse. Events could spin rapidly out of control: A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Iraq, massive genocide, an Al Qaeda stronghold, a Turkish invasion of Kurdistan are not only realistic possibilities, but appear likely to occur unless a solution that brings stability is found. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to need a solution. How to deal with an Iran that may be close to joining the ranks of the nuclear-armed states is an enormous challenge.

With a resurgent Al Qaeda in Pakistan and with Pakistan facing elections, which very well may be suspended, the Al Qaeda allies in Pakistan could come to power in a military coup. A nuclear-armed Jihadist Pakistan could become a reality. If that occurs, what will be the future of the shaky peace between nuclear-armed India and nuclear-armed Pakistan?

"Stay the course" is not acceptable to the American people, and it should not be, but “cut and run” could be worse. I wish we had a pragmatic realist such as Ronald Reagan running for president, but I don’t see one. At this point anyone who had a plan for getting us out of Iraq without worsening the situation is worthy of consideration, but few of the candidates seem to want to even admit that the situation is dire.

Of all the candidates, the only one who even seems willing to discuss the consequences of a mismanaged withdrawal is Joseph Biden. In my estimation, he is the only candidate willing to reveal that he has even given serious thought to the problems of the Middle East. It is unfortunate that his campaign is not gaining traction and that he is not in the top tier of contenders.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Torture? For God's Sake, Shout "al-Libi" from the Rooftops and End the Debate

by Don Williams, truth-to-power
Thursday, 09 August 2007
(I am reprinting in its entirety this recent blog entry from my brother Don Williams. I agree and can not say it better. Torture is not only morally reprehensible;it does not work. rod)

Is there no lesson to be learned from how we based the war in Iraq on lies told by a tortured man....If you're undecided about the use of torture, research the name Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.If you already oppose torture, then shout this name from the rooftop until everyone knows it:Al-Libi. Al-Libi. Al-Libi.

It isn't hard to say, so we all should speak it and write it--to our representatives, our media, our neighbors. This name should be the end of the debate on torture, for al-Libi is living proof that torture and other degrading practices backfire so badly they've led to maybe the worst foreign policy blunder ever made by this country. George W. Bush and company bombed and invaded Iraq based in large part on lies told under extreme duress by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Why are opponents of torture and kidnapping so slow to make this point?

Sometimes I think I must be crazy, because even people who question, criticize and publicly oppose torture are slow to bring al-Libi into the debate. Can someone tell me why?For instance, a new article by Jane Mayer in last week's New Yorker offers lots of insight into "The Black Sites," places where suspected terrorists are routinely held, questioned and tortured.I heard Mayer earlier this week on PBS's "Fresh Air" program discussing how 90 percent of the information from tortured prisoners has proven unreliable. Nary a word was mentioned, however, about how just how badly torture backfired in the case of al-Libi.

Why are Congressmen and others so slow to invoke al-Libi's name? Is it because they were taken in by his lies and would rather gloss over that sad fact of history than to make it part of their argument against the President's torture policies? Is it because they've become fearful of being called disloyal or soft on terrorism? Whatever fig leaf they're hiding behind, the record is clear that al-Libi was under custody of U.S. secret forces in 2001 when the CIA blindfolded him, duct-taped him, loaded him onto an airplane, told him they planned to rape his mother while he was away, then flew him off to Egypt. Interrogators in a secret hell-hole prison there asked al-Libi none too gently to “admit” that Saddam Hussein was teaching al-Qaeda to make chemical and biological weapons.

According to articles in The New Yorker , The New York Times, Newsweek and others, Al-Libi gave them what they wanted. Later he recanted, and said he told the lies to end the pain of torture. A Republican dominated Senate Intelligence committee long ago confirmed that no formal ties existed between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and further reported that, far from working together to attack U.S. interests, Saddam and bin Laden regarded each other as enemies. Still, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and others in “the Iraq group”--a team set up inside the White House in 2002 to sell America on the idea of invading Iraq--made al-Libi's lies a centerpiece of their case.

Just how aware Bush was that he based his war on a pack of lies should long ago have been exposed. In February, 2003, Colin Powell repeated al-Libi's torture-induced lies to the United Nations. Maybe that's why a repentant Powell later said we risk losing the moral high ground in our so-called war on terror. Hundreds of thousands have died in Iraq at least in part as a result of lies our government forced al-Libi to tell. Now we're stuck In Iraq like a wasp in a spider web. We've blown hundreds of billions of dollars that might've done much good. Yes, many loudly parrot unproven claims based on “classified information” that we've disrupted terrorist plots through use of “aggressive interrogation techniques.” Some even point to the Battle of Algiers, in the late 1950s, which France was loosing badly until it employed torture, mass bombing and other counter-terrorism techniques. What proponents of such a model often leave out is how a disgusted and angry populace rose up across Algeria and turned their French leash-holders out of the country by 1962.

In simple human terms, what the French failed to do, and what Bush long ago forgot, is to honor the logic and moral force behind the Golden Rule. When you think about it, that simple rule, “Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you,” is at the heart of the Geneva Accords. They honor standards of prisoner treatment that take into account how we'd want our own troops to be treated if captured by the enemy. So, unless you want torture to become and remain the law of the land, you'd best plan on spending lots of time telling anyone who'll listen—maybe your congressmen, senators, media and more—that there's a price to pay for Congress's public support for Bush's plans for continued torture and unlawful imprisonment. It could be your neighbor's son or daughter who gets captured in the next war. For God's sake, remind them of "al-Libi."

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Pentagon Paid $999,798 to Ship Two 19-Cent Washers to Texas

Tony Capaccio
Thu Aug 16, 11:59 AM ET
Aug. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A small South Carolina parts supplier collected about $20.5 million over six years from the Pentagon for fraudulent shipping costs, including $998,798 for sending two 19-cent washers to a Texas base, U.S. officials said.
The company also billed and was paid $455,009 to ship three machine screws costing $1.31 each to Marines in Habbaniyah, Iraq, and $293,451 to ship an 89-cent split washer to Patrick Air Force Base in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Pentagon records show.
To continue: $999,798 to Ship Two..

It is an absolute outrage that things like this can occur. Where is the over site? Is no one in charge? These people got caught, but is this just the tip of the iceberg of corruption? Regardless of how one may feel about the war in Iraq, or the policies that let to the war, there needs to be an investigation of the fraud, corruption, and inefficiency associated with the expenditure of funds for the military. Of the $452 Billion the Iraq war has cost, so far, how much of that was stolen and mismanaged?

Inefficiency in government is nothing new. Reagan appointed a special commission to look at government waste, waste was exposed but not much changed. Al Gore, in the first Clinton term, headed a commission on government waste, waste was exposed but not much changed. Remember the $600 toilet seat, the $400 ashtray and the $6500 hammer? Those pale in comparison to this example of waste. Congress should put differences about the war aside, and investigate military procurement, fraud, and waste. Heads should roll. Careers should be ruined. And, those committing fraud should go to jail. Congress should be screaming for change. Democrat or Republican however, it seems that politicians just accept massive government waste and corruption.

Nancy: Call for Congressional hearings! Vigorously investigate! Don't stop until real change occurs so that things like this do not continue to happen. Watching the purse strings in Congress's primary responsibility and they are doing a lousy job.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Powerful Democrat Endorses Carbon Tax

John D. Dingell the Democratic representative from Michigan, who is Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, came out in favor of a carbon tax as the most effective way to fight global warming.

In an editorial, The Power in the Carbon Tax, published in the Washington Post, he observes, “Successful laws to protect the environment are built on simple concepts. They discourage harmful behavior -- the dumping of sewage or industrial waste into bodies of water, the destruction of habitat, the emission of toxic chemicals -- by a variety of measures, all of which raise the cost of engaging in certain behavior. You can't develop land, and profit, if you're endangering a threatened animal. You have to dispose of chemical substances responsibly. And so on.”

He ask the questions, “How do we raise the cost of emitting carbon, promoting conservation and efficiencies, and make alternatives more economically viable, thus addressing the problem of climate change?”

While he list and critiques the various alternative fuels and says congress is correct to promote alternative fuel developments, he says that to get the emissions reductions to the level we need we must do much more. He observes that, "History shows that we respond to market forces." His conclusion is that a carbon tax is by far the best method of achieving the desired results.

A few years ago I underwent a conversion from Global Warming skeptic to Global Warming believer. I did not have a change in ideology; I was simply persuaded by the preponderance of the evidence. Following my conversion, I became critical of those on the right who disregarded the growing body of evidence and who stubbornly stuck to their denial.

I then noticed however, that those who had for a long time been believers in the theory of Global Warming were for some reason resistant to policies that would actually do anything about it. It seems they accepted the science of global warming but not the science of economics. They rivaled the Rush Limbaugh’s in blocking solutions to the problem.

Just as many on the right, let their ideology blind them to seeing the problem, it seem many on the left let their ideology blind them to seeing the solution.

They seem married to policies that consist of Command, Control and Cajole. They tout bio-fuel, ethanol, wind farms, and geothermal, but never examine what would make these alternatives affordable and competitive. They seem to love mandates such as higher CAFÉ standards. And, they want everyone to wear sweaters in the winter, turn down the thermostats, and properly inflate their tires. And, it seems that they think that if we will just love Mother Nature enough somehow the problem will be solved. There is nothing wrong with any of these things and I also love “Mother Nature”.

What is wrong with this approach is that it is the equivalent of going elephant hunting with a pea shooter. The other thing wrong with these solutions is that they lull people into a belief that they really are addressing the issue, while all the while, we continue to increase our carbon emissions.

The real solution to global warming was coming not from the tree-hugging environmentalist but from those who understand how markets work. Now the tide seems to be shifting toward a real solution as more and more Democrats and environmentalist embrace a carbon tax as the most effective method of combating the problem of global warming. The list of those who advocate a carbon tax continues to grow.

When a leading Democrat embraces the carbon tax, then perhaps we are getting closer to the day when we can seriously began to solve the issue. I just hope that the obstructionist of the left and the right do not delay the solution until we pass the tipping point.

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Who is at Risk of Losing Their Home

As a housing counselor for a HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agency, I see first-hand the growing problem of home foreclosures. Unfortunately we can expect more increases in mortgage defaults for sometime to come. It is estimated as many as one out of five subprime loans issued during 2005-2006 will fail and borrowers will lose $164 billion in wealth due to foreclosures.

I counsel about eight people a week who are on the verge of losing their home. While my experience is not a scientific sampling, I observe three categories of people who are at risk of losing their home and see the categories about evenly split between the three.

(1). Bad things happen to Good people: Illness, lost of job, divorce, and loss of income or unplanned increase in expenses.

(2) Irresponsible homebuyers. Customer took out loans they could not afford. People in this category often could have qualified for a $90,000 house with a good loan, but instead got an adjustable rate mortgage or some other "creative financing" so they could buy a $150,000 house. Many people fail to build any saving, live payday to payday, living beyond their means and little bump in the road puts their home at risk. They feel entitled to a nice home and a new car. While working with one couple on their budget, I asked them why they had taken on such a large care note. The new mother explained to me, “Well, I got pregnant, and we had to have an SUV”.

(3) Predatory lending and poor lending practices are the third cause of people losing their home. I have witnessed inflated appraisals, phony "gift letters", falsified income, and people having their loan product switched the day of closing and then being pressured into closing. I recently had a client who had been "flipped" (refinanced) five times, each time losing equity in her home. After the fifth time she could not be refinanced anymore and her gross annual income was actually less than the total of her annual house payments.

Part of this problem will self-correct, as the market of available sub-prime loans dries up and few new borrowers will find the same easy credit available. However, there is a need for reform. We need new laws against predatory practices. We need vigorous enforcement of existing lending laws and prosecution of offenders. We also need basic financial literacy taught in schools and we need policies that encourage savings. But, more than anything, we need a change in societal attitudes so that people don’t feel ‘entitled’. No one owes you a new SUV and if you can only afford a $90,000 home, you are not entitled to a $150,000 home.
To seek advice on avoiding foreclosure, contact me.

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

No Ribbon-Cutting Ceremonies for Pothole Repair

When the bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed on August 3, killing seven and wounding a hundred others, the commentators lamented the poor state of our infrastructure and reported the need for millions and millions of dollars to be allocated for repair of crumbling infrastructure. No doubt we do have worn out infrastructure and money does need to be spent on upkeep. But, the problem may not be insufficient taxation.

Apparently we are still to the right of the apex of the Laffer curve and more taxation may actually bring in less revenue. Democrats and a lot of the public have a hard time grasping the concept that higher tax rates may actually bring in less revenue, but it has been proven true time after time. The problem with infrastructure upkeep is not a problem of lack of taxation, but of allocation. The truth is government does a poor job of managing it’s investments.

Mr. Thomas Sowell makes the simple but wise observations that, “The real problem is that the political incentives are to spend the taxpayers' money on things that will enhance politicians' chances of getting re-elected.” “There are no ribbon-cutting ceremonies when bridges are being repaired or pot-holes are being filled in. These latter activities may be more valuable than a community center or a golf course, but they are not nearly as photogenic.” In A Bridge too Far Gone, Mr. Sowell goes on to explain why private industry is better at maintenance of their investments than government.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

ACLU Wants Illinois Town to Remove Jesus Signs

From Focus on the Family
As you enter the small town of Alorton, Ill., you'll see two green-and-white billboards that read: "Welcome to The Village of Alorton. Where Jesus is Lord. Randy McCallum Mayor."

As if on cue, the American Civil Liberties Union is objecting. The group says the signs may be unconstitutional, but hasn't determined what action, if any, to take.

Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said: "If the Supreme Court hadn't erroneously decided at one point that the First Amendment phrase 'Congress shall make no law...' should now include states, municipalities, even schools, we would not be in the position where an organization like the ACLU could roam to and fro across the land, seeking those acknowledgements of God they could devour with their well-oiled machine of intimidation and litigation.
(To read the full story, click here. Does not open in new window; hit back button to return:

Thank God for the ACLU

In cases like this, I say “Thank God, for the ACLU”. I often don’t say that about the ACLU. I think they often go overboard in protecting us from Christmas nativity decorations in the city park or from kids voluntarily gathering to pray at the flagpole before class. But in this case, they are right. How would you feel if you were a Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, mainline-protestant-liberal-agnostic, or plain ole backslidden Baptist sinner, having your tax money spent to proclaim you live in a town where “Jesus is Lord”.

I assume Mr. Hausknecht, the “judicial analyst” for Focus on the Family has never heard of the 14th Amendment. That pesky little amendment says, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” That means that all of those prohibitions that say “Congress shall make no”, also apply to the states and all of their creations.
Unfortunately, FoF is not just some isolated minister complaining about the ACLU. They are a large organizations and an important part of the Religious Right. I am disgruntled that the Religious Right has gained such a stronghold in the Republican Party. I do not think I would want to live in the kind of America people like that they would want for us. I don’t doubt for a minute that we would see the banning of alcohol, R-rated movies, and anything else they consider sinful.

Focus on the Family was started in 1987 by Dr. James Dotson. It focused on things like potty training kids and how to have a happy marriage. The tone of the program was only mildly religious, was non-political, and not at all strident and they produced some good children’s programming. Alone the way however, with the rise of the religious right, Focus became more and more political and now devotes a lot of their “ministry” to promoting “family values”. They have become a powerhouse in the Republican Party and rival Pat Robinson's organization and rivaled the late Jerry Falwell for influence.

I think there was a need for the rise of the religious right. Popular culture’s contempt for mid-American values needed to be countered. Hollywood and the mainstream media acted as though there was only one point of view on the moral issues of the day. The millions of Church-going people in this country had no political voice. We needed organizations that would tell people you do not have to be intimidated by those who would try to prohibit kids from gathering at the flagpole to pray. And, you do not need to be embarrassed that your religious values influence your political values.

Having grown up around fundamentalist Christians, however, in a county that was populated mostly by church-going Baptist and where not even beer could be sold, I have always been concerned that if “real” Christians got too much influence I would not like the kind of America they would want for us. Freedom is often a balancing act between competing forces and from time to time we need to restore the balance. In the case of Alorton, Ill., thank God for the ACLU.

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Monday, August 6, 2007

Sens. Clinton (D-NY) & Smith (R-OR) Introduce New Saver's Act

Bill Proposes Innovative, Low-cost Measures to Boost Savings and Asset Ownership
The New Savers Act, drawn heavily from the work of New America's Asset Building Program, aims to increase savings by all Americans, especially lower-income Americans, through targeted incentives and better access to wealth-building financial services. Specifically, the legislation promote savings at tax-time; expands electronic banking; allows contributions to college savings accounts to qualify for the Savers Credit; revives and promotes U.S. Savings Bonds; makes 529 college savings plans more transparent and progressive; promotes innovations in financial products and services; and establishes a children’s Roth IRA called “Young Savers Accounts” so children can start saving early in life.
(To learn more, click this link, does not open in new window, click “back” button to return: )

Much of my life, I have worked in jobs working with poor people. (I know “poor people” is not the term that social workers or politicians or journals use. The generally used terms are “economically disadvantaged” or “low income”, but there is nothing wrong with the term “poor”; it is not pejorative, it is a good, honest, descriptive word.) Anyway. While the causes of poverty are varied, it is my observation that most poverty is not a result of lack of opportunity or racism or discrimination. The leading cause of poverty is the “culture of poverty”. It is those habits and ways of thinking and values that keep poor people, poor. It is frustrating to see people make foolish decisions that ruin their life, but we can not give up on them. We need programs that will change values and behaviors. Any program such as the one described above should be supported. There is a difference between programs that simply subsidized ones poverty and programs that work to get people out of poverty. Unfortunately in the past, many of the anti-poverty programs actually created a culture of poverty and destroyed those incentives that help people overcome their poverty. Programs that instill a habit and desire to save among poor people are worthy of support.

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Introducing a New Blog from Don Williams

I would like to invite you to visit a new blog by Don Williams. Don who for many years was a columnist for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, is a freelance journalist, short story writer and founding editor of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Michigan Journalism Fellowship, and Golden Presscard Award, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize and assorted awards from Scripps Howard Newspapers.

Helen Thomas, syndicated columnist and dean of the Capitol Hill press core, said of Don Williams, "You write a great column. I wish you were at the White House to ask the tough questions that are not being asked”.

Don is an unapologetic liberal and he and I seldom agree, but he is a great writer who writes with clarity and conviction. Also, he is a good person and my younger brother. Despite our political differences we remain close. His link is permanently listed in the “Good Links..” list to the left. Read his most recent contribution by clinking here: truth-to-power.

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Only Trade Can Solve Global Poverty

By Peter Lilley
Telegraph Co. UK.
July 24, 2007

"Even if the rich countries fulfil their pledges to increase aid, the total amount will still be inadequate to finance all the health, education, nutrition, water and sanitation that people living on the edge of survival need.
Above all, they need economic growth to boost their incomes. And trade is the great dynamo of growth."
"When millions of children go to bed hungry and we can do something about it, we cannot pass by on the other side of the world. And poverty affects our security and prosperity as well as our humanity." (to continue: Only Trade...)

In this article, Peter Lilley who chairs the Conservatives' globalisation and global poverty policy group, ask us to face the truth about the massive corruption and inefficiency in many third world countries and argues that foreign aid alone will never be sufficient to make a significant difference in world poverty.

Unfortunately, it is often those who profess to care the most about the world's poor that advocate policies guaranteed to keep them poor. The opponents of globalization would rather let the poor of the world starve than see them participate in the world economy. The truth is that greed and enlightened self-interest will lift more people out of poverty than all the philanthropy in the world. Rod

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Rachel is Home After Two Months in Central America

Last night my 24-year-old daughter, but still daddy’s little girl, just returned safely from a two-month trek through Central America. She spent a month on a farm in Costa Rica growing organic peppers and shade-tree coffee, and then she toured Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. She and her friend Sydney, with little money, heavy backpacks, and a couple good guidebooks went where their inspiration took them. They had a wonderful and a challenging experience. They climbed active volcanoes, snorkeled in the Caribbean, ate new foods, visited the Mayan ruins at Copan, and met a native shaman. In Granada, Nicaragua she set in a central city park and enjoyed the stunning Spanish architecture, brightly- painted pastel-colored buildings, horse drawn carriages, and just watched the world drift by. And, she had to navigate bus schedules in a foreign language and do the day-to-day things one must do when doing independent travel and along the way met new people and had unplanned experiences, gained new insights, and made memories that will last a lifetime.

I was concerned about her safety when she told me she was thinking about making this trip. The region still has political unrest and anywhere where two young girls travel alone they are Vulnerable. But, I did not try to talk her out of it. We explored the State Departments web sites together and talked about where she might not want to go, and we talked about taking reasonable precautions. I told her that if she got sick, I would fly her home or if kidnapped, I would try to raise the ransom.

Once a person starts raising a family and working, it is difficult to take two months off and experience a foreign country. I would advise young people just getting out of college, or otherwise with few commitments: Do it now!

It you missed your opportunity to do it while in your youth, however, and only get two or three weeks of vacations a year, you can still have an adventure. With the advent of the Internet it is easier than ever to find cheap airline deals and plan your vacation. For many years, my future wife and I took a great vacation every year. We did it cheaply, staying at Ma and Pa pensions and used public "coach-fare" transportation. For the price of two weeks in Florida, you can see the capitals of Europe or exotic third world countries. Foreign travel does not have to be expensive. It is no longer for the privileged few.

Skip the expensive planned group tour, and just go off on your on and see the world. While the planned tour is better than sitting home watching the travel channel, it is not the same experience as traveling on your on. The planned tour may rush you from museum to Cathedral and show you lots of sites, but you are not going to get that experience of being invited by a local couple to share their picnic in the shadow of an ancient ruin, or spend an evening in a Turkish tea garden with someone who wants to get to know an American couple and wants to show you local hospitality. On the planned tour, you cannot decide, “I like this place; let’s stay another day.”

If you have ever wished you could see the world, don’t put it off. Just do it. And parents, go ahead and worry about your children, but encourage them to go for that big adventure while they can. I am proud of my daughter for having the courage to get out and see the world and now that she is home, I can stop worrying.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Smell Gas

A subject that makes congressmen stupid.
By Jacob Weisberg
Few topics seem to addle the collective brain of Washington like high gas prices. Politicians who raise this issue can generally be assumed to be partisan, cynical, demagogic, and dishonest. But one must not discount the possibility that something about the subject actually makes them stupid.
With gasoline prices now spiking around $3 a gallon—near their inflation-adjusted 1981 peak—we are witnessing stupidity on wheels.
What none can acknowledge is that higher gas prices in the United States are a good thing. To be sure, oil at $70 a barrel causes hardships for working people and delights some of the world's worst dictators. But cheap gasoline imposes its own costs on society: greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and its attendant health risks, traffic congestion, and accidents. The ideal way to cope with these externalities would be with higher gas taxes or a carbon tax.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort

This is new and disturbing information. In order to defend the Attorney General against charges of perjury, for the first time, the Administration revealed that the government has engaged in surveillance that went beyond the warrantless phone call surveillance. This revelation my get Gonzales off the hook on the perjury charge but is in itself disturbing. We deserve the right to know the extend of this surveillance. The Congress needs to get to the bottom of this and insure that our constitutional rights are being protected as the government does it duty to protects us from terrorism. Rod

Intelligence Chief Says Bush Authorized Secret Activities Under One Order
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post Staff Writer, Wednesday, August 1, 2007; A01

The Bush administration's chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.

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Rudy: Worse Than Bush?

By Jon Wiener, Posted on August 1, 2007, Printed on August 1,
I am constantly amazed that Rudy Giuliani is leading the Republican pack. I am not necessarily in agreement with this article because , for one thing, I find it hard to believe anyone could be worse than Bush and I do not trust the source. Nevertheless, it does raise some important questions. Rod
In recent polls, Rudy Giuliani leads his rivals in the Republican primary race by about ten points. That's surprising, since he's been a supporter of gay rights, abortion rights and immigrant rights as well as gun control. It suggests that a President Giuliani would be better than Bush.

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