Monday, August 28, 2006

A Forgotten History Lesson

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris told a religious journal that separation of church and state is "a lie" and God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be "a nation of secular laws." The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected, politicians will "legislate sin," including abortion and gay marriage. Harris made the comments -- which she clarified Saturday -- in the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, which interviewed political candidates and asked them about religion and their positions on issues. Separation of church and state is "a lie we have been told," Harris said in the interview, published Thursday, saying separating religion and politics is "wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."

Such comments are very disturbing when one reviews the history of the United States, in particular, the history of it founding fathers. When founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, both of whom were agnostic met with John Adams and the other members of the Declaration committee to decide who would write the Declaration of Independence they did not think of religion. When James Madison who had loose religious ties through his wife wrote the majority of the Constitution he too was not thinking of making laws that were secular or “Christian” rather laws that would help his country survive.

The idea of Separation of church and state came from the very vivid, very real memory of their heritage. The theocracy of Puritan Virginia and Dutch New York as well as the civil war in the mother country (England) that produced the “protectorate” of Oliver Cromwell that when he died the very leaders who had killed King Charles I asked his son Charles II to come back to England and assume the throne. With this recent and real heritage of religious strife, our founding fathers found ways to legislate that protected the religious freedoms of those who wished to practice their beliefs with laws that protected religion from the state. In doing so, the State would be protected against, at times, an over zealous religion (Protestantism). This is an important concept forgotten and more often than not only considered in one context. Our founding fathers wanted to protect religion from the state and the state from religion in equal measure. Ms. Harris and her comments represent exactly what America’s founding fathers feared the most and tried in the Separation of church and state to avoid at all costs.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Looming Question?

Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said today he would not have ordered the capture of two Israeli soldiers if he had known it would lead to such a war. According to an interview on Lebanese TV and reported by the BBC, Nasrallah said, "Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it.”

With more than 1,000 Lebanese dead in the 34-day conflict and much of southern Lebanon in ruins the looming question is how will the Lebanese people respond? The destruction of their country at the hands of Israel was prompted by the actions of a group (Hezbollah) that was supposed to protect and defend them. Such an omission on national television by Nasrallah sends a signal that some public backlash has already occurred and such an appearance was made in the hope to forestall potentially more extensive anti-Hezbollah sentiment to grow.

A recent international magazine cover had Nasrallah with the title of victor in the most recent conflict (battle) against Israel. The bigger question is who has won the larger war in public opinion. True, much of the Arab world publicly sided with Lebanon, including tacit (Jordan) to blatant (Iran) support of Hezbollah and against Israel, ergo the United States but what of the Lebanese themselves? This the world will have to wait and see.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bush's Hallow Rhetoric

President Bush has again promised that the government will learn from mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina. This was made in his weekly radio address to the nation as he mentioned how the disaster exposed deep-seated poverty and a lack of readiness to deal with the crisis. Moreover, he said disaster response would improve and committed $110bn to rebuilding New Orleans and other affected areas.

The president made such remarks because next week Tuesday is the first year anniversary of the disaster where more than 1,000 people were killed when the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast of the US almost a year ago. But his words are close to being considered more than just hallow, but callous as well. Fewer than 200,000 of the original half-million inhabitants have returned to their ruined homes.

Katrina revealed that federal, state and local governments were unprepared to respond to such an extraordinary disaster. How will it respond to a biological attack from our enemies? Katrina also exposed a deep-seated poverty that has cut people off from the opportunities of their country. Where are the educational monies, small business loans, basic social services that will help our citizens living in the Gulf Coast obtain such opportunities?

As a year will mark the tragedy all the government and our president has to say is more words. The president said that this work would require the sustained commitment of our government, the generosity and compassion of the American people, and the talent and vision of people determined to restore their homes, neighborhoods and cities. For the people living in the Gulf Coast such rhetoric has long ago turned hallow. They want action!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Serious Talks

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has said his country is ready to start "serious talks" with six world powers on Wednesday. Iran submitted a written response to the demand by the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany to suspend uranium enrichment.
Iran denies Western claims that it is developing a nuclear weapons program, maintaining that it has a right to civilian nuclear technology. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei made it clear on Monday that Iran would reject international pressure.

The US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany have offered Iran a package of incentives - including the offer of help with civilian nuclear technology. The details of Tehran's written response have not been made public, but Iranian officials previously have said their response would address ambiguities over its right to nuclear technology.

It is well known that enriched uranium is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, but highly enriched uranium can also be used to make nuclear bombs. Iran points out that as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) it is entitled to a nuclear power program and says it has broken no rule though Western powers accuse Iran of concealing an enrichment program, and Washington has refused to rule out military action.

That Iran is “talking” to the West is a good thing. It is important and the Bush Administration with its UN Security Council allies should engage Iran. It has been maintained in prior posts the importance and support of active engagement of Iran. Iran does deserve the right to a nuclear power program and the West must support this. If not, the reaction might be the very accusations currently being made by the West.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Salute To Science

After watching the highly entertaining, yet disturbing independent film Side Effects this past weekend a silent laugh could be heard after reading the headline. However, upon reading the story a salute to science is in order.

An experimental HIV drug won't cure the disease but could be an important tool in managing infection, especially in patients who have developed resistance to existing medications.Anti-viral drugs called protease inhibitors have been the gold standard for treating HIV since the mid-1990s, but the virus is becoming increasingly resistant.

The existing combination of pills also produces side effects such as problems with cholesterol or blood fat, as well as problems with body shape and the distribution of fat.
U.S. researchers reported the early results of a trial that randomly compared a new class of drugs to protease inhibitors at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto last Thursday."At 25 weeks, approximately 85 to 95 per cent of the patients had viral loads that were below the level of detection," said Dr. Martin Markowitz, a professor at Rockefeller University in New York who presented the trial findings. The compound, known as MK-0158, was tested in 198 people who recently began treatment. Existing drugs interfere with how HIV copies its genetic material once it enters a cell or with how the genetic material gets expressed after it enters human chromosomes — two of the three steps the virus must complete.

The new class of drugs, called integrase inhibitors, stops the genetic material's ability to integrate with the host chromosome. Doctors at the conference were excited about the potential of the new class of drugs, but caution it could be months before the drugs are ready to go to Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.This is excellent news in the on-going fight against this horrible disease. The question now is after the trial, how long before the FDA will approve these new drugs and how much will they cost?

Bed & Breakfast treat

If one has never had the chance to stay at a Bed & Breakfast I highly recommend the experience.

After a stressful month and a half, I knew that my wife and I needed to get away. Our new apartment is nice and the little time we have spent in it has produced the feeling of an "almost on vacation" mentality the past two weekends. However, we have still been at home.

So it was with that in mind that this weekend, I secretly packed our bags on Friday and after picking my wife up from work we sped away to our cozy room at the Covington Manor. Covington is a lovely B&B in the rural village of Cambridge, WI. The stay was wonderful: relaxing with excellent conversations with other guests and the best french toast and blueberry jam I have ever tasted.

Friday, August 18, 2006

NSA Program Illegal

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor struck down the NSA program, saying it violates the rights to free speech and privacy. Furthermore, she declared that the program "violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III."
Her ruling went on to say that "the president of the United States ... has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders."

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Bush Administration disagrees with the ruling and has appealed. "We also believe very strongly that the program is lawful," he said in Washington, adding that the program is "reviewed periodically" by lawyers to determine its effectiveness and ensure lawfulness.

When this dispute first occurred a question asked but not with sufficient closure was the Bush Administration had not followed the very procedures it is now held to violate? In the post 9/11 blitz to approve national defense and military operations such a request would have been granted. If the Administration was sensitive about time delays it is probable that such approval would have been rushed and with little to no opposition, the president would have received what he had wanted.

What the United States and “the West” is fighting for in this War on Terror is the very civil liberties that Judge Taylor upheld. The idea that the people who govern are answerable to those they govern and not the other way around. The battles fought daily in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as on the Internet through hundreds of blogs is over ideas. Yes, people are dying, but people have been dying for ideas in time memoriam.

The best way for the Bush Administration to show our enemies that America is the “land of the free” is to accept the ruling. The president can still go to Congress and ask for such authority and with Republicans, controlling Congress, the Administration might have a better chance there than with activist judges.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The State Of Our Financial Union

Historical cycles are funny things. They can help act as warnings as well as predict future events to a lesser degree. Lately, the 1920s and the late 1970s through the 80s have been coming to my mind a lot. The report today from the Congressional Budget Office gave me pause to reflect upon those two periods once again.

The CBO said it expects slower economic growth next year, with gross domestic product rising by a projected 3 percent in 2007, compared with 3.5 percent this year. This latest economic forecast was part of an updated budget outlook. The report shows CBO expects slightly slower growth next year than it had projected in March, when it saw the economy growing by 3.4 percent in 2007, taking out the effect of inflation.

The CBO also predicted that the U.S. budget deficit would rise to $286 billion in fiscal 2007, up from this year's $260 billion projected deficit. The CBO's fiscal 2007 deficit projection was higher than the $265 billion it projected in March. CBO's projections for inflation, minus volatile energy and food prices, are higher than its March report. The CBO said it expects core consumer prices to rise by 2.6 percent in 2006 and 2.5 percent in 2007.

Consumer prices including energy and food are projected to rise by 3.5 percent in 2006 and 2.5 percent in 2007. CBO also said the general fiscal outlook remained unchanged for the coming decade. This is not necessarily good news for Republicans this fall, especially with the president hoping for an opportunity to present his case on tax cut permanency, while other Republican candidates attempt to forgot their voting support for the president. This is also not really good news for Democrats who have yet to come up with solid opposition policies that are substantial in substance rather than Republican lite. The consumer prices will rise by 3.7 percent I predict if the price of crude oil rises and diplomacy fails with Iran. This is not wild speculation on my part, but real possibility. The other real possibility is that the amount of individual debt will increase by 2 percent. The American quality to spend money and our levels of personal debt are two large problems. Unfortunately world events and certain politicians have enlivened this quality. If we are not careful, history will repeat itself.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

To Live Life

A funeral is an opportunity to conduct introspection. Surrounded by family and friends the berived are enabled to look upon the life lost in a new light--to see how their loved one had affected other peoples lives for the better. Often, the words spoken, but more often than not those unspoken are the true testiments to the life of the deceased.

Today at the funeral, reflection upon life, mine, as well as my uncle's took place and I must admit that it was a good part of the healing process.

To truly live life to the fullest is something not many do. To attempt to do so is important and each attempt helps us eventually succeed. This is something that I took away today and wished to pass along. With all the sadness and fear this is something important to remember.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Cease-fire Holding, Barely

It is too early to say who "won" the war over southern Lebanon because, despite a ceasefire, the fighting might not be over. Beyond that, the political and military structures that might prevent a future conflict have yet to be put in place. For if such structures—removal of Hezbollah from south of the Litani River and removal of Israeli forces altogether, extension of Lebanese government authority and army in the south, insertion of major international force—are successful, then Israel would be able to claim a victory of sorts. Hezbollah would not have been crushed but it might have been contained.

However, the potential for a prolonged and messy guerrilla war looms large, especially with the current ceasefire just barely holding. If the ceasefire breaks down and a guerrilla war happens, Israel will have lost. There is still hope for the ceasefire holding and hope for peace. It is interesting though that the Israeli soldiers kidnapped have largely been forgotten in the violence and Hamas has become nonexistent.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

High Stakes

There is a historic moment in Mexico and Mr. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, taking the opportunity, yet again, to cast Mexico's contested presidential contest in apocryphal terms. Those actually were the words used on Sunday at the latest of his mass rallies.

Since July 2, when the presidential election was held, Mexico has lurched its way through an acrimonious and divisive political crisis. Mr. Lopez Obrador says he is the victim of mass fraud at the ballot box. Mr Lopez Obrador and his supporters want all the votes recounted, not just the sample that has just been looked at again in recent days. Their chant is deafening: "Vote by vote, polling station by polling station."

The central square in Mexico City and the surrounding roads have become a tent city in the past few weeks, crowded with protestors taking their message out on the street.
Banks, government buildings and hotels have all been blockaded - symbols, say those involved, of the institutions that have kept the majority of Mexican people in poverty and out of government. Symbols that Mr Lopez Obrador stands against.
The findings of the partial recount reveal significant irregularities and/or Mr Lopez Obrador closes the gap substantially by a legitimate re-examination of the ballot papers, thus the electoral authorities may yet yield to his demand for a wider recount—possibly even of all 41 million votes. Some have likened this whole experience to Ukraine's Orange Revolution. This may not yet be a revolution, but a struggle is certainly underway. Mexico's future is not yet set in stone.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Hopeful Optimism

The U.N.-brokered cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel will begin at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. ET) Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a taped statement Saturday.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora agreed on the time, though Annan urged both sides to stop fighting immediately.

According to CNN "preferably, the fighting should stop now to respect the spirit and intent of the council decision, the object of which was to save civilian lives, to spare the pain and suffering that the civilians on both sides are living through," Annan said.

I have not been wrong before in my blog, but my post of yesterday did not give much hope to Hezbollah agreeing to such a plan. Today, however, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that his militia would honor the call for a cease-fire once a deal on the timing was reached. And the Lebanese government, which includes two members of Hezbollah, unanimously approved Security Council Resolution 1701 today.

What is unfortunate is that Israel is preparing to expand its operations in Lebanon before the cease-fire will take effect. This might be a strategic move that will aid in military success and is part of operations, but it will not help Israel in the eyes of public opinion and the United States should lay a firm hand on its ally and prevent more violence this weekend. As to this actually happening and to the cease-fire let me say that hopeful optimism is what is needed.

Friday, August 11, 2006


The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a new resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. Some observers say too little too late, while others are more optomistic.

Resolution 1701 calls for "a full cessation of hostilities", and UN and Lebanese troops to replace Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. The US Secretary of State said the deal should "open a path to lasting peace between Lebanon and Israel" reported by CNN.

The governments of both countries are expected to discuss the resolution at cabinet meetings over the weekend. However, hours before the vote, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered his army to prepare to widen its offensive in southern Lebanon. This action shows the intent of Israel as well as the hollowness of the resolution. Israel is not willing to stop fighting, because, sadly, Hezbollah will not follow such a cease-fire. So, in short, the fighting will continue as all sides are pressured into stopping the violence.

The historical and political perspectives on this current conflict are being written daily but unless the United Nations will be able to effectively backup Resolution 1701 it will be remembered that the Israeli-Hezbollah-Hamas War of 2006 was the death of the UN.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

An Opportunity

British authorities said today that they thwarted a terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up several aircraft heading to the United States using explosives smuggled in carry-on luggage. Security was raised to its highest level in Britain, and carry-on bags were banned on all flights. Washington raised its threat alert to its highest level for commercial flights from Britain to the United States amid fears the plot had not been completely crushed. The alert for all flights coming or going from the United States was also raised. British police arrested 21 people; supposedly capturing the main suspects in what U.S. officials said are the earmarks of an al-Qaida plot.

Though this is a major inconvenience for travelers and the news focus has shifted once again, at least for a day, away from the Middle East it is important to remember that al-Qaida are the terrorists we (US military and government) should go after. The homegrown terrorism daily endured in Iraq is largely of the occupation’s making and subsequent sectarian violence a branch of this terrorist tree.

Since 2003 most American’s have been side tracked in body and in mind. Iraq and all that has unfolded since the initial military operations has consumed media attention as well as public opinion and Congressional action. With this said, diplomatic relations, congressional appropriation bills, and fact-finding trips have taken place to Afghanistan, and sadly violence has continued between Afghan rebels and coalition forces.

But, al-Qaida has largely been forgotten.

The terrorist plot uncovered today is scary because there is no doubt about its circumstances or implications. However, it is also a VERY big opportunity for the Bush Administration and Democrats.

Al-Qaida has provided a clean slate for President Bush to go after Osama bin-Laden, again. Yes, since 2001, military operations have continued with the aim to hunt bin-Laden down, but todays plot unveiling offers the Bush Administration a chance to refocus. Define the mission to a public growing skeptical of Bush’s leadership in the War on Terror. It is likely that pressure has been placed on Pakistani President Musharraf to help ferret bin-Laden and his fighters out of the Pakistani mountains that border Afghanistan where bin-Laden is said to be hiding since 2002. The uncovering of this recent terrorist plot and spotlight on al-Qaida might now provide the additional weight that Musharraf and Bush need to conduct new operations against bin-Laden.

Democrats also have an opportunity with this terrorist plot discovery. A ground swell of grassroots activism (a large part of Party politics) has begun and top-Democrats who have been seen as centrist or supportive of President Bush’s policies in Iraq, namely Senator Joseph Lieberman face primary challengers and defeat. This internal re-organization and battle of ideas within the Democratic Party has been effectively exposed by Republican strategists and used to Republican advantage over the past few years. This does not have to continue.

Democrats have the opening they have sought for many months in order to change the debate, define the mission—military as well as diplomatic—and put aside potentially debilitating in-fighting over the Iraq war. This is the time to seize the initiative from the Republican spin machine.

The War on Terrorism has always had one main objective: al-Qaida. It is time to fight our prime enemy with renewed determination, clarity of direction and focus. This can and must be achieved. It does not require internal Party debate or polls. The only question is what Party will act first?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Resolution

The United States and France reached agreement on a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an end to fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas as a first step toward a political settlement of the conflict. The U.N. Security Council received the draft to review, send it to their governments and suggest any changes. A vote could follow Monday or Tuesday.

The draft resolution calls for a “full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations,” as reported by Reuters.

To use a phrase popular a century ago, bully for them. It has only taken three weeks and hundreds of dead, hundreds more displaced, and a polarized sectarian state in Iraq, Iran, and every over country in the Middle East immediately surrounding Israel for a resolution to be written. It should be stressed that this is only a draft resolution, so as is all too often the case, a country may object and effectively stall a cease-fire. Countries like China or Russia or Germany may be such a country, though I believe everyone wants a cease-fire and wants it quickly.

As for the United States, recent reports show that support for President Bush is waning. As my blog yesterday indicated his leadership on the crisis in the Middle East has been weak and ineffective, so I am not surprised at such a report.

I have not wished this blog to become partisan nor biased. Events over the preceeding weeks have become very personal and have influenced my posting. For my readers I offer this as my explanation and make this final observation. Perception in politics is key to popularity as well as survival. The same applies to diplomacy and the perception by the Arab world of the West, in particular, the United States has not been improved by the Bush Administration's actions these past few weeks or the presidents "working" vacation in Texas.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Profiles In Leadership

With the crisis in the Middle East and my flu bug I thought it would be prudent to write a few short impressions on two well known world leaders: Tony Blair and George Bush

One leader cancels his vaction.

One leader decides to continue his vacation plans.

One leader called for an immediate cease-fire after the crisis began.

One leader has not called the Prime Minister of Israel until a few weeks ago, after two weeks of fighting.

I will write more on this topic tomorrow.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Phone Call

It might be the heat or the fact that allergies or a flu bug has decided to make my life miserable at the moment but I find myself increasingly short tempered. So, when I attempt to write an unbiased blog on world events I find myself unable to accomplish this with the current crisis in the Middle East providing me with news, sadness, a headache, and a temper.

Israeli planes have been dropping leaflets on southern suburbs of Beirut telling residents to leave ahead of new military operations against Hezbollah. In Israel, the army has reportedly been told to plan a push into Lebanon as far as the Litani river, which is up to 30km (19 miles) north of the border, according to the BBC; and in turn Hezbollah has warned Tel Aviv could be attacked if Israel's actions intensify.

Fighting raged on the ground in south Lebanon today with four Israeli soldiers killed and Hezbollah again targeted northern Israel, killing at least eight civilians. Amidst this,
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called for a lasting solution to the conflict.

Where is the United States? Specifically President Bush? Startling reports over the past few days that only recently had the president actually talked with the Israeli prime minister on the phone. Response by the Bush Administration throughout this crisis has been pathetic, but such reports indicate a ghastly breakdown in Oval Office diplomacy.

Recent attempts to restart a cease-fire initiative have fallen short. Today is Thursday and the hope to “force” a diplomatic development as Secretary Rice wishes to accomplish before the weekend is widely considered unlikely. Maybe she would accomplish her mission if the president picked up the phone and called the leader of Israel.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

No Ceasefire

An Israeli ground and air operation is under way near Baalbek in Lebanon , a Hezbollah stronghold more than 100km (60 miles) north of the Israeli border. Israeli forces have also pushed deeper into south Lebanon aiming to set up what Israel dubs a "security zone". All this after hope for a ceasefire would be called yesterday. Now, Israel said it would resume air strikes after a 48-hour partial halt, after the Israeli security cabinet on unanimously approved widening Israel's ground offensive in Lebanon.

While most of the world wants an end to the fighting most international citizens have underestimated the resolve and support of the Israeli public. This is something that Secretary Rice must understand if, indeed, a cease-fire will occur in days as she announced.