Monday, August 27, 2007

Iraq Coming Together?

Two interesting items from Iraq; must see if they truly develop.


Iraq's leaders agree on key benchmarks

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's top Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders announced on Sunday they had reached consensus on some key measures seen as vital to fostering national reconciliation.

The agreement by the five leaders was one of the most significant political developments in Iraq for months and was quickly welcomed by the United States, which hopes such moves will ease sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands.
Iraqi officials said the five leaders had agreed on draft legislation that would ease curbs on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party joining the civil service and military.

Consensus was also reached on a law governing provincial powers as well as setting up a mechanism to release some detainees held without charge, a key demand of Sunni Arabs since the majority being held are Sunnis.

The laws need to be passed by Iraq's fractious parliament, which has yet to receive any of the drafts.

Yasin Majid, a media adviser to Maliki, told Reuters the leaders also endorsed a draft oil law, which has already been agreed by the cabinet but has not yet gone to parliament.

But a statement from Talabani's office said more discussions were needed on the draft oil law and constitutional reforms. Committees had also been formed to try to ensure a "balance" of Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds in government.
And second, perhaps even more important, but also more speculative, is this report about al-Douri coming in from the cold, which would essentially end the Sunni insurgency and lead to the quick liquidation of Al Qaeda in Iraq!

al Douri was number 6 (the King of Clubs) in the "deck of cards" and had sworn allegiance to Zarqawi, and is the top figure from the deck that has not been captured or killed:
As Coalition and Iraq troops continue the hunt for al Qaeda throughout Iraq, a senior Baathist who years ago threw in his lot with al Qaeda has flipped. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former vice president of Saddam's revolutionary council and number 6 on the "deck of cards" of the 55 most wanted, has "decided to sever ties with al-Qaeda and sign up to the programme of the national resistance, which includes routing Islamist terrorists and opening up dialogue with the Baghdad government and foreign forces," Abu Wisam al-Jashaami told Adnkronos International. "In return, for cooperating in the fight against al-Qaeda, al-Douri has asked for guarantees over his men's safety and for an end to Iraqi army attacks on his militias."

Al Douri swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq's former commander, sometime in early 2004 according to an Internet posting on a jihadist website intercepted by The SITE Institute.
But in fact he has such a stain of evil on his hands that some think cutting a deal will be simply impossible. However,
While it is unclear how much influence al Douri possesses with former Baathists turned al Qaeda, or how much of Saddam's money he controls, his turn against al Qaeda serves as an indicator of how actors in the insurgency view the situation on the ground. Al Douri clearly sees that the Coalition and Iraqi government have momentum against the insurgency and al Qaeda.

Reconciliation with the likes of al Douri will be difficult, if not impossible. He was just placed at the top of the list of the Iraqi government's most wanted individuals. Al Douri was viewed by some to be Saddam's successor, and he was a ruthless operative directly responsible for the murder of Shia and Kurds during Saddam's rule. His submission to al Qaeda only compounds his past crimes. The Iraqi government will find it almost impossible to reach some sort of agreement with al Douri but must work hard to split any remaining al Douri-led factions from al Qaeda in Iraq.
So on the other hand, part of his desire to turn on AQI is that since the demise of Saddam Hussein last January, leadership of the Baath party has been in dispute, with Syria backing someone other than al Douri, who felt the position should have gone to him.

It also says the Surge must really be working and ordinary Iraqis can't stand the brutal Taliban-like tactics of AQI.

And already there had been reports that the other main Sunni group, the 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, had already joined us against AQI.
The 1920s Revolution Brigade and the U.S. have come to an agreement that the armed groups will stay off the streets in the daylight, while the U.S. Army is coordinating activities, establishing the Sunni insurgents as local police forces and providing equipment such as radios.

The 1920s Revolution Brigades is considered the "nationalist element" of the Sunni, largely made up of members of Saddam's disbanded army and tribesmen. The Buhriz group turned on al Qaeda in April, after the group terrorized the local population.
The Baath party is denying all this of course, but even if it's just wishful thinking or propaganda, it makes the enemy have doubts and is bad for their morale.

The writing is on the wall!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Italy Wakes Up

As I've said before, awareness of the threat of islam is a one-way function.

Every day, more and more people will know the truth.

The number will only go up and up.

And one day, it will reach critical mass.

Italy is now getting there:

(ANSAmed) - MILAN, JULY 11 - There is more fear and distrust in Italian cities about immigrants identified as 'Arab', or those coming from Islamic cultures. With the drop of opinions in favour for granting these immigrants the right to vote in local elections, a strong rise in opposition to the construction of mosques, and a progressive decline of those who see favourably the formation of mixed couples.

These are the results of a study carried out by the Milan Chamber of Commerce in Milan, Bologna, Rome, Naples and Palermo. According to a representative sample of the population, the opinions in favour of the opening of a new mosque fell to 28% against 48% last year. [good luck with next year! -- ed.]

The motivations of the 'no' are various: according to 30% of those against "public money could be better spent", 28% think that Islam is "a dangerous religion which does not allow integration", 24% of those against clearly speak of mosques as "gatherings of terrorists."
The fear of attacks is more clear: passing near crowded public areas, such as train stations, underground stops or trade centres, 54% of residents of Milan, Bologna, Rome, Naples and Palermo say they feel less safe compared to a year ago, 22% feel the same fears and 22% did not answer. Only 0.4% of the residents of the five big cities say they feel more safe today compared to a year ago.

Ban Saudi Air

Daniel Pipes, Presidentially appointed to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, has a great idea:

Saudi Arabian Airlines (known as Saudia) declares on its English-language website that the kingdom bans "Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols such as the Star of David." Until the Saudi government changes this detestable policy, its airline should be disallowed from flying into Western airports.

Michael Freund brought this regulation to international attention in a recent Jerusalem Post article, "Saudis might take Bibles from tourists," in which he points out that a section on the Saudia Web site, "Customs Regulations," lists the forbidden articles above under the rubric "Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam."
Further, as Stephen Schwartz of the Center for Islamic Pluralism points out, signs in Saudi airports warn Muslim travelers that the airport's mutawwa'in, or religious police, confiscate Korans, other Islamic literature, and Muslim objects of non-Saudi origin. While discriminating specifically against Shiites and Ahmadis, this policy manifests a wider insistence on Wahhabi supremacism. More broadly, the Saudi leadership runs a country that the American government has condemned repeatedly as having "no religious freedom" and being among the most religiously repressive in the world.

Saudia, the state-owned national carrier and its portal to the world, offers a pressure point for change. To take advantage of this vulnerability, Western governments should demand that unless the Saudi government at least permits "that stuff" in, Saudia faces exclusion from the 18 airports it presently services in Europe, North America, and Japan.
Such joint action also sends a long-overdue signal to the despots of Riyadh – that Westerners have thrown off their servile obeisance to their writ. Who will be first to act? Which national government or municipality will arise from the customary dhimmi posture and ban Saudia (slogan: "We aim to please you") from its runways, thereby compelling the kingdom to permit infidel religious items, monotheistic and polytheistic alike, into its territory? Where are you Athens, Frankfurt, Geneva, Houston, London, Madrid, Málaga, Manchester, Milan, Munich, New York, Nice, Osaka, Paris, Prague, Rome, Vienna, and Washington, D.C.?

If no government acts, what about a delegation of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others boarding a Saudia flight with much publicity, openly displaying their religious artifacts, daring the airline to confiscate these? Or which public service law firm in those eleven countries will bring local human rights suits against Saudia as an arm of the Saudi government?

This issue provides an opportunity for left and right to unite against radical Islam. Who will take the lead to confront Saudi discrimination, arrogance, and repression?
Indeed, who?

I mean, these slugs keep slaves. The Bandit Kingdom should be erased.

God Wills It!

Belgium Breaking Up?

Belgium's caught in a catch-22 Constitutional crisis, though it hasn't much been in the news. Will Flemish secession be the only solution?

It bodes ill for the seat and multicultural symbol of the EU!

After Belgium: Will Flanders and the Netherlands Reunite?

Belgium is rapidly unraveling. Following the June 10th Belgian general elections, won by Flemish-secessionist parties, the Belgian parties seem unable to form a government coalition.

Belgium is a multinational state, the model for the European Union’s efforts to turn Europe into a single multinational state. Belgium is made up of 60% Dutch-speaking, free-market oriented Flemings and 40% French-speaking, predominantly Socialist Walloons. The Belgian Constitution stipulates that the government should consist of 50% Flemings and 50% Walloons. Belgian governments always have to rely on a majority in both Flanders and Wallonia, since major decisions need the support of both parts of the country. In practice this means that 20% of the population (i.e. half of the Walloons) can veto every decision. This has made the Parti Socialiste (PS), the Walloon Socialist Party, the power broker in the country.

The refusal of the PS to reform the welfare state system has caused growing Flemish frustration, and turned what used to be a linguistic conflict into a dispute about economic and welfare policies. While Flanders pays most of Belgium’s taxes the bulk of the money flows to Wallonia. There a welfare-receiving electorate votes for parties which for over three decades have been blocking any attempts at reforming the collapsing welfare system.

Since the 1970s Flemish parties have radicalized, demanding larger autonomy over welfare issues. Apart from welfare reform the next Belgian government also has to reach an agreement over Brussels. The city, which is historically Dutch, is a bilingual enclave surrounded by the Halle-Vilvoorde district of the Flemish province of Brabant. At present Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) is one large, single electoral constituency. Flanders wants to assume full autonomy over Halle and Vilvoorde, and demands that these two Flemish towns and the surrounding Flemish villages are split off from bilingual Brussels. This is also being vetoed by the Walloon parties, although four years ago the Constitutional Court of Belgium, with 50% French-speaking judges, ruled that the present situation is unconstitutional and that BHV should be split by July 2007.

The Belgian politicians are unable to solve the BHV problem, and any new elections are unconstitutional as long as the BHV constituency has not been divided into one bilingual constituency Brussels and one Flemish constituency Halle-Vilvoorde. Politically Belgium is now in a catch-22 situation: The Belgian parties are unable to form a government because they cannot agree about splitting up BHV and new elections cannot be held as long as BHV has not been split up.

Last week, Prof. Em. Robert Senelle, one of Belgium’s most prominent constitutionalists, a Flemish Socialist and formerly a teacher of the Belgian Crown Prince, advised the Flemings to annul the Belgian Constitution and solemnly declare Flemish sovereignty. Following this advice Filip Dewinter, the leader of the secessionist Vlaams Belang party, the largest party in the Flemish Regional Parliament, called upon the Flemish Parliament to convene and declare Flanders an independent country.
Apart from the media in Belgium and the neighbouring Netherlands, the international papers and broadcasters have hardly reported about the disintegration of the EU’s host country. On Tuesday a survey of the Dutch [Netherlandish] television network RTL4 showed that 77% of the inhabitants of the Netherlands are in favour of the Netherlands and Flanders merging into one country.

In Belgium, an internet poll of Flanders’ largest newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws, showed 50.9% in favour of reuniting Flanders and the Netherlands. The Flemish provinces were part of the Netherlands until 1831, when the international powers established the Kingdom of Belgium.
And what of the Walloons? Will they join France?

Monday, August 20, 2007

USA Today Blog

Just discovered the USA Today "On Politics" blog linked to one of my postings on the Electoral College, concerning California's reform proposal.
According to AP, Maine and Nebraska are the only states that allocate electoral votes according to congressional districts.

It says that adopting Hiltachk's plan could give the GOP candidate a shot at 20 or so electoral votes from "GOP-leaning districts" -- or an Ohio-sized electoral cache.

In the latest edition of The New Yorker, liberal-leaning journalist Hendrik Hertzberg writes that "the bottom line is that the initiative, if passed, would spot the Republican ticket something in the neighborhood of twenty electoral votes -- votes that it wouldn't get under the rules prevailing in every other sizable state in the Union."
For an argument in favor of the initiative, see this post by Ten O'Clock Scholar, a neo-conservative who says the change would bring "power to the people!"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hitchens and Atheism

Interesting essay on Christopher Hitchens and his new book on atheism.

Some snippets:
Hitchens seems to hold that believers think of the Creator as a simple-minded Geometer, a Rationalist Extraordinaire, a two-times-two-equals-four kind of god, a flawless Watchmaker, a bit of a Goody-goody, a cosmic Boy Scout. If that is so — Hitchens leaps for your throat — then evidence is overwhelming that this Creator botched things up, like a rank amateur. In short, evidence all around us shows there is no such god.
But suppose God is not like the Hitchens model. Suppose that God is not a Rationalist, a Logician, a straight-line Geometer-of-the-skies. Suppose that the Creator God deliberately made a world of probabilities and failures, of waste and profusion, of suffering and hardships and frustrations. Suppose that He loved the idea of an unformed history, slowly developing (almost like an organism), nearly everything good won the hard way. Suppose that He loved chance, crossing chains of probabilities, freakish accidents, wild and unnecessary profusion, contingencies of every sort — to keep even angels guessing. Suppose He desired a world of indetermination, with all its blooming, buzzing confusion, so that within it freedom could spread out its wings, experiment, and find its own way.
A Perfect World would have no freewill. And otherwise, what would an afterlife be for?

In the moderating habits that Judaism and Christianity partly learned from pagan ethical systems, and considerably deepened with their own resources, Alfred North Whitehead saw the roots of the asceticism, self-denial, discipline, long years of study, dedication to honesty, and limpid transparency which are so necessary for sustained scientific work. Here he also found the conviction that everything in the universe, being the fruit of a single intelligence, is in principle understandable and to be worth all the arduous efforts to try to grasp it.
As a scientist I find that particularly compelling.

Here other scholars (Boorstin, Landes) have found the conviction that it is the human vocation, in the image of the Creator, to be creative, inventive, and to help complete the evolving work of creation.
That last bit puts one in the mind of the old argument over the purpose or need for "Good Works", a whole topic unto itself!

For the atheist — for Hitchens — though, does the problem of goodness create an intellectual problem? If everything is by chance and merely relative, why is it natural for so many to be good — if not all the time, at least so often as to be quite striking? Put another way: Isn’t it unlikely that random chance alone has arranged the world so that many human qualities — the very ones that Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and Jews and Christians find good on other grounds — should also work better for the survival of the human race? It is at least mildly interesting that philosophy, revealed religion, and random natural selection lead to many of the same moral principles. Perhaps that explains why some atheists are so nobly good (the “secular saints” of Albert Camus), and why some insist on being credited (by believers) with being good. Some do seem to hate it when believers borrow that awful line from Dostoevsky: “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”

On the other hand, Judaism and Christianity do add insights and virtues that derive from other forms of intelligence than narrow reason. It was against common sense and practical reason for the Americans in 1776, without an army and without a navy, to make war on the greatest naval and military power in the world. But their Declaration did fit with the faith that the reason God created the world was to offer his friendship to every woman and every man; and as Thomas Jefferson put it, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” (Or in the words of William Penn: If God gave us friendship, then also freedom.) Our Founders concluded that even when they prayed to the same Providence as the British, those who fight for freedom are better in tune with God’s ultimate purposes than those who, though apparently stronger, fight to repress it.

Elijah and the Prophets of Baal

If the Old Testament were written by sports commentators, here is one of my favorite chapters:

Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
1 Kings 18:1-4

Classical Liberalism

Many who go under the label "liberal" these days is really a Socialist in disguise.

And many so-called conservatives are in fact true classical liberals!

It can be rather confusing.

Barely A Blog has some good definitions.
Classical liberals (this writer) are distinguished in that the only rights they recognize are the individual’s right to life, liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness. The sole role of a legitimate government is to protect only those liberties. Why life, liberty, and property, and not housing, food, education, health care, child benefits, emotional well-being, enriching employment, ad infinitum? Because the former impose no obligations on other free individuals; the latter enslave some in the service of others.
A commenter adds a simple test:
You can always find false rights easily — just look for the gun it will take to force someone to grant that right. Any ‘positive’ right requires that someone threaten me with a gun to force me to do something for someone else, against my own interests.
Socialism is inherently coercive.

There has never been any shortage of people eager to purchase cheap virtue by controlling how others live.

Another adds,
the left has adopted for itself the term “liberal”, when its political correctness and socialised services agenda smacks of petty fascism. They call themselves “progressive”, when their philosophy evokes Rousseau’s “noble savage” and regressive “back to nature” idealism, and their position on just about any technological, industrial or commercial progress smacks of Luddite conservatism. And they call classical liberals “conservative”.
No wonder it's confusing!


I never liked the Godfather movies, the Sopranos, or any gangster "entertainment" whatsoever.

Nor did I understand the appeal of the anti-hero in literature and film.

One Cosmos explains why better than I could:
Father Rose, who wrote his piece on nihilism in the late fifties, prior to the vast explosion in crime caused by lenient liberal social policies and a forgiving attitude toward evil, observed that “Crime in most previous ages had been a localized phenomenon and had apparent and comprehensible causes in the human passions of greed, lust, envy, jealousy, and the like; never has there been anything more than a faint prefiguration of the crime that has become typical of our own century, crime for which the only name is one the avant-garde today is fond of using in another Nihilist context: ‘absurd.’”

That is an excellent point, for the absurd sadism of so many contemporary crimes matches the absurdity of an art that celebrates ugliness or “authenticity” and an educational system that promulgates the lie that truth does not exist. When your elites spend several generations creating an absurd world, don’t be surprised if you end up with absurd people and meaningless crimes.

“When questioned, those apprehended for such crimes explain their behavior in the same way: it was an ‘impulse’ or an ‘urge’ that drove them, or it was a sadistic pleasure in committing the crime, or there was some totally irrelevant pretext, such as boredom, confusion, or resentment. In a word, they cannot explain their behavior at all, there is no readily comprehensible motive for it, and in consequence... there is no remorse.”
I won’t get into a whole dissertation here, but early film noir such as Double Indemnity depicts a man who is pulled down into circumstances beyond his control due either to bad luck or some identifiable human motive such as greed or lust.

But in late film noir, the entire world has become corrupt, both the criminals and law enforcement. In fact, every human institution has become corrupt. In such a world, the antihero or outlaw becomes the hero with whom we identify [I always rejected falling for such identification -- ed.]. The corruption extends even into the family, which becomes a breeding ground for psychopaths, as in White Heat (starring James Cagney) or The Godfather saga. In these films, evil merely fights evil, so we inevitably find ourselves identifying with evil. There is no “good.” There are only hypocrites.
But then, these subhuman philosophies become the justification to fall further into vital animality and animal vitality. Postmodern philosophies absurdly use the spirit to deny the spirit, leaving us with a wholly horizontal wasteland of matter and instinct. This intellectual operation is a complete success, even though the patient -- the human qua human -- does not survive it. A new kind of infrahuman is born, forgetful of his fall and “at ease in a world that presents itself as an end in itself, and which exempts man from the effort of transcending himself” -- which is to have shunned and bypassed our reason for being here.
Actually that's not quite true.

I DO sometimes enjoy watching the Godfather saga etc, just to root for them to all end up in prison or to cackle with glee when any of them get whacked.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Good Causes

This blog has no tip jar and runs no ads, and never will, for it is better to give than to receive.

Here are some worthy causes I like to give to, and maybe you will too:

The Smile Train.

Repairs cleft palates and facial deformities of children in godforsaken countries. Claims 100% of your donations go to the surgeries, because overhead and expenses are covered by their initial grants.

The free cleft surgery your donation will help provide, is a true, modern-day medical miracle: it costs as little as $250 and takes as little as 45 minutes.
One of the cheapest ways to immeasurably improve a life!

Then there's:

Sylvia's Haven.

A one-woman show, Sylvia Anthony has had a calling to provide shelter to battered and homeless women and their children in Massachusetts for 20 years.
Sylvia's Haven is a nonprofit housing facility that provides sanctuary, job training, and emotional and financial support for homeless women and their children... Women may remain for up to two years. At the end of this time, or sooner, a woman who is successfully employed and has an apartment or home may leave Sylvia's Haven, along with the furniture in her home, to begin an independent life.
And ways to support the troops in a more concrete form:

Soldier's Angels
Soldiers' Angels is an all volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by Patti Patton-Bader, mother of Sgt. Brandon Varn, who recently returned home from a years deployment to Iraq...To date our volunteers have sent tens of thousands of care packages and hundreds of thousands of letters to our deployed heroes; we have helped those who have been wounded with our First Response Packs directly at the Combat and Support Hospitals (CASH) and at the major hospital in Germany, as well as providing care and comfort to those who are now in our military hospitals here at home; we have provided aid to military families in need; we have provided flights to soldiers on leave or in emergency situations and to their families to be with their loved ones upon return from Iraq and Afghanistan; we have provided level III KEVLAR Armor blankets to provide our heroes with some protection in their vehicles when it was needed; we help to honor the families whose loved ones have paid the ultimate price for our freedom and safety.