Sunday, March 31, 2013

Do I like it?

Always with the Kissing

Tonight we have the season finale of The Walking Dead, then the Talking Dead commentary afterward, then the season three premiere of The Game of Thones. TV, all the time. Tomorrow, I have two hours of The Voice. Argh!

In the meantime, console ourselves with images of books and reading...

First, in honor of The Walking Dead, my favorite character Darryl Dixon:

Current Events - March 31, 2013

School District Rescinds ‘Easter’ Ban

An Alabama school district has rescinded a principal’s ban on using the word ‘Easter’ to describe bunnies or eggs.

Dee Fowler, the superintendent of Madison City Schools, said all seasonal activities like Christmas and Easter are acceptable in city schools, according to a letter obtained by Fox News.

“These traditions are a part of our rich heritage and I do not see them as infringing on ones’ religious rights,” Fowler wrote in a letter to parents. “Additionally, words such as Christmas and Easter are not banned at our schools.”

Television station WHNT reported that Lydia Davenport, the principal of Heritage Elementary School told teachers that no activities related to or centered around any religious holiday would be allowed – in the interest of religious diversity.

“We had in the past a parent to question us about some of the things we do here at school,” said Davenport. “So we’re just trying to make sure we respect and honor everybody’s differences.”

The principal then stepped in and cancelled the school’s Easter Egg hunt for kindergarden and second grade students, the superintendent said.

“Kids love the bunny and we just make sure we don’t say ‘the Easter Bunny’ so that we don’t infringe on the rights of others because people relate the Easter bunny to religion,” she told the television station. “ A bunny is a bunny and a rabbit is a rabbit.”

Fowler said after meeting with the principal, the students were allowed to participate in their previously planned Easter Egg hunt — before taking off for Spring Break.

“After conversation, it was decided that the hunt was not in violation of any policies or procedures, and that it could proceed as planned,” Fowler wrote.

Charles and Cynthia Erwin are parents in Madison. They were greatly troubled by the decision to ban the word ‘Easter’.

“It’s so sad that we find our faith being challenged so often and so aggressively in America today,” Erwin said. “Having this happen in conservative Alabama is shocking to me — but unfortunately is symptomatic of what’s going on in the rest of the United States.

So the Erwins contacted the Liberty Institute, a legal firm that handles religious liberty cases.

“Clearly established Supreme Court precedent prohibits schools from censoring religious speech of students and parents,” attorney Hiram Sasser told Fox News. “In addition, there is no case that exists that bans school officials from using the word Easter to describe the Easter holiday or cultural activities that are associated with Easter.”

Sasser successfully represented a Florida Atlantic University student who was punished after he refused a professor’s order to stomp on a piece of paper with the word ‘Jesus’ written on it. The university has since apologized and cleared the student’s record. Florida’s governor has called for an investigation into the incident.
“Again, it only takes one person to stand against this kind of censorship and nonsense,” Sasser said of the Easter ban. “When like-minded folks around the country support them, we win.”
 Sasser said based on the school superintendent’s letter, if a principal in the district ever bans the words ‘Christmas’ or ‘Easter’, it will clearly be hostility and not for some other educational or legal reason.

Obama Proclaims Caesar Chavez Day(today)

As a senator, Barack Obama made a call in 2008 for a national holiday in Chávez's honor, saying: "Chávez left a legacy as an educator, environmentalist, and a civil rights leader. And his cause lives on. As farm workers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what César Chávez accomplished so many years ago. And we should honor him for what he's taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation. That's why I support the call to make César Chávez's birthday a national holiday. It's time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union." (Senator Barack Obama March 31, 2008)[3] Grassroots organizations continue to advocate to create a national holiday. On March 30, 2011, President Obama reiterated his support for the cause: "César Chávez's legacy provides lessons from which all Americans can learn."

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Presidential Proclamation -- Cesar Chavez Day

- - - - - - -
Every year, Americans all across our country pause on March 31 to remember a man who made justice his life's calling. Growing up the son of migrant farm workers who lost everything in the Great Depression, Cesar Chavez knew hard work and hardship from an early age. He labored long hours for little pay, taking odd jobs to help his family get by and forgoing a formal education to follow the crop cycles. But where others might have given up or given in, Cesar Chavez never lost hope in the power of opportunity. He lived each day by a belief as old as America itself -- the idea that with courage and determination, any of us can reach beyond our circumstances and leave our children something better.
More than anything, we remember Cesar Chavez for lending voice to the voiceless. When no one seemed to care about the invisible farm workers who picked our Nation's food, beset by poverty and cheated by growers, a courageous man dedicated to dignity stood up and spoke out. Alongside Dolores Huerta and fellow organizers, he rallied a generation of workers around "La Causa," marching and fasting and boycotting for fair pay and protections on the job. They fought through decades of setbacks and fierce resistance. But through every trial, Cesar Chavez refused to curb his ambitions or scale back his hope. Step by step, march by march, he helped lead a community of farm workers to make the change they sought.
Cesar Chavez's legacy lives on at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, his home and workplace, which I was proud to designate a National Monument last October. It also lives on in those who remember his central teaching: that when workers are treated fairly and humanely, our country grows more just, opportunity becomes more equal, and all of us do better. Because even with the strides we have made, we know there is more left to do when working men and women toil in poverty without adequate protections or simple respect. We know there is more to do when our broken immigration system forces workers into a shadow economy where companies can ignore labor laws and undermine businesses following the rules. Fixing those problems means securing what Cesar Chavez fought for at La Paz. It means taking on injustice, making sure hard work is rewarded, and bringing more Americans into a rising middle class.
In 1966, when Cesar Chavez was struggling to bring attention to his cause, he received a telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and goodwill," he wrote. "We are with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized." It is a story that reminds us how here in America, we are bound together not by the colors of our skin or the languages we speak, but by the values we share and the brighter future we seek for our children. So today, as we honor a man who risked everything to stand up for what he believed in, let us reflect on our common cause and recommit to moving forward together -- as one Nation and one people.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2013, as Cesar Chavez Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor Cesar Chavez's enduring legacy.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
twenty-ninth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

Just in case you are not familiar with Chavez, here is synopsis.  You will note that he started his organizing with Saul Alinsky!

Example: After he seized power, Che put to death five hundred “enemies” of the revolution without trial, or even much discrimination. Castro, no humanist himself, did his best to neutralize Guevara by appointing him Minister for Industry. As could be expected, Che applied Soviet policies to the Cubans: agriculture was destroyed and ghost factories dotted the landscape. He did not care about Cuba’s economy or its people: his purpose was to pursue revolution for its own sake, whatever it meant, like art for art’s sake. Indeed, without his ideology, Che would have been nothing more than another serial killer. Ideological sloganeering allowed him to kill in larger numbers than any serial killer could imagine, and all in the name of justice. Five centuries ago, Che probably would have been one of those priest/soldiers exterminating Latin America’s natives in the name of God. In the name of History, Che, too, saw murder as a necessary tool of a noble cause.

Does HHS Secretary Sebelius understand the concept of insurance?

Apparently not, according to Megan McCardle writing in the Daily Beast.

This is what Sebelius said about those of us who purchase health insurance plans that don't cover routine health issues:

At a White House briefing Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said some of what passes for health insurance today is so skimpy it can't be compared to the comprehensive coverage available under the law. "Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don't pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus," she said. "They're really mortgage protection, not health insurance."
McCardle sets her straight:
She said this in response to a report from the American Society of Actuaries arguing that premiums are going to rise by 32% when Obamacare kicks in, as coverage gets more generous and more sick people join the insurance market.  Sebelius' response is apparently that catastrophic insurance isn't really insurance at all--which is exactly backwards. Catastrophic coverage is "true insurance".  Coverage of routine, predictable services is not insurance at all; it's a spectacularly inefficient prepayment plan.
Now, it occurred to me that Sebelius might be thinking about the scam insurance that is all too often sold to naive, mostly lower-middle-class folks who labor in the service industry.  That stuff isn't insurance at all; it's a fraud, and the people who sell it will richly deserve any justice that is meted out to them in either this life or the next.  But that stuff doesn't protect your mortgage, either; they're almost-worthless discount plans or very-limited-coverage insurance sold by fly-by-night operations who tend to evaporate as soon as claims have to be paid.  So I don't think that's what she's talking about; I think she's talking about catastrophic plans.
Nor do I think that Sebelius is responding awkwardly to a report that the administration would like to wish away.  I think she's sincerely confused about the difference between insurance, and prepayment.  Which explains a lot about the new health law. 
People our age paying for contraception coverage is loony. We don't need it, nor want it. But this is what happens when government gets into the health insurance business. And when you have a Secretary of Health and Human Services who has no clue what insurance is really for, you end up with Obamacare and a boondoggle of immense proportions.

The PLO Rewrites History

Dear Leader Barack Hussein Obama visited Israel last week. While there, he took a quick trip to Ramallah ("Height of God") to hold talks with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. During the press conference after the meeting, Obama said: 

"Palestinians deserve an end to occupation and the indignities that come with it" [through an] "independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people alongside the Jewish state of Israel."
"Put simply, Palestinians deserve a state of their own." 

During the same press conference, Abbas said: 

"... Palestinians want a two-state solution, 'Palestine and Israel, [but that] peace should not be made through violence, occupation, settlements, arrests, siege,' [and the denial of the rights of refugees]."
Abbas also said that a Palestinian unity deal would be a key to peace. 

Irony of Ironies! The PA now talks "peace." While the PA is not technically the same as the Palestinian Liberation Authority (PLO), the two are tightly interwoven. The PLO is the main umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement and a leading practitioner of terrorism. The PLO founded the PA under the terms of a series of 1990s peace pacts. So, now we have Obama supporting the PLO. 

A little history is in order here. The PLO was created on June 2, 1964 in Cairo by the Arab League. In its charter is this statement (in Article 18): "The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history or with the true basis of sound statehood." [emphasis mine]

Further, you will find in the PLO's Statement of Proclamation of the Organization "... the right of the Palestinian Arab people to its sacred homeland Palestine and affirming the inevitability of the battle to liberate the usurped part from it, and its determination to bring out its effective revolutionary entity and the mobilization of the capabilities and potentialities and its material, military and spiritual forces." [emphasis mine] 

Is the PLO trying to rewrite history? YES! 

There is not, nor ever has there been, a Palestinian people, state, language, culture, or history. The present-day "Palestinians" are Arabs, with Arabic culture, history, and language. They came from Arab states into what we now know as Israel about one hundred years ago. In contrast, the Jews have been in Israel for over 5,000 years. Following the Six-Day War (June 5-10, 1967, in which Israel thoroughly routed a coalition of nine Arab states and took possession of Judea and Samaria), the Arabs in Judea and Samaria suddenly became Palestinians. Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist, said that overnight (June 4, 1967) he became a Palestinian. 

The concept of Palestine was a Roman invention. The Jews in Israel attempted to gain independence from the Roman Empire in the second century A.D. The attempt ended at a Masada in Judea. Roman emperor Hadrian was angry with the Jews and wanted to destroy the name of Israel and Judea so that there would be no memory of the country that belonged to the Jewish rebels. He decided to rename the Roman province, so he found in ancient history a name that appeared appropriate. Hadrian discovered that an extinct people, unknown in Roman times, called "Philistines", once lived in that area and were enemies of the Israelites. He invented the new name: "Palæstina", the Latin spelling of "Philistine." 

There is no mention of the name Palæstina in history prior to the Romans renaming the province of Judea. The name does not appear in any ancient document, is not written in the Bible, either in Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Testament, nor in Assyrian, Persian, Macedonian, Ptolemaic, Seleucian, or other Greek sources. 

Reference to the "Palestinian" people was never mentioned, not even by the Romans that invented the term. Muslims claim that the prophet Mohammed once traveled to Jerusalem (not mentioned in the Qur'an), but there is no reference to any Palestinian people in the Qur'an. 

The PLO may try to rewrite ancient history, but it cannot rewrite recent history. 

The PLO has a long recent history of terrorism and violence. Under Yasser Arafat (1929-2004), the PLO led Palestinians into the Al-Aqsa Intifada, a war with Israel that lasted nearly five years and claimed thousands of lives on both sides. Here is a (partial) list of PLO (or its offshoots) violence: 

• Late 1950s: Arafat co-founds Fatah, whose sole purpose is to gain control of Palestine from Israel through terrorism
• March 18, 1968: Fatah terrorists in Israel set a land mine which later blew up a school bus, killing two children and injuring 28 others
• July 1968: Fatah joins the PLO and becomes its dominant member
• February 1969: Yasser Arafat becomes PLO chairman
• May 8, 1970: PLO terrorists attacked an Israeli School bus, killing nine children and three adults, and crippling nineteen for life
• September 1972: Black September attack at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany
• October 7, 1985: four PLO terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, and killed one Jewish tourist
• July 2000: PLO head Yasser Arafat rejected a peace settlement that would have resulted in a Palestinian state -- it's interesting to note that in order to counter the perception that Arafat was the obstacle to peace, the PLO began to publish a "revisionist" view of what took place during the peace process
• September 2000: Arafat launched the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and continued to fund, incite, and support terrorism
• March, 2002: PLO terrorists killed five students and wounded twenty-three other people during an attack on a pre-military high school in Atzmona, Israel
• March 14, 2004: suicide bombers associated with Fatah kill nine and injure nineteen in Ashdod, Israel
• November 2012: PLO fires rockets into Israel 

Killing children. Classy bunch, the PLO. And as if the above actions weren't despicable enough, the PLO has recruited children to attack Israeli targets, with some of the attacks being suicidal. 

The PLO itself was removed from the U.S. State Department's terrorist organization in 1994, but several PLO factions are still on that list, including

• Palestine Islamic Jihad -- Shaqaqi Faction -- operating in Gaza with minimal presence in the West Bank and Israel
• Palestine Liberation Front -- Abu Abbas Faction -- based in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories
• Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- operating in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
• Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command -- political Leadership headquartered in Damascus, with bases in southern Lebanon and a presence in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, and a small presence in Gaza 

What's most interesting is from where these groups receive external aid: Syria and Iran. 

Right now, March 26, 2013, the PA continues to call for the destruction of Israel. Is Obama so naïve as to think a Palestinian state will stop terrorist violence? 

This is the organization Obama supports through his call for a Palestinian state. Does Obama's duplicity ever end? And, while sequestration is going on, Obama released $500 million to the PLO. 

But that's just my opinion

When Men Forsake God, Tyranny Always Follows

The prophetic words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn resonate like thunder across the history of man.  "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."  Thus summarized the Nobel laureate, Orthodox Christian author, and Russian dissident the main reason why the communist revolution was able to enslave, terrorize, and murder tens of millions of innocent people.  An atheistic mentality and a long process of secularization gradually alienated the people from God and His moral laws.  This led them away from truth and authentic liberty and facilitated the rise of tyranny.

Godlessness is always the first step to the concentration camp.  Tragically, that same process is now at work in America and many other parts of the world.  Too many refuse to see it or believe it.

America has long been a beacon of freedom for millions of souls who came here seeking liberty and opportunity.  It achieved this unique place in history by recognizing the authority of God and his moral laws and declaring that men have the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Founded by faithful and God-fearing men who despised government tyranny and sought religious freedom and individual liberty, America incorporated these universally true principles in its Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  These ideals eventually became the bedrock upon which all our laws, government, and institutions were originally built.

America's Founding Fathers understood and proclaimed that all rights come from God alone, not governments.  They insisted that government must always serve man and that man was created by God to be free.  Their deep faith and reverence of the Almighty inspired and guided their actions and motivated their decisions.  It is this belief and trust in God's authority and wisdom that ultimately transformed America from a tiny British colony with a handful of refugees to the mighty economic and military superpower and an oasis of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity for tens of millions of immigrants.

The Founding Fathers, like Solzhenitsyn, understood the dependence of freedom on morality.  A virtuous and faithful people who placed God at the center of their lives and the foundations of their institutions helped America become that shining city on a hill "whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere," said President Ronald Reagan.  "We've staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government," wrote James Madison, "far from it.  We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of govern ourselves according to commandments of God.  The future and success of America is not in this Constitution, but in the laws of God upon which the Constitution is founded."

This same theme is found throughout the writings of the Founders.  John Adams clearly understood that our "Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."  "He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard for his country," observed Samuel Adams.  Patrick Henry wrote that "virtue, morality, and religion ... is the armor that renders us invincible[.] ... [I]f we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed[.] ... [S]o long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger."

Solzhenitsyn warned that by forgetting God, America and the West faced a "calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness" that would weaken their foundations and make them vulnerable to moral decay and internal collapse.  Only by turning back to God from the self-centered and atheistic humanism where "man is the touchstone [measure] in judging and evaluating everything on earth" would the West have any hope of escaping the destruction toward which it inevitably moves.

Unfortunately, America did not heed Solzhenitsyn's warnings.  In the last several decades, America has been rapidly transformed from a God-fearing and worshiping nation into a secularist and atheistic society, where communist and atheistic ideals are glorified and promoted, while Judeo-Christian values and morality are attacked, ridiculed, and increasingly eradicated from the public and social consciousness of our nation.  Under the decades-long assault and militant radicalism of many so-called "liberal" and "progressive" elites, God and His moral laws have been progressively erased from our public and educational institutions, to be replaced with all manner of delusion, perversion, corruption, violence, decadence, and insanity.

"Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants," warned William Penn.  Throughout history, the most serious threats to man's freedom always arise when men refuse to acknowledge that God is ultimately the source and protector of real and lasting liberty and freedom.  When that timeless truth is erased from men's consciousness, when God's wisdom and laws are forgotten, when morality is no longer a virtue to be treasured and emulated, when human life is no longer sacred, and man becomes the only standard of all that is true, then genuine freedom will begin to vanish from any group, institution, community, or society.  Carnality, greed, selfishness, and worldly pleasure and power become the main goals of human existence.  The moral and ethical clarity, conviction, and courage required to defend freedom and protect genuine liberty ultimately disappear, to be replaced by the most cruel, unethical, tyrannical, and godless ideologies.

It is no coincidence that advocates and followers of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism -- all secular, immoral, atheistic, and godless ideologies -- enslaved and murdered the greatest number of people in the history of mankind.  All produced some of the most cruel, violent, and evil tyrants this world has ever known -- despots who persecuted their own citizens, slaughtered the innocent, destroyed their own people, and brought calamities to other nations.  All subjugated the liberty and property of men to the absolute power and control of the state.  All were enemies of God and blasphemers of His Holy Scriptures.  All viciously persecuted the most devout and religious members of their societies, primarily the religious Christians and Jews who righteously and faithfully followed the Lord.

This is the lesson the 20th century expended so much blood to teach us.  It appears that without a marked change in course, the Western world is going to have to learn it again.

Forward, and downhill

It is commonplace for liberals to sneer at “slippery slope” arguments – the fear that some infringement upon liberty will lead to further loss of freedom down the road.  (For some reason, there seems to be little fear that “slippery slopes” can lead in the other direction.)  Talk about the assault weapons ban leading to more stringent gun control, for example, and gun-control zealots will laugh at your silly concerns.  Of course they don’t have a further agenda, once they get the American people accustomed to the latest Bill of Rights haircut!  They’ll stop with a 15-round limit on magazine size, and banning rifles with two scary-looking features.  Or 10 rounds and one scary-looking feature.  Whatever.  Just rest assured that nobody’s going to be pushing anybody down any well-greased inclines toward destinations that would be politically unreachable today.

In truth, slippery-slope concerns are perfectly reasonable.  They are a standard part of the “progressive” battle plan.  A core tenet of progressivism is to take incremental, but irreversible, steps toward the total State.  They hope that each new expansion of government will swiftly acquire a dependent constituency that will fight much harder to protect their favorite programs than weary taxpayers will struggle to terminate them.  Diffuse taxation pays for specific benefits.  Who knows where each dollar paid to the tax man goes?  But everyone receiving a dollar from Uncle Sugar most certainly knows where it comes from.

Also, the Left labors very hard to push the idea that government spending and regulation are the only way society can express proper concern about any given problem.  Anyone who tries to roll back spending or regulatory power will therefore be accused of not “caring” about some vital issue, or actively “hating” some group of people.  Knowing that all motion toward a state of higher liberty will be denounced as heartless disdain or disgusting greed, why shouldn’t we be concerned that movement toward the larger State is a downhill slide that will be very difficult to slow, let alone reverse?

Our highly legalistic society is very big on the idea of building from precedent.  It happens constantly in both the courts, and political debate.  Every loss of liberty becomes a building block for the next expansion of government power.  If the State can do this, why not this?  If one thing can be forbidden, or compelled, why not the next?  This strategy has proven effective at swaying both judges and voters.

And government programs grow through failure.  The importance of this process to the psychology of Big Government cannot be underestimated.  An efficient program that delivers solid results under budget is going to find its budget cut.  An agency that “solves” whatever problem it was formed to address will find itself stripped down or eliminated.  The canny bureaucrat therefore presents his department as perpetually under-funded, while trying to grapple with ever more formidable challenges.  Every agency is a plucky underdog doing a fantastic job on a shoestring budget against insurmountable odds… and there is always so much more work to be done.  If there is any threat of a program’s original goals being met, it will suddenly contract an acute case of mission creep, discovering new problems it can address.  This is a fertile environment for slippery-slope thinking.  Government programs routinely end up exerting levels of authority, and spending sums of money, that would have astounded their original creators.

The purpose of the Constitution was to establish a set of inalienable rights that would never be infringed at all, and thus could not be rolled downhill.  There are supposed to be some aspects of individual freedom that are forever off the table, no matter how urgently benevolent politicians and super-intelligent regulators want to violate them for the “greater good.”  Once concessions have been made from an absolute right, it is no longer absolute, and its further dissolution becomes negotiable.  It is now common for these concessions to be extracted through executive action and judicial decisions, rather than using the amendment process provided by the Constitution.  But for an example of a very slippery slope that began the “right” way, with a Constitutional amendment, compare the current state of the income tax to the promises made at its inception.  How much government power grew from the concession that income could be directly taxed – just a tiny little bit, mind you, and only from the vast income of millionaires, never the hard-won paychecks of the working man?

Today it seems as though we’re surrounded by issues that would have been dismissed as the fanciful delusions of slippery-slope paranoia only a few years ago.  And of course, we are once again promised there will be no further developments, no efforts to take a political crusade in directions that today’s voters would never approve of.  There seems to be little interest in exhuming the ignored warnings of yesterday’s critics, to measure the accuracy of concerns that were waved away.  What receives less respect in today’s culture than the wisdom of previous ages?  Tradition is inertia, mindless obedience to hollow ritual!  And yet, those who insist on moving rapidly “forward” seem unable to consider the danger of racing down a decline marked with points of no return.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

I keep having dreams of the ocean.....


I walked the boys this morning at 7. Then I had a very nice visit this morning with M&D and Jess and Jared. A day otherwise spent doing laundry and so forth.

Also reading on the Kindle, I've started ISLAND OF BONES by Imogen Robertson. This is 3rd of 4 in series featuring Harriet Westerman, mistress of Caveley Park manor, and anatomist Gabriel Crowther, in the 1780s, in West Sussex, England. Here is a description:

Cumbria, 1783. A broken heritage; a secret history...The tomb of the first Earl of Greta should have lain undisturbed on its island of bones for three hundred years. When idle curiosity opens the stone lid, however, inside is one body too many. Gabriel Crowther's family bought the Gretas' land long ago, and has suffered its own bloody history. His brother was hanged for murdering their father, the Baron of Keswick, and Crowther has chosen comfortable seclusion and anonymity over estate and title for thirty years. But the call of the mystery brings him home at last. Travelling with forthright Mrs Harriet Westerman, who is escaping her own tragedy, Crowther finds a little town caught between new horrors and old, where ancient ways challenge modern justice. And against the wild and beautiful backdrop of fells and water, Crowther discovers that his past will not stay buried.

It was published in 2011 and has  384 pages. I haven't done any reading yet today. How does that happen?

I'm hoping Steve will get something for dinner so I don't have to figure something out though if I had to, I could put together hamburgers. Nothing much on TV beyond watching Cops tonight. Tomorrow, on the other hand, we've got TV all night, with endings and beginnings.

Much love,
PK the Bookeemonster 

Current Events - March 30, 2013

Study: Waste Could Fund up to 45,000 Years of White House Tours

A study from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) shows the federal government's needless spending and costly regulations waste over $42 billion dollars–enough to fund up to 45,000 years of White House tours.

After the White House announced that its public tours would be one of the first government functions to be shut down due to the budget sequester's slowdown of spending increases, conservatives have highlighted government spending on inconsequential projects ranging anywhere from puppet research to snail sex.  
The NRCC has compiled a "waste list" totaling $42,642,721,597 from its findings. Some of its expenditures include:
  • Dancing iPhone robots–$547,430: "Part of a $547,430 grant from the National Science Foundation went to the development of a dancing robot that connects to an iPhone."
  • Talking urinal cakes–$10,000: "Federal funds were used to purchase 400 anti-drunk driving talking urinal cakes."
  • YouTube video contest–$106,000: "$106,000 was spent on a YouTube video contest to promote eating fruits and vegetables." 
  • Cupcakes–$2,000,000: "10 cupcake stores received $2 million in taxpayer-funded loans."
  • "Healthy food" initiative - $32,000,000: "$32 million was spent to increase access to healthy foods in low-income communities with no measurable result." 
  • Robot squirrels–$325,000: "Researchers received part of a grant to construct robotic squirrels to test if they are attacked by rattlesnakes the same way real squirrels are." 
Conservative estimates say the shutdown of tours saves Washington $18,000 a week, or $936,000 per year–.002% of the $42 billion in waste. If President Barack and Obama and Congress eliminated the waste shown in the study, the savings would fund White House tours for over 45,558 years.

In an interview with ABC News, President Obama insisted the Secret Service made the decision to cancel White House tours and not his administration. He signaled that he is open to resuming tours for student groups but has not taken any action in over two weeks to follow through.

Obama Asks Congress for $21B for Infrastructure in Front of Chinese Cranes

On Friday, President Obama claimed his administration, known for its rampant green energy boondoggles like Solyndra, had the ability to avoid pork barrel projects when asking Congress to approve $21 billion for infrastructure funding. He made his remarks in Miami, Florida in front of Chinese-made cranes Obama's advance staff failed to properly conceal with American flags. 

Obama's plan includes $10 billion for an infrastructure bank that would give seed money to projects his administration selects as winners, $4 billion for a federal infrastructure loan program, and $7 billion in tax incentives for state and local bonds. 

“Instead of picking projects based on pork barrel politics, we'll pick them based on how good they are for the economy,” Obama said.

According to The Hill, Obama will include the plan in his budget when he releases it on April 10, and Republicans--like House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)--have indicated they will oppose his plan. 

High-Speed Waste For Slow-Speed Rail

We’ve all heard of “shovel-ready” jobs, which were promised to us in the stimulus-spending package. But billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, meeting consumer demands and creating jobs has resulted in a lot of very expensive “shovels” that have yet to break ground. Take, for instance, a report into the $12 billion wasted on the promise of giving Americans high-speed rail. Billions of dollars in taxpayer funds have been put toward 134 projects, most of which made slow trains a tad bit faster, and by a “tad” I mean an average of 10 minutes.

Washington spends money every day, which they take from Americans’ paychecks. When they sell Americans a plan for how that money will be spent and never follow through, that money disappears.  When Washington fails to live up to their promises, they should be held accountable.
Much of the stimulus money billed as an investment in infrastructure has been spent on projects that would hardly benefit taxpayers at all. A train project in mountainous Vermont – where few people ride trains – cost taxpayers $50 million, and it is being barely used.

In some cases, government spending projects are forever banished to the “planning stages,” as is the case in California, where the promise of a high-speed train from LA to San Francisco has resulted in 10 years of planning and not a single track laid. It’s as if lawmakers in D.C. don’t care if the money actually produces results. It becomes spending for spending’s sake.

The big disconnect in Washington seems to be whose money it is to begin with. From time to time you hear politicians talk about generating “savings through the tax code” or explaining that America can’t afford to not raise taxes. All of this presupposes that it’s the government’s money first, not the working men and women who earned it.  Washington may be desensitized to their egregious spending debacles, but Americans are fed up. Real actions should have real consequences.

It is outrageous that Americans were sold on the idea of something that could make their lives easier – high-speed rail – and were not given what they paid for. But it doesn’t end there. Each year, another billion is fed to the fund, which has no end in sight. Americans don’t have the luxury of depleting money from a seemingly inexhaustible fund. They take time and consideration into every dollar they spend because they earned it. Lawmakers must end their careless attitude of spending like it’s going out of style. If they aren’t holding themselves accountable for their waste, we should buy them a one-way ticket home.

Energy Department approves lavish bonuses: $3.5 million to 10 workers alone

Ten contractors are on pace to collect $3.5 million in excessive bonuses due to a lack of oversight, investigators warn

Federal employees are facing unpaid days off and salary cuts due to the sequester, but several contract workers inside the Energy Department are still raking in the cash.

Ten individuals at the department's operations in Oak Ridge, Tenn., are set to make an extra $3.5 million above and beyond their normal pay, according to an Energy Department inspector general investigation that exposed a lavish bonus system.

The operations in Tennessee include a national laboratory, a security site, and a former uranium enrichment facility that is being cleaned up. The contractors are involved in what is known as the East Tennessee Technology Park, where the cleanup work is going on. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly mentioned the lab as being connected to the contractors.

The 10 people are executives at the company UCOR, which the department hired for environmental clean-up.  And despite watchdog warnings that the executives' salaries are as much as 82 percent above the market rate, Energy Department officials continue to pay out the bonuses.

"The Department could incur approximately $3.45 million over the market rate salaries for 10 UCOR contractor executive salaries over the life of the five-year contract," the inspector general's report said.  "The events leading up to the UCOR salary approvals involved Headquarters and [Oak Ridge] officials taking a number of actions that were inconsistent with existing policy and were not well coordinated."

The Energy Department hires more civilian contractors than any other government agency: at last count more than 100,000 in all.  

In April 2011, the department gave a $2.2 billion contract to "URS|CH2M Oak Ridge, LLC."  Shorthand, the company is known as UCOR.  The task was environmental clean up of the East Tennessee Technology Park.

But officials at the Oak Ridge Office (ORO), approved salaries that were far above market rates and much more than the UCOR contractors should have been getting, the inspector general said.  In the most extreme case, one person received $299,800, an 82 percent mark-up over the $164,900 they should have been paid, the inspector general said.

Despite the inspector general's warnings, the executives are continuing to receive excessive pay.  When inspectors notified ORO officials of the overpayments, the salary rates were rescinded.  Soon afterwards, however, they were reinstated and those same 10 contractors were approved for overpayments from $5,741 to $143,181 each.

For failing to clamp down on excessive payments and bonuses, the Energy Department's Oak Ridge Office wins this week's Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by the Washington Guardian to the worst examples of government waste, fiscal abuse and unnecessary spending.

Energy Department officials blamed the bonus bonanza on a miscommunication. ORO officials assumed that the salary levels would be evaluated by the department's Source Evaluation Board (SEB), which oversees proper pay rates.  But SEB officials didn't review the salaries, instead assuming that ORO officials would set them at market rates.

ORO officials that inspectors spoke with seemed convinced that the salary rates had been properly evaluated.

"After we questioned the process, a procurement official at ORO even went so far as to prepare a document certifying that an executive salary reasonableness determination had been made during the SEB process," the inspector general said, noting that no such evaluation had taken place.

Another official, however, told investigators it was believed that ORO "had the authority" to set the salaries itself, bypassing some of the department's approval processes.

Oak Ridge officials said they would improve the oversight process and ensure salaries are properly approved, but disagreed that the executives' pay was excessive.

"By comparison, the [UCOR] senior executive salary level parallel's executive salaries of Department of Energy cleanup contractors at two other sites doing environmental cleanup work comparable to Oak Ridge," said a letter from Larry Kelly, the manager of the Oak Ridge Office.

Investigators, however, said there were still serious flaws in the department's contractor salary approval process.

"In light of current budgetary pressures, we concluded that the Department needs to implement executive measures to ensure that contractor executive salaries are: 1) reasonable; 2) consistent with local market compensations rates; and 3) established using Departmental procedures," the inspector general concluded.

Three Dozen Indicted in Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal

Altering student test scores for financial rewards

Juwanna Guffie was sitting in her fifth-grade classroom taking a standardized test when, authorities say, the teacher came around offering information and asking the students to rewrite their answers. Juwanna rejected the help.

"I don't want your answers, I want to take my own test," Juwanna told her teacher, according to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.

On Friday, Juwanna -- now 14 -- watched as Fulton County prosecutors announced that a grand jury had indicted the Atlanta Public Schools' ex-superintendent and nearly three dozen other former administrators, teachers, principals and other educators of charges arising from a standardized test cheating scandal that rocked the system.

Former Superintendent Beverly Hall faces charges including conspiracy, making false statements and theft because prosecutors said some of the bonuses she received were tied to falsified scores. Hall retired just days before the findings of a state probe were released in mid-2011. A nationally known educator who was named Superintendent of the Year in 2009, Hall has long denied knowing about the cheating or ordering it.

During a news conference Friday, Howard highlighted the case of Juwanna and another student, saying they demonstrated "the plight of many children" in the Atlanta school system.

Their stories were among many that investigators heard in hundreds of interviews with school administrators, staff, parents and students during a 21-month-long investigation.

According to Howard, Juwanna said that when she declined her teacher's offer, the teacher responded that she was just trying to help her students. Her class ended up getting some of the highest scores in the school and won a trophy for their work. Juwanna felt guilty but didn't tell anyone about her class' cheating because she was afraid of retaliation and feared her teacher would lose her job.

She eventually told her sister and later told the district attorney's investigators. Still confident in her ability to take a test on her own, Juwanna got the highest reading score on a standardized test this year.

The other student cited by Howard was a third-grader who failed a benchmark exam and received the worst score in her reading class in 2006. The girl was held back, yet when she took a separate assessment test not long afterward, she passed with flying colors.

Howard said the girl's mother, Justina Collins, knew something was wrong, but was told by school officials that the child simply was a good test-taker. The girl is now in ninth grade, reading at a fifth-grade level.
"I have a 15-year-old now who is behind in achieving her goal of becoming what she wants to be when she graduates. It's been hard trying to help her catch up," Collins said at the news conference.

The allegations date back to 2005. In addition to Hall, 34 other former school system employees were indicted. Four were high-level administrators, six were principals, two were assistant principals, six were testing coordinators and 14 were teachers. A school improvement specialist and a school secretary were also indicted.

Howard didn't directly answer a question about whether prosecutors believe Hall led the conspiracy.
"What we're saying is, is that without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree that it took place. Because as we know, this took place in 58 of the Atlanta Public Schools. And it would not have taken place if her actions had not made that possible," the prosecutor said.

Richard Deane, an attorney for Hall, told The New York Times that Hall continues to deny the charges and expects to be vindicated. Deane said the defense was making arrangements for bond.

"We note that as far as has been disclosed, despite the thousands of interviews that were reportedly done by the governor's investigators and others, not a single person reported that Dr. Hall participated in or directed them to cheat on the C.R.C.T.," he said later in a statement provided to the Times.

The tests were the key measure the state used to determine whether it met the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools with good test scores get extra federal dollars to spend in the classroom or on teacher bonuses.
It wasn't immediately clear how much bonus money Hall received. Howard did not say and the amount wasn't mentioned in the indictment.

"Those results were caused by cheating... And the money that she received, we are alleging that money was ill-gotten," Howard said.

A 2011 state investigation found cheating by nearly 180 educators in 44 Atlanta schools. Educators gave answers to students or changed answers on tests after they were turned in, investigators said. Teachers who tried to report it faced retaliation, creating a culture of "fear and intimidation," the investigation found.

State schools Superintendent John Barge said last year he believed the state's new accountability system would remove the pressure to cheat on standardized tests because it won't be the sole way the state determines student growth. The pressure was part of what some educators in the system blamed for their cheating.

A former top official in the New York City school system who later headed the Newark, N.J. system for three years, Hall served as Atlanta's superintendent for more than a decade, which is rare for an urban schools chief. She was named Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009 and credited with raising student test scores and graduation rates, particularly among the district's poor and minority students. But the award quickly lost its luster as her district became mired in the scandal.

In a video message to schools staff before she retired in the summer of 2011, Hall warned that the state investigation launched by former Gov. Sonny Perdue would likely reveal "alarming" behavior.

"It's become increasingly clear that a segment of our staff chose to violate the trust that was placed in them," Hall said. "There is simply no excuse for unethical behavior and no room in this district for unethical conduct. I am confident that aggressive, swift action will be taken against anyone who believed so little in our students and in our system of support that they turned to dishonesty as the only option."

The cheating came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that some scores were statistically improbable.

Most of the 178 educators named in the special investigators' report in 2011 resigned, retired, did not have their contracts renewed or appealed their dismissals and lost. Twenty-one educators have been reinstated and three await hearings to appeal their dismissals, said Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Stephen Alford.
APS Superintendent Erroll Davis said the district, which has about 50,000 students, is now focused on nurturing an ethical environment, providing quality education and supporting the employees who were not implicated.

"I know that our children will succeed when the adults around them work hard, work together, and do so with integrity," he said in a statement.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission is responsible for licensing teachers and has been going through the complaints against teachers, said commission executive secretary Kelly Henson. Of the 159 cases the commission has reviewed, 44 resulted in license revocations, 100 got two-year suspensions and nine were suspended for less than two years, Henson said. No action was taken against six of the educators

Cleric Calls American Aid to Egypt Tribute

Egyptian cleric says American aid is a mandatory tax

A prominent Egyptian cleric said U.S. aid to Egypt is a mandatory tribute that America must pay to honor the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian revolution.

This taxpayer aid constitutes a “poll tax” that America must pay to placate the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Khaled Said, a cleric who serves as the official spokesman for the country’s Salafi Front, an extremist political party that has called for Islamic law in Egypt.

“They pay so that we will let them be,” Said stated in a recent interview on Egyptian television.

Said’s remarks come on the heels of Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the United States has allocated another $250 million in aid to Egypt.

“If the revolution declares a framework for dealing with the West and America – they will accept it, kiss our hands, and double the aid they give us,” Said said during his television appearance, according to a translation of his remarks by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “We consider this aid to be jizya [poll tax], not regular aid.”

The United States is obligated to pay millions in aid, said Said, who frequently appears on Egyptian television toeing the radical Salafi line.

“The aid the Americans give us is the jizya tax they have to pay?” an interviewer asked.

“Yes, it is,” Said replied. “They pay it for the right of passage through our airspace and territorial waters.”
“Is this the rhetoric of the revolution?” the interviewer asked

“It certainly is,” Said responded.

Egypt has imposed this aid payment on America, Said said.

“We must strive to realize the goals of the revolution, and to establish a sovereign, Arab Islamic state in Egypt,” he said. “Then this state will impose payment of aid upon America as jizya, in exchange for allowing it to realize its interests—the ones that we approve, get it?

“They must pay reparations for destroying our country and the Islamic nation—them and others in the West—so that we will agree to cooperate with them,” Said added.

“It’s significant that this sheik is willing to say this publicly,” said David Reaboi, vice president for strategic communications at the Center for Security Policy. “Maybe he’s savvy enough to know US media, for the most part, is allergic to understanding or even presenting what’s said in Islamic societies in their shariah or Muslim contexts.”

The comments are important “because it’s incomprehensible divorced of its meaning in Islamic law,” Reaboi said. “In covering it at all, the media is forced to try to explain what he’s saying in Islamic legal terms—something they’ve gone through great pains to both avoid and obfuscate. The sheik, communicating this to both his followers and the wider Islamic world, is heard very clearly.”

The bloody company Hollywood keeps

 By Michelle Malkin
Bleeding-heart liberal Robert Redford is already the subject of early Oscar buzz. His much-hyped new film glamorizing the lives of Weather Underground domestic terrorists, “The Company You Keep,” will be released in the U.S. next week. But peace-loving moviegoers should save their money and take a stand.

Hollywood’s romanticizing of murderous radicals is an affront to decency. Redford and Company’s rose-colored hagiography of bloodstained killers defiles the memory of all those victimized by leftwing militants on American soil.

Tinseltown cheerleaders can’t stop gushing about Redford’s paean to gun-toting progressives, of course. Variety called the flick an “unabashedly heartfelt but competent tribute to 1960s idealism.” The entertainment daily effused: “There is something undeniably compelling, perhaps even romantic, about America’s ’60s radicals and the compromises they did or didn’t make.” One of the film executives promoting the Weather Underground movie slavered: “This is an edge-of-your-seat thriller about real Americans who stood for their beliefs, thinking they were patriots and defending their country’s ideals against their government.”

Compelling? Romantic? Real Americans? Patriots? The movie plot centers on a 1970s Michigan bank robbery perpetrated by fictional Weather Underground members Sharon Solarz (portrayed by bigwig Democratic activist Susan Sarandon) and Jim Grant (played by Redford). The group shoots and kills one off-duty police officer working as a bank security guard. Grant goes on the lam and assumes a fake identity; decades later, a reporter launches an investigation into his role in the crime. The movie drums up “unabashedly heartfelt” sympathy for Grant as he works to exonerate himself.

Moviegoers would be better served by educating themselves about the real-life bank robbery and murder on which the movie is loosely based. In 1981, rich-kid Weathermen ideologues and lovers Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert joined forces with Black Liberation Army thugs and other ragtag commie revolutionaries to hold up an armored Brink’s vehicle in Nyack, N.Y. Their booty: $1.6 million to fund their violent activities. Before taking up her assignment as the getaway vehicle driver, Boudin dropped off her toddler son, Chesa Boudin, at a babysitter’s house.

Two of the holdup victims gunned down in the botched Brink’s robbery were police officers. One was a private security guard. All three were veterans from working-class backgrounds. Their names: Waverly Brown, Edward O’Grady and Peter Paige.

Boudin and Gilbert were convicted and sent to prison. Prior to her arrest in Nyack, she had been an 11-year fugitive from justice after an accidental homemade bomb explosion at her New York City townhouse resulted in the death of three people. At the time of her arrest in Nyack, Boudin gave police one of many false identities she had used to evade the law.

Boudin was paroled in 2003 after convincing parole board members that she acted nobly out of “white guilt” to protest racism against blacks. Never mind that one of the officers killed, Waverly Brown, was black.

While Redford glorifies his fictional Weather Underground murderers as “patriots,” he ignores the patriotic legacy of the victims of Weather Underground violence. And while Redford lionizes the Weather Underground zealots as compassionate parents, where are his passion and compassion for the children of the Weather Underground victims?

Brown served in the Air Force after the Korean War and had two grown daughters and a teenage son when he died in the brutal shootout. O’Grady, who served in the Marines and did two tours of duty in Vietnam, left behind a wife and three children — 6, 2 and 6 months old. Paige, a Navy veteran, also left behind a wife and three kids — 19, 16 and 9.

The sons and daughters of those gunned down by Weather Underground killers have lived in obscurity. Meanwhile, as I first reported more than a decade ago, Chesa Boudin has lived a pampered life surrounded by tenured academics and celebrity friends. His adoptive parents? The infamous pals of Barack Obama, Weathermen organizers Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

Refresher course: Dohrn declared war on “AmeriKKKa,” helped stage the “Days of Rage” in Chicago, when Weathermen blew up a memorial statue to police officers and rioted violently, leaving 75 policemen wounded and one permanently injured in a wheelchair, and then spent years as a fugitive from justice before settling into a comfy post as director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University.
Ayers remains in the limelight after celebrating the Weathermen bombing the Pentagon and flitting from campuses to socialist regimes and back preaching education as the “motor force for revolution.”

Chesa Boudin attended Yale, won a prestigious Rhodes scholarship, shilled for Hugo Chavez, wrote books and keeps a busy speaking schedule. He still stands by the Weathermen’s revolutionary agenda: “My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I’m dedicated to the same thing.”

Cinematically and metaphorically, Redford manufactures the same stance that unrepentant Weather Underground criminals and apologists still hold of themselves today: Not guilty. 

Tax Dollars May be Funding Terror as Questionable Army Contracts Linger

Americans’ tax dollars may currently be supporting terrorist groups by way of 43 questionable contractors used by the U.S. Army.

After passage of the “No Contracting with the Enemy Act” provision of the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) identified nine contractors and the Entity List, a notification by the Department of Commerce supported by all-source intelligence analysis, identified 34 more as potentially having direct links to an insurgent or terrorist group.

These recommendations to suspend or terminate work with a contractor were referred to the Army for investigation in September 2012. The Army’s Suspension and Debarment office has a stated goal of 30 days to process referrals from an inspector general or investigative agency, but all of the cases are backlogged.

The individuals and companies identified are believed to have links to groups such as the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda. Ground-level investigations into the referred contractors found the parties “were active supporters of the insurgency or were otherwise engaged in actively opposing U.S. and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan” or had provided “material support to persons engaged against U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

In a letter this week to Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) called for a review of these 43 outstanding cases.

“Given the serious nature of these determinations, we strongly believe these cases continue to warrant special and immediate consideration from the Department of the Army,” the lawmakers wrote.

They noted a Jan. 15 response from the Army chiefs stating “the 43 recommendations did not include any supporting evidence other than the fact that the subject individuals or entities were so listed.” But the Army needed to look at classified materials to see that evidence.

“Despite numerous attempts by the SIGAR office to facilitate involvement in these cases by the Army’s Suspension and Debarment Official (SDO), it is our understanding that this individual has not yet conducted necessary reviews of the classified materials,” the senators wrote.

“We strongly believe that these debarment referrals are sufficient to call into question the acceptability of doing business with the named individuals or companies. However, we also believe that a thorough review of the underlying evidence is essential to effectively processing these 43 cases. While we understand that the review process may have started with some cases, it is time for the Army’s Procurement Fraud Branch and the SDO to fully process these designations without further delay.”

The senators asked for a determination to be made on each case within 30 days.