Thursday, November 29, 2007
On this day:


This is great. (H/T 7.62mm Justice.)

The candidates and Social Security

The Anniston Star touts Barack Obama's plan for Social Security.
Obama’s answer may not be the solution we need, but at least he has brought the matter out from behind the doors of a yet-to-be-created bipartisan commission and dared the other candidates to come up with something better — if they can. We can thank him for that.
Something better? What about Fred's solution?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007
On this day:

What's wrong with Bud Cramer?

Brian over at Flash Point has challenged Republicans to justify their opposition to Rep. Bud Cramer, the Democratic Congressman from Alabama's Fifth District:
A couple of days ago WVNN morning show host Dale Jackson hit on a key question about Bud Cramer (D), north Alabama’s U.S. congressman. He pointed out that he frequently hears anti-Cramer comments from his presumably majority Republican audience, but he wanted callers to justify their opposition to Cramer. I thought it was a very appropriate solicitation because from my perspective there just aren’t that many reasons for voters to oppose him other than the fact that he is a Democrat. ...

So, why oppose Cramer? Give it your best shot.'s my best shot. Where do I start?

1. Cramer voted against funding for the "surge" of troops into Iraq, which has been an integral part of Gen. Petraus's revamped counterinsurgency strategy, a strategy that has succeeded beyond almost anyone's expectations.

2. Cramer has also consistently voted in favor of forcing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in accordance with artificial timelines drawn up by Congressional Democrats. Most recently, on November 14 (just two weeks ago) Cramer voted in favor of a DOD supplemental appropriations bill that would force the President to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 30 days of the bill's enactment. That bill has since been vetoed by the President, and funding for the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan remains unresolved.

3. Last April, Cramer voted for the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007, which would grant the District of Columbia a vote in the the House of Representatives and a vote in the Electoral College. It also would be a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, which says in Article 1 Section 2 that House members are to be "chosen every second year by the people of the several states." Last I heard, D.C. is not a state. (See this NRO editorial and this article by NRO's Matthew Franck for more details.)

4. Last month, Cramer voted for the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act of 2007. Anyone who finds the idea of race-based preferences distasteful will find this piece of legislation outrageous. Essentially, it would authorize the creation of a sovereign, race-based government for native Hawaiians. Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, wrote in opposition to the bill here; the Heritage Foundation has lots more information here.

5. Last February, Cramer voted for the Union Organization Bill, which among other things, eliminates workers' rights to a secret-ballot election when voting on whether to form a union. See this NRO editorial for more information.

6. Last June, Cramer voted to provide federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research. One would hope that after last week's announced breakthrough (which I commented on here), this will cease to be an issue in the future. Nonetheless, Cramer's support for this bill is disturbing for three reasons: 1) he gave his blessing to research that involves the destruction of human embryos, 2) he has no objection to allocating federal tax dollars to research that is ethically questionable, and 3) he has no qualms with the federal government handing out money to anyone for any purpose, as long it is politically popular; the constitutional authority granted to Congress under Article 1 apparently plays little role in his decision making.

7. Last January, Rep. Cramer voted to choose Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-San Francisco) as Speaker of the House. Need I say more?

That summarizes this year's objectionable votes by Congressman least the ones I could think of off the top of my head. But I could go on and on. In 2002, Cramer voted in favor of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, which is quite possibly the greatest affront to the First Amendment since the Sedition Act of 1798. In 2005, he opposed President Bush's plan to create voluntary private investment accounts inside the Social Security system. In 2006, he voted against requiring voters in federal elections to present a government-issues photo ID.

Et cetera.

I've only hit the tip of the iceberg here, but I think that if a credible and adequately-financed Republican challenges Cramer next November, he will have a heck of a campaign platform.

Eyes on the prize

One of the most-valued perks that Alabama legislators have seen fit to award themselves over the years is a package of two free tickets to each year's Iron Bowl game between Alabama and Auburn. It's up to the host school to make sure that the tickets are mailed out to all 140 legislators. This year, that duty fell to Auburn University, and apparently administrators there managed to overlook one of the legislature's most vocal members, Rep. Alvin Holmes (D.-Montgomery). Holmes is so ticked off about it that he's threatening to sue.

Can't say that I blame him. Iron Bowl tickets were going for about $500 apiece as of game day. That would have bought Rep. Holmes plenty of lottery tickets and alcohol .

Governor Riley to push for "significant expansion" of pre-K education

Gov. Riley announced last week that he would propose a "significant expansion" of the state's voluntary pre-kindergarten program in next year's education budget. If the legislature goes along, it would also mean a "significant expansion" in the size and scope of state government. And it would be an expensive expansion. According to the Huntsville Times, "the Alabama Department of Children's Affairs has estimated a quality program could cost as much as $120 million a year when fully implemented."

The Governor hasn't said how he plans to fund his proposal, but if he is counting on continued economic growth to produce the type of record revenues in the Education Trust Fund that we've seen in recent years, he should think again. Forecasting future tax revenues is always a bit of a guessing game, but that is especially true now, at a time when economic growth appears to be leveling off. Thus, AEA executive secretary Paul Hubbert has a good point when he warns that "there is no way to have a fully funded pre-K program by hoping for growth in the Education Trust Fund in the next few years."

If the economy doesn't cooperate, the only way to achieve full funding for voluntary pre-K anytime soon may be to increase taxes. Is that something the Governor is willing to sign up for? That's the practical question. A more fundamental one is this: is providing free baby-sitting services for 4-year-olds really the business of state government?

Monday, November 26, 2007
On this day:

Creationists get creative

The Bible is not a science book, in spite of the many novel and misguided attempts through the years to turn it into one.

Kurt Wise, one of the"young-earth" creationists quoted in this New York Times piece, says that “Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible." Continuing, he says, "If all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.”

It is regrettable that the discoveries of modern science - including the vast body of evidence that supports the theory of evolution - should cause such crises of faith among the faithful. The great error of the creationists, it seems to me, is that they adhere to an overly-literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 that fails to give an all-powerful and all-knowing God nearly enough credit. Why couldn't God have chosen to create life through a process of evolution?

Like it or not, the theory of evolution provides the most compelling explanation for how life developed on Earth. It is the fundamental theory of the biological sciences. It has been refined, but never refuted.

Is belief in evolution incompatible with faith in God? I don't think so. Nor do I believe that it is incompatible with the biblical account of creation. In Genesis 1, the author speaks of creation as a process, one that took several "days" to complete. Isn't that what we would expect? When an eternal God creates a universe that exists in space and time, then that universe and everything in it must certainly be governed by certain laws of space and time.

So it's not surprising that in Genesis 1, the author tells of how life developed - or evolved, if you will - in accordance with the laws that God himself established in the beginning.
And God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth." And it was so...And the evening and the morning were the third day. ...

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good...And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind." And it was so. ...And God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. ...And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
So, God created plants before he created sea creatures. He made sea creatures before he made land animals. And he saved man for last. It's remarkable how closely the progression of life described in Genesis corresponds to what the theory of evolution suggests. Where is the contradiction?

In Genesis 1, we also read several times, "And the evening and the morning were the n'th day." What are we to make of all those evenings and mornings? Did some critter exist at 1 PM on the sixth day that had not existed at 12:59 PM? Are we to believe that sometime prior to 1:00 God simply said, "Whoop, da it is!", and Lo, da it wuz? Or are we called upon instead to use our God-given brains in order to fill in the blanks? In the time since the book Genesis was written, we have become privy to mounds upon mounds of scientific evidence that has helped us fill in those blanks. I can't believe that the author of Genesis - who was without doubt a great lover of Truth himself - would object.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007
On this day:

More on stem cells

National Review Online has several articles up on the stem-cell breakthrough announced yesterday:

Here are the editors:
This leaves the nation with a crucial lesson for what will certainly be many ethical quandaries to come as biotechnology advances: The answer to unethical science is not to give up on ethics, but rather to pursue ethical science.
Here is Father Thomas Berg on how this changes the debate.

Several experts respond to the news in today's NRO Symposium.

At First Things, Joseph Bottum writes about "Embryonic stem cells and those pro-science pro-lifers."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
On this day:

A breakthrough in stem cell research....and a Happy Thanksgiving to all

This is by far the biggest news story of the day. See the New York Times, Washington Post, and the AP for the details.

From the New York Times:
Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

The need to destroy embryos has made stem cell research one of the most divisive issues in American politics, pitting President Bush against prominent Republicans like Nancy Reagan, and patient advocates who hoped that stem cells could cure diseases like Alzheimer’s. The new studies could defuse the issue as a presidential election nears.

And so it may turn out that the debate over embryo-destructive stem cell research will come to an end just as swiftly as it began. One can only hope.

From the get-go, opponents of embryonic stem cell research have been accused of waging a "war on science." That argument has always struck me as disingenuous and dishonest. Is it not true that the intentional destruction of human embryos raises important ethical questions, and not just practical ones? Are we so proud and narcissistic that we view issues of ethics and morality to be unworthy of our consideration when they stand opposed our own wants and desires? Are we to ignore the demands of conscience and reason in order to satisfy passion and curiosity?

Mounting a defense to protect human life does not constitute a war against science. It is rather part and parcel of the never-ending struggle to preserve our own humanity. Or our humaneness...however you choose to put it.

Why is our humanity worth preserving? The answer depends on our response to the question of "What is man?" And that's a toughie. Tough because it requires us to talk about religion and/or metaphysics - topics that many people seem to find more annoying than intriguing these days.

Still, that all-important and perennial question - "What is man?" - has not gone unanswered, as the coming season of Advent and Christmas reminds us. And it is for that - above all else - that we are thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Get the skinny on your ZIP code is the way-cool site of the day. You enter any ZIP code and out pops Census data for it and surrounding ZIPs. You can also compare the data between up to 20 ZIP codes.

Reassessing "common sense" in Birmingham

In my last post, I suggested that Birmingham might consider a different approach to crime-fighting - one that is modeled, like Denver's, on what Mayor Giuliani implemented in New York City. According to today's Birmingham News editorial, it appears that Birmingham's new mayor, Larry Langford, is already on the case:

While former Mayor Bernard Kincaid downplayed Birmingham's crime problems, all the other candidates made it a primary campaign issue. One of new Mayor Larry Langford's first acts, even before being sworn in, was to force Police Chief Annetta Nunn to resign. She is being replaced by Hoover Assistant Police Chief A.C. Roper.

One of the changes Roper likely will bring to Birmingham is more of a "zero tolerance" policy toward crime: Be aggressive against small crimes, and some of the more serious crimes can be prevented.

New York City used the same approach in the 1990s to lower crime, and it is now listed as the fourth safest city of 500,000 or more population in the country.

Being defensive about being on a high-crime list isn't constructive. The answer isn't simple, either, but it starts with an aggressive police department that targets high-crime areas. That is no secret; Birmingham police know the hot spots. That's where they need to focus their attention.

This is very encouraging, and it seems that Birmingham's new leadership possesses a bit more common sense than I gave them credit for.

Monday, November 19, 2007
On this day:

Crime fighting 101

Birmingham might look to Denver for a new approach to fighting crime. City Journal has the details.

Denver's "new approach" is actually an old approach. It's modeled after what Rudy Giuliani did in New York City, with stunning success. The key is good, old-fashioned policing: getting involved in the lives of communities, talking to the people, using crime statistics and citizen reports to determine how to better allocate police resources, and refusing to allow even relatively minor crimes like "broken windows" to go unnoticed and unpunished.

This is all common sense, of course - merely updated variations on the tried and true methods that have been used since...well, since forever. But common sense seems to be something of a rarity in Birmingham these days, where city leaders are keen to build a domed stadium that will seat thousands for a few hours every weekend, while the thousands more outside live in fear day in and day out.

Study: Birmingham is nation's sixth most dangerous city

If you live or work in Birmingham, you might oughtta watch your back. A study comparing FBI statistics in six major crime categories - homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft - ranks Birmingham as the sixth most dangerous city in the U.S. The AP report is here; the B'ham News reports here.

The study has stirred up a great deal of controversy right where you would expect it - among the mayors, police chiefs, and city councilmen who are now faced with the uneasy task of explaining why it is that they can't seem to perform their most important responsibility - that of maintaining law and order. Unfortunately, many of these officials have opted to explain away the embarrassing statistics rather than to explain their own failings.

To be sure, the study has its shortcomings, and there are some legitimate concerns about how to interpret the results. For instance, the American Society of Criminology has been highly critical of the rankings, calling them "invalid, damaging, and irresponsible." How so? The ACR explains:
They fail to account for the many conditions affecting crime rates, the mismeasurement of crime, large community differences in crime within cities, and the factors affecting individuals' crime risk. City crime rankings make no one safer, but they can harm the cities they tarnish and divert attention from the individual and community characteristics that elevate crime in all cities.
CQ Press, which conducted the study, responds (quite effectively) to the criticism here.

It seems that the real dispute is not over the validity of the rankings themselves, which are based on actual crime data collected by the FBI, but rather over how to properly label what exactly is being ranked. That is: is it fair and accurate to call those cities with the highest per-capita incidence of homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft "most dangerous," or is there some better label?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know this: if you live or work in any of these places - including our own Tragic City of Birmingham - you had better watch your back.

Chuck Norris endorses Mike Huckabee for POTUS

I won't be endorsing Mike Huckabee, but this ad is great!

H/T to Brian at Flash Point.

Alabama unemployment rate at an all-time low

It stood at 3.1% in October, still well below the national average of 4.7%.

Sunday, November 18, 2007
On this day:

Healing a great schism

Could the 953 year old schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches be coming to an end? It sure sounds that way. The Times of London reports:

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches took tentative steps towards healing their 950-year rift yesterday by drafting a joint document that acknowledges the primacy of the Pope.

The 46-paragraph “Ravenna Document”, written by a special commission of Catholic and Orthodox officials, envisages a reunified church in which the Pope could be the most senior patriarch among the various Orthodox churches.

In its article on the Eastern schism (which, predictably, is somewhat biased), the Catholic Encycolpedia states, "Schisms are easily made; they are enormously difficult to heal." Healing them, though, can alter the course of history in enormously important ways.

Today, both East and West find it increasingly in their interests to end their age-old conflict, which is usually dated to the mutual excommunication of pope and patriarch in 1054 AD. The main forces feeding this ecumenical impulse are 1) unprecedented levels of immigration by Muslims to the West, 2) the rise of radical and militant forms of Islam and the various threats that poses to church and society, 3) the revitalization of Orthodoxy, made possible by the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, 4) the widespread abandonment of Christianity in post-modern Western Europe, and 5) a renewed interest in union with Rome on the part of many Protestant Christians in the West, most notably among conservatives in the Anglican Communion. These five forces have now converged to create a "perfect storm" in favor of greater unity between Catholics and Orthodox.

East and West are undoubtedly yielding to the simple maxim that there is strength in numbers. More importantly, they now seem to agree that continued division is an evil that produces weakness at the very time that an unparalleled spiritual crisis demands strength.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007
On this day:

Alabama's corporate welfare fund is drying up

From yesterday's Birmingham News:

MONTGOMERY - Top Alabama officials say they are bumping up against the $750 million cap that limits the amount of money a commission, chaired by Gov. Bob Riley, can borrow for industry recruitment.

Alabama voters on June 5 agreed to rewrite the state constitution to raise the amount the five-member commission can borrow from $350 million to $750 million.

The commission, which voters created in 2000 by amending the constitution, already has borrowed $610 million, leaving $140 million in borrowing capacity. But almost all of that has been pledged to three economic-development projects, said state Finance Director Jim Main, who sits on the commission.

It's not surprising that the state has managed to find a number of large corporations that are willing to take its money. What should be surprising, but alas isn't, is that the state has so eagerly handed out its millions to those who are quite capable of raising it themselves.

Here's the list of how this money will be spent, again from the Birmingham News:

$220 million for ThyssenKrupp. Its steel plant is expected to employ about 2,700 people.

$40 million for National Alabama Corp., to help it build a railcar plant expected to employ about 1,800 people in Colbert County.

$20 million for Goodyear, to help it renovate its tire plant in Gadsden and keep about 1,400 people employed there.

$15 million for Hyundai, to help it build a $270 million engine plant at its assembly plant in Montgomery.

In addition, Main said three additional spending promises could eat up virtually all the commission's remaining $140 million in borrowing capacity:

About $72 million pledged to help build an aircraft assembly plant in Mobile if EADS, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., and Northrop Grumman Corp. win a $40 billion contract to build refueling tankers for the Air Force. If EADS and Northrop lose the contract to Boeing, that $72 million in borrowing capacity could be used for other projects.

About $35 million in additional incentives promised to National Alabama Corp. That commitment could be reduced to about $15 million, Main said, if Congress amends a law to let the company borrow money at lower interest rates by selling tax-exempt bonds.

About $30 million more promised to ThyssenKrupp.

Note that the vast majority of this funding is not directed towards building new roads, or providing police and fire protection, or extending utility service, or providing other services that one would generally expect government to provide for businesses as part of its normal duties. Instead, the money will be used primarily for building and upgrading production facilities - functions that are directly related to the conduct of business operations and that directly contribute to a company's bottom line.

Such an intimate partnership between state government and big business is troublesome for several reasons:

1) It is unjust. The funding is not accessible to all Alabama companies. Unlike broad tax incentives tailored to benefit everyone who does business in the state, the handouts funded by the "Thyssenkrupp Amendment" passed last June are available only to a select few - namely, those who the Governor and the other members of the commission created by that amendment deem worthy to receive them. When government favors certain companies over others, it puts competitors and potential competitors at an unfair disadvantage.

2) It invites corruption. While it may be the case that Governor Riley runs a clean administration, that can't necessarily be said of past and future Governors. When a few state officials have $750 million at their disposal to lure businesses to the state, its not inconceivable that they might use those funds to enhance their own fortunes. In a representative democracy, a certain amount of public corruption is to be expected, but why maximize the opportunities by creating an unnecessary conflict of interest that is so potentially lucrative ?

3) It unnecessarily and unwisely interferes with the natural operation of free markets. Politicians and bureaucrats are notoriously incompetent when it comes to picking winners and losers in the marketplace. It's not that they're stupid (although some of them undoubtedly are); it's just that they are so far removed from the actual nuts and bolts of the economy that they can't possibly know how best to direct taxpayer resources into the private sector. Markets are the most effective deciders of business success, and those who successfully navigate them will prosper. If government wants to contribute to job creation and economic growth, the best thing it can do is to know its place and limit its role.

4) It undermines liberty. What the government gives, it can take away. Would we be more free if the government provided us all with "free" health insurance? Or if it provided us with a retirement fund? Or if it sent us a welfare check every month? What is true for individuals is true for businesses. When government is our principal benefactor, we become subject to its ever-increasing, never-satisfied appetite for power.

5) The "Thyssenkrupp Amendment" and others like it set bad constitutional precedent. One of the virtues of the Alabama Constitution of 1901, in my opinion, is that it expressly forbids the state from being interested in any private or corporate enterprise, or from lending money or credit to any individual, association, or corporation. It's unfortunate that we have now made a habit of amending that provision piecemeal in order to benefit certain favored corporations. There should be no more Thyssenkrupp Amendments. If we now believe that providing "industrial incentives" is a legitimate function of state government, then we should pass a constitutional amendment saying so, rather than continuing the current practice of providing for exceptions to the rule.

I would vote against such an amendment.

Hat tip: Dan at Daily Dixie, who also has some thoughts on the matter.

Monday, November 12, 2007
On this day:

A hymn for Veteran's Day

A battle hymn.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
"As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal";
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

Thank you, veterans

November is a fitting month for reflection and remembrance. Even nature seems to attest to that. As the leaves fall and daylight fades, nature puts on its most radiant show of the year - a grand display that reveals the hidden beauty of life that has been well-lived.

For many centuries, Western Christians have marked November on their calendars as the month to remember and celebrate the lives of "all saints" and "all souls." And through accident of history, the eleventh day of this eleventh month is the occasion that Americans have chosen to honor our "secular saints" - our veterans.

To those who have answered duty's call by taking up arms in defense of their freedom and ours, a grateful nation says "thank you."

Thursday, November 08, 2007
On this day:

"Thank you for peace"

What's the story behind this photo? Don't miss Michael Yon's latest dispatch from Baghdad.

More good news from Iraq

From an article in today's New York Times titled "Militant Group is Out of Baghdad, U.S. Says":
BAGHDAD, Nov. 7 — American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood of Baghdad, a top American general said today, allowing American troops involved in the “surge” to depart as planned.

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of United States forces in Baghdad, also said that American troops had yet to clear some 13 percent of the city, including Sadr City and several other areas controlled by Shiite militias. But, he said, “there’s just no question” that violence had declined since a spike in June.

“Murder victims are down 80 percent from where they were at the peak,” and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70 percent, he said.

General Fil attributed the decline to improvements in the Iraqi security forces, a cease-fire ordered by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, the disruption of financing for insurgents, and, most significant, Iraqis’ rejection of “the rule of the gun.”

His comments, in a broad interview over egg rolls and lo mein in a Green Zone conference room, were the latest in a series of upbeat assessments he and other commanders have offered in recent months. But his descriptions revealed a city still in transition: tormented by its past, struggling to find a better future.

“The Iraqi people have just decided that they’ve had it up to here with violence,” he said, while noting that their demands for electricity, water and jobs have intensified.

General Petraeus's new counterinsurgency strategy - of which the "surge" in U.S. forces is a part - is key to laying the groundwork for political reconciliation among the various Iraqi factions. And it's working.

One has to hope that the many recent successes in Iraq will help bring some needed sanity and reason into the debate over the war here at home.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007
On this day:

Around the World

Getting cozy with Sarkozy

On his first official visit to Washington as President, France's Nicolas Sarkozy assured a joint session of Congress today that France is "the friend of the United States." While we've heard those words before from French Presidents, including from Mr. Sarkozy's immediate predecessor, Jacques Chirac, it now seems that under Sarkozy France intends to be a friend both in word and deed. This is welcome news.

Relations between France and the United States have been icy in recent years. Under President Chirac, it often seemed that French foreign policy was almost entirely devoted to thwarting the policies of the United States. The surprising thing is that the fruits of this misguided effort to divide the West weren't even more disastrous than they were - for France, the United States, and the Western alliance.

Like it or not, the U.S. brings to bear the greatest political, military, and economic power the world has ever known. As such, the U.S. naturally occupies a very prominent position of leadership among other Western and Western-oriented nations. It's a position of great responsibility, and the old maxim "it's lonely at the top" is often all too true. That's been the case since the end of World War II, and it will continue to be the case for the forseeable future. To their great credit, the French have elected a leader who understands that.

Sarkozy said yesterday, "I come to Washington to bear a very simple message, a message that I bear on behalf of all Frenchmen. I want to reconquer the heart of America." I wish him luck. And in the interest of diplomacy, I'll even refrain from making the obvious joke about Frenchmen and conquest.

U.S. begins dismantling North Korea's nuclear facilities

Earlier this year, the six-party talks between the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia resulted in an agreement to dismantle the North Korean nuclear weapons program. At the time the agreement was announced, many were more skeptical than hopeful, given North Korea's reputation for retrenching on its promises. If the Twentieth Century taught us anything, it was that megolomaniacs with a God-complex can't be trusted.

Ronald Reagan's repeated message to the Soviets in arms control negotiations was, "trust, but verify." In the case of the latest North Korean nuclear agreement, the trust part has always seemed to me at least moderately tenable, since it was signed by all six of the most-interested parties - the United States, North Korea, and North Korea's neighbors. It therefore lacks the fatal flaw that doomed the "Agreed Framework" negotiated by the Clinton administration.

It's the verification part that was most problematic. This week, though, hope trumped skepticism. From yesterday's AP report (via the New York Times):
The State Department said Monday that a team of American experts had arrived at North Korea’s sole functioning nuclear reactor and begun the work of disabling the facilities.

A State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, told reporters that the disabling of the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang, “is a positive first step in this process, and we certainly hope to see it continue.”

He had no details about what specific steps the team was taking.

North Korea shut down Yongbyon in July and promised to disable it by year’s end in exchange for energy aid after talks with the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Note that it is American experts that are doing the dismantling - not Hans Blix, not an international team of U.N. inspectors, but Americans. Only time will tell, but at the moment this seems to be a very big deal.

(Even without nukes, North Korea will still pose a great threat to its neighbors, as this New York Times piece indicates.)

Russian parliament votes to suspend obligations of CFE Treaty

From Reuters:
Russia's parliament voted unanimously on Wednesday to suspend a key arms treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, saying the United States and NATO were using the pact to undermine Russia's defenses.

Ignoring appeals from the United States, the Duma (lower house of parliament) approved 418-0 a law allowing Moscow to stop complying with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, seen by the West as a cornerstone of European security. ...

Russia's top general Yuri Baluyevsky said the CFE treaty, which limits the number of heavy conventional weapons deployed and stored between the Atlantic and Russia's Ural mountains, unfairly penalized Moscow.
Vladimir Putin is signaling that the days when the West can take Russian interests for granted are over. Look for negotiations soon that involve trading off NATO's plan to base a new missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic for Russia's assistance in curtailing Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007
On this day:

Return to blogging

Well, my calendar says that today is Election Day, so I thought it would be as good a time as any to start blogging again.'s it going, all? Things are OK here, all things considered.

I have a house now. A house with very little furniture and a lot of work that needs to be done. But since I don't know beans about buying furniture and I try to avoid work whenever possible - here I am.

My new house is actually an old house. Although there have been several additions through the years, I'm told that the original part is 80+ years old, dating back to the 1920's.

I knew when I bought the house that I was in for some pretty significant maintenance and remodeling. All-in-all, it's in decent shape, but a few problems have popped up that I didn't count on.

For instance, I didn't know that part of the floor under my bathroom had rotted out; nor did I know that the cause of the rot - a leak in the plumbing - was still active when I moved in. I also didn't realize that a previous owner had cut off a floor joist in order to install a furnace - without doing anything at all to properly support the cut-off joist.

As it turns out, those two things are the major culprits for the sagging floors and doorways that I repeatedly asked about during my home inspection. Unfortunately, I managed to hire the biggest dumbass of a home inspector in Madison County to do my pre-closing inspection. He assured me that "that's old settling - this is an old house - nothing to worry about." Yeah, right.

A word to the wise: if and when you purchase a house, never, ever hire a home inspector recommended by your Realtor®. I don't care if you think you have the best Realtor® in the world; there's just too big of a conflict of interest there to take the chance. Now, in case you're tempted to respond, "Ummm...yeah...any idiot should know that," there's something you should know: I'm not just any idiot.

Looking on the bright side, I love my neighborhood, and in spite of all its problems, I love my house. It's a good house. It just needs a little fixing up here and there. Come to think of it, I could use a little bit of that myself.

Giuliani's push to save America

Courtesy of a friend from work: