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RAPID RESPONSE (Archives)...Daily Commentary on News of the Day
This is a new section.  It will offer fresh, quick reactions by myself to news and events of the day, day by day, in this rapid-fire world of ours.  Of course, as in military campaigns, a rapid response in one direction may occasionally have to be followed by a "strategic withdrawal" in another direction.  Charge that to "the fog of war", and to the necessary flexibility any mental or military campaign must maintain to be effective.  But the mission will always be the same: common sense, based upon facts and "real politick", supported by a visceral sense of Justice and a commitment to be pro-active.  That's all I promise.
GS

Click here to return to the current Rapid Response list

TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, January 31 and February 1, 2006

THE STATE OF THE UNION MESSAGE."A hopeful society".  The message of a leader, willing to argue and fight for his proposed solutions to America's problems and challenges.  No "malaise" here.  No vacuum here for political mischief to flourish.  Some themes:

There were specific recommendations regarding Health Care, Energy ("America is addicted to oil!"), and the signs of erosion of the moral underpinnings of this country.

This was an assertive, even aggressive presentation...a challenge to the nay-sayers.  Because this is "a point of choosing" for America.

GS

MONDAY, January 30, 2006

January 30, 1933: the birthday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the day that Adolph Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany by the Reichtag; and...(drum roll)...the day I was born.

73 years old.  Where did that time go? Actually, I have total recall: good years, Thank God.  "How about that!", as the Yankees announcer Mel Allen used to say.  But there have been some changes.

But one thing is certain: I'm looking forward to the next 25 years as an adventure...like someone on "Survivor".  Don't laugh.  We physicians are working to insure that we have a lot of company...like you.  The latest epidemic is longevity.

So, remember that many of those "assets" of "the Golden Years" are natural results of aging (at least for now), and not disease states.  Remember that what you do for yourself today, good or bad, is "paying it forward", for you to cash in on in your 80's and 90's...unless you get hit by a bus.  Remember moderation in all things, good relationships, good work, good sleep, the Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle (also an ad).  Don't sweat the small stuff.  And Thank God, a lot.

Happy Birthday to all.

GS

SATURDAY and SUNDAY, January 28 and 29, 2006

GS

FRIDAY, January 27, 2006

GS

THURSDAY, January 26, 2006

GS

MONDAY through WEDNESDAY, January 23 through 25, 2006

GS

SUNDAY, January 22, 2006

GS

SATURDAY, January 21, 2006

GS

FRIDAY, January 20, 2006

GS
THURSDAY, January 19, 2006

Some important issues have been raised in the news of recent days.

GS

WEDNESDAY, January 18, 2006

Another busy news - and opinion - cycle.

GS

MONDAY and TUESDAY, January 16 and 17, 2006

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING SHOULD NOT BE USED AS BEDTIME READING!

GS

ACFR NewsGroup No. 658, Wednesday, January 18, 2005, Part 1

ITEM 1: Niall Ferguson: The Origins of the Great War of 2007 – An How It Could Have Been Prevented

 The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented
By Niall Ferguson
Telegraph
(Filed: 15/01/2006)

Are we living through the origins of the next world war? Certainly, it is easy to imagine how a future historian might deal with the next phase of events in the Middle East:
 

With every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the combustible ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and scope than the wars of 1991 or 2003 - were in place.

The first underlying cause of the war was the increase in the region's relative importance as a source of petroleum. On the one hand, the rest of the world's oil reserves were being rapidly exhausted. On the other, the breakneck growth of the Asian economies had caused a huge surge in global demand for energy. It is hard to believe today, but for most of the 1990s the price of oil had averaged less than $20 a barrel.

A second precondition of war was demographic. While European fertility had fallen below the natural replacement rate in the 1970s, the decline in the Islamic world had been much slower. By the late 1990s the fertility rate in the eight Muslim countries to the south and east of the European Union was two and half times higher than the European figure.

This tendency was especially pronounced in Iran, where the social conservatism of the 1979 Revolution - which had lowered the age of marriage and prohibited contraception - combined with the high mortality of the Iran-Iraq War and the subsequent baby boom to produce, by the first decade of the new century, a quite extraordinary surplus of young men. More than two fifths of the population of Iran in 1995 had been aged 14 or younger. This was the generation that was ready to fight in 2007.

This not only gave Islamic societies a youthful energy that contrasted markedly with the slothful senescence of Europe. It also signified a profound shift in the balance of world population. In 1950, there had three times as many people in Britain as in Iran. By 1995, the population of Iran had overtaken that of Britain and was forecast to be 50 per cent higher by 2050.

Yet people in the West struggled to grasp the implications of this shift. Subliminally, they still thought of the Middle East as a region they could lord it over, as they had in the mid-20th century.

The third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural. Since 1979, not just Iran but the greater part of the Muslim world had been swept by a wave of religious fervour, the very opposite of the process of secularisation that was emptying Europe's churches.

Although few countries followed Iran down the road to full-blown theocracy, there was a transformation in politics everywhere. From Morocco to Pakistan, the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated Islamic politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from religious radicals.

The ideological cocktail that produced 'Islamism' was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic. A seminal moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intemperate attack on Israel in December 2005, when he called the Holocaust a 'myth'. The state of Israel was a 'disgraceful blot', he had previously declared, to be wiped 'off the map'.

Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the hero of 2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on explosives. His decision to accelerate Iran's nuclear weapons programme was intended to give Iran the kind of power North Korea already wielded in East Asia: the power to defy the United States; the power to obliterate America's closest regional ally.

Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad's ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981. Similar strikes against Iran's were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they argued, was perfectly placed to carry out such strikes. It had the bases in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. It had the intelligence proving Iran's contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been discredited by the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein had supposedly possessed and by the failure of the US-led coalition to quell a bloody insurgency.

Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they wanted to reduce them. Europeans did not want to hear that Iran was about to build its own WMD. Even if Ahmad-inejad had broadcast a nuclear test live on CNN, liberals would have said it was a CIA con-trick.

So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country's treaty obligations and armed for war. Having first tried appeasement, offering the Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West appealed to international agencies - the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council. Thanks to China's veto, however, the UN produced nothing but empty resolutions and ineffectual sanctions, like the exclusion of Iran from the 2006 World Cup finals.

Only one man might have stiffened President Bush's resolve in the crisis: not Tony Blair, he had wrecked his domestic credibility over Iraq and was in any case on the point of retirement - Ariel Sharon. Yet he had been struck down by a stroke as the Iranian crisis came to a head. With Israel leaderless, Ahmadinejad had a free hand.

As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran.

This gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation, already interrupted by Israel, Pakistan and India, was definitively shattered. Now Teheran had a nuclear missile pointed at Tel-Aviv. And the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had a missile pointed right back at Teheran.

The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the Middle East. Both sides would threaten war - and then both sides would blink. That was Secretary Rice's hope - indeed, her prayer - as she shuttled between the capitals. But it was not to be.

The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite population overran the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran.

Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened.

• Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University www.niallferguson.org

FRIDAY through SUNDAY, January 13 through 15, 2006 GS

THURSDAY, January 12, 2006

GS

WEDNESDAY, January 11, 2006

Here, prompted by a confluence of issues, is an early State Of The Union message.

Is this litany a sign of winter blahs, or of SAD or of depression?  Not on your life.  I have been addressing these issues on this site since March, 2003.  More to come.

GS

TUESDAY, January 10, 2006

And if all of the above were not enough to demonstrate that "a house divided on itself will fall", check out the following:

GS

From ACFR NewsGroup No. 655

ITEM 5: Amir Taheri: The Despicable Self-Loathing Preached by ‘Syriana’

THE DESPICABLE SELF-LOATHING PREACHED BY 'SYRIANA'
by Amir Taheri
Arab News
January 7, 2006

The would-be ruler of an oil-rich Arab state is planning a policy reform that includes allowing girls to go to school, and signing an oil contract with China. But days before he takes over he is assassinated when a remote controlled bomb destroys his bulletproof limousine in the middle of the desert.

But who would want such an enlightened prince out of the way?

The answer given in "Syriana", the new Hollywood blockbuster starring George Clooney, is simple: The murder was planned and carried out by the CIA, the dirty-tricks arm of the United States of America.

But why would the US want an enlightened Arab leader murdered at a time that President George W. Bush is publicly calling for such leaders to emerge in the Arab world?

Again, the answer provided by the scriptwriters is straightforward: The US government is controlled by Texas oil interests that cannot allow any Arab state to sign an oil contract with China.

I saw the film in a pre-release showing in New York last month and did not expect it to be already available throughout the Arab world in a pirated videocassette version. And, yet, in the past week or so I have received more than a dozen emails from Arab friends throughout the Middle East citing the film as, in the word of one of them, another "sure proof" that the US will never tolerate democratic leaders in that neck of the wood.

According to an old saying one can never convince anyone who doesn't wish to be convinced. The makers of "Syriana" are preaching to the converted if only because an extraordinarily large number of Arabs are comfortable in the certainty of their victimhood. Long before "Syriana" hit the silver screen those Arabs were convinced that whatever misfortune has befallen them is due to some conspiracy by a perfidious Western power.

In North Africa where France ruled for more than a century every shortcoming, and every major crime, is blamed on the French. From Egypt to the Indian Ocean all was the fault of the British, until the Americans emerged as a more convincing protagonist in the fantasyland of conspiracy theories. (In Libya where Italy ruled for a while in the last century, even the fact that the telephones don't work in 2006 is blamed on the Italians.)

Would it change anything if one were to remind the conspiracy theorists that none of the high profile political murders in the Arab world over the past century had anything to do with the US or any other foreign power?

Let us start with Rafik Al-Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister, who was murdered last February. Was he killed by the CIA or, as Abdul-Halim Khaddam, Syria's former Vice President, now asserts by a criminal coterie in Damascus?

The list of Arab leaders murdered since 1900 is a long one. It includes six prime ministers, three kings, a ruling Imam, seven presidents of the republic, and dozens of ministers, parliamentarians and senior military officials. Every single one of them was killed either by Islamist militants (often from the Muslim Brotherhood) or by pan-Arab nationalists or by radical Arab security services.

That many Arabs should welcome the suggestion that their tragedies are due to evil doings by foreigners maybe understandable.

It is less so when so many Americans come together to make a film to portray their nation as evil incarnate.

"Syriana" is not only about a single political murder. It also depicts the US as the power behind much of the terrorism coming from the Middle East. The film shows American oil companies as employers of Asian slave labor while the CIA is the key source of supply for bombs used by terrorists.

So, why would any self-respecting American want to write or direct or play in "Syriana"? If the US is as evil as they suggest should they not be ashamed of themselves? And if the oil companies control the US government, presumably including the Congress, should we conclude that Hollywood is the last bastion of American democracy?

One answer to why anyone might want to make such a film is, of course, the very American desire to make money. And as things stand today there is a large market for dissent in the United States. In a recent trip to the US I noticed that unless you took a dig at the Americans no one would even listen to you. In one session when I politely suggested that Bush might be a better choice than either Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein I was nearly booed by my American interlocutors.

The truth is that there is a market for self-loathing in the US today and many, including the producers of "Syriana", are determined to cash in on it.

Here is how the incomparable Evelyn Waugh described the present American situation when the makers of "Syriana" were still nothing but glimmers in their daddies' eyes: "There is no more agreeable position than that of dissident from a stable democratic society."

The reason is simple: In a stable democratic society in which you are protected by law you can lie, cheat, and mislead, all in the name of political dissent, and be rewarded with fame and fortune.

The fact that the CIA is little more than a costly leaking device used by rival groups within the US establishment to lump accusations and counter accusations at one other need not bother the makers of "Syriana". The CIA masters, for their part, would be pleased with "Syriana" if only because it claims that they can do anything at all!

The self-loathing party in the US would do well to ponder the second part of the above mentioned quotation from Waugh: " The more elaborate the society the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat."

The self-loathing party in the US, which includes a disturbingly large part of the elite, is doing three things.

First, it says that America, being the evil power it is, is a legitimate target for revenge attacks by Arab radicals and others.

Secondly, it tells the American people that all this talk about democracy is nonsense if only because major decisions are ultimately taken by a cabal of businessmen, and politicians and lawyers in their pay.

Lastly, and perhaps without realizing it, the self-loathing Americans reduce the Arabs to the level of mere objects in their history. It is the almighty America that decides every single detail of Arab life with the Arabs as, at best, onlookers and, at worst, victims of American violence. The Arabs are even denied credit for their own terrorist acts as "Syriana" shows that it is not they but the CIA that decides who kills whom and where.

Pretending to be sympathetic to the "Arab victims of American Imperialism", the film is, in fact, an example of ethno-centrism gone wild. Its message is: The Arabs are nothing, not even self-motivated terrorists, but mere puppets manipulated by us in the omnipotent US!

By suggesting that the US has stolen the Arab oil and decision-making process, the makers of "Syriana" are, in fact, trying to rob the Arabs of something more important: Their history. The amazing thing is that so many Arabs appear to be ready to help the thief.

Or, perhaps, it is not so amazing after all.

Adversaries in history often end up resembling each other. So it is, perhaps, not surprising that the Arabs are learning the art of self-loathing from the Americans while the Americans develop a taste for Arab-style conspiracy theories.


SATURDAY through MONDAY, January 7 through 9, 2006

Some more food for thought...and for heartburn.

GS

Subject: How Tax Cuts Really Work

Sometimes Politicians can exclaim; "It's just a tax cut for the rich!", and it is just accepted to be fact. But what does that really mean? Just in case you are not completely clear on this issue, we hope the following will help.  Please share this with your friends as you see fit.

Tax Cuts - A Simple Lesson In Economics This is how the cookie crumbles.

Please read it carefully.

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that
every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to $100.  If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this...

> > The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
> > The fifth would pay $1.
> > The sixth would pay $3.
> > The seventh $7.
> > The eighth $12.
> > The ninth $18.
> > The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.  "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20."  So, now dinner for the ten only cost $80. The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes.  So, the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free.

But what about the other six, the paying customers?  How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share'?  The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being 'PAID' to eat their meal.  So, the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.  And so The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).

> > The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% savings).
> > The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% savings).
> > The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
> > The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
> > The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.  "I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man "but he got $10!" "Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too.  It's unfair that he got ten times more than me!"  "That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"  "Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!" The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore. There are lots of good restaurants in Europe and the Caribbean.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D
Distinguished Professor of Economics
536 Brooks Hall
University of Georgia

FRIDAY, January 6, 2006 GS

THURSDAY, January 5, 2006

After holiday travel and an up-grade in computer, it's time to address a lot of issues.

GS

SUNDAY through WEDNESDAY, January 1 through 4, 2006

Let's start the new year with a history lesson...a cautionary tale [author unknown] if there ever was one.

GS

Dear  Friends:

Many years ago in  Seattle, two wonderful neighbors, Elliott and Patty Roosevelt came to my home to swim on a  regular basis.  They were a great couple full of laughter and stories that  today I continue to marvel at.  Both are now deceased, but their stories remain.  During the years of our friendship we had many, many discussions  about his parents (President Franklin D. and  Eleanor  Roosevelt) and how his father and mother never intended for the Social Security and Welfare programs to turn out the way they are today.  Elliott used to say that if his mother returned to earth and saw what the politicians had done to their programs she would have burned all of them in  hell.

Here is a story I received today regarding the Social Security Program and I immediately thought  of Elliott's  comments.  Hope you will read this and think about  it.

Franklin  Roosevelt, a Democrat, introduced the Social Security (FICA) Program.  He  promised:

1.) That  participation i! n the Program would be completely  voluntary,

2.) That the  participants would only have to pay 1% of the first $1,400 of their annual  incomes into the Program,

3.) That the money  the participants elected to put into the Program would be deductible from  their income for tax purposes each year,

4.) That the money  the participants put into the independent "Trust Fund" rather th! an into the  General operating fund, and therefore, would only be used to fund the  Social Security  Retirement Program, and no other Government program,  and,

5.) That the annuity payments to the retirees would never be taxed  as income.

Since many of us  have paid into FICA for years and are now receiving a Social Security check  every month -- and then finding that we are getting taxed on 85% of the  money we paid to the Federal government to "put away," you may be  interested in the following:!

--------------------

Q: Which Political  Party took Social Security from the independent  "Trust" fund  and  put it into the General fund so that Congress could spend  it?

A: It was  Lyndon  Johnson and the democratically  controlled House and Senate.

--------------------

Q: Which  Political Party eliminated the income tax deduction for Social Security (FICA)  withholding?

A: The Democratic  Party.

--------------------

Q: Which  Political Party started taxing Social Security  annuities?

A: The Democratic  Party, with  Al Gore  casting the "tie-breaking" deciding vote as President of the Senate, while he  was Vice President of the U.S.

-------------------

Q: Which  Political Party decided to start giving annuity payments to immigrants?

AND MY  FAVORITE:

A: That's right!   Jimmy  Carter  and the   Democratic Party.   Immigrants moved into this country, and at  age 65, began to receive Social Security payments!   The Democratic  Party gave these payments to them, even though they never paid a dime into  it!

------------------

Then, after doing  all this lying and thieving and violation of the original contract (FICA), the  Democrats turn around and tell you that the Republicans want to take your  Social Security away!

And the worst part  about it is, uninformed citizens believe it!

If enough people  receive this, maybe a seed of awareness will be planted and maybe good changes  will evolve.  Maybe not, some Democrats are awfully sure of what isn't  so.


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