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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

THURSDAY through WEDNESDAY, September 24 through 30, 2009

There are times when the best that I can do is to refer the reader in this section to specific articles or books.  As expressed in the Law: "Res Ipsa Loquitur".  This is one of those times. 
WRITE ON!!

GS


MONDAY through WEDNESDAY, September 21 through 23, 2009

Executive Summary:  YOU'RE OUT OF YOUR COTTON-PICKEN' MINDS!  GS

Baucus outlines health plan without GOP support

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent David Espo, Ap Special Correspondent Wed Sep 16, 7:37 pm ET

WASHINGTON – His calls for compromise rebuffed by Republicans, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee unveiled sweeping legislation Wednesday to remake the nation's costly health care system largely along the lines outlined by President Barack Obama.

Sen. Max Baucus' proposal, months in the making, drew quick criticism from liberals who said his vision was too cramped and from Republicans who deemed it overly expansive. Yet whatever its fate, its mere release marked a critical turning point in Congress' long and tumultuous debate over Obama's top domestic priority.

The Finance Committee is to meet next week to vote on the plan, and after combining it with another panel's bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to begin debate on the Senate floor late this month or early October. Across the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been waiting to see Baucus' health care prescription before advancing companion legislation toward a vote by the House.

"We cannot let this opportunity pass," Baucus, D-Mont., said as he outlined a $856 billion plan designed to protect millions who have unreliable insurance or no coverage at all, at the same time restraining the explosive growth of medical costs.

Congressional budget experts estimated the proposal would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 29 million over a decade. They also predicted the plan would trim federal deficits by $49 billion over the same period and suggested savings in the range of hundreds of billions of dollars might result for the decade that follows.

Many of the bill's major provisions would be delayed until 2013, after the next presidential election.

But the impact of one of the key concessions Baucus made in a so-far-unsuccessful search for Republican support — allowing cooperatives, rather than the federal government, to sell insurance in competition with private industry — was judged harshly.

"They seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country," wrote Douglas W. Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office.

Supporters claim the co-ops would compete effectively with private companies and help hold down the cost of insurance, but CBO's assessment is likely to re-energize advocates of direct government competition.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the overall legislation an "important building block" that "gets us closer to comprehensive health care reform."

Reid, too, described it as "another important piece to the puzzle" on the road to health care legislation.

Pelosi said that while the bill would do less than House legislation to make coverage more affordable, its emergence "will move this historic debate forward."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has labored to keep his rank and file united in opposition, called it a partisan proposal that "cuts Medicare by nearly a half-trillion dollars and puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses, to create yet another thousand-page, trillion-dollar government program. Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy."

Baucus' legislation reflected nearly a year of preparation by the 67-year-old Montanan, a partially successful attempt to gain support from outside interest groups, and months of painstaking private negotiations with two other Democrats and three Republicans on the Finance Committee.

With White House backing, the nation's drug makers and hospitals have agreed to defray part of the expense of the eventual bill, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is underwriting a television advertising campaign at a cost of tens of millions in favor of health care legislation. The AARP generally supports the effort as well, despite the cuts in planned Medicare spending, and even opposition from the insurance industry has been somewhat muted.

Even so, the private negotiations involving Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe of Maine came up short, at least for the time being.

Baucus told reporters he expected he would gain bipartisan backing before the bill emerges from committee, probably next week, an evident reference to Snowe. "This is a first step in the process," Snowe said in a written statement, and she promised to continue to work with Baucus and Democrats on drafting a bipartisan bill.

The other Democrats in the talks were Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

Like other proposals in circulation, Baucus' plan would require insurance companies to sell coverage to all seeking it, without exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions or prohibitively expensive premiums.

The legislation would create so-called insurance exchanges in the states where companies could sell policies that meet criteria set by the government, with federal subsidies available for lower-income individuals and families who would otherwise be unable to afford coverage. Any policy offered for sale in the exchanges would have to cover preventive and primary care as well as dental, prescription drug, mental health and vision services. In general, consumer copays on preventive coverage would be banned.

Additionally the plan envisions cutting a coverage gap in Medicare prescription drug program in half over a decade, although not as deeply as Obama called for in last week's prime-time speech.

To hold down costs, Baucus included only one year of a 10-year, $230 billion increase in doctor fees under Medicare.

The legislation calls for a new tax on high-cost insurance plans, a series of fees and taxes on insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and other health care providers, and penalties assessed on people who refuse to purchase coverage or large companies that refuse to offer it to their employees.

Planned Medicare spending would be cut by roughly $500 billion over a decade, with about one-quarter of that money coming from private plans sold as an alternative to traditional government coverage. The House bill calls for far deeper cuts in the alternative program, to the point that industry officials say it could disappear.

Among Baucus' critics were liberals in the House and labor leaders who have been among Obama's strongest supporters.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has long been involved in health care issues, said the proposal doesn't go far enough to control costs or guarantee a greater choice among health plans for consumers.

Chuck Loveless, the director of legislation at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said, "Chairman Baucus has made what I would characterize as a herculean effort to produce this, but we think that the cost has been too high, and we want to see major changes."

In the House, Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, who favors a government-run program, said, "I think I speak for many members of Congress in saying that the Senate proposal simply will not pass muster in the House of Representatives and fails on very basic levels to satisfy the objectives of the president and the citizens of the United States of America."

Like authors of competing bills in the House and in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Baucus worked his way through numerous controversial issues. Unlike them, though, his reflected a desire to seek bipartisanship.

Thus, the bill includes provisions to keep illegal immigrants from obtaining health coverage through the new insurance exchanges.

The bill also would prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother would be endangered. It would leave in place state laws that protect health care workers who refuse to participate in abortion coverage.

____

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Erica Werner and Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this report.


SATURDAY and SUNDAY, September 19 and 20, 2009

ALL THIS JUST FROM TODAY'S NEWSPAPER ARTICLES.
GS


SATURDAY through FRIDAY, September 12 through 18, 2009

"A CAMEL: A HORSE DESIGNED BY COMMITTEE".  But both a camel and a horse are mobile beasts of burden. Any creature arising out of this process will stumble right out of the starting gate with its load of political expediencies and factual ignorance.  GS

Toughest test coming up for health care overhaul

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press Writer Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar, Associated Press Writer Sat Sep 19, 5:51 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Keep going. You don't have to fix all of it now. Just please don't let it stall. That's the essence of the message that Senate Democratic leaders have for their Finance Committee senators, who plan to start voting Tuesday on a remake of the nation's health care system.

Democrats on the pivotal committee are disappointed with the bill from the chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Republicans see a chance to deliver a stunning blow to President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.

The stakes are so high because this isn't just another committee.

The 23-member panel is a microcosm of the Senate, the narrow gate through which legislation to cover the uninsured and try to control medical costs has to pass. If the committee can't produce, then the ability of Obama and the Democrats to pass a bill this year will be seriously questioned.

"If it can't get through the Finance Committee, the mountain that has to be climbed is a much higher mountain, and I don't know whether they'll have the ability to climb that mountain," said Christine Ferguson, a Senate GOP health aide during the Bill Clinton-era health care debate. Now a George Washington University professor, Ferguson was part of an effort to find a bipartisan deal.

Baucus, an optimist by nature, says he has the votes. "Oh, yeah — no doubt," he says.

But last week the chairman stood alone as he explained and defended his 10-year, $856-billion plan.

No Democrats joined him in front of the media — not even Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who spent months working with Baucus trying to find a compromise both political parties could support.

The second-ranking committee Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, promptly announced he couldn't vote for the bill without major changes. Senators have readied more than 560 amendments.

The Baucus plan would require all Americans to carry health insurance or pay a stiff fine. It would provide subsidies to many middle-class households and expand government health programs for the poor. Insurers could not deny coverage based on someone's personal health history.

The plan would be paid for with cuts in Medicare and Medicaid spending, as well as a heavy tax on high-cost health insurance plans. Baucus would not create a government plan to compete with private insurers. And workers at larger companies that offer coverage wouldn't see big changes.

While business and health industry groups generally have said good things about the proposal, core Democratic constituencies are angry.

Unions see the insurance tax as a direct threat to hard-won benefits. Liberals are outraged by the absence of a government insurance plan. There's widespread concern that Baucus' subsidies are too meager and will stick hard-pressed households with thousands of dollars in new insurance bills.

"At the end of the day this has to work for families," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., a committee member. "The trade-off can't be that a middle-class family won't be able to afford the insurance in this bill."

Baucus can't ignore such concerns. With 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans on the committee, he doesn't have much room to maneuver for votes. At best, he may be able to win over one Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

The committee staff tentatively has scheduled three days of work on the bill, but that may not be enough to handle the deluge of amendments.

Many Democratic amendments are geared to improving subsidies to make coverage more affordable and scaling back or replacing the 35 percent tax on high-cost health insurance plans. Also on their list: adding the public plan favored by liberals, as well as a requirement that employers offer coverage.

Rockefeller is proposing to cap itemized deductions for the wealthiest taxpayers as an alternative to the insurance tax. He also wants to strike the nonprofit insurance co-ops that Baucus has proposed in lieu of a government plan.

Republicans say they're coordinating their amendments to highlight what Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., calls "fundamental differences" with Democrats.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wants to eliminate the federal insurance requirement on individuals, leaving it up to states to decide. The top committee Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said Baucus' insurance requirement and fines as high as $3,800 for going without coverage amount to "a penalty against middle-class Americans."

Ensign is trying to limit the future reach of the insurance tax. As proposed by Baucus, the tax would be adjusted based on the general rate of inflation. Medical inflation, however, has been rising about twice as fast. Ensign would peg the insurance tax to general inflation, meaning that fewer insurance plans would fall under its grip each year.

Republicans will try to bar funds for abortions and tighten rules to prevent benefits from going to illegal immigrants, although Baucus says his bill already does both. And they're pushing for a bolder approach on limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.

Many committee members would like the bill that emerges to be significantly different from the plan Baucus placed before them.

But they're up against a hard barrier on costs. Obama has said he wants legislation that's about $900 billion over 10 years. The Baucus plan is right under that level. Sweeten the subsidies too much and the cost could zoom above $1 trillion.

That's why Democratic leaders and major interest groups backing a health care overhaul are urging the committee to pass a bill now — and try to work out problems later.

Action by the committee is the first of four big steps before any legislation can be signed into law.

Next, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada would "meld" the Finance Committee bill with a more liberal measure from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Then, the House and Senate would pass its own version of legislation. Finally, a negotiating committee with representatives from each chamber would have to reconcile the two bills.

"The important thing is to keep moving the process forward, and to keep the big goals in mind, even if there are concerns about the specifics," said John Rother, the top policy strategist for AARP.


THURSDAY and FRIDAY, September 10 and 11, 2009

Given the mess called "Health Care Reform", President Obama may not lave lied in his recent speech ("YOU LIED"). But he certainly mis-represented the facts, despite an obligation to know them. He also knows - or should know - that his assertions regarding the financial impact of his and the liberal Democrats' plans are a pipe dream.  GS

Health care talks focus on illegal immigrants

By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer Erica Werner, Associated Press Writer Fri Sep 11, 7:40 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Senators closing in on a comprehensive health care bill have whittled away all but the most contentious issues and one of those loomed large Friday: coverage for illegal immigrants.

Negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee thought they'd already resolved the question. That was before Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie!" as President Barack Obama said in a speech Wednesday that illegal immigrants wouldn't be covered under his health plan.

That led senators to revisit the issue to make sure they have provisions in place to enforce prohibitions against illegal residents getting federally subsidized coverage.

"What we are trying to prevent is anyone who is here illegally from getting any federal benefit," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a member of the so-called Gang of Six of three Democratic and three Republican members of the Finance Committee. The group is facing a deadline early next week to produce a bipartisan deal.

If they don't succeed, Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., plans to go it alone with a Democratic bill.

The outcome remains very much in doubt. A successful effort could form the basis for legislation that could appeal to a majority in the Senate since the Finance Committee has a moderate makeup that resembles the Senate as a whole.

This weekend will be critical as aides and lawmakers themselves hammer out language not just on illegal immigration, but also a handful of other thorny issues including abortion, medical malpractice and how much states must pay for an expansion of Medicaid.

The deal-or-no-deal question could be answered as early as Monday when the group meets again.

"Obviously we'll find out who wants to support the (bill) and who doesn't," Baucus said Friday. "I'm hopeful that there will be bipartisan support. And I'll keep working on it frankly over the weekend, on the telephone talking to people, so on and so forth."

Baucus' plan largely mirrors what Obama laid out in his speech Wednesday: expansion of coverage to most of the nearly 50 million uninsured, new requirements for individuals to obtain insurance, new prohibitions against insurance company practices like denying coverage based on personal health history and creation of a new marketplace called an exchange where consumers could shop for different health plans.

If Congress ends up creating a new government-run insurance plan it would be offered through the exchange, but unlike the four partisan bills that have emerged from committees in the House and Senate so far, Baucus' bill will substitute nonprofit co-ops for the public plan.

The White House says that Obama does not want illegal immigrants to be able to buy insurance through the new purchasing exchange as they would be allowed to do under Democratic legislation in the House. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said the White House will work with lawmakers on language to enforce that. Though the issue is not yet finalized, the Finance Committee is expected to follow the White House's lead in barring illegal immigrants from the exchange, according to a Democratic committee aide. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing negotiations.

"Illegal immigrants would not be allowed to access the exchange that is set up," Gibbs said Friday. Verification requirements are "something we'd work out with Congress," he said.

The illegal immigrant controversy that led to the outburst from South Carolina's Wilson stems from Republicans' contention that illegal immigrants would be able to get federally funded health coverage under the House health bill — even though the bill expressly prohibits federal subsidies for illegals.

Critics note that there are no enforcement mechanisms, or language on how to verify whether or not someone is in this country legally.

"Without a verification requirement it's essentially like posting a 55-mph speed limit and not having any highway patrol on the road," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Democrats in two House committees defeated amendments that would have required verification of legal status. Many Democrats contend that such measures create barriers to legal residents getting the health coverage they need.

Verification provisions added to Medicaid several years ago require people to provide documentation of citizenship and identity, said Jennifer Tolbert, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

She said states found that the new requirements mainly caused delays or denials for people who were entitled to be part of the program.

There are some 7 million illegal immigrants in this country who lack health insurance, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Unlike in the House bill or legislation passed by the Senate's health committee, the Finance Committee is aiming to include verification requirements. Anyone who tries to get subsidized coverage through the new health insurance exchange would have to provide valid Social Security numbers. Aides are working through the weekend to complete how that requirement would be implemented.

Another unsettled issue involves coverage for legal immigrants. Gang of Six member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants a five-year waiting period before legal immigrants can get subsidized coverage, but Conrad said Friday that's not yet been resolved.


TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, September 8 and 9, 2009

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S SPEECH ON HEALTH CARE REFORM:
"The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly"
The Good: No Federsl coverage for abortions.  Retention of freedom of conscience rules for health care personnel.
The Bad: His analysis of cost implications is a pipe dream, as clearly described in the article that follows.
The Ugly: Passing reference to Tort Reform regarding Medical Malpractice, suggesting only "demonstration projects" in the only issue and its consequential "defensive medicine" that has any likelihood of producing substantial savings in health care costs. 
And then there was one laugher: "Of course, there are a few details to work out".  Thus: B+ in style; C- in substance.  GS

FACT CHECK: Obama uses iffy math on deficit pledge

By CALVIN WOODWARD and ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writers Calvin Woodward And Erica Werner, Associated Press Writers Thu Sep 10, 3:15 am ET

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama used only-in-Washington accounting Wednesday when he promised to overhaul the nation's health care system without adding "one dime" to the deficit. By conventional arithmetic, Democratic plans would drive up the deficit by billions of dollars.

The president's speech to Congress contained a variety of oversimplifications and omissions in laying out what he wants to do about health insurance.

A look at some of Obama's claims and how they square with the facts or the fuller story:

___

OBAMA: "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits either now or in the future. Period."

THE FACTS: Though there's no final plan yet, the White House and congressional Democrats already have shown they're ready to skirt the no-new-deficits pledge.

House Democrats offered a bill that the Congressional Budget Office said would add $220 billion to the deficit over 10 years. But Democrats and Obama administration officials claimed the bill actually was deficit-neutral. They said they simply didn't have to count $245 billion of it — the cost of adjusting Medicare reimbursement rates so physicians don't face big annual pay cuts.

Their reasoning was that they already had decided to exempt this "doc fix" from congressional rules that require new programs to be paid for. In other words, it doesn't have to be paid for because they decided it doesn't have to be paid for.

The administration also said that since Obama already had included the doctor payment in his 10-year budget proposal, it didn't have to be counted again.

That aside, the long-term prognosis for costs of the health care legislation has not been good.

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf had this to say in July: "We do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount."

___

OBAMA: "Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have."

THE FACTS: That's correct, as far as it goes. But neither can the plan guarantee that people can keep their current coverage. Employers sponsor coverage for most families, and they'd be free to change their health plans in ways that workers may not like, or drop insurance altogether. The Congressional Budget Office analyzed the health care bill written by House Democrats and said that by 2016 some 3 million people who now have employer-based care would lose it because their employers would decide to stop offering it.

In the past Obama repeatedly said, "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period." Now he's stopping short of that unconditional guarantee by saying nothing in the plan "requires" any change.

___

OBAMA: "The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally." One congressman, South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, shouted "You lie!" from his seat in the House chamber when Obama made this assertion. Wilson later apologized.

THE FACTS: The facts back up Obama. The House version of the health care bill explicitly prohibits spending any federal money to help illegal immigrants get health care coverage. Illegal immigrants could buy private health insurance, as many do now, but wouldn't get tax subsidies to help them. Still, Republicans say there are not sufficient citizenship verification requirements to ensure illegal immigrants are excluded from benefits they are not due.

___

OBAMA: "Don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut. ... That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare."

THE FACTS: Obama and congressional Democrats want to pay for their health care plans in part by reducing Medicare payments to providers by more than $500 billion over 10 years. The cuts would largely hit hospitals and Medicare Advantage, the part of the Medicare program operated through private insurance companies.

Although wasteful spending in Medicare is widely acknowledged, many experts believe some seniors almost certainly would see reduced benefits from the cuts. That's particularly true for the 25 percent of Medicare users covered through Medicare Advantage.

Supporters contend that providers could absorb the cuts by improving how they operate and wouldn't have to reduce benefits or pass along costs. But there's certainly no guarantee they wouldn't.

___

OBAMA: Requiring insurance companies to cover preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies "makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives."

THE FACTS: Studies have shown that much preventive care — particularly tests like the ones Obama mentions — actually costs money instead of saving it. That's because detecting acute diseases like breast cancer in their early stages involves testing many people who would never end up developing the disease. The costs of a large number of tests, even if they're relatively cheap, will outweigh the costs of caring for the minority of people who would have ended up getting sick without the testing.

The Congressional Budget Office wrote in August: "The evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall."

That doesn't mean preventive care doesn't make sense or save lives. It just doesn't save money.

___

OBAMA: "If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage."

THE FACTS: It's not just a matter of being able to get coverage. Most people would have to get coverage under the law, if his plan is adopted.

In his speech, Obama endorsed mandatory coverage for individuals, an approach he did not embrace as a candidate.

He proposed during the campaign — as he does now — that larger businesses be required to offer insurance to workers or else pay into a fund. But he rejected the idea of requiring individuals to obtain insurance. He said people would get insurance without being forced to do so by the law, if coverage were made affordable. And he repeatedly criticized his Democratic primary rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for proposing to mandate coverage.

"To force people to get health insurance, you've got to have a very harsh penalty," he said in a February 2008 debate.

Now, he says, "individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance — just as most states require you to carry auto insurance."

He proposes a hardship waiver, exempting from the requirement those who cannot afford coverage despite increased federal aid.

___

OBAMA: "There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage."

THE FACTS: Obama time and again has referred to the number of uninsured as 46 million, a figure based on year-old Census data. The new number is based on an analysis by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, which concluded that about two-thirds of Americans without insurance are poor or near poor. "These individuals are less likely to be offered employer-sponsored coverage or to be able to afford to purchase their own coverage," the report said. By using the new figure, Obama avoids criticism that he is including individuals, particularly healthy young people, who choose not to obtain health insurance.

___

Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.


MONDAY, September 7, 2009

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM".  In fact, America has today two massive problems...one domestic and one foreign. 
The domestic problem is the "Great Recession", whose seeds were planted and then nourished during the Clinton administration followed by the Bush administration with enthusiastic help from Senators Dodd, Frank and many other Democrats.  Now this killer 
weed is being allowed to continue its wild growth by means of recklessly sprayed fertilizer in the form of uncontrolled mega-billion dollar "Stimulus Packages" and budget-busting simultaneous initiatives like "Health Care Reform" and "Energy Reform" that will throw this country predictably into massive stag-flation...and then into war, the historic cure for such situations.  Finally, the American people are awakening to this danger...not with "fear", as alleged by Paul Choiniere in his recent column in The Day (www.theday.com), but with anger and a healthy committment to do something about it. 
The foreign problem is the most recent developing Middle East quagmire: Afghanistan.  To frame this issue for proper analysis, you must read the following excellent article by Andrew McCarthy, printed below:  a tour d' force on Afghanistan and on the entire issue of Islam, Islamism, Salafism and Sharia.  Other in-depth references for further study include: "Islam", by Karen Armstrong (The Modern Library, New York, 2000); and "A History of God", by the same author (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1993).  After reading at least the article, please form your own opinion...and then Act as a vital citizen in our democratic process.  Our well-being and the lives of our families depend on it.

GS

ITEM 17: Andrew McCarthy: A Dangerous Delusion: We Go to War to Defend Our Interests, Not to Encourage Democracy

September 4, 2009 4:00 AM  NRO
A Dangerous Delusion
We go to war to defend our interests, not to encourage democracy.
By Andrew C. McCarthy

Right after 9/11, Pres. George W. Bush made a succinct demand of the Taliban: Hand over Osama bin Laden and his cohorts or face horrific consequences. The demand, the president emphasized, was non-negotiable. The Taliban refused, insisting that the U.S. produce evidence against al-Qaeda. Because Islamists — not just terrorists but all Islamists — believe the United States is the enemy of Islam, the Taliban also floated the possibility of rendering bin Laden to a third country. No deal, Bush replied. As promised, the consequences were swift and severe. Yet, two weeks into the first bombing raids, the president offered the Taliban a “second chance.” Mullah Omar declined to take it. The invasion proceeded and the rest is history.

It’s now a long, confused history. The distance we’ve traveled from the clarity of the first days is manifest in the Right’s ongoing intramural skirmish over the eminent George Will’s latest column.

Will has called for a steep reduction of our 60,000-strong military force (out of a total of about 100,000 coalition troops) in Afghanistan . That country, he argues, is an incorrigible mess where we’re engaged more in social work than in combat. Instead, Will would have our forces retreat to offshore bases from which, “using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units,” American efforts could be concentrated on Afghanistan’s “porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.” This suggestion comes just as other conservatives are backing a Pentagon proposal to add about 40,000 troops. They seek a counterinsurgency surge for Afghanistan , similar to the one they claim worked so well in Iraq three years ago.

There’s no question that the surge in Iraq resulted in the rout of al-Qaeda. For that reason, it has to be counted as a net success. It would have been a strategic disaster to retreat while al-Qaeda was present and fortifying itself.

But then there was the rest of the surge rationale: the claim that we needed to secure the Iraqi population so a stable government, one that would be a reliable ally against terror, could emerge. The same argument now is being made about Afghanistan . Have you taken a look at Iraq lately? We went there to topple Saddam; we stayed to build an Islamic “democracy,” and the result is an Iranian satellite. The new Iraq is a sharia state that wants us gone, has denied us basing rights for future military operations, has pressured a weak American president into releasing Iran-backed terrorists, has rolled out the red carpet for Hezbollah, allows Iranian spies to operate freely (causing the recent ouster of the intelligence minister, who was an American ally), tolerates the persecution of religious minorities, and whose soon-to-take-power ruling coalition vows “not to establish relations with the Zionist entity” — a vow that would simply continue longstanding Iraqi policy, as Diana West points out. If that’s success, what does failure look like?

Democracy-project naysayers (I’ve long been one) reluctantly supported the surge in Iraq because our nation could not allow al-Qaeda a victory there. By contrast, as Rich Lowry mentions in passing at The Corner, “al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan .” Rich’s observation came in the course of chiding Will’s advocacy of “counterterrorist strikes from a distance.” But if al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan , why do we still need 60,000 troops there, let alone 40,000 more? We don’t invade other hostile countries where al-Qaeda is actually present (see, e.g., Iran , Kenya , Yemen , Somalia ), and the likelihood of al-Qaeda’s return is not enough to keep us in other countries where we’re not wanted (e.g., Iraq ). That is, we’re already banking on our capacity to conduct counterterrorist strikes from a distance.

The reason for going to war in Afghanistan was that al-Qaeda was there. The Bush administration was content to live with the Taliban ruling Afghanistan . They are a tyrannical lot, but Islam doctrinally and culturally lends itself to tyranny. The Taliban’s brutalization of the Afghan people was not our military concern. That was a problem for the State Department to take up with our “allies” — like Pakistan , which created the Taliban, and Saudi Arabia , which helped Pakistan sustain it. Our military issue with the Taliban was bin Laden. Had the Taliban agreed to our terms, there would have been no invasion of Afghanistan .

Notwithstanding al-Qaeda’s departure, the idea now seems to be that we should substantially escalate our military involvement in Afghanistan to replicate the experiment that supposedly worked so well in Iraq . It’s the age of Obama, so our commanders are talking not about combat but about a stimulus package to fight the “culture of poverty.” As military officials described it to the New York Times, “the overriding goal of American and NATO forces would not be so much to kill Taliban insurgents as to make ordinary Afghans feel secure, and thus isolate the insurgents. That means using force less and focusing on economic development and good governance.” This is consistent with the delusional belief that terrorism is caused by poverty, corruption, resentment, Guantanamo Bay , enhanced interrogation tactics, Israel — in short, anything other than an ideology rooted in Islamic scripture. But before we all laugh George Will out of the room, we might remember that the Taliban was not our reason for invading. We would not have gone to war to save Afghanistan from the Taliban — which is to say, to save Afghanistan from itself.

THE WAR AND THE DREAM
At Contentions, Pete Wehner offers a withering critique of Will’s column. Pete reminds us that, not so long ago, Will predicted that the Muslim world would be overrun by “a ripple effect, a happy domino effect . . . of democracy knocking over these medieval tyrannies.” But now, in a dizzying turnabout, Will ridicules the very premise of the democracy project: the conceit — to quote Will quoting Tony Blair — that “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit.” Typical of Pete, it is a very effective smack-down. And it would be a show-stopper — except that the pertinent issue is not Will’s inconstancy. The question is: Was Will wrong then or is Will wrong now?

And that’s where Pete and the rest of the surge-minded lose me. George Will is not being faithless about the war. To the extent there was national agreement about its objectives, the war was about routing al-Qaeda, driving it out of its safe haven, and killing or capturing its main players. Those objectives have been substantially accomplished, and, while we’ve failed to round up bin Laden, Zawahiri, and some others, they are not in Afghanistan .

What Will is being faithless about is the democratic vision. Democracy enthusiasts have always conflated the war and the dream, but the two are and will always be separate. The American people overwhelmingly supported, and still support, a vigorous war — not an experiment, but a war — against the enemies who threaten us: Islamist terrorists and the regimes that abet them. Americans do not support, have no patience for, and would never go to war over the thankless enterprise of transforming the Islamic world.

Mind you, I’m no dove. I daresay I’m as much or more of a hawk than the nation-building side of the house. I’ve bit my tongue for a long time, and it kills me to write this, because I’ve never bought the nonsense about how you can support the troops but not support the mission. And if someone can convince me we need 40,000 or 400,000 or 4 million more troops in Afghanistan to destroy enemies who would otherwise attack the United States , count me in. But I think Rich, Pete, and others I admire — Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, and Jen Rubin, for example — go too far in their condemnation of Will. Americans have a right to wonder what on earth we’re doing. The war against Islamist terror is global and, even in the region where we are fighting, has always involved more than Iraq and Afghanistan . There are hostile regimes (particularly in Iran ) that we have left in place, unscathed, and growing stronger. For all the brave “you’re with us or you’re against us” talk after 9/11, we never walked that walk. Americans would have supported such a war, which was — and is — patently in the national interest. There is no political will for it now because, without first defeating the enemy, we tried to reprise the Marshall Plan in a place where it won’t work.

On that score, one of the more baffling things I’ve read recently was from Powerline’s John Hinderaker, whom I also admire. John was questioning former vice president Dick Cheney’s apparent admission (in a Fox News interview) that he had favored attacking Iran , which President Bush declined to do. John counters that “at the time, it seemed to me that we had our hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan , and military conflict with Iran was not a serious possibility.” But we had military conflict with Iran whether we wanted it or not — they were orchestrating terror attacks and killing Americans. And what we had our hands full with in Iraq and Afghanistan was nation-building. Quite apart from the inherent futility of trying to democratize fundamentalist Muslim countries, our efforts in those two places were doomed if we failed to address Iran ’s promotion of terrorism and its intolerable nuclear threat. What has happened to Iraq has happened because we lacked the will to deal with Iran . We left unaccomplished the mission that was vital to our national interests while laboring exhaustively to create Islamic democracies that are either hostile or useless to us. And now, while we are still idling on Iran , the plan is to double-down against the Taliban?

There has been a fascinating point of alignment since 9/11 between the anti-war Left and the democracy hawks. Both sides have failed to identify the enemy: Islamists. The hard Left resists because it doesn’t see Islamism as an enemy at all. The Islamists, like the Left, regard the United States as the problem in the world.

Democracy hawks are another matter. Their boundless faith in democracy blinds them to the severity of the Islamist challenge. For them, dwelling on Islam is counterproductive: If Islam is understood as a huge liability, Americans will rebel against the prohibitive costs, in lives and money, of democracy-building. So the democracy-hawk approach is either not to mention Islam at all or to absurdly portray it as a “moderating” influence that will help build stable democracies. They shame doubters into silence by decrying “Islamophobia” and “cultural condescension” — mortal sins these days. On some level, the democracy hawks may grasp that the threat here involves more than terrorism. But they’ve convinced themselves that if we could just get rid of the terrorists, the rest of the Muslims who abhor us would be brought around by democracy’s light.

It’s a fantasy, and we’re betting our lives on it. So let me try to spell out the folly of the democracy project’s fundamental assumptions.

ISLAMISM
We like to think Islamism represents only a fringe of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims. But that’s because we confound Islamists and terrorists. The terrorists — those who commit and materially support violent attacks — are a fringe (bigger than we’d like to think, but still a tiny minority). By contrast, Islamists may be a majority, and, if they’re not, they constitute a very substantial minority.

Islamism is not terrorism. To be sure, Islamism includes terrorism in its arsenal. Still, there is major disagreement among Islamists about when violence should be used and how effective it is. In any event, we must fight the tendency to meld these concepts. Terrorism is a tactic that divides Muslims. Islamism is a belief system that unites tens of millions of Muslims. Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia , estimates what he calls the “radicalized” portion of the umma at about 15 percent. I think he’s low-balling it, but even if he’s right, that would be about 200 million people.

So what is Islamism? It is the belief that Islam is not merely a religious creed but a comprehensive guide to human existence, conformity to which is obligatory, that governs all matters political, social, cultural, and religious, from cradle to grave (and, of course, beyond). The neologism “Islamist” was minted over three-quarters of a century ago by Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. To this day, the credo of the Brotherhood is “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” The Brotherhood claims, preposterously, to have renounced terrorism. It maintains, more credibly, that it is the Muslim Nation, as in a mass movement representing what Muslims, broadly, believe.

The Brotherhood’s Islam is called Salafism. Developed in the 19th century, Salafism calls for a return to the unalloyed Islam of the 7th-century founders. It is to be “unalloyed” in the sense that it should be stripped of modernizing influences — particularly Western influences. This is to be achieved by implementing sharia, the divine law designed to govern all aspects of life.

Implementing sharia is the aim of jihad. Because our government does not want to be seen as Islamophobic, we are discouraged from noting the palpable nexus between Islamic scripture and Islamist terror. Thus we’re conditioned to think of jihad, a creature of Islamic scripture, as a form of madness — as if terrorists blew up buildings for no better reason than to blow up buildings. But jihad is a central tenet of Islam. It is the obligation to struggle in the path of Allah — to impose God’s law everywhere on earth. Jihad can be savage, but it is not irrational.

Jihad is correctly understood as a military duty, but it need not be violent. That does not mean, as Islam’s Western apologists claim, that jihad is some wishy-washy internal struggle to become a better person. To the contrary, just as war is politics by other means, violent force is one of several jihadist tactics by which the Muslim Nation seeks to install sharia. If non-Muslims are willing to accommodate sharia in their political, legal, and financial systems, combat is not required. Surrenders are happily accepted.

ut jihad undeniably includes the duty to drive infidel armies out of Muslim countries by force — even infidels who see themselves as benign, progressive, good Samaritans rather than occupiers. In 2004, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the “nonviolent” Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide, issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to fight the Americans in Iraq . He was zealously supported by the faculty at al-Azhar University in Cairo , the most authoritative voice of Islamic jurisprudence in the Arab world. A few months later, Alberto Fernandez, then the State Department’s top spokesman in the region, gushed that Qaradawi was an “intelligent and thoughtful voice from the region . . . an important figure that deserves our attention.” It was an idiotic thing to say, but it was said in recognition of the grim reality that Qaradawi is not a fringe figure. His influence is vast. Understand this: It is not just terrorists but millions of Muslims who believe Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan should be killed even if they believe they are risking their lives so that Muslims can have a better life.

Why should Islamism matter to us? Because, besides being the ideology that catalyzes jihadist terrorism and threatens our freedoms in sundry other ways, Islamism rejects the premises of Western democracy. Islamists believe that sharia is the perfect, non-negotiable blueprint for law and life, prescribed by Allah Himself. Therefore, Islamists reject the notion of free people at liberty to govern themselves, to legislate in contradiction to God’s law. They reject freedom of conscience: Islam must be the state religion, and apostasy from Islam is a capital crime. They deny the principle of equality under the law between men and women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims. They abjure any semblance of Western sexual liberty: gay sex, adultery, and fornication are brutally punished. They countenance slavery. They encourage polygamy. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This is all horrifying to us, but that is because we are a different civilization. Tony Blair was wrong, as Will has realized in more recent times. Individual liberty and democracy are not “universal values of the human spirit.” And our democracy-building enthusiasts are wrong, and unintentionally insulting to Muslims, when they intimate that the Islamic world will fall in love with our values once they taste a little freedom.

President Bush decried the “cultural condescension” of us democracy doubters. But the shoe of arrogance is on the other foot. Those of us who’ve studied Islam have never doubted its “aptitude for democracy” (to borrow Will’s phrase). The issue has never been one of aptitude; it is about principled beliefs. Fundamentalist strains of Islam, including Salafism, have been developed by extraordinary minds. It is not that these Muslims fail to comprehend our principles; they reject them. They have an entirely different conception of the good life. They believe freedom is not individual liberty but individual submission to Allah’s law. Their very conception of freedom is the opposite of ours. When we talk to them about “freedom,” we are ships passing in the night.

That doesn’t make the Islamists backward. They are convinced that Western liberalism and the Judeo-Christian veneration of reason in faith are corrupting influences that rationalize deviations from Allah’s law and His natural order. They believe, instead, in a pre-ordered, totalitarian system in which the individual surrenders his freedom for the good of the umma — and in which sowing discord (i.e., engaging in what we think of as free speech) is a grave sin, on the order of apostasy. They are wrong in this. Our civilization is superior to theirs, which is why we have flourished and they have faltered. But being wrong doesn’t make them crazy. They don’t want what we’re selling, and they have their reasons.

DEMOCRACY BEGINS AT HOME
Most of our uninformed national conversation about Islam since 9/11 has been about the degree of Muslim support for terrorism. If you’re going to embark on a quest to remake the Middle East, that’s the wrong question. We should be asking: What is the degree of Muslim support for Islamism? The answer to that question is: immense.

Islamism is the official creed of Saudi Arabia , which, as noted above, is risibly portrayed as a U.S. ally against terrorism. The Saudis have lavishly supported and collaborated with the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1950s, enabling the Brothers to spread Islamism globally, including in America and Europe . Islamism, moreover, is the dominant ideology in the Arab world and in much of Pakistan , Iran , and Afghanistan . It is strengthening in northern and eastern Africa . Despite decades of suppression, it is resurgent in Turkey . Even in Indonesia , where Islamism is not preponderant, it is a growing force.

The fact that Islamists disagree with their terrorist factions on tactics obscures the reality that they heartily agree with the terrorists’ contempt for the West. Most of the places that are sources of Islamist terror do not want Western democracy. They want sharia.

We can’t change that about them, and it cheapens us when we try. The State Department’s new “democratic” constitutions for Afghanistan and Iraq are a disgrace: establishing Islam as the state religion and elevating sharia as fundamental law. That is not exporting our values; it is appeasing Islamism. It is putting on display our lack of will to fight for our principles, which only emboldens our enemies. Recall, for example, the spectacle of the Christian prosecuted for apostasy a couple of years back by the post-Taliban, U.S.-backed Afghan government. He had to be whisked out of the country because it’s not safe for an ex-Muslim religious convert in the new Afghanistan . It’s not safe for non-Muslims, period. We’re not building a democratic culture.

Further, even if we could clear the hurdle that Islamists don’t want Western democracy, there remains the problem that a Muslim country’s becoming a democracy would not make us safer from Islamist terrorists. It is illogical and counter-historical to suppose otherwise. The 9/11 attacks were extensively planned, over long periods of time, in, among other places, Berlin, Madrid, San Diego, Florida, Oklahoma, and Connecticut. Clearly, thriving democracy in those places provided no security. The doctrine that democracy is preferable because democracies don’t make war on one another applies only if your threat matrix consists of hostile nation-states. A transnational terror network with no territory to defend and no normal economic system lacks the incentives a democracy has to avoid war. And, far from discouraging terrorists, democratic liberties work to their advantage.

We can’t stop Muslim countries from being Islamist. That is their choice. It should be no concern of ours who rules them as long as they do not threaten American interests. When they inevitably do threaten us, or allow their territories to be launch pads for terrorists, we should smash them. But the price of defending our nation cannot be spending years — at a cost of precious lives and hundreds of billions of dollars — in a vain attempt to give people who despise us a way of life they don’t want.

Meanwhile, we must accept that Islamism is our enemy and has targeted our constitutional system for destruction by slow strangulation via sharia. Instead of worrying about democracy in Afghanistan , we need to worry about democracy in America . The surge we need is at home: to roll back Islamism’s infiltration of our schools, our financial system, our law, and our government. In addition to not being universal, the “values of the human spirit” are not immortal. If we don’t defend them in the West, they will die.

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).


SUNDAY, September 6, 2009

As I promised to offer in March 2003, and as I have done since then, here are some more well-founded observations and opinions...in no particular order.   GS
GS


SATURDAY, September 5, 2009

>
>         Smart man!
>         
>           Love him or hate him, he sure hits the nail on the head with this!
>
>           Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.
>
>           Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!
>
>           Rule 2: The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
>
>           Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
>
>           Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
>
>           Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
>
>           Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
>
>           Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
>
>           Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
>
>           Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
>
>           Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
>
>           Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.
>


TUESDAY through FRIDAY, September 1 through 4, 2009

HERE'S TO US!   GS

No matter what our kids and the new generation think about us,

 WE ARE AWESOME !!!!

OUR LIFE IS LIVING PROOF !!!! <> 

To Those of  Us  Born  

1930 - 1979

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED THE

                   1930's, 40's, 50's,

              60's and 70's!! 

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. <> 

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered

with bright colored lead-base paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes,

we had baseball caps

not helmets on our heads.

As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, no air bags, bald tires and sometimes no brakes. <> 

Riding in the back of a pick- up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon. We drank Kool-Aid made with real white sugar. And, we weren't overweight..   WHY?

Because we were always outside playing...that's why!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on..

No one was able to reach us all day. And, we were OKAY. <> 

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps

and then ride them down the hill,

only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem <> 

We did not have Play stations, Nintendo's and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's,

no surround-sound or CD's,

no cell phones,

no personal computers,

no Internet and no chat rooms. <> 

WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.
We would get spankings with wooden spoons, switches, ping pong paddles, or just a bare hand and no one would call child services to report abuse.

We ate worms and mud pies

made from dirt, and

the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them.

 Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team.

Those who didn't had to learn

to deal with disappointment.

Imagine that!! 

These generations have produced some of the best

risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever.

The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.

If YOU are one of them, CONGRATULATIONS! 

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good.

While you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave and lucky their parents were.

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it ?

~


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