Entries from April 2011

25th Anniversary Of US Bombing Of Libya

April 16th, 2011 at 5:04 am Comments Off

The Washington Post reports:

TRIPOLI, pharmacy LIBYA —Moammar Gaddafi’s glamorous daughter, Aisha, showed a different public face Friday morning, delivering a defiant and venomous speech to an adoring crowd from the ruins of a building in her father’s Tripoli compound, 25 years to the day after it was hit by U.S. warplanes.

“When I was a child, when I was 9 years old, in this house, a rain of missiles and bombs came down. They tried to kill me,” she said, speaking from a second-floor balcony pockmarked by shrapnel. “After 25 years, the same missiles, the same bombs are raining on our children’s heads.”

Shortly after that raid on April 15, 1986, the young Aisha was photographed holding her fist in the air. Since then, the woman known as “Libya’s Claudia Schiffer” for her supermodel looks has trained as a lawyer, served as a U.N. goodwill ambassador and courted controversy by joining Saddam Hussein’s defense team and speaking out in support of the Irish Republican Army.

On Friday, she appeared in her element, decrying Italy for killing her grandfather when it invaded Libya 100 years ago and the West for wanting to kill her father. “God damn their hands,” she said.

As the crowd whipped itself into a frenzy with cries of “The people want Moammar Gaddafi,” and “Allah, Moammar, Libya, that’s all we need,” Aisha, 34, paused for effect every few minutes, adjusting her green-and-black head scarf, pumping her fist or motioning to the crowd to chant louder.

“We are asking the West .?.?. these civilians you are protecting, are you talking about the people who are holding machine guns, RPGs and bombs?” she said. “Are these civilians, the ones who are killing people and eating dead people’s hearts?” she asked, echoing government statements about al-Qaeda operatives supposedly running the Libyan rebellion.

Since NATO airstrikes began March 19, thousands of Libyans have assembled each night in the fields of the compound, Bab al-Aziziyah, or Splendid Gate, offering themselves as human shields to protect the man who styles himself Libya’s “Brother Leader.”

“He is my father. He is the father of all of us,” said Fatma al-Alem, 34, who said she has slept in the compound every night since mid-March with her husband and three sons. “He solved all our problems. He is protecting the country,” she said, adding that she was willing to die for Gaddafi. “I am not scared. We will die only once.”

Click here to read more.

The Original Human Language?

April 16th, 2011 at 5:03 am Comments Off

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The world’s 6,000 or so modern languages may have all descended from a single ancestral tongue spoken by early African humans between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago, a new study suggests.

The finding, published Thursday in the journal Science, could help explain how the first spoken language emerged, spread and contributed to the evolutionary success of the human species.

Quentin Atkinson, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and author of the study, found that the first migrating populations leaving Africa laid the groundwork for all the world’s cultures by taking their single language with them—the mother of all mother tongues.

“It was the catalyst that spurred the human expansion that we all are a product of,” Dr. Atkinson said.

About 50,000 years ago—the exact timeline is debated—there was a sudden and marked shift in how modern humans behaved. They began to create cave art and bone artifacts and developed far more sophisticated hunting tools. Many experts argue that this unusual spurt in creative activity was likely caused by a key innovation: complex language, which enabled abstract thought. The work done by Dr. Atkinson supports this notion.

His research is based on phonemes, distinct units of sound such as vowels, consonants and tones, and an idea borrowed from population genetics known as “the founder effect.” That principle holds that when a very small number of individuals break off from a larger population, there is a gradual loss of genetic variation and complexity in the breakaway group.

Dr. Atkinson figured that if a similar founder effect could be discerned in phonemes, it would support the idea that modern verbal communication originated on that continent and only then expanded elsewhere.

In an analysis of 504 world languages, Dr. Atkinson found that, on average, dialects with the most phonemes are spoken in Africa, while those with the fewest phonemes are spoken in South America and on tropical islands in the Pacific.

The study also found that the pattern of phoneme usage globally mirrors the pattern of human genetic diversity, which also declined as modern humans set up colonies elsewhere. Today, areas such as sub-Saharan Africa that have hosted human life for millennia still use far more phonemes in their languages than more recently colonized regions do.

Click here to read more.

Iraqi Immigrant Gets 34 Years For Honor Killing

April 16th, 2011 at 4:58 am 2 Comments

BBC News reports:

An Iraqi immigrant has been sentenced more than 30 years in jail in the US state of Arizona for killing his 20-year-old daughter because she had become too Westernised.

Jurors found Faleh Hassan Almaleki guilty of second-degree murder in connection to Noor Almaleki’s death.

Noor Almaleki had rejected her father’s wishes to follow Iraqi traditions for several years, court documents said.

Almaleki fled the US after the 2009 incident, in which he ran Noor over.

Ms Almaleki and her boyfriend’s mother, Amal Khalaf, were both hit by Faleh Almaleki’s jeep in a car park as they left a Department of Economic Security office on 20 October of that year.

Ms Khalaf survived the assault, but Noor Almaleki died from her injuries after being in a coma for two weeks.

The authorities caught up with Almaleki in London soon after the incident and brought him back to Phoenix, where the killing had taken place.

Almaleki, who moved his family from Iraq to Arizona in the mid-1990s, was convicted on Friday of second-degree murder, as well as aggravated assault for hitting Ms Khalaf.

He was sentenced to 34 years and six months in jail.

Click here to read more.

State Debt: Washington’s Next Budget Headache?

April 16th, 2011 at 12:28 am 6 Comments

Congress may have finally approved the FY11 budget this week, click but the next battles have already begun. The deficit debate awaits a proposed centrist compromise from the Gang of Six, look both parties are firing salvos over the debt ceiling vote and the forgotten issue of state and local debt could soon become Washington’s next worry. As Capitol Hill takes a breather from the budget battles, generic here’s an overview of the unresolved debates and still-mounting spending skirmishes.

Fiscal Year 2011 Funded at Last: The Senate joined the House late this week in passing the seventh and apparently final version of the FY11 appropriations bills, in the form of a Continuing Resolution.  House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer was able to provide sufficient Democratic votes for Speaker John Boehner to compensate for the loss of 59 members of the Republican caucus.  At least now agency and program managers in the federal government have guidance on how to run their departments and what their budgets will be.  Some experts estimate that between the emergency funding in the bill and the costs of the five delays caused by five CRs, the final bill actually added to the FY11 deficit.  One can be reasonably sure that this result was far from what the bulk of the GOP caucus intended when this entire adventure began.  In some sense, it reminds one of World War I—bloody, interminable, hand-to-hand combat day after day without any tactical nor strategic gain for either side.

Gang of Six Needs to Move: Frustrations mount among Senators as both the House and President Obama have joined the budget fray full scale.  The “Gang of Six” has yet to release a comprehensive FY12 budget plan nor a longer term outline similar to that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Obama have produced.  Appointment of Sens. Dan Inouye and Max Baucus by Majority Leader Harry Reid to represent the Senate in the budget talks proposed by the President must be viewed as a deliberate slight of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and other Democratic members of the Gang of Six.  Most observers believe that Reid’s appointment of Inouye, Chairman of Appropriations, and Baucus, Chairman of Finance, makes a comprehensive and detailed legislative outcome less likely.  What the Gang of Six does now remains uncertain, although hints have emerged recently that the group will reveal a full-scale plan when the two-week Easter Recess ends.

The Debt Ceiling Approaches: Media hysteria, focused so breathlessly on a “government shutdown” as the CR debate lingered, can now attach itself to the question of how Congress will pass an increase in the federal debt ceiling.  The present limit is $14.29 trillion.  Treasury Secretary Geithner estimates that ceiling will be breached no later than July, even using every trick in Treasury’s book.  Thus, President Obama called for his three-party budget negotiations and set an end of June deadline for reaching an agreement on a long-term blueprint to get the projected national debt under control.  No one with any experience in this town believes that even the best-intentioned negotiators could reach agreement and produce implementing legislation in such a short time, but the President was well-served by setting a deadline, especially one that he knows cannot be met.  Despite what conventional wisdom holds, we believe that President Obama will be on the offensive on the debt ceiling increase vote and that the public burden lies squarely on the House Republican leadership.  The President will continue to call for quick action on a “clean” debt bill (one without any amendments attached), knowing full well that it will never happen.

Treasury’s Good Luck Continues: If deficits are so bad, why are American interest rates so low?  That question arises whenever deficit hawks warn about soaring debt and the inevitability of higher interest rates.  The answer, of course, lies in present global economic and military realities.  The European debt crisis proves more expensive and more extensive than first projected.  North African instability continues, with Iran involving itself at every opportunity to cause turmoil.  Japan’s earthquake/tsunami tragedy raises economic uncertainty not only in the world’s third largest economy but throughout the developed world’s economies.  Economists warn of a persistence of the slowdown in America’s economy in the just-concluded first quarter.  And, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke remains a buyer of last resort of American debt issuance.  Under such unique circumstances, which put a premium on safety and liquidity, global investors rush to buy United States debt as a temporary refuge from this global chaos.  So Treasury’s good luck continues—as long as the world remains unstable and investors rush to risk quality and perceived safety, American interest rates will remain low.  However, this unusual situation will end; when and how remains unknowable.  But when safety becomes a lesser priority among investors, and greed/risk take over again, then America will have to pay high interest to investors to sell its debt.  That could cause “interesting” consequences.

Meanwhile, the States Plod Along: Lost in the media’s focus on the federal debt, the worsening condition of state and local finances occupies the back pages.  Interviews with professional municipal bond managers reveal less fear than headlines suggest.  Most professionals believe that some states will face serious debt problems within 3-5 years, but most dismiss predictions of thousands of defaults costing tens of billions of dollars as vastly over-stated.  No one predicts the future with great accuracy, but even if only California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania come to the federal government seeking some sort of “bail out,” bond markets will quake.  Taking a larger view, one is struck by the fact that debt is migrating up the governmental food chain.  Cities ask for state help, states ask for union and other spending concessions, ratings agencies watch warily, and, ultimately everyone looks to the federal government.  Even individuals who cannot pay the debt on their homes, have turned to state and federal programs for help.  This migration of debt will reach some sort of federal policy decision-point before the end of the decade—but the feds will have no money to help.

Finally, the Public Remains Fed Up: Poll data from a wide variety of sources shows that Americans still believe by overwhelming margins that the country is going in the wrong direction.  The President’s approval ratings remain below 50 per cent, Congress’ approval barely nudges 30 per cent, and joblessness continues to unnerve almost everyone.  As foreclosures continue relentlessly, and good jobs remain scarce, almost no politician in a competitive situation should assume an easy race in 2012.  Those pundits who confidently predict an Obama win or loss, or Republican takeover of the Senate, or Democratic gains in the House, engage in pure speculation.  In turbulent national and international conditions, where exogenous events govern public confidence levels, prediction is almost less than an art—it is mythic.

Congress Begins Its Two-Week Easter Recess: As Will Rogers is reported to have said, Congress is out of session, so the nation is temporarily safe.  Old Will would have loved to be alive and commenting these days.

WH: Obama Wants ‘Clean’ Debt Vote

April 15th, 2011 at 6:32 pm 9 Comments

The Hill reports:

White House officials maintained Friday that the administration wants to see a “clean” increase to the federal debt limit, despite President Obama saying it will likely be paired with spending cuts.

The administration has maintained for months that Congress should not attach other provisions to a vote to increase the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which it expects to hit in mid-May. Republicans are demanding major spending reforms in exchange for their votes to raise that limit.

But in a Friday interview, the president said he expects some spending cuts to be part of the deal, seemingly changing the administration’s stance in the negotiations.

“I think it’s absolutely right that it’s not going to happen without some spending cuts,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

However, when asked about the president’s comment, White House press secretary Jay Carney said it is “imperative” that a debt-limit vote not be “held hostage to any other action, because of the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling.”

FBI Shuts Down Online Poker Sites

April 15th, 2011 at 6:28 pm 4 Comments

The Hill reports:

Executives at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker have been charged with bank fraud and money laundering.

The FBI shut down three of the largest poker websites Friday in what appears to be the largest crackdown on illegal online gambling to date.

Eleven executives at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker have been charged with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling offenses. Prosecutors are seeking to immediately shut down the sites and recover $3 billion from the firms.

“As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits,” said U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara in a statement.

“Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud. Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits.”The popularity of poker has skyrocketed in recent years thanks in part to mainstream interest in the World Series of Poker and other televised tournaments. Many states have legalized live poker rooms in some form, but online gambling was outlawed in 2006.

GOP Freshmen Rally Behind Ryan Budget

April 15th, 2011 at 6:13 pm 27 Comments

The Republican Conference rallied around Rep. Paul Ryan budget plan this afternoon and approved the framework for the 2012 fiscal year.

Only four Republicans opposed the Ryan plan, physician none of them freshmen. The Republicans who voted against the plan were Reps. David McKinley (WV), search Ron Paul (TX), illness Walter Jones (NC) and Denny Rehberg (MT). Democrats unanimously voted against the plan.

After the vote, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) echoed a familiar refrain among Republicans who approved of Paul Ryan’s plan.

“For decades, politicians in Washington, DC threw a spending party paid for by our nation’s credit card.  Now our debt has reached $14 trillion. It’s killing jobs and it threatens important programs like Medicare.  It’s no fun cleaning up after the party is over, but that’s what I was elected to do. We can’t keep going this way.  It’s time to put the credit card away and clean up the mess,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement this afternoon.

If we take the votes at face value – which is not entirely reliable because leadership was pressing members to change their votes to “no” at the last minute – it’s interesting to note the number of freshmen who were satisfied enough with the Paul Ryan plan to vote for it, but dissatisfied enough to vote for the more aggressive Republican Study Committee (RSC) plan.

The Republican Study Committee’s budget proposal was also put up for a vote today, where it failed 119 to 120 (Democrats voted present in order to give the vote tallies the look of a divided GOP).

By FrumForum’s count, 35 freshmen Reps. voted for the RSC’s plan, or 40% of the freshmen class. In contrast, 84 non-freshmen voted for the RSC, or 54% of all non-freshmen.

So what does this tell us? Well, it suggests that contrary to popular belief, non-freshmen as a group may be willing to get more aggressive about the deficit and debt than freshmen are. Or at least that freshmen were more easily strong-armed into voting against the RSC plan.

Add Tim on twitter: www.twitter.com/timkmak

Topics:  , , , , ,

Syria Hit By Biggest Protests

April 15th, 2011 at 6:01 pm Comments Off

Al Jazeera English reports:

Syrian security forces have dispersed thousands of protesters marching towards central Damascus from the suburb of Douma, witnesses say.

Haitham al-Maleh, an activist and lawyer, told Al Jazeera on Friday that protesters were close to Abasyeen Square when the intelligence services brought several buses carrying men with “pistols and sticks” who attacked protesters. He said those injured were taken away by medics.

Other sources said security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

“I counted 15 mukhabarat [secret police] busloads. They went into the alleyways just north of the square chasing protesters and yelling ‘you pimps, you infiltrators, you want freedom? we will give it to you’,” a witness told Reuters news agency.

Elsewhere in the capital, violence reportedly erupted when dozens of armed men in plain clothes surrounded about 250 protesters rallying in front of the Salam mosque in Barzeh district.

Thousands were also demonstrating in the southern city of Daraa. Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin said security forces were not visible in the city, and that the protesters were being allowed to hold their demonstration.

“It’s a completely different scene from last Friday when more than 26 people were killed during protests and clashes with the security forces and protesters here. People went out after Friday prayers … in thousands. They were marching carrying olive branches saying ‘peaceful, freedom’. Some were demanding the toppling of the regime, others were saying they just want reforms,” she reported.

“It comes one day after a delegation from Daraa met with President Assad in an attempt by the government to calm the situation. Now here in Daraa, these measures seem to have calmed the situation a little bit. People say the president promised them very specific reforms that will be announced very soon, maybe as early as next week.”

Protests were also held in Baniyas, Latakia, Baida and Homs, but no clashes were reported there.

In the coastal city of Baniyas about 1,500 people chanted “freedom” after Friday prayers, despite the deployment of the army to contain protests, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Rallies were also reported in the city of Deir ez-Zor, on the Euphrates river, and in Qamishli in the mainly Kurdish northeast.

Some of the protesters are calling for reform and an end to corruption, while others are calling for a complete regime change.

The Prowl: Sleeping Your Way to the Top

April 15th, 2011 at 5:25 pm 10 Comments

I have a crush on a Hill staffer.  This is something I would never do anything about, as I’m still fairly enraptured by my nice investment banker (who is visiting this weekend and who’s arrival I’m more than a little excited about), but I nonetheless need to admit to myself, and evidently the readers of FrumForum, that this certain Hill staffer is pretty dreamy.  By this, of course, I mean that he can speak procurement to me, which I am certain is how he woos all the girls.

“Where is she going with this?” you might ask, given that I have no intention of actually acting on said crush and don’t feel this is any sort of commentary on the state of my current relationship.  You dear reader may feel otherwise, but I frankly don’t care that much.  In discussing with my coworker though (who is mostly of the frame of mind that I should keep him around for a rainy day, so to speak) we entered into the ethically dubious zone of staffer-lobbyist relations.

There’s one female lobbyist who’s rumored on the Hill for sleeping her way into power and prominence for the sake of her clients.  I suppose this is one way to get that Dear Colleague letter out of an office, but not exactly how I would do it.  Her two-sizes-too-small suits and exorbitant amount of cleavage don’t do very much to cultivate an aura of respectability.  The way she physically presents herself does very little to tell the world that she is a serious person.  This is underscored by the lack of subtlety in what she’s doing, acknowledging that she has so little substance that she needs to rely on her sexual prowess to get things accomplished.

I’m not saying that all women need to adopt the Hillary Clinton approach of Nehru jackets or need to de-feminize themselves somehow to be credible, but there’s definitely an acceptable way to comport yourself so as not to come off as skanky or morally flexible (it’s also helpful in this approach to not actually be skanky or morally flexible in addition to not looking the part).  I could discuss at length what this all says about gender dynamics on the Hill or changing norms in female sexuality, but those are largely irrelevant for the moment.

I tell the story of the scandal-laden lobbyist mostly because this is a female that I would never want to emulate, ever.  She’s an extreme example but it does lead to the question of when would it be okay to be involved with someone working for a member?

The Hill staffer who is currently a source of much office entertainment given the amount of contracting-related sexual innuendo that’s been flying about (he wants to find my HubZone) is someone that I work with, and will likely need to continue to work with on behalf of a client headquartered in his boss’ state.  I would be very wary of jeopardizing this in any way whether from the vengeful ire of a relationship gone wrong or a perception of currying favor.

At the same time, this is also someone that I do know socially, which of course then blurs the lines of professionalism that I’m trying so hard to maintain.  I should hope that he would be helpful with our current work matter regardless of circumstance, but I’m also somewhat sure that he’s a little extra helpful because it’s a favor to a friend — one he’s interested in seeing with fewer clothes on (coincidentally, this is why people hire lobbyists).

I have yet to really reach any kind of resolution on this.  Thankfully, it’s also a moot point from a practical standpoint as while Hill staffer can whisper in my ear about GSA scheduling, I still much prefer my nice banker and how I would like to be his derivative so I can lie tangent to his curves.

Topics:  , , ,

The Fat Diaries: Boot the Brown Bag Lunch Ban

April 15th, 2011 at 5:18 pm 5 Comments

If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding!

How can you have any pudding, if you don’t eat yer meat?

- Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall

A public school called “Little Village Academy” on Chicago’s West Side has instituted a ban on lunches from home. Unless the child has a note from a doctor, they are required to purchase food from the school cafeteria. The policy was instituted by the school principal in order to “protect” students from unhealthy food choices.

First of all, the idea that lunches are the students’ choice in the first place is nonsense. In all the years I went to public school, I don’t think I made more than 20 school lunches in those 12 years. It would have taken a gun, or perhaps tickets to a Weird Al concert, to make me voluntarily get the bread and peanut butter out every morning.  A statement about “protecting the children” seems a thinly veiled insult to the parents and indeed some of the Little Village parents are hopping mad about it.

Is it me or does this show blatant disrespect for the office of parenthood? “Attention parents. You are too stupid to make smart decisions for your own children, so we are taking parental privileges from you with policy. Welcome to the machine, peons.

First of all, if this school’s lunches are anything like most of American school lunches, the word “healthy” is highly subjective; corn chips, greasy ground beef, nacho cheese, and French fries taking the fore. Fruits and vegetables are wilted iceberg lettuce salads, mushy sub-juicing-grade Red Delicious apples, and fruit cocktails with more sugar than a box of Milk Duds.

Is an enchilada topped with refried beans and fake nacho cheese really healthier than a ham and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread from home? And the big question is which will a kid actually eat? No matter how many children this program is trying to save from the clutches of ignorant parenting, a healthy lunch is only healthy if it’s EATEN.

The article states that many kids balk at eating cafeteria food and a lot of lunches end up in the wastebaskets uneaten. I can’t decide if this is a bigger waste of food or of parents’ money, especially since most home-lunches cost less than the $2.25 a day school-lunches cost. The fact that the parents are required to pay for this lunch (unless exempt from payment under WIC guidelines) seems more suspicious than it is laudable.  I also noted as I read the article that there was no mention of repealing this policy for religious reasons. Since the school lunches are neither Kosher or Halal, this is another thing to consider.

Now while I do disagree strongly with this totalitarian control over students’ diets (which only seems to be benefiting the school food service providers) I have seen some good examples of healthy rules in public schools. Some schools in Virginia have a “no swapping food” rule. Most have taken away soda and candy vending machines, or replaced those unhealthy items with healthier options. Most schools at least ask that parents not include soda and candy in lunches from home, and some have even banned those items.

These rules still allow the parents a wide margin of control over creating a lunch that their kids will eat, while trying to reign in the habits that are detrimental to kids’ health. But if Virginia ever proposes (and there have been NO rumors to that effect) such a policy in their schools, I might lose it. Heck it might even spur me to activism, and you all know how much I try to avoid that nonsense.

Personally, I’m hoping for a student’s revolt in the cafeteria to squash this nonsense, or at least a demonstration or protest. Show them that you’re not just bricks in the wall, kids.