Monday, February 28, 2005

Is it a right, or indecent exposure?

A story in the local daily paper this morning dealt with breast-feeding in public, and West Virginia's proposed Child's Right to Nurse Act, the recent breast-feeding bill introduced in the state Legislature after a woman who was nursing her child at the Charleston Civic Center was asked to move to the bathroom because passers-by were offended.

Several points need to be made on this issue:

First, it's a well-known fact that breast milk provides the most complete form of nutrition for infants. We should not discourage mothers from giving their babies the most nutritional form of baby food.

Second, breast-feeding is a natural process, and is not indecent, and people should not be offended by the sight of a mother breast-feeding her baby.

Third, children do not have a “right to nurse,” and they don’t need one.

Fourth, we do not need a law to make it legal to breast-feed infants in public. In West Virginia, the Legislature has a host of truly serious problems to address, and breast-feeding isn’t one of them.

Fifth, breast-feeding is a personal matter, and should not be flaunted. Breast-feeding mothers should not be forced into restrooms or other such places, but they should exercise modesty and judgment when breast-feeding. They need to be careful, thoughtful and considerate about where, when and how they feed their baby.

Sixth, breast pumps allow mother’s milk to be collected and saved for later. Why not use one and avoid having to breast-feed the baby in public, at least sometimes?

The coordinator of the West Virginia WIC program made a pretty good point when she said, "Personally, I don't see what the problem is. People walk around every day wearing vulgarity on their clothing and watch it on television, then we take a beautiful thing like nursing and act like it's obscene. The majority of mothers who do it, do it discretely, so there shouldn't be an issue."

And, if mothers do indeed “do it discretely” people ought to shut up and leave them alone.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

U.S. to Attack Iran, Manipulated Iraq Election?

Appearing on the United for Peace Web site is an article, excerpted below, reporting on comments by Scott Ritter, former UNSCOM weapons inspector:

Scott Ritter, appearing with journalist Dahr Jamail yesterday in Washington State, dropped two shocking bombshells in a talk delivered to a packed house in Olympia’s Capitol Theater. The ex-Marine turned UNSCOM weapons inspector said that George W. Bush has "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, and claimed the U.S. manipulated the results of the recent Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.

The principal theme of Scott Ritter's talk was Americans’ duty to protect the U.S. Constitution by taking action to bring an end to the illegal war in Iraq. But in passing, the former UNSCOM weapons inspector stunned his listeners with two pronouncements. Ritter said plans for a June attack on Iran have been submitted to President George W. Bush, and that the president has approved them. He also asserted that knowledgeable sources say U.S. officials "cooked" the results of the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.

On Iran, Ritter said that President George W. Bush has received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for June 2005. Its purported goal is the destruction of Iran’s alleged program to develop nuclear weapons, but Ritter said neoconservatives in the administration also expected that the attack would set in motion a chain of events leading to regime change in the oil-rich nation of 70 million -- a possibility Ritter regards with the greatest skepticism.

Predictably, Ritter offered no concrete evidence of manipulation of the Iraq election, or substantiating material for his prediction of an attack on Iran, other than to say that this would soon be reported by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in a major metropolitan magazine, which the writer believed was an allusion to New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh.

The Web site proclaims "We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy." This position appears to mirror the sentiment of Old Europe, where old men prefer to talk and talk until they turn blue, despite any worthwhile progress toward their goal. The peace-at-any-cost crowd is a danger to free people everywhere.

The full story can be found here.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Does It Get Any Better Than This?

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY): Well, you know, they are manipulating the media, they did it in the very beginning through intimidation. They would intimidate the people in the, uh, in the press conference. And ... they would ask — they would allow questions to be asked only of people that they knew were going to ask the right kind of questions, from their point of view. And, you know, that has its effect, had, had its effect on people. People have been — people in the media have been intimidated. The media has changed in the last four years. People have changed in the last four years. They’ve had a very very direct, aggressive attack on the, on the media, and the way it’s handled. Probably the most flagrant example of that is the way they set up Dan Rather. Now, I mean, I have my own beliefs about how that happened: it originated with Karl Rove, in my belief, in the White House. They set that up with those false papers. Why did they do it? They knew that Bush was a draft dodger. They knew that he had run away from his responsibilties in the Air National Guard in Texas, gone out of the state intentionally for a long period of time. They knew that he had no defense for that period in his life. And so what they did was, expecting that that was going to come up, they accentuated it: they produced papers that made it look even worse. And they — and they distributed those out to elements of the media. And it was only — what, like was it CBS? Or whatever, whatever which one Rather works for. They — the people there — they finally bought into it, and they, and they aired it. And when they did, they had ’em. They didn’t care who did it! All they had to do is to get some element of the media to advance that issue. Based upon the false papers that they produced.

Audience Member: Do you have any evidence for that?

Congressman Hinchey: Yes I do. Once they did that —

Audience: [Murmuring]

Congressman Hinchey: ...once they did that, then it undermined everything else about Bush’s draft dodging. Once they were able to say, ‘This is false! These papers are not accurate, they’re, they’re, they’re false, they’ve been falsified.’ That had the effect of taking the whole issue away.

Audience Member: So you have evidence that the papers came from the Bush administration?

Congressman Hinchey: No. I — that’s my belief.

Audience Member: OK.

Congressman Hinchey: And I said that. In the very beginning. I said, ‘It’s my belief that those papers, and that setup, originated with Karl Rove and the White House.’

Audience Member: Don’t you think it’s irresponsible to make charges like that?

Congressman Hinchey: No I don’t. I think it’s very important to make charges like that. I think it’s very important to combat this kind of activity in every way that you can. And I’m willing — and most people are not — to step forward in situations like this and take risks.

Audience: [Clapping and cheering.]

Congressman Hinchey: I consider that to be part of my job, and I’m gonna continue to do it.

Well. What can one say about this? A U.S. Congressman, a Democrat, has told people in a live audience that he believes that Karl Rove perpetrated the cruel hoax on Dan Rather and CBS News regarding President Bush’s alleged irregularities in his service in the Texas Air National Guard. He has no proof or supporting evidence, yet he feels obligated to make unsubstantiated charges against his political enemies in a public forum, and believes that it’s important for people “to step forward in situations like this and take risks.”

Incredible. Simply incredible.

He further refers to Mr. Bush as a “draft dodger,” as if that is true, and as if everyone agrees on that point.

But in addition to being reckless and irresponsible in slandering Mr. Rove, Congressman Henchey is also confused about what a draft dodger is:

Draft – The compulsory enrollment for service in a country's armed forces. A system for, or the act of, selecting individuals from a group for compulsory military service.

A draft dodger, then, would be someone who was called to service through the draft mechanism, but avoided their duty to serve in the military. How could George W. Bush be both a draft dodger and someone who served in the National Guard.

Clearly, Mr. Henchey is badly confused, and has no credibility whatsoever.

Accused Conspirator, Si! Accused Marine, No!

Bill O’Reilly really pegged it Thursday on The O’Reilly Factor when he noted that Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an American citizen, and a Muslim, who allegedly conspired to assassinate President Bush, received editorial support from major U.S. newspapers, but the Marine charged with shooting an enemy combatant in Fallujah a few months ago got no such support.

How do we explain that? Why do American (so-called) newspapers take up the cause of a Muslim with al Qaeda ties who is tied to a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States, but not speak out on behalf of a Marine accused of murder in a combat situation?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Color Me Tactless, Tasteless And Insensitive

Editor's Note: The struggle to determine whether Terri Schiavo continues to live, or has her life support withdrawn is a heart-wrenching story. The following piece on that subject is from Buffalo's Path, a blog managed by my blog friend Buffalo Brown. Buffalo writes with incredible sensitivity, and has a special way with words. I urge you to visit his site.

I am so weary of the Terri Schiavo Saga. Every day the news reports run the same film clips showing this poor woman. Every day it is the same sound bytes from the same people. One side moans about Terri's wishes. The other side chants that she is aware and her husband wants to condemn her to a horrid death by dehydration and starvation. The talking heads appear properly somber and Gloria, (Fox News), has a panel to dissect the story.

I'm sure her immediate family is hurting. They have been hurting for years. Regardless of the outcome they will continue to hurt. They love the girl. The amount of pain you feel in any given situation is in direct proportion to the amount of love you feel.

There are those that feel removing the feeding tube is the equivalent of playing god. To those good people I say, "Leaving the feeding tube connected is playing god. If it is removed she dies or she lives according to the will of god."

I certainly don't know what Terri Schiavo's wish would be were she capable of voicing them. Obviously she can't voice them. If she has any true cognizance the lady has to be living in a hell that would defy even Milton to describe. Can you imagine what it would be like to be aware if you were in her circumstance? Have you tried to put yourself in her place? Imagined it was you laying on that bed?

A doctor described death by dehydration and starvation as being "uncomfortable" and taking anywhere from a day to two weeks. The doctors I have known are capable of incredible understatements. I don't know if his uncomfortable meant she would suffer the torments of hell or if it would be uncomfortable like, oh, a nasty head cold

Doctors claim they can manage the pain felt by terminal patients with the judicious use of drugs. If the feeding tube is removed I would think the pain issue could certainly be addressed.

Life is more than the act of breathing. Life without quality and dignity is not life, it is existence. Death is something that comes to us all. I would like to think we are entitled to a little dignity when we die.

The Florida Courts need to get off the fence, quit playing the stall game while they hope it all goes away. Let it be over, one way or the other.

Buffalo's Path

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance

I have a daughter in high school, and four grandchildren in various stages of public schools, so I fully support sensible efforts to make schools as safe as possible. Keeping drugs and weapons away from schools is definitely necessary.

What I don’t support is when the rules established to achieve these desirable goals are rigid and stupidly applied by those who enforce those rules, in defiance of common sense.

We’ve all heard at least a couple of magnificently stupid stories of how zero tolerance and other over-zealous behavior have made people look like idiots. Not wanting to trust my memory, I began looking for some documented stories and found quite a few.

Herewith a few examples of why Zero Tolerance rules deserve zero tolerance, or at least a strong dose of common sense. These are published accounts of actual events. The names and other identifying information have been removed to protect the overzealous from ridicule.

Florida boy accused of assault with rubber band

A 7th grade student found a rubber band and put it on his wrist. When his teacher demanded its surrender he tossed it onto her desk. He was suspended for 10 days and now faces expulsion for threatening the teacher with a weapon.

High School Senior Expelled for Ammunition on Campus

A high school student took his father's truck to school. That fateful day happened to be when a random drug search was being conducted. The truck was searched and some ammunition left in the truck from his father's hunting expeditions was found under a pile of work gear. The boy was expelled for violating the school's zero tolerance weapons policy.

Candy, Little Boy?
A Colorado school district says it did the right thing when it suspended a 6-year-old boy under the school's zero-tolerance drug policy for possessing an unknown substance that turned out to be lemon drops. On appeal, school officials not only upheld the half-day suspension, but told the boy's mother that a child who brings candy to school is comparable to a teen that takes a gun to school.

Candy, Little Boy? II
A 10-year-old girl at another Colorado elementary school was one of a group of girls who "repeatedly" asked a certain boy on the playground if he liked them. The boy complained to a teacher, so school administrators, citing the district's "zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy," decided to suspend her.

Bang-Bang, You're Dead
Administrators saw three students at a charter school in another Colorado community playing with a water gun. According to the school's interpretation of the state's zero tolerance weapons law -- which mandates suspension of students who "carry, bring, use or possess a firearm or firearm facsimile at school" -- the boys have been suspended, and must now face expulsion hearings.

Home School Group Says Police Used Excessive Force

A local park has been a regular meeting place for a group of home-schoolers, who meet there every Wednesday to let the kids play. Lately the park was also being used by a nearby public school. This situation led to disaster for the home-schoolers when a public school teacher noticed one of the boys was wearing a pocketknife in a belt holster. Instead of talking with the boy or a parent, she called the cops. "I heard a man yelling take your hands out of your pocket and I turned around and he was yelling at one of the boys in the group,” says one mother.

Her 14-year-old son said, "He started yelling and screaming at this boy for having a knife, then pushed him down." The mother said he then "went for another boy, a 16-year-old, yelled at him something about having a knife, he pushed him to the ground." That’s when one of the other mothers tried to stop him, by getting between the man and the student. "She was trying to protect a student. We didn't know what was happening. He could've been a murderer, a rapist or anything. We just knew he was attacking one of our kids and we were trying to stop him," said one mom.

Continue Reading Bad Lieutenant »

It turns out that the man was plainclothes police officer, who hadn’t told anyone he was a police officer. He pushed the mother out of the way, before identifying himself. He arrested the mother who had interfered with him for felony assault and the child for carrying a concealed weapon.

But stupid adherence to rules is not limited to the United States:

An 11-year-old British schoolboy met an Australian classmate and greeted him by saying, "G'day, sport." The boy was "caught" by a teacher, the school said in a statement, and while "there was no maliciousness or intent" on the boy's part, he was charged with racism for his greeting. "The boy was counseled, ...dialogue has taken place with parents," and the boy was made to write "I must not use racist remarks" 60 times, said the statement by the Yorkshire school.

Monday, February 21, 2005


by Newzilla

(2005-02-21) -- Just when you thought you've heard everything, along comes news that a close personal friend of Osama bin Laden taped many of their private conversations.


Mean Ol' Employers

On the Today show this morning, Katy Couric was interviewing a woman who was taking to task employers who do not offer sick days to their employees. The result is that employees will either have to come to work sick, risking spreading their disease to other employees or customers, or stay home to recover, and lose wages. The implication was that this is tremendously unfair to the employees.

As a former employer who had both good employees and not-so-good employees, I can identify with the problems posed when workers don’t come to work. I believe that most employers do provide sick days and other benefits, and that small business are more likely than big businesses to not offer such benefits, for reasons of economy. The truth is that most employers – nearly all, I would venture – want the best workers they can find, and will do what is necessary to attract and retain good workers. Over time, good workers and good employers will find each other, leaving the not-so-good employers with not-so-good workers. That is how free market capitalism is supposed to work.

Couric and her guest gave us the broad view of the employees, but what was missing from what I saw was anything representing the employer’s point of view.

So, here goes. Each employee costs the employer the wages paid plus an additional FICA tax of 6.2% and a Medicare tax of 1.45%, and maybe some other add-ons to meet individual state requirements. For an $8 per hour employee (which is not a high wage) that totals $8.61 of cost per hour. In an eight-hour day, that employee costs the employer $68.89. For every benefit day (paid vacation, sick days, etc.) the employer shells out nearly $69 for that employee to not work, to not produce anything. Multiply that by the number of employees times the number of benefit days times the actual wages, and you can get some idea of the cost of these benefits. Add to those costs whatever contribution the employer makes for health insurance, life insurance, pension, or other such benefits to get a clearer picture of employment costs.

You have probably heard somewhere or other that people tend to take advantage of that which is provided to them for free. So it is with sick days. Don’t feel real sharp this morning? Have a couple of sick days built up? Maybe you just decide to stay home and collect your pay, but produce nothing for your employer, where if you didn’t have any sick days, you’d suck it up and go to work. The other side of that is, of course, that when you are really sick, it’s tough on you. So, what’s the answer to this dilemma?

The cost of employees has gone up dramatically over the years, both because of what employees expect and through government regulation. Some small companies simply cannot afford to provide the wages and benefits that today’s American workers expect. So, the resolution of this problem, to the extent that it is actually a problem, lies with employees. Workers should not take jobs that do not provide the benefits and pay they need, want or will settle for. If they really need the job, but it doesn’t offer the pay and benefits they expect, take the job and start immediately looking for a better situation.

The mainstream media will continue to report only one side of this issue, like Katie Couric did, making businesses of all sizes out to be mean, nasty, greedy people who force their workers to work in sweat-shop-like conditions, with few if any benefits, and probably low pay, too, just so the owners can get rich.

Anyone who has been in business for themselves knows what a crock that is. Unfortunately, most people in the U.S. only know what people like Couric tell them.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Pantano Update #2

The following is from Powerline:

We've reported on the case of Marine Lt. Ilario Pantano, who has been charged by the U.S. military with murder. He killed two Iraqis who, according to his lawyer, threatened him after he stopped them when they were fleeing from a house where bomb-making equipment was found. We noted that Lt. Pantano's mother has set up a web site called Defend the Defenders.

This morning the Washington Times reported that Lt. Pantano and his mother have come under attack from Islamic militants apparently headquartered in Pakistan:

Retired Marines set up a security watch yesterday around the North Carolina home of accused 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, after a Pakistan-connected Web site depicted a beheading of the Marine Corps officer.

"It's a show of solidarity for Pantano," Charles Gittins, his civilian attorney, said of the former Marine volunteers. Mr. Gittins said Lt. Pantano has been charged unfairly with premeditated murder by the Corps at Camp Lejeune, N.C., arguing that he killed two Iraqi insurgents in self-defense.

Mr. Gittins also said the FBI has opened an investigation after a Web site established by the officer's mother was shut down by repeated cyberattacks that might have come from Pakistan. The Web site,, was set up by Merry K. Gregory Pantano to explain her son's case and his life story and to raise money for his criminal defense. The site crashed several times Tuesday and yesterday.
Our instinct, of course, is to be sympathetic to a dedicated Marine who killed two men, who gave every appearance of being enemies, in the heat of battle. And cyber-attacks from Pakistan can only increase that sympathy. At the same time, we are aware that only Lt. Pantano's side of the story has been told, and statements by his lawyer must be taken with a grain of salt. We'll withhold judgment at least until the prosecution has had an opportunity to be heard.

In the meantime, though, it wouldn't hurt to contribute to Defend the Defenders.

Editor's Note: The comment in the second to last paragraph omits information provided in our last update from Wednesday.

Rewarding Criminals

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is pushing for legislation that would allow ex-felons to vote. The measure is one element in a larger Election Reform Bill. Currently an estimated 4.7 million Americans – about 2.6 percent of the population – cannot vote because of their criminal records, but the proposed legislation restores voting rights for felons who have repaid their debt to society.

There isn’t a great deal of information about this particular piece of the proposed legislation, but it appears the right to vote would be restored after every convicted felon has served his or her sentence, without regard for the offense for which they were convicted.

Some examples of common felonies are: armed robbery, arson, assault, battery, rape, murder, manslaughter, attempted murder/homicide, kidnapping, embezzlement, extortion, activity for profit involving child abuse/neglect/exploitation, adoption schemes, prostitution (or related crimes), adulterating drugs, poisoning, bribery, burglary, criminal sexual conduct, cruelty toward or torture of any person, filing false claims, fraud, mayhem, negligent homicide, larceny, obtaining property by false pretense, and receiving or concealing stolen property.

Our society once took it seriously when its people broke felony laws, and rightly so. Many of these crimes involve physical harm to innocent citizens, and sometimes death. And so additional penalties were added to jail time, fines, and the occasional execution as punishment for breaking society’s rules. Society says to its citizens, “We have rules that protect each of us and our society as a whole. We expect each of you to follow them. If you do not follow them, you will be punished, and part of that punishment is the loss of certain rights and privileges accorded to law-abiding citizens.” Loosely translated it says if you don’t play by the rules, you lose the privilege of enjoying all of the wonderful things our country makes available to you.

Yes, it is true that the debt to society has been paid once a convicted felon has served his or her sentence. And yes, it is also true that some criminals become rehabilitated while serving their sentence. But rehabilitation is not guaranteed, and the recidivism rate is very high, meaning that most convicted felons are not rehabilitated. This bill would restore the right to vote to people who have a high likelihood of committing other crimes. Does this make any sense at all?

The bill also makes it a federal crime to commit certain election-related crimes, such as deceptive practices like sending flyers into minority neighborhoods telling voters the wrong voting date, and makes these practices a felony punishable by up to a year of imprisonment. Leaving aside for the time being that this feature seems targeted to one segment of the political spectrum while ignoring the sins of the other segment, people who tried to manipulate the election system would lose their right to vote, but only until they had paid their debt to society. Then they would have their right to vote restored, rehabilitated or not, allowing them to fully partake of the right and privilege that they once tried to misuse.

These days, one may rightly wonder if society still takes felony crimes seriously. Rather than acting to protect ourselves from opportunistic or violent rule-breakers, we now seem more intent on finding excuses for them, and discovering ways to avoid punishing bad behavior.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Update: Marine Charged With Murder

On February 11, an item was posted here regarding a Marine 2 Lt. who has been charged with murder following the killing of two enemy fighters in Iraq. Since that time two things have happened.

First, a Marine Corps sergeant has disputed Lt. Ilario Pantano’s version of what happened, and a Navy officer more or less confirms Lt. Pantano’s statement.

And second, the Marine Corps seems confused as to whether or not Lt. Pantano has been charged with a crime.

The Marine Corps initially announced that Lt. Pantano faced unspecified charges in the shooting deaths. Lt. Pantano's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, told reporters his client faced two murder charges. Later, however, Marine spokesman Maj. Matt Morgan, at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Lt. Pantano is based, said the officer had not been charged.
I continue to maintain that when enemy fighters are killed in circumstances where American troops are in danger of being injured or killed, that’s just too bad for the enemy fighters.

It is supremely unfair to put our troops in harms way, and then second-guess their actions under such circumstances.

The New York Times reports “Lieutenant Pantano, 33, was born and raised in the Hell's Kitchen section of Manhattan, his mother, Merry Pantano, said. A graduate of the Horace Mann School in the Bronx and New York University, he first enlisted in the Marines when he was 17. He is a former energy trader for Goldman Sachs in New York, said Ms. Pantano, a literary agent in Manhattan who said her son also worked in television and film production before rejoining the Marines after Sept. 11, 2001.”

And now Lt. Pantano, who voluntarily went back into the Marine Corps because of the 9-11attacks, stands accused of murdering the enemy by the country he so bravely fought for.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Democrats Want to Keep You Trapped in a Failing Social Security System

Each of your paychecks has a deduction from your hard earned pay going to Social Security. Every month, your employer sends in an amount that matches what was deducted from your pay.

Many people believe that this is money the employer pays for you, but in effect you are paying that portion, too. It is a cost to the employer of having you work there, and therefore is tantamount to money you earn, but don’t receive. Every dollar earned up to $90,000 is subject to the Social Security tax.

Here are some facts about "your" Social Security money:
  • You don't own the money you pay into Social Security
  • You have no legal right to get those dollars back
  • When you die you can't pass them on to your heirs
  • You can't use your Social Security account before you retire -- you can't borrow against it and you can't cash it in
  • You can't even watch as the interest accumulates, since your Social Security nest egg doesn't earn any interest
  • Your nest egg, in fact, doesn't even exist
  • Social Security is financed on a pay-as-you-go system, so the dollars withheld from your paycheck today aren't being saved in an account with your name on it, they are immediately paid out to retirees
  • When you retire the benefits you receive will be funded by the payroll taxes being collected from people who are working at the time of your retirement
  • One-eighth of your wages up to $90,000 is being paid into Social Security
  • But your money going into Social Security doesn’t benefit you
  • It is the largest tax that 80% of Americans pay

Some deal, huh? Worse, though, is this fact: There are only three workers paying into Social Security for every individual collecting Social Security benefits. As that number continues to dwindle, in just 15 years there won’t be enough money going into Social Security to cover the payments going out.

Some people think this is a problem. Others don’t.

One of those is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who warned President Bush to “forget about privatizing Social Security. It will not happen. And the sooner he comes to that realization the better off we are."

Senator Reid’s comment is demagoguery. Using the term “privatizing” is such a wild exaggeration that it is an out and out untruth. That term indicates turning the entire program into a private investment program, and Harry Reid knows very well that isn’t what President Bush has suggested. He also knows that the best way to defeat this proposal is to scare people, even if that means fibbing a little.

Another is New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D), who followed up with, "We will not allow the President to play retirement roulette and turn Social Security into social insecurity." That’s cute, Senator, but it’s disingenuous. It is more demagoguery from the Democrats, in an attempt to scare people.

What the President has suggested is something similar to the federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), created by an act of Congress in 1986, essentially a 401(k) program for employees of the federal government. Workers have the option to place pre-tax dollars into the TSP account, which they own and can invest in one of five low-cost, low-risk funds, from government securities to stock-index funds.

While the final details of President Bush's proposal are not yet known, he suggested in his State of the Union address that younger workers would be given the option to invest up to 4 percent of their payroll taxes in a personal retirement account like the Thrift Savings Program. These accounts would offer workers a choice of a few low-risk, low-cost investments like stock index funds or a blend of government bonds.

The money that accrues in this account would be the property of the individual, which could be drawn upon at retirement. And, each worker would still receive a defined benefit from the traditional Social Security program. But the creation of a personal retirement account would give each American the opportunity to do more than just ward off poverty -- they would be able to accrue a nest egg which could also be passed on to their heirs.

As of now, the three million participating federal employees have amassed about $100 billion in their Thrift Savings accounts. It's a safe bet that hundreds of Democratic congressmen, likely including both Senator Reid and Senator Schumer, and their staffers are taking advantage of the federal government's generous individual retirement account program.

If these individual retirement accounts are good enough for members of Congress and federal employees, why aren't they good enough for the rest of us? Why do you suppose that Senators Reid and Schumer don’t want us regular folks to have this wonderful opportunity?

President Bush's proposal for individual retirement accounts would give every young worker in America the opportunity to have what federal employees have had available for nearly 20 years.

It’s a good idea, and now is the time to get started.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Three Examples of Stupidity

Here's one of those times when someone say all that needs to be said on a subject, and says it better than I could:

The Washington Times

Tolerence Fetish

By Mark Steyn
February 14, 2005

Here are three small news items from around the world you might have missed:

(1) An unemployed Berlin waitress faces loss of welfare benefits after refusing a job as a prostitute in a legal brothel.

(2) A British court ruled a suspected terrorist from Algeria cannot be detained because jail gives him a "depressive illness."

(3) 17-year old Jeffrey Eden of Charlestown, R.I., has been an awarded an "A" by his teacher and the "Silver Key" in the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Awards for a diorama titled "Bush/Hitler and How History Repeats Itself."

A trio of itsy-bitsy little stories from the foot of Page 27 of your daily paper, if they made it at all. But they're as revealing about the course of the war as anything going on in Iraq.

The Germans, in the bad old days when their preferred field of combat was France rather than Fraulein Helga's government-regulated bondage dungeon, used to talk about "wehrwille" — war will. America, Britain, Australia and a select few other countries have demonstrated they can just about muster the "war will" on the battlefield. On the broader cultural front, where this war will be won, there's little evidence of any will.

The waitress forced into prostitution by the government pimp is, at one level, merely an example of the unintended consequences that follow every legislative initiative. But at another, it's the logical reductio of the modern secular welfare state. Like all those European utopias John Kerry wants America to be more like, Germany has a permanently high unemployment rate and, as a result, penalizes those who refuse to take available jobs — like providing "sexual services." The welfare office in Gotha ordered a 23-year-old woman to audition for a job as a "nude model."

As Queen Victoria is said to have advised her daughter on her wedding night, lie back and think of England. Now the welfare office says lie back and think of Germany. And why not? When you cede to the state the responsibility for feeding, clothing, housing you, for your parents' retirement and your own health care, it's hardly surprising they can't see what the big deal is about annexing your sex life as well. If a welfare state were a German S&M club, the government is the S and you're the M. The "security" of welfare is not usually quite such literal bondage, but it always is metaphorically.

When the Germans legalized their whorehouses, they thought it showed how relaxed and enlightened they were. Al Qaeda types take a different line: They think it's a sign the West is decadent and weak and cannot survive. And they have a point: Government forcing women into prostitution is just the latest example of the modern secular state's internal contradictions.

That British court judgment is another. SIAC, the United Kingdom's anti-terrorist court, found in 2003 that the 35-year old Algerian man in question had "actively assisted terrorists who have links to al Qaeda." But he was released from Belmarsh Prison because of his "depressive condition." I would be depressed if I were a terrorist: The Afghan camps are gone, the Great Satan has liberated Iraq, and Osama re-emerges from his three-year sabbatical only to release a floppo "Vote Kerry" video recycling a lot of lame Michael Moore gags. The more Islamists in a depressive condition, the better. Maybe if they get sufficiently depressed, they'll stop being terrorists and become trainee accountants or male hairdressers.

But this surely illustrates the impossibility of fighting terror as law enforcement operation. By Western standards, every Islamic terrorist is "depressive" — for a start, as suicide bombers, they're suicidal. Mr. Kerry, you'll recall, thought terrorism should be like prostitution — a nuisance. But, if these court judgments are any indication, it seems to be more like German prostitution — they're free to do what they want, and with the full backing of the legal system.

In such a world, it's good to know we still have the guts to finger the real bad guys. Thus, when Chariho Regional High School art teacher Lynn Norton set her pupils the task of expressing an idea three-dimensionally, Jeffrey Eden immediately thought of a diorama comparing George Bush to Adolf Hitler. You might think that should be disqualified on the grounds that characterizing Mr. Bush as Hitler is about as two-dimensional as you can get, and it's less a diorama than the diarrhea of leftist rhetoric, as poured forth by millions of drones and nude Marin County feminist protesters and European activist puppeteers.

But there's always room for one more, and Jeffrey's schoolmarm was thrilled at how he did it so cutely, draping a swastika on one side and the Stars and Stripes on the other, and putting in little plastic soldiers — Nazi and American, though who can tell the difference, right? — and then adding his own penetrating observations on both Mr. Bush ("Saddam had no affiliation with the Taliban") and his predecessor as Fuehrer ("Hitler's own justification was his own hatred." Hmm. What a testament to Rhode Island "Social Studies").

Well, Jeffrey is 17. One day, with a bit of luck, he'll realize Mr. Bush isn't Hitler. If he were, Jeffrey would be in the Bush Youth doing patriotic exercises in shorts every morning and singing the special Texan lyrics to the "Horst Wessel" song, and he wouldn't have time to do dioramas of dissent.

But what are we to make of everyone else in this sorry story? The art teacher who gave him an "A." The 15 judges in the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Awards who awarded him their "Silver Key." The proprietor of Alperts Furniture Showroom in Seekonk where the winning "art" work is proudly displayed. Are no grown-ups left in Rhode Island?

I am not worried about Iraq. As they demonstrated Jan. 30, the Iraqis will be just fine. The Western front is the important one in this war — the intersection between Islam and a liberal democratic tradition so mired in self-loathing it would rather destroy our civilization just to demonstrate its multicultural bona fides. It's not that young Eden knows nothing, but that neither his teachers, judges nor furniture showroom owners do.

But our enemies know us very well, at least in courtroom strategies and canny manipulation of the "tolerance" fetish. It's an open question if the West will survive this twilight struggle: Europe almost certainly will not; America might. On the other hand, the psychosis to which much of the culture is in thrall may eventually reach a tipping point into mass civilizational suicide. And then the new barbarians will inherit, and young Master Eden will end his days pining for the rosy-hued nostalgia of the Bushitler tyranny.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Marine charged with murder

The Associated Press reports today that a Marine lieutenant has been charged with a military count of premeditated murder for shooting two Iraqis during a search for a terrorist hideout, and faces execution if he is found guilty, according to his lawyer.

Second Lt. Ilario G. Pantano, 33, is accused of ‘numerous violations’ of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in connection with the deaths, the Marine Corps said. An Article 32 hearing -- the military court equivalent of grand jury proceedings -- will be held; no date has been set.

His attorney, Charles Gittins, said Lt. Pantano, based at Camp Lejeune, may have made a mistake in combat -- but should not be charged with murder. "Even if he's wrong, accidents happen in combat," Mr. Gittins said. "This was a very stressful situation. These two guys were bad guys. ... He said 'stop' and they didn't and he said it in Arabic."

Lt. Pantano was a platoon commander whose unit was dispatched to search for a cache of weapons and the terrorist hideout, said his mother, Merry Pantano of New York City. She said her son acknowledges shooting two Iraqis as they fled the supposed hideout. "Isn't it amazing?" she said. "He can face the death penalty for doing his job on the battlefield, making split-second decisions. He said it was self-defense in the situation that he was in," she said.

The attorney also said the shootings on April 15, 2004, were investigated by battlefield commanders at the time -- and that Lt. Pantano was cleared. "The lieutenant reported it to his chain of command after it happened and they investigated and said good to go. Then three months later a disgruntled enlisted man makes a complaint," the lawyer said.

There can be no question that certain actions are wrong and deserve punishment. For example, if a soldier or marine willfully shoots unarmed civilians, or kills enemy fighters in cold blood, he or she should be punished. But when, in the heat of battle, a soldier kills an enemy who only seconds before was trying to kill him, the punishment ought to be meted out to the idiots who want to prosecute the soldier.

We may learn over the next few days of circumstances that indicate that Lt. Pantano did something wrong. But so far, it doesn't sound like it. Was the Lt. just supposed to allow the enemy fighters to run away?

Maintaining a sufficient volunteer fighting force in time of war is difficult enough without second-guessing why someone killed an enemy fighter during a hostile incident. No one wants the draft to be reinstated, but it won’t take many instances like this one, and the one in late 2004 to cause potential enlistees to reconsider.

Blinded by Hatred

Do we not marvel at the capacity for hatred by some on the hysterical Left? Isn’t it difficult to imagine summoning the energy necessary to maintain the debilitating obsession to despise George Bush to such a degree? They cannot see how foolish they look, and what dumb things result from their all-encompassing hate. They are blinded by it.

One result spilling over is contempt for our military. Perhaps they remember and are proud to recreate the scorn and derision shown to Viet Nam vets upon their return to the States. Oh sure, they pay lip service to today's returning service personnel. But it is evident that the underlying sentiment is one of contempt, and that contempt is magnified by a rising tide of patriotism across America. They are unable to understand how so many Americans can fail to recognize that their country is an evil force in the world, and are baffled that so many regard our military as heroes, not mindless robots under the control of a wicked President.

The same failures of perception and recognition that so confuse the Left’s ability to evaluate the November election fog their efforts to properly interpret not only the reasons for the war in Iraq, but also for the high regard in which our military is held by a majority of Americans.

Wesley Pruden addresses this patriotic uprising in today’s column in The Washington Times, citing three instances of spontaneous appreciation for military personnel returning from Iraq.

One traveler tells the Wall Street Journal Online: "Last Thursday I was on a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Portland, Ore. There were four soldiers returning home for a two-week leave from Iraq. As the plane arrived at the gate in Portland, the pilot mentioned and thanked them for their service and asked that they be allowed to disembark first. As each of them walked toward the front of the plane, the rest of the passengers erupted in spontaneous applause."

Another traveler reports a similar experience: "In the past two weeks I have witnessed American Airlines giving empty first-class seats to soldiers and an entire terminal in Denver giving a plane full of disembarking soldiers a standing ovation on a busy Friday night." Still another traveler: "I, too, was spit upon and called a 'baby killer' in September 1971, in the San Diego airport, while wearing my Navy uniform. ... The Super Bowl ad brought me to tears, not of pain remembering my experience, but from pride in today's American patriots."

Pruden goes on to illustrate the attitude of real Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, who face their duty bravely and solemnly.

My cousin Chris Sarris died the other day in New Orleans at 80. The most momentous four years of his life were reduced to a single line in a modest obituary in the newspaper: "He was a Marine Corps veteran of World War II." … he said: "The only mark I got in four years was a small burn when a piece of shrapnel hit my hand." Enough, maybe, for a Purple Heart for John Kerry, but he was chagrined to talk about it.

Americans make lousy imperialists. We don't do Nuremberg rallies. Americans make pretty good soldiers, as a lot of men in Valhalla could tell you, but when the shooting stops the American GI only wants to come home, marry the girl next door, pop the top on a cool one and watch the Patriots clock the Eagles. It's what makes him distinctively American.

So here's another round of heartfelt applause for the lousy imperialist: This Bud's for you.
Our brave military personnel deserve much more than the second-guessing of their actions by armchair generals. They deserve our undying respect and admiration.

Wesley Pruden's complete column

Thursday, February 10, 2005

There Oughta Be A Law

A lawmaker in Virginia, tired of hearing about and seeing young people who wear their pants around their knees, has introduced a bill to prohibit low-riding pants. The bill imposes a $50 fine for displaying one's undergarments in a "lewd or indecent manner." The lawmaker, Del. Algie T. Howell Jr., D-Norfolk, says the term underwear is pretty self-explanatory. "That's why they're called undergarments. They're supposed to be worn under something else," he said. The 67-year-old Howell, who is black, said this is not a statement against hip-hop culture, but rather one against this questionable fashion statement.

Many of us can sympathize with Howell’s perspective on this issue. Kids today frequently look like hoodlums and slobs, by the standards of my day, when pegged jeans, white socks and ducktails were the norm. No doubt many older Americans were as put off by that style as I am by this one.

Think for a moment of the major ramification of this bill, if enacted: No more plumber’s cracks. How will our culture survive? Will it spawn another Boxer Rebellion?

But seriously, folks, what was this legislator thinking? The “Droopy Drawers Law,” as it is being called, represents legislative excess, to put it in the worst terms, or inappropriate use of the General Assembly’s time and resources, to put it in less dramatic terms. Surely, Virginia lawmakers have more pressing issues to consider.

Opposition to the bill is based upon freedom of expression ideals, according to some high school students who commented on the issue. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia agrees, calling the bill unconstitutional.

Del. Bobby Orrock, R-Spotsylvania, who is a teacher at Spotsylvania High School, voted against it. Orrock believes that parents need to confront their kids on this issue. "It's the parents' responsibility what their kids are wearing and how they look in public,” he said. "I resolved the issue in my own family, where my son thought that looked cool and I told him he could either wear his pants up or not wear pants at all," Orrock said. "He decided the better part of wisdom was to follow Daddy's instructions."

Del. Orrock gets my vote. Del. Does not.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

For Democrats, the SS Crisis is “Here Yesterday, Gone Tomorrow”

Congressional and other Democrats are beside themselves trying to combat President Bush’s efforts to head off a looming crisis in Social Security. Only a few years ago, Social Security was about to collapse unless the Democrats saved the day. Today, when someone else will get credit for saving the day, the Democrats can’t seem to identify the crisis.

They should read the column below.

February 1, 2005

Signs of Crisis Are Clear

by Michael Tanner

Michael Tanner is director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C.

We can become embroiled in semantic quibbles over what constitutes a "crisis." However, the facts have a certain heft.

Social Security will begin running a deficit in less than 15 years — that is, it will begin to spend more money on benefits than it brings in by taxes. At that point, to continue to pay promised benefits, the program will have to draw on the Social Security Trust Fund.

Crisis deniers have made much of the trust fund recently, suggesting that it guarantees Social Security's solvency until 2042, or even 2052, according to some projections. However, it was President Clinton — not President Bush — who pointed out that: "These trust fund balances are available to finance future benefit payments … but only in a bookkeeping sense."

Clinton's fiscal year 2000 budget explained that trust fund assets are not "real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits." Rather, these funds are "claims on the Treasury that, when redeemed, will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures."

Thus, in less than 15 years, the federal government will have to begin finding billions of dollars to continue paying benefits — by cutting benefits, raising taxes or borrowing even more money. Overall, Social Security's unfunded liabilities total nearly $12 trillion, and the longer we wait, the worse it gets. Estimates suggest that each year that we wait to reform Social Security costs between $150 billion and $600 billion more.

That sure looks like a crisis to me.

But the larger crisis is not about the system's finances. It is about workers forced to pay 12.4% of their wages into a system that cannot pay them the promised level of benefits. It is about a system where workers have no real ownership of their benefits, and where low- and middle-income workers cannot accumulate wealth that they can use in retirement and pass along to their heirs.

We have an unfair system that is slowly going broke. Some commentators say this is acceptable and is not a crisis because they might be dead by the time the bill comes due. The mind boggles.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Islam is a Mystery

The common notion is that Islam is a religion. But it is not just a religion. It is a culture, an all-encompassing culture that transcends national boundaries, and rules some 22 nations in the Arab world alone. Islam has three branches, of which religion is but one, and right now, it is not the most dominant one. The other two are economics and politics. Politics now dominates Islam.

It’s adherents claim that the religious aspect of Islam is one of peace, but recent events call that claim into question. We’ve all seen the videos where Muslims are preparing to behead “infidels” and have heard and read the stories of this cruelty. Beheading those with whom you disagree, or those who do not subscribe to your narrow worldview, is anything but peaceful.

Under the dictates of the Islam most prevalent today, anyone who is not a Muslim is an “infidel,” and deserves death for his or her transgressions. Those transgressions mostly are nothing more than having a different point of view than do those Muslims.

Thus, Islam, in addition to being violent, is also intolerant. In the vernacular of the day, Islam says to the rest of the world, “It’s my way, or the highway,” and in this case “the highway” is death.

To the western mind, a philosophy that proscribes all other philosophies is irrational. Such a view puts Muslims in a special place, alone against the world.

But while Islam regards all non-Muslims as inferior, how do its adherents regard Muslims? Doesn’t it stand to reason that Islam regards Muslims as superior to infidels, thus worthy of respect and high regard? And if so, are they not worthy of protection by other Muslims?

If so, why does Islam tolerate Muslims who enslave, torture and kill other Muslims? What I am talking about is not a war between two Muslim nations, although one may justifiably wonder how Muslim nations can fight with each other, given the dictates of Islam. The question is, why does Islam tolerate and support tyrants like Saddam Hussein?

How does Islam rationalize this apparent philosophical contradiction: A Muslim man who is a brutal, ruthless dictator, subjecting other Muslims to torture, rape and murder is allowed to exist, and even be supported by other Muslims. This vile individual is not an enemy of Islam, and may be considered a hero. But a nation of “infidels” that helps to free enslaved and tortured Muslims is an enemy.

Clearly, Islam has its share of contradictions. However, the face Islam shows to the world today is the face of murder, of evil, of intolerance. I have been so strongly impressed by this evil face that I believe that we are in the early stages of a religious war against radical Islam.

I have been heartened somewhat by two things: 1) The Muslims that I know are good and decent people whose religious views do not mirror the narrow-minded and murderous view of the Muslim terrorists, and 2) the attitude displayed by freedom-loving Iraqis on the day of their first free election in 50 years, and since. Perhaps there is hope that the good and decent Muslims can and will take back their hijacked culture.

Islam is the fastest growing “religion” in the world, with 1.2 billion adherents, running (for the time being) a distant second to the world’s 2 billion Christians. A distant third is Hinduism at somewhere between 780 million to 900 million, depending upon which source you use. Judaism falls far down the list, with 14 million adherents. There are some 850 million people who identify themselves as Secular, Nonreligious, Agnostic or Atheist.

So, if Islam eventually becomes the belief system with the most adherents on Earth, which Islam will it be? Will it be the fanatical, intolerant, murderous, fundamentalist face of the terrorists? Or will the moderate elements of Islam regain control? They had better get to it, before events force non-Muslims to fight back, and the religious/cultural war begins to rage.