Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 12th, 2009

Is Robert Gates a genius?

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Fareed Zakaria asks the question in his article, which begins:

When a true genius appears," the English satirist Jonathan Swift wrote, "you may know him by this sign; that all the dunces are in confederacy against him." Genius might be a bit much as a description of the secretary of defense, but Robert Gates‘s budget proposal has certainly gathered all the right opponents. There are the defense contractors, worried that decades of fraudulent accounting are coming to a halt; the Beltway consultants for whom the war on terror has been a bonanza; the armed services, which have gotten used to having every fantasy funded; and the congressmen who protect all this institutionalized corruption just to make sure they keep jobs in their state.

If you’re wondering where to come down on the Gates plan, here’s a simple guide: John McCain, the most thoughtful, reform-minded legislator on military issues, "strongly supports" it. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe—who has compared the EPA to the Gestapo, Carol Browner to Tokyo Rose and environmentalists to the Third Reich—warns that it will lead to the "disarming of America." You choose.

In recent decades, defense budgeting has existed in a dreamland, where ever-more-elaborate weapons are built without regard to enemies, costs or trade-offs. In 2008 the General Accounting Office said cost overruns for the Pentagon’s 95 biggest weapons programs—just the overruns!—added up to $300 billion. The system has become so pervasive and entrenched that most people no longer bother to get outraged.

The endless flow of cash from the taxpayer has prevented strategic thought. Much of the Pentagon budget is based on wish lists from the services, often …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2009 at 12:40 pm

Founding narrative of Israel examined

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Interesting post by Morgan Strong. It begins:

The founding narrative of the modern State of Israel was born from the words of Moses in the Old Testament, that God granted the land of Israel to the Jewish people and that it was to be theirs for all time.

Then, there was the story of the Diaspora – that after Jewish uprisings against the Romans in the First and Second centuries A.D., the Jews were exiled from the land of Israel and dispersed throughout the Western world. They often were isolated from European populations, suffered persecution, and ultimately were marked for extermination in the Nazi Holocaust.

Finally after centuries of praying for a return to Israel, the Jews achieved this goal by defeating the Arab armies in Palestine and establishing Israel in 1948. This narrative – spanning more than three millennia – is the singular, elemental and sustaining claim of the State of Israel as a Jewish nation.

But a new book by Israeli scholar Shlomo Sand challenges this narrative, claiming that – beyond the religious question of whether God really spoke to Moses – the Roman-era Diaspora did not happen at all or at least not as commonly understood.

In When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?, Dr. Sand, an expert on European history at the University of Tel Aviv, says the Diaspora was largely a myth – that the Jews were never exiled en masse from the Holy Land and that many European Jewish populations converted to the faith centuries later.

Thus, Sand argues, many of today’s Israelis who emigrated from Europe after World War II have little or no genealogical connection to the land. According to Sand’s historical analysis, they are descendents of European converts, principally from the Kingdom of the Khazars in eastern Russia, who embraced Judaism in the Eighth Century, A.D.

The descendants of the Khazars then were driven from their native lands by invasion and conquest and – through migration – created the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, Sands writes. Similarly, he argues that the Jews of Spain came from the conversion of Berber tribes from northern Africa that later migrated into Europe.

The Zionist Narrative

Sand, himself a European Jew born in 1946 to Holocaust survivors in Austria, argues that until little more than a century ago, Jews thought of themselves as Jews because they shared a common religion, not because they possessed a direct lineage to the ancient tribes of Israel.

However, at the turn of the 20th Century, Sand asserts, Zionist Jews began assembling a national history to justify creation of a Jewish state by inventing the idea that Jews existed as a people separate from their religion and that they had primogeniture over the territory that had become known as Palestine.

The Zionists also invented the idea that …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2009 at 12:37 pm

Diplomats’ role in US foreign policy is increasing

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Interesting article:

KABUL, Afghanistan — The meeting with the Afghan clerics was just ending when Richard Holbrooke, America’s irrepressible new envoy to the region, approached one of the aging imams and pulled him aside. “Didn’t you used to be in the Taliban?” Mr. Holbrooke asked, towering over the Afghan.

“Yes, I was,” he said.

“Why did you leave?”

“That’s a very long story,” the cleric said.

“If I come back,” Mr. Holbrooke asked, “would you tell me about it?”

The cleric took both of Mr. Holbrooke’s hands in his and shook hard.

“Yes, I would.”

It’s difficult to imagine such a conversation, between a senior American diplomat and an ex-member of an armed group with which the country is at war, happening at almost any other point since September 2001. In the nearly eight years since the 9/11 attacks, the foreign policy of the United States has often appeared to be an exclusively military affair, if not always conducted by men with guns then practiced by civilians not shy in reminding their foes that they had force at their disposal. The diplomats, for the most part, watched from afar.

As a result, America’s engagement with dangerous parts of the world in that time became largely militarized — good at projecting force but sometimes, it seemed, missing opportunities that might have been better exploited by an earlier and more vigorous use of people without guns. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iran, North Korea and the Middle East as well.

The military itself, straining to fight two wars, groaned under burdens it had not intended to take on.

Mr. Holbrooke — relentless, experienced, charismatic — seems the embodiment of a new paradigm, …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2009 at 12:29 pm

An end to marijuana prohibition?

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Interesting article by Nathan Comp, which begins:

As a medley of border violence, recessionary pressure, international criticism and popular acceptance steadily undermines America’s decades-long effort to eliminate drugs and drug use, the U.S. movement to legalize marijuana is gaining unprecedented momentum.

Once derided and dismissed by lawmakers, law enforcers and the law-abiding alike, marijuana reform is sweeping the nation, although the federal government appears committed—at least for the time being—to largely maintaining the status quo.

A week after Attorney General Eric Holder announced in March that raids on state law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries would end, the Drug Enforcement Agency effectively shut down a San Francisco dispensary, claiming it violated both state and federal laws.

But to paraphrase Victor Hugo, not even the strongest government in the world can stop an idea whose time has apparently come.

Indeed, support for legalization is at an all-time high, and continues to grow. In 1969, just 12 percent of Americans favored legalizing marijuana, the Holy Grail of cannabis advocates; this number had tripled by 2005, according to a Gallup poll. Barely three years later, another poll showed 44 percent of Americans support legalization.

“If we continue on this curve—and there is no reason to think we won’t—we’ll hit 58 or 60 percent by 2020,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “We’re seeing also that the government is finally playing catch up with the people.”

In February, a California state lawmaker introduced a bill to legalize and tax pot, and marijuana reform bills are being debated in at least 37 other states. (Last November, Massachusetts became the thirteenth state to decriminalize adult possession, while Michigan became the thirteenth state to legalize marijuana for medical use.) All told, more than one-third of Americans now live in a state or city that has legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized its recreational use.

“It’s the busiest period for marijuana law reform ever,” says St. Pierre. “Legalization is definitely on the political horizon.” …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2009 at 12:18 pm

Uncertain justice

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An interesting post by clammyc at Open Left:

Lately, republican Gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie has had to explain some very questionable federal monitoring contracts he granted to his former boss and the man who decided not to indict his brother for securities fraud.  

While much of the focus on these cracks in Christie’s "ethical armor" has been on political contributions that smell an awful lot like pay-to-play, very little has been paid to a multi million dollar contract that Christie awarded to David Kelley – who just so happened to indict 14 colleagues/employees of Christie’s brother on criminal securities fraud charges while letting his brother avoid any punishment.

Oh, and according to the SEC:

Todd Christie committed more that 1,600 improper trades between January 1999 and March 2003, generating "riskless profits" of more than $1.59 million for Spear Leeds (his own company) and costing investors $1.4 million. Fifteen of the 20 specialists facing civil charges were also charged with allegedly ripping off investors to the tune of $19,000,000.00, in the biggest crackdown on illegal trading in the Big Board’s History.  

As it related to Todd Christie, 3 people above him and the 11 below him were all indicted.  What is amazing to note is that one of the indictments was for someone who profited to the tune of $14,000.00 while Todd Christie, who profited to the tune of $1,590,000.00 was never indicted

With Christie on the defensive, the Asbury Park Press isn’t really buying the so-called "explanation" by Christie over his deferred prosecution agreements:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie’s defense this week of his handing out a multimillion-dollar, no-bid contract to a former federal prosecutor who let Christie’s brother off on stock fraud charges was unconvincing. He needs to do better.

If Christie wants to keep the issue from haunting him throughout the campaign, he must provide a full explanation of the selection process. As former Republican state Sen. Dick LaRossa said, the citizens "need full and open disclosure as to the process and criteria used by Mr. Christie to select Mr. Kelley, if only to put our minds at ease."

Put our minds at ease…..make sure there is no legal or ethical violations…..

And, here’s another thought…find out why Christie’s brother was never indicted in the first place.

The Philly Inquirer lays out the heart of the case against Christie’s brother and colleagues: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2009 at 12:16 pm

The Mercedes Electric Roadster

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mercedes-retro-electro-roadster3

Pretty cool looking, eh? This is from Treehugger, which has lots more photos and info. Their post begins:

This car is exciting, really exciting. Maybe the most exciting electric car of 2009. But it is not the killer retro-modern look that I am praising. Sure, stagecoach meets Formula One achieves a wham-bam-this-is-new-ma’am effect. But there are a lot of mind-boggling concept cars if you just want eye candy.

So why is it so exciting? Not because of its speed 0-60. Nor because of breakthrough technology nor cutting edge power options. But I am not going to just tell you. You will find four clues sprinkled among more photos in the extended. Can you figure it out before the last photo?

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2009 at 12:10 pm

Great moments in presidential speechmaking

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2009 at 11:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

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