Friday, June 30, 2006

U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement

The U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was approved by the Senate with a vote of 60-34. The vote on this agreement is expected to be much closer in the House.

In light of the winning margin of just two votes on last year's CAFTA bill, and election-year jitters over controversial votes, the U.S.-Oman deal could be defeated in the House. (A vote by the full House is expected in July.)

U.S.-Oman FTA, like NAFTA, CAFTA, etc., is not in America's best interest. This type of globalization continues to cut into our national soverignity.

-- The U.S.-Oman FTA threatens American jobs. For example, AMTAC (American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition) states that the agreement includes a ridiculously large tariff preference level (TPL) of 50 million square meters of textiles annually for 10 years, which will mean that Chinese yarns and fabrics will be shipped to Oman, cut and sewn into garments and then exported duty-free to the U.S.

-- The U.S.-Oman FTA threatens national security. As reported on the Lou Dobbs Tonight show of June 28, "Under the Oman free trade agreement, foreign port operators would have a right, an absolute trade agreement right, to establish operations, to acquire, to operate, to run port facilities within the U.S." Under the "Cross Border Trade in Services" chapter of the U.S.-Oman FTA, a Dubai Ports World-type enterprise could acquire a company in Oman, and then operate U.S. ports through that company.

-- The U.S.-Oman FTA threatens our national independence. Just as a European-wide free trade agreement has led to the loss of sovereignty of European nations to the European Union, and just as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Area) is now being converted into a sovereignty-destroying North American Union through the creation last year of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America, the U.S.-Oman FTA is designed to help bring about a Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA), which would be another sovereignty-destroying, supranational organization to which the U.S. would belong.

If you are opposed, contact your House rep and demand a NO vote. Click here to send an email with an editable message to your rep.

Click here if you want to know how your rep voted on CAFTA (probably how he/she will vote on the Oman FTA).

U.N. Conference on Gun Control

The following are the highlights (and lowlights) from the "U.N. Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects."

Day One, Monday, June 26: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan claims the Conference's purpose was not to ban "law abiding citizens right to bear arms..." However, others in the anti-gun cabal obviously disagree, as evidenced by this statement from Indonesia's representative: "We believe that no armed group outside of the State should be allowed to bear weapons. We also believe that regulating civilian possession of Small Arms/Light Weapons will enhance our efforts to prevent its misuse. In our view, the issue of ammunition should also be addressed in the context of the ProgramME of Action because in the absence of ammunition, small arms and light weapons pose no danger." Regardless of Annan's statement, the topic of "regulation" of civilian possession is obviously still alive.

Day Two, Tuesday, June 27: U.S. Under Secretary of State Robert Joseph. Joseph politely but forcefully gave the U.S. "red lines" -- issues which the U.S. strongly opposes and will not allow into any Conference report or recommendations. These include interference with Americans' Right To Bear Arms, a U.N. ban on transfer of arms to freedom fighters and international regulation of ammunition. The U.S. also said it was not ready to commit to any future conferences on small arms. As Joseph noted later, "The U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of our citizens to keep and bear arms, and there will be no infringement of those rights. The United States will not agree to any provisions restricting civilian possession, use or legal trade of firearms inconsistent with our laws and practices."

Day Three, Wednesday, June 28: A new draft of the U.N. "Small Arms" Conference "final" report became public. Unfortunately, the draft contained provisions on two issues the U.S. considers "red lines" and will not accept -- a U.N. ban on transfer of arms to freedom fighters and international regulation of ammunition. The proposed document also calls for U.N. meetings on "small arms" up to and including additional conferences in 2008, 2010, and 2012! The U.S. is opposed to these constant meetings which seem to rehash the same issues.

Day Four, Thursday, June 29: The Swiss Small Arms Survey (an anti-gun think tank) released its book supporting international regulation of ammunition. Although the U.S. continues to strongly oppose the inclusion of ammunition in any Conference report, several countries insist on pushing the concept. In another development, the President of the Conference appointed three "facilitators" to work on the text of the final report. The so-called facilitators are from Switzerland, Columbia and Japan.

The U.N. will try to impose its anti-gun will on the U.S. and the world. They must not succeed. We must remain diligent in maintaining our right to keep and bear arms.

Tour de France Doping

As a semi-avid cyclist, I casually follow the major cycling events, especially the Tour de France. It begins tomorrow without three of the biggest names in cycling: Jan Ullrich (Germany - T-Mobile team), Ivan Basso (Italy - CSC team) and Francisco Mancebo (Spain - AG2R team). All three, among others, were implicated in a doping investigation in Spain.

Guilty or not, this doping crap that dominates this sports turns most people off, including me.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Gitmo Not As Bad As ACLU Hoped

In an effort to show that on the Bush administration's evil watch the U.S. military has been systematically mistreating prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan with tacit approval or even outright encouragement from its civilian superiors, the American Civil Liberties Union has been demanding the release of dozens of internal military investigative reports. But the two reports on U.S. detainee policy just released in response to an ACLU lawsuit paint a picture quite the opposite of what the ACLU expected.

Though heavily redacted to remove operational details, the reports (by Brig. Gens. Richard Formica and Charles Jacoby) show a Pentagon open to criticism and change, and determined to guarantee detainees the humane treatment promised by President Bush when the war on terror began.

Genuine instances of abuse are noted, but these are very much the exception and not the rule. The reports indicate that many allegations of abuse simply are unsubstantiated — or that the "victim's" story changes once carefully examined. The most serious criticism is that the administration's detainee policies were not adequately communicated down the chain of command, resulting in confusion on the ground about what treatment was permissible. In addition, there was a lack of training on detainee handling. These points have been corrected.

The ACLU must be in a fit -- their prayers that the government has been treating terrorists unfairly have not been answered. Oops, sorry, they don't pray.

Terrorists Use Children's Toys to Make Bombs

Human shields. Women and children as suicide bombers. Children's toys to make bombs.

Computer files in Arabic discovered during an anti-terrorist operation in Bolton, Greater Manchester, UK, describe how to make bomb detonators using parts from children's toys. A terror manual also details the production of poison dust clouds and chemical bombs.

Clevor SOBs.

Mad Max Down Under

Thieves parked a fuel tanker and pumped 15,000 liters of unleaded petrol from the Prime service station in Elizabeth Street, Croydon (Sydney). The value of the fuel was A$20,000.

The method of the robbery echoed the theft of A$25,000 worth of diesel and premium unleaded fuel from a Padstow service station on 2 May.

Both thefts were in the early morning, with padlocks cut to gain access to the fuel and a petrol tanker used to suck underground tanks dry.

More brazen gasoline thefts will certainly rear their heads as the price continues to escalate.

Turkmenistan Natural Gas

Turkmenistan said it would cut off natural gas supplies to Russia beginning in September after they failed to reach a new price deal. This raises the possibility that shipments to Europe might be disrupted.

Imports of Turkmen gas are vital for gas monopoly Gazprom as its own output stagnates and it needs more gas to cover growing demand at home and in Europe.

The price of energy is impacted by even the Turkmen -- simple supply and demand.

Children Cannabis Victims

In Scotland...

-- In 2002, 198 under-16s were admitted to Scottish treatment programs in connection with cannabis use.
-- In 2004, cannabis was downgraded from a Class B offense to a Class C.
-- In 2005, 376 child cannabis users entered rehab schemes (children as young as nine received treatment).
-- The number of under-16s treated has doubled after marijuana re-classification.

A good example of how well the decriminalization of marijuana works [sic].

Advanced Telecommunications & Opportunity Reform Act

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, by a bipartisan vote of 15 to 7, approved a comprehensive communications reform bill, which contains provisions that speed the deployment of broadband and stimulate competition in the video service market.

The Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunity Reform Act incorporates 11 titles that address a variety of communications issues, including interoperability funding, the Universal Service Fund, municipal broadband services, video franchise reform, the digital television transition, and the illegal transmission of child pornography.

The approved bill would codify an Internet Consumer Bill of Rights which preserves Internet users’ ability to freely navigate the Web. The bill ensures that all ISPs allow subscribers to access and post any lawful content; access any web page; access and run any voice, video, or email application of their choosing; access and run any software or search engine service; and connect any legal device of their choosing.

In addition, this bill updates the Universal Service program by restoring accountability through audits and quality metrics, while stabilizing the program by ensuring all communications service providers contribute to the Fund. This bill also contains a provision that uses Universal Service funds to establish a $500 million account that will finance broadband deployment to unserved areas.

The Act streamlines the process telephone companies must engage in when seeking to offer video services to consumers. If the bill is passed, telephone companies would no longer have to negotiate with 10,000-plus franchising authorities operating in the United States. The bill reduces the amount of time needed to complete the franchising process from several years to not more than three months.

The Committee rejected an amendment proposal that would have required broadband providers to give their competitors the same speeds and quality of service as they give to themselves or their partners. In an 11-11 vote, the net neutrality amendment will not be added to the Act as it goes to the Senate floor. The amendment, offered by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), would have prevented broadband providers such as AT&T and Comcast from charging extra based on the type of content transmitted by Internet-based companies. The House also approved its own version of a broadband bill but voted 269-152 to reject a net neutrality amendment.

Gitmo War Crimes Trials

The Supreme Court ruled that the Bush Administration overstepped its authority in ordering military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The ruling was written by Justice John Paul Stevens who said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions [oh really?]. The vote was 5-3. Chief Justice John Roberts did not vote because as an appeals court judge he had backed the government over the defendant.

The case (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) focused on Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan, 36, has spent four years in the U.S. prison in Cuba. He faces a single count of conspiring against U.S. citizens from 1996 to November 2001.

The MSM has reported this ruling as a stunning rebuke against President Bush and his plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. We'd expect nothing less from the pro-terrorist rights "drive-by media."

To the MSM, it is good news that terrorists get their fictitious entitlements (a.k.a., al Qaeda bill of rights). Their "rights" trump the American people, the target of their hatred. The MSM's hatred is directed at President Bush -- any news that can be spun to make him look bad is good news for them, regardless of its impact on the American people.

We also see how critical it is to have constitutionalists on the Supreme Court, not ideologues.

Offending Picture of Christ


Two civil liberties groups sued in federal court to remove a picture of Jesus that has hung in Bridgeport High School for more than 30 years.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union say the painting, "Head of Christ," sends the message that the West Virginia high school endorses Christianity as its official religion.

I really get sick of these anti-Christian zealots. Why would it be concluded that the picture sends the pro-Christianity message? For non-Christians, the picture could be as relevant a picture as any other historical figure.

They'll win in court; seems they always do. IMHO, these secularist organizations have very little cultural value. The whole concept of someone being actively involved in organizations that try to stifle religion is a bit foreign to me. The former group is based on a non-Constitutional premise (no separation of church and state exists) and the latter is focused on fringe rights, caring little about the average person's plight against a bigger machine. Both of their religions are anti-Christianity.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Russian Terrorist Countermeasure

President Vladimir Putin ordered the security services to seek and destroy the killers of four Russian hostages in Iraq.

The Kremlin is not shy about carrying out extrajudicial executions of suspected terrorists and radicals abroad. They also suggest Russia's security services are reclaiming the KGB's global reach in covert operations.

CA's Assisted-Suicide Measure Falls Short

By one vote, a California Senate panel rejected a bill that would have allowed the terminally ill to opt for a lethal prescription. Opponents worried that assisted suicide might eventually be extended to people who were incapacitated or disabled but not terminally ill.

Oregon, the Netherlands and Belgium are the only jurisdictions in the world where laws specifically permit euthanasia or assisted suicide. Oregon permits assisted suicide. The Netherlands and Belgium permit both euthanasia and assisted suicide.
If a third party performs the last act that intentionally causes a patient’s death, euthanasia has occurred. For example, giving a patient a lethal injection or putting a plastic bag over her head to suffocate her would be considered euthanasia.

If the person who dies performs the last act, assisted suicide has taken place. Thus it would be assisted suicide if a person swallows an overdose of drugs that has been provided by a doctor for the purpose of causing death. It would also be assisted suicide if a patient pushes a switch to trigger a fatal injection after the doctor has inserted an intravenous needle into the patient’s vein.

Flag Burning Amendment


A proposed Constitutional amendment to allow Congress to prohibit desecration of the flag fell a single vote short of approval by the Senate on Tuesday.

The 66-to-34 vote on the amendment was one vote short of the 67 required to send the amendment to the states for potential ratification as the 28th Amendment. It was the closest the initiative has come in four Senate votes since the Supreme Court first ruled in 1989 that flag burning was a protected form of free speech.

World Cup Following

Despite a high level of media coverage for the World Cup soccer tournament, 78% of Americans are not following the action very closely if at all. A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 adults found that just 6% are following the tournament very closely -- 9% of men are paying close attention along with 3% of women.

However, soccer's World Cup is more popular than the NBA Championship and the NHL Stanley Cup.

I am going through WC withdrawals: today (28 June) is the first day since it started on 9 June that there are no matches. The quarterfinals are on Friday and Saturday.

My Fantasy WC team is in the 97th percentile of all North American teams.

Volunteerism in America

In a report released in December 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted Americans' strong commitment to volunteering. Highlights of the report include the following:

-- Between September 2004 and September 2005, about 65.4 million Americans engaged in volunteer work. That number represents an increase of more than 5 million volunteers over the same period 3 years before.

-- Among the different age groups, people aged 35 to 44 were the most likely to volunteer. And, across all categories, women continue to volunteer at a higher rate than men.

-- Volunteers spent on average 50 hours a year engaged in volunteer work. Religious organizations (34.8%) are where volunteers spent the highest percentage of their time followed closely by educational and youth services organizations (26.2%).

-- 40% of volunteers became involved with an organization due to their own initiative while 42.8% were asked by an organization to become a volunteer.

The states that had the least amount of volunteerism (around 20%) are Nevada, New York and Louisiana. Top marks go to Utah where 48% of the residents volunteer.

Mexican Cartels Rig U.S. Elections


According to Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colorado, Mexican drug cartels operating in cities in the U.S. are buying up legitimate businesses to launder money and using some of the proceeds to win local mayoral and city council seats for politicians who can shape the policies and personnel decisions of their police forces.

Richard Valdemar, a retired sergeant with the L.A. County sheriff's department and a longtime member of a federal task force investigating gang activity, went beyond the charges made by Tancredo, the chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus who has led the fight to secure America's southern border. He cited first-hand experience in investigating attempts to take over seven cities in Los Angeles County – Southgate, Lynwood, Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Hawaiian Gardens and Huntington Park.
"In the typical scenario, a wealthy Mexican immigrant opens a business in a small town," he says. "It could be a very nice Mexican restaurant. He's well-dressed, speaks English, seemingly a real gentleman. He gets involved in the community. His business welcomes police officers with discounts. He makes friends with city officials and other businessmen. No one has any idea where his money comes from – the Mexican drug cartels."

As soon as they take power, the new majority fires the city attorney and names a replacement. Often the second city official to go is the city manager. Both of these moves are designed to cover up the illicit activities that will follow.

City contracts for trash collection and other services are given to friendly businesses – also in league with the cartel. Regulations on auto-repair businesses and alcohol sales are lifted – again, making it easier for cartel-tied businesses to operate more freely. Gambling ordinances are changed to permit casinos and bingo parlors. Loan sharking, prostitution and increased drug business follow – all of which increase revenues for the cartels and power for their agents in the city.
The details are found in Tom Tancredo's new book "In Mortal Danger."

Chris Cannon's Re-Election

On Tuesday, incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon won the Republican Party's nomination for the 3rd Congressional District 56%-44% over challenger John Jacob. Cannon won in every county, jurisdiction and precinct.

The sad thing is that those in Utah's 3rd District have voted in a very egotistical and amnesty promoting / illegal immigrate-promoting person. Nevertheless, the voters (the few that voted) spoke.
Utah is not a politically conservative state. It is dominated by the Republican Party, but not by conservative Republicans. The governor is a moderate to liberal, one senator is a moderate and the other is arguably a liberal. The last two governors were moderate to liberal and the attorney general is moderate to liberal.
Jacob was probably not the right person to run against Cannon. There was probably not enough in him that would cause people to vote the incumbent out of office.
"Amateurs lose in politics, incumbents win, and you can't beat even a vulnerable incumbent with a loser for a challenger." -- Robert D. Novak

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Terrorists Financial Tracking Disclosure

The NY Times story on 23 June "disclosed" a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, that counterterrorism officials access financial records from a vast international database and examine banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States.

The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.

Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted al Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia.

The program, run out of the CIA and overseen by the Treasury Department, "has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities," said Stuart Levey, an under secretary at the Treasury Department.

President Bush criticized newspapers for exposing a secret U.S. government program that monitors international banking transactions, calling the disclosures a "disgraceful" act that could assist terrorists.

The LA Times editor Dean Baquet (who also published it) defended his decision:
The decision to publish this article was not one we took lightly. We considered very seriously the government's assertion that these disclosures could cause difficulties for counterterrorism programs. And we weighed that assertion against the fact that there is an intense and ongoing public debate about whether surveillance programs like these pose a serious threat to civil liberties.

We sometimes withhold information when we believe that reporting it would threaten a life. In this case, we believed, based on our talks with many people in the government and on our own reporting, that the information on the Treasury Department's program did not pose that threat. Nor did the government give us any strong evidence that the information would thwart true terrorism inquiries. In fact, a close read of the article shows that some in the government believe that the program is ineffective in fighting terrorism.

In the end, we felt that the legitimate public interest in this program outweighed the potential cost to counterterrorism efforts.
The concern is not over freedom of press rather disclosing non-public information. Terrorists will guess at the government's countermeasures unless they are explicitly told, as is the case here.

Showing restraint in cases like this is not hard for the honest in heart. Apparently, it is not hard for the anti-American editors in the news bureaus throughout the nation to do the opposite.

Treason charges against the Times is not out of the question.
The relevant part in 18 USC 2381: "Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States ... adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000."
Finally, when it comes to high-level government leaks (a huge security problem), it is strange that these major media outlets only care to "investigate" and "report" them if they have an anti-Bush-Chaney angle -- namely Scotter Libby.

The Conservative Index

"The Conservative Index” rates congressmen based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty, and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements. Preserving our Constitution, the freedoms it guarantees, and the moral bedrock on which it is based is what the word “conservatism” once meant — and how it is being applied here.

The average House score for this index (votes 21-30; this is the third in a series) is a disappointing 36% (higher is better). The average Senate score is 26%. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was the only member of either house of Congress to earn a perfect score of 100.

House Issues
------------
21 - Foreign Aid
22 - Patriot Act Reauthorization
23 - Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations
24 - Border Security
25 - Ports Security — DP World
26 - Katrina Funding
27 - Supplemental Appropriations (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign aid, and Hurricane Katrina relief)
28 - Defunding the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)
29 - Agriculture Appropriations
30 - ANWR Oil and Gas Leasing

Utah's Reps:
-- Bishop, (R) 50% (21-30); 47% (1-30)
-- Matheson (D) 50% (21-30); 37% (1-30)
-- Cannon (R) 40% (21-30); 40% (1-30)

Senate Issues
-------------
21 - Agriculture Appropriations
22 - Foreign Aid
23 - Iraq Withdrawal
24 - Patriot Act Reauthorization
25 - National Debt Limit
26 - Health and Education Programs
27 - Supplemental Appropriations
28 - Secure Borders Certification
29 - Guest-worker/Amnesty Immigration “Reform”
30 - Hayden Nomination

Utah's Senators
-- Hatch (R) 22% (21-30); 41% (1-30)
-- Bennett (R) 0% (21-30); 33% (1-30)

Supreme Court and the First Amendment

Luckily, we witnessed a free speech victory on Monday in which the Supreme Court declined to repeal the First Amendment--though only by a 6-3 vote. As expected, Justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the anti-First Amendment voters.

The shocking news in yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on Vermont's campaign-finance law is that three Justices essentially voted to repeal the First Amendment. The better news is that, sometime down the road, there might be a majority among the other six Justices to reconsider the Court's previous limits on free political speech.
Case name: Randall v. Sorrell

Background: In 1997, Vermont enacted a campaign-finance law that imposed severe restrictions on expenditures by candidates for state office, and on contributions to candidates and parties by individuals and corporations. The spending limits ranged from $300,000 for gubernatorial candidates, down to $2,000 for state representatives. Individuals and organizations, including political parties, were also limited in what they could contribute to campaigns by limits as low as $200 for candidates for state representatives. A federal district court judge struck down the law, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and ruled that all parts of the Vermont law were constitutional.

Ruling: Citing the 1976 precedent Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court found both the expenditure and contribution limits in Vermont's law unconstitutional. Nothing that has happened in the 30 years since Buckley, the Court said, justifies reversing its determination that expenditure limits violate freedom of speech. Buckley upheld contribution limits. But the Court found that the Vermont limits were so low that they gave incumbents an advantage, and weakened the voice of political parties.

Asteroid to Earth

Today, I was listening to a bit of Michael Medved on the radio as he was broadcasting from Israel. As part of the discussion about what Warren Buffett (or anyone with ample wealth) should do with his billions (he announced he would bequeath the bulk of his roughly $44 billion fortune to the foundation established by billionaire Bill Gates and his wife), a guy said he (or someone) should direct the money to a project to build an asteroid deflection defense.

His point was that the single biggest destructive event that we face on earth is a direct hit by an astroid. It is not a matter of if, rather when.
An asteroid possibly as large as a half-mile or more in diameter is rapidly approaching the Earth. There is no need for concern, for no collision is in the offing, but the space rock will make an exceptionally close approach to our planet early on Monday, July 3, passing just beyond the Moon's average distance from Earth.
Most might say: "what a wacko." If you think about it, it is possible although improbable in our lifetimes.

Wonder how difficult and costly it would be to create an asteroid defense? Probably less than we will spend on Iraq. ;)

Thailand's Ethnic Insurgency


Thailand has become somewhat inured to the daily violence that has claimed more than 1,300 lives over the past two years.

The victims of the Islamic insurgency three years ago were almost exclusively soldiers and police officers, they nowadays are including more and more civilians - Buddhist monks, bystanders, teachers and government officials - according to Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political science professor at Prince Songkla University in the southern city of Pattani. He counts a total of 3,546 violent incidents in 2004 and 2005.

The insurgency has spread fear into the lives of both Muslims and Buddhists. 51.7% of the people killed since January 2004 were Muslims.

Their attacks have remained focused on a circumscribed area where Malay Muslims are the dominant ethnic group. As a result, southern Thailand is increasingly becoming an enclave of violence where few tourists or Buddhist Thais dare to tread.

Religion is not the root cause of the violence, rather the area's history -- in the 19th century, Muslim sultanates ruled here. Regardless, the future of Thai society depends on the relationships among peoples of diverse origin.

There is a cultural gap in Kucing Lepas between the largely Buddhist Thai police and army and the villagers, most of whom speak a local Malay dialect and little Thai. This leads to miscommunication, both within the village and in the way the violence is reported to the rest of the country.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tension Along Gaza-Israel Border

Israel threatened strong military action on Sunday after eight Palestinian militants in Gaza, including members of the governing faction Hamas, emerged from a secret tunnel dug 300 yards into Israel, killed two soldiers, wounded three and kidnapped another.

Two of the Palestinians were killed but the rest escaped into Gaza with the captive Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, who is believed to have been wounded. He was the first Israeli soldier kidnapped in more than a decade.

This is right on the verge of exploding -- literally and figuratively.

Most Expensive Cities 2006

The world's most expensive cities for 2006 according to the Mercer Cities Index are as follows:

-- Moscow
-- Seoul
-- Tokyo
-- Hong Kong
-- London
-- Osaka
-- Geneva
-- Copenhagen
-- Zurich
-- Oslo
-- New York
-- St. Petersburg

Security = $$

According to a recent survey from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, technology, media and telecommunications companies are doing a mediocre job at best of dealing with IT security issues.
Digital information and digital technology have become the lifeblood of the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) sector. This fundamental shift is creating opportunities and, for savvy companies, considerable value. But the move to digital also presents significant new challenges and risks, including security threats such as computer viruses and intellectual property theft that can disrupt or even disable a business.

The study finds that by and large the sector's security remains inadequate. Over half of all respondents suffered a security breach in the preceding 12 months, some causing millions of dollars in damages. Common shortcomings include:

-- Inadequate resources and funding.
-- Ineffective actions that do not address the latest threats.
-- A lack of awareness and support on the part of management.
-- Insufficient attention to internal risks.
-- A failure to plan for serious attacks and business disruption.
For many, the whole idea of improved security is that it should measure as zero: no break-ins, no lost customer data, no public embarrassment, no dollar value to report as a loss. This is a naive and unrealistic attitude.

The biggest security issues confronting organizations are phishing, pharming, internal misconduct, employee training, encryption and business continuity. Market, business and industry analysts are beginning to pay attention to information security, or lack thereof. CEOs are beginning to take notice also.

CEOs can be sold on security provided you sell them the right things. Security means money, the kind of money CEOs understand.

The Great Game, Part II


Great Game was the rivalry between the Russian and British empires for the markets of Central Asia. Great Game began in 1807 when Napoleon proposed a joint attack to Tsar Alexander I on India and ended in 1907 when the two sides formally agreed on spheres of influence. That century of suspicion and deception resulted in some bloodletting, but the two great powers, though they came close, never went to war with each other.

Great Game II has some familiar as well as new aspects. The main players are Russia, China, the United States and Iran. As in the 19th century, ideology plays a secondary role, as the real stakes are gas, oil and strategic advantage. Unlike the 19th century, the Central Asian states are now primarily sellers rather than buyers. As always, these states prove adroit at playing the great powers off one other.

Turkmenistan gas is shipped to Europe through Russian pipelines that pass through Ukrainian territory.

Uzbekistan, the Belarus of Central Asia, granted the United States rights to use an airbase to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida but withdrew those rights when the United States criticized Uzbekistan for the still-murky slaughter in Andijan in May 2005. Russia deftly moved to fill the vacuum. By September Russia and Uzbekistan held joint military exercises and two months later signed a treaty promising mutual military assistance in case of aggression.

Doubters say the contest for influence in the region does not directly challenge the vital national interests of China, Russia, or the United States. The need is mainly energy and policial. There is little business motivation to sell broadcloth in Bukhara.

The United States now has troops in an arc from the Caucasus to Kyrgyzstan and has made no secret of its position on Caspian oil and the Baku-Tbilisi-Cejan pipeline.

Russia will re-establish its old relations with Central Asia and the southern Caucasus, and reassert its sphere of influence in that region, once it gets its economy rectified.

This out of the way and little understood part of the world (few could name or locate the five south central Asia nations -- Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) will play a greater role in world energy and political markets.

South African Rugby Player Dies

Riaan Loots was chosen as captain of the Boland B rugby team, but before he could hear the good news he was declared brain dead after being beaten and kicked in the head during a rugby match.

Loots, 24, a flyhalf for Rawsonville Rugby Club, was pummelled by an opponent from Delicious Rugby Club in Ceres at the end of a match in Rawsonville on Friday.

The beating follows a similar incident in 2004, when a Ceres player punched Rawsonville's coach, bursting his eardrum.

Hooliganism exists on and off the pitch. It appears in all types and levels of sports, in all countries. Sports are serious, highly competitive and big business. Like in all aspects of life, the few can ruin it for the many. Stories like this are sad; at best they help us put things into perspective.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

How Sportsmen Really Die

In the July 2006 issue of Field & Stream magazine, there is an article entitled "How Sportsmen Really Die."

1 - Boating accidents and drowning -- due to weather, boat choice, boat weight, and lack of PFDs (annual toll in the U.S. is over 200).

2 - Tree-stand accidents -- due to dead wood, poor stand quality, poor stand assembly, not properly wearing a safety harness, unsafe handling of firearms or bows.

3 - Heart attacks -- mostly due to out of shape outdoorsmen (can't do at 50 what you did at 25).

4 - Hypothermia -- due to cold, wind, water, and lack of preparedness.

5 - Gunshots -- 80 or more die each year from gunshot wounds due to loaded guns in/on vehicles, shooting from inside a vehicle, pointing the muzzle in an unsafe direction, climbing over/under an obstacle with a firearm, and general carelessness.

6 - Vehicle accidents -- to/from the outdoor destination, driving in bad weather, mechanical failures, carbon monoxide poisoning, driving under the influence, etc.

7 - Careless behavior -- a.k.a. stupidity along the lines of Darwin Award candidates.

8 - Negligence of Others -- not only do you need to look out for yourself, the other guy may be your biggest concern.

Israel's West Bank Barrier v US's Southern Border

As America debates the question of erecting a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, two precedents are mentioned by proponents and opponents: the Berlin wall and the Israeli barrier. The former is usually the negative example, the latter the more practical illustration. Most calculations of the projected cost of a U.S. fence cite the Israeli model: "Based on the price of the Israeli security barrier," the National Journal estimated that 2,000 miles of fence will cost the United States $6.4 billion.
High fences don't always make good neighbors. It didn't happen in the West Bank. But that does not mean is won't happen in Texas. The country that builds the fence buys a sense of security, but the people prevented from getting to work, or shopping, or marrying someone on the other side will not be thankful for it. And the reason is pretty obvious: Fences work.
The Israeli West Bank barrier will run for more than 400 miles and will consist of trenches, security roads, electronic fences, and concrete walls. Its main goal is to stop terrorists from detonating themselves in restaurants and cafes and buses in the cities and towns of central Israel. So, planners set the bar very high: It is intended to prevent every single attempt to cross it. The number of fatalities from terror attacks within Israel has dropped from more than 130 in 2003 to fewer than 25 in 2005.

America can build a fence where the rules of engagement are high. Although the main reason for the fence is for economical purposes, there are other reasons: security and crime. With an open border, it is quite easy for anyone with terrorist ambitions to enter the country. American courts, jails and prisons contain their fair share of illegals. If the fence would eliminate some of the crimes committed by illegals against legal resident children--sexual abuse and pedophilia--as well as other torts, this bolsters the pro-fence argument.

The dam is leaking and it is past time to fix it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Solzhenitsyn on Data and Privacy

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1968) on data and privacy: "As every man goes through life he fills in a number of forms for the record, each containing a number of questions... There are thus hundreds of little threads radiating from every man, millions of threads in all. If these threads were suddenly to become visible, the
whole sky would look like a spider's web, and if they materialized as rubber bands, buses; trams and even people would all lose the ability to move, and the wind would be unable to carry torn-up newspapers or autumn leaves along the streets of the city. They are not visible, they are not material, but every man is constantly aware of their existence.... Each man, permanently aware of his own invisible threads,
naturally develops a respect for the people who manipulate the threads."

El Al Security


Ever travel to Israel on El Al? Perhaps you've heard about the security screening individuals go through. They certainly have reasons to take security seriously. And they know what they are doing.

U.S. transportation security officials are considering a request by El Al airlines to do its own baggage screening at Newark Liberty International Airport - something the airline already does at four other major U.S. airports.

The Transportation Security Administration has permitted El Al to do its own screening of baggage destined to be put aboard its flights at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Los Angeles International, Miami International and O'Hare International in Chicago.

No other airline has such an arrangement with U.S. officials. At the four other airports, El Al has installed its own security software at bomb-detection machines, which authorities said is more sensitive than that used by American carriers.

Despite the facade, the TSA provides little real security. It seems their only real value is to help the semi-ignorant feel comfortable enough to fly to and from U.S. airports. Their motto is what you don't know can't hurt you...unless you are El Al...who happen to know.

The TSA could learn much from El Al; they just don't want to spend the money.

The Sabbath Day

8 - Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 - Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 - But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 - For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Exodus 20:8-11.
We each treat the Sabbath Day differently. Some of us try to keep the Sabbath Day holy. Unfortunately, most of the Judeo-Christian world has fallen short of keeping this commandment.

During my travels to Europe, for reasons other than religious, they tend to have societies that discourage commerce on Sunday. However, I have seen this change over the past 15 years. Consider Louis Vuitton.

The company was certain it had found an ingenious way around the French ban on doing business on Sunday: It called its new flagship store on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees a cultural center. Cultural centers, it seems, are exempt from the country's tough labor laws that prohibit most retailers from opening on Sunday.

"They argued that buying one of their handbags was a cultural activity and that their store is a place that amuses," said Thierry Doueb, the lawyer for the two groups. "They argued that they sell books. For me, there's nothing cultural about carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag."

The country's hundred-year-old labor law limiting Sunday work has been amended and eroded, interpreted and flouted to such an extent over the years that it makes little sense. Proprietors who provide "urgent" economic needs, including restaurants, bars, tobacco shops, newspaper kiosks, florists and pharmacies are not bound by the ban.
We can try to justify anything; doesn't make it right.

I am gratful I live in a town that still honors the Sabbath Day, helping those that may have a tendency to fall short to stay on course.

Suffering in Congo

We all go about our daily lives. We have our ups and downs. But if we take a moment to think about thoses less-fortunate, it puts things into perspective.

Consider the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which is a different country than the Republic of the Congo). They continue to experience the hunger and disease that has griped this African nation during and after its deadly five-year civil war. In less than a decade, an estimated four million people have died, mostly of hunger and disease caused by the fighting. It has been the deadliest conflict since World War II, with more than 1,000 people still dying each day.

A transitional government was set up in July 2003. Joseph Kabila remains as president and is joined by four vice presidents representing the former government, former rebel groups, and the political opposition. The transitional government held a successful constitutional referendum in December 2005. It plans to hold a series of elections in 2006 to determine the presidency and National Assembly seats.

For many in the Congo, survival, not elections, is the milestone.

Bush in Hungary


President Bush visited Hungary this week for a bilateral program following his participation in the U.S.-European Union Summit in Vienna, Austria. In Budapest, the he celebrates Hungary's historic sacrifices in the name of freedom by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, underscored the success of the U.S.-European partnership in securing freedom in the region, and highlighted the lessons offered from Hungary's successful transition from tyranny to free-market democracy.

During his remarks, he had to tip-toe around praising a revolt that the United States did not support. Without formally expressing regret for how the United States acted toward Hungary in 1956, he stated, "We have learned from your example. We resolve that when people stand up for their freedom, America will stand with them... The lesson of the Hungarian experience is clear: Liberty can be delayed, but it cannot be denied."

Bush seemed to have put the basic Hungarian sympathy to the test, in large measure because of anger with the U.S. invasion of Iraq and anti-terrorism detention policies that are not seen here to square with American ideals. While Hungary originally backed the United States and contributed about 300 troops in a noncombat role in Iraq, the government pulled them out after intense public pressure in 2004.

The key message here is once a nation makes a commitment to back a cause, it needs to stay the course. Cutting and running is never a viable option.

Every time we decide to undertake a major military effort like we have in Afghanistan and Iraq, realize that the commitment is long-term. Too many Americas felt (and still feel) that we'd be able to get in and out in a couple of years. Look at history; i.e., WWII and Korea; we are still expending resources for those events.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Luke 14: 28.

North American Union Trump U.S. Supreme Court

The Bush Administration is pushing to create a North American Union out of the work on-going in the Department of Commerce under the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America in the NAFTA office. A key part of the plan is to expand the NAFTA tribunals into a North American Union court system that would have supremacy over all U.S. law, even over the U.S. Supreme Court, in any matter related to the trilateral political and economic integration of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Chapter 11 of the NAFTA agreement allows a private NAFTA foreign investor to sue the U.S. government if the investor believes a state or federal law damages the investor's NAFTA business.

Under Chapter 11, NAFTA establishes a tribunal that conducts a behind closed-doors "trial" to decide the case according to the legal principals established by either the World Bank's International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes or the UN's Commission for International Trade Law. If the decision is adverse to the U.S., the NAFTA tribunal can impose its decision as final, trumping U.S. law, even as decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. laws can be effectively overturned and the NAFTA Chapter 11 tribunal can impose millions or billions of dollars in fines on the U.S. government, to be paid ultimately by the U.S. taxpayer.

Right on the heals of this will be official North American Union passports and open borders.

Goerge W. Bush's true legacy will be how he supports American sovereignty. Right now, he seems more concerned over North American sovereignty than on America's.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

June 22 in Russian History

June 22 is probably the most tragic date in Russian history. World War II began on that date 65 years ago, and it will not end anytime soon, because many who died in that war have not been laid to rest.

Some 4.5 million soldiers who died in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War are officially listed as missing in action. From 500,000 to 600,000 of those confirmed dead have never been buried. The government spent 6 billion rubles ($220 million) on the 60th anniversary of Victory Day in 2005, but it has failed to allocate enough money to deal with this statistical paradox.

According to the study "Russia and the U.S.S.R. in the Wars of the 20th Century," 4.8 million people were serving in the army in June 1941, and another 29.6 million were called up during the war. Some 12 million soldiers were killed or captured, while 3.7 million were discharged for medical reasons and more than 400,000 were imprisoned. On Victory Day in 1945, the Red Army numbered 11.8 million soldiers, 1 million of whom were in military hospitals. The authors of the study cannot account for 5.3 million men.

These figures are humbling and mindboggling.

Freedom of Speech Limited In Nevada

Brittany McComb was the valedictorian at Foothill High School recently. She earned the right to address the other graduates at Foothill, located in Henderson, Nevada.

She gave a copy of her graduating speech to the school administrators. It contained some Biblical references and even mentioned (one time) the name “Christ.” The school administrators censored some of the Biblical references. They also censored the single reference to Christ.

Then the school officials handed the speech over to the ACLU for approval and/or more censoring. After getting the OK from the ACLU, Brittany’s speech (minus the censored references to the Bible and Christ) was approved. Brittany was warned that if she deviated from the ACLU approved language, her mike would be cut off.

“I went through four years of school at Foothill and they taught me logic and they taught me freedom of speech. God’s the biggest part of my life. Just like other valedictorians thank their parents, I wanted to thank my lord and savior,” Brittany said.

Because she refused to bow down to the ACLU’s idol of gold, she did not get her wish. She was censored.

This young heroine deserves praise and a thank you from those who believe in free speech. Take some action.

Dems Lose On Immediate Withdrawal Request

The Senate defeated two Democratic amendments to the defense authorization bill that called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq.

The chamber voted 98-1 to invoke cloture on the overall $517.7 billion fiscal 2007 bill (S 2766), clearing the path for the legislation to pass by Friday.

The Senate defeated 39-60 a non-binding resolution by Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island to urge the president to begin withdrawing U.S. troops this year, leaving it to the administration and the Iraqi government how rapidly to continue it thereafter.

The Senate rejected 13-86 a more robust amendment by Democrats John Kerry of Massachusetts, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Barbara Boxer of California. Their proposal would require withdrawal of U.S. forces by 1 July 2007, except for those necessary to conduct counterterrorism strikes, train Iraqi security forces and protect U.S. personnel and facilities.

Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island voted for the Levin-Reed amendment but not the Kerry proposal. With the exception of Chafee, Republicans were united in opposing both Democratic amendments, which they viewed as sending an unwise signal of uncertain U.S. resolve in Iraq.

Chafee is one Republican that I hope is voted out of office.

We all want our soldiers home but setting a timetable does not seem prudent foreign or military policy.

VA in Damage Control

In May, a laptop taken home by a VA employee was stolen along with names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of about 17.5 million veterans and military personnel.

The Department of Veteran Affairs responded by stating it will offer free credit monitoring for a year to the millions of veterans and military personnel whose personal information was stolen. The department said the plan will safeguard the credit records of those affected and provide them with peace of mind. Perhaps.

The biggest problem here is poor security policy enforcement. I have not seen their policy but I can only image that there is a statement somewhere to the effect that employees cannot take confidential and private information out of the controlled premises without specific authorization.

Sound security policy is useless without effective enforcement.

UPDATE 6/29/06: The missing laptop and hard disk containing personal data on over 26.5 million veterans has been recovered, according to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson.

USA's Weak World Cup Performance

The USA's performance in this year's World Cup was less than inspiring. One goal in three matches, few shots on goal, poor defense, disappointing play in the midfield, strikers with nothing to show, and mistakes and turnovers the rule.

This team really had no chance. They do not have the players -- the skills, the physical presence, the speed, the ball handling, the offensive strategy -- nor the coaching prowess. (The referees were also not overly friendly.)

Few figured the USA would move out of group play, but no one thought their performance would have been this weak.

Take your hats off to Ghana (a nation of 22 million in their first WC) -- they did what they needed to do to win. However, the Brazil of Africa they are not.

(If you want a consolation, despite the disappointment we have with our team, just think how the Czech's feel: FIFA's second-ranked team not making it out of group play.)

See you in South Africa in 2010?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Stolen American Body Parts Used on Australians

Medical products made from human body parts stolen from funeral homes in New York have been implanted into Australians.

The bones, ligaments and skin - many of them aged and, due to the potential for infection, unsuitable for transplant - were traded to legitimate firms, which transformed them into products used to cure back pain, incontinence and other medical conditions.

The material implanted into Australian patients was brought in under a scheme that allows patients, in consultation with their doctors or dentists, to obtain products not yet approved for use here.

Anything for money.

Illegal Immigrants Free To Go

Local police [eastern Ohio] said they intercepted 20 illegal Mexican immigrants, but were ordered by immigration officials to let them go free.

Belmont County Sheriff Fred Thompson said his officers were instructed by federal immigration services to let all 20 illegal immigrants go free, and said his department has no choice but to follow the orders from immigration officials.

When you encounter these stories, you wonder whether we are witnessing actual policy or just poor communications. The later is a given; the formal is probable. The U.S. government has ignored immigration laws and their enforcement for decades. We are now getting regular coverage of this government sham.

Heat Win First NBA Title

Although not a huge basketball fan -- I played as a youth high school (mostly bench) but lost interest since the me-me, in-your face evolution and the way games are refereed. It was good to see two teams that have never won it before battle to the end.

I thought Dallas would win but knew Miami would give them a battle. Congratulations to the Heat. Dwyane Wade is the real deal.

And Some Say Porn Is No Big Deal

It is well known the impact pornography has on mental health, criminal behavior, spirituality and on our personal relationships. Add information security and privacy to the list.

The Oregon Department of Revenue has been contacting some 2,300 taxpayers this week to notify them that their names, addresses or Social Security numbers may have been stolen by a Trojan horse program downloaded accidentally by a former worker who was surfing pornographic sites while at work in January.

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
"Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead mens' bones, and of all uncleanness.
"Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:25-28).

The Beauty of Socialized Medicine

A 36 year old Scots mother elected to have her breasts removed and a hysterectomy after being told she would have to wait at least two years for the results of genetic tests to discover if she had an increased risk of cancer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Diebold Voting and the Security Threat

Should Diebold election machines be trusted?

David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, said the potential risk existed because the company's technicians had intentionally built the machines in such a way that election officials would be able to update their systems in years ahead.

"For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software,' he said. 'I don't believe these evil elections people exist.'"

This is an ignorant spokesperson who does not understand the security threat.

Bolivia and Land Ownership


Property in Latin America is more unevenly distributed than anywhere on the planet, and Bolivia is no exception. This month the country began a project to shuffle ownership rights affecting 20% of its land area, giving most of it to the poor. And tensions are starting to boil.

Those with land are starting to dig in to protect their turf. Those without it, emboldened by the recent government announcements, are taking over more properties on their own, without government approval.

The conflict in Bolivia is firmly rooted in the stark inequities that President Evo Morales (an ideological ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez) says his "agrarian revolution" is designed to correct. About 90% of Bolivian land is owned by the wealthiest 7% of the population. Imbalances like that have helped make Bolivia South America's poorest nation: About 63% of its citizens -- and nearly 80% of its rural population -- live in poverty.

Morales has said much of his nation's land is not being used productively, and he complains that large swaths were given to wealthy elites during the dictatorships of the 1970s. Under his plan, if the government deems land unproductive or obtained illegally, it is subject to confiscation and redistribution.

Land ownership and its protection are fundamental rights in a free society. What we see happening in Bolivia is a battle between the haves and have nots -- repeated time and time again throughout history. Those that do not have feel justified taking from those who have. There are other ways to handle this perceived imbalance. However the government's new land policy is setting itself up for a blood bath.

Gas Prices, Economics & Politics

Whenever gasoline prices increase significantly in a relatively short period of time and news media report concurrently that the profits of oil companies are also rising, one can predict, almost like clockwork, widespread public outrage. Cries of "obscene profits" will arise, along with demands that the state and federal governments "do something" about the high cost of gasoline.

Politicians will fall all over themselves getting to the nearest microphone in order to condemn the "price gouging" being perpetrated by the oil companies on the American public and to threaten the imposition of "windfall profits" taxes. The public becomes convinced that oil companies are engaged in a conspiracy to drive up the price of gasoline.

To those who entertain the notion that oil companies alone are driving up gasoline prices, ask these questions: "If oil companies can control gasoline prices, then why would prices ever go down?" "Why would oil companies drive up prices, when they know the terrible public relations problems it causes, and the retribution they could bring on themselves by the government?" After all, the last time oil companies made "windfall profits," back in the 1970s, the government imposed price controls and higher taxes (which led to shortages, even higher prices, and long lines at the filling stations). Gas prices do fluctuate, and to understand why requires an understanding of the factors that affect supply and demand, and how they interact -- the price of crude oil, production capacity, refinery capacity, pipelines, consumption of petroleum products -- China (the world's second largest consumer of petroleum products) and India, and Iran and their "potential control" of the Strait of Hormuz.

Today, the U.S. imports more than 60% of the crude oil it consumes. As a result, American oil companies have become price takers, not price makers.

The price maker is OPEC which accounts for 40% of the world's production of crude oil and holds more than two-thirds of the world's readily obtainable crude oil reserves.

Yet at $3 per gallon, the price of gasoline in America is a relative bargain. Adjusted for inflation and changes in disposable income, Americans were paying the equivalent of $5.17 per gallon in 1955, according to the Cato Institute.

On the topic on price gauging, the FTC released a 222-page study reporting that it had investigated "30,000 pricing complaints." They found "no instances of illegal market manipulation that led to higher prices". This is not what Congress wanted to hear.

The irony here is that if there is any extortion or swindling going on in the oil marketplace, Congress is the guilty party. It is Congress that ordered service stations across America to switch last month to ethanol additives that have both raised prices at the pump and exacerbated shortages in recent weeks. It is Congress and state governments that take 59 cents a gallon on average of fuel taxes at the pump - almost six times the average of 10 cents per gallon profit that the oil companies make.

So, even if all of the oil industry profits were taxed away, a $3.00 gallon of gasoline would only drop to $2.90. Relief is only going to come by increasing domestic supply. But Congress continues to reject any attempts to allow oil drilling in the country's coastal waters, on federal land in western states, or in Alaska, where tens of billions of barrels lie waiting to be put to productive use. Instead, Congress prefers to pursue an energy policy that transfers America's wealth to countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. In the final analysis, it's not Big Oil that's driving up the cost of crude oil and gasoline, it's Big Government.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Congressional Immigration Voting Record

Check out how your senators and reps voted on the most recent immigration issues:

-- Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 (YEA would have been good provided they funded it)
-- H.R. 4437 (a YEA is good)
-- S. 2611 (a NAY is good)

Our Utah officials got them right.

Pregnancy in Teenage Girls Part of Nature's Law?

Dr. Laurence Shaw, deputy medical director of the Bridge Centre fertility clinic in London, claims teenage girls who get pregnant "behind the bike sheds" are only obeying nature's law and should not be condemned out of hand.
"Society may 'tut tut' about them, but their actions are part of an evolutionary process that goes back nearly two million years; while their behavior may not fit with western society's expectations, it is perhaps useful to consider it in a wider context."
Scotland has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe. (I image England is not too far behind.)

We have one thing other species do not have: free agency. Sure the sexual drive in humans is strong -- it must be for the perpetuation of the species. However, we have the ability to control acting upon these urges. The LDS's position on sexual purity is as follows:

-- Abstain from premarital sex, petting, necking, sex perversion, masturbation, and preoccupation with sex in thought, speech, and action.
-- Reserve sexual intimacy for marriage.
-- Refrain from homosexual and lesbian activities.

All societies could benefit from a little self-control in this area. The benefits are strong to public health and to the economic well-being of the mother and child.

Trojan Horse Hosted on Googlepages.com

A warning was recently issued regarding a Trojan horse being hosted on a site with the same IP address as the main Google Pages Web site at http://googlepages.com.

Trojan horses present themselves as legitimate programs but actually conceal malicious code inside. They can be engineered to steal information from computers and are frequently spread by unsolicited e-mails or via instant messaging (IM) links.

Users are enticed to open attachments or click on Web links to launch the Trojan, releasing malicious code on their computer.

Currently, no reported victims have been made, however it may either be in the setup phase or not yet widely distributed.

The Trojan, also known as a keylogger for its ability to record keystrokes, is programmed to know when a user visits a bank site and to when to activate the keystroke recording function.

Criminals often use free hosting services to post dangerous code. Anywhere there is anonymous access to create content, it becomes a useful tool for criminals.

Deploy proven system and network security and keep the patches up to date.

Windows Security Configuration Wizard

There are many guidelines for locking down Windows Server 2003. However a simple method for the average user is through the Security Configuration Wizard.

The main purpose of this wizard is to implement role-based security on Windows Server 2003. By defining the server's role on the network, you can disable unnecessary services, block unused ports, implement additional address or security restrictions for ports necessary for operation, disable unnecessary IIS Web extensions, and restrict access to server message block (SMB), LanMan, and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) services.

You must have Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 installed to run this wizard. To access the wizard, go to Start | All Programs | Administrative Tools | Security Configuration Wizard (Scw.exe).

A little security goes a long way -- remove your system from being the low hang fruit.

U.S. Episcopal Church Elect Female Primate

U.S. Episcopal church elected the first woman primate in the Anglican church. The Rt Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, has been the Bishop of Nevada for only five years and ordained for only a decade.

Her election as the U.S. Episcopal church's leader creates a new headache for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the nominal head of the 77 million-strong Anglican communion.

Contrast this with the LDS doctrine on this topic. Gordon B. Hinckley, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said:
"[Women do not hold the priesthood] because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program. Women have a very prominent place in this Church. Men hold the priesthood offices of the Church. But women have a tremendous place in this Church. They have their own organization. It was started in 1842 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, called the Relief Society, because its initial purpose was to administer help to those in need. It has grown to be, I think, the largest women's organization in the world with a membership of more than three million. They have their own offices, their own presidency, their own board. That reaches down to the smallest unit of the Church everywhere in the world . . .

"The men hold the priesthood, yes. But my wife is my companion. In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise."

Catalan Voters Endorse Greater Autonomy


The Catalonian area in northeast Spain (Barcelona being the capital) has a distinct culture, language and history. For years, it has been seeking greater independence.

Over the weekend, about 74% of the voters -- about 50 percent of 5.2 million eligible voters cast ballots -- approved the autonomy measure.

This must be good news for Galicians of northwest Spain and especially the Basques of north-central Spain / southwest France.

In general, these autonomous, nationalistic efforts are often narrow-minded. Will Catalonia be better off as a small nation of 7 million than part of an established nation of 40 million? If they are oppressed or otherwise decimated, yes, but that's not the case here.

NHL Game 7

Game 7s are great. Tonight, Edmonton tries to win three straight over Carolina in this NHL game seven contest.

Edmonton, the Western Conference #8 seed, has played hard and has made it to this final game. Carolina, the Eastern Conference #2 seed, is reeling but they are tough at home.

If you don't follow, watch or understand hockey, watching tonight's game would be a good time to start.

UPDATE: Canes win 3-1.

Jose + 10

If you have not seen the Adidas Jose + 10 ad campaign, you are missing a classic. It is only shown on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 during the World cup matches.

The "and +10" campaign has been around for a few years. The concept is you in your Adidas shoes and your pick of any ten other soccer players (and their Adidas shoes).

Jose is a young, Spanish-speaking boy playing soccer against his friend in a dusty courtyard in what looks like some poorer area of Latin America. The two boys each have 10 players of their choosing. In their fantasy world, they have some of the world best players in their "drafting pool."

Some of Jose's lines are great -- benching "poor performers" and asserting his captainship role over the pros. However, there's one person who can trump all of this fun: Jose's mom. When she calls him home from their apartment balcony, the game's over as Jose takes his ball and goes home, to the discouragement of all.

Jose and his friend are living a life closer to Calvin and Hobbs' make-believe world -- their players are more in their minds than in reality.

Great ads.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ogilvy Wins US Open

Geoff Ogilvy won the US Open golf championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, after the leaders imploded.

Phil Mickelson, who was two shots ahead with three holes to play, collapsed with a double bogey on the last hole. He could not hit a drive into the fairway.

Colin Montgomerie also blew a great chance to win on 18 when his approach shot to the green ended in the rough at the front right, and his chip went well over the flag. He double bogeyed the hole.

It's never over 'til it's over -- winning or losing.

Chechen Rebel Leader Killed

Chechen rebel leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev was killed Saturday in his hometown of Argun by special forces. Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov trumpeted it as a fatal blow to the insurgency.

This group of terrorists is the same group responsible for the Beslan massacre in September 2004. (Sadulayev's involvement is claimed to be minimal, if any.)

Anytime a terrorist is removed from consuming the air and eating the food you and I enjoy, the world becomes a better place.

UPDATE 6/26/06: New Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov vowed to widen attacks to the rest of Russia, in his first public statement since he replaced his slain predecessor a week ago.

Wikipedia Revises Its Edit Policy

Most of us have referenced Wikipedia -- now the Web's third-most-popular news and information source, beating the sites of CNN and Yahoo News, according to Nielsen NetRatings.

Most probably are unaware that Wikipedia utilizes an anyone can edit policy. This model has been very successful. It is surprisingly accurate. A way to test this is to read what others have written about a topic you are well-versed in, and make your assessment. Like most Internet sites, they are what they are: a reference, not necessarily the whole truth. All editors are biased, despite their claim to the contrary.

The editors have recently changed the 100% open model by putting some controls over certain topics.
Wikipedia is not just a reference work but also an online community that has built itself a bureaucracy of sorts -- one that, in response to well-publicized problems with some entries, has recently grown more elaborate. It has a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control, delete unsuitable articles and protect those that are vulnerable to vandalism.

Those measures can put some entries outside of the "anyone can edit" realm. The list changes rapidly, but as of yesterday, the entries for Albert Einstein and Christina Aguilera were among 82 that administrators had "protected" from all editing, mostly because of repeated vandalism or disputes over what should be said. Another 179 entries -- including those for George W. Bush, Islam and Adolf Hitler -- were "semi-protected," open to editing only by people who had been registered at the site for at least four days.

Don't Bother Knocking

The Supreme Court made it easier for police to barge into homes and seize evidence without knocking or waiting. The court, on a 5-4 vote, said judges cannot throw out evidence collected by police who have search warrants but do not properly announce their arrival.

It was a significant rollback of earlier rulings protective of homeowners, even unsympathetic homeowners like Booker Hudson, who had a loaded gun next to him and cocaine rocks in his pocket when Detroit police entered his unlocked home in 1998 without knocking.

The court's five-member conservative majority, anchored by new Chief Justice John Roberts and Alito, said that police blunders should not result in "a get-out-of-jail-free card" for defendants.

Dissenting justices predicted that police will now feel free to ignore previous court rulings requiring officers with search warrants to knock and announce themselves to avoid running afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches.

"The knock-and-announce rule is dead in the United States," said David Moran, a Wayne State University professor who represented Hudson. "There are going to be a lot more doors knocked down. There are going to be a lot more people terrified and humiliated."

Supporters said the ruling will help police do their jobs.

"People who are caught red-handed with evidence of guilt have one less weapon to get off," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Is this saying technicalities count or don't count? I am not so sure that this decision should offend anyone who worries about the privacy rights of ordinary Americans.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

KSL --> RSL v Stanley Cup Game 6

The local Salt Lake City NBC affiliate KSL (channel 5) made a decision to show a Real Salt Lake v Houston regular season soccer game as opposed to showing the NHL Stanley Cup Finals - Game 6. They did offer it on Comcast channel 105 but it requires digital cable.

Now I love RSL, but over Game 6 of the NHL Finals? Wouldn't be my vote. But given the Finals ratings this year, RSL might be a better draw. If that is the case, that's a sad commentary on Utah sports fans.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Tamil Rebels Blow Up Bus

The only rule terrorists have is to cause as much damage to as many innocent people as possible, even if those people are young children. Tamil rebels used a mine to destroy a bus packed with commuters and schoolchildren, killing at least 64 people.
"It was not a case of a mistaken target where they thought soldiers were travelling in this bus. The military does not use this route and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) knew that it was a civilian bus.

"This is not a declaration of war but an act of terrorism. As far as the peace process and the ceasefire agreement are concerned, they are still on, but we have to re-look at it seriously in a proper context."

The bus bombing was Sri Lanka’s worst single act of violence since the government and Tigers signed a ceasefire in 2002, and renewed fears of a return to civil war.

Islamists Jailed Over Paris Attack Plot

Chalk one up for the good guys...
Twenty-five Islamist radicals were jailed by a Paris court for their roles in a plot to bomb French landmarks including the Eiffel Tower.

Five ringleaders were jailed for between eight and ten years each. Twenty people who played lesser roles in the conspiracy received shorter sentences, some of which were suspended. Two defendants were acquitted.

The network was dismantled in two waves, the first in December 2002 as investigators stormed two houses in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve and the nearby town of Romainville. They found gas canisters, fuses, chemicals and a suit to protect against chemical attacks.

During a second wave of arrests, in January 2004 in Venissieux, in southeast France, investigators found chemical products, including ricin, and definitively broke up the network.

Bill Gates Transitioning

Microsoft Corp. Chairman, Chief Software Architect and Founder Bill Gates will transition out of his day-to-day role at the company to spend more time on his global health and education work over the next two years.

If retirement would be so kind to the rest of us.

House Ends Debate on Iraq

After more than a dozen hours of debate and hundreds of speeches, the House passed a resolution endorsing President Bush’s Iraq policy while declaring the United States will prevail in the war against terrorism.

The non-binding, GOP-written resolution (H Res 861) passed 256-153. Forty-two Democrats voted for it and three Republicans voted against. Five voted “present” and 19 did not vote.

Many Democrats protested because Republicans blocked them from offering amendments and viewed the resolution as a “trap” that falsely conjoined the fight against terrorism with the fight in Iraq. The resolution takes a stand against setting withdrawal dates, which many Democrats support. [This is one of the few times I can recmember where the Republicans actually completed a sucessful media and procedure coup.]

“The war has not made our country safer, it has not made our military stronger, and it has damaged our reputation around the world,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. [And she wants to be the Speaker?]

Majority Leader John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican who engineered the floor debate, said: “This week’s debate has given us all an opportunity to answer a fundamental question: Are we going to confront the threat of terrorism and defeat it, or will we relent and retreat in the hopes that it just goes away?”

Democrats Are U.S.' Insurgents

Michael Reagan make a good case for showing the parallels between the Sunni Insurgency in Iraq and the Democratic party with its current leadership.
Both are operating under the same motivation -- an unrequited lust for lost power. And both will do just about anything to retrieve it.

What it all comes down to is a willingness to tear down their own house if they can't assert absolute ownership of the premises. It's what is known as a "rule or ruin" strategy.

Here in America we have a similar situation -- a political party that for years dominated Capitol Hill. They ruled the roost for so long that they began to believe they had some divine right to control the House and Senate.

Like the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the Democrats cannot accept their minority status, even though when the GOP took over Newt Gingrich refused to impose the kind of absolute, anti-minority rule his party suffered under the Democrats.

Like the Sunni insurgency, the national Democrat Party and its congressional contingent has demonstrated time and again that they will willingly sacrifice the welfare and security of the American people who get their way.

As Michael Barone has written: "It comes down to this: A substantial part of the Democratic Party, some of its politicians and many of its loudest supporters do not want America to succeed in Iraq. So vitriolic and all-consuming is their hatred for George W. Bush that they skip right over the worthy goals we have been, with some considerable success, seeking there -- a democratic government, with guaranteed liberties for all, a vibrant free economy, respect for women -- and call this a war for oil, or for Halliburton.

"Successes are discounted, setbacks are trumpeted, the level of American casualties is treated as if it were comparable to those in Vietnam or World War II. Allegations of American misdeeds are repeated over and over; the work of reconstruction and aid of American military personnel and civilians is ignored."
Touche'

Top Anti-Gun Legislators

According to the NRA, the following is a list of the top anti-gun legislators:

1. John Conyers (D.-Mich.)
2. Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.)
3. Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.)
4. Jim Moran (D.-Va.)
5. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.)
6. Carolyn McCarthy (D.-N.Y.)
7. Anthony Weiner (D.-N.Y.)
8. Mike Castle (R.-Del.)*
9. Diana DeGette (D.-Colo.)
10. Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Tex.)

* One of four House Republicans to vote against the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that restricted reckless anti-gun lawsuits.

College World Series

The College World Series (NCAA D1) gets underway today in Omaha. An event I have never attended but have on my to-do list. Not partial to any of these school, it will make for more casual enjoyment rather passionate involvement.

-- Cal State Fullerton
-- Clemson
-- Georgia
-- Georgia Tech
-- Miami
-- North Carolina
-- Oregon State
-- Rice

UPDATE 6/26/06: Oregon State beat North Carolina 3-2 for its first College World Series title, two games to one in the three series finale.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Liverpool Boys Score for England

The first 3/4s of the World Cup match between England and Trinidad and Tobago was rubbish. But thanks to a nice ball from Beckham, Liverpool striker Peter Crouch headed in the winning goal for England. Later, Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard (my favorite player) made the final 2-0 and pushed England successfully though group play and into the round of sixteen.

Dow's Two-Day Bounce

The Dow gained 198 points, closing above 11,000 and completing the biggest two-day bounce since April 2003. The Nasdaq gained 58 points and the S&P 500 rose 26. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke may have given stocks a boost when he said this afternoon (in a tone less bearish on inflation than his other recent comments) that the rise in energy and commodities prices may account for some pick up in inflation and said "these developments bear watching." Sectors that have suffered some of the worst reversals in recent weeks, including brokers, gold, and commodities led the rally. Volume was moderate to heavy and advancing issues outnumbered decliners by more than four to one. The price of Treasuries weakened.

U.S. Open

I love to golf but do not like to watch it on TV. However, like the major tennis tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open), I like to follow and watch a bit of each of the major golf grand slams -- The Masters, The US Open Championship, the British Open and the PGA Championship. This year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot should be a good one.

Utah Tax Burden Too High

Utah continues to bear a higher than average state/local tax and fee burden according to an analysis by the Utah Taxpayers Association based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

Utah 's state & local taxes and fees as a percent of total personal income (TPI) are 10.8% higher than the 50 state average, ranking 4th highest among the fifty states. When fees are excluded, Utah ranks 19th highest.

Utah individual income taxes as a percent of total personal income rank 16th highest, general sales taxes 13th highest, motor fuel taxes 11th highest, and property taxes 38th highest. Utah total fee revenue as a percent of total personal income is 5th highest in the nation. When tuition is excluded from fees, our fee ranking drops to 14th highest.

China - Taiwan Flight Deal

China and Taiwan agreed to allow 168 charter passenger flights each year during four annual public holidays to and from mainland China.

Whether this is a true thawing between the two parties, it shows that if the free market is allowed to operate, life becomes better for all involved.

Congressional War Debate

For political purposes, the Democrats have been wanted to debate the war in Iraq. Countering this request, the Republicans agreed but expanded the topic to the GWOT, of which Iraq is component.

It will be interesting to see how this goes. Those on the left see the actions in Iraq unrelated to the GWOT. Everyone else -- including the facts -- sees a direct relationship.

It gets worse for those claiming unrelated after al Qaeda documents were recovered from the site where al-Zarqawi was killed. These documents include details on strategy and plans of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization in Iraq.

Sen. Hatch and S. 2611


I write my Senators (Hatch and Bennett) and Rep (Matheson) on a regular basis. Their staffs do a good job responding and delineating their positions on the issues in question.

I was please to get a letter from Sen. Hatch on the topic of immigration.

He did not support S. 2611 -- the Senate's immigration and reform measure agreed to on 25 May. It is in dark contrast with the House's H.R. 4437 passed earlier this year.

Sen. Hatch is against amnesty, which is what S. 2611 provides illegal immigrants. He's for strong border security. He wants a temporary guest worker program but not the bogus one in S. 2611.

Sen. Hatch is on the Conference Committee that will work to reconcile the differences between the Senate- and House-passed immigration bills (if possible).

I hope he sticks to his guns and leans more toward the House's version and less towards the one approved by his out-of-touch Senate colleagues.

US vs European Security Breaches

A new survey by Ponemon Institute LLC and the law firm White & Case LLP asked U.S. and E.U. multinational companies about eight aspects of their privacy practices: privacy management, data security methods, communications and training, privacy policy, choice and consent, cross-border data transfer, privacy compliance, and customer-dispute resolution.

U.S. firms scored higher than their E.U. counterparts in five of the eight disciplines. In the area of privacy management, 52% of U.S. companies said they had dedicated privacy leaders, compared with 35% for European businesses. U.S. privacy leaders also held more senior positions than their European counterparts.

U.S. corporations scored well in data security methods. Hackers have been the leading cause of publicized security breaches in the U.S. for the past two years, according to Privacyrights.org. To combat this sophisticated threat, advanced security technologies are a must.

U.S. companies were more likely than E.U. firms to implement encryption, intrusion detection and Web site monitoring and to require vendors to comply with data security obligations.

So if U.S. companies are better than the Europeans at key privacy and security practices, why are there so many more publicized breaches in America?

-- U.S. under the microscope.
-- E.U. less exposed.
-- U.S. more targeted.

Both have the similar information security challenges. However, E.U. firms are less exposed than U.S. firms. U.S. firms deploy a high-risk, high-return business model of data aggregation and Internet commerce; E.U. firms do not.

$94.5B Emergency Spending Bill Passed

The Senate cleared, on a 98-1 vote, a $94.5 billion emergency spending bill to finance the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricane recovery. The conference report for the measure (HR 4939) will bring an infusion of money to the Pentagon and Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts. The House voted 351-67 earlier.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Scots Invented Beautiful Game?

In 1633, more than 200 years before the Football Association was formed in England, David Wedderburn, a poet and teacher at Aberdeen Grammar School, described a match in his pocket-sized tome Vocabula.

While there are older descriptions of ball games involving kicking, historians say the Scottish manuscript, written in Latin, is the first to report on players passing the ball forward and attempting to score past a goalkeeper. A section of the book marks the kick-off: "Let's pick sides. Those who are on the outside, come over here. Kick off, so that we can begin the match ... Pass it here."

Do you buy it? Partial credit?

John the Baptist's Hand?

Apparently the Serbian Orthodox Church has a chest they lend from time to time that contains the purported right hand of John the Baptist. The hand is revered as being the one that John laid on Jesus' head while baptizing him 2,000 years ago.

The hand is on a Russian cross-country tour of eight cities, including Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Vladikavkaz and St. Petersburg. After that it will go to Ukraine and Belarus.

They say Russian's will wait in line for just about anything but this takes the case.