Sunday, May 31, 2009

Key Role for Young Iranians in June's Presidential Poll

Saturday, May 30, 2009

TEHRAN — Iranians will go to the polls June 12 to elect a new president. While some argue that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election is a foregone conclusion, the outcome is, in fact, not at all clear.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly said in public settings that he will not declare his preference among the candidates. Indeed, in Mashad on March 21, Ayatollah Khamenei said, "There were some rumors that I support a special candidate for the presidential elections. But I have one vote, and I would not determine a certain candidate because the people themselves should choose their candidates based on their own knowledge."

So how will the Iranian people weigh their votes? To answer, one needs to understand the composition of the Iranian electorate. With the voting age set at just 16 years, Iran has roughly 48 million eligible voters. Turnout averages 60 to 65 percent in presidential elections, implying that around 29 million votes are likely to be cast.

Analysts point to several electoral cleavages, particularly the urban-rural split and socioeconomic status. Moreover, a key determinant of voting behavior in the upcoming elections is likely to be generational. Some 46 percent of the electorate is under the age of 30. In previous elections, younger voters have turned out in greater numbers than their elders, leading some to predict that half of the voters will be in the 16-to-29 age bracket. The number of potential first-time voters (16 to 19 years old) is estimated at 6 million.

Several factors distinguish members of this group from the rest of the Iranian electorate. They are more educated, more urbanized, and more internationally oriented than previous generations. More of them are university educated and, of this group, a majority is female. They have branched out into new lines of work and social engagement as inventors, entrepreneurs and bloggers.

No candidate can be elected president of Iran without significant support among younger voters. Age, not social class, will determine the outcome of June's election.

Like all Iranians, younger voters are focused on economic issues, particularly the difficult combination of high inflation and high unemployment. The populist policies of the past four years have not brought economic improvement.

Younger Iranians have a particular economic concern as well. With so many of them graduating from universities, they suffer from a mismatch between their qualifications and the jobs on offer. Underemployment is deeply frustrating to them.

They also want a more liberal social environment that would loosen restrictions on their dress, broaden access to cultural products like film and music, and enlarge press freedoms. They want university campuses, in particular, to be more open.

Finally, younger Iranians are tired of Iran's international isolation. They want Iran to succeed — and to be recognized for its success — in sports, arts and education at an international level.

As of this writing, only two presidential candidates have declared themselves: former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi and former Parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi. Assuming that Ahmadinejad seeks re-election, this lineup lacks any candidate with clear appeal to the youth vote. Given their dissatisfaction, it would be natural for young voters to take out their frustrations on Ahmadinejad.

One seemingly unrelated event to watch: In the week before the presidential vote, Iran will play two critical soccer matches as part of the qualifying round for the 2010 World Cup. If Iran fails to qualify, this could turn some young voters against the incumbent.

Among the other candidates, who will pick up this slack? Moussavi, Iran's prime minister between 1981 and 1989, is barely known to young voters. However, his campaign has been hinting that, if elected, Moussavi will loosen some social and cultural restrictions.

Karroubi, too, is handicapped among the young. Many consider him to be an old, out-of-touch cleric with no feel for their concerns.

Former President Mohammad Khatami, who considered trying again for the office, would have been a strong candidate for young voters. His decision not to run disappointed many of them.

Standing in the wings is one possible candidate who might take up where Khatami left off and address the economic and cultural concerns of young Iranians. Although he has not announced his candidacy, Mohammad Baquer Qalibaf, now the mayor of Tehran and formerly the country's chief of police, has a relatively moderate track record and an image of someone who can get things done. But Qalibaf still has not taken the plunge.

If he doesn't, and if no younger candidate emerges, the youth bloc in Iran's electorate may have nowhere to turn. Without a voice for their concerns, Iran's young people face the prospect of increased frustration, whatever the outcome of the election.

Bijan Khajehpour is a Tehran-based strategic consultant and chairman of the Atieh Group. © 2009 Project Syndicate (

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For Iran, It's Apocalypse Now

by James Zumwalt


Since first taking office, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has warned an imminent apocalypse awaits mankind -- for which Iran will be the catalyst. With his impending re-election, Ahmadinejad’s threats need be taken seriously.

Ahmadinejad believes this apocalypse has been in the making for eleven centuries. He -- and his bosses, the ayatollahs -- believe divine destiny has set events in motion -- and their mission is to precipitate their evolution. Ahmadinejad believes next week’s presidential election is an important step in this evolution.

Ahmadinejad is, by our standards, a madman. But in his culture -- among the Iranian Shia who believe that the return of the “twelfth imam” can be precipitated by a man-created apocalypse – he is entirely sane. Ahmadinejad’s re-election is one he believes he must win for the final phase of this divine plan to evolve. And, because theocratic Iran “elects” presidents under a sham democratic process controlled by its religious leaders, it is an election he already has won.

It is important to understand the driving force behind Ahmadinejad and how it will dictate his actions following his re-election. Such an understanding explains why there can be no peaceful resolution to stop Iran’s quest to develop a nuclear weapon -- i.e., because everything Ahmadinejad does is preparation for the inevitable apocalypse.

The apocalypse Ahmadinejad sees looming on the horizon will usher in the return of the “Hidden Imam” -- an event into which he has injected a role for himself. Shia Islamic belief is the last direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, also known as the “Mahdi,” was but nine years old when he disappeared eleven centuries ago -- destined to remain hidden from mankind until his pre-ordained return by Allah. For Muslims, the good news is his return will restore Islam to greatness and to a world ruled by a Sharia dictatorship. For both Muslims and non-Muslims, the bad news is the Mahdi’s return only occurs after the world experiences extreme chaos. The Shia “twelvers” believe Jesus will accompany the Mahdi and, in submission to Islam, acknowledge the supremacy of the Koran to the Gospel.

In 2005, one of Ahmadinejad’s first acts as president demonstrated his determination to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran had halted its uranium enrichment program in 2003, allowing international inspectors to seal its equipment. Immediately after taking office, he re-started the program, also acquiring 18 North Korean BM-25 long range, land-mobile missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Unbelievably, a 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), using intelligence provided by a questionable defector suspected of being a double agent, asserted the Iranians had halted work on their nuclear weapons program in 2003 and had not yet restarted it. Critics pointed out the NIE’s conclusion was reached without even reporting on the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps -- the group actually holding the keys to the country’s nuclear weapons program.

The 2007 NIE has since been discredited. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, even President Obama acknowledged Iran’s “pursuit” of a nuclear weapons capability in a news conference and CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted in his confirmation hearing, “From all the information I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they (the Iranians) are seeking that capability.”

Needing to buy time for Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Ahmadinejad undoubtedly viewed the NIE report -- as well as the international community’s continuing inability to agree on a unified approach to stop Tehran -- as yet another sign of Allah’s divine intervention to ensure the program remains on track.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made clear his intention to destroy Israel and the US. As the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini asserted and Ahmadinejad has agreed, “Islam makes it incumbent [for believers] to prepare for the conquest of countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country of the world … [by fulfilling Islam's mandate to] kill all unbelievers.” Those believing nuclear retaliation deters Ahmadinejad from launching a first strike against the US or Israel should know he also supports Khomeini’s 1981 position: "I say let Iran go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

Ahmadinejad’s true intentions, revealed by his actions as researched by author Ron Cantrell, are also most telling.

- While mayor of Tehran in 2004, Ahmadinejad mapped a parade route for the Mahdi to follow through the city. One of the outgoing mayor’s last orders to city officials was to widen a major boulevard to prepare for Mahdi’s return.

- Upon becoming president, Ahmadinejad declared his mandate was “to pave the way for the coming of this Islamic messiah.”

- The site of the Mahdi’s return is the site of his disappearance -- a well behind a mosque in the village of Jamkaran in the holy city of Qom. As president, Ahmadinejad has funded millions of dollars in improvements for the mosque and well.

- To prepare for the eventual pilgrimage from Tehran to Jamkaran following the Mahdi’s return, Ahmadinejad has ordered construction of a railroad line connecting the two locations.

- In speeches caught on camera, Ahmadinejad repeatedly prays to Allah to expedite the Mahdi’s return.

- After returning to Iran after a UN speech, Ahmadinejad informed religious leaders he felt a halo of light engulfing him as he spoke. A video reveals Ahmadinejad telling them, for the duration of his speech world leaders were mesmerized, not moving “an eyelid…as if a hand was holding them there, and had just opened their eyes to the message of the Islamic Republic.”

- In conversations with some world leaders, Ahmadinejad confides the Mahdi’s return is imminent.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson reports Ahmadinejad’s “presidential obsession” with the Mahdi’s return has brought him to “a certitude that leaves little room for compromise…every issue is designed to lay the foundation for the Mahdi’s return.”

The light from Ahmadinejad’s halo appears to have blinded him from reality and the world community from taking meaningful action. No nation -- save Israel -- seems intent on really stopping Iran’s nuclear pursuit.

For Iran’s theocratic leadership -- and especially Ahmadinejad -- it is truly “Apocalypse Now.”

James Zumwalt is a retired Marine who served in the Vietnam and Gulf wars. He has written opinion pieces on foreign policy, defense and security issues for dozens of newspapers. He is president of his own security consulting company.


Tenth Amendment Movement Aims to Give Power Back to the States

Fed up with Washington's involvement in everything from land use to gun control to education spending, states across the country are fighting back against what they say is the federal government's growing intrusion on their rights.

By James Osborne

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fed up with Washington's involvement in everything from land use to gun control to education spending, states across the country are fighting back against what they say is the federal government's growing intrusion on their rights.

At least 35 states have introduced legislation this year asserting their power under the Tenth Amendment to regulate all matters not specifically delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

"This has been boiling for years, and it's finally come to a head," said Utah State Rep. Carl Wimmer. "With TARP and No Child Left Behind, these things that continue to give the federal government more authority, our rights as states and individuals are being turned on their head."

The power struggle between the states and Washington has cropped up periodically ever since the country was founded. But now some states are sending a simple, forceful message:

The government has gone too far. Enough is enough.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently signed into law a bill authorizing the state's gun manufacturers to produce "Made in Montana" firearms, without seeking licensing from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Similar laws are being considered in Utah, Alaska, Texas and Tennessee.

The Montana law is expected to end up in the courts, where states' rights activists hope judges will uphold their constitutional right to regulate firearms.

That would reverse a longstanding trend, said Martin Flaherty, a professor of constitutional law at Fordham Law School.

"From 1937 to 1995 there is not one instance of the Supreme Court knocking back Congress," he said. "In the Constitution the interstate commerce clause gives Congress the right to regulate commerce between the states. That gives them a lot of power. There were questions of how far they can reach, but then comes the New Deal, and Roosevelt gets all these picks on the [Supreme] Court, and they come upon a theory whereupon congressional power is almost infinite."

That 1930s understanding of the Constitution is now the norm, with advocates for the federal government arguing that issues of a certain size and scope can be addressed only by an institution with the resources of the federal government.

As an example, federal authority is necessary in the economic crisis, said U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, whose home state of Oklahoma recently passed a sovereignty resolution.

"The economic situation in our nation over the past year has not been contained in any one community or state. The industries and institutions affected by the recent economic crisis touch multiple layers of our economy and are not confined to any one state or region," he said in a statement. "I feel there was Constitutional justification for Congress's recent efforts to stabilize our economy."

But for many state leaders, the degree to which Congress regulates issues within their boundaries, using the interstate commerce clause to regulate just about everything and anything, has become untenable.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry made headlines recently when he made a passing reference to the possibility of the Lone Star State seceding from the U.S., saying, "if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?"

States rights advocates offer countless examples of what they believe is Washington's overreach.

In Utah, 67 percent of the state's land is controlled by the federal government through wilderness preserves, limiting state leaders in their bid to fill government coffers through oil and natural gas drilling after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cancelled 103,000 acres of leases this year.

In Idaho, ranchers are furious that federal endangered species law prevents them from shooting the wolves that prey on their cattle.

"The balance of power between the states and the federal government is way out of whack," said Georgia state Senator Chip Pearson." The effect here is incalculable. Everything you do from the moment you wake up until you get to bed, there is some federal law or restriction."

Up until recently, the state sovereignty movement has remained almost entirely Republican, drawing supporters from the ranks that voted against President Obama and attended tea parties last month to protest federal tax hikes.

But the movement's rank and file are just as likely now to criticize Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, as they are the new president, pointing to what they believe were Bush's overreaching policies on education and homeland security.

Many are becoming frequent visitors to a Web site,, which was founded in early 2007 and has become a community bulletin board for states rights activists and politicians. Up to 20,000 viewers log on to the site every day.

The site's founder, Michael Boldin, a 36-year-old Web marketer in Los Angeles who says he has no political affiliation, says he decided to launch the site after watching the Maine State Legislature fight the Department of Homeland Security on the Real ID act, a controversial Bush-era law that will require states to issue federally regulated identification cards, complete with biometric data and stringent address checks.

"Maine resisted, and the government backed off, and soon all these other states were doing the same thing," Boldin said. "The bottom line is, if there's widespread support, people can resist the federal government at the state level."

The deadline for states to comply with Real ID has now been pushed back until 2011.

The Tenth Amendment movement is not without controversy. In Georgia, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution called a sovereignty resolution in the state Senate a threat "to secede from and even disband the United States."

The resolution, which was passed as part of a group of bills that were banded together, affirmed the state's powers under the Tenth Amendment, taking its inspiration and language from Thomas Jefferson's 1798 resolution opposing the Alien and Sedition Acts -- laws enacted by the federal government during wartime to quiet protest against the government.

The resolution asserts that any instance of the federal government taking action beyond its enumerated powers "shall constitute a nullification of the Constitution for the United States of America by the government of the United States of America."

"It's been taken out of context by some editors," said Pearson, who sponsored the bill. "It certainly never meant secession. The intent was to communicate that the actions of the federal government are an infringement on states' rights."

Robert Natelson, a law professor at the University of Montana who was involved in drawing up that state's sovereignty resolution over a decade ago, argues that states up until now have been unwilling to take action of any real consequence in checking federal power.

"Back then they passed the resolution, but they didn't turn down any federal dollars," he said.

"If the states are serious about returning the federal government to its historical origins, they're going to have to do more than pass resolutions. They're going to have to turn down money and litigate."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama makes nomination announcement for Supreme Court

Slippery Slope to Autocracy

26 May 2009

By Vladimir Ryzhkov

Authoritarianism is like a rock. Once it is dropped, it can only go in one direction -- down. Russia's path toward democracy was paved during former President Boris Yeltsin's presidency, but it has been steadily destroyed since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.

Over the past eight years, the state has been gradually taking away the constitutional rights of Russians. First, the state crushed freedom of speech on television. Then, it deprived citizens of their elected representatives in the Federation Council. Next, it installed seven federal presidential envoys around the country to control governors because at that time they were still elected by the people. But in September 2004, after the Beslan terrorist attack, Putin used the tragedy as a pretext to cancel the elections of governors. From that point on, the notion of Russian federalism became fiction.

In 2007, the Kremlin then turned its sights on the parliament. Using the "fight against terrorism" as its justification, the state deprived voters of the right to elect individual deputies to the State Duma in single-seat electoral districts, replacing them with proportional representation for all Duma seats.

In addition, the Kremlin created United Russia, its own pocket political party. United Russia has established a monopoly over the country's political and legislative machine, creating a modern-day version of the Soviet Communist Party in Moscow and in the regions.

The Constitution also became a target for attack. President Dmitry Medvedev has already made major amendments to it, extending the term for president to six years and for Duma deputies to five years. Putin, who is anxious to return to the Kremlin in 2012, if not sooner, to rule the country as president for another 12 years, is clearly the chief beneficiary of this term increase.

What's more, Medvedev has made the servile Constitutional Court even more complaisant by giving the Kremlin the authority to essentially appoint the court's chairman and his deputies.

During all of these Putin and Medvedev years, the government has been methodically destroying its real enemies -- freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, parliament, opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations.

It also thrust its way into Russians' minds, forcing a pro-Kremlin and anti-Western ideology on them. This was necessary because the authoritarianism and the dismantling of the Constitution required a compelling ideological foundation. This was most vividly articulated during Putin's speech immediately after the Beslan siege ended, when he referred to "enemies" who have encircled Russia and who are craving to seize parts of its territory and rich resources.

One of the first attacks in this new ideological campaign was the revision of teaching manuals to correct passages in textbooks that had tarnished the country's "glorious past." Schoolchildren were told that Soviet leader Josef Stalin was an "effective manager" whose mass murders, forced hunger and state terror were "justified."

Medvedev's latest move, on May 19, was the creation of a presidential commission "for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia's interests." This opens the door to deprive Russians the freedom to know the truth about their own history. Now, state bureaucrats will decide which interpretation of history should be considered "falsified" and which is "true."

Playing with history is frightfully familiar. Under Stalin, the regime's mistakes and crimes were whitewashed or completely expunged from the public record.

During Leonid Brezhnev's years, history books were revised to turn a relatively small military operation in 1943 at Cape Myskhako, near Novorossiisk, into a epochal battle of Stalingrad-like proportions. The Cape Myskhako battle became the subject of Brezhnev's bombastic autobiographical novel, "Malaya Zemlya," which was an attempt to inflate Brezhnev's role in World War II and to help improve his public image.

Now, it seems that the Kremlin is determined to distort global affairs and rewrite history to fit the Kremlin's paranoid worldview. It will be filled with enemies and Russophobes, plots and secret operations against Russia requiring that the new dictator mobilize all of his forces in the fight against internal and external enemies.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

20th Anniversary: Events of 1989 Lost on Young Chinese

BEIJING — With baggy shorts hanging below his knees, Puma sneakers and spiky hair, Wang Kangkang is hip to the present, clueless about the past.

Although he comes often to see the nightly ceremony of the Chinese flag being lowered at Tiananmen Square, he doesn't know what happened here in 1989 and doesn't seem to care.

"Well, it happened before I was born," the 19-year-old said, looking down at his sneakered feet as the crowd shuffled out of the vast expanse of concrete on a balmy evening. "In any case, it's history. Why should we dwell on the past?"

It was almost 20 years ago that hundreds of unarmed civilians were killed by an army making its final push to crush a pro-democracy demonstration in Tiananmen Square, and the Chinese government has fortified its information blockade on the bloody crackdown. Anybody trying to search the Internet here for information about the square, which is one of Beijing's most popular tourist attractions, is likely to get the message, "This page cannot be displayed."

But the efforts may be overkill. Apathy, as much as censorship, has pushed the events of June 4, 1989, into the dark recesses of history.

The young Chinese — whom one graying activist calls "the stupid generation" — remain willfully ignorant about the past.

The pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989, to many young Chinese, seem so, well, 1980s — a reflection of a time when communism was collapsing into the rubbish heap that was the Berlin Wall. From the perspective of 2009's global economic crisis, the Chinese system that represses political choice and speech in exchange for economic freedom doesn't look too bad to young people here.

"Our generation doesn't feel so much pressure as our parents," said Hou Jue, 26, who along with his friend Wang is studying to be a bartender.

"Even the global recession hasn't hit us much," Hou said. "It shows what a good country China is."

Although he lives only a few blocks from Tiananmen Square, he acknowledges that he is "not too clear" about 1989's events and doesn't feel a need to learn more.

"If the government tells us as Chinese citizens we should not know about something and shouldn't be searching material, we should be responsible and obey," Hou said.

The activists of the 1980s, many of them still involved in political issues, despair over the attitudes of the younger generation.

"This is the stupid generation. They were raised on Coca-Cola and Western movies, and they're very isolated from their country's history," said Zhang Shihe, a 56-year-old blogger and political activist.

Phelim Kine, a senior Asia analyst for Human Rights Watch, counters that young people's indifference toward Tiananmen Square is more a result of censorship than willful ignorance.

"People can't care if they don't know," Kine said.

But even some with access to the details don't seem to care.

Zhou Shuyang, 23, works in marketing for a European company, speaks fluent English and is technology-savvy enough to get around the "Great Firewall of China" and read whatever she chooses online. But she says she fully supports the Chinese government's efforts to restrict the information.

"If there is too much freedom, all sorts of false rumors can spread on the Internet," she said. "It's not easy to control such a big and diverse country as China."

Zhou added: "For me right now, I feel satisfied with my life, my country. I seldom think about politics."

At times, the intense patriotism of China's younger generation spills over into outbursts of nationalism. That happened last year in the run-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing when free-Tibet protests disrupted the relay of the Olympic torch, infuriating many Chinese.

During the height of the protests in April, the Web site was launched by an engineering graduate of Beijing's Tsinghua University to protest what he saw as anti-China bias in the Western news media. The site still receives about 500,000 hits daily and is the best-known of many new Web sites catering to young nationalists.

"They call us the post-1980s youth, the April youth, the Olympic torch generation or the 'Bird's Nest' generation," said the Web site's founder, 24-year-old Rao Jin, referring to the Olympic stadium. (Or, rather, wrote: The interview was conducted by e-mail at his request.) "Our patriotism springs from a heartfelt love for the motherland, a belief in Chinese traditional culture, pride in being Chinese and confidence in China's future."

That confidence was reflected in a poll published last year by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, which found 86 percent of Chinese to be satisfied with their country's direction. It was the highest rate of satisfaction among 24 countries surveyed. (By contrast, only 23 percent of Americans described themselves as satisfied with their country's direction.)

"The younger the people, the more they support the Chinese government," said Xu Wu, who first wrote about what he calls the Chinese "cyber-nationalists."

A Beijing native who was a student at Tiananmen in 1989, Xu said the Chinese government shouldn't count on the support of the fenqing, or angry youth, as they are sometimes known, in the long term.

"They are like a double-edged sword without a handle — very difficult to control," Xu said.

A prolonged recession that leaves large numbers of students unemployed, for example, could radically change the sentiments of the younger generation.

Michael Anti, 34, a Nanjing-born blogger, said he thought the younger generation was just biding its time.

"The Chinese are very practical," he said. "They know if they protest right now it will destroy their middle-class lifestyle. But when the timing is right, nobody will refuse democracy."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gay Curriculum Proposal Riles Elementary School Parents

Friday , May 22, 2009

By Katle Landan

A group of parents in a California school district say they are being bullied by school administrators into accepting a new curriculum that addresses bullying, respect and acceptance -- and that includes compulsory lessons about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that will be taught to children as young as 5 years old.

The parents from the Unified School District in Alameda, a suburb of San Francisco and Oakland, say these issues are best learned at home and most definitely are not age-appropriate for elementary school children.

The parents are also angry that they will not be allowed to keep their children out of the classes.

“I believe these children are far too young to be learning about what these issues mean,” said Alaina Stewart, who has three children who attend elementary school in Alameda. “These are adult issues and they are being thrust upon the children.”

But the school board says otherwise, and its attorneys say that if the curriculum is adopted, the parents will have no legal right to remove their children from class when the lessons are being taught.

"By not allowing kids to opt out," says David Kirwin, who has two children in the system, "the school district is violating a First Amendment right for those who have a religion that doesn't support homosexuality."

The proposed curriculum will include a 45-minute LGBT lesson, once a year from kindergarten through fifth grade. The kindergartners will focus on the harms of teasing, while the fifth graders will study sexual orientation stereotypes.

The move toward the new curriculum began two years ago, when teachers noticed that even kindergarten students were using derogatory words about sexuality, such as “fag.”

“Students reported feeling bullied,” said Kirsten Vital, superintendent of the Alameda Unified School District. “This work is in response to teachers asking for tools to combat name-calling and bullying at school.”

Among the course materials that could be added to the curriculum is "And Tango Makes Three," a children’s book about gay penguins struggling to create a family. The book has been banned in some areas of the country.

In response to the controversy surrounding the proposed curriculum, the school board has held two public debates this month.

One parent told an “overwhelming” majority of parents spoke out against LGBT instruction at one of the meetings, but that public opinion had little impact.

“The chairman of the school board repeatedly claimed to the audience that the curriculum is evenly supported and opposed,” said a parent named David, who asked that his last name be withheld.

“I am beginning to lose confidence of the board, as it seems to have a preconceived political agenda and not truly represent their constituent’s opposition to the curriculum,” he said.

But other parents say they are in full support of the proposed curriculum.

“Our schools are a reflection of our community and world,” said Marianne Bartholomew-Couts. “From a very early age, children should see what exists in the world.”

Michael Williams, another parent, thinks LGBT issues will come up anyway, and that teachers should be prepared. “The teachers would have the tools under the new curriculum to help kids respond appropriately,” he said.

California is no stranger to the controversy surrounding gay issues. Last November, voters passed Proposal 8, which overturned a Supreme Court ruling and banned gay marriage in the state.

The situation in Alameda is no different from the statewide ballot initiative: it has caught the attention of several organizations on both sides of the issue.

Ryan Schwartz, National Outreach Manager for GroundSpark—a non-profit organization that seeks justice in education—told that teachers are responsible for creating an environment where students can feel comfortable and learn. Teaching the golden rule won’t cut it, he said.

“Instead of having to police the schoolyard for bullying,” said Schwartz, “this curriculum is designed to prevent it from the beginning.”

But other groups think the new curriculum is not balanced in whom it protects.

“Under law, there are five categories of protected classes when it comes to discrimination,” explained Karen England, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Resource Institute, an organization that advocates conservative policy on social issues.

"The curriculum focuses on only one subgroup protected under anti-discrimination laws: sexual orientation.”

England said she believes Alameda's curriculum committee has purposely excluded religion, even though it is one of the protected classes. “This indicates an agenda is being pushed, as opposed to an altruistic attempt to teach tolerance,” she said.

Members of the school board will vote on Tuesday whether to adopt the new curriculum. Vital, the superintendent, would not comment on the expected outcome.

“No matter what the outcome is, we need to do some work as a community to come together around issues of diversity, acceptance and understanding of one another,” she said.

Samples of the curriculum can be found at and

Taliban's Plan for Winning Over Pakistan

Two months ago, Bashir Hussein was hoping that a peace deal between the Taliban and the provincial government in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) would finally bring an end to the violence that has plagued the Swat Valley for the past two years. The 75-year-old principal at the al-Mannar public high school in Mingora, Swat’s main city, says he’s seen so much violence in that time that the preceding decades of peace feel like a distant memory. After the accord was signed, some measure of normalcy returned to the school, one of the few co-ed institutions that remained open throughout the Taliban takeover of Pakistan’s mountainous north. But not without changes: Hussein renovated the school building to comply with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law that bars any interaction between males and females, religious studies were given more attention, and the female staff were ordered to wear burkas, the all-encompassing shroud commonly worn by women in the ethnic Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Hussein says he did what was necessary to keep his boys and girls learning. “There was a time, before the deal came into place,” he recalls, “when I told my staff that if they wanted, they could go back to their villages and I would close the school. But one of the teachers stood up and said, ‘No. If you are going to die here, we will die with you.’ ” The accord signed in February, giving the Taliban de facto control over a large swath of territory northwest of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, was a kind of blessing. Hussein and his staff could go on with the task of educating Swat’s youth, as long as they followed the Taliban’s anachronistic code of conduct.

That was the theory. But last week’s collapse of the accord exposes a much more sobering fact: the Swat Taliban never intended to accept the terms of the deal. Sharia, their key demand, which many Pakistanis accepted as either a localized desire for justice or an expression of the Islamic faith that is at the heart of the Pakistani identity, was only the first stage of a far-reaching agenda by the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies. When the Taliban violated the terms of the accord three weeks ago, pushing into the Buner district, a mere 100 km from Islamabad, Pakistanis began to understand what that agenda might be. This was not an isolated fundamentalist Islamic revivalist movement, limited to the ethnic Pashtun north and west of their country, but a much broader and more sinister drive, powered by al-Qaeda’s radical hatred of the West, to turn Pakistan into the world’s epicentre of ultra-orthodoxy.

As Pakistanis have woken up to that reality, taking to the streets to protest the Taliban’s self-proclaimed Islamic revolution, shells are raining down on the towns and villages of Swat. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are on the move in what human rights organizations are warning could quickly become the worst internal displacement crisis in the world. Organizers at refugee camps scattered around Swat and Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, already overwhelmed by the victims of the Pakistan military’s new offensive against Islamic militancy, are bracing for another massive influx. Meanwhile, the blame game has begun, with Pakistan’s militant preachers blaming the government for the crisis and the government blaming the militants.

Pakistanis find themselves at a crossroads. Do they demand an end to the offensive for the sake of safeguarding civilians, at the cost of giving the Taliban, now indistinguishable from their al-Qaeda allies in terms of their ideological scope, another opportunity to regroup and entrench themselves even more deeply into their nation’s social fabric—well beyond what even they accepted as radical Islam’s home turf in the north and west? Or will Pakistanis back their leaders and prepare for a fight to the finish? Both the Taliban and the Pakistani authorities realize just how crucial it is to win over the local population in what is, ultimately, a battle of ideas. For months, the Taliban had taken advantage of civilian casualties caused by the Pakistani military’s ongoing offensives against militants, which they blamed on U.S. pressure and influence. In Swat, they had embarked on a rare public relations campaign, inviting in journalists, holding press conferences, and framing their demands in the context of peace and justice for the people. It seemed the Taliban had wised up to the power of spin.

But some Pakistani leaders were not about to let the extremists gain the PR upper hand. According to Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s military spokesman, the controversial Swat deal was part of the military’s own counter-spin strategy. It worked on two levels. First and perhaps foremost, it showed the Pakistani people that the government was not being dictated to by the U.S. administration, which was deeply skeptical of the accord; secondly, it proved the government was willing to negotiate, something Pakistanis had been demanding for years. “But we are always ready to defend Pakistan against terrorists,” Abbas told Maclean’s three weeks before the deal collapsed. “If this deal fails, it will be because the Taliban did not keep their word.” Indeed, even then Abbas was cynical of the Swat Taliban’s willingness to limit their activities in exchange for a truce, accusing their leader Sufi Muhammad of having his own agenda. If the Taliban reneged on the deal, as he expected, they would reveal their true face to the Pakistani people.

In the end Abbas, and other observers from around the world, were proven right, and the pendulum has now swung back in favour of the Pakistani authorities. The Taliban pushed beyond the parameters of the Swat deal, giving Pakistan’s government and military leaders justification to engage them in an all-out offensive. But the Taliban and other al-Qaeda-linked militant groups in Pakistan can still point to the fact that the military operation began only after intense criticism from the White House, and during a visit by Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari to Washington. That reinforces the militants’ argument that the Pakistani government and military are mere pawns of the U.S. It’s part of a narrative that is relatively straightforward and common, whether you’re talking to a villager in the mountains of Swat or a day labourer in the semi-arid deserts of southern Punjab: the West, and the U.S. in particular, is out to destroy Islam. Period. And the Pakistani government is complicit. A new U.S. administration that has tried to prove it is on a new path means little to these people—they either do not understand the way Western democracy operates, or have absorbed the spin of the “evil West,” clinging to it regardless of changes in leadership and policy.

This, perhaps, is al-Qaeda’s greatest victory in Pakistan, and not the rising power of their Taliban proxies or any single attack, regardless of how spectacular it might be. Their triumph is in how thoroughly they have spread the message and convinced the poor and uneducated in places far beyond Pakistan’s militant heartland that the West is a disease, and global jihad its cure. Whether al-Qaeda survives is irrelevant now; the ideology has a life of its own, and is infinitely more difficult to kill.

The steady rise of al-Qaeda-style Islamic militancy in Punjab, for example, Pakistan’s most populous province, is part of this. In the poverty-stricken deep south, bordering volatile Baluchistan province, discussions in mosques and other religious institutions inevitably revolve around the mortal threat Islam faces from the West. In Rajanpur, a dusty, ramshackle town 550 km south of Islamabad, more and more Islamic missionaries are arriving to preach the kind of hatred for the West that is commonly the theme of videotaped rants by al-Qaeda leaders like Ayman al-Zawahiri. At the Makki Jamia mosque in the centre of the town, one such missionary, travelling from the southern port city of Karachi, puts it bluntly: “You can’t use the name al-Qaeda anymore,” he says. “If you say even one good thing about al-Qaeda, you will be arrested. So groups now give themselves different names—Jaish-so-and-so, Lashkar-this-and-that. But it’s all the same. They are all working toward what al-Qaeda is working toward: to destroy America.”

Recent events only prove to him, and other like-minded militant preachers, that Islam is the real target of America’s war on terror. U.S. drone attacks targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders but often killing innocent civilians as well are one element of a growing list of grievances that Muslims in Pakistan point to as evidence of a U.S. plot. “As the U.S. drone attacks increase, anger toward the U.S. will increase and support for al-Qaeda will grow,” says Muhammad Ramzan Shahid, the head of security for Rajanpur. “The attacks are killing Muslims. That’s not good for us. That’s not good for our religion.”

Areas like south Punjab and Swat are a prime focus for militant preachers looking for new recruits, and they find ready converts in the masses of ultra-conservative villagers. South Punjab has for years been the heartland of Punjabi militant outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba—pre-al-Qaeda groups that worked with the Pakistani military to destabilize Indian-controlled Kashmir. More recently, both of these have turned their fury on targets outside Kashmir—their traditional battleground—like the high-profile attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team and a police training centre in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, and last November’s bloodbath in Mumbai, India’s economic hub. “They used to have offices around here,” says Azam, the owner of a shop in Rajanpur, only giving his first name. “But they were all closed after the Sept. 11 attacks in America. Nobody knows where these guys went.”

If their recent activities are any indication, they have moved closer to al-Qaeda, focusing their attacks against the Pakistani government and preaching their anti-Western message in mosques and religious schools—madrasas—closer to, and sometimes in, key Pakistani cities like Lahore and Islamabad. The July 2007 confrontation at the Red Mosque in Islamabad was the first indication that these same Punjabi extremists had infiltrated the Pakistani capital. During a violent week-long standoff there pitting the mosque’s faithful and radicalized religious students at an adjoining madrasa against the Pakistani army, hundreds were killed. For the militants, the slaughter was a kind of Pearl Harbor—it closed the door on their relationship with Pakistan’s military, and converted them into another adjunct of the al-Qaeda network.

Much changed in Pakistan after that incident. The Swat Taliban increased their activities, setting off the cycle of violence that led to the peace deal there and its eventual collapse. Attacks in Punjab against Pakistani security forces spiked, and anger skyrocketed in south Punjab, the home region of the leaders of the Red Mosque, Abdul Aziz Ghazi and his brother Abdul Rashid. Abdul Rashid was killed during the standoff, but his brother was arrested while trying to escape, disguised as a woman in a burka. His release on bail on April 16, and his immediate return to the Red Mosque as its religious leader, was, according to government sources, intended to placate the Punjabi militants. In much the same way, Sufi Muhammad’s release in 2008, after his more than six years of incarceration for leading a failed jihad against the Americans in Afghanistan in 2001, was meant to help the government negotiate with the Swat Taliban. That strategy has failed.

At the Ghazi family madrasa in south Punjab, in a barren desert setting straddling Baluchistan, Abdul Aziz’s cousin, Riaz Muhammad Ghazi, frames his leader’s release in much the same way followers of Sufi Muhammad framed his. “God’s hand is in this,” says the 40-year-old headmaster of the religious school. “Our leader has made his first speech at the Red Mosque. Our brothers have brought God’s law to Swat. And, inshallah, we will create the perfect Islamic society in Pakistan soon.” In the courtyard of the madrasa, boys roughhouse around the gravesite of Abdul Rashid. In these parts, he is considered a saint. Locals say that for days after his burial, the dirt covering his body gave off a sweet odour. Hundreds of people from all over Punjab raced to the site to carry away a small piece of that sanctified earth.

But if the Pakistani authorities were hoping Abdul Aziz’s release would help placate his followers, they were spectacularly wrong. As his cousin explains the weakness in Muslims that has led them down the path of subjugation to the West, 700 km to the north in Islamabad Abdul Aziz is telling his followers during his Friday sermon that “the day is not far away when Islam will be enforced in the whole of the country.” Crowds of followers at the mosque chant: “Jihad! Jihad!”

A few hundred kilometres to the west, al-Qaeda’s hidden leaders, the puppet masters of Pakistan’s descent into radicalization, must be celebrating. But all is not lost. For the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting in Swat, leaving behind all their life’s possessions, the jihad has been a disaster. “Our livelihoods have been destroyed,” Akil Zada, one refugee who had just arrived in Mardan, 110 km northwest of Islamabad, told Maclean’s over the telephone. “All we wanted was the Taliban to accept the government’s promise of sharia and the government to keep its promise to implement it.”

Other moderate Muslims, like Bashir Hussein, the school principal in Mingora, are equally disillusioned with both the Taliban and the government. They have become innocent victims caught between Pakistan’s rising militancy and the government’s failed policies to contain it. Few, if any, believe that this latest offensive will be decisive. Indeed, most will tell you that America’s war has come to Pakistan, and it’s come to stay.

Tags: Islam, Pakistan, Taliban
Posted in World | No Comments »

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

El Paso school a haven along violent border

EL PASO, Texas (CNN) -- Marina Diaz knows each day could be her last when she leaves for school each morning.

But that doesn't stop her from making the trip from her home on the dusty outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a key battleground in Mexico's drug wars, to El Paso, Texas, where she attends high school.

From the moment she catches a bus to downtown Juarez, she is mindful of her surroundings. This is a city that saw 1,600 homicides last year. She warily watches the federal soldiers patrolling the streets.

Diaz, 18, finally relaxes after she clears customs at a border checkpoint and passes the "Welcome to Texas!" sign greeting pedestrians at the intersection of El Paso Street and 6th Avenue in downtown El Paso. From there, it's another five minutes to the Lydia Patterson Institute.

She is not the only student making the trip across the border each day. In fact, most of the students in the school do it: About 70 percent of the institute's 459 students live in Juarez. Some are American citizens with Mexican parents; others are Mexican citizens who carry a student visa to any one of three U.S.-Mexico border checkpoints in El Paso that serve tens of thousands of students, white-collar workers and day laborers each day. Students describe their lives and daily challenges »

When she gets to the school each morning, Diaz changes out of her jogging pants and into her uniform skirt.

"Because of the people over there, I don't feel comfortable with the men and stuff, so I wear pants," she explains. "You definitely see a difference here. The streets, they are more clean here than they are in Juarez, and I think the people respect you a little more. You don't have to worry about people giving you trouble."

El Paso, population 734,000, has long enjoyed the benefits of strong community ties with its industrial sister city of approximately 1.5 million. But the violence and insecurity created by the war between the Mexican government and the drug cartels has strained that relationship.

For students at Lydia Patterson, who live in Juarez and cross the bridge each weekday, the small, United Methodist preparatory school has become a safe haven in the months since drug-related violence in Juarez has intensified.

"My school is a home for me because I have teachers and they treat me like parents," says Hazel Barrera, 18. "Here, they take care of us and they make us feel comfortable and safe."

Lydia Patterson's faculty and administrators -- many of whom are graduates of the school, and also reside in Juarez -- say the school's mission is very much the same as it was when it was founded nearly 100 years ago as a sanctuary for Mexican families fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution.

"Our students are exceptional, and I always tell them I respect them and I admire their courage because they're living through this horrible time," says the school's president, Socorro Brito de Anda. Watch de Anda talk about how cartel violence affects her school »

"There are some students who've had some very horrifying experiences, and we have to be there for them," she says. "Make them feel safe is mainly what we want to do here, make them feel that there's a place where they can go to school and concentrate on school without having to worry about their safety."

Despite the Spartan aesthetic of the school grounds, which occupies a city block in downtown El Paso, most students might agree that Lydia Patterson lives up to de Anda's standards.

By 7:30 a.m., the cafeteria is buzzing with chatter in English and Spanish of students who come in early for free breakfast. In the open-air courtyard that divides a pair of red-brick, two-story buildings of classrooms, students sit alone and in groups, reading books and exchanging gossip. In between classes, they gather in the office of their beloved student activities coordinator, an alumnus who helps them study history and plan activities.

After classes, students linger as long as they can before it gets dark, chatting in empty classrooms with bars and gates over the windows and doors. Many stay for team sports or clubs, others contribute to the school's upkeep -- a stipulation of the scholarships that more than two-thirds receive.

If a soccer game or yearbook meeting ends late, the school ensures that a teacher, coach or parent escorts the students over the bridge, oftentimes, all the way home.

"There are teachers who can take us home because they are close to us and they want to be sure that we come home safe," Hazel says. "I don't feel like it's two countries, I feel like it's two homes." Watch Hazel talk about her two homes »

Since Mexican border towns became battlefields in the drug war, American towns like El Paso have become refuges for middle- and upper-class Mexicans.

Many have moved their businesses stateside; the El Paso real estate market is seeing an influx of Mexican nationals and green card-carriers from Juarez purchasing homes and relocating their families.

Families that cannot give up their lives in Juarez send their children to schools like Lydia Patterson, which has accepted 25 new students from Mexico since January.

The instability in Juarez has sent ripple effects through the school.

"We've had more inquiries from parents wanting to bring students to our school because of security, but on the other hand, they're struggling financially because many have had to close their business in Juarez due to the violence, so they're looking for a safe place for their children," de Anda says.

"I've had parents in my office crying and pleading for us to take their children. They say the part of the day that their children are in school is the only time they don't fear for their safety," she says.

Ask any student walking through Lydia Patterson's fluorescent-lit hallways how "narcotrafico" related violence has affected him or her, and most relay some vignette about a relative or neighbor who was robbed at gunpoint, extorted with death threats or caught in the middle of gunfire.

Diaz remembers the time she and some friends were walking to the mall when they spotted a crowd swarming around a body.

"They told us that it had happened just a few minutes before, and it was like, wow, if we were there only a few minutes earlier, maybe it could've been us," she says, smiling nervously at the thought.

Many of the teens at Lydia Patterson appear trapped between two worlds: one in which society tells them they're not safe, and another in which they feel such fears are exaggerated.

The violence in Juarez has curtailed the social lives of Diaz and her friends, as their parents forbid them from going out after school or after dark on the weekends.

"It's not that they don't trust my friends or the things I do, but they're seriously worried that I may be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that something might happen to me," says Irvinn Ceja, 16. Watch Irvinn describe how drug violence has changed his life »

Ceja says he is concerned more for his parents' safety than his own.

"I think that especially my dad, he's the one who works, he's a salesman, he works in the streets, he has to visit his clients, has to offer his products, so most of his time is on the streets driving and that's a big cause of stress because anything might happen," Ceja says.

Parents view Lydia Patterson as a means of elevating their family above the instability of Juarez.

"What would have become of my children if they stayed in Ciudad Juarez? Our lives changed the moment we were able to leave the danger, the fear of going out in the streets," says Maria Isabel Munoz Bustamante, whose daughter graduated from Lydia Patterson five years ago, and has a son, Alejandro, enrolled in his senior year. "We were nearly at the point of being another statistic in Ciudad Juarez, just a number."

The situation is Juarez also affects students who live in El Paso.

Mari Brito says her father's import business has taken a hit, and the family doesn't visit relatives in Juarez as much anymore.

Also gone are the days when Brito would cross freely between El Paso and Juarez to hang out with friends. Their contact is now limited to the school day and the Internet.

"We used to have all kinds of fun [in Juarez] and now we can't anymore because we don't know if it's safe," says Brito, whose parents sent her to Lydia so she could get in touch with her Mexican roots.

Like many El Pasoans, Brito sympathizes with the plight of her classmates and considers it a problem that extends to her community.

"I've learned to be grateful that I have the opportunity to live in El Paso and to probably care a little more about my neighbor city," she says. "We're all exposed to it because we know of it and we know the danger of it ... , so we've all been through it."

Campaign Project Revisited

Guardian Council Approves Candidates

Iran's electoral council has approved the four main candidates for the 12 June presidential poll, reports say.

They include President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is seeking a second term in office, the semi-official Mehr news agency said.

Two leading reformists have also had their qualifications approved - former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi.

Former Revolutionary Guards chief, Mohsen Rezai, can also run.

"The name of candidates... approved by the [Guardian Council] are as announced:

, Karoubi, Mousavi and Mohsen Rezai," said an Iranian Interior Ministry statement quoted by state media.

The 12-member Guardian Council has the power to approve candidates for elections in

In keeping with the constitution, candidates must believe in the principles of the Islamic republic and have a prominent political and religious background.

More than 450 Iranians, including 42 women, had registered as prospective candidates but only the four leading contenders were accepted.

Campaigning is already well underway in Iran, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports from Tehran, with all the candidates seeking to replace Mr Ahmadinejad heavily criticising his management of the economy.

Some have also criticised his comments on the Holocaust and called for a less confrontational foreign policy, our correspondent adds.

Campaigning will run until 10 June, with results due to be declared a day after the 12 June vote.

Some 46 million Iranians are eligible to vote in the poll, which will be Iran's 10th presidential election since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/05/20 08:52:23 GMT

Lethal injection bill advances

May 20, 2009


LINCOLN - The growing support for capital punishment within the Nebraska Legislature was clearly evident Tuesday.

Observers credited term limits and the exit of the Legislature's leading death-penalty foe, State Sen. Ernie Chambers, as the leading reasons.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," said Jill Francke, statewide coordinator for Nebraskans against the Death Penalty.

Francke spoke after state senators gave 34-7 first-round approval for adopting lethal injection as the means of carrying out capital punishment.

Nebraska has been without a legal means of execution since the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled 14 months ago that electrocution, the current method, violated the state constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Before the vote to advance lethal injection, lawmakers voted down two amendments brought by death-penalty opponents, including a 33-13 drubbing of an effort to repeal capital punishment.

The margin of victory was stark compared with two years ago, when a similar repeal attempt mustered 24 votes - one fewer than a majority in the 49-member Legislature. Last year, an attempt to do away with the death penalty lost 28-20.

The winds of change blew in with term limits, which brought a total of 36 new senators into the Legislature in 2006 and 2008.

Term limits also removed Chambers, the fiery north Omaha senator who for much of his 38 years in office stalled and filibustered debate to prevent adoption of lethal injection and promote repeal of the death penalty.

"He was very persuasive, such that I wondered if he had some training in hypnotism," said Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln, a death-penalty supporter.

New senators, Fulton said, simply reflect Nebraskans' support of the death penalty.

Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, whose lethal injection proposal served as the platform for the repeal try, said campaigning for office required the new legislators to form an opinion about the death penalty.

"It's an issue they get asked about a lot," Flood said.

Of those elected in 2008, 10 voted to support the death penalty and six voted to repeal it.

Sen. Danielle Nantkes of Lincoln, a leading opponent, said capital punishment is more complicated than people believe, requiring more than one or two terms to digest.

"These are highly complex technical, legal and policy issues that require a lot of time to gain an understanding of," she said.

Chambers, over the years, might have helped shape the opinions of other senators he served with, said Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, a death-penalty foe. But that was before the law changed, limiting senators to two four-year terms.

Five senators who voted in 2007 to repeal the death penalty voted against repeal Tuesday.

Sen. Gwen Howard of Omaha was one of them. She said Tuesday she didn't like the wording of the motion. She said she still opposes the death penalty.

Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland, who also said he opposes the death penalty, was recorded as "not voting" Tuesday.

One 2007 repeal supporter, Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, was absent and did not vote.

Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue said she is a death-penalty supporter who lent a vote to repeal on first-round debate in 2007 to extend the debate.

Sen. Greg Adams of York said his vote for repeal in 2007 was based on his opposition to the use of the electric chair.

"Voting for or against the death penalty has never been easy for me," Adams said. "At least with lethal injection, I feel slightly more comfortable."

Lawmakers debated for nearly 10 hours Monday and Tuesday before advancing Legislative Bill 36, the lethal injection measure, to second-round debate.

The first-round debate was emotional, centering on issues of fairness, morality and the extra costs of capital punishment, as well as whether it deters murder or is "state-sanctioned revenge."

Nebraska is the last state that used the electric chair exclusively as its means of execution.

Flood, who represents a district where five people were shot to death inside a bank in 2002, introduced the lethal injection measure to "close the loophole" created by the Supreme Court ruling.

"This bill is not about 'Should we have a death penalty?' We have a death penalty. We just need a method," said Flood, the speaker of the Legislature.

But Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha, who introduced the repeal measure, said changing the method of execution wouldn't solve the inherent unfairness of the death penalty. It would only extend the court appeals, she said, which now take nearly 20 years to exhaust.

"This is tantamount to a defense bar's gift of a winning lottery ticket," Council said, holding up a copy of LB 36. "It will be a long time before you see an execution, if ever."

How Nebraska legislators voted Tuesday on an amendment to repeal the death penalty:

Voting against (33): Adams, Campbell, Carlson, Christensen, Cornett, Fischer, Flood, Friend, Fulton, Gay, Giese, Gloor, Hadley, Hansen, Harms, Heidemann, Howard, Janssen, Karpisek, Lautenbaugh, Louden, McCoy, Nelson, Pahls, Pankonin, Pirsch, Price, Schilz, Stuthman, Sullivan, Utter, White, Wightman.

Voting for (13): Ashford, Avery, Coash, Cook, Council, Dierks, Haar, Lathrop, McGill, Mello, Nantkes, Nordquist, Rogert.

Present not voting (1): Wallman.

Excused (2): Dubas, Langemeier. How they voted on first-round advancement of LB 36, to switch the method of execution to lethal injection:

Voting for (34): Adams, Ashford, Campbell, Carlson, Christensen, Cornett, Fischer, Flood, Friend, Fulton, Gay, Giese, Gloor, Hadley, Hansen, Harms, Heidemann, Janssen, Karpisek, Lautenbaugh, Louden, McCoy, Nelson, Pahls, Pankonin, Pirsch, Price, Rogert, Schilz, Stuthman, Sullivan, Utter, White, Wightman.

Voting against (7): Coash, Cook, Council, Dierks, Haar, Howard, Nantkes.

Present not voting (6): Avery, Lathrop, McGill, Mello, Nordquist, Wallman.

Excused (2): Dubas, Langemeier.

Speaker of HOC Resigns Amid Scandal

Warrant Issued for Mother

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bumper Sticker

I saw this bumper sticker on a truck on Saturday.

LCE066 Liberty Man

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pakistan: aid groups struggle to help Swat's refugees

No Cell Phones in the White House

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Robert Gibbs Hates Ringing Cell Phones
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage

A Video from the Grave Sends Guatemala into Crisis

By Ezra Fieser / Guatemala City

When Rodrigo Rosenberg turned up dead on Mother's Day in an upscale neighborhood in Guatemala City, his murder was seen as little more than another execution-style shooting in one of Latin America's most dangerous countries. Now, after a video emerged in which Rosenberg accused Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom of orchestrating the murder, the killing has sparked civic unrest that threatens to topple the President of this fledgling democracy.

Thousands of protesters have demonstrated daily in front of the presidential palace, calling for Colom's resignation. And politicians have said Colom should step aside during the investigation into Rosenberg's death. "This is the most serious political crisis the country has faced since the signing of the peace accords" in 1996, said Anita Isaacs, a Haverford College political science professor who studies democratization in Guatemala. "The country is hanging on by a thread."

The video spread across the Internet after family members handed it out during Rosenberg's funeral on Monday. In the 18-minute tape, a seemingly calm Rosenberg, sitting behind a desk and microphone, alleges that Colom, the First Lady and two associates were involved in murder, corruption and money laundering. The group, he says, filtered public funds through a state-owned bank for personal gain and to finance drug traffickers. Rosenberg then claims that after Khalil Musa, a prominent businessman and bank board member, had learned of the Coloms' scheme, Musa and his daughter were shot to death in front of a shopping center in April. Rosenberg says the President signed off on the killings. (Watch the Rosenberg video below.)

On Sunday, Rosenberg was shot in the head while riding his bicycle. In the previously recorded video, he declares, "If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom, with help from [presidential secretary] Gustavo Alejos ... I knew exactly how [they] were responsible for that cowardly murder [of Musa], and I told them so and told those who wanted and could hear it."

Colom has repeatedly denied the allegations and refused calls to temporarily step down. "There is no proof, aside from the recording, which I discredit completely," he said. Colom also asked for assistance from international bodies, including a U.N.-backed investigatory body and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations. Embassy officials said an FBI agent arrived in Guatemala on Wednesday to help the government.

Colom won the presidency in 2007 with strong support from the country's impoverished indigenous Mayans. He ran on a leftist platform that included confronting government corruption and violent crime, legacies of the country's 36-year civil war. That war ended in 1996, giving way to rampant street crime and drug trafficking. An average of 18 people are killed daily in Guatemala, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the Americas.

For Guatemalans and political observers, the implication of Colom's involvement in Rosenberg's murder has recalled the days in which tens of thousands of political dissidents were abducted and killed by the government. Colom's own uncle, a former mayor of Guatemala City, was "disappeared" in 1979. "Rosenberg's death mirrors the tactics the military government used during the 1970s and 1980s when they wanted someone silenced," says Isaacs.

Colom has said the Rosenberg video is part of a right-wing conspiracy designed to destabilize the government and ultimately bring him down. In a broadcast interview, he suggested that Rosenberg was coerced into making the video. Colom pointed to a radio journalist, Mario David Garcia, as the key link to the conspiracy. Garcia, a presidential candidate for an ultra-right-wing party in the 1980s, told TIME he helped Rosenberg record the video in his office the week before the murder. "It's outrageous. There was never any coercion," Garcia says. "I even left the office while he was recording the video." Garcia says Rosenberg came to him for help and to appear on Garcia's radio show but changed his mind and decided to record the video. (Read a story about the turmoil in Guatemala in the 1980s.)

Nevertheless, Colom supporters have seized the conspiracy theory to defend the President. "We're here in support of our President and against these lies trying to bring him down," said Anita Lopez, 32, as she rallied in front of the presidential palace on Wednesday. Students of the left-leaning public university and indigenous Mayans joined her. Many said the government bused them to the city from the suburbs.

Steps away, thousands of protesters, including students from right-leaning private universities, marched in front of the presidential palace, carrying signs calling Colom an "assassin" and demanding his resignation. The competing protests are the most visible sign of a politically charged environment that has the potential to cause Colom to resign, Isaacs says. "This country has for so long been paralyzed by the pervasive violence and the potent mix of gangs and narcotraffickers," she says. "Now that paralysis has turned into rage. And if these demonstrations pick up momentum, they could have a snowball effect."

Organizers are planning to continue the demonstrations and anti-government activists are collecting signatures on a petition against Colom. Says Javier Ogarrio, a leader of the group opposed to the President: "We plan to keep the protests going and collect signatures until we put enough pressure on him."

Asesinato Rodrigo Rosenberg 1 (English Subs)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Understanding Iran's Deterrence Game

Wednesday, May. 13, 2009

As it keeps making its case for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Israel isn't being very subtle: Iran will have a nuclear bomb, possibly as early as this year, its leaders suggest; Iran's leadership is suicidal — it will drop a nuclear bomb on Israel given the opportunity. So how, the Israelis then ask, can we not afford to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, as we did Iraq's in 1981?

Such stark, simplistic logic appeals to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it skirts a couple of key questions about any such attack. For starters, would it actually succeed in putting a halt to Iran's nuclear program? Leadership at the Pentagon appears to think the answer is no. But what Israel and few others talk about, or not convincingly at least, is the other very risky unknown about such a strike: how exactly Iran would respond to it. Speculating a few weeks ago, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen told the Wall Street Journal that Iran's ability to strike back "has not maxed out at all." Mullen doesn't offer specifics but leaves the impression that Iran will do what it has done in the past: small-scale attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hizballah and Hamas rocketing of Israel. But as bad as that would be, what if Iran is preparing for a much broader response, even a full-fledged war? (See pictures of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

In fact, that is exactly what Iran's hard-liners have in mind. Over the past five years, in public and in government documents, the hard-liners have established a doctrine of deterrence that calls for a disproportionate response against the U.S. and Israel in the event of any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, no matter how limited. The doctrine stipulates that anything less than a large-scale response would risk the credibility of the Iranian regime — and its survival. And importantly, it does not draw a distinction between Israel and the U.S., if for no other reason than Israeli jets have to fly across U.S.-controlled Iraqi airspace to hit Iran.

Iran's deterrence doctrine is largely authored by the nation's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a wing of Iran's military charged with the protection of the regime. The doctrine is grounded in Iran's experience and study of four wars: the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), Hizballah's war against Israel (1982-2000 and 2006), the Gulf War (1991) and the Iraq war (2003).

Iran's deterrence doctrine consists of four components:

1) The U.N., including the International Atomic Energy Agency, cannot deter an attack on Iran — no matter the degree of Iran's openness or compliance on nuclear inspections. Saddam Hussein cooperated with the U.N. and rid himself of weapons of mass destruction, but in the end it did nothing to stop a U.S. invasion. Submission to a strict U.N. monitoring regime will only serve to degrade Iran's national security.

2) Iran will fight the war against Israel and the U.S. outside Iran's border, and Iran alone must determine the area of operations. Saddam lost his country and his life because he chose to resist the U.S. within Iraq's borders. Iran will respond to an Israeli attack by attacking the U.S. and its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and the Persian Gulf countries. Just as Iran makes clear with bellicose threats by President Ahmadinejad that it would destroy Israel if the U.S. launched an attack, it aims to deter an Israeli attack by stressing the price U.S. forces would have to pay in return.

3) The Iranian regime is capable of sustaining massive U.S. reprisal attacks without falling. In 1991 Saddam's army suffered a catastrophic defeat with the backbone of its army and air force destroyed and the loss of much of the southern part of the country to Shi'ite insurgents, but Saddam held on and remained in power. The Iranian regime believes it can weather the same degree of losses, especially as it has adequately prepared its populace for "martyrdom." As a result, it believes it is able to withstand much greater human and material losses than the U.S. A $100-per-bbl. spike in the price of oil and a few thousand Americans dead, its thinking goes, will convince the U.S. to seek a truce.

4) It is well-prepared for a long, costly war. Iran learned how to fight an asymmetrical guerilla war in the 1982-2000 conflict in Lebanon, learning that lightly armed, small, mobile units can beat a larger enemy. Secondly, Iran knows it needs to eliminate any potential fifth column. Saddam's failure to destroy the Iraqi opposition, in particular the Kurdish groups in the north, called into doubt the Iraqi regime's legitimacy. It facilitated the notion that the Iraqi people had asked for a foreign invasion to deliver them from Saddam. Iran's crackdown on student dissidents, foreign journalists and dissident political movements should be viewed in this context.

Not all Iranians, of course, agree with the hard-liners' deterrence doctrine, but they do not have a voice in Iran's national security. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guard and other hard-liners alone determine Iran's national-security policies. And as Israel and the U.S. calculate the cost of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities, they should realize that the decision makers inside Iran have no thought of a limited response.

Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, The Devil We Know.

Bastani is a member of the editorial board of the Iranian daily Rooz Online.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guantanamo Bay Terrorists: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?

What do you think about this Republican You Tube Video?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bill O'Reilly On '' Hate Speech '' ( Britain Bans Extremists )

Couldn't get the embed code to work from Fox, so this is the best I could come up with. Very interesting segment.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Test Tomorrow

Want a sneak peak of the terms on the test? I put the whole test into a program called wordle and it created a chart of most of the words on test. The larger they are the more frequent they appear on the test.

Click here for the chart

Have fun studying, see you tomorrow.

Oh yeah...No comments on this post. It is just for you to use.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Taliban's Atomic Threat

The extremists who harbored al Qaeda could get control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

At his press conference Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama endorsed Pakistan's official position that it has secure control over its nuclear-weapons arsenal. Mr. Obama said he was "gravely concerned" about the situation there, but "confident that the nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands."

His words are not reassuring in light of the Taliban's military and political gains throughout Pakistan. Our security, and that of friends and allies world-wide, depends critically on preventing more adversaries, especially ones with otherworldly ideologies, from acquiring nuclear weapons. Unless there is swift, decisive action against the Islamic radicals there, Pakistan faces two very worrisome scenarios.

One scenario is that instability continues to grow, and that the radicals disrupt both Pakistan's weak democratic institutions and the military.

Often known as Pakistan's "steel skeleton" for holding the country together after successive corrupt or incompetent civilian governments, the military itself is now gravely threatened from within by rising pro-Taliban sentiment. In these circumstances -- especially if, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified recently, the nuclear arsenal has been dispersed around the country -- there is a tangible risk that several weapons could slip out of military control. Such weapons could then find their way to al Qaeda or other terrorists, with obvious global implications.

The second scenario is even more dangerous. Instability could cause the constitutional government to collapse entirely and the military to fragment. This could allow a well-organized, tightly disciplined group to seize control of the entire Pakistani government. While Taliban-like radicals might not have even a remote chance to prevail in free and fair elections, they could well take advantage of chaos to seize power. If that happened, a radical Islamicist regime in Pakistan would control a substantial nuclear weapons capacity.

Not only could this second scenario give international terrorists even greater access to Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, the risk of nuclear confrontation with India would also increase dramatically. Moreover, Iran would certainly further accelerate its own weapons program, followed inexorably by others in the region (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey) obtaining nuclear weapons, perhaps through direct purchase from Islamabad's new regime.

To prevent either scenario, Pakistan must move to the top of our strategic agenda, albeit closely related to Afghanistan. (Pashtuns on both sides of the border are the major source of Taliban manpower, although certainly not the only locus of radical support.) Contrary to Western "international nannies," the primary conflict motivators in both countries are ethnic and tribal loyalties, religious fanaticism and simple opportunism. It is not a case of the "have nots" rising against the "haves," but of True Believers on a divine mission. Accordingly, neither greater economic assistance, nor more civilian advisers upcountry, nor stronger democratic institutions will eliminate the strategic threat nearly soon enough.

We didn't get here overnight. We are reaping the consequences of failed nonproliferation policies that in the past penalized Pakistan for its nuclear program by cutting off military assistance and scaling back the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program that brought hundreds of Pakistani officers to the U.S. Globally, this extraordinarily successful program has bound generations of foreign military leaders to their U.S. counterparts. Past cut-offs with Pakistan have harmed our bilateral relationship. Perhaps inevitably, the Pakistani officers who haven't participated in IMET are increasingly subject to radical influences.

Moreover, the Bush administration, by pushing former President Pervez Musharraf into unwise elections and effectively removing him from power, simply exacerbated the instability within Pakistan's already frail system. Mr. Musharraf's performance against the terrorists left much to be desired, and he was no democrat. But removing him was unpleasantly reminiscent of the 1963 coup against South Vietnam's Diem regime, which ushered in a succession of ever-weaker, revolving-door governments, thus significantly facilitating the ultimate Communist takeover. Benazir Bhutto's assassination, while obviously unforeseen, was a direct consequence of our excessive electoral zeal.

To prevent catastrophe will require considerable American effort and unquestionably provoke resistance from many Pakistanis, often for widely differing reasons. We must strengthen pro-American elements in Pakistan's military so they can purge dangerous Islamicists from their ranks; roll back Taliban advances; and, together with our increased efforts in Afghanistan, decisively defeat the militants on either side of the border. This may mean stifling some of our democratic squeamishness and acquiescing in a Pakistani military takeover, if the civilian government melts before radical pressures. So be it.

Moreover, we must strive to keep Indo-Pakistani relations stable, if not friendly, and pressure Islamabad to put nuclear-weapons proliferator and father of Pakistan's nuclear program A.Q. Khan back under house arrest. At the same time, we should contemplate whether and how to extract as many nuclear weapons as possible from Pakistan, thus somewhat mitigating the consequences of regime collapse.

President Obama's talks next week in Washington with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan provide a clear opportunity to take the hard steps necessary to secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and defeat the Taliban. Failure to act decisively could well lead to strategic defeat in Pakistan.

Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).