Monday, January 31, 2005

Mixed economic news:

GDP Rose 4.4% In 2004.
The Wall Street Journal (1/31, Dunham) reports that the Commerce Department reported Friday that real gross domestic product rose 4.4% last year, its fastest pace in five years.

Poor January Stock Performance Seen As An Ominous Sign.
USA Today (1/31, Shell) reports that in an “ominous sign,” stocks “slid into negative territory the first trading day of 2005 and have been in the red ever since. … While there are still 11 months left in 2005 to turn those losses into profits, history shows that a negative performance in January is difficult to overcome.”
Group Hires Media Firm To Defend Bush Judicial Nominees.
The Washington Times (1/31, Hurt) reports, that the Federalist Society, which supports President Bush's judicial nominees has hired Creative Response Concepts, “the same media firm used by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for their efforts to defend the next nominee for any upcoming Supreme Court vacancy."
Well, of course it's partisan but so is what the organization is, in spite of what the law says! Does the NAACP have something to hide....?

NAACP Refuses To Comply With IRS Probe.
USA Today (1/31, Drinkard) reports that the NAACP “is refusing to turn over documents for an Internal Revenue Service investigation into allegedly improper political activity, claiming the probe is politically motivated. In a letter sent to the IRS Friday, the NAACP cited what it contends is evidence that the agency launched the audit before the November election because of political pressure.” The IRS “denies any partisan motive for the probe.”
How did this happen!?!

We've been in Iraq for a couple of days, right? How do we let $11.4 BILLION DOLLARS slip away just like that!?! (That's TEN TIMES the amount Israel's army will spend redeploying after the disengagement plan [if it happens])

US officials misplace $11.4bn

February 01, 2005 WASHINGTON: The post-invasion US governing authority in Iraq lost track of $US8.8billion ($11.4billion) it transferred to government ministries in a black hole of fraud, kickbacks and misappropriation, according to an official US audit released yesterday.

The report of the US Special Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction was scathing in its criticism of how the Coalition Provisional Authority handled Iraqi money until it handed power to the interim Government last June.

"The CPA provided less-than-adequate controls for $US8.8 billion in DFI (Development Fund for Iraq) funds provided to Iraqi ministries through the national budget process," the report said.

"We believe the CPA management of Iraq's national budget process and oversight of Iraqi funds was burdened by severe inefficiencies and poor management."

DFI is made up of proceeds from Iraqi oil sales, frozen assets from foreign governments and surplus from the UN oil-for-food program.

The report said the CPA, headed by Paul Bremer, failed to ensure funds were not used to pay "ghost" employees and cited one example in which officials authorised payment for 74,000 guards but only a fraction of these could later be proven to exist.

A review of 10 payments -- ranging between $US120million and $US900 million -- made by the CPA between October 2003 and June last year found none included documentation such as budget spending plans.

One of the main benefactors of Iraq funds was Vice-President Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton, which was paid about $US1.7billion to bring in fuel for Iraqis.

Mr Bremer rejected the audit findings.

"The draft report assumes that Western-style budgeting and accounting procedures could be immediately and fully implemented in the midst of war," he said in a statement.

Mr Bremer said any delays in paying Iraqi public servants' salaries would have raised the security threat to Iraqis and Americans and cost more lives.

But the report said: "The fact the Iraqi ministries ceased to or had never functioned, lacked basic tools and operated in a cash economy was precisely why the CPA should have provided oversight of the financial management of the funds."

Sunday, January 30, 2005

New York got a dusting of snow early Sunday morning but it looks like the DC area got it a bit worse: a nice coating of ice followed by a few inches of snow. That usually leads to the spectacular but scary incidents of cars doing 180 degree spins on roads.

Meanwhile, we got above freezing today here in NY (I think) but because it's been too cold for the 15 inches of snow to melt, alternate side parking has been suspended in New York City through Thursday. So not only does it cost $1M per inch to clear, it's costing the city an unknown amount in lost parking ticket revenue. There goes our $400 tax break!
Most disturbing quote of the day:

This one, courtesy of failed the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Forbes Kerry, was uttered during his interview this morning with Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press." I almost lost my breakfast upon hearing it. He was explaining why his campaign had money left in the bank after November 2nd. After all, people donated the money for it to have been spent so that he'd be victorious. Perhaps the reason he lost was because he underspent? No, Kerry says,

Money was not an issue in the outcome of what happened in this race.
Well, that's just great. While people in your state (and country) don't have health insurance or jobs you don't care about how much money you, your campaign, or your party spent on the election because there was just so much around it didn't make a difference! Why keep track of things that are so plentiful?

Don't get me wrong, I'm equally disappointed with the Republicans on this one. I actually turned a profit this November for going to Philadelphia for a few days as part of the RNC's "72 Hour Effort." The operation there was awash with money and people doing nothing. I'm in full support of some reform on the matter but we're clearly headed far away from the day anyone even mentions, let alone supports, such legislation.
Next year's Israeli budget will include an 800M shekel reduction in spending, representing a 3% spending slash across each respective ministry. I'm beginning to think that Bibi is more conservative than some of the Republicans in America!
Why did it take me a full week to find out that there was an earthquake in Jerusalem?!?
Huge Rally in Jerusalem

It is being reported in the Israeli media (though the most comprehensive coverage can be found here) that somewhere between 100,00 and 150,000 Israelis congregated outside the Knesset this afternoon to voice their disapproval of Sharon's disengagement plan. So far things have been peaceful (the alternative would be terrible and only add more fuel to the proverbial fire) and it's a great showing of unity in front of the State's legislative body as well as the Prime Minister's office (as well as that of my uncle, whose former boss was jeered and interrupted several times as he addressed the crowd). According to organizers, the rally will last a full twenty four hours. I'm uncertain as to whether the tents that have been there for the past month will remain or if this will mark the culmination and completion of the month-long protest.

Parenthetically, aside from showing their displeasure and disgust with the plan, I'm not sure how effective this whole thing has been. It does not seem, to me at least, that Sharon or his new coalition government (which was actually formed during the protest's first week!) have changed their plans at all. It's definitely not a waste but as a month has passed I'm looking for some positive results and, aside from increasing achdut among some (and significantly decreasing it among others), I'm not sure what the "mitnachlim" ("settlers") have to show for their efforts.
Soft power on display off the USS Abraham Lincoln

One of my favorite political science classes in Queens College was international politics, in which we delved into political theory and read some really great stuff. One book we read was by Joseph Nye and I've been a fan (for the most part). This article presents an interesting look into his famous "soft power" idea as well as an inherent problem (the first time I'd ever seen one aside from those who just dismiss it out of hand i.e. Rumsfeld and Bush). It also points out that, contrary to what I was taught, economic power is not a type of "hard power," but rather "a third, autonomous dimension of power." It's fairly short and well-worth reading.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More on the WSJ story I reported earlier this morning about a reshuffling of the Congressional appropriation committees:
A plan by House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., to dismantle three subcommittees and distribute their turf to other panels is roiling appropriators on both sides of the Capitol. Under Lewis' plan, confirmed by a Senate Appropriations aide, the VA-HUD panel would be broken apart, with its pieces distributed to other subcommittees. Veterans' programs would go to the Military Construction Subcommittee, which would also pick up defense health accounts from the Defense Subcommittee. The Environmental Protection Agency would shift from VA-HUD to the Interior funding measure, while housing programs would be transferred to the Transportation-Treasury bill. The District of Columbia Subcommittee also would be abolished with its responsibilities shifted to the Interior Subcommittee. Finally, the Legislative Branch Subcommittee would be eliminated, with its annual bill handled by the full committee. Stout Senate resistance is expected from former Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who remains chairman of the Defense Subcommittee, and from Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., chairman of the VA-HUD panel.
Major developments in Israel and PA land
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei has banned the carrying of unlicensed weapons into areas controlled by Palestinian security, Cabinet member Saeb Erakat said Thursday.

The order, which Qorei signed Thursday, represents a significant move to control Palestinian militants, many of whom have refused to give up their guns in the past.

Reining in of militants by the Palestinian Authority has been a key Israeli demand before resumption of peace talks.

In addition, Israel has told Palestinian officials it is stopping targeted killings of senior members of Palestinian militant groups, Israeli sources said Wednesday.

Ending Israeli targeted killings has been a key demand by Palestinian militants in exchange for a cease-fire on Israeli targets.

The two developments come early in the administration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who reportedly has reached a provisional agreement with the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Hamas has provisionally agreed to participate in a cease-fire.

Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has acknowledged responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military. Israel and the U.S. State Department consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

The provisional agreement came after Abbas agreed to form a "supreme diplomatic authority" to replace the Palestine Liberation Organization as the body responsible for approving any diplomatic agreement with Israel, Ha'aretz reported.

This authority would include all Palestinian organizations, both in the territories and abroad. Groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are not part of the PLO. PLO leader Yasser Arafat -- who died in November -- had always rejected demands that he form such an umbrella group. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a militant group dedicated to the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel.

Erakat and Dov Weisglass, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, met Wednesday and discussed an agenda for a proposed summit between Sharon and Abbas.

Erakat characterized Wednesday's meeting as being constructive and in-depth and said security and political issues also were discussed.

The meeting came after Sharon issued a directive to resume the contacts that were frozen two weeks ago in the wake of a terrorist attack at the Karni Crossing that killed six Israelis on January 13. (Full story)

Palestinian security forces in southern Gaza

Israeli and Palestinian officials said an agreement has been reached for a redeployment of Palestinian security forces in southern Gaza that will begin Thursday.

The decision came in a meeting between Maj. Gen. Moussa Arafat, Palestinian public security commander, and Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Gaza area commander for the Israel Defense Forces. The two met Tuesday evening at the Erez Crossing.

Palestinian security forces have redeployed in northern Gaza in an attempt to stop attacks on Israelis.

Moussa Arafat said last week the coordination is necessary to prevent the Israeli military from mistaking the Palestinian security forces for terrorists and opening fire on them.

Speaking of Safire, his column would have appeared in today's paper, he was honored by the Israeli embassy, according to JTA.

The Israeli Embassy honored William Safire, the newly retired New York Times columnist.

Among the luminaries attending the dinner Wednesday night were Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary; Douglas Feith, an undersecretary of defense; neoconservative icon Richard Perle; Clinton administration defense secretary, William Cohen; and media stars Wolf Blitzer, George Stephanopoulos and Bob Schieffer. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent Safire his best wishes. Safire, who published his last column this week, was often privy to exclusive interviews with Sharon.

At the dinner, he said it was because he befriended Sharon when he was out of power and “no one in Washington wanted to buy him breakfast.”

The State of Israel lost a great friend in the press, who knows who'll pick up the slack...or at least part of it.
Remind me not take his class.

Bob Shrum, the failed Dem strategist who so adroitly helped Kerry lose last year's election, has decided to take a break from the campaign trail for a bit of writing , researching, and teaching. You know, with the great record that he has I'm sure people will be lining up to buy his book and take his class.

-Failed presidential campaign of George McGovern
-Failed presidential campaign of Ted Kennedy
-Failed presidential campaign of Al Gore
-Failed presidential campaign of John Kerry

So, where do I sign up?
I usually avoid her pieces because they're not worth anything, much less my time, but Maureen Dowd is looking to make some extra dough, too. In today's column she writes:
I still have many Christmas bills to pay. So I'd like to send a message to the administration: THIS SPACE AVAILABLE.
I'd love to take her up on this one. While Krugman took a much-needed break to seek counselor last fall after the elections (he promised to be gone till January but then, one dark day, came back because he felt obliged to set the record straight on Social Security...he hasn't gone away since), and Safire wrote his last column this past Monday, Dowd hasn't been on vacation nearly enough. I could think of lots of people that would be better for the paper and better for readers. So if she's serious, why not post the idea on eBay and see what happens? If it can work for Amber Rainey, it can definitely work for Maureen Dowd!
You know, I saw that there was going to be a story on the news last night that a man was offering firms to advertise on his forehead. Apparently 20 year old Andrew Fischer, of Omaha, Nebraska, will receive $37,375 to advertise the snoring remedy SnoreStop for one month. I know, serves me right for watching television, much less the news on television, but he's inspired others to follow his example!

Yesterday, Amber Rainey, a 22 year old pregnant woman from Myrtle Beach, Florida was inspired to try and cash in an even bigger part of her body. Rainey, who's seven months pregnant, hoped that she could earn some extra cash by putting the rights to her ever-expanding abdomen up for for sale on eBay for the next two months. She promises to walk around malls and other highly trafficked parts of her community with her shirt up, thereby exposing the advertisements, up !?!

Here's her official sales pitch:
I'm a professional woman who happens to have a great looking pregnant belly! If you're looking for exposure, look no further. I'll expose my belly to get your company seen! People can't help but look at a pregnant woman's bump!
Well, at least she'll put the money to good use. She said that if she does turn a profit,
she plans to put some of the funds back for her son's future, create a nursery in her home, and use the rest to make repairs to a home she and her husband own in New York but are trying to sell.

I think the common thread between the two: they both live in Red states!

Why in the world would anyone without prior experience and significant name recognition (and super-deep pockets) be dumb enough to challenge Hillary in in '06? Take a lesson from Howard Mills, save your money, your energy, your time, and your talents.

Nonetheless, she's already got the support of GEP, Mayor Mike, and Sean Hannity...and a convicted husband.

We'll see how things play out, it could turn into a real catfight....REEEEEEEEEERRRR!
How does one call something 'horrifying' and 'brutal' yet continue to support it? This is a further demonstration of the inner angst eating inside the Israeli public. While they support it, they acknowledge that it's the most difficult thing the State has ever done since its inception. Tough stuff.
Something to watch:

GOP Plan Would Revamp CongressionalBudget Process.

The Wall Street Journal (1/27, A4, Rogers) reports on a Republican plan “to revamp Congress's annual budget process would reduce the number of spending bills required each year and break up the powerful appropriations panels charged with funding veterans, housing, science and environmental programs.” The plan “was outlined at a private meeting between the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.).”

More on Europe becoming the breeding ground for terrorists from today's NYTimes:
France Seizes 11 Accused of Plotting Iraq Attacks
France has “smashed a cell that was recruiting fighters to join the insurgency in Iraq, intelligence and law enforcement officials said Wednesday.” French authorities “arrested nine men and two women, and more arrests are expected, the officials said. The timing was linked to information that at least two of those arrested were poised to leave for Iraq, perhaps to carry out suicide attacks, they added.”
Another embarassment for the ZOA:

The Forward found itself in the middle of this debate last week, after we published an advertisement that criticized Israeli government policy in terms that some considered beyond the pale of civility. The ad, purchased and signed by the local president of the Washington, D.C., district of the Zionist Organization of America, took on Israel's Gaza disengagement plan, which it likened to a long string of anti-Jewish persecutions from the Inquisition to the Nazi slaughter. The plan's architects were called "betrayers of Israel." Since its appearance, we've heard from more than a few community leaders who thought we were mistaken to accept the ad, arguing, as Abe Foxman writes on this page, that it was tantamount to "hate speech."

Even the ZOA's own national leadership jumped into the fray. ZOA President Morton Klein, a child of Holocaust survivors who scrupulously avoids misuse of Nazi imagery, strongly disavowed the ad and told us he had accepted the resignation of his Washington chapter president. Klein wondered why we hadn't checked with his organization before running an ad in its name.

Yes, of course, each time we publish an ad on behalf of an organization we'll be sure to check in with the organization's president first. C'mon, Mort, surely you're not that stupid, are you?

They should just shut down their DC office, this is the third time in two and a half years that there's been a significant conflict between employees in that office and the organization's president in New York. It's not like they're that effective, anyway. To compare the Israeli government to Nazis? Yes, they did that in Gaza a few weeks ago. But that was shortlived and inappopriate. It remains inappropriate now and the ZOA should know better and have a better handle on its staff. Shame on them.
The Forward reports that the OU, taking a lesson from the Young Israel of Woodmere is urging its member congregations to ban Kiddish clubs.
Some months back there was a ban on bringing alcohol into my shul but clearly that was not enforced at all. I'll wait and see if we follow the guidelines (to my knowledge we are a member congregation) and if they're actually enforced this time.
This actually came up at my family's table last Shabbos and we were fairly confident (at least as far as I know, as far as my friends went when we were in elementary and high school just a few years ago) that the issue that is so prevalent, unfortunately, in so many other communities, is not, thankfully, as major in ours and that might have been why it was not enforced.
It is commendable and I'm sure that it will do much to add proper decorum to the services and might even save some teens from becoming alcoholics, or at least make it more difficult for them to get booze on Shabbos morning.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This is a great article that really provides a glimpse into the split that exists in Israel today regarding how to deal with the disengagement from Gaza; whether to accept and support, whether to follow military orders to carry it out, whether to protest and oppose it, whether to use civil disobedience against its implementation, or whether to violently oppose it, perhaps resulting in the spilling of Jewish blood by fellow Jews. It's not simple; here are some opinions.
Yesterday I supported Israeli Ambassador Ayalon's decision to shun the Columbia conference on the mideast peace process. Having read this Jerusalem Post article, however, I'd like to retract that statement, and change positions on this one. I was unaware of the other participants and think that while there are definitely glaring problems in Columbia these days, given the other distinguished members of the debate (Egyptian ambassador to the US, Israeli historian Tom Segev, former Israeli consul general in NY Alon Pinkas, the infamous Rashid Khalidi, and Columbia prez Lee Bollinger, among others), this might have provided a perfect forum for a constructive and healthy discussion of the issues; an opportunity to dispell some of the myths and lies that may have been (and probably are still) floating around the gorgeous campus located in Manhattan's Morningside Heights.
Further, I find the argument of current NY Israeli consul general, Aryeh Mekel (a Columbia graduate, himself), uncompelling and rather weak:
"There are two opinions on this. One tells us that it would not be right to pull out. Others tell us that it would not be good to hold such an event with Israeli participation so long as the panel did not present its case. I believe that this time we have to wait for the panel. This is why Ambassador Ayalon postponed—not postponed, but canceled—his participation."
Why not present the official case of the State of Israel in person in front of Khalidi and Bollinger? Why wait for a panel whose report or findings are almost definitely predictable as of today given the fact that some of the members actually signed an Israeli disinvestment petition in Columbia?

Apparently Barbara Boxer wasn't the most compelling of Senate Dems during yesterday's marathon debate on Ms. Rice's confirmation. Dana Milbank reports that
As Boxer spoke, the floor was empty of all lawmakers but [Senator George] Allen [R-VA], who was playing with his BlackBerry.
See, it's not just us commoners who hate the Crackberry, they're even used in disrespectful situations among and against fellow politicos! It's only fair, I suppose.
It's cabinet secretary nominee confirmation day on Capitol Hill! (Try saying that three times fast!)

In the big story, the Senate has, at long last, confirmed Condi Rice to be our next Secretary of State, with 85 senators voting in her support and 13 voting against her. The dissenters, twelve Democrats (Kerry, Kennedy, and expectedly, Boxer, voted against due to her "lack of candor" regarding the war [and because she's raking in the dough for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ever since she "impugned the integrity" of Ms. Rice in last week's confirmation hearings]) and one Independent (Jim Jeffords of Vermont), cast the most 'no' votes against any secretary of State nominee since World War II! However, the more historic outcome is that Ms. Rice will become the first African-American SecState in our nation's great history.

Also in the Senate floor and committees today, Jim Nicholson was confirmed to replace Anthony J. Principi as Secretary of Veteran Affairs and Michael O. Leavitt was confirmed to replace Thommy G. Thompson as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Confirmation is also expected later today on Samuel W. Bodman, a deputy Treasury secretary who won committee approval today to succeed Spencer Abraham as Secretary of Energy.

On a 10-8 party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee today endorsed the nomination of former White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to be our next Attorney General, succeeding John Ashcroft. The unified Democratic dissent was designed to "send a strong statement that the minority will not tolerate administration stonewalling of Democratic demands for information," writes CQ Midday Update.

My senior senator, Charles E. Schumer (never one to miss an opportunity to get his name in the press), insisted that "We have to find our voice." He claimed that the vote shows that "when we feel something's wrong, we will stand up."

That's good because I wouldn't want him to take injustices sitting down. But now that you're standing, Mr. Senator, what exactly do you plan on doing? Are you going to talk for hours on end? And, if so, what will that accomplish? (To clarify, Schumer has said they do not plan to fillibuster Gonzales' confirmation once it's brought to the floor for a vote.) Do you plan on fillibustering away the entire 109th Congress just to prove that there are still some Democrats in our great legislature? Really, with the miniscule numbers they have these days, all they can do is fillibuster. They have not shown a willingness, as of yet at least, to work with the Republican majority so they will likely not be consulted when major decisions must be made. That relegates them to screaming and jumping up in down in front of the bright cameras and big microphones. Pretty sad, don't you think?
I hope the victor will bring as much excitement to the NJ state capitol as Codey's predecessor did. Really, the day Jim McGreevy announced his gay affair resulted in more buzz around the New York State Executive Chamber than any other day during my three month stint there this past summer. I'm looking forward to a fun election season. ;)

A Quinnipiac NJ GOV poll shows acting NJ Gov. Richard Codey (D) trailing Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) 43%-33% in a Dem primary; Bret Schundler and Doug Forrester are tied at 32% with 29% undecided. In a general, Codey defeats Schundler 54%-26% and defeats Forrester 53%-25%, whereas Corzine defeats Schundler 52%-28% and defeats Forrester 51%-29%.

Israeli FM Silvan Shalom, in town for Monday's Auschwitz commemoration at the UN, will be meeting with Condi Rice at 11am this morning at the "Bayit HaLavan" followed by a 2:30pm meeting with Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Lastly, he'll be meeting with the incoming National Security Advisor, Steve Hadley, at the White House at 4pm. Busy day for Mr. Shalom, I'm sure there will be more to post on his meetings later today.
Umm...maybe the good people in the White House want to start learning how to use Lexis Nexis or Google before appointing people to important positions? First Bernard Kerik and now a member of the Presidential delegation to Viktor Yuschenko's inauguration over the weekend. This is terrible.

Writings About Jews By Member Of BushDelegation To Ukraine Cause Embarrassment.
Knight Ridder (1/26, Strobel, Landay) reports, Myron B. Kuropas, an adjunct professor at Northern Illinois University, who was part of “a delegation sent by President Bush to Ukraine's presidential inauguration last weekend…has accused Jews of manipulating the Holocaust for their gain and blamed them for Soviet-era atrocities in Ukraine. … The inclusion of Kuropas…appeared to be an embarrassment for the Bush administration.” Knight Ridder goes on to quote from some of Kuropas’ writings deemed offensive by Jewish groups.

Only the Washington Times would publish this story. However, if it was enforced for last year's election, it would be enforced for '08-to the detriment of both parties.

NTU Study Finds Lawmakers Were Paid For Missed Days.
The Washington Times (1/26, Pierce) reports in its “Inside Politics” column reports that an NTU study says 25 lawmakers, “including Sen. John Kerry, received thousands of dollars in pay even though they were absent for long periods in 2003 and 2004, usually to campaign for higher office.” The NTU “said an obscure but valid law calls for members of Congress to be stripped of pay during absences unless they or a family member are ill, but congressional leaders have failed to enforce the law, while rank-and-file lawmakers seem reluctant to voluntarily comply.”

Two in as many this just the tip of the iceberg?

Second Columnist Admits Payments To Promote Bush Initiatives.
The Washington Post (1/26, Kurtz) reports that in 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher “repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families.” Gallagher “failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal.” Gallagher said she “would have ‘been happy to tell anyone who called me’ about the contract but that ‘frankly, it never occurred to me’ to disclose it.” Gallagher “received an additional $20,000 from the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 for writing a report, titled ‘Can Government Strengthen Marriage?’, for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative.”

Senate Democrats Blast Rice, But Confirmation Appears Assured.
During Senate debate on Condoleezza Rice’s nomination as Secretary of State, Democrats had harsh words for the nominee, but her confirmation appears assured. The debate received ample
coverage on all three networks last night and on this morning’s newspapers. However, as the Los Angeles Times (1/26, Efron) reports, despite strong Democratic criticism, Rice “is expected to win confirmation easily in a Senate vote scheduled for Wednesday.” But “Senate staffers said at least 10 and as many as 20 senators were expected to vote against her nomination. If so, Rice would become the first secretary of State not to win unanimous confirmation since 1981, when six senators voted against the nomination of Alexander M. Haig.” Roll Call (1/26, Kane) reports that
“according to one Democratic estimate, seven Democrats were ready to vote against Rice’s confirmation today, with at least seven more openly considering it.”
Survey Finds 80% Of Iraqis Plan To Vote.

USA Today (1/26, Zoroya) reports on the upcoming Iraqi election,
noting that “large swaths of the country are relatively
peaceful, and Iraqis are excited about the chance to cast their
first meaningful ballot. A recent survey by the International
Republican Institute found that 80% of Iraqis say they will
probably vote.” The Christian Science Monitor (1/26,
Peterson) profiles an Iraqi family whose four members who
are eligible to vote in Sunday’s election intend to do so. The
Monitor notes that “questions remain for this family, and many
others, about who is running on the 111 party lists, most of
which have remained secret to protect the candidates, and
who will fill the 275 seats of a parliament tasked with writing a
new constitution.” In a story on the state of the public mood
in Iraq, ABC World News Tonight(1/25, story 3, 4:10,
Jennings) that “two out of three Iraqis in the central zone here
told us they are optimistic about the future. That's resilience
for you.”
Ha'aretz covers the monumental event that will occur next month: Artscroll will, after about fifteen years, complete its translation of the entire Babylonian Talmud into english.
It looks like McDonald's will have to stand trial against some teens who are suing it for misleading them on the ingredients of the McNuggets and for making them fat. This case is two years old and the recent news is that a three judge panel overturned one judge's decisions to dismiss the case entirely. Could it be that a company will be held accountable? But why are companies to be held accountable for the poor eating choices of teens? Time precludes me from discussing this more, but here's the article, courtesy of the Washington Post.
Looks like Israelis are slacking off, taking lots of sick days over the past twenty years.

I'll let Lea comment on this if she'd like :)
Turns out the warning that was issued the night before last Thursday's inauguration was, in fact, a hoax. There's gotta be a better way to get good intel in this country. Here's the story, courtesy of the home town Boston Herald:
Mexican man who reported Boston was targeted for a terrorist nuclear attack confessed he fabricated the story to take revenge on a man who stiffed him in a deal to smuggle illegal aliens, a source said.
``He's admitted it's all a hoax,'' said a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation of Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinones, who was taken into custody Monday along with his son in Mexicali by Mexican police and interviewed by the FBI. ``He admitted he was trying to get back at his employer, who is a human smuggler,'' said the source.
FBI officials in Washington, D.C., released a statement saying Beltran's telephone report last week that two Iraqis and four Chinese nationals planned to detonate a nuclear device in Boston ``had no credibility.'' The FBI had no comment on whether Beltran will face criminal charges. An official in Mexico told the Associated Press that Beltran and his son Jose were released because they had obtained a court injunction preventing their arrest.
``While the threat information proceeded from criminal activity (an alien smuggling operation) there were in fact no terrorist plans or activity under way,'' the FBI said in a statement. Federal officials also said there is no link between 14 Chinese nationals named by Quinones and a group of illegal Chinese immigrants forced to land in a private plane yesterday in San Antonio, Texas.
According to a statement released last night by the Mexican Attorney General's Office, Beltran denied being a smuggler but admitted making the bogus 911 call to the California Highway Patrol Jan. 17. He said he was drunk and under the influence of drugs at the time but the call ``was only a joke.''
The incident sparked a nationwide manhunt and resulted in Gov. Mitt Romney [related, bio] returning to Massachusetts from the presidential inauguration.
``We must take all information we receive about potential terrorist threats seriously until we can prove that they are not credible,'' said Romney's spokeswoman, Shawn Feddeman. ``We are relieved that this has turned out to be unfounded.''

Also relieved was Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who had been skeptical of the threat from the start. ``The mayor is happy the city is safe, and that there's no threat to Boston.'' said mayoral spokesman Seth Gitell.

I hope the victor can bring as much news to the NJ capitol as his predecessor. Really, no day during my three month stay in the New York State Executive Chamber was quite as loud and never was there as much buzz the day Jim McGreevy announced his gay affair. I'm looking forward to a fun campaign. ;)

A Quinnipiac NJ GOV poll shows acting NJ Gov. Richard Codey (D) trailing Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) 43%-33% in a Dem primary; Bret Schundler and Doug Forrester are tied at 32% with 29% undecided. In a general, Codey defeats Schundler 54%-26% and defeats Forrester 53%-25%, whereas Corzine defeats Schundler 52%-28% and defeats Forrester 51%-29%.

You know we're doing something right when even those on the far left (ya know, the ones that are members of the 'vast left-wing conspiracy') begin moving right to get more in line with the nation's citizens.

Hillary in the middle on values issues

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is staking out centrist positions on values issues that helped decide last year's presidential election, positioning herself to the right of her party's base on abortion, faith-based initiatives and immigration.

In the past few weeks, the New York Democrat has embraced the role of religion in addressing social ills, decried abortion as "sad, even tragic" and complained about the influx of illegal aliens -- all stances that run counter to liberal party leaders, but which are popular among voters.

Some quick headlines:

Oscar nods overlook 'Fahrenheit 9/11'
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, challenging conventional notions of Tinseltown as a knee-jerk liberal monolith, snubbed "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore's hostile documentary on President Bush, in this year's Oscar nominations.
I'm not quite sure why this is such big news. There were no "best actor/acress" and it certainly wasn't worthy of the best film of the year. Were the F9/11 folks expecting to be nominated for some technical awards like "Passion" was? I don't think they would have been satisified with that, either. Really, it was a propagnda movie in documentary form and, in my humble opinion (I saw it two weeks ago at long last), I don't think it qualified for any Oscar nod.

Here's a great rebuttal to the "it's all Israel's fault" argument. It is a long article but a great one, too. Really.
President Bush officially honors the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with the following statement:

At the Auschwitz concentration camp, evil found willing servants and innocent victims. For almost 5 years, Auschwitz was a factory for murder where more than a million lives were taken. It is a sobering reminder of the power of evil and the need for people to oppose evil wherever it exists. It is a reminder that when we find anti-Semitism, we must come together to fight it.

In places like Auschwitz, evidence of the horror of the Holocaust has been preserved to help the world remember the past. We must never forget the cruelty of the guilty and the courage of the victims at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

During the Holocaust, evil was systematic in its implementation and deliberate in its destruction. The 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is an opportunity to pass on the stories and lessons of the Holocaust to future generations. The history of the Holocaust demonstrates that evil is real, but hope endures.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 27, 2005, as the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. I call upon all Americans to observe this occasion with appropriate ceremonies

and programs to honor the victims of Auschwitz and the Holocaust. May God bless their memory and their families, and may we always remember.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentyfifth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twentyninth.


Israel is creating a special police unit to keep an eye on "far right" groups opposed to the impending disengagement plan.
More fallout on Columbia's anti-Semitic MELAC department:

While the Columbia investigative committee is still looking into allegations of anti-Semitism and intimidation by its professors, Israeli ambassador Danny Ayalon has cancelled a speech he was to make Thursday at the institution's Center for International Conflict Resolution, at which former Senator George Mitchell is a Senior Fellow, reports Ha'aretz. He cited protests by students and subsequently consulted with Jewish organizations before making his final decision. Good call, Mr. Ambassador.
WaPo has an article (dateline-Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip) on Thursday's municipal elections.
Somehow, like when Israel does it, there's an international outcry, but when the Palestinian Authority demolishes houses in its own territory that's ok. Someone please explain the logic behind this one! I can only hope that this policy will be extended to the illegal buildings in Palestinian-held lands like East Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria also.
They keep impugning her integrity...sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me (especially since she'll be confirmed anyway!)

During nine hours (nine hours!!!) of debate on the confirmation of Condi Rice today, Mark Dayton (D-MN) said:
"I don't like to impugn anyone's integrity, but I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally."
Robert Byrd added:
"I cannot support higher responsibilities for those who helped set our great nation down the path of increasing isolation, enmity in the world and a war that has no end. Oh, when will our boys come home?"
I can picture it in my mind, his hands quivering, his voice cracking in his southern drawl...when's he going to retire already!?!
A stampede in India caused by a fire led to three hundred deaths today. What's going on down there?!? First the tsunami, now this...
I tuned into tonight's Frontline entitled "Al Qaeda's New Front" and came away depressed and downright scared. It seems that despite multiple terrorist attacks on their own soil and many arrests of many terrorist cells throughout Europe since September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda (and perhaps those of other terrorist organizations) continues to draft and recruit more and more European Muslim citizens into their ranks. The fact that an imam can, openly on a street in France or Spain (I don't remember which country it was in), say that they must take revenge on the Zionist enemy and infidels of the world, is unbelievable. They're so open and so blinded by what's going on right beneath their very eyes! And their passivity to this is putting the entire world at risk because they're allowing their soil to become springboards for terrorist groups to operate throughout the world. A terror cell was arrested while they were planning to bomb seven symbollic sites in Madrid: one was a skyscraper designed by the same man who designed the World Trade Center, another was a building in which a judge who had sentenced terrorists had his office, and another was very same subway station that was bombed last March 11th. THEY HAVE THE AUDICTY TO TARGET THE SAME SPOT TWICE!!! Luckily, they were captured before they were able to execute their evil plot. But far too many attacks have already occurred and it's high time that the Europeans realized that they've got a problem in their midst. There are eighteen million muslims in Europe today-and counting, with five million in France alone. The program mentioned that the Muslims that live in their own enclaves outside Paris have no interest in assimilating into French culture and see themselves as living in infidel lands. Well, then why not move back to whatever country they're from? If they want to kill their fellow citizens, why doesn't anyone have a problem with that? This just proves that it's not Israel, it's not America, it's not poverty, it's not repressive regimes that cause terrorism. These people have freedom, they have jobs, they live in open and free France and they still want to go out and kill because they believe that not killing the infidels would make them non-religious Muslims and that's just not acceptable (I'm paraphrasing what one imam said, I'm not making this stuff up). I don't know what to think but it didn't leave me with any encouragement for the future of the muslim world (which, considering its size must be taken seriously), for the future of Europe, the future of America, the future of Israel, or the future of the world.

We'll see how long this lasts, but apparently Israel has agreed to end its policy of targeted killings, I'm guessing to further empower Abu Mazen to control his terrorists.

AP reports the following tonight:

Officials: Israel Ends Targeted Killings

.c The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel has stopped targeting Palestinian militants for death, Israeli security officials said early Wednesday, fulfilling a key Palestinian demand for a truce to end four years of violence.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel has informed the Palestinians of their decision. It came after generals from the two sides met Tuesday to plan deployment of Palestinian police in central and southern Gaza, to prevent militants from attacking Israelis.

Vice Premier Ehud Olmert suggested Wednesday that Israel had decided to refrain from some military operations.

``Always our decisions were in accordance with the reality on the ground and it seems that if there is a real chance that there is Palestinian activity to prevent terror ... this is something we need to relate to.''

Olmert would not elaborate but said that Israel was ``very encouraged'' by the Palestinian efforts in the Gaza Strip to prevent the firing of rockets and mortars toward Israeli communities. Israeli officials have been reluctant to state publicly what Israel will do in response to a reduction in Palestinian attacks, saying only that ``quiet will be met with quiet.''

Since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas took office earlier this month, he been negotiating with militant groups about a truce declaration. In return, the militants are demanding that Israel stop its military operations and halt its killing of militant leaders.

The groups agreed to a one-month halt in attacks to test Israel's response.

On Tuesday, the Damascus-based leader of the violent Islamic Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, described during a telephone interview with The Associated Press his group's conditions for a truce.

``If the Zionist enemy (Israel) abides by certain conditions, such as releasing all prisoners and detainees and halting all acts of killing, assassination and aggression against our people inside and outside (the Palestinian territories), the general national position of all Palestinian factions has become that they are ready to positively deal with the idea of a temporary truce,'' Mashaal said.

Israel is holding about 7,000 Palestinian prisoners, including some responsible for bloody attacks, but Israel has not agreed to free them.

The security officials said Israel would not act on its current target list of militants, but they warned that if Palestinians resume hostile activity, they will target those responsible.

Speaking from an undisclosed location in Beirut, Lebanon, Mashaal told the AP that the success of the truce effort depended on Israel.

``This is a moment of test,'' said Mashaal, who is based in Damascus, Syria. ``It puts the responsibility on the international community and the United States to force Israel to recognize the Palestinian rights.''

Israel has killed dozens of suspected Palestinian militants in targeted raids during four years of conflict, many in helicopter missile strikes as well as bombings and ambushes.

Israel defended the practice by saying that it was preventing further attacks, but human rights groups have criticized it. Many bystanders have also died in the attacks.

The most prominent Palestinians killed in the targeted attacks were the founder of the violent Islamic Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, killed in helicopter missile strikes a few weeks apart last year.

After nightfall Tuesday, the Palestinian public security commander, Maj. Gen. Moussa Arafat, met with the Israeli commander in Gaza, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, at the Erez crossing point between Israel and Gaza, their second session in a week.

They discussed plans for a police deployment in southern Gaza at the two-hour meeting, which came just days after some 3,000 Palestinian police deployed in northern Gaza to guard against militant rocket attacks on Israeli communities. No rockets or mortar shells have hit Israeli communities since last week.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told AP that beginning Thursday, police would take up positions near Khan Younis and Rafah in southern Gaza - frequent flashpoints of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants. He said another security meeting was expected Wednesday.

Erekat also said he had been in touch by phone with aides of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to prepare for a possible meeting with Abbas. He said contacts with Israel were going well, but the two sides had not begun to discuss the agenda for a meeting.

Speaking before Israel's parliament Tuesday, Sharon harshly criticized opponents of his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and dismantle four West Bank settlements by this summer.

Sharon said that ``in the past year, there has been an upsurge of voices threatening the integrity of Israeli democracy.'' Without mentioning the pullback plan, Sharon complained that a minority in Israel was unwilling to accept the will of the majority.

Settler leaders said Tuesday that new residents were moving in to the settlements scheduled for evacuation. They said 400 people had joined southern Gaza settlements in the last six months and dozens had moved into the four small West Bank settlements on the evacuation list.

Government figures released previously put the population of the 21 Gaza settlements and four West Bank enclaves at about 8,800.

01/26/05 00:40 EST

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I wonder what Jacques Chirac is thinking as he looks at pictures of Jews sent to Nazi camps in Paris' Holocaust memorial today (AP)
While I did have two tickets to last week's inauguration in DC, no one wanted to come with me and I was unable to schedule meetings to make it a more productive trip. However, it seems that it might have been for the best (well, it definitely was, I had a great meeting at 2:30!) because apparently a ticket didn't guarantee you the right to participate anyway. I'd be really upset if I were a Ranger or Maverick etc. and couldn't even get in to enjoy the fruit of my hard labor. Go figure!
Jeff Ballabon, of Cross Current fame, posted the following article by Daniel Pipes which appears in today's NY Sun:

The Future of Judaism
January 25, 2005

Until the 18th century, there was basically only one kind of Judaism, that which is now called Orthodox. It meant living by the religion’s 613 laws, and doing so suffused Jews’ lives with their faith. Then, starting with the thinker Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) and moving briskly during the Haskala, or enlightenment, from the late 18th century, Jews developed a wide variety of alternate interpretations of their religion, most of which diminished the role of faith in their lives and led to a concomitant reduction in Jewish affiliation.

These alternatives and other developments, in particular the Holocaust, caused the ranks of the Orthodox to be reduced to a small minority. Their percentage of the total world Jewish population reached a nadir in the post-World War II era, when it declined to about 5%.

The subsequent 60 years, however, witnessed a resurgence of the Orthodox element. This was, again, due to many factors, especially a tendency among the non-Orthodox to marry non-Jews and have fewer children. Recent figures on America published by the National Jewish Population Survey also point in this direction. The Orthodox proportion of American synagogue members, for example, went from 11% in 1971 to 16% in 1990 to 21% in 2000-01. (In absolute numbers, it bears noting, the American Jewish population went steadily down during these decades.)

Should this trend continue, it is conceivable that the ratio will return to roughly where it was two centuries ago, with the Orthodox again constituting the great majority of Jews. Were that to happen, the non-Orthodox phenomenon could seem in retrospect merely an episode, an interesting, eventful, consequential, and yet doomed search for alternatives, suggesting that living by the law may be essential for maintaining a Jewish identity over the long term.

These demographic thoughts come to mind upon reading a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, U.S. Haredi Leader Urges Activism, by Uriel Heilman, in which he reports on a landmark address in late November 2004 by the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Shmuel Bloom. Agudath, an Orthodox organization with a stated mission to mobilize Torah-loyal Jews for the perpetuation of authentic Judaism, has a membership ranging from clean-shaven men to black-hatted ones (the charedi), from Jews educated in secular universities to full-time, Yiddish speaking students of the Talmud.

Rabbi Bloom told an Agudath audience that Jewish demographic trends imply that American Orthodox Jews can no longer, as in the past, bury themselves in their parochial interests and expect non-Orthodox Jewish institutions to shoulder the major burden of communal responsibilities. Rather, the Orthodox must now join in, or even take over from their non-Orthodox coreligionists such tasks as fighting anti-Semitism, sending funds to Israel, and lobbying the American government. The things we rely on secular Jews for, he asked, who’s going to do that if the secular community whittles down? We have to broaden our agenda to include things that up until now we’ve relied upon secular Jews to do.

He exaggerates, in that some Orthodox Jews in America have been prominently involved in both national (think of Senator Lieberman, a Democrat of Connecticut) and communal affairs (Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America comes to mind). But he is accurate insofar as Orthodox institutions have generally stayed out of the American fray except to pursue their narrow agenda.

Others in Agudath agree with the need for the Orthodox to broaden their ambitions. The organization’s executive vice president for government and public affairs, David Zwiebel, notes that, With our growing numbers and the maturing of the community and the greater self-confidence that comes with that maturity and those numbers, there’s no question that we need to at least recognize that there may be certain responsibilities that now have to shift to our shoulders.

Mr. Heilman understands this intent to assume a greater role in national and Jewish life as a sign both of the success of the American charedi community in sustaining its numbers and its failure to translate that success into greater influence in the community at large.

It also could portend a much deeper shift in Jewish life in America and beyond, being a leading indicator of Orthodoxy’s political coming of age and perhaps even its eventual replacement of non-Orthodox Judaism.

I agree with R' Bloom and R' Zweibel; we do need to get more involved in our own government and country in an attempt to control our own destiny as best we can. We've seen what happens when we let others legislate on our behalf thinking, foolheartedly, that they'll keep our interests in mind at the same time.
I disagree with Pipes though. I don't think that Sen. Lieberman has done enough to represent his community and his morals and the religion he should be so proudly representing on the Hill. Further, I think that Morton Klein's ZOA has taken on such a right-wing agenda and hostile way of doing business that his organization has lost a lot of its credibility. For the most part they seem to be one of many Jewish organization in the business of self-perpetuation these days. What have they done lately? The Koby Mandell Act looks nothing like Sarah Stern's original version did; it was sanitized and lost its "teeth" before its passage. Just look at their website. They have action alerts up from last August! More importantly, the organization is not a religious one at all, merely one that lobbies and advocates on behalf of the Jewish State. Big difference there.

First, a happy Tu B'Shevat to all!

Here are today's top stories:

U.N. Marks Liberation of Nazi Camps 60 Years Ago
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 24 - The General Assembly commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps on Monday with pledges of "never again" and expressions of concern over whether genocide could still occur.

"I am convinced if the world had listened to those of us who tried to speak, we may have prevented Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia and naturally Rwanda," said Elie Weisel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, author and Auschwitz survivor.

He ended his remarks saying, "The question I have is, 'Will the world ever learn?' "

The daylong session, which began and ended with a minute of silence, was the first such commemoration at the General Assembly, where frequent denunciations of Israeli policy have stirred accusations of anti-Semitism. In 2003, a resolution condemning anti-Semitism was withdrawn when it ran into opposition from Arab and Muslim nations.
"On occasions like this, rhetoric comes easily," Secretary General Kofi Annan said.

Yes, he would know about how easy rhetoric is...

"We rightly say, 'Never again.' But action is much harder. Since the Holocaust the world has, to its shame, failed more that once to prevent or halt genocide."
Yup, on your watch no less!

Here's the text of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's speech to the GA, at which he said:

"For six million Jews, the establishment of the State of Israel and of the United Nations occurred too late...The remaining 'dry bones' of those who survived came to life through the establishment of the State of Israel... We are here to ensure that such a terrible thing never happens again."

President Bush is sending a delegation to Auschwitz, led by Vice President Cheney. (He also sent a delegation to the UN though there were rumors that Sec. Rumsfeld was going to lead it, not Wolfowitz.)

Mossad: Iran to Reach Point of No Return on Nukes This Year

Mossad chief Meir Dagan warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that by the end of this year, Iran will have reached the point of no return in its technology for manufacturing nuclear bombs.
Three to four years later, the Iranians will be able to build a nuclear bomb.
Dagan said there are hints of nuclear programs underway in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
Dagan said Iran was almost finished building a facility for manufacturing nuclear fuel and had reached industrial-scale production of enriched uranium.
He said Syrian calls for peace talks were only meant to please the Americans, and that fundamentally there is no difference between Bashar Assad's positions and those of his late father, Hafez Assad.
Here's some proof that Arafat did, in fact, control the Oslo War:

Relative quiet in Gaza Strip, as PA policemen do their job

On Monday there were only a few cases of isolated gunfire in the Gaza Strip. The PA will deploy forces in the southern Gaza Strip near Rafah and Khan Yunis on Tuesday, Israel Radio reported. The Popular Front and the Democratic Front, Abu Rish's breakaway Fatah faction, and the Popular Resistance Committees are apparently moving into areas where Hamas and Islamic Jihad have ceased activity, and the shooting incidents are being interpreted as attempts to raise the price the PA will have to pay for them to cease their fire.
Overnight Monday, Palestinians opened fire on Israeli cars traveling on the Kissufim route. A large explosion was heard near Gaza City and IDF officials said it was caused when Palestinians tried to fire a rocket. (Ha'aretz)
However, Arutz Sheva disagrees:

"The ceasefire exists only in the media," says longtime Gaza resident Datia Yitzchaki. The Gush Katif entrance was closed for three hours last night after terrorists fired at and hit an army truck.
The truck was hit at the Kisufim Junction into Gush Katif, and the army closed the road while soldiers combed the area. On Sunday, a mortar shell was fired at the community of Kfar Yam, and an explosive device was activated near Ganei Tal. No one was hurt, but Yitzchaki, who once served as the region's official spokesperson, says, "The Palestinian terrorists continue doing what they know how to do: try to murder Jews."

"The gestures and restriction-easings that the government plans to give Abu Mazen," Yitzchaki told Arutz-7 last night, "will simply enable them to better prepare for their next attack upon us."

A Gush Katif neighborhood committee called upon the regional IDF Commander, Brig.-Gen. Aviv Kokhavi, to take genuine remedial steps in response to last night's shooting, and not merely to "provide aspirin for a terminally ill patient."

Natural-born givers
Some people may be genetically programmed to do good, Israeli researchers believe.

According to a study conducted by a team of psychologists from Herzog Memorial Hospital and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a link exists between selfless behavior and a gene variant on chromosome No. 11. The chief researcher, professor Richard Ebstein, said surveys indicate that people with this gene variant get a good feeling from doing good.

“While risk-takers receive some kind of thrill or rush — a benefit to themselves — people who are altruistic receive no discernable benefit from their philanthropy, and in extreme cases, like running into a fire to save a stranger, put themselves at risk,” Ebstein told the Web site “People with the altruism gene may do good works because they get more of a thrill.” The study is described in the current edition of Molecular Psychiatry.

Isn't this next piece halacha? Why the big deal all of the sudden?
Lawmakers see red
An Israeli rabbi stirred feminist ire by likening women who wear red to prostitutes.

Word of the ban on women’s red clothing issued by Eliyahu Abergil, chief religious judge of Beersheba, reached Jerusalem on Monday. In response, several women lawmakers arrived in the Knesset decked out in — red. “It’s not up to a rabbi to tell us whether to wear black or red or any other color,” said Erela Golan of the secular Shinui Party. “Just because we wear red does not make us prostitutes.”

Arutz Sheva reports that chareidi units of the IDF will be dismantled beginning in March. The "logic" provided here is unconvincing.
A new storm is brewing in the religious-Zionist public, with the decision by IDF Personnel Corps Commander Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern to disband the special yeshivat hesder units in the army.
Beginning with the upcoming recruitment in March, the hesder yeshiva students – who combine army service with yeshiva study in a five-year combined program – will not serve in special hesder companies. Instead, they will be dispersed in smaller groups throughout larger battalions.
"We have no interest in ideological units in the army," said Stern, himself an observant Jew, to Army Radio today. "The IDF is an army of the people, and people should get to know each other, and not think that the other side has horns." He implied that even the Nachal Hareidi - special units that enabled many hareidi-religious soldiers to serve in the army because of their nearly-total separate nature - might be dismantled as well.
The special hesder units were established to enable the observant soldiers to pray together and otherwise their religious way of life.
Stern denied that the new decision's timing is connected with the scheduled disengagement and a fear that entire units might refuse expulsion orders.
"There is no phenomenon of refusal in the army," said Stern, "though we are taking preventive measures so that it will not sprout in the future."
MK Effie Eitam, a Brig.-Gen. in the reserves, is up in arms at the attempt to destroy the hesder units. "I commanded these units very often during my 30 years in the army... No one ever considered them to be ideological units; they are combat units for all intents and purposes. The timing of this decision is clearly political, and the army has allowed itself to become embroiled in the public political controversy."
Eitam said he plans to fight the decision: "I will submit a Knesset query to the Defense Minister, I will bring it up for debate in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and I will speak with the Chief of Staff as well."
Rabbi David Stav, head of the Petach Tikvah hesder yeshiva, accused Gen. Stern of acting "without integrity" in making such a unilateral decision: "He asked us what we think, we told him we object - and then he suddenly makes this extreme decision," Rabbi Stav said. "This is the first time such a thing has been done, without consultation and without trying to reach agreement." He said that it is not true that the yeshiva soldiers do not mix with the regular army: "After ten months in the army, in any event, they are dispersed in different units."
Another concern is the increasing number of young female soldiers serving in combat and other units in the army – a situation with which the yeshivot hesder wish to avoid coming in contact. One former hesder student told Arutz-7 that this will apparently not be the main problem: "The battalions [gdudim] will remain the same [all-male in most cases – ed.], and the new change will affect mainly the companies [made up of approximately 30 soldiers each]. Until now, in many cases, one of the three companies in a battalion was made up of hesder soldiers; now, according to what we understand, the hesder students will be spread out among each of the companies. For soldiers coming straight out of yeshiva, this will be a very difficult beginning of their army service."
One non-religious former commander of hesder students speaking on Army Radio about the new move was asked to grade their professional performance. "On a scale of one to ten," he said, "I give them eleven."
Rabbi Stav said this morning that the yeshiva heads will convene and decide on their next steps, "which may include a petition to the Supreme Court, and possibly more extreme steps."
Later in the day, MK Zevulun Orlev of the NRP said that both Gen. Stern and yeshiva heads had expressed willingness to meet and discuss the matter. "The decision's timing obligates both sides to separate it from the disengagement issue," Orlev said, "and to find the right combination that will both manifest the unique nature of the hesder students' service and allow the army to integrate them in a way that will help all the battalions."
MK Orlev called upon politicians to stay out of the issue and to allow the sides to solve the problem themselves.
36 TV complaints rejected by FCC
The Federal Communications Commission denied 36 indecency complaints yesterday, a move that is expected to further confuse broadcasters about what is permitted on the public airwaves.
All 36 complaints were generated by the Parents Television Council, the conservative watchdog group that has criticized the FCC's yearlong crackdown on indecency, saying it has not been tough enough on broadcasters.
The complaints stem from episodes of TV programs that aired between Oct. 29, 2001, and Feb. 11, 2004. Several of the episodes cited were from shows such as "NYPD Blue," "Dawson's Creek" and "Boston Public" in which characters use a term that can be interpreted as another word for "jerk."
Other complaints focused on episodes of "Friends," "Will & Grace," "Scrubs" and other programs that featured characters discussing sexual matters.
"The commission concluded that, in context, none of the segments were patently offensive under contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, and thus not indecent. The commission also found that the material was not profane, in context," according to a statement issued from the agency.
Lara Mahaney, a Parents Television Council spokeswoman, said it is "outrageous that the FCC has deemed it appropriate for children to hear words at 8 o'clock or 7 o'clock at night that most newspapers aren't going to print when they write this story."
Having been home on vacation for the past two weeks and, unfortunately, having seen some of the drivel that passes as "entertainment" on the tube these days, I must admit that while I'm not sure the lack of modesty and discussion of risque topics is "patently offensive" especially in this day and age, it is quite inappropriate and I surely would not sit my child down in front of the television to watch copious amounts of it for hours on end. It certainly does contribute to the slippery slope we're going down as a society and does not set a good example for today's youth. I'll stop with the righteous indignation right here. I don't think the FCC needs to get involved here but I think there should be some mechanism for expressing our opinion that this stuff is just poison and not worthy of being broadcast.

But at least we'll have a record of the shows as:

Goggle to Release TV Search Service
Google Inc. plans to unveil today a test version of a way for computer users to search the content of television programs, the next step in the company's efforts to make information available to computer users from a growing number of sources.
Dubbed Google Video, the new TV service is limited, since it provides only still shots and texts of certain programs broadcast since December on the Public Broadcasting Service, C-SPAN, Fox News and certain other stations. The company's long-term strategy is to enable computer users not only to search for still shots and text from television programs but also to provide them with a way to replay TV programs on their computers, although it is unclear how long that might take to become available.

Administration To Request $80 Billion Supplemental For Wars.
In their lead stories, NBC and CBS last night reported on the Administration’s expected request of an $80 billion supplemental spending package for Iraq and Afghanistan. ABC World News Tonight did not report the story. NBC Nightly News (1/24, lead story, 4:15, Miklaszewski), which dedicated the lead story to the Pentagon request and military intelligence, noted that, “added to the $25 billion already spent in emergency funding this fiscal year, that brings the total to $105 billion. By comparison, that’s 13 times the budget for the entire Environmental Protection Agency.” CBS Evening News (1/24, lead story, 2:30, Roberts) reported the story, saying, “As the election clock ticks down, the intensity of the struggle for Iraq’s future deepens, and it grows ever more costly for US taxpayers.”
The Wall Street Journal (1/25, Faffe, Karp) mentions the Administration’s expected request, while USA Today (1/25, Wold) and some wire services devote stories to it this morning. USA Today reports the Administration “plans to announce” the request this morning, according to a “top Congressional budget aide with direct knowledge of the White House plan.” Meanwhile, “White House officials refused to comment on the spending package.” USA Today adds, “The forthcoming request for this year’s funding underscored how the war spending has exceeded initial White House estimates. Early on, then-presidential economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey placed Iraq costs at as much as $200 billion.”
The AP (1/25) says the package “will not formally be sent to Congress until after President Bush introduces his 2006 budget on Feb. 7.” But “aides, speaking on condition of anonymity,” said White House budget chief Joshua Bolten or “other administration officials would describe the spending request publicly Tuesday.” Knight Ridder (1/25, Landay) reports “the request for the additional money, first reported Monday afternoon by Reuters, is among the latest signals that the administration expects the bloodshed in Iraq to continue well beyond Sunday’s election for an interim Iraqi assembly.”
CBS Radio adds that this brings the total tab for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan up to one quarter of a billion dollars.

Iraqi Security Forces Accused Of Torturing Detainees.
The Financial Times (1/25, Khalaf, Negus) reports, “Iraqi security forces stand accused by a leading international human rights organisation of committing systematic torture against detainees, raising alarm over the conduct of Iraq’s post-war interim government less than a week before the country’s first democratic elections.” In a report issued on Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch “calls on the Iraqi government to investigate widespread abuses and urges the US to increase the number of advisers at detention centres run by the Iraqi ministry of the interior.” [So now they want more US soldiers in the prisons though they wanted them out just a few months ago...] In an analysis piece, the Financial Times (1/25, Rasan, Negus) reports “many police and others involved” in the Iraqi justice system “think that torture is justified, given that the rule of law has virtually collapsed, and guerrillas and criminal gangs are often better armed than the police.”
The Washington Post (1/25, A10, Struck) headlines its story “Torture in Iraq Still Routine, Report Says,” and says, “Twenty months after Saddam Hussein’s government was toppled and its torture chambers unlocked, Iraqis are again being routinely beaten, hung by their wrists and shocked with electrical wires, according to a report by a human rights organization.” The Post “contacted several people whose cases were included in the report. They declined to speak to a reporter, saying they feared retaliation by police.”
First the Yanks, then the Brits, followed by the Danes, and now the Iraqis are actually torturing their own citizens. Maybe it's retribution for the Mukhabarat but it's very telling. It's scary to see what happens to people when they put army uniforms (and with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz I'm reminded of the study done regarding following orders from authority figures...power is a scary thing sometimes.).


Army Documents Reveal Hundreds Of Abuse Allegations Against US Troops.
USA Today (1/25, Locy, Johnson, Frank) reports, “Hundreds of abuse allegations have been made against US troops and other government workers in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to
Army documents.” The documents, which “detail Army investigations into such allegations,” were made public yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU “has obtained thousands of documents in response to a lawsuit it filed seeking government records of abuse
allegations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cuba.” USA Today adds, “In many cases, investigators did not find enough evidence to support the allegations.”
The Baltimore Sun (1/25, Gibson) reports that the documents “further refute government claims last year that photographs from Abu Ghraib showed isolated pranks of a few low-ranking soldiers.”
Alleged Abuses Described.
The Los Angeles Times (1/25, Hendren) reports, “Pentagon documents released today disclosed a series of alleged abuses of Iraqi detainees at a little-known converted palace used as a prison north of Baghdad, including the sodomy of a handicapped man and the death of his brother, whose body was tossed atop his imprisoned sister.”
The Baltimore Sun (1/25, Gibson) reports, “The records include new allegations of forced sodomy, the use of dogs to frighten detainees and severe beatings of hooded and handcuffed prisoners. In one case, investigators determined that a commander and three members of an Army Special Forces unit -- none of whom was publicly identified -- had committed murder by luring an Afghan civilian to a roadblock before detaining him and shooting him.”
The New York Times (1/25, Lewis) says the report also alleges “the use of cigarettes to burn prisoners.” The Times also reports that, in the documents, “it is not always clear whether every case described is a new incident; many details, including the names of victims and of the accused, were blacked out before the documents were provided to the ACLU as part of its litigation.”
After Asa Hutchinson was passed over not once but twice to be the second DHS Sec. he resigned yesterday. The Administration was quick to find a replacement:

Bush Nominates Engineering Executive To Be Deputy DHS Secretary.
The Washington Post (1/25, A13, Mintz) reports, “President Bush yesterday nominated an executive with a leading engineering company to be the second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security. The executive, Michael P. Jackson, also served as the deputy secretary at the Transportation Department from 2001 to 2003.” The Post says Jackson “has a reputation as an effective manager” and adds that White House officials and members of Congress want the new DHS secretary, Michael Chertoff, “to make management of the 180,000- employee department…more rigorous and businesslike.” (In similar reports, The AP and Reuters also note Jackson’s nomination, while the New York Times (1/25) publishes a 4 portion of the Reuters piece in its “National Briefings” section.)
Senate leaders unveiled their agenda for the coming session yesterday:
Senate Republican and Democrats yesterday unveiled their diverging agendas for the upcoming session of Congress. In announcing their plans for the top ten bills, the AP (1/25) reports Senate Republicans “say the revamping of Social Security is their top legislative goal of 2005, with further tax cuts, energy independence and lawsuit limits listed as other issues that will get their attention in the coming months.” Democrats revealed “a list that emphasizes health, education and jobs. It omits many of the issues, including Social Security, that President Bush and his GOP allies want this Congress to enact.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist “said at a news conference that S.1, the designation of the first Senate bill to be introduced in the new session, ‘has been reserved for what is probably the most important 6 domestic legislation we will address in this Congress, and that is modernizing and strengthening the Social Security program.’”
USA Today (1/25, Welch) reports Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist “said Monday that shoring up social security is the Senate's top legislative priority in 2005 and that any proposal will include personal investment accounts.” Frist said, “It's going to require some bold action.”
The Washington Post (1/25, Babington) reports Senate Republican leaders made “two notable omissions -- changes to immigration laws and a ban on same-sex marriage” which “underscored tensions with their conservative wing.” Senate Democrats’ priorities included “increases in military personnel, the minimum wage and education spending.”
The Washington Times (1/25, Dinan) reports both Democrats and Republicans “included bills to expand access to health care, and though both parties target education, Republicans want to advance the No Child Left Behind education law Mr. Bush pushed through in 2001, while Democrats are calling for more education funding and a reexamination of the measure.”
And, only seven days late:
Vote On Rice Nomination Expected Wednesday.
The AP (1/25) reports, “Condoleezza Rice is no longer on a fast track to Senate confirmation as secretary of state, but the slowdown appears to be temporary as Democratic foes of the war in Iraq line up to have their say.” Nine hours “have been set aside Tuesday for debate, divided equally between Democrats and Republicans.”
Can't you think of a better way to spend nine hours of Congress' time cuz I surely can. Then:
On Wednesday, “a brief series of statements is expected -- and then the vote to put her in charge of U.S. diplomacy.”
The word "obstructionist" to mind more than anything. I'm not deep enough into the judicial nominations to weigh in on that yet (perhaps later this year if things go as planned) but considering the fact that they don't really want to block her confirmation, merely play politics for a little longer, it's a slap in her face, a slap in her boss' face, and they're tarnishing the image of the woman who will be sent abroad to represent us in foreign capitals. If she doesn't even have the support of the legislature of the government she's representing, why should anyone take her seriously elsewhere? Anyway, (contrary to this blog) Barbara Boxer doesn't have much of a political future...unless Hillary appoints her to some agency if hell freezes over and she wins the election. That's a scary thought, let's move on.

Here's some juicy stuff. Way back during the campaign season it was reported that some 25 vehicles of GOP GOTV vehicles had their tires slashed and it seemed obvious it was done by the Dems. Well, here's your answer: the culprits actually include the son of a House Rep!

Five Kerry-Edwards Campaign Staffers Charged In GOP Tire Slashings.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1/25, Nunnally) reports, “Five Kerry- Edwards campaign staffers, including the sons of two prominent Milwaukee Democrats, were charged Monday with the election day tire slashings of 25 get-out-the-vote vehicles rented by Republicans. Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann announced the felony charges – each of which could result in a 3 1/2-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.” The Journal Sentinel notes that the men charged “include Michael Pratt, 32, the son of former Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, and Sowande A. Omokunde, 25, the son of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee).” The Washington Post/AP (1/25, A2) notes, “Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Seth Boffeli said the five were paid employees of the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) but were not acting on behalf of the campaign or party.”
Of course they weren't acting on behalf of the campaign or party...riiiight.

I wish I could be a fly on the wall for this one:

Bush, Chirac To Meet Next Month In Brussels.
The Washington Times (1/25, Lakely) reports, “President Bush will host a ‘working dinner’ with French President Jacques Chirac, who opposed the war in Iraq, when he visits European leaders in Brussels next month, the first face-toface meeting between the two men since Mr. Bush was reelected. Mr. Bush's Feb. 21 meeting with Mr. Chirac conforms to his promise to reach out to European leaders in his second term and will kick off a three-nation trip to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia.
Hmm, I wonder if freedom fries will be on the menu that evening.

Wow, I guess he's got guts for this one, right?

Annan Urges UN To Prosecute Darfur War Criminals.
The Washington Post (1/25, A8, Lynch) reports, “The U.N. General Assembly on Monday held its first commemoration of the liberation of Nazi death camps at the end of World War II, as Secretary General Kofi Annan urged key U.N. members to prosecute war criminals in Darfur, Sudan.” Annan “did not provide a detailed plan to halt the killing in Darfur. Instead, he urged Security Council members to ensure that ‘the perpetrators are held accountable’ for their crimes.”
What a joke...DUH!

After denying the Washington Post story on Sunday and the NYTimes article on Monday, the Pentagon has finally come clean-ahead of the inevitable Congressional hearings.

Spy teams confirmed
The Pentagon yesterday confirmed plans to field new military spy teams to assist battlefield commanders with tasks traditionally carried out by the CIA but denied the move would encroach onto the intelligence agency's turf.

Two senior Pentagon officials said the military already has forces in Iraq and Afghanistan doing similar work - citing a defense linguist's efforts in the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 - but now wants to formalize what has been a largely ad-hoc operation.

"We were fighting a long-term war with basically a pickup team," said one of the Defense officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. None of the teams, formally authorized in this year's budget, have been deployed yet.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon sent its top intelligence official, Stephen Cambone, to Capitol Hill yesterday to explain the new teams which some lawmakers suggested may have skirted congressional oversight and not been fully coordinated with the CIA. Republicans, however, showed little appetite for congressional hearings on the topic.

At the Pentagon, the officials said the roughly 10-person teams would include linguists, interrogators and case officers focused on gathering "human intelligence." That is information gathered by spies and other human sources, not through electronic eavesdropping or other technical means.

Such foreign spying traditionally has been under CIA purview, but the officials insisted that the military efforts were designed to augment, not replace, CIA efforts. One official noted that the teams' funding is controlled by the CIA chief in the foreign intelligence budget.

Still, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has moved aggressively to expand the Pentagon's own intelligence-gathering activities since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks - moves some in the intelligence community view as an effort to wrest greater control of the effort from the CIA.

Rumsfeld, for instance, had expressed strong reservations about the idea of the national intelligence director overseeing all CIA and Defense Department initiatives, as recommended by the 9/11 commission. And in late 2003, Rumsfeld created a new position of undersecretary of defense for intelligence and named one of his top deputies, Cambone.

But the Defense officials yesterday insisted that the "Strategic Support Teams" would merely provide senior commanders with exactly the kind of on-the-ground information they need to fight the war on terror.

Exactly how these teams will operate remained unclear yesterday, as the senior officials declined to say, for instance, even how many would exist. They will operate in a "clandestine" manner - meaning that their efforts are meant to go undetected - but not as "covert" operators, which would mean that the U.S. government would disavow responsibility for their operation.

The units were first reported Sunday by the Washington Post, but the Pentagon denied a contention in the article that Rumsfeld had sought to reinterpret or "bend" the law to cover these new units. The officials yesterday said the activities of the units can be carried under existing authorities.

Here's an article from today's NYTimes about unhealthy food in the poor 'hoods of NYC. The style of the article makes it enjoyable and it's an article that I'm sure we'll be seeing more of in the future.

Lastly, here's an article regarding the disengagement plan from the OU's current "Jewish Action." Thoughts on it are appreciated.