Monday, May 25, 2015

Does This Sound Familiar?

There is a city named Urfa, a regional commercial center in southeast Turkey not far from the Syrian border. It seems an ordinary enough place for the Middle East. But it hides a secret history. And it hides it very well indeed.

The fact is that the town's appearance is an accident of history, created in the twelfth century when Turkish Moslems took the city, dispersed the Christian population, and wiped out every feature of Christian civilization. For below the tightly packed houses and shops that comprise modern Urfa, under the name Edessa, was one of the famed cities of Christendom. In those days it attracted Christian pilgrims from more than a thousand miles away. It bristled with some three hundred churches and monasteries. In its surrounding cave tombs, now dung-smelling and desolate, lived a population of thousands of hermits and monks, many shunning bread, meat, and wine and leading "so extraordinary a life that it can scarcely be described."
          from The Shroud of Turin by Ian Wilson,
          revised edition, 1979, page 127.

Does this sound familiar? The time was the twelfth century, but it's the same thing that's happening today. It's what ISIS — the so-called Islamic State — is doing now in the regions they have captured in Syria and Iraq. They are destroying Christian churches with dynamite and bulldozers. They are doing the same with the houses of worship belonging to Jews, Yazidis, and any other non-Muslim group. They are killing or enslaving everyone they can get their hands on that were associated with those places.

There is a common thread in these actions. The ISIS fanatics, like their ideological forbears, want to destroy anything and everything that came before them and their way of thinking and belief. Thus, they are destroying libraries and museums all over Iraq and Syria, including the large ones in Mosul. They are committing crimes against humanity, destroying historic sites including Nimrud (see here, too), Hatra, and Ninevah, as well as the Assyrian capital of Khorsabad. They have also destroyed Jonah's Tomb and a number of other religious tombs and shrines. The same things will probably now happen in Palmyra in Syria.

The ISIS destructive impulse is being applied to more than just pre-Muslim and non-Muslim sites. It also applies to anything that is not part of their particular flavor of Islam. That's because "ISIS is part of a puritanical strain of Islam that considers all religious shrines — Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc. — idolatrous." So, in addition to anything non-Muslim, they are destroying sites belonging to every group except — as I already noted — their particular flavor of Islam, whether Sufi or Shia or Sunni or anything else. And it has bigger plans for the future — Rome, of course, and the pyramids of Egypt (pre-Islam, non-Muslim) as well as Islam's most sacred mosque (and the Ka'aba) in Mecca. In essence, ISIS seems intent on demonstrating that its members are incapable of moving up to become members of the human race.

But this is not new. As the quotation at the top of this posting attests, Muslim groups have exhibited this kind of behavior for centuries, including the total destruction of Edessa and the ideology-based vandalism in the royal palace (dating from India's Mughal period) at Fatehpur Sikri in India to name just two. The current barbarian set — the Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, al Qaeda, and Islamic State — are historically recent, but this kind of uncivilized Islamic behavior goes straight back to the time of Mohammed.

ISIS et al. proclaim themselves as fundamentalists. They say they are going back to the original Islam, but it seems to be more like Islam 2.0 — the second version of Islam. The original Islam that Mohammed preached in Mecca was peaceful and tolerant. It was only later that the kind of violent and intolerant ideology characteristic of ISIS began to be preached. Did Mohammed succumb to temptation, as suggested here, and change the revelation given him by Allah's angel for an ideology that would bring him wealth and power? Or were the Mohammed of Islam version 1 and the Mohammed of Islam version 2 two different people? If so, that would make the original Mohammed an early victim of identity theft.

Either way, if ISIS really wants to go back to the original Islam, it and its adherents will have to return to Mohammed's original teachings in Mecca, and become civilized human beings instead of the monsters they are today.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Question for Barack Obama

Democrats Admit Obamacare Failure

The official title of President Barack Obama's signature health care bill is a misnomer. It is called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

It was supposed to be a panacea. We were told it would bring health care insurance premiums down significantly. It didn't. We were told it would bring medical costs down, too. It didn't. It was supposed to help the poor most especially. It didn't.

The poor used to get their health care for free. They were uninsured, so they paid no insurance premiums. And because they were poor, the hospitals and doctors wrote off their medical care expenses.

No more. With the federal subsidies, they may not have to pay much for their medical insurance, but it's money they didn't pay before. And they are unlikely to get their costs written off when they do go to the doctor or the hospital because, after all, they have insurance. Worse, that insurance won't help them until rather late in the year because of its high deductibles.

So they get to pay for their health care, on their own, after paying for the insurance that's not helping them. The problem is severe enough that even Newsmax can see it.

After paying premiums, many low- and middle-income patients still face high costs when trying to use their coverage. There's growing concern that the value of a health insurance card is being eaten away by rising deductibles, the amount of actual medical costs that patients pay each year before coverage kicks in.
How bad is it? A Families USA study cited in the Newsmax article found that "one-quarter of the people with individual health insurance policies went without care in 2014 because they could not afford the out-of-pocket costs. The study singled out high deductibles." A Commonwealth Fund study, also cited in the Newsmax article, notes that at least 15 million had problems with medical bills or medical debt — and half of them were in this condition due to high deductibles alone.

That's bad. It's so bad that Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), one of the most liberal Democrats in the Congress, says

"We've got some 17 million more people covered ... but they can't access the care they seem to be entitled to. It costs too much to use the care. That's the deceptive part about it."
There it is. Whatever anyone thought before the bill was passed, the promises of Obamacare have turned out to be deceptive. Obamacare is a failure at virtually everything that was claimed for it in advance. Now even the most liberal, Obamacare's biggest supporters, are being forced to admit its failings. That's a big downside to "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it." It got passed, we see what's in it, and we don't like it.

And note the figures. Advocates claim Obamacare has given insurance to 17 million more people. But at least 15 million can't afford to use it.

One more thing: The White House and its supporters are making mutually contradictory statements about health care costs. Through the White House-aligned Center for American Progress, as noted in that same Newsmax article, they claim a long-term pause in the rise of health care costs as a result of Obamacare, but at the same time they claim employers have been shifting their higher medical costs onto their employees. They say "employers have been shifting a disproportionate burden of healthcare costs onto workers" and "employees and their families have not shared in the benefits of a prolonged lull in medical inflation."

Long-term pause? Prolonged lull? That's not what we see in the news reports. We have seen continuing significant increases in health care costs, including the rising deductibles mentioned in the quotation above from that same Newsmax article. And it's getting worse. In fact, the latest Consumer Price Index reports identify for January 2015 — this year — the largest rise in its medical care index since January 2007. And if the claim about employers were true, the increases in employees' medical insurance costs would be higher than the increases for those with Obamacare insurance — probably much higher. But the opposite is the case, according to the news stories. In fact, in many cases the Obamacare premiums look to be increasing at twice the rate of the employer-provided plans. It's no wonder the White House and the Center for American Progress don't want to talk about that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Effectively Uninsured

People are finding out they're paying more now that they're "insured", but are getting the same or less actual medical coverage than they were before Obamacare.

One-quarter of people with healthcare coverage are paying so much for deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses that they are considered underinsured, according to a new study. An estimated 31 million insured people are not adequately protected against high medical costs, a figure that has doubled since 2003, according to the 2014 national health insurance survey by the Commonwealth Fund. Rising deductibles — even under ObamaCare — are the biggest problem for most people who are considered underinsured, according to the 22-page report.
    — Sarah Ferris, TheHill.com, May 20

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Secret Laws

Talk about strange bedfellows!

President Barack Obama wants "fast track" trade promotion authority. That would give him greater freedom in negotiating trade agreements, limiting input by Congress to giving each an up or down vote — no discussion or amendment or conditions allowed.

The strange bedfellows? Most of President Obama's fellow Democrats are opposing the "fast track" trade promotion authority. We're told that's because they're being paid by the unions (big labor) to oppose it. Most of the Republicans are supporting it. We're told that's because they're being paid by big business to support it.

The first thing President Obama wants to get passed after he gets his "fast track" authority is his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the largest trade deals in history. That's part of the problem as politicians' positions on the "fast track" bill are apparently driven — perhaps entirely — by their positions on the TPP bill.

Yes, President Obama already has a bill drafted for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In Obama's words, that bill is "the most progressive trade deal in history." Because of that, one would think the Democrats would support it and the Republicans would oppose it, while the opposite has turned out to be true.

Yes, President Obama has a bill drafted for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But I can't tell you what's in it. Even if I had read it, I wouldn't be able to tell you. That's because very few people have been allowed to read it — under draconian conditions that allow no notes or other information to be taken from the basement reading room. Those who read it are not allowed to discuss the bill or even talk about it. As Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio says, "There is more access in most cases to CIA and Defense Department and Iran sanctions documents — better access to congressional staff and others — than for this trade agreement."

That's made a lot of folks wonder. Mostly they wonder "Under what authority can Obama keep his TPP trade deal secret?" This is a real case of "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it." Much more so than the case of Obamacare that produced this Nancy Pelosi quotation.

That's related to what I wonder. I wonder what in the bill is so bad that Obama is afraid to let anyone know about it. If the bill wasn't that bad, Obama would be spinning his heard out to get everyone to (at least) stay quiet as it gets passed.

All those limitations, on who can read the bill and what they can say about it afterward (nothing!) are where I begin and end. If the bill is so bad that Obama cannot allow it to be revealed and discussed, then it should never be considered by either house of Congress or any committee of either house of Congress. It should be dumped in the trash bin where it clearly belongs.

Indeed, in my view, NO bill that cannot be openly reported and discussed should ever be considered by the Congress.

Monday, May 11, 2015

You Can't Fix Stupid

This is just so off the wall I couldn't resist passing it on.

There's a pretty solid kernel of truth in that cartoon, too.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Perfect Mom

A friend of my wife's had this to say — to her kids:

I could have been a perfect Mom
. . . . if I'd had perfect kids.
Happy Mothers Day to all Moms!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The End of the Viet Nam War

I am offended. Very offended.

A whole series of articles and TV reports described what was happening then (April 30) as commemorating the "end of the Viet Nam war" in 1975 (see PowerLine, for example, for one of the less objectionable items). But this is a case in which some improved definition is required.

The Viet Nam war ended — supposedly — in January of 1973not 1975 — with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. The last U.S. combat troops left the country less than two months later, in March of 1973. (See the timeline from PBS here.)

After the Paris Accords were signed, and after the end of the war, there were two major, critical violations of its terms.

  • The Communists continued their conquest of South Viet Nam as if there were no agreement and no cease-fire.
  • The U.S. Congress abdicated its responsibility, cut off the agreed aide to the Saigon government, and abandoned it to the Communist aggressors.

So what's really being celebrated is the success of the North Vietnamese violation of the accords (treaty) they had agreed to in January 1973. That violation, and its success, resulted in (for example) the classic final evacuation picture as the Americans ran a last-ditch effort to protect people targeted by the Communist North Vietnamese. That violation also produced the tragedies of the boat people and the re-education camps, with the millions of casualties those entailed.

I am offended that the Media characterize this as the "end of the Viet Nam war." It was not the end of the the war or the end of American involvement. It was the "end of the Viet Nam war" only from the standpoint of the Communist North Vietnamese.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

BarberPoleCat

This is really good. Unfortunately, it's sort of an inside joke.

Just ask any barbershopper.

The Password

No comment needed.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

And Then There's This


I guess it all depends on what part of the country you're in. (A tip of the hat to Maggie's Farm)

And then there's this — from Ramirez:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I Identify As A ....

Meanwhile, an Albuquerque eighth-grader identifies himself as "gender fluid" — which he defines as "sometimes as a boy, sometimes as a girl."

He decided he wanted to wear a dress to the school's end of the year dance. He says the principal told him he'd be sent home if he showed up dressed that way. He says "The girls are allowed to cross-dress, so why can't I?"

The school says the boy's story isn't so. It says he will be able to attend the dance in a dress if that's what he chooses — so maybe the whole story is made up, a publicity stunt. As of now, we don't know. But he got himself on the TV news.

This would be really funny if there weren't a bunch of folks taking stuff like this so seriously.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Great New Bumper Sticker

I saw a new bumper sticker on a web site. It is reproduced here without further comment.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

U.S. Citizens in Yemen

Yemen has descended into chaos since Houthi rebels backed by Iran fought and then overthrew the Yemeni government. As a result, a number of countries have been removing their citizens from the country. Among those countries are India, France, Russia, Canada, and China.

And the U.S.? This headline says it all: "U.S. Gov’t to Americans Trapped in Yemen: Call India". That is, in part, because India has gone above and beyond the call of duty, evacuating citizens of at least 26 countries (in addition to their own) from Yemen. The other part is because the U.S. government has been unwilling to evacuate the U.S. citizens remaining in Yemen. The Obama Administration has tried to explain its decision this way:

Marie Harf, a spokesperson for the State Department, said last week, “Doing something like sending in military assets, even for an evacuation, could put U.S. citizen lives at greater risk.” The State Department’s website currently states that, “There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time.”

Further down, the same article states

The U.S. Embassy in Yemen was evacuated in February, with American personnel flying out of the country on private jets provided by the nation of Oman. Marines guarding the embassy personnel were not permitted to bring their sidearms on board these aircraft, and were ordered to disable and abandon their weapons before leaving the country. A U.S. special operations training mission assisting the Yemeni government in its fight against al Qaeda withdrew from the country last month. [emphasis added]
In other words, the U.S. wasn't willing to use U.S. assets to evacuate even those citizens the U.S. government was willing to assist.

One of the sites that reported this news summarized it this way:

We only rescue deserters who commit treason. Everyone else can just lump it. India is doing a bang up job of evacuating and rescuing people. Other countries, when they pulled out, evacuated their people with them. Us? Not so much.
As the Washington Free Beacon article says in its sub-headline
"U.S. abandons its own".

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Supreme Self-Centeredness

President Barack Obama has gone to the Summit of the Americas, being held now in Panama City, Panama. There he has had conversations with the leaders of various Western Hemisphere nations, including (reportedly) a private meeting with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. Some of that meeting looks like this.

There's another story coming out of this summit, though. The headline is

Obama On Cuba: History Before I Was Born Isn’t Interesting Or Relevant…
citing a story in The Hill. Both stories quote Obama as saying
I’m not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born.
This fits in with his statement last year calling his own actions "American leadership at its best."

It's because of self-revelatory statements like this that another writer called Obama

A rarely seen merging of supreme arrogance and ignorance (see shovel-ready-jobs, Obamacare, US economic malaise, massive US debt, illegals rushing across our borders and sinking our economy and government infrastructure, etc).
That ignorance apparently includes the events in Cuba leading up to the Castro dictatorship. (It's amazing to realize that Cuba under Fulgencio Batista was significantly freer than under the Castro Brothers!)

My own thought is that Obama's statements and behavior demonstrate a supreme self-centeredness. That also goes with him having an exceptionally thin skin for any criticism — in fact, for any statements that are not laudatory. An overall assessment?

Obama has delusions of adequacy, an adequacy he sees as supreme excellence.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter!

New Mexico is a land of traditions. One of them is the pilgrimage on Good Friday.

There are actually several. The pilgrimage to Chimayo is perhaps the most famous, with people walking long distances to the small church in that small village. But there is also one closer to home, winding down Highway 47 near Los Lunas and up the hill called Tomé.


The crest of Tomé Hill at dawn

They start arriving in the early morning and keep coming through much of the day. They climb the hill to arrive at the three crosses on its crest. Some come with family members or close friends. Some come in groups from various churches. Some come to fulfill personal vows. In all cases, however, the pilgrims' actions commemorate events on another hill, half a world away and almost two thousand years ago.


Pilgrims at the top of Tomé Hill on Good Friday

Those events were on the original Good Friday, and were the precursors to the first Easter. Today we commemorate that first Easter and all it represents. And we remember that Easter would not have been possible without Good Friday.


Wishing you all a happy and blessed Easter!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Two Pointed Cartoons (updated)

These two images make some very sharp points. Further commentary is almost superfluous. So, with (almost) no additional commentary, here are the images.

One image is rather political

UPDATE: Here's a later related image.

End update.

The other is more social.

I think they speak for themselves without further commentary.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Obama Caves to the Mullahs

Is President Barack Obama obsessed with getting a nuclear agreement with Iran, no matter what the cost? Or is he an Iranian agent? Is he chasing what he thinks will be his legacy, or is he working to help Iran get nuclear weapons? Look at the way the P5+1 talks with Iran have gone; it pretty much has to be one or the other. It's just like the Ramirez cartoon.

Look at what's happened just this week. The news headline screamed "U.S. Caves to Key Iranian Demands as Nuke Deal Comes Together". With this, Iran wouldn't even have to disclose the nuclear research it's already been doing. And it would be able to continue its nuclear weapons research. It looks like the situation is, at best, just like the cartoon. Intransigence pays. Otherwise, either the "negotiations" are a sham — a Kabuki theater — or Obama simply doesn't care if Iran gets nuclear weapons. But he probably realizes he needs to seem to care.

But then it gets worse: An Iranian reporter, Amir Hossein Motaghi, a close media aide to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, resigned and defected while reporting on the nuclear talks. In a televised interview, he said he no longer saw any sense in being a "reporter" any longer as he could only write what he was told. He also said “The US negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal.” Is that because Obama wants an agreement, no matter what? Or is it as Motaghi makes it sound, that Obama and those acting for him are agents of Iran?

And so we see France taking the toughest line at the Iran nuclear talks. French diplomats are emphasizing the need for reliable verification before sanctions are lifted, and the need to insure Iran's nuclear research work is actually constrained by the agreement to avoid a quick "breakout" in Iran's nuclear weapons development. They are concerned, too, over Iran's failure to be forthcoming with verification data required under existing nuclear agreements with the United Nations.

It appears France isn't the only participant in the talks objection go Obama's decision. I guess that's why it was reported that the Obama Administration was threatening US allies for disagreeing with Obama's position in the Iran nuclear talks. The Administration doesn't care what anyone else thinks. It is desperate for a deal.

It may all be for nought. Iran has come up with a new demand. Saudi Arabia must stop bombing Iran's proxies in Yemen, they say, or no deal. But US and Saudi interests are aligned with each other in Yemen, so acceding to Iran's new demand requires abandoning both an ally and our own interests. Or "the U.S. could simply make more concessions to the mullahs as compensation for the dastardly action taken by the Saudis to support an American-backed government in a terrorist-infected state." Either way, it's not a pretty picture.

Perhaps President Obama shouldn't be so single-mindedly focused — so obsessed — with getting this agreement.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The New Mexico Legislature

New Mexico does not have a full-time legislature. Legislative sessions are 60 days long beginning in January following an election and 30 days long in the alternate years.

The House of Representatives has been doing its job this year, passing a significant number of bills. As of Wednesday — 56 days into the 60 day session — the Senate had passed (I think) just two: the "feed bill" providing their own pay for the session (always the first bill passed) and a bill to keep New Mexico permanently on Daylight Savings Time. (!) They seem to be sitting on (killing, tabling, etc.) everything else. They can't even pass a budget!

The cartoonist at the Albuquerque Journal describes this perfectly.

(The Roundhouse sitting on top of the basket is our beloved New Mexico capital building.)

Start the Rumor ...

"If we could convince the Chinese that Jihadists’ testicles are an aphrodisiac, in 10 years they could be extinct ... "
Makes perfect sense to me, but probably has something in it to insult just about everyone.