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Date: Monday, 24 Sep 2012 11:15

Sara Azmeh Rasmussen

(Originally posted by openDemocracy, republished under a Creative Commons license)

In a brief interlude between two debates at a culture festival, I encountered the film ”Innocence of Muslims”. Fast-forwarding through the trailer, three minutes was sufficient to make up my mind: an amateurish mishmash of overplayed, parodic scenes unworthy of notice.

But notice it got. Anger is boiling in the Muslim world, with mass mobilisation to restore the honour of the prophet in East and West. In a few days an intricate picture emerged, too complicated for anyone to pretend they have grasped its complexities. Suicide bombings and attacks on embassies have led to the loss of many lives. Large demonstrations are held daily. We’re flooded with news and analysis. We see, hear and are tormented by the riddle of how a low budget flick of this calibre can trigger an international crisis. After all our efforts at drawing acceptable borders between freedom of religion and freedom of speech, we should have progressed further than this. But here we are again: conflict and strife.

Some attempt to explain the new wave of protest by pointing to the post-revolutionary chaos in the Arab world, the rampant unemployment and widespread anti-American attitudes. One notes the growth of right wing extremist groups and increasing scepticism, or outright hostility, towards Muslims in the west. Experts have covered all these economic and political aspects. But where did the religious perspective go, in a conflict triggered by criticism of religion and festering because of the defence of it? It seems the analysts’ judgement is coloured by their local atmosphere, where the liberal version of religions has long since buried all memory of religious wars. As someone whose background is in Muslim culture and faith, I find these analyses good, but inadequate. [More after the jump]

The enraged demonstrators inside and outside the Muslim world, valuing the honour of the Muslim prophet over not only freedom of speech, but human rights and other man made laws, have different motives as well as varying political, social and moral values. But they all emphasize the status of the prophet in Islam. Exalted and unassailable. Infallible and untouchable. I argue that the questions arising from the current, tense situation cannot be formulated – far less answered – without taking the religious aspect into consideration.

The history of religion

So let me write a few words on religion, not as a static artefact, but as an historic process. The tradition and collective experience of Islam has been shaped by a multitude of influences – and I believe that is grounds for cautious optimism. The explosive rage on behalf of the prophet is inextricably connected to dogma and doctrine developed in a phase of Islam long after the death of the prophet himself. The orthodox dogma of the Quran an eternally existing, rather than created, message, and the doctrine of the infallibility of the messenger of God, is a theological-philosophical pairing constructed in a time when civil war raged under the caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. In the year 827 the dogma was consolidated by the caliph al-Ma´mun, after one of two rival factions, the Umayyads (today’s Sunnis), had marginalised Ali’s followers (the Shias). In other words, centralizing political power in the newly established Islamic empire went hand in hand with the cementing of the holy texts and elimination of all theological challenges. A significant school at the time, Mu´tazila, distanced itself from these irrational doctrines, and for that reason had to go into hiding.

But what has history from eight and ninth century Arabia to do with the attacks on embassies and widespread violence in response to a film critical of Islam produced in 21st century USA? Everything! To attack the ”sacredness” of the prophet was, logically, interpreted as an attack on the fundaments of the classical faith. In this rigid theological context, a caricature that humanises and reduces the prophet is an outright attack on the very underpinnings of thefaith.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this in recent years. It has become apparent to me that this dogma must be challenged, not only to resolve the current conflict between speech versus faith, but to free the Islamic tradition from the cage that has led to intellectual and philosophical stagnation for centuries. This is the most significant barrier to a reform theology, and to the introduction of liberal ideas into Muslim culture and society.

Reading with new eyes

A simple feat of logic should be what is needed to break this wall of dogma, on which such a large volume of classical theological literature is based. But as we know, logic isn’t the optimal way to counter what resides in the spiritual and religious sphere. Nevertheless, it is my moral duty to present this challenge to my own. I keep within the Islamic tradition, and will not support my argument with a single non-Muslim source. I adamantly believe we Muslims have the knowledge and tools we need for analysis within our own tradition. All we need is to read with new eyes.

The following story is found in classical Islamic history books and is known to most Muslims: shortly before the battle at Badr in the western park of the Arabian peninsula (624), and after the prophet Muhammad had placed his troops in formation, a disciple, Hubab, asks if this choice of military position is revealed by God, or is a tactical choice by the prophet himself. The prophet replies it was his own choice, to which Hubab replies: ”Prophet, this isn’t the right position.” In the story, the prophet follows the advice of Hubab and orders the troops to march to the nearest source of water and block the enemy from accessing it. Only due to this new tactic do the Muslims win the battle, considered the turning point in the Muslim fight against the heathen tribes.

The prophet made a serious miscalculation in a critical war situation, in a crucial phase of Islamic history. The guidance that corrected it came from an individual in the Muslim community, not directly from God. What should this tell us about the prophet and the creation of the Quran? An infallible and holy figure can give us a heavenly book where not a character shall change. But a regular, chosen human being can convey the message of God that is needed for the times.

Reforming Islamic theology does not involve throwing all our tradition overboard. It is about establishing methods for rational reflection and reasoning. To discard imitation and repetition. We need to stop branding the rationalists amongst us as heretics, and rather look upon them as creative challengers and renewers. Only by freeing our religion from the shackles of history, the paralyzing dogmas, can we deny amateur films and simple caricatures the destructive powers capable of inducing the apocalyptic scenes we see today.

Author: "--" Tags: "Faith and Spirituality"
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Date: Monday, 24 Sep 2012 07:06

I have been an admirer and fan of Richard Charnin's work (TruthIsAll) on election forecasting and election fraud since 2004. This is his latest. It's based on the most recent polls so the 100% can drop (although, I'm told, it cannot increase, regardless of Romney's foolishness;)

9/19/ 2012 Presidential True Vote/Election Fraud Simulation Model:Obama 320 EV; 100% Win Probability
By Richard Charnin
Sept.19, 2012
From Richard Charnin's Blog
Posted with the permission of the author

The analysis assumes that the election is held on the latest poll date.
2012 Presidential True Vote and Monte Carlo Simulation Forecast Model

Forecast Summary

Obama has jumped to a commanding 49-44% lead in the latest state polls and has 320 expected electoral votes based on the win probabilities. The 500 trial Monte Carlo simulation indicates that if the election were held today, he would have a 100% probability of winning the electoral vote (he won all 500 election simulation trials). But it’s still too early to project him a winner. (Image)

Approximately 7% of voters are undecided and may hold the key to the election. I suspect they are mostly Democrats disillusioned with Obama but scared by Romney and Ryan. The model currently assumes an equal split of the undecided vote. If undecided voters break for Obama, he will be in a commanding position to win re-election. But look for an October surprise.

The polls are anticipating the inevitable 5% reduction in Obama’s True Vote. Immediately after the Democratic Convention, Obama moved into a 5% lead in the Gallup (RV) and Rasmussen (LV) national tracking polls, but the polls are tied once again.

The forecast model is a combination of a) a pre-election Monte Carlo Simulation Model, which is based on the latest state polls, and b) the True Vote Model, based on a feasible estimate of new and returning 2008 voters and corresponding estimated vote shares. The model will be updated periodically for the latest state and national polls.

True Vote Model Obama Romney
True Vote...... 55.25% 44.75%
Expected EV.... 379.64 158.36
Snapshot EV.... 380 158
EV Win Prob.... 99.97% 0.03%

State Polls
Average........ 49.3% 44.4%
Projection..... 52.5% 47.5%
Pop. Win Prob.. 94.8% 5.2%
Expected EV.... 320.2 217.8
Snapshot EV.... 322 216

National Polls
Average..... .. 48.20% 45.30%
Projection.. .. 51.45% 48.55%
Pop. Win Prob.. 92.2% 7.8%
Gallup......... 47.0% 46.0%
Rasmussen...... 46.0% 47.0%

Projection..... 52.5% 47.5%
Mean EV........ 320.4 217.6
Max EV......... 351 187
Min EV......... 278 260
EV Win Prob.... 100.0% 0.0%

Polling samples are based on prior election recorded votes – not the previous True Vote or unadjusted exit poll. Likely voter (LV) polls discount the pervasive systematic fraud factor. They are traditionally excellent predictors of the recorded vote – which always understate the Democratic True Vote.

In the six presidential elections from 1988-2008, the Democrats won the average recorded vote by 48-46%. But they led both state and national exit polls by 52-42%. There were approximately 375,000 respondents in the 274 state polls and 90,000 respondents in the six national polls. Overall, an extremely low margin of error.

Based on the historical record, Obama’s True Vote share is about 4-5% higher than the latest polls indicate. It is a certainty that he will lose millions of votes on Election Day to fraud. The only question is: Will he overcome the systemic fraud factor? As of today, it appears he will.

The 2008 True Vote Model (TVM) determined that Obama won in a landslide by 58-40.3%. Based on the historical red-shift, he needs at least a 55% True Vote share to overcome the systemic 5% fraud factor. The TVM was confirmed by the unadjusted state exit poll aggregate: Obama had an identical 58-40.5% margin (76,000 respondents). He won unadjusted National Exit Poll (17,836 respondents) by an even bigger 61-37% margin.

The National Exit Poll displayed on mainstream media websites (Fox, CNN, ABC, CBS, NYT, etc.) indicate that Obama had 52.9% – his recorded vote. Unadjusted state and national exit polls are always forced to match the recorded share.

The source of the polling data is the Real Clear Politics (RCP) website. The simulation uses the latest state polls. Recorded 2008 vote shares are used for states which have not yet been polled.

The True Vote Model

In projecting the national vote, the required input to the TVM are returning 2008 voter turnout rates in 2012 and estimated 2012 vote shares. The rates are applied to each state in order to derive the national aggregate turnout . A 1.25% annual voter mortality rate is assumed. There are two options for estimating returning voters. The default option assumes that 2008 voters return in proportion to the unadjusted 2008 exit poll aggregate (Obama won by 58-40.5%). In this scenario, Obama wins by 55-45% with 380 EV and has a 100% EV win probability.

It is important to note that the True Vote is never the same as the recorded vote. The 1988-2008 True Vote Model utilizes estimates of previous election returning and new voters and and adjusted state and national exit poll vote shares.

Sensitivity analysis

The TVM displays the effects of effects of incremental changes in turnout rates and shares of returning voters. Three tables are generated consisting of nine scenario combinations of a) Obama and McCain turnout rates and b) the Obama/Romney shares of returning Obama and McCain voters. The output tables display resulting vote shares, vote margins and popular vote win probabilities.

Monte Carlo Simulation: 500 election trials
There are two options for the simulation model. Both should be used and the results compared. The default option uses the TVM projected state vote shares. The second option uses projections based on the latest pre-election state polls.

The projected vote share is the sum of the poll share and the undecided voter allocation (UVA). The model uses state vote share projections as input to the Normal Distribution function to determine the state win probability.

The simulation consists of 500 election trials. The electoral vote win probability is the number of winning election trials divided by 500.

In each election trial, a random number (RND) between 0 and 1 is generated for each state and compared to Obama’s state win probability. If RND is greater than the win probability, the Republican wins the state. If RND is less than the win probability, Obama wins the state. The winner of the election trial is the candidate who has at least 270 electoral votes. The process is repeated in 500 election trials.

2008 State Exit Poll and recorded vote data is displayed in the ‘2008‘ worksheet. The latest state polls are listed in the ‘Trend/Chart” worksheet, The data is displayed graphically in the ‘PollChart’ worksheet. A histogram of the Monte Carlo Simulation (500 trials) is displayed in the ‘ObamaEVChart’ worksheet.

Electoral Votes and Win Probabilities

The Electoral Vote is calculated in three ways.
1. The Snapshot EV is a simple summation of the state electoral votes. It could be misleading since there may be several very close elections which favor one candidate.
2. The Mean EV is the average electoral vote of the 500 simulated elections.
3. The Theoretical (expected) EV is the product sum of all state electoral votes and corresponding win probabilities. A simulation or meta-analysis is not required to calculate the expected EV.

The Mean EV approaches the Theoretical EV as the number of election trials increase. This is an illustration of the Law of Large Numbers.

Obama’s electoral vote win probability is his winning percentage of 500 simulated election trials.

The national popular vote win probability is calculated using the normal distribution using the national aggregate of the the projected vote shares. The national aggregate margin of error is 1-2% lower than the average MoE of the individual states. That is, if you believe the Law of Large Numbers and convergence to the mean.

The Fraud Factor

Election fraud reduced the 1988-2008 Democratic presidential unadjusted exit poll margin from 52-42% to 48-46%. View the 1988-2008 Unadjusted State and National Exit Poll Database

The combination of True Vote Model and state poll-based Monte Carlo Simulation enables the analyst to determine if the electoral and popular vote share estimates are plausible. The aggregate state poll shares can be compared to the default TVM.

The TVM can be forced to match the aggregate poll projection by…
- Adjusting vote shares by an incremental change. A red flag would be raised if the match required, if for example Obama captured 85% of returning Obama voters and Romney had 95% of returning McCain voters (a 10% net defection).

- Adjusting 2008 voter turnout in 2012. For example, if McCain voter turnout is required to be 10-15% higher than Obama’s, that would raise a red flag.

- Setting the returning voter option to the 2008 recorded vote. The implicit assumption is that the 2008 recorded vote was the True Vote. But the 2008 election was highly fraudulent. Therefore, model vote shares will closely match the likely voter polls.

Check the simulated, theoretical and snapshot electoral vote projections and corresponding win probabilities.

Election Model Projections: 2004-2010

In 2004, I created the Election Model , and posted weekly forecasts using the latest state and national polls. The model was the first one to use Monte Carlo simulation and sensitivity analysis to calculate the probability of winning the electoral vote. The final Nov.1 forecast had Kerry winning 337 electoral votes with 51.8% of the two-party vote. The forecast closely matched the unadjusted exit polls.

In 2006, the adjusted National Exit Poll indicated that the Democrats won the House by a 52-46% vote share. But the 120 Generic Poll Forecasting Regression Model indicated that they would have 56.4% – exactly matching the unadjusted exit poll.

The 2008 Election Model projection exactly matched Obama’s 365 electoral votes and was within 0.2% of his 52.9% recorded share. He won by 9.5 million votes. But the model understated his True Vote. The forecast was based on final likely voter (LV) polls that had Obama leading by 7%. Registered voter (RV) polls had him up by 13% – before undecided voter allocation. The landslide was denied. The post-election True Vote Model determined that Obama won by 23 million votes with 420 EV. His 58% share matched the unadjusted state exit poll aggregate (83,000 respondents).

Exit pollsters and media pundits have never explained the massive 11% state exit poll margin discrepancy or the impossible 17% National Exit Poll discrepancy. If they did, they would surely claim that the discrepancies were due to reluctant Republican responders. But they will not even try to explain the impossible returning voter adjustments required to force the polls to match the recorded vote in the 1988, 1992, 2004 and 2008 elections.

Pre-election RV and LV Polls

Virtually all early pre-election polls are of Registered Voters (RV). An exception is the Rasmussen poll. It uses the Likely Voter (LV) subset of the full RV sample. Rasmussen is an admitted GOP pollster.

One month prior to the election, pollsters replace the full RV sample polls with LV subsamples. The RV polls are transformed to LVs to promote an artificial “horse race” – and the poll shares invariably tighten. The Likely Voter Cutoff Model (LVCM) effectively understates the turnout of millions of new Democratic voters – and therefore increases the projected Republican share. Democrats always do better in RV polls than in the LVs.

Media pundits and pollsters are paid to project the recorded vote – not the True Vote. And they are usually right. The closer they are, the better they look. They expect there will be fraud, so they prepare the public for it by switching to LV polls which are usually excellent predictors of the recorded vote. But they never mention the fraud factor which gets them there.

Historically, RV polls have closely matched the unadjusted exit polls after undecided voters were allocated and have confirmed the True Vote Model. The loop is closed when implausible or impossible exit polls are forced to match the recorded votes predicted by LV pre-election polls that were overweighted for the Republicans.

Be the first to like this.

About Richard Charnin

In 1965, I graduated from Queens College (NY) with a BA in Mathematics. I later obtained an MS in Applied Mathematics from Adelphi University and an MS in Operations Research from the Polytechnic Institute of NY. I started out as a numerical control engineer/programmer for a major defense/aerospace manufacturer and then moved to Wall Street as a manager/developer of corporate finance quantitative applications for several major investment banks. I consulted in quantitative applications development for major domestic and foreign financial institutions, investment firms and industrial corporations. In 2004 l began posting weekly "Election Model" projections based on state and national polls. As "TruthIsAll", I have been posting election analysis to determine the True Vote ever since. View all posts by Richard Charnin

Author: "--" Tags: "USA: Campaign 2012"
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Date: Sunday, 23 Sep 2012 16:57

First the good news; as of eight hours ago, our tech people succeeded in getting the database of Agonist posts and their comments to convert to Wordpress and got it installed on the new site. That means we'll definitely be able to go ahead with the changeover.

Now the bad news: we seem to have a problem with the new Forums, which were working before. Don't worry, I'm sure it's fixable.

So, the next step is to take a day or two to test the new site with the database in place and make sure it works, then go "live". We couldn't transfer any posts put up after the database convertion began so we'll be transferring in some of those manually too.

We'll now be sending out automated emails to all registered Agonist users with their new login details, so watch for that mail. Contributors and editors, I need to hear from you once you have that login, to check your permissions are set correctly. New users should now also be able to register on the new site.

I'm excited about this, I hope you are too.

Warmest regards, Steve EiC.

Author: "--" Tags: "Agonist"
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Date: Sunday, 23 Sep 2012 14:46

The Hill reports that sen. Lindsay Graham and other Republican hawks are urging Mitt Romney to distinguish himself from Obama on Afghanistan policy - by saying he'd double down and stay longer.

Madness. If there's one foreign policy move guaranteed to lose an incumbent this election, it would be exactly this. Over 75% of Americans think the US should get out of the Afghan quagmire sooner rather than later.

However, I don't think even Romney's that self-destructive. He's more likely to be listening to just about every military commander and thinker agreeing with the UK's Rory Stewart as he writes that "What we have seen is roughly what we will get".

It is time to be honest about Afghanistan: we face a desperate situation and an intolerable choice.

If the US, Britain and their allies leave Afghanistan, there will be chaos and perhaps civil war. The economy will falter and the Afghan government will probably be unable to command the loyalty or support of its people. The Taliban could significantly strengthen their position in the south and east, and attack other areas. Powerful men, gorged on foreign money, extravagantly armed and connected to the deepest veins of corruption and gangsterism, will flex their muscles. For all these reasons departure will feel – rightly – like a betrayal of Afghans and of the soldiers who have died.

But keeping foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 will not secure the country’s future either. Every year since 2004, generals and politicians have acknowledged a disastrous situation, produced a new strategy and demanded new resources. They have tried “ink-spots” and “development zones”; counterinsurgency and nation-building; partnering and mentoring; military surges, civilian surges and reconciliation. Generals and ministers called 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 “decisive” years in Afghanistan. None was. None will be.

That's the reality, trying to act as if it isn't would be tantamount to sending young men to suicide.

Author: "--" Tags: "Afghanistan"
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Date: Sunday, 23 Sep 2012 14:39

Mitt Romney’s 2011 tax return has "USA" in the space for "Foreign country name." No, really.

It's a storm in what should be a teacup, on the scale of the jacket for Obama's book mistakenly saying he was born in Kenya, but it still made me chuckle.

Author: "--" Tags: "USA: Campaign 2012"
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Date: Sunday, 23 Sep 2012 14:14

So many good things about the Saturday Jukebox this week, so here's a Sunday swagger.

Post them if you've got them.

Author: "--" Tags: "Music"
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Date: Sunday, 23 Sep 2012 05:15

Quito | Sept 22

AFP - Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has proposed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be transferred from London to Sweden, where he would remain under Quito's protection.

Patino on Friday told journalists Ecuador was weighing such a transfer as a possible alternative for Assange to "remain under our protection while also satisfying the demands of the Swedish justice system."

Assange took shelter in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June after exhausting all appeals against extradition from Britain to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations. Ecuador has granted him diplomatic asylum.

The 41-year-old Australian fears Sweden will hand him over to the United States, where he could face prosecution over the release of a vast cache of leaked Iraq and Afghanistan war reports and diplomatic cables.

Patino hinted to "new" developments in the Swedish case, saying "several elements of proof have been dismissed," though he declined to provide further details.

He stressed that the best option, in Ecuador's view, would be for Britain to grant Assange safe passage.

On the margins of next week's United Nations General Assembly in New York, Patino plans to discuss Assange's case with his British counterpart William Hague.

Author: "--" Tags: "AgonistWire, Europe, Human Rights, Latin..."
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Date: Sunday, 23 Sep 2012 05:12

Beijing | Sept 23

AFP - China's top security official has made the first high-level trip to Afghanistan by a senior Chinese leader in nearly half a century, meeting President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, state media said Sunday.

Zhou Yongkang made the four-hour visit on Saturday, in a secretive trip aimed at shoring up ties between the neighbours, Xinhua news agency reported.

The visit was not previously announced due to security concerns, the report said. Late president Liu Shaoqi, the last senior Chinese official to visit Afghanistan, visited in 1966, Xinhua said.

Beijing has stepped up diplomacy with Afghanistan in recent months as the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops approaches.

China, which shares a 76-kilometre (47-mile) border with Afghanistan's far northeast, has already secured major oil and copper mining concessions in Afghanistan, which is believed to have more than $1 trillion worth of minerals.

The scramble for influence in Afghanistan is expected to intensify in the run-up to 2014, with its central position in a volatile region having shaped its history for centuries.

Xinhua provided few details about the visit, other than quoting Zhou as saying: "It is in line with the fundamental interests of the two peoples for China and Afghanistan to strengthen a strategic and cooperative partnership... conducive to regional peace, stability and development."

Author: "--" Tags: "AgonistWire, Afghanistan, China"
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Date: Saturday, 22 Sep 2012 19:47

Did you know there's a third-party candidate running for president? I didn't until a few minutes ago. I did however notice that Republicans culled him from debates early on and I like his message far better than the two pieces of work the primary parties profer.

Author: "--" Tags: "USA: Campaign 2012"
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Date: Saturday, 22 Sep 2012 12:15

Some blues-saturated raunch to put a little cream money in your coffee:

What song is making you strut this superlative Saturday?

Author: "--" Tags: "Miscellany"
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Date: Saturday, 22 Sep 2012 04:32

NYT Editorial | September 21

... a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.

...True the Vote grew out of a Tea Party group in Texas, the King Street Patriots, with the assistance of Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers that works to elect conservative Republicans. It has developed its own software to check voter registration lists against driver’s license and property records. Those kinds of database matches are notoriously unreliable because names and addresses are often slightly different in various databases, but the group uses this technique to challenge more voters.

Author: "--" Tags: "USA: Campaign 2012"
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Date: Saturday, 22 Sep 2012 03:50

The title is a quote from Bill Moyer's on tonight's show. A while back a poll here at The Agonist asked what the most important issue was in the election. I commented that I believed that the most important issue wasn't a choice in the poll..., that I thought that "Campaign Finance Reform" was the most important issue. That comment may have been influenced by a Stephan Colbert segment that Bill Moyers made the quote in the title about. You really should view or read tonights show with guest, Trevor Potter, who appeared on that Colbert show.

Here's the introduction:

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. The humorist Andy Borowitz says it would be nice to spend billions on schools and roads, but right now that money is desperately needed for political ads. Sure enough, our political class is wallowing in cash, most of it going to your local TV stations. Last week, NBC reported that total spending on ads by both sides in the presidential race had surpassed $600 million: $318.5 million for Team Romney, $287.2 million for Team Obama. And get this: More than half of all that money for ads has been sent in just three swing states – Florida, Ohio and Virginia. What’s more, huge sums – not only for ads but for get-out-the-vote efforts like mailings and robocalls -- are going into House and Senate races in the fight to control Congress. Altogether, three billion dollars in campaign cash have been raised so far, and a projected $6 billion by the election, less than seven weeks away. It’s not just that we’re being hit by swarms of ads thicker than locusts. What’s truly frightening is that we don’t know who’s really paying for them.


BILL MOYERS: If you’re a super PAC, empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to take unlimited donations, you’re supposed to make your donors public. And you're not supposed to coordinate your efforts with the candidate. But there are ways to get around both requirements and to hide those campaign mega-dollars. Instead of calling yourself a super PAC you become a “social welfare” group. That’s right, a “social welfare” group, and the IRS designates you a 501(c)(4) non-profit. These are sucking up more and more of the big money precisely because their donors can remain secret. And just to add insult to injury, they’re tax exempt. By the way, “The Washington Post’s” Chris Cillizza reports that pro-Romney outside groups have paid for three out of four of the ads supporting him in this election cycle while pro-Obama outside groups have paid for one in every five ads backing the president. The conservative groups, Cillizza writes, "have kept Romney in the game" and he should be able to "outspend Obama rather significantly in the final weeks of the race." So whether you want to call it an arms race, a plague of Biblical proportions, or the death spiral of democracy, take it seriously. Especially all that secret money. It’s poison being mainlined into our country’s arteries, as destructive as arsenic in your drinking water. And you’ll never know who put it there. No one knows the ins-and-outs of this cash-and-carry racket better than Trevor Potter, and no one is more committed to cleaning it up. A former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, he served as general counsel to John McCain during the senator’s presidential campaigns in 2000 and again in 2008. Trevor Potter is with the law firm of Caplin and Drysdale in Washington, and he’s the founding president of the Campaign Legal Center, that’s a non-partisan group committed to “representing the public interest in enforcement of campaign and media law.” All very impressive, but let’s face it, these days Trevor Potter’s greatest claim to fame is as the man who keeps Stephen Colbert out of jail. He advised Colbert on how to create his own super PAC and then to set up his more clandestine 501(c)(4). Take a look.


The Quillayute Cowboy

Author: "--" Tags: "Miscellany"
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Date: Friday, 21 Sep 2012 19:29

So, Romney has released his 2011 tax return. The Romneys paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 of mostly investment income for a measly effective tax rate of 14.1 percent. But Mitt deliberately overpaid, telling the IRS not to count over $1.75 million in charitable donations because otherwise the Romneys' tax rate would be more like 9%, probably a bit too low for even the average Tea Partier to swallow, and the Romneys can always recoup the deduction for the donations not counted in later years.

Think Progress notes that, back in July, Romney said "I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president." But now we know that he paid more than he was legally due so....

Romneys' tax preparer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, also provided a letter summarizing the tax rates that the Romneys paid from 1990 to 2009 and showing an average annual effective federal tax rate of 20.2% with the lowest year's rate being 13.66%. Looks like Harry Reid or his mysterious source were just making s**t up, but it's made up s**t that forced this disclosure today. Turns out Mitt was right that we'd find a lot to crticize in his returns if he released them.

Author: "--" Tags: "USA: Campaign 2012"
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Date: Friday, 21 Sep 2012 15:54

I wanted to title this post "Bibi has his hand up Romney's ass, working him like a puppet", but then I realized that wouldn't be true if Romney figures his listeners at the time want to hear something different.

Think Progress:

Mitt Romney told a group of rabbis and other Jewish leaders on a telephone call on Thursday that an Iranian nuclear weapons capability would be his threshold in which he would launch a military strike on the Islamic Republic, Foreign Policy reports:

“With regards to the red line, I would image Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere,” Romney said. “So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world.”

Romney’s new so-called “red line” represents a shift from what he said just last week, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that his red line is the same as President Obama’s.

Of course, this is a dumb-ass stance to take for a prospective US president, quickly enmiring the nation in yet another costly and disasterous war in the Middle East, and by the time the foreign policy debate rolls around old Etch-a-Sketh will have returned to his former stance next to Obama. It's just...he was talking to Rabbis!

Author: "--" Tags: "Miscellany"
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Date: Friday, 21 Sep 2012 15:07

CNN's Security Clearance blog has this scoop:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to notify Congress as early as Friday that she intends to take the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, off a State Department terror list, three senor administration officials told CNN.

The notification will be followed by a formal de-listing from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in the coming days.

Despite the MeK being an Islamo-marxist quasi-religious cult with some very dodgy practises, which has killed Americans and more recently Iranians in terror attacks over the years, money talks louder than terror. The MeK has been spending lavishly on buying political advocacy, using proxy groups to make the payments so that the people taking $25,000 and more at a time to speak up for the cult could evade US law against support for a terror organisation.

This entirely expected move is a huge fail for Clinton, State and justice, exposing the hypocrisy behind the "great war on terror" lie, but a massive win for corruption. Bleh.

Update "Revealed: the steady flow of funds to members of Congress, lobbying firms and former officials in support of Iranian group." The Guardian follows the multi-millions.

Author: "--" Tags: "Iran, USA: Foreign Relations, USA: Intel..."
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Date: Friday, 21 Sep 2012 14:24

Newsbeast's John Avlon on why nobody -- not even fellow former GOP primary candidates -- can stand Mittens:

It’s often said that when it comes to presidential nominees, Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. Conservatives have long warned about the inability of Romney to excite the base, but the new Pew Survey quantified this dynamic, showing that “roughly half of Romney’s supporters say they are voting against Obama rather than for the Republican nominee."

I’ve come to believe this disconnect is rooted in Mitt Romney’s essentially businesslike approach to politics.

Most Republican politicians who came of age in the Reagan Era are Conviction Politicians. They were moved to public service by a deep commitment to a set of principles and policies.

Mitt Romney approaches politics in a more transactional way. He wants to improve the country but he is fundamentally a salesman and in this world view, it would be illogical not to tailor sales to the needs of different audiences. Why would Mitt try to make the same pitch to a Massachusetts electorate as Republican primaries voters? It’s not personal; it’s business.
This businesslike approach to politics also explains Mitt’s willingness to go negative. On the surface, the “death star” approach of burying opponents in an avalanche of negative ads, as Romney did in Iowa and Florida, seems inconsistent with a man of deep morals and religious faith.

But if you believe that politics is essentially a dirty business—a necessary evil to get ahead and eventually do good, then you make a mental division: you render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. And so going negative is simply the coin of the realm. Honor in politics is misplaced.

The combination of these two factors ends up alienating many of Mitt’s fellow political figures. Those who have run against him feel that he is quick to amplify dishonest attacks—and the sting is more infuriating because it comes with a base alloy of hypocrisy.

Author: "--" Tags: "USA: Campaign 2012"
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Date: Friday, 21 Sep 2012 14:20

Raw Story:

During an interview with radio Iowa, Ann Romney was asked how she would respond to influential conservative critics like Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.

“Stop it!” she snapped. “You want to try it? Get in the ring.”

Ann Romney added: “This is hard and, you know, it’s an important thing that we’re doing right now and it’s an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt’s qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.”

“It’s nonsense. And the chattering class, they — you know, it’s hard, of course. They don’t — I don’t let it sink in. You hear it and then you just let it go right by. And you’re used to it. Honestly at this point, I’m not surprised by anything.”

Yeah, conservative pundits, stop sponging off Mitt's gaffes and go and get a real job. Moochers!

Author: "--" Tags: "USA: Campaign 2012"
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Date: Friday, 21 Sep 2012 04:10

Author: "--" Tags: "Miscellany, Humor & Satire"
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Date: Thursday, 20 Sep 2012 22:41

ITN's Europe editor, James Mates, writes that, in the past, whenever people started to talk about "federalism' and a 'United States of Europe", European leaders would be at pains to point out that no-one in power was seriously talking about that particular f-word. With the current eurozone economic bother (no, not really a crisis) though, that has changed. The President of the European Commission, Manuel Barroso last week said that no-one should be afraid of the word "federation" and is proposing new fiscal powers over common banking, budgeting and taxation for the EU which just about everyone accepts will happen within the next two years. Mates continues:

But it is increasingly clear that plans for the next "great leap forward" go much further than doing what’s necessary to save the Euro.

Following hard on the heels of the Barroso speech came a wide-ranging list of proposals from a group of 11 EU states - led by the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle - that would go way beyond anything that any UK Government (not just this one) could sign up to.

The list is spectacular in both its breadth and ambition.

There would be a directly elected European President and new powers for the European Parliament.

There would be a pan-European foreign ministry with greatly expanded powers to run an EU foreign policy decided by majority voting (so no vetoes by the UK or anyone else).

Defence policy would also be Europeanised, with the explicit aim that “this could eventually involve a European army”.

There would be a new EU police organisation to guard all external borders, with all visas run from Brussels.

Perhaps most controversially of all, in the future it’s proposed that EU Treaties could be changed by majority voting.

In other words, changes as significant as those in the Maastricht or Lisbon Treaties could simply be imposed on a country, whether it liked them or not.

And in case anyone still really believes that the UK is ‘winning the debate in Europe’ the list of governments backing these proposals include every major EU state except…Britain.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland are all behing them, although it has to be said that the debate in France over such a decisive move towards federalism is likely to be pretty lively.

ZOMG, really? Block the Chunnel, mobilize the Home Guard on the White Cliffs! They may take our lives but they'll never take our bowler hats!

Or not.

It seems to me that the Blighty Brigade of Unionist always-be-an-England-ers are protesting over a goose/gander distinction they don't see themselves. All of the things listed above are already foisted upon Scotland as part of the United Kingdom and it's supposed to be good for the Scots - but when the shoe's on the other foot, ah well. At the end of the day, of course, both ends of this hypocrisy are all about preserving power for the chinless-wonder elite who comprise the English political class.

As a Scot who believes fiercely in Independence, I've never been too enamoured of the "Scotland in Europe" formula the SNP believes it needs to talk up to have a chance of winning. I'd rather see Scotland follow Norway's path. However, if the Unionists themselves are to have any intellectual consistency then they have to concede that, for Scotland at least, if taking orders from and being part of a far larger union is a good thing then it's better for Scotland to be part of the largest on offer in it's own right, rather than being a province of a province in the United States of Europe.

Author: "--" Tags: "Europe Minus UK, European Union, United ..."
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Date: Thursday, 20 Sep 2012 20:36

Sally Healy

(Originally posted by New Internationalist, republished under a Creative Commons license)

New Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Photo: VOA, reproduced under a CC license.

On 20 August the Ethiopian authorities announced the sudden death of the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who had been at the helm of Ethiopian politics for twenty-one years. At the age of 57, Meles still seemed to be at the height of his powers but had announced his intention to step down from the leadership in 2015. He was admired internationally for his intellectual brilliance and had spoken of his hopes for a second career as an academic. Despite Meles’ promise to quit office, few observers of the Ethiopian scene expected that he would cease to be the main force in politics for the foreseeable future. His sudden departure has prompted reflection on a complex legacy. His undoubted success in making Ethiopia a top development partner has been tempered by a record of intolerance and increasing political repression at home. [More after the jump]

Just three weeks later in neighbouring Somalia, another 57 year-old man, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, came to sudden prominence. Against all expectations, Hassan Sheikh emerged successfully from a parliamentary election process to become the President of Somalia. He faced twenty-two opponents in the contest. Many of them had gained notoriety as members of the deeply discredited Transitional Federal Government that had done so little to restore peace and order in the country. Hassan Sheikh, on the other hand, is well known in Mogadishu as a man of integrity. His background as a peace activist in civil society and a respected academic has raised expectations that the long political nightmare unfolding in South Central Somalia might at last be coming to an end.

The political fortunes of Ethiopia and Somalia have coincided once before: in 1991 both countries saw off military dictatorships and started a new chapter. Their political trajectory since then could hardly be more different. Ethiopia has shaken off its humiliating 1980s image of famine, starvation and extreme poverty. The country is now feted as an exemplary development partner, DFID’s biggest bilateral aid recipient, boasting real progress on the Millennium Development Goals and ‘double digit’ percentage economic growth figures. Somalia, in contrast, appeared to have lost its way, a failed state, known internationally only for warlordism, violent conflict, famine, corruption and anarchy. Ethiopia’s attempt to forcibly impose a government of its choice on Somalia in 2006 only made matters worse, fuelling the radical extremism of Al Shabab.

The dramatic developments of recent weeks could start to change the outlook for both Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopia, with a long history of indigenous statehood, has robust institutions but the country has never yet experienced a change of leadership that did not involve some turmoil and violence. For now the ruling party is playing the lead role. On 15 September, Haile Mariam Desalegn, Meles’ former deputy, was elected party chairperson. This is a prelude to his inauguration as prime minister by parliament, an assembly with only one member who does not belong to the ruling party.

Somalia’s state institutions have been largely eroded, but its democratic and participatory political traditions are stronger than those of its powerful neighbour. The election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his inauguration as president on 16 September marks a much needed break with the past. He is neither part of the corrupt political establishment nor under the sway of foreign powers. He stayed in Mogadishu through all the hard times, established a successful university there and worked consistently for reconciliation among Somali factions. His challenge is to bring this approach to the national stage.

The outside world will miss Meles, a pro-Western regional ally in a dangerous neighbourhood. But there is room to hope that the momentous changes in the Horn this summer will include a positive transformation for Somalia.

Sally Healy is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute.

Author: "--" Tags: "Africa"
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