Sunday, July 30, 2006

What Would It Take?

Fellow bloggers,

I'm going to come out and say what I'm sure has popped into all of our heads at some point or another: the two-party system in the US sucks!

What would it take to change it? What would it take to implement the following reforms?

- Do away with the electoral college? (Actually, there's something afoot already on this one - a movement to have states change the way they allot their electoral votes. The idea is to have enough states representing 50% + 1 of the population change their laws to automatically give all their electoral votes to the nationwide popular vote winner.)

- Implement a preferential vote or runoff for president?

- End gerrymandering?

- Implement a preferential vote or runoff for congressional seats?

- Move away from single-member congressional seats, and implement single transferrable vote (in effect, proportional representation)?

- Any other ideas?

Friday, July 28, 2006

H.R. 1956 - Boring Tax Stuff that Bill will appreciate

House pulls H.R. 1956 before a vote - major tax changes put off for now.

The house of Representatives pulled H.R. 1956 before going to a vote on Wednesday because of insufficient support to get it passed. This is major tax news that has gone largely unreported. The significance of this bill is it would change the way states can tax out-of-state companies doing business in their jurisdictions. The term that is used to describe whether a company is liabile to pay taxes in a given state is called Nexus.

Under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Federal government essentially sets the rules on how a state can tax an out of state entity doing business. There are different standards for sales taxes and income taxes. For income taxes, the law states that sellers of goods (tangible perdional property) who sell goods in a state, but do not have employees or own property in that state, from being liable for INCOME tax in that state. In the 1950's when this law (P.L. 86-272) was passed, it covered most economic activity. Today, it has less significance because services and intangibles make up a large portion of economic activity, and many states have moved away from income taxes towards gross receipts or franchise taxes, which are not covered by the law.

Congress decided to address this inequity by proposing H.R. 1956, which would have ammended the law that would say all companies would be exempt from income or any other type of entity level tax provided they did not have property or payroll in that state. While this did address the inequity, it rose fierce opposition from state governors, who would lose significant tax revenues. State governments like the status quo because they can tax people who cannot vote in their respective states. This bill, if passed would mean substantial tax savings for many entities that do business in multiple states.

I am of two opinions on this matter. I like the fact that it levels the playing field and it starves state governments of money - which coincides of my 'starve the beast' limited government philosophy. However, the states have a legitimate point regarding tax revenues and fundamental fairness in taxing business directed to the state.

The solution to this is to pass H.R. 1956, but also change the rules for sales tax nexus, allowing the states to have out-of-state companies collect sales tax (especially on internet sales) with a more liberal interpretation of substantial nexus that has been used by scholars. This would address another fairness issue, the taxability of internet based companies versus bricks and mortar companies, and allow states to recoup some of their lost revenues. It would also have the benefits of states working to streamline their sales and use tax policies (National Sales Tax Project) and would turn the tax systems of many states from an income base to a consumption base.

Handicapping the Michigan Senate Race

Now this is a snoozer. Debbie Stabenow has to be one of the most ineffective senators and campaigners there is. The only reason I think she won in 2000 is that Spence Abraham is a worse campaigner.
Once again, thanks to RNSCC head Elizabeth Dole, you have two mediocre GOP candidates duking it out for the nomination against an extremely vulnerable incumbant. I sure wish that there was a Democratic Challenger to Stabenow - anybody with an ounce of charisma would trounce either of the two Republican challengers.
Alas - my call on this is that it coattails the Gubernatorial race with similar close numbers, with Stabenow's future really depending on turnout in Detroit than anything else.

Handicapping the Michigan Governor's Race

In the lazy days of August, Republican challenger Dick DeVos has a 4-5 percentage point lead against incumbant governor Jennifer Granholm. Generally, I would be excited about the idea of a Republican challenger defeating a Democratic incumbent for the governorship of the state of the Michigan, but I'm rather ambivalent.

The reason for my ambivalence is my gut feeling that Dick DeVos is an empty suit, or as conservatives would say, a "country-club" Republican. He talks about being a "successful businessman" (heir of AmWay - take that for what it's worth) and a "problem-solver", but he has not given anything on a substantive or a philisophical basis on how he sees the problems ailing Michigan or how he would govern. No talk anywhere about how he would reduce the size of government or even an outline of how he sees the structural issues that have led to Michigan's economy lagging the rest of the country. Based on this, I would have to say DeVos is closer to Bob Taft than John Engler.

As for Granholm, she hasn't done that bad of a job. With a Republican house tempering her liberal impulses, she has been OK, and her poor poll results are more due to events surrounding the auto industry than anything that the government has done or not done under her stewardship.

I think DeVos has peaked if he continues the campaign on a policy free, persona based image. If he sticks to that, I think Granholm will be able to clobber him on being an empty suit and sqeak in a win.

Here are my "keys to victory" as of today
For DeVos to win, he must:
1. Outline a substantive, conservative based platform to address Michigan's problems
2. Make the case for change by highlighting the economic record of the state under Granholm
3. Energize turnout in the Western half of the state
For Granholm to win, she must:
1. Highlight many of her accomplishments as governor
2. Show her plan to address the anxieties of the populace
3. Paint Dick DeVos as a silver-spoon "empty suit" who is running for governor as a hobby
4. Make up with Kwamme Fitzpatrick as the Detroit turnout will be critical for her to win.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

LPC Leadership Race

OK, let's shift gears a bit...

As a card-carrying CPC member, I'd been thinking about who I wanted to see win the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. I concluded a while back that what the "citizen in me" wants is more important than what the "politician in me" wants.

Given who seems to be doing well and who doesn't, I want Ignatieff or Bevilacqua to win. While both are considered right-leaning and would give the Conservatives more competition for the same votes, I've decided that's the best thing for the country. I would welcome a tempering of the traditional anti-Americanism of the Liberals because I think it would do more for the conservative cause than having a Conservative Party that stands alone.

This also reminds me of the writings of Dinesh D'Souza (sp?) in the US, who believes that as the Democrats have gone over the deep end and vacated the center, it's reduced the pressure on the Republicans to not drift in that direction. I believe the reverse is true - that a Liberal Party that is favorable to at least some tax cuts will keep the Conservatives disciplined.

But the politician in me won't be totally let down, because it will be interesting and enjoyable to watch the NDP take more Liberal votes. Think all of Northern Ontario turning orange... :) Plus there will be some exciting three-way races to come, even if the Liberals are able to hold off the Tories in suburban ridings.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Identity crisis

I'm sure we're all in the same boat in that we all are in a bit of disbelief when something we say in a drunken 4th of July Weekend Geopolitical/Philosphical Verbal Brew Haha actually comes to pass, but I stumbled on this today and was thinking of a comment I made to McCammon(the Ugly one ;) about the state of conservative thought in the US and how after Bush's term of office has passed, the GOP will be left to deal with a major identity crisis. Affirmation from one of the biggest movers out there has come in the person of William F Buckley.

The article of course speaks to the heart of the philosphical differences between a more classical conservative like Buckley and the brand of Conservatism embraced by the George W Bush Administration, which without going into detail here, is combination of corporate stoogism, Christo-Fascism,deficit Spending that makes Ronald Reagan look like Ebenezer Scrooge, and general administrative incompetence. But what i find more interesting is the sheer number of "conservatives" in the US who couldnt wait to sell their souls for 8 years in the White House.

Bush has defied classical conservativism a rediculous pace. The crown jewel of which has been the interventionist, nation building goodie bag in Iraq. But there a plenty of other examples domestically..... "The Department of Homeland Security", immigration, domestic surveillance, etc etc. Yet so many conservative (Buckely excluded of course) are the first in line to give these "bizzarro conservative" policies a big thumbs up.
Im reminded in Ontario terms of the Mike Harris Government's Toronto Mega City project and how many conservatives thought this consolidation was a great idea(so much for local control and the closest government to the people being the best government for the people).

I just have to wonder, when these alleged conservatives propose and support philosophical whoopers like that, do their stomachs turn. Does a little voice in their head tell them what they just supported runs contrary to the very fiber of the socio-political being. Or do they simply think "we're in charge, we can do what ever we want"? Or do they not think at all?

Friday, July 21, 2006

From Today's WSJ

Hostage to HezbollahLesson for Nasrallah: "The violence done to Lebanon shall overwhelm you."
Friday, July 21, 2006 12:01 a.m.
Pity Lebanon: In a world of states, it has not had a state of its own. A garden without fences, was the way Beirut, its capital city, was once described. A cleric by the name of Hassan Nasrallah, at the helm of the Hezbollah movement, handed Lebanon a calamity right as the summer tourist season had begun. Beirut had dug its way out of the rubble of a long war: Nasrallah plunged it into a new season of loss and ruin. He presented the country with a fait accompli: the "gift" of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped across an international frontier. Nasrallah never let the Lebanese government in on his venture. He was giddy with triumphalism and defiance when this crisis began. And men and women cooped up in the destitution of the Shiite districts of Beirut were sent out into the streets to celebrate Hezbollah's latest deed.

It did not seem to matter to Nasrallah that the ground that would burn in Lebanon would in the main be Shiite land in the south. Nor was it of great concern to he who lives on the subsidies of the Iranian theocrats that the ordinary Lebanese would pay for his adventure. The cruel and cynical hope was that Nasrallah's rivals would be bullied into submission and false solidarity, and that the man himself would emerge as the master of the game of Lebanon's politics.

The hotels are full in Damascus," read a dispatch in Beirut, as though to underline the swindle of this crisis, its bitter harvest for the Lebanese. History repeats here, endlessly it seems. There was something to Nasrallah's conduct that recalled the performance of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Six Day War of 1967. That leader, it should be recalled, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, asked for the evacuation of U.N. forces from the Sinai Peninsula-- clear acts of war--but never expected the onset of war. He had only wanted the gains of war.

Nasrallah's brazen deed was, in the man's calculus, an invitation to an exchange of prisoners. Now, the man who triggered this crisis stands exposed as an Iranian proxy, doing the bidding of Tehran and Damascus. He had confidently asserted that "sources" in Israel had confided to Hezbollah that Israel's government would not strike into Lebanon because Hezbollah held northern Israel hostage to its rockets, and that the demand within Israel for an exchange of prisoners would force Ehud Olmert's hand. The time of the "warrior class" in Israel had passed, Nasrallah believed, and this new Israeli government, without decorated soldiers and former generals, was likely to capitulate. Now this knowingness has been exposed for the delusion it was.

There was steel in Israel and determination to be done with Hezbollah's presence on the border. States can't--and don't--share borders with militias. That abnormality on the Lebanese-Israeli border is sure not to survive this crisis. One way or other, the Lebanese army will have to take up its duty on the Lebanon-Israel border. By the time the dust settles, this terrible summer storm will have done what the Lebanese government had been unable to do on its own.

In his cocoon, Nasrallah did not accurately judge the temper of his own country to begin with. No less a figure than the hereditary leader of the Druze community, Walid Jumblatt, was quick to break with Hezbollah, and to read this crisis as it really is. "We had been trying for months," he said, "to spring our country out of the Syrian-Iranian trap, and here we are forcibly pushed into that trap again." In this two-front war--Hamas's in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah's in Lebanon--Mr. Jumblatt saw the fine hand of the Syrian regime attempting to retrieve its dominion in Lebanon, and to forestall the international investigations of its reign of terror in that country.

In the same vein, a broad coalition of anti-Syrian Lebanese political parties and associations that had come together in the aftermath of the assassination last year of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, called into question the very rationale of this operation, and its timing: "Is it Lebanon's fate to endure the killing of its citizens and the destruction of its economy and its tourist season in order to serve the interests of empty nationalist slogans?"

In retrospect, Ehud Barak's withdrawal from Israel's "security zone" in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2000 had robbed Hezbollah of its raison d'être. It was said that the "resistance movement" would need a "soft landing" and a transition to a normal political world. But the imperative of disarming Hezbollah and pulling it back from the international border with Israel was never put into effect. Hezbollah found its way into Parliament, was given two cabinet posts in the most recent government, and branched out into real estate ventures; but the heavy military infrastructure survived and, indeed, was to be augmented in the years that followed Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Syria gave Hezbollah cover, for that movement did much of Syria's bidding in Lebanon. A pretext was found to justify the odd spectacle of an armed militia in a time of peace: Hezbollah now claimed that the battle had not ended, and that a barren piece of ground, the Shebaa Farms, was still in Israel's possession. By a twist of fate, that land had been in Syrian hands when they fell to Israel in the Six Day War. No great emotions stirred in Lebanon about the Shebaa Farms. It was easy to see through the pretense of Hezbollah. The state within a state was an end in itself.

For Hezbollah, the moment of truth would come when Syria made a sudden, unexpected retreat out of Lebanon in the spring of 2005. An edifice that had the look of permanence was undone with stunning speed as the Syrians raced to the border, convinced that the Pax Americana might topple the regime in Damascus, as it had Saddam Hussein's tyranny. For Hezbollah's leaders, this would be a time of great uncertainty. The "Cedar Revolution" that had helped bring an end to Syrian occupation appeared to be a genuine middle-class phenomenon, hip and stylish, made up in the main of Sunni Muslims, Druze and Christians. Great numbers of propertied and worldly Shiites found their way to that Cedar Revolution, but Hezbollah's ranks were filled with the excluded, newly urbanized people from villages in the south and the Bekaa Valley.

Hassan Nasrallah had found a measure of respectability in the Lebanese political system; he was a good orator and, in the way of Levantine politics, a skilled tactician. A seam was stitched between the jihadist origins of Hezbollah and the pursuit of political power in a country as subtle and complex and pluralistic as Lebanon. There would be no Islamic republic in Lebanon, and the theory of Hezbollah appeared to bend to Lebanon's realities.

But Nasrallah was in the end just the Lebanese face of Hezbollah. Those who know the workings of the movement with intimacy believe that operational control is in the hands of Iranian agents, that Hezbollah is fully subservient to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The hope that Hezbollah would "go Lebanese," and "go local," was thus set aside. At any rate, Nasrallah and his lieutenants did not trust the new Lebanon to make the ample room that a country at war--and within the orbit of Syria--had hitherto made for them in the time of disorder. Though the Shiites had risen in Lebanon, there remains in them a great deal of brittleness, a sense of social inadequacy relative to the more privileged communities in the country.

That raid into Israel, the capture of the two Israeli soldiers, was a deliberate attack against the new Lebanon. That the crisis would play out when the mighty of the G-8 were assembled in Russia was a good indication of Iran's role in this turn of events. Hassan Nasrallah had waded beyond his depth: The moment of his glory would mark what is destined to be a setback of consequence for him and for his foot soldiers. Iran's needs had trumped Hezbollah's more strictly Lebanese agenda.

In the normal course of things, Hezbollah's operatives expected at least the appearance of Arab solidarity and brotherhood. And here, too, Hezbollah was to be denied.

A great diplomatic setback was handed it when Saudi Arabia shed its customary silence and reticence to condemn what it described as the "uncalculated adventures" of those in Hezbollah and Hamas who brought about this crisis. The custodians of power in Arabia noted that they had stood with the "Lebanese resistance" until the end of Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. But that was then, and there is a world of difference between "legitimate resistance" and "uncalculated adventures undertaken by elements within the state, and behind its back, exposing the region and its accomplishments to danger and destruction." Gone was the standard deference to Arab solidarity.

This had little to do with the Shiism of Hezbollah, but with the Saudi dread of instability. The Saudis are heavily invested in the reconstruction and stability of Lebanon: This had been the achievement of Rafik Hariri, and it was to continue under Fouad Siniora, the incumbent prime minister, a decent Sunni technocrat who came into politics as an aide of Hariri. Untold thousands of Saudis have their summer homes and vacations in Lebanon. A memory of old Beirut in its days of glitter tugs at older Saudis. On less sentimental grounds, the Saudis have been keen to shore up Lebanon's mercantile Sunni population against the demographic and political weight of the Shiites. Hezbollah's unilateral decision to push Lebanon over the brink was anathema to the Saudi way.

In due course, the Saudis were joined by the Jordanians and the Egyptians. The Arab order of power would not give Nasrallah control over the great issues of regional war and peace. Nor would it give sustenance to Syria's desire to find its way back into Lebanon's politics. The axes of the region were laid bare: The trail runs from the southern slums of Beirut through Damascus to Tehran--with Hezbollah and its Palestinian allies in the Hamas on one side, and the conservative order of power on the other. This isn't exactly the split between the Sunni Arab order and its Shiite challengers. (Hamas, it should be noted, is zealously Sunni.) The wellsprings of this impasse are to be found in the more prosaic impasse between order and its radical enemies.

In time, we are sure to hear from Nasrallah's own Shiite community: There had been unease among growing numbers of educated Shiites about the political monopoly over their affairs of Hezbollah and its local allies, an unease with the zealotry and the military parades--and with the subservience to Iran. The defection will be easier now as the downtrodden of southern Lebanon take stock of the misery triggered by Nasrallah's venture. He will need enormous Iranian treasure to repair the damage of this ill-starred endeavor.

The Shiites are Lebanon's single largest community. There lie before them two ways: Lebanonism, an attachment to their own land, assimilation into the wider currents of their country, an acceptance of it as a place of services and trade and pluralism; or a path of belligerence, a journey on road to Damascus--and to the Iranian theocracy. By the time the guns fall silent and the Lebanese begin to dig out of the rubble, we should get an intimation of which Shiite future beckons. The Shiites can make Lebanon or they can break it. Their deliverance lies in a recognition of the truths and limitations of their country. The "holy war" they can leave to others.

There could have been another way: There could have been a sovereign state in Lebanon, and the Syrians would have let it be, and the distant Iranian state would have been a world apart. There needn't have been a Lebanese parody of the Iranian Revolution, a "sister republic" by the Mediterranean sustained with Iranian wealth. The border between Israel and Lebanon would have been a "normal" border. (The Lebanese would settle for a border as quiet and tranquil as the one Syria has maintained with Israel for well over three decades now, with the Syrians waging proxy battles on Lebanese soil and through Lebanese satraps.)

But the Lebanese have been given to feuds among themselves, and larger players have found it easy to insert themselves into that small, fragile republic. Now the Lebanese have been given yet again a cautionary tale about what befalls lands without sovereign, responsible states of their own.

In an earlier time, three decades ago, Lebanon was made to pay for the legends of Arabism, and for the false glamour of the Palestinian "revolutionary" experiment. The country lost well over a quarter-century of its history--its best people quit it, and its modernist inheritance was brutally and steadily undermined.

Now comes this new push by Damascus and Tehran. It promises nothing save sterility and ruin. It will throw the Lebanese back onto a history whose terrible harvest is well known to them. The military performance of Hezbollah, it should be apparent by now, is not a performance of a militia; nor are unmanned drones and missiles of long range the weapons of boys of the alleyways. A formidable military structure has been put together by the Iranians in Lebanon. In a small, densely populated country that keeps and knows no secrets, Hezbollah and its Iranian handlers have been at work on this military undertaking for quite some time, under the gaze of Lebanese authorities too frightened to raise questions.

The Mediterranean vocation of Lebanon as a land of enlightenment and commerce may have had its exaggerations and pretense. But set it against the future offered Lebanon by Syria, and by Tehran's theocrats seeking a diplomatic reprieve for themselves by setting Lebanon on fire, and Lebanon's choice should be easy to see.

The Lebanese, though, are not masters of their own domain. They will need protection and political support; they will need to see the will and the designs of the radical axis contested by resolute American power, and by an Arab constellation of states that can convince the Shiites of Lebanon that there is a place for them in the Arab scheme of things. For a long time, the Arab states have worked through and favored the Sunni middle classes of Beirut, Sidon and Tripoli. This has made it easy for Iran--overcoming barriers of language and distance--to make its inroads into a large Shiite community awakening to a sense of power and violation. To truly turn Iran back from the Mediterranean, to check its reach into Beirut, the Arab world needs to rethink the basic compact of its communities, and those Shiite stepchildren of the Arab world will have to be brought into the fold.

Lebanon's strength lies in its weakness, went an old maxim. And the Arab states themselves were for decades egregious in the way they treated Lebanon, shifting onto it the burden of the Palestinian fight with Israel, acquiescing in the encroachments on its sovereignty by the Palestinians and the Syrians--encroachments often subsidized with Arab money. Iran then picked up where the Arab states left off. Now that weakness of the Lebanese state has become a source of great menace to the Lebanese, and to their neighbors as well.

No one can say with confidence how this crisis will play out. There are limits on what Israel can do in Lebanon. The Israelis will not be pulled deeper into Lebanon and its villages and urban alleyways, and Israel can't be expected to disarm Hezbollah or to find its missiles in Lebanon's crannies. Finding the political way out, and working out a decent security arrangement on the border, will require a serious international effort and active American diplomacy. International peacekeeping forces have had a bad name, and they often deserve it. But they may be inevitable on Lebanon's border with Israel; they may be needed to buy time for the Lebanese government to come into full sovereignty over its soil.

The Europeans claim a special affinity for Lebanon, a country of the eastern Mediterranean. This is their chance to help redeem that land, and to come to its rescue by strengthening its national army and its bureaucratic institutions. We have already seen order's enemies play their hand. We now await the forces of order and rescue, and by all appearances a long, big struggle is playing out in Lebanon. This is from the Book of Habakkuk: "The violence done to Lebanon shall overwhelm you" (2:17). The struggles of the mighty forces of the region yet again converge on a small country that has seen more than its share of history's heartbreak and history's follies.

Mr. Ajami, a 2006 Bradley Prize recipient, is the Majid Khadduri Professor and director of the Middle East Studies Program at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book, "The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq," has just been published by the Free Press. He is the author of, among others, "The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey" (Pantheon, 1998), and "Beirut: City of Regrets" (Norton, 1988).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Guess I won't be eating at La Shish anytime soon.

Found this today:


U.S. Department of JusticeStephen J. MurphyUnited States Attorney
Eastern District of MichiganSuite 2001 211 West Fort Street Detroit, Michigan
48226-3277Fax: (313) 226-3561

Federal charges were unsealed today in Detroit against Talal Khalil Chahine, 51, of Dearborn Heights, Michigan and the owner of the “La Shish” restaurant chain, and Elfat El Aouar, 39 of Plymouth, a “La Shish” financial manager and Chahine’s wife. Chahine and El Aouar are charged by the federal grand jury Indictment with four Counts each of Income Tax Evasion, in violation of Title 26, United States Code, Section 7201. Each Count carries a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Elfat El Aouar was arrested earlier today from her home in Plymouth. A bail hearing and arraignment is scheduled to occur at 1:00 p.m. in federal court. Talal Chahine is presently outside the United States and is believed to be in Lebanon. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

In announcing the Indictment, United States Attorney Stephen J. Murphy commended the work of the Special Agents of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Kenneth R. Chadwell and Julie A. Beck.

As set forth in the Indictment, Talal Khalil Chahine is the sole owner of La Shish, Inc., a Middle Eastern restaurant chain located in the Detroit, Michigan metropolitan area. Elfat El Aouar, who is married to Talal Chahine, has an M.B.A. and has worked at La Shish, Inc. in various capacities including as the company’s Vice President of Finance. The Indictment alleges that Talal Chahine and Elfat El Aouar collaborated in a scheme to skim cash proceeds from the restaurants for the tax years 2000 through 2003. During those tax years, it is alleged, La Shish, Inc. maintained a double set of computerized books, records and balance reports, one actual and one altered. The altered records artificially reduced the amount of cash that was actually received by the restaurants. Talal Chahine and Elfat El Aouar oversaw the maintenance of the double set of books, as well as the skimming and concealment of more than $16,000,000 in cash received by the restaurants. To evade government scrutiny, the skimmed cash was not deposited into U.S. bank accounts, but instead, at the direction of Chahine and El Aouar, converted into cashier’s checks and reduced in physical size by changing small denominations into larger ones. These conversions were made for the purpose of transporting the cash outside the United States to Lebanon, away from U.S. government reach and detection. Cash was also skimmed by paying La Shish, Inc. employees all or partly in cash.

United States Attorney Stephen J. Murphy said, “The charges today highlight the importance of enforcing our tax laws fairly and diligently. The transferring of millions of dollars in cash from the United States to the Middle East in the attempt to evade taxes will not be tolerated. I commend the hard work of the IRS Criminal Division and the FBI that lead to these charges being unsealed today.” Special Agent Aouate said, “The Internal Revenue Service spends a great deal of its resources in identifying individuals who earn their income legitimately yet willfully fail to report and pay their fair share in taxes. We will continue to work with the United States Attorney to make sure that there are consequences to one's willful actions.”

An Indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

An there is more to the story:

The U.S. government, in a written proffer of evidence (in U.S.A. v. Elfat El Aouar, Cr. No. 06-20248, EDMI, 5/22/2006), states that Chahine and his wife attended a fundraising event in Lebanon in August 2002 with Hizballah Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Specially Designated Terrorist (see page 8), where the two men were the keynote speakers. The proffer also claims that a search of El Aouar’s residence turned up a “thank you letter” for sponsoring 40 “orphans,” as well as images of Chahine and his family in front of a Hizballah outpost. According to the proffer, “[t]he government is aware that the sponsorship of orphans is a euphemism used by Hizballah to refer to the orphans of martyrs. This is a common public relations and recruitment tool used by Hizballah. Hizballah gains favor with the public in Lebanon by supporting ‘orphans,’ while at the same time recruiting others into the terrorist organization willing to sacrifice their lives in terrorist operations based in part on the promise that Hizballah will take care of their families.” The government has yet to charge Chahine or his wife with any terrorism-related offense.

Interesting. H/T Counterterorism Blog

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israel's Existence

As long as I can remember I have always heard, "Israel has a right to exist." and "The Arab countries need to recognize Israel's right to exist." Never have I heard any sort of a logical explanation to support these statements. I'm not really into Middle Eastern mythology and do not buy into the "God gave us this land" reason, even though the Mormons recycled the same scam a few years later. By the way, were you aware that God gave me Marin County, California last week. Swear to God!
The explanation for the existence of Israel that makes the most sense to me is the European and American Jews were pissed off about pogroms and decided it was Zion time. The European governments thought this was a great idea, too and supported the idea of getting them out of Europe. Truman saw it as a way to gain votes in New York. Arabs were non-entities back in the forties, similar to American Indians in this country. With American and European military hardware they were then able to defeat the Arabs who outnumbered them four to one. Here's the great part. They then kicked most of the Arabs out of "Israel" and disenfranchised remaining non-Jews in order to create a democracy. That would be like carving out a large chunk of the United States, herding most of the conservatives into Texas and North Dakota, only allowing progressives to vote in their new country and having the balls to declare themselves a beacon of democracy.
The one constant over the last 58 years has been the Palestinian position: "Regardless of whether America, Europe or anyone else recognizes you as a country, the fact remains that you stole our land to create it and there can never be peace until we recover what is ours." The claim is a valid one and, by refusing to acquiesce, the claim remains in force. Time only works in favor of the occupier if there is a significant period of inaction by the victim.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Magnet drivers

We are all aware of drivers who speed up when we attempt to pass them. They certainly are worthy of receiving an abutment to the face, but they have a close relative with whom I have lumped them under the genus, magnet drivers. They have an attraction to other vehicles. I drive expressways on cruise control most of the time and have come to the conclusion that if I catch another car it is because I am going faster and, therefore, should pass it if I don't vary my speed. In the same manner if a car catches me they should continue on by. But magnets find themselves unable to complete the pass. Either they pull up behind me, slow down and tailgate, even though there is a vacant lane on my left, or they pull into that lane and continue at that speed until they are even with my rear door or side-by-side, at which point they match my speed. They are apparently unable to break the bond until I hit the brakes, setting them free to resume their original speed or, in the case of the tailgater, slow down gradually until their need to get somewhere overcomes the attraction. Is it just me or is this a universal occurance?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Trans Fats

Recently I've been focusing on my health and nutrition quite a bit. I've lost a good chunk of weight this year and I've now switched over to a diet with emphasis on muscle-building. With all of this I've been doing quite a bit of reading on the nutrient content of food, to keep track of my daily calorie intake and breakdown. (I probably shouldn't drink anymore, but life's too short.)

One of the things that caught my eye was the Canadian government's Task Force on Trans Fats. The Task Force, started by an NDP-sponsored bill a couple of years ago, is recommending that trans fats be basically banned. The ban would allow no more than 2% of the fat content in grocery store margarines, etc. to be trans fats. Other foods (baked goods, etc.) would be allowed to have no more than 5% trans fat content. Restaurant food would not (could not) be regulated per se, but would only be allowed to be prepared with the aforementioned ingredients. This ban would not apply to products where the fat originates exclusively from meat or dairy products, since those can contain a small amount of naturally-occurring trans fat.

On the surface, this ban would go against my libertarian leanings, but I wholeheartedly support it? Why? Am I out of my mind? No, and here's why. You see, we are not talking about banning a behaviour here. No one derives enjoyment or benefit from consuming trans fats specifically. Trans fats have no benefit or purpose within the human body, unlike even the much-maligned saturated fat, except to clog arteries and throw a whole bunch of stuff out of whack.

We aren't going to create an illicit trade in Crisco here! There won't be any after-hours parties where people will huddle around an applie pie or a carton of McDonald's fries from south of the border. I think this reasonably falls within the government's right and duty to protect the health of its citizens. And I can't wait to enjoy more fast food! (Right now I'm just waiting until Wendy's switches over to a healthier frying oil next month.)

For those that know me, an odd topic and and an uncharacteristic viewpoint for my first-ever blog post, huh?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Direct this towards London, ON

I'm curious as to everyones take on this whole episode.(Patrick in particular since I recall in that in the haze of a drunken hour Israel came up for discussion.

I cant help but think Israel is unbelieveably over reacting to the point that its detrimental to the supposed cause of getting their detained soldiers back.

Im also trying to figure out how taking out Beirut's infrastructure really serves as a strike against Hezbollah, when your most moderate politcal element Lebanon lives in Beirut.

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