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Jim Hightower - Drones coming home to roost

For nearly four years, President Obama refused to admit a foreign-policy "secret" that was widely known here and throughout the world — namely, that the White House, Pentagon and CIA are engaged in ethically questionable and rapidly escalating drone warfare that's killing innocent civilians as well as enemy soldiers in Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere. But by nominating John Brennan, the architect of this high-tech kill policy, to head the CIA, the president has let the drone out of the bag.
In the past few days, both Brennan and the policy have been getting a grilling from members of both parties on Capitol Hill, with lots of media also questioning the use of unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft to strike people with rockets launched by technicians viewing computer screens and wielding joysticks from bunkers on air bases back here in the U.S.A.
As Congress, the media and the public ponder the merits of that, however, how about noticing another deeply troubling policy secret looming ever larger on our horizon: the domestic deployment of drones. From Homeland Security officials and the FBI to your state police and county sheriff, these inherently invasive "unmanned aerial vehicles" are being spread across our Land of the Free — and aimed at us.
Shouldn't we get answers to a few basic questions before authorities swarm these "Orwellian gnats" into our skies? For example, what's the cost of this (in liberty and lucre), what's the purpose, and what are the rules to prevent abuses?
Cheap, small, noiseless and practically invisible, drones take snooping to a whole new level. Equipped with super-high-powered lenses, infrared and ultraviolet imaging, radar that can see through walls, video analytics and "swarm" technologies that use a group of drones that operate in concert to allow surveillers to watch an entire city, these devices are made to be intrusive. And, of course, they can be "weaponized" to let police agents advance from intrusion to repression.
In other words, we are on a fast track to becoming a society under routine, pervasive surveillance. As the ACLU put it in an excellent December 2011 report on the UAV threat, such a development "would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States."
It's worth adding that public authorities are not the only ones getting UAVs.
Corporations have a keen interest in their potential for surreptitious monitoring of environmentalists, union leaders, protesters and competitors. Plus, those being watched might well want to keep track of those who are tracking them. Divorce lawyers, private investigators, political operatives and others who snoop for a living will surely find drones attractive. Individuals — from hobbyists to survivalists — are already building their own. And won't criminals get them, too?
The goal of drone pushers is to have a startling 30,000 of these pilotless contrivances zipping through the air by 2020. Holy moly! Our nation's entire commercial fleet of passenger and cargo planes numbers only about 7,000. And lest you think that 30,000 drones is an industry fantasy, a map compiled from military records discloses that as of last June the Pentagon alone already had 64 drone bases throughout our country, with another 22 bases planned. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits the military from operating on American soil, but there it is. What are they doing? We don't know. But it's time to ask.
The good news is that the industry and its cohorts have been recently stunned by a remarkable left-right counterpunch. They are not only being confronted by such progressive opponents of their liberty-busting gambit as the ACLU, CodePink and Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts in the U.S. House and Ron Wyden of Oregon in the Senate, but also a determined bunch of Republican privacy defenders in Congress and the media, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, "Morning Joe" Scarborough on MSNBC, Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru and even far-right Fox commentator Charles Krauthammer, who says: "I don't want restrictions (on drones) — I want a ban."
Americans of all political stripes (from Greens to Libertarians) hold the rights of privacy, free assembly and speech dear. Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, for example, is a hard-right conservative, but he gets it that nothing could be more genuinely conservative than conserving those fundamental rights. Last July 24, Poe took to the House floor to shout out to all of us citizens a timely update of Paul Revere's legendary cry: "The drones are coming!"
He's chairman of the subcommittee on homeland security, so he's not just pissing in the wind. He, Markey, Paul and others are sponsoring similar bills to rein in the harum-scarum drive to infest our skies and society with drones.
Not only is this a fight that grassroots people can win against the profiteers and privacy invaders, but it's one we must win. For more information, go to epic.org.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Pat Buchanan - A godly man in an ungodly age

"To govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
With those brave, wise, simple words, Benedict XVI announced an end of his papacy. How stands the Church he has led for eight years?
While he could not match the charisma of his predecessor, John Paul II, his has been a successful papacy. He restored some of the ancient beauty and majesty to the liturgy. He brought back to the fold separated Anglican brethren. The Church is making converts in sub-Saharan Africa. And in America, new traditionalist colleges and seminaries have begun to flourish.
That is looking back eight years. Looking back half a century, to that October day in 1962 when Pope John XXIII declared the opening of Vatican II, the Church appears to have been in a decline that, in parts of the world, seems to be leading to near extinction.
At Vatican II, the Rev. Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, was among the reformers who were going to bring the church into the modern world. The encounter did not turn out well. In 1965, three in four American Catholics attended Sunday mass. Today, it is closer to one in four. The number of priests has fallen by a third, of nuns by two-thirds. Orders like the Christian Brothers have virtually vanished. The Jesuits are down to a fraction of their strength in the 1950s.,Parochial schools teaching 4.5 million children in the early 1960s were teaching a third of that number at the end of the century. Catholic high schools lost half their enrollment. Churches have been put up for sale to pay diocesan debts.
And the predator-priest sex-abuse scandal, with the offenses dating back decades, continues to suppurate and stain her reputation and extract billions from the Sunday collections of the abiding faithful.
The highest-ranking Catholic politicians, Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, support same-sex marriage and belong to a party whose platform calls for funding abortions to the day of birth. Catholic teaching on contraception, divorce and sexual morality is openly mocked.
Yet, while colleges like Georgetown appear Catholic in name only, others — like Christendom in Front Royal, Va., St. Thomas More in Merrimack, N.H, and St. Thomas Aquinas near Los Angeles — have picked up the torch.
Among Catholics, there has long been a dispute over the issue: Did Vatican II cause the crisis in the Church, or did the council merely fail to arrest what was an inevitable decline with the triumph of the counterculture of the 1960s?
As one looks around the world and back beyond the last half-century, it seems that Catholicism and Christianity have been in a centuries-long retreat. In the mid-19th century, Matthew Arnold wrote in "Dover Beach":
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar ...
In Christianity's cradle, the Holy Land and the Near East, from Egypt to Afghanistan, Christians are subjected to persecution and pogroms, as their numbers dwindle. In Latin America, the Church has been losing congregants for decades.
In Europe, Christianity is regarded less as the founding faith of the West and the wellspring of Western culture and civilization, than as an antique; a religion that European Man once embraced before the coming of the Enlightenment. Many cathedrals on the continent have taken on the aspect of Greek and Roman temples — places to visit and marvel at what once was, and no longer is.
The Faith is Europe, Europe is the Faith, wrote Hilaire Belloc. And when the faith dies, the culture dies, the civilization dies, and the people die. So historians and poets alike have written.
Surely that seems true in Europe. In the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Western Man, under the banners of God and country, conquered almost the entire world. But now that Christianity has died in much of the West, the culture seems decadent, the civilization in decline.
And the people have begun to die. No Western nation has had a birth rate in three decades that will enable its native-born to survive.
Dispensing with Christianity, Western peoples sought new gods and new faiths: communism, Leninism, fascism, Nazism. Those gods all failed. Now we have converted to even newer faiths to create paradise in this, the only world we shall ever know. Democratic capitalism, consumerism, globalism, environmentalism, egalitarianism.
The Secular City seems to have triumphed over the City of God. But in the Islamic world, an ancient and transcendental faith is undergoing a great awakening after centuries of slumber and seems anxious to re-engage and settle accounts with an agnostic West.
As ever, the outcome of the struggle for the world is in doubt.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 22:51

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Roy Sanborn - An almost indescribable Winnipesaukee waterfront home

There were 882 residential homes for sale as of February 1, 2013 in the Lakes Region communities covered by this report. The average list price stood at $500,702 with a median price point of $244,900 and an average time on the market of 234 days. The inventory level is down considerably from last February 1 when there were 975 homes available. Our current inventory level represents a 11.5 month supply of homes on the market.
As REALTORS® we get to see a wide variety of property in the Lakes Region. We see everything from humble cottages and antique capes to stunning condominiums and extravagant waterfront estates. And, these properties vary from being run down, decrepit, and perhaps uninhabitable to extraordinary, exquisite, and amazing. REALTORS® are adept in the use of other adjectives like spectacular, pristine, stellar, remarkable, beautiful, high quality, and on and on to describe some of the nicer properties. Some of the adjectives get so overused that buyers might not believe the property is as nice as it is described. Sometimes the descriptions do fall a little short of reality.
I had the pleasure of attending an open house at a waterfront home at 144 Springfield Road in Wolfeboro this past week. I would have to say whatever adjectives you want to use that are synonymous with "simply amazing" will work just fine but they will fail to adequately describe just how spectacular this home is. My first reaction was a little similar to the feeling I got when visiting the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. It kind of leaves you at a loss for words and you just end up muttering single syllable words like "wow."
The property is called Lakeside Manor and was constructed in 2006 by well known builder John Lovering. It took three years to complete this Arts and Crafts style home which has won numerous architectural awards. It sits majestically on a 58 acre parcel of land with 2,349 feet of southwesterly facing frontage on Winnipesaukee. The home encompasses a mere 17,300-square-feet of exquisitely done, but not over done, to create a very livable lake front home. There we go with those adjectives again, but it is hard to stop with this home.
You arrive through the covered grand entry into the foyer and are immediately struck by the beautiful wood flooring and fine wood details including rich wood paneling, massive columns supporting a triangular pediment above the entry to a elegant formal dining room, and curved wood moldings on the ceiling that echo the curved tower staircase that leads up two more levels. The center of the home is the two story, open concept great room featuring a thirty foot stone fireplace, cathedral ceilings, beautiful moose motif light fixtures, multiple sitting areas, and a wall of glass facing the lake. The gourmet kitchen features every imaginable high end appliance known to man, a pantry, a dining service room, a breakfast bar as well as a less formal dining area with views of the lake.
The sumptuous first floor master has a gas fireplace, hardwood floors, access to the outside deck, a luxurious bath, and a master laundry room. This is one of five luxury suites that make up a total of eight bedrooms, two of which are in a separate guest wing complete with its own kitchen, dining, and living room. I would be quite happy with just this section of the home. Then there is an eight bed bunk room up on the third floor with built in bunks, storage closets and drawers. Of course you have an office, four season room, indoor spa room, exercise room, a wine cellar, sauna, indoor and outdoor grilling areas, and not one but three elevators. But did you ever hear of a dedicated X-box room? Then there is the 31 x 20 foot movie theater with tiered floors, plush seating that recline electronically, a massive 110-inch theater screen, and a custom speaker system.
Down on the lower level is an entertainment room that has got to be near the top of the list for the World's Ultimate Mancave. There is, of course, a full bar with granite counter tops and plenty of seating plus dedicated areas for poker, darts , game tables, and of course a pool table. There also is a casual sitting area with stone fireplace and views of the lake,. There really is no need for a guy to ever leave here.
Now for some other really important details for us guys. First there is a six bay heated garage and workshop area complete with an automobile lift, custom cabinetry, and heated floors. Second there is a custom 3,800-square-foot, three bay boat house that is just as nice as the house and four outside slips just in case you can't fit all the toys inside. Needless to say the grounds and landscaping are impeccable and just as hard to adequately describe at the interior of the home. And, this property also offers a development opportunity if you desire with three different options of having either three or five more waterfront lots and either one, three, or seven non-waterfront lots.
So, this is my best attempt at describing an almost indescribable Winnipesaukee luxury home in a 1,000 words or less. I could go on all day with more space. This property is currently on the market for $13.6 million and is one of the highest priced offerings ever on the lake. Is it worth it? It's one of the best we've seen and given the development opportunity it could be a great deal. This property is listed by Jodi Hughes at Prudential Spencer Hughes in Wolfeboro but please, pretty please, call me if you'd like to see it. I just want to go there again. . . and selling it to you wouldn't hurt my feelings, either!
Please feel free to visit ww.lakesregionhome.com to see more pictures and info on this fine home and others. Data was compiled as of 2/1/13 using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System. Reports are also available by email. Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Roche Realty Group and can be reached at 603-677-8420

Last Updated on Friday, 08 February 2013 21:20

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Michael Barone - Republicans developing 'outside' game?

The House Republicans, in serious trouble with public opinion as they blinked facing the "fiscal cliff" over New Year's, seem suddenly to be playing a more successful game — or rather, games — an inside game and an outside game.
The inside game can be described by the Washington phrase "regular order." What that means in ordinary American English is that you proceed according to the rules. Bills are written in subcommittee and committee and then go to the floor. When the House and Senate pass different versions — likely when Republicans control the House and Democrats have a majority in the Senate — the two are taken to conference committee to be reconciled. Then both houses vote on the conference committee report. If it is approved, the president can sign or veto it.
Note the lack of negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders. Speaker John Boehner decided they're useless after the failure of his grand bargain talks with Barack Obama.
Under regular order, House Republicans had little leverage when the fiscal cliff loomed on New Year's Day. Taxes were to go up by $4.5 trillion if the House didn't act. So Republicans accepted higher rates on those earning more than $400,000.
Now, Republicans have the leverage. The budget sequester to automatically take effect March 1 would cut spending by $1 trillion. Republicans don't like the $500 billion defense spending cuts, but they can stomach them.
Obama took to the teleprompter yesterday afternoon to call for short-term spending cuts and revenue increases through elimination of deductions. Boehner was willing to consider the latter as part of a grand bargain that included tax rate cuts and entitlement reform. But if the net effect is revenue increases, Republicans aren't interested. For them, this would be "laughable — they have zero reason to do it," as my Washington Examiner colleague Philip Klein has written.
You may have noticed that everything in this column so far is Washington talk — fiscal cliff, sequester, regular order. It's not language you hear ordinary Americans speaking in everyday life.
Which leads to the House Republicans' outside game, advanced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a speech Tuesday afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute, where I'm a resident fellow.
It was scheduled well in advance, and interestingly, Obama chose the same hour to speak before the cameras. He did the same thing once before, in May 2009, when former Vice President Cheney spoke at AEI on CIA interrogation techniques.
Cantor titled his remarks "Making Life Work," and they were clearly aimed at Main Street. He spoke not of educational block grants, but of having federal education"follow children" to schools their parents choose. In a move reminiscent of presidents' State of the Union messages since 1982, he brought along Joseph Kelley, who sent his son, Rashawn, and his three daughters to private schools with money from a District of Columbia voucher program the Obama administration has tried to shut down.
He criticized the ObamaCare tax on medical devices by bringing a Baltimore nurse who worked to develop replacement discs for patients with back pain and then needed one herself. She was wearing her cervical collar.
He brought 12-year-old Katie, from Richmond, who has been treated for cancer almost all her life, to illustrate Republican support for funding basic medical research.
Addressing immigration, he brought Fiona Zhou, a systems engineering graduate student whose chances to remain in the United States would improve if, as the House voted last year, more immigration slots were opened for foreigners with advance science, technology and engineering degrees.
He endorsed the Dream Act, legal residence and citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children. He praised the bipartisan work on a bill including border security, employment verification and guest-worker programs.
All this was a contrast with Cantor's usual penchant to speak in Washington talk and with the tendency of many Republicans, notably Mitt Romney, to speak in abstractions like free enterprise and government regulation, rather than in words that describe the experiences of ordinary Americans.
Yes, there's a certain amount of theater and contrivance to this. But that's often true in politics. There was sophisticated argumentation in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But the two candidates also put on a show.
It's not clear how successful the House Republicans' outside game will be. But for those on their side, it's encouraging that they're trying to play.
(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Friday, 08 February 2013 20:27

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Pat Buchanan - Republican obsess over Israel & Iran

If last week's hearing for Chuck Hagel raised questions about his capacity to be secretary of defense, the show trial conducted by his inquisitors on the tribunal raised questions about the GOP.
Is the Republican Party, as currently constituted, even capable of conducting a foreign policy befitting a world power? Or has it learned nothing and forgotten nothing since George W. Bush went home and the nation rejected John McCain for Barack Obama?
Consider the great foreign issues on the front burner today.
Will the Japan-China clash over islets in the South China Sea, now involving warplanes and warships circling each other, lead to a shooting war that could, because of our security treaty with Japan, drag in the United States?
Is China an economic rival and trade partner? Or is Beijing seeking strategic and military hegemony in East Asia and the Western Pacific? Is engagement or containment of this emerging superpower the way to go?
Is Vladimir Putin's Russia friend or foe? Has the "reset" failed?
How many troops should we leave in Afghanistan to prevent its receding into the Taliban darkness, as it did when the Red Army departed in 1989?
Is Iraq, where we lost 4,600 soldiers and 35,000 wounded in a misbegotten war to strip that country of WMD it did not have, about to disintegrate into civil, sectarian and ethnic war? After Bashar Assad falls, will Syria fall to Islamists — or fall apart?
Is Egypt's military chief correct when he said that the violent eruptions after President Mohammed Morsi's attempted seizure of dictatorial power could imperil the state itself?
Should the presence of al-Qaida in Mali cause the United States to deepen its military involvement in sub-Saharan Africa? Or does the rancid fruit of NATO's intervention in Libya to save Benghazi, now an Islamist no man's land for Westerners, argue for staying out?
Before going ahead with a sequester of Pentagon funds, ought we not first review and reduce the treaty commitments our military is required to honor, many dating back over half a century? All these issues were there to be discussed with Hagel.
Yet, according to Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, who reviewed the transcript of Hagel's eight hours of testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, there were more mentions of Israel, 178, than of Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Palestine and Palestinians, North Korea, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, China, NATO, Libya, Bahrain, Somalia, al-Qaida, Mali, Jordan, Turkey, Japan and South Korea combined.
In the runup to the Hagel hearings, North Korea tested an intercontinental rocket and indicated a third nuclear bomb test may be imminent. Dictator Kim Jong Un said the "target" of these tests is that "sworn enemy of the Korean people," the U.S.A. Yet North Korea was mentioned only 11 times in Hagel's day-long testimony, while Iran was mentioned 170 times. But Iran has no missile that can reach the United States, has never tested a nuclear device or bomb, has no nuclear weapons program, according to the unanimous verdict of our 16 intelligence agencies, has never enriched uranium to weapons grade, and has all of its nuclear facilities under constant U.N. surveillance and inspection. Far from threatening America with nuclear fire like North Korea's 20-something dictator, the Ayatollah Khamenei has declared a fatwa against Iran's ever possessing atomic weapons.
This is no brief for a Tehran regime that is no friend of this country. But to suggest Iran cannot be contained as the nuclear-armed Soviet Union of Stalin and China of Mao were contained is absurd. Whom has Iran attacked in the 33 years since the old ayatollah came back from Paris, while Uncle Sam has attacked or invaded Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Libya twice, Iraq twice, Afghanistan and Serbia?
Query: What is behind this Republican preoccupation, bordering on obsession, with Israel and its nemesis Iran, to the near exclusion of other threats and dangers faced by our country all over a world that is a good bit larger than one small corner of the Middle East? Has Sheldon Adelson replaced Henry Kissinger as the eminence grise of the GOP?
Sen. Lindsey Graham implied it was an outrage to suggest any senator may have been intimidated by an Israeli lobby that has on its wall the scalps of two chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: J.W. Fulbright and Charles Percy.
Who is Lindsey kidding?
Did Bibi Netanyahu, after dissing the U.S. president in the Oval Office, receive those 29 standing ovations at a joint session of Congress, thereby breaking Stalin's all-time record before the Supreme Soviet, because Bibi gave one helluva speech? In this city, the Israeli lobby is regarded as right up there with the National Rifle Association as a crowd that rewards its friends and punishes its enemies, with this exception: Far more congressmen and senators are willing to stand up to the NRA than to defy AIPAC.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. Where is the vision that Republicans had in the time of Reagan?
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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