Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mideast Sirens

Henry Kissinger once wrote that "when enough bureaucratic prestige has been invested in a policy it is easier to see it fail than to abandon it." So it is with the Obama Administration's latest efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The prospects for success are bleak, but everyone still wants to give it that old State Department try.

The hopeful news, to the extent some exists, is that both sides will engage in "direct" talks after nearly two years of "proximity" sparring. The U.S. will host and presumably midwife the early September talks in which the two sides will have to confront their major differences face to face. Optimists suggest that this could be another 1979 moment, when Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat both took an unlikely leap against their own histories and signed an Israeli-Egyptian peace.

The fundamentals today argue against such a joint leap. Israel is less secure now than it was then, especially with the rise of Iran as a menacing regional power. Tehran has supplied its proxy, Hezbollah, with 45,000 rockets aimed at Israel from across the border in Lebanon—despite Condoleezza Rice's assurances that the U.N. would stop the rocket supply after the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war.

Iran also arms Hamas, which now controls Gaza and is sworn to Israel's destruction. Syria is as much part of Iran's orbit as it was two years ago, despite much U.S. pleading and high-profile visits to Damascus by John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.

These realities understandably make Israel determined to keep a military presence on the West Bank border with Jordan as part of any new Palestinian statehood—to prevent the West Bank from becoming another Lebanon or Gaza. Israel also wants a long phase-in of any withdrawal from the West Bank, again as a way of building confidence in long-term security.

This will all be difficult for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to accept. Even if he does, Hamas will denounce any peace treaty and use violence to sabotage it. Hamas abruptly ceased its reconciliation talks with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, merely because the PA agreed to participate in the September direct talks with Israel.

Mr. Abbas also wants a Palestinian exile "right of return" to Israel that no Israeli government can accept, lest it guarantee a majority Palestinian future on its soil. Then there's the dispute over dividing Jerusalem, the Israeli capital that Israelis also won't cede to the PA to the extent Mr. Abbas is seeking.

The U.S. will no doubt try to squeeze both sides to compromise, especially Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has the kind of hawkish credibility that might let him sell concessions to the Israeli public. But he also leads a balky left-right coalition that could break apart if he concedes too much.

Rather than squeeze peace from these stones, the U.S. might make more progress with both Israel and Mr. Abbas if it stopped Iran's march toward becoming a nuclear power. Israelis and Arabs saw on the weekend that Iran began loading fuel into its (ostensibly civilian) nuclear reactor at Bushehr, with the help of Russian fuel rods and no objection from the U.S. Russia says it will control the rods and return them to Russia, but any rods that disappear could be turned into weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran's march to nuclear status is the security threat that dominates the region because it would instantly transform every nation's strategic calculations. Israel is less likely to cede more territory for promises of peace if it knows that Hamas and Hezbollah are suddenly backed by an Iranian bomb. A diminished Iran with a shuttered or damaged nuclear program wouldn't guarantee that Israel and the Palestinians could agree to a peace, but it would improve the chances.

The White House and U.N. officials argue that, whatever the long odds, there is no harm in trying. But sometimes there is harm in trying and failing. Mr. Obama is putting his own prestige on the line, and that supply is not unlimited. A loud failure might weaken Mr. Abbas's political position among the Palestinians, while inflaming anti-Israel sentiment in Europe, Turkey and elsewhere. We certainly hope for the best, but the White House and Pentagon should prepare for the consequences of failure.


Let the private sector fund stem-cell research

by Jeff Jacoby

JAMES THOMSON, an embryologist at the University of Wisconsin, cultivated the first embryonic stem cell lines in 1998. By then the prohibition on using federal funds for scientific research in which human embryos are destroyed was already on the books: President Bill Clinton had signed it into law nearly three years earlier. So how did Thomson secure a government grant to finance his landmark achievement?

He didn't. No government grant was necessary. His work was funded by the Geron Corporation, a California biotechnology company that develops treatments for cancer, spinal cord injuries, and degenerative diseases. Thomson was scrupulous about obeying the congressional ban, known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. The Washington Post reported that he did his research "in a room in which not a single piece of equipment, not even an electrical extension cord, had been bought with federal funds."

Scientists and the government subsequently found a way around the Dickey-Wicker Amendment -- they interpreted it as applying only to the destruction of human embryos required to extract stem cells, not to the research conducted afterward. So while the National Institutes of Health could not fund the actual cultivation of embryonic stem-cell lines, it could funnel taxpayer dollars to scientists experimenting with those lines. Last year, NIH provided $143 million for embryonic stem-cell research; so far this year, nearly 200 grants worth a total of $136 million have been approved.

But last week a federal judge in Washington pronounced that before/after distinction meaningless. Dickey-Wicker "unambiguously" prohibits the use of federal funds for (ITAL) all (UNITAL) research in which a human embryo is destroyed, Judge Royce Lamberth ruled, "not just the 'piece of research' in which the embryo is destroyed." His injunction temporarily blocking the Obama administration from expanding NIH funding of embryonic stem-cell research has thrown the field into turmoil. Some 85 grant applications in the NIH pipeline have been stopped in their tracks.

Naturally, the ruling was heatedly condemned by supporters of embryonic stem-cell experimentation -- The New York Times spoke for many in labeling it "a serious blow to medical research." On the other hand, activists who oppose the harvesting of human embryos on moral grounds were pleased. Operation Rescue applauded Lamberth for a "ruling that will protect innocent human beings in the very earliest stages of development from death and exploitation through unethical experimentation."

To my mind, there is no moral obstacle to using surplus fertility-clinic embryos that would otherwise be discarded for potentially life-saving medical research. Nor do I regard a microscopic cluster of cells as a human person entitled to full legal protection. Nevertheless, Lamberth's ruling makes this a good moment to ask a threshold question: Why should the federal government be funding controversial medical research in the first place?

As Thomson's original discovery proved, after all, pathbreaking accomplishments in stem-cell science are possible even when the government isn't footing the bill. That was no anomaly. If the feds didn't fund the search for embryonic stem-cell therapies, the private sector would.

As it is, a host of private funders are already pouring money into stem-cell research. Just last month, Geron, the company that underwrote Thomson's work in 1998, announced plans to conduct the world's first human clinical trial of a therapy derived from embryonic stem cells, a treatment for damaged spinal cords. And Geron is only one of many companies -- Aastrom Biosciences, Stemcells, Inc., and Osiris Therapeutics are among the others -- using private dollars to fund cutting-edge stem-cell research.

For-profit corporations and their shareholders aren't the only source of private-sector stem-cell funding. The Washington Post reported in 2006 on the private philanthropy that was building new stem-cell labs on campuses nationwide. "Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad gave $25 million to the University of Southern California for a stem cell institute, sound-technology pioneer Ray Dolby gave $16 million to the University of California at San Francisco, and local donors are contributing to a $75 million expansion at the University of California at Davis. . . . Early this year, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg quietly donated $100 million to Johns Hopkins University, largely for stem cell research."

Add to them the Starr Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and all the other private charities that have made stem-cell research a priority -- and those that would do so if the federal government declined to support research that so many taxpayers find problematic.

Douglas Melton, the co-director of Harvard's Stem Cell Institute, told the Boston Globe last week that private support is "the only durable and consistent source" of funding for embryonic stem-cell research. He's right. Medical research would not wither away if the government took a back seat to the private sector. In this as in so many other areas, perhaps the time has come to re-think Washington's role.


How Many Attended The Glenn Beck Rally?

The question on the minds of millions of Americans this morning: How many people attended Glenn Beck's 'Restoring Honor' rally yesterday in our nations' capitol?

The answer to this question has ramifications far beyond mere crowd size. It is one of the few concrete indicators of the popularity and viability of the Tea Party and their message of traditional values, less government and a return to our Founders' vision of America.

The New York Times described the crowd merely as "enormous and impassioned." ABC was more specific, estimating the attendance at Beck's Restoring Honor Rally in the "hundreds of thousands." AP chimed in at "tens of thousands."

Whether the attendance was 300,000 or one million, (you decide) the huge crowd gathered to hear conservative commentator Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and other notables, offered a compelling contrast to another rally being held across town held by Al Sharpton.

An estimated 3,000, most of whom were African-Americans, attended a rally/march hosted by Al Sharpton to commemorate the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Sharpton railed against the Tea Party as he informed the crowd that MLK's dream "has not been achieved."

The fact that America has elected a black president didn't seem to faze Sharpton as he trotted out his familiar message of black oppression. Sharpton's solution? Support Obama's latest money grab, appealingly entitled a "jobs bill.' Yawn.

Jesse Jackson, who arbitrarily claimed the sole right to speak for Dr. Martin Luther King, was aghast that Glenn Beck dared to infringe on his territory. Jackson told CNN that Beck was mimicking King and "humiliating the tradition."

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous followed up, castigating the message of the Glenn Beck rally across town. "For a year and a half, we've been subjected to small hearts and small minds on our small screens," he said, referring to conservative ideas.

Meanwhile, Martin Luther King's niece, Dr. Alveda King, offered a different message at the Glenn Beck rally. A message of hope and an appeal to honor.

The message of the Restoring Honor rally was more religious than political, with many speakers openly professing their Christian faith, including Beck. Obama's name wasn't mentioned once in the 200 minutes of speeches. And the Mall was left spic and span.

Sharpton's "Reclaim the Dream" rally offered a telling contrast. Both in terms of size and in terms of the message. This contrast is good news for America. A portent that the much abused race card may, finally, be losing its potency. An indication that millions of Americans value character, honor and God over racial politics.

The times, they are a changin'. For years, race hustlers have tried to keep the race card alive. After all, white guilt has proved very lucrative for Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the segment of the black population that seek to divide Americans by race.

What does it say about Sharpton's message when one contrasts the 3,000 attendees to the hundreds of thousands of people across town at the Beck rally who were focused on honor as opposed to the color of one's skin?

This is good news, America. Good news that may signal a death knell for racial and grievance politics and, hopefully, a return to basic American values that are shared by all Americans, regardless of their color.

Who knows, maybe one day soon Al Sharpton may have to go out and get a real job. And maybe one day soon, our elected officials will recognize that America is still a Christian nation. Hope springs eternal.


Australia: Churches get opt-out from same-sex adoption bill in NSW

Sounds like it will get blocked in the upper house anyway. Fred Nile should see to that. It's a big contrast with bigoted Britain where church agencies have been driven out of adoption services

THE independent state MP Clover Moore has moved to shore up support for her same-sex adoption bill by giving church adoption agencies the right to refuse services to gay and lesbian couples without breaching anti-discrimination laws.

Ms Moore wrote to MPs on Friday announcing she would amend the bill and reintroduce it to Parliament on Thursday. She told the Herald she was amending the bill "in line with requests" from church adoption agencies to help ensure its passage through Parliament.

"Some members of Parliament have told me that they will not support reform without an exemption for church-based adoption agencies," she said. "While the amendments do not reflect my strong belief that there should be no exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act, the bill is so important to the security of families headed by same-sex couples that I cannot risk possible defeat."

The convener of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Kellie McDonald, said the group had argued against the amendment, but was taking a pragmatic approach. "We're obviously not in support of religious exemptions," she said. "However, if the amendment means the bill gets passed, we are in support of this happening. If it means that it will persuade some of the more conservative MPs to support the bill and it gets support, that's a good outcome."

However, news of the amendment has not changed the view of church leaders. A letter co-authored by the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell and the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, arrived on MPs' desks yesterday urging them to vote down the bill.

It follows a similar letter to MPs earlier this month from one of the state's leading adoption agencies, Anglicare, which has said the original proposal would force it to cease offering adoption services.

The chief executive of Anglicare Sydney, Peter Kell, said yesterday that the amendment did not change the agency's opposition to the principle of the bill, but he was pleased it would allow Anglicare to continue adoption services if it becomes law.

The NSW Council of Churches will hold a protest meeting in the NSW Parliament House theatrette today in opposition to the bill.

The Premier, Kristina Keneally, and the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, have agreed to allow their MPs a conscience vote on the issue.

However, the Christian Democratic MLC, the Reverend Fred Nile, said the proposed amendment would not alter his view. "I'm pleased that [Ms Moore] is amending it," Mr Nile said. "But it doesn't change our opposition in principle to the objects of the bill. I believe every child has a right to a mother and a father".

The amendment brings Ms Moore's bill into line with the recommendations of a Legislative Council committee into the issue last year.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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