The National Post:

We see nothing wrong with paying the best school teachers generously. So the $93,000 in pay and benefits being offered by the Ontario government to that province’s elementary school teachers does not seem out of line. The improvements to young lives that the best educators can achieve — and the resulting social benefits, which accrue to society throughout the adult lives of those children — are worth many times that.

The problem comes when compensation isn’t connected to performance. And this is the case in Ontario. Good teachers, mediocre teachers, even the bad teachers who bounce from school to school avoiding dismissal while they build up seniority — they would all qualify under Ontario’s pay-hike scheme. Unless and until teacher pay is made merit-based, $93,000 is far too high a price for taxpayers to bear.

Contrary to some reports, the $93,000 figure being proposed would not be the average pay in the fourth year of the four-year contract currently on the table. It would be the maximum in salary and benefits (including medical and dental plans, pensions, tuition reimbursements, and so on) paid to teachers with six or more years of university study and over a decade of teaching experience. At present, under 15% of Ontario’s 73,000 elementary teachers earn the current maximum of $82,200 in combined pay and perks. The average is nearer $74,000.

Still, at $74,000 a year, Ontario teachers are in the top 12% of income earners in the country. And those making more than $90,000 four years from now will likely be in the top 5% — not bad compensation, even considering the extra hours and high stress levels many teachers contend with. It is pay comparable to Crown prosecutors, government engineers, civil service administrators and even some public-health doctors and dentists. Only Alberta teachers would have an average pay anywhere near what Ontario educators are being offered.

So in general, we agree with Ontario Premier Dalton Mc-Guinty when he describes the offer as “very reasonable.” We just wish the highest salaries were attainable only through teacher testing, independent assessments of classroom skill, bonus pay and the elimination of seniority benefits.

But once again, the provincial Liberal government and the teachers’ unions are obsessed with quantity, not quality in the teaching profession. Both Mr. McGuinty and Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president David Clegg are pushing for more teachers, not better ones.

Mr. Clegg and his negotiators are refusing to sit down with Ontario Education officials — despite the generous salary offer made to ETFO members — until Ontario taxpayers cough up another $900-million per year so elementary schools can put more educators on the payroll (who, not coincidentally, would be additional members of the ETFO).

Mr. Clegg says there is an annual per-pupil disparity of more than $700 between funding for elementary schools and secondary schools. And he vows, “There’s just no way that we’re going to sign a collective agreement on a long-term basis that doesn’t address this fundamental inequity.”

This is ridiculous: Every level of schooling has unique needs. Just because per-pupil funding is higher at one level doesn’t mean there is an “inequity.”

In any case, a larger fallacy is at play here: There is simply no proof that hiring additional teachers and/or reducing class size has much of an impact on student behaviour or educational outcomes. Studies show that teacher quality is a far more important determinant of student outcomes than class size, yet neither the union nor the government is addressing that issue.

Regardless of the current dogma concerning the desirability of small classes, study after study has shown that firing incompetent or superannuated teachers and replacing them with better-trained or more energetic ones would have far more positive impact on student achievement than lowering student-teacher ratios by some arbitrary amount, say from 25:1 to 20:1. If the same underwhelming teacher is still the “1” in the ratio, there is no reason to believe academic performance will improve.

Pay teachers $90,000 a year. Pay them more if that’s what it takes to recruit good candidates. But pay these top salaries only to the top teachers. The abilities of educators vary. So should their paycheques.

San Diego Tribune:

At Sarah’s Smash Shack, a new business in downtown San Diego, everyday frustrations often join the plates, glasses and photo frames patrons pay to hurl against a wall.

Owner Sarah Lavely, a former veterinarian, has drawn a strange satisfaction from breaking things ever since she was a little girl. She said she opened the bright, compact storefront on Sixth Avenue to give people a chance to try it in a “supportive, appropriate environment.”

In the lobby there is a white cabinet filled with delicate pieces – vases, ceramic plates, dainty glass flowers.

“People say they don’t like to break things that are so nice,” Lavely, 38, said. “But I like to.”

Customers can choose from a menu of destruction. There’s the Smash Shack House Special (15 plates, 15 minutes, $45) or Lover’s Lane (three glass flowers for $10).

Bad breakup? Bring in a photo. They frame it; you chuck it.

Feeling a little dark? Hurl two gothic glass candlesticks.

Or, bring in your own stuff to smash, such as an old cell phone or a vase filled with dead flowers from the paramour you thought was the one.

Customers are wrapped in coveralls, gloves and a helmet, then led into one of two “Break Rooms,” where they stand behind a 3-foot-high barrier and throw the items against a large sheet of stainless steel. Black and white checkered foam covers the walls. Lavely provides a Sharpie if smashers want to pen a message on a plate before they chuck it.

The experience is a rush, albeit a quick one. When it’s over, Lavely donates the shards to schools, artists and nonprofits to use in mosaic pieces.

Emily Whelan, 19, recently took her frustrations out on two plates, six small glasses and two gothic candlesticks.

“I’m stressed right now,” she said, declining to elaborate, as she signed her release form.

With Linkin Park playing in the background, she hurled the objects without hesitation, green glass splintering off the silver wall.

“I feel incredible,” she said afterward. “I’m shaking. My heart is pounding.”

Smashing is not about anger, Lavely says, but about celebration. “Celebrate that breakup . . . . Good riddance!” reads her Web site. “Celebrate dumping that job you hated anyway!” “Celebrate Friday night!”

“It’s more about doing something naughty,” Lavely said. “We want everyone to know there’s some quirky thing you can go do to forget about life for a few minutes.”

Lavely’s advice for novice smashers?

“Don’t hold back,” she said. “Don’t be afraid or shy.”

Lavely doesn’t know of any similar businesses in the country. When she came up with the idea, she shared it with her colleague, veterinary technician Ed King. He jumped on board as co-owner. They did some research on how certain types of glass break and outfitted the rooms with MP3 hookups so customers could smash to their favorite song.

For now, customers need to be at least 15, and if they’re under 18, they need a parent’s signature. Couples, friends, bachelorette and birthday parties are welcome. Even support groups have been encouraged to try the experience.

But not everyone thinks it’s such a smashing idea to break for stress relief or therapy. Christina Zampitella, a clinical psychologist in Kearny Mesa, said the outcome depends on the person.

“If you’ve got someone that doesn’t have an issue with expressing their feelings in a constructive or assertive way, this might be fun and different,” she said. “But for others, smashing things is emphasizing that you don’t need to use words to express your feelings. You can be violent.”

To Joe Barros, a passer-by on vacation from Illinois, the experience seems like an impulse buy.

“I personally wouldn’t spend $45,” he said. “But I’d drop $10 on it easily.”

The fine print: Perhaps more crucially for voters at home, Berlusconi received a written assurance from Gaddafi that his country will do more to stem the tide of illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libyan shores, most of whom wash up on Italy’s shores.

Time:

One of the perks of one-man rule is picking your national holidays. Libya’s Col. Muammar Gaddafi has invented a few fêtes for his North African nation since seizing power in a 1969 coup. Three years ago, during stalled negotiations with Italy over reparations for Rome’s colonial rule in Libya, he added another: Oct. 7 became “Vendetta Against Italians Day.”

Now, in an unprecedented act of contrition by a former European colonial power, Italy has formally apologized for its past injustices during its 30-year reign in Libya early last century, and agreed to pay $5 billion in reparations to Tripoli. Gaddafi promptly declared Aug 30 — the day the deal was inked in — Libyan-Italian Friendship Day.

Perhaps it should be called “Silvio Day.” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Gaddafi, who share a certain mix of both durability and unpredictability, signed the deal under one of Gaddafi’s trademark desert tents in the coastal city of Benghazi, trading jokes and each sharing pictures of their grandchildren.

Berlusconi insists that Libya has inched back into the international community, and that the hefty dollar figure includes a large portion in investment projects that will benefit Italian companies, including a long planned major highway to link Algeria to Tunisia and Egypt. Gaddafi also announced that Italy will get preferential deals on his country’s oil and gas reserves, and threw in the return of an ancient Venus statue taken to Rome during colonial times as a sign of goodwill.

Perhaps more crucially for voters at home, Berlusconi received a written assurance from Gaddafi that his country will do more to stem the tide of illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libyan shores, most of whom wash up on Italy’s shores.

But not everyone was impressed. “Gaddafi is a dictator,” wrote Romano Bracalini in the L’Opinione daily. “He’s strengthened politically and can claim victory. This is not a proud day for the Italian Republic.”

The agreement also sets an interesting new precedent. Italy also spent time in Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia, which may now demand similar compensation.

Former colonies of other European powers may have reason to study Libya’s deal. Algerian newspaper Liberte’, for instance, called on French President Nicolas Sarkozy to “take heed of the Italian example.” The paper L’Expression added that “genocide, torture and crimes against humanity most definitely existed in Algeria. They were the work of colonial France and its military contingent, and lasted 132 years.” Le Potential, a daily in Congo, sent a similar message to the Belgium government that once reigned in that country.

Libya’s deal with Italy is part of its ongoing effort to reconcile with the West. In July, it reached a final compensation deal with the families of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, which was blamed on Gaddafi’s regime. This deal appears to have led to full normalization of diplomatic relations with Washington and an expected visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this week. Condi Day anyone?

Joe Biden- decades of poor judgment.

The Wall Street Journal:

The choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has electrified many conservatives and strengthened John McCain’s claim that his administration would be far more reform-minded than Barack Obama’s. At the same time, it has triggered accusations that Gov. Palin is far too inexperienced to be vice president, and has little knowledge of national security issues.

Mrs. Palin’s lack of mastery of national security issues is often contrasted with Mr. Obama’s vice presidential pick, Joseph Biden Jr. Mr. Biden has served in the Senate since 1973, is currently chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and is often described as a “statesman.”

In fact, decade after decade and on important issue after important issue, Mr. Biden’s judgment has been deeply flawed.

In the 1970s, Mr. Biden opposed giving aid to the South Vietnamese government in its war against the North. Congress’s cut-off of funds contributed to the fall of an American ally, helped communism advance, and led to mass death throughout the region. Mr. Biden also advocated defense cuts so massive that both Edmund Muskie and Walter Mondale, both leading liberal Democrats at the time, opposed them.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. was engaged in a debate over funding the Contras, a group of Nicaraguan freedom fighters attempting to overthrow the Communist regime of Daniel Ortega. Mr. Biden was a leading opponent of President Ronald Reagan’s efforts to fund the Contras. He also opposed Reagan’s efforts to send military assistance to the pro-American government in El Salvador, which at the time was battling the FMLN, a Soviet-supported Marxist group.

Throughout his career, Mr. Biden has consistently opposed modernization of our strategic nuclear forces. He was a fierce opponent of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Mr. Biden voted against funding SDI, saying, “The president’s continued adherence to [SDI] constitutes one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts in the history of modern statecraft.” Mr. Biden has remained a consistent critic of missile defense and even opposed the U.S. dropping out of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty after the collapse of the Soviet Union (which was the co-signatory to the ABM Treaty) and the end of the Cold War.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and, we later learned, was much closer to attaining a nuclear weapon than we had believed. President George H.W. Bush sought war authorization from Congress. Mr. Biden voted against the first Gulf War, asking: “What vital interests of the United States justify sending Americans to their deaths in the sands of Saudi Arabia?”

In 2006, after having voted three years earlier to authorize President George W. Bush’s war to liberate Iraq, Mr. Biden argued for the partition of Iraq, which would have led to its crack-up. Then in 2007, Mr. Biden opposed President Bush’s troop surge in Iraq, calling it a “tragic mistake.” It turned out to be quite the opposite. Without the surge, the Iraq war would have been lost, giving jihadists their most important victory ever.

On many of the most important and controversial issues of the last four decades, Mr. Biden has built a record based on bad assumptions, misguided analyses and flawed judgments. If he had his way, America would be significantly weaker, allies under siege would routinely be cut loose, and the enemies of the U.S. would be stronger.

There are few members of Congress whose record on national security matters can be judged, with the benefit of hindsight, to be as consistently bad as Joseph Biden’s. It’s true that Sarah Palin has precious little experience in national security affairs. But in this instance, no record beats a manifestly bad one.

Center For Security Policy:

September 4, 2008 – Washington, DC: The Mapping Sharia Project, a research project sponsored by the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), is issuing an alert that the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a self-described public interest civil rights law firm, may have engaged in criminal fraud.  Mapping Sharia calls for a full investigation by the appropriate government agencies.  The victims of this fraud may also be due compensation for their losses and suffering.

Reliable sources have produced solid information that Morris Days, the Manager for Civil Rights at the CAIR MD/VA chapter, who was widely publicized by CAIR as one of its civil rights attorneys, was in fact not an attorney, and failed to provide services for Muslim American clients who came to CAIR for assistance and who paid for Days’ services.  Not only has CAIR not revealed the facts about Days and his fraudulent, criminal behavior, but as of September 2, 2008, the CAIR National office in Washington, D.C. continued to post articles at its website naming Days as an attorney. This amounts to a de facto cover-up of CAIR’s involvement in this criminal affair and a perpetuation of the fraud with CAIR’s assistance.

At the same time that CAIR promoted Days as a lawyer while knowing he was not, it continued to solicit donations for its “legal” representation of Muslims in civil rights cases. Prospective plaintiffs who may have been victimized by CAIR’s fraud in the Morris Days affair, as well as any donors to CAIR who feel they have donated to CAIR under false pretenses thinking it was a legitimate and law abiding public interest law firm, should recognize that CAIR controls an extensive real estate asset portfolio, either owned directly by CAIR or by CAIR related companies. These assets are attachable and fair game for damages claims.  A list of those assets, estimated at a fair market value between $6.6 million and $10 million, is provided below.

The evidence for the alert has been provided from Muslim American sources.  A significant body of evidence has been obtained from these sources, which include individual citizens in several states, as well as Muslim American leaders who no longer support CAIR.

Copies of pertinent documents are provided for download as pdf files at the Mapping Sharia website and provided here as links:

CAIR promotions of Morris Days as a lawyer: http://www.mappingsharia.us/uploads/application/24.pdf

CAIR Release Form for Morris Days’ “clients”: http://www.mappingsharia.us/uploads/application/28.pdf

CAIR Real Estate Portfolio Documents (Deeds for CAIR, Greater Washington LLC and Zahara Investment Corporation):

http://www.mappingsharia.us/uploads/application/29.pdf
Background:

THE MORRIS DAYS AFFAIR

In 2007, CAIR publicized and encouraged Muslim Americans to use the services of Morris Days as an attorney (see “Meet Our Resident Attorney!” CAIR MD/VA Chapter Newsletter for March/April 2007 – http://www.mappingsharia.us/uploads/application/24.pdf ), in which CAIR stated the following:

“Days, a graduate of Temple University Law School, joined the organization in 2006. He specializes in criminal law and civil rights/social service advocacy law.  He has been a member of the Philadelphia Bar Association and the American Bar Association since 1997.  His professional achievements include receiving the Rosa Parks Wall of Tolerance Award in 2005, given by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

None of these claims were true.  Morris Days’ claims to a law degree and membership in both Bar Associations were false.  Morris Days is not a lawyer and never has been.

According to sources, Days represented himself as a CAIR civil rights lawyer to Muslim Americans, who paid him directly for legal services. In late 2007, these sources allege that the CAIR MD/VA chapter executive director, Khalid Iqbal, discovered that Morris Days was receiving payments directly from Muslims seeking CAIR’s assistance, and not passing the money on to CAIR.  Iqbal was Morris Days’ supervisor and had previously worked in the CAIR national office. Iqbal did not fire Days at that time, nor is there any evidence that CAIR tried to verify Days’ legal credentials at the time.  In fact, the CAIR national office posted an article describing Days as an attorney on December 24, 2007 (“Lawsuits End Citizenship Delays” – http://www.mappingsharia.us/uploads/application/24.pdf)  As of yesterday, September 2, 2008, that article was still posted at the CAIR national website, continuing to perpetuate the fraud that Morris Days was an attorney.

Days continued to work as Civil Rights Manager for CAIR MD/VA, to represent himself as an attorney, and to take money directly for legal services in 2007 and 2008.  CAIR continued to employ Days through February 2008, at which time CAIR terminated his employment and shortly afterwards closed the CAIR MD/VA chapter office in Herndon, Virginia.

No evidence has been found that CAIR publicly notified any government agencies or organizations about Days’ lack of legal credentials, including Temple University, the Philadelphia, D.C. and American Bar Associations, the Southern Poverty Law Center, or governmental officials to whom Days had written on clients’ behalf at the EEOC, FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Immigration Services, Social Security Administration or other federal, local and state offices.

CAIR did reply to some defrauded clients who had complained about providing payment to Days and not receiving services in return.  Sources stated that in some cases Muslim Americans were reimbursed what they had paid only after signing statements threatening them with liquidated damages of $25,000 if they revealed any information about the Morris Days affair.  Attorneys have advised us that it is possible these “release agreements” are not binding, and people who signed them should consult legal counsel to inquire about their options for pursuing further claims against CAIR.  Clients were largely from the Maryland, Virginia and the Washington DC area.  They had paid fees ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

AIDS: Blame The Romans

September 4, 2008

The Telegraph:

Researchers found that people who live in lands conquered by the Roman army have less protection against HIV than those in countries they never reached

They say a gene which helps make people less susceptible to HIV occurs in greater frequency in areas of Europe that the Roman Empire did not stretch to.

The gene lacks certain DNA elements, which means HIV cannot bind to it as easily and is less able to infect cells.

People with the mutation have some resistance to HIV infection and also take longer to develop AIDS, reports New Scientist.

A study of almost 19,000 DNA samples from across Europe showed the gene variant seemed to dwindle in regions conquered by the Romans.

Generally only people in Europe and western Asia carry the gene and it becomes much less frequent as you move south.

More than 15 per cent of people in some areas of northern Europe carry it compared with fewer than four per cent of Greeks.

It is not clear why this is so since the spread of HIV – which began in the early 1980s – is too recent to have influenced the distribution of the variant.

The difference in frequency of the key gene mutation reflects the changing boundary of the Roman Empire between 500 BC and AD 500.

But study leader Dr Eric Faure, of Provence University in France, does not believe the Romans spread the regular version of the gene into their colonies by breeding with indigenous people.

Dr Faure, whose findings are published in Infection, Genetics and Evolution, said: “Gene flow between the two was extremely low.”

Instead he believes the Romans introduced a disease to which people carrying the gene variant were particularly susceptible. As the Romans moved north this disease killed off people with the variant gene that now protects against HIV.

The Independent:

The skater moves swiftly across the ice, slamming the puck past the goalkeeper’s face into the back of the net. Wasilla’s hockey moms and dads erupt while players smash headlong into their opponents. Dog-sledding, moose hunting and snowmobiles, this is the town where the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin grew up. Only politics can rival hockey here as the favourite contact sport, and as locals testify, she excels at both. The tactics she learnt at the same community ice rink have fuelled her meteoric rise to national prominence and the main stage at the Republican convention last night.

Wasilla calls itself the “Home of the Iditarod”, the 1,000-mile dog-sled race into the wilderness of Alaska. It sits beneath two majestic mountain ranges but the town itself, 40 miles from Anchorage, is less spectacular. With a lot of help from its most famous daughter it has been reborn as an unplanned strip mall, spread along the picturesque highway, with chain stores punctuated by incongruous stands of Sitka spruce, rowdy oilmen’s bars and tattoo parlours.

Across Alaska, youngsters still grow up shooting moose and reindeer before learning to drive. Sarah Palin likes to tell audiences that her favourite meal is moose-meat stew, preferably eaten after a day out on a snow machine. Like so many Alaskans she revels in the can-do traditions of the frontier. But she has turned it into a political brand along with her Christian fundamentalist faith. And the Republican Party was hoping last night that a little northern exposure would help rally America’s Christian conservatives to the standard of John McCain.

Few people in Wasilla have been left in doubt as to Palin’s effectiveness. The sports centre is part of the Palin battering-ram legacy. It was built, despite the objections of many in Wasilla, with the help of a federal grant, which the then Mayor Palin hired a lobbyist to secure. There was even a short-lived attempt to have her recalled as mayor, but she saw off the opposition by ruthlessly sacking officials who she declared were part of an “old boys’ network.”

She encouraged “big box” retailers like Wal Mart to set up shop and watched as the town’s population more than doubled to 6,000 in a few years. Another 35,000 live in the surrounding area and there are daily traffic jams in and out of Anchorage 40 miles away. “The town is a wild west show for development,” says Palin’s political ally Curt Menard and local power with a touch of pride.

But for the harsh climate and the ubiquitous parkas, Wasilla’s unlovely urban heart could be anywhere in America. Those who live and work here are the struggling blue-collar workers who may have a determining say in the November presidential election. They are the very people Barack Obama inadvertently insulted when he said – off the record – that tend to “cling” to their guns and their religion during harsh economic times. Wasilla is also a place where hard-working people can get ahead, as Governor Palin herself has proved. Her family were among the thousands who flocked north to frontier towns to fulfil their ambitions. Their story of making it through grit and hard work rather than through education – like the Obamas – is one that resonates across much of middle America.

Governor Palin was born in Idaho. The prospect of work, higher wages and a new start in an untamed wilderness took her father, Chuck Heath, north Alaska when she was three months old. Her father was a teacher and track coach while her mother, Sally, was the local school secretary. Palin studied journalism and political science in Idaho and it was while competing in the Miss Alaska contest that she won the runner up title of Miss Congeniality.

Sarah Palin is now being accused of thrusting her fundamentalist Christian views on the town when she was mayor in the 1990s. Overnight she faced accusations that she tried to have unsuitable books removed from the town’s library and forced many officials out of office, including the librarian. The ex-librarian is not talking, and locals say the accusation is unfounded and comes from Ms Palin’s political enemies.

The portrait of a religious fundamentalist is not one that Stacy Holohan or her husband Tom recognise. “She and her sisters were tomboys,” said Stacy. “We know her real well and are confident that she will make a great vice president. We actually think she’d be better than John McCain.” What is odd about this statement is that Stacy and her husband Tom are both Democrats of decidedly liberal views. Both were raised in Wasilla; neither hunts nor goes to church, yet they are full of admiration for the small-town girl who has made it to the political big time. “I’m a hairdresser and we do her mom’s hair over at the salon” said Stacy, 35, bursting with pride at the prospect that someone she knows well enough to hug on the street might soon be stepping into Dick Cheney’s shoes. “Even though we hold different political views, we get so angry at all these attacks on her,” she said.

For the Democrats, quick to ridicule Governor Palin as a politician far out of her depth, the fear must be that her all-American image as a mother of five children, who is married to an Alaskan who is an oilman, fisherman and champion musher, will appeal to a swathe of undecided voters. Only a week ago Sarah Palin was a virtual unknown outside Alaska. Last night, at the Republican convention in St Paul, three time zones away from her home state, she was busy introducing herself as the antidote to the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket.

It’s easy to see why the conservative base of the Republican Party believes it has a champion on their hands. They see in Governor Pain a politician who will amplify voter’s queasiness about Barack Obama and the sense that he does not really share American values, however they are defined.

Another supporter in Wasilla is Scott Hessinger, a carpenter who moved to Alaska from “the lower 48″ as locals call the rest of America to find work. “She’s got a lot of support here in Alaska and when the rest of the country gets to know her they will see what a formidable person she is,” he said.

Tom Kizzia, a local writer, calls Palin “the Joan of Arc of Alaska politics” and has tracked her career since she challenged oil taxes and the construction of a natural gas pipeline and won. “The biggest mistake people make is to underestimate her,” he said. “Those who attack her come off looking like bullies and while she can be a bit imperious, she does get things done, often against the odds.”

It’s after 9pm and still light as the parents at the community hall gather up their children to go home. Stacy Holohan has one parting shot. “Just remember”, she says, “she’s not a wimp, and she can take on the best of them and win. We know.”

But at the Windbreak cafe, where stuffed salmon and elk decorate the walls and a birch-bark canoe hangs from the ceiling, some would disagree. One is Al Chouinard, a long-time resident and oil man who spits in disgust at the mention of her name. “All she’s done is give tax breaks to big retailers and push her family values on us,” he says.

“When people get past the glamour and looks at what she’s done they will see it’s of no value and that she just a fresh-faced version of the establishment. Personally I can’t stand her.”

The First Dude

In the polite circles of the Republican Governors Association they call Todd Palin, 44-year-old husband of Sarah Palin, the First Gentleman of Alaska. But in the Anchorage newspapers and on the oil fields where he works for British Petroleum, they prefer First Dude. It is a better fit for a guy who will not be comfortable on the cocktail circuit of Washington DC, should the McCain-Palin ticket win in November. Mr Palin, whose grandmother is Yup’ik Indian, is an outdoors guy, who also has a commercial fishing business. He is best known as a four-time winner of Alaska’s annual 2,000-mile snowmobile race, the Iron Dog Competition – completing it this year with a broken arm.

As the Governor’s husband, his duties have not extended far beyond the likes of judging the Miss Alaska pageant (which Ms Palin herself once entered). However, critics sayMr Palin has been quietly influential behind the scenes. He could find himself central to a continuing investigation into a possible hire-and-fire ethics scandal involving his wife.

The Independent:

Gunmen in the Russian republic of Dagestan killed a television journalist who promoted an officially approved form of Islam, police said today.

Abulla Alishayev was the second journalist to die in three days in Russia’s north Caucasus, a region scarred by fighting between federal forces and Muslim rebels.

Unknown assailants shot Alishayev – an editor at an Islamic television station who made a documentary countering the radical Wahabist form of Islam – as he drove through Dagestan’s capital last night. He died today.

Analysts say predominantly Muslim Dagestan is fertile ground for radical Islam to attract disenfranchised young men, a trend they say could spread further through Russia’s north Caucasus.

“Alishayev received wounds to the shoulder and head. He was operated on, but his life could not be saved,” Dagestani police said.

Dagestan, with a population of about 2.5 million, lies between the Caspian Sea and Chechnya. It is one of the most heavily populated and poorest republics in Russia. Unemployment is widespread and power cute this winter paralysed the capital Makhachkala.

On Sunday the owner of an opposition Web site in the nearby republic Ingushetia died from gunshot wounds while in police custody. Police said Magomed Yevloyev was shot dead when he lunged for a gun. Human rights workers said they did not believe this story.

The American Spectator:

The long knives are out for Sarah Palin. Ever since John McCain announced that the 44-year-old governor of Alaska was to be his running mate, her qualifications, record, ideology, and even her family life have been under the media microscope and liberal assault.

Palin’s critics had but one objective: to discredit a politically talented woman who could energize the conservative base — evangelicals and others animated by taxes, guns, and babies — while also potentially appealing to disgruntled Hillary voters who wish to leave no glass ceiling unsheltered. An unknown outside of Alaska, the Democrats and their media accomplices hoped to reduce Palin to a cross between Dan Quayle and Peg Bundy of Married with Children. Because of this, her remarks to the Republican National Convention were more important than any talk by a vice presidential nominee since Richard Nixon’s Checkers speech 46 years ago.

The lady shined. Palin brilliantly defended her record as a reformer who stood up against the ossified establishment of her own party, in stark contrast with the man atop the Democratic ticket who has seldom mustered the courage to say no to the Daley political machine or the race hustlers of Chicago’s South Side.

“Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown,” Palin said. “And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”

Palin recounted the highlights of her record as governor: an ethics reform law, a budget surplus, tax relief for Alaskans, and an effort to curtail wasteful spending by big-government Republicans in Juneau. “While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office that I didn’t believe our citizens should have to pay for,” she said. “That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay.”

Without directly criticizing President Bush and the Grand Old Spending Party that rang down the curtain on a dozen years of Republican rule on Capitol Hill, Palin talked about her “nearly half a billion dollars in vetoes.” “I suspended the state fuel tax, and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress,” she continued. “I told the Congress ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ for that Bridge to Nowhere.”

That last bit may seem politically convenient now, but it in fact put her in direct conflict with the senior Republicans in Alaska, Ted Stevens and Don Young, the senator and congressman of VECO Corporation.

Palin also mounted a low-key but effective defense of her family and biography. “Our family has the same ups and downs as any other — the same challenges and the same joys,” she said, sidestepping daughter Bristol’s pregnancy but acknowledging Trig’s Down syndrome. “Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge. And children with special needs inspire a special love.” To the families of such children, Palin offered to be “a friend and advocate in the White House.”

And in attack mode, Palin showed Barack Obama that lipstick is indeed the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull. Listening to Obama speak, she said, “it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform — not even in the state Senate.”

“This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting,” she continued, “and never use the word ‘victory’ except when he’s talking about his own campaign.” Palin mocked Osama’s “Styrofoam Greek columns,” his big-government liberalism, and his emphasis in words rather than deeds without sounding like a harsh, red-meat partisan. She is no Rudy Giuliani, but good luck to those liberals who hope she’ll turn out to be another Harriet Miers.

Finally, the feisty Palin proved an able defender of the man at the top of the ticket. “There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you,” she argued. “In places where winning means survival and defeat means death… and that man is John McCain.” She made the case for McCain’s journey from Hanoi Hilton to the White House.

To be sure, Palin is not without her faults. Her rollout by the McCain campaign was sloppy. Her foreign-policy resume is thin, undermining a key Republican argument against Obama. Her association with this ticket could undercut her tendency toward a more independent conservatism and deprive Alaska of a successful reform-minded governor. It isn’t clear that even her performance at the convention will move her beyond a base-pleaser to a running mate attractive to swing voters.

But tonight Palin drove home the message that she his the kind of maverick the GOP’s conservative grassroots could love. And love her they did. “Hockey mom! Hockey mom!” the crowd in the arena chanted as she spoke. “We love you Sarah!” a man shouted as her speech began. “We love you!”

Once she finished, the response from delegates and others at the convention was near-euphoric. As one beaming Republican activist from Ohio put it, “That’s our girl!”

See also What Will McCain-Palin Change In Washington? A Culture In Which It Was OK For Obama And Biden To Deny Funds For Katrina Victims.

The American Spectator:

October 20, 2005.

Scene: The United States Senate.

Players: Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, Arizona Senator John McCain, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

Subject: Coburn’s amendment to remove the $223 million Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere” from a Senate Appropriations bill and use it instead to repair the heavily damaged Interstate 10 bridge over Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain ruined by Hurricane Katrina.

Results: Intimidated by the power of Appropriations Chairman Stevens, who angrily threatens to resign if he doesn’t get his way, the Senate votes 82-15 to deny the funds to Louisiana and the Katrina victims who need the bridge.

Senator John McCain, a longtime opponent of Stevens and the Bridge to Nowhere, is not in the Senate the day Coburn brings up his amendment, but is well on record as opposing the Alaska bridge. His relationship with Stevens over the issue of earmarks has been explosive. Senators Obama and Biden vote for this Stevens earmark — against giving the Bridge to Nowhere money to the Katrina victims who need their bridge rebuilt.

Meanwhile…

Scene: Alaska. 2002-2006.

Players: Stevens ally, former Senate colleague of 22 years and current — and powerful — Republican Governor Frank Murkowski. Sarah Palin, a young Alaska mother, former mayor of a small Alaska town, ex-chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Subject: The ethics of powerful members of the Alaskan Republican Establishment.

Results: Angered by what she calls the “lack of ethics” of a fellow Commission member, the state Republican Party chairman, Palin resigns and files formal complaints against the GOP chair and Alaska’s GOP Attorney General. Both men are forced to resign, the party chairman paying a record $12,000 fine. Furious at the atmosphere of corruption, Palin turns her sights on the powerful Governor Murkowski, challenging him in a primary. She wins, and goes on to beat another Alaska insider, a Democratic former governor, to capture the governorship.

Now.

What we have here are two vivid examples of how to deal with corrupted power.

Example # 1: The Obama/Biden way. Beat your chest in public about the need for change, but when you think nobody’s watching — stick with the good old boy network. So what if you screw a few Katrina victims out of $223 million for desperately needed hurricane-induced bridge repairs for a Bridge to Nowhere? You don’t want to upset the old boy network, do you? Particularly when you are really part of it.

Example #2: The Palin way. Raise holy hell about the misbehavior of your fellow party members no matter how powerful they are. Go public. Tell the truth. File a complaint. Rattle every cage in sight. Challenge the powerful Governor head-on so you can put a stop to this kind of thing. You don’t give a flying fig about the old boy network, don’t want to be part of it and think it’s about time somebody stood up and said so. You just go do it.

Example number two is what’s known generally as reform. Change. It’s the kind of thing Obama supporter and VP vetter Caroline Kennedy’s father called a “profile in courage.” Living this value takes guts. There will be consequences for you if you fail. Which is why people appreciate you when they know you have taken the risk — and succeeded.

“If I got my way I’d take Sarah Palin.”

So said a conservative activist here in Pennsylvania days before Senator John McCain did indeed name the 44-year-old Alaska Governor as his vice presidential pick, immediately energizing the GOP’s conservative base. Word of her Alaska stance on reform already had Pennsylvania’s conservative reformers abuzz well before her selection. They felt instinctively that one of her biggest attributes here in Pennsylvania is success in Alaska taking on the old-boy network of GOP Alaskan politics. This particular credential of the young Governor — as a conservative reformer — strikes to the marrow here in Republican Central Pennsylvania, an area that McCain will need to carry heavily if he is to have a chance at overcoming Obama’s margin in heavily African-American and Democratic Philadelphia.

WHY IS WHAT Palin did in Alaska — and what Obama and Biden failed to do for Louisiana — such a big deal? Here’s the story, one which Pennsylvania political activists are still talking about.

Back in 2005, in the wee morning hours of July 7, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed, on a bipartisan vote, a pay raise for not only itself — all members of the State House and State Senate — but judges and some executive branch officials as well. Depending on your length of service, it wasn’t small either, with some salaries going up anywhere from 16% to 34%. There was also a provision in this legislative jewel that allowed legislators to take their raise as an “un-vouchered expense.” Why? Well, because there was this troubling clause in the state’s constitution that flatly forbade legislators from raising their own pay. They could pass a raise for the next session, but not the one for which they were currently sitting. So to get around this small problem, the idea of the “un-vouchered expense” took flight.

To understate the case, when this “pay grab” as it quickly came to be known was discovered, all political hell broke loose in the state, particularly in Central and Western Pennsylvania, the more conservative sections of the Commonwealth. In one of the more remarkable political stories in the entire history of the state (which is saying something considering the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written here) a completely bipartisan campaign to repeal the raise and punish anyone connected with it began almost on the spot. It stretched from the furthest right all the way to the furthest left in a stunningly effective fashion. In particular, attention was focused on the legislative leaders of both parties, who, in the fashion of legislators, had neatly constructed this package in a deeply bipartisan manner.

Long story short, Republicans at the grassroots level were especially furious with two of their own, State Senate President Robert Jubelirer and Senate Majority Leader David “Chip” Brightbill. Candidates emerged to take the two men on in the next primary. Both incumbents were entrenched and had lots of campaign cash at their disposal.

And in two huge upsets, they lost. Big time. In Brightbill’s case to a political novice. This wasn’t all, by any stretch. The number two Democrat in the House leadership — House Minority Whip Rep. Mike Veon — lost his primary as well. A State Supreme Court Justice was unceremoniously rejected in a retention vote, an unheard of event even though he insisted he had played no role in advising legislators on the issue. Finally, chastened legislators got the message. Governor Ed Rendell did indeed sign a bill that repealed the pay raise.

The story still simmers, as does the unpopularity of the legislature and the seething resentment over the pay raise. Only months ago Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett announced the indictment of 12 Democrats — including former Rep. Veon — on charges of using state funds to pay bonuses to staffers for political work. Rumors abound in Harrisburg that Corbett is getting ready to pounce on a similarly lengthy list of Republicans.

ENTER THE PALIN HALF of the McCain ticket. Already noticed before her nomination, word is now spreading like wildfire in these parts that Governor Palin is where she is precisely because she fearlessly took on corruption in the Alaska GOP. While her positions on social issues will doubtless help her in the state that elected the namesake pro-life son of a famous pro-life Democratic Governor (the late Robert P. Casey Sr.) to the U.S. Senate over a pro-life incumbent Republican, make no mistake that Palin’s reputation as a giant killer in the conservative reform movement will help the McCain ticket considerably.

Indeed, Democrat Veon’s angry blue-collar constituents reside in Southwestern Pennsylvania, one of the first stops for the newly minted McCain-Palin ticket that took place before the Convention in St. Paul had even been gaveled to order. McCain strategists looking at a county map of the state cannot miss the fact Senator Obama failed miserably in exactly these same areas in his Pennsylvania primary race against Senator Hillary Clinton, carrying a mere 7 of 67 counties statewide. Obama even lost Lackawanna County (Scranton), the hometown of not only Senator Casey but, as is much noted, the Democrats’ VP choice, Senator Joe Biden.

So too does the weak showing of Senator Santorum in his 2006 race against Bob Casey Jr. in Central Pennsylvania reflect a problem with the Republican base. Grumbles on local talk shows about Santorum’s boasts of earmarks and bringing back pork for the state were heard consistently in the 2006 race against the socially conservative Casey. Here is the place that allowed then-GOP Congressman Pat Toomey to come precariously close to upsetting the GOP’s longtime Senator Arlen Specter in a 2004 primary. For non-Pennsylvanians who focus primarily on Democratic Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state’s two largest cities, this vast section of the state in the middle is ripe with not only conservative Republicans but conservative Democrats as well. Stretching from the Maryland border to the New York border and extending along the Northerner tier, it forms what local politicos refer to as the “T.” It is in exactly this T — in Altoona and Lebanon — where defeated GOP powerbrokers Jubelirer and Brightbill received their thrashings.

All of which means the selection of the vividly and quite seriously reform-minded Governor of Alaska to run on McCain’s “maverick” ticket has the very real potential of carrying the day for the GOP in Pennsylvania as a whole if she proves to be the base energizer in November that she seemed to be in August. Already the region’s main newspaper, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, which endorsed Casey in 2006, has hailed the Palin choice as “bold.” Said the paper’s lead editorial this past Sunday: “That outsider vs. insider counterpoint has the potential to coopt the line in Sen. Barack Obama’s speech Thursday accepting his party’s nomination when he said, ‘The change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.'”

As word gets out that Obama and Biden were not only afraid to challenge Senate power Stevens over his Bridge to Nowhere, but quietly voted to deny the funds to the Katrina-struck Louisianans, the contrast between who is serious about real change and who is not will be particularly vivid in a state where voters have become very demanding of the need for the real thing. Not to mention the rest of the nation.

THE INFURIATING FACT for Democrats is that Obama and his call for change have been trumped by the Palin selection. Trumped big time. This is why the ferocious attacks already unleashed on Palin. Liberals in the media and elsewhere for whom she does not represent their idea of a “woman” (all women are pro-choice professionals, right?) will be going after her with the vitriolic poison that is reserved for any woman or minority perceived as leaving the intellectual plantation. Think of the treatment of Clarence Thomas. Times a hundred. Governor Palin is going to have everything but the kitchen sink thrown at her. It has already begun. She will be mocked, made fun of, savaged for everything from her taste for moose hunting to her clothes and hair to having five kids. The business about her daughter’s pregnancy and whether or not she should even be campaigning when she has a Down’s syndrome infant is but the opening round designed to make her look like a fool, a boob and an idiot.

Why? Because Sarah Palin is a threat. A serious threat. She is the very embodiment of fundamental change. If she had the guts to take on the old boy network in Alaska she clearly will be unafraid to do the same in Washington. And every liberal interest group in town and their allies around the country and the blogosphere know it, so they are rallying to do their damnedest to destroy this woman, her family and everything she represents. They simply cannot afford to have real change.

But to use McCain’s terminology from his announcement speech of his pick the other day, Governor Palin has thrilled a lot of people in these parts. It’s not simply because she’s a woman, either.

It’s because she’s the very embodiment of a profound and powerful change. Unlike Obama and Biden, she quite demonstrably means business. Unlike them, she has, as did Margaret Thatcher, what our Spanish friends refer to as “cojones.”

That simple fact will make her a star — and quite possibly Vice President.

Bring it on.

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