Random Thoughts (Political Edition)

AiR

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Tell me about it. Anyway, here's a pretty funny site one can play around with, a bit like the economist map but for the whole world and more stuff.

http://www.ifitweremyhome.com

Please don't be from Oklahoma please don't be from Oklahoma... Seriously I don't understand the crazy devotion to Sarah Palin.

Let's do the news on that
 
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nsx_23

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The Australian said:
How a gold-digging Tunisian hairdresser, Leila Ben Ali, perfected art of plunder

THE president's wife did not have an appointment, but nobody was going to stop Leila Ben Ali when she swept into the office of the governor of the central bank of Tunis and demanded 1 1/2 tonnes of the nation's gold.

"The governor tried to resist, but Leila pulled out her mobile phone and called her husband," says Ezzeddine Saidane, the founder of another bank.

Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, 74, dictatorial ruler for 23 years, was "surprised" by the call, says Saidane, "but he authorised the removal of the gold".

Though Tunisia's central bank has denied any gold was removed, Saidane, who has excellent contacts in the central bank, says the opposite is true. The gold is valued at $56 million - and that was not all that has gone missing.

Tunisian Museums Committee president Samir Aounallah says Leila took mosaics, frescoes and other artefacts from the country's museums to decorate her villas.

After the stunning speed of Ben Ali's fall, a picture is emerging of the excesses of his 53-year-old wife and her family, the Trabelsis, whom she manoeuvred into lucrative financial posts.

The list of the holdings of her relatives is astounding, as can be seen in the wealth of just one couple, Nesrine, her daughter, and Sakher El Materi, her son-in-law. Materi controlled Zitouna bank; had the concession on the official importation of Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche and Kia cars; and owned the media outlets Zitouna FM and Dar Assabah.

Belhassan Trabelsi, Leila's brother, sits on the board of Banque de Tunisie, owns Carthage Airlines and has holdings in tourism, hotels and buildings, among other assets.

Leila's holdings are more hidden, but one of the buildings she owned outright in the wealthy seaside resort of Hammamet sits gleaming in the wintry sun, a beautiful whitewashed mansion looking out at the bobbing sailing yachts in the harbour.

She will not be visiting it again. Angered by the suicide of a young man who set himself on fire out of despair at his poverty and lack of a future, Tunisians took to the streets, forcing the ruling family to flee and have now stormed their homes and businesses.

Last week, in the smouldering shell of a white mansion owned by Leila's relatives, poor families wandered through the rooms and gawped at the 25m pool overlooking the sea. One man pushed a pram, housewives clutched each other, looters scooted away with stolen marble. Nasib Ben Rijab scrawled on a pristine white wall with charcoal taken from burnt furniture in the house: "Now I understand, 13-01-2011."

The central bank on Wednesday took over Zitouna bank, and the new government called for a committee to investigate graft and asked foreign banks to confiscate Ben Ali and Trabelsi assets.

In Hammamet, an army officer guarding a presidential palace said to be in Leila's name, practically spat when she was mentioned. "This is state property," he said. "If it was Leila's, I would not guard it; anyone would be welcome to do what they want."

The government has announced that 33 of Leila's relatives have been arrested for "crimes against Tunisia".

How did Leila, a twice-married hairdresser, one of 11 children of Saida and Mohamad Trabelsi, a fruit and nut seller, come to rival Imelda Marcos for greed? How did she isolate her husband, the president, and siphon off so much money from the country that the poor finally rebelled? Born in July 1957, Leila was the only girl among her siblings. She married young and already had one child when she met Ben Ali, 21 years her senior, who was then interior minister. Those who knew her in the poor quarter of Kmem in Tunis, where she grew up, said she was not interested in education. Instead she landed a job in a hairdressing salon.

Later, she worked as a travel agent, and drove a little Renault, danced at beach parties and earned the nickname "Leila Gin" after her favourite tipple. People say she had also learnt from her uneducated mother traditional curses and spells to conquer enemies and seduce powerful men.

She is said to have lied to Ben Ali that she was pregnant with a longed-for son by him to persuade him to marry her in 1992. She delivered two daughters before giving him the son he had wanted.

In the years that followed, Leila set about installing family members in influential positions. The Trabelsi clan were so brazen in their plunder of state assets that by 2002, Ben Ali called a family meeting. "If you want money, at least be discreet about it," he is reported to have told them.

Belhassan, Leila's brother, started their fortune by buying agricultural land and using his sister's clout to change its status to "buildable land", then selling it for huge profits. His wealth is now estimated at $320m. He is believed to have fled the country.

Leila dealt ruthlessly with anyone who tried to interfere with her plans. In 2007, Mohamed Jegham, a former defence minister and trusted presidential adviser, warned Ben Ali that the Trabelsi family were dangerously greedy. Leila got wind of it and Jegham was exiled to Rome as ambassador.

A diplomat was amazed at the family's plunder. Robert Godec, the former US envoy to Tunis, wrote in a diplomatic cable: "Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or, yes, even your yacht, president Ben Ali's family is rumoured to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants."

A report by a French private detective found Leila's nephews had yachts and cars stolen and shipped to Tunisia. "He uses several stolen vehicles: a Porsche Cayenne, a Hummer and a Mercedes 500 stolen in Marseilles in November 2005," said the report.

A French witness said the nephew would ask Tunisian Customs officials to provide paperwork putting stolen yachts in his name.

In cables, Godec said he had attended a dinner at the Hammamet home of Leila's daughter and son-in-law and eaten ice-cream and frozen yoghurt flown in from St Tropez. A caged tiger was fed four chickens a day.

"Corruption in the inner circle is growing," Godec wrote to the US State Department. "Even average Tunisians are keenly aware of it. And the chorus of complaints is rising. Tunisians intensely dislike, even hate, Leila Trabelsi and her family . . . even those close to the government express dismay at her reported behaviour."

The family seemed oblivious to public anger. "When you were out at a nightclub, they would have a table and easily spend thousands," says Donia Gribaa, 26, an advertising executive in Tunis. "They were not discreet."

It is widely believed in Tunis that Leila hoped to succeed her husband. "The idea was that Leila would replace Ben Ali in 2013, and hold the presidency until their son was old enough to succeed," says Nabil Karoui, the chief executive of Nessma television station.

His view is backed by Nicolas Beau, co-author of a book called The Regent of Carthage about Leila. "She had come to have more and more weight on the decisions taken by the party," Beau says.

"But she knew that succeeding Ben Ali would not be simple. Most of the party's members, from the Tunisian bourgeoisie, had only scorn for this woman who had come from nowhere to play such a prominent role."

The riots that culminated in the "jasmine revolution" put an end to such hopes. Thousands of protesters marched over the weekend. The placard of one read: "They stole our wealth, they are not going to steal our revolution."

Ben Ali and Leila have fled and are believed to have been given refuge in a palace in Jeddah, the Saudi Arabian capital. Leila, who had amassed a collection of 50 cars, has been forced to abandon them and escape by plane to a country where women are not allowed to drive. As for the missing gold, nobody is sure where it is.

The Sunday Times
 

nsx_23

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Bonus article:

The Australian said:
Full-bred Aussie with a longing for sharia law

IBRAHIM Siddiq-Conlon has a message for Australians, whether they want to hear it or not.

"One day Australia will be ruled by sharia, no doubt," he declares. "That is why non-Muslims are worried, because they know one day they won't be able to drink their beer, they won't be able to eat their pork and they won't be able to do their homosexual acts, because one day they know they will be controlled."

Siddiq-Conlon sits on the steps of the NSW Parliament House, the location he has chosen to launch his rhetorical attack on democracy, which he describes as "an evil system of life".

"Right now in the Western world we're on the edge of a crisis, of extinction, because of democracy. OK, so don't tell me democracy has the answers and is peaceful. Democracy is the reason for the world's problems."

Siddiq-Conlon is the face and voice of Sharia4Australia, a group formed in Sydney's southwest to agitate for Islamic law, starting with the introduction of sharia courts and ending, in his ideal world, with Islamic rule.

While he claims to eschew violence, he unapologetically preaches hate. An online video posted by his group describes its members as "uncompromising [in] their disallegiance, disloyalty and hate for the disbelievers".

"I hate the parliament. I hate [democracy] with a pure hate," he says. Moreover, it is obligatory for all Muslims to reject democracy, because it is a challenge to God's law: "They must hate it, speak out against it, and if that doesn't work, take action against it."

Siddiq-Conlon formed Sharia4Australia last year, styling himself as the new champion for Islamic law in Australia.

An online video announcing its emergence stated: "For far too long now Aust has been ruled by a corrupt evil infedile [sic] group of people who are clear disbelievers in the sight of Allah. It is time for change. Time at least for the truth.

"Today Muslim youth and the oppressed and weak Muslims march forward with their flags behind brother Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon. O Muslims stand tall, take the vow and pledge allegiance to none other than Allah and his Messengerorting and vowing allegiance w the Muslims while disloyalty to the disbelievers and their kufr [infidel] ways."

In person, Siddiq-Conlon initially seems harmless enough. He dresses in a white cotton tunic, trousers and sandals, with a neatly trimmed beard and a touch of black kohl eyeliner, in the style said to have been favored by the original companions of the Prophet Mohammed.

He is quietly spoken, polite and articulate; a master's graduate in architecture from the University of Technology, Sydney; Adelaide-born, and raised in a Godfearing "fundamentalist", he says, Christian family in rural NSW. He converted to Islam while a student, travelled to Indonesia, found a wife there, and returned to Australia with the full-blown zeal of so many converts. He formerly studied under the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Association, headed by Melbourne cleric Sheikh Mohammed Omran, but the association has recently moved to distance itself from his strident inflammatory message.

"I'm an Aussie, I'm a full-bred Aussie, you can't get more Aussie than me," he insists.

But his proclaimed love for Australia is followed quickly by a prediction that, ultimately, Muslims here will have to fight for Islamic law. He doubts the struggle will begin in the next 10 or 20 years, but hopes it will occur in his lifetime. "People don't give up [their land without a fight]. There's always been a fight. It is inevitable that one day there will be a struggle for Islam in Australia. We don't shy away from it. Whether it means we get put in jail, kicked out of the country. If it means harm to us, so be it."

Nor does his disavowal of violence extend to Australian troops in Afghanistan, who he describes as "evil".

"Obviously I don't support the killing of innocent people, but these American and Australian troops have gone there to kill Muslims. What do they expect? Yes, they deserve to die. Under sharia, yes they do. That is the judgment of sharia. They are eligible to be attacked."

Until this week, Siddiq-Conlon was barely known outside or even within the Muslim community. But that changed with his inflammatory verbal assault on democracy and his appearance in a debate in Sydney's Paramatta last night, albeit one that was attended by only a few dozen people.

He welcomes the publicity and dismisses concerns that he is damaging the wider Muslim community, saying "if it causes a backlash against the Muslims, I can't help that, this is a necessary debate".

The debate coincides with comments last week by Sydney cleric Sheikh Taj Din al-Hilali that Islamic extremism is on the rise in Australia. Hilali told The Australian: "I am worried for our community and our society. I am worried for that because this will encourage the youth to act against elections and act against dealing with others, which is dangerous." He warned of Rambo-style preachers whose aggressive sermons appealed to "the way of youth".

"The louder they speak, the more youth they gather around them," he said.

Muslim community groups and leaders are divided on whether there is evidence to support Hilali's claim of rising extremism, and whether fringe zealots such as Siddiq-Conlon should be denounced or ignored.

Khaled Sukkarieh, chairman of the Islamic Council of NSW, says the council doesn't believe extremism is rising, although there is no firm evidence either way.

"These views have been around for ever and a day. It is damaging for the Muslim community because we don't believe that way. The majority of Muslims in Australia don't support that view. We have a total new generation now that is educated in this society and we are contributing to Australia positively, so I don't think these views will make any difference, other than that it will make people scared unnecessarily."

However, there is some evidence to support the notion that extremism is on the rise. As The Australian reported this week, ASIO last year noted an increase in the number of Australians travelling abroad for "terrorism related-purposes".

Muslim youth worker Kuranda Seyit, founder of the Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations, says he has seen no increase in violent extremism, but radical activism is on the rise: "The perception is that more youth are being attracted to these hardline groups and so are labelled extremist."

The reason that so many people are attracted to these groups varies. Some of the groups are very professional in their approach and offer a slick product.

They hold many events and activities for their constituents, they are spontaneous and use contemporary media and technology and speak the language of the youth, but more importantly they appeal to young people who are energised and motivated by their message which is confrontational and rebellious."

One such group is Hizb ut-Tahrir, which, like Sharia4Australia, stridently opposes democracy but, unlike it, explicitly rejects the use of force. In the past year, HT has become increasingly active and outspoken, and anecdotal evidence suggests its membership is rising.

Islamic groups and leaders have frequently been criticised for failing to take on these groups, and for not being sufficiently vocal in rejecting their message. It's a highly sensitive issue in the community. One Muslim activist, who asked not to be named, says there is a reluctance to get involved.

"Muslims I think are very afraid of any backlash or repercussions of speaking out against these people. You could get aggressive threats or criticism from all sectors of the community saying, 'You shouldn't be criticising, who are you to say that?'

"This tends to create a sense of apathy in the community and the perception that extremism is on the rise, because those [extreme] groups are much more active and outspoken.

"There are also divisions in the mainstream community [and] different degrees of support within moderate groups for the extremist groups, so they need to keep those people onside and don't want to go too far in distancing themselves from them."

Sukkarieh says fringe outfits pushing for sharia law in Australia are better off ignored.

"The majority of Muslims in Australia don't support that view. We have the freedom to practise what we want according to our religion. What we need is less pressure, less talk about that sort of stuff. It should be ignored [because] when you ignore them you're not giving them any air."

But the task for the security agencies is determining whether an individual such as Siddiq-Conlon and a group such as Sharia4Australia are simply fringe radicals who should be ignored represent a serious threat to security.

Siddiq-Conlon says he has never been approached by the security agencies and says they have nothing to fear. While he denounces democracy, he is quick to point out his democratic right to freedom of speech.

"I'm not inciting violence, it's just words," he says. "Obviously under freedom of expression, I can say words. I'm not jumping on a boat and going to join the jihad, I'm just the speaker."

But his affiliations could provoke concern. He volunteers he's an admirer of Indonesian militant leader Abu Bakar Bashir, founder of the militant group Jemaah Islamiah, which carried out the 2002 Bali bombings and a series of subsequent attacks including the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

Bashir's conviction of inciting the Bali bombing was overturned. He is awaiting trial on new charges of training Islamic militants for terrorist attacks in Indonesia.

"I'm very proud of his work. To me he's not a terrorist, he's a freedom fighter," Siddiq-Conlon says.

Sharia4Australia is affiliated with the British group Islam for UK, a radical Islamist organisation which was proscribed by the British government under its counter-terrorism laws in January 2010. Under those laws a group can be banned if it "commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for, promotes or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism" or if it "unlawfully glorifies the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism".

Islam for UK is led by cleric Anjem Choudary, whom Siddiq-Conlon names as a key spiritual mentor.

Choudary gained notoriety last January when the group announced plans for a protest march in the town of Wootton Basset where British soldiers killed on active service are traditionally mourned. The group planned to carry coffins to "represent the thousands of Muslims who have died" in conflicts such as Afghanistan. Then prime minister Gordon Brown condemned the plan as disgusting and offensive.

The same adjectives have been used this week to describe Siddiq-Conlon's views. But he shrugs off the insults, along with the average of five death threats he receives every day.

"It is a peaceful message. I really am a peaceful person. I hate violence."
Doesn't the world have enough religious extremists already?
 

nomix

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Threatening beer in Oz would seem like threatening adultory in France.
 

Cold Fussion

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Introducing The Palestine Papers
Al Jazeera has obtained more than 1,600 internal documents from a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Over the last several months, Al Jazeera has been given unhindered access to the largest-ever leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are nearly 1,700 files, thousands of pages of diplomatic correspondence detailing the inner workings of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. These documents ? memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings, accounts of high level exchanges, strategy papers and even power point presentations ? date from 1999 to 2010.

The material is voluminous and detailed; it provides an unprecedented look inside the continuing negotiations involving high-level American, Israeli, and Palestinian Authority officials.

Al Jazeera will release the documents between January 23-26th, 2011. They will reveal new details about:

the Palestinian Authority?s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be ?creative? about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount;
the compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return;
details of the PA?s security cooperation with Israel;
and private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.

Because of the sensitive nature of these documents, Al Jazeera will not reveal the source(s) or detail how they came into our possession. We have taken great care over an extended period of time to assure ourselves of their authenticity.

We believe this material will prove to be of inestimable value to journalists, scholars, historians, policymakers and the general public.

We know that some of what is presented here will prove controversial, but it is our intention to inform, not harm, to spark debate and reflection ? not dampen it. Our readers and viewers will note that we have provided a comments section in which to express opinions. In keeping with our editorial policies, we reserve the right to excise comments that we deem inappropriate, but all civil voices will be heard, all opinions respected.

We present these papers as a service to our viewers and readers as a reflection of our fundamental belief ? that public debate and public policies grow, flourish and endure when given air and light.
http://english.aljazeera.net/palestinepapers/2011/01/201112214310263628.html

Interesting times ahead.
 

laxmax613

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So... I will admit that Israel passed up a HUGE opportunity there. That said, it's pretty odd what Abbas is saying about this:

http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=204926
J'lem Post said:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas commented on the leaked confidential Palestinian documents by the Al-Jazeera TV network on Sunday.

In his first response to the revelations, Abbas said he did not know how the TV network had obtained secret documents.

?We don?t hide anything from our Arab brothers,? he told editors of Egyptian newspapers in Cairo. ?We have been briefing our Arab brothers about all our activities with the Israelis and Americans.?
 

nomix

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It's not weird. The Palestinian leadership has always had to be fucking careful what they say, for instance, about Jerusalem. It's all well and done if they agree behind closed doors, but they have to agree before making it public, so that both parties can devote their energies to it.

If these papers are true, I'd like to fuck the Israeli leadership in the arse with a broom. Why didn't they accept?
 

nomix

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I think they want a peace. They just think they can get more if they wait. I think there's people in the Israeli government that are willing to exchange lives and the mental health of some of their citizens to get more land, more concessions from the PA, and so on.

I also think there's people who wanted to accept the deal. And that politics got in the way.

I bloody hate politicians. I'd like to see statesmen in the Middle East..
 

jmsprovan

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It's not weird. The Palestinian leadership has always had to be fucking careful what they say, for instance, about Jerusalem. It's all well and done if they agree behind closed doors, but they have to agree before making it public, so that both parties can devote their energies to it.

If these papers are true, I'd like to fuck the Israeli leadership in the arse with a broom. Why didn't they accept?
Israelis have said in the past that they won't consider any peace negotiations until their towns stop being rocketed, which in its own way isn't that much of a hard request to follow.
 

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If we were talking about one single party, yes, it would be relatively easy. However, the negotiations aren't with Hamas, they are with Fatah. Fatah does not rocket any Israeli cities.

The PA has said they won't negotiate before the building of settlements is freezed. The party the PA negotiates with is the Israeli government. The building of settlements are authorized by the Israeli government. If the Israeli government wants to negotiate, they can choose to stop building the settlements, which they should do anyway.

The PA has no way to stop the Hamas sending rockets into Israel. As a matter of fact, the IDF has recognized that the current security forces of the PA do a better job of maintaining security and preventing terrorist attacks than the IDF does themselves. They admit that there's a greater chance of terrorism acitivity happening in areas controlled by the IDF than areas controlled by the PA.

The third rail of peace negotations between Israel and the PA has been two crucial points; the status of Eastern Jerusalem and the right of return. The PA (reputedly) offered to stand down their demands for the occupation of Eastern Jerusalem to seise, and their demands for right of return.

You really have to be mad not to buy that if you want peace. If you want peace, you take that deal. It's a better deal for Israel than anything that's come before and after it. And they didn't move to get it finalised? Idiots.
 

nomix

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A police officer on duty in public has NO expectation of privacy. Except if he's on the throne. And if he is, he's not on duty. Unless he gets out of the toilet. And if he does, he's no longer on the throne, and have no expectation of privacy.

Moronic laws.
 

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These evesdropping laws will be overturned in court, one already has.
 

jetsetter

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Religious Leaders Call for New Efforts to Lower the City?s ?Chilling? Abortion Rate
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: January 6, 2011

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York joined other local religious leaders on Thursday in calling for a new effort to reduce the number of abortions in the city. The annual figure has averaged 90,000 in recent years, or about 40 percent of all pregnancies, twice the national rate.

The archbishop, at a news conference in Manhattan, called the citywide statistics ?downright chilling.?

But while holding to the conviction that abortion is morally wrong, Archbishop Dolan and the others said they were adopting a more pragmatic goal for New York than abolishing abortion: ?Let?s see to it that abortion is rare,? he said.

In recent years, the Catholic Church has lobbied to end Medicaid financing for abortion. Many bishops, including Archbishop Dolan, have participated in an annual protest outside the United States Supreme Court demanding that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal, be overturned.

Archbishop Dolan said abortion statistics in New York indicated that it was unlikely that the practice would soon end. But, he added: ?We have to tell people what is happening here. I?m frankly embarrassed to be a member of a community where 41 percent of pregnancies are terminated.?

Before the news conference, at the Penn Club at 30 West 44th Street, a dozen members of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women protested outside, distributing literature. As the archbishop arrived, they shouted ?Archbishop, we?re here to say, family planning is O.K.!?

The gathering of the religious leaders was coordinated by a 2-year-old organization called the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a nonprofit group financed privately by its president, Sean Fieler, an investment banker who supports religious and conservative causes. Mr. Fieler said the event was prompted by the release last month of city health department statistics showing a 41 percent rate of abortion overall in 2009, including a rate close to 60 percent for black women.

The statistics also show the actual number of abortions declining in the last decade. The most recent statistics show that there were 87,273 abortions in 2009, down from 94,466 in 2000.

But Mr. Fieler ? who said his foundation would spend about $1 million this year in New York City to open counseling centers and give financial help to pregnant women ? said the trend was not downward enough. ?These numbers represent a failure,? he said.

During the news conference, Archbishop Dolan renewed what he called a standing offer to help pregnant women avoid abortion. ?If we can help, let us know,? he said. He said Catholic Charities, a semiautonomous church agency, has helped many women arrange for the adoption of children they could not care for, and would continue to do that.

The gathering was also attended by Nicholas A. DiMarzio, the Roman Catholic bishop of Brooklyn; the Rev. Michel Faulkner, pastor of the New Horizon Church in Harlem; Rabbi David Zwiebel, vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish community service organization; and Leslie D?az, a spokeswoman for Democrats for Life of New York, and the wife of State Senator Rub?n D?az of the Bronx.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/nyregion/07abortion.html
Is anyone against abortion for strictly non-religious reasons? Many western countries are demographically challenged. Birthrates are low trending and downwards. This will eventually have a serious impact on the economies of those countries. With these abortions all I see is lost potential.
 

nomix

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I'm split on it. I think that abortions are tragedies, but that our societies need them, and that it's best to make sure they happen in hospitals. While I support a woman's right to chose, I think we need to stop being smug about it, just as the religious leaders need to stop being reactionary and ignore the rights of the woman.

I'd much rather there were a lot less abortions, but that's beside the point. I'd like there to be less populism in politics, doesn't mean I want to ban it.
 

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I hate to say it, but I called this.

How long have I been saying that the real target is no longer the aircraft, it's the crowded terminal.
 

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