Category Archives: Politics

Rahaf Mohammed

This week we learned of a beautiful, courageous, independent woman who had the initiative to escape her abusive, traditional Muslim, Saudi Arabian family. She was en route to Australia, tourist visa in hand, and ended up being detained by the Thai authorities, who–under pressure from Saudi Arabia–intended to send her back to her family. But did she give up? No. She barricaded herself in her airport hotel room, where she was told to wait for the next flight back to Kuwait. And she started tweeting. Soon the whole world became aware of her plight, putting enough pressure on the Thai authorities that they had to refrain from forcibly deporting her, and allow the United Nations to intervene.

More on Rahaf’s plight here:

At first I was skeptical as to whether the UN would be much help. After all, they’re the organization that is seriously considering trying to do whatever it can to outlaw “blasphemy,” and Rahaf is an atheist apostate. But, perhaps due to the spotlight Rahaf created for herself, they ended up granting her refugee status. This, under the current bureaucratic regime, allows countries to consider her application for asylum–and prevents Thailand from sending her back to Saudi Arabia. Her first choice had been Australia, but the latest word is that Canada was the first country on her list of preferences to actually agree to admit her. Good for them. And her.

Even though I spent much of Sunday night messaging any contact I could think of to help get her here, in hindsight I think this is probably better for her. (Even better, of course, would have been her first choice, Australia.) Our country, at its best, would have been the natural place for a woman with such independence, courage, and initiative. But our current President is too unwelcoming, and way too chummy with the Saudis. (And apparently we are, in the United States in the 21st century, regularly approving child bride requests, giving legal sanction to this horrific abuse of women and girls.)

So Rahaf is on her way to (relative) freedom, but that doesn’t mean that she’s no longer in danger. Even in the limited time I spent posting on social media on Rahaf’s behalf, I ended up receiving a number of hostile responses, including one actual threat. I can only imagine how many she must have received. (As of this writing, she has at least temporarily deactivated her Twitter account, due to the threats she received.)  Unfortunately the same actions that were necessary for Rahaf to take, to bring the world’s attention to her case, to give her a real chance of escape, will now also make her vulnerable wherever she goes.

Moroever, there are still many more women, still stuck in Saudi Arabia, facing the same conditions that Rahaf was. And their situation is not helped by the way that many in the media have been framing her story. The headline of the one I found on Apple News this morning says that she has “fled ‘abusive’ family.” And from what I hear, that’s typical of much of the news coverage about her case. How does anyone expect the conditions faced by Saudi women to improve, if no one is brave enough to even name the problem properly: She’s an atheist apostate, and her home country, Saudi Arabia, would allow her family to kill her for it, without even blinking.

Nonetheless, despite the media’s attempt to minimize the nature of the plight faced by Rahaf and other Saudi Arabian women, she has inspired many of them to demand better for themselves. I don’t know that I’m as optimistic as Mona Eltahawy, who said she thinks there will now be a revolution in Saudi Arabia due to the inspiration Rahaf has provided. But it’s clear, judging by the reaction I saw on Twitter and elsewhere, that Rahaf has made a difference.

And while, as I said, she herself is still at some risk, she has earned a real shot at a great life, in the type of country she deserves: one that provides religious freedom, equal rights for women, and significantly better prospects for safety. Rahaf, I admire what you’ve done and I wish you the best in your new life.



Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

A Johnson/Weld vs. The Immoral Ones News Sandwich

CNN is going to host a one-hour, live town hall with Gary Johnson and Bill Weld tonight, starting at 9 p.m. ET.

With any luck Johnson and Weld will use tonight to better position their ticket as a viable alternative to the Immoral Ones (Trump and Clinton, if you couldn’t guess). I am hoping they will at least get the boost in poll numbers they need to earn a spot in the Presidential Debates. (I haven’t yet committed to voting for Johnson/Weld in November, but as you can see from this post, I’m seriously considering doing so.)

Recently on Facebook I mused that, if I were to write a book about this year’s Presidential election, I’d call it “Fear and Loathing,” as those are the two emotions that will motivate core enthusiastic voters of Trump and Clinton, respectively. A vote for Clinton (as opposed to a vote against Trump, which is more understandable) is a vote to continue the egalitarian-nihilistic policies of Barack Obama. I doubt seriously that any core enthusiastic voter for Clinton will ever be convinced to vote for Gary Johnson. Therefore, if you are enthusiastically committed to voting for Hillary Clinton, you may as well stop reading now. I doubt I could interest you in anything that follows.

If, however, you are voting for Donald Trump because you think there is a reasonable chance that he will solve some of the truly scary problems that exist in our country and the world, do read on. I am hoping that I can convince you to consider adopting the attitude: “Feel the fear, and vote Johnson/Weld anyway.”

I wish to address those who will vote for Trump out of fear–especially fear of Islamic Terrorism. This is true not only because I think I have a chance of actually convincing those people to change their minds, but also because I am sympathetic with that fear and with many of those who have expressed it. The ISIS-inspired attacks of late have been particularly horrific, and many who believe Trump will best protect us from this threat are willing to suspend judgment and belief about quite a bit in order to vote for him. But I don’t think doing so is necessary or advisable, given Johnson/Weld as a viable alternative.

Yes, Johnson/Weld are not perfect. Johnson has unfortunately said that he is in favor of keeping anti-discrimination laws that would, if consistently applied, force Jewish bakers to bake a Nazi cake. Also, during a recent Facebook live video that I just finished watching this morning (thanks, Rob Abiera!), Johnson said that he does think government can help to create “equality of opportunity”–whatever that means. Further, even though he would institute substantial cuts and structural reforms in “entitlement” programs like Social Security, he does believe in a government “safety net,” and would not completely eliminate these programs.

However, there was much to like in what Johnson said during that Reason interview. I am hoping that some of what I will share here will allay the fears of those who think he will sit around smoking (now-legalized) joints in the White House, pursing policies that will leave us poor and defenseless (but happy because, hey, we’re all smoking joints).

First, he explicitly repudiated the term “open immigration” as expressing his policy. He does want to make it easier for people to come and work here, and he cited a recent post by the Wharton School of Business explaining why this would be good for our economy in general–and even for Americans’ wages. However, he would subject those who come here to background checks and, unlike Clinton who has promised a “path to citizenship,” Johnson is talking only about permission to work here legally.

I also liked the way Johnson addressed the threat of domestic terrorism. First, he cited the difficulty of formulating policies to prevent harm at the hands (or via the guns or trucks) of anyone who is determined to kill himself while killing you. He then said that, while he doesn’t know what went on at the FBI such that they were able to interview the scumbag (my term) responsible for the atrocity in Orlando three times without identifying him as the threat he was, he would make it a top priority as President to call a meeting to find out. When Johnson talks about refraining from military intervention, he gives, as his standard, pursuing only interventions that would make us safer than we would be without the intervention. By way of example, he describes recent interventions in Syria and Libya as “not intentionally” (really? I’m not so sure) resulting in the arming of ISIS, when US-supported oppositions in both of those countries fell.

Johnson cites a recent poll of U.S. military personnel showing he has the support of 39% of this group, beating out both Trump and Clinton. He speculates that the reason for this is the fact that these military personnel understand that, if Johnson were to send them to fight for our country, it would be only in our defense, only as a “result of being attacked.” (Given the opportunity, I would like to press him on this, and see whether he would ever be in favor of a pre-emptive strike in any circumstance. Maybe I’d use North Korea as my hypothetical? See below.) If you’re interested in learning more about Johnson’s views on foreign policy, see also this interview with the Los Angeles Times, in which Johnson discusses foreign policy more extensively and says, when pressed, that U.S. policy should be that “we do continue to knock ISIS out…that is inevitable.” (Also in that interview Johnson repeats what he has stated elsewhere: that he sees North Korea, whose ICBM’s he thinks will eventually work, as the biggest threat to the United States.)

So far all I’ve addressed are some of Johnson’s policy mistakes, as well as those of his policies that have–understandably I think–been a cause for concern. If none of the above is a deal-breaker for you, then consider that Johnson/Weld…

**pledge to submit a balanced budget within the first 100 days of taking office, which means cutting twenty percent of government spending, pretty much across-the-board.

**promise to try and eliminate the IRS and replace the current Income tax with a “FairTax”–i.e., a national sales/consumption tax.

**plan to uphold the current law with respect to a woman’s right to choose an abortion–i.e., per Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that a woman has that right up until viability (defined as viability with or without medical assistance)

**would not increase restrictions on the ownership of firearms–at least not restrictions based on type of firearm (e.g., “assault rifles”).

**would legalize marijuana (and only marijuana) by using the President’s prerogative to “deschedule marijuana as a Class 1 narcotic.” This is assuming Obama doesn’t do so as he’s on his way out of office, as Johnson predicts will happen.

**are in favor of true government transparency and would pardon Edward Snowden. Johnson said he came to consider Snowden a “hero” after he was convinced that Snowden did not intend to–and took steps to prevent–putting Americans in harm’s way. Read more about Johnson & Weld’s excellent Internet freedom and Privacy policy here.

**say they would eliminate the federal Department of Education. This was not discussed during the Reason interview, but you can read about it here. And about other issues more generally here.

One thing that I know will be important to some of my friends who are skeptical about Johnson: he used the opportunity he was given during the Reason interview to “walk back” his earlier, more positive comments, about Hillary Clinton. He now describes her as a “beholden,” “establishment” candidate who, if elected, will ensure that “government plays a bigger part in all of our lives.” In addition, in this interview as elsewhere, Johnson emphasized that he and Weld are “two-term Republican governors of very Democratic states.” In other words, they are not portraying themselves as fringe Libertarians; they are portraying themselves as candidates holding mainstream positions, candidates whom Republicans and Democrats can both support–even if for very different reasons. I don’t generally think that voting for a particular party’s candidate constitutes an endorsement of that party–and often not even the candidate! But I think that’s especially true here, where Johnson/Weld will have entire campaign ads in which they never mention the “L-word,” but make sure to mention their Republicans-in-Democratic-states bona fides.

Overall during the interview Johnson struck me as an intelligent, thoughtful, well read, caring and decent guy. I haven’t had the chance to meet him in person, as my FB friend recently did. But I felt, after watching the interview, that I got to know him better and I liked him more. I could not imagine that such a seemingly caring, intelligent, thoughtful person would deliberately pursue policies that would leave us poor and defenseless, even if he were to smoke marijuana as President.

Here’s hoping that Johnson and Weld make the most of the opportunity CNN is giving them tonight. Let me know what you think, of either this post or of their appearance tonight, below.


Filed under Politics

The Science of Food and Energy

I wonder what the anti-GMO crowd will have to say about vegetables grown in space. The Independent reports that “Astronauts on the International Space Station will sit down to a very special meal tomorrow as they become the first people to ever eat vegetables grown on the station itself.” NASA scientists in charge of the Veg-01 experiment believe that growing and consuming fresh produce in space will confer both physical and psychological benefits on the astronauts, and they also see implications for improving “urban plant factories and agricultural practice designed to use electrical light sources and practice water conservation.”

Physical and psychological benefits of consuming healthful food? Don’t tell that to scientists recently funded by Coca-Cola. The soft-drink company reportedly donated $1.5 million to start the Global Energy Balance Network, an organization led by exercise scientists and dedicated to promoting the view that exercise is more important than diet in avoiding obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Hmmm. “Really virtually”? And he also had to add an “in fact” to the sentence? I think the Coca-Cola funded scientist doth protest too much.

Sugar is well known to be detrimental to human health. This recent article, for example, counts on readers to understand that, when scientists say that soybean oil is even worse for you than sugar, this is something you should heed. I have been blessed with a good metabolism that has allowed me to consume carbs with relatively little effect on my weight (thanks mom and dad!), but even with my metabolism I see that what I eat has much more of an effect on my weight and energy than does the amount of exercise I get. And that says nothing about the effect of carbs, particularly sugar, on the body’s all-too-precarious and little understood, in my opinion, balance of hormones and other life-sustaining chemicals (adrenals, thyroid, etc., etc.).

There may be some truth to the group’s assertion that many Americans are too fixated on the number of calories they consume, and that many would be healthier if they got more exercise. But if their message is, “Don’t worry, enjoy your sugary sodas. You can exercise it off,” then they are doing everyone a disservice. Not only is sugar bad for the body, but so is the type of exercise many use to burn it off: steady-state cardio. (See this article, which explains how steady-state cardio exercise, such as running, depletes muscle, tricks the body into retaining fat, and interferes with proper thyroid function.)

I have never been a big soda consumer, particularly in recent years as I’ve come to understand the effect of both sugary and reduced-calorie sodas on my health. Still, I’m somewhat sympathetic with Coca-Cola’s plight. Why? Because the company’s primary motivation for funding the Global Energy Balance Network is government intervention:

This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.

“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”

This is one of many instances in which we can agree with the position that governments are taking on an issue, while at the same time maintaining that government has no place interfering. (Gay marriage, anyone?)

Speaking of being out of place, how about the group of 29 U.S. scientists who took it upon themselves to write a letter to President Obama praising the Iran “deal”? In a News Sandwich, I am supposed to deliver only one bad news story on a particular theme, but this is another example of scientists acting, not in service of human life, but against it. The letter, reports the New York Times, “praises the technical features of the Iran accord and offers tacit rebuttals to recent criticisms on such issues as verification and provisions for investigating what specialists see as evidence of Iran’s past research on nuclear arms.” Only tacit rebuttals, because these scientists are not able to refute arguments by, e.g., the Ayn Rand Institute’s Elan Journo, that the content of any “deal” with Iran is meaningless because this regime, a leading sponsor of terrorism controlled by totalitarian theocrats, cannot be trusted.

I’d much rather see this group of 29 top nuclear scientists working on ways to provide us clean, plentiful, inexpensive nuclear energy. I’m still waiting for my Coca-Cola-can-sized, residential nuclear reactor that will free me of dependence on government-imposed monopolies. But while many of us work to change the culture to one that will legalize true energy innovation, we will have to be content with those technological advances, made possible by science, that are still legal.

Here’s one for which entrepreneurs will, no doubt, find numerous applications: iSkin, which is

A skin-worn sensor that turns the human body into a touch sensitive surface for controlling mobile devices has been developed by scientists in Germany. iSkin is made from biocompatible silicone rubber with pressure-sensitive sensors that are stuck to the skin of the users, allowing them to use their own body to control mobile devices.

One of the scientists “also hopes that it could one day be possible to incorporate an energy-harvesting system that would power iSkin via the wearer’s body.”

I wonder if the iSkin scientists could team up with Coca-Cola’s scientists and see if they can suck out the calories we consume in sugary soda? Would that qualify as “sustainable energy”?

I’m off to write my Patent Application now…

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