Cold Winter For Plants On the East Coast

Winter of 2015 is proving to be an especially difficult season for growers of trees and shrubs on the east coast.  A chilling winter with below average temperatures means it could be a light spring for many varieties of plants at local nurseries.  We spoke with a representative from The Tree Center, an online retailer of smaller plant material.  “We have had a tough time sourcing plant material this winter because many of the local growers have a lot of larger plant material but aren’t willing to take the risk on the smaller stuff.  These plants are essentially babies and don’t do well under these harsh conditions.”

Meanwhile, on the west coast large growers such as JRT Nursery in Oregon are supplying many east coast operations with plants this year.  “At the moment it’s quite nice out in Oregon and we are ready to ship.” states JRT.  “Most of our east coast nurseries don’t wan’t the plant material because it’s simply too cold for them to care for it unless they want to pay to heat their greenhouses.”

cedar-tree

As a lover of plants myself I am curious to see what my local nursery has this season.

More News From Israel

It’s not been an easy year for Israel, the USA’s closest ally in the Middle East; constant attacks from the terrorist organization Hamas, as well as the ongoing threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, mean that security has been the top priority for the Israeli government. Unfortunately a new worry has to be added to that – the Obama administration.
It’s no secret that Obama has always been hostile and dismissive of Prime Minister Netanyahu, but while his behavior has been rude at times that isn’t a problem in itself. Countries can be close and reliable allies even if their leaders don’t personally get along. President Reagan’s loathing of premier Menachem Begin was no secret, for example, but that didn’t change the fact that the USA stood firmly as the guarantor of Israeli security. What’s worrying is that Obama’s dislike of Netanyahu looks to be just part of a wider antipathy towards Israel itself, and his influence is now spreading through the State Department.

Flag Of Israel
Journalist Micah Zenko recently carried out a text analysis of the State Department’s website, searching for country names paired with the word “unacceptable”, and generated a list of Foggy Bottom’s top ten unacceptable countries based on the number of hits he got. That list had some fairly predictable names on it; Russia, for example, which has attracted a lot of condemnation for its invasion of Crimea earlier this year. But, alarmingly, Israel didn’t just make the list – it reached fourth place, above Pakistan and just behind rogue state North Korea.
Defenders of the administration point to how US military support for Israel remains at the same level as under the last administration, but skip over the fact that this is only because Congress make sure it stays that way. The fact is that Obama knows he can’t get blatantly anti-Israeli legislation past the House and Senate, so he’s now using liberal European governments as proxies. While some European states have worked closely with Israel in the past – Germany donated most of the IDF’s submarine fleet, for example – the EU has always been cooler, and now it’s turning actively hostile with the full backing of the White House. This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Jerusalem, and even the liberal press in Israel is commenting on how Obama is egging Brussels on to tighten the screw. The latest news is that the EU is about to remove Hamas from its list of proscribed terrorist groups, which legitimizes their doctrine of destroying the Jewish state. Obama can’t get a similar step past the American people, which is why he’s now working more closely with Europe’s governments than his own.
Israel isn’t the only US ally in the Middle East, but with the rise of ISIS some of the others, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, aren’t looking all that reliable. The fact is ISIS are just practicing a more violent version of what most Saudis believe – even long-time enemy Iran is closer to the US position than most of the so-called “friendly” Arab states. That makes our alliance with Israel more vital than ever, so it’s worrying that Obama has chosen this moment to throw them under the bus.

Ferguson Protests

When the world looked at US news last week the coverage was dominated by events in Missouri. For the second time this year the press flooded the airwaves with scenes of chaos and destruction in Ferguson, plus the spillover of protest and violence into other cities. The grand jury decision that found Officer Darren Wilson had acted correctly threw a spotlight on race relations in the USA and prompted a flood of outrage about racist cops and the way black Americans are denied justice.
At least that’s the party line. In reality things are a bit different. From the way the case has been reported you’d think Wilson singled out Michael Brown just because he was black, then staged a public execution for the fun of it. Look at the facts, though – facts that nobody has disputed. Brown and a friend were walking away from the scene of a robbery they’d just committed, stealing a box of cigars from a local store. For reasons unknown they decided to walk down the middle of the road, deliberately disrupting traffic. When Wilson saw them he told them to get on the sidewalk; they refused. Then he realized Brown’s description matched the robbery suspect and spotted the cigars. When he challenged them again events spun out of control, and this is where eyewitness testimony – always the most unreliable kind – gets confused. Wilson says Brown punched him through the car window then tried to grab his handgun. Some witnesses dispute this. However the evidence is clear: Wilson suffered facial injuries, and forensics proves that when the first shot was fired the gun was inside the car and Brown had his hand on it.
So far from a brutal cop singling out an innocent youth going about his business, it turns out Wilson was doing his job – keeping the peace and trying to apprehend criminals. Of course there are bad apples in law enforcement, and of course cops sometimes make a bad decision, but this doesn’t look like one of those times.
Despite the racial conflict stoked up by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and even Barack Obama, plenty of black Americans recognize that the police have a difficult job to do and mostly only use violence when it’s necessary and justified. The latest to come out in support of Wilson is former NBA star Charles Barkley, who made a strong statement Wednesday condemning those who used the grand jury decision as an excuse for vandalism and pillaging. Calling the rioters “scumbags” Barkley confirmed that he agrees with the verdict, then went on to praise the police for the job they do in maintaining peace.
It’s true that racism still exists in America, but we shouldn’t go looking for it every time an incident like this happens. It’s always a tragedy when a young person is killed but that doesn’t make the deceased blameless. Officer Wilson found himself in a difficult and frightening situation, and exercised his right to defend himself. Going by how many people didn’t feel the need to go out and burn local businesses, most Americans of every race understand that.

2016 Presidential Candidates

November 2016 seems like a long time off, but presidential election campaigns take a long time these days and interest is already building in who’ll be running for the White House this time round. At this early stage the field is still wide, with the serious candidates sharing the headlines with a long list of stalking horses, novelties and no-hopers. As of right now there are over 20 people who’ve either publicly expressed interest or already filed their application to run. Naturally some of these are less serious, and plenty more don’t have any real chance of winning a party nomination. On the other hand there are a few with realistic prospects of being the next president of the United States. Let’s look at the leading contenders on all sides.

The Republican Party has the greatest number of hopefuls. In all nineteen prominent members or supporters have mentioned that they’re thinking of running although not all are realistic choices. There are a few who stand out though.

  • Maybe the top choice is Jeb Bush. His family needs no introduction, as one of the emerging dynasties of US politics, and GW’s younger brother is definitely keen to have a shot at being the third Bush in the White House. Socially he’s a conservative – among his acts as Florida governor was to sign the anti-assisted-dying Terri’s Law – but fiscally in the middle ground of the GOP.
  • New Jersey governor Chris Christie was looking like another serious candidate until recently, but his administration has suffered a couple of scandals. Christie is a popular figure among the center and moderate wings of the Republican Party, and probably has the broadest electoral appeal of any GOP contender. However revelations that he messed up traffic access to Fort Lee to retaliate against the mayor have seriously dented his chances.
  • Ted Cruz has more appeal to the right wing of the party. Strongly pro-life and socially very conservative, he’s well placed for a run at the White House but his half-Cuban background might not satisfy the Birther tendency.

Other Republicans who’re keen to throw their hat in the ring include Marco Rubio, Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. However most of them have limited appeal with the broader public and aren’t likely to do well at the primaries.

The Democratic Party has a much shorter list right now, although more candidates will probably step forward over the next few months. The big names are probably the current vice president and the former secretary of state.

Joe Biden, as the occupant of the #2 role in the present administration, is a natural candidate for 2016. Biden is a centrist Democrat on most issues, generally liberal socially. His big advantage is an established reputation in high office.

Hillary Clinton, wife of former president Bill, narrowly lost to Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination and is widely expected to run again. She has a high profile but remains a controversial figure, and there’s some resistance to the idea of a Clinton dynasty. On most issues she’s slightly to the left of Biden but tends to be hawkish on foreign policy.

Other possible Democrat runners include actor George Clooney and New York governor Andrew Cuomo, but right now Biden and Clinton look the most credible.

There are a few third party possibilities as well. Rand Paul might run for either the Republicans or Libertarians. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is contemplating standing as an independent, TV personality Roseanne Barr might represent the Peace and Freedom Party and veteran candidate Jill Stein is in the running for the Greens. The eccentric Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan may have a shot a swell. However the real action as the election approaches will be between the heavy hitters of the two main parties.

WHO – World Health Organization

The World Health Organization is currently holding its sixth Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or COP 6. The conference is taking place in Moscow and its declared aim is to agree more steps to reduce tobacco consumption worldwide. However there are alarming stories emerging from the conference, and now it’s being widely reported that following the expulsion of all public and media observers the delegates are planning a sweeping new worldwide tax on anything even slightly related to tobacco.

COP 6 was mired in controversy long before it even began, after the WHO took the startling decision to bar the global police agency Interpol from sending observers. This set alarm bells ringing among pro-democracy campaigners, because if the conference was really about passing worldwide laws then Interpol is the agency that would be called on to enforce them. Bizarrely, the WHO justified this move by claiming that Interpol is part of the tobacco industry.

The conference opened on Monday, October 13, with delegates from 175 countries. For once the US government showed some backbone and refused to send delegates, on protest against the WHO holding the event in a quasi-totalitarian state that currently has its troops fighting an illegal war on the territory of its neighbour Ukraine. Canada also refused to take part. Unfortunately it seems the WHO has been infected by the Stalinist ethos of the Putin regime, because the banning of Interpol was just the first stage in a very sinister series of events.

Despite being the world’s leading public health organization the WHO has never been too keen on letting the actual public see what they’re doing, so they make it as difficult as possible for ordinary people to get in to their conferences. The press can reserve places in advance but the public can’t. The only way to get in is to turn up on the day; a limited number of seats are available on a first come, first served basis. In theory.

The event had barely started when delegates from a few countries that don’t exactly have a great record of good government started complaining about ordinary people being allowed to sit quietly at the back and watch. Libya’s Mohammed Dagani – a former member of the Gadaffi regime – announced that “We don’t need the public here” and was quickly backed up by delegates from Uganda and a few other borderline dictatorships. A vote was called, and within minutes the public had been ordered out of their seats and expelled from the hall.

Obviously this didn’t go down well with the media observing the event, and on Monday evening stories began to appear criticizing the heavy-handed tactics. Incredibly the WHO didn’t reconsider the expulsion; instead, when the media reps arrived on Tuesday morning they were met by guards borrowed from Putin’s notorious Interior Ministry and told that, accreditation or no, they were being excluded from the event.

Now that witnesses have been removed the delegates are discussing a massive tax that WHO will try to force on every government in the world despite the people never having had a chance to vote on it. For now the US government wants nothing to do with COP 6, but it may be time to look into other WHO activities and decide how we want to deal with this secretive and totalitarian body in the future.

Executive Order 12333

Have you ever heard of Executive Order 12333? There’s a good chance you haven’t – the federal government doesn’t exactly advertise its existence. It’s been on the books for a long time, and when it was first introduced it was easy enough to make a case for it being necessary, but under the new model of government that’s increasingly being imposed on us it has mutated into a deeply sinister piece of legislation that threatens every American’s liberties.

EO 12333 was signed on December 4, 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. It was the height of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, faced with determined opposition from Regan and his ally Margaret Thatcher, was pushing aggressively through military confrontation and a higher pace of espionage and terrorism directed at the west. Reagan wanted to make it easier for the CIA to collect evidence about Soviet activity, by increasing their powers so they could ask for information from other federal agencies.

What Reagan couldn’t foresee was how his successors would use those increased powers to start monitoring the American people. In 1991, with the Soviet Union already collapsed, the powers allocated under the order were expanded even more and that process has been repeated several times since. In 2004 and 2008 further orders were signed expanding the intelligence agencies’ ability to snoop far beyond what Reagan had ever imagined.

The original meaning of EO 12333 – enhanced cooperation with the CIA – has now expanded to mean that any federal agency can carry out intelligence gathering pretty much anywhere as long as it gets clearance to do it. We haven’t heard many cases where that clearance has been refused, but plenty where it’s been granted. The most egregious offender has to be the National Security Agency, which for years now has been electronically vacuuming up just about every message sent, anywhere. Every time you pick up the phone the NSA note who you called and how long you spoke for. Every email, text message or fax is intercepted and stored – although the NSA doesn’t define this as “collecting” unless it actually reads the message.

Officially your Fourth Amendment rights aren’t being violated, because the NSA targets its activities against foreigners who might be a threat to US interests. Of course that means thousands of messages between foreigners and US citizens are intercepted, a process that’s brushed off as “incidental” collection, but even if you don’t ever talk to foreigners your communications aren’t safe. Most people have now heard of ECHELON, a joint electronic intelligence operation among the “Five Eyes” community of the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The intelligence agencies of these five countries routinely share the data they’ve collected and out of the five, four aren’t bound by the Fourth Amendment at all.

The Commonwealth members of the Five Eyes community are all US allies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have ears turned in our direction. Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters rivals the NSA in its ability to intercept electronic communications and there’s nothing to stop them listening to US citizens – the Constitution doesn’t apply to them. And most of what they collect gets shared with the NSA…

Even without the Soviet Union the world is a dangerous place, as the rise of ISIS shows. We need strong, effective intelligence services and we need to cooperate with our allies. But we also need to stand up for our rights, which is why the steady expansion of the EO 12333 snooper’s charter has to be stopped now.