Ed Morrissey has blogged at Captain's Quarters since 2003, and has a daily radio show at BlogTalkRadio, where he serves as Political Director. Called "Captain Ed" by his readers, Ed is a father and grandfather living in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, a native Californian who moved to the North Star State because of the weather.
Mehlman: Don't Try To Out-Democrat The Democrats
Outgoing RNC chair Ken Mehlman waxed valedictory tonight in a speech to Republican governors. He told the audience, at least one of whom has presidential ambitions for 2008, that the GOP abandoned the core principles that once had voters trusting them to clean up Washington DC:
The sting of Republican electoral defeats still fresh, the GOP chairman suggested Thursday the party has strayed and challenged it to refocus on core principles and reform.
"We work for the people," Ken Mehlman, the outgoing chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a speech to a meeting of GOP governors. He reminded the crowd that "good policy makes good politics — and, for Republicans, this must be a time for self-examination when it comes to our policy." ...
"Our nation is stronger and better when Republicans are the party running the government. But, ladies and gentleman, our party should never be the party of government, of Washington, of earmarks, of bureaucracy," Mehlman said, implying that's what the GOP had become at times — or at least what voters perceived on Nov. 7.
Mehlman captures a large part of the problem in this speech. When the Republicans took power from the Democrats, it happened in the midst of scandal and profligate spending. Newt Gingrich carried the banner of Ronald Reagan and his belief that government causes more problems than it solves and re-energized Reagan's vision of Western conservatism, forged earlier by Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley. Their message, that a growing federal government constituted a threat to liberty and fiscal solvency, resonated with voters.
So what happened? Shortly after an ill-advised showdown with Bill Clinton over the budget shut down the federal government, the movement appeared to lose steam. Instead of reforming Congress, the Republicans adapted themselves to the same mechanisms for retaining power that Democrats had used, and in some cases "improved" them. Gingrich left, and the leadership that followed did nothing to continue the small-government philosophy to which voters responded so well.
In fact, the Republicans tried to out-Democrat the Democrats in suddenly perceiving government as the solution to all of their pet policy issues. They grew the Department of Education by leaps and bounds rather than abolish it, as the GOP had long demanded. They expanded government in every category in an explosion of both entitlement and discretionary spending that started as soon as they took the White House. Republicans who once rightly decried the use of pork as a corrupting influence turned it into an art form, shamelessly adding thousands of line items to bills in an attempt to keep the Party going as long as possible.
Mehlman privately foresaw the result of the binging before the midterms even arrived, and predicted the hangover that followed. Now he has a message for Republicans who want to reverse their defeat this month: get back to basics. The GOP once stood for individual liberty, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a strong national defense. They have to find their way back to those First Principles, transferring power away from Washington DC and giving it back to the people.
Unfortunately, as we have seen, that takes a special kind of leadership. Otherwise, the power begins to resemble the One Ring from Lord of the Rings -- something so precious that politicians cannot bear to part with it.
Does This Mean War?
Someone at the Pentagon has let the cat out of the bag -- and apparently, it's a Persian. Citing "US officials", ABC News reported earlier today that the US has smoking-gun evidence that Iran has supplied the insurgents in Iraq with sophisticated weaponry used to attack American soldiers:
U.S. officials say they have found smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories. According to a senior defense official, coalition forces have recently seized Iranian-made weapons and munitions that bear manufacturing dates in 2006.
This suggests, say the sources, that the material is going directly from Iranian factories to Shia militias, rather than taking a roundabout path through the black market. "There is no way this could be done without (Iranian) government approval," says a senior official.
Iranian-made munitions found in Iraq include advanced IEDs designed to pierce armor and anti-tank weapons. U.S. intelligence believes the weapons have been supplied to Iraq's growing Shia militias from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is also believed to be training Iraqi militia fighters in Iran.
Evidence is mounting, too, that the most powerful militia in Iraq, Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, is receiving training support from the Iranian-backed terrorists of Hezbollah.
I find the timing of this revelation very interesting. We know the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group has prepared its recommendations, because they've been busy leaking them a week ahead of the deadline. We know that they will urge the Bush administration to reverse almost thirty years of foreign policy and engage Teheran in direct negotiations regarding security for Iraq. We also know that the Joint Chiefs have already decided to oppose the main thrusts of the ISG.
Now, suddenly, ABC News finds out that the Pentagon has found the Imam Label on insurgent weapons. Does it appear to anyone else that someone at the Department of Defense has decided to pre-empt the ISG and its call for negotiated surrender to state-sponsored terrorism?
We heard the rumor last week that Hezbollah had been training Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, perhaps hosting as many as 2,000 militia fighters. ABC adds to that as well, revealing that the Pentagon believes Sadr to have over 40,000 fighters in his irregulars, much higher than anyone supposed before this. The Iranians have built up quite a force in Iraq, and now that we're on the verge of hearing from the ISG, we now find out that the Iranians have been conducting a proxy war against us. Not that the news surprises those who have followed the situation, but the extent of their success is worrisome.
This may be the backlash of the generals against the so-called realists. No one in the command structure wants to see the US retreat from Iraq; even the retired generals who have hurled so much criticism at Donald Rumsfeld made it clear that we have to prevail in Iraq. This puts the White House in a huge bind; with this in the open, the US has to respond to the Iranians, and a summit would be seen as a massive capitulation. On the other hand, the ISG's long-awaited report raised expectations of a change in near- and medium-term strategy, expectations that will cause political repercussions once dashed.
If the report is true and the Iranians have been directly supplying the insurgents with the materiel that has killed and wounded many American soldiers, then we have to finally acknowledge that the war on terror has evolved into a confrontation with terrorism's leading state sponsor. The Bush administration has spent a lot of effort in denying this, working through the UN Security Council and the EU. It cannot ignore it any longer, and in the end, we knew that we would have to confront Iran and Syria in some fashion if we wanted to put an end to state-sponsored terrorism.
Does that mean a shooting war? I hope not; it's one of the worst options, although not the worst. We have other options, including economic and diplomatic pressure. We can also go after the weak sister in the Axis, Syria, as a means of isolating Iran even further, and Syria with its string of assassinations has provided a lot of the necessary provocations for that.
One fact seems certain: we cannot engage Iran as a partner in Iraqi security while it arms the people killing our troops. And that appears to be the motivation for this latest revelation.
The UN -- Model Of Consistency
Almost from the first days of this blog, I have noted the continuing scandal of the United Nations peacekeeping efforts and their chronic sexual abuse of female refugees, many of them young girls. Despite over two years of these stories, the UN still has done nothing to purge itself of the disgusting practices of sexual exploitation and extortion. The BBC reports today that yet another peacekeeping mission has turned itself into a pimping expedition:
Children have been subjected to rape and prostitution by United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti and Liberia, a BBC investigation has found.
Girls have told of regular encounters with soldiers where sex is demanded in return for food or money.
A senior official with the organisation has accepted the claims are credible.
Credible? Try inevitable. With its lack of top-down discipline and a political structure that guards against accountability, no one should expect any different result. Despite physical evidence of these rapes and molestations, the UN has done nothing to punish those responsible, instead shipping the accused back home to their countries and ignoring the victims. The sexual abuse continues unabated, and why not? The UN has only offered training and more monitors who stand around and do nothing when confronted with violations.
This rot starts at the top. Kofi Annan, who headed the peacekeeping unit before becoming Secretary-General, set the tone for the most corrupt UN administration in its history by refusing to take any responsibility for the Oil-For-Food scandal. He used his office as a means of personal enrichment for his friends and family. He has focused on his own aggrandizement while atrocities raged unabated in Rwanda and Darfur, and has not lifted a finger to end the abuse described by the BBC.
How long will it take before member nations understand that they bear responsibility for these crimes through their funding of the UN? The only method left to demand reform of the organization is to immediately cut off their funds and padlock the doors until they take action to end sexual slavery in the peacekeeping missions. Let the UN operate out of coffee shops and libraries until they get their act together. When the money gets cut off and all of the bureaucrats stop receiving their graft, perhaps they will suddenly find enough motivation to make the necessary changes to bring accountability into the UN.
And We Can Make It Smaller, Cheaper, And More Efficient
Japan rattled a significant saber yesterday in its parliamentary session. In a debate clearly intended for the Chinese rather than the Japanese audience, Foreign Minister Taro Aso told a security committee that Japan could easily and quickly begin production of nuclear weapons:
Japan has the technological know-how to produce a nuclear weapon but has no immediate plans to do so, the foreign minister said Thursday, several weeks after communist North Korea carried out a nuclear test.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who has called for discussion of Japan's non-nuclear policy, also asserted that the pacifist constitution does not forbid possession of the bomb.
"Japan is capable of producing nuclear weapons," Aso told a parliamentary committee on security issues. "But we are not saying we have plans to possess nuclear weapons."
Thus far, the Japanese Prime Minister has refused to consider adding nuclear weapons to the country's defense. However, Aso and several other ministers in the government have made it clear they expect the question to receive serious consideration. They want others to understand that all of the options are now on the table.
Which outsiders? Obviously Kim Jong-Il is one target, but realistically, Japanese nuclear weapons will probably not deter Kim, not without a demonstration of the will to use them. The Japanese know that as well. They're targeting China with this debate, because Japanese nuclear weapons would undermine the hegemony that Beijing wants in the Asian Pacific. China is the one nation that can put enough pressure on North Korea to dismantle the nuclear-weapons program Kim has begun, and in fact may already have decided that Kim's nukes have become more of a liability than an asset at this point. Their hand can be seen in Kim's return to the six-party talks, and it's no coincidence.
Should Japan arm themselves with nuclear weapons? They should at least consider it ... very publicly.
A Strange Consensus On Iraq
The James Baker-led Iraq Study Group has found consensus around a set of policy goals, and in the best traditions of Washington DC, they have decided to leak it to the press a week prior to releasing it officially. A review of this consensus in the New York Times proves that when a group of politicians gather on any sticky policy issue, we can expect them to act like ... politicians:
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panel’s deliberations.
The report, unanimously approved by the 10-member panel, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, is to be delivered to President Bush next week. It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended. The recommendations of the group, formed at the request of members of Congress, are nonbinding.
A person who participated in the commission’s debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, “there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached.”
The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.
The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries. (A brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.) From those bases, they would still be responsible for protecting a substantial number of American troops who would remain in Iraq, including 70,000 or more American trainers, logistics experts and members of a rapid reaction force.
The "two distinct paths" show themselves rather obviously in the final result. The ISG clearly weighed the competing visions for Iraq, withdrawal and commitment, and came up with something that satisfies no one. They suggest the gradual withdrawal of American troops, but won't say whether they should stay elsewhere in Iraq, in a neighboring country (if any would host them), or sent home altogether. The ISG wants to put pressure on Nouri al-Maliki, but apparently not by applying any specific timetables.
Will this satisfy anyone? Hardly. The Left wants an explicit withdrawal with firm timetables to prevent any dallying by the Bush administration. They do not want 70,000 American troops left in Iraq as "trainers", nor do they want combat organizations left in the quieter regions of Iraq. Supporters of the Bush foreign policy goals in Iraq will find themselves aghast at some of the more ludicrous explicit stands of the ISG. In the only area where they climb out onto a limb, they insist on direct negotiations with the two terror-sponsoring nations in the region, Iran and Syria, to assist in the security of Iraq -- the clearest case of the fox guarding the henhouse since Daladier and Chamberlain put the Sudetenland in the care of Adolf Hitler.
In the end, the ISG will turn out to be a footnote in the policy battles over Iraq. This conclusion marginalizes the panel and its members by its own lack of honest evaluation and commitment to freedom over expediency.
Justice Is Blind, But This Is Ridiculous
The scourge of judicial activism raises its silliness quotient just a little higher this week with a ruling that found American currency discriminatory. US District Court Judge John Robertson declared that the venerable greenback puts blind people at such a disadvantage that it violates the Constitution, and ordered the Treasury to revamp its currency offerings forthwith:
The Treasury Department on Wednesday began considering its response to a federal court ruling that ordered changes to paper currency so each denomination could be easily identified by blind and visually impaired people.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robertson came in a lawsuit filed against the department by the American Council of the Blind, a Washington-based advocacy group. The group argued that the government's failure to differentiate among denominations amounted to illegal discrimination, and Robertson agreed.
"We are still reviewing the court order, and the government has made no determination as to what its next step will be in this matter," said Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department's civil division.
The Treasury Department has 10 days from Tuesday's ruling to decide whether to appeal.
In his opinion, Robertson ordered the Treasury Department to consider such options as changing the size and color of banknotes for each denomination and adding tactile differences, such as foil, raised numbers or perforations, to the bills.
For my report, I decided to interview a blind person to discover her reaction to the news that Judge Robertson had freed her from the bonds of discrimination. The First Mate's initial response is hard to quote, because I don't know how to properly transcribe a snort and a peal of laughter.
There are two major problems with this ruling. First, all due respect to the American Council for the Blind, we don't really see that a problem with the currency exists. My wife has been blind for almost three decades, a good portion of that time as a single woman or a divorced mother, and for the majority of those periods used currency almost exclusively. The Braille Institute taught her some simple techniques in handling paper currency that allows her to this day to organize it properly. It's a point that the National Federation for the Blind, a much more representative group for the visually impaired, makes in response to the ruling:
"We believe in solving real problems of discrimination — not in doing gimmicks that look like they solve a problem and could make things actually worse," James Gashel, executive director for strategic initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind, said Wednesday. "For a federal court to say that we are being discriminated against is simply wrong."
Even worse, the ruling simply abuses the position of the federal courts. It's ludicrous on its face to believe that US currency represents a deliberate attempt to discriminate against blind people, who make up one percent of the population, according to the LA Times story. Even if one can argue that changing the bills in the manner Robertson demands would help blind people cope better with cash, that's a policy question and not a Constitutional issue. That argument belongs in front of Congress, especially since the solution will cost hundreds of millions of dollars at the outset and cause confusion for years to come.
The US has never invalidated any of its currency, unlike most nations; American bills do not expire or get canceled. Even if the Treasury were to complete refit all of its machinery in order to have different sizes or shapes of various denominations with all of those retooling costs, we would still have the regular sized denominations in circulation for years. In fact, both sets of currency would circulate simultaneously, causing all sorts of issues with retail businesses, especially vending machines. Most of them now have the ability to accept paper currency, and all of them would have to be retrofitted to accept both sets of currency with their differing sizes.
Judge Robertson just made himself the poster boy for judicial activism in this ill-advised ruling. Blind people do not need judicial activism in order to operate in the world today. They have a long history of independence in all areas of their lives, including decades of proven expertise in handling cash. They do not require the condescending nature of paternalism, nor do any of us who supposedly benefit from judicial overreach.
Another Campaign Pledge Bites The Dust
In the wake of Nancy Pelosi's backing of John Murtha and Alcee Hastings for key leadership positions in the new, supposedly clean Democratic-controlled Congress, one might think the Democrats would avoid the stigma of breaking another campaign promise before they even officially come to power. The Washington Post reports that they don't appear to care, though, now that they won the midterm elections, as they prepare to back away from a widely-publicized promise:
It was a solemn pledge, repeated by Democratic leaders and candidates over and over: If elected to the majority in Congress, Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But with control of Congress now secured, Democratic leaders have decided for now against implementing the one measure that would affect them most directly: a wholesale reorganization of Congress to improve oversight and funding of the nation's intelligence agencies. Instead, Democratic leaders may create a panel to look at the issue and produce recommendations, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.
Because plans for implementing the commission's recommendations are still fluid, Democratic officials would not speak for the record. But aides on the House and Senate appropriations, armed services and intelligence committees confirmed this week that a reorganization of Congress would not be part of the package of homeland-security changes up for passage in the "first 100 hours" of the Democratic Congress. ...
It may seem like a minor matter, but members of the commission say Congress's failure to change itself is anything but inconsequential. In 2004, the commission urged Congress to grant the House and Senate intelligence committees the power not only to oversee the nation's intelligence agencies but also to fund them and shape intelligence policy. The intelligence committees' gains would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels' defense subcommittees. Powerful lawmakers on those panels would have to give up prized legislative turf.
I've never been very impressed with the panel's recommendations, anyway. Most of them did nothing but expanded the bureaucracies that created most of the interference that kept intelligence analysts from connecting the dots, as the panel repeatedly said, prior to 9/11. The major recommendation accepted by Congress and the White House -- the new National Intelligence Directorate -- has turned into an exercise in empire-building. Congress had to threaten its funding when it swelled to over 1,000 employees in order to put two more layers of bureaucrats between intelligence collection and the decision-makers. The real reform came from the Patriot Act, which finally allowed law enforcement and intelligence agents to share data without fear of destroying criminal prosecutions.
However, the Democrats ran on a platform of full acceptance of the recommendations, and held that out as a key part of their electoral efforts. John Kerry did the same thing in 2004, to less effect. Now that they have won, they have raised the expectations of their supporters and the backers of the 9/11 Commission. Even before their majority has taken the oath of office, they will dash those expectations and set themselves up for a round of recriminations.
People should take note of the reforms that the Democrats wish to pursue in this next session of Congress. They want to clear out the Republicans from the levers of power, but offered John Murtha for Majority Leader, along with his pork-barrel extortive politics and the legacy of Abscam. They promised a tough and competent effort on national security, but offered a disgraced and impeached former judge to run the Intelligence Committee. Democrats pledged to take immediate action on all of the Commission's recommendations, but they will balk at any meaningful reform that limits the power of their master appropriators, including Murtha himself.
In other words, the Democrats plan on using Intelligence budgets the same way that both parties have used them in the past: as a means to perform favors for powerful friends. Those who believed they voted for change in the midterms might find themselves vindicated; it looks like Congress will change for the worse, and in record time at that.
More Demonization Of Illegals At WND
I'm in favor of tough border enforcement stopping illegal entry into the US. That comes from a solid concern about national security and support for legal immigrants who take the time to follow the law when they move to our nation. People who disrespect our laws at the outset of their relationship with Americans should not profit from their lawbreaking.
Many conservatives oppose illegal immigration on those grounds, and that opposition doesn't limit itself to the Right, either. However, what drives me batty are the unsubstantiated claims that a handful of militant immigration hawks use as scare tactics in an attempt to gain more support. Those claims usually get reported at some point by World News Daily, a hardline conservative news service, which doesn't usually miss an opportunity to relay the latest wild-eyed claim. Today, WND reports that Rep. Steve King (R-IA) put out 'statistics" that illegal immigrants murder over 4,000 Americans every year:
While the military "quagmire" in Iraq was said to tip the scales of power in the U.S. midterm elections, most Americans have no idea more of their fellow citizens – men, women and children – were murdered this year by illegal aliens than the combined death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since those military campaigns began.
Though no federal statistics are kept on murders or any other crimes committed by illegal aliens, a number of groups have produced estimates based on data collected from prisons, news reports and independent research.
Twelve Americans are murdered every day by illegal aliens, according to statistics released by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. If those numbers are correct, it translates to 4,380 Americans murdered annually by illegal aliens. That's 21,900 since Sept. 11, 2001.
Let's ponder this for a moment before I get to some real statistics. WND and King acknowledge that no one has done any real study on murders and their perpetrators, and yet somehow they have figured out that illegals murder 12 people a day. That's murder, the deliberate act of killing someone else, as opposed to negligent homicide. We know that because King and WND claim that an additional 13 Americans a day perish as a result of drunken illegal immigrants driving on our roads.
They just know it, because some other groups have anecdotal evidence of it.
Well, let's try a little reality. The FBI, which actually does collect statistics on crimes, reported that 16,692 murders took place in the US in 2005. This is down from a high of 24,703 in 1991, which would indicate that it doesn't follow illegal immigration, since the latter is a cumulative progression over the last 15 years (in other words, we have a lot more illegals here now than then).
If King and WND have their numbers correct, that would mean that illegals commit 26.2% of all murders in the US. However, they only comprise less than 7% of the American population, even if one accepts the figure of 20 million illegals here now. Doesn't that seem just a bit strange to anyone? Given that only 3 million illegals were here in 1986 when Congress and the Reagan administration passed the amnesty program, comprising 1.25% of the American population, then we should have seen dramatically fewer murders that year.
Unfortunately, the FBI shows that 1986 saw over 20,000 Americans murdered that year -- 23% more than 2005.
In fact, the FBI does not categorize Hispanics as a separate racial group in its statistics, but instead includes them with Caucasians. Even so, the numbers demonstrate rather clearly that King and WND are talking out of their hats. Of all the people arrested for murders in 2005 (10,083), only 4,955 were white/Hispanic, and that includes all arrests in that racial category. In order to believe King and WND, every single one of these people would have to be illegal aliens.
Asinine hardly begins to describe this report. Conservative decry junk science; bad statistics are just as bad. It took me all of 10 minutes to check this data, something that Rep. King apparently couldn't bother to have his staff do, and a standard fact check that WND declined to perform. It seems that some people will believe almost anything as long as it can be used to demonize illegal aliens.
We need better border security and a plan to end illegal immigration. What we do not need are easily-debunked memes like this floating around, discrediting proponents of border enforcement and painting all of us as benighted haters. Rep. King did us all a disservice and WND once again proved itself more useful for hysterics than truth.
The Shorter Ahmadinejad: It's The Joooooooos
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided to take a page out of Ronald Reagan's playbook and talk directly to the people of his enemy -- us, the Great Satanettes. In a letter to the "Noble Americans", the Iranian president informs the benighted American electorate that all of our problems have a single source. Guess who that is? Actually, you don't have to guess for long, because Ahmadinejad is somewhat less than subtle in his identification:
We, like you, are aggrieved by the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people. Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine. In broad day-light, in front of cameras and before the eyes of the world, they are bombarding innocent defenseless civilians, bulldozing houses, firing machine guns at students in the streets and alleys, and subjecting their families to endless grief. ...
For 60 years, the Zionist regime has driven millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes. ...
You know well that the US administration has persistently provided blind and blanket support to the Zionist regime, has emboldened it to continue its crimes, and has prevented the UN Security Council from condemning it. ...
What has blind support for the Zionists by the US administration brought for the American people? ... What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors?
Yes, the yahouds have their sinister tentacles into our government, and that's why we're the Great Satan .... er, the Little Satan ... um, whatever.
I know this has been the talk of the news shows today, but this is nothing new. Ahmadinejad has talked out of both sides of his mouth since he began his campaign for the Iranian presidency. Let's not forget, in all of his mellifluous language of American nobility, that this is the same man who convened a conference to imagine a world without America as well as Israel. He didn't seem terribly concerned about our nobility then when he exhorted his followers to rid the world of the United States.
This letter follows the same rambling, barely coherent pattern of his open letter to George Bush earlier this year. In it, he attempts to deflect attention from the intransigence of his own regime in their pursuit of nuclear weapons by continuously blaming the Jews for all the ills of the world. They talk about the American elections and how the Democrats will now have to take responsibility for the actions of our government while Ahmadinejad spends five pages avoiding it himself.
Mahmoud might have done better as a comedy writer than a politician. He's killing us -- or rather, he'd like to be.
Gingrich: First Amendment Is Dispensable (Update)
Note: Important update and bump after post.
Newt Gingrich has tried to position himself as the premiere conservative candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, a mission made easier by the list of front-runners already in the race. However, he may have taken a stumble yesterday when he posited that freedom of speech may have to be curtailed in order to win the war on terrorism:
A former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, is causing a stir by proposing that free speech may have to be curtailed in order to fight terrorism.
"We need to get ahead of the curve rather than wait until we actually literally lose a city, which I think could literally happen in the next decade if we're unfortunate," Mr. Gingrich said Monday night during a speech in New Hampshire. "We now should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren't for the scale of the threat."
Speaking at an award dinner billed as a tribute to crusaders for the First Amendment, Mr. Gingrich, who is considering a run for the White House in 2008, painted an ominous picture of the dangers facing America.
"This is a serious, long-term war," the former speaker said, according an audio excerpt of his remarks made available yesterday by his office. "Either before we lose a city or, if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people."
Gingrich has an odd sense of place for his new campaign crusade. At a dinner that honored people who took risks to maintain our First Amendment freedoms, he basically told them that their work was in vain. To add even more confusion, Gingrich also took the opportunity to bash John McCain for his own attack on political speech with the BCRA -- and rightfully so.
Gingrich left the specifics out of the proposal, which makes this somewhat vague. Does Newt propose limiting political speech that supports radical Islamists? Does he want to restrict the exercise of religion by Muslims in radical mosques? Could he be proposing both? Until we get more specific about the restrictions, specific criticism will be difficult to stage, and perhaps that's his intent.
However, it isn't difficult to defend the First Amendment in principle, and we need to do that now. The First Amendment has always had an exception for speech that incites a movement to violently overthrow the government of the United States, and I'm all for enforcing that. However, if Gingrich believes that we can win the war by silencing American citizens, then he is fighting the wrong war on behalf of the wrong principles. All he is doing is replacing one bogeyman (political corruption) for another (terrorism); in essence, he's no different from McCain.
The remedy for bad speech is more speech. The solution to radical mosques is to enforce immigration laws and to tighten visa requirements to keep radicals from entering the US. If people want to advocate for terrorist attacks and the violent overthrow of our elected government, then they have already broken the law, and it requires no sacrifice from Americans to prosecute such people. Free speech and religious freedom did not cause terrorism; in fact, the lack of both causes it. If Gingrich wants to offer the hair of the dog as a solution, then he will find himself very lonely on the campaign trail for the next two years.
UPDATE AND BUMP: I received a number of e-mails today cautioning readers about taking the NY Sun account as an accurate rendition of Newt's remarks. I e-mailed Newt's staff for a clarification, and they dispute Josh Gerstein's characterization of Newt's remarks. They have a selected excerpt on their site, as well as the full audio of the speech. I haven't had a listen to the full remarks yet, but from the excerpt, it looks like Newt's office has a point:
This is a serious long term war, and it will enviably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country, that will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear of biological weapons.
And, my prediction to you is that ether before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.
This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment, but I think that the national security threat of losing an American city to a nuclear weapon, or losing several million Americans to a biological attack is so real that we need to proactively, now, develop the appropriate rules of engagement.
If that's all Newt said, it doesn't seem all that outrageous to me. However, it would have been helpful to get a complete transcript of his speech, to be fair to the Sun and to Gerstein, both of whom normally do terrific work and are highly reliable. I'll try to listen to the entire speech later tonight, but as things stand at the moment, I think Gerstein may have blown this out of proportion in his reporting.
Stephen Bainbridge has more.
Syria Planned Wave Of Political Assassinations In Lebanon
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal reports today that Lebanon has uncovered a network of assassins in their nation, trained and funded by Syria, that targeted three dozen Lebanese lawmakers. To no one's great surprise, the network exploited Palestinian refugee camps as training centers and had connections to a Fatah splinter group (via It Shines For All):
The Lebanese security forces exposed a network which planned to assassinate 36 senior anti-Syrian Lebanese officials, the Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal reported Wednesday morning. ...
According to the report, the investigation revealed that the network trained in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and planned to execute a plot initiated by the Syrian government to assassinate 36 senior Lebanese officials.
According to the newspaper, the Syrian intelligence appointed a group belonging to the Fatah-Intifada organization to implement the plan. ...
The detainees, a Syrian and a Saudi, noted that they were part of a 200-member network which planned to execute the plan. The two were arrested by Lebanese security forces after they were suspected of a criminally-motivated murder at the al-Badawi refugee camp. According to the report, the investigation revealed that the Syrian government, through this plan, carried out the most blatant violation of United Nations Resolutions 1559 and 1701 and interfered in internal Lebanese issues.
The newspaper reporting this belongs to the Hariri family, the same as Rafiq Hariri, assassinated by the Syrians. Without a doubt, the Hariris have a pressing interest in assassinations, and this may help save lives, if proven out. The capture of the two operatives of the network, a Syrian and a Saudi, tends to bolster the report.
Syria has a big problem now. They had the benefit of Hezbollah's survival against Israel for some momentum in their efforts to twist internal Lebanese politics. However, Nasrallah's power play over the last two weeks and the assassination of Pierre Gemayel have the Lebanese outraged over interference from Damascus. They have already marched in the streets, and now with this covert operation exposed, Lebanese democracy activists will once again have the momentum to go after Hezbollah and end Syrian hegemony.
This once again shows the folly of engagement with the Syrian regime. They have been one of the biggest supporters of terrorism for many years, as their relationship with Hezbollah clearly demonstrates. Now they have been caught trying to assassinate dozens more Lebanese officials, an act of war for which Syrian should suffer severe consequences. What exactly do we have to discuss with these evil dictators, except the terms of their surrender?
Perhaps Olmert Is Learning, And Maybe We're Not
A day after offering a broad, if familiar, view of a path for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Olmert government now signals that they will stop offering any more concessions until Hamas returns Gilad Shalit from captivity. All of Israel's offers of opened commerce and prisoner returns will remain on hold until they have Shalit:
There is unlikely to be any additional progress in the suddenly rejuvenated diplomatic process until Cpl. Gilad Shalit is released, a senior diplomatic source said Tuesday, on the eve of a visit by Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
Suleiman met last week in Cairo with Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal, who Israel believes holds the key to Shalit's fate.
The official hinted that expanding the cease-fire from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank would also be dependent on the release of Shalit, who has been held since June 25.
"Until the Shalit issue is solved, it will now be difficult to move forward with any confidence-building steps with the Palestinians beyond the decision Sunday to move the IDF out of Gaza," the official said.
According to the official, the Palestinian failure to release Shalit is holding up a large release of Palestinian security prisoners and other steps that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned in his Sde Boker address Monday, such as removing road blocks, allowing more freedom of movement and opening border crossings. Olmert said in his speech that he would even release prisoners "serving long-term sentences."
This new tenacity comes a little late. Apparently, Olmert has agreed in principle to allow the Badr Brigade to return from Jordan to Gaza to assist Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah gain some control where Hamas has its power base. Washington gave its support to the plan when Olmert visited the US two weeks ago, which will allow 1200 "troops" formerly under the command of Yasser Arafat to operate within the territories.
I'm not sure why the US wants more terrorists in Gaza, but it seems we do. The thinking must be that Abbas is a partner for peace ... and therefore he needs more terrorists in order to prevail over Hamas and the gang war in progress in Gaza. Perhaps we believe that Fatah represents a much better hope for a negotiated peace, but so far, that has not been demonstrated by any evidence at all. In fact, we have seen this week that Fatah continues to actively participate in terrorism against Israel by shooting Qassams from Gaza into Sderot, giving Islamic Jihad a break from its launcher duties.
Is this more Baker-Scowcroft realpolitik? Or is it just another case of wishful thinking on the capacity for peace from current Palestinian leadership? If we've reduced ourselves to having to choose which flavor of terrorism we'll tolerate, we have dramatically lowered our expectations on the war against terrorists, probably to the point of losing entirely.
Olmert, for once, provides an example of firmness on the issue. He will not allow the Badr Brigade to move into Gaza nor any of his other offers to take effect until the Palestinians return Shalit, unharmed. That might be the start of a more realistic look at the futility of appeasement, a lesson that the West needs to learn all over again, it would seem.
NSA Program Has Impressive Safeguards
After all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the last year regarding the NSA's warrantless surveillance program on suspected terrorists abroad and their calls into the United States, the agency has now formally briefed the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board on the program. Members now claim that the government has worked hard to protect the privacy of American citizens:
After a delay of more than a year, a government board appointed to guard Americans' privacy and civil liberties during the war on terror has been told the inner workings of the government's electronic eavesdropping program.
Members say they were impressed by the protections. ...
Board members said that they were impressed by the safeguards the government has built into the NSA's monitoring of phone calls and computer transmissions, and that they wished the administration could tell the public more about them to ease distrust.
"If the American public, especially civil libertarians like myself, could be more informed about how careful the government is to protect our privacy while still protecting us from attacks, we'd be more reassured," said Lanny Davis , a former Clinton White House lawyer who is the board's lone liberal Democrat.
The hysteria surrounding this program might finally start receding, as long as these remarks get some significant play. After all, having a former Clinton aide wish he could reveal more about a secret program to reassure people of the good work done by it rather than to torpedo the Bush administration should raise some eyebrows among the paranoid. Former Reagan counsel Alan Raul went even further, telling John Solomon that he believes that the public underestimates the level of concern and dedication for civil liberties in the federal government.
Once again, the public's support for a tough but necessary program has been reinforced by its careful execution by the NSA. This should not surprise anyone, as even the New York Times acknowledged that they had no information that the agency broke any laws or violated anyone's civil rights when they broke the story. All they had were "concerns" about the program's legality from their anonymous tipsters.
We Love You Alcee, Especially When You Leave
It looks like House Democrats have convinced Nancy Pelosi that appointing an impeached federal judge to chair the Intelligence Committee gives them a rather bad start on cleaning up Dodge. Alcee Hastings did not care much for Pelosi's decision to pass him over for the slot, vowing to "haters" that he'll be back:
In a decision that could roil Democratic unity in the new House, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi passed over Rep. Alcee Hastings Tuesday for the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee.
Hastings, currently the No. 2 Democrat on the panel, had been aggressively making a case for the top position, supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Critics pointed out that he had been impeached when he was a federal judge and said naming him to such a sensitive post would be a mistake just as the Democrats take over House control pledging reforms.
"I am obviously disappointed with this decision," Hastings, D-Fla., said in a statement thanking his supporters. "I will be seeking better and bigger opportunities in a Democratic Congress." ... In a sign of the bitterness that has surrounded the debate, Hastings closed his statement by saying: "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."
The Congressional Black Caucus has not given any comment about the matter as yet, but they will not be happy with Pelosi's backpedal on the chair assignment. Three members of their caucus have sewn up chair assignments to committees, most notably Charles Rangel on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. That will not mollify them, as they have publicly backed Hastings for this slot, and already had some issues with Pelosi over her request to William Jefferson to step down from his committee assignments while under investigation by the DoJ for corruption.
They could threaten to abstain from the vote for Speaker, which would give the GOP an opportunity to win the gavel as the minority. The CBC has enough votes to strip the Democrats of their majority. It would be a bad idea for all concerned, though. A Republican speaker might give the GOP a thrill, but it would be a headache for the House, and would touch off a session of recriminations and backbiting that would dwarf the nastiness of the last three electoral cycles. We saw this in California when Willie Brown kept the gavel through some machinations with the razor-thin GOP majority, and this would be worse.
As for Alcee, we can only laugh at his suggestion that "haters" kept him from the chair. His own party is the one who impeached him, with members of the CBC fully supporting the action, especially founder John Conyers. When they ran on a clean government platform, he had to know that offering a disgraced judge removed for bribery for one of the important leadership positions would -- or should -- be a non-starter. No one hates Alcee ... we especially love him when he leaves.
House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decided against naming either Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, or Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), the panel's No. 2 Democrat, to chair the pivotal committee next year.
The decisions came despite lobbying by conservative Democrats on Harman's behalf and a full-throttled campaign by Hastings to overcome the stigma of the 1988 impeachment that drove him from his federal judgeship.
The fight over the top spot on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has exposed the kind of factional politics that bedeviled House Democrats before they were swept from control in 1994. Harman, a moderate, strong-on-defense "Blue Dog" Democrat, had angered liberals with her reluctance to challenge the Bush administration's use of intelligence. Hastings, an African American, was strongly backed by the Congressional Black Caucus but was ardently opposed by the Blue Dogs, who said his removal from the bench disqualifies him from such a sensitive post.
Complicating the matter was Pelosi's relationship with black Democrats. Earlier this year, she enraged the Black Caucus by removing one of its members, Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), from the Ways and Means Committee after court documents revealed that federal investigators looking into allegations of bribery had found $90,000 in cash neatly bundled in his freezer.
Instead of picking Harman or Hastings, Pelosi will look for a compromise candidate, probably Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), but possibly Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.), a hawkish member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, or Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), a conservative African American with experience on the intelligence committee. To entice Harman to run in 2000 for a House seat she had vacated for an unsuccessful bid for the California governorship, the Democratic leadership shunted Bishop off the committee -- another perceived slap at black lawmakers.
First, we should acknowledge that the decision to pass over Hastings is one of the few smart moves the Democratic leadership has made since winning the midterms, as Liberal Goodman suggests in the comments. However, just as with Pelosi's endorsement of John Murtha in the leadership elections, the failure of Hastings puts a big dent in her perceived authority within the caucus and also still calls her judgment into question for letting the situation spiral out of control. Now she has a bigger problem on her hands, facing a revolt from two different factions of her caucus without ever having put her hand on the Speaker's gavel.
Reappointing Sanford Bishop to the committee and having him take the chair would appear to be the best possible solution. He's a member of the CBC and, at least according to the Post's description, ideologically compatible with the Blue Dogs. It would give Pelosi a way to assuage bruised feelings within both factions.
The Post article contains more information about Hastings and the acquittal in the criminal trial than the press reported before the elections. The House impeachment found that Hastings lied repeatedly at his trial, misrepresenting the facts about phone calls and other key evidence which later were exposed as falsehoods. That played a key role in the impeachment effort, as Conyers told the Senate as he presented the case for removal that the civil-rights effort did not exist to exchange one form of judicial corruption for another. It makes for fascinating reading, and had the Post bothered to report these details before the election, it's likely that Pelosi would never have remained as obstinate about Hastings as she did.
As for Harman, she won't get the chair under any circumstances. The whispers around the campfire paint her as a harpie who drove away good staffers from the Intelligence committee. That follows the aborted attempt to cast her as a target of a federal corruption investigation, an allegation proven false. However, it indicates that Harman probably doesn't have the support of enough Democrats to force Pelosi to retreat entirely.
Bush Can't Designate Terror Groups: Judge
A federal judge barred the Bush administration from specifying organizations that support terrorism for the purpose of freezing their assets and keeping funds from terrorists. US District Court Judge Audrey Collins blocked the administration from freezing the assets of the PKK and the Tamil Tigers, two rather obvious terrorist groups:
A federal judge struck down President Bush's authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-Sept. 11 executive order was unconstitutionally vague, according to a ruling released Tuesday.
The Humanitarian Law Project had challenged Bush's order, which blocked all the assets of groups or individuals he named as "specially designated global terrorists" after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"This law gave the president unfettered authority to create blacklists," said David Cole, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Constitutional Rights that represented the group. "It was reminiscent of the McCarthy era."
The case centered on two groups, the Liberation Tigers, which seeks a separate homeland for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan, a political organization representing the interests of Kurds in Turkey.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins enjoined the government from blocking the assets of the two groups. The same judge two years ago invalidated portions of the Patriot Act.
Collins, a Clinton appointee, gained notoriety two years ago when she became the first federal judge to strike down provisions of the Patriot Act. Interestingly, she found that act, passed by Congress, also to be too vague to be constitutional. In that case, one of the plaintiffs was -- the PKK again, which got its terrorist designation not from the Bush administration under the Patriot Act or this executive order, but by Madeline Albright's State Department in 1997.
Nor was that the first time Collins has had a problem with anti-terrorist legislation. During the Clinton administration, she struck down the 1996 anti-terrorism law passed by Congress in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. Collins seems to have trouble reading the law, finding all counterterrorism legislation too vague to be understood. Perhaps the problem lies with Collins more than the laws themselves.
John Stephenson wrote about this ruling at Collins' cheerleaders earlier today:
I should really just stop right there. The ruling is praised by a lawyer for terrorist sympathizing, Center For Constitutional Rights! The Center for Constitutional Rights is openly anti-American and pro-terrorist. Groups suspected of ties to terrorism give money to CCR. The granddaughter of the executed Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg works there! At its 2004 annual convention, the CCR honored attorney Lynne Stewart, an open supporter of terrorism, indicted by the Justice Department for abetting the terrorist activities of her client, the “blind sheik,” Omar Abdel Rahman.
A lawyer from this organization praising this decision says just about all we need to know about the ruling.
As the song says, you can tell the man who boozes by the company he chooses. This pig needs to get up and quickly run to the Court of Appeals, where we can hope for a few jurists who don't have terrorists' interests at heart.
Captain's Quarters features an authoritative blogroll, listing many websites that feature the top political thinking on the Internet. In order to make the list easier to navigate, it has been divided into a number of sections.
Click on the section title to expand the list.