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.
Slow Joe Crashes In Record Time
I've commented before that the 2008 Presidential primary campaign seems very accelerated, but even I couldn't have predicted the parabolic trajectory of the Joe Biden campaign on its first official day. Biden has now apologized for his description of primary opponent Barack Obama as the first mainstream clean African-American:
Sen. Joseph Biden has launched his bid for the White House on the issue of Iraq, but Wednesday his campaign was sidetracked over race.
Like everybody these days Biden declared online, but it was old media that got him in trouble: Personal comments he made about another White House hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, recorded by a reporter for the New York Observer.
"I mean, you've got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a story-book, man," Biden said. ...
Fearing the political damage of his comments Wednesday night, Biden released a statement saying, "I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent and I expressed that to Sen. Obama."
Biden got knocked out of his last Presidential run for plagiarizing British leftist Neil Kinnock in Biden's campaign speeches. Today, I bet he wishes that he was still lifting material from someone else.
In his apology, he claimed that Obama dismissed the controversy, but Obama didn't sound that way when he spoke with reporters later. He reminded journalists -- and Biden -- that America has been blessed with many clean and well-spoken African-American politicians, such as Shirley Chisolm, Jesse Jackson (who ran for President in 1988), Al Sharpton (who ran himself in 2004), and Carol Mosely Braun. Jackson gave Biden a pass of sorts, saying that Biden didn't mean to insult anyone, but that it certainly could have been understood as such.
Biden's problem is and has always been his big mouth and the love affair he has with the sound of his own voice. It's a bad combination, and for those who have watched him in action during committee hearings, today's events come as no surprise. Both Samuel Alito and John Roberts danced rings around him, with the highlight being Biden's statement of nonplussedness over Alito's refusal to prejudge issues that might come before the court. Biden only gets the silver medal for self-love, as John Kerry won the gold in 2004, but it was a close contest.
He comes in second to no one in political incompetence, though. I don't think I've seen anyone in my lifetime kneecap their presidential bid on the same day it launched.
Fighting Franken Running For Senate
Former Air America radio personality and comedy writer Al Franken has started telling Democratic Party activists and politicians that he will challenge Norm Coleman for his Senate seat in 2008. The widely predicted move comes earlier than most people would have guessed, and Franken apparently will begin fundraising immediately:
On Monday, Franken announced that he was quitting his radio show on Feb. 14, and he told his audience that they'd be the first to know of his decision. But Franken has been working the phones in recent days, telling his political friends he's ready to declare his candidacy.
The Star Tribune confirmed today that Franken made calls to at least two members of the Minnesota congressional delegation in Washington to break the news. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wanting to pre-empt Franken's announcement.
"From his voice to my ears, he's running," said one House member, who relayed the remark via his press secretary.
"I can tell you we got one of those calls," said a top-ranked aide for another House member.
Franken moved back to his native Minnesota last year in order to prepare the ground for this run. He threw himself into fundraising for Minnesota Democrats, a move that not only helped his party nearly sweep the contested races but also made a point about the primary for the Senate race. His largesse has precluded any of the currently serving Democrats in the state from making any noises about challenging for the endorsement of the DFL.
We can expect Franken to continue to bring in big dollars for his campaign. He has strong ties to the Hollywood elite, and people like Barbra Streisand, Phil Donahue, and Norman Lear will put forth the strongest efforts to ensure his election. He may find that at least partially a liability in this state. The Republicans ran a strong conservative in the last election, Mark Kennedy, and he lost by 20 points to Amy Klobuchar. Now the DFL will run a hard-left Franken against the centrist Coleman, and the sources of his contributions will reinforce his extremist tendencies in a state that dislikes lock-step thinkers.
His behavior and temper may be another obstacle. The picture above was taken of Franken at the 2004 Republican Convention, after he tried to pick a fight with Laura Ingraham's producer (seen in the foreground). He also lost his temper with the ever-mild Michael Medved at the same convention, although he managed not to take a swing at Medved. He also tackled a protestor at a Democratic Party event. If he gets into a tough campaign -- and it certainly will get tense -- he may blow a gasket again. We'll be there when it happens, trust me.
It seems that William Arkin has had enough of supporting the troops, now that a few of them told NBC that they believe that Americans should support the mission as well. In his Washington Post blog, Arkin suddenly feels that the troops should just shut up and retreat:
So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?
I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don't get it, that they don't understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoover's and Nixon's will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If I weren't the United States, I'd say the story end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, save the nation from the people.
But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.
Mercenary? Wow. Just wow. I suppose they shouldn't paid at all, Mr. Arkin?
Of course, the worst part of this -- besides the incoherent writing style -- is the characterization of the NBC report. Not one of the soldiers in the clip remotely suggested that Americans "give up their rights and responsibilities". They didn't say that George Bush should make everyone who opposes the war shut up, or else. They were asked about their take on people who say they support the troops but oppose the war, and they expressed their views.
Unfortunately, Mr. Arkin can't handle free speech. He incomprehensibly calls them mercenaries because they volunteered for the military, and apparently because they have the audacity to offer their opinions when asked.. (By definition, a mercenary is someone who hires himself out as a soldier for a nation not his own.)
Arkin finishes by suggesting that America rethink what it owes the troops, so I'll oblige. We owe them our support because they risk their lives to ensure that we retain our freedoms. They don't get paid all that well to do it, either, but they do it because they love our country. I'm fine with them expressing their opinions when reporters stick cameras in their faces and ask for them, even if they don't agree with me. I still respect them for what they do, which apparently is the difference between Arkin and myself. (via QandO)
Addendum: I have to add that Arkin also appears to need writing and grammar lessons. Do the Post's editors ever review these entries?
Cult Group Ready For Major Battle
The cult group destroyed by the Iraqi-run offensive on the eve of Ashura may have been obscure, but they had one point in common with the other insurgencies in Iraq -- they were armed to the teeth. Close air support from the US forces backing up the IA units made the difference, as more that 260 cultists died with bags of ammunition surrounding them:
The dead wore the same footwear, imitation leather dress shoes with Velcro flaps. Their mangled bodies filled the trenches. Bags of ammunition, with the names of fighters written on them, sat by their sides.
A pulpit made of bamboo stood next to a grassy field, a newspaper filled with rambling and enigmatic religious writing strewn nearby.
An unauthorized hourlong walk Tuesday through the bombed compound of a religious cult called Heaven's Army revealed provocative clues about the group, which was decimated Sunday in a 24-hour U.S. and Iraqi offensive that authorities say left 263 alleged members dead and 210 injured. Nearly 400 members were arrested, an Iraqi defense official said.
Iraqi officials said the obscure messianic group was poised to launch an attack on Shiite clergy and holy sites in Najaf in the belief that it would hasten the dawn of a new age. Iraqi officials said they got wind of the plan and attempted to investigate but were attacked by the group's gunmen in a battle that also killed five Iraqi troops and two U.S. soldiers, who died when their helicopter crashed.
The bulk of the damage to the group's base was inflicted by U.S. airstrikes, which turned the tide of a fierce ground battle that pitted the fighters against Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces.
The obscurity of the group hid its impressive organization. The Los Angeles Times reports that none of them wore formak uniforms, but they all had identification badges. Their base consisted of 30 concrete buildings and apparently included a press for a newspaper and books. Their intent was to create the chaos necessary to bring the Twelfth Imam out of the wilderness, a millenial obsession shared by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The group filled its newspaper with "sightings" of the Mahdi, to the extent it could be read at all. Sources who reviewed the material described it as "religiously-inflected gibberish", perhaps a way to keep its observations from outside scrutiny. The cult formed around Dhyaa Abdul-Zahra, an imam that rejected both Sunni and mainstream Shi'ite teachings, claiming as so many cult leaders do that he had a unique insight into hidden messages that only he could discover.
In other words, this appears to be the Iraqi equivalent to the Branch Davidians and the Jonestown nutcases, only better armed and more aptly led in battle. They presented a serious danger, and their Ashura attack would have brought tremendous death and destruction in Karbala had the Iraqis not fought them first. There certainly would have been no negotiating with a group of this type.
Another Pandora's Box On Political Speech
Charles Schumer and Barack Obama plan to introduce a bill today in the Senate that will impose more regulation on political speech during campaigns in order to end "deceptive" practices. The New York Times editorial board enthusiastically supports this new bill, even though it admits that the one abuse most often associated with this effort can be prosecuted under existing law:
Dirty tricks like these turn up every election season, in large part because they are so rarely punished. But two Democratic senators, Barack Obama of Illinois and Charles Schumer of New York, are introducing a bill today that would make deceiving or intimidating voters a federal crime with substantial penalties.
The bill aims at some of the most commonly used deceptive political tactics. It makes it a crime to knowingly tell voters the wrong day for an election. There have been numerous reports of organized efforts to use telephones, leaflets or posters to tell voters, especially in minority areas, not to vote on Election Day because voting has been postponed.
The bill would also criminalize making false claims to voters about who has endorsed a candidate, or wrongly telling people — like immigrants who are registered voters in Orange County — that they cannot vote. ...
The bill is careful to avoid infringing on First Amendment rights, and that is the right course. But in steering clear of regulating speech, it is not clear how effective the measure would be in addressing one of the worst dirty tricks of last fall’s election: a particular kind of deceptive “robocall” that was used against Democratic Congressional candidates. These calls, paid for by the Republicans, sounded as if they had come from the Democrat; when a recipient hung up, the call was repeated over and over. The intent was clearly to annoy the recipients so they would not vote for the Democrat.
While there are already laws that can be used against this sort of deceptive telephone harassment, a more specific bill aimed directly at these calls is needed.
Why? If the law already covers this abuse, then passing another law is not only superfluous, it creates a danger of government regulation of political speech that should be avoided, not embraced. The impulse to pass laws to punish the worst of the deceivers is understandable, but it will open a Pandora's Box of litigation that will get used to initimidate smaller grass-roots organizations into silence.
The bill allows "individuals", according to the NYT, to file lawsuits against anyone promoting what the plaintiff sees as "deceptive" public argument. While Schumer and Obama may have a high-minded opinion of the average American and his/her eschewing of courts for nefarious uses, the rest of us who live in the real world understands exactly what this will mean. Any campaign advertising or position paper will become fair game for all sorts of lawsuits, and more than likely multiple suits in courts all over the country.
And what will be considered "deceptive"? I'm certain that this law would have resulted in an avalanche of lawsuits against the Swift Boat veterans in 2004. They would have had to sink their funds into courtrooms and lawyers across the nation, defending their right to speak out by offering the considerable testimony and documentation they collected -- but that effort would have stopped them from participating in the election. The same can be said for groups like United for Peace and Justice and MoveOn on the Left. The latter briefly featured an ad equating George Bush to Adolf Hitler, which would have prompted an avalanche of lawsuits from the Right.
All of these suits probably would have resulted in dismissals, but that's not the point. A law like this eliminates all but the deepest-pocketed organizations from participating due to the sudden liabilities involved in political speech. It also sets up the government as the arbiter of acceptable and "truthful" political speech, rather than the American electorate -- a dangerous position for everyone.
Like so many reformists, Schumer and Obama want to have federal intervention to protect people from their own naiveté. That's not the proper role of the government, and especially when it comes to political speech. The best defense against deception is education and research, and the responsibility for that lies with the voters themselves.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds says that this is about protecting incumbents, as all such legislation is. He's right, but I think this is also about squelching the kind of grassroots organizations like the Swift Vets that can spring up to address one particular issue for a short period of time. Broad, multi-issue organizations can afford to answer mulitiple lawsuits across several jurisdictions, but smaller groups would be forced to fold the tent.
Everybody Must Not Get Stoned
It seems multiculturalism may be on the wane even in a former bastion of the practice. A town in Quebec issued a declaration of "rules" for immigrants that instructed them to hit the road if they didn't want to assimilate into the mainstream culture of the province:
Don't stone women to death, burn them or circumcise them, immigrants wishing to live in the town of Herouxville in Quebec, Canada, have been told.
The rules come in a new town council declaration on culture that Muslims have branded shocking and insulting.
Quebec is in the midst of a huge debate on integrating immigrant cultures.
Herouxville has tired of accommodation, as the declaration makes clear. Of late, the nation has had to bend over backwards to keep people from feeling offended, and the natives have obviously gotten restless. A Toronto judge recently removed a Christmas tree from the courtroom to avoid offending non-Christians, and a Montreal gym had to frost its windows after Hasidic Jews complained about the sight of adults exercising from the street.
It's not the only sign of pushback against multiculturalism in Quebec, either. A Montreal police officer finds himself in hot water after writing a popular ditty called "That's Enough Already". The song tells immigrants to either adopt the culture of their new home or take the next flight to anywhere else. The police force will now question the officer about his "motives" for the lyrics.
The Herouxville declaration isn't as irrational as it looks. I haven't heard of any public stonings or immolations by Muslims in Canada, but they have pressed for government recognition of shari'a courts as an option for Muslim communities. Herouxville sees the end result of multiculturalism as a replacement for assimilation and is reacting to a Balkanization that hasn't yet begun by highlighting the worst-case scenarios. That's not irrational, but it is quite a bit hyperbolic.
I wonder if the sudden impulse for assimilation into the mainstream culture will be enough for Quebec to drop its own multicultural demands on the rest of the Canadian Union, regarding language and cultural accommodation for itself. I'm certainly sympathetic to the argument against the multicultural impulse as opposed to assimilation for immigrants, but in this case it comes from an odd source.
Deterrence Works On Europe, At Least
I'm not sure if our military buildup in the Persian Gulf has Iranian mullahs looking over their shoulders, but it certainly seems to have spooked the Europeans. The Guardian reports that European political leaders have become more convinced that the Bush administration will resort to air strikes to stop the Iranian nuclear program:
Senior European policy-makers are increasingly worried that the US administration will resort to air strikes against Iran to try to destroy its suspect nuclear programme.
As transatlantic friction over how to deal with the Iranian impasse intensifies, there are fears in European capitals that the nuclear crisis could come to a head this year because of US frustration with Russian stalling tactics at the UN security council. "The clock is ticking," said one European official. "Military action has come back on to the table more seriously than before. The language in the US has changed."
The Americans and Europeans have sought to maintain a common front on the nuclear issue for the past 30 months, with the European troika of Britain, France and Germany running failed negotiations with the Iranians and the Americans tacitly supporting them.
But diplomats in Brussels and those dealing with the dispute in Vienna say a fissure has opened up between the US and western Europe on three crucial aspects - the military option; how and how quickly to hit Iran with economic sanctions already decreed by the UN security council; and how to deal with Russian opposition to action against Iran through the security council.
"There's anxiety everywhere you turn," said a diplomat familiar with the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "The Europeans are very concerned the shit could hit the fan."
The idea of air strikes is nothing new, but it won't be as easy as Osirak was for the Israelis. The Iranians have prepared for that eventuality and have buried their most sensitive operations. They have also hidden them, playing a shell game with their facilities in order to keep the US guessing about its assets. It will be difficult to take out their entire nuclear operations.
However, that probably wouldn't be necessary. All we need to do is to set it back a few years, and even if we only hit 25-30% of their nuclear-research support structure, we could easily have that effect. Even deeply buried facilities have to move material to the surface for transport, and the destruction of support systems around these laboratories would devastate Iranian nuclear development.
Another consideration will be the political reaction in Iran. Right now, the mullahcracy has generated plenty of unhappiness with the oppressive nature of the theocracy, and Ahmadinejad has done a great job of wrecking the economy on top of that. Put that with the international isolation his approach to nuclearization has caused, and the Iranian people might be ripe for a counter-revolution to throw off the Islamists. That will all dissipate if the US attacks Iran, even in "surgical" strikes designed to cause a minimal amount of collateral damage. It would probably steel public opinion against the US and strengthen the hand of the mullahs, at least in the short term.
Would it be worth it? It might, since popular Iranian dissatisfaction has hardly translated into any kind of massive pushback against the mullahs up to now. Waiting for the counter-revolution will probably ensure that the mullahs get the bomb. Certainly the Russians have made it clear that we cannot rely on the UN Security Council to stare down the Iranians, and Europe won't consider any other strategies. If it's a choice between playing nice while the radical Islamists make themselves some nukes and blowing up a few of their facilities, I'd reluctantly go for the latter.
Just don't tell the Europeans. It sounds like they're already looking to surrender, and our ships haven't even arrived yet.
African Union Fails The Somalia Test
The African Union had an opportunity to demonstrate that they can act independently to stabilize problem areas on the continent, and appear to have blown it. Instead of acting quickly to tamp down anarchy in Somalia by providing peacekeeping troops to replace the Ethiopians, the member nations of the AU could not even provide half of the forces necessary for the mission:
African Union leaders have failed to secure full numbers for a planned peacekeeping force in Somalia, following a two-day summit in Ethiopia.
Speaking at the closure, new AU chairman John Kufuor said several nations had pledged troops - but only 4,000 out of a required 8,000.
The force is due to replace withdrawing Ethiopian soldiers, whose intervention swept Islamists from power last month.
The conference even had a head start on troop commitments. Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and Malawi all agreed to send the 4,000 troops prior to the start of the meetings. Those nations intended on using those pledges to secure more support from other African nations. Instead, the AU missed an opportunity to end the chaos in which Somalia has existed for the past two decades.
Somalia's transitional government appeared to make better progress on their own. Somalia announced a reconciliation conference that would include various leaders of religious and clan organizations, a necessary step if Mogadishu will find its way to a stable, elected government and an end to vigilantism and retribution. The move will free up millions of aid dollars from Europe and the US, which has pressed Somalian president Abdullahi Yusuf to invite "moderate Islamists" to participate.
Hopefully, the conference will work if the AU cannot get its act together to provide for better security. If the Somalis can agree to put aside past wrongs and forego revenge, the transitional government will have a short window in which to build the infrastructure necessary for elections and credibility. Otherwise, the nation will fall back into warlord rule, allowing radical Islamists to creep back into power and terrorists to once again exploit the anarchy for their own purposes. Europe and the US have to remain engaged to prevent another catastrophic collapse.
Did Iran Attack American Troops In Iraq?
CNN reports that American military investigators believe the January 20th attack on a military compound that killed five US soldiers may have either been conducted by Iran or by Iranian-run insurgents. The level of sophistication in the attack, conducted by terrorists in American military uniforms, showed too much sophistication to have originated from one of the native insurgencies:
The Pentagon is investigating whether a recent attack on a military compound in Karbala was carried out by Iranians or Iranian-trained operatives, two officials from separate U.S. government agencies said.
"People are looking at it seriously," one of the officials said.
That official added the Iranian connection was a leading theory in the investigation into the January 20 attack that killed five soldiers.
The second official said: "We believe it's possible the executors of the attack were Iranian or Iranian-trained."
Five U.S. soldiers were killed in the sophisticated attack by men wearing U.S.-style uniforms, according to U.S. military reports.
The investigation just started, and the Pentagon will probably look at a number of possibilities for the attack. However, given the description of the attack and its effectiveness, it seems a little over the pay grade of even the Ba'athist remnants. Since this occurred in Karbala, a predominantly Shi'ite area, Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda also seem unlikely suspects.
Earlier on Tuesday, Time Magazine reported that Iran has a motive to attack Americans in Iraq. The Revolutionary Guard wants some measure of revenge for the capture of five Iranians in Irbil, at least some of whom belong to the IRGC. Time speculates that the IRGC wanted to send a message, and that the number of casualties were specifically selected to make sure that no one misunderstood it.
What happens if the US concludes that Iran did indeed conduct this mission against American servicemen? It would be an act of war, although the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers in support of insurgents also qualifies. The Bush administration might be tempted to retaliate with some air strikes, perhaps selected especially for the nuclear program Iran seems keen to pursue at all costs. However, one can imagine the outcry that would cause, not just among our European allies but also leading Democrats in Congress. It would not take long for at least a few of them -- Maurice Hinchey springs to mind -- to accuse the Bush administration of manufacturing the evidence pointing to Iran in order to justify an attack on that nation.
If the evidence points in that direction, there will be no big rush to respond. It might do some good to make the Iranians sweat for a short period. However, Bush will have to confer with the Democrats and make it clear what happened, and impress upon them the need for serious action to deter the Iranians from attacking Americans in the future. We've let too many of these incidents pass without consequence to the mullahs, and every unanswered insult begets more of the same.
UPDATE: Bill Roggio analyzed this last Friday and came up with the same answer.
Has Congress Amended An AUMF In The Past?
Earlier today, Russ Feingold began holding hearings on whether Congress had the authority to rescind or modify an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), once approved and implemented by the executive. This weekend, I argued that Congress could not simply rescind an AUMF without the executive declaring an end to hostilities, once given command of the war. Feingold plans to use the hearings to demonstrate that Congress can indeed overrule the executive, withdraw their AUMF, and force an end to a deployment.
Does Congress have any precedent for such an action? This was the subject of a friendly set of e-mails between myself and Glenn Greenwald after he posted examples of Republican Senators demanding an end to our deployment in Somalia after the debacle of Mogadishu. These include Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Phil Gramm, and John McCain, who made the case for Senatorial action:
Dates certain, Mr. President, are not the criteria here. What is the criteria and what should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal from Somalia. And if we do not do that and other Americans die, other Americans are wounded, other Americans are captured because we stay too long--longer than necessary--then I would say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution of the United States and mandate that they be brought home quickly and safely as possible.
I challenged Glenn about the use of Somalia as an example, as I did not believe that Congress had ever passed an AUMF for action against Somalian warlords -- which then created the opening for Congress to demand the withdrawal of the troops. In the case of Iraq, Congress granted the executive the AUMF to conduct the war and that made this a significantly different situation; the two were not analogous. I could not research the question myself at the time (I was reading Glenn's argument on a break from work), but Glenn offered to check it out and get back to me.
He e-mailed me later this afternoon, and provided this document as background on the question. It summarizes Congressional involvement in military action over the last twenty-five years, prepared by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. The section on Somalia seems to indicate that some sort of AUMF did indeed get issued -- and was amended several times to set a deadline for the removal of American troops from Somalia (page 10):
S.J.Res. 45 Joint resolution authorizing the use of United States Armed Forces in Somalia pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 794 providing for a secure environment to deliver relief supplies into Somalia. February 4, 1993: Measure passed Senate (voice vote). May 25, 1993: Measure passed House, 243-179 (roll call vote #183). The House reported version authorized U.S. troops under the War Powers Resolution, but terminated such authorization at the earlier of (1) end of one year from date of enactment of the act unless extended by Congress; or (2) expiration of the United Nations-led force in Somalia.
It's of interest to note that the outgoing Bush administration did not go to Congress to authorize the initial deployment, instead choosing to use the UNSC resolution to initiate the mission. Starting in October 1993, though, the mood of Congress changed. Both Democrats and Republicans submitted amendments to the original AUMF to end the authorization on specific dates. The dates ranged from January 31, 1994 to their eventual full withdrawal in March 1995. Strom Thurmond had to beat back a McCain amendment at that time to prohibit all expenditures on the military mission in Somalia except that necessary to bring the troops home. The Byrd amendment passed, which essentially did the same thing but extended the deadline to March 31, 2004, unless the mission was reauthorized by Congress.
This demonstrates more that Congress can use the power of the purse to end a military deployment rather than to withdraw an AUMF, once given. Also, it is unclear whether the AUMF for Somalia actually authorized offensive military action; that mission expansion certainly inspired some of the anger seen in Glenn's post from Senate Republicans at that time. The precedent does exist for Congress to set limits on deployments, though -- that much is clear from the Congressional history of our Somalian mission.
If Congress has the legal authority to make such a move, it still remains an open question whether such action would be wise politically. It puts responsibility on Congress, mostly the Democrats, if a precipitate withdrawal leads to a collapse in Iraq, systematic genocides, and the rise of a terrorist state that would require another American invasion to destroy.
Addendum: The troops don't appear to favorite it much, as this YouTube demonstrates (via McQ at QandO):
They're obviously not buying the "support the troops, oppose the mission" meme.
UPDATE: Deleted the YouTube video, due to some technical glitch; it apparently prevented the entire page from loading. Hat tip to Tom Holsinger in the comments.
(Not) Plugging The Holes In Our Border
In a war on terrorism in which we have already suffered thousands of deaths from infiltrators into the US, one might think that border security might take a leading position among issues faced the federal government. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that sophisticated tunnels literally undermining our southern border still remain in use even after their discovery, thanks to half-hearted efforts to plug the holes created by smugglers:
Seven of the largest tunnels discovered under the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years have yet to be filled in, authorities said, raising concerns because smugglers have tried to reuse such passages before.
Among the unfilled tunnels, created to ferry people and drugs, is the longest one yet found — extending nearly half a mile from San Diego to Tijuana. Nearby, another sophisticated passageway once known as the Taj Mahal of tunnels has been sitting unfilled for 13 years, authorities say.
Though concrete plugs usually close off the tunnels where they cross under the border and at main entrance and exit points, the areas in between remain largely intact. Filling the seven tunnels would cost about $2.7 million, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. Accessing tunnels that run under private property is also a problem, as is a lack of coordination with Mexican authorities.
Mexican authorities have told their U.S. counterparts that they've filled their end of the tunnels. But U.S. officials express doubt, citing the high costs and examples of tunnels being compromised. The Mexican attorney general's office, which handles organized crime, did not respond to numerous requests for interviews.
It's difficult to blame the Mexican government for its lack of action on the tunnels when we haven't done much with them, either. Congress shifted responsibility for the tunnels to Customs and Border Protection when it reorganized the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, but almost four years later, no one appears willing to address the problem effectively. As a result, smugglers -- and others -- simply work around the obstacles placed in the tunnels on the cheap.
Most tunnels require little effort to destroy. They consist of cheap, and probably dangerous, wormholes that can easily be shut down. However, the money flowing into the drug- and alien-smuggling operations have allowed miners with real expertise to create elaborate tunnels, some with telephone service, rails, and video surveillance. CBP and its predecessors have used concrete plugs to block these tunnels, rather than properly fill them with dirt in order to ensure that smugglers simply don't tunnel around the obstructions. And that's exactly what they do, which requires even more enforcement activity to stop the new brances off the same tunnels.
CPB points to issues of private-property ownership and cost when explaining the lack of progress on the tunnels. Some may take as much as $2 million in work to completely fill, and some private-property owners object to the methods used to fill them in any case. However, this isn't a case of water rights-of-way or filling potholes on city streets. These tunnels could be used to transport anything around our border protection, and illegal workers are the least problematic of the potential contraband. While we have Congress demanding 100% inspection of cargo at port facilities, we have allowed these unchecked entry points to continue their usefulness to people who might use them to smuggle any kind of weapons to use against us.
These tunnels need to get shut down immediately. CPB, the White House, and Congress needs to make arrangements to resolve whatever procedural and cost difficulties exist quickly and end the potential for the kinds of mischief we wish to avoid. After we get serious about these tunnels, we can demand that the Mexicans meet their responsibilities.
The COLA-Free Congress, Courtesy Of The GOP
Republicans blocked the normally smooth process towards Congress granting itself its annual cost-of-living increase yesterday, a move that will certainly not sadden taxpayers but will leave Representatives around $2800 lighter. The GOP ended the amicable understanding between the two parties that discouraged any challenges to COLA increases after the Democrats violated an agreement between them not to use the COLAs for the basis of political attacks:
House Democratic leaders Monday abandoned attempts to revive an annual pay raise cherished by rank and file lawmakers, a decision prompted by lingering GOP anger over last year's campaign.
Lawmakers' pay will be frozen at $165,200 for this year in a dispute fueled by the Democrats' use of the issue in last year's campaign, violating a yearslong understanding that the competing parties would not attack each other over pay raises.
At issue is the annual congressional cost of living adjustment, or COLA, under which lawmakers automatically get a pay hike unless Congress votes to block it. Democratic and Republican leaders had worked cozily for years to make sure an annual pay-related vote went smoothly.
After the last increase got approved in June for this session of Congress -- a session cannot increase its current wages -- the Democrats used the COLAs in attack ads for the midterms, scolding the Republicans for making adjustments to the cost of living while leaving the federal minimum wage alone. The argument failed to note the participation of Democratic leadership in those agreements, leaving the Republicans holding the bag for the COLAs.
In December, while still in the majority, they pushed back the new COLA, making it impossible for the Democrats to avoid responsibility for the increase. The Democrats wanted to push the COLA back a few more weeks out, in order to get the minimum-wage hike approved before Congress got its raise, but the GOP blocked that effort -- and have announced that they will not support any more increases in the Congressional wage. Without bipartisan support, the Democrats will have to drop the COLA.
None of this makes me unhappy, and I suspect many CQ readers will feel the same way. Our Representatives already make $165,000 a year, and Congressional officers make a little more than that. That's more than double the average wage of the American family, and it doesn't require adjustment to attract plenty of candidates for the jobs. Congress can stand to live within fixed means for a while, and perhaps it will inspire them to impose the same experience on the rest of the federal government.
Bush Orders Political Oversight Of Agency Rulemaking
The Gray Lady gets hysterical this morning over the executive order signed by President Bush requiring oversight of agency rulemaking. Bush's order requires federal agencies to submit impact reports that justifies additional regulation not authorized by Congress as well as an annual report of the cumulative effect of their entire regulatory position, and it creates a White House appointee to conduct the oversight. One might consider this common sense, unless one has a bad case of Bush Derangement Syndrome:
President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.
In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.
This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats. ...
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: “The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government’s own impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests.”
Hogwash. The order ends the tradition of unchecked authority by federal agencies to set up their own rules and apply them capriciously, outside of the control of either Congress or the executive branch. It makes agencies justify any new rules and brings that process into a little more sunlight and holds the bureaucracy accountable. And the only reason that Bush had to sign this order is that Congresses over the past several decades, Republican and Democratic, have done nothing to rein in the imperial bureaucrats who conduct empire-building.
When an agency wants to add more regulation without any Congressional authorization, they have the requirement to submit the proposals to the Office of Management and Budget for review. Most of them have used a workaround called "guidance documents", which get issued within the bureaucracies and have the force of policy. These documents never get public scrutiny, nor does OMB get a chance to review them before they go into effect. The regulated agencies usually see them, but no appeals process exists to stop them, since they exist outside any mechanisms for oversight.
That is a recipe for the mindless tyranny of petty bureaucrats and explains why regulation has gotten out of hand over the past few years. Even the Democrats used to acknowledge this; Al Gore led a task force for the purpose of undoing the overwhelming and mostly useless red tape within the federal bureaucracy. It went nowhere, and no systemic reforms were even contemplated. The Bush administration has obviously decided to pick up where the Clinton administration left off and actually do something to slow the tide of new regulation.
If Henry Waxman and the rest of Congress don't like this idea, then let them come up with some other way to end the unchecked power of "guidance documents" and the self-perpetuating empire building in the federal bureaucracy. Waxman served in the majority before 1994, and he's back there again. Until the Democrats and their constituent special interests either offer an alternative for controlling the expansion of power by federal agencies or justify the lack of oversight that allows it, then they have nothing at all to offer -- which is the reason why critics like the New York Times have settled for good, old-fashioned paranoia and scare tactics.
With Just A Year To Go ...
Is it too early for polling in the Presidential race? You bet it is. Does that stop anyone from quoting the polls? Absolutely not. So, just for fun and not for serious consideration, take a look at this New Hampshire poll from Boston's CBS television affiliate, via Rich Lowry at The Corner:
Sen. Clinton is the choice of 40 percent, followed by Sen. Barack Obama with 25 percent, and 2004 vice-presidential nominee John Edwards at 23 percent. Only nine percent preferred someone else.
That's a strong showing for Obama, a newcomer to a state where Clinton and Edwards have campaigned for years. But the numbers could be a nightmare for him too. ...
Our survey of Republicans shows former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in a virtual tie with Sen. John McCain, 33 to 32 percent, with former governor Mitt Romney up sharply over recent polling at 21 percent.
For Romney, it's an early sign that his strategy of courting the right on social issues is paying off among GOP conservatives. And it leaves Giuliani and McCain facing the same fate as Edwards and Obama - they split the moderates, and Romney runs right through the hole they create.
In the Granite State, at least, it seems that the Democratic field has narrowed considerably. If Al Gore had been thinking about a return to Presidential politics, he might have missed his chance. Earlier this month, Rasmussen had him beating Mitt Romney in a general election. Good thing we're not having it this month, then.
The Republican race appears more fluid. The top three eat up 86% of respondents, but that won't hold if a big name drops into the race, such as Newt Gingrich. He may not immediately pull 30 points, but he would more than likely pull everyone else into the 20s or lower.
Rasmussen's matchups show some interesting figures. They polled all of the major and minor presumed candidates against each other, and the one Republican who wins against them all is Rudy Giuliani. Romney loses to Obama by 13 points and Hillary by eight; he even loses to Tom Vilsack, although neither of them garner 40% in the poll. Romney still has a lot of time to define himself, of course, but that can't be said of John McCain. He has been in front of a few cameras over the last few years as the leading GOP maverick, at least until Chuck Hagel started speaking up about Iraq. McCain edges Hillary within the margin of error, but loses to John Edwards and Barack Obama by the same margin. Giuliani, on the other hand, beats everyone -- Hillary, Gore, Edwards, and especially Obama, whom he surpasses by eleven points.
It's still way too early to take this seriously, but it's not completely worthless, either.
We'll Just Settle For A Little Extortion
The Libyan government indicated for the first time that the six medical workers sentenced to death for purportedly exposing a family to AIDS and touching off an epidemic would not get executed. Western governments have continuously lobbied Tripoli to stop the execution and release the workers, calling the accusations ludicrous, but until yesterday it appeared that those efforts would fail. Moammar Gaddafi's son told a Bulgarian newspaper that his father opposes the execution -- but that compensation has to be offered:
LIBYA will not execute five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death last month, the son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi said in a newspaper interview, calling the verdicts unfair.
A Libyan court sentenced the six for intentionally infecting hundreds of children with the HIV virus in a case which started eight years ago and that has triggered widespread international concern about its fairness.
Speaking to a Bulgarian daily newspaper 24 Chasa, Col Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, said a solution would be found soon to save the six and satisfy families of the infected children. "There will be no executions. I hope there will be a happy end soon ... My father is also against the executions," said Mr Islam, who is Col Gaddafi's leading envoy.
"The case went in the wrong direction from the very beginning. There were many manipulations in the original files, many errors ... This is why we should seek a compromise," Mr Islam said, adding that Tripoli had already discussed a plan with Germany and France.
Libya accused the Palestinian doctor and the five Bulgarian nurses of negligently infecting a family with AIDS and allowing it to spread throughout the nation. AIDS researchers have repeatedly shown this to be false, and challenged the Libyan government's assertion that AIDS did not exist in the country before their arrival. Despite numerous entreaties, Gaddafi allowed the trial to continue and sentence the six to death. Now Gaddafi has apparently changed his mind, a happy turn of events.
However, Gaddafi wants a little something for his trouble. Claiming that the family still has case, Gaddafi wants the Western nations to pay blood money for the workers' release. Blood money has a long tradition in Islamic culture and is called bloodwit, and is described in Al-Baqarah (The Cow), Section 22, verse 178 as "ransom for manslaughter". It also gets described in An Nisa' (Women), Section 13, verse 92:
It is not befitting for a believer to kill a believer except by accident, and whoever accidently kills a believer, he is commanded to free a believing slave and pay bloodwit to the family of the victim, unless they forgo it as a charity. If the victim is from a hostile nation, then the freeing of a believing slave is enough, but if he belonged to a nation with whom you have a treaty, then bloodwit must be paid to his family along with the freeing of a believing slave. Those who do not have the means (bloodwit and / or a slave) must fast two consecutive months: a method of repentance provided by Allah. Allah is the Knowledgeable, Wise.
The expectation exists with wronged Muslims that any mercy must be purchased from the victims or their kin. However, in this case, it seems less religious and more mercenary on the part of Gaddafi and his government. The Scotsman reports that Gaddafi wants $10 million from Bulgaria to release the women, a rather steep price for bloodwit, which usually amounts to a few thousand dollars, if that. Bulgaria has already set up a foundation to pay for the continuing care of the afflicted, but they have already said that their settlement will not be in the millions.
We shall see whether Gaddafi and his son are in a bargaining mood. At the moment, though, we can hope that the six medical workers will not have to worry about a date with the hangman.
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