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.
Over the years, I have gradually lost interest in episodic television. Most of them recycle the same old plot lines; the good ones find new twists and different personalities to showcase, but the stories themselves don't vary much from one to another. The exceptions to that rule have gradually disappeared, or more often get cancelled before anyone knows they exist.
Fortunately, we live in the era of the DVD -- and that has allowed us to revisit shows that fall into that latter category. In 1993, Fox aired a show that blended science fiction, Western, action, and comedy called The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr -- and promptly cancelled it after 27 episodes, including a two-hour pilot. Given that it was Fox and that they hardly had anything else to air, many wondered why they didn't give the series a chance to find an audience. The DVD collection with all 27 shows may prove that Fox made a big mistake, not unlike the one they made in canceling Firefly.
In fact, the two shows have some similarity. Both have the same elements, and both challenge traditional notions of storytelling and of the nature of heroes. Brisco County was more comedic than Firefly, but both used sardonic comments for stylish humor. Both used recurring villains and secondary characters to an unusual extent to flesh out the strange universe created in both shows, and to entrance the audience.
Brisco County had more of a serial nature to its episodes. Brisco's father gets killed in the pilot (played by R. Lee Ermey), and his son gets hired to track down the gang that killed him. Each of the episodes brings him closer to that goal, and by the end of the season, he actually accomplishes the task. However, a golden orb with supernatural powers complicates matters, and Brisco and others want to find out the nature and the origin of the orb, and how to control its seemingly limitless power.
The cast is top-flight. Bruce Campbell played Brisco, with the same comedic sense that he displayed in Army of Darkness and other Sam Raimi features. John Astin played the absent-minded Professor Albert Wickwire. Billy Drago played Brisco's archnemesis, John Bly, whose gang Brisco seeks. Lesser-known actors fill out the rest of the important roles, such as Julias Carry playing fellow bounty-hunter Lord Bowler, Kelly Rutherford as temptress Dixie Cousins, and Christian Clemenson as Socrates Poole. John Pyper-Ferguson plays the often-killed Pete Hutter, a nutter with a wide vocabulary (and apparently a lot of luck).
Tonight we watched the pilot episode, and I wasn't sure what to expect. After all, 14 years have gone by since it aired, and memories can play tricks on you. Fortunately, it was exactly as I remembered it: funny, inventive, wise-cracking, and full of surprises. Each commercial break featured a cliff-hanger, and every resolution had a laugh. Even the First Mate liked it -- and she doesn't even remember the show at all.
I still think Fox blew an opportunity to carve out an audience with Brisco County. Lucky for us, we can revisit it and see that for ourselves all over again.
NPR Continues Kyoto Dishonesty
Two days ago, I pointed out that the layers of editors and fact-checkers at the AP managed to miss the fact that the Kyoto treaty got rejected almost four years before Bush took office. Apparently, the fact-checkers and editors at NPR are no better than those at the AP. In a report on developments on the climate-change issue today, NPR again falsely accuses the Bush administration of killing Kyoto (h/t: CQ reader Jeff K):
The issue will get plenty of attention in another meeting this year: The signatories of the Kyoto Protocol are due to meet in Bali to discuss a follow-up agreement. But critics say the protocol is meaningless without the cooperation of the U.S., the world's largest contributor of greenhouse emissions.
The protocol, which expires in 2012, was never submitted to Congress for ratification. President Bush objected to it because it exempts China and India, two of the world's fastest-growing economies, from the tough standards. In his speech Thursday, Bush included China and India in his list of countries he hopes will engage in goal-setting.
The two sentences that begin the last paragraph, while technically accurate, leave out so much information that it clearly intends to communicate the false notion that George Bush killed Kyoto.
Once again, the Clinton administration signed Kyoto in 1997. Before Bill Clinton ever submitted it to the Senate for ratification, they voted 95-0 on a resolution informing Clinton that they would not ratify any treaty that didn't include limits for China and India. That included members of both parties, quite obviously, and such Democrats as Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Barbara Boxer. The resolution (which I included at the link above) specifically includes the language objecting to the exclusion of developing nations:
Whereas the Department of State has declared that it is critical for the Parties to the Convention to include Developing Country Parties in the next steps for global action and, therefore, has proposed that consideration of additional steps to include limitations on Developing Country Parties' greenhouse gas emissions would not begin until after a protocol or other legal instrument is adopted in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997;
Whereas the exemption for Developing Country Parties is inconsistent with the need for global action on climate change and is environmentally flawed; ...
Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that--
(1) the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement regarding, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992, at negotiations in Kyoto in December 1997, or thereafter, which would--
(A) mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period ...
Bush obviously agrees with this position. While Clinton never formally withdrew from Kyoto, he never attempted to get it ratified, either. Bush formally withdrew from Kyoto so that he could pursue the direction the Senate unanimously demanded. He wants to make sure that the US does not impose limitations on our ability to produce in a manner that gives unfair advantage to China, which already represents an economic threat to American business, especially manufacturing, which would be hardest hit by Kyoto.
That's the true history of Kyoto. That's the story that the AP and NPR keep obfuscating. Both parties made a clear -- and correct -- decision to tube Kyoto four years before Bush took office. Bush, in fact, took more initiative than the Clinton administration did in pursuing greenhouse-gas emissions reductions than the Clinton administration ever did after the Senate rejection, and is still trying to reach a truly global agreement.
The media must think that if they keep repeating the same misinformation long enough, it becomes accepted truth. That says volumes about the competence and the bias at these media operations, and it goes to the heart of their credibility.
The Fix: McCain Fights Back
Chris Cillizza at The Fix notes the tough time that John McCain has had in his presidential campaign after the introduction of the comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate. McCain has begun to fight the characterization of the bill as an "amnesty", but as Cillizza notes, that's an uphill battle:
Over the last week, McCain has made a flurry of apperances on conservative talk radio television to sell the plan. He's been on "The Mike Gallagher Show". Sean Hannity's radio show, "The Michael Medved Show", "Captain's Quarters Blog Radio" as well as local radio programs in South Carolina, Iowa and Arizona. He also appears last night on "The O'Reilly Factor". ...
The argument? Doing nothing amounts to the very amnesty that conservatives are railing against. "Right now it's de facto amnesty because we have 12 million people here illegally," McCain said on "The O'Reilly Factor." He added that the bill backed by him and Bush does "everything short of deportation," pointing out that it includes fines, waiting periods and learning English in order to be a citizen. ...
The problem for McCain is that it is a far simpler case to oppose the legislation than support it. Decrying amnesty is an easy-to-understand political position that can be conveyed in a matter of seconds to a potential voter. Explaining why this bill is not amnesty takes far longer. Campaigns often hinge not on which candidate has the more nuanced position on a controversial issue but rather who has the more easily explained stance.
Actually, although Cillizza says that Romney has "most notably" attacked the plan as amnesty, Romney avoided that particular word in his appearances yesterday and in our interview. He noted that many people have different opinions of what constitutes amnesty, and he wanted to avoid a war over definitions. His objection stems from what he sees as a fundamental unfairness of allowing illegal entrants to remain permanently in the US.
That actually bolsters Cillizza's argument elsewhere, though. "Amnesty" is an easy hook for opposition, and it forces McCain and other backers of the bill to argue over a dictionary definition. That takes time and nuance, neither of which are terribly effective in emotional arguments.
What does this mean? It argues that McCain will have a tough time defending the bill and his involvement in it -- which could easily be gleaned in the comments on this blog and others in the conservative blogosphere (and I suspect on this very post). My skepticism doesn't come from amnesty, which this bill clearly is not; it comes from what appears to me to be a lack of substantive border security guarantees, including the fence, before the controversial normalization provisions even come into play. And with the President saying that the bill would eliminate the need for a fence, I'm even less enthusiastic about it now:
Addressing one of the most sensitive issues in the measure, Bush expressed hope that the changes would reduce the need for a fence along the border with Mexico. ...
"The fence sends a clear signal that we’re serious about enforcing the border," Bush said. "A lot of these ranchers down there are saying, `Wait a minute. Bad idea.’ I presume we’re not going to build a fence on places where people don’t want it."
So what keeps even more illegals from crossing the border in the future? Angry cattle?
CQ Radio: NZ Bear And The Mitt Romney Interview
Today on CQ Radio (2 pm CT), I'll talk with NZ Bear about developments on the immigration bill, Fred Thompson's toe-dipping, and the campaign tour in Iowa with Mitt Romney. We'll also get an update on the Victory Caucus, and take your calls.
In the second half, I'll air the exclusive interview I conducted yesterday with Mitt Romney, focusing first on immigration but the rest on foreign policy. This arena gets little attention from a national media seemingly more concerned about the Mormon philosophy on the nature of God than the Romney approach to the nature of global politics and security. Given today's global challenges, this lack of interest seems rather strange -- but CQ Radio listeners will get a jump on the rest of the country when it comes to vetting Romney's policy outlook on a broad range of foreign-policy issues.
The interview goes 15 minutes, and then we'll take your calls at 646-652-4889. Be sure to join the conversation!
Note: Today is a travel day, so responses to e-mail and other communications will be necessarily slow.
UPDATE: I've had two requests for transcripts. My transcriber is finishing the McCain interview and will work on the Romney interview immediately afterwards. I'll have both up hopefully by the weekend over at Heading Right.
People Power Vs Al-Qaeda
People power -- the rising of ordinary people of a nation or region in force against oppression -- has toppled more than one dictator in the last generation, or even in the last few years. The phenomenon started with Filipinos forcing an end to the Marcos regime two decades ago, and continued with Poles, Czechs, Georgians, the Lebanese, and others. The people of Palermo even rose up against almost a millenia of terror and crippled the Mafia.
A battle raged in west Baghdad on Thursday after residents rose up against al-Qaida and called for U.S. military help to end random gunfire that forced people to huddle indoors and threats that kept students from final exams, a member of the district council said. ...
U.S. forces backed by helicopter gunships clashed with suspected al- Qaida gunmen in western Baghdad's primarily Sunni Muslim Amariyah neighborhood in an engagement that lasted several hours, said the district councilman, who would not allow use of his name for fear of al-Qaida retribution.
Casualty figures were not immediately available and there was not immediate word from the U.S. military on the engagement.
But the councilman said the al-Qaida leader in the Amariyah district, known as Haji Hameed, was killed and 45 other fighters were detained.
Members of al-Qaida, who consider the district part of their so-called Islamic State of Iraq, were preventing students from attending final exams, shooting randomly and forcing residents to stay in their homes, the councilman said.
Of course, this is one incident in one area, and it would take a brushfire of discontent to drive AQ out of Iraq. Sometimes it only takes one spark to touch off that brushfire, though. In any case, the Sunnis of the region understand that their lives will never return to normal until the terrorists leave -- and they knew who to call to get help with their impromptu battle against AQ.
Word also has come that the other, native insurgencies may have had enough:
U.S. military commanders are talking with Iraqi militants about cease-fires and other arrangements to try to stop the violence, the No. 2 American commander said Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said he has authorized commanders at all levels to reach out to militants, tribes, religious leaders and others in the country that has been gripped by violence from a range of fronts including insurgents, sectarian rivals and common criminals.
"We are talking about cease-fires, and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces," Odierno told Pentagon reporters in a video conference from Baghdad.
This actually follows up on the offer made by Nouri al-Maliki a year ago, granting amnesty to former insurgents if they agree to surrender and return to normal lives. Some in the US found the amnesty provisions distasteful, but some sort of national reconciliation is necessary if the Iraqi government is to succeed in securing the streets of Baghdad, Anbar, and Diyala.
Small steps, of course, but steps in the right direction.
Thompson Gets Serious
Up to now, Fred Thompson has brilliantly remained coy about his presidential ambitions -- to the point of exasperation among some of his would-be fans. Now, however, Fred has made clear that he intends to run, and in a USA Today interview, how he plans to do it:
In an interview with USA TODAY, however, the former Tennessee senator not only makes it clear that he plans to run, he describes how he aims to do it. He's planning a campaign that will use blogs, video posts and other Internet innovations to reach voters repelled by politics-as-usual in both parties. ...
Thompson could reshape a GOP contest in which each of the three leaders has significant vulnerabilities and none of the seven second-tier contenders has broken through. Without formally joining the race — he's preparing to do that as early as the first week of July — Thompson already is placing third and better among Republican candidates in some national polls.
Dissatisfaction among one-third of Republicans with the 2008 field has opened the door for the candidate, whose folksy tone, actor's ease before an audience and conservative credentials drew comparisons to Ronald Reagan at the annual Connecticut GOP dinner here. Thompson addressed the dinner last week to a sold-out audience.
"People listen to him and see someone who's very comfortable with who he is and confident about what he believes in," state Republican chairman Chris Healy says. "That's a skill that, obviously, Ronald Reagan took to great heights."
That's the obvious attraction for Fred. He has the same kind of demeanor as Ronald Reagan, the same kind of presence, and it's probably not coincidence that both of them worked in Hollywood. However, where Reagan started in films, Thompson started in politics, and he has a long history as a reformer and an activist against corruption.
Earlier this week, I noted that Fred seemed to be staging a philosopher's campaign for the Presidency. Rather than declaring and then opining about issues on an individual basis, he has remained out of the fray, concentrating on issues to support the grander theme of federalism and smaller government. So far, that has worked, and he tells USA Today that his campaign themes will reflect that: "tighter borders, smaller government, lower taxes". While that's not exactly an unknown combination among present Republican presidential candidates, Fred bets that his consistency -- and his persona -- will lend greater credibility to his claim to those themes in the primary campaign.
He may be right, but he's going to have tough competition. Mitt Romney sounds those same themes, although the "smaller government" portion tends to get buried in discussions of health care, where Republicans tend to mistrust any mention of that issue as a stalking-horse for expansion of entitlements. Romney rejects that approach, but some Republican voters may remain wary. John McCain also hammers the same themes, but his record on the Bush tax cuts hurts. Rudy Giuliani also lays claim to those principles. So do Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, and Ron Paul takes them to the extreme.
It will take the next coming of Ronald Reagan to break out of the pack. Thompson will have to convince GOP voters that he gives the party the best opportunity to actually put those principles into action -- something that twelve years of GOP control over Congress and six over the White House didn't accomplish. Can he do that? Fred makes it clear that he will grasp the opportunity to convince us.
Guess Who's Forming The Frosh PAC?
The Democrats, as often observed, won a majority in Congress by demanding an end to the "culture of corruption" and undue lobbyist influence. The main beneficiaries of that campaign, the 41 freshman Democrats in the House, now want to form a political action committee to increase their clout on the Hill. So who did they choose to form and run it? Three guesses, and the first two don't count:
The class of 41 freshman House Democrats has selected a registered lobbyist to form its political action committee, in what ethics watchdogs and Republicans are calling a contradiction of their promise to end a "culture of corruption" in Washington.
The custodian of the Democratic Freshmen PAC is William C. Oldaker, 65, whose most-recent lobbying clients include the oil industry, the tobacco lobby, pharmaceutical industries and American Indian gambling interests. Mr. Oldaker also has been removed from several Democratic PACs over conflict-of-interest concerns.
According to a 2005 report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), "When lobbyist William Oldaker sits down to negotiate with a member of Congress, he brings years of experience working for the federal government to the table, as well as the legislative resources of his own firm. He also brings quite a bit of money."
CPI has publicly referred to Mr. Oldaker as a "rainmaker," for his ability to successfully represent his clients' interests before congressional lawmakers. Many prominent lawmakers, and especially those seeking higher office, form PACs to donate money to other candidates or causes.
Oh, I get it. It takes a thief to catch a thief, right? The Democrats want to use a full-employment model for "rainmaker" lobbyists so that they can catch them in the act of benefitting Democrats instead of Republicans -- the better to expose them. That must be the strategy!
Or, perhaps, the Democrats have decided to end even the pretense of fighting corruption and lobbyist influence. Given their rhetoric on and off the campaign trail, the selection of Oldaker specifically rejects their promises over the last two years. Oldaker has represented the betes noirs of the modern Democratic Party: Big Oil, Big Tobacco, and the pharmaceuticals. It's practically the Democratic version of Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Leatherface, someone that they would have hauled in front of a televised committee hearing to humiliate rather than hire to add the Democrats to that list of clients.
Congressman Mike Thompson insists that the Democratic Freshmen PAC has followed the law in forming its PAC and hiring Oldaker, but that's hardly the point. Most of the influence that lobbyists have in Washington comes within the law, too. That's what the Democrats -- and especially these freshmen -- promised to change. They certainly never indicated that they would hire registered lobbyists from Big Oil and Big Tobacco as their consultants.
Republicans set themselves up to lose last year by clinging to lobbyists and their money more and more tightly over their 12-year period of control of Congress. The Democrats are setting speed records in making the same mistakes over a 12-week period. It's a betrayal of the Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid rhetoric, one that even Oldaker could have predicted would backfire.
Of Market Forces And Organ Donors
Until now, I have not commented on the story regarding the Dutch game-show giveaway of two kidneys, which may surprise CQ readers, since the issue is one that hits very close to home for my family. Michael van der Galien's post about the television competition for a dying woman's organs expresses frustration about how the controversy reflects on The Netherlands, but the show is only the symptom of a global problem with organ donation -- and a demonstration that market forces will prevail in any situation where demand far exceeds supply:
In the Netherlands we have a new television show: De Grote Donor Show (The Big Donor Show). What’s the show about you ask? Well, quite simple: this Friday 37 year old Lisa will donate one of her kidneys… on television. Three people who need a new kidney will be there. They have to answer questions. After that, Lisa will decide who gets her kidney. The viewers have an active role as well: they can SMS (to advise Lisa probably).
There is a lot of debate going on about this show in the Netherlands. Some consider it a good thing: we do not have enough people who are willing to donate their organs (after they die). This ’stunt’ or show, might make it easier for people to make the decision to donate their organs. However, there are also people who object, who find it tasteless. Members of Parliament have asked questions about the show, some want the government to ban it (it’s being broadcasted on a government-owned channel). ...
Well, this certainly puts the Netherlands on the map once again. I am very pleased to see that whenever the world talks about us, it is usual about something ridiculous, like now. Wouldn’t want the world to take us seriously, now would we? No, lets happily enforce the idea that we are more liberal than liberal, more tolerant and open-minded than tolerant and open-minded: no rules. No moral values. No nothing! Hedonism rules!
Reuters also noted this controversy a couple of days ago. The Dutch government and the EU registered protests with the broadcaster, BNN, objecting to the network turning organ donation (and death) into entertainment. BNN still plans on airing the program tomorrow night.
This follows on the heels of a Washington Post column that caught my eye a month ago by Dr. Sally Satel, arguing for a market approach to organ donation in order to increase the supply:
It is a sad time for the 96,000 patients waiting for kidneys, livers, hearts and lungs: The chasm between supply and demand grows wider each year. By this time tomorrow, 18 people in need of an organ will be dead because they did not get one soon enough.
Kidneys are in highest demand; currently, 71,000 people need a renal transplant. They will spend, on average, five years on dialysis while waiting for an organ from a deceased donor. At least half will die or become too sick to undergo a transplant before their name is called. ...
Lamentably, too many transplant professionals are resigned to rationing. The alternative is to create a larger supply of organs -- and the most likely way to achieve it is through a safe, regulated system in which donors can receive compensation for their organs. The idea of rewarding living donors for a kidney, or their estates if they give an organ after death, has long been taboo. Yet as thousands die every year the idea is being taken more seriously -- and it should be.
If we had not found a donor for the First Mate, she would not have survived long enough to get a cadaver donor in the present system. She had been on dialysis for only a year, and she barely made it to the finish line with a live donor. Another couple of months on that plan, and it would have meant the end for her. When I tell you that her donor is a hero, I mean that very literally.
So what do we do to save the lives of everyone else on the list? The simple fact is that we have a rationing system that does not work, as Dr. Satel explains. We have a demand that far exceeds the supply, and we have put in place regulations that artificially keeps the supply low -- for noble reasons, but those noble reasons are costing thousands of lives every year.
The kidney transplants with the best track record for success are live transplants, even those where the donor is unrelated to the recipient, as was the case with the FM. Many brave people volunteer for these every year, even for people they don't know. However, these donors face significant financial disincentives. The recipient's insurance covers 100% of the medical costs, but the donor loses time at work, a significant period of recovery in some instances, and restrictions on activity. By law, they can receive no compensation. If they could, it's at least possible that more would donate.
And that's just the American system. In the single-payor systems, the supply problem is not organs as much as it is transplant surgeons. Three years ago, the London Telegraph reported that viable kidneys had to be discarded due to the lack of qualified transplant surgeons. The government rationing of compensation for doctors provided no incentive to spend the extra time and money to learn that specialty. It created a shortage on another part of the distribution chain that ended up with the same result: people who needed organ transplants didn't get them in time.
When we ration irrationally, we get irrational results. The BNN show tomorrow night is an example of this. Denied the ability to acquire a kidney through some rational method, these kidney-failure victims will abase themselves in public in order to save their lives. Denied a rational method of receiving compensation for her donation, the terminally ill woman will have to choose other, less objective means for rationing her kidneys. It sounds terrible, and it is, but you'd better believe that I would have jumped at the chance the first few months of this year to get one of those kidneys, had we not already found a donor.
I'm not suggesting a kidney bazaar, where the highest bidder gets the organs and only the rich can find transplants. However, we have to find a system that generates a much larger supply for organs than the one we have now, and we have to move away from the old methods of rationing if we want to save lives. Satel's proposals put us on the right track. It's certainly less disturbing than grinding up embryos to find elusive treatments for diseases, and much less ethically objectionable.
Deadlines In Ukraine
The situation in Ukraine continues to grow more strange and more potentially explosive. After the two major political antagonists reached an accord on new elections, the country's parliamentarians appear to have balked at endorsing it. Meanwhile, the man in charge of the nation's security forces has suddenly -- and suspiciously -- been stricken with a heart attack (via SCSU Scholars):
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Thursday extended by one day a deadline for parliament to approve a series of laws vital for holding a snap election intended to end a long-running political crisis.
The pro-Western president's web site said he had issued a decree giving the parliament another day, until the end of Thursday, to approve the measures -- hours after debate in the chamber bogged down after midnight in acrimonious exchanges. ...
Much of the evening debate focused on objections from Yanukovich's allies to the president's call to bar parliamentarians from switching parties once elected. Other rows centered on the voters' list and a proposal for a minimum poll turnout, rejected by the president's allies.
One might have expected the assembly to immediately adopt the compromise reached between Yushchenko and Yanukovych. The nation had reached the point of civil war, with security forces starting to take sides, until the two men reached the agreement on new elections. Stalling that agreement could bring the nation back to the brink once again.
Underscoring that point is the sudden bad health of the Internal Affair Minister, Vasyl Tsushko. He played a crucial role in the final days of the standoff between the two men, attempting to keep control of the security forces and blocking Yushchenko's bid to remove a prosecutor who didn't pursue political charges against members of the Constitutional court last month. Now the man caught in the middle of the power play finds himself in the hospital, barely surviving a heart attack that Tsushko thinks resulted from a poison attack:
Minister of Internal Affairs Vasyl Tsushko, who was at the eye of the political storm at the Prosecutor-General's office last week, has had a heart attack. Rumors immediately circulated that the minister was poisoned by a substance which triggered the attack. Tsushko has told his attorney, Tatiana Montyan, that he himself believes this.
Apparently, on 26th May the Party of Regions issued a press release which warned about a plan of 'physical destruction' of Vasyl Tsushko. On 27 th May the minister's health sharply deteriorated and he was placed into the MIA hospital where his life was saved by 'timely surgical intervention'. ...
Tatiana Montyan said,"I spoke with him on Saturday at midnight... Then Tsushko rang again on Monday evening and said, "Tan'ka, greetings, I'm in the MIA hospital". I arrived there, and found him half-dead state - he could hardly speak. There was uninvited visitor in the ward - in the opinion of minister, he came just to check how soon Tsushko would die. Tsushko said that he felt terrible - and added that he was absolutely confident as to who his poisoner was. He gave me surname of this person - and said that if he did not survive, I should reveal the information about who poisoned him, but if he survives, then he will do this himself...
No international news agencies have yet picked up on the Kiev report of Tsushko's sudden heart attack. That in itself seems odd, given his high position in the government and his involvement in the recent power play between Yushchenko and Yanukovych. It also seems odd given the recent poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko -- and the confirmed poisoning of Yushchenko three years ago.
Perhaps the heart attack came from the undue recent stress of the political situation, but just the fact that his attorney is talking publicly of poisoning makes it newsworthy. Why no coverage? And if it turns out that Tsushko was poisoned, who did it, and who would have benefitted from his death? Could it have been the same people who tried to kill Yushschenko, widely believed to have been Russians, or pro-Russian Ukranians tied to the previous Kuchma regime?
Ukraine has started to resemble The Sopranos, relocated to the edge of Eastern Europe. Democracy is stumbling, and gangsterism threatens to replace it.
CQ Radio Brings You Mitt Romney's Town Hall Live!
We're going live in just a few minutes, here in Iowa, at the Mitt Romney town-hall forum. I'll be broadcasting live via CQ Radio, so be sure to tune in! I may be able to take calls at points during the broadcast -- you can dial 646-652-4889 to join the fun ....
The Romney Interview
I just finished my one-on-one exclusive interview with Governor Mitt Romney as we traveled between campaign stops in West Des Moines. The weather turned poor and we battled road noise, but in 15 minutes, Romney gave an impressive performance as a man with a solid grasp on policy -- and of someone completely confident in his ability to master it.
This comes as no surprise, of course. Romney built a billion-dollar business, rescued the Salt Lake City Olympics, and won the governor's race in Massachussetts as a Republican. Someone with that kind of resumé could be forgiven a little cockiness, but Romney comes across as completely grounded and accessible, even in the tight confines of a minivan, talking with a citizen journalist.
I asked Governor Romney some tough questions regarding his immigration stance. Readers of Heading Right have already learned of Romney's specific issues with the current immigration proposal. When I asked him to reconcile his support of the 2006 McCain-Kennedy bill with his rejection of this year's proposal, he quickly corrected me and insisted he never endorsed last year's legislation. While he has been accurately quoted as calling its approach "reasonable", the same interview also has him refusing to endorse it. His staffers emphasized the point with me later.
I pressed him on his insistence on Z-visas being temporary, and he put me off by saying that he didn't want to write legislation as a candidate. He said that Congress should ensure that illegals do not get ahead of legal immigrant candidates, and that the proposed Z-visas do exactly that. It's fundamentally unfair, and it damages the prospects for legal immigration.
Mostly, though, I concentrated on foreign policy. This is an aspect of Romney's portfolio that hardly ever gets any serious attention, and I wanted to see how much depth Romney has in this area. I have to say, I'm impressed. Obviously the man knows global economics, but he actually placed that in a secondary position to security policy -- and he has a lot to say about that topic.
He has some fresh ideas about how to organize trade, security, and military organizations along vertical lines for each region. While a free-trader by nature, he also thinks that trade agreements should benefit all sides, and to the extent that agreements with China have damaged us, they need review and change. In this, he appears sympathetic to Duncan Hunter, whom I interviewed last month. He recognizes that we let Latin America slip away from us after the end of the Cold War, and he has some interesting ideas about how to win it back.
I will be airing the interview tomorrow on CQ Radio, which will be on the air at 2 pm CT. In the meantime, stick around for a special live broadcast of the town-hall forum here in West Des Moines, which starts at 6 pm CT. Don't miss this broadcast!
Working The Romney Beat
I'll be trailing the Mitt Romney campaign today, reporting from a number of events that the Governor has scheduled for today in Iowa. I'll be posting at Heading Right today on Romney events, so be sure to keep checking back. (I'll probably post links to those articles here as well.)
Later today, I'll get an exclusive interview with Governor Romney, where I'll probe for some of the underreported aspects of his platform, especially foreign policy, which I think has mostly been ignored. We'll have a later edition of CQ Radio with that taped interview at around 4 pm CT. At 6 pm, we'll have an additional, live CQ radio show at the Hy Vee Conference Center, where you can hear the Governor handle questions from the Iowa audience in a town-hall forum.
Keep checking back here and at Heading Right for more!
UPDATE: I'm starting the first live-blog at Heading Right at this link. There will be plenty of this today, although it does appear that I will have to find my own food -- they're not feeding the press, and I'll be too busy anyway.
UPDATE: My reporting on the press conference is here.
UPDATE III: The next event, an interview with Iowa public TV, is here. This will not air immediately, but instead will be broadcast on Friday and Sunday.
So far, I have to admit that the Romney campaign and Romney himself are impressive. He has the same ability to hold an audience as Rudy Giuliani, and also the same grasp of detail in his speaking. He's even better off the cuff than with prepared remarks.
Sadr's Militia Kidnapped Britons
Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army apparently masterminded the kidnapping of five Britons in Iraq. The abductions likely came as retribution for the death of Sadr's lieutenant in a gunfight earlier this month between the Mahdis and the British:
Iraq's most prominent Shia militia has emerged as the chief suspect in the kidnappings of five British nationals in Iraq.
Negotiations with the Mahdi Army are already under way after one of several spokesmen for the armed force under the command of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr claimed responsibility for the kidnappings at the finance ministry in Baghdad.
Hundreds of Iraqi and American troops raided Sadr City, Baghdad’s largest Shia neighbourhood, in an operation that ended early today. Residents said areas of Sadr City were sealed off and several arrests were made.
Iraqi forces have established a special battalion of soldiers and police officers to search for the kidnapped men. “We are conducting search operations near the site where the abduction took place,” said Brig Gen Qassim al Musawi, an Iraqi army spokesman.
If this is true, it challenges the status of Sadr as a politician to a degree not seen since his capitulation in Najaf in 2004. It also highlights the problem of Sadr's influence on the Interior Ministry, controlled by one of his allies and reportedly infiltrated to a high degree by Mahdis and other Shi'ite militias. The kidnapping took place at a government building, the first time Westerners have been abducted from such a facility.
The abduction itself was a complicated, well-planned event. The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, told the BBC that he suspected the Mahdis of the kidnapping. He said it took a number of people to seal off the building, get inside, and abduct four private security contractors and the computer expert they were protecting. Zebari said that local police almost certainly were involved in the "sophisticated" operation.
The big worry is that the Mahdis will sell the hostages to another group, perhaps even al-Qaeda. The commandos of the SAS have been put on alert in case they are needed for rescue and extraction. In the meantime, the UK and the US have to pressure the Maliki government to either take care of Sadr or to stand by while we do so. The raids on Sadr City this week sent a message, but as we have seen with Sadr in the past, that message needs to be personal -- and final, this time.
Fred Takes The First Step (Updated)
Fred Thompson will take the first step towards declaring himself a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, according to Ryan Sager at the New York Sun. After reportedly meeting with campaign-finance advisors, Thompson will launch a presidential pre-exploratory committee, in a move that will delight Republicans and satirists in equal measure:
Speculation over whether Fred Thompson is serious about running for president just went toes-up. Mr. Thompson's not-yet-a campaign has confirmed: He's dipping his toes in.
Specifically, a Thompson adviser told The New York Sun yesterday, he will announce the formation of a presidential "testing-the-waters" committee early next week — possibly as early as Sunday.
A "testing the waters" committee is a step before the more familiar presidential exploratory committee. It allows the former Tennessee senator to raise money and hire staff. But it also prevents him from doing a number of other things: advertising his candidacy, referring to himself as a real candidate (presumably just in public, he can say whatever he likes in front of the bathroom mirror), raising money that could be transferred to another candidate, or raising money to get on the ballot.
This reminds me of corporate processes for meeting preparation. At two companies for which I worked in management, efficiency training implemented a set of requirements for meetings which eventually forced "pre-meetings" in order to set the agenda for the real conferences. Eventually people tired of these requirements and went back to actually doing work. A "testing the waters" committee seems like an absurd extension of the same process, especially since an exploratory committee doesn't commit a potential candidate to much of anything, at least on paper.
I'm looking forward to a Thompson candidacy. As Sager notes, it will shake up the field and finally clarify the roster. Thompson began hinting that he would run in March, and the polling has clearly shown that he has a ready-made constituency, based primarily on those who feel that the current crop of candidates does not reflect the conservative nature of the party.
Unlike Sager, though, I believe that Thompson has made several serious moves towards his candidacy -- just nothing official. He has managed to make himself very relevant by delivering much-anticipated speeches to various Republican groups. Thompson has also written a series of essays, erudite and sensational, on various hot issues as well as explaining and expanding on his federalist beliefs. It's almost a philosopher's campaign for the White House, an approach that may not have a parallel since Woodrow Wilson.
Rumor has Fred entering the race officially over the Fourth of July holiday. Meanwhile, he's collecting a staff and making plans while still remaining able to use the media to his advantage. That's the real story behind the dipped-toes approach, and it's not Fred's fault that the mechanism exists. Like this primary season, though, it seems like election laws keep extending the degrees in which a candidate is or is not running for office, and the additional stages are bordering on the comical.
UPDATE: The Washington Post has caught up to the story now:
Thompson, who has been fueling speculation of a Republican presidential bid by traveling the country and making speeches, urged a group of donors in a conference call Tuesday to begin raising $46,000 from 10 couples each, starting on June 4, according to two participants in the call. Once the money begins flowing, Thompson will begin to hire a campaign staff and set up his headquarters in Washington and Nashville, his advisers said.
In addition, the nascent campaign is planning to launch a website in the next 10 days, according to one person familiar with campaign planning. Thompson will give a speech in Virginia this weekend and is scheduled to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno next month.
The papers Thompson intends to file on Friday with the Federal Elections Committee will allow the former Tennessee senator to "test the waters" by raising money that could be used once he declares officially, several sources said. The committee will be called "Friends of Fred Thompson."
The Post is more cautious about the July 4th launch date. Michael Shear reports that those plans are "in flux" and could change. I'm not sure why, unless organizationally he thinks he won't be ready for it. It would make a great backdrop for a presidential announcement, and would almost certainly wind up being the political story of the entire holiday.
Also, just to clarify, I'm not criticizing Fred for using the toe-dip committee procedure to keep all his options open. I'm criticizing the fact that the option exists at all. I'd prefer to see just the exploratory committee and the actual campaign, not some pre-exploratory stage where nothing changes at all. It's a reflection of the absurdity of campaign finance reform, as practiced in recent years.
Judicial Modesty In Action
The Supreme Court decision yesterday to reject the pay-equity lawsuit brought by a Goodyear Tire supervisor shows that the Bush administration will have a lasting legacy of judicial modesty, thanks to its appointments on the Court. Instead of rewriting a poor law, the Court followed it -- and pushed the mess Congress created back in its own lap:
The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. The dissenters said the ruling ignored workplace realities.
The decision came in a case involving a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., the only woman among 16 men at the same management level, who was paid less than any of her colleagues, including those with less seniority. She learned that fact late in a career of nearly 20 years — too late, according to the Supreme Court’s majority.
The court held on Tuesday that employees may not bring suit under the principal federal anti-discrimination law unless they have filed a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days after their pay was set. The timeline applies, according to the decision, even if the effects of the initial discriminatory act were not immediately apparent to the worker and even if they continue to the present day.
From 2001 to 2006, workers brought nearly 40,000 pay discrimination cases. Many such cases are likely to be barred by the court’s interpretation of the requirement in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that employees make their charge within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.”
Workplace experts said the ruling would have broad ramifications and would narrow the legal options of many employees.
Does the decision ignore workplace realities? Probably. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, salary increases do not get published, so any apparent inequity would take quite some time to discover. Further, it would take a long time to prove a pattern of such discrimination for an employer, especially one (like Goodyear) with many facilities in many jurisdictions. In fact, even for one employee, it would likely take more than one review cycle to determine whether discrimination exists or just one poorly-executed review.
And the response to that for the Court should be: Write better laws. It is not the job of the Supreme Court to rewrite poorly-constructed legislation. Congress obviously intended for a short window of opportunity for these complaints, for whatever reason they had. The Supreme Court follows the law, unless the law is expressly unconstitutional. Fine-tuning dumb laws and badly-written legislation isn't the purview of the Court, but rather the responsibility of Congress.
Obviously, Congress needs to revisit this piece of legislation. Thankfully, we now have a Court which forces America's elected representatives to do their job, primarily by refusing to legislate from the bench. This gives hope that the last fifty years of judicial legislation have come to an end.
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