October 7, 2006
I Love Canadian Troops, Too!
Readers of CQ know that I follow Canadian politics and have become something of a Canada-phile ever since the Gomery Inquiry. Canadians, I have found, are friendly, gracious people, and their country has a well-deserved reputation for hospitality. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Canadian military, which has a long tradition of honorable service, and they are currently adding to and enhancing that reputation in Afghanistan in the fight against radical Islamist terrorists.
Too many Americans seem disinterested in our northern neighbor and close ally. I'm always delighted when Americans take an interest in Canadians -- even when those Americans are Democrats. Michelle Malkin reports that the Democratic Party made a big show of "supporting the troops", and to be fair, they didn't specify their nationality:
That picture looked pretty strange to one of Michelle's military readers, and a little poking around turned up where that uniform is worn -- in Canada:
When looking at the two pictures, one can easily see that the devices worn in both photos match, especially the red wreath. The second photo is found on the Canadian Army website and is a picture taken during Remembrance Day in 2005. The beret color seems a giveaway as well. Rifle-green berets are worn by the US Army Special Forces groups. No matter what color beret worn in the Army, however, the beret itself will carry the insignia of the unit, and this beret has a strange lack of insignia. It almost appears to have been photoshopped out. Also, take a look at the soldiers in the background. I'm not as certain about this as I am with the soldier in the foreground, but the uniforms worn appear also to be Canadian Army. The shade of green looks wrong for American uniforms, and I'm not familiar with the red border on the collar in the US Army.
If the Democrats can't tell the difference between American troops and foreign soldiers, perhaps we have to wonder whether their support means much in any circumstance. We certainly have to wonder whether a political party so out of touch with the greatest military force in human history has any business leading it. However, if they wanted to just show a little love to the excellent men and women in the Canadian Army, I'm on board.
UPDATE: Charles at LGF found the original photograph, and confirms that the insignia got photoshopped out, and rather crudely. Note the crop job that attempted to turn this proud Canadian into an American (hat tip CQ reader Michael G).
The Democrats have some explaining to do. All joking aside, this is a pathetic embarassment, and especially the obvious photoshopping of the insignia. They can't argue that they support our troops when they can't recognize them.
UPDATE II: It's a poppy, not a red wreath, as at least a couple of e-mails have pointed out. As Bar Code King points out in the comments (and I forgot), Commonwealth troops traditionally wear these on Remembrance Day.
Northern Alliance Radio On The Air
The Northern Alliance Radio Network is back on the air at AM 1280 The Patriot. John Hinderaker will be on from 11 am - 1 pm CT with Brian and Chad from Fraters Libertas. Mitch and I will take over from 1-3, and King and Michael get in the Final Word from 3-5. Colonel Joe Repya, who just returned from Iraq, joins us at 2 pm to discuss the war and the progress being made.
If you're not in the Twin Cities, The Patriot has an excellent Internet stream at its website. This morning, we got a caller from Finland, and we've taken calls from China on occasion. Join us wherever you are by calling 651-289-4488!
Security Barriers Passe'?
The near-ubiquitous concrete pillars in front of buildings in American cities have quietly started to disappear, even in high-risk terrorist targets in New York. The New York Times reports that building owners have begun removing them as their efficacy came under question in dense urban centers:
They started appearing on Manhattan streets immediately after September 11: concrete and metal barriers in front of skyscrapers, offices and museums. Some were clunky planters; others were shaped artfully into globes. They were meant to be security barriers against possible car or truck bombers in a jittery city intent on safeguarding itself.
But now, five years later, their numbers have begun to dwindle. After evaluations by the New York Police Department, the city’s Department of Transportation has demanded that many of the planters and concrete traffic medians known as jersey barriers be taken away. So far, barriers have been removed at 30 buildings out of an estimated 50 to 70 in the city.
Officials found that the barriers obstructed pedestrian flow — and, in the case of planters, often ended up being used as giant ashtrays. Counterterrorism experts also concluded that in terms of safety, some of the barriers, which building owners put in of their own accord, might do more harm than good.
Across the nation, security barriers were hastily erected as a fast reaction to the terrorist attacks. Vehicle barriers were installed at the Library Tower in Los Angeles and the Sears Tower in Chicago. Capitol buildings from coast to coast were barricaded with fresh rows of concrete posts. Through it all, officials have tried to balance safety with other concerns.
The Heritage Foundation's James Carafano hits the issue squarely when he notes the difficulty in using barriers to deflect terrorist attacks. The way to keep cities from getting hit by terrorists is to keep the terrorists out of the US altogether. Prevention is much more cost effective than massively building defensive structures around any and all buildings that might tempt lunatics.
However, these barriers sprang up much earlier than 2001. I recall that these concrete pillars began appearing after the Oklahoma City bombing. Usually they're incorporated into an overall design that doesn't make them terribly conspicuous, although that obviously would not apply to retrofits. My radio partner, Mitch Berg, tells me that the new federal courthouse in the Twin Cities designed the barriers as well as the landscaping to create a natural defense against car bombers, even designing the berms to deflect the force of an explosion away from the buildings.
Eleven years after Oklahoma City, the barriers have not had any serious test, and the likelihood that they will ever see a return on their investment seem unlikely. Carafano is right; the best investment against terrorists is a program that keeps them out of our cities altogether, or catches them before they attack. The barriers serve as little more than an architectural CYA, or even as a strange sort of status symbol. One of the experts that the Times quotes says that the pillars give an aura of importance to buildings that usually doesn't reflect their actual function or tenants.
In its way, this also reflects our overall efforts to secure ourselves against further terrorist attacks. In the wake of 9/11, we adopted a number of restrictions on travel in order to keep terrorists from turning the power of our own transportation against us. As we have progressed, we have realized that certain tactics have no effect and quietly drop them; the latest was the ban on liquids. We have learned that we cannot keep putting barriers on ourselves to achieve security, but instead have to eliminate the threat itself.
DMZ Tensions Escalate
With Kim Jong-Il threatening a nuclear test and his neighbors demanding that he stop the preparations for it, tensions have mounted at the DMZ separating North and South Korea. This morning, an incursion by a handful of DPRK soldiers resulted in warning shots by South Korean troops:
On the frontier between North and South Korea, South Korean soldiers fired warning shots after five North Korean soldiers crossed a boundary in the Demilitarized Zone separating the countries' forces, South Korean military officials said.
It was unclear whether the North Korean advance, which happened shortly before noon local time, was intended as a provocation, an official at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said on condition of anonymity, citing official policy. No one was hurt, and the North Koreans retreated.
"It's not clear whether it was intentional or whether it was to catch fish," he said, adding four North Koreans were unarmed and the fifth carried a rifle.
They advanced about 30 yards past the Military Demarcation Line separating the two armies before retreating after South Korean forces fired about 40 warning shots, the official said.
Things fall apart, the center does not hold, as Yeats wrote, and the world has no more visible center than the Korean DMZ. It has remained in force for a surprising amount of time, given the fundamental differences between North and South Korea. Fifty-three years have passed since the end of formal warfare on the Korean Peninsula, but the Korean War has never ended. It seems as though Kim Jong-Il wants to either restart it or end it completely on his own terms, and that time may be running out for any rational conclusion to the conflict.
His neighbors apparently have the same analysis. Almost all of them warned Pyongyang that a nuclear test would fundamentally alter their approach to security in the Pacific Rim. Japan announced that it would seek immediate and significant sanctions against North Korea if Kim carries out his nuclear test, and given the direction of the new government, they may start remilitarizing to meet the threat. Japan's UN ambassador even hinted at military action. Philippines President Gloria Arroyo warned Kim about Asian security. Even South Korea fired off a rare diplomatic warning shot, announcing that North Korea would bear responsibility for the consequences of a nuclear test.
China remained officially mum about such consequences, but told the press that only the removal of recent American sanctions would convince Kim to skip the test. These sanctions, CQ readers will recall, got imposed because of Kim's massive counterfeiting operation that targets the US. We cut out Kim's banking front from the international financial community, making it difficult for him to flood the market with the phony currency. The Chinese and the DPRK can forget about us making Pyongyang an unofficial new mint for the US, so the Chinese had better come up with Plan B.
Just like with Iran, the applications of sanctions would probably do some good in giving a cold slap of reality to a regime that believes its own press too much. Just like Iran, Russia and China seem unwilling to move towards that step. One has to wonder when -- or if -- both nations will acknowledge the danger from Kim's nuclear arrogance, or whether the other Asian nations will have to act on their own to counter it.
UPDATE: Yeats, not Eliot, wrote "the center does not hold". Yikes! It's been far too long since my English-lit class in high school. Thanks to Vasily in the comments for making the correction.
US Deal On Iranian Sanctions?
The US announced yesterday that a deal had been reached with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to apply sanctions against Iran for their failure to comply with UNSC resolutions demanding a halt to their enrichment program. None of the nations announced any specific steps, but the New York Times reports that they have all agreed in principle to a reversible, phased application that will isolate Iran economically and diplomatically:
The United States said it had won agreement on Friday from the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany to seek sanctions against Iran over its refusal to shut down a nuclear enrichment program that could be used to build bombs.
While the State Department praised the agreement, which was reached at a one-day meeting here of senior officials from the six nations, American diplomats conceded that there could still be long and difficult negotiations over what penalties to impose and their timing. ...
R. Nicholas Burns, the American under secretary of state for political affairs, said after the meeting that whatever the other nations’ diplomatic language, “What we’ve got is an agreement to go to the Security Council” to punish Iran.
In essence, Mr. Burns said, the six nations “concluded that Iran is not prepared to negotiate with us” based on conditions set last spring, and that “we’ll go forward with sanctions.”
But he admitted the issue was far from decided. “I think there’s going to be a spirited debate about what kind of sanctions should be agreed to.”
Even without a specific agreement on which sanctions to apply, an agreement to do anything through the UNSC demonstrates some progress. Russia and China had shown great reluctance to do anything about Iran other than make public statements urging the Iranians to comply with the UNSC. Given their economic ties to Teheran, the countries likely do not relish the inevitable economic strain it will cause them to comply with sanctions -- but then again, they can simply ignore them like they did with Iraq, if it comes to that.
Still, an agreement to apply sanctions of some kind is more than just symbolic, although one should not underestimate the power behind the symbolism. Iran has bragged openly about the inability of other nations to stand up to the mullahcracy. A united UNSC with even a mild application of sanctions will undermine Ahmadinejad's posing on the matter. The Iranian people will have to consider the diplomatic setback and wonder what further costs will come from their government's nuclear pursuits, especially given the offer from the West to provide Iran with turnkey nuclear power stations. The Iranians will have to stop their constant victory dance and deal with a different balance of power at the UNSC.
This phase may not last very long, though, and the Iranians will count on it. The Russians and the Chinese will probably balk at any sanctions that addresses anything other than the specific nuclear program. They may agree to ending the sale of dual-use technology and restricting the travel of scientists and some diplomats. Unless Iran makes significantly provocative move -- like a nuclear test -- neither country will agree to cut off Iran's gasoline imports or their oil exports, especially the latter. That gives the UNSC a small window to make an impression on the Iranians, and a limited impression at that.
The best strategy to pursue regarding Iran is still internal regime change, no matter how difficult that might be, and it will be difficult. Thanks to the British and American involvement in the coup that ousted Mohammed Mossadeq, the Iranians have a well-founded paranoia about foreign meddling in their internal politics. Somehow both nations have to overcome that incident and convince Iranians to help themselves by removing the radical mullahcracy that removed the government the West reimposed on them after Mossadeq's ouster. It will not easily happen, but the only way to ensure that nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of dangerous Islamists in Iran is to see them removed from power.
A proper slate of sanctions could facilitate that. If the Iranian people start paying a heavy price for Ahmadinejad's nuclear follies, they may be tempted to end them. That will depend on nations like Russia and China, and this latest development holds some limited promise for progress.
October 6, 2006
Playboy's Top Ten Blogs
Earlier today, I received a nice e-mail from Glenn Greenwald, informing me that Playboy had selected their Top Ten Political Blogs -- and that Captain's Quarters made the list. Pam Spaulding at Pam's House Blend got the advance look at the feature from the November issue (Pam contributes to Pandagon, one of the other blogs nominated). Glenn's blog also made Playboy's list, and I appreciate his heads-up.
The other blogs selected by Playboy are:
* Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish
* TPM Cafe
Here's what Daniel Radosh wrote about CQ:
The swaggering Ed Morrissey puts his back into blogging. His ability to dig up stories make him a must-read in right-wing circles beyond the blogosphere -- Rush Limbaugh reads Morrissey's posts on the air.
Radosh wrote about CQ once before, almost exactly a year ago, and was just as complimentary. I thanked him then, and I thank him now. I'm delighted at the recognition, and please join me in congratulating all of the bloggers on this list. If you're inclined to pick up a copy, Arianna Huffington is their featured interview in this issue.
Image (c) 2006 by Playboy.
Note: You can listen to 20% of the Top Ten bloggers on tomorrow's Northern Alliance Radio Network on AM 1280 The Patriot. John Hinderaker will be on from 11 am - 1 pm CT with Brian and Chad from Fraters Libertas. Mitch and I will take over from 1-3, and King and Michael get in the Final Word from 3-5. Colonel Joe Repya, who just returned from Iraq, joins us at 2 pm to discuss the war and the progress being made. Join us by calling 651-289-4488!
Missing The Low-Hanging Fruit
In all of the heat surrounding the NSA warrantless surveillance program and SWIFT banking intelligence, we seem to have lost track of the uncontroversial communication taps allowed by law. The Washington Post reminds us in an editorial that we have no bar to reviewing prisoner communications, and yet the imprisoned terrorists already in our custody have little problem sending mail to their jihadist friends unmolested:
THE BUSH administration has pushed aggressively for expanded surveillance powers, military commissions and rough interrogation techniques. When it comes to fighting the war on terrorism, just about anything goes. Except, that is, those routine steps with no civil liberties implications at all that might significantly interrupt terrorism -- such as, say, reading the mail of convicted terrorists housed in American prisons. The federal Bureau of Prisons, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote, "does not read all the mail for terrorist and other high-risk inmates on its mail monitoring lists." It is also "unable to effectively monitor high-risk inmates' verbal communications," including phone calls. ...
Three inmates involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, while housed at the federal government's highest-security prison, managed to exchange around 90 letters with Islamist extremists between 2002 and 2004, including with terrorists in Spain who were planning attacks there. Just last month, federal prosecutors accused a drug lord at the same facility of running a huge distribution network in Los Angeles using coded conversations and messages. Imprisoned people can direct major crimes from behind bars.
Yet somehow, the bureau leaves unread a lot of mail to and from inmates it designates as warranting monitoring. What's more, at some federal institutions, the amount of mail monitored is going down . Part of the problem is that the bureau "does not have enough proficient translators to translate inmate mail written in foreign languages" -- a government-wide deficiency. Even when officers eyeball mail, they are not sufficiently "trained in intelligence techniques to evaluate whether terrorists' communications contain suspicious content," the report said.
As the Post points out later in the editorial, we rightly prosecuted and jailed Lynne Stewart for doing much the same thing described by the editorial. We know, therefore, that these jihadists have directed terrorist operations from their American prison cells. That should place a high priority on reviewing their communications, but apparently no one has bothered to put the necessary resources in place to do it effectively.
That has to change. We have even more terrorists in our custody now, high-ranking members of jihadist organizations, and eventually they will spend the rest of their lives in a military prison. Their communications have to come under scrutiny, not to confirm their danger but to keep them from abetting new conspiracies. The first impulse would be to deny them all communication privileges, but doing so might destroy a potentially valuable line of intelligence for the US in identifying and tracking terrorist activities abroad.
Congress and the White House has to put more resources into developing the translators needed to keep an eye on these communications. In this case, we know exactly who and where the terrorists are, and ignoring their efforts to continue the jihad is foolish indeed.
Here is the text from Fine's report (page 2-3 of the PDF):
RESULTS IN BRIEF
We found that the BOP has not effectively monitored the mail of terrorist and other high-risk inmates. Our review determined that the BOP’s monitoring of inmate mail is deficient in several respects: The BOP does not read all the mail for terrorist and other high-risk inmates on its mail monitoring lists, does not have enough proficient translators to translate inmate mail written in foreign languages, and does not have sufficient staff trained in intelligence techniques to evaluate whether terrorists’ communications contain suspicious content. Similarly, we found that the BOP is unable to effectively monitor high-risk inmates’ verbal communications, which include telephone calls, visits with family and friends, and cellblock conversations. In addition, the Department does not require a review of all international terrorist inmates to identify those who should be subjected to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), the most restrictive conditions that can be placed on an inmate’s communications.
During interviews with the OIG, BOP managers acknowledged the BOP’s responsibility to vigilantly monitor inmate communications. They stated that after the ADX Florence incident, the BOP initiated several corrective actions and plans to initiate others to improve its monitoring of international terrorist communications. For example, the BOP hired full-time staff to translate Arabic communications, started upgrading its intelligence analysis capabilities, and developed policies to limit high-risk inmates’ mail and telephone calls.
However, the Director and BOP managers stated that the BOP cannot fully implement the planned initiatives because of budget constraints and an increasing inmate population. Consequently, the threat remains that terrorist and other high-risk inmates can use mail and verbal communications to conduct terrorist or criminal activities while incarcerated.
This truly is the low-hanging fruit of terrorist communications, and we're missing it.
Nuclear Terrorism Or Better Enforcement?
A disturbing report in the Times of London raises the question about whether terrorists have increased their efforts to find nuclear material, or whether the West has improved its ability to stop them. Confirmed incidents of nuclear trafficking have increased sharply since 2002, with most of the material falling into the "dirty-bomb" category:
SEIZURES of smuggled radioactive material capable of making a terrorist “dirty bomb” have doubled in the past four years, according to official figures seen by The Times.
Smugglers have been caught trying to traffick dangerous radioactive material more than 300 times since 2002, statistics from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) show. Most of the incidents are understood to have occurred in Europe.
The disclosures come as al-Qaeda is known to be intensfiying its efforts to obtain a radoactive device. Last year, Western security services, including MI5 and MI6, thwarted 16 attempts to smuggle plutonium or uranium. On two occasions small quantities of highly enriched uranium were reported missing. All were feared to have been destined for terror groups.
Scientists responsible for analysing the seizures have given warning that traffickers are turning to hospital X-ray equipment and laboratory supplies as an illicit source of radioactive material.
Unfortunately, the main component of this increase appears to come from those operating strictly from a profit motive. They have decreasing ability to get their hands on fissile material, but instead have focused on nuclear waste. That can form the basis of a dirty bomb, which uses a conventional explosive to spread nuclear contamination over a wide area.
As the Times explains, the dirty-bomb scenario probably presents no greater immediate threat to life than the explosion itself. If the explosion is strong enough, the dispersal pattern might render the contamination light enough to pose little substantial threat to civilians afterward. However, the successful contamination of a city would create the kind of panic that terrorists desire, resulting in an economic disaster for the community attacked. A dirty-bomb explosion would probably empty the area of residents and businesses, bringing economic activity for that community to a halt, perhaps for years.
The data raise a rather important question, and one that the Times cannot answer. Does the increase mean that terrorists are trying harder, or that we are more successful in stopping them? One has to presume the former rather than the latter, as it's hard to believe that terrorists would not have already used it in an attack had they acquired it. If so, then we have to understand what it means. Have terrorists multiplied in the same proportion, or do the dwindling numbers understand that the world has become inured to their attacks and that nuclear terror is their last opportunity to succeed?
Hopefully, it's the last explanation. This could indicate that the terrorists have almost played out the string. As with any war, though, it's the endgame that presents the worst scenarios.
North Korea: War Is Coming To American Soil
A rambling, disjointed editorial by a man known as Kim Jong-Il's "unofficial spokesman" tells Asia Times readers that North Korea does not intend to build its nuclear weapons to use as bargaining chips. Kim will build them to turn American cities into "towering infernos":
The first message is that Kim Jong-il is the greatest of the peerless national heroes Korea has ever produced. Kim is unique in that he is the first to equip Korea with sufficient military capability to take the war all the way to the continental US. Under his leadership the DPRK has become a nuclear-weapons state with intercontinental means of delivery. Kim is certainly in the process of achieving the long-elusive goal of neutralizing the American intervention in Korean affairs and bringing together North and South Korea under the umbrella of a confederated state.
Unlike all the previous wars Korea fought, a next war will be better called the American War or the DPRK-US War because the main theater will be the continental US, with major cities transformed into towering infernos. The DPRK is now the fourth-most powerful nuclear weapons state just after the US, Russia, and China.
The DPRK has all types of nuclear bombs and warheads, atomic, hydrogen and neutron, and the means of delivery, short-range, medium-range and long-range, putting the whole of the continental US within effective range. The Korean People's Army also is capable of knocking hostile satellites out of action.
All the past Korean heroes let the Land of Morning Calm be reduced to smoking ruins as the wars were fought on its soil, even though they repelled the invaders. One of the two major aspirations of the Korean people has been the buildup of military capability enough to turn enemy land into the war theater. Kim has splendidly achieved this aspiration.
Kim Myong Chol appears to have quite an active fantasy life. One of the subsequent points he makes refers to the actual desire of Russia and China to have a nuclear-armed Korean Peninsula. In Kim's mind, the nuclear arsenals of the two nations will render them incapable of war against the United States, and "friendless" in such an event. The few nuclear weapons that Pyongyang produces, though, will change the entire balance of power and allow the East to unite and defeat the West.
In fact, Kim Myong Chol tries to explain that North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons will convince the US to withdraw from the Pacific Rim. He argues that the Chinese will have an easier time recapturing Taiwan after North Korea tests its nuclear weapons, because the US will start retreating. He doesn't think that a nuclear-armed Japan and South Korea will present any problem at all, and in fact welcomes it as a sign of "de-Americanization" of the region.
He might want to check with China on that score. While the Taiwan issue sticks in Beijing's craw, they know that the US will not withdraw its protection for the Taiwanese under pressure from Pyongyang. In fact, the US will dig in its heels on the shores of Taiwan, understanding that the Chinese do not want to have to react to an outright declaration of independence from the islanders. They certainly do not want to see Japan re-militarized, and Kim's provocations have started that process already, with the new government seriously proposing a constitutional amendment that will allow them to build a military to project Japanese strength through the region. China wants to make themselves the pre-eminent economic power in the East, and they can't do that while tripping over an expanding Japanese navy.
It's easy to dismiss this as North Korean fantasy, but North Koreans do not get to pen articles for the Asia Times without some sort of official approval. The author's long connection to the regime means that the opinions expressed in this hallucinatory screed definitely reflects the positions of management. Kim Jong-Il wants to spread the perception that he considers himself at war with the US -- and he thinks he will win it.
Finally, it's also worth noting that Kim Myong Chol's day job is executive director of the Center for Korean-American Peace. This editorial puts the group's name in a particularly Orwellian light.
Czech Jews Targeted By Jihadists
Islamists planned to round up dozens of Czech Jews and kill them in a spectacular raid on a synagogue, Reuters reports. The radical Islamists planned to target the small remaining Jewish community surviving after the Holocaust:
Islamic extremists planned to kidnap dozens of Jews in Prague and hold them hostage before murdering them, the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes reported on Friday.
The Czech Republic's leading newspaper quoted unidentified sources close to intelligence agencies as saying the captives would have been held in a Prague synagogue while the captors made broad demands that they knew could not be fulfilled.
When those demands -- which were not specified by the sources -- were not met, the extremists would blow up the building, killing all who were inside, the paper added.
The Czechs refuse to give any details to the plot, which they apparently foiled on September 23rd. On that day, Czech security troops fanned out across Prague due to an unspecified terror alert. While Prague has not been victimized by terrorists before this, the Czechs have troops in Afghanistan and advisors in Iraq, which makes them a potential target.
It sounds like a rather typical plan for the Islamist radicals: take hostages, issue impossible demands, kill the hostages, and blame the West for not negotiating to resolve Islamist grievances. This should demonstrate that the radical terrorist impulse in Islam has nothing to do with grievances at all, but with a desire to dominate and intimidate.
Once again, the Islamists have focused on Europe for their attacks, which seems at odds with European anti-war sentiment. Either they have seen a security opening to exploit or they do not have the resources to reach across the ocean to attack America. That's not good news for Europe, but they appear to have blocked three major attacks in a row now, which means that the Islamists may not have the best intel these days -- and that's good news for all of us.
These Petards Are Made For Hoisting
The Palestinians have continued tunneling under the Gaza-Egypt border, presumably to smuggle arms across the border without attracting attention. They managed to literally blow that today, and the illicit weapons they smuggled into the tunnel apparently provided their undoing:
An explosion collapsed a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border early Friday, trapping five terrorists inside and killing at least one, Palestinians said.
The Aksa Martyrs' Brigades said the five were members. The group refused to say what they were doing.
The group said the explosion was not caused by an IAF air strike, after first blaming Israel.
They refused to say what they were doing in an illegal tunnel that inexplicably blew up? Why would they need to spell it out for anyone?
A Rare Victory For Judicial Modesty
The California appellate court has denied an attempt to overturn the state's "one man, one woman" rule on marriage through judicial. In an unfortunately remarkable decision, they upheld an appeal on an earlier decision by a San Francisco judge overturning the law, and told the plaintiffs from the original case that the judiciary cannot create new rights:
In the latest turn to a long and winding legal fight over same-sex marriage, a California appeals court on Thursday upheld the state’s ban against it.
The 2-to-1 decision, which reversed a lower court’s finding that the ban violated the California Constitution, said the plaintiffs in the case were asking the courts “to recognize a new right,” a step it said only the Legislature or the voters could take.
“Courts simply do not have the authority to create new rights,” said the decision, written by Justice William McGuiness, “especially when doing so involves changing the definition of so fundamental an institution as marriage.” ...
In April 2005, Judge Richard A. Kramer of San Francisco County Superior Court ruled that limiting marriage to people of the opposite sex impinged on a fundamental right to marry, and declared the ban unconstitutional.
Like previous decisions, Judge Kramer’s ruling was immediately appealed. It was this appeal that led to Thursday’s decision.
We may be seeing a fundamental shift in judicial temperament occuring in the US. For decades, we have watched as judges arrogated the power of legislation to the bench, essentially passing new law without any involvement of elected officials. The nadir of this movement came in Massachussetts last year, when their state Supreme Court ordered the legislature to allow for gay marriage, and the intense political backlash has apparently had an effect.
How so? Several states saw grassroots efforts after the Massachussetts decision to amend state constitutions to put the question outside of the judiciary. It didn't just affect same-sex marriage, either. Other efforts, such as the federal effort to ban flag-burning, had their Constitutional approaches affirmed by the Massachussetts court's action. Judges began to realize that their arrogant actions would force legislatures and voters to use constitutions as substitutes for penal codes, making it far more difficult for them to exercise any kind of oversight over the other two branches of government.
The admission of any court that the judiciary has no authority to create new rights amounts to headline news. When that court operates in California, where referenda routinely get overturned by the courts, it means even more. The age of judicial activism may have ended, and a new age of judicial modesty may have arrived.
October 5, 2006
Ethics And Policy In Election-Year Chat
Earlier this morning, I took a few minutes to participate in a chat session hosted by the AP's Otis Hart on ethics in national politics. I joined Nick Gillespie from Reason and Judd Legum from Think Progress, and we managed to put aside partisan battles -- for the most part -- to talk about how ethics impact elections and politics:
asap: OK: We hear a lot about the term "ethics" in connection to politics. What sorts of things do you think voters are thinking of when they worry about ethics?
Morrissey: I think that local races will still focus mostly on policy ...
Morrissey: but the ethics issues will certainly be part of that consideration, as it should be.
Gillespie: ethics and politics are like oil and vinegar. you need a mix of both, but they separate as soon as they hit the plate.
Legum: I think it goes to the fundamental question on the minds of all voters...
Legum: who does my congressperson represent?..
Legum: Our district and our country...
Legum: or are they more concerned with their own power and self-interest
Obviously, the Foley scandal (now nicknamed "MasturGate") comprised part of the discussion, but it went far beyond the outrage du jour. How much should ethics play a part in the decisions made by voters? Does ethics matter more than policy, or do ethical questions trump policy? What was the worst ethical violation of the last ten years? You may be surprised at the answers, and I was surprised how well this worked between the three of us. I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to participate, and the next topic for discussion.
That brings me to the lastest in the MasturGate scandal, and a piece of advice for the Republicans. People jumped all over an earlier Drudge Report flash that claimed the sexually explicit IMs were part of a joke played on disgraced politician Mark Foley and a question as to whether the teenager involved had turned 18 beforehand (he hadn't, as it turned out). The story was used to claim that the scandal was a hoax and a hit job on Republican leadership, but that meme died when ABC found three more former pages who claim that Foley also sent them harassing IMs.
This is a real scandal, and attempting to blame the Democrats will gain Republicans nothing. Had the GOP handled this properly in the beginning, it could have remained isolated to Foley himself, as it should be -- after all, he's the one who harassed the pages and not Denny Hastert, John Boehner, or anyone else. Hastert and Boehner are terrific people by all accounts, and I'm sure the IMs have horrified them as much as anyone else. But the father of all this misery comes from the decision made by Hastert and/or his staff to keep the parental complaint about Foley from the bipartisan Page Board. House procedures call for complaints regarding pages to be handled by the Page Board, and no one -- not even Denny Hastert -- has provided a single explanation as to why they neglected to do so.
I don't believe that they intended to cover up any misdeeds by Mark Foley, but I do think they put partisan concerns ahead of their responsibilities to Congress, the pages, and the voters. Is that transgression enough to demand Hastert's resignation? That's a matter of opinion, and you already know mine. That failure is a fact, however, and had it not occurred, none of the rest of this would matter.
Republicans should stop going on offense on this issue; it's a fight that is unwinnable. The violation here is Foley's betrayal of public trust by hitting on young and vulnerable pages, regardless of whether they had turned 18 or not. It's not ABC reporting on the IMs, and it's not whether anyone held onto the IMs for a period of time before ABC reported them. Arguing these points will not win any converts among the voters that the GOP could lose in this upcoming election, and it's not going to motivate the base to turn out for the vote. The constant argument only prolongs the embarassment, and it sets up Republicans for a "gotcha" every time another former page comes forward ... and I think we can look forward to more of that as the days progress.
Michelle Malkin has been trying to advise Republicans to simply acknowledge the failure honestly and work to rebuild trust in GOP leadership. Unfortunately, they and their supporters have proven resistant to good advice. The sooner we quit trying to win an unwinnable argument, the sooner the air will deflate from this embarassment. If Republicans had done that last Friday, all of the subsequent revelations would have generated drastically less damage to party credibility.
NOTE: One of CQ's longtime commenters posted that I'm motivated to publish this opinion in order to burnish my non-existent credentials as a moderate and to win blog awards. All I can say in response is this: I didn't start this blog to shill for any politician or political party, nor do I do this to win blog awards. What you get at CQ is my honest opinion. If you want to read someone who will never criticize Republicans, I suggest you bookmark the party's web site.
E-mail response and blogging may be light over the next 24 hours or so, as the First Mate has experienced another little bump in the road, although one that was not completely unexpected. As we continued to throw off the viral infections that have plagued her since the beginning of the year, we had to keep an eye on her pancreas function to ensure that it didn't reject. We've been pretty lucky up to now, as the transplant managed to survive without immunosuppression for longer than we anticipated. However, her labs have shown some disturbing trends of late; I'd like to explain it, but the mechanics of this escapes me. I'd start sounding like that song that goes, "The knee bone's connected to the leg bone," except in this case it's "the amylase is connected to the lipase, and the lipase is connected to the glucose". It's got a lousy beat and you can't dance to it.
Anyway, today they needed to get a biopsy to determine if we have a rejection episode, and unfortunately it took much longer than they expected. The FM got more sedation than normal and now feels pretty sick, so I'll be tending to her while watching the Little Admiral tonight. At the same time, I have a very exciting project at the day job starting, and all of that will mean a little less attention until the weekend. I'm just touching base during my lunch, having cracked the code for guest access at the hospital. (Okay, so, they gave it to me ... same thing.)
In the meantime, let me refer you to a few different sites doing excellent work. First, check out Patterico and his fascinating interview with a Gitmo staffer. His source talked to Patterico rather than the mainstream media because the source knew that his message would get out clean through Patterico. This is the link to Part One, and keep scrolling through his succeeding posts.
Finally, for those who worry about how Congress spends their money, make sure you check on the Heritage Foundation's Policy Blog. For that matter, check out their main site, too. You will not find a better group of analysts on an entire range of policy issues anywhere on the Web.
UPDATE, 6:39 PM: Turned out to be a longer day at the hospital than we thought, but the news was pretty good. The FM's blood pressure kept dropping too low, and for a while they worried that she had a small internal bleed. We think it was just the sedative, which also made her feel ill, even now. She eventually recovered to the point where I could take her home, but we had to postpone our evening with the Little Admiral. The labs from this morning show a much better response on the pancreas function, which leads us to believe the last couple of labs were just a short-term anomaly -- very good news indeed. We'll get the biopsy results tomorrow or Monday to be sure.
Does This Mean No Blogging, Too?
The Iranian Supreme Leader has a lot on his mind these days. With the nuclear standoff, the spread of Islamist power, managing Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and propping Moqtada al-Sadr up in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Khameini has little time to spare on less important matters. However, he apparently considers self-gratification a pressing (ha!) matter of state:
Deliberate masturbation during the month of Ramadan renders a fast invalid, Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khameini has ruled.
Khameini, who is Iran's most powerful political and religious figure, was asked on his website : "If somebody masturbates during the month of Ramadan but without any discharge, is his fasting invalidated?"
"If he do not intend masturbation and discharging semen and nothing is discharged, his fasting is correct even though he has done a ḥarām (forbidden) act. But, if he intends masturbation or he knows that he usually discharges semen by this process and semen really comes out, it is a ḥaram intentional breaking fasting," the Iranian leader said, posting the reply on his website.
This wasn't the only pearl of wisdom issued by Iran's most powerful leader. He also approved of using a European virgin for a one-year marriage in order to gain residency in the West, and assured Iranians that they could swallow the bits of food stuck in their teeth during Ramadan, as long as they didn't leave the food in their teeth intentionally. Only jockeys can bet on horse races in shari'a, and Muslims can drink water while standing up, but they cannot attend meetings with members of the opposite sex.
And we thought asking about boxers and briefs was silly.
Iraqi Tribes Get Enthusiastic About Counterterrorism
When Nouri al-Maliki negotiated a deal with tribal leaders in Anbar to fight terrorists, some wondered whether the tribes would follow through on their pledges. That question appears answered, according to the LA Times, which reports that they have responded with surprising enthusiasm to the government's call for assistance:
U.S. officials say the decision of some tribal leaders to begin going after insurgents reflects growing public anger over attacks that have killed or injured more than 8,000 Iraqis, according to local government figures. They also say there has been growing alarm on the part of some tribal leaders over insurgents' demands for adherence to strict Islamic law. U.S. military leaders say that alarm has inspired a sense of partnership that didn't exist earlier.
"It's only frankly been the last six months that they've recognized two things: One, they can't do it themselves, and two … they had much more in common with the coalition than they do with Iran," said a senior U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ...
For many tribesmen, support for the government's efforts may be motivated as much by revenge as by hopes for reconciliation with the government: A car bomb in January killed more than 70 police recruits, many of whom were tribesmen, and a local clan leader was assassinated a month later. A popular cleric, Sheik Ayad Izzi, was shot to death in December in a killing that was later blamed on a fatwa, or religious edict, from a young Al Qaeda imam.
Sunni and tribal militiamen have waged retaliatory attacks against Al Qaeda targets for much of the spring and summer, apparently stepping them up in the last few days as plans for the organized tribal force gathered steam.
Last week, Al Iraqiya television reported that the reputed head of Al Qaeda in Al Anbar province, Khalid Ibrahim Mahal, was killed in a joint operation by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Tribal leaders took credit for assisting with the operation.
To some extent, it sounds as if the tribal forces were practically panting to get into the fight. Their leaders have watched with horror and rage while foreigners target and kill Iraqis by the dozens, and they want to see both the so-called insurgency and the American occupation end. The tribal leaders also see radical Islamists as a threat to their power, and rightly so. While they want Iraq to have an Islamic nature, they do not want either a Sunni or Shi'ite theocracy on the Iranian or Taliban model.
The tribal backlash shows why the Zarqawi strategy was always a loser. Al-Qaeda needed to win over the Iraqi people to its radical Wahhabist vision, a tough sell in a majority Shi'ite nation. Instead, Zarqawi tried to start a civil war with the short-term goal of getting America to run away from it. That would separate the Sunni areas of Iraq from the oil-producing areas of the nation, locking them into poverty and granting their sectarian opponents the riches of the nation. That's especially true in western Iraq, where Anbar lies, and the tribes have begun to realize the long-term dangers of such a split.
Maliki has managed to make a deal in everyone's best interests in Anbar. Hopefully the tribal leaders can maintain the enthusiasm when they create a formal fighting force for the region under the auspices of the Iraqi government. The al-Qaeda insurgency appears ready to fall in Anbar.
Appeals Court Hints At Reversal On NSA Surveillance
After Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's relentlessly mediocre ruling that ordered an end to the NSA's warrantless surveillance of terrorist communications, many experts believed that the ruling would not survive an appeal. Taylor herself appeared to forestall a reversal by refusing to stay her ruling pending the appeal. The Sixth Circuit resolved it themselves yesterday in a unanimous ruling granting the stay pending their review of the case, dropping a broad hint as to their inclinations:
The Bush administration can continue its warrantless surveillance program while it appeals a judge's ruling that the program is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The president has said the program is needed in the war on terrorism; opponents argue it oversteps constitutional boundaries on free speech, privacy and executive powers.
The unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave little explanation for the decision. In the three-paragraph ruling, judges said that they balanced the likelihood an appeal would succeed, the potential damage to both sides and the public interest.
USA Today may consider the brevity of the opinion lacking as an explanation, but their thrust appears rather obvious. The panel explained that a stay requires that a court find the following:
1 - the applicant has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits (ie, appeal will succeed in overturning the decision)
2 - the applicant will suffer a substantial and irreparable injury if denied the stay
3 - whether the other parties will suffer substantial harm if the stay is granted
4 - the public interest will be served with a stay
In granting the stay with almost no further explanation, the court has clearly implied that the Bush administration has met all of the conditions. In other words, all three judges agreed that the public interest is served in continuing the surveillance, that the plaintiffs will not suffer substantial harm if it continues, and that Taylor's original order will harm national security. For these reasons, the judges feel that the Bush administration will likely win its appeal.
The brevity of the opinion masks the message that it sends, or at least it masks the meaning for those who cannot read a plain statement such as, "After careful review, we conclude that this standard has been met in this case." The panel has made it plain that the plaintiffs will face a steep uphill climb to convince the judges to uphold Taylor's immature and unreasoned ruling.
Bear in mind that the real test will be at the Supreme Court, which is where this case was always going to find resolution. This will make a good interim victory for the Bush administration, but it's just prologue to the real battle.
Russia Targets Georgians
The Russians do not want to let go of a grudge. They have apparently started a de facto pogrom against Georgians within their borders after the arrest of four alleged spies in Tbilisi this week. The release of the suspects has apparently done nothing to slake the Russian thirst for revenge:
Georgians living in Russia felt the Kremlin's wrath yesterday as it retaliated against its neighbour following the spying row between the two countries last week.
Police raided Georgian restaurants and other businesses in Moscow, apparently looking for minor legal violations in order to force their closure or criminalise their owners. The Kristall casino and Golden Palace entertainment complex were closed down after it was discovered that their Georgian owners were "criminal bosses" according to Russian state TV.
Russia imposed an economic embargo on Georgia following the crisis, which also saw Moscow hint at military action against its neighbour after four Russian soldiers were detained in Georgia on espionage charges. They were released on Monday.
Yesterday a Georgian arm-wrestling champion was reported murdered in Moscow in an attack which his family said was carried out by nationalist skinheads as a result of the conflict.
Residents at a shelter for refugees in the south-west of the city said police had ordered all Georgians there to report to police. In Podmoskovoye, the region surrounding Moscow, police arrested a group of criminals who had allegedly organised contract killings. Those arrested were said to be Georgians, in what appeared to be a convenient smear.
Georgia released the four spies after this row broke out into the open. Despite conciliatory language from Georgia'a president Mikhail Saakashvili, Vladimir Putin seems to want an ethnic war, either in Russia or Georgia, or both. He wants to make the Georgians pay for the public humiliation Putin received when Saakashvili reached West diplomatically instead of towards Moscow.
In its way, the Russian pogrom appears to be based on the Nuremburg Laws. Georgians have become the new Jews. Business owners are suddenly part of organized crime. The movement of their funds may be restricted by the Duma. State employees with Georgian visas will lose their jobs. Georgians have been blackballed from Russian military academies -- in Georgia! The only things missing from this latest example of ethnic scapegoating is a Krystallnacht and Hermann Goering.
It will not take much in this incendiary climate to start a military conflict. In fact, it seems like Putin is aiming for exactly that. He has roused the entire Russian state apparatus in a quest to humiliate Georgians inside and outside of Russia, and the actions increasingly border on the insane. The rest of the G-8 nations should remind Putin that he already provides them enough embarassment as a member, and that his status in the club may come in for the same kind of scrutiny he's currently applying to Georgians. Someone needs to throw a bucket of ice water in Putin's face before he melts down entirely, and that would be a good place to start.
Israel Sacks Its Toughest War Critic
It seems that Israel has found its analogy to Douglas MacArthur. Just as the legendary American general forced his own cashiering onto Harry Truman by intimating that the President lacked the will to win in Korea, Major General Yiftah Ron-Tal criticized his superior publicly and got a discharge for his trouble:
Israel's army chief fired a top general Wednesday over his criticism of the war in Lebanon and government policy, the army said.
The dismissed officer, Maj. Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal gave unauthorized interviews to several Israeli news media earlier Wednesday, an army statement said.
Ron-Tal said army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz must "accept responsibility" for the shortcomings of Israel's 34-day war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, which ended Aug. 14.
Halutz, in a letter to Ron-Tal, said he was terminating the general's stay in the military immediately. Halutz said Ron-Tal's decision to make public statements was "unacceptable," the army statement said.
Just as with MacArthur, Halutz made the right decision in the specifics of the event. Active-duty officers in a military force of a democracy should not get involved in politics, and Ron-Tal definitely indulged himself with the Israeli press. He has done this before, publicly dissenting from the unilateral Gaza withdrawal. Ron-Tal criticized foreign policy in that case, but in the incidents that caused his dismissal, he undermined the authority of his commanding officers.
In a broader sense, however, Halutz has big problems. He has had to fire two commanding generals in the war against Hezbollah. The other, Udi Adam, got relieved in the midst of the fighting. The Israeli public has little confidence left in the management of Halutz and the government of Ehud Olmert. Israelis, like Americans in 1952, will probably be more inclined to support the fired general than the political leadership.
In the end, Truman proved MacArthur wrong in the strategic sense even if MacArthur had it correct tactically. Perhaps time will exonerate Halutz and Olmert as well. If they can wrest a stable peace in the region with their lackadaisical war effort and seriously flawed cease-fire, the politicians may see their fortunes rise. At this moment, though, it looks as though history will treat Ron-Tal much kinder than either Halutz or Olmert.
Mob Rule At Columbia
When Democracy for America invited me to participate in a panel debate about the war in Iraq on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 at Macalester College, I wondered whether the staunchly liberal setting would result in some sort of donnybrook due to my defense of the war. I needn't have worried; Macalester proved itself polite, classy, and welcoming, if predictably unenthusiastic about my point of view. No one chased me from the dais, and no one interrupted our debate.
Unfortunately, Columbia University didn't demonstrate the same class and etiquette when Jim Gilchrist tried to speak about his Minutemen organization last night. Eliana Johnson reports in the New York Sun that a mob of students assaulted Gilchrist, shut down the event, and then cheered their version of free speech:
Students stormed the stage at Columbia University's Roone auditorium yesterday, knocking over chairs and tables and attacking Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen, a group that patrols the border between America and Mexico.
Mr. Gilchrist and Marvin Stewart, another member of his group, were in the process of giving a speech at the invitation of the Columbia College Republicans. They were escorted off the stage unharmed and exited the auditorium by a back door.
Having wreaked havoc onstage, the students unrolled a banner that read, in both Arabic and English, "No one is ever illegal." As security guards closed the curtains and began escorting people from the auditorium, the students jumped from the stage, pumping their fists, chanting victoriously, "Si se pudo, si se pudo," Spanish for "Yes we could!"
"Yes they could" -- what? Prove that a violent mob could silence someone who wants nothing more than to speak their mind on politics? That they proved all too well, but then again, that point has hardly ever been in contention. The Nazis proved it in the period between the two World Wars, and the same spirit is alive at Columbia University.
And what was the purpose behind the use of Arabic in their banner? The Chicano Caucus, the university's African-American student association, and the International Socialists who all sponsored this event apparently want to argue that we should allow all Arabs into the country unfettered. They're making this argument just a few minutes from Ground Zero, which tells us quite a bit about the level of critical thinking taught at Columbia these days. They're the first group I know to argue on behalf of migrant Arabs. Perhaps they've got their own version of Aztlan.
It takes very little courage to form a mob, and even less brains, as we see from this example. Gilchrist may be all wet, or he may be a genius, but the students at Columbia didn't bother to find out either. The mobsters apparently have no ability to respond to Gilchrist with reasoned arguments and contrary data, and so they did what any bully does -- use violence to silence their intellectual superiors.
The epitome of Columbia's intellectual nadir came from Ryan Fukumori, a junior at the university who told Johnson that Gilchrist and others who spoke at the event "had no right to be able to speak here." Apparently Columbia doesn't teach students about the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, any more. The College Republicans have a right to invite anyone they want to speak at their events, and the speakers have the right to speak without being physically attacked. Bear in mind that this university houses the most prestigious school of journalism in the nation, which should indicate a particular interest in supporting free speech.
Macalester College should congratulate itself on its tolerance of opposing points of view. Columbia University should send letters home to every parent apologizing for its failure to teach their students critical thinking, civics, and any sense of class.
October 4, 2006
Patty Wetterling Overplays Her Hand
Patty Wetterling has done few things right in her latest campaign to win a seat in Congress. She seriously misrepresented Michele Bachmann's position on taxes this past weekend in an ad so poor that even the Star Tribune noticed. The Mark Foley scandal seemed tailor-made to Wetterling' she made her name as a tireless advocate for missing and exploited children after the tragic loss of her own child in the 1990s. She could have been expected to contrast Foley's now-suspect interest in the subject with her own bona fides, leveraging that track record to scold the Republican leadership for not protecting the teenaged pages on Capitol Hill.
Unfortunately, she has managed to remind voters of her ongoing problems with the truth. After posting a tough but largely accurate statement on her site yesterday, Wetterling fabricated details for her latest television and radio ads:
It shocks the conscience. Congressional leaders have admitted to covering up the predatory behavior of a congressman who used the internet to molest children.
I've been no silent supporter of the Republicans in this scandal, but Wetterling flat-out lies about the case in this ad. In the first place, no one has accused Foley of molestation. He stands accused of harassment and of inappropriate communications with teenagers. Perhaps he would have engaged in illegal sexual contact had he gotten the opportunity, and maybe he did and no one has come forward to speak about it. At this time, though, no one has alleged any molestation.
Wetterling also includes a strange statement about supposed Republican admissions of wrongdoing. No Republican leader has admitted to covering up anything about this case, contrary to Wetterling's accusation. Denny Hastert, John Boehner, and Thomas Reynolds all claim that they addressed the situation with Foley and did not think that there was anything to cover up. One can accuse them of incompetence or of attempting to cover it up, but no one can state that GOP leaders have admitted to either one.
The Democrats have an opening to exploit in this scandal. Wetterling shows exactly how they will inevitably overplay it, stretching embarassments into lies and speculation into smears. She has an understandable motivation to act in defense of children and teenagers, but in this case she has shamelessly exploited it to spread lies.
UPDATE: And maybe not a child, either, at least in the case of the IMs. That removes the scandal from the realm of the illegal, at least for the moment, but not from the overall onus of his behavior.
Rudy Gets A Majority
It's early, but it's consistent with other polling taken over the last few months. The front-runners for the 2008 nominations are Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, and only Giuliani gets majority support in a general election, according to the latest Marist poll.
Republicans who want to hold the White House need to look at these numbers; they're amazing. Giuliani gets majority support for his political views across almost all political demographics, and a plurality of Democrats. Thirty-two percent of Democrats want him to run in 2008. His candidacy has gained support from last year, something that only Newt Gingrich can say, and then only from fourth place. John McCain has suffered a significant drop in his support from February; perhaps his new emphasis on conservative values has caused some revisionism among his former fans on the Left.
I like Rudy, but his positions on guns bother me. I'm not as concerned about his pro-choice views, because (a) he supports judges that practice strict construction, and (b) other than judges, presidents have little affect on the debate anyway. I do have tremendous admiration for Giuliani, and not just because of 9/11. People forget that Giuliani took on the Mob and won as a US Attorney in New York, and that takes both guts and brains. He's a terrific speaker and a figure that attracts support from across the aisle. He's the anti-Hillary in more ways than one.
How do CQ readers feel about Giuliani? Would you support a Giuliani bid in the primaries, and would you support one in the general election? Who would you pick as his running mate if he wins the nomination? (via Instapundit)
Are These The People To Trust With Truth?
Google has made itself into the essential tool for Internet research, a success that all free-market fans applaud. Now one of its executives wants to expand its use into "truth predictor" functions that would assess the honesty of politicians:
Imagine being able to check instantly whether or not statements made by politicians were correct. That is the sort of service Google Inc. boss Eric Schmidt believes the Internet will offer within five years.
Politicians have yet to appreciate the impact of the online world, which will also affect the outcome of elections, Schmidt said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Wednesday.
He predicted that "truth predictor" software would, within five years, "hold politicians to account." People would be able to use programs to check seemingly factual statements against historical data to see to see if they were correct.
"One of my messages to them (politicians) is to think about having every one of your voters online all the time, then inputting 'is this true or false.' We (at Google) are not in charge of truth but we might be able to give a probability," he told the newspaper.
Truth in political statements? That should set records for smallest hit lists on Google searches.
Schmidt's new effort will likely find many fans, especially in the blogosphere. However, as Daniel Freedman notes at the New York Sun's It Shines For All blog, Google seems a poor choice for a partner in the search for political truth. This is the same company that cooperates with China's government in suppressing political truth in exchange for access to China's burgeoning Internet business. Google gave the Chinese information that allowed them to track down dissidents who posted criticisms of Beijing on line.
Is that the company we want in charge of Internet "truth"? I know I won't trust them with a search for truth prediction until they stop collaborating with tyrants.
North Korea Threatens Nuclear Tests
Kim Jong-Il apparently figured the spotlight of world attention had strayed too far from the Korean Peninsula for too long. Yesterday, Kim threatened to conduct a test of his nuclear weapons, an act that received immediate worldwide condemnation -- but little else:
World leaders lashed out at North Korea's vow Tuesday to test a nuclear bomb sometime "in the future," but offered no clear plan for dealing with aggravated tensions over the dictatorship's nuclear weapons ambitions.
U.S. intelligence officials said they had been monitoring recent movement of people and vehicles around at least one suspected test site. But because North Korea has never conducted a nuclear test, it is difficult for intelligence agencies to determine how close the regime may be to setting off a bomb.
The North Koreans did not elaborate on when a test would occur or whether it would be conducted below ground, which experts say is most likely, or in the atmosphere.
Showcasing a nuclear capability would almost certainly deepen North Korea's diplomatic and economic isolation, and could escalate the military buildup in northeast Asia, where grievances run deep and suspicions between capitals are high.
Kim issued the usual rationalizations for his new threat: ongoing American hostility, the need for a nuclear deterrent against the US, and the supposed economic warfare being waged by the US against Pyongyang. This refers to Kim's robust counterfeiting operation, which has pumped close to $1 billion in fake American currency into the global economy. Dear Leader still complains that we will not lift sanctions on the banks that fence his funny money, a complaint that the New York Times supported twice in its editorial pages.
Unfortunately, people have to take Kim's cries for attention seriously after his unexpected missile tests this past summer, all of which failed miserably. So far, no one has any indication that a nuclear test would meet with any more success than Kim's Taepodong-2 missile, but that hardly provides any comfort. Up to now, Kim hasn't tested any of his supposed nuclear arsenal, a necessary step in design and development. The lack of such a test has allowed the Pacific Rim to hope that Kim's boasting amounts to nothing more than a bluff. A successful test would eliminate that hope and also allow Kim to sell his technology abroad -- perhaps to Iran, which then could avoid the entire issue of enrichment.
If Kim conducts a successful test, then the UN and the other five parties to the talks have some tough decisions ahead of them. The UN abdicated on the issue yesterday, declining to issue yet another tiresome statement decrying Kim's actions and also declining to take any other action. China will not likely allow positive action against the Kim regime, such as targeted strikes on nuclear and rocket facilities, that would destroy or damage Pyongyang's ability to deploy weapons. Kim already faces economic isolation, and any attempt to toughen sanctions will likely fail, considering the starvation faced by the people of North Korea.
That leaves escalation as the best options for pressure in the region. Kim has pursued nuclear arms in a vacuum; the other nations of the region, save China, do not have nuclear arsenals. That may change, especially in Japan, where the new Prime Minister might defy tradition and build up Japan's military deterrent in response to Kim. China does not want to deal with a nuclear Japan; they're peacefully pursuing the Greater Asia strategy that the Japanese tried by force in the first half of the 20th century. They don't want to have a nuclear-armed Tokyo on their flank as they try to expand their hegemony in the region. The Chinese will have to pull Kim up short to avoid it. If we really wanted to put pressure on Beijing, we could start discussing the staging of nuclear weapons in Taiwan, but that has to be a last resort, as the Chinese would almost certainly see that as an unbearable threat to their security.
One thing is certain: Kim's ploys require some kind of significant response, and another strongly-worded memo won't cut it.
A Conversation Among Conservatives
Last night, I had the opportunity to participate in a round-table discussion with a few excellent bloggers of the Right regarding the Foley debacle and its implications. The conference call was hosted by Conservatives With Attitude and is now podcasted here. Joining hosts Michael Ross and Michael "A.J. Sparxx" Illions were myself, Lorie Byrd of Wizbangblog, Betsy Newmark of BetsysPage and John Hawkins of RightWingNews.
I enjoyed the discussion, even though I was in the minority on the issue. We talked for about forty minutes or so, and I think CQ readers will enjoy the debate. We decided afterwards that we would like to make this a semi-regular affair, so keep your eyes peeled for more podcasted debates with this panel in the future.
Britain Ready For Sanctions On Iran
Britain has decided that the Iranian negotiations have run aground and plan to pursue sanctions. The Guardian reports that Javier Solana's briefing on Iranian intransigence provided the straw that broke the camel's back:
The British government signalled yesterday the latest round of negotiations with Iran had failed and that it will begin a push within the next fortnight for targeted UN sanctions against Tehran. ...
The British official, talking to journalists in London on condition of anonymity, said Javiar Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, had at the weekend briefed the five permanent members of the security council - the US, Britain, France, China and Russia - plus Germany and reported that Iran had failed to suspend uranium enrichment as the UN had demanded.
Mr Solana, on a visit to Finland yesterday, said a telephone call to Ali Larijani, Iran's leading nuclear negotiator, yesterday failed to produce any breakthrough.
The British official said the foreign ministers had "agreed these steps should be incremental, they should be proportionate and they should be reversible if the Iranians do take the steps that are required of them".
Apparently the sudden "idea" that Iran conceived, where France would enrich uranium in Iranian facilities, did not count as a breakthrough in Solana's assessment. The insistence that the enrichment occur in Iranian facilities has torpedoed the supposed blockbuster development. The Iranians have made little effort so far in this standoff, and apparently the UK has tired of the sham.
We will shortly find out whether the UN Security Council will enforce its own demands against a defiant nation. Russia and China have made it pretty clear that they want to avoid the confrontation with their trading partner. Perhaps if Britain takes the lead, their animosity towards the US will not interfere with the necessary actions to rein in the Iranians.
Escalating sanctions may take much longer than anyone can afford. The international community has already extended the clock on Iran's nuclear race, and this plan appears to do much the same. In order to have any effect, sanctions must bite and bite hard. A gradual phasing of economic penalties will only prolong the image of impotence that the West has struggled to eliminate, and the Iranians could develop the bomb before the sanctions escalate to the point where it would make a difference to the Iranian people.
Britain should be hailed for its resolve. We need to work to make sure that the sanctions provide enough incentive within a short time frame to convince Teheran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
OMB Wants A Few Good Bloggers
The Office of Management and Budget will host the new Coburn-Obama database, and they want to continue in the reform spirit. In that effort, the OMB wants to draft bloggers to support its other clean-government initiatives:
The Office of Management and Budget is turning to bloggers for help in pushing the OMB's government reform plans after last week's success of its pet project, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, also known as the Coburn-Obama bill. ...
Bush signed the bill last week, flanked by the bloggers who had led the charge, including those from Porkbusters.org, Townhall.com, Instapundit.com and Human Events Online's Right Angle blog. Soon afterward, OMB Deputy Director Clay Johnson III spent an hour with the bloggers.
Right after that, OMB Director Rob Portman and Johnson appeared at a luncheon to talk about OMB's government performance push.
Portman also talked about the blogger fest, saying, "Clay asked them, 'Gee, since you're so good at this, can you help us on some of our other initiatives?' " When Johnson took the floor, he invoked the bloggers several times as weapons in his fight for government performance and accountability reforms.
This may well give the blogosphere its best case for its utility. Bloggers have rarely united for a cause across the political spectrum, but when we do, we get results. The Online Coalition formed to pressure the Federal Election Commission to grant bloggers the same media exemptions from the BCRA that traditional media outlets have, and the effort succeeded. The FFATA gave us another bipartisan victory, and in much the same kind of issue: transparency and free dissemination of information.
Can the blogosphere reform government? Not by itself, of course, but it can amplify the demands of the electorate, especially when it speaks in broad consensus. The Coburn-Obama database provided that rare consensus, helped in no small part through the fact that computer enthusiasts love a good database application. OMB has the right idea in harnessing the power of the blogs to force change on a ruling class that resists it mightily until convinced that its resistance will cost it power.
The Washington Post talks about the instability of the blogosphere, but dissenting voices allow for good analysis of political status. When only the most radical voices oppose reform, then OMB can fight for its measures, knowing that bloggers will mobilize quickly to demand their implementation. Only a fool would forego the populist power that the blogosphere represents out of fear what a handful might say in opposition. If OMB can make the case for reform that steers clear of ideology -- which really is the purview of our elected representatives -- they can rely on bloggers to help them carry the load.
A Fine Whine About Immigration Reform
The Washington Post offers up a typical doomsday scenario in order to highlight the lack of progress on comprehensive immigration reform, but winds up demonstrating everything wrong about the reformers' economic arguments. Sonya Geis allows growers full vent about their disappearing work force, but never quite makes the connection between their labor shortfall and the compensation they offer:
Bins of Granny Smith apples towered over two conveyor belts at P-R Farms' packing plant. But only one belt moved. P-R Farms, like farms up and down California and across the nation, does not have enough workers to process its fruit.
"We're short by 50 to 75 people," said Pat Ricchiuti, 59, the third-generation owner of P-R Farms. "For the last three weeks, we're running at 50 percent capacity. We saw this coming a couple years ago, but last year and this year has really been terrible."
Farmers of all types of specialty crops, from almonds to roses, have seen the immigrant labor supply they depend on dry up over the past year. Increased border security and competition from other industries are driving migrant laborers out of the fields, farmers say.
Earlier this year, many farmers were optimistic about finding a solution in the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, or AgJobs. The bill, proposed by Sens. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), would allow undocumented agricultural workers already in the United States to become legal permanent residents and would streamline the current guest-worker program. In March and September, hundreds of growers traveled to the Capitol to lobby for the bill.
But deep divisions within the Republican Party have stalled immigration reform. Although legislation to build a 700-mile fence along the border passed the House and Senate, the AgJobs proposal has languished.
In reality, however, nothing has changed on the border from two years ago except for more enforcement personnel, most of which came into effect this year. Why have the workers disappeared from the fields? After all, we have 12 million illegals in the country now, and some estimates put it closer to 20 million. They don't need to worry about crossing the Rio Grande to get to the jobs, so why the shortfall now?
I don't often quote James Carville, but in this case it applies: It's the economy, stupid.
In the last three years (since the Bush tax cuts!), we have added over 5 million jobs to the economy, far outpacing the growth in population. That puts pressure on entry-level wages, or in the case of growers, wages below entry level as well. The illegals already in the US have discovered jobs with better compensation than field work, and they have left agriculture as a result.
Most employers would simply raise wages to make their jobs more attractive, or they would find ways to automate and eliminate the need for some of those positions. This apparently doesn't apply to agriculture, which wants the government to supply them with foreign labor at ridiculously low cost. The AgJobs bill isn't really the problem. After all, that bill applies to people already inside the United States. Those same people could work now for growers without that bill. They just choose not to do so because they can get better jobs elsewhere.
No, the growers are unhappy because the federal government has become more effective at stopping illegal entry into the US. And when the government does give them an opportunity to hire foreign workers, they still complain. The H2A program allows growers to hire migrants legally, but the cost is higher and the risk is a little greater. Once across the border, the growers have to pay and house them, and if the harvest is off, they wind up paying for labor they don't need. Again, though, it's difficult to see how comprehensive immigration reform corrects this. Unless we fling open the borders, they still will have to use programs like H2A if they can't convince people already in the US to do their work.
Geis does discuss market-based wages, but only to give growers another excuse to blame the government for their problem. The farmers interviewed for the article claim that they pay the highest wages they can afford. However, almost in the same breath, Geis says that as much as one-third of some crops rotted in the fields from lack of labor to harvest it. That drives up prices more than moderate wage adjustments, so it's difficult to see the problem in adjusting for the labor market when farmers adjust for the sales market all the time.
The farmers in this article don't want comprehensive immigration reform, or normalization of any kind. That doesn't solve their labor problems. They want a free flow of dirt-cheap labor, which means they want open borders and no enforcement. Agriculture wants the federal government to rescind the economics of an open labor market in order to keep them from making the necessary changes to secure their work force. For the moment, at least, Congress has made the correct decision to ignore them.
October 3, 2006
A Reminder Of Depravity
Continuing rumors of ancient atrocities led German authorities to excavate a site that some thought contained the bodies of Nazi victims from World War II. This gossip proved all too accurate; they discovered a mass grave that the Nazis used to bury its youngest and most helpless victims:
Authorities in western Germany have found a mass grave containing 35 bodies, many of them of young children, and are checking whether they may have been victims of Hitler's program of forced "euthanasia" that killed tens of thousands of people with physical and mental disabilities.
The search of the site in a cemetery in the town of Menden near Dortmund began last week after rumors and eyewitness testimony that the cemetery contained the bodies of Nazi victims.
Among the bodies found so far are 20 skeletons of children believed to have been aged between one and seven. Most of them were buried without coffins. Two of the children's skulls show signs of possible physical disabilities. Some of the bodies were found in a war cemetery adjoining Menden's Catholic cemetery.
"There's a vague preliminary suspicion that they may be euthanasia cases," said prosecutor Heiko Oltmanns of the Dortmund public prosecutors' office.
The euthanasia program still haunts Germany, as this excavation proves, and for good reason. Over 70,000 children and handicapped adults met their deaths in the first two years of this gruesome government program that intended on producing a generation without defect. Tens of thousands more died during the war as the Nazis killed off the "undesirable" as resources grew more scarce. They didn't even have the decency to bury their victims properly. The mass grave had bodies less than 70 cm below the surface.
Der Spiegel reports that Germany will conduct DNA testing to see if the nearby hospital and its doctors had any role in the euthanizing of these victims. If so, they promise criminal prosecution. It seems an empty threat more than 60 years after the murders. Even the candy-stripers or the German equivalent would be in their eighties now, and they would hardly have criminal responsibility for the atrocities unearthed in Menden.
Instead, it should serve as another stark reminder about the inevitable corruption that occurs when we give governments the power to decide which lives are worth living and which should end, regardless of whether any offense has occurred. That urge does not limit itself to tyrants, either.
The Next Great Internet Sensation
I had a chance to take a look at a website that will delight porkbusters across the political spectrum. The good folks at OMB Watch, in conjunction with The Sunlight Foundation, will launch FedSpending.org on October 10th. FedSpending actually steals a march on the Coburn-Obama federal database by putting all of the federal contracts and grants in the federal budget in a searchable database. And let me tell you, if the federal government makes it work one-tenth as well as this, we've spent our money well indeed.
FedSpending didn't just restrain itself to FY2005. They assembled spending data for every year since FY2000, and the amounts account for the majority of federal spending. Just as the government directed, FS separates contracts and grants into two separate databases. Users will be able to sort spending by state, Congressional district, recipient, and by program. Porkbusters can look up individual contractors and grantees to see how they get our money and what they do with it.
In order to get a sneak peek at the data, I had to promise not to divulge any of the information I discovered in my searches. This is driving me crazy, because in just a few minutes, I discovered enough for a dozen blog posts. Instead of revealing the information, I'll leave you with some tantalizing questions:
* What percentage of federal contracts come from full and open competitive bids?
* What contractor gets the highest percentage of federal contracts?
* What state has four of the top eight Congressional districts for federal grant recipients?
* Where does administrative/management support rank in the list of federal contract types?
* Which federal contractor won 94.7% of its contracts in full and open competition?
On October 10th, I can give you the answers to those questions. Most importantly, on October 10th, you can find the answers yourselves -- and plenty more answers on top of these.
When He Tells Us He Got Abducted By Aliens, Call Me
After having salacious messages to teenage boys exposed by ABC News last week, disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley disappeared, later turning up at a mental-health facility claiming that he suffers from alcoholism. When that apparently didn't turn down the heat, his lawyer dragged out another pop-culture form of victimhood in a supposedly "blockbuster" press conference:
Former Rep. Mark Foley's attorney said Tuesday that his client was molested between the ages 13 and 15 by a clergyman.
Foley had represented the West Palm Beach district for 12 years and was seeking re-election until his sudden resignation last week after the disclosure of lurid online communications with teenage congressional pages.
"This is part of his recovery," Roth said, declining to identify the clergyman or the church.
Ah, yes. Alcoholism has become rather passe' these days, what with Bob Ney ostentantiously checking himself into a treatment center after his guilty verdict for corruption. He needed another weepie-show affliction, and so Foley had his attorney float the molestation defense today. And note that it wasn't just molestation, but molestation by clergy. Very trendy indeed.
Maybe it's even true, but who cares? He's fifty-four years old! If he had problems, it was incumbent on him to address them some other way than by engaging in cybersex masturbation sessions between votes in the House. The entire exercise insults the intelligence, especially the part where Foley's attorney assures people that Foley isn't using these revelations as excuses. Of course he's using them as excuses -- otherwise, why make the announcements at all? To keep his fan club informed of his state of mind?
Three Years Of CQ
Three years. 8,156 posts. Over 109,000 comments and 16,000 trackbacks. 23 million visits. And the best blog community in the 'sphere.
It all started with this post:
Welcome to the Captain's Quarters!
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas which on him prey
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
and so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him who comes behind.
-- Jonathan Swift
I love this quote, and I've had it memorized since I first read it in Tom Burnham's Dictionary of Misinformation. In fact, I think it explains blogs and their popularity, and in some degrees their incestuousness. Glenn Reynolds or Andrew Sullivan read a news story, and they post a commentary, and then other blogs post commentaries to their commentaries, and so proceed ad infinitum.
Don't get me wrong - I think that's terrific! We need an open market for political discussion. Hash things out to the nth degree. Argue, bicker, and scold. The trick is to keep your head, check your assumptions, and expose yourselves to differing points of view. That's what I will try to do here. I hope you enjoy the hell out of it.
When I first started this blog, I expected it to serve two purposes: an archive of my thoughts and important stories on current events, and a way to hone my writing skills and discipline. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the success I have experienced. In fact, had I known it would get anywhere near this kind of attention, I would have used a different nom de plume. "Captain Ed" was a nickname well known to my friends and family, who were the only people I thought would ever read this.
On the other hand, I've made a lot of friends through this blog, friends that I never would have made otherwise. People like Hugh Hewitt, Mark Tapscott, Jonathan Last, Glenn Reynolds, and so many more. Some, like Jon Henke, started almost from the beginning of the blog. Others, like Michelle Malkin, came a bit later and are just as dear to me. I've met people across the political spectrum, like Joe Gandelman and E. J. Dionne, who proved that political differences don't have to translate to personal animosities. I've worked with the New York Sun, the New York Post, the Washington Post, the Weekly Standard, and now I get to work with the Examiner and the Heritage Foundation.
I also get to do a great radio show every Saturday with outstanding folks like Mitch Berg, King Banaian, Brian Ward, Chad the Elder, John Hinderaker, Michael Brodkorb, and even occasionally Scott Johnson. All of these are great friends and terrific bloggers, whose links are at the top of my blogroll for a reason.
So I feel very, very blessed, but most of all I feel blessed by having such a great community of readers and commenters. Most of the CQ experience comes from this group, not from me, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of you, regardless of your perspective. Sometimes I fret too much about keeping the rhythm of the comment threads to a high standard, but my impulse is pure even if my implementation is sometimes clumsy. I look forward every day to the debate that gets facilitated at this site, and I hope you do, too.
In three years, I have never taken a day off, which I believe means that I've solved that writer's discipline problem. I may at some time take a few days to recharge the batteries, but for the moment, I'm delighted to have this outlet for my opinions and perspective. I'm enjoying the hell out of this. I hope the rest of you continue to do so, too.
And I do have one person to thank most for these three years:
If it wasn't for the First Mate, I'd never be able to do this.
NOTE: Another great blogfriend, The Anchoress, celebrates 2 million visitors. Congratulations on my blog-twin Sister Toldjah for her 3rd blogiversary, too, and big thanks to Joe for a nice post at TMV.
Rate Of Increase In Federal Budget Highest Since 1990
Brian Riedl at the Heritage Foundation has taken a look at the growth in federal spending, and sounds the alarm in a new analysis. Riedl points out the shell game played by Congress in this session that has allowed spending to increase at the highest rate in sixteen years:
Federal spending in 2006 is set to rise 9 percent, the largest increase since 1990 and enough to earn Congress near failing grades from the Heritage Foundation’s third quarter report card. Most families facing steep new expenses would cut back on additional spending. However, the Senate is preparing to bust fiscal year (FY) 2007 discretionary spending caps by at least $32 billion to:
1. Reimburse the Pentagon for the $9 billion raided from its budget earlier this year and given to domestic programs, as well as fund additional defense and border security programs ($26.8 billion in total);
2. Fund another massive farm subsidy bailout despite high subsidy levels and a booming farm economy ($4.2 billion); and
3. Reimburse NASA for funds that lawmakers had diverted into parochial pork projects ($1.0 billion).
And in addition, lawmakers have promised $2 billion to $3 billion more for the labor, health, and education programs. Senators classify much of this new spending as “emergency” so that it does not technically count against the budget caps. But this spending is foreseeable—and often the predictable result of budget gimmickry—and so is not an “emergency.” For the sake of taxpayers, Congress needs to set its budgetary priorities, make tough choices, and offset any increases.
I wrote about this yesterday at the Heritage Foundation's Policy Blog, looking at the connection between this analysis and the story from yesterday's New York Times regarding how pork-barrel politics railroads spending bills through the House. It shows that the true cost of pork amounts to more than just the sum of all the earmarks -- much, much more. Be sure to read it and to bookmark the Policy Blog.
Blankley Says Hastert Must Go
The Washington Times' Tony Blankley has joined a small chorus of voices calling for the resignation of Denny Hastert as Speaker of the House:
The facts of the disgrace of Mark Foley, who was a Republican member of the House from a Florida district until he resigned last week, constitute a disgrace for every Republican member of Congress. Red flags emerged in late 2005, perhaps even earlier, in suggestive and wholly inappropriate e-mail messages to underage congressional pages. His aberrant, predatory -- and possibly criminal -- behavior was an open secret among the pages who were his prey. The evidence was strong enough long enough ago that the speaker should have relieved Mr. Foley of his committee responsibilities contingent on a full investigation to learn what had taken place, whether any laws had been violated and what action, up to and including prosecution, were warranted by the facts. This never happened.
Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the Republican chairman of the House Page Board, said he learned about the Foley e-mail messages "in late 2005." Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the leader of the Republican majority, said he was informed of the e-mail messages earlier this year. On Friday, Mr. Hastert dissembled, to put it charitably, before conceding that he, too, learned about the e-mail messages sometime earlier this year. Late yesterday afternoon, Mr. Hastert insisted that he learned of the most flagrant instant-message exchange from 2003 only last Friday, when it was reported by ABC News. This is irrelevant. The original e-mail messages were warning enough that a predator -- and, incredibly, the co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children -- could be prowling the halls of Congress. The matter wasn't pursued aggressively. It was barely pursued at all. Moreover, all available evidence suggests that the Republican leadership did not share anything related to this matter with any Democrat. ...
House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.
As I wrote earlier, the strange reluctance of Republicans to investigate the earlier e-mails combined with Hastert's clumsy attempts to distance himself from the scandal on Friday have compounded the scandal -- which by all rights should fall completely on Mark Foley himself. Hastert's staffers told the press on Friday that he hadn't known of a problem with Foley, forcing John Boehner to retract his statement that he himself had told Hastert of the issue. Only after Thomas Reynolds went public the next day did Hastert himself admit that he had known of the earlier e-mails.
But let's put that aside for the moment, and concentrate on what Hastert and the leadership say they did in response to Foley. Once they found out about the e-mails through the complaint of an underage page, all they did was ask Foley about it, and accepted his denials at face value. Incredibly, no one apparently ever asked any of Foley's former or current pages if they had noticed any inappropriate behavior from the Congressman. What kind of an investigation doesn't address the reality of patterns in allegedly predatory behavior? Foley's uncommon interest in young teenage boys had become parlor talk among the pages, but either Hastert didn't want to find that out or deliberately avoided it. Hastert apparently made the decision not to follow procedures and refer the matter to the Page Board, the bipartisan committee that oversees pages, and that looks very clearly like a cover-up.
And someone has to explain why Foley retained his position on the Caucus for Missing and Exploited Children. No one saw a problem with this?
Even ascribing the best of intentions to Hastert and the other members of leadership, personal friendship with Foley doesn't excuse that level of incompetence. Furthermore, when the scandal broke, Hastert should have immediately explained his involvement in the earlier complaint, rather than wait for it to dribble out. That's what leadership means: controlling a situation and providing an example rather than allowing events to control you and your party. All Hastert needed to do was to come out on Friday and said, "We had a complaint about suggestive e-mails this winter, and we relied on Mark Foley's word that nothing more untoward had occurred. In hindsight, that was a mistake, but we wanted to honor the wishes of the parents and not make a public spectacle of the situation." It wouldn't have explained the earlier incompetence, but at least it would have dampened the firestorm that erupted around the changing stories of House leadership.
I can't agree with Blankley's suggestion for a new, interim Speaker. Henry Hyde is a fine Congressman, but if he thinks that the author of Clinton's impeachment will serve as a symbol of bipartisan cooperation, he's mistaken. The GOP needs to find a reformer for the short-term position, someone whose reputation for clean government will be beyond reproach. However, Blankley's call for new leadership in some form is one that the Republicans should heed.
UPDATE: Brendan Miniter doesn't go as far as Tony Blankley, but he's on the same wavelength:
Here's what we know so far: Late last year, when informed that there might be something amiss, the speaker's office referred the issue to Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois. He heads the committee in charge of the page program, and he took a look at the few emails that had surfaced. Mr. Shimkus was concerned enough by what he saw to confront Mr. Foley and tell him to cut off all direct contact with underage pages. The Florida congressman apparently spun a story that he was only mentoring the boy who had received the emails. And, looking over messages asking for a picture and what the page wanted for his birthday, Mr. Shimkus apparently bought it. But the question that will haunt Republicans now is, if the evidence was compelling enough to confront Mr. Foley, why wasn't it also compelling enough to dig deeper?
We also know that Mr. Foley, an active campaigner and prolific fund-raiser, flirted with the idea of running for Senate this year (spurred on by some Republicans who considered him a stronger candidate than Rep. Katherine Harris, who still carried baggage from the 2000 election). He inexplicably withdrew from consideration several months ago. When ambitious politicians suddenly decide not to climb to a higher rung on the political ladder, there's usually a good reason. Since Mr. Shimkus was already aware of concerns of Mr. Foley's emails to congressional pages, it's fair to ask another question to which Republicans may prefer not to find an answer: After Mr. Foley folded up his Senate ambitions, why didn't Mr. Shimkus or anyone else considered the possibility that there was more to those emails than Mr. Foley let on?
UPDATE: Dafydd ab Hugh disagrees as well, and at length. Be sure to read all of my old co-blogger's post.
UK Says No Way To Guantanamo Nine
With all of the international cries for the US to release the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, it may surprise some that not everyone wants to take back the terrorists we have detained for the past five years. The UK has rejected the return of nine British subjects at Guantanamo, objecting to American demands for ongoing security aimed at keeping the freed detainees from rejoining the jihad:
The United States has offered to return nearly all British residents held at Guantánamo Bay after months of secret talks in Washington, the Guardian has learned.
The British government has refused to accept the men, however, with senior officials saying they have no legal right to return. Documents obtained by the Guardian show US authorities are demanding that the detainees be kept under 24-hour surveillance if set free - restrictions that are dismissed by the British as unnecessary and unworkable.
Although all are accused of terrorist involvement, Britain says there is no intelligence to warrant the measures Washington wants, and it lacks the resources to implement them. "They do not pose a sufficient threat," said the head of counter-terrorism at the Home Office.
The possible security arrangements appear to have caused months of wrangling, but senior UK sources have told the Guardian the government is interested in accepting only one man - Bisher al-Rawi - who is now known to have helped MI5 keep watch on Abu Qatada, the London-based Muslim cleric and al-Qaida suspect who was subsequently arrested.
One of the reasons that we have held this prisoners for so long is to ensure that they do not return to the battlefield. Some of the released detainees have done so. While the Bush administration would dearly love to get rid of this international albatross, they do not want more repeats of Abdullah Mehsud, who the US released only to have him kidnap and kill two Chinese engineers in Pakistan.
In order to process these releases, then, the US wants guarantees of security from their countries of origin. Despite repeated calls for the release of these prisoners, none of the nations involved want to undertake the security steps necessary to keep them away from jihad. That leaves the US in the unenviable position of either continuing to detain them indefinitely, perhaps for life, or to set them completely free. Neither option provides a satisfying resolution, although if other countries continue to balk at cooperation, the detainees might find themselves in front of the military tribunals currently being constituted for the high-value prisoners, such as Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The British also have more problems with the detainees. They argue that since the men do not hold British citizenship -- apparently they were only residents -- they have no legal right to return to the UK. British authorities also worry that once inside the country, the UK will be unable to deport them. Accepting them apparently will establish some sort of de facto right to residency that the UK wants to avoid.
So now we have the situation where returning these detainees to their nations of origin will get blocked by Western nations who want nothing to do with them, while American courts will block the return of the others who would go back to Middle Eastern nations who might face harsh treatment back home. Everyone wants the Guantanamo prisoners released, but no one seems to be volunteering to properly host them.
Hamas Rejects 1100-1 Prisoner Swap For Shalit
Hamas appears prepared to act as reasonably as ever, the Jerusalem Post reports. Egypt announced that Hamas had refused to accept a deal to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, even after the Mubarak government tried offering up to 1,100 Palestinian prisoners in exchange:
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Monday that Israel had offered to release up to 1,000 prisoners in exchange for captured soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, but Hamas had turned down the proposal.
"[There was] a deal that could have freed 900 to 1,000 prisoners, but sadly they have decided to keep holding him," he told Al-Arabiyeh Television.
Egypt has been mediating between Israel and Hamas over the release of Shalit, who was abducted at Kerem Shalom on the Gaza border on June 25.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz told Israel Radio on Sunday that the IDF might step up military operations in the Gaza Strip, to put pressure on Hamas to release Shalit and halt the firing of rockets at Israel.
Khaled Mashaal must think he has some advantage over Israel, an impression that an 1100-1 swap might certainly leave. He has to think that he will gain something, because he's passing up an opportunity to score big political points against Mahmoud Abbas. If Hamas can free 1,100 Palestinian prisoners with a single IDF soldier, their stock would certainly rise, and they can use all the support they can get as Hamas and Fatah appear ready again to start a civil war.
Does Mashaal think that he can get more prisoners out of Israeli jails? If so, he may miscalculate Israeli sentiment. Ehud Olmert has already seen his approval ratings drop through the floor and into the ground below. Further unrest and demands by Hamas terrorists will only strengthen the hand of Benjamin Netanyahu -- who will be very unlikely to agree to an 1100-1 swap, let alone anything more lopsided than that.
The Israelis have already signaled that they will escalate the war in Gaza if Shalit is not released soon. Egypt, which will have to deal with the refugee crisis that will spark, wants desperately to find some way to reduce tensions in Gaza. Unless the Israelis get Shalit back and an end to the missile attacks, they will not succeed. Egypt should put pressure on Bashar Assad in order to get their proxy Mashaal to accept some deal very soon, before the Israelis lose all patience.
Iranians Offer France For Enrichment
An eleventh-hour offer to resolve the nuclear standoff has come from Iran's negotiators, the Jerusalem Post reports this morning. Picking up on a concept from early in the conflict, the deputy chief of Iran's nuclear agency suggested that another country handle uranium enrichment for Iran, only this time Mohammed Saeedi has proposed the French instead of the Russians:
A top Iranian nuclear official proposed Tuesday that France create a consortium to enrich Iran's uranium, in a bid to satisfy the international community's demands for outside oversight of Tehran's nuclear program.
"To be able to arrive at a solution, we have just had an idea. We propose that France create a consortium for the production in Iran of enriched uranium," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, told France-Info radio.
"That way France, through the companies Eurodif and Areva, could control in a tangible way our enrichment activities," he added. ...
Saeedi gave no other details of his proposal, which appeared to be an Iranian initiative. France, a permanent member of the Security Council, is among the countries leading the push to stop Iran's nuclear activities. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman would not comment on Saeedi's proposal early Tuesday.
It's difficult to know whether to take Saeedi seriously. France would make a logical partner, as it generates 75% of its electricity through nuclear energy. They have a market for nuclear generation and skilled deliverers as a result. France would certainly have the capability, and surely would have the willingness to do business with Teheran on such a project.
On the other hand, this looks like another attempt to stall Western sanctions. The US remains confident that Russia and China will join in any sanctions that result from further Iranian defiance, and Iran remains concerned enough to continue making cooperative noises while keeping its options wide open. American confidence has thus far been misplaced; Russia has openly said it will not vote for sanctions, and given its animosity to the same Western coalition that wants to detach Georgia from its sphere of influence, changing his mind seems a Herculean task. Without Russia, China will balk. Certainly Nicholas Burns knows all of this and remains optimistic, which either means that Burns knows where a few skeletons are buried or he's down to issuing optimistic assessments in the hope they come true.
However, one has to consider another element which could explain the Iranian suggestion. They played footise for months, even as long as two years, with the Russians on a similar deal. Iran awarded Russia the contract to build its reactor at Bushehr, but the project has suffered from many delays. Iran may question Russia's ability to complete the reactor, and thus their ability to keep it supplied with fuel. Given Russia's track record on nuclear power plants once in operation -- recall Chernobyl -- the Iranians may have decided that they'd like a better contractor for their nuclear energy program. France would be the logical choice, not only for its proven track record in the field but also because of its status as a major trading partner with Teheran.
This could be a significant development, but if so, it would have to come from someone higher up than Saeedi. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he'll accept French enrichment in place of Iranian enrichment, then we can take this seriously enough to make a deal. Until then, it will look like just another stall tactic.
How The Geneva Convention Protects Western Troops
A coroner's inquest in the UK concluded that two British soldiers, captured by Iraqis in March 2003, were executed by Saddam's officers after a few hours of torture. The finding confirms accusations made by Tony Blair during the operation:
IRAQI officers loyal to Saddam Hussain filmed their cold-blooded murder of two British bomb disposal officers who were captured after a roadside ambush.
An inquest was told that Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, and Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, thought that they were being taken to hospital for treatment, but instead they were moved to a compound run by Saddam’s military intelligence.
The harrowing ordeal lasted for hours until Iraqi agents killed the pair. The soldiers were buried in a shallow grave.
The Geneva Conventions do not appear to have helped Allsopp and Cullingworth. Iraq entered into the covenant in 1956, and so operated under its strictures, at least in theory. Neither Iran nor Iraq bothered to fake compliance during their long war despite both having adopted the GC, and Saddam didn't worry too much about it in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The British soldiers were captured during open hostilities and in uniform, and should have received POW status. Instead, Saddam's officer corps decided to execute them, and to film their crime as well.
This shows yet again that many signatories to the GC rarely apply them during conflicts, preferring to fall back on their own brutal traditions. Treating the GC as some sort of talisman that will ward off the brutality of tyrants allows people to fall prey to a utopianism that simply does not exist in modern warfare between any nations except those in the West -- and since the advent of democracy, those nations do not war with each other. And even at that, Germany certainly qualified as a Western country during World War II and still dispensed with the GC in all but the thinnest veneer of appearances.
The coroner's finding and the film of the execution does bring up another question. Can Britain charge Saddam Hussein and the army officers in custody with war crimes? Saddam likely will not survive the trials he already faces with the Iraqis, but the British should consider formal charges against Saddam and his henchmen for this crime. If people want to invoke the GC to limit the options of Western nations in defending themselves, then the Western nations need to prosecute the enemies we face for violating them as well. If the British feel their invocation in this case would serve no purpose, then why abide by the GC at all?
October 2, 2006
Whatever Happened To ... Katie Barge?
A couple of local bloggers have tracked down one of the Democratic operatives responsible for stealing Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele's confidential credit report last year. My NARN colleague Michael Brodkorb found Katie Barge, late of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, now working for Media Matters:
Prior to founding Media Matters, David Brock met with a number of leading Democratic Party figures, including Senator Hillary Clinton, former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and former Vice President Al Gore. Today, more than a few of the organization’s roughly 30 staff members are Democratic operatives. Among these are Media Matters’ chief communications strategist Dennis Yedwab, who is also the Director of Strategic Resources at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Brock’s personal assistant, Mandy Vlasz, is a Democratic pollster and a veteran consultant to Democratic campaigns, including the 2000 Gore/Lieberman campaign. Katie Barge, the Director of Research at Media Matters, formerly presided over opposition research for Senator John Edwards’ unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign.
Gary Gross recognized the name and tracked down what happened to Barge and Laura Weiner for their crime. It's not much, especially considering DSCC chair Chuck Schumer's crusade against identity theft. Be sure to read all of Gary's post. Culture of corruption, indeed.
Frist Didn't Surrender To The Taliban
An earlier AP report on Bill Frist and comments he made on the status of Afghanistan had some Republicans reaching for their hemlock, but as it turns out, Frist claims that the report misquotes his remarks. Here's what the AP reported:
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan guerrilla war can never be won militarily and called for efforts to bring the Taliban and their supporters into the Afghan government.
The Tennessee Republican said he had learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated by military means.
"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," Frist said during a brief visit to a U.S. and Romanian military base in the southern Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished we'll be successful." ...
The senator said he had been warned to expect attacks in Afghanistan to increase. There appears to be an "unlimited flow" of Afghans and foreigners, he said, "willing to pick up arms and integrate themselves with the Taliban."
He said the only way to win in places like Qalat is to "assimilate people who call themselves Taliban into a larger, more representative government."
Frist, however, calls foul at his VOLPAC blog after I contacted his office this afternoon to get a confirmation of his remarks:
I’m currently overseas visiting our troops in Afghanistan, but I wanted to take a moment to address an Associated Press story titled, “Frist: Taliban Should Be in Afghan Gov’t.” The story badly distorts my remarks and takes them out of context.
First of all, let me make something clear: The Taliban is a murderous band of terrorists who’ve oppressed the people of Afghanistan with their hateful ideology long enough. America’s overthrow of the Taliban and support for responsible, democratic governance in Afghanistan is a great accomplishment that should not and will not be reversed.
Having discussed the situation with commanders on the ground, I believe that we cannot stabilize Afghanistan purely through military means. Our counter-insurgency strategy must win hearts and minds and persuade moderate Islamists potentially sympathetic to the Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan national government and democratic political processes.
National reconciliation is a necessary and an urgent priority … but America will never negotiate with terrorists or support their entry into Afghanistan’s government.
So what happened? I think that someone confused "Taliban" with "Taliban supporters" at some point, and whether that was Frist or the reporter will probably remain a point of contention between the two. At any rate, Bill Frist is not calling for the return of the Taliban and an end to democracy in Afghanistan.
However, it does bring up an important point about the eventual end game in Afghanistan. If we want a representative democracy in Afghanistan, it will probably be heavily influenced by the Pashtuns, who have a strong Islamist bent. They did, after all, push the Taliban into power. At some point, we have to find a way to convince these Islamists to buy into democracy, and we have to be willing to allow that democracy to develop its own laws and customs. Otherwise, we will have to prop up a strongman who can keep the Pashtuns oppressed, which will create an even greater Islamist impulse in Afghanistan.
I believe that is what Frist meant, however awkwardly it was put -- and Allahpundit at Hot Air has a point regarding that. In the end, that's just common sense. Democracy brings people the government they desire, in theory and in practice, and we need to convince the Pashtuns that such a structure will be responsive to their goals as well as those of the other tribal communities in Afghanistan. Only democracy protects the minority from the majority, and only representative government gives people the free expression of their political will. We certainly will not convince the Pashtuns to cooperate in a democracy if we outlaw their expression of policy within a constitutional framework.
Political Dishonesty In Minnesota Politics
One of the most jaw-droppingly dishonest ads that I have seen in years comes from the Patty Wetterling campaign in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District. The ads have appeared on prime-time television throughout the state, and not only display dishonesty but sheer ignorance. Wetterling accuses Michelle Bachmann of wanting to raise taxes through an increase in the sales tax:
Michele Bachmann says she's for lowering taxes, and yet she supports replacing the income tax with a national sales tax," says Wetterling. Under a national sales tax, all taxable goods and services - including daily basics like milk, bread, groceries, clothing, new tires and prescription drugs - could cost 23% more.
Lower and middle-class Minnesotans would pay more taxes under this plan, up to $4,077 more per year," says Wetterling. "I find it incredible that Michele Bachmann wants to place a heavier burden on the people who can least afford to pay more for basic goods and services.
Yeah, well, that tells only half of the story. The 23% sales tax Bachmann suggested was a replacement for the federal income tax, not an additional tax. Bachmann hasn't even endorsed the Fair Tax Plan, which would replace the income tax and is designed to be revenue-neutral -- which means that taxpayers will pay no more and no less than they already do. In fact, the Fair Tax Plan has the ability to be far more progressive than the federal income tax, as it taxes consumption rather than income, and cannot easily be subverted through tax shelters and the like. Enforcement resources would be minimal, and a major headache for employers and employees alike would disappear.
Leaving out the Fair Tax Plan's elimination of the income tax and the fact that Bachmann didn't endorse it at all creates a falsehood so obvious that "lie" is not too strong a word. Eric Black at the Star Tribune has called the ad misleading, and Bachmann has demanded a retraction from Wetterling. So far, however, the Democrat continues to allow the spot to run and continues to mislead voters on her campaign website. That tells Minnesotans all they need to know about the Democrats in this state.
Note: Michele Bachmann is one of the many fine candidates to whom CQ readers can contribute at Rightroots. Be sure to make your donations now.
New Iran Policy Toughens Sanctions
Condoleezza Rice will have a new tool in her pocket in the showdown with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. The Senate quietly passed a new Iran policy on Saturday, one which President Bush is expected to sign, that allows for sanctions on any business that supports Iran's nuclear or advanced weapons programs. When she travels to Cairo tomorrow, Rice intends on unveiling the implications of the new policy in an attempt to further isolate Teheran:
Bolstered by a new sanctions bill against Iran, Secretary of State Rice will press Arab foreign ministers tomorrow in Cairo to instruct banks in the region to cut ties to any entities contributing to Iran's nuclear program, support for terror, or pursuit of advanced conventional weapons.
If the gambit in Cairo succeeds, it will boost American efforts to punish Iran for its defiance of international resolutions on its nuclear program. In the last 18 months, the Bush administration has quietly succeeded in pressing four large European banks, including London-based HSBC, to stop doing business with Iran.
Indeed, when the Treasury Department announced earlier this month that Iran's Bank Saderat would be barred from American financial markets, three large Japanese banks also cut ties with the bank. Yesterday, the Iranian press announced that talks between Iran and Japan on a $2 billion deal to develop the Azadegan oil field had collapsed.
The Iran Freedom and Support Act, which the Senate passed Saturday and President Bush is expected to sign this week, threatens to bar from American financial markets all banks and companies that are found to be contributing to the Iranian nuclear project or its development of advanced weapons.
In fact, most of the audience in Cairo will not shed many tears over this new initiative. Most Gulf states already fear the threat of Iranian hegemony for a number of reasons. None of them want a non-Arab state dictating policy, nor do they want to kowtow to the Shi'ites. The new American policy will give them an excuse to do what they would probably want to do anyway, and this policy allows them to act in concert.
The new policy has already made a dent in Iranian economics, with the loss of the Japanese development deal on oil-field development. Iran will respond to the economic pressure by attempting to turn up the prices at the pumps. They convinced Venezuela and Nigeria to cut back production on Friday by 170,000 barrels a day. However, the same nations that want to see Teheran contained have the biggest production capability, and they could make up for any shortfalls by Iranian allies, if they want to keep pressure on the Iranians. Neither Venezuela nor Nigeria can afford to significantly reduce production for very long without some support from the rest of OPEC.
This, of course, reminds us that we need to move away from foreign oil as soon as possible.
The US appeared to have waited far too long to respond to Iranian stall tactics in the nuclear showdown. Bush's new efforts abroad to tighten the economic noose around the mullahs shows that the White House has gotten back into the game. Given the mediocre state of Iranian economics, which relies on oil for 80% of its income, the new push should have an immediate effect, and one noticeable to Iranian citizens. Perhaps this will motivate them to rethink their leadership.
Behold The Power Of Pork
The power of appropriators to shape legislation in all other areas of policy gets amplified through the use of pork-barrel politics, and John Murtha in particular has mastered this technique. The New York Times profiles Murtha and gets him on the record, bragging about his effectiveness in using pork to gain power:
Members have watched with envy as Mr. Murtha has used earmarks to remake Johnstown, Pa., an impoverished former steel town that now includes a Murtha highway, a Murtha airport and Murtha health centers. He has steered billions of dollars to his district over the years, including more than $80 million in the defense spending bill passed Friday, according to a preliminary tally.
Mr. Murtha’s patronage has transformed Johnstown into a national hub of the defense business, attracting giants like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. He even built one contractor from scratch. In 1988, Mr. Murtha asked the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh to set up a nonprofit that could use Navy money to establish a Center for Excellence in Metalworking in Johnstown.
Since then, Mr. Murtha has delivered earmarks to the organization, now called Concurrent Technologies Corporation, for work like consulting on counterterrorism, designing ejection seats for pilots and developing software. The military and other federal agencies have paid Concurrent nearly a billion dollars in grants and contracts since 1999. In the most recent defense bill, Mr. Murtha inserted $1.3 million for Concurrent to research Army tank designs.
“It is Murtha’s pet rock,” said Stephen Gage, chief executive of an Ohio economic development organization that once worked with Concurrent.
Concurrent’s executives, in turn, have given more than $114,000 to the congressman’s campaigns over the last three elections, making it one of his biggest corporate donors. The organization pays about $500,000 a year to a lobbying firm, the PMA Group, whose executives and clients have given Mr. Murtha more than $1.2 million in donations since 1999.
It goes beyond the remaking of Johnstown, however. The power Murtha exercises affects more than just his own extensive use of earmarking; he uses the earmarks of others to twist arms on all kinds of legislation. Those who follow Murtha's advice on votes will see their earmarks sail through Appropriations, while those who oppose Murtha in either party will see their districts starve for federal funding.
Do you wonder why debate on bills seem to occur in inverse proportion to their cost? At least with defense bills, we can thank John Murtha. In the late 1980s, he created a new process for defense spending. Instead of having the bill go through weeks of debate, Murtha and the ranking Republican would simply lard the bill with so much pork spending that neither side could resist voting for the bill. No one wanted to debate the bill, because no one wanted to reveal the pork spending within it. The Republicans have continued this tradition, which is why the defense appropriation last week for $437 billion only endured 20 minutes of debate.
His power has even helped unseat members of his own party. Allyson Schwartz beat out a fellow Democrat for her seat after the reformer tangled with Murtha over pork-barrel spending. Schwartz learned from her predecessor's experience not to cross Murtha, and he has rewarded her complicity with millions of dollars in earmarks for her district to keep her seat safe. Not all of this largesse that Murtha offers assists in professional security for politicians; some, such as Paul Kanjorski, get earmarks for family. Murtha helped put $9.5 million in earmarks into the pockets of Kanjorski's nephews, who own a business that uses water jets for demolition work, which Kanjorski says is the only firm capable of doing the work.
The New York Times profile provides a clear look at the power and corruption that earmarks create on Capitol Hill. John Murtha should represent his own district in Congress, but thanks to his ability to appropriate funds, he controls large blocks of votes on all legislation. He uses the power of pork to play kingmaker. It's hard to see a better example of how pork corrupts the political system.
Iran Sending Jihadists Into Afghanistan?
The Guardian reports that Western intelligence agencies have discovered a new source of jihadists in Afghanistan, and it comes as a bit of a surprise. The Sunni-based Taliban have apparently received a boost in personnel from the Shi'ites in Iran:
Knock-kneed with fear, the young prisoner perched on the edge of his chair in the windowless Afghan intelligence office. Eyes bloodshot and hands trembling, he blurted out his story.
Abdullah had reached the end of a pitifully short career as a Taliban fighter. He had been arrested hours earlier, just 10 days after signing up to the insurgency. But the 25-year-old with a soft face and a neat beard had something unusual that aroused the intelligence agents' curiosity.
"I come from Iran," he said in a quavering voice, wringing his hands nervously. "They told me the Americans had invaded Afghanistan and I should go and fight jihad. But I was cheated. Now I am very sorry that I ever left." ...
Military and diplomatic sources said they had received numerous reports of Iranians meeting tribal elders in Taliban-influenced areas, bringing offers of military or more often financial support for the fight against foreign forces. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meetings took place in Helmand province, where more than 3,000 British troops are based, and neighbouring Nimroz, a lawless desert province bordering eastern Iran.
Although the reports are hard to confirm due to security fears, officials say the direction of flow is unmistakable. "There's definitely an Iranian hand," insisted one western official, who said the phenomenon was being quietly monitored by western intelligence and militaries. A top-ranking Afghan military official said he had received similar information. "The Iranians were offering money and weapons. This is a very sensitive issue," he said.
This seems very strange indeed. Afghanistan, as the Guardian points out, is one of Iran's critical trading partners. They cooperate on drug interdiction and they have normal diplomatic relations. Even more to the point, the Taliban are radical Sunnis, the exact kind of Islamists the Iranians have opposed for a long time. Why would they suddenly want to bolster the Taliban and give the Sunnis back power on the Iranian doorstep?
It gets back to the tribal issues that Eric Margolis noted yesterday. Western intelligence believes that the jihadis come from the minority Baluchis in Iran, which have actively operated against the Iranian mullahcracy. They want to encourage the drug trade, and they want to encourage Sunni jihad. The Baluchis comprise a small area in Afghanistan, but they comprise almost all of western Pakistan, and it appears that their tribal area would reach significantly into Iran.
The captured terrorist believed himself to be an agent of the Iranian government. He attended a training camp in Iran, he told interrogators, and the main point seemed to be training Shi'ites to fight for a Shi'ite theocracy in Iraq. Most of his classmates went to Baghdad. Abdullah, though, went to Afghanistan, and he claims that the camp was run by Abdullah Shafi -- a former leader of Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda group that should therefore be fighting for Sunni/Wahhabi domination.
If this information is on the level, it looks like the Islamists have either become very confused or less inclined to reject each other than in the past. It still doesn't look like an alliance, but perhaps Iran is willing to use whatever tools are at hand to disrupt the American effort to remake the region through democracy. After all, the only constant between the two are that Iraq and Afghanistan have democratically-elected governments, and Iran fears the effect that more secular democracies will have on the region.
My Teams Make The Playoffs
It came down to the end of the baseball season, but the two teams I follow both made the playoffs, which means I will have to watch some playoff games this year. For my favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the wild card spot tasted even sweeter as they clinched it at the end of a San Francisco sweep. The Dodgers finished off their traditional rivals and got to celebrate on their turf:
Los Angeles beat San Francisco 4-3 in what might've been Barry Bonds' last game for the Giants, and ended up even in the standings with San Diego. The Padres held the tiebreaker based on head-to-head record and earned the West crown.
"We're looking forward to getting this thing started," Los Angeles manager Grady Little said. "What's taken place here started last year. Everything has been positive."
The Dodgers could have won the divisional championship had San Diego lost their final game. However, Trevor Hoffman held off the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6 in Phoenix to clinch their second straight divisional title. That sends LA to New York to play the Mets in the first round, a selection that the Dodgers say they wanted. LA wouldn't mind avoiding the Padres, as they went 5-13 this year against their southern rivals.
The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to steal their divisional title from the Detroit Tigers. They only led on the final day of the season as the lowly Kansas City Royals swept the Tigers in Detroit this weekend:
On the season's final day, Joe Mauer won a historic batting title, the Twins defeated the Chicago White Sox 5-1, and then the players settled in with about 35,000 of their fans for a little TV.
Together, they watched on the stadium's two JumboTrons as Kansas City finished a 10-8, 12-inning victory over Detroit that knocked the Tigers behind the Twins for the first time all season.
After coming from 12 games back, the Twins won their fourth American League Central title in five years, setting up a first-round playoff matchup with Oakland that starts Tuesday at the Metrodome.
Twelve games back? Twelve games back? We've seen an amazing comeback by the Twins this year. They managed to play themselves back into the wild-card slot, but no one expected the Tigers to collapse the way they did in September. Detroit will have a difficult task ahead of them, recovering from this blow in time to go on the road for their playoff series as the wild card.
Both teams improved themselves significantly from their 2005 seasons. Dare I hope for a Twin Cities-LA Series?
Convention Security 'Bigger Than The Super Bowl'
Think of it as the hangover after an awards celebration. In the aftermath of winning the Republican National Convention, the magnitude of the security preparations has dawned on state and local officials. Estimates of personnel go between 5,000 and 10,000 police officers, while the Twin Cities currently employ 1,400 combined:
Security will be the biggest concern -- and the biggest expense -- for the convention, with plans for as many as 10,000 officers to be deployed and $50 million to be spent to protect delegates, media and high-profile politicians.
"Everything we do is different after 9/11," said Rob Allen, a deputy chief with the Minneapolis Police Department. "A Twins playoff game, a Vikings game, a parade, all are different. You can't turn back the clock on how you do security."
Although the Twin Cities has attracted larger crowds -- such as at the 1992 Super Bowl -- it has never held an event with the importance, scrutiny or magnitude of a modern presidential convention. ...
This is probably the first time that a national political convention will be held in two cities, and that large geographical footprint will be one of the biggest security challenges of the event.
Obviously, officials in both cities will have to rely on outside help for staffing, while simultaneously providing all of the normal police services to Minnesota residents. Those will likely come from cities and counties from all over the Upper Midwest and perhaps beyond, and we will need every last one of those who volunteer. Boston used 5,000 police for the Democratic National Convention in a city with the same approximate size as Minneapolis and St. Paul, and in the end that number fell somewhat short of optimum. The lack of personnel forced the city to "lock down" venues.
In New York, I can tell you that the police kept a highly visible presence the entire convention. Large numbers of them could be seen at all times throughout the entire area where Madison Square Garden is located. Streets surrounding the venue were shut down and barricaded, and even foot traffic was curtailed. I got stuck at one such point, which turned out to be the high point of my travel day. That kind of security will no doubt get deployed by the Twin Cities, and it is personnel-intensive.
We have hosted high-visibility events before, such as the 1992 Super Bowl, but that was in a different era. National conventions for either party present very attractive terrorist targets, and the presence of the President (whom I assume will attend) makes it even more so. This will be on a much higher scale than 1992 or any of the presidential visits we often get. The cost will be enormous, although the Star-Tribune reports that the federal government will pick up most of the security tab through the Department of Homeland Security. It's a mighty challenge, and the Twin Cities will have to work with a wide range of police departments and sheriff's offices in order to meet it.
Putin Has Georgia On His Mind
Russia appears to be on the verge of war with the former Soviet republic of Georgia after watching four of its citizens arrested on espionage allegations. Vladimir Putin put his forces in Georgia on high alert and instructed them to defend their bases, a major point of contention between the two nations. He also warned Georgia that it couldn't count on American support if hostilities broke out:
Infuriated by the arrests of four Russian officers on spying charges, Moscow has put its troops in Georgia on high alert and ordered them to "shoot to kill" to defend their bases in the former Soviet republic.
In his first public comments on the escalating crisis, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, yesterday accused Georgia of "state terrorism" and compared the arrests to the repressions of Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria.
The commander of Russian military forces in Georgia, General Andrei Popov, said Russian law authorises the use of force to defend bases abroad from aggression. "We are ready to thwart any possible attempts to penetrate our facilities using all means, including shoot to kill," he said. Mr Putin held an urgent meeting with armed forces chiefs, top ministers and the heads of intelligence services to discuss Russia's response to the arrests.
"As a result of his meeting ... the president termed the actions of Georgia's leadership as an act of state terrorism with hostage taking," the Kremlin said in a statement. Mr Putin said on national television that the arrests were "a sign of the political legacy of Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria". A Georgian - like Stalin - Beria ran the feared NKVD secret police that purged millions of Soviet citizens in the 1930s and 1940s. In a clear reference to US support for Georgia, Mr Putin also warned Georgia not to count on foreign backing in the crisis. "These people think that under the roof of their foreign sponsors they can feel comfortable ... is it really so?" he said.
As often pointed out here, Putin has gone backwards on Russian reform, pushing towards a greater authoritarian role for the Russian government. He has also worked hard to increase Russian influence in the former republics, using charm and threats in equal balance to maintain power in the region. In Georgia, he has used both to maintain his military bases, a strategic necessity in the Caucasus where nationalist forces try to carve even more republics away from Russia.
Putin uses typically histrionic language, calling arrests "terrorism" and issuing "shoot to kill" orders. In truth, while no one knows for sure whether these suspects worked for Russian intelligence specifically, the notion that Russia actively spies on the West-leaning Georgian government is a very safe assumption. The hysterical nature of Putin's reaction demonstrates that Georgian counterespionage forces must have gotten the right men.
Will Putin press this enough to start a war in the Caucasus? One would think not. The Russian military has enough troubles in the area without starting a border war with Georgia. While the US and the West back Putin against Islamists in Chechnya, we would immediately change our position with regards to Russia if they attack Georgia. This is why Putin has made this much of a fuss. Nothing they have done has turned Georgia back to the Moscow sphere of influence, and a threat of war is Putin's last card.
The US needs to trump this card quickly. We cannot have Russia invading Georgia, or even think that it could do so, without serious consequences. The US needs to make clear to Putin that we will not stand idly by while Putin starts taking back the independent former republics by force. Whether that means military aid to Georgia or an effort to kick Russia out of the G-8 and economic marginalization should be options we keep open.
October 1, 2006
The Al-Qaeda Video, More Watchable Than Before
My friend John from Power Line spent the better part of today cleaning up and re-editing the captured video from the al-Qaeda training facility. (I blogged about it this morning.) John's efforts can be viewed through this Power Line News link. Be sure to check it out -- if the earlier Times of London version gave you downloading headaches, John's version should play much more smoothly.
In A Word -- Yes!
The London Times asks if Kofi Annan has blood on his hands as he prepares to end his term as United Nations Secretary-General. Apparently the Times does not consider this a rhetorical question, as it provides a rather lengthy answer:
Srebrenica is rarely mentioned nowadays in Annan’s offices on the 38th floor of the UN secretariat building in New York. He steps down in December after a decade as secretary-general. His retirement will be marked by plaudits. But behind the honorifics and the accolades lies a darker story: of incompetence, mismanagement and worse. Annan was the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) between March 1993 and December 1996. The Srebrenica massacre of up to 8,000 men and boys and the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda happened on his watch. In Bosnia and Rwanda, UN officials directed peacekeepers to stand back from the killing, their concern apparently to guard the UN’s status as a neutral observer. This was a shock to those who believed the UN was there to help them.
Annan’s term has also been marked by scandal: from the sexual abuse of women and children in the Congo by UN peacekeepers to the greatest financial scam in history, the UN-administered oil-for-food programme. Arguably, a trial of the UN would be more apt than a leaving party.
The charge sheet would include guarding its own interests over those it supposedly protects; endemic opacity and lack of accountability; obstructing investigations, promoting the inept and marginalising the dedicated. Such accusations can be made against many organisations. But the UN is different. It has a moral mission.
It was founded by the allies in 1945 to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”. Its key documents – the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the genocide convention – are the most advanced formulation of human rights in history. And they have been flouted by UN member states for decades.
A more specific charge would be that, under the doctrine of command responsibility, the UN is guilty of war crimes. Broadly speaking, it has three principles: that a commander ordered atrocities to be carried out, that he failed to stop them, despite being able to, or failed to punish those responsible. The case rests on the second, that in Rwanda in 1994, in Srebrenica in 1995 and in Darfur since 2003, the UN knew war crimes were occurring or about to occur, but failed to stop them, despite having the means to do so.
It's hard to improve on this essay by the Times. Read the whole thing, and shake your head in wonder that anyone considers this organization the least bit credible.
What's The Difference Between The Mafia And Congress? Scale
Ever wonder how caucuses in the House choose their leadership? In the Senate, it comes from seniority. In the House, they determine it like a multi-level marketing plan. As the New York Times reports, money talks ... loudly:
To move up the ladder in Congress, you must do more than win votes. You are, quite literally, expected to pay your dues.
If you are a rank-and-file member of the House, the amount is up to $100,000. If your ambitions are to preside over a powerful committee, the duty is $300,000. For a top party leader, the tally can climb beyond $600,000.
Make those checks payable to the Republican or Democratic Congressional campaign committees. ...
Four years after Congress tried to reduce the influence of money in politics by rewriting the rules of how campaigns are financed, Republicans and Democrats alike have found myriad replacements for the river of financial contributions known as soft money.
The practice of paying what the parties refer to as dues is not illegal, and it is not an entirely fresh notion by either party. This year, Democrats are hoping to glean about $33 million in dues from their House members, an amount that would be about one-third of their fund-raising goal. That makes the dues an important piece in the Democrats’ strategy to overtake the Republican majority.
Let's just make this perfectly clear. Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002 because John McCain, Russ Feingold, Christopher Shays, and Marty Meehan all told us that money has become too influential in politics. They forced us to give up the right to name names in political advertising in the last 60 days before an election. In exchange, the House selects its leadership on the basis of how much cash members can raise for the party.
Seems to me that Shays and Meehan forced us to pay for their addiction.
This tradition, which appears more in line with the Mafia than with competence, has its humorous moments. Nancy Pelosi takes this so seriously that she sent around a spreadsheet showing the assessments for each Democrat in the house and what they had contributed to party coffers. Predictably and understandably, this grandstanding upset a few members, including Maxine Waters, chief deputy whip for the Democrats, who has only kicked in less than 20% of her $250,000 assessment. Luis Gutierrez, ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, declared he would contribute nothing at all until Pelosi
sent a dead fish wrapped in newspaper made a two-minute phone call. Gutierrez made his first dues payment shortly thereafter.
Rather than punish the electorate for the sins of the politicians, the BCRA contingent should have focused on the behavior of Congress first. If the Democrats and Republicans want to take the smell of cash out of politics, perhaps they would have been better suited getting the stink off of leadership assignments in the House.
A Graphical Depiction Of The Challenge In Afghanistan
With Pervez Musharraf appearing to retreat in the war on terror and Hamid Karzai demanding results, the situation in Afghanistan and the Waziristan region appears to be inexplicably troublesome of late. Musharraf and Karzai have more trouble than just borders in this situation, though, and what we are now seeing may be a nationalist movement that has escaped Western attention until now. The Toronto Sun's Eric Margolis explains the problem, and Swaraaj Chauhan at The Moderate Voice produces an interesting map to underscore his point.
In order to understand the difficulties, Margolis argues, one has to understand the tribalism in play:
Tribal politics lie at the heart of their dispute. The 30 million Pashtuns (or Pathans), the world’s largest tribal society, are divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan by an artificial border, the Durand Line, drawn by divide-and-conquer British imperialists.
Pashtuns account for 50-60% of Afghanistan’s 30 million people. The Taliban is an organic part of the Pashtun people. The Western powers and Karzai are not just fighting “Taliban terrorists,” but a coalition of Pashtun tribes and other allied nationalist movements. In effect, most of the Pashtun people. ...
The other half of the divided Pashtuns live just across the Durand Line in Pakistan, comprising 15-20% of its population. Pashtuns occupy many senior posts in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. Pashtuns, including anti-Western resistance fighters, never accepted and simply ignore the artificial border bifurcating their tribal homeland.
Washington keeps demanding Musharraf crack down on Pakistan’s pro-Taliban Pashtuns. But Washington fails to understand that too much pressure on these fierce warriors could quickly ignite a major historic threat to Pakistan’s national integrity: A Pashtun independence movement seeking to join the Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan in a new state — Pashtunistan.
Take a look at Swaraaj's map:
What we're looking at is something similar to the Kurds to the West. The Pashtuns spread out over a wide geographical area, and would be the dominant ethnic group in the region if not for the political borders drawn during the British administration of an earlier age. The Taliban sprang out of the ultra-Islamist Pashtun tribal structure, and that tribal society has a great deal of influence in Pakistani politics as well. Their stronghold is in the mountainous border region, including Waziristan.
So how does that impact the war on terror and on radical Islamists? This map shows that the entire effort in Afghanistan is taking place on enemy territory regardless of which side of the border one sits. Kabul sits in Pashtun turf, making it more difficult to ensure its security.
This shows the difficulty facing both leaders. Taking on the Pashtuns means fighting a significant component of both nations, and up to 30 million members of a closed-off tribal society. Their loyalties are to themselves rather than any sense of nationhood as the borders are drawn, and their recent actions may hint at a broader nationalistic impulse. Given their footprint in the area, that will play out mostly in Afghanistan, but it could threaten Musharraf's power in Pakistan as well.
No wonder Musharraf cut a deal in Waziristan. He wants to mollify the Pashtuns in order to keep them from rising up and demanding an expression of nationalism within Pakistan. He doesn't want to lose Waziristan as well as Kashmir. And this is why Karzai is so unhappy; without Pakistani pressure on the Pashtuns in Waziristan, they will have secured their flank enough to put all of their energy to undermine Karzai.
The problem with the Islamists might just be the symptom here of a greater tribal/nationalist problem.
Turkey Warns Iraqi Kurds On Terrorism
Newsweek's Lally Weymouth conducts an intriguing interview with Abdullah Gul, Turkey's foreign minister, in which he warns Iraq and the US to curb Kurdish terrorists -- or Turkey will do it themselves. Gul has plenty to say on Iraq's internal security troubles, and issues a warning to America about withdrawing from Iraq:
Q. So, would Turkey invade northern Iraq to bring the PKK under control?
A. We will do whatever is necessary to fight this organization. I want to give the message that if our friends don't help us, we will do the job ourselves. ...
Q. In the United States many people believe the time has come to withdraw.
A. How can you leave a vacuum over there? Then, what will happen? All the neighbors of Iraq and the U.S. should work hand in hand with the Iraqi government and the different tribes in Iraq to bring stability. I think it is possible. There is no other way. You have to put things in order.
Q. Here people are asking, why doesn't Iraq split into three parts?
A. The neighboring countries will not accept this. That idea should be forgotten—it should not be an option. Those [who favor it] don't know Iraq or the region.
Gul also feels quite a bit more sanguine about Iran than the US does. He has spoken directly with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who sees the last offer as very positive. Gul says that the main problem is trust; neither Ahmadinejad nor the West want to make the first step. The Turk believes that if the West guarantees the last incentive package, Ahmadinejad will permanently suspend uranium enrichment. Of course, Gul and Turkey would prefer not to have to face a nuclear Iran, but Gul doesn't explain how to square his impressions with the speeches given by Ahmadinejad extolling the virtues of the annihilation of Israel, a feat that would require the nuclear weapons Gul says the Iranians would forswear.
We should remain concerned about the PKK and its activities. Freeing the Kurds from Saddam's grip always held the risk of expansionist impulses for the long-oppressed Kurds, and we have encouraged it tacitly in regards to Iran. The Kurds themselves see Turkey as their main problem and radicals have conducted terrorist attacks in th eastern portions of our putative ally. We cannot afford to have Turkey invading northern Iraq; it would set the entire country on fire and probably end the autonomy of the Kurds. That would douse the momentum that the Kurds started a few years ago into modernizing their terrirtory and engaging with the West.
Gul's warning on an American withdrawal should be considered very carefully here at home. The Turks did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in the end balked at allowing the 4th Infantry Division to transit through their territory, which caused us no end of problems, especially in Anbar. They are just as clear about opposing a precipitate withdrawal. The Turks need to have us on the inside, bringing Iraqi security forces to the point where they can maintain stability and put an end to sectarian violence themselves. They also cannot afford to have supported yet another American administration that fails to complete its mission in Iraq. They had enough of that for the twelve years prior to OIF.
UPDATE: An anonymous CQ reminds us that Gul is a not-so-well-disguised Islamist himself, and he can hardly be described as an honest broker with Iran. Tigerhawk has more on a unilateral PKK cease-fire.
Look Forward For Security
Richard Clarke takes to the pages of the New York Times to deliver a lesson that everyone should have learned after 2004. The controversial former counterterrorism chief reminds Americans that we cannot secure the nation through blame games, and that the time has long since passed for us to exercise hindsight and start looking forward:
For most Americans the history is clear and well told in the 9/11 commission report: Almost 3,000 people were killed. In the years before that terrible day, the Clinton administration prevented some attacks and tried to destroy Al Qaeda and its leadership, but was unable to do so, in part because the institutional bureaucracy did not believe the magnitude of the threat.
As for the Bush administration, it deferred action on Al Qaeda until after 9/11, and then took a number of steps in response, including invading Iraq, but was also unable to destroy Al Qaeda or its leaders.
In short, both administrations failed.
All the finger-pointing and hunting for scapegoats last week won’t rectify those failures, or help us avoid future ones. Fortunately, unlike too many of our political leaders and pundits, most Americans are far more concerned about what we are doing now in the name of fighting terrorism than about petty partisan bickering about the past.
Unfortunately, Clarke uses this argument briefly to open an attack on the Bush administration's decision to go into Iraq, which is another form of the same impulse he decries. The Iraq invasion happened three years ago. We now have to fight the terrorists in front of us, in Iraq and elsewhere, and we need to focus on that task. How do we best ensure the survival of the democratic government in Iraq and defeat the terrorists who want to destroy it? That should also be our focus.
He also attacks Bush for pushing too hard to get broader powers to fight terrorism. This seems a rather strange argument, considering the success we have had in preventing another major attack. Clarke also plays the canard of Congress refusing to provide Clinton with anti-terrorism tools he requested, which is a reference to the Aviation Security and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, a measure that had a lot more to do with domestic investigation of gunpowder than international terrorism. In fact, Congress earlier that year had passed the Terrorism Prevention Act, which really did provide counterterrorism tools to the federal government. At any rate, the powers granted to the executive since 9/11 have come from Congress, and Congress can rescind or adjust them if it feels that the executive is abusing them.
However, for the most part, Clarke has it correct. We need to look at the status quo and decide what steps we need to take in today's situation to make the nation and our assets abroad safer. We need to end the partisan bickering over what happened before 9/11 and resolve to do better in the future.
Al-Qaeda Home Movies
The Times of London has new video of the 9/11 hijackers from more than a year prior to the attacks. Unlike other martyrdom videos that have been released, these tapes appear to have been less formal affairs. Without a soundtrack for some reason, no one can be sure what al-Qaeda's intent was in taking them, but they look more like home movies than anything produced for a specific purpose:
It is the first time that a videotape has appeared of Mohammed Atta — who flew an American Airlines plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center — at a training camp in Afghanistan. It fills in a significant gap in the timing of the build-up to the attacks on the United States.
Dates on the tape show Atta was filmed on January 18, 2000, together with Ziad Jarrah, the pilot of United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers apparently stormed the flight deck.
The Sunday Times has obtained a copy of the video through a previously tested channel. The tape has no soundtrack and a US source said lip readers had tried without success to decipher what was being said.
Despite the deadly tasks the men had been assigned, they appear in high spirits, laughing and smiling in front of the camera. Only when Atta, with an AK-47 propped on a wall beside him, reads a document marked in Arabic “the will”, does he become solemn. Both are well groomed, without the haggard appearance of the identity mugshots issued after September 11.
The tapes display dates in January 2000. The Times argues that this clarifies a problem in the 9/11 timeline regarding the whereabouts of the Hamburg cell leaders, but that isn't correct. The 9/11 report, in pages 166-167, describe very clearly the travels of Atta and Ziad Jarrah, both of whom can be seen in this tape. They left Germany in November 1999 for Afghanistan, and returned to Germany on January 31, 2000.
Whatever value is in these tapes lies in the behind-the-scenes look at the jihadis in their own environs. They look like they're having a good time at a retreat, full of smiles and laughter while planning the mass murder of tens of thousands (the Towers would normally have held more that 30,000 people). Unlike the photographs of Mohammed Attah and Ziad Jarrah released after the attack, these two project an air of relaxed joy. We see none of the dead look in Atta's eyes, nor the sharp figures that made his photo in particular seem so menacing. One can understand why he managed to hide himself in Western society so easily.
No one has been able to discern what the two men are saying on this tape. Apparently, AQ has issues with technical aptitude in its audio-visual department. The silence gives the video a disconcerting feel that mirrors our experience with the jihadis -- a disconnect, a sense that what they have to say is so alien to us they may as well remain silent. It also reminds the viewer that their voices have been silenced ... along with almost 3,000 others because of their bloodthirsty pursuit of a totalitarian vision.
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