Letterman Sucks Up To CBS, Rather

I recall the movie made by HBO about the late-night television war set off by Johnny Carson’s Retirement, The Late Shift, in which Kathy Bates played Jay Leno’s voracious and self-destructive agent/manager. One criticism of Leno — one he later acknowledged as valid — was that he made no mention of Carson or his support of Leno over the years on Leno’s first broadcast as Carson’s replacement. In the movie, Bates tells the head of NBC that she refuses to let Jay thank or even mention Johnny, telling him, “That’s suck-up. Jay doesn’t do suck-up.”
Well, now we know David Letterman does suck-up, and he sells out pretty easily too. Last night, Letterman hosted Dan Rather on Rather’s farewell tour from the CBS Evening News, and tossed softball after softball to allow Rather to misrepresent the Memogate fiasco that cost four of Rather’s colleagues their jobs. Les Moonves had to be smiling through this — and why not? He bought it, he owns it:

LETTERMAN: So let me go back to two points. They said, one, it was not motivated by political bias?
RATHER: That’s right.
LETTERMAN: So CBS News and yourself and others cleared of that, and that seemed to be a great point of criticism, did it not, that there was political bias here, that…
RATHER: People had their own political motivations and agendas, and some people who didn’t have that, who were asking the question. That’s one reason the panel was appointed. That was one of their conclusions.
LETTERMAN: That charge has been erased by the fact-finding committee?
[RATHER]: That was their conclusion.
LETTERMAN: Did not exist. That evaporated. Secondly, they could not prove the documents were false. They could not prove they were true and accurate, but they also could not prove they were false
RATHER: That’s correct.
LETTERMAN: That’s a push right there.
RATHER: Some people would not regard it, but you’ve summarized it correctly. They had a lot of other findings. Those were among the findings. …
LETTERMAN: If you take a look at the “new york times,” a few years ago and for quite a lengthy period of time, it looked like that newspaper was falling apart. All they had left was the classified pretty much.
( Laughter )
It was one thing after another, guys making up stories and phony headlines and on and on and on, yet still I think it’s regarded as the finest newspaper in the country. So you do have to accept and make changes and continue and that’s what you and the network are doing.

Anyone who considers the New York Times the “finest newspaper in the country” after having a ringside seat for the Jayson Blair embarassment — indeed, using it as an example of its greatness — has either lost his mind or is desperate to get his network off the hook. I wonder exactly how far up Letterman’s back, ventriloquist-style, Moonves was actually able to get his hand, because this is by far one of the worst cases of corporate shilling I’ve yet to see an entertainer do on his own show.
Michelle Malkin, channeling a bit of David Letterman herself (in a good way), wonders why Letterman simply didn’t offer the Top 10 to explain to his audience why CBS blew it? Here are Michelle’s first three of the Top 10 Reasons CBS Has No Credibility:

1. The failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner;
2. The false statement in the September 8 Segment that an expert had authenticated the Killian documents when all he had done was authenticate one signature from one document used in the Segment;
3. The failure of 60 Minutes Wednesday management to scrutinize the publiclyavailable, and at times controversial, background of the source of the documents, retired Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett[.]

Read the rest, and also catch Power Line’s take on it here. If you want a history of the CBS Memogate fiasco and an analysis of what Letterman and Rather refer to as a “doorstop”, you can check my archives on the subject in the CBS category.
UPDATE: Edited for a somewhat less graphic description of ventriloquism, ifyouknowhatImean, Vern.

McCain-Feingold May Shut Down CQ

I have long railed against the back-door First Amendment violations of the McCain-Feingold Act, which purports to reform campaign financing but in reality acts to criminalize political speech. Now Federal Election Commissioner Bradley Smith explains exactly how MFA could mean the end of political blogging, as we get intimidated by the massive legal requirements that MFA might impose on CQ and other sites:

Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over.
In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign’s Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate’s press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.
Smith should know. He’s one of the six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, which is beginning the perilous process of extending a controversial 2002 campaign finance law to the Internet.

Most of this interview will have CQ readers shaking their head. The FEC, thanks to a John McCain lawsuit, will have to calculate the value of a link on a political website in order to determine whether the owner has overdonated to a campaign — in other words, committed a felony. Bigger blogs will come under closer scrutiny, which means that any expression of support on CQ with a referential hyperlink may well get valued at more than the $2,000 maximum hard-cash contribution.
In order for me to operate under those conditions, I will need to hire a lawyer and an accountant to guide me through the election laws and calculate my in-kind donations on almost an hourly basis. How many bloggers will put up with that kind of hassle just to speak their minds about candidates and issues? John McCain and Russ Feingold have effectively created an American bureaucracy dedicated to stamping out independent political speech, and the courts have abdicated all reason in declaring it constitutional.
Please contact your representative or Senator in Congress to get this terrible infringement on free political speech reversed. When the American government threatens to prosecute people for simply speaking their minds, we have truly lost our way. Shame on McCain and Feingold for this treachery, shame on George Bush for signing the bill, and shame on the Supreme Court for not stopping it when it had the chance. (via Michelle Malkin, who has lots of links.)
UPDATE: McCain and Feingold have managed to foster real bipartisanship — they’ve gotten liberal and conservative bloggers alike to detest them. Jerome Armstrong at MyDD, Atrios, and DailyKos all agree — this legislation has become a serious threat to political speech, and John McCain and Russ Feingold have become two of the most dangerous politicians to American liberty since Huey Long. Jerome makes the point that the problem at the moment are the three Democratic FEC commissioners who appear intent on enforcing the law as McCain and Feingold insist, but both parties had a hand in creating this fiasco. Both should work to eliminate it and tell John McCain and Russ Feingold to shut the hell up — and see how they like it.

CQ Reader Survey Bleg

In conjunction with my advertising service, I’d like to ask CQ readers to take 5 minutes to complete this reader survey to gauge how our advertisements match up with our audience. Please make sure you note on question 16 that you’ve been referred by Captain’s Quarters.
Thank you for your help!

Saudis Get Direct With Assad: Leave Lebanon Now

Bashar Assad must feel as though he’s auditioning for a remake of The Lonely Guy this week, as his international political support has crumbled in a flash. The Egyptians earlier today alluded to Saudi expectations for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and now the Saudis have spoken for themselves (via Instapundit):

Saudi officials told Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday that he must fully withdraw troops from Lebanon and begin soon or face strains in Saudi-Syrian ties. Assad promised only to study the idea of a partial withdrawal by later this month.
The kingdom took a tough line as Assad met with the Saudi leader, Crown Prince Abdullah, and other officials in Riyadh. So far, Damascus has resisted Arab pressure for a quick pullout from Lebanon.
Saudi officials told Assad the kingdom insists on the full withdrawal of all Syrian military and intelligence forces from Lebanon and wants it to start “soon,” according to a Saudi official who spoke by telephone from Riyadh.

The Saudis probably never had much love for the Assad regimes anyway, as their socialist and mainly secular military dictatorship doesn’t appeal to the traditional notion of Islamic monarchy favored by the House of Saud. Nonetheless, this demand has not been heard in the past from Riyadh, and the Saudis have never been all that keen on supporting native democratic reforms, for good reason; successes — as we see now — tend to provide momentum in other countries for the same purposes.
The Saudis don’t want to see a native Syrian popular revolt for democratization, as having one in Iraq provides enough destabilization for their taste. They want Assad out of Lebanon in order to localize the phenomenon to Lebanon and keep it far away from Saudi Arabian borders. They also want Assad’s meddling and his sponsorship of terrorism to stop providing the West a casus belli.
It hardly matters to Assad, though, what the Saudis want. Their blunt demand to retreat from Syria only piles the pressure on Damascus, and if enough of it builds up, Assad may have to flee for his life as Syrian power brokers rethink their support for his regime.
UPDATE: Clarity update; I implied that Syria borders Saudi Arabia, which it doesn’t.

The Asymmetrical Offense

The recent impulse for democratization has surprised and delighted the West as oppressive regimes thought untouchable have suddenly rethought their strategies in the face of popular discontent. The most dramatic example would be Egypt and Lebanon, two countries which suffered under some of the most constraining dictatorships in Middle East after the departure of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The two controlling regimes, Mubarak and Assad in Syria, have reacted in opposite directions, at least at first, but the movements have continued to pressure for democracy regardless. They join with the popular will of the Iraqis, the Afghanis, and even a watered-down impulse of the Palestinians. Even Saudi Arabia has a nascent democratization program, and Iran has had street demonstrations for the past two years or more demanding freedom.
The wave of democratization promises to free the Muslim world from the grip of kleptocracies and mullahcracies, a welcome development all on its own. However, it also does something else that we have mostly missed: it creates a multi-front war for Islamofascists that threatens to exhaust their resources.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan saw that the Soviet Union had no economic capacity for an extended struggle and that “peaceful coexistence” only benefitted the Soviets, as it allowed them to conserve scarce capital resources for life support. Reagan initiated an economic war with the Kremlin designed to bankrupt them by not only escalating our defense spending, but encouraging democracy movements wherever the Soviets had taken control. He openly supported Solidarity, putting pressure on the Soviets through Poland and encouraging the Baltic states to awaken, and he took on the Sandanistas in Central America, forcing them eventually to hold real elections — and out of power.
George Bush looks to have done the same thing. After decapitating the Taliban, he deprived al-Qaeda of its safehouse. Removing Saddam Hussein gave Bush the military high ground in Southwest Asia, but the elections in both countries created a new, philosophical front that directly opposed that of the Islamofascists. Terrorists still operate within Iraq and to a lesser degree Afghanistan, but now their war on democracy has suddenly sprouted into a five-front war: Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Lebanon, and even Syria, where activists have begun to stir for the first time since the slaughter at Hama.
How many fronts can AQ and its affiliates fight at once? And if Lebanon and Egypt transform successfully into fairly liberal democracies, can they continue their philosophical battle with the West with any credibility for the purple-finger majorities? It’s doubtful, since the elimination of the dictatorships will simultaneously create a more moderate electorate and eliminate the main source of funding and protection for the terrorist groups.
George Bush’s strategy of democratization doesn’t just relate to moral values; it creates an asymmetrical offense to combat the asymmetrical warfare of the terrorists. He intends to economically and philosophically bankrupt our enemies in much the same way Reagan did with the Soviet Union. And while the wave has just started to gain momentum, it looks hopeful that Bush may well succeed in doing so.
Note: I’ve updated this to be more concise about the term “Southwest Asia”, an area which may include Egypt politically but obviously not geographically.

Byrd’s Incoherent Defense

Senator Robert Byrd’s office issued a defense of his remarks comparing Republican attempts to bar filibusters on judicial nominations with Naziism in the Senate earlier this week. Unfortunately, it appears that Byrd’s staff suffers from the same incoherence that afflicts their boss most of the time:

Sen. Robert Byrd’s description of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was meant as a warning to heed the past and not as a comparison to Republicans, a spokesman for the West Virginia Democrat says. …
“Terrible chapters of history ought never be repeated,” said Tom Gavin, spokesman for Byrd. “All one needs to do is to look at history to see how dangerous it is to curb the rights of the minority.”

Put aside all of the historical inaccuracies that one has to swallow for that argument to work, such as the fact that the Enabling Law basically abdicated the Reichstag and made Hitler a dictator, and that the Brown Shirts had driven most of Hitler’s political opponents out of the Reichstag by that time anyway. If we are to take Byrd’s comments at face value, how can we not come to the conclusion that he sees the GOP as a malevolent threat on the order of Hitler? After all, if Republicans simply represent legitimate political opposition in Byrd’s mind, then he would argue against their position based on the merits of the case. That’s not what Byrd did. He deliberately and repeatedly mentioned Hitler and the Nazis to imply that as the end result we would face if the Republicans limited debate on judicial nominations.
If he had meant to say that taking away the filibuster would lead to the tyranny of the majority, then all Byrd would have to use would be the lower chamber of Congress as an example, and not the Nazis. That has really been the issue with a few traditionalists in the Senate; they don’t want to be a senior House and like their ability to extend debate. However, for Byrd to argue that, he would have to defend his record for changing the cloture rule four times to suit his own purposes during his tenure as Majority Leader two decades ago.
No, Byrd meant to smear the GOP as a second coming of the goose-stepping Nazis, but perhaps he thought that the speech would garner notice only from the DC inside circles and the Democrats’ MoveOn base, which didn’t exactly shy away from making the same comparison all during the presidential election (or even afterward, as Janeane Garofalo proved after the State of the Union speech). His mistake was getting caught — and his office’s mistake will be in resisting an apology for it.
Byrd occupies no leadership positions in the Democratic Senate, but his seat comes up for election next year. All indications are that Byrd intends on running for re-election. Perhaps this episode will finally convince West Virginians to retire this doddering old fool.

Air Marshals Claim Flight Numbers Have Been Padded

Signs keep appearing of widespread discontent from the Federal Air Marshal service. In today’s Washington Times, sources within FAMS tell Audrey Hudson that FAMS management routinely pads numbers to demonstrate coverage mandated by Congress, sometimes doubling the actual number of protected flights — and even the inflated numbers fall short of 10%:

Flight reports by the Federal Air Marshal Service show that federal agents were on less than 10 percent of the nation’s flights in December, a number several air marshals say was inflated to make it appear to Congress that commercial air travel is better protected than it is.
“The numbers reported to headquarters come back higher than originally reported and are sometimes upwards of double the number of what is actually flown,” an air marshal said. “Everyone knows they are padding the numbers.”
FAMS flight reports for December, obtained by The Washington Times, show air marshals were on about 9.4 percent of the nearly 30,800 daily domestic and international flights.
But the marshals say that figure is impossible, because more flights are reported as having armed agents aboard than the service’s 21 field offices can deploy.
The marshals say the numbers are manipulated upward to make it appear as if the agency has met staffing levels that Congress mandated.

When the Times brought these complaints to FAMS spokesman Dave Adams, he initially refused to comment without seeing the documentation, using the CBS Memogate debacle to cover his refusal. When the Times called his bluff, he responded — by not responding:

FAMS spokesman Dave Adams initially refused to comment on the methods used to count missions unless a page of the monthly reports containing the data was faxed to him for verification.
“When CBS had accusations about President Bush’s reserve-duty time, CBS gave them the courtesy to review the document before commenting on it, and I would like the same courtesy,” Mr. Adams said.
After reviewing the document, he only said: “For obvious security and operational reasons, we never comment on the specific locations or numbers of federal air marshals employed around the country on any given day.”
“At the same time, we can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the information provided to reporters purporting to detail the locations and deployment of air marshals,” he said.

Congress needs to look into what FAMS management is doing with transportation security. FAMS has enraged its agents with picayune dress codes that appear designed to help terrorists identify them on flights as well as grandstanding with people like Lyle Lovett at their training facilities while demanding secrecy from the rank and file. Now agents claim that the FAMS service has lost almost half of its workforce through a “mass exodus” due to their treatment by Thomas Quinn, going from 4,000 to 2,200 agents. Since they must travel in pairs, the reported flight coverage range of 2,000 – 3,400 flights daily appear to impossible:

At one time, FAMS employed the 4,000 agents mandated by Congress, but the number has been halved, marshals say. Based on the number of guns issued, there are about 2,200 marshals stationed nationwide to fly seven days a week. …
Marshals always travel in teams — a minimum of two agents and sometimes as many as four per plane. This means a minimum of 1,100 teams protect domestic and international flights. With sick days, regular days off, vacation and medical leave, it is statistically impossible to cover even the minimum number of flights listed by the report on any given day, the marshals say.
“The numbers don’t add up; it’s way too much,” a marshal said. “Several field offices have complained about it and were told to shut up. This is a scam.”
More than 2,600 flights were listed as covered on Christmas Eve, 2,039 on Christmas Day and 2,893 on New Year’s Eve.
“The numbers are impossible,” said another air marshal.

Obviously, someone is lying — either Quinn and his management team or the agents in the field. If it’s the former, then Congress needs to haul them in front of a committee hearing pronto for an explanation. If it’s the rank and file, then Quinn still needs to answer why his agents have become so discontented with FAMS. Either way, we face a management debacle at FAMS that directly threatens the security of the United States. Congress and the White House need to act now to determine the truth and get it fixed. (via Michelle Malkin)

Arabs Tell Syria To Get Out Of Lebanon

In another signal that exasperation with the Assad regime may run closer to Damascus than Assad would prefer, members of the Arab League have joined the chorus telling Syria to get out of Lebanon at the earliest possible moment:

Arab leaders launched a flurry of diplomatic activity Thursday, including a trip by Syrian President Bashar Assad to Saudi Arabia, as they sought to control a political storm over Syria’s role in neighboring Lebanon. …
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Wednesday night after meeting with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal, that they had discussed how to “find a mechanism to implement” last year’s U.N. Security Council resolution that called for all foreign forces to leave Lebanon.
“Egypt is encouraging Syria to settle the situation surrounding Lebanon as soon possible,” Aboul Gheit said.

The League does not plan on putting the Cedar Revolution on its foreign-miniter agenda for this conference, and neither Syria’s nor Lebanon’s foreign ministers have been invited to attend. Still, having Eqypt and Saudi Arabia (indirectly) tell Assad that his time has run out has to come as a shock, and not just to Assad. Hosni Mubarak last week suddenly committed Egypt to multiparty elections for the first time in decades, a move that has received plenty of skepticism. This statement on behalf of the pro-democracy activists indicate Mubarak might be serious about leaving a legacy of freedom in the Middle East. Having Saudi Arabia join Egypt in demanding a withdrawal from Lebanon, even indirectly, is worse for Assad: even committed dictatorships don’t support his expansionism any longer.
The calls from two Arab nations opposing Assad’s policies amount to an amazing vote of no-confidence in the former optometrist, who may have some problems seeing the writing on the wall. His political opponents in Damascus, and perhaps even some of his followers, may have clearer political vision. If Assad can’t get in front of this wave of democratization and liberalization in Southwest Asia to take ownership of it, as Mubarak obviously intends to do, then Assad’s days are numbered — and in Syria, that could well be literally.

Russia Tells Syria: Leave Lebanon

Bashar Assad’s hope of holding onto some international political cover for his continued operation in Lebanon took a body blow this morning, as his normally reliable trading partner Russia told him that Syria should leave Lebanon as soon as possible:

Russia has increased the pressure on its ally Syria by joining calls for Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said: “Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, but we all have to make sure that this withdrawal does not violate the very fragile balance which we still have in Lebanon, which is a very difficult country ethnically.”
America, supported by France, has led international pressure on Syria, particularly through a UN resolution demanding the removal of foreign forces from Lebanon.

Russia has, of late, been somewhat of an apologist for the Syrians, openly questioning the identification of Damascus as a center for terrorists and of Syrian involvement in Palestinian and Iraqi attacks. One would imagine that the sudden discovery last week of 30 ex-Saddam functionaries operating a support network for the carbombing lunatics in Baghdad, including Saddam’s half-brother, might have disabused Russia of its inclination to give Assad the benefit of the doubt. Still, Russia plans on selling anti-aircraft missiles to Assad despite concerns about their use by terrorists to attack civilian as well as military planes.
Perhaps this is one reason that George Bush has actively sought to focus on the Syrians, which he had begun to do even before Assad or his intelligence services made the terrible decision to assassinate Rafik Hariri and touch off a nationalist Lebanese freedom movement. His European tour did not do much to convince Putin to stop selling arms to Syria (or nuclear technology to Iran, for that matter). Bush may have instead decided to focus on the customer end of that transaction, trusting that the Iraqi elections would wake Syrians from their torpor and start a demand for democratization. Little did he know that Assad would do Bush’s work for him, and in a stunningly effective manner.
Surprisingly then, Russia has joined the international chorus pushing for Syrian withdrawal, even though it threatens to destabilize the Assad regime. Putin may have feared diplomatic isolation on this point, as France has partnered with the US for the first time in ages on a point of international politics, and Germany’s Gerhardt Schroeder has also publicly demanded a Syrian withdrawal. With Europe and the US tightly united on Syria, Putin may have decided that backing Assad has become a losing bet.

UN Peacekeepers Go On Offense

Last Friday I noted that nine UN peacekeepers were killed in an ambush in the Congo by rogue militia elements. After more than ten years of running from fights, I wrote that the UN would have to start fighting back if it wanted to retain any credibility. Apparently, someone at the UN has reached the same conclusion:

United Nations peacekeepers have gone on the offensive against a militia group in Congo, deploying helicopters and killing nearly 60 people in the biggest battle fought by the world body in more than a decade.
But criticism of the operation was mounting yesterday when it emerged that up to a third of the dead could have been civilians used as human shields by the group that was the attackers’ intended target.
The latest hostilities began when a battalion of Pakistani soldiers advanced on the militia base in the Ituri district, the scene of some of the worst atrocities in the country, where more than three million people have died since war erupted in 1998.

In this latest skirmish, the UN has explained that the UN peacekeepers reacted to incoming fire from one of the militia groups in the area. Instead of their normal retreat, the UN fought back in force and killed 60 people, although some of the casualties may have been human shields employed by the militias. The rebels, from the FNI, bear the responsibility for the deaths of any civilians they employ as shields, however, and critics of the UN for defending themselves are wrong. In fact, they’re part of the reason why the UN never takes action to defend themselves or anyone else when they come under fire, a policy that has led to the massacres of thousands of civilians.
The UN Security Council wasted little time in endorsing the actions of the peacekeepers, approving a resolution that encouraged “continued robust action in pursuit of its mandate.” Perhaps the UNSC has also had a sea change thanks to the developments in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. The wave of democratization that has accompanied the steel will of George Bush to enforce the terms of the cease-fire and UNSC resolutions involving Saddam has changed the demeanor of the tinpot dictators of Southwest Asia; it may have inflamed the ire of the Europeans in the short term, but it put a lot of credibility into American warnings.
The UN has lost that credibility after a decade of fleeing at the first shot, and if they want to regain any ability to actually keep peace, they need more examples of this kind of reaction to provocation. This is a good start.