Passport Fraud On The Rise

One of the major areas of concern during this global war on terrorism is border security — keeping out those who don’t belong here while keeping the borders flexible enough for normal trade and tourism. Passports should be the primary tool for ensuring security, but as the New York Times reports, passports routinely get issued to people whose applications should raise red flags:

The names of more than 30 fugitives, including 9 murder suspects and one person on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list, did not trigger any warnings in a test of the nation’s passport processing system, federal auditors have found.
Insufficient oversight by the State Department allows criminals, illegal immigrants and suspected terrorists to fraudulently obtain a United States passport far too easily, according to a report on the test by the Government Accountability Office to be released Wednesday.
The lapses occurred because passport applications are not routinely checked against comprehensive lists of wanted criminals and suspected terrorists, according to the report, which was provided to The New York Times by an official critical of the State Department who had access to it in advance. For example, one of the 67 suspects included in the test managed to get a passport 17 months after he was first placed on an F.B.I. wanted list, the report said.

The problem isn’t just the issuance of legitimate passports to illegitimate people, but counterfeit rings that have not been adequately addressed, despite leads that could be exploited. All of this points to a system that has a dual danger for the US: it not only leaves us unsecured, but it leaves us with the illusion of security. That illusion has kept us from demanding reform or corrective action up to now.
Passports are critical to border security, but they also unlock all sorts of other doors once inside the United States. Passports allow holders to get driver’s licenses and other forms of identification, along with access to financial systems, and so on. They also allows fugitives or suspects in major crimes or involvement in terrorism to flee the country quickly, if desired. An officially issued US passport is one of the most valuable assets a terrorist could have in his arsenal.
If we want to create not just an illusion of security but start ensuring the safety of our nation, we need to demand more action on investigating and prosecuting passport fraud.
Note: Ironically, this comes up just as I’m applying for a passport myself, to work on a story with some international implications. The story will be some weeks off, but I hope to get the passport secured well before then — and I hope that it comes after a thorough and timely investigation.

Got Milk?

Today’s Los Angeles Times runs a scare story on the security holes in the nation’s food supply, focusing on milk production and delivery. In a report that the Department of Health and Human Services wanted to keep quiet, Stanford researchers determined that a third of an ounce of botulinum toxin poured into a milk tanker could kill hundreds of thousands of people and potentially destabilize the food industry:

About a third of an ounce of botulinum toxin poured into a milk truck en route from a dairy farm to a processing plant could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic losses, according to a scientific analysis published Tuesday despite efforts by federal officials to keep the details secret.
The study by Lawrence M. Wein and Yifan Liu of Stanford University discusses such questions as how terrorists could release the toxin and what effective amounts might be.
Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said in an accompanying editorial that a terrorist would not learn anything useful from the article about the minimum amount of toxin to use. “And we can detect no other information in this article important for a terrorist that is not already immediately available to anyone who has access to information from the World Wide Web.”
In fact, he said, publication of the article by the academy could be valuable for biodefense.
The analysis, posted Tuesday on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seeks to quantify security weaknesses in the nation’s milk supply chain and makes recommendations for closing those gaps.

Only after those five sensational paragraphs does a reader learn that the federal government has already begun implementing tighter security on the food supply, including milk production. HHS opposed its release despite the report’s non-classified status because, obviously, it didn’t want to give terrorists any new ideas before the safeguards were completely in place. NAS decided that disclosure was a higher priority than security in this case. And the Los Angeles Times decided that writing this to hype the danger while de-emphasizing the fact that action had already begun to address this added to the comprehension of the issue instead of distracting the reader with fear.
Putting aside the NAS and LAT editorial decisions, this demonstrates that fighting terrorism by waiting around for something to happen and issuing indictments won’t suffice. We can’t afford to wait until terrorists commit a ‘crime’ and then call the FBI to perform an investigation — not unless we don’t mind if a few hundred thousand Americans die before we do anything to stop the Islamofascists. This was one of the lessons of 9/11 that groups like MoveOn didn’t understand in its aftermath. It shows the need to have a forward military strategy in fighting terrorists before they can gather enough strength and resources to pull off a milk run like this.

Editorial Response To Bush Speech: Predictable

A read through the editorial pages of the three largest and most influential newspapers in the US shows nothing terribly surprising in terms of their response to George Bush’s speech last night. The Washington Post offers limited and qualified support, while the Los Angeles Times takes the glass-half-empty approach and the New York Times … well, the NYT just takes the MoveOn position of screaming every time 9/11 gets mentioned in connection with fighting terrorists.
The Post acknowledges that the connections between the fight in Iraq are legitimate, something that neither of the other two papers will admit, but claims that Bush erred by giving nothing but the sunny side of the situation in Iraq. They also fault Bush for not explaining how the strategic position changed:

PRESIDENT BUSH sought last night to bolster slipping public support for the war in Iraq by connecting it, once again, to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to the war against terrorism. That connection is not spurious, even if Saddam Hussein was not a collaborator of al Qaeda: Clearly Iraq is now a prime battlefield for Islamic extremists, and success or failure there will do much to determine the outcome of the larger struggle against them. But Mr. Bush didn’t explain how a war meant to remove a tyrant believed to wield weapons of mass destruction turned into a fight against Muslim militants, a transformation caused in part by his administration’s many errors since Saddam Hussein’s defeat more than two years ago. The president also didn’t speak candidly enough about the primary mission the United States now has in Iraq, which is not “hunting down the terrorists” but constructing a stable government in spite of Iraq’s sectarian divisions and violent resistance from the former ruling elite. It’s harder to explain why Americans should die in such a complex and ambitious enterprise than in a fight with international terrorists, but that is the case Mr. Bush most needs to make.

The Post makes two errors in its basic presumptions. First, Saddam did partner with al-Qaeda, long before the war, as the Jordanian government confirmed earlier this year and as intelligence reports have demonstrated. He hosted a conference of Islamist terrorists in 1999 that included both Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and sheltered the latter well before the 2003 invasion. In fact, Jordan asked for the extradition of Zarqawi in 2002, a request Saddam refused, not because he couldn’t be found but because the Ba’athists didn’t want him arrested.
Second, the Post makes the mistake in its second assumption — one that critics make constantly — that the fight has to be about one particular strategy. The fight in Iraq is to establish a stable democratic government, to be sure. It also is about fighting and killing terrorists. Whether one is “primary” over the other is mere academics; the truth is that both are vital to the overall success of the war on terror.
For a media that often derides the intelligence of George Bush, it would often appear that it’s the critics who lack the capability of walking and chewing gum at the same time.
At least the Post remains somewhat supportive of Bush, even if they can’t get past their faulty assumptions. The LAT continues to speak of the “presidential disconnect”, and faults Bush for speaking about 9/11 when talking about Iraq:

President Bush’s pep talk to the nation Tuesday night was a major disappointment. He again rewrote history by lumping together the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the need for war in Iraq, when, in fact, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. Bush spoke of “difficult and dangerous” work in Iraq that produces “images of violence and bloodshed,” but he glossed over the reality of how bad the situation is. He offered no benchmarks to measure the war’s progress, falling back on exhortations to “complete the mission” with a goal of withdrawing troops “as soon as possible.”

Nowhere in the speech does Bush say that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. He mentioned 9/11 five times, in these contexts: Islamofascists declared war on the US, and it reached our shores on 9/11. After 9/11, Bush told Americans we would not wait to be attacked again. The only way for America to lose to the terrorists is to forget the lessons of 9/11. The terrorists want to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried on 9/11. And after 9/11, Bush warned us that the road ahead would be long and difficult, and that we would need the stamina to see it all the way through to the end.
Now what in the world did the LAT hear? None of those references laid blame for 9/11 on Saddam. However, they do explain why we decided to change course and eliminate the largest and most hostile military threat in Southwest Asia, one that had openly attacked its neighbors twice in a decade and one that had refused to comply with the terms of the cease-fire and sixteen UNSC resolutions. Before 9/11, we thought we could afford to ignore Saddam. After 9/11, whether he had any involvement or not in that particular act, his involvement and association with terrorists simply could no longer be tolerated.
The Gray Lady takes this latest MoveOn meme and moves it even further downfield, as expected:

We did not expect Mr. Bush would apologize for the misinformation that helped lead us into this war, or for the catastrophic mistakes his team made in running the military operation. But we had hoped he would resist the temptation to raise the bloody flag of 9/11 over and over again to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks. We had hoped that he would seize the moment to tell the nation how he will define victory, and to give Americans a specific sense of how he intends to reach that goal – beyond repeating the same wishful scenario that he has been describing since the invasion.
Sadly, Mr. Bush wasted his opportunity last night, giving a speech that only answered questions no one was asking. He told the nation, again and again, that a stable and democratic Iraq would be worth American sacrifices, while the nation was wondering whether American sacrifices could actually produce a stable and democratic Iraq.

Really? In one year after the transfer of sovereignty, we’ve watched the Iraqis create an interim government, hold elections, form an elected representative government, negotiate with their old enemies to push them into the political process, and begin work on a new Iraqi constitution for a permanent democratic government. The Iraqis did all that in less time than we’ve taken to fix a welfare program heading for bankruptcy. In fact, they’ve done all of that in less time than it’s taken Minnesota to come up with a state budget — and we still don’t have one! Should we send in the 82nd Airborne to rescue Minnesotans from the obviously failed experiment in democracy we have here in Saint Paul?
The dominant theme today will be the complaints that Bush exploited 9/11 — complaints that will once again reveal how critics can’t remember what 9/11 actually meant. It showed that we cannot afford to wait for terrorists to wave their flags and tell us where they are, because the only time they’ll do that is when they’re raising those flags over the ruins of American cities. That day taught us that we can no longer ignore serious threats like Saddam Hussein, especially in the Middle East. It showed us the folly of appeasement in exchange for the illusion of stability, which really meant the consignment of tens of millions of people to brutal tyrannies that produce radicals willing to die for no other reason than to kill innocents to promote their ideology.
It showed us that we are at war. We can choose to fight that war here, in the US, or we can choose to fight that war where the terrorists and their state supporters live. I’d rather we opted for the latter, and beat them there before they come over here. Building democracies in their midst creates powerful allies for us in that fight against radicalism, and Iraq’s population and geography provides a strategic key to that success. Too bad that the nation’s newspapers and the critics can’t see past the bloody flag.
UPDATE: Corrected a coding problem. Welcome to Instapundit readers, too!
UPDATE II: The Democratic leadership obviously has the same talking points.

CQ In DC Next Week!

As many of you already know, I will appear at the Heritage Foundation on July 8th to speak at a symposium on bloggers, journalism, and the convergence of the old and new media. Mark Tapscott, the Director for Heritage’s Center for Media and Public Policy, has titled the presentation as “Are Bloggers and Journalists Friends Or Enemies”? Originally, Mark had lined up Jim Hill, the managing editor for the Washington Post Writers Group, as my counterbalance for the presentation. Mark has now added Daniel Glover, the managing editor for National Journal’s Technology Daily. Daniel also runs the NJ’s Beltway Blogroll blog.
Here’s the description from the Heritage Foundation invitation:

American blogger Ed Morrissey has broken story after sordid story on Canada’s multi-million dollar Adscam scandal. But are bloggers “real” journalists? Are bloggers and journalists natural enemies or allies in reporting the news? Or are bloggers a completely new kind of media force that defies all traditional classification?
Morrissey has built a blog with enormous public policy influence in less than two years. Hill’s career spans The Arizona Republic, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. Glover is an editorial leader of one of America’s most venerated publications. Come hear how three savvy voices of the Old and New Media answer these and many related issues.

The forum will start at 10:30 AM EDT on Friday, July 8th. If you can’t watch it in person, the event will be televised through Heritage’s web site. I’m looking forward to not just speaking at such a prestigious venue, but meeting Jim and Daniel and the people who will attend both the symposium and the lunch afterwards. (Fortunately for bloggers everywhere, I don’t believe they’ll be televising me eating lunch.) If you catch the speech, I hope to hear from you to get your feedback.
And if you’re in DC, I’d like to plan a get-together, probably Thursday night, as a blogger get-together in the area somewhere. I have already received several e-mails from area bloggers; in the next few days, we’ll finalize something fun.

Bush Speech: Live Blog

7:00 – The audience is coming to attention as Bush walks across the stage. He looks a bit nervous but as soon as he got to the podium, he looks happy to face this audience.
7:03 – He underscores Iraq as one phase of the overall war on terror, vowing that terrorists will not chase us from the battle with a couple of blows.
7:06 – It appears to me that the soldiers at Fort Bragg have orders not to react. Bush has not paused much in his delivery, as he normally would if he expected applause or cheers, such as a stump speech. His pace, therefore, is better than normal.
7:10 – He will not allow defeat on his watch — nice touch.
7:11 – Notes that only a year ago, Iraqi sovereignty was restored. Notes that progress has been uneven but has kept moving forward. Int’l orgs and nations have pledged $34 billion for reconstruction. Security forces has 160,000 men trained and equipped, and have led a major operation to clear out terrorists from Baghdad. Eight million people voted in the elections. None of this should be news to Americans, but the reminder is what is needed.
7:14 – The strategy has a political track and a military track. Broad outlines of the plan as it has existed all along.
7:16 – Bush stresses the international components of the coalition, underscoring the dozens of nations participating in the war.
7:17 – Three new tactics: partnering coalition units with Iraqi units, working with new Iraqi intelligence service, working closely with the Iraqi ministries on stabilization.
7:18 – “We’ve learned that Iraqis are courageous.”
7:20 – Good explanation, again in broad strokes, why timelines and exit strategies only work for retreats. “It sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people” — well, yeah. It reminds them of 1991, primarily.
7:21 – Also a good point about sending more troops. If we continue to escalate our numbers, it starts looking like a permanent occupation — and it will discourage the Iraqis from standing up for themselves.
7:23 – Eliminate the environments that create the “ideology of murder”, a good way to avoid the mention of Islam in any negative connotation, yet still remain accurate.
7:24 – “The terrorists do not understand America” … They understand some Americans, however.
7:25 – “We fight in Iraq because the terrorists want to kill Americans, and Iraq is where they have made their stand.”
7:27 – Find a way to thank the military – check this site.
7:30 – A good finish to the speech; it looks like he started to choke up when he talked about the high calling of a military career. He spoke for almost exactly 30 minutes, giving a good presentation.
I wish he had given more specifics about the reconstruction — as Beam suggests in the comments, how many schools we’ve rebuilt, how much electricity restored, and so on. He had an opportunity to talk above the heads of the media filters here, and it’s a shame he missed it. Nevertheless, he didn’t sugar coat the issues on the ground and he talked about the necessity of seeing it through.
7:35 – Mort Kondracke on Fox thinks it’s one of the best speeches on the war that Bush has given. He calls it rich in content; I agree.
7:37 – Mara Liasson (NPR) also gives it good marks, and points out that this isn’t a make-or-break moment for Bush, but simply time for him to address the nation on this issue.
7:39 – Brit Hume asks John Warner about the so-called flypaper strategy, and Warner lashes out at quagmire talk.
7:43 – Added link above to MoveOnPAC’s astroturfing site for people who can’t write their own letters to newspaper editors.
7:46 – General Wesley Clark now on Fox … He gives Bush credit for addressing the strategic issues, but faults him for not addressing some of the specifics of bombing rates. He worries that we’re creating terrorists — if we weren’t in Iraq, we wouldn’t have the number of terrorists we have now. In one breath, he says that terrorists can’t get to the Americans in Afghanistan because we’re hard to get to, and then he says we should send more troops to Afghanistan. As always, Clark is mostly incoherent on this point.
7:52 – At least Clark refuses to drink the “exit strategy” Kool-Aid, but he wants the Bush administration to give Americans the statistics on bombings and attacks in the future. Don’t we get plenty of that from the media already? Has anyone missed that data?
7:58 – Carl Cameron says the 82nd Airborne left the auditorium “very enthusiastic”. The Fox gang emphasizes that more engagement from the President on the war with the nation is needed — and I agree. Glenn Reynolds thinks that this speech indicates more will follow, and I hope he’s correct. And thanks for the link, Glenn.
8:02 – John McCain – “Bush laid out a clear exit strategy – when the Iraqis can take over, we will leave.”
8:05 – McCain on the rhetoric coming from Senator Kennedy, et al: “It’s a free country.” Okay … On Durbin: “He hurt his own party … He apologized … I’m a great believer in redemption.” Okay … I guess comity is the highest value.
8:07 – McCain defends the MOU: “I don’t think you will see a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee.”
8:14 – Oh, goody. Charles Rangel is on the tube now. Time to get a beer.
8:15 – Damn. No beer. And now Rangel claims that Bush planned to kill Saddam before 9/11. If so, he didn’t do much about it — his national-security plan only mentioned tightening the sanctions in place. Rangel says that Bush should go to Europe to get them to take over — when they haven’t even done that in Europe, in Kosovo, which has Truck fascinated at the moment.
8:22 – Newt Gingrich: This was a rational, fact-based speech. He thinks that people will see a “calm, steady purposefulness.”
8:27 – Great point by Gingrich on the idea of this being Bush’s war — that undermines the entire American system. Congress authorized the war, it authorized the funding; this is an American war against a deadly enemy. He also rips Durbin’s remarks as “destructive as any I’ve heard”.
I think that just about closes out the reaction for the speech. Again, I think Bush did a very good job, with just a few missed opportunities. Check my trackbacks for further reactions, and thank you for hanging in there with me tonight.
UPDATE: Get more reaction at PoliPundit and PrairiePundit.

Lords Of The Bling

When New Line Cinema announced that it had committed to a three-picture deal with a relatively unknown director from New Zealand to bring the epic Lord Of The Rings to the screen, people wondered whether New Line management had lost its mind. Estimates of the budget ran to $450 million, a huge investment for any film project, especially for a genre series — a genre which had disappointed Hollywood and the box office on many previous occasions. Peter Jackson and New Line wound up winning the gamble, making three of the most successful films ever, commercially and artistically, and generating billions in revenue.
Now success appears to have brought out the worst in everyone, as so often happens in Hollywood. Jackson filed suit against New Line for cooking its books to keep millions of dollars it owes to Jackson under the terms of its deal:

What if Frodo Baggins, instead of confronting the evil empire in “The Lord of the Rings,” just got himself a lawyer and sued? …
The suit does not specify a damage award. But in an interview last week, his lawyers said that, after New Line applied its contract interpretation from “Fellowship” to the other two movies, Mr. Jackson was underpaid by as much as $100 million for the trilogy.
Lawsuits in Hollywood are as common as hobbits in Middle Earth. What makes Mr. Jackson’s suit draw such widespread interest here, other than his clout in the industry and the amount at stake, is one specific allegation about New Line’s behavior. The suit charges that the company used pre-emptive bidding (meaning a process closed to external parties) rather than open bidding for subsidiary rights to such things as “Lord of the Rings” books, DVD’s and merchandise. Therefore, New Line received far less than market value for these rights, the suit says.
Most of those rights went to other companies in the New Line family or under the Time Warner corporate umbrella, like Warner Brothers International, Warner Records and Warner Books. So while the deals would not hurt Time Warner’s bottom line, they would lower the overall gross revenues related to the film, which is the figure Mr. Jackson’s percentage is based on.

This looks bad, and to a certain extent, it is bad. However, New Line needed to gather investors willing to risk a hell of a lot of capitol in order to get Jackson’s production financed. To get that capital, it had to structure the deal so that the investors could get a decent return even if the performance didn’t gather the audience it later did. Corporations like Time Warner and others had the deep pockets to cough up the half-billion bucks required, but they didn’t do that out of a love for J.R.R. Tolkien; they wanted to make a profit, and so they insisted on the best possible terms in exchange for a lot of risk.
That doesn’t mean that Jackson doesn’t have a case, but it does mean that “pre-emptive bidding” isn’t the fraud that the New York Times seems to paint in Ross Johnson’s article. Johnson unfortunately tries to balance out the picture by anonymously quoting an attorney for New Line that goes out of his way to insult Jackson:

A litigator for New Line, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is working on this lawsuit, said the money paid to Mr. Jackson so far is in line with the contract he signed.
“Peter Jackson is an incredible filmmaker who did the impossible on ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” this lawyer said. “But there’s a certain piggishness involved here. New Line already gave him enough money to rebuild Baghdad, but it’s still not enough for him.”

If Jackson wasn’t informed of the manner in which New Line structured the back end, then it’s not piggishness on his part to expect to be compensated properly according to the explicit terms of his contract. That sounds like a communication issue between Jackson and New Line. However, given all the trouble that Jackson had selling this project — most studios wouldn’t touch it because of the cost — it seems that Jackson had to be singularly naive to have expected New Line to have avoided vertical integration with its investment group.
And why is the New York Times allowing an attorney involved in the case to comment anonymously, especially to insult the plaintiff in the case? Since when does the Paper of Record allow itself to provide cover for corporate attorneys without the courage to speak on the record? Jack Shafer would also like to know how that got past the Times’ editors, given that it appears to violate its editorial standards:

Whoa! That’s great dish, but shouldn’t there be a Times policy against giving a partisan source, in this case a defense attorney, the cover of anonymity to call the plaintiff in a case against his client piggish? As a matter of fact, there is such a published policy limiting what anonymous sources can say in Times articles. In “Confidential News Sources,” on the paper’s corporate Web site, the policy reads in part:

We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack. If pejorative opinions are worth reporting and cannot be specifically attributed, they may be paraphrased or described after thorough discussion between writer and editor. The vivid language of direct quotation confers an unfair advantage on a speaker or writer who hides behind the newspaper, and turns of phrase are valueless to a reader who cannot assess the source.

The cheap shot mars what is an otherwise good piece. Johnson reports that in similar “vertical integration” suits, Hollywood has negotiated settlements rather than allowing its top executives to be deposed and reveal their accounting secrets.

Shafer’s right; the quote does nothing for the story except to turn the lawsuit into some sort of personal vendetta. It detracts from the fact that this problem will increasingly become a hurdle for major projects in Hollywood, where astronomical star salaries and expensive special effects require more lucrative back-end deals to get greenlighted.
Addendum: Not to expose myself as a Tolkien geek — as if my 12-hour marathon viewing of the entire trilogy hasn’t already done that — but Johnson also betrays his lack of knowledge on Rings with this glib metaphor:

Lawsuits in Hollywood are as common as hobbits in Middle Earth.

One of the plot points encountered over and over again in The Hobbit and LotR was that hobbits weren’t common at all; in fact, most of the other characters had never encountered one, except for Gandalf and a handful of the Elves. It’s not a big deal, but if Ross Johnson wants to use cute little statements like that, it would be nice if he had his information correct.


I saw this report about Republican reaction to a bid by an investment team that includes George Soros to buy the Washington Nationals, the new DC major-league franchise — and I hoped that Roll Call had it wrong. The Washington Post also covered it in their sports section (link via Michelle Malkin), but unfortunately the story hardly improved in the retelling. GOP Congressmen John Sweeney and Tom Davis issued veiled threats to Major League Baseball if the latter allowed Soros to buy into the national pastime:

Major League Baseball hasn’t narrowed the list of the eight bidders seeking to buy the Washington Nationals and some Republicans on Capitol Hill already are hinting at revoking the league’s antitrust exemption if billionaire financier George Soros , an ardent critic of President Bush and supporter of liberal causes, buys the team.
“It’s not necessarily smart business sense to have anybody who is so polarizing in the political world,” Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said. “That goes for anybody, but especially as it relates to Major League Baseball because it’s one of the few businesses that get incredibly special treatment from Congress and the federal government.”
Rep. Tom M. Davis III (R-Va.), who was a strong supporter of bringing a baseball team to Virginia, told Roll Call yesterday that “Major League Baseball understands the stakes” if Soros buys the team. “I don’t think they want to get involved in a political fight.”

What the hell?
This is what concerns our GOP caucus at the moment? What happened to Social Security reform, trimming pork from the budget, and supporting the war effort? Why do two Republicans in the House have anything to say about the ownership of the Nats?
Life must truly be perfect if this is what gets Sweeney and Davis perturbed.
Davis, after being challenged on his priorities, came up with the dumbest rationalization possible, under the circumstances:

Davis didn’t return calls to his office, but spokesman Robert White said, “The point [Davis] was making was how it would look if Major League Baseball sells the hottest team in the market to a guy who spent more money than the gross domestic product of Colombia to legitimize drugs.”

Oh, my. So Congress wants to dictate what kind of politics people should have as a prerequisite to owning a baseball team? Granted, baseball has an obnoxious antitrust exemption granted to them by Congress, so the concept of oversight shouldn’t be rejected out of hand. If Davis wants to exercise oversight, though, he should start by eliminating the financial incentives that baseball uses to extort public financing for its palacial private stadiums. Perhaps after that, he could then address the labor issues that the exemption has created and exacerbated over the past four decades.
But what Congress should not do is to demand political philosophy thresholds for ownership, either for the obviously partisan motives that Sweeney and Davis have or for the ostensible war-on-drugs opposition that Davis references. This is nothing but stupid, petty, and self-destructive posturing that makes politicians look foolish in the extreme. The GOP needs to reject it outright, and immediately.
UPDATE: Gerry at Daly Thoughts adds his voice to the criticism.

Speaking To The Choir?

President Bush will give a speech tonight from Fort Bragg to revive American support for the extended effort needed to secure Iraq and establish a major base for the expansion of democracy in the Middle East. With unrelenting negative coverage coming from Baghdad, Bush hopes to use his prime-time address with a presumably enthusiastic Fort Bragg audience to highlight the mission’s successes and the progress made towards democracy. Bush hopes to bolster the national morale and secure a mandate for our continued work in that effort.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, that may not be as tough a sale as first predicted. Despite some skepticism about our efforts to reduce the insurgency so far, a majority of Americans already reject the cut-and-run option:

As President Bush prepares to address the nation about Iraq tonight, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that most Americans do not believe the administration’s claims that impressive gains are being made against the insurgency, but a clear majority is willing to keep U.S. forces there for an extended time to stabilize the country.
The survey found that only one in eight Americans currently favors an immediate pullout of U.S. forces, while a solid majority continues to agree with Bush that the United States must remain in Iraq until civil order is restored — a goal that most of those surveyed acknowledge is, at best, several years away.
Amid broad skepticism about Bush’s credibility and whether the war was worth the cost, there were some encouraging signs for the president. A narrow majority — 52 percent — believes that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States, a five-point increase from earlier this month.

I had suspected that the supposedly plummeting numbers supporting the war effort and establishment of democracy in Iraq had been overstated, and this appears to confirm those suspicions. The numbers are even more striking when considering the sample, a pool of adults rather than registered voters, which usually tilts such surveys away from Bush and the GOP. In fact, despite the media coverage that focuses almost exclusively on terrorist attacks in Iraq, optimism about Iraq’s future has increased nine points since December, showing that the elections gave Americans a clear idea of the commitment Iraqis have to a democratic future.
Not all of the numbers give Bush much reason to cheer. Majorities fault him for misleading the country into war, his administration of the Iraq phase of the war on terror, and feel that the US has become “bogged down” in Iraq and that we cannot effectively fight elsewhere as a result. Bush has to address those perceptions in his speech tonight to succeed. He has to show that far from being bogged down, American and Coalition troops have accelerated training for Iraqi security forces, that the latter have taken on a larger role in providing security, and that we retain enough global flexibility to address other security risks, such as Syria, Iran, or North Korea.
For his primary goal — extending support for the immediate mission of securing Iraq as a democratic state — the President has a nation waiting to be affirmed in that desire. All he needs to do is to present his case about our many successes in specifics, and he can rally the nation behind him again.
NOTE: I will live blog the speech tonight, which begins at 7 PM CDT.

Sistani Blesses Major Concession To Sunnis

In another sign that the Iraqis continue to adapt quickly to democratic politics, the spiritual leader of the Shi’a in Iraq gave his blessing to a major concession to his rival Sunnis that could result in greater representation for the former ruling minority in Parliament. That promises to create less tension over the development of the new Iraqi constitution and create serious momentum for the scheduled December elections:

Iraq’s most powerful Shiite cleric appeared to offer a major concession to the Sunni Arab minority on Monday when he indicated that he would support changes in the voting system that would probably give Sunnis more seats in the future parliament.
In a meeting with a group of Sunni and Shiite leaders, the cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, outlined a proposal that would scrap the system used in the January election, according to a secular Shiite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Yasiri, who was at the meeting. The election had a huge turnout by Shiites and Kurds but was mostly boycotted by Sunni Arabs. …
Under the proposal, voters in national elections would select leaders from each of the 19 provinces instead of choosing from a single country-wide list, as they did in January. The new system would essentially set aside a number of seats for Sunnis roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population, ensuring that no matter how low the Sunni turnout, they would be guaranteed seats.

The change creates a more federalized system, one that benefits not just the Sunnis but also the Kurds, depending on where the boundaries are drawn. The numbers won’t be proportionate to population as such, but more to the provinces that each have as majorities. Once the federal government has established its constitution and electoral procedures, the provinces will create their own electoral governments, giving the ethnic and religious factions even more stability and incentive to work within the system.
This continues the careful politics of Ayatollah Sistani, the Najaf-educated cleric who professes the “quietism” of that school of Shi’ite Islam. His vision of Islam focuses on the spiritual rather than the temporal; his vision of government is one guided by the precepts of Islam but not run by clerics. In that regard, and given the history of religious repression by the Ba’athists, Sistani wants to ensure that the Shi’ite majority get its chance to run Iraq but that the Sunnis and Kurds have enough power to keep the country from falling into chaos.
In fact, while Sistani objected to the previous system of nationwide candidate lists, he allowed them to go forward when the United Nations insisted that any other system could not be implemented quickly enough for the January elections. That system effectively cut out the Sunnis, who boycotted in large numbers but would have won more seats in the central provinces had a federal system been in place. That decision has led to some of the resentment even among those Sunni who did participate. However, the more important objective — that Iraq will convert to democracy despite minority obstructionism and violence — has been made.
The progress in negotiations should energize the Sunni moderates into committing completely to the political process, putting even more pressure on their more radical brethren to admit defeat and lay down their arms. It shows the progress being made in Iraq and that the momentum still rolls towards democratization and freedom — as long as we give the brave Iraqis the support they need to realize their goals.

Woe, Canada: CEOs

Canadian business leaders have begun to sound the alarm over what they perceive as a threat to the Canadian economy from minority government rule. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives warn that the excessive political game-playing will undermine the basic economic structure of the nation as politicians play with taxpayer money to protect their jobs:

Canada’s top CEOs are warning that a failure of leadership by Ottawa on the economy has left the country without a long-term strategy to survive increasingly brutal global competition.
In a declaration being released today, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives said the minority-government situation has left federal leaders preoccupied with short-term politicking — and prone to excessive spending.
“As a political entity, Canada is a nation adrift,” said the business group representing 150 leading CEOs.

Prone to excessive spending? No kidding. Paul Martin in the past month alone has given out billions of dollars in new tax revenues to convince the NDP to formally align itself with the Liberals. This comes on top of the hundreds of millions spent on the Sponsorship Program, a good chunk of which wound up in Liberal pockets. Martin has opened up the Canadian treasury to protect his position as Prime Minister, and the bills will come due very soon.
What does all this excessive politicking and big giveaways mean for Canada in the long run? First, just from a mechanical point of view, the Commons has for the last several weeks done little more than play strategy games to see whether the government could survive after the revelations of widespread corruption in the ruling Liberal Party. Despite deserving to get the boot, the Liberals have outboxed the Conservatives since April, but during that time did little to address the overall agenda. The only significant bills that have moved through the Commons have been budgets and the gender-neutral marriage issue, and only for their status as potential confidence motions, or in the case of C-48 to buy off Jack Layton and the NDP.
As the CEOs state, this sells Canada’s future short, especially in a time when the nation should be focusing on efficiency, productivity, and capital investment in the future:

The CCCE plans to unveil its own “Canada First” strategy for the country before the next election, expected by early 2006.
The CEOs want the national debate to switch to strategies for cutting excessive spending, taxation and regulations — and away from endless partisan wrangling in Parliament.
“In the political arena, the very idea of strategic policymaking is drowning in the swirling search for momentary tactical advantage,” they said.

The Tories have an excellent opportunity to take the CEOs’ challenge and make economic streamlining their platform, as well as a credible program to remove the kind of corruption uncovered by the Gomery Commission from Canadian government. This program fits almost perfectly in a Conservative movement, and puts a competent, consistent, and forward-looking face on the Tories that the past six weeks have failed to achieve.