Exit The Bagman

Iraqi security forces have captured a senior member of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Syrian financier that provided a significant portion of the money for the foreign insurgency:

Iraqi security forces announced on Monday the capture of a senior al-Qaida in Iraq figure, and the U.S. ambassador said the risk of civil war from last week’s sectarian violence was over.
Violence throughout Iraq killed 36 people Monday, as fierce fighting broke out between Iraqi commandos and insurgents southeast of the capital. But sectarian clashes have declined sharply since the bloodletting that followed the destruction of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra, and Baghdad residents returned to their jobs after three days of a government-imposed curfew. …
The captured al-Qaida figure was identified as Abou al-Farouq, a Syrian who financed and coordinated groups working for Iraq’s most wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, according to an Interior Ministry officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the media.
Acting on a tip from residents, members of the Interior Ministry’s Wolf Brigade captured al-Farouq with five other followers of al-Zarqawi near Bakr, about 100 miles west of Baghdad, the ministry officer said.
The Defense Ministry said Iraqi security forces have killed 35 insurgents and arrested 487 in raids across the country since the bombing last Wednesday of the Samarra shrine.

The violence has decreased markedly but an estimated 1300 Iraqis died in the week following the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra. The attack by AQ forces at first threatened to send the country into a spiral of sectarian violence ultimately culminating in a civil war, but several developments have appeared to make that threat more remote. Sunni political groups have pledged to return to the bargaining table for establishing the first regular constitutional government in Iraq, and the government has pledged to rebuild the Askariya shrine — a pledge that the US has also offered to fund.
Now the security forces have received significant cooperation in the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi. Tipsters informed their national forces to the presence of al-Farouq and his fellow AQ terrorists, preferring democracy to rule by terrorists. This bombing has apparently forced the Iraqis to see the fork in the road quite clearly: either they can pursue old sectarian hatreds and collapse into annihilation, or they can come together to defeat the foreign terrorists who want to exploit those hatreds for their own purposes. It looks like the Iraqis have made their choice.

Health News You Can Use

With all of the health scares that get hysterical coverage in the media these days, I thought I would point out a little good news, especially for us middle-aged guys. It turns out that chocolate is health food now:

Leave it to the Dutch to help demonstrate the health benefits of chocolate. A study of older men in The Netherlands, known for its luscious chocolate, indicated those who ate the equivalent of one-third of a chocolate bar every day had lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of death.
The researchers say, however, it’s too early to conclude it was chocolate that led to better health. The men who ate more cocoa products could have shared other qualities that made them healthier. Experts also point out that eating too much chocolate can make you fat a risk for both heart disease and high blood pressure.
“It’s way too early to make recommendations about whether people should eat more cocoa or chocolate,” said Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, who co-authored the study.
Still, the Dutch study, supported by grants from the Netherlands Prevention Foundation, appears to be the largest so far to document a health effect for cocoa beans. And it confirms findings of smaller, shorter-term studies that also linked chocolate with lower blood pressure.

Come to think of it, I’m feeling a bit stressed out. I think I’ll find myself about a pound of Godiva.

Oh Lord, It’s Hard To Be Humble

Hillary Clinton has a rather large ego, although that’s hardly news to anyone paying attention to politics for the last fourteen years. She makes the mistake of assuming that people think about her as often as she thinks about herself — and so now says she’s convinced that Karl Rove is obsessed with her:

Reacting to a new book quoting Karl Rove as saying she will be the 2008 Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that President Bush’s chief political strategist “spends a lot of time obsessing about me.”
The former first lady also said she believed Rove, national GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman and other Republicans are using her to divert attention from Republican problems as the 2006 congressional elections approach.
“Karl Rove is a brilliant strategist. So, if I were thinking about this,” she told WROW-AM radio in Albany, “I’d say, why are they spending so much time talking about me?”

Why would Karl Rove give Hillary any consideration? Well, let’s see … she’s a Senator, she’s running for re-election, her husband still has a grip on fundraising for the opposing party, and poll after poll shows her leading the pack for thr 2008 Democratic nomination. Under the circumstances, it would be rather silly for any political analyst not to strategize around the likelihood of her run for the ticket. Given Rove’s track record of political skill, it would also be rather unlikely.
But then again, the Clintons always seem just a little paranoid, especially Hillary. Let’s not forget the infamous Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy she hatched up to take the blame for allegations of infidelity and perjury — allegations later proven correct when a particular blue dress later proved her wrong and her husband something of a cad. She still seems more than a little touchy and paranoid now, talking about “obsession” instead of just smart planning. One wonders if the junior Senator from New York really has the correct temperament for her current office, let alone a higher one.

Beware The Ides Of Marching

Freedom of speech and assembly are the closest we come to unfettered rights in the United States; we do not tolerate limits on either unless necessary for keeping the peace. However, one of the limitations accepted by almost everyone is a ban on overthrowing the elected government through force, both in action and in rhetoric. The rally being organized by the group United For Peace And Justice appears to approach that limitation, if it doesn’t actually cross it entirely:

U.N. SOS – We need your help to end the reign of international criminals.
It is our duty and the duty of the United Nations to rescue the people of the world from the U.S. dictators. Murder for occupation and theft of land is illegal. Murder of journalists is criminal. Remove the traitors who have stolen the U.S. budget and used it to commit international crimes against humanity.
If we were being bombed and our journalists were being murdered here in the U.S. by a foreign country’s military, we would hope that the people of that country would stop what they are doing and go to their president’s office and demand that it was stopped. If we were the ones burying thousands and thousands of our family members and watching the destruction of the homes, schools, churches and offices that we had worked for decades to build, we would hope that someone, somewhere would care enough to do something for us. We must stop the criminals in our government NOW. There is no meeting with Congress that is going to change what they are doing. We must put the power of the people into action and stay there until they leave!
Inviting everyone to the White House for a protest rally to show that we do not accept the criminal government, illegal wars and the permanent occupation planned for Iraq and Afghanistan. For Nat Turner, For Martin and Coretta, For all the Torture and Assassination in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and many others – We will not allow the Slave Holders that Still Prevail in this Country to Rule us any longer. Imprisonment and torture based on race, religion, resources or region is no different than the slavery we sought to abolish years ago. The Administration is Criminal and if they will not step down, we must storm in, show them how many of us do not accept a criminal government. How can we stand by and watch them kill our brothers, sisters, journalists and friends for their dollars?
We are calling on all citizens and governments in every country to stand with us. We are calling on all Member Nations of the U.N.; All Representatives and Justices in the World Court and International Criminal Courts; All Human Rights Advocates; All Soldiers and CIA agents and government officials who have been blackmailed or are in fear of the dictators to join us in ending this reign of corporate terror in our government. The World Criminal Courts need to incarcerate Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for admitted crimes and known crimes of international scope. The Political Cooperative will put a new, temporary government in place that is comprised of people from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and all the organizations that have finally made us aware of the truth of the savage practices and illegal policies of our government in assassinating our own officials as well as people throughout the world who oppose their criminal activity. We need all of you to save U.S. victims and global victims from their ongoing criminal activity. We are calling on the military, police, citizens and religious organizations to stand with us and help us to bring democracy back to the United States and by doing so, free the world from the wrath, occupation, theft, torture, blackmail and assassination by the Criminals in the United States Government. What they have done all over the world is much worse than what Saddam Hussein has done, so why are they not in jail too? They have admitted to international and national crimes, so why have they not been taken to Court too?

It doesn’t take much to put up a website, of course, and this looks like the work of a nutcase in search of company in the asylum. However, given the political climate these days, I have no doubt that a number of people will actually appear on March 15th to “storm” the White House. It boasts a long list of member groups, and a number of those groups are listed on their steering committee roster. These are the groups that apparently are endorsing a call to overthrow the elected government of the United States:
* The Communist Party (no surprise there!)
* National Hip Hop Political Caucus
* Iraq Veterans Against The War
* September 11th Families For Peaceful Tomorrows
* Teen Peace Project
* Not In Our Name
* Military Families Speak Out
* US Campaign To End The Israeli Occupation
* National Network On Cuba (again, no surprise)
* DC Anti-War Network
From now on, when people from these groups organize and demonstrate, we know what they support: an armed coup d’etat and the end of democracy in America. They want the UN to topple our government and to replace it with, one assumes, the rule of Kofi Annan and the rest of the world.
My prediction: members of every one of these groups will attend the March 15th rally, but it will only attract less than 5,000 people. It should make for a great photo-op for DC bloggers. Wish I could join the spectators … (via Michelle Malkin)

Kissinger On Hamas

Henry Kissinger writes a lengthy op-ed today in the Washington Post about the effect that Hamas’ election to power has had on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (Has Henry ever been accused of brevity?) He demonstrates his brilliance once again here, arguing that Hamas needs an Ariel Sharon, a man who will publicly break with long-held policies in order to grab a chance for peace, before Hamas can expect anyone to take them seriously:

The emergence of Hamas as the dominant faction in Palestine should not be treated as a radical departure. Hamas represents the mind-set that prevented the full recognition of Israel’s legitimacy by the PLO for all these decades, kept Yasser Arafat from accepting partition of Palestine at Camp David in 2000, produced two intifadas and consistently supported terrorism. Far too much of the debate within the Palestinian camp has been over whether Israel should be destroyed immediately by permanent confrontation or in stages in which occasional negotiations serve as periodic armistices. The reaction of the PLO’s Fatah to the Hamas electoral victory has been an attempt to outflank Hamas on the radical side. Only a small number of moderates have accepted genuine and permanent coexistence. …
The advent of Hamas brings us to a point where the peace process must be brought into some conformity with conditions on the ground. The old game plan that Palestinian elections would produce a moderate secular partner cannot be implemented with Hamas in the near future. What would be needed from Hamas is an evolution comparable to Sharon’s.

Read the whole essay. It points out yet again the folly of taking the Palestinians seriously as partners for peace, given their expressed desire to destroy Israel. Only until Hamas and the Palestinians accept the permanent status of Israel will they bring anything to the table. Until then, the two parties have no commonality of purpose and therefore no basis on which to negotiate.

Red Cross Donations Go To Celebrity Parties

The Red Cross has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on promotion of its executives in the media and on celebrity parties instead of assistance to disaster victims, the Washington Post reports today:

The American Red Cross paid consultants more than $500,000 in the past three years to pitch its name in Hollywood, recruit stars for its “Celebrity Cabinet” and brand its chief executive as the face of the Red Cross — just a year before ousting her, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
In a $127,000 contract, a Houston corporate image company agreed to create a plan to make Red Cross chief executive Marsha J. Evans the face of the organization as part of a “senior leadership branding project” that ran from October 2003 to November 2004. At the same time, Evans was laying off workers at the Red Cross’s blood-services operations and at its Washington headquarters, as well as eliminating merit pay and limiting travel in a bid to cut millions from the national headquarters’ budget. …
Also in 2003 and 2004, the Red Cross paid a Beverly Hills, Calif., firm $113,900 to promote its name to writers and producers for television and film to get the charity included in story lines.
Red Cross spokeswoman Carrie Martin said the contract has resulted in such successes as Red Cross first-aid kits included in the MTV reality show “The Real World” and Red Cross emergency vehicles used in an episode of the TV drama “The West Wing.”
Martin said the contracts were a defensive move as well, “to make sure that the Red Cross name and symbol is used appropriately.”

When people donate to the Red Cross, as I have in the past, they expect their money to go to disaster relief or to supporting blood drives, not to get their executives high-paying speaking gigs or to allow them to rub elbows with Hollywood celebrities. This amounts to an abuse and deception on the part of the Red Cross, gaining donations — especially in the wake of 9/11 and recently with Hurricane Katrina — by using the pain and suffering of victims in order to support a glamorous work environment. As Harvard lecturer Peter Dobkin Hall notes, the Red Cross doesn’t need to spend money to raise awareness of the organization, as people “throw money” at them whenever disaster strikes.
This reminds me of the United Way scandal a few years ago, when it turned out that hundreds of thousands of dollars went to executive perks instead of their member charities. I stopped giving to United Way after that scandal and its ongoing hostility towards the Boy Scouts. The Red Cross does do good work, but this kind of abuse cannot stand without serious consequences. Perhaps the time has come to reconsider donations to the Red Cross as well, at least until they stop spending money on self-indulgent activities such as those described above and fire everyone responsible for these abuses of trust.

Look Who’s Coming To Dinner

The AP notes that Saddam Hussein has ended his hunger strike, and in fact only participated in it for eleven days. The reason he started eating again? He discovered that starvation is bad for his health. No, I’m not kidding:

Toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has ended on health grounds a hunger strike he began earlier this month to protest against the conduct of his trial, his chief lawyer said on Monday.
“The president maintained his hunger strike for 11 days but was forced to end it for health reasons,” Khalil Dulaimi, who met Saddam for seven hours in Baghdad on Sunday, told Reuters.
Saddam, on trial since last October for crimes against humanity, threw already chaotic proceedings into more turmoil on February 14 by saying he and seven co-accused had been staging a hunger strike for the past three days.

What exactly did Saddam think would happen when he stopped eating — that he would get healthier? Getting sick and dying is the point of a hunger strike, after all; it’s an attempt to embarrass one’s jailers into concessions. He didn’t start eating because he got sick — he started eating because he belatedly realized that no one gives a flying you-know-what if he dies in prison for any reason. In fact, many who have seen his corruption of the Oil-For-Food program, intended on feeding starving Iraqis, would have considered it poetic justice.
It’s just another cowardly capitulation for the self-styled Second Saladin. After declaring that he would die in defense of his regime, and after watching his sons take him at his word, he meekly surrended in his spider hole. Now after boldly proclaiming that he would starve himself, he has gone back to eating his Cheetohs. It’s hard to believe that this man found anyone to follow him at all.

The Difficult Natural Ally

George Bush travels to India this week to meet with the leaders of the world’s largest democracy, trying to strengthen ties that seem strangely and unnaturally weak. After all, the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy should have much in common and be natural allies — but historically, India has remained distant and almost hostile to the US:

PRESIDENT BUSH arrives in Delhi for his first state visit this week, hoping to cement an increasingly close relationship between the United States and India that has the potential to alter the strategic balance in the world for the rest of the century.
During the Cold War India was the only major democracy in the world that did not side with America in the struggle against communism. But in the past decade, driven by India’s rapid economic growth, a shift in American priorities in Asia and, latterly, the demands of the war on terrorism, the interests of the two countries have converged sharply.
With US global hegemony increasingly challenged by the rise of China, India — with a population of more than a billion — is seen by many in Washington as a natural and vital strategic ally. Mr Bush arrives in India on Wednesday and will spend three days there before visiting Pakistan, also for the first time, where he will hold equally critical discussions with General Pervez Musharraf, the President.

India’s flirtation with the Soviet Union created a huge gap between the two democracies and allowed the relationship to remain sour for decades. Nor does it appear to have taught Delhi a lesson, as the Washington Post notes in an editorial today on the Bush trip:

This week President Bush pays a call; the week after, India’s president for the first time will visit neighboring Burma — one of Asia’s two (with North Korea) most brutal dictatorships. While Burma’s army rapes and pillages and forces children and others into service, India sells weapons and seeks ever-closer military-to-military ties. This puts the Indians out of step with the United States, Europe and increasingly even Southeast Asia, which is beginning to recognize that its policy of “engagement” with Burma’s dictators has borne no fruit.
India’s motive here is easy to discern: It’s competing with China for close ties with Burma and access to its natural gas and other resources. That’s understandable, but India will never beat China’s dictators at their own game.

India has always danced with dictators in the region, but in Burma they’re activley making it worse. India has traditionally chosen very strange allies for a country that takes pride in its freedom, choosing to align itself with the worst oppressors and with tyranny rather than liberation. Given their history with the British, one may understand their general reluctance to trust the West — but that’s no excuse for actively supporting oppression, and its relationship with Burma hardly hinges on Eastern solidarity.
We need to be closer to India and to forge truly and mutually beneficial ties with the world’s largest democracy. Hopefully, those ties will force India to review its poor history of playing footsie with oppressors while turning its back on democracy and allow it to change its diplomatic direction.

Taking A Stand For Private Property Rights

Fox reports that a North Carolina retail and commercial bank has taken an unprecedented stand on behalf of private property rights, potentially opening a new front against eminent domain after the Kelo decision. BB&T has announced that it will refuse to underwrite any development involving the transfer of private property through eminent domain to commercial developers:

Banks give away millions of dollars in charitable donations and loan guarantees to the underserved each year, but BB&T may have just become the first bank in recent memory to withhold money from developers who don’t line up with the bank’s view of eminent domain law.
The North Carolina-based bank, which employs more than 28,000 people in 1,400 branches in 11 states, announced last month that it would no longer approve loans for developers who want to pursue commercial enterprises on land seized by the government using the power of eminent domain, or taking private property for public use.
The announcement was a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June in Kelo v. City of New London. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Connecticut town’s right to take land for private development if its use was deemed in the public interest.
In a Jan. 25 release, BB&T executives stated their disapproval of the court’s ruling.
“One of the most basic rights of every citizen is to keep what they own,” said BB&T Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Allison, a noted libertarian. “As an institution dedicated to helping our clients achieve economic success and financial security, we won’t help any entity or company that would undermine that mission and threaten the hard-earned American dream of property ownership.”

The National League of Cities doesn’t care much for the decision. Their spokesman called it a “rush to judgment without reflection or public discussion or debate”. That hardly seems fair considering the amount of controversy and comment the Supreme Court decision generated. The NLC wants to ensure the political viability of eminent domain in order to keep its options open for urban-renewal projects, so their opposition to the BB&T decision isn’t terribly surprising, even if it is poorly rationalized.
The truth is that the NLC keeps demonstrating its lack of reliance on normal market forces and instead wants to garner near-imperial powers for their members. BB&T has made a decision as an independent company as to where they wish to invest their money. They did so in order to protect the principle of private property, both their own and that of their customers. Good for them for standing up to those who believe that property exists only to derive the best possible tax income for their city and county budgets.

St. Paul Mayor Defies Own Public Smoking Stance

The new mayor of St. Paul campaigned in part on his support of tough new bans on smoking in public places, especially bars and restaurants, beating the more moderate Randy Kelly in his bid for re-election. However, it appears that Mayor Chris Coleman has one standard for the residents of St. Paul and another for himself, as local columnist Joe Soucheray reported today:

The new mayor, Chris Coleman, who couldn’t wait to sign legislation that prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants, was puffing away on a big cigar the other night at Stogies on Grand. A guy I know was in there. He told me that Coleman was chomping on a cigar along with former police chief Bill Finney.
They have a back room at Stogies with a big flat-screen TV. It is a popular place to smoke a cigar, and usually they have sports on the TV or maybe the stock ticker running so that the guys back there can pretend to follow their investments. It is almost as Republican an activity as quail hunting, smoking a cigar and following the stock ticker. …
Coleman had a pretty thin platform. A lot of guys are probably shaking their heads that they didn’t run against Randy Kelly, who was defeated because he hugged George W. Bush. Maybe that’s what Finney and Coleman were talking about, Finney telling Coleman, “Why, I could have kicked your …”
Coleman rode in on a big anti-tobacco white horse and made a bold promise of how he shared Thune’s belief that it was up to politicians to safeguard the health of citizens.
Now, I realize that the mayor has every right in the world to enjoy a fine cigar. And a cigar store is not exactly a bar or restaurant. But you would think, just for the sake of appearances, politics being all about appearances these days, that he might have let the ink dry on his legislation to put bars and restaurants out of business before he lit one up.

One might expect the new mayor to set a better example. The new law did not forbid cigar clubs from allowing patrons to light up, but the campaign to ban it almost everywhere else made it clear that the St. Paul power structure considered tobacco an evil to be opposed. They heralded the ban as an important step in safeguarding the health of citizens in the marketplace. Coleman enthusiastically supported this effort to remove choice from the patrons of restaurants and bars and to impose the role of nanny on the owners of these establishments.
When one makes an argument that second-hand smoke is so dangerous that even separate facilities in businesses aren’t enough to safeguard the health of St. Paul citizens, those politicians should not be lighting up anywhere outside their own home. Coleman refused to respond to Soucheray’s questions on Friday. Perhaps business owners will be asking more questions on Monday — at least those whose businesses didn’t die as a result of the ban.