Don’t Hurry Back

Fidel Castro has taken ill and turned over control of the government to his brother. The 80-year-old despot who has ruled Cuba for almost 50 years had a sudden bout of intestinal bleeding, requiring emergency surgery:

Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his brother Raul on Monday night and told Cubans in a statement that he had undergone surgery.
The Cuban leader said he had suffered intestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from recent public appearances in Argentina and Cuba, according to the letter read live on television by his secretary, Carlos Valenciaga. …
Castro said he was temporarily relinquishing the presidency to his brother and successor Raul, the defense minister.
He said the move was of “a provisional character.”

Raul is no spring chicken either at 75. The quiet sibling of the Cuban strongman has taken more of an active public role of late, which might indicate that Fidel’s health issues may not be as acute as Castro’s announcement might indicate. Raul has taken over his brother’s duties in both the Party and the presidency, and the nation has postponed Castro’s upcoming birthday celebrations in two weeks until December.
That sounds like the Castros do not expect Fidel to be recuperating very quickly. If Fidel stays sidelined or declines significantly, one has to wonder how long Raul can hold the government in place. Raul has never had the kind of personality cult that his older brother encouraged for himself. When the strongman of a dictatorship fails or appears to do so, it causes the men around him to suddenly recalculate their own fortunes.
Even if Raul could hold things together, it won’t be for very much longer in any case. His own advanced age, combined with the stress of domination, will tax him in a way that Fidel somehow avoided — perhaps because he enjoyed it so much. Raul will likely not have the same quality and will quickly weaken.
This could develop rather quickly if Castro fails to return soon. Keep an eye on the Cuban-American bloggers, who will have the best information. And that means keeping my friend Val Prieto high up on your feedreader.
UPDATE: Well, Val doesn’t disappoint; he’s already all over this. He also gives a characteristically original caveat:

I feel I must urge everyone to take this news – however absolutely grand it is – with a grain of salt. castro has “died” many times before, only to then reappear like genital herpes. Let’s all keep the champagne chilled, but let’s not be popping any corks just yet.

UPDATE II: Er, “strongman of a dictatorship”, not “strongman of a democracy”. Thanks to LC Scotty in the comments for pointing out my brain fade.

Get Ready For The Offensive

The Israeli war cabinet has decided to launch a wide-ranging ground offensive, as I predicted earlier. The move comes as France has attempted a new diplomatic effort with Syria and Iran:

Israel’s Security Cabinet approved early Tuesday widening the ground offensive in Lebanon and rejected a cease-fire until an international force is in place, a participant in the meeting said.
Airstrikes in Lebanon would resume “in full force” after the 48-hour suspension expires in another day, said the participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. He said there was no deadline for the offensive, though the United Nations Security Council is expected to debate a resolution this week about a cease-fire.

The Israelis may have found some encouragement from new intel that says Hezbollah has run low on launchers, if not the rockets. They want to make sure they can capture or destroy the rest before they end this campaign, and have reached the conclusion that air power alone cannot achieve that objective.
While Israel earlier had asked for a 2-km buffer zone, reports say that the IDF incursion will penetrate much further than that. An Israeli commander interviewed on Fox said that they plan on pushing far into Lebanon to chase down and cut off Hezbollah. The IAF has successfully cut off many of the roads that Hezbollah would use to pull their equipment to safety in Syria, and they would need to act fast in order to take advantage of the cut in communications.
The French effort in Beirut has not yet hit the wires, but the French foreign minister has apparently requested an emergency meeting with the Iranian ambassador. France, which earlier today called Iran a stabilizing force in the Middle East, may try to get Iran to call back Hezbollah so that a settlement can be reached. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to ask, but one has to wonder how France would convince Iran that a war on Israel’s border doesn’t serve their national interest — which is, of course, the destruction of Israel.

GOP To Harris: We Love You .. Now Get Lost

One of the more embarrassing campaigns for the GOP this cycle is the Senate race in Florida. The election should give Republicans a chance at a pickup; after all, George Bush won the state twice and his brother Jeb remains very popular as governor. However, the Republican candidate has squandered all of these advantages and has dropped far behind the incumbent, Bill Nelson. The national party decided in May that Harris has no chance in the general election, and apparently did not get shy about sharing that opinion:

The state Republican Party bluntly told Rep. Katherine Harris that she couldn’t win this fall’s Senate election and that the party wouldn’t support her campaign, a letter obtained Monday by The Associated Press shows.
Party Chairman Carole Jean Jordan made a last-ditch attempt in the confidential May 7 letter to force Harris out of the race for the nomination to challenge Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson. But the next day, Harris turned in paperwork to get her name on the Sept. 5 Republican primary ballot. …
The letter to Harris listed major obstacles, including coverage of campaign contributions she took from a defense contractor, Mitchell Wade, who later pleaded guilty to bribing another congressman.
Harris has said that she wasn’t aware of the illegal contributions and that she was only trying to bring high-wage jobs to her district when she tried to help Wade’s company, MZM Inc., get a federal contract.

Polls by Quinnipiac and others show Harris trailing Nelson by well over 30 points, a laughable deficit that the GOP rightly deduced could not be overcome. They have pushed other candidates into the Florida primary to oppose Harris, but she leads all of them handily. Unfortunately, it looks like Harris has the primary locked up.
The only way the GOP can get back on track would be to find a high-profile candidate willing to enter the race. It would have to be someone with high name recognition and solid popularity among Floridians. The one man who meets all of these qualifications also has an opening in his schedule, as he will reach a term-limit end to his current position. Unfortunately, Jeb Bush says he’s not interested:

Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday he would not be part of a bizarre plan Republican strategists have contemplated to replace U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris as a candidate for U.S. Senate. …
Speaking with reporters after addressing a graduation ceremony for Florida Highway Patrol recruits, Bush called the plan nonsensical and said he would not run for U.S. Senate.
“I think that’s purely hypothetical,” he said. “It ain’t going to be me.”

I’m not sure why it’s “nonsensical”. George Allen went from Governor to Senator and has managed the transition smoothly. All the Republicans wanted was to have Jeb enter the primary to give Republicans a fighting chance for the seat. If Jeb doesn’t want the job, that’s understandable and even commendable, but the notion is hardly “bizarre”, as the Tallahassee Democrat described it.
Unless someone can convince Jeb to reconsider, it looks like Bill Nelson can laugh his way to re-election this year.

Iraqi ‘Special’ Olympics

Another set of translated documents have been released by the FMSO over the last few days, and while a good deal of them contain nothing new, some enlighten us as to the twisted mindset of the Saddam Hussein regime. Document ISGZ-2004-019744 contains a list of equipment and prices for equipment requested by the Iraqi National Olympic Committee — for something called the “Special Workshop”. A covering memo requesting the funds shows to what use the equipment was needed:

The Republic of Iraq
Presidency of the Republic
Saddam’s Fedayeen
Office of secretary
Date 20 December 2002
The supervisor of the honorable Saddam’s Fedayeen
Subject: Issue of funds
Please approve the request to issue the sum of (143,670,000) One Hundred Forty-Three Million, Six Hundred Seventy Thousand Dinar to the Iraqi National Olympic committee (special workshop), the amount is to manufacture and prepare for the Fedayee effort with supplies indicated in the attached application list.
Please review the matter and advice… with appreciation.
Brigadier General of support
Muhsin ‘Abd-al-Karim Mahmud
General Secretary
20 December 2002

The memo shows an approval dated the next day, meaning that while the US demanded a green light from theUN Security Council to invade Iraq, a Brigadier General took the time to ask the supervisor of the Saddam Fedayeen — Uday Hussein — permission to buy equipment for the Olympic Committee. Could these have been pommel horses for their gymanistics squad, or perhaps new uniforms for the wrestlers? Not exactly:

Cost………………………… Subject
5,000,000 Dinar……. For the manufacturing of 2 fuel tanks. “received”
360,000 Dinar………. For the preparation of the special insignia for the Fedayeen (God-Country-Commander) [TC: Hand written note on the side of the page statingreceived]
100,000,000 Dinar .. For the manufacturing of 5 al-Razi firing systems
11,732,500 Dinar …. For special equipment (batons shaped like an “L” for riot control – leather gloves – equipment for climbing trees – climbing rope – “Nachuka” rope – deadly stars – jumping circles – seatbelt for jumping)
2,000,000 Dinar ….. For the manufacturing of 200 weapons
9,375,000 Dinar ….. For 125 fire extinguishers size 12 kg
5,460,000 Dinar ….. For 1365 Chinese made pickaxes
9,742,500 Dinar ….. For 2165 Chinese made shovels
The total amount is 143,670,000 Dinar.

Nachukas and deadly stars? Did the Olympics suddenly open up ninja competitions in 2002? Apparently the IOC has a very broadminded take on competition, as the Iraqi Olympic team needed to manufacture 200 weapons for their team. Pickaxes and shovels may have been needed for preparation in the brand-new Mass Grave Dig-off, in which the Chinese held a traditional edge.
Most interesting on this list is the 100 million dinars for 5 “al-Razi” shooting systems. The ISG report has a couple of al-Razi references. One regards the efforts at the al-Razi research center on a type of laser used in uranium enrichment, which doesn’t really fit the context of this memo. The other refers to the Zakaria al-Razi Chemical Company — which the ISG identifies as a “special weapons” contractor to the Saddam regime’s WMD programs.
In December 2002, Saddam’s army wanted to go for the gold in the war everyone knew was coming, and purchase 5 al-Razi shooting systems for his Olympic team. The Saddam regime really supported its own idea of the ‘special’ Olympics, it appears.

Contractors Balking At Open Government

Today’s Washington Post has an article on the progress of the federal-spending database, but thanks to the Post’s editors, it’s buried on page D-4 of the Metro section rather than in national news. It contains an assertion that federal contractors will balk at having their oh-so-lucrative contracts listed for the public to review:

Politically, though, the bill could run into problems, as many large companies with federal contracts might not want certain information made easily accessible.
“Vendors don’t want their competitors to know what they’re doing and what they’re winning,” Webber said.

Two thoughts spring to mind here:
1. Boo-frickin’-hoo.
2. Then let some other company win the business.
I have more to say at the Heritage Foundation Policy Blog, which also has a link to a minimum-wage study which shows how a raise will actually decrease the spending power of families who rely on it for their sole income. Don’t forget to check out the Heritage quick-link aggregator, to which I will also contribute. I put a link to NZ Bear’s work on pork in the HHS budget — but you have to check the link to see it!

Israel Will Expand Ground Offensive, Or Else ….

Israel will only temporarily cease operations over the next few hours, as the Knesset has demanded a more expansive ground offensive and a “strategic victory” over Hezbollah. Defense Minister Amir Peretz ignored heckling by Israeli Arabs in the parliament as he pledged to engage Hezbollah on a more sweeping scale than before:

Israel must not agree to an immediate cease-fire, but rather expand and strengthen its attacks on Hizbullah, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told an emergency session of the Knesset on Monday.
“We must not agree to a ceasefire that would be implemented immediately,” Peretz said at the start of the heated session. …
Peretz’s speech was widely echoed by MKs across the spectrum including Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu who added that Hizbullah posed a strategic threat, and therefore required a strategic victory.
“The journey of war is like any other journey. It starts easily but midway there’s a difficult junction where we must decide whether we continue to climb the mountain or stop,” said Netanyahu. “I call on the government: Don’t stop midway. Complete the job.”

Again, the Israelis do not want to relive the Lebanon occupation for another eighteen-year period. Israel knows better than most that occupations do not result in stabilization over the long term. They want to push Hezbollah back far enough to reduce their ability to hit northern Israel, and hopefully get the Lebanese Army to keep Hezbollah away from the border.
That kind of goal cannot be achieved through air power alone, especially given the problem of Hezbollah’s entrenchment and the close proximity of their weapons to civilian populations. Ironically, the outrage over civilian casualties may force Israel into a sweeping ground offensive. Qana shows that air bombardments can create more problems than they solve. A ground force can strike at the weapons systems more accurately and hold down civilian casualties where possible. If the world objects to the IAF, then they will see the IDF instead.
Netanyahu’s demands come as no surprise. He will want the war waged to maximum effect, and in a way represents a deterrent all on his own. If global pressure forces Olmert to leave Hezbollah in the field and still effectively attacking the Israeli north, Olmert’s Kadima coalition may well fail — and in wartime, the Israelis will likely turn to Netanyahu as the stronger alternative. Netanyahu will give the diplomats much less attention than Olmert, and may be tempted to widen the conflict to include Damascus.
Any “peace” that does not secure Israel against terrorist attack from Lebanon-based Hezbullah terrorists will be no peace at all. It could touch off a series of political changes that will create momentum for total war the likes of which have not been seen in the region for forty years.

Back To Thunderbird

CQ readers know that I have had a lot of fun with e-mail clients over the past year. I started off using Thunderbird, but after having a few meltdowns, I decided to look elsewhere.
First I tried Outook, the comprehensive program included in Microsoft Office. I actually liked Outlook a great deal, Its integrated approach made it easy to use schedules and e-mail all at the same time, as well as organize my contact lists somewhat rationally. Unfortunately, as an intergrated program, it kept eating up memory and slowing the computer to a crawl.
I then switched to Outlook Express, which I had used successfully in the past. It ran faster than Outlook, but had its own quirks. It didn’t handle junk mail properly, and had a nasty habit of junking the wrong e-mail message when I used the toolbar. I switched to Eudora last week in frustration, even paying for the license. However, while Eudora ran well and has a tremendous number of features, I just found the interface too clumsy for efficient use. The user has to open each mail folder as a tab, and then switch between tabs just to see how many unread messages await and to access them.
So now I’m back to Thunderbird’s latest release, and hopefully I can keep the meltdowns to a minimum. I’m compressing the folders on a regular basis and automatically deleting anything older than 30 days. I’ll let you know how it goes, but it’s nice to be back on familiar ground.

Chicken Or Egg?

Howard Kurtz notes an interesting trend among television news magazines; instead of tackling a wide range of interests, they have increasingly focused exclusively on crime. Kurtz argues that the trend has been prompted by a decline in viewership as networks flooded the zone with such programs:

Television news — especially local television — has always been drawn to crime. But in a country in which more than 16,000 murders were committed last year, are the killings of ordinary people, however tragic, really worth all this airtime?
“I think it lends itself to storytelling,” says David Corvo, executive producer of “Dateline.” “You’ve got a confrontation, right and wrong, guilt or innocence, and a resolution, and there’s some suspense getting to that resolution.”
The tabloidization of these programs comes as the networks have fallen out of love with newsmagazines, which were crippled by overexposure. As recently as 1999, magazine shows served up a dozen hours a week. Over the years, “Eye to Eye,” “Public Eye,” “Now,” “West 57th,” “60 Minutes II” and others came and went. “Dateline” and “48 Hours” have largely been relegated to weekends.

One has to ask the question as to whether the decline came before the focus on true crime or as a result of it. After all, A&E has had the franchise on such documentaries through three of its brands: American Justice, City Confidential, and Cold Case Files. Each has their own flavor, as regular viewers have learned. AJ does straightforward criminal cases, usually murder. City Confidential has much more of a tabloid feel, delivering dish on a particular location along with a murder case that highlights it — and the late Paul Winfield gave it a certain delicious feeling with his excellent narration. Cold Case Files specializes in justice delayed, and inspired a host of network crime-drama clones.
The network news magazines came late to the party, and with few exceptions do not add to the artform, such as it is. One exception may be Stone Phillips’ expose of on-line predators, a series of Dateline NBC shows that captured people traveling to remote locations just to have sex with underage girls. (One memorable pervert brought along his four-year-old son.) That type of work may provide some tabloid spectacle, but it also rid our communities of dozens of sexual predators — at least it did after the initial segment, when NBC didn’t think to coordinate with law enforcement, a mistake they didn’t repeat. Still, that seems pretty close to the formula originated by Fox’s America’s Most Wanted, a two-decade example of interactive law enforcement that has captured hundreds of fugitives — and even a few cold-case perpetrators.
News magazines keep following formulas in a quest to build ratings, but they still have never truly broken from either the 60 Minutes mold or the formats pioneered and mastered at A&E. The latter proves especially problematic, because A&E airs episodes of their crime shows every night, giving cable and satellite customers an opportunity to sate themselves, leaving little appetite for the offerings of the networks.
Can newsmagazines survive? Perhaps, but they need to break out of the molds they have followed for so long. Nightline might be a better example to follow, or perhaps a new effort focusing on other important subjects, such as foreign policy and war, or the effort to curtail gangs. Those may seem rather narrow areas of focus, but it has to beat the deathchase that Kurtz eloquently analyzes in his article.
Addendum: Kurtz also writes one of the best daily media round-ups. Bookmark him, as well as the National Journal’s Blogometer and Slate’s round-up (which has no permanent link), and check all of them each weekday. All three are a don’t-miss for me.

Putting Qana In Perspective

When we or our allies go to war, we expect the maximum effort to adhere to the modern conventions of warfare, especially in protecting civilian populations. Unfortunately, the success for such efforts largely depend on the nature of the enemy. An enemy that does not concern itself with protecting civilian populations — in fact, one that hides itself and its weapons among civilians for tactical and political purposes — makes civilian casualties impossible to avoid. That Israel faces such an enemy should surprise no one, especially considering the tactics used by their enemies now and for the last generation, as Naomi Ragen reminds us in Arutz Sheva.
Ragen describes an incident experienced by her son’s friend in the current conflict:

The village looked empty, and then we heard noises coming from one of the houses, so we opened fire. But when we went inside, we found two women and a child huddled in the corner of the room. We were so relieved we hadn’t hurt them. We took up base in one of the empty houses. And then, all of a sudden, we came under intense fire. Three rockets were fired at the house we were in. Only one managed to destroy a wall, which fell on one of us, covering him in white dust, but otherwise not hurting him. I spent the whole time feeding bullets to my friend who was shooting non-stop. We managed to kill 26 terrorists. Not one of us was hurt.
Our commanding officer kept walking around, touching everybody on the shoulder, smiling and encouraging us: “We’re are better than they are. Don’t worry.” It calmed us all down. And really, we were much better than them. They are a lousy army. They only win when they hide behind baby carriages.

Please remember this when you hear about the “atrocity” of the Israeli bomb (allegedly) dropped on Kfar Kana, killing many civilians, a place from which Hizbullah has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel. Unlike previous administrations, Mr. Ehud Olmert has my respect when he says: “They were warned to leave. It is the responsibility of Hizbullah for firing rockets amidst civilians.”
Terrorists and their supporters have lost the right to complain about civilian casualties, since all they have done this entire war is target civilians. Every single one of the more than 2,500 rockets launched into Israel is launched into populated towns filled with women and children. Just today, another suicide belt meant to kill civilians in Israel was detonated harmlessly by our forces in Nablus.
So, don’t cry to me about civilian casualties. Cry to those using your babies and wives and mothers; cry to those who store weapons in mosques, ambulances, hospitals and private homes. Cry to those launching deadly rockets from the backyards of your kindergartens and schools. Cry to the heartless men who love death, and who, however many of their troops or civilians die, consider themselves victorious as long as they can keep on firing rockets at our women and children.

Lest the New York Times editorial board accuse me of endorsing the terrorist standard for warfare as they did in their irresponsible editorial on Joe Lieberman yesterday, let me be clear: civilian deaths should be avoided as much as possible. When accidents happen, they should get investigated promptly to avoid them in the future. When the cause of avoidable civilian deaths are no accident, then the perpetrators should face court-martial.
However, the world needs to temper their outrage over the accidental and collateral civilian deaths with a lot more outrage over the tactics of Israel’s enemies. Hezbollah has from the opening momemts of this war targeted civilian populations on purpose, firing 2500 rockets at Israeli cities and displacing over 300,000 civilians in the process. They routinely position their fighters among civilian populations and dress them to blend into residential neighborhoods. Civilian deaths are not collateral damage in Hezbollah’s strategy, but a key component of their battle plan.
So let’s hear a little less moral outrage over Qana, and let’s start hearing a lot more moral outrage over Hezbollah’s tactics. We don’t want to fight like the terrorists, but it would be nice if so-called global leaders recognized the difference and pointed it out publicly. Otherwise, it becomes a tacit endorsement of terrorist tactics, and it only encourages more of the same. (via It Shines For All)

Getting Serious On Employer Enforcement?

It looks like the White House may really have taken advice to get tough on employers for immigration fraud seriously. The New York Times reports that Homeland Security has opted for full-bore prosecution lately rather than administrative fines:

Immigration agents had prepared a nasty surprise for the Garcia Labor Company, a temporary worker contractor, when they moved against it on charges of hiring illegal immigrants. They brought a 40-count federal indictment, part of a new nationwide strategy by immigration officials to clamp down on employers of illegal immigrant laborers.
Maximino Garcia, the president of the company, which provides low-wage laborers to businesses from Pennsylvania to Texas, stood before a federal judge here on Tuesday to answer conspiracy charges of aiding illegal immigrants and money laundering. If convicted, Mr. Garcia, who pleaded not guilty, could serve 20 years in jail and forfeit his headquarters building and $12 million.
The criminal charges against Mr. Garcia and his company were brought by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. The campaign has included at least five other federal indictments of business executives in Ohio and Kentucky and has sent payroll managers rushing to re-examine their workers’ papers and rethink plans for their work force. …
Until recently, the worst that Mr. Garcia, 43, might have expected from the immigration authorities was a civil fine and the deportation of some illegal workers. In April, with President Bush under fire from both Democrats and Republicans who accused him of being lax on employers of illegal immigrants, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the new campaign. It focuses on those suspected of violations with felony charges that could lead to huge financial penalties and the seizing of assets.

The Times includes the statement that the DHS has created a “climate of fear” among immigrant communities, complete with a quote from a Catholic nun. The second half of the article describes the economic impact of enforcement on immigrant communities. The “fright” of enforcement nearly killed one undocumented worker who got missed in a roundup in his neighborhood, ironically because he went to work that morning. Suffice it to say that the Gray Lady does not find this development promising.
However, it does lend more credibility to the Bush administration’s assertions that they take enforcement seriously. In 2002, the old INS made a grand total of 25 arrests of employers, a laughable level considering the amount of employer fraud in this country. So far in 2006, ICE has made 445 such arrests and deported most of the 2700 illegals detained in the investigations. Those numbers still represent a very small portion of the overall problem, but it represents a substantial improvement and more of a commitment than seen previously.
And what, exactly, did Garcia Labor do with all of these illegal workers? They contracted them to ABX Air, a contractor of DHL. The workers sorted the freight for the delivery service, and had access to the airplanes while doing so. One might wonder how illegal immigrants get so close to commercial freight aircraft in a post-9/11 world, and why TSA wouldn’t have had someone looking into the issue as well.
If the ICE and the White House continue this effort to curb the economic benefits of illegal immigration, then perhaps we can feel a little more comfortable with their desire for comprehensive reform.