Newt’s Running … In 2012

My friend and all-around brilliant political analyst Patrick Ruffini deduces that Newt Gingrich has decided to enter the 2008 presidential race. He takes a look at Newt’s pledge scheme and figures that Newt only needs to find 14,000 donors to contribute the maximum $2300 in order to reach the threshold of $30 million Newt demanded as a prerequisite to opening a nomination bid:

Newt would need only 14,000 of his fans to flood the site with $2,300 “pledges” in order to declare a broad public groundswell for his candidacy.
Sound far-fetched? You’ve seen what Ron Paul supporters do. You think Newt fans wouldn’t do the same if they believed his entry into the race depended on it? And if Newt’s people actually left the system this open — i.e. didn’t require you to leave a credit card that could then be charged — I guarantee this hack would spread like wildfire on the blogs the minute the site went up.

Well, that’s certainly one look at the situation. The pledge system seems rather non-committal, and if Newt could generate a Paul-like Internet movement, he could garner that much in meaningless pledges. Something tells me that Newt isn’t looking for vaporware donations, however, and that he’s serious about needing $30 million to catch up to Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, if not Fred Thompson. I doubt seriously that Newt wants to give up his current commitments just to wind up with a few million dollars in actual receipts and drafting in just above the second tier.
So what does that mean? Why make a demand for $30 million in pledged donations in just three weeks, an amount that no Republican candidate in the race has managed in an entire quarter? It sets a bar so high that it qualifies as highly improbable, if not impossible. It’s designed to fail, and to let Newt get back to his American Solutions project.
And let’s take a look at this project. Newt has made clear that he thinks the future is in bipartisan outreach. This Wiki-style grassroots movement is designed to facilitate that, and to generate policy on all levels — local, state, and federal. If he has any amount of success in transforming policy through American Solutions and drafts both Republicans and Democrats into the system, he really could generate a new movement of pragmatism within American politics.
If he does that, Newt will exchange his limited constituency from a narrow philosophical band to a truly national organization that transcends partisan lines. He can choose then whether to play kingmaker or heir apparent. Newt will be able to rid himself of the baggage of the bitter partisanship of his Speakership and reinvent himself as a Teddy Roosevelt.
That will take some time to develop — and that plays into this analysis. In talking with Newt yesterday, he made it clear that he thought the Republicans (and Democrats) had run politics off the rails. He claimed that GOP consultants were basically stupid (an analysis which Matt Lewis found some consultants in agreement). The only candidate for which Newt had any kind words was Hillary Clinton, calling her serious and formidable, if wrong on almost all policy.
I think Newt believes that Hillary will win the presidency in 2008. He’s not looking to beat her; realistically, he knows he won’t be given that chance in 2008. He’s looking to build a constituency that will allow him to challenge Hillary in a re-election bid in 2012. That’s the calculus I see at work, only at risk of changing if he actually finds a hard $30 million in a little more than a fortnight — which would indicate a bigger constituency than he first thought. Either way, he’s positioned himself well.

Senior AQI Leader Reaches Room Temperature

One of the highest-placed leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the man responsible for kidnapping and killing American soldiers, has been killed by American-led forces. Abu Usama al-Tunisi had become the “emir” of Yusufiyah and led foreign terrorists in their campaign against US and Iraqi forces:

U.S.-led forces have killed one of the most important leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Tunisian believed connected to the kidnapping and killings last summer of American soldiers, a top commander said Friday.
Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson said the death of the terrorist in a U.S. airstrike Tuesday south of Baghdad, and recent similar operations against Al Qaeda, have left the organization in Iraq fractured.
“Abu Usama al-Tunisi was one of the most senior leaders … the emir of foreign terrorists in Iraq and part of the inner leadership circle,” Anderson said.
Al-Tunisi was a leader in helping bring foreign terrorists into the country and his death “is a key loss” to Al Qaeda leadership there, Anderson told a Pentagon news conference.

Anderson did not name the soldiers al-Tunisi was thought to have killed, but the timeline suggests Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker. Terrorists captured the two American soldiers in an ambush, and US forces searched desperately for them. Three days later, their mutilated bodies turned up, booby-trapped and showing gruesome signs of torture.
That made al-Tunisi a high-value target to American troops in Iraq. His senior position made him valuable, but his involvement in the Menchaca and Tucker murders has to give the US command a little more bitter satisfaction at his death. The surge meant to drive al-Tunisi’s organization into disarray, and his death will make it even less capable of response.
In fact, CENTCOM has made it clear that successes like the operation against al-Tunisi are not coincidental. Aggressive strategy and tactics have driven AQI cells to the border of Iraq, disjointed and unable to coordinate for large-scale attacks. They have returned to single suicide bomber operations instead of the more massive coordinated attacks with small arms and mortars. They hold almost no territory outside of border districts, and American forces have begun denying them those toeholds now.
The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut in half. It seems that the message has gotten out to would-be jihadis — the US and Iraq have toughened up, and only pointless suicide awaits in Iraq. If the Americans don’t get them, the Iraqis do. That’s the kind of success that Petraeus gave Congress and the American people.

Clinton: Let’s Add A $20 Billion Entitlement (Update & Bump – Context?)

Fresh off of pushing for an expansion of S-CHIP into the middle class and adding tens of billions of dollars on insurance subsidies, Hillary Clinton decided to create another entitlement program for her cradle-to-grave nanny state vision. In her address to the Congressional Black Caucus, Hillary said she’d like to spend $20 billion each year on checks to newborn infants:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that every child born in the United States should get a $5,000 “baby bond” from the government to help pay for future costs of college or buying a home.
Clinton, her party’s front-runner in the 2008 race, made the suggestion during a forum hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time, so that when that young person turns 18 if they have finished high school they will be able to access it to go to college or maybe they will be able to make that downpayment on their first home,” she said.
The New York senator did not offer any estimate of the total cost of such a program or how she would pay for it. Approximately 4 million babies are born each year in the United States.

The US has had over 4 million births per year since 2000. The calculation is easy. In 2004, with 4,121,000 births, that would mean $20,605,000,000 dollars … for just one year.
Where does Hillary plan to get that money? It’s easy to talk about writing checks, but the federal budget already runs in the red, especially on entitlements. If we talk about spending even more money that we don’t have, why stop at $5,000? John McCain wondered aloud in his blogger conference call whether $100,000 wouldn’t sound more compassionate, as long as we didn’t talk about how we plan to pay for the program.
This represents pandering politics at its worst. Want to get votes for an election? Promise to buy people off with free money! It takes the worst instincts of Norman Hsu to suggest yet another entitlement Ponzi scheme to get elected to office. The company Hillary keeps has started to rub off on her. Read Philip Klein for more.
UPDATE & BUMP, 3:40 PM: Teresa in the comments claims that Clinton’s remarks were taken out of context. “Clinton was responding to a program suggested by Time Magazine in which the gov’t would set up this program, but kids could only withdraw the money IF they served in the military or some other national service organization first.”
Unfortunately, to take advantage of the 18 years of compounded interest Hillary thinks will pay for a college education or a new home, the government has to buy the bonds at birth — which means the money gets outlaid right from the start, and we’re paying $20 billion a year for this entitlement. Either that, or the government has to calculate the compounded interest for 18 years at the point of that decision and write a check — which makes this an unfunded mandate, a liability that won’t even get accounting until the lump sums start getting paid. Either way, it’s an irresponsible fiscal disaster.

Heading Right Radio: Duane Patterson, Week In Review
Today on Heading Right Radio (2 pm CT), Duane “Generalissimo” Patterson joins me for the week in review, our traditional Friday fare. What will we cover? I’ll probably talk about Newt Gingrich’s Solutions Day, as well as the various free-speech arguments over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia and Lynne Stewart’s participation on the Hofstra panel on legal ethics. We’ll definitely talk about Burma, and I’ll ask Duane why LA jurors can’t close the deal on celebrity criminals. As always, Duane will brief us on the upcoming Hugh Hewitt show.
Call 646-652-4889 to join the conversation! And don’t forget to join our chat room!
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John McCain Conference Call

John McCain conducted another in his series of blogger conference calls this afternoon, and I had the chance to participate. It took a few minutes to get the conference going, but he did make it from his Detroit speech to the Hispanic business community. McCain talked about entrepeneurship and the need to get government out of the way of private enterprise.
He said that he’s still pleased with the status of his candidacy. He’s even more pleased that the leading Democrats would not commit to a date certain for withdrawal even before 2013. He says that General Petraeus gave a good case for continued commitment, and took the fight out of the Democrats over their demand for a withdrawal timeline. Ryan Crocker represents “the best” of what we have have to offer in the foreign service.
McCain also came out in favor of the new sanctions from George Bush against Burma. He wants ASEAN to expel Burma, and he wants to press China to isolate Burma as well. McCain keeps a picture of Aung Sang Suu Kyi on his wall to remind him of the need for action to defeat the “thugs” who run Burma.
Jennifer Rubin – Looking at the polls, New Hampshire looks good, Iowa not so well. How’s the money going? — Money is good, but budgeting is better. “A comfortable amount to do what we have to do” is how he characterizes it. Iowa is a tough fight, but he plans on contending for it.
Dan – Next month marks the 40th anniversary of McCain’s shootdown over North Vietnam. Will he do something to commemorate it? — “Maybe I’ll fly over Hanoi and see if they want to shoot at me.” He doesn’t plan on anything else.
James Joyner – On Burma, what sort of action do you have in mind? — Tell the Chinese to stop supporting the regime and do it publicly. Call on ASEAN to throw Burma out of the group. It has failed to affect the regime’s policies, and they should not benefit from membership. Get the UN to start putting pressure on the regime. He doesn’t mean an invasion of Burma.
Me – On the Morgan College/PBS debate — McCain really did have a schedule conflict, he would have wanted to negotiate another debate. He will rest on his record on his efforts to make all Americans, including blacks, successful, especially in the military. He will continue his advocacy for all Americans; he has championed Martin Luther King day in Arizona, for instance. Republicans need to keep hammering the themes on free markets, punishing discrimination, and so on.
Jim Geraghty – None of the top three Democrats would guarantee a withdrawal of combat troops by 2013. Is this the Petraeus effect? — It’s “absolutely” the Petraeus effect. We have troops all over the world, and Americans don’t mind that. The key is having the chance for success. We need to have the combat under control. McCain says he’s encouraged.
Philip Klein – Hillary proposed giving a $5000 check to every baby born in America — McCain would be interested in knowing how to pay for it. Why not $100,000, McCain says, as long as we’re talking government largesse? That’s not a harsh or cruel question to ask.
Fausta Wertz – As a Hispanic entrepeneur herself, how would you lower the barriers in the marketplace, especially government costs? — McCain says we need to get rid of excess spending, and the corruption it brings. If we can get spending under control, then we can hand off a decent economic situation to future generations. We need to re-establish the credibility of Congress. There’s been a tremendous erosion of trust from the American people in Congress.
McCain has really set the bar for blogospheric engagement in these conference calls. I’d like to see more of these from other Republican candidates.

Phony Outrage

Bloggers jumped all over a comment made by Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday, in which he supposedly called military personnel who oppose the war in Iraq “phony soldiers.” Immediately, voices on the Left rushed to defend the honor of men and women in the military, accusing Limbaugh of insulting their integrity. In fact, the same blogs who had no problem with MoveOn’s ad accusing General David Petraeus of potentially traitorous conduct reacted with outrage to Rush’s comment.
However, unlike the “Betray Us” ad, Rush’ critics took the comment out of context. Let’s take a look at the transcript from the broadcast (via Worldwide Standard). Rush made it clear what he meant by phony:

RUSH: It’s not possible intellectually to follow these people.
CALLER: No, it’s not. And what’s really funny is they never talk to real soldiers. They pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media.
RUSH: The phony soldiers.
CALLER: Phony soldiers. If you talk to any real soldier and they’re proud to serve, they want to be over in Iraq, they understand their sacrifice and they’re willing to sacrifice for the country.

That was the sequence that generated the controversy. However, at the end of the call, Rush explained exactly what he meant by “phony soldiers”:

Here is a Morning Update that we did recently, talking about fake soldiers. This is a story of who the left props up as heroes. They have their celebrities and one of them was Army Ranger Jesse Macbeth. Now, he was a “corporal.” I say in quotes. Twenty-three years old. What made Jesse Macbeth a hero to the anti-war crowd wasn’t his Purple Heart; it wasn’t his being affiliated with post-traumatic stress disorder from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. No. What made Jesse Macbeth, Army Ranger, a hero to the left was his courage, in their view, off the battlefield, without regard to consequences. He told the world the abuses he had witnessed in Iraq, American soldiers killing unarmed civilians, hundreds of men, women, even children. In one gruesome account, translated into Arabic and spread widely across the Internet, Army Ranger Jesse Macbeth describes the horrors this way: “We would burn their bodies. We would hang their bodies from the rafters in the mosque.”
Now, recently, Jesse Macbeth, poster boy for the anti-war left, had his day in court. And you know what? He was sentenced to five months in jail and three years probation for falsifying a Department of Veterans Affairs claim and his Army discharge record. He was in the Army. Jesse Macbeth was in the Army, folks, briefly. Forty-four days before he washed out of boot camp. Jesse Macbeth isn’t an Army Ranger, never was. He isn’t a corporal, never was. He never won the Purple Heart, and he was never in combat to witness the horrors he claimed to have seen. You probably haven’t even heard about this. And, if you have, you haven’t heard much about it. This doesn’t fit the narrative and the template in the Drive-By Media and the Democrat Party as to who is a genuine war hero. Don’t look for any retractions, by the way. Not from the anti-war left, the anti-military Drive-By Media, or the Arabic websites that spread Jesse Macbeth’s lies about our troops, because the truth for the left is fiction that serves their purpose. They have to lie about such atrocities because they can’t find any that fit the template of the way they see the US military. In other words, for the American anti-war left, the greatest inconvenience they face is the truth.

Now, I will say that Rush should have mentioned that some real soldiers oppose the surge strategy in Iraq, and some oppose the deployment altogether. However, the media seems to fixate on Jesse MacBeths and Scott Beauchamps, who served but lied about their experiences, and then never give the refutations anything close to the same coverage they gave the lies. Jesse MacBeth had served as the Left’s poster boy for several months, but his guilty plea has not made much of a splash in the Leftosphere — certainly not the fanfare his fantasies received.
That’s the context of Rush’s remarks. That’s the context that his critics seem to ignore. Even if Rush had said what they claimed he said, they also managed to avoid asking why they felt so outraged over it when most of them defended MoveOn’s slanderous accusations of treason against an American Army officer. It’s on a par with last week’s howler about how George Bush didn’t know Nelson Mandela was still alive.
Phony, indeed.

Mitigating The Indefensible

Common sense seems to dictate that little gain could come from any historical mitigation of the stain of slavery on this nation. For a nation whose existence started with the words We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, we spent eighty-nine years refusing to meet that commitment in law and another century in fact. Just that knowledge should keep people from attempting to mitigate the foul nature of this burden on our history, and its impact on our national life today.
Michael Medved, brave soul that he is, also demonstrates an uncharacteristic sense of tone-deafness in his Townhall column yesterday. At Heading Right, I agree with some of his statements of fact, but argue that they’re irrelevant. Slavery involved government protection for the kidnapping and sale of human beings as economic property, a practice that even if widely adopted at the time flew in the face of the words in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. For conservatives who adhere to the notion of individual sovereignty, this should revolt the conscience and gain the highest possible rhetoric in condemnation.

Ankara And Baghdad, Together Again For The First Time

Turkey and Iraq have reached agreement on a new security partnership and have signed an agreement to fight terrorism on both sides of their shared border. The development strengthens the credibility of Nouri al-Maliki’s government, especially since the Turks had to dispense with a major demand:

Iraq and Turkey have signed a security agreement aimed at curbing the activities of the Turkish Kurdish separatist group, the PKK.
However, the final agreement does not include a key Turkish proposal that its troops be allowed to pursue PKK fighters over the border into Iraq.
The proposal had been strongly opposed by the Kurdish officials in Iraq.

Turkey says they will continue to press the issue of hot pursuit for PKK terrorists. They will have much less leverage now, however, after the completion of these negotiations. Maliki needed the prestige that came with a partnership with Turkey, and he needed to make sure the Kurds did not see Turkish troops crossing the border. He’s unlikely to back down now that he has the security agreement in hand.
Maliki scored a major victory in this agreement. Not only did he manage to work an agreement on a highly contentious international issue, he also delivered a victory for the Kurds that they will not soon forget. The treaty will sharply increase Maliki’s international prestige, as it should, and it will solidify ties to the Kurds that Maliki began nurturing during the US surge.
Turkey doesn’t exactly lose in this arrangement, either. While they didn’t get their hot-pursuit demand, Ankara had to know that would have been a long shot, anyway. The US does not want to see Turkish troops cross the border, either, or watch a war break out between its two Muslim democratic allies in the region. Washington would have made that clear during these negotiations, and that leverage undoubtedly played a role in the final shape of the document. In return, Turkey can rely on American friendship and pressure on Maliki and the Kurds to curtail PKK activity.
Who loses? Moqtada al-Sadr and the few remaining Sunnis boycotting the Maliki government. Maliki has shown that he can operate without them, thus marginalizing them. Most of the Sunnis have already started coming back to the government, and the success with Turkey will convince them that they can’t budge Maliki from office now. Maliki will also have more political capital to push for the reforms that the US wants to see on reversing de-Baathification, oil revenues, and local elections.
It’s just another piece of good news from the political realignment taking shape in Iraq, thanks to the surge. Pretty soon, that will be so obvious even Congress will see it.

What Free Speech Means, And What It Doesn’t

For a nation birthed on the concept of free speech, we seem to have a very poor understanding of the concept. Jonah Goldberg notices this in his NRO column today, and uses the case of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia to make the point:

But here’s the thing, whether you favored or opposed the teeny dictator’s lecture: Free speech had nothing to do with it.
You have to stay on your toes, like Ahmadinejad at a urinal, to grasp this point since it’s so often confused in our public discourse: Free-speech rights aren’t violated when private institutions deny speech in their name. My free-speech rights have not been denied by the fact that for years the Democratic National Committee has refused to invite me to speak at its confabs. Nor would it be censorship if this newspaper dropped my column. Freedom of speech also includes the right not to say something.
In other words, had Columbia denied Ahmadinejad a platform, it would have been exercising freedom of speech just as much as it was when it invited him to give his prison-house philosopher spiel.

People keep muddying the central point of free speech, which is a right because of its non-confiscatory, natural state of humanity. Speaking one’s mind requires no subsidy, no government grant. It is an innate, natural right springing from the central spirit of what it means to be a sapient human. It follows rationally from acknowledging that men and women have their own thoughts and values, and any government which seeks to encumber them would be tyrannical on its face.
People lose the meaning of its non-confiscatory nature. Freedom of speech does not confer upon anyone the right to be published. Nor does it impose on other citizens the duty to listen or to acknowledge the speech. Most importantly, it does not grant an immunity from criticism for the speech one gives — because that would also constrain free speech.
Publication is another form of speech, and it carries with it the exposure to criticism that anyone assumes when they speak publicly. That’s what people missed in the Ahmadinejad speech. Columbia University in essence published Ahmadinejad’s speech by inviting him to speak from their dais, even if they hid their logos on the stage during his appearance. They freely associated their academic credibility with Ahmadinejad’s lunatic ravings on Holocaust denial and his preference for the extinction of Israel. And they deserved the criticism they received for doing so, as well as for providing a platform for a leader of a terror-supporting state whose resources at the moment go to killing American soldiers.
The same holds true for Hofstra Law School’s invitation to Lynne Stewart to speak at a forum on legal ethics. A jury convicted Stewart on five counts of providing material support to terrorism, specifically passing along messages from the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel-Rahman, to assassinate Hosni Mubarak and conduct other terrorist actions. Stewart remains free on bail while appealing her sentence, and she has the right to speek freely about her sense of ethics. That doesn’t entitle her to have her views published by Hofstra, and their decision to provide her that platform places them in the position of endorsing her point of view, whether they agree to it or not. That’s the point that my friend Scott Johnson tried to make in a shout-fest on Hannity & Colmes last night, with a panel that clearly could not grasp the distinction between free speech and the responsibilities that come with publication.
Denying Stewart a platform at Hofstra would not impede her right to free speech. Neither would disinviting Ahmadinejad from Columbia. Both have the right to speak their minds anywhere they can freely access. The fact that Columbia and Hofstra chose to associate themselves with terrorist sympathizers leaves them both open for criticism from others exercizing their own freedom to speak. That criticism does not attack free speech but celebrates it, as well as demanding some long-overdue accountability to the act of publication.

Why They Call Them Tax Regimes

For those who seek to increase sin taxes as a means of funding social engineering, the experience of Tennessee should give pause. The state passed a large increase in cigarette taxes, creating a large disparity between Tennessee and its neighbor states. Since the people in Tennessee can drive elsewhere to pick up their smokes, the state has decided to do border inspections to charge people for engaging in free-market economics — and some may not be able to drive to other states at all as a consequence (via Instapundit):

Starting today, state Department of Revenue agents will begin stopping Tennessee motorists spotted buying large quantities of cigarettes in border states, then charging them with a crime and, in some cases, seizing their cars.
Critics say the new “cigarette surveillance program” amounts to the use of “police state” tactics and wrongfully interferes with interstate commerce. But state Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr says his department is simply doing its job, enforcing a valid state law while protecting Tennessee retailers who properly pay state taxes.
Agents have already been watching out-of-state stores that sell cigarettes near the Tennessee border to “get a feel where problem areas are,” Farr said.
While declining to be specific, the commissioner said “problem areas” are generally along interstate highways with exits near the Tennessee border.

I can’t wait for the first legal challenge to this enforcement. As far as I can see, it violates federal sovereignty in interstate commerce, the 4th amendment, and the spirit of the entire Constitution. Let’s try to tackle this one issue at a time.
First, Tennessee has no jurisdiction over what stores in other states sell, even if the material was illegal, which tobacco is not. They can’t conduct surveillance in Missouri, for instance. The fact that they are “watching out-of-state stores that sell cigarettes” should be enough to demand some resignations, starting with the commissioner himself.
Second, people do have the right to cross state lines to purchase legal commodities. If Tennessee wants to hike its cigarette taxes far beyond its neighbors, then it’s the state’s fault that its shop owners can’t compete. It’s not the fault of the consumer who makes a smart choice to cross the border and buy in bulk. Unless the product itself is illegal, the state of Tennessee has no right to interfere in that transaction.
What trips the wires of Tennessee’s enforcement? As few as three cartons, according to the commissioner and Tennessee state law, which makes that a misdemeanor. Twenty-five cartons will result in auto forfeiture, between one and six years in prison for a felony conviction, and a $3,000 fine. None of this has to be predicated on an explicit act to bootleg the cigarettes, either, but merely possession of a legal product.
Tennessee wants to set itself up as a police state while, as one Republican state legislator notes, it does nothing about illegal aliens transiting the state. It demonstrates what happens when the effort to squeeze tax dollars from citizens runs out of control. The notion that an American cannot cross a state border without risking arrest for purchasing a completely legal product for his own use should be anathema to everyone across the political spectrum.