Harold Ickes, The Consummate Insider

Hugh Hewitt points out an intriguing profile of the Democrats’ Karl Rove, former Clinton Chief of Staff Harold Ickes. Colorful, profane, and driven, Ickes promises to deliver cash — loads of it — to the Democratic effort to unseat George Bush through 527 committees.

Now he has emerged as a major power in the Democratic Party, a broker whose media money could make the difference in the 2004 election. When the Supreme Court gave its blessing to the McCain-Feingold law that bans “soft money” — unlimited contributions from corporations, individuals and labor unions — to political parties, Ickes became a player, right up there with his father and namesake, Harold L. Ickes, who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Interior secretary — and troubleshooter.
“The Supreme Court just made him one of the 10 most important people in the Democratic Party,” said Mike McCurry, Clinton’s former press secretary.

Don’t miss this article on Ickes, nor Hugh’s take on the situation. Hugh thinks that the majority of the fundraising will never be seen this election cycle, and instead will be banked for 2008, when the Democrats have a more reasonable chance of taking the White House — with Hillary leading the ticket.

David Fromkin: Be Careful What You Wish For

David Fromkin, who wrote a terrific book on Middle Eastern history over the past century titled “A Peace to End All Peace” (on my book list on the left, and you should buy it), wrote an article for today’s Los Angeles Times which intends to warn the US about repeating Britain’s mistakes in Iraq:

When the war ended, in 1918, the victorious British found themselves in possession, among other things, of the three Ottoman provinces that were later merged to form a single unitary state that was to be called Iraq.
In 1918 and 1919, its hour of triumph, the British Empire garrisoned the Middle East with an army of a million men. No other significant military force in the region could dispute Britain’s mastery. Iraq’s future seemingly was for Britain to determine. It is from Britain’s experience in that respect that Americans entering the year 2004 have so much to learn.

Fromkin’s piece reviews the early history of Iraq and Britain’s failure to finish the job in Iraq. In a way, this article has something to offer both proponents and opponents of the war, at least on practical grounds. Opponents can argue the futility of building a Western-style nation from fragmented Middle Eastern provinces and a certain inevitability of putative allies in the region to rebel against their sponsors. Proponents can argue for an extended military mission to ensure and protect the development of a friendly government.
However, 2003 is not 1918, and we are not the colonial British of yesteryear — in fact, the British today aren’t the colonial British of yesteryear, either. In reading Fromkin’s book and comparing it to his necessarily truncated history today (after all, the Times can’t reprint the entire last third of his book in its op-ed section), two major differences between yesterday and today are clear. In 1918, the British attempted to install a monarchy, choosing a military ally with little real attachment to the people of Mesopotamia, for their wider ambitions in Asia Minor. Prince Faisal had little support amongst the strangers in his new land for his rule, and the only way he could establish his authority was to unite the three provinces and the tribes on the one issue that they all supported: the end of British colonial rule. The people in the new nation of Iraq saw that Britain historically had conquered and stayed on to rule, either directly or through a protectorate, and did not want to experience that first-hand.
The second major difference, related to the first, was that Faisal was forced upon Iraq without much input from the Iraqis themselves. This may be somewhat parallel to the Iraqi Governing Council today, but the difference is that the IGC is a temporary executive, and it also reflects a variety of Iraqi voices and viewpoints. The IGC’s function is to establish the democratic institutions that will ensure that Iraqis are able to govern themselves, not be straitjacketed by a monarchy. While democracies often will produce leaders who we find less friendly to our interests than we would like — France being the prime example these days — the point in 2003 is not to install a puppet government that we can exploit, as it was in 1918. Democracy is an end in itself, in order to eliminate the oppression that breeds extremism and terrorism.
Fromkin raises several good points in this article, especially questioning our commitment to sticking around until the mission is really accomplished. Certainly, we also need to be careful to choose our friends wisely, and studying the history of this region and taking the proper lessons from it. It seems to me that in both Afghanistan and in Iraq, the US and UK have already demonstrated a basic grasp of history by refusing to take the easy route of reinstalling monarchies and attempting the more difficult task of building democracies in areas where none existed before. Will we make mistakes? Certainly, but we are fortunate to have David Fromkin with us to point out the land mines ahead of time, and hopefully we will avoid the most costly of them.

How I Got My Christmas Spirit Back

If you can’t get Christmas spirit when your granddaughter is playing on a toy you just put together for her, then you are either dead or your last name is Scrooge:

We had our son, daughter-in-law, and the Little Admiral over here from about 3 pm to 9 pm, and the First Mate cooked up a great prime rib dinner for all of us. After we opened gifts and ate, we watched the DVD of our Thanksgiving trip that I made as one of the Christmas gifts I gave to family members. We talked to all of our (immediate) family out West, and we did a video conference with my Dad and his wife.
Was Santa good to you all? Santa was definitely good to me. I got two tickets to a Notre Dame football game next October, when Stanford comes to town. I’ve always been a huge Fighting Irish fan and going to Notre Dame for a game is something I’ve wanted to since I moved to Minnesota. The First Mate and I plan on spending a few days around the game at South Bend, checking out the Notre Dame campus. I also got some gift cards (significant shopping ahead! woo-hoo!) and a really nice burgundy shirt. My son and daughter-in-law bought me a calendar of Ireland and the DVD of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Kevin Kline, a movie I always wanted to see but could never catch — I love Shakespeare, mostly because it’s challenging.
But most of all, God was good to me because he gave me such a wonderful family. I hope God showers his blessings on all of you as well.

Ho, Ho, No

Only in New York, or possibly Philadelphia, could a collection of 1,000 Santas spark a partisan riot. Not surprisingly, both cities figure into this story about a hockey promotion gone bad:

The promotion invited fans to dress up as Santa Claus for [the NY Islanders] Tuesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers and be admitted to the Nassau Coliseum for free. What’s more, they were permitted to parade across the ice between periods.
About 1,000 Santa Clauses showed up and as promised, they were invited on the ice after the first period.
This turned out to be not such a good idea. As the Santas milled around, two of them removed their red jackets to reveal jerseys of the rival Rangers — not a good thing to do in the home of the Islanders.
Ignoring the holiday spirit, some of the other St. Nicks turned into Bad Santas, jumping the Ranger fans. The interlopers were knocked to the ice and had the shirts ripped off. Other Santas went sliding across the ice during the melee that took six minutes to settle down.

This tops the nadir of Santa in Philadelphia, where not too long ago Santa was booed during a holiday parade. I’m sure that any children in the stands had to be wondering why 1,000 Santas would commit assault on one another on Christmas Eve. It seems that the adults have a lot of growing up to do, and a lot less alcohol to drink, in their future if they want to move from the real Santa’s “naughty” to “nice” list.

Dean’s Reversal on Tort Reform

Andrew Sullivan and Overlawyered (a great site) discover another Howard Dean flip-flop, this time on tort reform. In 1988, then-Lt. Governor Dean wrote the following letter to the New York Times:

To the Editor:
Randall Bezanson and Gilbert Cranberg detailed a situation that I hope will get far worse. As a physician, I have been frustrated for years by the reluctance of state legislatures and the United States Congress to deal with liability problems of all kinds.
I have long maintained that until the legal profession and the news media are also afflicted with the increasingly severe consequences of a tort system that benefits few people outside the legal profession, there will be no return to a fair and reasonable system of justice.
The trends toward lawyers suing one another for malpractice and toward outrageous-size punitive damages in libel cases give me hope that the crisis in our tort system may finally come to the attention of those who can make this a public issue and improve the situation for all of us who require liability insurance to do business.
Montpelier, Vt., June 17, 1988

His position now is much more opaque. He rails against the Republican proposal for tort reform, even though it delivers exactly what the doctor prescribed in 1988. Instead, he proposes safety-reporting systems and non-binding mediation, which are all well and good, but does nothing about runaway jury awards and will do little to stem lottery-style class-action lawsuits, such as the Dow Corning lawsuit, that bankrupts companies with bad science and emotional manipulation.
Since the latter is one of the key issues in his 1988 letter, it signals a significant retreat on this position and particularly sets him at odds with the majority of his first profession. Why the switch? Is it because he is afraid of antagonizing the trial-lawyer lobby, a powerful fundraising source for Democrats? It’s entirely possible that he has modified his views over 15 years of public service, but if that’s the explanation, then he needs to say so and tell us what prompted the conversion. Otherwise, it is yet another policy flip-flop that looks suspiciously self-serving and insincere.
Addendum: One other item in Dean’s position paper is inconsistent. In his NY Times letter, Dean says

I have been frustrated for years by the reluctance of state legislatures and the United States Congress [emphasis mine] to deal with liability problems of all kinds.

And yet, Dean’s position paper concludes that he feels tort reform must be left to individual states:

I oppose the Republican medical malpractice bill now before the U.S. Senate. It represents unwarranted and probably unconstitutional federal interference with state tort laws. It is essentially being used for political purposes and it will never be enacted. I favor real solutions at the state level and federal support and guidance for states to implement those solutions.

Congress does not exist to give “support and guidance,” nor is that what Dean’s original statement about dealing with liability reform suggests. His anger in 1988 was directed at a Congress — a Democratic Congress — that refused or was unable to produce meaningful tort reform. Now he claims it’s none of Congress’ business. This is another flip-flop that Governor Dean should be pressed to explain.

Merry Christmas to All My Friends

I’ll be doing very little blogging today; maybe this evening I will post a couple of thoughts, but I’m going to concentrate on family and friends until then.
Speaking of which, I’d like to send out a very Merry Christmas to all of my blogosphere friends. I’m going to mention a few who made my first few blog-months special (if I don’t mention you, it’s because I’m under the evil influence of Christmas carols):
* Alicia at Twilight Café started blogging at the same time as I did, left the first comment and linked to me first, and designed my logo. She’s a special blog friend, and I hope you all take the time to check out her blog over the holidays.
* Hugh Hewitt gave me a tremendous boost in readership and in confidence in what I’ve been doing, and I can’t express how much I appreciate it. Appearing on his radio show as a guest was one of the highlights of my entire year. Merry Christmas and thanks!
* The guys at Power Line have also been tremendously supportive, frequently linking back to me with glowing descriptions of my writing. (The check’s in the mail, gentlemen …) The Big Trunk has especially been so, going way out of his way to make sure I was ready for that radio appearance.
* The Northern Fleet, my blog-neighbors in the Upper Midwest, have great sites and great insight. The folks at Fraters Libertas have a great sense of humor, and it’s been fun skewering them and being skewered in return. (I know that sounds R-rated, but get your minds out of the gutter, it’s Christmas.)
* I have three regular correspondents (besides Alicia) both within and outside comments sections: Jon at QandO, Brant at SWLiP, and the Commissar at Politburo Diktat. Merry Christmas, guys, and thanks for all of your encouragement.
Last and foremost, more members of my family and friends are reading my blog these days, so I’d like to wish all of them a Merry Christmas, long-distance, and tell them all that we miss and love them. We wish you were here to have a white Christmas with us, but we’ll be sending pictures and posting some here.

Twas The Night Before Christmas …

I’ve had trouble getting in the Christmas spirit.
It’s been a busy month at work, and since we flew out to visit family in California over Thanksgiving, the First Mate and I kind of feel like we’ve already had our Christmas. We finally got our shopping done, mostly for the Little Admiral, this past weekend. (Nothing like last-minute shopping to kill any Christmas spirit that might be struggling to grow anyway.) I worked today in order to make sure that the office will be okay over the four-day weekend — my department is a 7x24x365 group — and when I left, I hoped to get a bit more spirited.
Since my son and daughter-in-law celebrate Christmas Eve with her family (we’ve always been a Christmas Day family anyway), the First Mate and I always try to go to Mass on Christmas Eve. She’s been baking all day long, so I offered to buy her dinner to give her a break. Bad idea. Who knew everything closed up at 5 on Christmas Eve? Even Denny’s was closed, for Pete’s sake! We wound up at an El Loro Mexican restaurant and ate too much food. It was pretty good Mexican food for Minnesota, too.
We thought we’d have to rush to find a place at Mass, so we chowed down and ran over to the church as fast as possible, to walk into an empty room, except for the practicing choir. Mass was terrific, and when I got home, I finally had to face the task I’d been dreading: gift wrapping. We watched “A Christmas Story” while I wrapped the 1,173 things we bought the Little Admiral and the two things we bought the son and daughter-in-law. How did I do? Well, take a peek at this and see what you think:

BREAKING NEWS: NORAD had been tracking Santa, but the French cancelled his flight due to security concerns. They’re claiming Tom Ridge made them do it.
Merry Christmas, to all of my friends in the blogosphere. I’m going to take a healthy swig of Christmas spirit and head off to bed.

Someone Heard Something

In France, there are travelers who are likely highly annoyed to be kept from being home at Christmas — but may be lucky to be alive:

The French government has canceled three Air France flights to Los Angeles, California, because of fears of a possible terrorist attack, the French Interior Ministry said Wednesday.
Air France flights 68 and 70 from Paris to Los Angeles and Flight 382 to Los Angeles via Cincinnati, Ohio, were listed as canceled Wednesday afternoon. The decision came after consultation between U.S. and French authorities, a senior U.S. official said.
News of the cancellations came as U.S. officials said a high volume of good-quality intelligence indicated that the al Qaeda terrorist network wants to attack the United States during the Christmas holiday.

No one will know for sure if these flights had been compromised by terrorists unless authorities were lucky or well-informed enough to capture specific suspects from the airports. It points out that jets are still high-value targets for terror groups, being guided missiles, and that we must remain vigilant about air transportation security.
UPDATE: Now there are six flights that have been cancelled, and frustration may be erupting because of this:

One U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government had been trying to keep the negotiations with France confidential, “hoping that we would be able to lure some of these people in.”
The official said there was some frustration within the Department of Homeland Security that the flights were canceled, thus allowing the word to get out about the security concerns.

Bear in mind that preliminary reports of this nature are often inaccurate, but if the French pulled the trigger too quickly and let the suspects get away, you can bet there will be some heads rolling on Christmas morning. And there should be.
UPDATE 2: Keep checking The Command Post for updates on this story. Daniel Drezner has some analysis as well.
UPDATE 3: More from MS-NBC:

U.S. officials said the information indicated that al-Qaida planned to use foreign airliners as missiles. They said it appeared that Osama bin Laden personally approved the plan at a recent meeting. The officials said U.S. intelligence agencies had learned that al-Qaida operatives would try to fly hijacked foreign airliners into targets in the United States. In some instances, the intelligence is so detailed as to include specific flight numbers, they said.
The information was given more credence by U.S. officials because it came from two separate intelligence sources, the officials said. … Quoting unidentified Bush administration sources, the newspaper said that a small number of crew members had been questioned in recent weeks after their names appeared to be similar to those on the FBI’s “watch lists” of suspected terrorists.
The Associated Press reported, however, that the Air France flights were canceled Wednesday because of specific fears that al-Qaida operatives would board the planes as passengers, not as crew members.

UPDATE 4, 8:42 PM CST: Welcome to all Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt readers; wish it were under happier circumstances. CNN has updated its story on the cancellations with more details than before. It looks like at least some of the data came from an informant within al-Qaeda, which is interesting news. As can be expected, the data is chaotic, but better to be safe, as one reader has already commented.
The AP continues to report that several suspicious Tunisian men amongst the passengers prompted the warnings. Lisa Myers at MS-NBC reports that passengers from one of the flights were taken into custody and questioned.
UPDATE 5, 12/25: The Los Angeles Times has more details in today’s story:

Details remained cloudy, but U.S. counterterrorism officials said their investigation was focusing on the “informed belief” that about six men on Air France Flight 68, from Paris to Los Angeles, may have been planning to hijack the plane and crash it near Los Angeles, or along the way.
That belief, according to several senior U.S. counterterrorism officials, was based on reliable and corroborated information from several sources. Some of the men had the same names as suspected members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the officials said.
One of the men is believed to be a trained pilot with a commercial license, a senior U.S. security official said.

There are unconfirmed reports that one or more may have been arrested and being held in France. It also appears that an attack was definitely in the works and that American intelligence was able to stop it from happening, along with French cooperation. Let’s hope that they caught all of those who intended to hijack the planes.
UPDATE 6: Reuters is reporting today that no terrorist links were found to any of the passengers detained in France.

Why Not Just Improve Your Food?

Silly lawsuits with astronomical asking figures seem to be more and more the norm than the exception. This, then, should come as no surprise:

The owners of Lucky Cheng’s, a cabaret-restaurant with cross-dressing male waiters and entertainers, have filed a $10 million lawsuit accusing the Zagat Survey of libel for giving the restaurant a low rating for its food. The suit said Lucky Cheng’s has lost about $30,000 a week since Oct. 14, 2003, when the 2004 Zagat guide was published with the low food rating — 9 out of a possible 30.

Zagat’s calculates its ratings by compiling feedback from patrons of the restaurant, and then publishes the results in a popular guide. Low ratings means bad business, no matter how many cross-dressing entertainers and waitstaff you hire, as Lucky Cheng’s has found out. Normally, when businesses get low ratings from its patrons, they work to improve the product or the service, but at Lucky Cheng’s, they’re out to shoot the messenger. Why?

The lawsuit notes that before a rating of 8 for the 2003 guide, Lucky Cheng’s consistently received a score of 13 for food quality. The restaurant’s owners claim the food quality has rebounded and argue the guide should have checked the low food score to make sure it was accurate.

They could only score a 13 out of 30 on the last survey and they expect people to believe a 9 is ridiculously low? I’m no lawyer, but I think they’d have to be able to prove malicious intent in the low rating in order to have a case, and even then, why $10 million? Are Zagat points worth $2.5 million each? If so, Zagat should just charge per point and skip over the whole feedback-analysis process.
Note to Lucky Cheng’s: Quit whining, listen to your customers, and fix your food. Note to Lucky Cheng’s customers: Stock up on Pepto-Bismol, because it doesn’t look like the food will be improving soon.

Sailing Into Oblivion

According to MS-NBC, our proud ex-Governor will not be returning from his, er, “hiatus”:

“I’ve decided to focus the majority of our resources on Monday-Friday primetime in 2004,” the cable news channel’s president, Erik Sorenson. said in a memo to his staff Tuesday night. “Consequently, the holiday hiatus for ‘Jesse Ventura’s America’ will continue indefinitely.” … Sorenson said that Ventura will continue to serve as a political commentator for MSNBC during the 2004 campaign season.

Sorenson finally came to the same conclusion that Minnesotans discovered shortly after Jesse took office: he’s not terribly bright, nor is he terribly interesting. The combination makes a deadly dull recipe for a talk-show host, as I posted when it first launched. Among the disasters the show visited upon hapless viewers was a recurring segment called “Dork of the Week”, which would have been a more apt title for the entire show. As I related in the earlier post, he stuck with the same story for the year it took MS-NBC to develop the show, so that his first installment actually referred to an event that had occurred almost eighteen months earlier.
Fans of dumb-jock commentary will either have to wait until Election Night 2004 or the WWF for their fix. With any luck, Jesse the Mouth will fade into well-deserved obscurity.