Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all of my friends at CQ! I hope you celebrate with people you love, and get home safely.
For us, we’ve just spent the weekend at a suite at the Radisson Plaza hotel in the city for a change of pace, so tonight we took it easy. We did some shopping around the Gaviidae Commons and Nicollet Mall, and we had dinner at M&S Grille. We both tried the blue marlin and loved it, and we split a serving of excellent key lime pie. We noticed several buses parked across the street at the Marriott along with police protection, and we finally assumed that the St. Louis Rams must have stayed there before the game today — and they must have enjoyed it, because the Rams dismantled the Minnesota Vikings in the season closer.
Tomorrow we’ll relax around the house and hopefully do dinner with our family, but I will be blogging … so keep checking back at CQ.
UPDATE: Power Line has discovered my secret!

Cowher’s Last Bow?

The longtime head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers will reportedly consider leaving his job after 15 seasons, the longest current tenure in the NFL. If he has coached his last game for the Steelers, he made it count by knocking division rival Cincinatti out of the playoffs in a thrilling overtime win:

Joey Porter tried to end the suspense and get an answer for the question that all of Pittsburgh is asking. A few minutes after the Steelers knocked the Cincinnati Bengals out of playoff contention with a 23-17 victory in overtime Sunday, the emotional linebacker cornered his head coach — the one he kissed after a victory early in the season — and asked if he was staying.
“Today was the first time anybody put him on the spot,” Porter said. “I asked him. He said he doesn’t know. We love the guy regardless.” …
While the Steelers waited for an answer, the Bengals (8-8) were already deep into hindsight about a season gone horribly wrong.
They were first in line for a wild-card playoff berth with three weeks , but wound up shut out of the playoffs by an 0-3 finish. A week ago in Denver, a bad snap on an extra-point attempt with 46 seconds to play prevented them from clinching a spot.
There were more mistakes galore against the Steelers (8-8), who beat them in the playoffs last season. Shayne Graham was wide right on a 39-yard field goal try with 8 seconds left in regulation.
On the third play in overtime, Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass to Santonio Holmes, who eluded three defenders and dived the final few yards into the end zone, completing a 67-yard touchdown play.

Nothing could be sweeter than going on the road against division rivals and taking away their playoff hopes, especially after having lost an earlier game against the Bengals and finishing out of the running. The defending Super Bowl champs will not get a chance to defend their championship this year, which would make a Cowher exit bittersweet. Cowher won the one last season and had the Steelers close on several occasions, including a tough loss to the Dallas Cowboys a few years back.
The Bengals really knocked themselves out of the playoffs. They had the Steelers reeling from a beating by Baltimore which ended their own thin playoff hopes, they had the home-field advantage, and most of all the Bengals had the game-winning field goal opportunity at the end of the game. Champions make the most of those opportunities, and the Bengals showed that they have not yet risen to that level.
Will Cowher really leave his job? Even he says he’s not burned out and would like to coach again, but he has helmed the Steelers for a very long time now. Given the demands of the job, it’s natural that he might want a sabbatical of a year, maybe two, to connect with his family and recharge the batteries. He would likely get a plum analyst position with one of the networks; he’s articulate and colorful. However, the Steelers will probably try like hell to keep him on the field. They have consistently backed Cowher even after some tough seasons, and an organization with only two head coaches in 35 years obviously values loyalty.
I’m hoping Bill sticks around. I can’t think of a coach and a team that fit each other better than Cowher and the Steelers.

Ed Koch’s Hero

Ed Koch has apparently agreed to start blogging for the Jerusalem Post, and his first entry covers the man he considers his hero. To the readers of JPost’s blog it may come as a surprise, but not to people who have followed Hizzoner for the past few years:

President George W. Bush, vilified by many, supported by some, is a hero to me.
Why do I say that? It’s not because I agree with the President’s domestic agenda. It’s not because I think he’s done a perfect job in the White House.
George Bush is a hero to me because he has courage. The President does what he believes to be in the best interest of the United States. He sticks with his beliefs, no matter how intense the criticism and invective that are directed against him every day.
The enormous defeat President Bush suffered with the loss of both Houses of Congress has not caused him to retreat from his position that the US alone now stands between a radical Islamic takeover of many of the world’s governments in the next 30 or more years. If that takeover occurs, we will suffer an enslavement that will threaten our personal freedoms and take much of the world back into the Dark Ages.

This doesn’t surprise me at all. I have linked to several of Koch’s statements in support of Bush, all of which emphasize his differences on domestic policy but argue that his foreign policy outweighs those concerns during a time of war. In fact, here’s what Koch had to say in an interview we had with him at the 2004 national convention:

But I said, all of the issues are trumped by standing up to and dealing with international terrorism. That is the Bush doctrine, which he enunciated when he came before Congress, that he would go after the terrorists and the countries that harbor them. … Now, the Democrats don’t have the stomach for this. It’s regrettable, because I’m a Democrat. I believe I represent more Democrats than Senator Kennedy or a whole host of other people like him. … He’s done good things in his life, but he doesn’t represent the heart and soul of the Democratic party … [Senator Kennedy] is an arch ultra-liberal! … The party has been taken over by the Deaniacs, which is what the media called them, not me …

Koch has remained consistent in his support of Bush, and he has started his blogging enterprise with that support. I suspect it will not get too much attention here in the US.
Note: I really posted this to give CQ commenter Monkei an opportunity to post his “waste of skin” comment that he apparently finds so clever. Why not give him one last opportunity to get it out of his system in 2006?

An Overlooked Legacy?

The Washington Post notes an overlooked part of the George Bush presidency, one that gets almost no attention despite the constant focus on the region. Under Bush, the US has tripled aid to Africa, with even more increases proposed for the next two years:

President Bush’s legacy is sure to be defined by his wielding of U.S. military power in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there is another, much softer and less-noticed effort by his administration in foreign affairs: a dramatic increase in U.S. aid to Africa.
The president has tripled direct humanitarian and development aid to the world’s most impoverished continent since taking office and recently vowed to double that increased amount by 2010 — to nearly $9 billion.
The moves have surprised — and pleased — longtime supporters of assistance for Africa, who note that because Bush has received little support from African American voters, he has little obvious political incentive for his interest. …
Although some activists criticize Bush for not doing more to end the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, others credit him for playing a role in ending deadly conflicts in Liberia, the Congo and other parts of Sudan. Meanwhile, Bush has overseen a steady rise in U.S. trade with Africa, which has doubled since 2001.

I’m not a big fan of traditional aid programs. They tend to go to areas ruled incompetently by autocratic or oppressive regimes suffering from chronic, self-inflicted problems. The aid usually winds up propping up the governments that cause the problems, exacerbating them and making it more difficult to solve the real underlying issues.
In the case of the Bush aid, it has focused on supporting nations that already have reformed their political processes, making the aid both a real benefit to the people of the country and an incentive for other nations to reform themselves. Of course, it is precisely this strategy that attracts the only criticism in the article, this time from Africa Action, an advocacy group in DC. They complain about the requirement for privatization, a requirement that introduces the kind of market forces that will avoid famines in the future, rather than funding and endorsing the kind of government-run debacles that have killed millions of Africans from neglect or deliberate starvation.
And guess who the Post credits with the President’s resolve on this issue? Evangelicals, who have been demonized by the mainstream media ever since they helped elect Bush in 2000 and re-elect him in 2004. It turns out that all of those so-called “Christianists” want to do what they can to save Africa from its famines and pandemics and to stop the slaughter of African children from both. They have put their Christianity into action in a manner that has also gone mostly unnoticed by the American media.
Bush has another reason to prioritize African aid, which we have seen in the Horn region. The instability of Africa and its inability to feed itself has allowed radical Islamists to gain a toehold on the continent. Just like any parasitic infection, the weak state of African nations allow the radical Islamists to gain support by blaming everyone but themselves for their sorry state. Eliminating hunger and pandemics will help stabilize the continents, and the clearest manner in which to gain both is to promote market economics, private property rights, and representative democracy, all of which Africa has lacked.
Will it take ten years for people to appreciate this part of the Bush legacy? Perhaps it might take longer than that, if we have to rely on our own media. Kudos to the Post for noticing.

An Unseemly Eulogy

The New York Times gives its readers a blow-by-blow description of Saddam Hussein’s final moments, which seems especially helpful now that the bootleg video of the execution has hit the viral network. However, the tone of this piece is more suited to the valediction of a national hero than a genocidal dictator, and it makes the Times look as though they are mourning the loss of Saddam Here are a few of the relevant points in the prose:

Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped. …
His executioners wore black ski masks, but Mr. Hussein could still see their deep brown skin and hear their dialects, distinct to the Shiite southern part of the country, where he had so brutally repressed two separate uprisings. …
When he rose to be led back to the execution room at 6 a.m., he looked strong, confident and calm. Whatever apprehension he may have had only minutes earlier had faded. …
Mr. Hussein was led up to the gallows without a struggle. His hands were unbound, put behind his back, then fastened again. He showed no remorse. He held his head high.

And so on. If you watch either video, this bears little resemblance to the images seen on television screens or computer monitors. Saddam hardly marched in with his head held high; instead, he looked somewhat nonplussed and nervous, understandably so, as he approached the platform. The entire piece reads like a radical Sunni insurgent history book, circa 2008, and the editors of the Times should have recognized it. Saddam may have faced his execution without tears or begging, but any review of the video shows the descriptions here to be propaganda.
However, the translations of the arguments are certainly worthwhile. The shock at hearing Moqtada al-Sadr’s name can be seen in the bootleg, and also the heated nature of the exchanges afterward. The Iraqi prosecutor’s efforts to stop the argument should have taken the form of pre-execution instructions to the witnesses. The execution took place in a facility Saddam set up to torture members of the Dawa party, of which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member. The taunting reduced the execution’s impact from an orderly imposition of the death penalty to a Sadr rally — a mistake for which the Iraqi government will suffer some damage, and rightly so.
Without a doubt, all sides will attempt to create their own legends and propaganda from Saddam’s execution. It’s too bad that the New York Times has decided to join in the effort.

Saddam Buried, But Lives Again (Briefly) On Video

The Iraqi government gave the corpse of Saddam Hussein to tribal leaders in Tikrit, and he has been buried near his sons in his homeland. However, like a spectre, he haunts the Internet after his death thanks to a bootleg video of his entire execution taken by a cell phone (via Hot Air, Vince, Curt, and Jawa Report):

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, hanged for crimes against humanity on Saturday, has been buried in the village where he was born 69 years ago.
In a sparsely attended ceremony in Awja, in the Tikrit region north of the capital, the former Iraqi leader was laid to rest in a family plot.
His sons Uday and Qusay, killed by US troops in 2003, are also buried there.

In this case, the US acted as a courier. We flew the body to Tikrit and apparently made the arrangements for the handover. Saddam had built the graveyard during his regime, and apparently had moved his family plots to it at some point. One might worry that this location and the public knowledge of his resting place would allow Saddamites to use it as a rallying point, but the US and the Iraqi government think that the cult of Saddam has exhausted itself.
The video will not get exhausted so quickly. It started making the rounds less than 24 hours after the trap door swung wide to end the dictator’s life, and it has the grainy, shaky quality that will capture the imagination of viewers worldwide. Unlike the quiet edited version released by the Iraqis a few hours after the execution, this features loud voices taunting Saddam as his executioners place the noose around his neck. The videographer had to hide his efforts at two points, but we can clearly see Saddam drop from the platform, and later we see his dead eyes staring up. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Has the Saddam cult run its course? We’ll soon see. I think it was a mistake to allow Saddam to be buried in Tikrit, of all places, but certainly even the Sunni insurgents had already moved past the notion of Saddam’s restoration towards a more religious dictatorship of the gun and the IED. Some, though, will insist on seeing Saddam as a martyr for Iraqi nationalism, a strange remembrance for a man who killed more Iraqis than anyone else and who fostered the kind of sectarian divide we see now through his genocidal attacks on Kurds, Shi’ites, and Marsh Arabs. (some links via Memeorandum)

Can We Endure Free Speech?

George Will lends his considerable talent for derision to the effort to “reform” political speech, which met its latest setback in federal court two weeks ago. He notes that the effort to reform political speech has finally received recognition — albeit small — that it tends to violate the First Amendment:

A three-judge federal court recently tugged a thread that may begin the unraveling of the fabric of murky laws and regulations that traduce the First Amendment by suppressing political speech. Divided 2 to 1, the court held — unremarkably, you might think — that issue advocacy ads can run during an election campaign, when they matter most. This decision will strike zealous (there is no other kind) advocates of ever-tighter regulation of political speech (campaign finance “reformers”) as ominous. Why? Because it partially emancipates millions of Americans who incorporate thousands of groups to advocate their causes, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association.
And Wisconsin Right to Life. It is another organization by which people assemble (see the First Amendment) to speak (see it again) in order to seek redress of grievances (the amendment, one more time). In 2004 Wisconsin Right to Life was distressed because Wisconsin’s senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, were helping to block confirmation votes on some of President Bush’s judicial nominees. It wanted to run ads urging people to “contact Senators Feingold and Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster.”
But Feingold was running for reelection, and the McCain-Feingold “reform” makes it a crime for entities such as Wisconsin Right to Life to use their corporate funds to broadcast an “electioneering communication” within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. An “electioneering communication” is one that “refers to” a candidate for federal office.

As Will notes, this reversal runs more tepid than hot, as it hinges more on technical applications of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), better known as McCain-Feingold. It also produced a split decision. The dissenting jurist in this case wanted to establish a series of tests for political speech that should shock Americans; he wanted to allow evaluation of ads for intent and context, both of which would open the door to inspection of e-mails and other private correspondence before an ad could find approval to air.
Imagine, if you will, the Founding Fathers who wrote and established this amendment. The young Republic had failed in its first incarnation under the Articles of Confederation and had just created a Constitution that gave far greater powers to the federal government. The Bill of Rights came in reaction to that increase in power, and first and foremost came the protection for speech and religion in order to counter the power of federal officials. Do you suppose for a moment that they intended the federal government to act as an approving agent for political speech — or do you think they intended free speech to check federal power?
The fact that a sitting jurist could calculate such a reversal of the intent and meaning of the First Amendment should shake Americans to their core, if we hadn’t already been inured to the sight of judges arrogating powers to themselves and the bureaucracy. However, it does point out the erosive effect of the BCRA and how the “reformers” would eventually send us into an autocracy where the very act of writing this blog could be construed as illegal.
The zeal of reformers has proven uniquely dangerous throughout history. All one has to do is turn the pages through the various reform movements to see the abuses that inevitably come. Think Robespierre in the French Revolution, or Oliver Cromwell in England. Consider our own Prohibition, which had a fatally flawed concept of reform from the beginning. Free political speech does not require reform, and it is not incumbent on the citizenry of the United States to bind its freedoms simply because some politicians engage in corruption.
The only problem with campaign finances is a lack of disclosure. We have to eliminate the false categories of money by removing the limits of contributions and the dodges that have to be created to accommodate them. Make politicians for federal office declare all campaign contributions electronically within 72 hours, and force the parties to do the same for soft money. Eliminate the tax-exempt status of the 527s and they will disappear, which will allow the monies to flow to the candidates and the parties, for which they will bear the responsibility and accountability.


Earlier today, I wrote about my reluctance to celebrate the well-deserved execution of Saddam Hussein. However, I also don’t intend to protest it or call it anything other than justice. CQ reader Stoo sends this YouTube of an anchor at WESH, an NBC affiliate in Orlando, who called the event an “assassination”:

Uh, no. Saddam got convicted in a trial in which he put on a defense, although he used the “I’m in charge and therefore everything I do is legal by definition” defense that Nixon tried, with even worse results. An Iraqi court sentenced him to die for the mass and serial murders of Dujail residents, and deserved it for the hundreds of thousands of others he committed.
Executed, yes. Killed, if you like. But “assassinated”? Absolutely ridiculous, and yet another example of the media’s abject failure to cover Saddam Hussein with any intelligence or objectivity.
CORRECTION: It’s WESH in Orlando. I misread the screen, and have corrected the text above.

‘Iraq Without Me Is Nothing’

The final moments of Saddam Hussein found their way to the pages of Newsweek, as a Michael Hastings interview with witness Ali al-Massedy hit the Internet within hours of the event. For all of the breathless coverage of yesterday, the Hastings article feels like an anti-climax:

Ali Al Massedy was 3 feet away from Saddam Hussein when he died. The 38 year old, normally Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s official videographer, was the man responsible for filming the late dictator’s execution at dawn on Saturday. “I saw fear, he was afraid,” Ali told NEWSWEEK minutes after returning from the execution. Wearing a rumpled green suit and holding a Sony HDTV video camera in his right hand, Ali recalled the dictator’s last moments. “He was saying things about injustice, about resistance, about how these guys are terrorists,” he says. On the way to the gallows, according to Ali, “Saddam said, ‘Iraq without me is nothing.’”
Ali says he followed Saddam up the gallows steps, escorted by two guards. He stood over the hole and filmed from close quarters as Saddam dropped through—from “me to you,” he said, crouching down to show how he shot the scene. The distance, he said, was “about one meter,” he said. “He died absolutely, he died instantly.” Ali said Saddam’s body twitched, “shaking, very shaking,” but “no blood,” he said, and “no spit.” (Ali said he was not authorized to disclose the location, and did not give other details of the room.)
Ali said the videotape lasts about 15 minutes. When NEWSWEEK asked to see a copy, Ali said he had already handed the tape over to Maliki’s chief of staff. “It is top secret,” he said.

The quote from Saddam should find its way into the history books along Louis XIV’s L’etat, c’est moi (see update). He died as so many megalomaniacal dictators do — believing themselves to be the center of the universe and somewhat nonplussed at the notion that the world will spin without them. He attempted to manipulate events until the last moment, as was to be expected.
Many have taken the occasion to celebrate Hussein’s death, but I’m not going to shout huzzahs. I believe the world to be a better place without him, and I think his death was necessary to keep uprisings from focusing on his restoration to power. Even a few Westerners had floated the notion as an answer to the sectarian violence, apparently believing that Saddam’s proven willingness to kill everyone would bring a grim equality to Iraq. Still, all this does is put an end to a great evil of our time, which deserves recognition but not a party atmosphere. Andy McCarthy says it best:

This wasn’t victory. It didn’t end suffering. It was, in the heat of a war that has actually gotten more vicious and more uncertain since Saddam’s capture three years ago, the carrying out of an essential but unpleasant duty. It marginally enhances Iraq’s propects, and ours. But Saddam’s death (as opposed to his deposing) has no impact whatsoever on the deep dysfunction and hatred that is rending what passes for Iraqi society. The unbridled display of dancing and shooting says more about that than the death of one man — monstrous though he was — who has been imprisoned for three years.
Saddam’s death is a marker worth observing. It is not something to go up in a balloon over.

It did, however, confirm once again the vacuousness of our media. The FM and I have taken the weekend to get away and relax, and she and I watched the coverage on CNN and MS-NBC. The latter was marginally better than the former, where their pre-execution coverage came close to insisting that Saddam was being martyred for the American government. On MS-NBC, we only had to put up with the bubbleheaded anchor seriously floating the notion that the man who had been held for three years and whose identity had been confirmed through DNA analysis and numerous witnesses was really a body double who was going to die in Saddam’s place.
The dictator has met his end, at the hands of the people he tormented for decades. He received more justice in a single day of his trial than he ever gave anyone during his reign of terror. Yet the American media covered that trial as if it were the Saddam show, rather than provide coverage of the many witnesses to his genocides and crimes against humanity. This was the most consequential and historic trial of a mass murderer since Nuremberg, and the only points of interest to the American media were the self-serving disruptions of the defendants — and they questioned the fairness of the trial because the monsters tried turning the trial into a circus.
It wasn’t just the execution coverage that was a joke; it was the entire coverage of Saddam Hussein, going back to Eason Jordan’s deal with the devil that kept their Baghdad bureau open. The last 24 hours just confirms their soullessness. (via Memeorandum)
UPDATE: L’etat, c’est moi is associated with Louis XIV and not Napoleon, according to Wikipedia, which also calls it inaccurate. Thanks to Mark1971 in the comments.

Don’t Call Hitchens For My Eulogy

Christopher Hitchens has begun to build a reputation as an anti-eulogist, the kind of pundit who gets contrarian whenever a significant political figure passes away. In the midst of the mourning over Ronald Reagan, Hitchens released a scathing attack on the deceased President, dredging up the tired memes of his purported idiocy, although he managed to find a few stinging examples of his rhetorical mistakes. Now Hitchens remembers Gerald Ford in much the same manner:

One expects a certain amount of piety and hypocrisy when retired statesmen give up the ghost, but this doesn’t excuse the astonishing number of omissions and misstatements that have characterized the sickly national farewell to Gerald Ford. One could graze for hours on the great slopes of the massive obituaries and never guess that during his mercifully brief occupation of the White House, this president had:
1. Disgraced the United States in Iraq and inaugurated a long period of calamitous misjudgment of that country.
2. Colluded with the Indonesian dictatorship in a gross violation of international law that led to a near-genocide in East Timor.
3. Delivered a resounding snub to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at the time when the Soviet dissident movement was in the greatest need of solidarity.
Instead, there was endless talk about “healing,” and of the “courage” that it had taken for Ford to excuse his former boss from the consequences of his law-breaking. You may choose, if you wish, to parrot the line that Watergate was a “long national nightmare,” but some of us found it rather exhilarating to see a criminal president successfully investigated and exposed and discredited. And we do not think it in the least bit nightmarish that the Constitution says that such a man is not above the law. Ford’s ignominious pardon of this felonious thug meant, first, that only the lesser fry had to go to jail. It meant, second, that we still do not even know why the burglars were originally sent into the offices of the Democratic National Committee. In this respect, the famous pardon is not unlike the Warren Commission: another establishment exercise in damage control and pseudo-reassurance (of which Ford was also a member) that actually raised more questions than it answered. The fact is that serious trials and fearless investigations often are the cause of great division, and rightly so. But by the standards of “healing” celebrated this week, one could argue that O.J. Simpson should have been spared indictment lest the vexing questions of race be unleashed to trouble us again, or that the Tower Commission did us all a favor by trying to bury the implications of the Iran-Contra scandal. Fine, if you don’t mind living in a banana republic.

One might expect a certain amount of piety and hypcorisy from everyone except Hitchens. He scores more points in this screed than in his earlier essay about Reagan, but that is because of way Ford’s presidency really faded into nothingness after the end of his term. By comparison, people remember Reagan’s terms in office because Reagan made them so consequential; love him or hate him, everyone remembers him. Ford’s tenure has largely been forgotten by most people as a brief hiatus between the embarrassments of the two presidencies surrounding his.
Hitchens brings us back to the actual business of governing, and reminds us that Ford made some large unforced errors. Perhaps people cannot recall how we saw freedom activists in the Soviet Union before Reagan, but the Solzhenitsyn snub recalls that more than one administration considered them something of a hot potato, especially when detente was so popular among the Western congescenti. The appeasement of the Indonesians as they conducted their attempt at genocide against East Timor has a more relevant tone, considering the issues of appeasing aggressive Muslim societies these days.
However well or badly Ford managed his presidency, however, it seems more than a little churlish to attack him with the vigor Hitchens demonstrates in this column. During the mourning period, which is short enough even for former Presidents, a little acknowledgment of the challenges of the position should balance the criticism of the mistakes made by each. Afterwards, Hitchens would have plenty of time to set the record straight.