Madrid Mastermind Walks

The Spanish court trying the remaining suspects in the deadly Madrid bombings convicted the actual perpetrators today, sentencing them to gaudy terms that wind up being no more than 40 years each. The man who planned the attacks, and whose voice could be heard on wiretaps bragging about it, won an acquittal:

One of the accused masterminds of the 2004 Madrid terror bombings was acquitted of all charges today by a Spanish court in the culmination to a politically divisive trial over Europe’s worst Islamic militant terror attack.
Rabei Osman, a 35-year-old Egyptian, allegedly bragged during a wiretapped phone conversation that the attacks, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800, were his idea. Twenty-eight people were charged in the attacks.
Four lead defendants in the bombings were found guilty of murder and other charges, each handed sentences that stretched into the thousands of years in the day of carnage etched in Spain’s collective memory and known simply as 11-M, much like the term 9-11 in the U.S.
Fourteen other people were found guilty of lesser charges such as belonging to a terrorist group. Seven other lesser suspects were acquitted on all charges.

The other lead defendants got sentenced to almost 40,000 years in prison each, the consequence of killing 191 people in the 11-M attacks. However, thanks to Spanish law, no one can serve more than 40 years, as AFP reports. That works out to 76 days per victim, a detestable result.
Even more detestable, Osman walks away from any responsibility for the Madrid attack. Apparently the Spanish court didn’t take Osman’s own word for his leadership in attacking Spanish civilians with bombs on 11-M. The lack of a conviction in this case will certainly do nothing to deter future attacks in Spain, especially for those who style themselves as terrorist leaders. Even wiretaps won’t bother such people in the future, since the courts don’t put any stock into the taped conversations captured by intel and law-enforcement agents.
Once again, this shows the limitations in treating acts of war as common criminal acts. Civil court systems do not have the capacity to deal with foreign groups that conduct acts of sabotage and terror, because they were not designed for those purposes. Nations build military forces to handle such acts. Spain has forgotten this, as has most of Europe. Perhaps Osman’s acquittal will remind them.

New Terror In Southern Russia?

Russians in the car-making city of Togliatti awoke to a deadly bus bombing that has already claimed eight lives, and may claim more. The bus attack appears to be a terrorist strike, but given the nexus of crime networks in the city, the answer may wind up being more complicated:

A bomb ripped through a packed passenger bus in a southern Russian city Wednesday morning, killing eight people and wounding 56, regional officials said.
The bomb exploded around 8 a.m. local time at a busy intersection in the Volga River city of Togliatti, the center of Russian car-making since Soviet times. Officials said at least seven of the wounded were in grave condition and many of the victims were students on their way to university, according to the Russian news agency Interfax .
“The preliminary scenario is a terrorist attack,” said the regional governor Vladimir Artyakov in comments broadcast on state television. Russian media also reported that investigators are examining the possibility that a passenger was transporting the bomb and it went off accidentally.

Certainly that would make sense. The low-grade war in the Caucasus that the Russians have fought against Islamists has not ended, although it has become more quiet in recent years. The Islamists who co-opted those wars from the original separatist movements in Chechnya and other regions have as much compunction about killing civilians in Russia as they do anywhere else, and perhaps less so there than most places, as the massacre of children in Beslan demonstrated.
They may not be the only suspects, or even the best suspects, however. Togliatti could be called the Russian Detroit for its industry, but perhaps the Russian Chicago for its mob wars. In the past 16 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Togliatti has seen over 500 killings in gang warfare, mostly over car sales. A quick Google search finds a number of mail-order bride operations running from Togliatti as well, which may also fuel the gangs in the city.
A bus bomb would be a rather blunt instrument for a gang-war hit. Most of the people killed and injured were bound for the local university, and al-Qaeda likes to target civilian transportation. They don’t usually use TNT, which was the explosive used in this attack, but it might have been the most handy explosive available. Islamists usually add shrapnel to their bombs, something missing from this attack, according to Reuters. The Togliatti gangs use TNT bombs without shrapnel to settle scores.
Unfortunately for the Russians in Togliatti, they have a plethora of troublemakers. Hopefully, no other attacks will follow.

A Record Time For A Reversal

The charges of flip-flopping get leveled too often in politics, and usually in the wrong context. John Kerry lived with the accusation after attempting to explain a reversal on a Iraq war supplemental by saying, “I was for the $87 billion before I was against it.” People extended it for use whenever a politician changed his mind on any policy or any time frame, even over a period of years and even when moving in a preferred direction, as with Mitt Romney.
However, the monicker definitely applies when the reversal happens within the space of two minutes, especially when it gets televised for the nation to see:

McKinney said Clinton grew testy when pressed on whether she agrees with a proposal her home state governor has to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. She first expressed support for the idea. But when Dodd objected, Clinton grew defensive and said she wasn’t saying it should be done, although she recognizes why the governor is trying to do it even though she doesn’t think it’s “the best thing for any governor to do.”
Edwards pounced. “Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes,” he said. “America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them.”
Obama piled on. “I can’t tell whether she was for it or against it,” he said. He said he supports the idea.

Hillary Clinton cannot have thought that the policy would go unremarked during the debate. In New York, it has created a firestorm of controversy for Governor Eliot Spitzer, who has seen his approval ratings plunge in the first months of his term of office, thanks to tone-deaf maneuverings such as this. With immigration policy on the forefront of both political parties this year — and with MSNBC so desperate for new material that they started asking about UFOs (see below) — Hillary should have prepared an answer for this question.
Clearly, she did not. And just as clearly, the result left her looking shifty, pandering, and unsure of herself. It also brought out her public personality problems — showing her to be cranky and rather unlikable when on stage. Worse yet, it made her look indecisive, a quality no voter wants in a President, and the same quality that made Kerry such a lousy candidate.
That wasn’t the only issue to highlight all of those problems. The other Democrats scolded Clinton for running on her “experience” as First Lady, but keeping her papers sealed from that period. She told the audience that she didn’t make that decision, but failed to mention that her husband had made the request to keep them sealed until 2012.
The immigration answer will serve as the centerpiece for the Republican campaign against Hillary, assuming she wins the nomination. It will get as much play as the $87 billion mistake Kerry made, and not just for the flip-flop record Hillary set. Spitzer has over two-thirds of New York angry over the drivers-license policy. How does Hillary think that will play throughout the rest of the nation?
UPDATE: I should have known that Allahpundit at Hot Air would have the video (via Michelle Malkin). This is actually worse than it appears:

A few important points arise from this explanation. First, she tries mightily to blame George Bush for not accomplishing immigration reform as an excuse for Spitzer’s efforts to issue drivers’ licenses to illegals. George Bush, you will remember, was on Hillary’s side on immigration reform — so she has set up a completely false history as a way to evade her bad answer. Not only that, but Hillary blithely endorses a new system in New York that has three different classes of drivers licenses: one gets you on an airplane, another is a “regular” drivers license, and another ID’s illegal immigrants.
If New York can do the latter, why can’t they report illegals to ICE? No one apparently thought to ask Hillary (or Spitzer) that question. At all.
Chris Dodd had the best moment of his campaign on this response. He flatly told Hillary that a license is a privilege, and while he had a different opinion on health care, he thought it wrong for government to issue drivers licenses to people in the country illegally. Hillary then ignored the First Rule of Holes by asking Dodd what he’d do if he was hit by an illegal without a drivers license. Time did not allow the proper response — would that make him any more or less injured?
If the argument for the licenses is that illegals will drive anyway, well, so will the impaired, the alcoholics, the underage, and so on. Why not just issue licenses to everyone and never suspend or cancel them? After all, the enormous bureaucracy handing out three flavors of licenses has to have something to do, right?
This was a disastrous answer from Hillary. She can expect to live with this YouTube for the next year.

How To Tell We Have Had Too Many Debates

Perhaps the proximity of the Democratic debate to Halloween tempted the moderators at MSNBC. Maybe they have just run out of questions to ask candidates. Either way, the nadir of presidential debates came late in the show, when a mainstream media moderator felt compelled to ask about UFOs:

In the weird last minutes of the debate (the period, by the way, when The Fix made it onto the basketball court in high school) Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) gave us a highlight.
Asked about the statement by actress Shirley MacLaine that Kucinich had seen a UFO at her house, Kucinich said that he had. He quickly sought to clarify — an “unidentified flying object” he said holding up his hand — but man oh man.
The big news tonight: DENNIS KUCINICH HAS SEEN A UFO.

No, the big news from the debate is that MSNBC thinks UFOs are so important that it has to ask about them in a presidential debate. Had they simply wanted to confirm Kucinich’s supposed sighting of one, the network could have just asked for an interview. Instead, rather than asking a question about policy in a tight time frame, the network of Keith Olbermann decided that flying saucers and little green men took priority over trade policy with Columbia, AIDS assistance in Africa, the proper size of the American Navy, the Law of the Sea Treaty, and so on.
Brian Williams and Tim Russert tried passing the question around the room, only to get shot down by Barack Obama, who preferred to talk about life on Earth. At least someone on the stage understood how ridiculous MSNBC has become. However, with the tragic collapse of the Weekly World News, someone has to cater to the seven people in the nation who took it seriously.
This question clearly indicates we’ve run out of gas for these debates. We have nothing left to ask, or no one wants to ask anything of substance. “Sighting the UFOs” can now replace the hoary “jumping the shark” in the lexicon of American pop culture, and both apply to MSNBC’s political coverage.

A Real Fishing Expedition

The FBI has shifted its investigation into Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), looking at legislative activity sponsored by the Alaskan that may have benefitted his son. They have focused on a number of earmarks that Stevens requested that served Alaska’s fishing industry, which returned the favor by hiring Ben Stevens as a consultant. In fact, the younger Stevens sold himself as a conduit for federal pork:

Federal authorities investigating Sen. Ted Stevens are trolling the Alaska fishing industry for evidence of whether the powerful Republican pushed seafood legislation that benefited his lobbyist son.
So far, the most public aspect of the investigation was the FBI raid on Stevens’ home in July, with agents seeking evidence of the senator’s relationship with a corrupt Alaska oil contractor.
But authorities have also quietly amassed evidence about fishing. …
But Victor Smith, a fisherman and critic of Ben Stevens, gave the FBI a taped phone conversation that he said proves otherwise. In the 2005 conversation, Smith called the seiners group’s board member Bryan Benkman to discuss why funding was stuck in the federal bureaucracy even after the earmark passed.
Both men expressed disappointment in Ben Stevens and Smith asked why he was hired. Benkman replied that the younger Stevens recalled his success getting the crab buyback passed and pitched himself as a conduit to his father.
“He said, ‘Hey, see I’ve got a program. You know, I’ve got this one to my credit. Hire me, you know, I’ll get Dad to fund you guys, too,” Benkman said.

The FBI has apparently narrowed their probe to some large-scale pork. Three programs brought Alaska almost $200 million over the last few years, all with connections back to Ben Stevens. A federal loan program to buy back crab boats and boost prices gained Ben a consultant gig with an industry group that campaigned for the program. Thirty million dollars went to start the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, which promptly made Ben its first chair — where he authorized grants to his consultancy customers. A trade association of salmon fishers hired Ben’s company to lobby for a $50 million buyback loan program, although the younger Stevens claimed that his partner did the actual lobbying.
As fishing expeditions go, this one may land more pork than perch. The FBI has the sharks circling the Stevens’, and statements such as those on the tape may be enough to sink the popular porkmaster. With a couple more witnesses like Smith, or at least a couple more tapes, the feds will be able to reel in the Stevenses.
Regardless of whether the FBI can prove corruption, these cases demonstrate clearly that pork corrodes the process of government. When our elected representatives place themselves in positions to have themselves or their families directly benefit from their legislative activities, it becomes a gross conflict of interest. That’s true whether the Senator is Ted Stevens or Harry Reid. The porkers put their own pecuniary interests ahead of the fiscal responsibilities of the nation, and the only productivity we get is in the industry of rationalization.

What Drives The Skank Impulse?

Halloween will arrive tomorrow, with plenty of kids hitting doorbells looking for candy. Some of them will dress as though they want to work something out in trade, as Newsweek noted yesterday (via Instapundit):

Apparently, witches aren’t ugly anymore; they’re sexy. So are pirates and pumpkins and princesses–traditional little girl Halloween costumes that used to say, Isn’t she cute? now scream, That’s hot! with an increasing array of halter tops, bare midriffs and miniskirts. Costume catalogs and Web sites, filled with images of pouty preteens modeling the latest in Halloween fashion, seem almost to verge on child pornography, and ooze with attitude. Witches are “wayward” and grammar-school pirates are “wenches.” A girl isn’t an Army cadet, she’s a “Major Flirt,” and who knew female firefighters wore fishnet stockings? Even Little Bo Peep comes with a corset, short skirt and lacy petticoat.
And while complaints about “slutty” kids’ costumes may seem like a yearly parents’ lament, the industry has been ramping up the sex appeal to ever younger groups of girls. It’s not just 10- and 12-year-olds who have gone Halloween trampy. Now 6- and 7-year-old models are featured in catalogs wearing child-sized versions of skimpy costumes that used to be reserved for adult boudoirs. If you think we’re exaggerating, note that they’re actually selling something called a “Child’s Chamber Maid Costume.” And, many of the tween girls in the photographs are wearing more make-up than Christina Aguilera on awards night. More disturbing may be their expressions–they look as if they’ve been told to give the camera their best “sexy” gaze.
Tack on all the licensed outfits from popular TV shows and toy lines like Cheetah Girls, Bratz and Hannah Montana, and parents are having to search farther a field for something that won’t make their little trick-or-treater look like a lady of the night. But with adolescent girls parading around in short-shorts that say JUICY across the bottom, and every younger girls aspiring to be a diva of some sort, is it any wonder that their Halloween costumes have gotten racier? “No, but it is distressing,” says Joe Kelly, founder of the advocacy group Dads and Daughters. He sees the trend as symptomatic of a deeper issue. “The hypersexualization of younger and younger girls only serves to reinforce gender roles. When an 8-year-old girl can’t find a doctor costume because all they have are nurse outfits, that’s a problem.” Celia Rivenbark, author of the 2006 parental manifesto “Stop Dressing your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank,” has noticed it too, and says that Halloween has become “just another excuse for little girls to dress like sluts.”

It’s not limited to the girls, either. Michelle Malkin points out that boys can get in on the prostitution theme by dressing up as pimps. The Washington Post keeps the focus on girls in a front-page piece today that reports on the challenges parents face with pre-teens and costumes such as the Playboy Racy Referee, Major Flirt, Devilicious, and French Maid — all sized for the elementary-school set.
Why are we sexualizing our little girls? Whose interests does that serve? Carol Platt Liebau takes a look at the issue in her new book, Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!). As the grandfather of a 5-year-old girl, this trend disturbs me and makes me question how she will manage to learn responsible sexuality in a world determined to cheapen and degrade her.
I look forward to reading the book — but in the meantime, we’ll have Carol on Heading Right Radio on Thursday, 3 pm ET. This topic hits close to home, and it won’t go away on November 1st. Be sure to join us.

Heading Right Radio: Atlas Shrugs, Jim Geraghty

Note: This post will remain on top until show time; newer posts may be found below.
Today on Heading Right Radio (2 pm CT), we will talk with Pam from Atlas Shrugs, one of the fiery and compelling hosts at BTR. She talks about her upcoming interview with former UN ambassador John Bolton and his new book, and also about her attendance at an anti-jihadi forum in Brussels.
In the second half of the show, our friend Jim Geraghty of National Review Online’s Campaign Spot discusses the news in politics, including a Rasmussen poll indicating a potential problem for Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Call 646-652-4889 to join the conversation! And don’t forget to join our chat room!
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Ceilings And Canaries

Has Hillary Clinton hit the ceiling in her bid for the presidency? The Rasmussen analysis of head-to-head general election matchups involving Hillary Clinton has created considerable buzz. She has not been able to gain a majority of voters in any of the matchups with the Republican frontrunners, although she maintains slim leads against all of them except Rudy Giuliani (46%-44% Giuliani).
Does this put her in a losing position in 2008, and should the Democrats start looking elsewhere in the primaries? At Heading Right, I look at the canary in the coal mine, but caution against overanalyzing a race that hasn’t really yet begun. These numbers may shift when Hillary starts speaking to more people than just the hard-Left activist base.
I’ll talk with Jim Geraghty about this on Heading Right Radio today at 2 pm CT.

Which President-To-Be Will Attend?

David Broder has a wish for this presidential season, and that is for some serious talk about entitlement reform. A bipartisan group of legislators will meet tomorrow to see if common ground can be found for reworking Social Security and Medicare to defuse the generational time bomb that threatens to explode the federal budget in the next 10-15 years. With the baby boomers poised to enter the golden years, Broder wants to know who will take the lead for real solutions:

If I had the power to summon all 16 of the people running for president to be in one place, I would want them in a Senate hearing room for a session that is taking place tomorrow morning.
The hearing has been arranged by Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the Democratic chairman of the Budget Committee, and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Republican ranking member.
They have invited David Walker, the comptroller general of the United States and the head of the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress; William Novelli, the head of AARP, the senior citizens lobby; Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader; and Leon Panetta, the former White House chief of staff, budget director and former congressman.
What brings all these worthies together is an effort to revive the idea of a bipartisan effort to head off the bankrupting of America by runaway entitlement programs.
They and others, including Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, clearly see that unless ways are found to reform the financing and benefits of Social Security and Medicare, the demands imposed by the retirement of millions of baby boomers will consume the federal budget and blight the prospects of the next generations.

We have traveled this road before. In the Reagan administration, a bipartisan panel set up to rescue Social Security (headed by Alan Greenspan) delivered a compromise that effectively solved the inherent problems in the plan … for a generation. Twenty-four years later, we see the next crisis rising in front of us, and we need a better solution than one that just kicks the can down the road for the next generation of politicians.
That requires some political courage on the part of both Congress and the Executive. George Bush offered a plan to reform Social Security in 2005, but Democrats pretended like the problem didn’t exist at all, and castigated Bush’s private-account plan as a raid on the Social Security fund. Now that they have control of Congress and responsibility for the impending disaster, they may have decided that valor is the better part of discretion, especially since they desperately need some sort of significant achievement for the 2008 elections.
Unfortunately, entitlements sit at a nexus of opposing philosophies of government. Conservatives want an end to most entitlements, especially at the federal level, as both extrajurisdictional and prone to waste, abuse, and fraud. Liberals see the federal government as the rational place for managing such systems for the fairest application of services, as well as a means to ensure that a wealthy nation does not allow its citizens to starve or go without care. The Right argues that the drain on personal resources aggravates the conditions that leads to both, while the Left insists that a safety net is absolutely necessary.
All sides have to find some solution to the problem, and that will necessarily involve either compromise or an abdication of responsibilities yet again. The latter will only make the eventual solution even more painful and dissatisfactory to everyone. The latter will take leadership — and those who want to make the case for their executive abilities in this upcoming presidential election should explain clearly how they will work with all sides to avoid the disaster.
Broder’s wishing for a star, rather than on one. Let’s hope he gets his wish.

We Built This City On Pork And Bull

The Wall Street Journal either exposes John Murtha once again as a manipulative and corrupt public official or the champion of those lucky enough to live in his district. King Jack of Pork hasn’t slowed down a bit, and in fact has picked up steam since the Democrats came into power. Even with most of the budget bills still vaporware, the unrivaled earmarker already has over $190 million coming back home, more than $30 million ahead of his nearest competition:

In the massive 2008 military-spending bill now before Congress — which could go to a House-Senate conference as soon as Thursday — Mr. Murtha has steered more taxpayer funds to his congressional district than any other member. The Democratic lawmaker is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which will oversee more than $459 billion in military spending this year.
Johnstown’s good fortune has come at the expense of taxpayers everywhere else. Defense contractors have found that if they open an office here and hire the right lobbyist, they can get lucrative, no-bid contracts. Over the past decade, Concurrent Technologies Corp., a defense-research firm that employs 800 here, got hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to Rep. Murtha despite poor reviews by Pentagon auditors. The National Drug Intelligence Center, with 300 workers, got $509 million, though the White House has tried for years to shut it down as wasteful and unnecessary. Another beneficiary: MTS Technologies, run by a man who got his start some 40 years ago shining shoes at Mr. Murtha’s Johnstown Minute Car Wash.
A review by The Wall Street Journal of dozens of such contracts funded by Mr. Murtha’s committee shows that many weren’t sought by the military or federal agencies they were intended to benefit. Some were inefficient or mismanaged, according to interviews, public records and previously unpublished Pentagon audits. One Murtha-backed firm, ProLogic Inc., is under federal investigation for allegedly diverting public funds to develop commercial software, people close to the case say. The company denies wrongdoing and is in line to get millions of dollars more in the pending defense bill. …
But for his 33 years in Congress, his overriding focus has been the revival of his hard-luck hometown. In addition to using taxpayer money to build a local defense industry, Mr. Murtha has funded by legislative fiat miles of new roads, water projects, medical facilities and federal offices for his district. He even brought a Marine attack-helicopter squadron here; it’s next to the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport. Mr. Murtha has steered at least $600 million in earmarks to his district in the past four years, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan Washington group. The nonprofit group estimates he’s sent $2 billion or more to the district since joining the appropriations committee.

Murtha says he won’t apologize for raiding the federal treasury to enrich his district. Johnstown certainly doesn’t want an apology; they keep re-electing him to bring home our tax dollars, even for unwanted efforts such as the National Drug Intelligence Center. They’ll build him a statue when he retires, and if Murtha’s around to do it, we’ll wind up paying for it with another earmark.
No wonder Charlie Rangel wants his Monument to Me. He’s playing catch-up.
Let’s take a look at the beneficiaries of Murtha by using the invaluable tool, According to the data, the contracts awarded for performance in Murtha’s district in 2006 hardly display a model of government accountability. Only 23% were awarded as competitive bids. That comprises $32 million out of $136 million spent in Johnstown that year. For 2007, the numbers are even worse. Only 15% — $27 million out of $174 million — came from open, multibid competition. In the past three years, Murtha has sent $352 million directly back to his district, and only 19% of those contracts had multibid competition.
One of his biggest beneficiaries has been Concurrent Technologies, which has received hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts every year from the federal government, thanks to the intercession of Murtha. How has CT won its contracts? Almost entirely through non-competitive means. In 2006, only 19% of their contracts had another bidder, but that beats 2005 and 2007, which has 5% and 4%, respectively. In contrast, Halliburton’s parent KBR won 95% of its contracts in multibid competition in 2005, 93% in 2006, and 99.4% in 2007.
Johnstown and Murtha’s cronies have made out like bandits, a particularly apt term. The rest of us have seen our money disappear into ratholes, helped along by a corrupt politician who has eliminated the competition for himself and for his allies through the earmark process.
UPDATE: Let’s take a look at the competitive nature of another Murtha beneficiary, KDH Defense Systems. In three years, they have received over $32 million in government contracts, none of it in multibid competition. Not one single dollar spent at KDH has had a full, open bid process to ensure that taxpayers have received the best value for their money.
In answer to the tired complaints of Dave Rywall, yes, Republicans earmark like drunken, er, politicians, too. (Don’t want to insult sailors!) I have remarked repeatedly on this blog about the Republican majority’s abject failure to change the spending dynamic and their wholehearted adoption of the worst spending tactics. If you can’t keep up with that, don’t blame me for not doing a complete recap of every pork item on every post.
UPDATE II: Brian Faughnan at the Weekly Standard wonders if Murtha really represents the values of Pennsylvanians. Check out the links to Murtha’s outright fibs on spending.