Date ►►► December 31, 2005
The LA Times Needs a "Special Journalist" More Than We Need a Special Counsel
I was reading Hugh Hewit, as I'm wont to do, and he quoted from a story by Josh Meyer in that bastion of incisive new analysis, the Los Angeles Times, on the just-announced Justice Department investigation of those who leaked details of the NSA progam that intercepted international phone calls among al-Qaeda members:
Unlike the ongoing investigation into disclosures about Plame's CIA status, this probe is not being run by an independent special prosecutor who is immune to political pressure but by Justice Department officials who work at the discretion of a presidential appointee, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.
That prompted some critics Friday to call the probe an attempt to silence internal critics of the administration when they were most needed to bring controversial counter-terrorism programs and policies to light.
Let's see if we can't come up with an alternative reason that that offered by those unnamed "critics," shall we?
- The leak of Valerie Plame's identity (though not her name) was widely thought to have originated within the Bush administration, possibly within the Department of Justice itself, and definitely with the aim of promoting the Bush administration's position.
- Thus, if the Justice Department investigated, it would in essence be investigating itself or its boss -- creating at the very least the appearance of impropriety.
- Also, since it would be in the interests of the Bush administration were the leakers never identified (he wouldn't want a Scooter Libby or a Karl Rove to be in jeopardy), there would also be a conflict of interest: pressure to investigate vigorously opposed by potential pressure to back off the investigation.
- Hence, an independent Special Counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, was selected to conduct the investigation instead.
By contrast, these NSA leakers must have either worked in the National Security Agency (not the Justice Department, which knew nothing about this program) or else on the staff of some senator or representative on the Intelligence Committee... possibly for Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who admitted saving a letter discussing the program (and his opposition to it) in the Senate Intelligence Committe's vault for some unspecified future use. And the leakers certainly opposed the president's policies.
Thus, there is no problem with the Justice Department investigating, and there is no conflict of interest: they have the interest of catching the lawbreakers, precisely as they ought; and they would not be investigating themselves.
And therefore, no special counsel is needed or warranted, pardon the pun.
If we were to follow the advice of these "critics" consistently, we would need to bring in a special counsel every time we needed to investigate any crime by any member of the federal bureaucracy; and we may as well disband the Department of Justice entirely and send its lawyers out to litigate international fishing rights and trademark infringement cases.
The distinction seems pretty clear to me. Any questions, Mr. Meyer?
Date ►►► December 30, 2005
Peace Busting Out All Over "Palestine"
Near as I can make it out from this AP story, the withdrawal of the Israelis from Gaza has resulted in the complete collapse of all civil authority in that territory and the rise of pure tribalism as bad as any in sub-Saharan Africa... which is pretty much just what I predicted (only moreso) when I argued in favor of the Israeli withdrawal:
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Palestinian policemen went on a rampage over the killing of a colleague and seized the Gaza-Egypt border crossing for several hours Friday, forcing European monitors to flee in the latest sign of growing mayhem in the coastal strip.
The story is very poorly written, but it appears to be saying that yesterday, a "family" of Palestinians (read: tribe) launched an attack on the border-crossing police station to free one of their tribe members, who was being held on drug charges there. In the course of that assault, a member of the attacking tribe was killed. Today's renewed assault by the same tribe was in retaliation for that death: they demanded that whoever had had the temerity to return fire when they assaulted the station must be "executed."
It's the start of the Hutus and Tutsis all over again.
Here is what I predicted back when I was guest-blogging on Captain's Quarters back in August:
The argument -- and it's perfectly logical, as far as it goes -- is that by withdrawing the settlers and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) which is primarily there to defend them with checkpoints, searches, and restrained shows of force, a power vacuum will be created. The Palestinian Authority will of course be too weak to maintain its power, so Hamas (and perhaps Hezbollah or Palestinian Islamic Jihad) will seize control instead. (Though Al-Qaeda has also now staked a claim to Gaza, and the strip may turn into a decidedly uncivil civil war instead of smoothly transitioning to Hamas.) [Boldface emphasis added]
Nevertheless, I argued at the time (and still maintain today) that there were sound military reasons for the pullout: removing the several thousand potential Israeli hostages -- and the IDF troops uselessly tied down doing nothing but guarding them -- would free up the Israelis to respond in a more military fashion to further provocations by the Palestinians... in particular, with air strikes, just as they would if they were attacked by, say, Egypt or Syria.
Here is what to look for to see if my prediction is coming true: once Israel pulls out, a major attempted attack by some terrorist group or groups is inevitable. Because of the security fence (the "wall"), that attack will probably be in the form of rockets, mortars, or artillery fired over the wall. If Israel responds with aerial bombing of significant targets within Gaza and the West Bank, that will tell us that the days of pussyfooting have passed. The Palestinian Arabs will wake up to a new reality, one in which Israel no longer pulls punches in response to mindless Arab terror. I absolutely believe this will create a much better situation than what we have now, with international terrorist groups having significantly less ability to launch attacks on Israel (or on us) from the Palestinian territory than they enjoy today.
But if Israel's only response is a targeted assassination of some Hamas official and a strongly worded letter of protest to Failed Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas... well, then Israel would have surprised and saddened me.
Well, Israel did not disappoint me, and my prediction turned out to be accurate: the terrorists have launched several rocket attacks on northern Israel in recent weeks -- and indeed, the Israelis have in fact responded with air strikes, not simply against a single Hamas official here and there, but missile attacks on non-named militants in the act of setting up attacks on Israel, something they had ceased doing prior to exiting Gaza.
(They also launched a "targetted assassination" of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member; I don't actually object to Israel going after named individuals, so long as they also use air strikes as part of a military strategy.) From the Chicago Tribune on December 15th:
Israeli missiles fired from the air ripped apart two cars in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing four Palestinian militants and wounding five other people, including an Islamic Jihad spokesman, the military and Palestinians said....
Late Wednesday and early Thursday, Israeli artillery and aircraft also pounded northern Gaza, where militants fired rockets at Israel. Two Palestinians were slightly wounded.
So here is the state of play in the Gaza Strip now:
- The ruling Fatah government is collapsing;
- Civil society there has degenerated into the war of all against all: not simply Fatah, Hamas, PIJ, and al-Qaeda duking it out for control, but down to level of tribal warfare over individual police stations;
- And Israel, freed from the fetters of being the occupying authority, has begun to respond to terrorist attacks from Gaza as it would to military attacks from a sovereign nation.
I see this as good news and likely to play out very much to the advantage of the civilized and against the interests of the barbaric terrorists over the next few years. It's time for the Palestinians to stop blaming Jews for everything that goes wrong in their lives, to grow up and accept responsibility for their own fate. I argue that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza (and the impending withdrawal from the West Bank of the Jordan River) will force them to do exactly that -- or else be swept into the dustbin of history, along with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Expect Many Sudden New "Foreign Correspondents"
Inquiry into leak of NSA spying program launched
Friday, December 30, 2005
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department has opened an investigation into leaks to the media about the National Security Agency's classified domestic surveillance program.
For those who missed it in an earlier post: Heh.
I anticipate a number of journalists will get a sudden yen for assignments in Venezuela or Russia or France -- countries with no effective extradition treaty with the United States (at least not one they honor where political crimes of conscience are concerned, such as when Ira Einhorn murdered his girlfriend, Holly Maddux). Just in case they suddenly need to retire from Bush's police state to breath freely in some Communist or socialist paradise, you see.
I expect the Captain Renaults of the MSM will be shocked, shocked to find themselves hauled before FBI agents and forced to testify, or else spend some time in the Judy Miller memorial cell themselves. How could the monstrous Bush administration demand they name names, when the New York Times has already formally granted anonymity to the leakers, to protect them against retaliation by disgruntled law-enforcement officials?
Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity [by the New York Times] because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.
The CNN story continues the fine MSM tradition of knowingly writing legal nonsense because it conforms to how the journalist thinks the world should work, regardless of how it actually does work in real life -- though at least now they're putting them into quotation marks, so we're making some progress:
"FISA says it's the exclusive law to authorize wiretaps," Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin told CNN. "This administration is playing fast and loose with the law in national security. The issue here is whether the president of the United States is putting himself above the law, and I believe he has done so."
Though I don't want to judge before all the facts are in, it does appear that Sen. Feingold lied; "FISA," the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in fact said the polar opposite in Sealed Case No. 02-001:
Finally, in 2002, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review decided Sealed Case No. 02-001. This case arose out of a provision of the Patriot Act that was intended to break down the “wall” between law enforcement and intelligence gathering. The Patriot Act modified Truong’s “primary purpose” test by providing that surveillance under FISA was proper if intelligence gathering was one “significant” purpose of the intercept. In the course of discussing the constitutional underpinnings (or lack thereof) of the Truong test, the court wrote:The Truong court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue, held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. It was incumbent upon the court, therefore, to determine the boundaries of that constitutional authority in the case before it. We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President’s constitutional power. The question before us is the reverse, does FISA amplify the President’s power by providing a mechanism that at least approaches a classic warrant and which therefore supports the government’s contention that FISA searches are constitutionally reasonable.
[Emphasis in original Hinderaker post from Power Line.]
Here is the other CNN quotation:
Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, said the president could have gone back to a FISA court to get approval even after the wiretaps started if he was concerned about speed. "I'm just stunned by the president's rationales with respect to the illegal wiretapping," Reed said. "There are two points that have to be emphasized with respect to the FISA procedure: They're secret and they're retroactive."
But of course, if the wiretapping is legal, because the president has the inherent legal authority to order wiretapping for national-security purposes (as even the FISA court itself agrees he does), it doesn't suddenly become illegal just because he fails to seek the retroactive cover of the FISA court that he doesn't need in the first place. The fact that the Bush administration sought 5,645 wiretap authorizations from the FISA court since 9/11 shows the president is not unmindful of the requirements for warrants when the conditions of the NSA intercept program are not met.
Finally, CNN quotes the well-known constitutional scholar, Tom Daschle (D-Nowhere), on whether the congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force enacted after the attacks buttressed Bush's residual plenary power to order such wiretaps:
However, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who negotiated the congressional resolution with the White House, disputes the claim that the authorization to use force permitted Bush to launch the secret wiretaps without court authorization. (Full Story)
You have to click on the misleadingly labeled "Full Story" to discover that what they really mean by saying that Daschle "disputes the claim" is that Daschle says the Senate never actually discussed the issue explicitly... which is not quite the same thing as discussing it and deciding that the law they were passing did not authorize tapping the phone calls and e-mails of foreign al-Qaeda members communicating with their agents inside the U.S., isn't it?
And of course, there is the killer question to ask of any elected official, Democrat or RINO, inveighing against the program: "All right, so are you actually calling for the NSA to stop monitoring al-Qaeda calls and e-mails?"
If Feingold says yes, as he surely would (he was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001), then once again, the Democrats are on record caring more about Zacarias Moussaoui's civil liberties than the lives of American citizens. And if Jack Reed says no, as he probably would -- along with Sens. Nelson (D-NE), Nelson(D-FL), Specter(R-PA), Salazar (D-CO), and Clinton (D-NY), et al -- then he is exposed as the worst sort of hypocrite: he wants those involved to be labeled as corrupt tyrants, so he can gain political advantage; but he nevetheless wants the program to continue, so his kids will be safe.
This is as bad as those who want any sort of aggressive questioning to be illegal, so they can posture to the Europeans about America's moral purity... but they still want interrogators to break the law when we need to obtain intelligence vital to our security. (Then they want to prosecute the "lawbreakers," of course.)
This story is such an albatross for the Democrats and their willing accomplices in the media. What does the charge boil down to? George W. Bush cut through the legal red tape in order to protect Americans from being blown up. Yeah, I can see how that's going to turn the heartland against him.
Both John McIntyre and Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics have argued repeatedly (here, here, and here) that this issue is an incredible political loser for the Democrats. Both Fred Barnes and Mort Kondrake have noted that it was this overreaching by the Democratic house organ, the New York Times, and the Democrats' falling upon it (along with the demand to cut and run from Iraq), that more than anything else confirmed Bush's vigorous defense of his administration's war conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan and likely helped turn around the president's job-approval numbers.
The Left's attempt to gin up a Watergate-style scandal out of the NSA issue has been exploding in their faces since the very first day of it; at what point do they just stop, take a stress pill, and ask if this is really in their best interests?
In any event, the media has made such a stink about this and rubbed the leaking into the administration's face so blatantly that now they've drawn yet another federal investigation (added to the one already in place to find out who leaked the classified information about the CIA's secret prisons in Eastern Europe, as Power Line reminds us). So at least it's had some minor good effect to slightly counterbalance the huge blow to American national security: maybe these blatantly illegal leaks will result, after a few prosecutions and lengthy prison terms, in the White House finally gaining control of the CIA and NSA.
King Kong Died for Your Sins
That phrase is the ironic, iconic, and sacrilegious refrain that runs through Illuminatus!, the trilogy by the two Bobs, Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. But whether they knew it or not (I'm inclined to think not, at least in the case of Bob Wilson), "King Kong died for your sins" perfectly encapsulates the whole point of the King Kong story... and it also illuminates exactly what is wrong with the disappointing Peter Jackson remake that was released a few weeks ago.
Even before viewing the new King Kong, I was puzzled by the lack of blockbuster ticket sales. Mind, it's not that the movie is doing badly at all; worldwide, as of this writing, it has earned a box office of $289,232,875, according to Box Office Mojo. Since the movie cost only $207 million to make (figure another $75-$100 million to market), it has either already earned out or is pretty close... and this is only the first run. It will likely make at least another $100 million worldwide, then more from cable showings, video sales and rentals, a broadcast TV deal, and of course as much as everything else combined in merchandising (games, t-shirts, soundtrack CD, novelization, action figures, jewelry, etc).
But those are the figures of a profitable movie -- not a blockbuster movie. By contrast, the Lord of the Rings trilogy fared much better: the Fellowship of the Ring cost $93 million and earned $870 worldwide (9.4 times cost); the Two Towers cost about the same ($94 million) and earned $926 million (9.9 times cost); while the Return of the King cost $94 million and earned $1.1 billion worldwide gross -- the second-highest grossing movie of all time, after Titanic -- 11.7 times cost. Even if King Kong gets that extra $100 million I anticipate, it will only have earned 1.9 times cost (and I suspect the rentals and merchandising will be correspondingly lower as well).
So I was already scratching my head. Then I finally went to see it -- and I think I now understand why.
Let me start by saying I'm a big Peter Jackson fan. Besides the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I consider to be the greatest fantasy movie ever made (it's really one 11-hour movie split into three parts, grossing a staggering $2.9 billion worldwide), I also saw (and enjoyed) Heavenly Creatures when it first came out eleven years ago. And while I'm not the world's greatest fan of the original King Kong, I liked it -- and I detested the Dino de Laurentiis version, so my qualifications are quite in order.
When I watched the movie, I liked it; it was good. But it just didn't grab me the way the Lord of the Rings had... or even as Heavenly Creatures had. At first I couldn't articulate why not; but words are my stock in trade, and I think I can explain it now.
Jackson is a first-rate director of black comedy (Heavenly Creatures)... and he is one of the greatest directors of epics who has ever lived, right up there with Michael Curtiz, David Lean, and the Korda Klan (Alexander, Zoltan, and Vincent). But the problem is that King Kong is not an epic.
An epic must contain the following elements:
- A vast, sweeping story arc
- A great hero who controls his own destiny, but with tragic flaws that might possibly bring about his downfall
- A clear delineation of good and evil, right and wrong
- And the fate of worlds in the balance
But King Kong belongs to another class of movie entirely: King Kong is a morality play. To understand the dynamics of this sort of movie, let's look at the prototype of the movie morality play -- which has the same title as one of the movies above and is even directed by the same fellow, but is a completely different creature: I'm talking about DeMille's 1923 silent classic, the Ten Commandments.
That earlier movie has a prologue about the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egyptian bondage; but the real story is about two modern (1920s) brothers: one is religious, the other irreligious. The latter argues that his atheism is liberating and more suited to the real world; and to prove it, he brags that he will break every single one of the Ten Commandments from Exodus, yet still prosper beyond the wildest dreams of his faithful brother.
He does so, and at first he seems to be right; but then everything collapses around him (literally). In the end, he is broken and repentant, having caused great and irreversible harm to those he loved by his arrogant blasphemy.
Here are all the elements of a morality play: the hubris of the Arrogant Man who flouts traditional morality; and the Steadfast Voice of Conscience, a secondary character who remains faithful, even when it appears that his rigid moral code is cutting into his material success. The Arrogant Man flies too close to the sun and crashes like Icarus; he ends the story lying in ruins of his own making, brought to his knees by the divine consequences of his wickedness. At that point, one of two paths open: either the Arrogant Man truly repents and may perhaps put his shattered life back together with the help of the forgiving Steadfast Voice of Conscience; or else he remains obstinant... and is dragged down to Hell like Don Juan at the end of that opera.
I think it quite clear that this structure perfectly fits the Kong story. Carl Denham (Jack Black) is, of course, the Arrogant Man; he comes to Skull Island, sees the giant ape, and decides to haul it back to New York City and put it on display for his own profit. The Steadfast Voice of Conscience is Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts): she is the leader of the "Keep King Kong on Skull Island" faction. At first -- look, I'm assuming y'all know the basic story, even if you haven't seen this version; if you don't and want to remain a spoiler-virgin, click to the next or previous post now! -- at first, it appears as though Denham has pulled it off; he is making money hand over fist displaying Kong for a Broadway audience. But then the flashbulbs go off, Kong goes ape, and he pulls the world down atop Denham and everyone else.
Denham is incapable of true repentance, so in the end, he too is shattered. Or at least, he should be.
Alas, Peter Jackson evidently did not understand this distinction, because he appears to have story-boarded Kong as an epic, not a morality play... and it just plain doesn't work that way, leading to cinematic catastrophe. (Jackson is a great filmic workman, so he salvages enough to make a profit; but it's a wonderful opportunity lost.)
In an epic, the struggle is the important part: in the Lord of the Rings, we cross all of Middle Earth with Frodo and Sam, as well as taking side excursions with Gandalf, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and we weep for poor, weak Boromir. Along the way various characters slide in and out of focus, either helping (Treebeard, Faramir, Smeagol) or hindering (Shelob, Saruman, Gollum) the great quest. The journey is the thing, personalized by Sam's statement at the very beginning, deeper in meaning than he imagines, that "if I take one more step, I'll be farther than I've ever been from home." The whole epic is about all of them going farther than ever from home, in a dreadful effort to save home.
But when Jackson misunderstands Kong to be an epic, he spends far too much time on the struggle on the dadburned Skull Island. We see endless sequences of giant "hellish creatures" menacing the cast, from dinosaurs to insects to carnivorous worms to giant bats to the Mighty Monkey himself. Sympathetic characters die, even after they have survived two or three dangers -- because that's what happens in an epic: heroic death is the rule, not the exception. (Say, why aren't the dinosaurs bigger than they were in real life too -- like Godzilla-sized, hm?)
But in a morality play, this whole section is pro-forma. We want to see the fight between Kong and the dinosaurs... but we only need a taste of it. The real story is Jack Black hauling the ape back to civilization, against the stentorian, prophetic, voice-of-doom objections of everybody else, because he knows better (the Arrogant Man); the dangers of Skull Island itself are window dressing and should never threaten Denham.
And the entire sequence that should be the focus of the story, the hubristic display of the ape-god as if he were an exhibit in a museum (not even a living zoo!), is almost glossed over in Jackson's mad rush to get to the top of the Empire State Building and the Playful Primate battle sequence with the biplanes.
We never even see the beginnings of doubt, the crisis of conscience that must play out in Denham's mind as the warnings of Ann Darrow start to get to him... a critical part of all morality plays. The Arrogant Man must begin to think, what if I'm wrong? What if there really is a God? Then he must force himself forward anyway -- because it is vital that he understand his wickedness and make the conscious decision to continue in sin regardless, to justify the gods bringing so low later. If the Arrogant Man is really only blind, stupid, or ignorant, the morality play has no impact whatsoever.
Finally, in the end, the last line of the Jackson version of King Kong is played utterly wrong... and there is no one to blame for that but Jackson himself. It is completely out of character -- and worse, completely outside the structure of a morality play -- for the Arrogant Man to wax philosophical, shake his head, and opine, "no... 'twas beauty killed the beast." Carl Denham would never have delivered such a line... not sincerely.
It would have made much more sense if Denham ran to Kong's body, obviously feeling terrible guilt and remorse but being unable to internalize his own responsibility for the death not only of the ape but of all those ordinary people that King Kong slew in his madness. Somebody recognizes him, and soon the whole crowd is pointing and accusing Denham of being to blame for everything that has happened.
Suddenly, Ann Darrow appears, having come down from the top of the Empire State Building. She screams in anguish and runs to Kong. And at that point, Denham can use the line -- but just as a means to try to shift the crowd's attention away from him and towards her. "No! No, don't you understand? It wasn't me -- it was Beauty killed the beast!" He repeats it a couple of times, a little more shrill and desperate.
Then Denham turns to his longtime cinematographer (I honestly don't remember the character's name or whether he lives, but he should, if only for this scene), and oblivious to the crowd around him, says "yeah, we can work with that: 'twas Beauty killed the beast. It's perfect! Write that down." But his only friend turns away and walks into the crowd and out of Denham's life. The Arrogant Man looks back at the crowd... but one by one, they turn their backs in disgust, until finally Denham is left alone inside his own manufactured world.
Fade to black: but Jack Black still repeats the line one last time in the pitch-dark theater... almost with a sob. Who is he trying to convince now?
It's always a temptation for a writer to rewrite another writer's failed fable; but in this case, I'm only doing it to illustrate my thesis: Peter Jackson completely misunderstood the point of the story, and he was probably the wrong director to film it in the first place. He would have done far better directing a remake of Prince of Foxes, the Three Musketeers, or Scaramouche, and just leave the poor primate alone.
Date ►►► December 29, 2005
A Breath (Mint) of Fresh Air
Pulling on my pair of patented Glenn Reynolds short-hit pajamas, I must note that the blog ImNotEmeril did some AutoCAD calculations anent the proposed oil-drilling site in ANWR (the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge), and found the following:
If the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were the size of a football field, the area being proposed for drilling would be much smaller than a Tic Tac breath mint. Estimates of the oil reserves that can be extracted from this Tic Tac range between 10 and 20 years at current consumption. [Emphasis added]
Can I add anything to that? No.
Iran Fiddles While Russia Burns
I don't know what to make of this story: Iran now seems rather interested in the same Russian proposal they had earlier sorta-kinda rejected (without actually rejecting -- since Iran is very dependent upon their long-time patron, Russia/USSR). In this proposal, Russia would do all the Uranium enrichment for Iran, receiving the raw ore and shipping the refined nuclear fuel back.
If Russia plays fair (and rationally), the fuel they send Iran will not be weapons grade; but there are several caveats:
- Nobody is really sure how much Russia can be trusted on this; Putin's ambition is vast and subterranean.
- I don't think there is anything in this proposal requiring intrusive inspections of Iran's ongoing nuclear programs, to ensure that they're not just taking the fuel from Russia -- and going ahead with their own military enrichment program anyway.
- We have no way of knowing whether Iran is actually interested or is just "buying time," feigning interest to keep Russia, as well as the EU3 (France, Germany, and the U.K.), from supporting John Bolton's call for U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.
What worries me most is this:
Iranian officials had previously said they would reject any plan which denied Iran the right to build its own uranium enrichment facilities.
But, in a sudden change of tone, a senior official said on Wednesday Tehran would "seriously and enthusiastically" study the Russian plan.
I'm always deeply suspicious of abrupt changes of mind: I want to know what caused them. Did the U.S. (or Israelis) quietly tell Iran that if nuclear-armed mullahs appear imminent, we might decide to strike before the iron was hot? Did Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov give secret information to Iran, such as "don't worry, we won't really enforce this?" Did the EU3 and Russia tell Iran that this was positively the last chance before they went with the Bolton position?
Without knowing what caused the "sudden change of tone," there's no way to tell whether this is a positive step or the prelude to Armageddon.
The risks are still great:
- There is the primary risk that Iran will get a nuclear weapon and delivery system and will decide to use 'em before they lose 'em;
- Then there is also the secondary risk that either Israel or the United States will attempt a military action against Iran and botch it. As Machiavelli may or may not have said, "if you strike at the king, you must slay him." A failed missile strike or coup attempt would weaken our side, embolden Iran, and win it new friends not only in the Middle East but in the heart of Europe.
I am still optimistic; despite the difficulties in taking out the weapons labs themselves, the Iranians are very vulnerable to what I call the Guillotine Gambit, a direct strike upon the ruling mullahs themselves. This vulnerability exists with any tyranny run by a single man or small group of men. And although it's not at all clear what government would form to take the place of the Council of Guardians of the Revolution, it would be hard to come up with one that was worse -- more violent, more inclined to export violence via terrorism, or more insane.
This is definitely one to watch... is the smoke white or still black?
Farris Hassan's Day Off
Heart In Right Place; Brain MIA
Look, I know this kid is an "idealist" (his term), and he's actually more or less on our side. But being an idealist is tough work requiring a realistic understanding of the world where you intend to practice your "ideals;" and at age sixteen, he doesn't yet have the chops. He's "jumping the queue," so to speak:
AP: U.S. Teen Runs Off to Iraq by Himself
by Jason Straziuso
Dec 29, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Maybe it was the time the taxi dumped him at the Iraq-Kuwait border, leaving him alone in the middle of the desert. Or when he drew a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order. Or the moment a Kuwaiti cab driver almost punched him in the face when he balked at the $100 fare.
But at some point, Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida, realized that traveling to Iraq by himself was not the safest thing he could have done with his Christmas vacation.
And he didn't even tell his parents. [Emphasis added]
Neither "safest" nor sanest. Taking a high-school course in "immersive journalism," Hassan (his parents immigrated here from Iraq in 1970) decided it would be, like, way cool to fly to the Middle East, take a taxi to Baghdad, and, you know, like, sorta hang with the, like, people there. You know. (Didn't this used to be called gonzo journalism when the late Hunter S. Thompson was doing it?)
From a self-indulgent "essay," which Hassan mailed to his parents from the Kuwait City airport:
"Those terrorists are not human but pure evil. For their goals to be thwarted, decent individuals must answer justice's call for help. Unfortunately altruism is always in short supply. Not enough are willing to set aside the material ambitions of this transient world, put morality first, and risk their lives for the cause of humanity. So I will."
As the theme from Dragnet goes, dumb dumb-dumb dumb. Fortunately for Hassan, the gods who look after fools and teenagers were on duty, and he failed several times to ride into Iraq in a taxi. He eventually got there by the (slightly) safer route of flying into Baghdad International Airport, and he ended up at an American hotel there (AP doesn't say which one; the Palestine Hotel, perhaps, where the journalists stay).
At that moment, he abruptly awoke from his Pulitzer pipe dream and turned himself into the AP, which summoned the American embassy. The 101st Airborne will evidently accompany him to BIA, pour him onto a plane, and send him back home (which of course means several soldiers wasted ferrying an American youth around Iraq, rather than patrolling or training Iraqi Army units).
When he gets back, I'm sure dozens of people will ask him why he did it. I can already tell you his answer: "it seemed like a good idea at the time!"
Youth is wasted on the young.
The Ten Worst Americans Ever
Over on my old stomping ground of Captain's Quarters, I read that a blog I actually haven't seen before, All things Beautiful, had challenged the blogosphere to come up with a list of the ten worst Americans.
My criteria were that the person had to be from America, that his evil be directed at America or else be peculiarly American, and that the evil be sui generis, not simply a run-of-the-mill mass murder or felony spree.
After several days of cogitation, I came up with my own list. Amazingly, it shares only one name with the list that Captain Ed came up with, which I think mostly came from his readers* : that one name, of course, will be on virtually every such list -- unless the blogger deliberately sets out not to include it. Can you guess it? I'll leave it for last.
* I mean of course that his readers supplied the names, not that his readers were the names!
Here is the list in chronological order, except for the last entry: I'm not ranking them from 1 to 10, I'm only numbering them by date for convenience.
- Chief Opechancanough: Chief of the Pamunkeys tribe, one branch of the Powhatan people. In 1622, Opechancanough was trying to establish his standing in the Powhatan. He had been in Europe for some time and had just returned to the Virginia area, and he was trying to show that he was more Powhatan than European. So he launched a horrible massacre against the Virginia Colony, who until then had been very friendly with the Powhatan. Opechancanough killed at least 400 colonists before finally being driven back at the gates of Jamestown. (The colonists later retaliated by poisoning the drinks at a truce talk, killing 250 Indians.) It was the first definitely known Indian massacre of American English settlers... and it happened before there had been any significant violence the other direction. It set the stage for more than a quarter of a millennium of violence and warfare between the two people... and its only purpose was a political campaign.
- Frederick J. Alfred: He was the Democratic editor of the Staunton Vindicator, a pro-slavery newspaper from 1849. Alfred gets the nod as a stand-in for all the journalists of the day who urged the South to fight to preserve the greatest evil of the nineteenth century: human chattel slavery. Alfred in particular was a rabid fan of the Fugitive Slave Bill, which sought to force every state in the union to acquiesce in slavery, even free states, by forcing every federal agent within to apprehend and remove into slave states any black man, woman, or child, merely on the say-so of some white slaveowner that the person was an escaped slave of his. Alfred and his cohorts pushed America into civil war.
- William Marcy "Boss" Tweed: The epitome of political corruption in all of American history, the "boss" of Tammany Hall; the millions upon millions he and his gang looted from New York City -- as much as an astounding $200,000,000 -- from 1856 through 1871 was exceeded only by Tweed's unbounded arrogance. When a disgruntled gang member spilled the beans to the New York Times about Tweed's staggering corruption, Tweed's only response was "What are you going to do about it?" Eight years later, Boss Tweed died in prison.
- Alger Hiss: The most notorious of all the Soviet spies ushered into the federal government in 1933 by the malign neglect of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There is no better discussion of Hiss's treachery than Whittiker Chambers' Witness.
- John Dillinger: The very model of the modern American bank robber/folk hero, a brutal thug whose athletic grace while robbing and slaughtering innocents earned him a cult following. There is even a John Dillinger Died For You Society (which may or may not have some connection with the infamous Robert Anton Wilson) still in existence to extol his supposed virtues. When the FBI slew him in 1934, eager fans dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, as if he were Jesus.
- Private Edward Donald Slovik: The first American military deserter executed since the Civil War -- and the last person ever executed for desertion from the American armed forces. Slovik was a petty crook drafted into World War II; when he made clear his intent (in writing!) to desert in the face of enemy fire, he was tried and convicted at a court martial and sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad on the last day of January, 1945. Slovik can serve as representative of all those who deserted America during the existential fight against Naziism.
- The Rosenbergs: During World War II, they gave the Soviets the secret of the atomic bomb, thus setting off the Cold War almost single-handedly. 'Nuff said?
- Dr. Jack Kevorkian: Come on, the man is the closest thing we have to a death worshipping Kali cultist! His zeal at talking people into solving all their problems by killing themselves, his infernal killing machine, and his unrepentant pleasure in watching them push the button, or in some cases, pushing it himself, surely earns him a waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's.
- Rev. Fred Waldron Phelps: Not content with an entire religious philosophy summed up by his website, www.godhatesfags.com, which is also the slogan he and his acolytes chant outside AIDS hospices, the Phelps fanatics have recently taken to invading and disrupting the funerals of American soldiers slain in Iraq and Afghanistan by terrorists, tormenting the widows and fatherless (or motherless) children. I don't know why, and I'm not going to visit his vile website to find out. But surely he is a charter member of this rogue's gallery.
And of course, you have already guessed the number one worst American ever, the man whose very name has become synonymous with betrayal of one's country. A war hero who sold out his country for £20,000 sterling and a commission as a brigadier general. The one, the only....
...10. Benedict Arnold, of course!
Date ►►► December 28, 2005
Terrorists' "Human Shield" Tactics Take Toll on Civilians
That is what the title of this article should be; instead, the Washington Post misleadingly titled it U.S.Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians, as if to say that the U.S. military is killing Iraqi civilians indiscriminately.
In recent days, the US military has increased the number and tempo of airstrikes. Terrorists, rapidly losing local support, have taken to hiding amongst unwilling civilians. The terrorists barge into civilian houses, either hoping to use the family as human shields -- or simply to kill them and blame it on Americans.
"I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of civilians are killed by the insurgency," particularly by improvised bombs, said Col. Michael Denning, the top air officer for the 2nd Marine Division, which is leading the fight against insurgents in Anbar province.
In an interview at a Marine base at Ramadi, Anbar's provincial capital, Denning acknowledged that a city was "a very, very difficult place to fight." He said, however, that "insurgents will kill civilians and try to blame it on us."
Many civilians have been directly killed by the terrorists, and many others have been killed by the US response to terrorist attacks from populated locations. In either case, the root cause is terrorism itself, not the United States.
We don't know the exact number of civilian casualties. Numbers we get from local civiilians, witnesses, and hospital workers, like that "100,000 dead civilians" canard of a few months ago, are notoriously unreliable. Anderson Cooper of CNN, reporting an interview he conducted in a hospital, said that one hospital worker refused to discuss anything in Arabic because he did not want the local policeman to hear what he said; he was afraid for his life if the cops heard him saying what he said. Many local citizens' testimony can be tainted, either by sympathy for the terrorists, or simply by fear of them.
And yet some still think it is important to track down those elusive civilian casualties.
Sarah Sewall, deputy assistant secretary of defense from 1993 to 1996 and now program director for the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, said the military's resistance to acknowledging and analyzing so-called collateral damage remained one of the most serious failures of the U.S. air and ground war in Iraq...
"In a conflict like Iraq, where civilian perceptions are as important as the number of weapons caches destroyed, assessing the civilian harm must become a part of the battle damage assessment process if you're going to fight a smart war," she said.
Such numbers might be useful in an academic sense; they might even be beneficial, so long as the're reported in the correct context. However, civilian casualty statistics are almost invariably reported by mainstream American media as the result of American aggression towards the Iraqi people. If civilian perceptions were that important, then announcing civilian casualty numbers out of context would do far more harm than good to the country... assuming anyone at the Post cared about that.
In general then, it is a very bad idea to start reporting civilian casualties; if we did, then the nightly news would report, "in heavy fighting in the Anbar province of Iraq today, two Maines were killed. Following American airstrikes, eight civilians were found dead." They might just forget to add -- "dead, with their throats slit by the terrorists. Oh, and did we mention that forty-eight terrorists were killed by those airstrikes?"
People in Iraq are not stupid. They know that whenever terrorists come to their town, it's bad news. When civilians are killed, the families typically know exactly who to blame.
Near the town of Qaim one day last month, a man who identified himself only as Abdul Aziz said a separate U.S. airstrike killed his grown daughter, Aesha. Four armed men were also found in the rubble of her house, he said.
"I don't blame the Americans. I blame Zarqawi and his group, who were using my daughter's house as a shelter," said Abdul Aziz, referring to Abu Musab Zarqawi, leader of the foreign-dominated group al Qaeda in Iraq.
I hope the great majority of Iraqi civilians are like "Abdul Aziz."
Just a Reminder of What We're Fighting FOR: the Gift of Life
A story like this warms my heart. Four Iraqi children who had likely fatal heart defects were brought to New York by a U.S. military program; at the Montefiore Medical Center, they were given life-saving heart surgeries.
Wsam is one of four Iraqi children who underwent surgeries in the last week to repair life-threatening congenital heart defects, in a joint effort by an international humanitarian organization and the U.S. military.
Last week a pediatric cardiac team at New York's Montefiore Medical Center performed a complicated procedure to increase blood flow to Wsam's heart and a major aortic artery.
Wsam was discharged this morning from the hospital in good condition, along with two other boys and one girl who also underwent critical heart surgery.
Wsam is 11 years old; the other three kids are Sivar Mohammad (6), Asaid Sibreai (14), and Ashjan Khaled (12). The surgeries were the first of many that will be performed on desperately ill Iraqi children, courtesy of Rotary International's Gift of Life organization; while in America, they stayed at Ronald MacDonald House and local host families. Part of the cost is also borne by the Rachel B. Cooper Foundation.
And who is responsible for bringing all these people together as a Christmas miracle for Moslem children?
The children arrived in New York City from Amman, Jordan, earlier this month after an Army reservist assigned to the U.S. military's Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center put their families in contact with the Gift of Life International....
In September, Staff Sgt. Marikay Satyrano, a Bronx school teacher stationed in Amman, identified 60 Baghdad children as potential candidates for heart surgery. Working with the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center, Satyrano organized trips to Amman for the children and their families so that they could be screened by a Jordanian pediatric cardiologist.
Yes, I know; the primary function of the military is to "kill people and break things." But that is its function, not its purpose. Its purpose, as defined by the American people, is to pursue and defend American interests around the world... and one of America's interests has always been humanitarian relief, whether that takes the form of billions of dollars of monetary and food relief for a dozen countries devastated by a massive tsunami -- or four small surgeries for four young kids who would not have survived to adulthood otherwise.
Darned neocons -- they're everywhere!
A Kennedy We Perhaps Can Live With
I'm certain I am not alone in my willingness to give Schwarzenegger's new chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, the benefit of the doubt for a while... but you sure wouldn't know it by reading the blogosphere, left or right. It seems that everybody has an opinion on the gal, and every opinion is negative: the left thinks she's Beatrice Arnold, while the right thinks she's just a cat's paw for Phil Angelides. I recall Hugh Hewitt being particularly scathing about her on his radio show, though I can't find anything about her on his website.
But today's New York Times profile of Susan Kennedy just confirms me in my Kennedy agnosticism: if she's telling the truth, then her appointment implies no "leftward drift" at all in Schwarzenegger's agenda. (If she's lying, well then, she's lying.)
There are some amusing paragraphs, however....
"You should know our sellout Susan Kennedy is having lunch at Chops right now with [the Cal-GOP] party chairman - probably re-registering," the blog, Flashreport, reported recently, quoting a Democrat as one of two informants about the lunch.
Er, excuse me, Mr. Report, but what did you expect the incoming chief of staff of a Republican governor to do? Tell the state Republican Party chairman to go soak his head?
Here are the basics of the argument for Ms. K:
But Ms. Kennedy said she had decided to join the Schwarzenegger administration because she believed in the governor's agenda. She said rebuilding the state's infrastructure, including its pocked freeways and woefully inadequate public transportation system, without raising taxes ranked at the top of their shared priority list.
Though a lesbian who was, as she frequently describes it, "married" to her partner in a 1999 commitment ceremony on Maui, she supported the governor's veto this year of a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in California. She cited the voters' support for defining marriage as between a man and a woman in a statewide ballot measure several years ago and suggested that pushing the gay rights envelope too far could prompt a backlash.
Both Ms. Kennedy and the governor also say they support the death penalty and abortion rights. They are both pro-business, and they both insist that the time has come for the state, entrenched in a vicious partisan divide, to set aside party labels and create what Ms. Kennedy described as "a new kind of politics."
Clearly, she is not a conservative; but then, neither is Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he did not run as a conservative, either. We had a conservative in the same recall election in which the Governator was elected: Tom McClintock. He came in third, with less than half the votes of the ultra-liberal, MeCHA-supporting Cruz Bustamante.
As Arnold Schwarzenegger himself put it,
"I'm not stuck on my philosophy in a groove, like some people are - like the Republican or right-wing philosophy," he said. "I look at a Republican or a Democrat idea, and what it tells me about whether it's the right decision."
All of which makes the following attitude -- shared by every right-of-center political commentator I've heard or read -- pretty hilarious. Or it would be hilarious, if I didn't have to live in this furshlugginer state:
Some conservative Republicans have indicated they may not support the governor for re-election in the Republican primary next June.
Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative organization, said the Kennedy appointment had prompted a flurry of e-mail messages from "thousands" of disenchanted members.
"We were betrayed," Mr. Spence said. "We were loyal during the special election, loyal when he was criticized, and he turns around and puts a liberal partisan Democrat in charge."
Loyal? During the 2005 special election? It is to laugh! It was precisely the mulish refusal of the conservatives to turn out and vote that caused the catastrophe of that election. They couldn't even find the huevos to show up and vote for some minor restrictions on abortion, for the love of Mike! Let alone the truly crucial issues of defunding the Left and taking redistricting out of the hands of a state legislature that has so abused its authority that in 2004, not a single state Senate or Assembly seat changed parties.
Who do they plan to support in the 2006 primaries? McClintock again? And when Schwarzenegger wins the nomination (of course), will they once again stay home in droves, handing the victory to ultra-liberal Phil Angelides... who will certainly immediately sign a "genderless marriage" bill the moment the state legislature hands it to him again (they handed it to Arnold, but he vetoed it), and to hell with the will of the state voters. A Gov. Angelides will likely outlaw the death penalty, remove any and all restraints on abortion, and funnel tax money straight into the state Democratic Party coffers. But at least the California conservatives will be morally pure.
What clods the California Republican Party elite are. What ineffectual dolts. They are usless lumps of protoplasm who have been able to win only two major statewide election contests (two out of eleven) since 1994, both for the relatively powerless office of Secretary of State: Bill Jones' reelection in 1998 and Bruce McPherson's election last year (Arnold's victory in the 2003 recall came in spite of the Cal-GOP's lack of support.) No regular-election GOP wins for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, or either U.S. senator in ten years. The California Republican Party is one of the biggest running jokes in the country... especially considering that California is not a wildly liberal state, the way Massachusetts and Vermont are (both of which currently have Republican governors elected in regular elections; the Cal-GOP couldn't even beat Gray Davis, who won in 2002 with an approval rating of about 30%).
There is some hope that Susan Kennedy will at least be given the opportunity to show whether she is a hero or a goat, however:
"I am hearing from Republicans from both the Senate and the Assembly, as well as activist Republicans in the governor's office who are interacting with Susan regularly now, and what I'm hearing is they are impressed," Mr. [Jim] Brulte said.
Republican Brulte is the former state Senate minority leader, and he is probably still in contact with many Republicans in office here. Evidently, they feel a bit constrained from speaking out in public in support of Ms. Kennedy; but if Brulte is to be believed (and I don't know why not), they're more supportive in private.
I'm taking a wait-and-see on this appointment; I really think those assailing her are doing her -- and the state -- an injustice. They're trying to destroy her before she even begins. In other words, the California GOP is once again acting like the Democrats.
Too bad they can't win any California elections like the Democrats do.
Date ►►► December 27, 2005
Maybe This Explains It? UPDATED
UPDATE: see below.
A UPI report -- if true -- may actually give us some insight into why Bush bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court and ordered, using his own plenary power as president, the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept foreign-based phone calls and e-mails to known al-Qaeda affilliates and to analyze the traffic patterns of such electronic communications:
Bush was denied wiretaps, bypassed them
United Press International
December 27th, 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate.
A review of Justice Department reports to Congress by Hearst newspapers shows the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined. [Emphasis added]
The story claims that, while the FISA court ordered "substantive modifications" on only 2 of 13,000 surveillance warrant requests prior to the 9/11 attacks (and denied none), since then, they have demanded modifications on 179 out of 5,645 requests -- and rejected six others outright. The court went from a modification rate of 0.015% before we were at war to a rate of 3.2% afterwards, more than 200 times the rate of demands for modification.
Nearly all of these demands (97%) occurred in 2003 and 2004, a year after Bush began the NSA program; so Bush's order was clearly not a reaction to being rebuffed, as the newsies will doubtless try to spin it (including UPI above: the court was not yet "challenging him at an unprecedented rate" in 2002, when he made the decision).
But the most plausible explanation to me is that Bush realized we would need vastly increased surveillance of known or suspected terrorists operating within the United States and communicating to al-Qaeda agents abroad... and the president rightly suspected that the plain inertia of the court meant it would forever be a "September-10th" body, unable to deal with the September-11th world in which we now live.
This, plus the spotty record of courts dealing with actual terrorism-related prosecutions, is the unanswerable argument why we cannot fight against jihadist terrorism solely through the criminal justice system -- or even, as with the FISA court, a justice system set up for dealing with Soviet spies. The Bush doctrine and approach is the only workable alternative we have.
UPDATE: Bill Faith of Small Town Veteran notes that the Seattle Post Intelligencer has a longer article on the FISA court denials. Alas, it doesn't give us any more information, except that James Bamford, author of the Puzzle Palace, opposes the NSA surveillance... and that he cannot count either, as he, too, claims that this meddling was responsible for Bush's decision, despite the fact that nearly all the modification requests came after Bush issued the executive order to the NSA.
Pangs of Birth
UPDATE and bump:
Some of my online nemeses have said that this Iraqi election was a "total failure." Because, they say, as the results of the election started to come in, the minority candidates started to complain about voter fraud. "The Ballots were stuffed with non-residents votes!" "Ballots stolen!" "They cheated!" Angry protesters marched in the streets demanding a recount or even a complete "Mulligan," redoing the election entirely. Some are talking about lawsuits, and an APB was issued for David Boies.
Well... that sounds like every danged election held in the United States where the Democrats lose, doesn't it? If this is the extent of the "failure," I'd call the election a ringing success!
Opponents of the election, the war, and everything say that since religious Shia won so many seats, Iraq will automatically become an Iranian-like theocracy. Encouraged by the Shia victory, some religious extremists (such as Moqtada Sadr's militha) will surge and begin terrorizing the secular Iraqis. Angry Sunnis will take up weapons and start a civil war. It will all end in tears, let me tell you.
Wait, don't panic folks. A few angry words are to be expected: we're talking about the birth of the Iraqi nation here... Iraq and its people have never experienced the democratic process before. If everything went smoothly, without a hitch , that would be a Christmas miracle: as Sgt. Garcia said, if things did not go wrong, it would not seem right.
Iraqis voted 10 days ago in a national election to choose members of a four-year Parliament, which will form a government. According to preliminary election results, the Shiite alliance won the single largest chunk of votes, but fell short of the majority required to form a new government by itself. Consequently it will likely need to form an alliance with one or more of the other groups that won a significant amount of votes - the parties of Kurds, Sunnis and secular Iraqis. [Emphasis added]
That means it won't be easy for the UIA to simply govern Iraq as they wish or walk all over everybody else. Also, in some cities, such as Basra in the South, people are already experiencing the Iranian influence up close and personal: Islamist militias with strong ties to Iran have been terrorizing the citizens for quite some time. If the secular parties are smart, they'll use this example to warn the citizens how bad their lives would be if they let Islamists rule.
As for a possible uprising by Sunni terrorists -- what more can they do than they're already doing? Their violent "resistance" had not worked at all. The alliance with al-Qaeda has deteriorated, and some Sunnis simply gave up violence altogether. By now, many Sunnis must have realized that if they get the civil war they've been pushing for, that will be the end of the Sunnis.
The weakened foreign terrorists and small remainder of Sunni rejectionists by themselves cannot possibly overthrow the new Iraqi government; all they can do is anger the Shia enough that they'll sit on the Sunnis' heads. The new and improved Iraqi army will not allow the rebellion to turn into a full-scale civil war.
It's true that corruption within the Iraqi police in the South is a serious problem; but perhaps the Iraqi army can deal with the Iraqi cops!
The government must constantly fight against Iranian influence, Sunni/Wahabbi Islamists, and even secular extremists. But these are the normal pangs of birth, a nation's birth, that every free country had to go through once.
UPDATE December 27th, 2005:
Leaders of the Shia and the Kurds, whose parties won large blocks of seats in the December 15th election, are now reaching out toward Sunni and secular parties to form a coalition government:
The visit of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim of the Shi'ite Islamist Alliance to the Kurdish capital Arbil opened a series of planned meetings among rival factions intended to ease friction over election results which Sunni and secular parties say have been rigged and to begin building a consensus administration.
"We agreed on the principle of forming a government involving all the parties with a wide popular base," Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani told a joint news conference after talks with Hakim, the dominant force in the Alliance.
This bodes well for the Iraqi people -- and badly for the eternal pessimists.
Son of Give 'Em Hell, Arnie
Just a fast addendum to my post of eight days ago, Give 'Em Hell, Arnie. In that cheery missive, I noted that a coalition of Greens, Pink Helmets, and two Reds in Arnold Schwarzenegger's home town of Graz, Austria, had scheduled a vote to strike his name from the local sports stadium to punish him for doing his duty as California governor and not stopping the execution of the execrable Stanley "Tookie" Williams. But the Governator beat them to the punch, sending official word (on official stationery) that he was revoking Graz's right to use his name in any way -- and was even returning the town's "friendship ring," since evidently the town council were no friends of his.
I noted in that piece,
Mind, it wasn't the citizens of the town... it was the city council that decided to make a big stink, thus ingratiating themselves with the internationalist Left and the U.N. toadies.
Well sho' nuff, today the New York Times dropped the other shoe:
[Wolfgang Benedek, a professor of international law at Graz University and a leader of the anti-Schwarzenegger faction] allows that there is an element of elite versus popular opinion on this matter. A poll by the local newspaper found that over 70 percent of the public opposed removing Mr. Schwarzenegger's name from the stadium.
This adds to a practical consideration very much on Mr. Nagl's mind: that Graz will no longer be able to count on using its special relationship with the governor to promote its image.
Heh. No kidding, bub.
I also love this bit of Grazian boosterism:
"We had the great classical culture on the one side," Thomas Rajakovics, the mayor's spokesman, said, referring to other important figures who are associated with Graz, from the astronomer Johannes Kepler to the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger, to the conductor Karl Böhm. "And on the other, we had Arnold Schwarzenegger and the popular culture. These were the two poles for us, but we're not allowed to use his name any more."
Yeah, well Kepler was born and grew up in Weil der Stadt; his only connection with Graz is that he got a job there later. Schrödinger was born and grew up in Erdberg and attended university in Vienna; he too got a job in Graz at one point in his life, which is his only connection with that city.
Of those three great men to be proud of, only Karl Böhm was actually born and raised in Graz. He was also an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. I'm not exactly sure this is the image the town really wants to convey.
Better stick with Schwarzenegger!
Date ►►► December 26, 2005
Misread Mandates and Misplaced Majorities
Jay Cost, now guest-posting over at Real Clear Politics, has a lengthy and fascinating post up arguing that George Bush "misread his mandate" in the first months following the 2004 election; but equally weighty, I must say, is that the Senate Republicans were led by the ineffectual Doctor Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), who seems to have no capacity to hold the Republican majority to any purpose whatsoever.
Admittedly, leading the Republican caucus in the Senate is like herding cats (or trying to nail Jell-O to the wall). Still, I suspect that a number of Frist's colleagues could do a better job of it -- notably his Number Two, Addison Mitchell "Mitch" McConnell, Jr. (R-KY), the majority whip of the Senate. Frist has already announced that he will not seek reelection in 2006; as the GOP is "the party of orderly succession," I hope this moves McConnell into the majority leadership. But Bill Frist could do the party a huge favor by at least resigning his leadership position before then, allowing perhaps for a better legislative year in 2006 than the squandered 2005.
Alas, this cannot possibly happen: against all sanity, Frist imagines he is a viable candidate for the presidency in 2008... so "resigning his leadership position" is simply not in the cards, as that would be tantamount to a confession of leadership failure, destroying his only claim to the papal throne of la Casablanca.
It's hard to guess from Cost's post what next year will bring for the GOP: unity or continued disintegration. On the one hand, Cost notes that Bush seems to have figured out the mandate thing, as his father could have said, and likely now realizes he must battle for every scrap of his legislative program; on the other hand, Frist will remain as majority leader until the 110th Congress sits in January, 2007; but -- not to sound too much like John Kerry -- on the third hand, if Frist is preoccupied with his presidential aspirations, he may leave more and more of the actual duties of the leadership to McConnell, grooming him to smoothly replace Frist in the February caucus leadership elections a month later.
My guess is that 2006 will be a much, much better year for the Bush agenda than was this; but then, I'm just a cockeyed optimist.
Cutting Throats Is Not "Capitalism" - UPDATED
It seems as if half my posts recently have had the category "Media Madness." I'm not on the hunt for it, I swear! It's just that something about the Christmas season brings out the best in real Americans -- and the worst in pseudojournalism.
This latest offense against the English language is a continual complaint of mine: the idea that any activity, no matter how criminal or repulsive, committed by a merchant of a product or service is accurately described as "Capitalism," no matter how anti-capitalist it actually is:
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - A gas attack in a home-supply store on one of the busiest shopping days of the year sickened scores of people Monday in an incident that police called likely motivated by a commercial dispute or blackmail attempt.
Boxes containing timers wired to glass vials were discovered at the scene of the attack and three other stores in the same chain in Russia's second-largest city....
Most efforts to undermine competitors' sales in Russia's sharp-elbowed free market take the form of negative advertising or damaging rumors. Business-related violence nonetheless remains a feature of the cutthroat capitalism that enveloped Russia following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Get it? Do you get it? Back in the good, old days of the neo-Stalinists, those wretched, evil capitalists were leashed like the mad dogs they are. But now that the despicable Ronald Reagan collapsed the worker's paradise, out of pure envy at how well it was working, "cutthroat" capitalists are raging out of control, launching gas attacks against Russian proletariats, just like the American robber-baron capitalists always used to do!
I realize that the writer, Irina Titova, probably grew up in the Soviet Union and has no idea what Capitalism really means: the free exchange of goods for capital; and she likely does not understand that Mafia tactics like this to damage one's competitors are not any part of Capitalism, any more than is extortion, robbery, slavery, or murder for hire: every human involved in the transaction must freely enter into it, not be driven from one merchant to another by chemical weaponry. But for heaven's sake, are there no American editors at the Associated Press who have a passing intimacy (or even a one-night stand) with the English language?
The core of Capitalism is, to borrow the title of Ludwig von Mises' masterpiece, the freedom of human action; any activity whose purpose is to limit or repeal that freedom of choice is not Capitalism... it's criminality. This is true whether it's done by a government (as in the Soviet Union, and sadly, now Russia as well) or by a "competitor." The former is socialism; the latter is mobsterism.
Is freedom of choice really so difficult a concept? Can reporters not at least understand it, even as they reject it?
UPDATE; from the New York Times:
The authorities ruled out terrorism. Instead, they attributed the attacks to the rough edges of Russian capitalism and gangsterism, saying the most likely motive was an effort to hurt the chain's sales on one of the most important shopping days of the year.
CBS, by contrast, resisted the urge to call the gas attack "Capitalism."
During World War II, and in every subsequent war, our troops in the field have had one uplifting treat to look forward to amid all the danger and destruction of combat far away from home: that is the USO, the United Service Organizations, and the celebrities who came to entertain to troops, no matter where they were. But for this war, according to the Guardian, most celebrities have decided simply to "opt out" of entertaining the troops.
The USO was created in 1941 -- before the Pearl Harbor bombing -- as a joint endeavor between six organizations (hence the plural in the name): the Salvation Army, the YMCA and YWCA, the National Catholic Community Services, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the National Travelers Aid Association. From the USO website:
Throughout World War II, the USO was the channel for community participation in the war effort. In more than 3,000 communities, USO centers were established to become the GI.'s "Home Away from Home." Between 1940 and 1944, U.S. troops grew from 50,000 to 12 million and their need for a variety of services grew accordingly. USO facilities were quickly opened in such unlikely places as churches, log cabins, museums, castles, barns, beach and yacht clubs, railroad sleeping cars, old mansions and storefronts.
At its high point in 1944, the USO had more than 3,000 clubs. USOs could be many things to many people: a lively place to dance and meet people; a place to see movies or find religious counsel; a quiet place to talk or write letters; and, of course, the place to go for free coffee and doughnuts.
From 1941 to 1947, USO Camp Shows presented an amazing 428,521 performances. In 1945, curtains were rising 700 times a day to audiences as large as 15,000 and as small as 25 on some outposts all over the world. More than 7,000 entertainers traveled overseas. During World War II, Americans had come together as never before. By war's end, the USO could claim that more than 1.5 million volunteers had worked on its behalf.
(In 1944, Universal made a wonderful movie about the creation of the USO: Follow the Boys, starring George Raft -- did you know he began his career as a dancer? -- and spotlighting the talents of Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, the Andrews Sisters, W.C. Fields, Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan, and the only complete dance routine ever filmed of the incomparable female flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya... along with many, many others. If you can find it, rent this movie! It's not particularly historically accurate, but who cares?)
Alas, that proud history is less than nothing to today's self-absorbed, narcissistic "stars," who refuse to travel to combat zones abroad to entertain the troops, but rather stay home in droves. The Guardian article coyly speculates that the reason may be ideological:
It is a far cry from the days following the September 11 2001 attacks, when some of the biggest names in show business, from Jennifer Lopez to Brad Pitt, rallied to the cause. "After 9/11 we couldn't have had enough airplanes for the people who were volunteering to go," Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas crooner who succeeded Bob Hope as head of USO's talent recruiting effort, told USA Today. "Now with 9/11 being as far removed as it is, the war being up one day and down the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to go."
Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war.
Frankly, I think this is a shuck. There is no logical argument why even a diehard anti-war fanatic could not entertain the troops -- who, after all, didn't get to vote on when and where they would be deployed. In fact, several mainstays of USO tours are just such ardent anti-war types: Robin Williams, Henry Rollins, Joan Jett, and astonishingly enough, Al Franken. I heard one of Franken's jokes, and I thought it was pretty funny. He said that in the Army, even the food was controversial: "I've eaten five MREs since arriving here, and not a single one of them has had an exit strategy." (Plenty of conservatives are also going, including Ted Nugent, Wayne Newton, and Toby Keith.)
I'm sorry to say that the more plausible reason why so many celebs are boycotting the troops is simple cowardice: they're too afraid to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Fear is also a factor. "They're scared," country singer Craig Morton, who is in Iraq on the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour 2005, told USA Today. "It's understandable. It's not a safe and fun place and a lot of people don't want to take the chance."
Just about everything in Hollywood except the special effects is worse today than in days of yore... including, I believe, the manliness of the men and women working there. When we were fighting the Nazis and the Japanese (who deliberately targeted USO shows and transport craft, by the way, as a way to demoralize the Allies), every major and minor star in Hollywood, every singer, every dancer gritted his teeth and flew into the war zones to cheer up the weary troops. On the distaff side, soldiers' days were brightened by Dietrich, Betty Grable, Hedy Lamarr, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, and other first-magnitude stars. In later wars, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and Raquel Welch traveled to steamy jungles and snowy plains to remind the men what they were fighting for, as Bob Hope, the greatest USO asset ever, put it.
Today, about the best they can scrounge are Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, a couple of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and Jessica SImpson. For the rest -- thus doth cowardice make conscientious objectors of them all.
Date ►►► December 25, 2005
Just a Reminder of What We're Fighting
Merry Christmas, and be thankful for what we in the West -- even in France and Belgium -- have that exists almost nowhere else: civilization. Thank heavens our society believes in a God Whose primary concern is that we behave ethically towards one another, rather than slaughter people just to make an exclamation point to a religious frenzy:
Pakistani Father Slays 4 Daughters in 'Honor Killings'
Sunday, December 25, 2005
MULTAN, Pakistan — A father, angry that his eldest daughter had married against his wishes, slit her throat as she slept and then killed three of his other daughters in a remote village in eastern Pakistan, police said Saturday.
Nazir Ahmad, a laborer in his 40s, feared the younger girls, aged 4, 8, and 12, would follow in their sister's footsteps, police officer Shahzad Gul said.
Date ►►► December 24, 2005
Speaking Clarity to Obscurantism
I think a lot of folks are still a bit confused about the most recent New York Times accusation against the NSA (Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report), the "superceding indictment" that appears -- from the misleading way they wrote it -- to imply that, rather than the small group of 500 or so foreign terrorists (at any one time) that the Bush administration cheerfully acknowledges wiretapping, the NSA actually "monitored" millions of people.
What the Times wants the reader to walk away thinking is that the phone calls of millions of American citizens are being listened to by the NSA, those blackguards, and that something must be done to rein in this tyrannical police state. But if you closely parse the Times story, you realize that they're not really saying what they're strongly implying. In fact, that larger group of phone calls they're talking about in the most recent article are not being listened to at all.
This is an analogy I just thought up: suppose the government designated a large number of suspected terrorist supporters -- the Memorial Mohammed Atta Mosque, CAIR, the Georgetown U. political-science department, and so forth; and then suppose they monitored how many pieces of mail those target sites received from Kabul, Islamabad, and Cairo, correlated with attacks by terrorist groups operating out of those regions. Perhaps the feds also note the actual foreign post office that postmarked the letters, and even such trivia as the size and shape of the envelope and whether the sender used a scented envelope.
But at no time was any one of these pieces of mail actually opened and read, nor the specific sender recorded. All the feds want to do in this case is see if, for example, Georgetown poli-sci always receives lots of mail from Mindanao in green manilla envelopes three days before the Abu Sayyaf Group attacks an American base in the region... allowing them perhaps to predict upcoming attacks.
That's the larger group, the one discussed in the second Times accusation of "domestic surveillance" "without a warrant," according to "officials."
But at the same time, there is another program in place that tracks all mail sent to anywhere in the United States with the return address "Osama and Ayman, the Cave, Tora Bora." Those letters are actually steamed open and read, then resealed and allowed to continue en route to the recipient -- whoever that might happen to be.
That is the smaller group, the one exposed by the first Times accusation article. Two different groups, two entirely different sets of actions by the NSA.
(Hence the absurdity of the Times' vapid claim that if the feds were actually listening to this larger group of phone calls, then they would need a warrant. But they're not. So they don't. Duh. But boy, it sure sounds bad!)
Note, I'm not commenting on the legality of steaming open mail; in the real case, we're talking about electronic intercepts, "wiretaps" if you will, and the laws governing those are very different than the laws governing physical mail. But I do want to help folks understand the distinction between the two groups; it took me many minutes of pondering, close reading, and consulting my editorial Magic 8-Ball before I finally understood what the Times was really saying... and by contrast, what they hoped the readers would misunderstand them to be saying.
I realize this may be hard to swallow, but it does appear there is a possibility that perhaps there might be rather less here than meets the eye.
The Times' Reach Exceeds Its Grasp
At this point, it's not even eyebrow-raising that the New York Times is vigorously trying to destroy the foreign-intelligence gathering program run by the National Security Agency (a.k.a., "No Such Agency"). "America's newspaper" being a traitor to America has actually become ho-hum.
The newest attack -- specifically designed to disrupt relations between the United States and our foreign allies in Europe, Latin America, Canada, and the Orient -- is the "charge" that since 9/11, the NSA has actually (please sit down before you read this) analyzed the communications traffic patterns of phone calls into and out of Afghanistan and other terrorist hot spots. That is, they are actually determining how many international calls running through American phone nodes originate from or route to known terrorist sites, how long they last, and how frequently they occur. And without a warrant, b'dad!
Here is the Times's charge on a nutshell:
What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.
The New York Times then offers an accusation that I make no doubt must be true:
This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.
This is of course inarguable; just as I can say that my visit to the grocery store today would have required a warrant if I had been searching for clues of artichoke smuggling. And if I'd been a cop, that is.
Now I know you must be shocked and infuriated. Imagine, an intelligence agency monitoring the patterns of phone calls and their connection to terrorist attacks. Outrageous! And without a warrant. The next thing you know, they'll be setting up radiation monitors in public places to guard against nuclear or radiological weapons. Oh, wait, that was yesterday's scandal. (Also without a warrant.)
The Times consistently refers to this as "domestic surveillance," presumably on the grounds that this communication between foreign nations actually passes through phone nodes in the United States. Yet it is clear that the real hope of the Times is to create some international mischief:
The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and some Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with the globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent years, many international-to-international calls are also routed through such American switches.
One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches.
The Times editors can already savor the screams of hysteria in France over this revelation: "Sacré Bleu! Les Américains might be tapping into our hostage-ransoming téléphone calls... they shall know toute la saleté! Why, I shall be un gopher avec un nez bleu!" Ambassadors will be withdrawn; insults will fly. Somebody will throw a chair, and the next thing you know, John Kerry will be elected.
Alas for the New York Times, I think they have wildly overplayed their hand. If nobody heaved any furniture over the last twenty-three scandals, what makes them think the Frenchies will do anything but yawn over the twenty-fourth -- with or without warrants?
Unlike some previous stories in the Times attacking America's wartime intelligence efforts, this particular accusation actually has a great many sources. The complete list, in order of appearance:
- Current and former government officials
- Some law enforcement and judicial officials
- A Justice Department official
- Some officials
- Current and former government officials (I don't know, but these may be the same fellows as before and might not warrant a separate number)
- Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry
- Officials familiar with the program (one presumes the others listed above were not familiar with the program)
- A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company (but is he or she official?)
- Several officials
- Some judges and law enforcement officials (note the distinction between this group and number 3 above)
- Current and former government officials
- Phil Karn
- And one outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A.
It is unknown at this date whether any of these fifteen (or fourteen) sources had warrants.
Naturally, nobody has to tell the New York Times how to argue a case logically....
The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system, developed by the Pentagon for tracking terror suspects, and the Department of Homeland Security's Capps program for screening airline passengers. Both programs were ultimately scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.
Well! Who can argue with that?
I find it a bit hard to shake the apprehension that the Times is hoping for precisely such an ignominious fate for the NSA data-mining operation -- preferably before it actually finds a bona-fide terrorist cell and helps break it up (after which it will be much harder to kill, since it would actually be doing a great job protecting us here at home.)
Isn't there any point at which even the MSM realizes that it's dug itself halfway to China by now, and it's going to start getting powerful hot in just a few more strokes of the spade? First there was the scandal that a few sadistic, exhibitionist prison guards at Abu Ghraib were humiliating probable al-Qaeda members. Then we discovered that guards at Gitmo occasionally handled the Koran without wearing surgical gloves and apologizing afterwards for the passengers of Flight 93 preventing the holy martyrs from completing their mission and earning paradise and seventy-two raisins.
The left-stream media then breathlessly informed us that the CIA had scandalously started keeping the most important terrorist prisoners of war (without warrants) in prisons other than Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Hm....
Subsequently, we were treated to the scandal that the NSA had actually begun doing its job after 9/11, unlike the CIA, which had applied for the new job of leaking classified information to damage American security on the off chance that, like chemotherapy, such leaks would destroy the Bush "cancer" faster than they destroyed the country.
The media reported to us that the FBI domestic counterterrorism bureau was unfathomably keeping tabs on domestic terrorist groups and those who supported them. Then they whispered in our ears that the tyrannical Big Brother at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was deliberately and with malice aforethought checking for possible radiation leakage around various mosques and other Moslem sites in the United States that were well-known for having terrorist sympathies. And now, finally -- actually, while I hope it's "finally," I rather doubt it -- the Times completes its tribute to the late Jack Anderson by telling us that, in addition to eavesdropping on the phone calls and e-mails of known al-Qaeda groups abroad and suspected terrorist agents here at home, the NSA has also been monitoring traffic patterns surrounding these same terrorist plotters. Quelle horreur!
Having nailed down the actual terrorism-supporting vote for the next election, the Times and the rest of the MSM appear determined to seize the entire September 10th population of the United States as well.
Evidently, next November's election bids fair to be the War Between the Dates: the 10th vs. the 11th. I wonder which is stronger in today's America?
Date ►►► December 22, 2005
Patient At Death's Door - Doc Frist Pulls Him Through
The Patriot Act is on life support, but there is still a good chance that it will recover. At least, that was the verdict of Sen. John Kyl (the other R-AZ) on Hugh Hewitt's program today.
On the other hand, the prognosis for Bill Frist (R-TN) ever being considered a good (or even adequate) majority leader in the Senate is grim indeed.
Ignore what you read in the linked Reuters story; this is the real version of what happened.
Despite Kyl's assurances yesterday on Hewitt's radio show that the four renegade Republicans -- Lisa Murkowski (AK), Chuck Hagel (NE), Larry Craig (ID), and ringleader John Sununu (NH) (remember those names), who were siding with the Democrats in filibustering the bill to reauthorize some of the most important provisions of the Patriot Act -- that those four would "come back to the fold" and vote with the majority for cloture, offering the tantalizing possibility that the Democrats would have to decide whether to go it alone on the filibuster and take all the heat, or else give it up and allow the reauthorization bill to pass as negotiated... Frist completely lost control of the Senate late last night.
According to Kyl, the first thing that happened was Sen. Harry "we don't need no stinkin' democracy" Reid (D-NV) called Frist into a private meeting and told him flatly that if Frist proceeded with the vote on cloture, the Democrats would filibuster the Defense Authorization bill, the Labor bill, and one other important bill whose name escapes me at the moment, plus they would freeze all appointments, including that of Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court. That is, Reid threatened to completely shut down the Senate.
Now, you would think that Frist would personally remember, or would at least have access to the institutional memory of his colleagues in the Senate and House, what happened to Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) when he threatened to shut down Congress: Newt got his head handed to him by the American people, and the Democrats laughed all the way to the polls that year. You would imagine that Frist would hoot in Reid's face and dare him to go right ahead and pitch a temper tantrum on a national-security issue... "I'm going out right now to the press gallery, Harry, and I'm going to tell all the reporters (including Carl Cameron from Fox News Channel) what you just threatened!"
But Frist is made of tougher stuff. He's much too much of a macho man to call Reid's bluff; no, Bill Frist prefers to show his manhood by suffering any humiliation, by breaking every bone in his back bending over that-a-ways to appease the minority (?) leader. Sensing abject surrender, Reid demanded a six-month extension, not the three-monther he originally offered: half a year would give the Democrats plenty of time to demagogue the issue and wear down the Republicans to the point where they would accept any bill at all, so long as the word "reauthorization" was prominently featured -- even if all it did in reality was rename Reagan National Airport to the Stanley "Tookie" Williams Motivational Dirigible Hangar. Frist, sensing relief at not having lost his Rolex in the deal, wriggled on his belly and licked Reid's hand.
(I'm sorry, do I sound a tad bitter? I assure you, it's all in your mind.)
Fortunately, the deal they struck and pushed through the Senate by voice vote was to have extended the Act as is... that is, as it was enacted in 2001, without any of the extra "civil liberty" provisions the House and Senate conference committee had negotiated (where "civil liberty" here means "crippling the original Patriot Act to avoid offending touchy members of al-Qaeda"). I say fortunately because, as Kyl noted, he and a lot of other people knew that Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Chairman of the House J-Com, would never accept six more months of the old Patriot Act, since he was the prime mover behind the compromises.
Instead, Sensenbrenner said five weeks, take it or leave it. Backed against a wall, Frist and Reid had to agree. The House voted by unanimous consent (with a non-quorum, I think, but with pockets full of proxies); the Senate acquiesced by voice vote, and everybody got to go home for the holidays.
The only victims were the people. But they don't get a vote.
The reason I'm still hopeful is that Sensenbrenner desperately wants the act to pass as he and the other conference members negotiated it, and that was why he set such a short time limit (the provisions will now expire on February 3rd, and the Senate comes back in mid-January). There simply will not be enough time to ram through any significant changes to the negotiated agreement; and at that point, when the renegade Republicans see that there just is no support for the extra changes they want to make in the bill, they will probably go ahead and vote for cloture -- having made their point and being able to go home and say "well, I tried."
This will leave it entirely up to the Democrats. There are 45 of them, and two already joined with the Republicans to vote cloture (Ben Nelson of NE and Tim Johnson of SD -- both up for reelection next year in very red states). That means if just three more Democrats support cloture, it goes to a vote and almost immediately to the president's desk.
If the filibuster is still sustained, the entire onus will be on the Democrats -- who once more will be the "peace at any price" party of Neville Chamberlain. And I suspect that if that happens, President Bush will simply order the roving wiretaps and the business-record subpoenas (plus the gag order) on his own authority as commander in chief, just as he did the NSA intercepts. The Democrats will be destroyed in 2006, and we'll still have the intelligence-gathering provisions we need.
For some mind-boggling reason, the Democrats have decided to make Oedipus Rex their poster boy: they desperately want America to blind itself by cutting off as many sources of terrorism intelligence as it can, and then go into exile from the rest of the world. I hope the Senate Republicans can find enough spine by October to point this little fact out to the American people, if it's not too aggressive a campaign style for them to endure.
Evolution, ID, and Science - most recent UPDATE Dec 23rd 2005
A powerful lot of arguments were advanced against my position in an earlier post, Unintelligent Redesign of Creationism; I'll essay to answer as many as I can in this one. Note that I will probably return to this post and update it now and again, as people come up with new arguments... so if you're tickled by this sort of debate, bookmark the permalink to this post --
-- and return often... in addition to the normal checking of Big Lizards for new things, of course! We don't want to lose any custom.
I won't be listing the names of everyone who offers an argument, because it's too much work. Just assume that if you make some argument, many other people have the same argument in mind.
Let me first get the silly non-arguments out of the way; I'll clear the detritus, and then we can concentrate on the salient points:
1. What business is it of a federal court to decide what is or is not science?
This question is akin to the Democrats in 2000 demanding to know why the federal courts were deciding how to count votes in Florida, and the answer is identical: because somebody filed a lawsuit in federal court.
Whenever such a suit is filed, the very first thing the district court must decide is whether the person filing the suit has standing to do so.
I'm not a lawyer, though I sometimes play a "sea lawyer" in this blog... but my understanding is that "standing" means a person has a legitimate reason to bring the lawsuit in the first place. If you get wrongfully fired, I can't prosecute a lawsuit to get you reinstated, because I have no connection to you; you're the one who suffered the loss, so it's up to you to decide whether to sue. But in this case, the lawsuit was filed by the parents of children in the Dover public schools, children who were required to read the ID-supporting statement... so the parents (as guardians of the children) definitely had standing.
The next thing the court decides is whether it, itself, has jurisdiction: that is, whether it is legally empowered to decide the question at the heart of the lawsuit. In this case, the parents alleged that the public schools, which are a branch of the government, were preaching a particular religion to their kids -- which, they alleged, was a violation of the First-Amendment rights of the children (hence the parents) not to have the government establish a religion.
Now "establishing a religion" means something quite different in 2005 than it meant in 1789; back then, it literally meant creating a Church of America, like the Church of England. But today, it means any attempt by the federal (or state, now) government to promote a particular religious belief as the correct one.
Since this is a federal right found in the federal Constitution, it's up to a federal judge to finally decide whether the ID requirement "established" a religion, as forbidden by the First Amendment. That's why a federal judge had to decide whether ID was science, as its proponents claimed it was -- or a religion, as the plaintiffs claimed it was.
2. Of course creationism/creation science/intelligent design is a science! Just go to the Institute for Creation Research and read their arguments!
I will have to stop you right there: I have probably read more creationist literature than you have! But I will not accept any argument that is a variation of "go read this huge web site or this lengthy tome, and I'm sure you find that I'm right and you're wrong." If you can't summarize the argument succinctly right here, I won't address it.
I have no intention of doing your homework for you.
3. Judge Jones was needlessly insulting, proving that he's biased against ID.
As Francis Urquhart says, "You may very well be right; I couldn't possibly comment." This is an irrelevant non-sequitur: Judge Jones may be the biggest butthead in the world, but we're not arguing that point. We're arguing whether evolutionary theory and/or ID are sciences.
4. Maybe ID can't be scientifically proven, but neither can evolution.
You've misunderstood the point of the exercise. In fact, no scientific theory can be "proven." A theory can be disproven, but not proven; at any moment, the best you can say is "it hasn't been disproven yet." And in nearly every case, a scientific model soon will be disproven, to be replaced by an even better model of the physical universe: so it goes.
That is another formulation of the "tentativity" test for science: the best you can ever say about any scientific theory is that it's the best model of the available data you have at this point. The tentativity of science is not a weakness, however; I've had arguments where my opponent has claimed that the very fact that science "keeps changing what it's saying" proves that it's "false."
On the contrary, tentativity is science's greatest strength: a scientific theory simply constructs a model of the universe -- one that explains all previous measured data and predicts new measurements. Thus, gravitational theory explains the observed fact that if you let an object go in a gravitational field (and everything everywhere is in some gravitational field), it moves in a certain way. The theory allows you to predict how an object will move if you drop it or throw it ten minutes from now.
But as new measurements are made, new data produced, you will always find odd bits and pieces that don't fit. The scientific response is to accept the data -- and modify the theory to take it into account. (Of course, your new theory must also take into account all the earlier data, which hasn't gone away!) That is why science is so much more accurate than, say, astrology or phrenology: because it's constantly improving itself by tossing out incorrect, primative formulations in favor of more accurate, more complex formulations.
That is also its "falsifiability," by the way: if objects started behaving differently from what the theory of gravity predicted -- if objects fell along a spiral, for example, or any other curve besides a conic section -- then that would falsify the current theory of gravity; physicists would have to throw it out and come up with a new theory that explained not only the new, weird behavior... but also the thousands of years of previous data!
So nobody can "prove" that evolutionary theory is correct; the question is, can you prove that it is not? I can certainly prove that Intelligent Design does not fit the model of science; can you prove that modern evolutionary theory is likewise not "science?" Read on for that exact argument!
5. The scientific arguments for a young earth are obviously so unanswerable that Darwinists never try to answer them!
Perhaps because -- as above -- the creationists never try to enunciate them! And one quick point: there are no "Darwinists," no more than contemporary Christians are "Paulists" or constitutional scholars are "Madisonites." Charles Darwin published his first cut at the theory of natural selection, the Origin of Species, in 1859; since that time, evolutionary biologists, chemists, microbiologists, and other evolutionary scientists have expanded, altered, refined, and reworked the basic evolutionary ideas for 146 years. Darwin would not recognize the theory today. Nobody is going to argue "Darwinism" with you; try arguing against contemporary evolutionary theory, if you want to be taken seriously.
Now, having disposed of the preliminaries, we get into the real nitty-gritty.
6. Maybe ID isn't science, but neither is evolutionary theory. How is it falsifiable, for example?
Evolutionary theory -- hereafter ET -- is very falsifiable, because it makes a great many predictions! Any one of those predictions could turn out to be wrong... which would, by definition, "falsify" the current ET.
(a) For example, anybody can go out and find fossils. ET predicts that complex creatures evolved from simple creatures; so the earlier in time you look, the simpler the creatures would be. In general, except where geological folding has occurred, the deeper a sediment layer, the older it is. Thus, we should expect, under ET, to find that the deeper you dig, the simpler should be the plant and animal fossils.
(Note that geological folding actually flips sedimentary layers; but you can easily see this and avoid it: you will actually see the sediment layers flop over, like folding a Japanese futon, and the colored sedimentary layers -- and the fossil record -- will be inverted in the folded-over section.)
Therefore, if we were to dig in some (non-folded) site and find that the deeper fossils were more complex than the shallower ones, or that the complexity was mixed at all levels, this would cause a volcanic explosion in the field of ET. It would certainly falsify contemporary theory!
Some creationists claim to have found such instances; evolutionary scientists have examined these claims and found them unsubstantiated. If you want to cite such sites, we can discuss the specifics at that time.
Fortunately for ET, however, it is in fact true that the deeper you dig, the simpler the fossilized organisms you find. Surprised? You will not be told this in creationist literature; they adroitly skirt the subject, except where they point to this or that tiny area where they (falsely) claim the fossil record is mixed.
(b) ET also postulates an "old Earth," an Earth that is at least hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years old. But we have other methods of dating rock formations that do not depend in any way or form on ET: radioactive dating, for example (not carbon; that doesn't go back far enough). There are also discoveries in astonomy that reflect upon the age of the Earth and the solar system. And astrophysics and geophysics generate theories on planetary formation that tell, e.g., how long a planet must cool before its crust is the temperature found on Earth, or how long a methane-ammonia atmosphere would last before blue-green algae could convert it to oxygen-nitrogen. None of these sciences were developed from ET; they are entirely separate, depending upon separate observations of different phenomena analyzed using different mathematical formulas.
If these alternative methods of dating the earth were to produce "young Earth" results, that would falsify evolutionary theory, big time! But in fact, they all come up with about the same answer: the Earth (the solar system) is a few billion years old.
(c) Finally, if it's really true that later species evolved from older species, then they should have obviously derivative DNA. The DNA molecule was utterly unsuspected in Darwin's day; it was discovered only in the last century, and described in the 1950s by James D. Watson and Francis Crick. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a complex, twisted molecule that uses an arbitrary code of four "nucleotides," which are adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. (There is one more nucleotide, uracil, found in some odd viruses.) The body uses the code of these four nucleotides to determine genetic structure.
If the DNA of human beings was completely different from the DNA of chimpanzees, or alligators, or petunias, or sponges, this would be a fatal blow to ET. There is no reason why it should be the same, if the species were created separately; there is no reason why one nucleotide could not be substituted for another, and still serve the same purpose of coding genetic structure.
Yet it turns out that all non-viral, non-anaerobic-bacterial life on the planet uses the same four nucleotides in the same coding sequence. In fact, the closer (in ET) one species is to another -- say humans and chimpanzees -- the more of their individual DNAs are identical: we share about 97% of our DNA structure with the chimps, for example.
So there are three completely separate methods by which ET is falsifiable; yet each of the three alternate sciences yields results that perfectly mesh with the basics of ET. And where there are discrepencies, evolutionary scientists do what they are supposed to do: they change the theory to take into account the new observations. (That is one thing that defines a science.)
Thus, contemporary ET is precisely the refinement of earlier "Darwinism" that survived the falsification test... thus it is, by definition, falsifiable -- unlike ID, which by its very nature cannot be disproven, since it depends upon an intervention by a sentient, supernatural being that could have done anything, including laying false "evidence" to mislead us.
That is enough argumentation for right now; I will return to this post periodically as more questions arise.
7. There are simply too many potential mutations, all but a tiny fraction fatal, for so much evolutionary change to have occurred in only a couple billion years.
There are so many possible mutations -- the figure 10^50 is bandied about -- and only a small number that would be viable and advantageous, and so many of the latter that would have to occur, that it’s mathematically impossible for evolution to have happened in only a few billion years.
Richard Dawkins (among others) has indeed answered this question, the creationists have completely misunderstood the answer -- which leads me to suspect they really don’t understand the underlying math as well as they pretend. The point is that the laws of chemistry and biology act as constraints or filters that prevent the vast majority of those 10^50 possible changes from occurring, restricting the possibility of mutation and other forms of variation to just a sliver of those possibilities.
This is not “functionally equivalent to the generic ‘intelligent designer’ of ID,” as one commenter put it; we see such constraints all the time in non-life physical science: a planet in orbit could mathematically go in any direction at any time; since there are an infinite number of directions, and the planet would have to select one particular direction out of those infinite numbers to keep along its orbit, and since it would have to do this an infinite number of times every second, one might naively say that probability that the planet would follow its orbit by sheer, random chance is zero.
But of course, it’s not “sheer, random chance” that keeps the planets in their orbits; that job is done by the law of gravitation: the planet follows its particular elliptical orbit (bumpy elliptical, since it’s tugged by all the other planets and -- in theory, at least -- all the other bodies in the universe) because its choices of motion are constrained or filtered down to only one.
Similarly, during ontogeny, the cells in a developing body of, say, a horse are constrained by the horse DNA present from the moment of conception. At a deeper level, atoms cannot spontaneously become different atoms because that violates fundamental laws of the universe (except due to radioactive decay -- which is also strictly constrained by its own laws; an oxygen atom cannot suddenly turn into a helium atom at whim).
Molecules cannot spontaneously become any molecule they want, or even any molecule that contains the same atoms: water (H2O), which consists of hydrogen and oxygen -- cannot suddenly turn into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), even though that also consists of hydrogen and oxygen.
Physics, astrophysics, astronomy, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, biology, and evolutionary biology are all disciplines built around discovering these “constraints” and formulating them as physical laws. But they all act to one purpose, as far as ET is concerned: to reduce the number of available choices for “mutation” down to only a few possibilities... and the “wrong” (unhelpful) choices do, in fact, wildly outnumber the “right” (helpful) choices -- most mutations are fatal; only a tiny, tiny percent confer a reproductive advantage. That is why evolution takes such a large number of generations... but not an impossibly large number.
8. Doesn't ET violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy)?
By the Second Law of Thermodynamics and by information theory, structures always move towards decay, from more complex to less complex, from more information to less information; the theory of evolution violates this precept.
Structures in a closed system, dude. The Earth is not a closed system... the sun pumps massive amounts of entropic energy (heat) onto the earth, and it is a small portion of that incoming energy that drives evolution. In addition, the sun itself and all the planets are made up of the remnants and debris from earlier stars; it is also not a closed system. And it is presumptively true that the universe itself, which is (so far as we know) a closed system, is losing information and coherency faster than it’s being created.
As to where it came from in the first place, there is not yet a scientific theory that explains how the Big Bang actually occurred, or what existed before it -- if such terms even have meaning, when whatever existed might have had different physical laws (perhaps even including a different set of thermodynamical laws). Everything I've seen picks up at least a few nanoseconds after the BB itself. Science can only theorize about this particular universe with these specific physical laws.
(There is plenty of room to argue that the Big Bang was actually the fiat lux of the Bible; but that is not a scientific argument, and science should stay out of it.)
9. There is no experimental evidence for speciation; nobody has ever seen a new species arise naturally.
This argument displays a faulty understanding of what “experimental evidence” means. It is not restricted to bubbling chemicals in flasks and beakers. Going to a fossil site and looking at what you find there is an experiment, or more accurately, an observation and measurement.
We find new species all the time, but we cannot say whether they really are new, or we just haven’t found them before. In the timeframes required for evolution, only microbes and insects can really be speciated speedily enough for humans to observe it -- and even then only by the “intelligent design” of humans. What this argument demands is absurd on its face: it requires that we sit and stare at some species for a few decades to see whether it changes, spontaneously, into some other species.
But nobody claims that is how evolution works; first, the vast majority of species on the planet at any particular time won’t change into any other species ever, or at least not in any observable time frame. Second, such changes are so gradual, you might not even notice them until such a long time had passed that the entire generation involved in the observation would have died (and you know what the attention span of kids and grandkids is like). And third, the argument demands that we not use any artificial means to accelerate or constrain the variations, because that wouldn’t be entirely “natural.” The “argument” is actually a clever but completely paralogical attempt to set evolution up to fail by making so many restrictions that the creationists know it would be impossible.
Here is an analogy: until very recently, no modern scientist had ever seen a supernova occur (people in China observed and reported the supernova that created the Crab Nebula, but that was such a long time ago that there were no modern astronomers). So how did we know there had been supernovae?
Because we saw and measured their remnants, and the theory of astrophysics explained where those remnants came from (supernovae) better than any competing theories: that is, the theory of supernovae explained more observations that had already been made and correctly predicted more new observations than any competing theory.
Then just a few years ago, a nova or supernova began (rather, the light from an ancient supernova began to reach us), and by golly, it turned out they really did occur. Astonomers were right.
And of course, scientists could do the same thing to creationists: they could say, “You claim that God is omnipotent; so prove it... tell Him to create a zebra ex nihilio, right now in your living room, while I watch to make sure it really does spring into existence out of nothingness.”
The creationist would of course have to respond by shaking his fist and quoting “do not tempt the Lord thy God,” which you’ll have to admit isn’t really an answer. The correct answer is “omnipotence doesn’t work that way, and according to the Bible, God hasn’t created animals out of nothingness for thousands of years.”
All right; so now you know how it feels!
(Next update will tackle the ever popular misconceptions about the evolution of the eye and the wing....)
Date ►►► December 21, 2005
The Mugger Or the Tiger?
According to Fox News, one of a pair of muggers who robbed a couple at knifepoint in South Africa fled the scene... and thought to elude the police by darting into a zoo. He pondered his position with a great grinding of gears, then decided to hide where nobody would ever think to look for him: in the tigers' cage.
He was right. Nobody did.
His mauled body was discovered Sunday by a visitor to the zoo in Bloemfontein, in central Southern Africa, prompting initial confusion as to how the man ended up in the enclosure....
"What exactly happened we don't know [I think I could hazard a guess. -- the Mgt.] and we won't ever know because the only person who could tell us is dead," police spokeswoman Else Gerber said.
So what could prompt a person to pick such a ludicrous place to hide out?
[Gerber] said there was an empty can of beer near the corpse and that the autopsy would reveal whether the man was intoxicated at the time.
Ah yes, of course. We had a couple of beers and the gun went off. I can't remember anything that happened that night. Gee, I don't know... it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Now would be an excellent time to pop Brad Paisley's CD Time Well Wasted into the player and crank up cut number two, "Alcohol."
You had some of the best times
You'll never remember with me,
Air Power Over Iraq
We've long known that our attacks against the terrorists in Iraq intensified leading up to last Thursday’s election. But we're just starting to find out how much air power was utilized. This AP story has the figures:
The number of U.S. air strikes increased in the weeks leading up to last Thursday's election, from a monthly average of about 35 last summer to more than 60 in September and 120 or more [per month] in October and November. The monthly number of air missions, including refueling and other support flights, grew from 1,111 in September to 1,492 in November, according to figures provided by Central Command Air Force's public affairs office. [Emphasis added]
One of the most effective weapons against the terrorists -- beloved by the troops but considered a "war crime" by former attorney general and current Saddam Hussein defender "Ramzi" Clark -- are the unmanned, remotely controlled Predator drones. While their surveillance capability is pretty well known, many Americans have no idea they're also used for air-to-surface attacks. The RQ-1 Predator (and the Navy/Marine version, the Mariner) carries a pair of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, which have a range of up to five miles and can fly nearly 1,000 mph.
The Hellfire -- yet another silly, reverse-engineered acronym, standing for Helicopter-launched fire-and-forget, even though most models are not fire-and-forget, requiring someone on the ground to continuously "paint" the target with a laser -- is primarily an anti-tank weapon, but it can be used against any fortified position. It typically carries a HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead, which, despite being designed to destroy Sovet armor, still manages to work pretty well on pickup trucks, SUVs, and VBIEDs (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices) -- which quickly become Airborne Already-Exploded Devices (AIRBALED).
RQ-1 Predator drone (l) and one of the two Hellfire missiles it carries (r)
From the Associated Press:
The role of the Air Force Predator is not secret but has been largely lost in the clutter of violence on the ground. At least five times this month an unmanned Predator flown remotely by airmen at flight consoles at an Air Force base in Nevada has struck targets in Iraq, mostly in insurgent strongholds in western Anbar province.
Gen. Michael T. Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview with reporters at the Pentagon last Tuesday that Predators are attacking targets in either Iraq or Afghanistan "almost every day." He gave no details.
The training of the Iraqi ground and mechanized army has been largely successful. However, Iraq still has virtually no air force. When the American troops finally begin to leave Iraq, we will still need to give the Iraqis air support for some time; but the good news is that training of Irqi airmen has already started.
The action by U.S. aircraft comes with the nascent Iraqi air force having no offensive strike capability. Late last month the crew of one of Iraq's three U.S.-donated C-130 cargo planes flew a mission without a U.S. instructor aboard for the first time.
Hence, previous missions did have American instructors on board; we have been training Iraqi pilots and flight officers for an unknown period of time. The next step is to build up the Iraqi Air Force, probably relying to some extent upon former Saddam Hussein pilots and other aviation officers. If we're worried about the loyalty and reliability of such men, it's easy enough to restrict their role to that of flight instructors and instructors in basic aviation intelligence, meteorology, ground ops, communications, maintenance, and other vital elements that do not put them in the position to fire missiles at anyone.
Iraq also needs a patrol-boat navy to stop terrorists from landing in the Umm Qasr region on the Persion Gulf and to patrol up and down the riverways in Iraq (perhaps Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and his magic hat could pop round and give them some advice and a pep-talk). But an Iraqi navy is a subject for a later post.
Looks like the US still has a lot of work ahead. Thankfully, the longer we're there, the less actual ground combat we will be seeing... and the more our mission will shift to mentoring, training -- and of course, close air support.
Saddam's Temper Tantrum
Saddam Hussein, who terrorized the citizens of Iraq for over 30 years, is now, in captivity, whining like a spoiled child. He and his attorney have used every trick in a book to delay the trial: the latest is playing the torture card.
The court is simply wasting time by bothering to listen to Hussein's childish lie about being "beaten" by his American captors; it's simple blame-shifting, throwing sand in our eyes. I doubt I'm alone in thinking that, even if it were true, so the hell what? Not that I believe a word from Hussein, considering what he did to so many millions of people for so long -- but even if it were true, do we care if he were roughed up a bit? Does that in any way mitigate his crime? Is bad treatment in jail an ex-post-facto "defense" to crimes against humanity?
"I want to say here, yes, we have been beaten by the Americans and we have been tortured," Saddam said, before gesturing to his seven co-defendants around him, "one by one."
Hussein is still sucking air. He's still balanced on his hind legs. He doesn't have any visible injuries, he isn't in hospital, he is not disfigured: if it were true that he was slapped around, it couldn't possibly be enough to amount to "torture," as Hussein of all people should know.
Evidently, Hussein has a serious problem with memory loss. He would do well to listen to the stories of his own victims. Then perhaps he would know what the word "torture" means.
Unintelligent Redesign of Creationism
I have the queasy feeling I'm about to be pilloried... but I just can't keep my big, fat mouth shut. Fat fingers, whatever. The fact of the matter is that, needlessly insulting as it was, the ruling by Federal Judge E. Jones III that "intelligent design" (ID) is not science was exactly correct: it is not.
A point to note: I am not saying ID is false; in fact, I find it very persuasive. Not in its strong sense, that an amoeba or a flatworm or an angry clam could not evolve entirely naturally; I find variation plus natural selection a very satisfying and compelling theory to explain the evolution of life from its very beginnings in the primordial ooze right up through the evolution of primates.
Where I think it falls flat is only in the development of the massive cerebral cortex found only in genus Homo, and especially in the fairly sudden appearance of self-awareness, time-binding, and foreknowledge:
I know that I am me, a separate entity from you, and I am aware of myself, my thoughts, my thoughts about being aware of my thoughts.
I understand that I used to be a child, but now I'm a man, and that the events of my life happened in a particular order in time. And I know that I will age, and unless there are some tremendous breakthroughs in medicine and gerontology, I will eventually die. Despite many desperate attempts by PETA-people to convince me otherwise, I know that no other animal has these elements of intelligence or even a rudimentary version of them. So I am very open to the ideas of ID.
Nevertheless, E pur si muove: I cannot hold my tongue and pretend that ID is science by any rational definition of that word.
It makes no difference that some people with scientific degrees claim it's science; nor does it matter that some of them even hold positions that ordinarily would only be held by scientists. Any one who says that ID is science is either ignorant of science or is telling you a tale.
Twenty-three years ago, Judge William R. Overton decided the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, the first federal case to examine the curious hippogriff of "creation science" -- an attempt to resurrect pure creationism as some sort of "science," so it could be taught in the public schools. Note that this was not the case that was appealed up to the Supreme Court in 1987; that was Edwards v. Aguillard (482 U.S. 578; 107 S. Ct. 2573; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 2729; 96 L. Ed. 2d 510; 55 U.S.L.W. 4860), decided in 1987. Though McLean went against the creationists, they decided not to appeal, waiting an additional five years for a case they thought was stronger.
McLean never made it past the district court phase; but unlike Edwards, McLean was a knock-down, drag-out fight between various religious and scientific expert witnesses... and Judge Overton's decision was probably the best informed of any of the creationism cases. He did something no other judge had ever done: he constructed a legal definition of science against which competing doctrines could be measured.
William Buckingham, one of the Dover school-board members in the current case, said:
I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state.
I completely agree, as does anybody who can read. But that isn't the point, is it? Judge Jones didn't rule that we had to rub "In God We Trust" off the money and erase "under God" from the Pledge; he only ruled that ID was no more a science than was creation science, which itself was no more scientific than pure creationism, for all that its inventors tarted it up to look techno-cool.
In the McLean decision, Judge Overton addressed the real issue head on:
In addition to the fallacious pedagogy of the two model approach, Section 4(a) lacks legitimate educational value because "creation-science" as defined in that section is simply not science. Several witnesses suggested definitions of science. A descriptive definition was said to be that science is what is "accepted by the scientific community" and is "what scientists do." The obvious implication of this description is that, in a free society, knowledge does not require the imprimatur of legislation in order to become science.
More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are:
(1) It is guided by natural law;
(2) It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law;
(3) It is testable against the empirical world;
(4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
(5) Its is falsifiable. (Ruse and other science witnesses).
I would collapse these into just four tests; but a candidate for consideration as science must pass all four tests. ID, like its forebear creation science, in fact fails all four:
- The theory must arise from and refer only to natural, ongoing processes.
- It must arise in a logical, compelling way from previous scientific theory and take into account (explain) all previous measurements.
- It must be tentative: that is, it must be able to change as the observed evidence changes, rather than being immutable and invulnerable to future evidence.
- It must be falsifiable, which means it must be possible to devise an experiment one of whose possible results, at least theoretically, contradicts the theory, resulting in the theory's rejection.
Intelligent design flunks all four tests: rather than arising from natural, ongoing processes, it assumes "creatio ex nihilio," creation out of the void by a supernatural entity. Even if you call this entity Gid or Gad, everyone knows (wink, nudge) it's really God.
The central tenet of ID, direct supernatural intervention in species development, makes no reference whatsoever to previous scientific findings supporting this proposition... because of course there aren't any.
It is not tentative: it is fixed and inviolate, and it is never taught (that I've seen) as a possible explanation for the origin of the various species but rather as the only possible explanation -- regardless of the disingenuous claims of its boosters, such as Michael Medved.
And it is surely not falsifiable, as it is impossible even in theory to devise an experiment that could possibly disprove ID... because any unpredicted result can be explained as being willed by the very same supernatural entity that caused all the evolution. The perfect alibi!
All the school board's horses and all of its men cannot put the "science" into ID. The only difference between ID and the earlier, discredited creation science is that the latter rejected all forms of evolution of one "kind" (species) into another, while the former accepts the idea of evolution in theory -- but argues that it can only occur with God's personal intervention. Whether this is true or false is a fascinating discussion... but it's a debate, not about science, but about religion and sociology.
Which, oddly enough, is exactly where the new Dover school board has decided to offer a class in intelligent design: as a sociology elective. That would be the school board members elected in place of the previous, ID-requiring board members in an startling election result for a conservative city:
The new school board president, Bernadette Reinking, said the board intends to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum and place it in an elective social studies class. "As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal," she said.
The bashing of this judge and this decision by some cultural conservatives is unfair, uninformed, and unbecoming: while some of the dicta in the decision is intemperate, I have argued with creationists all my adult life -- and I find it very plausible indeed that they lied about the God factor... which completely justifies the judge's ire. Indeed, I have never had a debate or discussion with a proponent of ID (or creation science) who would ever admit that Genesis was the true origin of his thesis... even though he introduced both creation out of nothingness and also the Noahide flood to explain marine fossils in arid deserts!
Intelligent design is not science, and it should not be taught in the public schools as such. Put it where it belongs: the home, the house of worship, or even a public-school class on comparative religions.
Date ►►► December 20, 2005
Why We Need the Death Penalty
Paroled TWA Hijacker Returns to Lebanon
Associated Press via Fox News
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A Lebanese man serving a life sentence in Germany for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jetliner and killing of a U.S. Navy diver has returned to Lebanon after being paroled in Germany, security and guerrilla officials said Tuesday....
[Mohammed Ali] Hamadi's case came up for a court-mandated review, and he was released after an expert assessment and a hearing, said Doris Moeller-Scheu, spokeswoman for the Frankfurt, Germany, prosecutor's office....
U.S. authorities had requested his extradition so he could stand trial in the United States, but the Germans, who have no death penalty, insisted on prosecuting Hamadi.
But at least, thank goodness, the brother of Robert Dean Stethem, the Navy diver who was murdered by Hamadi, knows who is really to blame:
Stethem family members said they learned of Hamadi's release Friday from federal investigators who had worked on the case. Stethem's brother, Kenneth, blamed the U.S. government for not doing enough to keep Hamadi imprisoned.
This is the Chained Dog Syndrome in action: a vicious dog mauls a little child to death; but it's never done that before, so the owner pleads for its life. The authorities agree, but they order the dog to be chained up. The years pass, and after a while, nobody remembers why the dog was chained in the first place; all they see is the "brutality" of a magnificent animal hooked to a chain.
Sooner or later, the pressure to unchain the dog becomes unbearable -- and the resulting tragecy is even worse than the original killing.
The Germans unchained the dog, and he has now returned to the arms of Hezbollah -- not reformed but rather even more radicalized in his jihadist tendencies by years of doing nothing but mull the embittered, hate-filled, and violently antisemitic and racist philosophy of groups like Hezbollah.
Thank heavens we have a death penalty here in America; now let us use it more often.
Serendipity Strikes Again
This Reuters article desperately wants to hand ammunition to those who would repeal the Patriot Act in its entirety, not merely refuse to reauthorize selected portions. It argues that criminal prosecutions of terrorists have been hit-and-miss:
Four years after September 11, the Bush administration has claimed some legal victories in its war on terrorism, but critics say there have been few major convictions and not a single trial of anyone caught trying to carry out an attack.
In a media blitz over the past few weeks to build support for renewal of parts of the Patriot Act -- passed after September 11, to expand authority of the federal government to track down terrorism suspects -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has recited a laundry list of legal victories by the government....
But while critics acknowledge the government had scored some legal victories, they questioned how major they were.
"What's the most remarkable fact is that we have yet to see any al Qaeda terror cell uncovered in the United States," said Georgetown University law professor David Cole.
"Apart from Richard Reid, we have yet to see any prosecution of any individual attempting to engage in a terrorist act," he said.
(Reuters dances around the apparent contradiction of the bolded phrases above by noting that Reid did not actually go to trial... he pled guilty and received a life sentence. Ah, yes. I see the distinction now.)
But in trying to make this anti-Patriot Act case, all Reuters does is highlight how difficult it is to gain a conviction in cases involving highly organized and professional terrorist groups; they cite as climax the case of Sami al-Arian, charged with seventeen counts -- and acquitted on eight, hung jury on the other nine (which include "some of the most serious", the MSM now admits, I think for the first time).
Yup... and that's why terrorism cannot be fought in the courts alone; that is why we also need an aggressive and forward-based military response to al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups, dummy!
Because of the national-security need to protect sources and methods and the urgent necessity to capture terrorists and disrupt their attacks before they're carried out -- we can't wait until after the bomb goes off, thanks -- we often have to go to trial with very little tangible evidence that can be introduced into open court. The criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with acts of war, like invasion, missile attack, or terrorism. The primary value of the Patriot Act is to facilitate investigation (roving wiretaps, business records, and gag rules) and communication between different agencies (primarily the CIA and domestic law enforcement).
And thanks for making that case, Reuters!
What the Heck Am I Missing Here?
I am so totally confused and befuddled that I wonder whether I should even be blogging about this. I'm obviously missing some huge point, because if the New York Times is "charging" the FBI with doing what it sure as shootin' looks like they're charging them with, then the entire world has gone mad.
F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show
by Eric Lichtblau
The New York Times
December 20, 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.
F.B.I. officials said Monday that their investigators had no interest in monitoring political or social activities and that any investigations that touched on advocacy groups were driven by evidence of criminal or violent activity at public protests and in other settings....
But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.
But here are all of the examples that the Times cites -- and note that some of these citations are simply documents wherein the FBI discussed the upcoming protests... the Times does not even claim that the FBI spied on each of these groups:
Many of the investigative documents turned over by the bureau are heavily edited, making it difficult or impossible to determine the full context of the references and why the F.B.I. may have been discussing events like a PETA protest. F.B.I. officials say many of the references may be much more benign than they seem to civil rights advocates, adding that the documents offer an incomplete and sometimes misleading snapshot of the bureau's activities.
"Just being referenced in an F.B.I. file is not tantamount to being the subject of an investigation," said John Miller, a spokesman for the bureau.
So these "citations" are simply instances where the name of a group came up somewhere in the pages of a document from the FBI:
- "Surveillance... of a "Vegan Community Project.'"
- "[A] document talks of the Catholic Workers group's 'semi-communistic ideology.'"
- "[D]etermining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."
- "[D]ocuments on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions."
- "[D]ocuments involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002."
Can we assume that, since these are the only examples that the Times cites, that they're the most egregious examples of FBI perfidy in the mind of Mr. Lichtblau and his editors?
What stuns me is that every one of these groups has, in the past, either committed violent crimes or nonviolently but criminally tried to disrupt our war effort: radical animal-rights groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) or the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Greenpeace, and PETA have staged violent or dangerous protests, committed arson, interfered with vital military operations, and threatened to commit terrorist actions that would actually kill Americans, such as planting bombs; I don't specifically know what the "Vegan Community Project" might be, but I surely understand why the FBI might be interested in finding out.
Not every group has done every action; ELF and ALF engage in more action directe than does Greenpeace; but many people are members of more than one group, there is collusion between the groups, and money does flow back and forth between them... which (we learn at the end of the article) is exactly what the FBI was investigating anent Greenpeace.
Anti-logging groups have done such horrific terrorist actions as "spiking" trees, driving a railroad spike deep into a tree; if the loggers don't notice the markings (which the "environmentalists" usually but not always supply), and they run the tree through the sawmill, then when the sawblade strike the spike, the blade can rip off and go spinning across the floor. Loggers have been severely injured by such "spiked" trees and could easily be slain.
We all know about the violent protests sparked by those opposed to the World Trade Organization (WTO), by groups like the Stalinist "International ANSWER," and other violent anarchist or "antiwar" groups; for heaven's sake, even the New York Times admits the documents they obtained from the ACLU referred specifically to "violent links in connection with antiwar protests."
And finally, "pacifist" Socialist groups like the Catholic Workers Movement -- founded in the 1930s by Dorothy Day but still active today -- are well known for aiding and abetting deserters from the military and smuggling into the country and giving sanctuary to illegal aliens... both of which are federal felonies. (I have never heard of the Catholic Workers league, but I assume either the Times meand the Movement or else a closely associated group.)
For the love of God, what is the New York Times playing at? First they break the shocking "scandal" of the NSA doing it's job by monitoring communications between persons in America suspected of being terrorists and known al-Qaeda affilliates abroad... and now the Times is making its bones breathlessly reporting the stunning news that the FBI is actually discussing and sometimes even surveilling radical, violent, and fanatical groups in the United States that have often committed federal crimes in the past.
When the FBI investigates (or merely discusses) these sorts of groups, it's typically done by the Counterterrorism Bureau, tasked with investigating domestic terrorism. The Times appears outraged that such a bureau even exists:
But the groups mentioned in the newly disclosed F.B.I. files questioned both the propriety of characterizing such investigations as related to "terrorism" and the necessity of diverting counterterrorism personnel from more pressing investigations.
"The fact that we're even mentioned in the F.B.I. files in connection with terrorism is really troubling," said Tom Wetterer, general counsel for Greenpeace. "There's no property damage or physical injury caused in our activities, and under any definition of terrorism, we'd take issue with that."
What a shock: the groups being investigated claim they're not in any way terroristic. But Greenpeace certainly has attempted on numerous occasions to disrupt our military response to terrorism: they routinely interfere with Naval Aegis anti-missile tests, for example. Maybe it's just me, but how the FBI chooses to allocate investigative resources between the various bureaus at the Bureau seems a little out of the purview of the journalistic world.
I've assumed for years that the New York Times is simply the house mouthpiece for the Democratic Party, but this goes far beyond mere partisanship: by manipulative and tendentious articles that imply without actually saying that various government agencies are engaged in criminality or corruption; by calculated smears and lies by omission; by insinuation and inuendo -- printed not even during an election, when one might expect it and cut some slack, but simply during a war far in advance of any elections -- the New York Times has transmogrified itself into some horrific creature indistinguishable from the despicable "yellow journalism" of William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal.
There simply is nothing left of the Times -- "no one left to lie to," as Chris Hitchens famously wrote about Bill Clinton (though I think the phrase actually originated with Reagan). The New York Times has sailed beyond the sunset of self-parody to become the yawning black hole of pseudo-journalism.
The ANWR Lightswitch: On-Off-On....
The history of the attempt to allow drilling in a tiny sliver of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge boggles the mind: over and over, one side of Capitol Hill passes the legislation, only to see the other side shoot it down. Most recently, the Senate enacted a budget resolution that included drilling in ANWR (the budget is not subject to filibuster)... but the idiots in the House cut it out of their budget res, and in was not restored in conference.
Now, as a direct result of heavy-handed pressure from Alaska Senator-for-Life Ted Stevens, the representatives and senators on the Joint Conference Committee have once again restored drilling in ANWR... as I suspected they would. It took some arm-twisting and horse-trading, but I think it's far more important than anything they had to give up (mostly more government help for heating-oil costs).
But this time, Stevens shoehorned it into the Defense Appropriations Bill in both House and Senate, a must-pass piece of legislation that funds the troops:
The Alaska Republican is trying to secure the mother of all pet projects for his state: oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Stevens has attached the provision to a popular defense-spending bill and has put holiday plans of his Senate colleagues on hold as he dares Democratic and moderate Republican opponents to vote against it.
Again, the Senate Democrats threaten to filibuster... but they're already filibustering reauthorization of the Patriot Act; they're currently railing against the president's executive order to spy on al-Qaeda members and affilliates; and they just took to the public airwaves to argue that the Iraq War is hopeless, and we should withdraw -- just days before the wildly successful elections there.
Coming off that McGovernite anti-war roll, the question is whether they want to add filibustering funding for the soldiers during wartime to that list of peculiarities. Pretty soon, someone might start to get the idea that the Democrats are the "defeatists" that Bush was talking about in his nationally televised speech Sunday.
Many Democrats (and a few renegade Republicans) are furious over Stevens' maneuver; but there it is. And since the House has already adjourned, if the Senate fails to pass the bill, nothing will happen until next year... which means the Pentagon may run out of money to fight this war. I heard a clip of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) on Brit Hume yesterday, and Reid was saying that Bush is playing a game of chicken, and that if the appropriations bill goes down, it will be all Bush's fault.
Right. If the Senate fails to pass a bill because the Democrats led a filibuster against it, it's George W. Bush's fault. "Look what you made me do!"
The underlying argument is about as obvious as Laura Prepon's superstructure:
- We're in dire need of oil
- The primary sources are countries that either have anti-American populations (such as Saudi Arabia) or else violently anti-American governments (Venezuela)
- We know there is a massive oil reserve in one of our own states, Alaska
- That state is desperate to drill the oil and sell it
- Previous prophecies of environmental doom (e.g., with the Alaskan oil pipeline) have proven to be hysterical overreactions
Put 'em all together and they spell A-N-W-R, along with Santa Barbara and the Gulf of Mexico. But everybody seems to have his own agenda -- like Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), normally a standup Republican, who opposes drilling for oil, from what I can tell, because he represents a farm and dairy state: a provision was inserted continuing the subsidy of dairy farmers specifically to get Coleman on board.
I really don't know whether the filibuster will succeed or not; both sides are grimly determined. But Stevens has vowed to keep the Senate in session until the filibuster ends and the vote occurs.
If it comes to a vote, it will pass; the only danger now is if 41 senators are actually willing to defund the troops in order to make sure America remains dependent upon alien and enemy countries. (I almost wonder whether that is indeed the point: to make America so dependent that other nations will be able to thwart any future American actions in the war against jihadi terrorists.)
Date ►►► December 19, 2005
While You Were Ensconced With Mr. Sandman...
...Some of us were slaving away, wrestling with the Midgardian serpent of Charter Cable, who seem to consider internet access to be a frivolity that I can jolly well do without. In between the long, dreary hours of being thrown back into the Dark Ages of 1980 or so, we did manage to crank out a couple of pieces worth mulling:
Saturday, December 17th, 2005: seven more shopping days before Christmas!
- They May, But Can They?
Wherein I argue that the Israeli spirit may be willing, but the flash is too weak to take out all of the suspected Iranian nuclear sites -- and I once again urge us all to consider not trying to defang the serpent but simply to strike off its head.
Sunday, December 18th, 2005: eight more days before returning all the weird gifts from your crackpot relatives!
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Herewith Colin Powell makes a surprise return to do a good deed by doing the president well.
Further, deponent sayeth not.
Give 'Em Hell, Arnie!
For all his mistakes and missteps, his moderation, and even his Kennedy of a wife, this is why I can't help loving this guy!
Schwarzenegger to Hometown: Remove My Name
by Jennifer Coleman
Associated Press Writer
Dec 19th, 2005
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday told officials in his hometown in Austria to remove his name from a sports stadium and stop using his identity to promote the city. The governor's request came after politicians in Graz began a petition drive to rename the stadium, reacting to Schwarzenegger's decision last week to deny clemency to condemned inmate Stanley Tookie Williams. Opposition to the death penalty is strong in Austria.
So a bunch of self-righteous, narcissistic lefty politicos in Graz decided to grandstand by circulating a petition to remove Schwarzenegger's name from the Liebenauer Stadium in Arnold's home town; in fact, the petition was to rename the stadium the Stanley "Tookie" Williams Stadium.
Mind, it wasn't the citizens of the town... it was the city council that decided to make a big stink, thus ingratiating themselves with the internationalist Left and the U.N. toadies. Arnold evidently decided he'd had enough -- so he called their bluff:
In a letter that began "Dear Mister Mayor," Schwarzenegger said he decided to spare the Graz city council "further concern" should he be forced to make other clemency decisions while he's governor. Another inmate is scheduled to be executed in California Jan. 17.
"In all likelihood, during my term as governor, I will have to make similar and equally difficult decisions," Schwarzenegger said in the letter. "To spare the responsible politicians of the city of Graz further concern, I withdraw from them as of this day the right to use my name in association with the Liebenauer Stadium."
The Governator is making it as plain as the bulbous nose on the mayor's face that Graz needs Schwarzenegger a thousand times more than Schwarzenegger needs Graz. The only successes that he had in Austria were winning a couple of junior regional bodybuilding championships there in the 1960s; virtually everything he is today he owes to his new country, America. He is forcefully reminding them of that point.
Schwarzenegger is such an American!
He even upped the ante:
In the letter, Schwarzenegger also said he would no longer permit the use of his name "to advertise or promote the city of Graz in any way" and would return the city's "ring of honor."
The ring was given to him in a ceremony in Graz in 1999. At the time, Schwarzenegger said he considered it "a token of sincere friendship between my hometown and me."
"Since, however, the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me. It is already in the mail," the governor wrote.
I'm guessing that what Arnold is pushing for (without coming out and saying so) is for the fine citizens of Graz to rein in the condescending councilmen, tell them to go stuff themselves with bratwurst, and demand that the city apologize to Schwarzenegger... likely the only really famous person ever to come from "the forgotten city of Austria" (the remembered city of Austria is of course Vienna).
(I just looked it up: the only other "famous" person is conductor, cellist, and violist Nicholas Harnoncourt; now there's a name to conjure with! But even he only moved there; he was born in Berlin, Germany.)
Wake up, Graziaks: leeching off the celebrity of Arnold Schwarzenegger is a privilege, not a right.
I had my annual Thanksmas party last night, and the -- oh, should I explain that?
Back when I was at university (UC Santa Cruz), I didn't always have enough money to go home for the holidays; so I decided I should have a party and invite my friends. The problem was that everyone I knew went home for Thanksgiving, and then they went home for Christmas, too. So I decided to invent a holiday right in the middle... and what else could I call it but Thanksmas?
I'm a fairly good cook, and back in those days I couldn't get enough of roast turkey... so I would always bake a turkey with both rice and cornbread stuffing, gravy (duh), my candied sweet potatoes, and whatever other truck and goodies I felt like preparing. I kept up the Thanksmas holiday until it became a habit, and then habit became tradition. Now, I don't know how my friends would get through a single year of their drab, wretched lives if they didn't have the ab Hugh Thanksmas party to look forward to.
I did make one change: as my finances improved from the school days, I got more and more exotic in my choice of feast to prepare. I decided I would always try to cook some unusual food that I'd never cooked before, just to see how well I could wing it before an audience of gastrophiles. I've made Chinese roast duck, bouillabaisse, and last year we had wild boar with venison sausage and ground buffalo appetizer.
This year, I decided on a change of pace, from American frontier to the Spain of Cervantes, Rodrigo, and Segovia: I prepared paella -- a Spanish oleo of chicken, ham, and various shellfish (squid, clams, mussels, shrimp, and a couple of live Maine lobsters I threw in), cooked with basmati rice and lots and lots of fresh saffron (I always keep saffron threads on hand for such occasions).
My lovely wife Sachi -- who is also a first-rate cook -- prepared five "tapas" dishes... basically, Spanish pub food, the stuff they serve you if you order drinks in Spain: a little meat-pie doohicky (my favorite, sort of like Spanish kreplach), a veggie pie, a fascinating spicy eggplant dish (that I couldn't eat; I'm sometimes sensitive to eggplant), potatoes in a saffron-tomato sauce, and spicy pork skewers that must have come into Spanish cuisine from Moorish kebabs during the period where much of Spain was considered "al Andaluz").
Speaking of drinks, I made a wicked sangria, starting with a Reàl Sangria imported from Espania [I think that translates to royal blood-wine, but my knowledge of Spanish is limited to whatever bits they used on the TV show Zorro], some Three Palms rum (my favorite -- I could just drink it straight from the bottle, if Sachi would let me), Dekuyper apple schnapps (the best), the juice of two oranges, some key-lime juice, black grapes, blackberries, and Granny Smith apple slices. For dessert, I served a reasonably good Madeira (Spanish version of Portuguese port, which is what I normally drink) and some Amontillado sherry imported from (where else?) Spain.
I invited a couple of very long-time friends of ours, Lee and Dianne (I've known them for about twenty-seven years), plus also a much more recent pair of friends: Patterico and his lovely wife, Patterica.
Usually, my Thanksmas parties end up in deep philosophical and political discussions that rage for hours... shockingly enough, especially considering the company, I don't think we hardly discussed politics at all. Mostly we seemed to talk music, especially opera: the Pattericos had just come from watching Tosca at the Music Center here in Los Angeles, and that happens to be Sachi's favorite opera. Lee is also a fan of opera -- which left myself and Dianne as the only two Philistines who had never watched one of those opera thingies all the way through (assuming you don't count Gilbert & Sullivan). For a description of the performance itself, you couldn't do better than Patterico's review. Even I followed it!
The music I selected was a collection of flamenco guitar, a couple of different CDs of Rodrigo and other Spanish classical composers, the Christmas collection Angels by Benise (a modern Spanish guitar band), and one of Sachi's favorites, the Gipsyland album Arte. Complimented the meal perfectly.
The conversation is usually driven by my friend and sometime collaborator on fiction, Brad Linaweaver; alas for us, Brad just inherited a ton of money, and he's off in Florida tending whatever tasks go along with being a multimillionaire. Presumably he'll be available for next year's Thanksmas... but it was likely his absence (and the presence of the Pats) that steered the conversation in a more musical direction.
It was a wonderful evening, and I think my paella came out very good... the only person who didn't seem to want to eat any was Patterica, and I think she might have been just a little squirmish: the recipe I was more or less following insisted the shrimps should be cooked with head, tail, and shell intact, to keep them juicy. And I must admit, they were quite succulent indeed; I may cook them that way from now on. But I think the ladylike Mrs. P. might have been a little offput: I think she wasn't used to looking at her plate of food and seeing it look back at her!
(Besides, the shrimp got us into a discussion of some Japanese dishes that rather resemble Klingon food.)
But she wreaked havoc on the tapas appetizers that Sachi had prepared, and Patterico cleaned their joint plate, so I hope they both were prandially satisfied.
Someday, I hope to visit Spain; and when I do, I guarantee we'll hit two or three of those "Paella On the Beach" places, where the guy with the six-foot diameter frying pan cooks paella for forty or fifty people right on the Mediterranean shore. (When we travel, we tend to think far more of exotic cuisines than museums, statues, ruins, or scenic vistas; when we were in Scotland a few years ago, we stopped in the first place we found that sold haggis, each ate an order... and liked it so much, we had a second order apiece. Sachi swears she heard one of the serving wenches whispering to the other about those "crazy Americans" who wanted a second helping of sheep intestines. But it was great!)
I can't imagine living in a world without wonderful meat in it. Maybe next year, I'll roast some zebra, or an armadillo, or turducken (if I can find a butcher who can bone and butterfly a turkey, a duck, and a chicken). And please remind me never to join PETA.
Well, it's a quarter to three (there's no one in the place 'cept you and me); Sachi is sacked out on the couch, having sampled just a little too much Amontillado; and the dragonfly candle is guttering. It's time to wake Sachi up to tell her it's time to go to sleep, blow out the candle, and light this candle before I write any more. Buonas noches, all.
Date ►►► December 18, 2005
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
That fellow who just popped up to defend the president -- after several decades of nigh invisibility, during which he learned Esperanto, climbed K2, and took the controls of a Boeing 767 for a two-point landing at Reagan National -- was none other than Secretary Colin Powell, erstwhile Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General of the Army, and Major Pain in the Patootie. A fiery tank with the speed of light, a cloud of glitterati, and a hearty, decaffeinated Kofi Annan... the lone statesman rides again!
Reuters reports that Powell, being interviewed by the BBC, gave a rousing defense of the practice of rendition, whereby terrorist suspects are handed over to a third-party government that is not, perhaps, quite a scrupulous about their "rights" as we're forced to be. Well, "rousing" is relative word, of course; we are still talking about Colin Powell, not Hugh Hewitt:
LONDON (Reuters) - Rendition, the controversial practice of moving terrorism suspects from one country to another, is not new and European governments should not be surprised by it, Colin Powell said on Saturday....
"Most of our European friends cannot be shocked that this kind of thing takes place," Powell told BBC World.
"The fact that we have, over the years, had procedures in place that would deal with people who are responsible for terrorist activities, or suspected of terrorist activities.
"And so the thing that is called rendition is not something that is new or unknown to my European friends."
All of a sudden, the Bush team (present and past) has been galvanized! Bush himself made a powerful speech yesterday, taking full credit for ordering the NSA to eavesdrop on the conversations of foreign temporary residents of the United States who have known connections to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Credit, that is, not blame, as the Democrats evidently anticipated he would play it.
And now Colin Powell drops down from the sky to play CYA for Condoleezza Rice, while twitting his erstwhile allies against Bush -- the Europeans.
Rice also said rendition was a decades-old instrument used by the United States when local governments could not detain or prosecute a suspect, and traditional extradition was not an option.
Of course, being Colin, even his strident defense comes giftwrapped in barbed wire:
Powell also defended the U.S. against charges that it was unilateralist, but acknowledged it did not have a good image around the world at the moment and was going through a period where "public opinion world-wide is against us."
"I think that's a function of some of the policies we have followed in recent years with respect to Iraq and in not solving the Middle East's problem and perhaps the way in which we have communicated our views to the rest of the world," he said.
Darn the luck, we still haven't managed to solve "the Middle East's problem." Still and all, the Dems must be shocked and nonplussed to see Powell defend the honor and integrity of BusHitler: the internationalists may feel how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless catspaw!
Date ►►► December 17, 2005
They May, But Can They?
Yesterday, Paul over at Power Line (the only Linotype I've actually met in person) wrote the following -- anent a Charles "the Sauerkraut" Krauthammer column on the looming crisis of Iran:
In my view, Krauthammer is wrong only in contending that "no one will do anything about it." It's hard for me to believe that the Israelis will stand by as Iran develops the capacity to incinerate its people. To be sure, the Israelis are loath to launch a unilateral preemptive strike against Iran. They would much prefer that sanctions be applied in an effort to coerce Iran into changing its behavior, and I believe they will afford the U.S. and the Europeans every reasonable opportunity to make this happen. But, as Krauthammer suggests, this track is unlikely to succeed. At bottom, the Europeans do not perceive Iran as a threat to them, and don't much care that they are a threat to Israel and to U.S. interests in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. Accordingly, Israel has refused to rule out a preemptive attack against Iran and, in my view, is prepared to launch one if it runs out of other viable options.
I applaud Paul for his perspicacity in recognizing that something must be done about Iran... the problem is that Israel does not have the capability to "launch a unilateral preemptive strike" that would actually take out Iran's nuclear facilities. In fact, I'm not even sure that we have, short of completely annihilating every military and scientific site we even suspect exists with an apocalyptic rain of nuclear hellfire -- which is politically impossible, unless Iran launches at us first. (I don't even think the American people would accept us doing that if the Iranians launch only at Israel.)
I discussed this before in the Guillotine Gambit (and I discussed President Ahmedinejad's stability -- or lack thereof -- most recently in I Can Hear the Cuckoo Singing In the Cuckooberry Tree). The short version is that the Iranians learned well from the Iraqi disaster at Osirak, when the Israelis bombed and destroyed the nuclear breeder reactor that the French (gotta love 'em!) were building for Saddam to create nuclear weapons.
The Iranians have not concentrated all their baklava in a single Persian slipper; they have split the work up among a large number of facilities (we know of nine, but there are others), each of which is deep underground and hardened against even a nuclear attack. It would take a combination of nuclear bunker-busters (probably more than one per site) followed almost instantaeously by some massively heavy explosives, which could probably be conventional. I'm pretty sure the Israelis don't include bunker-busters among their "Temple Weapons," and in any event, they haven't done enough testing of precisely coordinated multi-weapon attacks on hardened sites... and for that matter, neither have we; we've been focusing our missile tests on ballistic-missile defense (BMD), for obvous reasons.
So it's a good thought, but I think the Israeli Defense Force, magnificent as it is, would be helpless in this particular situation.
The best military tactic is to do -- just what we're doing: work with the Israelis to continue development and deployment of the joint U.S.-Israeli Arrow BMD system, and work up plans for decapitating the mad dog that is Iran by surgical strikes, not on the hardened nuclear arsenal itself, but against the brains who would wield it.
Mullahcraticus delenda est!
(Perhaps some kind soul can correct my Latin, of which I have forgotten more than I ever learned.)
Date ►►► December 16, 2005
NSA = "No Such Agency?"
I think I've been running off at the fingers lately; all my posts have been re-e-e-e-e-ea-a-al lo-o-o-ong. So I hope y'all don't mind if I write a few short and pithy ones.
My old blog-boss, Captain Ed, has a primo post on the conjunction of the two major stories of the day and the one major story of the post-9/11 world: the Patriot Act plus the SigInt spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) together help explain the big story for the past four years: not one, single attack on the American homeland since October 2001, when the Anthrax attacks occurred.
All I have to add is this: I've been scratching my head in puzzlement so hard that folks will think I have pediculosis. Let's review the bidding... senators, including some renegade Republicans, are getting in a lather because the NSA was caught red-handed intercepting electronic communications that cross the American border (in either direction) and analyzing them -- without the knowledge of the parties whose eaves were being dropped.
In other words, the NSA has been discovered in the act of doing its job.
Somebody correct me if I've got this wrong, but isn't electronic eavesdropping the actual mission for which the NSA was created? Didn't it grow out of the old Army Signal Corps -- which (among other things) "tapped" into telegraph wires to spy on bad guys? Am I hallucinating again? (Darn that Blue-Star acid!)
What the heck did everybody think the NSA was doing the last four years... its nails?
It's as if the Democrats and their willing accomplices in the MSM had never even heard of the NSA before, and now they're shocked, shocked that a federal intelligence agency exists to monitor telephone and e-mail communications. Doesn't seem sporting, somehow. Not cricket. If you asked the New York Times and Sen. Harry Reid yesterday what the NSA stood for, they would have said "no such agency."
I understand that after years of observing the CIA, it might seem weird and freaky to stumble across an intelligence agency that quietly and efficiently does its job, and without tooting its own horn or leaking damaging intelligence all over the joint. I note that the sources of this leak to the New York Times are not even identified as working for the NSA:
Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.
Officials of what agency? We are never told.
So while we're cursing the CIA, let's raise a glass to the silent and effective men and women at the National Security Agency.
PATRIOTs Shaken, Not Stirred
Democrats in the Senate prevailed in the first vote for cloture; the four previously identified Republicans voted with the Democrats, but they had no other converts. (Bill Frist, R-TN, voted against cloture so that he would have the power to call another vote at any time.)
The vote was 52 in favor of cloture, with sixty needed. Note that there are 55 Republicans in the Senate; subtract the five that voted for the filibuster and you have only 50 Republicans left... which means that at least two Democrats voted for cloture. (I say at least two because there were only 99 senators voting, and I don't know whether the one who didn't vote was Republican or Democrat; if the former, then three Dems would have voted for cloture.)
But so far, not a single story that I've read has identified those two Democrats (see UPDATE a few paragraphs down), although every story has identified the four dissenting Republicans:
Five Republicans voted against the reauthorization: Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Craig and Frist. Two Democrats voted to extend the provisions: Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Frist, R-Tenn., changed his vote at the last moment after seeing the critics would win. He decided to vote with the prevailing side so he could call for a new vote at any time.
Why not say who the Democrats who support it are? Could it be that the MSM wants the anti-Patriot position to appear "bipartisan," but they don't want to admit that the pro-Patriot position is also bipartisan? Consider this sentence from the second paragraph:
In a crucial vote early Friday, the bill's Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies.
The filibuster consisted of four Republicans and forty-three Democrats... but if someone only read the sentence above, he would be excused for thinking the filibuster was more or less evenly divided between the two. Bipartisan!
UPDATE: While editing this post, the New York Times finally broke the embargo on the names of the Democrats who supported bringing the reauthorization bill to a vote. They were Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Tim Johnson (D-SD). I am shocked and very disappointed that Joe Lieberman (D-CT) voted against cloture.
(The Times headline is Supporters of Patriot Act Suffer a Stinging Defeat in Senate; Zawahiri and Zarqawi Call Vote "Promising." All right, I added that last part; but you know they'll be pumping their fists the moment they hear about it.)
This is literally insane. There are only two provisions that keep being cited again and again as why senators just can't bring themselves to vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act: roving wiretaps and subpoenas for business records.
Prior to the Patriot Act, the FBI could only obtain permission to wiretap a specific phone number. But in today's age of cell-phones, satellite phones, and voice over internet, all a terrorist need do to thwart any wiretap is borrow a phone from one of the other members of his cell.
With roving wiretap authority, however, the wiretap attaches to the person, not the phone number: legally, the law-enforcement agency would have authorization to tap any phone that a particular terrorist suspect used. Again, note that this warrant must be issued by a federal judge; the FBI cannot simply tap a domestic phone call because they feel like it. (There is longstanding authority for the National Security Agency, the NSA, to tap international phone calls, which is what the New York Times breathlessly reports Bush did after 9/11 -- like, duh -- but this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Patriot Act -- no matter what the voices in Sen. Feingold's head say.)
Thus, if a terrorist switches to a different cell phone for each call, each phone can be tapped so long as that terrorist is using it. Perhaps someone out there can explain to me what sacred civil liberty this violates, because for the life of me, I cannot fathom it. How can it be constitutionally acceptable to tap one phone, but not two?
Subpoenaing Business Records
Here is the dreadful, horrible depredation of our "essential liberties" that John Sununu (R-NH) is screaming about; from the Patriot Act, Public Law 107-56, section 215:
SEC. 501. ACCESS TO CERTAIN BUSINESS RECORDS FOR FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE AND INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM INVESTIGATIONS.
(a)(1) The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.
Boiled down, this means that the FBI can request that a federal judge force a business to turn over records to the FBI so that the latter can conduct a terrorist investigation... provided the investigation doesn't arise out of some freedom-of-speech issue -- for example, they cannot demand records under this act solely because someone spoke out against the Iraq War.
Here is the gag-order provision:
(d) No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.
Let's see if we can't put on our thinking caps and deduce why, if the FBI subpoenas, say, the records from a flying school at which several suspected terrorists are learning how to fly -- but not to take off or land -- a jumbo jet, it might be important that the flying school not inform the suspects that the FBI subpoenaed those records. Yes, I know it's a toughie; its importance certainly has eluded the finely honed brains of Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Pat Leahy (D-VT), and of course Republicans Sununu, Craig, Hagel, and Murkowski, along with forty other members of the United States Senate.
Once again, we're talking about court-ordered, judge-approved subpoenas, where the information is only turned over to the FBI if the federal judge decides that it meets all the requirements of the act (which are pretty stringent). The only way this can be considered to violate civil liberties is if the Democrats (and four renegade Republicans) actually fear the United States government more than they fear al-Qaeda.
The Dishonest Rhetoric
When Russel Feingold (D-WI) heard that since 9/11, the NSA has actually been doing its job, monitoring international electronic communications (signals intelligence, or SigInt), which it is entirely authorized under law to do, he blew a gasket:
"I don't want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care," said Feingold, the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001.
How about this one: if the Democrats succeed in preventing reauthorization of these provisions of the Patriot Act -- and if the United States again suffers a horrific terrorist attack, and thousands or tens of thousands of Americans are murdered in a single, mad act of jihad -- then I don't want to hear again from Feingold, Reid, or any other Democrat demanding to know why we "failed to connect the dots."
Because we will already know why: the Democrats don't want those dots connected; they want another terrorist attack on the homeland, because they can then blame it all on Bush... and gain a little temporary political advantage for 2006. Pick up a seat or two.
Who's with me on this?
The PATRIOT Quadrille
My head is spinning.
On Tuesday, in Patriot Paroxysms, I opined:
All eyes turn now to the Senate, where the biggest problems lurk. Those problems are named John Sununu (R-NH), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and possibly Arlen Specter (R-PA) -- though it looks as though Arlen is satisfied with the deal cut in the conference committee to reauthorize the most controversial provisions for an additional four years... basically, to kick the can down the road a bit more, leaving it up to the 111th Congress in 2009 to figure out what to do about it.
The next day, receiving new information, I amended my previous testimony in More PATRIOT Doubters:
Today, Tom Bevan suggests we need to add Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Larry Craig (R-ID) to that list. I actually haven't heard for certain how Chafee, Collins, and Snowe are leaning; last I heard, Graham seemed to have serious reservations.
But now, courtesy of the Washington Times Insider (and a hat tip to Captain Ed), we learn the actual group of Republicans who have announced they're willing to join the Democratic filibuster against renewing the Patriot Act, unwilling to allow these horrible depredations against civil liberties to continue (anti-American ravages such as tapping not just a single phone number but a particular person and all the phones he uses, or allowing the FBI to check whether some suspected terrorist with an American bank account is sending money to Abu Sayaf -- dreadful, dreadful):
Four Republicans -- Sens. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry E. Craig of Idaho, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- said yesterday that they will join Democrats in opposing the legislation, even helping block a final vote on its passage.
Well at least I was right about John Sununu.
This, by the way, is the unanswerable answer to the question of why Bush doesn't just "push a conservative agenda through Congress." There are always a critical number of supposed Republicans who, for whatever quirky, narcissistic, or reality-challenged motivation, decides to go to the mattresses fighting against the Bush agenda -- which happens to mirror the agenda of real America.
So far, our delicate Senate flowers who cannot stand the heat of a robust conservative platform include Arlen Specter (judges), John McCain (judicial filibuster, ANWR), Lincoln Chafee (judicial filibuster, ANWR), Susan Collins (judicial filibuster, ANWR), Olympia Snowe (judicial filibuster, ANWR), Lindsay Graham (judicial filibuster), Mike DeWine (judicial filibuster, ANWR), John Warner (judicial filibuster), John Sununu (Patriot Act), Lisa Murkowski (Patriot Act), Larry Craig (Patriot Act), Chuck Hagel (Patriot Act), Gordon Smith (ANWR), Norm Coleman (ANWR) -- and of course, the 44 Senate Republicans who voted for the McCain amendment on "torture."
Even assuming that 44 includes all of the above, that still leaves an additional thirty GOP Senators willing to look the American voter straight in the eye -- and spit. Fortunately, it's rare that the heartbleeders can overwhelm the wills of so many; typically, there are just enough betrayers to make the fight dicey, but not quite enough to cause Bush to lose.
This is the most remarkable thing about President George W. Bush: he has never, not even for a moment of his presidency, had a majority of conservatives in either house of Congress. Yet what amazing changes he has wrought anyway, from huge tax cuts to a complete change in consciousness about terrorism to a stunning recreation of the American military away from fighting World War II for a seventh time and towards a modern force; fighting and winning two major wars; removing a dictator and turning a long-term thrall-state into a democracy in just three years; forcing the Democrats into such paroxysms of rage (I like that word) that I expect at any moment, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace) will stamp his foot so hard, the ground will open up and swallow him, like Rumplestiltskin.
In addition to those clear victories, Bush is working hard on an ownership society that would allow Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and pensions to be actually owned by the recipient, fully portable, and under his control. He hasn't achieved this goal yet, and he may never; but he's not giving up on it, either.
He has also shouldered a hole for faith-based organizations to be allowed inside the government tent (much as he shouldered a hole for his Secret Service detachment, when Hugo Chavez's goons tried to separate Bush from his bodyguards in Caracas).
He defused the Left on a couple of issues where I wish he had fought them instead. But I understand why he didn't; you simply cannot fight everywhere, on every issue: he supported a limited form of racial preferences in the Gratz and Grrutter v. Bollinger cases, arising out of programs at the University of Michigan undergraduate admissions and Law School, respectively.
And he pushed a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare. I oppose both of those; but at least he short-circuited the Democrats, who might have rammed through something much more egregious -- as we have seen, they're very good at peeling off a Republican here, a RINO there, and at least thwarting a conservative agenda.
I actually rather like Bush's compromise on stem-cell research (I think I'm in a minority of one here): personally, I would prefer full federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research lines; and pro-lifers would prefer no federal money at all used for that. Bush found a middle path that, while it satisfied no one, at least stymied both sides.
But the big problem remains: as Bush's term progresses, each Republican senator looks in the mirror, as the saying goes, and sees the next president of the United States. So he starts to craft his own foreign policy, his own strategy as Commander in Chief, his own judicial philosophy as appointer of robed wizards. And little clumps fall out every time the sun wheels from east to west, like a man losing his hair.
So far, in this case -- we were talking about reauthorizing the Patriot Act, in case you forgotten in all the excitement -- there are only four Republican defectors, and the Democrats either need two more to defeat the reauthorization (assuming no Democrat votes for it, and I think a number will) -- or else they need to be able to sustain a filibuster of the reauthorization bill. But if they do that, they will sear, sear into the memories of the American voters the catastrophic image of a peacenik Democratic Party that cares infinitely more about the civil liberties of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed than about the lives of American citizens in New York City and Washington D.C.
I suspect that in the end, Sen. Reid will find he cannot scrape together forty-one senators willing to go home to their constituents and explain why American lives are less valuable than terrorist sensibilities. And I'd be willing to bet that when it becomes clear the filibuster will fail, none of those four Republicans will actually vote against cloture.
So I think Bush and Majority Leader Frist should call their bluff -- but have Dick Cheney on hand just in case. And I still think that in the final analysis, Bush will actually win this one, balancing out his loss on the torturous McCain amendment.
Tortuous Rhetoric Obscures Torturous Language
Yesterday, the House of Representatives went on record as being firmly against torturing prisoners. Then they swiftly voted in favor of a bill that said Nazis are bad, slavery should be abolished, and that Shoeless Joe Jackson shouldn't have accepted a bribe to throw the World Series.
What they didn't do, and neither did the Senate, in their lopsided votes in favor of the McCain "anti-torture" amendment, was address the actual problem of that remarkably insidious grab for attention from perhaps the supreme ego in Congress, John McCain: what exactly constitutes the cruel, inhumane, and/or degrading treatment that will be banned, now that the White House has been bullied into agreement?
As a commenter on Brit Hume asked Tuesday, does incarceration itself count as degrading? How about interrogation? Many jihadis doubtless consider it very cruel to prevent them from dying as martyrs (and getting their seventy-two raisins in Paradise) by blowing up forty or fifty apostates (voters) in a mosque.
So far, no news story I've read has really spelled any of this out. It's likely that Congress hasn't, either. The closest was this AP story, which ended with the following cryptic explanation:
The ban defines "cruel, inhuman and degrading" as treatment prohibited by the U.S. Constitution as defined in the U.N. convention against torture.
So what exactly does this mean? The only related reference in the Constitution is this, the Eighth Amendment:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Considering the entire circus court system, I rather suspect that the phrase "cruel and unusual punishments" has more than a two hundred year history of litigation to define exactly what is meant. But the McCain amendment doesn't prohibit "cruel and unusual amendments," it prohibits "cruel, inhuman and degrading practices."
The first question would be, does that mean practices that are all three -- cruel AND inhuman (or inhumane, there seems to be consistency) AND degrading? Or any practice that is any one of the three?
Assuming the latter, as clearly is the intent, then what do those terms themselves mean? Unlike "cruel and unusual punishment," there is no long chain of litigation to define just what exactly is prohibited. Waterboarding? Sleep deprivation? Isolation? Loud noises or lousy music? Bad-tasting food? Yelling?
If I were a judge hearing such a case, I would be sore tempted simply to use the constitutional definition of cruel and unusual punishment... especially if, as AP claims above, the agreed-upon amendment actually mentions the Constitution in the context of defining the meanings of the words. If that becomes the standard, then I think we're in a lot better shape than if it's defined by what will satisfy Belgium.
The one agreement extracted by Bush, thus avoiding a total cave, was that both military and civilian interrogators can use as a defense (presumably an affirmative defense, requiring them to prove beyond a reasonable doubt) that "a reasonable person could have concluded they were following a lawful order," as AP put it. This removes the immediate danger of mass prosecutions of all interrogators (perhaps going after anyone who is unusually effective at eliciting information), but the principle is still hanging out there: thou shalt not make detainees uncomfortable.
Thus, in despite of the side agreement, I would have to agree with what appears to be a very recent addendum to an October 30th editorial in the Wall Street Journal:
One old Washington hand--who served in the Nixon Cabinet--tells us that the Senate vote on the McCain Amendment was "a Vietnam moment." He fears that the lopsided 90-9 tally will be read by our enemies as a sign of flagging American willingness to act firmly in our own self-defense.
Unfortunately, the White House has contributed to this signal by blinking on its veto threat. Vice President Dick Cheney's office has proposed a compromise that would exempt the CIA from the McCain Amendment. We understand the impulse to preserve at least some flexibility for the Agency interrogators who question the worst of al Qaeda--such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned 9/11.
But this Bush compromise isn't tenable. If U.S. interrogation practices are morally defensible, then they should be justified for all departments under executive branch supervision. And if the White House truly believes the McCain Amendment will damage American ability to obtain actionable intelligence from the enemy, then it ought to say so loudly and clearly and force Congress to take responsibility for its wartime micromanagement. Mr. McCain will then be accountable for the inevitable loss of intelligence-gathering capacity.
Alas, the Bush administration doesn't have the freedom of the WSJ's editorial staff: they actually have to govern for the next three years. And this time, the president, a former military pilot, obviously decided that a controlled crash was better than a midair explosion.
Date ►►► December 15, 2005
In a Captain Renault moment, we were all shocked, shocked when Mitt Romney announced that he would not run for reelection in 2006 as governor of Massachusetts... thus freeing himself to run for the presidency in 2008.
The New York Times has a longish analysis of his various feathers and black eyes. He has been moving to the right on a host of issues lately, clearly trying to challenge other Republican contenders (former Virginia Gov. George Allen, former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani, possibly Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and of course current pain in the butt from Arizona, Sen. John McCain) from the right. But Romney's earlier, more socially liberal positions may cause a problem, unless he confronts them head-on and explains why he recently changed his mind on, e.g., abortion, stem-cell research, global warming, drilling in ANWR, and other hot-button issues.
The NYT article tries to stir up some religious hatred (AP doesn't mention it):
Analysts said Mr. Romney's business background and telegenic qualities are politically appealing, while his changes of position on issues like abortion and his Mormon faith, a religion that some evangelical Christians dismiss, are vulnerabilities.
This is nonsense; the idea that evangelical Christians would refuse to vote for a conservative Republican candidate simply because he's a Mormon is nothing but anti-Christian bigotry in the mind of the NYT reporter (Pam Belluck); and the fact that she felt compelled to outsource the bigotry to some unnamed "analysts" tells us that she was uncomfortable with the slander even while making it.
There are some advantages and disadvantages to Romney's campaign that the Times doesn't mention:
Because he hails from a liberal Yankee state, Massachusetts, some Southern voters may be somewhat leery... particuarly when a fellow Southerner (George Allen of Virginia) is running against him in the primaries.
If Romney wins the nomination and ends up running against Gov. Mark Warner of VA, this could be a problem; but I think the only Southern state that Warner might win against Romney would be Virginia, and even that is a big maybe. When it comes right down to it, although Southern states are willing to vote for Democrats at the state level (Warner himself, for example), they tend to be very reluctant to vote for them for president.
But by the same token, a conservative Republican from Massachusetts will probably do better in the Midwest than a conservative Republican from the South; while I'm extremely skeptical about religious bigotry on the part of "evangelical Christians" (on the part of liberals is another story), there is no question that regional bigotry is alive and well.
But there were a number of states in the Middlewest (or thereabouts) that narrowly went to the Democrats in 2004, including Michigan (17 ev), Wisconsin (10), and Minnesota (10), any one of which would replace Virginia (13 ev, if that went to Warner) and still give Romney the win.
- And speaking of Michigan, it can't hurt that Romney's father, George Romney, was a twice-elected governor of that state in the 1960s.
This primary season will put me into a quandry I haven't had before in my entire adult life: there will be on the Republican primary ballot not one, not two, but three candidates (at least!), each of whom I think would make an excellent president: Romney, Allen, and Pawlenty (I think Tim Pawlenty is still a possibility; he hasn't officially said no, has he?). In addition, while I'm not all that wild about Giuliani, I don't despise him the way I do McCain. So who to vote for?
Of course, in reality, I won't have this dilemma... since I live in California, by the time our primary is held, the nomination -- and possibly even the general election -- will already have been decided!
"Civilianizing" Is Savage Duty
A few days ago, I came across an article about homeless OIF veterans. I thought of blogging about it, but reading passages like these really bothered me:
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. veterans from the war in Iraq are beginning to show up at homeless shelters around the country, and advocates fear they are the leading edge of a new generation of homeless vets not seen since the Vietnam era.
"When we already have people from Iraq on the streets, my God," said Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. "I have talked to enough (shelters) to know we are getting them. It is happening and this nation is not prepared for that...."
[Seabees Petty Officer Luis Arellano, 34] said that after being quickly pushed out of the military, he could not get help from the VA because of long delays.
"I felt, as well as others (that the military said) 'We can't take care of you on active duty.' We had to sign an agreement that we would follow up with the VA," said Arellano.
"When we got there, the VA was totally full. They said, 'We'll call you.' But I developed depression."
He left his job and wandered for three months, sometimes living in his truck.
That is why I was rather reluctant to discuss it. However, while I was looking for news about the Iraqi election, I came across Sgt. Ron Long's December 8th post. Sgt. Long was one of the ten soldiers who were interviewed by president Bush during the teleconference just before the October vote on the Iraqi constitution.
Sgt. Long served as an Army Combat Medic with the 278th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) in Iraq; he's now safely back in Tennessee. He writes that he is having some difficulties adjusting to a civilian life.
I will be the first to tell you that the transition from combat-life back to day-to-day civilian-life has been tougher than I had expected. The "small" things are the difference. I think that it may only be something that another combat veteran would be able to understand. Don't get me wrong...it is great to be home, but it's just tough adjusting back into normal life. In combat, you tend to have to separate yourself from your emotions or feelings at the time and it may be hard to re-acquaint yourself with your emotions once your home, back with your family. I love my family more than words can describe but I have just pushed myself back into their lives; Lives and routines that they've been used to without a husband or a father. And it works both ways.
So maybe it's time to take a deep breath and take a sympathetic but dispassionate look at the problem.
It's difficult for a civilian like me to imagine what a soldier or Marine goes through on a combat deployment. Shot at and bombed, witnessing the violent deaths of close friends -- "brothers" -- and innocent civilians, including women and children -- unless he learns to detach his emotions, to lock them away somewhere, I think he couldn't get through the day. He cannot allow himself to feel every sorrow and pain, or he would go insane (living in such daily insanity). He can't react to every death the way a civilian would react to seeing a pedestrian killed by a car right in front of his eyes, because the soldier may see that everyday during a battle.
It's not normal for a person to step off to work knowing the chances are pretty good that someone will seriously try to murder him before he goes back "home" to the barracks. The soldier didn't grow up killing bad guys; he has to learn to adapt to the new, obscene reality of days of intense boredom broken up by sudden life-or-death combat. Or rebuilding destroyed buildings, if he's lucky (at least then, he can see creation, instead of just destruction).
He simply has to do his job, because he has no choice. People's lives depend upon him -- not just his buddies in the unit, but tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqi civilians and an unknown number of regular folks back home in the United States, whose lives and freedom could be at risk if the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine screws up.
A friend of mine, a civilian volunteer who spent some time in Iraq in a non-governmental organization, told me once that she saw so many dead children, women, and old folks blown up by suicide bombers, she couldn't even cry anymore. She felt nothing at the time, while she was in Iraq; she couldn't afford to "feel."
But when she came back home, she suddenly became temporarlily deaf, for no organic reason. Her hearing came back eventually; but that may have been the only way she could deal with the parts of her "tour" that she had suppressed: she had to listen to herself for a while, to the thoughts she couldn't allow herself to think while she and her Iraqi "clients" were still in danger, before she could start listening to her ordinary friends and relatives back in the States.
For someone who goes through such a life-changing experience, it must be hard to adjust to an everyday, simple life back home, in college or at a normal job. Even I, who occasionaly ride a Navy ship for a few weeks, during which I cannot communicate with my husband except via occasional, unreliable e-mail, have difficulty shifting gears to a normal life at home; and that's after only a month and a half of absence. Returning to the world is definitely not a trivial problem; you'd have to expect a certain amount of adjustment problems, even including some homelessness.
At any given moment, we have (more or less) 150,000 troops in Iraq -- sometimes a little more, like now; sometimes a little less. Considering rotation, there must be at least three times as many who have gone through Iraq at some time during the war. That means we likely already have about a half a million Iraq vetrans. Even among ordinary civilians, you would expect to find some homeless people in a city of 500,000.
So it's truly remarkable how few homeless Iraqi vets there are, compared to how many there were among the returning Vietnam veterans:
Interviews and visits to homeless shelters around the Unites States show the number of homeless veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan so far is limited. Of the last 7,500 homeless veterans served by the VA, 50 had served in Iraq. Keaveney, from New Directions in West Los Angeles, said he is treating two homeless veterans from the Army's elite Ranger battalion at his location. U.S.VETS, the largest organization in the country dedicated to helping homeless veterans, found nine veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in a quick survey of nine shelters. Others, like the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training in Baltimore, said they do not currently have any veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan in their 170 beds set aside for emergency or transitional housing.
I don't want to minimize the problem; any homeless vet is a tragedy. And like any other bureaucracy, I'm sure the Veterans Administration (VA) is not as efficient as it should be, and many veterans must be frustrated by its slow and complicated procedures. But there's just not much that can realistically be done to change things; when you have to deal with hundreds of thousands of people, personal interaction is impossible; bureaucacy is the only way to handle the caseload.
Having had to deal with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), I've had more than my share of agony with government idiocy: waiting in line from 3:00 a.m. until noon, then told to come back some other day, because all the slots for counselling for the day were filled; paperwork that goes missing; finally working my way to the front of a forever-line, only to be told I need some other form, not the one the last INS agent gave me. I still deal with it somewhat as a civilian working in the Navy (that cursed Defense Travel Service!) If a veteran has to go through anything like that, that alone can drive you crazy, for sure!
The good news is that the military has improved drastically since the Vietnam days.
I've heard more than once that a soldier in Vietnam who's term was up was plucked from the middle of a battle by a helicopter and 24 to 36 hours later, dropped off back in his hometown... and that was all the "help" he got. How can a man go from killing enemies and being targeted by unseen snipers in the jungle to scooping ice cream or keeping books -- in just one day?
During World War II, it took long enough to get the troops back home by boat from Europe or the Pacific that they had at least some time to adjust from wartime to peacetime thinking. But in Vietnam, they had helos, C-130s, and then passenger jets back to San Francisco or Detroit or Atlanta. Boom, there they were.
Some years ago, Pentagon planners actually sat down and earned their pay by taking a hard look at the end point of a soldier's enlistment, when he would transition back to the world. They decided it was better to have a staged reintroduction back to civilian life following a combat tour, rather that the instant reintroduction during Vietnam. (At least, that's the way it's supposed to work; PO Arellano's experience shows that the system isn't perfect.) Thanks to the changes made between the late-60s, early 70s and today, returning veterans are treated much better.
Peter Dougherty, director of Homeless Veterans Programs at the VA, said services for veterans at risk of becoming homeless have improved exponentially since the Vietnam era. Over the past 30 years, the VA has expanded from 170 hospitals, adding 850 clinics and 206 veteran centers with an increasing emphasis on mental health. The VA also supports around 300 homeless veteran centers like the ones run by U.S.VETS, a partially non-profit organization.
"You probably have close to 10 times the access points for service than you did 30 years ago," Dougherty said. "We may be catching a lot of these folks who are coming back with mental illness or substance abuse" before they become homeless in the first place. Dougherty said the VA serves around 100,000 homeless veterans each year.
It would be very helpful if each returning trooper could get some kind of counselling before he gets back to civilian life. Not everyone has transition problems, but enough do that the service has a moral obligation to help them readjust.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are being fought with a lot of National Guard units... which means that entire units return home as a group; the soldiers are surrounded by people they know from their own home town; and they get a staged withdrawal from the military: they may stay on active duty for a while, even back stateside, before shifting back to the one weekend a month, two weeks a year duty. If veterans can get together and share their experiences during and after their deployment, that must help them a lot.
(I'm not sure how reserve units work; are they more like National Guard -- a bunch of people from the same general geographical area who deploy and then return as a group? Or are they more like the regular services?)
Military clergymen can also help. Sgt. Long links to this article:
"One of my major preparations for being here was to receive the CAV back," Lt. Col. Kevin Wilkerson, joint forces full-time support chaplain with the Tennessee Guard, referring to the 278th RCT which, before it was deployed, was known as the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment.
Wilkerson has worked very closely with the unit and the Family Readiness Group staff in providing support to members and families of the 278th while they were deployed, and now, while they are transitioning back home "to make their return home successful and make their transition easier," he said...
"The soldiers that are having difficulty, they identified them, and then they were referred to various places for assistance," Wilkerson said. The key is, the soldiers that are referred must follow through to get the help in the end.
Regular Army and Maine Corps personnel don't have the advantage of being surrounded by people who grew up in the same small town in Idaho or Connecticut, but at least entire units rotate in and out, I believe, giving them some continuity. And there are many, many more services developed to help them cope with the change of life necessary to detach from the military and rejoin the civilian world once more.
Help is indeed available for returning vets, so they can get back into a life and be just as comfortable watering the lawn and eating at Hometown Buffet as they learned to be patrolling the streets of Mosul and training Iraqi soldiers how to sweep a building.
Date ►►► December 14, 2005
More "Patriot" Doubters
Yesterday, in Patriot Paroxysms, I wrote the following:
All eyes turn now to the Senate, where the biggest problems lurk. Those problems are named John Sununu (R-NH), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and possibly Arlen Specter (R-PA) -- though it looks as though Arlen is satisfied with the deal cut in the conference committee to reauthorize the most controversial provisions for an additional four years... basically, to kick the can down the road a bit more, leaving it up to the 111th Congress in 2009 to figure out what to do about it.
Today, Tom Bevan suggests we need to add Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Larry Craig (R-ID) to that list. I actually haven't heard for certain how Chafee, Collins, and Snowe are leaning; last I heard, Graham seemed to have serious reservations.
Bevan goes on to note:
John Sununu is neither a RINO or a reactionary, and he's co-author of the bill in the Senate seeking to postpone permanent reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
Perhaps not, Tom; but Sununu is also not at all forthcoming about what, precisely, he fears. Here is the closest he comes in his op-ed in the Manchester Union Leader yesterday:
As originally written, the Patriot Act created and/or expanded two specific types of subpoena power for federal authorities: the first, a “215 order,” allows the confiscation of any business or library records believed to be relevant to a terrorism investigation; the second, National Security Letters (NSLs) — issued without the approval of a judge — allow the government to compel businesses to provide access to a broad range of financial information, including transaction records and data. In both cases, a “gag order” is automatically imposed, preventing a business or individual from even discussing that the order has been issued. As dramatic as these powers may be, I do not oppose their creation or extension. It is essential, however, that Americans are given the fair opportunity to appeal these orders and their accompanying “gag order” before a judge in a court of law.
The PATRIOT Act fails to provide for meaningful judicial review of NSLs by placing an unreasonable burden on the individual to show that the government acted “in bad faith.” Even in the most egregious of cases, an innocent American would have difficulty meeting such a high threshold.
Sununu fails to even mention the purpose behind these provisions, even while he insists he has no problem with them per se:
- Law enforcement needs to see financial and other records to track the funding, planning, and organizing of terrorist groups -- often the only way that we can find them and haul them into court.
- The gag order is essential because terrorists are, above all else, highly mobile; if they learn they're under investigation, they simply disappear and reappear in another city with new identification in a different name. Secrecy is essential -- until we pounce; thereafter, those records obtained by 215s and NSLs must be produced in court (assuming this occurs in the U.S.) and their provenance explored.
It appears the sole dispute Sununu has with reauthorizing the Patriot Act is that the burden a recipient must prove to get out of providing information demanded by an NSL is "bad faith" on the part of the law enforcement agency. But what standard does Sununu want? Typically, the person receiving the NSL isn't the target of the probe, so you can't demand "reasonable cause" to suspect the recipient. And why should the recipient be able to insist upon seeing your case against the actual suspect when the only connection is that the suspect is an account holder of the recipient's bank? If the whole point is secrecy, then revealing the extent of your case against the suspect is even worse than allowing the suspect to find out that the FBI has examined his bank records.
Attempting to quashing the evidence should be restricted to the actual person who is eventually charged; and the time to do it is during the trial. The idea that an unrelated third party, not under suspicion himself but who possesses important evidence about the actual suspect, should be able to quash the investigation before it even has a chance to develop sufficient evidence to charge, is simply absurd. It argues that the cops need reasonable cause to seek reasonable cause.
None of this makes any sense at all, and Sununu's flagwaving about Benjamin Franklin and the sacred right of freedom of speech does absolutely nothing to illuminate his objections. Free speech has never meant the right to say anything anytime to anyone; otherwise, we couldn't have laws against fraud, slander, libel, or passing classified information to foreign agents.
Freedom of speech was always recognized as the right of members of the American community to express their views, ideas, thoughts, likes, and dislikes. No grand juror has a First Amendment right to spill the beans about the prosecutor's evidence, and Sen. Sununu doesn't seem to object to that limitation on speech. So why does he object to a similar bar to Bank of America telling Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that the FBI is looking into financial transactions of some company he runs? Just how high a hurdle does he want the Feds to have to overcome to obtain those records? Does the secrecy aspect matter to Sununu, or does he think all criminal investigations should be carried out in the full glare of the public spotlight?
And believe me, while B of A probably wouldn't want to tell a terrorist suspect he's being investigated, there are many, many Islamic and left-liberal businesses that would rush to do precisely that... purely on general, anti-Bush, anti-American principles, or else because they actually support the terrorist cause.
And what about the objections other senators have to the roving wiretaps? Is Sununu all right with those? He doesn't deign to tell us, leaving the impression that he could decide to seize upon that issue if the NSL issue goes bust, and the Senate votes to maintain that provision unchanged.
If he supports roving wiretaps, he has the responsibility to argue in favor of them with the other complaining senators: since they know he's with them on the NSL controversy, his support for roving wiretaps should carry a lot of weight.
But if he opposes those too, he has just as great a responsibility to explain to the American people what, exactly, is wrong with issuing wiretap orders on the basis of the target of the tap -- rather than the specific phone number he may happen to be using at this time. Considering how easy it is today to switch phones and continue a conversation, it's pretty urgent that the cops have that investigative power (at all levels, and even for ordinary criminal investigations). Again, I fail to see how it violates anyone's civil liberties to allow a roving wiretap -- but not to allow a regular wiretap.
So I understand Tom Bevan's point; and of course, he makes it clear that he is perfectly fine with reauthorizing the Patriot Act as is; but it is simply incorrect to treat Sen. Sununu's objection as if it were a coherent argument against the act as it now stands, or to treat this tantrum of his as anything other than a play for attention -- and likely an attempt to extract some concessions, possibly in some other area.
Couple this story --
Police Seize Forged Ballots Headed to Iraq From Iran
by Dexter Filkins
New York Times
December 14th, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 13 - Less than two days before nationwide elections, the Iraqi border police seized a tanker on Tuesday that had just crossed from Iran filled with thousands of forged ballots, an official at the Interior Ministry said.
The tanker was seized in the evening by agents with the American-trained border protection force at the Iraqi town of Badra, after crossing at Munthirya on the Iraqi border, the official said. According to the Iraqi official, the border police found several thousand partly completed ballots inside.
Ex-general says Iranian led torture of detainees
by Paul Martin and Maria Cedrell
The Washington Times
December 13, 2005
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi general formerly in charge of special Interior Ministry forces said yesterday that a senior Iranian intelligence officer was in charge of a network of detention centers where suspected insurgents were routinely tortured and sometimes killed.
Gen. Muntazar Jasim al-Samarrai spoke to The Washington Times just as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he had widened an urgent investigation into complaints of abuse and torture in the country's detention facilities.
...and I say that if they're both true, it all adds up to good news, not bad, for Iraq and the future of the Middle East.
What? How can I say that?
Elementary, my dear Whalid: because we already knew that the Iranians were a bunch of evil theocrats plotting to seize control of the Moslem ummah... whereas, had it turned out that the Iraqi Shia were running those torture centers, or that they had engaged in a massive ballot-stuffing operation, we would have a true political crisis on our hands; because it is precisely the Iraqi Shia who will end up the most powerful block of the four largest that will survive this vote.
The fact that the worst betrayals of freedom are being committed, not by Iraqis betraying their fellow nationals and all the words of democracy and freedom, but rather by the Iranian mullahs who are already Number One on the list of people we want to kill someday soon, is actually a wonderful relief. It's like the episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob Petrie discovers that his expensive, new watch was stolen, not by one of his close friends, but instead by a professional burglar who had broken into the house. What a relief!
Iranian infiltration and interference is expected and can be dealt with -- not just by us, but by patriotic Iraqis, including Shia. It may be hard; the Iranians may even win some rounds (two other trucks full of ballots are said to have made it past the border guards). But in the end, we're looking for foreign infiltrators, perhaps with some Iraqi traitors supplying the local connection. We're not facing a bona-fide insurgency (which we have not seen to date) that wants to break away from the nation of Iraq and form part of Greater Iran.
On the secret prison-camp story, the Washington Times continues:
Gen. al-Samarrai said the Iranian intelligence officer, Tahseer Nasr Lawandi, works directly under the Kurdish deputy minister, Gen. Hussein Kamel, and is known throughout the ministry as "The Engineer."
"The Engineer was behind the torturing and killing in the ministry and was also in charge of Jadriya prison," said Gen. al-Samarrai, who left the ministry after a dispute with superiors and is now living in Jordan....
Mr. Lawandi, who had been a colonel in the Iranian Mukhabarat intelligence service, was granted Iraqi citizenship May 12, 2004, and awarded the rank of general, Gen. al-Samarrai said by telephone from Amman, Jordan, where he moved his family after two attempts on his life....
The general said Mr. Lawandi had worked with the minister and deputy minister to form a special security service to run the detention and interrogation operation and a separate group called the Wolf Brigade to capture suspects and bring them to the secret locations -- usually under cover of darkness....
Gen. al-Samarrai, a 46-year-old career officer, was ousted from the Interior Ministry in a purge of about 600 staff in July. Many were replaced by hard-line loyalists to new Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh and his allies in the Badr Brigade, a militia affiliated with Iraq's largest Shi'ite religious party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
The general said the minister had brought 17,000 Badr organization fighters into the ranks of Interior Ministry forces after Iraq's militias were officially disarmed. Most had received military training in Iran and were infiltrated into Iraq soon after the defeat of dictator Saddam Hussein.
If this story is both true and accurate, it would appear that Interior Minister Solagh would be one of those "Iraqi traitors" I mentioned above; but we don't yet know how much of this is correct, so tread cautiously: there certainly is a great temptation to put all the onus on the foreign jihadis and none on the locals who aid them or even simply turn a blind eye.
It's still a dangerous, deadly situation; but it's aways better to face off against foreigners trying to grab power than a significant portion of one's own population turning traitor. Let's hope the Iraqis and our own forces crack down hard on Iran (and also upon the Iraqis who accept such "allies"), not only by stopping future adventurism but also by punishing Iran for these two schemes. Something permanent, embarassing, and debilitating, perhaps involving Hezbollah, the enforcement arm of the mad mullahs of Iran.
Let them eat sand. But make sure the Iraqis know their real enemies are across their borders -- not across the parliamentary aisle.
The House appears to be in good order and will pass the reauthorization of the Patriot Act today (Wednesday, December 14th). Actually, most of it is permanent anyway; but there are some "controversial" sections that were only passed as temporary stopgap measures back in 2001, set to expire in four years.
Which, by a curious coincidence, would mean December 31st this year.
All eyes turn now to the Senate, where the biggest problems lurk. Those problems are named John Sununu (R-NH), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and possibly Arlen Specter (R-PA) -- though it looks as though Arlen is satisfied with the deal cut in the conference committee to reauthorize the most controversial provisions for an additional four years... basically, to kick the can down the road a bit more, leaving it up to the 111th Congress in 2009 to figure out what to do about it.
If those first five are the only Republicans shaky on the Patriot Act, we're fine; even without a single Democrat (and I still hold out hope for a couple), we would pass the reauthorization by at worse 51-50 (Vice President Cheney casting the tie-breaker; and he'd better be at a disclosed location -- to wit, the Senate floor -- when that vote is taken!) But what worries me is this:
About a dozen Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are complaining that the Patriot Act gives government too much power to investigate people's private transactions, including bank, library, medical and computer records. They also say it doesn't place enough limits on the FBI's use of National Security Letters, which compel thirds parties to produce those documents during terrorism investigations.
How does that "about a dozen" break down? Naturally, this being the Associated Press, they don't tell us: too much depth, Professor!
If it's five Republicans and seven Democrats, well and good. But what if it's the other way around? If six Republicans defect, then we could lose some of the most important elements of the act, including the ability to authorize "roving wiretaps" (where the cops get a warrant to tap any phone that a suspected bad guy uses, even one borrowed from someone else, rather than just a particular phone number); and the ability to subpoena, from private businesses, records of the actions by the target -- and to prohibit the business from tipping off the target of the probe. Thus, company invoices for materials purchased by the target of the probe could be subpoenaed from the company, or travel records, or even theoretically a list of books on bomb-making purchased from Amazon or checked out of the library (this is the one that causes "civil libertarians" to literally float six and a half feet in the air and twirl around faster and faster until they explode).
I used scare-quotes around the word "controversial" in the first paragraph of this post because the controversy is entirely manufactured by opponents of fighting the war against Islamic jihadi terrorists. Curiously, these same people point their fingers and accuse the CIA and FBI of not "connecting the dots" before 9/11 -- while simultaneously doing everything they can to prevent us from connecting any future dots we may stumble across. There is actually nothing controversial about these provisions... because they have been sitting in the federal code for years now, or in some cases decades, to be applied to cases of foreign espionage, drug running, and racketeering. All that the Patriot Act does is add terrorism to that list of crimes for which such measures are allowed.
Nevertheless, nearly all the Democrats and a few wilting-violet Republicans are adamant that allowing us to use the same tactics against Osama bin Laden that we already used against John Gotti would spell the end of liberty in America. They don't quite explain the point; like Mary Poppins, they never explain anything!
Alas, they have votes, even if they are potato-heads; and they must be appeased. One awful possibility -- which I hope the Senate GOP caucus votes against in lockstep -- would be to authorize only a three-month extension, allowing an additional ninety days to play Let's Make a Deal ("I'll vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, but only if you promise to drop ANWR from the Energy Bill conference report... and restore that Bridge to Nowhere, too!")
Senate Democrats joined by some libertarian-leaning Republicans want to extend the expiring provisions of the law by three months to give Congress time to add more protections against what they say are excessive police powers.
"There's no reason to compromise right to due process, the right to a judicial review, fair and reasonable standards of evidence in the pursuit of our security," said Sen. John E. Sununu, R-N.H., one of several senators urging Congress to move the expiration date to March 31. [Sununu went on to fail to explain how allowing roving wiretaps would compromise due process, judicial review, or standards of evidence; does he think a roving wiretap means the suspect doesn't get to hire a lawyer? -- the Mgt.]
That would be a nightmare, especially as there would be no guarantee that, on March 32nd, they wouldn't just do the same thing: refuse to vote for anything but yet another three-monther, another episode of Monty Hall. April Fool!
For this reason, it would actually be worse for the country to reauthorize for a token period than it would simply to call Harry Reid's (D-NV) bluff and allow the Act to expire. Then go to the mattresses -- and the airwaves -- and announce that the country just became a heck of a lot less safe, and terrorists a heck of a lot more secure, until the Democrats and the RINOs come to their senses and reauthorize the Act.
Spend a couple weeks on the talk shows explaining the provisions, why they're needed (and why they don't threaten our rights), and reminding voters that the next 9/11 is already being plotted, and the only question is whether we pick the terrorists up before they strike -- or after.
It's a risky game; but this is the Great Game -- the one where, as I said before, you can't quit. To paraphrase Bette Davis, Fasten your seatbelt, it's gonna be a bumpy fortnight!
Date ►►► December 13, 2005
Donner und Blogzen
Not being in the habit of perusing Forbes Magazine, I missed Daniel Lyons' hit piece on blogs and blogging when it first appeared a month ago. I read it today while waiting in the doctor's office... which was appropriate, as reading it gave me an enormous pain in the tuchas.
(Oddly enough, you can either pay $2.00 in order to buy it from Forbes, or else you can get it for free -- from Forbes. Go figure.)
Much of this tedious and lengthy cri de coeur focuses on the use or misuse of blogs to call attention to product defects, real or imagined. Lyons releases so much angst into the troposphere, it's a wonder Mohamed ElBaradei doesn't come poking around with a Geiger Counter.
I'm truly uninterested in whether Gregory Halpern and his Circle Group Holdings were given the full Inspector-Javert treatment by "Nick Tracy," a.k.a. Timothy Miles; I'm not about to latch hold of that tar baby. And frankly, considering how much money I lost on the collapse of Red Hat, my interest in Linux -- Lyons' other major bugaboo -- is somewhere south of my interest in Madagascarene entomology. So I toss out some 93% of the Forbes piece.
But what is left -- Lyons' scribblings about blogs in general (and political blogs in particular) -- is so outlandish that I simply have to perform an intervention, if only to help Mr. Lyons find himself.
The first step is to recognize that he has a problem with blogs. They infuriate him. The very pages shake with rage. Start by considering some of his language:
Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective....
[Blogs] are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns....
"Bloggers are more of a threat than people realize, and they are only going to get more toxic. This is the new reality," says Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek....
[They contain little but] Vitriolic "content" [puzzling use of scare quotes there, Mr. L.; what do you think is contained within blogs if not content? -- the Mgt.]
You get the flavor. Lyons clearly wishes Congress or somebody would simply outlaw blogging... an interesting merging of visceral hatred and financial interest, as he is an editor of sorts at a mainstream magazine that could easily be hurt by too much blogging going on.
But for an editor with (one presumes) at least as much access to recent news as a well-read high-school student, Lyons shows a remarkable aptitude for completely missing some very public mea culpas from the MSM recently. Here, for example, is his take on the Eason Jordan mess:
In [a previous] case the bloggers slinked away. In the case of a CNN executive they didn't stop until they had claimed a casualty. Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN, noted at an off-the-record conference in January that journalists had been killed by U.S. troops. He used a touchy word:"targeted." A blogger present, Rony Abovitz, ignored the off-the-record ground rule and posted an account. Other bloggers soon piled on. One created a site solely devoted to the topic, easongate.com.
Jordan instantly and repeatedly denied the assertions, but the blog hordes kept wailing away. Jordan resigned in February, engulfed by a concocted controversy. Blogger Michelle Malkin crowed online, praising nine other bloggers and "legions of smaller" ones in the hunt. She wrote that the mainstream media "calls it a lynch mob. I call it a truth squad" and included a warning:"Cue the Carpenters music: ‘We've OnlyJust Begun.'"
It's hard to believe that an average American over the age of thirty with some acquaintance with literacy could be unaware that:
- The conference was not "off the record," despite subsequent self-serving claims to that effect; many other speeches from Davos were reported upon and described in some detail... and in fact that very panel was actually videotaped. One suspects that it was "off the record" only until the World Economic Forum could rush the videotapes into commercial distribution. (What Lyons actually means is that there is a rule codified in the bylaws of the Amalgamated Union of Pronouncers, Pundits, and Poseurs to sit upon any statements a fellow member utters that would, if revealed, tend to hold him up to deserved ridicule.)
- Among the witnesses were Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who were both utterly appalled by the freaky claim.
- Eason Jordan had made the same bizarre claim at other events -- all in foreign lands (he was simply obeying that famous exhortation, "politics begins at the water's edge").
- Even Jordan himself was forced to admit he had no evidence that any journalists were deliberately "targeted" by American soldiers; he "backpedaled" from that remark -- yet he had made exactly the same charge earlier, and his successor heading CNN International, Chris Cramer, had made virtually the same charges as well -- also unsubstantiated; the problem at CNN is institutional.
- In fact, that was why Jordan was forced to resign: not because a few bloggers or even the Divine Mrs. M. fell upon him with torches and pitchforks, but because he vilely slandered our soldiers to curry favor with the anti-American foreign press, because he led a solidly anti-American International division at CNN that routinely slanted the news against the United States (remember Eason Jordan's admission that had pimped for Saddam Hussein before the ouster?) -- and because he got caught at it.
Well! Quite a panoply of error in just two paragraphs. Mr. Lyons must have been working nights!
I especially adore the idea that public pronouncements by a public figure at a public conference (the World Economic Forum) in the very public city of Davos, Switzerland, should have been considered "off the record." What happens in Davos stays in Davos, I suppose. But if a person wants his comments to be off the record, he has the obligation not to use them to push a controversial political opinion or agenda.
Misusing the embargo like that negates it, and the speaker forfeits any moral right not to be quoted. Else, every time Howard Dean gave a fundraising speech, he could insist that the event be "off the record" and prevent anyone from reporting on whatever psychotic charge he made during the course of it.
As to Lyons' claim that "Jordan instantly and repeatedly denied the assertions," how about some eyewitness testimony?
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who attended the World Economic Forum panel at which Jordan spoke, recalled yesterday that Jordan said he knew of 12 journalists who were killed by coalition forces in Iraq. At first, said Frank, "it sounded like he was saying it was official military policy to take out journalists." But Jordan later "modified" his remarks to say some U.S. soldiers did this "maybe knowing they were killing journalists, out of anger. . . . [sic] He did say he was talking about cases of deliberate killing," Frank said....
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who was in the audience, "was outraged by the comments," said his spokesman, Marvin Fast. "Senator Dodd is tremendously proud of the sacrifice and service of our American military personnel."
It seems that Mr. Lyons has the same relation to truth that Superman has to kryptonite.
But the Forbes hysteria finally reaches Plan 9 From Outer Space levels when Lyons turns his giddy gaze upon what we all know and love as "Rathergate." The single paragraph (Dan Rather is only half as important as Eason Jordan?) performs a literary medical miracle, transplanting a lump of incompatible foreign "context" into the middle of a j'accuse originally directed at leftist bloggers -- making it appear as though the patient were castigating himself for some despicable slander... and the "patient" in this case is John Hinderaker of Power Line!
Even some bloggers see the harm they can pose. "Some people in the blogosphere are too smug about free speech. They'll say it's okay if people get slandered or if people make up fake stuff because in the end the truth wins out," says John Hinderaker, a lawyer in Minneapolis, Minn. who helps run a right-wing blog, Power Line, which hounded CNN's Jordan and CBS anchor Dan Rather. "But I don't think that excuses it."
Anyone reading this graf would immediately conclude that Hinderaker was expressing remorse for his relentless hounding of those two luminaries -- perhaps even begging clemency from Gov. Pawlenty in an effort to avoid the needle reserved for all bloggers with a larger readership than has Daniel Lyons. The "slandered" and "make up false stuff" terms, fired at those who were trying to "out" a Bush cabinet member who was openly gay and claim he was a gay prostitute, is here conscripted into unwilling service as some perverse act of self-loathing, whereby Hinderaker is made to say that Power Line's articles on the Bill Burkett documents that brought down Dan Rather were lies and falsehoods. The Biblically named Daniel Lyons bears false witness in the most blatant imaginable way.
Does he actually believe that we've all forgotten that the Rathergate documents were proven rank and foolish forgeries, which even CBS no longer disputes, even though it doesn't admit? Yet it appears as if all of the snakes and ladders of Rathergate bypassed the Lyons den entirely. One pictures him poring over Mary Mapes' new tome saying "yeah, baby!" and "right on!" every few lines (until irate passengers chuck him off the Greyhound).
Every few years, a self-styled expert in darn near everything, a shootist armed with Microsoft Word instead of bullets, imagines he will really make a critical name for himself by bumping off some literary genre with his stylistic six-guns. About twenty-five years ago, it was the Atlantic Monthly bashing what they thought of as "sci fi" with all the frustrated intensity (and literary street cred) of a toddler with poor eye-hand coordination toppling over his own imperfectly balanced letter-block castle. A few decades before that, pseudointellectuals were denouncing adventure writers such as Rafael Sabatini and Samuel Shellabarger as degraders of literature. So it goes.
And last month came Daniel Lyons' turn to play the oafish toddler in a cowboy suit, a pair of popgun gats in hand. I don't know what compels people to expostulate upon subjects that elude them -- and not even to pick the brains of someone who has some. But Lyons isn't the first, and God knows he won't be the last of the noisy ride of ghost-writers on the sly (riding snide-saddle, of course). He isn't even a memorable water-carrier, like "Smiley" Burnette or "Gabby" Hayes.
The blogosphere will survive him, I suspect. But will Lyons survive the blogosphere?
Final Tookie Lookie
After much soul searching, I have finally come to a painful realization: all human life has value (even that of "Tookie" Williams).
But sometimes that "value" is a negative number.
Adios, muchacho. Don't let the gates of fire smack you on the butt on your way inside. And abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Date ►►► December 12, 2005
While You Were Wandering Helplessly...
...waiting for Big Lizards to show you the way to set your life back on course. We are the world's moral compass, of course.
Some folks, we hear, are so peculiar that they don't actually read blogs on the weekend. Evidently, even on Monday, they don't go all the way back to Saturday's posts but simply start up again with the weekday reading.
Actually, I doubt any Big Lizards readers are such weirdoes; I only have evidence that readers of Hugh Hewitt are that sort, if you know what I mean (and I think that you do). But then, readers of that blog are also well known to have six fingers on each hand, fur on their ears, and to chew broken bottles while baying at the moon (I read it constantly, so you can take my word for it!) So it would hardly be surprising that they also fail to complete their weekend reading.
I seem to have wandered far afield. Where's that moral compass again? Here we go:
Saturday, December 10th, 2005: three days after Pearl Harbor Day
- What Has the Times Got Against Coercion Anyway?
In which we take up the sword and shield for just enough coercive interrogation that we actually get the intel we need, and wonder at the mindsets of those who care more about the rights of foreign terrorists being held abroad than about the lives of Americans right here at home -- some of the potential victims even Democrats!
Sunday, December 11th, 2005: one day after Saturday
- All They Want For Christmas
Wherein we pass along a Christmas wish-list consisting of but a single item, from One Marine in Iraq.
- Dario, Fo of the World
We relate the bonechilling news that a whiny, universally despised, leftist Nobel laureate with poor grooming habits (am I being redundant?) has written a play about the momentous life and cacophonous cause of "Mother Sheehan."
- Tookie Delookie
On the day before Stanley "Tookie" Williams' execution, we take a look at the absurdity of the arguments and celebrity vigils against his death -- from people who likely don't even know the names of his victims: Albert Lewis Owens, a clerk at a 7-Eleven; husband and wife Yen-I Yang and Tsai-Shai Chen Yang; and their daughter, Yu-Chin Yang Lin. (This post was subsequently bumped to Monday, December 12th, 2005; but it was originally a weekend post you might not have seen, if you're one of those "Hewitt" readers.)
- Tookie In a Coal Mine
A simple prediction: if Governor Schwarzenegger denies clemency (as he eventually did), then he will run for reelection as a Republican; but if he had granted clemency, he would have been signalling that he was going to leave the GOP and run for reelection as an Independent. But now we'll never know, thank goodness!
- Going Downrange
Wherein Sachi bends her palantir away from Iraq and towards the other major battle in the war against jihadi terrorism: Afghanistan. How, she asks, is that deployment going?
And that's all, folks!
The French: You Gotta Love 'Em
Dr. Phat Tony's has a hilarious collection of French-bashing quotes. Here are some of my favorites:
- "Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion." -- Norman Schwartzkopf
- "As far as I'm concerned, war always means failure." -- Jacques Chirac, President of France
"As far as France is concerned, you're right." -- Rush Limbaugh
- "I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me." -- General George S. Patton
I wonder why we find French-bashing so darned funny? Is it because they're always so smug and preachy?
Or are we just jealous because we're not as "sophisticated" as they? (Our riots are nothing compared to theirs, and nobody can work up a good theme-park blockade like the French!)
Perhaps we're still angry about the whole idea of fish-eggs sitting on top of smelly cheese on top of squares of stale bread.
In any case, none of these jokes would work with the British or the Italians. So there.
When Mob Violence May Actually Be a Good Thing
Violent attacks -- reprisals, now -- back and forth between the Arab-Moslem population of Cronulla, Australia (a southern suburb of Sydney) and the white Australian population are both disturbing and interesting. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
Mobs of men have damaged a number of vehicles in an outbreak of fresh violence in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla tonight.
A reporter from radio station 2GB said "chaos" had broken out in the beach shopping centre with vehicles damaged and police making arrests as mobs of men roam the streets.
They're disturbing in that both the Arab-Australians/Arab immigrants and the white Australians are increasingly using race as a proxy for deciding whether a person is good or bad. Racism is the ugliest and lowest form of tribalism, in my opinion; and it's depressing to see it bubble forth whenever danger threatens. (It happens here too, when concerns about illegal immigration cross the line into generic immigrant bashing.)
But there is also an element of hope here... because mobs of patriots standing up to Moslem rioters is precisely the element that was missing from the recent riots in France, where nobody, it appeared, was willing to stand up for his country and culture.
After Australians were legally disarmed by repressive anti-gun legislation in 1996, following a highly publicized mass gun murder, violent crime in Australia increased markedly: from 1995 to 2001, assaults rose by 39% per 100,000, rape by 19%, and robbery by 70%... while all three categories of crime decreased during the same period in the United States, as many more states made it easier for civilians to get concealed-carry permits. The murder rate in Australia did decrease, but only by 11%; it plummeted 32%, three times as much, in the U.S. (Australian numbers from "the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as compiled and reported by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC)," then posted by the website linked above; American stats can be obtained online from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the Department of Justice).
But even so, and even in despite of the racially tinged nature of the Australian mobs, there is still a refreshing brashness to the Aussies who will not "respond" to Moslem violence by sitting quietly in the dark and waiting for instructions from the hapless government. Of course, the Australian government is not "hapless," as the Chirac government in France was: it took Paris more than a ten days before they decided to "crack down;" and even then, the riots only receded when the rioters got tired and bored. The violence in France eventually ebbed down to the normal rate -- of 900 cars torched every night.
I trust John Howard a lot more than Jacques Chirac, or even Nicolas Sarkozy, French minister of the Interior (that is, the top cop in France -- and probably the next president). After the Sydney police warned about rampaging racism -- they seemed to apply the term only to the white rioters, not the Arab rioters -- Howard responded in a measured way, noting the danger of both racism and also hysterical charges of mass racism; the Sydney Morning Herald quotes the prime minister:
"Mob violence is always sickening,'' Mr Howard told reporters.
"Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics,'' he said.
"I believe yesterday's behaviour was completely unacceptable but I'm not going to put a general tag [of] racism on the Australian community.
"I think it's a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I'm simply not going to do so.''
Howard continued by warning that the police were not going to stand idle while lives were threatened and property damaged:
Mr Howard said he fully supported the actions of police at Cronulla and said that anybody who broke the law yesterday or on the previous weekend, when two lifesavers and a camera crew were assaulted, should be apprehended and prosecuted.
Mr Howard warned anyone considering further violent behaviour they would face the full force of the law.
Yet it remains to be seen whether he means it (and has the political power to carry through), or whether this is just tough talk. The French government talked very tough throughout the riots while doing virtually nothing for days. In the meanwhile, both sides have now tasted the wrong end of violence, and each knows that it can be burned as well. I expect this in itself will dampen enthusiasm for the fight.
Mob violence is always ugly, but we should think a second time before opining that it is always wrong; the Birmingham bombing was an act of mob violence -- but so was the Boston Tea Party. Like nearly everything else in life, nuance is important: the former was a horrific act of terrorism intended to frighten blacks into accepting American apartheid, while the latter was a legitimate act of protest against unrepresentative government.
In the Australian case, the mob might cut either way; but I have faith that the innate decency of Australian culture will steer sentiment towards defending Australian and Western values and away from the knuckle-dragging racial hatred we've seen in, e.g., Zimbabwe.
Of all the countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, I've always thought of Oz as the closest to America in spirit, even as it's the farthest in geographical distance.
Tookie Delookie - UPDATE and Bump
UPDATE 12/12/05 13:01: Clemency Denied:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to spare the life of Stanley Tookie Williams, the founder of the murderous Crips gang who awaited execution early Tuesday in a case that stirred debate over capital punishment and the possibility of redemption on death row. Williams, 51, is set to die by injection at San Quentin State Prison after midnight for murdering four people in two 1979 holdups.
...But I'll believe it when I believe it.
UPDATE 21:30: State Supreme Court denies stay of execution.
Is it just me?
According to the Associated Press,
A lawyer for convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams asked the state Supreme Court to stay his execution, saying the Crips gang co-founder should have been allowed to argue that someone else killed one of his four alleged victims. [Emphasis added]
The "one" victim AP refers to is Albert Lewis Owens, a clerk at a 7-Eleven that Tookie decided had too much money. Owens is not named in the AP story. Neither are Tookie Williams' other three murder victims: husband and wife Yen-I Yang and Tsai-Shai Chen Yang and their daughter, Yu-Chin Yang Lin. But this is hardly surprising... to quote an e-mail from my friend Lee Porter, who first called this to my attention:
The victims were not abstractions, they were people with their own lives and loved ones, and the murderer took what he was not entitled to take. Many writers and chatterers don't know, don't care, or don't bother to acknowledge the identity of the victim. I think this is a pathology in and of itself.
I agree, and I'll strive always to list the names of the victims whenever I write about heinous murders in the future (as I did in the previous "Tookie" Williams post, This Might Kill Capital Punishment): the murderers took their lives and future... it's up to the rest of us to protect their past, their memory, and most of all, their names.
Let me see if I understand "Tookie's" attorney's last-ditch point: she argues that one of the witnesses against Tookie Williams -- whose name, Alfred Coward, AP has no difficulty remembering -- was not a good guy himself:
Wefald's petition argues that prosecutors failed to disclose at trial that witness Alfred Coward was not a U.S. citizen and had a violent criminal history, depriving Williams of the opportunity to argue Coward was the killer in the February 1979 robbery.
Okay... but what about the murder of the Yang family eleven days later? What is Ms. Wefald actually arguing -- that the jury sentenced "Tookie" to death because Albert Owens was white... but that they wouldn't have sentenced him to death if he had only killed three Chinese? What a vile, racist argument that is.
And it's doubly absurd, because what AP fails to report is that Alfred Coward was a friend of "Tookie" Williams. He wasn't some unknown eyewitness whom "Tookie" had never seen and knew nothing about; he was "Tookie's" partner in the 7-Eleven robbery-murder. Does Wefald really expect us to believe that "Tookie" had no idea that Coward had a "violent criminal history" when he took him along to commit a robbery, which turned into a hate-crime murder? ("Tookie" later told his other partner, Tony Sims, that he killed Owens "because he was white and he ["Tookie"] was killing all white people.") "Tookie" Williams was well aware of Coward's violent past and had ample opportunity at trial to bring that out during cross examination.
Or does she make a different racist argument -- that the fact that really casts doubt on Coward's testimony against "Tookie," and makes Coward the more likely suspect in the killing, is that Coward wasn't an American citizen?
The "Tookie" worship engaged in by leftists, activists, and the Hollywood elite is simply despicable; and the more you read about his brutal murders -- here and here, for example, descriptions based upon actual testimony at trial and at parole hearings -- the more despicable it becomes.
Whether it's malign, homicidal thugs like Mumua or "Tookie" or raging surrender-monkeys like Sheehan, Murtha, and Kerry, the left-liberal movement has become known by the heroes it exalts. Let them boil in their own bile.
Oh, by the way; the total amount of money that the murders of four human beings netted Stanley "Tookie" Williams? $220.
Liberal Heck: the Rest of the Stories
In our post from a week and a half ago, Buy an Ad, Go to Liberal Heck, we exploded the conventional "wisdom" anent the Los Angeles Times's infamous story claiming that dastardly PsyOps officers were tricking gullible Iraqi newspaper editors into publishing skewed, flawed stories, not realizing they were actually passing along propaganda from the U.S. government.
What was in fact happening, the Times's own evidence indicated, was that the Lincoln Group did hire stringers to place the American-written stories in Iraqi media sources, and they did pay the news media for running the stories -- which cash-strapped Iraqi newspapers and radio stations routinely demand from everyone who wants to run a point-of-view story. But there is no evidence that the Lincoln Group deliberately sought to conceal from the editors the American origin of the stories, as the L.A. Times had explicitly claimed.
Rather, it appeared that the Iraqi stringers had quickly discovered that saying "this is from the American government" merely jacked the price way up... so the most likely explanation is that they figured out how to scam a few bucks by failing to tell the editors the stories were from Americans, getting the cheap rate, but then telling the Lincoln Group that they had to pay the high price -- and pocketing the difference. Entrepreneurship... Iraqi style!
Yesterday (Sunday), the New York Times -- far more reputable than the Los Angeles namesake (but then, so is the Fortean Times) -- has a lengthy and fascinating article on the wider story: our entire strategy of countering terrorist lies with American truth by publishing or broadcasting stories, public service announcements, and even fictional dramas and comedies, all designed to undo some of the momentous damage that decades of anti-American propaganda have done to Moslem attitudes towards America and the West. The facts of the article are actually presented fairly, by and large... assuming you ignore the snarky tone and cluck-clucking that permeates the piece.
Let me show you what I mean:
The entire Times article is worth reading; but as Holmes would say, there are a few points of particular interest.
Definitions and Determinations
The [media center in Fayetteville, N.C.] is not part of a news organization, but a military operation, and those writers and producers are soldiers. The 1,200-strong psychological operations unit based at Fort Bragg turns out what its officers call "truthful messages" to support the United States government's objectives, though its commander acknowledges that those stories are one-sided and their American sponsorship is hidden.
This is the root of all the trouble. The MSM, as part of the Left (institutionally, not each individual), long ago absorbed the bromide of the Left... that to control the terms is to control the debate; to control the debate is to control the world. Hence, they have decreed that a "news organization" can only be one sanctioned by, and following the rules of, the American mainstream journalistic community, at the apex of which squats the Columbia School of Journalism on the academic side and the New York Times on the practical. It's hardly a wonder that the Times itself moves swiftly to disabuse us of the notion that raw information coming from soldiers -- or from bloggers -- can be "news," when it has not been edited through the proper filters.
"Too much information" is not just what you tell Aunt Agatha when she launches into a detailed description of her hysterectomy. It's also the cry of the storyteller, for too much information obscures the clear plotline he's already designed. It's what Mary Mapes and Dan Rather said when various experts suggested that Bill Burkett's documents appeared to be forgeries. Likewise, what louts like Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean say when folks tried to tell him that there was a gushing firehose of contradictory intelligence information about Iraq and WMD, and that any conclusion was as logical as any other... but the one Bush chose was considerably less dangerous.
(But all information is storytelling, and "TMI" can refer to good guys as well as bad. See below.)
Both News and Politics seek ambiguity, but only on their own terms: they want to control all the choices to make sure none points to a possible alternative than their own explanations.
So information must be culled, rationed; and the most effective method is to secure the sources. Thus, information is only news if the Times says it is, the true meaning of their otherwise inexplicable motto, "all the news that's fit to print." Best translation: all the news that fits -- fits the Big Story, that is.
Cosmic Background Journalism
The [Lincoln Group]'s work was part of an effort to counter disinformation in the Iraqi press. With nearly $100 million in United States aid, the Iraqi media has sharply expanded since the fall of Mr. Hussein. There are about 200 Iraqi-owned newspapers and 15 to 17 Iraqi-owned television stations. Many, though, are affiliated with political parties, and are fiercely partisan, with fixed pro- or anti-American stances, and some publish rumors, half-truths and outright lies.
From quarters at Camp Victory, the American base, the Lincoln Group works to get out the military's message.
Are We There Yet?
But the work of the contractor, the Lincoln Group, was not a rogue operation. Hoping to counter anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, the Bush administration has been conducting an information war that is extensive, costly and often hidden, according to documents and interviews with contractors, government officials and military personnel.
Now this is new information! The Times has let slip that they do not actually control all the news; they haven't previously reported that Bush did, in fact, absorb the most urgent lesson from the eyes-wide-shut 90s: there is no escaping the Great Game. What Sir Arthur Eddington (perhaps) wrote regarding the Three Laws of Thermodynamics applies equally well to the War of the Words, as Donald Rumsfeld called it in July in the Wall Street Journal (well worth reading as a companion piece to this Times article):
- You can't win.
- You can't break even.
- You can't even quit the game.
Information and energy are different avatars of the same phenomenon (as are noise and entropy), so it's not surprising that rules developed for energy work reasonably well to describe information flow, too:
- No country can "hold monopolies on news and commentary," as the secretary puts it;
- Nor can you even stop false or misleadingly oversimplified information from getting out, because "due to the ubiquitous sources of information and access, most things -- controversial or not -- become known eventually;" and
- You cannot even "quit the game" by refusing to generate your own information supporting your side of a controversy, as we tried to do during the Clinton (and Carter) years... because refusing to overtly defend your own case amounts to covertly attacking it, because the rest of the world takes silence as an embarassing admission against interest.
So it's good that Bush has thrown off the lethargy of 1989 through 2001 and at least leapt into the Great Game, the War of the Words, with both feet. Back to the Times writeup.
Nuts and Bolts
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus of most of the activities, the military operates radio stations and newspapers, but does not disclose their American ties. Those outlets produce news material that is at times attributed to the "International Information Center," an untraceable organization....
Like the Lincoln Group, Army psychological operations units sometimes pay to deliver their message, offering television stations money to run unattributed segments or contracting with writers of newspaper opinion pieces, military officials said.
"We don't want somebody to look at the product and see the U.S. government and tune out," said Col. James Treadwell, who ran psychological operations support at the Special Operations Command in Tampa.
The original charge by the Los Angeles Times was that the PsyOps corps was concealing the American origin of the articles from the newspaper editors and radio producers themselves; now, the controlling moral authority of the MSM, the New York Times, backs away to a position better justified by the evidence: that the origin of the stories are sometimes concealed from the readers, but there's no hint the editors are not aware of the source, by and large.
But being provable means the new charge is also less interesting or useful. The value of information stands in inverse proportion to its predictability. If I tell you that I let go a ball and it fell down, I have conveyed virtually no information (not actually zero; you know I'm not in orbit, for example). That's because gravity is highly predictable, so the information that it was obeyed is essentially valueless. But if I tell you that I let go a ball and it hovered in mid-air -- a highly improbable, even dubious statement -- then I've conveyed much more interesting information... either I am in orbit, or I have some means of levitating the wall, or else I'm a liar of cosmic proportions. Any of these data is valuable!
So we now know that we paid editors to run our point of view; but since this is neither dubious nor unpredictable (we are, after all, dealing with the Middle East), its value as information has likely dropped below the attention threshold of the typical American voter.
Some Information Is More Equal Than Other
In finding that video news releases by the Bush administration that appeared on American television were improper, the G.A.O. said that such articles "are no longer purely factual" because "the essential fact of attribution is missing."
But remember what we identified earlier as the battlecry of those who would control information: too much information! There is a "sweet spot" of information control we must find: too much control, and you have an information cocoon -- that swiftly becomes an information bubble, quickly popped as people seek to find out what's outside the wall you've erected. But too little control, and you have nothing but cacophany. Think of a symphony: you want creativity and originality but constrained by some regulating elements -- rules of melody, harmony, dynamic range, and dramatic progression.
Betimes, attribution is not only not an "essential fact," it actually hinders information transfer by shifting focus from the content to the actor. Consider the name "Publius" in this context.
While some [articles placed in Iraqi and Afghan media] were plodding accounts filled with military jargon and bureaucratese, others favored the language of tabloids: "blood-thirsty apostates," "crawled on their bellies like dogs in the mud," "dim-witted fanatics," and "terror kingpin."
A former Lincoln employee said the ploy of making the articles appear to be written by Iraqis by removing any American fingerprints was not very effective. "Many Iraqis know it's from Americans," he said.
~ No Comment ~
The military has sought to expand its media influence efforts beyond Iraq to neighboring states, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan, Pentagon documents say.
Excellent... so we really are serious. Great news!
This Book Is a Mirror: When a Monkey Looks In, No Acolyte Looks Out
My friend Rich Galen, in his long-running cybercolumn Mullings, sums up the situation perfectly, as usual; I make this quotation my closing remarks:
The main point of the NY Times article appears to be that anything which is uttered, written, published, or televised should have a disclaimer, "Paid for by the United States of America."
Information has become as important a weapon as anything in the Army, Navy, Marine or Air Force's arsenals.
The enemy has become expert in deploying the information weapon. The notion that our troops should be handcuffed in its use is - and should be - an outrage.
Many major news outlets, including the Times, have been embarrassed in the past several years by the misdeeds of their own reporters, producers and/or editors.
The major media should take care that they don't attempt to cast out their own demons by demanding that brave warriors working in harsh and dangerous environments, adhere to standards they, themselves, have not been able to maintain. [Emphasis added]
Indeed. Call it Eason's Last Fable: Light-Fingered Louie, his pockets stuffed with stolen jewelry, angrily accuses the new manager of pocketing a couple of Havana cigars.
Louie would be better served not drawning so much attention upon himself.
Date ►►► December 11, 2005
SEALs of my generation seldom used the term "Vietnam" and never "Nam." We said we were "In Country." Laos and Cambodia were "Up Country." Everything above the DMZ was "the North." The SEALs in Afghanistan and Iraq, the guns in this current fight, simply say they are going downrange--or back downrange.
I've been forcusing on the Iraq situation and neglecting our efforts in Afghanistan. Although the situation there is stable, comparatively speaking of course, the war against Jihadi terrorism is still being fought in that South Asian country.
A MilBlogger from Afghanistan, Going Down Range, reports an interesting perspective on the Afghan mindset in a recent post:
I have been working with the Afghans and I have come to the conclusions that most have a complete different set of values. If something does not happen or goes to s**t, it is not somebody’s fault or responsibility. It is “ishmal Allah” or God wills it. It is frustrating and I feel sorry for the interpreters who are stuck in the middle between a US soldier and the Afghan National Army, Police or Border Police. [One explicitive deleted. -- the Mgt.]
I think we often misunderstand what it means to be "religious" in the Islamic world. They may be fanatics, but that does not mean they actually cherish their own religion. They might claim that everything they do is in the name of Allah, but that does not mean thery really believe what they say. Our enemies know how we react to religious sensibility -- so they manipulate our perpetually guilty consciences.
How many times have Americans been accused of violating Islamic sensibilities by attacking Moslem terrorists on one of their hundreds of holy days, or planting our infidel boots in the 617th holiest city in the entire Anbar province? What about the hullabaloo over a single Koran that might have been touched by ungloved infidel hand, or over American soldiers burning the bodies of dead Taliban -- once they became a health hazard? Every time we manage to offend some Moslems somewhere by neglecting to notice one of the thousands of obscure Islamic laws, rituals, traditions, or dietary peculiarities, somehow we are at fault and must apologize.
And yet, Moslem terrorists do this kind of thing all the time... not only to us infidels but to fellow Moslems! The same people who get up in arms about the possibility that one Koran might have been mistreated by an American's hand will tomorrow turn around and attack a Mosque during Ramadan, not only killing a bunch of peolpe but destroying hundreds of Korans in the process.
We actually have no evidence that ordinary Moslems are particularly upset about us killing terrorists and burning their bodies:
Some of the Afghans I talked to said that the Taliban deserved what they got. One mentioned that car bombs are bad and why is the Taliban getting upset? What does a suicide bomber looks like after he perpetrates his evil deed? They blasphemed Islam and put Afghanistan through hell, so it is pay back.
This is an interesting point: when a suicide/homicide bomber detonates his bomb belt, his body (as well as those of his innocent victims) is burnt and destroyed -- thus unfit to be buried.
So, next time some activist or journalist starts flapping his wings about us burning terrorists' bodies for hygienic reasons, or "desecrating" a Koran by picking it up with our bare hands, we would do well to remind them of the four Americans whose bodies were burnt and hung from a bridge in Fallujah -- and quit worrying about the terrorists' feelings.
Tookie In a Coal Mine
Simply put, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision on clemency for Stanley "Tookie" Williams will be a harbinger of next year's campaign.
We already know that the Governator is running for reelection... but we don't know as what. So here is my prediction:
- If Arnold denies clemency, he will run for reelection as a Republican;
- If he grants clemency, then he will leave the Republican Party and run for reelection as an Independent.
I sure hope for the former; but if the latter happens, we'll all have the enormous satisfaction of saying "I told you so!" to Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee-blog California Insider, who has argued for several days now that Arnold's appointment of liberal Democrat Susan Kennedy shows that Schwarzenegger is bringing Democrats over to his cause -- not that Ms. Kennedy has been moving Arnold Schwarzenegger over to hers, as most conservatives believe.
I suppose it won't be too long before we find out who's right.
Dario, Fo of the World
Dario Fo, an überleftist playwright, Nobel Prize winner -- say, where have I heard that combination before? -- and candidate for Mayor of Milan, has rushed into production a play about the lonely vigil of Cindy Sheehan (and presumably her rather massive and worshipful entourage, though I'm not sure whether any of them has a speaking part):
"Peace Mom" received its world premiere in London on Saturday night, starring British actress Frances de la Tour, with both Sheehan and Italian dramatist Fo in the audience.
The one-woman show is based on extracts from Sheehan's letters to Bush and other writings. De la Tour delivered the monologues beneath large pictures of Sheehan's son Casey and a tank in the Iraqi desert in front of a plume of fire....
The play was rushed into production to conclude a day-long conference of activists opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, with de la Tour reading some passages from a script.
But relax; I'm sure the play will be every bit as fair and even-handed as his other farces and satires, which have gotten him kicked out of virtually every theater group he has ever joined, banned (off and on) in most countries, and have drawn death threats from the Italian Left, the Fascisti, condemnation by the Church, and a tear-gas grenade hurled during a performance of one of his plays. (Another play exalted the PLO... and actual members performed in its cast).
"Frances did such an amazing job of conveying my feelings of anger and betrayal," a tearful Sheehan said after the play.
She said she hoped the play would help "put a human face" on the war.
There is a peculiar belief among leftists that if a person manages to enrage people on all sides of the political spectrum, that must mean he is telling the truth (perhaps even speaking it to power). This is, of course, utter nonsense: it is entirely possible to offend everybody merely by being a big enough fugghead. (I just blurted the name "Bill Burkett" out loud, Tourette's-like, for some inexplicable reason.)
Fo, the leftist playwright who won the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature, said his wife and artistic partner Franca Rame would star in a longer final version of the play in Italy.
I can barely contain my anticipation. I am giddy with excitement.
I suspect "Mother Sheehan," having evidently abandoned her family (including her surviving son), has finally found her ideological soulmate: a man who hates everyone and everything. Surely this must be minute seventeen or eighteeen for Cindy Sheehan by now... I wonder when the bill for overtime will come due?
All They Want For Christmas
This is a time of giving. So I am sure I am not alone in wondering what we can do for our troops overseas, the brave men and women spending Chrismas away from home, whether in Iraq, Afganistan, Kosovo (yes, they are still there) or any other lonely or dangerous place in the world -- even places we couldn't find on a map. Well One Marine has a great idea:
Many people leave comments (thank you very much by the way) and send emails about what they can send us, what do we need. What do we need? Really? Its more armor right…..nope. Its more troops right?..........nope. Its gotta be the stooper idea of pulling us out of here, right?..........mention that again and someone’s getting hurt, NO.
We simply need your support. Think back during past holidays. How many American flags have you seen flying? Cmon think!!!! Oh I know you see the usual holiday decorations and flags at the post office and bank but how about your work place, neighbor’s house or even your house? Im not trying to drive up my stock in American flags but the fact that they arnt that expensive and cost about as much as a lunch at McDonalds why don’t you have one flying??? Well??? ....
The American flag, a simple symbol that says “Land of the free home of the brave”. A representation of what we believe in and a simple way for YOU to show that you support us and the country. What would potential terrorist think if they went past a street with the stars and bars flying on everyone’s porch? [Yeah, yeah, he meant "Stars and Stripes;" he doesn't mean the Confederate flag! -- the Mgt.]
Also, this poem, posted by Hilary (No, not that Hillary!), brings tears to my eyes:
"I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother,
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long."
"For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."
Our commentator and author of Small Town Veteran, Bill Faith, kindly informs me that the poem, "a Soldiers Christmas," I linked from Hilary's site was written by Michael Marks. Michael has written many other poems. Be sure to check them out.
Read the whole thing. Fly Old Glory. And let's pray for the men and women upon the wall: they're standing their posts for us.
Date ►►► December 10, 2005
What Has the Times Got Against Coercion Anyway?
Now the New York Times is on a tear because some of the information we obtained about al-Qaeda came (surprisingly enough) from terrorist prisoners who really didn't want to talk to us -- and who therefore required coercion to loosen their tongues. Even more staggering, after ratting out their friends, some of these terrorists claimed that everything we had extracted from them was a lie, and they accused us of torturing them:
Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim
by Douglas Jehl
The New York Times
December 9, 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 - The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.
What is it with the Times and prisoner claims? They seem to believe that the Bush administration cannot be trusted about the war on Islamic jihadism because we have an interest in the issue... but a prisoner who unquestionably has interests at stake is still trusted implicitly by the Times. Note how "said he had fabricated them" above transubstantiates into casual certainty just two paragraphs later:
The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used [Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi's] accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.
By "now discredited," what Mr. Jehl means is "now recanted." But the fact that a prisoner recants is not a refutation of his earlier claims... a fact that seems to elude the CIA, as they immediately withdrew the intelligence they garnered from those claims. Or did they have another reason to withdraw?
Libi was captured in Pakistan in late 2001, and he was at the time the highest ranking leader of the terror group al-Qaeda. This is not a man unfamiliar with interrogation techniques and how to resist them; but he would also know that nobody is so stupid as to believe without evidence anything said by a prisoner with an agenda to lie -- whether in distress or resting easily in a comfy chair. Libi must have known that anything he said would be thoroughly checked out before it was accepted; so the idea that he just spun wild fantasies to avoid being tortured by the Egyptians (to whom we had rendited him in January of 2002) is absurd on its face.
But this is not the first time the CIA has chosen to accept implicitly and absolutely the words of a terrorist prisoner over and above any other evidence: to this day, the primary reason the CIA refuses to buy the claim by Czech intelligence that 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammed Atta met with a top officer of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in Prague is that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh both deny, from U.S. custody, that such a meeting took place... despite the fact that they do not claim to have been out of the country during that time, nor to have personally seen Atta during that period: only that his movements do not match the timelines that Mohammed and Binalshibh gave to the CIA.
(The other main reason is that Atta's cell phone was used during the period he would have been gone. Considering that his cell phone would likely not have worked in Prague anyway, and that he had roommates, this doesn't exactly leap out as a killer alibi to me.)
The claims of al-Qaeda learning from Iraq how to build and use chemical and biological weapons were almost certainly evaluated in light of other intelligence gleaned from other sources; they may be right, they may be wrong -- but their accuracy is not determined by whether Libi later recanted.
From where I'm sitting (in my living room, actually), it appears as though Libi gave little intelligence until he was rendited to Egypt. Then, after some coercion and intelligence interrogation (of Libi and others), he spilled his guts about the Iraq/al-Qaeda connections.
More than a year later, after we invaded Iraq, when al-Qaeda declared Iraq the line in the sand with the West -- then and only then did Libi suddenly retract his claims, according to Mr. Jehl of the Times:
The fact that Mr. Libi recanted after the American invasion of Iraq and that intelligence based on his remarks was withdrawn by the C.I.A. in March 2004 has been public for more than a year. But American officials had not previously acknowledged either that Mr. Libi made the false statements in foreign custody or that Mr. Libi contended that his statements had been coerced.
(Note again the dead certainty in the Times account: the statements may well be controversial or even questionable -- but there is no evidence presented here, or even hinted at, to prove them "false.")
Last, here is a fascinating question-and-answer pair from the article... which Mr. Jehl presents in reverse order and separated by many paragraphs and a page jump, which serve -- perhaps accidentally -- to obscure the fact that the first answers the second.
The question of why the administration relied so heavily on the statements by Mr. Libi has long been a subject of contention. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, made public last month unclassified passages from the February 2002 document, which said it was probable that Mr. Libi "was intentionally misleading the debriefers."
The document showed that the Defense Intelligence Agency had identified Mr. Libi as a probable fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda involving illicit weapons.
And the answer, which appears before the question:
A government official said that some intelligence provided by Mr. Libi about Al Qaeda had been accurate, and that Mr. Libi's claims that he had been treated harshly in Egyptian custody had not been corroborated.
I have often wondered: I can't possibly be the only person able to add a pair of integers to get a third. The solution to Carl Levin's conundrum seems pretty clear to me:
Libi is a serial fabricator; of course he is. To quote from the wonderful Charles Bronson movie Breakheart Pass (screenplay by Alistair MacLean, from his novel), "if a man is a thief and murderer, it follows he may be a liar as well." All al-Qaeda leaders are fabricators.
But one doesn't fabricate from nothing. Interrogators already know some information, and they will check out other things the prisoner claims before relying upon them. If he lies, the prisoner will be punished -- probably very harshly.
So what do fabricators do? They tell part of the truth... just not the whole. They lie about some things but not all. And that is how you crack them: you separate and interrogate many people who each have some piece of the puzzle. Then you combine narratives and eliminate obvious lies. You come back to each prisoner with information he likely knows -- information he knows he did not tell you; he believes you know more than you actually do, so his lies will become smaller, and more of what he says is the truth.
Lather, rinse, repeat -- many times, over a space of months. You use coercive techniques to wear him down, not to torture him into screaming out anything he thinks you want to hear, because that is useless to you.
Almost certainly, Libi lied as best he could; equally certainly, he let slip much that was true. His "recantation" therefore is probably designed more to make us doubt what is true than help us eliminate what is false. Why would Libi feel any regret at having misled us, his enemy? Why try to set straight a narrative that is in his interest to keep ambiguous and obscure?
The CIA knows this; they're not utter fools. So they, too, have an agenda: they do not want Libi's confessions to be true, or at least not proven true, because that would help justify the invasion of Iraq... and we already know the CIA is willing to move heaven and earth, and even leak data to smear itself, in order to damage George W. Bush on his signature issue. So after their assessment has been used to justify that invasion, they seize upon the opportunity of Libi's "recantation" to withdraw their own intelligence, thus leaving Bush twisting slowly in the wind.
I may have some details off, but I think the basics are sound. And if that is the case, we have answered the question in the title of this post: the Times, like the CIA, doesn't like rendition and coercive interrogation not because they're seriously worried about the civil liberties of al-Qaeda leaders, but because such tactics can actually wring the truth out of terrorist prisoners.
And they can't handle the truth.
Date ►►► December 9, 2005
EverQuest For Capitalism
I thought at first this was a typical New York Times gag article... like their articles rewriting urban legends, their left-wing polemics dessed up as news stories, or anything about an Al Gore comeback. But after reading to the end, I realized that it's actually rather profound. But as usual, the MSM grabs the pointy end of the sword, rather than the hilt.
Ogre to Slay? Outsource It to Chinese
by David Barboza
Published: December 9, 2005
FUZHOU, China - One of China's newest factories operates here in the basement of an old warehouse. Posters of World of Warcraft and Magic Land hang above a corps of young people glued to their computer screens, pounding away at their keyboards in the latest hustle for money.
Workers have strict quotas and are supervised by bosses who equip them with computers, software and Internet connections to thrash online trolls, gnomes and ogres.
The people working at this clandestine locale are "gold farmers." Every day, in 12-hour shifts, they "play" computer games by killing onscreen monsters and winning battles, harvesting artificial gold coins and other virtual goods as rewards that, as it turns out, can be transformed into real cash.
That is because, from Seoul to San Francisco, affluent online gamers who lack the time and patience to work their way up to the higher levels of gamedom are willing to pay the young Chinese here to play the early rounds for them.
Despite the viewing-with-alarm, what the Times has stumbled upon is capitalism in its purest form: a niche whereby the young unemployed in a developing country can make a few bucks, new entrepeneurs can start businesses, and the well-off can pay for goods or services behind the back of a Communist country determined to clamp down on the industry (in between machine-gunning rioters, of course -- tip of the hat to Hugh Hewitt). And we may be witnessing the birth of a virtual monetary exchange -- in the form of computer-game "gold" or "character levels." Capitalism is out of control... it's just busting out all over.
No wonder the New York Times views with alarm!
The market-based origin of the practice is easy to grasp: there are games called "massively multiplayer online games" (MPOGs), in which hundreds of thousands or even millions of players all over the world sign up, develop characters or "avatars," and play in the same virtual universe, interacting with each other and with in-game characters in various ways. As a character survives encounters with virtual danger -- fighting trolls or evil wizards in a fantasy game, engaging in aerial combat against the Nazis in a World War II game, etc. -- and achieves certain goals, it gains in power and abilities, often quantized by moving up to higher "levels."
The problem for many is that it can take a long time to work a character up to a very high level, and many experienced gamers find the early stages of a character's development tedious; they just don't have the time to play a character up to the level where gameplay becomes interesting to them.
Enter the free market. Unemployed Chinese youths have nothing but time; if they weren't just hanging in Beijing or Shanghai, they would be slaving away on their family farms, performing backbreaking labor for basically just room and board, since Communist policies prevent those small family farms from being profitable. Having so much time on their hands, many spend their small amount of money in internet cafes playing these MPOGs; and many have gotten very good at them.
So all of a sudden, people all over the world (not just in China) began to recognize that there was a demand for high-level MPOG characters and a ready supply of talent to create such characters... the perfect spark-and-tinder combination to produce a market:
The Internet is now filled with classified advertisements from small companies - many of them here in China - auctioning for real money their powerful figures, called avatars. These ventures join individual gamers who started marketing such virtual weapons and wares a few years ago to help support their hobby.
"I'm selling an account with a level-60 Shaman," says one ad from a player code-named Silver Fire, who uses QQ, the popular Chinese instant messaging service here in China. "If you want to know more details, let's chat on QQ."
The trend of outsourcing the lower levels of MPOGs began with individual "consultants," but it's starting to grow into actual small businesses:
That has spawned the creation of hundreds - perhaps thousands - of online gaming factories here in China. By some estimates, there are well over 100,000 young people working in China as full-time gamers, toiling away in dark Internet cafes, abandoned warehouses, small offices and private homes....
Now there are factories all over China. In central Henan Province, one factory has 300 computers. At another factory in western Gansu Province, the workers log up to 18 hours a day.
The operators are mostly young men like Luo Gang, a 28-year-old college graduate who borrowed $25,000 from his father to start an Internet cafe that morphed into a gold farm on the outskirts of Chongqing in central China.
Mr. Luo has 23 workers, who each earn about $75 a month.
"If they didn't work here they'd probably be working as waiters in hot pot restaurants," he said, "or go back to help their parents farm the land - or more likely, hang out on the streets with no job at all."
The Times thinks this is terrible, of course; they fret that wealthy gamers are just oppressing the poor again...
"They're exploiting the wage difference between the U.S. and China for unskilled labor," says Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University and the author of "Synthetic Worlds," a study of the economy of online games. "The cost of someone's time is much bigger in America than in China."
But I say hallelujah -- 100,000 poor Chinese youths have jobs, when they would otherwise be hanging out on street corners and committing impulse-crimes. It's a small number in a nation of 1.3 billion people, but it's growing; and other industries are spawning in its wake: now a virtual contracting market is forming around the core market of "gold farmers":
Other start-up companies are also rushing in, acting as international brokers to match buyers and sellers in different countries, and contracting out business to Chinese gold-farming factories.
"We're like a stock exchange. You can buy and sell with us," says Alan Qiu, a founder of the Shanghai-based Ucdao.com. "We farm out the different jobs. Some people say, 'I want to get from Level 1 to 60,' so we find someone to do that."
The game companies and some old-school gamers are upset, rightly noting that the existence of so many "farmed" high-level avatars will change the game universe. But this is an inevitable result of the phenomenon of the MPOG itself: by throwing a single game open to such a vast army of players, you guarantee that gamers -- and gameplay -- will follow a statistical model. Bell-Curve city... the virtual universe will begin to respond to the same universal market forces as the real universe outside. In fact, in this case, they're inextricably intertwined: the demand for high-level characters causes the real universe to spawn mercenary players who create an artificial bump of powerful avatars.
Some companies have realized that they may as well play King Canute, ordering the waves in and out, as stand against this tide of capitalism (actually, I'm being unfair to King Canute, who knew very well he couldn't command the tides; he was demonstrating the folly of some of his flatterers); MPOG companies themselves have jumped into the fray, hoping to provide a branded alternative to the Chinese and other foreign markets:
Sony Online Entertainment, the creator of EverQuest, a popular medieval war and fantasy game, recently created Station Exchange. Sony calls the site an alternative to "crooked sellers in unsanctioned auctions."
Note that, because of Red Chinese animosity towards and overregulation of small business, most of these gamer "sweatshops" don't register with the government, don't pay taxes, and don't abide by all the various laws designed to stifle innovation. The "gold farms" are illegal... which is probably the only reason they can make a profit in a country like China. China attempts to crack down -- finding such "gold farm" factories and shutting them down as quickly as they can... which is much slower than new ones are created.
The market continues to grow and will doubtless spawn other industries. What interests me most is the possibility that the fictional "currency" of MPOGs (gold pieces, for example) may eventually work its way into actual currency exchanges. If pricing becomes very reliable, so that $10 of real money buys you a predictable amount of gold pieces in EverQuest, then it may make sense to simply trade EverQuest "money" as a real commodity. I picture commodity trading in magic swords, armor, and even high-level elves -- derivatives on dwarfs -- Hobbit hedge funds! (Actually, I don't play EverQuest or any other MPOG, so I don't know if they use the copyrighted term "Hobbit.")
"What we're seeing here is the emergence of virtual currencies and virtual economies," says Peter Ludlow, a longtime gamer and a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "People are making real money here, so these games are becoming like real economies."
But let us not be bad winners. Let's console those at the New York Times and other MSM organs who never fail to find the dark cloud behind every economic silver lining. The free market is proving damnably tough to control... even in a Communist dictatorship like Red China.
To paraphrase George R. Stewart, men may go and come, but Capitalism abides.
More December Hot Air
In an otherwise tedious and uninteresting Reuters story -- hey, we read these things so you don't have to! -- I stumbled across this perfect example of the lie by omission:
President George W. Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, arguing that mandatory cuts on emissions from fossil fuels would hamper growth and job creation. Washington prefers its own approach to stem global warming, mostly by investing heavily in technology.
Why is this a lie? Because in reality, Bush did not pull out of the Kyoto Protocol -- because we were never in it to begin with.
True, Bill Clinton signed the agreement (rather, Al Gore -- but he was signing on behalf of the president); but he never submitted it to the Senate for ratification, as required by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution before a treaty can go into effect. Why didn't he? That's an easy one:
On July 25, 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was to be negotiated, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed by a 95–0 vote the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations or "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States". On November 12, 1998, Vice President Al Gore symbolically signed the protocol. Aware of the Senate's view of the protocol, the Clinton Administration never submitted the protocol for ratification.
When George W. Bush became president, he took a look at the signed but never ratified treaty, concluded that the Senate would never ratify it, and simply formalized what was already the de facto situation: that the United States had never officially agreed to the Kyoto Protocol.
Not wanting the onus to fall upon Mr. C., however, Reuters simply omits this part of the story. The closest they come is here:
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who supported Kyoto but failed to convince U.S. lawmakers, will enter the fray on Friday with an appearance on the sidelines of the conference.
I think readers could be forgiven for failing to deduce from this comma-delimited parenthetical remark the actual sequence of events I detailed above. Oh, and here is one more lie by omission; Reuters just seems full of it today -- full of such failures to relate the whole truth, I mean:
Many here had hoped that the United States' resistance would be broken by this year's extreme weather events, particularly Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. Scientific evidence suggests global warming might be behind recent devastating weather patterns.
It's possible that some papers submitted to refereed journals here and there might have made such an argument; I can't say for certain that none has. But the reality is that the overwhelming consensus of meteorologists, atmospheric physicists and chemists, and other scientists from relevant disciplines is that global warming has nothing to do with the frequency or intensity of hurricanes -- and that in fact, there was nothing particularly unusual about this year's hurricane season, except that one big one happened to hit a heavily populated area of the United States and kill 1,000 people.
But of course, Reuters simply didn't have room to fit in all of these inconveniently non-fitting facts; besides, that wasn't the story they wanted to tell.
Thus are great nonsense-discoveries made.
Good Triumphs Even As the Mask Slips
House and Senate negotiators have reached a compromise on making permanent most elements of the Patriot Act (actually, absurdly enough, the USA PATRIOT Act: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism... how many sleepless nights did that take to concoct?) However, several "Republican" senators have let their masks slip ever so slightly....
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., announced that the negotiating committee had reached an agreement that would extend for four years two of the Patriot Act's most controversial provisions - authorizing roving wiretaps and permitting secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries. Those provisions would expire in four years unless Congress acted on them again.
"All factors considered it's reasonably good, not perfect, but it's acceptable," Specter said of the agreement.
Also to be extended for four years are standards for monitoring "lone wolf" terrorists who may be operating independent of a foreign agent or power. While not part of the Patriot Act, officials considered that along with the Patriot Act provisions.
The Republican-controlled House had been pushing for those provisions to stay in effect as long as a decade, but negotiators decided to go with the GOP-controlled Senate's suggestion.
But not every senator was happy with this deal. Russ Feingold (D-WI) -- "the only senator to vote against the original version of the Patriot Act" -- is incensed, unsurprisingly:
"I will do everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report, which does not include adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms," said Sen. Russ Feingold.
Alas, he is not alone... and half of those who have expressed an intent to vote against reauthoritzing the Patriot Act are Republicans.
Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada intends to vote against the measure as currently drafted, according to an aide.
Feingold and five other senators from both parties issued a statement that said, "We believe this conference report will not be able to get through the Senate." They said they wouldn't support it in any form.
The other senators are Republicans Larry Craig of Idaho, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Ken Salazar we already knew about: he ran for election against Pete Coors as a moderate Democrat; but he has voted as a liberal ever since (though he isn't ready to charge off the "immediate withdrawal from Iraq" cliff, like some of his stampeding-buffalo party-mates). But Craig and Sununu have formerly been known as conservatives.
There is a certain kind of conservative, such as former Rep. Bob Barr, who slides so far towards libertarianism that he ceases to support even the concept of law enforcement... these "conservatives" see even so much as tapping the cellphone of a suspected al-Qaeda bombmaker as an unacceptable abrogation of our rights.
There is little we can do about those who have drifted into Cloud Cuckooland, so far to the right they warp around and meet Ted Kennedy on the other side. But Lisa Murkowski is still in her formative years as a first-term senator -- and she can still be saved.
I think the governor of her state should have a long talk with her; I understand they know each other pretty well.
In any event, now we know which Republicans can be relied upon in a pinch -- I think Sen. Specter did a pretty good job shepherding this through the conference committee -- and which simply cannot. The latter is a distressingly large group.
The Only Three Certainties In Life...
...Are death, taxes, and that Democrats will call tax cuts "spending increases."
Here's some good news if ever I heard any:
House Passes 3 Tax Cuts, Plans a 4th
Cost Would Outstrip Recent Action on Deficit
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 8, 2005; A01
The House passed three separate tax cuts yesterday and plans to approve a fourth today, trimming the federal revenue by $94.5 billion over five years -- nearly double the budget savings that Republicans muscled through the House last month.
GOP leaders portray the tax bills -- for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, affluent investors, U.S. troops serving in Iraq and taxpayers who otherwise would be hit by the alternative minimum tax -- as vital to keeping the economy rolling....
The three measures passed overwhelmingly, with virtually all Democrats voting with Republicans, and with hardly a mention of their impact on the deficit, which is projected to reach $331 billion in fiscal 2006 and remain above $300 billion a year through the end of the decade, when most of Bush's tax cuts are set to expire. The Senate has already passed similar measures, indicating that all the measures are likely to become law.
Now, if you were Dr. Sinister, Professor of Liberal Economics, how would you portray this early Christmas present to the American taxpayer? Oh, of course....
But some budget analysts say the flourish of tax cutting badly undermines the recent shows of fiscal discipline. Last month's budget-cutting bill would save $50 billion over five years by imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, trimming the food stamp rolls, squeezing student lenders and cutting federal child support enforcement.
"I don't think it makes any sense to go through all the difficulty they just went through with the budget-cutting bill, then give it all back in tax cuts," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group. "If they want to cut taxes, fine, but they are going to have to cut spending by at least that much to help the deficit, and clearly they are not willing to do that. They have to start looking reality in the face."
"Nonpartisan?" Ear-ache, my eye!
Since it's demonstrable that the economy has flourished since Congress enacted the Bush tax cuts of 2001 -- before 9/11, by the way -- how exactly do lefties manage to spin this as bad news? Take a look:
Although the federal tax revenue has grown since the passage of the 2003 tax cuts -- from $1.9 trillion in 2004 to $2.1 trillion in 2005 -- the tax revenue measured against the size of the economy remains below the 2002 level and well below the level of 2001, when the first of Bush's five tax cuts was passed. "The argument that tax cuts will grow the economy and pay for themselves is very attractive, but it's just not true," [Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget] said.
All right, please sit down for this, because you will fall over in a dead faint when I translate what she just said. We're doing bad economically because the federal revenues are a lower percent of GDP than they were during the depths of the recession. Got it?
In other words, if the gross domestic product of the United States had only grown at a lower rate -- so that the revenues collected were a larger percentage of that lower GDP -- then we would be better off. Contrariwise, had the GDP skyrocketed at 7% or 10% per year (an unheard of growth rate in modern times), so that the GDP was significantly higher than it is now... then we would be much, much worse off, according to Maya MacGuineas and the Committee for a Responsible [!] Federal Budget.
And there you have it: Econ. 101 in the topsy-turvy world of Democratic finance.
Date ►►► December 8, 2005
I Can Hear the Cuckoo Singing In the Cuckooberry Tree
Move over, Oogo Chavez; you've got competition for this year's Moonbat awards!
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday expressed doubt the Holocaust took place and suggested the Jewish state of Israel be moved to Europe.
His comments, reported by Iran's official IRNA news agency from a news conference he gave in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, follow his call in October for Israel to be "wiped off the map," which sparked widespread international outrage.
I haven't wafted around the blogosphere in the last few hours, so I can only assume this is getting plenty of photonic ridicule on other blogs. But resistance is futile, so here's my stab at it.
Hard-core Holocaust denial -- which not even the ruling mullahs seem willing to endorse -- is an absolute favorite among conspiracy theorists. I suppose that's because the Nazis were practically science fiction themselves, so it's easy to tack on one more layer of conspiracy. Call Holocaust denial the "lazy man's conspiracy," because it takes no wit at all (unlike, say, conspiracies such as the Bilderbergers, the Illuminati, the Bigfoot concealers, or those who say the CIA introduced crack cocaine into America and blew up the New Orleans levees, all to "destroy the black race" -- each of which requires more cleverness at setting up means, opportunity, and motive for the conspiracy). From what I've seen so far, Ahmadinejad is not exactly the shiniest Batarang in Khatami's Bat-Belt... so it's a perfect fit.
(Incidentally, I've always wanted to open a do-it-yourself fast-food franchise and call it Build-a-Burger -- just to freak out the loonies.)
Recall that Ahmadinejad's job before he got his current gig as Iranian president was to fly around the world assassinating apostates -- which to the mullahs means any Iranian who doesn't agree with them on any issue: religious, political, or sartorial. In essence, the president of Iran is now Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano. So this is really recycled homicidal mania.
What's amusing is the other half of Ahmadinejad's statement. Here is the reporting:
Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying: "Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that they condemn that person and throw them in jail."
"Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem?" he said.
"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe -- like in Germany, Austria or other countries -- to the Zionists and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it."
First, it's quite true that some European countries, such as Germany (and West Germany before that, and probably East Germany then too, though I wouldn't swear to it), do in fact criminalize Holocaust denial. Worse, they confuse Holocaust revisionism with Holocaust denial... so that if someone argues that Hitler did kill millions of Jews, but that he used a different method of execution, or that he killed five million (or seven million) instead of six million, or that the non-Jews killed by Hitler were more numerous than the Jews killed by Hitler -- or indeed, virtually any deviation from Holocaust orthodoxy as enunciated by the late Elie Wiesel -- there's always the possibility that his intellectual opponents will make their argument by throwing him in la calabooza.
To me (as a Jew who believes that the orthodox Holocaust narrative is basically correct), this is a profoundly unfree and anti-democratic policy, even for the deniers, let alone the mere revisionists. So five points to Slytherin for Ahmadinejad tweaking the noses of the European moralists. (We're still debating whether to expel Ahmadinejad from the fine House of Slytherin or just feed him to the snake.)
But this is the part I meant: Ahmadinejad's suggestion that the state of Israel be moved to some other "province" in Europe: "you offer part of Europe [for Nuevo Israel] and we will support it," says he.
What's fascinating about this is that this isn't the first time such an offer has been made. The Holocaust deniers at the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) have of course been running with this story for years, claiming this paints the Nazis as more benign. But many other sources who accept the orthodox Holocaust narrative agree that indeed there was such a plan. It originated with the Nazis themselves, who at first were only planning on a mass "ethinic cleansing" of Jews from Europe:
In 1940, the SS had the so-called "Madagascar Plan" to deport the entire Jewish population of Europe to a "reservation" on Madagascar. The "Madagascar Plan" was cancelled because Germany could not defeat Britain and until the British blockade was broken, the "Madagascar Plan" could not be put into effect. Finally, Functionalist historians have made much of a memorandum written by Himmler in May, 1940 explicitly rejecting extermination of the entire Jewish people as "un-German" and going on to recommend to Hitler the "Madagascar Plan" as the preferred "territorial solution" to the "Jewish Question". Not until July 1941 did the term "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" come to mean extermination.
Note that Wikipedia is, of course, a problematic source, being an open-source cyberpaedia with no editorial review. But in this case, the article itself is quite orthodox, and the article on the Madagascar Plan itself seems fairly well sourced. They link to the Jewish Virtual Library, which posts a document written by Franz Rademacher, head of the Judenreferat III der Abteilung Deutschland (Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), outlining the plan.
You must bear in mind that the Madagasgar plan -- along with the deportations of Jews to European countries during the 1930s -- were not crafted with the welfare of the Jews in mind. Rather, this was the first cut at making the Third Reich "Judenrein," or Jew-free. There is also some evidence that the Reich hoped the forced emigration of hundreds of thousands of poor Jews to neighboring countries would turn the populations of those countries against the Jews, thus spreading antisemitism along with destitute (and helpless) Jewish victims. (If the Jewish family being pushed out weren't already poor, the crippling "emigration tax" made sure they were by the time they actually left.)
The interesting question is whether the Zionists of 1939-40 would actually have been willing to go along with the Madagascar Plan, emigrating from European countries where they were still (for the moment) safe to create a Jewish state in that island colony off the east coast of Africa. On that question, I'm torn but ultimately land on the negative side.
First, Israel did not yet exist, and it was unclear whether it ever would. The Holy Land was under the control of the British Empire, which had signed the Balfour Declaration thirty-three years earlier (promising a Jewish homeland in British Mandatory Palestine), but had taken no steps to implement it, and indeed appeared on the verge of repudiating it. Recall that in the late 1940s, Zionists within what is now Israel and what is now the Palestinian Authority -- including Ariel Sharon, Manachem Begin, Moshe Dayan, and other founding statesmen of Israel -- joined paramilitary groups such as Haganah and especially Irgun and actually fought against the British to force them to implement the plan.
So it's not at all implausible that Zionists of a decade earlier would conclude that the British had no intention of making good on their promise anyway. Would a firm offer from the Nazis tempt them?
Second, it was clear to anybody with a brain that the Nazis were never going to be content to stay in Germany; sooner or later (it turned out to be sooner), they would begin annexing, conquering, or at least helping native Nazi movements in other countries throughout the continent. Therefore, a Jew living in Poland or Russia or France or even Great Britain might well have felt very insecure about his increasingly untenable position (rightly so). The idea of a Jewish state anywhere, even on an island in the Indian Ocean, must have appealed.
However, the Jews had a tremendous attachment to Israel, their Biblical homeland, going back millennia, dating to the destruction of the Second Temple and the expulsion of the Jews by the Romans in A.D. 70. The Zionist movement itself -- the movement to build a Jewish state in Israel -- dates to the 19th century. When one of the great early leaders of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, proposed Uganda as a Jewish homeland -- a temporary one, just for Russian Jews in immediate danger from pogroms -- it met with such a firestorm of objection that the movement quickly rejected the idea (though Herzl himself died before the final vote):
At the Sixth Zionist Congress (1903), Herzl proposed the British Uganda Program as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia in immediate danger. While Herzl made it clear that this program would not affect the ultimate aim of Zionism, a Jewish entity in the Land of Israel, the proposal aroused a storm at the Congress and nearly led to a split in the Zionist movement. The Uganda Program was finally rejected by the Zionist movement at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905.
Would the Zionists of 1939-40, frustrated by decades of non-movement towards a Jewish state, have been willing to negotiate with the Nazis? Would they have been willing to urge emigration of all Jews from Europe to Madagascar in exchange for promises to leave the Jews alone after that? My guess would be no, because I think they would realize that the Jews would be no safer from Hitler in Madagascar, the Philippines, or even America (although by then we had immigration quotas sharply restricting Jewish immigration into the United States) -- unless Hitler and the Nazis were defeated. Thus, I think they would have recognized that any such offer from Nazi Germany could only be a trap to weaken the economic base of the allies and make conquest easier.
I seem to have wandered far off into the weeds. In any event, not only is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conspiracy theory about the Holocause recycled crackpottery, but so even is his suggestion that Israel be picked up and dumped down somewhere else -- though of course, the direction of dumping is opposite to that of the first suggested version by the Nazis.
Thus, President Ahmadinejad of the Islamic "Republic" of Iran runs strong in the race to be first to be second in the Israel Relocation division of the Moonbat awards.
Iran Strategies 1: the Guillotine Gambit
According to Paul at Power Line, Mohammed ElBaradei now agrees with Israel that Iran is just months away from having nuclear weapons. The question before the house is what to do about it.
The direct approach, advocated by quite a few folks, is to strike at and destroy the actual nuclear facilities that are driving towards producing warheads at a frenzied pace.
The problem with the direct approach is that there isn't a single nuclear facility, easily destroyed, as there was in Iraq in 1981, when the Israelis destroyed the breeder reactor at Osirak. The Iranians learned from Saddam Hussein's mistake: they now split up the development of nuclear weapons among a number of facilities.
As of 2003, they had declared nine facilities:
- Tehran Nuclear Research Centre - radioisotope production, waste management
- Kalaye Electric Company (Tehran) - Uranium enrichment; supposedly dismantled
- Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant - breeder reactor
- Isfahan (Esfahan) Nuclear Technology Centre - several reactors and laboratories; fuel manufacturing
- Natanz - Uranium enrichment
- Karaj - storage of radioactive waste
- Lashkar Ab'ad - Uranium laser enrichment plant
- Arak - reactor, radioisotopes, heavy-water production
- Anarak - waste storage
I suspect there are other, undeclared facilities; but I'm not sure how capable our CIA is to find them.
In addition, these sites are heavily guarded (particularly with the new surface-to-air missiles that Russia has just sold Iran), sprawling facilities with much of the important sections buried deep under ground with many feet of concrete between the labs and an incoming missile or bomb. It is unlikely that anything short of a full scale attack, possibly using nuclear "bunker-busters" ourselves, would actually have much chance of destroying or even significantly delaying development.
Worse, as the adage has it, if you strike at the king you must slay him. To strike ineffectually at Iran would be worse than useless: it would drive them closer to Russia, it would make them more secretive, they would definitely kick out ElBaradei's IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), and things would be far worse for us. It would be a suicide to declare war on Iran via a "sneak attack," but then leave unknown or too well protected nuclear facilities still in operation.
The delivery approach, more subtle than the direct approach, seeks to destroy not the nuclear facilities but the means to deliver them on target.
This would be a lot easier if Iran depended upon fixed silos from which to launch the missiles (currently the Shahab-3 and -5). Unfortunately, the Shahab-3 and its successors can be launched from mobile platforms... meaning launch location cannot be pinpointed in advance and bombed.
An alternative is to defend against the incoming missile en route, either intercepting it head-on with a kinetic kill antimissile, or else navigating an antimissile nearby the incoming missile and exploding it, hoping to destroy or damage the incoming missile. This is the route the Israelis are taking with their Arrow II missile interceptors, and the approach the United States is taking to defend ourselves and our allies from an Iranian (or other foreign power's) offensive missiles using land-based and Aegis shipboard ballistic-missile interceptors.
But this presupposes that we have some idea where the missile shot might come from. If Iran passes some missiles with nuclear warheads to Hezbollah, their terrorist enforcement arm, they can shoot at us from a direction we never expected and which is outside the range of any nearby Aegis-equipped ships -- which would not be under land-based radar arrays and possibly unable to intercept the missile anyway.
True, there are other ways to deliver a warhead to target, including carrying it in a truck. This does dramatically increase the time to delivery and makes the whole process more fragile, as the warhead can be intercepted at any of a number of transitional phases -- such as when it crosses the sea to come to America or across the Mediterranean to Europe. Getting a nuke into Israel is probably unworkable.
In any event, it is quite a suboptimal "solution" to let the Iranians get the Bomb, get the missile delivery system, but just hope we're properly positioned to shoot down the incoming armageddon.
The diplomacy approach, in which we negotiate with Iran and come to a reasonable bargain where Iran will agree to forgo development of nuclear weapons in exchange for something of value from us.
Iran+Agreement <==> Joe Isuzu+Truth. 'Nuff said?
These are the three traditional methods suggested for preventing Iran from developing or obtaining nuclear weapons. Each has its problems, as I've sketched above.
But there is a fourth way, one that is rarely discussed... which is odd, because I consider it the most promising of all.
The Guillotine Gambit severs the ability of Iran to launch an attack on America or our allies at its source.
The nuclear warhead itself can be considered the fist of Iran; the missile that delivers it is the arm. The Iranian Army is the body of Iran, and Hezbollah is the gluteus maximus... the part that the Iranians must constantly sit on for their own security but which is necessary for a lot of dirty functions they would rather not be seen doing.
But connecting and controlling all of these is the head of Iran -- and that is the weakest link. Uneasy sits the turban on the ruling mullahs; Hezbollah, the army, and even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad all take their orders from them, in particular from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Remove this control, and most likely, the nuclear program would simply stop, as its urgency derives from the fear of Iraq (now substantially gone) and the mullahs' desire to destroy Israel, which would hardly be the same intensity of a motivator in the absence of the "revolutionary" government there today.
I'm not literally calling for mass assassinations (though that would be nice; I picture the final scene of the Godfather). Rather, I would like to see a revitalized CIA trigger another "orange revolution," as arose spontaneously in Ukraine a year ago.
The problem here, of course, lies in that phrase, "a revitalized CIA." (Just think what they could do, if they weren't so busy leaking classified data to try to damage President Bush!)
In the absence of such a CIA, my first move would be to have a long talk with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and MI5, the British national-security service. The questions would be: what can be done to hurry along the collapse of the Iranian mullocracy? When might it happen? Who would be the likely winners -- student groups? the Communists? some "quietist" Shiite movement? Which likely successor rulers are friendly with America, or at least not bitter enemies?
The advantage of the Guillotine Gambit is that it's the only one of the four strategic responses that can be done clandestinely, that doesn't require bringing world opinion around, and that will give us sufficient plausible deniability that it would be hard to pin the revolution on us whether it succeeds or fails. It can be pursued along with any of the other three, quietly and behind the scenes.
The Guillotine Gambit has advantages and applications apart from terminating the nuclear threat from Iran:
- Cut adrift from the mullahs, Hezbollah will lose tremendous power, not just within Iran but within Syria and Lebanon as well.
- A less fanatical government might be very amenable to democracy.
- A large proportion of the Iranian youth, who make up probably two-thirds of Iran's population, are actually pro-America: they like American culture, that is; I don't know what they think of the American government.
This huge wave of people are our natural allies, so long as we don't do anything heavy-handed or imperialistic. An Iraq-style invasion is right out, therefore. Again, Ukraine is the model of what we want to see happen. At the very least, we should be planning how we could bring about such a quiet revolution, or how we would respond if it arose all on its own.
But of course, also keep funding missile defense: belt and suspenders, that's what I say.
Date ►►► December 7, 2005
Remembering Pearl Harbor
When 9/11 happened, many people compared it to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 64 years ago today. We Americans of Japanese ancestry felt a little bit uncomfortable with the comparison. My father, who still lives in Japan, thought “remember Pearl Harbor” meant “never forgive the Japanese.” But I know better. "No Dad," I told him, "that’s not what it means."
The commonality between the Pearl Harbor attack and 9/11 is its unexpectedness. Both attacks happened when our (American) world was seemingly at peace. What angered us was the enemy’s cowardly and dishonorable attack, the savage disregard for innocent lives. But we were more angry with ourselves for letting our guard down. We were angry at the enemy, sad for our loss, but worse yet, humiliated.
How could mighty America, my adopted country, which has the strongest military and economy in the world and is the most moral nation on the planet, let an enemy attack on our own soil? How could we miss the signs that militant Islamists had been plotting against us for years? How could we have been so complacent?
“Never again,” Americans of 64 years ago swore, “will we allow a savage enemy to attack us on our own soil.” And yet 60 years later, we made exactly the same mistake. Why?
For exactly the same reason: because we forgot. We forgot who was out there beyond the pale. And we forgot how we felt that day December 7th, 1941.
The enemy are not the Japanese. The enemy are not the Moslems. The enemy are the faceless, cowardly savages who are always lurking in the shadows around us, looking for an opportunity to strike at our most vulnerable spot, which usually means innocent women, children, and other civilians. We must never forget that such an enemy exists.
So when we say “remember Pearl Harbor,” Dad, we're really saying "remember that, even when there are no bullets or bombs flying, we are always at war against evil. We have to become like Terminators against barbarity. To paraphrase James Cameron, we can't reason with it, we can't bargain with it, we can't feel pity or remorse or fear... and we absolutely must not stop, ever, until it is dead.”
So, let’s not forget what we felt on Dec 7th and Sept. 11th. Because the minute we forget, it will surely happen again... and another terrible disaster will be forever known only by a date.
Another Day, Another Life
During my daily surf of MilBlogs, I stumbled onto this one: 365 and a Wakeup. 365 and a Wakeup is one of the finalists in the 2005 Weblog Award's Best Military Blog category. When you read a post like this one, you can easily see why. (I'm working my way through all the MilBlog nominees so I can vote intelligently.)
Thunder6, "Deputy Commander of A Co, 1-184 IN, 3ID in Southern Baghdad," describes a recent encounter with a young mother and her disabled son.
During our last patrol through the shantytowns a young mother waited patiently outside the bustling throng of children hopping back and forth between our vehicles. I don’t remember seeing her arrive, she just suddenly appeared on the outskirts of the roiling flock of children. In that sea of motion she stood as still and resolute as a obsidian tower, her black burkha providing a mute contrast to the gaudy kaleidoscope of children’s clothing. She was clutching a toddler tightly to her chest, and I reflexively assumed she was trying to secure some candy for her child.
It turn out she wasn't there for candy. Her son was feeble and couldn't stand, let alone walk. She was desperately hoping that the Americans could somehow cure him.
Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do medically to help. The child suffered from a congenital birth defect that left him frail and sickly. “Sir, we couldn’t help him even if we were in the States," said the company medic. But the sight of the poor little boy gnawed at Thunder6.
The memory of that wisp of a boy stayed with me, and after a few days I asked SSG Spite if he could think of anything we might be able to do for the family. SSG Spite said that he would see what he could do and then disappeared for the rest of the day. The following day I knocked on SSG Spite’s door and when I walked in I almost dropped my coffee mug in shock. There sat SSG Spite quietly cleaning his weapon… sitting in a wheelchair. SSG Spite seemed to sense my agitation without even turning around and after a pregnant pause he said “Don’t worry sir, I’m fine. The wheelchair is for the kid”. Then he turned around, gave me a sly grin and said “But I had you worried, didn’t I?”. We laughed for a few minutes and then SSG Spite said “If I didn’t feel sorry for the kid I’d keep the wheelchair – this is the best seat in the barracks”.
What kind of "occupiers" would stop and think to help a helpless child? The American kind, that's what.
The next time A-Company patrolled in the area where the woman and her son lived, they brought the wheelchair with them. After struggling their way through mobs of Iraqi children, who were ecstatic to receive the little Iraqi flags that they handed out, they knocked at the door of the woman. They brought her and her son out to their Humvees.
When we arrived SGT Bard opened one of the doors and pulled and tugged until the wheelchair slid through the armored door. I wish I could describe the womans face when we gently picked up her son and placed him in the wheelchair - but there are some emotions words cannot hope to touch.
The Howard Deans, John Kerrys, and Jeff Engelhardts of the world can call our guys and girls any despicable, schoolyard name they want and smear them from now until next November; they can call on us to cut and run and say the world would be better off if Saddam were still in power in Iraq. But the fact of the matter is that guys like Thunder6 are the norm, not the exception; and he and his men are making a world of difference over there. One child, one life at a time.
What's John Kerry done lately?
The Big "White" Lie
UPDATED: See below.
The American White-Phosphorus War Crime in Fallujah....
This story of a supposed American war atrocity -- a crime against humanity -- has circulated stealthily through the left-wing blogosphere since an Italian TV documentary Fallujah:The Hidden Massacre claimed that the US military used a banned chemical weapon, white phosphorus, to massacre civilians in Fallujah in November of 2004. The documentary aired early last month, marking the first anniversary of the second (and successful) US Fallujah offensive, Operation al-Fajr (translation, "Dawn"), but originally called Phantom Fury, which commenced November 8th last year. [We should note at this point that it is the documentary and the person discussed below that call white phosphorus a "chemical weapon," not Big Lizards. See update at the end of this post. -- BL]
The key, self-proclaimed "witness" to this extrordinary atrocity claim is a "former American soldier" named Jeff Engelhardt. He participates on a group blog, Fight to Survive, a "MilBlog" of a strange sort: the contributers are all supposedly soldiers, all bitterly opposed to the war. In Fight to Survive, "hEkLe" (Engelhardt) claims that he served in the Army in Iraq from February 2004 through February 2005. His unit, he says, was "3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in Baquba, Iraq." He may well be telling the truth (though I'm skeptical; remember the Winter Soldier project and see below). But sadly, even if he is a legitimate soldier, wearing the uniform doesn't always mean loyalty to the country.
From the anti-Bush retoric in his blog -- venomous even by left-wing standards -- it is obvious that he has been a bitter enemy of the Commander in Chief and the Iraqi war from the beginning. But agenda aside, there are some curious dicrepancies between his interview in November 2005, in which he publicly accused his fellow soldiers of committing war crimes, and the contemporaneous blog account a year earlier of what he saw and did in the last two days of the offensive.
One I noticed right off: Engelhardt refers at one point to a "Bradley tank."
However, upon reaching the front lines, a safety standard was in effect stating that the urban combat was extremely intense. The lightest armored vehicles allowed in sector were Bradley tanks.
Obviously, I was never in the Army, and my husband was Navy. But isn't that thing called a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, or maybe just a Bradley? Maybe in Army slang, soldiers refer to a Bradley as a tank... can anyone who was in the Army confirm or refute this? I've just never seen that term before.
He also refers to Humvees as "trucks," and he writes that "fighter jets" flew in to make "a series of massive air strikes" "terminating whole city blocks at a time." I have no idea whether Army personnel know the difference between fighters and bombers; or maybe he meant F/A-18 Hornets. But the terms just seems a little... off. And has anyone else ever heard of Cobras and Apaches sporting "chain gun missile launchers?" I Googled the term, and the only hits I got were to various reprints of Engelhardt's own post.
A conservative blogger, Michael Moynihan of Stambord: the Stockholm Spectator blog, has pointed out some other discrepancies. However I noticed something else that might have been overlooked, by and large, by those focusing on Engelhardt's repulsive, anti-American rhetoric. (I think I may have seen a brief mention of this point on another MilBlog; unfortunately, I didn't note which one it was at the time, and now it's gone from my memory.)
While Engelhardt's bitter slanders against the United States have caused most decent Americans to discount his claims, this one discrepency is almost conclusive evidence that Engelhardt is making up the whole story: in his contemporaneous blogpost, Engelhardt does not even so much as mention the supposed "massacre" he describes so vividly a year later.
Engelhardt says he drove to Fallujah as an escort during the last couple of days of the operation. He did not participate in the combat itself but just observed from the city limits. In the Italian interview, he says he heard orders issued over the radio to drop white phosphorus, or "Whiskey Pete," on civilian areas of the city:
REPORTER: Were any chemical weapons used in Fallujah?
JEFF ENGELHARDT: From the U.S. military, yeah, absolutely. White phosphorus. Possibly napalm may or may not have been used; I do not know. I do know that white phosphorus was used, which is definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a chemical weapon.
REPORTER: Is he sure of it?
JEFF ENGELHARDT: Yes. It happened.
REPORTER: How can he be certain?
JEFF ENGELHARDT: Well, it comes across radio as a general transmission. When it happens like that, you hear it on the radio through -- we have speakers in our trucks -- speakers and then the transmission goes to the speakers, so it's audible. And as they'd say, “In five [inaudible], we're going drop some Whiskey Pete.” “Roger. Commence bombing.” I mean, it just comes across the radio, and like, when you hear “Whiskey Pete,” that's the military slang.
Sounds quite definitive, doesn't it? But his contemporaneous account shows he was not so sure at the time...
And as always, the artillery—some rounds were high explosive, some were illumination rounds, some were reported as being white phosphorus (the modern day napalm) [reported? reported by whom? -- BL]. Occasionally, on the outskirts of the isolated impact area, you could hear tanks firing machine guns and blazing their cannons. It was amazing that anything could survive this deadly onslaught. Suddenly a transmition came over the radio approving the request for “bunker-busters”.
How did "reported as being white phosphorus" became "definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, a chemical weapon" one year later? Also notice he writes white phosphorus and a radio transmission in the same paragraph. And yet, he does not mention the order to drop "whisky pete." Instead he writes he heard an oder to drop "bunker-busters," which are completely different animals.
Wouldn't this have been the ideal place to mention the "Whisky Pete" radio transmission -- if he had actually heard such a thing?
Let's continue. In the interview, Engelhardt said that he had seen the evidence of chemical weapon use in Fallujah:
NARRATOR: Contrary to what was said by the U.S. State Department, white phosphorus was not used in the open field to illuminate enemy troops. For this, tracer was used. A rain of fire shot from U.S. helicopters on the city of Fallujah on the night of the 8th of November. [inaudible] will show you in this exceptional documentary, which proves that a chemical agent was used in a massive and indiscriminate way in districts of Fallujah. In the days that followed, U.S. satellite images showed Fallujah burned out and razed to the ground.
[Yet amazingly, photos of Fallujah today show that it must have been completely rebuilt in a single year! -- BL]
JEFF ENGELHARDT: The gases from the warhead of the white phosphorus will disperse in a cloud. And when it makes contact with skin, then it's absolutely irreversible damage, burning of flesh to the bone. It doesn't necessarily burn clothes, but it will burn the skin underneath clothes. And this is why protective masks do not help, because it will burn right through the mask, the rubber of the mask. It will manage to get inside your face. If you breathe it, it will blister your throat and your lungs until you suffocate, and then it will burn you from the inside. It basically reacts to skin, oxygen and water. The only way to stop the burning is with wet mud. But at that point, it's just impossible to stop.
REPORTER: Have you seen the effects of these weapons?
JEFF ENGELHARDT: Yes. Burned. Burned bodies. I mean, it burned children, and it burned women. White phosphorus kills indiscriminately. It's a cloud that will within, in most cases, 150 meters of impact will disperse, and it will burn every human being or animal.
Whether he is qualified to judge the cause of death by simply observing a corpse is an interesting question, but beside the point. The reality is that he never saw those corpses he described... not in Fallujah, anyway, which is what the documentary and his interview were about.
In his blog post, he said he was not involved in the fight. He was far enough away that his superior thought they were safe. He could see a massive amount of bombs being dropped. But the closest they came to his position was about one kilometer away.
Engelhardt in 2004 never mentions he saw any person being killed or body being blown up. In fact his description of the air raid is nothing like that experienced by my father, whose village was bombed by American planes during WWII, when he was a little boy. My grandfather's house was blown to pieces in the raid; the family, including my father, only survived because their bomb shelter was built in the middle of a bamboo grove. (The next-door neighbors' shelter was built underground but in a bare field. None of them survived.)
Engelhardt's description tells me that he was close enough to see buildings being destroyed, but too far to see any individual person being killed. So when was he supposed to have seen these "burned bodies?"
Perhaps he means he saw them later, the aftermath of the bombing. Earlier in the same post, he wrote that his superior was planning on going into the city the next day to access the damage. But Engelhardt's next post is months later, on February 20th, 2005 -- and he never mentions any subsequent visit to Fallujah. Jeff "hEkLe" Engelhardt doesn't mention "Falluja" again until a post on September 14th, 2005... which, coincidentally, is also the next time he mentions the word "phosphorus." But even in this post, he says nothing about having witnessed people burned to death by white phosphorus (or "Whiskey Pete," which term he never uses even once on the Fight to Survive group blog).
Had Engelhardt accompanied the officer the next day -- and if he were telling the truth about the supposed atrocity -- he would have seen many "burned bodies." And had he seen such bodies, there simply is no question that he would have written extensivly about it right there and then in his blog. He seemed to recall in such vivid detail a year later; wouldn't the nightmare of a phosphorus-holocaust have been seared, seared in his memory a few days, not 365 days, after seeing them?
Perhaps, you might suggest, he did see it; but he was afraid to write about it because he was worried he might be arrested and court-martialed if he called his fellow soldiers war criminals or accused the president of ordering a crime against humanity. Such an extordinaly claim could create a backlash. Or maybe he just didn't want to say bad things about America; maybe he's a superpatriot who never thinks ill of his country.
Really? Just read though his blog. He clearly was not afraid to call the commander in chief obscenities and various other slurs. He was not afraid to talk about how brave the "insurgents" were. He was not afraid to write that Americans were conducting massacres in Iraq.
As Stambord quotes....
That veteran—the star witness—is one Jeff Englehart [sic], identified only as a “former soldier” that can “absolutely” confirm that such weapons were deployed in Fallujah. On his blog, written during his time in Iraq, Englehart [sic] quotes Che Guevara (he pompously urges his commanders to read him, to learn the true nature of an insurgency), beseeches his readers to “remove a lying fascist crook from office”, a “lowly criminal scumbag” who is the reincarnation “of John Wayne/Adolph Hitler (sic), the man “responsible for “Operation Iraqi Oppression,” which made use of “’final solution’ type missiles.” On the other hand the “resistance” (Englehart’s [sic] description) in Fallujah was “boldly fighting” his comrades. “What determination!” While some call the “resistors”—who constructed roadside and car bombs and suicide belts from within the city of Fallujah—cowards, Engelhart [sic] “call[s] them brave.” In other words, an unimpeachable witness with no political axe to grind. (After returning from his tour of duty, Engelhart [sic] has signed up with the Cindy Sheehan circus)
In fact, in the very same "hEkLe" post quoted above, Engelhardt writes the following:
Every time an atrocity is revealed through our news outlets, our grasp on this once secular nation slips away. As America grows increasingly disturbed by the images of carnage and violent death of her own sons in arms, its government loses the justification to continue the bloody debacle. Since all these traits are the conventional power’s unavoidable mistakes, the guerrilla campaign will surely succeed. In Iraq’s case, complete destruction of the United States military is impossible, but through perseverance the insurgency will drive us out. This will prove to be the inevitable outcome of the war.
This is not a man afraid to accuse his government and his comrades of committing "atrocities." If Engelhardt had actually seen then what he claimed a year later he saw, he would have written about it on November 19th, 2004. If he had tried to hold it in, he would have exploded like one of those “'final solution' type missiles." He would have cited it as Exhibit A of American war crimes. He would have crowed about it. He would have found an appropriate Che Guevera quote.
Besides, if the US actually used a banned chemical weapon, shouldn't it be investigated? Why didn't Engelhardt report this to the authorities, instead of waiting a year, and telling it to an Italian TV interviewer? (As usual, Leftists wait until they're abroad before bearing false witness against their own country and comrades.)
This entire story is a crock of baloney. I'm pretty sure Engelhardt never even set foot in Fallujah. In fact, he parses his words so carefully, he can honestly claim that he never actually said he personally witnessed an atrocity in Fallujah; he can even claim he never technically said he saw those "burned bodies" in person. Maybe he saw them on television while watching Point of View!
Engelhardt never saw burnt bodies in Fallujah; he never heard any radio transmission ordering white phosphorus to be dropped (commit a war crime -- over an open radio channel?). He is a fraud and a liar.
Even if it turns out he is a soldier, as well.
UPDATE 11:22 by Dafydd:
Commenter Tony B notes that:
It wouldn't be investigated because using willie pete ISN'T a war crime. I'm quite certain we did use it. There are so many things that point to this guy simply not knowing what he's talking about that I am suspicious whether he was even a soldier at all. If he was, he had very little experience with combat equipment.
Tony B turns out to be absolutely correct -- as I suspected when I was editing Sachi's post (we both read all posts that appear on Big Lizards). I checked carefully to make sure that we never made the statement ourselves that WP was a chemical weapon... we simply let Mr. Engelhardt and the Italian interviewer speak for themselves.
Here is GlobalSecurity.Org speaking to the subject:
White phosphorus is not banned by any treaty to which the United States is a signatory. Smokes and obscurants comprise a category of materials that are not used militarily as direct chemical agents. The United States retains its ability to employ incendiaries to hold high-priority military targets at risk in a manner consistent with the principle of proportionality that governs the use of all weapons under existing law. The use of white phosphorus or fuel air explosives are not prohibited or restricted by Protocol II of the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCWC), the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects.
Several commenters have confirmed what Sachi and I thought: terms like "Bradley tank" and "chain gun missile launcher" are not terms that an infantryman would use. Both of us have experience only with the Navy, so we were a little uncertain what the Army terms were... but those just sounded weird. I'm still curious myself whether soldiers refer to their Humvees as "trucks," or whether the word truck is exclusively used to refer to the Army trucks that haul things, those 2-ton or 5-ton things that actually look like real trucks. But again, although I've never heard a soldier refer to a Humvee as a truck, I'm not familiar with Army slang, and maybe it's more common than I thought. Anybody?
Note also that Engelhardt is the only person associated with Fight to Survive who used the phrase "whiskey pete" to refer to white phosphorus, and he only did so in the Italian documentary -- not on the blog itself (as Sachi noted). There is at least one reference from some other FTS author to "willie pete," which a couple of commenters noted is the correct slang.
I wonder if the other blog-authors on FTS have ever actually met Jeff Engelhardt, or if he is just another poster to them? Do they know anything about him other than what he, himself has written?
The more I read, the more suspicious I get about Mr. Engelhardt.
Date ►►► December 6, 2005
Amazingly enough, many of the witnesses who earlier fingered Syria, and in particular, Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, Asef Shawkut, in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, have abruptly begun to recant, claim they were bribed by Lebanese, or claim they were kidnapped and tortured into falsely accusing Syria. Or, in one instance, to die under mysterious circumstances.
All the while, the Syrians smugly wink at the U.N. investigators and say "witnesses? what witnesses?"
- The star witness in the Security-Council case against Syria, Hussam Taher Hussam, has suddenly begun making "outlandish claims to have given false testimony after being kidnapped, tortured and offered $1.3 million in bribes by Lebanese officials - charges that even critics of the investigation say are hard to believe."
- Earlier, another chief witness, Zuhair Ibn Muhammad Said Saddik, has now "changed his testimony and confessed to participating in the attack." He's now cooling his sandals in a hoosegow in Paris.
- A pair of employees of some Syrian governmental agency say that another witness, "Abu George," is about to recant and claim he was bribed with $500,000 by Lebanese government officials.
- Nawar Habib Donna, who "was identified as having sold five of the eight cellphone cards that Mr. Mehlis's team had connected to the killing," died late last month when his car flipped over, hurling him down into a valley below the roadway.
All of these bizarre twists have two things in common: they strain credulity -- and they all serve to exonerate Syria and make it appear as though the victim-state, Lebanon, were the real perpetrator.
Oh, one more thing: they all stink like week-old fish.
The Syrians insist that the whole case against them for Hariri's assassination is blown:
Security agents escorted Mr. Hussam into a hotel room on Monday to recount for a reporter a tale that exonerates him and Syrian officials of all wrongdoing while implicating Syria's chief enemies in the killing and subsequent conspiracy to frame Damascus. He repeatedly boasted about his ability to mislead people.
"No, they are not dumb," Mr. Hussam said of the investigators, who he said never doubted his account of events even after questioning him dozens of times. "I am smarter. I penetrated through all of them. I am proud of it. I penetrated through all of them, and I acted well."
However, the chief investigator for the U.N. Security Council, Detlev Mehlis, appears to be unworried by the worrisome "recantations" and the death.
"That is why we put on paper what people tell us," Mr. Mehlis said in a discussion of the case in his Beirut office on Monday. "That is why we let them read what we put on paper. That is why after reading it, we let them sign it. That's why we have asked them: 'Have you been threatened? Have you been given promises? Have you been offered or given money?' And we let them read it and let them sign it, because it unfortunately happens that people die, that people get killed, that people get sick, or change their minds on what they have told us."
Mehlis notes that Hussam's original story was thoroughly checked out, "but we didn't find a major inaccuracy in his statements."
I think by now all of you reading this post have figured out what is going on: Bashar Assad and the Syrian generals who back him have decided to go to the mattresses on this one; so they've almost certainly called in a "fixer," an organization of people who take care of inconvenient witnesses, either by threats, bribery, or simply running them off the road. It strains credulity to the breaking point to imagine that all these witnesses would accept massive bribes from Lebanon to implicate Syria in a murder that they have all but admitted committing... and then all simultaneously get attacks of conscience and change their stories.
The United States says that we're not particularly concerned, either:
A senior State Department official said the United States had no evidence that Mr. Mehlis's investigation was encountering problems and warned that Syria was waging a "concerted effort to cast doubt on the Mehlis investigation." He said allegations about the recanting of one witness's testimony and other problems did not constitute anything like evidence that the Mehlis inquiry was running into trouble, as Syria says.
I wonder whether that is because State still thinks the UNSC will vote to hold Syria responsible for the assassination that they clearly carried out, voting sanctions and indicting top Syrian officials -- or whether we're not concerned because we never did think the Security Council was going to do anything in the first place... and we're just biding our time for our own form of American justice.
The Syrians have a soft spot we could hit blindfolded: the Syrian government depends critically upon Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon and upon the thousands of Syrian intelligence agents who were left behind when the Syrian Army pulled out shortly after the assassination. If the Lebanese government formally requested our help, we could fly a few hundred SpecOps troops into Lebanon, lead and train up the Lebanese Army, and drive Hezbollah back into Syria within a year, with virtually no risk of any significant American casualties. Likewise, with our help, Lebanon could round up many of the Syrian intelligence agents (before the rest fled east in a panic) and rendite them -- to Israel. I'm sure Mossad would be more than happy to interrogate them for a while.
Unlike Iraq, there would be neither need nor permission granted for us to invade with an army; Syria could be crippled entirely through the use of a small number of Special Ops forces, and mostly by the Lebanese Army (who would be overjoyed at getting help "disarming" Hezbollah). Being driven out of Lebanon for good would finish off Assad, and Assad knows it.
So the Syrian triumph at, as I believe, threatening witnesses into silence (or shutting their mouths more permanently) will likely be short-lived, as they discover that there are worse things in the world than being investigated by the United Nations.
The Dean Drive
In the 1950s, a crackpot named Norman Dean "invented" what he called, with characteristic modesty, the Dean Drive. This device supposedly produced linear momentum without any reaction mass: that is, Dean claimed it would just zoom off in a straight line without having to expel anything behind it, like a jet or rocket must.
The fabled John W. Campbell, jr., editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the best science-fiction magazine ever published, had by then entered his crank phase, championing such cockamamie ideas as the the Hieronymous Device and Dianetics. Campbell siezed upon the Dean Drive as the epitome of his almost religous faith in the ability of backyard inventers to circumvent the fundamental laws of the universe. Like, you know, gravity.
Today, we have a new Dean Drive: the drive by Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean to circumvent the fundamental laws of electoral politics. In this case, by getting the entire Democratic Party to run on a platform of higher taxes at home and defeatism abroad... and imagining that this will levitate the party to victory in 2006 and 2008.
Dean's descent into utter crackpottery began during the 2004 elections, but it continues apace as he desperately battles to bring about a great defeat in Iraq, for which he presumably will claim credit as he runs for president in 2008 (hat tip to the enigmatic eloi, Michelle Malkin). Some samples for your election delectation:
Dean: US Won't Win in Iraq
Posted By: Jim Forsyth
San Antonio WOAI.com
December 5th, 2005
(SAN ANTONIO) -- Saying the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong," Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean predicted today that the Democratic Party will come together on a proposal to withdraw National Guard and Reserve troops immediately, and all US forces within two years....
"I've seen this before in my life. [From the sidelines, he means. -- the Mgt.] This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, 'just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening."
Aha, so the Murtha-Pelosi Proposal is about to become the new sailing orders for the Democratic Party... excellent! (Imagine this said in my best impersonation of Monty Burns.) What other suggestions does Mean Howard Dean have to offer?
"The White House wants us to have a permanent commitment to Iraq. This is an Iraqi problem. President Bush got rid of Saddam Hussein and that was a great thing [that's mighty white of him -- BL], but that could have been done in a very different way. [Perhaps levitating him out of the country by use of the Dean Drive! -- BL] But now that we're there we need to figure out how to leave. 80% of Iraqis want us to leave, and it's their country."
Translation: been there, done that. Time to go. Who's on Letterman tonight? I really love that turn of phrase: "now that we're there we need to figure out how to leave." For such a short trip, we could have walked.
Here's a rather startling claim:
And we need a force in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in a friendly neighboring country to fight (terrorist leader Musab) Zarqawi, who came to Iraq after this invasion.
Gosh, that will come as a great shock to the Kurdish victims of Zarqawi's terrorism during his (formerly presumed) year running Ansar al-Islam in northern (Kurdistan) Iraq from 2002 to 2003 -- a year before "this invasion," while Saddam Hussein was still firmly in charge. Starting right after Zarqawi received medical treatment in a Baghdad hospital restricted to leading members of Hussein's inner circle.
Governor Doctor Dean seems not only "stuck on stupid" but stuck in the 70s. First, there are the incessant Vietnam comparisons; and now this:
Dean also compared the controversy over pre-war intelligence to the Watergate scandal which brought down Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974.
"What we see today is very much like what was going in Watergate," Dean said.
Well! Who can argue with that?
All I can say, contemplating four more years of Harry Reid (D-Las Vegas) running the Democratic caucus in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Minority Leader in the House, and Howard Dean as the philosophical mentor of the party as chairman, is "bring -- it -- on!"
Victim of Mad How Disease? Dean puts his finger on the root of the problem.
Norman Dean never had any success selling his "Dean Drive": his secretiveness, lying, and raging paranoia always got in the way. That plus the fact that Dean's idea was a nonsensical pile of junk to begin with. I doubt that his contemporary namesake will do any better... and mostly for the same reasons.
A Few Good Iraqi Men
Finding a real success story disguised as a catastrophe is becoming a hobby of mine. When I go through the familiar pessimistic headlines, I often stumble onto good news hidden in the corners. Take a look at this story from Reuters, which tries so hard to play the Iraqi Army as good, but not, well, good enough. Trying so hard, they don't even notice that they prove exactly the opposite: that the Iraqi soldiers are really as good as it gets.
The success of Iraqi Security Force training is undeniable. More and more Iraqi forces are taking over operations and leading attacks. Even the MSM have to admit the readiness of the Iraqi forces. But being the MSM, they also have to find some way to give it a negative spin. If they can't attack the Iraqis' ability, what can they pick on? Ah, lack of equipment, that's what!
Equipped with little armour or ammunition, [Iraqi Army] soldiers can often be seen wearing balaclavas and toting AK-47 rifles as they ride around in the back of Nissan trucks.
This sounds familier. Weren't the MSM complaining about lack of armored vehicle for the US troops not too long ago? But wait, there is more.
Iraqi soldiers could storm the village, conduct house-to- house searches and round up suspects, but with only a few unarmoured Nissan trucks to ride in, they'd never get out alive.
"We'll need the American military to lead us out of there," he said, noting that the route out of the village would probably be booby-trapped with improvised explosive devices and the Iraqi army didn't have vehicles that could withstand them.
But what's the real story? That Iraqi troops are now capable of leading a raid with the US troops serving only as backup. They just don't have enough Humvees. Well, actually they are short of something even more important:
Even as a group of [Colonel Mohammed Najem] Kharye's men prepared for the village raid by scrutinising a map drawn in the sand and marked with smooth stones, others squatted nearby, still waiting for identification badges.
They can map up and plan the raid, but they don't have enough ID badges! Actually, I wasn't kidding when I said this was "something even more important." But I'll wait until the end of the post to explain what I mean.
Shortage of equipment or lack of logistical support is nothing new. Every army suffers from such problems at one time or another. What's important is the troops' ability to solve the problem by improvising with what they have, to come up with a workaround. The Iraqi army is doing exactly that; this is where Reuters doesn't even understand the real story behind the superficial story they're reporting.
Though attacks on Iraqi forces are frequent, the soldiers do not have the armoured Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles or tanks that are capable of withstanding bullets and some blasts.
In an attempt to make their Nissan trucks safer, Iraqi soldiers at Khamiss have welded sheet metal to the sides. AK-47 rifles and rocket propelled grenades are their main weapons -- they have not even been given mortar rounds.
Obviously, the better an army is equipped, better off they are. But if the army is not skilled, all the weaponry in the world can't bring a victory. And without the "heart" for combat, neither training nor equipment can make soldiers stick out a fight.
Saddam's army was armed to the teeth and even trained, after a fashion. After the fall of the regime, we found thousands of weapons' caches filled with state of the art weapons (side by side with virtual antiques). How well did that army fight? Confronted with the enemy (us), Saddam's soldiers simply threw away their guns and fled.
Within weeks of Saddam's fall in April 2003, U.S. authorities disbanded Iraq's 400,000-strong armed forces. U.S. officials said this simply formalised the fact that the army had evaporated in the aftermath of the war, with soldiers deserting en masse.
Weaponry and equipment are nice, but they don't make an army. Men (and women like Sgt. Hester) with the will to fight and the training to make it a good one make an army. From the looks of it, the new Iraqi Army has plenty of both -- now.
Even soldiers sometimes forget that; Americans -- heck, Westerners -- have had that kind of "heart" for such a long time, they sometimes forget it's a rare and precious thing. That more than anything else is why Western civilization dominates the world.
I was looking at the website Soldiers For the Truth, and I read a piece by former intelligence officer Michael Gifford. It's a great article; Captain Gifford says the road to getting out of Iraq leads through victory in training up the Iraqi Army... he's definitely no John Kerry! But then he falls into a trap that catches many others:
I spent 6 months training the police of the restive Al Anbar Province of Iraq in the winter and spring of 2004, and that was after 6 months of fighting in the streets along side them. For the few first months, we were wondering why they were deserting in huge numbers, why they were running from firefights. I realized very quickly that we were asking them these questions from inside our armored humvees and from behind our bulletproof vests. No wonder these guys were turning tail and running! I put myself in their shoes, and started to see just how bad they had it.
But wait... if that's the problem -- then why didn't the American Marines run from Iwo Jima? They didn't have any armor then, either. What about Col. Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Volunteers on Little Round Top at the battle of Gettysburg, repulsing attack after attack from the Confederate forces? At the end of the battle, as the Grays massed for a final attack, Chamberlain realized his men were out of ammunition... so he ordered a bayonet charge which shattered the Confederate ranks.
The 20th Maine didn't have any uparmored Humvees. Neither did the 250 men who defended the Alamo, buying time for Sam Houston to raise a Texican army against Santa Anna.
For that matter, what about the 300 Spartans and their 4,000-5,000 Greek allies who held the gates of Thermopylae against the two-million-man Persian army of Xerxes, led by King Leonidas? At the end, the Spartans sent their allies away to live; but none of the Spartans survived.
The armor doesn't make the man; the man makes the armor.
And then came the body armor--my God, you should have seen the looks on their faces when we issued them new bulletproof vests in the winter of 2003. We went as far as to show them the actual test plates from the vests we were issuing--the plates that we took out to the range and shot--proving that they were able to stop both 9mm and AK47 rounds. A few weeks after their issue, I heard reports from Fallujah that the Iraqi police were really showing some cajones - much, much more confidence.
I don't think Captain Gifford understands what really happened, because it isn't a military question. It wasn't that the Iraqis were no longer afraid of dying. That body armor was a magic spell, the spell of acceptance: they had professional equipment, so they started thinking of themselves as professionals.
The same with the armored Humvees and the improved ammunition. Here is the proof:
Their morale began to increase with the equipment we began to provide. And once we began to outfit them with better uniforms, leather jackets and patches, you could really see their pride begin to swell. And anyone who's worked with the Iraqi Police or Army knows that pride is a huge factor in their morale.
New uniforms and leather jackets aren't the keys to destroying the insurgency, but it shows we give a damn about making sure they're safe and professional looking.
It showed that we treated them as equals -- and they began to perform as equals. And that is what I meant by saying that giving the Iraqi solders ID badges really was more important than Humvees: the badges (the Los Angeles Police Department calls them "shields," which reminds us of the Spartans again) were like the Wizard of Oz giving the Cowardly Lion a medal; the courage was there within him all the time... he just needed someone to help him find it.
Back to Col. Kharye's Iraqi troops and why they really have become "as good as it gets."
But Kharye says morale is high -- especially among soldiers who remember life in Saddam Hussein's army....
"In the past if you made a mistake, you were executed immediately, no questions asked," Kharye said. "Now we can debate the positives and negatives of operations. It's a big difference."
Saddam's army led from the top but the U.S. military is teaching Iraqi officers to encourage lower ranking soldiers to make decisions and take charge, said Arrington.
That is the real story... the one that Reuters missed because their big, fat agenda got in the way again.
Date ►►► December 5, 2005
DeLay Okay Today, I'd Say
The first shoe dropped on the head of obsessed District Attorney Ronnie Earle today, as Texas Judge Pat Priest threw out one of the two felony charges against Tom DeLay. Priest declined to throw out the second charge on the legal grounds that DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, had offered. But this simply clears the deck for a subsequent motion that Priest will now hear, calling for the second charge also to be thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct.
DeGuerin had asked to have the indictments dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Priest said he would hear that motion only if he upheld the indictments against the legal challenges. [Emphasis added.]
Ordinarily, such motions are pro-forma; but in this particular case, Ronnie Earle -- the "Inspector Javert" of Travis County -- engaged in such egregious and obvious personal targetting of Tom DeLay that the misconduct motion is probably the stronger of the two. Earle had to run through three separate grand juries before finally finding one that was willing to return an indictment that wasn't invalid on its face. The second grand jury actually refused to indict after hearing the evidence... a fact that was not revealed to the third. The third grand jury finally indicted after only hearing four hours of testimony.
And then it turned out that Earle's major piece of evidence, a document supposedly detailing a list of Texas politicians that the Republican National State Elections Committee was allegedly supposed to funnel money to on behalf of Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, did not actually exist. The DA's office didn't actually have this alleged document. Here is how I described the stunning lapse in an earlier post:
He was unable to produce "said" document. Not that he didn't produce A document; he simply said he was "unable to authoritatively confirm" that it was in fact THE document mentioned in the indictment. However, he rallied, the document he produced was "factually similar" to the document upon which the entire indictment rested!
Brian Wilson reported that the document contained names of several Texas politicians, some of whom had received money from the RNSEC and some of whom had not. I suppose this is "factually similar" to the actual document they allege existed in that both are pieces of paper, both have words printed on them, and both contain lists of names of prominent Texans. I eagerly await testimony from an eyewitness who claims he saw someone in a conspiratorial meeting... he won't be able to swear it was actually Tom DeLay, but it was surely someone who was "factually similar" to DeLay, in that he was a male and had some funny sort of accent.
The primary legal reason that DeGeurin offered for quashing the money-laundering charge, the one that remains, was such a technicality that I don't think I would have thrown it out on those grounds myself:
[T]he definition of money laundering did not include checks until 2005. TRMPAC transferred the $190,000 in corporate money to the RNC by using a check.
Oh, puh-leez! This is definitely one you argue to a judge, not a jury, because a jury would probably leap right out of the jury box and pummel you with their notebooks, if that were your only defense.
But now the decks have been cleared. DeGuerin will certainly now ask Judge Priest to hear the misconduct motion... and on that one, I think there is an excellent chance Tom DeLay will prevail. To allow this to go forward gives political DAs a green light to keep empaneling grand jury after grand jury, until they finally get one that gives them the results they demand.
So don't let the mainstream media spin you into losing heart, thinking that DeLay "suffered a blow" that "dashed his hopes." The legal problems have taken their toll on Earle's folly, and now we move to the ethical problems. As far as Ronnie Earlie is concerned, as they used to say on the old Batman TV show, the wildest is yet to come.
So tune in after the next ruling -- same moonbat time, same moonbat channel!
Senator, Heal Thyself
The New York Times article on the commission report spends nearly as much time on the reaction by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who sees the report as "a top-to-bottom indictment of the federal government's lack of resources, focus and expertise in fighting the domestic war on terror," as it does on any of the commissioners themselves. Schumer was especially scathing about the money spent by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress:
"The report is a top-to-bottom indictment of the federal government's lack of resources, focus and expertise in fighting the domestic war on terror," Mr. Schumer said. "New York State is particularly hurt by the terribly unfair and inefficient homeland security funding formula and the lack of a federal program for communications interoperability among first responders. We can and must do better."
But a lengthy investigation by the New York Daily News found that one of the the primary examples of "the distribution of Department of Homeland Security money based on politics rather than on potential risk" is the porkbarrel spending in New York State itself, involving both Republicans (Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Rudy Guiliani) and Democrats in the New York congressional delegation (Schumer included), and both federal and state agencies. Hat tip to the raptor-like eye (and haunting beauty) of the nigh-omniscient Michelle Malkin.
Some of the details uncovered by the NY Daily News of "emergency spending" enacted in New York are troubling indeed:
- Hundreds of millions to businesses that were not significantly affected by 9/11
- Millions more for projects already in development before 9/11, some that were already funded, others that were still awaiting funding
- "Huge contracts were given to companies and organizations linked to the very officials tasked with deciding how to spend the money — creating, at a minimum, the potential for multiple conflicts of interest."
- Huge bribes forked over to induce companies to stay in lower Manhattan... including companies that had never expressed any thought of leaving
- Eligibility rules made so porous that "virtually no one was ineligible"
In fact, the original figure for aid to New York -- $20 billion -- was pulled directly out of Charles Schumer's, er, hat:
The magic number of "$20 billion" that President Bush first said he would give New York was actually pulled from thin air, a figure born of politics and compassion rather than actuarial calculation and meaningful analysis.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) came up with the number in an effort to match the amount of emergency money being planned for anti-terrorism security across the country — legislation that made no specific mention of New York.
"To ask for more than $20 billion — more for New York than for all the military and the rest of the country — would seem excessive," Schumer told the Daily News. "But to ask for less than $20 billion would be derelict in my duties as a New York senator. So I figured, 'Let's match it, $20 billion for the rest and $20 billion for New York.'"
Schumer remembers Bush asking, "New York really needs $20 billion?"
"At least that, Mr. President," Schumer replied.
"You got it," said Bush. [Emphasis added]
So until Sen. Schumer leads an effort to crack down on porkbarrel spending in New York "based on politics rather than on potential risk," it's a bit thick for him to wag his finger about such unaccountable spending in the rest of the country.
Oh, wait -- Charles Schumer is being hypocritical? That's a story? As Emily Litella says...!
Commission, Heal Thyself
The 9/11 Commission, now under private funding, has met a final time to offer a "report card" on the actions taken by "the government" to safeguard American lives and property, infrastructure, and economic activity from further terrorist attacks. The report is being played by the mainstreamers as a scathing repudiation of Bush and the Republicans; and to some extent, it's clearly intended as such: the commissioners, including the Republican members, seem to have gone out of their way at the press conference and in interviews to imply absolute inactivity and inertia, complete incompetence, and a total lack of concern, while offering virtually no examples of such malfeasance in the actual document itself.
Alack, the 9/11 Commission, drunk on its own vision of absolute moral authority and intellectual superiority, has fallen into hectoring and preening, like a nagging starlet who has detailed suggestions for running the entire movie studio -- and flies into a rage when you don't jump to obey. Thank goodness this will be the last such report from them.
The final report is very long on general handwaving but quite short on specifics; nor does it recognize the difference between recommending that something should be done and actually offering a plan how to do it (for example, developing a bioletric entry-exit screening system for all of our airports and seaports); nor does the report discriminate between suggestions that actually might improve our security -- such as checked bag and cargo screening -- and administrative or organizational changes that merely reflect the commissioners' preferences for how the org-charts should look.
For a good example of this last, one of the D grades is for Intelligence oversight reform:
The House and Senate have taken limited positive steps, including the creation of oversight subcommittees. However, the ability of the intelligence committees to perform oversight of the intelligence agencies and account for their performance is still undermined by the power of the Defense Appropriations subcommittees and Armed Services committees.
First, this clearly has nothing to do with President Bush, who has zero influence over the structure of congressional committees. Second, it's difficult to imagine a more savage catfight than that between the chairs and ranking members of various committees over the distribution of oversight power. Third, this is another "move the boxes around" type of "reform," similar to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security: in itself, shifting "oversight" of intelligence agencies from one House or Senate committee to another does absolutely nothing to improve either the intelligence itself or the analysis of it.
The commissioners have no suggestions for resolving -- indeed, do not even seem to be aware of -- the structural political barriers blocking some of their vague suggested reforms. Under new missions for CIA Director, one of only two recommendations to receive a grade of "incomplete," we read:
Reforms are underway at the CIA, especially of human intelligence operations. But their outcome is yet to be seen. If the CIA is to remain an effective arm of national power, Congress and CIA leadership need to be committed to accelerating the pace of reforms, and must address morale and personnel issues.
Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn't it? But taking into consideration that the president and the Republicans cannot even seem to stop top CIA officials from leaking critical classified information designed to damage President Bush and thwart any attempt to reform the CIA's mission or methods -- and given the support of congressional Democrats for just such behavior -- how exactly are these "new missions" to be carried out by Porter Goss? The Democrats on the Commission missed an excellent opportunity to chastise their own party for enabling such destructive behavior.
If the commission had gotten specific here with suggestions, based upon expert evaluations from current or former directors of intelligence agencies in other countries (Mossad, MI5), exactly how the CIA could be reformed, giving such specific reforms the same sort of momentum that forced the creation of the DHS itself, that would have been helpful. But as it stands, this directive is vague to the point of vapidity, coming across as one of those "all right, then nobody gets the toy!" generic shouts by a harried parent who cannot take the time to determine which kid is actually causing the problem.
I remain unimpressed. Some recommendations are good and fairly specific: standardize secure identifications, homeland airspace defense, international broadcasting; the recommendation under that last header is clear and specific:
Budgets for international broadcasting to the Arab and Muslim world and U.S.-sponsored broadcasting hours have increased dramatically, and audience shares are growing. But we need to move beyond audience size, expose listeners to new ideas and accurate information about the U.S. and its policies, and measure the impact and influence of these ideas.
But other recommendations, especially those under the Nonproliferation and Foreign Policy subheads, are almost aggressively silly.
Maximum effort by U.S. government to secure WMD (D) Countering the greatest threat to America’s security is still not the top national security priority of the President and the Congress....
Support reform in Saudi Arabia (D)
Saudi authorities have taken initial steps but need to do much more to regulate charities and control the flow of funds to extremist groups, and to promote tolerance and moderation. A U.S.-Saudi strategic dialogue to address topics including reform and exchange programs has just started; there are no results to report....
Coalition strategy against Islamist terrorism (C)
Components of a common strategy are evident on a bilateral basis, and multilateral policies exist in some areas. But no permanent contact group of leading governments has yet been established to coordinate a coalition counterterrorism strategy.
Coalition standards for terrorist detention (F)
The U.S. has not engaged in a common coalition approach to developing standards for detention and prosecution of captured terrorists. Indeed, U.S. treatment of detainees has elicited broad criticism, and makes it harder to build the necessary alliances to cooperate effectively with partners in a global war on terror.
First, our "treatment of detainees has elicited broad criticism" based primarily upon deliberate lies and malicious slanders spread by the terrorists and their supporters themselves, which are seized upon by our supposed allies in order to thwart our aggressive response to such terrorism -- and trumpeted by news agencies eager to see the defeat of Bush and the Republican Congress.
The reason that "no permanent contact group of leading governments has yet been established to coordinate a coalition counterterrorism strategy" is that there is no agreement among Western nations how to counter terrorism in the first place: we favor forward engagement of the terrorists; the Europeans primarily want to treat terrorism as a police issue and pretend the danger is just overblown. The American president and Congress cannot compel France to take terrorism more seriously; nor can we stop Belgium and the Netherlands from treating the "rights" of terrorists as more important than securing Western democracy itself from attack.
The idea that it's up to the United States to reform Saudi Arabia is simply laughable. Were it not for the insanity of al-Qaeda and its affilliates, who lauched a series of attacks on the kingdom and have openly called for regicide and revolution, Saudi Arabia would still be allied with them... and would be doing nothing. What leverage does the Commission imagine we have over that terrorist haven wallowing in the world's largest oil reserves? Do they think our allies (and for that matter, all of the billion Moslems in the world) would possibly sit still for an American invasion of Saudi Arabia -- including conquering Mecca itself? There are some things we simply have little effect upon, Commissioners. This is one of them.
And finally, the commissioners' demand that they be allowed to determine "the top national security priority of the President and the Congress" demonstrates less of a commitment to securing the country than the feeding of an already rather colossal ego. Nobody elected any of these commissioners to run national security; that job belongs to George Bush... along with the authority to determine whether WMD proliferation or some other challenge should be the top priority of American foreign and military policy.
Besides, since every action against terrorism can be defined as preventing the proliferation of WMD to terrorists -- dead terrorists can't shoot chemical weapons against us -- this "recommendation" is really little more than generalized petulance at not being considered the chief advisory panel to the president, supplanting the cabinet, the National Security Council, and Congress.
I believe the 9/11 Commission has some good recommendations; but they are not the last word on what America needs to do to reduce (it cannot be ended) the threat from terrorist attack upon the homeland... and they certainly should not be taken as the ultimate authority on exactly how such lofty goals should be carried out. Congress and the president need to stop kow-towing to Chairman Keane and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton and actually subject the Commission reports -- including this one -- to decide which recommendations actually make sense, and which should be rejected or placed upon the back burner.
There is some worthwhile stuff in the final report of the 9/11 Commission; but they need a good editor.
A Climate Pact Even I Can Applaud
Scaley Classic first posted July 28th, 2005, on Captain's Quarters.
This one caught me totally by surprise: China, India, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States (we led the effort) have just signed an international agreement, the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, to "keep climate-changing chemicals out of the atmosphere, especially carbon from fossil fuels." But rather than the Kyoto-Protocol method of setting target goals for emissions reductions that force de-industrialization among complying nations (of which there are actually very few among the Kyoto signers), this new pact aims to reduce emissions by jointly developing new pollutant-control technologies. (Power Line's John Hinderaker, the only "SuperLawyer" currently blogging in the 'sphere, is on the story.)
In a move to counter the Kyoto Protocol that requires mandatory cuts in so-called greenhouse gas emissions, [President Bush] is making the technology pitch as part of a partnership with five Asian and Pacific nations, including China and India. The idea is to get them to commit to cleaner energy production as a way to curtail air pollution that most scientists believe is causing the Earth to warm up.
The administration announced late Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with the five countries to create a new partnership to deploy cleaner technologies whenever possible to produce energy.
I'm one of the most rabid despisers of the global-warming mob (globaloney, that is) and their ham-fisted, Luddite attempt to force industrial Western societies back into the past, the pastoral, preindustrial golden age when everyone was treated with love and respect, and lions lay with lambs in arrangements other than prandial.
So why am I wildly approving of this new greenhouse-gas pact, agreement, whatever one calls it? Well, do the obvious...!
The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol has been a colossal failure for three distinct reasons: first, the treaty insists on reductions so draconian (7% below the signatory's greenhouse-gas emissions in 1990, though the treaty was signed in 1997) that the only way an industrialized nation can be in compliance is, in essence, to dramatically de-industrialize, cutting carbon and carbonoid emissions by cutting energy production itself -- thus severely damaging the economy, leading to job losses (job loss particularly among the elected officials who actually implement such a boneheaded policy). The natural result of this inexorable logic is that nations typically sign Kyoto -- but intend to cheat from the very beginning: the signing is purely symbolic, which of course produces an equally symbolic reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.
The second major flaw is that the Kyoto Protocol consciously and with malice aforethought excluded developing nations -- including China and India, the two largest-population countries in the world, accounting for a third of all the humans on this planet -- from any emissions-reduction requirements at all, at least until 2013. This was the reason that the U.S. Senate, in a non-binding test vote, voted unanimously (97 to 0) against the treaty in 1997.
The United States rejected the 1997 Kyoto pact, which requires reductions by industrial nations of greenhouse emissions. Bush said earlier this month he recognizes that human activity contributes to a warmer Earth, but he continues to oppose the Kyoto treaty that all other major industrialized nations signed because developing nations weren't included in it.
(This is clumsily written, of course; the Times here implies that Kyoto was first rejected under Bush; in fact, although Bill Clinton signed it, he never formally submitted it to the Senate. Nevertheless, the Senate indicated it would reject it if it were presented. When George W. Bush became president, he formally withdrew from the previous administration's signing of the treaty.)
But the most important reason the Kyoto Protocol was doomed from the start is that it was never anything but science by table-pounding: from the initial findings announced by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) signed at the 2nd Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, to the subsequent IPCC findings, to the Conference of Parties III in Kyoto, Japan, to this day, the treaty was always a political, not a scientific, entity. (Resource: A Brief History of the Kyoto Protocol, on Greenpeace's website.)
Decisions were made by votes, often votes of politicians, not scientists; scientific dissent was squelched. Evidence of other causes for warming besides industrial activity were dismissed; criticisms of the flawed "global circulation models" that were the driving force behind predictions of runaway greenhouse warming were mocked or suppressed; legitimate questions about the extent of "damage" caused by slight warming, mostly occurring during winter nights in the coldest parts of the Earth, were met with hostile accusations instead of hard science; and even evidence of the huge increase in crop growth and resistance to disease and pests that occurs in climates with higher levels of CO2... all were waved away as irrelevant to the urgent task of reducing industrialization in the West. (Strangely, for the New Left, no matter what the problem -- global warming, a new ice age, air pollution, food shortages, food gluts -- the answer is always the same: smash the looms!)
Nor did the Kyoto Protocol ever indicate how a signatory was supposed to reduce its emissions to 7% below their 1990 level (which for the United States today would mean a reduction of more than 20%, because greenhouse gas emissions rose 13% from 1990 to 2003; see p.3 of the linked pdf). Since the primary source of greenhouse-gas emissions is burning carbon-based fuels like oil, gasoline, natural gas, and coal, the only method of reducing emissions by the target goal of Kyoto -- with today's technology and yesterday's political climate, pardon the pun -- would be to stop producing so much energy. But that 13% rise in emissions from 1990-2003 was accompanied by an increase of forty-six percent in gross domestic product over that same period... and it is simply a fact of life that energy use and GDP are inextricably intertwined.
Enter the New Bush Pact
The qualifiers in the preceding paragraph, "today's technology and yesterday's political climate," are not simply weasel-words: there is a solution to the "problem," to whatever extent it may exist, of carbon emissions that does not require de-industrialization with the corresponding drop in GDP and employment. That solution would be to develop new and better technology... primarily energy-producing technology that does not depend upon burning things.
Here is the point: an object that is alive (like wood, other plants, animals, or people), or that used to be alive (coal, oil, and natural gas, which are the remains of prehistoric plankton and plants), contains carbon-hydrogen molecules. When you burn such an object, you tear apart these molecules, combine the carbon with oxygen, and you get carbon dioxide, CO2, plus a whole bunch of energy. It's that energy we use, and it's the carbon dioxide (also formed when we breath) that global-warming phobics fear. There is no way to burn organic materials without producing CO2; the best you can do is try to capture it as it emits from the smokestack.
But there are many methods of producing energy that do not require burning anything... the most effective of which, in the short-to-medium term (0 to 50 years), are hydroelectric generators and nuclear power plants. Since the former are limited by the number of rivers you're willing to dam (which causes rather significant environmental change, to say the least!), we should probably concentrate on the latter. Recent radically improved technologies for nuclear fission, including Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (gas-cooled) and Integral Fast Reactors (liquid-metal cooled), already exist in prototype but lack either funding or a favorable political climate for wide-scale development; this new pact may spur such technologies forward, allowing much cheaper, safer, and more reliable electrical generation that does not require burning organic materials and producing either carbon dioxide or pollution.
(Long-term solutions might include solar-power satellites beaming energy via microwaves back to earth, geothermal energy production that taps into the residual heat at the core of the Earth, nuclear fusion instead of fission, and theoretically, at least, the annihilation of matter-antimatter pairs... though we would have to find a ready-made source for the last, since creating antimatter would of course use up more energy than it would produce; could be useful as a sort of "battery," however, to store large amounts of energy.)
More minor partial-solutions, which by themselves would not help much but wouldn't particularly hurt, either, would include earthbound solar power, windmills, pure hydrogen (from fuel cells, say), and simply more efficient burning of carbon-based fuels -- for example, by the use of high-temperature ceramic engines, which I discussed on Patterico's Pontifications.
All of these would be dramatically helped by the new Asia Pacific Partnership; in other words, while the globaloney crowd pounds the table and simply insists that we somehow magically reduce carbonoid emissions, President Bush is actually offering solutions to the problem: improved technology in the area that matters most -- energy production -- along with ancillary technologies that will help scrub emissions of all sorts (inluding garden-variety pollution) from smokestacks and tailpipes.
And of course, there is always the "Tang and Teflon" phenomenon: any significant investment in scientific research, especially in applied research, will produce technological spinoffs that cannot be predicted, and whose effects cannot be anticipated. Space and missile research produced this little spinoff call personal computers, for example -- and regardless of what Walter Mondale thinks, I don't believe the PC is a passing fad.
Finally, the Asia Pacific Partnership is entirely voluntary: the nations agree to share technology because each country believes it's good for itself; sharing research means quicker and better results. So the pact is self-enforcing: nobody cheats because the incentive is captialism, which entirely favors continuing the partnership.
In the Power Line piece, Hinderaker bemoans the fact that nobody seems to be paying any attention to the numerous ways in which George W. Bush proves his genius by contributing solutions rather than wallowing in problems, as we saw in the last two Democratic administrations.
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
But I believe that Bush honestly doesn't care whether he gets credit or not, so long as long-festering problems are solved. In this sense, George W. Bush is Reaganesque. For that reason, and because of Bush's willingness to think not only big but sideways, he is destined to be remembered as a great president. If this pact helps the human race to think its way out of the many problems associated with fossil fuels (including pollution, poor engine efficiency, and the finite nature of organic byproducts), then Bush may well be remembered for helping to give future generations the gift of limitless clean energy.
Pick a Pact, Any Pact
The long afternoon of the grand global climate pact is ending; the hot sun sinks low, and the coolness of the night chills fevered fantasies of scores of nations linking hands and singing a Climatological Kumbayah. Even the New York Times sees the lengthening shadows:
IN December 1997, representatives of most of the world's nations met in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate a binding agreement to cut emissions of "greenhouse" gases.
They succeeded. The Kyoto Protocol was ultimately ratified by 156 countries. It was the first agreement of its kind. But it may also prove to be the last.
Today, in the middle of new global warming talks in Montreal, there is a sense that the whole idea of global agreements to cut greenhouse gases won't work.
I read about this on Saturday and was going to blog it, but Wretchard seems to have beaten me to the punch. Still, I did discuss this several months ago on Captain's Quarters, so I think it's still worth a follow-up -- and I'll post that Scaley Classic immediately following this post. (Sooner or later, I will post on Big Lizards every word I've written on other blogs, all of my fiction and nonfiction, and probably the first eight volumes of the Encyclopaedia Galactica before you can reel me in.)
What has happened is that the vision of a worldwide, enforceable pact, treaty, or protocol forcing a reduction in greenhouse gases (mostly carbon and carbonoids) by crippling industrial production has proven, oddly enough, to be extraordinarily unpopular. Oh, plenty of nations agree to the notion in theory and eagerly climb aboard; but when push comes to pull, they quietly scuttle any real attempt to comply. Even Japan itself has failed to honor any major component of the Kyoto Protocol.
Naturally, however, the Times has a more comfortable villain in mind:
But in the years after the protocol was announced, developing countries, including the fast-growing giants China and India, have held firm on their insistence that they would accept no emissions cuts, even though they are likely to be the world's dominant source of greenhouse gases in coming years.
Their refusal helped fuel strong opposition to the treaty in the United States Senate and its eventual rejection by President Bush.
Note the subtle dropping of context here: the "strong opposition" to the treaty in the Senate was in fact 97 to 0; and this vote was taken, not during the reign of George W. Bush, but that of his immediate predecessor, whoever he was. Bush simply withdrew a treaty that the Senate had overwhelmingly rejected (in a non-binding straw vote).
This Orwellian Europeanism -- or rather, Rachel Carson-ism -- has been replaced by the dawning recognition that George Bush was right after all: the best way to resolve the problems caused by the anthropogenic component of global warming (however large or small a percentage of total warming that may be) is to encourage capitalism, technology, and especially regional solutions... rather than trying to spin the entire globe off its axis.
Note that there are also a great many benefits to having an atmosphere with a significantly larger component of CO₂ (carbon dioxide): plants, including food crops, grow faster, larger, with a longer growing season, yielding healthier and more pest-resistant foliage and fruit, thus requiring fewer pesticides. If the goal is to better life for human beings, more CO₂ in the atmosphere is a grand thing, so long as we don't overdo it (which isn't likely under even the wildest, most politically driven overestimate by actual scientists). See for example Chapter 10 of the Satanic Gases, by Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling, jr. None of these benefits is ever considered in global climate pacts.
(Professor Michaels, research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and one of America's foremost researchers in climatology, was formerly the editor of World Climate Review, which took a skeptical view of global-warming theory and politics. WCR, sadly defunct now, was published by the Western Fuels Association, an alliance of coal-burning utility companies. Both Michaels and Professor Balling, director of the Office of Climatology and professor of geography at Arizona State University, are skeptics of the sky-is-falling model of globaloney. Another excellent book by Professor Michaels is Meltdown : The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media.)
I love the Times's conclusion. It's at once so lofty and so appallingly ignorant:
The only real answer at the moment is still far out on the horizon: nonpolluting energy sources. But the amount of money being devoted to research and develop such technologies, much less install them, is nowhere near the scale of the problem, many experts on energy technology said.
"Far out on the horizon?" How about, oh, nuclear power plants? Sure, there are some new designs that are still being tested: Pebble Bed Modular reactors (gas-cooled) and Integral Fast reactors (cooled by liquid sodium), for a couple of examples. But surely the fact that France gets so much of its electrical power from (non-greenhouse-gas emitting) nukes should have penetrated the skull of Andrew C. Revkin, who wrote this article. If he ever saw the China Syndrome, he ought to know that we do, in fact, have nuclear fission powerplants -- which therefore are not "far out on the horizon."
In any event, research and development of "such technologies" is precisely the approach favored by President Bush in the Asia Pacific Partnership, which we signed back in July of this year. See next post, a Climate Pact Even I Can Applaud.
So with the belated discovery by the "pactologists" in Europe (I include Japan) that you catch more flies with honey than cod liver oil, can we expect a formal mea maxima culpa for treating President Bush, who is now shown to have been right all along on this issue, like a dunderhead?
Sure... that's about as likely as the oceans rising up and inundating New York City up to Lady Liberty's headgear:
But it is fun watching the ritualized kabuki dance of the climate-change crowd.
Ask The 3/25
An all too familiar headline spreads across the AP news stream: Ten Marines Killed by Roadside Bomb. "Worst in Iraq since Aug." it crows. God, they are so giddy to report the deaths of American troops, aren't they?
A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a MilBlog whose author was a soldier writing from Iraq. He had just lost five of his comrades within 48 hours in two separate incidents. He was devastated, morose and angry. But the one thing he was not was despairing: he was proud of his buddies who sacrificed their lives to protect our country.
I don't know which unit (if any) Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) was talking to, but the warriors I read about are not "broken." If anything, after living through the deaths of their friends, they are more detemined than ever to finish what they started.
"We know we made a positive difference," says Cpl. Jeff Schuller of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, who spent all but one week of his eight-month tour with Mayer. "I can't say at what level, but I know that where we were, we made it better than it was when we got there."
It is the simplest measure of success, but for the marine, soldier, or sailor, it may be the only measure of success. In a business where life and death rest on instinctive adherence to thoroughly ingrained lessons, accomplishment is ticked off in a list of orders followed and tasks completed. And by virtually any measure, America's servicemen and women are accomplishing the day-to-day tasks set before them.
Cpls. Jeff Schuller and Stan Mayer
The 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines -- the "3/25" -- is the unit that lost 15 marines in less than a week - nine of them in one of the deadliest roadside bombings against U.S. forces during the war.
The 3/25 has seen the worst of the war. But the yarns they want to tell us are not stories of loss and futility but fond memories of the Iraqi people whose lives have turned around because of Americans like these soldiers.
Their conversation could be a road map of the kind of stories that military folks say the mainstream media are missing. One colleague made prosthetics for an Iraqi whose hand and foot had been cut off by insurgents. When other members of the unit were sweeping areas for bombs, the medics made a practice of holding impromptu infant clinics on the side of the road.
They remember one Iraqi man who could not hide his joy at the marvel of an electric razor. And at the end of the 3/25's tour, a member of the Iraqi Army said: "Marines are not friends; marines are brothers," says Lt. Richard Malmstrom, the battalion's chaplain.
In Hit, where marines stayed in force to keep the peace, the progress was obvious, say members of the 3/25. The residents started burning trash and fixing roads - a sign that the city was returning to a sense of normalcy. Several times, "people came up to us [and said]: 'There's a bomb on the side of the road. Don't go there,' " says Pfc. Andrew Howland.
For Mayer, who joined the reserves because he wanted to do something bigger than himself, and for Schuller, a third-generation marine, Iraq has given them a sense of achievement. Now when they look at the black-and-white pictures of marines past in the battalion headquarters, "We're adding to that legacy," says Schuller.
This is what they wish to share with the American people - and is also the source of their frustration. Their eight months in Iraq changed their lives, and they believe it has changed the lives of the Iraqis they met as well.
One example of the progress we should focus on is that more and more Iraqi citizens are opening up to American troops. I read a similar story in Bill Roggio's report from Husaybah --
On the way to Hue, 1st Platoon encountered a possible IED. Buried in the ground, tail up, was a mortar round. An Explosive Ordnance Disposal team was called in to destroy the device. The round was not rigged to explode. “Lots of times the locals find rounds and bury them in clear view so we can find them”, said Corporal Gauls.
Ask The Soldiers, which lets ordinary soldiers post thoughts unedited, also talks about this phenomenon.
[A]s far as how do ppl [sic] respond to us, they seem to warm up to us as each passing day. They now realize that we are not here for any other reason but for their independence and for them to be able to be free and have a voice.
Another contributer wrote:
[M]ostly all Iraqi citizens like having us here for example the waving hello as opposed to the finger. Yet, most of them understand that we are here for them not against them.
But the MSM is too busy reporting al-Qaeda's anti American "demonstration" to ask the American soldiers themselves what they think:
An AP Television News video showed the insurgents walking down a shuttered market street and a residential neighborhood, as well as firing four mortar rounds. The masked men, however, appeared relaxed, and the U.S. command dismissed the video as little more than a publicity stunt. [Emphasis added]
If you were actualy in Iraq like this next Marine, you could have seen yet another "publicity stunt" in progress:
Oh, there was a story a few months ago about this "huge protest" in the streets of Ramadi demanding that America leave Iraq forever. To tell the truth about that one; it was about 40-50 bad guys grouped in front of cameras to make the "crowd" seem much bigger than it was and as soon as Humm-Vee's rolled up to the scene, they scattered and seemingly vanished. Yeah, tough dudes alright.
So if mere civilians, who only catch a glimpse of this reality, are frustrated by the MSM's negative crusade against the war, how do you think the troops who are actual eyewitnesses to history? Ask The Soldiers answers that rhetorical question:
If you just read the daily paper and watch the MSM, you would think that we are losing this war on terror and that we are making no progress whatsoever. I say BULL****! Everyday that passes we make progress. We are training the Iraqi soldiers and police forces so that they can deal with this insurgency and the normal problems of a country. [Expletive deleted by Big Lizards.]
Unmitigated crap. And I don't say this out of defensiveness or service pride - I'll tell you about how far we have had to come in a bit. First, though, a little material for you to mull over. . . .
The constant stream of re-enlistments was a revelation to me. When I was the Executive Officer of the garrison at Bagram Airfield (a job I gladly traded away after 5 months) I had to find room to more than double the size of the Retention Office. I personally administered the oath of re-enlistment to an E-5 and an E-7. The E-5 was a mother of two young children and the E-7 was eligible to retire when we got home!
Broken? Hardly. Is it difficult work? Yes.
Do not mistake hard work for foundering. Respectfully, Rep. Murtha - you are wrong. Dead wrong. [Emphasis added.]
If you really want to know how the war goes, send not for the politician, the protester, or the newspaper man. Just ask the 3/25.
Date ►►► December 3, 2005
Ace of Aces
Ace over at Ace of Spades linked our post Which Hand Do You Choose; as I always do, I read the post that linked us... and boy, am I glad I did.
Ace's own post (below the part where he links us) is just about the clearest, most succinct, and most devastating critique of the entire liberal "cheerleaders for defeatism" clique I've read. Definitely better than our own post that he linked! (Note, this is not simple modesty, because I have none.)
Just a sample to whet the appetite:
Their careers, political and media, depend upon an American defeat in Iraq. They cannot hope for an actual Al Qaeda military victory; that's simply an impossibility. They need Bush to concede defeat in the jaws of victory, and to do that, they need to convince the American public that a war moving towards full victory is actually doomed to certain defeat.
They need this. They cannot recapture power without it. And if convincing the American people to save their asses by forcing Bush to surrender requires them lying about white phosphorus, "propaganda" in Iraqi newspapers, and the like, they'll do so, gladly.
Read the whole post: if this doesn't put it all on a nutshell for you, you're too reductionist!
Buy an Ad, Go to Liberal Heck
I've refrained from commenting on the "evil military destroying freedom of the press in Iraq" story because -- unlike the mainstream media -- I actually wanted to get the facts before throwing myself off the Conclusion Cliff. And now we have some.
Recall that the charge, leveled by a group of anonymous "military officials" and published in the Los Angeles Times, was that the American military, as part of a devious, underhanded PsyOps program, was bribing Iraqi newspapers to publish propaganda pieces that were actually written by intelligence officers; the poor newspaper editors, the charge went on, had absolutely no idea that they were being covertly manipulated by their American spymasters, in blatant violation of the Rights of Man, international law, and the Iraqis' sacred First-Amendment rights.
After actually investigating the facts of the case, however, the Pentagon has explained what was really going on. From "Military Explains News Propaganda in Iraq," by Lolita C. Baldor
"If any part of our process does not have our full confidence, we will examine that activity and take appropriate action," said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq. "If any contractor is failing to perform as we have intended, we will take appropriate action."
Johnson did not specify what changes, if any, might be considered.
The remarks came after days of reports and criticism that the military was covertly planting in the Iraqi media stories that, while factual, gave a slanted, positive view of conditions in Iraq. [One presumes that a slanted, negative view of conditions in Iraq -- which we see every day from the same Los Angeles Times that breathlessly broke the tendentious version of this story -- would have been perfectly fine. -- the Mgt.]
U.S. military officials in Iraq said articles had been offered and published in Iraqi newspapers "as a function of buying advertising and opinion/editorial space, as is customary in Iraq."
Coalition forces compiled the material, and the Washington-based Lincoln Group was authorized to pay Iraqi papers to run the articles, which were supposed to be identified in that way, said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Warner, who went to the Pentagon Friday for an explanation, said the program was carefully monitored by military leaders and was reviewed by attorneys to ensure it complied with the law.
In other words, the huge "scandal" is that Coalition forces commissioned American soldiers to write "factual" accounts (nobody disputes that they were factual) of military engagements and rebuilding efforts, to counter the malicious lying by the terrorists and the American and international MSM. These accounts were handed to a third party in order to protect the Iraqi newspapers from reprisals by Zarqawi. The stories written by the soldiers were run as ads and paid commentary, which is a normal way to get your message out in Iraq; and they were supposed to have been identified as having been written by American soldiers.
But somehow, attribution didn't always get attached. Who could be responsible for that? Was it deliberate "propaganda," as the Associated Press has taken to calling it?
In fact, the Times even admitted that typically, the stories were identified as adverts, and were sometimes run in special fonts, typographies, and colors. But evidently, not every Iraqi stringer working for the Lincoln Group identified the purchaser as the Coalition when he sold the stories.
Why might they not do this? The answer is easily deduced from the Los Angeles Times story that started the whole "scandal" investigation, "U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press":
After he learned of the source of three paid stories that ran in Al Mada in July, that newspaper's managing editor, Abdul Zahra Zaki, was outraged, immediately summoning a manager of the advertising department to his office.
"I'm very sad," he said. "We have to investigate."
The Iraqis who delivered the articles also reaped modest profits from the arrangements, according to sources and records.
Employees at Al Mada said that a low-key man arrived at the newspaper's offices in downtown Baghdad on July 30 with a large wad of U.S. dollars. He told the editors that he wanted to publish an article titled "Terrorists Attack Sunni Volunteers" in the newspaper.
He paid cash and left no calling card, employees said. He did not want a receipt. The name he gave employees was the same as that of a Lincoln Group worker in the records obtained by The Times. Although editors at Al Mada said he paid $900 to place the article, records show that the man told Lincoln Group that he gave more than $1,200 to the paper.
Al Mada is widely considered the most cerebral and professional of Iraqi newspapers, publishing investigative reports as well as poetry.
Zaki said that if his cash-strapped paper had known that these stories were from the U.S. government, he would have "charged much, much more" to publish them. [Emphasis added -- here, there, and everywhere]
And there you have it. Let's apply Occam's Razor to this conundrum.
- The Coalition decides to counter the agitprop of the enemy by employing the powerful engine of the truth.
- For this truth, they turned to the actual soldiers in the field, who wrote stories.
- Coalition media folks handed them over to the Lincoln Group to be placed with attribution in newspapers.
- The Lincoln Group decides the best way to do this is to use Iraqi stringers, just as AP, the L.A. Times, and every other non-Arab news source in the Middle East uses.
- The stringers discover that when they inform the newspapers the ads are being bought by the Coalition, they get charged a lot more. They hit on a scheme: they don't tell the newspapers and don't get receipts. The newspapers charge $X dollars to place the stories as ads; the stringers inform the Lincoln Group that they had to fork out $Y, where Y is significantly larger than X. The stringers pocket the difference.
But of course, this reality doesn't make for a good scandal-mongering story; and it also doesn't fulfill the urgent task of portraying the American military and the war effort as sleazy, disreputable, and distasteful. So the Los Angeles Times works itself into a lather of moral indignation -- and Hurricane Plantgate forms off the southwestern coast.
Some of the charges in the L.A. Times story are unintentionally just hilarious. Here are my favorites:
"Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said."
"According to several sources, the process for placing the stories begins when soldiers write "storyboards" of events in Iraq, such as a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid on a suspected insurgent hide-out, or a suicide bomb that killed Iraqi civilians.
"The storyboards, several of which were obtained by The Times, read more like press releases than news stories. They often contain anonymous quotes from U.S. military officials; it is unclear whether the quotes are authentic."
[Note: the very same story making this accusation contains not a single named primary source; every source is anonymous! They are identified only as "military officials."]
"'Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories,' said the senior military official who spent this year in Iraq."
So it goes. The whole imbroglio turns out to be a tempest in a molehole. But in the meantime, the Los Angeles Times dumps yet another shovelful of Shinola on the heads of the American military. And the Pentagon now must waste weeks explaining to the allies, the Iraqis, and the American people that no, they were not engaging in some horrible, Soviet-style propaganda campaign; that they're not against freedom of the press; that they're not anti-American; and that they're not fighting dirty, even though the terrorist enemy is and always will.
But that's the way the liberals' covert war against America has always been fought: another day, another slander.
Date ►►► December 2, 2005
Is "Torture" UnAmerican?
Tom Bevan at the Real Clear Politics blog steered me to this Victor Davis Hanson piece, in which, while ceding virtually every point to those who advocate allowing the use of "torture" in extreme, life-and-death cases (such as Charles Krauthammer does), nevertheless ends on the McCain side of the debate thus:
But all that is precisely the risk we must take in supporting the McCain amendment — because it is a public reaffirmation of our country's ideals. [Emphasis added]
But is it really? What ideals are those?
There is of course the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against inflicting "cruel and unusual punishments." But nobody is talking about using torture as a punishment; we're discussing using it in wartime as a tool to gather intelligence, particularly in the fabled "ticking time bomb" scenario. Our "country's ideals," such as we can deduce from our foundational documents, don't even address this question.
The Fifth Amendment bans compelling people to testify against themselves in a criminal case, which of course includes the use of confessions wrung from unwilling defendants by torture. But again, we're not trying these terrorists in a criminal court, nor would we use the coerced information as evidence against them in a military tribunal (since they would just argue they lied to stop the pain). So that doesn't appear to be one of the "ideals" that Hanson meant, either.
The United States has routinely engaged in acts of "torture," by a sufficiently tortuous definition, throughout our history: in the current conflict, we take away the terrorists' liberty, which most would find pretty torturous. We allow our military captives to be questioned by infidels -- Jews, even! -- instead of restricting all contact to fellow Moslems. We often prevent them from dying as martyrs, being sent directly to Paradise, and collecting their seventy-two raisins. We might even feed them "non-kosher" food, if we don't happen to have any halal ready to hand on the battlefield. Many Islamists would consider each of these to be a war crime.
In fact, torture itself doesn't exist as a discrete thing; there is a sliding scale. As Hanson himself admits:
There is also a danger that once we try to quantify precisely what constitutes torture, we could, in the ensuing utopian debate, define anything from sleep deprivation to loud noise as unacceptable. Indeed, we might achieve the unintended effect of only creating disdain for our moral pretensions from incarcerated terrorists. They would have no worries of suffering pain but plenty of new demands on their legalistic hosts, from ethnically correct meals to proper protocols in handling their Qurans.
What strikes me as bizarre is that Hanson makes the best case I've seen for at least allowing for the possibility of torture, knocking down each and every argument that has been raised against it... yet at the end, he thinks he has trumped them all by a simplistic appeal to "our country's ideals" -- ideals he never enunciates or even identifies. It's as if "torture," however defined, violates some ritual tabu and will bring down on us the retribution of the gods.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein found himself very disturbed by some of the spooky implications of quantum theory. He offered what he must have supposed was a reductio ad absurdum: if the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle were true -- that (in one formulation) you could never, even in theory, reduce the measurement error of a particle's position or its momentum to zero -- then it would also have to be true that you could never reduce to zero the error in its measured energy or the error in the time you choose to measure it. Einstein thought this was absurd, hence it should prove the Uncertainty Principle was wrong.
Instead, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg eagerly embraced the supposedly "absurd" result; and most physicists agree that rather than debunking quantum mechanics, Einstein inadvertently added to its spookiness.
I'm afraid that's just what my fellow U.C. Santa Cruz alum Victor Davis Hanson has done here. In his attempt to argue in favor of the McCain amendment banning all torture under all circumstances, he has presented the best case possible against it -- even better than Charles Krauthammer's.
The first ten paragraphs of your twelve-paragraph op-ed have convinced me, Dr. Hanson: I will now wholeheartedly fight against the McCain amendment to ban all torture.
The Dogs That Didn't Bark
Yesterday, I was talking with a liberal (because I must, Miss Coulter!) about Iraq, and the fact that it has become Ground Zero in the war against Islamic terrorism. I received the standard rejoinder, but I stymied him with a simple question:
Mr. Liberal: But it wasn't "Ground Zero" before we invaded. It was our invasion that drew a huge terrorist army to Iraq.
Mr. Lizard: Then why didn't our presence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia draw huge terrorist armies to those countries?
Granted, our presence on the "holy soil of Mecca" was the major reason cited by Osama bin Laden why he authorized the 9/11 attacks, though I doubt it really had much to do with the attack (we were actually way out in the desert, at the Prince Sultan Air Base, not Mecca; but one shouldn't expect much geographical accuracy from Osama). But they didn't pour into either Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, did they? Well... why not?
The reason is pretty clear: because we were not in either of those two countries to democratize them. There was no danger that we would transform either Saudi Arabia or Kuwait from totalitarian dictatorship to a free country. Therefore, the defenders of the faith had nothing to fear.
It would be easy to understand if al-Qaeda had made Afghanistan its do-or-die last stand: that was their home, and we booted them out. But funnily enough, they haven't. Where are they? The Taliban keeps on fighting there, hoping to seize control once again; but al-Qaeda appears to have abandoned them and that poor, old sod, Mullah Omar -- anybody still remember him? -- to their fates.
But Iraq was another story. All informed Americans still capable of rational thought agree on two propositions: there were connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but al-Qaeda did not run that joint the way they ran Afghanistan; Hussein did, and nobody else. Iraq was a one-man band before 2003. Nor was it an Islamist state. Yeah, yeah, Hussein added "Allahu Akbar" to the flag; but it was nothing like Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Afghanistan.
So on paper, there is no reason in the world why a Wahabbist, Islamist group-of-groups like al-Qaeda would care one jot what befell Saddam Hussein. In fact, to the extent that kicking out the secular tyrant Hussein could possibly (at least in the mind of an Islamist) lead to the Shiite portions of Iraq joining or at least allying with Iran, an undeniably Islamist state, wouldn't one imagine that the terrorists would welcome the fall of Hussein?
So something else must have drawn them to try to destroy the nascent nationalism in Iraq.
"You will not apply my precept," [Sherlock Holmes] said, shaking his head. "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? We know that he did not come through the door, the window, or the chimney. We also know that he could not have been concealed in the room, as there is no concealment possible. When, then, did he come?"
Obviously, in real world induction we can't eliminate all possibilities but one. But in this case, we're on pretty safe ground concluding that what distinguishes Iraq from all those other countries that al-Qaeda could have poured into and made the last stand for militant Islamism but didn't is that Iraq is the only Arab country in the Middle East where America is deliberately and with goodness aforethought trying to establish a functioning Islamic democracy atop the ruins of a military dictatorship. Al-Qaeda and its ideological brotherhood cannot allow liberty and democracy to flourish in the Middle East because that would indeed be the doom of militant Islamism -- whose central precept is totalitarian obedience.
Which was, of course, what was to be proved; quod erat demonstrandum.
So Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and of course George W. Bush are absolutely correct: the terrorists decided to make Iraq the line in the sand between civilization and barbarism, so we must treat it as such as well and drive them out. If we lose in Iraq, we lose across the world; but when we win, that domino will topple the rest -- pulling down not merely Arab dictatorships or even just Islamic theocracies, but tyranny from North Korea and Vietnam, to Zimbabwe and Somalia, to Cuba and Venezuela. People everywhere will see that it's possible to have democracy without having to jettison traditional culture and become Americans.
They attacked -- but we will decide.
It's said that the oldest chess pieces ever found were pulled out of an excavation in Persia. So perhaps Iran will understand the most recent move of their sworn deadly enemy, Israel.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel carried out a successful test of its missile-interceptor system on Friday when an Arrow II missile downed an incoming rocket designed to simulate an Iranian Shahab-3, the defense ministry said.
The test, the latest in a series, came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel could not accept the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran, though he steered clear of threatening military action against the Islamic Republic.
But wait, we're getting ahead of ourselves. What does it mean, saying that Iran's "sworn, deadly enemy" is Israel? Let's jump in the Way-Back machine all the way back to a couple of weeks ago. Arnold Beichman wrote this commentary for the Washington Times:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected last August, described openly the other day why Iran needed a nuclear weapon in announcing "Israel must be wiped off the map." Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke for the Iranian government when he called for Israel's destruction. In fact, Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki told the state-run television "the comments expressed by the president are the declared and specific policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Not even in the worst days of the Cold War did anybody propose the United States or the Soviet Union be "wiped off the map." Mr. Ahmadinejad's genocidal sloganeering has been condemned by the U.N. Security Council, the State Department, both houses of Congress, French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the European Union, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Australia, Russia and others.
Iran has made such hysterical and chilling threats before. In 2001, the "moderate" former president of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, when he was chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council (and possibly second in power after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei), said something similar:
If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything [in Israel] while it will merely harm the Islamic world.
So it's actually quite reasonable for Israel to assume they're Target Number One in Iran's book of nations to wipe off the map when they get nuclear weapons.
But having nukes is not the same as being able to use them; and in fact the latter is not as easy as one would think. There are only a few ways to get a warhead into an enemy country:
- You can drive or carry it in overland; this typically requires a coterminous border. Iran-on-the-Persian-Gulf, however, is on the other side of the Middle East from Israel-on-the-Mediterranean. They are separated by about 1,000 miles as the missile flies, but more like 2,000-3,000 miles across the winding, tortuous roadways of that region of the world. Iran would either have to push north through Turkey, then down through Syria; or through a little piece of Iraq down into Kuwait, then into Saudi Arabia for a couple thousand miles to Jordan, then across Jordan into Israel; or else right through the heart of Iraq and the 150,000 Coalition troops, to Jordan, to Israel. None of these is a happy prospect.
- You can put it on a boat and float it to your target. In this case, however, that would entail a journey of many thousands of miles all the way around the Arabian Peninsula, through the Suez Canal, and then to an Israeli port -- which is probably very heavily guarded.
- You can fly it on a plane. I suspect, however, that Mosad would already know it was coming and would have cancelled all air travel that originated in Iran -- or wherever they transported the warhead to; Israel is very thorough when their existence is at stake.
- But the easiest of all is to put the warhead on a missile and fire it at your enemy.
From the Reuters piece linked above:
The Shahab-3, which Iran says has a range of 2,000 km (1,250 miles), is seen by Israel as the main weapon which would be used to target its territory.
Clearly, Iran has been planning on the last: the mere fact that they have been developing the Shahab 3 (and negotiating with North Korea for the advanced technology of the Taep’o-dong 2) tells us that would be preferred delivery route. But in that case, the joint US-Israeli development of the Arrow ("Khetz" in Israel) is a decisive countermove to Iran's entire nuclear program: it does to Iran what the Strategic Defense Initiative did to the Soviet Union.
The Iranian nuclear threat is dissapating even as Iran rushes to complete a nuke or two; what is the point for Iran, stuck off in a corner of the world, to develop a warhead that it cannot deliver?
In other words, checkmate, "the king is no more" -- which, as it happens, is the title of this post... in Persian.
Date ►►► December 1, 2005
Which Hand Do You Choose?
Here in the right hand, we have this:
Major General Rich Lynch, top spokesman in Iraq: “In the month of November: only 23 suicide attacks; the lowest we’ve seen in the last seven months, the direct result of the effectiveness of our operations.”
11.5% drop in U.S. fatalities in November
Fatalities dropped from 96 in October to 85 in November, despite the fact that November was the month of the phenomenally successful Operation Steel Curtain in Anbar and Ninawa, driving the terrorists out of their somewhat-less-than-safe houses along the Syrian border.
There are now more than 120 Iraqi Army and Police combat battalions actively fighting against the terrorists
President Bush: "Of these, about 80 Iraqi battalions are fighting side-by-side with coalition forces, and about 40 others are taking the lead in the fight. Most of these 40 battalions are controlling their own battle space, and conducting their own operations against the terrorists with some coalition support.... At this moment, over 30 Iraqi Army battalions have assumed primary control of their own areas of responsibility. In Baghdad, Iraqi battalions have taken over major sectors of the capital -- including some of the city's toughest neighborhoods."
We've officially transferred 90 square miles of the Baghdad province to the Iraqis
Bush again: "Over a dozen bases in Iraq have been handed over to the Iraqi government -- including Saddam Hussein's former palace in Tikrit, which has served as the coalition headquarters in one of Iraq's most dangerous regions." The current policy of clear and hold has liberated 28 cities from terrorist control; those cities, including such major urban centers as Fallujah and Ramadi, are now controlled by pro-government Iraqis.
The Iraqis have held two successful, national, free elections in the past year
The first in January, electing an interim parliament; number two on October 15th, ratifying the new Iraqi constitution. And a third will be held -- and will doubtless be even more successful than the first -- on December 15th, choosing the first freely elected parliament under a constitution ratified by the people in any Arab (or Persian) country in the Middle East.
The terrorists and the Baathist bitter-enders have been unable to hold any territory whatsoever
Not only that, they have been unable to get a national front off the ground -- a national front is a unified and cohesive ideology that engages the support of a substantial portion of the population. But the goal of the die-hards (Saddam Hussein back on the throne) is rejected even by the Sunnis; and the terrorists' goal (a Mesopotamian caliphate with Zarqawi ruling the joint) is so terrifying to nearly all Iraqis that even with the very significant number of murders of police and army recruits, they continue to flood in... and more and more are Sunnis.
About the only thing everyone in Iraq agrees on is that eventually the Americans, the British, and other foreign Coalition forces should leave. But since "everyone" includes the Americans and the Brits, this is hardly a problem.
But on the left hand, we have this:
To show they are still in charge, terrorists have left some litter and graffiti on a street in the Anbar capital of Ramadi
After an unsuccessful attack on the U.S. base, in which only one granade was fired with no casualty in our part, "the insurgents [sic] left behind posters and graffiti saying they were members of al-Qaida in Iraq and claiming responsibility for shooting down a U.S. drone. There were no reports of any U.S. drones being shot down, though." (The so-called "insurgency" actually isn't, however; Reuters is simply illiterate. See the continuation of this post for an explanation why.)
The foreign terrorists still retain some ability to randomly kill women and children by blowing themselves up
I'm not sure exactly how this is supposed to help Zarqawi; most Iraqis seem to be less impressed than appalled, and they're deserting the terrorists (and turning them in) in droves. I don't think the two facts are unrelated.
The anti-Iraq forces do still maintain their strategic alliance with the U.N. bureaucracy, the internationalist nationalists in much of Europe, Africa, and in Venezuela, and with the American and international mainstream media, film community, and academe
Again, whether this will ultimately help them is questionable: if a Democrat is elected president, it will likely be a decisive coalition; but the mere fact of its existence works against any Democrat being elected president. Ever.
Finally, the cut-and-run policy of cowardice dictated by the gaggle of terrorists, mobsters, and once-weres in Iraq is rapidly becoming the majority position of the Democratic Party
Although this means the Democrats will likely not win control of any body of the government anytime soon, they can still make mischief by rolling the Republicans whenever they can gather enough cheerleaders for catastrophe to block a vital war bill via the filibuster, or to amend some critical piece of legislation into its mirror opposite by voting en banc, while the right remains fractured over some other, trivial contention.
On this last point, we have House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) coming out firmly in favor of Vietnamizing the Iraqi War, following closely on the heels of famed fair-weather feather Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) lending the shreds and patches of his tattered credibility to the same cause. Today, in an effort to rally the troops, Murtha offered more of his insightful military analysis:
Murtha Says Army Is 'Broken, Worn Out'
Dec 1, 2005
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) - Most U.S. troops will leave Iraq within a year, and the Army is "broken, worn out" and may not be able to meet future military threats to the country's security, Rep. John Murtha said....
Murtha predicted most troops will be out of Iraq within a year.
"I predict he'll make it look like we're staying the course," Murtha said, referring to Bush. "Staying the course is not a policy." [It isn't? -- the Mgt.]
Murtha, 73, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, expressed pessimism about Iraq's stability and said the Iraqis know who the insurgents are, but don't always share that information with U.S. troops. He said a civil war is likely because of ongoing factionalism among Sunni Arabs, and Kurds and Shiites....
Murtha, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, said the Pennsylvania National Guard is "stretched so thin" that it won't be able to send fully equipped units to Iraq next year.
(We don't know how the administration responded to this bizarre rant because AP didn't see fit to ask for comment from anyonewho disagreed with Murtha.)
Democrats in the Senate are nervously shuffling in this same direction, with many a backward look; like Lot's wife, some of these reluctant fainthearts stand a good chance of being turned into a pillar of salt next November... which, contrary to confident prophecies by triumphalist Democrats and dolorous Republicans alike, I predict will be a very good month for Bush and the conservatives.
So... which hand do you choose? The right or the left? Asking myself what I always ask in such cases of moral dilemma -- WWZD? (no, the Z doesn't stand for Zarqawi, Zawahiri, or Zarathustra) -- I think I shall have to lead with the right, Señor.
How about you?
(If you're interested to learn why Rumsfeld was correct and Reuters churlishly wrong about the meaning of insurgency, read on.)
On the all-important diction front, the word "insurgent" does not mean "anyone fighting against any government." Even Reuters admits this -- though they don't understand they have admitted away their whole case.
Nov 29, 2005: WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued on Tuesday that the guerrillas fighting U.S.-led foreign forces and the American-backed government in Iraq do not deserve to be called an "insurgency."Rumsfeld instead referred to the guerrillas in Iraq as "the terrorists" and "the enemies of the government." U.S. military statements also have referred to insurgents as "anti-Iraqi forces...."
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines an insurgent as "a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government."
God preserve us from truncated internet definitions!
The next step is to ask, well what is a revolt then? A real dictionary, such as my Websters Third New International, defines a revolt thus: 1 a casting off of allegiance : an uprising against legitimate authority : a renunciation of allegiance and subjection (as to a government). And an uprising is: 1 an act or instance of rising up.
Put them together, and you have the indisputable requirement that an insurgency, revolt, or uprising requires those who formerly accepted allegiance to a government rising up, surging in support of a positive agenda against the policies of the government, then renouncing their allegiance to the government because it won't mend its ways. The impetus must come from within the people themselves, not be foisted upon them by foreigners; a discontent with the government that bubbles up from the heartland of an oppressed people yearning for release.
But neither Zarqawi nor the ex-Baathists hiding out in Syria ever professed allegiance to the current Iraqi government; nor do either of them lift the Iraqi people up on wings of a positive ideology... they simply kill them for daring to side with freedom. Nor do the people have any expressed grievance with the current government, which certainly is not oppressing them; the only grievance among some Iraqi Baathists is that they're no longer in charge, like they used to be.
Words have meanings; and those meanings are not created by dictionaries but merely chronicled (well or badly). The terms insurgency, revolt, and uprising have never been used to mean a case as in Iraq, where a foreign military coalition is fighting to protect the Iraqis from a foreign conglomeration of terrorists, while the remnants of the old, ousted government plink around the edges, hoping to sidle back into power.
The American Revolution was all three. It comprised folks who saw themselves and were seen by all as Englishmen. They first request more freedom, then begged for it, then demanded it -- only revolting from the crown when mad King George III refused even to hear their just demands. The American revolutionaries carefully nurtured the American people along by explaining the concepts of freedom and democracy and how they differed from tyranny and mob rule alike; they journeyed around the colonies preaching liberty and self-determination; and they were joined by at least a third of the entire population (about as many loyalists opposed them, and the rest were neutral and confused).
The Zarqawistas and the Saddamites have done none of this. They have not even tried. Therefore, Rumsfeld is correct: they don't deserve the honorable title of "insurgents." They are terrorists, aristos, and tatterdemalion baby-slayers, nothing more.
This Might Kill Capital Punishment
I'm speaking of the Stanley "Tookie" Williams case, of course. If this goes on, it may very well spell the end of the death penalty in the United States.
Wait, Dafydd -- are you miffed because Tookie Williams hasn't yet been granted clemency? Not in the least; in fact, I would urge the Governator not to grant clemency in this case. So the guy "turned his life around" in prison and "redeemed himself." I'm not impressed... honestly, I'm not. Here's the argument for clemency on a nutshell:
Williams was condemned for killing Yen-I Yang, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang and Yu-Chin Yang Lin in the motel robbery, and for gunning down Albert Owens, a 7-Eleven clerk, in a separate crime.
While in prison, Williams has campaigned for an end to youth gang violence while co-authoring anti-gang books for youngsters. Supporters have nominated him several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
But now that he's on death row, he's reformed! Hasn't killed a man-jack since he was convicted. And he wrote anti-gang books. Really, what's the argument here -- now that he's got all that out of his system, he'll be good from now on?
Or maybe I think Tookie Williams is actually innocent... do I? Perhaps I buy the argument that his attorneys just made to the California Supreme Court:
Lawyers for Williams, author of a series of anti-gang books for children, wanted to re-exam ballistics evidence that showed his shotgun was used to kill three people during a 1979 motel robbery.
The defense claimed the forensic evidence was "junk science," but prosecutors said that allegation was "based upon innuendo, supposition and the patent bias of (Williams') purported expert."
Again with the books? What's this obsession with literary talent? Shades of Norman Mailer and his own pet murderer, Jack Abbott. Abbott was convicted of writing fraudulent checks; then, while in prison, he murdered another inmate. Receiving a sentence of nineteen years, Abbott, a "revolutionary" devotee of both Mao and Stalin, thought he might shorten that time by enlisting the aid of famed author and bloviator Norman Mailer. In 2002, Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal/OpinionJournal:
The letters Abbott subsequently wrote moved him to feelings of awe, Mr. Mailer reported in a 1981 New York Review of Books piece--awe, and admiration at the prisoner's writing and thinking and moral vision. In Abbott's letters he had found, "a potential leader, a man obsessed with a vision of more elevated human relations."
Hardly any wonder, then, that Abbott soon became the object of an effort by celebrated members of the literary establishment bent on springing him from prison. His patrons were moved by the certainty that they had stumbled on a visionary who must be freed to write and think, not just for his sake but, above all, for ours. A liberated Abbott could go about enriching our society and culture with his talents, which included, Mr. Mailer explained, a bold, and comprehensive vision of society.
This "comprehensive vision of society" lured scores of Left-listing artistic dears to Abbott's side, standing side by side with that literary "genius," Norman Mailer. Mailer savored the paeans and kow-tows attendant upon the introduction he wrote to Abbott's book, In the Belly of the Beast -- a twice-narcissistic collection of letters exchanged between the two gargantuan egos. Mailer at his worst, most fatuous, and most preening: "not only the worst of the young are sent to prison, but the best -- that is, the proudest, the bravest, the most daring, the most enterprising, and the most undefeated of the poor." Gag me with a skeleton key.
In due course, Jack Henry Abbott won parole, thanks to Mr. Mailer, who instructed the Utah Board of Corrections in Abbott's talent and literary promise, as did an editor from Random House. Released to a halfway house in June 1981, Abbott was surrounded by influential admirers, guest of honor at celebratory dinners, subject of stories in People magazine, and "Good Morning America."
Roughly a month later, it all came to an end, along with the life of 22-year-old actor and writer Richard Adan. The newly married manager of his father-in-law's Manhattan restaurant had made the mistake of telling Abbott that the washroom was for the staff and not for customers. The thinker obsessed with a vision of more elevated human relations proceeded to knife Adan to death in an argument over a toilet. Adan was left to die on the sidewalk.
Abbott was eventually captured and sentenced to life in prison. He finally managed to fulfilled one of his sentences, as he hanged himself in February, 2002, with his prison bedsheets. Good night, sweet poseur-ponce; parting is such a brief candle.
I don't know if Stormin' Norman is involved in the literary orgasm of adulation sprayed across Tookie Williams -- Nobel laureates, also-rans, and wannabes are lining up by the truckload to beg Arnold Schwarzenegger to spare the Tookie's life. Maybe he's but one of the furtive 48,000 who have "signed" an online petition for clemency. Mailer may be reticent -- once burned -- but he may as well be present at least in spirit, joining the "bevy of Nobel laureates and celebrities" flinging themselves to the ground and moaning (one more for the camera now!) that they're not worthy of the redeemed authentic writer of the magnificent series of anti-gang books for children, the man who has turned his life around and not killed a soul while on ice (more peaceful than Jack Abbott -- at least after getting those four terminations out of his juices).
Dorothy Rabinowitz, who wrote the Wall Street Journal piece on Jack Abbott, must be spinning in her Barcalounger for having written this in that same article:
Causes célèbres of this sort--in which literary talent is advanced as the reason to free a violent felon--aren't likely to come around again anytime soon.
Once as tragedy, once as farce, Ms. Rabinowitz.
(In a creepy coincidence, she is most famous for agitating for the freedom of a man who was probably falsely convicted of child molestation during that bizarre, only-in-America rage of prosecutions of the 1980s -- which included here in California the McMartin Pre-School legal atrocity. Rabinowitz's cause, however, was an evidently innocent man named (really!) Gerald "Tooky" Amirault. So it goes.)
But I wander. No, I don't think Tookie Williams is innocent. I'd have to side with the numerous state and federal trials and appeals that have ruled against the man, each and every one. That's not what I'm on about; that's not the thing that threatens the very existence of the death penalty, not even if Tookie Williams were as pure as the driven laundry detergent.
It leapt out at me as I read the David Kravits AP story on the Tookster, a 600-point headline flashing blood red, the frequency calculated to seize epileptics in their tracks:
Williams, condemned in 1981, has maintained his innocence. Among his claims is that fabricated testimony sent him to death row. He also says prosecutors violated his rights when they dismissed all potential black jurors from his case.
Oh. Didn't get it? Well, my training is in math, and I tend to notice numbers before letters. Let me try it again:
Williams, condemned in 1981, has maintained his innocence.
1981 was the first year of Ronald Reagan's presidency. It was a year after I transferred from UCLA up to UC Santa Cruz, and the year I finally ceased working with my back and started working with my brain. It was a year before my BA and the year of the first Space Shuttle launch -- Columbia, STS-1, on April 12th, if you're interested.
It was twenty-four years ago. And the gentleman still seems to be here.
If anything does in the death penalty, it will be the squeamishness of the executioner, the unwillingness of the state actually to carry out the verdict it's willing to render. We perhaps will come to a day when the population of death row exceeds that of the lifers, when we haven't executed a single person in a decade, and we simply throw up our hands in frustrated surrender. That would be a tragic day, for I believe that simple justice demands that we do not allow murderers, at least the worst of them -- or the best, in Norman Mailer's perverse universe -- to continue to enjoy what they've stolen from another. Fiat justicia, ruat coelum.
But maybe that day won't come. Thank God, there will always be a Texas.
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