Date ►►► August 31, 2007
The Insanity - and Inanity - of Judge-Ordered Same-Sex Marriage - UPDATED
UPDATE: See below.
Today, a lowly, puny county judge in Iowa gave the finger to the entire Iowa state legislature, overturned a nine-year old Iowa law, went against the opinion of a majority of Iowans, and set up a confrontation that can only end one way: a state constitutional amendment.
Why? Because he felt sorry for gays.
Dennis Prager is fond of remarking that compassion is one of the greatest virtues -- when practiced by individuals. But when practiced by government, compassion is more often one of the vilest vices. That is because the way governments practice "compassion" is to compassionate Paul by dissing Peter... in this case, telling everyone involved in the difficult decision of which relationships should be recognized as "marriage" that they can all go to hell, because Judge Robert Hanson's heart bled for a handful of people who sued to be able to wed same-sex partners.
Assuming AP is more or less accurate:
Hanson ruled that the state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.
"Couples, such as plaintiffs, who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry or certificates of marriage or in any other way prevented from entering into a civil marriage ... by reason of the fact that both person comprising such a couple are of the same sex," he said.
Naturally, Hanson is wildly inconsistent: He feels "compassion" for gays who cannot wed, but he has no compassion for similarly situated siblings or cousins, nor for threesomes who all want to wed each other. His "ick" factor rises to overwhelm his compassion in those cases... but not in the case before him.
What was Hanson's argument? That couples who obey marriage rules 1 through 3 are allowed to violate rule 4 and still get married. Of course, the next judge might say that couples who obey rules 1, 2, and 4 can get married, even if they violate 3; everybody is entitled to his opinion, right?
But when those opinions become law simply because the opinion-monger wears a robe to work, you have a prescription for disaster: Judge Hanson says if you're not too closely related and you're only a couple, then you can blow off that bit about being of opposite sexes. But the next fellow says No... if you're only a couple and you're of opposite sexes, then you can get married even if you're brother and sister. Why not? What is the difference?
The end state of this chain reaction is that all rules get thrown out, exploding the very concept of marriage: Any group of people who say "we're married" must be considered married, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto... allowing, for example, all the members of a gang to "marry" each other in a big group ceremony; and thereafter, none can ever be called as a witness against any other, even if he wants to testify. It's the Law of Unintended Consequences in action.
Unintended consequences is why such core definitions of a civilization cannot be resolved by individual judges substituting their own vision for an electoral process that gives everyone a say: It's much more difficult to change so basic an institution as marriage if you must do so by a majority vote of the people, rather than a majority vote among the neurons of one, solitary bench-warmer.
Did the judge consider the damage to the state of Iowa by expanding the definition of marriage to include two men or two women? Did he consider the possibility of a slippery slope? Did he consider how chipping merrily away at one of the legs of Western Civilization might cause the entire ediface to collapse?
Who knows? He's just one guy. He might have simply looked into the big, brown eyes of a plaintiff, a tear wells up, and the judge is immediately carried away by the desire to bring those particular two men together, and damn the larger consequences! The point is, we'll never know -- because it's only one guy. There is no "paper trail" of one guy's thought processes, as there is for the lengthy debate and eventual vote of a legislature or a citizen initiative.
The arrogance of Judge Hanson is breathtakingly colossal: He says, in essence, that he, the Anointed with the Vision (as Thomas Sowell puts it), is wiser than the combined wisdom of all the state legislators, the voters who elected them, and all previous judges who never found a "right" to same-sex marriage (or any other specific definition of marriage) in a state constitution that doubtless doesn't even mention such a definition.
The only good thing about this weepy, thoughtless ruling is that it will surely lead to a quick constitutional amendment in the state, an amendment that I suspect will be strongly supported among both Democrat and Republican Iowans:
House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, said the ruling illustrates the need for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"I can't believe this is happening in Iowa," he said. "I guarantee you there will be a vote on this issue come January," when the Legislature convenes.
I swear, I'm beginning to believe that living in a state with judges is hazardous to your culture.
UPDATE 3:45 pm: Same-sex marriage was legal in Iowa -- for less than one day; at that point, Judge Hanson acceded to a motion to stay his ruling filed by County attorney John Sarcone.
However, in that one day (and just two hours before the stay of execution), one couple managed to apply for a license, get a license, and actually get married, despite earlier reporting that it would take three days to receive the license:
Two men sealed the state's first legal same-sex marriage with a kiss Friday morning, less than 24 hours after a judge threw out Iowa's ban on gay marriage and about two hours before he put that ruling on hold.
It was a narrow window of opportunity.
And how did they buck the three-day waiting period? (I was tempted to go all gun-control on you and call it a "three day cooling-off period," but that would be snarky.) Easy: They paid a $5 gratuity:
The marriage license approval process normally takes three business days, but Fritz and McQuillan took advantage of a loophole that allows couples to skip the waiting period if they pay a $5 fee and get a judge to sign a waiver.
Friday morning, the Rev. Mark Stringer declared the two legally married in a wedding on [the] Unitarian minister's front lawn in Des Moines.
So let's see what happens in state appellate court and with the Iowa Supreme Court. But in order to forestall this sort of ruling occurring over and over again, whenever some county judge gets a wild hair, Iowans need to start the ball roaming on a state constitutional amendment.
I'm not sure whether that's done by the state legislature or by the voters themselves by petition... but whoever's in charge, get cracking.
Date ►►► August 30, 2007
Next Time, Listen to Your Mother
When I was a little lizardine growing up in Southern California, my mother had three pieces of advice that she trotted out on every appropriate occasion -- and several that were wildly inappropriate... but that's a tail of a different reptile. Mom said:
- Never show your cards unless called;
- Trust but verify;
- Never cut a deal with terrorist hostage-takers.
Sadly, the entire western world has now found out why #3 was so urgent...
Taliban militants released the last seven South Korean hostages on Thursday under a deal with the government in Seoul, ending a six-week drama that the insurgents claimed as a "great victory for our holy warriors."
We know very little about the deal; South Korea evidently promised to pull its 200 troops out of Afghanistan on schedule, and also (this part is vague) "vowed to prevent missionaries traveling to the country." I'm not sure what they mean by that; how do you stop missionaries from, say, leaving Korea for Japan -- and then leaving Japan for Afghanistan? Will the Republic of Korea institute a mass crackdown on Christians on orders from the Taliban in Afghanistan?
South Korea and the Taliban both deny that money changed hands; but that has not quelled the accusations, based upon past deals with the Taliban:
Speculation in Kabul remained rife that the South Korea had paid a ransom for the release of the hostages. But South Korean and Taliban officials continued to deny that a ransom was paid. Afghan officials have said that paying ransom to the Taliban would only increase the taking of foreigners as hostages....
Across Afghanistan this year, the Taliban have increasingly used the kidnapping of foreigners as a tactic to garner publicity, the release of prisoners and, most likely, large ransoms.
In a much criticized deal this spring, the Afghan government freed five senior Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist, Daniel Mastrogiacomo, after coming under intense pressure from the Italian government. In a separate case, aid workers have said that the Italian government paid $2 million for the release of a kidnapped Italian photographer last year. Italian officials have declined to comment on the case.
So what's the point? And what's all that about my mother? Only this, from the AP story linked above:
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi vowed to abduct more foreigners, reinforcing fears that South Korea's decision to negotiate directly with the militants would embolden them.
"We will do the same thing with the other allies in Afghanistan, because we found this way to be successful," he told the Associated Press via cell phone from an undisclosed location.
And there you are: What you subsidize, you inflate... and that's true whether the "payment" is money or just prestige. As sources in the article point out, the mere fact that a real government -- the Republic of Korea -- sat down and negotiated with the formerly moribund Taliban tremendously raises the stature of the latter. It will probably help in recruiting, it might force President Hamid Karzai to take them more seriously, and if we're really, really unlucky, might even lead to some kind of power-sharing arrangement. Thank you, Mr. Roh.
And when all that happens, it won't be the Koreans who have to pay; it will be all the rest of us.
The Korean government, of course, had a perfectly rational explanation for their actions:
South Korea has denied doing anything wrong, saying it was normal practice to negotiate with hostage-takers.
Well... for them, it probably is. That's reason number 273 why I'm glad I don't live in Korea (either one).
As an aside, I loved this little snippet, the continuation of a long-running and deliberate mendacity by the elite media. What (as I am wont to ask) is wrong with this picture?
The hostage crisis unfolded at a time of soaring violence in Afghanistan despite years of counterinsurgency operations by international troops and millions of dollars spent in equipping Afghan security forces.
Not to keep you in suspenders, the answer is that the "soaring violence" to which they refer is primarily the wholesale slaughter of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters at the hands of NATO and Afghan forces, as Sachi pointed out some time ago: Up to that point, in the recent "surge" of Taliban, the bad guys had killed 150 NATO forces and 850 innocent, unarmed civilians... and NATO forces had killed over 3,000 Taliban fighters... or in many cases, fleers.
The Taliban's reversion to type -- back to being Neolithic trolls and hill-bandits -- is quite understandable under the circumstances of their complete failure to engage the enemy successfully; and exactly the same can be said of the drive-by media.
Date ►►► August 29, 2007
The "Maturity Mask" Slips - UPDATED With Embedded YouTube
Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA, 80%) has a very, very serious problem: He is a moderately liberal Democrat in a fairly neutral district (WA-3), a district that narrowly went for George Bush in the last two presidential elections. First elected in 1998 by 55%, he won his last three elections by more robust percentages of 62-63%. Baird was handily reelected even in the two years that his district voted for George W. Bush. Cook rates WA-3 as D+0.
He was opposed to the Iraq war from the very beginning, voting against it at every turn.
So what's his problem? Brian Baird's happy career has smashed into the rocks, and the shipwreck began with a dreadful, ghastly decision that Baird made: He foolishly decided to investigate for himself how the counterinsurgency was doing, rather than just taking the word of his leaders, Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) and Rep. John Murtha (D-PA, 65%)... or even his Washington colleague, "Baghdad" Jim McDermott (D-WA, 95%), who earned his sobriquet by flying to Baghdad in 2002 to support Saddam Hussein -- then receiving a $5,000 "donation" from Hussein supporter and Oil-for-Fraud suspect Shakir al Khafaji.
Worse, Baird has one terrible character flaw that spoiled everything: He is honest. Upon returning from seeing the counterinsurgency up close and personal, he wrote an opinion piece for the Seattle Times titled "Our troops have earned more time."
Everybody's got one
The opinion piece could hardly be called pro-Bush; in fact, he harshly condemns the original decision to invade -- but concludes that having started this, we cannot now simply walk away:
The invasion of Iraq may be one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. As tragic and costly as that mistake has been, a precipitous or premature withdrawal of our forces now has the potential to turn the initial errors into an even greater problem just as success looks possible.
As a Democrat who voted against the war from the outset and who has been frankly critical of the administration and the post-invasion strategy, I am convinced by the evidence that the situation has at long last begun to change substantially for the better. I believe Iraq could have a positive future. Our diplomatic and military leaders in Iraq, their current strategy, and most importantly, our troops and the Iraqi people themselves, deserve our continued support and more time to succeed.
A few paragraphs later, Baird explains why he changed his mind:
It is just not realistic to expect Iraq or any other nation to be able to rebuild its government, infrastructure, security forces and economy in just four years. Despite the enormous challenges, the fact is, the situation on the ground in Iraq is improving in multiple and important ways....
Our soldiers are reclaiming ground and capturing or killing high-priority targets on a daily basis. Sheiks and tribal groups are uniting to fight against the extremists and have virtually eliminated al-Qaida from certain areas. The Iraqi military and police are making progress in their training, taking more responsibility for bringing the fight to the insurgents and realizing important victories. Businesses and factories that were once closed are being reopened and people are working again. The infrastructure is gradually being repaired and markets are returning to life....
[T]o walk away now from the recent gains would be to lose all the progress that has been purchased at such a dear price in lives and dollars.
At this point, I'm sure you're all scratching your heads (that is, assuming you haven't already been following the story). Come come, ab Hugh; what is this "very, very serious problem" you keep yammering about?
The problem is that even this slight disagreement with "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" is considered apostasy... and the MoveOn.org Democrats (actually, MoveOn.org itself!) have turned on Baird with the ferocity usually reserved for Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and Ann Coulter. According to Aaron Blake at the Washington D.C. insider newspaper the Hill:
Rep. Brian Baird’s (D-Wash.) recent conversion on the Iraq war is beginning to affect more than the national dialogue. On Wednesday, liberal group MoveOn.org announced an ad campaign against the congressman in his own district.
Baird recently returned from a trip to Iraq and reversed his position on a withdrawal timetable, citing military progress in the four-year-old war.
MoveOn is calling the move a “flip-flop” and says it goes against the views of his constituents.
Flip flops vs. changing one's mind
There is a monumental difference between a flip-flop -- changing position because the old position became unpopular -- and wising up, changing position because of new and better information and "thinking a second time," as Dennis Prager puts it.
When John Kerry was against the $87 billion after being for it, he cited no new evidence that the troops should not be supported; he was responding to the yowling set up by the nutroots. But this cannot be the model for Brian Baird... for, as the Politico notes:
“Congressman Baird’s new position, in favor of keeping our troops in an unnwinnable civil war in Iraq, is out of line with the majority of his district and the nation,” said MoveOn's Nita Chaudhary in a statement. “Voters don’t want to continue down a failed path. They want representatives who will stand up to President Bush’s reckless policy and bring our troops home.”
This is likely true: Since the war is still unpopular among a majority of the nation, and since WA-3 is more or less a mirror of America, it's likely the case that a majority of Baird's constituents want to see a troop withdrawal. But of course, a majority of Baird's constituents have never been to Iraq to see for themselves.
Even if the constituents are nowhere near as angry and shrill as those who showed up at the townhall meeting (see below), certainly they're not enthusiastic about staying in Iraq; and Baird must have known that they would not be happy. Therefore, this is an example of Baird wising up, not flip flopping.
What is a man?
But the deeper question is whether your duty as a representative is to "represent" your district at the expense of your own ideas and conscience... or to be your own man or woman, make your own best judgment, and presume that if the voters dislike your choices, you'll hear about it at the next election.
I believe John Adams was in the first camp, believing that being a representative was an act of self-abnegation, becoming nothing more than the mouth of your constituents. Of course, that creates a problem in a mixed district; to truly represent his constituents, the representative must suffer from multiple-personality disorder!
I have always been in the second camp: We don't live in a direct, mob-rule democrazy... we elect a person, not an automaton. I want my representative to exercise his best judgment -- and then I'll exercise mine in even-numbered years.
Most constituents, alas, tend to follow Adams, not ab Hugh; this appears to be true in WA-3 -- at least among those constituents who attend town-hall meetings. Baird attended just such a nutmoot in Vancouver, WA, where he was mauled by orcs -- metaphorically speaking, of course. (Amusing detour: Baird joked, "Somebody said to me, 'Oh man, you're going to get killed tonight. I said, 'No, they get killed in Iraq. I'm going to get criticized.'")
But we have no way of knowing whether that meeting was truly representative of the district, or whether MoveOn.org packed the joint with its own sock puppets, a prank leftists are overly fond of playing.
Arguing for the sock-puppet interpretation:
- The generally moderate nature of WA-3;
- A huge percentage of the attendees arrived with anti-war protest signs, many pre-printed, some with Baird's name -- just a week after Baird announced his change of mind. That betokens organization.
One of the attendees was none other than Jon Soltz, the anti-war activist, chairman of VoteVets.org, and the former Army captain on a panel at YearlyKos who shouted down the uniformed sergeant who tried to ask the very question that has vexed Brian Baird: What should we do if the counterinsurgency works, regardless of previous position on the war? I do not believe that Jon Soltz lives in Vancouver, or even in Washington state; if a reader has information that he does, please let me know.
But assuming he does not, that means he was transported there by somebody (either his own organization or perhaps MoveOn) in order to confront Baird. And if somebody is willing to go to that much trouble for Soltz, perhaps that same "somebody" is also willing to ensure that the audience was packed with the "right sort" of constituent.
I believe there is ample reason to doubt that the attendees really represent the third district of Washington. In the meantime, MoveOn has announced that it's going to run an anti-Baird ad campaign in his district, presumably hoping for someone much further Left to beat Baird in the primary. (If they succeed, that previously safe district may become vulnerable to a moderate Republican.)
Convenient Lies in Advertising
I'm sure nobody reading this blog is surprised to learn that MoveOn's ad is deeply dishonest. From the piece in the Hill:
The ad does not make specific reference to Baird’s conversion. Instead, it features a soldier who served in Iraq talking about the amount of resistance troops encountered and at the end asks viewers to tell Baird to bring the troops home.
The soldier in the ad served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and describes a scene from that time, long before the current troop increase that Baird has cited as the reason for military progress.
Baird voted against the war in 2003 and had opposed it until last month. Republicans have been quick to key on his remarks as evidence of progress in Iraq.
MoveOn disagrees, calling the war “unwinnable.”
This is, of course, a monumental (and dishonest) non-sequitur:
- Baird is saying that he was against the war from 2003 to early 2007 and supported withdrawal; but now that he has seen the results of the counterinsurgency in mid-late 2007, he no longer supports withdrawal and thinks the troops "deserve" the chance to finish the job.
- In response, MoveOn says that the fighting was really intense in 2003-2004... so how dare Baird support continuing the fight in 2007!
I haven't seen the ad itself, so I cannot tell whether it makes clear that the soldier's only experience is long before the counterinsurgency phase. (Nor can I tell whether the "soldier" in the MoveOn ad is or is not -- Jon Stolz.) I went to MoveOn's site, but I cannot find the advert there; nor can I find a search function. Eventually, I'm sure it will appear on YouTube.
No, the soldier is not Jon Soltz; but no, the advert does not make it clear that the incident described happened back in 2003 or 2004... not recently. While former Sergeant John Bruhns is speaking, white words appear briefly over the bottom of his image reading "John Bruhns, US Army Infantry Sergeant, Baghdad 2003 - '04." That's the only clue.
In the voiceover at the end, a tough-sounding man's voice says "Support our troops; bring them home." Baird's name is not mentioned in the audio; but the words that appear on the screen include "Tell Rep. Baird."
By the way, here is another level of mendacity in this advert: Sgt. Bruhns talks about a protest "in the Abu Ghraib market area" where rioters began shooting at U.S. troops. He goes on to lament that "we were told that we were there to liberate these people; they were shooting at us!"
What Bhuhns and MoveOn fail to mention is that Abu Ghraib is in Anbar province; it was a hotbed of Saddamites before the war (the prison was used by Hussein to house dissidents and others who opposed his rule). If there were a violent riot in Abu Ghraib, it would almost certainly be driven either by "bitter-ender" Baathists or by al-Qaeda.
Contrary to what Bruhns says, those were not the people that we were sent to Iraq to liberate. Those were the oppressors during Hussein's reign, and it's hardly surprising that they should see Americans as their enemies... after all, we had just dislodged them from their well-feathered nests.
(And I'll bet former Nazis didn't like the American presence in Germany after World War II, either.)
Tell me about the rabbits, George...
Since the first surge of Communism in the 1920s (!), the most damaging charge against Democrats has always been that they act like extremely immature teenagers: emotional, unthinking, hormonally driven, and secure in the belief that they are the smartest people in the world... but ultimately acting from pure narcissism.
The accusation is damaging precisely because it's true, and this is a probative example: Baird is not a Bush supporter; he hates Bush almost to BDS levels. He is positively Murthian on the question of whether we should have gone into Iraq at all, calling it "one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation."
Worse than World War I, where we jumped into a -- dare I say it -- quagmire in Europe that had already killed millions of people, soldier and civilian? In hindsight, maybe it was good we joined: We broke the stalemate and brought the war to a close, at a cost of a scant 115,000 American soldiers killed. But Woodrow Wilson -- who had campaigned on the slogan "He kept us out of the war" -- did not know that would be the result when he ordered us into the fight.
But if we allow hindsight, then how can Baird say today that it's "one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation?" You can't call upon hindsight until the even is behind you.
Yet even with all this, all it takes is a single instance of not obeying orders, and MoveOn calls up the fanatics to measure Baird's beard and make sure his turban is wound the correct way, on pain of Lieber-tatation... just as happened in 2006, when Sen. Joe Lieberman became Independent-CT, rather than Democrat-CT, after a vicious and fraudulent campaign against him by the nutroots resulted in a primary loss to Ned Lamont. This is like the adolescent who gets almost exactly the iPod he wanted for Christmas... but because it's only 1GB instead of 4GP, he rages that it's totally worthless -- and smashes it on the ground.
Democrats with their eyes on 2008 have tried very hard to act like mature adults this cycle. But with this hysterical overreaction to a slight deviation from the liberal catechism, the mask of maturity has slipped to the floor, revealing them for the authoritarian martinets that they naturally are.
It seems that every time the Democrats have the opportunity to climb out the hole they've dug themselves, there is always at least one group of fools whose immediate and ill-considered response is instead to furiously dig the hole deeper.
Insha'Allah, this will be our salvation a year from November.
Iranian President Supports Bush Argument on Iraq
In a surprising development, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today endorsed a key argument made by George W. Bush for maintaining the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq:
"The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly," Ahmadinejad said at a news conference, referring to U.S. troops in Iraq. "Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation."
President Bush has repeatedly argued, and Democrats have just as frequently rejected the point, that if American forces were to pull out of Iraq, Iran would swoop in and try to seize control, both of a country with many sophisticated weapons systems and of the huge oil reserves in Iraq. Now, with Ahmadinejad confirming that his plans do indeed include invading and taking over Iraq as soon as the inconvenient Americans are gone, Democrats must be wondering what they did to deserve such a betrayal.
The candid admission by Ahmadinejad wrong-footed the Democrats. Ever since the counterinsurgency strategy (which they call the "surge," as if it were nothing more than a few extra troops tossed into the bucket) began producing demonstrable progress, Democratic leaders have scrambled to find a way to applaud the counterinsurgency and the troops fighting the war, while denouncing the war itself. Their current rhetorical tactic is to pretend that they had been saying all along that military victory was inevitable, and focus instead on the lack of political progress at the national level in Iraq:
For Democratic congressional leaders, the dog days of August are looking anything but quiet. Having failed twice to crack GOP opposition and force a major change in war policy, Democrats risk further alienating their restive supporters if the September showdown again ends in stalemate. House Democratic leaders held an early morning conference call yesterday with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), honing a new message: Of course an influx of U.S. troops has improved security in Iraq, but without any progress on political reconciliation, the sweat and blood of American forces has been for naught.
Big Lizards argued in a previous post that political progress is occurring; but it's happening at levels below that of the national parliament and slowly trickling upward, rather than being mandated by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and propagating downward. But Democrats remain focused on ousting Maliki, seeing him as the weak link in Bush's argument. From the AP story that started this ruckus:
Bush and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq have given blunt assessments of political stagnation in Baghdad, and Bush has said it is up to the Iraqi people to decide if their government deserved to be replaced.
But key Democratic politicians, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, have called for al-Maliki to be replaced because his Shiite-dominated government has been unable to forge national unity....
Ousting al-Maliki, a longtime Shiite political activist, would require a majority vote in the 275-member Iraqi parliament. As long as the Kurdish parties and the main Shiite bloc back al-Maliki, his opponents lack the votes for that.
In a peculiarly cruel twist of fate, the Democratic elite finds itself unfairly disenfranchised in Iraq, unable even to vote Maliki out of office without somehow involving the pesky Iraqis.
(Ahmadinejad backstabbed his erstwhile allies even on this point: "'They rudely say (the Iraqi) prime minister and the constitution must change,' Ahmadinejad said of U.S. critics. 'Who are you? Who has given you the right' to ask for such a change, he added.")
We'll just have to wait to see the Democratic gameplan, how they'll praise Gen. David Petraeus, applaud his stunning progress in Iraq, and then call for a troop withdrawal according to a definite timetable. I doubt even the Democrats yet know how they're going to pull that one off.
Date ►►► August 28, 2007
NYT: Analogies Are Meaningless (Unless They Favor the Left)
The New York Times adopts a particularly cynical, even arch position on analogies: They propound the case that only highly trained historians can make proper analogies of one war to another... and even then, only when those historians are reliably liberal (e.g., teaching classes at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government).
The case is weak. Not once does the Times actually address specifics of the analogy that has them particularly vexed: President George W. Bush's recitation of what happened after our abandonment of Vietnam, as an object lesson of what would surely follow if we abandoned Iraq today. Rather than knock down that claim per se, the elite media (in the avatar of the Times) appear to believe that they need only sneer at the very idea of analogies in general, scoff at the suggestion that Bush knows anything about history... and the rest will follow in a burst of some new class of logic hitherto unknown in the world of rhetoric.
To begin with, they must naturally dispute that Bush knows what he is talking about when he recounts what happened after 1973. Since not even the New York Times can plausibly deny the Vietnamese "reeducation" camps, the Cambodian "killing fields," or the Boat People who washed upon our shores, they must sever the causal connection as best they can.
Again, they cannot simply come out and say there was no link -- that all these things would have happened even if we'd still had hundreds of thousands of troops in South Vietnam -- because that would be patently absurd. So this is the best they can do; and they seem to think it pretty clever indeed:
President Bush sent historians scurrying toward their keyboards last week when he defended the United States occupation of Iraq by arguing that the pullout from Vietnam had led to the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge in neighboring Cambodia. His speech was rhetorical jujitsu, an attempt to throw back at his critics their favorite historical analogy -- Vietnam -- for the Iraq war. His argument aroused considerable skepticism from historians and political scientists, who note that the United States’ military action in Vietnam was among the factors that destabilized Cambodia.
Probably true, but so what? The Times statement (citing unnamed "historians and political scientists") is a raging non-sequitur. Regardless of whether there would have been re-education camps and killing fields if we had simply stayed out and allowed Ho Chi Minh to swiftly conquer all of Vietnam, the proximate cause of the human catastrophe was our departure, not our arrival.
The proof is easy:
- We pulled our last soldiers out of Vietnam in March of 1973; but South Vietnam did not surrender until April 1975, more than two years later.
- The mass killings by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, culminating in the massacre of two million Cambodians, started in 1975 and continued until Vietnam conquered Cambodia in 1979;
- And the mass waves of Vietnamese "Boat People" fleeing the victorious Communists started in the late 1970s and continued into the 1980s.
None of the horrific consequences ensued until at least two years after we left, continuing up to ten years. The Vietnam calamity did not occur while we were there but only long after we left. Not even the Times' "historians and political scientists" can deny that inconvenient truth, nor pretend not to understand its implication.
As it happens, and despite the liberal tut-tutting, George Bush's history lesson was exactly correct.
In fact, it is the Times itself that is both glib and errant in its misunderstanding of what happened in Vietnam. One can almost hear the writer of the article, David D. Kirkpatrick, chuckling knowingly as he wrote the following:
Historical analogies in public statements are especially suspect. Talking about Vietnam during the run-up to the war there, for example, United States government officials most often invoked Korea or — with increasing frequency as the escalation began — the appeasement of Hitler, according to a tally by Yuen Foong Khong, a professor of international relations at Oxford. The French retreat from Vietnam in 1954 — a precedent that augured failure — was almost never mentioned.
In private, however, the French defeat came up much more often — far more often than Munich and nearly as often as Korea, Professor Khong concluded in his 1992 book, “Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965.”
Policymakers also sometimes bat away facts that mar their analogies. Before the Vietnam War, for example, Under Secretary of State George W. Ball repeatedly reminded President Lyndon Johnson and his other aides of Vietnam’s overriding differences from both Munich and Korea. Arguing that Vietnam was “sui generis,” Ball predicted that the United States would suffer the same fate as the French in 1954.
With admirable restraint, Kirkpatrick abjures writing, "and as we all know, that's exactly what happened!" Which is good, because that's exactly what didn't happen (as Senior Greco reminds us, one should not argue about the statements a man does not make).
I wasn't kidding about the ultra-liberal Kennedy School of Government, by the way:
The Central Intelligence Agency has worried enough about the pitfalls of drawing historical analogies that two decades ago it spent $400,000 commissioning a course in the subject for senior analysts from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The Kennedy School ran the program until 2001, when the agency itself took it over.
A wealth of military historians have examined the progress of the Vietnam war, first under the "attrition of the enemy" strategy of Gen. William Westmoreland, then under the "counterinsurgency" of Gen. Creighton Abrams. Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot have been particularly prominent.
Boot notes, for example:
• The danger of winning militarily and losing politically. In 1968, after Gen. Creighton Abrams took over as the senior U.S. military commander in South Vietnam, he began to change the emphasis from the kind of big-unit search-and-destroy tactics that Gen. William Westmoreland had favored, to the sort of population-protection strategy more appropriate for a counterinsurgency. Over the next four years, even as the total number of American combat troops declined, the communists lost ground.
By 1972 most of the south was judged secure and the South Vietnamese armed forces were able to throw back the Easter Offensive with help from lots of American aircraft but few American soldiers. If the U.S. had continued to support Saigon with a small troop presence and substantial supplies, there is every reason to believe that South Vietnam could have survived. It was no less viable than South Korea, another artificial state kept in existence by force of arms over many decades. But after the signing of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, we all but cut off South Vietnam, even while its enemies across the borders continued to be resupplied by their patrons in Moscow and Beijing.
Following in Abrams's footsteps, Gen. Petraeus is belatedly pursuing classic counterinsurgency strategies that are paying off. The danger is that American politicians will prematurely pull the plug in Iraq as they did in Vietnam. If they do so, the consequences will be even worse, since Iraq is much more important strategically than Vietnam ever was.
Defeat was not foreordained in Vietnam, Boot says; we chose defeat, though we could have chosen victory. Similarly -- and this is the point the "dummy" Bush was making -- we can choose defeat in Iraq, or we can choose victory; it's up to us.
Victor Davis Hanson disputes the Times' entire pooh-poohing of studying past wars to draw analogies to current or future conflicts. In "Why Study War?," Hanson argues (among other points) that war will always be with us:
We must abandon the naive faith that with enough money, education, or good intentions we can change the nature of mankind so that conflict, as if by fiat, becomes a thing of the past.
Since human societies are by nature warlike, we have no choice but to learn from yesterday's defeats to seize victory tomorrow.
Finally, we must recognize that America's enemies (such Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two) regularly use the "lessons" of our "defeat" in Vietnam thirty years ago to recruit killers of Americans today; they argue that we gave up in Vietnam, and we shall give up in Iraq. And were it up to the elite media, I believe that Zawahiri would be correct.
But it's not up to them; more than anybody else in America, it's up to the president whether we continue with a war or don't. Even in Nixon's case, he could have shifted funds around to maintain an Air-Force presence in South Vietnam and could have fought vigorously for economic aid to that country; he chose instead to allow Congress to zero-out the budget, condemning our allies in the region either to a bitter death by torture or to mad flight to get out.
Today we have a president who has chosen victory -- and a congressional majority that has chosen ignominious defeat. I'll let you know later who wins, but the early rounds are trending strongly towards the strong Executive.
So, far from waving away the president's historical excursion at the VFW, lightyears away from persuading us that military analogies are useless, the actual history of the past century tells us precisely the opposite:
- That analogies can be drawn;
- That they can contain important and valuable lessons for future conflicts;
- And that our enemies incessantly cite our failures as defeatist lessons for future wars.
Even Zawahiri believes that America's behavior in past conflicts is a reliable guide to our future actions; so who are we to dispute so eminent an authority? Once again, the Times is full of itself... and just plain full of it.
Date ►►► August 27, 2007
Bound for Glory - INSTANT UPDATE!
Now that so many conservative Republicans (especially bloggers of the Right) have got their wish, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is out the door, I eagerly await the rest of their promised scenario: I now wait with bated breath for the strong, conservative, take-no-prisoners Attorney General nominee who will take firm control and start enforcing the conservatives' favorite laws with vigor and enthusiasm!
Yes sir, I'm ready for that change. Conservative pundits and bloggers have argued that if only President Bush would dump Gonzales, we could get someone really, really good in his place: we will get an Attorney General who will:
- Sail through confirmation hearings on the strength of his or her personal honesty, loyalty, and solid conservative credentials (not just some interim, acting Attorney General who is crippled by his inability to be confirmed);
- Strongly oppose all "affirmative action," racial preferences on principle;
- Crack down hard on employers who hire illegals and swift deport any illegals who commit crimes in this country;
- Go after anyone who commits voter fraud or accepts bribes, even if he happens to be a Democratic congressman;
- Defend the presidential prerogative to fire employees who have their own, more liberal agenda than the administration;
- Run the Department of Justice with a firm and stalwart hand;
- Use the office of the Attorney General and all Justice Department resources to thoroughly investigate and track radical Moslems in this country via the FBI, CIA, NSA, with warrantless eavesdropping and surveillance of radical mosques as necessary;
- And especially strongly enforces the new ban on partial-birth abortion.
So let's see it; let's see the next John Ashcroft who will be easily confirmed by the Democrats in the Senate... because he's so darned good, even Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY, 100%) cannot deny him.
I'm sure the Democrats will cooperate. They would never demand that the president pick from a short list prepared by Sens. Schumer, Ted Kennedy (D-MA, 100%), Carl Levin (D-MI, 100%), and Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%). Now we're sure to get someone who will make it his priority to round up all the illegals and deport them, clean up Democratic corruption, press forward strongly with updating and defending the Patriot Act, strongly enforce the ban on partial-birth abortion, land on voter fraud like a ton of bowling balls, and authorize all current and future intelligence operations against terrorists. After all, the Democrats only want what's best for the country, too.
Surely the Democrats will not see this resignation as encouragement of their thuggish tactics against Gonzales. Rather, I'm convinced they will now feel guilt and remorse over the way they hounded an innocent man out of office. Democrats are human too; I cannot imagine them crowing in triumph, having driven both Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales out of office in the same month.
Not only that, but the departure of Gonzales will assuredly lead to a big jump in President Bush's approval ratings. America has been desperately waiting for him to get rid of Gonzales and appoint a much more conservative fellow; and they will react to the nomination and confirmation process by showing strong, new support for the president.
I wouldn't want to insult our friends across the aisle. I'm sure they will no longer seek to interrogate Gonzales about any of the ginned-up "scandals" they have tried to hang around his neck. And while it might appear to partisans that President Bush is now on the ropes -- having had to throw two of his most trusted Texas friends to the howling Democratic dog pack -- I'm sure Democrats such as Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%), Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA, 95%) and John Conyers (D-MI, 100%), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT, 95%) will accept the resignation in the spirit in which it's given: They will urge the president to nominate the best man or woman for the job, without regard to ideology, and promise to quickly confirm any strong, principled, conservative leader sent to the Hill.
I'm equally morally certain that the conservatives are right: The Democrats will not use the resignation of Gonazles as "vindication" of their wild accusations against Gonzales, will not take this opportunity to demand the reinstatement of those fired U.S. Attorneys, will not demand that any AG nominee agree to give Congress veto power over the firing of future U.S. Attorneys or presidential aides, and won't insist that the president's advisors, such as Harriett Miers and Karl Rove, testify under oath whenever Congress summons them.
I'm sure they will be more than willing to confirm an Attorney General who promises to continue to fight all these battles against the Legislative branch on behalf of the Executive, because deep down, Democrats in Congress yearn for the strong constitutional separation of powers that prevents them from running all policy from Capitol Hill.
So thank goodness Gonzales resigned to clear the decks for a powerful, competent, thoroughgoing conservative Attorney General to rescue the administration from its drift towards comprehensive solutions to bipartisan problems and back to the principled, uncompromising, man-the-barricades domestic policy that we are assured will flow from the resignation of the mushy Alberto Gonzales.
I can hardly wait for the triumphant confirmation hearings to see the chastened, humbled Democrats!
UPDATE: In particular, I have full confidence that if the president nominates Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to be the new Attorney General, that the Democrats would never take political advantage of the confirmation hearings to, in addition to everything else...
- Renew their demands that waterboarding, stress positions, temperature changes, the belly slap, the attention grab, and all other forms of "torture" be expressly forbidden in all cases of captured terrorists, no matter what the circumstances; they would never dream of arguing that Chertoff, as head of DHS, has violated the rights of radical Islamists;
- Reinvigorate their insistance that the Patriot Act -- which Chertoff co-authored, and which the Democrats have been trying to repeal ever since they voted for it -- be substantially rewritten to remove, on "civil liberties" concerns, all provisions that allow government to investigate potential domestic terrorists;
- Relive their bestselling rewrite of the history of FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina;
- Make fun of his skeletal appearance;
- Allow Sen. Clinton to vent her spleen on Chertoff's role in investigating Whitewater.
I'm sure he'll just cruise to confirmation, being so beloved on the Hill.
UPDATE²: Heck, even Sen. Schumer himself said “Democrats will not obstruct or impede a nominee who we are confident will put the rule of law above political considerations.” If you can't trust the word of Chuck Schumer, who can you trust?
And of course, the confirmation hearing that would have to be held for whomever Bush nominates to replace Chertoff as Secretary of Homeland Security won't pose any problems of its own. Again, the Democrats, realizing the seriousness of the situation and being foursquare behind President Bush's response to 9/11, will swiftly confirm any serious-minded war-fighter Bush nominates.
Watcher On the Rind
Last Council vote gave us a winning week; this time, it's a weak win: We didn't do so well with our own nomination in the Council vote... but our nominee and first choice for the Nouncil vote won hands down.
Yes, yes, it's an honor just to be nominated. Or it would be, except that we nominate ourselves... so it's an honor that I found myself worthy of being nominated. Wanna make something out of it?
The winner instead was --
- Is the United States an Imperialist Power and Does It Matter?, by Right Wing Nut House
Pretty much just what the title says. Rick Moran asks whether we're an imperialist power, what an imperialist power is, and does such an appellation really matter? I would say that the only people I have ever heard raise the question are either (1) utterly convinced that we are imperialists just like the Nazis (90%), or (2) trying in exasperation to show that we are not an empire under any rational definition of the word (10%). No room for Mr. In-Between.
In fact, I will go farther. The only way to call the United States an "empire" is to twist the plain meaning of that word like a pretzel, what I call "argument by convenient redefinition": proponent redefines a horrific word to include perfectly ordinary behavior; but he then relies upon the frisson caused by the original meaning to induce an ugly, emotional response to the ordinary.
That is, to change the meaning but rely upon the old meaning to cling to the new circumstances, like a bathtub ring.
Other examples abound:
- If we redefine the word "rape" to include despoiling Mother Earth by cutting down trees to build houses, then everyone who lives in a house is a rapist; can't we all agree that rapists should be behind bars?
- "Racism," henceforth, shall mean any policy that has a disparate effect on different races, intentionally or accidentally. Since tax cuts primarily benefit those who pay more taxes, they help white people (on average) more than blacks. Republicans support tax cuts. Therefore, Republicans are racists -- so how can any decent human being vote to put a Ku Klux Klansman in the White House?
- "Amnesty" means forgiveness of a crime without punishment; but let's redefine it to include any plea bargain. In the comprehensive immigration-reform bill, illegal immigrants serve reduced punishment as part of a plea bargain. Are we going to let criminal lawbreakers off scott free with an out-and-out amnesty?
Moran's argument about imperialism essentially boils down to the same point: If you define imperialism to include any foreign engagement, occupation, or enforced sanction, then sure, we're "imperialists"; but the word at that point has lost all meaning and sense.
However, this question has been explored a lot in recent years; I think it now constitutes beating a dead horse into a different color. Thus, we voted for a different pair of nominees:
In the first, Callimachus notes the debriding effect of religious rituals:
Religions are structures which draw destructive internal poisons and cure them, mostly, into constructive and calming rituals. Only a fool would think we can dispense with any such structure when Cambodia still reeks of corpses and we are only a few geological ticks out of the Ice Age....
[Quoting René Girard] Thinkers like Dawkins and Hitchens conclude that religion is the cause of this violence and sexual obsession, and that the crimes committed in the name of religion can be seen as the definitive disproof of it. Not so, argues Girard. Religion is not the cause of violence but the solution to it. The violence comes from another source, and there is no society without it since it comes from the very attempt of human beings to live together. The same can be said of the religious obsession with sexuality: religion is not its cause, but an attempt to resolve it.
In the second post above, Soccer Dad considers the propriety and efficacy of declaring the entire Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be a terrorist organization, and comes to a clearthinking conclusion (with emphasis added by moi):
I would guess that most of those opposed to fighting the Revolutionary Guards economically are certainly opposed to fighting them militarily. And yet failing to rein in the guards economically will almost certainly make a military confrontation with them -- however ill advised it is -- more likely.
Hard to argue.
Here is where we shone. Our nominee, our first choice, and the winner was:
- How The New Republic Got Suckered, by Richard Miniter of Pajamas Media
Miniter's is the best and most straightforward account to date (in the absence of any self-reflective word from the editors at the New Republic itself). Evidently, members of the Council agree.
Our second-place vote was about a subject dear to our hearts; it even has its own category: Globaloney. (I think we voted for a Logosphilia post last week, too; I like this blog a lot.)
- "Consensus": Wrong, by Logosphilia
Matt also comments on Big Lizards fairly frequently under the name K2Aggie07... which I can only suppose means that he attends Texas A&M, graduated this year -- and must have climbed the second highest (and most difficult) mountain in the world, in the Karakoram segment of the Himalayan chain separating Pakistan and China. Perhaps during Spring Break, while the other kids were gawking at wet t-shirted co-eds.
As usual, full list here, if you can get the site to come up. As I write this, the domain name cannot be found.
I can only conclude the Watcher of Weasels site has been shut down, the Watcher himself arrested and subjected to stress positions, loud music, water boarding, and the dreaded chest grab, which has induced him to spill the beans out of the cat. What else could it be?
Date ►►► August 25, 2007
How Dare the Dictator Spy on Radical Mosques!
This could get interesting (and potentially ugly): An imam and a pizzeria owner were convicted of supporting terrorism... and they're now appealing, claiming the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program violated their constitutional rights.
First, just the facts, ma'am:
After a bloody raid by American military forces on an enemy camp in Rawah, Iraq, on June 11, 2003, a Defense Department report took inventory. Eighty suspected terrorists killed. An enormous weapons cache recovered. And, in what the report called “pocket litter,” a notebook with the name and phone number of the imam of a mosque halfway around the world, here in the state capital.
Prompted by that notebook and records of 14 phone calls between the imam, Yassin M. Aref, and Damascus, Syria, the Federal Bureau of Investigation quickly began a sting operation aimed at Mr. Aref. Federal agents used an informant with a long history of fraud who spun tales to Mr. Aref about a fictitious plot involving shoulder-launched missiles and the assassination of Pakistani diplomat in New York.
Mr. Aref and a friend who owned a pizzeria were convicted of supporting terrorism by agreeing to help launder money for the fake operation, and in March the two men were sentenced to 15 years in prison.
What makes the case unusual is that Aref may have been under surveillance by the National Security Agency, possibly under the TSP. There are two external indicators of this:
An exchange during the trial over an FBI agent who was on the stand. One of Aref's defense attorneys (who is paying for the high-powered legal defense?) asked Special Agent Timothy Coll whether Aref had been under "24-hour surveillance." The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney William C. Pericak, objected, saying "I’m concerned that a truthful answer should implicate classified information."
The defense lawyer rephrased the question to ask only whether Aref had been under 24-hour physical surveillance, and Coll quickly answered No. I'm not sure how Coll interpreted the phrase "physical surveillance," or even whether that is a term of art; but the implication is certainly that Aref was under 24-hour non-physical surveillance, which may mean a phone tap, which in turn may mean the TSP.
- At one point during the trial, the defense lawyers asked the judge to require the federal government to produce information about the TSP. The government (the Times is unclear what branch or division, or whether it came through Pericak) responded with a brief that was itself classified. The defense attorneys were not allowed to see the prosecutor's filing, even though they had "security clearances" (again, no indication how high); and Judge Thomas J. McAvoy subsequently denied the defense motion -- with his entire decision classified and unavailable to the defense attorneys.
Neither of these is as definitive as the Times appears to believe. It's possible, for example, that Aref did have his phone calls intercepted... but it may have been by the FBI after receiving a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). In such a case, the warrant would be classified, and the FBI agent hesitant to answer a question about the surveillance without it first being formally declassified.
And it's entirely possible that the government's response to the request for TSP information could have been that Aref was under surveillance pursuant to a FISA warrant, not the TSP; but that the information requested was nevertheless highly classified and could not be revealed or even discussed. This is an alternative reason why the judge's order itself could be classified, as well.
Note that the Times article nowhere says or even suggests that evidence from telephone intercepts (by the NSA or anyone else) was actually presented at trial, heard or seen by the jury, or even that the prosecutor attempted to introduce such evidence and was rebuffed. The main pieces of evidence against the defendants were the recordings of their conversations with the "informant with a long history of fraud" during the sting. (Was the writer's insertion of "long history of fraud" intended to lure readers into believing that the case, despite the guilty verdicts, was fraudulent?)
There is one other indicator, though it's rather vague. According to the Times' unsupported word, unnamed "officials" told them there was a connection:
The wiretapping program was disclosed by The New York Times in December 2005. The next month, The Times reported that officials had cited the arrests of Mr. Aref and the pizzeria owner, Mohammed M. Hossain, as one of the relatively rare instances in which domestic surveillance by the N.S.A. had played a role in a criminal case.
The Times explicitly identifies the TSP program in the first sentence of the paragraph quoted above (the program "disclosed by The New York Times"). But in the next sentence, they slip on their cloak of vagueness, invoking only "domestic surveillance by the N.S.A." Since we know the NSA was running multiple intelligence-gathering programs at the time, there is no way to be sure which one "officials" were citing -- if indeed the conversation ever occurred at all, and assuming it wasn't one of those non-confirmation confirmations, à la the "re-reporting" of the Beauchamp story by the New Republic.
It's possible that Aref was surveilled under the TSP; after finding the notebook in the Rawah raid that put the feds onto Aref, the NSA might have begun intercepting his international telephone calls, to see who he was contacting. Even so, I'm still not sure how this would become a critical factor in the trial:
- We already know how the feds got Aref's name, and it had nothing to do with the TSP;
- Armed with that name, it would have been simple for the FBI to get a warrant from the FISC;
- Aref was neither convicted nor even charged with committing a terrorist act abroad, or acting in concert with any known foreign terrorist, in which an NSA telephone intercept under the TSP would play a role;
- The Times doesn't say what Aref and pizzeria owner Mohammed M. Hossain were actually convicted of, but I presume it was conspiracy to support an act of terrorism, with the third "conspirator" actually being an FBI informant, Shahed Hussain, who was wired for sound. Again, nothing to do with the TSP.
Nevertheless, the defendants' attorneys have seized upon the TSP as a last-ditch effort to avoid a stretch in the pokey for their clients... and the New York Times sees the challenge as an opportunity to get a federal circus court to rule the entire surveillance program unconstitutional:
But their case seems far from over, and it has become a centerpiece in the effort to challenge one of the Bush administration’s signature espionage programs.
Lawyers for Mr. Aref say they have proof that he was subjected to illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency, pointing to a classified order from the trial judge, unusual testimony from an F.B.I. agent and court documents concerning the calls to Syria.
If they are right, the case may represent the best chance for an appellate ruling about the legality of the N.S.A. program, which monitored the international communications of people in the United States without court approval. Unlike earlier and pending appeals disputing the program, all of them in civil cases, Mr. Aref’s challenge can draw on the constitutional protections available to criminal defendants.
The Times -- and presumably the entire panoply of leftist law professors, activists, and their elite-media lapdogs who have ached for a chance to take Bush down over this -- seems most enraged by the fact that civil-court attempts to ban the TSP and other intelligence-gathering operations have run into the brick wall of "standing," thwarting the valiant efforts of the heroic anointed: Unenlightened courts keep holding that the plaintiffs cannot show that they, personally, were subjected in any way to the TSP, and therefore have no standing to sue.
To the Times, via a surrogate interviewee, this constitutes an unfair legal technicality:
In the civil cases, appeals courts have confronted significant threshold questions, including whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue.
“There are dodges available in civil cases that just aren’t available in criminal cases,” said Corey Stoughton, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has filed supporting briefs in the case. “This case might be able to put this issue to the test.”
I can't shake the feeling that to the Times, the Aref-Hossain case is the Left's best chance to finish the world-saving job that the Times began when it disclosed the program; that is, I believe that the Times saw its role as shining the light of day on a horrific violation of the constitution... a revelation that would allow activists and law professors to finally shut down all these thuggish, unnecessary, police-state infringements of our sacred constitutional right to support anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Jew, and especially anti-Bush terrorists.
The fate of Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain themselves is an inconsequential side issue.
It appears to me that these defendants are being treated much the way the Left treated "Jane Roe," who never did get her abortion... for which the real-life Norma Leah McCorvey, now an anti-abortion activist, is very thankful. Once McCorvey served her purpose, the attorneys in that case dropped her like a squalling newborn.
I cannot help but believe that the elite media could not care less whether Aref and Hossain end up serving their 15 years, just as they never cared whether McCorvey got her abortion, what happened to her, and what she later came to believe; all of that is irrelevant -- what matters is the ideological struggle, and the real defendants are the American people, who are clamoring for terrorist suspects to be given full rights to treat the American justice system the way Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and O.J. Simpson have.
Having already Simpsonized the civil and civilian criminal courts (for those with money, or connections to activist organizations that have money), now the elites want to Simpsonize national security and terrorist surveillance and interdiction.
The Times would stamp out every post-9/11 surveillance and intelligence program implemented by the Bush administration, without regard to what that will do to national security; if we get hit with another 9/11, it's a small price to pay for humbling Bush (can't make an omlet without breaking a few legs). Besides, saying that Bush has made America into a police state should certainly help Democrats in 2008.
Any surveillance or intelligence gathering at all -- even when it's driven by such simple and clear-cut evidence as the subject's name and phone number found in a notebook during a terrorist raid in Iraq -- is tyranny and oppression. Another one of the unrebutted New York Times interviewees, one of the lawyers for Aref, expressed it best, I think:
Terence L. Kindlon, a lawyer for Mr. Aref, saw the matter differently.
“The F.B.I. case was a hoax that grew out of the Bush administration’s misuse of fear to turn our democracy into a dictatorship,” Mr. Kindlon said.
I never realized I lived in a dictatorship. First they came for the terrorists...
I eagerly await the day when the jackboot will be thrown into the melting pot, and the fascist octopus will sing its swan song (hat tip to George Orwell). Journalists of the world unite behind radical Islamism! You have nothing to lose but your independence, your freedom, and your heads.
Date ►►► August 24, 2007
The Ice Man Cometh In From the Cold
I don't know how much credence to accord this story, but Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri -- the King of Clubs in the "Deck of Death" (or is that the duck of death?); highest ranking Saddamite still free and sucking air; undisputed welterweight champion of the Baath Party; and oft known as "the Ice Man" -- purportedly wants to cut a deal... not the Iraqis, but with us:
The leader of Iraq's banned Baath party, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri [sic], has decided to join efforts by the Iraqi authorities to fight al-Qaeda, one of the party's former top officials, Abu Wisam al-Jashaami, told pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.
"AlDouri has decided to sever ties with al-Qaeda and sign up to the programme of the national resistance, which includes routing Islamist terrorists and opening up dialogue with the Baghdad government and foreign forces," al-Jashaami said.
Al-Douri has decided to deal directly with US forces in Iraq, according to al-Jashaami.
Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri
(Am I the only person who thinks ad-Douri looks a little like a red-haired G. Gordon Liddy?)
It's quite obvious why he doesn't want to deal with the Iraqi government, though they would eventually have to agree to any deal: He is suspected of complicity in several of Saddam Hussein's war crimes, including the infamous gassing at Halabjah, which killed as many as 5,000 Kurds. The Kurds would likely object today to anyone involved in that attack (or any other genocidal attack on the Kurds) serving in the government or even reentering Iraq with a guarantee against arrest.
The provenance of the Halabja attack has always been foggy; at first, the American Defense Intelligence Agency attributed it to Iran, not Iraq, based (they said) on the type of VX nerve gas used. Later, however, the CIA reanalyzed the attack and concluded it was perpetrated by Iraq.
Testimony by Halabja residents indicates that the town was, at the time or shortly beforehand, occupied by Iranian troops. This raises the possibility that the VX was aimed at the Iranians, and the Kurds were just innocent bystanders... though I doubt Hussein shed many tears: He had just concluded the al-Anfal genocide against the Kurds, massacring between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians, including women and children -- an inhuman campaign carried out by "Chemical" Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, then Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Ba'ath Party.
I don't believe either Chemical Ali or Hussein was ever formally charged with the Halabja massacre, which came a little after the al-Anfal genocide; Hussein was hanged for another offense, and Chemical Ali has received five death sentences for al-Anfal.
I don't know how much evidence there is tying ad-Douri to Halabja; but if it's substantial, this may prevent anyone cutting a deal with him. We're not going to forgive mass murder and genocide.
Why is ad-Douri trying to come in out of the cold? Two reasons, I think, one obvious and the other more subtle:
- He and his men are being chewed up by the American forces on the Syrian border;
- Even ad-Douri, a native Iraqi, has probably become sickened by the wanton slaughter of Iraqis -- Shia, Kurd, and even Sunni -- by the foreign terrorists who run al-Qaeda in Iraq, his erstwhile allies.
I suspect he has seen what has been done by the Anbar, Diyala, and Baghdad Salvation Councils; and he would like to join with them and even join the government, now that he knows it's not just going to be a Shiite state with the Sunnis relegated to second-class, almost "dhimmi" status (as the Shia were under Hussein, Chemical Ali, and ad-Douri).
There is some documentation for the first motivation:
In return, for cooperating in the fight against al-Qaeda, al-Douri has asked for guarantees over his men's safety and for an end to Iraqi army attacks on his militias.
Recent weeks have seen a first step in this direction, when Baathist fighters cooperated with Iraqi government forces in hunting down al-Qaeda operatives in the volatile Diyala province and in several districts of the capital, Baghadad.
I don't know whether we should or should not accept his offer. If he has just been a military man, fighting for his country (as evil as that country was) and resisting foreign invasion (that is, the United States and other Coalition countries), that's very, very different -- at least to me -- than if he were actively complicit in the crimes against humanity that the former Iraqi regime engaged in as a matter of course. It's akin to the distinction between Erwin Rommel, Kommander, Deutsches Afrika Korps, and Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer-Schutzstaffel (SS).
There is also the problem of his complicity with AQI: If he ordered, authorized, or aided in significant terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, he might have to accept some prison time in exchange for coming home. I don't know how involved he was, compared (e.g.) to the Sunni tribes in the Salvation Councils.
If ad-Douri was more like Rommel than Himmler, then I think we should accept the offer with alacrity, even if it requires a lot of cajoling of the Nouri al-Maliki government. Ad-Douri joining the government would go a long, long way towards anti-de-Baathification (which is necessary -- as was de-Baathification in 2003) and towards bringing the Sunni back into the fold.
But if ad-Douri is more like the SS leader, then we should tell him to go to hell... and do everything in our power to hasten the journey.
Date ►►► August 23, 2007
Quick Hits - They Say That Ginning Up Is Hard to Do
Now I know, I know it's untrue -- if you're in the elite media, that is; if so, then ginning up a controversy, contradiction, confession, corruption, or calamity is as easy as π, no matter how irrational it may seem to ordinary, non-journalist humans.
Our reading material for today's lesson is the short article sent out over the wire (well, over the internets, anyway) about newly hatched Secretary of the Army Pete Geren's insistance that the Pentagon is not going to extend tours of duty in Iraq from 15 months to 18.
I don't know if this is good or bad; Geren has the figures in front of him and I don't. But what caught my eye like an errant fishhook (yes, I know... "eew") was this little attempt at legerdemain... transforming two completely unrelated statements into a "contradiction gotcha":
Asked about comparisons between the current Iraq conflict and the Vietnam War -- a parallel that President Bush drew Wednesday -- Geren said the current conflict is unique.
In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Bush linked the U.S. pullout from Vietnam to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and he said the history of U.S. conflicts in Asia have shown that critics of the day are often wrong and that withdrawing from war should never be done for short-term gain.
While saying that "historical analogies help illuminate the present" Geren said the Army "can't be guilty of fighting the last war." The Army, he said, has to consider the unique circumstances of the Iraq conflict and train and equip the soldiers and leaders accordingly.
Oooh, snap! Caught the Bush administration red-fisted in a whipsaw of a contradiction...
- On the one hand, Bush says that Vietnam taught us that withdrawing in unnecessary defeat leads to terrible consequences;
- But when the shoe is on the other hand, Secretary Geren says that our soldiers should use different tactics and equipment fighting terrorists in the Iraqi desert than they used fighting Communists in the jungles of vietnam 40 years ago -- completely the opposite of what Bush said!
"John says Mary is too short, but Mary insists the dress is blue, not red. How do you reconcile those two statements... 'Berto?"
We've seen this moonbattery before, of course: The "contradiction" between FBI Director Robert Mueller quoting Deputy Attorney General James Comey saying the Justice Department had trouble with the legality of a classified intelligence-gathering program that had been much talked about -- and current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales saying that the objection was not to the specific element called the Terrorist Surveilance Program, but to a different intelligence-gathering program.
Perjury, obstruction, contempt! Five Democrats sent a referral to the Justice Department, demanding an indictment and investigation -- in that order, I believe -- of Gonzales... but not of Mueller, oddly enough. A couple of days later, when sources came forward to confirm that all three men told the truth (the objection was to the data-mining element, not the TSP), the Democrats quietly dropped the substance of the charge and began rummaging around for a brand new cause of action:
"Well there's yer problem right there... ya got a malfunctioning cause of action; have to remove and replace it with a spanking-new one from the factory!"
Here are some more "contradictions" -- tomorrow's AP stories today!
- Under intense cross-examination, President Bush finally admited that Saddam Hussein did not plan and execute the September 11th attacks; but then, amazingly, Bush turned around and claimed that al-Qaeda operatives did meet with Iraqi Intelligence Service officers to discuss operational cooperation.
- Although the president has said that FEMA did everything it reasonably could have or should have done before and after Hurricane Katrina, several of his own fellow travelers in the GOP have instead argued that Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and the Grand Nagus, mayor of Nawluns, failed to evacuate people quickly enough.
- President Bush has praised the all-volunteer American Army; but apparently, he doesn't like it enough to send his twin daughters into military service.
Evidently, our fine president, like Mr. Whitman, is large and contains multitudes.
Date ►►► August 22, 2007
Unprecedented Assault on Executive Privilege Underway
In an astonishing power-grab that has received little notice and virtually no condemnation from constitutionalists, the United States Congress is attempting to seize information from the Bush White House that no Congress has ever before demanded from any president... and a number of Republican congressmen are eagerly joining the wild hunt.
The demands are truly breathtaking:
First, Congress -- in the person of Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT, 95%) and his Senate Judiciary Committee -- demands essentially every document, no matter how heavily classified, relating to what is now called the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP), the program of intercepting telephone communications between known or suspected al-Qaeda agents and others, where at least one node of the conversation is outside the United States.
It is not clear how many members of the Senate J-Com actually have sufficient clearance to view the top-secret/codeword documents they demand (certainly Patrick "Leaky" Leahy does not), nor who else might view them, were they handed over: other senators, members of the House, congressional aides, or even members of the elite media and Democratic activists -- which means "the world."
Second, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA, 95%) of the House Oversight Committee -- in concert with Leahy at the Senate J-Com -- is demanding hundreds of thousands of e-mails exchanged between White House staffers because they didn't use the normal White House e-mail system but e-mail addresses supplied by the Republican National Committee instead.
In some cases, the law required that they not use the official addresses, since the communications were non-official business; in other cases, they simply didn't have access to White House e-mail addresses, due to miserly administrators who did not hand out enough official Blackberrys. In no case, however, have Democrats raised a substantial charge of skulduggery... they're just fishing, hoping to catch someone doing something disreputable.
- Both Judiciary committees have subpoenaed top aides to President George W. Bush, including White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, and a raft of lower-tier advisors to other advisors -- little fish whom the committees may think easier to "turn," because they might be less certain of protection from spurious contempt citations -- regarding the president's decision not to renew the appointment of eight U.S. Attorneys (or nine or seven, nobody seems to agree). The committees demand to know exactly why each and every USA was not reappointed, who complained, and what the connection was between the complainant and the president -- did he get along with Bush? Was he a Republican?
It is important to note that in neither case has Congress formally alleged any violation of law; no criminal indictments have forthcome; and nothing else has been presented to override the normal presumption of Executive privilege for the work product of the president and other administration officers not subject to Senate confirmation, as heads of agencies are. The Democrats demand the materials solely because they want to better be able to politically oppose Republicans and Republican policies.
The bombast is also unprecedented: As various aides leave for other employment -- which is standard operating procedure in the waning years of a two-term presidency -- Leahy announces that each is trying to flee justice, to cut and run, to avoid scrutiny of his wicked deeds... thus slandering each honest public servant as a criminal, tried and convicted in the Court of Leahy Opinion:
Rove’s departure at the end of August "does not legally change one thing" in the pursuit of Rove and the information he might hold, said a Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee aide. And in a statement Monday, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) vowed to press on.
“The list of senior White House and Justice Department officials who have resigned during the course of these congressional investigations continues to grow, and today, Mr. Rove added his name to that list,’’ Mr. Leahy said. “There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm. A similar cloud envelopes Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House.”
What a surprise -- public officials who have spent six years in the administration decide they want to leave to make some money for a change. White House Spokesman Tony Snow is another who plans to leave soon; will Leahy quickly gin up a subpoena, so he can accuse Snow, too, of leaving under a "gathering storm?"
It is, of course, obvious why it's important for the White House to restrict access to highly classified documents discussing intelligence-gathering methods, personnel, and results... even from Congress. But it's equally important that the president, no matter who, be able to receive confidential political and public-policy advice from his aides and advisors without either side worrying that it will all appear in an open Senate subcommittee hearing tomorrow, and in the Washington Post that night.
The president needs:
- To hold frank and unfettered discussions, to kick around ideas and scenarios that may be quite extreme, frightening, or unpalatable, such as discussions about possible war;
- To have personnel discussions in which private information about administration employees comes up and must be considered;
- To receive honest assessments of the chances of certain policies being enacted by Congress -- which may include specific discussions of pressure that can be brought to bear on specific members;
- And yes, the president, his cabinet, and his advisors need to be able to discuss election matters: whether the president will get a second term -- and whether he'll have a friendly or unfriendly Congress -- certainly affects what initiatives he will undertake and what reforms various agencies might have time to implement.
The strangest theme of this drama is the utter futility of the Democrats' actions, at least in actual policy terms: Nearly all these questions were already answered by the Supreme Court in June 2004, in the case Cheney v. U.S. District Court, 03-475, about the vice president's energy task force. The Court held -- by a very strong 7-2 -- that meetings and communications conducted entirely among members of the administration could be kept secret under the separation of powers doctrine, whether or not the administration formally invoked Executive privilege.
The particular case was remanded back to the D.C. Circus for consideration of whether private CEOs of energy companies who offered advice and opinions thereby became members of the task force themselves; had the task force thus included both public and private members, it could not be shielded.
But the circuit court unanimously concluded that they were not members. Therefore, they held that Cheney did not have to reveal any of his papers or testify about the task force membership or work product. They sent the case, which had been jointly filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, back to district court for dismissal. (I believe the Supreme Court recently denied certiorari, but I'm not 100% certain.)
In other words, this question has already been answered, emphatically so, by the Supreme Court; bear in mind, that 7-2 ruling occurred before either Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Alito joined the Court. Presidential administrations can keep their confidential advice confidential.
The case usually cited that limits this secrecy is United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), where the Court forced President Richard Nixon to hand over the surreptitiously recorded White House tapes; but that case hinged on an actual criminal trial underway: then-Attorney General John Mitchell and six other administration officials were indicted and put on criminal trial (and most were subsequently convicted); Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski subpoenaed the tapes as evidence in that criminal trial.
Needless to say, there is no criminal trial in any of the current cases... no indictments, no court case, no criminal evidence, not even a formal accusation of criminal activity. The Democrats demand the information for entirely political purposes: They believe they can use it to embarass Republicans and help them in the 2008 election.
I wonder what Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY, 95%) and Barack Obama (D-IL, 95%) -- each of whom plans to be president starting in 2009 -- think about this congressional power snatching?
I can understand Democrats putting party and electoral politics ahead of country and principle; but more disturbing is that several Republicans in the Senate are jumping aboard the bandwagon, presumably because multi-term members of Congress prefer to see their own branch of government supreme over the other two -- but particularly over the Executive. When Sen. Leahy's Committee on the Judiciary issued subpoenas for classified information on the TSP, the ten Democrats on the committee were joined by three Republicans, half the Republican contingent who actually voted (three did not): Orrin Hatch (UT, 84%), Chuck Grassley (IA, 88%), and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (PA, 43%). Other Republican senators, including Chuck Hagel (NE, 75%), Lindsay Graham (SC, 83%), and the two Mainers, Olympia Snowe (36%) and Susan Collins (48%) -- plus a few who now must find honest work -- have called for investigations, subpoenas, or contempt citations.
Republicans in the House have been more disciplined; when the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law was considering a contempt citation for Bolten, they voted to declare his Executive privilege claim "invalid;" no Republicans joined the seven Democrats voting against the claim. Likewise, when the full committee actually voted to issue contempt citations to Bolten and Miers, again, no Republican voted for it. The vote was 22 to 17 in favor; the seventeen Nay votes were the seventeen GOP members of the committee.
But too many Republican senators appear unconcerned about the attempt by Democrats to diminish the office of the presidency and make it merely an adjunct to Congress -- the president as simple custodian who rubber-stamps whatever policy Congress decides.
A strong, independent Executive is, in fact, the most significant difference between the United States and the lion's share of other democracies, all of which are parliamentary in nature: In most cases, the head of government, the prime minister, is the boss of the ruling party, as in England, Spain, Canada, Germany, Japan, and so forth. (Some parliamentary democracies do have a reasonably strong and separate Executive, such as France and the Republic of Korea; others have a president who is largely ceremonial or non-policy-making, as in Israel and Italy.)
To shrink the presidency to a subordinate position is to Europeanize the United States of America. Since when has a significant number of Republican senators had an agenda to make America more like Europe?
Actual News, For a Change: France to Mediate in Iraq?
One serendipitous benefit of the recent regime change in la Belle France is that LBF no longer reflexively launches a "Chirac attack" against anything American.
Until former French President "Crock" Jacques Chirac departed, making way for Nicolas Sarkozy -- who is not America-phobic -- France refused to have anything to do with post-invasion Iraq.
Under Chirac, France was a close friend and partner in corruption with Saddam Hussein, protecting him from American sanctions and invasions and such in exchange for billions in oil leases. When Chirac's magic frog leg finally failed, and they could no longer stave off the inevitable ouster of Hussein, the French fled Iraq in a snit (which I believe is a French automobile made by Peugot; the rival huff is from BMW, of course).
But now, under Sarkozy, the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, is said (by the International Herald Tribune) to be interested in trying to broker a deal between Shia, Sunni, and Kurds in Iraq, bringing the factions together in a national agreement:
After years of shunning involvement in a war it said was wrong, France now believes it may hold the key to peace in Iraq, proposing itself as an "honest broker" between the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions. [Yes, that's really what the article says: an "honest broker."]
The shift was one of the most concrete consequences yet of the thaw in French-American relations following the election in May of President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose administration no longer feels bound by the adamant refusal to take a role in Iraq that characterized the reign of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.
I hope Kouchner is allowed to try, and I truly hope he succeeds; such an agreement would benefit everybody:
- The Iraqis, who could unify against their common enemies: Islamist terrorists of al-Qaeda and Iran;
- The United States, which could more quickly draw down troops in Iraq;
- France, which could begin developing and selling Iraqi oil again;
- George W. Bush and the Republicans, who could point to victory to vindicate their perspicacity and perseverance;
- The Democrats, who could... oh, wait -- no benefit to the Democrats at all. My bad.
And that would actually be a blessing for everyone who matters. Even the Democrats, if they could but believe it.
Date ►►► August 21, 2007
The Lizardy Hop
Sachi and I have been taking ballroom and swing dance lessons for a couple of months now; we're always looking for different ways to exercise (I also fence -- also badly).
The most recent swing dance we've been learning is the Lindy Hop. This is a black jazz dance (all the best jazz dances originated in the black community) that started in the 1920s, according to Wikipedia (and if you can't believe that impeccable source, who can you believe?) Although Lindy Hop is technically a branch of swing dancing, Lindy is to regular East Coast Swing what Little Richard is to Pat Boone.
It was originally performed with both dancers keeping all four footsies on the floor, à la "Shorty" George Snowden, one of the originators in the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem; but in the 1930s, dancers such as Frankie "Musclehead" Manning introduced what I call the aerials, or what is properly called the "air step," where one or both dancers leap into the air -- the girl often flipping or being spun around by her male partner.
Here is probably the best swing dance ever fillmed, from the movie Hellzapoppin' (a 1941 Ole Olsen and Chick Johnson vehicle); this is the long (5:03) version, which includes the boogie-woogie music bit at the beginning before the Lindy Hopping begins... work-safe, unless your boss doesn't like you to be wasting your time watching sixty-year old dance routines. The dancers are the Harlem Congaroos, assembled and chroeographed by Frankie Manning:
The unverified story of the name of the dance is that "Shorty" George and "Big" Bea were dancing it in 1926 at the Savoy, and a reporter asked Shorty what it was called. That being the day Charles "Lucky Lindy" Lindbergh landed in Paris, the newspapers carried the banner headline "Lindy Hops the Atlantic." So Snowden answered -- ad-libbing a name -- "I'm dancing the Lindy Hop." Make of it what you will.
The Lindy is an 8-count dance, meaning a full count of one complete cycle of the basic step is eight beats: one, two, three-and-four, five, six, seven-and-eight, where the single numbers are single steps and the hyphenated numbers are triple-steps... so it's left, right, left-right-left, right, left, right-left-right, and you're ready to begin again (each triple-step takes the same time as one single step).
Other than just tapping your feet in that rhythm, the most basic Lindy step is the throwout. Starting with partners facing each other, the man's left hand holding the woman's right, the man leads her in; the woman motivates very quickly to the man, turning clockwise somewhat; the man catches the woman, then he spins around (also clockwise), flinging her back out. He lets go his right-hand hold from her shoulder but maintains the left-hand grip, and they're back where they started. This takes one Lindy cycle.
In the video above (and below), you can see the dancers doing the pull-in and throwout to establish a base dance rhythm and sort of rev themselves up for the more extreme tricks -- which I'd love to be able to tell you Sachi and I do, but, ahem, truth in advertising. Maybe someday...
Here's the Lindy scene from the extended (about eleven minutes) all-black dance routine (plus Harpo) in the 1937 Marx Brothers move A Day at the Races (one of the Brothers' best movies, by the way, with the "tootsie frootsie ice-a cream" horse-betting routine and many others). I've always loved the way many mainstream, white movie stars would open their movies to phenomenal black musicians and dancers who otherwise were stuck in black cinema; this is probably the widest audience these singers and dancers ever had in their careers.
The dancers here are from the troupe Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, the first Lindy Hopping ensemble, organized in 1935 by Herbert White from the "Kat's Korner" of the Savoy Ballroom -- a piece of floor reserved for the best swingers -- and chroeographed by Frankie Manning himself. The clip is 2:04 long, and the Lindy starts about 30 seconds in:
Sadly, the dance died out in the 1950s, as rock'n'roll "dancing" took over the dance floors. Rock dances like the Twist or the Mashed Potato require no skill except the ability to more or less keep the beat -- hence were more universal.
During the seventies, disco ruled; disco is at least an interesting dance genre, which can be as blah as the Ronco TV advert for the Hustle -- or as spectacular as some of the wild disco dances in Saturday Night Fever or on So You Think You Can Dance. But right around the peak of disco in 1980, somebody unearthed the Lindy Hop from movies like Hellzapoppin' and A Day at the Races, and the race to deconstruct and reconstruct it was on.
Imagine if all you had to work with was a pair of movies with true experts dancing the dance at the breakneck speed you see above. Fortunately, some of the original Lindy Hoppers from the twenties and thirties were still sucking air half a century later, including Frankie Manning, and the dance was successfully revived.
In fact, Manning is still alive today at age 93, probably because he dances swing. He even won a Tony for best choreographer -- in 1989, when he was 75; he collaborated with, among others, Faynard Nicholas... who, with his brother Harold, formed the famous Nicholas Brothers dance team.
Notice in both the preceding clips the classic "headcutting" style common in a lot of black dance, singing, and rap competitions: Each contestant or pair of contestants comes out on the floor and has 15 seconds or so to wow the audience (and judges); then they vacate the floor and let the next pair hop in. After a while, contestants can cycle back.
There is no long wait between dances, as in the later stages of ballroom competitions, where one couple dances a single choreographed dance all the way through; then everything is on hold while the judges confer... then the next pair get their chance. The dynamic is totally different.
To see how successful the Lindy Hop reconstruction is, check this 7:22 clip from the 2006 finals of one of the many competitions. You'll see many of the exact, same moves from the movies of 60-70 years ago:
Notice that this competition retains the headcutting aspect (others might not; I don't know)... but now the Lindy has become a dance more associated with white swing dancers than black jitterbuggers, back in the days of Cab Calloway. Still, B-Boying is a natural evolution of Lindy Hopping (headcutting and all), though it still needs partnering to become as interesting as the older dances. But I'll bet anyone who is a good breaker can learn to do the Lindy or the Balboa.
Even middle-aged Celtic and Japanese Americans can learn to dance it... well, a considerably slower and more sedate version; there are Lindy clubs all over the world. It's great exercise, it gets you out of the house, it's something you can do with your spouse -- and it's a heck of a lot of fun. (Google is your friend.)
Give it a whirl... literally!
Date ►►► August 20, 2007
Foreign Policy's Ex-Experts
I hesitate to take on this task, mostly because I distrust my own objectivity: I can't be absolutely sure that I'm not rationalizing away data just because I don't like it.
But I'm reasonably sure I have a good case, so I'll go ahead and let you be the judge.
Foreign Policy magazine has rather gleefully published an article in which 100+ "foreign-policy experts" speak out against what the magazine calls "the so-called surge;" they ask about lots of things, but this is the question that will get the airplay in the elite media, considering the imminency of Gen. David Petraeus's report:
In the third Terrorism Index, more than 100 of America’s most respected foreign-policy experts see a world that is growing more dangerous, a national security strategy in disrepair, and a war in Iraq that is alarmingly off course.
In this report, Foreign Policy -- a bastion of the liberal and Realist schools of foreign-policy thought -- teamed up with the "progressive" Center for American Progress (Clintonista John Podesta's baby) to pick 108 "foreign-policy experts." In order not to make the report a complete travesty, they made a stab at balance:
The Terrorism Index is survey of more than 100 of America’s top foreign-policy experts -- including two former secretaries of state [Madeleine Albright and Lawrence Eagleburger], a national security advisor, intelligence officers, and senior military leaders -- and represents the first comprehensive attempt to determine the U.S. foreign-policy establishment’s assessment of how the United States is fighting the war on terror.
The index is based on the results of a survey designed by the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy. Participants in the survey were selected by Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress for their expertise in terrorism and U.S. national security. No one currently working in an official U.S. government capacity was invited to participate. [Note that this means no one actually involved in fighting the Iraq war during the counterinsurgency strategy of Gen. Petraeus was surveyed, no matter how much of an "expert" he or she may be.]
The nonscientific survey was administered online from May 23-June 26, 2007. Respondents were asked to self-identify their ideological bias from choices across a spectrum: very conservative, conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, somewhat liberal, liberal, and very liberal. Twenty-five people identified themselves as some level of conservative, 39 identified as moderate, and 44 identified as some level of liberal. To ensure balance, the survey was weighted according to ideology to make the number of weighted liberal respondents equal to the number of conservative respondents. Moderate and conservative respondents remained unweighted.
The results were not just eye-opening, but suspiciously so; as Reuters reports, even 64% of the self-identified "conservatives" in the non-scientific study said that the "troop increase" had either had no effect at all (36%) or had made things worse (28%).
This is completely at odds with what most conservatives I've read are saying, and my suspicion grew about who these "conservatives" really were; the collaboration with John Podesta didn't help. After some poking around, I located Foreign Policy's list of experts... and as I investigated those I didn't already know, a pattern emerged.
You can see it yourself by the two secretaries of state they picked to survey: Madeleine Albright is, of course, a liberal Democratic partisan hack, Secretary of State under Bill Clinton; she will obviously be among the 90% of moderates or liberals among the experts who say the counterinsurgency strategy is failing. No surprise there.
But consider George H.B. Bush's Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger: From everything I can glean, Eagleburger is a dyed in the wood "Realist," in the mold of Henry Kissinger and James Baker, both of whom Eagleburger served under. More than likely, when asked, Eagleburger would describe himself as at least "somewhat conservative," possibly even just "conservative." Yet even more likely, he opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning, as did nearly all the Realists: Kissinger-Baker Realists prefer subtle, diplomatic machinations of dictators like Hussein, rather than confronting evil head-on. Remember, the Realists, to a man, scorned and mocked Ronald Reagan's approach to the Soviet Union; they even objected to identifying it as an "evil empire."
There are far too many "experts" on the Foreign Policy list for me to run through them all; but I went through the first dozen; in that group, I found two obvious Realists: Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Philip Bobbitt, who, in an article in Time Magazine, rejected America fighting "unilateral" wars and called for us to "accept the responsibility of organizing coalitions to fight a chronic, low-intensity war such as the one we are fighting against al-Qaeda." Yep, I'd say Realist.
I found another who may very well have identified himself as "somewhat conservative," but who would almost certainly reject the war: Rand Beers, longtime National Security Council member (under Reagan, Bush-41, Clinton, and Bush-43). Beers resigned from the NSC in protest of the Iraq war... want to bet what his conclusion was about the efficacy of "the so-called surge?"
There are a number of others I can pick out who would almost certainly call themselves "conservatives" -- but who have pretty much opposed the Iraq war from the beginning: I'll bet Richard Clark calls himself "somewhat conservative," as would Larry C. Johnson. More than likely, so did Michael Scheuer, longtime CIA analyst and chief, who claimed that he "did the research" on connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and found "nothing."
Here is the problem: Foreign Policy magazine and the Clintonist Center for American Progress get to define who is a "foreign-policy expert." They are going to pick people they consider to be serious thinkers... and it's incredibly tempting to dismiss one's political opponents as "not serious."
I believe the editors did their level best to come up with a list of bona-fide experts on foreign policy; but they necessarily skewed towards those, whether liberal, moderate, or conservative, who hewed to the Realist line (Podesta would have recruited heavily among Clintonist liberals like Albright). If they did that effectively among the "conservative" and "moderate" groups, and allowed CAP to pick the "liberals," then it's no wonder that 83% of the entire group thinks "the so-called surge" has failed to make things better.
Here is another absurd result from the survey: "Conservatives," by whopping margins, believe that withdrawal from Iraq would:
- Create instability beyond Iraq;
- Lead to Iran "filling the power vacuum;"
- Lead to Iraq splitting into "warring provinces;"
- Result in "a bloody civil war [that] would rage out of control;"
- Mean that "Al Qaeda would strengthen globally;
Nevertheless, Foreign Policy magazine would have us believe that a majority of "conservatives" (54%) believes we should withdraw from Iraq over the next 18 months and "redeploy" to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf... and more "conservatives" (25%) than "liberals" (23%) or "moderates" (18%) support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
This, again, tells me that the "conservatives" selected by the editors of Foreign Policy do not actually represent what I would call post-9/11 conservatives, but rather "September 10th" conservatives -- those for whom the attacks changed very little (if anything at all) about how they view the world. This, coupled with the exclusion of anyone currently fighting (generals or civilians) in the war -- creating an artificial cut-off date for military experts -- has led to a skewed and unrealistic batch of experts, particularly those who self-identify as conservatives: The bias is towards September 10th thinking, such as the Realism school or the Colin Powell "overwhelming force" doctrine.
I think there is good evidence to this effect in this very survey; and for that reason, I put little stock in it. The Foreign Policy editorial board wasn't looking for experts... it were hunting for former experts, ex-experts, the experts of the old, pre-attack paradigm. They went looking for "conservatives" who agreed with them that the war was futile, unnecessary, and already lost, and that we should pull out and concentrate on international coalitions... and by gum, they found a double-handful.
Date ►►► August 19, 2007
Watch That Watcher!
Well, I can see by the old clock on the wall that it's time to get a new clock on the wall. And also that the old Watcher's Council time has rolled around once more (time to get a new Watcher's Council).
Big Liz had a spectacular week this week in the Council, not so good in the Nouncil. In the first place, look who came in first place:
Of course, you all remember (because you read it) that this was my rumination about the politics of the Iraq war... specifically, that I reject the meme that, unless Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki puts on his manly gown, girds his loins, and pulls up his socks, and bullies parliament into passing a bunch of Washington D.C.-generated legislation, then we've lost the war -- even if we've won the war.
Rather, I argue that we should focus on the military, encourage the politics to trickle up from the individual, tribal, and provincial level, and let the Iraqis sort things out.
We received four points... which means (via the cockamamie voting system) either six first-place votes (out of eleven voting members of the Council who are allowed to vote for Big Lizards), or else five firsts and two seconds, or four firsts and four seconds, three and six, two and eight, or one and ten, to be annoyingly completist about it.
But that's not all: Besides our win (and the Ginsu knife set), our two choices for our own votes...
- Political Fairy Tales, by Bookworm Room;
- Globalization Killed the Bison?!, by Cheat Seeking Missiles.
...Came in second and third, respectively. In the Council vote, that makes a clean sweep.
The first explicates the journalistic phenomenon whereby the actual facts of real-world events (with political implications) become subordinated to a pre-created narrative... in other words, newspapers substitute a leftist political fairy tale for the facts.
In the other post, Laer takes environmentalists to task for exaggerating both how "good" things were before industrialization and also how "bad" things are today.
We didn't do so well in the Nouncil, however. The winner was a very, very good piece about changing our lexicon for describing terrorists, so that we don't inadvertently validate their own self-descriptions as "martyrs," "holy warriors," and "caliphs;" but I thought it a bit too similar to an earlier piece in the same magazine:
- General James Mattis -- Attacking the al Qaeda "Narrative", by Small Wars Journal.
By contrast, those blogposts that we voted for in the Nouncil category had slim pickin's:
The Logosphilia post tied for fourth, while the JunkYardBlog post tied for eighth with three other nominees. I really thought both of these deserved better.
In the first, K2aggie07 (a frequent commenter here) runs through the history of black achievement in America -- and notes how such progress cut off abruptly when pro-black racial preference (that is, "affirmative action") was enacted: The free market was doing a great job of equalizing the races, until the "invisible foot of government" came along and tripped them up.
K2aggie07 echoes the pioneering work of Walter Williams, who in 1989 published an entire book -- South Africa's War Against Capitalism -- about how blacks in South Africa were actually achieving parity in many areas under a relatively free market... until the turn of the last century, when the Boers began to impose Apartheid, stopping such progress in its tracks.
In addition, as Thomas Sowell discussed a year later in Preferential Policies, many of the early Apartheid laws bore a strange and suspicious resemblance to supposedly pro-black affirmative-action programs -- the best example being a law rammed through following the horrific Rand Rebellion, one of the bloodiest labor riots in history, imposing a minimum wage for South African miners. (During the Rand Rebellion, the Communists joined on the side of the white mining unions, unfurling the slogan, "workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa!")
A minimum wage to help blacks sounds great, right? Except that, under the old system -- where blacks could, if they chose, work for less than the new "minimum wage" and far less than the prevailing (white) rate -- there was a financial incentive for companies to hire competent blacks in place of equally competent whites... which they often did in defiance of racial-quota legislation. Thus, companies hired more and more blacks to supervisory and managerial positions over whites... which drove the unionistas into a frenzy.
For anyone interested in reading further about the issues that K2aggie07 raises in this post, I strongly recommend the Williams and Sowell books.
"False Altruism" is an exemplar of truth in advertising: SeeDubya explains that altruism is bad enough; altruism is when a person sacrifices himself so that another person, no more deserving, can live. But under false altruism, liberals and lefties (for the most part) sacrifice your money to give to the undeserving poor -- for the primary purpose of making the lefty (who orchestrated the confiscation) feel good about himself. This is like a father taking food away from his own starving child in order to feed a total stranger's starving child, then turning to the audience and saying, "oh what a good boy am I!"
Funnily enough, our own Nouncil nominee was the Captain's Progressive For Racist Smears? (Update: Progressive Wises Up A Little Late)... which we didn't even vote for, given how much we loved the two above. Yet even so, our nominee came in second place.
At least we're spared the ignominy of having cost the Captain a win... even had we cast our first place vote for it, it still would have been second.
That is, here, if you want to see the full list of every entry that garnered at least one vote from somebody.
Date ►►► August 17, 2007
I must hat-tip Power Line, because it was while reading Paul Mirengoff's post today that I realized the oddest angle of all in the 2004 brouhaha, the contretemps, the donnybrook between then White House Counsel (now Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales, former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, former Principal Deputy Attorney General James Comey, FBI Director Robert Mueller (now and then) -- and a "John Doe" to be named later on the one hand... and the Democrats in Congress on the other hand.
Our previous spelunking into this cavern of treachery can be unearthed here:
- FBI DIRECTOR SAYS GONZALES LIED! Oh, wait, no he didn't... but we wish he had
- Gonzales Gotcha
- Gonzales, Intelligence, and Perjury: the Penultimate Word
First, let's set the background:
Shortly after 9/11, President Bush adopted a program to surveille terrorists that included a number of elements: One element -- intercepting telephone calls between known or suspected terrorists and other people, where one node of each call is outside the United States -- has been confirmed by the president, and is called the Terrorist Surveillance Program, TSP.
Another element of the program comprises "data-mining" of millions of phone calls -- that is, not intercepting the call's content but instead other circumstances, including location, time placed, duration, number of people involved, and so forth. This element has never been confirmed or its existence declassified, so no government official can lawfully mention it.
The first group -- the principals -- all agree on the following facts; there is no dispute:
- At some point, the Justice Department objected to some element of this program; officials have now stepped forward anonymously (and illegally) to leak that the particular element DoJ had problems with was the data-mining. None of the principals disputes this.
- James Comey, then acting Attorney General while the actual Attorney General was recuperating in hospital, refused to sign off on the program at one of the annual required reviews.
- Gonzales and Card were concerned and puzzled: The Attorney General goes into hospital for gall-bladder surgery; and while he's there, the acting Attorney General, who has opposed the data-mining element all along, refuses to approve it. On March 10th, 2004, Gonzales and Card go to the hospital, either to find out whether Comey was acting on his own wishes and not the Attorney General's, or possibly to try to get the Attorney General to override Comey, his deputy.
- Gonzales and the Attorney General have a conversation, during which the latter makes clear that he agrees with Comey and refuses to sign off on the data-mining element without changes.
- Comey, worried that Gonzales might apply "undue pressure" on Attorney General John Doe to get him to sign, calls Mueller in to back Comey up.
- Gonzales and Card leave about 8:00 pm.
- Mueller arrives at 8:10 pm.
- Mueller talks to Comey, who tells him that John Doe had told Gonzales that Doe "was in no condition to decide issues."
- Mueller leaves.
Thus endeth the chronology of March 10th, 2004, which is undisputed by any of the principals involved. Later, the administration made some changes which brought the Department of Justice back on board. So whence the beef?
Enter the other group, not the principals but the hindsighters...
The hindsighters primarily comprise a concatenation of five Democrats on Sen. Pat Leahy's (D-VT, 95%) Judiciary Committee -- the chairman, plus Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY, 100%), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA, 90%), Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%), and the absurdly named Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has no rating as yet, as he replaced "Republican" Lincoln Chafee in 2007; Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%); various Democratic congressional rounders and bounders, seducers and traducers; and most of the elite media. (That is, the usual suspects.)
The hindsighters were not present during the altercation, the kafuffle, the spat. They have, however, shown up nearly three and a half years later to accuse now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of perjury, obstruction of justice, contempt of Congress, suborning perjury, threatening a subordinate, treason, attempting a coup d'état, misleading Congress, having an unspellable last name, aggravated mopery with intent to gawk, and groping a female fundraiser who came to him with a personal problem. Oh, wait, that last was just a flashback; my bad.
The hindsighters originally claimed that Gonzales lied when he denied that the Justice Department objected to the TSP -- the element of the surveillance program where the National Security Agency intercepted phone calls from a known or suspected terrorist to someone else, where one node of the call was outside the United States. He said it was to a different element, which he did not name (as it was still classified).
That prompted (drove, compelled) those four members of Leahy's Senate Judiciary Committee (minus Leahy himself) to forward a "referral" to the Justice Department, demanding the appointment of a special counsel to indict Gonzales for perjury, obstruction, and contempt. The media mavens leapt aboard the slanderwagon, convicting Gonzales in absentia (though some in the drive-by media instead convicted an unknown assailant and cabinet-member impersonator named "Alberto Gonzalez").
Then word leaked out that this was not, in fact, the disputed element -- the dispute was over data mining instead; thus, Gonzales, if not Gonzalez, had told the truth. In response, the Flab Four and their puppet friends quietly dropped the demand... without ever actually withdrawing the referral.
They have since rummaged around and found a new charge, which they can piggyback onto the old referral, if they've a mind: Gonzales (or Gonzalez, whoever he is) committed perjury, obstruction, and contempt by saying that the Attorney General, John Doe, was "lucid" during the March 10th conversation, even that Doe "did most of the talking."
This claim is belied, say the hindsighters, by FBI Director Mueller's notes... which say that after Gonzales left, John Doe was tired out, exhausted, tuckered:
Then-Attorney General [John Doe] was "feeble," "barely articulate" and "stressed" moments after [where "moments after" is here defined as "ten minutes after"] a hospital room confrontation in March 2004 with Alberto R. Gonzales, who wanted [Doe] to approve a warrantless wiretapping program over Justice Department objections, according to notes from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that were released yesterday.
By now, I assume everyone is wondering whether I've slipped a cog. I said something upfront about "the oddest angle of all" in this entire ballyhoo, this hubub, this riot. So far, all I have done is recap the facts (the gouge, the poop, the undisputed truth). Ah, but you must have noticed the Strange Case of the Missing Man, Attorney General John Doe?
Your honors, I now intend to name our John Doe: His name is, in truth, John... he is former senator, former Attorney General John Ashcroft -- the only other participant in the actual conversation (conclave, jaw-jaw, gabfest) with Gonzales.
And the most absurd part of all this is that so far, nobody has troubled to get John Ashcroft's take on the whole convulsion. He's the missing man in this entire storm, squall, willywaw.
Now, the Washington Post says that Ashcroft has no comment:
The White House and Justice officials declined to comment. Neither Ashcroft nor his former staffers have commented publicly on the episode.
But the media, even the elite media, are only the sock puppets in this affair; the real buggy drivers are the Democrats in the Senate J-Com. And unlike even the Washington Post, the committee has subpoena power: Ashcroft is a lobbyist now (in perfectly good health and only 65 years old), and he is a former cabinet member who needed Senate approval. Thus in either case, he can be subpoenaed to testify under oath to that Senate committee.
Why has Leahy not moved to do so? I'm sure the White House would have no objection to Ashcroft testifying to the following questions:
- General Ashcroft, General Gonzales has testified that the particular element that the Department of Justice objected to and refused, for a time, to recertify was not the element now called the Terrorist Surveillance Program and confirmed by the president, but rather another program which the president has never confirmed. Was Mr. Gonzales correct, to the best of your knowledge and recollection?
- Mr. Gonzales also testified that, during a conversation in hospital on March 10th, 2004, about the Justice Department's objections to terrorist surveillance operations, you, General Ashcroft, were lucid. He also testified that you did most of the talking. He testified that you lucidly explained the legal reasoning behind your objection. Is this true and accurate, to the best of your recollection?
- Finally, General Ashcroft, I would like to ask you a question in your capacity as an expert witness on constitutional law. Is it your legal understanding that government officials with specific knowledge of classified programs and operations must not reveal classified information about those programs or operations in open testimony before Congress, unless such disclosure has been specificaly authorized by the Executive? And is it your legal understanding that Congress may not demand testimony in open session that amounts to Congress unilaterally declassifying information that was classified by the Executive?
I suspect John "Doe" Ashcroft would have no difficulty answering any of these three questions, and that his answers would completely detumesce, deflate, and contract this current... uh, flap. So why hasn't the committee subpoenaed the man?
Ah, I see I have committed a rhetorical question again. Never mind.
Democrat Crowing Causes Sun to Rise
This is really a hoot, a tempest in a teabag. Somehow, some media maven started a rumor that when Gen. David Petraeus arrives in mid-September, he won't give any public report on Iraq; in fact, he won't even talk to Congress.
The rumor continues that his report will be ghost-written by White House aides, who are too terrified that Petraeus (Bush's puppet) will accidentally spill the beans that the war is actually catastrophically lost... if those brilliant inquisitors of the majority (yes, I mean you, Pat Leahy, D-VT, 95%!) ask a few inconvenient questions.
Aye, Petraeus may have shown some guts standing up to IEDs and EFPs in Iraq; but he will quail at the sight of Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%) and Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%). Ergo, Bush will stuff him in the attic and send the Casa Blanca mouthpiece out to mislead the public and obstruct Congress again:
The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday suggested in a story that it wasn't clear yet whether Petraeus would testify in open session, and Thursday, The Washington Post reported that the White House proposed limiting Petraeus and Crocker's testimony to a closed session.
On Thursday, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe adamantly denied those reports.
"Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will testify to the Congress in both open as well as closed sessions prior to the Sept. 15 report. That has always been our intention," Johndroe said, speaking to reporters at President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, where the president is vacationing [by "vacationing," they of course mean "working in the branch office;" Bush doesn't lounge in a hammock reading a mystery novel, any more than Clinton did when he went to Camp David or Reagan did when he shifted locale to the Santa Barbara Ranch. See here now!].
"And I think it's unfortunate that anyone would suggest that (Petraeus and Crocker) would not do that, trying to start a fight where there really isn't one, because this has always been plan, and in fact, it's even called for in the legislation," Johndroe added.
When a reporter followed up at the ranch with a question about the White House possibly arranging for a closed session, Johndroe said: "No, no." And asked if he was denouncing the Post's story, Johndroe said: "Yes. Although I don’t -- I won't use that term that you used. I just don't think it's correct."
And guess who believes this bizarre, unsourced rumor, swallowing the testimony of anonymous "administration officials" over the official word from a named presidential spokesman? You guessed right: Sen. Reid is already caterwauling about the nerve of Bush to diss the Pinky by hiding Petraeus from Congress:
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t buy the administration's protests and said it would be "unacceptable" if Petraeus and Crocker didn't appear in public.
"The White House's effort to prevent Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker from testifying openly and candidly before Congress about the situation in Iraq is unacceptable," Reid said in a prepared statement.
"Not only does it contradict the law President Bush himself signed in May, but it appears to be yet another politically driven attempt to avoid giving Congress and the American people an honest and open assessment of a war we can all see is headed in the wrong direction," Reid said.
Mind, there has never been a single shred of evidence that Petraeus won't appear... other than speculation by several over-heated members of the feverish, drive-by media, driven mad by having to stick it in D.C. during August, while everyone who's anyone has gotten out.
"I bet Petraeus won't take questions."
"Ya know, I bet he won't even appear! That coward."
"That louse! Bush won't let him appear."
"Yeah, I bet he's too afraid of what Petraeus might say... and if he does appear and take questions, he'll just give us a Tony Snow job, claiming that al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, attacks are down, and deaths are down."
"Al-Qaeda? There is no al-Qaeda in Iraq. In fact, there's no al-Qaeda at all. You know, that's the first time fire ever melted --"
"When we all know the war is headed in the wrong direction -- it's getting worse every day! It's already a full blown civil war, tens of thousands of dead American soldiers, millions of slaughtered Iraqis, all to put billions of dollars into Bush's pocket."
"He's stolen his last peso!"
And of course when September 15th rolls around, and Petraeus comes in as planned and testifies publicly and privately before the D.C. dons, Reid and Leahy and all the little squeakers will take credit: "Were it not for our cries of outrage, the Regime would never have let Bush's lickspittle Petraeus out in public!"
Yeah. And if I weren't constantly clacking these rocks together, Los Angeles would be infested with tigers.
Date ►►► August 16, 2007
I'm very happy that Jose Padilla was just convicted on all counts in federal court today. I'm glad that -- barring a successful appeal -- he'll spend the rest of his life behind bars.
But I'm not pleased with the continuing cognitive dissonance within the elite media, as they prosecute their unfathomable war against global intelligence gathering. To see the absurdity you must swallow to be an anti-military tribunal liberal, read on:
Neal Sonnett, a prominent Miami defense lawyer who heads an American Bar Association task force on treatment of enemy combatants, said the verdict proves that the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is unnecessary to deal with terrorism suspects.
"This verdict once again demonstrates that federal courts are perfectly capable of handling terrorism cases," Sonnett said.
Note that Neal Sonnett is the only legal expert cited in this entire article; he thus stands as the voice of the media. The thrust of his argument is that, since Padilla was eventually tried in federal court and convicted, therefore we don't need military tribunals... the federal court system can handle all terrorist prosecutions.
But wait, let's add the very next paragraph:
Neal Sonnett, a prominent Miami defense lawyer who heads an American Bar Association task force on treatment of enemy combatants, said the verdict proves that the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is unnecessary to deal with terrorism suspects.
"This verdict once again demonstrates that federal courts are perfectly capable of handling terrorism cases," Sonnett said.
The charges brought in civilian court in Miami were a pale shadow of those initial dirty bomb claims in part because Padilla was interrogated in a military brig and was not read his Miranda rights.
In other words, assuming the federal authorities were not simply lying (which I suspect is what AP and most other members of the drive-by media believe)... we had good evidence that Padilla specifically came here to carry out a "dirty-bomb" attack -- that is, an explosive device wrapped with a dangerously radioactive shell to create "dirty" shrapnal. But we couldn't use it, because (a) we obtained it from highly classified sources that could not be jeopardized by being introduced at trial; in addition, (b) we confirmed the accusation via Padilla himself admitting it... but we couldn't use that, either -- because we didn't allow him to have an attorney present, directing his response to every question.
We know (a) that we had evidence of the dirty-bomb charge before Padilla's capture, else why would we have nabbed him and talked about a dirty-bomb in the first place? (Unless, again, one begins by believing that everything the Bush administration says is a lie.)
And we know that AP believes, rightly or wrongly, that (b) Padilla confessed to the dirty-bomb charge; if not, why would his non-Miranda-ization even matter? The Miranda rule only covers evidence obtained at least in part by statements made by the defendant.
Thus AP believes that there was evidence of a dirty-bomb attack that we could not, for various reasons, use in federal court. So thank God he also committed other crimes that were more easily prosecuted!
However, other terrorists may be more clever than Padilla and his co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi; they may not leave a trail that can be followed by a normal criminal investigation -- subject to all the normal limitations on the collection of evidence; but which can be tracked by the use of expanded intelligence operations that could not be introduced in federal court, either because they violate some right guaranteed to ordinary criminal defendants or because introducing them as evidence would expose covert sources, methods, and technology. Such exposure allows other terrorists to elude capture by the same means.
In ordinary criminal trials, we accept the fact that a certain percent of guilty defendants will get off "on a technicality." We even say things like "better a hundred guilty defendants go free than a single innocent defendant be wrongly convicted." And what is the consequence of the guilty going free? So there will be a bit more crime, a few more robberies... even, sadly, a few more murders. But nothing with the potential to shred the very fabric of society.
This philosophy works exellently well... when the primary purpose of the judicial system is to punish transgressors who get caught and to deter others by the threat of punishment.
But where national-security is concerned, we are much less concerned with punishing the guilty than protecting society from dangerous people. Nor does deterrence factor into the equation when dealing with attackers who expect to die during their crime... as Cal Thomas put it, fanatics "who see death as a promotion." (Ralph Peters repeatedly uses the line, but Cal had it first.)
Especially in the current environment of existing weapons of mass destruction, just one of those guilty defendants who go free could later set off a bomb that kills tens of thousands (as would have happened on September 11th, 2001, if the Twin Towers had fallen immediately), drive the economy into recession or depression, lead to wars where more tens of thousands must die, possibly split us from our allies, and even lead to draconian security laws here in the United States that suspend actual civil liberties.
The enormity of letting guilty hirabi terrorists go free "on a technicality" vastly outweighs the abrrogation of any putative "rights" those terrorists may claim.
Of course, this puts a great responsibility onto the Executive, who must honestly and to the best of his ability distinguish actual terrorists from innocents caught in a web of suspicous-looking circumstances... and even from terrorist wannabes who don't really do anything but shoot off their big mouths, like Ward Churchill or most of those teenaged imbeciles who march around at "peace" rallies carrying Hezbollah flags.
Even when tribunals are conducted entirely by the Executive, they must include adequate safeguards against wrongful conviction; thus I support in theory the Hamdan case... but I think the Court went too far down the road of demanding that those who violate the Geneva Conventions themselves be offered the protections of Geneva. But clearly, we were unable to try Padilla in federal court for the most serious charge of plotting a radiological attack in New York City... because of the restrictions inherent in trying people in ordinary, civilian court.
And even the elite media agrees -- despite simultaneously trying to argue the opposite.
Date ►►► August 15, 2007
Horrific Nineveh Bombing Shows Counterinsurgency Working
Contrary to the line many elite media are taking, the coordinated quadruple suicide bombings in Nineveh yesterday -- which appear to have killed between 250 and 500 Yazidis, making it the single worst terrorist attack of the entire Iraq war -- have not "dealt a serious blow" to the claim that the new counterinsurgency strategy is working.
In fact, they emphatically demonstrate that it is.
Consider where the bombing occurred:
Al-Qaeda bombing of Yazidi Kurds at Syrian Border
The red dot marks the approximate area of the four explosions. This is about as far as one can get from our counterinsurgency and still remain in Iraq.
We're fighting heavily in Anbar province in the west; in Najaf in the southwest; in Diyala and Baghdad in the east; and we have a lot of forces in Sulaymaniyah in the northeast, hard up against Iran. The Kurds are very strong in Kirkuk in the north; and the Brits have not yet left Basra in the southeast.
Just about the only place left for al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to operate with any degree of impunity is in the northwest, in the remote desert inhabited by a smattering of Yazidis. In fact, even the New York Times has noticed this geographic reality, though they try to spin it into a negative:
All three towns [Sinjar, Amerili, Tal Afar] lie north of the main areas affected by the increase in American troop strength that began in March, supporting the notion that, as in numerous earlier American offensives, insurgents have moved from where they are being attacked and restarted their operations elsewhere....
Asked why insurgents would pick such simple villages in the desert for such a colossal attack, General Bergner said: “Perhaps their vulnerability. Perhaps they were a target that they could attack.”
The Times wants readers to believe this shows that the "surge" is a failure. After all, al-Qaeda is simply moving "from where they are being attacked" and "restart[ing] their operations elsewhere."
But that is precisely what the counterinsurgency aims to do: Unlike the previous "attrition" strategy, we don't just attack higgledy-piggledy following the terrorists, allowing them to set the operational tempo; instead, we began by defining an area of control -- the "white" area, using the terminology of French Lt.Col. Galula in Algeria, one of the recent architects of modern counterinsurgency theory. Then we expand from the "white" areas into the adjacent "pink" (contested) areas.
As we invest pink areas and turn them to white, that automatically makes what had been adjoining, enemy-controlled (red) areas into contested pink areas. That is, rather than chase al-Qaeda up and down Iraq, we start in one or two spots and expand outward -- like oil expanding across troubled waters.
"Victory" occurs as we push the enemy farther and farther away from the military, political, and economic centers of the country... which is precisely what we see happening in Iraq today. This attack is a perfect example.
Even more interesting about the geography of this attack: It's virtually on the Syrian border, over which AQI has been smuggling weapons, fighters -- and suicide bombers -- for several years. From the AP story linked above:
"This is way out by the Syrian border, an area where we do think in fact some suicide bombers are able to come across the border. It's an area that is very, very remote - quite small villages out there - and it was disheartening for us, too, obviously," [Gen. David] Petraeus told The Associated Press in an interview.
In the past, prior to the Coalition's new offensive strategy, al-Qaeda had little trouble smuggling suicide bombers across the Syrian border -- either in Anbar or Nineveh provinces -- and then transporting them to Baghdad, or any other location in central Iraq, where the blasts can be more spectacular (and, they hope, visible to the American elite news media parked in the Green Zone) and affect far more mainstream Iraqis. But in this bombing, while they likely got the murderers across from Syria, they were unable to move them very far. So instead, they tried to make lemonade by bombing a tiny sect that lives right at the border: the Yazidi.
I'm absolutely certain that al-Qaeda in Iraq would much rather have killed 250 people in Baghdad (capital of Baghdad province), Ramadi (capital of al Anbar), or Baqouba (capital of Diyala), where our counterinsurgency is actually focused... rather than a pair of villages in Nineveh so tiny, they're not even represented on most maps of Iraq. For that matter, al-Qaeda would almost certainly have rather blown up Kirkuk or Mosul... which, while not being part of the "surge," are at least major cities in the north and eponymous provincial capitals.
The only thread AQI can hang their rampage on (other than "that's the best we could do") is the infamous Yazidi stoning on April 7th, 2007. On that day, between one and two thousand Yazidi men stoned to death a 17 year old Yazidi girl, Du’a Khalil Aswad, for the crime of loving a Moslem boy and planning to elope (and possibly convert to Islam; that part is unclear). After Aswad was murdered, her body was burned and buried with the remains of a dog.
In "retaliation," AQI launched a reprisal massacre of 23 Yazidi men on a bus 13 days later... but that was in Mosul, the capital of next-door Mosul province. Since then, the Yazidi have not been singled out by AQI.
Again, I find it very unlikely that this was planned all along for two obscure Yazidi villages. We know the plan is at least a week old, because AQI distributed leaflets warning about it; but that was likely after they had already smuggled in the bombers... and realized they couldn't move them anywhere where an attack would be more visible and intimidating.
The overwhelmingly likely explanation is that the target was picked primarily for propinquity: The bombers could get to those villages; they could not get even as far as Mosul, let alone Baghdad... the American Army and Marines were in the way.
Another reason the Yazidi are a curious target is that they are not, in fact, considered Islamic. They are an offshoot of an offshoot of an amalgamation of the pre-Islamic Middle East, archaic Levantine (descended from Crusaders) and Islamic religions, Kurdish culture and language, and bits and pieces of Sufism. They seem to me to occupy a similar position in the Middle East to the Mormons here... I don't mean the mainstream, late 20th-century Mormonism of Mitt Romney; I'm referring to the violent, polygamous version of Mormonism in the 19th century -- the Mormons that initiated the Mountain Meadows massacre, for example.
Those Mormons were driven from pillar to post in the United States; typically, they tried to immigrate west, out of the country (which did not yet extend "from sea to shining sea;" there was a big gap of wilderness in between Missouri and California). But as America kept catching up to them, they found themselves more and more in conflict. Christians tended to consider them heretics back then; some remnant of that prejudice exists today, with many otherwise ecumenical Christians angrily asserting that even present-day Mormons are not Christians.
Similarly, as AP puts it:
Some Muslims and Christians consider an angel figure worshipped by Yazidis to be the devil, a charge the sect denies. The Islamic State in Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, distributed leaflets a week ago warning residents near the scene of Tuesday's bombings that an attack was imminent because Yazidis are "anti-Islamic."
Why is this significant? Because typically, AQI wants to target its ghastly and spectacular bombing attacks against mainstream Shiite targets... such as the al-Askari "Golden Dome" mosque in Samarra. In a pinch, they may punish "rebellious" Sunni tribesmen in Anbar or Diyala. But what impact would result from bombing an obscure, non-Islamic sect that most Iraqis only associate with the stoning of Ms. Aswad? Iraqis (even mainstream Kurds) will likely just shrug. And the distance from there to the nearest front in the war is so great that it will be hard even for Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%) to argue that this constitutes a failure of Gen. Petraeus's strategy.
Again, I think this shows that AQI is reduced to striking whatever target is nearest to hand, out by the Syrian border, where they're hiding; and they must take "pot luck" when selecting victims. More than anything else, this reminds me of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, where rampaging bands of black and Hispanic youths burned down a thousand buildings -- almost all locally-owned and run businesses in their own neighborhoods. Why? Because those were the only buildings they could get at. Buildings in Beverly Hills, the west side, Palos Verdes, and even many Korean-owned stores and restaurants were too heavily guarded by homeowners and shopkeepers.
This is not to say that AQI will never get lucky again with a terrible attack on an important target in the heartland of Iraq. But such attacks have become fewer and fewer as the counterinsurgency continues:
The number of truck bombs and other large al-Qaeda-style attacks in Iraq have declined nearly 50% since the United States started increasing troop levels in Iraq about six months ago, according to the U.S. military command in Iraq.
The high-profile attacks -- generally large bombs hitting markets, mosques or other "soft" targets that produce mass casualties -- have dropped to about 70 in July from a high during the past year of about 130 in March, according to the Multi-National Force - Iraq.
In 2006, AQI destroyed the al-Askari mosque; in April of this year, they bombed the Iraqi parliament; in June, they knocked down the two remaining minarets of the al-Askari mosque (which few realized were still standing anyway). And yesterday, they bombed an obscure pre-Islamic sect of Kurds living right on the Syrian border, in the extreme northwest corner of the country.
In the counterinsurgency war we're fighting, that's exactly what victory looks like.
Date ►►► August 14, 2007
One Block at a Time
Wesley Morgan, writing at the Fourth Rail, has a fascinating report on a different kind of ambush in Sadr City. Morgan is an embedded reporter accompanying American troops, led by Lt. Col Jeffery Peterson, along their patrol on the infamous Haifa Street, in the Sadr City slums of Baghdad, in the wake of a massive Shiite pilgrimage -- a "four million man march."
Col. Peterson and his men made a point of dismounting from their Strykers from time to time to chat with the locals. Morgan found the Iraqi people by and large friendly -- which is amazing, considering where they were: It was on this very Haifa Street in 2004 that a pair of election officials were brutally executed in broad daylight, during rush hour; the murders were photographed by an Iraqi stringer.
The "stringer" was later taken into custody as an al-Qaeda collaborator; the American who received the photos got a Pulitzer Prize.
The main difference [from Delhi in 2004], it occurred to me after a moment (besides the heat and the presence of a squad of formidably armed and armored US soldiers) was that the people seemed more welcoming: as Peterson walked down the sidewalk, greeting shop owners and residents with a well pronounced Salaam aleikum, I was struck by the people's demeanor.
Scrawny, white-haired, jagged-toothed men smiled up at the colonel from their seats, responding with a pleased-sounding Aleikum as-salaam, and middle-aged men did the same. The women, mostly wearing black robes that covered everything but their face, either greeted us as we walked by or simply smiled back at our greetings. Among younger men there was more of a split: some were enthusiastic, recognizing the colonel or his soldiers and greeting them in English, while others kept their expressions stonily cold, offering us no recognition whatsoever. Children of every age, both boys and girls, clustered around each of us, calling out "Hello mister!" or "Chocolata mister!" and grinning hopefully; many stuck out their hands for high-fives, fist-pounds, or handshakes.
A video report I viewed today at Matt Sanchez’s site confirms this impression (Sanchez is also embedded near Sadr City). Children “ambushed” Matt, clustering around him to have their picture taken, shouting out their own names after Matt named himself. Other children mobbed a female soldier who was giving away chewing-gum.
The scene reminded me of another that I know only from bedtime stories from my mother. It was not Iraq but Japan, 62 years ago today; and different children crowded around American Marines and soldiers, who drove not Strykers but Jeeps.
But it was the same story: Japan had just lost the war, during which they were told that American soldiers were so evil, they literally had horns growing from their foreheads. My mother was a small child, and she was terrified at the image. But when the American keito ("hairy foreigners") finally arrived, the children quickly realized that GIs were not demons... they were kind men whose hearts bled for the starving kids.
Seeing the desperate situation, GIs started to toss candy bars and chewing-gum from their own pockets; it was the only food they had with them. After a while, everywhere the soldiers went, they were inundated by friendly (and hungry!) children. Some, such as my mother’s older brother, quickly learned a few words in English: “Give me chocolate!” and “chewing-gum, please!” The more things change, the more they stay the same.
You may argue that the children in Iraq are not being friendly... they're just hungry, like their earlier "ancestors" in Japan. If so, we're feeding them (and not just chocolate this time). I remember hearing from an Iraq veteran that when patrolling an area, if the children gather around the soldiers or Marines without their mothers objecting, it was a good sign. When the children disappear as soon as they see the troops, it's a warning that something bad is about to happen.
Col. Peterson made a cogent observation to Wesley Morgan:
Another encouraging sign, and a surprising one, that the colonel remarked on and asked the jundis about was the scarcity of posters of Muqtada al-Sadr -- Badr-type posters of ageing, moderate Shiite clerics were everywhere, but we saw Sadr's puffy form only here and there. Even more strikingly, there was very little trash.
It was clear that this was one of the streets that 1-14, and the colonel himself, patrolled regularly. "You have to dismount, get out there on the ground, and talk to people," the colonel had told me earlier in the day – "There is no other way." On these few blocks, it could not have been more obvious that the squadron's soldiers were following this guidance, straight of classical counterinsurgency doctrine, and to good effect.
The part about the lack of trash is more important that we might at first realize; James Q. Wilson's "Broken Windows" theory applies even in Iraq. When Iraqis trouble to pick up the trash in their neighborhoods, especially in such a poor neighborhood as Sadr City, it means that they see themselves as part of that society, not outsiders looking in.
The most important determinant of whether a person is likely to commit violence is whether he sees himself as integrated into the community; typically, only those who see themselves as fundamentally different and apart from the community can callously butcher innocents. If one feels a part of the whole, mass violence is almost impossible.
Morgan’s report is not entirely positive; it's not all Pollyannas and cream. Despite the eagerness of the Iraqi security troops to safeguard the Pilgrims’ march, Morgan is not confident that they have the capability or the equipment to back-up the will.
But taken all in all, this is a good report. We must pacify Baghdad and Iraq one street, one block at the time. Haifa street is not just any old road; it has a dark and vengeful history and mythology all its own. But we will pacify it in the end, just like every other street: one block at a time.
TNR: the Way Foerward
I know this is a pipe dream (and just what is in that pipe, Mr. Huge?), but it really would be possible for the New Republic to regain a solid chunk of its good reputation. However, some of the steps may be very painful for the current management:
- CanWest, owner of TNR, needs to fire the entire senior editorial staff, not just Marty Peretz (if contractually allowed) and Franklin Foer. The other managing and senior (not contributing or copy-) editors had the same duty to see what was going on as Foer himself. The only exception would be senior staff editors who raised red flags but were overruled -- and who then contacted the owners of the magazine to alert them to the danger, rather than just shrugging and saying "oh well."
- They need to hire a highly respected and very senior executive editor from somewhere else; retired is fine, as this may be a temporary job. This new (possibly interim) executive editor must completely reinvestigate and rereport the Pvt. Beauchamp chronicles. Think of this fellow as the Inspector General.
- TNR must commit to fully reporting, in detail, everything the Inspector General finds, good and bad. They must commit to regular reports explaining...
- How Beauchamp got the assignment in the first place;
- What he was told to write and submit;
- Whether his "diarists" were treated as outside submissions or in-house editorials;
- Whether any editors issued any warnings, oral or written, that things didn't smell right in the stories;
- If so, what happened to those warnings;
- What fact-checking was done, who was called, what was each expert told, what did he respond, how was that response answered in the articles themselves -- was even a single line changed due to fact-checking problems?
We're not seeking perfection here; every periodical, especially political magazines, will have a bias and will fact-check at less than 100% accuracy. But magazines like TNR, publishing biweekly, should be at least as assiduous about what they print as, say, the New York Times, which publishes every darn day. While the Times falls far short of being utterly reliable, it remains lightyears ahead of the New Republic under the current editorial leadership.
If CanWest moves swiftly along this path, I think it can weather this humiliation and move forward with a better -- and more widely accepted -- magazine, rather than the partisan hackrag they have had under Franklin "We've become more liberal!" Foer since March, 2006.
I don't believe this is asking too much... only that the magazine admit what it did wrong and change its operating procedures to what they should have been all along. TNR must become more accurate, rather than more liberal.
Now that I think about it, maybe that is asking too much!
Date ►►► August 13, 2007
Dr. Winner and Mr. Loser - UPDATED
At it must every week, around rolls the weekly wash of winners -- and the lashing of losers.
All we can say about our own nomination, Gonzales, Intelligence, and Perjury: The Penultimate Word, was that we didn't come in dead last. A victory, of sorts!
The actual winner in the Council category was:
- My Excellent Adventure At Yearlykos, by Right Wing Nut House.
This is a pretty good blogpost; but it's the first one about this Kavalcade of Kossacks from Right Wing Nut House (Rick Moran), and it's necessarily too much of an overview for my taste. RWNH promises it's only the first of several others... and I'm hoping that the later posts will have more depth and analysis.
But if you want a summary of the great annual nutroot summit, this is the one.
We voted differently:
- Newsweek Attacks Global Warming Deniers, by ‘Okie’ on the Lam;
- Tancredo and Tonic, by Done With Mirrors.
In the first, Okie (Arthur Baker) takes on a particularly odious incarnation of the advocate in reporter's clothing; you can probably guess the topic.
INSTANT UPDATE: In the very next issue of Newsqueak, contributing editor Robert J. Samuelson attacks the previous week's story as "contrived":
We in the news business often enlist in moral crusades. Global warming is among the latest. Unfortunately, self-righteous indignation can undermine good journalism. Last week's NEWSWEEK cover story on global warming is a sobering reminder. It's an object lesson of how viewing the world as "good guys vs. bad guys" can lead to a vast oversimplification of a messy story. Global warming has clearly occurred; the hard question is what to do about it.
If you missed NEWSWEEK's story, here's the gist. A "well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change." This "denial machine" has obstructed action against global warming and is still "running at full throttle." The story's thrust: discredit the "denial machine," and the country can start the serious business of fighting global warming. The story was a wonderful read, marred only by its being fundamentally misleading.
So I reckon the "ol' Okie" was onto something.
The second demonstrate's the essential fairness of Big Lizards... for even though I completely agree with the thrust of this piece, I think it either got off one stop too soon or one too late; however, I voted for it anyway, because I thought it well argued and interesting.
Writing in Done With Mirrors, "Callimachus" begins by making clear he does not agree with Tom Tancredo's ill-considered remark (again) about threatening to bomb Mecca and Medina; but then he takes on a blogger, PoliBlog, who argues against it, attempting to shoot down PoliBlog's arguments -- with which Callimachus more or less agrees but thinks are weak (are you following this?)
While Callimachus' responses do address to the points raised by PoliBlog, he doesn't take the next step of reformulating the arguments to make them more convincing -- which would have been the natural progression. Still, it was an interesting exercise on Callimachus' part, countering arguments against a point that he, himself, also opposes.
Our votes came in third and second, respectively; so at least this time, aside from the Yoniacs, we were in the midst of the Council mob.
In the Nouncil, the genius award fell upon:
- Bread and a Circus, Part II of II, by Michael Yon.
Once again, I have nothing against Micheal Yon; I like his reporting. But that's what it is: reporting. There is little or no analysis (beyond squad-level tactics), because Yon, being embedded with units involved in firefights all the time, has no time for that. It's interesting, but I don't see such reporting as "blogging" in the usual sense of the word.
Thus, we voted for two other posts, including, as our first-place vote, the piece we nominated:
The first is (naturally) a piece by Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard, discussing Beauchamp's purported recanting... and what that means to the tatters and shreds of credibility that the New Republic had left after the Stephen Glass scandal. (Alas, we were the only ones to vote for this piece; possibly others found it to be too professional... not a blog but a magazine editorial cum comments.)
The second, by Jeremy "Panda Man" (don't ask) Weidenhof at the Lone Star Times, turns a weary, critical eye to the instant response to the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis: Darn that Bush! If only he had spent more money on infrastructure! This piece came in third, so at least it got some recognition.
As it ever is, here is the full list of every entry that received a vote (those that didn't... well, let's just say the authors are probably glad not to be held up to public ridicule, after their experience in the stocks last month).
We Are Not Terrorists! Pakistani Hit Song
In the UK, two brothers -- 20 year old Khurrum Mahmood and 18 year old Khaiyyam -- persuaded their media-consultant father Wasseem to start a music video project. The idea was to gather a bunch of Pakistani pop stars (yes, there are some) to sing a "message" song... sort of a Pakistani version of "We are the world."
But the message of this song is very different: Rather than pining for world peace or food for all, this song specifically targets Islamic terrorism.
It's called "Yeh Hum Naheen," Urdu for "We are not that." Wasseem was able to gather "eight out of the ten most popular Pakistani pop-artists" to sing verses. Here is the English translation of the lyrics: (You can watch the video here.)
These stamps of death on our foreheads
are the signs of strangers
The name by which you know us
We are not that
The eye with which you look at us
We are not that
That is not us, not us
We are scared of the dark
So much that we are burning our own home
The Stories that are being spread in our name are lies
That is not us, not us
Tha name by which you know us
We are not that
The eye with which you look at us
That is not us, not us
This is not just another "celebrity sanctimony" project, which costs the rich and famous nothing and pays big dividends in public image and commercial exposure. Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorism is very real in Pakistan. There are many Pakistanis who are sympathetic to radical Moslem movements, particularly in the southwest province of Balochistan (bordered by Iran and Afghanistan) and just north in Waziristan, part of the tribal territories.
Unlike the faux courage of Western celebs, as they rail against against "oppression" and "the regime" in Washington D.C., singing this song can quite literally "kill one's career."
The encouraging thing is that the song is a hit. The video claims that there have been 60,000 to 70,000 downloads already. It may not seem like much to us, when hundreds of thousands download YouTubes of Pearl Jam or Barry Bonds hitting his 756th; but in a poor, tribalist country like Pakistan, almost the definition of the "Non-Integrating Gap," such widespread downloading is monumental.
I don't know if this song will lead to anything, but it's a start. If Islam is ever to change and become a modern religion, reform must arise from within.
Pakistanis must have seen what happened to the Sunni in Afghanistan and Iraq, when they fell under the "benevolent" caliphate of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They must realize how militant Islamists treat ordinary people... even those who fit the narrow straight-jacket of acceptable religous belief; the Taliban even ban music and dancing, for Allah's sake.
I hope the song's message reaches far and wide in that turbulent country, waking up the tribal Moslems and making them think a second time about supporting death-cultists who sacrifice children in the name of God.
Date ►►► August 11, 2007
There is not going to be a military draft.
Congress opposes it; it would never get through committee. The president emphatically opposes it. The JCS oppose it; the soldiers in the field don't want to fight alongside undertrained conscripts.
In fact, I don't think it's even possible for a conscript Army to fight the way we now fight -- which is highly technical, swift, silent, almost like an army of special forces. A military draft makes no sense whatsoever. The only person overtly calling for it is Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY, 95%)... and he only wants it because he thinks it will scare the pants off parents of teenaged kids, and they will stampede Congress into surrendering in Iraq.
So what the heck is this insanity?
Frequent tours for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have stressed the all-volunteer force and made it worth considering a return to a military draft, President Bush's new war adviser said Friday.
"I think it makes sense to certainly consider it," Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said in an interview with National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
"And I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table...."
Uh... on the table? In anybody's mind but Gen. Lute's?
Did he clear it with the Commander in Chief to go on National People's Radio and announce that reinstating the military draft is an option worth considering and is on the table? Did Gen. Lute even warn President Bush or Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that he was going to say such a thing?
Who is Gen. Lute anyway? He's Bush's new "War Czar," although his actual battlefield experience seems somewhat scant, at least according to his official biography. There is nothing dishonorable about Lute's service; but there is also nothing that gives me confidence he knows what the heck he's talking about in the real worlds of Iraq and Afghanistan, especially when it comes to fighting with conscripted troops:
- He graduated from West Point in 1975, just after the Vietnam war ended.
- He went into the Armored Cav... in Germany.
- Fifteen years later, he finally deployed and fought in Desert Storm (so that's a couple months of combat -- almost as long as John Kerry!)
- Lute then kept Texas secure from invasion for a few years and protected Washington D.C. from being overrun, before shifting to a new combat position in Louisiana. He was then posted to the Big Red One, back in Germany.
- He went to Kosovo in 2002, two or three years after that war ended; then back to Europe a year later.
Finally, in 2004 -- after thirty years in uniform -- he was back in a real combat zone:In June 2004, he began more than two years as Director of Operations (J-3) at US Central Command during which he oversaw combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other operations in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa.
- In 2006, he was back in D.C. as Director of Operations for the Joint Staff; and now he's still in the capital, as War Czar.
I can't tell what "oversaw" means in this context. Did he lead troops in combat, à la Gen. David Petraeus? Or is Director of Operations an administrative position? Perhaps a helpful milblogger can fill us in here: What are the duties of the Director of Operations at CENTCOM?
In any event, even if this were a fighting position, I can't get a handle on how much Lute knows from personal experience about today's fighting Army. Is he a Petraeus-like figure, who has figured out how to fight and win a counterinsurgency operation? Or is he one of those Weasley Clark, Colin Powell generals who still envisons the battlefield environment in the same frame of reference he learned back during the Cold War?
I only ask because I have not heard any other senior military officer saying that we should be resurrecting the draft, as if gearing up to refight Vietnam all over again -- "but this time, we'll win, by cracky!"
According to Wikipedia, after West Point, Lute took a Master of Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; and he's married to Jane Holl Lute -- who happens to be the UN Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations. Her poli-sci PhD is from Stanford, and her JD is from Georgetown... which, along with the Kennedy School, completes the set of the top three ultra-liberal university programs in the United States.
Lute is the nation's first War Czar; but he's not the first to be offered the position. Before turning to Lute, Bush tried three times with retired 4-stars -- including Gen. Jack Keane, co-architect with Fred Kagen of the counterinsurgency strategy that Gen. Petraeus eventually adapted and adopted in Iraq.
After Keane and two other generals (Marines and Air Force) turned down the position, Lute accepted. At his confirmation vote on June 28th, 94 senators voted to confirm him, including all but six Democrats. Profile in courage Barbara Boxer (D-CA, 95%) voted "present;" Tim Johnson (D-SD, 85%) did not vote, of course; and only four Democrats voted against Lute: Robert Byrd (D-WV, 80%), and three unrated freshman senators (the percent given in each case is the senator's slender margin of victory over the Republican opponent last November): Claire McCaskill (D-MO, 2.3%), Jon Tester (D-MT, 0.1%), and Jim Webb (D-VA, 0.4%).
Three of the four Democrats voting against Lute are on the Senate Armed Services Committee; Tester is on the Veterans Affairs Committee (as is Webb). Color me biased, but I am not reassured that Lute received such enthusiastic support from the notoriously partisan Democratic majority of the 110th Congress... especially when the four Democrats who voted against him are all on one of the two main military committees.
Did the Democrats know something the rest of us, including President Bush, did not? Is this an attempt to sandbag the president? I cannot imagine, even if Bush wanted to put the draft on the table (which he has repeated said he does not), that he would choose to have Lute leak the news on NPR, of all places.
Does anybody else have any information about this? What is going on?
Date ►►► August 10, 2007
Victorians of the Press
What is wrong with the following peevish attack on President Bush from the drive-by media -- I mean, apart from the fact that it's yet another tedious, peevish attack on President Bush from the drive-by media?
Bush on track to become the vacation president
On Thursday, Bush left for a weekend in Kennebunkport, Maine, and his family's summer compound, Walker's Point. On Monday, he heads to his Crawford retreat, where he has spent all or part of 418 days of his presidency, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS News White House correspondent and meticulous record-keeper....
Bush's August sojourn will be his 65th trip to Crawford, according to Knoller.
The 1,600-acre ranch has proved a durable haven for Bush, who often disappears into its varied landscapes for days or weeks at a time without public appearances. He has an attractive stone house, shaded swimming pool, miles of rugged bike trails and law enforcement at every entry point keeping people out....
The presidential vacation-time record holder is the late Ronald Reagan, who tallied 436 days in his two terms. At 418 days, and with 17 months to go in his presidency, Bush is going to beat that easily.
Even so, this year's August vacation for Bush is a contrast to previous years such as 2005, when he dragged out vacation in Texas to five weeks. That was also the year Bush remained on vacation immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Give up? Stumped? I doubt it; I suspect you all realized immediately the unfairness of this nasty dig (more worthy of the Weekly World News than the Houston Chronicle): The writer, Julie Mason, makes the cub-reporter mistake of assuming that the time Bush spends at his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas is "vacation" time; just as she assumes that the days when President Reagan was at Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, he was resting and relaxing.
Liberals typically call such residences "vacation homes," and they imagine -- and want us to imagine -- Bush or Reagan loafing, skipping stones in the lake, lying in the hammock, and in general just lazing about -- for 400+ days. (One never reads these stories when a Democrat is in the White House, no matter how many weeks he spends at Camp David or Hyannis Port.)
The reality is exactly the opposite. Like every other president before him, Bush uses Prairie Chapel Ranch not to get away from his work but simply for a change of scenery; when the president travels, the workload travels right along with him. Bush won't be on vacation in Crawford... he'll be working at the "branch office."
He doesn't take August off; he shifts his work location to Texas. Heck, everybody in D.C. either moves out during August or wishes he could... especially including Congress, which has a traditional "August recess." (And they're not vacationing either; they usually spend the time campaigning and strategizing.)
Everything the president can do in la Casa Blanca he can also do at whatever location he has selected as his retreat, whether it's San Clemente, Santa Barbara, Crawford, or Camp David. In fact, the president doesn't even get a break en route: Air Force One contains a presidential office, and every president since FDR has used it as a workplace during long flights, though it wasn't called "Air Force One" until 1953. (Bush does get a break while flying in Marine One, the Sea Hawk or Whitehawk helo from Andrews AFB to the White House.)
Bush receives ambassadors and other official visitors at Crawford; he commands military actions and manages rescue and recovery actions by FEMA from Crawford; he drafts executive orders and legislation he hopes to get through Congress, lobbies congressmen, meets with his cabinet, prepares for foreign trips, spends hours on the phone with various officials, writes speeches, manages personnel problems, holds press conferences, and interviews potential federal appointees. A "vacation" like that I need like a hole in the head.
Sachi and I are going on a cruise next month. Bush doesn't get to go on any cruises; and even when he goes to vacation hot-spot Paris, it's to talk to President Nicolas Sarkozy, not stroll down the Champs-Élysées window shopping or play poker at l'Aviation Club de France.
So let's be honest: Bush has not spent 418 days on "vacation;" he has spent 418 days at the Crawford branch office. It's possible that on some of those days, he did no work... possible, but not likely; the presidency is a 24-7 job. More likely, he even works on Sundays (after church) and holidays.
And likely a heck of a lot longer and harder hours than a typical journalist... even the workaholic Ms. Mason.
Date ►►► August 9, 2007
The "Don't Make Waves!" Theory of Iraqi Politics
Or, who needs a grand unified political "settlement" in Mess o' Potatoes anyway?
Congress, and even to a lesser extent the Bush administration, have recently begun demanding a written, codified political settlement of issues in Iraq -- enacted by the Iraqi parliament -- before they'll admit that we're winning the war. The demand is unreasonable; I have thought for some time that that's the wrong way to go about pacifying the country.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, I believe the most important elements of the Iraq democracy project are military: denying the enemies of freedom and democracy the ability to enforce their ideology by gun and bomb. Political "reconciliation" is academically interesting but ultimately non-essential to our victory conditions... an Iraq that is no longer a threat to the United States, not a haven for terrorists, and more or less free and democratic, at least enough so that Iraqis feel themselves a part of society, not apart from society.
It doesn't matter whether the society to which they feel a sense of belonging is Iraq as a whole or just their region. In only matters that they realize that they must defend against invasion and infiltration in all parts of Iraq in order to safeguard their own, just as Texans would still fight against an invasion of New York, knowing that if NY fell, so eventually would Texas.
Thus, we must work closely with the Iraqi security forces (ISF) on security issues, defending against both al-Qaeda and affilliates in the Sunni areas and against Iranian-backed militias in the Shiite areas (and against Turkish incursion into Kurdistan, which means stopping Kurdish separatists operating out of that region to avoid giving provocation)... while at the same time, allow political "settlement" and "reconciliation" to spontaneously arise at the local level and percolate upwards from individual to tribe to province. Only then, years down the road, should we worry about parliamentary laws... if they're even needed.
One consequence of this new way of looking at Iraq -- I call it the "don't make waves" theory -- is that we shouldn't be that much concerned about intertribal warfare within a region; for example, we needn't care about various Shiites squabbling over who will control Basra after the Brits leave. Let 'em fight it out. [This paragraph and two others contain a correction; I wrote "Mosul" but mean "Basra." Hat tip to commenter Brian H!]
So long as all political parties reject Iranian sock puppetry (and fight against those militias that are Iranian puppets), it doesn't matter to us which tribe or group ultimately controls Basra. If they allow free transit out of the province for those who don't like it, that's democracy... in fact, it's federalism; and we should have more of it here, too!
Civilized countries with long histories of rule of law and reasonably honest federal administration often make the serious mistake of assuming that top-down enforcement of political rights should be the short-term goal of every country. But just because it works fairly well for us doesn't mean that's the ideal form of democracy for everyone else. When the long history is instead of centralized repression, tyranny, and corruption that would beggar the imagination of most Americans, the level of trust required for a top-down solution is simply unattainable, probably for decades to come.
In such countries and societies, trust resides much lower; in Iraq's case, trust resolves as low as the tribe: Most Iraqis primarily think of themselves as members of a tribe, and secondarily as Iraqis, distinct from other Arabs or Persians. Many people understand this much, but they don't take the next leap of logic: If that's where trust is found, then that's where solutions must be found as well.
This needn't be done, in fact shouldn't be done, by passing a law through the Iraqi parliament. The way to resolve outstanding problems, such as distribution of oil revenues, anti-de-Baathification, and sectarian violence, is to start at the tribal level and work upwards:
- Provincial government authorities, even in Shiite territory, should start awarding oil-drilling and extraction contracts to local or nearby Sunni tribes, not just Shiite tribes; and Sunni governors could invite teams of American or British geologists to Sunni lands to hunt for oil, shale, and natural gas reserves: Having their own revenue stream is the greatest guarantee that Sunnis could have. Rather than verbal promises from the Shiite-controlled parliament, Sunnis would begin seeing actual cash money flowing into their communities.
- Provincial governments, Sunni, Shia, and mixed, could simply start hiring ex-Baathists in defiance of the de-Baathification laws; if the federal government forbears prosecuting anyone, then you have de facto anti-de-Baathification.
- If Shiite tribes began policing their own members, stopping the sectarian killing -- this can start with tribes that have both Sunni and Shia as members -- that would be more convincing than if parliament "passed a law" outlawing militias. A "Basra Salvation Council," patterned after the Anbar Salvation Council but aimed at Shiite terrorists, especially those controlled by Iran, would also encourage Sunni tribes to turn on al-Qaeda and other foreign Sunni terrorist groups... which in turn would make it easier to expand the anti-militia movement on the Shiite side.
The virtue of each of these suggestions is that none requires either side to stand up in a national forum and loudly support the other side -- at the expense of the speaker's own. Instead, reforms can be carried out quietly, behind the scenes, and at a local enough level that everybody knows everybody else.
Demanding that the current crop of dunderheads in the Iraq parliament cobble together a grand unified theory of Iraqi constitutional law is at best shortsighted, at worst feeding the "fatal conceit" that in a tribal country like Iraq, decisions should nevertheless be made from the top down. Rather, democracy and freedom should begin from tribe to tribe, then spread to village, town, and city. It cannot be imposed from above when the only experience Iraqis have with top-down government is the crushing Baathist and Saddamite repression.
And for Allah's sake, can't we just stop yammering about "political progress?" The best way to talk about something when nobody agrees with anybody else -- is not to talk about it at all.
Date ►►► August 8, 2007
Kosher Security: the War Against Global Pork
This is the second in our ongoing series, searching for a unifying theme of national security in the campaigns of Republican candidates for president. I believe that we desperately need such a theme: an easy-to-understand, overarching "narrative" that melds together a number of urgent problems and their solutions. Our first post in this series explained why the future of energy production is actually a national-security issue:
In this installment, I hope we can demonstrate that eliminating "pork" (earmarks, phonemarks) from the government's diet is also a vital national-security issue.
First, let's start with a definition: Not every earmark is "pork." In the Congress, an earmark means a section of appropriations legislation that directs funding to a specific, named purpose. If the purpose truly benefits the entire country -- for example, earmarking funds to upgrade and improve the Air Traffic Control computer system -- there is nothing untoward about it. It could still be either a good or bad expenditure, but it's not necessarily corrupt, even if it specifies the company that will perform the upgrade.
The problem arises when the earmark is directed to a project benefitting only the district or state of the powerful congressman who forced its inclusion... and especially when it benefits a particular business within that district (or even elsewhere) that just happens to have contributed significant money to that congressman's reelection fund. Let's agree to call earmarks intended to benfit only a narrow subset of Americans, at the expense of the rest of us, "evil-earmarks," or EEs, to distinguish them from the other kind.
EEs can be a profitable deal for the company: They bundle $200 thousand from "voluntary" employee contributions to Congressman Smitty, and Congressman Smitty directs $223 million worth of new business to the company, building a Mucus Museum or a new dome for the George Soreass Sports Centre. If it just so happens that the 200 Gs came from a hundred executives, each of whom owns significant stock in the company, and if the company stock rises a few points because of the earmark, it can even be profitable (and legal) for the donating employees.
Of course, it's not so good for the rest of us, who have to pay higher taxes to support somebody else's wretched soccer stadium. $223 million may be a mere molecule in the opalescent ocean of federal spending; but a couple thousand of such earmarks would be greater than this year's entire budget for the Department of Defense. A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there... it adds up.
And as it adds up, such corruption saps the economic strength of the United States.
Most economists -- and by definition all free-market economists, who are the only ones I care about (color me prejudiced) -- agree that wealth is generally much better spent or invested by its creators, or those who legitimately purchase it, than by the government. Financial decisions of governmental bodies or functionaries are often not made on the basis of a proper cost-benefit analysis but for purely political reasons.
For example, consider the move by politicians (and left-liberal academics at state-funded universities) in the 1970s and 80s to divest pension-fund portfolios of all stock in South African companies, to protest Apartheid... and the similar move among many state and local governments -- and left-liberal academics at state-funded universities -- to divest pension funds of all stock in Israeli companies, and even non-Israeli companies that do business in Israel, to protest Israel's continued existence. Or consider the move to divest from Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart's employees continue to vote against unionizing.
When people invest their own money, they tend to take more care; and they tend to put economic considerations above sending a partisan message. But when they invest "OPM," they're much less circumspect. Democrats especially are always willing to purchase sanctimony by digging down deep -- into your pocket.
It is a truism requiring no argument that investing for non-economic reasons will not, in general, generate as great a return as investing based upon purely economic reasons. Bad investments of great magnitude damage the economy. Thus, evil-earmarks damage the economy.
Why does this matter? For the obvious reason that the operating budget of the United States -- and all components, including the DoD, the CIA, DHS, NSA, FBI, and the State Department -- critically depends upon the health of the nation's economy: Anything that damages the economy, including evil-earmarks, harms national security.
The road to apathy
But there is a more subtle way that EEs become a national-security issue: They are the most visible examples of corruption in government; and when the government is seen as corrupt, it's harder to inspire support for vital national-security programs, from the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program and the data-mining program, to support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to military recruitment.
The more people believe the government is corrupt, the less likely they are to believe anything government officials say... hence the less likely they are to support intelligence gathering programs and major sacrifices, such as war. In an indirect but nevertheless very real sense, past GOP corruption led Americans to discount defenses of the war and other security measures. Many Americans believed "they'll say anything to keep the spigot wide open."
Now the Democrats are in charge, to a large extent because of the perception of a "Republican culture of corruption;" and voters have discovered that lobbyists are equal-opportunity seducers: They're just as happy bribing Democrats as Republicans, and the former are equally willing to grab for the cash. Thus, despite many promises to the contrary, in the end, the Democrats could not bring themselves to shine a spotlight on individual earmarks; since they took over the corrupt practice of evil-earmarks themselves, they have lost all interest in making EEs public record.
In fact, they even invented a brand new method of achieving the same goal, which has been dubbed "phonemarking." See the link above.
Visible corruption leads to the erroneous belief that it "doesn't matter" who is in charge, because "they're all equally corrupt." This in turn leads to voter apathy... or even worse, electoral tribalism, where elections are treated as playoff games; voters cheer when "their guy" wins, regardless of his issue positions, experience, or even fitness for the job.
An apathetic or tribalist electorate has a very hard time understanding bipartisan issues such as war, national security, protecting the borders, the rule of law, and leadership. They care only where their "team" stands in the rankings.
A presidential candidate can sum up this entire syllogism very pithily:
I have never seen a valid counterargument: Stopping evil-earmarks is a vital national-security issue, and it should be defended as such by all the Republican candidates for president... and indeed, the Democrats as well; though so far, the latter -- notably including the Democratic presidential candidates -- seem as incapable of understanding this point as the Republicans who ran the 109th Congress last term.
Date ►►► August 7, 2007
TNR and the Case of the Anomalous Anonymity
Too much has been written about the follies and foibles of Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp and his handlers at the New Republic, especially including editor Franklin Foer. So much verbiage, in fact, that I think we're in danger of missing the forest for the fires.
There are a number of elements of Beauchamp's fabulism that, had they actually occurred, would be easily verifiable -- here's the important point -- by people completely unrelated to the incidents themselves... and who therefore would have no reason to demand complete and total anonymity.
Beauchamp told three tales in his "diarist" "Shock Troops":
- He claims that he and some squirrely friend of his in the mess hall at "[his] base in Iraq" mocked a woman disfigured by an IED, and did so deliberately loudly enough that she could hear them. She became so upset that she ran off, leaving her meal uneaten.
- He claims that he was present when his unit uncovered a previously unknown mass grave from the Hussein era; the grave contained mostly children. Beauchamp claims that someone in his unit put part of the skull of a child on his head and danced around, then wore it under his helmet for a couple of days.
- He claims that he knew someone who, when he drove his Bradley Fighting Vehicle around Baghdad, would deliberately use it to run over dogs and smash through stores.
Eyes without a face
Let's start with the first, so you can see what I mean. Beauchamp describes the woman as having half her face "more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head" by an IED attack. Originally, he claimed this occurred at a forward operating base in Iraq, later identified as FOB Falcon; later he changed his mind and decided it had actually happened at Camp Buehring, in Kuwait, before Beauchamp ever went to Iraq or heard a shot fired in anger.
I won't rehash how this destroys the point of the story (which was about the dehumanizing effects of combat). I'm more interested in the verifiable claims.
Confederate Yankee has done bravura work trying to establish whether any such woman was ever at Camp Buehring; he spoke directly to the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) of the camp, who thought it was an urban legend. To counter this, editor Foer at TNR claims to have spoken to people who had direct knowledge of the woman at Buehring, but who insisted upon remaining anonymous.
But this makes no sense whatsoever. If such a woman with a half-melted face had been at such a large facility in Kuwait, virtually everybody there would know about her, the same way they would know about a guy who was seven feet tall or a contractor who weighed 400 lbs. Even people who came after the woman had left would know about her, because others would still be talking.
Why would any of these "background witnesses" demand anonymity? Suppose somebody's "corroboration" was simply, "yeah, I was stationed at Buehring a couple of months before this Beauchamp guy was there, and I remember Helen distinctly. And you know what? If I'd been there when he said that stuff about her, he wouldn't have left vertically!"
If all a person says is that he or she actually knows that such a woman existed -- he saw her, maybe knew her, or at least heard lots of people talking about her courage and whether plastic surgeons could restore her face -- why on earth would that person demand that his or her name not be used? There is no reason for secrecy... all they're saying is that so-and-so existed. They can even be disgusted by Beauchamp; they can even disbelieve that he and his simian friend actually did what they claim... why demand anonymity? It makes no logical sense whatsoever.
There would be numerous people coming forward, even without searching, openly saying that yes, they knew that woman and she really did exist.
Not one single person has done so. None. How can that be, if there really were such a woman?
The mass children's grave
Once again, there are several elements of this story that could be corroborated publicly, by anyone who had any knowledge of the environment, even if that person had no personal knowledge of the skull-dancing. For example, if anybody in the unit reported finding a previously unknown mass grave, there must be a unit tasked with exactly that responsibility: investigating mass graves, disinterring and reinterring the bodies, determining how and when they died, trying to identify them and contact the parents or relatives, and so forth.
And if not a single person in the unit reported finding the mass grave -- not even the NCOs or the officer in charge -- then still, weren't there other units in the area? Wouldn't at least one person with knowledge of the mass grave tell a friend in another company of the same brigade combat team? It strains credulity to imagine that with so many people, not a single one would mention finding something as spectacular as a mass grave... particularly since most had no reason to believe there was any reason to keep mum about it.
I think there is no question; word would have leaked out and eventually reached the ears of those whose job it is to investigate mass graves.
I have no personal experience with such affairs; but from my personal experience with the service, I would guess that such a report would spawn an investigation that would last many weeks, if not months. Hundreds of people would ultimately be involved, at least to the extent of knowing that such a mass grave was found, approximately when it was found, and what happened.
Any one of these people could at least verify that such a mass grave was found around the time Beauchamp was there, even if they had no idea whether anyone ever engaged in the war crime of desecrating the graves... and none of these people would have any reason to demand anonymity. Embedded reporters would probably have covered it -- and done so under their own bylines. Soldiers who handled the paperwork and have since been honorably discharged would have no reason to fear corroborating that such a grave was found. Even some Shiite Iraqis would probably have helped dig up and lay to rest the victims of Saddam Hussein's brutality; why would any of them demand not to be named, simply for saying that there was a mass grave found?
And of course, records would exist to show whether Beauchamp's unit -- Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division -- was in that area at that time.
None of these people would demand anonymity, nor would the records be classified. We find mass graves all the time.
So why cannot TNR release a single name? We're not even talking about named witnesses to the events described in the "diarist"... how about named witnesses simply to the basic environmental questions that the diarist assumes?
Does anybody remember such a woman existing at Camp Buehring? Does anybody recall excavating a mass grave discovered around that time in that location?
Bradley canicide vehicles
And does anybody anywhere remember even hearing about a Bradley driver -- even if he were in a different unit -- deliberately targeting dogs and storefronts? Why would somebody demand not to be identified, if all he were saying is, "I heard stories about some jagoff in another unit who had a thing about killing dogs with his Bradley. What a creep!"
I cannot think of a single reason why every, single person who heard rumors or legends about such a sadistic twit would be in such terror of being identified that he would only talk to TNR under the rose, in absolute secrecy. Every military person I have known loves to tell tall tales about things he heard happened somewhere. Can't Mr. Foer find even one?
The "curious incident"
Let's see what Mr. Sherlock Holmes has to say. Dr. Watson begins the conversation:
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
The "curious incident" in the Baghdad diarist -- which should have leapt out at Franklin Foer even if he were seduced by how well Beauchamp's stories meshed with Foer's own prejudice -- are the witnesses who did not bark in the night-time. Had any of this actually happened, it should have been a piece of pie to find dozens of witnesses... at least to the background questions, if not to the incidents themselves.
Even assuming Foer is telling the truth, and that several people (pals of Beauchamp) "corroborated" his stories, the fact that not a single one of these corroborators was willing to talk except under absolute guarantee of journalistic secrecy should have set off alarm bells in the editor's head. That it didn't makes me believe that Foer was not a victim; he was a co-conspirator.
I believe the reason he did not care that his sources all demanded anonymity, even to say something as innocuous as that there was some woman in Kuwait whose face was disfigured, was that he knew all along that he was publishing a fairy tale. He didn't bother fact checking because he didn't need to: He knew they were false. He's not surprised that those "corroborators" (if they actually exist) demand anonymity; they know they're lying and they don't want to be caught, and Foer knows they're lying and don't want to be caught.
Frankly, it's the only conclusion that would explain all that has happened. Far from having been suckered or snookered by Scott Thomas Beauchamp, I believe Franklin Foer actively conspired with Beauchamp -- probably through Beauchamp's wife, who I believe is employed by TNR as a "fact checker" -- to concoct this series of fake stories slandering the troops. I see two motives, though there may be others that elude me:
- Money, of course; with the readership that TNR has, such lurid, comic-book attacks on the troops sell magazines;
- Ideology; if one opposes the war, one good way to fight it is to claim that it turns young men into absolute monsters. After all, we don't want that, do we?
If I am right, look for several things to happen. First of all, Foer is not going to "fess up," and he's not even likely to admit that the stories were false... ever. Rather, he would more probably try to claim that Beauchamp was "pressured" to recant, perhaps comparing Beauchamp to Galileo being tried by the Church in 1633. Foer may even claim that Beauchamp was tortured by the Army to force him to recant (maybe he'll compare Beauchamp to Joan of Arc instead of Galileo).
Beauchamp, caught between Scylla and Charybdis, will have to choose between disavowing his sworn statement -- or disavowing everything he wrote in TNR. The path of least resistance is the latter, of course, since it's not illegal to lie to Franklin Foer and the readers of the New Republic.
But how will he play it? Will Beauchamp claim that he, personally, tricked the magazine (and his wife) into believing his story? So far as I have seen, that is not his personality type. Beauchamp is a whiner and complainer, not a bold and courageous alpha male. I think he would be more likely to claim that he, himself was the victim... that Foer was the "ringleader" who recruited and "bullied" him into making up horror stories about Iraq.
So I wouldn't be surprised if, in fairly short order, Beauchamp and Foer end up at each other's throats over this -- the proverbial "falling out among thieves." So let's sit back, pop some corn, and see whether that happens... or whether I've completely misread the parties.
Date ►►► August 6, 2007
Democrat Inadvertently Blurts Out Truth
A spokesman for the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL, 95%) accidentally let slip an inconvenient truth... and nobody noticed! (Except the lizards, of course; the lidless eye sees all.)
Defending Obama's feckless threat to invade Pakistan if their war against al-Qaeda doesn't proceed fast enough for Obama, Bill Burton spake:
“The fact that the same Republican candidates who want to keep 160,000 American troops in the middle of a civil war couldn’t agree that we should take out Osama bin Laden if we had him in our sights proves why Americans want to turn the page on the last seven years of Bush-Cheney foreign policy.”
The problem with this puffery is that it's simply not true that "Americans want to turn the page." Some do, some don't; in the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll on the war, 57% say we shouldn't have invaded (i.e., want to "turn back the page"); but 57% is not a consensus. However, a simple substitution makes the statement absolutely true and virtually a tautology. Consider this version with one word rewritten:
Yes it does; it indicates ("prove" is too strong a formulation) that to Democrats, the war on global hirabah begins and ends with Osama bin Laden: To the congressional majority, we can win everywhere else; but if bin Laden isn't captured and prosecuted, we have lost. But even more ominously, we can lose everywhere else; but so long as we capture bin Laden and put him on trial (in the U.N.'s International Court of Justice at the Hague, of course), then we've won!
Such juvenile thinking permeates the Democratic party more thorougly than Shiite militias have penetrated the Iraqi National Police. Another example, just enunciated by Max Boot in an interview on Hugh Hewitt: the unreasonable demand put upon Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki to ram reforms through the Iraqi parliament... when we, ourselves, deliberately wrote their constitution to weaken the prime minister, back when our greatest fear was another Iraqi "strongman" rising to replace Hussein. We weaken the prime minister, then imagine that if only we replace Maliki with another guy, he'll be able to solve the political problems ("Daddy fix!").
The gravest problem facing America today, in my never particularly humble or hesitant opinion, is the fact that a huge chunk of the electorate suffer from -- and an entire major political party is now based upon -- Peter Pan Syndrome: They've never grown up, living instead in a perpetual state of adolescence and "teen logic":
- They make unreasonable, truculent demands;
- They have no idea how such demands could possibly be met, no strategy or even vague suggestion;
- Yet they promise vast retribution if the magical president doesn't make it so;
- When thwarted, they fly into a rage;
- They blurt out horrid things they never meant to say -- then defend their misstatement with the ferocity of Howard Dean defending his latest verbal gaffe;
- And when the policies they demand (or inflict upon the American people) collapse, leaving a shattered industry or sector as testament to Democratic fecklessness... their only explanation is to shrug and say, "it seemed like a good idea at the time."
Republicans and GOP-leaning independents have it in their power to prevent another Peter Pan presidency. And the first step is to stop forming a circular firing squad at the drop of a disagreement. To quote that great small-f federalist, one of the authors of the Constitution, and perhaps the greatest epigrammatist in American history -- I refer to Benjamin Franklin, of course -- "gentlemen, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
The Use of Incisive Wit to Make an Important and Brilliant Political Point in Contemporary American Conservative Politics, Giuliani Style
Rudy Giuliani at yesterday's early-morning debate, arguing in favor of eliminating the "death tax":
It drops to zero in 2010; then it goes to 55% in 2011. You do not want to be on a respirator in 2010.
Spinners and Winners
Another complete breakdown of the Big Lizards machine; but this time we have an excuse -- a massive disk-drive failure that required replacement and which interfered with the smoothly oiled functioning of the reptilian automaton.
We were unable to send in our nominations in time, and the Watcher himself was forced to pore through this site, looking for something to nominate. Astonishingly enough, Mr. Watcher picked the very post that we would have nominated, had we been compos mentos... Miracle on Sand, about the possibilities of civilization in Iraq, if they take hope from winning the Asia Cup -- just as I believe our win against the Soviet Olympic machine in 1980 (the "miracle on ice") gave us the hope to elect Ronald Reagan instead of reelecting Jimmy Carter.
It didn't win, but it had its shot, for which I'm grateful to le Voyeur. But here are the real winners...
- NEA Also Confused About SCOTUS Decision Regarding Race & Schooling, by The Colossus of Rhodey.
Although I liked this post, I actually voted for two others in this category:
- Whose Freedom? What Is Speech?, by Right Wing Nut House;
- Perhaps We Should Dunk the Administrators in the Toilet, by Cheat Seeking Missiles.
The first discusses "Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn," who has been charged with two felony counts of "hate speech" for throwing a pair of Korans in the toilet (one felony charge for each insulted Koran, one presumes).
This raises extraordinarily disturbing questions about freedom of speech: It's bad enough to punish, say, a violent assault more severely if done out of unacceptable hatred -- say, for a person's race or religion -- rather than for an acceptable hatred, such as rage at being dumped by one's girlfriend.
But in this case, the only crime other than hatred, theft of the Korans, was not only a misdemeanor, but its victim -- Pace University in New York -- was not even Moslem, hence not the target of the hatred. Shmulevich has, in fact, been charged with a felony solely for insulting Islam... something one would expect in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, not New York. And just as in a Moslem country, I, at least, have the disturbing feeling that the district attorney would never have charged him with a felony for flushing the holy book of a false religion... like Judaism or Christianity. This piece came in second in the Watcher's contest.
The second post discusses the same issue, as you probably deduced from the title; but in Laer's piece, he focuses on the reaction of the university itself... which has decided to force its students to undergo Islamic sensitivity training! We were the only ones to vote for this one; but that may have been because other voters picked between them, since the subjects were so similar.
- Baghdad Raid Night, by MIchael J. Totten.
This sort of nominee is always popular; but I look for a unique, original view when I vote, not simple reportage. Ergo, I voted thus:
In the first, Eric begins by quoting a Volokh contributer for a pair of definitions: "[T]here are two general ways to increase your wealth: by creating things people want, or by fighting over prizes that already exist -- things other people have created or found."
Eric then considers the taxonomy of lawyers and notes that they fall out on both sides of the definition: Most attorneys make very good money; but some actually contribute to society and the rights of the individual (prosecutors who put criminals behind bars, defense attorneys who defend potentially innocent people, lawyers who specialize in drawing up mergers or wills or other vital documents). While others make their fortunes by looting the innocent or society itself (the examples are mine, not Eric's):
- They sue businesses they know are innocent but will be so frightened of being dragged into court they'll pay extortion (John Edwards, environmentalist lawyers, OSHA lawyers);
- They prosecute the innocent in order to get reelected (Mike Nifong, the DAs who prosecuted the raft of day-care molestation cases some years ago);
- They defend clients who are almost certainly guilty -- no problem so far -- but they get them acquitted by patently unjust antics, such as repeatedly interrupting the prosecutor's summation so that jurors lose track of the argument; by putting on bogus expert witnesses to testify falsely, playing to the jurors' bigotry; and by deliberately confusing jurors by misleading comments about the evidence (Johnnie Cochran, Barry Scheck, Robert Shapiro, et al, who got O.J. Simpson acquitted by spinning a fantasy of massive police fraud with no foundation whatsoever -- and their counterparts in the 1950s and 60s, who got Ku Klux Klansmen acquitted of lynching charges by inflaming racial hatred in white juries);
- They're employed by the Mafia or by terrorist groups to get as many evil thugs acquitted as possible (lawyers at CAIR, Bruce Cutler -- a.k.a., "house counsel to the Gambino crime family," and so forth).
I love a good anti-lawyer rant, so I voted for this in the number-one slot. Others must have agreed, because it came in number two.
The second post highlights the astonishing statement by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC, 95%) that all the good news coming now from Iraq, if it causes the Republicans to unite, "would be a problem for us."
On the one hand, it's obvious; Clyburn means it would be a big problem for Democrats if Republicans were more united. But on the other hand, if we strip out the middleman, Clyburn admits that success in Iraq is a problem for Democrats. Thus, they have managed to become invested in military failure for the United States... a remarkable feat for any political party that hopes to compete on the national stage!
The full, final, and feral findings
As it ever was, you can "read all about it" here.
Date ►►► August 4, 2007
A Lame Duck Beats a Full House (and Senate)
And in the fullness of time, both the Democrat-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate broke with longstanding Democratic tradition and decided to support the United States of America.
Silly bit of business, really; foreigners calling foreigners whose calls happen to be routed through nodes in Los Angeles or New York, and the National Security Agency was listening in when it appeared that one or the other foreign party was a terrorist, a terrorist supporter, or a terrorist harborer. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opened the Devil's gate by deciding that this violated some obscure clause of the Constitution of which we were all previously unaware: the constitutional right of privacy for all foreigners living abroad. A judge -- they won't say who -- struck down the program.
Gleeful Democrats charged into the breach and demanded that President Bush submit all proposed "wiretaps" to a judge, present their "probable cause," and sit back and wait two or three weeks until he makes his decision. And if the four hundred year old judge doesn't understand why it's important to "wiretap" some radical cleric in Waziristan talking to young Moslems in Westminister, then it's back to the drawing board for the NSA.
But the Old Texan called their bluff. He argued that protecting Americans from terrorism required gathering intelligence. He pronounced that foreigners living outside the United States have no rights whatsoever under the American Constitution. And he insisted that the people's business was more important than Congress' vacation plans.
Bush proposed that the decision to surveil be made by (here was the compromise) both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence... thus keeping it within the Executive branch, which has sufficient energy to make a decision and act upon it, rather than endlessly debating the question (as the Legislative branch does) or consulting accumulated decades of hoary "wisdom" (à la the Judicial branch); but also not leaving the decision solely to the discretion of Alberto Gonzales, the Democrats' current Great Satan.
And Bush insisted that Congress enact the reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA, which predates both commercial cell phones and the modern version of Islamist terrorism) before adjourning for Congress' traditional August recess. This trapped the Democrats between Scylla and Charybdis:
- They're driven by the nutroots to dismantle any and every program to collect intelligence about pending terrorist attacks (while simultaneously demanding to know why we haven't gone right in and gotten bin Laden yet)...
- Yet they daren't be seen putting off American national security so they can go home and scarf up more campaign contributions and distribute more pork-laden earmarks.
At last, Democrats in both chambers of Congress arrived at the same conclusion, which they enacted and sent on to the president for signature: They caved to the Bush plan to reform the nearly three decade old FISA, thus betraying the MoveOn, George Soros, Daily Kos wing of the Democratic Party (they've been flying on one wing for seven years now).
But then, in an agony of cleverness, they set things up so their surrender to the Bush plan will only last six months... at which point they'll have to go through the entire nightmare all over again, navigating the narrow passage between the six-headed snake and the greedy whirlpool, to finally arrive right back to the same bill they just approved six months down the road (with or without yet another sunset clause).
That means that the next time Congress faces either infuriating "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," or else alienating those Americans who care anything about national security, it will be at the end of January and beginning of February 2008: Exactly when more than 50% of American voters go to the polls to decide the presidential nominees -- in the states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Florida, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah.
Brilliant planning, Democrats; somebody didn't have his PDA turned on when the donkey party agreed to that calendar!
I'm sure a massive debate about whether or not the Democrats care a fig about national security won't affect people's primary voting; just as I'm equally certain that the looming primaries won't in any way affect how Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbag, 95%) and Barack Obama (D-IL, 95%) will vote on the terrorism-intelligence bill.
How do the Democrats always manage to get themselves into a pickle like this? Oh, wait -- maybe their complete lack of "the vision thing" or any set of moral principles has something to do with it.
Date ►►► August 3, 2007
Time to Sack the Robes
Today, the Washington Post revealed the stunner that back in March of this year, a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ruled that the president had no legal authority to order the NSA to intercept phone calls originating abroad... and where the terminating point was also abroad.
Mind, this is not the "Terrorist Surveillance Program," TSP, that Democrats have been so agitated about; this case was not about calls where one end was in the United States, but rather about those where both ends -- or all ends, in the case of conference calls -- are in foreign nations... but the call happens to be routed through an American node, typically in New York or California. No information is known about the reason for the ruling or even which judge issued it (or, of course, who appointed that judge); those data are all still secret.
(It may even be a legally correct ruling; but I cannot imagine that the congressional authors intended the FISA Court to stand in between the NSA or CIA and urgent overseas terrorism intelligence. Isn't there some Supreme Court precedent that, no matter what the law says, a court can't issue an order that's just plain dumbass?)
In fact, we weren't even supposed to know this much; but House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH, 88%) let the beans out of the cat to anchor Neil Cavuto on Fox News:
"There's been a ruling, over the last four or five months, that prohibits the ability of our intelligence services and our counterintelligence people from listening in to two terrorists in other parts of the world where the communication could come through the United States," Boehner told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto in a Tuesday interview.
Thus, for the last few months, the NSA has been barred by law from the most fruitful source of terrorism intelligence: phone calls from, say, Pakistan to Paris. And while we don't know the exact reason behind the limitation, we certainly know the impact... and it has been so devastating to American national security, and so preposterous that the president's power as Commander in Chief would not extend even that far -- constitutional protections now extend to all foreigners living abroad? -- that even Democrats are frantic to pass legislation undoing that disaster of a decision:
The practical effect has been to block the NSA's efforts to collect information from a large volume of foreign calls and e-mails that passes through U.S. communications nodes clustered around New York and California. Both Democrats and Republicans have signaled they are eager to fix that problem through amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)....
"This means that our intelligence agencies are missing a wide swath of potential information that could help protect the American people," [Boehner] said. Boehner added that some Democrats are aware of the problems caused by the judge's restrictive ruling and the problems it has caused for the administration's surveillance of terrorism suspects.
"The Democrats have known about this for months," Boehner said. "We have had private conversations, we have had public conversations that this needs to be fixed. And Republicans are not going to leave this week until this problem is addressed."
This ruling hands us another demonstration, as if more were needed, that the federal judiciary is simply too slow, too rigid, and too deferential to precedent to be trusted with control over the gathering of intelligence in wartime. In past eras, nobody could have imagined so absurd a situation; judges did not tell the OSS what they could or could not do to intercept information about Nazi Germany, nor did the federal judiciary get to opine on whether it was legal for the United States to decode intercepted Japanese naval communications.
In particular, the current law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was enacted 29 years ago... not only a year before the current age of terror began but also the year before the first commercial cell phone network came into existence (in Japan). The FISA took neither modern communications nor the contemporary threat into account -- since neither yet existed.
Judges on the FISC continue to decide cases about terrorism intelligence under rules meant to govern spying on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The USSR was not going to attack us in a matter of hours; intelligence was generally long-term, required no immediate action, and could wait days (or weeks) upon the whim of a FISC judge, while he slowly pondered and mulled his way through years of caselaw and congressional legislation (typically arising from anti-intelligence agency bias in the post-Watergate political world).
The Judicial branch is inherently too slow-reacting to be the "gatekeeper" for terrorism intelligence: They are simply incapable of making decisions on the minute-by-minute schedule required to protect the United States from future terrorist attack. It's like putting Ents in charge of national security.
The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, has been testifying on the Hill recently about a desperately needed change of mindset; he wants the gatekeeper to be, not a court -- not even the special court set up to handle "foreign intelligence surveillance" (read "spying on the Soviets") -- but the Attorney General of the United States. If necessary, I presume a judge could intervene afterwards, if any of the intelligence was introduced as evidence in a criminal or civil court case. Again, even Democrats should understand the importance of this; after all, there is at least a 50-50 chance that the next president will be, in fact, a Democrat:
The effect of the judge's decision to curtail some of that surveillance was to limit the flow of information about possible terrorism suspects, according to congressional staffers briefed on the ruling. Last week, McConnell told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the government faces "this huge backlog trying to get warrants for things that are totally foreign that are threatening to this country...."
In April, McConnell proposed a much broader revision of FISA than what the administration is pressing Congress to approve this week. Under the new plan, the attorney general would have sole authority to authorize the warrantless surveillance of people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" and to compel telecommunications carriers to turn over the information in real time or after it has been stored.
Democrats, still feeling heat from the MoveOn.org/Daily Kos wing of the party, have countered with a proposal that would expand the administration's surveillance authority but still leave control in the hands of the FISA Court... and which would sunset in six months, presumably forcing the president to come back to Congress again and again, hat in hand, to beg for continued authority to safeguard the nation. This completely ignores the urgent question of timeliness.
For example, civil libertarians typically argue that warrantless surveillance was unnecessary because the current law allows the CIA or NSA to get a "retroactive" FISA warrant; but that only lasts for a limited period of time -- after which, unless such a warrant is issued, the surveillance must stop and wait until the judge finally gets around to deciding. And as McConnell noted, there is a "huge backlog" for FISA warrants, a logjam that is impacting our ability to collect actionable intelligence in real-time, giving us the best chance of thwarting an attack.
Not only that, but in order to undertake surveillance under FISA and ask for a retroactive warrant later, the agency must still fill out all the paperwork first, before starting the surveillance; and the forms must include "probable cause" to tap that particular phone call, probable cause at the same level as it would take to get a warrant. Thus, no matter how suspicious a series of calls between Teheran and Mosul look, before we could listen to them under FISA, we would first have to have as much probable cause as we would need here at home to search the house of a suspected drug dealer!
This is an outrage. I strongly urge the president to get behind the McConnell proposal and really go to work twisting congressional arms behind backs to get this enacted. When talking to Democrats, stress the fact that if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is elected next year, then they'll have the power... so it's not a tribal-partisan issue!
Immediate update: As I write this, Hugh Hewitt reported that President Bush has just demanded that Congress enact the new legislation before they leave for their August recess... and he has announced that, if the DNI says the legislation sent by Congress to the White House does not give McConnell what he needs to protect America, then Bush will veto it and insist that Congress remain in session until they get it right.
They could ignore the president, of course, but that would be politically disasterous for the Democrats. We'll see whether the majority can get its act together in time, or whether -- just like the Iraqi parliament -- they decide their August vacation is more important.
We already have quite adequate protections against a president using the excuse of "foreign intelligence surveillance" to scoop up loads of information about American political activists; none of it could be introduced in court without a judge's approval. But as far as actual, real-time intel about pending attacks on the United States or our allies, there is no reason for federal judges even to be involved... not until months or years later, when the scene shifts to a legal case. Just as it would be absurd for battlefield commanders to have to get judicial approval before ordering an attack on a terrorist safehouse.
Only the Executive has sufficient "energy" to be trusted with collecting military intelligence.
Date ►►► August 2, 2007
The Ginormous Marathon "So You Think You Can Dance" Massacree
We know Michelle Malkin already wrote about this... but (pace, our dearest Michelle) it doesn't really seem like she's ever even heard of the show before; it seems she only responded because readers of her blog called her attention to it. Her take is -- well, unique; but it doesn't fit what we actually saw when we watched. (Unlike Michelle, we were actual witnesses!)
And Michelle missed the big picture, anyway.
So, as the nearest thing to "experts" on So You Think You Can Dance that readers of Big Lizards are likely to know, we figured we'd better toss in our two cents. (Note that this post is jointly written by the two of us; wherever you see the first-person singular, you'll just have to guess which of us wrote it. Hah.)
Last Thursday, Dafydd and I [that's your only easy one] were watching one of our favorite TV shows, So You Think You Can Dance -- a dancing version of American Idol, where contestants vie to be chosen "America's favorite dancer."
It's a truly great show: The dancers come from many different disciplines, from ballroom to B-boy, Latin to Hip-Hop... and everybody is required to dance every style. On Wednesdays, we see the contestants (paired up boy-girl, boy-girl) randomly choose a dance style. For several days -- covered in a minute or so of short video takes -- they're choreographed by professional choreographers; then they take the stage and dance the routine.
Thursday is the result show, where, on the basis of viewer votes the preceding day, one guy and one doll are cut from the show. Thursday is always a nailbiter; we have two favorites, Lacey Schwimmer and Pasha Kovalev. Lacey is a West Coast Swing and International Latin ballroom champion -- just like her brother Benji Schwimmer; in fact, besides the official championships he's won, Lacey's brother Benji also won this very competition last season. Pasha is also Latin ballroom, but I don't know if he has ever won any major competitions; he doesn't mention any in his bio.
But last Thursday, besides the normal results, something unexpected happened: One of the judges and choreographers, Mia Michaels, found it necessary to apologize for the "jacket" she wore on the previous day's show, which was in fact a Marine Corps dress blue blouse with an upside-down Lance Corporal's rank insignia -- sewn on the cuffs. (It's supposed to be on the shoulders, of course. And rightside-up. And only if the wearer is, in fact, a Marine Corps Lance Corporal. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?)
Frankly, we hadn't even noticed it; we weren't paying much attention to the few shots of the judges. But evidently, many Marines and other service members did notice; and they took offense. In her apology, Michaels said she'd received numerous complaints; she also said she had no idea the jacket meant anything... she just wore it as a "fashion statement":
But then she opened the messages and was shocked by their tone and content. "It was hate mail," she says simply. "Saying things like, 'You should be ashamed of yourself.' It was really intense. It was awful."
The writers were responding to a jacket worn by Michaels on Wednesday's show. She had no idea that anyone would be offended by it, she says. She simply thought she was being fashionable by wearing a navy blue military jacket that happened to have a Marine emblem, upside down, on the sleeves. After hearing the feedback, Michaels tried to make amends on the air. "I understand why people were upset and I respect that," she says. "That symbol is sacred to the Marines, it's what they earned. The problem needed to be addressed and I'm glad we addressed it. That's why I made a public apology."
Although her on-air apology sounded sincere enough, the "hate speech" comment is utter bilge. Soon after Thursday's show, I went to the show's bulletin board (and so did I). There were already over two hundred posts in one thread on Mia Michaels' wardrobe, and there were at least a dozen threads. The comments were mostly from Marines, their friends, and family members criticizing Micheals' insensitivity... plus a bunch of ardent, anti-war fanatics posting to call the Marines "chickenhawks" and "warmongers," racists and homophobes, and to order them to stop watching the show.
I did not see a single instance of hate speech, though -- at least not on the pro-war side. The threads have all scrolled into oblivion, and we of course can't be sure that Mia Michaels didn't receive any bona-fide hate snail-mail; but the first few BBS posts I read were from Marine Corps sergeants simply explaining what that uniform meant to Marines, and how hard people must work to earn the right to wear it. It isn't something you casually wear to look cool.
Many such posts followed; and of course, each thread degenerated into an argument over the war itself. But honestly, if Michaels had understood why people were offended, she wouldn't have interpreted "you should be ashamed of youself" as "hate mail."
But that wasn't the only thing that happened that night; something truly remarkable occurred...
As I said, SYTYCD is a dance version of American Idol. I'm proud to say I'm a huge fan, even watching many of the episodes in the first season. And I've been a fan of ballroom competitions for many, many years. But we really got into it last season, watching every single episode religiously and voting every week for Benji Schwimmer -- from every telephone number in the house. (We're continuing the tradition this season.)
Last Wednesday, "dance night," for the very first time in this show, each of the top ten dancers danced identical choreography to the same piece of music, created by (in our opinion) the show's’ best choreographer, Wade Robson (he choreographs in Broadway style). That means ten individual dancers got up and danced the same routine to the same music; needless to say, after about the third contestant, we got mighty sick of it. (Thankfully, they didn't pull such a stupid stunt last night: Each couple just danced two distinct pairs routines, like they usually do.)
Both Wade and Mia have been nominated for an Emmy in the past. I usually don't care for Michaels' pretentious, meaningless, "artistic" style of Contemporary, but Wade is different: He has a distinct style, he's creative and unique, and his dances are generally just plain fun (if you watched last season, he choreographed the "night of the living dead" group number). Just as Bob Fosse's choreography was unique and instantly identifiable, Wade Robson has a personal touch that makes him stand out.
We like him... so naturally, we were quite annoyed last Wednesday when Robson said the theme of the endlessly-repeated dance was "peace and anti-war." Each dancer had to pick a word to be stenciled onto his or her T-shirt; the choices were "peace," "love," "unity," "gentle," "patience," and so forth (no subtext there). Also, the choreography itself was supposed to evoke a feeling of "we're not gonna take it anymore," they danced to some anti-war song about "waitin' for the world to change," and each piece included a "primal scream" for each dancer. (For some inexplicable reason, I thought of Howard Dean.)
We were exasperated. Why did he have to inject his naive political opinions into an otherwise a-political famility entertainment show? My opinion of Robson plunged.
But it seems we were not the only ones who thought that: A huge chunk of viewers called and e-mailed to complain about the routine. It must have been a huge deal, because the viewer reaction resulted in yet another apology on the same results show where Mia Michaels had been forced to apologize -- this one "a non-apology apology" and explanation from the main judge (and the show's creator executive producer), Nigel Lythgoe:
That put executive producer Nigel Lythgoe in the crosshairs of more angry feedback from those who believe that an antiwar dance means the show and its dancers are unpatriotic and do not support the troops [gosh, I wonder why people would get that impression]. "Who would've dreamt -- with the dancers using words like 'humility,' 'love' and 'passion' -- that I would be defending a television show that uses words like that?" asks Lythgoe, who also apologized on air.
But at the same time, Lythgoe stood his ground. "Art should be allowed to make statements," he said. "I'm so proud to be part of a show that allows freedom of expression," says Michaels. "Nigel has allowed us to be who we are. He never edits us and he lets us express ourselves as artists. I think that is rare and extraordinary."
Really! Does anybody believe Nigel would have allowed a choreographer to create a dance routine with a theme of "moral war," the dancers wearing T-shirts stenciled with words like "victory," "courage, and "honor?" Show of hands now...!
Now this part is hardly new or interesting. It's not particularly surprising that a Broadway choreographer turns out to be a peacenik, or that a Hollywood producer (by way of London) would fail to notice anything controversial about an "anti-war" dance theme -- in the middle of a war. I keep thinking about all those anti-war movies made during World War II...
Being political junkies, we're used being ambushed by the Left in the most inappropriate venues: my junior-high math teacher’s retirement party, my best friend's wedding -- and even a dance contest show. It's amazing how often we're forced to endure asinine, leftist political commentary shoehorned into some venue where arguing back -- or even hinting at disagreement -- would create such a scene, that we just keep our mouths shut. I think everybody reading this post knows exactly what we mean.
Who, besides a Leftie, wants to ruin a joyous occasion? For some reason, the liberal who inappropriately injects politics never gets blamed... invariably, everyone directs his ire towards the non-liberal who finally responds after repeated political baiting. Thus the outrageously offensive statements go unchallenged, and we grind our molars down to stubs of enamel. (That's why, on those rare occasions where liberals get criticized for offensive politicking, they're utterly dumbfounded.)
"Who doesn't want peace, anyway?" Nigel demanded on last Thurday's results show, reacting to the criticism. He seemed truly taken aback by the viewers' response, honestly befuddled that anyone would see anything wrong with protesting against war -- during a war.
This story was picked up by some conservative bloggers and milbloggers. Michelle Malkin's negative reaction is understandable:
Fortunately, I missed last week’s episode of the Fox network show, “So, You Think You Can Dance?” If I had seen it, I might have damaged my TV set.
She is right, of course; but she missed the big point: It's one thing for conservatives and milbloggers, who normally don't watch the show anyway, to complain about it after the fact. But it's quite another when ordinary, non-political dance fans get offended by what they consider an "anti-military" message. The endless threads on the show BBS were clearly started by big fans of the show who watched it twice every week, but were so offended that they complained. That's more than we jaded politicos did!
And that's the big picture that Michelle Malkin missed: It wasn't just the "usual suspects" complaining; it was a major chunk of the show's viewership. Enough to spawn, not one, but two apologies on the same prime time, network show.
We've been told so many times that since "70% of Americans are against the Iraq war," the rest of us should just shut up and blow away. We're lectured that Americans are sick and tired of this long, fruitless war that can only end in ignominious defeat. But when a popular TV-show sneaks “anti-war” propaganda against this selfsame “unpopular war,” they receive hundreds of complaints. What gives?
Is it possible that ordinary Americans are not as anti-war as the elite media portray them, not quite so willing to embrace defeat and surrender? I don’t know if I should leap that far to a conclusion based upon one reaction to a TV dance show... still, what happened on SYTYCD could be a harbinger of things to come.
It is just possible that what the American people are really sick and tired of is the relentless drumbeat of losers insulting our military.
Maybe what people really can't stand is defeat. So if they think (based upon media lies-by-omission) that we're losing the war, they're against it; but if they understand that we've turned a corner and are now headed towards a reasonable victory with honor, we may see a complete 180 on whether it was worth fighting the Iraq war. As the expression goes, "Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan -- living on generous welfare payments from Democratic surrender-monkeys."
If that's the case, then when General David Petraeus brings home good news from Iraq this September, the American people will look back at Democrats who spent the last couple of years pushing retreat-defeat resolutions and, like the guy or gal waking up after a drunken, quickie marriage in Tijuana, wonder what the hell they ever saw in Harry or Nancy.
Date ►►► August 1, 2007
Gonzales, Intelligence, and Perjury: the Penultimate Word
Today, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales received his best testimonial yet from the pen (all right, word processor program) of Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (all right, from some flunky who actually does the typing).
Our previous reporting on this issue can be spelunked here:
As the post is fairly long -- but absolutely fascinating, riveting! -- I'm tucking the rest into the "slither on;" I urge you to read it; I can personally vouch that the author is brilliant when sober.
McConnell sent a letter to Arlen Specter (R-PA, 43%), ranking Republican on Chairman Pat Leahy's (D-VT, 95%) Senate Committee on the Judiciary, trying to explain to Specter -- as if to a retarded seventh grader -- why Gonzales, in telling the truth, therefore did not lie:
In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included "a number of . . . intelligence activities" and that a name routinely used by the administration -- the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- applied only to "one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more."
"This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged," McConnell said....
McConnell's letter was aimed at defending Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from allegations by Democrats that he may have committed perjury by telling Congress that no legal objections were raised about the TSP. Gonzales said a legal fight in early 2004 was focused on "other intelligence activities" than those confirmed by Bush, but he never connected those to Bush's executive order.
Gonzales had been asked point blank, during Senate J-Com testimony, whether the argument in the hospital was over the TSP; he therefore, honestly and accurately, said no, it was about a different program... and he then offered to go into secret session to describe exactly what program he and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft discussed.
Chairman Leahy, however, had zero interest in finding out; he was only interested in screaming "perjury!" and demanding a special counsel (all right, manipulating four other Democrats on the committee, plus Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid, D-Caesar's Palace, 90%, into screaming perjury and demanding a special counsel; see links above.)
This seems pretty conclusive. So why "penultimate?" Because I cannot imagine that the Democrats -- and their RINO acolytes, such as Arlen Specter -- will discard the perjury card merely because Gonzales told the truth. I sense another shoe about to drop.
As it happens, I'm not just whistling past the gravy train; revisionism has already started. Now it turns out that even if Gonzales fully and truthfully answered the question, he still "misled Congress" because he did not immediately disclose every classified intelligence program in our arsenal... on national TV:
Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), who was among a group of four Democratic senators who called last week for a perjury investigation of Gonzales, said: "The question of whether Attorney General Gonzales perjured himself looms as large now as it did before this letter.
"This letter is no vindication of the attorney general," he said.
Is it just me? Shouldn't the revelation that a statement thought perhaps to be perjury was in fact completely truthful at least make it implausible that it was also perjury?
And what about our esteemed RINO from Pennsylvania? Arlen Specter is witholding comment, as the Democrats have yet to give him a lead:
Specter was noncommittal yesterday on whether McConnell's explanation resolved his questions about the accuracy of Gonzales's previous testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Specter is the ranking Republican. Specter said he was waiting for a separate letter from the attorney general to provide additional clarification.
"If he doesn't have a plausible explanation, then he hasn't leveled with the committee," Specter said on CNN. Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that "the department will continue to work with Senator Specter to address his concerns" but declined to comment further.
Pssst... Sen. Specter: Perhaps Gonzales' "plausible explanation" for why he said that there was no dissent on the TSP, that it was on a different intelligence program instead, is that there was no dissent on the TSP... it was on a different intelligence program instead. You think?
Finally, the Washington Post indulges in one of liberalism's favorite ploys; they quote an allegedly unbiased expert to "analyze" the situation -- which analysis, oddly enough, always seems to point exclusively in one direction:
Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the new disclosures show that Gonzales and other administration officials have "repeatedly misled the Congress and the American public" about the extent of NSA surveillance efforts.
[Sidebar: Am I the only person who has no recollection of Gonzales or President Bush ever claiming that the TSP was the only surveillance program we had? I would certainly hope we have many more than one -- and in fact, many more than are known by the editors at the elite media.]
"They have repeatedly tried to give the false impression that the surveillance was narrow and justified," Martin said. "Why did it take accusations of perjury before the DNI disclosed that there is indeed other, presumably broader and more questionable, surveillance?"
The "Center for National Security Studies" is a bitter, relentless partisan in the conflict between Congress and the White House over who should run this war (and previous wars, even back to the Clinton administration): From their website, it appears they invariably take the side of Congress in trying to extract information, no matter how heavily classified, from the Executive. Too, Kate Martin is a professor at ultra-liberal Georgetown University.
So we are shocked, shocked to discover that she is 100% on the side of Pat Leahy and Chuck Schumer (D-NY, 100%) in demanding that Albert Gonzales brief all members of both houses of Congress on every last intelligence surveillance program under the NSA, CIA, or any other intelligence agency.
Martin and her fellow Democrats demand that Leahy, et al, of the Senate Judiciary Committee be briefed -- including the fifteen J-Com members who are not members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence... and there is a reason it's called "select;" J-Com Chairman Leahy in particular was expelled from the Intelligence Committee... for leaking classified information (hence his nickname).
I guess Kate Martin has never heard the words "need to know."
And the Democratic House is now competing with the Democratic Senate to see who can make the most outrageous demand. On Monday, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI, 100%) -- who had evidently read the New York Times and Washington Post articles revealing that the Gonzales-Ashcroft main event really was about a different program than the TSP -- fired off an angry letter to Attorney General Gonzales insisting that Gonzales spill the beans about every intelligence program we have... to John Conyers, who is not a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and never has been:
We have two potential concerns with the disclosure. First, at a time when the Administration is seeking to make changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is imperative that all members of the House Judiciary Committee be fully apprised of these controversial, and possibly unlawful, programs, and any related programs....
We now request copies of all opinions, memoranda, and background materials, as well as any dissenting views, materials, and opinions regarding the same, concerning the database program disclosed by the media yesterday.
Yow. Why doesn't the White House just burn a few hundred CDs containing the complete NSA and CIA databases and pass them out to all 535 members of Congress?
(All right, 540 -- counting D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegates to the territories of American Samoa, Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, Guam, Madeleine Bordallo, and the United States Virgin Islands, Donna M. Christian-Christensen, and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño.)
And all their aides, of course; mustn't forget the congressional aides, including those who are still teenagers. After all, if you can't trust a teenaged girl with a deep and vital intelligence secret, well who can you trust?
The ultimate word of the Penultimate Word is this: Democrats in Congress will not rest until we have no secrets, none whatsoever; everything we know, every program we undertake to develop actionable intelligence against past, current, and future terrorist threats, should be instantly and unreservedly shared with thousands of senators, representatives, delegates, aides -- and anyone else that anyone else might choose to enlighten.
The insanity (and inanity) of this position is manifest and requires no explanation. But the implication is chilling. This demand isn't just surrendering in Iraq; the Democratic Party's overt position has now become one of utter American defeat in the broader war against global hirabah ("unholy war"). Because if we were to reveal all that we were doing to collect intelligence... well, then we might as well not bother doing it, because none of it would work anymore.
Leahy is not an idiot, and neither is Schumer nor Conyers. They know the logical consequences of what they demand. So why do they demand it?
Straightforward question, simple answer: They believe "Nixoning" Bush, accusing him of a coverup, will help their political fortunes in 2008.
What I cannot answer is whether the motivation is core hatred of America as it currently exists... or depraved indifference to what, if we lost this war, America might become.
Russia - Trying to Annex Arctic - Had to Plough Through Deep Ice!
I was reading about Russia trying to annex a large chuck of the North Pole, when I was struck by this passage:
In an unprecedented and potentially perilous mission, veteran Arctic explorer Artur Chilingarov will descend 14,000 feet in a deep sea submersible and drop a Russian tricolor cast in titanium onto the seabed.
With Russia’s northern rivals, all eager to extend their own Arctic ambitions, looking on uneasily, two Russian ships reached the North Pole after ploughing their way through deep ice for over a week.
But lo! Haven't we been told for several years now -- and not just by Al Gore -- that global warming has caused the ice in the Arctic to melt, break up, and leave huge, ice-free passages all the way to the North Pole? Why then did the Russkies have to crash their way through thick, frozen H2O?
But maybe they didn't really mean that. I read further...
Global warming has given renewed impetus to the race for control of the Arctic.
Melting ice sheets could open up the fabled North East passage, the quest for which claimed countless sailors’ lives, for the first time.
The route, which could dramatically cut the length of a journey from Europe to Asia, could become navigable to commercial traffic within eight years.
So there you have it from the Telegraph's mouth: There is no Northeast Passage; the ice hasn't broken up; people are simply hoping that it will, because if it did, it would vastly increase the world recoverable oil supply -- and also make a big positive difference in shipping time.
In other words, here is another wonderful benefit from global warming -- that alas we don't get, because there is no significant global warming. Prompting me to repeat my plaintive cri de coeur for the last decade:
They're All Ears... Again
With great fanfare, the House nearly unanimously passed the Democrats' "ethics" bill... and just as Big Lizards predicted, there is virtually nothing in it to forbid or even slow down the enacting of congressional "earmarks":
The bill, which was drafted by Democratic leaders, has been a signature issue for Democrats since winning control of Congress last November. The measure would end gifts to lawmakers, including meals and tickets, by lobbyists and their clients. The bill is also intended to force members of both houses to make public the names of lobbyists who raise $15,000 or more for them in any six-month period with practice known as "bundling," the combination donations from many people.
House members approved the new legislation 411 to 8, even though some privately grumbled that it would make fund-raising more difficult.
Previous posts in our series about Congress, the Democrats, and earmarks:
- The Missing Earpiece
- Has Nancy Pelosi Changed Her Mind About Ears?
- The Democrats Are All Ears
- Earmarks? No No... Phonemarks!
In The Democrats Are All Ears, published more than eight months ago, here is what we said:
In today's New York Times, we've started to find out the contours of just what the Democrats meant when they said they would clean up the "Republican culture of corruption." Interestingly, it doesn't appear to include earmarks -- which are the biggest problem:
Their initial proposals, laid out earlier this year, would prohibit members from accepting meals, gifts or travel from lobbyists, require lobbyists to disclose all contacts with lawmakers and bar former lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from entering the floor of the chambers or Congressional gymnasiums. [That's harsh... congressmen turned lobbyists will no longer be able to use the Stair Stepper or the House basketball court. That's got to hurt.]
None of the measures would overhaul campaign financing or create an independent ethics watchdog to enforce the rules. Nor would they significantly restrict earmarks, the pet projects lawmakers can anonymously in sert into spending bills, which have figured in several recent corruption scandals and attracted criticism from members in both parties. The proposals would require disclosure of the sponsors of some earmarks, but not all.
I have the strangest sense of déjà vu; where did I hear this before? Oh yes, here we go... in both of the two previous Big Lizards posts linked above, I noted that "Democrats in the House voted 147 to 45 against the Republican rules change that identified all earmarks and their congressional sponsors." That's more than 3-1 against identifying the sponsors of earmarks.
Two-thirds of a year hath passed, but the Democrats are no more interested in curtailing earmarks than they ever were; the closest the new legislation -- now passed by the full House -- comes to the subject is to require that earmarks be disclosed by the congressional sponsors 48 hours before the House or Senate votes.
But there is not a word in here about the primary opportunity to insert earmarks, the point at which most of them get added: They usually appear in the joint conference, where congressmen reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the same bill.
At that time, in what is in essence a big committee (with members of both bodies present), I don't believe there is any official record kept of who added what, or even what is in there. Nor can there be any amendments after the joint conference, nothing either added or deleted; the only options are to pass the legislation as is or not to pass it at all.
Since the Times does not explicitly say that the current legislation would allow any exceptions to that rule, allowing earmarks inserted during the joint conference to be removed -- or even mentioned on the floor of either chamber -- then I must assume that it does not, in fact, prevent that particular form of corrupt skullduggery.
So the mountain, having labored longly and loudly, with a hundred declamations of self-righteous sanctimony, has in the end given birth to a mouse of an ethics bill. As Shakespeare said, it's "sound and fury signifying nothing." The bill is utterly useless, serving only to make earmarks even more obscure and difficult to eradicate than before.
And let us not forget that one of the first acts of the incoming Democratic majority in the House was to find a brand, new way of slipping earmarks into pending spending -- this time by turning them into "phonemarks." In Earmarks? No No... Phonemarks!, we caught them in the act:
The Democrats have not only jettisoned any idea of "cleaning up" Washington and running the most ethical Congress in history... they have become positively ingenious in finding new ways to hide their culture of corruption from public view:
When the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed one of its first spending bills, funding the Energy Department for the rest of 2007, it proudly boasted that the legislation contained no money earmarked for lawmakers' pet projects and stressed that any prior congressional requests for such spending "shall have no legal effect."
Within days, however, lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) began directly contacting the Energy Department. They sought to secure money for their favorite causes outside of the congressional appropriations process -- a practice that lobbyists and appropriations insiders call "phonemarking...."
That is, individual members of Congress would call appropriators at the Department of Energy and say, in their best Vito Corleone voice, "We know there's nothing in the bill requiring it, but we think it would be better for everyone, not to mention safer, if you hired this particular New Jersey contractor to develop a new nuclear reactor, rather than any of the other competitors."
And of course, it was House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-WI, 90%) who came up with the brilliant idea of banning earmarks from spending legislation... but then re-inserting them into the bill when it goes to the join conference.
So now they've gone and done exactly what they said they would: Remove all their own earmarks even from the flickering light of yesterday's Congress and sneak them in under the total blackness of the secret joint conference... or even ex post facto by making extortionary calls to federal agencies, warning that it might not be healthy to forget to funnel a few billion dollars off to favored Democratic contractors.
Thank goodness we got rid of that Republican culture of corruption!
And will the elite media now leap to their collective feat in a standing ovulation, cheering this magnificent feat? We're all ears.
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