DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: MMA Thread
on: March 22, 2008, 06:27:30 PM
Not only that, but that bit about MH seeing himself like Ester was a tad bizarre I thought, and generally I did not care for his coaching personality at all. I also did not like the way the show made the guys from Serra's team have to go over to Hughes's team or the way MH belittled them for their feeling weird about it.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Certifying Parents
on: March 22, 2008, 12:45:56 PM
March 22, 2008; Page A24
In the annals of judicial imperialism, we have arrived at a strange new chapter. A California court ruled this month that parents cannot "home school" their children without government certification. No teaching credential, no teaching. Parents "do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote California appellate Justice Walter Croskey.
The 166,000 families in the state that now choose to educate their children at home must be stunned. But at least one political lobby likes the ruling. "We're happy," the California Teachers Association's Lloyd Porter told the San Francisco Chronicle. He says the union believes all students should be taught only by "credentialed" teachers, who will in due course belong to unions.
California law requires children between six and 18 to attend a full-time day school. Failure to comply means falling afoul of the state's truancy laws, which say kids can't play hooky without an excuse. But kids who are taught at home are less likely to be truants. Their parents choose to spend their time teaching English, math and science precisely because they don't think the public schools do a good enough job.
The case was initiated by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services after a home-schooled child reportedly complained of physical abuse by his father. A lawyer assigned to two of the family's eight children invoked the truancy law to get the children enrolled in a public school and away from their parents. So a single case of parental abuse is being used to promote the registration of all parents who crack a book for their kids. If this strikes some readers as a tad East German, we know how you feel.
That so many families turn to home schooling is a market solution to a market failure -- namely the dismal performance of the local education monopoly. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the majority of states have low to moderate levels of regulation for home schools, an environment that has allowed the option to flourish, especially in the South and Western U.S. Between 1999 and 2003, the rate of home-schooling increased by 29%.
For some parents, the motive for home schooling is religious; others want to protect their kids from gangs and drugs. But the most-cited reason is to ensure a good education. Home-schooled students are routinely high performers on standardized academic tests, beating their public school peers on average by as much as 30 percentile points, regardless of subject. They perform well on tests like the SAT -- and colleges actively recruit them both for their high scores and the diversity they bring to campus.
In 1994, a federal attempt to require certification of parent-teachers went down in flames as hundreds of thousands of calls lit up phone banks on Capitol Hill. The movement has since only grown larger and better organized, now conservatively estimated at well over a million nationwide. But what they can't accomplish legislatively, unions are now trying to achieve by diktat from the courts.
If John McCain wants an issue to endear him to cultural conservatives, this would be it. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama rarely stray from the preferences of the teachers unions, but we'd like to know whether they really favor the certification of parents who dare to believe they know best how to teach their children.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ted Kennedy
on: March 22, 2008, 10:22:09 AM
HELLO, SENATOR KENNEDY
After numerous rounds of "We don't know if Osama is still alive," Osama himself decided to send Ted Kennedy a note in his own handwriting to let him know he was still in the game.
Kennedy opened the note, which appeared to contain a single line of coded message: 370HSSV-0773H.
Kennedy was baffled, so he E-mailed it to John Kerry. Kerry and his aides had no clue either, so they sent it to the FBI. No one could solve it at the FBI, so it went to the CIA, then to the NSA. With no clue as to its meaning, the FBI finally asked Marine Corps Intelligence for help.
Within a few seconds, the Marines cabled back with this reply: "Tell Kennedy he is holding the message upside down."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: With extreme prejudice (Kerry still an idiot)
on: March 22, 2008, 12:21:24 AM
With Extreme Prejudice
By JAMES TARANTO
March 21, 2008
Remember John Kerry? He was the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, lauded by his supporters for his intellect and his nuance, as compared with the simpleminded George W. Bush. Having lost the election, he decided to sit out the 2008 contest. He recently endorsed Barack Obama, and earlier this week he sat down with the editorial board of the Standard-Times (New Bedford, Mass.) to make the case for his candidate.
It's a real jaw-dropper. ABC News's Jake Tapper sums it up:
Kerry said that a President Obama would help the US, in relations with Muslim countries, "in some cases go around their dictator leaders to the people and inspire the people in ways that we can't otherwise."
"He has the ability to help us bridge the divide of religious extremism," Kerry said. "To maybe even give power to moderate Islam to be able to stand up against this radical misinterpretation of a legitimate religion."
Kerry was asked what gives Obama that credibility.
"Because he's African-American. Because he's a black man. Who has come from a place of oppression and repression through the years in our own country."
An African-American president would be "a symbol of empowerment" for those who have been disenfranchised around the world, Kerry said, "an important lesson for America to show Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, other places in the world where disenfranchised people don't get anything."
One obvious question: What do the events of this week, involving Obama's own church, tell us about his ability to "stand up against" a "radical misinterpretation of a legitimate religion"? Nothing very encouraging in this columnist's view, but many observers view Obama much more charitably in this regard than we do.
What is really striking about Kerry's case for Obama, though, is that it rests on what may be the crudest stereotyping we have ever observed. Commentary's Abe Greenwald has a chuckle over Kerry's racial stereotyping of Obama:
Where is this "place of oppression and repression" in which Obama has suffered "through the years"? Hawaii? Harvard? The Senate? We should find out immediately and do something about this horrific crisis.
But Kerry isn't just stereotyping blacks. He is stereotyping Muslims too. And he is drawing an equivalence between American blacks, a racial minority in one country, and Middle Eastern Muslims, a religious majority in a whole region.
Never mind that, as Greenwald points out, "Arab Muslims [are] none too happy with their black countrymen in northern Africa." Never mind that in some African countries, notably Sudan and Mauritania, Arab Muslims still enslave blacks.
To Kerry, it seems, all "oppressed peoples" look alike. The man has all the intellectual subtlety of a third-rate ethnic studies professor.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ on Heller
on: March 22, 2008, 12:17:45 AM
Guns and Legal Ammo
March 22, 2008
As shoot-outs go, the Supreme Court had a famous one Tuesday during oral arguments over the constitutionality of Washington D.C.'s handgun ban. The smoke won't clear until the High Court issues its decision, but the debate this week augurs well for a conclusion that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms.
District of Columbia v. Heller has become the test case for a question that has animated legal scholars, politicians and lower courts for much of our modern history: Is the Second Amendment guarantee a collective right, which is to say it is reserved only for state militias, or is it an individual right?
Judge Laurence Silberman's landmark opinion last year for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down D.C.'s ban on handguns, rejecting the militia argument and scouring the historical and legal record to show that the Founders clearly intended to protect an individual's right to defend himself and family. The District appealed, and so the Supremes will issue the most important Second Amendment ruling in decades.
Judging by Tuesday argument, the High Court has a majority in support of the circuit court opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts asked why the Framers included the word "people" if the Amendment only applied to militias. Justice Antonin Scalia discussed the importance the Framers attached to providing citizens the means to protect against tyrannical government. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the Court's swing vote, informed all in attendance that "In my view, there's a general right to bear arms quite without reference to the militia either way."
The debate also focused on what restrictions, if any, government could impose on such an individual right. Several Justices had particular fun with Solicitor General Paul Clement, who was charged with defending his (and thus the Bush Administration's) odd split-the-baby amicus brief arguing that while the Second Amendment is an individual right, the D.C. Circuit opinion would bar governments from banning even such heavy weapons as machine guns.
In fact, that opinion leaves ample room for a government to regulate machine guns, bazookas and the like -- much as even the First Amendment protects speech as an individual right but not as a right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater. We hope the Supreme Court agrees with Judge Silberman that the Second Amendment does protect the right to own pistols, rifles and other guns of the kind the American Founders believed were needed to protect liberty.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Act: ulterior motives?
on: March 21, 2008, 10:14:25 PM
Still think the 'Patriot Act' is about terrorism?
When Congress passed the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, law-enforcement agencies hailed it as a powerful tool to help track down the confederates of Osama bin Laden. No one expected it would end up helping to snag the likes of Eliot Spitzer. The odd connection between the antiterror law and Spitzer's trysts with call girls illustrates how laws enacted for one purpose often end up being used very differently once they're on the books.
The Patriot Act gave the FBI new powers to snoop on suspected terrorists. In the fine print were provisions that gave the Treasury Department authority to demand more information from banks about their customers' financial transactions. Congress wanted to help the Feds identify terrorist money launderers. But Treasury went further. It issued stringent new regulations that required banks themselves to look for unusual transactions (such as odd patterns of cash withdrawals or wire transfers) and submit SARs—Suspicious Activity Reports—to the government. Facing potentially stiff penalties if they didn't comply, banks and other financial institutions installed sophisticated software to detect anomalies among millions of daily transactions. They began ranking the risk levels of their customers—on a scale of zero to 100—based on complex formulas that included the credit rating, assets and profession of the account holder.
Another element of the formulas: whether an account holder was a "politically exposed person." At first focused on potentially crooked foreign officials, the PEP lists expanded to include many U.S. politicians and public officials who were conceivably vulnerable to corruption.
The new scrutiny resulted in an explosion of SARs, from 204,915 in 2001 to 1.23 million last year. The data, stored in an IRS computer in Detroit, are accessible by law-enforcement agencies nationwide. "Terrorism has virtually nothing to do with it," says Peter Djinis, a former top Treasury lawyer. "The vast majority of SARs filed today involve garden-variety forms of white-collar crime." Federal prosecutors around the country routinely scour the SARs for potential leads.
One of those leads led to Spitzer. Last summer New York's North Fork Bank, where Spitzer had an account, filed a SAR about unusual money transfers he had made, say law-enforcement and industry sources who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the probe. One of the sources tells NEWSWEEK that Spitzer wasn't flagged because of his public position. Instead, the governor called attention to himself by asking the bank to transfer money in someone else's name. (A North Fork spokesperson says the bank does not discuss its customers.) The SAR was not itself evidence that Spitzer had committed a crime. But it made the Feds curious enough to follow the money.http://www.newsweek.com/id/123489
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenomena
on: March 21, 2008, 10:22:54 AM
There is much I disagree with here, but I always consider what Peggy Noonan has to say-- especially so in this case; after all she was an outstanding speechwriter for Ronald Reagan-- which is why I suspect she is so soft on BO.
A Thinking Man's Speech
March 21, 2008
I thought Barack Obama's speech was strong, thoughtful and important. Rather beautifully, it was a speech to think to, not clap to. It was clear that's what he wanted, and this is rare.
It seemed to me as honest a speech as one in his position could give within the limits imposed by politics. As such it was a contribution. We'll see if it was a success. The blowhard guild, proud member since 2000, praised it, and, in the biggest compliment, cable news shows came out of the speech not with jokes or jaded insiderism, but with thought. They started talking, pundits left and right, black and white, about what they'd experienced of race in America. It was kind of wonderful. I thought, Go, America, go, go.
You know what Mr. Obama said. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was wrong. His sermons were "incendiary," and they "denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation." Mr. Obama admitted that if all he knew of Mr. Wright were what he saw on the "endless loop . . . of YouTube," he wouldn't like him either. But he's known him 20 years as a man who taught him Christian faith, helped the poor, served as a Marine, and leads a community helping the homeless, needy and sick. "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me." He would not renounce their friendship.
Most significantly, Mr. Obama asserted that race in America has become a generational story. The original sin of slavery is a fact, but the progress we have lived through the past 50 years means each generation experiences race differently. Older blacks, like Mr. Wright, remember Jim Crow and were left misshapen by it. Some rose anyway, some did not; of the latter, a "legacy of defeat" went on to misshape another generation. The result: destructive anger that is at times "exploited by politicians" and that can keep African-Americans "from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition." But "a similar anger exists within segments of the white community." He speaks of working- and middle-class whites whose "experience is the immigrant experience," who started with nothing. "As far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they've built it from scratch." "So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town," when they hear of someone receiving preferences they never received, and "when they're told their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced," they feel anger too.
This is all, simply, true. And we are not used to political figures being frank, in this way, in public. For this Mr. Obama deserves deep credit. It is also true the particular whites Obama chose to paint -- ethnic, middle class -- are precisely the voters he needs to draw in Pennsylvania. It was strategically clever. But as one who witnessed busing in Boston first hand, and whose memories of those days can still bring tears, I was glad for his admission that busing was experienced as an injustice by the white working class. Next step: admitting it was an injustice, period.
* * *
The primary rhetorical virtue of the speech can be found in two words, endemic and Faulkner. Endemic is the kind of word political consultants don't let politicians use because 72% of Americans don't understand it. This lowest-common-denominator thinking, based on dizzy polling, has long degraded American discourse. When Obama said Mr. Wright wrongly encouraged "a view that sees white racism as endemic," everyone understood. Because they're not, actually, stupid. As for Faulkner -- well, this was an American politician quoting William Faulkner: "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." This is a thought, an interesting one, which means most current politicians would never share it.
The speech assumed the audience was intelligent. This was a compliment, and I suspect was received as a gift. It also assumed many in the audience were educated. I was grateful for this, as the educated are not much addressed in American politics.
Here I point out an aspect of the speech that may have a beneficial impact on current rhetoric. It is assumed now that a candidate must say a silly, boring line -- "And families in Michigan matter!" or "What I stand for is affordable quality health care!" -- and the audience will clap. The line and the applause make, together, the eight-second soundbite that will be used tonight on the news, and seen by the people. This has been standard politico-journalistic procedure for 20 years.
Mr. Obama subverted this in his speech. He didn't have applause lines. He didn't give you eight seconds of a line followed by clapping. He spoke in full and longish paragraphs that didn't summon applause. This left TV producers having to use longer-than-usual soundbites in order to capture his meaning. And so the cuts of the speech you heard on the news were more substantial and interesting than usual, which made the coverage of the speech better. People who didn't hear it but only saw parts on the news got a real sense of what he'd said.
If Hillary or John McCain said something interesting, they'd get more than an eight-second cut too. But it works only if you don't write an applause-line speech. It works only if you write a thinking speech.
They should try it.
* * *
Here's what didn't work. Near the end of the speech, Mr. Obama painted an America that didn't summon thoughts of Faulkner but of William Blake. The bankruptcies, the dark satanic mills, the job loss and corporate corruptions. There is of course some truth in his portrait, but why do appeals to the Democratic base have to be so unrelievedly, so unrealistically, bleak?
This connected in my mind to the persistent feeling one has -- the fear one has, actually -- that the Obamas, he and she, may not actually know all that much about America. They are bright, accomplished, decent, they know all about the yuppie experience, the buppie experience, Ivy League ways, networking. But they bring along with all this -- perhaps defensively, to keep their ideological views from being refuted by the evidence of their own lives, or so as not to be embarrassed about how nice fame, success, and power are -- habitual reversions to how tough it is to be in America, and to be black in America, and how everyone since the Reagan days has been dying of nothing to eat, and of exploding untreated diseases. America is always coming to them on crutches.
But most people didn't experience the past 25 years that way. Because it wasn't that way. Do the Obamas know it?
This is a lot of baggage to bring into the Executive Mansion.
Still, it was a good speech, and a serious one. I don't know if it will help him. We're in uncharted territory. We've never had a major-party presidential front-runner who is black, or rather black and white, who has given such an address. We don't know if more voters will be alienated by Mr. Wright than will be impressed by the speech about Mr. Wright. We don't know if voters will welcome a meditation on race. My sense: The speech will be labeled by history as the speech that saved a candidacy or the speech that helped do it in. I hope the former.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington's letter to the Hebrew Congregation
on: March 21, 2008, 09:57:11 AM
"May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness,
upon our paths, and make us in all our several vocations useful
here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy. "
-- George Washington (letter to the Hebrew Congregation in
Newport, August 1790)
Reference: George Washington: A Collection, W.B. Allen, ed. (548)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People
on: March 21, 2008, 09:39:01 AM
Elderly Man Shoots, Kills Near-Naked Intruder
POSTED: 5:41 pm EDT March 20, 2008
UPDATED: 6:33 pm EDT March 20, 2008
TUCKER, Ga. -- An 81-year-old man who shot and killed an intruder said Thursday he would do it again if he's ever faced with the same situation. Robert Jenkins is recovering from injuries he suffered during a struggle with a man who had broken into his DeKalb County home Tuesday about 11 p.m.
Jenkins and his wife said they were in bed when they heard noises in the house. "I said 'Bob they're in the house, how did they get in the house?' and with that Bob hopped out of the bed went to the closet, got his gun,'" said Peggy Jenkins.
When Jenkins got to the kitchen he found Jynad Marshall, 25, stripped down to his underwear. "He said 'give me that gun' and started at me, so I put a round in him right then,'" Jenkins told WSB-TV Channel 2 reporter Eric Philips.
Meanwhile he wife was dialing 911. "I heard pow, and I told the operator and she said 'stay on the line', and I said 'no, I can't stay on the line,'" Peggy Jenkins explained. "Then I heard another pow."
The 6 foot 225 pound Marshall fell on top of Jenkins. Marshall continued attacking Jenkins until he died. "I don't feel good about killing anybody, but I'm glad I did because it was us or him," said Jenkins.
Police said Jenkins won't face charges since the shooting was self-defense.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: March 21, 2008, 02:52:58 AM
Stratfor, as usual, seeks the deep view:
Geopolitical Diary: The Start of Cold War II?
March 21, 2008
Legislators in the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia signed a statement on Thursday accusing Georgia of aggression and warning of the possibility of war in the Caucasus. In Moscow, the Russian parliament urged the government to send additional peacekeepers to both Abkhazia and Georgia’s other breakaway republic, South Ossetia. Elsewhere, the Kremlin’s NATO envoy said Russia wants an emergency meeting with the Western military alliance to discuss the March 19 move by U.S. President George W. Bush to establish Kosovar eligibility for military assistance from the United States.
These developments follow a series of similar events in the past few weeks, underscoring an escalation of tensions between the United States and Russia in the wake of Kosovo’s Feb. 17 declaration of independence. The flurry of activity includes moves to expand NATO, violent reactions from Kosovar Serbs, the U.S. attempt to construct ballistic missile defense installations in Eastern Europe, and Russia’s apprehension of Western spies in Moscow. All these events clearly underscore that the Cold War is back.
Cold War II is different than the original Cold War, which was a Soviet-U.S. confrontation that lasted from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nuclear-armed ideological rivals Washington and Moscow competed for global influence, and a divided Europe was a key theater in which this war played out. Cold War II is being waged by a far more powerful United States and a vastly weakened Russia — an emasculated successor to the Soviet Union.
Another key difference between the new and old Cold War is that Europe no longer is just a theater in which the Americans and Russians are playing geopolitical chess. The Europeans are playing major roles as independent actors in this new Cold War. This time around, Europe as a continent is not exactly occupied and has recovered from both World War II and the first Cold War. But the European Union is an increasingly incoherent entity, with the three principal state actors –- Germany, France and the United Kingdom –- not interested in confronting Russia.
Berlin made this very clear when it expressed a lack of interest in NATO expansion, the independence of Kosovo and the Ukraine gas issue. This is not surprising, given that the Germans are dependent upon Moscow for energy. Beyond energy, Germany’s wider economic relationship with and its proximity to Russia inform its lack of appetite for confrontation with the Kremlin. But this does not mean that Berlin won’t take on Moscow when it deems necessary. Germany is re-emerging on its own to again become an international power player.
France is even further removed from the new Cold War dynamics. Paris has its own ideas about how it wishes to advance itself as an international player, which has very little to do with West vs. Russia competition. Geographically far more insulated, it wants no part in this new Cold War.
As for the British, they have enough domestic political issues to sort out, which is why they also are out of the game. That said, given London’s historic role as a major U.S. ally, the United Kingdom cannot avoid the issues that the United States is dealing with. Therefore, at best the British will maintain a low-key role in the U.S. moves to continue its geopolitical push against Russia.
The United States — considering that it has the luxury of waging a geopolitical assault against Russia from afar — is not bothered by the lack of European involvement. But the European position is not tenable in the long run. Europe’s geography — and the fact that, unlike during the original Cold War, there isn’t an iron curtain in place — will force the Europeans to jump in or at least choose sides.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gorbachev admits he is a Christian
on: March 20, 2008, 08:15:09 PM
Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian
By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Last Updated: 3:04am GMT 19/03/2008
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.
Accompanied by his daughter Irina, Mr Gorbachev spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.
His arrival in Assisi was described as "spiritual perestroika" by La Stampa, the Italian newspaper.
"St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ," said Mr Gorbachev. "His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life," he added.
Mr Gorbachev's surprise visit confirmed decades of rumours that, although he was forced to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a new light.
Mr Gorbachev, 77, was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians.
In addition, the parents of his wife Raisa were deeply religious and were killed during the Second World War for having religious icons in their home.
Ronald Reagan, the former United States president, allegedly told his close aides on a number of occasions that he felt his opponent during the Cold War was a "closet believer".
Mr Reagan held deep religious convictions himself. However, until now Mr Gorbachev has allowed himself to express only pantheistic views, saying in one interview "nature is my god".
After his prayers, Mr Gorbachev toured the Basilica of St Francis and asked in particular to be shown an icon of St Francis portraying his "dream at Spoleto".
St Francis, who lived in the 12th century, was a troubadour and a poet before the spiritual vision caused him to return to Assisi and contemplate a religious life.
Even in his early days, St Francis helped the poor, once giving all of his money to a beggar. As well as spending time in the wilderness, he also nursed lepers and eventually became a priest.
"It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb," said Mr Gorbachev.
"I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity."
He also asked the monks for theological books to help him understand St Francis's life.
Father Miroslavo Anuskevic, who accompanied the former Soviet leader, said: "He was not recognised by any of the worshippers in the church, and silently meditated at the tomb for a while. He seemed a man deeply inspired by charity, and told me that he was involved in a project to help children with cancer.
"He talked a lot about Russia and said that even though the transition to democracy had been very important
for the world, it was very painful for Russia. He said it was a country which has a great history, and also a great spirituality."http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main...-mostviewedbox
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 20, 2008, 02:51:03 PM
Will the Last Republican in New York Turn Out the Lights?
How does House Minority Leader John Boehner know he has an unusually challenging election year on his hands? When even the most recent chairman of the House Republican campaign committee joins the avalanche of GOP House Members who are retiring this year.
Rep. Tom Reynolds, who represents an upstate New York district wedged between Buffalo and Rochester, will announce he's leaving office after a decade of service. He becomes the 29th House Republican to decide the party is unlikely to win back a House majority this year and thus is heading for the exits. Only six Democrats so far have announced they are leaving the House.
Mr. Reynolds only won with 52% of the vote last time, and since then he has endured an ongoing scandal involving the National Republican Campaign Committee he headed until 2006. The committee's treasurer during his time is alleged to have embezzled nearly $1 million because of lax supervision.
Republicans hold only six out of the Empire State's 29 House seats. Now they will have to defend two because of retirements. The seat held by departing Rep. James Walsh is truly marginal, but Republicans believe they should be able to hold the Reynolds seat. It gave President Bush a solid 55% of the vote in 2004, normally sign of a safe GOP seat. But Democrats have found a candidate they think perfectly suited for the district: John Powers, a schoolteacher who happens to be an Iraq War veteran.
-- John Fund
Manna for Document Nerds
What will the bloodhounds be pawing for now that the National Archives has bequeathed its first major document dump related to Hillary Clinton's time as First Lady?
The press for the immediate moment will be zeroing in on titillating details, such as where Mrs. Clinton was on that fateful day when hubby Bill introduced Monica Lewinsky to the Oval Office. But that's shooting fish in a barrel. Investigative reporters also will be looking for promising leads about, say, Mrs. Clinton's contact with the now deceased Vince Foster or her possible meetings with former Democratic fundraiser (and now convicted felon) Johnny Chung.
Meanwhile, those focused on the current presidential race will be trawling for info that would either buttress or dismantle Mrs. Clinton's claims that she was an instrumental policy player in the Clinton White House. Britain's Guardian newspaper was already reporting yesterday that "Mrs. Clinton was a long way from the White House at key foreign policy moments," such as NATO air strikes against Serbia, or the Northern Ireland peace agreement.
Finally expect a brouhaha (which has already begun) over some 4,746 schedule items that have been redacted. The National Archives says this was done to protect the privacy of third parties, but what isn't yet clear is whether the redactions were imposed by Clinton representative Bruce Lindsey, who was allowed to vet the documents before their release. Christopher Farrell of Judicial Watch -- a conservative organization that sued to get the information -- says he doesn't expect to find any "smoking gun," since Mr. Lindsey had "enormous discretion" to redact potentially damaging material.
Naturally, the release has spurred a new round of "Who's More Transparent?" bickering between the Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns. Clinton advisor Howard Wolfson says Mrs. Clinton's public record now reflects "11,000 more documents than the Obama campaign has released up until this point relating to any part of his service especially as state Senator." The Obama campaign, meanwhile, continues to ask why Mrs. Clinton has yet to photocopy and release recent tax records.
-- Kim Strassel
Back In The Game
Oregon is ecstatic right now. For the first time in 60 years the state may hold a meaningful presidential primary.
Stymied in its attempts at relevancy in 1992 and 1996, Oregon in 2000 decided to move its presidential primary back to its traditional placement in May, having found that a March primary was still overshadowed by bigger states. Now, two months before Oregon voters get to decide between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in one of the most competitive primary seasons ever, the state's late slot on the primary calendar has suddenly turned into a virtue.
Mr. Obama, anticipating the importance of Oregon's 52 pledged delegates, already plans to hold rallies Friday in Portland and Eugene -- two of the state's three largest cities. In any other presidential year, Oregonians would likely have known the candidates only from seeing them on TV.
The state's last significant presidential primary came in 1948, when New York Gov. Thomas Dewey squeaked past former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stassen with 52% of the vote, essentially ending Stassen's presidential hopes. Leading up to that primary, between 40 million and 80 million people heard the two Republican candidates debate from a Portland radio station studio on whether the U.S. should outlaw the Communist Party. According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, this was the first and last time a presidential debate was ever limited to one issue.
-- Kyle Trygstad, RealClearPolitics.com
Alaska's Changing of the Guard, with Prejudice
Rep. Don Young of Alaska has been cheerfully hauling back pork to his native state for years. But in 2005, he and fellow Republican Senator Ted Stevens were caught promoting the "Bridge to Nowhere," which became an instant symbol for bloated federal earmarks. Then last year, both men came under federal investigation over their cozy ties to companies that often sought earmarks. Mr. Young has spent $845,000 on legal fees related to the investigation, but refuses to answer any questions on the subject.
Senator Stevens has already drawn a primary opponent in his re-election race, and now Mr. Young faces a top-flight challenger: Sean Parnell, Alaska's lieutenant governor. Mr. Parnell hopes to replicate the success of his boss, Governor Sarah Palin, who in 2006 defeated then-Gov. Frank Murkowski in a GOP primary by playing up the corruption surrounding his political machine. Mr. Parnell certainly will benefit from the popular Republican governor's backing. Ms. Palin personally accompanied her deputy to the state election office when he filed to enter the primary.
Rep. Young isn't giving up, but polls show he has only a 40% approval rating and many voters realize that as an ethically challenged member of the minority party his best pork-salting days are probably over.
-- John Fund
Whiz Wit English
A small blow for sanity was struck yesterday when a local regulatory body in Philadelphia ruled that a famous cheesesteak restaurant did not violate anyone's human rights by posting a small sign: "This is America: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH."
Joe Vento, owner of Geno's Steaks, says he never in fact refused service to anyone who didn't speak English and only put up the sign out of concern that so many in the neighborhood were lapsing into their native tongues when they could have used basic English.
By a 2 to 1 vote, the city's Commission on Human Relations ruled that Mr. Vento's sign did not convey any message that business will be "refused, withheld or denied." The ruling was a surprise because just last year the commission had found probable cause to charge Mr. Vento with violation of anti-discrimination laws. The same panel later decided to charge him only with posting an "offensive" sign.
The ruling comes just days after the U.S. Senate voted 54 to 44 to approve a common-sense amendment barring federal employment regulators from suing small businesses that require employees to speak English on the job.
Senator Lamar Alexander, a sponsor of the amendment, says his goal is to end "frivolous lawsuits" such as one filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Salvation Army and 125 other organizations for requiring English in the workplace except during breaks and lunch periods. Mr. Alexander's amendment would direct the EEOC to spend the money being used to finance the lawsuits to support programs to teach adults English instead.
Senator Alexander is under no illusions that his amendment will now pass the House. Last November, a previous version was approved by both House and Senate, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi cancelled a conference committee scheduled to finalize the bill under pressure from liberal groups. The legislation then died, but not before House Democrats came under withering criticism for undermining the use of English as America's common language.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: America and Iraq
on: March 20, 2008, 02:43:50 PM
America and Iraq
March 20, 2008; Page A18
Five years after U.S. and coalition forces began rolling into Iraq on their way to Baghdad, it's easy to lament the war's mistakes.
The Bush Administration underestimated the war's cost -- in treasure, and most painfully in lives. The CIA and every other Western intelligence agency was wrong about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. failed to anticipate the insurgency and was almost fatally late in implementing a counterinsurgency. It allowed the U.N. to design a system of proportional electoral representation that has encouraged its sectarian political divisions. And so on.
These columns have often discussed these and other blunders. But we have always done so while supporting the larger war effort and with a goal of victory that would be worthy of the sacrifice. Five years on, and thanks to the troop "surge" and strategy change of the last year, many of the goals that motivated the original invasion are once again within reach if we see the effort through.
* * *
No one should forget that the invasion toppled a dictator who had already terrorized the region and would sooner or later have threatened American interests. This by itself was no small achievement. Saddam's trial was a teaching moment for that part of the Arab world that used to cheer him; his hanging, however crudely carried out, was a warning to dictators everywhere.
Iraq may not have had WMD, but Saddam admitted to American interrogators that he planned to reconstitute his WMD effort once U.N. sanctions collapsed. The capture of Saddam persuaded Libya's Moammar Gadhafi to abandon his nuclear program and seek a reconciliation with the U.S. This in turn led to the rolling up of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's proliferation network, whose arms extended to Iran and North Korea.
Strategically, Iraq has gone from being one of America's two principal enemies (with Iran) in the region to one of its two principal allies (with Israel). Iraq's government, for all of its shortcomings, demonstrates that a Shiite-led government need not be a theocracy. The invasion did prompt thousands of jihadis to emerge from places like Saudi Arabia and Morocco to fight the "crusaders and infidels." Thousands of them are now dead or in prison, however, and the radical corners of the Arab world have learned that America cannot be defeated by a strategy of car bombs and assassination.
The strategic case for toppling Saddam also rested in part on the idea that a free Iraq would provide a strategic counterweight to Iran and Syria, as well as an ideological counterexample for a region where autocracy is the norm. The potency of that combination has been demonstrated by Sunni Arab hostility to the new Iraqi government; by Iran, Syria and al Qaeda efforts to destabilize it; and by those in the West who have sought to denigrate the effort as a way to diminish U.S. power.
Today, those efforts have largely failed. A new generation of European leaders has no interest in humiliating the U.S. and understands the danger of a chaotic Iraq. Al Qaeda has been nearly destroyed as a fighting force in Iraq and has lost support in the Arab Street with its brutality against Iraq's Sunni Arabs. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Sunni states are belatedly coming to terms with the new Iraq as they conclude that the U.S. won't leave in defeat.
The Iraqi government is also at last beginning to meet its most important political commitments. Yesterday, Iraq's presidency council agreed to a law on provincial elections to go forward after a month's delay. The central government has passed a budget, approved a detainee amnesty, enlisted 425,000 men in its security forces and increased oil production to 2.4 million barrels a day while funneling $100 million a year to its provinces. This is happening while the number of daily insurgent attacks has been cut by about two-thirds, with commensurate declines in civilian and military casualties.
Where do we go from here? Iraq's transition to self-government remains fragile enough that U.S. forces will need to remain there in some numbers for years to come. The two countries will have to strike a long-term U.S.-Iraq military agreement, which would serve the interests of both countries. For Iraq, it would show America's continuing commitment in a rough neighborhood. And for the U.S., it would make the job of containing Iran easier. President Bush can best serve his Presidential successor by leaving enough troops on the ground to give him or her some strategic flexibility.
It is therefore unfortunate, and dangerous, that both Democratic candidates have backed themselves into a corner by endorsing rapid withdrawal from Iraq. In a speech yesterday in North Carolina, Barack Obama called for an almost complete U.S. withdrawal in 16 months. He continues to endorse the illusion that defeat in Iraq will help us prevail in Afghanistan; the opposite is closer to the truth. We will never maintain the support, either at home or abroad, to prevail in Afghanistan if we show we can be driven from the more vital strategic prize of Iraq.
* * *
In our March 18, 2003 editorial on the eve of Iraq's liberation, we supported the war while noting that "toppling Saddam is a long-term undertaking" and "the U.S. has never been good at nation-building." We wish we had been wrong on both counts, but our view has always been that nations shouldn't begin wars they don't intend to win. And newspapers don't endorse wars only to walk away when the fighting gets difficult. The U.S. sacrifice in Iraq has been honorable, our soldiers have fought superbly, and the best way -- the only way -- to honor both is to leave Iraq in victory.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Jefferson
on: March 20, 2008, 10:25:49 AM
"If we move in mass, be it ever so circuitously, we shall attain
our object; but if we break into squads, everyone pursuing the
path he thinks most direct, we become an easy conquest to those
who can now barely hold us in check."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to William Duane, 1811)
Reference: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times: Outrage at Cartoons still tests the Danes
on: March 20, 2008, 10:15:19 AM
AARHUS, Denmark — “I think this is safe house No. 5,” Kurt Westergaard said the other day, and it was clear that he genuinely had lost track.
Last month the Danish police arrested two Tunisians and a Dane of Moroccan descent on charges of plotting to kill Mr. Westergaard, one of the 12 cartoonists whose pictures of Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked protests, some of them violent, by Muslims around the world in 2006 and put bounties on the heads of Mr. Westergaard and his editor, Flemming Rose. Mr. Westergaard (he drew Muhammad with a bomb in his turban) has been in hiding ever since.
Americans, for whom the presidential election seems to have become a delirious, unending sport, preoccupying their attention, turn out not to be the only ones who preferred to forget about the cartoons. So had many Danes and fellow Europeans. They were shocked by the arrests.
In the days shortly after, 17 Danish newspapers, having declined to publish the offending cartoons two years ago, declared solidarity with Mr. Westergaard and printed them. This, naturally, provoked a fresh round of protests from Gaza to Indonesia.
In Egypt the speaker of the Parliament claimed Danes had violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which seemed a little rich coming just a few weeks after the European Parliament, which itself complained about the cartoons’ re-publication, condemned Egypt for the sorry state of its human rights.
Meanwhile demands in Afghanistan for the instant withdrawal of Danish troops under NATO’s command and the severing of all diplomatic ties with Denmark caused Denmark’s foreign minister, Per Stig Moeller, to reply that it was becoming difficult for him “to put Danish soldiers’ lives in danger” to support a country “where one is at risk to be condemned to death for values that we believe to be an inseparable part of democracy and the modern world.”
And then, while it still seemed just a Danish problem, trouble spread. A gallery in Berlin was shut because an exhibition of satirical art by a Danish group called Surrend, which has previously produced works mocking neo-Nazis, caused several angry Muslim visitors to threaten violence unless a poster depicting the Kaaba, the shrine in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, was removed.
Two years earlier, in the wake of the original cartoon imbroglio, a Berlin opera company canceled performances of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” when police warned the company that a scene with the severed head of Muhammad, among other religious figures, posed “incalculable risk” to the performers and audience. Cries of self-censorship erupted across Europe.
This time around Germany’s interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, a politician who has been conspicuous in working to improve relations with Muslims in Germany, was reported to have urged other newspapers in Europe to reprint the cartoons, a remark he strongly denied making, which made no difference to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan.
“The German minister is required to immediately withdraw his statement,” Al-Watan demanded. Racism, not freedom of speech, was obviously behind Germany policy, the newspaper added. After all, Germans aren’t free to “discuss the Jewish Holocaust.”
And everybody knew what that meant.
Now many Europeans seem fed up. Over dinner in Copenhagen recently, Mr. Rose, who has made something of a second career out of the cartoon fallout, said it all came late but was inevitable.
“At the time, in 2006, there were good journalistic reasons for other newspapers to publish the cartoons because few people had seen them then, so they were news,” he said. “Now the journalistic justification is almost nonexistent because everyone knows what they look like, so it’s more about solidarity than about news.”
Unlike Mr. Westergaard, Mr. Rose doesn’t live in safe houses, although he long ago removed his name from the local telephone directory and has learned that a different Flemming Rose (there are apparently several in Denmark) decided to change his name.
“It was not about mocking a minority but a religious figure, the Prophet, so it was blasphemy, not racism,” Mr. Rose said of the cartoons. “The idea of challenging religious authority led to liberal democracy, whereas the singling out of minorities, as minorities, led to Nazism and the persecution of the bourgeoisie in Russia. So this distinction is crucial to understand.”
Page 2 of 2)
Years spent as a student and a newspaper correspondent in the Soviet Union shaped Mr. Rose’s philosophy. There he saw how “the concept of universal values was crucial to the dissident culture, and I saw what censorship meant,” he said. “I saw that values were not relative between Western society and the Soviets.”
Flemming Rose, Kurt Westergaard's editor. Recently, 17 papers reprinted the cartoons.
The Soviets, he noted, had a law in their penal code outlawing defamation of the Soviet way of life. Blasphemy laws in Muslim countries today “have the same purpose of silencing dissident voices,” he said. “Free speech does not extend to libel, invasion of privacy and incitement to violence.” But “a distinction must be made between words and deeds,” he insisted. “Images are open to interpretation, they’re different from words.”
Mr. Westergaard put it differently: “Cartoons always concentrate and simplify an idea and allow a quick impression that arouses some strong feeling.”
He recalled a cartoon he did years ago to complement an article defending Palestinians against Israelis, “not because this was my belief but because my job was to illustrate the views in this article, and I showed a Palestinian wearing a yellow star with ‘Arab’ on it.” He continued: “Many people called to protest. One man said I had abused a Jewish symbol. We talked for a long time and finally accepted each other’ s viewpoint.” It was the talking, he said, that mattered.
Did he go too far that time?
“Looking back,” he said, “perhaps I should have made a cartoon that did not use the yellow star.”
But then why Muhammad and not a star?
“Because millions of Jews died in camps wearing that star.”
Which is obviously the wrong answer for those who have put a price on his head. “I have always been an atheist, and I dare say these events have only intensified my atheism,” he said. “But the same clash would eventually have occurred over some book or a play. It was waiting to happen.”
He brought a cartoon that he had recently revised. In it Jesus, wearing a suit and tie, strides from the cross on which a sign hangs: “Service hours, Sunday, 10-11, 2-3.” Mr. Westergaard recently added an imam watching Jesus walk away.
He agreed to meet at Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper, from which he’s now semi-retired. Tall, broad-shouldered, with a salt-and-pepper beard, at 72 he’s like a Scandinavian sailor out of central casting but dressed, as usual, in fire-engine red pants, a patterned red scarf and a Sgt. Pepper black coat — clearly an act of sartorial defiance. When asked about Mr. Westergaard’s general approach to the last two years, Mr. Rose, with awe, said, “Calm.”
As it happens, most of the dozen cartoonists are older and, like Mr. Westergaard, closer to the generational ethos of 1968 than to the cultural relativism of later generations. A Social Democrat, Mr. Westergaard ran a school for severely disabled children before he became a cartoonist. He likes to point out that Himmerland, the region of Denmark where he was born, was home to a race of warriors: “There were also Danes among the Crusaders.”
He knows it’s a loaded reference. “Is this another Crusade now, or what is it?” he asked.
Then he answered himself: “In Denmark there is a culture of radicalism, a skepticism toward authority and religion. It’s part of our national character.” Years of relativism, during which Danes felt they “had no right to ask anyone else to live like us,” ended with the cartoons, he said. But he’s less sure than Mr. Rose about the degree of progress, conceding that recent gains by Denmark’s anti-immigrant party “are an unfortunate setback due to all this.”
Now he’s accustomed to being (and maybe, who is to say, even slightly enjoys his status as) an accidental celebrity with a soapbox. “Disagreement is an essential part of democracy,” he said. “I want to explain my sense of this clash between two cultures because I have grandchildren who will grow up in this multicultural society. The Danes are tolerant people. They don’t deserve to be treated like racists.”
He added: “This will go on for the rest of my lifetime, I am sure. I will never get out of this. But I feel more anger than fear. I’m angry because my life is threatened, and I know I have done nothing wrong, just done my job.”
“Anger,” he said, smiling, “is the best therapy.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Afghanistan's New Deal
on: March 20, 2008, 10:06:04 AM
Appearing in the NY Times, our embassador to the UN makes a proposal
By ZALMAY KHALILZAD
Published: March 20, 2008
BAN KI-MOON, secretary general of the United Nations, has appointed a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide, as his special representative to Afghanistan. Mr. Eide’s success will depend not only on his skills, but also on the friends of Afghanistan at the United Nations providing him with the proper mission, mandate and resources.
The most important task for the new special representative is to form a trusting, collaborative relationship with President Hamid Karzai, enabling them to agree on Afghanistan’s key challenges and on how aid money and military assistance can best be used. Today in New York, the Security Council is scheduled to extend the mandate of the United Nations’ Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for another year — the perfect chance to provide a clear set of priorities.
This resolution rightly gives Mr. Eide the powers to directly coordinate all of the support provided by international donors. As things stand, more than 30 national embassies and bilateral development agencies, several United Nations agencies, four development banks and international financial institutions, and about 2,000 nongovernmental organizations and contractors are involved in rebuilding in Afghanistan.
However, because of a lack of coordination among these donors, reconstruction resources often fail to arrive in a timely way after areas have been cleared of the enemy. Hundreds of projects are undertaken by allies and nongovernmental groups without coordination with the Afghan government, leading to cases of “ghost” schools or health clinics that are built but sit idle because they cannot be staffed or equipped.
Ministries are often hamstrung by having to comply with the varying procurement and accounting rules of dozens of foreign agencies, many of which are not consistent with Afghan law. This puts the international community at cross purposes with our goal of helping Afghanistan build coherent national systems for education, health and other services.
There is only one way to end the confusion: the United Nations must take on the primary coordination role, and donors must show a willingness to be coordinated. The new resolution allows this to happen in a number of ways.
First, Mr. Eide will need to oversee the coordination of civilian assistance with military efforts of the two military organizations operating in Afghanistan, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force. While it’s promising that those two organizations are meeting in Bucharest, Romania, next month to discuss better integrating their efforts, success against the insurgency will require efforts to ensure that military actions to secure areas from the enemy are coordinated with civilian efforts to establish good governance and economic development.
Second, Mr. Eide must coordinate the efforts of the international community to support the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year plan agreed upon in 2006 by the government of Afghanistan, the United Nations and the international community that requires Afghan leaders to take steps in reform and institution-building in exchange for commitments of sustained support. The United Nations must have a stronger role in overseeing the increasing capacity of Afghan ministries and their anti-corruption efforts.
Third, the new United Nations special representative should help the leaders and people of key donor countries understand achievements and challenges. This is the only way that the friends of Afghanistan can fully appreciate the return on their investments.
Last, Mr. Eide will have a mandate to engage Afghanistan’s neighbors to help stabilize the country. In the aftermath of 9/11, regional powers came together to support the so-called Bonn agreement, which enabled Afghans to freely choose their own government. Reclaiming the spirit of Bonn must be a priority.
The United States is fully behind the United Nations in the mission. Afghanistan is important not only because it was the origin of the attacks of 9/11 but also because it is the keystone of the geopolitical stability of Central and South Asia. Moreover, success in Afghanistan will be a major step in helping to create security, stability and progress in the broader Middle East, which is the defining challenge of our time.
Zalmay Khalilzad is the United States permanent representative to the United Nations.
Next Article in Opinion (6 of 15) »
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia
on: March 20, 2008, 10:00:42 AM
Stratfor I think has had good insight in its assessment of what Russia is up to geopolitically, and continues to have it here. That said, I would quibble with the final sentence. The Russians have been fcuking with us by helping Iran and now we are showing them that there are costs to that. That certainly does not make us the confrontational one in my book.
Geopolitical Diary: U.S. Puts Russia On Notice
March 20, 2008
U.S. President George W. Bush, fresh from meetings with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Wednesday, announced American support for Georgia’s NATO bid. Specifically, Bush announced that he would lobby the NATO allies to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP), the first step toward joining the alliance. Bush’s statement contained sufficient equivocation that MAP is hardly a foregone conclusion and formal membership is anything but imminent, but Russia has nonetheless been put on notice. NATO is preparing to march east yet again.
For the past month the West and Russia have been at a crossroads. After 10 years of heavy investment of political capital by the Kremlin into supporting its Balkan ally, Serbia, the West ran roughshod over Russian concerns by recognizing the independence of Kosovo, a renegade Serbian province. That decision blew a hole through the image of Russian power. In the midst of an internal transition of power and reeling from the Kosovo defeat, Moscow needs a means of striking back at the West to demonstrate its potency. To flex its muscles, Russia can encourage separatism in U.S. allies, complicate the United States’ Middle East policy with selective weapons sales and technology transfers, and manipulate European energy supplies.
But Russia also knows that if it makes any missteps, Western influence could threaten its position on more fronts than the country can defend. Even with high energy prices bolstering its bottom line and a strong president holding the system together, the Kremlin knows Russia is but a shadow of its Cold War self. Meanwhile, it is not that the West is without vulnerabilities — weaknesses are available for exploitation from Finland to Turkey — but that during the last 18 years, Western institutions have only strengthened in absolute terms.
The West has the advantage of political, economic and military superiority, along with the flexibility to dabble anywhere along the Russian periphery, and with a little elbow grease and luck, even within the Russian Federation itself. Remember, it is Russia — not the United States — that is riddled with potential secessionist regions. And it is the United States — not Russia — that sits safely on the other side of an ocean from its potential competitors.
In short, there is no doubt in either Moscow or Washington that the two share the ability to swap blows in areas of critical importance. Efforts undertaken March 17 and March 18 saw a final attempt to head off a post-Kosovo confrontation when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to Moscow to determine whether the Russians and Americans could agree to disagree.
In the American mind, a Russia that agrees to sit on its hands while the United States sews up Iraq is preferable. And yes, we realize that “sew up” is a gross simplification even in the best of circumstances. Moscow’s position in the talks was more nuanced than Washington’s: Moscow offered to hold off on seeking retaliation for its defeat in Kosovo should the United States agree to hold off on pushing its NATO agenda deeper into the former Soviet Union. Ultimately, the two sides proved unable to hammer out a deal, and Bush’s statement is the proof that, for the Americans at least, confrontation is the order of the day.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 19, 2008, 03:32:07 PM
Barack Obama's speech on race in America was a tour de force in many ways, but one section made me cringe and deserves some rebuke. There is an expression about ambitious politicians who would "walk over their grandmothers" in pursuit of their goals. Mr. Obama almost did that yesterday.
In explaining why he would not repudiate his extremist pastor, Mr. Obama said, "I can no more disown [Rev. Jeremiah Wright] than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."
Now Mr. Obama’s campaign has made clear that his 84-year old grandmother, who has asked to be left alone, should be considered off-limits to political reporters. But yesterday, it was Mr. Obama who didn't leave her alone when he used her for one of the central themes of his speech. His behavior recalls the time when Bill Clinton regularly trashed his stepfather as a violent drunk as part of his 1992 campaign. The idea of talking about his stepfather's human frailties to advance himself politically struck many people then as a selfish act and a gross distortion of the loyalty family members owe to each other.
-- John Fund
Quick-Draw Dellinger, He's Not
Talk out being outgunned. Former Clinton Solicitor General Walter Dellinger apparently had a bulls-eye on him when he faced the Supreme Court yesterday to defend the crime-ridden District of Columbia's handgun ban.
Mr. Dellinger didn't do himself any favors by taking the most extreme view -- that the Constitution's right to bear arms applies only to members of a militia, none of which exist anymore. He was barely a few sentences into his argument before the Court's conservative majority opened fire. Chief Justice John Roberts asked why the Second Amendment mentions "the people" if it didn't mean... the people? Justice Antonin Scalia followed up with a sermon on the eminent 18th-century English legal authority William Blackstone, who placed a high value on a right to self-defense that likely animated the Founding Fathers too.
But what really had observers buzzing was the intervention of Anthony Kennedy, seen as a swing vote on this case. He quizzed Mr. Dellinger about whether the right of self-defense wasn't at the heart of the Framer's deliberations, given their natural concern for a "remote settler" who needed "to defend himself and his family against hostile Indian tribes and outlaws, wolves and bears and grizzlies and things like that."
Anything can happen behind the Court's closed doors, but yesterday's oral argument strongly indicates that the District's comprehensive ban on private handgun ownership may be headed for history's ash-heap. Gun controllers will be outraged, but leading Democrats, who have all but abandoned the gun-control issue in their pursuit of national majority status, are likely to find some other subject to get worked up about when the Court's decision comes down.
-- Kim Strassel
Democratic debates are coming back! While some voters might be exhausted from the two dozen that were held earlier this year, others of us welcome their return because the pitched battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has finally gotten interesting.
The next championship bouts look to be on April 16 in Philadelphia, hosted by ABC, and on April 19 in North Carolina, hosted by CBS. Mrs. Clinton hasn't accepted the North Carolina debate yet, but that's likely a formality. The CBS debate would feature Katie Couric and Bob Schieffer, two veteran journalists who so far haven't had a star turn as debate moderators.
As for whether the debates will be worth watching, just consider how contentious the last few weeks of campaigning between the two candidates have been. Given the stakes, that intensity is likely to keep building until they confront each other in Philadelphia. The debate should be an interesting one, but don't expect to see much "brotherly love" present.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day
"How is it possible that a campaign apparatus that sniffed out Geraldine Ferraro's offensive statement to a local California newspaper (the Daily Breeze, 12th paragraph) did not know that Wright's statements condemning America were all over the Internet and had been cited March 6 by the (reputable) anti-Obama columnist Ronald Kessler? The sermon was also available on YouTube. In other words, how is it possible that a man who has made judgment the centerpiece of his presidential campaign has shown so little of it in this matter? One possible answer to these questions is that Obama has learned to rely on a sycophantic media that hears any criticism of him as either (1) racist, (2) vaguely racist or (3) doing the bidding of Hillary and Bill Clinton" -- Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.
He Saw the Future More Clearly Than the Present
The last member of the great science fiction-writing trio of the 20th century has left us with the death of British writer Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Sri Lanka. The other members were Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.
Although Mr. Clarke wrote, co-wrote or edited some 100 books, he is perhaps best known as the author of "2001: A Space Odyssey," which was turned into an iconic 1960s film by Stanley Kubrick. But Mr. Clarke's other books were a treasure trove of predictions in which he anticipated, with remarkable accuracy, everything from communications satellites to the Internet and cloning.
Mr. Clarke had pithy notions about social and technological change. "Every revolutionary idea," he once said, "evokes three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: (1) it's completely impossible; (2) it's possible but it's not worth doing; (3) I said it was a good idea all along." Mr. Clarke also sagely noted that the short-term impact of any new technology tends to be overestimated, while its long-term impact is underestimated.
But when it came to politics, Mr. Clarke was often frightfully wooly-headed. He called President Reagan's missile-defense plans "technological obscenities" and testified against them before Congress. He failed to foresee how Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative would contribute to the Soviet Union's peaceful downfall. He also ignored the lesson of his own novel, "The Trigger," in which a physicist invents a machine that can safely detonate any explosive, rendering weapons obsolete.
In 2000, Mr. Clarke also signed onto the so-called Human Manifesto, which one British newspaper sniffed was "a messy ideological goulash -- a conflicting mess of hard-core individualism, fettered capitalism, left-over socialism, dreamy one-worldism and goofy Al Gore environmentalism."
Still, despite such lapses Mr. Clarke leaves us at age 90 with a body of work that will inspire readers for hundreds of years with the potential of human accomplishment.
-- John Fund
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: More Visas, More jobs
on: March 19, 2008, 11:20:12 AM
More Visas, More Jobs
March 19, 2008; Page A16
Bill Gates appeared before Congress again last week to make a simple point to simpler pols: The ridiculously low annual cap on H-1B visas for foreign professionals is undermining the ability of U.S. companies to compete in a global marketplace.
"Congress's failure to pass high-skill immigration reform has exacerbated an already grave situation," said the Microsoft chairman. "The current base cap of 65,000 H-1B visas is arbitrarily set and bears no relation to the U.S. economy's demand for skilled workers."
The Labor Department projects that by 2014 there will be more than two million job openings in science, technology, engineering and math fields. But the number of Americans graduating with degrees in those disciplines is falling. Meanwhile, visa quotas make it increasingly difficult for U.S. companies to hire foreign-born graduates of our own universities. Last year, as in prior years, the supply of H-1B visas was exhausted on the first day petitions could be filed.
"Today, knowledge and expertise are the essential raw materials that companies and countries need in order to be competitive," said Mr. Gates. "We live in an economy that depends on the ability of innovative companies to attract and retain the very best talent, regardless of nationality or citizenship."
Lest you think Microsoft and other companies are making this stuff up, we direct you to two recent studies published by the National Foundation for American Policy. The first, entitled "Talent Search," found that major U.S. technology companies average more than 470 job openings for skilled positions, while defense companies average more than 1,200 such openings. In all, more than 140,000 skilled job openings are available today in the S&P 500 companies.
The second study, "H-1B Visas and Job Creation," reports the results of a regression analysis of H-1B filings and employment at U.S. tech companies. The objective was to determine if hiring foreign nationals harms the job prospects of Americans -- a common claim of protectionists. In fact, the study found a positive association between H-1B visa requests and the percentage change in total employment.
Among S&P 500 firms, "the data show that for every H-1B position requested, U.S. technology companies increased employment by 5 workers," according to the study. And "for technology firms with fewer than 5,000 employees, each H-1B position requested in labor condition applications was associated with an increase of employment of 7.5 workers." Far from stealing jobs from Americans, skilled immigrants expand the economic pie.
Mr. Gates said his software company exemplifies this phenomenon. "Microsoft has found that for every H-1B hire we make, we add on average four additional employees to support them in various capacities," he told lawmakers. "If we increase the number of H-1B visas that are available to U.S. companies, employment of U.S. nationals would likely grow as well."
The preponderance of evidence continues to show that businesses are having difficulty filling skilled positions in the U.S. By blocking their access to foreign talent, Congress isn't protecting U.S. jobs but is providing incentives to outsource. If lawmakers can't bring themselves to eliminate the H-1B visa cap, they might at least raise it to a level that doesn't handicap U.S. companies.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Discovering Obama
on: March 19, 2008, 11:06:34 AM
March 19, 2008; Page A16
The political tide for Barack Obama was inconceivable as recently as a few months ago, and it may still carry him into the White House. A mere three years out of the state legislature, the Illinois Senator has captured the Democratic imagination with his charisma, his silver tongue, and most of all, his claims to transcend the partisan and racial animosities of the day.
But the suddenness of Mr. Obama's rise allowed him, until recently, to evade the scrutiny that usually attends Presidential campaigns. If nothing else, the uproar over Reverend Jeremiah Wright has changed that. In Philadelphia yesterday, the Senator tried to explain his puzzling 20-year attendance at Reverend Wright's Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, while also using his nearly 5,000-word address to elaborate on the themes that have energized his candidacy. It was an instructive moment, though not always in the way the Senator intended.
Mr. Obama, of course, is in the midst of a chiefly political crisis. No one honestly believes he shares his minister's rage, or his political and racial beliefs, which have been seen all over cable news and reveal a deep disgust with America. Mr. Obama's fault, rather, was to maintain a two-decade entanglement with Mr. Wright without ever seeming to harbor qualms about the causes espoused by his mentor and spiritual guide.
Such complacency couldn't simply be waved off, as the Senator tried initially to do, because it drills into the core of his political appeal: that he represents new thinking and an attempt to end cultural and racial polarization. Mr. Wright imperils the possibility inherent in the first black candidate who has a genuine shot at the Presidency, in part because race is only an element of the Senator's political character, not its definition.
So yesterday Mr. Obama sought to rehabilitate his image by distancing himself from Mr. Wright's race-paranoia. He talked about his own multiracial background -- son of a white mother and Kenyan father -- and said, "I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."
Mr. Wright's remarks "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country," Mr. Obama continued, and are "not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity" -- his way of broadening out the discussion to include his political message.
Less uplifting was his attempt to pair Mr. Wright's extremism with Geraldine Ferraro's recent remarks as "the other end" of the spectrum on race. Mr. Wright's sermons are rooted in a racial separatism and black liberation theology that is a distinct minority even among African-Americans. Ms. Ferraro was, at worst, saying that Mr. Obama is helped because many Americans want to vote for someone who is black.
It is also notable that Mr. Obama situated Mr. Wright within what the Senator sees as the continuing black-white conflict and the worst excesses of racial injustice like Jim Crow. He dwelled on a lack of funding for inner-city schools and a general "lack of economic opportunity." But Mr. Obama neglected the massive failures of the government programs that were supposed to address these problems, as well as the culture of dependency they ingrained. A genuine message of racial healing would also have given more credit to the real racial gains in American society over the last 40 years.
The Senator noted that the anger of his pastor "is real; it is powerful," and in fact it is mirrored in "white resentments." He then laid down a litany of American woe: "the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who has been laid off," the "shuttered mill," those "without health care," the soldiers who have fought in "a war that never should have been authorized and never should've been waged," etc. Thus Mr. Obama's message is we "need unity" because all Americans are victims, racial and otherwise; he even mentioned working for change by "binding our particular grievances."
And the cause of all this human misery? Why, "a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many." Mr. Obama's villains, in other words, are the standard-issue populist straw men of Wall Street and the GOP, and his candidacy is a vessel for liberal policy orthodoxy -- raise taxes, "invest" more in social programs, restrict trade, retreat from Iraq.
Needless to say, this is not an agenda rooted in bipartisanship or even one that has captured a national Presidential majority in more than 40 years. It would be unfortunate if Mr. Obama's candidacy were toppled by racial neuroses, and his speech yesterday may have prevented that. But it also revealed the extent to which his ideas are neither new nor transcendent.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / S. Adams: Religion and morals
on: March 19, 2008, 10:40:41 AM
"Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public
liberty and happiness."
-- Samuel Adams (letter to John Trumbull, 16 October 1778)
Reference: Original Intent, Barton (320); original The Writings
of Samuel Adams, Cushing, ed., vol. 4 (74)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NY Times: Containment strategy
on: March 18, 2008, 02:19:32 PM
U.S. Adapts Cold-War Idea to Fight Terrorists
By ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER
Published: March 18, 2008
WASHINGTON — In the days immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, members of President Bush’s war cabinet declared that it would be impossible to deter the most fervent extremists from carrying out even more deadly terrorist missions with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
Since then, however, administration, military and intelligence officials assigned to counterterrorism have begun to change their view. After piecing together a more nuanced portrait of terrorist organizations, they say there is reason to believe that a combination of efforts could in fact establish something akin to the posture of deterrence, the strategy that helped protect the United States from a Soviet nuclear attack during the cold war.
Interviews with more than two dozen senior officials involved in the effort provided the outlines of previously unreported missions to mute Al Qaeda’s message, turn the jihadi movement’s own weaknesses against it and illuminate Al Qaeda’s errors whenever possible.
A primary focus has become cyberspace, which is the global safe haven of terrorist networks. To counter efforts by terrorists to plot attacks, raise money and recruit new members on the Internet, the government has mounted a secret campaign to plant bogus e-mail messages and Web site postings, with the intent to sow confusion, dissent and distrust among militant organizations, officials confirm.
At the same time, American diplomats are quietly working behind the scenes with Middle Eastern partners to amplify the speeches and writings of prominent Islamic clerics who are renouncing terrorist violence.
At the local level, the authorities are experimenting with new ways to keep potential terrorists off guard.
In New York City, as many as 100 police officers in squad cars from every precinct converge twice daily at randomly selected times and at randomly selected sites, like Times Square or the financial district, to rehearse their response to a terrorist attack. City police officials say the operations are believed to be a crucial tactic to keep extremists guessing as to when and where a large police presence may materialize at any hour. “What we’ve developed since 9/11, in six or seven years, is a better understanding of the support that is necessary for terrorists, the network which provides that support, whether it’s financial or material or expertise,” said Michael E. Leiter, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
“We’ve now begun to develop more sophisticated thoughts about deterrence looking at each one of those individually,” Mr. Leiter said in an interview. “Terrorists don’t operate in a vacuum.”
In some ways, government officials acknowledge, the effort represents a second-best solution. Their preferred way to combat terrorism remains to capture or kill extremists, and the new emphasis on deterrence in some ways amounts to attaching a new label to old tools.
“There is one key question that no one can answer: How much disruption does it take to give you the effect of deterrence?” said Michael Levi, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of a new book, “On Nuclear Terrorism.”
The New Deterrence
The emerging belief that terrorists may be subject to a new form of deterrence is reflected in two of the nation’s central strategy documents.
The 2002 National Security Strategy, signed by the president one year after the Sept. 11 attacks, stated flatly that “traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents.”
Four years later, however, the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism concluded: “A new deterrence calculus combines the need to deter terrorists and supporters from contemplating a W.M.D. attack and, failing that, to dissuade them from actually conducting an attack.”
For obvious reasons, it is harder to deter terrorists than it was to deter a Soviet attack.
Terrorists hold no obvious targets for American retaliation as Soviet cities, factories, military bases and silos were under the cold-war deterrence doctrine. And it is far harder to pinpoint the location of a terrorist group’s leaders than it was to identify the Kremlin offices of the Politburo bosses, making it all but impossible to deter attacks by credibly threatening a retaliatory attack.
But over the six and a half years since the Sept. 11 attacks, many terrorist leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, have successfully evaded capture, and American officials say they now recognize that threats to kill terrorist leaders may never be enough to keep America safe.
Page 2 of 3)
So American officials have spent the last several years trying to identify other types of “territory” that extremists hold dear, and they say they believe that one important aspect may be the terrorists’ reputation and credibility with Muslims.
Counterterrorism officials seek ways to deter attacks by Al Qaeda’s leaders, Osama bin Laden, left, and Ayman al-Zawahri.
Under this theory, if the seeds of doubt can be planted in the mind of Al Qaeda’s strategic leadership that an attack would be viewed as a shameful murder of innocents — or, even more effectively, that it would be an embarrassing failure — then the order may not be given, according to this new analysis.
Senior officials acknowledge that it is difficult to prove what role these new tactics and strategies have played in thwarting plots or deterring Al Qaeda from attacking. Senior officials say there have been several successes using the new approaches, but many involve highly classified technical programs, including the cyberoperations, that they declined to detail.
They did point to some older and now publicized examples that suggest that their efforts are moving in the right direction.
George J. Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his autobiography that the authorities were concerned that Qaeda operatives had made plans in 2003 to attack the New York City subway using cyanide devices.
Mr. Zawahri reportedly called off the plot because he feared that it “was not sufficiently inspiring to serve Al Qaeda’s ambitions,” and would be viewed as a pale, even humiliating, follow-up to the 9/11 attacks.
And in 2002, Iyman Faris, a naturalized American citizen from Kashmir, began casing the Brooklyn Bridge to plan an attack and communicated with Qaeda leaders in Pakistan via coded messages about using a blowtorch to sever the suspension cables.
But by early 2003, Mr. Faris sent a message to his confederates saying that “the weather is too hot.” American officials said that meant Mr. Faris feared that the plot was unlikely to succeed — apparently because of increased security.
“We made a very visible presence there and that may have contributed to it,” said Paul J. Browne, the New York City Police Department’s chief spokesman. “Deterrence is part and parcel of our entire effort.”
Terrorists hold little or no terrain, except on the Web. “Al Qaeda and other terrorists’ center of gravity lies in the information domain, and it is there that we must engage it,” said Dell L. Dailey, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief.
Some of the government’s most secretive counterterrorism efforts involve disrupting terrorists’ cyberoperations. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, specially trained teams have recovered computer hard drives used by terrorists and are turning the terrorists’ tools against them.
“If you can learn something about whatever is on those hard drives, whatever that information might be, you could instill doubt on their part by just countermessaging whatever it is they said they wanted to do or planned to do,” said Brig. Gen. Mark O. Schissler, director of cyberoperations for the Air Force and a former deputy director of the antiterrorism office for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Since terrorists feel safe using the Internet to spread ideology and gather recruits, General Schissler added, “you may be able to interfere with some of that, interrupt some of that.”
“You can also post messages to the opposite of that,” he added.
Other American efforts are aimed at discrediting Qaeda operations, including the decision to release seized videotapes showing members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely Iraqi group with some foreign leaders, training children to kidnap and kill, as well as a lengthy letter said to have been written by another terrorist leader that describes the organization as weak and plagued by poor morale.
Even as security and intelligence forces seek to disrupt terrorist operations, counterterrorism specialists are examining ways to dissuade insurgents from even considering an attack with unconventional weapons. They are looking at aspects of the militants’ culture, families or religion, to undermine the rhetoric of terrorist leaders.
For example, the government is seeking ways to amplify the voices of respected religious leaders who warn that suicide bombers will not enjoy the heavenly delights promised by terrorist literature, and that their families will be dishonored by such attacks. Those efforts are aimed at undermining a terrorist’s will.
“I’ve got to figure out what does dissuade you,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the Joint Chiefs’ director of strategic plans and policy. “What is your center of gravity that we can go at? The goal you set won’t be achieved, or you will be discredited and lose face with the rest of the Muslim world or radical extremism that you signed up for.”
Page 3 of 3)
Efforts are also under way to persuade Muslims not to support terrorists. It is a delicate campaign that American officials are trying to promote and amplify — but without leaving telltale American fingerprints that could undermine the effort in the Muslim world. Senior Bush administration officials point to several promising developments.
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Asheik, gave a speech last October warning Saudis not to join unauthorized jihadist activities, a statement directed mainly at those considering going to Iraq to fight the American-led forces.
And Abdul-Aziz el-Sherif, a top leader of the armed Egyptian movement Islamic Jihad and a longtime associate of Mr. Zawahri, the second-ranking Qaeda official, has just completed a book that renounces violent jihad on legal and religious grounds.
Such dissents are serving to widen rifts between Qaeda leaders and some former loyal backers, Western and Middle Eastern diplomats say.
“Many terrorists value the perception of popular or theological legitimacy for their actions,” said Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser. “By encouraging debate about the moral legitimacy of using weapons of mass destruction, we can try to affect the strategic calculus of the terrorists.”
As the top Pentagon policy maker for special operations, Michael G. Vickers creates strategies for combating terrorism with specialized military forces, as well as for countering the proliferation of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Much of his planning is old school: how should the military’s most elite combat teams capture and kill terrorists? But with each passing day, more of his time is spent in the new world of terrorist deterrence theory, trying to figure out how to prevent attacks by persuading terrorist support networks — those who enable terrorists to operate — to refuse any kind of assistance to stateless agents of extremism.
“Obviously, hard-core terrorists will be the hardest to deter,” Mr. Vickers said. “But if we can deter the support network — recruiters, financial supporters, local security providers and states who provide sanctuary — then we can start achieving a deterrent effect on the whole terrorist network and constrain terrorists’ ability to operate.
“We have not deterred terrorists from their intention to do us great harm,” Mr. Vickers said, “but by constraining their means and taking away various tools, we approach the overall deterrent effect we want.”
Much effort is being spent on perfecting technical systems that can identify the source of unconventional weapons or their components regardless of where they are found — and letting nations around the world know the United States has this ability.
President Bush has declared that the United States will hold “fully accountable” any nation that shares nuclear weapons with another state or terrorists.
Rear Adm. William P. Loeffler, deputy director of the Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction at the military’s Strategic Command, said Mr. Bush’s declaration meant that those who might supply arms or components to terrorists were just as accountable as those who ordered and carried out an attack.
It is, the admiral said, a system of “attribution as deterrence.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Part Two
on: March 18, 2008, 01:43:34 PM
This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.
There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.
And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.
She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.
She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.
Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.
Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”
“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.
But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 18, 2008, 01:42:48 PM
Here's BO's speech in response to the gathering firestorm over his reverend's rabblerousing and related matters:
OBAMA SPEECH IN FULL: A MORE PERFECT UNION
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008/ 10:17:53 ET
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.
The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.
This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.
Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.
This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.
And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.
On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way
But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:
“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”
That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.
But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.
Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.
Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.
This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 18, 2008, 12:44:42 PM
Liberals: Show Us the Money!
Liberals may rail about money in politics, but liberal groups this year are pulling out all the stops to raise money outside the normal Democratic Party structure in order win back the White House and solidify their control of Congress.
Today, two large labor groups -- the AFL-CIO and Change to Win -- will team up with the left-wing MoveOn.org and the housing advocacy group ACORN to announce plans to spend a whopping $150 million this fall. "In '04 the right mobilized its base and its resources," Bob Borosage, a co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future, told the Associated Press. "Well, we've continued to build and expand and gotten more enthusiastic and more mobilized and their coalition has collapsed."
Conservatives would beg to differ about that. They note that their own fundraising has finally started to pick up since John McCain became the presumptive GOP nominee. They also say Democrats are wasting a lot of resources on the trench warfare between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over which candidate will win the Democratic nomination.
But there's no denying there's a lot of new liberal money flooding the system. John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Clinton, has set up a group called The Fund for America, which plans to raise and spend $100 million. Among its heavy contributors are George Soros, who ponied up $2.5 million last year, and the Service Employees International Union, which gave an equal amount.
All in all, liberals apparently have decided to counter what they have long perceived as a vast right-wing conspiracy with a vast financial conspiracy of their own creation. Perhaps that's why talk of new campaign finance reform laws was almost absent from the Democratic Party primary debates this year.
-- John Fund
McCain's Warning to Immigration Hotheads
John McCain has a message for Republican candidates who are planning to run on strong anti-immigration themes this fall. Pay attention to recent election defeats by get-tough candidates and modulate your message accordingly.
Mr. McCain told National Public Radio on Monday that he believes noisy anti-immigration rhetoric helped defeat Republicans in several high-profile border state races in Texas and Arizona. He also singled out Pennsylvania, where Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania lost re-election in 2006, and Illinois, where Jim Oberweis stunned the GOP this month by losing the special election to fill the seat of former House Speaker Denny Hastert.
"Senator Santorum emphasized that issue [immigration] and lost by a large number," Mr. McCain told NPR. "We just had a loss of Denny Hastert's seat out in Illinois. The Republican candidate out there, I am told, had very strong anti-immigrant rhetoric also, so I would hope that many of our Republican candidates would understand the political practicalities of this issue."
Mr. Oberweis lost for a variety of reasons, but his high-octane immigration rhetoric clearly didn't help him as he lagged well behind normal GOP totals in the suburban Chicago seat. As a millionaire he spent big bucks from his own pocket airing an ad decrying how Washington politicians "can't seem to fix" the problem and calling for "tougher sanctions" on employers and illegal immigrants. Mr. Oberweis ran similar ads during his 2004 primary race for U.S. Senate, which he also lost.
Indeed, the Oberweis electoral track record is such that many local GOP leaders are urging him to step aside and allow the Republican he beat in the special election primary, State Senator Chris Lauzen, to replace him when the former Hastert seat comes up again in November. But Mr. Oberweis is nothing if not proud and insists he has a good chance of evening the score by defeating the new Democratic incumbent Bill Foster this fall. Nonetheless, Congressional Quarterly now rates the race in the normally Republican seat as Mr. Foster's to lose.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day
"Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright drives a wedge into the central contradiction of Obama's campaign -- an orthodox liberal politician who rose to prominence in a left-wing milieu in Chicago and has never broken with his party on anything of consequence is campaigning on unifying the country. There is nothing particularly unifying about Obama's past and his voting record. The senator has risen on his words, and will be hard-pressed to talk his way out of his long, jarring association with the gleefully divisive Rev. Wright" -- National Review editor Rich Lowry.
Putting the 'Super' Back in Superdelegate
Kudos to Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth. When asked recently why he is supporting Barack Obama for president, the first-term Democrat dispensed with the usual civic-minded blather and instead said the Illinois Senator was the best candidate to help him hold onto his seat in Congress. "In my district, there's no question Barack would be better," Mr. Yarmuth told Congressional Quarterly last week. In 2006, Mr. Yarmuth defeated incumbent Republican Ann Northup by fewer than 6,000 votes in a district that usually trends Republican. In that race, black voters made up just 10% of the electorate. If Mr. Obama is at the top of the ticket, "my guess is it will be three-to-five percent higher," Mr. Yarmuth said, which could tip the race in his favor in a rematch against Ms. Northup.
Mr. Yarmuth isn't the only one. CQ identifies four Indiana Democrats who are likely to support Mr. Obama in hopes of saving their seats in Congress. Reps. Andre Carson, Baron Hill, Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth are all freshmen congressmen from districts that could swing Republican in a competitive year.
Naturally, this is music to the Obama campaign's ears. His staff has tried to make a high principle out of the idea that superdelegates should rigidly vote as their districts do -- which, of course, defeats the purpose of having superdelegates in the first place. From 1954 until 1994, Democrats managed to win more than 50% of the popular vote in a presidential election just once, when Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater in 1964, despite Democrats' nearly uninterrupted dominance of Congress during the period. Indeed, no Democratic candidate since then has hit the 50% mark, though Al Gore came close in 2000. This history suggests the party base is better at dutifully reelecting Congressmen than at picking presidential winners. Had they learned this history better, Democrats might be sticking with the plan to let superdelegates use their own judgment.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The 2008 Presidential Race
on: March 18, 2008, 11:50:34 AM
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
15% (no change)
How does this affect you? If you sell your home and make a profit, you will pay 28% of your gain on taxes. If you are heading toward retirement and would like to down-size your home or move into a retirement community, 28% of the money you make from your home will go to taxes. This proposal will adversely affect the elderly who are counting on the income from their homes as part of their retirement income.
15% (no change)
How will this affect you? If you have any money invested in stock market, IRA, mutual funds, college funds, life insurance, retirement accounts, or anything that pays or reinvests dividends, you will now be paying nearly 40% of the money earned on taxes if Obama or Clinton become president. The experts predict that 'Higher tax rates on dividends and capital gains would crash the stock market yet do absolutely nothing to cut the deficit.'
Single making 30K - tax $4,500
Single making 50K - tax $12,500
Single making 75K - tax $18,750
Married making 60K- tax $9,000
Married making 75K - tax $18,750
Married making 125K - tax $31,250
(reversion to pre-Bush tax cuts)
Single making 30K - tax $8,400
Single making 50K - tax $14,000
Single making 75K - tax $23,250
Married making 60K - tax $16,800
Married making 75K - tax $21,000
Married making 125K - tax $38,750
(reversion to pre-Bush tax cuts)
Single making 30K - tax $8,400
Single making 50K - tax $14,000
Single making 75K - tax $23,250
Married making 60K - tax $16,800
Married making 75K - tax $21,000
Married making 125K - tax $38,750
How does this affect you? No explanation needed. This is pretty straight forward.
(No change, Bush repealed this tax)
keep the inheritance tax
keep the inheritance tax
How does this affect you? Many families have lost businesses, farms and ranches, and homes that have been in their families for generations because they could not afford the inheritance tax. Those willing their assets to loved ones will not only lose them to these taxes.
NEW TAXES BEING PROPOSED BY BOTH CLINTON AND OBAMA
* New government taxes proposed on homes that are more than 2400 square feet
* New gasoline taxes (as if gas weren't high enough already)
* New taxes on natural resources consumption (heating gas, water, electricity)
* New taxes on retirement accounts
and last but not least....
* New taxes to pay for socialized medicine so we can receive the same level of medical care as other third-world countries!!!
Can you afford Clinton or Obama?
(in case you want more information on Obama's tax and spend agenda:
If Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) Could Enact All Of His Campaign Proposals, Taxpayers Would Be Faced With Financing $874.35 Billion In New Spending Over One White House Term:
Updated February 14, 2008: Obama's National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank Will Cost $60 Billion Over Ten Years; Equal To $6 Billion A Year And $24 Billion Over Four Years. Obama: 'I'm proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years.' (Sen. Barack Obama, Remarks On Economic Policy, Janesville, WI, 2/13/08)
Obama's Health Care Plan Will Cost Up To $65 Billion A Year; Equal To $260 Billion Over Four Years. '[Obama] campaign officials estimated that the net cost of the plan to the federal government would be $50 billion to $65 billion a year, when fully phased in, and said the revenues from rolling back the tax cuts were enough to cover it.' (Robin Toner and Patrick Healy, 'Obama Calls For Wider And Less Costly Health Care Coverage,' The New York Times, 5/30/07)
Obama's Energy Plan Will Cost $150 Billion Over 10 Years, Equal To $15 Billion Annually And $60 Billion Over Four Years. 'Obama will invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, invest in low-emissions coal plants, and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com
, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 25)
Obama's Tax Plan Will Cost Approximately $85 Billion A Year; Equal To $340 Billion Over Four Years. '[Obama's] proposed tax cuts and credits, aimed at workers earning $50,000 or less per year, would cost the Treasury an estimated $85 billion annually.' (Margaret Talev, 'Obama Proposes Tax Code Overhaul To Help The Poor,' McClatchy Newspapers, 9/19/07)
Obama's Plan Would Raise Taxes On Capital Gains And Dividends, And On Carried Interest. Obama's tax plan includes: 'ncreasing the highest bracket for capital gains and dividends and closing the carried interest loophole.' (Obama For America, 'Barack Obama: Tax Fairness For The Middle Class,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/8/08)
Obama's Economic Stimulus Package Will Cost $75 Billion. 'Barack Obama's economic plan will inject $75 billion of stimulus into the economy by getting money in the form of tax cuts and direct spending directly to the people who need it most.' (Obama For America, 'Barack Obama's Plan To Stimulate The Economy,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, 1/13/08)
Obama's Early Education And K-12 Package Will Cost $18 Billion A Year; Equal To $72 Billion Over Four Years. 'Barack Obama's early education and K-12 plan package costs about $18 billion per year.' (Obama For America, 'Barack Obama's Plan For Lifetime Success Through Education,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, 11/20/07, p. 15)
Obama's National Service Plan Will Cost $3.5 Billion A Year; Equal To $14 Billion Over Four Years. 'Barack Obama's national service plan will cost about $3.5 billion per year when it is fully implemented.' (Obama For America, 'Helping All Americans Serve Their Country: Barack Obama's Plan For Universal Voluntary Citizen Service,' Fact Sheet, www.barackobama.com, 12/5/07)
Obama Will Increase Our Foreign Assistance Funding By $25 Billion. 'Obama will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and he will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 53)
Obama Will Provide $2 Billion To Aid Iraqi Refugees. 'He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 51)
Obama Will Provide $1.5 Billion To Help States Adopt Paid-Leave Systems. 'As president, Obama will initiate a strategy to encourage all 50 states to adopt paid-leave systems. Obama will provide a $1.5 billion fund to assist states with start-up costs and to help states offset the costs for employees and employers.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 15)
Obama Will Provide $1 Billion Over 5 Years For Transitional Jobs And Career Pathway Programs, Equal To $200 Million A Year And $800 Million Over Four Years. 'Obama will invest $1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programs that implement proven methods of helping low-income Americans succeed in the workforce.' (Obama For America, 'The Blueprint For Change,' www.barackobama.com, Accessed 1/14/08, p. 42)
Obama Will Provide $50 Million To Jump-Start The Creation Of An IAEA-Controlled Nuclear Fuel Bank. Obama: 'We must also stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology and ensure that countries cannot build -- or come to the brink of building -- a weapons program under the auspices of developing peaceful nuclear power. That is why my administration will immediately provide $50 million to jump-start the creation of an International Atomic Energy Agency-controlled nuclear fuel bank and work to update the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.' (Sen. Barack Obama, 'Renewing American Leadership,' Foreign Affairs, 7-8/07)
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Howl of Respect to Robert Haldane
on: March 17, 2008, 03:58:31 PM
Robert Haldane, 83; led troops that found Viet Cong tunnels
Robert Haldane, an Army officer who led the battalion that discovered the infamous Cu Chi tunnels during the Vietnam War, died of cancer March 5 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 83.
Lt. Gen. Haldane was a lieutenant colonel Jan. 7, 1966, when he was in charge of the American infantry contingent of the 8,000-man U.S.-Australian Operation Crimp. His troops came under fire as soon as they landed near a rubber plantation about 25 miles northwest of Saigon and were mystified when the large numbers of enemy soldiers seemed to vanish in relatively open terrain.
click to enlarge
For three days, the battalion combed the area. They found a large trench, cache after cache of rice and salt, a classroom for 100 men, minefields, foxholes and antiaircraft artillery emplacements. The area was clearly home to a regiment-size force, but few Viet Cong were seen. Yet snipers continually harassed the Americans from within their own lines.
It wasn't until Sgt. Stewart L. Green sat on a nail, which turned out to be attached to a wooden trap door perforated with air holes, that an ingeniously camouflaged tunnel entrance was found. Green, a wiry 130-pound soldier, dropped into the tunnel and reported spotting 30 Viet Cong hiding just feet below the U.S. troops.
Haldane ordered red smoke grenades dropped into the entrance, and within minutes, "reports came in from every direction of red smoke appearing from numerous holes in the ground," according to "Infantry in Vietnam" (1967), edited by Albert N. Garland. The smoke didn't rout the enemy, so Haldane ordered his troops to pump in a nonlethal riot control gas. The Viet Cong stayed put. Finally, Green reentered the tunnel with a demolitions specialist, placed explosive charges and hurried out of the tunnel before the blasts.
The tunnels twisted and turned to minimize the effect of explosions and to restrict assaults. They also contained booby traps. Ventilation holes were disguised as anthills. In the tunnels, baskets of grenades hid trap doors to three lower levels. Service records of 148 Viet Cong were found, as well as operating rooms, supply dumps, armories -- everything needed to keep a large fighting force supplied.
The 125 miles of tunnels were later the scene of fierce hand-to-hand combat as American "tunnel rats" fought the Viet Cong in the dark, vermin-infested earth. In Operation Cedar Falls in 1967, 30,000 U.S. troops tried to destroy the tunnels, but historical sources say the Viet Cong used the remaining parts of the underground complex as a staging area during the 1968 Tet Offensive. In 1970, B-52s dropped thousands of delayed-fuse bombs that buried deep into the ground before exploding, which finally ended the tunnels' utility. The remnants of the Cu Chi tunnels are now a major tourist attraction in Vietnam.
Even as the tunnels were being discovered, fierce fighting raged in the area. Haldane was awarded the Silver Star for his actions Jan. 15, 1966, when he rushed an enemy position while under fire to give first aid to wounded troops. The Viet Cong blocked his efforts to evacuate the wounded. His Silver Star citation said that, "armed only with a .45-caliber pistol, Lt. Col. Haldane fearlessly charged the principal Viet Cong strong point, firing his weapon as he ran forward. His dauntless courage inspired his men to complete the assault, and ensured the successful evacuation of the casualties as well as the seizure of the objective."
Haldane served a second tour in Vietnam in 1968 as commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division.
A native of Glen Rock, N.J., born in 1924, Haldane served in the Army Air Forces in England during World War II. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1947 and served in Germany, the United States and Korea before going to Vietnam in 1965.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PD/WSJ
on: March 17, 2008, 01:28:46 PM
Barack Obama insists he wasn't present at his local church when his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made incendiary remarks attacking America. Mr. Obama also insists he wasn't aware of many of Rev. Wright's controversial opinions.
His claims may already be unraveling. Ron Kessler of Newsmax.com reports that on July 22 of last year, Mr. Obama was at Mr. Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ. He was observed in the pews by Jim Davis, a freelance reporter for Newsmax, and was also seen to be nodding in agreement with the fiery minister's remarks. In his sermon that day, Mr. Wright condemned America as the "United States of White America" and said young blacks were "dying for nothing" in Iraq. He called the Iraq war an "illegal" war based on lies and "fought for oil money." The Obama campaign says that the candidate did not attend church services that day, flying instead to speak to an Hispanic group in Chicago. Mr. Kessler stands by his story.
Still more evidence has surfaced that Mr. Obama likely knew a great deal about the content of his pastor's sermons. Last year, the New York Times reported Mr. Obama personally called Mr. Wright to tell him he was being disinvited from giving the public invocation at the announcement of Mr. Obama's candidacy. Mr. Obama explained the move by pointing out to his pastor that a recent Rolling Stone story called "The Radical Roots of Barack Obama" had reprinted excerpts from Wright sermons. "You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public," was Rev. Wright's recollection of what Mr. Obama told him.
The Rolling Stone story included the following Wright quote describing the United States: "We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns and the training of professional KILLERS.... We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.... We conducted radiation experiments on our own people.... We care nothing about human life if the ends justify the means!... GAWD! Has GOT! To be SICK! OF THIS S***!"
At least one member of Rev. Wright's church apparently had her fill of such rhetoric. Oprah Winfrey, a staunch backer of Mr. Obama, began attending the church in 1984. But sometime in the mid-1990s, Christianity Today reports the superstar abruptly stopped going. It may well have had something to do with her desire to distance herself from his fiery speech. Rev. Wright criticized her absence, claiming that Ms. Winfrey has broken with his notion of "traditional faith."
Mr. Obama took a different path. He not only remained in the church, but in 2001, the same year Ms. Winfrey left, had his daughter Natasha baptized by Rev. Wright. The question more and more people are asking is: Why?
-- John Fund
When Eliot Spitzer was New York's attorney general, he used to bat ideas around with his staff on how criminals could try to evade detection. One day, as Brooke Masters of the Financial Times reports, the conversation veered away from how someone would, say, evade price-fixing laws to how someone might use prostitutes without getting caught. Mr. Spitzer had an instant opinion: "You don't do it in your own community."
That may explain the former governor's habit of using prostitutes on road trips -- whether to Washington, D.C., Texas or Florida. While it's true Mr. Spitzer was less likely to be recognized in those places, he also knew that his security detail was cut by half or more when he left the state -- thus rendering it easier to give them the slip. In addition, as a lawyer, Mr. Spitzer would have known that the state police troopers accompanying him were only sworn to uphold the laws of New York State. A prominent figure in state government told me that Mr. Spitzer may well have thought that if he only purchased the services of prostitutes while violating out-of-state laws, his troopers would be more forgiving if they learned about it and less prone to talk.
As Mr. Spitzer's arrogance, secret life and penchant for perverting the law in order to bully all around him come into focus, it's clear which New Yorker of times past he most resembles: the late Roy Cohn, the nasty underling of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who after his patron's fall from power became an infamous operator in New York legal circles. One hopes that one difference between Mr. Spitzer and Cohn is that the latter continued to do a lot of damage after the McCarthy years. Perhaps we can count ourselves lucky if Mr. Spitzer now disappears into obscurity as a functionary of his family's real estate business.
-- John Fund
Quote of the Day I
"This is a psychologically broken administration: exhausted, passive, prematurely aged, self-defeated. It is lying on the mat moaning as its opponents kick it, unwilling/unable to block a blow or raise a hand in self-defense. The indifference to quality of personnel -- always a problem -- has now become the defining characteristic of the administration. The president continues to imagine he is pursuing one set of policies. But because he allows retiring principals to be succeeded by their deputies, and then those deputies to be followed by their deputies, he has passively acquiesced in allowing his administration to be staffed by people who regard his policies as at best impossible, at worst actively wrong. And then he is surprised when his administration does the opposite of what he wished! Of course it does! If you won't steer the car, it won't go where you want!" -- David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush, writing at NationalReview.com.
Quote of the Day II
"You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He's just killed the Republican brand" -- GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, retiring this year after 14 years in office, on the political legacy of President Bush.
Bearish on Bush
Perhaps President Bush should be named in the lawsuits soon to be filed by Bear Stearns shareholders over the knockdown sale of their company to JP Morgan for two dollars a share.
In superintending the sale, the Federal Reserve's bogey was bucking up short-term financial confidence -- understandably, it wasn't focused on getting top dollar for Bear's probably still quite valuable, if temporarily unfinanceable, portfolio of mortgage and other debt. And if confidence is profoundly shaky at the moment, Mr. Bush's unimpressive performance at the New York Economic Club on Friday hardly did anything to help. Nor did his brief comments this morning. Ben Bernanke, who in public carefully stays within his lane, undoubtedly would like to shake Mr. Bush by the lapels and shout that if the Fed is left to solve the mortgage disaster alone, the likely consequence will be a collapsing dollar and an inflationary crisis on top of a mortgage crisis.
What could the administration contribute? How about pulling together the incipient bipartisan consensus for a cut in our exceptionally high corporate income taxes? As Chicago fund manager Seymour Lotsoff points out in his invaluable newsletter, currency markets tend to reflect a judgment about "where a rational and unbiased long term investor would choose to place his money. Right now the U.S. is not such a place." With such a tax cut, he predicts, the dollar would "reverse course and head toward the sky."
Some kind of mortgage bailout also seems inevitable, but Washington is profoundly misguided if it thinks what's needed is a bailout that keeps subprime borrowers in their homes. A great deal of housing debt was created in the last few years to give speculative buyers nominal title to homes that they no longer want. The shortest road back from this perdition would be to foreclose and demolish a lot of these houses, with taxpayer money if necessary.
When politicians understand that, they may finally have something useful to contribute. Mr. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson tout "Hope Now" and other federal initiatives but wonder why so few homeowners are taking advantage. It's because many subprime borrowers only want to get as far away from their houses as possible. Putting to the bulldozer some large, unoccupied housing tracts especially in overbuilt parts of California, Nevada and a handful other states would do a lot more to fix the underlying problem than any heroic action Mr. Bernanke can take through the Fed's discount window.
-- Holman W. Jenkins Jr.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Double Standard
on: March 17, 2008, 01:14:17 PM
The Barack Obama Double Standard
By Doug Patton
March 17, 2008
Imagine in 1999, that a videotape had come to light showing the pastor of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's church making vicious, hateful comments about America and cruel, racist statements about Americans of color.
Suppose this preacher had given a lifetime achievement award to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and had traveled to Europe with Duke to meet with neo-Nazi terrorists.
Now try to envision that the candidate's family had attended this church for more than twenty years, that George and Laura Bush had been married there, by this pastor, and that the Bush daughters had been baptized by him.
Picture George Bush titling his autobiography after a phrase in one of this minister's sermons, writing that the man was his mentor, and then putting him on the presidential campaign staff as a trusted advisor and confidant.
Say it came to light that for several years George W. Bush had been friends with Eric Rudolph, the notorious Olympic Park bomber and anti-abortion terrorist. Furthermore, let's suppose that Bush had remained friends with Rudolph over the years and still considered him a colleague today.
Now imagine Laura Bush, on the campaign trail for her husband, telling supporters and the national media that America is "mean" and that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of her country.
Is there a doubt that Republican officeholders would have run from the Bush campaign like rats from a burning barn, that he would have become the political leper of the 2000 campaign? And what about the media? They virtually crucified candidate Bush that year for daring to give a speech at Bob Jones University, which had once banned interracial dating. I cannot imagine the field day they would have had with something like this.
And yet excuses are made for Barack Obama, who now finds himself in exactly this situation. Obama's pastor of more than two decades - the man who married Barack and Michelle Obama, who christened their daughters, who inspired the title of the candidate's book, "The Audacity of Hope," - is now at the center of a storm that would have destroyed the candidacy of any Republican the day the story broke.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for the last 36 years, has been caught on tape denouncing the United States and the white race in terms that should shock and disgust every thinking American. Wright and the church swear allegiance to the "mother country" - Africa. (Presumably this includes the Obama family.)
Rather than trying to infuse his congregation with hope and encouragement, Wright poisons them with vitriol about how the U.S. government has tried to commit genocide against the black community using drugs and the AIDS virus as weapons of choice.
"Don't say God bless America," Wright screams in one sermon. "God damn America!"
Wright, representing the church, bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Louis Farrakhan, the racist leader of the Nation of Islam. In the 1980s, Wright traveled to Libya with Farrakhan to meet with Muammar Gaddafi.
If Barack Obama has not been paying attention in church, it is apparent that his wife, Michelle, has. Campaigning for her husband recently, she said that for the first time in her adult life, she is finally proud of her country. In a separate speech, she said America is "a mean country."
Obama is friends with William Ayers, an admitted domestic terrorist with the Weather Underground, which declared war on the United States and claimed responsibility for bombing several government buildings, including the Pentagon and the State Department building, in the 1970s. In an interview with The New York Times, ironically published on the morning of September 11, 2001, Ayers was quoted as saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."
Now a tenured professor at the University of Chicago (only in America!), Ayers met Barack Obama in the 1990s. They have remained friends ever since.
We are judged not just by our words, but by the company we keep. The litmus test should not be whether or not everyone a candidate knows is ideal. That is an impossible standard. The true measure of a man is in his ability to choose friends with which he can be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder, not those about whom he must equivocate and for whom he must apologize.
Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a political speechwriter and public policy advisor. His weekly columns are published in newspapers across the country and on selected Internet web sites, including Human Events Online, TheConservativeVoice.com and GOPUSA.com, where he is a senior writer and state editor. Readers may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: March 17, 2008, 11:09:55 AM
Second post of the morning
“We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times.” —George Washington
Quote of the week
“The Democratic party is very close to being the [Communist-controlled Progressive] party of Henry Wallace... Today’s left sees the world pretty much in the same terms as the Stalinists did. What has happened is that it has lost its faith in the working class, so its agenda is entirely negative. They’ve dropped the dictatorship of the proletariat and they all say they’re democrats, but so did Lenin. The vast bulk of the American left is a Communist left and they’ve introduced some fascist ideas like ‘identity politics,’ which is straight out of Mussolini. They don’t talk about the working class, they talk about women and race. There’s not much that they’ve learned from the history of the 20th century.” —David Horowitz
New & notable legislation
Speaking of posturing and preening, Democrats brought to the House floor Tuesday a vote on so-called “ethics reform” —H.R. 1031, which passed 229-182 by dubious maneuverings. The measure creates an independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), no longer self-policing House members but instead relying on an OCE composed of six board members, none of whom are sitting lawmakers. This new “ethics” office could conduct partisan witch hunts against members based on accusations from outside groups and individuals, which could then go forward to the full congressional ethics committee for further investigation. What’s most interesting, though, is that the voting on this purported improvement in congressional “ethics” seems to have itself violated new “ethical” rules put in place by the Democrats—holding the voting open longer than officially specified in order to change the outcome. That’s correct—House Democrat leaders could get this passed only by an ethical violation, and House Republican Leader John Boehner has called for an investigation into the floor actions.
Former Hastert seat goes to Democrats
Bad news for Republicans’ election prospects: Democrat Bill Foster won the special election to fill former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s congressional seat this week, defeating Republican Jim Oberweis with 53 percent of the vote. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen was quick to frame the race as a predictor of the national mood by noting that Barack Obama campaigned for Foster and Oberweis had the support of Hastert and John McCain. “The people of Illinois have sent an unmistakable message that they’re tired of business as usual in Washington,” Obama wrote in a letter. This may be true if putting yet another millionaire businessman in Congress is now being considered a rejection of “business as usual.”
Campaign watch: Fighting for votes
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has stepped out of the decision-making process regarding the unseated primary delegates in Florida and Michigan. Rather than acting like, well, a chairman, and making a decision on the matter, Dean is letting the states come up with ideas on how to fix the mess that could sway the Democrat nomination. Naturally, everyone involved in this process has an allegiance to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
Counting the delegates as they currently stand doesn’t make sense to Obama’s supporters, because he didn’t campaign in either Florida or Michigan after the DNC punished the two states for moving their primaries earlier than Super Tuesday. In fact, Obama’s name wasn’t even on the ballot in Michigan. Clinton won a majority of the delegates in both states—though she would be well advised not to crow too much about having won Michigan, where her closest competitor, “Uncommitted,” received 40 percent of the vote. Of course, Clinton wants to count the delegates as it stands because she desperately needs every single one she can get her entitled hands on.
Obama won big again in Mississippi this week, 61 percent to 37 percent, putting further pressure on Clinton to do something—anything—to stay in the running. Look for some parlor tricks from Team Hillary as the debate over what to do with Florida and Michigan heats up.
Never one to consider himself a backbencher, professional race hustler Al Sharpton has wormed his way into the fight by threatening to sue the DNC if Florida’s primary results are allowed to stand at the convention. Sharpton has met with state residents who claim they skipped the primary because they believed their votes wouldn’t count. While he claims to have no preference in the race, Sharpton’s move clearly favors Obama. Of course, the current proposal is for a mail-in redo in Florida. As late-night comedian Jay Leno joked, “That’s a great idea, combine the reliability of the people in Florida who count the ballots with the efficiency of the Post Office. What could go wrong there?”
From the Left: The candidates’ race
Geraldine Ferraro stepped down from Hillary Clinton’s finance committee this week after Barack Obama’s presidential campaign objected to comments made by the former congresswoman and 1984 vice presidential candidate. To the surprise of nearly everyone, the offending statement was actually quite perceptive: “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” Ferraro said. “And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” To which The Wall Street Journal responded, “Her remarks reveal little more than a firm grasp of the obvious... There is no disputing that Mr. Obama’s skin color has been a political boon for him to date.” Yet the avowedly “post-racial” Obama campaign decided to dispute it anyway by playing the race card, resulting in Ferraro’s resignation.
In the same “controversial” interview, Ferraro made another statement that again demonstrated uncommon insight: “I was reading an article that said young Republicans are out there campaigning for Obama because they believe he’s going to be able to put an end to partisanship. Dear God! Anyone that has worked in the Congress knows that for over 200 years this country has had partisanship—that’s the way our country is.” Against all odds, it seems that the truth becomes a Democrat’s ally only when said Democrat is losing to another Democrat.
Admiral Fallon resigns Central Command
CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon was relieved this week by President Bush for insubordination, although the President had enough respect for his 41 years of service to the Navy that he allowed him to resign. Since taking over CENTCOM in March 2007, Admiral Fallon had built up a significant record of offering opinions and making statements that were at odds with the administration. While a recent Esquire Magazine article probably overplayed the idea of Fallon as “a lone voice of reason trying to forestall war with Iran,” Fallon in fact missed few opportunities to cross the White House when it came to Iran. Fallon also reportedly butted heads with General David Petraeus, Commander of Multi-National Forces Iraq and a White House favorite, although both Fallon and Petraeus deny any significant clashes. Fallon’s replacement has not yet been named.
The usual suspects made the usual asinine statements following Fallon’s resignation, claiming that he had been fired for offering honest but unwelcome advice to the President. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Stalingrad) said, “It’s distressing... President Bush’s oft-repeated claims that he follows the advice of his commanders rings hollow if our commanders don’t feel free to disagree with the President.” Kennedy, who served two years in the U.S. Army, doubtless knows that subordinates offer disagreements to their seniors in private, not in public. The subordinates then either publicly support their seniors’ policies, or they resign. One wonders how Kennedy would react to his chief of staff disagreeing with him in a Boston Globe article, for instance.
While we are not sad to see Admiral Fallon go given his soft stance on Iran, we do take this opportunity to thank a man who gave 41 years of highly distinguished service to his country. Admiral Fallon was one of the few remaining Vietnam veterans on active service and was the Navy’s senior aviator. His awards include, among numerous others, the Defense Distinguished Service medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal. We wish him well in his future endeavors.
Homeland Security front: Tortured politics
Two security items captured the headlines this week. In the first, Congress failed to override President Bush’s veto of a bill that would severely restrict CIA interrogation techniques—namely barring waterboarding—limiting them to the same techniques used by military interrogators.
The limits placed on the military are designed for interrogating armed combatants in traditional military scenarios. However, even the Army Field Manual (FM 34-52) clearly states that in Low Intensity Combat, “Specific applications of the general principles and techniques must be varied to meet local peculiarities.” Insurgent forces are not protected by the Geneva Convention beyond the basic protections of Article 3, which does prohibit “torture.” Congress and international law are pretty clear on what constitutes torture, and there is no credible evidence that the CIA is violating that limitation in any way. Waterboarding is simply a nice propaganda ploy used equally by Democrats and al-Qa’ida sympathizers to embarrass the President.
The second proposed bill would place more restrictions on terrorist surveillance, while it also fails to protect telecommunication companies from litigation surrounding such surveillance—a pre-condition on which the President has held firm. Civil litigation, and all the civil discovery rules that apply, could quickly reveal and undermine the intelligence capabilities we currently employ. The plaintiff-friendly financial burden this bill could place on those companies that chose to cooperate would effectively end the program. A House vote could take place Friday.
The bottom line: These two bills are nothing but partisan political games designed to fire up the Democrats’ anti-war base. President Bush is right for holding firm, and if they could understand the term, we would say shame on Sen. Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for playing politics with national security.
Profiles of valor: U.S. Army Lt. Peterson
U.S. Army Lt. Timothy C. Peterson went to Iraq in 2006 with the 321st Engineer Battalion and spent a year leading his platoon in route clearance throughout Anbar province—not exactly an easy task. In pre-surge Iraq, jihadis in Anbar routinely attacked coalition forces. Peterson recalled of his earlier missions, “We’d only go at night because it was too dangerous during the day,” adding that almost every night they were shot at and came across IEDs. His soldiers’ duty was to disarm the IEDs.
In the first phases of the surge, the 321st was on 24-hour patrol for days at a time. During one such stretch, another platoon was hit by an IED, which disabled the lead vehicle. Peterson and three members of his unit took their Buffalo MRAP truck and assumed command of the patrol. As they moved further into hostile territory, Peterson’s Buffalo was hit by a series of IEDs, crippling the vehicle and injuring all four occupants. For his bold actions in leading the convoy, Peterson was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, and his third Purple Heart. After recovery, he resumed the lead on an arduous patrol schedule. He tells of an Iraq that is vastly improved because of the surge. Soldiers walked freely during the daytime and citizens were no longer afraid to assist them. As he left Iraq, Peterson said, “Things were changing, what we were doing was working... For the people that lived there, there was a transition.” Due to the courage he displayed and the success of his missions, Peterson was also awarded the Bronze Star.
BUSINESS & ECONOMY
The trouble with Iraq’s money
U.S. auditors reported to Congress this week that Iraq is riding oil revenues to a large budget surplus because it isn’t spending much of its own money. “The Iraqis have a budget surplus; we have a huge budget deficit,” said U.S. Comptroller General David Walker. “One of the questions is who should be paying.” On one point, we agree with the Democrats: “They ought to be able to use some of their oil to pay for their own costs and not keep sending the bill to the United States,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-WV). However, the Associated Press reports that “Democrats say the assessment is proof that the Iraq war as a waste of time and money.” On the contrary, Operation Iraqi Freedom is part of our critical national interest. If one is looking for a waste of time and money, start with practically any other endeavor of the federal government—Social Security, Medicare, counting grizzly bears, etc. As for Iraq, one of the problems with spending the surplus, according to U.S. officials, is that the Iraqi government can’t always allocate the money without it being wasted or stolen by corrupt officials. On that point, we offer this solution: How about reimbursing the $45 billion the U.S. has spent rebuilding Iraq? After all, there aren’t any corrupt officials in Washington.
From the Leftjudiciary: CA court v. homeschool
A California appeals court ruling has created a major hurdle for parents without teaching credentials who want to homeschool their children. In a child-welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and parents who had been homeschooling their eight children, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home. Failure to comply could result in the criminal prosecution of the parents, though State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell promises to not enforce the ruling.
According to the court, California parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children, though they failed to point out the constitutional right the government has to educate your children. The court’s opinion states, “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare,” quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue. Does this sound slightly familiar? Recall the Elian Gonzalez case in 2000.
A 1978 Cuban Law mandates that parents and teachers raise children with a “Communist personality,” and it forbids “influences contrary to communist development.” The “Code of the Child,” a government mandated handbook for raising and educating children, includes passages such as these: from Article 3—the purpose of education is to “foster in youth the ideological values of communism;” from Article 8—“Society and the state work for the efficient protection of youth against all influences contrary to their communist formation.” Any adult who violates the “Code of the Child” can be imprisoned.
Given the “patriotism” in places like San Francisco and Berkeley, it is fair to ask what is taught about “good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation” in California’s mandated education system. It seems that, on this one, the California court would have felt right at home in Cuba.
Around the nation: Violence for animals
More news from California... Regents at the University of California in Los Angeles recently filed a lawsuit for an injunction against several animal-rights groups in an attempt to disrupt violent tactics used against university scientists involved in animal research. Scientists have reported use of explosives, firecrackers and middle-of-the-night visits by activists who threatened to burn down their homes. Named in the suit are UCLA Primate Freedom, the Animal Liberation Brigade and the Animal Liberation Front, plus five individuals associated with the organizations.
While a legal battle may bring the issue of such violence to the public spotlight, it is doubtful that a court ruling will keep scientists safe. “If killing [animal-research scientists] is the only way to stop them, then I said killing them would certainly be justified,” said a spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office. Despite the presence of hired security for one UCLA scientist’s home, he worried enough about his family’s safety that he has given up animal research altogether.
As violence against scientists escalates, so does concern about filling biomedical-research positions. “I do hear scientists say that they have open positions and nobody to fill them because it’s animal research,” said Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research. We think we’re finally getting the hang of this tolerance thing.
In the continuing saga of District of Columbia v. Heller, 39 of Montana’s elected officials have signed a resolution declaring that a Supreme Court ruling against the individual right of gun ownership would give their state grounds for leaving the union. It seems that when Montana’s settlers signed a statehood contract in 1889, one of the conditions was that the federal government agreed that individuals had the right to keep and bear arms. If the Supreme Court rules that firearm ownership is merely a state or “collective” right, Montana officials say that the statehood contract will have been breeched. “The U.S. would do well to keep its contractual promises to the states that the Second Amendment secures an individual right now as it did upon execution of the statehood contract,” Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson said in a letter to The Washington Times. The Times also notes that the “collective right” interpretation of the Second Amendment doesn’t hold water in Montana because the state didn’t have a militia in the 1880s. “It’s pretty disingenuous as an argument,” Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said. “At the time, they had no image of what a National Guard was. But history and logic don’t always prevail in these matters.” Indeed. Our advice to the Supreme Court is that before they upset somebody with their ruling, they might want to consider which side has the guns.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Politics
on: March 17, 2008, 09:26:56 AM
THE FOUNDATION: RELIGION AND MORALITY
“Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness.” —Samuel Adams
“Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.” —Saint Patrick
“Well, Seamus Wright, I’ll keep this brief. On St. Patrick’s Day, you should spend time with saints and scholars, so of course, you know, I have two more stops I have to make. I turned back to the ancient days of Ireland to find a suitable toast, and I think I have found it. St. Patrick was a gentleman who through strategy and stealth drove all the snakes from Ireland. Here’s toasting to his health—but not too many toastings lest you lose yourself and then forget the good St. Patrick and see all those snakes again. I believe that, you know, let those who love us, love us, and those who don’t love us, let God turn their hearts. And if He won’t turn their hearts, let Him turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limp. May you have warm words on a cold evening and a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.” —Ronald Reagan (17 March 1988) joshing then-House Speaker Jim Wright
“The most unresolved problem of the day is precisely the problem that concerned the founders of this nation: how to limit the scope and power of government. Tyranny, restrictions on human freedom, come primarily from governmental restrictions that we ourselves have set up.” —Milton Friedman
“I was, in many ways, luckier than kids are today. Many parents didn’t have the dough to spoil their kids with material junk. Peer pressure has always existed, but most kids in the ‘70s couldn’t use materialism as a means to express it. No, parents used their limited means to give us only what we needed. And what every kid needs more than stuff is love and stability and a mother and father who are always there for him. Lucky for me, my parents provided an abundance of that. And that was even more valuable than a Schwinn Orange Krate spider bike, the most coveted two-wheeled machine in the history of kid-dom.” —Tom Purcell
“Liberals have for years been talking about how they are really the champions of the Constitution. They’re not, but they talk like they are. And year after year people fawn over their claims and vote for them because they actually believe that acting counter to almost everything the Constitution itself stands for is supporting and preserving the Constitution. The Constitution is a pretty simple document. It says that the federal government has very limited authority. And it goes on to say that every authority not granted to the federal government through it is reserved by the States and the people.” —J.J. Jackson
OPINION IN BRIEF
“The presidential campaign currently underway has missed the historically rare opportunity to engage the candidates for president in a serious discussion about how they would respond to a very likely impending recession brought on by twin banking and currency crises... After all, in 10 months, one of them—either McCain, Obama or Clinton—will be president and quite likely will be facing one of the worst financial and economic conditions of recent decades. Instead, we get yet more discussion on who is for hope, who has experience, and who is better able to answer the phone at 3 a.m. Why not have a novel three-way debate on one of the networks for two hours and see what the three great minds who would be president have to say about what they would do if the likely turns out to happen?... I have the first question for them. Since World War I, economic historians divide the world’s financial history into three parts: interwar (1919-1939); the Bretton Woods period (1945-1971); and the present period. In reaction to the Great Depression of the interwar period, Bretton Woods provided strict regulations of financial institutions. As a result, there were few financial crises. Then we liberalized and deregulated during the present period and have had several deep crises. Questions for the candidates: In 2009, should we re-regulate or not? And should we try to ease the pain of the crisis if it comes or let natural economic forces clear out the dry rot and find the natural bottom? No points for slogans. Extra credit for honest, thoughtful responses. Or we continue with Obama’s people suggesting Hillary is a monster and her people suggesting Obama is a Muslim (and McCain off in the margin somewhere).” —Tony Blankley
“The sub-prime mortgage collapse is another tale of unintended consequences. The crisis has its roots in the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, a Carter-era law that purported to prevent ‘redlining’ —denying mortgages to black borrowers—by pressuring banks to make home loans in ‘low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.’ Under the act, banks were to be graded on their attentiveness to the ‘credit needs’ of ‘predominantly minority neighborhoods.’...[T]o earn high ratings, banks were forced to make increasingly risky loans to borrowers who wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage under normal standards of creditworthiness. The CRA, made even more stringent during the Clinton administration, trapped lenders in a Catch-22. ‘If they comply,’ wrote Loyola College economist Thomas DiLorenzo, ‘they know they will have to suffer from more loan defaults. If they don’t comply, they face financial penalties... which can cost a large corporation like Bank of America billions of dollars.’ Banks nationwide thus ended up making more and more ‘sub-prime’ loans and agreeing to dangerously lax underwriting standards—no down payment, no verification of income, interest-only payment plans, weak credit history. If they tried to compensate for the higher risks they were taking by charging higher interest rates, they were accused of unfairly steering borrowers into ‘predatory’ loans they couldn’t afford. Trapped in a no-win situation entirely of the government’s making, lenders could only hope that home prices would continue to rise, staving off the inevitable collapse. But once the housing bubble burst, there was no escape. Mortgage lenders have been bankrupted, thousands of sub-prime homeowners have been foreclosed on, and countless would-be borrowers can no longer get credit. The financial fallout has hurt investors around the world. And all of it thanks to the government, which was sure it understood the credit industry better than the free market did, and confidently created the conditions that made disaster unavoidable.” —Jeff Jacoby
“In this age, when it is considered the height of sophistication to be ‘non-judgmental,’ one of the corollaries is that ‘personal’ failings have no relevance to the performance of official duties. What that amounts to, ultimately, is that character doesn’t matter. In reality, character matters enormously, more so than most things that can be seen, measured or documented. Character is what we have to depend on when we entrust power over ourselves, our children, and our society to government officials. We cannot risk all that for the sake of the fashionable affectation of being more non-judgmental than thou. Currently, various facts are belatedly beginning to leak out that give us clues to the character of Barack Obama. But to report these facts is being characterized as a ‘personal’ attack. Barack Obama’s personal and financial association with a man under criminal indictment in Illinois is not just a ‘personal’ matter. Nor is his 20 years of going to a church whose pastor has praised Louis Farrakhan and condemned the United States in both sweeping terms and with obscene language. The Obama camp likens mentioning such things to criticizing him because of what members of his family might have said or done. But it was said, long ago, that you can pick your friends but not your relatives. Obama chose to be part of that church for 20 years. He was not born into it. His ‘personal’ character matters, just as Eliot Spitzer’s ‘personal’ character matters—and just as Hillary Clinton’s character would matter if she had any.” —Thomas Sowell
RE: THE LEFT
“Patriotism is a species of unity that has some redeeming moral and philosophical substance to it. In America, patriotism—as opposed to, say, nationalism—is a love for a creed, a dedication to what is best about the ‘American way.’ Nationalism, a romantic sensibility, says, ‘My country is always right.’ Patriots hope that their nation will make the right choice. If you read the speeches of leading Democrats before the Vietnam War, it’s amazing how comfortable they were with patriotic rhetoric... ‘Suicide’ might be strong, but the Left certainly amputated itself from full-throated patriotic sentiment. Most Democrats speak mellifluously about unity but get tongue-tied or sound as if they’re just delivering words plucked from a political consultant’s memo when they talk of patriotism... When Democrats do speak of patriotism, it is usually as a means of finding fault with Republicans, corporations or America itself. Hence the irony that questioning the patriotism of liberals is a grievous sin, but doing likewise to conservatives is fine... Better that our politics be an argument about why and how we should love our country, not about whether some do and some don’t.” —Jonah Goldberg
“Obama’s 100-day agenda would be designed, in part, to improve America’s global image. But there is something worse than being unpopular in the world—and that is being a pleading, panting joke. By simultaneously embracing appeasement, protectionism and retreat, President Obama would manage to make Jimmy Carter look like Teddy Roosevelt. Which is why President Obama would probably not take these actions—at least in the form he has pledged. Sitting behind the Resolute desk is a sobering experience that makes foolish campaign promises seem suddenly less binding. But it is a bad sign for a candidate when the best we can hope is for him to violate his commitments. And that’s a good sign for John McCain.” —Michael Gerson
FOR THE RECORD
“So now we are in this silly situation, in which at one time Obama was happy enough to remind some that his middle name was Hussein and now it is a slur for other less well-intentioned to do so; in which his wife’s browbeating of America was salve to guilty liberals and now it is considered illiberal to question her assumptions; in which a candidate who rose to prominence as a ‘black’ candidate and garners majority margins of 90% among African-American against a very liberal female opponent insists that he has transcended race and to suggest otherwise is, well, racist. Nothing is new in all this: all candidates expand beyond their base and try to play down their former zealotry, on issues as diverse as abortion to guns to gay rights. But what is unique is that the usual flak that meets a politician’s readjustments and opportunism in the case of Obama is additionally questioned as being racist or at least insensitive.” —Victor Davis Hanson
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 5 Years later
on: March 17, 2008, 05:54:57 AM
5 years later, the NY Times gives some of the players a chance to reflect:
Where Was the Plan?
By L. PAUL BREMER III
Published: March 16, 2008
FIFTEEN months before the 9/11 attacks, the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism, on which I served as chairman, reported to the president and the American people that we faced a new and terrible threat: the nexus between states that supported terrorism and killers who wanted to murder Americans by the thousands and were prepared to die doing it.
For decades, American administrations from both parties had designated Saddam Hussein’s Iraq a terrorist state. He supported and lauded Palestinian terrorists. He had developed, and used, weapons of mass destruction against his own citizens. He had contemptuously refused to comply with 17 Security Council resolutions demanding he come clean on those programs.
Our soldiers were magnificent in liberating Iraq. But after arriving in the country, I saw that the American government was not adequately prepared to deal with the growing security threats. Looting raged unchecked in major cities. By late 2003, as the insurgency and terrorism grew, it became clear that the coalition also lacked an effective counterinsurgency strategy.
Our troops on the ground were valiant and selfless, but prewar planning provided for fewer than half the number of troops that independent studies suggested would be needed in Iraq. And we did not have a plan to provide the most basic function of any government — security for the population. Terrorists, insurgents, criminals and the Iraqi people got the impression that the coalition would not, or could not, protect civilians.
I should have pushed sooner for a more effective military strategy, because from 2004 to the end of 2007, Al Qaeda took advantage of this gap, using indiscriminate killings that provoked Shiite militias to respond in kind. The vicious spiral was finally reversed by the change in strategy the president put in place a year ago.
L. Paul Bremer III is a former presidential envoy to Iraq.
Too Heavy a Hand
By RICHARD PERLE
Published: March 16, 2008
AFTER defeating the Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan and replacing it with a fledgling democracy, the Bush administration turned its attention to the risk that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was thought to pose to a nation still reeling from the attacks of 9/11.
I shared the administration’s belief that Iraq not only possessed the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, it also had a hidden stockpile of them. Responsible for two wars with more than a million dead, involved for decades with terrorist groups, routinely rewarding suicide bombers with cash, unwilling to document the disposition of chemical and biological weapons ( some of which he had actually used), Saddam Hussein forced the question: Should we leave him in place and hope for the best, or destroy his regime in a lightning strike and thereby end the risk that he might collaborate with terrorists to enable an attack even more devastating than 9/11?
The right decision was made, and Baghdad fell in 21 days with few casualties on either side. Twenty-five million Iraqis had been liberated and the menace of Saddam’s monstrous regime eliminated.
Then the trouble began. Rather than turn Iraq over to Iraqis to begin the daunting process of nation building, a group including Secretary of State Colin Powell; the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; and the director of central intelligence, George Tenet — with President Bush’s approval — reversed a plan to do that.
Instead, we blundered into an ill-conceived occupation that would facilitate a deadly insurgency from which we, and the Iraqis, are only now emerging. With misplaced confidence that we knew better than the Iraqis, we sent an American to govern Iraq. L. Paul Bremer underestimated the task, but did his best to make a foolish policy work. I had badly underestimated the administration’s capacity to mess things up.
I did not believe the American-led coalition could prudently leave Iraq the day Baghdad fell. Coalition troops were essential to support a new Iraqi government. But I was astonished (and dismayed) that we did not turn to well-established and broadly representative opponents of Saddam Hussein’s regime to assume the responsibilities of an interim government while preparing for elections. Our troops could have remained, under the terms of a transparently negotiated agreement, to help the people of Iraq build their own society, something we didn’t know how to do and should never have tried. After five years of terrible losses, they may now be getting that chance.
Richard Perle was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
By ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER
Published: March 16, 2008
IN April 2003, just after American troops secured Baghdad, Iraqis looted the Iraqi national museum. American soldiers nearby made no effort to stop them, much less provide a guard. We either did not have enough soldiers to protect the museum, or we did not care enough to try.
This failure was simply a “matter of priorities,” according to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thought it was a “stretch” to attribute the theft and destruction of priceless Mesopotamian artifacts to “any defect in the war plan.”
Our government knew how to destroy but not how to build. We had toppled a regime, and in coming months we would dismantle Saddam Hussein’s bureaucracy and disband his army. But we did so with absolutely no understanding of how to build a liberal democracy, or even a stable, rights-regarding government with broad popular support.
Such a government requires a prosperous economy, a secure society and sufficient cultural unity to allow everyday interaction among different ethnic groups in workplaces, schools, hospitals, the army and the police. Protecting the symbols of a common and proud heritage is Democracy Building 101 — at least for anyone who understood anything about Iraqi history and culture.
Americans are still living with the aftermath of this ignorance, and we will be for decades to come. In 2003 and 2004, experts debated whether it would take one year or three to rebuild Iraq. Now we debate whether it will take 10 to 15 years or whether it can be done at all.
Those broken and stolen statues from the museum are the enduring symbols of what has gone so wrong. They were easy to smash, so hard to repair.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.
So Much for Good Intentions
By KENNETH M. POLLACK
Published: March 16, 2008
WHAT matters most now is not how we entered Iraq, but how we leave it. If we leave behind an Iraq more stable and less threatening to its neighbors than the one we toppled, I think the intelligence community’s (and my own) mistakes about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration’s exaggerations of that threat and its baseless insistence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda will all lose their edge — even though they will not, and should not, be forgotten.
If we leave behind a raging civil war in which the Iraqi people are incomprehensibly worse off than they had been under Saddam Hussein and the Middle East more threatened by the chaos spilling over from Iraq than they ever were by the dictator’s arms, then no one will care how well-intentioned our motives.
For that reason, what I most wish I had understood before the invasion was the reckless arrogance of the Bush administration. I had inklings of it to be sure, and warned of the inadequacy of some of what I saw. But I did not realize that as skillfully, cautiously and patiently as George H. W. Bush’s administration had handled its Iraq war, that was how clumsy, careless and rash George W. Bush’s administration would treat its own.
Kenneth M. Pollack was a former director of Persian Gulf affairs at the National Security Council. He is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
There is No Freedom Gene
By DANIELLE PLETKA
Published: March 16, 2008
THE mantra of the antiwar left — “Bush lied, people died” — so dominates the debate about the run-up to the Iraq war that it has obscured real issues that deserve examination. After all, for those of us who supported the war, rebutting arguments about weapons of mass destruction has become reflexive. We point to all the United Nations Security Council resolutions, the International Atomic Energy Agency statements, the C.I.A. analyses, the Silberman-Robb report, the Senate Intelligence Committee findings — if we were wrong, we were in good and honest company.
But what about the mistaken assumptions that remain unexamined? Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well. I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties. And it turns out that living under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny for decades conditioned Iraqis to accept unearned leadership, to embrace sect and tribe over ideas, and to tolerate unbridled corruption.
Some have used Iraq’s political immaturity as further proof the war was wrong, as if somehow those less politically evolved don’t merit freedoms they are ill equipped to make use of. We would be better served to understand how the free world can foster appreciation of the building blocks of civil society in order to help other victims of tyranny when it is their turn.
Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Worries over being Slimed
By NATHANIEL FICK
Published: March 16, 2008
OUR Marine platoon stayed up late to listen on a hand-cranked shortwave radio as Colin Powell testified before the United Nations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It was February 2003, and we were camped in the northern Kuwaiti desert, awaiting orders to invade Iraq.
The prospect of being “slimed” — and having to battle through a chemical attack — dominated every part of our planning. We wore heavy charcoal suits to protect us from chemicals, taped nerve-agent-detection paper to the windshields of our vehicles, and practiced jabbing antidote needles into our thighs.
We made bets not on whether it would happen, but when. We didn’t know what line we had to cross to provoke Saddam Hussein into using weapons of mass destruction — maybe the border, the Euphrates, the Tigris or the doorway to his presidential palace — and so the overriding objective was speed: get to Baghdad and cut the head off the snake.
Our conviction was strengthened on the second day of the war, when we interrogated an Iraqi officer found carrying a gas mask, rubber gloves and nerve agent antidotes. Did he really believe we would use chemical weapons against Iraq? No, he replied, but he expected that Saddam Hussein would use them against us, and his unit would be caught in the cross-fire.
This deception twisted our priorities dangerously out of whack. Methodically clearing areas of enemy fighters, and then securing them to protect the populace, seemed like a risky luxury in March and April. By August, with the insurgency in bloom, it had become a colossal missed opportunity.
The weapons, we now know, were some combination of relic, bluster and ruse. We focused on the nerve-agent feint, and got roundhoused by the insurgent hook. I wish we could all go back to those nights in the Kuwaiti desert, when a more sober assessment could have changed the way we fought, and maybe lessened the likelihood that we’d still be fighting five years later.
Nathaniel Fick is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.”
Congress in Recess
By PAUL D. EATON
Published: March 16, 2008
MY greatest surprise was the failure on the part of Congress to assert itself before the executive branch. That failure assured continued problems for the military in the face of a secretary of defense who proved incompetent at fighting war.
Had Congress defended the welfare of our armed forces by challenging the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense, our Army and Marine Corps would not be in the difficult position we find them in today.
The Republican-dominated Congress failed us by refusing to hold the necessary hearings and investigations the Army desperately needed. Without hearings, the Army could not advance its case for increasing the number of troops and rearming the force. The result is an Army and Marine Corps on the ropes, acres and acres of broken equipment, and tour lengths of 15 months because we have too few troops for the tasks at hand.
Paul D. Eaton is a retired Army major general who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004. He is an adviser to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
The Army grew into the job
Published: March 16, 2008
FROM the moment the Bush administration took office, I argued against its apparent preference for high-tech, small-footprint wars, which continued a decade of movement in that direction by senior military leaders and civilian experts. In 2002, I questioned the common triumphalism about American operations in Afghanistan, and particularly the notion of applying the “Afghanistan model” of low-manpower, high-precision operations in Iraq. I supported the 2003 invasion despite misgivings about how it would be executed, and those misgivings proved accurate.
However, the most surprising phenomenon of the war has been the transformation of the United States military into the most discriminate and effective counterinsurgency force the world has ever seen, skillfully blending the most advanced technology with human interactions between soldiers and the Iraqi people. Precision-guided weapons allowed our soldiers and marines to minimize collateral damage while using our advantages in firepower to the full.
Once we pushed most of our combat forces into close interactions with the Iraqi people, the information they obtained ensured that the targets they hit were the right ones. Above all, the compassion and concern our soldiers have consistently shown to civilians and even to defeated and captured enemies have turned the tide of Iraqi opinion.
Within a year, our forces went from imminent defeat to creating the prospect of success, using a great deal of firepower, killing and capturing many enemies, but binding the local population to us at the same time. The intellectual framework came from Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno and their advisers. But the deep understanding, skill and compassion that made it work came from service members and the many civilians who put their lives at risk for the benefit of their country and Iraq.
Frederick Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Worse than LBJ's Team
ANTHONY D. CORDESMAN
Published: March 16, 2008
IN fairness to the Bush administration, I did not expect that we would discover no meaningful activity in rebuilding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and no Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda. I also never predicted, after the insurgency began, that the extremists in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia would so alienate Sunnis and tribes in western Iraq that a combination of the “surge, win and hold” military tactics, American-led nation-building efforts that focused on local and provincial needs, and the cease-fire declared by Moktada al-Sadr could create today’s new opportunity for “victory.”
In balance, however, the most serious surprise was that what appeared to be the American A-Team in national security ignored years of planning and months of interagency activity before the war, and the United States had no meaningful plan for stability operations and nation building after the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. Relying on sectarian exiles with strong ties to Iran, disbanding the security forces and starting the process of de-Baathification were all obvious disasters, as were the creation of closed-list national elections and the failure to quickly hold local and provincial elections.
It was even more of a surprise to watch the Bush administration fail, from 2003 to 2006, to come to grips with creating effective counterinsurgency programs, focused aid and development efforts, political accommodation and effective Iraqi forces. As a Republican, I would never have believed that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would waste so many opportunities and so much of America’s reputation that they would rival Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy for the worst wartime national security team in United States history.
Anthony D. Cordesman is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela
on: March 17, 2008, 05:23:12 AM
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
March 17, 2008; Page A16
At the tender age of 23 years, Yon Goicoechea is arguably President Hugo Chávez's worst nightmare.
Mr. Goicoechea is the retiring secretary general of the university students' movement in Venezuela. Under his leadership, hundreds of thousands of young people have come together to confront the strongman's unchecked power. It is the first time in a decade of Chávez rule that a countervailing force, legitimate in the eyes of society, has successfully managed to challenge the president's authority.
The students' first master stroke came in the spring of last year, when they launched protests against the government's decision to strip a television station of its license. The license was not restored but the group was energized. In June it began six months of demonstrations -- one with as many as 200,000 people -- to build opposition to a referendum on a constitutional rewrite that would have given Mr. Chávez dictatorial powers. When Mr. Chávez was defeated in the referendum, many observers attributed it to those marches and to student oversight at the polls, which reduced voter fraud.
Yet in an interview with me in Washington last week, the baby-faced Mr. Goicoechea, slumped on a sofa in blue jeans and a rumpled shirt, insisted that the shifting political winds have little to do with him. "We have generated a consciousness in the youth that doesn't depend on me. I could be dead or living in another county and it would go on. We have already won the future."
The revelation two weeks ago, that Mr. Chávez is working with the Colombian terrorists known as the FARC, sent chills up the spines of democrats throughout the hemisphere. Yet Mr. Chávez is likely to remain in power until Venezuelans themselves decide he should go. That is probably not going to happen until the electorate is offered something other than going back to the corrupt rule that existed before Mr. Chávez came to power. This is why Mr. Goicoechea, despite the self-effacing manner, attracts so much attention from his compatriots.
Mr. Chávez won the presidency in 1998 largely because Venezuelans were fed up with the ruling political and economic elite. Over 40 years of so-called democracy, the traditional parties had manipulated the law to grant themselves privilege and loot state coffers. When voters gambled on Mr. Chávez, it seems to have been more about rejecting the status quo than embracing the fiery newcomer.
No one understands this reality better than Mr. Goicoechea. He agrees that the country needs a new direction. "The chavistas are not wrong when they complain about exclusion," he told me. "To deny that these problems exist is to deny that there is a President Chávez, and to deny that he is a product of what came before him."
This may seem obvious, but until now it has not been the language of most of the Venezuelan opposition. Instead, the political debate largely has been a screaming match about power. Mr. Goicoechea takes a different stance, stressing reconciliation. He speaks about understanding the grievances of the disenfranchised, and looking for common ground that can give rise to solutions. The student leader says that two ideals hold his movement together: liberty and democracy, both of which he says have been absent in Venezuela for a long time. "Populism is not democracy."
I ask him if he wants to restore the country's institutions. "No, we want to build institutions. To say that we are restoring institutions would be to say that we had democracy before President Chávez, and I don't think so. We may have had an independent Supreme Court, but the poor had no access."
Mr. Goicoechea sees the current state of affairs as a continuation of the past, with different players. "Mr. Chávez says that his government serves the lower-income classes, but the reality is that the system still only serves those in the middle and high-income classes." That resonates with people.
Ensuring access to legal institutions, so that all Venezuelans are guaranteed the protections of the state, is for Mr. Goicoechea the path to "social justice." As an example he cites Petare, a notoriously poor Caracas barrio. "Private property rights protection does not exist there," he says. "No one owns their own land, even though the laws say that you earn that right if you live there for a certain number of years. We will have a true revolution in Venezuela when we have strong, liberal institutions that defend the rights of the people."
It is perhaps a sign of Mr. Goicoechea's effectiveness that he has received "all kinds of threats" against himself and his family. Last year he and a group of students were the targets of a small explosion set off at a public forum. At the same event, an attendee who disagreed with his ideas snuck up behind him and, when he turned around, punched him in the nose. "It's not important that they broke my nose," he says, but that the incident highlights the problem of intolerance. He says that his high profile mostly protects him, but ordinary people don't enjoy such protection. For them, violence and intimidation mean they cannot express themselves.
This is why the student movement is so important. It doesn't pretend to provide a political alternative, but its critical mass and organization now give voice to many who had come to fear expressing dissent under chavismo. This is a crucial step toward what many young Venezuelans hope will some day be a free society.
So what's next on the students' agenda? One issue they will raise this year is the government's ruling that disqualifies some 400 Venezuelans -- adversaries of chavismo -- from running for office in the November elections. This, Mr. Goicoechea points out, is a violation of the political rights of all Venezuelans. He insists that the students are not trying to defeat the president, and that they respect his office. "But the president of Venezuela is not more than me. He must respect that we are citizens too."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North Korea
on: March 17, 2008, 05:19:59 AM
Salvaging Our North Korea Policy
By JOHN R. BOLTON
March 17, 2008
There are signs, albeit small ones, that the Bush administration may be reaching the end of its patience with the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. These signs could prove illusory. But as it nears its end, the administration has a serious responsibility: It must not leave its successor with an ongoing, failed policy. At a minimum, President Bush should not bequeath to the next president only the burned-out hulk of the Six-Party Talks, and countless failed and violated North Korean commitments.
Since they were conceived in spring 2003, the Six-Party Talks have stumbled around inconclusively. And for the last 13 months, Pyongyang has ignored, stalled, renegotiated and violated the Feb. 13, 2007 agreement.
Throughout all this "negotiation," which has mostly consisted of our government negotiating with itself, North Korea has benefited enormously. It's been spared the truly punishing sanctions that concerted international effort might have produced. In large part because of the appeasement policies of the two previous South Korean governments, Pyongyang has not felt the full impact of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) on its outward proliferation efforts. The U.S. has muzzled its criticism of North Korea's atrocious oppression of its own citizens. And, perhaps most humiliatingly of all, the U.S., in a vain effort at chasing the mirage, gave up its most effective pressure point -- the financial squeeze -- allowing Pyongyang renewed access to international markets through institutions like Banco Delta Asia.
In fact, the protracted Six-Party Talks have provided Kim Jong-il with the most precious resource of all: the time to enhance, conceal and even disperse his nuclear weapons programs. Time is nearly always on the side of the would-be proliferator, and so it has proven here. In exchange for five years of grace to North Korea, the U.S. has received precious little in return.
Pyongyang is now stonewalling yet again on its promise to disclose fully the details of its nuclear programs, including its uranium enrichment efforts and its outward proliferation. The successful Israeli military strike against a Syrian-North Korean facility on the Euphrates River last September highlighted the gravity of the regime's unwillingness to do anything serious that might restrict its nuclear option.
President Bush should spend the next 10 months rectifying the Six-Party concessions and put North Korea back under international pressure -- efforts that would be welcomed by Japan, and South Korea's new, far more realistic President Lee Myung-bak. Here are the steps to take:
- Declare North Korea's repeated refusal to honor its commitments, especially but not exclusively concerning full disclosure of its nuclear programs, unacceptable. This is the easiest step, and the most obvious. It can happen immediately. Accept no further partial "compliance," as the State Department continuously tries to do. Make public what we know about the North's Syria project, and its uranium enrichment and missile programs, so our 2008 presidential candidates can have a fully-informed debate.
- Suspend the Six-Party Talks, and reconvene talks without North Korea. Although the talks could be jettisoned altogether, continuing them without the North allows Japan, South Korea and the U.S. to begin applying real pressure to China, the one nation with the capacity to bring Pyongyang's nuclear program to a halt. China has feared to apply such pressure, worried that it could collapse Kim Jong-il's regime altogether -- an accurate assessment of the regime's limited staying power. Nonetheless, the effect of Chinese reticence has been to preserve Kim and his nuclear program. It is vital that China know this policy is no longer viable.
- Strengthen international pressure on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Ramp up PSI cooperation with South Korea. Remind Russia of its own voluntarily-assumed obligations as a PSI core member. Remind China as well to comply with the sanctions imposed on North Korea by U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718 (which followed the North's 2006 ballistic missile and nuclear tests), and honor its other counterproliferation obligations. Tell them we will be watching with particular care, and that Chinese failure to increase pressure on North Korea will have implications in Sino-American bilateral relations. We can make this point privately to China rather that trumpet it publicly, but it should be made without ambiguity.
- Squeeze North Korea economically. Return the regime to limbo outside the international financial system, and step up action against its other illicit activities, such as trafficking in illicit narcotics and counterfeiting U.S. money. These and other "defensive measures" are nothing more than what any self-respecting nation does to protect itself, and the U.S. should never have eased up on them. Even now they can have a measurable impact on Kim Jong-il's weak and unsteady regime.
- Prepare contingency plans for humanitarian relief in the event of increased North Korean refugee flows or a regime collapse. Both China and South Korea have legitimate concerns about the burdens they would face if the North collapsed, or if increased internal economic deprivation spread instability. America and Japan should make it plain that they will fully shoulder their share of providing humanitarian supplies and assistance if either happened. Moreover, President Lee should increase pressure on Pyongyang -- by reiterating that South Korea will fully comply with its own constitution and grant full citizenship to any refugees from the North, however they make their way to the South.
Doubtless there are other steps. President Bush will not likely be able to solve the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Nonetheless, he still has time to implement policies that will allow him to leave office with the nation back on offense -- thereby affording his successor the chance to vindicate a return to the original Bush administration national security strategy.
Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster/Threshold Editions, 2007).
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Franklin, Jefferson
on: March 17, 2008, 05:14:12 AM
"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang
-- Benjamin Franklin (at the signing of the Declaration of
Independence, 4 July 1776)
Reference: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett (29) and Respectfully Quoted
"To restore... harmony,... to render us again one people acting
as one nation should be the object of every man really a patriot."
-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to Thomas McKean, 1801)
Reference: 63 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Ford Edition, 8:78
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Drug Trade Tyranny on the border
on: March 17, 2008, 05:13:13 AM
Drug Trade Tyranny on The Border
Mexican Cartels Maintain Grasp With Weapons, Cash and Savagery
In Mexico, a Fight Against Drugs and Fear
Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation, and cash, drug cartels have come
to control key parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, as Mexican troops wage a
multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords.
» LAUNCH PHOTO GALLERY
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 16, 2008; Page A01
The killers prowled through Loma Bonita in the pre-dawn chill.
In silence, they navigated a labyrinth of wood shacks at the crest of a dirt
lane in the blighted Tijuana neighborhood, police say. They were looking for
Margarito Saldaña, an easygoing 43-year-old district police commander. They
found a house full of sleeping people.
Neighbors quivered at the crack of AK-47 assault rifles blasting inside
Saldaña's tiny home. Rafael García, an unemployed laborer who lives nearby,
recalled thinking it was "a fireworks show," then sliding under his bed in
In murdering not only Saldaña, but also his wife, Sandra, and their
12-year-old daughter, Valeria, the Loma Bonita killers violated a rarely
broken rule of Mexico's drug cartel underworld: Family should remain free
from harm. The slayings capped five harrowing hours during which the
assassins methodically hunted down and murdered two other police officers
and mistakenly killed a 3-year-old boy and his mother.
The brutality of what unfolded here in the overnight hours of Jan. 14 and
early Jan. 15 is a grim hallmark of a crisis that has cast a pall over the
United States' southern neighbor. Events in three border cities over the
past three months illustrate the military and financial power of Mexico's
cartels and the extent of their reach into a society shaken by fear.
More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police are engaged in a
multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords, a conflict that
is being waged most fiercely along the 2,000-mile length of the U.S.-Mexico
border. The proximity of the violence has drawn in the Bush administration,
which has proposed a $500 million annual aid package to help President
Felipe Calder¿n combat what a Government Accountability Office report
estimates is Mexico's $23 billion a year drug trade.
A total of more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in 2006 and 2007, making the
murder rate in each of those years twice that of 2005. Law enforcement
officials and journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned down in
the wave of violence, which includes mass executions, such as the killings
of five people whose bodies were found on a ranch outside Tijuana this
Like the increasing number of Mexicans heading over the border in fear, the
violence itself is spilling into the United States, where a Border Patrol
agent was recently killed while trying to stop suspected traffickers.
Drawing on firepower, savage intimidation and cash, the cartels have come to
control key parts of the border, securing smuggling routes for 90 percent of
the cocaine flowing into the United States, according to the State
Department. At the same time, Mexican soldiers roam streets in armored
personnel carriers, attack helicopters patrol the skies, and boats ply the
"The situation is deteriorating," Victor Clark, a Tijuana human rights
activist and drug expert, said in an interview. "Drug traffickers are waging
a terror campaign. The security of the nation is at stake."
Dominated by a Private Army
More than 1,900 miles southeast of Tijuana, the city of Reynosa stretches
along the Rio Grande across from south Texas. This is Gulf cartel country, a
region dominated by the cartel's private army, Los Zetas. Their arsenal
befits a military brigade, exceeding those of some Mexican army units.
Led by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, Los Zetas are a highly disciplined
mercenary squad composed of former elite Mexican troops, including officers
trained by the U.S. military before they deserted. The group has become an
obsession of Calderon's administration, which has sent more than a thousand
troops to Reynosa and neighboring cities.
Soldiers crowd the slender canal bridges that crisscross Reynosa, stopping
drivers at random and staring across the cityscape with their fingers on the
triggers of heavy weapons. The tense atmosphere has led to mistakes.
On Feb. 16, soldiers fatally shot Sergio Meza Varela, a 28-year-old with no
apparent ties to the drug trade, when the car he was riding in didn't stop
at a checkpoint. "You're scared to leave your house," Alejandra Salinas,
Meza's cousin, said in an interview outside the family tire shop. "We're
just in the way."
In Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, the growing Sinaloa cartel is
fighting rivals over smuggling routes. But in Reynosa, police say, only
Mexican soldiers threaten the Gulf cartel's control.
To prepare for battle, Los Zetas have stocked safe houses with antitank
weapons, assault rifles, grenades and other heavy weapons, including some
that Mexican law enforcement authorities believe once belonged to the U.S.
"How can I fight them?" said Juan Jose Muniz Salinas, Reynosa's police
chief. "It's impossible."
On Feb. 7, soldiers stormed the dusty "El Mezquito" ranch outside Miguel
Aleman, west of Reynosa, and found one of the largest illegal arsenals in
recent memory: 89 assault rifles, 83,355 rounds of ammunition, and plastic
explosives capable of demolishing buildings. Two days later in nearby Nuevo
Laredo, soldiers found a weapons cache that included eight military uniforms
to be used as disguises.
The mounting evidence that cartels have infiltrated many border police
forces has prompted drastic action.
In Reynosa, soldiers disarmed the entire police force in January, leaving
them without weapons for 19 days while ballistics tests were conducted.
Police officers, who make $625 a month, were also forced to provide voice
samples for comparison with recordings of threats made over police radios,
Mayor Oscar Luebbert Guti¿rrez said in an interview.
"It wasn't worth it," said Mu¿iz Salinas, the police chief. "They come after
us, but it's other authorities that are really involved. Look at the state
police, the federal police and the military."
The Enemy Is in the House
It was New Year's Day in Tijuana, the hilly city at America's busiest border
crossing. City workers prepped for celebrations, but Jesus Alberto Rodriguez
Meraz and Saul Ovalle Guerrero, both veteran police officers, had other
They were going to get rich.
The officers stole one ton of marijuana from the Arellano Felix drug cartel.
But before they could sell the load they were kidnapped. Four days later
their bodies were found, Tijuana's new police chief, Jesus Alberto Capella,
said in an interview.
The killings barely registered in Mexico, numbed by an avalanche of at least
30 police officer murders in the past three months and dozens more in the
past year. Their case illuminates the pervasive police corruption created by
One of every two police officers murdered in Mexico today is directly
involved with drug gangs, according to estimates by police officials,
prosecutors and drug experts.
Capella, nicknamed "Tijuana Rambo" because he fought his way out of an
assassination attempt shortly before taking office, estimates that 15
percent of the city's 2,300 police officers work for drug cartels, earning a
monthly stipend as body guards, kidnappers or assassins. In Baja California
alone, Mexican justice officials estimate that 30 percent of the local and
federal police force is on a cartel payroll.
"We have the enemy in our house," Capella said.
The killings in Loma Bonita here were related to a police corruption case,
Capella and other police officials said. A few days earlier, Tijuana police
had killed an officer working as a bodyguard for a drug gang that tried to
rob an armored car.
Cartel assassins, using police radios, vowed revenge. Within a week,
Saldana, his family, and two other officers had been murdered.
Some of the killings have come with specific messages taunting Mexican
During one week in mid-February, six bodies were found with signs lashed to
them that included information such as the phone number and address of the
Mexican army office set up to receive tips about organized crime. According
to analysts, such "narco-messages," some of which are carved into the
bodies, are intended to keep residents from reporting tips.
The decline of the Arellano Felix cartel's dominance of Tijuana has had the
unexpected effect of deepening police corruption.
After one brother was assassinated and two others were arrested, a war
erupted because the cartel's new leadership -- including a sister,
Enedina -- refused to share territory with the Sinaloa cartel, a police
official said on condition of anonymity. Once loyal to the Arellano Felix
cartel, some police officers switched sides.
"The police became armed wings of the warring cartels," the police official
At the same time, tighter border enforcement following the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks has made it harder for cartels to smuggle drugs into the
United States. So the cartels developed a local market by giving out free
samples of drugs, according to Clark, the Tijuana-based drug expert and
human rights activist.
The estimated number of addicts in Tijuana doubled from 100,000 in 2004 to
200,000 in 2007, Clark said. The number of small stores or houses where
drugs are sold increased fivefold -- to 20,000 outlets -- over that time.
Each outlet pays protection money to police, so their proliferation meant
In response, authorities in Baja California and several other border states
have begun giving police lie-detector tests. The questions range from the
innocuous to queries such as "Have you ever worked with a drug trafficker?"
Rommel Moreno Manjarrez, Baja California's attorney general, said in an
interview that out of every 1,000 officers tested, 700 fail.
"It's impossible for the narco to succeed without the help of the police,"
he said. "The success that the narco has been having is because of the
Transformed by Drug Money
About 20 minutes south of Tijuana, high-rise condominiums line the coast
near Rosarito Beach. Once a sleepy hideaway for Hollywood stars, the town
had over time exploded into a gaudy party magnet, drawing tourists to the
beach and the studio where the movies "Titanic" and "Master and Commander"
Rosarito's further transformation has been propelled by drug money and
culture, turning the surfer's haven into a key transshipment point for
cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines. City hall is now an armed
encampment. Soldiers in armored personnel carriers guard the front entrance.
The new police chief, Jorge Eduardo Montero Alvarez, now occupies an office
inside the cordon. His headquarters was rendered uninhabitable by a December
Investigators believe Rosarito Beach police -- working on behalf of the drug
gangs -- were behind the attack, which killed one of Montero Alvarez's
bodyguards. Days later, Mexican soldiers disarmed the entire 149-officer
Rosarito police force.
"I'm more afraid of the police than the narcos," said Jorge Luis Quinones, a
Rosarito Beach physician and businessman, reflecting a feeling that has
built for years among many of the surrounding area's 150,000 residents.
In June 2006, three Rosarito Beach police officers were beheaded. For Hugo
Torres Chabert, scion of the wealthy family that founded the famed Rosarito
Beach Hotel, it was a grim wakeup call.
Convinced that almost every level of the city's government had become
tainted with drug money, Torres Chabert ran for mayor and won. Soon after
taking office last December, he fired 80 of the city's 500 employees. But he
says he hasn't been able to press for arrests for lack of evidence.
"They were corrupt, but not stupid," he said.
To the children of Rosarito Beach, narco gunmen had already became local
heroes because they drove the fanciest cars, wore the latest styles and
acted like they owned the town. "Black commandos," the drug cartel hit men,
began openly flashing their weapons, snorting cocaine and strutting through
the beach town.
"It became impossible to avoid drug dealers -- your kids go to school with
their kids," Aurelio Casta¿eda, a Rosarito Beach bar owner and merchants
association official, said in an interview. "You'd go to a bathroom in a
bar, and they'd be selling cocaine. They don't even try to hide it, and
there was nothing you could do about it, nobody you could turn to."
Castaneda's once-busy bar, El Torito, is often empty. He says his business
is down 80 percent since 2001, when Rosarito Beach's drug violence spiked,
scaring off most surfers and other tourists.
Beyond the flash of the bars and hotels, Rosarito Beach is a warren of
impoverished neighborhoods where developers, after paying off city
officials, did not bother to install water lines or electrical connections.
The dismal living conditions created fertile recruiting grounds for drug
traffickers, who have found many willing to "mule" their product across the
border for $500 a trip.
But great quantities of drugs stay in Rosarito and are sold at hundreds of
convenience stores or private homes that thrive under police protection. Not
long ago, a Baja California journalist began digging into the problem. The
cartels found out and, in a series of phone calls, threatened to kill him.
It wasn't the first time. He'd had enough. Terrified, the journalist left
"I was saying to myself, 'This is an important subject,' " the journalist
said on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety. "But I wasn't
willing to lose my life over it."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Obama Phenoma
on: March 17, 2008, 05:05:04 AM
Notable & Quotable
March 17, 2008
Gerald Posner writing at HuffingtonPost.com:
I'm still in the Barack camp. But, as a vocal supporter, I'd like just a couple of answers about the flap over Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the Chicago megachurch where the Obamas have been members for 20 years.
Guilt by association is totally unwarranted. Barack is not responsible for Wright's views. However, how he responds to those views -- and whether he is being straight with us, the voters -- is critical as to whether he should lead our country.
The key issue for me, as both a supporter and as a reporter, revolves around what I view as Wright's most incendiary comments, those implying that America -- because of its own actions -- deserved the 9/11 terror attacks.
Wright made his comments on September 16, only 5 days after the deadly strikes in New York and Washington. He said, in part, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. . . ."
. . . .If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright's post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there -- by 9/11 they were there more than a decade -- and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright's views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright's vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack -- a sitting Illinois State Senator -- would have been one of the first to hear about it.
Can't you imagine the call or conversation? "Barack, you aren't going to believe what Revered Wright said yesterday at the church. You should be ready with a comment if someone from the press calls you up."
But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 2007.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Economic crisis over US dollar?
on: March 17, 2008, 04:34:47 AM
The Buck Stops Where?
March 17, 2008
In the credit market panic that began in August, we have now reached the point of maximum danger: A global run on the dollar that could become a rout. As the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee prepares to meet tomorrow, this should be its major concern.
Yet the conventional wisdom -- on Wall Street and in Washington -- continues to be precisely the opposite. In this view, the Fed is "behind the curve" and needs to cut interest rates even faster and further than it has. Never mind that this is precisely the path the Fed has followed since August, yet the crisis has grown worse and now bids to tank the larger economy. Does it make sense to do more of what isn't working?
* * *
The Fed's main achievement so far has been to stir a global lack of confidence in the greenback. By every available indicator, investors are fleeing the dollar for other currencies and such traditional safe havens as gold and commodities. Oil has surged to $110 a barrel, up from under $70 as recently as September. Gold is above $1,000 an ounce, up from $700 in September, and food prices are soaring across the board. The euro has hit record heights against the buck, and for the first time the dollar has fallen below the level of the Swiss franc.
Speculators are adding to this commodity boom, betting that the Fed has thrown price stability to the wind in order to ease U.S. housing and credit woes. The problem is that dollar weakness is making both of these problems worse. The flight from the dollar has made U.S.-based investments less attractive, at a time when the U.S. financial system urgently needs to raise capital. And the commodity boom is translating into higher food and energy prices that are robbing American consumers of discretionary income. In the name of avoiding a recession, reckless monetary policy has made one more likely.
Meanwhile, and disconcertingly, we keep hearing new explanations for the virtues of dollar weakness. One of the most popular is that the increase in commodity prices has nothing to do with the dollar but is merely a change in "relative prices" -- commodities compared to other goods -- caused by surging global demand.
No doubt strong world growth explains part of the commodity price rise this decade. But the dollar price of oil has surged by some 60% since September, even as U.S. growth has slowed sharply. If the dollar had merely retained its value against the euro, oil would be in the neighborhood of $70 a barrel. Dollar weakness explains a large part of the oil price surge.
We are also told that the U.S. is merely importing inflation from the rest of the world, such as China. Import prices have surged nearly 14% in the last year, but that is mainly recycling the inflation that the Federal Reserve has inspired. Like other countries that have linked their monetary policies to the U.S., China has been importing inflation due to dollar weakness. Its official price level has tripled in a year, and it is now letting the yuan rise more rapidly against the dollar to slow that domestic inflation.
Kuwait has already dropped its dollar peg to stem its inflation, and other Persian Gulf countries may follow suit. These are all signs that the world is losing confidence in the Fed's commitment to price stability.
Another excuse is that a weak dollar is useful because it helps to boost exports, and thus reduces the U.S. trade deficit. Exports have certainly been strong, but exports in goods are being more than offset by the rising cost of oil imports. In January, the U.S. trade gap actually widened thanks to oil imports. In any case, rising exports won't comfort Americans whose standard of living falls due to rising import prices.
Then there is the "just deserts" school, which claims that dollar weakness is the inevitable result of America living beyond its means for so long. This road-to-perdition view is especially popular in Europe and the U.S. media. To believe it, however, you have to conclude that the world was willing to ignore the U.S. trade deficit for decades only to awaken in horror now.
The truth is that, as ever, the fate of the dollar is in our own hands. Inflation is always a monetary phenomenon, determined by the supply and demand for a currency. The supply of dollars is controlled by a monopoly known as the Federal Reserve, and at any moment the Fed can produce more or fewer dollars. The Fed can also influence the demand for dollars by maintaining a commitment to price stability, or it can reduce that global demand by squandering its anti-inflation credibility the way it is now. Once squandered, it is difficult to regain -- as we learned the hard way in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Bush Administration is also not helping confidence in the dollar. While President Bush is doing well to fight protectionism and higher taxes, his Administration continues to give the impression that it quietly favors a weak dollar. Yes, the official Treasury mantra is that it prefers a "strong dollar." But that mantra was the same when the dollar was strong and oil was $20 a barrel in the 1990s as it is now when oil is $110 and the dollar is weaker than at any time since the 1970s.
Last week Mr. Bush dared to wander from this script and told the Nightly Business Report that a strong dollar "helps deal with inflation" and rued its weakness against the euro. He was quickly reeled in by his advisers, and in his Friday speech at the New York Economic Club Mr. Bush reverted to the boilerplate language that investors now interpret as favoring a weak currency.
* * *
Which brings us to tomorrow's Fed meeting. The markets are expecting another cut of 50-75 points in the benchmark fed funds rate, and if recent history is a guide will immediately price into futures another 50-point cut down the road. The stock market may rally, until it once again decides that easier money can't remedy what is fundamentally a problem of bank solvency. That problem can only be resolved by financial institutions and regulators coming to grips with the losses, raising more capital to cushion the blow, and closing or selling those banks that can never recover. That will require a more aggressive, and pre-emptive, regulatory role for the Fed -- and that we would applaud.
What the U.S. and world economy don't need is a Fed that continues to insist that inflation expectations are "well-anchored" when everyone else knows they aren't. The Fed needs to restore its monetary credibility, or today's panic could become tomorrow's crash.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Earmarks
on: March 16, 2008, 09:06:51 PM
Earmarks as Usual
March 15, 2008; Page A10
For Congressional Appropriators, Thursday night's vote cashiering the earmark moratorium was an embarrassment of riches, with some 71 Senators endorsing Capitol Hill's spending culture. For everyone else, it was merely embarrassing.
The amendment, sponsored by Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), would have imposed a one-year earmark freeze, and it seemed to be gaining momentum earlier in the week, even cheered on by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But the Appropriations empire struck back, twisting every arm to preserve its spending privileges. The measure was voted down after being ruled "non-germane" to the budget. That's as good a measure as any of the Congressional mentality: Apparently earmarks, which totaled $18.3 billion for 2008, aren't relevant to overall spending.
Just three Republican Appropriators voted for the amendment, including surprise support from longtime skeptic Mitch McConnell. No such shockers from the Democrats, with all Appropriators going against and only six Senators bucking the party line, especially Missouri's Claire McCaskill, one of the more courageous antipork champions.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton no doubt backed the moratorium to insulate themselves against one of John McCain's signature themes. But they're also bending to the broader political winds. In an election year, voters understand the waste and corruption that pork enables, leading even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say, "I'm losing patience with earmarks."
That Mr. McCain's Republican colleagues fail, or refuse, to recognize the political potency is not a good sign. More GOP Senators voted against the moratorium than voted for it, proving that they are just as complacent about pork as most Democrats. And this vote comes on the heels of offenses like appointing ranking GOP Appropriator Thad Cochran ($837 million in pork last year) to the earmark-reform "working committee." The Republicans appear to be settling in comfortably with their minority status.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.