Saturday, December 24, 2005

Just in case you've gotten all upset about the new leak in today's US News that we were monitoring mosques and offices for possible emissions of radiation and think that this is another example of the administration violating the Constitution as the article implies, Jim Robbins clears it up for us. The US News articles quotes a law professor citing the decision Kyllo v. U.S. that outlawed using thermal imaging devices to detect growing marijuana in private homes as a basis for saying that the Supreme Court would not look kindly on such monitoring. However, Robbins argues that there is a more relevant case that specifically addresses such a program.
Readers would do well to examine the Supreme Court case Illinois v. Caballes, decided earlier this year. The Court ruled that when a dog sniffed out drugs during a routine traffic stop, without a warrant, it did not constitute an illegal search because, in the words of Justice Stevens, "Official conduct that does not 'compromise any legitimate interest in privacy' is not a search subject to the Fourth Amendment. Jacobsen, 466 U.S., at 123. "The Court noted that "any interest in possessing contraband cannot be deemed 'legitimate,' and thus, governmental conduct that only reveals the possession of contraband 'compromises no legitimate privacy interest.' Ibid." Note that in an earlier case, Kyllo v. US, the Court ruled that thermal detection devices could not be used to surveil houses without a warrant because this would compromise privacy -- the difference being that such devices pick up licit as well as illicit activity. In his dissent in that case, Justice Stevens pondered whether "public officials should not have to avert their senses or their equipment from detecting emissions in the public domain such as ...radioactive emissions .. which could identify hazards to the community. In my judgment, monitoring such emissions with 'sense-enhancing technology,' ... and drawing useful conclusions from such monitoring, is an entirely reasonable public service." Clearly Caballes rather than Kyllo controls in the case of using detection equipment to pick up emissions from nuclear materials banned under 18 USC 831 since, to quote Stevens' majority opinion, such activity "reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess." And even if you want to subject this to a balancing test, I think the government would not have to argue very strongly that there is a compelling state interest in keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of private citizens.
I wonder why Georgetown University Professor David Cole didn't mention that case when interviewed by US News. Or why US News didn't reveal that Professor Cole is a known Bush critic who has published two books on how our liberties are being endangered by the war on terror: Terrorism and the Constitution and Enemy Aliens, both of which criticize the Patriot Act and other measures taken by the Bush administration.

Interesting that the US News reporter, David E. Kaplan, went to a professor with a known point of view for a quote on the constitutionality of monitoring sites for radiation, without any identification other than that he is a professor at Georgetown and a constitutional law expert. The pro argument is just represented by anonymous adminstration officials. This is a typical media device that allows them to find an expert whom they know will support the point they want to make but have a tissue of cover for their so-called impartiality.
Being a big fan of Abraham Lincoln and admiring him more than probably any other historic figure, I do agree that there is a lot that George W. Bush could learn from Lincoln. So could every one of Lincoln's successors. However, Robert Kuttner's column today, entitled "What Bush could learn from Lincoln" seems to focus mainly on how much Bush would benefit if he took his political rivals like John McCain and Chuck Hagel into his cabinet and listened more to the media. And here I thought that Kuttner was going to say that Bush could have learned much from Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus without Congressional approval and defiance of Chief Justice Taney's order to release secessionist sympathizer, John Merryman. Or, I thought, maybe Kuttner admired the way that Lincoln instituted a draft. Or how he again suspended habeas corpus and ordered the arrest of anyone who spoke out against the draft or anyone disloyal to the Union. Or how he sent troops to arrest secessionist members of the Maryland legislature until after the election of a new pro-Unionist legislature.

Nope, Kuttner isn't interested in a full discussion of the powers that a president might have to operate during a crisis. Rather, he'd prefer to use the manifest political brilliance and eloquence Lincoln as another club with which to bash Bush. Sure, I'd love it if Bush had the wit and rhetorical skills of Abraham Lincoln. But then I can't think of anyone else in history except Winston Churchill who plays in that league. And I surely don't see how Bush's administration would be improved by having Chuck Hagel or even John McCain in the cabinet leaking all their self-aggrandizing criticisms to a worshipful press would improve anything.
William Kristol has a column up at the Weekly Standard talking about the Paranoid Style in American Liberalism, playing off the famous essay essay by Richard Hofstadter which looked at the conspiracy theorists on the right. Kristol is so right that the most wild-eyed conspiracy-mongering seems to be taking place on the left today. He contrasts the remarks by General Hayden, former head of the NSA with how the media and Democrats are portraying the NSA surveillance program.
On Monday, December 19, General Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and now deputy director of national intelligence, briefed journalists. The back--and--forth included this exchange:

Reporter: Have you identified armed enemy combatants, through this program, in the United States?

Gen. Hayden: This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.

Reporter: General Hayden, I know you're not going to talk about specifics about that, and you say it's been successful. But would it have been as successful-can you unequivocally say that something has been stopped or there was an imminent attack or you got information through this that you could not have gotten through going to the court?

Gen. Hayden: I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available.
Now, General Hayden is by all accounts a serious, experienced, nonpolitical military officer. You would think that a statement like this, by a man in his position, would at least slow down the glib assertions of politicians, op--ed writers, and journalists that there was no conceivable reason for President Bush to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
Well, you would think so, but it is not to be.
The day after Gen. Hayden's press briefing, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee blathered on about "the Constitution in crisis" and "impeachable conduct." Barbara Boxer, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asserted there was "no excuse" for the president's actions. The ranking Democrat on that committee, Joseph Biden, confidently stated that the president's claims were "bizarre" and that "aggrandizement of power" was probably the primary reason for the president's actions, since "there was no need to do any of this."
I just don't get this accusation that Bush only did this to aggrandize his power. Do people really think that there was no security concern that might have motivated this program? I guess their working hypothesis is that Bush was just putting this program in as a first step to spying on all sorts of domestic enemies. Hence, the Nixon comparisons. There is no attempt by Bush's opponents to look at things from the point of view of the administration trying to do everything possible to prevent a future attack and thinking that perhaps it might be a good thing to know what Al Qaeda operatives were saying to people who were already inside the United States. I would think that All Americans would want our government to know about such conversations. I don't have the background to know whether the FISA program would have been perfectly suited to getting the immediate access to such conversations that we needed, but I'm willing to entertain the working hypothesis that it must not have been and that is why the administration went this other route. After reading legal experts on the question, it seems quite likely that the President was not exceeding his Constitutional powers.

If Bush's opponents are so sure that this program was illegal, why don't they propose some new laws to accomplish the same goal without the illegality. They seem too busy criticizing and carrying forth their conspiracy theories to really address the question of how best to protect Americans from terrorists who might already be in the country.
Prince Charles is reportedly considering being called George VII when he ascends the throne instead of Charles III, not liking the association with the two Stuart King Charles. Well, except for George V and George VI, Charles' grandfather, I wouldn't think that the association with the Kings George I - IV is entirely felicitous. It seems rather strange to have a change of identity once a man is into late middle age, but then much about the royal family seems strange to me.
David Boaz reports that the so-called Bridge to Nowhere that was supposedly defunded in the latest budget agreement is now back in through a cute sleight of hand.
Congress removed the requirement that Alaska use the money for the bridges to nowhere. But the state still got the money – a $454 million blank check.

And sure enough, Gov. Frank Murkowski has included money for both bridges in his new state budget. Murkowski, who used to be a senator himself, works closely with the state’s congressional delegation. Indeed, when he was elected governor, he searched the length and breadth of the great state of Alaska to find a qualified replacement and eventually found her across the breakfast table – his daughter, Lisa, who now works hand in hand with Stevens and Young to keep the funding pipeline flowing.

The federal money for the bridges was real gravy. Alaska has a $1 billion budget surplus, so Governor Murkowski could satisfy all sorts of special interests in his munificent budget proposal. Oil-rich Alaska also has $32 billion in its Permanent Fund.

And here’s a real kicker: The agency building Don Young’s Way is advertising for lobbying firms to represent it in Washington at a cost of up to $150,000. The firms would engage in "lobbying, educating, reporting, communicating and coordinating." So some of the $454 million that taxpayers in New York and California and Georgia and every other state are sending to Alaska will be used to hire lobbyists to milk the federal Treasury for even more money.

Merry Christmas, taxpayers.
One more reason why some people despise our nation's lawmakers.
Here's an interesting treatment for sleep apnea and snoring problems. It sounds much better than wearing that mask thing.
Democrats, led by Teresa Heinz Kerry and Senator Clinton, are criticizing the Bush administration for not saying more to condemn Iranian President Ahmadinejad's comments denying the Holocaust. That's fine. I'm sure I would support full-throated condemnation from every podium in the country of the Iranian President.

But I would also like to hear an explanation from Senator Clinton and Teresa's husband as to why they forced poor Senator Wyden to go forward and announce that Democrats would block a call for democratic elections in Iran. The New York Sun and Regime Change in Iran have the details. Here's the Sun's story:
Senator Santorum, a Republican of Pennsylvania, drafted the resolution after a December 14 speech in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a "myth" and suggested Israel be relocated to Europe, Canada, or Alaska. In its original form, the statement condemned the remarks, demanded an apology, and supported efforts by "the people of Iran to exercise self-determination" and hold a national referendum with oversight by international observers.

When Mr. Santorum moved to introduce the resolution last Friday, Senator Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, registered an unusual objection. According to the Congressional Record, Mr. Wyden told Mr. Santorum on the Senate floor that he was objecting to the resolution because his Democratic colleagues in the Senate had asked him too. Mr. Wyden did not say who asked him to issue the objection.

"While I personally am vehemently opposed to the statements that have been made by the president of Iran," Mr. Wyden said, "I have been asked by the members on this side of the aisle to object, and I do so object."

Mr. Wyden's office did not return repeated calls yesterday to explain who suggested that he object to the Iran resolution or why he was chosen to register the complaint. And a spokesman for Mr. Santorum, Robert Traynham, said he did not know who raised the objection either. "We're still trying to see who those Democrats are," he said. An Internet blog devoted to promoting Democracy in Iran, "Regime Change Iran," detailed the flap over the resolution. It simply said that "Senate Democrats" objected to the resolution
Come on reporters, do your job. Find out why the Democrats don't want to call for self-determination in Iran.

The blog, Regime Change Iran, is asking people to call Senator Lugar's office to demand hearings on Iran. They also have a great roundup of all the news related to Iran.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Anchoress wonders if Bush has pulled his foes into a game of Texas poker.
Seems too easy, doesn’t it? A Texas poker player suddenly shows his hand - and he does it confidently?

Only if he knows what everyone else is playing with.

The Democrats are too blind at this point, too intent on their feeding frenzy, too hobbled by hate, they have no more instincts and their perspective and their sensors are completely skewed. If they’re being set a trap, they can’t even see it.

Perhaps Bush WANTS to get them this riled up and set for impeachment, in order to coalesce the base…or…perhaps he finally has data that he can’t wait to show and he wants to show it in a certain way, and take down as many as he can.
I suspect that, if things work out the way the Anchoress predicts, that it will be more a matter of Bush's luck than any strategic ploy,

But, there is an eagerness, ever since Clinton's impeachment, to try to pull a tit for tat on Bush. Howard Fineman helps that along with his totally news-free musings about how Democrats are going to start pressing for Bush's impeachment this year by mentioning all the emails he gets demanding that Newsweek poll on whether or not people want Bush impeached. But James Taranto exposes Fineman's naivete by linking to an online chat that Richard Morin, the Washington Post's pollster had in which he was asked that question several time. And Morin finally unloaded about how sick he is of getting these astroturf requests ginned up by some website.
For the past eight months or so, the major media pollsters have been the target of a campaign organized by a Democratic Web site demanding that we ask a question about impeaching Bush in our polls.

The Web site lists the e-mail addresses of every media pollster, reporters as well as others. The Post's ombudsman is even on their hit list.

The Web site helpfully provides draft language that can be cut-and-pasted into a blanket e-mail.

The net result is that every few months, when this Web site fires up the faithful with another call for e-mails, my mailbox is filled with dozens and dozens of messages that all read exactly the same (often from the same people, again and again). Most recently, a psychology professor from Arizona State University sent me the copy-and-paste e-mail, not a word or comma was changed. I only hope his scholarship is more original.

We first laughed about it. Now, four waves into this campaign,we are annoyed. Really, really annoyed.

Some free advice: You do your cause no service by organizing or participating in such a campaign. It is viewed by me and others with the same scorn reserved for junk mail. Perhaps a bit more.

That said. we do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion--witness the fact that no member of congressional Democratic leadership or any of the serious Democratic presidential candidates in '08 are calling for Bush's impeachment. When it is or they are, we will ask about it in our polls.

Enough, already.
By the way, Taranto's column today is a must read. I especially enjoyed his comments on Reid's bragging that in his little town of Searchlight, Nevada, they didn't even have English class and that is why he mispoke and bragged about killing the Patriot Act when he really meant to brag about killing the cloture vote on the Patriot Act. What kind of schools don't have English class? I'd like some enterprising reporter to dig up the curriculum from Searchlight's schools when Harry Reid was there. And, as Taranto reminds us,
This is the same Harry Reid who, a little over a year ago, called Justice Clarence Thomas "an embarrassment to the Supreme Court" because "I think that his opinions are poorly written." If Reid's literacy is as defective as he himself claims it is, doesn't this make him, by his own standard, an embarrassment to the Senate?

Further, if Reid never even had an English class, what qualifies him to evaluate Justice Thomas's writings?
Yup, Harry Reid, bragging about his lack of an education while he knocks other people. Charming
Michael Greenspan highlights the online chat that Judge Richard Posner had at the Washington Post. If you read the questions that he got and his answers you can see that, as Greenspan points out, we're really dealing with two different mindsets. Thos who have more fears of the government invading their privacy than they have another terrorist attack on Americans. And those who have those fears reversed. Since we're starting from different premises, finding a happy middle is going to be well nigh impossible.
Here's a quite gruesome story. It seems that some mortuary has been illegally selling the bones of cadavers for their tissue. One of the corpses so violated was that of Alistair Cooke. Why a tissue-processing company would want the bones of a man who died of cancer is beyond me and raises a lot of questions of the quality of tissue that is being used in transplants.

On a different note, the headline that Cooke's bones were stolen reminds me of one of the weirdest stories regarding the Founding generation. Thomas Paine's body was dug up and stolen ten years after his death by one of his fans in Britain, William Cobbett. Unfortunately, Cobbett never realized his goal of building a shrine to Paine in England, and after several years, the bones were lost.

If exhumations of famous people are thing, you might enjoy checking out Exumation Celebration, a site which proves that you can find everything on the Internet.
The longer we go into the whole controversy over the NSA surveillance, the less it seems clear that Bush did anything that extraordinary, despite all the huffing and puffing in the press by people like Jonathan Alter alleging that the program was obviously illegal. John Hinderaker at Powerline has a backgrounder on relevant Supreme Court rulings on the issue. But what really convinced me was Hugh Hewitt's interview with Cass Sunstein, a Constitutional law scholar who is a recognized liberal. It's one thing for a conservative like Hinderaker to support the President's actions, but it is particularly notable when a liberal like Sunstein, who is not often favorable towards Bush, thinks that the program is Constitutional under the war powers of the president. Read Sunstein's original post on his blog. Then read Hewitt's interview with Sunstein. Here is an excerpt:
HH: ....First, did the authorization for the use of military force from 2001 authorize the president's action with regards to conducting surveillance on foreign powers, including al Qaeda, in contact with their agents in America, Professor?

CS: Well, probably. If the Congress authorizes the president to use force, a pretty natural incident of that is to engage in surveillance. So if there's on the battlefield some communication between Taliban and al Qaeda, the president can monitor that. If al Qaeda calls the United States, the president can probably monitor that, too, as part of waging against al Qaeda.

HH: Very good. Part two of your analysis...If...whether or not the AUMF does, does the Constitution give the president inherent authority to do what he did?

CS: That's less clear, but there's a very strong argument the president does have that authority. All the lower courts that have investigated the issue have so said. So as part of the president's power as executive, there's a strong argument that he can monitor conversations from overseas, especially if they're al Qaeda communications in the aftermath of 9/11. So what I guess I do is put the two arguments together. It's a little technical, but I think pretty important, which is that since the president has a plausible claim that he has inherent authority to do this, that is to monitor communications from threats outside our borders, we should be pretty willing to interpret a Congressional authorization to use force in a way that conforms to the president's possible Constitutional authority. So that is if you put the Constitutional authority together with the statutory authorization, the president's on pretty good ground.
Read the rest of the interview. Hugh Hewitt has long held that individuals who have worked in the Executive Branch (Sunstein worked in DOJ under both Carter and Reagan and Hewitt himself worked there) have a very different perspective on presidential powers than those who don't have such experience. Sunstein's experience working there during the Iranian hostage crisis probably helped to explain some of his perspective on presidential powers. As Hinderaker wrote,
The starting point, of course, is the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution sets out the powers and duties of the President. Some people do not seem to realize that the executive branch is coequal with the legislative and judicial branches. The President has certain powers under the Constitution, and they cannot be taken away or limited by Congressional legislation any more than the President can limit the powers of Congress by executive order.
What is also illuminating is to read Sunstein's assessment of the poor job that the media has done covering this issue.
HH: Do you consider the quality of the media coverage here to be good, bad, or in between?

CS: Pretty bad, and I think the reason is we're seeing a kind of libertarian panic a little bit, where what seems at first glance...this might be proved wrong...but where what seems at first glance a pretty modest program is being described as a kind of universal wiretapping, and also being described as depending on a wild claim of presidential authority, which the president, to his credit, has not made any such wild claim. The claims are actually fairly modest, and not unconventional. So the problem with what we've seen from the media is treating this as much more peculiar, and much larger than it actually is. As I recall, by the way, I was quoted in the Los Angeles Times, and they did say that in at least one person's view, the authorization to use military force probably was adequate here.

HH: Do you think the media simply does not understand? Or are they being purposefully ill-informed in your view?

CS: You know what I think it is? It's kind of an echo of Watergate. So when the word wiretapping comes out, a lot of people get really nervous and think this is a rerun of Watergate. I also think there are two different ideas going on here. One is skepticism on the part of many members of the media about judgments by President Bush that threaten, in their view, civil liberties. So it's like they see President Bush and civil liberties, and they get a little more reflexively skeptical than maybe the individual issue warrants. So there's that. Plus, there's, I think, a kind of bipartisan...in the American culture, including the media, streak that is very nervous about intruding on telephone calls and e-mails. And that, in many ways, is healthy. But it can create a misunderstanding of a particular situation.
Well, it certainly has been difficult for us lay people to disaggregate the hysteria, the partisan jabs, and the general poor information that the media has put out there to try to assess the legality of this program. Hewitt has more on how poorly the media has covered this. I really appreciate the opportunity to read what legal scholars have to say on this issue and I just wish that those who depend on the media for their major source of news and don't get to read blogs would get the same opportunity.
Mark Coffey has been reading this article in the Washington Monthly about Daily Kos founder, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. Coffey does a nic job of fisking the article as well as highlighting this egregious comment by Zuniga regarding his macabre reaction over the death of American contractors and the sight of their bodies being dragged through the streets of Fallujah. Apparently, Zuniga doesn't regret being caught exposing the length to which his hatred of the war in Iraq has taken him.
In June 2003, after television cameras caught a cheering, thousand-strong mob in Fallujah dragging the charred, dismembered bodies of American contractors through the streets, Moulitsas linked to the reports and said of the contractors: “I feel nothing… Screw them.” The declaration, gleefully seized on by right-wing bloggers, provoked weeks of controversy. Democratic candidates came under pressure to pull their advertisements from the site, and even Moulitsas's traditional allies in the liberal blogosphere—including The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum—criticized him. (When I asked Moulitsas recently how he felt about the episode, his mouth stretched into a smile: “Vindicated,” he said. The media has recently begun to question the role of American contractors in Iraq, he pointed out, which was the point all along. This is how a liberal noise machine, freed from the don't-shatter-the-porcelain decorum, might work.) If the episode hurt him, it wasn't evident from his readership numbers, which continued to sky-rocket. (“It was a blip!” he crowed to The New York Times).
That's taking the us-vs-them mentality too far. The fact that he's proud of his reaction really says it all, doesn't it.
Claudia Rosett dissects Kofi Annan's breakdown at his last press conference. Apparently, the world's supposed top diplomat can't stand it if he gets a tough question and he had himself a little public hissy fit.
The occasion was Annan’s year-end press conference, at which Annan had just described his own job, and by extension himself, as “perhaps chief diplomat of the world.” It is a role, he said, that requires “a thick skin” and “a sense of humor.” But Annan displayed neither when James Bone of the London Times began asking questions referring to two of the scandals that continue to bedevil the secretary-general: the saga of Oil-for-Food, and the cameo of a Mercedes-Benz allegedly bought and shipped under false use of Kofi Annan’s name and U.N. status by his son, Kojo Annan.

Instead of answering Bone, Annan cut him off, first calling him “cheeky,” and then interrupting him again to say: “Hold on. Listen, James Bone. You have been behaving like an overgrown schoolboy in this room for many, many months and years. You are an embarrassment to your colleagues and to your profession. Please stop misbehaving, and please let’s move on to a more serious subject.”

Hold on, indeed. In the interest of serious subjects — U.N. integrity, for example — let’s pause the tape right there. It is no small matter when the secretary-general of the U.N. slings personal insults in a public forum. Bone is a skilled and serious reporter, regarded not least by some of the chronically imperiled whistle-blowers in the U.N.’s own ranks as a credit to his trade. At the press conference his colleagues rallied to his defense, with a spokesman for the U.N. Correspondents Association telling Annan that “James Bone is not an embarrassment,” and “He had every right to ask the question.”
Who knew that there was a U.N Correspondents Association? Boy, that must be a posh job for some of these journalists. Anyway, having to remind the world's chief diplomat the role of correspondents does not speak well of Kofi Annan's thick skin. Rosett then goes on to elucidate what was behind James Bone's questions and how the U.N. and Annan have been stonewalling giving answers to some pretty straightforward questions.

Of course the only effect of such a belligerent and childish answer by Kofi Annan was to give more publicity to the questions that he didn't want to answer. No one might have cared if he'd just given one of the standard non-answers that politicians are so good at. James Bone himself writes today in the London Times about how the U.N. usually dealt with non answering questions.
For months journalists were told that the UN could not answer any questions because the scandal was under investigation by the Volcker inquiry. Since the Volcker panel issued its last report in October, the UN has refused to answer any questions because it says the matter has already been investigated. Yet the inquiry raised more questions than it answered, the most important being: what did Kofi Annan know and when did he know it?
The other effect of Annan's little temper tantrum is that he made James Bone very well known. All of us who had never heard of him are now curious to see what this "overgrown schoolboy" will write and what he's been finding out about the U.N. and Annan's son's dealings. It rather reminds me of the 1993 press conference when Bill Clinton announced that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a nominee for the Supreme Court. She gave an eloquent statement about her battles to be taken seriously as a female attorney and then Brit Hume, then at ABC News, asked a question about Clinton's rather "zig-zag" approach to choosing Ginsburg since it had taken him a long time to pick her and he'd publicly let it be known the other people he was considering. Clinton got all on his high horse and stormed out of the press conference. Hume later said that he was grateful to Clinton for giving him that 15 minutes of fame. I know that that was the first time that I noticed Hume and I've been a fan ever since. So, I appreciate Annan bringing James Bone to my attention and I'll be looking forward to reading more of his reporting on the U.N.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Here is more evidence that the next census will not be good news, on the average, for blue states.
Southern and Western states are growing so much faster than the rest of the country that several are expected to grab House seats from the Northeast and Midwest when Congress is reapportioned in 2010.

Demographers and political analysts project that Texas and Florida could each gain as many as three House seats. Ohio and New York could lose as many as two seats apiece.
Even if the Supreme Court was to throw out the recent Texas redistricting in time for the 2006 midterm elections, chances are that there will simply be another redistricting done in 2011 that will be just as favorable to the GOP.

The one thing that Democrats have to hope is that the people moving from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and the West are Democratic voters.
Stephen Spruiell recalls the year in media-manufactured controversies. And this is one year of this stuff.
You can go vote here for your favorite Conservative Blogress Diva. I'm honored to be listed in this distinguished company. Though my daughter wonders if it means something that the word "blogress" is just two letters away from the word "ogress." Perhaps, she just knows her mother too well....
Kurt Andersen, no conservative, writing in New York Magazine discusses how Hillary Clinton becomes even less likable the more visible she becomes. She's just too obviously calculating and her political maneuvers are so obvious that anything she does seems like a political move rather than motivated by any real beliefs. She's nothing but the sum of her ambitions.
Each time John McCain stoops to commit some purely, nakedly political act, like campaigning for George W. Bush’s reelection or giving his okay to the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools, I cringe. There are so few national politicians wired to speak candidly, from the heart and the hip, that I have a soft spot for almost all of them—Bob Kerrey, sure, but also Bob Dole and Bill Weld, even nuts like Jesse Ventura. So when McCain behaves like a normal politician, it’s a disturbing departure from my Frank Capra script for him.

The same kind of gesture from Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, simply confirms what one thinks already, since the script for her (more Cukor, less Capra) is all about cool calculation and calibration in service to the main chance. She is, after all, the feminist who at age 35, seven years married, started calling herself Hillary Rodham Clinton in order to give her husband a better chance at winning back the governorship in old-fashioned Arkansas. So when she announced the other day that she was signing on as a co-sponsor of a new anti-flag-desecration bill—Look at me! I’m jerking right!—it seemed in character. It was one more fragment of evidence, unattractive but inevitable, that she is not really running for reelection to the Senate from New York.

Duh. But I still found it disheartening. Not because I imagine the Flag Protection Act poses any serious jeopardy to free speech. Rather, as an exemplary gesture by the presumptive 2008 nominee, it was a vivid small example of the routine, ritual dishonesty that infuses our political discourse so thoroughly.

All bills about this faux issue are, of course, a waste of time, the statutory expressions of an apoplectic comic-book politics that fantasizes America-haters fighting patriots in the public square, with Old Glory aflame. Hillary’s law is especially pathetic, like one of those “funny” nineteenth-century statutes, but updated with weenie-ish 21st-century hate-speech pieties. Desecrating a flag, the bill declares, “causes more than pain and distress to the overwhelming majority of the American people and may amount to . . . a direct threat to the . . . emotional well-being of individuals at whom the threat is targeted.” And the statute has been crafted so narrowly, in an attempt to meet constitutional muster, that it will criminalize only the destruction of government-owned flags, or of flags on federal property—so you’ll still be free to desecrate your own flag unless your “primary purpose and intent [is] to incite . . . violence.” In other words, the Flag Protection Act of 2005 will make destroying government property and inciting riots, well, you know, even more illegal than they already are.

But Hillary, being a Clinton, has a too-clever-by-half escape hatch ready when the civil libertarians object: She can say she’s still against amending the Constitution to outlaw flag-burning. Someone should ask her exactly how those positions jibe. Hers is a distinction without a difference.
Andersen's point is that she can't dispel people's cynicism about her motives the way her husband supposedly could. As one of the apparently few people who never saw Bill Clinton's charm and thought everything he did was just as calculating as anything that Hillary does, I dispute his hypothesis. But, if Hillary runs against John McCain, much as most conservatives disagree with so many of McCain's political positions, there is no way that she'll even be in the race when it comes to authenticity. However much conservatives may disagree with McCain, few would doubt that most of his positions stem from his own beliefs and not chosen for political maneuvering. Of course, liberals disdain his support for Bush in the past election, but given McCain's position on Iraq and security, was that really so unexpected?

I also am skeptical that all these liberals who disdain Hillary now for her position on Iraq or for her political calculating won't line up behind her once she got the nomination. They'll hold their noses and support her full-throatedly. And, conversely, if John McCain were to oppose Hillary Clinton in the general election, most conservatives will stick the clothespin on their noses and vote for McCain. In fact, she's the one Democratic candidate who will unite conservatives behind McCain. The more likely it looks like she's going to be the nominee, the better it will be for McCain. That is perhaps why we could see conservatives line up behind Rudy Giuliani in a stop-McCain effort. Ain't politics fun?
Stanley Crouch wonders what I'm sure a lot of New Yorkers must be wondering. Why should transit workers have a much sweeter deal than New York policemen? It can't be great news for the union's PR for the details of their employment package to become public. No one is going to be sympathetic for bus drivers and subway workers who get this sort of compensation.
The striking members of the TWU are not being overworked, and when it comes to money, they have one of the sweetest deals in the entire United States. They pay only 2% of their salaries toward their pensions and cry as though they are having skin peeled from their backs because the MTA wants future workers to pay 6% - still better than the deal given to 95% of the workers in this nation.

As for pay, some transit workers, such as bus maintenance workers and train operators, make more money than many cops and teachers. If one has graduated from high school and can read, there are no barriers to competing for a transit job, whereas cops need a minimum of two years of college and teachers a full degree.
I bet a lot of New Yorkers are secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, hoping that the judge in charge of this case sends the union officials to jail and that the city start firing workers.
Noel Sheppard at American Thinker asks a pertinent question. First he reviews all the evidence that has come out in the past few days to justify Bush's order on NSA surveillance of people in the U.S. communicating with Al Qaeda operatives outside the country. He points to this column in the Chicago Tribune by John Schmidt who served in Clinton's Justice Department. Schmidt listed a lot of judicial support for such actions.
President Bush's post- Sept. 11, 2001, authorization to the National Security Agency to carry out electronic surveillance into private phone calls and e-mails is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents.
Read the rest.

Then there is all the evidence that presidents from Carter to the present have ordered such surveillance. So, Sheppard wonders why the New York Times, which sat on this story for a year, somehow neglected to do any of this additional research to put their story in its legal and historical context. Could it just be shoddy reporting or something more egregious? The New York Times is so proud of its courage in defying a presidential request to not report this story; why didn't they do a bit more reporting before they decided it was absolutely necessary to report this story?
Senator Pat Roberts and Representative Peter Hoekstra, who were both in the briefings on the NSA surveillance program, are quite skeptical about Senator Rockefeller's complaints that he was powerless to do anything about the program although he had doubts. Roberts says that Rockefeller never voiced a complaint and Hoekstra has some suggestions of what a senator in that situation could have done if he was truly concerned about the program.
Scrappleface has the right take on Time's lame choice of Persons of the Year.
Bono Gets Time to Forgive Subscriber Debt
by Scott Ott

(2005-12-19) — Bono, the rock singer named as one of Time magazine’s Persons of the Year for his success at getting the developed world to give up on collecting billions in third-world debt, today said he had pressured Time’s parent company into forgiving the debts of its magazine and cable subscribers, as well as those who have purchased anything with “just three easy payments.”

“Many American families are trapped in a hopeless cycle of poverty as they dish out more than $100 per month to various Time Warner divisions for essential entertainment services,” said Bono, who requested last-name anonymity. “This is another triumph in my global campaign to do good by being famous.”

Bono said he’s still negotiating with Time Warner’s major shareholders in an effort to get them to forgive company executives for the disastrous merger with AOL.
It turns out that administrations going back to Carter have authorized warrantless searches in cases that range from infestigating Aldrich Ames to investigating violence in public housing projects. Public housing projects? Wow. Those are completely domestic issues with no national security basis whatsoever. I wonder how many Democrats, who controlled Congress when Clinton announced that policy in 1994, complained about the violation of civil liberties back then. I think we all know the answer.

Is it only potential terrorists communicating with known Al Qaeda figures while a Republican is president whose civil liberties need to be protected?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Quick, what do you think would be a good slogan for New Jersey? I'm sure all my readers can think of some good ones. Please post your suggestions.

These are the final suggestions up for a vote to pick the new slogan.
"New Jersey: Expect the Unexpected."

"New Jersey: Love at First Sight."

"New Jersey: Come See for Yourself."

"New Jersey: The Real Deal." And,

"New Jersey: The Best Kept Secret."
Though I have good friends from New Jersey, the thought of a New Jersey slogan contest does make me smile. I was thinking something along the lines of "New Jersey: At Least We Have Entertaining Scandals." or "New Jersey: Enjoy the Corruption."

More suggestions welcome.
Blogger Spook 86 has some nominations for "People Who Mattered" in 2005 other than those that Time Magazine chose. Check out his suggestion and make some of your own.
W. Thomas Smith has a good article explaining why it is taking so long to produce an armored vehicle for troop transport that could withstand attacks from IED's.
Wow, I had no idea of all the times that the government could conduct a warrantless search. Andrew McCarthy has a list. (link via Hugh Hewitt, who has been blogging up a storm in defense of presidential powers permitting this surveillance program.)
Is John McCain the "Fonzie of politics" or has he just jumped the shark?
The New York Sun had a good article yesterday on the New York transit strike. The union is blatantly disobeying the law in striking and not winning any fans as people have to trek miles in very cold weather to get to work. But the MTA isn't made up of angels and seems to be a great sources of mismanagement, patronage, and corruption. I still think that they have to start firing striking workers. As the Sun says,
If the MTA moves even a scintilla toward the union's negotiating position as the result of this strike, it would reward the union's illegal behavior and send to the dozens of other unions who do business with the state, the city, and the public authorities a message of appeasement — that if you want a better contract, go on strike, even if it is against the law. That may be how things work in Latin America or Paris, or how they used to work in the New York of the 1960s and 1970s, but it is not a way to run a successful city in the competitive global economy. It's a recipe for making New York's state and local tax burden, already among the nation's heaviest, even worse. The right move for the MTA now — the only move, if it is going to avoid a strike every time a contract is up for renegotiation — is to take an extremely hard line with the Transport Workers Union Local 100. As a first step, the MTA could refuse to negotiate with this union until the workers are back on the job. If that fails, the authority can begin hiring and training permanent replacement workers. The strikers mustn't be permitted to escape the full penalties of the Taylor Law, which include docking workers' pay and jailing the union leaders.
Can you imagine what all the other unions that do business with the city government will want if the transport workers union gets away with this. But, the Sun also has some recommendations on how to clean up the MTA.

There are already some stories about workers crossing the picket line. I wonder how many would be willing to be fired if they don't get their demands to be able to retire at age 55 with a full pension. I wonder if the people trudging to work in the cold or the small business owners losing business the week before Christmas have much sympathy for these workers' demands when they get a look at what the workers are already getting.
The MTA offered the union a three-year contract with raises of 3 percent, 4 percent and 3.5 percent through 2008, Kelly said. The transit agency also agreed to retain the union's full pension eligibility age at 55, on condition new hires contribute 6 percent of their annual earnings for 10 years to help finance future pensions, he said.

The state agency also gave workers Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday.

Subway operators earned an average of $62,438 a year, including overtime, under the previous three-year contract, the MTA said. Train conductors averaged $53,000, subway booth clerks $50,720, and bus drivers $62,551, the state agency said. The MTA wasn't able to provide the average amount of overtime.
Sure, it's expensive to live in NYC, but in which jobs do workers not contribute to their own pension funds? The real question should be why such contracts were ever negotiated.

I say, fire those workers, who aren't even supported by their national union, and hire people who are still out of work from Katrina. I'm sure a lot of those people would be happy to get such a job for driving a bus all day. Or, just allow, as the WSJ editors argue today, some competition from private people who want to drive their own form of transportation. Allow the jitney drivers, who have been banned because of pressure from the unions, to make a living driving people where they want to go for a cheaper price than the cabbies charge.
Jay Rockefeller has publicized a letter that he wrote to Vice President Cheney voicing his concerns about the NSA surveillance program. Rockefeller said that he didn't feel that he had the expertise to evaluate it, not being a lawyer. Well, his colleague on the Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican, challenges Rockefeller's version of events.
"In his letter ... Senator Rockefeller asserts that he had lingering concerns about the program designed to protect the American people from another attack, but was prohibited from doing anything about it," Mr. Roberts said in a statement yesterday. "A United States Senator has significant tools with which to wield power and influence over the executive branch. Feigning helplessness is not one of those tools."
In his 2003 letter to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rockefeller said the program raised "profound oversight issues" and he regretted that high security of the program prevented him from seeking advice on the matter. Mr. Rockefeller also told Mr. Cheney that he had made a handwritten copy of the letter, which he distributed to the press Monday.
If Mr. Rockefeller had these concerns, Mr. Roberts said, he could have raised them with him or other members of Congress who had been briefed on the program.
"I have no recollection of Senator Rockefeller objecting to the program at the many briefings he and I attended together," Mr. Roberts said. "In fact, it is my recollection that on many occasions Senator Rockefeller expressed to the vice president his vocal support for the program," most recently, "two weeks ago."
Hmmm. Let some reporter ask Rockefeller if he did express support for the program "two weeks ago."
Judge Richard Posner argues that our laws about how to protect our security through gathering intelligence still have gaps in them and that we should address those weaknesses in our system. There is an interesting debate to be had here.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act makes it difficult to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents unless they are suspected of being involved in terrorist or other hostile activities. That is too restrictive. Innocent people, such as unwitting neighbors of terrorists, may, without knowing it, have valuable counterterrorist information. Collecting such information is of a piece with data-mining projects such as Able Danger.

The goal of national security intelligence is to prevent a terrorist attack, not just punish the attacker after it occurs, and the information that enables the detection of an impending attack may be scattered around the world in tiny bits. A much wider, finer-meshed net must be cast than when investigating a specific crime. Many of the relevant bits may be in the e-mails, phone conversations or banking records of U.S. citizens, some innocent, some not so innocent. The government is entitled to those data, but just for the limited purpose of protecting national security.

The Pentagon's rush to fill gaps in domestic intelligence reflects the disarray in this vital yet neglected area of national security. The principal domestic intelligence agency is the FBI, but it is primarily a criminal investigation agency that has been struggling, so far with limited success, to transform itself. It is having trouble keeping its eye on the ball; an FBI official is quoted as having told the Senate that environmental and animal rights militants pose the biggest terrorist threats in the United States. If only that were so.
The debate we've been having about the Patriot Act doesn't seem to be that debate.

If legislators are so upset about the warrantless eavesdropping by the NSA on people in the US communicating with Al Qaeda overseas, they can pass a law clarifying the matter. If the President thinks that he has the power in the Constitution, he can veto it. Let the debate begin.
Apparently, the open editing rules at Wikipedia have allowed the founder, Jimmy Wales, to edit his own entry on the site. Though he acknowledges that perhaps he shouldn't have done so, all the 18 times that he did so. It raises an interesting question, should subjects of an article be allowed to edit the article on themselves. Well, who is more likely to recognize errors? However, who is more likely to edit out anything negative? With the anonymity that Wikipedia allows, such abuses are going to occur over and over, from Jimmy Wales on down. (link via Instapundit)
Suzanne Gershowitz, a Harvard grad, has some cogent thoughts about the Saudi prince's donation to her alma mater.
Recently, Harvard's Middle East faculty registered a deafening silence when Saudi Arabia shunned the "West" by boycotting participation in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative. The professors continue to say nothing in the face of Riyadh's production of textbooks that inculcate young children to wage "jihad for the sake of Allah." And Harvard students are just as placid. During my time at Harvard, my peers seldom avoided an opportunity to downplay the intolerant radicalism that has permeated Muslim societies. This resulted in a delicious irony, with many Harvard students describing themselves as progressive while denouncing White House prioritization of democratization abroad, ignoring imprisoned dissidents, urging divestment from democracies, and falling over themselves in a rush to excuse autocratic regimes. Nowhere is this irony more clear than when it comes to dealing with al-Waleed's home country, Saudi Arabia, as Harvard feminists attack President Bush for his domestic sexist slights, real and imagined, but remain silent when Saudi courts condemn women to death for the crime of having been raped.

Perhaps Harvard students learn their hypocrisy from their teachers, who once censured Harvard President Larry Summers for suggesting that researchers might consider a genetic basis for men's traditional dominance of math and science. These same faculty now remain silent on the fact that few Saudi girls even get a chance to study the subjects, or pursue higher education at all, unless they have their father's or brothers' permission.
Somehow, I doubt that these are issues that will be raised with the money donated to promote East-West understanding, i.e. to get more western kids to swallow the Saudi line and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Apparently, the New York Times was originally going to run their NSA story before the 2004 election. I guess we should be glad for that favor. They say they waited due to security concerns, but that now they're satisfied that these concerns are no longer valid.
The newspaper had reported Friday that it held publication of the story for "a year" because the White House had argued that it "could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny."

In a statement over the weekend, Keller said the paper printed the story after more reporting, which uncovered additional "concerns and misgivings" about the surveillance and also persuaded Times editors that they could proceed and "not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record."
Well, if it was all on public record, what was new about their story? Why is everyone all upset? Where was that record and why didn't they refer to it in their original story.

I like how they deny that they just happened to pick last Friday and that date had nothing to do with Friday's vote on the Patriot Act or the upcoming publication of the reporter's book on the subject. They just found that the time was ready. Yeah, sure.
Jonathan Alter has an incredibly snarky column in Newsweek where he demonstrates that not only does he know better than Bush how to fight the war on terrorism, but he also can read the President's mind. First, he reveals that Bush made a strong personal appeal to the editor and publisher of the New York Times to try to get them to not publish their NSA story. But they were unconvinced and decided that the day after the vote in Iraq and the vote on the Patriot Act was the perfect day to drop their bombshell of a story. Then Alter presumes, without any evidence, to say that the reason Bush didn't want the story published had little to do with national security but just with saving his own reputation. How does he know this? Well, he writes for Newsweek. Apparently, that is the only qualification Alter needs.
The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations. Bush claimed that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker.
Gee, I've been following the debate online and I see law professors and experts on national security law disagreeing. (Check out Q and O's post for some more discussion on the possible legality of the program. PJ Media has more blogger links on both sides.) Is Alter a lawyer specializing in Constitutional law? I think that the only thing is clear is that the law is murky on this subject and that we probably won't know if this was Constitutional until the Supreme Court rules on it. People and lawyers are disagreeing just as they tend to disagree on most important Supreme Court cases.

But let's follow Alter's logic. According to him, this is a clearly illegal action by the President. And, on top of that, it's completely useless because all potential terrorists know already that their calls are being listened to. So, if the administration claims that they found terrorists through this program, they are just lying. Without any background in tracking terrorists, Alter knows that this program is unnecessary. I guess his clear opinion is that Bush is just an evil power-grabber who is grabbing power to listen in on conversations that he doesn't need to listen to simply for the pure jollies of getting that power. I know that a lot of the Moveon.org crowd believe that about Bush, and I guess it goes with their view that the administration is full of dummies who would go out of their way to break the law, inform Congress of it, all for a useless power that is gaining them nothing.

Rick Moran has some further thoughts on which literary character Jonathan Alter reminds him of.

And John McIntyre thinks that Alter has demonstrated that he is the one who is truly in the bubble.

By the way, if you've ever read Newsweek and been infuriated by the CW column in their Periscope section, it might clarify matters for you to know that Jonathan Alter is one of the progenitors and authors of that section. All is clear when you know that.
Mark Steyn has some thoughts on the riots in Australia and the way that they're being covered.
What's the deal with these riots in Sydney? You switch on the television and there's scenes of urban conflagration and you think, "Hang on, I saw this story last month." But no. They were French riots. These are Australian riots. Entirely different. The French riots were perpetrated by - what's the word? - "youths". The Australian riots were perpetrated by "white youths". Same age cohort, but adjectivally enhanced.

And, being "white youths", they thus offered "a chilling glimpse into the darker corners of Australian society", as Nick Squires put it last week, "with thousands of white youths rampaging through a well-known beach suburb, attacking people of Middle Eastern background. They were egged on by white supremacists and neo-Nazis."
Read the rest. We're going to be seeing more of such violence around the globe, I'm afraid, before we see less of it.
When, in my younger days, I used to teach French in Middle School, we'd talk about the French educational system. The French weed students out pretty drastically by channeling the students that seem to be worthy of college into the college prep system while the rest are channeled to a vocational track. I used to ask my kids if they would work a lot harder in middle school if they thought their performance there would determine the track that they'd be on for the rest of their lives. They all would shake their heads with alacrity. Even the slackers acknowledged that such pressure might serve to wake them up. But they were all glad that we didn't have such a situation here. And I have always been glad that we don't have such a tracking system that closes off the hope of a college education based on how kids perform when they're 12 or 13. How many of us showed the capability for performing on a collegiate level when we were pre-teens. But, as a teacher, there were a few moment when I certainly liked the idea of having that club to hold over kids heads. Then, my better angel would take over.

My memories of those discussion are prompted by this story on how few French students qualify for the French "grandes écoles" from which the leaders of the country are drawn. Only about 1000 French students qualify for these schools. And you can imagine how many of those kids come from poor or minority backgrounds.
But the top half-dozen grandes écoles, those that provide the country's leaders in politics and business, remain more or less closed.

The barriers for second-generation immigrants are enormous. Schools in poor, often immigrant neighborhoods get the most inexperienced teachers, who usually move on as soon as they have gained enough tenure for a job in a better area.

The initial fork in the lives of many young people comes when they are about 13 and have to choose between a general course of study or vocational training. Many young second-generation immigrants are guided into technical classes or, at best, post-high-school associate degree programs in marketing or business that are of little help in finding a job.

Second-generation immigrants also often "live in an environment that is outside of French culture," said Mr. Descoings of Sciences Po. "They are not in the proper social network. There isn't the socialization that exists in a wealthy family in an exclusive neighborhood of Paris."

Sitting outside Paul Éluard High School in Saint-Denis, one of the poorest suburbs north of Paris, Bélinda Caci, 16, calls the school guidance counselor "the head of disorientation," saying that the school cares only about making sure that the students graduate, not what happens after that.

"To become part of this crème de la crème, you have to have benefited from a favorable social environment and education," the sociologist, Mr. Dubet, said, calling graduates of the grandes écoles a sort of state nobility. "It's like the Olympics; you have to begin very, very early."
There is plenty wrong with our education system and it certainly has been dumbed down in many places. [But I caution my students studying for their midterms today - my classroom is not one of those places.] However, I prefer our system, warts an all, to the elitist system that prevails in France and many other countries.
Ben Lieberman of the Heritage Foundation punctures a lot of the myths (i.e. lies) about what drilling in ANWR would entail.
Stop by Thank a Soldier and leave a message of support.
Bill Richardson used to be such a star in the Democratic Party, mostly because his mother was Hispanic. He always is on the list for potential vice-presidential nominees. But, he's just become a punchline recently. First there was the story about how he just happened to have thought he had been drafted by a professional baseball team. Granted, he'd never received any real offer and was never contacted by a team. He just assumed that he had been and so put that on his resume.

Okay, what politician doesn't puff himself up a bit? He probably would have gotten a pass for just saying he'd been confused.

But this new story is just dang peculiar.
Gov. Bill Richardson likes to touch people. He hugs, pokes, jabs and tickles. If he sees a man with a bald pate, he rubs it. Looking to start a conversation, he might lean forward and head-butt someone— male or female.
Bored on an airplane flight? He'll lick his finger and smudge an aide's glasses.
Richardson says he's just joking and teasing to ease tension and boredom.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish says she finds the practice irritating. She said she tries to avoid sitting or standing next to the governor at public events.
She said the governor's personality is "one of charisma, joking, joshing," but also used some other words to describe his hands-on approach.
"I think it's irritating and annoying," Denish said in a recent interview.
I'll say. Boy, what grown man behaves this way? And what woman wants to sit next to a man, whom she's not dating or married to, who does this?
"He pokes me," Denish said when she was asked about the incident.
At other times, she said, "He pinches my neck. He touches my hip, my thigh, sort of the side of my leg."
Eeuuw!

Richardson says that he's just a friendly, physical sort of guy. And when he gets bored, he likes to, er, touch people.
Anyone who has spent much time with Richardson has probably witnessed his displays of physicality.
Surprising a group of teenage girls at an event in Albuquerque last year, for example, he pulled the junior-high stunt of buckling their knees from behind.
Approaching a reporter at a bill-signing ceremony, he introduced himself with a head butt.
Appearing at a Santa Fe junior high, Richardson grabbed a boy and held him in a headlock.
Shipley said Richardson's favored technique with him is to lick his finger and smudge his glasses lens with saliva.
Ick!

I taught middle school for 12 years. I rarely saw such behavior, except among the most immature 6th graders.

Can you imagine the type of political ad that could be made of this if any of this behavior is on tape? Jay Leno and Jon Stewart are probably praying right now to find such video.
(Link via Alexander McClure at Polipundit)
John Hawkins has gone trolling through the Democratic Underground and picked out the Top Ten DU Quotes for 2005. Whoosh, you'll need a shower after reading some of these rants.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sanity uses those DU quotes to play ""Name that psychological defense!" Looks like a lot of delusional progression going on there.
Tom Heard has some thoughts about why the administration might be wary about trusting secrets to those on Capitol Hill.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Kokonut Pundits has a fascinating post up about the man who prosecuted Sgt. Hasan Akbar. If Akbar's name doesn't ring a bell, he was the man who rolled a grenade into a tent and killed two officers right before the beginning of the Iraq War. It turns out that one of the men murdered, Major Gregory Stone, was a cousin of Mr. Kokonut.
I haven't blogged about the whole NSA surveillance story, because, frankly, the combination of not knowing exactly how this procedure worked along with not having the legal background to understand all the laws and precedents seems to dictate that I shouldn't be pronouncing on this. In fact, I wish that most non-lawyers would just calm down before they start pronouncing this some terrible expansion of presidential power. And given, that we don't know much about whom was eavesdropped on and for how long and if a warrant was sought at some point after the fact, it seems that we have ignorance compounded in some of the discussion on TV and on blogs.

But it has been fascinating to read some of the reaction in the blogosphere. For me, the most helpful thing has been reading Orin Kerr's post at the Volokh Conspiracy. Here is his conclusion,
My answer is pretty tentative, but here it goes: Although it hinges somewhat on technical details we don't know, it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. My answer is extra-cautious for two reasons. First, there is some wiggle room in FISA, depending on technical details we don't know of how the surveillance was done. Second, there is at least a colorable argument — if, I think in the end, an unpersuasive one — that the surveillance was authorized by the Authorization to Use Miltary Force as construed in the Hamdi opinion.
Read the rest. It is definitely not a clear cut call for either side. Hugh Hewitt has been posting up a storm arguing that a president does have such powers. I have no idea what the ultimate reading of the law and Constitution would tell us.

One question that a lot of people have raised is why would the Bush administration do this warrantless surveillance if they could just go to the FISA court and get a warrant since the FISA court seems to be very accomodating when the Executive branch asks for such warrants. Byron York explains why the administration didn't want to go through the FISA courts to get these warrants. Apparently, it is not the FISA courts themselves which are the hold up, but the delay comes in compiling all the paperwork in order to get that warrant.
People familiar with the process say the problem is not so much with the court itself as with the process required to bring a case before the court. "It takes days, sometimes weeks, to get the application for FISA together," says one source. "It's not so much that the court doesn't grant them quickly, it's that it takes a long time to get to the court. Even after the Patriot Act, it's still a very cumbersome process. It is not built for speed, it is not built to be efficient. It is built with an eye to keeping [investigators] in check." And even though the attorney general has the authority in some cases to undertake surveillance immediately, and then seek an emergency warrant, that process is just as cumbersome as the normal way of doing things.
Such delays continue to this day, despite the Patriot Act. Even the sainted 9/11 Commission was worried about such delays.
The Patriot Act included some provisions, supported by lawmakers of both parties, to make securing such warrants easier. But it did not fix the problem. In April 2004, when members of the September 11 Commission briefed the press on some of their preliminary findings, they reported that significant problems remained.

"Many agents in the field told us that although there is now less hesitancy in seeking approval for electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, the application process nonetheless continues to be long and slow," the commission said. "Requests for such approvals are overwhelming the ability of the system to process them and to conduct the surveillance. The Department of Justice and FBI are attempting to address bottlenecks in the process."

It was in the context of such bureaucratic bottlenecks that the president first authorized, and then renewed, the program to bypass the FISA court in cases of international communications of people with known al Qaeda links.
It seems that if Congress is so worried about their powers being infringed upon by the administration conducting such surveillance without warrants, that the answer is to pass a new law expessly forbidding it. So many of them seem on their high horse complaining about the President signing such orders. Apparently, Tom Daschle is now saying that he was briefed on this and that he raised objections. If he thought it was such an abrogation of power, why didn't he introduce a law to take that power away from Bush? In 2002, when it seems Bush first signed off on this, Daschle was still the Majority Leader in the Senate. Why didn't he protect all those people whose rights everyone is worried about?

I have no idea if what Bush did was Constitutional or not. It seems that well educated law professors can have differing opinions. And, probably, if the question were to come before the Supreme Court, the justices would disagree; it might be another 5:4 issue.

What does seem clear is that this is not going to be an issue that plays to the Democrats' strengths. John McIntyre has a political analysis of this and he points out that the Democrats lose when they get the whole focus on security and terrorism.
Not recognizing the political ground had shifted beneath their feet, Democrats continued to press forward with their offensive against the President. They’ve now foolishly climbed out on a limb that Rove and Bush have the real potential to chop off. One would think that after the political miscalculations the Democrats made during the 2002 and 2004 campaigns they would not make the same mistake a third time, but it is beginning to look a lot like Charlie Brown and the football again.

First, the Democrats still do not grasp that foreign affairs and national security issues are their vulnerabilities, not their strengths. All of the drumbeat about Iraq, spying, and torture that the left thinks is so damaging to the White House are actually positives for the President and Republicans. Apparently, Democrats still have not fully grasped that the public has profound and long-standing concerns about their ability to defend the nation. As long as national security related issues are front page news, the Democrats are operating at a structural political disadvantage. Perhaps the intensity of their left wing base and the overwhelmingly liberal press corps produces a disorientation among Democratic politicians and prevents a more realistic analysis of where the country’s true pulse lies on these issues.
I just don't think that going to the people and saying that they don't want NSA listening to people who are talking to Al Qaeda operatives overseas is going to be a big political plus. Sure, they'll dress it up as protecting people's rights and try to sell people that Bush's administration has gone from wanting to find out what books they're checking out to listening in on their phone calls. I just don't think that that is a political winner of a campaign platform. Sure, people get upset when politicians keep telling them that our rights have been abridged. However, most of the people who fear the Bush administration overreaching in the war on terror already don't like Bush. I just bet that the great numbers of people in the middle are more afraid of Al Qaeda than they are of NSA listening in on their phone calls.
Speaking of sanity, and its lack, you should check out Dr. Sanity's Carnival of the Insanities. Lots of good stuff, ridiculous, irritating, and bizarre, there.
If you were thinking of seeing Spielberg's new movie, Munich, read James Bowman analysis of Spielberg's moral equivalence between the Palestinians and Israelis.
David Kaspar fisks an anti-Bush article in Stern, a German magazine.
Tom Shales gives his typical anti-Bush reaction to one of Bush's speeches. Notice this snarky note that he sneaks in. Of course he's stating his own opinion under the guise of what "skeptics" might say - not that he's quoting any specific skeptics, just putting his own opinions into a more passive construction.
Bush's critics will find plenty to pick on, as when Bush warned of the consequences should terrorists gain control of the Iraqi government. In such cases, he warned, "all dissent is crushed," but skeptics could be expected to predict the same thing could happen in this country if Bush's draconian Patriot Act is extended according to his wishes.
If a reporter, even a TV reporter, can't see the difference between the Patriot Act and how the Ba'athists or Zarqawi supporters would crush dissent, then the guy should take a break from writing while he goes out and finds a clue. I would point out to Mr. Shales that the so-called "draconian" Patriot Act has been in effect for over four years and I haven't noticed that dissent against Bush has been crushed. Could Mr. Shales please point out all those who, opposing Bush and the war in Iraq, have been arrested, thrown in a dungeon, tortured, had their tongues ripped out, their families attacked, and daughters raped?

It might have seemed like a funny throwaway line to Mr. Shales, but he betrays his unhinged and unthinking attitude towards the President.
Michelle Malkin has the lowdown on the "unhinged scumbag of the year," a guy who has been sending hate messages to wounded soldiers recovering in the hospital. The guy is proud of doing so and brags about it on his blog. I just can't imagine such bile filling one that you would send out hatemail to a soldier recovering from wounds. There are some boundaries that sane people do not cross.
Jeff Jacoby reminds us that the virulent anti-Semitism that President Ahmadinejad expressed last week is commonplace in the Middle East. And such hatred of the Jews often accompanies the actual attempt to exterminate Jews.
That coin -- virulent anti-Semitism -- circulates throughout the Muslim Middle East, not just in Iran. Ahmadinejad's ugly outpourings were condemned in the West, but they provoked almost no protest in Arab and Muslim countries, where Jews are routinely portrayed as evil subhumans fit only for extermination. In much of the Islamic world, Jew-hatred saturates the airwaves, spills from the mosques, fills the classrooms, permeates the press. Jews are represented as pigs and monkeys, as liars and connivers, as vile, hook-nosed scum who deliberately infect children with AIDS and poison Palestinian water. In their quest for power and world domination, they are said to be ruthless and devious. They were behind the 9/11 attacks, for example, and tipped off 4,000 Jews to stay home from the World Trade Center. And, of course, they concocted the "hoax" of the Holocaust, as part of an elaborate plot to establish a beachhead in the Middle East and extort money from the world.

Outsiders are rarely aware of how intense the Muslim world's Jew-hatred is. "What has surprised me is the virulence of this new anti-Semitism throughout all the Muslim countries," the distinguished journalist and editor Harold Evans wrote in 2002. "It is frenzied, vociferous, paranoid, vicious, and prolific, and is only incidentally connected to the Palestinian conflict." It is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that accounts for this loathing of Jews. It is the loathing of Jews that accounts for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obsessive anti-Semitism almost always characterizes the most dangerous threats to America and the West. Nazism, Communism, Islamofascism -- one thing they have in common is intense anti-Semitism. Which is why Ahmadinejad's strident rhetoric should be setting off urgent alarms. Dictators who talk about wiping nations from the face of the earth generally mean what they say. We should know by now that it isn't only Jews who are endangered by the mullahs and their threats. All of us are. And time is wasting.
I thought that the President's speech last night was well done. I notice that the focus in TV analysis is on "ooh, he admitted mistakes." Aparently, that is the most important thing to some of these TV pundits. Not what we've accomplished or what the future holds. Nope, that is all unimportant compared to the "error acknowledgement factor."

I also thought that this was the President's best-delivered speech from the Oval Office. He usually sounds pretty wooden when he doesn't have an audience there and he did better coming across a bit more naturally.

I thought he did a good job of addressing his critics and explaining what was at stake if we were to pull out of Iraq prematurely. I'm glad that the White House has decided that it is time to answer back from the constant drumbeat of criticism that has engulfed the war for the past year. I hope they'll continue on the offensive.

For blogger reaction, check out Lorie Byrd, Captain Ed, and Michelle Malkin. They also have links to lots of other reactions.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Michael Barone ponders the lessons of the past quarter-century. We, or rather some of us, have learned a lot.
What are the lessons of the past 25 years?

First, that American military power can advance freedom and democracy to all corners of the world. Under Reagan and his three successors, America has played a lead role in extending freedom and democracy to most of Latin America, to the Philippines and Indonesia and almost all of East Asia, and, most recently, to Afghanistan and Iraq, with reverberations spreading through the Middle East. Area experts said, often plausibly, those countries' cultures were incompatible with democracy. Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and brave men and women in those nations proved them wrong.

Second, that markets work and that lower taxes and less onerous government produce more economic growth than the alternative. About 43 million jobs have been created in the United States since December 1980, while the number in the more statist nations of western Europe is on the order of 4 million. Markets are creating millions of jobs in nominally Communist China and once socialist India.

Third, that politics and effective government can, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, change the culture. The crime-control methods pioneered by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the welfare reforms pioneered by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, imitated around the country and followed up by federal legislation, resulted in huge decreases in crime and welfare dependency.

These lessons have been widely learned and widely applied by George W. Bush and also to a large extent by Bill Clinton. But not, curiously enough, by those who see themselves as the best and the brightest, our university and media elites. They would still like to see America's power reined in, as it was in the 1970s. They are insouciant about the costs that larger and more intrusive government and higher taxes impose on the economy. They think that leniency and subsidy are the appropriate responses to deviant and self-destructive behavior. They think our most important right is a right to kill our unborn children. You have to be awfully smart, someone once said, to believe something so stupid. And to be so blind to the clear lessons of the past quarter century of history.
A UCLA political science professor has done a study of the media and found, surprise of surprises, that it tilts to the left.
Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS' "Evening News," The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

The most centrist outlet proved to be the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" and ABC's "Good Morning America" were a close second and third.

"Our estimates for these outlets, we feel, give particular credibility to our efforts, as three of the four moderators for the 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debates came from these three news outlets — Jim Lehrer, Charlie Gibson and Gwen Ifill," Groseclose said. "If these newscasters weren't centrist, staffers for one of the campaign teams would have objected and insisted on other moderators."

The fourth most centrist outlet was "Special Report With Brit Hume" on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. While this news program proved to be right of center, the study found ABC's "World News Tonight" and NBC's "Nightly News" to be left of center. All three outlets were approximately equidistant from the center, the report found.
Here's another good sign of progress in Iraq.
Key Sunni Muslim leaders in Iraq's violent Anbar province have concluded that their interests lie in cooperating with the United States, and they are seeking to extend a temporary truce honored by most insurgent groups for last week's elections.
Of course, they want something for their cooperation, but if they start turning over terrorists or blocking terrorist attacks, the deal will be worth it.
Mark Steyn looks at the Democrats and Iraq and wonders what has happened to liberal foreign policy.
George Clooney, the matinee idol, made an interesting point the other day. He said that "liberal" had become a dirty word and he'd like to change that. Fair enough. So I hope he won't mind if I make a suggestion. The best way to reclaim "liberal" for the angels is to get on the right side of history -- the side the Iraqi people are on. The word "liberal" has no meaning if those who wear the label refuse to celebrate the birth of a new democracy after 40 years of tyranny. Yet, if you wandered the Internet on Thursday, you came across far too many "liberals" who watched the election, shrugged and went straight back to Valerie Plame, WMD, Bush lied.
Now that Time Magazine has chosen Bill and Melinda Gates plus Bono as their People of the Year in honor of all their philanthropy, perhaps, the Gates and Bono would benefit from reading Paul Theroux's column criticizing all this charity going to African countries. It really offers a different perspective than the congratulatory notes on how wonderful it is to forgive Africa's debts and to dump more money there without any real reform of the political systems that have squandered the billions already donated.
It seems to have been Africa's fate to become a theater of empty talk and public gestures. But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help - not to mention celebrities and charity concerts - is a destructive and misleading conceit. Those of us who committed ourselves to being Peace Corps teachers in rural Malawi more than 40 years ago are dismayed by what we see on our return visits and by all the news that has been reported recently from that unlucky, drought-stricken country. But we are more appalled by most of the proposed solutions.

I am not speaking of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, AIDS education or affordable drugs. Nor am I speaking of small-scale, closely watched efforts like the Malawi Children's Village. I am speaking of the "more money" platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief. We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for - and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points.

If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 60's, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.

In the early and mid-1960's, we believed that Malawi would soon be self-sufficient in schoolteachers. And it would have been, except that rather than sending a limited wave of volunteers to train local instructors, for decades we kept on sending Peace Corps teachers. Malawians, who avoided teaching because the pay and status were low, came to depend on the American volunteers to teach in bush schools, while educated Malawians emigrated. When Malawi's university was established, more foreign teachers were welcomed, few of them replaced by Malawians, for political reasons. Medical educators also arrived from elsewhere. Malawi began graduating nurses, but the nurses were lured away to Britain and Australia and the United States, which meant more foreign nurses were needed in Malawi.

When Malawi's minister of education was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the education budget in 2000, and the Zambian president was charged with stealing from the treasury, and Nigeria squandered its oil wealth, what happened? The simplifiers of Africa's problems kept calling for debt relief and more aid. I got a dusty reception lecturing at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when I pointed out the successes of responsible policies in Botswana, compared with the kleptomania of its neighbors. Donors enable embezzlement by turning a blind eye to bad governance, rigged elections and the deeper reasons these countries are failing.
I would like to see a discussion between Bono and James Shikwati, an Kenyan economist who thinks that foreign aid to Africa does more harm than good because it removes the incentives for building up their own institutions to respond to crises. Unfortunately, such views seem hard-hearted when paired with heart-rending pictures of suffering African children. But, as Thomas Sowell has argued, the history of the enormous aid that foreign nations have given to Africa over the past decades demonstrates that "Promoting dependency and irresponsible borrowing" as happens with the debt forgiveness that Bono pushes for, makes as little sense for African countries as it has for the poor in the United States.