Monday, August 31, 2009

The perfidy of Senator Kennedy

I was waiting to post about this until after Senator Kennedy's funeral, but I see that Peter Robinson got ahead of me.

Whatever you might think of the Senator's personal history, he is being celebrated as a legislator and a liberal icon. But he was more than that. He was such a fervent partisan, liberal Democrat that he would do just about anything to help his side whether it was demagoguing Robert Bork's record to cozying up to the Soviets if he thought it would help the Democrats electorally.

Robinson summarizes
the damning story of the 1983 approach that Senator Kennedy made, through his friend, Senator John Tunney, to Yuri Andropov, the general secretary of the Communist Party. This is an amazing story.
Kennedy's message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. "The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations," the memorandum stated. "These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign."

Kennedy made Andropov a couple of specific offers.

First he offered to visit Moscow. "The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA." Kennedy would help the Soviets deal with Reagan by telling them how to brush up their propaganda.

Then he offered to make it possible for Andropov to sit down for a few interviews on American television. "A direct appeal ... to the American people will, without a doubt, attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country. ... If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interviews. ... The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side."

Kennedy would make certain the networks gave Andropov air time--and that they rigged the arrangement to look like honest journalism.

Kennedy's motives? "Like other rational people," the memorandum explained, "[Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations." But that high-minded concern represented only one of Kennedy's motives.

"Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988," the memorandum continued. "Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president."

Kennedy proved eager to deal with Andropov--the leader of the Soviet Union, a former director of the KGB and a principal mover in both the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring--at least in part to advance his own political prospects.
John O'Sullivan wrote more about this move by Senator Kennedy in O'Sullivan's excellent book, The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister.
According to Chebrikov, Kennedy thought that a meeting with Andropov "would equip him with the Soviet positions on arms control and add conviction to his own appearances on the subject in the U.S."
Try to wrap your mind around this story. A sitting senator approaching the Soviets behind the back of the sitting president to help the Soviets in their negotiations with the United States.

As Robinson points out, this story has never been refuted. O'Sullivan adds that Senator Tunney, when asked about the story dismissed Chebrikov's letter as
"Someone trying to sound bigger than they were. It was in their self-interest to be seen with me and with Kennedy."
O'Sullivan adds,
Former senators are important people, of course, but Tunney's explanation is nonsense on stilts. Chebrikov was the chairman of the KGB and, as such, the second most powerful man in the Soviet Union. He had no reason to inflate his importance in dealing with Andropov, who was one of his closest associates, and every reason to express himself as candidly as Andropov had done in writing to Gromyko and Ustinov....The only mystery is why Andropov turned down Kennedy's offer. The answer seems to be that, when it came to left-wing Western politicians hoping to assist the Kremlin's foreign policy, the Soviets were suffering from an embarrassment of riches.
This wasn't the only time that Kennedy reached out to the Soviet Union to sabotage President Reagan. O'Sullivan quotes from a report by Vadim Zagladin, the deputy head of the International Department, to Gorbachev and the Politburo on his talks with Senator Kennedy about the Geneva Summit, the first meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev.
E. Kennedy emphasized the following ideas. 1. The recent meeting has changed the climate of the world in many respects....The change is for the better, the birth ofhopes for a better future. However, this process also has a negative side. President Reagan actively uses the new climate. And the problem is not only that his popularity is growing after Geneva. In fact Geneva allowed Reagan to slow down the process of movement to any positive results in negotiations with the USSR. He says that the situation has already changed, that he has instituted dialogue with the Russians, while in fact he does nothing or manges things in the old direction, i.e., that of increasing military preparations. From the Democrats' point of view, all of this is very bad. This does not mean they are against Geneva or the spirit of Geneva -- they are for it. But they think it important not to allow Reagan to abuse a good thing for bad purposes... In his [Kennedy's] opinion, it is important to keep increasing pressure on the administration from different sides, both abroad and at home.
Later on Kennedy met with Gorbachev and then again with Zagladin who reported on Kennedy's response.
At the same time, in E. Kennedy's opinion, "my Soviet friends have not yet thoroughly understood the psychology of the Americans and the essence of Reagan's tactics."...The average American sees the situation as follows: "Reagan has managed to establish contacts with the Russians, gaining much from them, but giving nothing. He is a great leader!"...The senator's speculations seemed to suggest that Geneva was a great success for Reagan and a doubtful one for us. SO I aasked him a direct question: "Well, do you think it was a mistake to go to Geneva?" The senator replied without hesitation: "No, it was not, but you should keep pressing, be firmer."
Amazing. Now he's telling the Soviets to be firmer with the United States. And giving them some ideas on how to outmaneuver President Reagan in the future.
We should choose two or three points which could be achieved and constantly put pressure on Reagan in order to restrict his freedom of maneuver. These points might be the following: confirmation of the ABM treaty; restriction of the nuclear test limits and a cut in their number; missiles in Europe" (though Reagan, Kennedy said, will demand the elimination of missiles from Asia.)

Summarizing, Kennedy said, "The present complacency of the Americans, their almost Christmas mood, must be broken. You should put more pressure, and firmer pressure, on Reagan.
Of course, we only have the Soviet summary of these conversations with Senators Kennedy and Tunney. Sadly, the American media ignored these reports of Kennedy's outreach to the Soviets on how to outmaneuver the American president. However, there is no reason for a Soviet official to lie in a classified report back to the Soviet premier about what an American senator is saying.

Beyond the utter perfidy of Senator Kennedy in seeking to undermine the United States in delicate arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, there is also the clear misunderstanding that Kennedy had about the state of the Cold War at this point. He is still seeing the Soviet as having a remarkably strong economy equal to that of the United States. Kennedy was hoping that Gorbachev would stand firm against SDI and force Reagan to drop the initiative. He hopes that that pressure will break the Americans' "almost Christmas mood." Yes. He can't stand the support that Americans were giving Reagan and is seeking any effort to tarnish Reagan's foreign policy plans. And so he turns to the Soviets to do that dirty job for the Democrats.

There is something very low and slimy about these exchanges that Kennedy had with the Soviets.The opening of the Soviet archives has given historians a glimpse into several sacred cows of the American left from the Soviets' ties to Americans such as Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs. And now we can see how one American senator was doing his own bit to undermine the foreign policy of an American president with whom he disagreed. As Peter Robinson writes,
When President Reagan chose to confront the Soviet Union, calling it the evil empire that it was, Sen. Edward Kennedy chose to offer aid and comfort to General Secretary Andropov. On the Cold War, the greatest issue of his lifetime, Kennedy got it wrong.

Why the Democrats won't buck the trial lawyers

Howard Dean left let the cat out the bag at last week's town hall meeting in Virigina when he confessed that the reason that tort reform wasn't in the Democrats' health care plans was because the Democrats writing the bill didn't want to take on the trial lawyers lobby. As the Washington Examiner lays out, the trial lawyers, like the unions have bought the Democratic Party and expect return on that money.
In the ranking by OpenSecrets.org of campaign contributions by the top 100 special interests during the past 20 years, the American Association for Justice — formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America — ranks sixth. The AAJ is trial lawyers’ Washington lobbying group, and 90 percent of its $30.7 million in contributions since 1989 went to Democrats. At the other end of this pay-to-play process in the Capitol, AAJ has spent nearly $14 million lobbying Congress just since Democrats won control of both chambers, including $2.3 million so far this year.

The Democratic focus of the plaintiffs’ bar is even more obvious from campaign contributions of National Journal’s top 15 class-action trial attorney firms.

As the Examiner’s David Freddoso and Kevin Mooney reported last week, those firms have in 2009 contributed more than $636,000, 99 percent of which went to Democrats. And employees of those firms have given more than $236,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces an uphill re-election battle, but the top trial lawyers’ firms are right there for him, with contributions totaling some $54,000 to date.
So tort reform won't be part of any national plan if it's written by the Democrats. Which is a shame because the evidence from states that have adopted such reforms is that tort reform will create great savings in health care costs.
As governors like Texas’ Rick Perry and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour have demonstrated in recent years, capping medical malpractice suits can save billions of dollars by lowering the cost of insurance for providers and increasing access to quality care. Without such caps, trial lawyers stand to continue raking in millions of dollars in fees by bringing suspect suits. And, as the aforementioned data show, it’s easy to see where those dollars end up. With such a lucrative quid pro quo, Democrats in the White House and Congress aren’t likely to do anything to cross this special interest.
Barack Obama likes to spout arguments about unnecessary tests that doctors perform. He alleges that they're doing it out of greed. But how much more likely is it that doctors are ordering unnecessary tests out of fear of malpractice suits? But that is one reform that he won't endorse since the cost to his party would be too great.

The unserious presidency

George Will finds the Obama administration totally unserious in the way that they throw around numbers and goals as if they really meant to reach those numbers.
Another reason that reasonable people are wary of any government plan for a grandiose rearrangement of the health-care sector's 17 percent of the economy is that, regarding grandiosity, the president, after less than eight months in office, is a recidivist. His health-care crusade comes after a $787 billion stimulus (which has effectively made the Energy Department into the nation's largest venture-capital firm, scattering scores of billions of dollars to speculative energy investments) and the semi-nationalization of two car companies. August ended with the unembarrassable administration uttering a $2 trillion "Oops!" by estimating that the 10-year budget-deficit projection is about $9 trillion rather than $7.1 trillion. The supposed means of paying for the president's $1 trillion health-care plan include substantial Medicare cuts that will never happen, and the auction of carbon-emission permits that, instead, would be given away by the Waxman--Markey cap-and-trade legislation the House has sent to the Senate.
Of course, those Waxman-Markey numbers for how much it pretends to cut carbon emissions is totally make-believe.
That legislation is a particularly lurid illustration of why no serious person nowadays takes seriously Washington's increasingly infantile bandying of numbers. The point of cap-and-trade is to impose a ceiling on the nation's greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions—primarily carbon dioxide. The legislation endorses the goal of holding the global carbon--dioxide level to a maximum of 450 parts per million by 2050. That. Will. Not. Happen.

Steven Hayward and Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute do the math. The 450 level is less than the 2030 projected level for all countries other than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's 30 developed nations. Which means the global goal would be unreachable even if in 2030 those 30 disappear—if they have zero emissions. Waxman--Markey endorses the goal of reducing all of this nation's GHG emissions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. In 2005, the United States' carbon-dioxide emissions were 6 billion tons, so an 83 percent -reduction would permit about 1 billion tons—what America's emissions were in 1910, when the population was 92 million and the economy was one twenty-fifth of today's. But by 2050, the population probably will be about 420 million, so per capita carbon-dioxide emissions would have to be 2.4 tons—one quarter of 1910's per capita emissions.

Hayward and Green say that historical data indicate that the last time emissions were that low was 1875. And even before that, before widespread use of fossil fuels, wood burning by Americans may have produced more than 2.4 tons per capita. Today France, which generates approximately 80 percent of its electricity by nuclear power, and Switzerland, which generates most of its electricity by nuclear or hydropower, have per capita emissions of 6.59 and 6.13 tons, respectively.

Obviously Hayward and Green are correct that meeting the 2.4-ton goal "is not going to be seriously attempted." So why do the same politicians who want to radically expand government's control of health care pretend otherwise? Because they are not serious people. Which is why so many Americans are seriously alarmed.
This is what happens when people think that just by passing legislation for their aspirational goals is enough to make it all happen. Unfortunately, reality intrudes.

Political cronyism

If Governor Charlie Crist of Florida is out to demonstrate to Florida Republicans that he has the best interests of the state and the state party in mind, he failed in his appointment of a political crony to fill the Senate seat of Mel Martinez. Since Crist intends to run for the seat himself, he wanted to put in a loyalist to himself who wouldn't turn around and run for the Senate himself. So he chose a loyal Crist aide, George LeMieux. As the WSJ writes, with Martinez's absence leaving the Senate Republicans at 39, it was crucial to get someone in their fast, but Crist could have done better than picking his Chief of Staff.
Mr. Crist is running for Senate in his own right next year, and he faces a primary challenge from former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, who called the choice of Mr. LeMieux "disappointing." Democrats called it "political cronyism" and it's hard to disagree. Florida voters have a right to expect more than a mini-me appointee to serve for 16 months in what could be a momentous Congress. Mr. Crist's Senate choice is another reason to wonder if his principles extend beyond his own political ambitions.
I'd go even further. Why not schedule an election? Pressure Martinez to stay in office until the election could be held. We already have too many appointed senators in office. Off the top of my head I can think of appointees filling the seats from Illinois, New York, Delaware, and Colorado. Do any of these unelected senators seem to be political dynamos? We'll soon be seeing one from Massachusetts. And then there will be one from Texas when Kay Bailey Hutchison retires. Soon over 1/4 the American electorate will be represented by an appointed senator.

Foreign countries can run elections for their entire parliaments in a couple of months. I think individual states can run a senatorial election in that time. States should look into changing their laws to call for special elections in a short period of time instead of leaving it to one person to pick a political crony as a place-holder.

Defining fixed elections down

Vladimir Lukashenko, the dictator who has been running Belarus confesses that he did indeed fix the last election in his country. Yup, he had to change the margin of victory that he accrued by adding more votes to his opponent. Just so it would appear believable.
Minsk - Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko admitted he fixed the results of a March 2006 national vote, saying he fudged the numbers downward, according to a Thursday interview in Russia's Izvestia newspaper.

'At the time 93 per cent of the people voted for me, and so I gave the command for a result of around 80 per cent,' the authoritarian leader told Izvestia.

Lukashenko cited a 90-per-cent 'psychological barrier' in world opinion which, he said, if exceeded would have prevented international acceptance of the election result.

'Such a result (above 90 per cent in favour of Lukashenko) would not have been allowed,' he said.

International observers at the time criticized the official number, 82 per cent support for Lukashenko, as the result of a flawed election with neither free nor fair voting.
As if anything would have happened even if he'd reported a 90% victory. Of course, the election was still fixed, but at least he paid public opinion the respect of cheating with a more reasonable number. That's all democracy is about, right? Perhaps he should give the mullahs in Iran some tips on how to fix an election.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The moral question

In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, he poses the moral question of whether a person could or should kill one person if it would benefit humanity. Would you agree to the death of an unknown person in China if no one would know and the Chinaman's wealth could be used to benefit you and your family. Raskolnikov goes beyond the death of a stranger in China to the murder of a crabby pawnbroker to get the money to help his impoverished mother and sister. The reader, while understanding his motivation, still recoils at his moral choice.

But killing for wealth is something that most of us would reject. However, that is a relatively easy moral question. A much tougher one was the question in front of the Bush administration with the capture of high level Al Qaeda operatives. Would you agree to what some perceive as torture in order to save the lives of innocents around the world? That is a much more difficult one and all of us are reacting with different answers. Some seek to define what was done not as torture, but something just short of torture. Limiting sleep and simulated drowning is markedly different from acts that leave a permanent, physical mark such as the torture that we've read about in other wars. But even if you endorse the broadest definition and classify sleep deprivation and waterboarding as torture, would you be willing to accept this if it saved lives? Throw in that the person undergoing it was one of the most evil in the world, a man responsible for conceiving and planning 9/11. Now would it be worth it?

Others come at it from a different direction and reject the proposition that the information that was given up as worth anything. They want to downplay its value or posit that the detainee would have given up that information if we'd just had world enough and time to wait until he gave it up on his own.

Thus we come to yesterday's story in the Washington Post about what Khalid Sheik Mohammed gave up after undergoing the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
After enduring the CIA's harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency's secret prisons, Khalid Sheik Mohammed stood before U.S. intelligence officers in a makeshift lecture hall, leading what they called "terrorist tutorials."

In 2005 and 2006, the bearded, pudgy man who calls himself the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks discussed a wide variety of subjects, including Greek philosophy and al-Qaeda dogma. In one instance, he scolded a listener for poor note-taking and his inability to recall details of an earlier lecture.

Speaking in English, Mohammed "seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of al-Qaeda and the group's plans, ideology and operatives," said one of two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much information about detainee confinement remains classified. "He'd even use a chalkboard at times."

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.

"KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete," according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA's then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate.

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.

"What do you think changed KSM's mind?" one former senior intelligence official said this week after being asked about the effect of waterboarding. "Of course it began with that."
KSM is now claiming that he was playing the interrogators and gave up false information. The CIA is claiming that they used his information to forestall other attacks.
Mohammed described plans to strike targets in Saudi Arabia, East Asia and the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, including using a network of Pakistanis "to target gas stations, railroad tracks, and the Brooklyn bridge in New York." Cross-referencing material from different detainees, and leveraging information from one to extract more detail from another, the CIA and FBI went on to round up operatives both in the United States and abroad.

"Detainees in mid-2003 helped us build a list of 70 individuals -- many of who we had never heard of before -- that al-Qaeda deemed suitable for Western operations," according to the CIA summary.
The CIA Inspector General who investigated the interrogations admits that we will never know the answer to the conterfactual that human rights advocates point to - what would he have given without the EITs? However, we didn't have time for some scientific study to figure out what would break them short of enhanced techniques.
John L. Helgerson, the former CIA inspector general who investigated the agency's detention and interrogation program, said his work did not put him in "a position to reach definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of particular interrogation methods."

"Certain of the techniques seemed to have little effect, whereas waterboarding and sleep deprivation were the two most powerful techniques and elicited a lot of information," he said in an interview. "But we didn't have the time or resources to do a careful, systematic analysis of the use of particular techniques with particular individuals and independently confirm the quality of the information that came out."
Ultimately, it all comes down to a moral question worthy of Dostoevsky. Fortunately, we don't face such questions in our ordinary lives. But back in 2002 and 2003, members of our government, tasked with the responsibility of preventing the deaths of innocent Americans had to answer that question. They chose one answer and the evidence seems to bear them out that the result was information that prevented further attacks. You can debate the value of that evidence, but can you deny that there was the will on the part of Al Qaeda to kill many more Americans and that there haven't been such attacks since 9/11? Do you think they just gave up?

Some experts even posit that the captured members of Al Qaeda had accepted a certain amount of treatment so that they could satisfy themselves that they'd resisted enough and could then give up that information.
One former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out said Mohammed, like several other detainees, seemed to have decided that it was okay to stop resisting after he had endured a certain amount of pressure.

"Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them," said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified. "After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, 'I was tortured into cooperating.' "
It's rather interesting that we're now getting these anonymous leaks from the CIA defending the EITs. I bet that there are a lot of people working now at the CIA who are mightily ticked at seeing the Obama Justice Department go back on the decisions made by career Justice officials to decline to prosecute the CIA.

I'm supremely glad that I don't have to tackle such difficult moral questions in my daily life. Dostoevsky's choice of murdering the pawnbroker to help your family is an easy one in comparison. But people bearing the immense responsibility of our safety did have to answer that choice. In the end, I happen to believe that they came to the correct, yet difficult answer. Others disagree and feel that they crossed the line. But those critics aren't dealing with their own counterfactual. What if we hadn't used those techniques and what if many more people, or even one more innocent person, had been murdered by a plot that we could have forestalled? Would that have been the correct moral answer? Or would they have wished that they could go back in time and deprive KSM of a bit more sleep and simulated drowning a bit more if it would have saved those lives?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Questions for Nancy Pelosi

Peter Kirsanow has some questions for Nancy Pelosi just in case the media feel that the well is running dry on their ability to think up questions for her. I like these two.
1. Given that you were aware of the conduct for which CIA interrogators are now being investigated and possibly prosecuted, and you at least tacitly approved of such conduct, will you ask President Obama to pardon the interrogators?

2. Since you were aware of what the CIA interrogators were doing yet remained silent, are you at all complicit in their conduct?
And if she still insists that the IG report and Leon Panetta are wrong and the CIA are lying about her being briefed, that opens up another line of questioning.
1. When you discovered that you were lied to in September 2002, did you confront Director Tenet? If not, why not?

2. Were the CIA personnel who lied to you in September 2002 fired and prosecuted? If not, why not?

3. When you discovered that you were lied to in September 2002 did you insist upon Congressional hearings? If not, why not?
It's shameful that she's basically gotten away with her lies about the CIA. Now that this issue is back in the news, it's time to ask her some more penetrating questions. Reporters should feel free to crib from Kirnasow's list.

From the "Don't be Dumb" files

If you're evading taxes, don't blog or write about yourself on social-networking sites. Tax authorities will find you and arrest your dumb rear end.
State revenue agents have begun nabbing scofflaws by mining information posted on social-networking Web sites, from relocation announcements to professional profiles to financial boasts.

In Minnesota, authorities were able to levy back taxes on the wages of a long-sought tax evader after he announced on MySpace that he would be returning to his home town to work as a real-estate broker and gave his employer's name. The state collected several thousand dollars, the full amount due.

Meanwhile, agents in Nebraska collected $2,000 from a deejay after he advertised on his MySpace page that he would be working at a big public party.

In California, which has recently been so strapped for revenue it has had to pay some bills with IOUs, agents are also using social Web sites. When one delinquent was identified as a rigger of sails, a curious collection agent searched his name and the term online and found a discussion board used by local riggers. In one thread someone asked where the rigger was because his store had closed, and a reply was posted, "Oh, he moved across the bay." The agent found the man and collected a four-figure sum.
Can you imagine having the job of trolling through thousands of Facebook pages to find these guys? Ugh!

I hope that such scofflaws don't read the internet or the WSJ because this will serve as a big "Don't be Dumb" warning to them.

More tax-paying expertise exhibited by Charlie Rangel

Not only was the guy amazingly neglectful on reporting his assets, he also somehow neglected to pay his taxes.
Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, has failed to pay taxes on two plots of land he has in New Jersey, records show.

Rangel's ownership of the small, undeveloped properties came to light on Tuesday only after he drastically amended at least six years of financial-disclosure forms he had filed annually with the House clerk as required by law.

The corrected filings as much as doubled the amount of personal wealth Rangel has claimed going back years and revealed at least $780,000 in previously unreported assets.

The Harlem Democrat concealed somewhere between $38,902 and $116,800 in 2007 income, according to the revised filings.

Among the assets he failed to list was a checking account containing somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000.

Also undisclosed for years were two lots he owns in Glassboro, NJ, about 100 miles from the city.

Rangel is delinquent on his taxes on that property, according to the Gloucester County Clerk's office.

He currently owes $159.39 in unpaid property taxes for the second and third quarters of this year, according to the clerk's office.
Sure the unpaid taxes aren't huge, but shouldn't the guy writing the tax laws be cleaner than clean on his own taxes?

I know that there is no hope to defeat the guy, but he doesn't have to chair the committee that writes the tax code. Yet the Democrats persist in keeping him there, perhaps just out of charity to the Republicans electoral campaigns for next year.

Ah, this will help foster that air of reasoned debate and compromise within the Democratic Party

Tsk, tsk. It's getting ugly within the Democratic Party when you get one Democratic House leader saying this about the moderate Democrats opposing the House health care plan.
Moderate Blue Dog Democrats "just want to cause trouble," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who heads the health subcommittee on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

"They're for the most part, I hate to say brain dead, but they're just looking to raise money from insurance companies and promote a right-wing agenda that is not really very useful in this whole process," Stark told reporters on a conference call.
Brain dead? That's the type of language that would have the media up in arms if a Republican had said it about a Democrat.

But, apparently it's getting rather ugly within the caucus. One Blue Dog, Parker Griffith, a freshman House Democratic, seemed to question Pelosi's sanity.
Freshman Rep. Parker Griffith (D-Ala.) — who has bucked Dem leadership on the stimulus and climate change — told a town hall back in north Alabama that he doesn't plan to back Nancy Pelosi as speaker again, saying she's too divisive.

"I would not vote for her. Someone that divisive and that polarizing cannot bring us together," he said, according to the Huntsville (Ala.) Times.

"If she doesn't like it, I've got a gift certificate to the mental health center," he added.
Maybe bashing the House Speaker will help Griffith win reelection in his Republican-leaning district, but it sure doesn't speak well of intra-party comity.

It's a hoot to see the Democrats saying things that would get Republicans sent to the doghouse. Instead the Republicans can just kick back and enjoy a little Blue on Blue action.

The scary compromise

Charles Krauthammer lays out a compromise health care plan that could pass through Congress. It would throw out the elements disliked by many at the townhall meetings such as the public option and end-of-life counseling. He would downplay Obama's council on comparative effectiveness research on the grounds that there are lots of academic journals doing the same thing. It would stop pretending that this is an effort to cut costs since no one believes that. Finally, it would address what people are really worried about by forbidding insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions or from dropping holders when they get sick. And it would cap compensation for insurance company executives. Government would subsidize the poor who can't afford coverage. The only catch would be mandating coverage for everyone, including the healthy young.

So it all sounds easy and beautiful right? It solves the problems people are worried about and it's still done through private companies so conservatives will sign on. Is this the solution? Not at all. It would be an insidious foot inside the door.
Isn't there a catch? Of course there is. This scheme is the ultimate bait-and-switch. The pleasure comes now, the pain later. Government-subsidized universal and virtually unlimited coverage will vastly compound already out-of-control government spending on health care. The financial and budgetary consequences will be catastrophic.

However, they will not appear immediately. And when they do, the only solution will be rationing. That's when the liberals will give the FCCCER regulatory power and give you end-of-life counseling.

But by then, resistance will be feeble. Why? Because at that point the only remaining option will be to give up the benefits we will have become accustomed to. Once granted, guaranteed universal health care is not relinquished. Look at Canada. Look at Britain. They got hooked; now they ration. So will we.
All the benefits are up front; it's in the long-term that we would get all the problems that people are predicting today for Obamacare. In the short-term, which is all most politicians care about anyway, it seems like a real breakthrough compromise. It could easily pass both houses and get signed by the President. And then there would be no turning back. That's what is scary about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More evidence that Nancy Pelosi lied and that the Obamaites are living in a bubble

Here's a tidbit from the newly released CIA Inspector General report is this bit about CIA's reporting to Congress.
Congress also knew about it. The IG report belies House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claims that she wasn't told about all this. "In the fall of 2002, the Agency briefed the leadership of the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committees on the use of both standard techniques and EITs. . . . Representatives . . . continued to brief the leadership of the Intelligence Oversight Committees on the use of EITs and detentions in February and March 2003. The [CIA] General Counsel says that none of the participants expressed any concern about the techniques or the Program . . ." Ditto in September 2003.
And, of course, the report also revealed that the enhanced interrogation techniques worked and weren't anywhere near the accusations of torture being flung about now.
As for examples of "unauthorized techniques," the IG explains that the most "significant"—an accusation that an interrogator threatened a detainee with a gun and a power drill—was the subject of a separate investigation. As for the rest—"the making of threats, blowing cigar smoke, employing certain stress positions, the use of a stiff brush on a detainee, and stepping on a detainee's ankle shackles"—the IG report says the "allegations were disputed or too ambiguous to reach any authoritative determination" and "did not warrant separate investigations or administrative actions."

The most revealing portion of the IG report documents the program's results. The CIA's "detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world." That included the identification of Jose Padilla and Binyam Muhammed, who planned to detonate a dirty bomb, and the arrest of previously unknown members of an al Qaeda cell in Karachi, Pakistan, designated to pilot an aircraft attack in the U.S. The information also made the CIA aware of plots to attack the U.S. consulate in Karachi, hijack aircraft to fly into Heathrow, loosen track spikes to derail a U.S. train, blow up U.S. gas stations, fly an airplane into a California building, and cut the lines of suspension bridges in New York.

While the report doesn't take a position on the value of enhanced techniques, the facts speak loudly that they caused detainees to yield important information. The report notes that early on Zubaydah provided some information, but that the waterboard resulted in "increased production." It also notes that since the use of the waterboard, "Zubaydah has appeared to be cooperative."

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who planned the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, was not waterboarded. "However," says the report, "following the use of [enhanced techniques], he provided information about his most current operational planning as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of [enhanced techniques]."

Then there's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who directed the 9/11 attacks. The report cites him as the "most prolific" provider of information. Yet it later notes that KSM, "an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete." The report explains that KSM was then waterboarded 183 times, and it redacts the rest of the section. This suggests that what interrogators gleaned was valuable enough that it requires classification even today.

This conclusion is buttressed by two other CIA documents released this week, one from 2004 and another from 2005, that outline interrogation results. One provides details of how interrogations brought down Hambali, mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings. KSM provided information about al Qaeda operative Majid Khan, who had been tasked with delivering money to an operative named Jubair. Khan, who had been caught, revealed information to capture Jubair, who divulged that he worked for Hambali, and provided information for Hambali's arrest. KSM then admitted that Hambali's brother was his likely successor, and that brother in turn provided information to take down an entire terrorist cell in Karachi. Hambali admitted these terrorists were to be trained to fly airplanes into U.S. targets.

The two CIA papers don't discuss enhanced interrogation, though the IG report suggests that KSM provided little of this information prior to his waterboarding. Some will argue that these details could have been elicited without enhanced techniques. We'll never know. The question is whether Attorney General Eric Holder and his new special counsel intend to second-guess the decisions of CIA officials who were operating in the shadow of 9/11 and who, we now know, successfully unraveled terror plots and saved lives.
Yet this is the program that Eric Holder thinks merits a special prosecutor. Amazing.

Charles Murray is correct is judging that these Democrats have what he calls "Pauline Kael syndrome."
When it comes to political analysis, I’m no Barone or Bowman or Ornstein, but this is not a really tough call. Attempts to put men on trial who obtained information that most Americans will believe (probably rightly) saved the nation from more terrorist attacks will be a political catastrophe, all the more so because I bet that the defendants will come across as straight-arrow good guys (and probably are), while the prosecutors come across as self-righteous wimps (and…). How could the White House not have thought this through?
His answer: they have lived so long in their intellectual and elite bubble that they've lost touch with common sense.

The Reagan-Obama contrast

Stephen Hayward is out with his study of the Reagan presidency, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980-1989. It sounds like a well-needed history of the era. IN light of the second 100 days of the Obama administration and the constant hoopla by fans such as Doris Kearns Goodwin about what a consequential president Obama will be, Hayward writes in Forbes to contrast the beginnings of the two presidents' approach to legislation. The difference is key.
Obama made one other mistake that Reagan avoided. Though it is true that Reagan concentrated on only one large item in his first-year agenda (the tax and budget cuts), while Obama is trying to "do too much," the deeper problem is that Obama lost control of the details of his agenda. He didn't just lose control--he inexplicably gave it away. Starting with the stimulus in January and continuing with the cap and trade bill--and now the health care reform plan--Obama surrendered the details to Congress to work out. Reagan never did that. He may have bargained with individual members of Congress, but he always made sure Congress faced an up-or-down vote on his plan, and he attacked alternative bills that came out of the congressional sausage factory and favor machine.

Perhaps Obama may have thought that it was necessary to allow Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barney Frank and other Democrats--restless after eight years of President George W. Bush--room to run wild. But this illuminates another key difference between Reagan and Obama--an important element in the former president's statecraft that nearly everyone has overlooked.

Throughout his presidency, Reagan had to resist strong pressure from his own party to change course. One of the startling aspects of Reagan's personal diary is how critical he was of congressional Republicans. He complained about his own party as often as he did Democrats and the media, and we know from various sources that he often had vigorous arguments in the Oval Office with other members of the GOP. Reagan understood that short-term concerns--chiefly reelection and servicing interest groups--dominate the minds of members of Congress. So far there is no evidence that Obama has stood up to his own party on the Hill over anything; to the contrary, Obama is so concerned about not repeating Jimmy Carter's bad relations with Hill Democrats that he is letting them lead him around by the nose. This is a formula for a mediocre presidency.

Placed next to Reagan, Obama presents a picture of a politician with formidable gifts and vision, but weak and indecisive leadership.
We've yet to see real leadership from President Obama; instead we see over and over again a strange sort of passivity. He outsources major legislation to the Congress. And when his administration takes a consequential step such as it did this week on ordering a special prosecutor to investigate CIA interrogations, as Jennifer Rubin points out, the President is abandoning all responsibility for the decision as if Eric Holder is operating off totally by himself without any oversight from the White House on such a major decision that was seemingly contrary to Obama's previous statements about looking forward not backwards.
Commenting on the criticisms by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Washington Post reports:
A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Cheney’s comments “off base” and took umbrage at the idea that Obama had personally allowed Durham to expand his inquiry. “This was not something the White House allowed, this was something the AG decided,” the official said, referring to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
This is bizarre and simply false. Obama is the president and can make the call to—well, look forward instead of backward. If in fact Holder is acting contrary to the president’s wishes in relitigating cases, further imperiling our intelligence agencies, and setting a dangerous precedent that prosecutorial decisions are never final, then he should be fired. But one would have to be foolish indeed to believe that on an issue of such consequence Holder is defying the White House.

A bizarre choice for your GPS

I got a car with GPS last year and I absolutely love it. The computerized female voice has guided me valiantly on several trips to unfamiliar locations. She patiently recalibrates without chastising me for making about a dozen wrong turns in Washington, D.C. traffic. We are so fond of that female voice that we named her Hermione in honor of the Harry Potter heroine who always seems to know everything in school.

Now comes word
of a new voice for boomers' GPS - Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan: folk-rock legend, poet-spokesman of his generation . . . and GPS voice?

Maybe. The enigmatic troubadour said on his satellite radio program that he is negotiating with two car manufacturers to be the voice of their in-car navigation systems. Insert your own Dylan-lyric pun here about "no direction home" or "there must be some way out of here" or "how many roads . . . ."

The wonder of this might not be that Dylan is selling out -- he has already done that by appearing in ads for Victoria's Secret, Pepsi, Cadillac and others, and he'll be singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" on a forthcoming Christmas album -- but that his famously raspy and mumbly voice would be suited for directions-challenged drivers.

Dylan himself wasn't even so sure about that. On his BBC radio show he gave listeners a preview of his would-be GPS vocals: "Left at the next street. No, right. You know what? Just go straight."

He also noted: "I probably shouldn't do it because whichever way I go, I always end up at one place -- on Lonely Avenue. Luckily, I'm not totally alone. Ray Charles beat me there."

As with much about Dylan, it's not exactly clear what he means. But as Dylan himself put it in his voice-over for a Cadillac Escalade commercial in 2007: "What's life without the occasional detour?"
What an amazing idea. I've listened to Bob Dylan's radio show on XM radio. It's very interesting and entertaining as he brings together disparate songs from all different eras that have one theme in common, for example, trains or moonlight. However, I find his voice almost impossible to understand. I find myself turning up the volume for his commentary just to try to figure out what he's saying. I can't imagine trying to follow that voice when I'm lost in a strange city at rush hour.

If they want to use a celebrity voice, my choice would be Sean Connery. I would drive in circles and make wrong terms, just to hear Connery recalibrate and tell me where to go. Forget the troubadour. Bring on Bond, James Bond.

Something I didn't know about Teddy Kennedy

I haven't commented previously on Senator Kennedy's passing, mostly because I had disagreed with so much of what he stood for and didn't want to take the opportunity of the man's passing to bash his record. There is a time for that, but not this week. On the other hand, I don't see why we should pass a mammoth, poorly thought out program that he supported simply because the man died. Every one of us would have to live with the results of these health care plans for decades. It's too important to pass out of sentiment.

I feel for his many friends and family. Despite being born into a privileged life, he also endured more family tragedies than most of us can imagine enduring seeing three brothers and a sister die well before their time.

Michael Barone has a nice reflection
on the Senator's political career.

Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine takes a look at Senator Kennedy's legislative career. While the signature legislation that is getting all the talk in the obituaries reflect Kennedy's worldview that the federal government was the proper instrument to improve every aspect of our lives through top-down management plans, here is one aspect of that record I hadn't known before.
There is, buried deep within Kennedy's legislative legacy, a different set of policies worth exhuming and examining, precisely because they were truly a break with the normal way of doing business in Washington. During the 1970s, Kennedy was instrumental in deregulating the interstate trucking industry and airline ticket prices, two innovations that have vastly improved the quality of life in America even as—or more precisely, because—they pushed power out of D.C. and into the pocketbooks of everyday Americans. We are incalculably richer and better off because something like actual prices replaced regulatory fiat in trucking and flying. Because they do not fit the Ted Kennedy narrative preferred by his admirers and detractors alike, these accomplishments rarely get mentioned in stories about the late senator. But they are exactly the sort of legislation that we should be celebrating in his honor, and using as a model in today's debates about health care, education, and virtually every aspect of government action.
That's the senator I'd prefer to commemorate, but I know that that is not the one we'll be hearing about for the next few days.

UPDATE: Susan Estrich, who worked for the Senator does a good job of expressing what was admirable about Teddy Kennedy and should be a lesson to anyone seeking to make a mark in politics. He persevered. Through the tragedies, the jokes, the ups and downs of political fortunes, he kept at it. There's a lesson for everyone there.

An acknowledgement of public school failure

This is truly a stunning story. The Los Angeles school district seems to be throwing up its hands in the face of continued failures in educating its students and a humongous budget crisis and has voted to turn over 200 schools over to charters and other organizations. As the L.A. Times reports,
In a startling acknowledgment that the Los Angeles school system cannot improve enough schools on its own, the city Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that could turn over 250 campuses -- including 50 new multimillion-dollar facilities -- to charter groups and other outside operators.

The plan, approved on a 6-1 vote, gives Supt. Ramon C. Cortines the power to recommend the best option to run some of the worst-performing schools in the city as well as the newest campuses. Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte dissented.

The vote occurred after a tense, nearly four-hour debate during which supporters characterized the resolution as a moral imperative. Foes called it illegal, illogical and improper.

The action signals a historic turning point for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has struggled for decades to boost student achievement. District officials and others have said their ability to achieve more than incremental progress is hindered by the powerful teachers union, whose contract makes it nearly impossible to fire ineffective tenured teachers. Union leaders blame a district bureaucracy that they say fails to include teachers in "top-down reforms."
Of course, the teachers union is up in arms and vowing to block the plan through lawsuits. The Mayor, who fully supported the move, was not cowed by the union's threats.
"We're not going to be held hostage by a small group of people," Villaraigosa said, referring to the teachers union and other opponents. "I'll let you infer who I'm talking about."
Assuming that this plan does indeed go through, it will be a real opportunity for charter schools to demonstrate whether or not they can truly do what they promise to educate students whom the regular public schools have failed. And we will see what happens once the power of the teachers unions in these schools is broken.
"The premise of the resolution is first and foremost to create choice and competition," said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who brought the resolution, "and to really force and pressure the district to put forth a better educational plan."

She and other backers said they expected the district to improve its own performance and to also compete to turn around schools. Bidders could apply to manage schools by mid-January.

For the charter school operators, the biggest prize is 50 new schools scheduled to open over the next four years.

"It's absolutely indispensable, of critical importance to us," said Jed Wallace, chief executive of the California Charter Schools Assn. "It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity: 50 new school buildings coming online at the exact same time that a cadre of charter operators has demonstrated that it can generate unprecedented levels of student learning."

Charters are publicly funded but independently operated and free from some regulations governing the traditional administration of schools. They also are not required to be unionized.

Some of them have failed to outperform regular schools, according to some recent research. But backers of the new plan say that only the top-notch charter companies have a realistic shot at operating any of the 250 campuses that could be included, about a fourth of all district schools.
One reason for optimism is what has happened in New Orleans since Katrina. After the hurricane, the city turned to charter schools to rebuild the schools. A 2006 article co-authored by my daughter, looked at the move to turn the regular public schools over to charters to get them opened faster after the disaster. At that point, it was an experiment and we knew we'd have to wait to see what the results would be. Well, the results are starting to come in. USA Today reports,
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina four years ago brought with it many changes for this city, but perhaps its most enduring mark may be the new charter school system that came cascading in during the storm's aftermath.

Take, for instance, the students at Langston Hughes Academy. Once struggling to meet state testing standards, they're getting a lot of help to try and do better. Their learning environment has changed to one with electronic blackboards and teachers hailing from Ivy League schools.

The talk here is not about where to go after school, but where to go to college.

"There are higher expectations now and no excuses," said John Alford, the Harvard-trained leader of the school. "Kids are starting to see college more as a reality, a real option."

Langston Hughes Academy is one of 52 charter schools operating in New Orleans, which also has 37 traditionally run schools. Nearly 60% of the city's public school students attend charter schools — the highest percentage of any American city. School district officials hope to raise that percentage to 75% in the coming years.

New Orleans' school district's performance score — a tally of test scores and other performance measures — jumped from 56.9 pre-Katrina to 66.4 last year, according to state Department of Education figures. Statewide, the average during that same period stayed roughly the same: 87.4 pre-Katrina and 87.2 last year.

The numbers suggest the city still has some catching up to do with the rest of the state. Determining how New Orleans stacks up with the rest of the nation is difficult to assess since the tests are particular to Louisiana and comparisons cannot be reliably made with similar tests in other states.

Even so, the revamping of New Orleans schools, some of the worst-performing in the nation pre-Katrina, is catching the attention of educators nationwide, said Tony Miller, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. "If these types of practices can be taken across the country, especially in some of the more challenging urban environments, that would make a difference in improving education," Miller said during a recent visit to New Orleans. "You're seeing some of those results here."
We still need more sophisticated studies to analyze the progress of those charter schools compared to the regular public schools, but results such as this are inspiring and give us hope for Los Angeles.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If Kafka designed an education system

Stephen Brill has a long article in the New Yorker about New York City's infamous "rubber rooms" where teachers who are accused of incompetence or abusing students in some way are sent to wait out the appeals process. That process can take several years, but their union contract requires that they be paid fully with benefits and accruing years towards their pension during that entire time. So the school system requires that they report to a sparsely decorated room where they...sit. All day long, year after year.
In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

“You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.
Then there are the teachers who are on the "reserve list." That's where teachers whose jobs have disappeared through closing a school or for other reasons are put. They are paid full salary while they wait to be employed elsewhere. The good teachers are snapped up by other schools or used by substitutes. It's only the teachers with the most dismal records whom no principal wants to hire who remain after nine months. But they are there on the list getting paid for not teaching.

It's estimated that the annual cost of warehousing all these teachers totals more than a hundred million dollars.

Yes, it would be terrible to be falsely accused of molesting a student or of being incompetent. But the unions have negotiated such lengthy adjudication procedures that, as Brill points out, an average case takes longer than the O.J. trial. And the union still doesn't have a poster case of someone who had been falsely accused. The case they trumpet on their website is about a woman who repeatedly passed out in an alcoholic haze.

Read the entire article and it will become clear that this is a system totally devoted to protecting teachers, whether they be incompetent or criminal. The amount of documentation and time required of a principal to try to get rid of such teachers is so onerous that only the very worst are in this situation. The interests of children are not of any concern to the union. Other school systems don't have rubber rooms. Other businesses can get rid of incompetent employees. And with the damage done to children who spend even one year in an incompetent teacher's classroom shouldn't we err on the side of the children rather than on the side of the accused teachers?

Meanwhile, read Jay Mathews' account of what is involved for a gifted teacher to get his certification acknowledged by the school system in Prince George's County. This is a story well familiar to any teacher in a public school system. All the emphasis is on getting credits from approved sources whether or not such courses do anything to improve a teacher's abilities to teach and little credit is given for advanced degrees outside of education programs.
It is difficult to argue that Keiler, 49, is anything but one of his county's best teachers. He is the only member of the Bowie High faculty with National Board Certification, having passed a competitive series of tests of his classroom skills that has become a gold standard for American educators. He has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and history from Salisbury University and a law degree from Washington and Lee University. He served four years as an Army Judge Advocate General officer, then was a partner in a private law firm in Bethesda until, as he puts it, he "got sick of law and became a social studies teacher at my alma mater."

He teaches a survey course called Practical Law, as well as Advanced Placement World History and AP Art History. More students signed up for his classes this year than he had periods to teach them. He coaches Bowie's Mock Trial team, the most successful in the county. He has published articles on military history and law in several magazines.

He hates the education school courses teachers must take to be certified and qualify for pay increases. He says they "are generally no more useful or interesting than watching paint dry." But he dutifully accumulated three credit hours at Bowie State University, six through the county's continuing professional education program and three for going through the National Board process. That was more than enough, he was told, for his standard certification.
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Then earlier this month, the county's teacher staffing and certification office informed him that previous officials counted his credits wrong. If Keiler didn't somehow produce three extra credits by the end of September, he would be decertified and any pay increases he received associated with certification would be retroactively revoked.

Also, he was told, don't try to claim any more for that law degree. For years, the school system gave him zero credential credit for his three years at Washington and Lee, one of the nation's top law schools, even though he teaches a course on law and coaches Mock Trial. Eventually officials said he could claim three credit hours for the constitutional law course he took and get some extra pay, but that was it.
This teacher's Kafkaesque nightmare ended when Jay Mathews started writing a column about him and calling the school system. How many other teachers who don't have a Washington Post columnist going to bat for them suffer through the bizarro world that is the teacher certification process in many school systems.

If you're interested in education issues, read both articles. You'll be shaking your head the entire time in amazement that we allow such Kafkaesque procedures to continue when the education of our children is at stake.

How France gets that wonderful health care

A French writer for City Journal, Guy Sorman, explains the tradeoffs that the French make to get the health care that so many observers rave about.
France’s costly national health insurance is mostly financed by taxes on labor. A Frenchman making a monthly salary of 3,000 euros will pay approximately 350 of them (deducted by his employer) for health insurance. Then the employer will add approximately 1,200 euros, making the total monthly cost to the employer of this individual’s services not 3,000 euros but 4,200. High labor costs in France affect not only consumer prices but also unemployment rates, since employers are reluctant to pay so much for low-skill workers. Economists agree that unemployment rates and the cost of national health insurance are directly related everywhere, which partly explains why even in periods of economic growth, the average French unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent.

High as they are, taxes on wages are not enough to cover the constant deficits that national health insurance runs. France imposes an additional levy to try to close the insurance deficit—the CSG (contribution sociale généralisée)—which applies to all income, including dividends, and which Parliament increases every year....

French national health insurance is also subsidized by American patients. This is because France decides which drugs to use and at what prices; American pharmaceutical companies must either accept the dictated prices or lose an enormous market. The companies therefore sell their medicines at higher prices in the U.S. in order to cover their expenses and turn a profit; the surplus is then sold cheaply to the French, who take the same pills as Americans but at half the price or less.
As Sorman argues, any informed debate over health care needs to take into account the choices that we're making and the trade-offs will be necessary. If we make employment more expensive from the employers' pocket, fewer people will be employed. When we start to see higher unemployment numbers, people won't understand the connection between the people unable to find jobs and the choices that were made for health care back in 2009. People might not understand, but the politicians should know better and not pretend that there are no unintended consequences to the decisions that they're making.

(Thanks to a reader who sent me the link)

Charlie Rangel: the expertise necessary to write our tax laws

Charlie Rangel is such a piece of work. He's the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the body responsible for originating tax legislation. But the poor guy can't seem to follow the laws coming out of his own committee. Mighty inconvenient that.

He's been a subject of an ethics violations for a host of sleazy behavior that you can read about here, here, here, here, here, and here.

But wait, that's not all. Now we find out about more assets that somehow Good ol' Charlie just neglected to report.
House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel , already beset by a series of ethics investigations, has disclosed more than $500,000 in previously unreported assets.

Among the new items on Rangel’s amended 2007 financial disclosure report were an account at the Congressional Federal Credit Union worth at least $250,000, an investment account with at least $250,000, land in southern New Jersey and stock in PepsiCo and fast food conglomerate Yum! Brands. None of those investments appeared on the original report, which was filled out by hand and filed in May 2008.

According to the original report, Rangel’s net worth was between $516,015 and $1,316,000, while the amended report showed his net worth, as of Dec. 31, 2007, roughly double that amount — at least $1,028,024 and as much as $2,495,000.

Rangel also revised his disclosed investment income from 2007. The original report showed he had received between $6,511 and $17,900, but the new report shows between $45,423 and $134,700. The report also includes eight previously undisclosed financial transactions.
How is neglecting to report half your net worth an honest mistake? How long will the Democrats maintain as the lead tax writer a guy who has so many problems accurately getting his own reports filled out correctly? Do they really want to give the Republicans the gift of heading into the 2010 elections with this guy's sleaze hanging off of them?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

High speed fantasies

Robert Samuelson has an excellent column looking at the enduring fantasies of what establishing a high-speed rail system such as they have in Europe could do for our economy. The Obama administration has made all sorts of promises based on those fantasies.
The White House promises fabulous benefits. High-speed rail "will loosen the congestion suffocating our highways and skyways," says Vice President Biden. A high-speed rail system would eliminate carbon dioxide emissions "equal to removing 1 million cars from our roads," adds the president. Relieve congestion. Fight global warming. Reduce oil imports. The vision is seductive. The audience is willing. Many Americans love trains and regard other countries' systems (say, Spain's rapid trains between Madrid and Barcelona, running at about 150 mph) as evidence of U.S. technological inferiority.
Sounds great. Great taste, less filling. But it's a mirage that ignores the differences between Europe and America and how that will affect the costs and benefits of such a program.
President Obama's network may never be built. It's doubtful private investors will advance the money, and once government officials acknowledge the full costs, they'll retreat. In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office cited a range of construction costs, from $22 million a mile to $132 million a mile. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser figures $50 million a mile might be a plausible average. A 250-mile system would cost $12.5 billion and 10 systems, $125 billion.

That would be only the beginning. Ticket prices would surely be subsidized; otherwise, no one would ride the trains. Would all the subsidies be justified by public benefits -- less congestion, fewer highway accidents, lower greenhouse gases?
so the government will subsidize the building of this billion-dollar boondoggle and then subsidize the price of tickets to encourage people to ride.
What works in Europe and Asia won't in the United States. Even abroad, passenger trains are subsidized. But the subsidies are more justifiable because geography and energy policies differ.

Densities are much higher, and high densities favor rail with direct connections between heavily populated city centers and business districts. In Japan, density is 880 people per square mile; it's 653 in Britain, 611 in Germany and 259 in France. By contrast, plentiful land in the United States has led to suburbanized homes, offices and factories. Density is 86 people per square mile. Trains can't pick up most people where they live and work and take them to where they want to go. Cars can.

Distances also matter. America is big; trips are longer. Beyond 400 to 500 miles, fast trains can't compete with planes. Finally, Europe and Japan tax car transportation more heavily, pushing people to trains. In August 2008, notes the GAO, gasoline in Japan was $6.50 a gallon. Americans regard $4 a gallon as an outrage. Proposals for stiff gasoline taxes (advocated by many, including me) go nowhere.
Urban mass transit is already losing huge sums of money. Would it be any better if we federalized the plan?
All this seems familiar, because it's Amtrak writ large: the triumph of fantasy over fact. The same false arguments used to justify Amtrak (less congestion, pollution, etc.) are recycled. Evidence and experience count for little. Obama and Biden pander to popular prejudices instead of recognizing past failure. Boondoggles become respectable. A White House so frivolous in embracing dubious spending cannot be believed when it professes concern about future taxes and budget deficits.
Fantasy over facts - that's the Obama way.

The shameful decision to go after the CIA interrogators

In a cave-in to his liberal backers who have been screeching about Gitmo interrogations and demanding retribution for years, the Obama administration has made a terrible mistake that could well paralyze our future national security. It's a crass political move aimed, not at the CIA interrogators at Gitmo, but at the political appointees who approved the enhanced techniques.

Yesterday, Jeffrey H. Smith, a counsel to the CIA during the Clinton years, explained all the reasons why a special prosecutor should not be appointed. The CIA has already prosecuted those interrogators who broke the rules. Career prosecutors at the Justice Department have already looked at this evidence and passed on the idea of prosecuting the agents. And President Obama has already ordered a change in the rules that offends the liberals so much. But the real reasons not to do this are the effects that this move will have on other national security efforts.
-- Fourth, prosecuting CIA officers risks chilling current intelligence operations. This country faces an array of serious threats. A prosecution or extensive investigation will be an unmanageable expense for most CIA officers. More significant, their colleagues will become reluctant to take risks. What confidence will they have when their senior officers say not to worry, "this has been authorized by the president and approved by Justice"? And such reactions would be magnified if prosecutions focus only on the lower-ranking officers, not those in the chain of command. Such prosecutions are likely to create cynicism in the clandestine service, which is deeply corrosive to any professional service.

-- Fifth, prosecutions could deter cooperation with other nations. It is critical that we have the close cooperation of intelligence services around the world. Nations often work together through their intelligence services on matters of mutual interest, such as combating terrorism, even if political relations are strained or nonexistent. The key to this cooperation is the ability of the United States to be a reliable partner and keep secrets. Prosecuting CIA officers undermines that essential element of successful intelligence liaison.
No wonder that Leon Panetta has had to issue six memos to the CIA to keep up morale. Will any agent take steps that we need to protect Americans in the future or will they worry that whatever they do will later result in their having to employ a lawyer and defend themselves years after the facts and after Langley has already cleared them simply because a new administration has taken over the White House.

And will the public's conscience really be shocked by reports of threats made to the members of Al Qaeda when they read the report that Vice President Cheney urged be released and learn how those interrogations did indeed, contrary to the Democrats' claims, did indeed reveal plots aimed at Americans here and abroad.
Detainee reporting has helped thwart a number of al-Qaeda plots to attack targets in the West and elsewhere. Not only have detainees reported on potential targets and techniques that al-Qaeda operational planners have considered but arrests also have disrupted attack plans in progress," the report said.

It describes how interrogations of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed yielded information about al-Qaeda's attempts to obtain anthrax and crash commercial airplanes into London's Heathrow Airport. It says that other detainees, when confronted with information learned from Mohammed, revealed more about the plots and members of al-Qaeda.

One of the documents on Mohammed titled "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Preeminent Source on al-Qaeda," noted that he was the most valuable source of information on the terror network. The report notes that the planner of 9/11 was forced to rethink second-wave attacks he envisioned after 9/11 because of increased security efforts in the United States. "KSM stated that he had planned a second wave of hijacking attacks even before September 2001 but shifted his aim from the United States to the United Kingdom because of the United States post-11 September security posture and the British government's strong support for Washington's global war on terror," the report noted.

The CIA report states that Mohammed "dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on al-Qaeda plots & [and] leads that assisted directly in the capture of other terrorists including Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali."

The report on detainee information says that information learned from interrogations of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah revealed plots against "targets abroad and in the United States including the White House and other U.S. symbols."

Zubaydah was the first senior member of the group to be captured in March of 2002.

The report describes gaining "invaluable insights" into "al-Qaeda's current organization, the personalities of its key members, and al-Qaeda's decision-making process. His reporting has contributed to our understanding of the enemy, how al-Qaeda members interact with each other, how they are organized, and what their personal networks are like."
Counter those results with the news of the interrogators' actions that were supposedly so egregious. John Hinderaker reports,
As a threshold matter, it is important to note that the allegations that have been reported in the press are just that--allegations, sometimes based on hearsay. The CIA's Inspector General singled out two incidents for special investigation, both of which involved the same debriefer--not a trained interrogator. As for the other allegations, the Inspector General's report says:
For all of the instances, the allegations were disputed or too ambiguous to reach any authoritative determination regarding the facts. Thus, although these allegations are illustrative of the nature of the concerns held by individuals associated with the CTC Program and the need for clear guidance, they did not warrant separate investigations or administrative action.
The two incidents deemed most serious were the threatening of Abd Al-Nashiri with a loaded handgun and with a power drill. As noted above, these threats were made (but not carried out) by a debriefer who was not trained or authorized to use enhanced interrogation techniques (the CIA distinguishes between debriefers and interrogators.) This same debriefer also threatened Al-Nashiri by saying that "We could get your mother in here." It is worth noting that he said he wanted Al-Nashiri to infer, based on the debriefer's accent and the threat that he made, that he (the debriefer) was from a Middle Eastern security service that has the reputation of using such tactics. The implication was that Al-Nashiri was well aware that the Americans would do no such thing.

The same debriefer was also involved in a "ruse" where he and others tried to convince a detainee that they had shot another detainee, whose "body" the detainee was led past. This one individual accounts for a significant proportion of the improper interrogation techniques documented in the IG's report.

Some of the misdeeds documented in the report border on the humorous, like the claim that interrogators "smoked cigars and blew smoke in Al-Nashiri's face during an interrogation." The horror!
Think of the information gained. Will Americans truly feel that such actions "shock the conscience" - which is the standard for prosecuting these agents for torture?

And remember, this is the information from an earlier CIA report that has already been investigated and prosecution had been decided against. Now the Democrats are in control and the standards change.

And, as Bret Stephens points out, this effort by Holder will lead to the revealing of the names of real CIA agents and expose them and their families to possible retaliation by Al Qaeda. Those who trembled in their shoes for Valerie Plame don't seem to be concerned about real undercover agents.
What's nearly certain, however, is that the names of the agents will soon become a part of the public record, either directly or through leaks that the liberal press will have no scruple about printing. Last year, for instance, the New York Times published the name of a CIA officer who interrogated 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This was despite the protests of the officer and the CIA that to identify him would "put him at risk of retaliation from terrorists or harassment from critics of the agency," as the Times put it in an editor's note.

So much, then, for President Obama's solemn promises to the CIA troops. Nor is Mr. Holder's decision the only political missile tracing a course toward Langley.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department is looking into allegations that military defense attorneys for top al Qaeda detainees had shown their clients photographs of CIA officers and contractors.

The pictures, some of which were "taken surreptitiously outside [the CIA officers'] homes," were gathered by an outfit called the John Adams Project, jointly sponsored by the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Project seeks to identify the interrogators to serve as witnesses if and when their clients are tried in federal court or by military commissions. "We are confident that no laws or regulations have been broken," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told the Post.

He's got to be kidding. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, the law endlessly invoked in Mrs. Wilson's case, specifically proscribes anyone "in the course of a pattern of activities" from seeking to expose the identity of covert agents "to any individual not authorized to receive classified information." Equally plain is the penalty: "fined under Title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."

The Act was written in response to the public disclosure of the names of U.S. covert agents, at least one of whom, Athens station chief Richard Welch, was assassinated in 1975 by Greek terrorists. It was approved overwhelmingly in Congress. In a 2006 letter to this newspaper, Sen. John Kerry approvingly quoted former president George H.W. Bush's "admonition that those who expose our agents are 'the most insidious of traitors.'"

Mr. Kerry was objecting to an editorial warning that CIA officers would soon have to take out personal insurance against the risk of lawsuits and congressional subpoenas. But those officers will have considerably more to fear if the detainees they once interrogated learn their names and are able to get the word out to their associates (as the "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdul Rahman was able to get messages out of federal prison through his lawyer Lynn Stewart), assuming they don't get out themselves. In that case, more CIA agents will be gunned down in their homes—and the John Adamses of our day will have given demonstrably material support to terrorists.
But hey, that is nothing when the Obama administration wants to appease their left flank. Is it any coincidence that they came to this decision just when the left is getting restless over talk that Obama will be forced to drop the public option from his health care ambitions?

And what will happen if the CIA captures a Taliban leader tomorrow in Afghanistan? Will those agents have the confidence to interrogate him and prevent future attacks against the Afghans and our troops there? Will this political move by the Obama administration be worth the deaths that will result? Remember how intelligence failures lead to 9/11 after the Church commission in the 1970s weakened the CIA. Will these decisions lead to future deaths due to the CIA's wariness about interrogating evil men who have information about plans to kill us?

Monday, August 24, 2009

This will bring tears to your eyes. Guaranteed.

Watch lovely this CBS report of a wounded soldier thought to be in a coma and with no chance for recovery. But a visit from General Petraeus brought him back on the road to recovery. Just awesome.

Don't trust those CBO estimates of Obamacare

A lot of analysts have pointed to the CBO estimates that came out this summer of what the House Democrats' health care plans would cost and how much it would add to the deficit as the real turning point in public support for Obamacare.

The CBO's estimates are frightening enough. But remember, it will probably cost a lot more than even the CBO is predicting. John Goodman's Health Policy Blog has this handy chart illustrating how much more various government health programs have cost than originally predicted.The source for the statistics are in this report, "Are Health Care Reform Cost Estimates Reliable?" that Senator Sam Brownback has put out.

Notice, we're lucky if the programs cost even 100% more than predicted.

So don't feel any sort of optimism that the CBO estimates are too high. That doesn't seem to happen. Look at the facts from the past - remember President Obama is supposed to be all about using science and evidence and not emotion in making policy.

Scary, isn't it?

Can government even succeed at giving away money?

The Clunkers program is winding up today, but it is not ending on a high note as dealers are on the hook for all the deals they've made and the government can't get the paperwork done to reimburse the dealers for the money that they had to front to conclude the deals that the government has orchestrated and people have bought into.

So the Department of Transportation and the FAA have to work overtime, literally, to process all the money it's trying to give away. Powerline links to an email from a guy, a GS-15, working at DOT who had plans to come in on the weekend at time and a half to work processing the paperwork. So DOT has to have people working seven days a week, some at close to $60 an hour to give away the government's, pardon me - our money. Except, oops, the weekend's work at the FAA which was going to be working on the papers had to be canceled due to a power outage.

Think about it - just processing the paperwork to give away a few billion is beyond the capabilities of our government. As the New York Post wrote,
This week, frustrated New York dealers put the pedal to the metal -- in a race to exit the program. About half the 425 members of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association say they dropped out.

Why? Because Washington's bureaucrats were able to send out only 2 percent of the money it owes.

"It's an administrative nightmare," said Mark Schienberg, the association's president.

Now consider health care.

The car program involved all of just $3 billion. Health care is a $2.4 trillion business, about 800 times bigger.

And, let's be honest, ObamaCare aims to control as much of that as possible -- with or without the "public option."

So, will doctors be waiting for reimbursements?

Will patients be waiting to see doctors?

Yes, the president's health-care promises -- greater choice, lower costs, more folks insured -- sound good. But they may prove just as hollow as what the car program claimed it would do.
The WSJ adds in on how much uncertainty this has caused the dealers who don't know if they'll get reimbursed for the deals that they've made or whether they'll have to swallow the money.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted Brad Schlossmann last week as saying that he had received "no payment whatsoever" on 120 clunker deals at his Milwaukee Honda dealership. Russ Darrow, who owns 15 Wisconsin dealerships, reported having done 400 or so clunker deals and been paid only for a few of them. That story has been repeated from coast to coast. And now that the program is ending in a rush, things could get worse. As buyers sprint to meet the deadline, dealers can't be sure they'll get their paperwork in before the $3 billion runs out. Some dealers, and even the likes of General Motors, could have to write off clunker credits if they aren't reimbursed.

"We do not know how many deals are in the pipeline. We don't know how many dollars are left in the program at this very moment," Ted Smith, president of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, told the Associated Press this weekend. "That's fundamental to the health of the dealerships that are participating. If you run out of money before you run out of deals, that's not a good situation." Welcome to the vagaries of politically motivated—and subsidized—sales. The politicians care mainly about getting credit for the giveaway, not if some hapless dealers are left holding worthless paper when the money runs out.
This little episode should give us a great deal of pause in thinking about the miracles of government running business. They have trouble giving money away. And it's not even clear that this will do anything for the auto industry or if it has just changed the timing for people who were going to purchase a car anyway.

Now think of this same sort of planning and execution being applied to our health care industry. It doesn't give you confidence, does it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ted Kennedy's seat in the Senate

displaying the ultimate in political opportunism and hypocrisy, Ted Kennedy has taken the exact opposite view about filling a vacant Massachusetts Senate seat from the view that he held when there was a Republican governor. Then, in 2004, he engineered a new state law to take the power away from Governor Romney to appoint a new senator when Massachusetts was anticipating favorite son, John Kerry, having to resign his seat in order to move into the White House.

Now Massachusetts has a Democratic governor and Ted Kennedy, dealing with terminal brain cancer, is worried about getting his successor into office as expeditiously as possible. Now he is suddenly worried about the five-month delay that holding a special election would involve and he wants to repeal the law that he himself pushed through and return the nomination power back to the Democratic governor. In these days, when we've seen how embarrassing the circus surrounding a governor-appointed senator can be from our experiences in Illinois and with Kennedy's own niece in New York, is this really the preferred small 'd' democratic preference?

Jeff Jacoby says
what probably is almost blasphemy in Kennedy land. If Ted Kennedy felt it was so crucial for Massachusetts to have two functioning senators, he would resign himself. Sadly, the Senator has been unable to attend to his senatorial duties since his diagnosis. I wouldn't wish this on even my most despised political opponent. But, Kennedy can't be all that concerned about Massachusetts having an active and involved senator representing them while he still holds on to his seat.
For well over a year, Massachusetts has not had the “two voices . . . and two votes in the Senate’’ that Kennedy says its voters are entitled to. Sickness has kept him away from Capitol Hill for most of the last 15 months. He has missed all but a handful of the 270 roll-calls taken in the Senate so far this year. Through no fault of his own, he is unable to carry out the job he was reelected to in 2006. As a matter of integrity, he should bow out and allow his constituents to choose a replacement.

“Democrats are keenly feeling the absence of Ted Kennedy,’’ reported The Politico from Washington last week. “Senate Democratic insiders . . . say there’s been little contact with the Massachusetts Democrat recently.’’ Though his staff tries to keep up appearances, it is clear that Kennedy is no longer an active participant in Senate business. Few things are harder for those accustomed to power than letting it go. But there is no honor in clinging to office till the bitter end.

Senator Kerry told ABC the other day that his colleague “doesn’t believe that under any circumstances, now or ever, Massachusetts should have anything less than full representation in the United States Senate.’’ It has less than full representation - much less - right now. That is why, for the sake of the state and Senate he loves, Edward Kennedy should step down.
If anything, a resignation now would start the clock on that five-month election schedule he's so worried about instead of waiting until he passes on. Is there any doubt that Massachusetts would elect a Democrat to replace him? Is the Massachusetts Democratic Party so lacking in worthy candidates that he wants to deny them their opportunity to let the people of the Commonwealth pick one of them?

Or is it just simpler to use their majorities in state government to push through a law and give the governor the power that they denied him five years ago?