Saturday, May 30, 2009

Appeasing North Korea

Regular readers of this blog (ha, ha, ha) know that I religiously scour the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. It's a very enlightening activity. Even though it has the second best circulation of any U.S. newspaper (USA Today is number one), far too few people are aware of the valuable information in its pages. As I noted in a previous post , the WSJ accurately predicted our current economic calamity with two series of editorials - one on the Fed's loose money policies and the other on government endorsement of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac subsidized subprime mortgages. More recently the paper has been giving former U.N. ambassador John Bolton a platform to condemn our diplomatic efforts at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Even Bolton's former boss, President Bush, has not been spared his scorn. So far, everything Bolton has predicted - missile launches, nuclear tests, belligerence - has come to pass. An editorial today (not by Bolton) gives a good, concise history of our futile appeasement of North Korea.

A more entertaining look at the issue is provided on NRO by, who else but Mark Steyn. A sampling.

If you’re American, it’s natural to assume that the North Korean problem is about North Korea, just like the Iraq War is about Iraq. But they’re not. If you’re starving to death in Pyongyang, North Korea is about North Korea. For everyone else, North Korea and Iraq, and Afghanistan and Iran, are about America: American will, American purpose, American credibility. The rest of the world doesn’t observe Memorial Day. But it understands the crude symbolism of a rogue nuclear test staged on the day to honor American war dead and greeted with only half-hearted pro forma diplomatese from Washington.
Pyongyang’s actions were “a matter of . . . ” Drumroll, please! “ . . . grave concern,” declared the president. Furthermore, if North Korea carries on like this, it will — wait for it — “not find international acceptance.” As the comedian Andy Borowitz put it, “President Obama said that the United States was prepared to respond to the threat with ‘the strongest possible adjectives . . . ’ Later in the day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the North Korean nuclear test ‘supercilious and jejune.’ ”
The president’s general line on the geopolitical big picture is: I don’t need this in my life right now. He’s a domestic transformationalist, working overtime — via the banks, the automobile industry, health care, etc. — to advance statism’s death grip on American dynamism. His principal interest in the rest of the world is that he doesn’t want anyone nuking America before he’s finished turning it into a socialist basket-case.

Even if you disagree with the sentiment, isn't that delicious writing?

Yes Peggy, You're Cool

In the WSJ today Peggy Noonan's again doing her usual I'm just oh so reasonable compared to most of the other pundits and politicians out there being hysterical and why can't they all be like me routine. Some of her comments are plainly insipid. Consider this gem.

Ask Ted Kennedy, if he had it to do over again, if he would repeat all his intemperate and unjust words about "Bob Bork's America" and "back-alley abortions" and blacks turned away from lunch counters. He'd be a fool if he said yes. He damaged himself in that battle.

Oh really? I won't make any remarks about the foolishness of Ted Kennedy, but I doubt he'd say that he was wrong to slander Bork. He and his Democratic colleagues didn't consider themselves "damaged". They've continued the practice of character assassination of Republican nominees for the Federal Appeals Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. The list is long. Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, Samuel Alito, Charles Pickering, Priscilla Owen, Bill Pryor to name a few. Kennedy and friends regret nothing.
How about this from Noonan.

Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist. Does anyone believe that?

If by racist you mean someone makes decisions about individuals based on their race, then yes, I believe that. Look beyond her "wise Latina woman" comment and consider her ruling in the Ricci case. Why did she reject the plaintiffs' claim that they were unjustly denied promotions? Was it because they were unqualified? Was the test unfair? No. She denied it because they weren't African-American. Isn't that racism?

And then there's Noonan's trademark sappiness.

New York is proud of her; I'm proud of our country and grateful at its insistence, in a time when some say the American dream is dead, that it most certainly is not. The dream is: You can come from any place or condition, any walk of life, and rise to the top, taking your people with you, in your heart and theirs. Maybe that's what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that's what they mean, then we're all empathetic. We're the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It's part of our pride. And it's not bad, it's good.

As the expression goes, Oh puke.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Breaking News! House Speaker Swears Off Botox Treatments!

The House Speaker - Au naturel

Citing a progressive decline in her cognitive abilities which has seemed to accelerate the past few years, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to give up her long term addiction to botox cosmetic therapy.
"The doctors told me that it couldn't get into my brain. They were obviously wrong," Pelosi said. "That stuff just made me just so confused. I couldn't think straight. I couldn't remember things. Things I did remember, I felt the urge to lie about. I couldn't help it. It was embarassing watching myself on TV. I sounded like an idiot. I knew I had to change. And I did. I went cold turkey. I know I look like shit, but it's a small price to pay to have a fuctioning mind."
Pelosi admits having supported the enhanced interrogation program. "This happened what, six, seven years ago. I wasn't completely brain dead yet which you have to be to oppose such a beneficial policy."
Pelosi says she plans to give up politics. "It's a revelation being able to think clearly. I see now just how messed up I was. After more than 30 years in politics I plan on getting a real job. Maybe open up a small business serving military families. I'm considering moving near Fort Hood in Texas, somewhere in the heartland. I need to get away from the sordid, hedonistic environment where I now live." (San Francisco).
When asked what she regretted most about her muddled minded past, Pelosi became emotional and responded, "No question. Actively opposing the Bush administration. I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to the American people for the damage I caused the country. And to say how sorry I am to all the members of the magnificent Bush team from the lowliest staffers to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and of course, to the great man himself, George W. Bush."

Sorry, I couldn't resist. I promise at some point to balance this tasteless cheap shot with a similar one at a hard core Republican. Maybe Olympia Snowe. Or Susan Collins. Colin Powell perhaps.

The Ridiculous and The Sublime

In deciding which one quality best describes President Obama, it would have to be a toss up between disingenuousness and hypocrisy. Kimberley Strassel spotlights both in her WSJ column today on Obama's double standard for Supreme Court justices.

Also writing about Sonia Sotomayor there's Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and Ann Coulter. Each of them discuss the less than empathetic attitude that Sotomayor had for Frank Ricci and 17 other New Haven firefighters when their well earned promotions were unjustly denied.,_then_confirm

Another WSJ item of interest today is Stephen Moore's article ridiculing critics of the late Milton Friedman. Noting that it was the rejection of his principles that help lead to the current recession, Moore credits the free market policies Friedman advocated for the unprecedented economic progress we experienced from 1980-2005. Moore relates a particularly salient Friedman acecdote for these "government stimulus program" times.

At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: "You don't understand. This is a jobs program." To which Milton replied: "Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Get With The Program Mr. Kim!

The U.S. and South Korea put their military forces on high alert Thursday after North Korea renounced the truce keeping the peace between the two Koreas since 1953. The North also accused the U.S. of preparing to attack the isolated communist country in the wake of its second nuclear bomb test, and warned it would retaliate to any hostility with "merciless" and dangerous ferocity.
...two Americans, journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, remained in custody in Pyongyang accused of illegal entry and "hostile acts." They face trial in Pyongyang next week.

First a missile launch, then a nuclear test, now all this. Strange that the North Koreans would continue to pursue what they consider their national self-interest in the wake of President Obama's worldwide campaign of appeasement.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Powell, Sotomayor, Specter

Unfortunately for Republicans, the wrong RINO decided to stay with the party. Colin Powell and Arlen Specter have nearly identical left of center viewpoints but Powell remains while Specter bolted. Powell's party affiliation doesn't matter - he's basically just a political commentator at this point - while Specter's switch gives the Democrats (potentially) a filibuster proof majority.
Powell's political commentary doesn't warrant the high regard that the MSM gives it. His basic message is that rigid conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney have turned the electorate away from the GOP. The graph above (from Pew Research) refutes that assertion. There's been essentially no change in Americans' ideology over the past 16 years. It still trends strongly conservative.
Powell's also badly mistaken that the country wants bigger government and higher taxes. This was made clear by the overwhelming rejection that voters in (deep blue) California gave to tax increase proposals last Tuesday. Powell deserves deep respect for his military service and expertise but this doesn't make him particularly knowledgeable in other areas of national policy.
His explanation for his support of Obama for President was specious, in part claiming that the GOP was moving too far to the right by nominating McCain-Palin. As opposed to Bush-Cheney? Some Republicans believed it was a race thing and that was probably part of it. But I think a bigger factor was that Powell wanted to get back at the Bush administration for his having to present the faulty evidence of Iraq's WMD programs at the U.N. As one conservative put it,

"Powell cares a lot about his reputation with Washington elites, and he thinks he was badly damaged by his relationship with the Bush administration. So this is a way to make up for what he regarded as not being treated well by the Bush administration, not being given the due deference he thinks he deserves."

Before getting to Specter, a few words about Sonia Sotomayor. It was inevitable that President Obama would nominate a hard leftist for Supreme Court justice. He's not even being subtle about it, saying that the number one qualification he's looking for is "empathy". Empathy for the poor, for women, for unions and for certain minorities, that is. Having such a prejudicial attitude should disqualify Sotomayor, not commend her. As Karl Rove points out quoting Sotomayor -

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Invert the placement of "Latina woman" and "white male" and have a conservative say it: A career would be finished.

Never mind that. Have a Latina Republican say it, verbatim, and her career would be finished.
Or how about this outrageous statement of Sotomayor made in 2005.

"All of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with Court of Appeals experience. Because it is — Court of Appeals is where policy is made."

Anyone with such a distorted view of judicial function should be disbarred, much less be nominated for a position on the Supreme Court. At her confirmation hearing, Sotomayor will no doubt disavow these ideas or at least say they were taken out of context. Then, once confirmed she'll be free to practice her empathetic legislating from the bench.
And what does Arlen Specter think of Obama's choice?

I applaud the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Her confirmation would add needed diversity in two ways: the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the high court.

...And allow the senator to further ingratiate himself with his new party. Specter's betrayal of principal for personal gain brings to mind the classic rebuke from Sir Thomas More to Richard Rich in the 1966 film "A Man For All Seasons". Paraphrasing,

Why Arlen, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...but for Pennsylvania.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Coordinating Job Coordination Organizers

I used to work with a man who had spent some time in East Germany when it was still the German "Democratic" Republic. In the lobby of his hotel he would watch as three people would circulate, cleaning the ashtrays that were situated on various tables. One person would pick up an ashtray and hand it to a second person. That person would wipe the ashtray clean, then hand it to the third person who would place it back down on a table. This process went on perpetually with the three workers being replaced with another three once their shift ended. It continued even when no one was smoking. Jobs of this sort allowed Communist bloc countries to claim "full employment" despite their basket case economies.
As the Obama administration implements its programs to "create" or "save" 3.2 million or 2.4 million jobs or whatever other number it pulls out of thin air, much worthless, taxpayer funded busywork like ashtray cleaning will result.
For a look at our impending brave new world (and a smile) read Mark Steyn's latest on NRO. A sample.

I don’t want to give the impression that every job funded by the stimulus is a job coordinating the public awareness of programs for grant applications to coordinate the funding of public awareness coordination programs funded by the stimulus. SEVCA (South Eastern Vermont Community Action) is also advertising for a “Job Readiness Program Coordinator.” This is a job coordinating the program that gets people ready to get a job. For example, it occurred to me, after reading the ad, that I might like to be a “Job Readiness Program Coordinator.” But am I ready for it? Increasing numbers of us are hopelessly unready for jobs. Ever since last November, many Americans have been ready for free health care, free daycare, free college, free mortgages — and, once you get a taste for that, it’s hardly surprising you’re not ready for gainful employment. I only hope there are enough qualified “Job Readiness Program Coordinators” out there, and that they don’t have to initiate a Job Readiness Program Coordinator Readiness Program. As the old novelty song once wondered, “Who Takes Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter While the Caretaker’s Busy Taking Care?” Who coordinates programs for the Job Readiness Program Coordinator while the Job Readiness Program Coordinator’s busy readying for his job? If you hum it, I’ll put in for the stimulus funding.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Obama's Perverse Self-Regard

In my post a couple of days ago, I cited the segment in President Obama's recent speech where he performs his standard "I Am The One" routine. Bill Kristol cites that segment and uses it to elaborate on Obama's self-obsession. Spot on. Here's an excerpt, with Obama's words leading off.
"I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to our shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn of their truth when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words--"to form a more perfect union." I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never--ever--turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake".

Who cares? Who cares about Barack Obama's father, his mother, or his "own American journey"? Is his journey so noteworthy that it needs to be intruded into a presidential speech on weighty matters of constitutional law and public policy, of civil liberties and national security? After all, tens of millions of other Americans have ancestors who came to these shores in search of the promise of a better life. Tens of millions of other Americans have lived in a foreign land--and some of them were presumably awakened early by their mothers.
And so what? Are those Americans who didn't live abroad as youths any less attached to the principles of the Declaration? Didn't the rest of us study the Constitution as well? Haven't millions of other Americans also been bound by it as lawyers and legislators--to say nothing of tens of millions who have sworn oaths to it when serving in the military and other public and civic roles?
And isn't the point of the Declaration and the Constitution--and of the various oaths we swear, the pledges of allegiance we make--that our individual backgrounds should recede as we assume the duties of public office or when we exercise our rights as citizens? Perhaps not in the eyes of Barack Obama. Even by the standard of political types, he seems strikingly self-preoccupied and self-referential.
Doesn't Obama's self-regard sometimes seem greater than his regard for the position he occupies? Does he understand that the office of the presidency is bigger--much bigger--than he is? Or does Obama think of the presidency primarily as a vessel through which to exercise his political gifts and pursue his personal achievements?

It's worth reading the entire thing.

Beyond Political Incorrectness

In today's WSJ, there's a small excerpt from a column written recently by Michael Kinsley of The Washington Post.

In Hollywood, especially, they ought to know better than to try to destroy the career of a professional beauty contestant because she spoke out - ever so politely and tentatively, and only when asked - against gay marriage.
...Everywhere you look, the blight of umbrage continues to spread through our political system. The end of the campaign last year didn't slow it down. Blogs speed it up. Taking offense is your ticket to attention from the media. You can't win if you don't play. And it's not all on the left, either. Liberal columnist Joe Klein makes an ill-considered remark about conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, and every other conservative faints from the shock, awakening only to demand that the scoundrel be silenced. Can't anyone just shrug anything off anymore?

The ill-considered remark that Kinsley is referring to is the following.

“There’s something tragic about him (Krauthammer) too. His work would have a lot more nuance if he were able to see the situations he’s writing about.”

It's commendable that Kinsley defended Carrie Prejean for her opinion opposing gay marriage. But it's not an apt comparison to what Klein said about Krauthammer, who is a paraplegic. As Kinsley noted, Prejean's position was stated as an answer to a question. It's the same position held by a majority of Americans including, so he says, President Obama. (Who would never misrepresent his position for political expediency). Prejean's position is based on a tradition going back thousands of years. (Full disclosure - I personally have nothing against gay marriage as long as it's not imposed by judicial fiat - the favored tool of the left to get what they can't get by the democratic process).
Klein's comment was unsolicited and is tough to defend. He is suggesting that Krauthammer's vision of the world is somehow limited by his confinement to a wheelchair, which goes beyond mere discrimination. It's absurdly untrue. An example (or two) were in order and Klein didn't provide any.
John Podhoretz may have been one of those that Kinsley thinks "fainted from the shock". I would say he merely (though angrily) explained why Klein's remarks are nonsense.

We cannot go back in time and visit the battlefields of the Civil War, or Agincourt, or the Peloponnese—are we therefore incapable of seeing their nuances? FDR was in a wheelchair and did not visit the battlefields of World War II-—were its nuances beyond him as well?
The self-infatuation this quote reveals about Klein’s own celebration of his own passport stamps—the words of a lesser author and thinker about one who so surpasses him in clarity and insight that a wiser Klein would have been better off just admitting that he can’t hold a candle to Krauthammer and let it go at that—is striking enough. But let’s face it. This is simply disgusting, no matter how you slice it. Perhaps men and women in wheelchairs, or who are blind, or deaf, or have other infirmities that make their ability to get on a plane and go to Iraq should simply forbear any sort of opinion about such things. They should, instead, be left to Joe Klein.

Not surprisingly, the best response to Klein was made by Krauthammer who said simply that his writing speaks for itself. This is how all points of view should be judged. If there are fallacies or shortcomings in Krauthammer's arguments then pundits like Klein are obliged to point them out without any reference to the characteristics of the man who made them. Personal attacks are not only distateful but irrelevant.

Anyway, getting back to Kinsley's overall point. He's right in general that we need to be less sensitive to perceived slights. The true victim of the current PC hypersensitivity is free and open discourse. Countering an asinine comment like the one by Klein about Krauthammer is, however, preferable to just "shrugging it off".

Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama Bows To Bush

In today's Washington Post Charles Krauthammer lists by way of quoting a conservative (Victor Davis Hanson) and a liberal (Jack Goldsmith) how President Obama has adopted his predecessor's antiterror policy.

Victor Davis Hanson (National Review) offers a partial list: "The Patriot Act, wiretaps, e-mail intercepts, military tribunals, Predator drone attacks, Iraq (i.e., slowing the withdrawal), Afghanistan (i.e., the surge) -- and now Guantanamo."
Jack Goldsmith (The New Republic) adds: rendition -- turning over terrorists seized abroad to foreign countries; state secrets -- claiming them in court to quash legal proceedings on rendition and other erstwhile barbarisms; and the denial of habeas corpus -- to detainees in Afghanistan's Bagram prison, indistinguishable logically and morally from Guantanamo.

The WSJ concurs, focusing on Obama's failure to explain his plan to close Gitmo.

Leonard Bernstein, when asked which was the best of Mozart's piano concertos, answered that it was the one you were listening to at the time. I feel that way about today's top conservative spokesmen, Rove, Cheney, Gingrich. Take your pick. Yes, I know. They're all very "unpopular" and worse, they're "uncool". Putting aside the significance of "popularity" and "coolness" (Obama's claim to fame), I'd wager that if people would actually listen to what they say, or read what they write, their "approval" ratings would double.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

He Gets My Vote

Two speeches concerning national security were given today, one by President Obama, the other by former Vice-President Cheney. Here's Bill Kristol's reaction.

I've read both speeches.
Obama's is the speech of a young senator who was once a part-time law professor--platitudinous and preachy, vague and pseudo-thoughtful in an abstract kind of way. This sentence was revealing: "On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004." "Opposed the release"? Doesn't he mean "decided not to permit the release"? He's president. He's not just a guy participating in a debate. But he's more comfortable as a debater, not as someone who takes responsibility for decisions.
Cheney's is the speech of a grownup, of a chief executive, of a statesman. He's sober, realistic and concrete, stands up for his country and its public officials, and has an acute awareness of the consequences of the choices one makes as a public official and a willingness to take responsibility for those choices.

I'll add a few observations. A large portion of Obama's speech centered around the management of detainees at Guantanamo. He complained that much needs to be done to clean up the "mess" there. Strange that he didn't also mention (not even once) the prison camp at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. There, many more detainees are incarcerated than at Gitmo and Bagram's population is sure to grow as the surge is implemented. Obama's Justice Department has denied prisoners at Bagram access to the U.S. court system to challenge their detention. Why does Obama make such a large distinction between the two prisons? Is it because he realizes he needs Bagram in place as the Afghan war is expanded? Do practical considerations get precedence over contrived "values" and "principles" when Obama's war is at stake?
Aside from attempting to and not explaining how he was going to resolve the problems posed by closing Gitmo, Obama used much of his speech to engage in verbal and intellectual contortions distancing his antiterror policy from Bush's when they are, except for some trivial cosmetic differences, essentially identical.
And of course there was the obligatory, preening, platitudinous (sorry Bill) biographical insert.

I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to our shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn of their truth when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words – “to form a more perfect union.” I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never – ever – turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.

Blah, blah, blah. At some point this will all get old, even for Obama worshippers.

Cheney's speech was the most comprehensive, convincing argument I've read in support of the Bush administration's successful antiterror strategy. He addresses every myth, misconception, hypocrisy, phony posture and lie advanced by its opponents and does it with forceful reason and eloquence. Rather than just provide a link, I've reprinted the speech in its entirety.

Thank you all very much, and Arthur, thank you for that introduction. It’s good to be back at AEI, where we have many friends. Lynne is one of your longtime scholars, and I’m looking forward to spending more time here myself as a returning trustee. What happened was, they were looking for a new member of the board of trustees, and they asked me to head up the search committee.
I first came to AEI after serving at the Pentagon, and departed only after a very interesting job offer came along. I had no expectation of returning to public life, but my career worked out a little differently. Those eight years as vice president were quite a journey, and during a time of big events and great decisions, I don’t think I missed much.
Being the first vice president who had also served as secretary of defense, naturally my duties tended toward national security. I focused on those challenges day to day, mostly free from the usual political distractions. I had the advantage of being a vice president content with the responsibilities I had, and going about my work with no higher ambition. Today, I’m an even freer man. Your kind invitation brings me here as a private citizen – a career in politics behind me, no elections to win or lose, and no favor to seek.
The responsibilities we carried belong to others now. And though I’m not here to speak for George W. Bush, I am certain that no one wishes the current administration more success in defending the country than we do. We understand the complexities of national security decisions. We understand the pressures that confront a president and his advisers. Above all, we know what is at stake. And though administrations and policies have changed, the stakes for America have not changed.
Right now there is considerable debate in this city about the measures our administration took to defend the American people. Today I want to set forth the strategic thinking behind our policies. I do so as one who was there every day of the Bush Administration –who supported the policies when they were made, and without hesitation would do so again in the same circumstances.
When President Obama makes wise decisions, as I believe he has done in some respects on Afghanistan, and in reversing his plan to release incendiary photos, he deserves our support. And when he faults or mischaracterizes the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer. The point is not to look backward. Now and for years to come, a lot rides on our President’s understanding of the security policies that preceded him. And whatever choices he makes concerning the defense of this country, those choices should not be based on slogans and campaign rhetoric, but on a truthful telling of history.
Our administration always faced its share of criticism, and from some quarters it was always intense. That was especially so in the later years of our term, when the dangers were as serious as ever, but the sense of general alarm after September 11th, 2001 was a fading memory. Part of our responsibility, as we saw it, was not to forget the terrible harm that had been done to America … and not to let 9/11 become the prelude to something much bigger and far worse.
That attack itself was, of course, the most devastating strike in a series of terrorist plots carried out against Americans at home and abroad. In 1993, they bombed the World Trade Center, hoping to bring down the towers with a blast from below. The attacks continued in 1995, with the bombing of U.S. facilities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the killing of servicemen at Khobar Towers in 1996; the attack on our embassies in East Africa in 1998; the murder of American sailors on the USS Cole in 2000; and then the hijackings of 9/11, and all the grief and loss we suffered on that day.
Nine-eleven caused everyone to take a serious second look at threats that had been gathering for a while, and enemies whose plans were getting bolder and more sophisticated. Throughout the 90s, America had responded to these attacks, if at all, on an ad hoc basis. The first attack on the World Trade Center was treated as a law enforcement problem, with everything handled after the fact – crime scene, arrests, indictments, convictions, prison sentences, case closed.
That’s how it seemed from a law enforcement perspective, at least – but for the terrorists the case was not closed. For them, it was another offensive strike in their ongoing war against the United States. And it turned their minds to even harder strikes with higher casualties. Nine-eleven made necessary a shift of policy, aimed at a clear strategic threat – what the Congress called “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count up the victims after the next attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place.
We could count on almost universal support back then, because everyone understood the environment we were in. We’d just been hit by a foreign enemy – leaving 3,000 Americans dead, more than we lost at Pearl Harbor. In Manhattan, we were staring at 16 acres of ashes. The Pentagon took a direct hit, and the Capitol or the White House were spared only by the Americans on Flight 93, who died bravely and defiantly.
Everyone expected a follow-on attack, and our job was to stop it. We didn’t know what was coming next, but everything we did know in that autumn of 2001 looked bad. This was the world in which al-Qaeda was seeking nuclear technology, and A. Q. Khan was selling nuclear technology on the black market. We had the anthrax attack from an unknown source. We had the training camps of Afghanistan, and dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists.
These are just a few of the problems we had on our hands. And foremost on our minds was the prospect of the very worst coming to pass – a 9/11 with nuclear weapons.
For me, one of the defining experiences was the morning of 9/11 itself. As you might recall, I was in my office in that first hour, when radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles an hour. That was Flight 77, the one that ended up hitting the Pentagon. With the plane still inbound, Secret Service agents came into my office and said we had to leave, now. A few moments later I found myself in a fortified White House command post somewhere down below.
There in the bunker came the reports and images that so many Americans remember from that day – word of the crash in Pennsylvania, the final phone calls from hijacked planes, the final horror for those who jumped to their death to escape burning alive. In the years since, I’ve heard occasional speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.
To make certain our nation country never again faced such a day of horror, we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks. We decided, as well, to confront the regimes that sponsored terrorists, and to go after those who provide sanctuary, funding, and weapons to enemies of the United States. We turned special attention to regimes that had the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, and might transfer such weapons to terrorists.
We did all of these things, and with bipartisan support put all these policies in place. It has resulted in serious blows against enemy operations … the take-down of the A.Q. Khan network … and the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program. It’s required the commitment of many thousands of troops in two theaters of war, with high points and some low points in both Iraq and Afghanistan – and at every turn, the people of our military carried the heaviest burden. Well over seven years into the effort, one thing we know is that the enemy has spent most of this time on the defensive – and every attempt to strike inside the United States has failed.
So we’re left to draw one of two conclusions – and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event – coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort. Whichever conclusion you arrive at, it will shape your entire view of the last seven years, and of the policies necessary to protect America for years to come.
The key to any strategy is accurate intelligence, and skilled professionals to get that information in time to use it. In seeking to guard this nation against the threat of catastrophic violence, our Administration gave intelligence officers the tools and lawful authority they needed to gain vital information. We didn’t invent that authority. It is drawn from Article Two of the Constitution. And it was given specificity by the Congress after 9/11, in a Joint Resolution authorizing “all necessary and appropriate force” to protect the American people.
Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people.
In the years after 9/11, our government also understood that the safety of the country required collecting information known only to the worst of the terrorists. And in a few cases, that information could be gained only through tough interrogations.
In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.
Our successors in office have their own views on all of these matters.
By presidential decision, last month we saw the selective release of documents relating to enhanced interrogations. This is held up as a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public’s right to know. We’re informed, as well, that there was much agonizing over this decision.
Yet somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.
Over on the left wing of the president’s party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists. The kind of answers they’re after would be heard before a so-called “Truth Commission.” Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense, and political opponents as criminals. It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent, filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse, than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessors.
Apart from doing a serious injustice to intelligence operators and lawyers who deserve far better for their devoted service, the danger here is a loss of focus on national security, and what it requires. I would advise the administration to think very carefully about the course ahead. All the zeal that has been directed at interrogations is utterly misplaced. And staying on that path will only lead our government further away from its duty to protect the American people.
One person who by all accounts objected to the release of the interrogation memos was the Director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta. He was joined in that view by at least four of his predecessors. I assume they felt this way because they understand the importance of protecting intelligence sources, methods, and personnel. But now that this once top-secret information is out for all to see – including the enemy – let me draw your attention to some points that are routinely overlooked.
It is a fact that only detainees of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation. You’ve heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Muhammed – the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl.
We had a lot of blind spots after the attacks on our country. We didn’t know about al-Qaeda’s plans, but Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and a few others did know. And with many thousands of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we didn’t think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all.
Maybe you’ve heard that when we captured KSM, he said he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyer. But like many critics of interrogations, he clearly misunderstood the business at hand. American personnel were not there to commence an elaborate legal proceeding, but to extract information from him before al-Qaeda could strike again and kill more of our people.
In public discussion of these matters, there has been a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at Abu Ghraib prison with the top secret program of enhanced interrogations. At Abu Ghraib, a few sadistic prison guards abused inmates in violation of American law, military regulations, and simple decency. For the harm they did, to Iraqi prisoners and to America’s cause, they deserved and received Army justice. And it takes a deeply unfair cast of mind to equate the disgraces of Abu Ghraib with the lawful, skillful, and entirely honorable work of CIA personnel trained to deal with a few malevolent men.
Those personnel were carefully chosen from within the CIA, and were specially prepared to apply techniques within the boundaries of their training and the limits of the law. Torture was never permitted, and the methods were given careful legal review before they were approved. Interrogators had authoritative guidance on the line between toughness and torture, and they knew to stay on the right side of it.
Even before the interrogation program began, and throughout its operation, it was closely reviewed to ensure that every method used was in full compliance with the Constitution, statutes, and treaty obligations. On numerous occasions, leading members of Congress, including the current speaker of the House, were briefed on the program and on the methods.
Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.
I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about “values.” Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance. Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings. From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans.
Those are the basic facts on enhanced interrogations. And to call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives, and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness, and would make the American people less safe.
The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism. They may take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum. If liberals are unhappy about some decisions, and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the President is on the path of sensible compromise. But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist out of the United States. Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy. When just a single clue that goes unlearned … one lead that goes unpursued … can bring on catastrophe – it’s no time for splitting differences. There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance.
Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and the terrorist enemy. Apparently using the term “war” where terrorists are concerned is starting to feel a bit dated. So henceforth we’re advised by the administration to think of the fight against terrorists as, quote, “Overseas contingency operations.” In the event of another terrorist attack on America, the Homeland Security Department assures us it will be ready for this, quote, “man-made disaster” – never mind that the whole Department was created for the purpose of protecting Americans from terrorist attack.
And when you hear that there are no more, quote, “enemy combatants,” as there were back in the days of that scary war on terror, at first that sounds like progress. The only problem is that the phrase is gone, but the same assortment of killers and would-be mass murderers are still there. And finding some less judgmental or more pleasant-sounding name for terrorists doesn’t change what they are – or what they would do if we let them loose.
On his second day in office, President Obama announced that he was closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. This step came with little deliberation and no plan. Their idea now, as stated by Attorney General Holder and others, is apparently to bring some of these hardened terrorists into the United States. On this one, I find myself in complete agreement with many in the President’s own party. Unsure how to explain to their constituents why terrorists might soon be relocating into their states, these Democrats chose instead to strip funding for such a move out of the most recent war supplemental.
The administration has found that it’s easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo. But it’s tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America’s national security. Keep in mind that these are hardened terrorists picked up overseas since 9/11. The ones that were considered low-risk were released a long time ago. And among these, it turns out that many were treated too leniently, because they cut a straight path back to their prior line of work and have conducted murderous attacks in the Middle East. I think the President will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.
In the category of euphemism, the prizewinning entry would be a recent editorial in a familiar newspaper that referred to terrorists we’ve captured as, quote, “abducted.” Here we have ruthless enemies of this country, stopped in their tracks by brave operatives in the service of America, and a major editorial page makes them sound like they were kidnap victims, picked up at random on their way to the movies.
It’s one thing to adopt the euphemisms that suggest we’re no longer engaged in a war. These are just words, and in the end it’s the policies that matter most. You don’t want to call them enemy combatants? Fine. Call them what you want – just don’t bring them into the United States. Tired of calling it a war? Use any term you prefer. Just remember it is a serious step to begin unraveling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11.
Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a “recruitment tool” for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It’s another version of that same old refrain from the Left, “We brought it on ourselves.”
It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so. Nor are terrorists or those who see them as victims exactly the best judges of America’s moral standards, one way or the other.
Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them.
As a practical matter, too, terrorists may lack much, but they have never lacked for grievances against the United States. Our belief in freedom of speech and religion … our belief in equal rights for women … our support for Israel … our cultural and political influence in the world – these are the true sources of resentment, all mixed in with the lies and conspiracy theories of the radical clerics. These recruitment tools were in vigorous use throughout the 1990s, and they were sufficient to motivate the 19 recruits who boarded those planes on September 11th, 2001.
The United States of America was a good country before 9/11, just as we are today. List all the things that make us a force for good in the world – for liberty, for human rights, for the rational, peaceful resolution of differences – and what you end up with is a list of the reasons why the terrorists hate America. If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for – our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.
What is equally certain is this: The broad-based strategy set in motion by President Bush obviously had nothing to do with causing the events of 9/11. But the serious way we dealt with terrorists from then on, and all the intelligence we gathered in that time, had everything to do with preventing another 9/11 on our watch. The enhanced interrogations of high-value detainees and the terrorist surveillance program have without question made our country safer. Every senior official who has been briefed on these classified matters knows of specific attacks that were in the planning stages and were stopped by the programs we put in place.
This might explain why President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate. What value remains to that authority is debatable, given that the enemy now knows exactly what interrogation methods to train against, and which ones not to worry about. Yet having reserved for himself the authority to order enhanced interrogation after an emergency, you would think that President Obama would be less disdainful of what his predecessor authorized after 9/11. It’s almost gone unnoticed that the president has retained the power to order the same methods in the same circumstances. When they talk about interrogations, he and his administration speak as if they have resolved some great moral dilemma in how to extract critical information from terrorists. Instead they have put the decision off, while assigning a presumption of moral superiority to any decision they make in the future.
Releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to the national security interest of the United States. The harm done only begins with top secret information now in the hands of the terrorists, who have just received a lengthy insert for their training manual. Across the world, governments that have helped us capture terrorists will fear that sensitive joint operations will be compromised. And at the CIA, operatives are left to wonder if they can depend on the White House or Congress to back them up when the going gets tough. Why should any agency employee take on a difficult assignment when, even though they act lawfully and in good faith, years down the road the press and Congress will treat everything they do with suspicion, outright hostility, and second-guessing? Some members of Congress are notorious for demanding they be briefed into the most sensitive intelligence programs. They support them in private, and then head for the hills at the first sign of controversy.
As far as the interrogations are concerned, all that remains an official secret is the information we gained as a result. Some of his defenders say the unseen memos are inconclusive, which only raises the question why they won’t let the American people decide that for themselves. I saw that information as vice president, and I reviewed some of it again at the National Archives last month. I’ve formally asked that it be declassified so the American people can see the intelligence we obtained, the things we learned, and the consequences for national security. And as you may have heard, last week that request was formally rejected. It’s worth recalling that ultimate power of declassification belongs to the President himself. President Obama has used his declassification power to reveal what happened in the interrogation of terrorists. Now let him use that same power to show Americans what did not happen, thanks to the good work of our intelligence officials.
I believe this information will confirm the value of interrogations – and I am not alone. President Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Blair, has put it this way: “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.” End quote. Admiral Blair put that conclusion in writing, only to see it mysteriously deleted in a later version released by the administration – the missing 26 words that tell an inconvenient truth. But they couldn’t change the words of George Tenet, the CIA Director under Presidents Clinton and Bush, who bluntly said: “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.” End of quote.
If Americans do get the chance to learn what our country was spared, it’ll do more than clarify the urgency and the rightness of enhanced interrogations in the years after 9/11. It may help us to stay focused on dangers that have not gone away. Instead of idly debating which political opponents to prosecute and punish, our attention will return to where it belongs – on the continuing threat of terrorist violence, and on stopping the men who are planning it.
For all the partisan anger that still lingers, our administration will stand up well in history – not despite our actions after 9/11, but because of them. And when I think about all that was to come during our administration and afterward – the recriminations, the second-guessing, the charges of “hubris” – my mind always goes back to that moment.
To put things in perspective, suppose that on the evening of 9/11, President Bush and I had promised that for as long as we held office – which was to be another 2,689 days – there would never be another terrorist attack inside this country. Talk about hubris – it would have seemed a rash and irresponsible thing to say. People would have doubted that we even understood the enormity of what had just happened. Everyone had a very bad feeling about all of this, and felt certain that the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville were only the beginning of the violence.
Of course, we made no such promise. Instead, we promised an all-out effort to protect this country. We said we would marshal all elements of our nation’s power to fight this war and to win it. We said we would never forget what had happened on 9/11, even if the day came when many others did forget. We spoke of a war that would “include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.” We followed through on all of this, and we stayed true to our word.
To the very end of our administration, we kept al-Qaeda terrorists busy with other problems. We focused on getting their secrets, instead of sharing ours with them. And on our watch, they never hit this country again. After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed.
Along the way there were some hard calls. No decision of national security was ever made lightly, and certainly never made in haste. As in all warfare, there have been costs – none higher than the sacrifices of those killed and wounded in our country’s service. And even the most decisive victories can never take away the sorrow of losing so many of our own – all those innocent victims of 9/11, and the heroic souls who died trying to save them.
For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings. And when the moral reckoning turns to the men known as high-value terrorists, I can assure you they were neither innocent nor victims. As for those who asked them questions and got answers: they did the right thing, they made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.
Like so many others who serve America, they are not the kind to insist on a thank-you. But I will always be grateful to each one of them, and proud to have served with them for a time in the same cause. They, and so many others, have given honorable service to our country through all the difficulties and all the dangers. I will always admire them and wish them well. And I am confident that this nation will never take their work, their dedication, or their achievements, for granted.
Thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cars, the U.N., Sri Lanka, Government Waste and Tax Cheats

Some short takes on the WSJ opinion pages today.

Editorial number one. President Obama is forcing bankrupt auto companies to produce 39 mpg cars. The WSJ asks if we are nuts. Answer. We elected Obama.
Editorial number two. The U.S. is now a member of the U.N.'s "Human Rights" Council whose members include Cuba, China, Cameroon, Russia and Saudi Arabia (thus reversing President Bush's boycott). Our ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice while noting that the Council's human rights records are sub-par said, "we have not been perfect ourselves". Can you hear someone, somewhere shouting "God Damn America!"?
Editorial number three. Sri Lanka's military has effectively destroyed the Tamil Tigers' terrorist insurgency in its country. After more than two decades of pursuing a "peace process" and allowing roughly 70,000 deaths, the government decided to give war a chance. Now there's a chance for real peace.

A very good op-ed by John Steele Gordon explains why the free market does a much better job than the government in running businesses.

On Medicare he writes :

Last year the Government Accountability Office estimated that no less than one-third of all Medicare disbursements for durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and hospital beds, were improper or fraudulent. Medicare was so lax in its oversight that it was approving orthopedic shoes for amputees.

My own Medicare anecdote.
I know of a Medicare patient, who because of a broken hip needed a special mattress. Medicare was billed $1000 per month by her nursing home for its use. One day, this woman, who had some mental health issues, took a knife to the mattress and destroyed it. The cost to Medicare? $100.

Holman Jenkins on the CAFE standards Obama is forcing on the car industry.

Mr. Obama was supposed to be smart. His administration was supposed to be a smart administration. But the policy coming out has not been smart. It has been a brute shifting of power to the president's political allies, justified by the shibboleths of copybook liberalism (though Mr. Obama is clever enough to know that nothing he's done will have a meaningful effect on atmospheric carbon or climate change or the country's need for oil imports).

Consider this scenario. The car companies are on the cusp of developing technology that could significantly improve auto safety and reduce our annual 40,000+ traffic deaths by half. They can direct research money toward achieving this or,
They can invest their limited resources in trying to reach an almost impossible goal of more than 50% higher fuel efficiency in seven years. Even if such a goal is attained, it will have a negligible effect in reducing global carbon emissions, have no effect on "climate change", and will certainly lead to a higher traffic fatality rate.
Which path does the federal government mandate the companies follow?

This L.A. Times report appeared on tax day this year.

The Treasury secretary, who oversees the Internal Revenue Service, didn’t pay all his taxes. Neither did a few other top nominees for President Barack Obama’s administration. Now, as tonight’s tax deadline looms, some Americans are rhetorically asking: What would happen to me if I did the same thing?
The resentful reaction to such disclosures resonates not just among the anti-tax people organizing protests around the United States on Thursday but in low- and high-income neighborhoods — and is even discussed in the hallways of the IRS…
“Our members are upset and angry,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, referring to concern bubbling up inside the IRS over strict rules that can cost IRS agents their jobs if they make a mistake, while Geithner and others are treated with relative leniency. In addition, the Geithner case is making the work of IRS compliance agents a bit harder, she said.

Low level employees of the IRS can lose their jobs by underreporting income by as little as $500. Tim Geithner fails to report tens of thousands in income and becomes their boss.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

They Keep At It...

...even when their projects are falling apart. They're so relentless, there's no time for a spell check.
My guess is that the idea this business wants to convey is that the material product of their construction is persistent. But persistence refers to an ongoing process or activity or event, as in persistent fever or persistent inflation. You wouldn't call a wall or a cathedral persistent (except maybe in poetry). Sturdy Construction would be a more appropriate name.
The inadvertent misuse or misunderstanding of language can be funny. My wife and I were driving through Canada with our daughter one time and we stopped to eat near Niagara Falls. My daughter wanted to order a cheeseburger but she wanted it with American cheese not Cheddar which was offered on the menu. When I asked the waitress for a cheeseburger with American cheese she replied that she couldn't be sure where the cheese came from. Consider what the waitress may have been thinking - These arrogant Americans are so jingoistic they refuse to eat cheese made in another country. They demand U.S. made cheese.
I suppose I should've asked for processed cheese.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Diversity Kills

The most interesting item in the WSJ editorial pages today was a comment by a letter writer on the viability of Pakistan.

The real solution to Pakistan's having become the civilized world's major headache is for it to splinter into five or six smaller nations on its ethnic fault lines. Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchis, Pashtuns and Kashmiris do not belong together. What keeps them bonded is their common religious hatred of Hindu India and now of much of the rest of the world.

A dissenting view to the one advanced by the intellectual class that diversity is a universally desirable goal. Imagine that. Suggesting that certain peoples don't belong together. Heresy!
(includes another letter concerning Pakistan)

It's The Context, Stupid

There's a new book out titled "LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay" written by Warren Kozak. Kozak also wrote a recent op-ed piece for the WSJ about LeMay's exploits in World War 2, specifically, the general's horrific bombing campaign against the Japanese.

Following Pearl Harbor, this country asked its military leaders to commit acts that, when taken out of context, can be viewed as war crimes today. Between March and August of 1945, 38-year-old Gen. Curtis LeMay ordered the deaths of more civilians than any other man in U.S. history. No one else comes close, not William Tecumseh Sherman, not George S. Patton -- no one. On the night of March 9, 1945, LeMay sent 346 huge B-29 bombers loaded with napalm from the Mariana Islands (Guam, Saipan and Tinian) to Tokyo. The first planes dropped their incendiaries on the front and back of the target area -- like lighting up both ends of a football field at night. The rest of the planes filled in the middle. More than 16 square miles of Japan's capital city were gutted, two million people were left homeless, and 100,000 were dead. It didn't end there. Washington gave LeMay the green light as his bombers burned 64 more cities. He used the World Almanac and just went down the list by population. Altogether, an estimated 350,000 people lost their lives.
Anyone hearing this for the first time in 2009 would be hard pressed to defend such an action. Yet at the time, newspapers across America heralded the event as a tremendous achievement -- not unlike the moon landing 24 years later. The New York Times ran the story of the bombings on its front page for 10 straight days. Its lead editorial on March 12, 1945, warned the Japanese that if they didn't give up more was on the way. The New Yorker magazine ran a glowing three part series on LeMay. Time magazine put him on its cover.

Those are the same publications that now decry the use of infinitely more restrained efforts to secure our country. Yes, the threat posed by Japan was (probably) greater than the one we face today. Kozak reminds us that Japan had perpetrated its own holocaust in Asia, killing 17 million people. And the paramount goal at the time was preventing the need for an invasion of Japan with its casualty totals expected to be upwards of one million Americans and two million Japanese. Still, we shouldn't underestimate our current predicament. We're not going to be overtaken by an advancing military power. But a single (never mind multiple) nuclear, biological or chemical attack would cause lasting, possibly irreparable damage to our way of life. The means of its prevention include diplomacy, military force and actionable intelligence. We shouldn't forgo the latter two of these because of wrongheaded ideas about the "rights" of terrorists who have long rejected civilized norms. Otherwise thoughtful people holding those ideas should still be able to see that the political environment immediately after 9/11/2001 and continuing for at least two years was much different than it was on 9/10/2001 or even now. I strongly disagree that any of our values have been compromised, but put into context, isn't it understandable that intelligence agents and government advisors and lawyers would be willing to compromise certain values to protect the country from the very real possibilty of a terrorist attack? To deny that this was a reasonable approach to take and to threaten prosecutions of those involved is myopic at best and (in Mark Steyn's words) "is the most destructive type of politics with key elements of national security" at worst.

Kozak's op-ed

More Pelosi

On the Fox New panel last Friday, Mort Kondracke and Charles Krauthammer got into a brief back and forth about Nancy Pelosi. Kondracke proposed a way out for Pelosi in her current waterboarding mess. He said that she should review the actual records that the CIA has about the briefings held six years ago and admit that now that she was able to see the report, her memory has been refreshed and it turned out they really did say that waterboarding had been performed, sorry. Krauthammer responded saying that she couldn't do that because she has not only said that she didn't remember what had transpired, but that the CIA lied to her during the briefings. In other words, she claimed to have a distinct recollection of what actually happened and there could be no going back.
But Krauthammer had previously made a different point. Pelosi wouldn't be helped by what Kondracke suggests because even if she thought that waterboarding had not yet been performed, she should have objected to its potential use. That she didn't is even worse than finding out about it after the fact. After all, what's done is done. Even assuming she's not lying (a highly charitable assumption), the fact remains that she was silent during discussions about a practice she now abhors.

There's apparently no limit to Pelosi's dishonesty. Responding to the question of why she didn't register a protest to either the use or potential use of waterboarding six years ago, she said that she had supported a classified letter that Rep. Jane Harman, her successor on the House Intelligence Committee sent to the CIA in 2003. However, Harman's letter only addressed the issue of whether or not President Bush had signed onto the EIT program. (He had). It did not express disapproval of the techniques. Furthermore, Pelosi didn't even co-sign the letter.

Mark Steyn weighs in on Dick Cheney and Pelosi in his latest must read article. On Cheney.

He’s in favor of it (waterboarding). He was in favor of it then, he’s in favor of it now. He doesn’t think it’s torture, and he supports having it on the books as a vital option. On his recent TV appearances, he sometimes gives the impression he would not be entirely averse to performing a demonstration on his interviewers, but generally he believes its use should be a tad more circumscribed. He is entirely consistent.

and Pelosi a contemptible opportunist hack playing the cheapest but most destructive kind of politics with key elements of national security

And to beat a dead horse (or more accurately, a dead donkey), Rush Limbaugh had an apt description of Pelosi as she tried to retreat from her press conference Thursday. He likened her to a crab stealthily moving sideways trying to escape. Alas, the questioners wouldn't relent and she had to reluctantly return to the podium.
John Derbyshire felt unbridled joy watching that news conference, saying on Radio Derb that it would be "a bright, shining memory to be carried forward as a talisman against the darkness to come".

Sick "Humor"

On his most recent Radio Derb audio program, John Derbyshire commented on President Obama's appreciation for Wanda Sykes' routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner last week. Utilizing her rapier wit, Sykes "joked" that Rush Limbaugh was the twentieth hijacker and that she hoped he would die of kidney failure. This had the President in stitches. Derbyshire remarked that it was good to have a class act back in the White House.
That Obama finds Sykes funny fits with other examples of his sense of humor. At the same dinner, Obama himself made the tasteful observation that, "Dick Cheney was supposed to be here but he is very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled 'How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People'". Can you imagine a President Bush quip, "Did you hear the one about the drunken senator drowning a woman in his car?" (Or what the press would do with it if he did)?
Then, of course, there was the compassionate remark Obama made after he had bowled a 129 in the White House bowling alley, "It's like -- it was like Special Olympics or something."
Mark Steyn had this to say about Obama's "lapse" in sensitivity.

Frank James of the Chicago Tribune criticized the president’s bon mot more in sorrow than in anger: “Obama seems to be a fairly sensitive and compassionate man who wouldn’t purposely set out to offend the disabled . . . ”
Are you sure about that? He might be “a fairly sensitive and compassionate man.” Alternatively, he could be a mean, self-absorbed s.o.b. who regards anyone other than himself as intellectually disabled. The truth is we don’t know, because in the course of the presidential campaign the press declined to do even the most elementary due diligence on him.

Meanwhile, here's another one, Mr. President. Maybe Karl Rove's entire family will contract liver disease. That should be good for a few guffaws.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I Gave At The Office

I received a request for a donation by my alma mater, Brooklyn College, the other day. It informed me that I can buy a personalized brick for either $500 or $1000 (depending on size) which will be part of a new plaza to be constructed on campus. To further motivate me to contribute, the college invoked President Obama's sacred visage, seeking to raise their fundraising efforts to the level of a holy cause. It cited Obama's view that increased funding in education is a vital investment in our country's future.
I took away a different message than the one the school wanted to present. Remember, Obama claims that it's the lack of government spending on heath care, energy and education that led to our current economic distress. Not private but government subsidized education is what he's advocating. Since I am coerced (as is the rest of the 60% of Americans who still pay federal income taxes) into paying for this increase in education funding, I don't feel the need to contribute privately. Besides, Obama would like to reduce the tax deduction for charitable contributions. This clearly shows his preference for government mandated funding, which is a common theme of liberals. Some, like Ralph Nader, would like to eliminate private charitable donations entirely so as to exert additional government control over the lives of its citizens.
Sorry, BC. Taking my cue from the President, I'll be making my donation involuntarily via Washington. With luck you might even get some of it. And I'll have to seek immortality in a different venue than my school's new brick plaza.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

McGovern's Business Epiphany

Liberal icon George McGovern has come out strongly against the proposed "card check" legislation proposed by Congressional Democrats. In two WSJ op-ed pieces he argues against the provisions that eliminate the employees right to a secret ballot (8/8/08) and imposes compulsory arbitration on management and labor (5/7/09). Why would such a lifelong staunch union supporter take such a position? He explains it in his second column.

My perspective on the so-called Employee Free Choice Act is informed by life experience. After leaving the Senate in 1981, I spent some time running a hotel. It was an eye-opening introduction to something most business operators are all-too familiar with -- the difficulty of controlling costs and setting prices in a weak economy. Despite my trust in government, I would have been alarmed by an outsider taking control of basic management decisions that determine success or failure in a business where I had invested my life savings.

In her weekly WSJ column today, Peggy Noonan points out that

...many of the Obama people seem to be extremely bright and pleasant academic types with no particular and personal knowledge of business in America. They are not messy businessmen with a love for the system that lifted them.

A letter in the WSJ today (Larry McDorman) addresses McGovern's position on the card-check bill and makes the following proposal.

Maybe a stint running Mr. McGovern's hotel should be mandatory training for all government representatives before they consider such nonsensical laws.

Such training might also break the current anti-capitalist fever now consuming Washington.

McGovern links

Noonan's article, mostly about the obfuscation prevalent in today's political discourse.

Mr. McDorman's letter.

And yet one more convincing argument detailing the ignorance and disingenuousness of critics of EIT (enhanced interrogation techniques) written by former Senate Intelligence Committee counsel Victoria Toensing in today's WSJ.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Observation of the Day

From Kimberly Strassel in today's WSJ.

...Guantanamo will join the growing list of security tools that President Obama once criticized as out of keeping with American values but has since discovered are very in keeping with protecting the nation. Wiretapping, renditions, military tribunals, Gitmo -- it turns out the Bush people weren't a bunch of yahoos but often thoughtful defenders against terrorism.

I personally would have left out the modifier, "often".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mark Steyn on Freedom

Needing a handle to set up this (mostly political) blog and wanting it to be anonymous, at least for the time being, I chose Steyner, to acknowledge my favorite political writer.
For those unacquainted with Mark Steyn's writing, a typical example is the following essay, actually a lecture he gave at Hillsdale College in Michigan, March, 2009 (Not too far from where I live). For those who are familiar with Steyn, much of it will be recognizable, having been culled from many of his columns. Artfully written, as always, it's a concise compendium of the ideas that comprise his political ideology, and mine.

Pelosi's Gamble

Karl Rove in the WSJ today on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's complicity with the Bush administration's coercive interrogation policy.

It is clear that after the 9/11 attacks Mrs. Pelosi was briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques and the valuable information they produced. She not only agreed with what was being done, she apparently pressed the CIA to do more.
But when political winds shifted, Mrs. Pelosi seems to have decided to use enhanced interrogation as an issue to attack Republicans. It is disgraceful that Democrats who discovered their outrage years after the fact are now braying for disbarment of the government lawyers who justified EITs and the prosecution of Bush administration officials who authorized them. Mrs. Pelosi is hip-deep in dangerous waters, and they are rapidly rising.

Another mystery of life. Why would Pelosi push for an investigation and possible prosecution of Bush administration officials for their roles in implementing the policy? Why would she do this when she was not only fully aware of it at the time (2002-2003) but wholeheartedly approved of it? Four possibilities.

1. She's wasn't paying attention to or didn't understand the briefings. (i.e. - she's incredibly stupid).
2. She thinks the public hates Bush so much that any attack on him would stick. Pelosi, being from the party of the exalted one, would be immune.
3. She believed the MSM would focus on Republicans, not Democrats.
4. If it became necessary, she felt she could talk her way out of it - either she could lie about what she heard, or claim she had had no power to influence the policymakers. (another lie).
The last three are plausible. The first would be plausible, but for the witnesses confirming Pelosi's enthusiasm for the policy. She's actively engaged in point 4. Note this from the AP today.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi bluntly accused the CIA on Thursday of misleading her and other lawmakers about its use of waterboarding during the Bush administration, escalating a controversy grown to include both political parties, the spy agency and the White House.

Pelosi would do well to recall another politician who claimed to have been misled. George Romney, the former Michigan governor, effectively destroyed his Presidential campaign in 1967 when he claimed that he had been "brainwashed" into supporting the Vietnam War in 1965. Americans don't take kindly to politicians admitting gullibilty. However, Pelosi has a bigger problem than just losing a chance for public office. She's attempting to criminalize activity in which she played a prominent role. And now her accusations of wrongdoing have grown beyond Bush administration lawyers and advisors to include the CIA. She's digging a very large hole indeed.

Just one more point (which has been raised by others).
In 2006, Ted Kennedy introduced an amendment to declare waterboarding a violation of the Geneva Conventions. It failed to pass in the Republican majority Senate. Early last year the Democratically controlled Congress passed a bill that prohibited waterboarding despite warnings from President Bush that he would veto it, which he did. Why, one might ask, would the Democrats seek to outlaw a procedure that they consider illegal. Well, it could be that they just wanted the prohibition codified, much like the Equal Rights Amendment would have codified women's rights that were already recognized. Fine. Then why don't the Democrats outlaw waterboarding now? Presumably, President Obama would sign such a bill. It could be introduced today by Nancy Pelosi and its prompt passage by both houses of Congress would be certain. Could it be that the Democrats don't want the responsibility of eliminating a potentially vital tool in preventing another terrorist attack? Is this why they seek to pass legislation prohibiting its use only when they know it has no chance of being enacted? To ask is to answer. (Note that Obama's ban on the practice was a PR stunt. He who taketh away can giveth back).

Also in the WSJ today this short piece by British historian Andrew Roberts writing at the Daily Beast Web site on the lifesaving value of torture during war:

A slight air of unreality has permeated the debate over "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the war against terror, with historians embarrassedly studying their toecaps over the issue. For the truth is that there has not been a war in history in which torture has not been employed in some form or another, and sometimes to excellent effect. When troops need information about enemy capabilities and intentions -- and they usually need it fast -- moral and ethical conventions (especially the one signed in Geneva in 1929) have repeatedly been ignored in the bid to save lives.
In the conflict generally regarded today the most ethical in history, World War II, enhanced interrogation techniques were regularly used by the Allies, and senior politicians knew it perfectly well, just as we now discover that Nancy Pelosi did in the early stages of the war against terror. The very success of the D-Day landings themselves can largely be put down to the enhanced interrogation techniques that were visited upon several of the 19 Nazi agents who were infiltrated into Great Britain and "turned" by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) between 1939 and 1945. Operation Fortitude -- the deception plan that fooled the Germans into stationing 450,000 Wehrmacht troops 130 miles north of the Normandy beaches -- entirely depended upon German intelligence (the Abwehr) believing that the real attack was going to take place at the Pas de Calais instead. The reason that Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, was utterly convinced of this, was because every single one of his 19 agents, who he did not know had been turned, told him so.
If anyone believes that SIS persuaded each of these 19 hard-bitten Nazi spies to fall in with Operation Fortitude by merely offering them tea, biscuits, and lectures in democracy, they're being profoundly naïve.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hope and Change

Since we're stuck with President Obama for at least four years, the best we can hope for is that he will change. There are signs, precious few to be sure, but signs nonetheless that, yes, he can.
Two recent examples.
To implement the Iraq-like surge of an additional 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan has been replaced by General Stanley McChrystal as top commander with General David Rodriguez as second in command. The moves have been universally praised (see e.g. - Max Boot link below) and show that Obama is serious about winning that war.,0,1278653.story

Then just today, Obama reversed himself on the release of those incendiary prisoner abuse photos, now saying that he'll fight against making them public. To see why this is a welcome flip see Andrew McCarthy's article in NRO yesterday.

Protect American lives or please the far left and the ACLU. An easy choice obviously, but one that until today, Obama was threatening to screw up. That he ultimately didn't is cause to rejoice.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cheney Attacks!

Here's part of the introduction to the 2007 State of the Union address by that great divider, George W. Bush.

...tonight, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of my own, as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: "Madam Speaker." In his day, the late congressman, Thomas d'Alessandro, Jr., from Baltimore, Maryland, saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum.
But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy, presiding tonight as speaker of the House of Representatives.
Congratulations, Madam Speaker. ..
...Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens: The rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour, when decisions are hard and courage is needed.
We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors under way, and others that are ours to begin.
In all of this, much is asked of us. We must have the will to face difficult challenges and determined enemies, and the wisdom to face them together.
Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate, and I congratulate the Democrat majority.
Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities. Each of us is guided by our own convictions, and to these we must stay faithful.
Yet we're all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes: to extend this nation's prosperity; to spend the people's money wisely; to solve problems, not leave them to future generations; to guard America against all evil; and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us.
We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences and we can achieve big things for the American people.
Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.
Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and to help them build a future of hope and opportunity.

Over the next two years, Democrats chose to spurn Bush's conciliatory offer.
Now a few words from that great uniter, Barack Obama.

You are often confronted with bad choices that flow from less than optimal decisions made a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, when you weren't here. A lot of times, when things land at my desk, it's a choice between bad and worse.

This is a recurring theme in Obama's speeches. Start off by complaining about the problems left by the previous administration. If Obama didn't want to be faced with difficult issues, he should have sought a different line of work. For many people the principal attraction of a President Obama was his apparent desire to reject the bitter partisanship that had dominated politics in recent years. Karl Rove points out that Obama's bad mouthing of Bush is unprecedented. No other administration has so relentlessly disparaged the previous one as Obama's has. Of all the deceptions that Obama has foisted on the public, and there are several, the promise of post-partisanship is the most blatant. And the worst of Obama's naked partisanship is his continuing campaign to demonize the Bush administration's successful efforts to prevent another terrorist attack.
Of all the former Bush administration officials, Dick Cheney has been the most forceful counterweight to the Obama administration's irresponsible assault. Good for him. On CBS' Face the Nation last weekend he said,

I'm convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of lives.

And Obama's view of Cheney?

Dick Cheney was supposed to be here (at the White House Correspondents Association dinner) but he is very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled 'How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People'.

Classless derision. Aside from its indignity, Obama's comment trivializes a serious issue (intelligence gathering). It and others like it could come back to haunt him. Petty ridicule now will be seen as criminal, impeachable neglect if his complacency leads to a future attack.
The ongoing "torture" debate continues to grate. This shouldn't even be an issue. It is not controversial! If we have a high value terrorist who has information about a potential attack, any measure that's taken to get him to talk is justified. Call it what you like. Coercive interrogation, enhanced interrogation, torture. Just do it!

Here's Obama raising the phony issue of our "values".

What makes the United States special ... is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy, even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it's expedient to do so.

Our values and ideals didn't prevent Lincoln from suspending habeus corpus during the Civil War or countenancing the wholesale slaughter that conflict produced. FDR allowed captured German spies to be tried by a secret military tribunal and then summarily executed. Under his watch, tens of thousands of civilians were firebombed during World War 2. With our safety or survival at stake we are perfectly willing and justified to compromise our values. Obama has continued the Bush strategy of airstrikes in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan to help destroy the leadership of the Taliban and al-Queda. These attacks invariably cause civilian casualties. If you believe that it is an atrocity to"torture" a terrorist to obtain lifesaving information, isn't this at least on that level of depravity? Yet Obama sanctions the killing of innocent men, women and children while prohibiting "torture".

More on the term torture. Most discussions these days as to what constitutes torture focus on the severity of the methods used. Rarely is the question of context raised. This from Bert Prelutsky's latest column.

[A] difference that seems to escape liberals is that it’s torture when the only purpose is to cause pain, not when it’s done in order to pry important information from terrorists.

He also addresses the severity issue.

In my world, cutting off Daniel Pearl’s head, throwing Anne Frank in an oven or having to listen to Chris Matthews, is torture. But by no means is it playing loud music, keeping people awake, making them share space with a caterpillar or even dousing them with water, in order to get them to cough up information that might prevent another 9/11 or keep American soldiers from being ambushed.

(Prelutsky touches on several other topics in his typically witty piece on the insanity of liberals)

Ann Coulter gives some examples of true torture.

The Japanese routinely beheaded and bayoneted prisoners; forced prisoners to dig their own graves and then buried them alive; amputated prisoners' healthy arms and legs, one by one, for sport; force-fed prisoners dry rice and then filled their stomachs with water until their bowels exploded; and injected them with chemical weapons in order to observe, time and record their death throes before dumping them in mass graves.

On the Fox News panel yesterday, Juan Williams accused Cheney of "fear mongering". The same could have been said about Churchill in the thirties. Williams thinks that Cheney is doing this to set up Obama for a blamefest if there is a terrorist attack. Williams' reaction is revealing in that it provides an insight into the liberal mindset. Dick Cheney was a high level member of the previous administration and he knows lots of stuff. He now warns that Obama's plans to curtail coercive interrogation of terrorists puts our country at greater risk of a devastating attack. And Williams' concern? Cheney's doing this to make Obama look bad.

Here's hoping that the former VP keeps up his vigorous one-man defense of the Bush-Cheney legacy. Give 'em hell Dick!