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February 28, 2006

DPW & The Boycott of Israel

Our friend Nathan Wirtschafter alerts us to a report in the Jerusalem Post that Dubai Ports World (DPW) is a participating member in the Arab boycott of Israel. Wirtschafter sums up the dilemma presented by this revelation:

Participating in the boycott is against U.S. law and the U.S. Government issues fines, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, to companies which honor the boycott.

More to the point, a company who boycotts Israel has the moral stain of supporting an economic expression of Arab hatred against the West. Since Dubai Ports World has a corporate culture which supports the Arab boycott, the corporation is probably not entirely "with us" in the War on Terror and should not be protecting U.S. Ports.

Obviously, Dubai Ports World cannot have it both ways. It's either a progressive, trustworthy organization which operates in the 21st century or it's afflicted with 12th century prejudice.

If Dubai Ports World really wants the business, perhaps it should stop participating in the boycott now, and when the port contracts come up for renewal, it can be considered for the work.

Alternatively, if President George W. Bush is absolutely committed to allow the deal to go forward, maybe the U.S. should minimally condition the deal on Dubai and Dubai Ports World ending their boycott of Israeli products.

Harry & Chuckie Eat One Of Their Own

Paul Hackett, the Iraq war veteran who was pressured to enter - and then to exit - the Ohio Senate race, has some unkind words for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and DSCC Chairman Senator Charles Schumer:

After the special election, the phone kept ringing, and I was soon being recruited to run against U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a two-term Republican incumbent, by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), the party's point man for this year's Senate races. I was flattered, but I really did want to get back home, literally and figuratively. After seven months in Iraq followed by five months on the campaign trail, I had a good life waiting for me.

The calls kept coming. Schumer and Reid said, "Your country needs you." We Marines take service to country seriously. Leadership, service, commitment. [snip]

Schumer and Reid, the guys who said my country needs me, had a change of heart. There was never any explanation given. Schumer, in particular, actively sought to undermine my insurgent campaign, in part by calling up my donors and telling them not to raise money for me, which is like a doctor cutting off oxygen to a patient. He also worked through others to get state and local politicians to publicly urge me to quit.

Islam's Modernity Problem

Thomas Lifson has an interesting article today looking at the Islamist attack on intellectual property. One of the interesting points in the piece that dramatizes the lack of progress in Islamic societies vis a vis Europe, Asia and the Americas is the patent activity in the Islamic world:

Saudi Arabia, which only established a patent office in 1990, has not granted a patent in six years. Iran in 2001 granted only one patent. Egypt, home to a quarter of the world’s Arabs, is only now getting around to mandating the task of undertaking a substantive investigation of patent claims before granting patents.

The basic machinery of technological innovation is absent. Indonesia, with almost a quarter billion people, has totaled 30 patents in the last five years.

Lifson points out that intellectual property is the foundation of modern life and why it challenges the premise of the jihadist vision for the world:

It turns out that the very internet which is powering so much innovation and efficiency is being used to build a political movement to destroy all technological dynamism. These guys may be crazy, but they are smart. Intellectual property is the bedrock foundation of modern life.

Without the ability to protect (and profit from) intellectual property, there will be no innovation. Nobody will have an incentive to do things differently from the way they have always been done. The phrase for such a world is The Dark Ages……

At its heart, the Islamist vision is opposed to all technological change. Rather than a society characterized by continuing discoveries in medicine, telecommunications advances and new applications of micro-electronics to further delight the mind and body, these Islamists prefer (or think they prefer) a steady state society, roughly fixed at the seventh century, when Muhammad received divine revelations and laid down the optimal way to govern human existence for all time.

Lifson goes on to ask:

If they get their way, do they envision getting rid of all post-800 AD innovations? Or will they try to hold onto what exists, while allowing no further innovation? The mind boggles. Who will train the air conditioner repair men? How will they keep up with what already exists if nobody is interested extending in such knowledge? Everyone might as well just study the Koran in madrassas.

And that is the point.

In many ways this is one of the central reasons why President Bush is pushing for the Dubai Ports deal encouraging Islamic countries to embrace modernity, capitalism, and commerce: so that young Arab men have more to do than just study the Koran in madrassas.

February 27, 2006

Bush Approval Slammed By DPW Deal

Rasmussen Reports released a poll last Friday showing Democrats in Congress favored over President Bush on national security 43% - 41%. If that wasn’t enough of a signal that the Dubai Ports World deal was a political loser for the President, the latest polls from CBS News and Cook/RT Strategies end any doubt.

The Cook Political Report/RT Strategies Poll taken Thursday – Sunday shows Bush’s approval dropping 7 points from their poll a month ago, 47% to 40%. CBS News (Wed-Sun) brings similar news reporting an eight point drop from their poll in late January to an all time low of 34%. And then Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll shows a five point drop over the last week to 43%. The RealClearPolitics Average of President Bush’s job approval is at 40.4% , but don’t be surprised to see that slide back to its low in the high 30’s as new post-DPW polls come out in the next few days.

Bottom line, this ports fiasco has been a political fiasco for the White House. The Cheney shooting accident was a trumped-up political story that inflicted no real damage on Bush; the Dubai deal is a completely different story. This seemingly obscure business deal and its impact could be the single biggest political story of 2006, and unlike Abramoff or Katrina or Scooter Libby, Dubai Ports World could be the catalyst the Democrats have been seeking for a big 2006.

Iran's Big Lie

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief negotiator in the nuclear dispute, told Time magazine:

"You may not believe what I'm about to say but I have to say it anyway. When our religious leader tells us that we're not allowed to pursue nuclear weapons, then we can't go after it. In the Islamic school of thought, mass murder is a great sin."

Now this is a curious statement, because if Larijani is telling the truth then he's either calling Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a liar or a sinner for professing a desire to have Israel "wiped off the map." Unless there's some sort of Zionist exception to the Islamic rule about mass murder, that is. It's always best to read the fine print.

Contrast and Compare

Read this column by Ralph Peters lauding the tireless work of our troops:

When you have the privilege of spending just a little time among these wonderful fellow citizens of ours, you can't help feeling impressed. And humbled. Certainly, they're far better soldiers than my Cold War generation produced. And they're doing a much tougher job.

If I could have a wish for the day, it would be that everyone reading this column could actually spend some time with our troops. Whatever your political stand you'd come away determined to stand behind our men and women in uniform.

Now contrast it with this lament by Bob Herbert about the all-encompassing evil of the military-industrial complex:

The way you keep the wars coming is to keep the populace in a state of perpetual fear. That allows you to continue the insane feeding of the military-industrial complex at the expense of the rest of the nation's needs. "Before long," said Mr. Jarecki in an interview, "the military ends up so overempowered that the rest of your national life has been allowed to atrophy. [snip]

The military-industrial complex has become so pervasive that it is now, as one of the figures in the movie notes, all but invisible. Its missions and priorities are poorly understood by most Americans, and frequently counter to their interests.

The Beauty of Democracy

Israel's high court (reg req'd) finds in favor of Arabs in a discrimination complaint:

A special panel of seven High Court justices on Monday accepted a petition brought forth by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which claimed that there were double standards in the financing and providing of education by the state, which were set according to areas of national priority. [snip]

"The government's decisions were flawed," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak. "They clearly discriminated against Arabs and damaged equal rights."

My guess is that you could spend countless hours searching in vain for any decree from an Islamic court protecting minority rights of Jews or Christians.

Is Bush In A Bubble?

That's the question Dick Polman tackles in today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

We have seen this phenomenon before - a cloistered president, fixed in his views and averse to compromise, often at odds with political reality.

Democrat Woodrow Wilson was protected by a first lady who froze out even his closest aides. Democrat Lyndon Johnson raged against his domestic critics, calling them "communists" and "Harvards," and he wound up speaking only at military bases. Republican Richard Nixon was so deep in the bunker during Watergate that his own defense secretary instructed subordinates not to carry out military orders issued by the White House.

It's debatable whether the George W. Bush bubble is equally impervious. But these days, with the President struggling on many fronts, from Iraq to Katrina to the ports flap, even political allies and Republican observers believe Bush is prone to the bunker syndrome; symptoms include tone-deaf politicking, a refusal to fire or discipline failed subordinates, and a reluctance to acknowledge bad news that conflicts with core beliefs.

On balance, Polman's analysis seems a bit overly critical, but he certainly raises the kind of questions that many people, including me, have been asking of late about why the White House seems to be off its game. Explanations range from excesses of loyalty, stubbornness or arrogance on the part of the president to physical and mental exhaustion among the White House staff.

The biggest problem, however, doesn't seem to be that the White House is in denial or detached from reality but that it has such a troubled relationship with Republicans in Congress. Polman quotes GOP veteran Jack Pitney describing the current difficulty:

"This White House needs to adjust to the new landscape. After 9/11, they could pretty much count on the support of congressional Republicans. Today they can't. They used to go up to the Hill and just give orders. They can't anymore. They need to do less talking and more listening, because right now they're stuck with a wildfire in the conservative grass roots."

Robert Novak, who has watched close to half a century of interaction between presidents and Congress, finishes with a similar note in his column today:

Sen. Richard Shelby, whose Banking Committee has jurisdiction of the issue, was silent at first, but only because he was traveling in Europe. When he issued a brief, limited circulation statement last Thursday, it was not good news for the White House. "From Treasury's perspective," he said, "the [foreign acquisitions] process with respect to the Dubai transaction worked perfectly; from the Banking Committee's perspective, it failed miserably." He set hearings for Thursday that will not be pleasant.

The rest of the world may wonder how a relatively routine commercial transaction turned Republican leaders against their president. Frank McKenna, the Canadian ambassador who is leaving Washington this week, has cracked the code by appreciating the existence of two U.S. governments, one executive and the other legislative. That system requires more presidential finesse than was displayed in handling the Dubai contract.

I've already mentioned one potential silver lining from the DPW blow up: that Congress focus its attention and energy on dealing with the legitimate issues surrounding U.S. port security. A second silver lining may be that the White House mends fences and adjusts its attitude toward Republican members of Congress. It might make the difference in salvaging what has been a rather inauspicious second term thus far.

February 24, 2006

Are We Listening To The Experts?

I'm still waiting to hear anything other than speculation about how the DPW deal is going to adversely impact national security.

The theory, as it's being advanced by folks like Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin, is that allowing DPW - or basically any Arab country with even the most remote ties to al-Qaeda or terrorism, which I think, is another way of saying all Arab countries - to have access to sensitive and detailed information about how our ports are run puts the U.S. at additional (and unnecessary) risk based on the assumption that terrorists would have an easier time infiltrating an Arab-owned corporation than a multinational from some other country - like Britain. But as Mark Steyn pointed out on Hugh's show last night, Britain has had more people directly involved in committing terrorist acts than the UAE in the last five years.

Hugh admits he's coming around on the DPW deal after speaking with Steyn and estimable Robert Kaplan, both of whom think the deal should go through - though perhaps with a delay and/or more vetting. Now if only Hugh would interview some experts on port operations and port security as well.

By the way, three new commissioners were sworn in to sit on the board of the Tampa Port Authority on Tuesday. A few hours later that board voted 6-1 in favor of purusing a contract with P&O, the company being acquired by Dubai Ports World. Granted, these folks are members of the business community with a vested interest in the shipping industry, but they're also Americans who are intimately involved with port operations and think the DPW deal has been blown out of proportion:

"The national uproar is not correctly stated in my opinion," said Steven Pinney, senior vice president for operations with The Mosaic Co., who was appointed to one of two new positions on the expanded port board. "Very few have gotten to the core of the real story.

"It's been made out to be an issue of [P&O under new ownership] taking over ports or taking over security of the ports, and none of those are real issues."

Don't tell that to Democrats, some of whom are so excited about looking tough on national security they're willing to demagogue this issue as long and as hard as they can. Here's Sherrod Brown, current Ohio Congressman and the Dems' Senate candidate against Mike DeWine in November, issuing a statement today - long after it's been established by anyone paying even remote attention that DPW will have nothing whatsoever to do with port security, which will still be run by the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs Service:

"In response to the proposed outsourcing of America's port security to the United Arab Emirates, Sherrod calls on United States Trade Ambassador Rob Portman -- a former Ohio Congressman -- to halt negotiations with the Mideast nation. Sherrod also plans to introduce legislation that would strengthen American's national security through trade agreements." (emphasis added)

Lest you think this is just some sort of careless wording by a snot-nosed staffer, Brown compounds the offense by posting this gem on The Huffington Post that includes some real nuttery:

The Bush administration has been outsourcing jobs for five years, and now they want to outsource our national security...This issue teaches us something many of us already know -- the Bush administration consistently chooses profits over people.

Please. Brown's shooting for the national security - trade isolationist bank shot, which is pathetic but offers a nice segue to a final point: the UAE is and ally and one of, if not the most modern Arab country in the world. If we're going to tell them they can't do business in our ports, then we're effectively tell the entire Arab world they can't do business in our ports.

But aren't we also doing more than that by establishing a slope that could get very slippery? China is a "strategic competitor" that operates government-owned companies in our ports. Couldn't they easily exploit the details of how our port operations work to the detriment of national security? Should we be concerned about that? South Korea is an ally, but couldn't a North Korean operative theoretically infilitrate a South Korean owned company just as easily as a jihadi sympathizer from Yemen could infiltrate DPW?

The flipside to this argument is that we have to draw the line somewhere and make judgement calls. I'm not saying we should be green-lighting deals for Pakistan to take over terminal operations at the Port of New York. The point is that we have legitimate concerns about port security that need to be addressed. But we shouldn't conflate or confuse the issue of port operations and port security, nor should we as a country have a knee-jerk, emotional reaction to a deal that could have long term foreign policy and economic ramifications.

Let me close by saying that I've always been a national security first-type. Always. People who've visited this space for any extended period of time know that to be true. Furthermore my initial reaction to the deal was, like most people's, negative. I remain totally open to being convinced this deal shouldn't go through because it will adversely impact national security. So far, however, I just haven't seen anyone produce any evidence to make the case effectively.

New Rasmussen Poll: Dems Favored Over Bush On National Security

Everyone has been saying the politics of the Dubai Ports World deal is bad news for President Bush. Well, now we have an idea of just how bad.  Rasmussen Reports has just released a poll showing that Americans now trust Democrats in Congress more than President Bush on the issue of national security by a margin of 43% to 41%.  Only 17% of those polled favor the DPW deal, 64% oppose.

Let's stipulate something up front: this is a single poll taken at the height of both the Congressional and public outburst over the realization of the DPW deal.  That said, it does give an idea of how deeply negative the public's initial reaction to the deal was.

The debate in the press seems to have moved back in favor of the President's position, at least to some degree, but whether the public follows along with that shift in the coming weeks is another matter. I suspect there is a substantial block of people (on both the left and the right) whose opposition to the deal won't be shaken no matter how effective the White House is at putting on a full court press - if that's what they decide to do.

If the numbers Rasmussen produced on DPW and national security are confirmed by other polls, the political implications are pretty darn big. There's no way Republicans in Congress - especially those up for reelection this November - are going to stand by and let this single deal (irrespective of the merits) erase a 10-20 point advantage over Democrats on national security. Ain't gonna happen. Unless the numbers change significantly, there is no way Congress is going to let this deal go through as is.

Red Ken Suspended For Nazi Remark

More evidence that free speech in Europe is, well, less than free:

Ken Livingstone was today suspended from office for four weeks by a disciplinary tribunal for likening a Jewish Evening Standard reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

The three-man adjudication panel of the Standards board for England said the mayor of London should step down from his duties on March 1.

Admittedly, I know nothing about the Standards board for England, but isn't the core concept of free speech in a democracy that elected leaders who say terribly insensitive things are either 1) shamed into apologizing by the force of public opinion or 2) tossed out on their unrepentant "bum" by the electorate at the next possible opportunity?

UPDATE: Looks like I'm not alone - even some native Brits don't know about the "Standards board for England."

Der Spiegel's Shame

Here's the new cover of Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, via Davids Medienkritik. The translation of the headline and sub-head read: "America's Shame: Torture in the Name of Freedom"

Ray D. at Davids Medienkritik asks:

Torture in the name of freedom? Since when has America advocated torture as a means of promoting freedom? When someone is tortured or abused in a German jail in violation of established standards, does that mean the German government is torturing in the name of democracy as well? When illegal immigrants suffocate or commit suicide in German custody is that also in the name of democracy? It is as if the United States had never addressed the issue. It is as if the McCain bill torture ban had never been passed by Congress and signed by the President.

This is a dangerously cynical equation of two concepts. Particularly in a Europe where the general public is already so jaded that many no longer believe in the concept of freedom. Why? Because instead of reporting on the systematic violation of human rights in nations like North Korea and Iran the German media finds it necessary to exploit two year old photos of Abu Ghraib for profit (again and again). Never mind that Saddam's Abu Ghraib was a thousand times worse or that hundreds of thousands are starving to death in Kim Jong Il's gulags. There is no need for context in the world of asymmetric journalism.

And on the related subject of vicious anti-American press bias in Germany, Ray also dissects the way Der Spiegel massively distorted its recent interview with Karen Hughes.  It has to be read to be believed.

It's hard for the average American to comprehend either the depth or the scope of anti-Americanism in the global press and just how much our image suffers as a result of the tactics routinely employed by the likes of Der Spiegel.

Harvard's Poverty of Philosophy

Eugene Robinson offers an honest but stunningly weak defense of the ousting of Harvard President Larry Summers:

"Summers's defeat at the hands of the restive and determined Faculty of Arts and Sciences is being portrayed by his supporters as a sad triumph of liberal orthodoxy and political correctness. Really, though, it's nothing of the sort. Summers is being forced to resign because, as brilliant as he is -- and you don't become a tenured Harvard professor at 28, as Summers did, unless you're ridiculously brilliant -- he proved to be a terrible politician. That alone is reason for him to have to go."

Got that? You may be brilliant, forward-looking, well liked by the students and large segments of the faculty, but unless you're an effective stroker of egos - not all egos, mind you, just some of the most liberal - you're not fit to serve as head of Harvard or any other major university.

I'm sure Mr. Robinson would love to see the same logic applied to him: "Sorry, Eugene, you're a brilliant writer, one of the best we have. Lots of people like you, including much of the Washington Post staff and thousands of the paper's readers, but you've clashed with a couple of reporters on the "restive but determined " national desk so we're going to have to ask you to leave. You just don't play newsroom politics well enough."

Gerard Baker also tackles the topic of Summers' ousting in his column today, finishing with an eloquent and incisive conclusion:

"Ironically, in the 20 years since Bloom’s book American universities have risen to even greater global pre-eminence. Floating ever-higher on a sea of cash from wealthy alumni, they are able to attract the brightest minds from around the world. In science and technology especially, this has yielded great strides in research. But in too many cases these great inflows of cash have done nothing to alleviate the poverty of philosophy that characterises intellectual life at so many universities."

In the event you missed it, Alan Dershowitz wrote the definitive column on the Summers firing in the Boston Globe on Wednesday. Yesterday we carried two more great columns on the subject by Thomas Lifson and Thomas Sowell, both of which I highly recommend.

February 23, 2006

The Obama Speculation Continues

Former political editor of the Chicago Sun-Times James L. Merriner writes the cover story on Barack Obama for this month's issue of Chicago Magazine that carries the following hook: "A run for president? A VP draft? He says no. But could it happen?"

The article is long and quite good, but it's not online, so I'll just have to clip and enter some of the choicest quotes.  Merriner interviewed a number of Obama supporters and strategists on both sides of the aisle to get their impressions of the factors swirling around the junior Senator from Illinois and 2008. 

One camp of Obama supporters is urging him to skip a White House bid in '08, advising him to "pace himself" and "wait his turn." But Merriner points out:

"In fact, most of the successful Democratic nominees of recent history did not "wait their turn" but skipped over a generation - John F. Kennedy in 1960, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1992.  Obama will be 47 in 2008; Clinton was 46 when elected, Kennedy 43."

Others are urging Obama to step up in 2008 and take advantage of what could be his best, and perhaps only opportunity. Again, Merriner:

"Some of Obama's supporters worry that he might miss his best chance by sitting out 2008.  Here's the hypothetical math: if another Democratic nominee wins and serves two terms, by then it's 2016, when, presumably, the incumbent vice president would seek the presidential nod.  Where would that leave Obama? He won't be a megastar forever."

Obama understands the importance timing and circumstance play in determining the fate of those who run for high office, telling Merriner, "Politics is fickle and dependent on a lot of things that have nothing to do with the merits of the candidate." This will undoubtedly be on his mind if in 2008 he's faced with the choice of accepting an offer to be vice president.

One issue Obama isn't worried about is his skin color.  Asked by Merriner whether the country would be ready to elect an African-American president, Obama says "yes" and then adds:

"If I were to run, the issue would not be my race, I think.  People would ask about my inexperience or youth, is he too liberal - there would be a whole host of questions there.  But I'm very confident I could campaign anywhere."

The best line in the piece comes from Vernon Jordan, who offered some classic words of wisdom amid all the political chatter: "I am too old and too smart to speculate about 2008. If I were in charge of the world, the first thing I would do is round up all the political consultants in the city square and shoot them."

All Bush's Fault?

 

The conventional wisdom on the Dubai Ports World deal seems to have shifted in the last 24 hours.  In the blogosphere the focus has jumped from its initial target -- the agreement itself -- to a new and familiar one: President Bush.  For instance, Glenn Reynolds has decided:

I don't think there's any real security issue here, but I think the Bush Administration needs to launch a full-bore effort to explain what's actually going on, something that they still haven't really mounted...

I will admit that my knee jerked on hearing this story, and that I should have waited to learn more before offering an opinion. In my defense, I'll note that I gathered more information and changed my mind. Still, mea culpa.

But (and this is a separate point from the merits of the decision, or of my take thereon) it wasn't just me -- there were an awful lot of knees jerking on this decision, and the White House, or somebody, should have foreseen that. That doesn't get me off the hook, of course, but it doesn't reflect well on them, either.

James Lileks retreats somewhat as well:

The Bush administration may well be in the right, but they have handled this poorly – the remarks about vetoing any Congressional efforts to block the sale may have been aimed at Congress, but they splashed right in the face of the voters. The crafty response would have been to acknowledge the worries, assure a complete and total review and disclosure, and let the facts speak for themselves.

Meanwhile Tim Cavanaugh offers examples of some points he thinks Bush should have made.  Like Reynolds, he says the DPW deal "doesn't involve port security, and if opponents think there's a security risk they haven't provided any evidence for that."  But according to Cavanaugh, Bush is in trouble because he was caught flat-footed and unprepared to argue such straightforward points.  He asks:

Who could get out of this fix?

I'll tell you who: NAFTA-era Bill Clinton, that's who! Explaining stuff like this is what Bill Clinton lived for. Just think back to that Clintonian love of factoids, that congenial explanation of the benefits that you, the listener, will directly receive, that enthusiastic drive to get you to share the president's love of policy minutiae. Clinton was great at this stuff because, whatever else he was, he was a man of the people. He understood (as Bush does) the benefit of a barrier-free market that might leave, say, Dubai Ports World providing services to American harbors. And he knew that populist panics are stupid and almost always wrong. But unlike Bush, he realized that populist panics come from deep within people's hearts, and that you have to respect that.

Critics have raised some serious concerns over the DPW deal, and it is clear that Bush made a mistake by brushing off these concerns.  To be sure, there is a strong opposition that will not be won over so easily on the merits of the agreement (see Malkin, Hewitt, Huffington).  So far, though, it is the pundits who are doing the backtracking, not the President.

 

The Bombing of the Golden Dome Mosque

Why did terrorists bomb the Al-Askariya shrine in Samarra?

The obvious answer is that they wanted to try and set off massive sectarian violence to disrupt - if not destroy - the formation of the fledgling federal government in Iraq. We've seen a wave of violence and reprisal killings, but also calls for calm and unity, so at the moment it remains unclear which way things may tip.

The less obvious answer is this: the bombing of al-Askariya clearly represents a huge escalation and a huge risk by the terrorists. Of all the options available to them, you would think destroying a 1,200 year-old sacred holy site of Shia Islam would be near the bottom of the list. The real question is why the terrorists felt compelled to take this risk now.

One argument could be they were waiting for the perfect timing. Another could be that they've already tried everything else and nothing has worked. The Iraqi government is forming and the terrorists are running out of both time and options, so they turned to an unbelievably risky strategy that will either incite civil war or unite the country against their cause. This bombing smacks of being an act of last resort.

David Brooks Rips Port Deal Hysteria

David Brooks is one of the most mild-mannered guys in the world. He's also one of the smartest and most thoughtful commentators around. So I think the tone of his column (Times Select) in the NY Times today on the reaction to the US/UAE port deal says quite a bit:

This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven't seen in decades. First seized by the radio hatemonger Michael Savage, it's been embraced by reactionaries of left and right, exploited by Empire State panderers, and enabled by a bipartisan horde of politicians who don't have the guts to stand in front of a xenophobic tsunami.

But let's be clear: the opposition to the acquisition by Dubai Ports World is completely bogus. [snip]

In short, there is no evidence this deal will do any harm. But it is certain that the xenophobic hysteria will come back to harm the U.S.

The oil-rich nations of the Middle East have plenty of places to invest their money and don't need to do favors for nations that kick them in the teeth. Moreover, this is a region in the midst of traumatic democratic change. The strongest argument the fundamentalists have is that they are engaged in a holy war against the racist West, which imposes one set of harsh rules on Arabs and another set of rules on everybody else. Now comes a group of politicians to prove them gloriously right.

God must love Hamas and Moktada al-Sadr. He has given them the America First brigades of Capitol Hill. God must love the folks at Al Jazeera. They won't have to work to stoke resentments this week. All the garbage they need will be spewing forth from press conferences and photo ops on C-Span and CNN.

The more we learn about this deal, the more we find that the hysteria surrounding it is vastly overblown. That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate concerns that should be given additional scrutiny or that the whole thing couldn't have been handled better by the Bush administration.

Still, in situations like this - perhaps especially in this case - it's always best to listen to experts, not politicians, because the truth is that most politicians don't have much more of a clue than you or I about how our port system works:

Port security specialists say much of Wednesday's rhetoric focused on the wrong questions.

Allowing Dubai Ports World to control up to 30% of the port terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Miami shouldn't really be a cause for concern, says James Loy, former deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security and a retired commandant of the Coast Guard. “We're making a mountain out of a mole hill here."

He and other analysts say that instead, politicians should focus on gaps in port-security programs that have left the global shipping system and the nation's 360 ports vulnerable to terrorism. The vulnerabilities extend from companies that load cargo containers abroad and the inspection process at overseas ports, to the need to install radiation detectors at most U.S. ports.

So far I haven't seen any experts saying DP World poses some sort of additional security threat - though I've heard plenty of politicians say it.  As you can see from the above quote, experts do say there are port security issues that need to be addressed that have nothing to do with which company operates which terminal, so perhaps the silver lining in this entire affair is that Congress will focus its attention and energy where the experts say it matters most. 

February 22, 2006

The Ports Deal Makes a Comeback

I am finding myself able to argue both sides of this ports deal. I understand what the administration is trying to do, and I support the President in his drive to engage the Arab Middle East, encourage capitalism and free markets, and promote allies and countries that have been helpful in the post 9/11 fight. And I also have a tremendous amount of faith that this administration and particularly this President takes terrorism and national security issues extremely seriously.

However, there is a common-sense factor here that says should a state-owned company from an Arab/Islamic country be managing U.S. ports? That's a pretty big hurdle in my mind, not insurmountable, but boy I'd want to be awfully sure.

And then there is the political aspect, which is a loser.

Taken all together it seems to me the original decision in committee should have been no. And there is no question that the White House totally blew the PR aspect of this and should have recognized the  political explosiveness of the issue and done a better job of consulting the relevant political leaders.

However, given where we stand right now Charles Krauthammer makes the point that the damage that would be done in the foreign policy arena to our relationship in the Arab world with nations that have been moderate and cooperative in the War, may have shifted the risk/reward analysis over to the side of letting this deal go through. And I think that is a very legitimate point, as I think you can make a credible argument that the original decision was wrong, but a reversal of that decision today would actually hurt our long-term national security.

But that does not take into account the political aspects of this decision and the President is going to have to do a very persuasive job, particularly to many in his base, that this decision will have no negative impact on national security. There is the very real potential that this could have negative consequences for Republican prospects in 2006 and that calculus would also have to be factored in to any macro risk/reward analysis of this decision’s ultimate impact on national security.

Bottom line this issue is not going away, and a deal that I thought was almost certainly dead 48 hours ago is starting to show some signs of life.

Call It What It Is .....Islamophobia

This whole brouhaha surrounding the Bush administration’s green-light to a United Arab Emirates company slated to manage six major U.S. ports has nothing to do with protecting homeland security. Allow me to give it its proper name: Islamophobia.

This UAE company-Dubai Ports World—is just a commercial administrator. They are not in charge of security. That responsibility remains tight in the hands of our U.S. Coast Guard and Customs Officials. Moreover, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, (a multi-agency panel which includes seasoned representatives from the departments of Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security) has looked it over and has vetted the deal.

None of the Administration’s eager critics has furnished a scintilla of evidence showing the Administration hasn't done its due diligence. Add it all up, and I think what you’ve got here is a bi-partisan pack of protectionist politicians. Throw in some xenophobic anti-Arab feeling and you get our current state of affairs.

An amusing component of this flare-up is the dovish Democrat crowd’s sudden call to arms. Aren’t many of these vocal critics the same folks who opposed the Patriot Act? The same posturing chorus who attacked Bush and opposed NSA surveillance of al Qaeda phone calls? The same folks who want immediate withdrawal from Iraq? Why this sudden about face? This is utter nonsense.

The UAE is an American ally in an unsettled Mideast—and an important ally at that. They are exactly the kind of Arab country we need in our war effort and our ongoing, critical mission in the region—not unlike our friend Jordan. (In fact, the UAE is a lot better than Egypt and Saudi Arabia.) As the WSJ pointed out today:

“Critics also forget, or conveniently ignore, that the UAE government has been among the most helpful Arab countries in the war on terror. It was one of the first countries to join the U.S. container security initiative, which seeks to inspect cargo in foreign ports. The UAE has assisted in training security forces in Iraq, and at home it has worked hard to stem terrorist financing and WMD proliferation. UAE leaders are as much an al Qaeda target as Tony Blair.”

Could Bush have done a better job in handling all of this? Sure. The President made some clear political marketing mistakes. He should have opened up the black-box of executive review and shared it with members of Congress.

But in the end, America ought to honor its word. We have a duty to keep our promise and we should treat our neighbors fairly. There is no room for prejudice or bigotry here. And so far, no one has proven that executive branch security vetting is flawed.

Make no mistake about it. What is going on right now on television news channels, newspapers and the Internet is simple. It is called Islamophobia.

Why Do Women Hate Maureen Dowd?

Good question. Virginia Haussegger writes in The Age, "the collective answer seems to be: she's a powerful, sexy little fox who's smart, witty, made it to the top and has got it all sewn up. She's a bitch."

Actually, Haussegger is a quite a fan and her column is a rant about the shabby treatment Dowd's new book has been getting in the pages of Australia's newspapers.  Dowd arrives Down Under tomorrow for a week-long book tour. 

While we're on the subject, here's Dowd in this morning's NY Times:

Maybe it's corporate racial profiling, but I don't want foreign companies, particularly ones with links to 9/11, running American ports.

What kind of empire are we if we have to outsource our coastline to a group of sheiks who don't recognize Israel, in a country where money was laundered for the 9/11 attacks? And that let A. Q. Kahn, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, smuggle nuclear components through its port to Libya, North Korea and Iran?

It's mind-boggling that President Bush ever agreed to let an alliance of seven emirs be in charge of six of our ports. Although, as usual, Incurious George didn't even know about it until after the fact. (Neither did Rummy, even though he heads one of the agencies that green-lighted the deal.)

Same old pattern: a stupid and counterproductive national security decision is made in secret, blowing off checks and balances, and the president's out of the loop. [snip]

As part of the lunatic White House defense, Dan Bartlett argued that "people are trying to drive wedges and make this to be a political issue." But as the New Republic editor Peter Beinart pointed out in a recent column, W. has made the war on terror "one vast wedge issue" to divide the country.

Now, however, the president has pulled us together. We all pretty much agree: mitts off our ports.

Dowd is the perfect expression of the rank hypocrisy and craven opportunism liberals are showing on the port issue (Harold Meyerson provides another good example). As Michelle Malkin writes today, "They're all profilers now." Next thing you know Dowd will be following in the footsteps of Senator Schumer and singing the praises of Halliburton as the answer to our port security prayers.

Santorum Gets Whacked, Hits Back

I don't know how many have seen the new cover story from the American Prospect, but it's an investigative report into Rick Santorum's personal finances and some of the expenditures charged to his political action committee. The piece, written by liberal Will Bunch (a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News and blogger) alleges that Santorum got a break on his mortgage, financing it through an elite bank run by people who have contributed to his campaign. The article also alleges that a number of trips to Starbucks and fast food joints were expensed through Santorum's leadership PAC (America’s Foundation).

Yesterday Santorum disclosed the details of his mortgage with the Philadelphia Trust Co: it's a five-year interest-only balloon loan at 5 percent signed in 2002. Santorum also released the following statement:

"I applied and filled out all the paperwork everybody has to fill out when they apply for a mortgage and got a market rate. At the time of the loan, I made it very clear that I don't want any special treatment. The bottom line is that I want the same deal that anybody else gets. I don't want any special treatment, and that is the way an elected official should operate."

The Philadelphia Inquirer concludes with this:

Santorum campaign spokeswoman Virginia Davis said the senator never took any official action on the bank's behalf.

Interest rates in 2002 ranged from a low of 4.01 percent for a one-year adjustable rate mortgage to a high of 7.18 percent for a 30-year fixed mortgage, according to Freddie Mac, a federal mortgage lender.

A 5 percent interest rate "was in the market back then; it might have been at the low end of the market, but it was in the market," said Christopher Annas, chairman and chief executive officer of Meridian Bank in Berwyn.

Interest-only mortgages are "pushed aggressively nowadays by lenders and brokers," but they are generally for people who might earn more a few years down the road, according to Bankrate.com, a financial Web site. Homeowners make monthly interest payments on the mortgage for only a fixed term - usually five to seven years, after which the loan is refinanced or paid off, according to the Bankrate.com site.

The Dubai Ports Blowup

This is a fascinating story that we have developing. So many times in Washington, it is so terribly predictable how politicians, pundits, editorial pages will side on given issues. To start, and this is not unimportant, I and 98% of the other people commentating on this story, and that includes editorial boards and politicians, do not have all of the facts. I wrote yesterday that “this issue is more complicated than the cheap political demagoguery we have seen” and I think the President’s decision to fight for this deal only proves that point.

Fair-minded and reasonable people can come to different conclusions on whether this is a good decision by the administration. The truth is there are compelling arguments on both sides and the policy merits of this decision are debatable. However, the politics of this issue are not complicated, and the President is on the losing side.

I have to admit I was shocked to see the President come out and forcefully defend the deal when the most obvious political strategy was to quietly back off, scuttle it or produce some kind of face-saving compromise. So on one level the President deserves credit for being willing to lead and defend a position that he feels is right against a huge political tide. However, the White House’s handling of this issue is pathetic and their knee-jerk reaction to fight back when backed in to a corner displays a tremendous amount of conceit and arrogance.

How hard would it have been to recognize that this was a politically explosive issue and bring in the Governors and Senators from the affected states as well as the congressional leadership of both parties to walk them through the decision ahead of time? Governor Ehrlich of Maryland said yesterday: “We needed to know before this was a done deal, given the state of where we are concerning security.” There is a certain amount of common courtesy and respect that was obviously missing in this process.

Given the concerns from both sides of the aisle including key Republicans like the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader in the Senate and the Governors of New York and Maryland, you would think the administration would have been a little more low key in how they went about fighting for this deal or defusing the controversy. Instead, Bush’s veto threat comes across as dismissive and imperialistic.

And again, none of this speaks to the policy pros and cons of the actual deal. The bizarre split in the nation’s editorial pages is as good an illustration as any to how complicated the policy aspects of this deal really are: The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times for, and The New York Times and the Washington Times against.

Without all of the facts I don’t want to pass final judgment on whether this is a defendable deal, but common-sense seems to tell me that we probably should not approve management of key U.S. ports to a state-owned Arab company. And so if the administration felt they were on solid ground approving this transfer then they had a responsibility to recognize the politics of the decision and build support for what was going to be a contentious issue. Instead they totally screwed it up and in all likelihood Bush going to get this shoved right back down his throat.

More Editorials on The Port Deal Controversy

More editorials on the U.S./UAE port controversy:

Los Angeles Times: "Port Hysteria"
"WHEN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TAKE homeland security seriously, it's a welcome development. Unfortunately, Tuesday's bipartisan hissy fit over the Bush administration's approval of a Dubai company's $6.8-billion deal to manage six important U.S. ports is neither serious nor welcome."

NY Daily News: "Mr. President, Are You Nuts?"
"That giant sucking sound you hear is one really big mob of congressional Republicans evacuating their side of the aisle en masse and galloping over to agree with their left-coast colleagues as fast as they possibly can that the summary selloff of U.S. port operations to Dubai is your basic bad idea."

New York Post: "Dubya Jeopardy"
"At last: A uniter, not a divider.

There stood President Bush yesterday, vowing to veto legislation that would prevent a company owned by the United Arab Emirates from taking operational control of six of the nation's ports — including New York and New Jersey.

Arrayed against him: Elected officials of both parties, including solid blocks in Congress, officials from states potentially put at risk by the deal — and Mayor Bloomberg.

On Bush's side: Jimmy Carter, all by his deservedly lonesome self. ("The overall threat to the United States and security, I don't think it exists" said the man who so famously failed to prevent the fall of Iran to Islamic fundamentalism.)

That alone should give Bush serious second thoughts...."

Washington Times: "Scotch The Ports Deal"
"In two weeks time, the ports of New York and New Jersey, Miami, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans will go under contract to a government-owned company in the United Arab Emirates. This must not stand. It's plainly obvious that a government-owned company from a hostile region should not operate American ports, whatever the assurances about security and however limited its involvement in day-to-day operations. What can be done?"

New York Sun: "On The Waterfront"
"Somehow, it doesn't add up. Senators Menendez, Clinton, Lautenberg, Schumer, Dodd, and Boxer are up in arms over the Bush administration's decision to allow Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, to take over operations at ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia. So are Reps. Vito Fossella and Peter King. One has to wonder, what makes this group, not particularly known for its hawkishness - in some cases known for abject dovishness - suddenly more hawkish than President Bush? It turns out their objections look to be less and less about American national security and more about plain old politics and political money and a labor union notorious for its ties to organized crime on the waterfront."

Houston Chronicle: "Relying on Middle East Country To Keep Our Ports Safe Doesn't Make Sense"
"The government of the United Arab Emirates simply isn't the same as private British company ownership. Letting the UAE buy a company running shipping operations in Baltimore, New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia might turn out all right, but why take the chance?"

Orlando Sentinel: "Protect Ports"
"Foreign companies dominate world shipping and already operate most of the major container terminals on the Eastern seaboard. Further, sweeping restrictions on foreign investment could invite retaliation against U.S. investment abroad. In the modern global economy, any measures that needlessly choke off international investment will hinder growth and cost jobs.

And members of Congress should not fool themselves that barring foreign ownership would close gaping security gaps at U.S. ports. Regardless of who operates a port, U.S. Customs agents will remain responsible for screening its cargo. Currently, Customs inspects only a small percentage of the millions of containers that arrive at U.S. ports every year.

That's not acceptable.

Inadequate port security leaves the United States dangerously vulnerable, especially to an attack from a smuggled weapon of mass destruction. That nightmare scenario is especially frightening for Florida, with its 14 ports.

Congress and the Bush administration need to do more to bolster security at U.S. ports, no matter who operates them."

Denver Post: "Security Concerns Key For U.S. Ports"
"President Bush is naive to think Americans will be comfortable with a deal he approved that would put a company from the United Arab Emirates in charge of seaport operations in New York and five other U.S. cities."

February 21, 2006

Bush Q & A on the Ports Deal

Below is the transcript from President Bush's Q & A with the White House press pool
aboard Air Force One.

Q Mr. President, leaders in Congress, including Senator Frist, have said that they'll take action to stop the port control shift if you don't reverse course on it. You've expressed your thoughts here, but what do you say to those in Congress who plan to take legislative action?

THE PRESIDENT: They ought to listen to what I have to say about this. They ought to look at the facts, and understand the consequences of what they're going to do. But if they pass a law, I'll deal with it, with a veto.

Q Mr. President, on energy and foreign policy, some Saudi officials have said they're unhappy with being targeted about Middle Eastern oil, saying that you wanted to reduce dependence on Middle East oil. You've got a close relationship with King Abdullah --

THE PRESIDENT: I do.

Q -- he's been to see you. Have you heard something directly, yourself, from the Saudis?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I haven't talked to His Majesty, but if I did, I would say, I hope you can understand that the relationship between supply and demand is so tight that any disruption on the supply side of energy causes our prices to go up, and spiking prices hurts our economy. And secondly, there are parts of the world where people would -- that don't agree with our policy, namely Iran, for example. And that it's not in our interest to be dependent, when it comes to our economic security, and for that matter, national security, in a market that is volatile. And so hopefully he'll understand.

Q So you don't think they should take offense at the comments about Middle Eastern oil?

THE PRESIDENT: I would think that he would be understanding that new technologies will enable us to diversify away from our reliance upon crude oil. As a matter of fact, it's not only a message for the United States, that's also a message for India and China. In order for these growing economies to be able to be competitive, they're going to have to learn how to use technologies that will enable them to meet the needs of their people, but also the international demands of the world for good environment, for example. The Nuclear Energy Initiative I'll be talking to the Indians about is an important initiative.

Q The understatement today, and one of the concerns of lawmakers seems to be that they want more of a briefing, and they want more details about the things that you know, that have given you confidence that there aren't any national security implications with the port deal. Are you willing to either have your staff or to give any kind of briefing to leaders of Congress --

THE PRESIDENT: Look at the company's record, Jim, and it's clear for everybody to see. We've looked at the ports in which they've operated. There is a standard process mandated by Congress that we go through, called the CFIUS process. I'm not exactly sure if there's any national security concerns in briefing Congress. I just don't know. I can't answer your question.

Q It seems like -- you've already heard from different administration officials, saying, not in as strong terms as you have today, that there aren't problems with this deal, that the deal should go forward. But they seem to want more of a briefing. Would you be willing to give any additional briefings, either --

THE PRESIDENT: We'll be glad to send --

Q -- either in a classified basis, or --

THE PRESIDENT: I don't see why not. Again, you're asking -- I need to make sure I understand exactly what they're asking for.

Yes. Oh, you're not the press.

MR. BARTLETT: I could ask a question. You showed some strong leadership today -- (laughter.)

Q Why is it so important to you, sir, that you take on this issue as a political fight? Clearly, there's bipartisan --

THE PRESIDENT: I don't view it as a political fight. So do you want to start your question over? I view it as a good policy.

Q Why is it -- clearly --

THE PRESIDENT: Are you talking about the energy issue?

Q No, I'm sorry, the ports issue.

THE PRESIDENT: It's not a political issue.

Q But there clearly are members of your own party who will go to the mat against you on this.

THE PRESIDENT: It's not a political issue.

Q Why are you -- to make this, to have this fight?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't view it as a fight. I view it as me saying to people what I think is right, the right policy.

Q What's the larger message that you're conveying by sticking to this UAE contract, by saying that you're not going to budge on this, or you don't want to change policy?

THE PRESIDENT: There is a process in place where we analyze -- where the government analyzes many, many business transactions, to make sure they meet national security concerns. And I'm sure if you -- careful review, this process yielded a result that said, yes, a deal should go forward.

One of my concerns, however, is mixed messages. And the message is, it's okay for a British company, but a Middle Eastern company -- maybe we ought not to deal the same way. It's a mixed message. You put interesting words in your question, but I just view -- my job is to do what I think is right for the country. I don't intend to have a fight. If there's a fight, there is one, but nor do I view this as a political issue.

Q I say it because you said you'd be willing to use the veto on it.

THE PRESIDENT: I would. That's one of the tools the President has to indicate to the legislative branch his intentions. A veto doesn't mean fight, or politics, it's just one of the tools I've got. I say veto, by the way, quite frequently in messages to Congress.

Austria's Slippery Slope

I don’t want to get in the business of defending the holocaust denier David Irving, but do democracies really want to be throwing people in prison for what they think or write? It is a very slippery slope when governments start deciding what is hateful and who they are going to throw in jail. Not to mention, all this will do is turn Irving into a martyr and hero for fascist whack jobs and Hitler idolaters everywhere.  Stupid.

Frist on Ports: 'Trust But Verify'

Majority Leader Bill Frist just posted the following message on his VOLPAC blog:

News that a Middle-East based firm is seeking to purchase the operating rights to several U.S. ports - from New York to New Orleans - raise serious questions regarding the safety and security of our homeland.

Post 9/11 prudence warrants - at the very least - a more extensive review of this matter.  As Ronald Reagan used to say: 'trust, but verify.'  And that's what we need to do.  The simple fact is, there's no such thing as being 'too careful' in a post 9/11 world.

As of today, I'm requesting briefings on this deal.  If the Administration does not put the deal on hold, I will introduce legislation doing so ... to ensure that this decision gets a more thorough review.

Common sense warrants it; our national security requires it.

The Chicago Tribune said something similar in an editorial this morning:

When the Tribune editorial board on Thursday pressed Treasury Secretary John Snow for justification of this deal, he said, essentially: You'll have to trust us. Given the critical nature of these ports and legitimate concerns about seaport vulnerability to terrorist infiltration, "trust us" is not good enough. Nor is it reassuring to Americans that the White House considers the UAE, a federation of seven emirates including Dubai, an ally in the war on terror. [snip]

This isn't about foreign ownership. The company operating these ports now is foreign-owned. Under British or UAE control, American longshoremen will continue to work the docks. This also isn't about the competence of Dubai Ports World to manage American ports. The company insists that it intends to maintain and enhance port security.

This is about the long war on terror and the assurance that U.S. ports will be secure when they are managed by a firm owned by a government in one of the most volatile parts of the world. The administration says this deal won't compromise security. But the secret nature of the process has left many people with a lot of questions and no answers.

Both Frist and the Tribune get the tone just about right: cautious, but not hysterical. A reader points out that much of the hoopla so far has been based too much on the latter:

I do business in Dubai and for the life of me can't understand the hysteria surrounding the Dubai Ports deal.  Anyone with any familiarity with Dubai understands that the executive leadership of every major corporation is expatriate, usually British, Aussie or other non-US anglophone.  And anyone with any familiarity with corporate outsourcing understands that the model is to take over the employment of the existing local employees (e.g. the US citizens who currently run the ports) and simply try to make them more efficient.

So my question is this: precisely what threat are the existing US employees supposed to pose that they didn't before the deal? And why is one group of anglophone brit managers (P&O) not a threat and another group is?

Finally, Dubai Ports is a big corporation. Precisely why would it allow terrorism anywhere near its largest revenue sources?

If we start shrieking at deals like this then our companies are going to suffer mightily in response.  For example:  Microsoft is in every government around the world....isn't that a threat to their national security?  How about Google?  How about our entire technology industry?

The critics of this deal need to get a paper bag to treat their hyperventilation.

As John and I suggested earlier, the way that this has been handled so far politically makes it almost a moot point. The administration should have had the foresight to brief Governors, Senators, relevant House members and Mayors from all the ports involved to assuage any concerns and enlist their support. Instead, those very people (both Republican and Democrat) have been attacking the deal making it a huge political liability.

Profiling & The Politics Of The Port Deal

The Financial Times has a well balanced and thoughtful editorial on the uproar over the deal on the U.S. ports and the UAE. I don’t agree with their conclusions, but if you want a more balanced understanding of this proposed transaction it is worth the two minutes to read it. This issue is more complicated than the cheap political demagoguery we have seen, especially from Democrats now preening about how tough they are on national security - and particularly from those who resist any profiling of young Arab men, but now somehow “know” this UAE company is a security threat. Isn’t this a degree of profiling?

I ask those politicians who want to “profile” this company why can’t we profile young Arab males. What’s the difference? It seems pretty common sense that if Arab companies should probably not be allowed to be contracted to run the operations at U.S. ports given the current environment, then young men from those same Arab countries should probably receive a higher level of scrutiny as well.

I don’t really want to get into the business or security aspects of this deal, because quite frankly they are irrelevant now. We live in a democracy, not a benevolent dictatorship, and because of that, politics matter. And the politics of this deal are insane. At some point along the food chain of this process, somebody with an ounce of common-sense should have spoken up and pointed out the obvious that this deal wasn’t going to fly.

This is what you would call an unforced error. The Bush administration should do themselves a favor, recognize the mistake, fix the problem and apologize to our friends in the UAE.

February 20, 2006

The Port Debacle

Does anyone outside of the administration believe selling outsourcing the operation of our ports to the UAE is a good idea? Sure doesn't seem that way. Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Robert Menendez are against it, as are Republican Governors George Pataki and Robert EhrlichSenator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Peter King (R_NY), as well as a host of others.

Yet the administration had Michael Chertoff out defending the deal yesterday on the Sunday shows, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales doing the same today in Birmingham, Alabama. I'm not well versed on the potential merits of the deal, but irrespective of whether it might be good policy it is darn sure terrible politics. It's surprising the White House couldn't see this from the beginning, and even more surprising they can't see it now.  It feels a bit like a rerun of the Harriet Miers nomination where the administration dug its heels despite knowing within hours it had made a grave mistake.

The port deal is potentially even more damaging politically to the president because it strikes at one of his few remaining core political assets: the public's perception of Bush as an aggressive fighter of terrorism and staunch defender of America. Earlier today Baltimore Mayor (and Maryland Gubernatorial hopeful) Martin O'Malley said:

"I believe that President's Bush's decision to turn over the operations of any American port is reckless. It is outrageous and it is irresponsible. We are not going to turn over the port of Baltimore to a foreign government. It's not going to happen."

When the American public starts agreeing with a liberal like O'Malley, the President is in big trouble. The port deal is an idea that seems wrong at a gut level, and no amount of talk or persuasion on the part of the White House is likely to change that feeling.

UPDATE: I've edited the title of the post and references within the post to the "sale" of U.S. ports. Bad choice of words. The deal is a contract outsourcing of the management of operations of U.S. ports to DP World. Time has the specifics:

The transaction in question is the $6.8 billion acquisition by Dubai Ports World of the British P&O shipping company, to become the world's third largest port-operator. Among P&O's numerous worldwide operations are contracts to operate port facilities in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. The transaction was approved by the Bush administration after a routine evaluation by the  Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an inter-agency body that assesses the security implications of foreign acquisitions of major U.S. infrastructure assets. U.S. officials say that both P&O and Dubai Ports World have solid security records.

AJ Strata also has more on the details of the deal and some of the lazy language being thrown around - which included the stuff in my original post.

My Cindy Sheehan Moment

Cindy Sheehan came to the friendly confines of Evanston on Saturday night, speaking to a crowd of more than 400 peace activists at the Lake Street Church. Here is a report from the Northwestern University paper. And here are a couple of things that took place which you won't find in the report:

- Juan Torres, fellow anti-war activist whose soldier son died in Afghanistan, began his speech by drawing an analogy between America and the military junta in Argentina (where he emigrated from) in the 1970's, saying that the two were similar because "the military ran everything."

- Sheehan got the biggest applause of the night when she called George Bush "irresponsible, ignorant, arrogant, and callous" and also when she said we need to get our "war profiteers" out of Iraq. 

- Sheehan told the crowd that when John Kerry's personal cell phone rings, it plays Hail to the Chief.  But, Sheehan said, the left won't support anyone who has supported the war for so long. She mentioned Russ Feingold as someone who had been "good" on the war and the crowd responded approvingly.

- Sheehan mentioned at the end of the speech that she's been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Truth and Consequences

Australian PM John Howard finds himself in a bit of hot water for stating what would seem to be the obvious:

He [Howard] said a commitment to jihad and extreme attitudes towards women were two problems unique to Muslims that previous intakes of migrants from Europe did not have, and that Australia wanted people to assimilate and adopt Australian ways.

Mr Howard said today it was his "right and duty" to express his thoughts.

"I stand by those comments that there is a small section of the Islamic population in Australia that, because of its remarks about jihad, remarks which indicate an extremist view, that is a problem," Mr Howard told reporters in Sydney.

Australian Muslims, of course, are upset over being singled out for criticism. Ali Roude, spokesman for the Islamic Council of NSW, responded:

"To suggest that Muslims alone are extremists in our society or that anyone except the smallest minority of Muslims in Australia act in this manner, or that Muslims as a group cannot adapt and embrace Australia's ways, is as invalid an argument as it is offensive and ignorant."

With all due respect, moderate Muslims do themselves no favors by minimizing the threat of Islamic extremism, by pretending it is in any way equal to other extremist elements in society, or by ignoring the question of assimilation.

Australia, and the West in general, is dealing with a very difficult moral and cultural dilemma (some would say crisis) trying to find a balance between maintaining its values of openness and tolerance while protecting itself from exceedingly aggressive Islamic culture populated with a small but lethal element and, perhaps most importantly, a growing number of those who sympathize with radical extremists.

The ICM poll released in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph illustrates the dilemma perfectly: only 1% of British Muslims felt the bombing attacks on London were justified, yet a fully 20% sympathized with the "feelings and motives" of the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks. 

As to the question of assimilation, 40% of Muslims favored introducing sharia law in parts of Britain. That seems like an awfully large number for a country with a such a tradition of tolerance and multiculturalism. One could easily draw the lesson that Britain has been too deferential to Muslim culture and has failed to put enough emphasis on assimilation. And Britain's Muslims are more well assimilated than most in Western Europe.

The point is that working through these issues will require some very frank dialogue. Tough questions must be asked and answered. As the leader of a prominent Western nation currently grappling with the issue, John Howard should be praised, not castigated, for raising some of those questions in a very reasonable and measured way.

February 18, 2006

Chuck Hagel's Cheap Shot

I was flying this past Sunday so I bought the New York Times (which is really the only time I buy a newspaper....what does that say about the news print business?) and I read the Magazine cover story on Chuck Hagel. Senator Hagel is the type of Republican that media liberals love, because he is almost always good for a shot at President Bush, particularly when it comes to Iraq.

And that in and of itself is fine, each party could use more Senators who don't always toe the party line all the time. But it is one thing to buck your President or party on substantive policy issues out of conviction, and quite another to take cheap shots at leaders of your own party.

I don't know the tone with which Hagel uttered his snide comment on the Cheney shooting to the Omaha World-Herald that "If he'd (Cheney) been in the military, he would have learned gun safety" but unless it was a bad attempt at a joke, this comes across as the type of cheap shot I'd expect from left-wing partisans. And to that point, Ari Berman over at The Nation latched on to Hagel's comment Friday as the "best zinger of the week."

I don't know how serious Hagel is about higher positions in politics. If he is content being a Senator from Nebraska he can probably get away with this stuff for as long as he wants. But if he has aspirations for higher office, as a Republican, he is going to need to change his attitude and change it quick.

Otherwise I can give him and any of his would be supporters a piece of advice -- comments that win kudos form The Nation and the New York Times are not the path to winning the Republican nomination or a VP slot. Sucking up to the Washington press corps may get you good coverage in the Washington Post and on CBS News, but it is not going to win Republican votes in 2008.

If Hagel cares about his standing in the Republican party he ought to clarify his remark or publicly apologize to the Vice President.

February 17, 2006

Jesse Jackson's Worst Nightmare

Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote a terrific article over at National Review Online highlighting how a number of black Republicans are making a run for a bunch of big elections this election year.

By now you've probably heard that Steelers gridiron great Lynn Swann is shooting for Pennsylvania's highest office. Then there's Maryland's Michael Steele, who has his sights set on retiring Democrat Paul Sarbanes's U.S. Senate seat. Keith Butler, a Detroit-area pastor, is also running for Senate in his home state of Michigan.

One gentleman whose name you best remember is Ken Blackwell. He's an old friend of mine who happens to be Ohio's Secretary of State, and has all the makings of something very special.

A recent article called "Ronald Reagan's Unlikely Heir" had this to say about Blackwell:

"Ken Blackwell has so many people worried because he represents a new political calculus with the power to shake up American politics. For Blackwell is a fiscal and cultural conservative ... who happens to be black with the proven power to attract votes from across a startlingly wide spectrum of the electorate.

Born in the projects of Cincinnati to a meat-packer who preached the work ethic and a nurse who read to him from the bible every evening, Blackwell has rejected the victimology of many black activists and opted for a different path, championing school choice, opposing abortion and advocating low taxes as a road to prosperity. The 57-year-old is equally comfortable preaching that platform to the black urban voters of Cincinnati as to the white German-Americans in Ohio's rural counties or to the state's business community."

Blackwell is the real deal. Keep your eyes on this up and coming GOP star.

The Muslim Holocaust

I'm confused. Half the time we're told by Muslims that the Holocaust never happened, and now we have people like Bouthaina Shaaban, the Syrian Minister of Expatriates, saying the Holocaust was not only real but is a perfect analogy for the way Muslims are being treated today:

"Facts show that Europe is launching a new Holocaust against Muslims around the world. What is happening to Muslims in Europe today is almost identical with what the Jews suffered at the beginning of the [last] century."

You'll have to forgive 76 year-old Herman Rosenblat if he doesn't quite buy the comparison:

Imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II, Rosenblat's early teens were spent carrying the dead bodies of his fellow prisoners from the gas chamber to the crematorium.

Wearing nothing but rags and beaten so hard he once went blind for three days, Rosenblat was sure he would perish in the camp. With their father and mother dead -- the former from typhus, the latter after being sent to a death camp -- Rosenblat's three older brothers did their best to keep the youngest member of the family alive, sneaking him bits of food.

Not quite the same thing as being forced to suffer the offense of a few lame scribblings in a Danish newspaper, but everything is relative, right?

A Tale of Two Vice Presidents

So much focus on the current Vice President's poor aim, so little focus on the former Vice President's poor judgement.  Dick Cheney accidentally blasted a friend in the face on Saturday in Texas. Al Gore purposefully blasted his country on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. 

The Chicago Sun-Times picked up my column on the subject today:

As with most things in politics and diplomacy, context is everything. Gore didn't need to fly halfway around the world to apologize to Muslims living, working and going to school in the United States after 9/11. And if Gore believed America's treatment of Muslims after Sept. 11 to be so shameful, why hadn't he made it the centerpiece of one of the numerous, widely covered speeches he's given in the last few years?

But the bigger mystery is this: Did Gore really think his comments were beneficial to the United States of America? Was he putting the interests of his country first? Did he believe making an exaggerated claim of U.S. abuse of Muslims and then apologizing for it on Middle Eastern soil would somehow help build goodwill for the United States in the Islamic world?

Jack Kelly speculates on a few answers in his column today on RCP:

One wonders what possessed the former vice president to say what he said where he said it. Perhaps he is so embittered by his narrow 2000 loss that he doesn't mind saying things helpful to America's enemies if they might be hurtful to George W. Bush. Perhaps he is desperate for money and will say whatever his paymasters want to hear in the hopes of garnering future invitations. And maybe he just isn't all that bright.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal calls Gore's remarks "bizarre" and wonders what in the world he was thinking:

In an Arab world where torture, beheadings and the cutting off of hands are considered normal sanctions not just for real felonies but also for "heresy" and other thought crimes, what on earth must Mr. Gore's listeners have imagined he meant by "terrible abuses"? What must an audience familiar with prison conditions in Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia picture when Mr. Gore speaks of "unforgivable" conditions?

One doubts they were picturing a warm dry cot, indoor plumbing and three square meals a day while an illegal immigrant who had knowingly outstayed his visa waited for a scheduled court hearing.

In the excess of caution following Sept. 11, were a few American residents of Arab extraction interrogated or even picked up and held incommunicado? Yes. Is it acceptable to criticize such abuses? Of course. Go to it.

But Al Gore clearly has a problem. The son of a famous father, Mr. Gore is "deeply insecure about his ability, stature and credentials," political consultant Dick Morris wrote in the New York Post during the 2000 campaign, in an essay headlined "Why Gore lies."

"He feels that he needs to go the extra mile to burnish his image even if he has to make things up," wrote Mr. Morris -- himself no paragon of rectitude, let us hasten to add.

But perhaps it takes one to know one.

Those in foreign lands may not realize Al Gore is merely one of our more excitable peddlers of tall tales. (Remember how he invented the Internet?) What on earth might happen if they believe him?

Thank goodness no one ever placed this man in a position where the fate of nations might have hung on his word.

Oh, wait ...

Here we are almost a week later, and whole forests have been consumed to assuage the outrage and the bruised egos of a Washington press corps upset over not being immediately notified of the Cheney accident. That same press corps, however, can't be bothered by Gore's remarks which, quite frankly, have more consequence and did more damage to America's reputation than Cheney's birdshot did to poor Harry Whittington.

February 16, 2006

The Bush-Bernanke Rally

Call it the Bush-Bernanke rally.

After two days of Congressional hearings, new Fed chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a “not-too-hot” and “not-too-cold” testimony that reassured financial markets, driving up share prices by roughly one percent across-the-board, while gold, bonds and the dollar were flat.

Meanwhile, for the first time, the Senate voted 53-47 this week in favor of extending President Bush’s investor tax-cuts on dividends and capital gains. Senator John McCain, who voted against these tax cuts in 2003, voted for them this week. That is important news for the GOP Presidential frontrunner.

During his hearings, Ben Bernanke gave the Bush tax cuts credit for economic recovery. Mr. Bernanke also pledged to keep basic inflation around 2 percent or less, and he narrated a positive view of the economy.

His biggest concern on the inflation front seemed to be a spillover effect from higher energy prices. But that hypothetical thought is being overtaken by events in the energy trading pits, where gasoline prices are plummeting and crude oil has dropped below the $60 dollar a barrel threshold. With energy inventories high, lower prices will pull down inflation rates in the next couple of months.

Lower gas prices at the pump are increasing the purchasing power of rising consumer incomes from steadily impressive job gains. This is what the housing pessimists are missing. Any cooling of the home real estate market and the cash-out income value from that market is being more than offset by falling unemployment and rising income from the job creation of healthy American businesses.

The best part of Bernanke’s testimony was his reference to the Wicksellian real-interest rate model, calculated through the difference between inflation indexed bonds and cash bonds. These forward-looking bond market indicators tell Bernanke that inflation worries are “well anchored,” and that the Fed’s interest rate target will move to neutrality at 4.75 percent, or more likely, 5 percent in the next couple of months.

The worst part of the Bernanke performance was his lingering references to resource utilization and “excess” economic growth above potential. Remember, in the second half of the 1990’s, unemployment dropped to 3.9 percent, while real economic growth averaged above 4 percent, without upward inflation pressures. The Fed’s aggressive over-tightening in 2000 led to a generalized deflation of commodity and equity and business investment. This was Greenspan’s biggest mistake, predicated on a short-run Phillips Curve trade-off which gave the Central Bank a very bad policy signal.

Hopefully Bernanke will stick with the bond indicators, bolstered by commodity and currency market signs, and will push the Phillips Curve into the background where it belongs. Otherwise, this old Soviet Gosplan approach to central planning will doom the recovery cycle.

Fortunately, Mr. Bernanke will be ably assisted by two new Fed board appointees--Kevin Warsh and Randall Kroszner--both of whom were unanimously approved today by the Senate Banking Committee. Full Senate confirmation will occur in due course. As I’ve been saying all along, George Bush has moved the Fed’s center of gravity toward free-market, supply-side economics.

Notably, Bernanke not only credited tax cuts for economic recovery, he also endorsed school choice and vouchers for better education performance. And he also contended that private market companies, not government, should underwrite terrorism risk insurance.

It’s safe to say that the “old guard” Fed bureaucracy--led by Donald Kohn--doesn’t like this free market assault one bit. They were the ones leaking potshots at young Kevin Warsh, (the Harvard trained lawyer, former investment banker, and senior policy advisor, who will be the only person in the Fed building with any real world financial market experience and contacts).

So, the Bernanke revolution is just beginning. No major news or radical departures were broken during his first two days in front of Congress. Stock markets are looking through the next couple of minor rate hikes toward pro-growth policies and a profitable continuance of the economic expansion.

It’s a good beginning.

Why China Won't Become Super

In a word: demography.  Here's the short version, delivered by Mark Steyn today in The Australian:

"Demography doesn't explain everything but it accounts for a good 90 per cent. The "who" is the best indicator of the what-where-when-and-why. Go on, pick a subject.....Will China be the hyperpower of the 21st century? Answer: No. Its population will get old before it gets rich."

Andy Mukherjee of Bloomberg goes into much more detail:

Qiao's research shows that China's dependency ratio -- the number of people too young and too old to work divided by the working-age population -- will start rising at the end of this decade and approach 50 percent in 2030, from less than 40 percent at present, making China as gray as Japan was last year.

By 2050, every 10 Chinese workers in the age group of 15 to 64 will support a total of seven younger and older people -- a dependency ratio of 70 percent.

An aging society may be an inevitable part of demographic transition, though ``what makes China's case unique is that the sharp rise in dependency ratio will arrive earlier in terms of per capita income level relative to other countries,'' Qiao says in her report.

In 2030, China's annual per capita income will be a little more than $11,000 measured in current prices, compared with almost $36,000 in Japan last year, according to Goldman Sachs's estimates. South Korea's dependency ratio will approach 50 percent in 2025, with its citizens earning $52,000 a year.

Does it matter if China gets old before it gets rich? It does, for a number of reasons. First, economic growth rates taper off with aging: It's difficult for a developing nation to get rich after its population has already grown old.

Second, aging will put further stress on China's underdeveloped pension system as an increasingly smaller cohort of workers gets saddled with the responsibility of sustaining a growing number of retired people.

A third reason is that as European nations and Japan age further, their governments may have to raise tax rates to transfer incomes from the workers to the retirees. That will create a shortage of capital.

A combination of cultural changes and the Communist Government's "one-child policy" implemented in 1979 have helped keep birthrates in China under 2.0% for the last twenty-five years, accounting for a population reduction of roughly 300 million people.

As Mukherjee reports, the result is that for the last 20-plus years, China has had a relatively high number of working-age people relative to its overall population, a major factor contributing to the country's explosive economic growth.  But the "demographic dividend" China has enjoyed is poised to turn into a deficit as the pre-1978 baby boomer generation begins to retire, potentially leaving the country with a very gray, yet still relatively poor population.

More on Tax Reform

The Club for Growth's Andy Roth penned a pithy column called "Tax Competition" that echoes the thoughts I recently expressed in my blog "Voting with Their Feet". Here it is:

"Do liberals believe in tax competition? Do they recognize that it exists? This is a serious question and I honestly don’t know the answer. They probably believe on some level that it does exist, but since it doesn’t mesh well with their overall philosophy, they choose to ignore it.

I bring this up because I came across this article about how the Swiss are cutting tax rates to compete against Ireland and the EU.

Consider an example: Two towns border each other. Town A has a sales tax rate of 8.125%, while Town B has a sales tax rate of 5%. Is it not common sense to assume that people will spend more money in Town B, and as a result, Town B will collect more in tax revenue? (this really happened)

Fact is, liberals need to admit that incentives really do matter. People prefer to be taxed less than to be taxed more. They don’t overpay their tax returns (not even John Kerry does that) and businesses like areas where taxes are low, even if that means going overseas.

We can move mountains if liberals concede that fact. Let’s agree to simplify the tax code and slash rates, or even abolish the income tax and move to a low national sales tax.

Once we agree on that, then we can debate the old argument about tax fairness until everyone is blue in the face. But, the point is that everyone needs to recognize that the Laffer Curve is a mathematical verity. Until then, liberals will continue to look like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand."

Dumping Dick Cheney?

I don’t know what's going on in George Bush’s mind, but I suspect the idea that he may be thinking about replacing Dick Cheney - as the lead to Peggy Noonan’s article today suggests - is not very likely. This is a President who prizes loyalty and a man who steadfastly stuck by Don Rumsfeld when other Presidents would have bent to pressure and called for a replacement.
 
Fred Barnes does a great job in his new book, Rebel-in-Chief, explaining how Bush deals with the Washington chattering class and press corps. The White House may be tactically spinning the press with background comments that they're “not happy” with how Cheney handled this, but I suspect Bush personally got a laugh at how the national press corps got scooped by a small Texas paper.
 
This story reveals so much more, and not favorably, about the Beltway press and punditocracy than it does about Dick Cheney or the Bush administration. Tony Blankley describes the situation well:

the Washington press corp, and particularly the White House press corp, has developed, as an institution, a grossly dilated view of itself. Most of us can tolerate arrogance if it is accompanied by extraordinary capacity and virtuosity. The brilliant scientist, the war-winning general, the great artists are entitled to their pride.

But the hallmark of the Washington Press corp these days is mediocrity, groupthink, a lack of curiosity and rampant careerism……

We live at a moment of revolutionary change in the international order. The rise and violence of radical, possibly caliphate-forming Islam and the huge, culture-changing, unexamined consequences of rampant globalization make the present one of the least predictable moments to be alive.

Both government officials and citizens are in desperate need of a national press corp that is alive to the change and digging to find factual hints of the near future. We need the kind of future-oriented intellectual vigor, curiosity and genuine iconoclasm that typified American reporters in the first half of the last century.

Instead, as the shooting party incident exemplified, we have in the White House at the most elite level of American journalism, self-absorbed, self-important men and women who stand on their prerogatives even over marginal and inconsequential matters.

Assuming Mr. Whittington doesn’t die and there are not contradictions in Cheney’s account of what happened, this story is over, and it will have no lasting impact on the Bush administration. Because once again the MSM and the left have massively overreacted to a story in an attempt to damage the Bush administration, and the backlash against their overreaction will counteract whatever political damage this story may have caused.

February 15, 2006

How Dare Cheney Speak Only To FOX!

Apparently my favorite Senate Democrat, Charles Schumer, doesn't think Cheney's interview with FOX News is good enough. Here's the statement just released from Schumer's office:

"Doing an exclusive interview with any single news organization is not enough.  The Vice President hasn’t had a press conference in three and a half years and he ought to have one to clear the air not only on this issue, but more importantly on the many other issues that have been shrouded by a veil of secrecy.  The press corps and American people deserve answers, not avoidance from this Administration."

One single news organization is not enough! I doubt Schumer would say that if the interview was with the New York Times. By the way, does the fact that FOX News has higher ratings than CNN, CNBC, and MSNBC combined count at all?  Cheney could have really kept the American public in the dark by going on Hardball.

A Curious Curriculum

From today's Chicago Tribune:

Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum

Hoping to better capture the attention of African-Americans and close the achievement gap between black and white students, a group of parents and educators is pushing for adoption of an African-centered curriculum in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

The curriculum would keep state-required core subjects such as reading, language arts and math but include the history and culture of Africans and African-Americans in daily school lessons. [snip]

The idea behind Afrocentric curriculum is that the lessons focus on black students and, in addition to teaching them basic skills, build their self-esteem and confidence, said Cheryl Ajirotutu, an anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who is co-author of the book "African-Centered Schooling in Theory and Practice."

Whenever you hear the phrase "building self-esteem" it's time to head for the hills. Schools are for learning, homes are for building self-esteem. 

Beyond that, why on earth would we expect a curriculum with a special focus on African-American culture to have any effect on closing the achivement gap in math? In fact, the Tribune article references a Harvard University expert who says, "there's no proof that the concept actually works."

So why spend time blindly grasping at straws  - no matter how well intentioned - to try and solve the achievement gap? The answer, I think, is that we seem unwilling to address some of other core issues involved head on. 

More Swann vs. Rendell

Contra the Keystone poll from a few days ago showing the race a dead heat, Quinnipiac is out this morning with a new poll giving Governor Ed Rendell a 12-point lead over Lynn Swann, 48% to 36%. Rendell scores a 51% job approval and a 49% reelect in the poll. 

The bad news for Rendell: 51% of voters think he broke his pledge on lowering property taxes in his first term. That's a very potent issue working against him. The bad news for Swann: 40% of voters (including 32% of Republicans and 41% of Independents) say he doesn't have the "right kind of experience" to be Governor.  The good news for Swann is that he still has a long time and a lot of opportunity to change those numbers in his favor.

February 14, 2006

The Cheney Ridiculousness

I was traveling on Sunday and had my knee operated on today, so I have been a little behind on some of the political buzz. But watching the news reports this evening the media hysteria over the Cheney shooting mishap is just laughable. Our good friend Duane over at RadioBlogger has the audio of Monday’s press conference free-for-all and also David Gregory’s self-aggrandizing today.

Brian Williams, in a promo for the NBC’s Evening News on MSNBC, said something like “what happened and when did they know it”, as if this was some kind of national scandal. On Hardball, Chris Mathews was convinced there had to be something serious being hidden here, otherwise why would Cheney have waited so long to tell the press? Lawrence O’Donnell at the Huffington Post suggested Cheney may have been boozed up - a perfect urban legend/conspiracy that could never be disproved to the satisfaction of the Bush/Cheney haters on the left. Cheney friendly NRO chimes in worried that the administration may suffer some PR damage, advising the Vice President to “make a public appearance on the matter, and the sooner the better.”
 
Unless something comes out the contrary, I'm going to assume that this event is what everyone involved says it is……an accident. And I suspect that Dick Cheney's concern was not and is not the press or the PR spin, but rather the health of his friend. Furthermore, I suspect with his friend still in intensive care the suggestion that Cheney should do PR damage control is a non-starter, as it should be. The Republic will survive the Washington press corps' being notified 14 hours late.

Dems to Paul Hackett: No Thanks

There is lots of buzz about Democrat Paul Hackett dropping out of Ohio's Senate race.  In case you've forgotten, Hackett is the Iraq veteran who in last year's special election challenged Republican Jean Schmidt for Ohio's 2nd district seat in the U.S. House.  He received praise from Democrats and the media for his strong showing in the heavily Republican district.  Then he accepted invitations from Washington party officials to challenge the vulnerable Sen. Mike DeWine in 2006.

But Hackett's chances took a dive only two days after he announced his candidacy, when Rep. Sherrod Brown said he, too, would run for the Democratic nomination.  In his political obituary for Hackett, Markos Moulitsas makes clear:

Hackett didn't stand a chance. He had a tenth of Brown's money, and that was before party people allegedly tried to stop Hackett's donors from giving. His field operation in the special election was literally put together and implemented by Dan Lucas. Who is Dan Lucas? Sherrod Brown's campaign manager. Hackett's netroots effort in the special election was put together by Tim Tagaris. And while Tim is now at the DNC, he helped put together Brown's netroots operation.

Daniel Drezner points to today's New York Times article on Hackett and says:

 I bring this up only because Hackett was Exhibit A in the power of the Democratic Party's "netroots." He almost won last year's special election in a district where no one thought Democrats could be competitive...

[So why are you posting about this?--ed.] Because this is a pretty big slap in the face to the argument that the Democratic Party is being held hostage by its netroots base -- although the real test will be to see if Brown faces any backlash.

Steve Clemons also looks at the implications for those he calls the "Dem insurgents":

There aren't many silver bullet solutions to America's political problems broadly or to the problems in either the Democratic or Republican parties. Hackett's war service profile, near win in the last election, and general attitude about policy and politics was refreshing to a progressive grassroots constituency that wants to change the course of the Democratic Party.

Let's presume for a moment that I endorse that impulse.

To accomplish what is essentially a hijacking of the party -- or at least to wrestle away the helm of party control -- the insurgents who were behind Hackett need to have weight in a good 25-30% of other key races that Democrats are wrestling with (if not more). The 25-30% is enough inside the party to play a controlling or significant co-stakeholder role in party decision-making.

Furthermore, to win this battle for control -- some candidates, like Hackett, will have to vigorously run until the end, even if their candidacy looks doomed, or cash-strapped. It is certainly true that a slug-fest between Sherrod Brown and Paul Hackett may have harmed the Democratic Party -- and may even help Mike DeWine -- but to win a seat at the table and to chair the meeting when decisions are being made, the insurgent Dems will have to line up behind a number of candidates willing to go all the way.

One can't change the Democratic Party establishment if one remains dependent on that party's good graces and preferences. In this case, Rahm Emanuel and Co. began to choke Hackett because he wasn't playing ball the way that Rahm wanted or needed him to.

Clemons gives a very interesting analysis, but before we get sentimental about Hackett's "refreshing" campaign, let's remember this statement he made to the Columbus Dispatch:

The Republican Party has been hijacked by religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren't a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden and a lot of other religious nuts around the world.

Maybe this is the kind of thing Clemons expects from the "Dem insurgents," but it is certainly not the type of Michael Moore rhetoric voters in Ohio are looking for.

Justifying The Funeral Follies

Uber-lefty John Nichols assures his readers in the Capital Times that launching politically motivated attacks from the pulpit of a funeral service is perfectly respectable behavior - and in the case of President Bush it was actually a laudable thing to do:

But don't think that anything untoward actually took place in the Atlanta suburb where thousands gathered to celebrate the life, the work and the politics of Coretta King. The service provided the president with a healthy - if all too rare - dose of reality. Bush's policies are not popular, particularly with the African-American community, and the president needed a gentle reminder of that fact.

Nichols scores additional chutzpah points for arguing that one of the reasons the attacks were justified was President Bush's graceful and dignified response to them:

To his credit, Bush seemed to take the criticism is stride, even shaking hands with and embracing Lowery, Carter and other speakers. And that may be the most important point that can be made about this rare moment in which the president heard actual dissent - as opposed to the manufactured applause that usually accompanies his stage-managed public appearances.

Thus Nichols comes to the tortured conclusion that "Bush and the American discourse surely benefited" from the President of the United States being forced to suffer the indignity of being attacked while simply trying to pay his respects to Mrs. King.

As you might imagine, Jesse Jackson takes a significantly less tactful and sophisticated approach:

Memorial services are meant to pay tribute to the lives and the struggles of the deceased. No one would modify the memorial for Moses to make the pharaoh feel better.

Jackson goes on to suggest that Bush shouldn't have decided to come to the funeral unless he was willing to get what was coming to him:

Bush chose to come to the funeral, but he stands on the other side of history from Dr. King and Coretta...There are those who want to erase the reality that the president was and is on the wrong side of the human rights and justice struggle in America that Dr. King and Coretta led. The president has a right to be on that side of history. What he does not have a right to be is a wolf in sheep's clothing, pretending to be supportive of the civil-rights and human-rights struggle that they lived. Lowery and Carter ensured the funeral service broke through that lie.

This from the man who used the blood of Dr. King (literally) to launch his own career - now a four-decade long odyssey that has arguably done more to enrich himself and members of his family than to achieve Dr. King's dream.

February 13, 2006

Where You Can Put Your Two Cents

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an "interactive" feature called "Two Cents" where readers are encouraged to respond to questions posed by the editorial staff. Here's the "Two Cents" question the Chronicle asked this week: Who's more dangerous: bin Laden or Bush?. Don't snicker, I believe they were being serious.

Now check out some of the responses, which I'm sure surprised the Chronicle's staff:

"While I am no defender of Bush, this question borders on the offensive."

"I would never compare Bush to bin Laden. "

"My jaw dropped in disbelief at this question."

Coming next week: Who is more of a tyrant: Saddam Hussein or George W. Bush?

Santorum Still In Deep

New Quinnipiac poll out today shows Santorum still trailing Casey badly, 51-36. Santorum is not only way behind Casey among independents (52-29), he's only getting 70% support among his own party at this point, with 21% of Republicans saying they'll vote for Casey.

Santorum's job approval rating is at an all-time low of 43% (not coincidentally, President Bush scored his lowest job approval in this poll as well at 37%) and his reelect number is a dismal 41%.  If there's a silver lining for Santorum in this poll, I can't find it.

Quote of the Day

"This notion of being energy independent is completely unreasonable." -  Peter Robertson, Vice Chairman of Chevron, at the Jeddah Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia.

Did Howard Dean Lie?

Two weeks ago Howard Dean quietly abolished the DNC's "constituent outreach" programs, including the one directed at gays and lesbians. Dean's spokesman said they've all been folded into a new program that is "an expansion of what we had before," but gay Democrats aren't buying it.

On Friday, Ramon Gardehireformer deputy director for GLBT Outreach for the Democratic National Committee, wrote that Dean went back on a pledge he put in writing last year while campaigning for the job:

WHAT’S EVEN WORSE than the DNC’s disservice to gay Americans is the fact that Howard Dean lied on this very issue.

During his campaign to become DNC chair, Dean stated in a questionnaire from the DNC Gay Caucus that, if elected, he would retain the office of GLBT outreach.

Dean has broken his word and his flip-flop is tearing at the contract between the Democratic Party and GLBT voters, which has benefited both for so long. This gay Democrat is growing increasingly tired of political cowardice and lies.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Dean's election as Chair of the Democratic Party. During those twelve months he's had a number of foot-in-mouth moments, raised less and spent more (as a percentage of total cash) than his counterpart at the RNC, and alienated a core constituency.  Not a bad year's work.

Killing The Messengers

In case you missed it, here's the intro to my column from Saturday:

Two masked men rush through the lobby doors and into the newspaper building. One pulls the clip on a grenade and hurls it into the newsroom. Both pull out automatic weapons and begin spraying bullets throughout the office. The paper’s employees scramble frantically for cover, racing out into the hallways and hiding under desks. In a matter of minutes the terrorists are gone, leaving the office a mess of smoke, shattered glass, and debris.

The attack I’m describing might sound like a potential nightmare scenario involving Islamic terrorists in Denmark or a country in Western Europe - but it’s not. It took place five days ago in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo.

In the rest of the column I go into a bit more detail on the attack in Nuevo Laredo, as well as the lessons to be learned from the drug cartels' silencing of the press through intimidation.

But the situation in Nuevo Laredo deserves more attention, because a low-grade guerilla war is essentially being waged just across our Southern border.  Two more people were executed gang-land style in Nuevo Laredo yesterday, bring the total number of killings there in the first forty-four days of the year to 29. 

The McAllen Monitor editorializes on the subject today, concluding, " In America there has been much talk and worry about securing the border from terrorism. In Mexico, shamefully, control of the border appears to have been largely yielded."

Kyl Stands Ground

Interesting article on Arizona's other Senator:

Where Will The Issue of Wiretaps Take Race?

Dan Nowicki
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 12, 2006 12:00 AM
The White House has taken intense heat for wiretapping suspected terrorist figures without search warrants. Critics compared it to Watergate-era dirty tricks and resurrected the ghost of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in attacking President Bush as a serial violator of Americans' rights.

In the midst of the inferno, one senator has not wilted: Jon Kyl.
Read the whole thing

Stuck on Stupid: Ann Coulter & Al Gore

Apparently, Ann Coulter called Muslims "ragheads" at the Conservative Political Action Conference this past weekend.  How stupid, pathetic, and unnecessary.  Coulter can often be sharp and funny - especially when attacking certain liberal sensibilities - but these comments crossed the line.

Yesterday, in Saudi Arabia, Al Gore told a crowd at the Jeddah Economic Forum that after September 11, Arabs in America had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable."  This strikes me as a grotesque mischaracterization of what happened in America after September 11. 

Now ask yourself: between the asinine comments of Gore and Coulter, who's done more harm to the cause of the United States? Clearly Coulter's comments are more "offensive" in the traditional sense in that they are bigoted and inflammatory. But ultimately, she's just a rhetorical bomb-throwing pundit (though a best-selling one) who thought she was being funny.  Al Gore is the former Vice President of the United States and potentially a candidate for president in 2008 standing up at a major forum in the Middle East accusing his own country of "indiscriminately" rounding up Muslims and locking them up in "unforgivable" conditions. 

It doesn't take a genius to know that Gore's accusations of abuse will get much more play - and be taken much more seriously - throughout the Muslim world than Coulter's unfortunate slur.

February 10, 2006

Bring On The Moderates

On a day when we saw more bad news in the Cartoon Wars, we've also finally been treated to some good news: European Muslims Offer Low-Key Response to CartoonsDanish Imam Condemns Cartoon Violence.

Most importantly, this story that just cleared the AP wire about an hour ago:

The Islamic world is fed up with violence and extremism in the name of religion and is ready for an era of progressive, democratic Muslim governments, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said Friday.

Under the current circumstances, these types of gestures are an important first start. We'll have to wait and see whether they lead to real progress or just more of the same.

Another reason for encouragement is this email, sent to me by a reader in response to my column on Wednesday asking where all the moderate Muslims have been for the last five years. Reader AH writes:  

Dear Tom,

I am an American-Muslim. I also am a regular visitor of Realclearpolitics.com. In reference to your opinion about 'Waiting for the Moderate Muslims,' well, we are here. We have been here pre-9/11 too, its just that the media does not find us TV savvy. They do not find moderate and powerful voices of the Muslim community that clearly condemn acts such as cartoon violence, the incessant Bin Laden tapes, and 'honor killings' better than the minority of many of the Muslim countries playing with bombs and fire. Neither do the media realize what impact Muslims are making at a civic engagement standpoint such as steering a Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress, producing a counter-terrorism plan [and have been well before 9/11, yearly], and holding regular meetings with the FBI and other local officials to be 'part' of the solution. Muslims groups such as CAIR and MPAC call for mosque transparency in terms of their bookkeeping/accounting so they do not fall victim of frozen funds from terrorist related suspects. These are just minuscule examples of what we are attempting to accomplish in order to fully integrate into our pluralistic society. Trying to build viable contacts with the government and ensuring the media to look at us with a legitimate and credulous perspective, as you can imagine, is very difficult. Not only has the acts of the cartoon violence inhibited our growth to manifest the Muslim moderate voice, so has the initial publishing of the cartoon itself.

I have no doubt there is a huge media component to this story. Much like the press's  propensity to distort reality in Iraq by constantly broadcasting the latest flames and carnage, it's almost certainly true we are getting a distorted picture of the protests in the Cartoon Wars. They are a small but important sliver of the larger reality.

Lastly, I also received an email from C. Holland Taylor, the CEO of an organization called the Libforall Foundation, who wrote, "We work with moderate Muslim leaders who have not only the courage, but also the influence to combat the spread of Islamist radicalism and affect the outcome of the struggle for the soul of Islam that is raging throughout much of the world." You can visit the Libforall Foundation web site here.

National Security and "Dirty Windows"

Some interesting posts from the blogosphere today:

Senator Evan Bayh, writing at the Huffington Post,  offers a rebuttal to Republican claims that Democrats are not trustworhty on National Security issues:

Karl Rove has claimed that Democrats are too weak to defend the nation, that President Bush is simply tougher. Tough is good, but six years into the Bush Presidency it is clear that tough is not enough.

We need a foreign policy that is both tough... and smart. The good news? That is the historic legacy of the Democratic Party.

AJ Strata takes issue with some of the FISA Court judges who have been critical of Bush's NSA surveillance program:

Folks, the military is not going to ask FISA to monitor, capture and search terrorists overseas. Not going to happen. What will result is the re-establishment of ‘The Wall’ because NSA will simply go back to not passing leads to the FBI. FISA and its idiotic defenders are REPEATING the pre 9-11 mistakes by making FISA something to avoid instead of a tool for our defense and our freedoms. 

Kevin Drum, on the other hand, has some questions "for anyone who thinks the Fourth Amendment is obsolete."

Andy McCarthy reacts to the tentative Senate agreement reached on the Patriot Act: "This is a very good deal."

And Michael Barone passes on some words of wisdom from reporter/blogger Michael Yon, who has returned from Iraq after spending most of last year there:

"Don't go out in a vehicle with dirty windows," he says. He found that soldiers who didn't keep their windows clean were also careless and not sufficiently alert to possible threats. Soldiers who kept their windows clean, on the other hand, were terrific.

Barone relates this theory to the crime control measures used to clean up New York City in the 1990s.

See our Blog Coverage page for more.

Swann vs. Rendell: Game On

A new Keystone poll out today shows Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell clinging to a slight lead over the now all but assured GOP Gubernatorial hopeful Lynn Swann, 45-42.  By the way, some of you may have missed this column on the Rendell-Swann match up carried on RealClearPolitics last night co-authored by the G. Terry Madonna, Director of the Keystone poll.  Here is a clip:

And what should we make of the race to come? Who would have imagined that an all pro Hall of Fame Pittsburgh wide receiver and ABC sports announcer would run for governor against a Philadelphia Eagles commentator who just happens to be the governor of Pennsylvania? Swann himself has suggested that the race is about a sports announcer who wants to be governor and a governor who wants to be a sports announcer. Well not quite. But the metaphors are sprouting faster than potholes after a Pennsylvania winter.

Read the whole thing. It's going to be a great campaign.

Also included in the new Keystone poll are numbers for the Senate race. Nine months out Rick Santorum is still staring at a steep uphill battle. Casey leads Santorum 50-39 with 11% undecided.

Quote of the Day

"In terms of the political shots at the president who was sitting there with his wife, I didn't like it and I thought it was kind of ugly frankly.  Anybody that shoots at the president of the United States at a funeral, I just didn't appreciate that." - Former Pesident George H.W. Bush, referring to the attack on his son at Coretta Scott King's funeral.

BONUS QUOTE FROM BUSH 41: "I thought President Clinton was maybe the best. It was his crowd. They talk about Bill Clinton being 'the first black president,' well when you walk into that church with 12,000 or whatever it was, I mean it was very clear who that crowd loved and respected."

Brownie On His Own

From the Washington Post today:

Michael D. Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was rebuffed in his request for a claim of executive privilege and plans to testify to a Senate panel today about his calls and e-mails to President Bush and top White House aides in the Hurricane Katrina crisis, Brown's lawyer said yesterday.

White House Counsel Harriet Miers declined to offer Brown a legal defense for declining to testify or respond to a Feb. 6 letter advising that without such protection Brown "intends to answer all questions fully, completely and accurately," said Brown's lawyer, Andrew W. Lester. (emphasis added)

Strange behavior from a lying, corrupt, rampantly abusive, imperial administration, no? So is the White House hanging Brownie out to dry, or does it really fear his testimony but can't find any justification for extending a claim of executive privilege? Or was Brown trying to bully the administration into giving him executive privilege protection by threatening to "tell all" and the White House called his bluff?

Some clues can be found in the details provided in the New York Times today. The Times reports that the Department of Homeland Security received word late Monday night (9:27p.m.) that the 17th street levee in New Orleans had broken and also that the news eventually reached the White House around midnight. The Times treats this as a contradiction to the White House's initial claim it didn't learn about the levee breaking until Tuesday morning - even though the White House says it was receiving conflicting reports. Nevertheless, the Times continues:

But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush, on vacation in Texas, was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.

Clearly, there was a great deal of confusion and the federal government, along with a great many other people including the news media in New Orleans and around the country, developed a misperception of the severity of what had actually taken place.

The Times' investigation revealed a number of other details showing that there is plenty of blame to go around for failures that occurred all across the board at the local and state levels as well as the federal level:

Among the findings that emerge in the mass of documents and testimony were these:

¶Federal officials knew long before the storm showed up on the radar that 100,000 people in New Orleans had no way to escape a major hurricane on their own and that the city had finished only 10 percent of a plan for how to evacuate its largely poor, African-American population.

¶Mr. Chertoff failed to name a principal federal official to oversee the response before the hurricane arrived, an omission a top Pentagon official acknowledged to investigators complicated the coordination of the response. His department also did not plan enough to prevent a conflict over which agency should be in charge of law enforcement support. And Mr. Chertoff was either poorly informed about the levee break or did not recognize the significance of the initial report about it, investigators said.

¶The Louisiana transportation secretary, Johnny B. Bradberry, who had legal responsibility for the evacuation of thousands of people in nursing homes and hospitals, admitted bluntly to investigators, "We put no plans in place to do any of this."

¶Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans at first directed his staff to prepare a mandatory evacuation of his city on Saturday, two days before the storm hit, but he testified that he had not done so that day while he and other city officials struggled to decide if they should exempt hospitals and hotels from the order. The mandatory evacuation occurred on Sunday, and the delay exacerbated the difficulty in moving people away from the storm.

¶The New Orleans Police Department unit assigned to the rescue effort, despite many years' worth of flood warnings and requests for money, had just three small boats and no food, water or fuel to supply its emergency workers.

¶Investigators could find no evidence that food and water supplies were formally ordered for the Convention Center, where more than 10,000 evacuees had assembled, until days after the city had decided to open it as a backup emergency shelter. FEMA had planned to have 360,000 ready-to-eat meals delivered to the city and 15 trucks of water in advance of the storm. But only 40,000 meals and five trucks of water had arrived.

Brown's testimony will be embarrassing to the administration because it will refocus attention on the many failures surrounding the Katrina tragedy, including those at FEMA and DHS. But I would think all the political damage from the debacle is already "priced in", so to speak, and I'll be surprised if we hear anything from Brown that will drastically change the public's opinion on the matter.

February 09, 2006

A Contrived Controversy

We keep learning more and more about the cartoon controversy.  Of course, most of the breaking news has been reported by the blogosphere.  For instance, Andrew Sullivan and the Belmont Club point to an Egyptian blog showing that the Jyllands-Posten cartoons were also published in October in a major Egyptian newspaper.  That's right, apparently the Danish cartoons were reprinted on the front page of Al Fager's October 17, 2005 edition.  Sullivan takes out his anger on the U.S. media, particularly the New York Times:

So it's official: the Egyptian state media is less deferential to Islamists than the New York Times. So where were the riots in Cairo? This whole affair is a contrived, manufactured attempt by extremist Muslims to move the goal-posts on Western freedom. They're saying: we determine what you can and cannot print; and there's a difference between what Muslims can print and what infidels can print. And, so far, much of the West has gone along. In this, well-meaning American editors have been played for fools and cowards. Maybe if they'd covered the murders of von Gogh and Fortuyn more aggressively they'd have a better idea of what's going on; and stared down this intimidation. The whole business reminds me of the NYT's coverage of the Nazis in the 1930s. They didn't get the threat then. They don't get it now.

Meanwhile Michelle Malkin has a post on "The Pig Snout Swindle."  This title refers to one of the three "extra-offensive" cartoons that Danish imams falsely attributed to the Jyllands-Posten in order to stoke violence.  According to Malkin:

One of the Danish TV network's reporters also aggressively interviewed Danish imam Ahmed Akkari, who was part of the traveling delegation that spread this pamphlet (via the Counterterrorism Blog and Ekstra Bladet) containing the 12 Jyllands-Posten cartoons and unrelated propaganda across the Middle East...

The Danish TV broadcaster refused to let the pig snout swindle go unchallenged and aggressively engaged Danish imam Ahmed Akkari.

She provides a transcript and video link of the encounter in her same post.

Finally, Amir Taheri has two pieces worth mentioning.  The first is a column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.  Taheri busts the myth that it is against Islamic principles to make representations of Mohammed.  He puts it simply: "There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else."  Rather, he says the issue has never been decided and is by no means absolute.  Muslim history helps to buttress his point, as he offers a long list of Mohammed portraits drawn by Muslim artists.

In today's New York Post, Taheri presses the issue further:

In December, a group of Danish Muslim militants filled their suitcases with photocopies of the cartoons and embarked on a tour of Muslim capitals.

The Muslim Brotherhood turned away the Danish group in Cairo, because it "was busy plotting election strategy and pretending to be a 'moderate' political party."  Hamas was trying to build support for their own Palestinian elections, so they too turned down the Danish group.  Both groups suggested that they hold off a few months.  According to Taheri:

The emissaries found a more sympathetic audience in Qatar — where the satellite-TV channel Al Jazeera (owned by the emir) specializes in inciting Muslims against the West and democracy in general. The channel's chief Islamist televangelist, Yussuf al-Qaradawi (an Egyptian preacher who is also a friend of Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London), was all too keen to issue a "fatwa" to light the fuse. He then mobilized his network of Muslim Brotherhood militants in Europe to attack the cartoons and claim, falsely, that images were not allowed in Islam and that the Danish paper had violated "an absolute principle of The Only True Faith."

In the rest of the column, Taheri explains how Iranian and Syrian leaders jumped on the bandwagon in order to tarnish Denmark's image in the eyes of Muslim faithful.  Why?  Because both Iran and Syria are under pressure from the United Nations, and Denmark is set to take over the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council.

Quote of the Day

"As far as the media are concerned, Obama walks on water. If he ever develops gas and burps, half the nation's newspapers will run front-page stories declaring his breath to be lavender. The other half will declare it to be peach. CNN's Wolf Blitzer will shout that it's a combination of the best peach and the best lavender." -  John Kass in today's Chicago Tribune.

Nothing Is Above Politics Anymore

Events like the funeral of Coretta Scott King continue to convince me that the far left in this country is careening out of control like a five-year old who's come unbuckled from his booster seat. It's just hard to imagine some are so warped by hatred for this President they actually consider his attendance to pay respects to the widow of America's signature civil rights icon nothing more than a "little political stunt." It's that sort of juvenile, cynical mentality that just repulses most Americans.

Mary Mitchell, an African-American columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, is no conservative and no water-carrier for this President. Yet she was appalled at the lack of civility on display at Mrs. King's funeral:

No one says a mean word at a funeral. Even gang-bangers hold their anger until the casket is removed from the sanctuary. [snip]

Of course, dignitaries should have paid their respects to the family of Coretta, a woman who was known as the "First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement." But it was selfish and embarrassing to see so many of those dignitaries use her funeral as their bully pulpits.

At a political gathering, it's fair game to criticize the president.

But it was tacky and disrespectful for anyone to launch into a political attack at a funeral. [snip]

Have we lost our dignity? Have we abandoned our traditions?

Unfortunately, it looks like we have. John Cole, who leans to the right but is by no means a hard core conservative, made what should have been a similarly bland observation: it is inappropriate to attack a person attending a service to honor someone. Go scroll through the comments section of his post to see how some reacted to his call for civility and basic manners.

Finally, Lee Harris does a good job of explaining why this attack was so distasteful and underhanded:

This week, at the funeral for the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, two of the speakers, Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery, might have opened their remarks by saying that they came not to bury Coretta Scott King, but to bash Bush, which is exactly what they proceeded to do. They exploited a solemn occasion in order to take cheap pot shots at the President, keenly aware that their remarks would be broadcast around the world, and into many American classrooms.

Of course, both Carter and Lowery were also aware that the target of their attack, George W. Bush, was sitting right behind them. Had he not been present on the occasion, their Bush-bashing would have only been an affront to good taste. But because Bush had come there to honor the memory of Coretta Scott King, and not to engage in a debate with his political opponents, the attacks on him crossed the boundaries of mere bad taste, and became low blows. They were deliberately attacking a man who they knew could not, under the circumstances, defend himself against their assault. Their aim was quite obvious -- to embarrass and humiliate Bush in the full knowledge that there was not a thing Bush could decently do about it.

The President, for example, could not do what most people, including myself, would have done. He could not jump up and simply walk out -- that would have created a scandal. Therefore, he had no choice but to sit there and take it. He was hopelessly trapped, and was entirely at the mercy of his assailants -- and they knew it. He had to behave like the President, even when a former President, Mr. Carter, was behaving like a cad.

The left is welcome to screech and froth and spew as much hatred as they want over this President. Lord knows the hard right had its collective fits over Clinton all through the 90's. Yet it is inconceivable that a former Republican President would have seen fit to launch an attack on Bill Clinton on the occasion of a dignitary's death. It wouldn't have happened. Because the unwritten rule has always been - up until the left recently lost its mind, that is - that some things were above politics.

February 08, 2006

Abu Hamza Gets 7

It certainly is ironic that the British press, not particularly well known for its reluctance to publish inflammatory or provocative material, has so far refrained from showing readers exactly why Muslims were wandering through the streets of London the other day with signs saying they would behead anyone who mocked Mohammed. 

There is, I'm told, a certain amount of economic interest involved (as is almost always the case) but the sudden outbreak of reticence among the British press corps is clearly due in large part to fear. Undoubtedly, that fear has been cultivated over the years by allowing people like radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to spew the most violent, hateful rhetoric without consequence. Yesterday a British court convicted Hamza on 11 out of 15 counts of inciting murder, resulting in a seven year jail sentence.

One of the boundaries of free speech in a civilized society is that you may not preach or encourage the killing of other innocent members of society. As offensive as it may be to most Brits, Hamza can call Jews the decendants of pigs and apes as often as he'd like.  What he can't do, however, is instruct his fellow Muslims that it's okay to take to the streets and murder innocent Jews, Christians and Buddhists simply because they don't believe in Allah.

The Times editorializes on the subject:

First, it is worth saying what the trial was not about. As Mr Justice Hughes emphasised in his summing-up, it is not an offence to describe living in Britain as a “toilet”, as Abu Hamza had. Nor is it an offence to suggest that Western societies are corrupt and without moral value. But the prosecution succeeded in demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that Abu Hamza’s outpourings of bile overstepped not just the boundaries of taste, decency and liberal tolerance but also those of the law. At a time when the limits on free speech are at the forefront of our national debate, the jury delivered an unambiguous verdict: preaching that the killing of non-Muslims was justified in any circumstances, “even if there was no reason for it”, as Abu Hamza put it, was not just beyond the pale but also beyond legality. [snip]

Abu Hamza’s conviction offers an opportunity for British Muslims. In his defence, he claimed he was encouraging Muslims to stand up for themselves. This they should do, but by denouncing the fanaticism he breathed in the name of their religion. Rather than perpetuate the image of victimhood that he thrust on them, Britain’s moderate and rightfully proud Muslims owe it to their faith to denounce Abu Hamza for the thug he is and set about repairing the image of Islam from the damage he has inflicted on it.

Advice to Dems: Face Up to the Problem

Elaine Kamarck is a lecturer at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and was a senior adviser to Vice President Al Gore.  Today in Newsday she gives the Democrats the kind of political advice Republicans love to see.

Some Democrats are so freaked by the past they are arguing that members of the party should stay away from one of the biggest issues of the day: the Bush administration's domestic spying operations.

This is a mistake for two reasons. First, if the Democratic leaders stay away from this issue, the activist left will fill the void. The left wing of the party frequently manages to sound weak on defense and weak on terror. Nothing could play more into Rove's hand. He wants this debate to be about eavesdropping on al-Qaida, familiar territory on which they win.

Second, if Democratic leaders can't question an issue with profound constitutional importance, a great many Americans will wonder - as they did in the past two elections - whether this party believes in anything at all.

And so the challenge is to get the debate onto Democratic grounds.

What Kamarck doesn’t understand is because of the left-wing’s influence on Democratic politics there isn’t any “Democratic grounds” on national security, its Republican occupied territory. As far the “left will fill the void” she’s too late, there is no void to fill. Howard Dean is Chairman, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the Congressional leaders and Joe Lieberman is persona non grata. All she is doing with this advice is unwittingly playing right into Rove’s strategy.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Start with stopping the process of writing Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic Party and then take on the Dean/MoveOn/Pelosi crowd, otherwise Democrats have no chance of competing with Republicans on national security and terrorism issues.

Quote of the Day

"The Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority will save the Jews from themselves. Allah, not just the generals, works overtime for the Jews in order to rescue them from their politicians' chronic blindness." - Uri Dan, in a column titled "Hamas Saved Israel" in the Jerusalem Post (reg req)

Maureen Dowd's Misogyny Slur

As hard as it might be to believe, there's an unusual abundance of low-hanging rhetorical fruit in Maureen Dowd's column (Times Select) today on RNC Chair Ken Mehlman's "attack" on Hillary Clinton. But let's just focus on Dowd's description of the event:

The G.O.P. honcho Ken Mehlman kicked off the misogynistic attack on George Stephanopoulos's Sunday show. "I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates," he said. Referring to Hillary's recent taunts about Republicans, he added, "Whether it's the comments about the plantation or the worst administration in history, Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger."

Dowd is a wordsmith, so she understands the importance of meanings.  Misogyny is singularly defined as "hatred of women." There are no alternate definitions or other possible interpretations. Ken Mehlman may hate Hillary Clinton - though I sincerely doubt it - but it's downright criminal for Dowd to say Mehlman's observation that Mrs. Clinton "seems to have a lot of anger" is somehow evidence of a hatred of all women.

Nevertheless, Dowd goes on to try and justify the basis of her "misogynistic" slur with this:

Hillary did not sound angry when she made those comments — she's learned since her tea-and-cookies outburst in the '92 campaign. A man who wants to undermine a woman's arguments can ignore the substance and simply dismiss her as unstable and shrill. It's a hoary tactic: women are more mercurial than men; they get depressed more often and pop pills more often. As a top psychiatrist once told me, women are "hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable."

Maureen Dowd (and Hillary Clinton) should be quite familiar with the "hoary tactic" of trying to undermine a woman's credibility by suggesting they are "unstable and shrill." Conservatives used it against Anita Hill and the Clinton White House perfected the tactic against Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broderick.  But none of this is even remotely comparable to Mehlman's observation about Mrs. Clinton - even if it was made with an eye toward partisanship.

February 07, 2006

Waves of Muslim Rage

Reuters "Afghan police shot dead four people protesting on Tuesday against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that have unleashed waves of rage and soul-searching across the Muslim world and Europe."

We can all see the rage but can someone please point out where the "soul searching" is?

Meanwhile, at a press conference earlier today Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the siuation a "global crisis" and called for Muslim countries to "reestablish a dialogue" and "work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance." Here's the full text of Rasmussen's remarks:

The violent arson attacks on several European embassies demonstrate that this is not a matter between the Muslim world and Denmark alone.

It has been a great comfort to my government and the Danish people to receive widespread international support in this difficult situation. We are working in close cooperation with friends and allies in Europe and the United States as well countries and organizations in the Muslim world.

I am happy to inform you that just a few minutes ago President Bush called me. The President called to express support and solidarity with Denmark in light of the violence against Danish and other diplomatic missions.

We agreed that the way ahead is through dialogue and tolerance, not violence. And we emphasized that freedom of press and respect for all faiths are crucial values.

We share with the Muslim countries a common interest in calming down the situation. We want cooperation, not conflict.

The European Union is now considering ways to re-establish a dialogue with countries in the region building on the long existing friendship between Europe and the Muslim world.

Today I want to appeal and reach out to all people and countries in the Muslim world: Let us work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance. We need to solve this issue through dialogue, not violence.

We are today facing a growing global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of governments and other authorities. Right now, radicals, extremists and fanatics are adding fuel to the flames in order to push forward their own agenda. For that purpose they are portraying a picture of Denmark and European countries that is not true.

Today the people of Denmark witness with disbelief and sadness the events unfolding in the world. We are watching Danish flags being burned and Danish embassies being attacked. We are seing ourselves characterized as an intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion.

That picture is false. Extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures and religions are spreading it. I would like to emphasize: Denmark and the Danish people are not enemies of Islam or any other religion.

Danes have for generations fought for political liberty, human rights and democracy and for economic freedom, free trade and a free and civilized world. We will continue to do that. It is a part of our history and a fundamental part of our society today.

Denmark is one of the world’s most tolerant and open societies.

We believe in freedom of expression

We believe in freedom of religion and we respect all religions.

We believe in dialogue between cultures.

We oppose violence and hatred.

And we believe in equal rights for everyone irrespective of gender, religious belief, political conviction or ethnic background.


Let me remind you: It was a free and independent newspaper that published the cartoons. Neither the Danish government nor the Danish people can be held responsible for what is published in a free and independent newspaper.

Let me also remind you that the newspaper has already apologized for the offence caused by the cartoons.

I have also made it clear that the Danish government does not have any intention whatsoever to offend Muslims or believers in any other religion. On the contrary, we do respect people’s religious beliefs.

I am appalled that we are in a situation where lies and misinformation not only tarnishes the image of Denmark but also spurs violence abroad.

But we are confronted by misinformation passed on by mobile messages and web logs at such high speed that it is picked up and acted upon before we have a chance to correct it.

So for the record let med re-iterate: There has been no burning of the Quran in Denmark. If any person attempts to do so the police authorities will react immediately.

These are trying times for the Danish people. On several occasions I have appealed to the Danish people not to be provoked by the events abroad. I have called on all parties to abstain from any statement or action that will create further tension. I am proud to say that all people in Denmark have been acting with calm and dignity using their democratic rights to state their opinion.

I also welcome strongly the moderate statements from many Danish Muslims. They represent the vast majority of Muslims in Denmark, who day by day make an important contribution to the Danish society.

So Much For That Dream

Good Lord, look at what we have here: the President of the United States was attacked by racial demagogues at the funeral of the widow of the nation's preeminent civil rights leader. Nice.

According to Drudge, Reverend Joseph Lowry said:

"She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there," Lowery said.

The mostly black crowd applauded, then rose to its feet and cheered in a two-minute-long standing ovation.

A closed-circuit television in the mega-church outside Atlanta showed the president smiling uncomfortably.

"But Coretta knew, and we know," Lowery continued, "That there are weapons of misdirection right down here," he said, nodding his head toward the row of presidents past and present. "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor!" The crowd again cheered wildly.

And here is what President Bush said in his remarks:

In the critical hours of the civil rights movement, there were always men and women of conscience at the heart of the drama.

Looks like that's not so much the case any more.

Swann Clears The Field

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that GOP Gov. hopeful Bill Scranton has withdrawn from the primary, leaving Hall of Famer Lynn Swann as the certain nominee to run against Governor Ed Rendell. This should be every bit as fun and interesting as the Santorum-Casey Senate match up. 

Wiretaps, Cartoons, and Tax Cuts

Arianna Huffington argues that the wiretapping issue is a winning one for the Democrats.  However, she thinks they must really hammer the Republicans for it to work:

Illegal warrantless wiretapping -- and the administration's unrelenting mendacity about it -- is not only wrong on principle but a perfect wedge issue for Democrats, a chance to split off conservatives and independents disgusted with the White House's contemptuous disregard for the rule of law and for the truth. But only if Democrats correctly frame the issue. 

Huffington gives the Democrats credit for having a strong tone with Gonzales but says they "have an ignominious recent history of coming out of the gate hard, then quickly sounding retreat as soon as the White House cries 'soft on defense!'"

In a post at Ankle Biting Pundits, bulldogpundit agrees with Huffington about the Democrats' tough language at yesterday's hearings.  But he compares Democrats to Anthony Michael Hall's character ('Brian Johnson') in the The Breakfast Club:

Like poor Brian the Democrats keep trying to convince us that they too are tough on national security, but as soon as you start pressing them on the details you find out that they're all talk, and as we later find out with Brian - no action. 

In the ongoing cartoon controversy, apparently Iran's Hamshahri newspaper will now hold a competition for the best cartoons about the Holocaust.  While the Plank's Jason Zengerle explains that the contest's "whole premise is flawed," Jack Kelly writes a column about the war behind the cartoon war.

And separately, E.J. Dionne has a column out today that relives the Bush 41 tax increases and links them to the tax cuts of Bush 43.  Wondering whether Dionne suffered "from a strange attack of amnesia," Ed Morissey calls him out for omitting some important points.

Take a look here for more of today's best blog posts.

Kerry's Free Left Turn

Peter S. Canellos writes in the Boston Globe:

John F. Kerry's decision to lead last week's unsuccessful filibuster of Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s Supreme Court nomination met with predictable ridicule from Republicans and some Democrats, but it could end up being his smartest political move in a long time.

Canellos goes on to handicap the 2008 Democratic field, focusing on one person in particular:

Hillary Rodham Clinton, however, has used her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to bone up on military issues. She is now regarded as a reliable supporter of military spending who has stayed loyal to the troops in Iraq. Still, she's Hillary Clinton, and the possibility of a political meltdown -- through scandal, bitter attacks, or refusal to accept a woman president -- would follow her candidacy like a pack of vultures.

Kerry, her fellow Northeastern senator, stands in her shadow, like a former star hoping for a chance to get back on center stage. His doggedness, combined with the fact that he has already been vetted by the national media, may make him a reliable second choice for those currently hoping for Clinton.

And on Alito, he outflanked her. On Jan. 26, The New York Times ran an editorial entitled ''Senators in Need of a Spine," excoriating Democrats for opting not to use all their procedural levers to block Alito. The Times's cry was answered not by New York's senators, but by those in Massachusetts.

Then, after Kerry and Kennedy began rounding up support, Clinton decided she would, after all, back the filibuster. It was a decision made with one eye on 2008. And, surprisingly, with one eye on John Kerry.

No question, Kerry got a freebie on Alito. He got to play ringleader for a day (even if it was from the slopes of the Swiss Alps) and to deliver the red meat to a very hungry base.  He also got to put up a post on Daily Kos.  Very exciting times for the Senator from Massachusetts.

McCain Rips Obama

John McCain may have to change the name of his '08 tour bus to the "Sarcasm Express" after the gutting he gave Barack Obama yesterday for playing games over bipartisan lobbying reform:

"I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership's preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions with your letter to me dated February 2, 2006, which explained your decision to withdraw from our bipartisan discussions. I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won't make the same mistake again."

If you're not aware of the backstory leading up to McCain's remarkable letter, read Jeff Zeleny in today's Chicago Tribune. Incidentally, this story is big news here in the Chicago area for obvious reasons but also in other papers across the nation. Two places you won't find the story this morning: The New York Times and the Washington Post. Go figure.

Anyway, Obama responded that he is "puzzled" by McCain's criticism.  He shouldn't be. Obama got caught working the bait and switch for partisan advantage, and McCain rightfully made him pay. Want proof? Listen to how one of the mildest, least partisan Republicans in the Senate viewed the episode:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the main committee dealing with the reform plans, told the Chicago Sun-Times that her panel is already at work on ethics.

"I don't know what more Sen. Obama is seeking," Collins said. "The committee is proceeding in a transparent and bipartisan way."

She said she was not offended if McCain wanted to put together a working group on the side and was "surprised and disappointed to hear about Sen. Obama's letter.... This would have been the last thing that I expected."

This is the second time in the last three weeks Obama has let his partisan slip show. For a guy as smart and as calculating as he is, that constitutes a pattern, not a coincidence.

February 06, 2006

NSA Hearing Roundup

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, appearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been testifying today about the NSA surveillance program.  He gives a legal defense of the program in this morning's Wall Street Journal and then concludes:

The NSA's terrorist surveillance program is narrowly focused on the international communications of persons believed to be members or agents of al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations. The terrorist surveillance program protects both the security of the nation and the rights and liberties we cherish. As the president said in his State of the Union speech, "the terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America." When I testify before Congress today, I will tell them not only that the president had the authority to use this effective antiterror tool, but that it would have been irresponsible for him not to employ this weapon to prevent another attack on our country.

Ann Althouse says we've heard it already:

We already know this is the argument. We also know the argument of those who oppose the program. What will be interesting today will be to see how well Gonzales will be able to defend the program under hard questioning and how far the Senators will be willing to go when they know that part of the answer, explicit or insinuated, will inevitably be that if they oppose the program they do not care enough about national security. 

Meanwhile, conservative radio host Neal Boortz is undecided on the issue.  Although he agrees with Gonzales that the program may be necessary, he remains unconvinced on its legality.  He still manages to take a few shots at the Democrats for their partisanship on the issue and asks two questions for those who are adamantly opposed to the surveillance program:

1.  Do you think that it is OK for our intelligence agencies to monitor enemy communications while we're at war?
2.  If you think that it is OK to listen to enemy communications, do you then withdraw your approval if the enemy happens to be communicating with an American citizen?

From the left, Matthew Yglesias is also concerned about partisanship.  But he wonders whether it's gotten so bad that the Republicans are prepared to sign their authority over to the White House. 

Glenn Greenwald has been live-blogging the hearings and gives high marks to Sen. Patrick Leahy for his questioning.  At the Volokh Conspiracy, law scholar Orin Kerr weighs in on Gonzales' claims concerning the president's inherent authority to conduct surveillance.

Hugh Hewitt says he hopes the Senators are forced to vote on the matter.

Ohio Governor's Race

New Zogby poll on the Ohio Governor's race:

Ted Strickland (D) 38%
Ken Blackwell (R) 35%

and also:

Ted Strickland (D) 36%
James Petro (R) 36%

The 2007 Budget

Today President Bush submitted a $2.7 trillion budget for FY2007. Here's the budget page from the OMB with all the details along with a statement from the President

Here is some reaction:

Speaker Hastert: "President Bush has laid the groundwork for a renewed look at our spending priorities as we focus on reining in federal spending, reducing the deficit and continuing America's strong economic growth. Make no mistake: this House of Representatives will keep a sharp eye on controlling spending throughout this budget process. We remain committed to passing a budget that improves the lives of American families, protects our citizens from terrorism and grows the economy."

House Majority Leader John Boehner: "Recognizing the substantial challenges we face at home and abroad, President Bush’s budget request ensures that our nation’s highest priorities are met, while not losing sight of the need for responsibility in government spending.  This blueprint represents a good starting point for this year’s budget process – a process that will be marked by our continued resolve to reform the way the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.

“Throughout the past year, House Republicans have demonstrated our commitment to saving taxpayer dollars by making federal programs more effective and efficient.  It’s unfortunate that House Democrats have sat idly by as spectators, offering plenty of sound bytes but no clear plan for fiscal accountability.  It’s my hope this year they’ll seriously consider offering constructive, fiscally-responsible ideas of their own.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid

“The American people have paid the price for the Republican culture of corruption over the past five years and the president’s budget proposes more of the same. President Bush’s budget continues to put special interests first while making worse the financial pressures confronting American families. This is an immoral and irresponsible approach that does not reflect the values of the American people.

“While working Americans are facing higher prices for everything from health care to gas to college tuition this president’s budget continues to hand out costly, budget busting favors for special interests like the drug, oil, and HMO industries. After creating record deficits and debt with his budget busting tax breaks, the president is asking our seniors, our students, and our families to clean up his fiscal mess with painful cuts in health care and student aid.

“The American people know that together we can do better than this immoral and irresponsible budget. Democrats are committed to reform so that we can clean up Washington, get our fiscal house in order and focus on the day-to-day problems facing America’s families.”

 Senator Kent Conrad: "The nation needed a new budget plan this year, a dramatic and bold acknowledgment from this administration that we need to put our fiscal house back in order. Instead, we got more of the same - more deficits, more debt, and more hiding of the truth from the American people."

February 03, 2006

Red State Howard

Speaking of Howard Dean, you may have heard he wasn't in Washington, D.C. the other night for Bush's State of the Union address. There were some snickering suggestions this wasn't a coincidence and that Dean's absence was part of a coordinated effort to keep him as far away from a national television audience as possible. Whether there's a shred of truth to this rumor or not, it sure did work: Dean was absolutely invisible.

Instead, Dean spent Tuesday night rallying the faithful in Durham, North Carolina. According to columnist Scott Sexton, however, it looks like Dean's red state strategy might need a bit more fine tuning:

You would think that Democratic honchos in the state might want to be seen with the leader of the national Democratic Party. But a funny thing happened on the way to Dean's Bush bash. Apparently, the state's top elected Democrats would rather be caught cross-dressing in church than be seen with Howard Dean.

Then again, maybe they had some darned good excuses.

Gov. Mike Easley likes to golf and spend time at the coast, so maybe he wasn't even in town. Jim Black, the embattled speaker of the House, might have been meeting with his lawyers. Avoiding jail has to be a higher priority than publicly meeting with your party's leader.

And the roster of Democrats who hope to succeed Easley - Attorney General Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore - surely know better than to associate themselves with the national party.

If you want to win a state race as a Democrat, you run away from the national party. Unless you live in Durham or Chapel Hill.

On the upside, Dean did get three Durham city council members and one State Rep. to attend the festivities. Perhaps all that money Dean spent last year is starting to pay dividends after all.

Roberts v. Dean

Pat Roberts to Howard Dean:

I was recently apprised of your assessment of the President’s terrorist surveillance program – an “early warning” capability to intercept the international communications of al Qaeda terrorists to and from persons within the United States. With respect to this important program, you stated, “President Bush’s secret program to spy on the American people reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew.” As Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, I find your statements to be irrational and irresponsible.

Roberts also released a 19-page letter to Senators Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy outlining why he believes the President has ample legal justification for authorizing the NSA program (news story | pdf of letter).

Mexico Crossing The Line

From today's Arizona Republic:

Border incursions rattling Arizonans
Incident near Arivaca involved copter
Susan Carroll
Republic Tucson Bureau
Feb. 3, 2006 12:00 AM

ARIVACA  - R.D. Ayers remembers hearing the heavy whirl and chop of helicopter blades cutting through the sky above the Tres Bellotas Ranch, a sprawling swath of oak trees and barberry brush right on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Even from inside the ranch house, Ayers could tell it must be a big helicopter. He headed outside, thinking it might be U.S. customs, maybe a drug bust.

Instead, Ayers walked right into a group of armed, masked men speaking Spanish and dressed like agents from the Federal Investigative Agency, Mexico's FBI. The encounter on U.S. soil would be investigated by the FBI, U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican authorities, one of the latest in a long list of suspected incursions from Mexico into U.S. border states.

After long downplaying the number of incursions along the Southwestern border, top Border Patrol officials now acknowledge such incidents are all too common. Over the past decade, the Department of Homeland Security has reported 231 incursions along the border, including 63 in Arizona. Homeland Security defines an incursion as an unauthorized crossing by Mexican military or police, or suspected drug or people smugglers dressed in uniforms.

Jerry Seper of the Washington Times broke the story of Mexican incursions on January 17 and Tony Blankley wrote a pointed column about it the following day. Earlier this week the House began an investigation into the matter and today members of the House Committee on Homeland Security are scheduled to be in El Paso, Texas on a fact-finding mission. This story is far from over.

Off and Running in Palestine

Charles Krauthammer turns his considerable acuity on Hamas' recent victory:

The Palestinian people have spoken. According to their apologists, sure, Hamas wants to destroy Israel, wage permanent war and send suicide bombers into discotheques to drive nails into the skulls of young Israelis, but what the Palestinians were really voting for was efficient garbage collection.

It is time to stop infantilizing the Palestinians. As Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said in a news conference four days after the election, ``The Palestinian people have chosen Hamas with its known stances.'' By a landslide, the Palestinian people have chosen these known stances: rejectionism, Islamism, terrorism, rank anti-Semitism, and the destruction of Israel in a romance of blood, death and revolution. Garbage collection on Wednesdays.

As of today, at least, garbage collection seems to be less of a concern to Palestinians than threatening to kill people and destroy property over the publishing of a few cartoons:

Armed groups in the Palestinian territories have threatened to attack Danish, French and Norwegian nationals.

Abu Mudjahid, a spokesman for the factions, said the threat was serious and extended to the nationals of all countries that had published the caricatures.

"We demand that the offices and consulates of the three countries concerned close, otherwise we will not hesitate to destroy them," the statement said.

In the Gaza Strip on Thursday, a dozen men from Islamic Jihad and an armed faction of Fatah known as the Yasser Arafat Brigade surrounded the EU compound and fired into the air. They demanded an apology within 48 hours over the cartoons.

To be fair, news reports from around the world make clear this behavior is hardly unique to the folks in Gaza - which, I'm afraid, is a perfect illustration of the problem.

February 02, 2006

Has the New York Times Violated the Espionage Act?

In the March issue of Commentary Gabriel Schoenfeld examines whether the New York Times violated the Espionage Act with their disclosure of the NSA wiretapping program. At the beginning of Schoenfeld’s lengthy essay, he writes:

The President, for his part, has not only stood firm, insisting on both the legality and the absolute necessity of his actions, but has condemned the disclosure of the NSA surveillance program as a “shameful act.” In doing so, he has implicitly raised a question that the Times and the President’s foes have conspicuously sought to ignore—namely, what is, and what should be, the relationship of news-gathering media to government secrets in the life-and-death area of national security. Under the protections provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution, do journalists have the right to publish whatever they can ferret out? Such is certainly today’s working assumption, and it underlies today’s practice. But is it based on an informed reading of the Constitution and the relevant statutes? If the President is right, does the December 16 story in the Times constitute not just a shameful act, but a crime?

This adds another twist to the NSA wiretapping story, and it is not exactly along the lines that opponents of President Bush were hoping for in mid-December when the Times story broke.

Stupid in America?

About three weeks ago, ABC's 20/20 aired "Stupid in America," John Stossel's report on public education in the United States.  Stossel touched on a wide range of issues in the one-hour special, and he hoped that his hard-hitting piece would at least spark some debate on the controversial topic.

If you missed the original airing, ABC News has a few video excerpts you can watch online (here, here, and here).  Stossel has also devoted his last four columns to the subject.  His introductory offering focuses on America's decline in competitiveness with foreign schools:

We gave identical tests to high school students in New Jersey and Belgium. The Belgians trounced the Americans. We didn't pick smart kids in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey kids' test scores are above average for America. "It has to be something with the school," said a New Jersey student, "'cause I don't think we're stupider."

She was right: It's the schools. At age 10, students from 25 countries take the same test, and American kids place eighth, well above the international average. But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th, well below the international average. In other words, the longer American kids stay in American schools, the worse they do. They do worse than kids from much poorer countries, like Korea and Poland.

Stossel's next column is a response to his critics who say that schools need more money in order to raise standards:

The truth is, public schools are rolling in money. If you divide the U.S. Department of Education's figure for total spending on K-12 education by the department's count of K-12 students, it works out to about $10,000 per student.

Think about that! For a class of 25 kids, that's $250,000 per classroom. This doesn't include capital costs. Couldn't you do much better than government schools with $250,000? You could hire several good teachers; I doubt you'd hire many bureaucrats. Government schools, like most monopolies, squander money.

So in his first two pieces, Stossel has argued that American students are, indeed, falling behind and that, contrary to popular myth, throwing money at schools is not the solution.  In his third column, Stossel begins to provide some of his own solutions.  Namely, more freedom:

If you're a public-school student, your chances in life may be largely dependent on where you live -- not just which country, not just which state, but which little bureaucratic zone. [snip]

Changing schools can change a child's life. In Florida, Patty Bower's kids were stuck in a school that wasn't teaching them. But then they got vouchers, which let them attend a private school that works with kids who have special needs.

 "Joey has been brought up four grade levels in reading," Bowers said. "He's gone from C's, and D's to being an honor roll student." But the Florida Supreme Court this month killed a similar choice program, and Patty fears her kids will soon be forced back into public school. "If they take the McKay scholarship away, I don't think -- I'm sorry. I don't think Joey will finish school."

Why can't she choose her child's school? Most countries that beat America on international tests give their students that choice. In Belgium, the government spends less than American schools do on each student, but the money is attached to the kids. So they can go wherever they want -- to a state-run school, a Montessori school, or even a religious school.

In the TV special, Stossel goes into more detail about the opposition such programs face.  He attacks the teachers unions, school boards, and politicians who stand in the way of reform.  I was shocked when he sat down with a teacher from Florida who had brought suit against a Florida voucher program.  Her words of wisdom?

"To say that competition is going to improve education? It's just not gonna work. You know competition is not for children. It's not for human beings. It's not for public education. It never has been, it never will be."

Vouchers may not be the correct solution, but competition not for human beings?  Wow.

Unfortunately, while this appears to be the prevailing attitude of those in charge, Stossel says students like Dorian Cain enter the 12th grade without being able to read:

His mom, Gena Cain, has been trying to get him help for years. If Dorian were in private school, or if South Carolina allowed parents to choose schools the way we choose other products and services in life, Dorian and Gena would be "customers" and able to go elsewhere -- if any school were dumb enough to serve a customer as poorly as Dorian has been served. But since Gena is merely a taxpayer, forced to pay for the public schools whether they do her any good or not, she can't even demand a better education for her son. "You have to beg," she said. "Whatever you ask for, you're begging. Because they have the power." They do. What are you going to do -- go elsewhere? Gena can't afford that.

Apparently, Gena finally did get results:

What the school bureaucrats did was hold meetings to talk about Dorian. (Bureaucrats are good at holding meetings.) At the meeting we watched, lots of important people attended: a director of programs for exceptional children, a resource teacher, a district special education coordinator, a counselor and even a gym teacher. The meeting went on for 45 minutes.

"I'm seeing great progress in him," said the principal. "So I don't have any concerns."

Stossel's reporting alone raises many important questions about our current education system.  While his examples may portray extreme cases of dysfunction, it is telling that these episodes occur at all in our exceptional country.

Stossel eventually puts forward some of his own ideas, which may or may not lead to the correct solutions.  But whether or not you agree with Stossel's conclusions, his case against the status quo is devastating.

What Conservatives Think of McCain

I've been sifting through more than a hundred emails readers sent in response to my post yesterday asking whether conservatives owe John McCain an apology. Here's a brief summary of what people had to say:

While some people thought McCain deserved credit for the Gang of 14 deal, others said he did not. Some criticized the deal on its merits; that it didn't change the final outcome much, or that it allowed Dems to obstruct some good judges, or that it just kicked the filibuster can down the road. The biggest recurring gripe, however, was that despite the fact that the final outcome worked in favor of Republicans, people questioned McCain's motives for spearheading the deal in the first place. Many thought he acted out of the chance for publicity and personal aggrandizement rather than a sincere desire to get as many solid conservative judges on the bench as possible.

Those questions were clearly part of a much deeper pattern. For every person who responded favorably toward McCain's image as an unpredictable "maverick," two people expressed suspicion about the depth of his convictions or fear over his trustworthiness. (There was, however, an acknowledgment that McCain's image would make him a formidable candidate - if not the prohibitive favorite - against nearly any Democrat in the 2008 general election.)

Lastly, it's interesting to note that most of the anger expressed toward McCain by conservatives had little to do with the Gang of 14 deal, or taxes, or abortion (though they were all mentioned). Most of the venom can be sourced to one thing: campaign finance reform.  Conservatives believe McCain committed a sin against the Constitution and conservative principles with CFR.  Though some seem to suggest they are ready to forgive him for it, a good number of readers made it very clear they never will.

GOP Leadership Race: Is There An Upset Brewing?

The LA Times this morning writes “Blunt Likely to Capture House Post” and the NY Times adds “House Republicans Reject a Broad Shake Up.”

However, I wonder whether the 107 – 85 vote to open all seven leadership slots below Speaker Hastert to challenge is perhaps a warning of an upset brewing. While the status quo forces won yesterday, the 85 votes for change were considerably higher than expected and is an indication that the desire for new blood among House Republicans may be strong enough to deny Blunt a win on the first ballot. And if Blunt can’t get the 117 votes needed to win on the first ballot, he almost certainly will lose in the run-off.

Today’s WSJ editorial casts the race as a Republican Referendum and they are right. Republicans could do themselves a big favor by publicly making a statement that they are serious about more than just cosmetic changes.

An Itty-Bitty Violin For Cindy

Yesterday on Michael Moore's web site, Cindy Sheehan finished reciting the story of her arrest at the Capitol on Tuesday night with the lament: "I have lost my son. I have lost my First Amendment rights. I have lost the country that I love. Where did America go? I started crying in pain."

Sheehan most certainly did lose her son, which all acknowledge is a painful tragedy for any family, but her other two assertions are debatable.  Has Sheehan really lost her First Amendment rights? Does she really love her country?

Her recent trip to Venezuela to embrace the odious Hugo Chavez answers both questions - in the negative.  As Deb Saunders points out, it's a good thing Sheehan wasn't caught wearing a T-Shirt that offended El Presidente:

Free speech? Sheehan should take a look at how her buddy Chavez treats dissidents. As Jackson Diehl reported in The Washington Post last year, the Chavez-controlled legislature passed new media laws that included this choice provision: "Anyone who offends with his words or in writing or in any other way disrespects the president of the republic or whomever is fulfilling his duties will be punished with prison of six to 30 months if the offense is serious, and half of that if it is light."

Thanks to the mainstream media, Cindy Sheehan has enjoyed more free speech than all other parents in America who've lost loved ones in Iraq but still support the war and honor their children's sacrifice. By far. 

She's lied her way into meetings with Senators only to berate them in public afterwards. Now there's a classy use of her First Amendment right. Indeed, Cindy has so vigorously exercised her right to free speech recently she's even managed to start scaring off some of her fellow moonbats. This is quite an achievement for someone who is being so viciously oppressed.

February 01, 2006

About That Dog...

A couple of people have emailed about the German shepherd they saw in the balcony last night at the President's State of the Union.  The backstory on Tech. Sgt. Jamie Dana and Rex is here and it's a remarkable, touching story:

The bomb-detection dog has been Dana's constant companion through a painful recovery following an explosion in Iraq on June 25 that flipped their Humvee three times and left both with life-threatening injuries...

"We went to Iraq together," she said. "We got hurt together. We almost died together."

For a while, in the chaos of the attack and the fog of her medical treatment, Dana, 27, was told erroneously that Rex had been killed when the bomb went off under their vehicle.

Her family was told her death was imminent, but she stubbornly clung to life despite a catalog of injuries.

"When I was told Rex had been killed . . . it was like being told your child would never be coming home again," Dana said.

Only after she arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., about a week after the attack did the situation get untangled.

Dana was with her family, including her husband, Staff Sgt. Mike Dana, also stationed in Colorado Springs, when Rex arrived to visit, bounding down the hospital corridor.

"It was the best thing you could think of," she said.

Influential members of Congress took up Dana's cause, working for a change in the law that treated bomb-detection dogs like any other weapon in the national arsenal.

Congress eventually changed the law, allowing Rex to be discharged early from the military so he could return to civilian life with Tech. Sgt. Dana.

The Eric Breindel Award

We've been asked to let people know that The Eric Breindel Memorial Foundation is now accepting applications for its 8th Annual Eric Breindel Award, given to columnists in the United States whose writings have demonstrated " love of country and its democratic institutions as well as the act of bearing witness to the evils of totalitarianism."

Past winners include Claudia Rosett, Daniel Henninger, Michael Kelly (posthumously); Jeff Jacoby, Jay Nordlinger, and Victor Davis Hanson.

A single prize of $20,000 will be awarded in June of this year. Applications are due by April 21. For more details contact Germaine Febles via email at  gfebles@Rubenstein.com.

State of the Union Analysis

The best analysis I’ve seen on the President’s speech last night is from John Podhoretz in the New York Post. So many analysts (Ron Brownstein, David Sanger, Susan Page) are takings shots at Bush for down-sizing his agenda, but many of these are the same critics who beat up on the President for failing miserably at his ambitious Social Security reform attempt last year.

At The New Republic, Ryan Lizza (whose analysis I normally like) writes:

First, we witnessed the death of the great-man theory of Bush. The Bush presidency, in the minds of its most fervent supporters, has been built on the idea that Bush is a visionary with bold ideas that he forcefully pushes even when they sacrifice his own popularity. But the bold agenda is gone. His "addicted to oil" line will garner lots of headlines, but his actual oil-independence plan is so modest--tens of millions of dollars in a two trillion dollar annual budget--that it is barely worth mentioning. Instead of re-arguing the case for his Social Security plan, he called for another Social Security commission. The much-hyped health care proposals were mentioned in passing. His fancy American Competitiveness Initiative--a research and development tax credit and more money for math and science--seems reasonable but forgettable.

Valid criticism, but politically Podhoretz is more on the mark:

Politically it had two virtues. First was the Hippocratic virtue: Nothing he proposed last night will do any harm to him. Whether Commission A or Initiative B is welcomed or rejected by Congress, it won't matter much.

Its second virtue was that it allowed him to spend a good deal of time reassuring a nervous public that he was focused on the primary tasks at hand.

The caution on display marked a change from last year, when Bush learned the cost of aiming too high in a State of the Union Address. He used the 2005 speech to launch his Social Security reform effort, a political calamity that came home to him last night when he was greeted with jeers and laughs from Democrats upon speaking the words "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security."

That's putting it mildly. The president gave his opponents a stick with which to beat him and his poll ratings down for six months as he toured the country telling people disaster was on the way — which had the unfortunate consequence of convincing Americans that the economy was still in wretched shape when it was in fact in fifth gear.

Bush despises "small ball"; that has led him to advocate dramatic and visionary policies abroad and at home. Last year, he seemed to forget for a time that it ain't "small ball" to focus on implementing his visionary policies, to see them take root and bear fruit.
Securing the future in Iraq, working to prevent terrorist attacks at home and seeing to it that his tax cuts become permanent — that's pretty big ball right there. His mistake last year was imagining that he should add Social Security reform to that heavy load.

So what we saw last night was Bush the Calmly Determined in place of Bush the Visionary. His delivery was low-key and assured, just the right tone for a speech intended to assure the American people — or at least those Americans willing to consider his words with an open mind — that he knows where his responsibilities lie and what he needs to do to meet them.

Podhoretz is right in the sense that Bush has recalibrated expectations and is in a position to follow through on many of the big agenda items that are already in motion (the war, tax cuts, reshaping the courts) and he is putting the GOP in a position to run as well as possible in November.

I’m surprised at some of the post-speech punditry that suggested Bush was trying to cozy to the middle or moderate his tone, because on the most important issue - national security and the War - he threw down the gauntlet to Democrats. Following through on Rove’s speech with his own message -- This isn’t going to be 2005 where I spent months droning on about Social Security and let you guys (the Democrats) beat up on me about torture, Iraq, etc… --  you better get ready for a street brawl on wiretapping, the Patriot Act and Iraq in 2006

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honor in retreat. By allowing radical Islam to work its will -- by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself -- we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage. But our enemies and our friends can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil....

Our country must also remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home. The enemy has not lost the desire or capability to attack us. Fortunately, this nation has superb professionals in law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and homeland security. These men and women are dedicating their lives, protecting us all, and they deserve our support and our thanks.  They also deserve the same tools they already use to fight drug trafficking and organized crime -- so I ask you to reauthorize the Patriot Act. 

It is said that prior to the attacks of September the 11th, our government failed to connect the dots of the conspiracy. We now know that two of the hijackers in the United States placed telephone calls to al Qaeda operatives overseas. But we did not know about their plans until it was too late. So to prevent another attack -- based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute -- I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al Qaeda, we want to know about it, because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.

That’s a simple, straight-forward message that every American can understand and Bush made it clear Democrats better get ready to hear it over and over again between now and Election Day.

Do Conservatives Owe McCain an Apology?

Our friend Bob Robb of the Arizona Republic says they do:

When John McCain brokered a bipartisan compromise among seven Republican and seven Democratic senators to avoid a showdown over the filibustering of judicial nominees, conservatives flamed him. [snip]

The deal cleared the way for the relatively easy confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Roberts wasn’t filibustered and the Democrats could only scare up 25 votes to filibuster Alito.

There was another benefit to the “Gang of 14” deal that I didn’t anticipate. By making conservatism itself not a disqualifying condition and giving some degree of Democratic acquiescence, the deal gave pro-choice Republicans more political cover to support clearly pro-life nominees. In Alito’s case, that proved important in getting the votes for his confirmation. Only one pro-choice Republican ended up voting against him.

In reality, McCain’s compromise provided a smoother and surer route to the confirmation of conservative judges than the showdown his critics preferred. A more conservative judiciary may well prove to be the most important conservative accomplishment in the post-Reagan era. President Bush deserves the lion’s share of the credit, since he’s the one making the nominations. But McCain’s much disparaged deal paved the way.

Conservatives owe him an apology.

I'm interested to know how many out there agree with Robb (email with comments). There's been much talk about conservatives "warming" to McCain of late, so theoretically you'd expect to find a number of people who have rethought their hostility toward his leading role in the Gang of 14.

For my part, I wasn't nearly as critical of the Gang of 14 deal as some, but I did "flame" McCain at the time for "the combination of high-handed arrogance, naked ambition and all-consuming egocentricity with which he comports himself" - a criticism which, incidentally, drew a rebuke from McCain's Chief of Staff.

Notwithstanding the decent judges who were thrown under the bus as part of the deal, the Gang of 14 compromise did work out significantly better for Republicans than for Democrats in the end. That matters a great deal, and McCain does deserve a lot of credit for being part of the process that achieved those results - even if I'm still not convinced he saved the Republic from certain doom.

Sense From Robinson

Eugene Robinson has a terrific, thoughtful column in the Washington Post today on the passing of Coretta Scott King and the state of black America:

When King, tragically, was stopped by an assassin's bullet, the remarkable cohort of lieutenants he had assembled took up his banner. One of them, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, eventually came to serve as the voice of black America -- a role he continues to fill.

But America has changed. Racism persists, all right; don't get me wrong. But it's different now, more subtle, a product of attitudes and not of Jim Crow laws. Record numbers of black Americans have entered the suburban middle class. Some have risen much higher: Several of the nation's biggest and richest companies -- Time Warner, Merrill Lynch, American Express -- are run by black men. The most powerful woman in television is black. The secretary of state is a black conservative . There is no one black leader, no one idea of black leadership. There are many leaders and many ideas.

At the same time, though, huge numbers of African Americans have been left behind -- in the decaying inner cities, in the rural South -- and they are in danger of simply being written off. In a knowledge-based economy, these millions of people are sending their children to schools too dysfunctional to teach them to read. The connections between African Americans who escaped and those who didn't seem to be growing more tenuous day by day.

Speaking of schools too dysfunctional to teach kids to read, check out John Stossel this morning. Our failing education system is of vital national interest for all Americans, and both parties continue to do much less than they should be doing to push through needed reforms.

SOTU & Raising Kaine

From my vantage point Bush's speech last night was just okay.  It contained the now-standard outline of the administration's policy of aggressively fighting terrorism and promoting democracy abroad.  It had the usual programmatic touches on the domestic side - though I think most were surprised how light those touches were given some of the pre-speech spin.

Bush's delivery was solid and steady - pretty much par for the course - and he did a decent job of containing his anger and embarrassment when Democrats jumped on his line about failing to enact Social Security reform.  The final minute of the speech was by far the best - for those who were still paying attention at that point.

What I really want to talk about, however, is Tim Kaine.  Finally, Democrats showed some political intelligence. After two years of putting forth the hapless Nancy Pelosi along with a counterpart from the Senate (Daschle in '04 and Reid in '05), Democrats resisted calls from the foamy left for a Jack Murtha led suicide mission and instead selected the new Governor of Virginia. And Kaine delivered.

There's an old adage in sports: play smarter, not harder.  Kaine did that last night, deftly choosing not to try and "out tough" the President on national security and avoiding the NSA issue altogether, instead attacking the administration for incompetence and lack of results across a spectrum of issues: from Katrina to Iraq to deficits to education.  And he did it without looking mean or unreasonable. To the contrary, most people who watched probably came away with warm feelings about Kaine  - and more importantly, his message.

Kaine's address is important because it is a carbon copy of the pitch Mark Warner is going to make in 2008. In a nutshell, it can be boiled down to four words: less ideology, more results. While Republicans will continue to try and highlight stark differences on national security, Warner is going to try and blur those same lines.  He'll do this partly out of personal necessity - he lacks any significant foreign policy experience - but also because it is smart strategy. 

The American people don't want a 180-degree turn in foreign policy and they're going to be very suspicious of candidates who've expressed sympathy for the "retreat and defeat" mentality of the hard left.  What I think the American public can be convinced of, however, and what Mark Warner (or some other pragmatic Democrat) has a decent chance of selling, is that he can do a more effective job of adminstering the core of our policy and producing better results than another Republican could.

In the end, the strength of that argument would obviously depend on which Republican opponent Warner might face in a general election, but he'll certainly have a better chance of making that case than any of the other current Democrats considering a bid in 2008. 

Quote of the Day

"It's stunning that nearly four decades after Vietnam, our government could be even more culturally illiterate and pigheaded. The Bushies are more obsessed with snooping on Americans than fathoming how other cultures think and react." - Maureen Dowd, eloquently summing up all the mushy, negative stereotypes of limosine liberalism's foreign policy and national security in two sentences.