Saturday, July 03, 2010

Where ‘nice’ Obama has got us

Why would Ahmadinejad take him seriously when even Karzai flips him the finger?

by Mark Steyn on Thursday, July 1, 2010 8:00am


In 1939, Capt. Peter Sanders, serving with the Tochi scouts on the Afghan-Indian border, was blown up by a Waziri booby trap and lost his right arm. Shortly afterwards, he accepted an invitation to lunch from the tribesman who’d planted the bomb. Awfully decent of the chap, and not a bad spread, all things considered.

Not everyone cares for the old stiff upper lip: “I spit on your British phlegm!” as the Khazi of Kalabar remarked in what remains the seminal work on Afghanistan, Carry on up the Khyber. But imperialism requires a certain dotty élan. Without it, it’s no fun. You’re just a guy holed up in a Third World dump occasionally venturing out in the full RoboCop to pretend to implement some half-assed multilateral “nation-building” strategy that NATO defence ministers all agreed to at some black-tie banquet in Brussels and then promptly forgot about. Instead of the Tochi scouts—Pathan irregulars commanded by British officers—we now have Afghan units “trained,” or at any rate funded, by Western governments. A headline in the Washington Post captures the general malaise: “Afghan forces’ apathy starts to wear on U.S. platoon in Kandahar.” On a recent patrol through the city, 1st Lieut. James Rathmann stopped at a police checkpoint and found them all asleep in a nearby field.

It’s not just the natives who are dozing. In London recently, Robert Gates, the U.S. defence secretary, complained that the allies’ promised 450 “trainers” for the expanded Afghan National Army had failed to materialize. These are not combat roles, so in theory even the less gung-ho NATO members should have no objection. Supposedly, 46 nations are contributing to the allied effort in Afghanistan, so that would work out at 10 “trainers” per country. Yet even that modest commitment is too much. So the Afghan army will fill up with time-servers and Taliban sympathizers.

Colonial administration was always a cynic’s field. In Lisbon last week, I was admiring the beauty of the jacarandas when David Pryce-Jones, the scholar and novelist, reminded me of the words of Lord Lloyd, British high commissioner in Egypt in the twenties: “The jacarandas are in bloom,” he observed. “We shall soon be sending for the gunboats.” When the weather heats up, so do the natives. In Lloyd’s day, we were cynical about the locals. Now we’re starry-eyed about the locals—marvellous chaps, few more trainers and they’ll do splendidly—while they’re utterly cynical about us. Hamid Karzai has just fired his two most pro-American cabinet ministers and is making more and more pro-Taliban noises. This is a man who for the last nine years has been kept alive only by U.S. military protection. A throne in Kabul may not be much, but, such as it is, he owes it entirely to his patrons in Washington. Why would Putin, Ahmadinejad or the ChiComs take Barack Obama seriously when even a footling client such as Hamid Karzai can flip him the finger?

“When people see a strong horse and a weak horse,” said Osama bin Laden many years ago, “by nature they will like the strong horse.” The world does not see President Obama as the strong horse. He has announced that U.S. troop withdrawals will begin in 12 months’ time. Karzai takes him at his word, and is obliged to prepare for a post-American order in Afghanistan, which means reaching his accommodations with those who’ll still be around when the Yanks are over over there. The new government in London takes him at his word, too. Liam Fox, the defence secretary, wants as rapid a British pullout as possible. When Obama announced an Afghan “surge” dependent on such elements as mythical NATO trainers and then added that, however it went, U.S. forces would begin checking out in July 2011, he in effect ruled out the possibility of victory. Over 1,000 American troops have died in Afghanistan, 300 British soldiers, 148 Canadians. What will our soldiers be dying for in the sunset of the West’s Afghan expedition? What is Obama’s characteristically postmodern “surge” intended to achieve? More Afghan police sleeping in fields? Greater opportunities for women? Take Your Child Bride to Work Day in Kandahar? British troops, said Liam Fox, are not in Afghanistan “for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country.” And, even if they were, in certain provinces “education policy” seems to be returning to something all but indistinguishable from Mullah Omar’s days. The New York Post carried a picture of women registering to vote in Herat, all in identical top-to-toe bright blue burkas, just as they would have looked on Sept. 10, 2001.

Osama bin Laden’s strong horse/weak horse shtick is a matter of perception as much as anything else. On Sept. 12, 2001, the United States of America had just as many cruise missiles and aircraft carriers as it had 48 hours earlier. The only difference is that the world understood that, for once, America was prepared to use them. That’s why Moscow acceded to Washington’s “request” to use its old bases in Central Asia for northern access to Afghanistan. That’s why General Musharraf took seriously the Bush administration’s “shockingly barefaced” threat to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t get everything it wanted out of Islamabad. By contrast, a couple of days before, Mullah Omar and the Taliban appear to have agreed to let their al-Qaeda tenants strike America with nary a thought for the consequences to their own country.

Let’s suppose that the evacuation of the twin towers had not been quite as efficient and that the death toll was way up over 10,000. Let’s also suppose that Flight 93 had not been stymied by the vagaries of scheduling and the bravery of its passengers and had succeeded in hitting the White House and decapitating the regime. America was the most powerful nation on the planet, yet Mullah Omar evidently was unperturbed by the possibility of total, devastating retaliation against his toxic backwater.

The toppling of the Taliban was an operation conducted with extraordinary improvised ingenuity and a very light U.S. footprint. Special forces on horseback rode with the Northern Alliance and used GPS to call in air strikes: they’ll be teaching it in staff colleges for decades to come. But then the Taliban scuttled out of town, and a daring victory settled into a thankless semi-colonial policing operation, and then corroded further under the pressure of the usual transnational poseurs. After 2003, Afghanistan became the good war, the one everyone claimed to have supported all along, if mostly retrospectively and for the purposes of justifying their “principled moral opposition” to Bush’s illegal adventuring against Saddam. Afghanistan was everything Iraq wasn’t: UN-approved, NATO-backed, EU-compliant. It’d be tough for even the easiest nickel ’n’ dime military incursion to survive that big an overdose of multilateral hogwash, and the Afghan campaign didn’t. Instead of being an operation to kill one of the planet’s most concentrated populations of jihadist terrorists, it decayed into half-hearted nation-building in which a handful of real allies took the casualties while the rest showed up for the group photo. The 2004 NATO summit was hailed as a landmark success after the alliance’s 26 members agreed to put up an extra 600 troops and three helicopters for Afghanistan. That averages out at 23.08 troops per country, plus almost a ninth of a helicopter apiece. As it transpired, the three Black Hawks all came from one country—Turkey—and within a year they’d all gone back. Those 600 troops and three helicopters made no practical difference, but the effort expended on that transnational fig leaf certainly contributed to America’s disastrous reframing of its interests in Afghanistan.

And so here we are, nine years, billions of dollars and many dead soldiers later, watching the guy we’ve propped up with Western blood and treasure make peace overtures to the Taliban’s most virulently anti-American and pro-al-Qaeda faction in hopes of bringing them back within the government. Being perceived as the weak horse is contagious: today, were Washington to call Moscow for use of those Central Asian bases, Putin would tell Obama to get lost, and then make sneering jokes about it afterwards. Were Washington to call Islamabad as it did on Sept. 12, the Pakistanis would thank them politely and say they’d think it over and get back in 30 days. The leaders of Turkey and Brazil, two supposed American allies assiduously courted and flattered by Obama this past year, flew in to high-five Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The new President wished to reposition his nation by forswearing American power: he thought that made him the nice horse; everyone else looked on it as a self-gelding operation—or, as last week’s U.S. News & World Report headlined it, “World sees Obama as incompetent and amateur.”

If the Taliban return to even partial power in Afghanistan, the unctuous State Department spokesmen will make the best of it. But the symbolism will be profound, and devastating in what it says about American will.

A TV Series Winds Down, Portraying Characters Who Will Never Forget

The New York Times
July 2, 2010

“Rescue Me,” the dark, comic firefighter drama that is broadcast Tuesdays on FX, returned this week for the beginning of the end. The show will wrap up next year, shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event that inspired the series and has been revisited repeatedly.

“We always felt that if we made it that far, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 would be a stopping point,” said Denis Leary, the show’s star and co-creator, with Peter Tolan.

Mr. Leary portrays Tommy Gavin, the caustic, alcoholic firefighter at the center of “Rescue Me” who is the “most frantic and emotionally undone member of the crew of 62 Truck,” according to Ginia Bellafante, a television critic for The New York Times. The character’s reckless bravado frequently scuttles his personal life, even as it makes him an exceptional firefighter.

In a recent interview at his production office in SoHo, Mr. Leary talked with Jeremy Egner about the final season, his character and the twisted firehouse anecdotes that inspire the show’s scripts. The following are excerpts from the conversation.

Q. How will the show handle the anniversary of 9/11?

A. The final episodes will lead up to the anniversary. During the last three episodes the characters are going to these meetings to plan the parades and memorial services.

Q. So you’ve shot the final shows already?

A. Yes, we’re done shooting. It was interesting because we were doing it a year in advance and we have a lot of firefighters on the set, so we got to watch their response. There’s a thing in the final scene, where down on the waterfront there’s a new boat called the 343, which was just commissioned. The name on the hull of the boat is done in steel from the World Trade Center. It’s a $27 million boat, and the only reason they have them is because they realized on 9/11 that they need that service from the water, right down by where the buildings went down. Watching the boat, which the department was kind enough to give us that day, roll in was pretty emotional for a lot of the real firefighters. So for better or worse, I think we did the right thing.

Q. Why has 9/11 remained such a central theme on your show?

A. Because it’s firefighters. The show has been the story of the male ego, the heroic male ego. The idea of dealing with life and death every day, and that struggle to fit into real life when you work a job that has no real connection to real life, except in the sense that you may die five minutes from now. Or you may save a life. This event was so catastrophic for these guys. It’s still below the surface, but they can’t think about it every day because they have to jump on a rig and go back to work and jump into the building. But it’s like Vietnam or World War II for them — it’s something that will never go away.

Q. How did you develop the Tommy Gavin character?

A. He was based on two specific guys. The crew that we created was a smudged version of a real crew that I was very close to; I loved the unit and how everyone related to each other. The guys on the show even tended to look like the real guys — the good-looking dumb guy, the good-looking smart guy, the lieutenant who knows everything and has a lot of experience but likes to eat. They’re great, rich characters. My guy was a combination of two guys, one who had massive personal problems in terms of his marriage and personal life and one who was a great firefighter who had a different set of problems.

Q. Have the real firefighters continued to inform the characters on the show?

A. Almost every comic conversation that went on in “Rescue Me” in the firehouse came from things we heard from real firefighters who work on the show. It was either from them giving us a general idea of something that happened or from telling us a specific story like, “Last night we had a penis measuring contest at the firehouse.” And we would go, “You have got to be kidding me!” We’re not brilliant enough to come up with all this stuff ourselves. A lot of it was just reporting.

Q. Have the men who inspired your character ever complained about the portrayal?

A. One guy’s the main technical adviser on the show, Terry Quinn. His marriage fell apart, but his ex-wife is on the show — Patti D’Arbanville, she played Teddy’s wife. So that was pretty blatant. They were both aware that we were stealing not only elements from the firehouse but also from their personal lives and portraying it on screen. I don’t think the other guy was really aware all the time that I was using him. They were much more concerned with the reality of the portrayal of firefighters coming through — the technical reality of the fires and the general emotional reality of the thing.

Q. Tommy is haunted literally and figuratively by the people he couldn’t save. Is that meant to reflect the psyche of the firefighter, or is there something deeper you’re trying to get at?

A. No that’s really it: It’s survivor’s guilt in its truest form.

Q. With the end in sight, is the show beginning to wrap up the characters’ stories?

A. The story of the last two seasons is: Do they have enough to keep at it? Especially in Tommy’s case — he’s old enough that he can take the money and run, and the 10th anniversary becomes that opportunity. You’ve done it, you’re still alive. Take the pension, go home and spend the rest of your life with your family. There’s no shame in it. It’s just that you’re letting go of the life, and it’s almost like being a gangster or a retired ballplayer. You’re going to be seeing it on the news, but it will be from a distance. You lose the clubhouse atmosphere and you lose the adrenaline.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I love doing television and have loved doing this series — I would not hesitate, if I had the right idea, to do it again. Actually, I’m praying for “Ice Age” 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Because I really think we can run those characters into the ’60s, and I’m talking the 1960s, you know? The civil rights movement. That’s what I’m praying for, because then I wouldn’t have to do anything else.


35 years later, 'Jaws' still brings shrieks

St. Petersburg Times staff
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss

Buzz, Woody and Andy may be swimming in money after Toy Story 3's $109 million debut this weekend. But 35 years ago — this same week — a different type of movie was making sure that nobody wanted to get into the water ever again. • Steven Spielberg's Jaws hit movie theaters on June 20, 1975, after struggling through lukewarm studio support and production problems. But strong reviews from critics and widespread distribution of the film — at least by mid '70s standards — gave birth to the first summer blockbuster in Hollywood history. • Here are just a few fun bits — or bites — of trivia that will have you humming the ominous theme music all week. Compiled by Times Staff

Small beginnings: Jaws was the first movie to have a wide release — 464 theaters on opening night. (Toy Story 3 opened at 4,028 theaters.) It would gross $7 million that weekend, later pulling in more than $470 million, making it the highest grossing film of all time … for two years, until Star Wars broke the record.

Casting choices: Robert Shaw wasn't the first choice to play seafaring salt Quint; it was Sterling Hayden. Likewise, Charlton Heston was considered for the role of Chief Brody. (Heston vowed never to work with Spielberg after being turned down for the role.) If Jaws author Peter Benchley had his way, it would have starred Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen.

And the shark was … Bruce: That reportedly was the name of Spielberg's lawyer. The shark had its fair share of mechanical problems during filming, leading Spielberg to call "Bruce" a slew of other nicknames we can't print in the newspaper.

The locale: Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts served as "Amity Island." Residents were paid $64 as extras to scream and run when the shark was spotted at the beach. However, the first shark caught in the movie — mistakenly believed by the characters to be the man-eater — was far too big to have actually been caught off Martha's Vineyard. Congratulations, Florida, that's a real shark caught in the Sunshine State in that scene.

And the most famous line: According to writer Carl Gottlieb, the line "You're gonna need a bigger boat" was not in the script. It was improvised by Roy Scheider.

At the Oscars: Jaws was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning three (best film editing, best music, best sound). John Williams, who scored the music, was also conducting the orchestra for the Oscars. When he heard his name announced as a winner, he ran up to get his trophy, then continued conducting. The movie was also nominated for best picture. It lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Hatch Stunned by Kagan Abortion Record

by Audrey Hudson

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan denied editing critical language in a memo on partial-birth abortion during her tenure as a Clinton White House aide in order to distort the medical need for the procedure.

The denial came during her final day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee considering her confirmation, but it did not satisfy Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

“I'm really stunned by what appears to be a real politicization of science,” Hatch said. “The political objective of keeping partial-birth abortion legal appears to have trumped what a medical organization originally wrote and left to its own scientific inquiry they had concluded.”

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, questions Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 29, 2010, during her confirmation hearing before the committee.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Kagan told the panel she recalled discussing the rewrite for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and sought to better explain their positions on the controversial procedure, but that she did not change their medical opinion in the process.

“There is no way I would have or could have intervened with ACOG to get it to change its medical views on the question,” Kagan said.

In a Dec. 14, 1996 White House memo obtained by the committee, Kagan wrote they had just discovered that the ACOG “is thinking about issuing a statement that a select panel convened by the organization ‘could identify no circumstances’ for which partial-birth abortion “would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman.”

“This, of course, would be a disaster,” Kagan wrote.

Kagan told the Senate committee that she had conversations with ACOG “about whether that statement was consistent with the views that we knew it had” which was that “it was, in some circumstances, the medically most appropriate procedure.”

The new language for the statement appeared to state the opposite, that partial-birth abortion "may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.”

The key language was used verbatim by the nonpartisan physicians' organization, and proved persuasive when the Supreme Court struck down Stenberg v. Carhart, a state ban on partial-birth abortion.

Congress twice passed a ban on the procedure and both times Clinton vetoed the legislation.

Hatch called the rewrite a “politically useful spin” on a “particularly gruesome abortion method”concerning whether the procedure was medically necessary.

“Your language played an enormous role in both legal and political fights over banning partial-birth abortion,” Hatch said.

Kagan faced nearly 20 hours of questioning this week from the panel, which concluded her portion of the confirmation process Wednesday night so members on Thursday could attend memorial services for Sen. Robert Byrd.

The panel then met in closed session to discuss the findings of her FBI background check.

The committee will hear from more than two-dozen witnesses beginning late Thursday afternoon, including scholars and a Harvard professor where Kagan served as dean of the law school.

Other scheduled witnesses include Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.

Yoest is expected to urge senators to ask Kagan “why she thought it was appropriate to interfere in the positions of medical organizations.”

“We are deeply concerned about Elena Kagan’s conflicting testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Yoest said in a statement.

“There are serious discrepancies between her statements to Senator Hatch and the documented evidence of her actions in December 1996,” Yoest said.

Audrey Hudson is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in homeland security.

Terror — and Candor

The administration’s denial of “radical Islam” is dangerous, dishonest, and demoralizing.

By Charles Krauthammer
July 2, 2010 12:00 A.M.

The Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas Day bomber, the Times Square attacker. On May 13, the following exchange occurred at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee:

Rep. Lamar Smith (R.,Texas): Do you feel that these individuals might have been incited to take the actions that they did because of radical Islam?

Attorney General Eric Holder: There are a variety of reasons why I think people have taken these actions. . . .

Smith: Okay, but radical Islam could have been one of the reasons?

Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people—

Smith: But was radical Islam one of them?

Holder: There are a variety of reasons why people do these things. Some of them are potentially religious-based.

Potentially, mind you. This went on until the questioner gave up in exasperation.

A similar question arose last week in U.S. District Court when Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square attacker, pleaded guilty. Explained Shahzad: “One has to understand where I’m coming from. . . . I consider myself a mujahid, a Muslim soldier.”

Well, that is clarifying. As was the self-printed business card of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, identifying himself as “SoA”: Soldier of Allah.

Holder’s avoidance of the obvious continues the absurd and embarrassing refusal of the Obama administration to acknowledge who out there is trying to kill Americans and why. In fact, it has banned from its official vocabulary the terms “jihadist,” “Islamist,” and “Islamic terrorism.”

Instead, President Obama’s National Security Strategy insists on calling the enemy — how else do you define those seeking your destruction? — “a loose network of violent extremists.” But this is utterly meaningless. This is not an anger-management therapy group gone rogue. These are people professing a powerful ideology rooted in a radical interpretation of Islam, in whose name they propagandize, proselytize, terrorize, and kill.

Why is this important? Because the first rule of war is to know your enemy. If you don’t, you wander into intellectual cul-de-sacs and ignore the real causes that might allow you to prevent recurrences.

The Pentagon report on the Fort Hood shooter runs 86 pages with not a single mention of Hasan’s Islamism. It contains such politically correct inanities as “religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor.”

Of course it is. Indeed, Islamist fundamentalism is not only a risk factor. It is the risk factor, the common denominator linking all the great terror attacks of this century — from 9/11 to Mumbai, from Fort Hood to Times Square, from London to Madrid to Bali. The attackers were of various national origin, occupation, age, social class, native tongue, and race. The one thing that united them was the jihadist vision in whose name they acted.

To deny this undeniable truth leads to further absurdities. Remember the wave of speculation about Hasan’s supposedly secondary post-traumatic stress disorder — that he was so deeply affected by the heart-rending stories of his war-traumatized patients that he became radicalized? On the contrary. He was moved not by their suffering but by the suffering they (and the rest of the U.S. military) inflicted on Hasan’s fellow Muslims, in whose name he gunned down 12 American soldiers while shouting “Allahu Akbar.”

With Shahzad, we find the equivalent ridiculous — and exculpating — speculation that perhaps he was driven over the edge by the foreclosure of his home. Good grief. Of course his home went into foreclosure — so would yours if you voluntarily quit your job and stopped house payments to go to Pakistan for jihadist training. As the Washington Post’s Charles Lane pointed out, foreclosure was a result of Shahzad’s radicalism, not the cause.

There’s a final reason why the administration’s cowardice about identifying those trying to kill us cannot be allowed to pass. It is demoralizing. It trivializes the war between jihadi barbarism and Western decency, and diminishes the memory of those (including thousands of brave Muslims — Iraqi, Pakistani, Afghan, and Western) who have died fighting it.

Churchill famously mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. But his greatness lay not just in eloquence but in his appeal to the moral core of a decent people to rise against an ideology the nature of which Churchill never hesitated to define and describe — and to pronounce (“Nahhhhzzzzi”) in an accent dripping with loathing and contempt.

No one is asking Obama or Holder to match Churchill’s rhetoric — just Shahzad’s candor.

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010, the Washington Post Writers Group.

Byrd Tributes Go Overboard

Why do liberals worship the late West Virginia senator?

By Jonah Goldberg
July 2, 2010 12:00 A.M.

It is a good rule of thumb not to speak ill of the dead. But what to do when a man is celebrated beyond the limits of decorum or common sense? Must we stay silent as others celebrate the beauty and splendor of the emperor’s invisible clothes?

You probably know why I ask the question. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of the Senate in American history, died Monday. It was truly a remarkable career. But what’s more remarkable is how he has been lionized by the champions of liberalism.

On Thursday, Byrd’s colleagues took the unusual step of honoring him with a special service on the Senate floor, where he would lay in repose — with some irony — on the Lincoln Catafalque, the bier used to hold the slain body of the president who freed the slaves. The irony stems from the fact that for much of Byrd’s life, his allegiances were with Lincoln’s opponents in that effort. More on that in a moment.

Not long ago, the assembled forces of liberalism were convinced that the Senate was “broken,” that the anachronistic filibuster impeded progress. The Senate itself, with its arcane rules and procedures, had become undemocratic and was in need of vital reform, according to all of the usual voices. John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress and a sort of archbishop of liberalism these days, drew on his deep command of political theory and social science to explain that the American political system “sucks,” in significant part due to the unwieldiness of the Senate.

Well, who better represented those alleged structural problems than Byrd? Nearly every obituary celebrates his “mastery” of the rules. This is from the first paragraph of the Washington Post’s obituary: Byrd “used his masterful knowledge of the institution to shape the federal budget, protect the procedural rules of the Senate and, above all else, tend to the interests of his state.”

Yes, what about his tending to his state’s interests? For several years there’s been a lot of bipartisan indignation over the perfidy of pork and “earmarks.”

Who, pray tell, better represented that practice than Byrd? The man emptied Washington of money and resources with an alacrity and determination not seen since the evacuation of Dunkirk. There are too many of these Byrd droppings in West Virginia to count, but we do know there are at least 30 buildings and other structures in that state named for him. So much for Democrats’ getting the message that Americans are sick of self-aggrandizing politicians.

And so much for the idea that Washington has become calcified by a permanent political class. Better to celebrate the fact that he cast his 18,000th vote in 2007.

And then, of course, there is the issue of race. The common interpretation is that Byrd’s is a story of redemption. A one-time Exalted Cyclops of the KKK, Byrd recruited some 150 members to the chapter he led — that’s led, not “joined,” by the way. (If you doubt his commitment to the cause, try to recruit 150 people to do anything, never mind have them pay a hefty fee up front.)

Byrd filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As Bruce Bartlett notes in his book Wrong on Race, Byrd knew he would fail, but he stood on bedrock principle that integration was evil. His individual filibuster, the second longest in American history, fills 86 pages of fine print in the Congressional Record. “Only a true believer,” writes Bartlett, “would ever undertake such a futile effort.”

Unlike some segregationists’, Byrd’s arguments rested less on the principle of states’ rights than on his conviction that black people were simply biologically inferior.

Sure, he lied for years about his repudiation of the Klan. Sure, he was still referring to “white niggers” as recently as 2001. But everyone agrees his change of heart is sincere. And for all I know, it was.

What’s odd is what passes for proof of his sincerity. Yes, he voted to make Martin Luther King Day a holiday. But to listen to some eulogizers, the real proof came in the fact that he supported ever more lavish government programs — and opposed the Iraq War. Am I alone in taking offense at the idea that supporting big government and opposing the Iraq War somehow count as proof of racial enlightenment?

Robert Byrd was a complicated man, but the explanation for the outsized celebration of his career strikes me as far more simple. He was a powerful man who abandoned his bigoted principles in order to keep power. And his party loved him for it.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Russian Spies and the Castro Connection

Posted By Humberto Fontova On July 1, 2010 @ 12:07 am

It’s not often that Fidel Castro shares the stage. If during one of his weekly screeds (which he refers to as “Reflections”) he briefly steps aside to highlight a quote from a foreign well-wisher or agent, that brief quote will surely echo throughout his propaganda ministry.

Among those on whom Castro has bestowed this rare honor is Vicky Pelaez (pictured at right), known primarily to Hispanics in the New York area for her columns (ongoing for almost 20 years) in El Diario/La Prensa, the largest circulation Spanish language paper in the U.S.

“Hers is such a well-argued document,” Castro opined in his screed of May 8 [1] referring to an article by Vicky Pelaez, “that I do not wish to conclude this reflection without including it:

“The huge marches of this May Day condemning the pernicious anti-immigration law passed in Arizona, have shaken all of the United States,” starts Vicky Pelaez as quoted by Castro. “[The law] resembles laws passed in Nazi Germany or South Africa in the apartheid period.”

The article goes on to accuse Jan Brewer of “hate against people with an accent,” of “promoting ethnic cleansing,” and of authorizing Arizona’s police to fire upon people based on the color of their skin. It was as if Vicky was transcribing from a mainstream media/Democratic teleprompter. Castro quotes her for up to about 500 words, almost half of his screed. Again, a highly unusual honor in Castro’s universe. But then, has already explained [2] Castro’s discomfiture with Arizona’s SB 1070.

Ms. Vicky Pelaez became much, much better known this week when arrested by the FBI and charged (so far), along with 9 others, including her husband, of spying for the Russian Federation. The FBI affidavit stated that she traveled to an unnamed South American country to pick up cash for fellow agents in Yonkers sent by Russian handlers and to pass on messages. According to the FBI, in one 2002 trip, Pelaez returned with $80,000 stuffed into her luggage — eight bags each containing $10,000.

An item utterly unreported by the media is that Vicky Pelaez has been a faithful scribe for the Castro regime’s propaganda ministry [3] for years. Her work appears just to the left of Fidel and Raul’s own articles. As an interesting aside, the Huffington Post also publishes a Castro court scribe, [4] innocuously described as a “Cuba–based media analyst.”

“Fidel Castro is already immortal!” wrote Vicky Pelaez [5] in the Castro regime’s house organ back in 2006:

“He is a man who inspired and demonstrated the fertile path of truth for other leaders!…

We had the moments of Christ, Mohammed, Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Newton, Pascal, Bolivar, Marti, Che Guevara, etc. They all left the scene, yet unlike us mere mortals, they remain immortal…..they were rebels like the very angels of God who did not resign themselves to a sad destiny of mere mortals but instead valiantly challenged the very heavens to steal its glory!

Fidel Castro Ruz belongs to that glorious group of rebels! With his towering intelligence, discipline, drive, and persistence he launched his heroic struggle and gained his people’s support to fight for new and sovereign Cuba! But his fight is not over…!”

Manpower and time constraints prevent the FBI from using odes to Fidel Castro as tips to uncover Castro agents. Keeping tabs on Castro groupies would mean tailing the majority of the mainstream media pundits, Hollywood elites, and liberal arts faculties at every college and university from sea to shining sea—not to mention a plurality of Democratic legislators, including the entire Congressional Black Caucus. [6] One only need to consider the following evidence:

“He looked directly into my eyes! Then he asked: how can we help President Obama? Fidel Castro really wants President Obama to succeed.” So exhaled CBC member Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) upon returning from a junket to Cuba in April 2009.

“It was quite a moment to behold! Fidel Castro was very engaging and very energetic.” CBC member Rep. Barbara Lee. (D-Calif.) stated after the same trip.

“He’s one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met!” CBC member Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) announced after the trip.

And from Hollywood:

“Castro is very selfless and moral, one of the world’s wisest men.” (Oliver Stone.)

“If you believe in freedom, if you believe in justice, if you believe in democracy, you have no choice but to support Fidel Castro!” (Harry Belafonte.)

“The eight most important hours of my life,” (Stephen Spielberg describing his dinner with Castro, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.)

And also from the media:

“Fidel Castro is Cuba’s Elvis!” (Dan Rather)

“Fidel Castro is old-fashioned, courtly–even paternal, a thoroughly fascinating figure!” (Andrea Mitchell.)

“Castro has brought very high literacy and great health-care to his country. His personal magnetism is powerful, his presence is commanding.” (Barbara Walters.)

Alas, space restrains us here. The bandwith required to list all such odes to Fidel Castro would bankrupt George Soros.

As to the story with Pelaez, Columnist Joy Tiz [7] reminds us of profound warnings issued from KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov back in 1984:

“Cynical, ego-centric people, people who can look into your eyes with angelic expression and tell you a lie. These are always the most recruitable people (by the KGB) –people who lack moral principals – who are either too greedy or who suffer from too much self-importance.”

This description would seem to capture Pelaez perfectly: Last week on the Spanish-language TV show A Mano Limpia [8], a former colleague of Vicky Pelaez at New York’s El Diario/La Prensa named Miguel Ángel Sánchez, recalled Vicky’s suspension from the paper for plagiarism and how her husband Juan Lazaro (a Baruch college professor arrested with her) served as the official New York treasurer for the Peruvian Communist terrorist group Sendero Luminoso [9].

KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov also revealed how “those who reject Communist influence in their own country will be character assassinated…” And as it happens, Castro’s press thinks rather poorly of a FrontPage writer whom they’ve placed on the Stalinist regime’s official enemies list. “Traitor, liar and cowardly Bambi-Killer” are among the mildest insults Castro’s press hurled against your loyal servant here. [10] (Also note how, in the 2nd paragraph, the Castro-regime’s house organ insults Frontpage Magazine, Jamie Glazov and David Horowitz.)

URL to article:

URLs in this post:

[1] screed of May 8:

[2] already explained:

[3] Castro regime’s propaganda ministry:

[4] publishes a Castro court scribe,:

[5] wrote Vicky Pelaez:

[6] Congressional Black Caucus.:

[7] Joy Tiz:

[8] A Mano Limpia:

[9] Sendero Luminoso:

[10] against your loyal servant here.:

Oil Messed Up

Anger grows along the Gulf Coast at the Obama administration’s pathetic response to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

By Winston Groom
The Weekly Standard
July 5 - July 12, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 40

POINT CLEAR, ALABAMA - The most breathtaking irony in the whole sorry oil spill saga is that the Obama administration has selected BP—which it continues to demonize as reckless, greedy, and incompetent—as the principal entity to contain and clean up this vast and dangerous mess.

The millions affected by the ongoing fiasco watch in dismay and outrage as they weigh the possibility that their way of life may be changed for a long time, if not forever. I am among them. Fishing and boating waters are closed. Swimming warning flags are flying. Orange containment booms line the shores, and the news is filled with pictures of dying birds. I have not seen the oil yet, but I have smelled it from a dozen miles away. It is not a pleasant smell. If it gets into the deltas and the marshes and streams that are nurseries for the marine life here on the coast, it could become a great tragedy. Which is all the more reason for anger and frustration at the monumental incompetence of the attempt to contain this greatest of oil spills in U.S. history.

It has been apparent from the outset that the Obama administration had no wish to be responsible for fixing this problem without having some sort of “plausible deniability.” They saw what happened to George W. Bush with New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina and wanted no part of that kind of trap. Instead, the White House embarked on a program of finger-pointing, bad-mouthing, scolding, and threats. Reckless, greedy, and incompetent as BP may be, this only made the company’s task considerably harder to perform—especially with the government’s much publicized “boot on their throat.”

Nobody along the Gulf Coast has a crystal ball or divining rod to read what’s in the administration’s mind, but anyone with a brain can see that a massive effort will be necessary to avert an ecological and economic catastrophe. Between double and ten times the presently available personnel and equipment is needed, and they are needed now.

People here have become cynical. There have been suggestions that Obama wants to use the oil spill as a “teachable moment” in his effort to pass his cap and trade energy legislation. And there are even darker intimations, the suspicion that something else must be afoot. If the spill had occurred in Long Island Sound, say, or San Francisco Bay—or in Nantucket Sound with oil lapping at the beaches of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard—would there be this indolent a response from Washington?

So far, the effort to contain the spill has been pathetic. Oil washes up, and after a while a truck arrives with a cleaning crew hired from distant states, who mop-up or shovel it into plastic bags that may or may not get picked up later. They then return to sit under a tent until the next call comes or, as has happened in a few cases, a sheriff arrives to arrest them on outstanding warrants. Meantime, fleets of college kids using daddy’s fishing boat are being paid up to $2,000 a day to tool around looking for oil.

Each morning seems to bring a new fool’s errand. On June 18, for example, the U.S. Coast Guard apprehended a dozen oil-skimming barges in the midst of performing their duty, and shut down their operations for the rest of the day in order to determine if they were carrying the proper number of life preservers and fire extinguishers. If the Coast Guard was so worried about safety, why not simply take a big pile of life preservers and fire extinguishers out to these craft and hand them around, so that the skimmers could keep at their essential job?

But that is not the way government operates. At least not this government, which has created a perfect storm of bureaucratic and regulatory gridlock around the Deep-water Horizon disaster. Whatever is done to prevent the oil from coming ashore must be approved by the EPA, OSHA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and a host of lesser bureaucracies.

Just a few days ago, a large slick of oil several hundred acres in size was allowed to enter Mobile Bay and hover in the lee of Gaillard Island, one of the largest Brown Pelican rookeries in the United States. According to a spokesman for BP, “None of the 135 boats working out of Dog River, or the 54 boats working out of Fairhope, had the training to handle the oil.” It seems oil skimming or booming requires taking courses and passing tests given by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. -Otherwise you run the risk of being arrested.

Same goes for trying to save oiled birds or other wildlife. Federal permits—which can take up to three years to process—are required, and violators are subject to arrest, fines, and jail. So if an oiled mallard washes up on shore, best leave him be and call the proper authorities to scrub him down with Dawn soap, never mind if he dies before they get there.

Some brave souls are resisting this nonsense. A couple of fire chiefs from the Magnolia River and Fish River communities in Alabama got tangled up in five weeks’ worth of red tape just to bring in equipment to block the oil from getting into their rivers. “They can arrest me and Jamie if they want to,” one of them said, “This is the biggest damn mess I’ve ever seen.”

Fixing the oil leak at the bottom of the gulf is, understandably, not something the U.S. government could be expected to do very well. So the Obama administration put the Coast Guard in charge of overseeing BP’s efforts, as well as the containment and cleanup operations. But the president has been careful to distance his administration from the operation and any blame attached to failure, while never losing an opportunity to remind the public that it is all BP’s fault and that they must be responsible for fixing it, cleaning it up, and paying for the mess.

The world has watched the excruciating process unfold and learned strange new expressions such as “Top Hat,” “Junk Shot,” and “Top Kill.” Nothing worked until finally some sort of contraption was lowered over the leaking well, which now captures much of the oil. But why did this all drag out so long, with weeks passing in between BP’s various attempts to stem the flow? Apparently BP would wait until one effort failed before starting another, instead of having everything in place for a new attempt as soon as they gave up on the last. What were our leaders thinking?

All the while, a gargantuan mass of oil has been accumulating in the Gulf of Mexico—not as a monolithic slick, but in many forms. It comes sometimes as thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of foamy fingers of “orange mousse” or as a sheen or as tarballs or in thick brown globs or pods of oily slab hundreds of acres (or even miles) wide. Day and night it drifts out there, twisting and turning amorphously with the wind, tides, and currents, and washing ashore from Louisiana to Florida—soiling, stinking, killing. And what were the responsible parties doing all this time—those institutions that are supposed to be protecting citizens from this kind of nightmare? From all appearances, they were doing squat!

Two months after the well blowout and the start of the great leak, plans for keeping the oil offshore remain hopelessly inadequate. The so-called “response” could comprise wonderful material for a new series of Keystone Kops movie shorts. Consider this recent newspaper account of BP’s chief operating officer Doug Suttles touring oil-fouled beaches:

Suttles later flew over heavy [oil] sheens on Perdido Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. He expressed frustration that there was no way for pilots [of spotter planes] to communicate with skimmer boat captains working on the Gulf surface and direct them to areas thick with emulsified oil. “We’ve got to address that. We need to get the skimmers to the oil,” Suttles said.

Say what? These people have known for two months there was a giant oil slick forming out there, bound to come onshore, and haven’t figured out how to connect the scout planes with the skimmer boats? Haven’t they ever heard of RadioShack?

Aside from the so-called “dispersants” that BP has been spraying to dissipate the oil, the two main tools for keeping the stuff off the shores are boom and skimmers. (The dispersants themselves were an occasion for a hissy-fit between BP and the EPA, which first approved them, then in response to complaints by scientists, rescinded the approval, then gave BP a deadline to quit using the dispersants, then changed its mind again and huffily reapproved them.)

GRAND ISLE, LA - JUNE 28: A boat uses a boom and absorbent material to soak up oil on the surface of the water from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in Cat Bay on June 28, 2010 near Grand Isle, Louisiana. (Getty Images)

Boom comes in various forms—large ocean boom, smaller containment boom, absorbent boom—but not nearly enough of it has been available on the Gulf Coast. Alabama governor Bob Riley was infuriated when, after his office secured a dozen miles of hard-to-come-by ocean boom to protect Mobile Bay, he was summarily informed that the Coast Guard had confiscated it for use in Louisiana.

But the most egregious scandal of all is the lack of skimmer boats to remove the oil from the water before it hits land. A few weeks ago, at the height of tourist season, as oil began washing up on beaches in Alabama, the Coast Guard announced that the best way to deal with the problem was to let the oil wash ashore and then clean up the beaches once the tide went out. That tactic proved sadly wrong. A story in the June 20 Mobile Press Register was accompanied by photographs of the vast layers of oily goo that had collected on the bottom in the shallows many yards out from the beaches, killing everything it settled on, and ruining swimming and wading for everyone. Apparently the Coast Guard claimed it was easier to clean up the beaches than to fight the oil before it landed because it lacked enough skimmers.

Right after the disaster struck, 13 oil producing nations around the world, plus the U.N., offered the services of their dredges and large skimming ships, capable of removing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil. They were turned down by the Obama administration because of the Jones Act, a piece of labor union-inspired legislation that forbids foreign vessels or foreign crews from working in U.S. waters. Republican legislators have called for President Obama to waive the act as President Bush did during the Katrina disaster, but so far he has declined.

The lack of skimmer vessels becomes more critical each day. All the boom in the world cannot contain an oil spill without something to quickly skim it up. Waves, wind, and current soon push the oil over or under the boom. When that large slick was allowed to enter Mobile Bay, promises were made by BP and the Coast Guard that the mouth and other entrances would be protected by skimmers. Part of the slick went 25 miles north to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, one of the largest wetlands systems in the nation. There were no skimmers available to deal with it.

According to the Coast Guard there are 400 skimmer vessels working along the affected coast—which, depending on how its measured, is somewhere between 500 miles (the linear measure) and 5,000 (if you measure every cove and creek). There are said to be 2,000 skimmers available in the United States. Gulf Coast residents are wondering just what the other 1,600 are doing. Apparently many of them are required by government regulation to remain right where they are in case of emergency. The mayors of a number of small towns along the coast are seeking to purchase their own skimmers instead of relying on the effort by BP and the government, but that leaves open the danger of government regulators insisting on weeks of training and testing before they can be put to use. When the oil is upon you, it is not a matter of weeks, but of hours, even minutes. The cleanup effort is drowning in the proverbial sea of red tape. The interesting contradiction here is that the entire response is turning into one of the greatest arguments against government regulation that could possibly be imagined.

If BP’s relief well is successful and the leak is plugged, and if an armada of skimmers is built up to work round the clock and manages to keep the shores mostly clean then, barring a hurricane, the oil out in the gulf will probably degrade and/or evaporate naturally and the emergency will have passed. But make no mistake, these are big ifs.

Late on Father’s Day, I walked out to Julep Point, a peninsula jutting into Mobile Bay from which, on a clear day, you can see Dauphin Island, a dozen miles south, and the gap at the mouth of the bay where Admiral Farragut cried, “Damn the torpedoes.” Beyond that, out in the great gulf itself, a bank of dark rain clouds was tinged pinkish-gold, backlit by the setting sun. Out there, too, was the oil, upwards of 80,000 square miles of it, rocking silently on the waves. I grew up here on the coast and had the bay and the gulf beaches and the miles of river delta to enjoy. I wonder if that will be true for my 11-year-old daughter. There are many others here like me who gaze into a lowering future, and do not like what they see.

- Winston Groom is the author of numerous novels and histories, including Forrest Gump (1986). His most recent book is Vicksburg, 1863 (Alfred A. Knopf).

'Son of Hamas' wins asylum fight

Originally published June 30, 2010 at 11:28 a.m., updated June 30, 2010 at 10:20 p.m.

As Pastor Matt Smith sat Wednesday in the federal immigration detention center in Otay Mesa, he thought back to an afternoon in 2008 when he and Mosab Hassan Yousef prayed together while walking along an alley in Mission Bay.

Yousef was sleeping on the floors of friends’ houses. He didn’t have a job. He was losing his battle for political asylum in the United States.

The Palestinian, who was in the country on a tourist visa, wanted to go public with his story of converting to Christianity, being the son of Hamas’ co-founder and spending a decade spying on the militant group for Israel. But he feared retaliation from Islamic terrorists and rejection by family members.

“It was very hard for him to decide to do it,” Smith said.

After more praying that night, Yousef set out on a path leading to the March publication of “Son of Hamas,” a memoir that sent shock waves through the Israeli and Palestinian governments and reached No. 10 on The New York Times best-seller list.

Yousef and his attorney were prepared to spend three-and-a-half hours Wednesday morning arguing for asylum before Homeland Security Immigration Court Judge Richard Bartolomei.

Instead, the hearing ended after only 15 minutes when government lawyers said they no longer opposed the request.

“There has been a change in the department,” Homeland Security attorney Kerri Calcador told Bartolomei without elaborating.

Outside the detention center, Yousef hugged Smith and other members of the Barabbas Road Church in La Jolla.

“I was surprised,” Yousef, 32, said of the government’s about-face. “This country is the greatest country because the Constitution protects liberty all the time.”

His lawyer, Steven Seick, said recent letters of support from 22 members of Congress and two members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, probably helped sway immigration officials. The letters were entered into the court record Wednesday.

Until the hearing, immigration officials had questioned Yousef’s claims that he helped Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, kill Hamas officials and thwart bombing attacks while working as a driver and aide to his father, Sheik Hassan Yousef.

The younger Yousef has lived in the San Diego area since arriving in the United States in 2007. The trip followed his rejection of his Islamic faith in 2005. Yousef said he was drawn to San Diego after meeting Christian missionaries from a local church who were visiting Israel.

In their initial opposition to the asylum request, Homeland Security lawyers said Yousef had engaged in terrorist activity and was a danger to the security of the United States.

They pointed to a portion of Yousef’s book that described his driving five Hamas members to a safe house after their release from a Palestinian Authority prison. The five were later connected to two terrorist bombings, including a July 2002 attack on a Hebrew University cafeteria in Jerusalem that killed Marla Ann Bennett, 24, a student from San Diego, and eight others.

On his blog, Yousef wrote in May that his job as a spy required him to be involved in as many of his father’s activities as possible. “So when he asked me to go with him to pick up these guys … I went.”

Yousef said he eventually turned over information that tied the men to the cafeteria bombing.

His account makes sense, said Michael Bennett, father of Marla Ann. He still lives in the Del Cerro neighborhood of San Diego with his wife, Linda.

Israeli police “would have never gotten these guys if somebody hadn’t talked,” Michael Bennett said. “They really had no evidence.”

He expressed cautious support for what U.S. immigration officials did in the Yousef case Wednesday.

“If it’s true that (Yousef) really was an undercover agent, then I’m glad because he didn’t do anything wrong,” Bennett said.

Gonen Ben Itzhak, a retired Shin Bet agent, traveled from Israel to San Diego this week to corroborate Yousef’s story as a sworn witness in the hearing. He decided to break his cover, an extraordinary gesture that made headlines in the Israeli press.

Itzhak said he was Yousef’s handler and was known to the Palestinian only by his code name, Captain Loai, while they worked together.

“I came to say that Mosab is not a terrorist,” Itzhak said after the court session. “He’s a great guy. Basically, I came to tell the truth.”

In one of the letters presented Wednesday, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi and committee member Einat Wilf thanked Yousef for his work from 1998 through 2007.

“You acted with resolute determination, under the guidance of the Israel security agency, to thwart terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent people while exhibiting personal courage, reliability and dedication,” according to a translation of the Hebrew letter. “At this time, when you are personally paying a high price for your daring decision to disclose this, we deem it a pleasant duty to simply say thank you very much.”

Yousef said he first contemplated helping Shin Bet while in an Israeli prison and seeing Hamas prisoners attack other Palestinians.

Although Yousef’s family has disowned him, he hopes to one day reunite with his father, who is serving a six-year sentence in an Israeli prison.

Yousef said he will continue offering assistance to U.S. investigators and speaking out publicly against terrorism while promoting his book. He also plans to seek U.S. citizenship and apply to Harvard University to pursue a master’s in Middle Eastern studies.

Keith Darcé: (619) 293-1020; Follow on Twitter at @keithdarce


By Ann Coulter
June 30, 2010

The two main points being made by Democrats in support of Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court merely serve to remind us that Democrats are inveterate liars.

First, it has been repeatedly observed how wonderful it is that Ms. Kagan is "someone who's an intellectual heavyweight who's going to give Roberts a run for the money" -- as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., put it.

Whew! Good thing the Democrats got that Hispanic nominee out of the way, so they could appoint somebody with intellectual heft! Hey! What happened to the "wise Latina"? At least now you know what liberals really think of you, Sonia.

Second, liberals are raving about Kagan's "skill at building a consensus ... reaching out and building coalitions" -- as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said last week.

It's as if they're talking about a governing majority in the Senate. Next thing you know, liberals will be complaining about a "do nothing" Supreme Court.

On MSNBC's "Hardball" back in May, Sen. Klobuchar said: "We want to get some things done on this court."

Get some things done? Amy Klobuchar is not considered a lunatic, but this was a crazy, giveaway moment. (Durbin is not considered a lunatic, just a hack.)

The Supreme Court is not supposed to be "getting things done." Durbin's and Klobuchar's statements reveal a massive misunderstanding of the role of the court.

Congress, as the people's elected representatives, is supposed to "get things done." If they don't, that usually means the people don't want those things done. It's not the court's job to say: "Hey, Congress, you forgot to enact this! Don't worry, we'll take care of it."

But liberals see the Supreme Court as their backup legislature, giving them all the laws Democrats can't pass themselves because they'd be voted out of office if they did.

Can't get Americans to approve of abortion? Get the Supreme Court to do it! Can't get Americans to ban the death penalty? Get the Supreme Court to do it! Can't get Americans to release criminals? Get the Supreme Court to do it!

Usually Democrats denounce the idea that they want an activist judiciary as a vicious, right-wing lie. But now they're complaining that the court's not activist enough -- and they need Kagan up there to "get some things done"!

Despite the herculean efforts of liberals to redefine "judicial activism" as "overturning laws," the two acts are completely unrelated.

It would be like redefining "terrorist" to mean "airline passenger." Some airline passengers are terrorists and some aren't -- indeed, some battle the terrorists. The two have nothing to do with each other, although, sometimes, both notions come together and you get an airline passenger who's a terrorist -- and blows up the plane.

It makes as much sense to say, "Republicans say they're against 'judicial activism,' but conservative justices strike down laws more than liberals do!" as it does to say, "Republicans claim they're against terrorism, but they fly more than Democrats do!"

Different things.

As former Chief Justice William Rehnquist described the proper role of judicial review in a constitutional democracy, the courts have the last word "as to whether a law passed by the legislature conforms to the Constitution."

It would be every bit as "activist" for the Supreme Court to refuse to strike down a law that violated the Constitution -- e.g., Chicago's anti-gun laws or Congress' restriction of free speech via the campaign finance laws -- as it is for the court to strike down laws that do not violate the Constitution.

We know that laws restricting speech and the right to bear arms violate the Constitution because it says so. The very first two items in the Bill of Rights prohibit the government from infringing on -- I quote -- "the freedom of speech" and "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." You can look it up yourself.

If Congress passed a law banning books critical of the Supreme Court and the court refused to strike down that law, that would be "judicial activism."

Historically, judicial activists have preferred to strike down laws that are perfectly acceptable under the Constitution than to let unconstitutional laws stand. Constitutionally permissible laws include laws against abortion and laws providing for the death penalty.

We know that laws prohibiting abortion do not violate the Constitution because neither abortion, nor its synonyms, nor anything vaguely resembling abortion, is mentioned -- much less granted protected status -- by the Constitution.

And we know that laws providing for the death penalty are permitted by the Constitution because it goes on and on about capital crimes. The Fifth Amendment, for example, says:

-- "No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury";

-- "nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb";

-- "nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

States are free to ban the death penalty on their own, but the Constitution requires only three things for the imposition of a death sentence: a grand jury indictment, no double jeopardy, and a hearing. The End. Love, the Founding Fathers.

And yet, the Supreme Court banned the death penalty -- even with those three safeguards -- as "unconstitutional" from 1972-1976.

Several justices -- including Kagan's mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall -- continually voted to ban the death penalty, despite the fact that the Constitution clearly, repeatedly, unquestionably provides for capital punishment.

That's how liberals "get some things done." That's judicial activism.


Obama’s Coffee-House Loophole for Lobbyists

K Street influence peddlers routinely meet with Team Obama — outside the White House, in an effort to circumvent the public’s right to know.

By Michelle Malkin
June 30, 2010 12:00 A.M.

President Obama is finally uniting the Left and the Right — in joint opposition to his administration’s chronic sabotage of transparency and public-disclosure rules. It won’t be long before liberals disillusioned by Dear Leader’s reveal-as-we-say-not-as-we-conceal policies link arms with me and join in on my two-year-old chant: Obama lied, transparency died.

Watchdog groups and Republicans on Capitol Hill want an investigation into hundreds of White House meetings with corporate lobbyists at D.C. coffee houses. K Street influence peddlers told the New York Times last week that they’ve met routinely with Team Obama officials over the past 18 months to discuss policy matters — at Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, even on a side lawn — with the express purpose of circumventing the public’s right to know.

The Coffee House Ruse comes on top of the latest confession of White House non-disclosure from ex–Big Labor heavy Patrick Gaspard, Obama’s chief domestic policy adviser, who failed to report a $40,000 pension payment from his old employer, the Service Employees International Union in New York. If they keep this up, sunlight-avoiding Obama officials will soon be cast as the next Twilight vampires.

“Lobbyists say some White House officials will agree to an initial meeting with a lobbyist and his client at the White House,” the Times’s once-zealous champions of Obama reported, “but then plan follow-up sessions at a site not subject to the visitors’ log.” Said one financial lobbyist who has met more than a half-dozen times off-campus with White House officials: “I’ll call and say, ‘I want to talk to you about X,’ and they’ll say, ‘Sure, let’s talk at Starbucks.’”

You see: When Obama promised to “change the way Washington works,” what he really meant was changing where the usual Beltway backroom wheelers and dealers do their business. And when he talked about changing the “culture” in the nation’s capitol, what he really meant was just changing titles.

In addition to carving out the coffee-house loophole and using personal e-mail accounts to communicate with the influence industry, White House officials have been advising lobbyists looking for administration jobs to de-register — shedding their K Street status — to get around Obama’s vaunted lobbyist hiring ban. With more than 40 ex-lobbyists working in the administration, Obama’s no-lobbyists executive order already has more holes in it than a moth-eaten crocheted sweater.

The self-puffery of the double-talker-in-chief on disclosure ethics is inversely proportional to the amount of real transparency he has delivered. In January, irked by criticism of private health-care meetings with Big Labor cronies at the Oval Office, Obama lectured Americans that “it is important to know that the promises we made about increased transparency we’ve executed here in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” His legal counsel trumpeted the release of more than 25,000 White House visitor logs (many incomplete, vague, and useless) as “a milestone in the president’s commitment to change Washington. The president believes that this and our many other transparency initiatives promote accountability and keep American democracy vital.”

While Obama’s cabinet engaged in the same old precedented meetings with lobbyists, his propagandists patted themselves on the back for providing unprecedented access:

“We are excited about the visitor records policy not only because we are breaking new ground for this administration but also because we are establishing a new standard for all future administrations. We know of no comparable initiative in the history of the White House.”

Puff, puff, puff. The Obama administration’s incomparable hype and hypocrisy have at last proved too much for good-government liberals. Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has asked the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate and hold hearings on the Coffee House loophole. CREW head Melanie Sloan lambasted the Democratic White House: “This is what all the administration’s anti-lobbyist rhetoric gets you — less transparency. Rather than being open and clear about who is influencing White House policy, the White House is trying to hide who it’s really talking to. Even worse, the public is being suckered with lofty rhetoric about the evils of the same lobbyists White House officials are meeting with.”

Now that citizen activists are staking out D.C. caffeine hot spots, the White House/special-interest trysts may soon be headed to Washington street-corner hot-dog stands and taquerias. Keep your eyes and ears open. The next cap-and-tax exemption or stimulus slush fund may be hammered out in a public restroom stall or on a Metro subway seat next to you. On the upside, coffee-gate is rousing slow-learning Americans from their Obama-as-Messiah stupor. The best part of waking up is reality in your cup.

— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Mark Steyn on the World
Wednesday, 30 June 2010

from the June 21, 2010 issue of National Review

The other day, noting Bret Stephens’ analysis in Commentary as to why Iran cannot be contained, Jonah Goldberg made a very shrewd throwaway aside: “Arguments like this tend to get ignored not because they aren’t persuasive, but because they are,” he said. “The political and psychological costs of accepting the premise are too high. So, denial inevitably triumphs.”

And thus our Iran “policy”: There will be no US military strike. There will be no international sanctions regime. And so the mullahs will go nuclear, because letting them go nuclear requires least of us – and there will always be scholars and experts ready to justify our inertia as farsighted realpolitik. Thus, the rehabilitation of “containment”: That we can do. Iran, says Zbigniew Brzezinski, “may be dangerous, assertive and duplicitous, but there is nothing in their history to suggest they are suicidal.”

Dr Brzezinski is a man who has been reliably wrong about everything that matters for decades and whose decision to route American support for the Afghan resistance through the malign double-act of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki and Pakistan’s ISI has had consequences we live with to this day. He is the master of unrealpolitik, and so naturally his is now the new conventional wisdom: Iran is not “suicidal”. Therefore, it can be contained.

Even a non-suicidal Iran is presumably intending to derive some benefit from its nuclear status. Entirely rational leverage would include: Controlling the supply of Gulf oil, setting the price, and determining the customers; getting vulnerable emirates such as Kuwait and Qatar to close US military bases; and turning American allies in Europe into de facto members of the non-aligned movement. Whatever deterrent effect it might have on first use or proliferation, there is no reason to believe any “containment” strategy would prevent Iran accomplishing its broader strategic goals. Besides, as Bret Stephens points out, Soviet containment was introduced a couple of years after we’d nuked Japan. Iranian “containment” would follow years of inaction, in which the ayatollahs have been allowed to nuclearize in full view of the world and with the acquiescence of many American allies. Unlike 60 years ago, there is a basic credibility issue: Despite President Obama’s line that Iran is “isolated”, it’s just been elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and its president in the last year alone has been received in China, Venezuela, Turkey, Denmark, Brazil, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Senegal, The Gambia and various other places most of which are at least nominally American allies. If he were to be any more “isolated”, Ahmadinejad might get the occasional night at home to wash his hair. So “containment” seems unlikely to impede any non-suicidal moves by Iran.

But let’s flip Dr Brzezinski’s point around: An American might conclude that Iran isn’t suicidal. But can the Iranians make the same confident claim about America? After all, we’ve just let them go nuclear – not under cover of darkness, as Pakistan did, but in slow motion and in open contempt of the US and its European negotiators. Why would you do that? Iran doesn’t observe even the minimal courtesies of mutually hostile states: It seizes foreign embassies at home, and blows them up on the other side of the world; it kidnaps the sailors of permanent members of the UN Security Council in international waters; it seeds terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon, and backs terrorist attacks all over the world. And it pays no price for any of this. If you can’t rouse yourself to prevent a rogue state with a thirty-year consistent pattern of behavior getting nukes, what else won’t you rouse yourself for?

On September 10th 2001, America was the preeminent nuclear power in the world. We forget now that the following morning’s attack was aimed not only at the symbols of US military and financial power but also at the heart of government itself. A combination of the vagaries of scheduling and the bravery of Flight 93’s passengers saved us, on a day of horror, from the additional burden of a Robert C Byrd presidency or some such. Osama bin Laden set out to decapitate his enemy - and Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda’s patron in Afghanistan, cheerfully signed off on it. Presumably, he’s not suicidal, either. Yet he made a calculation about the American response that concluded the attack would be worth it.

Remember how quickly the objections to retaliating against Afghanistan began? Suppose there was a “nuclear transfer” to Sudan or Hamas, and Iran was most likely responsible: Do you think an Obamafied Washington would take action? Or would they express “grave concern” and go to the UN to get a resolution? I think we know the answer.

Now let’s suppose one of those nuclear transfers detonates somewhere or other and kills tens of thousands of people, but the provenance isn’t 100 per cent clear: Bombing raids on Tehran? Or back to the Security Council? You might not be so sure of the answer, but I’ll bet, after the last few years, Iran is.

How about the big one? The ayatollahs nuke Tel Aviv and puts Israel out of business. What’s the US going to do? Flatten Iran? Or hit a couple of cities and leave it at that? Iran believes we are a hollow superpower. It concluded from our behavior that it could go nuclear with impunity. And, whatever the unrealpolitik crowd tells itself, it has now concluded it can be nuclear with impunity. In a supposedly unipolar world, the planet’s wealthiest states, from Norway to New Zealand, can project no meaningful force, while moribund basket cases nuke up.

That sounds like a transitional phase, don’t you think?

Want to protect the poor? Then give them jobs

Most people who are 'forced’ into minimum wage jobs move quite quickly up the earnings ladder, says Janet Daley

By Janet Daley
The London Daily Telegraph
Published: 9:00PM BST 26 Jun 2010

At last, we are having the right argument for our time. Virtually everybody who is in touch with political reality now accepts that the old contest – socialism vs capitalism – is over. We all believe, with greater or lesser degrees of enthusiasm, in free-market economics. So the real source of contention that remains is the size and role of the state.

Anyone who thinks that this is a puny arena – that the boundaries of debate have shrunk to a less inspirational, purely managerial scale – is mistaken. The passion with which those on the Left are now defending their new turf should make it clear: this fight will be to the death because the power of government to control social and economic outcomes is seen by them as the last plausible incarnation of their moral world-view. The current arguments about welfare reform which the Government has robustly initiated are going to bring this abstract confrontation into the day-to-day experience of national life.

Now it is perfectly understandable that those who have a vested interest in state power – public sector trade union leaders, for example – should be prepared to risk everything to preserve it, but have the more thoughtful Left-liberal proponents really thought this through? Are they actually prepared to go down fighting for the idea that the state is the source of social virtue and must be the answer to all of our civic problems?

If we learnt anything from the terrible ideological crimes of the 20th century, it was that over-powerful states were dangerous: that even if they did not commit murder or enslave their own populations, their good intentions ended up producing perverse effects simply through the gross, insensitive interventions of central bureaucracy which could take no account of individual needs. Can anyone still believe that the largely catastrophic consequences of Big State solutions to poverty, to housing shortages, to unemployment, to educational disadvantage, have been pure coincidence?

The effect of government housing programmes is a perfect case. Council housing – with its class‑ghetto implications – always seemed to me to be a pernicious social phenomenon, reinforcing social divisions and encouraging passivity. Not only were people told where they would live, but they were often forbidden to make changes to – or take responsibility for – their own homes. But now, in areas where unemployment has become endemic, council estates have become social death-traps.

As Iain Duncan Smith points out in our interview with him today, the security of tenure of the council tenant means that he dare not risk moving to another area of the country – or even to the far side of his own city – to seek employment for fear of losing his housing rights. So we have large swaths of unemployed people tied like serfs to the land, in workless communities, doomed to a hopeless future in which no one in their everyday acquaintance is in paid employment.

This is a grotesque state of affairs that was born out of good intentions, but by now it should be clear why it has come to this pass: when the state creates a mass, collectivist solution to a problem, it ends up treating people as categories (“the poor”, “the deprived”, “the homeless”) rather than as individuals who are ultimately going to have to determine their own fate.

Mr Duncan Smith speaks of introducing mechanisms for “portability” and “flexibility” in housing provision, which is another way of saying that we must create routes for people to escape from the monolithic state solution in which they are imprisoned.

The council estate is a way of encasing people in a bricks-and-mortar embodiment of government policy, but benefit dependency is a more all-encompassing form of incarceration from which it can be virtually impossible to break free. The scandal of welfare dependency as a way of life is now so well-established that there is no need to rehearse its depressing facts again.

But we must be clear that we have not got to where we are by accident. It is the basic premise of Big State thinking that has produced the monstrous edifice that we know as the benefits trap: the idea that “the poor” are a fixed and immutable section of society who must be “protected”. Sadly, what “protecting the poor” generally amounts to in practice is “protecting poverty” – which is to say, preserving it. Welfare dependency creates huge disincentives to entering employment because few jobs at entry level can offer a competitive package of payments and support equivalent to the benefits system.

At this point the Big State camp will shriek: “Why should people be forced into demeaning, low-paid jobs?” Answer: because most of them will not stay on such low pay for long. All the statistical evidence from the US welfare-reform programmes shows that people who are “forced” into minimum wage jobs initially, move up the earnings ladder quite quickly into better-paid employment, with their places at the bottom being filled by newer recruits to the workforce. Getting a job at almost any rate of pay is, indeed, the best and most lasting route out of poverty.

There may always be a cohort of people in low-paid work, but the important thing is that they not be the same people. Poverty should always be regarded as temporary: the goal should be to facilitate people moving out of it. At the moment, our tax and benefits system penalises people both for taking a job in the first place and then for climbing up the income ladder. This is crazy – and it is a direct consequence of the tendency of government programmes to regard personal initiative and effort as a bureaucratic inconvenience.

The tragic inevitability of government intervention is that when you create a permanent agency to deal with a problem it has an inherent tendency to make the problem itself permanent. This is not only for self-serving reasons – to justify its own continued existence – but because it prefers to deal in fixed entities such as poverty, deprivation, or educational inequality, rather than to view the infinite range of human possibilities and personal circumstances as a dynamic, ever-changing spectrum in which individual vagaries matter more than any total result.

Labour’s “target culture”, which is now being busily disowned by absolutely everybody, even its own architects, was the final apotheosis of Big State folly. But the idea that every social outcome and public-service goal could be quantified in objective terms was really just the logical conclusion of a philosophy of government that no one in his right mind should adhere to any longer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The New Normal: The Second Amendment After Heller and McDonald

Following Monday's McDonald decision, gun ownership by law-abiding citizens is the new normal, and the Second Amendment is now normal constitutional law.

June 29, 2010 - by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

I’ve been interested in the Second Amendment for a long time, but for a long time, it wasn’t really part of the Constitution.

Oh, I mean it was part of the Constitution — right there between the First Amendment on one side, and the Third Amendment (the only part of the Bill of Rights that really works — when did you last hear of troops being quartered in someone’s house?) on the other. But in “mainstream” constitutional discourse, it just didn’t exist.

Courts routinely rejected Second Amendment claims, frequently with atrocious misstatements [1] of what little caselaw existed, and usually with almost no discussion. Popular discussion was, if anything, even more dismissive. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger said that the notion that the Second Amendment protected individual rights was “a fraud,” and that it only protected “state armies.” [2] (And wouldn’t that have been interesting if it had turned out to be true. …) [3] The general position taken by most mainstream media types, and most academics, was that the Second Amendment didn’t protect individuals, only the right of states to have a national guard, a right that was obsolete anyway. It had nothing to do with individuals owning guns.

There wasn’t actually much support for this “collective right” position, in terms of scholarship or caselaw — the 1939 case of United States v. Miller, often cited for that position, doesn’t actually say that [4], but for many years, unanimity substituted for understanding, and ridicule substituted for research. (Burger’s “fraud” claim appeared not in a law review, but in Parade magazine.) That began to change with Don Kates’ article, “Handgun Prohibition and the Original Meaning of the Second Amendment,” [5] in the Michigan Law Review, and really picked up after the publication of Sandy Levinson’s “The Embarrassing Second Amendment” in the Yale Law Journal [6]. Soon, scholarship accumulated, and it was possible even to speak of a ”Standard Model” [7] of the Second Amendment, in which the linguistic, structural, and historical elements came together to explain, in a widely accepted way, why the Second Amendment did, in fact, protect an individual right to own guns.

Opponents continued to criticize this view and to characterize its proponents as shills for the NRA, but it was a rearguard action — especially as polls continued to show, despite contrary media efforts, that around three quarters of Americans believed the Second Amendment gave them a right to own a gun, and that legal efforts to limit gun ownership were unconstitutional.

Despite some concerns by gun-rights folks that it was too soon, gun-rights activists went on the offensive, successfully challenging the District of Columbia’s draconian gun-ban ordinance in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller [8]. Because the District is a federal enclave, not a state, the case turned purely on whether the Second Amendment protects a right to own a gun. The Supreme Court said it did — and, tellingly, even among the dissenters, not a single justice endorsed the “collective right” position that had been conventional wisdom among the media and talking heads for decades.

But because the District of Columbia isn’t a state, it remained unclear whether this decision would affect state and local gun-control laws — which is most of them — as opposed to purely federal laws. The Supreme Court has long held that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply directly to the states. However, through a doctrine called “incorporation,” it has been applied, piecemeal, to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Many legal academics (including me) have criticized this approach as unprincipled and sloppy, and suggested that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment meant for the entire Bill of Rights, at least, to apply to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause instead.

That’s what Alan Gura argued before the Supreme Court in McDonald vs. Chicago, and only one justice — Clarence Thomas — agreed. But if nothing else, this may have made the notion of traditional incorporation of the Second Amendment look less radical (a case of the ”Overton Window” [9] in action, perhaps) and in the end Gura got five justices to agree on incorporation.

So the end result is that the Second Amendment now applies to the states, like the First, or the Fourth, or the Fifth. In other words, it’s now normal constitutional law.

For gun rights activists, that has both upsides and downsides. On the one hand, it means that some gun-control laws, at least, will now be found unconstitutional. Most of the work of doing this will be done by lower courts, which have traditionally been pretty dismissive of Second Amendment rights, but there’s some sign [10] that lower courts are taking things more seriously since Heller, and this case is likely to reinforce things considerably. Chicago’s existing anti-gun ordinance is very likely to be struck down now, as it is virtually the same as the D.C. gun ban struck down in Heller. Other highly restrictive laws are also likely to fall.

On the other hand, if gun-rights activists sit back and expect the courts to do their work for them now, they will be sadly disappointed. If pressed with further cases (which Gura says he plans to bring), the courts will do some good. But the primary protection for gun rights up to now, and for all constitutional rights, really, is political. Judicial review was intended by the Framers to be a backup system, not the main source of protection. That was intended to come from the people — and realistically, because if people don’t stand up for their own rights, courts are unlikely to take up the slack for long. (Especially when, as here, the protection comes in a 5-4 decision).

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions have made a major difference. In particular, they have offset the gun-control community’s longstanding effort to “denormalize” firearms ownership — to portray it as something threatening, deviant, and vaguely perverse, and hence demanding strict regulation, if not outright prohibition. That effort went on for decades, and received much media support. Two decades ago, it seemed to be working.

But with the Supreme Court saying that it’s clear the Framers regarded individual gun ownership as “necessary to our system of ordered liberty,” that effort must be seen as a failure now. Gun ownership by law-abiding citizens is the new normal, and the Second Amendment is now normal constitutional law. It will stay so, as long as enough Americans care to keep it that way.

Glenn Reynolds is the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee, and blogs at InstaPundit.