Saturday, February 24, 2007

Stossel on the Costs of Playing it Safe

The indispensable John Stossel turns his attention to the latest scare campaign: the effort to keep parents from vaccinating their children because of supposed uncertainty about the risks of the vaccine. I for one, have heard a great deal about the increase in diagnosed cases of autism, and speculation about the link to children's vaccines. I'm glad to read Stossel's explanation of the likely reason for that increase:

"I think that it's perfectly reasonable to be skeptical about anything you put into your body, including vaccines," said Offit. "And vaccines do have side effects. But vaccines don't cause autism."

Offit can say that with confidence because the National Academy of Sciences recently reviewed the science. They concluded that 19 major studies, tracking thousands of kids, all show no link between vaccines and autism.

"The question has been raised, it's been answered," said Offit. "Vaccines don't cause autism."

Then why are so many kids being diagnosed with autism? Because kids we once said had other conditions are now being called autistic.

As researchers from the March of Dimes put it, "improvements in detection and changes in diagnosis account for the observed increase in autism." Their data on autism rates in California showed that the increase in autism diagnoses almost exactly matched a decline in cases of retardation: autism prevalence increased by 9.1 cases per 10,000 children, while mental retardation dropped by 9.3 per 10,000.

"People that we once called quirky or geeky or nerdy are now called autistic," said Offit. "Because when you give that label of say, autistic spectrum disorder, you allow that child then to qualify for services which otherwise they wouldn't be qualified to get."

Read too, Stossel's criticism of his own show - 20/20.

And here's the sad conclusion:

Mary Catherine recovered, but she's one of many kids who are coming down with diseases doctors once thought were nearly eradicated, like mumps, measles, and whooping cough.

These diseases are coming back because pockets of frightened parents won't vaccinate their kids, some, after they search for information and end up on websites like Barbara Loe Fisher's. I asked Fisher about how sites like hers scare parents.

"You're really the vaccines' scare center. When you scare people stupid, and they don't get vaccinated, that spreads nasty diseases," I said.

"I don't think I've scared anybody stupid. We do not tell people to vaccinate or not vaccinate," she replied.

Fisher says she can't say whether vaccines are "good or bad."

"You can't say vaccines are good, vaccines haven't done more good than harm?" I asked?

"It's a complex issue," she said.

Take the risk: vaccinate your kids.

The Matrix Has You

I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

Of course, if your Second Life is under attack by nuclear armed terrorists, you may want to stay on this side.

Thank You, Rambo

More on the story of the Afghan civilian who saved American troops from a would-be suicide bomber.

Great story over at VodkaPundit. Check it out.

The One-Mile High Skyscraper

It's on the way, and will be built within 23 years, apparently.

The only question is where:

In October, at the premier international conference of skyscraper builders, the first speaker announced without a hint of irony or doubt that by 2030, somewhere, a mile-high skyscraper would be built. Five thousand two hundred and eighty feet. One-tenth of the way to the ozone layer. More than three times as tall as anything now stand­ing and exactly as high as the most fantastic towers ever dared conceived...

Indeed, sitting there in rows, a half-story below ground in an auditorium on the Chicago campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, were the very people who could build a tower one mile high: the foundation engineers who already knew how to pin such a thing to the earth, the structural engineers who could keep it standing in a 100-year wind, the architects who would give it form, the contractors who would know how to phase the behemoth’s con­struction—even the guys who would have to figure out how to wash the windows. And there are going to be a lot of windows.

A tribute to hubris? Maybe. Read the whole thing.

Hat Tip: RCP

When Does Romney's Run of Bad Luck End?

I'm just like George Bush; he was pro-choice before he was pro-life.

Umm... he wasn't?

Update: And the hits keep on coming.

On Brazil...

It's interesting to see what's happening in Brazil as that country prepares for President Bush's visit in a few weeks.

First, they're preparing to receive a shipment of sulfur from Hugo Chavez, who wants to make sure they welcome 'the devil' properly.

At the same time, they've instituted a ban on the shipment of nuclear materials to Iran.

'80s Rewind

Thirty minutes of openings from 1980s cartoons:



I had forgotten completely about 'Gilligan's Planet' (around the 9:10 mark).

We now return you to our regularly-scheduled pithy political commentary.

Who'da Thought?

South Dakota raises taxes on cigarettes; people buy them elsewhere.

Darned free market! It's almost as if you need to think about the effect of tax increases before you enact them!

Hugh & Rudy

Good interview of Rudy Giuliani by Hugh Hewitt.

And by the way, is it just me, or is 'Mayor' not a great moniker for a national politician? It conveys authority and implies leadership; it constantly calls to mind the accomplishments during the tenure (as opposed to say, 'Senator); and it comes across as friendly and approachable. I'm serious: I think the title - and all that goes with it - is worth a few percent of the vote in a national election.

Anyway, about the interview: the most interesting thing to me is how polished Giuliani sounds. He's learned a ton since he first ran for office in New York (nearly 20 years ago). It seems he is a master of his talking points, and always on message. For example:

HH: Richard Land, I’m sure you saw, he was on record this week saying I don’t think Evangelicals will vote for Rudy. I disagree with that, but how do you get past that kind of a block?

RG: Well, I have spent a great deal of time over the last three, four years in various places, talking to many, many people including clergy, who are, who would describe themselves, I think, as Evangelicals, They are. Some of the people working on my campaign are very committed as Evangelical, born again Christians, and I have a great knowledge of religion, and a great respect for it, and I think there’s a great deal of commonality. And I find that when we spend time together, or in other words, I talk to groups that would describe themselves as Evangelical Christians, or very committed to religion, that they come away feeling that on most issues, there’s agreement. There are some disagreements, but that there’s a basic core of looking at the world in very much the same way.

HH: Now the other outsider in this race, Governor Romney, is also getting some Evangelical blowback, because he’s a Mormon. What do you make of that issue?

RG: I think that the Governor’s religion is not an issue in any way in the campaign, and any more than John Kennedy as being a Catholic was an issue, or Senator Lieberman as being Jewish when we ran for vice president. I mean, these things…I think we’re way beyond that, and I don’t think it’ll be an issue. I mean, obviously, by an issue, people will comment on it, but I think the American people have gone way beyond that, and they’re willing…what they want to do is look at the person, and what kind of…how have you performed in public office, what have you done, have you acted as a fair, impartial person in dealing with people of all different religions or whatever. And if that’s the case, those are the issues, not is what is someone’s religion, but how have they acted.

Very smooth. A strong defense of himself, no criticism for his opponent - an above-the-fray approach by the perceived front-runner - with no attempt to overpromise.

I also like this part:

RG: That was the longest speech I ever gave (laughing).

HH: Yes, it was, actually. It may still be going on.

RG: (laughing) I remember it. I remember it.

HH: I was in the back of the room saying who is this guy?

RG: Ted Olson and Bob McConnell, and all my old pals keep…always tease me about that.

HH: You know, you picked up Ted Olson’s endorsement, taking a digression. That’s a big deal. Will he be playing a role in your campaign?

RG: He sure will. I mean, Ted Olson is someone I have…first of all, he’s a very, very good friend. I mean, he’s someone…he’s been my friend since those days, and we’ve been through a lot together. Yes, Ted will play a very big role in my campaign, and I mean, if Ted weren’t my very, very good friend, he’d be somebody I’d still want to rely on as probably one of the biggest experts on the Constitution in this country, and the person who probably has argued before the Supreme Court more than anybody I know.

HH: He or Judge Starr, one of those two are the two most…

RG: He or Ken have probably argued before the Supreme Court more than anyone that I know, and their knowledge of it is remarkable. I mean, it’s a great asset to anybody.

HH: Will he help you pick judges if you are the president, and you’re making Supreme Court selections?

RG: He’d be one of the first people that I’d turn to for advice and help and assistance. And I was involved in the Reagan administration in the judge selection process, although that was run by the deputy attorney general, and I was involved in the U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals. But I watched all of it, and I appointed 100 judges myself. And it’s something I thought of, when I was the Mayor, as one of the most important things that I did.

HH: Did you have a litmus test for those hundred?

RG: No. No, not a litmus test on a single issue, a philosophical test, meaning what I wanted to know was what’s their view of how you interpret the Constitution and laws? Are they…do the Constitution and laws exist as the thing from which you have to discern the meaning and the intent? Or are you going to superimpose your own social views? And I want, I like the first kind of judge, who is a judge who looks to the meaning of the Constitution, doesn’t try to create it.

HH: A pro-life voter looking at you, knowing that you’re pro-choice, but not concerned that presidents really matter so much in that, except as far as judges are concerned, what do you tell them about who you’re going to be putting on the federal bench?

RG: I’m going to say I’d put people like…I mean, the best way to do it is to just say I would, I could just have easily have appointed Sam Alito or Chief Justice Roberts as President Bush did, in fact. I’d have been pretty proud of myself if I had been smart enough to make that choice if I were the president.

HH: Do you expect justices like Roberts and Alito to come out of a Giuliani administration?

RG: I hope. I mean, that would be my goal. I mean, they’re sort of a very high standard, and so is Justices Scalia and Thomas. That would be the kind of judges I would look for, both in terms of their background and their integrity, but also the intellectual honesty with which they interpret the law...

Hugh is either gracious, or on the take. Giuliani slips a mention of Ted Olson into the conversation, which allows him to begin talking about Olson's anticipated role in selection of judges. This had to be the way Giuliani wanted the conversation to go, but Hugh continues as if it was coincidence. Then Giuliani hammers home his message: Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito. Get used to that list; you're going to hear it a lot.

It seems to me that Giuliani is well-prepared for this run.

Update: The PowerLine guys had the same reaction.

Iraq: When Hindsight is not 20-20

Jane Galt looks at arguments that we should have stayed out of Iraq because:

  1. Millions of French, British, and Canadians can't be wrong;
  2. We lacked a UN mandate; and,
  3. It was a war of pre-emption.
She concludes that none of these hold water:

...it's as if other countries had no agency or interests; they're like experts voting on our behaviour. But other countries opposed us in war (to the extent they did; I note that the French were the ones who got us into Vietnam, and the British et. al. were military advising right along with us until things got hairy, at which point they bugged out not because of concerns about our capabilities, but because of worries about their own soldiers getting killed) for all sorts of reasons...

More fundamentally, this is the problem that I was talking about when I said earlier that I had trouble teasing out principles by which I would have prospectively made a different decision about the Iraq war--i.e., not knowing either that Saddam had no WMD, or that Iraq was destined for civil war. It is not that no one suggested these possibilities; but the overwhelming number of arguments I heard involved things like the moral principle of preemption and the fact that we were going in without the imprimatur of the UN.

I don't want to cut and paste the entire thing, but it's a sound analysis. Go read it.

AP: Media Doing Poor Job on Iraq Reporting

AP reports that while most Americans can properly pin the US death toll in Iraq accurately at approximately 3,000 (hardly a surprise given the daily attention to the figure), they underestimate the Iraqi civilian death toll:

The number of Iraqis killed, however, is much harder to pin down, and that uncertainty is perhaps reflected in Americans' tendency to lowball the Iraqi death toll by tens of thousands.

Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone.

Among those polled for the AP survey, however, the median estimate of Iraqi deaths was 9,890. The median is the point at which half the estimates were higher and half lower.

Christopher Gelpi, a Duke University political scientist who tracks public opinion on war casualties, said a better understanding of the Iraqi death toll probably wouldn't change already negative public attitudes toward the war much. People in democracies generally don't shy away from inflicting civilian casualties, he said, and they may be even more tolerant of them in situations such as Iraq, where many of the civilian deaths are caused by other Iraqis.

"You have to look at who's doing the killing," said Neal Crawford, a restaurant manager in Suttons Bay, Mich., who guessed that about 10,000 Iraqis had been killed. "If these people are dying because a roadside bomb goes off or if there's an insurgent attack in a marketplace, it's an unfortunate circumstance of war — people die."

Gelpi said that while Americans may not view Iraqi deaths through the same prism as American losses, they may use the Iraqi death toll to gauge progress, or lack thereof, on the U.S. effort to promote a stable, secure democracy in Iraq.

To many, he said, "the fact that so many are being killed is an indication that we're not succeeding."

Whatever their understanding of the respective death tolls, three-quarters of those polled said the numbers of both Americans and Iraqis who have been killed are "unacceptable." Two-thirds said they tend to feel upset when a soldier dies, while the rest say such deaths are unfortunate but part of what war is about.

If the American people are not aware of this, it is at least partly due to the fact that this is a difficult count to do accurately. It is also partly due to the general failure of the news media to report responsibly on the issue. In particular, they have legitimized ridiculous, politically-driven estimates. It would not be a surprise if people failed to focus clearly on 'reporting' that tends to be discredited.

And how often do you read stories that mention the count? Doing a google news search, the most recent story I can find mentioning 'Iraqi civilian deaths' - and not counting variants of the AP story here - is from the Washington Times, a month ago. If the media fail to report the information, people will not know it.

One might also ask whether Americans have a good handle on the number of Iraqis who died under Saddam's rule (over 600,000 according to the Documental Center for Human Rights in Iraq). That's another critical statistic which has received scant attention in the ongoing debate about Iraq.

If you want a closer look at the estimates of the Iraqi civilian death toll, there is a recent CRS report on the topic available here.

Clinton-Obama and More

Bob Novak picks up on the Clinton-Obama fight this AM:


WASHINGTON -- Democratic sources believe that the harsh response by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign to criticism by Hollywood producer David Geffen stems from an overreaction by Bill Clinton to any attack on his pardon policy as president.

Geffen sniped at the Clintons in his interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd because President Clinton had pardoned financial contributor Marc Rich instead of American Indian activist Leonard Peltier. Geffen, a longtime backer of Bill Clinton, is backing Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The movie mogul's comments marked the first time Bill Clinton had been subjected to an attack from his party since the 1992 campaign. The former president was reported as infuriated, raising the question of whether he will rise to the bait in any further intraparty criticism of his wife.

OBAMA'S RETORT

Close supporters of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy were pleased for the short term by his campaign's sharp retort to Sen. Hillary Clinton's criticism of him but are concerned by its long-range implications.

Obama backers said his tough response demonstrated that as a newcomer to big-time politics, he could take a punch and then hit back. The broader problem is whether Clinton and Obama will engage in a continuous head-to-head struggle that would open the way for another candidate (especially former Sen. John Edwards).

A footnote: Obama's strategists were happy about him skipping the first Democratic presidential candidate forum last Wednesday at Carson City, Nev. (preceding the inaugural Nevada caucuses next Jan. 19). Obama did not want to tear up his schedule in order to get five minutes at the forum and felt Clinton wasted her time doing so.

I think this was a loss for Hillary. If Bill's political radar is so far off, and he's going to force Hillary's campaign to veer wildly over every attack on him or the candidate, then it's not going to be a smooth campaign.

I would not expect this Hillary-Obama fight to be a permanent thing though - as Obama's supporters fear. I would think it at least somewhat likely that Obama will be contrasting himself with both Hillary and Edwards. He represents the future; while they symbolize the past.

Check out Mickey as well, who seems to have sunken his teeth into this.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bush, Brazil and Ethanol

In a few weeks, President Bush will visit Brazil, where Lula DaSilva will push him to increase US exports of Brazilian sugar cane ethanol. Apart from the pressure Bush is already hearing from corn producing states to reject the request, it's unclear how feasible this is.

I'll look at this more in a few days, but in the meantime, check out CEI's recent study on why the US can't produce ethanol like Brazil does, and a look at the ethanol partnership envisioned by Brazil.

Anniversary of the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima


With the recent success of both the book Flags of our Fathers, and the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, it's hard to believe the day almost went by without my realizing it was the anniversary of the flag raising.

It took 36 days to secure the island. Almost all of the 23,000 Japanese troops on the island eventually died, along with 7,000 marines.

If you've not read the story, a brief summary is available over at Iwo Jima.com, and there are also interesting accounts here.

...Then They Came for the Thin Mints...


Conservatives have warned for decades about the creeping threat of nanny-statism. We said that responsible, informed adults have a right to choose whether or not to smoke, to drink, and to eat fatty foods. And in our argument, we always asked 'what will be next, and where will this end?'

Liberals accused us of alarmism, and said that we were trying to scare people - that we were trying to scare people with extreme scenarios.

Well, who's exaggerating now?

The Girl Scouts have marked their 90th year in the cookie business by getting most of the artificial fat out of all varieties of their iconic treats, which had been under attack by a few health-focused consumer groups.

The change reflects a movement by the scouts in recent years to add an element of health consciousness to their annual bake sale.

This year, about half of all Girl Scout troops are also offering a sugar-free cookie called the Little Brownie. A cookie with reduced saturated fat, the Cartwheel, was also introduced last year.

Tinkering with a popular recipe is something no cook does lightly, and Girl Scouts of the USA Vice President Denise J. Pessich said the changes were only made after the two commercial bakeries that make the cookies found trans-fat alternatives that didn't compromise flavor, texture or shelf life.

Pessich said she was confident fans would notice few differences. The recipe changes have also given troop leaders an opportunity to talk more about the importance of eating right, Pessich said.

"They know that, for one thing, you need to make informed choices. You need to read labels," she said...

The first "zero trans" Girl Scout cookies made their debut in the fall of 2005, including a reformulated version of the top-selling Thin Mint. The remaining varieties had most trans fats eliminated by last October.

Consumer reaction is still developing. Most troops take their orders in January and begin deliveries in late February or early March.

But — taste aside — the initial feedback has been positive, said Anna Ho, who organizes sales for Troop 805 in Parsippany, N.J.

I do admire the Orwellian construction of the rationale behind this: 'people know they have to make informed choices.' I would not have said that in justifying the denial of a choice.

Forget gay scout leaders; this is an even more devastating deviation from tradition.

Coming Soon: Private-Sector Moonbase

Bigelow Aerospace explains their plans to MSNBC:

Even as Bigelow Aerospace gears up for launching its second prototype space station into orbit, the company has set its sights on something much, much bigger: a project to assemble full-blown space villages at a work site between Earth and the moon, then drop them to the lunar surface, ready for immediate move-in.

In an exclusive interview this week, Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow confirmed that his company has been talking about the concept with NASA – and that the first earthly tests of the techniques involved would take place later this year. The scenario he sketched out would essentially make Bigelow a general contractor for the final frontier.

That role would be a good fit for Bigelow, who made his fortune in the real estate, hotel and construction business and is now focused on developing inflatable modules (or as he prefers to call them, "expandable systems") that can serve as the building blocks for orbital living complexes.

The first big step down that path came in July, when a Russian booster put Bigelow's Genesis 1 prototype module into orbit. Bigelow has said even he was surprised by the success of that mission, and he has committed himself to spending hundreds of millions of dollars to follow up on that first launch.

The next test module, Genesis 2, is due for launch in April – with a larger prototype, known as Galaxy, tentatively scheduled for liftoff next year. Bigelow's plan calls for launching the company's first space "hotel" capable of accommodating guests (or researchers, for that matter) in 2010.

Getting all that right is "Job One," Bigelow told me. But by 2012, the focus could start shifting from low Earth orbit, or LEO, farther out into space. One of the key places in Bigelow's plan is a point about 200,000 miles (323,000 kilometers) out from Earth in the moon's direction, where the pulls of terrestrial and lunar gravity balance each other.

Read the whole interview. It's fascinating. And the implications of getting the private sector truly involved in space travel and colonization are tremendous.

Noted With Interest

The US is sending F-22s to Japan; there is talk that Japan may be the first ally to whom we sell the plane.

Who will the F-22s be intercepting? Russians:

Although somewhat historic, data compiled by the Japanese Air Self Defense Force shows that in the first part of the fiscal year, there’s been a lot of activity to keep air-to-air interceptors busy. In the six months ending September 30 – Japan’s fiscal year starts in April – the Japanese air force had to scramble 149 aircraft to patrol its skies because of potentially hostile intruders.

What’s particularly interesting, and maybe reflective of a geopolitical shift in the region, is the source of most of those transgressions: Russia.

Russia has historically been the largest source of responses, but the scale of activity in those six months is notable. The figure is almost 20% higher than the number of times Japan’s air force had to take to the air to deal with Russian aircraft during the entire 2005 fiscal year.

By contrast, encounters between Japan and its other large neighbor, China, are on a major downturn and headed to more traditional, low levels. In 2005, Japan scrambled aircraft 107 times to deal with Chinese flights. That was a spike from the modest number of incidents in 2003 and 2004.

I wonder if this means anything - and if so, what?

Happy Birthday George Friedric Handel

Below is the well-known Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah - an appropriate selection for the early part of Lent:



This is recorded at the US Naval Academy. Picture is a little jerky, but I like the venue.

Chuck Hagel is Unserious

At least, that's how I think a real columnist (like George Will or Charles Krauthammer) would describe him.

Time Magazine has posted its '10 Questions.' Here are two favorites:

How do you respond to people who say passing a nonbinding resolution like the one you introduced in the Senate opposing the troop surge doesn't matter?

Of course it matters. We don't want to get into a position where the American people in six to eight months are so frustrated they demand an immediate cutoff of funds. That's not the way we want to have to leave Iraq, so you have these debates now.

You described Arizona Senator John McCain's support of a resolution backing the surge but calling for benchmarks to evaluate Iraqi performance "disingenuous" after he criticized your resolution. Has this affected your friendship?

This has nothing to do with our friendship. There is no one I admire or respect more than John. I thought [his resolution] was duplicitous. It lays out benchmarks for the Iraqis, but doesn't attach any consequences.

So it 'matters' to debate things in the Senate, but it's 'duplicitous' to offer rhetoric without consequences?

Clearly, Hagel is as nuanced as John Kerry. Let's see if it gets him as far.

Tom, We Hardly Knew You...

Vilsack is out:

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) will announce this morning that he is dropping out of the 2008 presidential contest.

Vilsack, who left office at the beginning of this year, is set to hold a news conference outside his Des Moines headquarters at 11 a.m. Central Standard Time.

Should We Trust Murtha on What Iraqis Think

Jack Murtha and those who agree with him often cite Iraqi public opinion polls to demonstrate that Iraqis want US troops out of the country. Zev Chafets (in a NYPost piece several days old) questions where those numbers come from:

This is the sheerest nonsense. In today's (or yesterday's) Iraq, independent pollsters have as much chance of gathering genuine data as rabbis have of collecting donations from Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites.

The problem isn't unique to Iraq. It holds for opinion surveys in any society ruled by kinship, secrecy and fear of outsiders - in other words, almost every country in the Middle East.

In these places, it is a cardinal principle, founded in the folk wisdom of self-preservation, that you don't share honest opinions on controversial matters with inquisitive strangers. In Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's regime habituated citizens to speak in whispers even among their own families, the problem is especially acute...

The survey Murtha quotes was published last September by the Center on Policy Attitudes, a small think tank affiliated with the University of Maryland, "partnered" by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center.

Those are prestigious names - but neither Brookings nor the University of Maryland actually did any polling. They contracted the job out to a U.S. firm, D3 Systems - which subcontracted it to KA Research. Matt Warshaw, a D3 spokesman, says KA Research is owned by Iraqis and Turks, but isn't prepared to name them.

KA Research's Web site says it uses face-to-face interviews, computer-assisted phone queries, Web and postal interviews, and focus-group discussions to come up with its statistics. That claim invites skepticism. Do strangers really go around freely in Baghdad asking for political opinions? Conduct phone surveys among people with no phones, ask the folks in Anbar Province to return candid questionnaires via a non-existent postal service, go through the neighborhoods of Najaf requesting a few minutes with the lady of the house?

Warshaw claims they do; maybe so. But KA Research, that mystery subcontractor, also does its own quality control - with no real outside checks on its data. I was unable to find (and Washaw didn't know of) any contemporaneous American polls with which to compare results.

If this company has really been able to raise a nationwide army of courageous, reliable, honest and neutral pollsters, it should be put in charge of the Iraqi security forces.

Hillary's Latest Misstep

I'll stay away from the Hillary-Obama fight (but check Geraghty and Mickey).

No, I'll refer you to this one.

Hat Tip: Ruffini

The Iron Lady


Or the Bronze Lady?

Cool to see.

Murtha's Plan Goes Down with a Whimper

The Washington Post reports that Congressional Democrats are going back to the drawing board, and trying to come up with another way to get the US out of Iraq. They have realized that the 'lilliputian strategy' is a political loser, partly because (as Mitch McConnell points out) the Democrats are divided on Iraq.

Expect this to fail as well - not least because the President has veto authority, and as the C-in-C, he has the constitutional authority to carry out the mission authorized under the broad mandate approved by Congress.

On the the Post report:

House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha.

In both chambers, Democratic lawmakers are eager to take up binding legislation that would impose clear limits on U.S. involvement in Iraq after nearly four years of war. But Democrats remain divided over how to proceed. Some want to avoid the funding debate altogether, fearing it would invite Republican charges that the party is not supporting the troops. Others take a more aggressive view, believing the most effective way to confront President Bush's war policy is through a $100 billion war-spending bill that the president ultimately must sign to keep the war effort on track...

"We gave the president that power to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and, if necessary, to depose Saddam Hussein," Biden said of the 2002 resolution in a speech last week before the Brookings Institution. "The WMD was not there. Saddam Hussein is no longer there. The 2002 authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq."

Biden and Levin are drafting language to present to their colleagues when the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday, following a week-long recess.

The new framework would set a goal for withdrawing combat brigades by March 31, 2008, the same timetable established by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Once the combat phase ends, troops would be restricted to assisting Iraqis with training, border security and counterterrorism...

"Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds," said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a leading Democratic moderate, who called Murtha's whole effort "clumsy."

Cooper's position underscores the challenges now facing the House Democratic leadership. While the caucus's liberal wing is demanding legislation to end the war almost immediately, moderates such as Cooper say Congress should focus on oversight of the war and stay away from legislation that encroaches on the war powers of the president.

"I think Congress begins to skate on thin ice when we start to micromanage troop deployments and rotations," said Texas's Edwards, whose views reflect those of several other Democrats from conservative districts.

Recall the text of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq:

(a) Authorization.--The President is authorized to use the Armed
Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and
appropriate in order to--
(1) defend the national security of the United States
against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council
resolutions regarding Iraq.

Congressional Democrats may not like it, but the resolution says 'as he determines necessary.' This is a broad mandate, and at the end of the day, no court will step in between the Executive and Legislative Branches to withdraw the authority.

If Congressional Democrats continue down this road of trying to end the operation in Iraq, they will ultimately have to accept that the only way to do that is the way given them in the Constitution: to withdraw funding. Then they will have to decide whom they fear more: the Netroots, or the moderates.

The effort won't succeed, but they may ultimately decide that the political risk of not trying it is too great.

Read also Captain's Quarters and Say Anything.

Update: Check out the Politico as well:

The Biden-Levin resolution would supersede the use-of-force resolution for Iraq passed by Congress in October, 2002. And it would require Bush to seek new authorization from Congress to send more combat troops to Iraq, or make any other dramatic changes in the nature of the U.S. military mission there.

Congressional adoption of a new authorization for war during an ongoing military campaign is unprecedented in American history, according legal experts. And the president and his Republican allies in Congress are sure to oppose it strongly, both on constitutional grounds and politically.

"It will be viewed as a direct challenge to the president," acknowledged a senior Senate Democratic aide. "They are going to fight it tooth-and-nail."

House Democrats, led by Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., are considering inserting their own provisions in the Iraq supplemental bill to essentially deny Bush the use of more troops for Iraq. But Republicans have repeatedly launched political attacks against the Murtha plan during the last two weeks, and Democratic leaders in the Senate do not now favor the proposal, according to aides.

Both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are under pressure from anti-war lawmakers and outside groups to do more to end U.S. involvement in the Iraq. But neither wants to take any step that risks exposing their party – and in Reid's case, several Democratic presidential candidates – to a political barrage from Republicans.

Unilaterally cutting off funding for the U.S. forces in Iraq as a means to end the war is not now considered politically viable. So, Reid and Pelosi have searched for interim steps. And a new authorization resolution for the Iraq campaign, such as that being drafted by Biden and Levin, is considered another intermediate action that will allow Democrats to continue moving toward ending the war while limiting the political fallout.

There's no way this Democratic strategy can work. If they attach this measure to the legislation to implement the 9/11 recommendations, the President can veto. Heck - he might veto it even without the Biden legislation. If they attach it to the emergency Iraq supplemental, he's even more likely to veto it (and it will cost the Democrats more politically, I argue).

By staking so much political capital on ending the war, when they are unwilling and unable to do so, the Democrats have really screwed themselves. Ultimately, this is going to be very politically costly for them.

African Anglicans Bring The Good News to America

Last week I noted the efforts to bring Anglicans and Roman Catholics back together under the authority of the Bishop of Rome (the 'Pope,' to you and me). Today NYU's Professor Jonathan Zimmerman examines the degree to which Western churches - particularly the Anglicans - are splitting from their more conservative third world counterparts. It is a sign of the crisis of modern Christianity - or at least some branches of it:

For nearly 500 years, Christians from Europe and the Americas tried to foist their own language, culture and religion upon Africa. Now the tables have turned.

To understand why, we need to return to the era immediately following World War Two. As anti-colonial movements swept Africa, sympathetic Western missionaries began to question the arrogant and ethnocentric assumptions that had marked so much Christian effort on the continent.

Decrying prior campaigns to "civilize" the Africans, liberals from the West substituted the language of culture. Every people had a culture, the argument went; no culture was inherently better or worse than another; hence Westerners should take special care to respect and even defend the cultures they encountered in Africa.

But how could you preserve African culture, even as you converted Africans to your own religion? For some missionaries, the answer lay in new syncretic forms of worship that fused indigenous traditions to Christian doctrine. For many Western liberals, however, the rise of the culture concept cast the entire missionary endeavor into doubt.

"We questioned what right we have to intervene in the education of people of another culture and what our motives are in desiring to intervene," wrote two American missionaries, in a typical statement. "Do we want to 'domesticate' the people in one way or another, make them like us, convince them to adopt our culture?" The question contained its own answer.

To shed their ethnocentric baggage, indeed, liberal Americans increasingly abandoned the term "missionary" itself. One mission renamed its project "overseas service other missionaries simply called themselves volunteers, echoing the Peace Corps and other secular agencies. "The very word 'missionary' calls up notions of superiority," explained one American.

And in an era of culture, that was the one thing nobody wanted to be.

Into this breach stepped a confident new generation of conservative missionaries, seeking to convert new souls to Christ. Conversant with African history and traditions, they did their best to couch their message in culturally appropriate terms. But they never wavered from the message itself: Jesus was Lord, Scripture was literal Truth, and anyone who believed otherwise was destined for hell.

Today, nine of 10 Westerners who call themselves "missionaries" hail from a conservative or evangelical church. And they have done their job well. That's why African Christians stand so far to the right of their brethren in the West on a host of religious and cultural questions: abortion, gay rights, female priest ordination and more.

And that's why they're starting to evangelize us, to the chagrin of many Americans.

As The West confronts violent Islamism, many elements of western culture - both secular and religious - continue to preach that our culture and values are no better than any other. They say that Christianity is no more the route to salvation than Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Buddhism, or Wiccan. Well, when we ourselves say that our ideas are no better than any other, how can we hope for them to spread to other parts of the world? Indeed: why try to propagate them in any way? Why try to pass them on even to our own children?

The churches are in the crosshairs of this debate, because essential to their mission is the idea that they have the right idea - not just one of many good ones. To some degree, those who still agree on this central tenet - that some ideas are better than others - must seek kinship and communion with their like-minded brethren. Agreement on this idea might be more important than agreement on doctrine.

Hhmm... I think I need to read more Mark Steyn.

Hat Tip: Joe

Too Early, Too Early...

Looking at this post over at the American Spectator, I wonder how much of what happens in the 'primary campaign' now is going to matter in 10 months.

Kathryn Lopez is addressing the question of whether Mitt Romney has suffered too many hits to continue. Ace is touting glowing Giuliani polls.

In 1992, Ross Perot declared his intention to seek the Presidency on February 20. Note that year; it wasn't in 1991 - the year before the election - but 1992. He 'quit' the race in July, and got back in in October.

In December 1987, Gary Hart re-entered the race for the Democratic nomination, only to quit the race again a few months later.

OK, so the world has changed since 1988 and 1992 - true enough. But one thing has not changed: a week is a long time in politics, and a month is forever. In today's accelerated news cycle, the 'Romney 3.0' that we see transform today before our eyes, may seem to have existed forever by next November.

My point is not that the activities and statements of the candidates are not important. My attention to them shows that I think they are. But for pete's sake, let's not act as if this race is clearly defined, or far along, let alone winding down.

Update: Mary Katharine Ham approaches the same issue from a tangent. She demonstrates that lots of people really aren't paying attention like you are:



Great soundtrack.

Bridge to Terabithia

I'd never heard of this story until I saw the trailer. Now it sounds fascinating.



Slate has a very interesting, spoiler-filled analysis. Emily Bazelon looks at the meaning of the story, and the tragedy it contains.

If you're looking for a review without such direct spoilers, spend a few minutes watching Kevin Smith and Richard Roeper.

It's a good read if you intend to take your kids.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Time: Lieberman May Change Parties - Update and Bumped

But don't get too excited; sounds like Hagel might as well.

Seriously - these are the most unwelcome comments I've seen from Chuck Hagel in memory. And that's saying a lot:

Asked if the war would have gone better if Kerry had been elected in 2004, Hagel says: "Well, I don't think you can go back and undo those kinds of things."

Asked if he is going to run for president, Hagel answers: "I'll let you know."

He says Sen. John McCain is still a friend, but calls his recents stand on Iraq resolutions in Congress "duplicitous."

He notes that having people with a military background is important, and the only one with that in the Bush administration was Colin Powell, "the one person they listened to least."

If Chuck Hagel actually thinks that John Kerry might have done a better job on Iraq - the clear implication of his comment - then he's not a Republican in any more than name. Worse than that - he's too stupid for Senate service.

Which is also saying a lot.

On a more substantive note, this does raise an interesting question should Hagel actually decided to run for President: whom would he hurt more - the Republican or the Democrat?

I'll preface this by saying that we can't really make a guess until we know the nominees.

If the GOP nominates someone who is basically conservative - Mitt Romney version 3.0, or (more or less) John McCain, then an anti-war Chuck Hagel might take more votes from an anti-war Democrat than from the Republican candidate. Indeed, while I've argued that President Bush will be forced to draw down forces in Iraq by the end of the year, a 3-way Presidential race with Hagel as the third candidate might even allow a Republican to be more pro-Iraq.

That's a long way down the road, though.

Update: The Politico (via HotAir) provides more detail. Lieberman says that the issue of Iraq funding could cause him to switch parties:

"I have no desire to change parties," Lieberman said in a telephone interview. "If that ever happens, it is because I feel the majority of Democrats have gone in a direction that I don't feel comfortable with."

Asked whether that hasn't already happened with Iraq, Lieberman said: "We will see how that plays out in the coming months," specifically how the party approaches the issue of continued funding for the war.

He suggested, however, that the forthcoming showdown over new funding could be a deciding factor that would lure him to the Republican Party.

"I hope we don't get to that point," Lieberman said. "That's about all I will say on it today. That would hurt."

I suggested this would be the case a little while ago. And I've been saying for months that Lieberman will ultimately have to switch parties.

Also note this recent statement by Lieberman, which attracted little attention.


Update II: HotAir properly notes that it is not at all certain that the Senate would change hands if Lieberman switched parties to give the Republicans a majority. I had forgotten that sad fact.

Interestingly, blogger Tim Chapman - then of the Heritage Foundation - warned in December that Senate Republicans were making a grave mistake in the negotiations on the organizing resolution, specifically for this reason.

What is Tim Chapman doing now? He works in the Senate minority - and apparently will continue to. At least he has a good boss.

The Wilhelm Scream

OK, here's something cool about Hollywood. Did you know that many of your favorite movies feature the same scream, first 'uttered' in 1951? It's the Wilhelm Scream. And if you're unsure whether you've ever heard it, watch this:



Wikipedia has a cool summary:

The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect first used in 1951 for the movie Distant Drums. The scream was most likely vocalized by actor-singer Sheb Wooley, who later had a number one pop hit with the novelty song "Purple People Eater." [1] It has been featured in dozens of movies since. Alongside a certain recording of the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk, the "Universal telephone ring"[2], the "Charlie Brown fall," the Goofy holler and "Castle thunder," it is probably one of the most well-known cinematic sound clich├ęs.


History

The Wilhelm's revival came from Star Wars series sound designer Ben Burtt, who tracked down the original recording (which he found as a studio reel labelled "Man being eaten by alligator"). The recording was actually from a film from 1951 titled Distant Drums. Although Distant Drums was the first known use of the sound, Burtt named it after "Pvt. Wilhelm", a minor character who emitted the same scream in the 1953 movie The Charge at Feather River. Its use in the Star Wars films was the beginning of something of an in-joke amongst some sound designers of the film industry, especially at Skywalker Sound, and Weddington Productions (now a division of Technicolor Sound Services). They continue to try to incorporate it into movies wherever feasible; action movies are naturals, but film sound cognoscenti are particularly impressed when it is used naturally in films such as A Star Is Born (with Judy Garland), The Wild Bunch and A Goofy Movie. In a tribute to its origins, the clip was used in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when the villain Mola Ram was eaten by crocodiles. It was also used in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy is driving the truck full of Nazis, and in Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven when the Muslims first attack the fortress of Kerak. It was also used in the lesser known comedy Van Wilder, and in several scenes of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Sheb Wooley is considered by many to be the most likely voice actor for the scream, having appeared on a memo as a voice extra for Distant Drums.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled political commentary.

Cognitive Dissonance Watch

Pelosi wants tougher ethics oversight.

Just not in the legislative branch, thank you.

Progress on Harry Mitchell's Website


A little while ago, I noted that Congressman Harry Mitchell's website bore a remarkable resemblance to that of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. Well, it's gotten better. But they still haven't figured out that Mr. Mitchell represents Arizona's fifth district - not Nebraska's first district.

The website is here, (and a picture at right).

Baby steps, baby steps...

On Jimmy Regan

Mary Katharine Ham writes about Jimmy Regan, whom I wrote about a little while ago. It's a great piece.

The memorial fund established by the family is at a great school. Donate to:

Jim Regan Scholarship
c/o Chaminade Development Office
340 Jackson Ave.
Mineola, N.Y. 11501.

Sticking a Fork in Fred Thompson

Figuratively:

The WH Bulletin (subscription required) reported this morning on growing efforts to draft Fred Thompson, the Law and Order actor, former Senator, and current Paul Harvey replacement on ABC Radio. The report notes slyly that Thompson has yet to endorse any '08 candidate and hasn't disclaimed an interest in the '08 race.

Thompson, the former Tennessee Republican senator who’s now a Law & Order prosecutor and regular replacement for radio host Paul Harvey, is being urged by supporters to consider entering the presidential race, according to associates. “The draft Fred movement is growing,” says one ally. They say that Thompson is flattered by the suggestions, but it is unclear if he is turning away their appeals. The effort is growing among conservative blogs, where several boards are pushing the folksy straight-talker to get in.

Well, for one thing, Mr. Thompson's ABC News contract probably prohibits him from saying anything in public about ongoing political campaigns. Also, while Thompson is conservative and has a record to back it up, he's not and never has been a member of the conservative intellectual elite. He's about as right-leaning as the old Mitt Romney + Mike Huckabee divided by two.

Most importantly, Sen. John McCain is one of Thompson's best friends. They talk regularly. A source close to Thompson said that Thompson will not run for president, period.

And that's the rest of the story. [MARC AMBINDER]

This is the worst news I've heard today. And I know that many will shed a tear with me.

Do Bargains Satisfy Primal Urges?

They don't do anything for me.

Must have something to do with your X chromosome count.

More on Bush Derangement Syndrome

I wrote about this incident the other day. Michelle Malkin has the details.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Every time I learn something about John McCain that makes me more predisposed toward him, I learn something else that makes me angry.

I recognize that he wants to compete in California, and maybe this is a good way to do it. But it's terrible policy, and it's certainly not something you do if you want to perform well in the Republican primary.

Update: Does this make 3 steps back, or 4?

Update II: or maybe 5 or 6 steps back...

LATimes Outs Covert CIA Operatives

Not by name, but that's about all that was spared. Where is the outrage?

Where is the prosecution?

Dems: Unliateral Iraq Effort Losing Critical Allies

A repeat really, of the same line of argument they used when Australia, Spain and Italy withdrew.

Bob Novak: Murtha, Dems Playing With Fire

The effort of John Murtha and Congressional Democrats to force an end to the surge and the Iraq mission by imposing un-achievable conditions is rightly attracting lots of attention. An editorial by the DC Examiner properly summarizes the disturbing ramifications of the effort, and Rich Lowry writes a great piece on the whole issue, asking at the end whether Bush could afford to veto the legislation.

But I think Bob Novak - in his latest political report - is reading the tea leaves correctly. If Congressional Democrats manage to send to the President's desk an appropriations bill - particularly the Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental bill they will soon be considering - with a raft of provisions that effectively make it impossible to continue the operation in Iraq, it's they who'll get the blame for the confrontation. Novak (no link) says:

Troop Funding: Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) has a knack for shooting his mouth off, sometimes to his detriment. He did this again last week with his decision to divulge the rationale behind the Democrats' latest tactic in opposing the Iraq War.

  1. Rather than legislating directly in favor of redeployment -- either through another non-binding resolution (see below) or a cut in military funding -- Murtha has elected an indirect strategy of weighing down the Iraq occupation by subtly limiting the number of troops that can be deployed. The limitation would come under the guise of "readiness requirements" that would seriously hinder the military's ability to deploy.
  2. Who could be opposed to requirements that troops have sufficient equipment and training before being deployed? The problem is that the requirements set the bars artificially high. Their purpose is not to protect the troops as much as it is to put so many obstacles in their way that neither an additional force (a "surge") nor even reinforcements can be easily deployed in the first place.
  3. Murtha's climb from being an ideologically moderate senior back-bencher to becoming a prominent war critic was incredible enough. But his return from defeat and humiliation late last year toward a position of controlling the Iraq theater has been equally surprising. Murtha and his ally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had suffered a huge defeat on November 16, when the Democratic Caucus overwhelmingly rejected Murtha as majority leader, choosing instead Rep. Steny Hoyer.
  4. Three months later, Murtha has shaped a party policy designed to cripple Bush's troop surge by placing conditions on funding. Murtha just could not keep quiet the secret Democratic strategy that he had forged for the promised "second step" against President Bush's Iraq policy (after the passage of a non-binding resolution of disapproval). In an interview last Thursday with a new anti-war website MoveCongress.org, Murtha revealed plans to put conditions on funding of U.S. troops. Murtha, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, did not hide the point of setting standards for training, equipping and resting troops: "They won't have the equipment, they don't have the training and they won't be able to do the work."
  5. Murtha's tactic represents the most daring congressional attempt to micromanage armed hostilities since the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War challenged Abraham Lincoln. Not surprising Republicans, Murtha's plan basically played into their hands. Republicans had been suggesting that Democrats would cut off funding for the troops in order to prevent the so-called "surge," and then Murtha went ahead and let out that they would, in fact, try to do so.
  6. Republicans are poised to contend that his proposed amendment to the upcoming supplemental appropriations bill would effectively cut off funding for the war, confronting moderate Democrats elected after promising voters they would support the troops with a large problem.
  7. Republicans cannot as easily block passage in the Senate of Murtha's amendment as they stopped the passage of the non-binding resolution on Saturday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) forced an unusual weekend vote before the Presidents' Day recess. Republicans stopped that on a 56-to-34 vote, using a rule requiring 60 votes to end debate. But the supplemental defense appropriations bill will have to pass in some form at the risk of a complete funding cutoff for the troops. Thus, unless Democrats retreat unexpectedly, Murtha will be driving U.S. policy in Iraq. That is an improbable elevation for a congressman best known until now as a purveyor of pork.
  8. When Murtha revealed the strategy, the House Republican staff quickly dispatched e-mails to GOP members listing Democrats who had campaigned last year against restricting support for troops in the field. The message asked: "Will they side with Jack Murtha and their leadership in Washington, or with the promises they made to their voters?" Murtha is putting some Democrats in a tough spot (though this is the time in the election cycle to do such things, with the election still nearly two years away). But even left-wing editorial boards such as that of the New York Times are questioning Murtha's actions now.

People often recall how badly hurt the Congressional GOP was by the government shutdown in 1995 - and they were. However, people don't generally recall that Bill Clinton vetoed legislation to keep it open, on the grounds that it contained a 'poison pill' on Medicare. Clinton argued that Medicare was a separate issue, and it should be settled separately. The public agreed.

If the American people sided with Clinton then; they are far more likely to side with Bush (I think) when the question is whether the troops should suffer because of a disagreement on Iraq policy. The emergency supplemental contains billions for salaries, supplies, logistical support, protection from IEDs and intelligence activities. It funds the replacement of lost and outdated planes, vehicles, and weapons - as well as for the establishment and training of Iraqi and Afghan security forces.

If the legislation comes to his desk with the Murtha provisions, President Bush will state that he has no choice but to veto. He'll say that he is forced to do so, because it includes provisions artificially designed to force an end to the Iraq mission. He'll say that the war is at a critical juncture, when the surge is showing important signs of success, and to leave now would dishonor the men and women who sacrificed all to give the people of Iraq a chance at representative self-government. He'll say that if he signed the bill that was presented to him, it would force us to abandon the people of Iraq, who are fighting and dying for their chance to live that dream.

He'll note that the author of the provisions first publicly discussed them in an interview he did for a liberal anti-war organization, and said that they were designed to force a withdrawal from Iraq. He'll spell out what is included in the supplemental bill, and talk about why it is essential. He'll say that the Congressional leadership is recklessly risking the lives of our men and women in harm's way, by denying them needed funds and equipment, and that it is essential Congress send him a 'clean' bill immediately. He'll say that American lives should not be risked over a disagreement between the White House and Congress.

Bush will re-iterate that he is always ready to discuss honest policy differences with anyone, including Mr. Murtha - and that the change in direction implemented after listening to the recommendations and findings of the Iraq Study Commission demonstrate his sincerity. He'll say that Prime Minister Maliki is committed to having the Iraqi government assume all security responsibilities in a matter of a few months, and it is foolish to quit on them now.

He'll ask Congress to return to work immediately on a bill that he can sign, and he'll offer to meet with Mr. Murtha, Ms. Pelosi, and Mr. Reid - and anyone else that Congress wants to send - to discuss this critical mission, but stress the importance of supporting our troops.

Regardless of how they try to dress this up as an effort to protect the troops, I think the Democrats lose this debate. Murtha gave the President a big boost by the interview he did last week, asserting that the point of these provisions is to force a redeployment.

The Democrats are going down a very dangerous road, politically, if they follow this course of action.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Prepare for Outrage and Indignation

The NYU College Republicans are about to host a game of 'Find the Illegal Immigrant,' and they're already causing quite a kerfuffle:

(CBS) NEW YORK A controversial "game" being played Thursday at NYU by a Republican student group has sparked accusations of racism and is causing an uproar on campus.

The game, appropriately (or inappropriately, depending on how you look at it) called "Find The Illegal Immigrant," asks participants to search the campus for the "illegal immigrant," and if you do, you'll win a prize. Sponsored by the NYU College Republicans, it's scheduled to be played tomorrow.

"It's racist, and embarrassing for NYU," law student Marcus Amelkin says.

No illegal immigrants are actually involved in the game, organizer Richard Rossi says. Rather, the game is meant to inspire dialogue and it's in that spirit that the university is tolerating it.

Many students, however, are miffed at the school's liberal attitude toward the game.

"I think it's offensive," Eugenia Kuri, a senior at NYU who is an international student from Mexico. "The way they are trying to make their point, a lot of people die trying to cross the border every day. I don't think it should be made a joke of..."

Soto shares the position of the NYU administration who released a statement explaining why they're allowing the game. Spokesman John Beckman writes:

"At universities, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas -- even difficult and unpopular ideas -- is a key mission. We hope the debates will be conducted with respect and civility, and will be driven by an impulse to provoke thought rather than anger. Illegal immigration is a totally appropriate topic for debate, though this event seems principally calculated to produce outraged reaction rather than dialogue.

"Our inclination is always to support free speech. Just as one group of students will conduct this so-called 'game,' others will be protesting it. At a university, this is exactly the kind of outcome we hope for from engaged students and scholars..."

Although this 'game' has been played before at other campuses, I don't know the details of it. Be that as it may, how can it be - on its face - racist? Don't illegal immigrants include members of many races?

And if one is concerned about people dying crossing the border, isn't the proper response to try to prevent illegal immigration? To complain about a 'game' that draws attention to the issue seems pointless or counter-productive.

Credit to NYU by the way, for having an even-handed approach to controversial topics.

Gingrich's Trial Balloon?

Newt Gingrich's American Solutions is hosting a debate/discussion between him and Mario Cuomo (who is apparently still alive) regarding 'serious issues and potential solutions.'

If Gingrich's selling point as a potential Presidential candidate is his intellect and his ability to identify and promote original solutions to public policy challenges, then this is a good way to showcase that.

Good or Bad for Global Warming?


What if, before the glaciers melt, we burn the ice for energy - instead of those nasty carbon fuels?

Reid: US an 'Occupying Force' in Iraq

It's nonsense to describe the US as an 'occupying force' when we are in Iraq at the request of a duly-constituted, elected, and representative Iraqi government. This represents nothing more than the Vietnamization of the Democratic party. Their reaction is becoming so extreme, that it cannot help but hurt their efforts to govern responsibly and win in 2008.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Tuesday his next move on the Iraq war will be to limit the president's war authority, but he will not support taking away funding for the war

Defunding the war, the Nevada Democrat said, "is no strategy. We believe ... troops, at whatever cost to our treasury, we must take care of. We're not about to leave our military in Iraq or Afghanistan or anyplace else without the equipment or materials they need. ... We're talking about a redeployment, not having all the troops come home tomorrow.

Reid spoke to a group of Nevada reporters and individually to the Review-Journal before addressing the Legislature on Tuesday evening.

He said Senate Democrats plan to have a conference call Friday to come to consensus on an amendment that would limit the authorization to go to war President Bush was given by the Senate in 2002. U.S. troops in Iraq should only be used for anti-terrorism operations, force protection and training Iraqis, Reid said.

He also called for an international conference including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iran on the Iraq conflict.

"We're an occupying force, and the solution to this must come from people who have a larger stake in the neighborhood," he said.

The Democrats are lucky that their margins are too thin to do much on Iraq. But as Mort Kondracke points out today, they're playing with fire if they think the public will not turn on them for trying to micro-manage this effort.

Britain's 'Withdrawal' from Iraq

Check out Captain Ed.

It's important to note that the British will essentially be pulling back a small number of troops, in the more stable part of the country, from a frontline role to their main Basra base. Is this helpful to Bush and the US effort? Probably not - but not an enormous change.

Don't expect to see such nuance in the MSM, however.

Congressional Travel Rules: How Much Has Changed?

The House and Senate have adopted their internal ethics rules (which could still be changed, depending on how they resolve the ethics reform bill still under consideration). It seems that there's a lot of wiggle room to allow Members and staff to accept the same benefits from lobbyists as in the past:

The House and Senate have approved internal rules banning most lobbyist-funded travel for members and their staffs. But lobbyists can still underwrite one-day trips for lawmakers to visit a site, give a speech, attend a forum or sit on a panel.

And that lobbyist-funded travel has been expanded to allow a second night’s stay in some cases, according to new guidelines the House ethics committee released last night...

The new guidelines also allow members and staffers to accept up to business-class transportation on commercial airlines or trains for committee-approved travel. But there are special allowances for more expensive transportation if the committee first determines it’s reasonable...

Lawmakers and aides also can travel first-class, by charter or in private aircraft if “genuine security circumstances” require it or if the scheduled flight time exceeds 14 hours.

In addition, the new guidelines allow members and staffers to attend events such as annual meetings of business or trade associations and stay in the same lodgings as long as they are “commensurate” with the quality, or location of other event attendees, although they do not address how many attendees must have the same quality of lodgings. In essence, the guidelines leave open the possibility that a lawmaker or aide could argue that his accommodations are “commensurate” with the lodgings of the top officers of a trade or business group even though most members of the group have more modest accommodations.

While at annual meetings, rules governing meals at “widely attended” events apply. Members and aides can accept meals related to the event if they are “similar” to those provided to or purchased by other event attendees...

The new rules are here.

As I read them, they would clearly allow Representatives, Senators, and staff to continue to accept travel to and lodging at desirable locations inside and outside the US. So for example, if a large trade association holds a regular annual meeting at the Homestead or the Breakers - popular destinations for such events - and invites Members or staff to attend, I see no reason they could not.

And the rules even allow them to stay as many as two nights. So you could fly down on Sunday morning, stay Sunday night, speak on Monday - perhaps stay on Monday night - and leave Tuesday. Or, you could pick up one night at your own expense and make it a four day stay, with only the requirement that you participate in one or two panels.

It depends on how the rules are applied, but they don't require a change in how business is done.

Great News on Tim Johnson

Senator Tim Johnson has left the hospital.

I've not seen anyone use the words 'full recovery,' but among the articles that have been written recently about him, I've not seen any indications that he is expected to continue to experience trouble.

Perhaps the addition of another Democratic Senator will save Harry Reid from more headlines like this one: Minority gets fewer chances but more success under Dem Senate.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Today in History: First American Orbits the Earth

Should not go unnoticed.

Bush Derangement Syndrome, or Worse?

Looks like the moonbat fringe has figured out how to deal with chickenhawks: assault.

A Fredericksburg man was arrested Saturday on charges he assaulted three strangers at their home during a dispute over politics, police said.

According to a Fredericksburg police report, the suspect went to a home in the 900 block of Marye Street about 5:30 p.m. after finding one of the resident's name on a Republican Web site.

The resident and his two roommates engaged in a discussion with the suspect, though none of them had ever met or had contact with him before.

The argument got heated and the suspect learned that the young residents had not enlisted in the military and "put their all" behind the Republican-led war effort in Iraq, police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe said.

The suspect refused to leave the home after repeatedly being asked to do so, police said. The three roommates were hit multiple times each as they attempted to get the suspect out of the door, authorities said.

The suspect continued to be aggressive and disorderly even after a city police officer arrived, the report states.

Andrew Stone, 23, was charged with three counts of assault and battery. A magistrate released Stone on his own recognizance and he was ordered to have no further contact with the victims.

It was not clear in the report what political agenda Stone was supporting.

He sounds like a Quebecois separatist to me.

Mac's Most Effective Ad Campaign

Forget about 'hi, I'm a Mac,' and 'hi, I'm a PC.'

Vista is going over as well as New Coke.

Giuliani on Abortion: Last Man Standing?

Stop me when I've written too much on Giuliani and abortion.

There is a virtue to Giuliani's pro-choice position - at least so far: no flip-flopping.

It appears that there's contest going in between McCain and Romney to see who can more exasperate pro-lifers with shifting positions. Hotline's Blogometer summarizes:


MCCAIN II: Needs To Work On Preaching To The Choir

The Brody File is putting McCain's pro-life record "under the microscope." First Brody compares a 1999 San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting with McCain (where he says "I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade") to his words on Meet The Press later that year ("There are many areas we can work together ; adoption, foster care, education") and then writes: "You see, here's the problem that the pro-life community may have. That line above where McCain says "There are many areas we can work together, adoption, foster care, education", while that may be true, among the dedicated pro-life community it is code for being wishy washy."

Brody adds: "So, to me, the question for John McCain isn't really whether he is pro-life or not. The question for John McCain is if he's President, how strongly will he fight for the pro-life issues including using his soapbox to speak out on the life issue and the eventual repeal of Roe vs Wade?"

Later, Brody also voices his displeasure with McCain's telling the Politico "I don't know anything, physically I can do to reduce abortions." Brody responds: "when you're trying to court Evangelicals and other devoted pro-life social conservatives, they don't want to hear a potential future President say something like that. A better answer may have been, "Well, I'll appoint strict constructionists to the bench, I'll sign the fetal pain bill, etc..."

ROMNEY: The Unconverted

RedState director Erick Erickson officially announced the withdrawal of his support for "Multiple Choice" Mitt Romney 2/17. Detailing the "Too Many Straws On This Camel's Back" Erickson identifies the stories that changed his mind:

  • First there was abortion. He was for it, then really for it, then really, really for it, then indifferent to it, and now against it.
  • Then there was campaign finance reform. Mitt was for it more than McCain before he was against it more than McCain He's tried to caveat his way out of it, but his caveats have been so nuanced as to be meaningless.
  • Let's not forget taxes. Multiple Choice Mitt opposed President Bush's tax cuts and favored a federal gas tax hike as late as 2003.
  • Oh, there is homosexuality too. Mitt was going to be more gay and more abortion friendly than Ted Kennedy in 1994. Now he's not.
  • Finally, there is voting for Paul Tsongas. In 1992, Mitt Romney voted for Tsongas. He explains this now as trying to pick the weakest guy to go up against George H. W. Bush.

Erickson concludes: "I'm tired of running into these stories. I'm tired of the hedges. I'm tired of the dodges. And I'm tired of the caveated nuance." Fellow RedStaterKowalski was moved to remind readers he was still for Romney: "Maybe I have a greater tolerance for liberal-esqe "flipflopping" having been a liberal "flipflopper" myself.

Not commenting on Erickson's defection, but still on the flip-flopping theme, The Corner's Yuval Levin links to more revelations on Romney's abortion policy past and writes: "It's hard to know quite what to do with this suggestion that Romney was pro-life before he was pro-choice before he was pro-life. ... Flip flops on abortion are a fairly common feature of political resumes in the past few decades. But Romney's flip flops are both more recent and apparently more frequent than most."


It seems that each of the leading Republican contenders will benefit from this long campaign. They all seem to need to hone their positions and histories.

Who Matches the Zeal of the Convert?

Mitt Romney is attacking John McCain as not being sufficiently pro-life on abortion.

I don't think I can provide an apt analogy without resorting to the mention of people like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, so I will refrain.

Mitt Romney was pro-choice until 15 minutes ago, and however many complaints people may have about John McCain, he has been more consistently pro-life than Romney. Still, I guess Romney has nearly a year before the first primary, during which time it pays to convince people that his conversion is real. Criticizing others for a lack of purity has historically been a good way to do that.

I don't think I'll be able to survive a year of this before the first votes are cast.

Some bright Senator would ensure his everlasting political popularity by introducing legislation to provide that no money raised before December 1 of the year before a Presidential election could be spent toward either a primary campaign or a general election campaign. That at least, would shorten the campaign season.

Rudy, Mitt and McCain

Philip Klein and James Antle have a pair of good posts on the state of the Republican primary, and the weaknesses of the leading contenders.

Interestingly, Klein suggests that Giuliani's big weakness may be the issue that is his apparent strength: terror and security. It's an interesting point, but to suggest that it's his big weakness may be overstated.

First off, crime control and a strong response to 9/1 are not the same as an anti-terror policy, and anyone who recognizes the name 'Bernie Kerik' knows that there's room to criticize Giuliani there. It's not as if Giuliani is Ike. He will have to do a good job of defending against criticisms in this area.

But while there's been a big shift in the perception of Giuliani's personal history and social views as 'deal-killers,' they still remain significant challenges. Giuliani has said thus far that he has no opinion on Roe v. Wade. Well, John McCain opposes it. And Romney will certainly say the same thing (if he has not already). Is that a position Giuliani can match? Abortion has not been a cutting issue in Republican primaries in recent memory, since all leading contenders have been pro-life. Giuliani's pro-choice position may well change that. It might even lead a contender to ditch the recent tradition among GOP Presidential contenders to avow 'no litmus test' on Roe vs. Wade.

And then there's Giuliani's marriages and divorces...

I believe Giuliani has a fighting chance to overcome these, but I would still say that his greatest weakness is on abortion, gay rights, gun control, and personal biography.

Jindal May Not Win in a Walk

The Cook Political Report indicates that Kathleen Blanco - apparently realizing that she's got a steep uphill climb for re-election - will step aside for former Senator John Breaux, or another Democrat with a chance:

Breaking News: Former Democratic Sen. John Breaux is seriously considering a bid for Governor of Louisiana. John Maginnis, editor of the highly regarded Louisiana Political Fax Weekly, initially reported the news this morning, and the Cook Political Report has independently verified that it is true. Apparently Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco has privately indicated a willingness to step aside if Breaux, or possibly another Democrat, such as Rep. Charlie Melancon, would run instead.

None of this is a done deal, but Breaux is serious, and his candidacy would change the face of the race for Democrats.

This will make things a lot harder for Bobby Jindal. Based on his reputation as a conservative Democrat, and his popularity in the state, Breaux could be the favorite over Jindal. It would make it a good race, at least.

Update: Turns out this rumor is several days old. Salon has a piece up on what you might call 'the broader context.'

In this case, Thomas Schaller argues that the Bush administration's terrible response to Hurricane Katrina led to the emigration of tens of thousands of blacks, who were a critical part of the Democratic base in a competitive state. Because of the departure of these voters, Louisiana may have gone from 'purple' to red, and the state's remaining statewide Democratic officeholders are in trouble. Schaller says:

A key reason for the troubles facing Blanco and her party is the massive out-migration of New Orleans-area Democrats in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm, and the administration's botched handling of it, literally drove Democrats out of Louisiana. Though a perfect estimate is impossible, analysts who follow the state closely project the net decline for Democrats in New Orleans Parish to be somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 voters. In 2002, Blanco beat Jindal by 55,000 votes statewide, but nearly all of that margin came from the city. She won Orleans Parish by 50,000 votes. "It's doubtful that there are enough Democrats left to provide the wide margin of victory in Orleans Parish that Democrats have traditionally relied upon for victory in statewide elections," says Bob Mann, who served as former Sen. Breaux's state director and, later, Blanco's communications director.


I agree that the departure of core Democratic voters is going to have a significant political effect. But as has been discussed ad nauseam, the city and state bear a large portion of the blame for the botched response to the disaster. Do we really need to rehash the pitiful response of Nagin and Blanco?

Further, at least one survey of Katrina evacuees suggests that Blanco and the state's Democrats may be better off without them in the state. Only 27 percent of those surveyed approved of Governor Blanco's performance in the crisis, and just 33 percent of Mayor Nagin's. Further, while 28 percent blamed primarily the federal response, 31 percent blamed either the city or the state - with another 22 percent saying all were equally responsible.

For a group that was supposedly very pro-Democrat to start with, these numbers are terrible. If this group was still residing in New Orleans, it doesn't sound very likely that Blanco, Landrieu, Nagin, or any other prominent Louisiana Democrat would be any better off.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Iraq: What if the Democrats Get Their Wish

I'm far from the first to note that the Democratic party has a lot of political capital invested in a failure in Iraq. If things go well there, and are perceived to go well there, then Bush (and by extension the GOP) get all the credit. It will reflect well on the Republican nominee in 2008 - at least if one of the leading contenders - all of whom supported the war and the escalation - gets the nomination.

But what if things go badly?

I've said before that I see no real way that American troops can stay in an active, 'in-harm's-way' role in Iraq past the first few months of next year. If we go through the primaries and into the spring or summer with Americans dying in Iraq, the GOP nominee may be unable to win, and a full withdrawal would be guaranteed. Even if things go well, I suspect that the average voter's reaction will be 'well thank God things turned out OK. Let's hand the Iraqis the keys and get our folks out of there.'

(And as I noted before, Novak says that the White House believes they must be out of Iraq by the start of the primaries - in other words, about 10 months from now.)

OK. So what happens if the Democrats get their wish - American troops out of Iraq? There seems a strong presumption that the country will descend into civil war. Iran and Syria will encourage their factions to cause all the bloodshed they can, with a view toward a pro-Teheran government (if not a puppet government). Among the possibilities are massive refugees, partition, and broader mideast war - just off the top of my head. There's no way the American media could ignore it; it would lead the news lots of nights.

So how is THAT good for the Democrats? Would it not be a constant reminder that the Democrats forced the withdrawal of the only stabilizing force in the country, and that as a result, thousands of innocents were dying and a hoped-for ally was being turned into a powerful enemy? Wouldn't the Democrats look just like the weak, foolish fringe that they were after the Vietnam War?

Is there any way they could spin this as Bush's fault?

What would their argument be? That Iraq would have been better off with Saddam still in power? It may be their only option, since the only alternate argument I can see would be 'it was a good idea to get rid of Saddam, but Bush blew the occupation so badly that a good chance for success was turned into certain failure, where even the presence of US troops could not have prevented the bloodshed and chaos that we see today (even thought they seemed to prevent it until the withdrawal).'

It seems to me that the best case for the Democrats is that the US withdraws, and the country gets a whole lot better. Of course, Bush will still get the credit, but there'll not really be any blame to cast on the Democrats. But what are the chances of that?

As far as I can see, the Democrats have painted themselves into a corner. Politically, they need to make sure that either:

  1. Iraq blows up in full civil war while US troops are there (proving the futility of the mission); or,
  2. US troops stay in Iraq until after the election.
Am I missing anything? Are the Democrats not screwed?