Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Just returned from the Syria border back to Mosul. It would take a conspiracy to hide the progress in Iraq."
-- Michael Yon, embedded reporter

Indeed, even John "smear the troops" Murtha agrees.

Also of interest... the word "Iraq" or "Baghdad" doesn't appear one time in the latest Osama bin Laden audiotape.

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CNN is looking particularly unprofessional and slanted in the wake of the discovery that at least seven questioners in this weeks CNN-YouTube GOP debate were liberal activist plants whose identities CNN either had to have previously known would have discovered with a quick and easy background check on Google.

The WSJ's John Fund noted "Almost a third of the questioners seem to have some ties to Democratic causes or candidates."

Michelle Malkin has done the majority of the legwork, and comments on her findings that "The best thing about Republicans agreeing to do the CNN/YouTube debate is that it created yet another invaluable opportunity to expose CNN’s abject incompetence."

Even better, CNN's Glenn Beck, one of the few token right-leaning voices on the network, said on his radio program while interviewing Malkin that "there are people over there [CNN] who do have agendas." Beck added that the wording of the questions were so bizarre that any conservative would know right off the bat that it did not originate from a person who is truly a conservative. Great point too.

Beck also referenced how the bias at CNN affects his job: "They [CNN executives] are in my face all the time to make sure that not a single thing on the air is not questionable... how did they [CNN executives and fact checkers] miss this?"

Indeed. The very technology mainstream media "gotcha" artists use is now being turned against them.

Here's what Malkin found:

Muslim questioner was a former CAIR [Council on American Islamic Relations] intern.

Concerned Young Undecided Person "Journey" = John Edwards supporter.

Concerned Undecided Log Cabin Republican supporter David Cercone = Obama supporter David Cercone.

Concerned Undecided Mom LeeAnn Anderson = Activist for the John Edwards-endorsing United Steelworkers union LeeAnn Anderson.

Concerned Undecided Gay Military Retiree Brig. Gen. Keith H. Kerr = Hillary/Kerry supporter and anti-”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” activist Keith H. Kerr.

Likewise, Jason Coleman finds, "The guy who asked the question about corn subsidies, Ted Faturos, is a former intern for Democrat Congresswoman Jane Harman." Oh, no conflict of interest there!

To his credit, Mr. Faturos defended his position to Coleman. But as Coleman notes, this has little to do with the actual questioners and everything to do with CNN's failure to disclose who Faturos was.

The snowball is rolling down...

The lawyer trilogy at Powerline discovers:

Jim Vicevich alerts us to a few more Democratic plants at the CNN YouTube Republican candidates forum last night. Adam Florzak asked a question on Social Security. It turns out that Florzak quit his job with Caterpillar to work with Dick Durbin on Social Security reform. Then there was Mark Strauss, who pleaded with Ron Paul to run as an Independent. It turns out he's a Richardson supporter (more here). CNN must have known who Strauss is because he participated in the CNN/Youtube Democratic presidential debate this past July. It's all over now, baby blue.
The conduct is simply not defensible. It affirms every complaint conservatives ever had about media bias.

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[Wall Street Journal] The head of the federal agency investigating Karl Rove's White House political operation is facing allegations that he improperly deleted computer files during another probe, using a private computer-help company, Geeks on Call.

Scott Bloch runs the Office of Special Counsel, an agency charged with protecting government whistleblowers and enforcing a ban on federal employees engaging in partisan political activity. Mr. Bloch's agency is looking into whether Mr. Rove and other White House officials used government agencies to help re-elect Republicans in 2006.

At the same time, Mr. Bloch has himself been under investigation since 2005. At the direction of the White House, the federal Office of Personnel Management's inspector general is looking into claims that Mr. Bloch improperly retaliated against employees and dismissed whistleblower cases without adequate examination.

Recently, investigators learned that Mr. Bloch erased all the files on his office personal computer late last year. They are now trying to determine whether the deletions were improper or part of a cover-up, lawyers close to the case said.

Bypassing his agency's computer technicians, Mr. Bloch phoned 1-800-905-GEEKS for Geeks on Call, the mobile PC-help service. It dispatched a technician in one of its signature PT Cruiser wagons. In an interview, the 49-year-old former labor-law litigator from Lawrence, Kan., confirmed that he contacted Geeks on Call but said he was trying to eradicate a virus that had seized control of his computer.

Mr. Bloch said no documents relevant to any investigation were affected. He also says the employee claims against him are unwarranted. Mr. Bloch believes the White House may have a conflict of interest in pressing the inquiry into his conduct while his office investigates the White House political operation. Concerned about possible damage to his reputation, he cites a Washington saying, "You're innocent until investigated."

Clay Johnson, the White House official overseeing the Office of Personnel Management's inquiry into Mr. Bloch, declined to comment. Depending on circumstances, erasing files or destroying evidence in a federal investigation can be considered obstruction of justice.

Mr. Bloch had his computer's hard disk completely cleansed using a "seven-level" wipe: a thorough scrubbing that conforms to Defense Department data-security standards. The process makes it nearly impossible for forensics experts to restore the data later. He also directed Geeks on Call to erase laptop computers that had been used by his two top political deputies, who had recently left the agency.

Geeks on Call visited Mr. Bloch's government office in a nondescript office building on M Street in Washington twice, on Dec. 18 and Dec. 21, 2006, according to a receipt reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The total charge was $1,149, paid with an agency credit card, the receipt shows. The receipt says a seven-level wipe was performed but doesn't mention any computer virus.

Jeff Phelps, who runs Washington's Geeks on Call franchise, declined to talk about specific clients, but said calls placed directly by government officials are unusual. He also said erasing a drive is an unusual virus treatment. "We don't do a seven-level wipe for a virus," he said.

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It's a pretty sad day if scientists are watering down criteria and inflating statistics so they can meet their previous predictions of doom and gloom, "this will be the worst year for hurricanes ever," etc... Just another casualty in the agenda of Global Warming proponents.

With another hurricane season set to end this Friday, a controversy is brewing over decisions of the National Hurricane Center to designate several borderline systems as tropical storms.

Some meteorologists, including former hurricane center director Neil Frank, say as many as six of this year's 14 named tropical systems might have failed in earlier decades to earn "named storm" status.

"They seem to be naming storms a lot more than they used to," said Frank, who directed the hurricane center from 1974 to 1987 and is now chief meteorologist for KHOU-TV. "This year, I would put at least four storms in a very questionable category, and maybe even six."

Most of the storms in question briefly had tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph. But their central pressure — another measure of intensity — suggested they actually remained depressions or were non-tropical systems.

Any inconsistencies in the naming of tropical storms and hurricanes have significance far beyond semantics.

The number of a season's named storms forms the foundation of historical records used to determine trends in hurricane activity. Insurance companies use these trends to set homeowners' rates. And such information is vital to scientists trying to determine whether global warming has had a measurable impact on hurricane activity.

Forecasters at the hurricane center deny there's any inconsistency in the practice of naming tropical storms.

"For at least the last two decades, I am certain most, if not all, the storms named this year would have also been named," said Bill Read, deputy director of the Miami-based center.

What everyone agrees has changed is the ability of meteorologists to more accurately analyze tropical systems, thanks to an increased number of reconnaissance flights with sophisticated tools and the presence of more satellites to monitor storms from above.

Scientists generally agree that prior to the late 1970s and widespread satellite coverage, hurricane watchers annually missed one to three tropical storms that developed far from land or were short-lived.

But this season's large number of minimal tropical storms whose winds exceeded 39 mph for only a short period has ignited a separate debate: whether even more modern technology and a change in philosophy has artificially inflated the number of storms in recent years.

Read the rest.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fred Thompson has a great idea...

Fred Thompson's Presidential campaign has been struggling, in part because of a sense that he lacks passion and an agenda. But late last week he unveiled a tax reform that is more ambitious than anything we've seen so far from the rest of the GOP field.

Mr. Thompson wants to abolish the death tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax and cut the corporate income tax rate to 27% from 35%. But his really big idea is a voluntary flat tax that would give every American the option of ditching the current code in favor of filing a simple tax return with two tax rates of 10% and 25%.

Mr. Thompson is getting aboard what has become a global bandwagon, with more than 20 nations having adopted some form of flat tax. Most -- especially in Eastern Europe -- have seen their economies grow and revenues increase as they've adopted low tax rates of between 13% and 25% with few exemptions.

The main political obstacle to such a reform in the U.S. has come from liberals, who favor punitive taxes for "class" reasons, and K Street corporate lobbyists who want to retain their tax-loophole empires. The housing and insurance industries, states and localities, charities, bond traders and tax preparers are all foes of low tax rates.

That's why the idea of a voluntary flat tax -- introduced on these pages a dozen years ago -- makes political sense. The Thompson plan would allow taxpayers to keep their mortgage and charitable deductions if they prefer, by adhering to the current tax code and rates. But it would also allow the option to abandon those credits and deductions except for a single allowance based on family size ($39,000 for a family of four). Most taxpayers would pay a 10% rate on income above that allowance, with a 25% rate kicking in at $100,000 for a couple. There would only be five lines on the tax form and most taxpayers could fill it out in minutes.

Liberals are already objecting that the plan is not "paid for," by which they mean it doesn't raise taxes the way they hope the next President will. But Mr. Thompson is right in refusing to play by the "static revenue" scoring game that demands that one dollar in estimated tax cuts be offset by one dollar in estimated tax increases somewhere else. "The experts always overrate the revenue losses from tax cuts," Mr. Thompson says, and history supports him going back to the Mellon reductions of the 1920s, the Kennedy tax cuts of the 1960s, the Gipper's in the 1980s, and this decade's success with President Bush's reductions.

Mr. Thompson's plan is based on one introduced by GOP Representatives Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling that is in any case not designed to lose revenue. It is intended to allow federal receipts to grow at the rate of the economy, which would leave them at some 18% or 19% of GDP -- roughly their average of recent decades. When critics object to revenue losses, they are really saying that the tax share of GDP should be allowed to rise to 20% and higher, which is where we are headed if the Bush tax rates expire.

We'd prefer a flat tax with one rate instead of Mr. Thompson's two. Once the concession is made that richer people should pay a higher tax rate, the political temptation is always to raise the rate on the wealthy. The virtue of the single-rate flat tax isn't merely its efficiency but also its moral component: It treats all taxpayers equally. If a person makes five times more money than his neighbor, he should pay five times more taxes, not 10 or 20 times more.

However, what's refreshing about the Thompson plan is that it goes well beyond the current Republican mantra to make "the Bush tax cuts permanent." That is certainly needed, but the GOP also needs a more ambitious agenda, especially with economic growth slowing. The flat tax has the added political benefit of assaulting the special interests who populate the Gucci Gulch outside Congress's tax-writing committee rooms. Lower rates and simplify the tax code, and you instantly reduce the opportunities for Beltway corruption. It is both a tax policy and political reform.

The two apparent Republican front runners, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, should be paying attention. Both have called for tax cuts in general but have dodged any endorsement of the flat tax -- presumably because they think it is too politically risky. The politically calculating Mr. Romney has questioned whether the flat tax is "fair." Mr. Giuliani is more open to the idea, saying the flat tax "would be a lot easier. It would probably bring in a lot more revenue and it would not have some of the burdens on the economy that the massive tax code has." That's right, so why not go all the way?

Mr. Thompson's voluntary proposal is one way to deflect some of the inevitable political opposition. Anyone who prefers the current tax code can stick with it. The rest of us can have a better choice.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Washington Post has a surprisingly good article contrasting political rhetoric to reality on the topic of income tax and wealth. Democrats have long used the "rich" scapegoat to score easy political points with their constituents. The Washington Post asks, in summary: Yo! Define rich!

Barak Obama's answer is kind of scary, I think.

Who's rich? Who's middle class? How can you tell the difference? By the "upper class," do we mean the yacht-club set, the ascot-wearing folks with the Thurston Howell III lockjaw diction and the monogrammed jodhpurs? Or does the upper class include all those harried, two-income suburban families who somehow burn through 200 grand a year and fret about orthodontic bills?

Class, always an awkward topic in the United States, made a rare cameo appearance at a recent candidates debate in Las Vegas . The two front-running Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), sparred over tax policy and quickly got entangled in the question of whether someone making more than $97,000 a year is middle class or upper class. That's upper class, Obama said. Not necessarily, suggested Clinton.

The exchange between Obama and Clinton began when the senator from Illinois said he was open to adjusting the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax. That's the tax that the government prefers to call a "contribution" to Social Security. Under current law, a worker pays a flat percentage (and employers match it) of wages up to $97,500. Wages beyond that aren't taxed.

Clinton responded by saying that lifting the payroll tax would mean a trillion-dollar tax increase, adding that she did not want to "fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors."

Obama replied: "Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000 a year. So 6 percent is not the middle class. It is the upper class."

It continues shortly. But let's pause for a moment to think about Obama's answer and "Understand" that married couples file jointly, and thus two persons making $97K a year (or $48.5K each) would be considered "upper class" and worthy of Obama's highest tax bracket!

Even so. The notion that making $97,000 a year makes one "upper class" is infantile. It reminds me of being in college, thinking like a kid, that a first job of, say, $25K would allow me to buy a new car and have X thousand dollars remaining. The world of expenses and debt just don't work like that, senator. One can be making $97K and under certain circumstances -- say running their own business, or contracting -- not saving any money, be unable to make their next mortgage payment, etc.

Obama's answer is particularly silly given that the IRS doesn't bill you based on cost of living indexes or location.

The Washington Post, much to their credit (perhaps to give benefit to Ms. Clinton), expands upon that:

As for how people see themselves, location is key. Is Clinton right that firefighters make the kind of money mentioned in Las Vegas? Yes, sometimes, in some places. According to the Web site, the base pay of a New York City firefighter with five years' experience is $68,475, but with overtime and holiday work, the same firefighter can make $86,518. A city fire captain can make $140,173 with overtime. Most school superintendents in New York state make more than $100,000.

Online calculators allow anyone to make an instant city-to-city cost-of-living comparison. One such Web site calculates that someone making $97,500 in Washington could live just as comfortably on $67,846 in Ames, Iowa.

The three richest large counties in the country are in the Washington suburbs: Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard. A recent survey showed that 43 percent of people in the core counties of metropolitan Washington live in households with incomes of at least $100,000 a year.

Median household income in America in 2006 was $48,201, which, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in 1999.

Edward Wolff, a professor of economics at New York University, thinks that the middle class in a major city includes people in households with incomes from $40,000 to $100,000. From there, up to $200,000, people are "upper middle class." They all have difficult financial issues to contend with, from health-care costs to college tuition.

"Financial stress: That's the key ingredient," Wolff said.

People making $200,000 to $350,000, he says, could be considered rich, but they still have to slog to work every day. To be really rich, in Wolff's scholarly judgment, you need not only an income upwards of $350,000 a year -- which happens to be right about the point where today's top marginal income tax rate of 35 percent kicks in -- you also need at least $10 million in accumulated wealth.

"These are people who can basically live off their wealth and don't have to work. You're talking about the top half of 1 percent," Wolff said.

These one percent, by the way, are often the whiners of the world: The people like Warren Buffet who complains that the government doesn't tax him or his ilk enough, all the while Buffet could simply pay more tax on his return as a gift to the US Treasury department.

I don't know if Clinton actually believes her figures or not -- she's just as guilty of class warfare demagoguery as anyone else -- but clearly she's going to clean Obama's clock on taxation if Obama sticks to his "$97K is upper class" policy.

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And... John McCain relishing some justifiable desserts:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), fresh off his latest visit to Iraq, told This Week's George Stephanopoulos that "significant progress" is being made in reducing sectarian violence thanks to President Bush's decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. combat troops to the war zone.

McCain, who is trying to ride the improved security situation in Iraq to an improved standing in the polls, took shots at several Democratic candidates, including Sen. Hillary Clinton ( N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), for their suggestion that the United States should begin withdrawing its forces from Iraq soon.

"Is that the same Sen. Clinton that said she had to suspend disbelief in order to acknowledge to that the strategy of the surge was succeeding?" McCain said in reference to Clinton's statement that the United States should stop trying to intervene in a "civil war" in Iraq. "Clearly, it's succeeding. You would have to suspend disbelief to believe that it's not."

McCain later said Clinton's support for a phased withdrawal from Iraq "would have been a catastrophe for the United States of America."

"Look, now the same people who were saying seven or eight months were saying you can't succeed militarily, we've succeeded military. Sen. Edwards used to call it the 'McCain strategy.' He doesn't call it that anymore," McCain claimed. "Their record is wrong on this. My record is right."

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Victor Davis Hanson gives Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams a just deserved history lesson.

I suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams read a little history about the British experience in India before he offers politically-correct but historically laughable sermons like the one he gave to a Muslim "lifestyle" magazine:

[Bishop Williams:] It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly, that's what the British Empire did - in India, for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put it back together - Iraq, for example.
ONE, who is clearing the decks and moving on? And who are the "other people" putting Iraq back together? Iran? Saudi Arabia? China? The British in Basra? First, we read from the anti-war Left that the US is wasting a trillion dollars and thousands of its lives in Iraq, and yet now that we are clearing the decks and not putting it back together? Which is it?

TWO, Williams should read a little about British military campaigns in India, and then count the corpses.

THREE, he should also tally up the amount of money the U.S. has spent for civic and economic development in Iraq over four years, and then compare that to what Britain invested in any four-year period in their centuries-long occupation of India.

FOUR, I don't recall the British, after their second year in India, fostering nation-wide elections.

FIVE, if he is worried about the soul of civilization in general, and the U.S. in particular, he might equally ask his Muslim interviewers about the status of women in the Muslim world, polygamy, female circumcision, the existence of slavery in the Sudan, the status of free expression and dissent, and religious tolerance ( i.e., he should try to visit Mecca on his next goodwill, interfaith tour) .

SIX, all Williams will accomplish is to convince Episcopalians in the U.S. not to follow the Anglican Church, and most Americans in general that, if they need any reminders, many of the loud left-wing British elite, nursed on envy of the US, still petulant over lost power and influence, and scared stiff of the demographic and immigration trends in its own country, are well, unhinged.

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The District of Columbia v. Heller, soon to be argued before the Supreme Court, has the chance to affect individual gun ownership rights throughout the country. The D.C. government will argue, often repeated, that the wording of the Second Amendment implies gun rights are exclusive to "well maintained militias" as opposed to individuals. Columnist Mike Cox offers an excellent retort: What of the other amendments?

The amendment reads: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." If "the right of the people" to keep and bear arms was merely an incident of, or subordinate to, a governmental ( i.e., a collective) purpose--that of ensuring an efficient or "well regulated" militia--it would be logical to conclude, as does the District of Columbia--that government can outlaw the individual ownership of guns. But this collective interpretation is incorrect.

To analyze what "the right of the people" means, look elsewhere within the Bill of Rights for guidance. The First Amendment speaks of "the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . ." No one seriously argues that the right to assemble or associate with your fellow citizens is predicated on the number of citizens or the assent of a government. It is an individual right.

The Fourth Amendment says, "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . ." The "people" here does not refer to a collectivity, either.
The rights guaranteed in the Bill of Right are individual. The Third and Fifth Amendments protect individual property owners; the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments protect potential individual criminal defendants from unreasonable searches, involuntary incrimination, appearing in court without an attorney, excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishments.

The Ninth Amendment protects individual rights not otherwise enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Here, "the people" are separate from "the states"; thus, the Second Amendment must be about more than simply a "state" militia when it uses the term "the people."

Consider the grammar. The Second Amendment is about the right to "keep and bear arms." Before the conjunction "and" there is a right to "keep," meaning to possess. This word would be superfluous if the Second Amendment were only about bearing arms as part of the state militia. Reading these words to restrict the right to possess arms strains common rules of composition.

Read the rest. From here Cox brings up the history of drafting the Constitution and Bill of Rights, Federalist Paper history, etc. All make clear that Bill of Rights protections, Second Amendment included, regard individual rights.

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[Wall Street Journal] The Paul campaign has also drawn support from antigovernment fringe groups and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Since mid-September, a large "Ron Paul for President" banner has flashed at the bottom of white-supremacist Internet forum "Really, we haven't seen a candidate like Ron Paul in some time. The closest would have been Pat Buchanan" in 2000, says Don Black of West Palm Beach, Fla., the group's founder and a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, who donated $500 to Mr. Paul's campaign.

The Paul campaign has a hands-off approach when it comes to supporters' activities and political backgrounds. While grateful for the money, aides insist they aren't responsible for what supporters do online. "We don't know who a lot of these people are," says Jesse Benton, a campaign spokesman.

Mr. Benton declined to make Dr. Paul available to comment. "Sometimes, Ron Paul supporters get a little overpassionate and maybe a little more shrill than what some might like," Mr. Benton says. "For the most part, our supporters are polite and mannerly." He has his own conspiracy theory: Some other candidates' supporters may be masquerading as Ron Paul supporters to hurt his campaign.

That's an interesting theory. Here's another: Neo-Nazis, 9-11 "Truthers" and other such nutball fanatics are indeed supporting Ron Paul.

There's a lot of things I like about libertarians, and at a different time I might be inclined to vote for one, but I've got a real problem with the Paul campaign legitimately deriding the expansion of pork barrel politics while accepting money from anyone - and clearly ANYONE. That's the epitome of hypocrisy, and totally irresponsible.

Those who live in glass houses...

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Last week it sounded like former White House press secretary Scott McClellan decided to make a cheap buck or two by claiming that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove were "involved" in "leaking" Valerie Plame's name to the media. By the end of the holiday weekend, however, it seemed that not only did McClellan not do so, but rather the mainstream media may have quoted McClellan's book excerpts - released by his publishing company - without knowing whether or not the topic was Plame.

Even so, for a moment, let's assume that he did. Regardless, the logic, as always, would be tortured and Orwellian.

"I had unknowingly passed along false information [about Plame]," McClellan wrote. "And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president's chief of staff and the president himself." ...

But White House sources have long said that Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, allowed McClellan to suggest day after day that they had no involvement in the publication of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Later testimony showed that they did, although neither was the original source of the leak.

Whoa, whoa... "although neither was the original source of the leak."

Question: how does one "leak" something that has already been leaked? Answer: you can't. You can't lose your virginity twice either. So there's nothing false about saying one had no involvement in a leak if the leak in question had already sprung.

This whole thing is smoke and mirrors. The Bush teams' only fault is their pathetic attempt in playing defense. And it's also obvious that no law was broken by the "leaking" of Plame's name. How do we know this? Because the the guy who admitted to leaking Plame's name to columnist Bob Novak -- Deputy Sec. of State Richard Armitage -- the guy who started this whole mess, isn't in a jail cell beside Scooter Libby.

Armitage has never been charged. Never been investigated. Indeed, one never even hears the Plame-lovers mention Armitage's name, let alone vilify him with the same voracity they did Libby, who is currently serving prison time for committing perjury about a crime he didn't commit!!

It's pretty difficult to argue that a crime has been committed when there's no prosecution of the person who committed the supposed crime.

Beyond the previously ruined credibility of Plame and hubby Joe Wilson, then, this is about one thing: making money.

If it turns out that McClellan is pointing the finger, one could wager he simply saw how much Plame and Wilson have gained while jetsetting across the country for book deals, Vanity Fair covers, a movie deal, television interviews, etc., and naturally wanted a share.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007




Articles you should read:

Sects unite to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq

Something To Give Thanks For (Good news from Iraq)

Iraqi Security Forces Take on the Mahdi Army in Diwaniyah

It's true: Iraq is a quagmire (for al Qaeda)

Baghdad Starts to Exhale as Security Improves (NY Times... yes, The New York Times)

Baghdad by night -- juice bars, neon lights, bustling streets

Baghdad's busy ambulance drivers catch their breath




In the 1970s a scientist named Paul Ehrlich wrote a book titled "The Population Bomb," which prophesied that by the 1980s hundreds of millions of people would starve to death due to population outpacing resources and food. It was a repeat of the Malthusian argument, by Thomas Mathus at the end of the 1700s, that the "power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man." Both arguments were based on an assumption that reproduction trends grow most quickly in the most technologically advanced countries. So, the paradox that the richest countries would implode first.

But then a funny thing occurred. The opposite has happened. Despite the fact that the United States, Canada, Japan, the UK, the European continent, Russia, and even "developing" China and India are all more technologically advanced than many third world nations, these modern countries are nonetheless as a whole far below the "replacement rate" of 2.1 children per couple. We're technological but not having babies. The US is right at 2.1, but Japan, Italy and Russia are particularly low, dangerously and unprecedentedly low. (17 European nations are at a 1.3 fertility rate. Australia 1.7; Canada 1.48; Europe as a whole 1.38; Japan 1.32; Greece 1.3; Italy 1.2; Russia 1.14; Spain 1.1; Scientists consider 1.3 births per couple the lowest-low birth rate from which no society has ever recovered.) Most of Europe and Canada are likewise well below the 2.1 figure. Even India and China are below the replacement rate. Their populations are actually shrinking.

This common trend of bright but ideologically blind people being markedly wrong in their analysis and assumptions, then, is highly relevant given our current fabricated scare: Global Warming.

Contrast these two headlines and opening paragraphs:

1) U.N. Global Warming Report Sternly Warns Against Inaction:

Global warming is destroying species, raising sea levels and threatening millions of poor people, the United Nations' top scientific panel will say today in a report that U.N. officials hope will help mobilize the world into taking tougher actions on climate change.

The report argues that only firm action, including putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, will avoid more catastrophic events. Those actions will take a small part of the world's economic growth but will be substantially less than the costs of doing nothing, the report will say.

2) U.N. to Cut Estimate Of AIDS Epidemic; Population With Virus Overstated by Millions

JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 19 -- The United Nations' top AIDS scientists plan to acknowledge this week that they have long overestimated both the size and the course of the epidemic, which they now believe has been slowing for nearly a decade, according to U.N. documents prepared for the announcement.

AIDS remains a devastating public health crisis in the most heavily affected areas of sub-Saharan Africa. But the far-reaching revisions amount to at least a partial acknowledgment of criticisms long leveled by outside researchers who disputed the U.N. portrayal of an ever-expanding global epidemic.

It took more than a decade, but the gloom-and-doom scaremongers of the 1980s-90s finally had to acknowledge reality. First came the population scaremongers. Oh, that's not true, but what about this AIDS virus thing, certainly that'll kill us all, right? Oh, that's not true either, but what about this warming climate thing?

In another 10 years perhaps we'll finally get to the truth about global warming: That it's natural, cyclical, related to all kinds of non-human activity from volcanoes to Sun spots to cow farts, and most certainly not worth the bankrupting precautionary policy of curbing one's energy production.

The difference, of course, is that there's so much money to be made off the global warming racket, whereas there wasn't with AIDS or population booms. Carbon offsets, carbon trading, etc. It's not by accident that now many corporations are getting in line -- they wouldn't do it if there wasn't a dollar to be made doing it. Most of this mess will just transfer the profit from company A to company B (and sometimes not even that) and often at the expense of the consumer. That's why you see the corn subsidy and ethanol mess -- politicians raising prices of foreign corn to "save" the US corn farmer; corn for food becomes corn for fuel (hitting food-lacking third world poor the hardest); water usage artificially inflates ( 3.7 to 5 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of ethanol); difficultly in transporting ethanol increases prices; less gas mileage from ethanol, etc.

There are unintended (and intended) negative consequences to this self-made problem, backed by what seems to be the collective mindset of a cult. Only with the hubris of politicians and scientists could one ever believe they can reverse the laws of free economics.

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Is it just me, or might Colin Powell take the torch handoff from Jimmy Carter as the next most irrelevant but nonetheless irritating post-political voice?

KUWAIT CITY - Iran is far from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and despite U.S. fears about its atomic intentions, an American military strike against the Islamic Republic is unlikely, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday... I think Iran is a long way from having anything that could be anything like a nuclear weapon," said Powell, who was invited by the National Bank of Kuwait to speak on economic opportunity and crisis in the Middle East.
Seriously, how the heck would Powell know anything about Iran with any certainty? Our intelligence services certainly don't.

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Is it 1981 all over again? Might the Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility last month have had something to do with Iran's "cooperation" in Iraq?

BAGHDAD - Iran appears to be honoring an informal pledge to halt the smuggling of explosives and other weapons into Iraq, contributing to a drop of bombings by nearly a half since March, a senior US general said yesterday.

"We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq," Major General James Simmons said. "We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up."

Some other factors could include the US bipartisan measure to label Iran's Al Quds Revolutionary Guards force as a terrorist group.

But resource drains in a cold war, which is what we're in with Iran, works both ways. Perhaps the bottom line is that Petraeus' surge has worked enough to dissuade Iran from pouring resources into fighting Iraq. Iran's economy isn't exactly rocking right now. They have their own problems rationing gasoline and keeping their population in line. It's harder for autocracies to stay stable then it is for democracies. It requires far more resources and energy. Maybe Iran's meddling in Iraq has peaked.

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Petraeus Helping Pick New Generals; Army Says Innovation Will Be Rewarded
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007; Page A01

The Army has summoned the top U.S. commander in Iraq back to Washington to preside over a board that will pick some of the next generation of Army leaders, an unusual decision that officials say represents a vote of confidence in Gen. David H. Petraeus's conduct of the war, as well as the Army counterinsurgency doctrine he helped rewrite.

The Army has long been criticized for rewarding conventional military thinking and experience in traditional combat operations, and current and former defense officials have pointed to Petraeus's involvement in the promotion board process this month as a sign of the Army's commitment to encouraging innovation and rewarding skills beyond the battlefield.

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Researchers Create Stem Cells
Without Destroying Embryos

November 20, 2007 9:16 a.m.

In the quest to treat difficult diseases, researchers have created human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos or using hard-to-get eggs. The technique may prove to be easier, cheaper, and more ethically appealing than an alternative approach that requires cloning.

Two separate teams of researchers say they have sidestepped the cloning method and reprogrammed mature human cells into a primordial, embryonic-like state. Those cells were then transformed into other tissue types, such as heart cells. The long-term hope is that such freshly-created tissue may, for example, be used to heal a heart-attack patient.

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[Wall Street Journal] The problem: For seven years, Palestinian movements within the West Bank have been tightly restricted by a shifting, maze-like network of Israeli military checkpoints, barricades and permit requirements. This gauntlet, growing in size and severity over the past two years, keeps away most of Mr. Nazal's customers, the farmers who plant his trees and then harvest the olives, nuts and other fruits they yield.

Israeli defense officials say the travel restrictions are vital for securing their citizens against terrorism. But the barriers also are choking the Palestinian economy, creating what the World Bank calls "a shattered economic space" of 10 separate enclaves. Per-capita GDP has fallen 40% for Palestinians since 2000. Economists largely blame the plunge on the restrictions and a loss of Palestinian employment in Israel.

Come again? Isn't this like saying that the US government is to blame for the misery of the Mexican people and economy because it won't allow enough of them to work in the US (which certainly isn't true)? No, the Mexican economy is awful because the Mexican government is incompetent, corrupt, and too socialist.

Likewise, if the Palestinian people are suffering it's because its governing forces are incompetent, corrupt and/or committed to Islamic extremism and terrorism.

That "since 2000" comment above is also critical to this "problem." In 2000 the Palestinian economy was much better. Better, that is, until Yassir Arafat declared a "second Intifada" against Israel even though then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered to meet the vast majority of Arafat's demands. You'll recall that Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright and Dennis Ross were each dumbstruck by Arafat's refusal to an offer all were sure he'd accept.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

[AP] "Every place you go you hear about no progress being made in Iraq," said Senate Democratic majority leader Harry Reid. "The government is stalemated today, as it was six months ago, as it was two years ago," Reid told reporters, warning US soldiers were caught in the middle of a civil war.

"It is not getting better, it is getting worse," he said.

Reid was just as wrong back in April, when even before the Petraeus surge reached full strength Reid declared Iraq "lost."

Harry Reid is hardly well-travelled vis-a-vis Iraq. Reid hasn't been to Iraq since 2005, when the situation was vastly different, and worse. So I'll trust those who are there now, who have no cause or profit to gain, embedded there, who sweat amongst the troops -- men like Yon, Trotten, Emanuel.

As for Reid: Reasonable people can argue "wait and see." Reasonable people can argue caution. But only the most cynical of defeatist and pessimist fools could claim that Iraq was "getting worse." Reid's argument is not one of reason, but of desperation.

Reid is a modern day Clement Vallandigham. During the American Civil War, Congressman Vallandigham was the United States' most vocal antiwar, anti-Lincoln voice. He was king of the Copperheads, Butternuts, Peace Democrats. But just as he was wrong then, so is Reid now.

Using his own words, Jennifer Weber's book Copperheads paints Vallandingham as a subversive and disloyal fool. His speech before Congress in January 1863 sounds eerily as defeatist and truth-twisting as the speeches from so many Democrats today, Reid included.

[Vallandingham about Lincoln] Soon after the war began the reign of the mob was… supplanted by the iron domination of arbitrary power. Constitutional limitation was broken down; habeas corpus fell; liberty of the press, of speech, of the person, of the mails, of travel, of one’s own house, and of religion; the right to bear arms, due process of law, judicial trial, trial by jury, trial at all; every badge and monument of freedom in republican government or kingly government—all went down at a blow; and the chief law-officer of the crown—I beg pardon, sir, but it is easy now to fall into this courtly language—the Attorney-General, first of all men, proclaimed in the United States the maxim of Roman servility: Whatever pleases the President, that is law! Prisoners of state were then first heard of here. Midnight and arbitrary arrests commenced; travel was interdicted; trade embargoed; passports demanded; bastiles were introduced; strange oaths invented; a secret police organized; "piping" began; informers multiplied; spies now first appeared in America. The right to declare war, to raise and support armies, and to provide and maintain a navy, was usurped by the Executive...

you have utterly, signally, disastrously—I will not say ignominiously—failed to subdue ten millions of "rebels," whom you had taught the people of the North and West not only to hate, but to despise.… You have not conquered the South. You never will. It is not in the nature of things possible; much less under your auspices. But money you have expended without limit, and blood poured out like water. Defeat, debt, taxation, sepulchres, these are your trophies.… The war for the Union is, in your hands, a most bloody and costly failure.

As the Union Army slowly turned the tables -- and under new leadership with Generals Grant and Sherman, among others, performing their own "Surge" -- Vallandingham's rhetoric became more crass and delusional. Reid and his fellow Democrats follow that same formula today.

But it's not by accident that on a daily basis one can find news relating more killing and capturing of al Qaeda in Iraq, arresting of Iranian agents, discovery of bomb emplacements and weapons depots. The Petraeus surge provided enough protection for Iraqi informants to safely begin cooperating with the US military.

All are taking notice. All but today's Copperheads.

Though not with the saturation or visibility that fairness dictates even the New York Times has taken a few moments to pause from their Bush hatred. Even the nation's most liberal voice has begun to hedge its bets: Headlines today alone include, "Fewer Roadside Bombs in Iraq, U.S. Says," and "Iraq to Spend $19 Billion on Projects."

Fortunately, Iraqi citizens have a bit more optimism and courage than our "leaders" on Capital Hill.

Michael Yon reports from the St John's Church in Baghdad -- yes you read that right -- just a few days after the community of Muslims and Christains joined together to raise the cross on the building. According to Yon, Most Reverend Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Diocese for Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq, performed an official "Welcome Home" service, a bilingual Arabic and English one at that.

Today, Muslims mostly filled the front pews of St John's. Muslims who want their Christian friends and neighbors to come home. The Christians who might see these photos likely will recognize their friends here. The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors, and that the Christians will never come back. And so they came to St John's today in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, " Come back to Iraq. Come home." They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home. Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. "Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq ."

...The interpreter "Ice," pictured here with members of the congregation outside St John's after mass, grew up in this neighborhood. His family is Christian and St. John's is their church. I asked Ice if the Muslims treat the Christians poorly in Iraq, and he said what other Iraqi Christians and Muslims have also told me: an unequivocal "No." Ice said they had no problems at all until al Qaeda instigated friction between people.

... It's been a long time since I've seen any fighting. I can't remember my last shootout: it's been months. The nightmare is ending. Al Qaeda is being crushed. The Sunni tribes are awakening all across Iraq and foreswearing violence for negotiation. Many of the Shia are ready to stop the fighting that undermines their ability to forge and manage a new government. This is a complex and still delicate denouement, and the war may not be over yet. But the Muslims are saying it's time to come home. And the Christians are saying it's time to come home. They are weary, and there is much work to be done.

Just yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), under the guise that "American people voted for change," claimed a need to withdraw US forces because they were "refereeing a civil war." Two weeks ago House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D, WI) claimed that violence must have declined in Iraq because terrorist groups "are running out of people to kill."

As Yon's reporting - among others - shows, Democrat prognostications and assessments aren't just off the mark but are often ludicrous too. The "change" for which the American people voted did occur -- in the form of a winning strategy by Gen. David Petraeus.

The more progress we make in Iraq the more the Democrats appear desperate to surrender Iraq. But that's the bed they made. The Democrats almost to a person decided to tie their party identity to defeat in Iraq.

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Remember, "diversity" means a range of all views except those of conservatives. And "tolerance" means a participatory inclusion of all views except those of conservatives. These are the same people who bring up the McCarthy blacklist era every 30 seconds. The irony is dripping down.

While Democrats enjoy very public support from Hollywood's top actors and musicians, who often hold lavish events for their favorite candidates, Republican supporters in Hollywood try hard to keep their political views quiet.

"They learn very quickly, if they know what's good for them, to donate to the Democratic Party," said Andrew Breitbart, co-author of "Hollywood, Interrupted." "If they were to donate to the Republican Party, they would be exposed to career-ending ridicule, period."

...Still, Republicans have streamed into Hollywood for cash — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney courted contributors in the state yesterday and held a town meeting just outside Hollywood.

In the first nine months of this year, Sen. John McCain of Arizona pulled in $390,000 from Hollywood, with Mr. Giuliani close behind at $360,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group based in Washington.

Those numbers pale in comparison to Democrats. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York drew $2.2 million from the movie, music and TV industries over the same period. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois pulled in $2.1 million from some A-list actors, including Tom Hanks, Tobey Maguire, Eddie Murphy, Edward Norton Jr., Morgan Freeman and Ben Stiller.

The first point is the most obvious -- Hollywood bigwigs aren't just slanted in their views but actually hire and fire based on them, something which would earn you or I a painful lawsuit if we did the same in our line of work. This makes the Hollywood elite bigots. It's not "reverse discrimination." It IS discrimination.

Having said that it's clear that there's a market for conservative politicans in Hollywood. It will never be as rewarding as it is for liberal politicans but Republicans would be foolish to at least not attempt the courtship of center-right and fully conservative entertainers.

UPDATE: Funny how themes just fall in line as a news day progresses.

Here's one brave Hollywood soul: Ron Silver.

Great commentary:

Often when I walked onto the set of the West Wing some of my colleagues would greet me with a chanting of “Ron, Ron, the neo-con.” It was all done in fun but it had an edge.

Since speaking in support of George Bush at the 2004 Republican convention I’ve become increasingly disadmired by members of my profession as well as many others. As of this writing my family tells me they still love me. I believe them, but stay tuned, as another presidential cycle is upon us.

I find myself increasingly amused as folks extrapolate my support for the Bush Doctrine and our battles in Iraq and Afghanistan to how I feel about everything. When backed into a corner I often describe my politics, quite snarkily I admit, as a little bit to the right of the left of center.

As far as I can tell, my politics, with regard to American foreign policy and projection of American power haven’t changed very much from what they’ve always been—what I would call revolutionary liberalism. I have always resisted reactionaries from the left or right, Democrat or Republican. At the moment, the reactionary forces on the left, the Democratic netroots and their supporters—Mickey Colitis from the Daily Cuss, and the Moores and Sheehans—are more fearful to me than the traditional reactionary forces of the extreme right. And the Democratic Party seems to be listening to them.

Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate only eight years ago, gave an extraordinary speech on national security last week that the mainstream media did not cover. It’s a shame. And it’s a shame the Democratic Party shunned Lieberman and tried to defeat him in a primary. They made it clear that there is no place for him in the party he’s dedicated his life to. I’m a Joe Lieberman Democrat.

JFK reportedly remarked, “sometimes the party asks too much.” He was referring to the deal his Democratic Party made with southern segregationists to maintain control of Congress. His words are as true now as they were then. Sometimes the party asks too much.

I count myself firmly in the tradition of Wilson, FDR, Truman and Kennedy…and yes, Reagan and George W. Bush. “Go anywhere, bear any burden,” “try to do our best to make a world safe for democracy.” Our national mission, a worthy and ennobling one, is to expand freedom where we can. These are revolutionary goals very much in keeping with our Founders’ vision. They are hardly conservative, let alone neo-conservative goals.

My reactionary former colleagues and friends were quite content with the status quo with Saddam in power in a post 9/11 world. I was not. Revolutionary, not reactionary. My friends sound a bit racist when they insist on Arab-Muslim incapacities to expand freedoms and maintain their faith. I believe the Arab world will work its way to achieve this. I know that it will most likely come about through internal Arab-Muslim struggles and not via external pressures, but I believe we are uniquely capable of helping it along. Uniquely, because our Founding scriptures declare, “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights.” Revolutionary, not reactionary.

Many people felt that the threat posed by Saddam was more tolerable than the risk of removing him. I disagreed and still do. Many of these people now feel that the threat of a nuclear Iran is more tolerable than the risk involved in making sure Iran doesn’t have such capabilities. I think they have it backwards. Many people feel reluctant to acknowledge that the “war on terror” is a real war. There is an unwillingness to identify the enemy, which is clearly a world-wide, malignant, metastatic Islamic jihadism, that will only be defeated ultimately with the Islamic world rising to reject the cancer. We cannot fight a war by pretending we’re not in one. This requires transformative, upset the apple cart thinking. It requires people who are revolutionary, not reactionary. As much as we might like, we cannot return to a pre-9/11 world.

The President is challenging the world with a new order. There is always passionate opposition to change. Have grievous mistakes been made? Yes. But just as Wilson, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan laid the foundations for fighting and prevailing in the Cold War, Bush has responded to 9/11 with a foreign policy revolution of similar magnitude: a reorganization of government institutions and appropriate legislation to meet the emerging threats.

Containment and deterrence are ineffective in this brave new world. There is no containment if you can’t see the enemy; there is no deterrence if the enemy desires death.

I believe the President’s critics are profoundly mistaken. I believe they misunderstand how he’s trying to protect us. I believe they misunderstand the nature of the threat. I believe they misunderstand history. If they succeed in dismantling what President Bush has set in motion, the results may well be catastrophic and history will never forgive them.

George W. Bush: a revolutionary liberal internationalist? History may so decree. Let’s wait and see.

My philosophy, at the end of the day, bottom line, as they say: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but labels never hurt me.”

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Investors Business Daily examines the flip side to the Pervez Musharraf regime -- there are certainly worse things. It's even more relevant given that our intelligence services haven't seemed to have corrected course in 10 years, or even since 9-11.

What would an Islamist terrorist not give to commandeer one of Pakistan's 50 or so atomic bombs?

Yet as recently pointed out by Andrew Koch, defense/security analyst with Washington's Scribe Strategies and Advisors consulting firm, to Agence France Presse: "We don't have absolute certainty we know where all of Pakistan's weapons are kept." That makes taking those sites out in such a large country more than tough.

Of the many blemishes the U.S. intelligence establishment has accrued over the years, this is one of the most glaring. Why don't we know? Our spies and surrogates should be ensconced in Pakistan's military and its intelligence service nine ways to jumu'ah.

But how could they be, what with a CIA so deficient it was shocked when India conducted an underground nuclear test in May 1998, shortly followed by a tit-for-tat underground explosion by neighboring Pakistan.

"The reporting from the CIA's station in New Delhi was lazy," as Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Tim Weiner writes in "Legacy of Ashes," a history of the CIA published earlier this year. "The warning bell never rang. The test revealed a failure of espionage, a failure to read photographs, a failure to comprehend reports, a failure to think, and a failure to see . . . a clear sign of a systemic breakdown."

The Pakistan Army, which controls the nuclear arsenal, may well be pro-Western, as experts assure us. But the country's powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which the U.S. used in training, arming and funding Afghanistan's mujahedeen rebels against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, has had ties to al-Qaida from its beginnings during that era.

What power would the ISI — or extreme elements within it — have over Pakistan's nukes if things got worse there?

All relevant questions. And it should be noted: Musharraf is 64 years old. He's not getting any younger. Maybe he'll last another 20 years. Maybe 20 days. But even if not now, the time will come when we have to face the facts of a changing Pakistan.

And the criticism of our lack of intelligence capabilities, especially after already having been burnt in 1998, just bolsters one's opinion of their incompetence. Like I said a couple days ago when noting their hiring of a Hezbollah-supporter, they're experts at leaking information to the New York Times. But at recruiting spies and infiltrating enemy organizations? Not so much.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are far more concerned with opposing all things Bush than they are preventing that fourth hijacked plane from slamming into their own Capital Hill building!

Brian Faughan explains:

Was it really less than a month ago that House leaders tried to pass a deeply flawed rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by running roughshod over the opposition? As we covered at the time, the House leadership version of FISA actually makes it harder to conduct surveillance of terrorists in a number of ways. For example, it requires a court order for surveillance any time a call might involve an American. Since we do not know who a terrorist may call in advance, it essentially requires a court order to target foreigners overseas.

It also subjects military intelligence to FISA--so our forces in Iraq, for example, would require a court order before being permitted to listen in on communications by suspected terrorists. It would also require intelligence agencies to compile a database of U.S. citizens potentially involved in targeted communications.

Observers of this debate will recall that when the Democrats tried to ram the bill through with no debate last month, they were stymied by a proposed 'motion to recommit' that would have said that nothing in the bill would prevent the United States 'from conducting surveillance needed to prevent Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization…from attacking the United States.' Democrats complained both that the bill already contained this protection, and that they had to vote against it--which would have effectively killed the bill.

What have the Democrats learned from this experience? Not much. They have again brought their flawed FISA bill to the floor. They have not amended the bill to correct the problems it creates for intelligence agencies and they have again moved to block all amendments. The sole move they have made to ensure that this debate goes better than the first is to press all Democrats to vote against the GOP motion--no matter what it says.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

I have a real problem when people like Warren Buffet seem to say 'now that I've made my fortune we need to make it harder for those coming after me.' That is, in essence, what Buffet told the Senate Finance Committee yesterday as he argued that the Estate Tax, aka Death Tax, needed to be more stringent. Worse is the ridiculous comparison between Buffet, a billionaire, capital B, versus the millionaires (read: small business owners, self-employed) who generally put all their savings back into economy.

"I think we need to ... take a little more out of the hides of guys like me," Buffett told the panel...In 2009, the exemption level rises to $3.5 million, and by 2010 the estate tax will be repealed—but only for a year....Unless Congress changes the law, it comes roaring back in 2011 with an exemption threshold of only $1 million and a top tax rate of 55 percent.

..."Instead of the free market determining when assets are bought or sold, the death tax makes that determination," said the panel's top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. "There is something fundamentally wrong when the government swoops in after a funeral to take a cut of what that person had worked their whole life for, and has already paid taxes on at least once."

Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., citing information from the IRS, said that of nearly 2.5 million deaths in 2004, about 19,300 estates paid the estate tax.

Lawmakers and interest groups on both sides of the debate see several potential compromises, perhaps by freezing the exemption rate at $3.5 million and capping the tax rate at 35 percent.

Grassley is absolutely correct -- the sin here is that this money has already been taxed at least once, and often twice or more (income, capital gains, etc.).

Meanwhile, the so-called "inequality gap" becomes an argument that wealthy but guilt-ridden liberals often use in their demand to soak the rich in more taxes. The country's Buffets don't stop at the Estate Tax -- which at least isn't aimed at income -- but generally call for higher income taxes (i.e., a tax on being productive).

But there's nothing "fair" or sensible about addressing income gaps but punishing the successful.

Josh Hendrickson's analogy is spot on: For example, the most frequent solution to income inequality, and the one advocated by [NYT's Paul] Krugman in nearly every interview about his book, is higher taxes on those at the top of the income scale. While this may give the appearance of lessening inequality, in actuality it does very little. Essentially, it is equivalent to twisting the ankle of the fastest runner in the world in an attempt to make other runners faster. In no way does this make other runners faster.
As has been said for generations, socialism creates "equality" by making everyone equally miserable.

Call it what it is, limosuine liberal phoniness. Don Luskin brought up the obvious solution in a column yesterday: Were Warren Buffet, George Soros, Bill Gates, etc., truly concerned with Treasury Department revenues and they could certainly change that:

To be fair, our tax system is indeed voluntary in certain respects. For example, wealthy liberals like Warren Buffett, who call publicly for higher taxes on the rich in the name of fairness, can volunteer to pay more themselves any time they wish to do so. All Mr. Buffett has to do is send a check to Department G -- that's G for "gift" -- at the Bureau of the Public Debt in Parkersburg, W.Va.

Why not try an experiment in which the tax system is made truly voluntary? Already 42 states (as well as the District of Columbia and0 Puerto Rico) raise revenues with lotteries, through which citizens voluntarily paid $57 billion last year. It's a long and noble tradition. Before the birth of Christ, the Han Dynasty ran lotteries to raise the revenues used to build the Great Wall of China.

Government could be entirely financed by voluntary taxation. Yes, the government would have to be small enough to make do, and citizens would have to be sufficiently public-minded about it. But all 13 original American colonies ran lotteries, and playing them was considered a civic duty. Proceeds from lotteries established Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, and William and Mary -- and paid for the cannons that defeated England in the Revolutionary War.

But today, Mr. [NY Rep. Charles] Rangel might find that the volunteerism in today's tax system is a dangerous thing. His bill would raise the tax rate on capital gains income, but the cap-gains tax is voluntary to the extent that one doesn't have to pay it until one chooses to sell an appreciated asset. That fact is not lost on Mr. Buffett, who believes the rich should pay more taxes, but who has never volunteered to sell even one share of his vast holdings in Berkshire Hathaway -- and thus has never volunteered to pay any cap-gains taxes.

What if every investor did that? It's nice to imagine a nation of long-term investors just like Mr. Buffett. But if stockholders never sold any of their investments, the economy, incomes and job creation would slow to a crawl because a growing economy depends on capital moving freely and continuously to its perceived highest and best use.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

[Washington Post] A Lebanese national who fraudulently gained U.S. citizenship through a sham marriage managed to obtain sensitive jobs at both the FBI and CIA, and at one point used her security clearance to access restricted files about the terrorist group Hezbollah, according to court documents filed yesterday.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence that Nada Nadim Prouty, 37, passed secrets to Hezbollah or to other groups the United States considers terrorist. But Prouty's ability to conceal her past from two of the nation's top anti-terrorism agencies raised new concerns about their vulnerability to infiltration.

"It is hard to imagine a greater threat than the situation where a foreign national uses fraud to attain citizenship and then, based on that fraud, insinuates herself into a sensitive position in the U.S. government," said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy in a statement announcing a plea agreement with Prouty.

...In 2000, she accessed restricted FBI computer files on Hezbollah, according to court documents, apparently to see whether family members had been linked to the Lebanon-based group. Prouty also improperly took home unspecified classified documents, according to her plea agreement. Justice officials said there is no indication that the classified records were shared with others. ... Prouty's case is also notable because of her ability to gain improper access to files in the Automated Case System, the FBI's antiquated computer network. The FBI has bungled repeated attempts to replace ACS and is unlikely to have a new system in place for several years.

According to the article Prouty "passed an FBI polygraph test with 'no deception noted.'" This isn't some sophisticated trained foreign spy, this is just an interpreter.

To say that this leaves one feeling disconcerted about the competencies of our intelligence services is an understatement. As others have often noted, how was John Walker Lindh able to infiltrate al Qaeda but the CIA or FBI cannot? The excuse back then was that it would take time to rebuild our intelligence services. Well, here it is six years after 9-11 and the intel community seems to have far more success in leaking classified documents to The New York Times than it does doing it's job. Bush may come and go but unfortunately it seems we're stuck with these bozos forever.

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On the topic of blatantly skewed media coverage there's just nothing that surprises me anymore... found via NewsBusters.

[Newsweek press release] New York — Markos Moulitsas, the founder and publisher of, will become a Newsweek contributor for the 2008 presidential campaign, offering occasional opinion pieces to the pages of the magazine and to

"We have always sought to represent a diversity of views in Newsweek, and we think Markos will be a great part of that tradition," said Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham. "He will give our readers in print and online a unique perspective. As always, our job is to create the most energetic and illuminating magazine possible, and Markos will help us do that as the campaign unfolds."

Boy, this move takes gall. The only thing "illuminating" is that Newsweek apparently has no issue with putting on their payroll a guy whose website routinely raises money for Democrat candidates! This is objective journalism? This is balance? This isn't a blatant conflict of interest?

A "diversity of views"? Read: diversity equals conservatives need not apply. And what's so "unique perspective" as a weekly column of "Bush lied. People died?" Moulitsas' viewpoint is so far to the left one would be hard pressed to find anyone more left. This guy's socialist dribble would make Karl Marx blush.

Let me know when Newsweek hires Markos' political polar opposite, maybe like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. Now, it's being stated that Newsweek will indeed hire a conservative to balance out Moulitsas, but a Newsweek staff of registered Democrats hiring one lefty and one righty does not create balance.

The point is that Newsweek already had a plethoria of liberal writers espousing liberal views. Just because Moulitsas is more liberal doesn't make the average Newsweek writer a "moderate." Nor does it make the publication moderate.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Other Republicans used to accuse him of kissing up to the news media. But when the Iraq war was at its worst, and other candidates were hiding in the grass waiting to see how things would turn out, McCain championed the surge, which the major Republican candidates now

He did it knowing that it would cost him his media-darling status and probably the presidency. But for years he had hated the way the war was being fought. And when the opportunity to change it came, the only honorable course was to try.

-- NYT columnist David Brooks on John McCain.

Like I said previously, there are just a few big down sides to supporting McCain. But his stance on Iraq, as Brooks says, even when unpopular, is the very definition of leadership.

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Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman came down hard on his fellow Democrats (albeit Joe's technically an indy) in a speech at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Here's an excerpt of his comments, all true at that:

"For many Democrats, the guiding conviction in foreign policy isn't pacifism or isolationism, it is distrust and disdain of Republicans in general, and President Bush in particular. In this regard, the Democratic foreign policy worldview has become defined by the same reflexive, blind opposition to the President that defined Republicans in the 1990s — even when it means repudiating the very principles and policies that Democrats as a party have stood for, at our best and strongest."

The Bush administrations post-9/11 ideological conversion confronted Democrats with an awkward choice. Should we welcome the president's foreign policy flip-flop? Or should Democrats match it with a flip-flop of our own?"

"I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework that the president articulated for the War on Terror as our own — because it was our own. It was our legacy ... But that was not the choice most Democrats made. Instead, they flip-flopped."

"Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus' new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving, or even that that progress has enabled us to begin drawing down our troops there."

"There is something profoundly wrong — something that should trouble all of us — when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran's murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops.

"There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base, even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime."

Call Lieberman the last of a dying breed -- the Truman Democrats. Bolstering Lieberman's point is this statistic. Of 40 Democrat-sponsored bills, according to The Politico, "Only one of those has passed both chambers, even though both are run by Democrats. That one was vetoed by Bush."

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We've all heard the stories, many true, some apocryphal, of soldiers returning home from Vietnam only to be disrespected and shunned by an ungrateful nation. How many were called war criminals or spat upon is as controversial as it is unknowable. But there's one thing we know our troops never experienced. We never filled the movie theaters during wartime with films calling them war criminals, rapists and, figuratively, spitting on them or on their mission.

Not so today. Hollywood has been churning out antiwar movies at a blistering pace of late, with more to come. We've already had Rendition, a tendentious, plodding assault on the war on terror, seemingly as-told-to by the ACLU, starring Reese Witherspoon, Peter Sarsgaard, Meryl Streep and Jake Gyllenhaal. There's the meandering In the Valley of Elah, written and directed by Paul Haggis, about a family dealing with a cover-up of their soldier-son's death in an unnecessary war. The Kingdom, more exciting than most, deals with an FBI team's attempt to investigate a terrorist attack on Americans in Saudi Arabia. Its antiwar credentials come from suggesting that the sworn lawmen (and women) investigating the slaughter of families playing softball are no better than the murderers.

Coming next month: Lions for Lambs, starring Tom Cruise, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep — which gives every indication of being a theatrical version of a loaded question from Helen Thomas at a White House briefing — and Redacted, a fake documentary directed by Brian De Palma, in which U.S. troops are depicted as dehumanized rapists. Next spring comes Stop Loss, starring Ryan Phillippe, the supposedly heroic soldier who refuses to fight. And there are a slew of antiwar books being adapted for the screen as well.

To be sure, many of these films don't attack the troops directly. Some are thoughtful in their critiques, others less so. Regardless, this is still uncharted territory. "These movies certainly are more willing to be critical of the military and misconduct of individual soldiers. Certainly no such feature was made like these during ... the Vietnam War," Charles Ferguson, a political scientist and creator of the anti-Iraq war documentary, No End In Sight, recently told The Philadelphia Inquirer. But here's the interesting part: So far, these movies are tanking. Rendition opened on 2,250 screens, with three Oscar winners in the cast, and it was beaten its opening weekend by a re-release of the 14-year-old A Nightmare Before Christmas. Elah was a bigger bomb than those used in the "shock and awe" campaign. The Kingdom earned less than $50 million, and surely only did that well because it was marketed as an action movie rather than an antiwar one. Jeanine Basinger, a film historian at Wesleyan University, speculates that "these films are coming forward during the progress of a war and questioning it sooner may mean that the general public is rejecting what our leaders are telling us ... and want to know more about the war."

This is an odd, yet unsurprising, interpretation in an age when The Daily Show is a primary news source.

The public doesn't get to decide what movies are made. As President Bush might say, Hollywood is the "decider." The public determines which movies are successful. Perhaps the studios of yesteryear knew something today's moguls don't. Maybe Americans don't like to see America and her troops run down, even during an unpopular war.

When Peter Berg tested The Kingdom on Americans, he was horrified when the audience cheered when the FBI killed the terrorists at the end. "Am I experiencing American bloodlust?" the director agonized. Berg's contemptuous reaction toward American audiences may point to a few of the reasons these movies are faring poorly at American box offices.

First, economics. Hollywood cares less and less about what Americans think of their products because as domestic movie attendance has declined, Hollywood shifted its aim to foreign markets. In America, filmmakers are at pains to insist their antiwar fare isn't anti-American. No such distinctions need be made when these films open at Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Denouncing the war isn't only good marketing in Europe, it's the fastest route to critical acclaim.

Second, Americans may not be as passionately opposed to the war as the polls have led Hollywood to believe. Left-wing bloggers, hyper-rich Democratic donors and antiwar activists hate the war with biblical fury. But many average Americans are depressed by the war because, until recently, it was going so badly. The polls don't capture this distinction very well.

This illuminates an underdiscussed dynamic of our times. Americans are both antiwar and anti-antiwar. Polls show they are disgusted with Republicans and Democrats. Hollywood and the left generally have misread this political discontent thinking there's a mandate for their trite Vietnam-era nostalgia for mass protest and Joan Baez speechifying. But few Americans are eager to spend their money to listen to the Jane Fonda set say, "I told you so!" for two hours. Especially not when we've heard it all before. (Indeed, Redacted is essentially a remake of his Vietnam movie Casualties of War.)

By confusing the public's war-weariness with their own carefully cultivated rage, they've badly overreached. Rage may be a good box office draw; exhaustion isn't. The late film critic Pauline Kael is reported to have said that Nixon couldn't have won because she didn't know anybody who voted for him. Similarly, maybe everyone Paul Haggis knows shares his hatred for the war, but he just doesn't know enough people to make a hit.

-- Jonah Goldberg

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The Harvard study — conducted with the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press — examined 1,742 presidential campaign stories appearing from January through May in 48 print, online, network TV, cable and radio news outlets.

Among many findings, it determined that Democrats got more coverage than Republicans (49% of the stories vs. 31%). It also found the "tone" of the coverage was more positive for Democrats (35% to 26% for Republicans).

"In other words," the authors say, "not only did the Republicans receive less coverage overall, the attention they did get tended to be more negative than that of Democrats. And in some specific media genres, the difference is particularly striking."

Those "genres" include the most mainstream of media — newspapers and TV. Fully 59% of front-page stories about Democrats in 11 newspapers had a "clear, positive message vs. 11% that carried a negative tone."

For "top-tier" candidates, the difference was even more apparent: Barack Obama's coverage was 70% positive and 9% negative, and Hillary Clinton's was 61% positive and 13% negative.

By contrast, 40% of the stories on Republican candidates were negative and 26% positive.

On TV, evening network newscasts gave 49% of their campaign coverage to the Democrats and 28% to Republicans. As for tone, 39.5% of the Democratic coverage was positive vs. 17.1%, while 18.6% of the Republican coverage was positive and 37.2% negative.

-- Investors Business Daily

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The Hoover Institute's David Henderson has an interesting take on what to do with the Strategic Oil Reserve: sell it.

Henderson contends that the US government could have better influance over the price of oil and actually make a profit by balancing the oil price against the futures market. Pretty interesting.

For quite a while now, the spot price of oil -- that is, the price at which you can buy or sell oil for delivery today -- has been well above the futures price. The futures price is the price at which you can buy or sell oil for delivery at a specified time in the future. For example, on Friday, Nov. 9, the price on the New York Mercantile Exchange of light sweet crude oil for December delivery was $96.32 a barrel and the futures price for delivery in December 2008 was $87.60 -- $8.72 a barrel lower. This relatively unusual time structure of oil prices is called "backwardation."

...You can't, I can't, and oil companies can't, but there is one entity that, in a sense, can reverse arbitrage [buying oil from the future and selling it today]. That entity is the U.S. government. Why? Because the U.S. government is sitting on a large reserve of oil, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which now holds about 700 million barrels of oil. This is enough oil to provide about 10% of daily U.S. oil consumption for a year. And if the U.S. government got smart about selling the oil -- a big if -- it would make money for the Treasury and help consumers by bringing oil prices down. Moreover, the government could make even more money, with minimal risk to the economy, by selling the SPR oil altogether.

Imagine, for example, that the U.S. government began today to sell two million barrels a day and make up for the loss by buying today the same amount in the December 2008 futures market at $87.60. If it earned the spot price of $96.32 on each barrel and had a $1 per-barrel transactions cost, it would make $7.72 a barrel. The government would make daily profits of $15.44 million. If the differential in prices persisted, the feds would make $5.6 billion a year. This is chicken feed to the federal government but it would allow the feds to cut some tax that yields $5.6 billion. If the hated Alternative Minimum Tax is not reformed this calendar year, for example, it will capture about 20 million new victims. Reverse arbitrage would give these new victims an average relief of $280.

Of course, if the government did sell two million barrels a day, that would bring down the world price of oil; so the U.S. government would not benefit as much as I have estimated. But Americans as a whole would benefit. We import approximately 12 million barrels of our 20 million-barrel-a-day consumption. A two million barrel-per-day increase in the world oil supply, on top of the current world supply of 85 million barrels, is a 2.4% increase.

Assuming, as seems reasonable, a highly inelastic world demand for oil of about 0.2, this 2.4% increase would bring oil prices down by 12%, or about $12 a barrel, essentially wiping out the backwardation in oil prices and wiping out the gain to the U.S. Treasury. While oil producers would lose $12 a barrel, oil consumers would gain $12 a barrel. But it would not be a wash for Americans because the loss to U.S. oil producers would be only on their production, which is only 40% of U.S. consumption. So the net gain to the U.S. from a $12 per-barrel price drop would be $144 million a day (12 million of imports at $12 a barrel less) or $53 billion a year. Now that's real money.

SPR oil has been sold before. In 2000, when the spot price exceeded the futures price, the Clinton administration sold oil from the SPR, much too little, but still a step in the right direction.

There's an even more radical step the U.S. government should take that would benefit consumers also while benefiting the government. The government should sell the SPR oil and not replace it. If the government made even $80 a barrel on its 700 million barrels, it would make $56 billion, which is serious money even to the feds.

Many will argue that selling the reserve is a bad idea because then we would be unprotected from the vagaries of world oil markets. This is false. Speculators who anticipate future shortfalls would act in oil markets the way they do in wheat markets, buying oil in anticipation of higher future prices. This would dampen future price increases in oil markets, doing a big favor for future consumers. That's better than the federal government does, which, even as you read this, is stupidly buying $90 oil to fill the SPR.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

From the ever-thoughtful Victor Davis Hanson:

Politically correct history has also made us indifferent to the sacrifice of the soldier. The Civil War, we are sometimes told, was not really over slavery anyway. The Great War was unnecessary infighting among European aristocracies. World War II is now as much the Japanese Internment, Rosy the Riveter, and Hiroshima, as saving Europe and Asia from a racist slavery at places like Falaise and Tarawa. Does anyone make the connection between a Samsung television or Kia in our showrooms with the bloody see-saw struggles for Seoul? Why is a Noriega in jail, why are Milosevic and Saddam bad memories, and why are men walking without beards in Kabul?

What American from Tulare or Lansing died for all that — and the larger notion that dictators were to be fought and defeated far away, rather than here at home? Do we still appreciate that our soldiers, so many of whom have perished to keep us free — and yet also freed a defeated enemy as well from a Hitler, or Tojo, or the Taliban — knowing that had they failed our enemies, would not be so magnanimous?

In our sophistication, perhaps too we think we should have evolved beyond war, the nature of man at last changed for good through greater education, affluence, and experience. Commemorating war’s toll, then, for some, may be like recalling cancer — as if the oncologist and soldier alike somehow are tainted by the respective horror of what they must do.

Or is the problem that our military has become so adept — or so small a percentage of the population — that we are only vaguely cognizant of far-off places like Basra, Bosnia, Grenada, Kandahar, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mogadishu, or Panama — battlefields where someone else in the military did something for some apparently necessary reason? Most Americans have little clue whether any of our own died the last twenty years in Panama or were lost in Mogadishu. Or if so, how and why?

We should remember on this Veterans Day that some very young people — with long futures, in the prime of health, and at the center of their families — died for the rest of us. They lost their lives not just for us to watch an OJ outburst in Vegas or American Idol, but for the idea that we — most often not so young, not so hale, and not with such bright futures as our soldiers — could be free at their expense; free, not merely from being conquered or enslaved, but free from the very thought of it.



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