Thursday, May 31, 2007

DAVID BROOKS: Back to Basics

This week Fred Thompson gave a speech in Connecticut during which two words did not cross his lips: George Bush. But that’s all right. Thompson recently gave speeches in Virginia and California during which he scarcely mentioned Bush either. In the world Thompson described, the current Washington players are most notable for being trapped in that undifferentiated swamp we call Washington politics.

That’s because the divide that engages Thompson most is not the ideological one between liberals and conservatives or between this or that brand of conservatism. It’s the divide between concentrated power and decentralized power.

Thompson’s core theme is that there is a disconnect between the American people and their rulers. He campaigns against concentrated Republican power almost as much as he does against concentrated Democratic power. Though a Republican, he’s able to launch a reasonably nonpartisan attack on the way government has worked over the last 19 years.

This suspicion of concentrated power in general and Washington in particular is not some election-year conversion for Thompson. It stretches back his whole life. He began his career, remember, investigating the Nixon White House. As Stephen Hayes reminded us in The Weekly Standard, as a young staffer on the Senate Watergate committee, Thompson asked the question that revealed the existence of the White House tapes.

He went home to Tennessee and became a protégé of Howard Baker, whose party apparatus has always had a folksy, country vs. capital ethos.

As a senator, Thompson investigated the Clinton campaign finance scandals (poorly), and established a reputation on one issue above all others: federalism. He was the only senator who voted against something called the Good Samaritan law because he thought it centralized power in the national government. He was that rarest of creatures — someone who not only preached federalism to get to Washington, but practiced it after he arrived.

Today on the stump he talks about discovering Barry Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative” while in law school. He campaigns against the immigration bill because he doesn’t think Washington can be counted on to keep its promises. His main complaint with the war on terror is that Al Qaeda has a 100-year plan while most Washington politicians “have a plan until the next election.”

He tells party strategists that there is a tide in the country against the way Washington does business, which he is best positioned to ride. He says the 2006 election was not primarily about Iraq, it was about corruption and pork-barrel spending.

What Thompson’s campaign represents, then, is a return to basics. It’s not primarily engaged in the issues that have dominated recent G.O.P. politics. Thompson is campaigning to restore America’s constitutional soul. He’s going back to Madison and Jefferson and the decentralized federalism of the founders, at least as channeled through Goldwater. As Thompson himself said while running for Senate, “America’s government is bringing America down, and the only thing that can change that is a return to the basics.”

Thompson thus becomes one pole in the debate now roiling the G.O.P. Nobody is running as the continuation of Bush. The big question now is: should the party go back to the basics or should it jump forward and transform itself into something new? Thompson articulates the back-to-basics view in its purest form. Newt Gingrich articulates the transformational view in its purest form. The other candidates are a mishmash in between.

If I were a political consultant I would tell my candidate to play up Thompson’s back-to-basics theme. This is a traumatized party, not in the mood for anything risky and new. But over the long run, back to basics is no solution because it doesn’t produce a positive agenda for today’s problems.

Fred Thompson’s political skills are as good as anybody now running, but his challenge is going to be building a concrete agenda on his anti-Washington message. It will be translating his Goldwater risorgimento philosophy into policies on energy, health care reform, Islamic extremism and education. For if there is one thing the last 30 years have taught us, it is that campaigns that are strictly anti-Washington do not command 50 percent of the vote because they don’t address the decentralized global challenges that now face us.

Perhaps what the G.O.P. needs is Newt Gingrich’s brain lodged in Fred Thompson’s temperament.

Paul Krugman is on vacation.

Liberty University student held after testimony of violent plans

USA Today

A federal judge on Thursday refused to release from jail a Liberty University student charged with possessing a bomb the night before the Rev. Jerry Falwell's funeral, saying there was compelling evidence he could pose a danger.

Michael David Uhl told authorities he did not intend to hurt anyone, according to testimony from a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

But the agent, R.A. Davidson, also testified that the 19-year-old had other plans for violence, including a plot with a friend to disrupt a prom at his former high school in northern Virginia with heated homemade pepper spray.

A search of Uhl's computer turned up photographs of Adolf Hitler and young adults giving a Nazi salute, with one caption that said "I love Hitler," the agent said. Other photographs showed Uhl and others giving what is considered a gang sign, the agent said.

White House regrets failure to do more blog outreach

Think Progress

White House communications aides are expressing regret for failing to utiltize bloggers as a way to “catapult Bush’s propaganda.” Bulletin News (sub. req.) reports:

“We didn’t use the new tools of communication” like the Internet, blogs and mobile technology, said a former key official. As a result, added another official, the President’s message was filtered through the mainstream press which eventually got bored with the story and stopped reporting the President’s repetitive messages. “You’ve got to use the new tools. They can reach far more people than TV or the papers,” said an administration official. “A video on the Internet or some blogging can reach millions and we should have played with that much more,” said the official. White House insiders, however, dismissed the complaints, mostly from former communications officials, claiming that they have worked with bloggers and non-traditional media but that the tide has turned against them.

Shilling For Justice Department, Kyl Placed Secret Hold On Open Government Act

Think Progress

Last week, ThinkProgress noted that a bill called the OPEN Government Act had been locked down in the Senate by a secret hold. The bill in question is a “bipartisan effort to update the seminal Freedom of Information Act to make the government more open and accountable.” The act would:

– Restore meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA;

– Impose real consequences on federal agencies for missing statutory deadlines;

– Establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and

– Create a FOIA Ombudsman as an alternative to costly litigation.

When Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) tried to bring the bill to a vote on the floor, “the vote was blocked by ‘Senator Anonymous.’ Some Republican senator called the Minority Leader’s office and objected to a vote on the bill, but asked for anonymity and did not publicly state the reason for the hold.”

The man behind the secret hold has now revealed himself: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Kyl’s excuse for placing a hold on the bill? Alberto Gonzales’ Justice Department opposes several provisions:

Kyl says the Justice Department is concerned that it could force them to reveal sensitive information.

In a statement Thursday, Kyl said the agency’s “uncharacteristically strong” opposition is reason enough to think twice about the legislation, and he will block a vote until both sides can work out the differences.

Kyl’s water-carrying for the Justice Department is untenable. The OPEN Government Act has overwhelmingly passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. Similar legislation in the House passed in March by 308 to 117. Kyl needs to get out of the way. As Sen. Leahy put it, “This is a good government bill that Democrats and Republicans alike can and should work together to enact. It should be passed without further delay.

Change in the Weather

“Seeking to end America’s isolation on the issue of global climate change, President Bush called today for the 15 countries that are major producers of greenhouse gases to confer this fall and adopt a common goal on curbing emissions,” The Times tells us.

Is this a major breakthrough, or should we feel the president’s proposal “just re-warms old ideas,” as Rep. Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, put it?

David Roberts at Grist is unimpressed:

This announcement from Bush is not a genuine change of heart on climate change. The U.S. still will not agree to any emission reduction targets. It will not agree that the developed countries bear primary responsibility for climate change. It will not sign on to the growing consensus among developed nations about how to tackle the problem. This announcement is an attempt to run out the clock on the Bush administration without committing to anything but sweetheart deals for corporate backers.

Daniel Drezner is also skeptical, but hopeful: “If Bush can even convince China and India to attend this proposed meeting, he’ll have achieved a significant political victory. Why? Because by their very attendance, China and India will be implicitly acknowledging that they are part of the global warming problem.”

The Bush administration doesn’t all seem to be on the same page here, however. Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science reports that Michael Griffin, the NASA administrator, had made these interesting comments on NPR’s “Morning Edition” today:

I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. … I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.

“I’m not sure this is an argument you can sell in an island nation that’s on a trajectory to being underwater,” retorts Stemwedel. “And irreversible changes seem like a different kind of thing from little temporary fluctuations. If they turn out to be very bad for a significant number of people, you’re kind of stuck. More broadly, Griffin seems almost to be saying that just because scientists can build understanding of phenomena, you ought not to try to stick them with any of the responsibility for intervening on them.”

Well, while everybody else is looking at the long term, a few scientists are sticking with the here and almost now. Chris C. Mooney at The Intersection tells us that two of the nation’s premier hurricane forecasters, Phil Klotzbach and Bill Gray of Colorado State University, have given their prediction for the upcoming season: “17 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 5 intense hurricanes.” The key factors, according to Mooney: “Warm sea surface temperatures…and relatively weak trade winds over the Atlantic (meaning less surface evaporation, and thus less heat getting out of the ocean).”

How does the expected storm count compare to past years? Let’s just say that if you’re scouring Expedia for an idyllic week in Barbados this fall, be sure to click on the vacation insurance box.


Friends Like These

  • Who is the big loser if Fred Thompson really joins the Republican presidential race? Taegan Goddard, as usual, has a good guess:

    The most striking thing about a Thompson candidacy is that his strategy of raising money in June threatens to derail his long time ally, Sen. John McCain, who must show progress in his own fundraising after a disappointing first quarter. Thompson backed McCain in his previous White House bid. The Arizona Republic quotes a resigned McCain: “Fred’s a very good friend. I guess my words are, ‘Come on in, the water’s fine.’”

  • At the Huffington Post, Sally Satel, psychiatrist and kidney recipient, gives a mixed blessing to the upcoming Dutch reality TV show in which a dying woman will decide which of three contestants will receive her kidney: “It’s crazy alright. And, yes, sick and shocking. But despite my discomfort, I’m for it. Sensationalism is a powerful way to call attention to the desperate shortage of kidneys and to the tens of thousands of needless deaths each year that occur all over the world because not enough altruistic donors step forward.”

  • Technoblogger Virginia Postrel, who not coincidentally was the one who donated a kidney to Satel, cheers her friend on: “It’s about time somebody with some clout got angry about this egregious situation. Kidney patients need ACT-UP. Instead, they’ve got the way-too-complacent National Kidney Foundation, an organization more for doctors than patients.”

  • – Tobin Harshaw

    U.S. to admit more Iraqi refugees

    WASHINGTON — The United States will soon begin admitting a bigger trickle of the more than 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq, acknowledging for the first time the country may never be safe for some who have helped the U.S.

    After months of agonizing delays and withering criticism from advocacy groups and lawmakers, the Bush administration has finalized new guidelines to screen Iraqi refugees, including those seeking asylum because helping the Americans has put them at huge risk.

    The 2 million-plus people — the fastest growing refugee population in the world — have left Iraq, but Washington has balked at allowing them into the United States for security reasons.

    Since the war began in 2003, fewer than 800 Iraqi refugees have been admitted, angering critics who argued the United States is obligated to assist many more, particularly those whose work for American agencies or contractors placed them in danger.

    Now, under enhanced screening measures aimed at weeding out potential terrorists — announced this week by the Department of Homeland Security — the administration plans to allow nearly 7,000 Iraqis to resettle in the United States by the end of September.....

    Report: In Meeting, ‘Wild-Eyed’ Bush Thumped Chest While Repeating ‘I Am The President!’

    Think Progress

    Georgie Anne Geyer writes today in the Dallas Morning News about President Bush’s strange behavior during a recent meeting with “[f]riends of his from Texas.”

    But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

    Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated “I am the president!” He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny.”

    This is the second time in recent weeks that accounts have surfaced of Bush lashing out or “ranting” in private meetings when responding to criticism of his Iraq policy. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report offered a similar account earlier this month:

    [S]ome big money players up from Texas recently paid a visit to their friend in the White House. The story goes that they got out exactly one question, and the rest of the meeting consisted of The President in an extended whine, a rant, actually, about no one understands him, the critics are all messed up, if only people would see what he’s doing things would be OK…etc., etc. This is called a “bunker mentality” and it’s not attractive when a friend does it. When the friend is the President of the United States, it can be downright dangerous. Apparently the Texas friends were suitably appalled, hence the story now in circulation.

    Like the tearful House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Bush needs to channel his bottled up emotions towards a more worthy end — winding down the war in Iraq rather than defending the status quo.

    Rival insurgent groups clash in Baghdad

    BAGHDAD, May 31 (Reuters) - Sunni Muslim Iraqi insurgents fought fierce battles on Thursday with al Qaeda-led militants for control of a neighbourhood in Baghdad that has effectively been outside government control for months.

    Residents said the fighting in the southwestern district of Amiriya was between the Islamic Army in Iraq, one of the largest insurgent groups fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces, and the Qaeda-led Islamic State in Iraq.

    It was not clear how many people had been killed in several days of fighting. Residents gave varying death tolls while the police had no comment. Iraqi security forces rarely venture into the area.

    Last month, the Islamic Army urged al Qaeda, which is driven by foreign fighters, to review its policies of indiscriminate killings that have alienated home-grown insurgent groups.

    The Islamic Army is mainly made up of former army officers and supporters of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

    An elderly man, who was too afraid to give his name, said the clashes had prompted many people to flee the area on foot and shop owners to close their stores.

    On Iraq, Bush Says Public is With Him

    WASHINGTON - Confronted with strong opposition to his Iraq policies, President George W. Bush decides to interpret public opinion his own way. Actually, he says, people agree with him.

    Democrats view the November elections that gave them control of Congress as a mandate to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. They are backed by evidence; election exit poll surveys by The Associated Press and television networks found 55 percent saying the U.S. should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq.

    Bush says Democrats have it all wrong: the public does not want the troops pulled out - they want to give the military more support in its mission.

    "Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted a change in our strategy in Iraq," he said April 24, ahead of a veto showdown with congressional Democrats over their desire to legislation a troop withdrawal timeline. "I listened. Today, General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course."

    Iran says dead rebels had U.S.-made arms

    TEHRAN, May 31 (Reuters) - Rebels killed in clashes with Iranian forces this week had recently infiltrated border areas of the Islamic Republic carrying U.S.-made arms, an Iranian commander was quoted as saying on Thursday.

    Ten rebels and seven Iranian border guards were killed in clashes in a northwestern area close to Turkey, according to Iranian media reports on Wednesday and Thursday.

    "The weapons ... included M16 weapons which are being provided through channels linked to forces present in the region," General Rastegar-Panah, identified only with his last name, told state radio.

    The report referred to "American-made weaponry and arms".

    Tehran often accuses its old foe the United States, which invaded Iraq in 2003, of trying to undermine Iran's security by backing insurgents operating in sensitive border regions.....

    U.S.: Dead Detainee Was of High Value

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A Saudi Arabian detainee who apparently committed suicide at Guantanamo Bay had been held at the prison camp reserved for the least compliant and most "high-value" inmates, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday.

    The Saudi government identified the man who died Wednesday as Abdul Rahman Maadha al-Amry. A spokesman for the kingdom's Interior Ministry, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, said it was too early to judge how al-Amry died.

    The U.S. military has not confirmed the detainee's identity or explained how it arrived at the conclusion that he probably committed suicide.

    "The actual cause of death is under investigation," Southern Command spokesman Jose Ruiz said by telephone from Miami on Thursday.....

    Putin: U.S. Has Triggered New Arms Race

    MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that tests of new Russian missiles were a response to the planned deployment of U.S. missile defense installations and other forces in Europe, suggesting Washington has triggered a new arms race.

    In a clear reference to the United States, he harshly criticized "imperialism" in global affairs and warned that Russia will strengthen its military potential to maintain a global strategic balance.

    "It wasn't us who initiated a new round of arms race," Putin said when asked about Russia's missile tests this week at a news conference after talks in the Kremlin with Greek President Karolos Papoulias.

    Putin described the tests of a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads and a new cruise missile as part of the Russian response to the planned deployment of new U.S. military bases and missile defense sites in ex-Soviet satellites in Central and Eastern Europe.

    He assailed the United States and other NATO members for failing to ratify an amended version of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which limits the deployment of heavy non-nuclear weapons around the continent.

    "We have signed and ratified the CFE and are fully implementing it. We have pulled out all our heavy weapons from the European part of Russia to (locations) behind the Ural Mountains and cut our military by 300,000 men," Putin said.....

    Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    Lieberman Confronted By Troops In Iraq: ‘When Are We Going To Get Out Of Here?’

    Think Progress

    McClatchy reports tonight on Spc. David Williams, who collected questions for Lieberman from 30 other troops.

    At the top of his note card was the question he got from nearly every one of his fellow soldiers:

    “When are we going to get out of here?”

    The rest was a laundry list. When would they have upgraded Humvees that could withstand the armor-penetrating weapons that U.S. officials claim are from Iran? When could they have body armor that was better in hot weather?

    Williams missed six months of his girlfriend’s pregnancy when he was given six days’ notice to return to Iraq for his second tour. He also missed his baby boy’s birth. Three weeks ago, he went home and saw his first child.

    “He looks just like me,” he said. “I didn’t want to come back. . . . We’re waiting to get blown up.” […]

    Next to him, Spc. Will Hedin, 21, of Chester, Conn., thought about what he was going to say.

    “We’re not making any progress,” Hedin said, as he recalled a comrade who was shot by a sniper last week. “It just seems like we drive around and wait to get shot at. … It’s just more troops, more targets.”

    In the past two months, the unit has lost two men. In May alone, at least 120 U.S. troops died in Iraq, the bloodiest month in 2007 and the highest number since the battles of Fallujah in 2004.

    Spc. Kevin Krasco, 20, of Medford, Mass., and Spc. Kevin Adams, 20, of Moosup, Conn., chimed in with their dismay before turning the conversation to baseball.

    “It’s like everything else in this war,” Adams said, referring to Baghdad. “It hasn’t changed.”

    Later, Lieberman walked in to see the soldiers “wearing a pair of sunglasses newly purchased from an Iraqi market that the military had taken him to in southeast Baghdad.” In response to their questions about leaving Iraq, Lieberman said it would be a “victory for al-Qaida and a victory for Iran.

    Mark Buchanan: Chain Reactions

    The political party that claimed it would restore “honor and dignity to the White House” has done nothing of the sort. Having on false pretenses led us into the disaster of Iraq, the administration and its supporters are now beginning – cravenly and shamefully – to shift blame onto the Iraqi people. The administration continues to hold hundreds of people without charges in secret prisons around the world, while arguing that torture is O.K. and that President Bush can disregard the laws he doesn’t like. I haven’t even mentioned illegal spying or efforts to keep scientists quiet if they’re saying the wrong thing.

    Where’s the honor and dignity?

    In her testimony last week before a House panel, Monica Goodling, the Justice Department’s liaison to the White House, admitted that she had “crossed the line” in using political considerations to judge potential Justice Department employees. She may well have broken laws that forbid political influence over civil service positions. But “crossing the line” has been business as usual for the past six years. Goodling’s behavior follows a pattern established across almost all federal agencies, where the administration has sought loyalty over competence at every turn.

    Another word for it, of course, is corruption – and it’s natural to wonder how we got so deeply mired in it. If the gathering storm of investigations forces Karl Rove and other White House officials one day to testify under oath, we may have some chance of finding out. And I suspect, if we do, that we’ll discover that honor and dignity were sacrificed at the very top. It will be a familiar story – of a few power-hungry and largely amoral political operatives, the real drivers, whose actions encouraged and directed a small army of fairly ordinary people, the Monica Goodlings of this world, many of whom were hardly aware they were doing something wrong.

    People who engage in corrupt acts often do not see them as such. This much has emerged from studies of corporate scandals and fraud at places like Enron or WorldCom. In a study two years ago, for example, business professors Vikas Anand, Blake Ashforth and Mahendra Joshi concluded that most fraud within institutions takes place through the willing cooperation of many otherwise upstanding individuals with no psychological predisposition to be criminals.

    Whether embezzling money, undermining product safety regulations, or even selling completely fake products, the perpetrators rationalize away their responsibility. They deny that they actually had any choice, saying that “everyone was doing it.” Or they deny that anyone really got hurt, so there really was no crime: “They’re a big company, they can afford to overpay us.”

    Then there’s the popular appeal to higher authority, a mechanism with special relevance, perhaps, to the loyalty-rewarding Bush administration: “I had to do it out of loyalty to my boss.”

    All of this isn’t so surprising, actually, when you realize that we like to feel good about ourselves and about those with whom we work, and that our brains have immense talent for producing reasons why we should. People engaged in corruption, the academic researchers suggest, create a kind of psychological atmosphere in which what they’re doing seems normal or even honorable. So if congressional oversight does ultimately expose the machinations behind anything from secret prisons to the United States prosecutor purge, brace yourself for a litany of the usual excuses – “We didn’t know it was wrong” and “We were told to do it.”

    But the psychology of rationalization is only part of the story. The other element in all such cases seems to be a chain-like linking together of individual actions that can undermine social norms with surprising speed – or keep them safe, sometimes if just a single person remains strong.

    In the late 1970s, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter pointed out that the differences among people – in their willingness to engage in certain kinds of acts – can lead to surprises. Think of the dance floor at a party. Some people are more than happy to be the first out there, dancing alone, but lots of the rest of us would like some others out there first. You might be willing to go out if five or six went before you, while others might require 20 or 30. Some might not go out unless everyone at the party was out there.

    The point is that each of us has a threshold for joining in, which depends on personality, the music being played and so on, but also – and this is the really important part – on how many others have already joined in. As Granovetter argued, this can make a group’s behavior extremely difficult to predict.

    Just imagine, for example, that 100 people at the party have thresholds ranging from 0 to 99. In this case, everyone will soon be dancing, you can be sure of it. The natural extrovert with threshold 0 will kick it off, soon to be joined by the person with threshold 1, and the dancing will grow, eventually involving even the reluctant people.

    But notice how delicately the outcome depends on the precise interlocking of these thresholds. If the person with threshold 1 goes home, then after the first person starts dancing the rest will simply stand by watching. With no one willing to be the second person onto the floor, there’s no chain reaction. So just one person can have a dramatic effect on the overall group.

    This is just a toy model, but it illustrates something about the logic of people joining not only dance floors, but riots or protests, trips to the pub in the evening, getting in with others to skim cash from the restaurant till – or violating well-known rules against taking political affiliation into account when hiring. Tiny differences in the group makeup, the presence or absence or a few people of the right type, might be the difference between a few renegade violators and division-wide corruption.

    I can’t help thinking of the bizarre attempt by then-White House officials Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, drugged and in the hospital, to sign off on a secret National Security Agency wiretapping program. Ashcroft – who back then I would have thought would rubber-stamp anything Bush wanted – was clearly made of sterner stuff and refused, as did Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey. Again, we won’t know how much effect these refusals had – and just how extreme the program was that Bush wanted to authorize – until someone manages to get past White House stonewalling and digs up the real information.

    But the fragility of social outcome, its potential sensitivity to the actions of just one person, brings home the profound importance of individual responsibility. Everyone’s actions count. The laws and institutional traditions we have were put in place precisely to help us avoid these social meltdowns, and to give people the incentive not to step over the line, especially when lots of others are doing so already. In particular, the laws of the civil service prevent hiring on the basis of political affiliation (at least for many positions), and the routine violation of those laws puts our democracy at risk. Many people went along with it, and so might have many more, had the creeping corruption not been exposed when it was.

    Restoring honesty and dignity. One might say of it what Gandhi said when asked what he thought of Western Civilization: “I think it would be a good idea.”

    The Odds on Fred Thompson

    So the former senator, “Law and Order” star and Paul Harvey substitute Fred Thompson is entering the Republican presidential race. Or is he?

    According to the Politico, “Fred Dalton Thompson is planning to enter the presidential race over the Fourth of July holiday.” The Tennesseean tells us that “Thompson plans an unconventional campaign for president using blogs, video posts and other Internet innovations to reach voters repelled by politics-as-usual in both parties.”

    Not so fast, says Jim Geraghty of National Review Online, who was told by an anonymous Thompson advisor that “There will be no July 4 announcement… There was some discussion of a June 4 beginning of fundraising; that’s the date checks will be collected. I suspect that’s where there was some confusion.” The lovely Kate Phillips of The Times’s Caucus blog has clearer details: “We’ve now confirmed that former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson is taking formal steps toward a presidential bid, through the formation next week of a ‘testing-the-waters’ committee that will allow him to do some fundraising.”

    Whence all the confusion? Any coyness on Thompson’s part may have as much to do with campaign laws and entertainment contracts as with politics. Phillips explains: “The ‘testing the waters’ committee is not as stringently regulated as a formal exploratory committee, he said, so that Mr. Thompson can complete some of his private speaking engagements… (Update: Mr. Thompson often subs in for Paul Harvey on the ABC radio network, which would pose an equal time issue if he were an official candidate.)”

    As if that weren’t enough new candidate news, Ballot Access News reports that, when asked in a radio interview whether she might consider running for the Green Party nomination for president, former the Georgia Congresswoman and Capitol Police engager Cynthia McKinney replied: “With the failure of the Democratic Congress to repeal the Patriot Act, the Secret Evidence Act, the Military Tribunals Act, I have to seriously question my relationship with the Democratic Party. The idea has not been ruled out. All the current Democrats running for president support the principle of potential military action against Iran; none of them is for impeachment of the President. They can’t speak for me. I am open to a lot of ideas in 2008.”

    O.K., here’s where we stand for 2008: the Democrats’ frontrunners are the first serious black and female contenders ever for the oval office, and their primary race is now in jeopardy of becoming the boring one.


    It’s Not Paranoia If They’re Really Out to Get You

    In June 2004, Annie Jacobson and her family were flying from Detroit to Los Angeles when she observed suspicious behavior on the part of several Muslim-looking passengers and warned the crew. The article she wrote about it for caused a minor sensation, with conservatives saying it proved that the government was falling down on the job of protecting air travelers, and liberals telling her to take a “chill pill.”

    (Disclosure: in what seems another lifetime, Jacobson was a college acquaintance.)

    Now the Department of Homeland Security has released its report on the incident (you can find it on Jacobson’s site, here) and, in the opinion of Ed Morrissey at Captain’s Quarters, it “confirms that Annie Jacobsen accurately recounted suspicious activities on a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004, and that a number of Syrians attempted a dry run for a terror attack. Eight of the 12 had already been flagged for criminal or suspicious behavior, and the apparent leader was involved in a similar incident later as well.”

  • Congressional Republicans are divided over the immigration reform proposals. Right wing bloggers? Not so much. Check out these results from an informal poll by John Hawkins at Right Wing News.

  • Jacob Sullum at Reason agrees with Rep. John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, that the current campaign-finance/lobbying reform bill is “total crap.”

    Unlike Murtha, however, he wouldn’t vote for it. His libertarian solution: let the market decide: “In addition to restoring our First Amendment rights, campaign deregulation would address one of the main concerns about bundling: that it gives incumbents an unfair advantage,” writes Sullum. “If challengers could collect unlimited amounts from wealthy individuals, it would be much easier for them to mount credible campaigns, and we might be spared candidates whose main qualification for office is a fat bank account.”

  • Tobin Harshaw

    GOP Fear Fallout From New Ethics Probes

    WASHINGTON - A half dozen federal investigations into the activities of Republican lawmakers are raising new worries for GOP leaders who hope to regain the House majority they lost last fall.

    In recent weeks, two veteran Republicans surrendered prominent committee seats after FBI agents raided the offices of family businesses. Others have long-running investigations hanging over them. Some conservative activists are criticizing the party's handling of the matters.

    Democrats say at least six GOP House members are under some degree of Justice Department scrutiny, although Republicans question whether all the inquiries are active.

    In pure numbers, Republicans are approaching the magnitude of their problem at this stage of the 2006 election cycle. Eventually, nine House Republicans faced FBI investigations. Four stepped down, and two - Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California and Bob Ney of Ohio - are in prison. Of the five who sought re-election, three lost and the other two remain under ethical clouds.

    Republicans call attention to the fact that Democrats have their own ethical problems.

    Two House Democrats are the focus of federal investigations. Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., has been under scrutiny in a bribery investigation since at least 2005, when FBI agents found $90,000 in his home freezer. The Justice Department also is investigating whether Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., benefited from steering federal funds to nonprofit groups he helped start. Both Jefferson and Mollohan easily won re-election last year......

    Petraeus Adviser Says Escalation ‘Is Likelier To Fail Than Succeed At This Point’

    Think Progress

    Over the weekend, Fox News pundit Fred Barnes claimed that in September, Gen. David Petraeus will report “great progress and say [Baghdad] is heavily pacified.” That optimistic assessment is not shared, however, by one of Petraeus’ key advisers.

    On CBS Evening News last night, Stephen Biddle, an early proponent of the escalation, argued that Bush’s strategy in Iraq is “likelier to fail than succeed at this point.” Biddle assessed that there is “maybe a one in ten” chance the escalation will succeed. “Maybe it’s a one in five longshot, if we play our cards right,” he said. Watch it:

    Biddle is right to be cautious about the escalation’s success. Despite a brief lull at the beginning of the surge, sectarian murders in Iraq are on the rise again. Car bombings, chlorine bombs, and the use of children as bombers have all also increased. On Tuesday, May became not only the deadliest month for U.S. troops in 2007, but also the third deadliest month in the entire war.


    DAVID MARTIN: This is David Martin. All the troops for the surge are now in Iraq. And U.S. military officers say American casualties are likely to go still higher when operations hit full throttle the second week in June. Compounding that grim forecast, Stephen Biddle, an advisor to the American commander in Iraq, says the odds against success are long.

    STEPHEN BIDDLE: If I had to put a number to it, maybe it’s a one in ten. Maybe it’s a one in five longshot, if we play our cards right. There’s no question that this is likelier to fail than succeed at this point.

    DAVID MARTIN: In an effort to wipe out insurgent strongholds, U.S. troops will be moving into parts of Baghdad and the surrounding countryside, where they have never been before. But even with the surge, former marine Bing West says, there aren’t enough troops to chase insurgents all over Iraq.

    BING WEST: The insurgents move 60 to 100 kilometers in a night. And all of Iraq is so flat, has such terrific highways, that you can scoot very quickly from place to place.

    MARTIN: According to Biddle, success depends on coercing insurgent factions into accepting a cease fire.

    BIDDLE: 160,000 troops is not enough to secure the whole country. But it’s a powerful source of sticks and carrots. If we start using it selectively to reward those who cooperate and consider cease fires, and to punish those who don’t.

    MARTIN: There are cease fire negotiations going on with insurgents, but for now one military officer says, “there out to kill us, we’re out to kill them.” David Martin, CBS News, the Pentagon.

    Turkey Builds Up Forces on Iraqi Border

    ANKARA, Turkey - Turkey has sent large contingents of reinforcement soldiers, tanks and armored personnel carriers to its border with Iraq as debate heated up over whether to stage a cross-border offensive to hit Kurdish rebel bases.

    Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday urged the United States and Iraq to destroy bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq as Turkish military deployed more tanks and soldiers on the border.

    The images of military trucks rumbling along the remote border with Iraq's Kurdish zone and tanks being transferred on trains and trucks to beef up an already formidable force there have occupied television screens and front pages of several newspapers in the last few weeks.

    The Turkish military has said it routinely reinforces the border with Iraq in the summer to prevent infiltrations by the guerrillas.

    "The PKK must be eliminated as a problem between Iraq and Turkey," Turkey's special envoy to Iraq, Oguz Celikkol, told CNN-Turk television on Wednesday before a visit to Iraq to discuss Turkish demands that Iraq and U.S. forces crack down on the group.....

    Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    MAUREEN DOWD: How We’re Animalistic — in Good Ways and Bad

    The odd thing is that conservatives wear pinstriped suits, when they really should be walking around in togas. The main contribution of the Greeks to modern American politics may have been Michael Dukakis, who once climbed the Acropolis in wingtips.

    But that doesn’t stop conservatives — especially the Straussians who pushed for going into Iraq — from being obsessed with ancient Greece, and from believing that they are the successors to Plato and Homer in terms of the lofty ideals and nobility and character in American politics — while Democrats merely muck about with policies for the needy.

    Harvey Mansfield, a leading Straussian who teaches political science at Harvard and who wrote a book called “Manliness” (he’s for it), gave the Jefferson lecture recently at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington.

    It was an ode, as his book is, to “thumos,” the Greek word that means spiritedness, with flavors of ambition, pride and brute willfulness. Thumos, as Philip Kennicott wrote in The Washington Post, “is a word reinvented by conservative academics who need to put a fancy name on a political philosophy that boils down to ‘boys will be boys.’ ”

    Mr. Mansfield did not mention the war, which is a downer at conclaves of neocons and thumos worshippers. But he explained that thumos is “the bristling reaction of an animal in face of a threat or a possible threat.” In thumos, he added, “we see the animality of man, for men (and especially males) often behave like dogs barking, snakes hissing, birds flapping. But precisely here we also see the humanity of the human animal” because it is reacting for “a reason, even for a principle, a cause. Only human beings get angry.”

    The professor used an example, naturally, from ancient Greece to explain why politics should be about revolution rather than equilibrium: “What did Achilles do when his ruler Agamemnon stole his slave-girl? He raised the stakes. He asserted that the trouble was not in this loss alone but in the fact that the wrong sort of man was ruling the Greeks. Heroes, or at least he-men like Achilles, should be in charge rather than lesser beings like Agamemnon who have mainly their lineage to recommend them and who therefore do not give he-men the honors they deserve. Achilles elevated a civil complaint concerning a private wrong to a demand for a change of regime, a revolution in politics.” Mr. Mansfield concluded: “To complain of an injustice is an implicit claim to rule.”

    The most recent example of the Hellenization of the Bush administration is the president’s choice for war czar, Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who says he loves the Greek military historian Thucydides.

    Other Thucydides aficionados include Victor Davis Hanson, who was a war-guru to Dick Cheney when the vice president went into the bunker after 9/11 and got into his gloomy Hobbesian phase. (Hobbes’s biggest influence was also Thucydides.)

    Donald Kagan, a respected Yale historian who has written authoritatively on the Peloponnesian War, is the father of Robert Kagan, a neocon who pushed for the Iraq invasion, and Frederick Kagan, a military historian who urged the surge.

    I called Professor Kagan to ask him if Thucydides, the master at chronicling hubris and imperial overreaching, might provide the new war czar with any wisdom that can help America sort through the morass of Iraq.

    Very much his sons’ father, the classicist said he was disgusted that the White House, after a fiasco of an occupation designed by Rummy, “is still doing one dumb thing after another” by appointing General Lute, a chief skeptic of the surge.

    Professor Kagan said that one reason the Athenians ended up losing the war was because in the Battle of Mantinea in 418 B.C. against the Spartans, they sent “a very inferior force” and had a general in command who was associated with the faction that was against the aggressive policy against the Spartans.

    “Kind of like President Bush appointing this guy to run the war whose strategy is opposed to the surge,” he said dryly.

    With cold realism, Thucydides captured the Athenian philosophy in the 27-year war that led to their downfall as a golden democracy: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

    What message can we take away from Thucydides for modern times?

    “To me,” Professor Kagan said, “the deepest message, the most tragic, is his picture of civilization as a very thin veneer. When you punch a hole in it, what you find underneath is hollow, the precivilized characteristics of the human race — animalistic in the worst possible way.”

    Compared to Iraq, the Peloponnesian War was a cakewalk.

    THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN: Iran Arrests Grandma

    Man, was I wrong about Iran.

    I thought this regime was powerful and self-confident, and actually felt strengthened since we destroyed its two main enemies — the Taliban and Saddam. That could not be further from the truth. This Iranian regime is afraid of its shadow. How do I know? It recently arrested a 67-year-old grandmother, whom it accused of trying to bring down the regime by organizing academic conferences!

    Yes, big, tough President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the man who shows us how tough he is by declaring the Holocaust a myth — had his goons arrest Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old scholar, grandmother and dual Iranian-U.S. citizen, while she was visiting her 93-year-old mother in Tehran. Do you know how paranoid you have to be to think that a 67-year-old grandmother visiting her 93-year-old mother can bring down your regime? Now that is insecure.

    It’s also shameful. Haleh directs the Middle East program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. She went to Iran in December to visit her aging mother — a trip she’s made regularly for the past decade. According to her husband, Shaul Bakhash, himself a renown Iran expert in the U.S., while Haleh was traveling to the Tehran airport on Dec. 30, to return home, she was stopped by three masked, knife-wielding men — Iran’s Intelligence Ministry always needs three men and three knives when confronting a grandmother — and they stole her belongings and her U.S. and Iranian passports.

    This was followed by six weeks of intermittent questioning by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. Then, on May 7, Haleh was arrested. Yesterday, she was formally charged with “endangering national security through propaganda against the system and espionage for foreigners,” an Iranian spokesman said — apparently because of her work organizing academic conferences of Iranian and U.S. experts.

    Why does Iran’s leadership do such a thing? Because its hard-liners fear relations with the U.S. and want to scuttle the Iran-U.S. dialogue that began this week in Baghdad. Just like Castro’s Cuba, Iran’s mullah dictators thrive on their clash with America. The conflict gives them status among anti-American countries, our sanctions allow them to explain away their poor economic performance, and U.S. “threats,” both real and imagined, allow them to crush all legitimate dissent by labeling it part of a U.S. conspiracy.

    What to do? Obviously, one option is a military strike combined with fomenting revolution. But that could easily leave us with another unstable, failing state in the Middle East. I don’t want to create another boiling Iraq. A second option would be more economic sanctions to change the regime’s behavior. The third option is engagement aimed at restoring relations.

    Alas, the Bush Iran policy has dabbled in all three, but never committed itself to one, and, as a result, Iran’s hard-liners have been strengthened. The only way out of our corner now is to get some leverage. And leverage can come only from stepped-up economic sanctions — particularly doing something to bring down the price of oil, Iran’s lifeblood — combined with aggressive engagement, like declaring that we don’t seek the toppling of the regime and that we are ready, if Iran curbs its nuclear program, to restore full diplomatic and economic ties the next day.

    In other words, our only hope of either changing this Iranian regime or its behavior, without fracturing the country, is through a stronger Iranian middle class that demands a freer press, consensual politics and rule of law. That is our China strategy — and it could work even faster with Iran. The greatest periods of political change in modern Iran happened when the country was most intensely engaged with the West, beginning with the constitutional revolution in 1906.

    Unfortunately, the Bush strategy — diplomatic/economic isolation plus high oil prices — has only frozen the regime in power and transformed it from mildly repressive to a K.G.B. state with a nuclear program. So now we face an Iranian regime that is both powerful and paranoid.

    It has the resources to snub the world and its own people’s aspirations. Yet, no matter how much this regime tries to buy off its people with oil money, it knows that many despise it. It’s actually afraid of its own people more than anyone — so afraid it even criminalizes scholarly exchanges between Iranians and Americans that the regime can’t control.

    That’s why a 67-year-old grandmother — whose only crime is getting people together in public to talk about building a better Iran — is such a threat.

    Peace Victim

    Cindy Sheehan has posted her resignation letter from the antiwar movement over at Daily Kos saying she is weary of trying “to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life.” Hmm, why do images of pots and kettles leap to mind?

  • Thom Lambert at Truth on the Market feels that the Windy City is becoming a rasping breath of its former self. “The members of the aldermen’s Buildings Committee recently voted to extend the city’s smoking ban to performers in theatrical productions,” Lambert notes:

    A ban on portrayals of smoking was the end of the slippery slope in the film Thank You for Smoking, in which an anti-Tobacco senator tried to order Hollywood to doctor old movie star portraits so that the actors’ cigarettes were replaced with innocuous items like candy canes and chopsticks. The notion that the government would try to censor art (and history) as part of its anti-smoking crusade seemed ridiculous enough to evoke a few laughs. Now it’s for real, and it’s bound to create more smoking rebels.

  • Richard Miniter of Pajamas Media has an interview with Abdullah Rahman al-Shamary, whom he describes as “a possible ‘missing link’ between Saddam and Al Qaeda.” True? Well, as with many things PJM, they purport, you decide.

  • Tobin Harshaw


    Let’s Talk About Sects

    The conservative editorial cartoonist Allen Forkum offers some illustrated commentary, followed by the more literal kind:

    It’s bad enough that the Bush Administration actually thinks talking with Iran is going to stop them from killing even more of our troops in Iraq. Worse still, these talks officially end our diplomatic isolation of Iran since 1979 when the Iranians took Americans hostage. But it is flat out obscene that the talks were held on Memorial Day. There are Americans at gravesides today mourning loved ones who were cut down by Iranian-backed militias. Bush further demonstrates that he is more concerned about politics and diplomacy than he is about stopping the enemy using as few American lives as possible.

    Ardeshir Arian, an Iran-born filmmaker who blogs out of Los Angeles, sees the talks as less a moral mistake than a strategic one. “In the current talks, America appears the weaker party,” writes Arian. “By requesting these talks through official channels, the US created an excellent opportunity for the mullahs to brag about their strength while illuminating America’s weakness in Iraq. The line being peddled by Iran is that a superpower like the “imperialist government of America” is begging their ‘godly’ Islamic regime to sit down and negotiate.”

    Juan Cole, not surprisingly, takes issue with such negativity: “It is not true, as Robert Kagan once alleged to me on the radio, that if something is in Iran’s interest, it will do it anyway, so that talks are useless. It is often the case that countries, like individuals, cut off their noses to spite their faces. Effective diplomacy can often lead a country to see the advantages of cooperation on some issues, so that its leaders stop sulking and actually turn to accomplishing something.”

    And, showing that the enterprising mind can always find a way to be dissatisfied, the Pakistani blogger Mohammad Jamal smells a neocon rat, warning that “these negotiations are little more than a diplomatic maneuver in advance of military action. If the talks fail, as their narrow agenda all but guarantees, the President could assert that military strikes are justified.” Hmmm, it gives new meaning to the phrase “diplomatic offensive.”

    – Tobin Harshaw

    Kristol and Kagan: ‘Put Everything’ Behind Escalation So We Can Bomb Iran and Syria

    Think Progress

    Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and fellow neoconservative Frederick Kagan have consistently been wrong in their predictions about Iraq. Last year, Kristol claimed an escalation would “improve our chances of winning.” Kagan proclaimed at the end of April, “We are turning a corner in Iraq.” But May was the deadliest month this year for U.S. soldiers.

    This week, Kristol and Kagan renewed their calls for a defense of the status quo in Iraq. Writing an op-ed in the Weekly Standard, Kristol and Kagan call for unbridled support of the failing escalation:

    This is no time to hedge or hesitate. Now is the time to put everything behind making the president’s strategy–which looks to be a winning strategy–succeed.

    Recycling the talking point that debate over the war “undermines the efforts of our commanders in the field,” they respond to reports suggesting increased conservative dissatisfaction by calling on Bush to authoritatively squash all dissenting opinion on Iraq:

    Congressional battles calling into doubt our commitment to winning in Iraq have been the major threat to progress since the president began pursuing the right strategy in January. The president, supported by congressional Republicans, has beaten back that threat. Now he needs to deal with his own administration, which has not made up its collective mind to support the president’s strategy wholeheartedly. Mixed messages from Bush’s advisers and cabinet undermine the efforts of our commanders in the field.

    Calling the State Department’s recent talks with Iran and Syria “fantasy diplomatic solutions,” Kristol and Kagan instead advocate that “[d]iplomatic engagement by itself is a trap,” suggesting, as they both have before, that America should only deal militarily with Iraq’s neighbors. Such a policy would likely accelerate nuclear development in Iran and has been swiftly rejected by top U.S. military commanders.

    Kristol and Kagan aim for a single objective: more war. As Glenn Greenwald noted, “What they [Kristol and Kagan] seek — by their own acknowledgment — is a conflict with Iran and Syria, and they want to stay in Iraq because that is how that goal can be achieved.”

    Plame was ‘covert’ agent at time of name leak


    WASHINGTON - An unclassified summary of outed CIA officer Valerie Plame's employment history at the spy agency, disclosed for the first time today in a court filing by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, indicates that Plame was "covert" when her name became public in July 2003.

    The summary is part of an attachment to Fitzgerald's memorandum to the court supporting his recommendation that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former top aide, spend 2-1/2 to 3 years in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation.


    The unclassified summary of Plame's employment with the CIA at the time that syndicated columnist Robert Novak published her name on July 14, 2003 says, "Ms. Wilson was a covert CIA employee for who the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States."

    Plame worked as an operations officer in the Directorate of Operations and was assigned to the Counterproliferation Division (CPD) in January 2002 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

    The employment history indicates that while she was assigned to CPD, Plame, "engaged in temporary duty travel overseas on official business." The report says, "she traveled at least seven times to more than ten times." When overseas Plame traveled undercover, "sometimes in true name and sometimes in alias -- but always using cover -- whether official or non-official (NOC) -- with no ostensible relationship to the CIA."

    Five Britons abducted in Baghdad


    Five Britons have been kidnapped from Iraq's finance ministry in Baghdad, the British government has confirmed.

    They included four bodyguards and a finance expert. Earlier reports said the expert was German.

    Witnesses and sources told the BBC that the kidnappers wore police uniforms and arrived in up to 40 police vehicles.

    The British foreign office said it was "in urgent contact with Iraqi authorities to establish facts and to try to secure a swift resolution".

    The British government convened an emergency meeting of its Cobra crisis management committee on Tuesday afternoon.

    Also on Tuesday, Baghdad was shaken by a bus explosion which killed at least 23 people and injured about 55, and a car bomb which killed at least 17 people, hurt at least 36 and destroyed a Shia mosque.

    The US military also announced that 10 of its soldiers were killed in Iraq on Monday, including two in a helicopter crash.

    At least 112 US troops have been killed so far in May, making it the deadliest month this year.

    Immigration Nation

    Here’s what happens when you poll people on a complex, emotional issue the vagaries of which they know little about,” writes Allahpundit at Hot Air who, having already parsed the views of Muslim Americans, now dissects The New York Times/CBS News expansive poll on attitudes toward immigration reform.

    The survey found that 62 percent of respondents were in favor of allowing illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than two years a “chance to apply for legal status.” Then, Allahpundit tells us, things get a bit contradictory:

    Only 37 percent overall approve of a citizenship track for guest workers as opposed to 55 percent who either oppose a guest worker program entirely or insist that workers go home at the end of their term. (Or is it the temporariness of the program that those 30 percent in question 69 oppose? It’s not clear.) … If we’re unwilling to let guest workers who’ve lived here for a few years assume legal status, why let non-guest-worker illegals who have lived here for more than two years enjoy that privilege?

    Taking all the results thus far together, we find that Americans are willing to grant legal status to illegal aliens so long as they’re not here as part of a duly enacted guest-worker program, and only if we also get to prosecute them. Super.

    The clear message: “Just keep asking the same questions with slightly different phrasing,” says Allahpundit. “Eventually you’ll get the answer you want.”

    The pollster Scott Rassmussen compares his own survey results to the Times/CBS poll (very similar) and offers a little political insight:

    First, the debate in the Senate has focused on how to legalize the status of illegal aliens. For most Americans, that’s missing the point (just 29 percent of American voters see legalizing the status of illegal aliens as a Very Important issue). Second, there is enormous skepticism about the government commitment to enforcing the borders (as the Times survey noted, only 14 percent believe the government is doing all it can at this time). To most voters, immigration reform is all about border control. Until voters are convinced that the enforcement is both real and effective, there will be no popular support for reform.

    How will the politics play out? The Republican candidates don’t seem to be clear. “The McCain campaign — staying all over Romney on immigration like stink on [the stuff that fell on Bush’s arm yesterday] — says that Romney didn’t use the word ‘amnesty’ in Florida yesterday,” according to Jonathan Martin at The Politico. “The insinuation, of course, being that Romney is softening his tough talk on borders in a more diverse state where many top Republicans (Jeb, Martinez, Crist) take a more moderate stance on the issue.”

    Mark Steyn is most concerned about the fast-track system for visas favored by supporters of the Senate bill.

    The more you look at this bill the more it seems just the usual Beltway kabuki. Secretary Chertoff says in a time of war we need to know who’s in the country. Okay. But is dumping a gazillion new applications on a sclerotic immigration system the way to do that? Mohammed Atta was the second most famous terrorist in the world and on the front page of every American newspaper but the then I.N.S. still sent him a valid U.S. visa six months to the day after he died, and without even updating his address from that Florida flight school to Big Hole In The Ground, Lower Manhattan. And the excuse the agency made was, oh well, we’re only issuing visas to dead terrorists not living ones - which Americans pretty much had to take on trust and which seems a distinction far less likely to be maintained once there’s another 15 million in the system entitled to next-day service. If I were Mullah Omar, I’d apply for a Z-visa. The odds have got to be better than even.


    Tales of the Somewhat Surprising

    Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush is (somewhat surprisingly) pleased that the Democratic House passed a law against gasoline price gouging.

    He feels it sends the right message to the oil companies:

    It is time to be pro-active: drop the price of gasoline, or eventually face the wrath of the American people who will go along with price controls, perhaps with a veto-proof majority. That would screw up the whole energy business and it would lead to scarcity and higher prices…but that will be poor consolation to you as your companies get soaked with windfall profits taxes which will hit you just as your current income is in the dumpster.

    There’s nothing wrong with making money. Heck, there’s [nothing] wrong with making a whole lot of money - but there is a time and a season for everything, and if you don’t want it to be time for a major assault on the oil and gas industry, you might want to cut your profits down to a dull roar for a few months.

    On the other side of the divide, Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft is (also somewhat surprisingly) not upset that the Democrats were forced to pass a supplemental spending bill that didn’t contain an Iraq withdrawal date.

    Big Tent writes:

    Ironically, unlike most everyone else, I am not so discouraged about what can happen next. For I believe, after this hard lesson, for Democrats in Congress, for progressive activists, for the Netroots, we can now go forward with a PRAGMATIC, realistic plan to end the Iraq debacle AND play smart politics. Yes, from these ashes should rise the Reid/Feingold/ McGovern Dodd/Kerry/Edwards/Obama/Clinton/Boxer, et al. NOT funding after a date certain framework.

    — Tobin Harshaw

    Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria


    MARABA, Syria — Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba’s daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes.

    But that was before militias began threatening their Baghdad neighborhood and Umm Hiba and her daughter fled to Syria last spring. There were no jobs, and Umm Hiba’s elderly father developed complications related to his diabetes.

    Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution. “We Iraqis used to be a proud people,” she said over the frantic blare of the club’s speakers. She pointed out her daughter, dancing among about two dozen other girls on the stage, wearing a pink silk dress with spaghetti straps, her frail shoulders bathed in colored light.

    As Umm Hiba watched, a middle-aged man climbed onto the platform and began to dance jerkily, arms flailing, among the girls.

    “During the war we lost everything,” she said. “We even lost our honor.” She insisted on being identified by only part of her name — Umm Hiba means mother of Hiba.....

    US to toughen sanctions on Sudan


    US President George W Bush is set to announce fresh sanctions on Sudan over the Darfur conflict, US officials said.

    The US will also push for a stronger UN Security Council resolution punishing Khartoum over the ongoing violence, singling out President Omar al-Bashir.

    Washington will ban more companies from US trade and crack down on individuals suspected of violence in Darfur.

    China, a major customer for Sudan's oil, said the new US sanctions would only complicate the problem.

    "These wilful sanctions and simply applying pressure is not conducive to solving the problem," said Liu Guijin, China's special representative on the Darfur issue.

    US President George W Bush is due to speak at the White House at 0800 (1200 GMT).

    "President Bashir's actions over the past few weeks follow a long pattern of promising co-operation while finding new methods of obstruction," Mr Bush will say, according to a draft of the speech.

    The strengthened measures, which also include toughening existing sanctions imposed in 1997, will take effect immediately, US government officials said, targeting mainly companies in the oil industry.

    British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the new sanctions against Sudan, his spokesman said, saying "what is happening in Sudan is not acceptable by any international standards".

    More than 200,000 people have been killed and about two million have fled their homes amid fighting by government-backed Arab Janjaweed militias and rebel groups in Darfur. ....

    Iran says second US-Iranian charged with spying

    TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran said on Tuesday it has detained US-Iranian social science scholar Kian Tajbakhsh on charges of spying, the same accusation levelled against another scholar with dual nationality. the judiciary spokesman said on Tuesday.

    Judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi confirmed that US-Iranian scholar Haleh Esfandiari, who was detained on May 8, has been formally accused by the intelligence ministry of "acting against the security of the country through propaganda and espionage for foreigners."

    "The same goes for Mr Tajbakhsh. He is being kept in detention," said Jamshidi, confirming that Esfandiari was also still being held.

    An expert in urban planning who has taught in the United States and Iran and worked for the World Bank, Tajbakhsh was arrested on May 11, according to US press reports.

    Monday, May 28, 2007

    Death penalty for China official


    China has sentenced the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration to death after he was convicted of corruption, state media has reported.

    Zheng Xiaoyu was sentenced after being found guilty of taking bribes and dereliction of duty, state Xinhua news agency reported.

    Zheng, 62, who was sacked in 2005 after seven years in the job, could have his sentence reduced on appeal.

    He was expelled from the Communist Party earlier this year.

    Name poisoned

    Last month he was accused of accepting more than 5m yuan ($650,000) in bribes to approve hundreds of drugs.

    One company, Kongliyuan Group, allegedly paid Zheng bribes in return for approving 277 drugs, mostly antibiotics.

    Zheng's former secretary, Cao Wenzhuang, also faced trial accused of accepting bribes.

    Thirty-one other people were also alleged to have been involved in the scandal, including Zheng's wife, Liu Naixue, and his son, Zheng Hairong.

    The sentence comes amid a food safety scandal that has hit Chinese manufacturers.

    Two company managers have been detained, accused of adding melamine to food additives.

    US inspectors allege this led to the death of a number of cats and dogs after they ate contaminated pet food.

    In February, a drug manufacturer applied to name a range of pesticides and rat poisons after Zheng.

    But trademark officials decided that he had a right to protect his name.

    Zheng had reportedly ruled against one of Shenyang Feilong Pharmaceutical Company's drugs in 1999 in his role at the Food and Drug Administration.

    Forget Ethics, Remember Politics

    NYT Editorial

    The Bush administration’s never-ending push to turn federal agencies into favor-filled partisan clubhouses has just been confirmed in red-handed detail at the General Services Administration, the government’s main housekeeping agency. Investigators found that Lurita Doan, the Bush appointee running the agency, violated the Hatch Act, which forbids federal workers from politicking on the job.

    Last January, Ms. Doan summoned her assistants to a campaign strategy session run by Karl Rove’s White House political operation. Tax-paid employees were treated to a PowerPoint briefing and slide show identifying Democrats marked as “2008 House Targets: Top 20.” Witnesses recalled Ms. Doan asking the gathering how they could “help our candidates” with G.S.A. favors.

    Like so many Bush appointees lately summoned to account by Congress, Ms. Doan repeatedly said she could not recall details of the meeting. In a bit of novelty, she claimed to be engrossed in reading her BlackBerry e-mail messages. Investigators of the United States Office of Special Counsel found no forensic evidence that she was using electronic devices during the meeting. Her other defense — that her accusers were poor-performing malcontents — was also found untrue, with several holding merit citations.

    Ms. Doan promises to document errors in the scathing report, which was obtained by The Washington Post. But her credibility now stands as tattered as her memory. Her fate will be in President Bush’s hands, who supposedly knows a slam dunk when he sees one. Ms. Doan should be dismissed for violating one of the most hallowed laws of fairness in government service. As for Mr. Rove, who has run this partisan traveling show through other federal agencies, this is only the latest abuse for which he needs to be brought fully and finally to account.

    BOB HERBERT: Small Incidents Are Creating a Big Problem With the N.Y.P.D.

    These are small incidents, but they are accumulating by the tens of thousands, and someday New Yorkers are going to be shocked by the power of the anger that these seemingly insignificant incidents have generated.

    The principal of Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn told me about a student who was gratuitously insulted by a police officer at a subway station the other day. The girl had lost her MetroCard and was carrying a note on the school’s letterhead asking that she be allowed to ride the train. This was fine with the token clerk, but the clerk told the girl to show the note to a cop on duty at the station.

    The cop, in front of several onlookers, told the girl she was the oldest-looking high school student he had ever seen. He demanded that she tell him the square root of 12. He loudly declared that she was stupid and refused to let her board a train.

    The girl left the station devastated and in tears. No big deal. Certainly not newsworthy. Just another case of cops being cops.

    Several students from Bushwick Community High were among the three dozen or so who were swept up by the cops last week as they were walking toward a subway station, on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered. For black and Hispanic youngsters, grieving can be a criminal offense.

    One of those arrested was 16-year-old Lamel Carter, the son of a police detective. I interviewed him after he had spent a night in jail.

    “It was pretty nasty,” he said. “There were five of us in each cell. One of my friends was throwing up, and another had an asthma attack. The police said they got us for unlawful assembly.”

    [I asked the police captain who ordered the arrests, Scott Henderson, to explain the offense of unlawful assembly. He couldn’t. “If you would like the exact definition,” he said, “I would have to look that up.”]

    Fifteen minutes after I interviewed Lamel, he was stopped again by two police officers. They asked him where he was going, ordered him to spread-eagle himself against a patrol car, searched him and then him let go.

    He was just another black kid (now with a brand-new arrest record) on the streets of Brooklyn. No big deal. Just one of hundreds of similar stops each day.

    One of the youngsters arrested while trying to attend the wake was Aliek Robinson, a 17-year-old who had come up from Baltimore. He had known the slain youth, Donnell McFarland, whose nickname was Freshh, since he was 6 years old. When I interviewed him, Aliek told me how one of the cops had gone out of his way to mock his dead friend.

    “After we got arrested, the cops were questioning us one-by-one,” he said. “This one cop had a smile on his face and he said, ‘Your man, Freshh, he was babbling like a little girl when he died.’ And then he started giggling. I don’t know why he said that. He didn’t have to say that.”

    Just cops being cops.

    The important thing to remember here is that this behavior, in neighborhoods where the majority of the residents are black and Hispanic, is often the norm. This is not unusual police behavior. There is a huge percentage of cops on patrol whose knee-jerk approach to policing is to treat all young blacks and Hispanics as potential criminals.

    All high-ranking public officials in the city are aware of what is going on. I asked a black official, who asked not to be identified, why more minority officeholders aren’t objecting publicly to the way minority youth are treated by the police. He said no one wants to be responsible for challenging the cops and then being blamed if crime statistics start to go back up.

    The two individuals most responsible for this sorry state of affairs are Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. All it would take is a directive from them to bring the ugly harassment under control.

    A big gang problem has quietly developed in New York, and there are fears in the neighborhoods of a troubled summer. The response to this very serious situation should not be to treat all kids like criminals, which is both wrong and self-defeating.

    The police need the confidence and cooperation of law-abiding young people. Systematically demeaning them is hardly the way to achieve that.