The past week has seen an amazing flood of good news from Iraq. It’s worth a review:
- The Iraqi Army takes control of Sadr City.
- British troops return to Basra.
- Attacks in Mosul drop 85% and organized resistance ceases.
- Iraq reports that Al Qaeda has been cleared from Mosul.
- Security incidents have hit a four-year low.
- The Iraqi army captures several major weapons caches.
- Life resumes in Sadr City.
- Iraqis lose patience with Sadrists.
On Thursday the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the State erred when it took hundreds of children from their families in the ranch of the FLDS cult. Eugene Volokh points out that the primary error was the State’s failure to treat cases individually. Instead, the State treated the entire ranch as a single “household” and removed all its children (and some adults), most of whom were in no immediate risk.
Now, Judge Barbara Walther, who rubber-stamped the original removal of the children, has compounded her error. Child Protective Services came to a legal agreement with the mothers wherein:
The families won’t be able to leave Texas until Aug. 31 but would be allowed to move back to the ranch. It also calls for parenting classes and visits by CPS to interview children and parents in the child abuse investigation.
Judge Walther first tried to change the agreement, and after being rebuffed, ruled that no children could be returned until every one of the mothers signed the agreement. (Since the mothers are spread throughout the state to be close to their children, this adds a significant delay, which may well have been the judge’s purpose.) It’s hard to fathom any reasonable justification to delay one reunion because a separate family has not yet signed the agreement. Furthermore, it exhibits an amazing judicial arrogance, since the Texas Supreme Court already ruled she was wrong not to treat the families individually.
The principle of individuality is important. I expect that the courts eventually will decide that some of the children are in danger and should be removed for their protection, but such decisions must be based on the facts of those particular cases. If the government can take away your children merely because the children of another family might be at risk, then no one is safe.
UPDATE (6/2): After three days, Walther signs the order.
The Telegraph has a short piece on how America is a vital force for good in the world, and yet is disliked by most European nations. Its concluding thought:
Regardless of who wins [the Presidential race], there will be a need to project a more positive light of the United States in Europe, but without ditching America’s vital global role.
But what if, as seems likely, we are disliked precisely because of our vital global role? Then it’s one or the other. (And we have one candidate for each option.)
Glenn Reynolds adds:
Europeans have been anti-American pretty consistently since America began, except for brief intervals where they needed us enough to (mostly) pretend otherwise.
By now, the dual analog thumbsticks on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers have turned the standard logic of the first-person shooter (FPS) into muscle memory for most red-blooded young American men (and I’m sure a few women, but I’m willing to call a gender bias on this one). Die-hard PC gamers will argue that a player with a mouse and keyboard can outgun a console player while eating a ham sandwich, but the portability, durability and easy ergonomics of the gamepad make it ideal for military use. “It’s interesting that all of the game paddles have evolved toward a similar thumb-based design,” says Bigham. “And when we’ve talked to our human factors experts, what they’ve told us is that the thumb is the most precise pointing instrument and requires the least energy.” While that low-energy, high-efficiency control may lead to less sunlight and exercise for hardcore gamers, it also allows soldiers to remotely fly UAVs effectively for long periods of time.
Some might say that all those teenagers “wasting time” on Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 are actually the warfighters of tomorrow, training themselves at zero cost to the U.S. taxpayer. In fact, when offered the choice between the traditional airplane controls and gamepad controls, many younger soldiers pick the thumbsticks that are familiar to them.
This is interesting, but the notion that the thumbstick is the perfect controller is nonsense. You don’t have to be a die-hard PC gamer; you merely have to have played both desktop and console games to know that a mouse is much better for aiming than a thumbstick. (If it weren’t, would there be a market for this?)
Furthermore, the idea that the thumb is the most precise pointing instrument is ridiculous. Consider the trackpoint interface (that’s the rubber nub in the middle of the keyboard, common to ThinkPad laptops). You use it with your index (or “pointer”) finger, not your thumb, because your index finger is more precise. If you want to argue that that’s just because the trackpoint is placed conveniently for the index finger and not the thumb, consider the touchpad common to non-ThinkPad laptops. The usual placement of the touchpad (below the keyboard) is most convenient to the thumb, but still most people prefer to lift their entire hand off the keyboard into order to use the touchpad with their index finger. Moreover, while trackpoints and touch pads are very nice for computer work, nearly anyone would prefer a mouse for gaming.
I think that the big advantage of the thumbstick is ergonomic, not precision. You can put two thumbsticks plus several additional controls onto a controller that you can conveniently hold in your hand. With the keyboard/mouse or a joystick (i.e., airplane controls) you are affixed to stationary controls. (Yes, you could hold an old 1980s-era joystick in your hand, but then you got only one directional input, not two.) So I think the “low energy” part of what they’re saying makes sense. Also, the thumbstick is pretty good for movement (as opposed to aiming), and that may be more relevant to the military’s applications.
The Columbia Journalism Review reports:
The Securities and Exchange Commission sued a Canadian drug maker this week—and in the process blew apart the premise of a two-year-old 60 Minutes investigative piece on short sellers.
The March 2006 segment by Lesley Stahl sought to warn viewers about hedge funds that use bad information to drive down stock prices to benefit themselves at small investors’ expense.
To make its point, 60 Minutes focused on a lawsuit brought by Biovail Corp., of Toronto, which accused the big hedge-fund SAC Capital, of Stamford, Connecticut, and a stock-research firm of conspiring to spread bogus information about the company. . .
On Monday, though, the SEC sued not the targets of the 60 Minutes piece, but Biovail itself and two of its executives, alleging accounting fraud and other wrongdoing. The SEC said the drug maker “repeatedly overstated earnings and hid losses in order to deceive investors” and “actively misled investors and analysts about the reasons for the company’s poor performance.” . . .
The SEC charges against Biovail effectively torpedo the Stahl piece, which was devoted to airing the drug maker’s allegations that the stock-research firm, a predecessor of Gradient Analytics, concocted phony research to please SAC, a client.
In fact, the danger to investors was Biovail. So, 60 Minutes had it exactly wrong.
It gets worse:
Biovail had been under SEC investigation since 2003. So it was clear at the time that Biovail was probably not a good example of a public company victimized by shorts. In fact, it was more likely that the Biovail example would prove the value of shorts, as it has.
The 60 Minutes segment acknowledged that its alleged victim was under investigation, but buried the information artfully in the middle of a denial of wrongdoing by the hedge fund.
Here it is. The emphasis is mine:
The hedge fund SAC denies all the charges in Biovail’s lawsuit and says that the decline in the company’s stock was due to earnings shortfalls and investigations by authorities, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, “not any conspiracy.”
Confused? I think you’re supposed to be.
Evan Coyne Maloney has a perspicacious explanation for the woes of the mainstream media:
While it is true that the quickening pace of technological change caught the old media off guard, much of the media’s current predicament is largely of its own making. By intertwining their most valuable differentiator (facts gathered at some expense) with something that’s increasingly ubiquitous and free (opinions), media outlets diminish the perceived value of their product and send a muddled message to news consumers.
Although there are bloggers who have done excellent first-hand reporting, most bloggers are not equipped to compete with the core competency of large news-gathering organizations. Instead, bloggers tend to function as filters, amplifiers, analyzers and fact-checkers for stories that have been reported (and under-reported) by the establishment media. . .
By seeing bloggers as direct competitors, outlets put themselves in a position of competing on their greatest weakness while at the same time undermining their greatest strength. Instead of competing in the arena of gathered facts, many in the traditional media have responded to the rise of online outlets by deciding that they need more opinion in their product, not less. The problem with that is, the news media has been insisting for decades that they’re “objective.” . . .
Yet under the guise of “news analysis,” “putting things in context,” giving “perspective” and “helping you understand,” the news media insists on wrapping what should be its unique product—hard-to-gather facts—in packaging that makes their product look similar to everything else that’s available online for free.
Maloney makes a very good point, and I think there’s a lot of truth in it. Let’s perform a thought experiment, though. Suppose that the media is behaving rationally. Suppose that it makes sense for the media to focus on opinion over facts. What could be the reason?
It strikes me that the most plausible reason is that the media is no longer good at gathering facts, if indeed they ever were. By focusing on opinion, they are competing in what their core competency is, not what it should be.
As evidence, consider Iraq. The war in Iraq is the most important story in the world today (other than possibly the 2008 elections), and yet the media won’t cover it. We have to rely on bloggers (particularly the three that Coyne links) to tell us what’s actually happening there. The media’s reporting is limited to press releases and unreliable stringers, and increasingly little of those. (And this is despite the fact that embedding is actually free.)
Indeed, we see evidence almost daily that the media is barely better at gathering facts than it is at gathering non-facts. I think Maloney is right that the media should focus on original fact-gathering, but I conjecture that they are no longer good at it.
If I’m right, we will see the news media’s die-off continue, as outlets that cannot compete go out of business. The ones that survive will be the few that know (or can learn) how to gather news. Of course, before that happens, we will see calls for the government to bail-out the media and insulate them from competition.
The avalanche of good news in Iraq continues with this ABC report:
In Baghdad’s Sadr City today, once again, street vendors line the sidewalk with colorful shirts and shoes. Vegetable markets, once again, have fresh limes and produce. Family stores, once again, are back in business.
And in the local Ibn al Balad hospital, no more war wounds.
“There are no injured people in this hospital,” says Jabber Shanshal, an Iraqi nurse, drawing a stark contrast with the situation more than two months ago, when heavy fighting took place in the Shiite suburb of almost three million people.
The residents of Sadr City have been longtime followers of the firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and his 60,000-strong Mahdi militia. . . But all that has changed. Last week, al Sadr’s representatives and the main Shiite political party here signed a cease-fire agreement.
And at sunrise on May 20, a legion of Iraqi soldiers cautiously marched into Sadr City. Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki had ordered the thousands of soldiers into the Shiite enclave as part of “Operation Peace.” They were greeted with open arms.
(Via Hot Air.)
The article also reviews the history of the operations in Basra and Sadr City. Widely derided as they were when they began, it’s now clear that they were a masterstroke.
Sadr is trying to grasp on to a sliver of political leverage, claiming to have struck the deal which brought his people their livelihoods back. While Maliki is lauding the latest in a series of successes to ensure security and a regained national unity to his country.
Certainly, it seems as though there is little Maliki can do wrong these days. With provincial elections around the corner, an Iraqi future without Maliki is almost impossible to imagine.
There’s two stories out today on the UN’s continuing depravity. First, we have another case of child abuse by UN “peacekeepers”:
Children as young as six are being sexually abused by peacekeepers and aid workers, says a leading UK charity. Children in post-conflict areas are being abused by the very people drafted into such zones to help look after them, says Save the Children. . .
Save the Children says the most shocking aspect of child sex abuse is that most of it goes unreported and unpunished, with children too scared to speak out.
A 13-year-old girl, “Elizabeth” described to the BBC how 10 UN peacekeepers gang-raped her in a field near her Ivory Coast home. . . No action has been taken against the soldiers.
Tragically, we’ve come to expect this from UN peacekeepers. Second, Fox News has obtained the report of the UN’s own auditors on the UN Development Program:
The multibillion-dollar procurement business of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the U.N.’s flagship anti-poverty agency, is a gigantic shambles, according to UNDP’s own investigators.
Moreover, UNDP’s management has privately acknowledged that fact and is scrambling to fix the mess — even as it loudly denied concerns of a procurement scandal that have been raised by FOX News, among others.
Just a few of the cited failures were:
- the failure “to provide plans to support its buying activities, which the report says causes many purchases of goods and services to be carried out on an ‘ad hoc basis’ (in fact, more than $595 million worth of non-existent purchases were recorded, although the audit notes that they were not paid for),”
- staff that are “drastically unqualified: Fully half of the organization’s procurement staff around the world were not certified for the basic requirements of their jobs, while the auditors also found the six-hour course for those who were certified to be ‘inadequate.’ Additionally, the auditors noted, ‘there are entire offices without a single certified buyer’,”
- an “‘apparent’ conflict of interest at the top, where the people charged with vetting the procurement process for flaws are also members of the procurement office staff,” and
- the lack of a “sure way of knowing whether it is doing business with organizations that the U.N. itself has condemned for terrorist ties.”
The last item is not merely a hypothetical worry. The article reminds us of this gem:
UNDP practices in its client countries have been controversial since January 2007, when then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Mark Wallace raised questions about the agency’s use of cash payments to North Koreans who were employees of the Kim Jong-Il regime and who also occupied sensitive UNDP local posts. Subsequent investigation revealed that the Kim regime had also used UNDP bank accounts to funnel money to its nuclear weapons program.
UNDP subsequently fired a member of its staff who blew the whistle on the North Korean practices and declared it was not bound by U.N. rules when the U.N.’s newly appointed ethics officer declared he had found “prima facie evidence” of retaliation against the whistleblower.
In short, the UN funded the North Korean nuclear weapons program, then fired the whistleblower who made that fact public. Why do we continue to fund this organization? We would do better giving that money to the mob.
Orin Kerr has a very interesting theory regarding why we aren’t seeing as many 5-4 decisions. It has to do with a clever strategy by Chief Justice Roberts. I won’t try to summarize.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is in hot water again, this time over his road trip to Detroit for games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl traveled to Detroit to watch [the] Penguins play Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup final with his friends and a bodyguard.
Before he left, Ravenstahl said, “I won’t use any city dollars whatsoever to make any trips to Detroit, but I want to make a determination of what’s appropriate and what’s not before I make a decision or not on whether to go.”
Ravenstahl paid for his own ticket, meals and lodging in Detroit, but was driven in a city vehicle by his police bodyguard.
The bodyguard got into the game free, but the city picked up the tab for gas, for the bodyguard’s food and lodging and for his overtime, WTAE Channel 4′s Jon Greiner reported.
Ravenstahl has invited scrutiny because of his previous ethical problems involving the Penguins and because of his promise not to spend “any city dollars whatsoever” on a trip to Detroit.
The usual ethical practice, as I understand it, is to reimburse the cost that would have been incurred by a private citizen. (For example, when the President goes on a personal trip, he reimburses first-class airfare, not the full cost of Air Force One.) That would mean that Ravenstahl should reimburse the city for the cost of the car, but not the bodyguard.
Beyond the ethical minimum, there’s the question of judgement. When the city is bankrupt, does it send the right signal for the mayor to spend the city’s money to go to a hockey game in Detroit?
Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s part of a larger problem. Ravenstahl won’t grow up for the sake of the office; rather, he behaves like a kid with a really awesome job. He like to hang out with his buddies and gets into a lot of trouble, like public drunkenness, absenteeism, flagrant lies, conflicts of interest, and misappropriation of funds.
Ohio governor Ted Strickland (a Democrat) selected Nancy Rodgers, dean of the Ohio State law school, to replace him. But I thought this was curious:
Strickland says Nancy Rogers will lead the office for about six months but has no plans to run in the November election. Strickland’s announcement means he must still select a candidate to run for the remaining two years left in the term of former Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann.
Is that how it works in the “Democratic” party now? The governor chooses the candidate? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given the Democratic affinity for superdelegates and the disenfranchisement of entire states.
Such is the pronouncement of the New York Times:
Even as we celebrate generations of American soldiers past, the women and men who are making that sacrifice today in Iraq and Afghanistan receive less attention every day. There’s plenty of blame to go around: battle fatigue at home, failing media resolve and a government intent on controlling information from the battlefield.
The media isn’t responsible for their coverage; we have to share in the blame. In fact, their only problem is a “failure of resolve” (whatever that means), not that they’re incompetent and dishonest.
According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has slipped to 3 percent of all American print and broadcast news as of last week, falling from 25 percent as recently as last September.
“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories — like the economy and the election — have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.” . . .
I see; it’s our fault that the media stops covering the war when we start winning. Do they write this stuff with a straight face?
Television network news coverage in particular has gone off a cliff. Citing numbers provided by a consultant, Andrew Tyndall, the Associated Press reported that in the months after September when Gen. David H. Petraeus testified before Congress about the surge, collective coverage dropped to four minutes a week from 30 minutes a week at the height of coverage, in September 2007.
It was also pointed out that when Katie Couric, CBS’s embattled anchor, went to Iraq to report the story, she and her network were rewarded with their lowest ratings in over 20 years. Hollywood producers who had hoped there would be a public interest in cinematic perspectives on this war have been similarly punished.
It’s the public’s fault for not watching. The fact that Couric and Hollywood were putting out crap played no part in their woes.
The war remains on the front burner for some outlets. On Sunday, The Los Angeles Times gave over much of its front page to chronicling Californians who have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post continues to personalize the war with a series called Faces of the Fallen.
Honoring the memories of our fallen veterans is great, but if the war were really on the front burner, they might also report the actual events of the war. They know how to do it; in 2003, when they were paying attention, I read the Washington Post daily (or more) for updates on the war. Alas, you can’t get that kind of information from the mainstream media any more. When war reporting contains little to no actual war reporting, you can’t blame people for tuning out.
That’s according to the website for Planet Slayer, an environmentalist show for kids out of Australia. No joke, no paraphrase. It says: “find out when you should die.” Then, lest you miss the point, the next page says: “When you’re done, click on [skull and crossbones] to find out what age you should die at so you don’t use more than your share of Earth’s resources!” I took the questionnaire, just to find out what it would say. According to Planet Slayer, I should have died as a toddler.
This childrens’ show is promoting sentiments that Pol Pot would have found extreme. Yes, it’s taxpayer funded, of course.
This almost never happens, so it’s worth noting when it does. After bloggers pointed out that Obama’s story of his uncle liberating the Auschwitz death camp was impossible, insofar as Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying that he meant to say Buchenwald.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Riehl World View and Rand Simberg question whether the revised story is true either. (Via Instapundit.) It appears that Obama’s great-uncle may not have been in the 89th Infantry at all, and in fact may have served in the Navy. Still, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the (revised) story ends up being true. If so, Obama can help his case by telling us his great-uncle’s full name.
I saw two movies over the weekend: Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a rare treat for me; since my daughter was born I’ve seen about two movies a year on average.
Prince Caspian is a good movie, but it’s not the movie that I hoped it would be. I had high hopes, having read more than one review that said that the movie was even better than the book. I should have read between the lines and interpreted that to mean that the movie improved on the shortcomings of the book (as perceived by those reviewers). The book is a tale about faith in which there happens to be talking animals and a big battle. The movie is a story about big battles involving talking animals.
Crystal Skull is not a very good movie. All the previous Indiana Jones movies were implausible, but within the genre you could suspend disbelief. The latest installment crosses the line into farce.
It’s been hard to know what to think about the Texas polygamy cult case. It seems likely that some abuse may have taken place (perhaps even a lot), but it also seems likely that there was a massive abuse of authority by CPS and the Texas courts.
Then, along comes a story that emphasizes that it’s not only us; Texas CPS hasn’t a clue what went on there either:
Ten “girls” taken into custody by Texas Child Protective Services have convinced the agency they are really adults and more are expected to be similarly reclassified this week, weakening the agency’s claim that dozens of underage girls were forced by a polygamist sect to have sex with older men.
On Tuesday, six more “girls” were deemed adults, including 27-year-old Leona Allred, whose lawyer insisted CPS knew from the beginning that her client was an adult.
“My client showed them the same documents they showed them from the beginning: a valid Arizona driver’s license and a birth certificate,” said Andrea Sloan.
Two others, Merilyn Jeffs Keate and Sarah Cathleen Jessop Nielsen, were reclassified as adults Monday as five judges began sifting through the cases of all the children taken from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in West Texas. . .
On April 28, CPS officials said the agency believed that 31 of the 53 girls were between ages 14 and 17 and were pregnant, had children or both. But that 31 figure has been tied precariously to the fact that 26 “disputed minors” were among them.
This doesn’t let the cult off the hook, but it does rob Texas CPS of any credibility. The ability to tell 27-years old from children and to read official documents is a minimum level of competency for child protective services.
(Via Media Blog.)
On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today — our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.
Amusing, but on a more serious note, the AP reports:
Obama spokesman Bill Burton declined to respond directly to [McCain's invitation to visit Iraq], saying only: “Senator Obama thinks Memorial Day is a day to honor our nation’s veterans, not a day for political posturing.”
In Obama’s political-posturing-free campaign event in New Mexico (the one attended by fallen heroes), managed:
- To criticize the quality of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in female veterans,
- To attack the President for his promised veto of the “GI Bill for a 21st century,”
- To hint at a prosecution of security contractor Blackwater, and
- To assert that the funding for the war in Iraq must be cut off in order to pay for roads, bridges, broadband, jobs programs, and (ha!) middle-class tax cuts.
I doubt they even see the irony. After all, Obama is The Only Man Who Can Heal Our Souls. When he does it, it’s not posturing, it’s gospel.
I’m sufficiently used to media failure that I rarely any more find a case that really makes me angry, but this one manages. The AP runs a story that would be very bad news:
Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.
The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. . .
So far, al-Sistani’s fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.
All spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Fortunately, the story isn’t true. Unfortunately, this is the kind of story than can cost our people their lives just by being out there, even if it’s not true. One might have hoped that the AP would feel a special obligation to get the story right in this case, merely in the interest of not feeding violence. Nope. Instead, they run a story based entirely on anonymous accounts and apparently didn’t even ask Sistani for comment. (The closest they get is another anonymous statement, from a “longtime official.”) On the other hand, they’ve got plenty of people who think it’s unlikely, including one Juan Cole (an infamous Iraq war opponent).
Still, the AP comes away smelling like a rose compared to Time, who run the story after it’s already been debunked:
In recent days, there have been reports that Sistani has been quietly issuing religious edicts, or fatwas, calling for the armed resistance to U.S. forces. Such a move by Sistani would essentially mark a reversal of his passive cooperation with the U.S. enterprise in Iraq to date. However, Sistani’s aides deny the reports. “Nothing like that came from the office of the ayatollah,” said Hamid al-Kahfaff, a spokesman for Sistani in Najaf.
Times knows that Sistani’s aides deny the story, and they know that it would be out of character for Sistani to do it, and they have nothing but anonymous statements made to someone else (ie, gossip), but they print it anyway. Time’s reporting in Iraq has been pretty funny, but I’m not laughing any more.
The Sadrists responded by complaining that the Iraqi Army was violating the cease fire, which is pretty rich.
Since the Bush Administration launched a misguided war in Iraq, its policy in the Americas has been negligent toward our friends, ineffective with our adversaries, disinterested in the challenges that matter in peoples’ lives, and incapable of advancing our interests in the region.
No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past.
(Emphasis mine.) (Via LGF.)
So, Hugo Chavez stepped into the vacuum created by the war in Iraq, did he? Neat trick, since Chavez was elected in December 1998 and the war in Iraq began in March 2003.
POSTSCRIPT: I’m sure the Obama spin will be that Chavez didn’t fully step into the vacuum until later (when the vacuum existed), so let’s look at a few more dates: Chavez took office in February 1999. He amended the constitution in December 1999. He was re-elected in July 2000. Shortly thereafter, he was given the power to rule by decree. Surely even the spin doctors will admit Chavez was fully in power by the time he became a dictator.
POST-POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of neglect toward our friends in the Americas, how about the Democrats killing the free-trade pact with Colombia for no reason whatsoever?
Barack Obama, on May 22:
I would be willing to initiate such talks with leaders of countries adversarial to the United States. There would be a lot of preparation. The first steps would not be to pre-judge all the items on the list. . .
One of the obvious high priorities in my talks with President Hugo Chavez would be the fermentation of anti-American sentiment in Latin America, his support of FARC in Colombia and other issues he would want to talk about. It is important to understand that ignoring these countries has not led to improved behavior on their part and it has not served our national security interests.
[Obama] promised to punish any South American government that gives support to the Colombian rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, an indirect reference to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“We will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments,” he said. “This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation, and — if need be — strong sanctions. It must not stand.”
So Obama will simultaneously isolate Chavez, and also meet with him on topics of his choosing. Neat trick.
In Iraq, Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to build on the security gains of the past 15 months as we also continue to reduce US forces and transition responsibility to Iraqi Security Forces, strive to maintain the conditions necessary for political progress, help build governmental capacity, and seek to foster economic development.
I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents.
This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July.
Follow the link for a chart. (Full speech here.)
A 10-day operation by Iraqi troops in Mosul has succeeded in dismantling Al-Qaeda’s network in Iraq’s main northern city, regarded by US commanders as the jihadists’ last urban bastion, the interior ministry said on Saturday.
“Operation ‘Mother of Two Springs’ has enabled us to dismantle and weaken the Al-Qaeda network in Nineveh province,” ministry spokesman Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP. . .
The US military has provided support for the operation in Mosul but it has been conducted and led by Iraqi troops.
(Via Hot Air.)
I would caution, however, that this account is somewhat at odds with the US Army’s assessment, which is that there may be some heavy fighting in Mosul remaining.
According to the Colombian government, reports the AP.
One of the biggest disappointments of Bush’s second term has been the performance of Condoleezza Rice since moving to Foggy Bottom. The State Department is in desperate need of reform, and I had hoped that Rice would be the one to do it. Alas, it seemed instead that she went native.
In the cover story for the next Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes writes that we don’t know the half of it. Hayes reports that Rice was central to the fall of the Bush doctrine, and also that she opposed the surge, which is easily the most important success of Bush’s second term. The article is unsummarizable, so I’ll leave you to read it. (Via Power Line.)
Leaders of the Communist Party of St. Petersburg have accused the actors Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett of being “capitalist puppets” and promoting crude, anti-Soviet propaganda in their new film, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” . . .
The swashbuckling archaeologist’s fourth adventure is set in the Cold War in 1957. It pits Indiana Jones against a sinister KGB agent, played by Blanchett, who leads a ruthless team of Soviet spies in the hunt for a skull endowed with mystical powers.
The Communist Party’s ideology committee in Russia’s second largest city saw red over the plot. In an open letter, it declared: “Your work in this film is an insult to the Soviet and Russian people, who remember the difficult Fifties when our country was concluding its reconstruction after the Great War, but did not send merciless terrorists to the USA.” . . .
“You have no future in Russia any more. Speaking plainly, it is better for you not to come here. You will be beaten and despised.”
Good show, Ford and Blanchett; you’re making good enemies. I wonder what the Communist Party ideology committee thought of Charlie Wilson’s War.
By the way, here’s a good example of the kind of “reconstruction” the Soviet Union was doing during those difficult Fifties.
Hillary Clinton today brought up the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy while defending her decision to stay in the race against Barack Obama.
“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it,” she said, dismissing calls to drop out.
Usually when liberals talk, I at least have some idea what they’re trying to say. Not this time.
Obama’s campaign fired back, which illustrates their inexperience, I think. When your opponent says something this bizarre, you just want to stand back and watch.
(Via the Corner.)
Fox News has a piece on tall tales told by Barack Obama (third in a series that started with Clinton and McCain). Most of them I’ve heard before (e.g., it’s not true that Obama doesn’t take money from lobbyists), but I thought this one was interesting:
5. Nuclear Legislation, Dec. 30, 2007
During a campaign event in Newton, Iowa, Obama touted his sponsorship of a bill in the Senate that required nuclear power plant owners to notify authorities immediately of all radioactive leaks, no matter how small.
Non-truth: That was “the only nuclear legislation that I’ve passed” he told the crowd.
Truth: Obama had rewritten the bill to ease its passage and removed the language requiring the reporting of leaks. The bill died when it reached the full Senate, and did not pass as he claimed.
Why lie about a matter of public record? Doesn’t that seem kinda stupid?
Completing today’s hat trick of good Iraq news, the Mosul operation is succeeding:
The number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq said Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling said U.S. and Iraqi forces have not met fierce resistance since the operation began on May 10. He attributed this mostly to the large numbers of troops on the streets, an initial curfew, extensive preparations and construction of new checkpoints.
The American media has been almost silent on the Mosul operation, presumably since it’s going well. But the Army cautions that there may be some tough fighting ahead:
Iraqi commanders have said some al-Qaida fighters fled in advance of the operation, meaning they would be able to fight another day.
But Hertling said he did not believe many had escaped and that some who had been in regions outside Mosul before the crackdown were moving toward the city to take up the battle. He said intelligence indicates “many of their leaders have been pushing fighters to Mosul because they see it as a critical fight as well.”
“We anticipate there will be some attacks by the enemy once they come out of this initial phase of being surprised within the city,” he told reporters during a news conference in Baghdad. “We anticipate that there might be car bombs, suicide vests or things like that.”
I’m sure the media will rediscover Mosul if that happens.
The British have emerged from their compound and are patrolling Basra again. Good for them. I wonder about the politics of this though. Gordon Brown has shown no enthusiasm for carrying through on the British commitment in Iraq, so why do this now? Is this a response to his drubbing at the polls by the Tories? Or is it just a result of the success of Iraq’s Basra operation?
The NYT reports:
Iraqi troops pushed deep into Sadr City on Tuesday as the Iraqi government sought to establish control over the district, a densely populated Shiite enclave in the Iraqi capital.
The long-awaited military operation, which took place without the involvement of American ground forces, was the first determined effort by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood, which has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel cleric.
The operation comes in the wake of the government’s offensive in Basra, in southern Iraq, which for the time being seems to have pacified that city and restored government control.
The Iraqi forces met no significant resistance. By midday, they had driven to a key thoroughfare that bisects Sadr City and taken up positions near hospitals and police stations, institutions that the Iraqi government is seeking to put under its control. . .
The soldiers were also deployed near the political headquarters of Mr. Sadr. There were no visible signs of the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by Mr. Sadr, although many walls bore posters of him that seemed to have been put up in the last few days.
(Via Power Line.)
It’s good to see the Iraqis take charge. Question 1: How galling must it be to the NYT to have to write a comes-at-time sentence that correlates Sadr City to other good news in Basra? Question 2: How is Time going to portray this as a victory for Sadr? (I’m guessing the posters. If Sadr has posters up, he must be winning.)
The article also gives an interesting account of how the operation took place.
Charles Krauthammer writes about how Obama’s foreign-policy gaffe at the YouTube debate has transformed itself into doctrine, due to Obama’s inability ever to admit a mistake:
Before the Democratic debate of July 23, Barack Obama had never expounded upon the wisdom of meeting, without precondition, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il or the Castro brothers. But in that debate, he was asked about doing exactly that. Unprepared, he said sure — then got fancy, declaring the Bush administration’s refusal to do so not just “ridiculous” but “a disgrace.”
After that, there was no going back. So he doubled down. What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.
(Via Power Line.)
Meanwhile, Power Line posts what a thoughtful answer to the question might have sounded like, courtesy of Nixon and JFK.
In a feat of chutzpah, Reid blames Republicans for stalling. The substance of the stalling allegation is the treatment of Helene White. White was nominated at the request of Democratic senators, and her hearing was held almost immediately (while other well-qualified and thoroughly vetted nominees languished), even before the ABA’s report was in. Pat Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the committee, has a rule that no vote can be held until the ABA report is received. Yet Reid nevertheless moved her nomination early and blames the GOP when she wasn’t prematurely confirmed.
(Via the Corner.)
The Department of Homeland Security is experimenting with the laser system, called Project Chloe (after the “24″ character). The system would sense a missile launch and fire its laser to jam the missile’s heat-seeking guidance system. Flying at 60,000 feet, the DHS hopes that a single such system could protect all commercial airports in LA County.
David Ranson, head of research at Wainwright Economics, has an amazing op-ed piece in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. Most of us have heard of the Laffer Curve, which is based on the unarguable proposition that the government will collect no revenue when tax rates are 0% or 100%, and that revenue peaks somewhere in the middle. When tax rates are to the right of the peak, tax cuts make money and tax hikes lose money.
The question has always been, where on the Laffer Curve are we? Clearly there is no sense in tax rates that are past the revenue peak. Moreover, (lest it be forgotten) the government’s purpose is not to maximize tax revenue. If taxes are discouraging economic activity so much that we are even close to the peak, taxes are much too high. The problem is that the Laffer Curve is not really a fixed function that we can plot; it’s very difficult to determine what the result of a change in tax rates will be.
Enter Kurt Hauser, who made a remarkable discovery in 1993 that, even more remarkably, has not been well publicized. As Ranson explains in his op-ed, over the last half century, revenues have remained roughly constant at 19.5% of GDP despite wildly varying tax rates. He calls this Hauser’s Law, and shows that it has continued to operate in the years since Hauser discovered it.
Hauser’s Law is more compelling than the Laffer Curve it part because it is empirical (the Laffer Curve posits a theoretical relationship, but does not spell out the actual shape of the curve), and in part because it is so shockingly simple (a horizontal line). And it’s lesson is clear:
Forget about generating more revenue through tax hikes; it won’t work. Clinton’s big tax increase isn’t even visible on the revenue graph, and neither are Kennedy’s and Reagan’s massive tax cuts. If you want more government revenue, the only way to do it is to grow the economy, which is what supply-siders have been saying all along.
UPDATE (3/24/2010): Hauser’s report is on-line here.
Why did the tanks roll? Because Poland refused to negotiate over Danzig, a Baltic port of 350,000 that was 95 percent German and had been taken from Germany at the Paris peace conference of 1919, in violation of Wilson’s 14 Points and his principle of self-determination.
Hitler had not wanted war with Poland. He had wanted an alliance with Poland in his anti-Comintern pact against Joseph Stalin.
But the Poles refused to negotiate. Why? Because they were a proud, defiant, heroic people and because Neville Chamberlain had insanely given an unsolicited war guarantee to Poland. If Hitler invaded, Chamberlain told the Poles, Britain would declare war on Germany.
From March to August 1939, Hitler tried to negotiate Danzig. But the Poles, confident in their British war guarantee, refused. So, Hitler cut his deal with Stalin, and the two invaded and divided Poland.
The cost of the war that came of a refusal to negotiate Danzig was millions of Polish dead, the Katyn massacre, Treblinka, Sobibor, Auschwitz, the annihilation of the Home Army in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, and 50 years of Nazi and Stalinist occupation, barbarism and terror.
Buchanan seems to be saying that there would have been no Second World War, if only the Poles had negotiated away Danzig. (The Poles actually did negotiate over Danzig, but I guess not early enough or earnestly enough to suit Adolf Hitler or Pat Buchanan.) Danzig would have been Hitler’s last conquest — we are to believe — and with it achieved he would have set aside his lifelong dreams of lebensraum. But poor, poor Hitler; those unreasonable Poles refused to hand it over.
It truly takes a special sort of person to argue that appeasement would have worked with Hitler, if only we had done a little bit more of it. Bravo, Pat Buchanan.
(POSTSCRIPT: If the President’s speech achieved nothing else, it sure has turned out the idiots.)
“I have to say I completely disagree that people have been walking back from anything,” Obama said. “They may be correcting the characterizations or distortions of John McCain or others of what I said. What I said was I would meet with our adversaries, including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions, but that does not mean without preparation.”
On CNN, Tuesday, Obama echoed [advisor Susan] Rice, saying he may not meet with Ahmadinejad.
“I think this obsession with Ahmadinejad is an example of us losing track of what’s important,” he said. “I would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders if we had done sufficient preparations for that meeting.
n. A condition that must exist or be established before something can occur or be considered; a prerequisite.
How does Obama explain the difference between a precondition and something that merely has to happen before an event can occur?
Last week, in South Dakota, Obama sought to explain what he meant at last July’s debate when he agreed to meetings “without preconditions.”
“Preconditions, as it applies to a country like Iran, for example, was a term of art because this administration has been very clear that it will not have direct negotiations with Iran until Iran has met preconditions that are, essentially, what Iran views and many other observers would view as the subject of the negotiations,” Obama told reporters.
I see. At the YouTube debate, Obama wasn’t using the word for its usual English meeting; it was a “term of art” that conveniently means something far less embarrassing now. (This is risible already, but lets not forget that Obama didn’t even use the word himself. The word was used in a question asked by a citizen in a YouTube video. How Obama can project his “term of art” into another person’s question is quite beyond me.)
An ordinary person might admit that he was overly hasty in answering the question, but not Obama.
The allegation isn’t exactly solidly sourced, but is it plausible? I guess the matter comes down to whom we think is more respectable, the New York Times or an anonymous source cited by Hot Air. Tough call.
UPDATE: It’s not proof that they made the threat, but if they did, they followed through on it.
You may not see that information there, because it was deleted at 3:22 Eastern. The cited justification for the anonymous edit is “Removing uncited statement.”
So, is it true? It took me 10 seconds of googling to find this YouTube video, which has been up for over a year.
The New York Times breathlessly reports:
Senator Barack Obama drew the largest crowd of his campaign so far on Sunday, addressing an estimated 75,000 people who had gathered here on the banks of the Willamette River.
“Wow! Wow! Wow!” were his first words as he surveyed the multitude, which included people in kayaks and small pleasure craft on the river on an unseasonably hot day in Oregon.
It is “fair to say this is the most spectacular setting for the most spectacular crowd” of his campaign, he told the audience. His wife and daughters, who have been with him most of the weekend, joined him on the stage at the beginning of the event but left as he was about to speak.
Also on the stage was a free concert by a popular local rock band, which might have drawn a fan or two to the park on a beautiful Sunday. The NYT didn’t think that was worth mentioning. (Via the Corner.)
The Jerusalem Post reports:
The French Court of Appeals on Wednesday found in favor of Jewish activist Philippe Karsenty, overturning a lower court decision that he had libeled France 2 and its Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin when he accused them of knowingly misleading the watching world about the death of the Palestinian child Mohammed al-Dura in the Gaza Strip in 2000.
“The verdict means we have the right to say France 2 broadcast a fake news report, that [al-Dura's shooting] was a staged hoax and that they duped everybody – without being sued,” Karsenty told The Jerusalem Post shortly after the verdict was issued at 1:30 p.m. Paris time.
Al-Dura was filmed cowering with his father Jalal behind a barrel at the Gaza Strip’s Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000, during an apparent gun battle between Palestinians and Israeli troops. Fifty-five seconds of video footage were released to the world by France 2 at the time, out of some 18 minutes that were shown in court and even more footage that France 2′s detractors claim is not being shown to the public. . .
Karsenty, the head of the media watchdog Media Ratings, was sued for libel after calling for Enderlin’s and France 2 news director Arlette Chabot’s dismissal, saying the footage was “a hoax.” Enderlin, who was not present in Gaza at the time of the incident, has vehemently denied the charge, expressing confidence in cameraman Abu Rahma’s honesty. . .
The IDF, which initially apologized for the death of al-Dura, concluded after an investigation that the boy could not have been hit by Israeli bullets.
DC police officers will now be armed with AR-15 rifles. Mind you, not SWAT units, which have had assault rifles for years, but routine patrols. The AR-15 is essentially the same weapon as the M-16, the Army’s main rifle, the only significant difference being that the AR-15 will not fire burst/auto.
In other words, the District of Columbia is going to start using soldiers to patrol the streets. Actually, that’s not quite fair, since DC police haven’t the training or professionalism of real American soldiers.
An article from last week’s Economist drew my attention to business-method patents, which I hadn’t been aware of before. For the last ten years, it seems, the Patent Office has allowed patents on business strategies. For example, Priceline holds a patent on the method of using Dutch auctions to sell tickets.
All patents are fundamentally anti-competitive, but patenting business methods seems particularly egregious. Therefore, it seems like good news that the US Court of Appeals is considering overturning the case that allowed them.
On the other hand, the NYT quotes one observer who is not bullish about the chances that business-method patents will be overturned, commenting: “Definitions of business method patents always end up being circular. You can’t really ban something unless you can define it and no one is offering a definition we can use.”
The Prior Art, an IP blog, has been following the case and has some other interesting thoughts.