Friday Digest

Digest

Dec. 14, 2007

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS

News from the Swamp: Spending battles

On the Hill: The Democrats may control Congress, but they are no closer to seeing their spending goals realized than when they were in the minority two years ago. Misplaced legislative priorities and poor political judgment have put them in the position of having to pass 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills in one giant $522-billion omnibus package before calling it quits for the holidays or risk shutting down the government for lack of funds. Speaker Pelosi plans a vote Tuesday before the stopgap funding expires next Friday.

Those of us with good memories recall how the Democrats mocked the Republicans for not being able to pass all of the fiscal 2007 budget bills last year. We also remember how the Demos took over Congress with the promise of fiscal responsibility and timeliness. Neither of those promises has been kept. President George W. Bush has threatened to veto the omnibus bill, which is $18 billion over the White House’s budget request. House and Senate Democrats, who are now pointing fingers at each other, have acquiesced to the overall limit of $933 billion for non-defense discretionary spending.

Playing politics with desperately needed war funding and attempts to give away gobs of money to their supporters in the form of social-welfare programs have put the Democrats in a difficult situation. Their leadership surely must realize that their attempts to defund the war will not happen while President Bush is in the White House, and the President’s newfound firmness on fiscal responsibility will prevent them from funding programs in their own way.

This week’s ‘Alpha Jackass’ award

“We are fighting for principle—and for this nation’s future. We are not giving up. Passing an AMT bill that is not paid for is not a fait accompli.” —House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

Just to understand: The Alternative Minimum Tax is set to increase automatically next year thanks to Democrats in the 1960s. Now Hoyer is demanding that “wealthier” taxpayers fork over the money to make sure the government doesn’t lose this increase in tax revenue. Whose money is it?

New & notable legislation

President Bush vetoed another version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) expansion Wednesday. He wrote, “Because the Congress has chosen to send me an essentially identical bill that has the same problems as the flawed bill I previously vetoed, I must veto this legislation, too.” Oddly enough, The New York Times unwittingly got it right: “Democrats calculate that Mr. Bush will look heartless by vetoing health care for children and that Republicans will suffer at the polls.” It’s all politics. If the veto is sustained, a one-year extension will likely be passed.

The House passed 222-199 a bill to bar the CIA from using waterboarding as an interrogation tactic against murderous jihadis bent on killing as many innocent Americans as possible. Good thing Democrats are “tough on national security” —we would hate to see what weak looks like.

From the Left: Oprah hits the campaign trail

Daytime-TV icon Oprah Winfrey hit the campaign trail for Barack Obama this week, drawing over 70,000 people in South Carolina and New Hampshire. Winning Winfrey’s support—a woman of near mythic status as one of the top names in entertainment—was a huge coup for Obama, who has been stuck in a near-permanent second place behind Hillary Clinton. Winfrey’s stump speeches contained some well-placed digs at the former first lady, referring to her flip-flopping on the Iraq war and making some general comments about accountability and integrity that could refer only to the Clinton camp. All this hoopla over Winfrey’s appearance begs the question: Will Oprah’s army of fans really throw their support behind Obama, or are they just in it for a chance to share the stadium with her for an afternoon?

Campaign watch: Appealing to Latino voters

Given a chance to soften what’s been portrayed as harsh rhetoric toward the growing number of Hispanic voters in America, most of the major Republican candidates participated in a debate translated into Spanish earlier this week in Miami. As one would expect, many of the questions dealt with the subject of immigration, with Rudy Giuliani and John McCain exhibiting laxer stances on the subject. Both showed a willingness to allow certain illegal aliens to stay in the country after the borders were secured, with Giuliani noting, “The people who want to come forward should be allowed to come forward.” John McCain added that the rhetoric on illegal immigration makes Hispanics “believe that we are not in favor of… Hispanic citizens in this country.” Thanks to demagogues like McCain, perhaps.

Most candidates, though, held a harder line despite the audience. Fred Thompson was among those who advocated a more conventional approach, stating, “We have to enforce our borders and we have to uphold our law.” The debate, which aired on the Spanish-language network Univision, drew all but one of the GOP contenders. Rep. Tom Tancredo boycotted the event, saying it furthers the “balkanization” of America. Recent poll-vaulter Mike Huckabee chastened the no-show, saying not participating would be an “insult” to both Republicans and Hispanic voters. It is possible to win votes while advocating for the law, and Republicans would do well to figure that out.

Libby drops appeal as Bush pardons 29 others

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby has dropped the appeal to his conviction for perjury in the so-called outing of so-called CIA operative Valerie Plame. If he pushed the matter, he could risk a new jail sentence and another fortune in legal fees—not to mention the years-long legal burden it would heap upon the Libby family. President Bush commuted Libby’s two-and-a-half-year prison sentence earlier this year but left him on the hook for the $250,000 fine and two years of probation. Then there’s Libby’s status as a convicted felon.

President Bush’s lack of loyalty here stings all the more because this past week, observing a yearly presidential tradition, he pardoned 29 convicted felons ranging from crack dealers to moonshiners and carjackers. The President still managed to skip over Scooter, who nearly went to prison to defend the administration against baseless liberal claims of corruption. Given this President’s reputation for loyalty, we expected better for Mr. Libby.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Homeland Security: CIA tapes and waterboarding

Former CIA operative John Kiriakou (no relation to Valerie Plame) went public this week with confirmation that captured terrorist Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein abu Zubaida was subjected to “waterboarding” in 2002 as part of his interrogation. Kiriakou relates that abu Zubaida’s reaction to waterboarding was “like flipping a switch” and that Zubaida immediately began divulging detailed knowledge of ongoing al-Qa’ida plans. Kiriakou explains that waterboarding was used after Zubaida resisted other less aggressive interrogation methods, and Kiriakou contends that Zubaida’s interrogation “probably saved lives.”

What to make, then, of Kiriakou’s subsequent statement that waterboarding “was necessary at the time, but we’ve moved beyond that”? Does he mean that there are new, more terrorist-friendly methods that can rapidly break down even a hardened jihadist like Zubaida—described as “ideologically zealous, defiant and uncooperative,” or that there will never again be a situation in which a captured terrorist has time-sensitive information about an attack, calling for more aggressive means of extraction?

As for the Democrats, their recent opposition to waterboarding is just that—recent. Several congressmen were briefed in 2002 on the matter, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and not only did they raise no objections, but they also encouraged even tougher tactics. Pelosi and company were obviously waiting for a better political atmosphere to float their opposition.

We’ve said it before: The arguments about waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation—including, yes, even those qualifying as torture—are a whole lot different in the real world from the theoretical setting of a policy seminar or a college class. Possibly the six years that have elapsed since 9/11 contribute to a willingness to shift back to the theoretical standpoint, but rest assured that in the Long War against Islamofascism and Jihadistan, we will again be faced with the need to extract crucial information in short order.

When innocent lives are at stake, we favor extracting the information as quickly as possible via any approved method, including waterboarding, and perhaps some unapproved methods.

In related news, the CIA revealed that videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation were destroyed in 2005. Lawyers representing terrorist suspects, congressional Democrats (notionally “representing” the American people) and the ACLU tripped over each other crying foul, in some cases going as far as to insinuate that CIA knowingly destroyed evidentiary material requested by defense lawyers. While we do not regard the CIA’s explanation—that destruction was necessary to protect the operatives’ identities—as especially convincing, we think the CIA’s motives are much more aligned with U.S. national-security interests than those of Ted Kennedy and his ACLU pals.

This week’s ‘Braying Jackass’ award

“Those tapes were not shown to Congress. They were not shown to any court. They were not shown to the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. Instead, they were destroyed. What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious—cover-up. The agency was desperate to cover up damning evidence of their practices.” —The Blustering One, Ted Kennedy, who knows a thing or two about cover ups

Warfront with Jihadistan: Afghanistan push

Applying lessons learned in Iraq to Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, led by NATO, executed a major military operation with Afghan National Army troops to secure the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan, which became a Taliban stronghold when British forces abandoned it last October. Musa Qala is a good example of the difficulties and mistakes NATO troops have faced as the Taliban have regrouped over the last two years. Large numbers of British troops secured the area in early 2006, but poor planning using smaller troop numbers failed to maintain that security, similar to U.S. tactics early on in Iraq. The British also trusted local leaders to keep the Taliban out, again similar to failed U.S. efforts in Iraq. As Taliban fighters re-infiltrated the area in large numbers, the outnumbered Brits quickly came under siege and the territory was lost.

Now, using methods similar to the U.S. “surge” in Iraq, Coalition forces are using larger numbers of troops to consolidate their control of the area, pushing outward and securing key towns and districts, then allowing Afghan troops to hold those areas before moving on. Demonstrating the successful use of these new tactics, this week upwards of a hundred or more Taliban were killed while Coalition troops re-secured Musa Qala. We can be thankful that successful military tactics are being learned and applied around the world against our jihadi enemies.

From the Department of Military Readiness

Speaking of adapting military tactics for present needs, we found this bit of helpful information in a Department of Defense manual defining “first page”: “If the document has no front cover, the first page will be the front page. If it has a cover, the first page is defined as the first page you see when you open the cover. In some documents, the title page and the first page may be the same.” Whew! Thanks for clearing that up!

Profiles of valor: USAF Special Agent Carmack

Air Force Special Agent Gregory Carmack served as an explosive-ordnance specialist last year in Kirkuk, Iraq—one of his six tours in the Middle East. In June 2006, Carmack’s three-vehicle Office of Special Investigations (OSI) convoy was attempting to capture a terrorist in Kirkuk when they met a nine-truck Army detachment to hammer out details of the operation. During the discussion, Carmack reacted to a shot fired from a small truck that had run a security checkpoint and was heading their way. Carmack opened fire on the truck, mortally wounding the driver, who lost control and hit an unoccupied Army Humvee. Analysis afterward revealed the truck to have been carrying two 130-millimeter cannon shells—enough ordnance to kill all American service members present. Not only was Carmack successful in warding off a terrible attack but his OSI convoy later accomplished their mission, capturing the high-value target near Kirkuk. “I believe in what we are doing. I’ve been there, been on the ground every day for six months,” Carmack said. “What we do there is making a difference.” On 13 September 2007, Carmack received the Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor. He is currently serving at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

From the states: Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is at it again—and we’re cheering him on. His latest idea for punishment for driving under the influence involves a chain gang—clad in black and white striped pants and pink shirts that read “Sheriff D.U.I. Chain Gang” —cleaning the streets at a busy intersection. The shirts also read “Clean(ing) and Sober” on the back. Sheriff Joe’s D.U.I. convicts not only suffer this public shame, but their punishment also includes performing burials at an indigent cemetery where many victims of alcohol abuse are laid to rest. We’ll venture to say that few of these 15 prisoners take the car keys again when drunk—if they even drink again. We also doubt that Ted Kennedy will be visiting Maricopa County any time soon.

BUSINESS & ECONOMY

More jobs = bad economy

While we appreciate the subtlety of being a stoic, we marvel at the ability of The New York Times to mutate from optimist to pessimist based on who happens to be the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When President Clinton was in office, every economic measure was positive, but since the arrival of President Bush, all indicators have us plunging into the toilet. This week The Times ominously reported that new 94,000 jobs were created in November—“the clearest sign yet that the American economy was headed for a substantial slowdown.” Well, a recession occurs when there are two successive quarters of negative economic growth. Positive job growth, on the other hand, generally portends positive economic growth. Slow growth, then, is still growth.

There are two major destabilizing influences in the U.S. economy today: the cost of energy and the slumping housing sector. Regarding energy costs, The Times has been a primary opponent of energy independence and efficient distribution of energy to consumers. They oppose utilizing known resources in the U.S. They oppose the implementation of nuclear power, despite the fact that France, a country long noted for its superior engineering capabilities, has shown that nuclear energy can be safely deployed. Concerning the real-estate market, we acknowledge that residential construction and mortgage lending are experiencing significant restructuring. However, we seem to recall former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan in a previous decade having warned of the perils of irrational exuberance, albeit in another sector of the economy.

If we suffered the cynicism of The Times, we would welcome their journalistic wringing of hands and rending of garments. However, we suggest that they join us in campaigning to make the tax cuts championed by President Bush permanent. After all, if one is certain that the economy is slowing, wouldn’t the stimulation of ongoing growth be the highest priority?

Go South, young man

The liberal Northeast and parts of the Midwest are losing their luster as high taxes and low incentives drive people to move South and West, where taxes are low and jobs are plentiful, according to a Wall Street Journal article by economists Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. A recent study looking at the economic competitiveness of the 50 states demonstrated that over the past decade, the ten states with the highest taxes and spending and the stiffest regulations “have half the population and job growth, and one-third slower growth in incomes, than the ten most economically free states.” California and New York, bastions of big government (read: liberal government), and eight other states, collectively are losing people at the rate of 1,500 per day to states such as Texas and Florida, where governments know how to treat businesses and reward hard work.

The situation has gotten so bad that some companies won’t even consider placing their factories in the Northeast, where government is one-fifth more expensive than the rest of the country. The liberal mentality that runs these states is burying them economically, and the only way to change that will be to lower taxes, reduce government spending and offer incentives to industry.

Regulatory Commissars: Cali-regulation

Judge Anthony Ishii of the U.S. District Court in Sacramento upheld a California law that regulates greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles by requiring automakers to increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent by 2016. The U.S. Congress is working on a bill that stipulates a 40-percent increase by 2020. The auto industry actually argued in this case that it is the federal government’s job to regulate fuel economy. Meanwhile, California Attorney General Edmund Brown cheered the decision: “This is the fourth defeat for the Bush administration and the auto companies,” he said. “I hope it sends a powerful message to the White House and to Congress that California’s role as an innovator should be appreciated and not negated.” He’s got a point. After all, if it weren’t for George W. Bush, global warming wouldn’t be a problem.

Eastern Europe: The free market’s last hope?

The meeting of the Stockholm Network (a network of free-market think-tanks) in Europe last week highlights a growing trend in the European intellectual community: increasing interest in the value of a free-market economy. An organization that ten years ago boasted five members now has 130 related groups promoting free-market principles across Europe.

This growing intellectual trend has had practical results. As we reported several weeks ago, nations across Eastern Europe (including many former Soviet states) have adopted tax policies that make the United States look downright communist. Bulgaria’s successful adoption of a flat ten-percent income-tax rate stands as a shining example, while the “Baltic Tigers” of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania continue to flourish economically under similar tax policies. Lower taxes, of course, mean less government. While American politicians continue to court socialism as the solution to our alleged healthcare crisis, Slovakia is busily introducing private health-insurance companies and reducing the role of the government.

The irony is thick—and distressing. While Americans are increasingly tempted to look to a growing federal government to solve their every problem, the former Soviet states—whom we essentially freed from communism—are embracing liberty far more consistently than we are. The ideals of freedom, of lower taxes and less government shouldn’t sound strange to us. They simply represent good constitutional thinking in the tradition of the Founders. Sadly, it seems that Latvia, Bulgaria and Slovakia are more familiar with our Constitution than is our own federal government.

CULTURE

Around the nation: ‘Gun free’?

On Sunday, 24-year-old Matthew Murray walked into the parking lot of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and opened fire. It was just after noon, the service had just ended, and more than 7,000 people were present. Fortunately for those church members, security guard Jeanne Assam was armed and ready, in part due to a shooting at nearby Youth With a Mission the night before, also perpetrated by Murray. Assam ran toward Murray and shot him several times, dropping him to the floor where he then finished the job himself. Two twenty-something missionaries were murdered at Youth With a Mission and two teenage sisters were slain in the parking lot of New Life. Thanks to Assam, however, many more lives were spared.

Without belaboring the details of the mental problems of the murderer or his motives, all of which have endlessly been discussed by the mainstream media, we will make two points (again). First, suggesting that mass murder is a “gun problem” ignores the real problem—murderous pathology and the culture which nurtures it. Second, the pattern with this and other murderous rampages of late (the Nebraska and Utah malls and Virginia Tech come to mind) is that they each took place in “gun-free zones.” Had the security guard at New Life not been armed, more lives would certainly have been lost. That’s one reason for the Second Amendment.

Frontiers of Junk Science: Gore and kangaroos

Al Gore was in Oslo, Norway, this week to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate change crusade. We were shocked—shocked—to learn that Captain Planet jetted across the Atlantic in a greenhouse-gas-emitting airplane. Certainly, ships are pollutants, too, but the former VP could have at least opted for a hot-air balloon. Perhaps he was reserving the hot air for his speech and interviews in which he (a) blasted the Bush administration as “the principal obstacle to progress in solving the climate crisis”; (b) managed to draw a parallel between skepticism regarding global warming and the war in Iraq; and © compared his mission to save an iceberg to the last century’s fight to defeat fascism.

Unfortunately for Gore, his Oslo moment came at almost the same time the International Journal of Climatology of the Royal Meteorological Society published a study naming the sun as the real culprit in global warming. Study co-author S. Fred Singer of the University of Virginia said, “We are fairly sure that what’s causing the warming are changes in the sun.” Co-author David H. Douglass of the University of Rochester added, “The inescapable conclusion is that the human contribution is not significant.”

This report, though, is unlikely to change the minds of Australian scientists who want to cut greenhouse gases by giving cows and sheep kangaroo-like stomachs. Apparently, ‘roo flatulence is methane-free and, thus, more environmentally friendly than that of their bovine and ovine counterparts. Hmm, methane-free wind? Perhaps a better use of the kangaroo guts would be in the engine on Al Gore’s next jet ride.

Judicial Benchmarks: Prison Fellowship

Prison Fellowship Ministries has had success in rehabilitating prison inmates over the years, but last week a federal appeals court barred its working with Iowa inmates using government funds. The court found that although participation was purely voluntary, the program unconstitutionally favored religion as there was no comparable secular program that inmates could choose. Accordingly, inmates could obtain certain benefits only through the program, thereby disadvantaging nonreligious (or non-Christian) inmates.

Still, a properly structured program could well gain judicial approval. Courts have objected to “new” religious alternatives (whether in prisons, schools or other social services) as helping religion, even though the pre-existing governmental alternative (i.e. the public schools) is always secular. However, the Supreme Court has recognized that a truly level playing field (where there is no advantage for either religious or nonreligious option) is undeniably constitutional. When truly free choice exists, both individual liberty and religious institutions will benefit.

Faith and Family: The Arlington Wreath Project

As Americans hang wreaths on doors and mantels this Christmas season, Morrill Worcester will be arranging to place wreaths against a much different backdrop: the hallowed gravestones of Arlington National Cemetery. Since 1992, the Worcester Wreath Company has given the Cemetery more than 5,000 wreaths annually. The project, known as the Arlington Wreath Project, began when the company, owned by Worcester, found itself with extra wreaths at the close of the 1992 holiday season. Wanting to do something to honor our nation’s veterans, Worcester arranged for these wreaths to be laid in one of Arlington’s older and less-visited sections. As Worcester’s plans became known, other groups and individuals began offering their support and assistance.

Fifteen years later, more than 75,000 wreaths have adorned the Arlington graves of our nation’s fallen veterans. In 2006, Worcester took the project national with the launch of Wreaths Across America. In his words, “We couldn’t do anything in this country if it wasn’t for the people who gave their lives to protect us. It’s a great honor to be able to come here and pay our respects.”

And last…

For any Patriots out there expecting a little one and seeking the appropriate name, we should inform you that “Hillary” has taken a plunge in popularity. Based on information from the Social Security Administration, after peaking in 1992 at number 131 among the top 1,000 girls’ names, the name “Hillary” had dropped out of the top 1,000 by 2002 and 2003. It stood at 982 in 2006. Indeed, the name fell out of favor even faster than Ebenezer (Scrooge) and Adolf (Hitler), both of which took more than 30 years after their unfortunate associations to lose their place among the top 1,000. Hillary, though, accomplished this feat in a mere decade. She also holds the title for fastest drop in a single year—295 places. In fact, around our humble shop, we’re tired of hearing her name at all and have opted instead for the Harry Potter name-avoidance technique: “She Who Shall Not Be Named.”

Veritas vos Liberabit—Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus, et Fidelis! Mark Alexander, Publisher, for The Patriot’s editors and staff. (Please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces standing in harm’s way around the world, and for their families—especially families of those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, who granted their lives in defense of American liberty.)

It's Right. It's Free.