Archive for December, 2009

Just Do ItAfter allegedly telling investigators “there are more just like me who will strike soon,” Captain Underpants apparently has been allowed to lawyer up and stop talking. In the Wall Street Journal, former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing explains why this is madness:

Abdulmutallab is in effect in possession of a ticking bomb, but we cannot interrogate him. His right to remain silent, as required by the Miranda rule, thwarts Mr. Obama’s hollow attempt on Tuesday to “assure” us he is “doing everything in [his] power” to keep us safe. Questions need to be answered. Where was Abdulmutallab trained? Who trained him? Where is the training facility located? Where is the stash of PETN, the explosive used in the bomb? What are the techniques he was told to use for getting through airport security? Was there a well-dressed man who helped him board the plane without a passport as claimed by another passenger? And, most important, are future attacks planned?

Cliff May, head of the indispensable Foundation for Defense of Democracies, expands on the theme:

Terrorism is not a criminal justice matter; it is a weapon of asymmetric warfare. … We know there will be murders, robberies, rapes, and muggings; we understand that the FBI will never eliminate organized crime; we realize that some criminals will escape punishment because their guilt cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Viewing terrorism through this same prism, however, means accepting that planes will be blown up and that other forms of mass-casualty violence — bioterrorism, Fort Hood–style massacres, dirty-bomb attacks — also will occur; that terrorists can never be aggressively interrogated even if hundreds of lives depend on the information they might reveal; and that some terrorists will be allowed to walk, to rejoin the jihad, to thumb their noses at the families of their victims; and that we will never even make a serious attempt to defeat those waging war against us.

May also points out that “real security means looking for terrorists — not for weapons”:

Finally, while most Muslims are not terrorists, most terrorists in recent years have been young, male Muslims who have embraced an extremist reading of Islam. To deny this is not just to indulge in self-delusion. It is to sacrifice innocent lives on the altar of political correctness. Apologists for extremism will complain. Moderate Muslims will direct their anger where it belongs: against those within their community who preach and practice mass murder — not those doing what they can to prevent the next slaughter.

One of those moderate Muslims, M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, chimes in with an open letter to President Obama:

Our nation is clearly becoming more and more anxious and concerned over the rash of radicalized Muslims. Is it not time for you to acknowledge that terror is a simply a symptom of a more profound deeper underlying disease? That disease is political Islam.

Hopefully you will realize that we can only defeat an enemy we can name, describe, and understand. As Thomas Friedman and others have recently reminded us, the only answer to jihadists, Salafists, and Islamists is a narrative from within America, and most important from within Islam, that counters the global supremacism of political Islam. Until you say exactly that, we will continue to flail in this conflict.

I hope after Nidal Hasan, after the American jihadis in Pakistan, and now after the Christmas bomber radicalized in London, that you see our need for clear leadership against political Islam and its ubiquitous permeating militant manifestations. We need a leader who recognizes that this conflict is most significantly within Muslim communities as we Muslims struggle with the conflict between theocracy and democracy, sharia and liberty, Islamism and freedom, and salafism and modernity. The longer you squander your leadership and stay silent on this, the more vulnerable we will be.

Darth Cheney is back in the news, accusing the Obama administration of “trying to pretend we are not at war.”  Seems to me like he has a point.

Honeymoon-Over Watch: He’s Lost MoDo

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is not happy with the President.  Her column yesterday was titled “As the Nation’s Pulse Races, Obama Can’t Seem to Find His“, and the first paragraph in the excerpt below is particularly damning:

MoDoIf we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?…

Citing the attempt of the Nigerian’s father to warn U.S. authorities six months ago, the president intoned: “It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.

Heck of a job, Barry.

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Oh, That Nigerian Terrorist… Oopsie-Doopsie!

Testicle Toaster

Abdulmutallab: The face of evil?

So the latest terrorist is being interrogated, but why should we believe anything he says?  His pants literally were on fire!

We can laugh because the terrorist botched the job, but it could have been very unfunny.  And while I’ve always been skeptical of the idea that intelligence agencies “should have known” about 9/11 in advance, this time it does seem like some pretty obvious dots went unconnected.

CBS News has learned that as early as August of 2009 the Central Intelligence Agency was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed “The Nigerian,” suspected of meeting with “terrorist elements” in Yemen.

Sources tell CBS News “The Nigerian” has now turned out to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But that connection was not made when Abudulmutallab’s father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009. It was then he expressed deep concerns to a CIA officer about his son’s ties to extremists in Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity.

Obama can’t blame the Bush Administration for this one.

After days of downplaying the incident, Obama today acknowledged that “A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable.”

“What already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security,” Obama said. “We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.”

Well, yes.  You might also want to rethink the idea of repatriating terrorists from Gitmo to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  And hey, that even gives you an opportunity to blame Bush!

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Neo-neocon (owner of my favorite bloggish nom d’pixelle) explains the fundamental difference in world-view that underlies the highly partisan health care debate (link and emphasis added):

Americans on both left and right are unhappy with the current health care reform bills.

Neo-neocon

Neo-neocon

The left is upset because neither the House nor Senate version goes far enough towards putting government firmly in control of our medical decisions, with the goal of providing equal coverage for all no matter what the price. The right is upset because we see the bills’ provisions as unwarranted intrusions on our liberty that create a “right” where none existed before. We believe that reform would be better handled by fostering competition in the private sector rather than increasing government intervention in vital decisions that should remain between doctor and patient….

[E]mbedded in the second paragraph of this article is the most basic division between left and right, embodied in the phrases “providing equal coverage for all” and “unwarranted intrusion on our liberty.”

The first expresses the left’s push for equality of outcome, while the second speaks to the right’s concern with safeguarding liberty while providing equality of opportunity. Even if it were possible to put aside for a moment all the highly valid concerns about the way this bill has been advanced against the will of the American public — the lack of transparency, the fiscal fudging, the vote-buying, and the lies — this deep and primary philosophical difference between left and right would still remain.

The battle cry of the left is that “health care should be a right, not a privilege.”  This is brilliant framing — it sneakily implies that conservatives believe health care should be a privilege.

140px-CaduceusThe problem, of course, is that no health care system can provide every treatment for every person for every malady.  Health care expenditures have to be rationed, either by government, by the marketplace, or — as in our current system — by an imperfect combination of the two.

Thanks in large part to Joe Lieberman, the most pernicious element of the left’s health care agenda — the single-payer stalking horse known as the public “option” — has been eliminated from the current bill.  But the legislation still represents a massive shift of control, over one-sixth of the economy, from the marketplace to the government.  It’s a move in the wrong direction, and it will stifle competition and lead to higher, unsustainable costs.  (There still remains a faint hope that the reconciliation process between the House and Senate versions may scuttle the legislation altogether.)

You should read all of Neo’s article, but since you won’t, I’ll give away the ending.  Riffing on Churchill, she writes:

Our government has had to choose between liberty and social justice. They chose social justice. They will get neither.

Threat Level? Color Me Annoyed

terror flightThe plane landed safely, a happy Christmas Day ending to an apparent attempt to bring down an aircraft in flight.  It’s a good reminder that wherever we are, we potentially have enemies among us.  I was glad to hear that the nearby passengers apparently helped subdue the would-be terrorist.

So off to bed — but first, a request to the Obama Administration.  I’ve praised you in the past for continuing some of the Bush Administration’s policies regarding national security.  But there’s one Bush-era artifact I would love to see you abandon, and I just heard on the TV news that you may be planning to do exactly that.  Please — please — scrap the silly color-coded alert system.

There are many, many important issues to consider in the wake of this incident, but whether to raise the threat level from orange to red is not one of them.

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slow_d16I was up with a touch of insomnia last night — this morning, technically — and realized the time was approaching for the Senate’s “historic” 1 a.m. vote to expand government control of the health care system.  So I tuned in to C-SPAN and caught the tail end of the run-up to the 60-40 vote that everyone knew was coming.

Clad in my jammies after a long full day of morning church, afternoon snow shoveling and evening blogging, I watched Senators in their suits and neckties make their post-midnight pitches, and I was impressed once again by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  Here are some excerpts, laboriously transcribed by moi (McConnell’s remarks begin about 39 minutes into the video):

The bill we’re voting on tonight will impact every American.  It will shape the future of our country. It will determine whether our children can afford the nation they will inherit.  It is one of the most consequential votes any of us will ever take, and none of us take it lightly.

But make no mistake – if the people who wrote this bill were proud of it, they wouldn’t be forcing this vote in the dead of night.

He touched on the “cheap deals” that were cut to win the crucial 60th vote from Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska:

One state out of 50 – one state out of 50 – gets to expand Medicaid at no cost to itself,  while taxpayers in the other 49 states pick up the tab.  The same Senator that cut that deal secured another one that benefits a single insurance company – just one insurance company, in his state.

He reviewed the long history of bipartisan support for groundbreaking social welfare acts — Social Security, Medicare, Americans with Disabilities Act, all passed with large majorities.

“Americans believe that on issues of this importance, one party should never be allowed to force its will on the other half of the nation.  The proponents of this bill felt differently.  In a departure from history, Democratic leaders put together a bill so heavy with tax hikes, Medicare cuts and government intrusion, that in the end their biggest problem wasn’t convincing Republicans to support it, it was convincing the Democrats.

In the end, the price of passing this bill wasn’t achieving the reforms Americans were promised.  It was a blind call to make history, even if it was a historical mistake.  Which is exactly what this bill will be if it is passed.  Because in the end, this debate isn’t about differences between two parties.  It’s about a $2.3 trillion dollar, 2,733-page health care reform bill that does not reform health care, and in fact makes the price of it go up.

The impact of this vote will long outlive this long, frantic, snowy weekend in Washington.  Mark my words, this legislation will reshape our nation.  And Americans have already issued their verdict – they don’t want it! They don’t like this bill!  And they don’t like lawmakers playing games with their health care to obtain the votes they need to pass it.

Majority Leader Harry Reid followed McConnell, and on the theory that people will believe a lie if it is repeated often enough, stated “Everyone knows we’re here at one in the morning because of my friends on the other side of the aisle.”  Byron York stayed up late after the vote to debunk that:

But the fact is, there is no reason the Reid Amendment vote could not have been held at a more reasonable hour. One a.m. Monday was the earliest moment that Senate rules allowed a vote, but there is no rule keeping the Senate from voting at some time after 1 a.m. If Reid had scheduled the vote for, say, 11 a.m. Monday, that would have been fine. If he scheduled it for 4 p.m. Monday, or 10 a.m. Tuesday, that would have been fine, too. But Reid is determined to pass the national health care bill by Christmas, and to do so he has to get the cloture vote on his amendment done at the earliest moment. The timeline is Reid’s and Reid’s alone.

The final vote is now scheduled for 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, when the Web Goddess and I will be dining with friends at their home and preparing for church.  As with Porkulus, the Democrats are pushing for action now now now now now because they know that the more people learn about the bill, the less popular it will be.

Democrats will likely pay a heavy price in the 2010 election — Harry Reid is particularly vulnerable. Why would they choose that reality to pass a highly unpopular health care bill?  Kim Strassel had the answer the other day:

So why the stubborn insistence on passing health reform? Think big. The liberal wing of the party—the Barney Franks, the David Obeys—are focused beyond November 2010, to the long-term political prize. They want a health-care program that inevitably leads to a value-added tax and a permanent welfare state. Big government then becomes fact, and another Ronald Reagan becomes impossible. See Continental Europe.

The entitlement crazes of the 1930s and 1960s also caused a backlash, but liberal Democrats know the programs of those periods survived. They are more than happy to sacrifice a few Blue Dogs, a Blanche Lincoln, a Michael Bennet, if they can expand government so that in the long run it benefits the party of government.

Dennis and Christine Wiley, Baptist preachers in DC who support marriage equality

Dennis and Christine Wiley, Baptist preachers in DC who support marriage equality

Not long after the Presidential election last year, the Web Goddess and I had dinner with four of our closest friends, who happen to be a black couple and a lesbian couple.  There was exactly one McCain voter in the room — which turns out to reflect almost precisely the voting results in our hometown of Maplewood, NJ.  (I would have guessed it had been even more lopsided.)

I don’t think of these friends primarily in demographic terms — we’re three couples who met through our local Episcopal church and found we enjoyed each other’s company.  But of course, race was a common conversation topic in those post-election days.  Sexual orientation also claimed some attention through California’s successful Proposition 8, which overruled the state Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in that state.  On this issue, we all knew the vote at our dinner table would be 6-0 the other way.

Obama’s ground-breaking candidacy had inspired a huge increase in black voters around the country — and it was being reported that his coattails may have had an adverse effect on gay people in California, as about 70 percent of black California voters had voted to ban gay marriage.  (Later analysis asserted that 58 percent was a more realistic number — still well above the 49 percent of whites who voted similarly.)

One of our friends, who wants nothing more than to marry, in New Jersey, the woman she has been committed to for more than a decade, brought up this awkward confluence of race and orientation.  Her voice trailed off as she looked inquiringly at our black friends, and we all watched the husband shake his head helplessly.  “There’s a lot of homophobia in the black community,” he said softly.

These memories were stirred today by the publication today of an op-ed in the Washington Post about the D.C. Council’s vote this week to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital.  The headline that caught my eye was “Why Two Black D.C. Pastors Support Gay Marriage.”  It turns out they’re not just black — they’re Baptists, and leaders of “the first and only traditional black church in the District of Columbia to perform same-sex unions [non-marital commitment ceremonies].”

Christine and Dennis Wiley write that “our first-hand experience has convinced us that homophobia within the black church and the wider community is real,” and they thoughtfully discuss what they see as the historical reasons for this.

A more complicated element of black homophobia is the lingering influence of sexual stereotypes that originated during slavery. According to theologian Kelly Brown Douglas, the myth of “over-sexualized” black bodies portrayed black men as violent “bucks” who posed an ever-present threat to white women, and black women as “Jezebels” who seduced white men.

These stereotypes served to justify the whipping, lynching and castration of black men, and to excuse the sexual violation of black women by white men. They were just one element of what blacks had to struggle against to gain acceptance and respectability in white society, especially during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. On this matter, religion has often been a vehicle of suppression, accommodation and control. While the church was a refuge from the horrors of racism and played an empowering role in African American history, it also taught black people to repress behaviors — especially sexual behaviors — that might attract unwanted attention, appear uncouth or seem threatening to white people.

A final piece that shapes black attitudes toward same-sex marriage is the preoccupation with racism in the black community. This obsession, although justifiable, has led to a failure to appreciate how racism is inextricably connected to all other forms of oppression. Those who fail to see this connection may resent the comparison of gay rights with civil rights. But as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

gaypridemarchT-blue copyKing also said, “the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  I firmly believe that same-sex marriage is a straightforward civil rights issue.  There’s only one acceptable outcome — and I believe I will live to see full marriage equality in this country.

Even in the socially liberal Episcopal church, the topic of gay equality has been controversial.  (Nationally, at least — in Maplewood, not so much.)  I marvel at the courage of these two black Baptist preachers, and I wish them Godspeed.

Gitmo, Politics and Unintended Consequences

gitmo resized

The good people of Thomson, Illinois, are eager for the jobs that would be created if the Obama administration moves some of the prisoners held at Guantanamo to the Thomson Correctional Center.

To pre-empt security concerns, the feds say the underutilized facility “will be enhanced to exceed perimeter security standards at the nation’s only ’supermax’ prison in Florence, Colorado, where there has never been an escape or external attack.”

But the detainees themselves seem to want to stay put in Gitmo.  And who can blame them?

The 221 remaining inmates [at Gitmo] receive between four and 20 hours outdoor recreation in the Caribbean sun and anything from weekly to almost unlimited access to DVDs and receive three newspapers (USA Today, plus one Egyptian and one Saudi Arabian title) twice a week. Every bed has an arrow pointing towards Mecca and every cell a prayer rug. …

The detainees’ diet is exclusively Middle Eastern and halal, in observance of regional and religious sensitivities. Dates, olive oil and honey are provided daily and pita bread is baked on the premises. They drink the same bottled water as the prison’s staff and have the same access as other prisoners to 16,000 books and 1,600 magazines held at the library. …

At the low security Camp 4, detainees could be seen sitting in the yard chatting and hanging up their laundry. A new gravel football field was recently completed.[If they were moved to the supermax facility in] Florence, Colorado, prisoners would also spend 22 ½ hours a day in a 9ft by 9ft cell with the only natural light coming from a skylight outside.

Exercise would be limited to an hour and a half indoors five days a week and they would have minimal contact with others.

gitmo-Camp4rec copySo in pursuit of the political and diplomatic benefits of closing the hated Guantanamo — albeit more slowly than promised — the administration appears prepared to subject the detainees to much harsher conditions.

While I savor the irony, I’m not particularly opposed to transferring the detainees to Illinois.  I’m sure they can be housed securely there, and realistically, the closure of Gitmo is inevitable.  A much more serious security concern is the administration’s indefensible plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some (but not all) of the other detainees in criminal court.

(Gitmo photos from the Defense Department)

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Dell copyFor more than 20 years my church, St. George’s Episcopal in Maplewood, has been a part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which provides temporary shelter for homeless families.

Last week I had a chance to meet and talk with some of our IHN guests, including Dell Akinkunle and her children, David and Anointing.  The resulting article has been posted on Maplewood Patch.

US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

I may have been too quick to sneer yesterday at President Obama’s appearance in Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

The prize itself is still ridiculous, of course.  (And don’t get me started on the statue.)  But in addition to the obvious point that the honor is unearned, the president has faced critics from his left who believe the recent escalation of Mr. Obama’s War is inconsistent with the prize.

Seeking to answer those critics, Obama used his acceptance speech to issue a ringing declaration of American exceptionalism (although he would not use that term).

In the last 24 hours, I’ve watched one conservative after another find things to praise in the speech.  Neo-neocon (not an Obama fan) called it “the most robust defense of American military action I’ve ever heard him give,” and quoted this passage (my emphasis):

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason…

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.

In a post in The Corner titled “Obama the Neocon,” Michael Ledeen said:

It’s “only a speech,” to be sure.  And there things I wish he hadn’t said, or said differently.  But it’s a very different sort of speech, and it contained many words that are downright neoconnish:

America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements — these movements of hope and history — they have us on their side.

It sure sounds like President Obama just endorsed the Green Movement in Iran.

In a roundup titled “Conservative Praise for Obama Speech,” Politico notes the endorsement of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich:

It’s already being called the “Obama Doctrine” – a notion that foreign policy is a struggle of good and evil, that American exceptionalism has blunted the force of tyranny in the world, and that U.S. military can be a force for good and even harnessed to humanitarian ends.

“I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn’t be able to have a peace prize, without having [the ability to use] force,” Gingrich said. “I thought in some ways it’s a very historic speech.”

The conservative other conservatives love to hate, Kathleen Parker, wrote in the Washington Post:

The speech was a signal moment in the evolution and maturation of Obama from ambivalent aspirant to reluctant leader.

Rising to the occasion, he managed to redeem himself at a low point in his popularity by reminding Americans of what is best about themselves.

At Contentions, Jennifer Rubin (really not an Obama fan):

But this speech is perhaps the closest he has come to throwing the American antiwar Left under the bus. America will defend itself. There is evil in the world. And yes, we are at war with religious fanatics:

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war.

For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint – no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

It is not at all what the netroot crowd that lifted him to the presidency had in mind. It seems that reality may be dawning, however dimly, on the White House.

I could go on and on. (I guess I already have.)  I expect in the future I will continue to have more criticism than praise for Mr. Obama. But while I am always proud to be an American, today I am proud of my President.

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