A Politician Admits a Mistake.
In Other News, Pigs Fly

As longtime chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank was one of the key architects of the housing bubble, and of the crisis that followed the burst. Not the sole architect, of course — the roots of the crisis stretch back to the Carter administration. (See “In Defense of Wall Street Greed” nearly two years ago.)

But Frank has a lot to answer for.  As quoted in a previous post, here’s how Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker describes it:

During the run up to the crisis, Barney Frank and others in Congress encouraged Freddie and Fannie to absorb most of the subprime mortgages. In 2008 they held over half of all mortgages, and almost all the subprimes. They have absorbed even a larger fraction of the relatively few mortgages written after 2008. Freddie and Fannie deserve a considerable share of the blame for the crisis, but they continue to have strong political support. I would like to see both of them eventually dissolved, but that is unlikely to happen.

It may not be as unlikely as it seemed when Becker wrote those words in July.  Barney Frank’s on board with the idea.  Lawrence Kudlow takes up the story:

For years, Frank was a staunch supporter of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the giant government housing agencies that played such an enormous role in the financial meltdown that thrust the economy into the Great Recession. But in a recent CNBC interview, Frank told me that he was ready to say goodbye to Fannie and Freddie.

“I hope by next year we’ll have abolished Fannie and Freddie,” he said. Remarkable. And he went on to say that “it was a great mistake to push lower-income people into housing they couldn’t afford and couldn’t really handle once they had it.” He then added, “I had been too sanguine about Fannie and Freddie.”

I think Chairman Frank watched these government behemoths descend into hell and then witnessed the financial catastrophe that ensued. And I think he has come to realize that the whole system of federal affordable-housing mandates that was central to the real-estate collapse — including the mandates on Fannie and Freddie and the myriad bad decisions made by private banks and other lenders in response to the government’s overreach — simply needs to be abolished.

Props to Barney Frank.  Let’s hope he can bring some of his fellow Democrats along with him.

Stumbling Toward a Middle Ground on the So-Called “Ground Zero Mosque”

From Urban Infidel

The controversy over the bigger-than-a-mosque Islamic center proposed on a site chosen for its proximity to Ground Zero bears an unappealing resemblance to the abortion issue.

Lots of principled and meritorious arguments advanced on both sides.  A high ratio of heat to light. Fierce disagreements over terminology:  pro-choice or pro-abortion, mosque or community center, at Ground Zero or near it. A debate dominated by absolutist rhetoric, drowning out anybody seeking a middle ground. (My own position on abortion can be summed up by a headline on my blog: “Abortion Should Be Safe and Legal — But It Stops a Beating Heart.”)

Thinking of the current debate in the context of abortion gives me some sympathy for President Obama’s ham-handed attempt to have it both ways: He supports the mosque.  No, he just means it’s legal.  (In the category of things that feel like other things, Obama’s handling of the GZ mosque resembles the even more problematic Obama approach to Afghanistan: We’re surging… but only for a year.)

A friend and former ink-stained co-worker launched a new blog this week, focused thus far on the mosque controversy.  He and I come down on different sides of the argument, but I liked this passage:

The important thing is not one viewpoint triumphing over another. It’s restoring reasoned and reasonable conversations about stuff that really matters, and making sure that discourse douses the flamers who seek only to divide and exploit.

So in the interests of reasoned discourse, I want to acknowledge that religious freedom is one of the core, foundational values of this country, and Americans rightly have a visceral reaction to anything that smacks of religious intolerance.

But religious freedom is not the only thing at stake here. The analogy of the Pope asking the Carmelite nuns to move their convent out of Auschwitz is a good one — however good the sisters’ intentions were, their presence there was offensive to people who had survived a monstrous atrocity.

The controversy threatens to obscure the crucial distinction between Islam and Islamofascism.  In a lengthy essay at Pajamas Media titled “A Message to Conservatives: Is Islam Really our Enemy?”, Ron Radosh strongly makes the case that it is not:

Unlike those in the conservative movement who believe Islam is the enemy, I argue that there are real moderate Muslims, who need to be encouraged and supported in waging the fight within Islam against the uses of the Quran for radical purposes. These Muslims exist. We must support them, and not fall into the trap of backing imposters and charlatans who claim they are moderates, and who use our gullibility to pull the wool over our eyes, and who gain our monetary and political backing for what in reality are nefarious purposes dangerous to our national security.

But to view all Muslims as per se extremists is to give up this fight in advance, and to push real moderates into the hands of the extremists. If all Muslims are our enemy, we give credibility to the radical Islamofascists,  who claim that their view of the Quran is the only true one, and if one is a real Muslim, they must join Bin Laden and the other radicals in their holy Jihad against the West.

This could be read as a strong argument in favor of welcoming the GZ Mosque, but Radosh doesn’t take it there.  He does provide an excellent overview of the spectrum of conservative thinking on the matter — worthy and otherwise.  (Why oh why does Pamela Geller have to be one of the most prominent voices against the mosque?)

Both sides of the controversy cite the First Amendment — freedom of religion vs. freedom of speech — but appealing to the Constitution is missing the point.  Nobody — no serious person — is suggesting the government should forbid the project.  What I and millions of other Americans (including many moderate Muslims) want is for the developers to find a new site.

And that’s exactly what the developers will do, if they are truly serious about wanting to build bridges.  As James Taranto pointed out, “If the intent of the Ground Zero mosque is ‘to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together,’ it is already a failure on its own terms.”  Reasonable people can disagree about who to blame for that failure, but the fact that the project is divisive is indisputable.

A Message to Conservatives: Is Islam Really our Enemy?

Obama Fulfills Bush’s Plan for Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq

Operational discipline limited the display of the American flag while serving in Iraq — but these soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade have just crossed the border into Kuwait. Photo: Washington Post

Just over a month into the new Administration, I wrote:

President Obama today announced an Iraq withdrawal plan that George Bush would be proud to call his own. Actually, it IS Bush’s own.

Don’t be fooled by the lawyerly language in his pledge to complete “the responsible removal of our combat brigades from Iraq” by August 2010. He’s leaving up to 50,000 troops in place until the end of 2011, and I guarantee that they’ll have weapons and the capability of responding with more than battalion strength. I’m not sure how he’s defining “combat brigades,” but he must be dancing close to an outright lie — a brigade is only 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, it looks to me like he’s leaving three divisions in place.

Thank God.

Today the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division left Iraq, marking the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Now begins Operation New Dawn, under which

… the United States will have six brigades in Iraq, by far its smallest footprint since the 2003 invasion. Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded “advise and assist brigades.” The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 U.S. special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops. Under a bilateral agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

Even though the war isn’t over, this is a milestone worth celebrating.  As a testament to the effectiveness of Bush’s “surge” — which succeeded quickly enough to prevent Obama from surrendering — the 4th Stryker Brigade did not suffer a single combat casualty during the one-year tour that just ended.  On the brigade’s previous tour in 2007-2008, 37 brave soldiers paid the ultimate price.

In their honor, and in honor of all the troops who remain in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is from the Book of Common Prayer:

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

It’s Not at Ground Zero and It’s Not a Mosque;
I Don’t Want It There, But I Don’t Want It Banned

Thread the needle time.

Like the moderate Muslims I quoted in my prior post, I’m opposed to the project that has become known as the “Ground Zero Mosque.”  As a blogger called milowent has pointed out, the project is not at Ground Zero, and it’s not a mosque.  I agree with those narrow statements of fact, but I draw different conclusions than milowent.

The Burlington Coat Factory site where the project is proposed is not “at” Ground Zero.  It’s more than two blocks away.  milowent has added labels to a 1997 satellite photo at his site, and it seems pretty clear that the new development would not be visible from Ground Zero.

But let’s not make too much of this.  The site is not within the footprint of the old World Trade Center, but it IS the site of a building that was ruined in the September 11 attacks.  A landing gear assembly from one of the planes crashed through the top two floors of the five-story building, which has been unused ever since.

milowent also points out that the proposed facility

is not really a “mosque” at all. It is meant to be a 13-story community center, like the YMCA (modeled after the 92nd St Y in Manhattan in fact), though it certainly will contain a decent sized worship/prayer space. But it will also have a restaurant, a pool, a basketball court, child-care center, and a 500-seat performing arts center.

Here’s where I part company with milowent — to my mind, the huge scale of the project makes it MORE objectionable than a simple mosque would be.  How many 13-story Islamic facilities are there in New York?  (Or in the country, for that matter?) The developers clearly intend for the site to be an unrivaled centerpiece of Islamic cultural and religious activity. Building such a facility to replace a building destroyed on 9/11 is a provocation, as the moderate Muslims I quoted understand.

I wish the developers would take Governor Paterson up on his offer to find a different location, but that doesn’t look likely.  So as Tigerhawk wrote the other day:

If the founders of the center own the land they ought to be able to build on it, and opponents should be perfectly free to demonstrate against it. Blocking the center by legal or political means troubles me more than letting it proceed with the understanding that many people will be offended by it.

The First Amendment covers both sides of this dispute — freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  Mayor Bloomberg’s snarling about how opponents “ought to be ashamed of themselves” is misguided and not helpful.

Enough with the serious stuff — this post needs some gratuitous sex.  milowent points out that New York Dolls, a strip club, is just a block away from the proposed Islamic center.  The implication is that it’s silly to think of the neighborhood as sacred ground.  Perhaps there would be a hue and cry to close New York Dolls if it had been 19 exotic dancers who highjacked those planes.

Also, I like Greg Gutfield’s plan to open a gay bar catering to Muslims right next to the project. Provocation is a two-way street.

Muslims Against the Ground Zero Mosque

When I first started hearing about it, the controversy over a proposed mosque near the gaping hole where the twin towers once stood seemed like an annoying distraction.  I wished the whole discussion would just go away.   I sympathized with the visceral opposition to a monument to Islam near where fanatical Muslims killed so many Americans.  But it’s too easy to caricature that opposition as religious intolerance.

Fortunately, moderate Muslims have come to the rescue, and have branded the plan as the provocation it is. Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, writing in the Ottowa Citizen (hat tip to Andy McCarthy):

So what gives Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the “Cordoba Initiative” and his cohorts the misplaced idea that they will increase tolerance for Muslims by brazenly displaying their own intolerance in this case?

Do they not understand that building a mosque at Ground Zero is equivalent to permitting a Serbian Orthodox church near the killing fields of Srebrenica where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered? …

As Muslims we are dismayed that our co-religionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens and wish to rub salt in their wounds and pretend they are applying a balm to sooth the pain.

Neda Bolourchi, a secular Muslim whose mother was on the plane that hit the North Tower, writing in the Washington Post (hat tip for my headline and the following item to John McCormack) :

Though I have nothing but contempt for the fanaticism that propelled the terrorists to carry out their murderous attacks on Sept. 11, I still have great respect for the faith. Yet, I worry that the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site would not promote tolerance or understanding; I fear it would become a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.

And my go-to guy for Muslim moderation, M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, who way back in May had a column in the New York Post that I missed at the time (hat tip to my research assistant, Mr. Google):

My first concern is whether the financing truly represents the local American Muslim community or comes with strings from foreign Islamists. But that is far from my last concern.

I am an American Muslim dedicated to defeating the ideology that fuels global Islamist terror — political Islam. And I don’t see such a “center” actually fighting terrorism or being a very “positive” addition near Ground Zero, no matter how well intentioned.

To put it bluntly, Ground Zero is the one place in America where Muslims should think less about teaching Islam and “our good side” and more about being American and fulfilling our responsibilities to confront the ideology of our enemies.

On reflection, I think it’s a good thing that this controversy is taking place.  It provides a forum for discussion of the delicate but essential task of distinguishing Islam from Islamic fascism.  Three cheers for all of the brave Muslims and former Muslims who are willing to risk participating in that discussion.

“Islamism Is Not a Movement to be Engaged, It Is an Enemy to be Defeated”

You’ll never see me use the term “War on Terror” outside of quotation marks.  Terror is not the enemy, it is one of the enemy’s tactics.

That part is simple.  Deciding  what to call the enemy is much more complicated.

I continue to resist the idea that Islam itself is the enemy, although others are willing to go there.  The term I’ve used most often is “Islamic fascism,” implying as it does a state-supported (or more precisely, supra-nationally-supported) tyranny.  I’m not fond of “Islamism,” a widespread term, although I accept it when others use it.  “Jihadism” has a certain appeal, in that it is unambiguously Islamic, but the clarity of the term gets muddied by the myth that Jihad means “inner struggle.”

Newt Gingrich has now stepped forward with an elegant and powerful solution to determining whether someone is an enemy.  Our enemy is anyone who seeks to impose sharia, the barbaric legal and social code spawned in seventh century Arabia.  (Hat tip: Andy McCarthy, who wrote the words quoted in my headline.)

Gingrich’s hour-long speech at the American Enterprise Institute can be found here.  I confess I have not yet watched it in its entirety — making this post somewhat risky, although I’m confident that McCarthy would not pull a Breitbart.   But I’ve read McCarthy’s NRO piece and watched the five-minute Gingrich highlights reel.  Between that and writing this blog post, here it is past noon on my first day on Cape Cod, and I’m blogging in my PJs while the rest of the household is at the beach.  Ah well… here’s McCarthy’s summation:

Debate over all of this is essential. The crucial point is that we must have the debate with eyes open. It is a debate about which Gingrich has put down impressive markers: The main front in the war is not Afghanistan or Iraq but the United States. The war is about the survival of Western civilization, and we should make no apologies for the fact that the West’s freedom culture is a Judeo-Christian culture — a fact that was unabashedly acknowledged, Gingrich reminded his audience, by FDR and Churchill. To ensure victory in the United States we must, once again, save Europe, where the enemy has advanced markedly. There is no separating our national security and our economic prosperity — they are interdependent. And while the Middle East poses challenges of immense complexity, Gingrich contended that addressing two of them — Iran, the chief backer of violent jihad, and Saudi Arabia, the chief backer of stealth jihad — would go a long way toward improving our prospects on the rest.

Most significant, there is sharia. By pressing the issue, Newt Gingrich accomplishes two things. First, he gives us a metric for determining whether those who would presume to lead us will fight or surrender. Second, at long last, someone is empowering truly moderate Muslims — assuming they exist in the numbers we’re constantly assured of. Our allies are the Muslims who embrace our freedom culture — those for whom sharia is a matter of private belief, not public mission. Our enemies are those who want sharia to supplant American law and Western culture. When we call out the latter, and marginalize them, we may finally energize the former.

It’s that simple. Not easy, but simple.