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January 28, 2010

Krauthammer: Obama's "Spending Freeze" is a Fraud

I don't have time to cover much of last night's State of the Union speech, but here's one part that deserves attention:

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

Charles Krauthammer makes mincemeat of it:

Text of Krauthammer below the fold

The reason it's a fraud is that what Obama is doing here is not just excluding all the other spending we know about, discretionary spending, social security and the military, and it doesn't include the stimulus. What he's saying is, 'I'm going to do a freeze on the regular departments.' But what he doesn't tell you is that last year, in their first year in office when they had a free ride in spending, they ratcheted up the spending for all of these departments astronomically, an average over the last half of fiscal '09 and all of fiscal '10 an average of about 20%. Now that's huge because normally year over year you'd increase a department's spending by 3%, 4%, especially with low inflation.

So for example, last year alone they increased the EPA budget by 35%. So if you're instituting a freeze, what you're doing is you're ratcheting in, you're locking in the higher spending that Obama slid in last year.

So after hiking up spending to unheard of levels, Obama now poses as a fiscal hawk. Note also that his "freeze" won't even go into effect until 2011.

I suppose you can say that "all politicians dissemble," or blame Bush, but Obama is president and we were told he was going to change Washington and all that. I guess not.

Update

Veronique de Rugy explains that

...the centerpiece of his plan is a three-year freeze on everything but 84 percent of the budget. That's right -- it affects only 16 percent of the budget in FY2011. Plus, there are so many caveats and loopholes that this plan is little more than a joke. For instance, the freeze won't apply to the half-trillion in unspent stimulus funds. Nor will it apply to the $247 billion of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds or to any of the programs that cash from repaid TARP funds will pay for, such as the $30 billion to prop up community bank lending to small businesses proposed by the president during his speech.

FY 2011 Projected Spending

Posted by Tom at 7:45 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 27, 2010

Pew Poll: Top Priorities for 2010

Keep this poll in mind as you listen to the State of the Union speech tonight

Pew Poll Top Priorities for 2010

The lessons for liberals are obvious; the people don't think health care or alleged global warming are nearly as important as you do. Terrorism ranks higher than any of your big concerns, and most of you act like it's a non-threat that was blown out of proportion by George W Bush and company.

But there is a lesson for conservatives too

And that lesson is that while most people don't want their taxes raised they're not looking for tax cuts either. Bob McDonnell won in my home state of Virginia because he ran as "the jobs governor." Focus on obs and the economy and we'll win.

The lesson for both sides is that immigration isn't a big issue with anyone, so spending a lot of time on it one way or the other won't help you much.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 24, 2010

Book Review - Going Rogue: An American Life

Going Rogue book cover


Sarah Palin's Going Rogue: An American Life, has become an instant best-seller, and given it's political nature and my own coverage of events, it behooves me to read and review it. It's really pretty simple; if you like Palin you'll like the book, if you don't you won't.

Recognizing her popularity among most on the right, National Review even set up a specialblog dedicated to the book, her book tour, and some of the controversy it has generated.

I'm going to avoid discussion of specific controversies and concentrate on an "overall" review. I would encourage commenters to not try and challenge me on this or that detail, because I've no intention of entering into what end up to be never-ending and quite contentions debates. See my comments policy at upper right for specifics.

For what it's worth, I'm not one of the "birthers" who thinks Obama is not a U.S. citizen. I think the controversy over his birth certificate is right-wing trutherism, and said so here on this blog. When Obama first came on the scene as a presidential candidate, I wrote that I liked him. It only turned to distaste after the Jeremiah Wright videos surfaced. But even now, despite my often intense criticism, a fair reading of this blog will show that I do not buy into the petty over-the-top stuff you often see circulated in email. No Obama-as-the-Joker picture will appear on this blog.

Let's all keep in mind that this post is a book review, it's not meant as an end-all-to-be-all on Sarah Palin. I'm not even going to try and reconcile her version of events with what others have said. And as mentioned earlier I'm most certainly not going to rehash every real and alleged controversy surrounding her.


Book Review

Palin's style of writing is somewhat folksy and colloquial, but not so much as to be off putting. Admirers will like it, detractors will not. Either way, it's decidedly Palin writing the words.

Any book written by anyone who has taken the criticism she has will be tempted to grow bitter and use their autobiography to lash out. Palin does settle a few scores, but they're more interspersed with narrative about events, not the main focus of the book itself. This refusal to become sullen and angry is I think one reason why some people hate her so; no matter how much abuse they heap on her she remains cheerful and perky. This attitude comes across in her book.

The book is marred by the lack of an index. This is odd, and makes it somewhat more difficult to find specifics. As I read a book I leave stickies at important points, but only because I know I'm going to write a review of it here on this blog. Few political books of this sort have footnotes, and this one is no exception.

Cleaning Up Alaska

Sarah Palin challenged a sitting mayor and a sitting Republican governor and beat both of them. She took on a corrupt Alaska Oil and Gas conservation Commission (AOGCC) that was in bed with big oil and forced out a commissioner who was also tghe chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. When she became governor she told the "Corrupt Bastards Club" that it was no longer business as usual, and got her way with reforms. Each time she took on an establishment that had grown too comfortable in power, often become corrupt as well.

Vindication came with the many FBI arrests of lawmakers of both parties. There was much corruption in the Alaska legislature, and their misdeeds eventually caught up with them. Also arrested was Governor Frank Murkowski's chief of staff, and executives of VECO, an oil field services company.

As governor, Palin spearheaded efforts that gave the people of Alaska a better deal on their own resources. A program called "Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share" (ACES) split the profits more equitably. She also forced ExxonMobile to drill at Point Thomson, a lease they had been sitting on for decades as an "investment". Another initiative, the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA), was negotiated in public, much against the wishes of the political establishment and the oil companies. The result was transparency and a better deal for Alaskans.

This was a time in which the Democrats cheered her.

Obviously she made some enemies along the way. A fiscal conservative, she actually went through the state budget line by line, questioning each project, quite unlike her predecessors. Cutting pet projects will earn enmity quickly.

For that matter, just being in politics will earn you enemies. Anyone who thinks that small towns are Mayberry R.F.D. has never been involved. Having no small amount of experience observing and participating in local politics, I assure you it can be some of the most mean and nasty you can imagine. It was only predictable, therefore, that when she went to the national stage some of it followed her.

Inevitably someone will also allege ethics violations. Those who themselves investigate and have others removed over ethics and legal matters are perhaps the most vulnerable to investigation, for what more could the convicted want than to know that their tormentor suffered the same fate?

Trig Palin

Of all the bizarro slanders thrown at Sarah Palin, one of wildest is that she is not the mother of her youngest son, Trig Palin. No less than Andrew Sullivan, uber-blogger and one-time editor of The New Republic, is absolutely convinced of this "birther" conspiracy theory.

As the theory has it, her oldest daughter, Bristol, had Trig, and Sarah only said she did to cover up for her daughter, who would have been 17 or 18 when Trig was born.

Palin describes the thrill of learning that she was pregnant with their fifth child, then the trauma of learning that he would have Down syndrome. She was 44 years old, and the pregnancy was unexpected. She first learned of it while at an oil and gas conference in New Orleans. She did her own self-test, and describes her reaction:

And for a split second it hit me: I'm out of town. No one knows I'm pregnant. No one would ever have to know.

it was a fleeting thought, a sudden understanding of why many women feel pressured to make the "problem" go away. Sad, I thought, that our society has elevated things like education and career above the gift of bringing new life into the world. Yes, the timing of this pregnancy wasn't ideal. but that wasn't the baby's fault. I know, though, what goes through a woman's mind when she finds herself in a difficult situation. At that moment, I was thankful for right-to-life groups that affirm the value of the child. That said, yes, every child as value and a purpose and a destiny.

The point, she says, is that given the cultural pressure to abort, without the right-to-life groups women would wonder if they were the only ones who thought that "believing what's easiest isn't always what's best."

Despite the caricature her critics have painted of her, Sarah Palin knows what pressure so many pregnant women are under. And as with many, it was her faith in God that got her through this difficult period.

Trig birth made five Palin children; Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, andTrig.

Todd Palin

Do you know anyone who races snowmobiles at up to 120 mph 2,200 miles across frozen tundra in minus 40 degree weather, making their own repairs along the way in something called an Iron Dog race? And who has won it four times?

Neither do I.

The Campaign

Anthough this is not a "blame book," one person in the that comes in for criticism is senior campaign strategist and advisor. He is not, however, portrayed uniformly negatively. During the 2004 campaign it was Schmidt who noted that John Kerry had mentioned a "global test" during the first debate and who made the decision to go all out in using that phrase against him. Palin respected his abilities.

The vice-presidential campaign (the "B Team" as they called it) was run by Andrew Smith, a Wall Street guy who had no previous campaign experience. Palin didn't question the choice because she figured they were the pros and must know what they were doing.

There were, however, points of contention between the B Team and "headquarters," the group that surrounded John McCain. The first issue was the refusal to let Palin talk to the press, much less go on an interview after the convention. She wanted to do Fox News, radio talk shows, or at least be able to speak to her familiar Alaska press reporters. Headquarters, however, had other ideas. They assured her that Katie Couric, of all people, would be nice to her and only toss softballs. We all know how bad an idea that turned out to be, and Palin admits that she did poorly.

"Headquarters says..." became somewhat of a joke on the vice presidential campaign bus, partially because names were rarely attached to it's decisions.

The worst part of the campaign leadership was that they did little to prepare Palin for what would follow. This can be an argument for choosing someone with national seasoning, like the Obama campaign did with Joe Biden, but picking a Washington insider has it's downsides as well. Choosing Sarah Palin was an inspired choice, I believe, but by the same token they should have realized she was a relative novice who needed more preparation.

In Alaska, as probably in all state campaigns, the candidate dresses him or herself with their own clothes(maybe with advice from a pro), might have a speechwriter but generally writes most of his or her own speeches. Not so with national campaigns, and the degree of "packaging" involved surprised Palin. The entire controversy over her wardrobe was a case in point. Campaign pros presented her and her family with racks of clothing and said "this is what you are going to wear." Again, she figured they were the pros and must know what they were doing. Never did it occur that critics would make a controversy out of it, especially since Democrats no doubt did the same thing. Of course, when the campaign was over, the Palins gave back every single item.

Nowhere in the book does Palin make any criticism of John McCain. No doubt part of this is just being politically astute, but also reflects that McCain didn't criticize her after the campaign either.

Discouraging Moments

Palin knew that Bristol's pregnancy would eventually become public, but the leak itself came as a surprise, as she had wanted to announce it before the press got wind of it. "Oh God," she thought. "Here we go." Even so, she still wanted to address the issue in her own words. No go, headquarters sent out a statement without even running it by her, and it wasn't at all the message she wanted to convey. Palin wanted to say they were proud of Bristol's decision to have the child and not abort, but the message the campaign drafted made it sound like she endorse teenage pregnancy.

The entire notion that Palin was some sort of "diva," a modern version of the Beverly hillbillies living high on the hog while campaigning, was also frustrating.

The worst moment, though, came when she learned that the email accounts of her and her family had been hacked and their private messages were posted on the Internet for all to see. "What type of a creep would break into a person's files.. then give them to the press...and what kind of responsible press outfit would broadcast stolen private correspondence?" The liberal type, of course.

Uplifting Moments

The fact is that Sarah Palin was the superstar of the Republican ticket, not John McCain. I know this both from personal experience at the grassroots level, communications with other activists, and my reading of the conservative press. Most conservatives were either campaigning for Sarah Palin or against Barack Obama. Few were in it for John McCain. This became clear in the higher-than-expected turnout at her rallies.

As such, the most encouraging times were when the campaign would plan for one number and a far larger amount of people would show up. She tells of one rally at a retirement community called Thhe Villages, near Lady Lake Florida, where they planned for 10-12,000 and 50-60,000. Also, a large number of special needs children would be present, and she would make a special effort to see them.

Th "Joe the Plumber" and "Tito the Builder" phenomenons also were encouraging, in that they represented average people who didn't buy into the media spin about Obama or his idea of "spreading it (other people's money) around."

Senator Joe Lieberman also came and saw here, and gave her the best advice anyone could; "be yourself." "Don't let these people (campaign staff) try to change you. Don't let them tell you what to say and how to think."

The debate with Joe Biden also went well. Palin didn't have to win, just hold her own. And that she certainly did.

Going Rogue

The "going rogue" reference is to doing things not approved by the mysterious headquarters. The first instance was when the McCain campaign pulled out of Michigan, and she told Fox News reporter Carl fCameron that she wished they weren't pulling out of the state. For reasons not entirely clear to Palin (or me), this became a big deal to the higher-ups.

The second instance was when she addressed the wardrobe issue directly at a rally in Tampa. Elisabeth Hasselbeck had introduced her, and told the crowd that the fixation on her wardrobe was "deliberately sexist." Following up, Palin made a few simple statements about how she wasn't going to keep any of the clothes or accessories supplied to her by the campaign. Apparently even this, though, was too much for headquarters.

Under the Bus

It became clear towards the end of the campaign that a few staffers were planning on throwing Sarah Palin under the proverbial bus. No doubt many losing campaigns result in a circular firing squad, but as discussed below it's hard to imagine a scenario in which any combination of GOP candidates could have won in 2008. And given that McCain was not liked at all by the conservative base of the party (again, see below), the idea that Palin was the reason they lost is preposterous.

Even if it were so, it is at the least poor form to engage in such backstabbing. And it was clear that someone high in the campaign was talking privately to the press with the intent of damaging Sarah Palin.

And indeed the night of their loss, she and Todd were warned by sympathetic reporters that "It's going to get really, really bad tomorrow." Their predictions were correct; the lies and misrepresentations started immediately.

Not only that, but as with during the campaign many media outlets devoted an inordinate amount of time to investigating her, her family, friends, even intercepting and "interviewing" Piper, her 7 year old daughter. Even David Letterman got into the act with some of the most tasteless comments ever recorded on TV. This from the same media who couldn't be bothered to look into Barack Obama's preacher or discover John Edwards extramarital affair.

Sarah Palin in Leesburg Virginia

One of the thrills of my life was to have been able to attend the Palin campaign rally in Leesburg VA on October 27, 2008. Better, I got my place early and was maybe 40 or 50 feet from the stage.

There is an excitement to being at one of these events that if you've never experienced one is perhaps hard to understand. In a way it's like a sporting event; when the rest of the crowd goes wild over a play the emotion is infectious whether you really care about the teams or not. And just being close to famous people is a thrill in itself, no matter how sober-minded you are otherwise. It's not a matter of my thinking Sarah Palin is the end-all-to-be-all, it was just fun to be at the rally and especially when I managed to get relatively close to the stage.

Here are some of the photos from my post on the rally.Unfortunately, my cheap and somewhat old digital camera doesn't do the event justice.

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Campaign Post-Mortem

Some critics say that Palin sank McCain's campaign. The argument seems to go "they lost, so Palin must have been the reason." The problem with this is that one can also say that McCain would have done worse without Palin also. My own experience on the ground was that Republican activists were only working as hard as they did because Sarah Palin was on the ticket, or because they didn't like Barack Obama. Although this evidence is anecdotal, at no point did I ever hear anyone say they were working for John McCain.

So if anything could have helped the ticket, it would have been someone else at the top of the ticket. Of course, everyone in the field during the primary had their downside, though it was my contention at the time, and still my thought, that Mitt Romney would have done better.

And indeed 2008 was the "perfect storm" against Republicans. We had an unpopular president of our own party in the White House, a war-weary public eager to move to other issues, a Republican party in general discredited by many of it's members of congress, an economy that was turning down at just the wrong time, bad behavior by many on Wall Street (who are reflexively tied to the GOP), and an unusually charismatic opponent. It is doubtful that any Republican ticket could have won.

Resignation as Governor

On July 3, 2009, Sarah Palin announced her decision to resign as governor. She made the decision because leftist haters had deliberately tied up her office with thousands upon thousands of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) "fishing expedition" requests. These malicious requests had three purposes; one, to find dirt, to paralyze the governors office, and to bankrupt Sarah Palin. The way Alaska law works, the governor most pay for most legal fees that involve alleged ethics violations out of his or her own pocket. This, obviously, is a recipe for abuse.

Palin details some of the FOIA requests and how bad it got, and it's hard not to be sympathetic. Most, if not all, of the ethics complaints were completely frivolous. My understanding is that all have been investigated and dismissed. Given the incredible levels of abuse thrown at her, and the determined attempt to paralyze her as governor, I don't blame her for resigning.

No I am not against the Freedom of Information Act. I support it fully. What I do not like is when people abuse it to simply dig for dirt; see my own story below.

Review Conclusions

The most honest political book I have ever read was Dan Quayle's autobiography, Standing Firm. Quayle pulls no punches on himself, and recognizes fully why he was viewed the way he was, especially during the campaign of 1988. A thoroughly decent person, he too may have been in over his head, but as with Palin, he isn't bitter or withdrawn, and didn't use his book to lash out at critics. As with Palin, he does blame campaign staff ("handlers," he calls them) for overly insulating and scripting him to the point where the press saw the candidate as incompetent and unable to stand on his or her own. When this happens, insulating becomes counterproductive.

Like almost all autobiographies, Palin writes to put herself in the best light. Some will therefore no doubt object to the very concept of this book, or that I should review it, saying that I should instead consult a more "balanced" assessment. By this logic one should not read or review any autobiography, at least not without reading those allegedly balanced assessments. Autobiographies are valuable though in that they provide insight into how that person thinks and views events unfiltered through another person.

In the end, I think Palin was over her head as a candidate for vice president. Running for mayor, let along governor, of even a small state is harder and puts you under more pressure than most people think (I've been close to more than a few elections). But the national stage is on a different plane entirely. I don't think she knew what she was getting herself into, or that she was ready for such a role.

Straight up, I am an admirer of Sarah Palin. This does not go anywhere near as far as hero-worship, or idolization, as with the cult-like following surrounding Barack Obama. Part of the reason I like her is that "all the right people hate her;" the liberal urban elites, the arts and croissants crowd, and those who talk about "flyover country."

Yes I am aware that Palin has her own ardent following, some of whom refuse to acknowledge that she might not be perfect. It's hardly the same, though, as the situation with Obama.

Had she spent more time as governor, perhaps been in a second term, she would have done better as a national candidate.

Also, I don't think that Palin was ready to be president, if something should have happened to John McCain. But before liberals chortle over that, Joe Biden is less ready today to be president than Sarah Palin was during the campaign. Between the two of them I'd choose Palin hands down. She's smarter, she's not the walking gaff machine he is, and her political instincts and philosophy are right.

Her decision to step down as governor probably takes her out of contention as a politician. No matter how justified, the label "quitter" will always be thrown at her.

I myself have been "FOIA'ed" by someone looking for dirt on me. I sit on a town commission, and long story short he sent in a request for no other reason than to try and find something he could use against my mom. Both my mom and him live in a different town, so this just goes to show how far some people will go. He even sent a letter to my mayor in an attempt to get me thrown off the board (which she promptly trashed), so I have a small idea as to what Palin was up against.

There are many reasons why she is disliked by liberals, some legitimate but many not. If you want to say she's unqualified or not up to the job of being president, fine, that's legitimate. But all too often talk about Palin, as with any attractive conservative woman, turns vulgar. Leftists seem to think it perfectly ok to make blatantly sexist comments about her that would not for an instant be tolerated were they made against liberal icons like Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, or Michelle Obama.

Sarah Palin's Future

Sarah Palin should continue doing just what she's doing now; acting as pundit and conscience of the Republican party and conservative movement. Her role in cleaning up both the Alaskan Republican Party and government make her perfectly suited for the role. We've gotten rid of many of our bad/corrupt/insider-politics Republicans, but we've still got a ways to go. If Sarah Palin says one of our own has got to go, I wouldn't give a nickle for his chances of sticking it out.

The Republican party also very much needs to bring the Tea Party people into it's fold, and here too I think she can play a constructive role. She's both outside-the-beltway, but with national political experience. Within the conservative movement she's admired by the populist Tea Party and feared by the inside-the-beltway establishment types.

Sarah Palin can play an important role in the future of the Republican Party and conservative movement. As of this writing I do not think she should run for president in 2012. For various reasons, her polling negatives are high enough to where she's just too controversial. She is best suited to the role of pundit and conscience of the Republican party and conservative movement, and I look forward to her influence in this role.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 21, 2010

Haiti Briefing - 19 January 2010 - Military Relief Efforts Under Way

This briefing is by Major General Daniel B. Allyn, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Unified Response. Previous to this assignment, General Allyn was the deputy commanding general for the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. On Tuesday General Allyn spoke via satellite from Haiti, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an operational update on progress in providing relief to the suffering people of that country.


This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From General Allyn's opening remarks:

GEN. ALLYN: ...We are employing all of our resources as fast as we can. And we continue to make progress here every day. We do not underestimate the scope of the challenge in front of us. We are here at the request of the government of Haiti. And we are working in partnership with the United Nations and the international community.

We enjoy incredible teamwork and support with and for all contributing parties and the people of Haiti. As I stated, we are making progress daily and building our capacity to deliver more each day, to those most in need.

Key developments today and on the immediate horizon: The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, has arrived and will move about 800 Marines ashore beginning today to support communities west of Port-au-Prince that gravely need assistance. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division -- nearly 1,000 strong -- continue to flow into country to support relief efforts in the vicinity of Port-au-Prince. The hospital ship the United States Naval Ship Comfort will arrive offshore tomorrow morning, increasing medical support available to the people of Haiti.

In addition, yesterday afternoon, United States Air Force C-17 aircraft flew nonstop from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, and delivered nearly 15,000 meals and over 15,000 liters of water to citizens in northeast Port-au-Prince. This aerial delivery augments our ongoing relief efforts and continues to extend our reach to the stricken.

We currently have over 2,000 boots on the ground and over 5,000 afloat, and we anticipate we will have an aggregate strength of over 10,000 within the coming weeks, with about 50 percent of those forces directly involved in delivering humanitarian assistance ashore.

As of this morning, in support of humanitarian assistance efforts, we have delivered over 400,000 bottles of water and 300,000 rations to the people of Haiti in the past six days. Within the next several days, we'll have more than a dozen water-purification units producing water for humanitarian assistance needs across Haiti. Our ships supporting the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are producing 40,000 gallons of water per day for distribution in support of humanitarian assistance efforts.

Within days, we'll approach a self-sustaining water production capacity.
...

On to the Q & A. Most of the questions are along the lines of "why can't we do more faster." Quite understandable given the level of suffering. I don't know enough about either the situation on the ground in Haiti or the logistics of relief efforts to provide any commentary, so this will be quite different than the usual Afghanistan or Iraq briefings. A few excerpts that make the point:

Q General, it's Anne Flaherty with Associated Press. Could you explain to us why it took almost a week to organize the C-17 airdrop that you mentioned that took place yesterday? And do you have any more airdrops that are planned? Why didn't they do this sooner?

GEN. ALLYN: Obviously, the aerial delivery of supplies is a capability that has been part of our arsenal from the outset. The fact is that it takes forces on the ground to secure the areas where these drops must go in and to organize the people to avoid a chaotic distribution when those supplies come in. And we needed to wait until we had adequate forces to enable that to happen. And with that capacity building every day, we will continue to use this and every other means available to us to increase the reach of our efforts to the people of Haiti.

Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. People who are familiar with logistics say to me that, since you have a single runway at Port-au-Prince airport, it would make sense to create an unimproved runway. And they say you could do that with heavy equipment: create a dirt strip, and you could start moving in more C-130s, because they can land on just about anything. Is there any thought being given to creating that unimproved runway in Haiti?

GEN. ALLYN: There are several existing runways that are being assessed, and those that are immediately capable are being integrated into the air-flow plan. And we will begin to use two alternate aerial ports of entry within the next 24 to 48 hours, to relieve some of the pressure on Port-au-Prince.

And as you know, that you've been following this situation, the team of Air Force units and supporting units have been doing herculean work, extraordinary work, at Port-au-Prince. We have increased to over 200 sorties a day, from a capacity that on an average day, pre- earthquake, was 13 commercial aircraft into Port-au-Prince airport; so an extraordinary amount of work.
...

Q General, this is Dave Martin with CBS. You said the 2nd Brigade Combat Team is in Haiti 1,000 strong. The original timeline had the entire brigade being in Haiti by this weekend. So what is holding up the deployment of the full brigade? And if you can airdrop supplies, why can't you airdrop the troops themselves?

GEN. ALLYN: Yeah, that's a great question. And obviously the delivery of capability here in Haiti is a -- is a balancing act that requires troops on the ground to distribute humanitarian assistance, the supplies for them to distribute, and the mobility necessary for them to be able to reach the communities that are most stricken. And quite frankly, the earthquake did not take into account the location of drop zones when it achieved the effects that it did, and if we were to airdrop the 82nd, we then have other challenges inherent in that, and our focus becomes distribution of them from their dispersed locations to where they need to help. And suffice to say that in the ground commanders' view, we are using the best method possible to get the most forces on the ground as quickly as possible.

The insertion of the Marine expeditionary unit demonstrates one of those examples, where they will reach areas we've been unable to get to yet.

And we expect the last load of 2nd Brigade Combat Team to land here within the next 36 hours. And the adjustment in that airflow was in order to get higher priority capability on the ground, so that when those troopers arrived, they would be fully capable of disbursing the critical supplies that are needed.
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Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. (Inaudible.) Understanding you said that, you know, the (USNS) Comfort arrives tomorrow and there are a number of field hospitals from other countries on the ground there, reports from various news organizations, including ours, on the ground there are showing a lot of Haitians desperately still needing medical attention on the ground within sometimes minutes, hours, according to some of the reports.

Is there an effort to kind of loosen that logjam on medical supplies or additional doctors or medical facilities to get in on the ground as opposed to flying people out as well, but increasing the medical capability, surgeons and other doctors, on the ground in a wider part of Haiti and Port-au-Prince?

GEN. ALLYN: Yes, absolutely. It's a great question. And that effort is ongoing.

As in all areas of our efforts here, our medical capacity has grown each and every day that we're here, as has our understanding of where the response is needed most. And obviously we are adjusting the delivery of subsequent medical capability that enters the theater to address emerging requirements that are not immediately being met.
...

Q General, this is Luis Martinez of ABC News. If I could go back to the creation of water, the water supply, the self-sustaining water supply that you talked about earlier, there's great interest in these giant bladders that are being produced, I guess, by the machine -- the desalination machines. Is that happening on the ground, or is that happening offshore? And how are they being delivered? And how do -- how are we ensuring that people are actually getting that water? And how long do you envision this self-sustaining water supply for?

GEN. ALLYN: Yes, and yes. It is being produced afloat and loaded into blivets that can then be slung load to the areas that it's needed. The -- there -- it is being produced in multiple areas around Haiti and distributed by a multitude of means. In some cases, it is being produced in close proximity of existing distribution points and is being pumped directly into those areas. It is being distributed by vehicle on -- in both bladders and pumping capability.

It is good to see our troops helping the people of Haiti as they are, and God bless them for their efforts.

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Marc Thiessen v Christiane Amanpour and Phillippe Sands on CNN

Three days ago I excerpted Marc Thiessen article on National Review in which he summarized part of his new book, Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack. As expected, the post generated a spirited debate among commenters. A speechwriter for President George W. Bush, to prepare for writing them Thiessen was allowed to speak with two of our top CIA agents who actually conducted interrogations and debriefings (two separate activities) of captured terrorists. Obviously he didn't put the classified information they told him in the speeches, it was rather for background information so he would have an understanding of what we were really doing as opposed to what critics said we were doing.

Unsurprisingly, leftist critics of Bush are aghast that he would dare to write a book defending his administration. Christiane Amanpour had him on her show, and she and Phillippe Sands attacked his positions.

I think that Thiessen made Amanpour look like foolish because she clearly didn't know what she was talking about, and gets the better of Sands on the facts. Both Amanpour and Sands are determined that terrorists should have the protection of the Geneva conventions, which they either do not understand or are misrepresenting (Amanpour probably misunderstands, Sands is probably misrepresenting). See my posts here and here for information on the conventions.

But enough of my opinion. Watch the interview yourself and decide who's right (h/t Powerline)

Part two is below the fold

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January 19, 2010

Scott Brown Wins in Massachusetts!


Scott Brown 3

In a huge victory for Republicans and a tremendous loss for Democrats, Scott Brown has won the special election for U.S. Senate against Martha Coakley. Not more than two weeks ago it was assumed that Coakely would win in what seemed a safe seat for Democrats. When Brown pulled closer and closer in the polls, national attention focused on the race. It was seen as especially important because the Democrats need all 60 Senate seats to maintain a filibuster in the face of united Republican opposition to their healthcare proposals.

Massachusetts has not elected a Republican as senator since 1972.

As of this writing, Fox News reports that "with 97 percent of precincts reporting, returns showed Brown leading Coakley 52-47 percent, by a margin of 120,000 votes. Independent candidate Joseph Kennedy was pulling 1 percent."

Watching the returns

Scott Brown 2

Here's the "Massachusetts Miracle" video that made the rounds recently.


Why Did Democrats Lose?

Democrats may comfort themselves over their losses in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts by telling themselves that Corzine, Deeds, and Coakley were miserable candidates. They can console themselves by pointing out that McDonnell and Brown were excellent candidates. They can do so and be accurate in these observations.

But if that's all they do they they're missing the boat (so good for my side). All three of these elections were nationalized. Tip O'Neil's maxim that "all politics is local" is not nearly as true as it was 40 years ago. These races were run on national issues more than local ones.

More, the Republican candidates all explicitly ran against Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and their agenda. Not only did this not cost them, it very much worked to their benefit. I can tell you from my experience in Virginia that our side was energized not just to work and vote for Bob McDonnell, but to work and vote against Obama-Pelosi-Reid.

Lessons for Republicans

Run against the policies of Obama-Pelosi-Reid, but do so carefully. Do NOT personally attack the president. Do not lead with social issues. Fiscal responsibility, jobs and the economy, and national security are your primary winning issues.

Good candidates also matter tremendously. Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown are charismatic and attractive to voters. Chris Christie was less so, but he didn't turn off voters as much as Corzine did.

When we do get back into power, we must not behave like Obama-Pelosi-Reid ourselves, or for that matter the Republican leaders in Congress under George W. Bush. Radio talk show attitudes are all very fine for the airwaves, but the general public isn't into that sort fo thing.

Winning take good candidates, good ideas, and a good ground game. it also taks a bit of luck and some timing. Put them all together and we can win anywhere. Let's not "write off" any state or any district.

Lessons for Democrats

Trying to ram through your healthcare package on a straight party-line vote is a bad idea. Compromise with the Republicans or face more defeats. Let C-SPAN broadcast your healthcare negotiations. Springing 1,800 page bills on us and then hurriedly voting on them before anyone has had a chance to go through them does not encourage trust. No more "stimulus" packages. And stop nominating such lackluster candidates.

Update

Part Two
Part Three

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January 18, 2010

Sorry Leftists, Our Interrogators Do Not Torture Terrorists

If you are one of those leftists who thinks that our CIA guys do nothing but hook electodes up to innocent Muslim's testicles and howl with delight at the result, the following are excerpts meant to set you straight. If you are one of those people who believes that what you see Jack Bauer do in 24 in any way resembles reality, you've come to the right blog. Not that I expect Michael Moore / Daily Kos types to come around, but here goes anyway:

Meet the Real Jack Bauers
In Courting Disaster, the real CIA interrogators explain why their methods bear no resemblance to what you see on Fox's 24.

By Marc A. Thiessen

his week saw the premiere of a new season of 24, with CTU agent Jack Bauer preparing to leave the world of counterterrorism for a quiet life as a grandfather in Los Angeles. But he is pulled back into the fight to stop the attempted assassination of a Middle Eastern leader in New York. As he questions an informant, he thrusts a gun into the man's neck but then pulls back, telling him, "You're lucky I'm retired." In another time, the man would have suffered far worse.

The public view of interrogations had been shaped by the fictional Bauer, who captures a terrorist and proceeds to torture him -- holding down his head in a bathtub full of water, using a Taser to shock him, lopping off his fingers with a cigar cutter -- while screaming questions until the terrorist finally breaks and gives up the location of the nuclear bomb that is about to go off.
...

Unlike these critics, I have had the chance to actually meet the real Jack Bauers -- the CIA officials who questioned Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other senior terrorist leaders and got them to reveal their plans for new terrorist attacks. They explained to my why their approach has nothing in common with the methods used by Bauer on the fictional 24.

On July 31, 2006, I walked up the winding stairs of the Eisenhower Building to a secure conference room in the offices of the National Security Council's intelligence directorate. I had been assigned to write a speech for President Bush acknowledging the existence of what was then the most highly classified program in the war on terror: the CIA program to detain and question captured terrorists. To write this speech, I was given access to some of the most sensitive intelligence our country possessed on the interrogation of senior al-Qaeda terrorists, as well as to intelligence officers who could explain to me how the program worked and why it had been successful in stopping new terrorist attacks.

Sitting across the table from me were several CIA officials, including two men I will call Harry and Sam (not their real names), I didn't know anything about the individuals before me except that they were with the CIA and knowledgeable about the interrogation program.

As we began our discussion, I told them I believed the key to the success of the speech was to demonstrate the effectiveness of CIA interrogations with real, concrete examples of how the program saved lives. If Americans knew that CIA interrogations were effective, most would have no problem with the techniques the agency had employed. Some might even be shocked at how restrained they had been. Many Americans, I said, imagined that what went on at the CIA "black sites" mirrored what they saw on 24.
...

Most detainees, they told me, did not undergo (interrogation) at all. Two-thirds of those brought into the CIA program did not require the use of any enhanced interrogation techniques. Just the experience of being brought into CIA custody -- the "capture shock," arrival at a sterile location, the isolation, the fact that they did not know where they were, and that no one else knew they were there -- was enough to convince most of them to cooperate.

Others, like KSM, demonstrated extraordinary resistance. But even KSM's interrogation did not take long before he moved into debriefing. He had been captured in early March, they said, and before the end of the month he had already provided information on a plot to fly airplanes into London's Heathrow airport.

As they described the information the CIA had gotten from KSM and others, I slowly realized that these men were not simply describing what others in the agency had done; I was sitting face to face with the individuals who had actually questioned terrorists at the CIA's black sites and gotten the information they were describing to me themselves.

Harry, it turned out, had interrogated KSM. He explained that interrogations involved strict oversight. There was no freelancing allowed -- every technique had to be approved in advance by headquarters, and any deviation from the meticulously developed interrogation plan would lead to the immediate removal of the interrogator.

Harry explained that the interrogations were not violent, as some imagined. He said that the interrogators' credo was to use "the least coercive method necessary" and that "each of us is put through the measures so we can feel it." He added: "It is very respectful. The detainee knows that we are not there to gratuitously inflict pain. He knows what he needs to do to stop. We see each other as professional adversaries in war." (Indeed, Mike Hayden told me years later that KSM referred to Harry as "emir" -- a title of great respect in the jihadist ranks.)
...

In an interview for my book, former national-security adviser Steve Hadley explained to me, "The interrogation techniques were not to elicit information. So the whole argument that people tell you lies under torture misses the point." Hadley said the purpose of the techniques was to "bring them to the point where they are willing to cooperate, and once they are willing to cooperate, then the techniques stop and you do all the things the FBI agents say you ought to do to build trust and all the rest."


Former CIA director Mike Hayden explained to me that, as enhanced techniques are applied, CIA interrogators like Harry would ask detainees questions to which the interrogators already know the answers -- allowing them to judge whether the detainees were being truthful and determine when the terrorists had reached a level of compliance. Hayden said, "They are designed to create a state of cooperation, not to get specific truthful answers to a specific question."

Indeed, the first terrorist to be subjected to enhanced techniques, Zubaydah, told his interrogators something stunning. According to the Justice Department memos released by the Obama administration, Zubaydah explained that "brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship." In other words, the terrorists are called by their religious ideology to resist as far as they can -- and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know.

Several senior officials told me that, after undergoing waterboarding, Zubaydah actually thanked his interrogators and said, "You must do this for all the brothers." The enhanced interrogation techniques were a relief for Zubaydah, they said, because they lifted a moral burden from his shoulders -- the responsibility to continue resisting.

The importance of this revelation cannot be overstated: Zubaydah had given the CIA the secret code for breaking al-Qaeda detainees. CIA officials now understood that the job of the interrogator was to give the captured terrorist something to resist, so he could do his duty to Allah and then feel liberated to speak. So they developed techniques that would allow terrorists to resist safely, without any lasting harm. Indeed, they specifically designed techniques to give the terrorists the false perception that what they were enduring was far worse than what was actually taking place.

Once interrogators like Harry had secured a detainee's cooperation, the enhanced techniques stopped, and the de-briefers entered the picture. Sam was a de-briefer -- a subject matter expert with years of experience studying and tracking al-Qaeda members. His expertise had contributed to the capture of the terrorists he was now questioning -- and now he put that expertise to work to find out what they knew.
...

Harry and Sam told me that the agency believed without the program the terrorists would have succeeded in striking our country again.

Harry put it bluntly: "It is the reason we have not had another 9/11."

God bless our CIA agents. They are doing the hard work of keeping our country safe, and yes they are doing it without torturing terrorists. Such a shame that too many see our guys as the villains when in reality they are the heroes.

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January 16, 2010

Iraq Briefing - 13 January 2010 - One Iraq for All Iraqis

This briefing is by Major General Anthony Cucolo, commanding general of U.S. Forces- Division North. He spoke via satellite from Contingency Operating Base Speicher, which is near Tikrit, with reporters at the Pentagon last Wednesday, January 13, providing an operational update on progress in his area of responsibility.

MND-N is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga. From the briefing, MND-N consists of "brigades from Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Lewis, Washington; two brigades from Hawaii, an aviation brigade and an engineer brigade; and of course one brigade from my home state of Georgia and Fort Stewart and 3rd Infantry Division and my division headquarters is here. That makes up the 21,000 soldiers."

Major General Cucolo reports to Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, and Deputy Commanding General for Operations. Jacoby reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commanding general of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Before we get to the briefing, a quick review of the overall force structure. Regular readers will note that our presence is much smaller than in the days of the surge and before.

First, a quick review of the force structure currently in Iraq:

Iraq is divided into four major areas of responsibility maintained by forces from three countries. Below are the units that cover these areas.

* Multi-National Division - Baghdad
MND-B is also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-B is headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

* Multi-National Division - North
MND-N is also known as Task Force Lightning. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra, MND-N is headquartered by the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga.

* Multi-National Force - West
MNF-W is headquartered by the U.S. II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their area of operations include the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

* Multi-National Division - South
MND-S, also known as the Red Bull Division, assists Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces extending to Basrah. MND-S is headquartered by the 34th Infantry Division from Rosemount, Minn.

Prior to this reorganization the org chart went something like this:

* Multi-National Corps - Iraq
* Logistics Support Area Anaconda
* Multi-National Division - Baghdad
* Multi-National Division - North
* Multi-National Division Center
* Multi-National Force - West
* Multinational Division Central-South
* Multi-National Division (South-East)

MNF-Baghdad, North, and Center were each headquartered by a U.S. Army Division. MNF-West was headquartered by a U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Central South and South-East by Polish and British troops respectively.

Each U.S. Army division consists of 3-4 brigades. Each MEF consists of 3-4 Regimental Combat Teams. Divisions and MEF are commanded by major generals, and the brigades and regimental combat teams by colonels. Each brigade consists of 3-7 battalions, which are commanded by a lieutenant colonel. A brigade may consist of 3-5,000 troops, a battalion maybe 1,200. Anyone correct me if I am wrong, however.

On to the briefing. General Cucolo gave the briefest of opening statements, so we'll go right to the Q & A. In this first exchange a reporter asks about the Peshmerga, or Armed Forces of Kurdistan. It is also the term used by Kurds to refer to armed Kurdish fighters - Wikipedia. KRG = Kurdistan Regional Government.

Q Good morning, general. This is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra...if you'd also give us an update about the relation -- the relationship between the government of Baghdad and the peshmerga in the north....do you believe that the KRG will agree to have the peshmerga integrated in the Iraqi army?

GEN. CUCOLO: Yeah, I believe so. From what I'm seeing from the senior KRG leadership, yes. Everyone's attitude is, this is one Iraq. It's very positive. Since I've been here, I've been impressed by many things. I've been impressed by the quality of the Iraqi security forces, particularly the Iraqi army. And I can give you vignettes on that, if anyone's interested. But I'm very impressed with the quality, very impressed with the desire for unity. And that goes to the KRG. So I could tell you right now that the current KRG leadership sees on the horizon an integration of the pesh into the Iraqi army, yes.

To be sure, there are strong ethnic, sectarian, and tribal loyalties in Iraq. No one disputes that. But the situation in Iraq is much better than in Afghanistan (see this post of mine), which never had any tradition of strong central government. Iraqis remember the British colonial policy of divide and rule, and the one thing that units them is their desire to keep their country whole. They see division as a Western colonial attempt to weaken them.

There were several other valuable exchanges in this briefing, but we'll only cover one more, because it goes straight to the heart of the good that we are doing there. Unsurprisingly, the question was asked by a non-American reporter

Q General, thank you. This is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. My question is that many Iraqis now feel free and freedom and safer. But what is your assessment now in general? How do you feel as far as Iraq is concerned, comparing with Afghanistan? And what can you do or what can they learn from Afghanistan? Because now Afghanistan is focus, not Iraq, in my viewpoint.

GEN. CUCOLO: ...The Iraqis -- Iraqis are wonderful people that want what you and I want.

They want a safe and secure environment for their children. They would like -- they would like a job. They would like a source of income. They would like to feel valued. And, I mean, this is all things that certainly U.S. soldiers are seeing in other parts of the world, and it's not new to us.

It's so different in each province, what I see the Iraqis feeling and what I'm hearing from them. In some provinces, it's essential services. In some provinces, it's concern about a corrupt provincial government, because either the government is -- the provincial government is not delivering what they promised, or they're not seeing the progress they thought. And what I'm detecting overall is that there is a thirst for change and a desire to go out and exercise their freedoms, and -- the freedom to vote, the freedom to have -- to make a choice and have a government that is accountable to them.

So it's really hard -- (chuckles) -- because I've got -- it's hard to explain in simple terms, in short bursts, short sentences. Because, gosh, of the seven provinces that I have some degree of U.S. force responsibility for, each province is so different. Nineveh is different from Kirkuk. Kirkuk is different from Salahuddin, and Diyala is not like anything else. It's just -- it's a hard question to answer succinctly for you, and I apologize for that.

But I -- but I'll tell you what else. The Iraqis, I believe, watched what happened in Afghanistan in their elections. They watched what happened in Iran in their elections. And there's also a desire not to have that happen here, incredible national pride here to do this right.

And I see that in the security forces too. I'd like to give you a vignette about the security forces.

I had -- I had a provincial governor who was voted out by the council, which the council is allowed to do by the provincial powers law. And we see real -- for a U.S. constitutional reference, real Marbury versus Madison stuff going on here.

It's a great thing to watch: the provinces flexing their muscles, trying to understand what they can do. Where does the central government responsibility go, et cetera?

Well, anyway, I had a governor voted out. He did not want to leave. I'm going to fast-forward the story for you. At one point, at one point, the council was frustrated with the speed of the resolution.

The resolution of the issue was going slow, having the governor who was voted out leave office. And they turned to their Iraqi army division commander. And they turned to their chief of police. And they said, that's it, we can't wait any longer, you must arrest him. And the division commander said, I will not arrest him.

And the police -- the chief of police said, I will not arrest him, because there's no warrant for him. There is no legal reason to arrest him right now. Let the -- let the rule of law take its course. And I will stop anyone from trying to arrest him.

There are some good things going on here. And I just hope some of those stories get out.

I hope they get out too.


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Afghanistan Briefing - 12 January 2010 - Problems in Recruitment and Retention of Afghans

This briefing is by Colonel Brian Drinkwine. Col Drinkwine commands the 4th Brigade Combat Team, otherwise known as Task Force Fury. They are part of the 82nd Airborne Division, which is commanded by Major General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, and is based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He spoke via satellite from Afghanistan to reporters at the Pentagon last Tuesday, January 12.

From the transcript, Task Force Fury is "responsible for the training and mentoring of the Afghan security forces in the southern and western parts of Afghanistan. Colonel Drinkwine has been commanding his unit in Afghanistan since August of last year, and he is speaking to us today from Kandahar air field in southern Afghanistan."

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

Following are excerpts. First, from Col Drinkwine's opening statement:

COL. DRINKWINE: ... The brigade's initial mission was to conduct security-force assistance with Afghanistan's national security forces, in cooperation with many coalition partners, in order to build Afghan capability and capacity and to defeat insurgents or criminals and bring greater security to the population and the people of Afghanistan. We assumed this mission from the departing embedded training teams, or ETTs, and quickly integrated into both regional commands West and South, and have been operating very decentralized in aid of 10 provinces.

As you know, Afghanistan's comparable to the size of the state of Texas, and my unit is spread about half of the state of Texas, which is a first for a brigade combat team.

I'll tell you, we approached our mission through embedding and partnering with numerous Army, Afghan police and border police units. It's a much less traditional mission than other U.S. brigade combat teams operating in previous deployments. Our overall purpose, as I said, is to increase the capability and capacity of our Afghan security forces by training, advising, conducting combined planning and conducting combined-action operations
...

Since our arrival, Task Force Fury has now grown to over 5,000 service members -- and that's Army, Air Force and Navy -- to include Department of State civilians, agricultural and developmental and reconstruction effort -- experts, and NATO coalition teammates, either inside my staff, under the control of the BCT. And we operate as a greater collective to support and execute General McChrystal's and Lieutenant General Rodriguez's strategy in Afghanistan.

On to the Q & A

Q Hi. This is Daphne Benoit, with Agence France-Presse. I have two questions for you. First of all, General Rodriguez last month was expressing some concerns about recruitment and the capacity of retaining Afghan security forces in the south, particularly, because of the violence there.

How hard do you find it to recruit and retain those soldiers and policemen there? And has the increase -- the recent increase of pay helped you in any way?

And my second question is, to what extent do contractors help you accomplish that mission in this area?

COL. DRINKWINE: Okay, two questions. And I'll work on the first, about recruitment.

Right now our assessment is a large part of the Afghan army that works in the south, and a significant portion of the police, have not come and joined the army or police from the south or the southern provinces, and this is definitely something that has been recognized and we're working on.

One of the approaches to increase the recruitment is, through the engagements that the Afghan leaders of their units, whether it's police or army, and along with a coalition in the elected or selected government officials of Afghanistan, we go out and we do -- we meet with the village elders, the mullahs, with the locals, and we talk to them....

I have yet to see droves of recruitment happen, but I know that in Helmand, where the Marines and the British are right now, they are starting to see positive effects. But it takes time. I think it's not something that you can walk in and say I'll hire a hundred Afghan males or females today. It takes time, and you have to win the trust of the locals.

And the other competing demand is, here in the south many of the military-age males or -- have duties at home with regards to agriculture. And so there's that constant tear between supporting the tribe or the family or now supporting a greater institution.

I think in the months ahead we will see greater improvement, and it's essential to winning here...

Q Follow-up on Carl's question, maybe make it a little bit more pointed. Is there a higher desertion rate in units that are assigned to the south? Do the -- do the soldiers and police, are they more likely to leave their unit and return to their home if they get assigned to some place where the fighting is heavy?

And a related question is, where, within your area of operations, has been the -- has improvement of the security forces been the most dramatic? Where are those units that are nearly operating by themselves?

COL. DRINKWINE: Right now, there has been -- you know, there's been discussion, and you've seen it at times in the south -- you have some AWOL -- AWOL rates, or absent without leave rates, that are somewhat high. And what we have found, as you track that back, I think it ties to the level of leadership in those Afghan units, the amount of partnership that we have with them, and also the ability of those soldiers to take the lead.
...

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. If I can ask you another question on some statistics. What's the current literacy rate among the ANA and the ANP? And then, can you update us on the Afghan National Civil Order Police? How big is that force now? And what part of the country are they primarily operating in?

COL. DRINKWINE: Okay, thanks for the question. I'm really not the best individual to kind of talk literacy rate from a statistics standpoint. I think what's more important and more pressing is that the Afghan senior leaders, either the brigade commander, the corps commander or provincial police chief level, have all realized that literacy is something that they need in their security forces and that Afghanistan needs; it's just not their security forces. So in the initial training program for both the police and the army, there are literacy classes, and that's just a start.
...

Q Colonel, this is Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. First of all, happy new year to you all. My question is that young men and women are still trained there by the al Qaeda, joining al Qaeda and terrorism or Taliban. So some Afghans are still living in fear, or they are fear of -- from the Taliban....

COL. DRINKWINE: ... the Taliban uses terror and intimidation and fear to gain its resources or to try to take control of small pockets, you know, of Afghan population or small villages.

Summarizing the problems we face, they are:

1) Lack of Afghans volunteering for the armed forces
2) Need for agricultural labor, which is seen as more important than the armed forces
3) Afghan primary loyalty is to the tribe and not the nation
4) High desertion rates
5) Poor leadership in the Afghan national army
6) Low literacy rate among Afghans makes training more difficult
7) The people are afraid of cooperating because the Taliban have intimidated them

As many commentators have said, Afghanistan is the third world country for other third world countries. Changing the place is not the dozen year project Iraq is, it's a 50 or 100 year project. Note that this does not necessarily mean a high-level of U.S. or otherwise forgeign troops will be needed that entire time, but it does mean that we've got to be in this for the long haul.

If we abandon the country the Taliban will take over. They will invite back al Qaeda and we'll be where we were before our original invasion in November of 2001.

Of course, one is excused for wondering why we're at this point after eight years. There are many reasons, of course, but in the end it's like what I wrote about Iraq in 2006; "we are where we are." If you want to blame George Bush knock yourself out, but at the end of the day none of us have a time machine. Leaving Afghanistan to spite Republicans doesn't get us anywhere.

This said, yes, there does come a point where if we just can't make progress we may have to leave. And that said, the dumbest thing we could do would be to announce a date certain. Far from "encouraging the Afghans to step up," it tells them that we're not committed to winning and so they will "hedge their bets."

One thing in particular that Col. Drinkwine said that stuck out at me. Astute readers will recognize it from the oft-cited and quoted U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (written by a team assembled by then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, and published in December of 2006)

One of the things Col. Drinkwine said that stood out to me was

One of my first patrols that I participated on was with the MPs, or the military police, at Kandahar. And I observed the police in Kandahar not really make eye contact with the people that they were there to serve and protect. And very slowly over time, working closely day-in, day-out with the police in those subdistricts, we were able to coach and advise them. And they were actually able to watch us and the Canadians talk to the people, talk to the storekeepers and make contact and actually dialogue with them and ask them about security, ask them about the price of their goods.....

And where I'm seeing greater success is where the security forces realize and internalize they're there to secure the people but must have a relationship and earn the trust of the people.

Counterinsurgency is all about getting to know the populace and getting them to trust you. Counterinsurgents win when the convince the people that they will win and it is in the people's best interests for them to win. Counerinsurgent troops must be seen as caring about and protecting the people. To do this you've got to know everything there is to know about the locality you are assigned to protect. You can't do this behind the armor of a Stryker or MRAP.

We may not win, but we're giving it out best.


Posted by Tom at 10:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 15, 2010

Obama's Political Bank Tax

So President Obama is angry at the banks and wants "our money back:"

My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed. And my determination to achieve this goal is only heightened when I see reports of massive profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms who owe their continued existence to the American people -- folks who have not been made whole, and who continue to face real hardship in this recession.

We want our money back, and we're going to get it. And that's why I'm proposing a Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee to be imposed on major financial firms until the American people are fully compensated for the extraordinary assistance they provided to Wall Street. If these companies are in good enough shape to afford massive bonuses, they are surely in good enough shape to afford paying back every penny to taxpayers.

I'm not quite sure how this is going to "bring us all together, but the way he tells it the American people have been ripped off and he intends to make us good.

Or is that really what's going on?

I think that Peter Wallsten, writing in the Wall Street Journal, is on to something:

Central to the strategy is the new White House plan to tax big banks as punishment for their role in the financial crisis. President Barack Obama announced the proposal Thursday amid reports that financial institutions bailed out by the government are enjoying healthy profits and paying generous bonuses, and as a bipartisan commission began hearing testimony on banks' role in the economic crisis.

But events Friday in Massachusetts showed how the White House and top Democrats aim to use the bank tax as a political weapon:Senate candidate Martha Coakley, Vice President Joe Biden and others used the issue to portray Ms. Coakley, who is vying to succeed the late Edward Kennedy, as tough on bank executives and portray Republican Scott Brown as coddling them.

Wallsten goes on to point out that all polls show the Democrat's healthcare plans are unpopular with the American people, and so a new message is needed. Scott Brown is now running ahead of Martha Coakley to replace Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, and much of his message is centered around opposing the Democrat's healthcare plans. Seeing a disaster in the making, Obama has decided that a new approach was needed.

Playing her part, Ms Coakley is using Obama's proposed tax to attack Brown. The WSJ article quotes Democrat strategists as realizing that the Tea Party movement is hurting them, and that with the bank tax "we can take populism back to our side."

Politics aside, it turns out that the tax doesn't even make sense. Charles Krauthammer explains:

This is being sold with incredible demagoguery as a payment. The president says I want my money back. In fact, the majority of banks have repaid. Some of the banks never received any of the TARP money, and some of them were forced into receiving it at the point of a gun in the Bush administration.

And, as you pointed out, the real delinquents here, GM and Chrysler, are not being asked to pay anything because of Democratic ties with Michigan and the UAW.

Now, there is merit here if it were portrayed in a different way. The banks, the larger banks, have, as a result of what happened in '09 and '08, an implicit understanding around the world that the U.S. government will step in.

So there is an implicit guarantee of their loans, which means they have preferential advantage in receiving loans because everybody understands in the end the U.S. government will step in. That might be worth taxing. It would be returning the favor.

But, only if you walled off the money and you kept it as a way to bail out the banks if they failed, the way that the FDIC imposes a fee on the regular banks that is set aside and held in case of a bankruptcy.

But this is not how it's portrayed. The way Obama is selling it, it is a punishment for old behavior rather than a fee that you would collect in return for a certain advantage as a result of what happened in '08 and '09.

In the end, the tax will be imposed, and it'll be passed onto consumers in seen and unseen ways.

Don't think that I'm defending the banks. As I said in A Pox On All Their Houses, "conservatives should not defend AIG or the bonuses," because when your company takes bailout money from the government "you do not pay anyone a bonus for anything."

Taxing banks is about the least of what Obama and his radical Democrats want to do. Barney Frank wants to wants to set pay caps on executives at all corporations, whether they took bailout money or not. Seeing where this was going, in
If You take the King's Shilling, You do the King's Bidding
I pointed out that "this is exactly why bailouts are so bad. Once you take aid from the government, you are beholden to them."

Indeed we never should have started down this path. We should have let Bear Stearns, AIG, and the others fail the old-fashioned way. It would certainly have been painful in the short term, but the long term consequences of bailouts are obvious to everyone now, and they're not good at all.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2010

The Taliban Explained

President Obama has - sort of - committed us to fighting anew in Afghanistan. Given that we'll be there for at least another 18 months, it behooves us to understand who we are fighting.

The Quetta Shura Taliban are the main enemy. A new report by Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War details who the enemy is and what motivates them.

The Quetta Shura Taliban in Southern Afghanistan
Backgrounder
January 4, 2010
Jeffrey Dressler, Carl Forsberg

Introduction

Much of the recent debate regarding the war in Afghanistan has focused on al Qaeda, specifically, the extent of their operations in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region. Often overlooked in the strategic calculus are other enemy groups operating in the region and their ability to challenge the Afghan government and coalition forces for control in the war-torn country. It is precisely these groups that have provided al Qaeda a sanctuary to train, plan, and launch some of the most catastrophic terrorist attacks in recent history. Indeed, their relationships with key al Qaeda leaders have been forged over the past quarter-century of resistance.

For much of the past eight years, these groups have made substantial gains while the international community pursued a limited counterterrorism strategy coupled with insufficient resources. The enemy has seized the opportunity to expand their operating environment and have seized the initiative from the world's most advanced fighting forces. However, these are not an amalgamation of rag-tag fighters. They see themselves as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in exile. Among these groups, one stands out far and above the rest, the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST).

To download the full backgrounder, click here.

Excerpts follow.



Enemy Objectives And Organization

The enemy system in southern Afghanistan is resourced and directed by the QST, reorganized leadership structure based on the early 1990s Supreme Shura that served as
the governing body of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan prior to 2001.1 The QST is
headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, who calls himself the Amir-ul-Momineen or Leader of the Faithful. The term 'Quetta Shura' originated from Mullah Omar's relocation of the Taliban organization to Quetta during the winter of 2002. Mullah Omar and his group continue to refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, despite being removed from power in 2001. This is revealing, as the Taliban see themselves as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and aim to extend their control over the entirety of the country. The Quetta Shura Taliban, whose operations have systematically spread from southern Afghanistan to the west and north of the country, is by far the most active enemy group in Afghanistan. Virtually all enemy groups operating in the country have sworn allegiance (in varying degrees) to the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
...

Although Mullah Mohammad Omar remains the figurehead atop the QST organization, he no longer directs day-to-day operations. His reputation and admiration among rank-and-file Taliban still make him the spiritual leader of the movement,....The QST's day-to-day operations are handled by Omar's top deputy, Mullah Barader (or "Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar")....
...

Large fighting units range in size from groups of twelve to thirty-plus fighters.17 They typically carry out more sophisticated attacks, such as coordinated, multi-directional ambushes or raids on ANP fortifications in Taliban-controlled territory.18 Foreign fighters are better trained to conduct these sophisticated attacks. Suicide bombers are also more likely to be foreign. Their deaths will not be mourned by local families and relatives, potentially eroding public support for Taliban operations and will not start the vicious cycle of retributive justice that is part of the pashtunwali code.
...

Infiltration and intimidation campaigns

More than the local or national government, the QST have demonstrated a greater ability to influence the population. As the Taliban have sought to expand their control in the south, they have continued to conduct a sophisticated, multi-pronged campaign of intimidation designed to dissuade the population from cooperating with the coalition and Afghan government.
...

Shadow Governance Structures

Perhaps the most troubling development in Afghanistan is that the Afghan government is being out-governed by the enemy. The proliferation of Taliban shadow governance structures is significant, not only in its ability to provide justice, security, and dispute resolution, but because these structures are more effective than anything the Afghan government or international community have been able to muster. Years of corruption, mismanagement, and neglect have weakened the writ of the Afghan government at every level and provided a vacuum that the Taliban has filled with great success.

The Taliban assigns a governor to each province, responsible for nearly all civil and military matters within the provincial boundaries. The Taliban governor's primary functions include coordinating the efforts of the commanders working in his province and administering and providing oversight of Taliban finances and judicial mechanisms
...

The establishment of sharia law courts are one of the defining aspects of Taliban control.
...

The Taliban's judicial system is backed by the Taliban's military power. Taliban courts have the power to serve warrants and call villagers to testify before them. The Taliban's provision and enforcement of justice has become a key source for building legitimacy in Kandahar. Anecdotal evidence suggests Taliban courts are more efficient and transparent than are government-funded courts, and that many locals prefer them. Not only are local courts corrupt, but they are also inadequate for the size of Kandahar's population.
...

A major source of Taliban funding is a zakat collected from villagers in areas under Taliban control. The exact tax assessment likely varies from area to area, though in some places the ushr, or a ten percent Islamic tithe, is collected.
...

The Taliban's connection to opium and heroin trafficking remains a subject of debate, but what is clear is that the movement is closely connected to opium cultivation at the lowest levels. Most Taliban fighters are farmers and Taliban campaigns are timed to allow the Taliban to harvest their opium fields every April. The Taliban have historically charged opium farmers an ushr on opium at harvest time.
...

Conclusion

The Quetta Shura Taliban is sophisticated, resourceful, and fully-entrenched in many of Afghanistan's southern, western, and northern provinces. Perhaps the most glaring failure of the eight-year long war effort has been underestimating the enemy in Afghanistan. The QST has demonstrated their ability to adapt, institute lessons learned, and best practices. Indeed, QST are an entirely different enemy in both form and function than they were just years ago. With designs on seizing all of Afghanistan, mirrored in historical events, it is all the more necessary to seize the initiative from this formidable foe.


Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 11, 2010

Guide to The Politics of Offensive Statements

In the wake of Senator Harry Reid's "unfortunate comment," Pillage Idiot provides a helpful guide for anyone unable to predict the consequences of public officials who make offensive statements:

Offensive_Statements_Chart2.jpg

click here for larger version

What Harry Reid said:

From Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, as quoted in The Atlantic

On page 37, a remark, said "privately" by Sen. Harry Reid, about Barack Obama's racial appeal. Though Reid would later say that he was neutral in the presidential race, the truth, the authors write, was that his
encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

In December of 2002, while at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott said

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either

Republican Trent Lott was forced to resign as majority leader of the Democrats, after most, though not all, Republicans and conservatives threw him under the bus. President Obama, the "Reverand" Al Sharpton, the the vast majority of liberals have rallied around Democrat Majority Leader Reid.

"Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today," Obama said. "I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

Ah yes, well, as long as he's in favor of "social justice" such statements are a simple "unfortunate comment." The ends justify the...racism.

Before we go, Alvin S. Felzenberg asks the relevant question and give the appropriate answer:

Once again, the Democratic party that bought "identity politics" into the public square is about to teach the rest of us a lesson. So long as those who lead it raise taxes on the rest of us to promote social engineering, they can be as brazen as they like in their comments and as hypocritical as they dare in their public and private behavior...

Why should Reid not be allowed to keep his job? After all, his party elevated former Klansman Robert Byrd to the very post Reid now holds only a few years after the West Virginian led a filibuster (the second longest in history) against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Democrats continued to laud Byrd as recently as 2001, the year Byrd used the "N" word in a Fox News Sunday interview with the late Tony Snow. As long as he provides the 60th vote for his party, they will continue throwing bouquets his way.


Posted by Tom at 9:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 10, 2010

Finger-Pointing on Pace of the Surge for Afghanistan?

It's been obvious for some time that Obama he regarded Afghanistan more as a distraction than as a war we had to win. Don't get me wrong; I understand that he has a domestic agenda that he believed was more important. While I disagree with that agenda, I understand his sense of priorities.

But what I don't get or accept is his seeming annoyance that he has to deal with Afghanistan at all. Time and again as a Senator and on the campaign trail he assured us that while he regarded Iraq as the wrong war, boy oh boy did he want to in in Afghanistan. In fact, this was the line we heard from just about the entire left, at least until you got into Code Pink territory.

Once elected though Obama promptly put the war on the back burner. On March 27 he sent more troops and announced what seemed to be a new plan. In May he correctly fired General McKiernan and replace him with Gen. Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal did a study of the situation, and on August 30 submitted a request for 40,000 additional troops.

Rather than approve the request immediately, a move that would have been in keeping with his campaign promised, he dithered for three months. Finally, on December 1, he announced that he was giving McChrystal 30,000, or three quarters, of the troops he had requested.

As I said at the time, Obama was doing mostly the right thing by sending the additional troops, but the deadline was stupid and counterproductive, and more importantly it was obvious his heart wasn't in it. It's not a matter of sounding "Churchillian," as one commenter protested, but rather a matter of leadership. Who wants to go into a war when you know your president doesn't really seem to think it very important that you win?

All this leads us to an article that appeared in last Friday's New York Times titled "White House Aides Said to Chafe at Slow Pace of Afghan Surge."

An excerpt:

Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon's slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday.

Tensions over the deployment schedule have been growing in recent weeks between senior White House officials -- among them Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff -- and top commanders, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan.

A rapid deployment is central to President Obama's strategy, to have a jolt of American forces pound the Taliban enough for Afghan security forces to take over the fight. Administration officials said that part of the White House frustration stemmed from the view that the longer the American military presence in Afghanistan continued, the more of a political liability it would become for Mr. Obama. But beyond the politics, the speeded up deployment -- which Mr. Obama paired with a promise to begin troop withdrawals by July 2011 -- is part of Mr. Obama's so-called "bell curve" Afghanistan strategy, whereby American troops would increase their force in Afghanistan and step up attacks meant to quickly take out insurgents.

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said....

I hope this is news hype, or the result of a disgruntled staffer at either the White House or Pentagon feeding misleading information to a reporter. I hope that's the case because the alternative is that the Obama Administration doesn't care about winning and is looking to blame the military if things don't go as they want.

More, and again assuming the story has legs, it's clear that the first priority of the administration is not to win but a distraction that they'd just as soon get out of the way so they can get on with their main goal of pushing the country in the direction of European-style socialism.

Yes, let's push to get the troops there as fast as possible. But anyone who thinks the situation easy should read my post Supply Lines to Afghanistan, which I think is a good primer on the subject, or Afghanistan Briefing - 06 March 2009 - Building An Alternative to the Khyber Pass for a discussion on how we are trying to improve the situation.

But there's always that Clausewitzian friction, a concept totally lost on Obama and the liberals in his administration. A more current term would be Murphy's Law, which I don't need a link to explain.

Either way, Obama and his liberals need to understand that this will take time, and instead of pointing fingers, our president needs to use his formidable oratorical skills to sell and resell the case for fighting and winning in Afghanistan to the American people. Or course, that presumes that he actually wants to win it, and that his campaign rhetoric was not just a bunch of hot air to get himself elected. Kind of, you know, like that campaign promise to conduct healthcare negotiations on TV that he hasn't quite kept.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 8, 2010

Invented Outrage Over Brit Hume's Tiger Woods & Christianity Remark

I'm a bit late in posting on this subject, but I do try and have a life outside blogging.

Here's the remark by Brit Hume that's driving some people nuts:

Transcript of Hume's "offending" remark:

Whether he can recover as a person depends on "his faith. He's said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, "Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

I'm not surprised that some are "outraged!" but that doesn't make their "outrage" any more justifiable (google around for examples). Hume simply said what most Christians think. Mirror image it and he said what anyone of any religion thinks.


As I heard Hume point out on the Laura Ingraham show earlier this week, suppose he had suggested that Woods adopt practices of Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, or transcendental meditation? Do you think the left would have reacted in the same way? Of course not.

Brit Hume is not a public official, so what's the big deal? If it was a mayor speaking while chairing the local town council meeting, ok, I get it. But this was not that.

Further, he was not acting as a news anchor, and he didn't say it in the middle of a news broadcast. He retired from that role a few years ago. He was there are a commentator.

Basically, a Christian went on TV and said that Christianity is the best religion. Muslims think theirs is the best religion, and so on. That Hume said this on a news show rather than a religious channel makes no difference to me.

Here is the issue, there are militant anti-Christians who cannot stand to even hear anything that challenges their beliefs. They've gone beyond preventing government from promoting a particular religion to demanding that it be totally absent from the public sphere.

Sister Toldjah says it best (and I owe much else in this post to her as well):

There are those who don't believe in Jesus but who also don't have any issues with a public discussion about Christianity because they understand that many of the tenets of the tradition Christian faith are parallel in nature to what used to be standard, widely held general beliefs about what the basics of right and wrong, good and bad - regardless of faith. Not only that, but they recognize that there is nothing wrong in believing in a calling bigger than ourselves. Those people I can respect. The people I have very little respect for are

1) non-believers who scream in outrage at the first criticism of Islam but who are the first ones in line to throw mud at Christians - and who are the first ones to falsely claim that Christians can be "just as bad - or worse" than the "tiny minority" of extremist Islamists who live in the world),

2) so-called "believers" who believe that the discussion of faith and religion should be limited to the church and the privacy of your home (did someone tell Jesus this?), and

3) "believers" who twist the word of God into something that it is not in order to justify their political beliefs ("Jesus was a liberal!").

As usual, any time anyone utters the word "Christian" and "faith" in the same sentence - especially when it's involved in a discussion where it's being compared in what some would see in a negative way to another belief system, the left treats it as though someone has kicked a kitten, pushed an elderly lady in front of a transit bus, and/or burned the Constitution. It's "outrageous," it's "worthy of contempt," it has "no place in the public debate," it's "demeaning to other faiths," etc etc. Yet, they have no problems themselves routinely condemning and smearing the Christian faith. In fact, if the left had their way, it wouldn't just be government officials who were Christians who had to be politically correct when referring to different religions; commentators who favored Christianity over other religions would have to, too.

Ditto that, Sister.

In the end, though, we can't say we weren't warned:

2 Timothy 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

Luke 21:12
But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

John 15:20
Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

2 Timothy 3:12
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

Hebrews 10:32-33
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.

...and many more.

Posted by Tom at 9:15 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 6, 2010

Obama's Nuclear Free Fantasy World

Let's get this out of the way up front; that Ronald Reagan said he wanted a nuclear free world is no excuse for Barack Obama to make the same mistake.

Yes, I said "mistake." Reducing nuclear weapons from Cold War levels may be a good thing, but there is a certain point below which we should not go. The reasons are pretty simple, and boil down to two. One, no way we're going to get the nations ruled by tyrants and evil-doers to give up theirs, and two, a nuclear free world would make the world safe for war. Even going down below a certain minimum increases the chance of war, because it eliminates Mutual Assured Destruction and thus makes their use thinkable.

I discussed the use of nuclear weapons in more detail in my series on just war theory a few years ago. Essentially my conclusion was that MAD is just if it entails a counter-force strategy and not counter-value. The former means targeting the enemy's military, the latter their population.

The honest truth is that a "nuclear free world" has always meant a nuclear-free United States, because as I said earlier there is no way the other nuclear armed countries of this world would be so stupid as to follow suit, and yes that includes France.

When Reagan was in office the idea of a nuclear weapons free United States as pie in the sky stuff. With the radical leftist Obama, it's a frightening possibility.

Two recent articles in the Weekly Standard, both by John Noonan lay out the current situation and why Obama's idea is so dangerous.

A World without Nukes
by John Noonan
April 8, 2009 10:51 AM

Great idea if you can get the other guys to play ball, but -- let's face it -- the other guys never play ball. Which is precisely why the idea has been unsuccessfully advocated during the tenures of the past five US presidents.

In today's world, America's nuclear arsenal is as important as ever. Consider that Russia is undergoing a nuclear renaissance, upgrading its bombers, building new ballistic missile submarines, and bending the language of the START treaty in order to buff up their ICBM force. China, currently limited to a one-dimensional MRBM/ICBM strategic force, is working to construct a nuclear triad similar to that of the United States and Russia. North Korea is trying to build a bomb and a delivery system, as is Iran, and as were the Syrians until the Israelis brought an abrupt halt to construction. India and Pakistan remain at the ready to paint each other green, while Japan flirts with the idea of developing a deterrent of their own. Cuba and Venezuela are courting the Russians to base long-range strategic bombers on their soil (because that worked so well the first time the Cubans did it), while every Jihadist from Brooklyn to the Hindu Kush scours the globe for anything and everything that even sounds atomic.

The United States, on the other hand, has steadily shrunk and neglected its nuclear stockpile for the past 17 years. We haven't even tested a bomb since the mid-90s. Our primary nuclear bomber, the B-52, was built in the 1950s and our Minuteman III ICBMS were built in the 1960s. We're currently the only nuclear power not actively upgrading, or planning to upgrade, its strategic force, and we stopped growing nuclear weapon experts circa 1992. The USAF has allowed its nuclear focus to slip to the point where they accidentally shipped four nosecone fuses for the Minuteman III missile to Taiwan and lost custody of six bombs (later found halfway across the country) last year. America's nuclear enterprise, though still capable, is sailing into troubled waters.

President Reagan was mocked for preaching the abolition of nuclear arms while reinvigorating America's strategic triad. A few years later, no one was laughing. Reagan's genius was its simplicity. The stronger we are, the more eager the other guy is to talk. President Obama has already announced his intention to gut our conventional arsenal, and our enemies are smelling blood. Should he treat our nuclear forces the same way, things could get downright dangerous.

Obama's Nuke-Free Vision Impacts with Reality
by John Noonan
January 4, 2010 2:33 PM

Today's LA Times has an admirably even piece on the shadowy barfight between Pentagon officials and White House staffers over the future of our nation's nuclear arsenal.

President Obama's ambitious plan to begin phasing out nuclear weapons has run up against powerful resistance from officials in the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies, posing a threat to one of his most important foreign policy initiatives.

Obama laid out his vision of a nuclear-free world in a speech in Prague, Czech Republic, last April, pledging that the U.S. would take dramatic steps to lead the way. Nine months later, the administration is locked in internal debate over a top-secret policy blueprint for shrinking the U.S. nuclear arsenal and reducing the role of such weapons in America's military strategy and foreign policy.

Obama made some bold statements about nuclear weapons while on the campaign trail, pledges that were ideologically grounded and too simplistic to match complex reality. The new multipolar world's relationship with nuclear weapons requires a carefully tailored strategic calculus, but the White House is using algebra. Obama's core premise, that the US can't make an effective case for a nuke-free world without first shedding our massive arsenal, is ridiculous. Our strategic nuclear forces are 20 percent of what they were two decades ago, but global nuclear proliferation has continued to spread like a bad virus.

This was an inevitable confrontation between the military and the administration. Defense planners are pulling their hair out trying to balance rising nuclear powers like China, North Korea, and Iran, while maintaining the razor thin deterrence equation with Russia that has kept America safe for six decades. Targets are skyrocketing, nuclear assets needed to neutralize targets are plummeting. The military is tackling the nuclear posture review with hardnosed strategic realities, like counterforce planning, contingencies in the event that deterrence fails, and continued protection of non-nuclear allies, while the White House seems to be running their whole nuclear-disarmament initiative off a grossly simplified talking point, that nukes are bad.

If the White House's stance on disarmament is indeed that elementary, we might have a real problem. For better or for worse, America's mighty strategic vanguard has served as one of the most powerful global stabilization tools in history. We shouldn't abandon it simply to appease a gaggle of Scandanavian peaceniks, nor should we sacrifice America's security because we're off chasing utopian fantasies.

This wouldn't be the first utopian fantasy Obama has chased, of course. And it's another reason why Barack Obama is a dangerous man to have as president.

Posted by Tom at 7:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 4, 2010

The End of the Washington Times as We Know It


The Washington Times Logo

Today marks the end of The Washington Times newspaper as we have known it for 27 years. Due to financial pressures, they are stopping home delivery when existing subscriptions end, and the newspaper itself has been considerably slimmed down. Future papers will be distributed free at newsstands around the nation's capital. They have also gone from a seven day a week newspaper to Monday through Friday only. Last week they published their last sports section, and other sections are being consolidated as well.

My subscription ends in June, so I'll get it at my doorstep until then. After that, I'll subscribe to their national weekly edition, which comes in the mail, but otherwise am not quite sure what I'll do. Reading the Washington Post every day would simply aggravate me. I may subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, as I want that physical paper or magazine to read. Computers are great, but there's nothing like a physical paper every morning while I have my wake-up coffee.

I feel like I'm losing a friend .

Soon we will have no conservative alternative in our nations capital to the Post. The Times was founded a year after the Washington Star closed in 1981, but given the financial problems of newspapers around the country it's hard to see another conservative alternative starting up anytime soon.

As I suppose everyone knows, the Times was founded by and is owned by Rev Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Never financially profitable, the Times has been subsidized by church ever since it's founding in 1982. On Nov 30 the New York Times reported that because of some internal dispute the church had made a decision to cease funding the Washington Times, which is what forced its current restructuring.

I've lived in the Washington DC area my entire adult life, and after graduating from college in 1983 I did what seemed natural and subscribed to the Post. It quickly irritated me, but it took a few years for me to discover the Times, which was recommended to me by my brother. I can't remember exactly when I started subscribing to it, but it must have been just before the Gulf War because I remember being a subscriber when that war broke out.

Every since then the Times has been a faithful companion as I looked at the daily news and commentary. The paper underwent several changes of editors, and the look and feel of the paper changed a few times as well. Initially a Monday through Friday paper, the Times expanded to weekend coverage, adding a Saturday edition and eventually a Sunday one as well.

Throughout its existence the Times never got close to the Post in circulation numbers. The highest figure for the Times I ever heard was just over 100,000 paid, and articles today suggest it is at about 83,000. The Post is at 673,000 paid daily subscribers.

The left has always hated the Times almost as much as they hate Fox News. It is derided as a "Moonie" paper, not legitimate, all the usual.

Well, I've read just about every edition for over 20 years, and there is no "Moonie" influence, whatever that is supposed to mean. The church is rarely even mentioned in the paper, and religion in general isn't mentioned any more than anywhere else.

Besides, I think it's generally silly to obsess over who owns what media outlet or who funds what organization. In the end it's the stories that tell the tale. in the words of Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz, the Times "the Times punched above its weight class,building a nationally known brand." Indeed it was often that the Times scooped the Post.

The Times certainly attracted some top talent. Who will forget editors like Arnaud de Borchgrave, Wesley Pruden, Tony Blankley, or Tony Snow, or writers like Bill Gertz, Don Lambro, Jennifer Harper, John McCaslin, Jerry Seper or Bill Sammon? I'm not much of a sports fan anymore, but I always did read it during football season and grew somewhat addicted to some of the post-game features each Monday.

Sure, the Times leans right, as does Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. And the Post, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, Time and Newsweek lean to the left. There is no completely objective news outlet. Such a thing, I think, is impossible. The best way to approach a media outlet is to recognize it's bias and view it's stories or articles accordingly. There are few media outlets that I completely exclude from my readership. Use the search feature on this blog and you'll find that I quote liberal news outlets quite often, for they often do good journalism.

Newspapers in general are in decline, and I know I'm not the only one who's lost their local paper. It's unfortunate, but the world moves on. The Times isn't completely going away, but it'll never quite be the same.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 3, 2010

Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson, and Michael Vick

It struck me recently that the Tiger Woods saga reminded me of one of the most famous and loved black Americans of the previous generation; O.J. Simpson. Before their troubles started, both were not merely admired or loved but absolutely adored and held up as idols and role models.

O.J. was the guy everyone loved. He combined what seemed to be a winning personality with sports performance in a way that few could match. Who can forget him vaulting over barriers in airports in those Hertz commercials? His charm and wit seemed transcended race. Unlike a Jesse Jackson, who made his blackness the essence of his being, O.J. was a star first, and only incidentally black. For awhile he had a relatively successful film career, and to this day I remember him in Capricorn One and The Towering Inferno.

Then, of course, there was his arrest on murder charges, and it became immediately clear to everyone that he was guilty. That the jury found him not so was more farce than justice. That he was found guilty in the civil trial somewhat satisfied the vindication many people wanted.

Suddenly the public realized that O.J. was not the man we thought he was. Far from being the warm, charming, good guy that we saw on TV, he was mentally disturbed in some way, even if we couldn't quite put our finger on the diagnosis.

O.J. Simpson

The saga of Tiger Woods follows this same general path, even if we're not quite at the point of writing him off entirely.

As with O.J., Tiger wasn't just a star athlete, he broke records and made it look easy. They were "in another league" as the cliche goes.

And as with O.J., Tiger seemed to have a winning personality. Finally, he, too, transcended race. He was a black man (or "Cabalasian," with a diverse ethnicity) in what was traditionally a white person's sport. But no one cared, because he was good and he was cool. Tiger made golf popular again.

When we first heard the news of his weird car accident outside his house, most people figured that odd as it sounded some rational explanation would emerge. Over the next few days, as as we learned the truth about his numerous extramarital affairs, it became clear that Tiger was not the man we thought he was. Tiger has taken a break from golf, and many sponsors have dropped him.

Tiger did not have just one or two extramarital affairs, but with at least 14, probably many more, and he did this to a wife whom most people would regard as strikingly attractive.

Tiger Woods

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has resumed his football career partially because he seemed truly repentant for his crimes, and also because before them his personality was not known, and wasn't a household name. He fell from mid-level, whereas O.J. and Tiger fell from Mount Olympus. Vick is therefore somewhat of the odd man out in this trio, both because prior to his troubles he was nowhere near as famous as the other two, and because he has somewhat rehabilitated himself.

Michael Vick

It was clear from the beginning that O.J. never would, regardless of the outcome of his criminal trial. O.J. denied his guilt, internalized, and became the dark psychopath the brutal murders would suggest. He only added to the bizarreness with the release of If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, with the "If" reduced in size. Tiger may as yet rebound, but I think the key is whether he is truly repentant and tries to make up for the harm he did through charitable works, funding marriage-counseling programs, or the like. On the other hand, if he internalizes what he did and only makes pro-forma statments of apology, his days as an American hero are over.

Posted by Tom at 5:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Taking the Wrong Side in Iran

The other day I was speaking to a young man who was on leave from Iraq about the situation there. He's in intelligence, so much of the conservation was interrupted with "I'd love to tell you more, but..." and things like that. One thing he did stress that is hardly classified is that Iran is an absolute cancer on the region, and that 80 percent of our troubles in Iraq would go away if we could replace the government there with a friendly or neutral one.

Even since the ruling mullahs stole the election from Mir-Hossein Mousavi and gave it to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , a significant number of Iranians have reacted by staging some of the largest protests the country has ever seen.

I realize that there are risks involved in an open declaration of support for the resistance movement by a U.S. president. And certainly one can go too far too often in open proclamations of support for the protesters or in denunciation of the government. But our president gives the impression that the protesters are a distraction from the main business of negotiations over nuclear materials. Rachel Abrams says it much better than I could:

President Obama and his players have spent six months praying for the nascent revolution in Iran to go away, pursuing what Fouad Ajami describes today as a cold-blooded foreign policy. Some of them who should know better have likely admitted the truth to themselves during 2 AM night-sweat sessions: there is nothing worthy about the behavior of the U.S. government they represent in this matter. The jettisoning of human rights, the accusation against predecessors, the willful blindness to reality, the active undermining of pro-democracy activist groups, all constitute a dangerous slouch toward the obscene cowardice that blighted Europe in the face of the Nazis. But the uprising that has proved so disadvantageous to the Obamic foreign policy enterprise is refusing to die, and the quavering has got to stop. There are only two positions here--the right side and the wrong side. With rare exceptions, this president's willful blindness to the great moral weight of America has stood us on the wrong side wherever the lives of subjugated peoples have been at stake. But it's not too late to make things right with those Iranians bleeding in the streets for their freedom. They need us. They need to hear our voices raised full-throat in support of them and against their oppressors and murderers just as do those terrorized souls living at the mercy of the sadistic Burmese junta, or subsisting on acorns and pine cones in the North Korean gulag, or dying every day with the assistance of the Sudanese tyranny.

Knowing we're with them, really with them, even if only in spirit, could save them, as every survivor of Soviet domination will attest; and in telling them so we could rediscover the moral center in our great fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Far from being a distraction, the protesters are the main issue. As long as the theocratic government remains in power, Iran will be a cancer, stirring up trouble from Iraq to Lebanon.

I've kind of lost track of events in Iran these past few days, being consumed with other matters. They seem to have died down, perhaps because of the wave of arrests it made following the large protests on Ashura, December 27. Indeed, the government brought out it's own supporters on Dec 30. Billed as a "million man march," it's unclear how many actually showed up.

It's a bit old now, but Michael Ledeen gave a good update of the situation last Thursday, December 28:

Here are the key points from Iran over the last 3-4 days: First, in line with my basic sermon these many years, if you study the videos you will see many many women in the front ranks. They have every reason to be there, as the Islamic Republic (like so many Islamic regimes) is built on the sludge of misogyny.

Second, many of the evil Basij goons wore masks. This is new, and it indicates fear that they will be identified and hunted down. The conflict is ever more violent: On several occasions, crowds attacked security forces, even dragging them out of cars -- and then, cursing them, letting them run away.

Third, in another ominous development for the regime, people from the southern (lower-class) neighborhoods of Tehran joined in. The revolt is now very broad based. But it is not yet powerful enough for the Bazaaris to join: Today the Tehran Bazaar was open for business.

Fourth, the regime has been stripped of religious legitimacy by its own panic-driven brutality. By invading mosques and hosseiniyas, by assaulting family members of leading clerics (Grand Ayatollah Sanei is under house arrest), and by ordering murder on Ashura, the supreme leader has violated a whole series of previously sacrosanct rules. I will be surprised if we do not soon hear from Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

Finally, there is still no national strike of the sort that paralyzed the shah's regime 31 years ago. But this may come: There were Twitter reports yesterday saying that Mousavi was calling for a strike on January 7.

There is now a state of emergency throughout the country (although some cities are still in open revolt), and many angry calls for the arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi, which would surely provoke more massive demonstrations and perhaps even the use of weapons by the people (even today, Molotov cocktails were thrown at security forces in central Tehran). If this were a normal regime, I'd expect a cooling-down period; but it isn't a normal regime, so it's unpredictable.

Meanwhile, the Western world clicks its collective tongue and criticizes "the violence" and the lack of respect for rights of free speech and assembly, as if that were the point. Not a single Western "leader" has found the nerve and the common sense to denounce the regime and call for regime change. Indeed, President Obama couldn't drag himself away from the beach and the basketball court on Oahu to say anything at all. Nor could our secretary of state. Or Robert Gates, for that matter, whose men and women are being blown up in Iraq and Afghanistan, courtesy of the mullahs.

As a Washington Times article today points out, the bad news is that Iran's opposition movement has yet to produce a charismatic leader," but the good news is that it has "diverse and growing group of organizers, including numerous students and veterans of an abortive 1999 uprising."

Strong but Brittle

One of the arguments Natan Sharansky makes in The Case for Democracy is that tyrannies are at once strong but brittle. By this he means that they are strong in all the ways we think they are; military and police power, the ability to silence critics, and to manipulate or outright control the thought of millions. But a sharp knock in the right place at the right time and the whole thing crumbles almost instantly.

Nicolae Ceauşescu ruled Romania with an iron fist for almost 25 years. His rule appeared as absolute as any. Yet one day in December of 1989 we read about protests in the streets over the eviction of a popular priest. A week or so later Ceauşescu and his wife had fled his capital by helicopter, shortly after to be arrested, brought back to Bucharest, tried and shot on Christmas Day. It all happened so fast no one could quite believe what they were seeing. That it came on the heals of the fall of the Berlin wall a month earlier did not lesson the shock.

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Drill, Baby, Drill

While reading Sarah Palin's autobiography, Going Rogue, which I got for Christmas, I was reminded of an article that she wrote for National Review a few months ago. I'll review her book in a week or two, but today I want to discuss the thesis of her article, which is that we need to exploit the energy reserves we have in this country.

Industry and housing energy needs are met with electricity and natural gas. The former can be produced in a variety of ways, and as I think it best we don't put all of our eggs in one basket, but diversify, I think we are out of balance ans so in a recent post I suggested that we need more nuclear power plants.

Personal transportation and truck freight, however, require use of the the internal combustion engine. We may eventually get to the point where electrical cars, or those powered by hydrogen, become widespread, but it will be a long time, if ever, before these become feasible.

One of the things we can and should do is open more areas of the United States to petroleum production. Sarah Palin explains (excerpted, full article subscription only) in the November 2, 2009, print edition of National Review:

Drill
Petroleum is, and will remain, a major part of America's energy picture. Shall we get it here or abroad?
by Sarah Palin

We rely on petroleum for much more than just powering our vehicles: It is essential in everything from jet fuel to petrochemicals, plastics to fertilizers, pesticides to pharmaceuticals. According to the Energy Information Administration, our total domestic petroleum consumption last year was 19.5 million barrels per day (bpd). Motor gasoline and diesel fuel accounted for less than 13 million bpd of that. Meanwhile, we produced only 4.95 million bpd of domestic crude. In other words, even if we ran all our vehicles on something else (which won't happen anytime soon), we would still have to depend on imported oil. And we'll continue that dependence until we develop our own oil resources to their fullest extent.

Those who oppose domestic drilling are motivated primarily by environmental considerations, but many of the countries we're forced to import from have few if any environmental-protection laws, and those that do exist often go unenforced. In effect, American environmentalists are preventing responsible development here at home while supporting irresponsible development overseas.

...the federal government shouldn't push a single, universal approach to alternative-powered vehicles. Electric cars might work in Los Angeles, but they don't work in Alaska, where you can drive hundreds of miles without seeing many people, let alone many electrical sockets....

Natural gas is one promising clean alternative. It contains fewer pollutants than other fossil fuels, it's easier to collect and process, and it is found throughout our country. In Alaska, we're developing the largest private-sector energy project in history -- a 3,000-mile, $40 billion pipeline to transport hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas to markets across the United States. Onshore and offshore natural gas from Alaska and the Lower 48 can satisfy a large part of our energy needs for decades, bringing us closer to energy independence. Whether we use it to power natural-gas cars or to run natural-gas power plants that charge electric cars -- or ideally for both -- natural gas can act as a clean "bridge fuel" to a future when more renewable sources are available...

In the end, energy independence is not just about the environment or the economy. It's about freedom and confidence. It's about building a more secure and peaceful America, an America in which our energy needs will not be subject to the whims of nature, currency speculators, or madmen in possession of vast oil reserves.

Alternative sources of energy are part of the answer, but only part. There's no getting around the fact that we still need to "drill, baby, drill!"

Natural gas also the advantage of being more flexible in it's use than liquid petroleum. You can use it to power a vehicle, fire a power plant, and pipe it to homes and businesses for a variety of uses. Petroleum can be used for t he first two, but you can't pump it to houses and transportation by truck somewhat defeats the purpose.

No more domestic drilling will not wean us off foreign oil. No one ever said it would. Nor would more use of nuclear or coal fired power plants. But they can help. Drilling in ANWAR is perfectly safe and in order to realize its benefits (which takes ten years, or so they say) we should get started now.

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