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March 12, 2006 [LINK]

GOP beauty pageant in Tennessee

The victory of Bill Frist in the Republican straw poll yesterday means almost nothing, since the event was held in his home state (Memphis, actually), and the real campaign does not begin for almost two more years. The stock sale mini-scandal last year could erupt once again, so he's better make sure that is all straight lest the party be tarnished by more financial misdeeds. I wish both parties would do something to reform the primary election process, which is distorting the nomination more and more each election cycle.

John McCain has decided to play the "loyalty card" in his race for the presidential nomination, urging his supporters to pick Bush in the straw poll even though Bush can't run again; see Washington Post. Several pundits on the Sunday morning talk shows found this gesture to be phony, and it costs him a couple points in my scorebook. I think he's decent overall but has a hard time refraining from pandering.

George Allen, who came in fourth place, was on Meet the Press today, and he exceeded my rather modest expectations of him. His swagger turns many people off, but he controlled his instinct to grin (a malady shared by Virginia's new governor) and came across as serious and thoughtful. After a few more years of grooming, maybe he'll be ready for the Big Job. (Veep in 2008?) I appreciated his opposition to the draconian anti-abortion law in South Dakota, which risked offending his social conservative base. I agree with him that states should be able to set their own standards on abortion, within reasonable limits.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has intrigued me as a possible candidate, but he didn't do or say very much to excite the crowd. His father George became one of the first victims of the modern-era media's "feeding frenzies" in 1967, when he said he had been "brainwashed" by U.S. generals in Vietnam about the military situation. That simple, offhand remark undermined his reputation and pretty much ruined his political career.

Ex-Bush aide arrested

For the Bush White House and its recent troubles, "when it rains, it pours." Claude Allen, who resigned as domestic policy adviser last month, was arrested in Maryland for swindling Hecht's and Target stores of more than $5,000, via refunds for items he allegedly did not actually buy. This comes as an especially hard blow, since Allen was one of the relatively few black staffers in the White House. For more, including the White House reaction, see Washington Post.

Kaine cries foul

The Virginia House of Delegates voted to reject former union leader Daniel G. LeBlanc as secretary of the commonwealth. See Richmond Times Dispatch. Kaine vowed revenge agains the Republicans, presumably when he was not grinning. I thought it was nice to see the Republicans acting united for a change, but Sic Semper Tyrannis fears that this action may alienate independent voters, especially those with libertarian leanings. On more serious business, State Sen. John Chichester is sounding very uncompromising on the budget-tax negoatiations with the Virginia House of Delegates.

March 10, 2006 [LINK]

More conservatives oppose Bush

Earlier this week, former Reagan administration adviser Bruce Bartlett spoke about his new book Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (Doubleday) at the CATO Institute. David Boaz, who introduced the speaker, echoes my general opinion of Bush: He's not really disappointed in the President because he did not really have high hopes for Bush in the first place. Anyone who voted for Bush believing that he "trusts the people," in contrast to the Democrats who trust the government, however, has every right to be disappointed. The CATO event was reported by the Washington Post. Bartlett may have an axe to grind, and I would hesitate to accept at face value his contention that the Bush White House is "vindictive," but many of his criticisms seem to be well founded. What worries me most is his [contention that the White House lacks] "anybody who does any serious analysis" on policy issues. What really sticks in Bartlett's craw, as he put it, is the fact that Bush has not vetoed any spending bill passed by Congress, even though he complains about pork barrel spending and says he wants to have line-item veto power. What for? The last president not to have vetoed any bills was James Garfield, who served for less than a year.

In his comments on Bartlett's book at the CATO gathering, renowned blogger and new TV pundit Andrew Sullivan opined that the ultimate consequence of the Bush (II) administration will be a vast increase in the size of government at all levels, which he believes is a great tragedy. He also called Bush a "Christian Socialist," using government to promote a sectarian religious agenda. He later clarified on his blog that he meant that only in a particular context. It is a pretty explosive charge, nonetheless. It parallels his allusion to Bismarck he made in September 2004. I agree 100 percent with Sullivan's low opinion of Karl Rove, who has said that deficits don't matter because voters don't care about deficits, and to him, winning elections is all that matters. Such a grotesquely irresponsible attitude, if that is what Rove really believes, would be paving the way for the collapse of the conservative coalition.

For those who place loyalty to party leaders above all else, such dissent is tantamount to treason. In my view, vigorous debate and exchange of different viewpoints is a healthy sign of a party that is confident of winning elections. To my surprise, there is a lot of dissent fermenting over at, where Bobby Eberle has been criticizing Bush in blunter terms lately. He calls for a "new message" as the 2006 midterm elections approach. Who in the Party of Lincoln will emerge to articulate that message?

UPDATE: Re-reading this piece made be think about the White House flap over policy adviser John DiIulio, who got the boot in the autumn of 2002 and later derided his former colleagues as a bunch of "Mayberry Machiavellis" who didn't care a whit about policy substance. See my blog post of Dec. 3, 2002. I guess it's not like we weren't warned...

March 9, 2006 [LINK]

Arab port deal collapses

Well, there goes our hopes for building alliances in the Middle East. Lacking a clear sense of leadership from the White House, Republican leaders in Congress caved in to populist outcries and rebelled against the Dubai Port World port management contract. As I wrote on Feb. 28, this isolationistic reflex is "blindingly stupid." This morning came word that the United Arab Emirates would divest itself of U.S. investments, which was probably an empty threat, but a very hostile gesture nonetheless. That in turn killed any hope for salvaging a compromise on Capitol Hill, because it would look like the United States was submitting to blackmail. So early in the afternoon Sen. John Warner read an announcement that DPW would sell off its U.S. port operations, making sure that all managers were Americans. Read it and weep at The two countries really need each other, so they will probably come up with some arrangement, but it's still a lot uglier outcome than it had to be. Part of the blame lies with President Bush for failing to stay on top of such sensitive issues, and for mishandling it when it first became public knowledge. Sen. Chuck Schumer's astute expose of the DPW deal last month was a stroke of political genius, from a partisan political standpoint, but it unleashed a terrible diplomatic setback for the United States government. I hope he's enjoying himself.

March 7, 2006 [LINK]

Hardball in Richmond, again

It's "deja vu all over again" here in the Commonwealth: A Democrat governor is in a showdown over the state budget with the Republican-led General Assembly. Like his predecessor Mark Warner, Governor Kaine is maintaining the pretense of bipartisan cooperation while waging a brass-knuckled fight behind the scenes. His chief of staff William Leighty was forced to apologize last week after mischaracterizing the voting record of a Republican state senator, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, and for threatening that Kaine would veto bills authored by Republicans who oppose him in the budget battle. Ritual apologies followed, and then this week we learn that Kaine is launching an advertising campaign targeting those Republicans. So, it would seem, nothing has really changed. My impression during the 2005 campaign (see Oct. 10) that Mr. Kaine's ear-to-ear grin is but one of two faces that he routinely alternates, as expedience dictates, seems to be correct.

The 2006 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to end this week, but it may be forced into "overtime" to resolve difficult issues. Del. Vince Callahan, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee foresees a repeat of 2004 in the offing, with GOP moderates in the state Senate compromising on tax hikes, creating ill feelings in the Republican Party. See Washington Post. Nothing would be worse for Republicans and for Virginia taxpayers than another end-game collapse. Egos need to be set aside, and both sides need to respect each others' legitimate worries: needless waste of taxpayers money, on one hand, versus putting the state's financial status at risk, on the other. In the end, the real question is whether the leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates can fashion a workable mutual compromise and avoid letting a governor of the other party exploit their differences over policy. If not, then Virginia voters will be entitled to ask whether the Republicans are really up to the task of governing their state.


The most vexing issue this year is funding for transportation. Kaine, who has spent his political career representing urban-suburban interests, believes that all Virginians must shoulder the burden of building new highways to make life easier for those who live in congested areas. If the rural minority objects to going along with such a plan, that's just tough, Kaine seems to believe. I say, if people who live in high-traffic zones want more highways, they should pay for it, one way or the other. For example, all the quibbling in Northern Virginia over HOV lanes, Metro extension, or improving the Virginia Railway Express commuter service seems to be centered upon how to get someone else to pay for what particular constituencies think they deserve. One of the main initial proposals made by defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore was to allow for regional transportation planning and funding solutions, which makes eminent sense.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to take alarmist calls for new spending with a grain of salt. That is how Chad Dotson reacted to former VDOT commissioner Phil Shucet's plea for "new, sustainable, dedicated funds" in the Richmond Times Dispatch. There is a simple solution to the catastrophe of gridlock he laments: move to less densely populated areas! Otherwise, quit yer moanin'. I'm on record as favoring tax hikes on petroleum fuels to encourage less driving and to pay for road and rail improvements, but I am also well aware that that won't happen in Virginia any time soon. Eventually, the idea that energy really is a scarce resource is bound to catch on. In the mean time, we need to be wary of bogus rationales for wasteful spending for ordinary government functions, as Chris Saxman (a staunch opponent of new taxes) rightly notes at his new Virginia Cost Cutting blog:

Would one dramatically increase transportation spending if one was told by a very high ranking VDOT (no longer there) administrator that instead of the 9,300+/- employees that we really only needed about 5,000 to run the department efficiently?

Not me.

March 2, 2006 [LINK]

More falsehoods about 9/11

Others in the right-leaning side of the blogosphere heap scorn on lefty cartoonist Ted Rall for his sick sense of humor and habitual dishonesty. I scowl but usually try to ignore his garbage. Mind you, I do appreciate good political satire from all points of view, but I frankly can't remember the last time he produced anything that made a good point. Today, thanks to Connie, I learned of a recent cartoon about United Airlines Flight 93 in which Mr. Rall deliberately spreads the false notion that "The 9/11 Commission says there's no proof of a passenger revolt..." My copy of the 9/11 Report (paperback edition from the New York Times) states unequivocally in several places that there was such a revolt, describing the action in detail on pages 21-22. There is simply no excuse for blatant mendacity about something as important as 9/11. Mr. Rall is either a liar or else one sick, deranged puppy. Either way, he qualifies for my list of unmentionable wackos.

One year after 9/11 I was at a ceremony for airline employees on the Washington Mall in which the theme was "standing together as United Americans." If only...

United Americans 9/11/02

March 2, 2006 [LINK]

The choice (?) to abort in S.D.

The South Dakota legislature recently passed a bill that would ban almost all abortions, obviously hoping to precipitate a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court; see Washington Post. [Governor Mike Rounds has until March 20 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, after which it would otherwise become law automatically.] Generally speaking, abortion is a low priority issue for me. I think it's obvious that Roe v. Wade was decided on bogus constitutional grounds, and that the function of defining civil rights lies exclusively within the legislative domain, not the courts. Like most Americans, I think that too many abortions are being performed, but I also believe that in gray areas like these, it is best to leave the decision up to the individual. Thus, I think the South Dakota bill is much too restrictive. On the other hand, I also think that the states should have the power to set their own rules according to local moral standards, as long as they do not impinge upon the laws of other states.

As for the politics of the issue, I am annoyed by the strident tone and frequent hypocrisy expressed by activists on both sides of the issue. There is, however, an especially glaring inconsistency on the "pro-choice" side, which was brought to the forefront in a letter to the editor in yesterday's Washington Post: "Women in South Dakota may be forced to seek illegal abortions, and doctors in the state will be powerless to help them." [emphasis added] Forced by whom, exactly? Isn't abortion supposed to be a matter of choice? It might help to apply this logic to a different issue involving morality and the law: If Prohibition were reenacted, would I be "forced" to buy bootleg liquor? I am not trying to compare a common vice to a traumatic personal dilemma, I am just calling attention to the basic fact that the conscience with which human beings are endowed is what enables us to live in a free, well-ordered society, and to decide whether or not to obey the law.

UPDATE: The South Dakota Politics blog has been following this issue closely, of course. Not surprisingly, they are getting a lot of hateful e-mail from some out-of-staters.

Church vs. state in Spain

Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero continues to coax his country toward the secular mainstream of Europe, ending religious instruction in public schools, and pushing for liberalized laws on abortion, divorce, and other moral issues. This has angered many traditionalists who want to maintain the Catholic Church's quasi-official status. According to the Washington Post, Zapatero's agenda is "creating some of [the] deepest political and social schisms in Spain since it returned to democracy 28 years ago." To a large extent, this is a generational issue: Spaniards over the age of 80 can still recall the wave of church burnings unleashed by the leftist Republican faction during the Spanish Civil War, and they are deeply suspicious of the contemporary counterparts to that movement represented by Zapatero. In contrast, young adults in Spain are well aware that Generalissimo Francisco Franco was a stick-in-the-mud brute, and tend to equate social conservatives with apologists for the franquista dictatorship. The thriving democracy and prosperity enjoyed by the citizens of modern Spain are the fruits of the constitutional arrangement that was carefully constructed after the death of Franco in 1975. I wrote on Jan. 28 that Zapatero is taking a big risk with autonomy for Catalonia. If he proceeds with his sweeping reform agenda with only a slim majority in the Cortes (parliament), he would put Spain's precious social stability in even greater jeopardy.

February 28, 2006 [LINK]

The Dubai Ports World uproar

The latest uproar facing the Bush administration is another example of policy that is eminently reasonable in terms of substance, but which has been marred by a faulty decision-making process and lack of attention in the White House to public perception. The result has been another feeding frenzy by the mainstream media, as the trauma of relatives of 9/11 victims is being exploited by isolationists. If reason does not prevail in this case, U.S. security and economic interests may be severely damaged.

First, the substance: Last October the Dubai Ports World company, based in the United Arab Emirates, began steps to purchase a London-based port management company, and the deal was essentially finalized earlier this month for $6.85 billion. The United Arab Emirates is humble federation of principalities in the Persian Gulf, an island of Western business ethics in a turbulent sea of religious fanaticism. Think of it as a beachhead of freedom, albeit incipient freedom. These things take time. Many critics call attention to the fact that some of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, but that doesn't necessarily mean very much. Indeed, port management has almost nothing to do with port security. That is the domain of the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs Service. In today's Washington Post, C. Peter Bergsten, who has impeccable credentials as an advocate of free trade and globalization as the head of the Institute for International Economics, warns about the adverse consequences if Congress meddles in this case, and suggests some procedural improvements to prevent such a thing from getting out of hand again.

On the other hand, there is a very good reason to question this deal as promoting economic liberalism abroad: The company is owned by the UAE government! None other than Sen. Hillary Clinton pointed this out in a committee hearing last week. Indeed, we should be very leery of putting the government in charge of critical economic sectors in which efficiency is crucial -- such as, for example, health care! It doesn't mean we should never make deals with foreign state-owned firms, it's just a factor to take into account.

The grand strategy of the United States is to expand the domain of and economic freedom, setting the stage -- it is hoped -- for expansion in the domain of political freedom. It is, to be sure, somewhat risky, because some regimes such as the one in Beijing are trying to have one kind of freedom without the other, but the virtue in this strategy is that it leverages American self-confidence. Our nation's prosperity is rooted to a very large extent in our eagerness to accept business risk. Whenever we have embraced openness to the world in our history, we have reaped big economic dividends. But the big picture in this particular circumstance is centered around security, national and international. For the United States of America to turn its back on a significant ally in the very part of the world in which our foreign policy is currently focused would be blindingly stupid.

As for decision-making process, a "background article" in Sunday's Washington Post provided a brief timeline since Chuck Schumer broke the "scandal" two weeks ago. It concluded that Bush's frequent resort to citing national security as a rationale for his administration's policies have created a double-edged sword that has nicked him badly in this case. Perhaps. What is indisputable is that the Democrats have seized the opportunity to regain credibility on the security issue. Given this country's lack of attention to complex international security and economic issues, a populist wedge issue such as this one might resonate among voters who are disenchanted with Bush and the Republican leadership, possibly tipping the balance in the 2006 congressional elections. Unless Congress acts by Thursday, the sale will go through. In hopes of averting rejection, Dubai Ports World has asked for a 45-day period in which U.S. agencies will take a more thorough security review.

Finally, public perception. Most people would acknowledge, at least privately, that the real problem in this case is the way Bush handled this before and after it became a media feeding frenzy. The fact that he was blind-sided by the port deal debacle reflects very poorly on the White House staff, though he bears some responsibility for his initial stubborn refusal to compromise or consult with Congress on the matter. You know something is wrong when respectable Republican moderates like Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) in effect pander to the xenophobes among us. (You can almost hear them sneering, "We don't want no stinkin' Ay-rabs runnin' our ports!") Sen. Collins' attitude in this case is very disappointing. In the Chicago Sun Times, Robert Novak discusses the political angle, and how some Republicans such as Reps. Vito Fossela and Peter King (both of New York) caved in to the outcry. On a brighter note, Sen. John McCain spoke out forcefully against critics of the deal on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday: "The near-hysteria about this is not warranted, particularly in light of the other major crises that we're facing throughout the world." See Nevertheless, part of the problem is President Bush's loss of credibility ever since Hurricane Katrina, a lapse in managerial oversight for which he is paying very dearly.

February 26, 2006 [LINK]

Reagan dinner in Staunton

Hagelin - HomeInvasion Friday night marked one of the year's biggest events on the local social calendar, at least if you are a Republican: the annual dinner in honor of Ronald Reagan. Rebecca Hagelin, a vice president of the Heritage Foundation, spoke to nearly one hundred guests at the recently restored Stonewall Jackson Hotel in downtown Staunton. Her book, Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad, is a call to arms in the culture wars. She came across as very serious, sincere, and devoted to raising public consciousness about the depravity to which our kids are subjected on a daily basis. The Staunton Daily News Leader covered the event. I am not as "gung ho" on cultural issues as some conservatives, mostly because I think the way to address social ills is through religion and civic action rather than politics, but I am keenly aware of the crisis of filth. Conservatives need to keep in mind the principle of accountability: letting people suffer for their own mistakes as a way to learn, rather than berating them for bad behavior and/or smothering them with "compassion." Of course, the innocent among us -- i.e., teens and preteens -- do need active protection by law enforcement and community leaders, and that is where Ms. Hagelin's book is right on target.

One of the guests at the dinner was Rhonda Winfield, the mother of fallen soldier Jason Redifer who died in Iraq just over a year ago. She was the main speaker at the "Support the Troops" rally we had in Staunton last August, and I gave her a copy of the video CD of the event which I made. She is a very gracious and decent woman who just happens to be a very articulate supporter of the cause of freedom, and it was a true honor to meet her in person.

Webb challenges Allen

I was surprised to learn that James Webb, who served as Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, is running for the Democratic nomination to run against Senator George Allen, who will probably run for president in 2008. See Washington Post.

February 22, 2006 [LINK]

Neocons & Neolibs: chastened alike

One of the fascinating cases of politics making strange bedfellows in the post-9/11 world is the convergence on foreign policy between the Neoconservatives (institutionally exemplified by the Project for a New American Century) and the Neoliberals (exemplified by the Brookings Institution). Before 9/11, Neocons sought a strong, unapologetic global push on behalf of American interests, relegating American values to a lower priority, while Neolibs sought to promote American (and Western) values through multilateral means. The dagger blow inflicted upon us by Al Qaeda convinced both those intellectual communities that America's future security depended on harmonizing American interests and values, relying primarily upon American means. The uneasy marriage of convenience between these two communities is under increasing strain, however, because of the difficulties in pacifying Iraq.

Francis Fukuyama, a shining star of Neolibs, distances himself from Neocons in the New York Times. He believes that democracy in Iraq can still be salvaged, but the cost will be higher than it had to be because of missteps by the Bush administration. More generally, he thinks the Bush Doctrine "is now in shambles":

But it is the idealistic effort to use American power to promote democracy and human rights abroad that may suffer the greatest setback. Perceived failure in Iraq has restored the authority of foreign policy 'realists' in the tradition of Henry Kissinger.

I think that is a fair assessment. I was struck, however, by Fukuyama's insinuation that "that the United States would have done better to stick by its traditional authoritarian friends in the Middle East." What a change from the "End of History" democratic triumphalist of ten years ago! When I saw him speak at the APSA meeting in Washington last September, he expressed similar mixed feelings about the Bush policies in Iraq, and the general Wilsonian approach to foreign policy. I agree with Fukuyama that there is a major risk of an isolationist backlash among the "red-state" folks whose sons and daughters are crusading for freedom in the desert, if things don't work out.

Andrew Sullivan wrote a thoughtful review of Fukuyama's piece, including a frank mea culpa:

In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors in the last few years. The first was to over-estimate the competence of government, especially in extremely delicate areas like WMD intelligence.
The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that such power must necessarily provoke.
The final error was not taking culture seriously enough.

Where do I stand? I have never identified with the Neocons, and I have acknowledged those three pitfalls Sullivan emphasized from time to time. As one with strong roots in the realist tradition, moreover, I have always viewed Bush's promotion of democracy with a bit of trepidation. I do remain convinced that regime change in Iraq was the sine qua non of turning back the Islamo-fascist global advance, nevertheless, even though Bush's team did not carry out the project as effectively as it should have, for reasons Fukuyama and Sullivan explain. Like Sullivan, I do feel somewhat chastened for having made a strong political commitment to a leader whose flaws are becoming more apparent over time. Live and learn. There is a fine line between confident assertiveness and hubris, and our President (a self-admitted C-student) probably never read that chapter.

This is where the stubborn reluctance by the White House to admit past policy mistakes or legal transgressions (e.g., torture and wiretapping) has the potential to damage U.S. national interests. I think Bush's advisers are on one hand rightfully scornful of the destructive type of dissent exhibited by the (mostly) "unhinged" Democrats, and on the other hand unduly worried that such dissent might spread if Bush shows any signs of humility or weakness. I was reassured when the White House adopted a more sober, realistic tone in speeches about the war in Iraq since December, but there remains a disturbing tendency to ignore well-meaning criticism from sympathetic sources. The key to political success in Iraq and the U.S. midterm election is for Bush to ditch his Texan bravado while maintaining a firm resolve to carry on the fight against the enemy, as we gradually withdraw troops. The ultimate outcome is now in the hands of the Iraqi leaders themselves.

February 18, 2006 [LINK]

Checks and balances in wartime

I'm well aware of the uproar over the President Bush's extra-legal authorization of wiretaps of terrorist suspects, but this is one of those issues where I fall squarely in the middle, preferring to wait and see. I am concerned about the Chief Executive overstepping his rightful prerogratives, but thus far I have seen no cause for panic over the alleged erosion of constitutional protections. For those of us who acknowledge that we are in a real war (albeit a shadowy one), it seems obvious that preventing another urban holocaust should be the top priority.

Recent news items have made me start to wonder, however. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has begun to investigate the Department's role in approving the wiretapping by the National Security Agency. New Attorney General Alberto Gonazalez is on the hot seat. The White House has been arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 does not apply to monitoring communications in which one party is out of the country. Some would argue, but I think that is reasonable. The other day, however, I heard an audio clip from 2004 (I think) in which Bush tried to ease people's fears by declaring that all wiretapping in this country was being done under a court order, under the provisions of FISA. Sounds like a 180-degree reversal to me. At (hat tip to Connie), Shane Harris (a National Journal writer) scrutinized the White House position that the "Authorization for Use of Military Force" passed by Congress soon after 9/11 superseded the provisions of FISA:

In a January open letter to Congress, 14 legal scholars and former government officials wrote, "The administration cannot argue on the one hand that Congress authorized the NSA program in the AUMF, and at the same time that it did not ask Congress for such authorization because it feared Congress would say no."

A column by George Will in Thursday's Washington Post ("No Checks, Many Imbalances") harshly criticizes Bush for that flat-out contradiction, raising further doubts in my mind. Will notes the irony that Bush insists on appointing judges who interpret the laws and Constitution in very strict fashion, and wonders why Bush is so worried about renewing the Patriot Act, given his past willingness to circumvent Federal statutes. Will concludes by urging Congress to craft new laws that grant the necessary emergency powers to the President without lending legal support to the Bush administration's cavalier attitude toward FISA. That will be a delicate balancing act.

We need to make a basic distinction here, as Will hints at, between whether an action was appropriate under the circumstances, and whether it was properly justified. Relatively few people would dispute that occasional "on-the-spot" wiretaps are necessary to stop terrorist attacks, which leaves us with a fairly clear choice: Do we modify existing laws to accommodate current practice, to keep transgressions to a minimum, or do we get used to ignoring the law in the name of national security? The latter course is a very slippery slope, and there is no excuse for habitual exercise of "emergency" powers; after all, that is how dictatorships in Latin America and elsewhere usually got started. Could that happen here? It depends whom you are asking, and which party controls the White House. To my mind, the polemics over this very serious issue highlights, once again, the "Liberal-Conservative Conundrum" regarding the effects of war, as explained by Bruce Porter (War and the Rise of the State, 1994): Liberals tend to hate war but are quick to take advantage of it to promote their social reform agendas, while conservatives tend to be gung-ho but fear that social traditions will be undermined by the mass collectivization that military mobilization brings about. Folks on both the Right and Left are pulling their hair out in frustration over the role reversal in which post-9/11 history has placed them. It also reinforces my belief that it was a big mistake by Bush to ask Congress for a "blank check" discretion to launch war, rather than a formal declaration of war against Iraq. That would have erased any doubt in people's minds about whether this is a real war or not, and it would have set a higher standard for achieving a final legal resolution of the conflict.

Here's another way to look at the issue: How would Republicans feel if Hillary Clinton were president and was asserting such powers? A pretty scary thought, and not implausible either. So, the next time you hear the usual pro-Bush radio pundits talking about the President's "inherent power" as Commander in Chief in war time, imagine how they would react to such an assertion by a Democrat president. What goes around, comes around. That's why conservatives have traditionally favored limited government: It minimizes the downside risk when you lose the election.

Warner off to a slow start

Mark Warner, the ambitious, fresh-faced millionaire businessman -- and Democrat! -- who recently stepped down as governor of Virginia, is having a hard time adjusting to national politics. According to (hat tip to Steve Kijak), he has fallen in rank from #4 to #5 in the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. (Hillary occupies the #1, #2, AND #3 spots! ) Now that Warner no longer holds elective office, he finds it difficult to draw attention to himself. He recently traveled to New Hampshire, but got only a lukewarm reception. Perhaps he needs to appeal to the Democrat base by jumping on the "Bush lied" bandwagon. Of course, that would destroy his chances of winning the general election. What a dilemma! For all the troubles faced by the Republicans right now, I would definitely not want to trade places with the opposition party.

February 16, 2006 [LINK]

More Euro-pessimists speak out

I was wondering what Charles Kupchan would say about Fareed Zakaria's Euro-pessimism, and thanks to Instapundit, I found out. Theodore Dalrymple recently posted an essay, "Is Old Europe Doomed?" at Cato Unbound. He begins by granting that history does not proceed in linear, deterministic fashion, but warns, "Nevertheless, it is undeniable that a pall of doom does currently overhang Europe." Clincher:

The principal motor of Europe's current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century.

The result of this obsession: dwindling work opportunities for native Europeans, and the encouragement of a vast "informal sector" of immigrants willing to take up the slack. As the youth of Europe long for cushy, public sector jobs, while rejecting the ethos of capitalism, productivity will continue to lag. Dalrymple's interpretation of social norms under these conditions is particularly troubling:

The goal of everyone is to parasitize everyone else, or to struggle for as large a slice of the economic cake as possible. No one worries about the size of the cake itself.

In response, Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan wrote that Dalrymple's piece "is essentially a Europhobic rant." (It did not strike me that way at all.) To Kupchan, things in Europe are not as bad as they seem, and some statistical trends indicate continued vitality in the European economy, especially if you leave out Germany. (How ironic; Germany used to be the motor of the European economy!) Oddly, Kupchan treats Europe's low birth rate as an exogenous trend, when it is really one of the clearest symptoms of socio-economic stagnation. I think he is whistling in the dark.

Cheney's misfire

Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of his friend Harry Whittington has provided great fodder for comedians and Bush-bashers, and an inordinate amount of attention from the news media. The only real "lessons" to be drawn from it, however, are rather banal: "Safety First." "Accidents happen." One could certainly fault the Veep for poor public relations in this incident, but that has never been one of his priorities. The sorrow he expressed in the interview with FOX's Brit Hume yesterday was obviously sincere. Hunting without the proper permit is a more serious matter, however, and Cheney should pay the maximum fine to set an example.

February 14, 2006 [LINK]

Zakaria on the "Fall of Europe"

Fareed Zakaria, the erudite IR scholar-pundit often seen on ABC, comments on the "Cartoon War" in the context of long-term demographic and economic trends in Europe. Upshot: downhill. The failure of European countries to resist and contain Muslim extremists is only a symptom of a deeper problem. The failure of governments in Europe to make any attempt to reform their protectionist agricultural trade policies, and the deep reluctance to modify the cushy welfare entitlements bode ill for the continent's ability to compete in the 21st Century global market. Zakaria speculates on the implications for the world if Europe continues to wane in importance: Political power would become more diffuse, making norms (such as nuclear non-proliferation) harder to enforce. On the plus side (for use), the U.S. dollar would remain the default reserve asset for global financiers, which would be good for us -- well, good for American tourists and investors, at least. See Washington Post. I would like to hear what Europhiles such as Charles Kupchan think about this.

InstaPundit on Coulter

I try hard not to get worked up about the rantings and insults spewed forth by big mouths, but Ann Coulter's use of the foul epithet raghead last Friday has had one positive effect: It spurred Glenn Reynolds to express his sentiments in a multi-paragraph blog post! Like me, he is not particularly fond of her abrasive style either.

February 12, 2006 [LINK]

"Blog rage" against "WaPo"

The executive editor of the Washington Post Web site, Jim Brady, got caught in a firestorm of protest on Jan. 19 after he closed the comments section of the Post's new blog because of a flood of hateful comments. In today's Outlook section he sets out to defend his action and laments the sad, bilious, and often profane tone that prevails in much of the "blogosphere." It happens that in this case, the outrage was expressed by Democrats (or like-minded people) who were protesting a somewhat misleading statement that lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to both parties. It only reinforces my impression that cyberspace manners these days are generally much worse on the Left than on the Right. It also validates my reluctance to follow fashion by enabling a comments feature on my blog. I do welcome e-mail feedback, however.

Post lauds Hanger

One of the editorials in today's Post praised Virginia state Senator Emmett Hanger for his compromise measure on immigration, which I wrote about on Friday. (In Republican circles, a kind word from the Post is not necessarily considered a good thing.) The editorial highlighted Sen. Hanger's family experience with immigration as motivating his "change of heart," which reminds me that this is one of those divisive social issues on which opinions depend to a large extent on personal experience. It has certainly shaped my attitude on the issue, and try as I might, I can't pretend to be totally objective. It would take book's worth of explanation to convey to someone lacking such experience what the contemporary immigration situation is really like.

February 10, 2006 [LINK]

Hanger: mercy for immigrants

In a partial reversal from his previous firm stand against in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens, our own Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) offered an amendment to his bill that marks a significant compromise. His revised bill would provide a legal channel for some immigrants' children to qualify for the lower tuition rate, on condition that the parents have been paying their taxes and have already applied for normalized legal resident status. Hanger's change of heart came about through the pleadings of immigrant advocates and his own personal experience. Even if his bill passes the Senate, however, it would probably fail in the House of Delegates. See Washington Post. Last week Sen. Hanger introduced legislation that would provide for castration of repeat sex offenders, which raised quite a few eyebrows.

This is one of those ethical dilemmas that cannot be reconciled: Either you hold children accountable for the transgressions of their parents, or you undermine the basic sense of fair play and respect for the rules that is the hallmark of American society. Overall, I think Hanger's bill is a reasonable effort to balance justice and mercy, but I would object to the way he characterized the denial of state education benefits as "punishing" the children. To me, that smacks of the entitlements mentality that is at the root of many of our deepest social policy problems. From my experience, our colleges and universities are already jam-packed with kids who really don't belong there in the first place, and I emphatically reject the notion (often espoused by former President Bill Clinton) that every American deserves to go to college. Whatever the state legislators do, they should work toward achieving consistent standards and practices across the state, to avoid confusion, heartache, and bitterness.

To reiterate my basic position on immigration, I boil it down to two phrases: Get in line, and Speed up the process. The sooner a person who is in the United States takes formal steps to apply for permanent resident status and otherwise registers with the authorities, the sooner they should become eligible for equal protection under the law. There should be no "amnesty;" that was tried in the 1980s, and it failed. Any "guest worker program" should be accompanied by a suitable increase in funding to adequately monitor those who are supposedly here on a temporary basis; otherwise, it will become a cynical charade. Only after becoming full citizens, if they so choose, should immigrants become eligible for government benefits in health, education, and welfare. In my view, those who are in this country without taking any steps to normalize their status have no legal rights other than fundamental human rights. The longer a person has lived in this country illegally prior to making such an application, the longer he or she should have to wait in line. Those who have applied for U.S. permanent resident status or work visas and are still waiting in their home countries should get priority treatment.

Of course, no immigration reform will work unless it is accompanied by fundamental reforms in labor laws and entitlements in this country, to reduce or eliminate employers' incentive to cut costs by cheating. In that respect, the Virginia legislature's rejection of a proposed increase in the state minimum wage was entirely appropriate, if only a first step in the right direction.

February 9, 2006 [LINK]

The Cartoon War escalates

Which is worse: satiric humor that crosses the line into blasphemy, or state-sponsored mob violence? The Bush administration at first was more concerned more about the former, criticizing European newspapers that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed. Yesterday, however, the President and Secretary of State Rice turned their attention to the latter. See Washington Post. The delayed shift in emphasis is a bit odd, since the sources of the mob violence which is spreading around the world are the very same Islamofascist rogue regimes in Damascus and Tehran that are our main state enemies in the global war on terrorism. Wasn't that obvious to begin with? There is no doubt that the wave of violence has far more to do with the aggressive political agenda of Syria and Iran than with Muslim "anger" at the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons, as anyone who studies Third World politics should know. Now, however, we learn from pajamas media (via Instapundit) as well as Freedom for Egyptians (via Donald Sensing) that the offending cartoons were published in Egypt back in October! Can you say "hypocritical, selective outrage"? Clearly, the ability of some people to take a joke is highly variable.

Writing from the European "front lines," Paul Belien observes in the Brussels Journal (link via Lynn Mitchell), that

[T]hose who are now reacting so violently to the twelve Danish cartoons make it quite clear by their violent reaction that they are only insulted because the cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb under his turban mirrors their own (not necessarily my) view of Islam: a religion of revenge, terror and bombs. "Above all else, the Devil cannot stand to be mocked," C.S. Lewis said. Lewis was wrong: Above all else, the Devil cannot stand to be shown his own image. It is the truth that hurts.

Belien goes on to cite the state motto of New Hampshire: "Live free or die." Fortunately, more Europeans are becoming inclined toward the former course. In any case, we should hesitate at least a moment before condemning brutal cynicism or religious sentiment gone astray. Chris Green has "mixed emotions" on this question. Looking at it from the other side's perspective, he recalls the Christ-mocking "art" that has been displayed in some American cities, and wonders whether the cartoons mocking Mohammed as a terrorist were indeed beyond the pale. In a similar vein, Pat Buchanan expressed such worries on Sean Hannity's radio program yesterday, reminding listeners of a simple rule of daily living: prudence. Whether someone has the legal right to do something is often less important than whether the action in question is prudent under the particular circumstances.

My letter on energy

I followed up my Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 blog posts about President Bush's declaration that we Americans are "addicted to oil" with a grouchy-toned letter to the editor, which appeared in today's Staunton Daily News Leader.

February 7, 2006 [LINK]

Muslims on (belated) rampage

What can possibly explain the fact that the sudden outburst of violent riots by Muslims around the world is taking place several months after the offending cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper? An orchestrated campaign by Islamofascists in Syria, that's what. The Baathist dictatorship of Bashar Assad in Damascus is under increasing pressure to reform itself, and decided to contrive the outrage among Muslims to reassert its domestic authority. This "rent-a-mob" tactic is also aimed at rekindling ethnic tension in Lebanon as a way to regain a foothold for Syria, from whence they were forced to retreat almost a year ago. For a "rogue regime" that has long been a sponsor of terrorism, such practices are just par for the course. The violence has spread to various European countries, Indonesia, and now to Afghanistan. See Washington Post. Latent anti-American sentiment is being blamed, which shows how absurd and delusional much of the Muslim world is today; the United States had nothing to do with those cartoons! This latest incident demonstrates, once again, the futility of trying to appease Islamic extremism and the various nationalistic movements that fall under its umbrella. Victor Davis Hanson (via Instapundit) asks whether the escalating offensive by Muslim fanatics may elicit a "European Awakening Against Islamic Fascism." Each in their own way, the governments of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Denmark are showing increasing backbone in response to Islamic bullying, almost making the Bush administration look tame by comparison.

McCain rebukes Obama

Sen. Barack Obama, the young Illinois moderate who is widely considered to be the Democrats' "Great Multicultural Hope" for some future presidential race, has run afoul of Sen. John McCain. Obama had made a personal pledge to cooperate with McCain in a bipartisan push for lobbying reform legislation, and then backed out at the behest of his party leaders, leaving McCain in the lurch. In response, McCain wrote an unusually blunt and sarcastic letter (link via Chad Dotson) expressing regret that Obama reneged on his commitment. Whenever a moderate like McCain gets riled up, you know there must be a very good reason for it. Whenever some fresh new face like Obama's arrives on the national stage, I usually reserve judgment while everyone else fawns in premature adulation. I think my initial hesitation about Obama's leadership credentials has been borne out by events.

Obama has responded, professing to have no idea at what prompted McCain's rebuke. He says that he thought the "Honest Leadership Act" introduced by Minority Leader Harry Reid "should be the basis for a bipartisan solution." Yeah, right. (link via Instapundit)

February 2, 2006 [LINK]

Might as well face it,
We're "addicted to oil"!

President Bush's declaration in his State of the Union address that "America is addicted to oil" has elicited a wide range of startled gasps, delighted oohs and ahhs, and (thankfully) more thoughtful reactions from around the blogosphere and conservative punditocracy. Let's go:

Austin Bay, who is very reliable when commenting on military matters, actually buys into Bush's rhetoric. Indeed, he seems disappointed that Bush has not followed through with previous calls for more use of alernative fuels. I joined the commenters on that blog post, noting that most of those people are out of touch with present reality.

Andrew Sullivan agrees that "addicted to oil" is an inappropriate metaphor, and writes, "It's just a reflection of how this president has all but destroyed conservatism as a governing philosophy."

Daniel Drezner draws attention to the glaring contradiction between Bush's call to resist retreating into isolationism when it comes to trade and immigration policy, versus his strong push for reducing our dependence on Middle East oil. Oops! Somebody on the White House speechwriting staff forgot to check for internal logical consistency!

George Will (in today's Washington Post) finds that phrase addicted to oil to be "wonderfully useless," an example of "the therapeutic language of Oprah Nation." The long-term goals Bush set for energy independence are worthy of a Soviet planning commissar, he aptly notes.

Likewise, Robert Novak: "That has all the characteristics of an 'industrial policy,' with the federal government picking winners and losers. While violating the Republican Party's free market philosophy, this is a course with a lengthy pedigree of failure all over the world."

In sum, it would be more accurate to say that we are not so much "addicted to oil" as we are addicted to fatuous, politically correct rhetoric. As for the substance of policy, those of us who believe that tax policy ought to be used to correct the fundamental market distortion that results in massive traffic jams and air pollution may be in the minority right now, but our day will come!

Can Danforth save the GOP?

Today's Washington Post has a feature article on former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, who is on a "crusade" of sorts to save the Republican Party from self-destruction in the name of religious sectarianism. Sign me up! After retiring from the Senate in January 1995, he devoted his life to service as an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Like me, he is moderate in some respects, and conservative in others. His fundamental theme is standing up to the "bullies in the pulpit," which is an apt description of some leaders of the Christian Right. Rush Limbaugh says this article is "another hit piece" against conservative Christians, which seemed a little odd because Rush does not ordinarily stress religious faith as much as the more-strident commentators Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity do. In any case, I heartily disagree with his take on Danforth. The voice of evangelicals has added vigor and a sense of higher purpose to the GOP, but they are as susceptible to getting carried away with their beliefs as anyone is. My goal is not to push the Republican Party in one direction or another, but rather to get the various factions to respect each other and see how they all have a vital role to play in conserving what is good about this country. To me, that means standing together to resist the gradual slide toward statist, soul-crushing conformity and mediocrity.

UPDATE: Boehner becomes Majority Leader

Ohio's John Boehner defeated front-runner Roy Blunt in the race for the position of House Majority Leader recently vacated by Tom DeLay. My favorite, John Shadegg of Arizona (see Jan. 22), was eliminated in the first round. He pledged support for Boehner as long as Boehner remains committed to the goal of reform. See Both Arizona's senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, made a public endorsement of Shadegg earlier this week, seen on C-SPAN. Let's not forget the "sweeping brooms" of 1994, folks: It's time to CLEAN HOUSE!

FURTHER UPDATE: Jon Henke (via Instapundit) commented on the Majority Leader race, before it was decided, and "How Republicans Can Get Their Groove Back." Upshot: by choosing Shadegg, by far the ethically cleanest of the three contenders. The failure of House Republicans to heed the "fiscal conservatives and libertarians tha[t] make up the Republican base," as he urged, means that those of us who identify ourselves that way have got a long, cold, lonely winter yet ahead of us. How appropriate on Groundhog Day.

February 1, 2006 [LINK]

The State of the Union, 2006

Once again, President Bush performed above the level of most people's expectations in his address to the nation last night, and he set the right tone of optimism leavened with sober realism. (As I noted yesterday, that is part of the recently-recalibrated White House communications strategy, reaching out to a skeptical public.) This tone stood in contrast to last year, when Bush was fresh from reelection: "On a roll, not lookin' back."

The President's fundamental message was clear and very apt: The United States must continue to lead in pursuit of freedom around the world, and resist the temptation of retreating into the "false comfort of isolationism." (For the complete text, see

The seething resentment felt by the minority party exploded in a chorus of sarcastic cheering when Bush recalled the failure of his proposed Social Security reform last year. I can hardly imagine how he must have felt, after having spent so much of his "political capital" on an earnest, if somewhat misguided, reform initiative. "No good deed goes unpunished." Let us hope that at least some of them were sincere [in applauding] when he went on to admonish the entire chamber that the looming crisis of entitlements must be addressed, one way or the other. I was glad he mixed conciliatorty gestures with an emphatic rejection of the inappropriate dissent by the antiwar movement:

Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.

With regard to the core element of his foreign policy, the promotion of democracy, he handled the awkward question of frustrations in a delicate way. He called on the repressive Egyptian government to "open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism." Easier said than done. Hardly anyone seriously believes that his pro forma call on Hamas to choose peace will be heeded, but he had to say it.


I was prepared to be disappointed that Bush remains committed to "compassionate conservatism," which basically panders to (liberal) conventional wisdom on certain issues, in an expedient search for an expanded voter base. Two of the biggest missed opportunities were energy and immigration:

America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.

That is a sad recitation of one of the lamest cliches in the American political lexicon, evading the real issue. The idea that public investment in new technologies will somehow solve the problem with no inconvenience to our coddled masses is the perfect example of how democratic societies are prone to fatuous delusions. New technologies certainly may lead to greater energy efficiency, but the only consistent, rational way to encourage that is to allow energy prices to rise to their natural market level. In a true market society, there would be a built-in profit incentive for such technologies to develop on their own. The real reason that alternative energy sources are not being adequately developed is that energy in this country is artificially cheap! Leftists often cry out "No blood for oil!" To that, I would respond, "No implicit subsidy for oil!" To the extent that the price of energy is held down by virtue of the stabilizing influence of U.S. armed forces in the Middle East, the cost of such intervention should be explicitly borne by energy consumers, via a tax on gasoline. If a strongly "conservative" president cannot bring himself to come right out and say that energy is a scarce commodity whose price reflects that scarcity, then who ever will? .


We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy -- even though this economy could not function without them. (Applause.) All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction -- toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.

I admire Bush for sticking to his guns on this issue, but I am very disappointed that he does not want to face up to the consequences of turning a blind eye to the massive cheating upon which a large portion of our economy is based. Too many Republicans have the cynical attitude that it is OK for businesses to hire illegal aliens so as to circumvent the labor laws, even though that practice reduces opportunities for American workers. Economic integration of North America will proceed in an awkward, uneven fashion, but there is a real danger that the impetus of economic liberalization will dissipate unless political leaders on both sides of the border maintain a courageous devotion to the ultimate principles and goals of NAFTA. To live up to the ideals of peace and prosperity, Bush needs to stoutly resist calls for a Berlin wall along our border, while allocating increased funds for border patrols and resuming candid dialogue with Mexico over free trade. The point is to increase opportunities for Mexicans and Central Americans within their own countries so they don't have to come here for a job!

As I keep insisting, if Bush were really intent on pursuing a radical restructuring of the American society and economy along free market lines, as many people believe he is doing, he would effectively link the immigration issue to entitlements reform, economic policy, and national security. What a wonderful world it would be! Alas...

Reaction by Democrats

For the Democrats' response, our own governor of the Old Dominion, Tim Kaine, stepped up to the plate. Still "wet behind the ears," in office for less than two weeks, he has not yet gained full control over the facial muscles that constantly propel his left eyebrow upward. His real function was to draw attention to the political success of his mentor and predecessor, Mark Warner, who is actively exploring running for president in 2008. That should be a good sign for the sane moderates within the Democrat Party, but Kaine felt obliged to pander to the leftist base by challenging the President's veracity on justifying the war in Iraq. Saying "America can do better" came across as a lame, hackneyed slogan.

A certain "unmentionable wacko" was arrested for disorderly conduct in the Capitol Building. She was wearing a concealed protest shirt, and recently accused the President of "waging a war of terrorism against the world."

January 31, 2006 [LINK]

Will on Bush's "cynicism"

Much like his rhetorically gifted predecessor, George W. Bush is learning that basing U.S. foreign policy on high, noble ideas is a risky proposition. As compromises and accommodations to reality are made, charges of hypocrisy are almost inevitable. Last week's elections in Palestine indeed call into question the Neocons' vision that democratization in the Middle East would bear quick fruit in terms of peace and stability. Well, maybe not right away. There is a desperate need for Condoleeza Rice to speak up at Cabinet meetings and make a stronger pitch for paying greater heed to the realist approach to international relations. As the President prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, George Will predicts in today's Washington Post that Bush will conveniently gloss over the setback represented by the Hamas victory. He cites Edmund Burke's warning about the moral ambiguity of liberty, which allows people to choose good or evil, and wryly notes that Bush's previous disavowal of imposing "our" form of democracy on other countries has provided an opportunity for malign illiberal forms of democracy to arise. How will Bush handle the disconnect between past rhetoric and present reality in places like Palestine and Haiti? Will wishful thinking descend into cynicism, as Will says? The erudite pundit's pent-up exasperation with the waywardness of the Bush administration exploded in the Harriet Miers episode, but he has not yet to stooped to the kind of insult he once leveled at Bush the Elder, whose voice, Will once said, had the "tinny arf of a lap dog."

As for tonight's big speech, I predict that Bush will give "equal time" to sober reflection and high inspiration, in line with the recent shift in White House communications strategy. Bush is often criticized for living in a "bubble," blissfully unaware of criticism or public sentiment, but that does not apply to his advisers. Bush has established a clear pattern of foiling the low expectations of pundits and rousing the audience with clear, resonant speeches just in the nick of time. He may pull it off once again, but that high-wire act can't go on forever.

Millennium Challenge Corp.

Almost every modern U.S. administration creates some new official or quasi-official insititution to put its own stamp on international "do-goodism," from the Peace Corps to the National Endowment for Democracy. Under the Bush administration, the new Millennium Challenge Corporation has taken a leading role in formulating U.S. overseas development policy. Today's Washington Post provides some background on the MCC and its new leader, John Danilovich. Two of the biggest recipients of MCC assistance packages are Nicaragua and Honduras, which suffered greatly during the civil wars of the 1980s. In general, I support the idea that U.S. foreign aid should be conditioned on the worthiness of recipients, but there is always a risk of political favoritism whenever such discretion is emphasized. It also illustrates, once again, the inherent dilemma of involvement in other countries' affairs: We risk either being seen as meddlesome, or else turning a blind eye to bad behavior.

UPDATE: Alito is in

The Senate approved the nomination of Samuel Alito today by a vote of 58 to 42. I heard Sen. Chuck Schumer on the radio today bitterly ruing the accession of the conservative judge, voicing the resentment of Democrats who think they are still the majority party. He said that the response to Bush's State of the Union address tonight will be the sound of "one hand clapping." That's free publicity for Donald Sensing!

January 28, 2006 [LINK]

L'autonomia per a Catalunya? *

Catalonia, the northeastern region of Spain centered upon Barcelona, may gain additional autonomous prerogatives under a bill submitted to the Spanish Cortés (parliament) by Prime Minister Zapatero, a Socialist. In consideration for its distinct language and cultural traditions, Catalonia has enjoyed some degree of autonomy since 1980. Its drive for full independence during the 1930s was one of the main causes of the Spanish Civil War, and the lingering franquista sentiment within the armed forces casts a pall over Spain's otherwise thriving democracy. That is why a general who objected to the bill as contrary to the constitutional unity of Spain was fired. A government spokesman denied that Zapatero was pandering to fringe parties in order to keep his coalition together. See Washington Post.

Catalonia ("Cataluña," en español) is transparent to most Americans, but many famous Spaniards were born or raised in Catalonia, including artists Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, and cellist Pablo Casals. Spain is rather like the United Kingdom in being an amalgam of regions with distinct traditions, each of which was joined to the larger country under unique circumstances, and with special understandings. For that reason, the suggestion that those countries adopt a federal system like the United States is not really appropriate, because the smaller units are not really co-equal, as are states in the U.S.A.

In principle, legislation aimed simply at facilitating the expression of multicultural diversity (!) should not be too dangerous. What worries me is that the proposed law may provide justification for latent grudges among the various parts of Spain, over who gets more and who gets less in return for the tax revenues they pay, for instance. As one example of this, I recently learned about the silly boycott of Catalonian products by people in other parts of Spain who resent special favors for Catalonia from our friends Montserrat and Josep. *(They kindly gave us the Angles-Català dictionary that allowed me to write the title above. Moltes gràcies!) This is a situation in which the conservative reluctance to upset the apple cart for fear of unleashing chaos is well taken. The comparison with the Quebec independence movement is certainly apt, but Spain has sharper internal divisions than Canada, and a history of political violence. Granting additional autonomous rights to Catalonia will certainly lead the Basque people to demand more autonomy for their region. (Recall that former Prime Minister Aznar initially reacted to the March 2004 Madrid bombings by blaming Basque terrorists.) To many observers, it is an irony that the modern world of global economic interdependence is fostering increased demands for political separateness. Or, it could be a case of one thing leading to the other. Prime Minister Zapatero's unduly harsh words toward the United States and his warm gestures toward the quasi-authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela raise serious questions about his fitness to lead Spain. As he moves ahead with the Catalonian autonomy issue, I hope he proceeds with extreme caution, so as not to ignite a second civil war in Spain.

Smooth sailing for Alito

Thankfully, most Senate Democrats have realized that there is simply no objective basis for opposing the nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, so his accession is all but assured. (In anticipation of that, the question mark next to his name on the Supreme Court page has been removed.) Fears about what what the idea of a "unitary executive" implies seem overblown, from what I can tell. It's simple logic that the president, as chief executive, should be in charge of the executive branch, as long as he respects the statutory independence of agencies such as the CIA or BLS. The junior senator from Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry, indulged in a bit of paranoia by warning that Alito would grant permission to armed government agents barging into people's homes. In response, Donald Sensing reminds us about an ugly incident involving a tiny lad named Elian Gonzalez. Been there, done that...

January 27, 2006 [LINK]

Palestine and "democratic peace"

The sweeping victory by the terrorist organization Hamas in the parliamentary elections in Palestine has caused great angst in Washington. What went wrong?? The axiomatic notion that democracies are more peaceful is one of the few broad points of agreement between Washington policy circles and academia. Even the Bush administration and its neoconservative policy advisers parrot this line, hardly ever bothering to distinguish between liberal democracies like ours, and illiberal democracies such as Venezuela. In the latter case, there are few if any constitutional constraints on government power, so whoever wins the election can run roughshod over his opponents. The process of insitutionalizing liberal constitutional norms takes decades or even centuries. U.Va.'s Prof. John Owen (author of Liberal War, Liberal Peace) is one of those who does make a clear distinction in this regard, emphasizing that liberal regimes tend not to fight one another, even though they may be quite prone to attacking illiberal regimes. That is different than saying they themselves are inherently more peaceful; it would be more accurate to say that liberal communities of nations (Western Europe, North America) are more peaceful.

Today's lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal wisely points out that the Hamas victory "may even have the long-run benefit of educating Palestinians about the terrible cost of their political choices." It also reminds us of the real reason for the collapse of the peace process: "Ever since its return to the Palestinian territories in the mid-1990s following the Oslo 'peace' accords, Fatah has fed Palestinians on a diet of extremist, anti-Semitic propaganda." In other words, the Palestine Liberation Organization and its political wing Fatah were the embodiment of Islamofascism par excellence. (And to think Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize.) Given the choice between corrupt, cynical, inconsistent terrorists versus grimly determined terrorists, it's not hard to understand the result.

Before we start bewailing the failure of embryonic democratization to bring instantaneous peace, let us remember why democracies are generally associated with successful development, over the long run: First, they institutionalize uncertainty, which implies (among other things) that the incentives for businessmen to bribe government officials are greatly reduced, because you can't be sure if Bureaucrat X will still be in office next year. Second, they create a built-in steering mechanism that allows for periodic shifts in policy in response to changed circumstances, encouraging innovative practices, while punishing elected leaders who consistently fail to deliver on their promises. (Indeed, the Latin root word gubernare means "to steer," as in a ship.) Dictatorships tend to rot over time because differences of opinion are systematically repressed. For the Palestinians, the experience of having their nascent country be "steered" by fanatical mass murderers will be a rude awakening that will teach them a dear lesson. As the WSJ suggested, it may be just the jolt they need to get a genuine liberal-minded reform party started.

January 26, 2006 [LINK]

Are we on the road to ruin?

Porkbusters logo Opinion columns by two stalwart conservatives in today's Washington Post explain in a nutshell why the Republicans in Congress have strayed so far from their roots, thereby putting their majority status in jeopardy. George Will relates his conversation with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, at home in Texas, in which DeLay stands by his leadership record and defends "pork barrel" politics as the only way to get things done in Washington. Sheesh... Is that what activists having been sacrificing for?? I was a little surprised that Will's contempt for his thick-skulled guest was so thinly veiled. Perhaps that is a good sign of a genuine shakeup on the Right.

Robert Samuelson ridicules the conventional approach to health care policy, with a delicious combination of amusing wit and cold, hard logic. Talk about "fixing" the health care system is complete balderdash, as I have noted often in the past. Americans are oblivious to the fundamental economic reality of scarcity, and therefore believe that it is somehow possible to make health care available to all Americans, with a range of choices for patients, at a reasonable cost. Not! Any two of those goals can be compatible with each other, but not all three. Sooner or later, people will have to make a choice. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is getting folks to face up to the distorting effects of exempting their employer health care benefits from income taxes, which drains $126 billion+ from the U.S. Treasury every year and shifts the cost onto those unlucky enough not to enjoy such benefits. Just try suggesting a reform of that to some vote-conscious legislator. To me, the worst part is that most health care "experts" blithely assume that public policy must follow the dictates of popular preference, even if it flatly contradicts the basic laws of supply and demand. As Samuelson writes, "We're living in a fantasy world." If you ask me, it is all a monstrous crime, and when the system starts to crumble people will scream bloody murder.

Is it not obvious that the Bush administration has been turning a blind eye to this mounting crisis? The Medicare prescription benefit, the crown jewel of the bogus "compassionate conservatism," is becoming a complete boondoggle, and it may backfire badly for the Republicans. Is it too late to get back on track of market-oriented social policy? The conformist attitude that denies anything can be done to change things reminds me of the 1970s and 1980s, when the budget deficit exploded and the entitlements morass deepened. Back then the unimaginative policy stagnation in Washington was called "Demosclerosis," the term coined by Jonathan Rausch. Two men with true leadership qualities -- Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich -- took on the status quo, defied the odds and, for a while at least, accomplished a great deal. Are such conservative leaders waiting in the wings today?

January 24, 2006 [LINK]

Fallout from Canada's election

It was rather exciting watching the live coverage of Canada's election last night on C-SPAN. To their credit, no preliminary vote tallies were released until polling stations in all parts of the country had closed. It was the first time I had heard Stephen Harper make a speech, and he did fairly well, though he seems not to have as strong a command of French as Paul Martin. Some Liberal politicians made graceful gestures to the victors, which will hopefully restore a much-needed comity. Canadians have a well-deserved reputation for politeness and civility, and I for one hope they resist any temptation to emulate the coarse style of contemporary politics in the U.S.A.

Canada is riven by distrust not only between French and English speakers, but between the urban east and the rural west. The schism between eastern and western conservatives was ended in 2003, thanks in part to the leadership of Stephen Harper, who has roots in both parts of the country. He was born and raised in Toronto, but presently lives in Calgary, where he teaches economics. See the Canada Conservative Party. For their part, the Left in Canada has long been divided between the mainstream Liberals and the radical-pacifist alternative embodied in the New Democratic Party, which often holds the balance in the parliamentary system. Comparing the number of seats won with the overall percent of votes cast (see table below) illustrates how parties with a sharp regional focus have an advantage in winner-take-all legislative election systems with single-member districts. The Bloc Quebecois has nearly twice as many seats as the New Democratic Party, even though it had a much smaller share of the national vote.

Canadian Parliament

Year Conserv. Liberal Bloc Quebec. New Democ. Indep.
2004 - seats 99 135 54 19 1
2004 - votes 29.6% 36.7% 12.4% 15.7% .
2006 - seats 124 103 51 29 1
2006 - votes 36.3% 30.2% 10.5% 17.5% .

SOURCE: Toronto Globe and Mail

I took this photo of the Parliament Building in Ottawa during my cross-continent journey in 1987.

Foreign leaders page

Prompted by the election in Canada, I have put together yet another background information page: Foreign leaders. It covers the major industrialized countries other than the United States, plus Russia, China, and India. Part of my never-ending quest to assemble vital information about the world into a convenient, easy-to-access format, it is similar to the chronology of Latin American presidents.

January 23, 2006 [LINK]

Elections in Canada

Unbeknownst to most Americans, Canadians are voting for a new parliament today. Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party, which has held a strong majority for the last eleven years, is behind by at least ten percent in some polls. Fearing for his political life, he has become ever more strident in his dire warnings of a "extreme right-wing" takeover in Ottawa. Golly. Martin is a former finance minister who had a nasty run-in with fellow Liberal Jean Chretien, who stepped aside in Martin's favor in late [2003]. Martin has not won a national election since becoming party leader, and his behavior may reflect lack of experience. It would appear that the Tories will fall short of a majority, however, according to the latest polls in the The Toronto Globe and Mail. which would mean that paprty leader Stephen Harper would have to form a coalition government, probably joining with the Bloc Quebecois. That would be a very difficult arrangement, and there is a real risk that the Tories would fare no better than they did in Joe Clark's short-lived government (1979-1980).

As in the United States, previously-marginalized conservative voices are coming to the forefront through the miracle of the blogosphere. For example, see Red Ensign Standard, who observes of the paranoid reaction to this new phenomenon by the left-Liberal establishment North of the Border: "Free speech, it would seem, is not a Liberal value." (via Instapundit).

The wildly exaggerated notion spread by Martin that the U.S.A. is a hotbed of religious fascism was expressed by Margaret Atwood in her novel A Handmaid's Tale, which was made into a movie starring Robert Duvall. I wondered what she thought about this election, and found an interview with her at She won't come right out and say she opposes the Conservatives, but she doesn't leave much doubt. In her mind, the biggest issues faced by Canada are avian flu and global warming.

UPDATE: The Conservatives have won a plurality of seats, as expected, but they fell well short of a majority. The new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, will be hard pressed to get much accomplished, given the bitter, die-hard opposition of the outgoing Liberals. Are they getting political advice from Paul Begala or Dick Durbin, by any chance? Since most of the polls indicated the Liberals were likely to lose, it makes you wonder what the point of those frantic last-minute anti-American ads was. To poison the political atmosphere to prevent the Tories from governing effectively? I am very disappointed in P.M. Paul Martin, who seemed to be focused on reform when he became the national leader [just over two years] ago.

Election in Portugal

Former Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva, a conservative, was just elected President of Portugal. That post is less powerful than prime minister, however, so he will have only limited input on economic policy in the Socialist-led government. See I did some research on Portugal in graduate school at U.Va., and it is a fascinating country that has had a much bigger impact on the world than its small size might suggest: colonies in Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Macau, Goa, and Eastern Timor, among others. Giving up its old imperial pretensions in the mid-1970s was very traumatic to many Portuguese people, but they were fortunate to have pragmatic politicians who eased the way into the modern era, joining the European Union in the 1980s. Interestingly, the United States played a large role in encouraging a transition toward a liberal democracy during the late 1970s, under U.S. Ambassador Frank Carlucci. Much like Spain, the Socialist Party has generally played a relatively responsible role in policy-making.

Democracy in Africa

Most of the political news from Africa over the last year has been discouraging, with U.N. peacekeepers being killed in Congo, and hostages being taken by separatists in southern Nigeria. Meanwhile, the Islamofascist dictatorship in Sudan continues its campaign of genocide against the (mostly Christian) people in Darfur, and as President Mugabe cracks down on opponents in Zimbabwe, which is becoming a dictatorship. There are two bright spots, however: Liberia, which has been torn by civil war for most of the last two decades, managed to hold free and open elections in November. The reform-oriented Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won in the second round, thus becoming the first woman ever to be elected president in Africa. She was just inaugurated last week; see In Tanzania, the old authoritarian regime of Julius Nyerere seems to be withering away under the new government of President Jakaya Kikwete, who took office in December.

January 22, 2006 [LINK]

Bipartisan war on corruption!?

If there is one thing that all American people can agree on, it's that corruption is BAD -- especially when the other party is implicated in it! Today on ABC's This Week, Sen. John Kerry declared flat out that corruption is a Republican problem, rejecting the suggestion that Democrats might be connected in any significant way to the Jack Abramoff Web of scandals. A fair-minded person would say that corruption is a problem that has a disproportional effect on whichever party currently holds a majority. You don't bribe someone unless he or she has the power to give you want you want. Sen. Harry Reid apologized on Thursday after his office put out a news release in which he said, "The idea of Republicans reforming themselves is like asking John Gotti to clean up organized crime." See Washington Post. Well, at least he didn't make any comparisons to Hitler or Pol Pot.

To put the alleged misdeeds of the Bush administration and Republican congressmen in perspective, it would be only fair to review some of the past naughty deeds committed by the Democrats. Earlier this month, Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2000 senatorial campaign received a fine of $35,000 for failing to report over $700,000 in fund-raising expenses. This was part of an agreement under which the Federal Election Commission declared that Mrs. Clinton did not violate any campaign finance laws. This will allow her supporters to claim that it was just an "innocent oversight." Perhaps. (See Washington Post.)

The ten-year inquiry into former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros for tax evasion and was finally closed without any indictments, and the prosecutor blamed former Clinton officials for successfully stonewalling. Independent counsel David M. Barrett "a coverup at high levels of our government," citing FBI and IRS employees who complained that their findings were being ignored by higher officials. Cisneros was indicated on 18 counts, but pleaded guilty to a single count, for which President Clinton pardoned him, along with Marc Rich and dozens of other swindlers. Barrett was criticized by various people for wasting taxpayer money in pursuit of a grand conspiracy which he never could prove. (See Washington Post.) In a court of law, we are all presumed innocent until proven guilty, but we also know that crooks do get away with it some times.

Meanwhile, reform-minded Republicans are quietly lining up votes for new leaders and new ethics rules for the post-DeLay era. A third contender for the House Majority Leader position has emerged: Rep. John Shadegg, of Arizona; he first drew my attention on July 30. In, he calls on Republicans to recapture "The Spirit of 1994." Well, they'd better get a move on if they hope to retain a solid majority after next fall's elections.

Tax hike for transportation?

Not content to have enacted one of the biggest tax hikes in Virginia history two years ago, creating a huge and wasteful surplus in the state treasury, "moderates" in the General Assembly are taking a cue from new Governor Tim Kaine, proposing a sweeping set of tax increase related to transportation. I'm on record as supporting tax increases on energy (especially petroleum fuel) to encourage conservation by consumers and businesses, as well as for environmental and revenue reasons, but the proposed package goes way overboard. I was encouraged that Virginia Centrist cried out against this unwarranted grab by the politicians in Richmond. I felt compelled to join in and make a point in a comment:

Why doesn't anyone make a distinction between different kinds of taxes, i.e., income vs. excise? Excess truck traffic is in part a result of the huge implicit state subsidy to highways from the general fund. This problem would remedy itself if there were a constitutional amendment barring any spending on highways from revenues other than those raised by taxes on fuel or vehicles. People who drive should bear the full cost of highway construction and maintenance.

January 19, 2006 [LINK]

Rice redeploys diplomats

Speaking at Georgetown University, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a major transfer of American diplomatic resources away from Europe, and toward the Middle East and other strategic parts of the Third World. This was a long-overdue move that will help the United States cope more effectively with the wide variety of challenges we face in this rapidly-evolving world. What was particularly interesting was the way Ms. Rice tied this move to a broader intellectual framework for guiding policy, i.e., "transformational diplomacy":

The greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them. ... The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power. (SOURCE: Washington Post)

In a nutshell, this brief quote distills the essence of what distinguishes "neoclassical" realists, with whom I identify, from the traditional "state-centric" realists, such as Ken Waltz. I saw him on a panel at the APSA meeting in Washington in early September, and everyone agreed that the war in Iraq was a disaster. To me, the lack of serious debate over this issue indicated a profound intellectual blind spot, a sign of stagnation within the discipline. It so happens that my dissertation explicitly dealt with the ambiguous structure of the international system to which Rice alluded: "anarchic" (corresponding to traditional sovereignty) vs. "hierarchic" (which allows for varying degrees of state consolidation within the system, as is the case in today's world). Perhaps the time is ripe for those of us with an unconventional take on international relations...

Merkel visits Washington

It is interesting that this historic de-emphasis of Europe in American diplomacy comes so soon after Angela Merkel, who was just sworn in as the first woman chancellor of Germany, visited the White House. Her conservative government is a welcome breath of fresh air after the chilly relations that were brought about by her predecessor, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder. Lacking a majority, however, she must tread lightly in foreign affairs, so her desire to restore traditional warm German-American relations is constrained by domestic politics. This may be why she made a major point about urging the United States to close down the Guantanamo prison for terrorists. Bush demurred, with good reason, but I really think he should have taken the opportunity to reward Ms. Merkel's outstretched hand of friendship with a concrete gesture of reciprocity. For a transcript of the joint press conference, see

January 17, 2006 [LINK]

Kling on dialogue with liberals

In Tech Central Station (via Instapundit), Arnold Kling has begun a series of essays aimed at reaching out to liberals, most of whom are prone to put down conservatives without seriously considering the merits of the argument. He brings up a problem known as "confirmation bias," the common human tendency to pay more attention to things that reinforce our ingrained beliefs, and vice versa. He discusses the recent passage by the Maryland legislature (overriding the veto of Gov. Bob Ehrlich) of a law requiring Wal-Mart to pay higher health benefits to its workers. The law did not specify Wal-Mart by name, but its criteria were obviously aimed at that company and no one else. Kling applies cool logic to show why this measure will almost certainly backfire, reducing take-home pay and/or job opportunities for low-skill people. That outcome seems not to matter to folks who derive pleasure from sticking it to the evil big corporations, however. Is there any way to get through to people who base policy preferences on crude emotion?

Ultimately, I think, Kling's patient, earnest approach will yield better results than the strident, tit-for-tat rhetoric of those such as Ann Coulter, author of How to Talk to a Liberal (see

Ray Nagin flirts with kookhood

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is veering dangerously close to the "unmentionable wacko" category I established last week. He took the occasion of Martin Luther King's birthday to say that last year's hurricanes showed that "God is mad at America." Then he promised to keep New Orleans a "chocolate" city. How would people react if a white mayor in a similar situation pledged to keep whites a majority in his city? Obviously, we as a people are far from living up to King's dream of a society that is blind with respect to skin color. See Yahoo news (via Phil Faranda).

January 16, 2006 [LINK]

"RINOs" in Richmond save Potts

The Virginia General Assembly convened one week ago, and one of the first questions was what to do about Sen. Russ Potts, who has long identified himself as a Republican, but who ran as an independent candidate for governor last year. He didn't draw enough votes to have made a difference in the outcome, but it was a clear gesture of repudiation to the state party organization nonetheless. Earlier in the week, GOP conservatives tried to remove Potts as chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, on the grounds that he did not truly belong to a political party as required by Senate rules, but they were unable to muster a majority to do so. Just to make sure they could not do so again, "the Senate approved, 35-4, a new rule declaring that only the chamber could decide -- by a minimum of two-thirds, or 27 votes -- whether a member, indeed, has quit his or her political party." While they were at it, they eliminated one of the staff positions in the office of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, a clear slap in the face to the man who has just taken office. See Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Commonwealth Conservative" blogger Chad Dotson identifies the three Republican senators who voted with the Democrats to keep Potts in his current chairmanship: Fred Quayle, John Chichester, Charles Hawkins.

To me, this is all too bizarre to comprehend. I am on record (see posts from Dec. 14, Dec. 9, and May 21, 2005) as viewing with strong distaste the epithet "RINO" (Republicans In Name Only), seeing that as unduly exclusionary of moderates within the party. Of course, I tend toward the moderate side in some areas, especially environmental and social issues, and I remain firmly committed to maintaining constructive dialogue not only within the Republican party but between the Republican and Democrat parties. I believe in building a strong majority that can govern effectively and carry out much-needed reforms of our statist, entitlement-plagued society. That being said, I must voice outrage at the Republican moderates in the Virginia Senate for undermining party cohesiveness. It is one thing to take a dissenting position on grounds of principle, but if people who go the next step and actively work against the party without being punished for it, then the party will be begin to crumble. After all, what in blazes is the point of being a party member if there is no discipline or sense of common purpose?

The rain on Kaine

The inauguration of Tim Kaine as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia took place in Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia until 1780, because the Capitol building in Richmond is undergoing extensive repairs. The event was marred by steady, chilly rain, ruining the chance to showcase the historical charms of Colonial Williamsburg (), which has been hurt by a recent decline in tourism. Kaine maintained his upbeat, optimistic tone, making the ritualistic appeal to bipartisanship. Republicans could be forgiven for resisting such outreach, having been outmaneuvered and burned by Governor Warner on the tax hike two years ago, but what the heck: Let's give bipartisanship another try!

Warner's parting shot

One of former Governor Mark Warner's last official acts was to grant voting rights to 3,414 convicted felons. This was several times more than any other recent governor, of either party. See Washington Times (via Steve Kijak.) It reminds one of former President Clinton's pardon of mega-swindler Marc Rich in the final days of his term.

January 13, 2006 [LINK]

Rising tensions with Canada?

While most Americans' security fears are directed toward the southern border, our northern frontier cannot be ignored either. Sadly, public opinion in Canada is turning against the Good Ol' U.S.A., to the extent that cooperation on security matters may be hindered. Prime Minister Paul Martin, who is fighting for his political life amidst a massive corruption scandal, recently warned that his fair country might become susceptible to "right-wing extremism" like the United States. [See] Say it isn't so! Coincidentally or not, the Washington Post recently published an amusing feature story in the Style section by Peter Carlson, "Raiding the Icebox," which described the contingency plans for a U.S. invasion of Canada, since 1930. Surprisingly, Canada had developed plans for an attack against the United States nine years previously!

Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian professor of political science who currently teaches at Harvard, has gotten into trouble in his home country by defending, with some reservations, U.S. policy in Iraq. Daniel Drezner discusses this case.

Unmentionable wackos

You may notice that I don't spend much time bewailing the idiocy of various nitwits who say obnoxious, absurd things just to attract public attention. To be perfectly clear, the following individuals are considered "beyond the pale" of rational discussion and will henceforth be ignored on this blog:

January 12, 2006 [LINK]

Alito withstands Dems' "torture"

The Alito hearings are about to conclude, and the nominee has acquitted himself exceedingly well, leaving little doubt that he will be confirmed. The Democrats' attempts to wear him down psychologically with smears and innuendos backfired when his wife left the room in tears yesterday. The suggestion by Sen. Kennedy and other Democrats that Alito's past membership in the "Concerned Alumni of Princeton" was indicative of hostility to minority rights was not borne out by any other evidence. This time Sen. Lindsey Graham played a very useful role in coming to Alito's defense when he really needed such verbal support. Rush Limbaugh noted that the treatment inflicted upon Alito was tantamount to "torture," which is a bit of a stretch, but it may well fit the absurdly loose definitions of torture that have been applied by many leftists in recent months at least. Actually, Jacqueline drew that clever comparison the day before, on Tuesday. ¡Megadittos, mi amor! Does this prove that torture cannot be counted on to coax information out of people being interrogated? This is ironic, to say the least.

I wouldn't entirely discount worries about Alito's membership in that Princeton group, given what has been written by some people who have knowledge about that group, but his explanation about the ROTC expulsion from Princeton seems convincing. In any case, we shouldn't hold a person's past organizational affiliations (think Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV) or youthful indiscretions (think Bill Clinton) against him or her many years later. Most of us do grow up and acquire more mature, responsible attitudes. There is no question that Alito is such a person of superb character and mature judgment.

Sen. Chuck Schumer was practically fuming that Alito stuck to his guns by answering questions about hypothetical future cases by explaining the process by which he would reach a decision, reserving judgment about what decision he would probably reach. That is exactly what good, impartial judges are supposed to do! Schumer's demand that Alito state in advance how he would vote on abortion cases -- i.e., the outcome -- shows that he is not the least bit interested in Alito's judicial capacity and integrity, but merely wants him to make a pledge on a woman's "freedom to choose" as a prerequisite for ascending to the Supreme Court.

The Democrats' inability to lay a glove on Alito means they will have to rethink their strategy as a minority party, and the need to impose self-discipline on themselves to avoid grandstanding. The party's most notorious loud-mouths are now getting their comeuppance, and most of them will hopefully remain relatively muted for a few weeks. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a stalwart moderate liberal, laments the Democrats' wrong-headed approach, zeroing in on Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), the loudest of the loud-mouths:

[Biden's] manic-obsessive running of the mouth has become the functional equivalent of womanizing or some other character weakness that disqualifies a man for the presidency. It is his version of corruption, of alcoholism, of a fierce temper or vile views -- all the sorts of things that have crippled candidates in the past.

It's the same glory-craving affliction that has plagued many good men and women in public service, including Sen. John McCain.

Finally, let us pay respects to Sen. Arlen Specter, who is recovering from cancer treatments and has a full head of hair once again, for standing up against the bullying of Ted Kennedy yesterday. Some Republicans have misgivings about the moderates on their side of the aisle, but Specter showed that his desire to maintain civility in the halls of Congress does not mean that he will put up with arrogance and disruptive behavior by members of the opposition party, especially not when it is part of a smear campaign reminiscent of the Joe McCarthy era. "Have they no sense of decency?"

Liberal speaks out

UPDATE: From Power Line Blog comes this first-hand perspective from Susan Sullivan, a "card carrying member of the ACLU" who worked as a law clerk with Alito in 1990-1991. She wrote an op-ed piece defending the judge:

As a liberal, what scares me is not the prospect of having Sam Alito on the Supreme Court; what scares me is the way my fellow Liberal Democrats are behaving in response to the nomination. I'm appalled and embarrassed by the fear mongering, the personal attacks and what I see as an irresponsible and misleading distortion of his real judicial record as well as his character. Now the threat of a filibuster lurks and Senator Kennedy's tirade about documents being concealed, seems like little more than a pretext to justify a filibuster.

January 11, 2006 [LINK]

Alito hearings get under way

The enormous tension and hype surrounding the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings made the actual event quite anti-climactic, almost farcical. Democrats made their predictable pompous speeches about the importance of judicial precedent (stare decisis) and the invidual right to privacy; to his credit, Alito acknowledged that such a right exists. Unlike her colleagues, Sen. Diane Feinstein actually asked questions, and listened. For their part, the Republicans mostly lobbed easy questions and made gestures of fawning admiration. I was disappointed in Sen. Lindsey Graham, known as an independent-minded conservative, for his lame "wouldn't you agree?" lectures about the rights of prisoners of war, or the lack thereof. What is the point of making everyone wait through that? Almost everyone has made their position known, and few if any senators' votes will be swayed, whatever Alito says to the Judiciary Committee.

Alito may not be as perfectly poised as John Roberts, but I was impressed by him nonetheless. He did slightly better than Roberts in terms of answering questions directly. Regarding the opinion he wrote in 1985 -- that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" -- I didn't like his excuse that that "was as a line attorney in the Department of Justice in the Reagan administration." (see the Washington Post) He did say he would appraoch any case that came before him with an "open mind," which is all anyone can ask. Unless someone can find evidence that he has gone back on his word on important matters in the past, there is no reason to doubt him. He handled the grilling well, and demonstrated that he has the mind and temperment to serve as a judge on the highest court.

All indications are that the Democrats were prepared for an all-out attack. On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Tim Russert really put Sen. Chuck Schumer on the spot. Since the Republican minority went along with the nominations of avowed liberals Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer when they were nominated by Bill Clinton early in his term, and since the standing committee of the American Bar Association rated Alito "'Well Qualified' by unanimous vote" (with one recusal; that is the highest possible rating), why not let the majority have its way with Alito? Schumer responded with a forced grin, and he must have been in agony. He knew he was in the wrong, but he had to stick to the party line. The Republicans have been upbraided for all sorts of bad things lately, but this was one of those times that reminds me why I'm glad I'm no longer sympathetic to the Democrats.

So, will the Democrats really invoke the "extraordinary circumstances" criterion to justify a filibuster on Alito? Frankly, I find that hard to believe, but it cannot be ruled out entirely. Anyone who truly believes that Alito is "extreme" or "outside the mainstream," as Senators Durbin and Schumer keep saying, is just plain nuts.

The Supreme Court table has been updated.

Note on Roe v. Wade

It's too bad more Democrats can't make the distinction between having an opinion on the issue of abortion, versus having an opinion on the constitutional propriety of the Roe v. Wade decision. Stretching the implied constitutional right to privacy into the right to a medical procedure to which many people vehemently object shows scant regard for the actual words of the Constitution. If interpretations can be made so loosely by one court, then they could be made just as loosely by a different court in the future, in a way that might not be nearly as favorable. As classical liberals (as opposed to modern liberals) know, the Constitution protects us all from the abuse of power by government officials, and Roe v. Wade was a classic abuse of power. What goes around comes around.

Virginia Cost Cutting blog

Delegate Chris Saxman, who represents the 20th District in the House of Delegates, has begun a new blog to keep constituents informed about ongoing progress in his efforts to trim fat in the state budget and to put the brakes on those who want to spend the burgeoning (and unnecessary) surplus before taxpayers in the Old Dominion figure out what is going on. See Virginia Cost Cutting.

February 7, 2006 [LINK]

Muslims on (belated) rampage

What can possibly explain the fact that the sudden outburst of violent riots by Muslims around the world is taking place several months after the offending cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper? An orchestrated campaign by Islamofascists in Syria, that's what. The Baathist dictatorship of Bashar Assad in Damascus is under increasing pressure to reform itself, and decided to contrive the outrage among Muslims to reassert its domestic authority. This "rent-a-mob" tactic is also aimed at rekindling ethnic tension in Lebanon as a way to regain a foothold for Syria, from whence they were forced to retreat almost a year ago. For a "rogue regime" that has long been a sponsor of terrorism, such practices are just par for the course. The violence has spread to various European countries, Indonesia, and now to Afghanistan. See Washington Post. Latent anti-American sentiment is being blamed, which shows how absurd and delusional much of the Muslim world is today; the United States had nothing to do with those cartoons! This latest incident demonstrates, once again, the futility of trying to appease Islamic extremism and the various nationalistic movements that fall under its umbrella. Victor Davis Hanson (via Instapundit) asks whether the escalating offensive by Muslim fanatics may elicit a "European Awakening Against Islamic Fascism." Each in their own way, the governments of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Denmark are showing increasing backbone in response to Islamic bullying, almost making the Bush administration look tame by comparison.

UPDATE: As usual, Belmont Club has much more in-depth coverage of this latest flare-up in the "clash of civilizations," including the destruction of the Danish Embassy in Damascus by government mobs, and makes an excellent suggestion: Show solidarity with Denmark! Pay a visit to the Danish Embassy in Washington, which issued a press release on this incident yesterday:

Minister for Foreign Affairs Per Stig Møller vehemently condemns the attack and he states: "Syria has failed its obligations, and it is utterly unacceptable that the Embassy was not protected by the Syrians. I reserve the right to take all steps vis-à-vis the Syrian Government."

In the old days, what happened in Damascus would be a cause for war.

McCain rebukes Obama

Sen. Barack Obama, the young Illinois moderate who is widely considered to be the Democrats' "Great Multicultural Hope" for some future presidential race, has run afoul of Sen. John McCain. Obama had made a personal pledge to cooperate with McCain in a bipartisan push for lobbying reform legislation, and then backed out at the behest of his party leaders, leaving McCain in the lurch. In response, McCain wrote an unusually blunt and sarcastic letter (link via Chad Dotson) expressing regret that Obama reneged on his commitment. Whenever a moderate like McCain gets riled up, you know there must be a very good reason for it. Whenever some fresh new face like Obama's arrives on the national stage, I usually reserve judgment while everyone else fawns in premature adulation. I think my initial hesitation about Obama's leadership credentials has been borne out by events.

Obama has responded, professing to have no idea at what prompted McCain's rebuke. He says that he thought the "Honest Leadership Act" introduced by Minority Leader Harry Reid "should be the basis for a bipartisan solution." Yeah, right. (link via Instapundit)

January 5, 2006 [LINK]

Dirty money give-backs

In the wake of the guilty pleas by Jack Abramoff, President Bush will donate to charity $6,000 in campaign funds that were directly given to him by Abramoff. The lobbyist raised a total of $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, however, and the Public Citizen group called Bush's action insufficient. Although Republicans are clearly in the most trouble over the Abramoff affair, some Democrats such as Dick Durbin and Harry Reid may be implicated in it as well. See Washington Post. Since this scandal has been brewing since at least last summer, it would have looked better if this gesture had been made several months ago.

In Virginia, Rep. Eric Cantor, a 42-year young Republican from Richmond who has risen quickly to the post of Chief Deputy Majority Whip, declared that he will give away $10,000 of Abramoff's money. Cantor, along with Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, and Roy Blunt -- the four leaders of the majority caucus in the House -- signed a letter that urged Secretary of Interior Gale Norton on June 10, 2003 to turn down a request for off-reservation gambling establishments by certain Indian tribes, apparently at the behest of Jack Abramoff. The other primary target of the corruption inquiry is Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. See Judicial Watch.

UPDATE: The Associated Press has a long list of politicians who have given back campaign donations from Jack Abramoff or his associates in recent months. First place "honors" go to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who donated about $150,000. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) donated $2,000 of campaign funds that came from Abramoff, about the average amount that most senators and representatives received.

Swann for Governor

On the bright side for the GOP, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Lynn Swann announced he is running for Governor of Pennsylvania this year as a Republican. See

January 4, 2006 [LINK]

Former News Leader publisher sets record straight

An op-ed piece in today's Staunton News Leader by Evarts W. Opie, Jr., former publisher of the local newspaper, laments the "gratuitous personal attack" on then-commissioner of revenue Ray Ergenbright that appeared in an editorial on December 16. He lays out the facts about the difficult transition to the new tax revenue software system and concludes, "Instead of throwing brickbats at the outgoing commissioner we should be thanking him for 11 years of good and faithful service."

It was gratifying to read such a strong condemnation of the unfair campaign against Ergenbright (and former Treasurer Elnora Hazlett) by a person who used to run the newspaper, before it was bought out by the Gannett Corporation several years ago. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the phrase "better late than never" does not apply. In my mind, the fact that the voters of Staunton were deprived of the full story behind the property tax software controversy when they went into the polling booths on November 8 was an outright travesty. As I noted on October 20, I remain mystified by the motivations behind the editorial bias that seems to have affected the News Leader's coverage of local news. Small town intrigues...

Marion Barry robbed

Former mayor Marion Barry was robbed at gunpoint in his own kitchen by two youths who had been helping him to bring groceries inside yesterday. This quote from the roguish Barry is a perfect illustration of the prevailing mindset in Washington, making lame excuses for criminal behavior.

There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend. ... I don't advocate what they do. I advocate conditions to change what they do. I was a little hurt that this betrayal did happen. [SOURCE: Washington Post; apologies for the prior omission]

Barry also used the opportunity to call for stricter gun control laws, notwithstanding the fact that the District already has one of the toughest (and largely futile) anti-gun laws in the country. This incident, and Barry's reaction to it, further undermines the city's image just as the confrontation over stadium financing between the city government and Major League Baseball has escalated, a time when prestige matters the most.

January 3, 2006 [LINK]

Abramoff cops blea bargain

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion, and will cooperate with Federal prosecutors by testifying against others. He and partner Michael Scanlon arranged a kickback scheme by which the clients of their public relations firm were defrauded. Abramoff admitted that money did not go to certain charities as had been intended, but rather paid for overseas junkets and other perks. Abramoff is known for his close ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist (head of Americans for Tax Reform), and Ralph Reed (former Christian Coalition leader). See

Since such plea bargains almost always involve the pursuit of "higher-up" individuals, this implies that members of Congress or the Bush administration are being targeted. Saturday's Washington Post had a background article by R. Jeffrey Smith, detailing the complex financial Web between various congressmen and Russian oil businessmen, Indian tribes, and other special interests, with Abramoff serving as the intermediary. The name of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay figures prominently in this scheme. Hang on, folks, this promises to be a bumpy, hair-raising ride!

Happy Newt Year?

While many folks in the Republican Party have been making excuses for Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and Karl Rove, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich remains focused on radical reform, in the Party of Lincoln, as well as in the nation as a whole. I don't necessarily agree with all of his positions, but he is virtually alone in the Republican Party these days in seeing the Big Picture, and thinking in strategic policy terms, rather than in tactical terms of how to win the next election. He was interviewed on C-SPAN 2 this morning, will be addressing the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting next week. See

Phony civil libertarians

(UPDATE) Dinocrat makes a good point in response to those who are in an uproar over the surveillance of international communication: "the next time your friends start in with the Ben Franklin quote and their airy-fairy theoretical concerns about the loss of liberty, light a cigarette and see what happens." (via Phil Faranda)