Friday, June 16, 2006

Alito, Court Trash Fourth Amendment

Newly appointed Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito cast the decisive vote in greatly expanding the search and seizure powers of the police while crippling the Fourth Amendment in the process. (San Francisco Chronicle: Police intrusion for evidence allowed
Knock, announce not always needed, high court rules

The Supreme Court claims that police intrusions onto private property are already protected by other means, citing "the increasing professionalism of police forces" as one such measure. Forgive me if I don't trust the professionalism of the police force to be a deterrent in violating search and seizure protections built into the US Constitution. Professional or not, the police will take and use as much authority as they are granted and will continue to attempt to extend that authority. There is a very good reason that law enforcement and the courts are not in the same branch of government. Unfortunately, the current Supreme Court is failing to provide the proper checks and balances against unlawful procedures by the police.

With today's ruling, any evidence seized during an unlawful search would still be admissible. It would no longer be considered tainted, thus eliminating any real need to avoid an unlawful search in the first place. With this ruling, the 4th Amendment suddenly becomes unenforceable.

Since the early 1970s there has been a constant erosion into the constitutional protections granted the citizens of the US. This ruling by the court is only the latest in a series of moves that transcend every administration since Nixon. Certainly aspects of the Patriot Act and the "security-mania" environment post-9/11 have fueled the move, but the truth is this erosion is not unique to either Republican or Democrat administrations nor is it something new. Both are equally guilty in eroding our rights. (Remember, it was Bill Clinton that issued executive orders authorizing the search of Section 8 housing without warrants on the grounds that they were funded by the government.)

If anyone wonders why the first and second amendments exist, this is precisely the reason. So where is the outrage from the press? Freedom of the Press exists to expose this type of abuse, to make the public aware of what's happening, and to stimulate the reactions necessary to counter it. The press should be all over this one, but somehow I doubt there will be much of a stir. Personally, I'm steaming. I very much fear that we are spiraling into a police state, and worse yet I fear that we're doing it with the consent of the people. Freedoms lost are never regained, and right now we're losing rights by the bushel.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

UN's Brown Whines About US Support

UN deputy Mark Malloch Brown openly criticised US support for the UN in a widely publicised speech yesterday. Brown complained that the US is undermining the UN and using it as a political tool without defending the UN against criticisms at home. According to Brown, "The prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable. You will lose the UN one way or another." (Telegraph: US failing to aid the UN, says Annan's deputy.)

Lose the UN? Could we ever get so lucky? Like the League of Nations before it, the UN's best course of action would be to fade into the distant memory of a failed history. Idealistic at best, the UN is an exercise in incompetence and a recipe for corruption. It is not the US that is failing to aid the UN, it is the UN that is failing itself.

The United States currently spends over $3 Billion on the UN; more than any other nation on the planet. The US also provides more troops for UN missions than any other nation on the planet. When it comes to supporting the UN, The US and the American taxpayer do far more than any other nation and bear a far higher burden than any other taxpayer. What Mr. Brown seems to fail to understand is that without the United States there is no UN. Just as the League of Nations folded without US support, so too will the UN.

It's high time we drove that point home. It's time we stopped using American troops as the UN's military force. Let the rest of the world take up that burden for a change. It's time we stopped wasting $3 Billion dollars per year on a grand debating society. That money is far better spent at home. It's time we reclaimed some prime real estate in Manhattan. Let some other nation host this collective body of leeches who's sole purpose seems to be to prolong any given crisis. It's time for the UN to fade into distant memory.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Chavez' Luster Wearing Off

Peruvians voiced a resounding "NO" to Hugo Chavez in this week's election of Alan Garcia as President of Peru. In the weeks leading up to the election, pro-Chavez candidate Ollanta Humala had a commanding lead. That is, he lead before Chavez stepped in, attempting to assert his own stamp on Peru's elections. The move backfired, giving pro-American candidate Garcia the victory. (VCrisis: The impact of Alan Garcia's victory on the Latin American political scenario.)

Peru is not the only place where Chavez is starting to feel the heat. Attempts to influence elections in Mexico are being met with the same resistance as was seen in Peru. Given the choice between allying themselves with the US or with Venezuela, it's unlikely Mexicans will choose the latter.

Even Chavez' luster in Bolivia is beginning to wear thin. His attitude toward recently elected Evo Morales is being viewed by Bolivians as patronizing and, in many cases, downright insulting. Morales is starting to chafe at being perceived as a Chavez puppet while the Bolivian people are growing increasingly angry at Chavez' public antics that are seen to demean Morales.

Further south, Brazil and Chile want little to do with Chavez. The election of Garcia in Peru effectively presents a united anti-Chavez front controlling most of South America. Even Kirchner in Argentina is wavering in support of Chavez, accepting money from the Venezuelan government but offering very little in return.

Chavez may well find himself isolated. What was once seen as a tidal wave of anti-American sentiment south of the border has now rebounded into a very loud anti-Chavez chorus. Perhaps now Latin America will see that it is the support of the US, not socialist Venezuela, that can bolster their economy, improve their infrastructure, provide jobs, and educate their children.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

NH Nixes Driver's License Regulations

New Hampshire, the state with "Live Free or Die" written across the top of every license plate, is taking a strong stand against federally imposed standards for the issuance of driver's licenses. A measure prohibiting the state from adopting the federal standards passed the New Hampshire House and is expected to easily pass the Senate. The governor remains undecided, however there are certainly enough votes to override any potential gubernatorial veto. (Boston Globe: N.H. leads a rebellion against driver's license regulations).

Representative Neil Kurk said, "I don't believe the people of New Hampshire elected us to help the federal government create a national identification card. We care more for our liberties than to meekly hand over to the federal government the potential to enumerate, track, identify and eventually control."

Kurk is right on the mark. This federally mandated identification program is yet another knee-jerk reaction by Homeland Security that infringes on individual privacy, better enables the federal government to track and monitor every citizen, and does absolutely nothing to address the events that resulted in 9/11. When you look under the covers, absolutely nothing enacted by Homeland Security would have prevented those attacks from being successfully executed. What we have seen, however, is a non-stop erosion in our constitutional rights, our right to privacy, and our personal freedoms all under the false guise of increased security. The attacks on our way of life continue, only they are being perpetrated by a department that comprises part of our federal government.

Kurk went on, "It's not going to promote national security. It's not going to help us prevent illegal immigration. It's just going to help the government keep tabs on ordinary citizens. Remember, the 9-11 terrorists were in this country legally and had legally obtained documents."

Also correct. In fact, there would be absolutely nothing preventing any other group of terrorists from entering the country in the same fashion. They were here legally. They all had valid documentation. None of the measures implemented in the last 5 years would have kept any of them out of the country.

What worries me more than the measures being imposed by Homeland Security is the willingness with which people accept the non-stop erosion of our personal liberties. That erosion is a far greater threat to American values than any attack ever perpetrated by a terrorist organization, yet we the people are willingly embracing and encouraging it just for the illusion of increased security.

From the sovereign state of New Hampshire echo the words spoken by the Patriot Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775. "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Well spoken, Patrick.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Rumsfeld Under Siege

In an unprecedented show of discontent, a half-dozen retired generals have openly called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. More significantly, some of the generals in this list participated in the pre-war planning for the invasion of Iraq and voice numerous complaints that the Pentagon was ignoring the advice of military commanders. (CNN: Pentagon fights back over Rumsfeld).

With the war now in its third year, there is growing discontent at home over the state of affairs in Iraq amid prospects for civil war and the implementation of a fundamentalist regime hostile to American interests. Rumsfeld is certainly the primary target for criticism since he is perceived as the architect of the pre-war plans.

There are two points that I hope are indisputable. First is that the military phase of the Iraq war was flawless. To overthrow Hussein's regime in the short time it actually took while completely dismantling the Iraqi military in the process is nothing short of phenomenal. By all accounts, the phase of the war far exceeded anyone's expectations.

Second, the post-military phase of rebuilding a new Iraqi government and stabilizing the economic and political environment in Iraq has been deplorable. Enthusiastic and Idealistic pre-war estimates that assumed the war would pay for itself using Iraqi oil and that the people would overwhelmingly embrace the US, not as occupiers but rather as liberators, have fallen so far short of expectations as to be comical. As successful as the military phase was, the post-war phase has been a travesty.

The question on the table, though, is should Rumsfeld resign? Sadly, I must answer yes to that question, but not for the reasons one might expect. I certainly do want to see those responsible for the post-war phase held accountable for that overwhelming miscalculation, but I don't think that someone is Rumsfeld. Rather, I'm concerned that the military has lost confidence in their Defense Secretary. When that happens, it's time to put a new man in charge. Support for Rumsfeld among active military personnel has been uncomfortably quiet, and this is a case where silence implies opposition.

Civilian control of the military is one of the fundamental pillars that support our freedom. For that to work effectively, however, the military must have confidence in those civilian leaders. That confidence has been eroded over the last three years. What is unfortunate is that the erosion is due, not to any military failures - there have not been any - but rather in our use of our armed forces for non-military purposes. Rebuilding nations after a war has never been our strong suit. Our military is designed to win wars, and it does that extremely well. The aftermath, however, is more problematic.

The constraints placed on the military in post-war reconstruction almost doom it to failure from the onset. What is needed in this phase is absolute martial control of the region. Instead, we're putting the military in the position of enforcing the peace while attempting to show a kinder, gentler side. It doesn't work. In fact, it's perceived as a weakness by our enemies and it's being exploited by the insurgency. It is only with an iron grip that stability will be restored in Iraq, and that is not something our leadership is willing to exercise.

So yes, Rumsfeld does need to take one for the team. He needs to set stubbornness aside and step down. It will not change anything in Iraq, however it will allow a new Defense Secretary to start with a clean slate. That may well be necessary to restore the military's confidence in their leadership.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

India Nuke Deal Ill Conceived

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday to lobby for the President's plan to share nuclear technology with India. Now, this is not nuclear weapons technology - they already have that - but rather nuclear energy technology, a distinction Iran is attempting to sell in their own dealings with the world community. (Washington Post: Rice Appeals For Nuclear Deal for India).

Does the distinction really matter, though? Not in my view, and certainly not in the case of India, a nation that has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and who secretly developed and tested a nuclear weapon right under our noses. That foreign intelligence failure launched a mini arms race between India and rival Pakistan, and leaves the region smoldering in a temporary cold war that only awaits the removal of Musharraf to escalate into something tragic.

Coupled with the Dubai Port debacle, this plan to bolster India's nuclear capabilities underscores our government's true priorities in the grand scheme of foreign relations. When the balance sheets are tallied, it is the profit and loss line that wins, not the security line. India is a prime market for cheap labor, especially in the technology sector, they are now enjoying the many benefits of a relationship with the US in exchange for a cheap work force. National security be damned if it improves the bottom line for corporate America.

What suffers beyond our national security, however, is our credibility. It is difficult to take a hard line against Iran while rewarding two other nations (India and Pakistan) for developing and testing nuclear weapons in defiance of UN edicts against nuclear proliferation. It is difficult to sell the American public on the idea that our government's first priority is national security when, in the name of profit, we are willing to sell our ports to a Middle East government owned company and we're willing to enhance nuclear technologies in a nation that is a heart beat away from war.

Our dealings with India are ill conceived. It is not in our long term best interests to reward them for their nuclear proliferation. That is a headache that will haunt a future administration. It is not in our best interests to encourage the outsourcing of technology and call-center jobs to India. That move will come back to haunt the American worker and it may very well come back to haunt the economy as a whole. It will certainly hinder our foreign policy options when the aforementioned future administration is forced to handle the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan.

Many of the foreign policy problems we are facing today are the direct result of short-sighted or poorly planned initiatives on the part of prior administrations. Future administrations will be forced to deal with the results of today's poorly conceived and short-sighted dealings with India.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Iran Girding For War

While the UN dithers, Iran is preparing for a military showdown with the west. The latest move comes in test firing a new torpedo, conspicuously similar to a 1995 Russian design, that is capable of targeting multiple ships and eluding radar. (Bloomberg: Iran's Navy Says It Successfully Test-Fired High-Speed Torpedo).

Meanwhile, efforts in the UN remain deadlocked with neither China nor Russia supporting any form of sanctions or military threat against the rogue nation. A recent UN resolution calling for Iran to halt efforts to enrich uranium was all but meaningless. It carried about as much weight as a letter to the editor in your local newspaper. Without the support of China and Russia, both nations with veto power, the UN will effectively remain on the sidelines.

The latest developments in Iran push us much closer to a US military response. The new torpedo, which was shown in Iranian media broadcasts this weekend, threatens shipping in the Gulf and would certainly be used as an economic counter measure by Iran once the shooting starts. Iran frequently attacked ships in the gulf during their 1980 conflict with Iraq and had numerous clashes with military warships patrolling those waters. This new torpedo raises the stakes in control of the major oil shipping lanes.

Also problematic is the risk this now poses for the US 5th fleet stationed in the Gulf. Until now, no nation in that region could touch US warships patrolling the gulf or using carriers in that region to launch air assaults against Middle Eastern targets. This torpedo traveling at speeds up to 233 MPH could change all that.

What is clear is that the US cannot afford to wait for the UN to move. Perhaps the best course of action now is to provoke Iran into firing the first shot; a Persian Gulf equivalent to the Gulf of Tomkin. All we lack at the moment is an excuse to take out Iran's military potential. A retaliatory response, unlike a preemptive strike, needs no UN approval to be justified around the world.

However we go about it, 2006 must see action in Iran. Giving them another year to develop nuclear capabilities or increase their defensive and offensive capabilities against US troops both in Iraq and in the Gulf makes absolutely no sense. Forget the UN. Russia and China have blockaded those efforts. The time has come to see which of our allies are willing to take a stand. Either way, unilaterally or with allies, we must address the Iranian problem now.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Pakistan: Headache for Next President

Yesterday, Pakistan test fired a cruise missile capable of delivering either a conventional or a nuclear payload. The missile has a range of about 310 miles and is primarily seen as a deterrent in the ongoing struggle between India and Pakistan. (BBC: Pakistan launches cruise missile).

Pakistan made waves a few years ago when they joined the nuclear club and launched a flurry of diplomatic desperation talks including the US and India. A visit by Secretary of State Rumsfeld to both Pakistan and India managed to defuse the situation at least temporarily, but in all likelihood the current state of relative calm is only a brief interlude.

In a recent speech, President Bush made reference to Pakistan as part of an overall goal to bring Democracy to the "Arab World". (We'll gloss over the fact that Pakistan is not an Arab country. We know what he meant.) In my view, a democratic Pakistan is about the worst thing that can happen in that region. As things stand now, Pakistan will likely be the greatest headache facing the 44th President of the United States. Sometime during the tenure of our next President, there is the increasing likelihood that there will be a change at the top in Pakistan. That, not Iran and not North Korea, poses the greatest danger to the US and our allies.

A Democratic Pakistan - something I see as impractical at best and more than likely impossible - would virtually guarantee a fundamentalist Islamic government with very strong ties to terrorist organizations including al Qaeda. Pakistan being a nuclear power, that essentially means nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists; not a pleasant prospect.

While the present Pakistani leadership is cooperating with the US in the War on Terror, albeit with numerous restrictions that have hindered our ability to contain terror cells in that region, the populace openly supports radical Islamic terror groups. Many consider bin Laden and other leaders of al Qaeda to be heroes, not villains. Once Musharrif is out of power, and bear in mind that he has been the target of 4 assassination attempts, there is a strong likelihood that his successor will be very anti-American and is also likely to have closer ties to terrorist organizations.

When Americans take to the polls in the 2008 election, national security will still be the biggest issue facing us. Conflict with Iran and probably the status of Iraq will fill the headlines, but it is Pakistan that the winner of that election will have to confront. It is Pakistan, not Iran, that is the America's greatest threat.


Monday, March 20, 2006

XXX Domain - It's Baaaack

The US Senate has once again taken up the call for a .XXX internet domain in legislation aimed at compelling President Bush to establish the world wide red light district. This measure was killed once before amid strong objections by Christian conservatives that were concerned the domain would make it easier to find porn on the web (if that's possible.) Proponents of the legislation claim it will make it easier for software to filter sights thus "protecting" children from seeing pornographic material online. Of course, that software won't stop them from finding the magazines under dad's mattress like our generation did. (Family News: .xxx Domain Bill Returns).

My opposition to this bill transcends many different levels. First of all, the US government has no oversight authority in the establishment of internet domains, and I'd like to keep it that way. Neither Congress nor the President have the authority to create an internet domain nor do they have the authority to require web sites to conform to any naming standard.

The internet has grown into an international entity that embodies the concept of free speech. The only thing any government can do is corrupt that free exchange of ideas. Whether or not any individual or government approves of pornography is irrelevant. Once a government regulates one aspect of free speech, the foundation is laid for that government to regulate all aspects of speech. I'm not willing to give them that beachhead by acknowledging any right of the government to regulate pornography on the internet. The issue is bigger than that.

Much of the pornography found on the internet does not originate in the United States and therefore is beyond the control of the US Congress. Legislation of this nature by the US Senate is just as bad as the legislation in China that required Google to filter certain search terms and the results displayed to Chinese citizens.

What it comes down to in its basic form is responsibility. With freedom comes responsibility, and this legislation is designed to absolve us of ours by limiting freedom. If people do not want to visit porn sites, the solution is simple. Don't visit them. If parents don't want their children to visit porn sites, the solution is equally simply. Be aware of what your child does online. In other words, be a parent.

Making it easier for filtering software to block sites is neither a good reason to impose government interference on the internet, nor in this case is it a valid argument. Porn sites typically carry more meta tags than you can count ensuring that any mention of a search term that remotely hints at sexual content will find their site. Today's filtering software keys off these tags to determine if the site's content should be blocked. That methodology is far more efficient and accurate than relying on the website provider to create their site with a .xxx domain name - something that is unenforceable by the US government.

With luck, there will be enough opposition once again to kill this measure yet again. Sadly, I'm not convinced it will stay dead.


Friday, March 17, 2006

NASA Priorities Completely Backwards

NASA researches are expressing dismay and outrage over the latest budget priorities as current projects and future missions are scrapped in favor of dead-end projects. NASA has focused its current budget on maintaining the Space Shuttle program through 2010, finishing the International Space Station, and developing a replacement for the Shuttle. Budget casualties, however, are deep space missions such as Dawn, a project intended to place a probe in orbit around Vesta and Ceres. (Astronomy: Scientists sound off on NASA budget).

The most successful and scientifically beneficial missions since the Apollo program have been the planetary and deep space missions, yet these are precisely the missions now being cut in an ill-conceived attempt to keep the Space Shuttle program on life support. Despite the relatively low cost of sample return missions such as Stardust which recently returned particle samples from a comet, these types of missions are unpopular with NASA administrators and are now on the chopping block.

Repercussions to Project Dawn's cancellation are being felt across the pond as well. The European Space Agency who also had a vested interest in that project is angry at NASA's decision to cancel the project and views it as a sign that the US is no longer a reliable space partner. Said Gerhard Neukum, the ESA's head of the Mars Express image processing team, "This was not a good way to treat things in terms of international cooperation. Things are degrading, and I'm not the only one who feels that way."

NASA's priorities are definitely backwards. The Shuttle program is dead, but apparently the NASA administrators are not willing to release the body. The ISS program is so scaled down from its original design as to be all but worthless. The future of all space programs is not near earth exploration, but rather interplanetary research both manned and unmanned. Current NASA administrators clearly lack the vision to lead the floundering US space program in that direction, however. A change in leadership within NASA would be refreshing and would be most welcome both here and abroad. Given NASA's current direction, there are few prospects for the US leading any major initiatives in space exploration. With the European and Chinese space agencies on the rise, losing that initiative may prove to be an extremely costly mistake.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bush Reaffirms First Strike Policy

In a 49-page report to Congress, President Bush reaffirmed the US policy he enacted in 2002 which provides for preemptive strikes against nations potentially planning an attack against the US with weapons of mass destruction. (Union Tribune: Bush security strategy reaffirms strike-first policy, sees Iran as possibly greatest threat).

That policy has come under fire of late with critics citing faulty intelligence in Iraq as an example of why preemption doesn't work. Until 2002 US policy had opposed launching preemptive strikes and was the cornerstone of our waging the cold war. However, given the number of rogue nations that either have nuclear weapons (such as Pakistan) and the number of rogue nations such as Iran that are trying to develop nuclear weapons, a policy of preemption is absolutely required. A nuclear equipped Iran or a fundamentalist regime change in Pakistan are worst case scenarios that would most certainly prompt a US preemptive strike.

President Bush commented on the policy saying, “When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. ... The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same.”

The President is correct. What is needed in addition to this policy, however, is significant improvement in our intelligence gathering capabilities within rogue nations as well as a restoration of our credibility with regards to foreign intelligence. The argument for war in Iraq is seen world-wide as a failure of US intelligence (despite the same conclusions being drawn by France, Germany, Spain, and Great Britain) and that public perception will certainly make it more difficult to sell a skeptical world on the need to act preemptively elsewhere.

Iran is one of the nations benefiting from the loss of foreign intelligence credibility. Efforts to sanction Iran - or even merely warn them not to develop a nuclear program - have stalled in the UN Security Council. Neither Russia nor China support any measures that appear at all confrontational. While their motives have little to do with foreign intelligence and more to do with their strong economic ties to Iran, the fact that the US has lost credibility has contributed to our inability to gain more widespread support for sanctions.

Still, the policy of preemption is sound. It does not make sense to wait for the enemy to strike first when the results of that strike could be a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack against US interests or allies. If that means acting unilaterally or without the support of the UN, then so be it. US foreign policy is set in Washington, not in New York, Paris, or Brussels. In the final analysis, the President reports to the American people, not to the United Nations. It is our responsibility to ensure that rogue nations do not gain the ability to cause harm to US interests. If that means acting while the UN stumbles along in endless and fruitless debate, then we will do just that.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Bush To Promote Iraq Progress

Facing the lowest popularity numbers of his presidency, President Bush will take to the airwaves in a series of speeches designed to garner public support for our efforts in Iraq. The speeches come at a time when polls show the largest number of Americans to date questioning a successful outcome in Iraq and expressing displeasure with the President's handling of the war.

Recent polls show that four out of five Americans believe the conflict in Iraq will escalate into civil war; an opinion that increasingly appears more like hindsight than prognostication. With armed conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis on the rise, it would be a hard sell to convince most Americans that Iraq is not already embroiled in a civil war.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in the sales pitch to America is the administration's continued insistence that a democratic Middle East is the right approach. Few Americans believe that Democracy can flourish in Iraq. Recent elections in the Palestinian Congress emphasize the perils of promoting Democracy in a region where terrorism and anti-American or anti-Israeli sentiment has popular support. Thoughts of Democratic elections in Pakistan are enough to give even the most optimistic supporter of the policy nightmares for weeks.

Democracy is not a form of government suitable for everyone, nor is it in our best interests to promote popularly elected governments in every part of the world. The sad reality is that there are times when a dictatorship is the right solution, not just for American interests, but also for the betterment of the people in that region. Iraq is one of those places where a call for Democracy virtually guarantees continued armed conflict.

The President will have a very difficult sales pitch to make in his coming speeches. He's going to have to convince a skeptical public that progress is being made in Iraq while news reports continue to show a country backsliding quickly into civil war. He's going to have to convince a skeptical public that promoting Democracy in Iraq is the right approach while the lessons learned from Hamas' recent election show that Democratic elections do not always turn out in our favor. Most importantly, he's going to have to convince us that we are capable of sustaining our efforts in Iraq while the likelihood of military action in Iran continues to increase. It will be a tough sell at best.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

On Vacation Until March 8th

I will be on vacation without access to the internet until Wednesday, March 8th. The Grapes Vine will continue its daily commentary at that time.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hamas Abandons Peace

Hamas formally took office today, taking control of the Palestinian Parliament. Mahmoud Abbas, current Palestinian leader, asked the Hamas leadership to recognize existing peace deals with Israel and to continue down the roadmap to peace. Mushir al-Masri, a leading Hamas legislator, rebuffed the call, saying that negotiations with Israel were "not on our agenda." (CTV: Hamas takes power, rejects calls for peace talks).

Israel is expected to respond on Sunday with additional sanctions against the Palestinians and is expected to seal off the Gaza Strip to keep out thousands of Palestinian workers. There can be little doubt that the prospects for peace in that region are now slimmer than they were in 1967 before the 6-day war.

Hamas is also besieged by the US who on Friday warned other Iran and other Islamic nations not to fund Hamas. Iranian support for Hamas may well be another point raised in the UN when sanctions and military action are brought before the Security Council.

What is clear is that Hamas - and by default the Palestinian people - now find themselves isolated. With the US and Israel turning the financial screws, it's questionable how long Hamas can maintain control. It's also almost a certainty that terror attacks will continue against Israel. Now that those attacks will be coming from the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority, Israel's response will hardly be measured.

The Palestinian people are about to learn a very harsh lesson. With democracy comes responsibility. The Palestinian people have chosen to elect a terrorist legislature. That is certainly their right, but now they will have to live with the consequences of that ill-advised decision. By choosing to put in office a terrorist government, they have chosen to forfeit all funding from the US and allies. They have chosen a path that may well lead to war. They have chosen a path that will isolate them from the rest of the world.

Certainly, that is a risk we take when we promote Democracy in parts of the world that are not accustomed with governing themselves. The Palestinian people are free to choose whatever leaders they wish. That is the right granted by a Democratic government. Now they will learn the consequences of making such an irrational choice, however. Hopefully they will learn this lesson before it's too late.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hussein Starts Hunger Strike

In what is apparently intended to be an act of defiance, Iraq's deposed dictator has announced that he and his fellow defendants are now on a hunger strike. Hussein alleges that he has not eaten in three days, and Barzan Ibrahim, his former chief of intelligence, has not eaten in the past two days. (Scotsman: Saddam and co-defendants start hunger strike).

For some odd reason, investigative judge Raid Juhi is looking into the claims that the defendants have willingly stopped eating. "This is an administrative problem that the court is working to verify, and it will work also to solve it ... with the responsible parties in the custodial authorities," he told reporters yesterday.

Why? If Hussein chooses to hold his breath until he turns blue, then let him. I've never understood the concept of a hunger strike in the first place. Is it supposed to garner sympathy for the accused? Not here, it doesn't! The only reason I would care at all is to make sure we monitor his weight. We do need to ensure there's enough tension on the rope when we hang him.

This is the same absurd tactic employed by a handful of terrorists being held at Camp X-Ray. We're force feeding them - again, for some unknown reason - and naturally the human rights groups scream prisoner abuse. In my view, if they go on a hunger strike, oblige them. Stop sending them food. It serves two purposes in the long run. It reduces the cost of housing them and it brings an end to their problem that much quicker.

One would think that the concept of a hunger strike would be outgrown by, oh, about the age of five. Isn't that around the age that small children finally learn the futility of temper tantrums? Of course, temper tantrums have been the hallmark of Hussein throughout his "trial". This court could learn a valuable lesson from U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, presiding over the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. After an outburst yesterday, Brinkema had Moussaoui removed and ordered him confined to a cell with closed circuit TV where he can monitor the rest of the proceedings and hold his tantrums in private. The same technique would work very well with Hussein, although some would argue that it's cruel and unusual punishment to deprive Hussein of a captive audience for his sideshow.

In the meantime, I'll raise an ale and toast the new Hussein diet. It sounds like an effective way to reduce our war costs and rid the world of a tyrant all at the same time.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

US, Europe Again at Odds Over Trade

Despite the largest trade deficit in US history - $725.8 billion - Europe continues to complain that US legislation unfairly provides subsidies to American exporters. (USA Today: U.S. still gives illegal aid to exporters, Europeans say). European trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is threatening to impose additional sanctions against US exports unless Washington enacts legislation to curb the subsidies.

At issue with the Europeans is the Foreign Sales Corp (FSC) law that allows the federal government to grant tax exemptions to over 6000 American exporters. That law has since been repealed, but some of the measures to which Europe objected were incorporated into the 2004 American Jobs Creation Act. The WTO is threatening to reimpose sanctions unless Congress repeals portions of the Act.

This latest squabble with the WTO is another skirmish in Europe's attempt to assert European law over American law. Europe has yet to learn that US law, like US foreign policy, is made in Washington, DC, not in Paris, Brussels, or even New York City.

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, correctly stated, "If sanctions are resumed, they'll only disrupt our bilateral economic relations. I doubt Congress will revisit this legislation." In fact, Congress should not revisit this legislation. It is Congress' responsibility to safeguard American jobs and American exports. The goal of Congress should be in reducing that $725.8 billion trade deficit, a goal that would not be fostered by adhering to WTO rules intended to give Europe an undue trade advantage.

The steps Congress needs to take would be even less popular than current legislation. Foreign imports should be tariffed at a higher rate so as to improve the sales of American made products. American companies engaging in foreign outsourcing should be penalized via the tax code for every job sent overseas. American exporters should receive significant tax breaks, allowing their products to compete favorably with foreign priced products. No, the WTO would not like those measures whatsoever. But then, the WTO is structured to serve Europe, not the US.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Europe Losing Last Crusade

Make no mistake about it, the Crusades are alive and well in Europe. Unfortunately, Europe is losing. (Yahoo News: ISLAMIC RADICALS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WESTERN LIBERALISM). While it may be politically correct to state that the west is at war with radical Islam, that is in fact the reality. Or, more accurately, radical Islam is at war with the west. For some reason, the west appears reluctant to take up the fight.

The nonsensical violence over a handful of cartoons in a Danish newspaper are only the latest skirmish. That the violence was incited by the political leaders of the 57 Muslim nations should serve as a wake-up call, but that scarcely caught anyone's attention and drew little interest when the story broke late last week. I don't seem to recall any cars being torched when an art gallery in New York depicted a crucifix and images of the Virgin Mary covered in urine and feces, however. Perhaps that's the difference between living in the 21st century and living in the 7th century.

The trend of appeasement in Europe is most distressing. Consider these examples:
  • A British judge barred Jews and Hindus from the jury when trying an accused Muslim.

  • The Dutch Language Institute now demands that the word "Christ" be written with a lower case "c". Apparently, the proper noun is offensive to Muslims.

  • A government office banned Winnie the Pooh, piggy banks, and other images of pigs so Muslims wouldn't have to see them.

  • In demonstrations last week, British police ignored protesters with signs reading "Exterminate those who mock Islam" and "Be prepared for the real holocaust," yet they arrested two counter protesters for carrying signs with images of Muhammad.
Of course, Europe has a long history of appeasement, despite an equally long history that shows appeasement never works. Make no mistake about it, Muslim extremists smell blood and are pressing the attack. The US lead War on Terror, all political correctness aside, is a Holy War. It's high time the rest of the world woke up and realized that we are all under attack. This war has been waging since the 7th century, yet only one side appears to be fighting in earnest. Wake up, folks. Losing this war is not an option I'd care to consider.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Public Split on NSA Wire Taps

The latest AP-Ipsos poll shows the public evenly split on the legitimacy of the NSA surveillance that has come under fire of late. The same poll last month showed a strong 56% disapproval rating, however it is now 50-50. (ABC: Poll: Surveillance Wins Some More Backers). If nothing else, the polls show that the public is gradually coming to accept the President's message with regards to the need for this surveillance.

I must admit, I'm of mixed emotions, not only with regards to the surveillance itself, but more importantly with the public's acceptance of it. That we need to drastically improve our intelligence gathering is not open for debate. I doubt anyone would disagree with the assertion that our ability to track terrorists and disrupt their plans for further attacks could use dramatic improvement. Rather, what is open for debate - and rightfully so - are the methods used to gather that intelligence.

Certainly, eavesdropping on communications between suspected terrorists is warranted, even if one party is in the United States. That's not the question. It's whether or not it can ever be legal to do so without a court order and that is precisely where I'm of mixed emotions. You see, the law does provide the flexibility to wiretap for up to 72 hours without a court order. After that, however, depending on how you interpret several Executive Orders, it becomes very much debatable. My concern here is that the NSA could easily have obtained warrants in those 72 hours had they chosen to take that route. That they chose not to raises questions in my mind.

More disturbing, however, is the fact that we as a nation seem almost eager to give up basic rights for the illusion of increased safety. The fact that 50% of the people don't even question the wiretapping is disturbing. The fact that the majority of people readily accept surveillance cameras on our highways is disturbing. The fact that people readily accept random searches in subway stations is disturbing. These all constitute a gradual erosion of our rights; each one rather subtle and innocuous, but taken together they represent a very disturbing trend.

Now, before some of my readers harp on the vileness of the Bush Administration, let's not forget that his predecessor issued Executive Orders giving the police the right to conduct warrantless searches. Even Jimmy Carter issued Executive Orders authorizing warrantless wire tapping. This trend is not unique to the Bush Administration, nor is it unique to Republican Administrations. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find an administration in our lifetime regardless of party that did not gradually chip away at our constitutional rights.

That is what disturbs me the most. We as a people have become extremely soft. As comedian Dennis Miller once put it, our founding fathers went to war over a tax on their breakfast beverage. We, however, are perfectly willing to give away all of the rights they won with blood just to have the illusion that we're marginally safer than we were yesterday.

To me, every camera installed at an intersection or on a highway is another skirmish won by the terrorists. Every backpack searched in a subway station is a victory for al Qaeda. Every American that unquestioningly accepts the NSA surveillance without asking "why?" and without questioning the decision not to obtain a warrant within the 72-hour grace period furthers the cause of those that wish to destroy our way of life.

So yes, I'm of mixed emotions. I want to see the scum waging war against this country eliminated from the gene pool. But at the same time, I want to make sure that, in defeating them, we don't also defeat ourselves. There is far more at stake in this war than the potential for more terror attacks. Let's take care that our own quest for safety does not bring about a victory for the terrorists.


Court Blocks Detainee Transfer

A US District Court in Washington, DC blocked the transfer of Shawqi Omar, a Jordanian with US Citizenship, to Iraq. Omar was detained in Iraq and is accused of harboring foreign terrorists in Baghdad and planning kidnappings in Iraq. He is also believed to have served as the personal emissary of Abu Musab Zarqawi. (Washington Post: U.S. Detainee's Transfer Blocked).

Omar was allowing five men, all confessed terrorists, to live in his house while conducting surveillance on potential kidnapping targets. Further, the four Jordanians in the group admitted that Omar was coordinating the activities. The case against Omar certainly appears strong enough for any court.

That the US District Court blocked his transfer is the correct decision, although they did it for the wrong reason. His attorney had requested the blockage out of fear that he would be tortured in an Iraqi prison. For me, that's irrelevant. I really don't care if terrorists are tortured or not. At issue for me, however, is why we would want to transfer him to an Iraqi court in the first place. Iraq is doing such a wonderful job already with the Hussein trial and that of his cohorts.

Omar is a US citizen. He is bound by the US Constitution, which he swore to "defend, honor, and protect" when he was naturalized. That same Constitution clearly defines Omar's actions as treasonous. If nothing else, he should be tried on those grounds. Short of that, he clearly falls into the category of Unlawful Combatant as defined by the Geneva Convention. If his trial is not before the US Supreme Court on a charge of treason, then it must be before a military tribunal as an unlawful combatant. The Iraqi court system has no jurisdiction in this matter. Omar is at war with the United States and must pay the penalty for it.

What must also be answered is how the US District Court in Washington established jurisdiction over this case in the first place. They have none. If he is charged with treason, then only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction. If he is not charged with treason, then no court in the US has jurisdiction and his fate is in the hands of the US military. For any court in the nation to issue a ruling on his status, they must first establish jurisdiction, and the US District Court in Washington has no grounds to do that.

When will we learn the lessons taught both in Iraq and Afghanistan? We cannot delegate justice to other nations. The travesty of the Hussein trial should teach us that. The prison break in Yemen of top al Qaeda operatives should teach us that. The escape of bin Laden from Tora Bora with the assistance of those sent to capture him should teach us that. Once we have our hands on scum like Omar, we must not turn that scum over to any other nation. We have both the ability and the right to bring them to justice and we are obligated to enforce that right. Turning Omar over to Iraq would be a huge mistake. Sometimes the courts do stumble on the right answer for all the wrong reasons. Here's one case where that happened.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lowery Mars King Service

The "Reverend" Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had nothing Christian-like to say when stooping to politics at the memorial service for Coretta Scott King. Lowery, a critic of the Bush family dating back to the Reagan era, usurped what should have been a tribute to the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, instead turning it into a political farce. (Newsday: Bush gets an earful.

During his remarks, Lowery attempted to rhyme, "We know there were no weapons of mass destruction over there, but Coretta knew and we know there are weapons of misdirection right down here." Indeed there were, Mr. Lowery - sorry, you have not earned the right to be called "reverend". The misdirection was nothing more than bait and switch. You promised people a memorial service to Coretta, and instead forced them into a political rally.

Former President Clinton attempted to maintain focus on the dignity of the service and the person allegedly being honored, yet the raucous crowd spoiled even that. His remarks were dignified and respectful, proclaiming that he was honored to be in the presence of "my President, and my former President." Unfortunately, the unruly crowd choose to politicise even that, pointing to Hillary Clinton and shouting "future president." Clinton was forced to chastise them, saying, "I don't want us to forget that there's a woman in there, not a symbol. A real woman who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments."

Sadly, even former President Jimmy Carter got swept into the political fray, charging that, "It was difficult for them [the King family] personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretaps." Carter, of course, was taking a not-so-veiled swipe at NSA wiretapping of terrorists. Unfortunately for Carter, he needed a history lesson in this case. Let's see, who was it that tapped Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta? Ah, yes. That would have been the Justice Department under John F. Kennedy. Let me think for a moment, now. Who was the Attorney General then? Wait, it's coming to me. Oh, yes! It was Robert F. Kennedy! The same Robert F. Kennedy that was an adviser to Senator Joe McCarthy, I might add. Did I mention that JFK and RFK were both Democrats? Perhaps I forgot to add that piece. I should point out that Nicholas Katzenbach, Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson, continued this policy of wiretapping civil rights leaders.

If you want to know why the nation is so divided, you only have to look at this shameful memorial service to see first-hand the causes of that division. Black leaders such as Lowery, hiding behind a false cloak of Christianity, use what should be moments of unity to advance their personal political agendas. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr, whom many of them like to quote, their message is a message of hatred, of discord, of segregation. There is no similarity at all between the message King promoted and the one being politicised by his so-called followers. Misguided idealists such as Carter also jump on the racial band-wagon, further promoting this message of hate. The many advances in civil rights over the last three decades have been made despite the public rhetoric of people like Lowery.

There is a time for politics. A memorial service for someone many considered to be a great American is certainly not one such time. Lowery and Carter's shameful outbursts did nothing to advance the cause of Martin and Coretta King. What they did was further divide a nation.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Budget Projections Unrealistic

Federal budget projections going out to 2011 fail to account for known events as well as contingencies for likely events. While the projections assume permanent passage of past tax cuts as well as a decrease in congressional discretionary spending, they fail to take into account any cost beyond 2007 for the War on Terror. (Washington Post: Budget Plan Assumes Too Much, Demands Too Little).

Goldman Sachs has already begun advising clients that the deficit projections included in the budget are unrealistic. Members of Congress are already denouncing this budget as a non-starter. Business analysts find the budget laughable. Said Stanley E. Collender of Financial Dynamics Business Communications, "This budget is not going to happen. Of all the budgets I've seen recently, this is the one going nowhere the fastest."

There are two issues that I have with this budget as proposed. First, it completely ignores necessary spending in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor does it account for the likelihood of military spending in either Iran or Syria. The former, at least, is a solid enough prospect that some provisions must be included in the budget. It's absolutely unrealistic to assume that after 2007 we'll no longer encounter any situation that requires the use of military force.

Second, the budget does not go far enough in eliminating non-military expenses. First and foremost, the responsibilities of the federal government are for national security. Anything beyond that is a benefit that is subject to cuts when the budget is tight. Yet, we consistently see efforts to increase potential revenue (such as opening ANWR to drilling) or efforts to curtail social spending (such as agricultural subsidy cuts) stymied in Congress.

With the cost of energy skyrocketing and interest rates continuing to trend upward, the cost of living for the average American continues to grow far beyond figures quoted by the government in their cost-of-living index. A trip to the local supermarket or gas station tells you that, although food and energy are conveniently omitted from inflation indexes. It's clear that tax cuts implemented to stimulate the economy must be made permanent. To hit the public with an effective tax increase by not making them permanent would have a devastating impact on the economy as a whole.

So if taxes are not going to increase - and they cannot - and we know that military expenses are going to continue to grow, where will we get the funding to support this? Well first and foremost, open ANWR to drilling. There's plenty of potential revenue there and we should be making good use of it. The caribou certainly are not using it. Second, slash all non-military expenses in the existing budget. That's not something any congressman wants to do, especially in an election year, but that is what must happen.

The budget as proposed will not fly. It's not going to make any headway in Congress and it's a very unrealistic and overly optimistic projection out to 2011. Hard cuts are needed in social spending, and the time to start that is now.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Cole Bomber Escapes Yemen Prison

Jamal Badawi, convicted of and sentenced to death for the October 12, 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, escaped a Yemen Prison last week. 13 of the 23 that went with him are known al Qaeda terrorists. (Washington Post: Plotter in USS Cole Attack Flees Jail).

Yemen took its sweet time reporting the jail break in the first place, and thus far have been less than cooperative with the west. They have yet to provide a full list of names and photographs of the escaped terrorists, and it is likely that the escapees have already made it to safety in the mountains. Many of the mountain tribes in that region are sympathetic to al Qaeda and have little or no interaction with the Yemen government.

This is yet another example of why the US should not be using the legal systems in foreign countries for the detention, prosecution, and possible execution of terrorists. People may criticise our use of Guantanamo Bay for the detention of these scum, but the fact is that they are secure there. There's no chance of them escaping Cuba to attack the US again.

President Clinton once issued an Executive Order authorizing the US to use the military for the forceful extraction of any criminal on foreign soil wanted for crimes against the United States. Here's a classic example of where that order should have been implemented. The bombing of the USS Cole was an act of war against the US. There's no excuse for leaving the terrorists behind that bombing in a Yemen prison.

It's about time we learned the lesson that we do not have any Middle Eastern allies in this war on terror. Bin Laden was allowed to escape Tora Bora by Afghan warlords enlisted to assist in his capture. Pakistan continues to look the other way while terror groups train within their borders. Saudi Arabian citizens continue to fund charities linked to terror cells. To consider these nations allies in the war is ludicrous.

The way to deal with these terrorists is quite simple. Bring them before a military tribunal, convict them, and execute them. There is no rehabilitation of a terrorist and long-term incarceration is a financial drain that is simply not worth it. What is obvious is that we cannot afford to leave these terrorists in foreign prisons, especially in nations that are sympathetic to their cause.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Pentagon Releases Strategy Document

The Pentagon has released a new strategy document, abandoning the "swift defeat" philosophy that characterized military strategy after the 9/11 attacks. (LA Times: Pentagon Plans for 'Long War' on Extremism).

The new strategy requires an increased focus on special forces and on unmanned drones similar to the Predator used by the CIA. The effectiveness of both have been demonstrated time and again in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Their emphasis in the new strategy document underscores the changing face of warfare in the 21st century.

Also included in the new strategy is language training for American troops, a lesson we should have learned throughout the foreign wars of the last century, but also a 33% increase in psychological operations. The poor performance of current military propaganda in the Middle East and in Europe shows this aspect of military operations to be sorely lacking.

What the new strategy does not contain is any significant increase in troop levels. The document reflects both a desire and a need to rely on foreign allies for long term military operations and peace keeping. If there is any significant weakness in the new strategy, this is it. The US should not and must not be dependent on any foreign power for any aspect of our military operations. Furthermore, the events of the last 5 years should prove beyond all doubt that our military must be capable of fighting multiple opponents in diverse locations and we must be capable of doing it alone.

We have already demonstrated that we are quite capable of quickly defeating an enemy. Both Afghanistan and Iraq took less than two months to topple the government and occupy the capital. What takes time is rebuilding the conquered nation. We're still struggling with that in both of those nations. The length of time it took in the Philippines and Germany after World War II shows just how long that process takes. In my view, unless we plan to permanently occupy the conquered nation, rebuilding is not something our military should be committed to accomplish.

The method of occupation necessary to control a population while the rebuilding is accomplished is not something this nation is willing to undertake. It also requires a much larger military than either the Pentagon or Congress want to authorize. Therefore, don't commit to the rebuilding. Use the military for what it does best and don't force them into a rebuilding effort for which they are not trained, not properly sized, and not authorized to enforce.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

OPEC Threatened by Bush Oil Statement

OPEC and oil industry executives were scrambling to counter President Bush's State of the Union pledge to reduce America's dependency on Middle East oil by 75% over the next 16 years. Feeling the noose tighten around the glutinous industry, OPEC ministers warned of policy changes that would threaten development of new oil production in that region. (MSNBC: Opec warns on Bush oil pledge).

One minister stated, "Comments like that are unrealistic. Everyone knows the world will continue to depend on Middle East imports." He pledged to work with the EU in formulating counter measures, describing the European Union as being "more aligned with Opec's view".

US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman attempted to calm OPEC's fears with some spin of his own. The Secretary said, "The president's goal ... is an improvement in our national security that would come from a more readily available supply of domestic motor fuel." Continuing to backpedal he stated, "It was not meant to suggest anything related to the politics of the situation. ... It was merely meant to give an example." (Washington Post: Mideast Still a Player in Oil Markets).

The Presidents statement in the State of the Union requires no back-pedaling and it certainly does not warrant political spin. We certainly do need to eliminate our dependency on, not only Mid-Eastern oil, but on all oil from unstable regimes including Nigeria, Latin America, and Russia. When you dig a bit deeper, however, you learn that the goal outlined in Tuesday's address is not all that grandiose. Only 60% of US oil demands are imported, and only 20% of our imported oil comes from the Middle East. We're not as heavily dependent on Mid-Eastern oil as popular opinion would have us believe.

Still, the President's stated direction does not go far enough. We need to invest heavily in the development of complete replacements for fossil fuels and petroleum based byproducts. We need to develop a viable long-term fuel strategy that does not rely on international trade. That vision is still lacking in Washington, and it is certainly lacking in the Energy Industry. Rather than leading us into the future, the Energy Industry, like a short-sighted drug pusher, is focused on increasing our addiction, increasing internal profits, and stifling any move to develop alternatives.

In 2005, Exxon posted the largest corporate profits in history. Smart business sense would demand that significant portions of those profits be directed towards alternative energy research, yet that is not happening. The oil industry needs to learn from the tobacco industry. Seeing the wave of anti-smoking sentiment sweeping the world, for the past 20 years the tobacco industry diversified and dropped their total reliance on a single product who's days were numbered. The oil industry would do well to learn the same lesson. They have the ability and the means to develop and move us to the energy solution of the 21st century. Unfortunately, that will take vision, leadership, and initiative - three traits sorely lacking in today's corporate America.