Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Bison steaks

Our daughter Beckly is in South Dakota for the whole Summer (working at Custer State Park). She is enjoying all of it, but did have this one question when she saw her first Bison peering into her room the first morning she was there: "These are the ugliest beasts I have ever seen, what are they good for?" Well, maybe now we have the answer for that. Apparently

Buffalo meat is very good for you; it is lower in fat than even chicken. It is becoming very popular. I think we should only eat ugly things (especially if it’s good for you!).


The Economist (London) reflects on the already started "Clinton publicity machine." "For Washington, DC, the big question about the Clinton revival tour is how it will affect John Kerry. Will the charismatic old rogue suck away the oxygen of publicity? Or will a little of his charm rub off on the dull-as-ditchwater senator? Mr. Kerry has so far concentrated on defining himself in relation to George Bush; now he must define himself in relation to the most electable Democrat since FDR." This will not be to Kerry’s political advantage, in my opinion. More on that later but, for now, it is absolutely clear that

Sen. John McCain’s strong endorsement of Bush in Reno is going to help, as well as the one at Ft. Lewis, Washington.


The Harris Poll shows Bush with a 10% lead over Kerry among likely voters. There is plenty more good news for Republicans in the poll. I haven’t seen it referenced on the nightly news (yet). Also note this Pew Poll showing that the support for the war in Iraq: 55% think that going to war was the right thinbg to do, and 57% think that the military effort in Iraq is going well (up from 46%).


I don’t have much to say about this latest barbarism from evil-doers. What can I say? Savages? Yes. I bet Dan Rather won’t let you see the pictures. But Drudge has photos of the beheading of Paul Johnson, American. File and show them to your friends when they turn wobbly.

And the American Enterprise Institute makes avaliable the video of some of Saddam’s tortures, beheading, cutting off fingers, etc. Again, not available on CBS and the others.

Worth noting

Trinidad - A frail 89-year-old Trinidadian man left his apartment for the first time in eight years this week after broken elevators in the government-owned building were finally replaced.

Cloning for Stem-cells

This MSNBC report picks up on another side of the stem-cell debate: cloning. Recall that the controversial stem-cells are derived from human embryos, and it is the extracting of the stem-cells that destroys the embryo. The more embryos we have, the more stem-cells, a simple math that spurrs the creation of more embryos with the desired genetic code. Enter human cloning. The MSNBC piece looks at recent state initiatives to ban the cloning process, with stem-cell research as the collateral damage. Of course, we could flip the issue and ask whether live-birth human cloning is likely to be the collateral damage of an expanded stem-cell research policy? How likely is it that we’ll get one without the other?

Putin: Saddam was Planning U.S. Attacks

Without wavering in its opposition to the U.S.-led coalition’s war in Iraq, Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin now admits that "Russia gave the Bush administration intelligence after the September 11 attacks that suggested Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was preparing attacks in the United States." (From FoxNews.)

And here’s the story from CNN.

Iraq and al Qaeda

Instead of revealing how angry I am at the media for their reporting on the 9/11 Commission’s so called lack of connection between al Qaeda and Iraq, I’m going on a bike ride. I’ll ruminate on it. But it is infuriating. For the meantime, look at these few paragraphs from Andrew Sullivan:

"The vice-president’s direct attack on the New York Times’ portrayal of the 9/11 Commission report was a zinger. On balance, I think Cheney is right. The links between al Qaeda and Saddam may not have amounted to a formal alliance, but they existed all right, as the Commission conceded. The NYT itself reported that ’The report said that despite evidence of repeated contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the 90’s, ’they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.’ But if there were ’repeated contacts’ between al Qaeda and Iraq, how can it be true that, as the headline put it, that ’Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie’? Headlines truncate things, of course. But Cheney is dead-on in describing this headline as misleading. Here’s Tom Kean, the chairman of the Commision: ’What we have found is, were there contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq? Yes. Some of them were shadowy - but they were there.’ Here’s Lee Hamilton:
’I must say I have trouble understanding the flack over this. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government. We don’t disagree with that. What we have said is what the governor just said, we don’t have any evidence of a cooperative, or a corroborative relationship between Saddam Hussein’s government and these al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States. So it seems to me the sharp differences that the press has drawn, the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me.’
The NYT had the gall to demand that Bush and Cheney apologize. In fact, it’s the NYT that needs to apologize."

Walter Williams on Ladies’ Night

Can’t resist highlighting a second African-American economist this morning. Walter Williams takes on the "tyranical" crusade against ladies’ night.  

Martial Law in Iraq?

The Financial Times is reporting that Iraq’s interim government "is considering imposing martial law to help stabilise the country after another two car bomb attacks on Thursday killed at least 41 Iraqis." While the article fails to say what martial law would entail in a country which already lacks many of the legal protections that we in the US considered waived by the imposition of martial law, Muwaffaq Rubaie, Iraq’s National Security Adviser was quoted as saying "It [the new law] should not have sweeping powers. It should be limited in time and space. . . . [But] the terrorists are shooting people on sight. You need to be a little bit more proactive, a little bit more robust." It is at this point that the FT writers seem to forget whether they are writing for the news page or the op-ed page: "Such laws carry uncomfortable echoes of the legal fabrications used by the former regime of Saddam Hussein and many current Arab governments to justify repressive and totalitarian rule." While it is sensible to question whether the cure of martial law is worse than the disease it seeks to remedy, this statement struck me as a bit over the top--and a bit demeaning to the Arab world. Would the authors use the same tone if London were the subject of daily terror attacks, and the government established martial law to restore order and protect its citizens? Admittedly Iraq does not have the history of respecting human rights that London does, but the authors’ open disdain seems to be a bit too dismissive of Iraq’s new government, and its interest in protecting its people.

Sowell on the Symbol of Sovereignty

Thomas Sowell’s commentary on "Symbols v. Substance" pulls on a thread that I haven’t seen others tugging on: the price of symbollic sovereignty in Iraq. On the issue of rebuilding Iraq, Sowell asks: "Do you have any idea of the Iraqi legal system? Are you prepared to risk your freedom, and perhaps your life, to find out?" He goes on to write:

Obviously, subjecting foreign workers and entrepreneurs to a wholly different legal system from what they are used to creates yet another obstacle to recruiting people with skills and experience urgently needed to get Iraq back on its feet as a functioning society. But the symbols of sovereignty are apparently more important than the substance of a restored economy and society, at least to some Iraqi politicians.

If Mr. Alt has the time, I would value his insight and reaction to Sowell’s analysis.

Anti-terrorism meeting in Australia

Special forces and counter-terrorism officials from the U.S. and 14 Asia-Pacific nations met "in Australia in an unprecedented attempt to coordinate their war against Al-Qaeda and its Southeast Asian allies."

"The three-day gathering, held behind tight security in the rural town of Bowral south of Sydney, began on Wednesday but was kept secret until just hours before Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill addressed the delegates on Thursday.

As unpalatable as it may be, we have to acknowledge that this region is a breeding ground for Islamic extremism," Hill told the meeting. He also said: "A goal of these terrorists is to erode and exhaust us.

We cannot defeat apocalyptic terrorism in any one of our countries, we must refute their extremist creed wherever it arises."

Belated Bloomsday

In honor of yesterday’s 100th Anniversary of Bloomsday, a friend sent me this BBC report, "A Cheat’s Guide to Joyce’s Ulysses." As the article points out, "for all its renown and notoriety, it is a book that few have read and even fewer comprehend. To rectify this, BBC News Online presents an irreverent simple chapter-by-chapter guide to the key events, characters and Homeric parallels." Not sure that the piece delivers on the "Homeric parallels," but it comes complete with reader-responses like this one:

It is quite typical of the pompous boorishness of the BBC to try and denegrate an Irish masterpiece. You will never understand it and of course you will always be envious.

Pol.O’Gallan, Warwickshire

Fun stuff.

Paradise or the Jungle?

I just got done reading the new edition of Robert Kagan’s Of Paradise and Power, which is an intelligent and thought-provoking book (though not always right on some important matters, in my view). Kagan ends on a pessimistic note, saying that the current tension between Europe and America over Iraq is part of a larger international "tragedy": namely, that to "address today’s global threats Americans will need the legitimacy that Europe can provide" but "may well fail to provide" because Europeans are more concerned about "an American Leviathan unbound" than about the dangers of "terrorism and weapons of mass destruction" produced by tyrants. Thus, in his view, the West will drift farther and farther apart, with potentially perilous consequences for the US and Europe (and decent people everywhere).

In that light, it is worth considering this article from The New York Times on the upcoming IAEA statement on Iran’s nuclear program. The question is whether the British, French, and Germans (who all negotiated a deal a few months ago with the Iranians that the mullahs subsequently broke) will stand firm and back a tough condemnation of and warning to Iran as the Bush administration is urging, or whether they will take the opportunity afforded by a technical mistake in a previous IAEA statement to let Iran off the hook.

As we know, Iran and North Korea are the next likely international crisis points, but since the Europeans have no real historic or strategic interests in East Asia, Iran will be the test for whether they can recognize and deal seriously with a lurking international disaster (a nuclear Iran!), or whether they will end up retreating for good from what Kagan calls the "Hobbesian jungle" outside Europe into their "post-modern paradise".

Stem-cells and Alzheimers

As something of a related follow-up on the stem-cell discussion spurred by the Reagans’ plea for Bush to flip-flop on the issue, here’s an AP report on why stem-cell research is not a top priority in Alzheimer labs. A snipet:

"I just think everybody feels there are higher priorities for seeking effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and for identifying preventive strategies," said Marilyn Albert, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who chairs the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the Alzheimer’s Association.

And therein lies the practical, less esoteric side of the debate. As the article reveals, of course, Marilyn Albert’s view is not shared by all. Many would like to see stem-cell research and "other" research pursued simultaneously. And thus we pick up our pencils and our slide rules for yet another pop-quiz in utilitarian calculus: how do we allocate our research dollars most effectively?

When Money Talks

It has been well-documented that John Kerry has not captured the heart and soul of liberalism and its Democratic party, but he is their only mouthpiece now for defeating George Bush in November, and the Left is, er, putting its money where its mouth is. The intro to the WaPo article on Kerry’s campaign finances reads:

Since locking up the Democratic nomination on March 2, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has raised more than $100 million, or over $1 million a day -- a pace breaking all presidential campaign records, including those set by President Bush.

Iraq visible, Kerry invisible

This Howard Fineman Newsweek article is worth reading but not, I hasten to add, because his politics is pro-Bush. It surely isn’t. On the other hand it is a valuable insight into how this campaign is going to develop, or if you prefer, how it has developed (helped along by a biased media, which Fineman implicitly admits). The election will revolve around Iraq, Bush’s decision to invade, and how the consequences of the invasion will be seen by election day. The increasingly hostile media environment against Bush will continue through election day. The media (and the Demos) are actually angry at Bush, and they are going to keep hitting, and not only on Iraq. I was watching MSNBC last night and the good economic indicators were ignored and the so-called news story immediately launched into the "middle class squeeze" (that is, Kerry’s latest take on the increasingly good eceonomic news): The price of everything is still too high, especially milk. This gets a bit embarrassing, or it should. But, that will pass and the voters are seeing and will see with perfect clarity by election day that the economy has been, and will continue to be, just fine. Therefore only Iraq is left. The issue not only will be the daily bombings and deaths, and also the transition toward a democratic and moderate regime, but--and this is the crux of the matter--whether or not Bush should have gone into Iraq in the first place. Is America safer? Was it worth the blood and money? And so on. There will be facts on the ground, and, later in the Summer and Fall (and in the debates) there will be Bush trying to make the argument that it was the right thing to do and see the consequences already revealing themselves. Will he be persuasive? I am betting that he will be. But more on that later. Fineman’s last point that Bush will turn into a Carter--that by the time of the debates citizens will have tired of Bush as they tired of Carter--and will be ready to vote for an alternative, even one that they have no enthusiasm for, is simply wrong. In short, as I have maintained for almost nine months, the election will indeed revolve around Iraq. This is the liberal media’s (and the invisible and boring John Kerry’s) hope, and it will come true, and they will regret that it will prove to be true. I’m betting on it and I will go even further--for reasons I will try to continue to explain over the next weeks and months--and assert here that this will not be a close election. Bush will win and it will not be a squeaker. Kerry cannot unleash an argument on Iraq that is persuasive, and the liberal media’s continuing attacks will not be sufficient to overthrow Bush. The media will not decide the election. The American people didn’t get off the boat yesterday (nor did I).

The Mea Culpa

Clinton explains his infidelity with Monica as a "morally indefensible" sin of convenience. And adds that Hillary wasn’t happy about it. Stunning.

9/11 Commission

Powerline does a nice job of taking to task the NYT and WaPo coverage of the 9/11 report, in which those publications respectively claim that one of Bush’s central justifications for the war was collaboration between AQ & Saddam. The actual report states "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." Powerline offers the following thoughts:

To say that this report adds nothing to our understanding of al Qaeda and Iraq would be an understatement. It appears to have been written before the discovery that a Lt. Col. in the Saddam Fedayeen, Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, attended the key planning meeting of the Sept. 11 plotters. Beyond that, the staff either is ignorant of the many indications of connections between al Qaeda and Iraq, or simply ignores them, secure in the knowledge that the mainstream media will applaud their conclusions without questioning their reasoning.

The claim that the Bush administration alleged a connection between Iraq and Sept. 11 is, of course, false. But newspapers like the Times and the Post are caught up in the excitement of the election year; they deliberately seek to create the impression that the administration made such a claim, and that it has somehow been "refuted." Neither suggestion is true.

It is also worth reading the commission’s conclusory sentence, obviously crafted for easy news citation, carefully: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." (emphasis added). But there are many steps short of attacks, which could include financial support, turning a blind eye toward terrorists and their activities conducted in country, assisting in the production of VX gas in Sudan, etc. There is ample evidence to suggest that Iraq had a friendly relationship with terrorists, even if there is a relative paucity of evidence (outside the meeting of some key officials) to suggest that Iraq participated in 9/11 itself. Nonetheless, the fact that the former regime "cooperated" with some terrorists up to and including training hijackers at Salman Pak--even if the terrorists Saddam trained were neither AQ nor those who attacked 9/11--is enough to keep Saddam off my Ramadan card list.

Zarqawi Found His Future Frightening

On Tuesday, CNN reported on a reported on a letter allegedly sent from Zarqawi to Bin Laden which appeared on Islamic web sites. In the letter, Zarqawi complains: "The space of movement is starting to get smaller . . . . The grip is starting to be tightened on the holy warriors’ necks and, with the spread of soldiers and police, the future is becoming frightening." Now the interesting part: upon review, CNN determined that this is the same communication intercepted from Zarqawi and released by the Coalition in February. For all the lamentations of Iraqi defeat coming from the West, I bet this is the first time that many of you have read this Al Qaeda operative’s statement of waning hope.

Friedman on Reagan

I just noticed this by Milton Friedman on Ronald Reagan. Good, short, with a couple of nice graphs. 

Happy Bloomsday

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the inscrutable Ulysses’ "Bloomsday," June 16, 1904. (Should probably order Guiness tonight.)

From 10 to 4

The WaPost has this report on Al Qaeda’s original plan to use 10 planes on September 11.

Narcotics and terrorists

This is a very interesting report from London’s Financial Times. It elaborates on indications that al Qaeda is morphing into an organized crime network and making a lot of money from narcotics. Needless to say, this is complicated. Afghan growers, Russian crime figures, never mind places like Colombia. Also see this for how FARC recruits in Colombia. Also see this DEA testimony before a Senate committee. And this from the BBC on the connection between the Madrid bombings and narcotics

Alt photo

I just realized that we have a photo Robert Alt in Iraq. You will recognize him because he is the second from the right, kneeling. Hard to find? Look for the guy who doesn’t look like a soldier! It’s among the photos he has sent in over the time he has been there, you can view them by clicking here).

Reagan’s Commemorative Stamp

CNN reports that the U.S. Postal Service will issue a commemorative stamp "to recognize the many honors that President Reagan, a man of diverse talents, accumulated throughout his life and beyond." The Postal Service allows former presidents to appear on a stamp as early as "their first birth anniversary following death." This means the stamp could appear on February 6, 2005.

Stem-cells and Moral Philosophy

Following up on the commentary and discussion on Bush’s stem-cell policy, here’s a worthwhile and relatively short piece on many of the moral and philosophical issues inherent in our stem-cell debate. From the introduction:

If we listen closely to the moral discourse arguing that embryonic stem cells should be employed in medical research, we get a glimpse into the prevailing moral culture of our time. At its heart is a utilitarian calculus, combined with an unlimited emphasis on the virtue of compassion and undergirded by a worldview of what we might call "spiritualistic naturalism."

Industrial output surges, jobs created

Output "at U.S. factories, mines and utilities surged in May, posting its biggest gain in almost six years, the Federal Reserve reported on Wednesday. The Fed said industrial production rose a larger-than-expected 1.1 percent in May after a 0.8 percent gain in April. The May increase was the biggest since a 2.0 percent rise in August 1998."

And then there is this: "U.S. companies are gearing up to create jobs at rates not seen since the height of the 1990s boom, a survey released on Tuesday showed, adding to evidence that job growth will keep the U.S. economic recovery rolling."

Crime Victim?

It seems Ohio has decided that the war in Iraq is a war on crime. Ohio’s military servicemen and women injured or killed in the line of military duty are now eligible to receive state grant money from the Ohio Victims of Crime Fund. I am quite sympathetic to the gesture aimed at helping the families that have lost loved ones in the Iraq conflict, and I do not question the good-hearted intent. But recharacterizing the war in Iraq so that being Killed In Action now makes you a victime of crime raises some troubling issues. It’s not as if the grantees were the victims of "war crimes." They were tragically KIA by enemy combatants engaged in guerilla, urban warfare, and just as the military does not honor civilian (or even police) victims and heros with Purple Hearts and Silver Stars, I’m not sure I understand why the U.S. military should be awarded civilian money slated for alleviating the agony of all-too-common street crime. I could be wrong on this, but blurring the lines between civilian and military, and war and street crime doesn’t strike me as helpful. Replacing "Killed In Action" with "Homicide" on the death certificate of a soldier slain in combat may actually devalue the true nature of his ultimate sacrifice.

Can Bush get more black votes?

Juan Williams’ op-ed in The New York Times is interesting. He claims that it is not impossible for Bush to get 20% of black support (he got 8% in 2000) because: 1) blacks have no enthusiasm for Kerry, and Kerry seems to be taking them for granted; 2) blacks as bloc voters is being questioned (for example, 34% of 18 to 25 year old blacks say they are independent, and 24% of all blacks say they are independent) and Bill Cosby’s recent comments resonates with younger black voters; 3) black churches are generally supportive of Bush’s faith-based initiative. Also, it is not irrelevant that there are many blacks in the highest positions in the administration. (Thanks to Ken Masugi)

Reagan’s Other Revolution

Terry Eastland calls attention to "Reagan’s Other Legacy" -- the federal bench. He reminds us that Reagan appointed a record 382 judges to the bench, made Rehnquist our Chief Justice, appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, gave us the indominable Justice Scalia, and instituted an extensive vetting process and the now standard practice of a President personally contacting judicial nominees. Much of what we now expect from the nomination process, like "Borking," for example, can be traced in some measure to Reagan’s presidency.  

The Return of Rocketman

Over the weekend, Rocketman returned, and brought with him rocket attacks on two consecutive nights. He seems to have some intelligence about the base, because his attacks have coincided with the dinner hour. Obviously his intelligence isn’t that good, or he would know that the troops fear the chow hall more than they do his rockets. He decided to mix things up this time, firing 107mm and 122mm rockets. On the second night, fourth platoon was on duty as the quick reaction force, and so I joined them when they were sent to the projected launch location moments after the rocket’s impact. (For my friend who got married on Saturday, I estimate that it was at about the time that you said “I do” that we were rolling out to search for the Rocketman.)

Iraq’s topography is not as flat as you might imagine. The trip to the suspected launch site took us across a field of wadis that challenged even the Humvees’ ordinarily robust suspension. “Hold on Dickens!” yelled driver Pv1 Harkless to gunner Spc. Dickens, as the vehicle traversed crevasses of cement-like dirt. Bouncing around in the vehicle, I realized why the Humvees have padded interior roofs. We finally came to a canyon that the vehicles could not cross. Another unit was able to find a crossing before we did, and so they continued the chase from there.

On a recon mission the next day, I was able to see the area in which one set of the rockets was fired. Without a launcher, the terrorists apparently resorted to propping the rockets up against a dirt incline and hoping, inshallah, the rockets hit anywhere near the target. I have some pictures of parts of the rockets and the launching systems found, which are posted here.

Today’s Weather in Iraq

I just returned from photographing some rocket parts recovered after a recent attack on the base. On the walk back to the bunker, I realized that at a certain temperature, your eyeballs, which unless I am mistaken cannot sweat, make known to you that the external heat exceeds the human body’s recommended operating conditions. The sand, which has not seen water in some time, becomes a fine, powderey dust, and the air feels thin. Having grown up in California, I have experienced this kind of heat before--and it answered to the name Mojave. I have not seen what the temperature is here on base since Sunday, when it registered 120 degrees. The heat category yesterday was 5--whatever that means--which I am told is the highest level and therefore "bad." Take this heat, add 20+ pounds of body armor and a kevlar helmet to it, and you have another June day in Iraq.

The Limits of Congressional Power

WaPo reports that the Senate voted 65-33 in favor of appending a hate crimes bill to the Defense Authorization bill. The bill would make a federal offense crimes committed based on sexual orientation, gender, and disability. WaPo also states that the act "would eliminate a current restriction limiting federal intervention to cases where victims were engaged in federally protected activities, such as voting." Leaving aside the more general question of federalism (i.e., why is this a federal issue rather than a state police power issue?), and the question of public policy (i.e., why is a federal law needed when the typically-cited examples of recent hate crimes have resulted in vigorous prosecution by the states?), I am curious as to what authority Congress believes it has to pass this law. Once the legislaton is unmoored from federally protected activities, I presume Congress is forced to rely on the Commerce Clause for the power to enact this legislation. But the Supreme Court’s decisions in Lopez and Morrison make clear that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress power to regulate criminal activity in the absence of demonstrating that the regulated activity has--surprise--a substantial effect on interstate commerce. I presume the hate crimes rider will die in conference with the House, but if not, look for what should be a slam dunk constitutional challenge.

More on the Value of Blogs

I originally posted this as a comment to Schramm’s post about the value of blogs, but I thought it was worth repeating here. The Time article’s warning about people only reading web pages which conform to their own views is just a watered down version of Cass Sunstein’s absurd arguments from his book Sunstein went so far as to argue that there should be government labels on web pages to warn simple-minded readers that the page is "liberal" or "conservative." (Regulations: the first refuge of the liberal.) He feared that the web would lead us away from the pre-web diversity in news opinion. But Sunstein, like Time, fails to recognize that what they cite as unbiased or mainstream news is neither unbiased nor diverse. Indeed, anyone who gets their news from the NYT and Peter Jennings has secured an ideology-affirming loop just as effective as any selective web browser. Liberals seem very concerned about the web, presumably because they maintain a position of relative dominance in the print and broadcast media (outside of say, Fox), but do not appear to have any such stranglehold on the blogosphere.

Aside from failing to take into account the fact that most readers I know scan a reasonable variety of weblogs from the left and the right, the Time/Sunstein article also fails to take into account the news aggregation function of blogs. On any given day, readers of this page will see articles from a wide variety of publications linked which they otherwise may not have seen. The articles may be from left, right, or moderate publications or writers. This news aggregator function is common to blogs, and I believe contributes to the popularity of blogs as a news medium.

Slanted Poll

While I do not get to see polls as often as most readers, I have observed that most polls have indicated something of a statistical dead heat (within the margin of error) for some time. Then out of the blue comes the LA Times poll [free registration required] showing Kerry with a 7-point lead in a head-to-head race with Bush. Anytime a poll is that far outside the mainstream of polling data, questions about methodology should be asked. In this case, Drudge, citing an article from Roll Call (which does not appear to be available to non-subscribers), reports that "Not counting independents, the Times’ results were calculated on a sample made up of 38 percent Democrats and 25 percent Republicans -- a huge and unheard-of margin." Given that skewed sample set, the only surprise is that Kerry’s lead was only 7 points.

Hamas struggling

An interesting article from the Jerusalem Post on Israel’s interception of a major suicide attack by Hamas. These kind of successful actions - combined with the security fence, more effective targeted killings of terrorist leaders, international acceptance of Sharon’s disengagement plan, and Egyptian pressure on the Palestinian factions - continue to shift the dynamic on the ground in favor of a pullout that will leave Israel stronger and Hamas unable to claim victory.

Bashman on Newdows and Recusals

Howard Bashman of How Appealing asks "How many Justices will need to recuse themselves from the next challenge to the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to reach the U.S. Supreme Court?" In retrospect, he writes, "it was absurd for Justice Antonin Scalia to have recused himself from the Pledge of Allegiance case." His argument is worth repeating:

And what about the Chief Justice and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas? Those three members of the Court yesterday, in a case in which a majority held that jurisdiction was lacking to reach the merits of the establishment clause question, issued opinions in which they stated that they would reject an establishment clause challenge to the Pledge in its current form. Will those three Justices need to recuse from the next Pledge case to reach the Court? If not, how is their prior commitment to a result different from Justice Scalia’s? And won’t it be easier, as a theoretical matter, for Justice Scalia to reach a result that differs from his public statement than it will be for the other three Justices to renounce their formal judicial opinions issued yesterday?

Check out his analysis of yesterday’s Supreme Court action.

And for more on Newdow, check out The Volokh Conspiracy’s answer to: Why did the Court agree to hear the Pledge case,given the standing problem? Didn’t they know that this was an issue?


Staying the course

...on stem-cells. From Inside Politics:

The White House yesterday rejected calls from Ronald Reagan’s family and others to relax President Bush’s restrictions on stem-cell research in pursuit of cures for illnesses.

Whose side are the journalists on?

Mac Owens has a few words to say about media-military relations.

Disrupting oil supplies

This four page post from Belmont Club (including some charts and graphs) is very much worth reading. Consider what is happening in Saudi Arabia. Are terrorists trying to overthrow the regime? Or, do they have something even more mischievious in mind; possibly wanting to disrupt the flow of oil? (I hasten to add that both can be done at once). Belmont Club shows that Asia is even more dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf than we are (see the charts). Also, and especially, note the listing of "choke points" (Bab el-Mandab, Bosporus, etc.) that are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and taking out any of them would not be good. "Except for the Russian oil pipelines and the Panama Canal, which has been excluded from this list, nearly all the oil chokepoints are in regions where groups like Al Qaeda can be expected to operate. But although the dependence on oil is global, the defense of these strategic corridors has not been internationalized."  

More on Europe

Chrenkoff has some useful links relating to the vote in Europe, who is putting what spin on it, and what it really means. You might also want to check out his Good news from Iraq segment. Very thoughtful and useful.

"I’m running for President because..."

It seems folks don’t know why John Kerry wants to be President. ABC News reports that Kerry has adopted a new five word campaign slogan not unlike the one our candidates for high school student council used to use: "I’m running for president because..." So far, Kerry’s come up with

"I’m running for president to put America back to work ... I’m running for president because health care is not a benefit for the wealthy or the elected or the connected ... I’m running for president because I know that we could be a hell of a lot stronger in the world if we were to secure our freedom ... I’m running for president because I believe we can build an even more effective military."
Sounds a lot like he wants longer study halls and more pop machines.

Blogs and their value

Time magazine runs this piece on blogs. It is, unsurprisingly, a bit snobbish, but I thought it’s worth bringing to your attention. This passes for deep thought at Time: "We may be in the golden age of blogging, a quirky Camelot moment in Internet history when some guy in his underwear with too much free time can take down a Washington politician. It will be interesting to see what role blogs play in the upcoming election. Blogs can be a great way of communicating, but they can keep people apart too. If I read only those of my choice, precisely tuned to my political biases and you read only yours, we could end up a nation of political solipsists, vacuum sealed in our private feedback loops, never exposed to new arguments, never having to listen to a single word we disagree with."

Here is an example of a very useful blog, Chronicallybiased, out of Houston. It is "devoted to keeping an eye on the biases and errors of Houston’s only major daily newspaper.

We believe that the Houston Chronicle suffers from both partisan bias and from poor journalistic practices. We believe that news coverage is often slanted to reflect the liberal biases of editorial staff, and we believe that the editors are more concerned about promoting a political agenda than fairly covering the news important to Houstonians and Texans." Go to it!

Robert D. Kaplan interview

This is an interview with Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic. He was embedded with the Marines in Fallujah. His insights are quite interesting, both large and small. While he thinks that giving up Fallujah was a mistake, he maintains that the real work--and war--was in the South (as I have maintained) and there we did everything we needed to do.  

Two aristocracies

Although there is nothing shocking or new in this thoughtful David Brooks column, it is worth reading. He argues that there is a civil war within the educated class, between professionals and managers, members of the knowledge class vs. members of the business class. EDach has a different view of what sort of people should run the country, and which virtues are most important for a leader. Largely true, I think, but another point should be added: the manager types are, in my opinion, less interested in "running" the country (and less interested in the honor therefrom). This explains, in part, why members of the knowledge class are so arrogant, they do view members of the business class as simple minded, uncultured morons, whereas the business class doesn’t think the others are inferior, just decadent. One is an intellectual judgment, the other moral.

Two new slave narratives

The New York Times reveals that two journals of ex-slaves have recently been discovered. One was written by John Washington, and the other by Wallace Turnage. Both men escaped to Union lines during the war. David W. Blight, the Yale historian plans to publish both. Good story of where the mansucripts have been, and how they were discovered.  

What We Learned

Gleaves Whitney had these reflections on what we learned last week in our remembrance of Reagan. A sample:

With the burial of Ronald Reagan last Friday, a remarkable week in our nation’s history drew to a close. Or did it? In looking back, have we not been inspired to go forward? In remembering Reagan’s life, are we not prouder Americans? Is not our vision clearer? Our step crisper?


Naming Mongolians

Mongolians now need surnames, after more than 80 years without one. Why? "For more than 80 years, everyone in Mongolia was on a first-name basis. After seizing power in the early 1920s, the Mongolian Communists destroyed all family names in a campaign to eliminate the clan system, the hereditary aristocracy and the class structure." A new law in 1997 required everyone to have surnames. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Borjigin, the tribal name of Genghis Khan has become very popular. All this is a bit weird, to be sure. But also kind of amusing. Read it, from The Globe and Mail.

EU Parliamentary election

The EU elections indicate a real problem with this emerging (or, stillborn?) new Leviathan state: Fewer and fewer are interested and the opposition parties make huge gains. This BBC reveals the mess that the EU folks find themselves in; especially note some of the quotes from pro-EU politicians. Example: "Outgoing European Parliament President Pat Cox described the results as a ’wake-up call’ and warned European leaders that they had to demonstrate the EU’s relevance to voters." In other words the voters don’t consider it relevant, so now we have to persuade them, meaning we haven’t yet done so. Revealing. Also see this for drubbing that the German Socialists took, the biggest losers. Here is a Reuters report on the complications that Labour losses has caused for Tony Blair. Labour won only 23% of the vote, compared with 27% for the Conservatives and the Independence (anti-EU) Party got 17%.

Somali charged

A Somali man living in Ohio was charged with plotting with al Qaeda supporters to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio, Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Monday.
According to an indictment unsealed in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, Nuradin Abdi, 32, attended a camp in Ethiopia for military-style training in "preparation for violent jihad."

Ashcroft said after receiving his training in Africa, Abdi returned to the United States and he and others "initiated a plot" to blow up a Columbus area shopping mall.

President Unveils Official Portraits of the Clintons

For those interested, here are the remarks of President Bush as he hosted the unveiling of the portraits of former President William Jefferson Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House, today. Much levity filled the room as Bush regaled his audience with stories about Bill and Hillary. Representative excerpt:

"As you might know, my father and I have decided to call each other by numbers. (Laughter.) He’s 41, I’m 43. It’s a great honor to -- it’s a great pleasure to honor number 42. We’re glad you’re here, 42. (Applause.) The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man. As a candidate for any office, whether it be the state attorney general or the President, Bill Clinton showed incredible energy and great personal appeal. As chief executive, he showed a deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit the Americans like in a President. Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead -- and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer.

Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow

Here’s the Court’s ruling on the pledge of allegiance case, which reverses the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling for Newdow’s lack of standing. From the syllabus:

Because California law deprives Newdow of the right to sue as next friend, he lacks prudential standing to challenge the school district’s policy in federal court. The standing requirement derives from the constitutional and prudential limits to the powers of an unelected, unrepresentative judiciary.

Although Rehnquist, O’Connor, and Thomas agreed with Stevens’s unanimous decision that the lower court ruling be reversed, they did not agree that Newdow lacked standing. Hence, in their separate concurrences they argued that the case should have been heard on the merits and gave their respective reasons for what the Court should have held in the case. Rehnquist’s concurrence, joined by O’Connor and Thomas insofar as it argued for a decision on the case’s merits (Scalia recused himself), argued:

I do not believe that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge converts its recital into a “religious exercise” of the sort described in Lee [v. Weisman (1992), Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the court]. Instead, it is a declaration of belief in allegiance and loyalty to the United States flag and the Republic that it represents. The phrase “under God” is in no sense a prayer, nor an endorsement of any religion, but a simple recognition of the fact noted in H. R. Rep. No. 1693, at 2: “From the time of our earliest history our peoples and our institutions have reflected the traditional concept that our Nation was founded on a fundamental belief in God.” Reciting the Pledge, or listening to others recite it, is a patriotic exercise, not a religious one; participants promise fidelity to our flag and our Nation, not to any particular God, faith, or church.

O’Connor considered the pledge an instance of "ceremonial deism." Due to its history and ubiquity, the absence of worship or prayer or reference to a particular religion, and minimal religious content, it does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Thomas argued that

as a matter of our precedent, the Pledge policy is unconstitutional. I believe, however, that Lee [v. Weisman] was wrongly decided. Lee depended on a notion of “coercion” that, as I discuss below, has no basis in law or reason. The kind of coercion implicated by the Religion Clauses is that accomplished “by force of law and threat of penalty.” 505 U.S., at 640 (Scalia, J., dissenting); see id., at 640—645. Peer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion.

But Thomas went on to argue that rejecting the 1992 Lee precedent was not enough to decide this case, for school attendance is mandatory in California. He continued, "Because what is at issue is a state action, the question becomes whether the Pledge policy implicates a religious liberty right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment." Accepting that the Free Exercise clause applies to the states through the 14th Amendment because it "clearly protects an individual right," Thomas does not accept that the Establishment Clause applies in the same way. Its history shows that it is "a federalism provision intended to prevent Congress from interfering with state establishments," which makes incorporating the establishment clause nonsensical. "Quite simply," Thomas concluded, "the Establishment Clause is best understood as a federalism provision–-it protects state establishments from federal interference but does not protect any individual right."

So, three justices have taken the opportunity of the Court’s refusal to rule explicitly on the constitutionality of the pledge of allegiance to stake out their respective lines of reasoning for a future case involving an alleged establishment of religion. Justice Kennedy rests easy for the time being.

Supremes Say No to Newdow (for Now)

CNN reports that the Supreme Court ruled (8-0, Stevens argued the Court) against ruling on the pledge of allegiance case because of the on-going custody battle involving the daughter of Michael Newdow. Excerpt from the article:

"When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome of the case, but still wrote separately to say that the Pledge as recited by schoolchildren does not violate the Constitution. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas agreed with him.

No link yet available (a/o 11:28 am EST) to the actual ruling of the Court.

Bulldozing Kurds

On Friday, the fourth platoon traveled to Shoraw Village to perform an initial assessment and thereby to ascertain the village’s basic needs. Shoraw is Kurdish, and contained about 150 families. We quickly learned that the village had not always been located here, but was originally located about 1 kilometer from where we stood. Shoraw moved after Saddam destroyed it, not once, but three times. After the previous two attempts to dislocate the village, the people had moved back and rebuilt, but not the third time. The older members of the village, including the former muqtar who had lost sight in one eye following a beating by Saddam’s soldiers, wanted to return their village to its prior location. We therefore traveled with them to view the old village. The land adjacent to the old village was good, expansive, and fit for farming, but there was little left of the old village itself but evidence of Saddam’s malice. The buildings, which were the mud brick homes common to this region, had clearly been bulldozed.

This was but another severe example of Saddam’s treatment of the Kurds. I have met Kurds from many villages that were displaced due to Arabization, a process in which Kurdish property was taken and given to Arabs. If the Kurds were lucky enough to keep their land, they would receive very little in the way of public services. The treatment is so obvious that you can tell whether a village is Kurdish or Arab before you meet the people: all you have to do is look at the wiring for the city. Arab villages typically have concrete and steel electrical towers running power to the homes. Kurdish villages, by contrast, will often have poor quality wires running from makeshift tree-posts. In Iraq, the municipal services for villages are provided by government offices in the large cities. Kurdish villages in this region at one time had received their services from Kirkuk, which was amenable to providing services to Kurds. Saddam remedied this by shifting the villages to the jurisdiction of his hometown of Tikrit, thereby assuring that services were functionally cut off.

Yet for all of Saddam’s ill-will, he inadvertently did much to assure the long-term success of the Kurds. Iraq operated essentially as a communist state under Saddam. Fuel, electricity, and a large portion of an average family’s food were provided by the state. Employment was contingent on party membership, and in many cases amounted to patronage dispensed by the state. The Kurds enjoyed few of these advantages and services, and therefore were forced to develop higher levels of self-sufficiency. Now that the shackles of dictatorship have been lifted and opportunity is available for those who are willing claim it, many individuals in the Arab communities appear ill-equipped to take initiative. By contrast, the Kurds, who have been forced by circumstance to be self-sufficient, are taking advantage of new found opportunities to better their lives. Thus, by favoring the Arabs, Saddam habituated character traits in the Arab community essential to those living under a tyrant—strong loyalty and weak initiative. But in the Kurdish community, his actions taught the people how to take care of themselves—a useful skill for those who seek in democratic fashion to rule rather than be ruled.

Chicago Meets Tuz

While most Americans think of oil when they think of Iraq, the average Iraqi depends on farming rather than fuel for their livelihood. Bernstein, like many bases, is surrounded by farms. On occasion, tracer rounds from the firing range, or illumination mortars will fall into the local fields causing fire damage. The military will then pay the farmers for their lost crops.

I recently went out with 4th platoon to meet with a group of farmers whose fields had burned. Negotiating with the farmers was complicated. Aside from the language barrier (which is eased although not fully eliminated by the use of interpreters), there are different units of measure: the local farmers use “donum” (I am guessing the spelling) rather than acres as units. And then there is a certain level of dishonesty/greed. For the farmers, having their fields burned by the Americans is like hitting the lottery, and so they try to stretch their damages out as far as they can. Even after the fields have been measured by the odometer in Humvees, and the burned area has been found (generously) to extend about .6 kilometers, the farmer will look you in the eye and tell you that the damaged field is 1.8 kilometers long, a number which later became 18 kilometers. After much discussion, Lt. Naum, with the assistance of Sgt. Mattocks and Spc. Barrett (both of whom have farming experience), was able to get the farmers to agree both to a price per donum, and to a number of donums destroyed. When he multiplied out the cost times unit to arrive at a total, however, the farmers balked. When asked in the alternative how much it was worth, they began an endless loop of saying how many farmers owned the field, and how poor they were. This went on for some time, with troopers asking the simple question of how much they would get if they took these crops to the market, and the farmers responding that there were six farmers who owned the land.

It is worth noting that the farmers were really entitled to very little. It appeared that most of the fields in the area had already been harvested, and so it was difficult to establish any actual damages. (Those readers who are lawyers or are in law school should recall fondly the “Stacks and Flax” cases arising from crop damage during the early days of the railroad.) Indeed, I quipped to Lt. Naum and Sfc. Hutton that under Chicago economic theory, the farmers owed the military money, because they had received a net benefit in the form of fertilizer for next year’s crops—a true enough statement that nonetheless would do little for the hearts and minds. Sfc. Hutton joked that the farmers should learn about eminent domain, in which the government seizes property and compels the party to accept bare minimum market value for the seized land. In what was the line of the day, he recognized that we wouldn’t do that, of course, because the US government only does that to its own citizens.

After lengthy negotiations, Lt. Naum said that unless they would actually name a price—something they had refused to do—in two minutes, then he was leaving. He set his stopwatch, and sure enough, the farmers finally were able to get past reiterating the number of farmers and respond with a price which was remarkably close to the offer price. The exchange reaffirmed something I had found down in Baghdad, which is that the education system in Iraq was so broken that many Iraqis have trouble with simple math. When the parties agreed to the unit cost and number of units, it should have been obvious how much the total would be, but they were clearly surprised when the magic of multiplication revealed it to them. What is true of math is also true of reading and writing. When a recent class of ICDC recruits was interviewed about their skill levels in various areas, approximately 80% attested to being illiterate.

Tension between Iranian hardliners and Iraqi Shi’a

According to an article in the web-based Iran Press Service, there are growing tensions between the ruling mullahs in Iran and Shi’ite groups in Iraq, including the Supreme Assembly for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), a formerly pro-Iranian group led by Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim and once based in Iran. In its desire to cause trouble for the US, Iran helped al-Sadr in his now failed power grab, which undoubtedly irritated other Shi’ite leaders like Al-Hakim and Sistani and threatened to harm the position of the Shi’ites as a whole with the US.

As the article makes clear, the Shi’a need the US to achieve their fundamental political goal: to ensure that the Iraqi Shi’a are never again in a powerless position to be dominated and persecuted by others. This goal explains their sometimes contradictory attitudes and actions toward the US: attacking the US "occupation" while clearly helping our forces against Al-Sadr; denouncing Coalition actions in Fallujah while panicking when the US allowed a former Saddam general (and a Sunni) to try to pacify the area; and cautiously supporting the Kurds’ desire for regional autonomy so long as it doesn’t threaten the idea of Iraq as one country governed by a democratic majority. The Shi’ites’ guiding interest makes them difficult at times and certainly not unabashedly pro-US like the Kurds, but it also gives the Coalition a real ground of negotiation and even cooperation with them in the difficult days coming with the transfer of sovereignty.

Our Friends the Iranians

Iran Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi recently was quoted by the AP as saying "Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club. This is an irreversible path." This is yet another reason for the U.S. to have a strong military presence is the Middle East. Negotiations with Iran, like our recent negotiations with Libya, will undoubtedly take a different tone with over 100,000 U.S. troops poised in the region.