Saturday, January 28, 2006


In a few minutes I'm heading out to Agadir, Morocco for a week to grab a breath before my new semester starts. MM should keep the blog fire going intermittenly throughout the week. I'll check you in a week. Later.

Continue Reading...

Another One Slain

Another Iraqi labor leader has been murdered. Find out more here.

Continue Reading...

Niche Marketing

Friday, January 27, 2006

Sucks To Be Him

Deal With It

A decent backgrounder on political Islam.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

O' Who Forgot the Rib?

Currently I reside in St. Andrews, Scotland while I get my master's in International Security Studies. All the time I have to hear from non-Americans how stupid we are. Today, all you Brits have ceded the right to do that anymore.

Continue Reading...

Scary Implications

Over at Slate, Ha'aretz's U.S. Daily Correspondent Shmuel Rosner writes forbiddingly on what the domestic effects of Hamas' victory will mean for Israeli politics:
And as for Israeli politics, the new Kadima Party, formed by Ariel Sharon and now headed by his successor Ehud Olmert, indirectly benefited from yesterday's vote. Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing leader of the Likud Party, started to attack Olmert even before the Palestinian results were publicized, claiming that Hamas' success was the result of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza. Netanyahu will probably win some votes with this argument, but it's hard to project a Likud victory over a party that preaches unilateralism. Olmert will have the upper hand since he can say: We told you there was no partner for peace; we told you that now is not the right time for a negotiated settlement; we told you we need to decide for ourselves what to do—so let's keep at it. The world will have to encourage him and give him all the help he needs. The only alternative is war. (my itl.)

Continue Reading...

Illiberal Democracy

With the probable rise of ultra-illiberal democratic politics in the Palestinian territories, we have our own little foray into exclusive, particularist politics in Virgina also today. The Virginian state Senate approved sending a referendum banning same-sex marriage to the public. Just goes to show you that democracy doesn't always protect minority rights of liberty and equality.

Certainly, Virginia's gay community should put up a fight, but they could also vote with their feet, moving to more inclusive and tolerant states and communities that value their contributions. Come to my closest hometown of Philly or for that matter, New Hope, Bucks County.

It would be the perfect sociological experiment to prove the theory of Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University, who's famous for his argument of the creative class -- gays, artists, etc -- who bring their talents to diverse, inclusive, and tolerant spaces. Check it out at my old stomping grounds, The Washington Monthly.

Continue Reading...

Moral Reason

Arch-athiest and Tufts University Professor Daniel C. Dennett shows up again this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, where he argues any religious person who holds moral beliefs and is unwilling to open them to rational argument has forfeited her right to the discussion. Dennett does a good job of anchoring his argument in everyday axioms and situations. Sorry for the length.
Surely just about everybody has faced a moral dilemma and secretly wished, "If only somebody — somebody I trusted — could tell me what to do!" Wouldn't that be morally inauthentic? Aren't we responsible for making our own moral decisions? Yes, but the virtues of "do it yourself" moral reasoning have their limits, and if you decide, after conscientious consideration, that your moral decision is to delegate further moral decisions in your life to a trusted expert, then you have made your own moral decision. You have decided to take advantage of the division of labor that civilization makes possible and get the help of expert specialists.

We applaud the wisdom of that course in all other important areas of decision making (don't try to be your own doctor, the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, and so forth). Even in the case of political decisions, like which way to vote, the policy of delegation can be defended. When my wife and I go to a town meeting, I know that she has studied the issues so much more assiduously than I that I routinely follow her lead, voting the way she tells me. Even if I'm not sure why, I have plenty of evidence for my conviction that, if we did take the time and energy to thrash it all out, she'd persuade me that, all things considered, her opinion was correct. Is that a dereliction of my duties as a citizen? I don't think so, but it does depend on my having good grounds for trusting her judgment. Love is not enough.

That's why those who have an unquestioning faith in the correctness of the moral teachings of their religion are a problem: If they haven't conscientiously considered, on their own, whether their pastors or priests or rabbis or imams are worthy of such delegated authority over their lives, then they are taking a personally immoral stand.

That is perhaps the most shocking implication of my inquiry into the role religion plays in our lives, and I do not shrink from it, even though it may offend many who think of themselves as deeply moral. It is commonly supposed that it is entirely exemplary to adopt the moral teachings of one's own religion without question because — to put it simply — it is the word of God (as interpreted, always, by the specialists to whom one has delegated authority). I am urging, on the contrary, that anybody who professes that a particular point of moral conviction is not discussable, not debatable, not negotiable, simply because it is the word of God, or because the Bible says so, or because "that is what all Muslims (Hindus, Sikhs...) believe, and I am a Muslim (Hindu, Sikh...)" should be seen to be making it impossible for the rest of us to take their views seriously, excusing themselves from the moral conversation, inadvertently acknowledging that their own views are not conscientiously maintained and deserve no further hearing.

The argument is straightforward. Suppose I have a friend, Fred, who is (in my carefully considered opinion) always right. If I tell you I'm against stem-cell research because "my friend Fred says it's wrong, and that's all there is to it," you will just look at me as if I were missing the point of the discussion. I have not given you a reason that, in good faith, I could expect you to appreciate. Suppose you believe that stem-cell research is wrong because God has told you so. Even if you are right — that is, even if God does exist and has, personally, told you that stem-cell research is wrong — you cannot reasonably expect others who do not share your faith or experience to accept that as a reason. The fact that your faith is so strong that you cannot do otherwise just shows (if you really can't) that you are disabled for moral persuasion, a sort of robotic slave to a meme that you are unable to evaluate. And if you reply that you can, but you won't consider reasons for and against your conviction (because it is God's word, and it would be sacrilegious even to consider whether it might be in error), you avow your willful refusal to abide by the minimal conditions of rational discussion. Either way, your declarations of your deeply held views are posturings that are out of place, part of the problem, not part of the solution, and we others will just have to work around you as best we can.
One of the first gaffs of reasoning you learn in Logic 101 is the fallacy of the appeal to a higher authority. How can you possibly know your priest's interpretation of scripture is correct? Should we all just follow the President's lead because he's the President?

The problem with many religions is that even questioning Yahweh or Allah is tantamount to treason and comes with weighty consequences. Before the door of free thought is even opened, it's nailed shut from the outside. Nevertheless, people who cannot be persuaded into open discussion of the most critical of moral issues due to their absolute belief in divine revelations have to be marginalized from decision making processes. We can't hold all their hands until they have the courage to make that "leap of faith" toward reason. Shit has to get done. Besides, how valuable is someone's opinion if it goes something like this.
"Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed due to homosexuality. God hates fags. Therefore homosexuality is an affront to God and cannot be made legal. And God forbid if they are allowed to adopt."
Is this a crude and simplistic rendition of redneckian logic? Sure. (But I have heard it exactly like this before.)

Democracy itself, assumes that its citizenry is well-educated and well-versed in using reason. For many Founding Fathers like Jefferson, man's ability to reason was God's greatest gift. It separated us from all of creation. It made us adaptive and resilient. This is partially Dennett's point when he concludes:
It is time for the reasonable adherents of all faiths to find the courage and stamina to reverse the tradition that honors helpless love of God — in any tradition. Far from being honorable, it is not even excusable. It is shameful. Here is what we should say to people who follow such a tradition: There is only one way to respect the substance of any purported God-given moral edict. Consider it conscientiously in the full light of reason, using all the evidence at our command. No God pleased by displays of unreasoning love is worthy of worship.
If God was pleased by unreasoning love then also democracy would be null and void, which is why, Islamists such as bin Laden believe democracy is an affront to Allah, because it is the people through their representatives that make the law, not god. This necessary leads to this corollary: Democracy depends on free men, subjugated to no one, whether that be on earth or in heaven.

Can you be a religious person and still believe in democracy? Sure, in a way, but it also means you've opted publicly for man's law and not god's law to discipline society. It means you've made the wise decision that your religion is a private matter that you don't need to bludgeon the rest of us with. Besides, you can rest assure that while you spend eternity in bliss, us infidels will be burning in hell.

For me, it's a fair trade off for freedom.

Continue Reading...

Hamas Wins

The Palestinian PM and cabinet have conceded that Fatah -- Palestine's majority party -- has indeed lost to Hamas. Via the Guardian:
Results are not due until this evening, but a senior official for Fatah - the formerly dominant force in Palestinian politics - conceded that the party had lost its majority in parliament.

The prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, said the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, would have to ask Hamas to form the next government.

"This is the choice of the people. It should be respected," Mr Qureia said as he announced his resignation.

Polls predicted a Hamas-Fatah coalition as the most likely outcome of the vote, but officials from both parties give Hamas between 70 and 75 MPs in the 132-seat parliament.
WaPo has more coverage here.

Whether or not this will be a tectonic shift in Israeli-Palestinian politics owes largely to whether Hamas will moderate its view of Israel and concede it has the right to exist. But don't bet on it. Hamas may take their victory as evidence they now have a mandate and that the Palestinian people want the destruction of Israel. Let's hope they don't spend this political capital wildly.

For a roundup of the international media's view of these historic elections check out WaPo blogger Jefferson Morley.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Too Many Freedom Fries

It seems the French are inhaling too many Royales with cheese. The French are getting fat. And the not the kind of fat like "Baby your butt doesn't look fat in those jeans," but the kind of fat that makes your jeans button turn into a missile harmful to small children because it can't contain the pudge any longer.
While adult obesity is rising about 6 percent annually, among children the national rate of growth is 17 percent. At that rate, the French could be - quelle horreur - as fat as Americans by 2020. (More than 65 percent of the population in the United States is considered overweight or obese.)
Ah,you see, no matter how much each country loves to hate each other, we're just so damn alike.

Now put down the fries and give us a French kiss. You know you want to.

Continue Reading...

Love and Charity: The Staples of Any Good Encyclical

Pope Benedict XVI says we should love more and help the poor. Deep stuff. I thought we should hate more while being niggardly toward neighbors. But hey, it's better than bashing gays and exporting pedophiles to a parish near you.

Continue Reading...

Call for Intervention

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan pleads for international intervention by the U.N. Security Council in Darfur in a WaPo editorial today. There has been positive developments. The African Union (AU) has sent a small sized contingent of about 5,000 troops to patrol Texas-sized territory amid peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebel movement moderated by the AU. The UN Security Council has also referred Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Yet, enough hasn't been done.

Annan elaborates:
I wish I could report that all these efforts had borne fruit -- that Darfur was at peace and on the road to recovery. Alas, the opposite is true. People in many parts of Darfur continue to be killed, raped and driven from their homes by the thousands. The number displaced has reached 2 million, while 3 million (half the total population of Darfur) are dependent on international relief for food and other basics. Many parts of Darfur are becoming too dangerous for relief workers to reach. The peace talks are far from reaching a conclusion. And fighting now threatens to spread into neighboring Chad, which has accused Sudan of arming rebels on its territory.
While international intervention seems legitimate and warranted in Darfur, the inevitable question arises: Are we already too late?

Also, will France, Germany and Russia allow the U.S. to join and further blow holes in the norm of state sovereignty? Can intervention even occur without U.S. participation? And is the U.S. public and military forces even ready for another intervention, however different it is from Iraq?

My pessimism runs deep on these questions.

Continue Reading...

A Principled Export?

A year has passed since President Bush declared U.S. foreign policy would favor democracy promotion.
We have seen our vulnerability - and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny - prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder - violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
Today WaPo's Peter Baker assesses what progress has been made in that neoconservative Wilsonian venture.
Bush redefined U.S. foreign policy in his second inaugural address to make the spread of democracy the nation's primary mission, the clarion-call language has resonated in the dungeons and desolate corners of the world. But soaring rhetoric has often clashed with geopolitical reality and competing U.S. priorities.

While the administration has enjoyed notable success in promoting liberty in some places, it has applied the speech's principles inconsistently in others... Beyond its focus on Iraq, Washington has stepped up pressure on repressive regimes in countries such as Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe -- where the costs of a confrontation are minimal -- while still gingerly dealing with China, Pakistan, Russia and other countries with strategic and trade significance.
Intangibles such as freedom tend to cede in favor of the "national interest" when the two clash, but I have to say I was pretty damn supportive of the President's speech that cold January day, whereas my liberal friends gave guff and sulked. My fear was that it was only mere rhetoric, to be paraded out when convenient and retracted quietly when it was not. While this has been the case with larger, more strategic states such as China, Pakistan, and Russia -- where national interests trump idealistic concerns -- the Bush Administration has been more rigid with weaker, more obscure states in the hinterland of international consciousness. There, authoritarian elites must give pause before they irk the world's lone superpower as increased U.S. attention boisters the enthusiasm and heart of the democratic opposition. The U.S. should rachet up this pressure and demonstrate to the masses of these countries that we will support them if they stand up united against their oppressors. To do this, an ideological shift away from the sepulchral realism of Kissinger in DC must occur, which the Iraq debate between liberal interventionalists and realists and neoconservatives and isolationalists shows is happening.

So if Bush's presidency pushes U.S. foreign policy toward being a bulwark for freedom more so than a cynical guarantor of the status quo, then I will have to give this President my grudging respect. But this depends on whether Iraq falls to the new jackals or survives, stabilizes, and democratizes. The outcome will be the litmus test for a foreign policy of freedom. All those who love freedom therefore must wish the U.S. and the Iraqi people well, for this may be the experiment to end all experiments in democracy promotion abroad. Hopefully, the Bush Administration and the next president can recover from the ill-planning that has continually hurt the chances of a successful, democratic Iraq emerging in the Middle East.

We will see.

UPDATE: LD Worldwide has a more pessimistic take on Bush democracy promotion if you're interested.

Continue Reading...

Iraq's Professional Diaspora

Yesterday's WaPo has a distressing article describing Iraq's brain drain. Professionals are being targeted by thugs and terrorists for kidnapping and worse, resulting in an exodus of Iraq's most intelligent and experienced citizens. The most anguishing quote comes from the wife of an Iraqi businessman, Um Mustafa:
I've been through four wars. I never, never felt like leaving before...Now, life in Iraq has become unsafe. I don't feel safe in my own bedroom -- or in the whole country.
Human capital maybe the most important asset a society has, if Iraq loses theirs, what chance does it have of becoming a middle-class democratizing country? Worse,the NYTs was reporting yesterday that:
The first official history of the $25 billion American reconstruction effort in Iraq depicts a program hobbled from the outset by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting, secrecy and constantly increasing security costs, according to a preliminary draft.
These two articles demonstrate that we are consistently failing our moral obligations to Iraq's population. Can they ever trust the U.S. again?

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Mob Thinketh

I'm currently reading eminent historian Eric Foner's Tom Paine and Revolutionary America and I came across this quote from "Gouverneur Morris at a mass meeting in New York in 1774":
the mob begin to think and reason.
What a beautiful backhanded compliment in a way. Opponents of democracy across all historical epochs believed it to be a dreadful state of affairs where the rabble would go rabid and raze civilization. So Morris' insight is quite significant. He -- a member of the colonial elite -- understood that the times were a changing and that the masses of humanity weren't going to be pliant pawns in elite machinations any longer. Better yet, he also understood -- however paternalistically and fearfully -- that the lower sorts were as equal in mind as any aristocrat or merchant. When the idea that all humanity has reason and has a constitution disposed toward liberty is set free, it kindles a conflagration. However conservative he would certainly be by today's standards, Gouverneur Morris fanned those flames along with the other Founding Fathers and the experiment still burns strong as it spreads the world over.

Continue Reading...

Monday, January 23, 2006

We're Not Alone

If anyone missed the NYTs Mag's "Animal Self" piece, you just have to check it out. Light-hearted prose combined with rigorous, empirical evidence makes Charles Siebert's work the best I've read this year. Here's just a smidge off the tip of the spoon:
A big-city aquarium after closing hours is an eerie, spectral place. With the lights turned down in the empty viewing galleries, the luminous dioramas of the different fish fairly swell against your senses, rendering you the viewed and startled captive, adrift in your own natural medium, in a literal suspension of disbelief. "Help yourself," Sal Munoz, a night-shift biologist at the Seattle Aquarium, told me one night this past fall, pointing to the huge 12-foot-high glass tank in which the subject of my specially arranged private encounter that evening resided: a 70-pound giant Pacific octopus named Achilles.
If you like that, it just gets better and better. Let's just say descriptions of innate, separate and distinguishable personality types across the broad swath of the animal kingdom makes me feel incredibly guilty for going carnivore again. But then again, Vincent Vega said it best, "Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood."

Arnold from Green Acres beware, however charming you maybe, you look good on my barby.

Continue Reading...

Down and Out

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Stolen Childhoods

Christopher Hitchens has a haunting piece for Vanity Fair on Uganda's "night commuters" -- children moving from village to town underneath darkness for fear of being impressed into the nightmarish world of the Lord's Resistance Army. As is the norm today, this social phenomena is another outgrowth of the interplay between religious fanaticism and self-interest embodied in the LRA's miscreant leader Joseph Kony.

This is a great piece of work that demands to be read.

Continue Reading...

God's Funeral And Our Own

The NYTs Mag has a nice little interview with arch-atheist Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University. Dennett will hear nothing of a magisterial creator that endowed us with life in his own image. He owes the religious impulse to something genetic in man. For him, evolution, not Ecclesiastes, is a better explanation for why we look to the sky and see purpose pitched so beautifully up yonder.

What does Dennett think about God, you may wonder? His answer is as curt as it is refreshing considering the way most public intellectuals sidestep questions about religion and the all-mighty.
Certainly the idea of a God that can answer prayers and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world - that's a hopeless idea. There is no such thing.
Or what about answered prayers? I mean sometimes people pray really hard for something, and wa-la, it happens.
We have a built-in, very potent hair-trigger tendency to find agency in things that are not agents, like snow falling off the roof.
Isn't it funny today how people believe in prayer as opposed to ancient rituals calling on the gods for rain. While one is adhered to by many, many Americans, its ancient corollary would be laughed off as primitive and nonsensical.

Religious belief ultimately boils down to fear. Fear of chaos. Fear of death. Fear, yes, of life itself. Dennett puts his finger on what maybe is the enduring feature of belief:
When a person dies, we can't just turn that off. We go on thinking about that person as if that person were still alive. Our inability to turn off our people-seer and our people-hearer naturally turns into our hallucinations of ghosts, our sense that they are still with us.
When I really stop and think about God and religion and immortality, I always return to a poem published during the latter half of the 19th century after Darwin rocked religion to its core, yet before Nietzsche wrote his morbid sentence, "God is dead."

Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, produced at the height of the Victorian world's crisis of faith, understands how to live in a world with no God, however vulnerable, fleeting, and random that life becomes. His conclusion, which is the poem's last nine lines, is simple:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

In the end, all we have is each other -- and that isn't even assured. Therefore the choice is stark: we can either live alone and die alone or we can live together and die alone. It's a simple and unsettling dichotomy; nevertheless, it's true.

Continue Reading...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bin Laden Diplomacy

OBL has resurfaced with another audiotape directed at the American people. You can read excerpts from the TimesUK transcript here. For the full story from the TimesUK go here and for the NYTs story click here.

Right now, the only thing I can add is how peculiar it is that OBL dangles a "truce" before the U.S. and it's connected to rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if this isn't a PR stunt by OBL to show the Muslim community al-Qaeda cares for the Iraqi and Afghan people, even if the most spectacular attacks that primarily kill innocent civilians have come from al-Qaeda's Zarqawi in Iraq.

Also, let's not forget this new audiotape was aired one week after the January 13th strike in Pakistan that allegedly killed four high-ranking members of al-Qaeda's leadership. This is al-Qaeda's attempt to communicate the organization and the ideology is prospering despite the U.S.'s best efforts to defeat both of them and that more attacks are coming our way. I have no doubt al-Qaeda will strike on American soil again, but I also think we are winning this war against Islamic fanaticism. Whether or not we can all but bury it depends upon what happens in Iraq. Something OBL must understand. If not, he wouldn't concentrate on Iraqi reconstruction and American public opinion favoring withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraq is the keystone state in the Middle East. Bin Laden gets it, so should we.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Power Crap

Once again, our reactionary friends over at Power Line have broken the drivel scale with a flaccid indictment of Andrew Sullivan’s critique of Bush’s policy on “singing statements,” which in Sullivan’s words “spell out his own attitude to bills he signs.” President Bush isn’t the first commander in Chief to use signing statements. Sullivan explains a bit of the history.
Previous Presidents have sporadically issued signing statements, but seldom and mainly as boilerplate or spin. Until the 1980s, there had been just over a dozen in two centuries. The President's basic legislative weapon, after all, is the veto power given him by the founders. He can use the power as leverage to affect legislation or kill it. But he cannot legislate himself or interpret the law counter to Congress's intent. Signing statements were therefore relatively rare instances of presidential nuance or push-back. In eight years, Ronald Reagan used signing statements to challenge 71 legislative provisions, and Bill Clinton 105.
While Clinton used signing statements to challenge 105 provisions (no small number), Bush has used them to challenge over 500 in just five years in office. But that’s not the worst part, according to Sullivan.

[M]ore important than the number under Bush has been the systematic use of the statements and the scope of their content, asserting a very broad legal loophole for the Executive. Last December, for example, after a year of debate, the President signed the McCain amendment into law. In the wake of Abu Ghraib, the amendment banned all "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of U.S. military detainees. For months, the President threatened a veto. Then the Senate passed it 90 to 9. The House chimed in with a veto-proof majority. So Bush backed down, embraced McCain and signed it. The debate was over, right? That's how our democracy works, right?

Not according to this President. Although the meaning of the law was crystal clear and the Constitution says Congress has the exclusive power to "make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water," Bush demurred.

He issued a signing statement that read, "The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power."

Translation: If the President believes torture is warranted to protect the country, he'll violate the law and authorize torture. If the courts try to stop him, he'll ignore them too. This wasn't quibbling or spinning. Like the old English kings who insisted that Parliament could not tell them what to do, Bush all but declared himself above a law he signed. One professor who specializes in this constitutional area, Phillip J. Cooper of Portland State University in Oregon, has described the power grabs as "breathtaking."
Sullivan’s entire piece is worth reading. And there’s a kicker. Who do you think is responsible for ushering in the modern era of signing statements? Just guess.

Enter the right-wing presidential apologists at Power Line. These guys consistently blow my mind with their unabashed bias and half-baked analysis. I wouldn’t even read their blog except that I understand it to be fairly popular among members the right. I figure that if they’re influencing public debate, I should check in to see what they're saying every now and then.

Here's Power Line Paul’s assessment of presidential authority vis-à-vis signing statements.
So the issue is this -- what does the president do when Congress passes a law that he thinks may unconstitutionally infringe on his inherent powers as commander-in-chief? I'm no expert in this area, but it seems to me that the president has four options: (1) veto the law, (2) sign it but don't obey it, (3) sign it and obey it even when that means ceding his inherent authority to protect the country, and (4) sign it but state that he will construe the law in way that's consistent with his constitutional authority.

The second and third options don't seem very good, so that leaves the first and fourth -- a veto or a signing statement. If the law cannot plausibly be construed as constitutional, the president should exercise the veto option. Otherwise, the use of a signing statement seems to make sense.

But what if the legislation is veto proof? In that instance, the president ultimately has only three options, and the case for the signing statement is strong. The president would be acting far less democratically if he refused fully to enforce the law without signaling his intentions. And the president would be violating his oath to uphold the Constitution, to the detriment of the nation's security, if he failed to take measures to protect the country in deference to an act of Congress he thinks is unconstitutional.
So methodical and yet so wrong. By Paul’s logic, Congressional power to override a presidential veto (see Article I, Section VII of the U.S. Constitution) is essentially nullified. In an ideal world of Power Line politics, even a bill that passed unanimously in both houses of Congress could be rejected by the president. Hardly seems democratic does it? And as if stripping Congress of its enumerated power to override the president wasn’t enough, Paul implies that the president can ignore legislation which “he thinks is unconstitutional.” Apparently he wants to give the president the power of judicial review as well, a power which heretofore has rested with the Supreme Court.

My real issue with the Power Line argument about placing all federal power in the hands of the executive is that it is so clearly based on politics rather than principle. The radical right would destroy our system of government to support the will of our current president, but they don’t seem to see that an all powerful executive would be their greatest fear if a liberal president came to office. The whole point of a constitutional system is that it ensures (ok, encourages) fair governance despite changes in the political climate. Preserving the system is more valuable than pandering to the demands of any specific administration, period.


Continue Reading...

Cell Phone Manners

Wired's Tony Long goes all medieval on you obnoxious cellphone users everywhere. I especially like his take on ringtones.
Ditch the ring tone and put the phone on vibrate. The only person who cares about an incoming call on your phone is you. Don't worry, you'll feel it. (It feels go-o-o-od.) Most ring tones are not only intrusive, they're inane.
Besides no one wants to hear how unoriginal your musical tastes are anyhow. Seriously, anything that's available as a ringtone blows. It's that simple. It blows. I promise you.

His take on those self appointed jackasses of the world, blue tooth ear piece wearers, is also priceless.
You look like a crazy guy wandering down the street, the only difference being that a real crazy guy usually has something interesting to say.

Continue Reading...

1984 Chinese Style

Via the NYTs:
By day this small village in the midst of China's industrial heartland seems to be a picture of normalcy: children play in their yards, workers in uniform sweep the tidy streets and a red flag flutters proudly above an elementary school with a facade bearing a poster of the hero of Chinese economic reform, Deng Xiaoping.

But as evening approaches the streets fall eerily quiet, and if you look carefully at the cars that drive by every few minutes you see that they are filled with police officers, both uniformed and, unmistakably, plainclothes. Track down a resident, if you can find one, and that impression is confirmed.

"You'd better be gone before dark," one man told a stranger. "Pretty soon the police will be everywhere, and no one will dare go outside."

In an immediate sense this community, not long ago pure farmland and now the paved-over scene of runaway industrial sprawl, has experienced an extraordinary trauma in the last week. Villagers say two residents were killed, including a 13year-old girl, amid the muscular suppression of a local demonstration by policemen using electrified truncheons that resemble cattle prods.

Seen in another light, though, one that must be deeply worrying for the country's authorities, Panlong is anytown China, merely the latest example of protests and riots spreading through the countryside against injustices inflicted on those left behind by China's economic takeoff.

Just as the protests are becoming more and more common, so is the use of overwhelming force to put them down. A major threshold was crossed early last month in the village of Dongzhou, about two hours from here by car, where residents estimate that as many as 30 people were killed by paramilitary security forces that fired on demonstrators.
This should be a reminder to everyone that when government is not democratic, or loses its accountability, it is the most malevolent of human constructions. Yet, these Chinese peasants are fighting back as free men against their repression.
When a spark ignites the people's discontent, there are police state tactics to suppress the protests and enforce a silence over the details. Ultimately there are brass knuckles, jail and, lately, death for those who refuse to take the hint and desist.

"People here have tried everything you can think of to get the problem solved before this happened," said a resident who gave his name as Chen. "They talked to the village committee, the township and municipal governments. One of them even went to Beijing. But nothing is done - the village officials just simply ignore them."

Mr. Chen described the peak of the protests, on Saturday night, when the deaths occurred. "It was like a war, so real and so brutal," he said. "I did not see who started it, but I saw policemen were beating the villagers and the villagers were fighting back with stones and firecrackers."

Since then, villagers said, many residents are being forced to report each morning to the police, who detain them until late in the evening, when they are allowed to return home until the next morning.

As with so many recent rural protests, Panlong's problems began with land. Many villagers told stories of having been deceived by corrupt local officials who they said had enriched themselves by selling off rights to the villagers' farmland.
For their sake and for our own, let us hope the lowest of the low can tip China toward openess and away from an authoritarian nationalism that one day could be the greatest threat to the U.S. and world security. They are history's latest conscripts in the advance of liberty. The smell of gunpowder from their firecrackers is the fagrance of freedom. May their fight continue. May they win for all of us.

Continue Reading...

Good News

It seems that the January 13th airstrike in the village of Damadola, Pakistan killed four high level al-Qaeda leaders. Among those thought to be dead is Khalid Habib.
Mr. Habib is Al Qaeda's overall operational commander in Pakistan and Afghanistan, an important post, and would be the most significant of those who might have been at the site of the attack...
It's good to know that our intelligence wasn't wrong again, and that women and children didn't die for no good reason. Small consolation to the dead and their relatives for sure, but this attack in retrospect was necessary.

Lest we forget, this war was brought to our doorsteps, and therefore we must never falter in bringing it back to theirs.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sullivan on Hitchens on War Powers

Laura Bush, on the Record

The ever-insightful First Lady on the Republican Party, lobbying, and Judge Altio.

Here's a taste:
"The whole lobbying aspect of politics is very interesting in the United States," Mrs. Bush said. "There's an important aspect to lobbying, as well.

"I mean, what people don't think of is the American Heart Association or breast cancer research -- each of those groups lobby for federal funds, for very, very important and worthwhile causes in our country," she added. "And so I hope that people realize that there is a role for advocates for different issues."


Continue Reading...

Leap of Faith?

Both liberal and conservative bloggers have pointed out the irony of Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting from a court decision that clearly protected states rights. These men may be the court’s staunchest conservatives, but they’re its staunchest Catholics as well. Call it a simplistic interpretation, but this looks like a case of religious values trumping political values. Of course there are case-specific factors to consider here, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that opinions in this case were divided along religious lines. I’ll let you weigh the implications of this coincidence.


Continue Reading...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Gore on Checks and Balances

Al Gore made a pretty strong MLK Day speech accusing Bush of undermining the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution. Here are some highlights:
For more than two centuries, America's freedoms have been preserved in part by our founders' wise decision to separate the aggregate power of our government into three co-equal branches, each of which serves to check and balance the power of the other two.

The principal alternative to democracy throughout history has been the consolidation of virtually all state power in the hands of a single strongman or small group who together exercise that power without the informed consent of the governed.

There have of course been other periods of American history when the Executive Branch claimed new powers that were later seen as excessive and mistaken. Our second president, John Adams, passed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts and sought to silence and imprison critics and political opponents.

When his successor, Thomas Jefferson, eliminated the abuses he said: "[The essential principles of our Government] form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation... [S]hould we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety."
Gore gets it right here. Even those who believe national security trumps civil liberties should support Gore’s argument that a president who flaunts the legislative and judicial branches of government is dangerous to our democracy. This is the front on which Democrats should be attacking Bush’s weak justification of his domestic surveillance project.


Continue Reading...

Michelle Bachelet Wins, Latin America Moves Left

Chileans have just elected their first female president . . . and she a socialist. The election results follow on the heels of the Evo Morales victory in Bolivia and come amid speculations of leftist victories in Mexico’s July election.

Via Reuters


Continue Reading...

Someone Has a Small Cock

Via the NYTs Travel section:
WHETHER it's providing a helicopter pad or installing jade-inlaid marble in the master bedroom, William S. Smith III has grown accustomed to satisfying every request from his custom-yacht customers - except when it comes to finding places where they can park their outsized boats.

Many megayachts have grown so big - sometimes as long as a football field - that their very size rules out docking at most marinas, which don't have large enough slips to accommodate them. To combat the crunch, Mr. Smith, vice president of Trinity Yachts in Gulfport, Miss., one of the top custom yacht builders in the world, has begun to design vessels based strictly on where the owners plan to take them.
Let's all say it together, "William S. Smith III and his customers are giant douches." Seriously, these guys are the dregs of society. I sure hope the Kraken is not a myth.

Continue Reading...

Jihadi Online - You've Got Holy War

The fight against Islamist terror today is not only, or primarily, one based in the material world; It is virtual. Al-Qaeda has essentially disappeared as a formal organization, being resurrected out of the ashes of Afghanistan into cyberspace -- the most dangerous place possible it could hide. With the ability to post encrypted messages to sleeper cells, post propaganda messages to followers, recruit new foot-soldiers and use new internet based telephony services, the Al-Qaeda ideology is alive and well establishing new franchises the world over. One of the more scary websites I visit to monitor Al-Qaeda's media strategy is Jihad Unspun.

Jihad Unspun seems to be the product of Western Islamists as they have tweaked Western pop-culture symbols --such as 21st Century Fox's trademark -- for jihad's purpose. They operate a member site where for a subscription price visitors can see the latest images of Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters attack and kill U.S. and Iraqi soldiers or the lastest fiery communique from Bin Laden. Not to be out done, JUS also operates a videostore where you can buy titles like The Last Will of Saaed Al-Ghamdi -- a 9/11 hijacker. Let's just say everything's here to party like its 1500 AD. Their lastest update ensures readers that al-Zawahiri is indeed alive after U.S. forces bombed a Pakistani border town thought to be harboring him.

In all honesty, it's an impressive, lovingly crafted site. Apparently the jihadists have learnt lessons from Madison Avenue and they know how to roll out a product. Check it out and see what sophisticated leaps our counterterrorism approach must take if we're going to stay on par or ahead of our enemies. The JUS website shows this is primarily not a military fight, but an ideological battle more akin to the Cold War. Too bad the Bush Administration doesn't understand that.

Continue Reading...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Janus Faced on Intervention?

When recounting how the U.S. arrived in the sands of Iraq, it's important to remember that it is not only the Republican party that believes in the morality of intervention. David Rieff makes that essential point today -- I've made it in print here as well -- in the NYTs Magazine today.
The fact that political debate over the U.S. intervention in Iraq breaks down largely along party lines, with Republicans generally in favor and Democrats skeptical or opposed, has tended to obscure the fact that American interventionism has historically been a bipartisan impulse. Indeed, far less separates the parties than it might seem from the current polarized discourse in Washington. For all their scruples about the Iraq adventure, few Democrats question the idea that it is right for the United States to "promote" democracy in the world, by force if necessary. It could hardly be otherwise. As George W. Bush has pointed out, nation-building was a principal foreign-policy cornerstone of the Clinton administration.
Remember Clinton okayed a humanitarian war in Kosovo to stop Orthodox Serbs from massacring Muslim ethnic Albanians without UN Security Council approval. No matter whether you agree or disagree with his move, NATO's " virtual war" in Kosovo was technically illegal according to international law. Importantly though, it was retroactively regarded as legitimate by the Kosovo Commission and the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The latter commission -- along with other humanitarian warriors -- created the norm of the responsibility to protect, whereby a state that is unwilling or unable to protect its population from large scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing can trigger an intervention by the international community to secure the unprotected. However manipulative the U.S. intervention in Iraq was, it is this latest trend, created mostly by liberals and human rights activists, that the Bush Administration has exploited.

And while Rieff, who used to be a humanitarian warrior, believes intervention is closely akin to 19th century colonialism and should almost never be utilized, I must admit the notion of inviolable state sovereignty strikes me as an artificial construct that coverups the most nefarious acts of internal aggression possible. A world in which sovereignty is sancrosact is not one in which I want to live. The question then though is: Who will protect weaker countries from the depradations of the strong when a pretext for intervention can always be found?

This ambiguity has led a noble notion to be trampled as the U.S. has used it to try and secure its strategic goals in the Middle East when other rationales -- WMD and Iraqi involvement in 9/11 -- have proven false. Tragically, this adventure has blown back in the Bush Administration's face as foreign jihadists do indeed carry out the worst and most sophisticated attacks against U.S. personnel and interests in Iraq now. Al-Qaeda has never seen a failed state it didn't want to infest and the U.S. gave it the most strategic locale possible to make its new home in after Afghanistan.

Whether or not U.S. intervention in Iraq will invalidate the norm of international intervention to protect innocents from their own governments cannot yet be determined. But as Darfur shows, it hasn't helped any.

Continue Reading...

Friday, January 13, 2006

If There Is a God...

Then hopefully the U.S. has killed Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in an airstrike on a village in Pakistan. Unfortunately and tragically, women and children were among the seventeen killed.

Continue Reading...

Oprah Weighs In

No, no, you smartasses, this isn’t the beginning of a bad joke. But since we’ve been talking about James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, it think it's appropriate to close the loop on an overblown story with the comments of the woman largely responsible for casting Frey into the limelight.
"What is relevant is that he was a drug addict … and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves," Winfrey said.
Misrepresentation of fact is always a questionable undertaking. And misrepresentation of fact for profit is even more questionable. Still, I have to stand with Oprah on this one. Anyone who thinks memoir is a first-person historical account needs to brush up on her literary terminology. If the book ever had emotional force, it still has it. If the book was shit to begin with, it’s still shit.

Democracy may indeed hang in the balance these days. But we can rest assured that James Frey is not the fulcrum on which it rests.


Continue Reading...

Alito's Problem

Via Political Animal, Michael O’Hare does a perfect job of articulating what’s wrong Alito:
Alito knows the law, but he doesn't seem to know, or care about, The Law. Every issue in the hearings was immediately reduced by the nominee to a technical question of almost bureaucratic rule manipulation. This approach is a good one for nearly all the cases courts hear, but it's not what the Supreme Court is about.

He doesn't have a screw loose; what he has is a piece missing, conspicuously, radiantly, displaying the absence of any sense of, well, justice. Not a case came up for discussion in which he registered that one or another outcome was just wrong, outrageous to a sense of decency, or to him.
Based on what I heard from the confirmation hearings, this is right on. Alito used this callous, albeit technically sound, approach to the law to defuse Democratic ire during questioning. While Roberts dodged touchy questions left and right, Alito took them head on and reduced them to piles of legal nuts and bolts. There was nothing left to yell about.

Alito’s judicial philosophy represents an extreme version of the Republicans’ favorite paradigm, “a judge’s job is to decide cases, period.” Alito seemingly takes this to mean that judges slough off any sense of morality when they don the black robe.


Continue Reading...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wal-Mart Woes

Don't Forget to Wipe Before You Flush

Apparently when I wrote that past criminal, addict James Frey was a talented writer yesterday, I put the heroin before the needle. I made the critical mistake of inferring talent from book sales -- which were helped along by my most "love to hate" celebrity Oprah Winfrey. (Why can't I stand her? I don't know; I just do.) But for those of you who are interested in seeing a critic demolish Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," then this one is for you. It's entitled, "A Million Pieces of Shit," which is about as subtle as Frey's prose ironically or hypocritically.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Beating a dead CAP

Alito’s membership in CAP came up several times during yesterday’s hearing. By the end of the day, it became quite clear that Alito (honestly or not) was distancing himself from the group by claiming he was unaware of CAP’s sexist, racist message. So why did Ted Kennedy spend over half of his second round of questions excoriating CAP? Everybody agrees that CAP’s goal, keeping Princeton white and male, was reprehensible. But that’s not the point. The group could be a certified training camp for neo-Nazis. If the Democrats can’t do a better job of showing that Alito knew what the group represented, it’s a moot point.

In the last minute of his allotted time, Kennedy finally got the right idea. He’s asked Chairman Specter that the committee vote on subpoenaing CAP documents held in the Library of Congress. Specter temporarily shot him down. We’ll see if anything comes of this.


Continue Reading...

Stranger Than Fiction? Apparently Not

Some of you may have heard that Oprahically acclaimed author James Frey seems to have taken liberties with the truth in his memior, "A Million Little Pieces." Although Frey stands by the truth of his story,'s investigation into the book has discovered many inconsistencies between Frey's story and public records.

In response, the book's publishers -- DoubleDay and Anchor Books -- released this statement. Via the NYTs:
Memoir is a personal history whose aim is to illuminate, by way of example, events and issues of broader social consequence," said a statement issued by Doubleday and Anchor Books, the divisions of Random House Inc. that published the book in hardcover and paperback, respectively. "By definition, it is highly personal. In the case of Mr. Frey, we decided 'A Million Little Pieces' was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections.

Recent accusations against him notwithstanding, the power of the overall reading experience is such that the book remains a deeply inspiring and redemptive story for millions of readers.
They may be walking a fine line, but they do have a point. All of us have either exaggerated or concentrated on certain details when telling a personal story that may not align with others recollections or have instead made the story more mythic in proportion. That said, Frey pawned his work off as his true experience, and barring schizophrenia, he lied to his readers -- an indefensible sleight of hand.

But let's not get ridiculous and tie Frey's falsities to the news media or a broader politico-cultural trend toward dissembling. Frey's book has absolutely no impact on democracy, unlike the news media when it self-censors or when it's lazy or lax with the truth. So hopefully this Frey matter will drop off the radar quickly, because the public does directly control the fate of James Frey, unlike the American government. The marketplace doesn't like unrepentant liars and if Frey's book is a bunch of bullshit, no one will buy his subsequent works and he will become just another "could have been." This is a shame since he must be a gifted author. One has to wonder why he didn't just meld autobiography with fiction like Orwell did in "Down and Out in Paris and London."

Continue Reading...


It appears I was wrong in calling Sen. DeWine the worst example of a soap-boxing senator. According to the NYTs, Biden was worse.


Continue Reading...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blah Blah Blah

There are several things I love to hate about Senate confirmation hearings, but soap-boxing Senators top the list. Now I haven’t done a full comparison among all the Senators on the committee, but based on what I’ve heard today, Mike DeWine (R-OH) is the worst offender. Being a scientific-minded guy, I copied the transcript of the DeWine-Alito exchange into Word and separated the two men’s speaking parts. Alito’s comments took up three pages, DeWine’s took up 8. If I take the time to listen to the hearings, I’d really rather listen to the nominee’s responses than some Senator’s silly-ass civics lesson.

If you’re interested in doing some comparisons yourself, WaPo has the running transcript.

Continue Reading...

Speaking Freely

I could be reaching here, but so far, I think Alito is being more candid than Roberts was during his hearings. When he was questioned about his views on abortion as expressed in 1985, Alito used the “that was then this is now” defense to distance himself from some of the statements he made. But unlike Roberts who explained away every memo he ever wrote as an expression of his client’s viewpoint, Alito acknowledged that his statement about abortion reflected his view at the time, albeit a view informed by his professional responsibility.
SPECTER: Let me come now to the statement you made in 1985 that the Constitution does not provide a basis for a woman’s right to an abortion. Do you agree with that statement today, Judge Alito?

ALITO: Well, that was a correct statement of what I thought in 1985 from my vantage point in 1985, and that was as a line attorney in the Department of Justice in the Reagan administration. Today, if the issue were to come before me, if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed and the issue were to come before me, the first question would be the question that we’ve been discussing, and that’s the issue of stare decisis. And if the analysis were to get beyond that point, then I would approach the question with an open mind and I would listen to the arguments that were made.

SPECTER: So you would approach it with an open mind notwithstanding your 1985 statement?

ALITO: Absolutely, Senator. That was a statement that I made at a prior period of time when I was performing a different role. And as I said yesterday, when someone becomes a judge, you really have to put aside the things that you did as a lawyer at prior points in your legal career and think about legal issues the way a judge thinks about legal issues.
Hmmm, I’m not sure how much I trust Alito to “approach the question with an open mind,” the next time it resurfaces, but I appreciate him acknowledging a personnel opinion, outdated or otherwise.


Continue Reading...

Gentlemen, Start Your Amnesia

In response to Sen. Leahy’s question about his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), Sam Alito just played his first “no recollection” card of the confirmation hearings. Interestingly enough, a 35-year-old Alito referenced his membership in the CAP on a resume.

Kos has more.


Continue Reading...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Wal-Mart vs. Local Retailers

Citing the results of a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), the Raw Story makes the case for spending your money with locally owned businesses.
According to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, $100 spent in locally owned businesses provides the town and surrounding area $44.60, while large retail chains only give back $14.10 to local communities, mainly in the form of wages and service. Therefore, local communities lose at least $30.50 for every $100 spent at Wal-Mart.
What’s the outcome of this dynamic?
For this holiday season, Wal-Mart's record-breaking sales mean staggering losses for Main Street, U.S.A.: $20.3 billion. Had that $66 billion been spent at locally owned businesses, it would have generated some $29.7 billion for local communities. However, thanks to Wal-Mart, that $66 billion translates to only $9.4 billion going into local economies.
The ILSR might be right about the $9.4 billion figure, but I think their extrapolation to arrive at the $20.3 billion figure is a bit fuzzy. Even supposing that about half the money spent with locally owned businesses goes back into the community, as the numbers suggest, I question the likelihood of locally owned businesses generating the $66 billion that Wal-Mart raked in. The ILSR’s implicit argument here is that dollars that don’t go to Wal-Mart will be spent at locally owned business. That’s a big assumption. Nonetheless, theses figure, even if slightly exaggerated, give us another reason to avoid the retail giants.


Continue Reading...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Unintended Benefits

Christopher Hitchens argues that those favoring Palestinian statehood shouldn't be celebrating the imminent incapacitation, if not demise, of Ariel Sharon. Accurately, Hitchens' analysis shows that Sharon's career can be seen as a slow realization that Palestinian statehood, however incomplete and cynical, is inevitable.
There are, and always have been, only four alternatives in the Israeli-Palestinian quadrilateral. The first is the status quo of mingled apartheid and colonization that would eventually see the Israelis ruling without consent over a people as large as or larger than themselves and that is now almost universally seen as intolerable and unsustainable. The second is a state where those under its jurisdiction are equal citizens with the right to vote, which would be the end of Zionism. The third is the destruction or removal of one people by the other or their common ruin in a catastrophic war. The fourth is a partition between two separate states. All have their disadvantages, but the fourth appears to have the fewest and is supported officially by the PLO and endorsed by a probable majority of Israeli and diaspora Jews. For most of his career, Sharon supported the first option and conducted occasional flirtations with the expulsionist supporters of the third option. His conversion to the fourth may have taken unpleasing forms—a wall is a wall is a wall—but it did begin to acknowledge the contours of Palestinian statehood, and this counts as one of the better ironies of history.
Let all the analogies to Nixon going to China start now.

Continue Reading...

Robertson’s At It Again

In the latest round his “Yes, he really said that” campaign, Pat Robertson has weighed in on Ariel Sharon’s stroke.


Continue Reading...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Common Sense

Pragmatism has finally won out over politics -- well kind of. Via the NYTs:
Facing cuts in antiterrorism financing, the Department of Homeland Security plans to announce today that it will evaluate new requests for money from an $800 million aid program for cities based less on politics and more on assessments of where terrorists are likely to strike and potentially cause the greatest damage, department officials say.

The changes to the program, the Urban Area Security Initiative, are being driven in part by a reduction in the overall pool of money for antiterrorism efforts. For 2006, Congress has appropriated $120 million less in these urban grants than for 2005.

Domestic security grants in general, including the urban area ones, have been criticized because they have sent more antiterrorism money per capita to sparsely populated states like Wyoming and Alaska than to states like New York and California.
It's good to see pork isn't being dished out disproportionately to Dick Cheney's Wyoming, but isn't Congress being unduly paltry with anti-terrorism money? Spectacular terrorist attacks rank as one of the most dire security threats to the United States. Certainly NYC, LA, DC, and Philly rank as more symbolic targets for the likes of Al-Qaeda, but think about the fear an attack on say Mobile, Alabama would have on the American psyche. An attack on Anytown USA could have an even more devastating psychological effect because it would send the message that no one is safe.

Certainly some of the previous allocations smelt of swine, but we shouldn't be shortchanging smaller cities. Sure, money should be given according to risk and it should come with performance standards for accountability and transparency's sake, but as Don Thorson, administrator for the grant program in Omaha, rightly points out:
"We still are an urban area. And we still have risks. No one can predict where a terrorist might strike. Look where Timothy McVeigh struck. It was Oklahoma City."
After all, government's primary responsibility is to protect its citizenry. With all the pork that's served in Congress, legislators should be able to trim a bit more off other programs to ready America's cities, big and small, from terrorist attacks.

Continue Reading...