Tuesday, October 30, 2007


A Response to Garrison Keillor

Have you noticed that a fair number of comedians just aren't funny anymore? I'm thinking, for example, of Janeanne Garofalo, Garry Trudeau, Rosie O'Donnell, and Garrison Keillor. (I sometimes date myself by saying "I can remember when Doonesbury used to be funny".)

The common denominator seems to be politics, I'm sorry to say. All these people are so angry about politics, just about all the time, that they just aren't funny anymore. They seem to take the Presidency of George W. Bush as a personal affront, or something.

The guys of Powerline just reprinted a sterling example of this, in the form of a diatribe by Garrison Keillor, long beloved for his dry humor on his signature Prairie Home Companion. Here's a recent example of his material for PHC, also reprinted in his new weekly column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Now I'm an old tired Democrat, sick of this infernal war that may go on for the rest of my life and in which more of our brethren will die miserably, both American and Iraqi. I'm sick of politics today, the cleverness and soullessness of it. I am still angry at Al Gore for wearing those stupid sweaters in 2000 and pretending he didn't know Bill Clinton, and I am angry at everyone who voted for Ralph Nader. I hope the next time they turn the key in the ignition their air bags blow up.
Pretty funny, huh?

(If you want to give the fellow a fair shake, follow the link and read the whole thing. It gets a little better in places, but not much.)

In response to this, however, an unnamed columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune has written an amazing rebuttal:

In his October 28 column, Garrison Keillor refers to Republicans as the “I’ve Got Mine” party. Logically, that would make Democrats the “Give Me Yours” party, but name calling won’t get us anywhere.

Liberal Democrats like Keillor believe needy people need money, and that government must give it to them. The idea is that we all contribute to the pot through taxes, and then government expertly doles out the cash to those who need it most.

Traditional Republicans, however, believe that government tends to be wasteful and inefficient with money...or anything else. We think along the lines of P.J. O’Rourke, who wrote: "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."

I have yet to meet a liberal fan of higher taxes who ever wrote a donation check to the IRS. Why is that? If you really believe you’re helping the needy by paying more taxes, what’s stopping you?

Keillor writes that Republicans wrecked a consensus we once had in America about taxing people according to their ability to pay. But such a “consensus” could have existed only in the minds of liberals, who make up less than half the population. That’s not a consensus. And he left out the second half of Marx’s maxim, which is “to each according to his need,” presumably because that would have set off alarm bells.

Keillor also believes that well-off Americans have no interest in providing a safety net for the less-fortunate. He must not have seen the Nov. 28, 2006 report on ABC News (“Who Gives More -- The Rich or The Poor?”), which found that, of the top 25 states where people give an above-average percent of their income, 24 voted Republican in the last presidential election. Here's the most telling quote from that story: "You find that people who believe it's the government's job to make incomes more equal, are far less likely to give their money away."

Or Keillor must not have read Who Really Cares by Arthur Brooks, which demonstrates that conservatives give about 30 percent more to charity than liberals. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money. If Garrison would like a copy of the book, just let me know. I’m happy to mail him one free. That’s what we conservatives do. We don’t wait for government to help others. We do it ourselves.
I have no idea who this person is -- Powerline knows, and isn't telling -- but for my money, that's pretty funny, and a darn sight better than what Keillor wrote. (And I suspect the MST columnist wasn't even trying to be particularly funny, but simply wanted to make a point in a light-hearted sort of way.)

It makes me wonder who might offer a funny alternative to Doonesbury. (Other than Day By Day, I mean...)


Monday, October 22, 2007



Yeeowch! America, meet Hillary Clinton.

As the indefatiguable Zombietime points out, the Hillary-for-President campaign has every right to promote a positive image of their candidate... but the media is going out of its way to help. So Zombie has collected unflattering pictures of Hillary, on the assumption that they will be hard to find. (And yes, contributions are welcomed, it seems!)

These pictures range from the mildly embarrassing and/or unflattering...

...to the "unfortunate convergence" type...

...to the weird and wacky...

...to the downright disturbing:

And yes, I know, it's easy enough to catch any politician in an unflattering pose; certainly President Bush has been caught that way any number of times. But that's the point. With some notable exceptions, we seem to see a lot more embarrassing pictures of him than we do of Hillary.

It's going to be an interesting campaign, folks. And I think the Republicans would do well to dust off an old witticism of Adlai Stevenson's: "Hillary, the Republicans would like to make a deal with you. If you stop lying about us, we'll stop telling the truth about you."

(hat tip: LGF.)

UPDATE: Hillary's not the only one with unflattering photos, of course. Time Magazine recently ran a photo of Sen. Barack Obama:

Time's caption simply states that this was taken during the playing of the National Anthem. (There does seem to be some confusion about that; others are saying that it was during the Pledge of Allegiance. I'm quite willing to stipulate that Time got that detail right.)

Please note that Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton understand the importance of being seen to respect the flag; Gov. Richardson is still wearing his flag pin (although Sen. Obama has famously refused to wear it).

Some bloggers are insisting that this is no big deal. I disagree. Politics is perception, as the saying goes... and the perception here, to my eyes, is of a candidate -- and a sitting U.S. Senator! -- who seemingly wants to see how far he can go before people will "question his patriotism".

Among other things, the President is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces -- and, as such, is directly in charge of hundreds of thousands of Americans who have sworn an oath to live and die for the flag. Showing the flag a small gesture of respect doesn't seem like a lot to ask. Does Sen. Obama, by refusing to do this, expect to earn the loyalty and respect of our men and women in uniform? (Or does he expect that most of them won't vote for him anyway?)

No doubt Sen. Obama doesn't expect this picture to pose a problem for him. And no doubt Sen. Clinton's campaign is already printing it on posters.

UPDATE II: Perhaps I should take it back. Unflattering pictures of Hillary don't seem to be that hard to find after all. (I note also that a Google image search pulls up all sorts of things...)


Thursday, October 18, 2007


Good Leaks and Bad Leaks

From Monday's New York Post:
October 15, 2007 -- WASHINGTON - U.S. intelligence officials got mired for nearly 10 hours seeking approval to use wiretaps against al Qaeda terrorists suspected of kidnapping Queens soldier Alex Jimenez in Iraq earlier this year, The Post has learned.
[. . .]
In the early hours of May 12, seven U.S. soldiers - including Spc. Jimenez - were on lookout near a patrol base in the al Qaeda-controlled area of Iraq called the "Triangle of Death."

Sometime before dawn, heavily armed al Qaeda gunmen quietly cut through the tangles of concertina wire surrounding the outpost of two Humvees and made a massive and coordinated surprise attack.

Four of the soldiers were killed on the spot and three others were taken hostage.

A search to rescue the men was quickly launched. But it soon ground to a halt as lawyers - obeying strict U.S. laws about surveillance - cobbled together the legal grounds for wiretapping the suspected kidnappers.

Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.

For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the "probable cause" necessary for the attorney general to grant such "emergency" permission.

Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.

"The intelligence community was forced to abandon our soldiers because of the law," a senior congressional staffer with access to the classified case told The Post.

"How many lawyers does it take to rescue our soldiers?" he asked. "It should be zero."
Indeed. (Emphasis mine.)

Now, contrast that with this, from the San Francisco Chronicle:
House OKs bill to protect reporters
in U.S. courts by wide margin
(10-17) 04:00 PDT Washington - --
The House overwhelmingly approved a media shield bill Tuesday that would protect reporters from having to reveal their confidential sources in federal courts, despite warnings from the White House that it could lead to more leaks of classified information.

The measure passed by a lopsided vote, 398-21, as lawmakers complained that journalists are under siege from federal prosecutors and civil litigants seeking to unmask their sources. In the end, 176 Republicans joined virtually all Democrats to support the bill.

In an unusual alliance, even top Republican leaders like House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, broke with the Bush administration to join the majority to pass a bill that supporters said would bolster the freedom of the press.

Let's see if I have this straight. Journalists want legislation to protect them and their sources, even when those sources are needed for law-enforcement or national security... and this is granted by acclamation.

US combat troops, on the other hand, want access to sources that can save American lives... and are rebuffed.

Is it just me? Or does that seem upside-down to you, too?

(Michelle Malkin has more on the first story; Powerline has the second.)

Scott Ott has more, and he's up to his usual standards:
Under a measure facing certain approval in Congress, journalists stand to gain increased protection for hiding the sources of their stories, and their bosses would gain support for their practice of disguising the actual number of people who read, watch or listen to those reports.

“This is a great victory for the free press,” said an unnamed top-ranking official at the Secret Society of Professional Journalists. [...] This bill ensures that the news will continue to flow freely from unknown sources to undisclosed consumers.”
Said consumers to include al-Qaeda, no doubt. (Newspapers should not discriminate against a particular subgroup of customers, after all. If that's the information that al-Qaeda wants, no doubt the New York Times will take pains to provide it, in the ongoing efforts to keep their subscribers happy.)

UPDATE: This, however, strikes me as good news:
Senate Democrats and Republicans reached agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on the terms of new legislation to control the federal government's domestic surveillance program, which includes a highly controversial grant of legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have assisted the program, according to congressional sources.
I'm not sure what the Democrats' purpose here was. But when the government is prosecuting a war, and using legal means to obtain intelligence for that war, then it makes no sense to sue companies for cooperating with the government.

I mean, let's be serious. Are we really expecting that anyone will have a legitimate case to bring here? Will Aunt Maggie sue that the government is listening in when she talk to Great-Aunt Dora about pie recipes? Will a criminal confess guilt to his lawyer in a privileged conversation, and find a recording show up at his trial? (I doubt very much we'd see that, but even if we did, I'd think it would make sense to sue the government, not the telecom company.)

And if we're allowed to bring frivolous lawsuits against companies cooperating with the government, on a matter of national security, during wartime, then what's next? Can we sue munitions manufacturers for cooperating with the government too?

Or imagine this: a terrorist attack is thwarted in Berkeley by alert police officers, and the suspect is turned over to federal authorities. The poor boy's weeping mother then sues the Berkeley police department for turning her son over to those bad, bad Guantanamo people. Yep, I could see that happening.

Although even Berkeley has its moments of sanity...

UPDATE II: Perhaps I was hasty in applauding the granting of immunity -- including ex post facto immunity, apparently -- to telecoms that cooperate with the federal government.

Yes, I emphatically think it's a bad idea to be penalized for cooperating with your own government in wartime... and a few high-profile lawsuits would do wonders towards making companies skittish about such cooperation in the future. (No doubt that was precisely the idea.)

Nonetheless, immunity ex post facto doesn't smell right, even if, in this case, nobody has actually sued the telecoms (and won) yet.

Atrios seems to agree, and got a Tennessee law professor to reply:
The answer is that only criminal, not civil, action is prohibited under the ex post facto prohibition. (Don't feel bad, Atrios -- James Madison himself was confused on this at one point and was corrected, if I recall correctly, by James Iredell at the constitutional convention). In addition, ex post facto is about penalties, not amnesties. Congress is not prohibited from blocking civil actions by statute, particularly where there's a national security angle. This goes back at least to Dames & Moore v. Regan, which involved the Iranian hostage settlement, and really dates back to cases in the 1930s dealing with claims against the Bolshevik government in Russia on behalf of Tsarist-era creditors, etc.
I don't blame James Madison for getting confused; it confuses me too. Nonetheless, it does seem as though there's a strong case to be made for the legality of this.

And, according to Instapundit, Sen. Chris Dodd is putting a hold on the bill -- which, as I understand it, means that the telecoms don't have immunity yet. Hang on.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Quote of the Day

As seen at BobKrumm.com, here's comment #20 to a recent post, in its entirety:
The Left is fond of saying that the majority of Americans don’t support the war. I guess then that as a supporter of the war that makes me a dissenter. And remember - dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
Oh, man, that smarts!!

(Hat tip: Instapundit. I added the link; it seemed appropriate.)

Also seen at the same post:
The irony of posting on the web about fear of oppression is a beautiful thing.
Indeed it is.


Friday, October 12, 2007


Syria: "What Israeli Raid?"

Remember Israel's Sept. 6, 2007 raid on northern Syria? The one that had Syria and Iran in a panic, the one that may have destroyed a North Korean-supplied Iranian-financed WMD facility? The one that Israel uncharacteristically acknowledged publicly? Well, Syria now claims it didn't happen.

In a manner we've come to expect from dictatorships with government-controlled media, the Syrian story keeps changing. First they said that, yes, an Israeli attack took place, but the brave Syrians chased them away, forcing them to 'drop ammunition on empty fields'... whatever that means. Then Syria said that, yes, the attack took place, but it 'just hit an unused military building'. Now they are saying that the attack never took place at all, and they're conducting tours to prove it.

Never mind that they're conducting tours at Deir ez Zor, when the initial Syrian reports said that the attack was at Tal al-Abyad -- which are, by my estimates, nearly 200 kilometers away from each other:

Never mind that. Assume that they're actually conducting tours at a location that bears some passing resemblance to the place where the raid took place.

In the case, my question to the Syrians is this: it took you a whole month to clean everything up and coach your witnesses? What took so long?

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post cheerfully headlines this story: "Syria Tries to Save Face at Strike Site". For me, this is worth following because it shows yet another proposed location for the strike, in a detailed account given by the Syrian Foreign Minister at the time:

Does this version have any truth to it? Well, let's just say that Syrian credibility is not enhanced by telling the same story so many different ways... and that Syrian accounts of Israeli military activity are suspect by definition.

UPDATE II: What a difference a day makes:
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations confirmed on Tuesday that Israel's air strike on September 6 in northern Syria did indeed target a nuclear site, marking the first time the country has acknowledged its nuclear efforts. (link)
Syria denied Wednesday its representatives to the United Nations had confirmed that an Israel Air Force strike last month targeted nuclear facility, and added that such facilities do not exist in Syria, state-run news agency said. (link)

UPDATE III: They're not even concealing the concealment very well:
Syria has begun dismantling the remains of a site Israel bombed Sept. 6 in what may be an attempt to prevent the location from coming under international scrutiny, said U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the aftermath of the attack.

Based on overhead photography, the officials say the site in Syria's eastern desert near the Euphrates River had a "signature" or characteristics of a small but substantial nuclear reactor, one similar in structure to North Korea's facilities.

The dismantling of the damaged site, which appears to be still underway, could make it difficult for weapons inspectors to determine the precise nature of the facility and how Syria planned to use it. Syria, which possesses a small reactor used for scientific research, has denied seeking to expand its nuclear program. But U.S. officials knowledgeable about the Israeli raid have described the target as a nuclear facility being constructed with North Korean assistance.

The bombed facility is different from the one Syria displayed to journalists last week to back its allegations that Israel had bombed an essentially an empty building, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity because details of the Israeli attack are classified.
It's almost enough to make me wonder -- are the Syrians using all this obvious blundering to cover up something real? (Whatever it might be, I don't think it's this.)



Al Gore: he's back!

Sorry for the long hiatus, folks. Let's see if we can get this beast moving again, possibly with some short pieces here and there.

What caught my eye today, and inspired me to say something, was the news that former VP Al Gore has won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize -- for his work spreading the gospel on global warming.

(Pajamas Media has a comprehensive roundup of links.)

Given that the science behind global warming (or, rather, mankind's contributions to it) is still very much open to debate, and given that Gore has a serious problem practicing what he preaches -- and given that, as others have pointed out, many far more deserving candidates (Burmese monks, perhaps?) were passed over -- I have a great deal of difficulty taking this seriously.

On the other hand, as an Israeli citizen, I've been disenchanted with the Nobel Peace Prize for a long time -- ever since Yasser Arafat got one for not killing Israelis for a week or two, and Shimon Peres got one for threatening to scream and cry and hold his breath if he didn't get to share Arafat's prize, and Jimmy Carter got one for his willingness to bad-mouth an unpopular President to the world press. (You didn't think he got it for his Habitat for Humanity work, did you?)

So the man now has an Emmy, an Oscar, and a Nobel Prize. I can't help but feel that the world is giving him every award they can, as a way of showing America that this is the President you should have had. Sorry, folks, it doesn't work that way.

And in the meantime, truth has a way of catching up -- even inconvenient truth:

The British government decided that it would be a good idea to send copies of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to all schools, with then Environment Secretary (now Foreign Secretary) David Miliband declaring that “the debate over science is over.” Well, it may be, but not in the way Gore portrays it. A truck driver and school governor, Stuart Dimmock, took the government to court, alleging that the film portrays “partisan political views,” the promotion of which is illegal in schools under the Education Act 1996.

The judge has decided that this is indeed the case and that the Government’s guidance notes that accompanied the film exacerbated the problem. For the film to be shown in schools, therefore, several facts would have to be drawn to students’ attention...
(To see the list, follow either of the two links above.)

Now everyone seems to be asking: will Gore run for President? Or will he continue to collect lesser trophies while he still can, before An Inconvenient Truth loses all credibility?

If he's smart, he'll stay home. Losing to George Bush was no doubt humiliating enough. Does he really want to take on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination?

(On the other hand, if he wants to run as a third-party candidate -- say, the Green Party -- I'm all for it. Run, Al, run!

UPDATE: The New York Times today reports on Gore's latest prize, openly questioning the relevancy of a global-warming Jeremiad to world peace... and winds up concluding, in the words of Francis Sejersted, a former chairman of the Nobel committee:
As Mr. Sejersted said, "Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act."
Indeed it is... and it's nice to see it admitted openly.

Personally, I'd love to see a Peace Prize that gets awarded in retrospect -- say, a decade or so after the events in question -- and is awarded to those whose efforts have contributed to world peace. (It used to be that the Nobel Peace Prize would go to people whose efforts would, it was thought, lead to peace someday... maybe... if we're lucky. As this year's prize shows, we don't even do that anymore.)

The problem with that sort of approach is in the likely recipients of it. For example, a posthumous nomination might go to Ronald Reagan, for his decisive actions in ending the Cold War... or to Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister who destroyed Saddam Hussein's prospects for nuclear weapons. (Perhaps that's a poor choice; Begin got a Nobel Peace Prize in 1978, and all I'll say about that one is it makes a little more sense than some of the later ones.)

Both these actions, I would argue, contributed significantly to world peace. But I can't imagine such choices being popular.

UPDATE II: Jesse Walker at Reason Magazine puts it rather more bluntly:
But the Nobel Prize is easy. The important thing to remember is that peace doesn't have much to do with it. One of the very first winners was Theodore Roosevelt, a man who described the Spanish-American War as "fun." The Peace Prize is more of a Humanitarian of the Year Award, with humanitarian defined loosely enough to include Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways to get it:
Follow the link for easy, step-by-step instructions to winning your very own Nobel Peace Prize!


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