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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Surprise! Islamists Seize a Yemeni City

From The New York Times:

Islamist militants consolidated control over a second city in southern Yemen on Sunday, seizing banks, government offices and the security headquarters as government forces responded with mortar fire.

The fall of the coastal city of Zinjibar to self-styled holy warriors who claimed to have “liberated” it from “the agents of the Americans” fed into Western fears that militants sympathetic to Al Qaeda could exploit the breakdown of authority to take control of territory.

The United States has until recently backed[Yemen’s embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh,] as an ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, whose Yemeni branch is considered one of the most active terrorist threats against the United States and Europe. The militants who took over the town of Jaar in March and Zinjibar this weekend are not known to have ties to Al Qaeda, but the volatile province of Abyan, where both cities are located, is filled with citizens who are sympathetic to the group.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Democrat Captures House Seat - Medicare Issue Studied as Factor

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Democrat won election Tuesday to a congressional seat from a traditionally Republican district in western New York, an outcome that will be studied for clues to how voters are viewing the budget battles in Washington.

Republican candidate Jane Corwin had endorsed a plan passed by GOP House members last month to overhaul Medicare, drawing attacks from her Democratic rival, Kathy Hochul.

From The New York Times:

Democrats scored an upset in one of New York’s most conservative Congressional districts on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the national Republican Party in a race that largely turned on the party’s plan to overhaul Medicare.

The results set off elation among Democrats and soul-searching among Republicans, who questioned whether they should rethink their party’s commitment to the Medicare plan, which appears to have become a liability heading into the 2012 elections.

Two months ago, the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, was considered an all-but-certain loser in the race against the Republican, Jane Corwin. But Ms. Hochul seized on the Republican’s embrace of the proposal from Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, to overhaul Medicare, and she never let up.

On Tuesday, she captured 47 percent of the vote to Ms. Corwin’s 43 percent, according to unofficial results. A Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, had 9 percent.

Voters, who turned out in strikingly large numbers for a special election, said they trusted Ms. Hochul, the county clerk of Erie County, to protect Medicare.

“I have almost always voted the party line,” said Gloria Bolender, a Republican from Clarence who is caring for her 80-year-old mother. “This is the second time in my life I’ve voted against my party.”

Pat Gillick, a Republican from East Amherst, who also cast a ballot for Ms. Hochul, said, “The privatization of Medicare scares me.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Washington Post editorial: Mitch Daniels and the deficit debate that could have been

Editorial Board Opinion from The Washington Post:

IT’S WAY TOO soon to be picking favorites, but we have to admit to some disappointment at Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s decision not to enter the presidential race — both because of who he is and because of what his decision may presage for 2012.

Mr. Daniels, a Republican, had made clear that the national debt would have been issues No. 1, 2 and 3 for him. His sense of urgency is warranted, and he had the record as governor to back up his message: tough on spending without being doctrinaire on revenue. Though we would have disagreed on some of his priorities, he might have succeeded in pushing President Obama toward more seriousness on deficit reduction than the president has shown thus far and sparked a valuable, honest debate about the proper size and role of government.

Monday, May 23, 2011

All eyes across America are on N.Y. House race: Poll Favors Democrat in Special Election

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Democratic congressional candidate has built a slight lead in a traditionally Republican district, according to a new poll on a special election Tuesday eyed by some in both parties as a referendum on the House GOP plan to overhaul Medicare.

The Republican in the race, Jane Corwin, has endorsed the overhaul and spent part of the weekend seeking to assure seniors their benefits would not change. Democrat Kathy Hochul opposes the GOP Medicare plan.

Republicans have long represented the district in western New York, which stretches from the Buffalo suburbs toward Rochester. But a poll released Saturday showed the race close, with Ms. Hochul holding a slight lead. Three weeks ago, Ms. Corwin had the edge in the same survey.

See also The New York Times.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Religion and Sex Quiz

From The New York Times:

Faith is a huge force in American life, and it’s common to hear the Bible cited to bolster political and moral positions, especially against same-sex marriage and abortion. So here’s my 2011 religion quiz. Choose the best responses (some questions may have more than one correct answer):

1. The Bible’s position on abortion is:

a. Never mentioned.

b. To forbid it along with all forms of artificial birth control.

c. Condemnatory, except to save the life of the mother.

2. The Bible suggests “marriage” is:

a. The lifelong union of one man and one woman.

b. The union of one man and up to 700 wives.

c. Often undesirable, because it distracts from service to the Lord.

3. The Bible says of homosexuality:

a. Leviticus describes male sexual pairing as an abomination.

b. A lesbian should be stoned at her father’s doorstep.

c. There’s plenty of ambiguity and no indication of physical intimacy, but some readers point to Ruth and Naomi’s love as suspiciously close, or to King David declaring to Jonathan: “Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (II Samuel 1:23-26)

4. In the Bible, erotic writing is:

a. Forbidden by Deuteronomy as “adultery of the heart.”

b. Exemplified by “Song of Songs,” which celebrates sex for its own sake.

c. Unmentioned.

5. Jesus says that divorce is permitted:

a. Only after counseling and trial separation.

b. Never.

c. Only to men whose wives have been unfaithful.

6. Among sexual behavior that is forbidden is:

a. Adultery.

b. Incest.

c. Sex with angels.

7. The people of Sodom were condemned principally for:

a. Homosexuality.

b. Blasphemy.

c. Lack of compassion for the poor and needy.

This quiz, and the answers below, draw from a new book, “Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire.” It’s by Jennifer Wright Knust, a Bible scholar at Boston University who is also an ordained American Baptist pastor.

Professor Knust’s point is that the Bible’s teachings about sexuality are murky and inconsistent and prone to being hijacked by ideologues (this quiz involves some cherry-picking of my own). There’s also lots we just don’t understand: What exactly is the offense of “arsenokoitai” or “man beds” that St. Paul proscribes? It is often translated as a reference to homosexuality, but it more plausibly relates to male prostitution or pimping. Ambiguity is everywhere, which is why some of you will surely harrumph at my quiz answers:

1. A. Abortion is never mentioned as such.

2. A, B and C. The Bible limits women to one husband, but other than that is all over the map. Mark 10 envisions a lifelong marriage of one man and one woman. But King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (I Kings 11:3). And Matthew (Matthew 19:10-12) and St. Paul (I Corinthians 7) both seem to suggest that the ideal approach is to remain celibate and avoid marriage if possible, while focusing on serving God. Jesus (Matthew 19:12) even seems to suggest that men make themselves eunuchs, leading the early church to ban enthusiasts from self-castration.

3. A and C. As for stoning on a father’s doorstep, that is the fate not of lesbians but of non-virgin brides (Deuteronomy 22:13).

4. B. Read the “Song of Songs” and blush. It also serves as a metaphor for divine relations with Israel or with humans.

5. B and C. Jesus in Mark 10:11-12 condemns divorce generally, but in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 suggests that a man can divorce his wife if she is guilty of sexual immorality.

6. A, B and C. We forget that early commentators were very concerned about sex with angels (Genesis 6, interpreted in the Letter of Jude and other places) as an incorrect mixing of two kinds.

7. C. “Sodomy” as a term for gay male sex began to be commonly used only in the 11th century and would have surprised early religious commentators. They attributed Sodom’s problems with God to many different causes, including idolatry, threats toward strangers and general lack of compassion for the downtrodden. Ezekiel 16:49 suggests that Sodomites “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Tom Friedman: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

There is a story making the rounds among Lebanese Facebook users about a Syrian democracy activist who was stopped at a Syrian Army checkpoint the other day. He reportedly had a laptop and a thumb drive on the seat next to him. The Syrian soldier examined them and then asked the driver: “Do you have a Facebook?” “No,” the man said, so the soldier let him pass.

You have to feel sorry for that Syrian soldier looking for a Facebook on the front seat, but it’s that kind of regime. Syria really doesn’t know what’s hit it — how the tightest police state in the region could lose control over its population, armed only with cellphone cameras and, yes, access to Facebook and YouTube.

I don’t see how Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, can last — not because of Facebook, which his regime would love to confiscate, if it could only find the darn thing — but because of something hiding in plain sight: Many, many Syrian people have lost their fear. On Friday alone, the regime killed at least 26 more of its people in protests across the country.

This is a fight to the death now — and it’s the biggest show on earth, for one very simple reason: Libya implodes, Tunisia implodes, Egypt implodes, Yemen implodes, Bahrain implodes — Syria explodes. The emergence of democracy in all these other Arab countries would change their governments and have long-term regional implications. But democracy or breakdown in Syria would change the whole Middle East overnight.

A collapse or democratization of the Syrian regime would have huge ramifications for Lebanon, a country Syria has controlled since the mid-1970s; for Israel, which has counted on Syria to keep the peace on the Golan Heights since 1967; for Iran, since Syria is Iran’s main platform for exporting revolution into the Arab world; for the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which gets rockets from Iran via Syria; for Turkey, which abuts Syria and shares many of its ethnic communities, particularly Kurds, Alawites and Sunnis; for Iraq, which suffered from Syria serving as a conduit for jihadist suicide bombers; and for Hamas, whose leader sits in Damascus.

Because Syria is such a keystone nation, there is a tendency among its neighbors to hope that the Assad regime could be weakened — and therefore moderated — but not broken. Few dare trust the Syrian people to build a stable social order out of the ashes of the Assad dictatorship. Those fears may be appropriate, but none of us get a vote. Only the Syrians do, and they are voting with their feet and with their lives for the opportunity to live as citizens, with equal rights and obligations, not pawns of a mafia regime.

More than in any other Arab country today, the democracy protestors in Syria know that when they walk out the door to peacefully demand freedom they are facing a regime that has no hesitancy about gunning them down.

Of course, the million-dollar question hanging over the Syrian rebellion, and all the Arab rebellions, is: Can the people really come together and write a social contract to live together as equal citizens — not as rival sects — once the iron fist of the regimes is removed?

The answer is not clear, but when you see so many people peacefully defying these regimes, like Syria’s, it tells you that something very deep wants to rise to the surface. It tells you that while no Arabs are really citizens today with full rights and obligations, said Hanin Ghaddar, editor of NOWlebanon.com, a Web site tracking the revolutions, “they want to be” and that’s what these uprisings are largely about.

Why am I not surprised: Promise of Arab Uprisings Is Threatened by Divisions

From The New York Times:

The revolutions and revolts in the Arab world, playing out over just a few months across two continents, have proved so inspirational to so many because they offer a new sense of national identity built on the idea of citizenship.

But in the past weeks, the specter of divisions — religion in Egypt, fundamentalism in Tunisia, sect in Syria and Bahrain, clan in Libya — has threatened uprisings that once seemed to promise to resolve questions that have vexed the Arab world since the colonialism era.

In an arc of revolts and revolution, that idea of a broader citizenship is being tested as the enforced silence of repression gives way to the cacophony of diversity. Security and stability were the justification that strongmen in the Arab world offered for repression, often with the sanction of the United States; the essence of the protests in the Arab Spring is that people can imagine an alternative.

But even activists admit that the region so far has no model that enshrines diversity and tolerance without breaking down along more divisive identities.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shields and Brooks on Gingrich's Chances, Obama 'Spanking' Israel, Arab Leaders

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

A Week of Shocks but Few Surprises - Everyone knew about Gingrich, DSK and Schwarzenegger.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

They were open secrets. Everyone knew. And maybe the lesson this week is that people should pay more attention to what they know.

Everyone knew Newt Gingrich was combustible, that he tended to blow things up, including, periodically, himself. He was impulsive, living proof that people confuse "a good brain" with "good judgment." He had bad judgment, which is why he famously had a hundred ideas a day and only 10 were good. He didn't know the difference and needed first-rate people around to tell him. But the best didn't work with him anymore, because he was unsteady, unreliable, more likely to be taken with insight-seizures than insights.

He was the smartest guy in the room, who didn't notice the rooms had gotten smaller. So he was running his own show. Boom.

In his famous "Meet the Press" interview, he was trying to differentiate himself from the field. He was likely thinking he'd go for the Mike Huckabee vote now that Mr. Huckabee is gone. That vote is populist-tinged, socially conservative but generally supportive of big-government programs. Newt's party and competitors support Paul Ryan's budget-cutting plan. Newt didn't think all aspects of that plan would go over with the American public.

If he'd said that, he would have been fine, and there were lots of ways to say it. Such as: "The Ryan plan is serious and courageous. But I oppose changes in the delivery system of Medicare and think we should go another route, so I do not support that aspect of it."

Instead he used slashing, dramatic language and seemed to damn the entire enterprise. The Ryan plan isn't flawed, it's "right-wing social engineering." It's "imposing radical change."

After the firestorm he went on a political perp walk, more or less denying he'd said what he said, and then blaming it on others. This was followed by reports he had been in hock to Tiffany's—Tiffany's!—for up to half a million dollars. This is decidedly unpopulist behavior, and to Republicans sounded too weird, too frivolous, flaky and grand.

I said last week I had yet to meet a Gingrich 2012 voter. Now I won't have a chance to.

People in journalism are surprised. But they wouldn't have been surprised if they'd been paying attention to what they know: that Newt blows things up, including himself.

The allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who stepped down as chief of the International Monetary Fund after being charged with seven counts including attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, are just that, allegations. He's been indicted, not convicted. But half the French establishment knew about what they called his woman problem, and at least one previous accusation of harassment. It was an open secret. "Everyone knows that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a libertine," said Gilles Savary, a member of the European Parliament Socialist party. He "doesn't try to hide it."

DSK, as he's known, is almost a classic villain—elegant, august, satyrlike in his multithousand-dollar suits and his multithousand-dollar suite. He is the perfect "champagne socialist," as they're now calling him, who preys on the weak—for who is less defended and more at the mercy of the world than a 32-year-old hotel maid, a widow, a West African immigrant working to support herself and her daughter?

But what is most startling about the story is not the charge that a powerful man did a dreadful thing. It is the utter and profound difference between the U.S. response to the story and the French response.

America was immediately sympathetic to the underdog. The impulse of every media organization, from tabloid to broadsheet to cable to network, was to side with the powerless one in the equation. The cops, the hotel's managers, the District Attorney's office—everyone in authority gave equal weight and respect to the word of the maid. Only in America (and not always in America) would they have taken the testimony of the immigrant woman from Africa and dragged the powerful man out of his first-class seat in the jet at JFK.

In France, the exact opposite. There, from the moment the story broke, DSK was the victim, not the villain. It was a setup, a trap, a conspiracy. He has a weakness for women. No, he loves them too much. Hairy-chested poseur and Sarkozy foreign-policy adviser Bernard-Henri Levy sneeringly referred to "the chambermaid," brayed about DSK's high standing, and called him "a friend to women." Jean Daniel, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, sniffily asked why "the supposed victim was treated as worthy and beyond suspicion."

Why wouldn't she be treated as worthy, buddy? One is tempted to ask if it's the black part, the woman part or the immigrant part.

As David Rieff wrote in the New Republic, to French intellectuals, DSK deserves special treatment because he is a valuable person. "The French elites' consensus seems to be that it is somehow Strauss-Kahn himself and not the 32-year-old maid who is the true victim of this drama."

Americans totally went for the little guy. The French went for the power.

Lafayette would weep.

Someone once sniffed, "In America they call waiters 'Sir.' " Bien sur, my little bonbon. It's part of our unlost greatness.

you have to wonder if God didn't send them down here just for that. As David McCullough observes in his tender new book, "The Greater Journey," generations of Americans, starting in 1820 or so, journeyed to Paris to learn the best in art, medicine, science and literature. They came back and filled our nation with the innovation and expertise they'd acquired there. The French didn't just enrich us, they helped America become itself.

Today they are great talkers, but for all their talk of emotions, and they do talk about emotions, they need, on this story at least, an attitude adjustment. They need to grow a heart. If the charges are true, this isn't a story about sex, romance and the war between men and women, it is about violence, and toward a person who is almost a definition of powerlessness.

Their mindless snobbery is unworthy of them.

We finish with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has finished himself. The scandal surrounding him this week is not precisely a public concern. He is not now holding office, and if he had plans or further ambitions in that area they are over. The story is not shocking—he has admitted bad behavior in the past, there have been longtime rumors, "Everyone knows." But still it took you aback. Why? The level of creepiness and the nature of the breach. The mother of the former governor's child worked for him, for them, for 20 years—another unequal power arrangement—meaning 20 years of fiction had to be maintained. "In my home!" as Michael Corleone said in "Godfather II." "Where my wife sleeps . . . and my children play with their toys." The rotten taste of this story will not fade soon.

Human sin is a constant, none are free, and anyone who is shocked by it is a fool or lying. Even so, what a week, full of human surprises. But we wouldn't be so surprised if we paid more attention to what we know, and built our expectations from there.

The GOP Field: All Talk, No Do - If GOP candidates don't take on tough issues as Ryan & Christie, they might as well go hold forth with The Donald.

Kimberley A. Strassel writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Newt Gingrich embarked on a national apology tour this week, which was not exactly how he pictured his 2012 rollout. There's a simple lesson here for those seeking the GOP nomination: Stop talking.

His rivals, and the press, ought to be thanking Mr. Gingrich for his "Meet the Press" performance, for finally injecting clarity into the GOP battle. Why oh why, everyone keeps asking, does the Republican race excite less enthusiasm than a curling competition? Why does watching the speeches and the interviews require No-Doz . . . or Tums . . . or an epidural? What is the problem, people?

Mr. Gingrich supplied that answer on NBC last weekend as he talked, and talked, and talked. Make no mistake, the former speaker put in the usual fabulously pithy oration—rapping President Obama, summoning Ronald Reagan, knocking House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare reform. Yet in all that talk, talk, talk, Mr. Gingrich never actually laid out a bold vision of what he'd do, do, do as president. That sums up the problem with the GOP field.

Look at the rising Republican stars, those who have excited voters: Mr. Ryan, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. What do these men have in common? None are what the press likes to classify as "militant right-wingers," who whip up the base with gay marriage or abortion. Most aren't even particularly big talkers or partisan firebrands. Even Mr. Christie, who can verbal with the best of them, directs most of his volleys at entrenched interests—not political opponents.

These politicians are, instead, getting marks as the party's "doers," the guys making things happen. They lay out the ugly problems and then lay out the tough solutions—despite political risk. The press initially declared each of these individuals clinically insane for taking on Medicare, Social Security, public-employee unions. Yet it has been precisely their willingness to do so that has won them some measure of admiration from a public that is in the mood for action.

Mr. Gingrich's mistake on Sunday was to go the opposite route. The former speaker doesn't like "radical" solutions, and he has no more time for "right-wing social engineering" than he does "left-wing social engineering." This was Mr. Gingrich at his 1990s political and rhetorical finest—triangulating, positioning, defining—teeing up both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Obama as extremists, leaving his audience to understand that he was the sensible, comforting middle.

Which is what, exactly? Well, Mr. Gingrich wants a "national conversation" on Medicare that will result in "better outcomes, better solutions, better options." He wants to talk. Much as he talked about the issue during the HillaryCare fight, and much as he's talked about it for the 18 years since, and much as he'll no doubt happily continue talking about it—right up to the point that Mr. Obama's panel of bureaucrats starts rationing hip replacements.

For tens of millions of Americans, whose main beef with today's Washington is that it shirks big issues, this isn't serious. For millions of conservatives it is downright offensive. Mr. Gingrich's talk is undercutting an entire House Republican caucus that had boldly followed Mr. Ryan down a path of principled doing.

If those voters aren't jazzed by the GOP field, it is because the field is still partying like it is 2010. Republicans won last year by presenting themselves as the anti-Obamas, tapping into a public frustration with the White House and its policies. The GOP presidential runners seem to think the nomination fight is, likewise, about which of them can best provide a contrast to the president.

Conservative and grass-roots voters want the White House, but they want something more. They (and independent voters) have spent a decade watching the GOP wander in the policy wilderness. They don't want just a choice, they want a leader—someone who will define a vision of the future.

It isn't enough for Mitt Romney to talk (and PowerPoint) about the evils of ObamaCare. He has to disavow his own prototype of that health-care experiment in Massachusetts and offer a believable vision for market-based health care. It isn't enough for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to talk about the problems of President Obama's (and his own, onetime) support for cap-and-trade. The nation needs a free-market energy vision that advocates U.S. sources and reverses government-directed-and-subsidized energy. It isn't enough for Mr. Gingrich to essentially say on national TV: Republicans should not mess with entitlements because it is too politically risky.

It isn't enough because the GOP candidates will continue to be measured against the "doers." Neither Mr. Ryan nor Mr. Christie may ever be tempted to officially join the 2012 race, but they already are—and will remain—at the center of the nomination battle. With every day's headlines, they provide a reminder to voters that there is a serious wing of the party that is going to the mat over honest (if difficult) policy solutions on taxes, on education, on spending, on big government. If the talkers don't rise to this level of leadership, they might as well go hold forth with The Donald.

The time for talking is over.

Obama misses deadline for congressional approval of Libya operations

From The Washington Post:

President Obama missed a legal deadline Friday — set in a 1973 law — that required him to obtain congressional approval for U.S. military operations in Libya.

Friday was the 60th day since Obama formally notified Congress that U.S. planes would strike targets in Libya, a bid to protect civilians from the government of strongman Moammar Gaddafi. Under the Nixon-era War Powers Resolution, the president must obtain congressional authorization of military action within 60 days or else begin withdrawing forces.

The War Powers Resolution was an attempt to settle a dispute as old as the Constitution. That document says only Congress has the power to declare war but the president is commander in chief of the military.

Presidents construed that to mean they could send U.S. forces into combat without congressional approval. In many cases, the reasoning was that the fights would be too small, or too short, to be considered a “war.”

In 1973, Congress tried to take back its power. But almost since the War Powers Resolution was written, presidents have been trying to ignore it. Many have argued that it is unconstitutional, usurping presidential powers to command.

In 1982, Reagan sent Marines into Lebanon and kept them there for a year without official congressional approval. Congress finally passed a resolution authorizing him to continue for 18 more months.

In 1999, during the conflict in Kosovo, Clinton authorized U.S. airstrikes on Yugoslavia. The 60-day deadline passed, with no explicit permission from Congress (although lawmakers did provide funding for the strikes). The air campaign ended after 78 days.

The Libyan conflict is the resolution’s first major test since then. Previously, Obama had indicated that he might abide by the rules: On March 21, he sent Congress a notice, consistent with the act, saying that U.S. forces were joining attacks on Libya.

As the deadline drew closer, six Republican senators sent Obama a letter asking whether he intended to comply with the act. Last month, four House Democrats made similar inquiries.

Next week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on war powers and the U.S. operations in Libya. A spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said the senator will ask about it during a nomination hearing for a State Department official.

But so far, the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate have said little about enforcing the deadline.

That makes for a rare moment on Capitol Hill — because these Republican and Democratic leaders rarely agree on anything, and because all lawmakers usually don’t want to surrender power to the executive branch.

But Jules Lobel, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, said that lawmakers, like those in past Congresses, appear to see little upside in interfering with a military operation.

“If you authorize it, and it turns out badly, you’re on the line. And if you refuse to authorize it, the president then says, ‘We’re weak, and it’s because Congress is weak,’ ” said Lobel, who represented a group of congressmen who unsuccessfully sued Clinton for ignoring the law in 1999. “So they say, ‘Do what you want; we’re not going to take responsibility.’ ”

Friday, May 20, 2011

David Ignatius: Obama’s Mideast policy looks good — on paper

David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post:

With his much-ballyhooed speech on the Middle East , President Obama set himself a challenge that can be summarized in two words: Follow through.

Obama spoke with more clarity than some analysts had expected about the two most incendiary issues in the region right now: President Bashar al-Assad’s violent suppression of protests in Syria and the risk of a new Palestinian explosion if a serious peace process can’t be restarted.

On both, Obama’s answers avoided the conventional wisdom of the day (or rather, yesterday). Instead of offering a quick and easy rhetorical condemnation of Assad, Obama called on him to enact specific reforms (as Assad has claimed he wanted) or leave office; and rather than acceding to Israeli desires to lowball the Palestinian issue, Obama insisted on the need for negotiations and stated some “principles” to guide them.

The Syria passage of the speech offered a blueprint for what Assad must do to survive: “stop shooting demonstrators,” “release political prisoners,” “allow human rights monitors to have access” to Daraa and other besieged cities, and open “serious dialogue” with the opposition about a democratic transition. Assad probably can’t fulfill that list (which would require him to break from Iran), but it’s worth one last try before the deluge. Who will carry the message to Damascus? Unfortunately, not clear.

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Obama edged toward what he should have done two years ago — frame parameters to guide negotiations. He didn’t offer a peace plan, but he did go further on specifics, committing the United States to support a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” in exchange for recognition of “Israel as a Jewish state” and a “non-militarized” status for Palestine. Sadly, the president offered no structure for talks.

Obama was admirably specific in talking about Bahrain, too — supporting the Sunni monarchy’s demand for law and order but also the Shiite majority’s demand for reform. It was a subtle speech, throughout. But that “subtlety” translates either as “two-faced” or “pragmatically effective,” depending on whether policymakers can actually forge the compromises the speechmakers describe.

Here’s the real test for Obama. Each thread of his “dignity” agenda for the Middle East requires something that has been in short supply at this White House: a systematic ability to implement foreign policy strategy through committed, emphatic follow-up actions. It’s this operational question — not the rhetorical framework — that will be the crux.

This White House has had trouble for two years gearing rhetoric and action. Two prominent special representatives — George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke — both foundered in a system that was so focused on tight messaging that it didn’t allow the freewheeling, engaging style the two brought to their jobs. As I wrote last year of Holbrooke, before his death, the Obama White House has had a knack for shrinking large personalities.

Hillary Clinton’s State Department hasn’t done well on follow-through, either. Clinton is a tireless traveler, and if diplomacy simply rewarded miles traveled, she would already have surpassed Dean Acheson. The problem is in making things happen on the ground: Clinton has announced (repeatedly) a civilian surge in Afghanistan, but I talked this week with a general who was irate that so little has actually been done by civilians, outside Kabul.

The follow-up diplomacy requires personalities with the manipulative skill and subtlety of a Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski. It’s embarrassing to always come back to those two aging diplo-warriors as examples, but their successors today aren’t obvious. It’s interesting that when the president was looking for strategic advice, he reportedly turned to two columnists, Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria. They would be the first to note the difference between a column (or a speech) and a policy breakthrough.

Where are the people who can crack heads, diplomatically, to make all this work? Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, is an unlikely candidate for the Count Metternich role, but he seems eager to manage these operations. Bill Burns, the new deputy secretary of state, has vast Middle East experience, and the White House should be bold enough to use him creatively. A third potential emissary is Sen. John Kerry, who has been one of the most effective back-channel intermediaries in the U.S. government of late, in his trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The president admirably outlined the tasks for America in this Arab Spring. It’s all there, on paper, the right balance of principle and pragmatism. Now, just do it.

See also The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Unfortunately, it is going to be rough on moderates: Running on Moderation in Immoderate Times

Senator Lugar, a Republican, answering questions from constituents in Brazil, Ind.

From The New York Times:

[Senator Richard G. Lugar], facing his first primary challenge since 1976, here was another constituent with a question reminding him how difficult it was to be a Republican like Richard Lugar right now.

“About a third of our federal debt is borrowed,” Judy Proctor, 64, began. “That is insane.

“China doesn’t want to lend us money, Canada doesn’t want to lend, we’re obviously irresponsible,” she continued, her voice rising and almost breaking. “Then we have Senator Lugar saying: ‘Well, maybe we can make it a little better next year. Maybe after that we can make it a little more better.’ It’s not enough. We have to stop. A third of our budget is borrowed! If we don’t do something dramatic, and soon, we’re done.”

Loud applause.

Mr. Lugar is trying to run on moderation in an immoderate time. He is betting that the Tea Party call of alarm and partisanship is drowning out a majority that prefers Republicans who specialize in reason and reaching across the aisle.

Whether he is right will reveal something about the strength of the Tea Party. The fact that he is even struggling says a lot about the identity crisis in the Republican Party.

“I take very seriously the point you are making,” Mr. Lugar began, his voice even as ever. At the same time, he continued, the government cannot simply tear up its credit cards. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, it would take five to seven years to get the budget deficit to zero.

“I understand the anguish that was just expressed,” he said finally, “that there are many citizens of our country who are angry and anguished, who really don’t know how to move on this particular situation and wish that somebody would cure it much more rapidly than I am suggesting. So I hear that. But nonetheless, we will try to move along the path I suggested, with your great help and counsel, and I think we can make it.”

A Rhodes scholar and a former Navy officer, Mr. Lugar has spent almost all his life in public service. As mayor of Indianapolis, he was credited with saving the city’s tax base, and therefore the city, by merging it with nearby suburbs. In the Senate, he is most proud of his work with Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia, to initiate a program of disarmament in the former Soviet Union.

Many of his positions dovetail with the Tea Party agenda; he has sponsored a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and argues for the need to reduce military spending and restructure entitlement programs to reduce the deficit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When I first read headline, I said to Sally: He is going to waste his recently acquired political capital. Maybe not if this article is partly right.

The headline in The Washington Post is "Obama’s border visit renews focus on immigration policy" and the article reads in part:

President Obama will stand on the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday and try to take credit for something that eluded predecessors in both parties: successfully cracking down on illegal immigration.

It is a record that Republicans roundly dispute. And it has drawn fire from many in Obama’s Latino base, who say the president has stepped up enforcement measures such as deportations while failing to deliver on his pledge to create a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

But in using a speech in El Paso to highlight his enforcement record, Obama will signal that he intends to try turning the immigration debate into a political winner among conservative swing voters who back tougher immigration policies.

The president is expected to reel off what his aides say is evidence of an unprecedented focus on border security: hundreds of millions of dollars spent since he took office on high-tech fencing, aerial drones and a doubling of the border patrol since 2004. The result, aides say, has been a steep decline in illegal incursions and plummeting crime rates in U.S. border communities from Texas to California.

“He is championing what Latinos are looking for, which is real immigration reform, while at the same time he is being a spokesperson for serious improvements in border enforcement, which independent voters support,” said Doris Meissner, who was the Clinton administration’s top immigration official.

Most experts and activists say any new legislative deal on immigration is highly unlikely in the near term.

A flurry of White House activity on the issue in recent weeks, though, underscores the administration view that immigration could play an important role in the president’s reelection campaign next year — with Obama needing to revive enthusiasm among Latinos while boosting his standing with centrist swing voters.

Brooks: The Missing Fifth

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

In 1910, Henry Van Dyke wrote a book called “The Spirit of America,” which opened with this sentence: “The Spirit of America is best known in Europe by one of its qualities — energy.”

This has always been true. Americans have always been known for their manic dynamism. Some condemned this ambition as a grubby scrambling after money. Others saw it in loftier terms. But energy has always been the country’s saving feature.

So Americans should be especially alert to signs that the country is becoming less vital and industrious. One of those signs comes to us from the labor market. As my colleague David Leonhardt pointed out recently, in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up and going to work.

According to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has a smaller share of prime age men in the work force than any other G-7 nation. The number of Americans on the permanent disability rolls, meanwhile, has steadily increased. Ten years ago, 5 million Americans collected a federal disability benefit. Now 8.2 million do. That costs taxpayers $115 billion a year, or about $1,500 per household. Government actuaries predict that the trust fund that pays for these benefits will run out of money within seven years.

Part of the problem has to do with human capital. More American men lack the emotional and professional skills they would need to contribute. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35 percent of those without a high school diploma are out of the labor force, compared with less than 10 percent of those with a college degree.

Part of the problem has to do with structural changes in the economy. Sectors like government, health care and leisure have been growing, generating jobs for college grads. Sectors like manufacturing, agriculture and energy have been getting more productive, but they have not been generating more jobs. Instead, companies are using machines or foreign workers.

The result is this: There are probably more idle men now than at any time since the Great Depression, and this time the problem is mostly structural, not cyclical. These men will find it hard to attract spouses. Many will pick up habits that have a corrosive cultural influence on those around them. The country will not benefit from their potential abilities.

This is a big problem. It can’t be addressed through the sort of short-term Keynesian stimulus some on the left are still fantasizing about. It can’t be solved by simply reducing the size of government, as some on the right imagine.

It will probably require a broad menu of policies attacking the problem all at once: expanding community colleges and online learning; changing the corporate tax code and labor market rules to stimulate investment; adopting German-style labor market practices like apprenticeship programs, wage subsidies and programs that extend benefits to the unemployed for six months as they start small businesses.

Reinvigorating the missing fifth — bringing them back into the labor market and using their capabilities — will certainly require money. If this were a smart country, we’d be having a debate about how to shift money from programs that provide comfort and toward programs that spark reinvigoration.

But, of course, that’s not what is happening. Discretionary spending, which might be used to instigate dynamism, is declining. Health care spending, which mostly provides comfort to those beyond working years, is expanding. Attempts to take money from health care to open it up for other uses are being crushed.

There are basically two ways to cut back on the government health care spending. From the top, a body of experts can be empowered to make rationing decisions. This is the approach favored by President Obama and in use in many countries around the world. Alternatively, at the bottom, costs can be shifted to beneficiaries with premium supports to help them handle the burden. Different versions of this approach are embodied in the Dutch system, the prescription drug benefit and Representative Paul Ryan’s budget.

We’ll probably need a mixture of these approaches to figure out what works. Instead, Republicans decry the technocratic rationing model as “death panels.” Democrats have gone into demagogic overdrive calling premium support ideas “privatization” or “the end of Medicare.”

Let’s be clear about the effect of this mendacity: We’re locking in the nation’s wealth into the Medicare program and closing off any possibility that we might do something significant to reinvigorate the missing fifth. Next time you see a politician demagoguing Medicare, ask this: Should we be using our resources in the manner of a nation in decline or one still committed to stoking the energy of its people and continuing its rise?

A wolf in sheep's clothing: Afghans Lash Out at Neighbor, Woo the U.S.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Officials in President Hamid Karzai's administration, in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, are urging the U.S. to strengthen its commitment to Afghanistan and get tougher with Pakistan.

"We need a different course of action now," said Mr. Karzai's deputy national security adviser, Shaida Mohammad Abdali.

The U.S. and Afghanistan have begun negotiations into a longterm strategic partnership that will shape their relations beyond 2014, when President Barack Obama has said he planned to end major combat operations. Some Afghans see the Pakistan controversy as a chance to improve their bargaining position.

That is a turnaround from last month, when Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani urged Mr. Karzai to forget about a long-term deal with the Americans and instead consider a regional alliance with Pakistan and China, Afghan officials said.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Military Draws Up Afghan Exit Plan: Only 5,000 of 100,000 to leave! We want only 5,000 to stay.

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. military officers in Afghanistan have drawn up preliminary proposals to withdraw as many as 5,000 troops from the country in July and as many as 5,000 more by the year's end, the first phase of a U.S. pullout promised by President Barack Obama, officials say.

The proposals, prepared by staff officers in Kabul, are likely to be the subject of fierce internal debate in the White House, State Department and Pentagon—a discussion influenced by calculations about how Osama bin Laden's death will affect the Afghan battlefield.

The plans were drafted before the U.S. killed the al Qaeda leader, and could be revised. They have yet to be formally presented to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who must then seek White House approval for a withdrawal.

If approved by top military officers and the president, an initial withdrawal of 5,000 would represent a modest reduction from the current 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, allowing the military to preserve combat power through this summer's fighting season. Some of the troops that leave in July will be combat troops but commanders hope to minimize the impact by culling support staff as well.

In addition to U.S. forces, there are more than 40,000 international troops in Afghanistan, some of whom could also begin pulling out this summer, officials said.

Mr. Obama set the July deadline in December 2009 as he announced the surge of an additional 30,000 forces, in an effort to reassure Democrats skeptical of the war that even as he was building up troops in Afghanistan he wasn't signing off on an endless conflict.

Military officials believe the White House doesn't want a precipitous drawdown that would undercut U.S. gains in southern Afghanistan, a traditional stronghold of the Taliban, whose top leadership in Pakistan have had longstanding ties to bin Laden and his terror organization.

Mr. Obama's promise of a "significant" withdrawal from Afghanistan has fueled tensions between the White House and the Pentagon. Though military officials worry a rapid withdrawal of forces could undercut hard-won battlefield gains, they don't want to be seen as pushing their agenda on the civilian leadership. White House officials, in turn, are wary of what they see as lobbying efforts by military commanders.

Mr. Obama, bolstered by the bin Laden raid, may have won political latitude to keep more forces on the ground. Likewise, they said, lawmakers who favor sweeping troop reductions may be less likely to challenge the president.

All work and no play . . . - Perhaps the most prestigious residential building in New York

Adjoining duplexes at 740 Park Ave. will be up for sale for $60 million.

(From The Wall Street Journal.)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Administration planning $1 billion debt relief for Egypt

From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration has decided to provide about $1 billion in debt relief for Egypt, a senior official said Saturday, in the boldest U.S. effort yet to shore up a key Middle East ally as it attempts a democratic transition.

The aid would be part of a major economic aid package that also includes trade and investment incentives, officials said. It is intended to help stabilize Egypt after demonstrations forced out longtime President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11.

While the Obama administration has been preoccupied of late with the war in Libya and protests in Syria, it sees Egypt as even more critical for U.S. interests. Washington has long regarded Egypt as a moderating influence in the Middle East. With one-quarter of the world’s Arabs, Egypt could emerge as a democratic model in the region — or, if its revolution fails, a locus of instability or extremism.

Economic assistance for Egypt and Tunisia is “fundamental to our capacity to support their democratic transitions,” a senior State Department official said on the condition of anonymity. He said that officials were in the midst of “intense policy formulation” but that the economic package wasn’t finished. Parts of it will need congressional approval.

The largely peaceful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia have battered the countries’ economies. Tourism has collapsed; interest rates have jumped. Economic growth in the two countries is expected to plunge as much as four percentage points from last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. The squeeze comes as those nations’ interim governments are trying to create jobs to satisfy the young protesters’ demands.

Friedman: End of Mideast Wholesale

Thomas Friedman writes in The New York Times:

If you look into the different “shop” windows across the Middle East, it is increasingly apparent that the Arab uprisings are bringing to a close the era of “Middle East Wholesale” and ushering in the era of “Middle East Retail.” Everyone is going to have to pay more for their stability.

Let’s start with Israel. For the last 30 years, Israel enjoyed peace with Egypt wholesale — by having peace with just one man, Hosni Mubarak. That sale is over. Today, post-Mubarak, to sustain the peace treaty with Egypt in any kind of stable manner, Israel is going to have to pay retail. It is going to have to make peace with 85 million Egyptians. The days in which one phone call by Israel to Mubarak could shut down any crisis in relations are over.

Amr Moussa, the outgoing head of the Arab League and the front-runner in polls to succeed Mubarak as president when Egypt holds elections in November, just made that clear in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Regarding Israel, Moussa said: “Mubarak had a certain policy. It was his own policy, and I don’t think we have to follow this. We want to be a friend of Israel, but it has to have two parties. It is not on Egypt to be a friend. Israel has to be a friend, too.”

Moussa owes a great deal of his popularity in Egypt to his tough approach to Israel. I hope he has a broader vision. It is noteworthy that in the decade he led the Arab League, he spent a great deal of time jousting with Israel and did virtually nothing to either highlight or deal with the conclusions of the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report — produced by a group of Arab scholars led by an Egyptian — that said the Arab people are suffering from three huge deficits: a deficit of freedom, a deficit of knowledge and deficit of women’s empowerment.

The current Israeli government, however, shows little sign of being prepared for peace retail. I can’t say with any certainty that Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure peace so that Israel can end its occupation of the West Bank. But I can say with 100 percent certainty that Israel has a huge interest in going out of its way to test that possibility. The Arab world is going through a tumultuous transition to a still uncertain destination. Israel needs to do all it can to get out of their story, because it is going to be a wild ride.

Alas, though, the main strategy of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas will be to drag Israel into the Arab story — as a way of deflecting attention away from how these anti-democratic regimes are repressing their own people and to further delegitimize Israel, by making sure it remains a permanent occupier of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Have no illusions: The main goal of the rejectionists today is to lock Israel into the West Bank — so the world would denounce it as some kind of Jewish apartheid state, with a Jewish minority permanently ruling a Palestinian majority, when you combine Israel’s Arabs and the West Bank Arabs. With a more democratic Arab world, where everyone can vote, that would be a disaster for Israel. It may be unavoidable, but it would be insane for Israel to make it so by failing to aggressively pursue a secure withdrawal option.

The second group that will have to pay retail for stability is the Arab monarchies — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco. These governments have for decades bought stability with reform wholesale — by offering faux reforms, like reshuffling cabinets, that never amounted to real power sharing — and by distracting their people with shiny objects. But these monarchies totally underestimate the depth of what has erupted in their region: a profound quest for personal dignity, justice and freedom that is not going away. They will have to share more power.

The third group I hope will have to pay retail is Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Under Mubarak, in an odd way, the Brotherhood had it easy. Mubarak made sure that no authentic, legitimate, progressive, modern Egyptian party could emerge between himself and the Muslim Brotherhood. That way, Mubarak could come to Washington once a year and tell the president: “Look, it’s either me or the Muslim Brotherhood. We have no independent, secular moderates.”

Therefore, to get its votes, all the Muslim Brotherhood had to say was that “Mubarak is a Zionist” and “Islam is the answer.” It didn’t have to think hard about jobs, economics or globalization. It got its support wholesale — by simply being the only authentic vehicle for protest against the regime. Now the Muslim Brotherhood is going to have to get its votes retail — I hope.

This is the key question: Will a united, legitimate, authentic, progressive, modern, nationalist alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood get its act together and challenge the Islamists in the Egyptian elections, and then rule effectively? Woody Allen famously pointed out that 80 percent of life is showing up. Wrong. Eighty percent of life is getting stuff done. The Egyptian centrists from Tahrir Square now need to show that they can form parties to get good stuff done. Nobody pays wholesale anymore.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

With Osama bin Laden dead, its time to bring this back from the Cracker Squire Archives.

From a 12-2-07 post entitled "Do you remember?":

Anheuser-Busch aired this Budweiser commercial only once after 9/11 so as to avoid benefiting financially from it; the company just wanted to acknowledge the tragic event . . .

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Politics of Solipsism - The United States was founded as a republic, not simply as a democracy.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

The United States, as you know, was founded as a republic, not simply as a democracy. The distinction has been lost over the past few decades, but it is an important one.

The believers in a democracy have unlimited faith in the character and judgment of the people and believe that political institutions should be responsive to their desires. The believers in a republic have large but limited faith in the character and judgment of the people and erect institutions and barriers to improve that character and guide that judgment.

America’s founders were republicans. This was not simply elitism, a matter of some rich men distrusting the masses. This was a belief that ran through society and derived from an understanding of history. As Irving Kristol put it in a brilliant 1974 essay called “Republican Virtue vs. Servile Institutions,” “The common man is not a fool, and the proof is that he has such modest faith in himself.”

The first citizens of this country erected institutions to protect themselves from their own shortcomings. We’re familiar with some of them: the system of checks and balances, the Senate, etc. More important, they believed, was public spiritedness — a system of habits and attitudes that would check egotism and self-indulgence.

As Kristol points out in the essay, the meaning of the phrase “public spiritedness” has flipped since the 18th century. Now we think a public-spirited person is somebody with passionate opinions about public matters, one who signs petitions and becomes an activist for a cause.

In its original sense, it meant the opposite. As Kristol wrote, it meant “curbing one’s passions and moderating one’s opinions in order to achieve a large consensus that will ensure domestic tranquility.” Instead of self-expression, it meant self-restraint. It was best exemplified in the person of George Washington.

Over the years, the democratic values have swamped the republican ones. We’re now impatient with any institution that stands in the way of the popular will, regarding it as undemocratic and illegitimate. Politicians see it as their duty to serve voters in the way a business serves its customers. The customer is always right.

A few things have been lost in this transition. Because we take it as a matter of faith that the people are good, we are no longer alert to arrangements that may corrode the character of the nation. For example, many generations had a moral aversion to debt. They believed that to go into debt was to indulge your basest urges and to surrender your future independence. That aversion has clearly been overcome.

We no longer have a leadership class — of the sort that existed as late as the Truman and Eisenhower administrations — that believes that governing means finding an equilibrium between different economic interests and a balance between political factions. Instead, we have the politics of solipsism. The political culture encourages politicians and activists to imagine that the country’s problems would be solved if other people’s interests and values magically disappeared.

The democratic triumph has created a nation that runs up huge debt and is increasingly incapable of finding a balance between competing interests. Today, the country faces three intertwined economic challenges. We have to make the welfare state fiscally sustainable. We have to do it in a way that preserves the economic dynamism in the country — that provides incentives for creative destruction. We also have to do it in a way that preserves social cohesion — that reduces the growing economic and lifestyle gaps between the educated and less educated.

These three goals are in tension with one another, but to prosper America has to address all three at the same time.

Voters will have to embrace institutional arrangements that restrain their desire to spend on themselves right now. Political leaders will have to find ways to moderate solipsistic tribalism and come up with tax and welfare state reforms that balance economic dynamism and social cohesion.

Over the past months, there has been some progress in getting Americans to accept the need for self-restraint. With their various budget approaches, the Simpson-Bowles commission, Paul Ryan and President Obama have sent the message that politics can no longer be about satisfying voters’ immediate needs. The public hasn’t bought it yet, but progress is being made.

There has been less progress in getting political leaders to come up with compromises that balance dynamism and cohesion. Republicans still mostly talk about incentives for growth, and Democrats still mostly talk about economic security. The breakthrough, if there is one, will come from the least directly democratic parts of the government, from the Senate or some commission of Establishment bigwigs. It will be enacted when voters realize we need to build arrangements to protect ourselves from our own weaknesses. It will all depend on reviving the republican virtues upon which the country was founded.

Bring it on: Attack on Bin Laden Used Stealthy Helicopter That Had Been a Secret

From The New York Times:

The assault team that killed Osama bin Laden sneaked up on his compound in radar-evading helicopters that had never been discussed publicly by the United States government, aviation analysts said Thursday.

The commandos blew up one of the helicopters after it was damaged in a hard landing, but news photographs of the surviving tail section reveal modifications to muffle noise and reduce the chances of detection by radar.

The stealth features, similar to those used on advanced fighter jets and bombers, help explain how two of the helicopters sped undetected through Pakistani air defenses before reaching the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad. The use of the specially equipped helicopters also underscores the extent to which American officials wanted to get to Bin Laden without tipping off Pakistani leaders.

Analysts said the raid was a rare case in which stealth aircraft, devised for conventional warfare during the cold war, became critical to fighting terrorism.

Military and intelligence agencies have refused to comment about the use of stealth aircraft in this raid. But since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the special forces have spared no expense in developing technology to hunt terrorists, and aviation experts said the debris from the damaged helicopter provided further evidence of that.

Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, has said that two Black Hawk helicopters carried about 25 Navy Seal members to the compound, where they killed Bin Laden and three other people in an operation that lasted nearly 40 minutes.

But several analysts and executives in the helicopter industry said the rear section that was left behind looked nothing like the tail of a regular Black Hawk, a popular midsize helicopter made by Sikorsky. Rather, they said, it appeared that the Black Hawks had been modified to incorporate some of the features of a proposed stealth helicopter that the Pentagon canceled in 2004.

“They would have learned an awful lot from that, and a lot of it would have been relevant to a program like this,” said Richard L. Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va.

Mr. Aboulafia said the changes appeared to include the addition of special coatings to the skin to absorb radar beams and the replacement of sharp edges on the helicopter with curved ones. The gentler curves could scatter the reflections of other radar beams in too many directions for an air-defense system to put together a coherent picture of the plane, he said.

Bill Sweetman, the editor of a military trade publication owned by Aviation Week, reported that the damaged helicopter appeared to have five or six blades in its tail rotor, instead of the four in a standard Black Hawk. That could have allowed operators to slow the rotor speed and reduce the familiar chop-chop sound that most helicopters make.

A cover on the rotor that looks like a dishpan or a hubcap in the news photographs may have also helped reduce so-called radar signature of the craft, the analysts said.

Lawmakers who were briefed on the mission said the damaged helicopter had not malfunctioned, as initially described by senior administration officials. Instead, they said, it got caught in an air vortex caused by higher-than-expected temperatures and the high compound walls, which blocked the downwash of the rotor blades.

As a result, the helicopter lost its lift power while hovering over the yard and had to make a hard landing, clipping one of the walls with its tail. Some of the Seal members later tried to destroy the craft, presumably to hide the secret stealth components, before boarding larger backup helicopters that carried them to Afghanistan.

Mr. Aboulafia and Mr. Sweetman both said it was harder to quiet a helicopter than a winged plane, given all the whirling blades.

It was not clear whether the special forces had used the stealth helicopters in any earlier raids in Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Indications that stealth features were added to the helicopters suggest an extension of a technology that was created to protect American fighter jets and bombers from sophisticated air defenses in countries like Russia and China.

The top stealth fighter, the F-22, has never been flown in combat. The long-range B-2 bombers have been used sparingly, including a recent bombing run that destroyed an airfield in Libya.

Mr. Aboulafia said the latest modifications seemed similar to plans for the stealthy Comanche helicopter, which were canceled in 2004 after billions of dollars in cost overruns. Those plans also arose during the cold war. But with the lack of anti-aircraft threats in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army officials decided that full-scale production of stealth copters was not worth the cost.

“Stealth never made sense in an Afghan context,” Mr. Aboulafia said, “unless you were also looking at the Pakistan dimension.”

Some analysts wondered whether the C.I.A. might have also used a stealthy drone to gather intelligence before the raid on Bin Laden’s compound and possibly to monitor the attack.

In addition to satellite photographs, the special forces rely on Predator and Reaper drones in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide video showing how many people are living in insurgent compounds and their patterns of activity. But the Predators and Reapers would be easy for almost any air-defense system to track.

The Pentagon announced in late 2009 that it was testing a bat-winged stealth drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, in Afghanistan, and it was quickly dubbed the Beast of Kandahar. Military officials have not mentioned it publicly since then, and they would not say this week whether it had been involved in the hunt for Bin Laden.

The Tora Bora region of Afghanistan

From The New York Times:

The rugged, rocky region of Tora Bora is honeycombed with caves, some of which were used by the mujahedeen in their standoff against the Soviet Army in the 1980s. The terrain, easy to defend and hard to attack, had been the site of Bin Laden’s last stand before he escaped into Pakistan in the winter of 2001-2002, a missed chance that was a blow to the Bush administration.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

From the Cracker Squire Archives: I'm with the flaggers on this one -- Mock hanging of Confederate flag; I say hang the carpetbagger.

The Battle Flag of the Confederacy flies next to a memorial to Confederate war dead near the Dodge County Courthouse in Eastman.

A couple of years ago I thought our heritage and history was getting knocked a bit too much for my liking. But this has changed as of late, and I have been pleased with the ongoing handling and reporting of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War as an historic event. The Washington Post has had some truly fascinating pieces.

The Macon Telegraph continues to report on how the majority of the Dodge County Commissioners feel they are in a no-win position.

I hope things work out in Eastman and Dodge County for the best.

In 8-29-04 post entitled "I'm with the flaggers on this one -- Mock hanging of Confederate flag; I say hang the carpetbagger," I wtote:

The Gwinnett Daily Post has an article entitled "Plan for mock lynching of a Confederate flag stirs controversy." And damn well it should.

It seems as though this guy from Florida – a no-good Yankee carpetbagger no doubt – has got it in his mind to hold a mock lynching of a Confederate flag as part of an art exhibition at a Gettysburg College art gallery early next month.

There is a minor movement afoot to cancel the show. Count me in.

Of all places, Gettysburg, a sacred place where both sides fought valiantly and lost thousands and thousands of lives. I took my three girls there, and hope to take my grandkids there one day just as I look forward to taking them to the Statute of Liberty.

I voted with the majority (the vote was 3-to-1) in the nonbinding referendum that approved our present flag, almost a replica of the Confederate national flag, the Stars and Bars. And I am proud of our present flag, not just because it is a part of our heritage and disguishes us from say Nevada, but because it is one good-looking flag.

I also liked the looks of the flag the legislature adopted in 1956 that contained the St. Andrew’s cross. I also like the looks of the flag the legislature replaced in 1956, but not as much as I did the looks of the 1956 flag.

(Andrews was the brother of Simon Peter, was supposedly the first-called disciple, and was reportedly crucified by the Romans on an x-shaped cross, claiming he did not feel worthy to be crucified on a regular cross as Jesus was.)

Am I glad we changed flags? You dern right I am. We had no choice.

Congress could outlaw "white only" signs, but not what the Confederate battle flag based on the St. Andrews cross had come to be – a symbol of rascism and hatred. Unfortunately, to many Americans it conjured up memories of lynchings, the KKK and nightriders, Jim Crowism, etc.

It had to go and I am glad it is behind us. Changing it took courage. We won’t hear about it next week, but Sen. Miller almost lost re-election in 1994 as governor for trying to change the flag during his first term.

And we all know it contributed to Roy Barnes’ defeat. Barnes has said: "Of course, I knew there was a chance [that changing the flag] would affect my re-election, but I also knew that the time had come to do it. We had watched what was happening in South Carolina and Mississippi. I didn't want the flag to divide Georgia more than it already had. It was the state government that changed the flag in 1956, and it was our responsibility to correct that mistake.''

I am happy the Stars and Bars has no such connotation. To try to give it such would be a mistake and injustice to the South’s history and heritage. As the Confederate national flag, Stars and Bars is part of our history as are our ancestors who fought with valor to the end, regardless for which side.

Just as the we now sing that great anthem The Battle Hymn of Republic which was the Union's marching song, we should not forget what the colors blue and grey represent, or let the song Dixie go the way of the Edsel and Oldsmobile, and not appreciate the book and movie Gone with the Wind.

And as far as I am concerned, neither should our Confederate Monuments in counties such as my own and so many others in Georgia and the South; the statutes that line the streets in Richmond, Virginia; and those on state capitols throughout the South, be regarded as other than part of our region's history.

The Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression -- call it what suits you -- is part of our history. The Confederate flag is part of that history. The carpetbagger and not our history is who needs to be lynched.

Let's hope so: With bin Laden’s death, U.S. sees a chance to hasten the end of the Afghan war

From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration is seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to accelerate a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and hasten the end of the Afghanistan war, according to U.S. officials involved in war policy.

Administration officials think it could now be easier for the reclusive leader of the largest Taliban faction, Mohammad Omar, to break his group’s alliance with al-Qaeda, a key U.S. requirement for any peace deal. They also think that bin Laden’s death could make peace talks a more palatable outcome for Americans and insulate President Obama from criticism that his administration would be negotiating with terrorists.

Monday, May 02, 2011

God Bless America, land that we all love!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Good reading on some world history by Peggy Noonan: Make John Paul II a Saint - How the Polish pope worked a political miracle.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

One of the greatest moments in the history of faith was also one of the greatest moments in modern political history. It happened in June 1979.

Just eight months before, after dusk on Oct. 16, 1978, a cardinal had stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica to say those towering, august words, "Habemus papem"—"We have a pope." The cardinal pronounced the new pontiff's name in Latin. Not everyone understood or could hear him, and the name sounded odd. For 456 years the church had been electing Italian popes. This didn't sound Italian. The crowd was perplexed.

Then the new pope came out—burly, light-haired, broad cheekbones. He looked Slavic. He looked like a Pole! It was Karol Wojtyla, the cardinal from Krakow. It was a breakthrough choice—so unexpected and unprecedented—and you knew as you watched that a whole new world was beginning. This was a former manual laborer who wore brown scruffy shoes, who was young (58) and vibrant (a hiker and kayaker). He was a writer, an intellectual who'd come up during the heroic era of the European priesthood, when to be a priest in a communist-controlled nation was to put not only your freedom at risk but your life.

Poland went wild with joy; Krakow took to the streets. The reaction was world-wide. They had vigils in the Polish neighborhoods of Chicago, and block parties in Boston.

And here is the great moment of faith that became a great moment of history. John Paul II, naturally, wanted to return as pope to visit his homeland. This put the communist government in Warsaw in a bind. If they didn't invite him, they'd look defensive and weak. If they did, he might spark an uprising that would trigger a Soviet invasion.

They invited John Paul to come on a "religious pilgrimage." On June 2, 1979, he arrived at an airport outside Warsaw, walked down the steps of the plane, and kissed the tarmac. The government feared tens of thousands would line the streets for the motorcade into town.

More than a million came.

In a Mass in the Old City, John Paul gave a great sermon. Why, he asked, had God lifted a Pole to the papacy? Why had Poland suffered for centuries under political oppression? Perhaps because Poland is "the land of a particularly responsible witness." The Poles had been chosen to give witness, with humility, to the cross and the Resurrection. He asked the crowd if they accepted such an obligation.

"We want God," they roared. "We want God!" This from a nation occupied by an atheist state.

John Paul said the great work of God is man, and the great redeemer of man is Christ. Therefore, "Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man!"

It was brilliant. He wasn't asking for a revolution or an uprising, he wasn't directly challenging the government. He just pointed out that God himself sees one unity in Europe, not an East and a West divided but one continent. And so must we all.

But it was what happened a week later, at the Blonie field outside Krakow, that led directly to 1989, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. That was the event that made political history.

It was June 10, near the end of the trip. Everyone was tired. There was to be a last outdoor Mass. The government had not allowed it to be publicized. But word spread, and two million people came, maybe three million. It was the biggest gathering in Polish history. Here John Paul took on communism more directly. He exhorted the crowd to receive the Holy Spirit. "I speak . . . for St. Paul: Do not quench the Spirit. . . . I speak again for St. Paul: Do not grieve the Spirit of God!"

"You must be strong, my brothers and sisters. You must be strong with the strength that faith gives. . . . You need this strength today more than any other period in our history. . . . You must be strong with love, which is stronger than death. . . . Never lose your spiritual freedom."

The Mass was stirring, with crowds saying, again, "We want God!" But here is the thing. Everyone at that Mass went home and put on state-controlled television to see the coverage of the great event. They knew millions had been there, they knew what was said, they knew everyone there was part of a spiritual uprising. But state-run TV had nothing. State-run TV had a few people in the mud and a picture of the pope.

Everyone looked at the propaganda of the state, at its lack of truthfulness and its disrespect for reality, and they thought: It's all lies. Everything the government says is a lie. The government itself is a lie.

The Solidarity movement took on new power. The Communist Party lost authority; the Polish government in time tottered, and by 1989 the Soviet Union itself was tottering.

Twenty-three years later, in an interview, the Solidarity leader Lech Walessa told me of how John Paul galvanized the movement for freedom: "We knew . . . communism could not be reformed. But we knew the minute he touched the foundations of communism, it would collapse."

John Paul went on to a fruitful papacy of historic length, 26 years. He traveled more than a million miles to 149 countries. He didn't bring the world to the church, he brought the church to the world. He was shot and almost killed in 1981, survived and went to Rome's Rebibbia Prison to make sure his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, understood he'd been forgiven. And at the end, sick with Parkinson's, he did what statesmen don't do: He made his suffering public, as if to say, "We who are imperfect, who are not beautiful, who are in pain—we too are part of the human race, and worthy of God's love." He insisted on the humanity of the weak, the wounded, the unborn.

And when he died, there was the miracle of the crowds. John Paul had been old and dying for a long time, and the Vatican knew he'd been forgotten. They didn't plan for crowds.

But when he died, people came running. They dropped what they were doing and filled the streets of Rome, they got on trains and plans and Rome was engulfed.

Four million people came.

They traveled from every country in Europe and beyond, they had nowhere to sleep, they filled the streets carrying candles.

There had never been anything like it. Old Rome had seen its popes come and go, but the crowds came and wouldn't leave until he was buried. And when his coffin was carried out and shown to them, they roared.

"Santo Subito!" they said. Make him a saint.

And now this weekend he will be beatified, a step toward sainthood. He will become Blessed John Paul the Second, and nobody will misunderstand his name.

Some will speak of mistakes and sins in his papacy, and they are right. But saints are first of all human, and their lives are always flawed, full of contradictions, and marked by stark failures. Yet they are individuals of heroic virtue. As he was.

Santo Subito. Make him a saint. And by the way, expect crowds.