GW never allowed the U.S. to participate in the U.N.'s Israel bashing anti-Semitic Durban Conference but the Obama Administration, in its desire to bring about change, is doing so. Either this Administration is more naive than I thought, is actually anti-Israel or has bought Jimmy Carter's claim that Israel is an Apartheid Nation.
The Durban Conference has proven to be another "Israeli Pinata" established by the U.N.'s most racist and fascist nations who gather together to attack Israel for the very acts they themselves commit.
The AJC, to its discredit, is also participating as a 'watchdog' organization.
This type of subtle activity is right out of Hitler's playbook and laid the foundation for WW 2. You are known by the company you keep. (See 1 below.)
Sometimes, as in 'Gullivers Travels," "Animal Farm," or "Alice in Wonderland," satire is more effective in making a point. In this case the point being made is Government and Congress are not always "Kosher." (See 2 and 2a below.)
Last week's Saturday Section of the Wall Street Journal devoted multi pages to what is going on in Mexico's cartel drug wars. Fred Burton and Scott Stewart continue their own series about what is happening in Mexico and the implications for our own nation. What is taking place on our border with Mexico is serious, it is dangerous and is a gathering storm - a must read article. (See 3 below.)
Is the current White House occupant taking us back to the days of Sen. Church and Carter?
Sam. Nunn was somewhat bemused by Bill Casey whom he said talked so fast and with "mush in his mouth" that he never could understand him when he appeared before the committeee Sam chaired.
And read about just who is Charles Freeman.(See 4 and 4a below.)
The best way to corrupt and change a society is to control the university system. Iran's Mullah's learned this lesson well from Hitler, Goebel and the Nazi's. (See 5 below.)
The Hariri assassination trial is finally happening and to its credit the Obama Administration seems unwilling to pull Assad's chestnut out of the fire. Stay tuned. (See 6 below.)
EU proposes tougher sanctions against Iran - ho hum! Meanwhile Iran goes on its merry way starting up its nuclear 'peace plant'(See 7 below.)
Egyptian mediators continue to try and get 'Palestinian Hatfields and McCoys' to cool it. (See 8 below.)
Can we bring Democracy to the Middle East and does the Obama Administration believe we can? Very interesting "Executive Summary." (See 9 below.)
A series of articles about what our neophyte president is all about:
David Broder writes about 'Las Vegas Obama' - the crap shooting president. Dan Henninger about Obama's radicalism. Terence Corcoran about Obama's crisis driven presidency and Karl Rove, as I have written, about Obama's need for straw men.(See 10 -13 below.)
A series of articles about what is wrong with the The Grand Old Party.
Froma Harrop discusses' the GOP's avoidance of its fiscal principles, Bill Kristol's the GOP's 'Day of Reckoning." and David Kuhn's "Has GOP Lost Enought To Change."
(See 14 - 16 below.)
Have a great weekend.
1) Obama's Durban gambit
By Caroline B. Glick
Some might argue that no Israeli interest is served by openly condemning the White House. But when the White House is participating in a process that legitimizes and so advances the war against the Jewish state, such condemnation is not only richly deserved but required
While most Americans were busy celebrating Valentine's Day, last Saturday the Obama administration announced that it would be sending a delegation to Geneva to participate in planning the UN ' s so-called Durban II conference, scheduled to take place in late April. Although largely overlooked in the US , the announcement sent shock-waves through Jerusalem .
The Durban II conference was announced in the summer of 2007. Its stated purpose is to review the implementation of the declaration adopted at the UN's anti-Israel hate fest that took place in Durban, South Africa the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks against America .
At Durban , both the UN-sponsored NGO conclave and the UN's governmental conference passed declarations denouncing Israel as a racist state. The NGO conference called for a coordinated international campaign aimed at delegitimizing Israel and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, and belittling the Holocaust. The NGO conference also called for curbs on freedom of expression throughout the world in order to prevent critical discussion of Islam. As far as the world's leading NGOs — including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — were concerned, critical discussions of Islam are inherently racist.
In defending US participation in the Durban II planning sessions, Gordon Duguid, the State Department's spokesman argued, "If you are not engaged, you don't have a voice."
He continued, "We wanted to put forward our view and see if there is some way we can make the document [which sets the agenda and dictates the outcome of the Durban II conference] a better document than it appears it is going to be."
While this seems like a noble goal, both the State Department and the Obama White House ought to know that there is absolutely no chance that they can accomplish it. This is the case for two reasons.
First, since the stated purpose of the Durban II conference is to oversee the implementation of the first Durban conference's decisions, and since those decisions include the anti-Israel assertion that Israel is a racist state, it is clear that the Durban II conference is inherently, and necessarily anti-Israel.
The second reason that both the State Department and the White House must realize that they are powerless to affect the conference's agenda is because that agenda was already set in previous planning sessions chaired by the likes of Libya, Cuba, Iran and Pakistan. And that agenda includes multiple assertions of the basic illegitimacy of the Jewish people's right to self-determination. The conference agenda also largely adopted the language of the 2001 NGO conference that called for the criminalization of critical discussion of Islam as a form of hate speech and racism. That is, the 2009 conference's agenda is not only openly anti-Israel, it is also openly pro-tyranny and so, seemingly antithetical to US interests.
Beyond all that, assuming that the Obama administration truly wishes to change the agenda, the fact is that the US is powerless to do so. As was the case in 2001, so too, today, the Islamic bloc, supported by the Third World bloc, has an automatic voting majority. Beyond chipping away at the margins, the US has no ability whatsoever to change the conference ' s agenda or expected outcome.
Since it came into office a month ago, every single Middle East policy the Obama administration has announced has been antithetical to Israel's national security interests. From President Barack Obama's intense desire to appease Iran's mullahs in open discussions; to his stated commitment to establishing a Palestinian state as quickly as possible despite the Palestinians' open rejection of Israel's right to exist and support for terrorism; to his expressed support for the so-called Saudi peace plan which would require Israel to commit national suicide by contracting to within indefensible borders and accepting millions of hostile, foreign born Arabs as citizens and residents of the rump Jewish state; to his decision to end US sanctions against Syria and return the US ambassador to Damascus; to his plan to withdraw US forces from Iraq and so give Iran an arc of uninterrupted control extending from Iran to Lebanon, every single concrete policy Obama has enunciated harms Israel.
At the same time, none of the policies that Obama has adopted can be construed as directed against Israel . In and of themselves, none can be viewed as expressing specific hostility towards Israel . Rather they are expressions of naivete, or ignorance, or — at worst — deliberate denial of the nature of the problems of the Arab and Islamic world on the part of Obama and his advisors.
The same cannot be said of the administration s decision to send its delegation to the Durban II planning session this past week in Geneva . Unlike every other Obama policy, this policy is a hostile act against Israel . This is true first of all because the decision was announced in the face of repeated Israeli requests that the US join Israel and Canada in boycotting the Durban II conference.
Some could chalk up the US s rejection of Israel's urgent entreaties as an honest difference of opinion. But what lies behind Israel ' s requests for a US boycott is not a partisan agenda, but a clearheaded acknowledgement that the Durban II conference is inherently devoted to the delegitimization and destruction of the Jewish state. And by joining in the planning sessions, the US has become a full participant in legitimizing and so advancing this overtly anti-Jewish agenda.
On Thursday, Professor Anne Bayefsky, the senior editor of the EyeontheUN website demonstrated that by participating in the planning sessions the US is accepting the conference's anti-Israel agenda. Bayefsky reported that at the planning session in Geneva on Thursday, the Palestinian delegation proposed that a paragraph be added to the conference's agenda. Their draft, "calls for implementation of the advisory opinion of the ICJ [International Court of Justice] on the wall, [i.e., Israel's security fence], and the international protection of Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory."
The American delegation raised no objection to the Palestinian draft.
Issued in 2004, the ICJ's advisory opinion on Israel's security fence claimed that Israel has no right to self-defense against Palestinian terrorism. At the time, both the US and Israel rejected the ICJ ' s authority to issue an opinion on the subject.
On Thursday, by not objecting to this Palestinian draft, not only did the US effectively accept the ICJ's authority, for practical purposes it granted the anti-Israel claim that Jews may be murdered with impunity.
This assertion aligns naturally with the language already in the Durban II agenda which calls Israel's Law of Return a racist law. This law, which grants automatic Israeli citizenship to any Jew who wishes to live here, is the embodiment of Jewish peoplehood and the vehicle through which the Jewish people have built our nation-state. In alleging that the Law of Return is racist, the Durban II conference asserts that the Jews are not a people and we have no right to self-determination in our homeland. And Thursday, by participating in the process of demonizing Israel and its people, the US lent its own credibility to this bigoted campaign.
Obama's spokesmen and defenders claim that by participating in the planning sessions in Geneva , the administration is doing nothing more than attempting to prevent the conference from being the anti-Jewish diplomatic pogrom it was in 2001. If they are unsuccessful, they will boycott the conference. No harm done.
But this claim rings hollow.
As Bayefsky and others argued this week, by entering into the Durban preparatory process, the US has done two things. First, it has made it all but impossible for European states like France , England , the Czech Republic and the Netherlands , which were all considering boycotting the conference from doing so. They cannot afford to be seen as more opposed to its anti-Israel and anti-freedom agenda than Israel ' s closest ally and the world ' s greatest democracy. So just by participating in the planning sessions the US has legitimized a clearly bigoted, morally illegitimate process, making it impossible for Europe to disengage.
Second, through its behavior at the Geneva planning sessions this week, the US has demonstrated that State Department protestations aside, the administration has no interest in changing the agenda in any serious way. The US delegation ' s decision to accept the Palestinian draft, as well its silence in the face of Iran ' s rejection of a clause in the conference declaration that mentioned the Holocaust, show the US did not join the planning session to change the tenor of the conference. The US is participating in the planning sessions because it wishes to participate in the conference.
The Durban II conference, like its predecessor is part and parcel of a campaign to coordinate the diplomatic and legal war against the Jewish state. By walking out of the 2001 Durban conference, and refusing to participate, support or finance any aspect of this UN-sponsored campaign until last Saturday, for seven years the US made clear that it opposed this war and believed its aim of destroying Israel is unacceptable.
By embracing the Durban campaign now, it is possible that the Obama administration will water down some of the most noxious language in conference's draft declaration. But this doesn ' t balance out the harm US participation will cause to Israel , or to the Jewish people. By participating in the conference, the US today is effectively giving American support to the war against the Jewish state.
The open hostility towards Israel expressed by the Obama administration's decision to participate in the Durban process should be a red flag for both the Israeli government and for Israel's supporters in the US . Both Israel and its Jewish and non-Jewish supporters must openly condemn the administration's move and demand that it reverse its decision immediately.
For the past two years, the American Jewish Committee has been instrumental in convincing the American Jewish community to reject repeated Israeli requests that they call for a US boycott of Durban II. To secure US participation over Israel ' s objections, the AJC even went so far as to sign a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her not to boycott the conference.
In return for the AJC's labors, its senior operative Felice Gaer is now a member of the US delegation in Geneva . Happily ensconced in the Swiss conference room where the Holocaust is denied, the Jewish people's right to self-determination is reviled, and Israel's right to defend itself is rejected, Gaer now sits silently all the while using the fact of her membership in the US delegation as proof that the Obama administration is serious about protecting Israel at Durban II.
Whatever the AJC may have gained for its support for Durban II, Israel and its supporters have clearly been harmed.
Some might argue that no Israeli interest is served by openly condemning the White House. But when the White House is participating in a process that legitimizes and so advances the war against the Jewish state, such condemnation is not only richly deserved but required. It is the administration, not Israel that threw down the gauntlet. If Israel and its supporters refrain from vigorously criticizing this move, we guarantee its repetition.
2) New Element
Brookhaven National Laboratory has discovered the heaviest element yet
known to science. The new element, Governmentium (symbol=Gv), has one
neutron , 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant
deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.
These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons , which are
surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons .
Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be
detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into
contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would
normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to
Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2 to 6 years. It does not decay, but
instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant
neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass
will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more
morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes . This characteristic of moron
promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed
whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity
is referred to as critical morass . When catalyzed with money, Governmentium
becomes Administratium (symbol=Ad), an element that radiates just as much
energy as Governmentium, since it has half as many peons but twice as many
2a) The three little pigs and the housing rescue plan, a modern fable
By Greg Swann
Once upon a time there were three little pigs, and, although they were brothers and looked a lot a like, they could not have been more different.
The first little pig was hard-working and thrifty. He spent very little of his income, saving and investing as much money as he could. He lived with his mother well into adulthood, helping her with her expenses. He finally bought a home of his own when he could afford to pay for it all in cash. As you might expect, the thrifty little pig’s home wasn’t flashy, but it was all his, free and clear.
The second little pig didn’t save very much of his income, but he earned a lot of money as a rising executive, and he had an uncanny luck in the housing market. He bought a condominium on his 18th birthday, then traded up to his first single-family home before he was 21. By the time he was 30, the lucky little pig owned a very stately executive home — and he had been able to make a whopping 50% down-payment.
The third little pig wasn’t very good at working hard, and he had never kept a job long enough to get a raise. He wasn’t at all good at saving money, but he could borrow and spend it better than any little pig anywhere. Like the lucky little pig, he moved away from home early, but he just kept moving — from apartments to friends’ couches to rental homes and then to one girlfriend’s house after another.
If you are a liberal, you may be thinking of the third brother as the unfortunate little pig. If you are a conservative, you will want to call him the lazy little pig — or worse. To keep the peace, let’s just call him the puerile little pig — the little brother who never quite grew up.
The original version of this story was about construction quality as a metaphor for planning ahead, anticipating disasters so they don’t take you by surprise. But the world of real estate has changed a lot since then. The most important change was that the big bad wolf ran for congress and discovered that he could stay in office forever by mucking with the housing economy.
What did he do? He imposed taxes on incomes but gave back a lot of that tax money as a reward for buying a house — buying a house on credit, that is.
The income taxes didn’t hurt the thrifty little pig too much, but he didn’t get any tax break for owning his home, since he didn’t have a mortgage. The lucky little pig suffered a huge bite on his income taxes, but he was able to recoup some of that loss with his 50% mortgage. The puerile little pig didn’t have any income to tax, nor any house payments to deduct from his tax bill.
But big bad wolves don’t just stand around with their thumbs in their suspenders, do they? The thrifty little pig had an ovine nature, and he usually voted for the sheep party. The lucky little pig wasn’t as much lupine as he was thoughtless, so he almost always voted for the wolf party. And, of course, the puerile little pig could never get out of bed in time to vote at all.
The big bad wolf figured out that, if he could muck with the real estate market enough, he could get the puerile little pig a home of his own — and then he could count on his vote forever.
So the big bad wolf leaned on bankers to lower their standards so much that even the puerile little pig could afford to buy a home — for nothing down, all closing costs paid, and with no mortgage insurance premium. It was just as if all the bankers were sleep-walking, doing the kinds of crazy things bankers only do in dreams. All across the land, bankers gave mortgages to puerile folks who had never saved a penny in their lives and never once paid a bill that hadn’t come in a red-bordered envelope.
And for the first month, everything was fine. And so, too, for the second month. But on the first day of the third month, a banker noticed that the puerile little pig wasn’t paying his mortgage. All across the land, bankers found that their puerile borrowers were defaulting on their loans, even though those loans had been so easy to obtain.
Well, the newspaper reporters huffed and the television pundits puffed, but nobody could keep the house of cards from crashing down. The banks had to take back houses for which there were no buyers. The only way they could get them sold was by slashing prices. And because of those fire-sale prices for the foreclosed homes, the values of all homes went down.
The thrifty little pig had never seen his home as an investment. It was just something he needed to live, like his clothing or his car or his work tools. He had never expected that his home would gain in value, but he also never expected it to lose half its value.
The lucky little pig had always seen housing as an investment, just like stocks or bonds or rare baseball cards. But he had never given a moment’s thought to the idea that home prices could go down and not just up. Even so, his house lost half its value, eating up his entire down-payment.
The puerile little pig — call him unfortunate or call him lazy — lost nothing. Since he had paid nothing to get his house, and since he had made no payments on his mortgage, he actually came out ahead. He took his new girlfriend to Las Vegas for the weekend, then moved into her apartment — paying nothing for rent, of course.
Now if this were really a fable, everyone would learn their lesson — possibly issuing an apology to the grasshopper and the ant for invading their turf. But this is real life, where just about anyone will believe just about anything, provided it’s an obvious, bald-faced, ludicrous lie. So the reporters and the pundits had a field day, blaming the housing crisis on the thrifty little pig, on the lucky little pig, even on the puerile little pig. They blamed everyone except the big bad wolf, because that would have been the truth.
But the big bad wolf was a step ahead of everyone, anyway. With great fanfare, he announced his housing rescue plan. Bankers would be forced to lend borrowers 105% of their current loan balances, with the goal being to reduce the payments for everyone who qualified.
The puerile little pig might have qualified, except he had already lost his home.
The lucky little pig could have qualified, except that he would end up owing even more money for his home. Meanwhile, his 50% down-payment was gone just as if he had burned it.
The thrifty little pig could not qualify for the rescue plan, since he didn’t owe anything on his home. Even so, half of the value of his house was gone, too.
And while we might like to imagine that life just goes on as it always has before, that’s never really the case. Things do change, just so slowly that we tend not to notice — particularly if we’re already steadfastly committed to obvious, bald-faced, ludicrous lies.
So what happened in the end?
The thrifty little pig took what was left of his savings and moved to a tidy little tax haven in the Caribbean . He never really learned how to let his tail uncurl, so to speak, but he manages his investments by laptop from the beach — paying no taxes to the big bad wolf.
The lucky little pig became the tipsy little pig, taking a certain comfort in asking, “What’s the use?” of anyone who would listen to him. Eventually he lost his job. He mailed his house keys in to his banker and moved in with his girlfriend, who lives on welfare and child support from the three little fathers of her own three little pigs.
And the puerile little pig? He ran out of jobs, first, then girlfriends, then friends. Without thrifty investors and big-income-earning lucky executives, the economy got worse year after year, but, the truth is — call him unfortunate or call him lazy — the puerile little pig had never been much good at paying his own way in life.
So he lived in a cardboard box and he ate from garbage dumpsters. He wore whatever clothes he could find, spending his days collecting empty soda cans to sell to recyclers. He talked to himself a lot, and he bathed so rarely that no one ever came too near him.
But every election day, there he was at the polls, pulling every lever for the wolf party — the only people who had ever given him a chance to own a home of his own.
And if you’re the big bad wolf, that’s a very happy ending…
3) The Long Arm of the Lawless
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
Last week we discussed the impact that crime, and specifically kidnapping, has been having on Mexican citizens and foreigners visiting or living in Mexico. We pointed out that there is almost no area of Mexico immune from the crime and violence. As if on cue, on the night of Feb. 21 a group of heavily armed men threw two grenades at a police building in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, wounding at least five people. Zihuatanejo is a normally quiet beach resort just north of Acapulco; the attack has caused the town’s entire police force to go on strike. (Police strikes, or threats of strikes, are not uncommon in Mexico.)
Mexican police have regularly been targeted by drug cartels, with police officials even having been forced to seek safety in the United States, but such incidents have occurred most frequently in areas of high cartel activity like Veracruz state or Palomas. The Zihuatanejo incident is proof of the pervasiveness of violence in Mexico, and demonstrates the impact that such violence quickly can have on an area generally considered safe.
Significantly, the impact of violent Mexican criminals stretches far beyond Mexico itself. In recent weeks, Mexican criminals have been involved in killings in Argentina, Peru and Guatemala, and Mexican criminals have been arrested as far away as Italy and Spain. Their impact — and the extreme violence they embrace — is therefore not limited to Mexico or even just to Latin America. For some years now, STRATFOR has discussed the threat that Mexican cartel violence could spread to the United States, and we have chronicled the spread of such violence to the U.S.-Mexican border and beyond.
Traditionally, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations had focused largely on the transfer of narcotics through Mexico. Once the South American cartels encountered serious problems bringing narcotics directly into the United States, they began to focus more on transporting the narcotics to Mexico. From that point, the Mexican cartels transported them north and then handed them off to U.S. street gangs and other organizations, which handled much of the narcotics distribution inside the United States. In recent years, however, these Mexican groups have grown in power and have begun to take greater control of the entire narcotics-trafficking supply chain.
With greater control comes greater profitability as the percentages demanded by middlemen are cut out. The Mexican cartels have worked to have a greater presence in Central and South America, and now import from South America into Mexico an increasing percentage of the products they sell. They are also diversifying their routes and have gone global; they now even traffic their wares to Europe. At the same time, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations also have increased their distribution operations inside the United States to expand their profits even further. As these Mexican organizations continue to spread beyond the border areas, their profits and power will extend even further — and they will bring their culture of violence to new areas.
Burned in Phoenix
The spillover of violence from Mexico began some time ago in border towns like Laredo and El Paso in Texas, where merchants and wealthy families face extortion and kidnapping threats from Mexican gangs, and where drug dealers who refuse to pay “taxes” to Mexican cartel bosses are gunned down. But now, the threat posed by Mexican criminals is beginning to spread north from the U.S.-Mexican border. One location that has felt this expanding threat most acutely is Phoenix, some 185 miles north of the border. Some sensational cases have highlighted the increased threat in Phoenix, such as a June 2008 armed assault in which a group of heavily armed cartel gunmen dressed like a Phoenix Police Department tactical team fired more than 100 rounds into a residence during the targeted killing of a Jamaican drug dealer who had double-crossed a Mexican cartel. We have also observed cartel-related violence in places like Dallas and Austin, Texas. But Phoenix has been the hardest hit.
Narcotics smuggling and drug-related assassinations are not the only thing the Mexican criminals have brought to Phoenix. Other criminal gangs have been heavily involved in human smuggling, arms smuggling, money laundering and other crimes. Due to the confluence of these Mexican criminal gangs, Phoenix has now become the kidnapping-for-ransom capital of the United States. According to a Phoenix Police Department source, the department received 368 kidnapping reports last year. As we discussed last week, kidnapping is a highly underreported crime in places such as Mexico, making it very difficult to measure accurately. Based upon experience with kidnapping statistics in other parts of the world — specifically Latin America — it would not be unreasonable to assume that there were at least as many unreported kidnappings in Phoenix as there are reported kidnappings.
At present, the kidnapping environment in the United States is very different from that of Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. In those countries, kidnapping runs rampant and has become a well-developed industry with a substantial established infrastructure. Police corruption and incompetence ensures that kidnappers are rarely caught or successfully prosecuted.
A variety of motives can lie behind kidnappings. In the United States, crime statistics demonstrate that motives such as sexual exploitation, custody disputes and short-term kidnapping for robbery have far surpassed the number of reported kidnappings conducted for ransom. In places like Mexico, kidnapping for ransom is much more common.
The FBI handles kidnapping investigations in the United States. It has developed highly sophisticated teams of agents and resources to devote to investigating this type of crime. Local police departments are also far more proficient and professional in the United States than in Mexico. Because of the advanced capabilities of law enforcement in the United States, the overwhelming majority of criminals involved in kidnapping-for-ransom cases reported to police — between 95 percent and 98 percent — are caught and convicted. There are also stiff federal penalties for kidnapping. Because of this, kidnapping for ransom has become a relatively rare crime in the United States.
Most kidnapping for ransom that does happen in the United States occurs within immigrant communities. In these cases, the perpetrators and victims belong to the same immigrant group (e.g., Chinese Triad gangs kidnapping the families of Chinese businesspeople, or Haitian criminals kidnapping Haitian immigrants) — which is what is happening in Phoenix. The vast majority of the 368 known kidnapping victims in Phoenix are Mexican and Central American immigrants who are being victimized by Mexican or Mexican-American criminals.
The problem in Phoenix involves two main types of kidnapping. One is the abduction of drug dealers or their children, the other is the abduction of illegal aliens.
Drug-related kidnappings often are not strict kidnappings for ransom per se. Instead, they are intended to force the drug dealer to repay a debt to the drug trafficking organization that ordered the kidnapping.
Nondrug-related kidnappings are very different from traditional kidnappings in Mexico or the United States, in which a high-value target is abducted and held for a large ransom. Instead, some of the gangs operating in Phoenix are basing their business model on volume, and are willing to hold a large number of victims for a much smaller individual pay out. Reports have emerged of kidnapping gangs in Phoenix carjacking entire vans full of illegal immigrants away from the coyote smuggling them into the United States. The kidnappers then transport the illegal immigrants to a safe house, where they are held captive in squalid conditions — and often tortured or sexually assaulted with a family member listening in on the phone — to coerce the victims’ family members in the United States or Mexico to pay the ransom for their release. There are also reports of the gangs picking up vehicles full of victims at day labor sites and then transporting them to the kidnap ping safe house rather than to the purported work site.
Drug-related kidnappings are less frequent than the nondrug-related abduction of illegal immigrants, but in both types of abductions, the victims are not likely to seek police assistance due to their immigration status or their involvement in illegal activity. This strongly suggests the kidnapping problem greatly exceeds the number of cases reported to police.
Implications for the United States
The kidnapping gangs in Phoenix that target illegal immigrants have found their chosen crime to be lucrative and relatively risk-free. If the flow of illegal immigrants had continued at high levels, there is very little doubt the kidnappers’ operations would have continued as they have for the past few years. The current economic downturn, however, means the flow of illegal immigrants has begun to slow — and by some accounts has even begun to reverse. (Reports suggest many Mexicans are returning home after being unable to find jobs in the United States.)
This reduction in the pool of targets means that we might be fast approaching a point where these groups, which have become accustomed to kidnapping as a source of easy money — and their primary source of income — might be forced to change their method of operating to make a living. While some might pursue other types of criminal activity, some might well decide to diversify their pool of victims. Watching for this shift in targeting is of critical importance. Were some of these gangs to begin targeting U.S. citizens rather than just criminals or illegal immigrants, a tremendous panic would ensue, along with demands to catch the perpetrators.
Such a shift would bring a huge amount of law enforcement pressure onto the kidnapping gangs, to include the FBI. While the FBI is fairly hard-pressed for resources given its heavy counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence and white-collar crime caseload, it almost certainly would be able to reassign the resources needed to respond to such kidnappings in the face of publicity and a public outcry. Such a law enforcement effort could neutralize these gangs fairly quickly, but probably not quickly enough to prevent any victims from being abducted or harmed.
Since criminal groups are not comprised of fools alone, at least some of these groups will realize that targeting soccer moms will bring an avalanche of law enforcement attention upon them. Therefore, it is very likely that if kidnapping targets become harder to find in Phoenix — or if the law enforcement environment becomes too hostile due to the growing realization of this problem — then the groups may shift geography rather than targeting criteria. In such a scenario, professional kidnapping gangs from Phoenix might migrate to other locations with large communities of Latin American illegal immigrants to victimize. Some of these locations could be relatively close to the Mexican border like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, San Diego or Los Angeles, though they could also include locations farther inland like Chicago, Atlanta, New York, or even the communities around meat and poultry packing plants in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states. Such a migration of ethn ic criminals would not be unprecedented: Chinese Triad groups from New York for some time have traveled elsewhere on the East Coast, like Atlanta, to engage in extortion and kidnapping against Chinese businessmen there.
The issue of Mexican drug-traffic organizations kidnapping in the United States merits careful attention, especially since criminal gangs in other areas of the country could start imitating the tactics of the Phoenix gangs.
4) Obama's Intelligence choice shows profound lack of it
By Gabriel Schoenfeld
President picks a China apologist and Israel basher to write his intelligence summaries
During the presidential campaign, a constant refrain of Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates was that the Bush administration had severely politicized intelligence, resulting in such disasters as the war in Iraq.
The irony of course is that, if anything, President Bush badly failed at depoliticizing a CIA that was often hostile to his agenda. Witness the repeated leaks of classified information that undercut his policies. It now appears Mr. Obama has appointed a highly controversial figure to head the National Intelligence Council, which is responsible for producing National Intelligence Estimates. The news Web site Politico.com yesterday reported that it could confirm rumors that a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles "Chas" Freeman Jr., has been appointed chairman. (My calls to the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence produced neither confirmation nor denial.)
Without question, Mr. Freeman has a distinguished resume, having served in a long list of State and Defense Department slots. But also without question, he has distinctive political views and affiliations, some of which are more than eyebrow-raising.
In 1997, Mr. Freeman succeeded George McGovern to become the president of the Middle East Policy Council. The MEPC purports to be a nonpartisan, public-affairs group that "strives to ensure that a full range of U.S. interests and views are considered by policy makers" dealing with the Middle East. In fact, its original name until 1991 was the American-Arab Affairs Council, and it is an influential Washington mouthpiece for Saudi Arabia.
As Mr. Freeman acknowledged in a 2006 interview with an outfit called the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, MEPC owes its endowment to the "generosity" of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. Asked in the same interview about his organization's current mission, Mr. Freeman responded, in a revealing non sequitur, that he was "delighted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, after a long delay, begun to make serious public relations efforts."
Among MEPC's recent activities in the public relations realm, it has published what it calls an "unabridged" version of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" by professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. This controversial 2006 essay argued that American Jews have a "stranglehold" on the U.S. Congress, which they employ to tilt the U.S. toward Israel at the expense of broader American interests. Mr. Freeman has both endorsed the paper's thesis and boasted of MEPC's intrepid stance: "No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article, given the political penalties that the Lobby imposes on those who criticize it."
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Freeman has views about Middle East policy that differ rather sharply from those held by supporters of the state of Israel. More surprisingly, they also differ rather sharply from the views — or at least the views stated during the campaign — of the president who has invited him to serve.
While President Obama speaks of helping the people of Israel "search for credible partners with whom they can make peace," Mr. Freeman believes, as he said in a 2007 address to the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, that "Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them." The primary reason America confronts a terrorism problem today, he continued, is "the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that is about to mark its fortieth anniversary and shows no sign of ending."
Although initial reaction to Mr. Freeman's selection has focused on his views of the Middle East, that region is by no means Mr. Freeman's only area of interest. He has pronounced on a wide variety of other subjects, including China, where he has attempted to explain away the scale and scope of the starkly intensive buildup of the People's Liberation Army. The specter of a Chinese threat, he remarked during a China forum at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in October 2006, is nothing more than "a great fund-raiser for the hyper-expensive advanced weaponry our military-industrial complex prefers to make and our armed forces love to employ."
On the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mr. Freeman unabashedly sides with the Chinese government, a remarkable position for an appointee of an administration that has pledged to advance the cause of human rights. Mr. Freeman has been a participant in ChinaSec, a confidential Internet discussion group of China specialists. A copy of one of his postings was provided to me by a former member. "The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities," he wrote there in 2006, "was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud." Moreover, "the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tiananmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action." Indeed, continued Mr. Freeman, "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be."
We have already seen a string of poorly vetted appointments from the Obama White House, like those of Tom Daschle and Bill Richardson, that after public scrutiny were tossed under the bus. The chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council differs from those cases, for it does not require Senate confirmation. If someone with such extreme views has been appointed to such a sensitive position, is this a reflection of Mr. Obama's true predilections, or is it proof positive that the Obama White House has never gotten around to vetting its own vetters?
Either way, if those complaining loudest about politicized intelligence have indeed placed a China-coddling Israel basher in charge of drafting the most important analyses prepared by the U.S. government, it is quite a spectacle. The problem is not that Mr. Freeman will shade National Intelligence Estimates to suit the administration's political views. The far more serious danger is that he will steer them to reflect his own outlandish perspectives and prejudices.
4a) Where Have You Gone, Bill Casey?
By Paul Kengor
"We win and they lose." -Ronald Reagan, January 1977
As an unprecedented, colossal "stimulus" package was passed by, literally, 100% of Congressional Democrats and 1% of Republicans, something rather extraordinary slid beneath the public eye: Leon Panetta was confirmed as our next director of central intelligence -- i.e., as head of the CIA.
Personally, I had a unique inside angle on this political theater. Here at Grove City College a couple of weeks ago we hosted Herb Meyer, who in the 1980s had been the right-hand man to President Reagan's CIA director, Bill Casey. Meyer was one of those behind-the-scenes, unsung heroes of the Cold War, who worked with Casey to take down the Soviet empire through numerous means ranging from economic warfare to aiding anti-communist forces from Krakow to Kabul. He was the subject of our third annual Ronald Reagan Lecture. (Watch the video here.)
As I arrived at Meyer's room to pick him up, I was greeted by a genial, pleasant man who was worked up over what he was watching on television. Meyer was enduring C-SPAN's coverage of Panetta's confirmation hearings for CIA director. Something really insidious was on display at those hearings: a curious consensus that if American intelligence -- God forbid -- knew there was a ticking bomb in a major city, and had in possession the terrorist who knew the bomb's location, that it would be wrong to "torture" the suspect to disclose the location.
This is where the unceasing hatred of George W. Bush has finally brought us: bloody irrationality. In truth, everyone in that Senate room knew it would be imperative to use whatever time-tested techniques to prevent, say, two million innocents from morphing into a mushroom cloud over Manhattan. Of course, if such a scenario ever develops, every senator in that room -- plus the New York Times editorial board -- would urge Panetta to begin water-boarding the suspect immediately.
Yet, at this point in the sad state of the republic, none of the gentlemen could dare make such an untoward claim. "Can you believe this?" Meyer shouted at me and the TV as we observed this political spectacle.
No, I could not. Or maybe I could.
That's just one illustration of the new man in charge and the new mindset at the CIA.
But the crisis is even more acute. One of Herb Meyer's most crucial reminders is the thing that made Bill Casey's CIA different, and what made Ronald Reagan's presidency different: it was the objective to win, to win the war, the Cold War -- and to think creatively, outside-the-box, to make that happen. As Meyer emphasizes, Casey was a maverick, and a maverick was needed to win the Cold War, just as one is needed now to win the War on Terror. To win today will require the right CIA director (like a Casey), the right president (like a Ronald Reagan), the right head of the National Security Council (Bill Clark), the right secretary of defense (Cap Weinberger), plus an Ed Meese, a Jean Kirkpatrick, and the unappreciated folks in the shadows, individuals like Roger Robinson (at the NSC) and Herb Meyer at the CIA.
"Reagan didn't play to lose," says Meyer. "He played to win. And that's what made him different from every other president." Meyer puts it this way:
"Ronald Reagan was the first Western leader whose objective was to win. Now I suggest to you that there is a gigantic difference between playing not to lose and playing to win. It's different emotionally, it's different psychologically, and, of course, it's different practically.... Now, sometimes defense is the right thing to do. It was Reagan's judgment that the time had come to play offense -- that they [the Soviets] could be had. When he made that decision ... it flowed from a decision to play to win."
And Reagan needed Bill Casey at the CIA to achieve this. As Casey's special assistant, and as vice chair of the National Intelligence Council, Meyer observed the full scope and brunt of the Reagan strategy. That strategy, said Meyer, citing the tandem of Reagan and Casey, was "very dangerous ... very gutsy.... And there were a lot of people who said, ‘Oh dear, you're right, the bear is wounded. Don't poke sticks at a wounded bear.' But the Reagan-Casey approach was: ‘Hey, my enemy is on his knees. It's a good time to break his head.'"
They broke the head of the bear through a multi-pronged approach, with a ball-bat protruding with a dozen nails, from "peace through strength" to economic warfare, carefully and successfully calculated to avoid armed conflict and nuclear war -- to win peacefully. As Meyer described it, they launched a systematic campaign to identify Soviet economic weaknesses. "What we realized is that the CIA had been monitoring Soviet strengths," said Meyer. "It was not looking at Soviet weaknesses." Casey began conducting Soviet vulnerability assessments. With Reagan's backing and urging, they searched for weaknesses that they could exploit to accelerate the Soviet collapse.
Casey's bold, risky steps to win, from Nicaragua to Afghanistan, earned him the enmity of the American left. The only group that despised Casey more was the Soviets. Hatchet-job profiles of the maverick DCI ran throughout the Soviet press. They used the classic tactic of the left -- class warfare -- given that Casey had risen from childhood poverty to make himself a wealthy man prior to running the CIA. In the phony, lie-filled pages of Pravda, Casey, a New Yorker, was referred to as the "Queens Gangster," alternately as a mafia-type crook or filthy capitalist, a "rich lawyer" and "Wall Street millionaire" -- "Casey the untouchable." Casey joined Reagan, Cap Weinberger, and Bill Clark in the honor of being one of the most trashed names not only in the American press but the Soviet press.
One of my favorite examples of this was the Soviet reaction to a fire-and-brimstone speech by Casey in San Antonio, where the CIA director colorfully (and correctly) exclaimed that Marxism-Leninism had unleashed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: famine, pestilence, war, and death. That particular blasphemy sent unbelieving Soviets into a rage. Soviet propagandist Vitaliy Korionov wrote this mocking "rejoinder" in the pages of Pravda:
"In recent years the world has grown used to hearing speeches from Washington full of malice toward everything progressive. However, CIA Director W. Casey, speaking at a ‘World Council of Industrialists' the other day in San Antonio, Texas, evidently decided to outdo other Washington figures. The United States is threatened by unspeakable danger, Casey stated, voice atremble. ‘The Marxist-Leninists have unleashed the four horses [sic] of the apocalypse -- famine, plague, war, and death.' Are you not scared, reader? Even the director of the main U.S. espionage department is beside himself with fear."
One can forgive the officially, militantly atheistic Soviets for describing the four "horsemen" as the four "horses." After all, the only Bibles they saw were the ones they kept shut as they confiscated and destroyed them, sacrificing them right alongside the priests, nuns, and millions of believers in the gulag. But they did know famine, plague, war, and death -- and the apocalypse. And it was four men: Reagan, Casey, Clark, and Cap, who deliver the communist apocalypse at the Kremlin door.
We stand at a similar threshold today, but with no prospect of a solution in sight. The pieces that spell victory are not in place. Certainly, we do not have the players we need.
We need people today who are not concerned with being politically correct, who will take risks, who will think outside the box, who, first and foremost, will play to win. "We win and they lose," as Ronald Reagan had put it in January 1977, four years before he was inaugurated president, as he watched his fellow Americans hand the helm of the ship of state to Jimmy Carter.
Bill Casey did not care what the press thought about him, nor the encomiums of the kind of senators who postured before the C-SPAN cameras to demonstrate their humanity before Leon Panetta. Casey did what he did for the right reasons, to change history for the better, and not for himself or his career. It was mix of bravado and creativity, of breaking the mold. It was exactly the opposite of what we have just sworn in -- at the White House and at the CIA.
5) Turning Universities into Graveyards
By Amil Imani
The cult of death, Islam, is marching forward under its battle cry: "We love death, the infidels love life," as Hassan Nasrullah, leader of Lebanon Hizbollah, says. There is no limit to the Shi'a mullahs' obsession with all matters dealing with death.
On one front, the mullahs are working overtime to obtain the ultimate death weapon -- the nuclear bomb -- the most efficient and economical way of inflicting death on the masses of the infidels. A prefect example is this week's test firing at the Bushehr nuclear plant. The duplicitous Russians are just too pleased to help them out in exchange for petrodollars.
On another front, the ever-conniving mullahs are gradually transforming Iran's universities, cradles of knowledge about life, to mausoleums. Instead of adorning the landscape with statues of great scientists and scholars to inspire the young to life achievement, the mullahs bring corpses of their victims and bury them there, victims who had been hoodwinked by the fascist Islamists and had lost their lives in implementing the schemes of Allah's frauds.
The charlatan mullahs sanitize their wicked deeds that have caused the death of their victims by calling them martyrs and affording them an honorable burial place. It is yet another way of the mullahs' ways of attracting new recruits from the ranks of the young.
According to a report by Rasmus Christian Elling, the fascination of burying martyrs inside Tehran's universities has a little history in itself. When the crown "buffoon" of the Islamic Republic, Ahmadinejad was Tehran's mayor, he brought up the subject numerous times. However, pro-freedom and courageous Iranian students have strongly protested against any plans to bury the remains of long ago human bones next to their classrooms. They look at it as an instrument for the regime's oppressive policy.
Based on this horrific ideology of death, certain Muslims have visited death on untold numbers of both Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The Khomeinist regime of the IRI sent tens of thousands of its own children to their death to clear minefields in its holy war with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Not limiting itself to this horrific act, the Khomeinists massacred tens of thousands of political dissenters without the least due process. Islam wins, either when you kill or you get killed. That's the motto of the religion of death.
On Rasmus Christian Elling's report, one-way to interpret this situation is the regime's way to impose on the university milieu and student life a militant ideology that praises shahâdat (the martyr death), endless war and military values accompanied by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and the eulogizing of the eight-year war with Iraq.
It is also an Orwellian tactic for the militia groups (Basijis) to clamp down on student gatherings and demonstrations. It is an invasion of personal privacy, either directly physically or indirectly by surveillance. It is an Islamic way of controlling its citizens' daily life, as in "Big Brother" is watching you. It is the Islamic republic's strategy to suppress dissident voices within Iran's lively university environment.
The mullahs are skillfully steering the ambiance of the universities to Rozeh Khooni -- Shiite's religious revival composed of a mix of passages chanted from the Quran and narration of the suffering of the Imams-to get the train back on track. Perhaps their ultra-motive is to make universities mosque-like places with never ending weeping and eulogies for 1400 years worth of dead Imams.
Expecting student protests, the Mullahs and their lackeys planned yesterday's burial in advance. As recently as a few weeks ago, the members of the Revolutionary Guards started rounding up some of the main associates of the dissident Islamic Students Association (Anjoman-e eslami-ye daneshjuyan) in Amir Kabir Polytechnic University, Tehran.
This university known for is vigorous and diverse pro-democratic activism. In addition, a few days ago, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic regime, Mullah Khamenei, prepared the ground by issuing a public message hailing the martyrs and expressing that "the youth of today is indebted to these anonymous war heroes to be buried in their campus yard." Hence, the highest political authority blessed yesterday's intensive action.
Amir Kabir University's Student Newsletter website has reported on the intense situation at the university. They have reported that the atmosphere has been tense for the past couple of days when a barrage of "chest-beating mourners brought the martyr coffins yesterday morning. Before the parade, security forces, Basiji campus police, Revolutionary Guards, plain clothed intelligence officers, armed vigilantes known as Ansâr-e hezbollâh (a violent Islamist organization under the unofficial sway of the Supreme Leader) and even the fire brigade gathered inside and around the university compounds."
The Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic, Mullah Khamenei, for instance, has urged the close-minded faithful to hold large protest demonstrations. It appears that the call of the Mullah for demonstrations is an attempt at intimidation, the best he can do since he does not have a rational defensible response and he is not able to send his assassins all the way to Rome to carry out the Islamic favorite way of supplying answers.
"The security forces and vigilantes used clubs, tear gas sprays, iron knuckles, knives and other weapons in order to wound the protesting students. At least 25 have been arrested and 9 hospitalized with knife wounds and other injuries so far, and the fighting continues as we speak. Another student slogan repeated on the website: Ansâr commits the crime, the Leader supports it," according to the Persian students' newsletter.
Also reported by the Amir Kabir Newsletter, students carried placards and yelled slogans such as "University is not a graveyard", "Death to Dictatorship," "Run off, Ansar," "Incompetent Basijis, get lost," and so on. "These harsh slogans clearly unveil the hard-deep animosity amongst students against the militant ideology of the regime."
Amir Kabir Newsletter reported yesterday, the situation in the university is horrible. While protesting students at the university are being beaten up and wounded, the coffins of the so-called nameless martyrs have been placed in a corner, left in a disgusting fashion along the graves while clerics are singing mourning hymns.
"By burying the bodies of the martyrs on university campuses, they can destroy every freedom seeking movement under the claim that the blood of the martyrs is being disregarded and trampled upon," says a University of Tehran's student activist.
The modern manifestation of the Islamic Caliphate has reincarnated into the "the Islamic Republic" of Iran, which has been holding the majority of Iranians hostage for the past 30 years. The Islamofascists ruling the country hope to realize their expansionist master plan after defeating the people of Iran, and ultimately unleashing their reign of Islamic terror on the rest of the world in succession. Hence, the importance of world support for the Iranian people (not because of altruistic and an unselfish regard for others, but as self-interest) cannot be overemphasized.
Surely, the Islamic state and its anti-Iranian forces have once again brought death into universities with the intent of suffocating discontent and strangling freedom of speech and thought. However, the Iranian student movement might come alive again from such brainless actions as that carried out this morning by the Islamic State. One student, identifying him/herself as ‘a Patriot' wrote:
"Right in front of me, they kicked and carried off a couple of the kids in a red van. I swear to God, from now on, I count the minutes until the fall of this regime and I will do anything. Long Live Freedom, Death to Dictatorship".
Almost three decades after the tragic Islamic Revolution of 1979, the suffocating rule of Islam casts its death-bearing pall over Iranians. A proud people with enviable heritage is being systematically purged of its sense of identity and forced to think and behave like the barbaric and intolerant Muslims.
Iranians deserve better than being manipulated by a bunch of devilish mullahs who have been riding on the back of the ignorant poor, by deceiving the poor and the ignorant with empty promises of all the goodies that they are promised in the afterlife. Not a bad scheme for the charlatan mullahs. They have it all in this world while issuing I-owe-yous to their victims, by the authority, they claim vested in them by none other than Muhammad.
Given enough time, the death game that the mullahs are playing with their chase after the atom bomb, by the exodus they force on those who can flee their suffocating rule, and by slowly killing the remainder of the helpless Iranian may eventually catch up with them.
Yet the best hope for Iran to free itself from the claws of death-based Islam is with its students. They have always been in the vanguard of Iranian progressive struggles. Realizing this major source of threat to their existence, the murdering mullahs are literally changing Iranian universities to graveyards.
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6) Boxed in by Washington, Assad May Resort to Border Violence
Washington and Jerusalem are bracing for a flareup on the Syrian and Lebanese borders with Israel as the international tribunal for prosecuting the Rafiq Hariri assassins prepares to start sittings next Sunday, March 1. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has engineered a delay in full court hearings by insisting on tight security measures being put in place. But Syrian president Bashar Assad will have to accept the failure of his best efforts to stymie the tribunal or persuade the Barack Obama administration to help remove this cloud hovering over his regime.
Military sources report that Israel's armed forces, the four Syrian divisions arrayed along Lebanese and Israeli borders, the Lebanese army, the United Nations peace force and Hizballah are all in a high state of suspense for trouble.
On the surface, hectic US diplomatic activity presages a thaw in relations with Damascus. But when it comes down to brass tacks, Barack Obama is not letting the Syrian president off the hook on longstanding bones of contention.
Syria's ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa was invited Thursday Feb. 26, for talks with Jeffrey Feltman, acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East and former ambassador to Damascus, which Mustafa represented as "an overture in Syrian-American relations."
But the US official was instructed to voice US concerns over the key differences between the two governments, such as "Syria's support for terrorist groups and organizations, Syria's acquisition of nuclear and nonconventional weaponry, its interference in Lebanon and worsening human rights situation," said the state department.
This month, three separate US Congressional delegations visited Syria, including a team headed by former US presidential candidate John Kerry, head of the Senate's powerful foreign relations committee.
Sen. Kerry announced Saturday, Feb. 21, that Washington would soon appoint an ambassador in Damascus to replace the envoy withdrawn after the Feb. 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in a car bombing generally blamed on Syria.
But Kerry also informed Assad that Washington would not lift a finger to delay the Hague tribunal's hearings. He also warned that Obama is determined to guard Lebanese sovereignty.
This warning as interpreted in Damascus, according to our sources, as due notice that the US would not stand idly by if Syria retaliated for the tribunal's deliberations by direct or indirect action against Lebanon.
For four years, Assad labored hard to prevent the Hariri case coming to court because its list of witnesses is topped by high-ranking Syrian officers and officials implicated in the plotting and execution of the Lebanese politician's murder.
The former UN investigator of the crime, Detlev Mehlis told the al Hayat newspaper in an interview Wednesday, Feb. 25: "We found converging evidence that Lebanese and Syrian members of the security apparatus were involved in the assassination. We identified as suspects the four generals who were arrested on my suggestion by the Lebanese authorities. Together with the Lebanese we identified a few additional suspects allegedly involved in preparing the assassination."
The chief Syrian suspect he was referring to is Gen. Asaf Shawqat, head of Syrian military intelligence at the time of the murder, who is married to the Assad's sister and is still a power in the land. It is taken for granted that Shawqat would not have acted without Assad's complicity. The witnesses turned over to - or summoned by - the court are in a position to implicate them both. Therefore the Hague trial is the gravest peril that the Assad regime has ever faced.
The four Lebanese generals referred to by Mehlis are: former head of Lebanese General Security service Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyad, former Lebanese police commander Maj. Gen. Ali Hajj, former director of Lebanese military intelligence Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar and ex-commander of the Lebanon's Republican Guard, Gen. Mustafa Hamadan.
This foursome represents a ticking time bomb under the Assad regime if they are allowed to present their evidence before the Hariri tribunal in The Hague – with more to come.
The Syrian president is not expected to surrender to his fate without a fight, especially since the messages he has received from Washington add up to an ultimatum to mend his ways and cut loose from his ties with Tehran. Syria's borders with Lebanon and Israel have heated up in anticipation of the worst.
7) Report: EU trio proposes tougher list of Iran sanctions
Financial Times says confidential document drafted by France, Germany and UK lists 34Iranian entities and 10 individuals believed to be linked to covert nuclear or biological weapons programs
France, Germany and Britain are proposing a tough list of additional sanctions to be imposed against Iran over its nuclear program, the Financial Times newspaper reported on Thursday.
A confidential document seen by the Financial Times and Italian newspaper Il Riformista lists 34 Iranian entities and 10 individuals believed to be linked to covert nuclear or biological weapons programs, the report added.
European diplomats gave differing interpretations of the reasons behind the list, the FT said.
Some said it was intended to provide US President Barack Obama's administration with a "bigger stick" option in continuation of the existing carrot-and-stick approach towards Iran.
Others said the three European Union nations wanted to influence a more hardline outcome of Washington's review of its Iran policy expected to be completed next month.
Obama has said the United States is prepared to talk to Tehran, in a break from his predecessor's approach, but his administration has also warned of tougher sanctions if Iran refuses to halt its nuclear work.
The EU trio together with the United States, China and Russia comprise a group of world powers trying to resolve a stand-off with Iran over its nuclear program.
Western powers suspect Iran's nuclear program is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Tehran says it is purely for peaceful power generation.
The United Nations Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.
All the individuals on the new EU-wide sanctions proposal face penalties for the first time, the report said. They include the commander and deputy head of the paramilitary Basij force, it added.
State-run organizations named for the first time include Sharif University of Technology, Iran Insurance Company, Iran Air Cargo, Iran Space Agency and Razi Institute for Serum and Vaccine Production.
Six banks and their Tehran headquarters are named, including Bank Tejarat, one of Iran's largest commercial banks, for the first time.
8) Egypt urges rival Palestinian factions to end divisions
Egypt urged all Palestinian factions on Thursday to work on ending their internal chasm in reconciliation talks aimed at pushing rivals Hamas and Fatah to form an interim unity government.
Palestinians Azzam al-Ahmed, of Fatah, right, and Hamas' strongman from Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, talk during a presser following their meeting in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday.
Distrust between the groups runs deep after a power struggle including Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, leaving Fatah in charge of only the West Bank.
Tensions escalated further after Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza, designed to stop Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel.
Hamas claimed the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ran a Gaza spy ring that fed Israel information about Hamas targets during the offensive that ended January 18. Abbas' Fatah accused Hamas of killing and wounding dozens of Fatah activists under the cover of the war.
Previous reconciliation talks fell apart in November when Hamas pulled out at the last minute after a dispute with Fatah over releasing Hamas prisoners.
On Tuesday, Fatah agreed to release 42 Hamas detainees in the West Bank in a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks and promised to release more in the future. At a news conference Wednesday night in Cairo, both sides announced they had agreed on a release of detainees but there was no information on how many detainees would be freed.
Sulieman said negotiating committees for the two sides would meet again March 8 to continue work on forming an interim unity government.
A senior Egyptian official said Egypt hopes that both groups manage to form a national unity government by April. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
The five negotiating committees are in charge of discussing arrangements to form an interim government, hold presidential and legislative elections, restructure the security services, merge Hamas into the Fatah-run Palestine Liberation Organization and goodwill gestures including the release of detainees in the prisons of both Fatah and Hamas.
Egypt is hosting an important Gaza Reconstruction conference on March 2 and a power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah is seen as key to moving ahead with the reconstruction. The international community shuns the violently anti-Israel Hamas and won't send money directly to it.
The Palestinians hope to raise $2.8 billion at Monday's conference, where the US is expected to pledge $900 million.
In a separate effort, Egyptian mediators are trying to reach a more permanent truce between Israel and Hamas to replace a shaky cease-fire that ended last month's offensive.
9) Arab Democracy and American Policy
By Michael Mandelbaum
The Obama Administration apparently does not share its predecessor's determination to promote democracy in Arab countries. Yet the questions of whether and, if so, how democracy can come to these countries are bound to remain on the American foreign policy agenda, both because of the importance of the Arab world and the deeply- rooted and longstanding American commitment to the spread of democracy. What lessons for democracy promotion in the region have emerged from the disappointing results of the Bush Administration's efforts and from a broader and very different historical trend – the remarkable flowering of democratic governments the world over during the last quarter of the twentieth century?
The most important lesson is that democracy fuses two distinct political traditions: popular sovereignty, in which the people choose the government in free and fair elections; and liberty – that is, freedom – which comes in religious, economic, and political forms. The practice of popular sovereignty without the safeguards of liberty, history shows, can have disastrous results. The United States should therefore oppose groups that reject liberty, such as Hamas, and should give higher priority in the Middle East to establishing liberty in its different forms than simply to staging elections.
Liberty is, however, difficult to establish. The relevant institutions, skills, and values take time to develop and cannot be imported, ready-made, from abroad. In many countries, the free-market economy has served as a template for liberty and democracy: the practices required to operate a market economy, when transferred to the political sphere, provide the basis for democratic politics.
Market economies are underdeveloped in the Arab world chiefly because of the massive revenues that the countries of the region earn from oil. The United States can therefore make a major if indirect contribution to furthering the cause of Arab democracy by reducing the American consumption of oil, which would reduce the total consumed globally, which in turn would deprive the Arab regimes of the massive resources they have used to ward off pressure for democratization.
Even without financial windfalls from oil, three formidable barriers to Arab democracy would nonetheless still remain: the local version of Islam; the ethnic, religious, and national divisions that mark most of the countries of the region; and deep-seated anti-Western sentiment. These cannot be eliminated quickly or easily. The anti-democratic impact of each will be affected, however, by the political future of Iraq. If a genuine democracy should ultimately develop in that country, this would strengthen the long-term prospects for democratic governance throughout the Arab world.
* * * * *
What are the prospects for democracy in the Arab world, and for American policies that seek to promote it? The Bush Administration, which was strongly committed to both, left office with a disappointing record on this score. Despite its efforts, no full-fledged democracy was established (or, indeed, has ever been established) in any Arab country. The most obvious beneficiaries of the more open politics the administration encouraged were terrorist organizations: Hezbollah expanded its role in Lebanon and Hamas triumphed in what was, by most accounts, a free and fair election in Gaza.
The Obama Administration apparently does not share its predecessor's enthusiasm for democracy promotion, at least not in the Arab Middle East. In his January 27 interview with the Saudi Arabia-based satellite television station Al-Arabiya – the first such interview he gave after taking office – President Obama discussed American relations with the Muslim world at some length, but never mentioned democracy.
Despite all this, however, the question of Arab democracy will not disappear from the American foreign policy agenda. Because the United States is a political community created on the basis of a set of founding principles rather than being, as are most other countries, the political expression of a group that has lived together in the same place for centuries, those principles – which happen to be democratic ones – are bound to be important in all aspects of American public life, including its foreign policy. In fact, every president since the first one, George Washington, has endorsed the proposition that the American form of government should spread beyond North America and Barack Obama will surely continue the tradition in some fashion.
Establishing democracy abroad turns out to be, as well, a useful goal for American foreign policy. The United States has a strong interest in a peaceful world and many studies have demonstrated that democratic governments tend to conduct more peaceful foreign policies than non-democracies. Americans have made an enormous and ongoing investment, moreover, in establishing, protecting, and nurturing a government in Iraq, in the heart of the Arab world, with the hope that it will some day meet democratic standards. The belief that democratic politics may indeed be possible in the Arab world, on which that effort rests, draws much of what credibility it has from democracy's remarkable rise elsewhere over the last quarter of the twentieth century. Whereas in 1975 a mere 35 countries could be counted as genuine democracies, in 2005, according to the respected think tank Freedom House, fully 119 of the world's 190 sovereign states had democratic governments.
The Arab world, however, remains the exception to this powerful global trend. The reason for this is that Arab countries lack some of the conditions that have fostered democracy in other parts of the world, while having other social and economic features that actively obstruct the establishment and flourishing of democratic politics and government. (The conditions that make for democracy and the historical trends that
led to its remarkable spread in the final decades of the last century are the subjects of my 2007 book Democracy's Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World's Most Popular Form of Government, (PublicAffairs, 2007), on which much of the analysis that follows is based.) Understanding both what it is that has caused democracy to flourish in recent decades and the chief obstacles to it helps to explain the failure of American attempts to promote democracy in the Arab world and also points the way to the policies that the United States should – and should not – adopt for this purpose in the future.
Democracy's Two Traditions
An explanation for the presence and absence of democracy must begin with a proper definition of the term. Although it is generally used to refer to a single form of government, democracy actually combines two distinct political traditions. One is popular sovereignty, rule by the people through representatives chosen in free elections. This was the original meaning of the word, but the political systems to which it now refers include another, older tradition. That tradition is liberty, which is often called freedom, and comes in three forms: economic liberty, at the heart of which is private property; religious liberty – freedom of worship; and political liberty, which is encoded in the American Bill of Rights.
For most of recorded history democracy's two component parts were considered incompatible with each other. If political power were given to all the people, it was believed, they would destroy liberty. Property rights, in particular, were thought to be in jeopardy if the population as a whole were ever allowed to choose and control the government.
The history of the last hundred years has demonstrated that popular sovereignty and liberty can coexist, and their coexistence has become so common that the term democracy, as commonly used, now assumes it. But the history of the last hundred years also demonstrates that when liberty does not accompany popular sovereignty the consequences can be dreadful. In recent years, for example, free elections in countries where liberty was not well established have led to large-scale violence, as candidates have bid for the votes of some groups by demonizing others. This was what happened, to take one case, in the Balkans after the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
The proper definition of democracy has important implications for American policy in the Arab world. It means that simply holding an election, even a free and fair one, does not, in and of itself, make for democracy and that groups that win elections, no matter how many votes they receive, do not qualify as democratic without a commitment to liberty. Such a commitment is entirely lacking in the program and policies of Hamas, for example, which does not recognize the rights of non-Muslims, or even of non-males, and for which violence is the preferred political tactic. It follows that the United States should not deal with such groups and that it may well be counterproductive to press ahead with elections in the absence of liberty. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have resisted American pressure to open their political systems on the grounds that to do so would enhance the power of radical, anti-American forces such as the Muslim Brothers and al-Qaeda. Coming from Arab autocrats this argument is self-serving, but that does not mean that it is invalid. The election results in Gaza should serve as a cautionary example. Insofar as American resources are devoted to democracy-promotion, fostering liberty should take priority over conducting elections.
While liberty is crucial for democracy, it is not easy to establish. Indeed, the difficulty of establishing it is the single most formidable obstacle to the creation of democracy. Establishing liberty is difficult, in the first place, because it takes time. It cannot be done quickly, as can the implementation of democracy's other component part, popular sovereignty, through elections.
Liberty involves institutions – a legal system to protect economic and political rights, most notably – which can only be built slowly. The relevant institutions, in turn, require people with the skills to operate them – lawyers for a legal system, for example – and accumulating a critical mass of skilled personnel is the work of at least a generation. Even when the necessary institutions and skills are present, liberty will not endure unless the values that underpin it – respect for the rule of law above all – are diffused throughout the society in which they are embedded. Plenty of dictatorships have had impeccably democratic constitutions, the provisions of which were, however, never carried out. Values do not spring up overnight like mushrooms after a rainstorm.
Liberty is difficult to establish, as well, because it cannot be imported, fully formed, from abroad. To be sure, American military occupation brought democracy to Germany and Japan after World War II, but both these countries had had previous experience with liberty and popular sovereignty, and in both countries the Cold War lent legitimacy to a continuing American military presence, which helped assure the perpetuation of democratic practices in each. The British similarly brought democracy to India, but governed it directly for almost a century, and even that did not assure democracy's survival when they withdrew in 1947. Independent India chose to conduct free elections and to protect liberty: Pakistan, the other country to emerge from Britain's empire on the Asian subcontinent, did not. Perhaps Iraq, with a prolonged American occupation, will follow the German, Japanese, and Indian pattern; but that is far from guaranteed, and neither the United States nor any other democracy will be willing or able to provide comparable tutelage to many, if any, other non-democracies.
Democracy, and especially liberty, therefore, are not like a pizza that can be ordered from elsewhere ready made. The process of creating a democracy is better compared to planting a tree. Outsiders can provide the seed and water and guard what has been planted; but the growth to maturity takes time and in any event, in order to flourish, a tree, like democracy, requires what outsiders simply cannot provide: fertile soil and a proper climate. The lesson for American policy here is that democracy-promotion programs, no matter how well-intentioned, well-designed and well-funded, can achieve at best limited results.
They have achieved no results at all in the Arab world, where the environment is plainly not propitious for democracy. But given the difficulty of establishing liberty anywhere, a general question arises: where does democracy, and especially liberty, come from? How has it been possible to create them in so many countries?
The answer is, in no small part, that they arise from the workings of a market economy. The free market has served as the template for democratic politics throughout the world. The institutions, practices, and habits that a market economy involves, when transferred to the political realm, provide the foundations of democracy.
A market economy includes, for example, private property, the original form that liberty took. A market economy generates the wealth that produces a middle class, the social backbone of a democratic political system. From a market economy emerges civil society – the organizations and groups that are independent of the government that serve as both a buffer and a link between individuals and the authorities. Participating in the free market, finally, fosters two habits that are indispensable for democratic politics. One is trust: buyers and sellers in a market economy must trust each other to carry out the terms of the bargains they make, and in a democracy citizens must trust the government not to violate their rights. The other habit is compromise: in any bargain both buyer and seller must agree on less than what each would like, and in democracy the differences that are inevitable in any political system are resolved by peaceful compromise rather than by violence.
The presence of a market economy alone, however, does not guarantee the flowering of a political democracy. Historically, and indeed today, many countries have had both free-market economies and dictatorial governments; but no twenty-first century democracy lacks a free-market economy of some kind, and in most of the places where democracy appeared in the last quarter of the twentieth century – in Southern Europe, Latin America, East Asia – a working market economy had preceded it by a least a generation.
Even autocratic governments that resist democracy permit and indeed actively support free-market economic institutions and practices within their borders because free markets are widely seen as indispensable for what virtually all twenty-first-century governments seek: prosperity. So the free-market economy acts as a kind of Trojan Horse for democracy, penetrating the defenses of authoritarian regimes and paving the way for liberty and popular sovereignty – except in the Arab world. Why have the Arab countries failed to follow this pattern?
The major reason is oil. The large reserves of oil in the Arab Middle East, and the vast revenues they confer on the undemocratic governments that preside over the countries in which they are located, obstruct the growth of democratic politics in three ways. First, oil-rich countries do not develop the democracy-fostering institutions, practices, and habits of a free-market economy because they do not need a full-fledged free market economy: they can become rich simply by extracting and selling their oil.
Second, the governments of oil-exporting countries use the revenues from its sale to offer those they govern a bargain: a high standard of living in exchange for political passivity. The rulers of the oil-rich countries of the Middle East in effect bribe the people they rule to forego political liberty and the right to decide who governs them. Third, the oil revenues that accrue to the holders of power in oil states act as a powerful incentive to maintain that power indefinitely rather than run the risk of losing it, and with it the wealth it brings, in free and fair elections. If Saudi Arabia were to become a constitutional monarchy like Great Britain, the Saudi ruling family might conceivably hope to receive an annual allowance, as does the House of Windsor, but even in that case the thousands of members of the al-Saud tribe could hardly expect a stipend that would permit them to continue to live in the lavish style to which they have become accustomed. This third feature, in particular, operates in countries outside the Middle East with similar resource endowments. Oil is a major reason that democracy has not flourished in Russia, Iran or Venezuela.
Not all Middle Eastern countries have substantial oil deposits, but those that do not have them have benefitted from the largesse of those that do, and the largest Arab country, Egypt, has found another source of support that is independent of a working market economy. For signing and observing a peace treaty with Israel, the Egyptian government has received, for three decades, a generous annual financial contribution from the United States.
The United States can do something to remove this obstacle to Arab democracy. Reducing the oil revenues that flow into the Middle East would weaken, if not topple, the major regional barriers to popular sovereignty and liberty. Reducing revenues would be the result of reducing the amount of oil consumed globally, and here the United States, as the world's largest consumer, has a vital role to play.
Reducing oil consumption has two components: conservation – using less of it, which requires vehicles with greater fuel efficiency; and substitution – using non-fossil fuels for transportation, which requires developing such fuels and producing them on a commercial scale. The most efficacious way to achieve both is to raise the price of gasoline. Western Europe and Japan have imposed high taxes on gasoline. The United States has not.
The rapid rise in the price of oil to more than $140 per barrel in 2008 did raise the price of gasoline, and consumption did begin to decline. But the price then dropped sharply, as occurred after the oil shocks of the 1970s. The lower it goes, and when the global recession ends, the more gasoline will be consumed and the less investment there will be in energy-saving technologies and alternative fuels. What is needed is a government-imposed floor below which the oil price will not be allowed to fall.
Reducing American consumption of oil by raising the price of gasoline is the most important contribution the United States can make to the cause of Arab democracy. Because oil revenues prop up regimes in Russia, Iran, and Venezuela that carry out anti-American policies, some of which – the Iranian nuclear program above all – are extremely dangerous, over the long term reducing the nation's consumption of oil is probably the most important initiative of any kind that the United States can undertake.
Enduring Obstacles to Democracy
Even if the United States and the rest of the world used less oil, however, other causes of democracy's absence from the Arab world would still remain. Three particular features of Arab society contribute to it.
One is the form of Islam that predominates in the region. That faith is not wholly incompatible with democracy. There is no simple, standard version of the religion and some predominantly Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Indonesia, and Mali, have had working, if imperfect, democratic governments. Moreover, virtually all religions have at some point in their histories made claims to authority that conflicted with democratic norms. Such claims are, however, unusually strong in the Arab version of Islam. From the beginning, faith and power, the divine law and worldly governance, were fused. The fusion of the two creates a bias against liberty. Placing the limits that protect freedom in democracies on a government that claims to be carrying out the divine will seems not only unnecessary but an act of impiety. The fusion of faith and power in Islam also calls into question popular sovereignty. The task of government for a devout believer is to apply God's law, on which human legislators, even those whom free elections empower for this purpose, cannot, and therefore should not, attempt to improve.
Another feature of Arab societies that makes them resistant to democracy is the ethnic, religious, and national heterogeneity that mark most of them. Where more than one such group inhabits a country in appreciable numbers democracy is often difficult to establish because in a stable democracy people must be willing to be part of the minority. They will accept minority status if they feel confident that the majority will respect their liberties. In multi-group countries such as those in the Arab Middle East such confidence is not always present. It was the absence of such confidence led to brutal warfare in the Balkans in the 1990s.
The third deeply rooted anti-democratic aspect of Arab societies is anti-Western sentiment. The historical memory of rivalry with and, over the course of four hundred years, defeat by the Christian West still resonates in the Arab Middle East in the twenty-first century, serving as a source of popular anger and resentment. Ruling dictatorships have tapped those sentiments to mobilize support for themselves as the stalwart defenders of the Arabs against what they describe as the cultural and political onslaught of the West and its local surrogate, Israel. This strengthens the dictators' hold on power. Moreover, resentment of the West helps to discredit everything of Western origin, including what has become its dominant political system, democracy.
These three anti-democratic features of the Arab Middle East cannot be quickly or easily eliminated, and American policy can have little effect in reducing their political salience. Their persistence has two final implications for American democracy-promotion efforts, and American policy more generally in the region.
One implication is that democracy-promotion will continue to encounter stiff resistance for the foreseeable future. Full-fledged systems of popular sovereignty and liberty are not coming soon to this particular theater of American political and military operations. It would therefore be foolish to base American policy in the region on the expectation that it is on the verge of following the political example of Latin America and Eastern Europe in the last quarter of the previous century.
The other implication is that, to the three obstacles to democracy that will endure even if and when the world consumes less oil and the states of the region are compelled to try to construct working market economies, American policy toward one particular country is especially germane: Iraq. That country is more stable now than it has been for several years, but its future, and the level of American commitment to it, which will surely affect that future, cannot be predicted.
If Iraq should evolve, over the course of years if not decades, into a genuine democracy, with regular, free and fair elections and the assurance of property rights, religious liberty, and political freedom, this would have a powerful, and positive, impact on democracy's prospects throughout the region. It would have such an effect because Arabs, like other people, are influenced by what happens in neighboring and culturally similar countries.
The establishment of an Iraqi democracy would set a powerful example as well because it would involve overcoming the enduring obstacles to Arab democracy. It would demonstrate that Arab Islam and democratic politics can coexist, and in a country not lacking in religious piety. Other Arabs would see uncoerced harmony between Sunni and Shia, and between Arabs and Kurds. And a democratic Iraq, with which Iraqis would presumably be content, would owe its existence in no small measure to the efforts of the United States, the leading twenty-first century member of the Arab world's traditional political rival – the West.
Whether, on what schedule, and at what price genuine democracy can be established in Iraq, and, if democracy is possible, whether the American public will be willing to pay the price in blood and treasure necessary to bring it about, cannot be known in advance. What is clear in 2009 is that, far more than any explicit attempts to promote democracy, and perhaps even more than the pattern of global oil consumption, the future of Iraq will determine the fate of democracy in the Arab world.
10) Obama Rolls The Dice
By David Broder
The size of the gamble that President Obama is taking every day is simply staggering. What came through in his speech to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience Tuesday night was a dramatic reminder of the unbelievable stakes he has placed on the table in his first month in office, putting at risk the future well-being of the country and the Democratic Party's control of Washington.
It was also, and even more significantly, a measure of the degree to which he has taken personal responsibility for delivering on one of the most ambitious agendas any newly inaugurated president has ever announced.
Most politicians, facing an economic crisis as deep as this one -- the threatened collapse of the job market and manufacturing, retail and credit systems here at home, along with the staggering, unprecedented costs of the attempted rescue efforts -- would happily postpone tackling anything else.
But not Obama.
Instead, no sooner had he finished describing his plans for spurring economic recovery and shoring up the crippled automotive and banking industries, he was off to the races, outlining his ambitions for overhauling energy, health care and education.
The House chamber was filled with veteran legislators who have spent decades wrestling with each of those issues. They know how maddeningly difficult it has been to cobble together a coalition large enough to pass a significant education, health care or energy bill.
And here stood Obama, challenging them to do all three, at a time when trillions of borrowed dollars already have been committed to short-term economic rescue schemes and when new taxes risk stunting any recovery.
Is he naive? Does he not understand the political challenge he is inviting?
His response to the doubters on both sides of the aisle who think (at least to themselves) that Obama is trying to do too much was to assert that passivity is not an option. "And I refuse to let that happen."
The White House had signaled before the speech that Obama planned to strike a more upbeat note than he had in his recent campaigning for the stimulus bill. He did that at the top of the speech, saying, "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."
That is presidential boilerplate, the kind of thing White House speechwriters can deliver whenever things look bleak and you have to rally the troops.
But Obama was not content to leave it at that. Buoyed for now by his victories over Hillary Clinton and John McCain, by his soaring approval scores and by a Republican opposition whose incoherence was demonstrated by the reply from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Obama is clearly of a mind to strike while the iron is hot.
His mindset is somewhat reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's in 1981, recognizing that the Democrats' self-confidence had been shattered by his victory and the door was therefore open for him to enact more of the conservative agenda than any Republican in 50 years.
Reagan could do that in part because he was unchallenged on the Republican side of the aisle and he had the only program that counted.
The risk to Obama's ambitions is likely to arise less from the defeated Republicans than from the victorious Democrats, who have all too many ideas of their own about what should be done in energy, health care and education.
And the other risk is in what he barely mentioned on Tuesday: the rest of the world. Obama has just ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a country with a staggering government and a shaky neighbor in Pakistan, where the United States is still searching for a plausible strategy.
The world provides no respite for an American president, especially one already as burdened as this one.
When we elected Obama, we didn't know what a gambler we were getting.
11) A Radical Presidency
By Daniel Henninger
When Barack Obama delivered his 44-minute acceptance speech in August among the majestic columns of Denver, it was apparent his would be an expansive presidency. Some wondered whether his solutions for a very long list of problems was too ambitious. On Tuesday, before Congress, he made clear across 52 minutes that the economic downturn would not deflect him from his Denver vision.
Instead, the economic crisis, as it did for Franklin D. Roosevelt, will serve as a stepping stone to a radical shift in the relationship between the people and their government. It will bind Americans to their government in ways not experienced since the New Deal. This tectonic shift, if successful, will be equal to the forces of public authority set in motion by Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The Obama presidency is going to be a radical presidency.
Barack Obama is proposing that the U.S. alter the relationship between the national government and private sector that was put in place by Ronald Reagan and largely continued by the presidencies of Bill Clinton and the Bushes. Then, the private sector led the economy. Now Washington will chart its course.
Mr. Obama was clear about his intention. "Our economy did not fall into this decline overnight," he said. Instead, an "era" has "failed" to think about the nation's long-term future. With the urgency of a prophet, he says the "day of reckoning has arrived." The president said his purpose is not to "only revive this economy."
In fact, people would probably coronate Mr. Obama if he merely revived the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The Dow's fall since the Sept. 14 collapse of Lehman Brothers and sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America has eviscerated the net wealth of Americans across all incomes. Many are in the most dispirited state in their lifetimes.
Yesterday, the post-Obama Dow lost another percentage point. No matter. In his worldview, "short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity." His speech did include a plan to address the market crisis. It consists of a program to support consumer and small-business loans; a mortgage refinancing mechanism; and the "full force of the government" to restart bank lending. Mr. Obama delivered that last element with a rather crude pistol-whipping of the nation's bankers and CEOs, thousands of whom have been operating their companies in a responsible, productive way.
This was just the prelude. Notwithstanding the daily nightmares of the economic crisis, now is the time to "boldly" rebuild the nation's "foundation." The U.S. budget he released today isn't just a budget. "I see it as a vision for America -- as a blueprint for our future." With it, Mr. Obama becomes the economy's Architect-in-Chief.
This blueprint will reshape energy and health. With energy, it proposes a gradual tear-down of the existing energy sector and its replacement with renewables. This vision has foundered before on the price disadvantage of noncarbon energy. Mr. Obama says he will "make" renewable energy profitable. He'll do this with a cap-and-trade system for carbon. The goal here is to "make" renewables economic by driving up the price of carbon.
The once-private auto industry, now run by federal "car czar" Steve Rattner, a reformed investment banker, is about to be ordered to produce "more efficient cars and trucks." Americans, like it or not, will buy these government-designed vehicles with government-supported car loans.
Mr. Obama believes health-care costs cause a bankruptcy "every 30 seconds" and will drive 1.5 million Americans from their homes this year. Therefore, the budget's vision on health is "historic" and a "downpayment" toward comprehensive health insurance. This "will not wait another year," he said.
He announced "tax-free universal savings accounts" as a solution to Social Security's crisis. This is a savings plan supported by federal matching contributions automatically deposited in individual accounts.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that this spending -- which in the public sector's new vocabulary is always "investment" -- will be costly. His read-my-lips moment was that no family with an income under $250,000 will pay a "single dime" in new taxes to support the construction of this new federal skyscraper. If that's still true in 2015, Mr. Obama will be walking back and forth across the Potomac River.
He told Congress he does not believe in bigger government. I don't believe that. It's becoming clear that the private sector is going to be demoted into a secondary role in the U.S. system. This isn't socialism, but it is not the system we've had since the early 1980s. It would be a reordered economic system, its direction chosen and guided by Mr. Obama and his inner circle.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's postspeech reply did not come close to recognizing the gauntlet Mr. Obama has thrown down to the opposition. Unless the GOP can discover a radical message of its own to distinguish it from the president's, it should prepare to live under Mr. Obama's radicalism for at least a generation.
12) Obama solution begets crises: Vows to resurrect economy but at what cost?
By Terence Corcoran
Americans love the upbeat, the can-do, the we-area-great-nation-and-we-can-pull-out-of-anything optimism. U. S. President Barack Obama is expert at tapping into that national trait, as he did with apparently popular and media success with his first formal Congressional speech on Tuesday.
"Though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than ever."
Early poll results appear to show that Americans are buying in.
Media enthusiasm was also strong. "Not since Franklin Roosevelt delivered his first fireside chat, eight days into his presidency, have Americans been more hungry -- and more desperate -- for economic leadership," said The Washington Post. "And not since FDR has there been an economic agenda as bold or ambitious, or as likely to reshape American capitalism."
All too true. The agenda is likely to reshape American capitalism, if that's what you want. But let me rain on this parade as it passes -- before The Music Man runs off with River City's most beautiful women. While he promises to deliver Americans from recession, financial crisis and the Wall St. Pool Hall, Mr. Obama's agenda actually threatens to plunge America into new crises, while extending the current crises.
Profoundly anti-market and anti-capitalist themes and tones run through Mr. Obama's speech. Nowhere in the world has a country risen to prosperity by blowing up markets (in energy, for example) and turning to massive state intervention (banking) to solve problems, especially problems that do not even exist (oil dependence).
Mr. Obama's speech, burdened with never-ending calls for state action, contains the seeds of at least four crises: Fiscalcrisis Mr. Obamais clearly using the current economic mess as cover for scores of leftist programs and projects. Americans don't like to be called leftists or socialists, especially American leftists and socialists. They're liberals. Whatever they call themselves, they will drive the United States into a succession of trillion-dollar increases in the national debt, on bailouts, stimulus and health care. Nothing wrong with debt in principle, but it's a recipe for a fiscal nightmare if the debt and interventions undermine growth. No growth, no tax revenue to pay down the debt, equals debt spiral.
Investment crisis The stock markets have already pronounced on the Obama economic strategy. If a live market ticker had been running through his Tuesday night speech, viewers could have watched confidence drain out of investors in real time. The Dow Jones average plunged almost 200 points in opening trading yesterday.
While claiming to support enterprise and entrepreneurship, Mr. Obama promised to continue waging ideological war on capitalism, on bankers, high income earners, Wall Street, the financial system, investors and free trade.
He warped concepts, dishonestly calling tax cuts to high-income earners "an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy." Cuts actually mean not taking wealth from the wealthy. He promised to raise taxes on the top 2% of American income earners, as if trillions were sitting in the pockets of Bernie Madoff's clients.
He continued his glib, populist smears of Wall Street. "This time CEOs won't be able to use taxpayers money to pad their pay cheques or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet." Who cares? Investors do, because such talk is code for undermining corporate America, the place where the money is made to pay dividends and taxes.
Newfinancialcrises Mr. Obama continued to promote the idea that the problem with the U. S. economy is bankers who are unwilling to provide credit. The economy, he said, starts with credit. "When credit is available again, [a] young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend." The other half of the credit story, however, is that you need a young family that actually wants to buy a home, along with healthy companies that want to borrow and invest in the economy.
All accounts suggest credit is available, but many people don't want it. The economy first needs willing borrowers and investors, but both have been panicked into inaction by a succession of government policies that are making the financial problems worse, feeding fear and recession.
Energy crisis "It begins with energy," said Mr. Obama. It may well end with energy, where Mr. Obama's policies pose the greatest risk of a new crisis. His speech was crammed with policy ideas from his campaign that would -- if implemented -- undermine energy markets and energy trade, impose massive carbon costs on fossil energy, and distort investment and research in favour of uneconomic activity.
"The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil," said Mr. Obama.
Calling carbon dioxide, a gas all Americans exhale when they breathe, a form of "pollution," Mr. Obama promised a cap-and-trade tax system on carbon emissions.
That tax, presumably, would reduce oil use and oil imports, furthering the sham cause of energy independence. The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins wrote yesterday that the idea of energy independence was "a favourite of Tojo and Hitler" but "was debunked by Churchill, who reasoned that true energy security came from a diversity of suppliers, not the foolish pursuit of self-sufficiency."
Instead of oil, America is to be subsidized and regulated into "profitable" renewables such as wind and solar power, along with biofuels and clean coal. At last look, the price of solar power runs to at least 40¢ a kilowatt hour compared with 6¢ for fossil fuel power. The Obama administration plans to liberate Americans from cheap imported oil to hook them onto wildly expensive native energy schemes.
America is indeed a nation that thrives on optimism and can-do self-confidence. Mr. Obama's talent is to convey those traits in his style and manner. But up-beat self-destruction hardly seems like the true spirit of what it means to be an American.
13) Straw Men: Why does he routinely ascribe to opponents views they don't espouse?
By KARL ROVE
President Barack Obama reveres Abraham Lincoln. But among the glaring differences between the two men is that Lincoln offered careful, rigorous, sustained arguments to advance his aims and, when disagreeing with political opponents, rarely relied on the lazy rhetorical device of "straw men." Mr. Obama, on the other hand, routinely ascribes to others views they don't espouse and says opposition to his policies is grounded in views no one really advocates.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama told Congress and the nation, "I reject the view that . . . says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity." Who exactly has that view? Certainly not congressional Republicans, who believe that through reasonable tax cuts, fiscal restraint, and prudent monetary policies government contributes to prosperity.
Mr. Obama also said that America's economic difficulties resulted when "regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market." Who gutted which regulations?
Perhaps it was President Bill Clinton who, along with then Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, removed restrictions on banks owning insurance companies in 1999. If so, were Mr. Clinton and Mr. Summers (now an Obama adviser) motivated by quick profit, or by the belief that the reform was necessary to modernize our financial industry?
Perhaps Mr. Obama was talking about George W. Bush. But Mr. Bush spent five years pushing to further regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He was blocked by Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank. Arriving in the Senate in 2005, Mr. Obama backed up Mr. Dodd's threat to filibuster Mr. Bush's needed reforms.
Even in an ostensibly nonpartisan speech marking Lincoln's 200th birthday, Mr. Obama used a straw-man argument, decrying "a philosophy that says every problem can be solved if only government would step out of the way; that if government were just dismantled, divvied up into tax breaks, and handed out to the wealthiest among us, it would somehow benefit us all. Such knee-jerk disdain for government -- this constant rejection of any common endeavor -- cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges."
During his news conference on Feb. 9, Mr. Obama decried an unnamed faction in the congressional stimulus debate as "a set of folks who -- I don't doubt their sincerity -- who just believe that we should do nothing."
Who were these sincere do-nothings? Every House Republican voted for an alternative stimulus plan, evidence that they wanted to do something. Every Senate Republican -- with the exception of Judd Gregg, who'd just withdrawn his nomination to be Mr. Obama's Commerce secretary and therefore voted "present" -- voted for alternative stimulus proposals.
Then there's Mr. Obama's description of the Bush-era tax cuts. "A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy," he explained in his Tuesday speech, after earlier saying, "tax cuts alone can't solve all of our economic problems -- especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few."
The Bush tax cuts were not targeted to "the wealthiest few." Everyone who paid federal income taxes received a tax cut, with the largest percentage of reductions going to those at the bottom. Last year, a family of four making $40,000 saved an average of $2,053 because of the Bush tax cuts. The tax code became more progressive as the share paid by the top 10% increased to 46.4% from 46% -- and the nation experienced 52 straight months of job growth after the cuts took effect. And since when is giving back some of what people pay in taxes "transferring wealth?"
In his inaugural address -- which was generally graceful toward the opposition -- Mr. Obama proclaimed, "We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." Which Republican ran against him on fear, conflict and discord?
Mr. Obama portrays himself as a nonideological, bipartisan voice of reason. Everyone resorts to straw men occasionally, but Mr. Obama's persistent use of the device is troubling. Continually characterizing those who disagree with you in a fundamentally dishonest way can be the sign of a person who lacks confidence in the merits of his ideas.
It was said that Lincoln crafted his arguments in "resonant words that enriched the political dialogue of his age." Mr. Obama's straw men aren't enriching the dialogue of our age. They are cheapening it. Mr. Obama should stop employing them.
14) GOP Keeps Avoiding Its Fiscal 'Principles'
By Froma Harrop
How big should government be? The answer is: As big as it has to be -- and for small-government types, no bigger than it has to be.
The whole debate about the proper size of government is a blind alley leading into a dead end. Government must grow at times of war or collapsing economy. It grows when there are lots of schoolchildren, elderly people or natural disasters. Government provides necessities that the private sector can't. We can argue over what constitutes a necessity.
There was no joy in President Obama's discussion Tuesday night of the expensive economic-recovery plan. He told Congress that he asked for it, "not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't." It was because "a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's Republican response to the speech showed a stunning disconnect from reality. First he called for a pile of new tax cuts, then warned that Democrats would "saddle future generations with debt."
Future generations are saddled with debt precisely because of reckless Republican tax cuts -- and spending. Obama repeated his vow to cut the deficit in half, once the crisis has passed. And he spoke in real-world specifics of tax loopholes to be ended and higher levies on the richest 2 percent.
Well, what about spending? There are fiscally righteous Republicans who fervently believe in small government and have the courage to vote against popular programs. They are but a handful. George W. Bush, working with a Republican Congress, embarked on the biggest spending spree since Lyndon Johnson, even excluding money allocated to defense and homeland security.
A current Republican talking point, repeated by Jindal, holds that "our party got away from its principles." Sadly, the party gets away from its principles most every time it's in power.
Bush wasn't a special case. Under Ronald Reagan, the U.S. government consumed the highest percentage of gross domestic product in American history, except for during World War II.
In his first address before Congress, in 1981, Reagan made shocked reference to the nearly $1 trillion in debt his administration had inherited. He called the number "incomprehensible." But Reagan's rhetoric had no bearing on subsequent policy. By the time he left office, the national debt had more than doubled, to over $2 trillion.
The national debt almost doubled under George W. Bush, from just under $6 trillion to nearly $10 trillion.
The one fiscally honest Republican president in recent decades was the much-maligned George H.W. Bush. Deciding that the time had come for America to start paying its bills, the elder Bush broke his "no new taxes" pledge. For that gutsy move, his party's tax-a-phobes reviled him.
Their barbs multiplied for Bush's successor, Democrat Bill Clinton, who backed higher taxes for some upper-income Americans. That helped create budget surpluses -- a fiscal Eden from which America was ejected soon after.
A recent New York Times-CBS News poll asked Americans whether it's more important for Republicans to stick to GOP policies or work with Obama and the Democrats. Only 17 percent preferred that Republicans stick to their policies. That's not much of a thumbs-up for the Republican way.
Nobody likes the deficits being run up. Everybody gripes about some of the ways the money's being spent. But at the moment, only government can pull us out of the economic swamp.
If Obama succeeds in cutting the deficit in half, he will have presided over a very big government followed by a much shrunken one. Both versions will have been right for their times. Clearly, there's no "one-size-fits-all" circumstances for government.
15) Republicans' Day of Reckoning
By William Kristol
After Tuesday night, no one should doubt Barack Obama's ambition. His silent dismissal of the efforts of his immediate predecessors -- he mentioned none of them -- is only one indication of the extent to which he intends to be a new president breaking new ground in a new era.
George W. Bush defined his presidency by his response to the terror attacks. Obama didn't discuss Sept. 11. And by relegating foreign policy to the status of a virtual afterthought, Obama indicated that he doesn't think his presidency will rise or fall by the success or failure of his diplomatic or military endeavors. Bill Clinton told Congress in 1996 that the era of big government was over. Obama withdrew that concession to conservatives and conservatism. George H.W. Bush worried in 1989 that we have more will than wallet. Obama has no such worries.
Obama's speech reminds of Ronald Reagan's in 1981 in its intention to reshape the American political landscape. But of course Obama wishes to undo the Reagan agenda. "For decades," he claimed, we haven't addressed the challenges of energy, health care and education. We have lived through "an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity." Difficult decisions were put off. But now "that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here." The phrase "day of reckoning" may seem a little ominous coming from a candidate of hope and change. But it's appropriate, because it's certainly a day of reckoning for conservatives and Republicans.
For Obama's aim is not merely to "revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity." Obama outlined much of this new foundation in the most unabashedly liberal and big-government speech a president has delivered to Congress since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Obama intends to use his big three issues -- energy, health care and education -- to transform the role of the federal government as fundamentally as did the New Deal and the Great Society.
Conservatives and Republicans will disapprove of this effort. They will oppose it. Can they do so effectively?
Perhaps -- if they can find reasons to obstruct and delay. They should do their best not to permit Obama to rush his agenda through this year. They can't allow Obama to make of 2009 what Franklin Roosevelt made of 1933 or Johnson of 1965. Slow down the policy train. Insist on a real and lengthy debate. Conservatives can't win politically right now. But they can raise doubts, they can point out other issues that we can't ignore (especially in national security and foreign policy), they can pick other fights -- and they can try in any way possible to break Obama's momentum. Only if this happens will conservatives be able to get a hearing for their (compelling, in my view) arguments against big-government, liberal-nanny-state social engineering -- and for their preferred alternatives.
Right now, Obama is in the driver's seat -- a newly elected and popular president with comfortable Democratic congressional majorities and an adulatory mainstream news media. Still, Republicans do have advantages over their forebears in 1965 and 1933. There are more Republicans in Congress today, so they should be able to resist more effectively. There is much more of a record of liberal failures to look back on now than when the New Deal and the Great Society were being rushed through. Conservatism is more sophisticated than it was back then. So there is no reason to despair.
Still, conservatives and Republicans shouldn't minimize their tasks. Long term, they need fresh thinking in a host of areas of domestic policy, thinking that builds on previous conservative achievements but that deals with the new economic and social realities. In the short term, Republicans need to show a tactical agility and political toughness far greater than their predecessors did in the 1960s and the 1930s. "Else they will fall," to quote the great conservative Edmund Burke, "an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle," reduced to the unpleasant role of bystanders or the unattractive status of complainers, as Barack Obama makes history.
16) Has The GOP Lost Enough to Change?
By David Paul Kuhn
"Stand for something," urged a Time magazine headline referring to the Republican Party in November 1949. Republicans had lost five presidential elections in a row. Their two big ideas had become outdated: The United States post-war ascendency as a superpower ended isolationism and the Great Depression sundered the belief in unregulated markets.
This year, however, does not seem to mark the same reckoning that began in 1949. Conservatives are gathering today for their first large conference since the 2008 election. The Conservative Political Action Conference is putting "timeless principles" before "new challenges," to which one panel is dedicated. In general, conservatives are chiefly bothered by the erosion of their principles. Most have concluded that they lost power not because of conservatism, but rather because the GOP failed to act conservatively. The Republicans stance today? GOP Minority Leader John Boehner ruefully declared to Congress Wednesday that "the era of big government" has returned. Of course with programs like the Medicare reform bill, conservatives realize "big government" never really left Washington in the Bush era.
"The conservative look at the 2008 election was that the problem was with Republican performance and not conservative values," said David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union and lead organizer of CPAC. According to this view, the right's greatest mistake was giving way to George W. Bush's apostasy. "We didn't object to things that were going off the track," Keene said. "If you lay down with the politicians you entrusted with your vision and if you lay down when they are off the track, then it's your fault."
After Democrats trounced Republicans in two national elections, CPAC's panels deal with "new challenges in the culture war" or "whether President Obama's tax policy will 'kill entrepreneurship'?" There are also panels for a Hispanic coalition and one for young Republicans on "rebuilding the movement." However, there are no panels on why the movement has withered, what new ideas are required to regain power or why the GOP is repeatedly losing first-time voters. Anxiety over the party's future is conspicuously absent.
There remains an "unspoken" division in the conservative movement that is forming a "great chasm," said GOP strategist John Weaver. Weaver is best known for leading Senator John McCain's 2000 insurgent bid against the GOP establishment favorite, Bush. "It's not so much about ideology but it has to do with realism and who is dealing with reality and who is not."
The division is between purists and reformers. Think Rush Limbaugh versus David Brooks. Yet it's Limbaugh who is capping off the conference, not Brooks. And it's notable that Limbaugh chose this year to make his first appearance at the conference. He personifies a party reaching back to its base. Oddly, Conservative activists are emboldened at a time when Republicans are most torn down. There is a sense Barry Goldwater is defeating Nelson Rockefeller all over again.
The GOP's new leader, Michael Steele, an African American whose mother picked cotton in the South, is speaking at the conference as well. Though visibly a different kind of Republican, Steele, too, is seemingly leaning toward the purist camp.
The Northeast, where Steele came of age in politics, has only three Republican senators remaining. It was those three senators who broke with the GOP and joined Democrats in backing the $787 billion stimulus bill. Steele has subsequently said he is "open" to "retribution" against the three GOP senators -- Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter -- depending upon the position of the state parties.
Yet, the conservative Washington Times recently came to the three senators' defense, arguing that Republicans can hardly afford to estrange its last leaders in the region. "Saving that rare bird, the Northeast Republican," read the Times' editorial.
Republicans certainly are in an unfamiliar wilderness. In 1993, Democrats had control of Congress and the White House, but Bill Clinton's meager 43 percent of the vote bridled Democrats' mandate. Not since Lyndon Johnson has conservatism had so little power in Washington.
Today, just three in 10 Americans "trust" Republicans more than Democrats "to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years," according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Fifty-six percent of those polled have more trust in Democrats, the party's highest level of public confidence since the question was first asked in 1982.
Keene does recognize this "loss of credibility." But conservatives seem to be more worried about the moderation of the Republican Party, circa Dwight Eisenhower following Harry Truman.
"Take your philosophies and principles and apply them to the times," Keene said. "It's not enough to stand athwart to history, and say stop, as Buckley said."
It was in Eisenhower's day that William F. Buckley helped unite and change conservative thought. But Republicans are also not at the low point of 1949. They are still led by a generation who has mostly known power. Perhaps, Weaver posited, we "haven't lost enough."