Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama was wrong: Britain did torture during World War II

Winston Churchill's chief "torturer," Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scotland, O.B.E.

It was kind of odd, I thought, but in last night's press conference, in support of his decision to forswear use of rough interrogation techniques by the U.S. against terrorists, President Obama went out his way to summon up the ghost of Winston Churchill by saying this:

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture," when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.
Not so, it turns out. Writing in Britain's' Guardian, Obama supporter Michael Tomasky points to this report that appeared in his newspaper in 2005 about "The London Cage," as an interrogation center run by a secretive section of Britain's MI-5 (the counter-intelligence security service). It tells the story of how the under the command of Lt. Col. Alexander Scotland, an aging World War I veteran recalled to service in 1939 because of his record of getting information out of German prisoners in the earlier war, used "beatings, sleep deprivation and starvation," among other measures on an unknown number of the 3,753 prisoners who were held there at some point over many years (up until three years after the war ended!). More than 1,000 of these men were persuaded by Lt. Col. Scotland and his men to confess to war crimes.

Now, prisoners at The London Cage were not ordinary Werhmacht soldiers and sailors. Most were SS and Gestapo men suspected of such crimes as murdering British POWs (sort of the equivalent of suspected al Qaeda terrorists?). Still, the methods were harsh. According to the Guardian, a post-war MI-5 assessment found "detailed repeated breaches of the Geneva convention, with...admissions that prisoners had been forced to kneel while being beaten about the head; forced to stand to attention for up to 26 hours; threatened with execution; or threatened with 'an unnecessary operation'."

One SS captain named Knoechlein made a written complaint in which he said he had been "stripped...deprived of sleep for four days and nights, and starved." And that was only the start:

The guards kicked him each time he passed, he alleges, while his interrogators boasted that they were "much better" than the "Gestapo in Alexanderplatz". After being forced to perform rigorous exercises until he collapsed, he says he was compelled to walk in a tight circle for four hours. On complaining to Scotland that he was being kicked even "by ordinary soldiers without a rank", Knoechlein alleges that he was doused in cold water, pushed down stairs, and beaten with a cudgel. Later, he says, he was forced to stand beside a large gas stove with all its rings lit before being confined in a shower which sprayed extremely cold water from the sides as well as from above. Finally, the SS man says, he and another prisoner were taken into the gardens behind the mansions, where they were forced to run in circles while carrying heavy logs.
On top of that, Scotland did his best to keep the International Red Cross out of the Cage:

Scotland went on to argue that the Red Cross need not be admitted, because his prisoners were either civilians [technically, Gestapo agents were civilian police officers], or "criminals within the armed forces" [e.g., the SS], and neither, he said, were protected by the Geneva convention.
Rough stuff. But was it really too rough for the likes of SS killers? Did it strip the British nation and people of their values? Did it destroy the rule of law in the United Kingdom? Did it pull the British down to the level of Nazi SS/Gestapo brutality?

Those are the questions that Americans really need to ask themselves, today. And President Obama should bone up on his WWII history before invoking Churchill again.

What do you think? Post a comment.

(Hat tip: RealClearPolitics)

Gen. Petraeus's stark warning to Pakistan: You have only weeks to avert collapse

Click on map to enlarge.

Taliban presence in Pakistan, by area, as of April 24 2009.

Created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. combat commander, has bluntly told the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders that the government of Pakistan could be only a couple of weeks away from collapse in the face of major Taliban advances that now threaten control of Peshawar, the major city in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, and even the nation's capital, Islamabad.

"The Pakistanis have run out of excuses" and are "finally getting serious" about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.

But Petraeus also said wearily that "we've heard it all before" from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States' next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.

It's not clear from this report what, if any, warnings or offers of help Petraeus or other U.S. officials have delivered to Pakistan's civilian government, led by Ali Zardari, or the Pakistani Army. However, Petreaus appears to believe that the Army will survive, even if the Zardari government falls before the Taliban offensive.

It is a lot less clear what that surviving Army will do. At the moment, the Army is supporting a government counter-offensive against the Taliban aimed at taking back the strategically and symbolically important Buner district. But the brunt of that fight is still be borne by the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), a lightly armed force. And while government forces succeeded in reestablishing control of a key town, the Taliban retaliated by seizing scores of FC hostages. In recent years, Pakistan's on-and-off battle with the Taliban has frequently turned on temporary deals, often involving negotiated release of such hostages.

Meanwhile, according to one of Pakistan's leading dailies, Bruce Riedel, the key coordinator of Obama's Pakistan-Afghanistan policies at the White House, expressed concern that the Pakistani Army might simply not be willing to fight and kill Taliban. Reportedly, Riedel said that "Pakistan Army officers are afraid that if they ask the rank and file to fire on the Taliban too much, the whole army might disintegrate."

Riedel probably knows whereof he speaks. Pakistan has never been a reliable ally. Indeed, it's likely that Usama bin Laden believed his back would be protected after 9/11 by a refusal by Pakistan to cooperate with the U.S., based on its history of strong support for the Taliban. We now know that Deputy Secretary of Stated Richard Armitage travelled to Pakistan right after 9/11 and delivered an ultimatum to then-President Musharraf: cooperate or be prepared to be bombed back into the Stone Age. Only under duress did Musharraf abandon his Taliban allies and their al Qaeda friends. But Pakistani assistance in the fight was always accompanied by foot dragging and very likely by continued covert help (critically including intelligence) to the Taliban.
It may turn out that the Taliban's threat to Pakistan, itself, will change all that -- but no one should hold his breath. The Army, its intelligence arm, ISI, and large segments of Pakistan's political leadership remain convinced that making concessions to the Taliban in terms of control of the Pashtun tribal areas will satisfy them, redirect the war in the west by the Afghan Taliban against the American infidels, and preserve what Pakistani leaders have believed fervently for decades is their country's vital interest in the "strategic depth" afforded by Afghanistan in any serious war with India and in preventing any potential Indian influence in Afghanistan.

The gravity of this crisis can't be underestimated. Our Taliban-al Qaeda enemies (no dummies) have, in effect, launched a major strategic offensive to their east, while the U.S. has been changing administrations and the incoming President has not yet had time to ramp up his policies, much less actually deliver additional troops, money or anything else to the Afghan or Pakistan side of the conflict. Obama (with smart advice from Petreaus, Riedel and others) has been conducting a wide-ranging review with an eye to developing a broader regional strategy. All well and good, but there may not be time. He may need to act decisively before all the pieces are in place, lest there no longer be a Pakistan worth dealing with.

Here's another pertinent question: given that the solid work the CIA's Clandestine Service has over the past 7 1/2 years has resulted in killing or capturing more al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and key operatives than all the other actions by the U.S. government combined -- and that work continues, right up to yesterday -- wouldn't it be smart for the President to ease himself away from the kind of gratuitous words and actions that are crippling the morale of these dedicated officers?

You must have an opinion about this. Post a comment.

UPDATES -- Heavy fighting between government and Taliban forces is reported to be raging for the third day in Pakistan's northwestern Buner district. In the nearby Dir district, the Taliban have kidnapped 10 paramilitary soldiers from their headquarters, adding to the 52 paramilitaries and police they already heald hostage. Meanwhile, the government faces yet another security challenge, as "ethnic violence" between the majority Urdu-speaking Mohajirs and Pashtuns raged in Karachi, claiming 34 lives in 24 hours and causing the government to send in troops. There are reports of Islamic extremists attempting to spur Pashtuns to rebellion.

Relax, folks, "swine flu" is just the flu

In the 1976 "swine flu" non-pandemic, more people died of the cure than the disease

From coast to coast across America and around the world, public officials and the media are all engaged in a daily -- no, hourly -- Big Hype over what is now not supposed to be called the "swine flu," lest people stop eating bacon (fat chance). Oh, but wait, they all say "don't panic" even as they deliver the latest panic-inspiring stories about the bug creeping up on you. Last night, I watched an 11 pm Boston newscast, the first 10 minutes of which was consumed by breathless accounts of two boys in Lowell, Massachusetts, who tested positive for the swine, er, non-swine flu virus after a family trip to Mexico. One reporter was outside the boys' school asking parents whether they were "concerned;" another was interviewing Lowell's "emergency management" officials; still others were recounting the latest scary stats from Mexico, etc.

But don't panic!

OK, I do get it. This strain of flu is a new one, so that the human population doesn't yet have a degree of acquired immunity that would slow the pace of transmission. And outbreaks of virulent strains of flu (like the devastating 1918 "Spanish flu," which was also a "swine flu") can infect hundreds of millions quickly. And the consequences for people in over-populated cities (like Mexico City) in countries (like Mexico) where health care is not of the best quality could potentially be rough, if this flu bug turned out to be a tough, virulent strain.

So precautions by health authorities do make perfect sense: alert health care providers to look into flu cases, carefully track the infection and the nature and severity of the symptoms it causes; speed development of a specific vaccine, just in case; and roll out supplies of existing medications so that they are in place where they might be most needed.

However, we'd all be better off (and a good deal less likely to panic) if politicians stopped trying to leverage these events to their own advantage and the media generally stopped literally screaming its wall-to-wall coverage.

The key facts seem to be these (hat tips to Drudge):

-- While Mexico has reported higher numbers of what it calls "suspected" swine flu cases, as of Thursday, the World Health Organization reported a total of 237 confirmed cases worldwide as of Thursday (in a global population of six billion), which resulted in eight deaths.

-- Almost all of those infected either live in Mexico, recently travelled to Mexico, or have been in close contact (mostly as family members) with people who did travel to Mexico.

-- Medical experts believe that, so far, the new flu strain isn't especially dangerous and has caused relatively mild symptoms in most infected people.

Also, this is critical to bear in mind: The ordinary "seasonal flu" we all get from time to time has routinely been far more deadly. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, the seasonal flu has led to the deaths of more than 13,000 people in the United States just since January 1st of this year (about 800 deaths per week!). In the last full year for which statistics are available, the 2007-08 flu season, the ordinary bug killed about 36,000 people nationwide.

Most of these deaths occurred among the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. But the very young are always more vulnerable than healthy adults. While the fact that a toddler in Texas recently succumbed to the swine flu is tragic, the CDC says that more than 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized every year because of seasonal flu. In the 2007-08 flu season, it reports that 86 children nationwide died from flu complications.

Panic over potential pandemics can easily cause a lot of crazy things to happen. One early contender for a prize in that department is this story about the government of Egypt ordering the mass slaughter of 400,000 pigs to head off the new flu, even though international health authorities are sure that the bug is not transmitted from swine to humans.

A lot worse can happen due to panic. In 1976, there was a genuinely crazed panic over another strain of swine flu sparked by the death of a soldier at Fort Dix from the bug, which also sickened 155 other troops at the New Jersey Army installation. The panic was driven by a huge governmental over-reaction, which was in turn in part prompted by political considerations. The feds adopted a plan that aimed to vaccinate 80% of the nation's population. The plan ground to a halt after 40 million innoculations (promoted by hysterical mass propaganda like the PSAs embedded above), because three elderly people died from the vaccine and a number of younger people wound up crippled by a severe side reaction. This represented a higher toll than that caused by the flu, which in retrospect, never amounted to much outside Fort Dix.

So if you get the sniffles, along with a high fever and sore throat, by all means, see your doctor. Even more important, get a flu shot to guard against the seasonal flu. Otherwise, relax. The inevitable reprise of panicky stories on tonight's news will be more about ratings than public health and safety.

Got an opinion about the swine/non-swine flu panic? Post a comment.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Release of "torture" memos is already hobbling CIA counterterrorism programs

CIA field officers now view counterterrorism as a career hazard

It seemed inevitable President Obama's release of the so-called "torture" memos and the subsequent calls for prosecutions, Congressional investigations, and a "truth commission" would sap the morale of CIA officers engaged in the difficult and often dangerous counterterrorism activities of America's leading intelligence organization -- despite Obama's visit to CIA headquarters and his latest promise not to hold agency personnel responsible. According to this report from Stratfor, the private intelligence service, that's just what has happened already:

[O]ur contacts in the intelligence community report that the release of the memos has had a discernible "chilling effect” on those in the clandestine service who work on counterterrorism issues.
The question troubling clandestine officers is not possible prosecution, which is highly unlikely, and it's not the interrogation tactics themselves, which ceased to be used several years ago. It's the loss of the officers' ability to rely on the word of their government any longer.

[T]he end effect of the memos’ release is that people who have put their lives on the line in U.S. counterterrorism efforts are now uncertain of whether they should be making that sacrifice. Many of these people are now questioning whether the administration that happens to be in power at any given time will recognize the fact that they were carrying out lawful orders under a previous administration. It is hard to retain officers and attract quality recruits in this kind of environment. It has become safer to work in programs other than counterterrorism
CIA launched a furious war against al Qaeda after 9/11, with repeated orders and authorizations for its actions coming straight from the President with the strong support of the Congress, the press and the public. Yet, a few years later, second thoughts, second guessing and finger pointing replaced post-9/11 national unity and resolve, with the result that field officers engaged in the war were left to feel out in the cold. Now, rather than being congratulated for rolling up myriad al Qaeda plots and capturing or killing half of al Qaeda's core leaders and operators, they have to worry about getting lawyers. So counterterrorism doesn't look like a great career option.

At the CIA, being a counterterrorism specialist in the clandestine service means that you will most likely spend much of your life in places line Sanaa, Islamabad and Kabul instead of Vienna, Paris or London. This means that, in addition to hurting your chances for career advancement, your job also is quite dangerous, provides relatively poor living conditions for your family and offers the possibility of contracting serious diseases.

While being declared persona non grata and getting kicked out of a country as part of an intelligence spat is considered almost a badge of honor at the CIA, the threat of being arrested and indicted for participating in the rendition of a terrorist suspect from an allied country like Italy is not. Equally unappealing is being sued in civil court by a terrorist suspect or facing the possibility of prosecution after a change of government in the United States. Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers who are choosing to carry personal liability insurance because they do not trust the agency and the U.S. government to look out for their best interests.
Even officers who are still up for these challenges face other obstacles.
Now, there are officers who are willing to endure hardship and who do not really care much about career advancement, but for those officers there is another hazard — frustration. Aggressive officers dedicated to the counterterrorism mission quickly learn that many of the people in the food chain above them are concerned about their careers, and these superiors often take measures to rein in their less-mainstream subordinates. Additionally, due to the restrictions brought about by laws and regulations like the Torricelli Amendment [which restricts the use of shady characters in covert operations], case officers working counterterrorism are often tightly bound by myriad legal restrictions.
For a brief time after 9/11, urgency led to the phalanx of government lawyers allowing greater operational flexibility, but no more.

Unlike in television shows like “24,” it is not uncommon in the real world for a meeting called to plan a counterterrorism operation to feature more CIA lawyers than case officers or analysts. These staff lawyers are intricately involved in the operational decisions made at headquarters, and legal issues often trump operational considerations. The need to obtain legal approval often delays decisions long enough for a critical window of operational opportunity to be slammed shut. This restrictive legal environment goes back many years in the CIA and is not a new fixture brought in by the Obama administration. There was a sense of urgency that served to trump the lawyers to some extent after 9/11, but the lawyers never went away and have reasserted themselves firmly over the past several years.
What is new under Obama is an explicit, public rejection of a wide range of CIA counterterrorism activities, coupled with ominous threats of investigations and trials. Given that, it's easy to see why no one would still want to work in counterterrorism.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter's switch to the Democrats a blow to centrist politics and governance

Senator Arlen Specter ponders his future

Arlen Specter is changing parties, becoming a Democrat because he would face all but certain defeat against a Republican primary challenge by conservative Pat Toomey. Presumably,Toomey will now be the GOP candidate next year, and Specter -- who has secured strong support from President Obama and Democratic Party leaders -- will be the Democratic candidate.

Understandably, Democrats are thrilled. The switch brings the Senate Democratic caucus to the brink of having the 60 votes needed under Senate rules to overcome the filibuster. Although Specter may mean it when he says he'll still act independently, so that his vote can't be counted on by Democrats on every issue, there is no question that Specter will be more inclined to vote with the President and his new party's leadership on key matters than he is now. He'll owe them, and he'll need the support and help of Democratic leaders, contributors and voters, particularly over the coming year and a half in the run-up to his reelection contest.

Quite a few conservative Republicans -- at least those who don't hold public responsibilities -- seem almost as pleased. Some bloggers on the right (e.g., here and here) are positively happy about seeing Specter go. Since most of these folks were supporting Toomey against Specter, I suppose their reaction is understandable, too. They were doing their best to defeat Specter for the offense of being (as they call moderate Republicans) a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

But it's not a good development for the tens of millions of Americans who comprise the vital center of American politics. Those of us who prefer reasonable politics to rabid partisan warfare and smart, pragmatic government to flights of ideological fantasy would rather not see the last check on Democratic Party power -- the Senate filibuster -- become a less tangible threat. For me, this remains true even though it's obvious that Specter has placed his own electoral prospects over all other considerations. I'd still rather have one more moderate Republicans serving as a swing force in the Senate than a further consolidation of one-party power.

Specter's move -- and the reasons for it -- has much in common with Joe Lieberman's experience in 2006. Both Specter and Lieberman were attacked by the intensely ideological wings of their parties and challenged in a primary by a more ideologically "pure" candidate, rendering it impossible to win reelection without running on a different line. Of course, Joe ran and won as an independent and continued to align himself with the Democratic Senate Caucus (notwithstanding his independent backing of McCain for President). That was a more principled course of action than Specter has chosen. Still, both men have been targets of the ideologically driven wings of the two parties, which are intent on imposing their respective brands of purity.

There is much to be said for our two great parties continuing to operate as "big tents" as they have through much of our history. The fact is that most Democratic candidates at the national, state and district levels always get some conservative votes and win by attracting independents and moderates from the center in a general election. Likewise, most Republican candidates always get some liberal votes and win by capturing the center. However, the primary electorates of both parties, typically a small fraction of the general electorate, and the activists and contributors whose support is essential to winning primaries, are far more polarized and polarizing. Increasingly, the Democrats' left wing and the GOP's right wing have the best organized and funded operations (and cheerleaders in the media), so that moderate candidates like Specter and Lieberman are threatened. There is even a right wing challenger to John McCain in the 2010 Arizona primary.

This is dangerous stuff. Our politics has already become too contentious and bitter over the past three or four national elections. It is important to remember that since FDR collapsed the Republican ascendancy that prevailed outside the South from the Civil War on, most Presidents have been elected by broad, "big tent" coalitions. These coalitions constantly shifted so that millons of the same voters who elected LBJ in a landslide also gave Richard Nixon an overwhelming sweep a few years later and handed Ronald Reagan a decisive victory a few years after that.

The Specter change is likely to further encourage Democrats, who were already heady with success, to dream of a "new realignment" of American politics that gives the Democrats a permanent majority. Some caution would do them a world of good. It wasn't long ago that GOP strategists were singing a similar tune -- until voter unhappiness with the Iraq war and the recession combined to give them a hard dose of reality.

What's more, with or without Specter, the GOP is far from doomed -- even in the Northeast where the conventional wisdom is that Republicans are finished. This superficial CW ignores the fact that Connecticut , Rhode Island and Vermont currently have GOP governors and that just a few years ago, Republicans held the governorships in New York and Massachussets, as well. It also ignores the fact that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine is running far behind his likely Republican challenger in his bid for reelection this year. And it ignores the very real possibility that Rudy Giuliani, if he runs, could win the 2010 race for New York Governor (or Senator) and the increasingly good odds for a successful Republican challenge to Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.

The key to all of these past and potential future GOP successes is the continued willingness of voters to elect moderate Republicans. The thing is that conservatives have to be willing to live with the fact that some moderates are going to get their party's nominations some of the time. If the Pennsylvania case is any guide, the right wing is determined to rule, even if the result is impotence and irrelevance.

What's your opinion about the Specter bolt? Post a comment.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Survey: 58% of Americans think Obama's release of CIA "torture" memos endangers U.S. security

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (R) and co-defendants Walid Bin Attash (C) and Ramzi Bin al Shibh at Gitmo hearing: not many Americans are fretting about their treatment

IMHO, President Obama is about to walk into a fight he will not win, if he doesn't stand up to the left wing of his party -- my party -- and put an end to talk of raking Bush-era officials and CIA officers over the coals for harshly interrogating Khalid Sheik Mohammed and a few other al Qaeda leaders and operatives.

According to a new poll, 58% of all voters believe the Obama administration’s release of the CIA "torture" memos endangers the national security of the United States, while only 28% believe the release of the memos helps America’s image abroad, the reason Obama has given for making them public.

Americans aren't stupid. They are following this issue, and they do understand the moral, political and strategic choices involved. Their verdict is not to worry so much about the treatment of al Qaeda detainees.

A couple of other key findings:

-- 37% now believe the U.S. legal system worries too much about protecting individual rights when national security is at stake, while 21% say the legal system is too concerned about protecting national security, and 33% say the balance between the two is about right. This reflects a significant shift over the past couple of years -- as the public debate about harsh interrogation and other aggressive steps in the campaign against al Qaeda has heated up -- with more Americans saying that concerns about detainees' rights are overblown.

-- Only 28% think the Obama administration should do any further investigating of how the Bush administration treated terrorism suspects -- 28% -- while 58% are opposed. Potentially decisive as a political matter, 62% of independent voters oppose further more investigations.

I disagree with conservative bloggers who contend that probing or prosecuting Bush officials will "destroy his presidency." Americans are fully capable of making distinctions and supporting Obama on the economy and other major issues, while giving a thumbs down to recriminations about how exactly al Qaeda was held at bay for the past eight years.

But the support for such recriminations simply is not there, and there is no way to gin it up just because Patrick Leahy or Nancy Pelosi want to exact some revenge. And needless to say, no one associated with the Bush Administration and no one in the intelligence community, past or present, is going to sit still as fingers are pointed at them. There will be a messy, drawn-out, all-consuming battle -- with the likelihood that roughly two thirds of American voters won't be sympathetic to the Democrats' side of the dispute.

Obama understands the politics of this, which is why he has sought to distance himself from "looking backward." But some of his political friends and allies are doing their best to stick him with an unnecessary and unwinable fight. He'd best do something quickly to stop them.

Have an opinion about this (and who doesn't)? Post a comment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Running marathons causes global warming (just like being fat!)

Pity the poor earth as these carbon-spewing mobs proliferate

Yesterday, there was a widely circulated report about how some scientists claim that fat people make global warming a lot worse. It seems that fat people eat more (duh) and that the production and transportation of food is "a major factor in the CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming," accounting for "about one fifth of greenhouse gasses." Said one scientist, "Moving about in a heavy body is like driving in a gas guzzler."

So you fatties are disproportionately responsible for ruining the planet, and we may have to take away your Twinkies.

Fair enough. But since the problem here is consuming more than your needed share of carbon-causing food, what about the millions of svelte, in-shape, exercise fanatics (who generally are the higher, nobler sort of people who want to help save the planet)? Specifically, the hundreds of thousands in this country alone who train for marathons every year?

Here are the grim, earth-destroying facts.

A 160-pound man who trains for and runs marathons at a moderate pace and intensity needs, on average, nearly 4,000 calories a day during training, which is virtually year-round for many dedicated runners. If the same man does not exercise at all except to get to and from his desk job and watch TV, he needs less than 2,000 calories a day -- or about half as much food as the runner. An advanced, more intense runner is an even more deadly enemy to the polar bears, burning a whopping 5,500 calories a day!

Of course, if our average 160-pound couch potato ate 5,500 calories a day worth of god knows what, he'd probably look like this guy and have to endure public scorn, while these massive CO2 producers are admired and lionized.

So, if the earth really means anything to you, take to your couches and stay there.

Got any thoughts about this rampant runner selfishness? Post a comment.

Over-the-top environmentalism: RFK, Jr. calls Obama "indentured servant" of clean coal industry

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

In an interview with Brian Ross on ABC News, Bobby Kennedy's namesake opened fire on President Obama, calling him an "indentured servant" of the clean coal industry who "parrots" that industry's "talking points" and perpetuates a "dirty lie" about coal.

You have to read the whole thing to appreciate the extent to which Kennedy is saying that Obama has been corrupted by "carbon industry" campaign contributions. This from a guy who joined the chorus of praise for Obama's historic, gazillion dollar internet fundraising program from small contributors. This about a President who has pledged to invest heavily in every green energy alternative, while also committing himself to making sure the American economy is more energy self-sufficient. Not enough to be called corrupt by Kennedy, a man whose claim to public attention (other than his conviction for heroin possession) is a function of the accident of his birth.

Here's what I want to know: when will RKF, Jr., persuade his uncle Teddy and the rest of his influential family to stop blocking this Cape Cod wind farm (which today received important new backing from President Obama) because it might interfere with their view while sailing?

And while I'm on that subject, could there be a connection between Obama's pushing the wind farm and Kennedy's slamming Obama as a tool of Big Carbon? Just wondering.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Torture" and other aggressive steps were made necessary by a decade of intelligence failure

Mohammed Atta (r) and Flight 93 hijack pilot Ziad Jarrah were able to enter the U.S. freely to plan and carry out 9/11 attacks because they were unknown, despite extensive jihadist activities

The release of the CIA-DOJ "torture" memos has sent politicians and pundits of every stripe into a frenzy of moral preening, political posturing and frequently tortured readings of American law. But the aggressive "intelligence war" that was launched by the U.S. through CIA and other agencies as of late on 9-11 was an understandable, if not in retrospect an altogether admirable, response by a government that would have come under extreme pressure from the American people if it failed to prevent another such attack. As a Democrat, I have always believed that President Gore, notwithstanding his later sharp differences with Bush about Iraq and other issues, would have embarked on pretty much the same course with respect to waging an intelligence war to take down al Qaeda. The nature of the President's overwelming responsibility to protect the nation and its people, combined with the severe limits faced in finding and defeating this unconventional enemy, would have shaped Gore's policies just as they did Bush's.

George Friedman of makes a compelling case for how and why extreme steps were found to be necessary in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Here are siome key excerpts. It's well worth reading the whole thing.

In the wake of 9/11, anyone who wasn’t terrified was not in touch with reality. We know several people who now are quite blasé about 9/11. Unfortunately for them, we knew them in the months after, and they were not nearly as composed then as they are now.

Sept. 11 was terrifying for one main reason: We had little idea about al Qaeda’s capabilities. It was a very reasonable assumption that other al Qaeda cells were operating in the United States and that any day might bring follow-on attacks. (Especially given the group’s reputation for one-two attacks.)...

And while Sept. 11 was frightening enough, there were ample fears that al Qaeda had secured a “suitcase bomb” and that a nuclear attack on a major U.S. city could come at any moment. For individuals, such an attack was simply another possibility....For the government, however, the problem was having scraps of intelligence indicating that al Qaeda might have a nuclear weapon, but not having any way of telling whether those scraps had any value. The president and vice president accordingly were continually kept at different locations, and not for any frivolous reason.

This lack of intelligence led directly to the most extreme fears, which in turn led to extreme measures. Washington simply did not know very much about al Qaeda and its capabilities and intentions in the United States. A lack of knowledge forces people to think of worst-case scenarios. In the absence of intelligence to the contrary after 9/11, the only reasonable assumption was that al Qaeda was planning more — and perhaps worse — attacks.

Collecting intelligence rapidly became the highest national priority. Given the genuine and reasonable fears, no action in pursuit of intelligence was out of the question, so long as it promised quick answers. This led to the authorization of torture, among other things. Torture offered a rapid means to accumulate intelligence, or at least — given the time lag on other means — it was something that had to be tried....

...[P]residents — and others who have taken the same oath — do not have the luxury of the contemplative life. They must act on their oaths, and inaction is an action. Former U.S. President George W. Bush knew that he did not know the threat, and that in order to carry out his oath, he needed very rapidly to find out the threat. He could not know that torture would work, but he clearly did not feel that he had the right to avoid it....

The endless argument over torture, the posturing of both critics and defenders, misses the crucial point. The United States turned to torture because it has experienced a massive intelligence failure reaching back a decade. The U.S. intelligence community simply failed to gather sufficient information on al Qaeda’s intentions, capability, organization and personnel. The use of torture was not part of a competent intelligence effort, but a response to a massive intelligence failure.

That failure was rooted in a range of miscalculations over time. There was the public belief that the end of the Cold War meant the United States didn’t need a major intelligence effort, a point made by the late Sen. Daniel Moynihan. There were the intelligence people who regarded Afghanistan as old news. There was the Torricelli amendment that made recruiting people with ties to terrorist groups illegal without special approval. There were the Middle East experts who could not understand that al Qaeda was fundamentally different from anything seen before. The list of the guilty is endless, and ultimately includes the American people, who always seem to believe that the view of the world as a dangerous place is something made up by contractors and bureaucrats.

Bush was handed an impossible situation on Sept. 11, after just nine months in office. The country demanded protection, and given the intelligence shambles he inherited, he reacted about as well or badly as anyone else might have in the situation. He used the tools he had, and hoped they were good enough.

Again, I recommend reading the whole piece.

Have an opinion about this (and who doesn't)? Post a comment.

Has the recession hurt the sex industry -- or not?

"Hey, big spender, geben sir mir eine stimulus package"

Video: Germany's legal prostitutes offering specials as demand goes soft

There was a lot of yukking it up a few months ago when "leaders" of the US porn industry suggested that they deserved a federal bailout. But the amount of money going to paid sex might well be a good indicator of just how hard up consumers feel (at least male consumers). After all, whether to fork over $4,000 for hour with her is the ultimate in discretionary spending, even for high rollers. So what's the story?

Of course, no one is keeping official data. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence, but the picture is a mixed one and may depend on where you are. Germany's legalized prostitution industry is hurting (see the video above) enough to offer customers "specials." No word from Chancellor Angela Merkel on whether this might change her mind about rolling out a bigger, American-style stimulus package.

Meanwhile, Nevada's legal brothels have been hit even harder than their German counterparts, with business off by as much as 45%. And art least a few months ago, Las Vegas call girls were having a tough time too.

On the other hand, the recession seems to have set off a boom in Australia's sex industry:

MELBOURNE'S adult venues have turned the other cheek to the global economic meltdown, with brothels reporting soaring profits and a flood of women turning to strip joints for work.

Daily Planet, billed as Melbourne’s most exclusive brothel, has experienced a big jump in turnover since the economy went into freefall, The Melbourne Leader reports.

While city retailers report falling sales, the brothel’s office administrator Gayle Howard said the number of men willing to pay big bucks for sex rose “quite significantly” last year.

Go figure.

Any thoughts about this? Post a comment.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NATO captures more Somali pirates -- and lets them go again!

Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg to Somali pirates: naughty boys

This is getting ridiculous. Within one day of this fiasco involving a Dutch Navy vessel nabbing and releasing a pirate band, a Canadian frigate teamed up with a British warship to track and capture another gang who tried to hijack a Norwegian tanker in the Gulf of Aden. Then, what happened?

The pirates were detained, but allowed to go free after questioning.

There is currently no formal procedure for NATO personnel to follow once they have apprehended pirates, [a NATO spokesperson] noted. Their weapons are confiscated and they are then typically given provisions and released.
Did you catch that part about their being "given provisions?" Wouldn't want these poor puppies to miss a meal, eh?

Out-of-control piracy in one of the world's most important and heavily trafficked sea lanes is no joke. But the pirates are surely having a good laugh at the vaunted power and authority of "the international community."

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Somali pirates need not beware: "NATO does not have any detainment policy"

HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën: fast, heavily armed, but helpless?

As Captain Richard Phillips returned home after his dramatic rescue from Somali pirates by U.S. Navy SeALs, the pirates seem not to have taken President Obama's vow "to root out the pirates infesting African shipping lanes" any too seriously.

In fact, earlier today, the daring sea-faring bandits seized yet another ship, a Belgian dredger, and took its crew of 10 hostage.

Ah, but there was good news, too -- sort of. In a separate incident, the Dutch frigate, HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën, on anti-piracy patrol for NATO answered a distress call from a tanker, intervened in an attack on that vessel, chased the pirates back to their "mother ship," a Yemeni fishing dhow on which the pirates were holding 20 fishermen as hostages, and captured the bad guys.

Trouble is, the Dutch then let the bad guys go! Why? Because, as a NATO naval representative told the media, "NATO does not have any detainment policy."

You really can't make this stuff up. A related reason the pirates could not be arrested, the NATO spokesperson explained, is that neither the pirates nor the victimized ships nor the hostage fishermen were Dutch nationals! (And you thought piracy was an international crime!) The French are trying some pirates who attacked a French ship. The captured pirate from the group who attacked captain Phillip's ship is being brought to justice in the U.S. But for the most part, pirates who are seized by the international armada of naval vessels patrolling the region's waters have nothing to worry about:

The vast majority of detained pirates are set free to wreak havoc again because of legal barriers to prosecuting them. It can be difficult or impossible for prosecutors to assemble witnesses scattered across the globe and find translators. Many countries are wary of hauling in pirates for trial for fear of being saddled with them after they serve their prison terms.

Note to President Obama: the place to start in your campaign "o root out the pirates" is by getting NATO to adopt "a detention policy," don't you think?

What's your opinion of this Keystone Kops NATO naval exercise? Post a comment.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What if a "slap to the face with fingers slightly spread" could have prevented this?

Or "grasping" a guy by his shirt collars? Or keeping him from sleeping for several days? Or whacking him in the stomach with the back of your hand? Or making him stand uncomfortably in the same position for a long time? These are among the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that were the subject of the internal CIA-DOJ memos disclosed yesterday by the Obama Administration. And the question largely missing from the reactions of politicians and pundits is this simple one: what would you have done to prevent 9/11 from happening?

Let's be honest, now. Who among us in late 2001 and 2002 -- when the likelihood of further deadly al Qaeda attacks on Americans was widely accepted as a virtual certainty -- would have insisted that CIA officers treat Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, or Ramzi Binalshibh nicely (or even demanded that they be supplied with lawyers)? Precious few of us, I think. As this Washington Post story reminds us, then, there were no partisan lines, Constitutional objections or ethical qualms about dealing roughly with key captured al Qaeda operatives:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

"The [CIA] briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough," said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.
And this:

"In fairness, the environment was different then because we were closer to Sept. 11 and people were still in a panic," said one U.S. official present during the early briefings. "But there was no objecting, no hand-wringing. The attitude was, 'We don't care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people.' "

Exactly. The environment was different then. We all wanted to get those guys and didn't much care what had to be done to get them. Absolutely no one in a position of power or leadership in either party wanted even to suggest that the hunt for al Qaeda's leadership and the effort to thwart follow-on attacks be constrained by any sort of solicitude for captured terrorists. To be sure, there were plenty of deep concerns about why the intelligence community, federal law enforcement and two administrations had not "connected the dots" and disrupted the 9/11 attack -- concerns that would surface in the 9/11 Commission hearings and other forums. But top Members of Congress who now take a far different line didn't blink at waterboarding, much less face slapping or sleep deprivation. They all wanted to prevent another 9/11.

Perhaps that was the reason we have not experienced another attack; perhaps not. In any case, many Americans seem to want to move on, forget how fervently they hoped and prayed that their government would prevent another attack, and leave a small dedicated, resourceful and courageous group of intelligence officers holding the bag.

Of all the reasons why the "anti-torture" mania sweeping segments of America's political and media leadership might turn out badly, the negative effect it will inexorably have (and probably has had already) within CIA and the intelligence community is the most significant. From the time the first seven-member CIA "Jawbreaker" team landed in Afghanistan's Panshir Valley right after 9/11 to forge an anti-Taliban coalition with the Northern Alliance, CIA's intelligence war against al Qaeda has been extraordinarily effective. It has also depended heavily on a core of highly trained and experienced officers. The man who led that first team, Gary Schroen, was then a very senior leader, pushing 60 years of age, who responded to a recall from retirement to once again serve his country. By the time he was relieved, the rout of the Taliban was under way. While no one is indispensable, it's clear that his was not the kind of job for which there is a long line of suitable applicants. In future years, will men and women like Schroen be available -- even fore go retirement -- to march into grave danger and assume great risk when a few years later they may be hassled by Congressional committees, investigated, even indicted?

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Interesting stuff on the Web - 4/7/09

I'll not be blogging much in the next week or so, due to other demands on my time. But here is some interesting stuff on the Web to keep faithful readers occupied at least for a while.

Politico sees the Obama juggernaut slowing down as it hits road bumps in Congress.

The Other McCain says the "GOP brand" isn't all that damaged, despite Obama's win.

The CBO says the top 1% of households earned 18.8% of income and paid 28.3% of all federal taxes (via Instapundit and TaxProf). Could be a road bump in the way of ever-higher budgets.

Some party poopers warn that Obama may need to raise taxes on the non-rich! (via RCP).

An LAPD cop says Binghamton police had a "moral duty" to rescue gunshot victims quickly. "It's what cops do."

UN Security Council finally may be close to a deal on what kind of namby pamby note to send to North Korea's Kim Jong-Il. Even whacked-out filmmakers couldn't make this stuff up.

AP may crack down on Web use of its copy, which got attention from bloggers at Donklephant.

Mickey Kaus has a non-conventional take on how Cuba may respond to a thaw in US relations.

Sen. Inhofe went over the top in accusing Obama and Gates of shorting the troops at war by cutting DoD's weapons of the future. Think Progress is right (er, left?) on this.

The Moderate Voice has a good roundup of comments on Obama's straddling the center.

Comeback for Client No. 9? Eliot Spitzer says "gremlins" made him do it; working on a rehab

Ashley Dupre (aka "Kirsten") - $4,000 "gremlin"?

Disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is working hard to rehabilitate himself publicly. Politico's Ben Smith goes so far as to say that Client Number 9 is "is testing how willing New York, in particular, is to have him back."

Count me as one New York Democrat unwilling to stand by and see this arrogant, bullying, phony sleazeball play any important role in the civic life of the great Empire State again.

Spitzer took his rehab campaign to the "Today" show where he couldn't manage to sound minimally contrite in answering Matt Lauer's questions about his sneaky expensive whoring. "I've tried to address these gremlins and confront them," he told Lauer. The "gremlins" made him do it!

Asked how long and often he'd been patronizing $4,000 hookers, he said, “Not frequently, not long in the grand context of my life. It was an egregious violation of behavior that I fell into for many reasons but none of them an excuse or justifiable.” Ah, whores are but a teensy weensy part of the "grand context" of Spitzer's life. And anyway, he "fell into it." It's not as if he set out to find those "gremlins," they just fell into his lap!

But his whoring is the least of the reasons to be glad Spitzer no longer wields power and want to keep it out of his hands in the future. Last month, Spitzer wrote a piece for Slate pontificating about the "real AIG scandal" -- the pass-through of federal bailout dough to A.I.G.'s counterparties. We're to believe that Spitzer's years as state Attorney General, when he made a reputation as the "Sheriff of Wall Street, make his advice about A.I.G. worthwhile.

The thing is that Spitzer created his own "real A.I.G. scandal." As Attorney General, he routinely tried supposed Wall Street villains in the press. He used the raw power of his office to bring flimsy, but plausible charges, issued a lot of subpoenas and press releases, and threatened to ruin people if they didn't play ball with him. In this fashion, he coerced companies and executives to settle the charges against them to avoid further public pillorying. Then he paraded these scalps to scare the hell out of more targets.

In the case of A.I.G., there is a good argument to be made that Spitzer personally gave that previously sound and successful insurance company the first big push down the hill in 2005 when he went at A.I.G. and its long-time CEO, Hank Greenberg with his usual M.O.

Greenberg, then 80, had run A.I.G. for nearly 30 years and built it from a modest company into a global insurance leader -- an immensely profitable one. He was an old school guy whose reward was tied up in ownership of his company. Indeed, he was by far its biggest owner.

Spitzer brought highly public criminal charges against Greenberg based on supposed accounting chicanery related to dealings with another insurer. He bullied and badgered the company and its board relentlessly, threatening to file criminal charges against the company -- a certain death sentence for an insurance company -- until the board finally agreed under duress to kick Greenberg out and sign one of Spitzer's settlements. Then, the criminal charges against Greenberg were dismissed. Poof! (When former Goldman Sachs Chairman John Whitehead criticized Spitzer's treatment of Greenberg, Spitzer menaced Whitehead, "You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done.")

I not making a brief for or against Greenberg. I have no idea whether or not he did anything wrong. But Spitzer's charges against Greenberg turned out to be mostly hot air. Spitzer was "taking on" the Wall Street fat cats to position himself as the people's savior to run for Governor -- and ultimately for President. (Funny that he never got around to ferreting out Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, which was the kind of fraud that New York law was designed for.)

So what, you ask? AIG's new management will tell you that the credit-default swap-peddling "casino" erected on top of a healthy insurance company was started under Greenberg. Yes, it was, but it also grew tremendously after Greenberg was booted to comply with Spitzer's demand for his head. It was during the period 2005-2007 after Greenberg was ousted that the large-scale reckless gambling in swaps and mortgage-backed securities occurred. Of course, we can't know whether Greenberg would have steered AIG differently. What we do know for a fact is that Spitzer took his axe to the long-established and successful management of a solid company, and then the company went to hell.

Spitzer did not leave his bullying, my-way-or-the-highway antics behind when he became Governor. On the contrary, he misused the State Police to spy on political adversaries. He attacked and strong-armed fellow Democrats in the Legislature for having the temerity to disagree with him. Even before he was felled by his liaison with the fetching "Kirsten," stories were legion about Governor Spitzer screaming uncontrollably and profanely, sometimes spraying spit across the room, at aides, legislators, Republicans, Democrats, anyone he thought might get in his way.

In short, Eliot Spitzer was a man badly in need of a strait jacket. We should ask for a psychiatrist's report before enabling this creep any further.

Check out this update on Ashley Alexandra Duprey -- My favorite part is where she says, "I am proud of myself for surviving." And she's working on a book! I'm sure it will be a page turner, but Ashley may still be best remembered for this.

What do you think about Spitzer's rehab? Post a comment.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Maybe Binghamton, N.Y., can get a guy like Justin Garner to be its next police chief

Carthage, N.C. police officer Justin Garner

(Hat tip: The Corner)

While we're waiting for answers to questions about the slow police response in the Binghamton, N.Y. mass killing, it's well worth noting what happened in tiny Carthage, North Carolina (pop. 2021) a week earlier. A gunman killed eight people in a Carthage nursing home and wasn't finished when the killing was stopped this way:

The shooting spree was ended by 25-year-old Officer Justin Garner, who entered the nursing home alone as he responded to a 911 call. McKenzie said Garner, a training officer with more than four years on the Carthage force and a past winner of the department's officer of the year award, knew he was headed into a perilous situation, but didn't wait for back-up or a SWAT team to arrive."If that's not heroism, I don't know what is," McKenzie said.

Garner was the only police officer on duty in Carthage at the time of the shooting, but that didn't deter him from taking quick, life-saving action. More on it here:

When Justin Garner came across the shooter reloading a shotgun "he gave him several opportunities to put the weapon down," the uncle said. "I think he learned that if it ever happened again, he'll only tell the person once or twice to drop that gun."

Garner shot Robert Stewart, 45, a house painter who allegedly murdered seven residents of Pinelake and a nurse. Garner was shot by Stewart, getting hit with two buckshot pellets in his leg and one in his foot, the uncle said.

Of course, every situation is different. I have no doubt that Binghamton officers would have duplicated Garner's heroism in similar circumstances. In this case, it seems clear that they were held back by their chief, even though the shooting had already stopped. At a minimum, the chief knew that the receptionist who stayed on the 911 line for 45 minutes or so was badly wounded and needed medical help.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

As UN cops out on North Korea missile, here's a job for Team America

Report: "The UN Security Council has failed to reach agreement on a reaction to North Korea's missile launch on Sunday. "

Hmmm...So the way to respond to North Korea's provocation is to get the UN Security Council to pass yet another resolution, but China and Russia can't quite get themselves to send Kim Jong-Il a nasty note.

At such a juncture in tough diplomacy, all eyes turn to Team America for salvation! At least in the hilarious scene above, Hans Blix warns Kim that he will send him a send letter.

UPDATE: It looks like Kim didn't get his rocket up.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Outside authorities should review the slow police response in Binghamton mass killings

Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski, who was on the scene of the shooting and in command within a few minutes of the 911 call is on the defensive. People are asking the obvious questions:

-- Why did police wait an hour or more to enter the building, even though the shooting was over by the time they got there two minutes after a critically wounded receptionist called 911?

-- Would any of the 13 gunshot victims who died have been saved by prompt emergency treatment?

The county prosecutor has jumped in to back the Chief with some sweeping assertions that some people are going to find hard to accept:

"No decisions by the police had any bearing on who died," Broome County District Attorney Jerry Mollen told reporters Sunday.

The first officers arrived at the American Civic Association about three minutes after the first emergency calls were made Friday, according to a timeline by the Binghamton Police Department.

Officers did not enter the building for about 40 minutes, police said.

"No one was shot after police arrival, and none of the people who had been shot could have been saved, even if the police had walked in the door within [the] first minute," Mollen said. "The injuries were that severe."

I'm sorry but I'm not buying it just because Mollen says so. Frankly, it lacks credibility to say that not one victim might have had a chance to survive if treated immediately. People often survive grave wounds, even gunshots to the head. And many gunshot wounds lead to death by bleeding and shock. In any case, it's not for a prosecutor to be making such judgements, particularly in a small community like Binghamton and the surrounding Broome County where the police chief and prosecutor are close working colleagues.

Mollen went on to say that aid the issue of the police response was "an obvious question" that will be investigated, but "now's not the time."

Why is now not the time? As any prosecutor knows, the time to collect and understand all the facts surrounding a crime of this magnitude is as soon as possible -- while the evidence, including the recollections of witnesses, is fresh. The same certainly holds true for understanding a closely related event like the police response.

This is a job for an appropriate, credible outside authority -- perhaps a special commission appointed by the Governor. The point of such a review would not be to punish anyone; such after-the-fact finger-pointing about decisions made under pressure is never helpful. The goal is to find out exactly what happened and why, in order to improve the future ability of police departments everywhere to respond more effectively to such terrible crimes. We had been led to believe that the lessons taken from the Columbine rampage had shaped better police planning. Perhaps it did and nothing needs to be changed now. Then again, we should not be taking Mr. Mollen's or Chief Zikuski's word for that.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Was the police response too slow in Binghamton mass shooting?

Lots of firepower -- but did it matter?

I come from an Irish-American family full of cops and support my local police. I admire the courage of our police officers and understand that, all too often, they face serious danger to their lives, like this and this.

Still, the Binghamton mass killings raises the question that nagged so many people in the wake of the Columbine school massacre: did police wait too long because of inadequate training, misguided tactics, or a failure of command?

Here are two troubling passages from one news report today:

Police arrived in minutes, heard no gunfire and waited for about an hour before entering the building to make sure it was safe for officers. They then spent two hours searching the building. They led a number of men out in plastic handcuffs while trying to sort out victims from the killer or killers.

Another receptionist, 61-year-old Shirley DeLucia, played dead after she was shot in the abdomen and called the emergency dispatcher to get police to the scene within two minutes.

[Binghamton Police Chief Joseph] Zikuski said the injured receptionist stayed on the phone for 90 minutes, "feeding us information constantly," despite a serious wound in the abdomen.
At a news conference on the day of the rampage, Zikuski said he had arrived at the scene himself within about three minutes of the 9-11 call. So the city's top cop was there, along with at least a number of Binghamton police officers. Yet, it was at least an hour before any cops entered the building. It may well have been at least 90 minutes, since that's the length of time the seriously wounded receptionist was on the phone "feeding us information constantly," according to Chief Zikuski's account. I don't know where exactly in the building DeLucia was hiding, but I'm thinking it was near the front door, since she was the receptionist and among the first be shot.

Over that 60-90 minutes or more, New York State police and various SWAT teams arrived in force. But 13 now-dead victims (and four others critically wounded) lay about the floor for most of that time, since the shooting had taken place in the space of a few minutes. Of course, I don't have a clue as to how many of the victims had immediately mortal wounds. I also don't know how likely it is that out of the 13 gunshot victims who died, some might have been saved by quick action and medical attention. But my gut tells me that at least a few expired while police were gearing up and making plans.

This deserves to be investigated thoroughly -- not to point fingers but to help make sure that future police responses will be as effective and life-saving as possible. Tragically, we can all be sure that there will be another such shooting, regardless of whether gun laws are made tougher or not.

Whatever our own positions on gun control (I'm in favor of most sensible restrictions), we citizens have an unspoken deal with our law enforcement officials: we won't worry about arming ourselves, lest we add to the problem, and you will protect us. If you don't, this example of self-protection is going to look a lot more attractive.

It seems clear that we have a way to go before we can say we're being adequately protected from crazed gunmen. A good first step in improving the situation would be to scrutinize what, if anything, went wrong with the police response in Binghamton.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Video: The U.S. Government-backed DMV auto repair center!

(Hat tip: The Other McCain) has produced an ad introducing the new goverment-operated auto repair show, now that feds are going to back our car warranties.

They've got it just about right.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

NATO to Obama on Afghan war: "Go get 'em, yank, we'll hold your coat"

The official NATO emblem or auto hood ornament?

The outcome of President Obama's first NATO meeting was known well in advance, but that doesn't get the European thumb out of our collective eye. The Times (of London) reports:

Barack Obama made an impassioned plea to America’s allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, warning that failure to do so would leave Europe vulnerable to more terrorist atrocities.

But though he continued to dazzle Europeans on his debut international tour, the Continent’s leaders turned their backs on the US President.

Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. He offered to send several hundred extra British soldiers to provide security during the August election, but even that fell short of the thousands of combat troops that the US was hoping to prise from the Prime Minister.

Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.

Mr Obama – who has pledged 21,000 more troops to combat the growing insurgency and is under pressure from generals to supply up to 10,000 more – used the eve of Nato’s 60th anniversary summit to declare bluntly that it was time for allies to do their share. “Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone,” he said. “This is a joint problem it requires a joint effort.”

He said that failing to support the US surge would leave Europe open to a fresh terrorist offensive. “It is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack on Europe than on the United States because of proximity,” he said.
Of course, the mission in Afghanistan has strong support from a few, dare I say, courageous allies. Britain has contributed the largest force, other than the U.S., with more than 8,000 troops engaged in some of the toughest fighting in southern Afghanistan -- and it has pledged to send as many as another 1,000. Canada is next with about 2,500 troops, also in dangerous combat in the south. Australia and the Dutch are both in the fight, as well, and have punched above their size.

The major NATO nations of the continent, however -- Germany, France, Spain and Italy -- are largely missing in action, contributing small numbers and insisting that those be deployed only in the relatively safe north and west. As if to rub Obama's face in their refusal to fight, the Germans and the French publicly offered to hold his coat:

The summit's co-hosts, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both were quick to offer support for Obama's new Afghan strategy of sending American reinforcements and bolstering Afghan forces. But they went no further.

"We totally endorse and support America's new strategy in Afghanistan," Sarkozy said a joint news conference with Obama after they met.
That's sooo special, Nick. Obama is raising American troop strength to 60,000 (and has only deferred his decision on another 10,000 requested by commanders), and our glorious "first ally," which has just deigned to "rejoin" NATO's military command, will be cheering us on from the sidelines.

It's nice that Europeans are "dazzled" by Obama (and his impressive wife). But neither Obama nor the rest of us should count on them for much.

What do you think about NATO's cold shoulder? Post a comment.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Will "Pinch" Sulzberger save or destroy The New York Times?

Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. Don't call him "Pinch"

Mark Bowden has a lengthy, fascinating article in Vanity Fair about the man who may be America's most influential and most publicity-shy media baron, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher of The New York Times.

Known behind his back for decades as "Pinch" -- a derisive nickname meant to distinguish him from his father and namesake, long-time publisher "Punch" Sulzberger -- Arthur Sulzberger is the fifth in a male line of Ochs and Sulzbergers stretching back to 1896 to own and run the Times. Regarded by many, including quite a few present and former Times editors and reporters, as a lightweight, "Pinch" has the misfortune to be be the Times' boss in an era when the very survival of newspapers has been cast into doubt. But that does present him with a unique opportunity to become the publisher who figures out how to save what is widely regarded to be the nation's premier news organization.

It's worth reading all of Bowden's piece, but here are a few excerpts:

After presiding or helping to preside over a decade of unprecedented prosperity, the publisher and chairman of the Times had recently begun to appear overmatched. Two of his star staffers were discovered to have violated basic rules of reporting practice; he had been bullied by the newsroom into firing his handpicked executive editor, Howell Raines; and he had spent much of the previous year in a confusing knot of difficulty surrounding one of his reporters and longtime friends, Judith Miller. For an earnest and well-meaning man, the hereditary publisher had begun to look dismayingly small.

He has been shrinking ever since. In 2001, The New York Times celebrated its 150th anniversary. In the years that have followed, Arthur Sulzberger has steered his inheritance into a ditch. As of this writing, Times Company stock is officially classified as junk...Shares...are slipping below $4—less than the price of the Sunday Times. Arthur’s revenues are in free fall: the bottom has dropped out of both newspaper and Internet advertising. He has done more than anyone in the business to showcase newspaper journalism online...The content and page views of the newspaper’s Web site...may be the envy of the profession, but as a recent report from Citigroup explained, “The Internet has taken away far more advertising than it has given.”

Having squandered billions during the newspaper’s fat years—buying up all that stock, buying up failing newspapers, building a gleaming new headquarters—Arthur is scrambling to keep up with interest payments on hundreds of millions in debt, much of it falling due within the next year. To do so, he is peddling assets on ruinous terms. Arthur recently borrowed $250 million from Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications billionaire, who owns the fourth-largest stake in the Times Company. Controlling interest is held closely by the Sulzberger family, which owns 89 percent of the company’s Class B shares...The family owns about 20 percent of the Class A shares, which is about the same percentage owned by the hedge funds Harbinger and Firebrand. The third-largest Class A shareholder is T. Rowe Price, with 10 percent. Slim comes next, with 7 percent. Given the current state of the investment and credit markets, Slim would appear to have the inside rail should the paper ever be sold, a prospect once unthinkable...Among the other prospective buyers whose names have surfaced...are Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York; Google; and even, perish the thought, the press baron Rupert Murdoch...

While the crushing forces at work in the newspaper industry are certainly not Arthur’s fault...the fate of The New York Times is of special importance: it is the flagship of serious newspaper journalism in America. The Times sailed into the economic storm that began in 2001 in good financial shape, bearing the most respected brand name in the profession. It was far better equipped than most newspapers to adapt and survive. What is increasingly clear is that the wrong person may be at the helm. Arthur Sulzberger’s heart has always been in the right place, but he assumed leadership from his father uniquely ill-equipped for this crisis—not despite but because of his long apprenticeship...Ever the dutiful son, he has made it his life’s mission to maintain the excellence he inherited—to duplicate his father’s achievement. He is a careful steward, when what the Times needs today is some wild-eyed genius of an entrepreneur.

The Sulzbergers embody one of the newsroom’s most cherished myths: Journalism sells. Arthur says as much at every opportunity, and clearly believes this to his core...But as a general principle, it simply isn’t true. Rather: Advertising sells, journalism costs. Good journalism costs more today than ever, while ads have plummeted, particularly in print media. This is killing the Times...
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