Monday, November 23, 2009

Rudy Giuliani would demolish Kirsten Gillibrand for Senate in New York

David Paterson and Kirsten Gillibrand: Two losers?

Ten months ago, New York's accidental Governor, David Paterson, appointed little-known upstate Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.

With all that time as a young, fresh newcomer to the Senate, representing the media capital of the world, New York, amidst debate over a dozen high-profile, even historic debates in Congress -- from two wars to the stimulus to health care and taxes -- you'd think Gillibrand would have it made and be ready to cruise to election to a full term in 2010.

Maybe not, it turns out. According to a new Marist poll, only "25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly." A potentially even worse problem she faces is that almost a quarter of the electorate doesn't know enough about her to rate her at all. Way to leverage that incumbency, Kirsten!

The really bad news, though, is this:

There has been a great deal of talk over the last few days about whether former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will oppose Gillibrand in the 2010 race for U.S. Senate. If that’s the case, it could spell trouble for Gillibrand. In a hypothetical matchup against Gillibrand, Giuliani leads 54% to 40%.

OK, that's in part due to Rudy's higher name recognition, but the guy is still well liked among those New York City voters who are not die-hard liberals and has always been very popular in the suburbs and upstate.

Maybe Gillibrand can take comfort from the fact that she's doing a lot better than her patron, Gov. Paterson. A recent Siena poll found that 72% of all New Yorkers wanted someone other than Paterson for Governor, and that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo would beat Paterson in a Democratic primary, 70% to 20%.

In a race against Giuliani, Gillibrand may have disadvantaged herself by spending much of her time and energy making an abrupt transition from her moderate (even relatively conservative on some issues like guns) record and image as a member of the House Blue Dog Coalition to acquire some liberal bona fides. She probably had no choice, since a number of liberal (and also female) downstate members of Congress were threatening to run a primary against her, based on her Blue Dog positions. That threat has disappeared, for the moment anyway (see here and here). But she may have dug herself into a hole where a tough general election contest with Rudy is concerned by staking out positions that give him solid shots to take.

One vote that is certain to haunt her was her vote in support of ACORN funding two months ago. After the release of the tapes showing one after another ACORN housing advisor graciously helping a supposed pimp and prostitute figure out ways to break the law, the Senate voted 83-7 to defund ACORN. New York's senior Senator, Chuck Schumer, voted with the majority, but Gillibrand was one of the tiny band of seven ACORN supporters. The House also voted to cut off funds to the group, 345-75, with Gillibrand's successor in her old upstate district voting with the majority. The Census Bureau and the IRS cut off ACORN. Even Gov. Paterson froze state contracts with the group. But our Kirsten hung tough for ACORN.

Why? Because ACORN is part and parcel of an array of politically important entities in New York State politics. In particular, the Working Families Party, which has a permanent line on the ballot in New York to give to or withhold from candidates, and the powerful unions that back the WFP, conspicuously the 300,000-member 1199/SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. This SEIU affiliate boasts one of the most effective political organizations inside or outside the labor movement, and raises tons of money for candidates it supports.

Dragged down by her support of ACORN, which is bound to be incomprehensible -- and indefensible -- to most New Yorkers, including a lot of Democrats, she'll need every penny and every phone call that 1199/SEIU can throw her way.

Then again, Rudy may not run. If so, Gillibrand may be the luckiest Senator in the country.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oh, great. Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, moved from Quetta to Karachi with help of Pakistan's intelligence service!

Taliban top dog, Mullah Omar, who doesn't like cameras

Remind me why Pakistan is still a "major non-NATO ally"?

President Obama is still figuring out how many more U.S. troops to send to Afghanistan to defeat the Afghan Taliban. Meanwhile, the Taliban chieftain and protector of Osama bin Laden, the camera-shy Mullah Omar, has been chilling in Quetta, Pakistan, not far from the Afghan border. U.S. intelligence has long believed that Omar scooted there from Kandahar after the American invasion in 2001. Lately, the war has been getting closer to Quetta. In particular, there has been lots of speculation that as U.S. drone missile attacks have been getting very effective at zapping Taliban and al Qaeda leaders hiding in the Pakistani tribal areas, the U.S. might start aiming them at the Quetta area in an effort to get Omar. So Omar is on the move again -- but with the help of our supposed ally:

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, has fled a Pakistani city on the border with Afghanistan and found refuge from potential U.S. attacks in the teeming Pakistani port city of Karachi with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service, three current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

Mullah Omar, who hosted Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders when they plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been residing in Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban shura -- or council -- had moved from Kandahar after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials and one former senior CIA officer told The Washington Times that Mullah Omar traveled to Karachi last month after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He inaugurated a new senior leadership council in Karachi, a city that so far has escaped U.S. and Pakistani counterterrorism campaigns, the officials said.

The officials, two of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI, helped the Taliban leaders move from Quetta, where they were exposed to attacks by unmanned U.S. drones.

The development reinforces suspicions that the ISI, which helped create the Taliban in the 1990s to expand Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, is working against U.S. interests in Afghanistan as the Obama administration prepares to send more U.S. troops to fight there.

Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and analyst on al Qaeda and the Taliban, confirmed that Mullah Omar had been spotted in Karachi recently.

"Some sources claim the ISI decided to move him further from the battlefield to keep him safe" from U.S. drone attacks, said Mr. Riedel, who headed the Obama administration's review of policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan last spring. "There are huge madrassas in Karachi where Mullah Omar could easily be kept."
Kind of makes you wonder, huh?

Any choice words for our Pakistani allies? Post a comment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Democrats ready to commit suicide? Senate health bill will slash $491 billion from Medicare

Seniors back Medicare overwhelmingly, as do non-seniors!

The official analysis of the Senate health care "reform" bill on which Majority Leader Harry Reid wants the first vote tomorrow is out from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The most important number in this "scoring" of the bill is this: it will cut Medicare by a whopping $491 billion.

As was the case with the House bill, most of the public debate and media attention to the Senate version concerns the "public option," the total cost and new taxes proposed, and whether or not federal money will somehow wind up paying for abortions.

The huge Medicare cuts are still largely hidden from view, because Democrats don't want to talk about them and most Republicans talk about the cuts only by way of accusing Democrats of using budgetary flim-flim to make the bills appear "deficit neutral."

But these cuts are a very big deal. They will affect some 46 million current Medicare beneficiaries and millions more who are past 55 and beginning to worry about health care coverage in retirement. As the full impact of these cuts becomes clear to this reliably voting segment of the population, the backlash against any member of Congress foolish enough to vote for the bills will be fierce and merciless.

It's as if Democrats in Congress are prepared to commit political suicide. They have backed themselves into a corner where the failure to pass a bill -- any bill -- is viewed as a blow to President Obama and an affront to labor unions and other powerful constituencies that back the changes. In my view, the backlash will not only strike House "Blue Dogs" and Senate moderates who vote for the bills. It will hit liberal Democrats running in Democrat-friendly states and districts, as long as the GOP is smart and nimble enough to put up strong, appealing candidates. For example, New York's appointed junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, may face Rudy Giuliani next year. If so, Rudy will not be shy about positioning himself as pro-senior and pro-Medicare, as Gillibrand tries to explain away her vote for some $500 billion in Medicare cuts.

That won't be easy, since the cuts will have a real and demonstrable negative impact, as the federal agency that administers Medicare reported a few days ago.

According to the CBO, these are the big blows to Medicare as we know it in the Senate bill:

• Permanent reductions in the annual updates to Medicare’s payment rates for most services in the fee-for-service sector to "save" $192 billion over 10 years.

• Cutting $118 billion from Medicare Advantage programs that now enroll more than 13 million seniors over the 2010–2019 period.

• Reducing Medicaid and Medicare payments to hospitals that serve a large number of low-income patients by $43 billion -- about $22 billion from Medicaid and $21 billion from Medicare.

In addition, the bill would create a new agency -- the Independent Medicare Advisory Board -- that would be required to "recommend changes to the Medicare program to [further] limit the rate of growth in that program’s spending. Those recommendations would go into effect automatically unless blocked by subsequent legislative action." In other words, a panel of bureacrats, not accountable to anyone, would propose further cutbacks in Medicare that Congress would not have to vote on and the President would not have to sign into law, thus insulating the politicians from blame for the cuts.

All in all, if the Democrats pass either the Senate or the House bill with cuts of this kind into law, they have to be crazy if they think they will avoid the wrath of the senior voters.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Early payoff? AARP got $18 million in stimulus dough

The so-called American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is aggressively backing the House health care reform bill, despite the fact that it would slash upwards of $500 billion from Medicare programs on which 40 million seniors depend. Now comes the news that AARP has already got its snout in the federal stimulus trough to the tune of $18 million.

Funny how these things work, isn't it?

Of course, this is only an early payoff to the folks who run the self-perpetuating AARP outfit. The real money will roll in after the bill becomes law, Medicare Advantage is cut to the bone, and the 13 million seniors currently enrolled in the popular Advantage programs have no choice but to buy Medigap policies, which conveniently AARP sells.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Uh, oh, "virus" infected NY-23 computerized voting machines

A local newspaper in upstate New York's 23rd Congressional District, scene of the hard-fought and nationally prominent special election (won -- so far anyway -- by the Democrat after his Conservative opponent conceded) reports that a computer virus may have "tainted' the results:

GOUVERNEUR, NY - The computerized voting machines used by many voters in the 23rd district had a computer virus - tainting the results, not just from those machines known to have been infected, but casting doubt on the accuracy of counts retrieved from any of the machines.
Conservative Doug Hoffman conceded to Democrat Bill Owens on election night when reported results had him trailing by about 5,000 votes (owens was then quickly sworn in as a member of the House of Representives). Recently, Hoffman "unconceded" when the gap narrowed, albeit not enough to put him ahead. As the remaining absentee ballots are counted, a real donneybrook could be developing over the virus "taint."

If nothing else, this serves as a warning to candidates everywhere not to concede in a fairly close race until all the votes have actually been counted! Beyond that, the idea that the computer might eat your vote is a little unsettling.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Chuck Schumer in 2001: Try al Qaeda bigs at military tribunals, not "Federal Lower Manhattan"

Most Americans think that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow 9/11 terrorists should be tried before the Military Commissions created by Congress for that very purpose. Like me, they can't understand why President Obama and Attorney General Holder have made the irresponsible and potentially dangerous decision to try them in U.S. court in New York City instead.

Chuck Schumer, New York's senior Senator and a powerful member of leadership of the Senate Democrats, has emerged as a major defender of this incomprehensible decision.

Come to find out that Schumer sang a different tune right after the 9/11 attacks, when so many of his constituents were vaporized and the hole where the World Trade Center used to be was still smoking. Then, he said this:

There are also those prisoners of war who we have captured and will capture in Afghanistan and other countries who will receive a trial of some sort. It is clear we need to try those suspects in a forum that achieves two primary goals—two goals, I might add, that may not conflict. First, the Government must have the power to use even the most sensitive classified evidence against these suspects without compromising national security in any way, shape, or form. In addition, those who commit acts of war against the United States, particularly those who have no color of citizenship, don’t deserve the same panoply of due process rights that American citizens receive. Should Osama bin Laden be captured alive—and I imagine most Americans hope he won’t be captured alive. But if he is, it is ludicrous to suggest he should be tried in a Federal court on Center Street in Lower Manhattan.

Smart words, Chuck. Yes, it's ludicrous. And it's equally ludicrous that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's third in command and operations chief who conceived, planned and directed the 9/11 attacks (among many others) should be tried in a Federal court in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan just steps from city hall and a few blocks from the Trade Center.

Where did that tough-minded Chuck Schumer go, and who is this foolish guy who now waves away all of those compelling arguments?

(Hat tip: Legal Insurrection)

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Nidal Hasan's supervisor at Walter Reed warned in 2007 (!) that he was an incompetent kook

National Public Radio has gotten its hands on a memo written in May 2007 by Fort Hood killer Nidal Hasan's supervisor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that by any reasonable standards should have led to Hasan's getting the heave-ho. Here's the story:

Two years ago, a top psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was so concerned about what he saw as Nidal Hasan's incompetence and reckless behavior that he put those concerns in writing. NPR has obtained a copy of the memo, the first evaluation that has surfaced from Hasan's file.

Officials at Walter Reed sent that memo to Fort Hood this year when Hasan was transferred there.

Nevertheless, commanders still assigned Hasan — accused of killing 13 people in a mass shooting at Fort Hood on Nov. 5 — to work with some of the Army's most troubled and vulnerable soldiers.

On May 17, 2007, Hasan's supervisor at Walter Reed sent the memo to the Walter Reed credentials committee. It reads, "Memorandum for: Credentials Committee. Subject: CPT Nidal Hasan." More than a page long, the document warns that: "The Faculty has serious concerns about CPT Hasan's professionalism and work ethic. ... He demonstrates a pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism." It is signed by the chief of psychiatric residents at Walter Reed, Maj. Scott Moran.

When shown the memo, two leading psychiatrists said it was so damning, it might have sunk Hasan's career if he had applied for a job outside the Army.

"Even if we were desperate for a psychiatrist, we would not even get him to the point where we would invite him for an interview," says Dr. Steven Sharfstein, who runs Sheppard Pratt's psychiatric medical center, based just outside Baltimore.


The memo ticks off numerous problems over the course of Hasan's training, including proselytizing to his patients. It says he mistreated a homicidal patient and allowed her to escape from the emergency room, and that he blew off an important exam.

According to the memo, Hasan hardly did any work: He saw only 30 patients in 38 weeks. Sources at Walter Reed say most psychiatrists see at least 10 times that many patients. When Hasan was supposed to be on call for emergencies, he didn't even answer the phone.


"I would never, ever hire a physician with this kind of a record," says Judith Broder, who runs the Soldiers Project, an award-winning private therapy program for troops in Southern California.
Me neither. But it seems that the Army didn't pay any attention to this red-flashing warning signal any more than the FBI took seriously Hasan's contacts with the al Qaeda-boosting radical imam, Anwar al-Awlaki.

A full Congressional probe of all this can't happen too soon.

Congratulations to NPR for staying on top of this story and digging into it. Where are the rest of the media?

Any thoughts. Post a comment.

Senate to seniors: Screw you!

Harry Reid claims cutting $400 billion from Medicare makes it "stronger"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid finally rolled out his health care "floor" bill late Wednesday, and to no one's surprise, roughly half the claimed $838 billion cost over 10 years will be paid for by slashing more than $400 billion from Medicare.

Like the bill already approved by the House of Representatives, Reid's bill would gouge $118 billion from Medicare Advantage programs, which will virtually eliminate this popular managed care option chosen by some 13 million senior citizens. (How's that for keeping Obama's promise, "If you like your current insurance and your current doctor, you won't have to change"?)

Also like the House bill, the proposed cuts are presented as reductions in future cost increases. But commenting on the House version, a report issued a few days ago from the non-partisan Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid, confirmed that the cuts will reduce Medicare benefits and run a real risk of limiting seniors' access to care by reducing Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and doctors, driving up the numbers of providers who decline to accept Medicare patients. Now, Reid proposes that the Senate follow suit and screw seniors.

Of course, millions of seniors already have trouble finding primary care physicians in the midst of an acute shortage that will only get worse as the rolls of insured are expanded by the millions. And all too many top-notch specialists shun Medicare patients as it is. That's a big attraction of the Medicare Advantage programs that Congress wants to eliminate. They ensure access to a managed care network.

There is a lot of merit to the reform that Democrats are trying to push through. But there is nothing "progressive" about robbing Peter to pay Paul -- i.e., slashing Medicare in order to pay for fully half the cost of expanding coverage to others. Republicans are charging that the Medicare cuts will never be made, that it's all a sham to parade the bill as "deficit neutral," and that the Democratic Congress will keep deferring the cutbacks after the bill passes. Maybe, but for seniors, that would be betting their future care on the odd proposition that Reid, Nancy Pelosi and scores of other Democrats in Congress are all blatant liars. And what if the GOP retakes control of Congress by 2012? Republicans have been talking about curbing "entitlements" like Medicare and Medicaid for decades. Won't today's Democratic majorities have done their work for them?

What's your take on the Medicare cuts? Post a comment.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fed report: House bill's $500 billion in Medicare cuts will reduce benefits and endanger access to care for seniors

Seniors: One super-voting bloc politicians mess with at their peril

For months now, it's been clear that the road to "deficit neutral" health care reform is a bumpy, maybe even dangerous, one for seniors. Ironically, in their zeal to extend health insurance to the roughly 40 million people who don't have any, President Obama and many Democrats in Congress appear ready to make deep cuts in Medicare, a program that is on the short list of the signal domestic accomplishments of the Democratic Party over the past 80 years, alongside Social Security, labor rights, and civil rights. What the 45 million seniors and people with disabilities who depend on Medicare are going to think about this remains unclear, although it's hard to see why they would embrace it with resignation.

A new report from the non-partisan Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid, has now confirmed the $500 billion in cuts in the House health care bill that passed a week ago will reduce Medicare benefits and run a real risk of limiting seniors' access to care. From the Washington Post:

A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

The report, requested by House Republicans, found that Medicare cuts contained in the health package approved by the House on Nov. 7 are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether.

Congress could intervene to avoid such an outcome, but "so doing would likely result in significantly smaller actual savings" than is currently projected, according to the analysis by the chief actuary for the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid. That would wipe out a big chunk of the financing for the health-care reform package, which is projected to cost $1.05 trillion over the next decade.

More generally, the report questions whether the country's network of doctors and hospitals would be able to cope with the effects of a reform package expected to add more than 30 million people to the ranks of the insured, many of them through Medicaid, the public health program for the poor.

In the face of greatly increased demand for services, providers are likely to charge higher fees or take patients with better-paying private insurance over Medicaid recipients, "exacerbating existing access problems" in that program, according to the report from Richard S. Foster of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


In its most recent analysis of the House bill, the CBO noted that Medicare spending per beneficiary would have to grow at roughly half the rate it has over the past two decades to meet the measure's savings targets, a dramatic reduction that many budget and health policy experts consider unrealistic. [Emphasis added.]
Whatever bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid takes to the Senate floor this week will also have to rely on hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts to pay for it.

Most of the public debate about health care reform has focused on the issue of a public option and the overall cost, with the Medicare cuts usually mentioned only in passing. It wasn't long ago that more liberal Democrats were the fiercest defenders of of Medicare and Medicaid, as in 2007 when President Bush proposed cuts that were a fraction of those now approved by House Democrats. No more. Democrats want to pass a bill, so they are largely mum on this topic and talk only about generating "efficiencies" and tackling "abuses" in Medicare.

And the Republicans? Some Republicans may take it up as a talking point now and then, but the GOP's deep-seated objection to "entitlements" like Medicare and Medicaid eliminate them from serious contention as a defender of seniors in this case.

What about the supposed "seniors' lobby," AARP? It has thrown its support behind the House bill in a deal that will bring more customers to its lucrative insurance business.

So seniors are on their own. But here's the thing about that. Seniors -- and near-seniors -- are handily the most reliable group of voters. They may have to hobble on their canes to get to the polling place, but they do vote.

As early as last July, it was already noteworthy in many polls that opposition to health care reform was higher among seniors. That's still true -- but you ain't seen nothing yet. Assuming a bill that cuts $400-500 billion from Medicare is signed into law, the issue will no longer be hypothetical, or muddled by a constantly changing and confusing array of proposals, or hidden behind high-minded rhetoric and clever spin. When it becomes clear to seniors that their health insurance benefits actually have been reduced and that it's going to even harder to find a doctor who accepts Medicare patients (a growing number of physicians have already opted out of Medicare), anyone who voted for it is going to have a hard time convincing constituents over 60 that it's a good deal.

Anyway, it's not just about politics. What's so "progressive" about slashing health care benefits for tens of millions of older Americans -- a large majority of whom have low to moderate incomes -- to subsidize benefits for younger Americans, many of whom don't want insurance now and will resent being obligated to take on premium payments? Beats me.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

White House busted! Obama bow to Japanese emperor is NOT just "protocol"

Not unless the White House is making up its own "protocol" as Obama cruises through his latest road trip.

For the past 24 hours, a lot of eyebrows have been raised around the world about this photo of the President of the United States bowing low -- very low -- before the Emperor of Japan, one Mr. Akihito, and his lovely wife, the Empress Michiko. Akihito is the son of the guy known as Hirohito who led Japan during its risky escapade in attacking China, the United States and most of the Pacific world -- and kept on leading it long after.

Knocked for a loop by the near-90-degree bend-over, the White House claimed that it was just a matter of "protocol" -- routine stuff, you know, just to be polite.

Having been raised in a household where we all thought the President of the United States doesn't bow down to anyone, I wondered enough to try to find out if I might have missed when this "protocol" arrived. Here are a couple of samples of what I found.

Here is President Ronald Reagan and the then-aging Emperor Hirohito greeting each other -- just like any other two guys on equal footing might -- with a hearty handshake (although Hirohito does look as if he's throwing in a little instinctive bow).

(Hat tip for photo: Bostonmaggie)

Lest you think that some of this protocol stuff might have changed for U.S. Presidents since RR left the White House -- or that Hirohito's son, Akihito, has laid down some new requirements of obeisance in exchange for expanding Japan's imports from America (fat chance!), here is Akihito and his Empress just hanging out last July in Hawaii with a couple of folks who rank way, way down the diplomatic food chain from Divine Emperors, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and Admiral Timothy J. Keating, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command. Looks like hearty handshakes all around.

Omigosh, I hope the Governor and the Admiral didn't embarrass us with some protocol faux pas!

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has more photos here, and HotAirPundit has some here.

UPDATE 2: ABC's Jake Tapper has a source who tells him that a bit of a bow was OK but not so deep or jarring as Obama's bow. Says Nixon got it right.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Democratic Senators oppose Obama's decision to try 9/11 terrorists in U.S. court

Sen. Jim Webb (D.-Va.) calls Obama's decision "disruptive, costly, and potentially counterproductive"

National security-minded Democrats are beginning to speak out against President Obama's irresponsible decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other al Qaeda 9/11 terrorists in federal court in New York City.

Virginia's Democratic Senator Jim Webb had this to say:

Those who have committed acts of international terrorism are enemy combatants, just as certainly as the Japanese pilots who killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor. It will be disruptive, costly, and potentially counterproductive to try them as criminals in our civilian courts.

The precedent set by this decision deserves careful scrutiny as we consider proper venues for trying those now held at Guantanamo who were apprehended outside of this country for acts that occurred outside of the country. And we must be especially careful with any decisions to bring onto American soil any of those prisoners who remain a threat to our country but whose cases have been adjudged as inappropriate for trial at all. They do not belong in our country, they do not belong in our courts, and they do not belong in our prisons.

I have consistently argued that military commissions, with the additional procedural rules added by Congress and enacted by President Obama, are the most appropriate venue for trying individuals adjudged to be enemy combatants.

(Hat tip: Below the Beltway)

And Connecticut's independent Democrat, Joe Lieberman, called Obama's move "inconceivable:"
“The terrorists who planned, participated in and aided the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are war criminals, not common criminals," Lieberman said in a statement. "The individuals accused of committing these heinous, cowardly acts of intentionally targeting unsuspecting, defenseless civilians should therefore be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States.”


"I share the views of more than 140 family members of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks who recently wrote to the Senate urging that the individuals charged with responsibility for those attacks should be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States," Lieberman said. "It is inconceivable that we would bring these alleged terrorists back to New York for trial, to the scene of the carnage they created eight years ago, and give them a platform to mock the suffering of their victims and the victims’ families, and rally their followers to continue waging jihad against America.”

Not so "inconceivable to Obama and Attorney General Holder, it seems. But when something goes wrong with this move to appease left wing critics of the war on terror, Obama and Holder won't be able to say they had no choice. Congress created Military Commissions for this purpose, and Obama will continue to rely on those Commissions -- just not to try and punish the most important of the al Qaeda thugs we've captured.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Obama's irresponsible and dangerous decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 conspirators in U.S. court in New York City

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (R) and co-defendants Walid Bin Attash (C) and Ramzi Bin al Shibh at a Gitmo hearing last year

Nothing good can come of the decision by President Obama and Attorney General Holder to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his co-conspirators in federal court in Manhattan a few blocks from the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center used to be. The Administration has chosen an irresponsible and dangerous path -- and an unnecessary one.

All five of these guys were set to go on trial last year before the Military Commissions established by Congress for that purpose. On December 8, 2008, the five informed the military judge that they wished to withdraw all motions made on their behalf by their lawyers and plead guilty, even though they faced a possible death penalty. They told the judge that they had made this decision "without being under any kind of pressure, threat, intimidation's or promise from any party.

If the military tribunals had been allowed to continue their proceedings, KSM and his cohorts likely would already have been tried, convicted and sentenced. However, immediately on taking office, President Obama announced that he would close Guantanamo within a year and ordered that the proceedings of the Military Commissions be suspended as his team considered what to do with the Gitmo detainees. Thus, the impending trial of the five 9/11 plotters was put on the back burner.

If today's announcement of trials in federal court was necessary because the Administration had ruled out the use of the military tribunals for whatever reason, it might make some sense. But Obama actually reinstated those tribunals in May with some added due process protections for detainees. Even more inexplicable, even as the KSM five are being hailed into court in New York's Foley Square, four other al Qaeda operatives now held at Gitmo -- including Abd-al-Rahim al Nashiri, accused of planning the 2000 bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen -- will be tried before a Military Commission.

Why all nine of these characters cannot be tried before Military Commissions, when four of them can be, is beyond me. There is a lot of rhetoric being thrown around today by supporters of the Obama-Holder move to the effect that it shows the world that we have absolute confidence in our courts and system of justice. If so, why try al-Nashiri and three others before military tribunals? On top of that, the Obama Administration has made clear that it can and will hold some captured terrorists indefinitely without any trial, if they deem them too dangerous to release. So pardon me if I decline to see today's announcement as some sort of triumph of "justice."

While there is nothing on the plus side for this decision, there are plenty of things on the down side:

First, KSM and the others, assured of a big platform at the epicenter of the worldwide media, will now plead not guilty and use the trial to put the United States government on trial. They will do their best to push out daily propaganda to millions of Muslims around the world. It will be one huge show trial -- a show for the defendants!

Second, our nation's best and brightest lefty lawyers will be falling all over themselves to get a piece of this defense. Dozens of lawyers will demand disclosure of virtually everything about the actions of U.S. intelligence and the actions of allied and friendly countries in pursuing and capturing this al Qaeda crew. While the court will probably curb their appetite, they will win some disclosures, perhaps a lot more than is safe, depending on the judge.

Third, New York City, already the most desired (and hit) target of al Qaeda and its sympathizers, will have a big new reason to worry about being hit again. Only those who believe foolishly that al Qaeda has been vanquished never to be heard from again, can dismiss the obvious attraction of striking New York in the middle of KSM's trial. They may not be able to hijack airliners anymore, but, as last week's Fort Hood massacre ought to show everyone, there are lots of ways that deadly terror attacks can happen without elaborate schemes, 20-man crews and major resources.

Finally, although it's not likely, the government might not win convictions for one or more of these defendants. It only takes one juror to hang a jury, and those smart defense lawyers will do everything they can to assemble a jury that includes at least a few members they think will be open to a defense that turns the tables on the government. What then? There is no chance that any Administration will ever let any of these guys walk free. So it will all be back to square one.

It's utterly irresponsible and dangerous to do this. It's a choice that President Obama may turn out to regret.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fort Hood Killer, Nidal Hasan, was in contact with many Islamist extremists, not just one

Really, is there anyone left who is surprised by this latest piece of news?

Fort Hood shooting suspect Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had been in contact with numerous Muslim extremists -- some of whom are under federal investigation -- before last week's rampage, two U.S. officials told The Washington Times on Wednesday.

Maj. Hasan made some of the contacts while visiting known jihadist chat rooms on the Internet, according to one of The Times' sources, a senior FBI official. He said that several people with whom Maj. Hasan was in contact had been the focus of investigations by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The other source, a military intelligence official, said those in contact with Maj. Hasan are located both in the U.S. and overseas. The official said they are "broadly known and characterized as Islamic extremists if not necessarily al Qaeda."

No time to lose ramping up that Congressional investigation into why this guy wasn't nailed.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Daily leaks turning Obama's Afghanistan strategy review into an embarassing farce

President Obama meets with his badly leaking "war council"

Another day, another set of embarrassing -- and potentially dangerous -- leaks from President Obama's ongoing review of U.S. Afghanistan war strategy.

Today's unbelievable "leak" -- actually more of torrent of presumably sensitive national security information -- features the appearance two and a half months into this process of apparent objections to any increase in U.S. troops from the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and former top U.S. military commander there, Gen. Karl Eikenberry. This story, served up by "three [unnamed] senior American officials," also includes a characterization of what questions Obama asked at a meeting of his top national security team and a supposed insight into the President's thinking:

Mr. Obama asked General Eikenberry about his concerns during the meeting on Wednesday, officials said, and raised questions about each of the four military options and how they might be tinkered with or changed. A central focus of Mr. Obama’s questions, officials said, was how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw.

“He wants to know where the off-ramps are,” one official said.

The president pushed for revisions in the options to clarify how — and when — American troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government. He raised questions, officials said, about the exit strategy for American troops and sought to make clear that the commitment by the United States would not be open-ended.
No one can or should second guess the President on how he makes a fateful decision on war policy or what tough questions he puts to his advisers. He is also entitled to take as much time as he deems necessary, within reason, to reach a conclusion. And Obama would be foolish if he did not evaluate policy choices with an eye to the length of the U.S. commitment and the outlook for bringing it to a successful conclusion under various scenarios.

But the details of this process don't belong in the newspapers! In particular, his looking for the "off-ramps" isn't something that ought to be discussed in public, lest it encourage the Taliban, discourage NATO, Afghan and Pakistani allies, move friendly Afghans to sidle up to the Taliban, and affect the morale of American fighting forces.

This is really elementary. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates understands this, and it's why he's getting really angry about the leaks:

“I have been appalled by the amount of leaking that has been going on in this process,’’ Mr. Gates told reporters en route to a Wisconsin factory that is churning out thousands of armored trucks manufactured specifically for the rough terrain of Afghanistan.

“I think a lot of different places are leaking,” he said. “I’m confident that the Department of Defense is one of them.To have details or options that are being considered out there in the middle of the president’s deliberative process I think does not serve the country and it does not serve our military.’’

Mr. Gates then added a threat.

“And frankly if I found out with high confidence anybody who was leaking in the Department of Defense, who that was, that would probably be a career-ender,’’ he said.
Let's hope his message is taken seriously by the other people around that big table in the White House Situation Room.

The trouble is that Gates' authority does not extend to most of them. Only the President can tell everyone to shut up, as he should without further delay. This drawn-out process -- accompanied by leaks that tell us one day that Obama is close to a decision to send 30,000 troops and tell us the next that he's a long way from a decision and may not send any more troops -- has become a farce. It gives the impression of an Administration wracked by conflict and a lack of resolution and seriousness. It's embarrassing to the nation, the Administration and the President himself. Even worse, it could be dangerous, since whatever Obama final decides to do, American strategy will be subject to endless questioning based on these weeks of news reports, regardless of whether any of them are accurate.

President Obama must impose discipline on his own house -- now, without further delay.

What do you think" Post a comment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Veterans' Day, let's remember the forgotten veterans of the Korean War

Marines in battle, November 1950

The 1st Marine Division fought its way out of encirclement in harsh winter and rough terrain

The U.S. Navy destroyed port facilities at Hungnan after troops were evacuated

On days of remembrance like this one, we always say that the sacrifices of our veterans will never be forgotten. Yet, for decades, while WWII veterans have been lauded as "the greatest generation" and Vietnam veterans have been recognized as well, little is ever said about the hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Korean War. At that war's peak, nearly half a million American troops were engaged on the Korean peninsula, along with a like number of United Nations allies. Some 36,000 Americans were killed and nearly 100,000 wounded.

The pictures above are from one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war -- the two-week battle by the 1st Marine Division and an Army Task Force to retreat from the Chosin Reservoir to the port of Hungnan in November 1950. After UN forces flanked the North Koreans at Inchon and chased them almost to the Chinese border, Mao's China joined the conflict in huge numbers. Americans were encircled at Chosin and had to fight their way out. In the largest naval operation of its kind in U.S. history, they were evacuated at Hungnan and the port destroyed by the U.S. Navy. Marine and Army casualties in the two-week battle totalled 1,029 killed, 4,582 wounded, and 4,894 missing. The remains of most of those initially categorized as missing were recovered in an exchange with the Chinese after the battle, bringing the total dead to some 6,000. Other remains have been recovered since the war but many marines and soldiers remain to this day unaccounted for.

What are your thoughts on this Veterans' Day? Post a comment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Congress must probe how the FBI and the Army failed to "connect the dots" to prevent Fort Hood massacre

Fort Hood killer sent emails to this radical jihadist cleric in Yemen

It's time to cut out all the bullshit and launch a thorough, detailed Congressional investigation into how and why the FBI, the Army brass, and anyone else involved failed miserably -- and fatally for 12 soldiers and one civilian at Fort Hood -- to connect the many glaring warning signals about the Fort Hood mass killer -- Malik Nidal Hasan -- and take action that would have prevented his deadly jihadist rampage.

We now know that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted 10-20 emails that Hasan sent to Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical jihadist cleric and al Qaeda sympathizer now living in Yemen who served preached at a Virginia mosque where Hasan (and three of the 9/11 hijackers) worshipped.

Reportedly, the FBI decided that these repeated efforts by a serving Army officer to reach out to a well-known radical didn't warrant an investigation -- and dropped it. Meanwhile, the Army knew about Hasan's deeply disturbing and offensive "lecture" and PowerPoint presentation to other military doctors at Walter Reed in which he clearly showed his jihadist sympathies. Some in the audience complained to their superiors but nothing was done. Hasan was promoted to major and sent to Fort Hood where, among other things, he argued about the war with soldiers he was supposed to be counseling.

Forget everything else we have learned or think we have learned about Hasan so far. Forget the sterile and pointless disputes that have emerged in the media and on the blogs about whether we should call his shooting up Fort Hood "terrorism" or "crime" or the actions of a "madman" or someone "stressed" by the nature of his job. If the FBI and the Army had connected these two dots -- Hasan's contact with al-Awlaki and his often bizarre and hostile conduct -- it would have been impossible to allow him to remain as a psychiatrist on a military post.

After 9/11 and after the 9/11 Commission's recommendations were adopted, we were assured that this sort of missing the crucial connections would not happen again. But it did, and 13 people are dead.

We need to know what happened. The FBI is now conducting an "internal review" to see whether its actions were appropriate. There is absolutely no reason to leave it to the FBI to make that judgment. The Army cannot be trusted to investigate itself either. Even without knowledge of Hasan's contacts with al-Awlaki (and we cannot yet be sure the Army was not told about this), the chain of command blundered unbelievably in ignoring the obvious problems with Hasan. If that happened because of any undue timidity in confronting Hasan because he was a Muslim of Arab descent, we need to know about it (or if not, that it was just incompetence). When the Army's Chief of Staff, General George Casey, says a couple of days after a dozen of his troops were murdered at home that he's concerned about a backlash against Muslims serving in the military -- a backlash that has never happened in America despite the 9/11 attacks and all the other acts of terrorism and terrorist plots by jihadists -- we have to wonder whether the Army's leadership has its priorities straight.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is already launching an inquiry to determine what happened. Other Congressional panels with jurisdiction have also indicated an interest in investigating. While there is always a danger of Congressional inquiries politicizing any subject they handle -- including national security -- it is essential in this case that Congress step up. We must know what happened, why, who did or did not do their jobs well, and what steps we need to take to ensure that nothing like the Fort Hood massacre happens again.

What's your take? Post a comment.

UPDATE: ABC News is reporting that Hasan had "more unexplained connections to people being tracked by the FBI" than just al-Awlaki and that the names and countries of these connections would emerge soon. Meanwhile, the finger pointing has started with the Pentagon claiming (via an unnamed "top defense official," of course) that the FBI never told the Army about the intercepted communications with al-Awlaki.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On November 9, 1989, 20 years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell and East Europe's path to freedom was open

With the wall, the Soviet Empire came crashing down and Europe began a new era of liberty and democracy.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Purple Center nominated for Weblog Award as best new political blog of 2009

You -- anyone -- can vote for The Purple Center by going here.
Hey, give the moderate center a chance. There are plenty of smart lefty and righty blogs out there -- but precious few that support pragmatic, centrist politics without the bombast and verbal bomb-throwing of the ideological partisans.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

AARP stabs senior citizens in the back, endorses $400 billion of cuts in Medicare, so it can make more money selling insurance!

Video of AARP staffer telling "members" to take a flying leap last August

The so-called American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has endorsed the House health care bill in a move that stabs its millions of senior citizen members in the back. Why? So that AARP can sell more insurance policies -- its biggest source of revenue, that's why. From the Chicago-Tribune:

Why else would the nation's largest lobbying organization, sworn to protect the interests of senior citizens, watch silently as Congress plans to cut Medicare spending by $400 billion to pay for its health reform legislation? Could it be that the interests of seniors and AARP are not exactly aligned?

Let's follow the money. AARP takes in more than half of its $1.1 billion budget in royalty fees from health insurers and other vendors that market services with the organization's name. Medicare supplementary policies, called "Medigap" plans, make up the biggest share of this royalty revenue.

AARP has an interest in selling more, not fewer, Medigap plans, of course. But there is a competitor on the block.

A growing number of seniors are enrolling in a new form of Medicare coverage Medicare Advantage where they don't need Medigap.


Congress' health reform bills would cut spending for Medicare Advantage by at least $150 billion. President Obama has singled out Medicare Advantage, saying it is a give-away to private insurance companies. But virtually all of the extra money goes back to seniors in the form of better benefits, so it's seniors who have the most to lose.

AARP is endorsing a bill that will deliver a huge blow to Medicare -- one that will lead over time to fewer doctors accepting Medicare, longer waits for seniors, and an inevitable decline in accessible quality care -- so that AARP can make more billions of dollars selling Medigap insurance.

Where does all that money AARP rakes in from insurance and other products it sells go? Beats me, although the pretense that AARP is a "lobby" for seniors can no longer be used as the rationale for its enormous budget. As they've proved time and again, older folks are well able to do their own lobbying by contacting their representatives and voting for candidates that fight for their interests. And seniors are very much aware of how much they stand to lose under health care "reform," as virtually every poll has shown for months.

AARP is not a membership organization in any sense. It's a self-appointed service entity -- sort of like AAA -- that peddles products with coupons and discounts for its "members." The "members" did not vote on AARP's endorsement of massive cuts in Medicare (does anyone really doubt the outcome if they had been given that opportunity?). As an AARP member, you don't even get to elect delegates to some representative body or the group's top leaders, like many unions and professional organizations. In fact, you can spend all day navigating AARP's elaborate website and you won't even find a mechanism to send the group an email to protest! (On the other hand, you can easily sign up for "action" to back the group's stand on health care.)

I think AARP has just managed to destroy its reputation as a non-partisan representative of the interests of senior citizens. The group's huge staff need not worry about losing their phony baloney jobs, though. They can always start selling memberships to 45 year olds. Why not 35 year olds, come to think of it? Those coupons and discounts might look just as good to people of any age.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

As right wing smashes "RINO" in NY-23, the Democrat wins! But another GOPer. Rob Astorino wins more a big race without right-wing help

Big Conservative loser, Doug Hoffman

Big Republican winner, Rob Astorino

Of course, the big stories of election night, 2009, are the Republican victories in Virginia, where Barack Obama's 2008 win had set up high expectations of that traditionally "red" state turning "blue," and in New Jersey, often regarded as among the deepest of the "blue." (Looks like purple is getting to be an even more popular color!)

In some ways, though, the most fascinating outcome of the night was in the special election to fill an historically Republican House seat in upstate New York's 23rd Congressional District. There, Doug Hoffman, a conservative candidate running on the Conservative Party line after failing to get the GOP nomination, ran a tough campaign against the Republican nominee, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava. Hoffman drew an outpouring of support from conservatives around the nation who regarded Scozzafava's nomination as an abomination, due to her having taken a wide range of moderate and even liberal positions. Hoffman was endorsed by Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson, Tim Pawlenty and a veritable who's who of the conservative movement. And he appeared so many times in recent days on Sean Hannity's and Glenn Beck's TV programs that it was a wonder he had any time to campaign in the district!

Hoffman did succeed in driving Scozzafava out of the race. She withdrew last weekend and then threw her support to Democrat Bill Owens. Conservative pundits, bloggers and "tea party" activists, along with Hannity, Beck and other on-air personalities, all whooped it up about this big victory over the detested "RINO," Scozzafava. On the eve of the election, the righties were throwing down the gauntlet to moderate Republicans everywhere, threatening a dozen or more challenges next year, based on their great success in NY-23.

Only one problem with that. Hoffman lost, and the Democrat, Bill Owens, won! It's hard to see that the whole Hoffman phenomenon amounts to anything more than a right-wing hissy fit that winds proving the contention of level-headed Republican leaders that their party needs to welcome folks into a "big tent" or risk losing more elections to Democrats. Not incidentally, Owens was chosen as a moderate Democrat who would reflect the mood and views of voters in a district that has been reliably Republican for a century but not necessarily all that conservative. Good call by the Democrats.

Meanwhile, in downstate Westchester County (population, about one million) -- running a race for County Executive that received virtually no media attention -- Rob Astorino, host of a Catholic radio show and a sometime politician, beat a three-term incumbent Democrat by a whopping 58-42 margin, despite the county's huge, two-to-one Democratic advantage in registration and its recent history of delivering big victory margins to Democrats.

Unlike Hoffman, Astorino did not have big national Republican and conservative names endorsing and campaigning for him: no Sarah Palin, no Fred Thompson, no Sean Hannity, no Glenn Beck. Astorino also had no upsurge of excitement in the right-wing blogosphere and no deluge of outside campaign contributions. Astorino's campaign also had basically one message: taxes in Westchester County are too high, and it's the long-time Democratic County Executive's fault.

So there was Hoffman moaning and groaning on Fox News about the nation going to hell in a basket due to those tax and spend liberal Democrats and their me-too RINO chums like Dede, supposedly to inspire the GOP "base" to new heights of enthusiasm and voting in a heavily Republican district. He lost. Meanwhile, Astorino ran a conventional campaign and delivered a simple, low-key message that resonated with voters in an overwhelmingly Democratic county. He won big.

I wonder which approach makes more sense?

What are your thoughts about Election 2009? Post a comment.

UPDATE: In New York City's other big suburb, Nassau County, the Republican challenger to the Democratic incumbent County Executive appears to have lost by only 237 votes. No word on any recount yet, but such a tiny margin is bound to be challenged.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Unbelievable provocation: Russians war game a nuclear attack on Poland!

Kaliningrad: A Russian enclave on Baltic between Poland and Lithuania

Coming hard on the heels of the Obama Administration's "reset" of US-Russian relations and scrapping of planned U.S. missile defense installations in Poland and The Czech Republic, Vladimir Putin's Russia has radically upped its pressure on Poland, the Baltic states and the rest of the former Soviet-controlled eastern Europe in a forceful assertion of what it regards as its rightful sphere of influence. Needless to say, Poles are upset by Russian war games that included a mock nuclear attack on Poland and an exercise in which troops stormed a "Polish beach," actually on the Baltic coast of Kaliningrad, the small Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania:

The manoeuvres are thought to have been held in September and involved about 13,000 Russian and Belarusian troops.

Poland, which has strained relations with both countries, was cast as the "potential aggressor".

The documents state the exercises, code-named "West", were officially classified as "defensive" but many of the operations appeared to have an offensive nature.

The Russian air force practised using weapons from its nuclear arsenal, while in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which neighbours Poland, Red Army forces stormed a "Polish" beach and attacked a gas pipeline.

The operation also involved the simulated suppression of an uprising by a national minority in Belarus – the country has a significant Polish population which has a strained relationship with authoritarian government of Belarus.

Karol Karski, an MP from Poland's Law and Justice, is to table parliamentary questions on Russia's war games and has protested to the European Commission.

His colleague, Marek Opiola MP, said: "It's an attempt to put us in our place. Don't forget all this happened on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland."
The post-Soviet democracies, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Albania, are all NATO allies. Their ties to the West -- and particularly to the United States -- are their only guarantee of freedom from future domination from Moscow. For the past decade and a half, they have been able to count on strong U.S. support, even as the new Russian strongman, Putin, began to flex his muscles. Nothing has changed. There is nothing the West can or will get from Russia -- in the Middle East, Central Asia or anywhere else -- that would come close to offsetting the abandonment of half of Europe less than two decades after the collapse of Soviet power. President Obama must make chrystal clear to Russia that the West does not take kindly to Russian imperial revanchism .

Any thoughts? Post a comment.