Sunday, May 31, 2009

Too clever by half

Preface: For reasons explained below, this post should now be read as an explanation of why National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez would make a surreptitious change in the title of a George Tiller-related post from "An Evil End" to "Very Bad News".

Dr George Tiller, the so-called "abortion doctor", was murdered while attending church in Kansas today. He had been put back in the news recently as a result of a prosecution brought by former state Attorney General Phil Kline and through attempts to embarrass Barack Obama's Health & Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius.

Here's how National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez headlines the event --

An Evil End

Which is just like when a strange usage would pop up in a George Bush speech and one would wonder if there is a dogwhistle going on. And apparently there is here too.

Go to the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas --

Further, a good action may happen to be ordered to an evil end, as when a man give alms from vainglory, and conversely an evil action may happen to be ordered to a good end, as a theft committed in order to give something to the poor. Therefore an action is not good or evil from its end.

If she has some neo-Thomist rationale for why Tiller being murdered is not all bad, shouldn't she just say so?

UPDATE: The Corner is now filling with the weasel words. From K-Lo --

An evil thing has happened—a man has been killed—and to jump to points of politics and media criticism is wrong. Evil begot more of it here.

Note the refusal to discuss the context of hatred for Tiller as part of the "evil thing".

And Princeton's Robert George --

The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him.

Note that "Robby" George has compared abortion to slavery, which an unhinged individual might well construe as license to take the law into their own hands. K-Lo and Robby want the freedom to say that Tiller is a mass murderer, to have those opinions endorsed by George W. Bush, but then be surprised when a lunatic with a gun gets the wrong message.

FINAL UPDATE: K-Lo changed the title to the post. It now says "Very Bad News". The code only works when it hasn't been broken.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Let's take the conspiracy theories up a notch

Try to restrain your laughter as a Bush administration appointee argues that --

in its high-handed dealings with Chrysler and G.M., the Obama administration reminds me of an irresponsible third-world regime, skirting the law and handing economic prizes to political cronies.

That's James "Dow 36000" Glassman.

But anyway, if just about anything that the US government does regarding GM or Chrysler can be spun into a conspiracy (e.g. the War on Republican Car Dealers), then we're about due for a grand convergence of Obama and Clinton player-hating. Stay with us on this one because it's complicated.

Canadian company Magna International is about to own a big chunk of GM's European units Opel and Vauxhall. Magna International is for all practical purposes run by its co-founder Frank Stronach. Bill Clinton once had dinner at Lauriol Plaza in Washington DC B.L.T. Steak in Midtown Manhattan with Belinda Stronach. Belinda, the former multiparty Canadian MP, is Frank's daughter. The dinner led to frenzied speculation that Bill Clinton was having an affair with Belinda.

Assume for the purposes of right-wing lunacy that this speculation is true, and there you have it. This whole bankruptcy thing is just a ruse to benefit the Stronach family for keeping quiet about the affair with Bill. Or something. The fever swamp has often done more with less.

UPDATE: Parody is impossible. It's been done already. Keep in mind the Republican connections of the original sources for the Bill-Belinda gossip.

Friday, May 29, 2009

That hypothesis will be tested

It still seems to be somewhat below the radar screen that President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia next week. Let's cast our minds back to a year ago, when Edward Luttwak got space in the New York Times to argue that a President Obama headed to Saudi Arabia would be a big problem --

Because no government is likely to allow the prosecution of a President Obama — not even those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries where Islamic religious courts dominate over secular law — another provision of Muslim law is perhaps more relevant: it prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.

At the very least, that would complicate the security planning of state visits by President Obama to Muslim countries, because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards. More broadly, most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known — as it would, no doubt, should he win the White House.

As was said about threats against Barack Obama in another context, it looks like the American public along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia have decided to let God and the Secret Service worry about those issues. Obama will just carry on being President.

He did not have spicy relations with that woman, Miss Letizia

But it sounds better in the original Italian --

"C'è qualcuno - domanda Silvio Berlusconi - che ha domande da farmi?". Una premessa per puntualizzare sul caso Noemi: "Io non ho mai più detto niente di niente. Ho risposto da subito alla sola domanda se avessi mai avuto 'rapporti piccanti'. E ho risposto: 'assolutamente no'. Ci ho messo anche il carico del giuramento sui miei figli. Non ho mai piu' detto assolutamente niente. E invece guardate che cosa tocca leggere su certi giornali".

Explanation here.

UPDATE: The New York Times translates Berlusconi's phrase as "steamy", not "spicy".

It's like kosher style

The band's members say they are answering a dire need in the Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, where entertainment options for women are often limited. Orthodox communities sponsor activities like women's-only lectures, swims, dancing or traditional music, but modern day rock is a novelty.

"There's no other band that plays the way we play," Pnina Weintraub, the band's 24-year-old founder, said of Ashira's blend of rock, blues and Irish-style folk songs.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rat headed for sinking ship

Wasn't the red flag, so to speak, in the career of Karl-Heinz Kurras not his shooting of an unarmed demonstrator in 1967, but the fact that as late as 1944 he had volunteered to fight for Nazi Germany? Who, by 1944, and presumably living in the eastern part of what was then Germany, could not have known a lot about the character of the Nazi state?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's a mixed up muddled up shook up world

One of the strangest talking points circulating among Republicans as a response to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's statement that her judgements might reflect her experience as a Hispanic woman is that judges have to aspire to be like the blindfolded figure who appears in statue form at so many courtroom entrances (Richard Viguerie and Chuck Grassley both had it on the same radio show today).

That blindfolded figure being a woman.

Do you think our Greek and Roman intellectual ancestors might have had some notion that a mother-like figure would make better decisions regarding morality and order than their men?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is there something going on?

In the latest of a series of curious meetings in Riyadh, George Bush's anti-terrorism coordinator, Frances Townsend, meets with Saudi King Abdullah. Today also saw the surprise announcement of Barack Obama's visit to Riyadh late next week. One possibility is that the White House is using Townsend as an emissary to keep people off their trail. Another is that Townsend was there representing George Bush.

Phase 3: Links from Drudge and Instapundit?

In what seems like a desperate reach for links from the "cool" conservative bloggers, the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens organizes an entire column around a 10 year old South Park episode. The underpants gnomes one where the gnomes have a missing Phase 2 on their plan for profit.

This is made the basis of a critique of Barack Obama, who apparently is guilty of announcing desired outcomes without having the process fully elaborated when he announces the outcome.

What a strange thing for a leader to do. It's as if someone made a speech like the following --

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Winston Churchill's May 1940 speech was so silly. No Phase 2. It would never pass the South Park laugh test. No wonder he never amounted to anything.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Céad míle fáilte to H1N1

Kuwait News Agency --

US soldiers who used Kuwait as a transit point were infected with swine flu, Kuwait Health Ministry said Saturday. Health officials discovered that the US soldiers were infected with swine flu once they arrived in Kuwait, so they were completely quarantined in their military base, Health Undersecretary Dr. Ibrahim Al-Abdulhadi told KUNA.

One wonders what health checks are taking place in Shannon.

UPDATE: The Pentagon's medical care is good. How desperate are they for troops that they are sending flu sufferers to Iraq?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Math is hard

National Review contributor and Veterans for Bush operative Pete Hegseth --

Laying aside the debate over what is and what isn’t “torture,” it’s hard to argue with 8+ years of safety since 9/11.

9/11 happened on 9/11/2001. We're in 5/22/2009. That's less than 8 years. In his mind, George Bush kept the country safe for 2 presidential terms. Some other dude was President right up till 9/11.

UPDATE: Welcome Keith Olbermann May 26 "Worser" person in the world viewers. This post was the source material. And hat-tip to the misattributed Thers on the segment.

Good riddance

Dick Cheney popped up from a disclosed location (McLean Virginia) yesterday to present the public with more James Bond fantasies about megalomaniac terrorists with access to nuclear weapons.

One shouldn't be surprised that his speech -- to an invited audience at the American Enterprise Institute -- contained no acknowledgment of the central problem with the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Or rather, the two problems. That he and George Bush opened it without any strategy for how to close it. And following from this, they opened it with no plan for what would happen if, as was predictable, the courts ruled that the wheeze of having prisoners under US control but not on US territory was not a dodge around US laws. Hence another set of legacy assets that Barack Obama has to clean up.

Which raises another point. Cheney said --

Even before the interrogation program began, and throughout its operation, it was closely reviewed to ensure that every method used was in full compliance with the Constitution, statutes, and treaty obligations.

It never occurs to Cheney, surrounded by lawyers all his life, that the lawyering was part of the problem. It used to be conservatives who said that "hard cases make bad law". Cheney's legal team used a few hundred hard cases to push legal principles to the limit i.e. the notion that the Commander-in-Chief has unrestrained powers to detain and interrogate during a "war" whose duration he determines. The people and the courts are not fond of claims of absolute power, which is what that was.

An alternative approach would have been to carve a narrow exception around existing practice for the extreme cases, as opposed to pushing general principles that could cover the situation. But with that approach would have come negotiation and compromise, not something that the Imperial President does.

But anyway, the electorate spoke. Cheney lost. Somehow, the media still give him airtime.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Role model

The picture shows Saudi King Abdullah today meeting Joe Grant, who flew a DC3 to Saudi Arabia in 1945 as a gift from FDR to then King Abdulaziz. That US-Saudi summit was a critical event in Middle East history and still makes for fascinating reading given its position after World War II but before the foundation of Israel in 1948. Anyway, Joe Grant stayed in Saudi Arabia for 2 years after flying the plane there and helped establish Saudia, the national airline. It's not known whether he had any role in their no booze policy.

But more importantly, Joe is 101 years old and going strong. King Abdullah is only in his mid 80s. Meeting Joe may make him optimistic that he can last another 20 years.

We've made our bed

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is trying to sound like it's peeved that Joe Biden might have gone into the terminal at Shannon on a stopover en route to Sarajevo --

THE DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs says it had no information about a stop-off by US vice-president Joe Biden at Shannon airport on Monday night.

A spokesman for the department said it was “conceivable” Mr Biden had visited the airport without informing them as he was scheduled to visit eastern Europe this week... During the one-hour stop, Mr Biden got off the aircraft and visited the airport lounge where he met members of the army national guard from the US State of Georgia.

The photo above is George Bush rallying the troops at Shannon en route to South Asia in 2006. Once you've made the decision to allow Shannon to be used for troop transports or terrorist renditions, you really can't complain when the occasional VIP visit calls attention to the practice. Even when you've got a whiny coalition partner and an election coming up.

White House photo by Paul Morse

Everything proves their point

Wall Street Journal --

The war on terror scored a big victory this weekend with the Sri Lankan army's battlefield defeat of the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The event ends one of the world's longest running civil wars. It also vindicates one of the major lessons of September 11: Most of the time, terrorists have to be defeated militarily before political accommodation is possible.

How is that a lesson of 9/11? Or put another way, what political cause does the WSJ think that al Qaeda represents, one which could be accommodated after they are "defeated"? If the above paragraph had been written by the New York Times, the right would be in full "outrage" mode.

Supply side fever

The Wall Street Journal Asia is upset that the Australian Treasury is upset with an editorial from last week. From that editorial --

Over the last fiscal year, the Rudd government has announced a spree of cash handouts, infrastructure programs and pet projects, which Tuesday's budget funds. The biggest outlay is A$14.1 billion in payments to pensioners, a core Labor constituency. Several more billion are allocated to roads, bridges, ports and a nationwide broadband network. Then there's money for schools, health care, clean energy, parents and first-time homeowners. The only measure that would stimulate the economy -- tax cuts -- is tiny.

Thus: money for old people, roads, schools, parents, homebuyers etc not "stimulative". Tax cuts -- when the tax take is already automatically tanking because of the recession and in the face of weak global demand -- "stimulative". Luckily for Australia, this stuff doesn't seem to travel well.

UPDATE 3 JUNE: Australia managed positive GDP growth for the 1st quarter of 2009, which may be a unique achievement for high-income economies. The aforementioned fiscal stimulus was in action during this period.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Expecting a different result

In his news conference yesterday, Gordon Brown talked a lot about switching the House of Commons from self-regulation to statutory regulation as a response to the MP expenses scandal. The last time Gordon Brown advocated that move, it was in terms of switching the financial sector from self-regulation to statutory regulation. Up until about 9 months ago, he was still claiming credit for it. As the financial crisis shows, it's hardly a magic formula.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Papal abstractions

With Benedict now back in Rome, the verdicts on his Middle East visit are coming in. According to many Israeli commentators, his speech at the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, was a disaster. They have a point and yet Benedict was trying to do something serious.

Here's the speech in English. Benedict picks up on the notion of a "name" and it's a good idea because one objective of the Nazis and their many collaborators was to erase any individuality in their victims. So a memorial specifically dedicated to the names of the millions murdered addresses that aspect of the crime. So far, so good. But then --

The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here. Similarly, she draws close to all those who today are subjected to persecution on account of race, color, condition of life or religion – their sufferings are hers, and hers is their hope for justice.

This is a rhetorical disaster. "Compassion"? They're already dead! "Similarly"? There's something like the Holocaust happening right now? The problem seems to be that he latched on his "name" construction for his speech and then ran out of material and resorted to the cliches.

70 years later, the Holocaust is still something over which decent people should be losing sleep. It's not clear that Benedict, focused on sounding clever, is one of those people.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wall Street Journal names MP expenses source

Interesting ... the Murdoch-owned Times was offered the expense sheets and refused, the Telegraph somehow got them, and then they were offered to the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal --

On Friday a London-based public relations consultant working for Mr. [John] Wick, Henry Gewanter, said he would give The Wall Street Journal access to the reimbursement information if the Journal agreed not to identify Mr. Wick as its source. Mr. Gewanter said he was making the same offer to British newspapers and expected to complete the arrangement early next week.

"We trying to make some original source material available for research purposes," he said. "I believe in a free press."

Mr. Wick did not return phone calls.

According to corporate records, Mr. Wick is a 60-year-old director of International Security Solutions Ltd. The company's Web site says it advises the insurance industry about risk, gathers business intelligence and does investigations.

The workhouse test

National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez is "pro-life". She also has a very strange attitude to homeless people. Back in March, she found it odd that a homeless person could have a cellphone. The incident occurred when Michelle Obama visited a shelter and one of the residents took a picture of her on his phone --

But we are a blessed people when our poor have cell phones.

Thus the apparent notion that you're only really poor if you have no posessions at all. How exactly a homeless person -- who might after all, be trying to find a job or a house -- is supposed to maintain contact in the modern world never enters her head. When the Iraq war was at its worst, conservatives were also promoting the supposed access of Iraqis to phones and satellite dishes as evidence of George Bush's military prowess. But a fact of modern life is that technology is cheap. It's all the other stuff that makes it expensive.

So anyway, K-Lo is back today slamming homeless shelters. This time in the guise of a link to a NR article by Julie Gunlock. Her complaint is that some homeless shelters are imposing high standards on the food that they will accept as donations. It sounds like someone is trying to turn a Seinfeld episode into a trend.

The country has thousands of food donation schemes. Her entire evidence is two anecdotes, one from Washington DC and one from California. And it never occurs to either her or K-Lo that loading up the homeless with processed carbohydrates -- which is what the anecdotally-reported restrictions amount to -- is not a bad idea with the likely incidence of diabetes among the homeless. "First do no harm" and all that.

But for the National Review crowd, homeless shelters have to be about punishment. The food that you wouldn't want to eat at home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Still cleaning up the mess

Since the wars with the worst impact on civilians these days seem to be taking place within countries -- Sudan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka -- it's really a shame that the USA spent 7 years trashing the component of the Geneva Conventions with most relevance, that applying to "conflicts not of an international character" on the ground that it somehow helped al Qaeda. The a la carte approach to conventions makes rhetorical life a lot easier for the governments of these countries.

He should have thrown shoes

Justifiably angry Allied Irish Banks shareholder Gary Keogh throws eggs at the directors during the EGM called to accept the government's cheap money. He missed.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Terrorists say such mean things

From the laughable UK Home Office banned list, in which radio yellers get lumped in with Islamist extremists as people who can't enter the UK --

Samir Al Quntar
Spent three decades in prison for killing four soldiers and a four-year-old girl. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs and to provoke others to terrorist acts.

It's that man again Samir al Kuntar (the more usual spelling), well connected with the Lebanese government, and who, by the way, also got sentenced for what was in effect the manslaughter of a two-year old girl who died from suffocation as her mother hid her from him. Aren't a few inflammatory words from him the least of the reasons why you wouldn't want him in the UK once you've set yourself the goal of keeping "objectionable" people out?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The revolution got poor ratings

Mary Ann Glendon, who never found anything objectionable in the war of choice of George W. Bush, is not happy that President Barack Obama will give the graduation speech at Notre Dame University. So in what has become the standard Republican response to bad election results, she's picking up her ball and going home, specifically rejecting the award that ND was to give her on the same day.

But why exactly is she objecting? ND is a major national university and it invited the President to speak. It's not like he'll contaminate ND's students with something they haven't heard before. Nor does her boycott change any of the political calculus about abortion, the stated focus of her rage. Instead, the issue may be what has not happened: the overthrow of the American "regime", as called for by a First Things symposium in 1996, First Things being the magazine of elite reactionary Catholic opinion in the US (for contemporaneous context, see this 11 year old Andrew Sullivan piece). With which Mary Ann Glendon is closely associated (it's where her rejection letter to ND appeared).

And, no, we're not exaggerating. Here's a sample passage from the 1996 event --

“God and country” is a motto that has in the past come easily, some would say too easily, to almost all Americans. What are the cultural and political consequences when many more Americans, perhaps even a majority, come to the conclusion that the question is “God or country”? What happens not in “normal” times, when maybe America can muddle along, but in a time of great economic crisis, or in a time of war when the youth of another generation are asked to risk their lives for their country? We do not know what would happen then, and we hope never to find out.

What is happening now is the displacement of a constitutional order by a regime that does not have, will not obtain, and cannot command the consent of the people.

2 wars and one economic crisis later, there's been no rejection of the state. The "regime" is still here and America's messy abortion compromise remains in place. What is a good revolutionary to do, but wait in exile in Finland Harvard until the masses come to their senses?

Photo: Eric Draper

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The issue that won't go away

Ed Whelan trots out the standard conservative position on the US Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade --

What will Justice Souter be remembered for? No opinion of his comes to my mind except the joint opinion that he, Justice O’Connor and Justice Kennedy co-authored in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That joint opinion is significant not for its coherence or elegance (it has neither quality) but because it perpetuated Roe v. Wade’s removal of the issue of abortion policy from the ordinary democratic processes — and it resorted to what Justice Scalia aptly called a “Nietzschean vision” of the judicial role in order to do so.

The end result was not, as Souter and company contended, a resolution of the bitter national controversy over abortion, but the continued poisoning of American politics by the Court’s power grab on that issue.

i.e. the Supreme Court "grabbed" the abortion issue. It's a point we've made before, but with another of those depressing "nomination battles" coming up, the US pro-lifers really need to take a look at Ireland to see what happens if their nirvana of illegal abortion and a pro-life position embedded in the constitution comes about. And remember this is in an island where the majority of politicians display no enthusiasm for having legal abortion and where appeals court judges come out of a system that reflects that consensus.

So what happens? You get the nightmare cases related to rape, incest, or direct tradeoffs between the life of the mother and the unborn child, the politicians run for the hills, and the courts have to intervene. And with Britain next door to pick up our sins, the compromise is easy: a right to travel for abortion services. And since the state doesn't want to be in the business of barring all pregnant women from travelling, de facto access to abortion.

And all beginning from an attempt to ban abortion. In short, the US pro-lifers have created this fantasy land whereby if only the US Supreme Court would stay out, the 50 states could sort out the abortion question themselves. If you think US cable news is bad now, imagine the alternative universe where abortion is illegal and one of these tough cases reaches the courts. The call would be for the Supreme Court -- or Congress -- to sort it out.

More Q-Men

For some time now, it's been evident that a critical part of the George W. Bush approach to terrorism was to market al-Qaeda terrorists as supervillains, such masters of evil that special laws and special facilities were need to stop them. X-Men with a Q instead.

In particular, such fiendish evilitude would only give up vital information through waterboarding. Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has been front and center in explaining the key information that waterboarding allowed --

In fact, what Abu Zubaydah disclosed to the CIA during this period [summer 2002] was that the fact that KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and that his code name was “Muktar” — something Zubaydah thought we already knew, but in fact we did not. Intelligence officials had been trying for months to figure out who “Muktar” was.

Consider now the case of the Qatari Ali al-Marri. al-Marri had looked like he was going to make legal history in determining whether non US citizens living in the US could be declared enemy combatants, but Barack Obama moved him into the civilian court system where he took a plea bargain for terrorism conspiracy. A mountain of evidence has been released with his plea, and it reveals a stunning ... banality. His super sophisticated code for phone numbers, which presumably reflects his al-Qaeda training? Write each digit as its difference from 10. And his e-mail procedures? --

Al-Marri sent e-mails to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's hotmail account — — addressed to "Muk" and signed "Abdo." The details of that code were included in an address book found in an al-Qaida safehouse in Pakistan.

An attempt by The Associated Press to reach that address did not indicate the account had been closed, but it went unanswered.

Al-Marri initially tried to use a Yahoo e-mail account to contact Mohammed, but it failed to go through. So he switched to Hotmail as well. When al-Marri arrived in the United States, he created five new e-mail accounts to communicate with Mohammed, using the 10-code to send him his cell phone number in Peoria.

So US intelligence officials must have been monitoring him in late 2001, and by December 2001 had him in custody with essentially unlimited powers to go through his records and find out who he had been in touch with. Which likely included knowing KSM's e-mail address and his nickname. With such an amateur operation, can it really be that torture was needed to extract the same information in August 2002? With such an amateur operation, can it really be that they couldn't have been stopped in the summer of 2001?