State of the Union

9/11 Anniversary Exploited to Protect Defense Spending

While Dick Cheney attempts to lead the 9/11 decennial news cycle by re-litigating waterboarding, other hawks and defenders of the military-industrial complex also plan to capitalize on any patriotic fervor surrounding the anniversary. Following Cheney, who will address AEI as the weekend’s commemorations begin, Congressman Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, will address the hawkish think tank on 9/12. His speech has the jumbled and ambiguous title “Defending America and the Quest for Peace: 10 Years after 9/11”:

In the decade since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, America’s armed forces have been called upon to perform a large number of extremely varied of missions, from lightning-quick invasions to persistent counterinsurgency campaigns and global counterterrorist manhunts.  America’s men and women in uniform have shown amazing tenacity and adaptability and achieved startling successes; but these have come at a cost.  Beyond the physical casualties, the high rates of deployment and the constant though sporadic fighting have taken a toll on service members, their families, and their equipment. And now America’s military is being asked to return another “peace dividend” – a dividend beyond the peace itself – in the pursuit of reducing America’s spiraling debt and deficit.

Last November, prior to his installation as Armed Services Chairman, McKeon insisted on an increase in defense spending. The California congressman was also the biggest booster of a redundant engine for the F-35 fighter project, an extra cost even then Secretary of Defense Gates concluded was unnecessary. Read More…

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History and Original Sin

You need only mention outmoded concepts like “original sin,” to get folks really riled up.

Over at the Daily Dish, Chris Bodenner posts anonymous reader feedback on my recent account of a sesquicentennial civil war reenactment. The reader was apparently involved in reenactments as a teenager, but after a few years had a conversion and quit the reenactor scene:

Mine is just a single perspective, but man, do I disagree with Lewis McCrary’s argument that “for the reenactors” the hobby is a reminder of “original sin”; that even “the more provincial reenactors intuitively understand … that war is a result of the fallen human condition.” I suppose that McCrary’s perspective may hold for a few reenactors, but these were certainly not the people I knew. …

Perhaps the hobby is different nowadays. I haven’t donned my gray kepi and butternut shell since 1988, when I participated in the 125th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg as a member of the 12th Alabama Volunteer Infantry. I can tell you, though, that we in the 12th understood only a handful of concepts intuitively, among them “farb,” as in someone who is not appropriately authentic; “hard-core,” as in someone who is intimidatingly authentic; and “motherf*&@ing hot,” as in what it felt like to march around in July wearing layers and layers of wool.

Rather than worry about original sin, we worried about whether the buttons on our jacket were too farby. …

Read More…

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The Party, the Whole Party and Nothing but the Party

Jim Antle has a piece in the September issue of TAC arguing that Republicans may soon be forced for fiscal reasons to scale back their support for an interventionist foreign policy. He makes some good arguments as to why such a change might occur, but I’m not convinced. Antle’s argument goes awry here:

The federal government’s rapidly deteriorating financial condition is putting the expensive foreign policy favored by the neoconservatives and other hawks on a collision course with the anti-tax stance of many fiscal conservatives. This will not change the next time a Republican president takes the oath of office. (emphasis added)

What will change when a Republican president takes office is that debt and deficits won’t matter anymore.  Antle’s argument requires that one take seriously the notion that Republicans care deeply about either limited government or balanced budgets. I don’t believe that these issues are what motivates either the base or the elected officials of the party.

We even have something of a controlled experiment from the last two decades of American political history. When Bill Clinton was in the White House; Republicans were deeply concerned with balancing the budget, cutting the size of government and seeing that the Constitutional niceties were followed when the U.S. military was deployed abroad. Anyone out there remember how a new batch of Republicans were going to change everything—in 1994?

Then George W. Bush became president in 2001, and suddenly deficits didn’t matter, the Republican leadership was willing to hold a vote open for a couple of hours to threaten and bribe their way to an unfunded Medicare expansion and critics of the Iraq War  were little better than traitors. When Barack Obama became president in 2009, Republicans once again become deeply concerned with deficits and the expansion of government programs.

This leads me to the conclusion that what matters to Republicans is which team has the ball instead of abstract concepts as “limited government.” Republicans may get another chance in the near future. I am confident that if a President Perry or Bachmann takes office in 2013; government will not shrink, the debt limit will be raised repeatedly and those little Constitution pamphlets owned by Republicans will be gather dust. And I don’t expect any “Tea Party” demonstrations either.

UPDATE: Antle replies at the American Spectator, and in the comments Thomas O. Meehan writes that “One difference between the 1994 ‘Revolution’ and today is that many of Republican congressmen now have angry Tea Party constituents at their backs.” So why was there no “Tea Party” in 2003 when the Republicans expanded Medicare? I think the reason is obvious: the Tea Party is a motivated by hatred of the opposition not a movement for limited government and I don’t expect it to be active if a Republican becomes president.

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Baby Palins

The women’s magazine Elle now covers the conservative movement. The longtime purveyor of fashion dispatches and essential beauty tips earlier this month presented a glamorous spread profiling a “new generation of conservative women […] stepping forward to dis feminists and cheer low taxes, guns, and motherhood.” The article maintained a tone of motherly condescension throughout its coverage of these “Baby Palins” – a motley roster of under 35s that included firearms advocate Regis Giles, Fox News pundit S.E. Cupp, and president and founder of The Polling Company/WomanTrend Kellyanne Conway.

This being Elle, and not The National Interest, the Baby Palins were sexed up somewhere between wholesome earth mothers and gun-toting vixens. Regis Giles is feverishly described by journalist Nina Burleigh while stepping up to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):

Giles glides from chair to podium with the lithe, twitchy ease of a big cat, hazel-eyed and trailing a honey-colored mane, all 20 tawny years of her packed into a skintight electric blue stretch-satin cocktail dress. She doesn’t look like this when she’s spearing wild boar on the shores of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee or taking aim with her favorite CZ 550 rifle. Read More…

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A Conspiracy of Counterfeiters

“Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.”

“Lenin was certainly right,” John Maynard Keynes continued in his 1919 classic, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace.”

“There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.” Read More…

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Whither Ron Paul?

I had two interesting experiences over the weekend, totally unrelated to the non-event of Hurricane Irene, which only dropped an inch of rain on northern Virginia.  On Friday I went to dinner with a mixed group consisting of the women who are in my wife’s quilting group together with their husbands.  All of the men were in their late fifties-early sixties and everyone but me and my wife was an evangelical Christian.  One husband was a former employee of an airline and retired but the rest were all recently unemployed, having held management positions that have been made redundant.  They have been looking for work but, at their age, they are finding nothing even when willing to take large cuts in pay and benefits.  One will be moving back to his family home in Ohio next week because he can no longer afford northern Virginia.  I was the only one with an actual job.  Two of the men have been prominent in local Democratic Party circles and the remainder vote Republican.  All agreed, to my surprise, that the US economy is broken and that it is the result of the wars and globalism that have marched together hand in hand over the past ten years. They also all agreed, even when they do not support specific policies, that Ron Paul is the only honest man running for the presidency.  Which is not to say they all would vote for him, but the approval rating was 100%.

On Saturday we had a reunion lunch with the CIA Rome Station class of 1980.  The last time the whole group was together was shortly before the 2008 election, when everyone but me and my wife indicated that they would be voting for McCain-Palin.  This time around it was different.  No one in the group has any longer a connection with the government as employee or contractor, so, apart from their pensions, they have no vested interest in who wins the presidency.  I was kidded about my Ron Paul bumper sticker but everyone was quick to add seriously that Paul was the only honest man running, that he had predicted the economic collapse, and that his message has been consistent.  They even agreed emphatically when I quoted Paul’s pledge to bring the troops home from overseas on the day after he is elected.  This is coming from Cold Warriors, mind you, men and women who spent careers doing without question whatever their government asked them to do.  Again, no one said they would vote for Ron Paul but nor did anyone say they would not.

Which is all to suggest that maybe something is actually going on in the body politic, that people are willing to listen to Ron Paul even though four years ago they would have thought such an idea ridiculous.    And he has a passionate base of supporters.  Do you remember the scene in the Godfather where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) sees a Cuban rebel die for his cause and realizes that the insurgents just might win? Recent opinion polls seem to be saying the same thing.  Whether or not Dr. Paul can actually win the presidency, his ideas about the state of the US economy and Washington’s catastrophic foreign policy have reached the mainstream and are resonating.

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For Heritage, the War Must Go On

The War On Terror should have its lease renewed, implies a new special report from the Heritage Foundation Counterterrorism Task Force. Standing firm against longstanding liberal opposition and mounting conservative skepticism over prosecuting counter-terrorism efforts under such grandiose rhetoric – and such far-reaching, invasive scope – the Task Force lauded the Bush-era policies and their successes in thwarting “40 Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks aimed at the United States” since 9/11, and in making America “demonstrably safer.”

At a recent panel discussion, the Heritage Task Force insisted that the two “fronts” of the struggle demand “constant vigilance” – both the operational and the ideological, the latter requiring the standard neoconservative “moral clarity.” Furthermore, funding for counterterrorism, including whatever military interventions are deemed necessary, must be ring-fenced, whatever America’s fiscal straits. The report forms part of a series marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 under the gung-ho title, “NEVER QUIT: Plans for Protecting America.” The imperatives of George W. Bush’s swollen national security state, it seems, must “NEVER” brook any deviation.

The report’s title, “A Counterterrorism Strategy for the ‘Next Wave’,” implies, with careful ambiguity, that some sort of post bin Laden al-Qaeda resurgence is in the pipeline  – a specter alluded to numerous times in the panel discussion as “a worldwide insurgency against free nations.” That the threat of terrorism, after ten years of “war” waged against it, remains both immanent and existential is not left in doubt, despite evidence of the sagging membership and fragmentation of al-Qaeda, who in June installed a new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the capacity to divide the group’s base – not to mention al-Qaeda’s virtual absence form the Arab Spring. Read More…

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The Spy Next Door Comes from New York

The recently revealed joint CIA/NYPD operations being run all along the Eastern Seaboard are, of course, completely illegal but are perhaps symptomatic of the past decade’s use of the word “terrorist” to excuse any and all bad behavior by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  The NYPD Intelligence Division and Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which incorporates a “dirty tricks” undercover Special Services Unit and a Terrorist Interdiction Unit that runs informants and maps the city’s “human terrain,” is headed by David Cohen, a former top CIA analyst.  Its budget is $62 million per year.

To summarize for those who have not read the lengthy investigative report by Associated Press, the CIA had senior officers posted to New York City who worked directly with the NYPD to establish what amounted to an Agency Station within the police force. They instructed undercover cops, including one who was actually trained at the CIA’s “Farm” facility in Williamsburg Virginia, to recruit sources in the local Muslim communities and to use informants to search for possible terrorism hotspots in book stores, cafes, and mosques.  NYPD officers and their own “snitch” sources did the trolling but they were directed by CIA officers and, ignoring normal police and FBI guidelines, did not require probable cause of criminal activity to initiate an operation.

Operations were run not only in New York, but throughout northern New Jersey and as far away as Massachusetts without any liaison with the local authorities or even with the FBI.  Reports on every mosque in the New York area were compiled by undercover officers and informants.  Liaison offices were established in eleven foreign cities, not unlike CIA stations.  Apparently, only Muslims were targeted initially, though antiwar activists were also pursued by the Bureau during the 2004 Republican National Convention.  Court documents reveal that one of the questions police asked protesters who were detained was “Do you hate George W. Bush?’

Cohen’s Bureau regularly shreds documents relating to its operations so there will be no paper trail.  The FBI has refused to let its New York office even look at the information that is being collected by the NYPD intelligence unit because it considers it illegal.  There are perhaps inevitably close ties with the Israelis, who have advised the New Yorkers on how to map the “human terrain” based on how they control the West Bank.  A top Cohen deputy, Mordecai Dzikansky, headed the so-called Demographic Unit, which keeps records on ethnic communities.  He somewhat ingenuously describes his version of demographics as “It’s not profiling.  It’s a question of going where the problem could arise.” Dzikansky also was posted to Israel.

At a minimum, the NYPD intelligence unit is overwhelmingly targeting one religious community and illegally collecting information on American citizens and residents who are innocent of any crime.  They are justifying doing so due to suspicion that someone might be contemplating a crime, which criminalizes thoughts rather than deeds and violates the First Amendment.  They are violating their own rules for initiating an investigation as well as the guidelines set down by the FBI and are operating far removed from their jurisdiction in New York City under no legal authority.  The CIA, for its part, is clearly engaged in and supporting domestic spying. The Bureau and Agency are also collaborating in illegally using CIA resources, as most of the officers in question seconded to New York were paid out of Langley and were presumably able to tap into sensitive Agency data bases.

I am waiting for Eric Holder to say something.  Tell me Eric, will you launch a Justice Department investigation or will you ignore the whole matter, “looking forward” as your boss in the White House has so often recommended?  If you choose to ignore it, presumably because you are interested in how New York City votes for 2012, it will be just one more chipping away at the liberties that we Americans used to enjoy.  But we have become accustomed to that.

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Obama’s Race-Based Spoils System

Chester Arthur was a most unlikely reformer.

A crucial cog in the political machine of the Empire State’s Sen. Roscoe Conkling, he was named by President Grant to the powerful and lucrative post of collector of customs for the Port of New York.

Arthur was removed in 1878 by President Rutherford B. Hayes, who wanted to clean up the federal patronage system. But when James Garfield of Ohio was nominated to succeed Hayes, he sought to unite his party by picking the Stalwart Arthur as running mate.

Six months into the new administration, a deranged office-seeker shot Garfield. Arthur was president. And in a dramatic turnabout, he became the president forever associated with civil service reform, converting the U.S. government into a meritocracy where individuals were hired based upon examinations and advanced based upon merit.

In our time, however, Arthur’s achievement has been undone, as a racial spoils system in federal hiring and promotions has been imposed by Democratic presidents, unresisted by Republicans who rarely exhibit the courage to stand up for their principles when the subject is race. Read More…

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The Ethics of Ghostwriting

Seasoned journalist and commentator Dan Gillmor argues that media outlets are acting irresponsibly when they publish ghostwritten op-eds from political candidates and personalities:

One school of thought says ghostwritten op-eds are a lot like speechwriter-written speeches. Since we all know that most famous people don’t write all their own lines for speeches, goes this defence of the practice, we should assume the same with a byline – whether on a book or an op-ed. It’s a tempting analogy, but wrong in a key way: a false byline is an outright, direct lie. And news organisations that run these pieces are encouraging dishonesty, which they compound, albeit with good motives, by helpfully editing often turgid prose to make it more compelling.

Gillmor’s dismay over the proliferation of op-eds with candidate bylines is understandable; places like the Wall Street Journal carry them nearly every other day, causing readers looking for something other than reconstituted “turgid prose” and platitudes to ignore them.

The analogy between teleprompter-assisted speeches and published prose may indeed be problematic, but perhaps less so when considering what the modern campaign apparatus has become. It’s revealing when candidates slip into referring to themselves in the plural — some might be irritated at the use of the “royal we” — but it’s always struck me as honest, an admission that they are just the frontman of a giant apparatus that includes professionals and grassroots activists.  There may be a way forward here: let politicians keep their byline on ghosted items, but only if they use the majestic plural pronoun, a practice that would no doubt be so annoying as to lead to the disappearance of these press-releases-turned-op-eds altogether. Read More…

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