Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Great Debate

For a moment it appeared that Gov. Jodi Rell, 32 points up in the polls over Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mayor of New Haven John DeStefano, was sidestepping demands made by the winner of the Democrat primary, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. DeStefano had been chatting up the topic. John Rowland “may have broken some laws,” a frustrated DeStefano said, “but he was right on debates. You don’t own the office.”

A response from Rell’s spokesman, Rich Harris, was not long in coming. "Listen,” Harris said, “there are a lot of things that John Rowland did that Jodi Rell is not going to do. Period. That may be one of the dumbest things that John DeStefano has ever said, and that's going some. We're not taking campaign guidance from John Rowland any more than we're taking ethical guidance from John Rowland."

To DeStefano’s way of thinking, Rell had been avoiding occasions in which the governor might engage in verbal fisticuffs because she “would like to have an election without having a campaign. She would like to have a campaign without having a debate. She doesn't want to have a debate because she doesn't want to discuss issues.”

On one occasion when the two rivals might have interacted -- a forum at the Northeast Utilities corporate headquarters at which University of Connecticut publicly released its quarterly report on The Connecticut Economy – the event was attended by the Republican Party’s nominee for Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele, not Rell, and the gubernatorial debates this year were supposed to include Joseph A. Zdonczyk of the Concern Citizens Party and Clifford W. Thornton Jr. of the Green Party.

With Rell’s recent concession to DeStefano, everything has changed. Candidates who do not belong to either the Republican or Democrat parties have been given the hook, and there will be only two debates between the governor and DeStefano.

In compromises of this sort, everyone wins and loses. DeStefano will have an opportunity to deconstruct Rell mano a mano, so to speak, and Rell will be able to ask DeStefano how he plans to pay for his extravagant solutions to pressing state problems.

Republican governors, surrounded as they are by Democrats who are reflexive spenders, have in the past shown themselves to be “pragmatists,” an odd use of the word. In Connecticut, a pragmatist almost invariably is a Republican who under slight pressure yields up his principles after a token resistance. Lowell Weicker yielded to Democrats on the matter of the income tax, almost before the ink had dried on a budget that might have forced the legislature to reign in spending. The income tax doubled the budget’s bottom line within the space of two governors, as former Democrat Governor William O’Neil rolled his eyes in Hamden, while former Democrat Governor Ella Grasso turned in her grave. Both O’Neil and Grasso were pinch-penny governors.

Weicker, the best friend big spenders ever had, thought he had “saved the state” by instituting an income tax; but, in fact, he had saved professional politicians from a whipping at the polls. For Weicker, “the state” was simply the total number of politicians serving the people of Connecticut – and themselves.

Countless referendums have shown Weicker’s “state” that the people of Connecticut, the governing classes’ worst enemy, do not want more spending. The Democrat solution to the problem of referendums is to shift part of the burden of the property tax from municipalities, where people can vote in referendums to cut budgets, to the state – where there are no referendums. This plan is called “property tax reform.”

At this writing, it is not known whether Republicans will yield to demands for “property tax reform” only if the Democrats will incorporate a state-wide referendum into their property tax reform plan. But a state-wide budget referendum – one in which the state (i.e. all the people of Connecticut) were given an opportunity to sign off on spending plans – just might introduce a note of caution into the budget making process.

Monday, September 18, 2006

On Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them


This from the Washington Post, not a bastion of conservative thought, as quoted in the Washington Times , a bastion of conservative thought:


“In an editorial last week, The Washington Post observed that 'It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.'"

I Need My Blankee


The "blanket bit" in this interview with Christopher Hitchens is hilarious and helps to explain why there will always be an England. Bitterly critical of the CIA, it is also a manual in how get yourself a file in the CIA, the FBI and whatever comgressional committee is charged with overseeing international sleuthery.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 11/09/2006
Reporter: Tony Jones

Tony Jones speaks with the prolific writer and outspoken commentator Christopher Hitchens about the New York attacks and their implications.

TONY JONES: Well just a year after September 11, the prolific writer and outspoken commentator Christopher Hitchens joined me on the roof of a building overlooking Ground Zero to talk about the New York attacks and their implications. Now, five years after the event that changed the world, we invited him to join us again - this time from our Washington studio. Christopher Hitchens thanks for being there.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Thanks for having me back.

TONY JONES: It seems that the United States, and much of the Western world, is still learning the lessons of 9/11. After reflecting on this for five years now, what did we get right and what did we get wrong?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Mmm. Well I think we found out that we were at war, which was better than being at war and not knowing it, which was the case until five years and about five minutes ago. Until five years and five minutes ago, for example, we didn't know the name AQ Khan. We didn't know that Pakistan was being Talibanised from within, that there were al-Qaeda sympathisers in its nuclear program - and we weren't doing anything about that either. We didn't know, incidentally, that international black market of rogue states: North Korea, Libya and Iran, linked by AQ Khan and exchanging nuclear and other technologies, formed the corners of the box in which we thought had Saddam Hussein. When people talk about the box he was in, that box included AQ Khan and the North Koreans and the nuclear black market. So that goes also partly to the point that keeps coming up of whether or not we are safer. I always think that's a contemptible question. Not just because it can't be answered, but because it seems to demand that our governments exist to give us a sense of security, rather than a sense of our duties in the case of a war.

TONY JONES: Christopher Hitchens, I'm going to pause to let you get your earpiece in.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: It's never going to stay in. I'm sorry. It's not my fault. I can hear you. Your viewers will just have to watch with fascination as it pops in and out. TONY JONES: That's alright, as long as you can hear me. Is it clear now, do you think, that history will primarily judge President Bush's reaction to September 11 by his decision to go to war with Iraq and the linkage he made between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: It’s not the linkage that he made it's the linkage that Saddam Hussein made. The Iraqi regime was the only one in the region to applaud the attacks and it was the only one when every other country, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were expelling al-Qaeda sympathisers, to start welcoming them onto its soil, particularly in the shape of the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I think that I heard someone say this, actually it was the President, I'm sorry, on your show just a moment ago: the removal of the Taliban was in reprisal for the last attack. The removal of Saddam Hussein was for the next attack so that it wouldn't come. And yes, I'm certain the President will be remembered principally for ridding the Middle East - along with Australian and British support - of the worst dictator the region has ever known and the most dangerous one.

TONY JONES: At least one key witness to the events, within the White House, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, says that advisers in the White House were bent on attacking Iraq in retaliation, whether or not Saddam Hussein had anything to do with al-Qaeda?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, there is a pre-existing quarrel with Saddam Hussein as you know on other matters, including his support for international terrorism. If you remember, the man who was responsible for the hijack of the Achille Lauro the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the so-called Abu Abbas, the late, when he was captured, had to be released by the Italian police because he was travelling on a diplomatic passport. Do you want to know which country issued him with a diplomatic passport? This wouldn't be the only time that Iraq had given official State support to activity like that. It was unsleepingly pursuing nuclear materials in places like Niger as we can now, I think, adequately demonstrate. It was a permanent threat to its neighbours and a latent threat to all of us. The Senate had passed 98 votes to nil, the Iraq liberation act at the urging of President Clinton and vice-president Gore in 1998. So there was a pre-existing commitment to the removal of Saddam Hussein, which meshed, in my opinion, much better than most people believe with the provocation of September 11. After all, the last time the World Trade Centre was attacked, the man who mixed the chemicals for it, Mr Yassin, went straight from New Jersey, after he'd been interrogated and released, to Baghdad, where he still is, and lived in the intervening time under Saddam Hussein's protection. It's really all a question of whether you would, or would not, give the Saddam Hussein regime the benefit of any doubt, or the presumption of any innocence. If I phrase it like that, I think you might find it difficult to say yes you would.

TONY JONES: Isn't it more important, though, to create or to make a link between September 11 and Saddam Hussein, if you are going to invade the country virtually as a direct result of that?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Yes, well I mean, I think the links were pretty adequately demonstrated.

TONY JONES: Not according to Richard Clarke, for example, who makes the claim that the President himself, only 24 hours after the attacks, came to him urging him to find the evidence that Iraq was involved with the September 11 attacks and he couldn't find that evidence?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I've read that too. I wouldn't myself have tasked Mr Clarke with that, nor would I have trusted the CIA to get that right, even a tiny thing like that, because they've always got everything else wrong. The CIA continues to say there can't have been a connection, because if one was ever proved - and there's a great deal of evidence for it - they would look stupid. Because they always said, not just that it wasn't there. Do observe this distinction. They said it couldn't be there. They said, by definition, Saddam Hussein could not help Islamic terrorists because his regime was supposedly secular. Now that to anyone who knows anything about Iraq is sheer fatuity. There is an overarching analysis as well that, to some extent, puts these matters of linkage in perspective. When one examined the situation, and realised that al-Qaeda and its co-thinkers have been incubated by what was, in effect, a political slum in the Middle East, which we've been letting rot and decay for far too long and, therefore, it would be a good thing to begin some slum clearance in the region. This meant turning the Pakistani Government from a sympathiser of the Taliban to at least, neutrality. It meant taking away their Afghan colony from them. That's what they've been treating Afghanistan as being. It meant warning the Saudi Arabians we knew what they were doing; it meant undercutting their oil monopoly, by trying to liberate the oil fields of Iraq. And it meant removing the most outstanding supporter of terrorism and jihadism in the region, who was a man with whom we in any case had a political rendezvous. A man who should have been removed from power in 1991. So if you could get over your obsession with this idea that there were invented linkages, you would see there is a broader intersection of argument that favours regime change in the Middle East.

TONY JONES: I understand Christopher Hitchens...

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Excuse me, they would have made maintenance of the status quo much more dangerous.

TONY JONES: I understand what you're saying but the claim of Richard Clarke and others.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Which you really obviously won't let go of, will you? Richard Clarke knows...

TONY JONES: I want to follow down the path of the logic that he sets out and the final piece of logic that he sets out is that the war in Iraq was a diversion from what the real war on terrorism should have been, which was to hunt down Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and deal with him. Now that argument still resonates today in American politics, doesn't it?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Certainly does. It most certainly does. It remains the most outstanding failure. We've caught or killed or neutralised a number of bin Laden's lieutenants and we've killed a man who, in my judgment, much more dangerous than him. Mr al-Zarqawi, one of his clones, and, it could be argued, one of his rivals. But the survival of Osama bin Laden even as a figure, even if he's only now somewhat symbolic, is, of course, fantastically important. Mr Clarke was...

TONY JONES: Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you, go ahead.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Mr Clarke, I should add, since this is apparently the 'Richard Clarke Show' was the leading ornament of the Clinton Administration that utterly failed to confront bin Laden at all. Mr Clarke was also the man who said when his government, his president, ordered the bombing of Sudan without even calling for an inspection of the relevant sites, or consulting the UN in the least, probably hitting the wrong factory, chemical factory, but the pretext for that, if you remember, is that Osama bin Laden owned that factory and that it was mixing chemical weaponry for Saddam Hussein. So Mr Clarke made the Saddam-bin Laden connection before anybody else did. I'm afraid to say, since you keep asking my opinion of him, I think what he says now is the result of partisanship. He would not be making these criticisms if he was on the inside and I think it's shabby that people will put their party first on these occasions. But Mr Clarke is the source of a lot of useful information. And if what he says, or alleges, is true about the Saddam-al-Qaeda connection then it would be impeachably delinquent of any government attacked on American soil with such massive force, not to ask is there a Saddam Hussein role in this? Because the likelihood that there could be would have to be very high? To say let's not think about Saddam, which is the only alternative, would be absolutely pathetic.

TONY JONES: Alright, let's go beyond Richard Clarke and...

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Are you sure you want to do this?

TONY JONES: Yes, of course. And we'll go to the...

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: It's like letting go of your blanket.

TONY JONES: The Senate committee report, which was released yesterday - in part, two chapters of a five-charter report - it concluded there were no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Politically, the interesting thing about the release of this report was that two Republican senators voted to release it. It's incredibly embarrassing, if true, incredibly embarrassing to the President. So what is going on there?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, I don't think that's going to prove to be true. I've already read at least one very trenchant critique of this report. I think the Senate committee will deeply regret having issued such a half-baked and unfinished piece of work. It would be very difficult for me to do this on the air now with your audience, unless you gave me a great deal of time, but I can point out - I will be able to tell you now - that when you read the critiques of it, you'll find that the report spells people's names wrong, doesn't realise it's using the same name twice of a very important individual. Takes the word of the CIA on a very important subject where the agency just happens to have got it all wrong. You won't be quoting this report with quite the same - what shall I say - assurance in a couple of days. It's really disgraceful. I have to say it's really disgraceful that...

TONY JONES: The one direct quote the 'Washington Post' used from the report, straight from the CIA, says, "The Iraqi regime did not have a relationship, harbour or turn a blind eye towards Zarqawi and his associates."

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: That's flat out false.

TONY JONES: The CIA got this wrong as well as your other intelligence, you're saying?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: The CIA has never got anything right. Actually, I think I know it's a trillion-dollar intelligence budget. Unconstitutionally, the CIA, which I agree with Senator Moynahan, should have been closed and abolished some years before now, doesn't have to reveal how much money it spends. But let's say it's a trillion dollars. The only American who was able to infiltrate the Taliban in that entire period was John Walker Lynde, an al-Qaeda fancier from Marin County, California, and a drifter. The CIA has recently fired two or three dozen of its very few translators into a Arabic and Persian because they're homosexual. It is famously incompetent, corrupt and viral and it has never got anything right by either Iraq, Afghanistan or al-Qaeda. George Tenet on - this time, exactly this time five years ago, was watching the smoke with Senator David Barron, formerly of Oklahoma, and is quoted directly by Robert Woodward as having said, "Gee, I hope it's nothing to do with those guys in the flight schools in the mid-west," who the CIA knew about that and did nothing about. It's remarkable that the leaders of the CIA have not been impeached and put on trial for criminal and culpable negligence and this contribution to this fantastically mediocre Senate report is only the latest of their many failures. That's what I think about the CIA.

TONY JONES: At the same time that people are asking - you are asking - questions about the CIA's culpability in all of this, a high-rating ABC network drama called 'The Path to 9/11' is essentially claiming that the New York attacks are almost the inevitable consequence of President Clinton's weakness and that of his administration in not assassinating Osama bin Laden when they'd the chance. What do you make of that politicking?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, I actually did get to see an advance copy of that series. And I must say - if it's ever shown unedited - it's remarkably good as a drama/documentary. But it has all those limitations. And of course it's true that the Clinton administration decided it was a law-and-order problem; that the only way to attack bin Laden and his people was to try to get an actual indictment against them in a New York court, which now seems a bit quaint. And it's true that on the one occasion when they went for him physically, they depended on firing cruise missiles only and not sending in a team to try and grab him in his, identifiable then, hide-out in Afghanistan and it's also a regrettable fact that the secretary of state decided, knowing cruise missiles were going to hit Pakistan, to tell the Pakistani - excuse me, to hit Afghanistan, but would be crossing Pakistan - to warn the Pakistani Government, who then warned bin Laden. So it is a pretty keystone-cops interlude and, of course, the Democrats and Liberals earned a terrific snip about the revelation of it and the slight fictionalisation about the role of their national security adviser Sandy Berger.

TONY JONES: Christopher Hitchens, it's a pity that, as four years ago, when we had many hours to talk to you, we only have a short amount of time this time. We are going to have to leave you there. We thank you very much for taking the time to join us tonight.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Lamont,Yale and the Alamo

The foreign policy views of Ned Lamont have “grown,” as the liberals sometimes say, since he became the Democrat nominee for the US Senate.

In the early days, when Lamont was pushed into a primary race against sitting Sen. Joe Lieberman, his views on Iraq were hardly distinguishable from those of Cindy Sheehan: Get out of Iraq now – or else! At that time, his position on the war might have been described as “open ended retreat.”

Having won the primary, Lamont then went to Yale, and his views have matured. Yale sometimes does this to people.

At the moment, Lamont’s position may best be described as qualified retreat. Lamont has proposed a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, where the United States is engaged in a hot war with Islamic terrorists, and a redeployment of troops to Afghanistan, where the war against terrorism has become more manageable, possibly because terrorists are engaged in Iraq. Presumably, the United States is to retreat from Iraq because it had backed into a war in the Middle East on false premises, and its retreat will serve as a corrective.

The question arises: Will such redeployment be effective?

Is it not reasonable to suppose that if the U. S. pulls its troops from Iraq prematurely, it will open the door to a more successful terrorist organizational effort there? What then would be the point then in redeploying troops to Afghanistan, when the theater of action will be concentrated in an Iraq no longer befouled with U. S. troops? Would it not be more practical to bring home the troops from both countries?

Does Lamont suppose that a retreat from Iraq – and a consequent victory for the terrorists there – will not lead to a military salient against Afghanistan? That being the case, what is the point of redeploying troops to a spot that very shortly will become yet another Iraq?

Waving a white flag in Iraq surely will not convince terrorists that they have been unsuccessful in routing the West. Much of Europe, its head deeply buried in the sand, has been in full retreat from the beginning of the Iraq war. If we now intend to join the retreat, why should we not have a full retreat, when we know that anything less will expose troops remaining in Afghanistan to the same kind of piecemeal slaughter that has weakened American resolve in Iraq? The Lamont’s strategy will make an Alamo out of Afghanistan. Isn’t one Alamo quite enough?

These are the questions that should have been put to Lamont at Yale.

Cindy Sheehan’s view has the virtue of being logically consistent and even courageous – some would say outrageous – but then she’s not running for office.

Any call by Lieberman’s opponents for redeployment in the Middle East is a call for a half-hearted retreat, much less morally defensible than calls by those who want to “stay the course.” Lieberman’s critics object to his deference to Bush’s policy because they think that staying the course is a self delusional folly. It is folly, to their way of thinking, because the transformation of Iraq into a quasi-secular, self governing democracy is an impossibility. The redeployment of troops does not make the impossible more possible; therefore, Lieberman’s opponents who argue for redeployment are deluding themselves most of all. If the war against Islamic terrorism cannot be won in Iraq, it cannot be won anywhere in the Middle East.

The notion being peddled in some quarters that diplomatic overtures will succeed where the marines have failed, or that the United States allied with Europe would somehow be more invincible than the United States alone, is a silly fiction. Orianna Falacci, the Cassandra of Italy who died recently of cancer, pretty nearly gave up on Europe before breathing her last breath. Interviewing the Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after the Shah of Iran had been deposed, she teased him with this question: “How do you swim in a chador?”

“Our customs are none of your business,” Khomeini retorted. “If you do not like Islamic dress you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women.”

“That’s very kind of you, Imam,” Fallacci replied, “And since you said so, I’m going to take off this stupid, medieval rag right now.” She threw off her burka and said, “I will not be imprisoned.” It was said that Khomeini, the godfather of the terrorist movement, laughed.

Falacci could not have suspected at that moment that Khomeini and the terrorists he sired might have the last laugh.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Palace Coup

In a stunning editorial, The Waterbury Republican American addresses itself to the palace coup at Connecticut’s Supreme Court:

"The legislature's campaign against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice William 'Tocco' Sullivan is looking more and more like a witch hunt. He has admitted -- to his colleagues, to reporters, to the state Judicial Review Council -- that he withheld the release of a ruling to help Justice Peter Zarella's chances of succeeding him. Justice Sullivan set no precedent; previous chief justices have held up decisions for political reasons. He didn't try to cover up what he did; he even told a colleague, 'I had no evil intent. I would have done it for any one of you.'

"Unresolved is whether he acted within the bounds of judicial discretion. If he did, the complaints against him would be outside the council's jurisdiction and certainly beyond the reach of lawmakers trying to compel him to make the perp walk into an investigative hearing by the Judiciary Committee.

"On constitutional grounds, a Superior Court judge quashed the committee's effort to subpoena him to avoid granting lawmakers extra-constitutional powers that would put the judiciary 'at serious risk of losing its identity as an independent branch of government.' Yet the committee cochairmen and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal continue beating the bushes for a judge who will compel Justice Sullivan to tell the committee what he already has told his colleagues, the council and the public.

"To what end? Well, it's an election year and politicians are eager to show voters they are tough on corruption, even where it doesn't exist. The irony is those who would sit in judgment of Justice Sullivan routinely pass legislation as favors to their colleagues, special interests and campaign contributors. Their sins dwarf those of which Justice Sullivan is accused.

"Whether Justice Sullivan acted unethically is for the judicial review council to decide, and that process will play out in due time. A legislative hearing would serve no purpose, except to let pious politicians spew lofty rhetoric at election time and kick a good man while he's down."

Connecticut Is Not Rhode Island Yet

In the end, the difference between the senatorial races in Connecticut and Rhode Island proved to be more important than their similarities.

The Rhode Island primary race pitted Republican U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee against conservative opponent Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey; the Connecticut race pitted Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman against progressive candidate Ned Lamont.

The cheering sections for each insurgent were far different. Lamont’s campaign was pushed forward by progressives warming their hands around blog bonfires. Lieberman parted company with the progressive wing of his party – the Democrat Party no longer has a conservative wing – on the issue of the Iraq war when he publicly supported President Bush’s view of the conflict, a posture that aroused the antipathies of progressives at a time when the war was retrogressing.

National Republicans – not conservatives; they are not the same thing – formed an important part of Chaffe’s cheering section. Fearing a loss of support in the senate, Republican bigwigs supported both Chafee and Lieberman. The support cheered both incumbents, though Lieberman would be loathe to admit it, and Chaffee benefited from some nasty ads underwritten by nervous national Republicans.

Primary structures in Connecticut and Rhode Island are profoundly different. A Providence Journal reporter noted the difference the day before the primary votes were tallied: “Rhode Island has a hybrid primary, meaning independents -- technically called unaffiliated voters -- can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. Registered Republicans are limited to voting in the GOP primary, and enrolled Democrats can cast ballots only in their party's primary.”

When Tom D’Amore, senator and governor Lowell Weicker’s chief aide, was the chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, he proposed a similar scheme. Unwilling to commit suicide, Republicans rebuffed him. After losing to Lieberman, Weicker ran for governor as a petitioning candidate and won. When Weicker, who yoked Connecticut with an income tax, declined to run again for governor (wonder why?), D’Amore drifted off to work on other state campaigns, backing one notable winner (Jesse Ventura) and slew of losers. D’Amore is now working for Ned Lamont -- who would not be the nominee of the Democrat Party had D’Amore’s plan to invite unaffiliateds to vote in primaries been adopted by both parties.

Ain’t life full of sweet ironies?

The opening of primary doors to unaffiliateds means that Republicans and Democrats in Rhode Island have lost control their own selection process. That is not the case in Connecticut. The progressives who lashed Lieberman won’t permit their influence to be diluted by the admission of moderates to the primary decision making process, and extra-party forces such as DailyKos and MoveOn.org that provided campaign support to Lamont may prove to be equally troublesome toward other moderates who have strayed from the strictures of The Huey Long contingent of the Democrat Party.

The struggle in Connecticut is not between Democrats and Republicans. Apart from the governorship, Republicans own little political real estate. Connecticut governors with Republican pedigrees – including Weicker and Rowland – have simply given up the ideological struggle to Democrats, which is why the state budget has more than doubled within the space of two governors. The battle is being waged between progressives, supported by extra-party instruments such as DailyKos -- financed by billionaire sugar daddies like George Soros -- and moderate Democrat incumbents and Republicans whose support systems have been eroded by anti-party reforms urged by those who do not believe that political parties should be partisan.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Courageous Women in America


The closest we can come to Tom Paine in the twentieth century is through two women who often appear to be channeling his spirit: Hersi Ali, about whom I’ve written before, and Oriana Fallaci, an Italian woman whose brilliant temperament – if you can believe it – is a little off-putting, even for the Italians. Very soon, Ali will grace Harvard with her presence. To tell the truth, placid Harvard, may not be ready for her. Fallaci’s candle is flickering out. Both have been orphaned by our mealy-mouthed century; both belong in spirit to the 18th century Enlightenment period; and both have arrived as outcasts on our shores. May we be worthy of them.

Fallaci recently sat down for an hour’s interview with Tunku Varadarajan, the Features editor of the Wall Street Journal. Her cancer permits her to take only liquids, so the two sipped champagne together out of fluted glasses during their talk.

An atheist, Fallaci has been indicted by an Italian judge under provisions of the Italian Penal Code that proscribe the "vilipendio," or "vilification," of any religion admitted by the state
.

"In her case," Varadarajan wrote, "the religion deemed vilified is Islam, and the vilification was perpetrated, apparently, in a book she wrote last year--and which has sold many more than a million copies all over Europe--called 'The Force of Reason.' Its astringent thesis is that the Old Continent is on the verge of becoming a dominion of Islam, and that the people of the West have surrendered themselves fecklessly to the "sons of Allah." So in a nutshell, Oriana Fallaci faces up to two years' imprisonment for her beliefs--which is one reason why she has chosen to stay put in New York. Let us give thanks for the First Amendment.

"It is a shame, in so many ways, that 'vilipend,' the latinate word that is the pinpoint equivalent in English of the Italian offense in question, is scarcely ever used in the Anglo-American lexicon; for it captures beautifully the pomposity, as well as the anachronistic outlandishness, of the law in question. A "vilification," by contrast, sounds so sordid, so tabloid--hardly fitting for a grande dame.

"'When I was given the news,' Ms. Fallaci says of her recent indictment, 'I laughed. Bitterly, of course, but I laughed. No amusement, no surprise, because the trial is nothing else but a demonstration that everything I've written is true.' An activist judge in Bergamo, in northern Italy, took it upon himself to admit a complaint against Ms. Fallaci that even the local prosecutors would not touch. The complainant, one Adel Smith--who, despite his name, is Muslim, and an incendiary public provocateur to boot--has a history of anti-Fallaci crankiness, and is widely believed to be behind the publication of a pamphlet, 'Islam Punishes Oriana Fallaci,' which exhorts Muslims to eliminate her. (Ironically, Mr. Smith, too, faces the peculiar charge of vilipendio against religion--Roman Catholicism in his case--after he described the Catholic Church as 'a criminal organization' on television. Two years ago, he made news in Italy by filing suit for the removal of crucifixes from the walls of all public-school classrooms, and also, allegedly, for flinging a crucifix out of the window of a hospital room where his mother was being treated. 'My mother will not die in a room where there is a crucifix,' he said, according to hospital officials.)

"Ms. Fallaci speaks in a passionate growl: 'Europe is no longer Europe, it is "Eurabia," a colony of Islam, where the Islamic invasion does not proceed only in a physical sense, but also in a mental and cultural sense. Servility to the invaders has poisoned democracy, with obvious consequences for the freedom of thought, and for the concept itself of liberty.' Such words--"invaders," "invasion," "colony," "Eurabia"--are deeply, immensely, Politically Incorrect; and one is tempted to believe that it is her tone, her vocabulary, and not necessarily her substance or basic message, that has attracted the ire of the judge in Bergamo (and has made her so radioactive in the eyes of Europe's cultural elites).

"'Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder,' the historian Arnold Toynbee wrote, and these words could certainly be Ms. Fallaci's. She is in a black gloom about Europe and its future: 'The increased presence of Muslims in Italy, and in Europe, is directly proportional to our loss of freedom.' There is about her a touch of Oswald Spengler, the German philosopher and prophet of decline, as well as a flavor of Samuel Huntington and his clash of civilizations. But above all there is pessimism, pure and unashamed. When I ask her what "solution" there might be to prevent the European collapse of which she speaks, Ms. Fallaci flares up like a lit match. 'How do you dare to ask me for a solution? It's like asking Seneca for a solution. You remember what he did?' She then says 'Phwah, phwah,' and gestures at slashing her wrists. 'He committed suicide!' Seneca was accused of being involved in a plot to murder the emperor Nero. Without a trial, he was ordered by Nero to kill himself. One senses that Ms. Fallaci sees in Islam the shadow of Nero. 'What could Seneca do?' she asks, with a discernible shudder. 'He knew it would end that way--with the fall of the Roman Empire. But he could do nothing.'

"The impending Fall of the West, as she sees it, now torments Ms. Fallaci. And as much as that Fall, what torments her is the blithe way in which the West is marching toward its precipice of choice. 'Look at the school system of the West today. Students do not know history! They don't, for Christ's sake. They don't know who Churchill was! In Italy, they don't even know who Cavour was!'--a reference to Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the conservative father, with the radical Garibaldi, of Modern Italy. Ms. Fallaci, rarely reverent, pauses here to reflect on the man, and on the question of where all the conservatives have gone in Europe. 'In the beginning, I was dismayed, and I asked, how is it possible that we do not have Cavour . . . just one Cavour, uno? He was a revolutionary, and yes, he was not of the left. Italy needs a Cavour--Europe needs a Cavour.' Ms. Fallaci describes herself, too, as 'a revolutionary -- because I do what conservatives in Europe don't do, which is that I don't accept to be treated like a delinquent.' She professes to 'cry, sometimes, because I'm not 20 years younger, and I'm not healthy. But if I were, I would even sacrifice my writing to enter politics somehow.'

"Here she pauses to light a slim black cigarillo, and then to take a sip of champagne. Its chill makes her grimace, but fortified, she returns to vehement speech, more clearly evocative of Oswald Spengler than at any time in our interview. 'You cannot survive if you do not know the past. We know why all the other civilizations have collapsed--from an excess of welfare, of richness, and from lack of morality, of spirituality.' (She uses "welfare" here in the sense of well-being, so she is talking, really, of decadence.) 'The moment you give up your principles, and your values . . . the moment you laugh at those principles, and those values, you are dead, your culture is dead, your civilization is dead. Period.' The force with which she utters the word "dead" here is startling. I reach for my flute of champagne, as if for a crutch.

"'I feel less alone when I read the books of Ratzinger.' I had asked Ms. Fallaci whether there was any contemporary leader she admired, and Pope Benedict XVI was evidently a man in whom she reposed some trust. 'I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true. It's that simple! There must be some human truth here that is beyond religion.'

"Ms. Fallaci, who made her name by interviewing numerous statesmen (and not a few tyrants), believes that ours is 'an age without leaders. We stopped having leaders at the end of the 20th century.' Of George Bush, she will concede only that he has 'vigor,' and that he is 'obstinate' (in her book a compliment) and 'gutsy. . . . Nobody obliged him to do anything about Terri Schiavo, or to take a stand on stem cells. But he did.'

"But it is 'Ratzinger' (as she insists on calling the pope) who is her soulmate. John Paul II--'Wojtyla'--was a 'warrior, who did more to end the Soviet Union than even America,' but she will not forgive him for his 'weakness toward the Islamic world. Why, why was he so weak?'

"The scant hopes that she has for the West she rests on his successor. As a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the European (and the Western) condition. Last year, he wrote an essay titled 'If Europe Hates Itself,' from which Ms. Fallaci reads this to me: 'The West reveals . . . a hatred of itself, which is strange and can only be considered pathological; the West . . . no longer loves itself; in its own history, it now sees only what is deplorable and destructive, while it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure.'

"'Ecco!' she says. A man after her own heart. 'Ecco!' But I cannot be certain whether I see triumph in her eyes, or pain.


"As for the vilipendio against Islam, she refuses to attend the trial in Bergamo, set for June 2006. 'I don't even know if I will be around next year. My cancers are so bad that I think I've arrived at the end of the road. What a pity. I would like to live not only because I love life so much, but because I'd like to see the result of the trial. I do think I will be found guilty.'

"At this point she laughs. Bitterly, of course, but she laughs."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Clinton, 9/11 and The First Amendment

True to form, the controversy over a docudrama centering on the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center buildings preceded the showing of a mini-series on the subject. Many promoters of such art products have determined that lively controversy aids in selling the product. Examples abound: When Madonna, in one of her most recent evocations, descended to a stage mounted on a mirrored cross, her brow graced with a crown of thorns, the Vatican predictably objected – creating controversy, which spiked sales, sending the producers of the lavish production chortling all the way to the bank.

A docudrama, unlike a documentary, is a re-created record of events in which actors play the part of real people. Some of the targets of the docudrama – including former President Bill Clinton – insisted that the events re-enacted must be accurate. In a letter to ABC, head of the Clinton Foundation Bruce Lindsey and Clinton lawyer Douglas Bond urged ABC not to show the film, “The Path to 9/11”, unless necessary corrections are made to a "fictitious rewriting of history that will be misinterpreted by millions of Americans." The use of legal terminology in the four page letter suggested to some critics of the critics that a suit might be in the offing if the makers of the docudrama did not make necessary adjustments in their product. "The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely," said the two censors.

Any recreation of events, even history books and scientific treatises, are subject to dispute and error. Documentaries, because they present a specific point of view on a subject, are more error prone, one supposes, than scientific papers. Some historical truth surely has seeped through the editing cracks of ''Fahrenheit 9-11,” a controversial anti-Bush documentary that won Michael Moore a prestigious Palm d’Or award. A synopsis of the film taken from the Festival de Cannes site describes it as “Michael Moore’s reflections on the current state of America, including the powerful role oil and greed may have played after the 9-11 attacks. In this provocative expose, Moore will tell the one story no one has yet dared to tell as he reveals the event that led the US into that apocalyptic September 11th moment and why the country is now at war.”

Now, it is interesting to speculate what Moore might have said had the president featured in his film demanded in a letter written by the president’s librarian and his lawyer that the artist must permit the subject of his film editing rights before the film had been released. My own guess is that Moore’s response would have been unprintable. Certainly the French who awarded Moore the Palm d’Or would have been alarmed. Artists the world over would have protested vehemently. Words such as “censorship,” “freedom of expression,” “first Amendment rights,” would have been tossed around like rhetorical grenades.

And eventually someone would have noted that even Palm d’Or winning documentaries cannot be “provocative” without telling the truth in a slanted way. “Tell the truth,” Emily Dickenson advises, “but tell it slant.” Every artist – even Madonna – views the world from his own peephole. The First Amendment opens a wide door of liberty to artists, controversialists, documentarians and docudramatists, n’est pas?

Even the Dixie Chicks. “How dare we persecute these women for their opinion simply because we do not agree with it?” a blogger wrote in high dungeon when someone suggested banning the winsome trio. And then the blogger quoted Voltaire, a Frenchman whose sentiments are as American as apple pie: “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death you’re right to say it.”

So, what was all the bother about? Why was a former president of the United States threatening to sue artists unless they altered an art product that was still in the can? And had anyone told Madonna? Did Hollywood raise an objection? Did Mrs. Clinton know what her husband was up to?

And if former President Clinton didn't like the docudrama, why couldn't he just change the channel?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

An Interview with the Angels of Justice Sullivan’s Better Nature

Q: Justice Sullivan, how do you feel now that you’ve been thoroughly humiliated?

A: There’s a point at which you sense that the pack is after you. So you look around, consult your closest friends; and then you realize with a shutter that they are the pack. Of course, if you’ve screwed up, everything’s hopeless; now they have you in their jaws. Resentment runs deep in our characters, and lawyers are by nature and disposition disputatious folk.

Q: At the hearing, your lawyer seemed a little harsh with Justices Borden and Palmer.

A: That’s the packaging. You have to look past it to see the truth.

Q: Which is?

A: I screwed up. I did seek to withhold information from those in the legislature who were engaged in certifying the nomination of Justice Zarella as Chief Justice. In the end, that information, by itself, could not have torpedoed the nomination. It was a piece of stupidity I regret. But that is only part of the truth. On the other side, is there any doubt that Justices Borden and Palmer were determined to use my screw up to vacate that nomination and hoist Borden into that position?

Q: You realize that here you are accusing fellow justices of ambition?

A: Well, this is an angelic dialogue. We are sworn to tell the truth.

Q: Ambitious justices? Really?

A: Under the judicial robes are human beings, subject to all the shocks of human nature – including ambition. Brutus, you know, wants to be well thought of, even as he is plunging the dagger into Caesar’s chest. So far, I am the only wrong doer in this affair who has confessed publicly to wrong doing. But I’ve only given a partial answer to your first question – which is an important one.

Q: Don’t let me interrupt, please …

A: The hearing itself was Damascus moment -- the judge judged, the judge in the dock – an experience I recommend to all judges. It forced me to re-read Albert Camus’ novel The Fall. Do you know that one?

Q: I have a hazy recollection of it. Required reading in college, you know.

A: The anti-hero of the novel is a judge who has screwed up – royally. Passing a bridge one night, he is faintly aware that a suicide has occurred. He brushes by an agitated woman, who then jumps into a river. They are alone on the bridge; he is the sole witness to the suicide. He hears the splash, hears her screams – and does nothing. Crushed by this horror, he becomes what he calls “a judge penitent,” whose court is a seedy bar in the Netherlands. There he waylays strangers, and confesses the truth – about everything. That is how people who have screwed up royally save their souls – by being brutally honest, first with themselves and then with others.

Q: And have you reached that point?

A: To be honest, no. It takes a good deal of suffering to purge the imagination, so that the truth may be permitted to show itself.

Q: What are your plans now?

A: To seek out a purgation of some kind, so that I might know the truth. I have a feeling it might be found in suffering. That is something prisoners know that judges do not know.

Q: And then, when the period of purgation is finished?

A: I’ll find a different kind of bar than judges know, in some wild, half forsaken place – not the Netherlands -- some place closer to home. There, I’ll waylay truth seekers, and pile them up with more truth than they care to know. There is a kind of vengeance in truth telling too, you know.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Overheard in the Purgatorium

“You want to send troops to Darfur? I sympathize. I’m not sure what they’d be able to do there. A few years ago, men and women of conscience were urging the United States to intervene on behalf of the Kurds, who had suffered, many of them, a fate worse than death at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his mass murdering sons. Being gassed to death, people tell me, is no picnic. And the United States did intervene, and the Kurds were saved. And now it is said by the same conscience stricken folk that this intervention has been a failure. Men and women of conscience on the left – except for Christopher Hitchens and some few others besotted by the courageous Kurds– are clamoring for the troops to come home. So it seems the French (and Cindy Sheehan; can't forget her) were right all along, doesn’t it?

"You know, let me hazard a prediction. The Americans are a bit behind Europe in their emotional responses to things of this kind. I predict that when the United States is fully convinced that it should draw its troops from Iraq and let the country collapse into sectarian warfare – no picnic either – Europe will come to the realization that President Bush was right about nearly everything, except the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Nothing can spare Europe, nothing will spare Europe. Of course, by this time, the United States will again lag far behind Europe. The window to democracy in Arabia that had been opened by the blood, sweat and tears of Americans will close with a bang.”

Where Do We Go In Iraq From Here?

A little bit like Moxie – which makes you foxy – Christopher Hitchens is an acquired taste. At his best, he is a smooth blend of H. L. Mencken and Bill Buckley at his most mirthful. Personally, I’m put off by his aggressive atheism; but he does claim to be a child of the Enlightenment, and one cannot complain too much if the child, grown to a man’s stature, seems to be a chip off his daddy’s block.

“Hitch,” as he is called, is an American transplant from England, as are so many writers, such as Tom Paine, who fit comfortably into an American skin. Hitchens has written intelligently about Paine and also Jefferson. Of all the writers pouring their hearts out -- usually onto their sleeve -- about the war on terror, it seems to me that he, along with Arnaud DeBorsgrave, is the sanest -- and the hottest.

Hitchens was invited recently to contribute to a discussion, “What to Do in Iraq: a Roundtable," sponsored by Foreign Affairs.

His brief contribution, eminently sane, follows:


"I am again a little dispirited at the absence of the historical dimension from many of these postings, or by its appearance only in the form of false analogy. There is nothing remotely comparable here with the experience of the French in Algeria and Indochina, or with the experience of the United States in Indochina, let alone that of the Israelis in Lebanon. The United States has not claimed territory in Iraq, as the French did in Algeria: it is not the inheritor of a bankrupt French colonialism, as Eisenhower and Kennedy were in Vietnam; and it is not pursuing a vendetta, as was Sharon in Lebanon.

"It is, instead, in a situation where no superpower has ever been before. The ostensible pretext for American intervention — the disarmament of a WMD-capable rogue state and the overthrow of a government aligned with international jihadist gangsterism — was in my opinion based on an important element of truth rather than on a fabrication or exaggeration. But the deeper rationale — that of altering the regional balance of power and introducing democracy into the picture— is the one that must now preoccupy us more. The United States is in Iraq for its own interests, to ensure that a major state with a chokehold on a main waterway of the global economy is not run by a barbaric crime family or by its fundamentalist former allies and would-be successors. But it is also there to release, and not repress, the numberless latent grievances of Iraqi society. And—something surprisingly forgotten by many who fetishize the United Nations—it is there under a UN mandate for the democratization and reconstruction of the country.

"It was to be expected that the forces of reaction would try to sabotage the process of resolving Iraqis' grievances by democratic and federal means, and it is true that this menace was underestimated. Where, I wonder, have we not underestimated the sheer viciousness of this enemy, and its willingness to destroy states and societies rather than allow them to be even partly democratic or secular? We are underestimating it in Darfur — which has been handled a la Kofi Annan, presumably to the satisfaction of the so-called "multilateralists" — even as I write. We are in the process of ignoring its challenge in Nigeria, and also of downplaying its attempt to destroy the all-important multi-ethnic democracy of India (where the United States has an alliance of both principle and interest).

"If there is an Algerian analogy at all, it would be to the war waged by Salafist fanatics against the FLN government during the 1990s. Based initially on a far wider public support than anything enjoyed by the Baathists and bin Ladenists of Iraq, this insurgency was eventually defeated by two things. The first was the strategic majority that was eventually mobilized, consisting of the urban secular middle class, many of the Berber/Kabyle population, women, and a crucial section of the armed forces. The second was the nature of the insurgency itself, which resorted to the takfir mania of declaring all its foes to be apostates, and which imploded as a result of the war on civilians that it conducted. The Algerian authorities employed tactics we would not—and should not—allow ourselves to use, but there should still be a much closer study of the way in which this victory was accomplished.

"I repeat what I said in my first posting: The United States can contemplate leaving Iraqis to settle their sharp internal differences by themselves, but it cannot abandon them to a victory for clerical and political fascism and has its own reasons for demonstrating that such a threat can be met, engaged, and defeated. Those who believe, or half-believe, that the insurgency is produced by the Coalition presence are deceiving themselves, and have paid no attention to the countries where such tactics are used against the population in the absence of any Western involvement or even concern.

"At present, then, the United States is acting as a militia for the majority of Iraqis who do not have a militia of their own. (It is not without significance that when sectarians are found operating private or semi-official squads and prisons, the victims take their complaints to the Green Zone.) Clearly, this cannot become a long-term dependent relationship. My chief worry, however, is of the opposite type, and was mentioned by Marc Lynch. If our calculations become unduly inflected by considerations of American domestic opinion, then both Iraqis and foreign intruders (and their state backers in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia) have only to set their watches and begin making their respectively pessimistic and gloating dispositions. We thus condition the outcome without much influencing it.

"A possible solution — ask the Iraqis what should be done — is insufficiently canvassed. As a means of concentrating all minds, one could either propose a vote in the Iraqi parliament, or a national referendum, on the single question of a date for withdrawal to begin. Much might be learned from the analysis of the results, and we could remind people again that Iraq is the only country in the region, apart from Lebanon, where citizens are regularly called to the polling-booth. This was part of the point to begin with."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Rell’s coattails

The length of a politician’s coattails is proportional to the vigor of his – or, in the present case, her – campaign. The more vigorous the campaign, the longer the coattails. That is the lesson of the highly successful Republican campaign associated with the “Contract with America”, a document cobbled together by Dick Armey from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union address.

The real danger in a lackluster campaign waged by Gov. Jodi Rell is that she may not perceive the connection between idea-based, vigorous campaigns and coattails.

The temptation popular governors and other politicians fall prey to, with predictable results, is to use their popularity as a skate board to coast into office. It is generally assumed, wrongly, that a strong top ticket will pull lesser politicians into a winning orbit. That assumption may have been true in the glory days of political parties, when voters regularly pulled party levers and were guided by strong party leaders; but those halcyon days in which Democrat Party boss John Bailey – rather than carpetbagger bloggers from DailyKos – selected winning party nominees are a thing of the past, done in by decades of reforms.

Former Governor John Rowland, wildly popular before he ended up in jail, had no coattails. At the end of his career, it had become nearly impossible to distinguish him from the usual moderate Democrat or quisling Republican. Connecticut Republicans -- the smaller, defenseless animals in the political jungle -- generally adopt the coloration of Democrats so as to avoid being eaten. Rowland was a master at improvisation, and there are, no doubt, many independent and unaffiliated voters in the state, along with a few blinkered Republicans, who still remember him as a “breakwater” against improvident spending. “What breakwater?” a realist would ask: The present budget is twice what it was when the last Democrat governor left office.

This year, Democrats have nominated as their choice for governor a true blue progressive. One conservative friend calls John DeStefano the Hugo Chavez of Connecticut politics. DeStefano’s spending ambitions are excessive, but never mind: Hard working middle class taxpayers need not trouble themselves with an ever expanding budget, because DeStefano does not intend to burden them by requiring a majority of voters to pay for the services they consume. Majorities, it will be recalled, elect governors. The payments for improvident spending will be charged to others, and the millionaire’s tax, still a gleam in the eyes of progressives, will more than take care of any spending overage.

And there will be overages. No one yet has totted up the surpluses consumed by our state’s politicians since the institution of the income tax – Remember, a surplus is a tax overage – but it’s right up there with the grossly inflated gasoline tax and other business disincentives. One of the reasons businesses flee the state, voting against improvident budgets with their feet, is that the whole notion of a break on spending has become a colossal, transparent joke. One of the reasons new businesses do not choose to settle in Connecticut is that there are no restraints on spending. The fabled “breakwater” is a convenient myth constructed by incumbents to entertain voters come election time.

There is in Connecticut only one effective restraint on spending – the municipal referendum. And Democrats this year intend to mitigate the destructive effects of referendums through property tax reform. And Democrats this year intend to mitigate the destructive effects of referendums through property tax reform.

The "reform" they envision will transfer some payments for education from municipalities to the state, thus relieving property tax payments. But the tax payer will not find relief unless the property tax reform package requires towns to reduce their taxes proportionally, so that net taxes, state and municipal, will not increase. That kind of provision is not likely, because state lawmakers do not wish to interfere with town sovereignty.

The property tax reform packages presently being offered will “relieve” only spendthrift politicians who never met a tax cut or a spending cut they liked. Towns have been able to reject punishing budgets through referendums, but there is no state budget referendum. The additional money moving from state taxpayers to municipal budgets – about 10 percent more in state aid to towns, the bulk of which is spent on education – will not be subject to referendum. And that ten percent solution will relieve town administrators who have seen their budgets shot down in referendums by an aroused citizenry.

An effective rallying cry for a Republican Party comfortable with Republican ideas this year might be: No property tax reform without a state referendum.