Entries from December 2009

Reporting from the Front Lines

December 31st, 2009 at 4:36 pm 1 Comment

Like soldiers, journalists know they risk their lives when they venture into war zones.

And, like most soldiers, they feel the worst won’t happen to them.

But sometimes it does – and it happened to Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang and four soldiers who were killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan, as the old year was dying and a new year about to begin.

I did not know Michelle Lang – but in a way, all of us in the news business knew her. We feel we have lost one of our own, just as soldiers feel they’ve lost a comrade when someone they didn’t know from another regiment is killed in action.

Michelle is the first Canadian reporter killed in Afghanistan, though several have been wounded, injured or kidnapped “in the line of duty.” She is one of a hundred journalists who died on the job during 2009.

While her death brings the war closer to all of us who work in the media, it shouldn’t – and will not – deter other journalists who cover wars, revolutions, uprisings, that plague the world.

Just as there is no shortage of young men and women who volunteer to serve their country in uniform in danger zones, so there is no shortage of journalists eager to witness violent history in the making for their newspapers or media outlets.

To some, it is both a privilege and an adventure to be able to witness and write about or record the violence human beings inflict on one another.

It seems obvious that Michelle Lang relished her assignment in Afghanistan and, again like the soldiers she wrote about and in whose company she was comfortable, wanted to be in no other place.

She was a “professional,” and while that may be small solace to her family and friends, it is meant as an accolade and highly deserved.

All crises pose potential dangers to journalists – all of which tend to be downplayed or dismissed by journalists on the ground. But Afghanistan – and especially Kandahar – is different from most danger assignments, both for soldiers and journalists.

Increasingly, there is no safety or security outside the confines of the camp – and even there, security is no guarantee. A suicide bomber managed to infiltrate an American camp and blow himself up, killing eight Americans.

It plays havoc on the nerves to know that every time you venture outside the confines of the wire, there is no protection from a roadside bomb. Every time you go out and nothing happens, you worry about the next time and when the law of averages will catch up with you.

Every soldier feels this, as does every journalist who is committed to the craft and forsakes the safety of a protected camp to go out with the troops.

Michelle Lang may have been new to the business of writing about soldiers and war, but from all accounts she was a trooper and determined to fit in – which not all journalists do. Soldiers are pretty shrewd at sizing people up, and they apparently regarded Michelle as one of the good ones.

There’ve now been 138 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2002. And one diplomat, and now a journalist.

On the scale of past wars, the casualties in Afghanistan are modest —  yet every death is a tragedy. Canada’s journalistic family has reason to mourn today — and to carry on, as our soldiers do.

A Squalid Memorial

David Frum December 31st, 2009 at 8:04 am 5 Comments

In Buenos Aires on family holiday. This afternoon my son and I walked over to pay our respects to the dead at the site of the terrible Buenos Aires bombing of July 18, 1994. That day, a truck bomb destroyed the city’s Jewish community center, killing 85 and wounding hundreds. The attack is almost universally attributed to Hezbollah agents of the government of Iran.

The center has since been rebuilt as a walled fortress. The building is sited about 100 feet back from the crowded street. Fronting directly on the street is a two-storey wall, pierced by two doorways: entrance and exit to the compound. The entrance door is guarded by a serious looking guard who refused us entry. Protestations that we were Jews come to pay our respects to the dead made no impression. When I tried to take a photograph of the sorry looking memorial in front of the building, he angrily waved me away. I thought of defying him, but then decided that maybe he had reason for his concern, so complied. I’ll describe instead:

Affixed to the street-fronting wall is a long sign printed to look like a blackboard, upon which the first names of the murdered have been printed in what is meant to look like chalk.

On the block in front of the center and extending into the next are 85 breaks in the sidewalk, in which trees have been planted. In front of the trees are little metal plaques bearing the full names of the dead.  The plaques are already crumbling into poor condition. About half the trees have died, and most of the rest are struggling. The dirt squares around the plaques are littered with refuse. At least one of the plaques has come loose from its base and disappeared. Happily, Buenos Aires is not a dog-owning city: the plaques are sited at the perfect level and angle for passing pets to urinate upon.

The whole effect is one of neglect and disregard. It’s a shameful failure of memorialization, disgraceful alike to the city of Buenos Aires and the Jewish community here and abroad.  And this in a city that knows how to build a monument when it wishes to. Below are some of my photographs of the sorry state of the plaques.

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The Agony of the States

David Frum December 30th, 2009 at 10:31 am 52 Comments

Here’s what faces incoming New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, according to Bloomberg News:

Christie, 47, takes office Jan. 19 as New Jersey faces an $8 billion deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1, more than a quarter of the budget. To narrow the gap, he asked state department heads to prepare by Jan. 6 scenarios for cuts of 15 percent to 25 percent.

The article offers some painful hypotheticals: Trenton having to fire 100 police offers for instance, or 253 firefighters. Montclair closing a library. Trash pickup schedules abridged in other towns.

Embedded in the article are some deeper and more ominous truths about the crisis in state budgeting.

New Jersey spends about $35 billion a year, about $2.4 billion of which is untouchable debt servicing.

Now .. let’s follow the options.

The biggest expense in the budget is payroll. $4.5 billion for pay for 57,000 current state employees, $2 billion for health benefits, and $2.5 billion to fund pension benefits. Since the employees are unionized, those payments can only be reduced if they consent. So almost 1/3 of the budget can only be reduced or restrained after protracted negotiation.

New Jersey spends about $6 billion administering services. (That number overlaps with the payroll numbers above.) Administration is always a tempting target for budget-cutters – until you read a story like the below, from the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Two-thirds of New Jersey’s cash-strapped hospitals stand to lose money under a proposal that would change how the state doles out $400 million for patients on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. The change, slated for August, has nothing to do with New Jersey’s budget woes. It’s being proposed because state officials have finally updated a 1980s-vintage computer system that paid hospitals based on the types of services they provided two decades ago.

Proponents of single-payer often boast of how much less Medicaid and Medicare spend on administration that private companies. But what they gain on administration, they more than lose through the opportunities non-oversight opens for fraud, waste and abuse.

New Jersey spends $3 billion a year on Medicaid. That figure is unlikely to be reduced because of 1) endlessly rising health costs, 2) the expansion of the program in the Obama-Reid health plan and 3) the program’s own perverse incentives: because the federal government pays more than half the cost, every dollar of cuts saves New Jersey less than 50 cents in expenditure.

Given those facts, the ax is most likely to fall on state transfer to localities – down-shifting to towns and counties the responsibility for identifying cuts. The library is always the first target of course: that threat is most likely to soften voters into accepting tax increases instead. New Jersey currently spends $1.6 billion to fund rebates in the state’s very high property taxes. That line is the one most eagerly eyed by the spending agencies. Still, even a total elimination of the rebates will go only so far to close the state’s $8 billion budget gap.

Some conclusions:

* Even grossly wasteful states can’t cut or tax their way out of this emergency in time. Suppose there were $8 billon of waste in the N.J. budget, it is still not legislatively and administratively practical to cut a state budget by 25% before the start of the next fiscal year, July 1.

* It’s hard to imagine how states can recover without a slowdown in the rise in health costs. Employee health benefits plus Medicaid account for almost 15% of state spending.

* Administration can be wasteful of course, but effective administration is indispensable to prevent even greater waste.

* The programs it is easiest to cut are those that the state does not operate itself. But those tend to be the most core functions of local governance: police and schools.

* Readjusting state government to new fiscal realities will take time: it will take months to deal with the unions alone. In the past, states have avoided rethinking during downturns like 1990 and 2000  because another revenue boom came along in time to rescue them. That may not happen this time. Responsible officials are going to have to do some hard work over many years restructuring governance – and rethinking the way local governments tax. In New Jersey for example, cutting income and corporate taxes sure looks like a higher priority than rebating property taxes, just as third party candidate Christopher Daggett said.

* In the interim, the federal aid to states included in the so-called stimulus plan looks like an inescapable if ugly necessity. The challenge to Washington has to be: set a specific and firm but realistic date for the termination of the aid. Otherwise, states will shirk the work of rewriting union contracts, fixing Medicaid, and eliminating lower-priority programs.

* If state Republicans can govern well in this crisis, they can rehabilitate and redeem the reputation of the national party. The GOP needs Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell to succeed – needs that success almost more than any success in Washington.

Hijacking the Tea Party

December 29th, 2009 at 6:20 pm 14 Comments

Way back on February 10th, Mary Rakovich pranced around grasping a protest sign in front of Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers, Florida prior to a town hall meeting, few could have predicted that it would be the first in what would become a long and endless stream of so called “tea parties.” Think what you may about the way the tea partiers expressed their outrage, no one can deny that, at least at the outset, the movement emerged in a fairly organic fashion and the outrage, crazy as it may have seemed, appeared genuine. That was then. This is now.

If the lone lady with her sign represents the Tea Party’s origins, a caravan of cars featuring two forty-five foot RVs rolling across the country is the Tea Party movement today. This is the “Tea Party Express” and it is and always has been funded by the “Our Country Deserves Better” political action committee. Quite literally nothing about the “Tea Party Express” is organic, and the “protests” it stages along the way are nothing if not contrived.

The “Tea Party Express Tour” is essentially a series of campaign fundraisers dressed up to look like something else. This seems to be the direction that “Tea Parties” are going.  The Tea Party is fast becoming the contrived political tool of political elites on the far right.

Consider the following example: Within the next month (I’m not giving the date because frankly, if you want to attend this idiotic thing, use Google) the “Will County Tea Party Alliance” is going to host what they are calling a “Stop Mark Kirk” rally at, get this, the Woodbine Country Club.  The organizers explained that “This event is sponsored for all of you that are tired of being force-fed establishment RINO (Republican in Name Only) candidates. It’s time to make a difference.”

Here’s the real kicker though: the announcement notes that there will be a special appearance!: “It’s time to stand for Conservative principles. It’s time to name names and back true conservatives and impact the upcoming elections: Meet & greet with Senate Candidate Patrick Hughes.”

It goes without saying, but it is not a coincidence that Kirk’s main challenger for the GOP nomination is the featured guest at the “Stop Mark Kirk” Tea Party.  Call it whatever you want, but the “Stop Mark Kirk” tea party is a Patrick Hughes campaign rally and fundraiser being held at the great hotbed of political activism that is the local country club.

The political elites on the far right (as well as those who aspire to join them) have hijacked the tea party movement and turned it into a political weapon to be used to promote their own candidates and causes.  This is not a positive development for the party.  Consider the case of Pat Hughes.  Hughes is a real estate developer who has, by his own admission, zero political experience of any kind: “While I have never been formally involved in politics before, and this is my first time running for elected office, I am very committed to winning in 2010 and representing conservative values in Washington.”  This sort of inexperience may fly in a state senate race, but it certainly won’t cut it in a national race.

Pushing someone with so little electoral experience seems particularly crazy given the alternative.

Congressman Mark Kirk is ideally positioned to win, and he has the makings of a political figure that could shine on the national stage. He has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell, a Law degree from Georgetown, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. Beyond having been elected to Congress, Kirk has worked in the upper levels of the State Department for not one but two presidents. Kirk has fought for his country in three different conflicts, and he is one of two congressmen that remains active in the reserves. Kirk may not toe the party line on energy or guns, but independent thought isn’t a bad thing and more importantly, he is solid on trade, defense, and taxation.  Kirk has the background and political skill that Republicans desperately need at the national level. His charisma would make him a formidable political force and an appealing face for the party on the national stage.

Having just watched Democrats hammer through this parody of a healthcare bill, Republicans are acutely aware of the value of one Senate vote.  Republicans should ignore the hype being created by the Tea party political machine and focus on winning back the Senate, one race at a time.  This means nominating candidates that can win.

Dealing with Terror the Israeli Way

December 29th, 2009 at 5:09 pm 10 Comments

With air travel a mess after the Christmas day underwear-bomber incident that Northwest Airlines passengers thwarted, it’s time to re-think airport security.

Instead of the present system of patting down everyone, removing shoes (next, will passengers have to remove underwear?), one carry-on bag, no toilet visits in the last hour of flight, no blankets in the last hour, no using a laptop computer, and three-hour lineups for airport security, why not emulate Israeli airport security?

Israel is the world’s most threatened country.

It has more direct experience with terrorism than any country.

Yet the last time an Israeli airliner was attacked was in 1972 when 24 people were killed by Japanese Red Army terrorists. Since then, Israeli airport security has been such that no fatal incidents have occurred.

How do the Israelis do it – and why can’t we learn from them?

The “layers” of Israeli security at Ben Gurion airport (some 11 million passengers a year – small by U.S. standards) are more intense than in Canada or the U.S. They include uniformed and plain clothes security, nervous or odd-behaving individuals.

To Israelis, individuals are more important than baggage. We check baggage more than we do people – ever fearful of “racial profiling,” which is illegal.

The Israeli Supreme Court must deal with civil rights groups that argue security measures violate Israeli law by singling out Arabs or Muslims for tougher scrutiny. Terror experts point out that Israel’s security precautions are effective precisely because they factor in ethnicity, which our system does not.

Israel’s Association of Civil Rights accepts that screening is necessary but wants it done equally on all passengers. Terror expert Ariel Merari has been quoted saying “It’s foolishness not to use profiles when you know that most terrorists come from certain ethnic groups and certain age groups. A bomber on a plane is likely to be a Muslim and young, not an elderly Holocaust survivor.”

Saving lives justifies inconveniencing certain ethnic groups.

The U.S. has concentrated on devising technology to detect weapons, and tended to avoid profiling people likely to use these weapons. This is an ass-backwards approach, that eventually will have to change. It’s people who are dangerous, not weapons.

Over the years, the Israelis have absorbed the reality that the person is more important than his/her luggage, which explains why some passengers quickly pass through security. In North America we don’t have the extensive expertise of the Israelis who are ever on the alert at Ben Gurion, observing, noting, assessing – and chatting with “passengers of interest.”

Anyone flying in our country can hardly be reassured by security measures.

Our planes don’t even have the armored luggage compartments, reinforced cockpits, or armed sky marshals that Israeli airliners boast. Nor can frequent flyers be assured a fellow passenger isn’t another Muslim radical like Richard Reid the shoe-bomber, or Umar Abdulmutallab the would-be underwear bomber.

While racial profiling is illegal, “reasonable suspicion,” which cuts across ethnic differences, is acceptable in law for a trained security officer to question a passenger. After all, the 1972 terrorists who attacked Ben Gurion airport were Japanese, not Arabs.

“Profiling” should analyze behavior, as well as ethnicity.

Israel won’t reveal some security measures, but Arabs and Jews are treated differently when boarding Israeli planes. Low risk passengers may get cursory checks, but their hand baggage goes through a pressure chamber aimed at detonating explosive devices.

We could learn a lot from the Israelis.

Stop Understating the Threat

December 29th, 2009 at 3:50 pm 17 Comments

Does anyone remember Kevin Bacon in Animal House?  Bacon played the clueless ROTC cadet and Omega House pledge who unsuccessfully tried to quell the bedlam brought on by Blutarski et al. of Delta House. Bacon kept yammering that all was well. But in the end he was flattened by the fleeing crowd.

Yesterday, the President tried to reassure the nation. Instead of pleading like Kevin Bacon, Obama robotically told us that the government was doing all it could be doing to keep us safe. As a raft of commentators have already pointed out, Obama was passionless in tone, much as he sounds passionless about the unemployed. Sure, Obama said that we would not rest until he found those who were accountable. But the tone of commitment and intent were lacking. As was his tie.  Not a performance that reassures or comforts.

Obama sounds like a very, very reluctant warrior. Reagan could convey indignation. Bush 41’s quiet manners masked steeliness. But Obama leaves you with a sense of I don’t know. In the past, he went at the Somali pirates. But this time the threat was to American soil. And somehow Obama seemed AWOL. Obama seemed to be reacting to a move on a chess board — not a potential catastrophe.

The administration still defends its decision not to revoke the terrorist’s visa. Reverence for due process is overtaking the primacy of American lives.

On the other hand, Obama’s performance was a marked improvement over DHS Chief Napolitano who confused resourceful civilians with effective Homeland security.

Make no mistake. She is this administrations Brownie. And unlike Brownie, I bet she stays on. A Red State woman. That’s about the only kind of passenger profiling this administration will embrace.

Getting back to Animal House. Obama is no hapless pledge. He is the President. But a few more performances like this, and like the guys in Delta House he may get the boot.

Waiting and Waiting for Malpractice Reform

December 29th, 2009 at 12:34 pm 14 Comments

Exactly why didn’t the Illinois Supreme Court rule on the med malpractice case this month?

The legislation in question is undoubtedly controversial — but popular with docs and the public. It also stood a reasonable chance of being struck down by the court.

Let’s jump back to 2005.

“Illinois’ unbearable medical litigation crisis forced me to actively look outside of the state to practice medicine,” explained Dr. Andrew Roth, an obstetrician. “The signing of this legislation allows me to stay and take care of my patients.”

So observed Dr. Roth in 2005. At the time, state lawmakers passed sweeping medical malpractice reform.

Prior to the legislation, Illinois distinguished itself as being somewhat of a hot zone for malpractice litigation. Between 1998 and 2003, damage awards for pain and suffering in Cook County grew by 247%. For someone like Dr. Roth, moving to Wisconsin could see his med malpractice insurance premiums drop by up to $100,000 a year. Illinois hospitals, particularly in rural areas, had difficulty finding specialists in a host of areas.

The Medical Malpractice Reform Act capped non-economic damages at $500,000 against doctors and a million dollars against hospitals. Premiums fell and specialists like Dr. Roth stopped contemplating a move out of state.

Needless to say, the legislation had one great loser: trial lawyers. They argued (no agenda here, of course) that it undermines separation of powers.

In 1976 and in 1997, the State Assembly had actually passed similar legislation – only to see the caps struck down by the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Jump ahead to 2009, and it appeared likely that the Supreme Court would again hesitate on the caps, as a lower court had already done. Except, the court never ruled.

Why not?

In fairness, it’s not uncommon for the court to postpone a decision. But legal circles are abuzz with another theory: a phone call from the White House asking the justices to hold back on their decision.

It could all be just rumors, but anything that sounds corrupt in Illinois sounds, well, plausible.

If the White House is taking extra care to keep malpractice reform off the agenda, it’s with good cause. As much as the people in the administration like to trumpet their incredible achievement at passing health reform through the Senate on Christmas Eve, they still have much road to travel. The White House has already conceded that conference legislation is unlikely to be taken up before February. Plenty of time for plenty of problems, as I’ve noted before.

Medical malpractice reform is popular and needed – and, despite stretching for more than 2,000 pages, basically absent from Senator Reid’s bill (it proposes some future experiments with the concept). If there was an Illinois ruling showing that states can’t do this on their own, members of Congress could revisit this topic in the new year when they take up health reform again. Except there was no decision.

Getting malpractice reform off the agenda – or, at least, keeping it off the news cycle — seems pretty politically smart.

And even its harshest critics would concede that this White House is pretty politically smart.

Pawlenty: Running to the Right and into Trouble

December 29th, 2009 at 12:30 pm 8 Comments

The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported on Tim Pawlenty’s advocacy of constitutional spending limits.

Mr. Pawlenty has proposed an amendment to the Minnesota constitution that would limit spending during any two-year budget period to the amount of revenue collected during the previous budget cycle. At a Republican fund-raiser in New Hampshire on Dec. 16, the governor also pushed the idea of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would force Congress to pass, and the president to sign, a balanced budget.

Pawlenty’s campaign strategy is now coming into focus. With his interview in Newsweek last week, the governor reached out to religious conservatives, nodding to anti-evolution ideas and readjusting his record on gay rights. The governor’s speech in New Hampshire seeks to appeal to Tea Party activists and the economic conservative base.

This may seem business as usual for a Republican candidate, reassembling at least two legs of what Mitt Romney called the three legged stool of the GOP: social, economic, and national security conservatives.

Yet this basic approach carries risks. As a less-known candidate, Pawlenty must try harder to gain attention – arguably too hard. The artful phrasing of his Newsweek interview suggested — without stating — that he personally doubted the truth of evolution. And his announced economic policy would rule out most government actions to counter-act recession — indeed, might well have forced the federal government to raise taxes in 2009, to catastrophic effect. Pawlenty’s base-pleasing moves in 2009 could emerge as real vulnerabilities if he gains ground after 2010.

Draft Rudy

December 29th, 2009 at 9:04 am 13 Comments

FrumForum is “dedicated to the modernization and renewal of the Republican party and the conservative movement.” So it is all for the good that contributors Richard Brownell and Thomas J. Marier have engaged the discussion about Rudolph Giuliani’s decision not to run for the Senate from New York in 2010.

Both Brownell and Marier raise legitimate and significant issues. They both discount Giuliani’s decision not to run because, they say, the problems that afflict the New York and Northeastern GOP are much bigger than any one man or politician.

“There is, perhaps, the most insidiously subtle problem,” Marier notes; and that is “the problem of New York Republicans with a national profile not wanting to run against people with the last name of ‘Cuomo.’”

This problem, Marier explains, began with Jack Kemp, who declined to run against incumbent Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo in 1990; and it continues to this day, as Giuliani ducked a race against Mario’s son, Andrew, who is running for governor.

In fact, this problem actually began in 1980, when Kemp declined to run against liberal Republican Jacob Javits. Al D’Amato ran against Javits instead; and, consequently, was elected to his first of three terms in the United States Senate.

D’Amato, of course, proved to be an embarrassment and was far less significant a senator than Kemp would have been had Kemp risked a senate race. But to the victor go the spoils; and if you’re not willing to risk losing, then you’ll never win.

That’s an important lesson, which Republicans like Giuliani would do well to remember today. Problem is, Marier writes, “no Republican stars ever want to take the plunge [to run in New York] it seems…”

True; however, counters Brownell, “no political party should put itself in a position in which it has to rely entirely on one person to save it from oblivion. Being in that position speaks more about the party than the candidate.”

Agreed, but one candidate — in this case Rudy Giuliani — by sheer dint of his public persona, reputation, and force of personality, can effect a dramatic change in a party’s fortunes. And, if a candidate can effect such a change, then does it not behoove that candidate to act and to throw his hat into the ring? Does that candidate not have an obligation to his party, his state, his cause, and his people to campaign on their behalf?

Marier and Brownell speak to a chicken-egg problem that afflicts the Republican Party in New York and the Northeast.

Simply put, the GOP needs a better and broader-based party, with a stronger grassroots organization and structure, to field and support winning candidates. However, to build such an organization and structure, it sure would help to have compelling, top-tier candidates — especially for races like senator and governor, which have national implications, and which thus yield national attention.

I mean, let’s face it: One major reason the Democratic Party has been resurgent in recent elections is because they field better and more compelling candidates. Indeed, they offer up candidates who are bright, articulate, quick-witted, and charismatic — candidates like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Claire McCaskill, and James Webb.

This doesn’t mean that Democratic Party candidates are perfect, nor that they have all of the requisite desired qualities. Hillary Clinton, for instance, began her political career as a terrible campaigner who gave a bad, robotic-sounding speech. However, she improved markedly over the course of her presidential run; and she certainly is very bright.

James Webb is charismatically challenged and an incredibly weak campaigner; yet, he is a man of great intellectual depth and imagination.

The point is that the Democrats often field their “A” team, whereas Republicans too often field their “B” team; and the public knows this. That’s one significant reason why the American people disproportionately reward the Democrats at the polls, even though self-identified conservatives in the electorate outpoll self-identified liberals by a factor of nearly two to one.

The fact is that individual candidates can and do make a dramatic difference in a political party’s fortunes — especially in states and districts where that party is otherwise likely to be outpolled and outgunned.

Indiana, for instance, in all likelihood would have a junior Republican senator were it not for Democrat Evan Bayh. Connecticut’s fourth congressional district, likewise, probably would have been in Democratic hands for 20 years (1987-2008) were it not for Republican Christopher Shays. And without Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, the Democrats would now have an all but insurmountable 62-vote majority in the Senate.

Marier and Brownell are right, of course: It’s very difficult for a Republican to win in New York State; and, in the past decade, the GOP’s problems in the Big Apple have only worsened. New York is, after all, as Marier rightly observes, “a very liberal, high-tax, big-government state. So small-government principles are hard even to articulate, let alone implement.”

True, but this doesn’t mean Republicans can’t win in New York: They can; they have; and they will — provided they are willing to fight. Al D’Amato, for instance, proved that Republicans can win in New York State. Giuliani proved that Republicans can even win in far more liberal New York City.

Still, Brownell says,

now that Giuliani has said publicly that he is not going to run, it is too late to change his mind. If he were to do a one-eighty at this point and say that he is going to run, it would signal confusion and lack of direction. Those aren’t good qualities for a candidate for public office.

Actually, politicians change their minds all the time. What matters is why they change their minds, and how they explain their change of minds. What is not acceptable is Giuliani’s suggestion that because he is happy and content with his life, he therefore has no obligation to run and to serve.

Sorry Rudy, but the 2010 New York Senate election isn’t only or mostly about you. It’s about the future of your country, the future of your party, the future of your state, and whether Americans will live in peace and in freedom or in conflict and in fear.

Again, as I pointed out here at FrumForum:

Giuliani’s had plenty of time to ‘enjoy life.’ In truth, there is no better way for Giuliani to serve his country, his state, and his party than by running for the Senate from New York in 2010.

No Republican stands as good a chance of capturing a highly coveted Senate seat from New York as Giuliani. Even if he does not win, Giuliani still will help the Republican Party nationally by moving the political and policy debate to where it rightly belongs: focused on the safety and security of our country.

Some of the commentators from the FrumForum ‘Peanut Gallery’ disagree. Giuliani, they say, is constitutionally ill-suited for the Senate, which places a premium on compromise and collegiality. Giuliani, by contrast, is combative and insistent upon getting his own way.

That’s a fair but overstated point. Giuliani, remember, doesn’t have to be a great or even successful legislator. This isn’t the 19th century, after all; it is the 21st century. Ours is the information age. The times today place a premium upon the ability to command the public spotlight and to communicate.

Giuliani does both extraordinarily well. Indeed, he gives a great speech and is an excellent television interviewee.

Giuliani is especially good on issues of foreign policy and national security. He’s bright, quick-witted, and substantively engaged. And, as a sitting senator from New York, he would have newfound political and media clout, which would strengthen his ability to shape the political dialogue and move the public-policy debate.

Some conservatives point to Giuliani’s abysmal 2008 presidential run as evidence that he’s a “has-been,” who has no political future. But a national presidential run is very different from a senate run from New York.

Giuliani wasn’t my first choice for president in 2008; I preferred Mitt Romney. But we’re not talking now about electing the President of the United States; we’re talking about winning a senate race in liberal New York. And the truth is that Giuliani is the most viable — and most compelling — conservative candidate running in that race.

The 2010 election may be a banner year for Republicans. But if the party is to capitalize on the electoral wind at its back, then it mustn’t cede New York and the Northeast to the Democrats; it must field top-tier candidates like Rudolph Giuliani. Losers cede the playing field to their opponents; winners fight and prevail.

Throughout his life, Giuliani has proven that he’s a fighter — for himself, his family, his friends, and his constituents. Now it is time for him to fight once again — for New York and for New Yorkers, for the GOP, and for the safety and security of our country. If he won’t volunteer — draft him.

The Real Culprit in the Underwear Bombing?

David Frum December 29th, 2009 at 7:22 am 132 Comments

It’s the U.S. embassy in Lagos, argues Thomas Lipscomb.

Once a credible person of the stature of Abdulmutullab’s father, multimillionaire Umaru Mutullab, one of the most important figures in banking in all of Africa, contacted the Embassy and said he feared his son had been “radicalized,” the Embassy should have immediately reviewed the young man’s American multiple entry visa granted to him by the American Embassy in London in 2008 and placed a hold on it pending a hearing. But that’s not what happened. According to the Department of State, Umaru had a face to face meeting at the request of high officials in Nigerian Security with top American embassy officials on November 19th. And the records at State show what did happen.

The Department of State did a cursory derogatory information sweep on Abdulmutullab on November 20th and found nothing. Then on November 23rd The Department of State referred the matter to the Department of Justice which concluded with his being added to the TIDE database. There is no evidence that any attempt was made to contact British authorities where the young man had lived in a 4 million pound flat while on a student visa to the UK. His American visa had been issued in London. If they had, they might have learned the British had already pulled Abdulmutullab’s visa last May.

Apparently no one ever considered the easiest, simplest step to review the multiple entry visa and associated travel records to see if something had changed that might lend credence to the father’s concern.

The visa is not an automatic right for a foreign citizen. An American entry visa is a privilege granted under certain circumstances. Requiring a hearing to consider the new information doesn’t require making a final judgment. Maybe this charge was just an outgrowth of some family feud. It simply ensures that new information is analyzed before access is continued. If rumors of Abdulmutullab’s trips to Yemen and other terrorist hot spots are true, the evidence for them might have surfaced during the visa review.

The British government, for reasons of its own, denied Abdulmutullab re-entry in May of this year. The announced reason was that he had interrupted his education in the UK and the school he now intended to attend was not considered “legitimate.” Clearly, whatever the reason, the British Foreign Ministry was doing its job.

Incompetent State Department consular officials and poor enforcement of visa procedures that have been in place long before the personal computer, the Xerox machine or even the jet airliner are the problem here. And we aren’t hearing a word about it.

Better the American public should be forced to endure another blizzard of press releases announcing another round of ridiculous indignities by dazzling Rube Goldberg technology rather than have our press and our government demand an accounting from the employees at a government bureaucracy who can’t even comply with their own time-tested procedures.

No, no, it’s the privacy restrictions placed on air travel screening, replies former DHS official Stewart Coffin.

The intelligence/security agencies would like the consular officials in Nigeria to take the fall for this.  The agencies seem to be telling journalists that the father’s warning wasn’t relayed to them with enough detail to justify putting Abdulmutallab on a no-fly or selectee list, so they just stuck him in the 550-thousand-name catchall database (known as TIDE, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment) rather than a more active 400-thousand-name database.  But neither database would have made him a automatic “selectee” for special screening (roughly 14 thousand people are on that list), let alone no-fly status (4 thousand).  And it’s hard to imagine that even transmitting a full transcript of the father’s warning would have boosted Abdulmutallab onto the selectee or no-fly list.

Why is it so hard to get on the selectee or no-fly lists?  In part because privacy campaigners have made the lists less effective and more controversial by raising phony privacy concerns — and getting Congress to buy into those concerns.  Here’s the problem:  The lists are full of aliases and alternative spellings that the terrorists might use to defeat screening.  As a result, many, many people (kids, Senators, grandmas) end up as selectees because their names resemble the aliases of terrorism suspects.  The resulting hassles and complaints make officials cautious about adding large numbers of names to the selectee list.

So why doesn’t the US use other information, like date of birth, to “disambiguate” the lists — to separate terrorist suspects from regular folks?  After all, we knew Abdulmutallab’s birthdate, along with a lot of other information; there was no need to stop every Abdul Mutallab or Abdul-Mutallab or abu Mutallab from flying to the US.  But DHS hasn’t been able to disambiguate the list because privacy campaigners and Congress prohibited DHS from gathering birthdates from passengers.  That information was too sensitive to share with the government, said the privacy groups, and they insisted that Congress prohibit DHS from running the selection process for years while DHS got over a series of privacy hurdles.

There are two ways to protect air travel: look for bombs or look for terrorists.

U.S. officials have consistently preferred the first policy. The underwear bomber dramatically illustrates the futility of that policy – and the huge potential advantages of the second.

Yet the government still won’t learn.

Instead, we now will impose more kindergarten rules on travelers: sit still, hands beside your body. Security theater, not actual security.

Professor Bainbridge replies on behalf of the air-traveling public:

[N]one of these new restrictions would have impeded the bomber. He was fine with staying in his seat. To the contrary, it was the passenger who subdued the bomber that left his seat. Extra screening of carry on luggage would have been no problem for the bomber, since the bomber had the bomb sewn into his underwear.

Bureaucracies always recoil from responsibility, always seek to cover up their own mistakes by dumping the cost of their mistakes on the larger public. Fortunately we have an official charged with overseeing the bureaucracy and representing the public. He’s called the president.  I don’t agree with those who demand that he now cancel his Hawaiian vacation.  A tired Obama would make even worse decisions than a rested Obama. But he can and must still perform his most important duties while on vacation. In this case that means:

1) rescinding the new TSA rules;

2) reviving the targeted screening procedures abandoned under pressure from so-called privacy advocates

3) keeping the focus on the State Department’s botched information sharing. It would be interesting to know: how vigorously did U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Robin Sanders press Washington to follow up on the information presented to her embassy?