Saturday, September 14, 2013

American Ineffectualism

Every American ally is cringing with embarrassment at the amateurishness of the last month. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Game-Changer: Signs of the al-Qaeda-Assad Alliance

Posted By Bridget Johnson On September 12, 2013 @ 3:40 pm In Homeland Security,Middle East,Politics,Syria,Uncategorized | 26 Comments

Syrian President Bashar Assad
In a chilling alliance that could turn conventional wisdom about the current Syria debate — and the revolution’s players — on its head, signs continue to mount that show al-Qaeda is working not against Bashar al-Assad but in concert with the dictator.

This includes assassinating key Assad opponents, coordinating attacks, not targeting each other’s positions and helping push a War on Terror narrative to keep Assad in power.

It would hardly be unprecedented given the alliances between al-Qaeda and Assad’s Shiite friends, Iran and Hezbollah, as well as Assad’s favor shown to Sunni terrorists Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It could also be a devastating win-win for the terror organization that has been written off as crippled by President Obama while busily retooling its strategy to flourish in the new global environment.

After Ayman al-Zawahiri took the helm in 2011, he laid out a blueprint for al-Qaeda’s next chapter: taking advantage of Arab Spring crises, fomenting chaos behind the scenes, and souping up the public relations effort — not just recruiting “lone wolves” with the glossy Inspire magazine but playing upon the media and public sentiment to stealthily work to their advantage.

This guidance began even before the death of Osama bin Laden, as shown in a 2005 letter from Zawahiri to al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi intercepted during a counterterrorism operation. In the letter, Zawahiri said the Islamic world is “like a bird whose wings are Egypt and Syria, and whose heart is Palestine.”

The Egyptian doctor chided Zarqawi for not thinking more before attacking Shiites after the fall of Saddam Hussein. “And even if we attack the Shia out of necessity, then why do you announce this matter and make it public, which compels the Iranians to take counter measures? And do the brothers forget that both we and the Iranians need to refrain from harming each other at this time in which the Americans are targeting us?”

“One of the most important factors of success is that you don’t let your eyes lose sight of the target, and that it should stand before you always,” Zawahiri added. “…Courage in a man does suffice but not like the courage of one who is wise.”

The Iranians aren’t taking countermeasures against al-Qaeda forces supposedly threatening their brother Assad, yet continue to offer haven to the terror group’s leaders. But then again, Assad isn’t taking countermeasures against the al-Qaeda strongholds, either.
It’s just one omen that has alarmed Syrians about an unholy alliance being overlooked by the West.

Zawahiri has played into the deception with well-timed statements calling for Assad to be overthrown, reviving Syrians’ memories about how Assad gave Zarqawi’s fighters a transit route and safe haven.

“The Syrian regime helped al-Qaeda kill Americans in Iraq,” Maroneh native, Christian and Boston diaspora leader Essam Francis told PJM [1] in March 2012. “For al-Zawahiri to say something against the Syrian regime is not right. He did a favor for the regime to do that. He gave them reason to kill a lot more people.”

The Zarqawi name still keeps popping up in this conflict, as well: the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader’s brother-in-law was reportedly killed in Syria this January. Two Zarqawi cousins popped into Syria last October but returned to Jordan “because there was no fighting against Syrian regime troops” and were detained by Jordanian authorities.

The State Department designated the al-Nusra Front as an alias for al-Qaeda in Iraq in its December terrorist designation. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) also sprang from al-Qaeda in Iraq and attracts most of the foreign fighters within Syria.

“America, its agents and allies want you to shed your blood and the blood of your children and women to bring down the criminal Baathist regime, and then set up a government loyal to them and to safeguard Israel’s security,” Zawahiri said in June, also claiming that through support for Assad the conflict “revealed the ugly face of Iran.”

The same Iran that has been sheltering al-Qaeda members and serving as a critical transit point for al-Qaeda funds under an agreement with the government in Tehran.

“Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today. By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al-Qa’ida allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen in placing sanctions on the six al-Qaeda leaders of the Iranian base.

The leader of that operating agreement, senior al-Qaeda facilitator Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, is Syrian. The U.S. is offering a $10 million reward for Khalil, who has lived comfortably in Iran since the 2005 deal was forged.

After the Iraq war, Assad was under pressure from the U.S. to provide intelligence on al-Qaeda and, at the very least, not give the impression that his country was safe passage and haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq. So the regime jailed a bunch of guys it labeled al-Qaeda, though one political prisoner during that time saw a far different story.

Ahed Al Hendi, a student dissident who fled Syria five years ago after imprisonment and torture by Assad’s regime, told PJM his cell was next to Mohamed Dakhnous, a prisoner tagged as al-Qaeda. Dakhnous asked Al Hendi if he prayed, and began reading the Quran aloud. The guard threatened torture if Dakhnous kept reading out loud, so Al Hendi finally told the al-Qaeda suspect that he was Christian.

“You follow Jesus?” Dakhnous asked.

“Yes,” Al Hendi replied.

“Then we are the same!” Dakhnous exclaimed.

He was no member of al-Qaeda but an unemployed guy in his 20s who was approached by an Assad-linked Palestinian group called the General Command to go fight in Iraq. Dakhnous found a job and ended up not going to war, but was arrested by the Assad regime two years later and charged with being al-Qaeda. “This was done purely for show in order to convince the U.S. that they were serious about arresting terrorists,” Al Hendi said. Meanwhile, the Syrian government never arrested al-Qaeda recruiters such as Abu Al Qaqa, a radical Sunni cleric reportedly on the dole of the regime.

As its power has grown, al-Qaeda has been handily taking out longtime foes of Assad and advocates for a democratic Syria.

Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who called Syria home since the late 1970s, welcomed tens of thousands of Syrians, the majority of those Muslim, through his Monastery of Saint Moses north of Damascus each year. As Assad’s regime waged a bloody crackdown on peaceful Arab Spring demonstrators beginning in 2011, Father Paolo became an icon of the revolution, a constant leader of opposition protests and a thorn in Assad’s side until the regime finally expelled him from the country in June 2012. Syria’s state news agency smeared the priest a year ago, saying he was on al-Qaeda’s payroll.

By January, Father Paolo was back. He wanted to bring all factions of the opposition together for cohesive dialogue with the goal of moving forward as one and ousting Assad. He was kidnapped at the end of July by al-Qaeda fighters of the ISIS and killed, thereby ridding Assad of a unifying figurehead against his regime.

Last week, the ISIS kidnapped and executed activist Dr. Mohammed al-Abyad in Aleppo. Two days earlier, the ISIS killed an opposition poet, Mohammed Hamadeh. Last month a Free Syrian Army commander, Kamal Hamami, was shot in cold blood at a checkpoint by the ISIS. When a high-profile opponent of Assad’s is rubbed out, there’s a consistent calling card: al-Qaeda.

Assad appears OK with losing a building now and then by a car bomb — bombings that never hit too close to his home and that come with ample warning anyway. Al-Qaeda units, meanwhile, get left alone by Assad’s forces. “They never touch them,” Al Hendi said.
And in a grotesque PR stunt, they’ve even coordinated on attacks.

Former Syrian Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares, a 35-year regime operative who defected in July 2012 after the killings grew to be too much, told the Telegraph [2] of the blurred lines between regime and jihadists in attacks such as the May 2012 suicide bombings outside a military intelligence building in the Damascus suburb of al-Qazzaz.

“I know for certain that not a single serving intelligence official was harmed during that explosion, as the whole office had been evacuated 15 minutes beforehand,” Fares said. “All the victims were passers by instead. All these major explosions have been have been perpetrated by al-Qaeda through cooperation with the security forces.”

Backing up cooperation claims from other defectors and activists, Fares said the relationship goes back to 2003 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The regime in Syria began to feel danger, and began planning to disrupt the US forces inside Iraq, so it formed an alliance with al-Qaeda,” he said. Also a onetime top security official, he said the Syrian regime still has “liaison officers” tasked to work with al-Qaeda.

In the prescient interview, Fares added: “Al-Qaeda would not carry out activities without knowledge of the regime. The Syrian government would like to use al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip with the West – to say: ‘it is either them or us.’”

Another defector, top Air Force intelligence aide Affaq Ahmad, confirmed that the jihadists don’t get into conflicts with the regime forces. “They also decline to get into fights in the coastal areas due to an agreement between them and the regime that had been brokered by the financial backers of these brigades,” Ahmad said in an interview [3] after fleeing Syria.
“Actually, the jihadist groups and brigades were very useful for the regime because they provided a justification for the regime’s insistence on a military solution, and provided some legitimacy under the cover of the War on Terror.”

Under that agreement, he added, the regime accepted the killings of minorities including Assad’s own Alawite sect “in order to use that to convince these minorities to rally around the regime and hold on to it.”

Assad has never been particularly religious and the Alawites have not been exclusively behind Assad. “He’s always used them,” Al Hendi said. “I don’t think he’s sectarian in a spiritual way; he’s using Alawites only now to protect himself.”

Al-Nusra has already admitted [4] to being in a deal with the Assad regime — holding fast to the Deir Ezzor oil fields and reaping sweet payouts in return.

Abdulrahman Alhaj, a professor and member of the General Secretariat of the Syrian National Coalition, told PJM that Assad “has too much information about [al-Qaeda] in many ways.”

And Assad feels that if he is taken out or taken to the brink, Alhaj added, the ultimate revenge is sharing his WMDs with the terror organization — something he may do anyway in backroom deals.

“He’ll try to make it easy for them because he wants to — he will try to punish the international community,” said Alhaj. “How he can do that — he can give them his chemical weapons.”
“It’s a very dangerous scenario,” he added.

When PBS’ Charlie Rose asked Assad in a sit-down interview Sunday about what kind of retaliation could be expected if the U.S. launched airstrikes against the regime, he cryptically responded, “You should expect everything.”

“You should expect everything, not necessarily through the government. It’s not only — the governments are not only — not the only player in this region,” Assad added. “…Expect every action. Everything.”

A handful of Senate aides contacted by PJM said they didn’t know if the alliance of al-Qaeda and Assad was being discussed with lawmakers in closed-door Syria briefings.

Assad needs the situation on the ground to look chaotic enough to keep from being ousted. Al-Qaeda enjoys a safe haven and access to stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. And if Assad should fall, al-Qaeda can take advantage of the vacuum, though it does run the risk of having to deal with a president who’s not compliant like Assad.

“Assad today is trying to convince the West that he is secular and liberal and that he is fighting Islamic extremism. Those who work in the field of politics, however, know Assad’s regime very well. They know it is nothing more than an extension of the extremist political and religious Iranian regime,” Al Arabiya General Manager Abdulrahman al-Rashed wrote in March.

“His father adopted the case of Arab Baath to justify his seizure of power and continuity of sectarian rule. After him, his son sought the company of long-bearded men from supreme leader Khamenei to Hassan Nasrallah. He resorted to holding Islamic jihadi conferences in Damascus,” al-Rashed continued. “After the revolution erupted, he now speaks of secularism and claims it!”

Images of jihadist atrocities have also shown timing to play into a PR strategy, including the grisly execution video from spring 2012 released to the New York Times just as Congress was debating Syria.

In another aptly timed move, al-Qaeda declared war today on the Free Syrian Army — in particular, the secular brigades most likely to be vetted and cleared — just in time to attempt to seize CIA arms deliveries beginning to flow to the rebels.

“The Assad regime…will increase extremism in Syria,” said Alhaj. “That will affect all the people of the world.”

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The fruits of epic incompetence


September 12, 2013

Political Cartoons by Eric Allie

The president of the United States takes to the airwaves to urgently persuade the nation to pause before doing something it has no desire to do in the first place.
Strange. And it gets stranger still. That “strike Syria, maybe” speech begins with a heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates with the argument that the proper response — the most effective way to uphold fundamental norms, indeed human decency — is a flea bite: something “limited,” “targeted” or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry, “unbelievably small.”

The mind reels, but there’s more. We must respond — but not yet. This “Munich moment” (Kerry again) demands first a pause to find accommodation with that very same toxin-wielding monster, by way of negotiations with his equally cynical, often shirtless, Kremlin patron bearing promises.
The promise is to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The negotiations are open-ended. Not a word from President Obama about any deadline or ultimatum. And utter passivity: Kerry said hours earlier that heawaited the Russian proposal.
Why? The administration claims(preposterously, but no matter) that Obama has been working on this idea with Putin at previous meetings. Moreover, the idea was first publicly enunciated by Kerry, even though his own State Department immediately walked it back as a slip of the tongue.
Take at face value Obama’s claim of authorship. Then why isn’t he taking ownership? Why isn’t he calling it the “U.S. proposal” and defining it? Why not issue a U.S. plan containing the precise demands, detailed timeline and threat of action should these conditions fail to be met?
Putin doesn’t care one way or the other about chemical weapons. Nor about dead Syrian children. Nor about international norms, parchment treaties and the other niceties of the liberal imagination.
He cares about power and he cares about keeping Bashar al-Assad in power. Assad is the key link in the anti-Western Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran through Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean — on which sits Tartus, Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. This axis frontally challenges the pro-American Sunni Arab Middle East(Jordan, Yemen, the Gulf Arabs, even the North African states), already terrified at the imminent emergence of a nuclear Iran.
At which point the Iran axis and its Russian patron would achieve dominance over the moderate Arab states, allowing Russia to supplant America as regional hegemon for the first time since Egypt switched to our side in the Cold War in 1972.
The hinge of the entire Russian strategy is saving the Assad regime. That’s the very purpose of the “Russian proposal.” Imagine that some supposed arms-control protocol is worked out. The inspectors have to be vetted by Assad, protected by Assad, convoyed by Assad, directed by Assad to every destination. Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy.
So much for Obama’s repeated insistence that Assad must go. Indeed, Putin has openly demandedthat any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.
This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.
And what does America get? Obama saves face.
Some deal.
As for the peace process, it has about zero chance of disarming Damascus. We’ve spent nine years disarming an infinitely smaller arsenal in Libya — in conditions of peace — and we’re still finding undeclared stockpiles.
Yet consider what’s happened over the last month. Assad uses poison gas on civilians and is branded, by the United States above all, a war criminal. Putin, covering for the war criminal, is exposed, isolated, courting pariah status.
And now? Assad, far from receiving punishment of any kind, goes from monster to peace partner. Putin bestrides the world stage, playing dealmaker. He’s welcomed by America as a constructive partner. Now a world statesman, he takes to the New York Times to blame American interventionist arrogance — a.k.a. “American exceptionalism” — for inducing small states to acquire WMDs in the first place.
And Obama gets to slink away from a Syrian debacle of his own making. Such are the fruits of a diplomacy of epic incompetence.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Today's Tune: Johnny Cash - Remember the Alamo

Today's Tune: Johnny Cash - Pocahontas

Remembering Johnny Cash 10 Years After His Death

By Chris Willman
September 12, 2013

I've heard my share of eulogies at celebrity funerals over the years, but I don't think I've ever felt a moment of heartbreak at one quite the way I did when Rosanne Cash wrapped up her tribute to her father at his funeral in Nashville 10 years ago this week. Johnny Cash "was not famous when he was teaching us to fish or to water-ski," his eldest daughter pointed out. "He was not an icon when he told us how proud he was of us. … I can live with the idea of a world without the icon Johnny Cash, because there will never be a world without him. I cannot, however, imagine a world without Daddy."

Those grief-stricken words put to shame the lesser sorrow felt by those of us who only thought of him as a father figure during his nearly 50 years in the limelight. But a decade without the public Johnny Cash has still been something to mourn in its own right. Now, as then, I think of Rosanne's words and transpose them into the old hit that Paul McCartney wrote for Peter and Gordon: "I don't care what they say/I won't stay/In a world without Cash."

He died around 1 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 12, 2003. Later that same day, I got Kris Kristofferson on the phone to talk about his buddy, and he mentioned what was on everyone's mind: that it had only been three months since Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, had passed. "He was a fighter, and he had a strong spirit, but it was the hardest thing that he probably ever faced in his life," Kristofferson told me. "His kids told me that he still cried all the time at night. Which is …" Kristofferson paused. "Hell, I've never seen Johnny Cash cry, you know."
Three days later, I got to see Kristofferson softly weeping, out of the corner of my eye, as both of us stood silently over Cash's open casket at a visitation the night before the funeral. I felt it was a moment too sacred for me to share, so I made my way out of the room, but not without feeling as if I'd stood next to Jesse Jackson at a visitation for Martin Luther King Jr., or been witness to Muhammad Ali mourning Joe Louis.
(If that seems like an odd analogy, I credit Kristofferson for giving me boxers on the brain, since he'd told me a few days before that Cash had "evolved into this beloved figure, all over the world. I know -- I've been all over the world with him -- and they love him, just like they love Muhammad Ali.")
I spoke to others who knew him in the days between Cash's death and his funeral. "The last time I saw him, 10 days before he died, he looked really good to me," said Rodney Crowell, Rosanne's ex-husband. "He really was looking like he was gaining some wind and starting to perk up. But I think diabetes is always a lot more nasty disease than we think, and there was quite a bit of that diabetic stuff that was really ripping him up. If you're in your 70s and really in good health when you lose a longtime partner, you can kind of endure the grief and maybe go on and build a new life, of some sort, even if it'll never be the same. Paul McCartney has done that [after Linda], in his way. And I was kind of hoping for that for Johnny. But that was kind of selfish, and I was just thinking, 'You know what? He's gotten tired,' and I think better to cash it all in, you know? And get a break."
He might have been grave-tired, but he hadn't lost his levity. Kristofferson told me, "He kept his humor right up through the darkest stuff. When I went to see him last, when they were having a visitation at the funeral home for June, I sat down next to him there. People were coming by to shake his hand and everything. One guy came by and when he saw me there, he said, 'Oh, listen, you are a great singer! You're one of my favorite singers.' And then he moved on. And John looked down at me and said, 'Well, that's one.' "
Ironically, at the time of his death, Cash was enjoying more acclaim that he had in years … for revealing his mortality, in the video he made for his cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," which won him plaudits at both the MTV and CMA awards. Trick Pony's Ira Dean told me that in their last conversation, he'd "called him about his CMA nomination, and I said 'It's about damn time.' He started laughing. I said, 'You're selling some records, aren't you?' He said, 'Finally, again. You know, they just turned over a stone, and there I was.' "
The day of the funeral, I drove to Cash's home on Caudill Drive in Hendersonville, Tenn., where at any given time that week a couple of dozen fans stood outside the gates, stone-faced, as if they expected Cash to emerge at any moment and drive a tractor into Old Hickory Lake. (Walk the Line was still a year away from being filmed, but the faithful hardly needed a biopic to learn the lore surrounding the homestead.)
The funeral was an amalgam of public and private. Unlike George Jones' recent sendoff, which was held at the Opry House, open to the public, and streamed and telecast live, Cash's was actually held at a church, and you won't find any clips on YouTube. (Although technically a closed affair, members of the public were not turned away.) As mourners entered, the pianist played "I Walk the Line" in the style of a chipper Southern gospel hymn. Then came probably the first and last video montage at the First Baptist Church of Hendersonville ever to include a clip of the deceased appearing on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The vocal hymnody was an all-star affair. Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow harmonized together on "The Old Wooden Cross" and Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand" after Kristofferson sang his original composition "A Moment of Forever."
Kristofferson said that "John once accused me of having written 'The Pilgrim Chapter 33' about him," and although he didn't explicitly confirm or deny that the "walking contradiction/partly truth, partly fiction" song was about Cash, he did describe his loved mentor in contradictory terms as "deeply spiritual," "something of a holy terror," and "Abraham Lincoln with a wild side." (The presidential theme clearly resonated with Kristofferson as much as the boxing one, since he'd told me days earlier that touring with Cash as part of the country supergroup the Highwaymen "was like finding yourself on Mount Rushmore every night.")
Family members waxed and waned between irreverent and divine. "I'm pretty sure I represent the longest list of ex-son-in-laws ever [from] one family on this planet," joked Rodney Crowell. He recalled going down to Johnny and June's second home in Jamaica, back when he thought he was a "world-class bad boy," expecting to share a bed with then-fiancee Rosanne Cash. Although "his social politics were liberal and forgiving," Crowell quickly learned that his future father-in-law had his conservative side, as Cash reacted to the presumed sleeping arrangement by saying, "Son, I don't know you well enough to miss you if you're gone."
"I know he's up there with Mama," said Carlene Carter. "She's got cheesecake in one hand and a charge card in the other. And he's an Indian," she said, referring to her stepfather's lifelong fascination with Native Americans. Rosanne, who never quite took to her parents' strong Christian convictions, called her father "a Baptist with the soul of a mystic … who was more alive to the subtleties of this world and worlds beyond than anyone I've known or even heard of." Concerning the afterlife, she ended her eulogy on a hopefully agnostic note: "The best thing I can wish for him now is that all his beliefs are coming true."
It was a typical Tennessee funeral really only in one way, in that it featured a lengthy fire-and-brimstone sermon by a preacher who barely knew the late honoree. Although Al Gore and some family members had invoked Jesus Christ during the funeral, evangelist Franklin Graham really laid into the salvation theme, after a brief introduction in which he talked about being introduced to Cash as a kid by his father, Billy. Not all of the show-business types at the funeral were impressed by Graham giving such an altar call of a eulogy, but inasmuch as Cash was a traditionalist, he might have enjoyed the younger Graham carrying on that time-honored custom of boilerplate evangelism, however impersonal it felt in regard to the decedent.
Tagging along with a family friend, I joined the small procession of cars taking a few dozen people out to the Hendersonville Memory Gardens. Along the way, the road was lined with mourners who presumably had heard the funeral was closed and figured this was as close as they'd get to country music's most beloved figure. I remember in particular one young man standing by the side of the boulevard, guitar at his feet, an arrow sign pointed toward heaven raised above his head. You know what color he was wearing.
At the grave site, a nephew spoke and imagined that Johnny's first impulse upon arriving in heaven would be to run and look for his older brother Jack, who -- as anyone who saw Walk the Line knows -- died after a childhood accident involving a cotton machine. But no, the nephew corrected himself: Cash would run to meet his maker first, then his long-lost brother. The casket was lowered into the ground, topped by agapanthus, spray orchids, and -- in honor of the tragic Johnny/Jack connection -- cotton boughs. Before departing, the two or three dozen assembled sang the national anthem of country funerals: "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
The sad answer to that hymn's rhetorical question hung in the air: On earth, not as in heaven, the circle of country greatness had been irretrievably snapped, soon to be replaced by studly young hunks who would sing songs called "Johnny Cash" without a moment's thought as to what combination of attitudes a tune with that title ought to signify. Ten years later, as the Dixie Chicks prophetically sang, "They got money, but they don't have Cash." Now, as then, we remain … hurt.
We listen to the radio to hear what's cookin'
But the music ain't got no soul
Now they sound tired but they don't sound Haggard
They got money but they don't have Cash
Twitter: @ChrisWillman

Today's Tune: Johnny Cash - You are my Sunshine

Waking a Sleeping Giant in Colorado

Democrats knew what they wanted in Colorado, but they overreached. 

September 11, 2013

May 24, 2013: Paradise Firearms owner Paul Paradis holds a flyer depicting Colorado's State Senate President, Democrat John Morse, together with a petition to recall him, right, at his gun shop in Colorado Springs, Colo.AP

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post declared the recall elections of two powerful state senators in Colorado a national “referendum on guns.” Indeed, the defeat of state-senate president John Morse and fellow state senator Angela Giron will cause some Democrats to rethink their push on gun control.

But of course, many Democrats have reacted by shrugging off the results. Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has dismissed the losses as the result of “voter suppression, pure and simple” (orchestrated by the National Rifle Association and the Koch brothers, of course). Mark Glaze, executive director of Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, predicted that the victory by gun owners would be short-lived at best and that gun-control legislators would take comfort in knowing that his group “will have their back.”

In reality, it is hard not to appreciate what was accomplished. The difficulties facing the recall were overwhelming:

 Both state-senate districts were overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2012, President Obama carried Morse’s district by 21 percentage points and Giron’s by 19 points.

 These were the first recalls of legislators in Colorado history. Nationally, recalls of state legislators, particularly state legislative leaders, has been very difficult. Morse and Giron were only the 37th and 38th state legislators in U.S. history to face recall votes (before this vote, precisely half the efforts had succeeded). Prior to Morse, there had only been four recall elections against legislative leaders, and the legislative leader was retained in three of those four races. Giron was also a powerful senator, serving as vice chairman of the very important, especially for her rural district, Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee.

 Not only did getting a recall on the ballot require a number of signatures amounting to 25 percent of all the votes in the previous election, but the Democrats didn’t take even that battle lying down. During the signature-gathering effort, recall proponents were outspent by the groups backed by billionaire Mayor Bloomberg that went in earlier with ads to discourage signature gathering.

 In their last races for the state senate, in 2010, Morse raised $163,972 and Giron $68,710. By the last filing for the recall, on August 29, Morse had raised $658,230 and Giron $825,400. While the NRA had donated $361,700, just two billionaires, Bloomberg and Eli Broad, donated a total of $600,000 between them. Left-wing organizations such as the Daily Kos and continually bombarded their members with requests for money. Of the $3.5 million spent on the recall election, almost $3 million came from its opponents.

Despite all that, the two Democratic state senators were decisively defeated. Morse’s race was close, with him losing by only two percentage points. But Giron was demolished by twelve points.

The votes weren’t about some abstract idea. As part of its gun-control push this spring, the Obama administration made the extremely unusual move of lobbying Colorado’s governor and its state legislators. If they could show that strict gun control could be passed in a western state such as Colorado, the administration thought, they could get it passed anyplace. The Colorado bills, like the ones in every place from Connecticut to New York to Maryland to California, had one central goal: to reduce gun ownership by making it costly to own guns.

In Colorado, one new law charges people a transfer fee whenever they obtain a gun. Democrats voted down Republican amendments that would have capped the fee and exempted people below the poverty level from paying it. How many other taxes or fees would Democrats refuse to exempt the poor from paying?

Democrats feel that the struggle to reduce gun ownership is important for a simple reason: The issue that most divides conservatives and liberals is not taxes, not abortion, but gun control. Liberals trust government to make decisions, while conservatives tend to trust individuals. Letting people possess weapons is the ultimate form of trust in individuals. Democrats also know that gun ownership and familiarity with firearms go a long way toward determining how people feel about gun control. Democrats may believe that gun control enhances safety, but they also believe that it will weaken Republicans and conservatism in the long run.

It wasn’t just gun-owner groups that cautioned Democrats about these bills. Colorado state senator Lois Tochtrop warned her fellow Democrats by saying, “I feel like all these gun bills have done — to quote the last words in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! — is to awaken a sleeping giant.”

9/11: America’s unfinished business

By Michelle Malkin
September 11, 2013
The second tower bursts into flames
The second tower bursts into flames (Sara K. Schwittek/Reuters)

we head to Syria to avenge the mass murder of their kids, how about we finish avenging ours?
When I say “finish,” of course I really mean “start.” A dozen years after the 9/11 attacks, the trials against the jihadist plotters who incinerated pregnant women, firefighters, grandparents, newlyweds, toddlers and schoolkids on their first-ever plane rides have yet to begin.
Justice not only has been delayed and denied. Justice has been demoted, disowned and deserted. Justice for the 9/11 victims and families isn’t blindfolded. She’s gagged and hogtied.
The terror-coddling Obama White House squandered precious years trying to shut down Gitmo to appease the peaceniks, transnationalists and Muslim grievance-mongers. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder arrogantly attempted to shove civilian trials of terrorists — which would have been held a stone’s throw from Ground Zero — down New Yorkers’ throats. Ever since, Team Obama has dragged its feet on military tribunals for the al-Qaida crew.
If we’re lucky — that’s a big if — the death penalty war crimes trials for KSM and his co-conspirators may begin in the fall of 2014. Maybe. Thanks to cunning delays, made-for-media theatrics and stomach-turning whining by the Gitmo detainees, the journey to hold the 9/11 plotters accountable has become a vulgar joke.
The last time pretrial hearings were held, defendants used their international platform to complain about bathroom breaks and Navy food, which one accused terrorist equated to “torture.” Despite being supplied with fresh halal meals that comport with their Muslim dietary requirements, one member of KSM’s posse complained that his lunches did not include extra condiments such as olives and honey.
Back at Club Gitmo, other jihadi suspects continue to enjoy taxpayer-subsidized movie nights, art and English classes, and Nintendos and PlayStations. And if the clogged wheels of justice for 9/11 victims weren’t bad enough, don’t forget: In 2009, the Obama administration dropped the charges against 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing suspect, Gitmo detainee and former Persian Gulf Operations Chief for al-Qaida Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — and has made no progress on bringing him to justice since reinstating the charges (only under public pressure) in 2011.
How is it that America is poised to use our military — the American people’s, not Obama’s — for a humanitarian intervention that may very well aid and abet the same barbaric forces that brought unprecedented death and destruction to New York City, Shanksville, Pa., and Washington, D.C., just 12 short unavenged years ago?
How is it that we prosecuted 2009 Fort Hood jihadist Nidal Hasan quicker than his bloodthirsty Islamist brethren who orchestrated the 2001 terror plot that killed more than 2,700 innocent men, women and children?
Remember: The Bush administration first brought military charges of conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, hijacking aircraft and terrorism against KSM and his Koran-inspired killing crew in 2008. Obama recklessly aborted those military tribunals in his bleeding-heart social justice bid to provide full U.S. constitutional protections for the foreign soldiers of Allah.
It took the united stand of 9/11 families, veterans, anti-jihad watchdogs and first responders in Manhattan in late 2009 to force Obama and Holder to retreat. They raised their voices to keep 9/11 war crimes trials out of civilian courts, foreign terrorists off of U.S. soil and America from returning to pre-9/11 days when the feds responded to deadly terrorist attacks with arrest warrants. The 9/11 Never Forget Coalition refused to stand on the sidelines while Obama’s soft-on-jihad lawyers moved to grant war criminals the same rights as American citizens while endangering the safety of New Yorkers.
Debra Burlingame, founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America and sister of American Airlines Flight 77 pilot Charles Frank “Chic” Burlingame III (the flight the jihadists crashed into the Pentagon) sounded the alarm and warned the Obama/Holder brigade: “We will fight you all the way.”
That’s the unapologetic vigilance America was supposed to have adopted after the towers fell, the planes crashed and the ashes choked the air. Instead, America’s leaders have allowed jihadists to make a mockery of justice. Muslim Brotherhood radicals waltz freely in and out of the nation’s capital. Border security remains a joke. A functioning entry-exit program for foreign visa-holders is still nonexistent. There still is no systemic, coherent and unapologetic plan to keep Islamic radicals from spreading their hate and endangering Americans in our military, prisons and schools.
I’m sick of 9/11 anniversary ceremonies by politicians who pay lip service to peace and justice for our country, but refuse to secure them all the way, every day. Remembrance is worthless without resolve. Resolve is useless without action.
Want to honor the 9/11 dead? Take care of unfinished business here at home. Put America first.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Myth of Live-and-Let-Live Liberalism

Social liberalism is the foremost impulse for zealous regulation in America. 

Matthew Knopp, owner of Tattoo Paradise, listens to testimony at the hearing. Several tattoo artists told committee members that reputable businesses already adhere to standards incorporated in the regulations being considered. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/The Washington Times)

In Washington, D.C., the city’s department of health wants to subject people seeking a tattoo or body piercing to a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before they can go through with it. That’s just one of the regulations in a 66-page proposal of new rules for the tattoo and piercing industry.

Reasonable people may differ on the wisdom of these proposals, but as someone whose interest in such establishments begins and ends with keeping my daughter away from them, I can’t get too worked up either way, save to say D.C. has bigger problems to worry about.

What did catch my eye was this line from the write-up in the metro section of the Washington Post: “The body art rules are the latest product of a city government that has occasionally struggled to reconcile its socially liberal sensibilities with a zeal for regulation.”

As a conservative resident of Washington, D.C., where registered Republicans are outnumbered by about 9 to 1 and where truly conservative Republicans are outnumbered on a scale comparable to the predicament faced by Frodo and Sam when they sneaked into orc-infested Mordor, I find such statements hilarious.

There is a notion out there that being “socially liberal” means you’re a libertarian at heart, a live-and-let-live sort of person who says “whatever floats your boat” a lot.
Alleged proof for this amusing myth (or pernicious lie; take your pick) comes in the form of liberal support for gay marriage and abortion rights, and opposition to a few things that smack of what some people call “traditional values.”

The evidence disproving this adorable story of live-and-let-live liberalism comes in the form of pretty much everything else liberals say, do, and believe.

Social liberalism is the foremost, predominant, and in many instances sole impulse for zealous regulation in this country, particularly in big cities. I love it when liberals complain about a ridiculous bit of PC nanny-statism coming out of New York, L.A., Chicago, D.C., Seattle, etc. — “What will they do next?”

Uh, sorry to tell you, but you are “they.” Outside of a Law and Order script — or an equally implausible MSNBC diatribe about who ruined Detroit — conservatives have as much influence on big-city liberalism as the Knights of Malta do.

Seriously, who else do people think are behind efforts to ban big sodas or sue hairdressers for charging women more than men? Who harasses little kids for making toy guns out of sticks, Pop Tarts, or their own fingers? Who wants to regulate the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the beverages you drink? Who wants to control your thermostat? Take your guns? Your cigarettes? Heck, your candy cigarettes? Who’s in favor of speech codes on campuses and “hate crime” laws everywhere? Who’s in favor of free speech when it comes to taxpayer-subsidized “art” and pornography (so long as you use a condom, if liberals get their way) but then bang their spoons on their high chairs for strict regulations when it comes to political speech? Who loves meddling, finger-wagging billionaires like Michael Bloomberg when they use state power and taxpayer money to herd, bully, and nudge people but thinks billionaires like the Koch brothers who want to shrink government are the root of all tyranny?

At the national level, who bypassed Congress to empower the EPA to regulate the atmosphere? Oh, and who pushed Obamacare on a country that didn’t want it? Who defends bending the entire country — including religious institutions — into a national health-care scheme dedicated to the proposition of live and let live so long as you live the way the Department of Health and Human Services says you should?

Did legislative and bureaucratic gremlins sneak into government buildings at night and pass all of these rules and regulations while the social-liberal free-thinkers were off not judging people and refusing to harsh anybody’s mellow?

Sure, today’s liberalism does carry within it some genetic lineage to the classical liberalism — i.e., libertarianism — of J. S. Mill and John Locke. But genetic ties are overrated. After all, humans share half of our genes with bananas. (Look it up.)

Social liberalism — better understood as progressivism — is a worldview that seeks to use the state to support its preferred values and culture. That isn’t libertarianism. Support for abortion rights does not make you a libertarian; it makes you someone who wants very lax regulations on abortion for ideological reasons. Which is why socially liberal bureaucrats in D.C. want to make you wait 24 hours to get a tattoo of a baby on your arm, but there’s no waiting to have an abortion.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clich├ęs, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.