Saturday, January 08, 2005

APL Pre-Season: Divisions and Overview

Over on Polipundit, we've been discussing the Presidents of the United States for the last few days, and it occurs to me that any comparison between Presidents must include the relevant dates the Presidents had to operate, including the make-up of the Congress and Supreme Court that President had to deal with. That is, a fair evaluation of all the Presidents could best be done, by a series of one-to-one comparisons, in each term timeline. With 42 men having served so far, that works out to 82 contests for each President (41 comparisons in his own time, 41 in the other President's times), or 1,722 contests. To make that more fun and less droll, I am matching up the Presidents in a sports-style format, and calling the American Presidents League, or APL.

For each President, I am drawing up characteristic values and noting the party intensity for each Congress, and noting the Supreme Court's attitude by the major cases they handled at a time. For now, here are the six divisions (7 Presidents each):


Revolution Division
G Washington
T Jefferson
A Jackson
J Monroe
J Adams
J Madison
JQ Adams

Constitution Division
J Polk
M Van Buren
J Tyler
Z Taylor
M Fillmore
F Pierce
W Harrison

Reconstruction Division
A Lincoln
U Grant
R Hayes
C Arthurs
J Buchanan
A Johnson
J Garfield


Manifest Division
T Roosevelt
G Cleveland
W McKinley
W Wilson
B Harrison
W Taft
W Harding

Domination Division
F Roosevelt
C Coolidge
D Eisenhower
H Truman
J Kennedy
H Hoover
L Johnson

Leadership Division
R Reagan
GW Bush
G Ford
GHW Bush
W Clinton
J Carter
R Nixon

Based on the preferences expressed by Polipundit readers, here are the Pre-Season Top 12:

1. G Washington
2. A Lincoln
3. R Reagan
4. T Jefferson
5. A Jackson
6. GW Bush
7. T Roosevelt
8. F Roosevelt
9. J Polk
10. J Monroe
11. C Coolidge
12. J Adams

If the APL is a waste of time for you, just ignore those posts which reference the season's progress. But if you like to compare Presidents, this might be fun.

Friday, January 07, 2005


The mindless jackals of the Democratic Party* continued their assault on the United States of America yesterday, by attempting to discredit the distinctive qualifications of Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General. This is not surprising, given the absolute slander delivered against John Ashcroft over the past four years, but it speaks to the peculiar and destructive belief that a political victory is more vital than the nation or honorable men in its service.

(I stop here to address the '*' I noted above. The Republican Party has its own jackals, politics being the sort of soul-killing machine it is, and I want to make clear that there remain honest and honorable public servants in Congress on both sides of the aisle. This article addresses the seditious words and actions of America's enemies, who think nothing of betraying the nation and her citizens for a chance to score demguagic points.)

The present canard was the cheap and false attempt to link Gonzales to support for torture as an interrogation tactic. As Gonzales made clear in his statements yesterday to the Senate, he has a clear demand for the conduct of U.S. forces who hold people, whether in prisons, detention, camps, or some other situation. The claims made against him come from a deliberate misrepresentation of both his opinions and of the men who have been claimed as victims of torture.

Perhaps the clearest method by which the distinction may be made, is to examine what happened at Abu Ghraib. Eight U.S. soldiers were arrested and charged under the UCMJ for their actions, which were described in their courts-martial as four basic types of offenses:

Conspiracy - to maltreat detainees, and to deceive investigators, and to coerce witnesses to conceal knowledge and evidence of a crime

Sexual Misconduct - by having sex with other guards in direct violation of orders, by stripping detainees and posing them nude, and by mocking detainees with graphic acts (such as photographing a nude detainee while hooded and with wires simulating electronic torture

Omission - Ignoring their duty to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty

Physical Assault - Striking and kicking detainees with hands and feet, and using dogs to threaten attack

In comparison, here are actions known to have been taken by the Baath regime at the Abu Ghraib prison (additional sources here and here):

* Regular beatings in order to break resistance

* Random executions to create and maintain terror

* Limbs amputated, beginning with fingers and continuing to arms and legs

* Tongues cut out, ears cut off

* Family members raped in front of prisoners

* Murder of children in front of prisoners

* Murder of fetus by cutting the mother's womb open, again in front of prisoners

* Prisoners' legs and ribs broken through prolonged whipping

* Prisoners thrown from roofs

* Beheadings

There is no comparison. None whatsoever.

This is not to say that the actions taken by this few U.S. soldiers represents acceptable behavior. Bear in mind, not only that these soldiers were arrested and tried for their actions, but also that their attempts to conceal and deny thei actions shows that they knew their actions were opposed to the training and expectations of the U.S. military. Any claim to compare U.S. policy to support for Torture is therefore either ignorance, or a deliberate lie.

With that said, however, the question comes up, when is physical violence or threats against detainees acceptable, and how far is too far?

It has been said, with validity, that armies will always have a few who go too far, and wherever the line is drawn, there will be some who exceed it. But the U.S. Military actually has a pretty good humanitarian record for the past century; the horrible crimes of My Lai and the like turn out to be remote exceptions when the evidence is considered. But at the same time, the question demands to be answered; how far can we go, without becoming what we fight?

In World War 2, the United States was unquestionably fighting against some of the worst evils of that century, personified by Tojo and Hitler. But the controversy remains today, about the use of atomic bombs on Japan, or of fire-bombing cities in Germany. Those, of course, were acts of war, and to some degree may be excused by the information available. Yet, that's the same issue facing Lt. Colonel Allen West, who faced court-martial for firing his pistol near the head of an Iraqi prisoner, in order to get information which saved the lives of many U.S. soldiers. Was the threat of death appropriate in order to save American lives? In the case of Col. West, he decided it was. What's more, the fact that Al Qaeda trains their recruits to believe that Americans are soft and squeamish (no doubt because of speeches by the likes of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pulosi), would enhance the effect of discovering the U.S. was quite willing to play rough. In practical terms, a certain relaxing of rules against physical force would unquestionably improve our interrogation results.

The next question is the legal one. Americans often forget that the world is not the United States. That is, the law is different in different places, and so are rights. There are, to be specific, different rights for different people.

Why? It comes down to Sovereignty. An American tourist in Jordan or Singapore may enjoy the exotic cultures and cuisines, but he must also understand the laws of each country and their enforcement. Larry Flynt would not do well in Singapore, nor would Keith Richards enjoy Jordan's conduct expectations. And citizenship is far more than a formality in the eyes of the law. To a U.S. soldier, an American citizen owns specific and undeniable rights, which cannot be abridged by a military force. A resident within the territory of the United States would have a lower level of rights, but would still enjoy the standard practices of U.S. domestic law enforcement. A captured soldier in unifiorm of a known country and formal government would still enjoy some protection as a Prisoner of War, per the Geneva accords. But an armed foreign insurgent who attacks civilians has no rights, of any kind. The decision which allows the insurgent to hide his identity and deny connection to a sponsor state, also strips away any pretense of legal defense when he is caught. This is not say 'anything goes'; all military units are compelled to operate under the Rules of Engagement set ahead of time for them, and there are clear Military Justice ordinances regarding the treatment of any captured person. But in legal terms, the eight soldiers tried for the Abu Ghraib offenses were arrested and tried for offenses against the U.S. Government, not for violating any prisoner's rights.

Up to here, the matter must seem very cold-blooded, as if I were saying 'Ha! You are my prisoner, and I may do as I like'. This is absolutely not the case. But it was necessary to establish first the clear distinction between torture as it is acted out, and the nature of the actual offenses. It was then necessary to draw clear understanding of the fact that war is not courteous or kind, and such tactics must be set aside to accomplish necessary, even vital, goals. And it was also appropriate to remind the reader, that the terrorists' decision to act apart from a government, and to attack civilians, not to mention the brutality of terrorist actions taken against their victims, removed any pretense to a claim of civil rights for the men so captured. The matter becomes exclusively a question of the U.S. accepted level of responsibility.

Going back to the practical matter, it works to the advantage of the United States to maintain a balance between strength and mercy. Rebuilding roads and cities, protecting children with medicine and police, and showing a sincere desire for Iraqi self-rule through their own elections, all work to the good. It also helps, however, to make clear that the United States will crush any terrorist found, that insurgents will not find a timid defender. But for the sake of our soldiers' morality and confidence, it is also absolutely necessary that standards of conduct be clear and consistent. As I noted earlier, the My Lai massacre was a remote exception to U.S. conduct, and the overwhelming majority of Vietnam Veterans have every right to be proud of their service and conduct. John Kerry was simply lying when he claimed to see widespread atrocities in 1971, and the vets know this. The same condition exists in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo, where the U.S. is careful not to mistreat detainees, but has no intention of forgetting who they are, and what they have done. What is necessary in this matter, is to review the policies and actions of the United States, to set a clear line between what is right and acceptable for U.S. military, and what is unacceptable. And that brings us back to that Jan 25, 2002 memo prepared by Alberto Gonzales. When he prepared that memo, what he was doing was looking at that line, in moral and legal terms, and explaining where the boundaries are. That is exactly what we need in an Attorney General, especially right now.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Why 'Help' Sometimes Is Not Help

Last week, the City Council of Houston passed a new law, which requires the immediate towing of any disabled vehicle on the highways and freeways in Houston. The law has not been well-received. The Mayor, to his credit, has stepped up in person to face the criticism and displeasure of the citizens, but he has unfortunately confirmed that the only voice that matters is his own. He is, however, surprised by the unhappiness, explaining that he's doing this for our safety. The man is pathetically unaware that this very attitude is part of the problem.

Mayor Bill White considers himself to be a businessman, and so he approaches city matters as a business matter. The problem is, while a man may own a business and have the sole right to decide what is reasonable, the mayor is not the owner of the city, but only a servant of the people. In this case, the City should have set up a referendum, and asked for legal advice on the advisability of this action (the rights of the city to designate only certain tow trucks, to be used on state roads, to remove vehicles not hindering traffic from designated emergency lanes against the owner's will, especially where the matter is as simple as changing a tire or restarting the vehicle, is already in question). And no matter what, the Council should have known better than to deliver the decision as if it wer ean imperial edict. When a mayor arbitrarily decides not to listen to the people about the way the city should be run, he is ignoring his duties and subverting the rights of the citizens. And that's why people outside the city of Houston should consider this issue.

I have been exchanging e-mails with a couple readers, about the emerging realignment of American voters. A recent Gallup poll confirmed what the last three Federal Elections indicated; more Americans consider themselves Republicans than Democrats, and many more consider themselves Conservatives than Liberals. Some on the Right believe this means that the Democratic Party is in crisis, and may even cease as a political force within a generation. It occurs to me, however, that there are cracks in the foundation of the Republican Party as well, and there is major work for both parties to tend to, if they want to remain as relevant in 2024, as they were this year. And part of that crisis of confidence is a simple matter of job performance. Far too many politicians do what they like, and impose unreasonable burdens on the people, often in the name of "helping".

Here in Houston, it is now illegal to drive without a seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is a good idea, and people should be encouraged to wear one whenever they are in a car or truck. But it is not the state or city's place to declare it illegal to not wear one; they do not hold the moral authority to pass such a law. After all, if I am foolish enough to drive w/o wearing a seat belt, I am not driving recklessly as a result of that omission, nor am I endangering any other driver or passenger. Ethically, not wearing a seat belt is the same as driving while smoking - a bad idea, but not one which needs to be outlawed. Further, the state does not take away your license or restrict when you can drive, if you are caught not wearing a belt; you are simply fined, proving it's really nothing more than a revenue grab. That takes the action from stupid across the line to immoral. No authority has the right to penalize a person for doing something which is not directly harmful to anyone, and which is not a violation of anyone else's rights. Laws passed simply to generate revenue are not simply unreasonable, they create a sense of promoted injustice, using the law for immoral purposes.

Another law recently passed, sets up cameras at streetlights to catch red-light runners and speeders. The problem is, it violates the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the part about the accused having the right to face his accuser. The submission of the citation is presumption of guilt, which directly runs against the rights of Americans. Now, I'm not opposed to catching red-light runners and speeders and reckless drivers, but this law is bad in every way. That's because the city has tried to evade the 5th-Amendment concerns by treating the tickets as civil actions rather than criminal actions. There are many problems created by that stunt. First, the insurance companies point out that doing this will allow violators to pay a fine and not have it show up on their driving record, which prevents insurers from discovering who is reckless. The industry has already said this will force them to raise rates on everyone, which means that the city's actions will result in punishing good drivers. Further, if you receive one of these tickets, you will be expected to pay the fine, so the effect remains the same; if you are not guilty, you will be denied the right to challenge the charge in court. That is, you can plead 'not guilty', but the chances you will win are remote, given the starting presumption of guilt.

It goes further than driving infractions, of course. The trend over the past couple decades to protect non-Christian freedom of religion, while punishing public displays of Christian faith, is reaching a boiling point. A key example this year, was the banning of any Christian symbol or music at a New Jersey School District, while Hannukah and Ramadam celebrations were encouraged and supported with city funds and specifically noted at official celebrations. Schools have granted exceptions to their dress codes for Muslim students, while punishing Christians for Christian symbols and dress. The hypocrisy of such actions is clear, and the increasing publicity of such anti-Christian oppression by city and state authorities will sooner or later generate consequences.

But the heart of the crisis could reasonably be said to rest in Washington, D.C. In the generation following the Revolution, the Congress of the United States would meet for a limited amount of time, after which the Congressmen and Senators would return to their home states for their regular work, and to be accessible to their constituents. Those days have long been supplanted, by the permanent D.C. residences of Congressmen and Senators, who only see their home state on campaign tours, and who are no more accessible to the people who are supposed to be their bosses, than the Politburo of the old Soviet Union was. More and more laws are passed which do little more than bring in money, and window-dress the ambitions of the Congressmen and Senators. Issues vital to Americans are ignored, while billions are spent to create friends for the politicians when they leave office and want to become high-paid lobbyists. Republicans and Democrats both tend to see themselves as elite, and answerable only to each other. That attitude, while pervasive on Capitol Hill, is near Treason in its contempt for the duties and responsibilities these men and women pretend to accept, and at some point will reap a bitter harvest from the nation.

From time to time, this elected official or that wil lopine on the meaning and significance of the First Amendment, the Second, the Fourth, or the Fourteenth. I think we all ought to remind our city and county officials that we will vote according to their actions, responsible and irresponsible, our state officials that Gray Davis was not that isolated an option, and our federal officials that the Tenth Amendment is very valid, and we will demand it's application.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Why George W. Bush Matters in Intelligence Reform

One of my readers, Mugwump, asked about my sources and information on President Bush, and on another issue. I want to be clear, that Stolen Thunder is not an encyclopedic site. That is, I don't have the time or inclination in this blog to have to defend every claim. That means that I will present what I consider reasonable truths, from which I will make observations and state opinions. Sometimes, you may agree with me, at other times you may not. When I make a statement which is integral to the claim I am pursuing, then it is reasonable to challenge that claim if you find it flawed or invalid. However, if the statement to which you disagree is only incidental to the premise I am building, then I may or may not pursue that discussion. You will have to decide for yourself whether I make my case or not. I won't convince everyone, even if I had perfect knowledge, and I won't have perfect information, although I will try to make sure I don't waste your time, either.

On the first issue, Mugwump brought up a point I found incidental and a matter of personal opinion. I addressed it on the thread it concerned. But as for President Bush, I do think a deeper answer at length is appropriate.

George W. Bush is weird. That’s either a really bad thing, or a really good thing, depending on your perspective. The strong emotions surrounding this President are unique; while every President has his supporters and critics, no one in memory has suffered the absolute hate that has been spewed at Dubya, nor has a President often enjoyed the sort of loyalty that GW Bush has created. I believe this comes, in large part, from the clear and decisive policies and plans of this Bush Administration. Most Presidents try to set their policies in such a manner as to minimize conflict, which reduces outright anger but also dilutes their effectiveness. Dubya puts 100% into accomplishing his goals, but 0% into sugar-coating them. The fact that he really believes what he’s doing, accentuates the emotions as people react to the programs. This behavior continues with the restructuring of the Intelligence Community.

Some fifteen major groups are tasked with handling intelligence gathering and analysis, and another fifteen deal with intelligence data as part of their operational responsibility. That fact alone illustrates the need for a comprehensive central control for intelligence; the 9/11 attacks happened, in part, because information which could have been combined with related data from other groups to provide a clear picture of the threat, was hindered by bureaucratic procedures and useless turf fights. The long feuds between the FBI, CIA, and NSA are common knowledge, and shameful to these organizations. Also, the very controls created by the Church Committee in 1977-78 to prevent recurrence of the abuses they discovered, instead serve to hide agencies from proper review and oversight. The world changed on September 11, 2001, for no group more than the Intelligence Community.

President George W. Bush was uniquely qualified for the reformation of U.S. Intelligence. In the first place, where most Presidents have been lawyers, Bush is a businessman by experience and education; a Harvard MBA means Bush looks for real-world solutions, not theoretical explanations, and establishes pragmatic expectations, with subsequent consequences for evasion or equivocation. Next, Bush has been on very good terms with his father since at least 1985, and part of that relationship is the education of his father’s experience. As a World War 2 vet and long-time CIA official, to say nothing of his Presidential experience, George H.W. Bush had critically valuable influence in shaping George W. Bush’s understanding of the military and intelligence agencies. It’s no shock to me that Dubya has made respect and appreciation for our men in uniform a top priority, and I have no doubt that his intentions for the Intelligence Community are sure and uncompromising. I also believe that, as he is familiar with the arrogance of the East Coast academics, President Bush has little patience for ivory towers in Langley. Porter Goss is right in line with the President’s thinking. Another example is the immediate arming of Predator UAVs with Hellfire missiles; unlike previous Presidents, who were content to observe terrorists in transit, President Bush immediately issued orders to make it feasible to kill terrorists on sight. In this regard, Bush is even more decisive than Reagan; Dubya does not believe in warning shots where terrorists are concerned, although he has made certain that all the nations likely to be involved are aware of his intentions and determination.

That is why I identified the new post of National Director of Intelligence as the real deal; Bush wouldn’t waste his time on window-dressing. The changes already in progress show that Bush intends to get work done straightaway in his second term, and since there have been two key intelligence failures that Bush has had to deal with, there will be real and effective changes in the way things get done. The first intelligence failure, of course, was the 9/11 attacks. The PATRIOT Act did several things to correct the flaws and holes found in the National Security wall, in fact it began as a reformation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Many PATRIOT features accomplished two main missions; removing restrictions to inter-agency cooperation, such as prohibiting the FBI from seeing CIA information, or the National Security Council from being made aware of threats to National Security, if that information was revealed in Grand Jury testimony. The other mission was to grant intelligence agencies access to the same tools as law enforcement already used. For instance, the use of warrants which notice would not be announced prior to the execution of that warrant were already in common use in kidnapping cases and Organized Crime, but prior to PATRIOT, Federal agents on Intelligence cases had to provide advance notice of warrants, permitting enemies to destroy critical information in advance of its discovery. The complaints against PATRIOT essentially showed the ignorance of extant law. PATRIOT allowed Federal agents critical tools in their ability to protect lives by preventing terrorist attacks.

The second intelligence failure, came when the State Department failed to cooperate with the Bush Administration in the ramp-up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA was aware of Iraqi WMD storage and experimentation, but was unable to prove the existence of WMD after the invasion, in part because much of the material was destroyed, hidden, or smuggled across the border. The failure was unavoidable, given the absence of HUMINT, or human agents in Iraq. This failure was no agency’s fault, but came as the direct result of Church Committee restrictions on agency actions in the field, and the Clinton Administration’s fascination with a technical-only surveillance. Clinton didn’t want any human agents killed in the region, or dealing with unsavory types (which invariably are necessary to substantive agent networking – three of the four classic motives for a person to become a spy are unsavory in their nature). This amounted to prohibiting the detectives from ever leaving the police station. This had to change, and it is changing. Bush is the first President in a couple decades willing to meet that challenge.

Also, the creation of the NDI post allows another gap to be filled. Traditionally, Intelligence has been split into three parts; Intelligence, Technical Support, and Operations. The three have differed on how to interact, for as long as each agency has existed. The DNI will have enough information to direct Technical development, to coordinate Analysis, and to provide effective courses of action to the President or whomever he designates, for implementation. It also provides sufficient control, coordinating the data in a controlled-access process, that leaks and theft may be traced quickly to the source; this is important to Internal Security, and helps the agency protect itself by providing proof of guilt when a crime is committed.

Finally, President Bush has shown great foresight, by recognizing the flexibility of agency resources for a variety of tasks. Where in the past, government agencies could only influence other governments through direct actions, the US now possesses the means to use the Internet to release information directly to the people who can use it, simply by clarifying the classification of restricted data, freeing up information that cannot be used to hurt the United States, but can and will disrupt the plans and claims of totalitarian and oppressive regimes. The best recent example, was the surprise access in China’s restricted Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication (MPT) to uncensored versions of SkyNews and CNN during the fall of Baghdad in April 2003; while the PRC moved quickly to close down the news sites, the sudden appearance of these sites allowed tens of millions of Chinese to discover and verify the truth, and the inability of the PRC to prevent their appearance was significant on several levels. The ability to influence nations through simple release of verifiable facts, is a traditional yet powerful tactic, and the use of Internet access to poke open windows to the world, is the most significant tool in that area since Voice of America first powered up.

All in all, while there will doubtless prove to be unexpected challenges and crises, the reform of the Intelligence Community under President Bush is vital to the War on Terror, on National Security, and for the future of America’s influence in future world events. By the next generation, this accomplishment will be understood more clearly, but it is a signal achievement, for the man and for the country.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Some Old Notions

I was cleaning out some papers, and came across a page I wrote back when I was just fourteen years old. I found it interesting, in that the statements I wrote pretty much still apply for me as valid today. I thought I'd copy them down here, and you can decide for yourself if they are valid:

1. A man will oppose cheating and wrong whenever he finds it in another, since it will cost him.

2. Power and Honor come mostly through Peace and Justice.

3. Every successful group or government has a fair 'people policy'.

4. Every successful group or government has a sub-group to protect rights.

5. There is no Honor without Peace.

6. There is no Honor or Peace, without Freedom.

7. There is no Honor, Peace, or Freedom, without Justice.

8. Justice only comes through individuals.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Spook King

Later this year, Congress will appove a budget for a new office. I'm not talking furniture, here, but the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), also referred to as the National Director of Intelligence. Whatever you want to call him, and whomever it is that ends up with the post, we are looking at a new world in Intelligence.

Condi Rice and Porter Goss have already given signs that they're loading up their guns for hunting weasels, and the improvements to PATRIOT approved in '04 by Congress are going to start having effects this next year. It's going to be a good year if you’re on the side of the angels, a bad one if you're a mole in the CIA, FBI, or State.

The DNI is the wild card, and a powerful one. His job description, if one were to write it up, is going to look like J. Edgar Hoover's in-house control, mixed with William Donovan's to-do list, topped off with a health dose of Rumsfeld's pragmatism. Come to think of it, wouldn't it be a hoot, if Dubya answered the calls for Rummy to leave DoD, by making Rumsfeld the DNI?