Egyptian Prison Break

Here's an encouraging, and quite possibly miraculous, story of a Muslim who converted to Christianity. Other Muslims were not pleased.

I first learned of Sheikh El-Akkad from TROP last fall, when they had a link to this story. El-Akkad used to be the leader of a group that taught and promoted Islam, but he gradually "became disillusioned," began to pray that he could "somehow know God personally," and eventually converted to Christianity. When the secret police learned of it, he was arrested, apparently under a provision of Egyptian law that allows imprisonment for "insulting a heavenly religion" and "committing blasphemy against Islam." Though a court eventually ordered his release, the authorities defied the court order and transferred him to a prison "notorious for its spartan conditions in the desert," housing its prisoners in one by two meter cells.

The more recent story tells how, in April, prison officials told El-Akkad that he would stay there for another ten years if he did not return to Islam. He replied, "God has brought me to this place, and he alone will let me go to my home. You cannot do anything against God." Just hours later, in a gesture that has not yet been explained, prison officials handed him money for a taxi, opened the door of the prison, and sent him home. It isn't quite as dramatic as St. Peter's prison visit from the angel, but it'll do very well! [Source]

Tortured Logic

We are, many believe, engaged in an epic struggle against a barbaric enemy that wishes to destroy Western Civilization. It is critical that the U.S. fight back with all the means at our disposal. The enemy, of course, is radical Islam.

Now those, including President Bush, who say that we must use "all available means" don't really mean what they are saying. For example, the U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons available. We know roughly where Osama bin Ladin is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. The United States could, with the push of a few buttons, launch a dozen nuclear missiles and vaporize all the inhabitants of that area. Presto, no more Osama. This is one of the "available means" we have in the toolbox.

The President has chosen, quite wisely, not to use that particular tool because doing so would create a variety of other negative consequences even though the primary objective would have been achieved. So it seems clear that we are not really prepared to do "anything" in this struggle. There are lines which, so far at least, the United States is not prepared to cross.

Unfortunately, plenty of lesser boundaries have been crossed in the course of the current conflict. One of them is torture of prisoners. The president denies that the U.S. uses torture. When pressed, however, he reserves for himself the right to define what is and is not "torture." Given the creative way in which the prior president defined "sex" so that he could plausibly deny having it, I am not prepared to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in this matter - especially after I read this article in which he ostensibly forbids torture while simulaneously establishing loopholes a mile wide that will likely result in it becoming even more widespread.

Note that the article is written by a former Commandant of the Marine Corps as well as a former White House lawyer who has vigorously defended President Bush in other matters. These are not radical leftists or Bush-haters. They are people who care about the rule of law and the standing of America in the world. Read it.

I don't deny that our enemies are employing torture themselves. That does not make it right. We are not like them. One of the things that separates us from the jihadists is respect for life. Lowering our standards to match those of the enemy is not the path to victory. Quite the opposite. It will lead to our defeat.

80s Flashback

Back before Michael Jackson got so weird, he created music that remains with us to this day. I doubt, however, that even he envisioned anything quite like this: prisoners in the Philippines getting their morning exercise as Thriller zombies.

Fred Thompson Watch IV

It appears that The Last Best Hope Of The GOP may be stumbling. First we have this story from MSNBC which says fundraising has slowed way down. It also notes there is chaos in the non-campaign non-organization, with Mrs. Fred Thompson #2 taking a very active role. Are they two for the price of one? We so loved that with the Clintons, remember.

Next, in an apparent bid to rejuvenate things Thompson has brought in former Senator Spencer Abraham as a senior non-campaign non-official. Some very vocal Thompson backers are very disturbed at this, citing two reasons. Spencer Abraham is of Arab-American descent (though he is not a Muslim) and has apparently been supportive of some Islamic groups. Furthermore, as a Senator Abraham was on the wrong side of the immigration argument, wanting to open the borders even more.

Of course, presidential candidates don't always agree with their aides on every single issue, so the problematic Abraham views may not reflect what Thompson thinks. The problem is we can't know this for sure because Thompson has not given detailed answers to questions on immigration policy, or much of anything else. He's a blank slate on which everyone projects what they want to see.

Finally, the controversy about Thompson's lobbying work on behalf of a pro-abortion organization isn't going away. In fact, his lawyer-like attempts to first deny the story, then spin it in his favor when the evidence became clear are hard to square with the straight-shooter, regular-guy image he wishes to project. This story has video of Thompson flip-flopping on TV.

I continue to maintain that if you like George W. Bush, you'll love Fred Thompson. There doesn't appear to be a dime's worth of difference between them in any matter of public policy. If anyone has seen stories of Fred actually disagreeing with anything Bush has done, please tell me. I haven't seen it.

Bro. Robin has a nice round-up of all the GOP candidates that is worth reading. Here is what he says about Thompson. (He doesn't link to back-up for all these positions and I haven't verified them. It all sounds about right, thought.)

Fred Thompson: Sorry folks, the kindly actor you’ve come to know through the TV series "Law and Order" is not who you’d like him to be. Despite the polls (AP/ IPSOS 6/9/07) which tout Thompson as a darling among conservatives, most are apparently ignorant of his political pedigree. Like his friend, McCain and other GOP leaders, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a main group behind the North American Union.

Thompson’s "Pro-Life" position in his own words: "Abortions should be legal in all circumstances as long as the procedure is completed within the first trimester of the pregnancy."

After 8 years as a US Senator from Tennessee, Thompson racked up some votes that should be cause for concern. He voted YES:

1. in support of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act- the law to silence grassroots conservative groups.
2. to expand NAFTA. Modeled after the European Common Market, NAFTA was a first step toward open borders in North America and the North American Union.
3. on allowing more foreign workers into the US for farm work. (Jul 1998)
4. on authorizing use of military force against Iraq. (Oct 2002)
5. for permanent normal trade relations with China. (Sep 2000)
6. for funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. (Aug 1999)
7. to fund the GOP Medicare prescription drug benefit debacle.

Thompson also seems to believe in a robust military presence worldwide and apparently advocates continued US military involvement in Iraq."(Freemarket Prior to his run for U.S. Senate, he was a Washington lobbyist for 20 years.

Why anybody who is a thinking conservative would support Fred Thompson is beyond me. If this is the best we can do, I'm not sure Hillary would be that much worse.

Taxing The Rich

Bill Gross is the head guy at PIMCO Advisors and manages billions in bond portfolios. Wall Street listens keenly when he talks about the economy and interest rates. The Dow fell 226 points on Tuesday in part because Gross said some bearish things during a mid-day appearance on CNBC.

Despite being very wealthy himself, Gross apparently has little patience for rich people who pat themselves on the back for their philanthropic activities.

Of course the wealthy fire back in cloying self-justification, stressing their
charitable and philanthropic pursuits, suggesting that they can more efficiently
redistribute wealth than can the society that provided the basis for their
riches in the first place. Perhaps. But with exceptions (and plaudits) for the
Gates and Buffetts of the mega-rich, the inefficiencies of wealth redistribution
by the Forbes 400 mega-rich and their wannabes are perhaps as egregious and
wasteful as any government agency, if not more. Trust funds for the kids,
inheritances for the grandkids, multiple vacation homes, private planes,
multi-million dollar birthday bashes and ego-rich donations to local art museums
and concert halls are but a few of the ways that rich people waste money – and I
must admit, I am guilty of at least one of these on this admittedly short list
of sins. I have, however, avoided the last one. When millions of people are
dying from AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth
society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum.
A thirty million dollar gift for a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a
Napoleonic coronation. MORE

I disagree with the solution he offers, which is that the government should use tax policy to redistribute wealth from the haves to the have-nots. His broader point isn't far off, though. Wealthy people who support opera, ballet, symphony, etc, and then pat themselves on the back for their "generosity" are being a little disingenuous. These may be worthy causes, but they aren't "charity."

Slices of Life in Iraq

Here are a couple of interesting stories about daily life in Iraq. First the troops. Even those who live on fortified bases and never encounter potential enemies personally are far from safe.

I was wandering over to the condiment table in the mess hall in search of a
sachet of tomato ketchup when the siren sounded: a long, low wail. In a split
second my fellow diners – camouflaged soldiers and civvy-clad contractors – had
flung themselves to the floor or crawled under the nearest table, their arms
held protectively over their heads.

A day earlier I had been talking to two medics as they relaxed under a
camouflage net waiting for their next emergency call. As the siren came, they
threw themselves on the ground with military precision while I clumsily fell off
my chair and on to a pile of cigarette ash.

The scenes can appear a little comic. But there is nothing funny about
them for the soldiers who live day in, day out with rockets and mortar bombs –
so-called indirect fire attacks – pounding the British airbase in Basra up to
ten times a day.

The first that anyone on the base usually knows about it is from the
siren, by which time the rockets or mortar bombs, mostly leftovers from Saddam’s
looted arsenal, are already well on their way from their launch several miles
away. Their target is the air traffic control tower, the only structure tall
enough in a sprawling base as big as a small city to be seen from miles away. MORE

Next, the aftermath of a car bombing in Bagdad sounds like pure chaos.
After the blast near a busy shrine in the mostly Shiite Muslim area of
Karrada, Iraqi firefighters, medical workers, Iraqi police, traffic police,
Iraqi soldiers, American troops, members of two powerful Shiite militias and
ordinary residents jostled for control. With so many forces picking through
charred, bloody wreckage, no single group emerged as the one in charge,
and the
already frenzied scene spiraled into pandemonium...

the scene near the shrine in Karrada, Iraqi firefighters turned their
on smoldering vehicles as medics attended to the injured or recovered the
dead. Iraqi police interviewed one set of witnesses while Iraqi soldiers
questioned another batch. U.S. troops, who arrived in a convoy of Humvees,
shooed away all the bystanders, including other possible

Two unarmed Mahdi Army militiamen barred a journalist from
photographing the scene, even though government authorities said they had no
objection to the photos. Three self-described members of a so-called popular
committee, the neighborhood patrols established by the Iranian-backed Badr
Organization, set up their own checkpoint about 100 feet from where U.S. and
Iraqi authorities had gathered.

Neighborhood residents, skeptical of
all the security forces'
abilities, took it upon themselves to record
license-plate numbers in their
personal notebooks. Some residents even began
collecting shrapnel and other
evidence, launching their own
"investigation." MORE

This doesn't sound like anarchy; it sounds worse than anarchy. No one trusts anyone else even in the midst of disaster. It certainly doesn't seem like the kind of situation that is amenable to compromise.

How The War Will End

Last week in a WSJ Opinion piece, Kimberley Strassel nicely outlined how the U.S. involvement in Iraq is likely to end. It's all in the hands of a few key GOP senators.

The recent flurry of action-inaction by certain GOP senators is instead about laying the groundwork for September. They're putting President Bush on notice, with a goal of mau-mauing him into changing course. Come September, they hope Gen. David Petraeus will deliver a cautiously optimistic report to Congress, making the case the situation has improved. Mr. Bush could then propose his own pre-emptive troop drawdown. Not the immediate pullout demanded by Democrats, of course, but a slower withdrawal, over the next 18 months.

In this way, they can take credit for moving Mr. Bush into winding down the war. They'd not only please war critics, but provide themselves cover with the base, since they'd simply be backing Mr. Bush's own plan.

Don't underestimate the number of senators pushing for this outcome. At least a dozen or so who are up for re-election next year, who have so far publicly held tight in their support for Mr. Bush's surge, are in the back room demanding the White House throw them a political bone in September.

What happens then? For now, the White House can claim mini-victory. Its near-term goal was always to squeak through the summer without binding legislation, giving the surge time to show gains. It has now accomplished that goal: Mr. Reid has appeased his antiwar left with his all-night Iraq pajama party, and is calling it quits on further Iraq-related amendments. House Minority Leader John Boehner meanwhile manfully convinced his own caucus to sit tight in July, losing only four members to recent withdrawal legislation.

Nervous Republicans are nonetheless forcing Mr. Bush into a corner this September. MORE

Ms. Strassel goes on to say that she doesn't especially like this scenario, but it sure sounds plausible to me. As a domestic political matter, what's been missing in the whole debate is a face-saving way out for all sides - Bush, Democrats, and the congressional GOP - to announce victory and please their respective supporters. The scenario described in this article is probably as close to a grand compromise as we are likely to get.

Now if, in September, Bush fights to continue an open-ended commitment in Iraq, I think the little support he has left in his own party will desert him. The GOP senators have drawn a line in the sand. After September, there will be a veto-proof anti-war majority in the Senate, and quite possibly in the House as well. Things could get very ugly in Washington this fall. At the very least, September will be an interesting month.

Opinion of The Troops

In the midst of our current national debate about the Iraq war, we periodically hear from members of the military and/or their families who support the current campaign. The message goes something like this: "We're doing great things over there. You don't see it in the media. We can win, just give us more time!"

The can-do spirit of the American soldier is wonderful. It enables our military to accomplish amazing things. On the other, the mere fact that the troops want to do a certain thing does not mean they should do that thing. Whether it is a thing worth doing is for our national leaders to decide.

In the United States the leaders are, ultimately, the voters. If opinion polls are to be believed, most voters want our occupation of Iraq to end sooner rather than later. Slowly but surely this desire is being reflected by our elected representatives in Congress, which is, in turn, gradually convincing the president to move in the same direction. If you don't like this, then what you are really saying is that you don't like democracy, which is what our military exists to defend.

This is from Jeff Huber, retired U.S. Navy commander:

Ultimately, it is moot to discuss what the troops think or how they feel about a particular war they happen to be fighting because it doesn't matter what they think or feel about it. America doesn't exist to support its military. The military exists to support America. We should not engage in warfare for the sake of keeping the troops happy any more than we should avoid wars that the troops don't want to fight. The opinions of the troops--from buck private to four-star general--carry no more validity than the opinion of any civilian citizen. MORE

Advocating an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq does not mean one doesn't support the troops. As dedicated and heroic as they are, it is not the job of soldiers to decide when, where, and under what conditions the nation goes to war. Of course, soldiers are also voters so they have a say in the matter, as do their families. At this point, it appears they are being outvoted. Or maybe, weary of repeated deployments with no end in sight, the soldiers are ready to retreat. It doesn't really matter either way. That decision is "above their pay grade," as we used to say.

To those troops who want to continue the fight: you have fought valiantly in a war which we should never have entered. You've done your best and we can ask no more. Your nation needs you alive for other, more important missions. Enough of you have died. It is time to come home.

Talking About Nothing

At the Thai restaurant in Campbell, the talk was spicier than the fish.

Someone asked why jocks thank God if they win a game. Does the Almighty really care if you covered the spread? And isn't scaring children by telling them they could burn in hell a form of child abuse?

That kind of gleeful, irreverent chatter, which lingered long after the restaurant closed, was the whole purpose of the meeting for the Santa Clara Brights, a group that formed in late 2003. The outings give atheists a chance to openly express their beliefs without fear of rejection or retribution. MORE

I've never understood how otherwise intelligent people can decide to adopt atheism. I can accept that one might be agnostic, i.e. not knowing whether or not there is a higher power. That position at least acknowledges that there are limits to human understanding of the universe. To be absolutely certain that there is no god, as atheists are, strikes me as just as much a matter of faith as anything that Christians, Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists believe.

However that is not the point I wish to make here. The story quoted above is about a group of atheists who gather together to, apparently, celebrate their lack of belief. I don't get how this works. Religious people of any persuasion assemble regularly to discuss their beliefs, read scriptures, consider how religious doctrines relate to everyday life, etc. These are all positive activities, and there is a virtually unlimited variety of things to learn and do.

Atheists, it seems to me, really have nothing to talk about. There are only so many different ways you can say "there is no god." Doesn't it get boring after awhile? What more is there to discuss? If atheism is so obviously correct and doesn't require any faith, then why is it necessary to study it?

The answer, I think, is that these sort of meetings are mainly social affairs. Fine - they can talk about sports, weather, politics, art, music, whatever turns them on. If atheists are more comfortable when they know their companions are equally certain there is no god, more power to them. Enjoy yourselves however you like.

Yet, as the story reveals, there is more going on at these events. Since there is apparently little to say other than "God doesn't exist" and "How about those Cowboys?" the conversation turns to how dumb and gullible those religious people are, and the many ways in which we are supposedly plotting to oppress the infidels.

In fact, in my experience most religious people don't give atheists a second thought. We're busy doing other things. When atheists and Christians clash, as in the matters of school prayer, Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall, etc, the atheists usually get their way. So I don't get why they feel so threatened.

The weirdest part is the exclusivity. Atheists seem positively terrified of having to discuss religious matters with a religious person. Why is this? Deep down, I think they know that their beliefs are no less "religious" than those of Christians, etc. Because they cannot admit this without exposing the vacuity of their own logic, they avoid situations where they might have to defend their own religion against others.

Think about it: if you go from atheism (there is no god) to agnosticism (I don't know if there is a god), you at least have to admit that there might be a god. And if you admit this, then you have to entertain the arguments in favor of there being a god. You can, and must, have honest conversations with religious believers. Maybe you still aren't convinced - but at least you think about it. An atheist cannot cross that line.

Outwardly, atheists appear to dislike and sometimes even hate religious believers. Dig a little deeper, and I think they are actually afraid of us. That's why they feel the need to have atheist-only social events.

I'm sorry they feel that way. I'm sorry that some Christians, in their zeal to spread the Gospel, probably take an overly aggressive approach in talking to atheists. Christianity is all about free will. We're not about "rejection or retribution," which is what the atheists in this story say they fear. We'd like to share with everyone what we think is Good News, but in the end the decision to believe - or not believe - belongs to each individual. God respects that decision, and we should, too.

For more about atheism, you can visit Et Tu. Jen is a former atheist who made a long and thoughtful journey into Christianity, all nicely chronicled on her blog. Check it out.

How The News Works

Hat tip: Mark Shea

Fred Thompson Watch III

We now have confirmation of recent reports that soon-to-be presidential candidate Fred Thompson represented a pro-abortion group as a lobbyist in the early 1990s. Billing records from his law firm show that Thompson spent nearly 20 hours working on behalf of the group, including lengthy consultations with its president and three conversations with Bush Administration officials.

How will this effect Thompson's chances? Hard to say. Abortion appears to have faded as an issue for this cycle. There are people, like me, for whom it is non-negotiable, but most people appear more concerned with the Iraq war, terrorism, and immigration. For Fred this is a good thing because he looks increasingly shaky on life issues. I'll happily eat my words if Thompson will just give us a forthright explanation of all the conflicting statements he's made about abortion, but it hasn't happened yet.

This episode could still hurt Thompson, however, because it undermines the straight-talking next-Reagan image he wishes to project. He went from denial to don't recall to maybe to doesn't matter in less than two weeks. He's looking a lot like somebody who has something to hide.

In fact, he does have something to hide. Fred Thompson is the consummate Washington insider. He's played both sides of the fence with the #1 objective being his own enrichment and advancement. In this he has a lot in common with most politicians, and he may well be the best we can hope for on the GOP side this time. I'm still mystified by the reflexive enthusiasm that some people have for Thompson, though. As far as I can tell he is nothing but a ho-hum, mainstream Republican. If not for his acting experience I'm not sure anyone would give him a second look.

Hat tip: Poliblog

Ncube Disappoints

Having said complimentary things about Zimbabwe Archbishop Ncube's resistance to President Mugabe, I was very disappointed to learn today that he has apparently been carrying on an affair with a married woman. Mugabe agents reportedly planted hidden cameras in the Archbishop's bedroom and have vivid evidence.

If true, this is very bad on a number of levels. First, the Archbishop is not being faithful to his priestly vow of celibacy. Second, he may have contributed to the breakup of another man's marriage. Third and perhaps most important, he has squandered the moral authority that he could have used to help relieve the hunger and suffering of his people. While there is no doubt that the Mugabe regime is perpatrating great evil, Archbishop Ncube's own sin now makes it much more difficult for him to speak out effectively.

It will be interesting to see how the Vatican responds to this news. Here is an interesting article about the ways in which the Catholic Church deals with wayward bishops.

Hat tip: Crunchy Con

America's PR Challenge

Quiz time. From whom is the following quote?

"We are engaged in an epic struggle for our very survival against an implacable foe, an enemy that is doing everything in its power to change our way of life."

Was it a) President George W. Bush, or b) al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin?

Actually it was neither; I made up the quote. Sorry for tricking you, but it was to make a point. The struggle in which we are currently engaged is, on both sides, more a battle for public opinion than a military conflict. This is what will ultimately mean victory or defeat.

As Bush puts it, the struggle is “between those who yearn for peace and those who want their children to grow up in a normal, decent society, and radicals and extremists who want to impose their dark vision on people throughout the world.” But the sad irony is that this is precisely the argument, in reverse, that Al Qaeda and its many spinoffs use to justify their fight. And Al Qaeda’s people, as leading counterinsurgency strategists admit, make their case much more effectively.

An idea, of course, is only the beginning of an ideology, but if you don’t have a firm grip on it, you’re going to have trouble with all the rest. And the basic idea used by Osama bin Laden’s fellow travelers to justify their actions is that they’re under attack and on the defensive everywhere just because they’re Muslims. They could raise their families in peace and with dignity if it were not for the “dark vision” of the Bush administration and the forces of godless globalization that it represents. MORE

"Godless globalization." That's actually a pretty good description of what the U.S. has to offer the rest of the world, and thanks to modern technology they're getting it, whether they want it or not. Read on:

As Byron Farwell wrote 35 years ago in his book “Queen Victoria’s Little Wars,” the more far flung a great nation’s interests, the more pretexts for war present themselves: protecting one’s citizens or businesses; repelling an attack you provoked in the first place; filling “a power vacuum” to “restore law and order”; preventing another country from expanding its empire, or suppressing a rebellion “by those who did not understand the benefits of British rule and were ungrateful for the blessings of English civilization bestowed upon them.” President Bush often seems as puzzled by the ungrateful Iraqis as Queen Victoria must have been by the Afghans or, for that matter, the Boers. But, of course, in those days the people Rudyard Kipling sometimes called “the Fuzzy-Wuzzies” didn’t crash airplanes into London’s towers.
Unfortunately, withdrawing all U.S. cultural and political influence from the Islamic world isn't really an option at this point. The best we can do is try to mitigate the downside our presence creates among certain segments of the population. The way to do that is with a well-designed strategy of communicating with the people who wish we would go away. It's called "public diplomacy" and the Bush Administration does a lousy job of it.

I know that "winning hearts and minds" sounds like leftist lunacy to some people. Here's the problem: there is no other way out of the current mess. We cannot kill a billion Muslims. We certainly cannot pacify them and make them like us. Our attempts to do so have had the opposite effect.
As I've said, the Islamic world is not unified against us - yet. Somehow we have to convince non-Jihadist Islam to deal with the problem of its fringe elements. Until we figure out how to do that, this war will not end. It will only get worse.

Blood Money

July 17 (Bloomberg) -- An Iranian child offender, who was forgiven for killing a man by the victim's family, is to be hanged tonight because his parents couldn't gather the blood money they were required to pay, his lawyer said.

The victim's family decided to spare Sina Paymard's life last September after he was allowed to play the flute as his last wish, Sina's lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, said.

His playing moved people gathered for the public execution to tears. Under pressure from the crowd, the family asked Sina's father to pay the equivalent of $162,000 in compensation, a practice that is allowed in Iran, the lawyer said.

``The father has only managed to gather a third of the sum, and he was told this morning that his child will be executed tonight,'' Sotoudeh said by telephone. ``Sina was 16 at the time of the crime. His life shouldn't depend on the amount of money his family can gather.'' He is now 18.

Iran this month drew international condemnation after a man convicted of adultery was stoned to death west of the capital Tehran. The Islamic Republic has one of the highest rates of executions in the world, with 124 people executed so far this year, according to Amnesty International. Two child offenders were executed in April and May, the rights group said.

Sina Paymard's hanging ``would be in complete violation of international law,'' Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program, said in a statement. ``The Iranian government must take immediate steps to halt this execution.'' [source]

My first instinct upon reading this story was "those barbarians." Then it occurred to me that the story does not really explain the circumstances of the murder, so it's possible the sentence is appropriate. Some will argue that crimes committed at 16 should not draw a death sentence, and I would generally agree, but this case might be the exception. We don't have enough information to say.

What enrages people about this story is probably the money angle. Here we have someone who is going to die for no reason other than lack of money. It really is that simple. His family can't come up with the required amount, so Sina has to die. The victim's family appears to feel they have granted enough mercy.

On the other hand, is this really so different from the way we administer justice here in the United States? The people who end up on Death Row are almost always lower-class, sometimes impoverished, and often members of minority groups. Most were represented at trial and on appeal by overworked, underpaid, court-appointed attorneys.

In contrast, on those rare occasions when a wealthy person is accused of a capital crime, a legal "dream team" is assembled and the full menu of legal and scientific arguments are brought forth to show reasonable doubt. I'm convinced that in such cases many prosecutors choose not to seek the death penalty in order to avoid an expensive, embarrassing spectacle.

So in our case, the money goes to the lawyers instead of the victim's family, but the fact remains: those who commit capital crimes but also have sufficient cash can usually escape death. Those who lack these resources usually end up dead. Such is the state of justice in America.

I'm not saying we are no better than Iran in this department. Were I falsely accused of a crime, I would much rather be tried here than there. Nonetheless, we can't always say that our way is better. May God have mercy on Sina Paymard's soul, and that of his victim.

UPDATE 7/18/07: News reports say that Iranian authorities have delayed Sina's execution for 10 days to give the family time to raise more money. Click here for latest Google News updates.

Phantom Senator

I will not vote for anything until General Petraeus passes on it. No senator, no congressman—no matter how much I respect you—you’re not going to be able, in my opinion, to give the advice that General Petraeus can give, and I’m going to wait till he comes back and listen to his advice and not some politician.

--Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), speaking on Meet The Press [transcript]

Attention South Carolina readers: did you know there is a new Senator representing you in Washington? He looks like Lindsey Graham, but his real name is Petraeus. That is at least the practical effect of what Lindsey Graham has decided to do by delegating his senatorial vote to the General. He said it right there on national TV: "I will not vote for anything until General Petraeus passes on it."

Now I am sure General Petraeus is a very smart and patriotic man. However, we have a tradition in this country called "civilian control" of the military. Senators are supposed to consider the facts and make up their own minds when asked to vote on issues of national defense. Their job is not to simply rubber-stamp whatever suggestions or requests the generals make to them. If it were, we could save a lot of time and money by eliminating the Senate.

Sen. Graham apparently does not want to make up his own mind. He will instead abdicate the position to which South Carolina voters elected him, allowing General Petraeus decide how he will vote. I do not know what state the general calls home. Hopefully he has the same priorities as the people of South Carolina, since your actual Senator clearly does not.

Incidentally, it was Sen. Graham who, during the recent debate over the immigration bill, said that those who opposed that highly flawed bit of legislation were "bigots." That aggravated a lot of people and it seems likely that his political career is finished. Maybe that is why he is outsourcing his vote to General Petraeus; he needs the time to look for a new job.

Let's Go Home Now

BAGHDAD, July 14 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that the Iraqi military and police are capable of maintaining security "any time" the Americans want to leave the country. more

Well, this is good news. President Bush keeps saying we will leave Iraq as soon as the Iraqis are ready to defend themselves. That time now seems to be here, according to their own leader. So how fast can we get the troops back home?

Subsequent to the above quote, an Iraqi spokesman said the Prime Minister had been "misunderstood." Apparently Mr. al-Maliki needs additional training in how to speak from both sides of his mouth while revealing nothing consequential. Hmm, I wonder who could teach him how to do that?

Meanwhile, it seems that some of the Americans in question are more than ready to leave Iraq to the Iraqis.

Immigration Corrupts

Those, like me, who want tighter border enforcement and other measures to reduce illegal immigration like to point out that the immigrants are illegal. Such disregard for the law is not good, we constantly remind each other.

While this is absolutely true, what we often forget is that we're all part of the problem. People come to the U.S. seeking jobs because we want cheap labor. We want inexpensive gardeners, cooks, and housekeepers. The economy responds to this demand by attracting people who are willing to work at relatively low wages. We don't see what happens beneath the surface.

This article expresses the point well. You must read it. The author tells the story of his daughter going to work in a popular restaurant with many Latino employees.

One evening, my daughter noticed two new Latinos quietly eating in the kitchen. She asked a co-worker who they were, and he said he had just watched them being “delivered.” He had been having a smoke on the back steps a few minutes earlier when a truck drove up, pulling behind it a sedan. A man got out, went to the car, opened the back door, pulled back a blanket, and two men, who had been lying covered up in the backseat, got out. One of the restaurant’s owners came out of the cafĂ©, spoke with the driver a bit in their native language, then handed the driver a wad of bills and took the men inside, where they were given dinner.

Reportedly, the delivery man was paid $1,500 for each of the workers. The fee, as well as a lot else, had to be worked off. The owners house their workers in two decaying split-level homes about a mile from the restaurant: their own ethnic group’s workers in one, Latinos in the other (the owners’ sister serves as a kind of frat-house mother). The workers are shuttled between the houses and the restaurant in vans. Housing and transportation fees are deducted from their wages. Whatever money is left, the workers seem mostly to send back to their homes.

The Latinos whom my daughter met were hard workers. And they were in the United States because they loved their families and had the courage to go to desperate measures to try to provide for them. But with their world caged between the interior of the restaurant, the continually shuttered split-levels where they are housed, the van that shuttles them between the two, and the fear that they were criminals, they are isolated and deeply lonely. And they found comfort in those two traditional friends of the lonely and the poor: alcoholism and prostitution.

He goes on to explain how this state of affairs has a corrupting influence on virtually everyone involved: the employers, the workers, their families, the customers, law enforcement, and the public at large. Then he goes for the jugular:

The politicians—all those other folks at the Rotary tables—seem to be pitching their rhetoric and tailoring their legislation more to a view of capturing the loyalty of a new voting block than finding a solution that is both charitable and honors the law. Law enforcement, perhaps through resigned frustration, appear to be blind to the situation. But equally blind are the patrons. Because the mountains of food are so cheap, we still wait for the tables. We just have to pretend not to see the dark-skinned boy speaking Spanish hauling the plates back to the kitchen.

But then we have a tradition here in the South of not seeing dark-skinned boys hauling plates back to the kitchen, don’t we? Oh, that hurts. Maybe it’s not that the illegal immigration business is corrupting us here in Tennessee. Instead, perhaps it’s our corruption that’s attracting the illegal immigrants. The problem now, just as it was in 1845, isn’t the exploitation of an underclass. The problem is our greed that makes the exploitation tolerable.

Comparing today's illegal immigrants to slaves isn't quite right. For one thing, the government does not officially regard them as non-humans who can be treated like property. No one is forced to come work in the U.S., and squalid as the conditions here may seem, it is often even worse back home. On a practical level, though, it is easy for employers to take advantage of illegal workers and difficult for the workers to resist. This leads to a kind of quasi-slavery that most Americans choose to overlook while we continue enjoying the fruits of their labor.

In former times many of the menial jobs now held by immigrants were done by young Americans. I don't have any hard data on this, but today's teenagers seem far less likely to be gainfully employed than past generations. Some are intensely involved with academic or athletic pursuits. Others just stay home and play video games. The need for labor has not gone away, however, so we end up with immigrants filling the jobs. Is this state of affairs an effect of illegal immigration, or the cause of it? The answer isn't as clear as we like to think.

Whether it was a conscious decision or not, the reality is that we Americans have collectively decided our youth should have lives of leisure. We achieve this by importing the youth of other nations to do the work that keeps our lifestyles affordable. We pretend not to notice the conditions under which these children of other people live and work. That's why we gripe when we have to look at them, or when they clog the emergency rooms. Something is wrong with this picture.

The point is that the current situation is not good for anyone. All the parties receive certain benefits, but in the long run all are harmed as well. I don't have a magic answer. Maybe there isn't one. The legislation that has been proposed so far falls short, or is even counterproductive.

As with so many other contentious matters of public policy, I suspect we won't face up to this one until we face a crisis. By then none of the solutions will be easy or pleasant. It's the price we pay for the lives we lead. I hope it's worth the cost.

Hat tip: Crunchy Con

Firefighters vs. Rudy

This video is from a firefighter's union which believes Rudy Giuliani is not quite the hero of 9/11 that he portrays himself to be. I can't say whether the allegations are accurate or not. But if you are someone who supports Rudy because you think he'll protect you from terrorism, you need to watch it. Click here if you don't see it embedded below.

Candidate for a Pardon?

He lied for what he thought was a good reason, just like Scooter Libby. I wonder if Bush would grant clemency in this case...

A father's attempt to cover for his son during a probation hearing in Williamson County ended with both men going to jail.

Timothy Earl Willett, 60, told 26th District Court Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield on Wednesday that he'd never seen his son, Timothy Jason Willett, driving a car, which would have violated his probation. The 33-year-old was on probation for his fourth DWI conviction when he was arrested in March in Volusia County, Fla., for driving with a suspended license.

The younger Willett has DWI convictions in Travis and Williamson counties, the most recent coming after a 2002 wreck on Williamson County Road 201.

Part of his probation required having an interlock device placed in his car, but Willett told his probation officer that he did not own or drive a vehicle, District Attorney John Bradley said. Such devices block a vehicle from being turned on if alcohol is detected.

A recording of a collect call from the Williamson County Jail played in court indicated that the two had talked about lying to the judge.

"I told (Timothy Jason Willett's girlfriend) if they point-blank ask me, I'm lying," Willett is heard telling his son.

On Wednesday, the elder Willett was charged with aggravated perjury, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Timothy Jason Willett was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He may also face charges of aggravated perjury.

"I've never seen this kind of a blatant disregard for the oath that I've seen here this afternoon," Stubblefield said. Source

Zimbabwe Storm Clouds

Back around Easter I wrote about the ongoing oppression in Zimbabwe, and the valiant efforts of the nation's Catholic bishops to resist. The situation is not getting any better.

Zimbabwean Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube says he accepts that his opposition to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe may cost him his life.

"The church has a prophetic role to speak the truth when no-one else dares to," the Archbishop of Bulawayo told the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Meanwhile, a crackdown on aid groups suspected of opposing the president has begun, state media reports.

All non-governmental organisations must now reapply for their licences.

Last month, the UN said that 1.4m Zimbabweans would need food aid this year, as harvests were only due to meet one-third of the country's requirements.

Mr Mugabe blames the worsening economic crisis on a Western plot to remove him from power. MORE

Many people are starving in Zimbabwe. Outside groups are willing to help, but the Mugabe regime is tying them up with bureaucratic delays. I'm pretty sure there is no "Western plot" to overthrow Mugabe. You know why? Because the West doesn't care about Zimbabwe. Unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe doesn't have anything we can't live without. We don't see the people dying on TV. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we know there are African people suffering. Then we change channels and forget about them.

That being the case, the people of Zimbabwe are on their own. Archbishop Ncube is doing what he can to protect his flock without much help from anyone else on Earth. Fortunately, he has other Resources to draw on. May God bless and save him.

Fred Thompson Watch II

The leading non-candidate for the GOP presidential nomination finally responded to news that he lobbied on behalf of a pro-abortion group in the early 1990s.

Fred Thompson is backing off his flat denial that he once lobbied for an abortion-rights group. He now says he doesn’t remember it, but does not dispute evidence to the contrary.

The climb-down could be a significant embarrassment for a prospective candidate with a plain-spoken appeal and who has courted the GOP’s anti-abortion base, although Thompson and his advisers had signaled for several days that it was coming.

Realizing that opponents in both parties are mining his legal career for damaging ammunition, Thompson also is engaging in a bit of preemption. He writes in a column posted Wednesday by the conservative Power Line blog: “[I]f a client has a legal and ethical right to take a position, then you may appropriately represent him as long as he does not lie or otherwise conduct himself improperly while you are representing him. In almost 30 years of practicing law I must have had hundreds of clients and thousands of conversations about legal matters. Like any good lawyer, I would always try to give my best, objective and professional opinion on any legal question presented to me.” MORE

This is nonsense. Yes, in our adversary legal system it is important than both sides of a case have competent attorneys who represent them zealously. The lawyers do their best, and usually justice prevails. A lawyer who represents an axe murderer is filling an important role in seeing that everyone receives a fair trial.

That's not what Thompson was doing in this case. There was no trial involved, and his "client" was not in any legal jeopardy. He was using his political connections at the White House to try to get favors for one side of a political fight. The pro-abortion group was at risk of nothing more than not getting their way on a matter of public policy.

I can guarantee you that if Thompson had lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of, for example, a group wanting more rights for illegal immigrants, the same people who think his representation of a pro-abortion group is no big deal would be singing a different tune.

The story linked above also notes that the Thompson non-campaign was planning an announcement sometime before August 5th, but may push that back further in order to get past this controversy. We'll see. I continue to think the wheels will come off the Fred Thompson bandwagon once he enters the race and has to face actual questions about actual policies.

Smiling W

Peggy Noonan zeroed in today on one of the problems with President Bush.

As I watched the news conference, it occurred to me that one of the things that might leave people feeling somewhat disoriented is the president's seemingly effortless high spirits. He's in a good mood. There was the usual teasing, the partly aggressive, partly joshing humor, the certitude. He doesn't seem to be suffering, which is jarring. Presidents in great enterprises that are going badly suffer: Lincoln, LBJ with his head in his hands. Why doesn't Mr. Bush? Every major domestic initiative of his second term has been ill thought through and ended in failure. His Iraq leadership has failed. His standing is lower than any previous president's since polling began. He's in a good mood. Discuss.

Is it defiance? Denial? Is it that he's right and you're wrong, which is your problem? Is he faking a certain steely good cheer to show his foes from Washington to Baghdad that the American president is neither beaten nor bowed? Fair enough: Presidents can't sit around and moan. But it doesn't look like an act. People would feel better to know his lack of success sometimes gets to him. It gets to them.

His stock answer is that of course he feels the sadness of the families who've lost someone in Iraq. And of course he must. Beyond that his good humor seems to me disorienting, and strange.


I suspect people pick up with Mr. Bush the sense that part of his drama, part of the story of his presidency, is that he gets to be the romantic about history, and the American people get to be the realists. Of the two, the latter is not the more enjoyable role.

Americans have always been somewhat romantic about the meaning of our country, and the beacon it can be for the world, and what the Founders did. But they like the president to be the cool-eyed realist, the tough customer who understands harsh realities.

With Mr. Bush it is the people who are forced to be cool-eyed and realistic. He's the one who goes off on the toots. This is extremely irritating, and also unnatural. Actually it's weird. MORE

Mark Shea and Rod Dreher have more thoughts on this column.

The Fallible Media

I wasn’t going to write about this but people are asking me. Apparently, for some I am now the go-to guy when thorny theological squabbles break out in the media.

It is indeed a good bet that anytime the mainstream news reports on religion they will be make serious errors. Such is the case with a document issued by the Vatican this week regarding the nature of “The Church.” Here are some headlines I found:

Here is the actual document that is the source of all these stories. It is not very long. I dare you to actually read it and find the type of attacks on non-Catholic Christians the news stories talk about. It is really quite respectful of other Christians, without downplaying the real differences between them.

Furthermore, it is not a “proclamation” or a “decree.” It doesn’t even come from the Pope, though he did approve it – as he does most everything the Vatican issues. The words are not his, however.

Anyway, the document states nothing new. It is a clarification of what the Catholic Church has always said, and is directed mainly at renegade Catholic theologians who argue that Vatican II changed some key doctrines.

The word “church” is used in an extremely precise way. I will try to summarize: Catholic belief is that the “Church” is defined by its ability to dispense valid sacraments, primarily the Eucharist. Sacraments are valid only to the extent they come from the Apostles and their successors.

The Catholic Church can do this because its bishops can trace their ordination, in an unbroken line, all the way back to St. Peter. This is called “Apostolic Succession.” The Orthodox churches can do the same thing, to different Apostles. Hence they are also considered Church with a capital “C” even though they do not recognize the Pope's authority.

Protestants and other Christian churches don’t have Apostolic Succession. Some lost it in the Reformation, while newer denominations never had it. Hence they cannot have valid sacraments and are not considered “Church” in the same sense as Catholic and Orthodox are.

This does not mean that these other groups aren’t Christians and aren’t saved. Quite the opposite, as the document in question explicitly says:

It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.

In other words, the Catholic Church acknowledges that other Christian denominations have significance and importance and are instruments of salvation, even “though we believe they suffer from defects.” I don’t get why this should surprise or insult anyone. All religions believe that other religions suffer from defects. That’s what makes them religions in the first place. Catholic doctrine is that truth is truth, no matter who is saying it. The fact that other churches disagree on some subjects does not diminish the value of the things that they do get right. In other words,

…the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.

So how do you get from this rather benign statement to the kind of ecclesial insult that the news stories reported? All I can say is that the reporters and/or their editors either didn’t want to get the story right, or didn’t care. The document is short; an educated person can read it in 15 minutes or less. The Vatican has plenty of people who are available to answer questions from reporters. Any reporter who covers this beat should be at least generally familiar with Catholic beliefs. Yet they still got it wrong. Makes you wonder how hard they are trying, does it not?

In any case, many non-Catholics who have read the stories obviously feel hurt, insulted and angry. That was clearly not the intent, and I’m sure people at the Vatican regret the misunderstanding. Unfortunately, no matter what they say it will get twisted around by people who have other agendas. The Pope knows this very well. Fortunately, he does not let it dissuade him from speaking the truth that he believes the world needs to hear.

I'm reminded of John, chapter 6, when Christ said He is the Bread of Life. We are told that many of the disciples turned away and left because of His words. He had already patiently explained himself at great length. Some people still didn't get it. We don’t see Christ chasing after them, saying "Guys, wait! Let me clarify! My PR consultant is right here!" He simply taught His lesson with love and charity - and then allowed people to choose. That is, I think, what Pope Benedict tries to do. We would all do well to follow his example.

UPDATE 7/15/07: Here is an interesting article about this controversy by Albert Mohler, who is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Mohler says he is not offended at all and concurs that there is really nothing new here. He appreciates that these important differences are being clarified, for it is a necessary step toward having a conversation about them.

He also makes another important point. The Catholic view of "Church" is built on whether the sacraments are valid. Baptists - and most other evangelicals - do not accept the entire concept of "sacraments." In the Baptist view, baptism and the Lord's Supper are purely symbolic acts. This is why Protestant churches that do have sacraments, such as Episcopalians, are the most offended by the Vatican document. It calls the validity of their sacraments into question. Because Baptists don't care about sacraments, they are not as concerned about this point.

UPDATE 7/20/07: Here is an illustrated ecumenical conversation about this issue that explains it better than anything else I've seen.

Hitting Below The Belt

Suppose - and this is very painful for any parent to do - that your child has just been killed in a terrible accident. Do you know how you would react? Thankfully, most of us don't. The classic Kubler-Ross model has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some people move through these quickly, others take more time. Sometimes people grieve in different, private ways that no one else understands.

Sometimes people in grief don't make sense. They get angry for no logical reason and look for someone to blame. They say things they don't really mean. Should we hold this against them? I think most people would say no.

I bring up all this because of a recent incident in Texas where a 13-year-old boy drowned in raging floodwaters despite attempts by emergency workers to rescue him. The boy's father criticized the rescuers, saying they killed his boy. In fact they did everything they could, exactly as they were trained, and at the risk of their own lives. It simply wasn't enough.

So how do we react? Personally, I would give any father in such a situation a lot of latitude. He's going through hell and not thinking clearly. I don't expect him to see things from the rescuer's point of view. He just wants his boy back. He is surely blaming himself as well. This maelstrom of emotions will subside eventually, but for now I don't think it is fair to hold anything he says against him.

Some people disagree, and even chose to go on the attack against the father on their blogs. This strikes me as a pretty heartless reaction, but it's par for the course with Texas Fred. He goes off half-cocked and says things he probably regrets, but then is afraid to admit he was wrong.

Speaking of Texas Fred, he is also annoyed because some people call him a racist based on his affinity for Confederate flags. I have no idea if he is a racist or not, and he correctly notes that he has every right to display whatever symbols he wishes on his blog. However, in the post he never denies being a racist, which I think is the first thing most people would do when so accused. I'm not sure what to make of that. I hope it isn't true because he says a lot of good things on other subjects.

Impeachment Support Growing

Professor Bainbridge reports on some startling survey results: 46% of U.S. voters would approve of the House beginning impeachment proceedings against President Bush. I knew his approval ratings were low but this is amazing.

I don't expect the House to do any such thing, but I wouldn't rule it out. At this point Bush can't count on Congressional Republicans to defend him. Democrats haven't done anything, I suspect, mainly because Pelosi and other leaders calculate that they are better off letting Bush twist in the wind. Also, a successful impeachment of Bush would simply make Dick Cheney our president, which is the last thing anyone wants.

Of course, they could impeach both Bush and Cheney. Who becomes president then? The Speaker of the House is next in line. Here the speculation gets really interesting. If it started to look like the Senate would actually remove Bush and Cheney, and Pelosi as president was seen by Democrats as unpalatable, I could see her stepping aside temporarily. The House Democrats would then select someone else as Speaker, and that person would ascend to the presidency after Bush and Cheney were removed.

Who would it be? The Constitution doesn't require that the Speaker be a member of the House, though that has always been the case in practice. The House Democrats, being a majority, would be in a position to pick most anyone they wish. The back-room dealing would no doubt be intense. I know this sounds far-fetched, but before 2000 who would have thought the Electoral College outcome would depend on hanging chads in Florida? Strange things can happen. Just remember you heard it here first. :)

Horrors, We're Losing Money

WSJ reports that Hollywood's recent fixation with intense blood and gore is not paying off as hoped.

Wedbush Morgan Securities analysts William Kidd and Jung Hwang argue in a research note today that movie maker Lions Gate Entertainment needs to branch out. Its core horror franchises — “Saw” and “Hostel” — may be running out of steam. Also, and more interestingly, they argue there may be too many horror movies on the market.

They say 25 horror films are being released this year, compared with an average of 8.5 horror films a year from 1982 to 2006. They note recent films are generally more gory and sadistic than in years past. Unfortunately, they say, more and more gruesome film-making doesn’t translate into additional buckets of box-office blood. They estimate the 2007 horror picture slate will generate about $600 million from 25 films; in 1999, the box-office take was $611 million from only 11 films. more

Here we have powerful evidence that money doesn't necessarily outweigh ideology in Hollywood. Check out this list of the top grossing films of all time, adjusted for inflation. Notice a trend? Here are the top five: Gone With The Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T., The Ten Commandments. The rest of the list is much the same.

The fact is that decent family films tend to make a lot more money for the studios and producers than adult-oriented horror, violence and sex-themed movies. Yet Hollywood continues to push out blood, gore, and soft-core porn. This tells me they are less interested in making money than in pushing their own twisted visions onto society.

When the public doesn't buy it, what's the response? Push the envelope by getting bloodier, gorier, and sexier. It still doesn't work, but the idea of making movies that normal people might want their kids to see still doesn't occur to many producers.

This sort of thing drives economists crazy, because it proves that business people aren't always rational. The ideology motive can often outweigh the profit motive.

Terror is Coming

From Friday's Wall Street Journal:

Two years ago, analysts at the Department of Homeland Security speculated that the quick-hit strikes in Iraq favored by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could inspire a shift in tactics by Osama bin Laden's planners, who had favored spectacular, coordinated assaults. Specifically, they feared the two styles could be merged.

U.S. security officials worry their fears may be coming true: That attempts by a diverse group of jihadis to attack nightclubs and airports in Britain signal a new model of Islamist terrorism has arrived, less ambitious than the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but potentially deadly nonetheless -- and even more difficult to detect.

The possible tactical shift -- involving seemingly untrained operatives using simple weapons and hasty planning -- raises difficult questions for security services, especially regarding resource allocation. Should they prepare to detect and disrupt only major catastrophic attacks? Or shadow every possible extremist in the hope of pre-empting more likely attacks on, for example, shopping malls using a homemade gasoline bomb or legally purchased firearms?

I've wondered for a long time why we haven't seen more such attacks in the U.S. since 9/11. As the article notes, small-scale attacks can still inspire terror. The death toll adds up quickly. Car bombs and the like are not technically difficult, especially for those dedicated enough to lose their own lives in the process.

Remember the D.C. sniper attacks in 2002? For three weeks, one grown man and a teenage boy wreaked havioc in the nation's capital, terrifying millions of people and killing ten. The everyday act of walking from your car into the mall, or pumping gas at a service station, struck fear into every resident of the region.

Now imagine it had been a well-funded group of 4-5 jihadists instead of the two amateurs. By using multiple vehicles, simultaneous shootings in different locations, and a variety of weapons they could probably have gone much longer without being caught. The area was close to being paralyzed as it was. It could have been much worse.

As talented and thorough as our intelligence agencies may be - and we know they have prevented at least some attempted attacks - it defies logic that almost six years after 9/11, we haven't seen even small-scale incidents in the U.S. The only explanation I can think of is that the jihadists must not want to carry out such terrorism here. At least not yet.

Bush loyalists will argue that the Iraq conflict is keeping the al Qaeda forces pinned down over there so we don't have to fight them here. More likely, our Iraq involvement is providing the jihadists with a training ground to perfect their tactics. Nothing we are doing in Iraq stops any jihadists who want to come to the U.S. and create terror. All they need to do is have a few guys walk across the border with some cash. Within a few days, they could buy everything they need to create havoc.

If you think 9/11 made an impact, just wait until somebody named Abdul blows himself up inside a crowded Starbucks in some quiet Midwestern suburb. Will thousands die? No. Nonetheless, your life will never be the same. People will be afraid to go out in public. The economy will grind to a halt. You will lose even more of your civil liberties as politicians overreact. Muslims, even peaceful ones, may have to be rounded up for their own safety as mobs seek vengeance. America will change - and it won't be for the better.

I'd like to think that this scenario won't come true, but it is probably just a matter of time. Furthermore, there is really nothing that anyone, even Mayor Giuliani, can do to stop it. Turning America into a police state is not as easy as it sounds. The attempt would simply inspire other kinds of violent resistance.

In scripture we see fire mentioned often as a tool of purification. Will America be purified by fire at the hands of Islam? I'm afraid so. I don't see a lot of alternatives.

Fred Thompson Watch

As desperate so-called conservatives beg Fred Thompson to enter the presidential race, his credentials as Last Best Hope Of The Right continue to crumble. Two new items have just emerged.

First, it seems that Fred lobbied the White House on behalf of a pro-abortion group in 1991. His spokesman issued a flat denial that any such thing ever happened. Yet according to press accounts, there are multiple witnesses who remember Thompson's extensive involvement. His engagement is also shown on the minutes of the pro-abortion group's board meeting.

If Thompson had a long record of outspoken pro-life views, I might give him the benefit of the doubt on this. His Senate voting record was fine on this issue. On the other hand, his past statements do not suggest a deeply held conviction about life issues. Someone who declines to say whether he believes life begins at conception isn't pro-life.

It may be that Thompson previously supported abortion rights and has since changed his mind. Many people have made that journey. If that is the case, he would be well advised to say so publicly instead of maintaining this facade that he has been pro-life always. It is becoming very hard to believe.

The second item has to do with Thompson's involvement in the Watergate investigation. He was a congressional staffer during the inquiry into the Nixon Administration and is credited with revealing the now-infamous White House taping system. It now emerges that Thompson actually tipped off Nixon's lawyer about the evidence he had uncovered.

The source for this is Thompson's own book, so he will have a hard time denying it. Along with his TV role on Law & Order, Thompson's Watergate involvement has a lot to do with his straight-shooter image. It appears the image is more than a little bit distorted.

If all you Fredheads out there want to continue backing this guy, I won't argue too much. He is certainly preferable to Giuliani as the GOP candidate. Just don't fool yourselves into thinking that Fred Thompson is a true-blue conservative. He's actually a lot like the tough-talking good ol' boy with a great pedigree but minimal leadership experience who currently occupies the Oval Office.

For people who are perfectly happy with Bush, Thompson is your guy. If you're not happy with Bush, then supporting Thompson is nuts. All you will get from him is more of the same.

Hat tips: Born at the Crest of the Empire, The Anti-Fred, and Faciamus!

UPDATE 7/8/07: The "desperate so-called conservative" referenced above has taken note of this post. I'm glad you found it useful. Keep reading Driving Out The Snakes and you will learn much more.

Meanwhile here is a good post explaining why these stories aren't simply the result of a news media desperate to take down someone they perceive to be a big threat.

Muslim & American?

A letter asking the question "Can a good Muslim be a good American?" has been circulating by e-mail and on blogs for some time, apparently. I just saw it this week when Texas Fred posted it.

Can a good Muslim be a good American?

I forwarded that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years.

The following is his forwarded reply:

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon God of Arabia.

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam. (Qu ran, 2:256)

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Qu ran (Koran).

Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day. MORE

It goes on from there with the same theme, and concludes that no, one cannot be both a good Muslim and a good American. Such generalizations are usually dangerous, and this one is no exception.

I am not an expert on Islam. However Google quickly led me to a couple of discussions about this particular letter where people take issue with the various points. Look here and here. The answers are not nearly as clear-cut as the original letter makes it seem.

My issue is with the initial premise of the letter. I think there is probably wide variation on exactly what constitutes a "good Muslim." To understand this, consider the religion most Americans are more familiar with: Christianity. Exactly what is a good Christian?

There are a lot of ways to answer that question. Christianity includes Roman Catholics, several varieties of Orthodox churches, a bunch of Middle Eastern sects like the Coptics, hundreds of Protestant denominations (Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and many varieties of Presbyterians and Baptists), plus offshoots like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists. Then there are tiny cults like the Branch Davidians.

All these groups can read the same scriptures and study the same history, yet they still come up with radically different theologies and ideas about being a "good Christian." At times the disagreements have become violent, all completely under the umbrella of "Christianity."

Given this, I have a hard time believing that a billion Muslims are in monolithic agreement about much of anything. Christians certainly aren't. That's not the way it should be, but it is a fact.

If someone is already inclined to evil, it's not hard to justify it from Scripture. For example, the story of Elisha and the bears (II Kings 2:23-24) might lead you to think God enjoys sending his creature to kill children. To reach that conclusion, though, you have to take the story out of context and ignore the real meaning of it. Likewise with Psalm 137:9, which a casual reading would lead you to think we should take the children of our enemies and dash them against the rocks. I would not be surprised if many of the Koranic verses that are used to justify jihad are of a similar nature.

To take the analogy further, history gives us many examples of Christians doing terrible things to one another as well as to non-Christians. Does the fact that a small group of Christians decides to kill Jews and blacks mean that Christianity itself is aligned against Jews and blacks? No, not at all. Those individuals are wrong. It is equally wrong to extrapolate their misdeeds against an entire population of people that does not join them.

So is it possible for a good Muslim to be a good American? I think so, but it's probably very difficult. Islamic culture and attitudes are different from what we have in the U.S. (I could argue, incidentally, that it is very hard for a good Christian to be a good American, too, if by "good American" you mean the full embrace of our increasingly depraved and materialistic culture. But that's another subject I will have to address later.).

It does not follow from this that all Muslims mean harm to Americans. Islam and Christianity co-existed on this planet very nicely for hundreds of years, with only occasional conflicts - many of which were instigated by the Christian side.

If, as we are told sometimes, the Muslims hate us for our freedom, why did they wait so long to do anything about it? In fact, in the early years of independence the U.S. got along fine with numerous Muslim nations. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century Muslims were not on a jihad against the West.

The Koran has said whatever it says for centuries, but it's only in the last fifty years or so that we see it being used as inspiration for war on the West. Why? You can sum it up in two words: Israel and oil. These are the flashpoints, are they not? All our conflicts grow out of those two disputes.

Now resolving these conflicts, now that we are in them, is no simple thing. I would submit that demonizing the other side is not likely to help and may even hurt. Letters like the one quoted above serve mainly to inspire Americans to blind hatred of Muslims. Since relatively few Muslims are doing violent things to us, this hatred accomplishes little except to make the conflict bigger than it already is. It makes people like Texas Fred decide that genocide against Muslims is the answer to our problems.

Clearly, some Muslims are our enemies and we have to deal with them. Equally important are efforts to keep those who are not already against us from becoming so. We have enough challenges already without manufacturing more of them.

The Libby Precedent

In his decision to commute Scooter Libby's prison term, President Bush said the sentence was "excessive." While the president's power in this area is absolute, it seems reasonable to expect some sort of logic and consistency. If Libby's sentence was excessive, then Bush has to admit that a similar sentence, given to another person under similar circumstances, is also excessive.

It seems there actually is such a case, one in which the Bush Administration took a far different approach.

Similarly, in a case decided two weeks ago by the United States Supreme Court, the Justice Department persuaded the Supreme Court to affirm the 33-month sentence of a defendant whose case closely resembled that against Mr. Libby. The defendant, Victor A. Rita, was, like Mr. Libby, convicted of perjury, making false statements to federal agents and obstruction of justice.

Mr. Rita has performed extensive government service, just as Mr. Libby has. Mr. Rita served in the armed forces for more than 25 years, receiving 35 commendations, awards and medals. Like Mr. Libby, Mr. Rita had no criminal history for purposes of the federal sentencing guidelines.

The judges who sentenced the two men increased their sentences by taking account of the crimes about which they lied. Mr. Rita’s perjury concerned what the court called “a possible violation of a machine-gun registration law,” while Mr. Libby’s of a possible violation of a federal law making it a crime to disclose the identities of undercover intelligence agents in some circumstances.

When Mr. Rita argued that his 33-month sentence had failed adequately to consider his history and circumstances, the Justice Department strenuously disagreed. SOURCE

So why is it that Victor Rita has to go to prison, and Scooter Libby does not? The only answer that passes that laugh test is that Scooter Libby is the president's friend, and Victor Rita is not. Andrew Sullivan put it succinctly: "The bottom line for Americans is this: George Bush’s friends do not go to jail. Your friends do."

There's another problem, too. Mr. Bush's decision to simply commute Libby's prison term rather than grant a full pardon will affect many other cases, according to legal scholars. Libby's sentence was the result of Justice Department "sentencing guidelines" that the Bush Administration has vigorously enforced, and even sought to increase in some cases. When the president said that Libby's sentence was excessive, he implicitly criticized the sentencing practices of his own Justice Department.

“By saying that the sentence was excessive, I wonder if he understood the ramifications of saying that,” said Ellen S. Podgor, who teaches criminal law at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. “This is opening up a can of worms about federal sentencing.”

By yesterday morning, in fact, Mr. Bush’s arguments for keeping Mr. Libby out of prison had become an unexpected gift to defense lawyers around the country, who scrambled to make use of them in their own cases.

“The president of the United States has come in on his own and said, ‘30 months is not reasonable in this case,’ ” said Susan James, an Alabama lawyer representing Don E. Siegelman, the state’s former governor, who is appealing a sentence he received last week of 88 months for obstruction of justice and other charges.

“It’s far more important than if he’d just pardoned Libby,” Ms. James said, as forgiving a given offense as an act of executive grace would have had only political repercussions. “What you’re going to see is people like me quoting President Bush in every pleading that comes across every federal judge’s desk.”

Indeed, Mr. Bush’s decision may have given birth to a new sort of legal document.

“I anticipate that we’re going to get a new motion called ‘the Libby motion,’ ” Professor Podgor said. “It will basically say, ‘My client should have got what Libby got, and here’s why.’ ”

As a purely legal matter, of course, Mr. Bush’s statement has no particular force outside of Mr. Libby’s case. But that does not mean judges will necessarily ignore it. SOURCE

Get the idea? The consequence of Bush's leniency for Libby is that judges now have reason to impose lesser sentences on other criminals. I'm sure this is not what he intended, but it will be the result. So much for law and order.

Hat tip: Poliblogger