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The official blog of the National Center for Public Policy Research, covering news, current events and public policy from a conservative, free-market and pro-Constitution perspective.

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A Penny or a Pistachio

Ed Haislmaier writes to say:

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has an intriguing "thinking outside of the box" idea for the rewards the U.S. is offering for the capture of bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. Friedman writes:
The U.S. should announce that it is lowering the reward for bin Laden from $25 million to one penny, along with an autographed picture of George W Bush. At the same time, it should reduce the $25 million reward for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the chief terrorist in Iraq, to one pistachio and an autographed picture of Dick Cheney.

Don't get me wrong. Bin Laden and Zarqawi have murdered people. I want them brought in dead or alive - and preferably the former. If I thought $100 million would do it, I'd be for it. But these mega-rewards clearly are not working, and in many ways they are sending the totally wrong signals.

First, both of these guys are obviously megalomaniacs, who think the world is just hanging on their every word and video. All we are doing is feeding their egos, and telling them how incredibly important they are when we put a $25 million bounty on their heads. We are just enhancing their status on the Arab street as the Muslim warriors standing up to America, and encouraging other megalomaniacs out there. We should be doing just the opposite-letting these two know we don't think they are worth more than a penny or a pistachio.

But there is an even more important issue of principle at stake. We should not be paying Iraqis or Arabs or Pakistanis to get rid of their problem. Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are a curse on their civilization. Their capture will have real value to them, to us and to the world, only if it is done by Arabs and Muslims for the sole purpose of purging their civilization of these two cancer cells.

Also, if bin Laden's or al-Zarqawi's own neighbours turn them in for nothing, it will have a much greater deterrent effect on others. After all, what story would you rather read after bin Laden's capture?

"Osama bin Laden was apprehended this morning after villagers turned him in to local police. The villagers collected the $50 million reward and then fled their country in ski masks, not wanting anyone to know their identities."

Or, "Osama bin Laden was captured this morning after villagers tipped off local police. One of the villagers, Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, told reporters: 'This man sullied the name of Islam, a religion of mercy and compassion. There is a special place in hell for him. I will dance on his grave...'"
While Friedman's suggestion may seem to some to be too clever by half, I actually think it has some merit following the successful elections in Afghanistan and now Iraq. In the context of Middle Eastern cultures -- which take far more seriously than ours the giving and receipt of personal insults and are almost as concerned as the Japanese about "face" -- it would be seen as a deliberate, calculated insult and a loss of face for the terrorist masterminds. It would also show who is the "strong horse" and who is the "weak horse," to turn bin Ladens's phrase against him. In that regard, it should be noted that it was similar logic that motivated Ariel Sharon to crack down on Palestinian terrorists in Gaza at the same time he pushed through the Knesset the removal of Israeli settlements in Gaza. It was widely commented on that Sharon did that to send the Palestinians the clear message, "Israel is withdrawing from Gaza for its own reasons, not because you forced us to."

Here's how I would modify Friedman's basic idea if I were the President. I'd announce that the rewards offered were being reduced to a much more modest, but still attractive, amount (say, something between $10,000 and $25,000). Such an amount would be equivalent to that for a garden variety murderer in the U.S. but still a big inducement for tipsters in those impoverished countries, while still clearly communicating the calculated insult that Friedman intends. Furthermore, I would say that the reason the U.S. is taking such a step is that the successful elections in Afghanistan and Iraq clearly demonstrate that the peoples of those countries are well on the way to responsible self-government, that neither terrorist leader has any meaningful support left in either nation, and that the vast majority of Afghans and Iraqis understand that they need to get rid of those guys if they want to build free, secure and prosperous societies. Of course, we will continue to work with the Afghan and Iraqi governments and our other allies (Coalition partners, Pakistan, etc.) to hunt them down, but doing so is now a "mopping-up" operation.

The other, and bigger, quibble I have with Friedman is that I don't think there is much value to his idea (not excerpted above -- see linked full version) of reprogramming the money into some kind of Arab scholarship fund.

Remember, some of the top terrorists, including a number of the 9/11 hijackers, have (or had) wealthy, western educated backgrounds and established their key cells in the U.S. and Western European countries. I think the better approach would be to announce that the funds will be redirected to a couple of major, high-profile infrastructure/reconstruction projects in those countries (I'm thinking power plants, water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants, etc.) that the "masses" will benefit from, and I would publicly identify where and what they will be -- effectively daring the terrorists to stop us from building them. Given their egos, that would either drive them to attack those sites (where, of course, we would position troops and armor to deal with them), or force then to accept further humiliation by effectively conceding that they can't stop us from going ahead.

Another aspect of the PR effect would be that such projects would be a kind of "reward" to the common people of those countries who have suffered from the terrorist depredations, and a "thank you" for seizing the opportunity for self-government that our troops have provided them.

Thus, we could simultaneously insult the terrorists and reward and flatter those who braved the terrorists to vote in the Afghan and Iraqi elections. Kind of a "two-fer" and the sort of thing the State Department calls "public diplomacy." How about it Mr. President? Madame Secretary?


Three Cheers

Three cheers for these doctors and lawyers.


Ronald Reagan's Birthday

Today would have been Ronald Reagan's 94th birthday.

Trey Jackson has assembled a collection of Reagan tributes and links on his Jackson's Junction site in honor of the man and the President.

This was my favorite link (accessed via the "trip down memory lane" link on Jackson's Junction). The quality of the picture isn't much but when you read that President Reagan kept it in his desk and why, it gets interesting.

Addendum: Jeff Harrell of the blog Shape of Days, who is too young to properly appreciate Reagan as President, says "President Reagan has been a bigger influence on me in the years since his retirement than he ever was while he was in office." Read his post here.


Dutch Flag Banned -- in Holland?

It has been several years since I have been in Europe, so perhaps this won't surprise others as much as it surprised me.

Read the comments, too -- some are good, as is this suggested link to an article entitled "Europe: They Name is Cowardice," translated from the German press.


Cookie Lawsuit

Eric Berlin describes another mind-boggling lawsuit: Two teenage girls get sued for baking cookies for a neighbor.

The problem wasn't the cookies. It was the neighbor.

See also: The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler.

Addendum, Feb. 6: Wizbang reports that radio station KOA in Denver has raised money to pay the damages the girls were ordered to pay to the neighbor. Click the link on Wizbang to read an AP report saying the husband of the plaintiff (the lady for whom the girls baked cookies) allegedly has been making harassing phone calls to the family of one of the girls.


Regarding Ward Churchill: Abolish Tenure

Rarely do I criticize another for being old-fashioned, but I find the very notion of tenure distastefully medieval.


In the Middle Ages there were few institutions offering scholars the opportunity to ponder -- not just few alternatives to universities, but very few universities, period. If that were the case today, perhaps tenure for the purpose of protecting academic freedom would make some sense. But it isn't, and it doesn't.

A simple question: If professors at universities need tenure to feel free to think, how is it that think-tanks do so well without it?

Associate Professor Mike Adams at the University of North Carolina says: "Tenure is supposed to foster academic freedom on our nation's campuses. Instead, it fosters socialism, laziness, and incivility."

Let's get rid of it. That way, the next time a Ward Churchill situation develops, his employer -- the public, in this case -- can simply do what it thinks best.


Gary Kasparov: With Whom Will the West Side?

Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov asks: In the coming battle for freedom within Russia, with whom will the West side?

Here's part of what he wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

...The Duma recently passed a law that punishes foreigners who "show disrespect to the state of Russia." Without a pause, the director of the federal agency in charge of the media stated that it's time to filter Internet content. Criticism of Mr. Putin and his regime simply will not be tolerated. Censorship and repression are threatening to surpass oil and gas as Russia's biggest exports.

Students and pensioners have recently taken to the wintry streets to protest. In a healthy democracy politicians would step in to lead an angry crowd. Not in Russia, where there's no political advantage to being against any Kremlin policy, no matter how many voters are against it. The only vote that matters is Mr. Putin's.

With the democratic opposition systematically pushed into the margins, real change will come from the people, not from the top. We are starting from scratch. In places like Russia liberty is more than a filler for speeches. Democracy is more than something that interrupts your life every four years. People born in free countries think that we are exaggerating the loss of freedoms when in reality things are even worse. You see Mr. Putin sitting at the table with the G7 leaders and assume he can't really be all that bad.

This is not a plea for help, but a warning about what we're going to have to deal with soon. The patience of the Russian people is wearing thin. With whom will the West side in this coming battle, the Russian people or the KGB?


Better Watch Where You Pitch Your Tent...

...the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand is growing at the rate of 12 feet per day.

For more on glaciers and global warming, I recommend this.


John Samples: Defund Everyone

John Samples of the Cato Institute explains why the Armstrong Williams affair is just the tip of the iceberg: The Bush Administration, he says, "spent $250 million on public relations during its first term," while President Clinton spent about $128 million on publicity during his second term.

A far bigger point, however, and one which Samples makes in his conclusion, is that the government should not be providing subsidies to politically-active groups. Samples doesn't give a figure for federal government grants to groups of this type, but I bet the figure would make $250 million seem like a pittance.

Jonathan Adler has more on the subject on The Commons Blog, with links to information about sizable federal grants to environmental organizations.


First Annual Flat Earth Award

This is an award I would love to earn. But I have to admit that the three finalists are more worthy choices than I. Great men, all.

And, alas, regardless of how hard I work to spread the truth about the global warming theory, I probably won't get a chance to win in future years, since the award for best truth-telling is being awarded by students as part of the course work in a Middlebury College class. The kids are bound to lose interest as soon as they aren't getting college credit for the enterprise.

The class is called "Building the New Climate Movement" (is this climate science or political science?), and it is taught not by a climate scientist, but by an Assistant Professor of Economics.

I majored in economics myself, but I don't recall ever being asked to build a greenie movement for credit. (Back in the old days, we were so deprived.)

The kids cite this article as proof of a scientific consensus in favor of the global warming theory.

I wonder what the kids think of this -- assuming the fine economists at Middlebury College (tuition and fees $40,400 per year) have told them about it.

Is it fair to expect impartial scholarship for a mere forty grand a year?


Previewing the Volcker Investigation

The Heritage Foundation has released a paper providing guidance on how to judge the report the Volcker Investigation is releasing today.

Heritage's Nile Gardner says there is a "strong possibility" the report will be a "whitewash of most of the U.N.'s leadership, including the Secretary-General."

The Volcker Committee lacks, Gardner says, the powers it needs to conduct a full inquiry:

The Independent Inquiry Committee is severely handicapped by its dearth of investigative power. Even if it wanted to, the committee clearly does not possess the means to fully investigate this gigantic scandal. As outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Danforth has pointed out, the IIC is not equipped with the necessary tools to conduct a thorough investigation:
The fact that [Volcker] doesn't have subpoena power, he doesn't have a grand jury, he can't compel testimony, he can't compel production of documents and witnesses and documents that are located in other countries might be beyond his reach...

Those are tremendous handicaps.... [W]hat is possible, is that his focus would move from the bad acts, from the criminal offenses to something that he will view as more manageable - namely the procedures and was it a tight enough procedural system, which might be interesting but not the key question to investigate.
At the same time, there are also major questions regarding the independence of the Volcker Committee.... It remains unclear how many former U.N. employees are involved with the committee. It is self-evident that a truly independent inquiry into U.N. corruption should not be staffed either by former U.N. employees or by any other people with significant ties to the U.N.

Without any kind of external oversight, the Volcker Committee is clearly open to U.N. manipulation...
Addendum, Feb. 4: Everything I Know Is Wrong has a good write-up of the Volcker report.


State of the Union Reaction

We've seen the Democratic Congressional leadership's "prebuttal" to the President's State of the Union Address.

Here's the other side of the coin, from some conservative Republicans in the House:

"It takes a lot of courage for any politician to touch the so-called 'third rail of politics.' By laying out a vision for Social Security reform that guarantees benefits for current retirees and creates personal savings accounts for younger workers, President Bush has shown that he's more concerned about preserving and improving the program than he is about partisan political fallout."

- Rep. Jeff Flake, AZ-6

"As the leader of energy policy in Congress, I was encouraged by the president's remarks regarding our need to decrease dependence on foreign sources of oil. I am determined to fight on Capitol Hill for a comprehensive energy policy that meets America's energy needs while reducing our reliance on other nations for help, and look forward to the support of the White House."

- Rep. Joe Barton, TX-6

"As President Bush made clear tonight, freedom is a priceless right. Whether it is in the form of joyous new voters in Afghanistan and Iraq or in the form of financial freedom here at home through responsible Social Security reform and tax reform, freedom must be promoted and defended. I share President Bush's bedrock embrace of freedom and his desire to create an 'ownership society.' I look forward to working with President Bush on policies that will enhance liberty and make the American dream a reality for more people."

- Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, FL-25

"George Bush is a leader who has proven he is not afraid to tackle tough issues head on. I look forward to working with the President to spread freedom and hope around the world, strengthen families here at home, and reform those programs that simply cannot meet the demands of tomorrow. In the end, these policies will make our nation safer and stronger and our future more secure."

- Rep. Joe Pitts, PA-16

"I agree with the President that there is a real need for responsible reform of our broken social security system. I support creating personal accounts that allow younger workers to invest a portion of their contribution, while still protecting the benefits many seniors depend on."

- Rep. Dan Burton, IN-5

"President Bush really made the case for bi-partisan support on a lot of these issues. The things he discussed - strengthening Social Security, making America safer, celebrating freedom - these aren't Republican or Democratic issues, they're American issues. We've got a lot on our plate this year, but I think the President's optimism will be contagious and we'll accomplish a lot, too."

- Rep. Phil Gingrey, GA-11

"I share the gratitude of the President - and the American people - for the amazing job being done by the men and women of the United States military who are fighting for freedom around the world. The success of elections in Iraq and Afghanistan speaks to the courage of our men and women in uniform and the Iraqi and Afghan people - and is an encouraging step forward in the pursuit of freedom and democracy throughout the world."

- Rep. John Kline, MN-2

"By speaking of his support for our troops and his determination to win the war on terrorism, President Bush continued to provide the resolute leadership that Americans need during a time of war. I'm proud and supportive of President Bush's vision to keep our nation safer by advancing freedom in the world."

- Rep. Joe Wilson, SC-2

"President Bush has set a bold second term domestic agenda and pledged to continue the effort to protect and advance freedom across the globe. Although this aggressive plan will likely encounter political resistance, it is important to recognize that the President's leadership will foster greater security for future generations, both at home and abroad."

- Rep. Tom Feeney, FL-24

"The health of every American is important to me both as a congressman and as a physician. President Bush's State of the Union Address has set out a bold agenda. We are in a health care revolution poised to make incredible changes. Through my work on the Energy and Commerce Committee, I plan to make America's health care the standard by which all others are judged."

- Rep. Michael C. Burgess, TX-26

"From continuing to wage the war on terror, to creating new opportunities for every American, President Bush's State of the Union Address serves as a blueprint for a new era of freedom, security and prosperity. I look forward to working with the President as we forge the policies that will move America forward."

- Rep. Connie Mack, FL-14

"Although politically perilous issues, energy, tax reform and social security must be addressed; This President is obviously the right man for that job. We can't confuse the seeming stoicism of the Democrats with their obvious politics of obstruction that are stifling this country from forward progression. The President's bold agenda in every arena, including a comprehensive energy plan and urgent social security reform, will save future generations from having to spend trillions of dollars that could mean the vital difference between a bitter America and a better America."

- Rep. George Radanovich, CA-19

"President Bush's commitment to driving perpetrators of terror back into their foxholes continues to bear fruit. Just three days ago - amidst intimidation, threats, and actual violence - the people of Iraq spoke out against the past oppression of Saddam Hussein and his dynasty of tyrants and spoke loudly for democracy. I was privileged to witness first hand, during my visit to Iraq this weekend, the unfolding of democracy that has resulted from the President's steadfast leadership and dedication to extending freedom and liberty."

- Rep. Judge Ted Poe, TX-2


John Howard Defends U.S. to Europeans has a report that will cheer anyone who wonders why America is not appreciated more overseas.

Hint: It has to do with Australia's John Howard accusing some European nations of "ridiculous" anti-Americanism.


Heritage Policy Weblog: Blacks, Social Security and the Associated Press

The Heritage Foundation's Heritage Policy Weblog chides the Associated Press for saying that "only" the Heritage Foundation has said that the present Social Security system cheats African-Americans.

Hey AP, haven't you ever heard of Google?


NAACP to IRS: Drop Dead

This story about the NAACP refusing to comply with an IRS request for documents -- a typical IRS action in an audit of this type -- amazes me. Does the NAACP really think it can retain its tax-exempt status while refusing to comply with an audit -- or are the documents the IRS wants so damning, the group has little choice but to try a hail-Mary strategy?

As the AP reports it:

The NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, is refusing to cooperate with an IRS investigation into whether its chairman made an improper political speech, charging that the timing of the probe was itself politically motivated.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said in October that the group's tax-exempt status was under review after its chairman, Julian Bond, gave a speech that criticized President Bush.

In a letter to the IRS on Thursday, NAACP attorneys said the group will not hand over documents requested in the probe and argued that the IRS followed improper procedure by launching its exam before the group filed its 2004 tax return...

...The IRS could request that the Justice Department ask a federal court to enforce the summons and hand over the requested documents.
Under tax law, charities are not allowed to endorse candidates or support their election or defeat. Without taking a position on whether the NAACP did this, I can say (speaking as the CEO of an organization that operates under these rules) that there is nothing you can say on your tax return that makes it OK to engage in otherwise prohibited political activity.

Perhaps the NAACP thinks it can intimidate the IRS into backing down. I am skeptical that it can.

This matter makes the resignation of Kweisi Mfume as the NAACP's president, which became effective just a few weeks ago, all the more interesting in retrospect. Perhaps the resignation is unrelated, but it is worth noting that Mfume resigned rather unexpectedly before the audit began, but after the IRS's intention to conduct an audit became known to the NAACP. Perhaps Mfume perceived the audit would prove to be a painful experience for the group -- and preferred not to be associated with the results?


Patrick Moore: "Environmental Movement Has Lost Its Way"

The National Center's Ryan Balis has suggested I recommended this Miami Herald op-ed by Patrick Moore to blog readers.

Moore is a founder of the environmental group Greenpeace.

In the op-ed, Moore explains why he left Greenpeace ("By the mid-1980s, the environmental movement had abandoned science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism. I became aware of the emerging concept of sustainable development: balancing environmental, social and economic priorities. Converted to the idea that win-win solutions could be found by bringing all interests together, I made the move from confrontation to consensus.").

He also complains that the present day environmental movement brings us "environmental policies that ignore science and result in increased risk to human health and ecology," and explains. Sample sentences:

On Greenpeace wanting to ban vinyl: "Apart from lowering construction costs and delivering safe drinking water, vinyl's ease of maintenance and its ability to incorporate anti-microbial properties is critical to fighting germs in hospitals."

On nuclear power: "Nuclear energy is the only nongreenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand."

On activists who want to stop tree harvesting: "If we want to retain healthy forests, we should be growing more trees and using more wood, not less."

On the campaign against salmon farming: "Salmon farming takes pressure off wild stocks, yet activists tell us to eat only wild fish. Is this how we save them, by eating more?"

I'd like to quote more, but then I would be quoting the whole thing.


Maybe the Teachers' Union Should Sit in the Corner for a While

Washington State's Evergreen Freedom Foundation is wryly noting the National Education Association's participation in this week's national "No Name-Calling Week," because the NEA's Washington affiliate has referred to Evergreen and its staff as "lying dirtbags," "hate group," "evil band of zealots" and "trolls."


Most Outrageous Lawsuits of 2004

Randy Cassingham has just announced the winners of the True Stella Awards for the most "wild, outrageous, or ridiculous lawsuits" of 2004.

You can read a short summary of all six winning lawsuits here.


Optimistically Cynical

From Cranky Neocon:

Today, I am going to be a misty-eyed optimist. Tomorrow, I'll probably read that over seven million Iraqis are actually CIA operatives.


Glad He's Back

I never pictured Beldar with a beard...