Sunday, January 9, 2005

Gonzales and Torture

Jonah Goldberg on the Alberto Gonzales confirmation hearings:

As befits the funhouse logic of such hearings, a number of issues are being confused, conflated and confounded. First of all, most of the things that are being called torture are something a bit shy of torture. Being forced to sit in a cramped area until you give up valuable intelligence is rough, but this ain't beanbag. Being draped with an Israeli flag or even being "waterboarded" - where a detainee's face is surrounded with a wet blanket and he's made to feel like he's drowning isn't torture either. Our own cadets at the Air Force Academy have been water-boarded in training. The war against torture should begin at home!

Second, much of the stuff that does qualify as unacceptable treatment is not condoned by the White House or the Pentagon. The Pentagon is prosecuting the Abu Ghraib offenses, not defending them, and it has always said the Geneva Convention would apply in Iraq.

As for the Geneva Convention and al Qaeda, you'd have to be higher than a moonbat to treat them as signatories to it. Everything they do is a violation of the convention. It may be fun to mug for the cameras and criticize Gonzales for saying that the Geneva Convention is "outdated" when it comes to al Qaeda. But unless you think Khaleed Sheikh Mohammed deserves an allowance in Swiss francs that he can spend at the local canteen, you have to concede Gonzales is right.

For excellent insight into how our military interrogators actually handle their job, as opposed to how the Democrats imagine them to be handling it, this outstanding article by Heather Mac Donald in City Journal is a must read. Mac Donald gives us the most thorough and interesting account of the American use (or non-use) of torture in the WOT. It's a lengthy piece, but well-worth the read.

For our part it is astonishing that we claim to be engaged in a life and death struggle against terrorists, but act as if we're playing a child's game, punctiliously observing rules designed to insure that we lose. The article will make you wonder how serious the paper-pushers in the Pentagon really are about protecting American lives.

Time's Up on Newdow's Fifteen Minutes

Even the thoroughgoing secularists at Dispatches From the Culture Wars are weary of Michael Newdow's jejune attempts to banish any and all traces of religious expression from our public life:

I am obviously one of the more staunch advocates of church/state separation one is ever likely to encounter, as volumes of my writing can easily attest. But let me say this: it's time for Michael Newdow to go away. He is the father who filed the lawsuit to have the words "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, a lawsuit he won on the merits at the appeals court level only to have the Supreme Court overturn that decision due to a lack of standing. He has since refiled that suit on behalf of other parents and the whole process has begun anew. I think he's correct on the Pledge case, though I think it was argued pretty badly, and overall I just don't think it's a big deal.

His latest case, however, takes nitpicking to a whole new level. He has now filed suit in Federal court claiming that the fact that Bush (and all other presidents, as far as I know) will have a minister say a prayer at his inauguration constitutes an illegal "establishment of religion". Now, it's one thing to say that the government cannot force school children to pray, as the courts did in 1963. It's quite another to say that a President cannot choose to have a prayer spoken at his own inauguration ceremony.

The government is forbidden from taking official positions on religious matters, but that doesn't mean that government officials cannot offer their opinions or participate in religious ceremonies or, for that matter, spend 12 hours a day praying if they want to. They just can't give those things the force of law, demand that the government endorse their beliefs, or force others to participate in them.

Michael, it's time for you to go away. This is no longer about taking a principled stand for the establishment clause, it's now about your ego and your desire to stay in the public eye. Your 15 minutes are up.

Precisely. Perhaps Newdow should read David Gelernter's essay in Commentary that Viewpoint featured on Saturday. For that matter, so should Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

Social Security Reform

Whether reforming the Social Security system results in improving it or not, one thing is pretty certain and that is that Republicans are going to do their best to change it. It won't be an easy process, however, since Democrats will fight them every step of the way.

David Brooks lays out some of the political difficulties facing reform and then discusses what the president's role in getting reform enacted might look like. He writes:

The president's role - at the Inauguration and the State of the Union address and after - will be to educate the country about the problem and lay out some parameters. He doesn't need to say what the legislation should look like. That's too wonky. He should talk about what the country should look like. Social Security is more than accounting; it's values.

Here are some of the values he might endorse:

First, Social Security reform should liberate our kids, not shackle them. It should eliminate the fiscal overhang so they have the money to tackle the problems that will arise in their own day.

Second, the reform should be transparent, so that people can see what kind of return they are getting on the money they put into the system. People should have information about their own lives.

Third, it should enhance people's control over their own retirement. In a self-governing democracy, citizens should do for themselves what they can do for themselves.

Fourth, people should be encouraged to work longer. In an age in which many live into their 90's, we should be making better use of people in their 70's and 80's.

Fifth, we need a savings revolution. The plan should encourage the nation to save more, to create more capital for America's future greatness.

This is a time to trust the legislative process. Social Security has a better chance of passage if Congress leads. It's also time to think big. Social Security reform plus tax reform go a long way toward getting you to an ownership society.

Brooks' outline of the political obstacles to reforming the system are also interesting. Follow the above link to the whole column to read what he says.