Tag Archives: Rick Moran

The Raymond Davis Case

Rick Moran:

Raymond Davis, the alleged CIA contract employee who was charged with murder in Pakistan after gunning down two would be robbers, has been freed by a Pakistani court.

Pakistan’s English language daily Dawn reports:

A Pakistan court on Wednesday freed CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who was accused of murdering two men in Lahore, after blood money was paid in accordance with sharia law, the Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said.“The family members of the slain men appeared in the court and independently verified they had pardoned him (Davis),” provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah told a private television.

“He has been released from jail. Now it is up to him. He can go wherever he wants,” he added.

The lawyer representing the victims, Asad Manzoor Butt, said he was not allowed to appear for the hearing. The lawyer alleged that Davis possibly escaped from the prison with the consent of the authorities, DawnNews reported.

The lawyer further claimed that he was kept in unlawful confinement, according to DawnNews.

PML-N spokesman Pervez Rasheed the Punjab government was not involved in the release of Davis, DawnNews reported.

Could all of that be true? Anything is possible but Dawn is not the most reliable media outlet. At the time of Davis’ arrests, they reported that the two street thugs he shot were “commuters.”

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

All it took was cash to end an acrimonious spy standoff between the U.S. and its Pakistani frenemy.

Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor held in a Pakistani jail since late January, is a free man. He reportedly left Kot Lakhpat prison after family members of the two men Davis allegedly killed agreed to accept $700,000 per family in compensation for their losses.  (The exact total is in some dispute.) Blood money: it works.

To say the case inflamed Pakistan is an understatement. Some 47 people signed up to give witness statements in Davis’ scheduled trial, including cops and hospital workers. Little wonder: while Pakistan’s government and military tolerates the CIA’s drone strikes in the tribal areas, popular sentiment is outraged by the presence of American spies roving Pakistani streets, as Davis apparently was.

A Pakistani court charged him with murder — Davis claims he shot the two men in self-defense when they attempted to rob him — and declined to rule on his claims of diplomatic immunity, something Washington insists Davis possesses. But that’s now overtaken by events: the Guardian’s Declan Walsh tweets that Davis is “en route to Kabul, landing shortly.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, praised Davis’ release and blasted Pakistan for detaining him in the first place. “If Pakistan wants to be taken seriously as a state based on the rule of law, it must respect its international obligations,” Rogers said in a statement. “Pakistan and the U.S. cooperate on many levels because it is in our mutual interest. Irresponsible behavior like this jeopardizes everything our two nations have built together.”

Huma Imtiaz at Foreign Policy:

As March 16th dawned over Pakistan, perhaps no one except for the powers-that-be realized that Raymond Davis would soon be free.

Earlier in the morning, the Lahore Sessions Court had indicted Davis, a CIA contractor, for murder, after he allegedly shot dead Faizan Haider and Mohammad Faheem in Lahore this past January 27.

Hours later, the news broke that Davis was a free man, after he paid blood money to the families of Faizan and Faheem. According to Geo News, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah announced that the families had forgiven Davis, and been paid blood money under the Shariah law of Qisas and Diyat.  Another report aired on the channel said that 18 members of both families had announced in front of the judge in Kot Lakhpat jail that they had forgiven Raymond Davis, after which cash was handed over to the families. However, the families’ lawyer Asad Manzoor Butt told Geo News that they were forcibly made to forgive Davis, after being led to jail by a man without identification.

Munawar Hasan, leader of the right-wing religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, reacted to the news by accusing the government of being slaves of the United States. “They should know that traitor governments do not last for very long,” he said. “They have mocked the law, and the families were forcibly made to sign the Diyat document. Davis was involved with terrorist organizations, and yet they have let him go. The ISI claims to love the country, but they sell people to the States in exchange for dollars, they have failed in their love for the nation today.” Hasan says protests against the release of Raymond Davis will be held in the major cities of Pakistan.

Conflicting reports have emerged about how much money has been paid to the families. Sources on various TV channels aired figures ranging from Rs. 60 million to Rs. 200 million (approximately $700,000 to $2,350,000). Davis’ whereabouts are also unknown – Dunya News said he had flown to the United States, whereas Geo News claimed he had flown to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Another story attributed to “sources” on Geo News also said that Faizan’s widow Zehra had allegedly left for the United States.

Omar Waraich at Time:

Under Pakistani law, “blood money” is a legal means of securing forgiveness from the victims. Under the qasas and diyat laws, derived from Islamic jurisprudence, a court can release an accused person if the victim’s family agrees to a satisfactory cash settlement. The Shari’a-based laws are invoked in the majority of murder cases, Pakistani legal experts say. According to government officials in Punjab, Davis was charged with murder on Wednesday but then acquitted after the families of the two victims said in court that they forgave the CIA contractor and submitted documents attesting to that. Senior Pakistani officials told TIME that each victim’s family received $700,000 in compensation — for a total of $1.4 million.

David Ignatius at WaPo:

This deal had four principal architects: Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, who shared the “blood money” idea with Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry then traveled to Pakistan, where me met with President Asif Ali Zardari, with the leaders of the Punjab government that was holding Davis, and with top officials of the ISI. Haqqani also visited CIA Director Leon Panetta the evening of Feb. 28 to share the “blood money” idea with him, according to a U.S. official. The final details were worked out by Panetta and ISI Director-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

U.S. and Pakistani sources said the process that led to Davis’s release Wednesday included a series of steps: First, the U.S. agreed to pay compensation to the families of the two Pakistanis Davis killed on Jan. 27. A Pakistani lawyer quoted by the Associated Press said the total payments amounted to $2.3 million. Another Pakistani source told me the payments were less than $1 million for each family. According to a U.S. official, the actual negotiations were conducted by Pakistanis, but the U.S. has agreed to pay the bill.

After the families reached the private financial agreement and formally forgave Davis, the settlement was recognized by the trial court in Punjab, which could then dismiss the murder charges under what is described as a standard process in Pakistani murder cases. With the murder charges dismissed, the Punjabi court resolved lesser charges against Davis, and he was freed.

An important aspect of the settlement, for the U.S., was that the principal of diplomatic immunity was never formally challenged in Pakistani courts. The Pakistani High Court refused to rule on the question and the trial court didn’t make a finding, either. That was crucial for the U.S., which feared that a legal challenge to its claim of immunity for Davis would expose hundreds of other undercover agents around the world who rely on the legal protection of their formal status as “diplomats.

John Ellis at Business Insider:

The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, emerged the winner in the show-down over the fate of CIA operative Raymond Davis.

The US position was that Mr. Davis was in Pakistan on a diplomatic passport, that he enjoyed all the privileges of that status and that the charges of murder lodged against him (he shot two Pakistanis, he says, in self-defense, which is almost certainly true) were therefore null and void.

[…]

Officially, Pakistan gets nearly $2 billion annually in foreign aid from the US.  And that figure is the public number. The actual number is much higher.  How it is that the American government can get jerked around by a government that enjoys such vast US support is a mystery.  But that’s what happened.

Lisa Curtis at Heritage:

Despite years of working closely to target al-Qaeda and other terrorists in Pakistan, the ISI and CIA had seen their relationship begin to fray, partly over Pakistan’s handling of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), which was responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistani-American David Headley, who was arrested in Chicago in October 2009 and later charged by a U.S. court with facilitating the Mumbai attacks as well as a planned terror attack in Denmark, revealed to interrogators that he was in close contact with Pakistani intelligence. As a result, the families of the six American victims of the Mumbai attack filed charges in a New York court against the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, General Shujah Pasha, for involvement in the attacks. Pasha’s tenure as Director General of the ISI was recently extended by one year by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Adding fuel to the fire, the CIA station chief in Islamabad was forced to leave the country last December after his cover was blown in the Pakistani media.

While resolution of the Davis case may help to cool tempers between the ISI and CIA in the immediate term, so long as Pakistan resists taking serious action against terrorist groups like the LeT, tensions in the relationship will persist.

Washington is increasingly and rightly concerned about the global reach of the LeT and the potential for the group to conduct a Mumbai-type of attack on U.S. soil. It is highly likely that the CIA had recently sought to develop independent sources of secret information on the group in Pakistan to avert such a possibility. Many analysts argue that the LeT is focused primarily on India and thus has little motivation to attack the U.S. directly. However, the skill with which U.S. citizen David Headley operated in close collaboration with the LeT for so many years has raised concern about the LeT’s level of sophistication and its potential capability to conduct an attack in the U.S. if it so chooses.

The Pakistani authorities must now brace for the public reaction to the release of Davis. The religious parties held numerous protests over the past several weeks against Davis’s release. Whether the Pakistani security establishment will be able to use their links to the religious parties to temper their response remains to be seen. Following the Pakistani military storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, the religious parties strongly criticized the operation, but their public protests were muted. The Pakistani Taliban, which has conducted numerous suicide attacks inside Pakistan over the last three years, will almost certainly react with further violence in retaliation for Davis’s release.

While the release of Raymond Davis is indisputably good news for the U.S and may temporarily improve ties between our two intelligence agencies, it could also heighten anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, especially if the initial news reports that the families were pressured into accepting the blood money gain traction. While one diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Pakistan has found resolution, the fundamental challenges to the relationship certainly remain.

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Ah, Paging Mike Kinsley…

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:

Speaking to a small group at MIT, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning is “in the right place” in federal custody, but the way he has been treated is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” Just now, ABC News’ Jake Tapper asked President Obama about the comments in the White House Briefing Room. “With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting basic standards,” Obama replied. “They assured me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of that has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.” In other news, apparently Manning’s no longer sleeping naked: Now he gets to have a “suicide-proof” sleeping smock.

Hilary Clinton:

Resignation of Philip J. Crowley as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 13, 2011

It is with regret that I have accepted the resignation of Philip J. Crowley as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. PJ has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian. His service to country is motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy, and I wish him the very best. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Michael Hammer will serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

STATEMENT BY PHILIP J. CROWLEY

The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law. My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discrete actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.

Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the Department of State.

I am enormously grateful to President Obama and Secretary Clinton for the high honor of once again serving the American people. I leave with great admiration and affection for my State colleagues, who promote our national interest both on the front lines and in the quiet corners of the world. It was a privilege to help communicate their many and vital contributions to our national security. And I leave with deep respect for the journalists who report on foreign policy and global developments every day, in many cases under dangerous conditions and subject to serious threats. Their efforts help make governments more responsible, accountable and transparent.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

Crowley’s Twitter personality mirrored his real-life personality — affable, edgy, sometimes sarcastic, and occasionally a little off-message. Crowley’s energy and willingness to take measured risks by going beyond the Obama administration’s standard talking points is what endeared him to the reporters he worked with each day. It was that same openness that cost him his job, after he admitted that he believed the Marine Corps’ treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

Crowley’s last tweet before resigning was a gem, but he deleted it. “We’ve been watching hopeful #tsunami sweep across #MiddleEast. Now seeing a tsunami of a different kind sweep across Japan,” read the March 11 tweet.

Of the remaining 400-plus tweets he sent out to his 24,000-plus followers, here are The Cable‘s top 10, in reverse chronological order:

  1. March 1, 7:08 a.m.: “#Qaddafi tells #ABCNews: All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me. The #Libyan people tell Qaddafi: You go first!”
  2. Feb. 26, 7:37 a.m.: “Despite #Qaddafi‘s hardly sober claim that the protesters are on drugs, the people of #Libya are clear-eyed in their demand for change.”
  3. Feb. 22, 7:28 p.m.: “We are surprised that #Argentina has chosen not to resolve a simple dispute involving training equipment. And we still want our stuff back.”
  4. Feb. 16, 7:56 a.m.: “#KimJongIl‘s son attended an #EricClapton concert in Singapore? Actually, the #DearLeader himself would benefit from getting out more often.”
  5. Jan. 22, 5:40 a.m.: “The claim by the lawyer for #JulianAssange that his client could go to #Guantanamo is pure legal fantasy. Save it for the movie.”
  6. Dec. 24, 12:40 p.m.: “The legal export of popcorn, chewing gum, cake sprinkles and hot sauce is not propping up the Iranian government. #Iran
  7. Oct. 28, 4:30 p.m.: “Happy birthday President #Ahmadinejad. Celebrate by sending Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer home. What a gift that would be. #Iran
  8. Aug. 27, 5:38 p.m.: “Americans should heed our #travel warning and avoid North Korea. We only have a handful of former Presidents. http://go.usa.gov/cAO #DPRK
  9. Aug. 20, 11:34 a.m.: “North #Korea has joined #Facebook, but will it allow its citizens to belong? What is Facebook without friends?”
  10. May 18, 10:37 p.m.: “It doesn’t take a reading test to recognize misguided legislation. I have read the #Arizona law. Comprehensive reform is the right answer.”

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb:

This argument is the liberal argument.  This is what distinguishes liberals from conservatives in this space.   The liberal argument isn’t that we have an extensive, unaccountable security state and feel really bad about it (while the conservative argument is that we cheerlead it), it’s that this kind of state is a bad deal.  The machine Cheney et al were operating in the dark, away from any oversight gave us no useful intelligence, corrupted offices, people and practices, and left us less safe than had we not done anything.   This is the argument I find convincing.  That Obama campaigned as the constitutional law professor from Chicago who could push back on the 8-year power grab was one reason I found him so compelling as a candidate.

P.J. Crowley has a distinguished career, retiring from the Air Force as a Colonel, and it’s good to see him stand by his statement after resigning. When I combine things like this with the administration’s aggressive war on whistleblowers it makes me think this has been a complete disaster at reform in the security-surveillance state.   What can be done about this?

Three related: 1. Kudos to the people who cover this material. Glenn Greenwald, FDL, Adam Serwer, etc. I can link to an unemployment number to tell you what you already know – things are bad in the economy. That Obama has an aggressive war on whistleblowers when he campaigned to expand their protections is a tough narrative to establish, especially since everyone has wanted to believe otherwise in the liberal space.

2. Emptywheel has a post about the Brothers Daley and torture, relating Bill Daley’s comment – “he’s done” – to the sordid history of Richard Daley’s time as a prosecutor and Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s torture of African-American residents of Chicago during interrogations. I’ve talked with people who know the Burge situation well from Chicago, and when I ask how could it happen I always get some variety of “that’s how things were done back then.” I worry that a “that’s how things are done” is taking to the surveillance state now that Obama hasn’t broke it but instead established and, in some cases, expanded it.

3. Robert Chlala at Jadaliyya has a post – Of Predators and Radicals: King’s Hearings and the Political Economy of Criminalization – that gives a disturbing look at where all this can go. Discussing “From Super Predator to Predator Drone” Chlala argues that the current work done on Muslim so-called radicalization in America looks very similar to the African-American “youth gang” hysteria of the 1990s, an argument that lead to a massive expansion of the incarceration state along with a political ideology of making “state violence the only solution to social questions…while nurturing a broader racialized political economy of fear that entwines media, police, military, prisons, urban “entrepreneurs,” and security/crime “experts” towards the solidification of the neoliberal punitive state.” We’ve seen where this hysteria leads. Serious leadership and mechanisms for accountability when it fails is needed.

David Weigel:

It sounds even stranger when you type it out: the spokesman for the Secretary of State resigned over comments he made at a seminar of around 20 people at MIT. It sounds so strange that the Guardian muddled it a bit in one of the first stories on the matter.

Hillary Clinton‘s spokesman has launched a public attack on the Pentagon for the way it is treating military prisoner Bradley Manning, the US soldier suspected of handing the US embassy cables to WikiLeaks.

Not really; it was a non-reported, non-televised talk to a small group that happened to be blogged. He wasn’t saying he spoke for the administration, much less that he knew the facts of the case. It was a comment in confidence; that was enough to embarrass the administration and boost him out.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Reflexive leftism is pretty common at State, and I suppose this was a classic gaffe, i.e., Crowley said what he actually believed. Still, it is hard to understand how Crowley could have thought it would be OK to slam the Defense Department. Isn’t the State Department supposed to be all about diplomacy? Isn’t it a bit weird that they can’t come up with a spokesman who is diplomatic enough not to insult the guys on his own side?

Rick Moran:

The military says that Manning is on suicide watch which necessitates his being stripped to make sure he can’t harm himself. If Crowley thinks that’s “ridiculous” he also thinks the Defense Department are violating the law by enforcing common sense procedures to make sure we have a live suspect to stand trial and not a dead martyr.

Crowley’s position simply became untenable.

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The King Hearings… A Small Sampling

Mark Memmott at NPR:

The House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing on what Chairman Peter King (R-NY) says is the domestic threat from “Muslim radicalization” continues on Capitol Hill. We posted earlier on the emotional testimony from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress and on a father’s warning about the “extremist invaders” who he says programmed his son to kill.

King, as you can see in this video from The Associated Press, said he will not “back down … to political correctness.”

“There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” King said

Chris Good at The Altantic:

In a move that’s stirred much criticism, New York Rep. Peter King on Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, will hold a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee examining radicalization among American Muslims.

Not since the Bush administration has public debate erupted so sharply over whether a particular congressional hearing should even be held.

King says the hearing is “absolutely necessary.” Radicalization exists in the Muslim community in America, and it’s his job as committee chairman to fully investigate it, King has said.

“I have no choice. I have to hold these hearings. These hearings are absolutely essential. What I’m doing is taking the next logical step from what the administration has been saying. Eric Holder says he lies awake at night worrying about the growing radicalization of people in this country who are willing to take up arms against their government. I believe that the leadership, too many leaders in the Muslim community do not face up to that reality,” King recently told CNN’s Dana Bash.

“I never want to wake up the morning after another attack and say if only I had done what I should have done as homeland security chairman, this wouldn’t have happened,” said King, who represents a district on Long Island.

Others don’t see it that way: Many have raised questions about whether King is wrong to single out a particular religious group. Comparisons to McCarthyism have being raised.

Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, spoke this morning at the controversial hearings led by Long Island Republican congressman Peter King, and broke down in tears while telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an American citizen from Pakistan, who died in the Septemper 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Ellison first warned of the dangers of “ascribing evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community,” before sobbing through the story of Hamdani, who was slandered when he went missing on 9/11, accused of being complicit in the attack. “His life should not be indentified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion,” Ellison said, “but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.”

King, meanwhile, announced today that he has had around-the-clock security since late last year, when he announced plans to hold hearings that examine recruitment for Al Qaeda and the threat of “radicalization.”

More important is Ellison’s moving plea. If this country has any sense, his impassioned testimony will be the lasting image from this detrimental sham masquerading as government action.

David Weigel:

Much of the liberal opposition to Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Muslim radicalism today has focused on King himself — his past support of the IRA, his treasure trove of heated comments about terrorism.

That came to the fore just now, after Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Homeland Security Committee’s ranking member, asked about the implications of a member of Congress saying there were “too many mosques.” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., took umbrage at that.

“I haven’t heard any member of our committee say there’s too many mosques,” he said. The implication was shameful.

King briefly took the microphone. It was him, he said: “I’d said there are too many mosques.”

Indeed, he sort of did. It’s complicated. In 2007, he said those exact words in a Politico interview, but immediately pointed out that they were taken out of context — he meant to say* that there are “too many mosques not cooperating with law enforcement.”

Rep. Peter King: There Are Too Many Mosques In The US

It was just one skirmish in the long-running war between King and CAIR et al.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

I’m of two minds about the hearings on domestic terrorism that Rep. Peter King is holding today. I’ve been a staunch defender of Muslims–of their patriotic record as American citizens, of their right to build houses of worship anywhere they want, including near Ground Zero. But let’s face it: there have been a skein of attacks over the past year–starting with the Fort Hood massacre and running through the aborted Times Square bombing–that have been attempted by U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslims. This is something new and, I think, it is a phenomenon that needs to be (a) acknowledged and (b) investigated as calmly and fairly as possible.

I’m not sure that King, an excitable bloviator, is the right person to conduct the hearings–but we need to know whether there is a pattern here, whether there are specific mosques that have been incubators, and how much an influence the American-born terrorist Anwar Awlaki, who is now living somewhere in Yemen, has been. We should do this with the assumption that American muslim terrorists are about as common as American Christian anti-abortion terrorists. We should do it as sensitively as possible, with the strong assertion that Islamophobia is unacceptable in America. But we should do it.

Rick Moran:

This is such a no-brainer issue that the only possible reason to oppose King’s hearings is to score political points. There is no earthly reason that Muslims should oppose rooting out radicals in their midst – especially since law enforcement says that either out of fear or anti-Americanism, many ordinary Muslims do not cooperate with the police or FBI.

I have a feeling this hearing is going to be an eye opener. And that might be why some Muslims are so opposed to having it.

Jennifer Rubin:

The notion that we should ignore the obvious in an attempt to curry favor with “moderate” Muslims here in the U.S. and to avoid offending those overseas is badly misguided. For starters, it assumes that those audiences are infantile in their inability to distinguish, as the rest of us do, the difference between radicalized, murderous Islamic fundamentalists and those who pose no threat whatsoever. In doing so, we only serve to undermine the efforts of those non-radicalized Muslims abroad who could use some assistance, even if it is only rhetorical in pushing back against extremists.

Moreover, it glosses over a real issue in the U.S.: a number of groups who offer themselves as “moderate” and with whom the administration consults are not helping matters, as evidence by the fit thrown over the prospect of examining how their fellow Muslims turn to murder and mayhem. Let’s take CAIR, for example. This ostensibly anti-discrimination group has refused to denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. As I wrote last year:

CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.)

It’s not hard to figure out why public discussion of all this strikes fear in the hearts of those who would rather not see a public accounting of their actions. But even the administration has to acknowledge that failure to identify, understand and combat the role of Islamic fundamentalists’ recruitment of Americans is foolhardy in the extreme. And, so, lo and behold, we learn, “While the thrust of McDonough’s remarks seemed aimed at declaring common cause with the Muslim community, the White House official was also careful not to minimize the dangers posed by efforts to radicalize Muslims inside the United States. He also managed to announce, in advance of King’s hearings, that the administration will soon roll out a comprehensive plan aimed at combating the radicalization effort.” Well, I suppose CAIR won’t like that either.

If King’s hearings have spurred the administration to get off the stick and begin work on this issue, they are already a success. And if nothing else they have exposed just how unhelpful some Muslim American groups are in the war against Islamic jihadists.

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Silvio, Silvio, Silvio…

Rachel Donadio at NYT:

A Milan judge on Tuesday ordered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial in April on charges of prostitution and abuse of office, dealing the most serious blow to his leadership in the 17 years that he has dominated Italian politics.

In a brief statement the judge said the trial would start on April 6. Mr. Berlusconi faces charges that he paid for sex with an under-age nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby Heart-Stealer, and abused his office to help release her from police custody when she was detained for theft. The scandal has dominated political debate in Italy for months.

Mr. Berlusconi denies wrongdoing and has said he has no intention of stepping down. But in an increasingly tense climate after large anti-Berlusconi demonstrations on Sunday, analysts said the judge’s ruling makes it nearly impossible for the prime minister to govern and all but guarantees early national elections.

“The situation is more political than judicial now,” said Stefano Folli, a political columnist for the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. He predicted that in the short term Mr. Berlusconi would hold on, but “in the middle-term it’s an unsustainable situation.”

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice

J.H. at Newsbook at The Economist:

EARLIER today a judge in Milan, Cristina Di Censo, indicted Italy’s prime minister, Silvio  Berlusconi, on charges relating to his alleged use of prostitutes. She said he should be tried for paying an underage prostitute and then attempting to cover up the alleged offence by taking advantage of his official position, which is itself an offence in Italy.

But Ms Di Censo did more than just indict Mr Berlusconi. She accepted, in full, arguments put forward by the prosecution that have potentially devastating implications for Mr Berlusconi (who denies any wrongdoing). First, she agreed with them that, because of “the obviousness of the evidence” they had gathered against him, he should be put on trial without a preliminary hearing. The full trial is due to begin on April 6th, and by a twist of fate (or, as Mr Berlusconi’s followers will no doubt contend, malevolent design) all three judges at the trial will be women.

That development seemed particularly resonant against a background of protests by Italian women against Mr Berlusconi and the entrenched machismo his female critics see him as representing. On Sunday, several hundreds of thousands took to piazzas around Italy to demonstrate “for a country that respects women”.

Their protest was the latest challenge to a prime minister whose personal popularity has fallen significantly since the scandal broke last October. Mr Berlusconi also faces daily problems attempting to get legislation through parliament following a walk-out by some of his followers last year.

The Jawa Report:

The legal age of consent in Italy is, holy cow, 14. But it is unlawful to engage in prostitution until the age of 18. Ms. Ruby, her stage name, was 17 when she let the PM boink her.

Berlusconi has said, “I didn’t pay her for the sex”. Which is a round about way of saying, “Yeah I hit that.”

Rick Moran:

Italian feminists are naturally up in arms.

On Sunday thousands took to the streets in Italian cities and worldwide in coordinated demonstrations that organizers said were aimed at restoring the dignity of Italian women amid the latest sex scandal and after years in which Mr. Berlusconi has routinely appointed television showgirls to political office.

No misogyny there. And how about Berlusconi’s lawyer’s take?

Noting that Mr. Berlusconi would be tried before a panel of three women judges, he said: “Great. Women are always appreciated, sometimes even agreeable,” the center-left daily La Repubblica reported.

Makes me wish I understood Italian so I could follow every twist and turn being reported in the Italian media.

Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic:

Despite the scandals, the angry women, and the splitting of his political coalition, Berlusconi has managed to hold onto power. Why? The Guardian’s Alexander Chancellor says it’s because he’s a master salesman. “When he was building his media empire,” Chancellor says, he demanded his sales team have “the sun in their pockets”–they had to be sunny, smiling, non-smoking, mustache-free. The rules made Berlusconi billions. And now, despite the bad headlines, “Berlusconi still has the sun in his pocket. Addressing political rallies, he always looks hopeful, confident, and in charge. … He may have fallen from grace among many women and Catholics, but most men, apart from those of the left, seem still to like him well enough. In Britain he would probably be resented for his wealth alone, but in Italy it works in his favour.”

Libby Copeland at The XX Factor:

Berlusconi is, after all, a guy who once called Rosy Bindi, the middle-aged woman who heads the opposition Democratic party, “increasingly more beautiful than you are intelligent.” Her response was to tell him “I am not one of the women at your disposal,” which prompted an “I’m not at your disposal” campaign in support of her. (Bindi’s rejoinder may have sounded more pithy in the original Italian.) Like that exchange, the insults in the so-called Rubygate scandal are fascinating for their degree of bile, if a little stilted in the translation.

A few days ago, before Berlusconi was indicted for allegedly hiring an underage prostitute, more than 100,000 people, mostly women, came out across the country to protest his dalliances with young women. (Not to mention his penchant for institutionalizing sexism by, among other things, putting skimpily clad showgirls on the networks he owns.) This prompted Berlusconi’s education minister, herself a woman, to label the protestors “the usual snob heroines of the left.” By American standards this is a fairly stunning thing for a high-ranking politician to say. Not to mention a great band name.

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Stop! Panel Time!

Uri Friedman at The Atlantic:

Explaining something as tangled, technical, and multi-dimensional as the 2008 financial crisis is fraught with difficulty. Some have tried comparing toxic assets to supermodels, while others have given musical theater a shot.

This morning we have another answer–in the form of a 576-page book–from the congressionally appointed panel charged with investigating the roots of the meltdown. Were it not for corporate incompetence, inadequate government regulation, and excessive risk-taking by Wall Street banks in the housing market, the commission concludes, the country could have avoided financial calamity.

Keith Hennessey:

At long last, here is the dissent filed by Vice Chairman Bill Thomas, Dr. Doug Holtz-Eakin, and me to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report.  (I know, you’ve been holding your breath waiting for this.)  This dissent will be transmitted to the President and the Congress later today (Thursday, January 27th) along with the majority’s document and Peter Wallison’s separate dissent.

Our dissent is 27 pages long as a PDF.  The majority’s document is 20 times longer.  Their endnotes are 98 pages.  I am not making this up.  The full report will be available on FCIC.gov tomorrow around 10 AM EST.  Peter Wallison’s dissent is available now.

Since I know that 27 pages is too long for the overwhelming majority of readers on the web, I’ll try to suck you in by telling you that our core argument is in the first seven pages.  The last twenty flesh out in more detail each of our “ten essential causes of the crisis.”  You could stop after seven pages (I hope you won’t) and have our basic argument.

If you have followed any of the press coverage of the FCIC over the past six weeks, you may think you know what we’re going to say.  This dissent, however, makes a fundamentally different argument than the four-man document I signed onto in December.  For me this document supersedes that December document, which I looked on as a temporary placeholder.

Mark Thoma on the dissent:

Bill Thomas, Keith Hennessey, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin have a dissenting statement in response to the final report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission:

What Caused the Financial Crisis, by Bill Thomas, Keith Hennessey, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Commentary, WSJ: Today, six members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission … are releasing their final report. Although the three of us served on the commission, we were unable to support the majority’s conclusions and have issued a dissenting statement. …

We recognize that … other … narratives have popular appeal:… Had the government not supported housing subsidies (the first narrative) or had policy makers implemented more restrictive financial regulations (the second) there would have been no calamity.

Both of these views are incomplete and misleading. … We believe the crisis was the product of 10 factors. Only when taken together can they offer a sufficient explanation of what happened:

Starting in the late 1990s, there was a broad credit bubble in the U.S. and Europe and a sustained housing bubble in the U.S. (factors 1 and 2). Excess liquidity, combined with rising house prices and an ineffectively regulated primary mortgage market, led to an increase in nontraditional mortgages (factor 3) that were in some cases deceptive, in many cases confusing, and often beyond borrowers’ ability to pay.

However, the credit bubble, housing bubble, and the explosion of nontraditional mortgage products are not by themselves responsible for the crisis. Our country has experienced larger bubbles—the dot-com bubble of the 1990s, for example—that were not nearly as devastating… Losses from the housing downturn were concentrated in highly leveraged financial institutions. Which raises the essential question: Why were these firms so exposed? Failures in credit-rating and securitization transformed bad mortgages into toxic financial assets (factor 4). Securitizers lowered the credit quality of the mortgages they securitized, credit-rating agencies erroneously rated these securities as safe investments, and buyers failed to look behind the ratings and do their own due diligence. Managers of many large and midsize financial institutions amassed enormous concentrations of highly correlated housing risk (factor 5), and they amplified this risk by holding too little capital relative to the risks and funded these exposures with short-term debt (factor 6). They assumed such funds would always be available. Both turned out to be bad bets.

These risks within highly leveraged, short-funded financial firms with concentrated exposure to a collapsing asset class led to a cascade of firm failures. … We call this the risk of contagion (factor 7). In other cases, the problem was a common shock (factor 8). A number of firms had made similar bad bets on housing…

A rapid succession of 10 firm failures, mergers and restructurings in September 2008 caused a financial shock and panic (factor 9). Confidence and trust in the financial system evaporated, as the health of almost every large and midsize financial institution in the U.S. and Europe was questioned. The financial shock and panic caused a severe contraction in the real economy (factor 10). …

[I]t is dangerous to conclude that the crisis would have been avoided if only we had regulated everything a lot more, had fewer housing subsidies, and had more responsible bankers. Simple narratives like these ignore the global nature of this crisis, and promote a simplistic explanation of a complex problem. Though tempting politically, they will ultimately lead to mistaken policies.

I don’t think the conclusion that better regulation would not have stopped the crisis follows from the factors they list.

By their own admission, the reason that factors 1 and 2 led to factor 3 was “an ineffectively regulated primary mortgage market.” So right away better regulation could have stopped the chain of events the led to the crisis.

Factor 3 was “nontraditional mortgages that were in some cases deceptive, in many cases confusing, and often beyond borrowers’ ability to pay.” Sure seems like regulation might help to prevent deception and confusion (through, among other things, a financial protection agency). One thing is clear in any case. The market didn’t prevent these things on its own.

On to factor 4: Securitizers lowering credit standards, a failure of credit agencies, and buyers failing to do their own due diligence. Once again, regulation can help where the private market failed. The ratings agencies exist because they help to solve an asymmetric information problem. The typical purchaser of financial assets does not have the resources needed to assess the risk of complex financial assets (which is why saying that they should have performed their own due diligence misses the mark). Instead, they rely upon ratings agencies to do the assessment for them. Unfortunately, the ratings agencies didn’t do their jobs — perhaps due to bad incentives arising from to how they were paid — and this is where regulation has a role to play.

Factor 5 is the accumulation of correlated risk — again something a regulator can stop once the accumulation or risk is evident. This seems like an easy one — when regulators see this type of risk building up, they should do something about it. The question, however, is how to give regulators better tools for assessing these risks. Backing off on regulation, as implied above, won’t help with this.

M.V. at Newsbook at The Economist:

IT IS not the most promising script for a whodunit. Ten experts are brought together to solve a mystery, but they can’t get along and ultimately reach three different conclusions. That, sadly, is the story of America’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, whose book-length report was released on January 27th.

When the six Democratic and four Republican appointees began their work, there was hope that they could clarify the causes of the financial crisis in the same way as the authors of the 9/11 commission’s report had shed light on the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

It was, though, evident well before they had finished 19 days of public hearings and over 700 interviews that ideological spats would get in the way. By November Republican members were moaning that the Democrats were more interested in crafting a document  that would bolster their party’s attacks on the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives than in revealing the truth. When a majority of the panel voted to push the report’s release beyond the December 15th deadline, the four Republicans produced their own preliminary report. Then they began to fracture too.

The result is an unfortunate loss of credibility and, confusingly, three competing narratives. The main report, endorsed by the Democrats only, points to a broad swathe of failures but pins much of the blame on the financial industry, be it greed and sloppy risk management at banks, the predations of mortgage brokers, the spinelessness of ratings agencies or the explosive growth of securitisation and credit-default swaps.

The report takes swipes at politicians, too, for overseeing a long period of deregulation that allowed Wall Street to run riot; and at regulators for not using the powers they had to curb risk-taking and for blithely assuming that markets could police themselves. It points to the Federal Reserve’s “pivotal failure” to rein in reckless mortgage lending, and to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s lax supervision of investment banks. It also fingers an over-reliance on short-term debt. These, however, are hardly novel conclusions.

Rick Moran:

You may recall the Democrats telling us that the FinReg bill would make it impossible for banks to be “too big to fail” ever again. Nobody believed it then and this inquiry apparently proves it a lie.

Despite a slowly improving economy, it could all fall apart again with another shock to the system. If that happens, the taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

Richard Eskow at Huffington Post:

his report has had a long and sometimes challenging history. But to paraphrase an old gospel song, it “may not be here when you want it, but it’s right on time.”Useful Utopians

Over three decades, our government was captured by a libertarian-inspired economic philosophy that had previously been considered radical and impractical — correctly so, as it turns out. That philosophy’s most prominent spokesman, former Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan, was celebrated as a “maestro,” until the house of cards he came to symbolize finally collapsed.

The prevailing economic myth, of an impossibly wise and genuinely free market, was as useful as it was Utopian. It provided ideological cover for the deregulation that both parties embraced. Government leaders were compromised by the lure of huge campaign contributions, and by a revolving door that ensured future wealth for cooperative politicians and regulators from both parties. The result enriched Wall Street and the Washington elite and left the rest of the country wounded.

The deregulation of the 90s allowed banks to take risks they couldn’t possibly survive. But they had been rescued in previous crises, and the cozy relationship between government and bankers assured them they’d be bailed out again. Freed from the consequences of their own actions, they gambled… and we lost.

Money for Nothing

The most surprising thing about the FCIC hearings for me personally was the lack of competence shown by so many top bankers. The Wall Street executives I worked for were smart, demanding, and driven, but bankers like Citi’s Robert Rubin and Chuck Prince… not so much. Their FCIC testimony displayed a shaky grasp of their business and a lack of concern about the risks facing their own organizations. Many of them seemed to lack even the most basic level of intellectual curiosity. A big bank is a fascinating, complex entity, but one executive after another seemed to shrug off the details of their own banks’ operations with bored indifference.

Sure, their testimony may have been especially vague because of their understandable desire to avoid self-incrimination. But even allowing for that, the low level of managerial skill they displayed was disconcerting. Today’s generation of financial executives may be enjoying the greatest disparity between income and executive performance since indolent princes inherited vast kingdoms through the divine right of kings.

Yet despite this embarrassing record, these executives want to be pampered and flattered by Washington again — and they’re getting their wish. The president and his party took some steps toward genuine financial reform with last year’s bill, but a great deal of work is still needed and their recent appointments aren’t encouraging. Meanwhile, the Washington consensus is pressuring the administration to assuage the “hurt feelings” of CEOs with some success, despite record profits that should provide more than adequate compensation for any injuries to their pride.

Unfinished Business

The president only mentioned financial reform in passing, in his comments about regulations:

When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people. That’s … why last year we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, and new rules to prevent another financial crisis…

Last year’s bill was a start, but more reform is urgently needed — to break up “too big to fail” banks, end runaway speculation, protect consumers, and end the incestuous relationship between banks and government. Prosecutions are needed, too. They’re the only way to ensure that bankers can’t violate laws with impunity, knowing that even if they’re caught their shareholders will pay the fines.

Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture:

It appears we got hit with another 10-12 inches of snow overnight. Schools are cancelled, and my trains are not running into the city yet.

I need to go blow the snow off the driveway, then figure out what I am gong to do today. I was hoping to read the FCIC report, but it does not look like I will get to the store today.

And speaking of Snow Jobs, the dissenters in the FCIC continue their embarrassing foolishness.

The NYT devotes two paragraphs to Peter Wallison — they mention he was “chief lawyer for the Treasury Department and then the White House during the Reagan administration” and that he is “now at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.”

But nowhere do they mention that he was co-director of the AEI’s Financial Deregulation Project.  This is a serious omission by a major publication.

The New York Times should be much better than this . .

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Filed under Economics, The Crisis

There Are Slow News Days And Bizarre News Days. This Was One Of The Latter.

Philip Shenon at The Daily Beast:

Prosecutors in Sweden have withdrawn their warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, calling the rape charges against him unfounded. Still, a separate allegation of molestation remains. Philip Shenon talks to Assange’s supporters about his reaction to the charges.

Swedish prosecutors dropped rape allegations Saturday against the elusive founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, only hours after they issued an arrest warrant for him on the charges.

The prosecutors said on their website that the rape charges, which seemed to threaten the very existence of WikiLeaks given Assange’s central role in the whistleblowing website, were being dropped for lack of evidence.

At the same time, the prosecutors seemed to leave open the possibility that Assange was under investigation for other crimes in Sweden, a nation that had seemed on the verge a few days ago of becoming a new, permanent home for WikiLeaks. Assange had been in Sweden earlier this week.

Assange’s supporters struggled Saturday to track him down and ask him how he planned to defend himself against the rape and molestation charges that were first reported in a Swedish tabloid newspaper.

Assange, who leads a nomadic existence, mostly living in the homes of friends and supporters in several countries, communicates directly with news organizations and the public through the social-networking site Twitter, and he took to Twitter Saturday to defend himself.

Without revealing his whereabouts, he described the rape and molestations allegations as a “dirty trick.” The charges, he said, are “without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.” He added: “Needless to say, this will prove hugely distracting.” Before the rape charges were dropped, one of Assange’s closest supporters in Europe told The Daly Beast “I want to believe this is some sort of trick against Julian.”

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Police originally issued an arrest warrant for 39-year-old Assange, an Australian citizen, on suspicion of rape and sexual harassment (“molestation” is the literal Google translation). Assange was in Sweden last week, seeking help from Sweden’s Pirate Party in hosting Wikileaks data.

Assange and Wikileaks took to Twitter, as is their style, to denounce the allegations. “We were warned to expect ‘dirty tricks.’ Now we have the first one.” As if to prove his point, Swedish police withdrew the warrant today, saying the rape suspicions are “unfounded,” according to the AP. However, the molestation/sexual harassment accusation still stands. (This charge won’t lead to an arrest warrant.)

This is suspicious timing for such a hiccup. Wikileaks made a splash recently with its Afghanistan War Diaries leak, and is currently locked in a tense standoff with the Pentagon over 15,000 unreleased classified Afghanistan war documents. Conspiracy alert! Did the Pentagon send a Predator drone over to Sweden to accuse Assange of rape and molestation!? Or, you know, maybe it was some boozy hook-ups gone awry. Either way, thank God: this Wikileaks thing has been lacking a sex angle for way too long.

Update:
The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet has an interview with one of Assange’s two accusers, an unidentified 30-year-old woman. She tells Aftonbladet that the other alleged victim contacted her about an incident with Assange, and the two went to the police together last week.

The women and Assange met during his stay in Stockholm and have neither met him or each other before.
The woman in her thirties say that on her part, she was sexually assaulted or molested, but not rape.
The story begain this friday. Another woman contacted her and told of a similar but worse story. That woman is in her twenties.

The woman says that at first the sex was consensual, but turned non-consensual in both cases. She also refutes the idea that the Pentagon or any of Assange’s detractors are behind the accusations:

The conspiracy theories that are flooding the net at the moment are discarded by the woman

“The accusations against Assange are of course not staged by neither the Pentagon or anyone else. The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl are with a man with a disturbed view of women and problems accepting a no”

Fun fact: Aftonblade is the Swedish tabloid which recently tapped Assange to write a bimonthly column. Something tells us this deal is off.

Dan Riehl:

I’m in no way a supporter of what this fellow has done. But given the little that’s being reported, I can’t help but agree with him that the charges are disturbing. Welcome to the intelligence big leagues, Assange. I suspect you’re about to get knocked out of the park. Be very afraid. I suspect that, more than anything, is what the charges are meant to convey. That, and to provide grounds for your arrest.

Rick Moran:

I don’t think we can dismiss the possibility of a set up, but how would you convince the police to play along?  Or getting a couple of women to lie for you and have them keep quiet about it is not an easy task, especially when you consider they would have to appear in court and carry the conspiracy for a considerable length of time.

I do not believe the US government would be behind any shenanigans, but I wouldn’t put it past some rogue elements to take it upon themselves to punish the leaker. We don’t know enough to even guess yet, so perhaps we should just contemplate the fate of someone who proved himself a publicity whore and may have gotten burned for it.

Steven Taylor:

Considering news of the warrant just came out, it would seem that someone jumped the gun issuing it in the first place.  I have almost no opinion concerning Assange,* but it doesn’t take one to state that a rape allegation is quite serious and one would like to think that law enforcement would have their act together in terms of issuing a warrant, especially regarding someone for whom said warrant will be international news.

It is unclear to me what “molestation” means in this context, as in an American legal context it makes one’s mind leap to child molestation, but the treatment in the AP story (and other stories I have heard to this point in the day) don’t seem to be treating it as such.

___________________

*And yes, I know that bloggers are allegedly supposed to have instant deep (and, of course, utterly correct) opinions about everything, I will reserve any definitive statements about Assange or even Wikileaks, as it is one of the things for which I only have passing information at the moment and therefore have not formed a fully informed opinion as yet.

UPDATE: James Fallows

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Filed under Crime, New Media

Worst. List. Ever.

John Hawkins:

Out of all the gangsters, serial killers, mass murderers, incompetent & crooked politicians, spies, traitors, and ultra left-wing kooks in all of American history — have you ever wondered who the worst of the worst was? Well, we here at RWN wondered about that, too, and that’s why we decided to email more than a hundred bloggers to get their opinions. Representatives from the following 43 blogs responded…

101 Dead Armadillos, Argghhhh!, Basil’s Blog, Cold Fury, Conservative Compendium, The Dana Show, DANEgerus Weblog, Dodgeblogium, Cara Ellison, Exurban League, Fausta’s Blog, Freeman Hunt, GraniteGrok, House of Eratosthenes, Infidels Are Cool, IMAO, Jordan Woodward, Moe Lane, Mean Ol’ Meany, The Liberal Heretics, Midnight Blue, Pirate’s Cove, Nice Deb, Pundit Boy, Professor Bainbridge, Pursuing Holiness.com, Liz Mair, Moonbattery, mountaineer musings, No Oil For Pacifists, No Runny Eggs, Right View from the Left Coast, Russ. Just Russ, Say Anything, Don Singleton, The TrogloPundit, The Underground Conservative, This Ain’t Hell, The Virtuous Republic, Vox Popoli, WILLisms, Wintery knight, YidwithLid

All bloggers were allowed to make anywhere from 1-20 selections. Rank was determined simply by the number of votes received. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is a fairly conservative group of bloggers and their selections reflected that. Also, I made a decision to combine the votes given to the Rosenbergs and Julius Rosenberg into one group since most people associate the two of them together. Some people may disagree with that decision, but I thought it was the best way to go.

Well, that’s enough about the rules — without further ado, the worst figures in American history are as follows (with the number of votes following each selection)…

23) Saul Alinsky (7)
23) Bill Clinton (7)
23) Hillary Clinton (7)
19) Michael Moore (7)
19) George Soros (8)
19) Alger Hiss (8)
19) Al Sharpton (8)
13) Al Gore (9)
13) Noam Chomsky (9)
13) Richard Nixon (9)
13) Jane Fonda (9)
13) Harry Reid (9)
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)
11) Margaret Sanger (10)
9) Aldrich Ames (11)
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)
7) Ted Kennedy (14)
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)
5) Benedict Arnold (17)
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)
4) The Rosenbergs (19)
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)
2) Barack Obama (23)
1) Jimmy Carter (25)

Jim Geraghty at National Review:

I’m no fan of most of the Democrats on the list, and there are some good picks. But most of the modern political figures look ridiculous when we compare their actions to some of America’s most really notorious figures.

No Al Capone? No Machine Gun Kelly or the Lindbergh baby kidnappers?

No Jefferson Davis or anyone else associated with the Confederacy beyond John Wilkes Booth? Speaking of presidential assassins, no Lee Harvey Oswald? (Oh, I know, I know, he was the fall guy for the big conspiracy.) Aaron Burr gets a pass for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel?

Isn’t Johnny Walker Lindh or Robert Hanssen a more clear-cut case than Jane Fonda or either of the Clintons?

No Charles Manson? Come on. You’re really telling me Al Sharpton and Michael Moore outrank somebody like Jeffrey Dahmer, who ate people? Race-baiting and rabble-rousing outrank cannibalism?

No Jim Jones (cult leader, not national security adviser) or David Koresh?

Not one villain from America’s business world? No ruthless layoff king like “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap? No Ken Lay? Bernie Madoff couldn’t reach the top 20?

Matt Lewis at Politics Daily:

Certainly, one could make the case that political leaders — because of their reach and immense importance — actually have much greater impact over our society as a whole than any serial killer ever could (though I would argue the Manson murders actually had a major impact on American culture, and essentially ended the ’60s).

But this, of course, is sophistry. Hawkins’ list was not titled “the worst political leaders,” but rather “the worst figures” in American history, and thus, the results seem to betray what we already know to be true: Too many political bloggers view their political opponents as being worse than serial killers.

Of course, this is not merely a reflection of conservative bloggers, but rather, of the current state of political discourse. I have no doubt that members of (as Robert Gibbs has called them) “the professional left” might rank Ann Coulter as being more harmful than, say, Al Capone.

Steven Bainbridge:

John Hawkins asked a bunch of right of center bloggers to list the “20 Worst Americans of all time,” from which he compiled the following list. The comments are mine. Personally, I find the collated list pretty much of a joke. It reflects the partisan passions of the moment, not anything resembling a serious verdict of history.

23) Saul Alinsky (7)–a bad guy, to be sure, but top 20?
23) Bill Clinton (7)–GOPers still mad because he beat the crap out of them; sour grapes
23) Hillary Clinton (7)–I don’t like her, but I think she’s making a good Secretary of State
19) Michael Moore (7)–agree
19) George Soros (8)–maybe top 40
19) Alger Hiss (8)–the traitors are way to low on this list
19) Al Sharpton (8)–eh
13) Al Gore (9)–depends on whether global warming is as bad as he thinks it is
13) Noam Chomsky (9)–annoying to be sure, but not in top 20
13) Richard Nixon (9)–fair enough
13) Jane Fonda (9)–has been much less annoying in recent years
13) Harry Reid (9)–he’s effective and wrong but not evil
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)–annoying? yes. one of the worst? no.
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)–finally somebody I wholeheartedly agree with, but should be higher
11) Margaret Sanger (10)–nope
9) Aldrich Ames (11)–yes, but should be higher
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)–yes, but should be higher
7) Ted Kennedy (14)–higher than the worst domestic terrorist? no
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)–ditto
5) Benedict Arnold (17)–too low
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)–huh?
4) The Rosenbergs (19)–good
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)–give him some credit for managing the winning coalition in WW II
2) Barack Obama (23)–way too high, even if socialized medicine ends up being his legacy
1) Jimmy Carter (25)– being feckless and sanctimonious doesn’t make him a bad guy
All in all, I have to agree with Jim Geraghty that:

I’m no fan of most of the Democrats on the list, and there are some good picks. But most of the modern political figures look ridiculous when we compare their actions to some of America’s most really notorious figures.

I agree with a lot of his alternatives too.

Anyway, I was one of the bloggers Hawkins polled, but as you’ll see my list differs in a number of respects from the norm. Mine’s in alphabetical order, BTW.

  1. Aldrich Ames–traitor
  2. Benedict Arnold–traitor
  3. John Wilkes Booth–killed our greatest President, contender for #1 on my list if rank ordered
  4. James Buchanan–feckless President whose inaction allowed the Southern rebellion to get off the ground
  5. Aaron Burr–traitor and murderer of Hamilton
  6. Robert Byrd–KKK member and the worst pork politician in history, plus an insufferable prig
  7. Jefferson Davis–leader of the traitorous Southern rebels
  8. Louis Farrakhan–race hate monger
  9. Nathan Bedford Forrest–treasonous Rebel general, caused or condoned the mass murder of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, founder of the KKK, contender for # 1
  10. Rutherford B. Hayes–President who threw Reconstruction under the bus to steal election
  11. Paris Hilton–personification of the celebrity obsessed culture
  12. Alger Hiss–traitor with really annoying apologists
  13. Jim Jones–mass murderer and race hate monger
  14. Ted Kennedy–Chappaquiddick, probable rapist, almost certainly a rape abettor, and progenitor of what might become socialized medicine
  15. Bernie Madoff–worst financial swindler
  16. Timothy McVeigh–worst domestic terrorist, probably # 1 on my list if rank ordered
  17. Michael Moore–he just oozes evil
  18. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg–atomic bomb traitors
  19. Roger Taney–Chief Justice who decided Dred Scott and Ex Parte Merryman
  20. Morrison Waite–Chief Justice whose decision in United States v. Cruikshank effectively disabled the federal government from protecting the freed blacks from white southern terrorists during Reconstruction

As you see, I focused mainly on traitors, since it is in some ways the worst of social crimes. Few crimes affect all of society in the way that treason does. Since I believe the Southern rebellion was the worst act of collective treason in our history, I gave it high priority. Since I believe the failure of Reconstruction is one of the great tragedies of our history, it deserved recognition too.

And then there’s just a couple of folks who really annoy the crap out of me. But I tried to keep them to a minimum. And I really think you can make a case for Byrd and Kennedy deserving to be at least in the top 100. In their own ways, they each personify and symbolize some of the worst aspects of our political life. So I’d argue that only Hilton and Moore are real reaches on my part.

The one person who slipped my mind, but whom I probably would have found room for if I had thought of him in time is L. Ron Hubbard as our worst religious false prophet.

Tyler Cowen:

It’s bizarre that Jimmy Carter comes out as the all-time worst from the right-wing bloggers and I don’t have to tell you who is number two.  It’s also hard for me to see how Bainbridge ends up with Paris Hilton and Michael Moore in his list of the worst and he seems to acknowledge this oddity toward the end of his post.

The most plausible picks are, I think, any number of political figures behind slavery and its continuation (it’s debatable who is truly focal here), Woodrow Wilson, the Rosenbergs, and any number of assassins, domestic terrorists, and serial killers.

Who am I forgetting?  Are there focal figures who held back public health advances?  Led slaughters against Native Americans?  What else?

Who is the worst Canadian of all time?

Rick Moran:

Absolutely astonishing. One mass murderer (McVeigh) and one assassin (Booth) made the list. No gangsters. No old west gunmen. Both Woodrow Wilson and FDR in the top 5 worst? If you’re going to penalize presidents so severely for having wrongheaded ideas about economic policy, why not include George Bush? Or the modern Republican party who never met a deficit they didn’t embrace as long is it was caused by tax cuts.

Frankly, this is embarrassing. Putting the Clintons, Pelosi, Reid, Gore, Sharpton, and other contemporary Democrats ahead of someone like Nathan Bedford Forest who was at least partly responsible for creating the KKK after the Civil War and spent his spare nights riding around the countryside whipping, lynching, and burning at the stake innocent African Americans demonstrates an extraordinary ignorance of American history.

No Aaron Burr? His descendant, Gore Vidal, might have made honorable mention on the list, but Burr was a genuine bad guy. He not only murdered Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr hatched a plot to take over large swaths of land in the west, set himself up as king, and secede from the US.

I guess making idiotic, dishonest documentaries about America (Michael Moore) is a bigger crime than killing one of the Founders and anointing oneself a monarch.

Here’s my list of “The Top 5 Worst Americans Missed by Idiotic Conservative Bloggers:

5. Ted Bundy. Might have killed more than 50 women.

4. William Randolph Hearst – the inventor of modern liberal journalism who singlehandedly whipped up war fever against Spain in his 30 newspapers while dominating the media – to the detriment of democracy – like no one before or since.

3. John C. Calhoun – his constant threats to take South Carolina out of the Union if the institution of slavery was touched were bad enough. But his embrace of the doctrine of nullification and his being an inspiration to the secessionists was a direct cause of the Civil War.

2. William Walker – one of the most unlovely Americans who ever lived. His attempts on behalf of the south to bring parts of Mexico and central America into an “Empire of Slavery” – setting up colonies that would then be annexed by the US – was not only a cockamamie scheme but thousands died because of it.

1. Bloody Bill Anderson – speaking of thousands being killed, how about the terrorist Bill Anderson? Not only did he ride through Missouri and Kanas during the Civil War, killing wantonly and with great glee, (200 massacred in Lawrence Kanas in 1863) some of his men ended up carrying on the “fight” for years afterward, including the James brothers and the Younger boys.

Doug Mataconis:

Obviously, this poll isn’t to be taken all that seriously but it has raised some interesting questions. Matt Lewis cites it as proof that American politics is broken, Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher notes the blatant political bias reflected in the list, and Ed Morrissey notes that this question came up in the political blogosphere before, about five years ago:

Just for disclosure’s sake, John usually invites me to participate in his polls, but I’m usually too busy to put much time into them (sorry, John).  This time, I passed for a couple of other reasons.  First, I had already done this exercise five years ago at Captain’s Quarters, about which more in a moment.

After reading through Ed’s list, which is very interesting to say the least, and following a few links, I realized that I had done the same thing five years ago as well. That list was made when I was still a relatively new blogger, so I’m going to take this opportunity to revise it. Like Stephen Bainbridge, I will list my choices alphabetically rather than by order of “worseness.” And, like Ed, I’m going to so with this definition of what “Worst American” means to me:

For my consideration, I decided that the status of American had to be part of their “crimes”. In other words, simply picking someone like Ted Bundy or Charles Manson would be too easy. Their evil, though real and in most cases worse than what you’ll read on this list, doesn’t have to do with their innate American heritage. I went looking for the people who sinned against America itself, or the ideal of America. Otherwise, we’d just be looking at body counts.

I also tried to avoid picking contemporary political figures, as we do not have sufficient historical perspective to make that kind of determination. (I do have one exception to this.) Don’t expect to see Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi on this list, nor Teddy Kennedy or Bill Clinton.

So, with that in mind, here we go:

1. Benedict Arnold

Not just because he betrayed his country in it’s infancy, although that is certainly contemptible, but also because of what he did after he became a British General.

2. John Wilkes Booth

Of all the Presidential assassins throughout American history, Booth’s motives were the most venal and his impact on history was the greatest. But for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the post-war history of the United States, and the entire Reconstruction Era, would have been much different and, arguably, much better.

3. James Buchanan

What I said in 2005 still applies, “the bachelor President who bungled his way through four years in office and left America on the verge of destruction.”

4. Aaron Burr

In addition to murdering Alexander Hamilton, Burr also engaged in a conspiracy to foment a rebellion against the United States in the territory covered by the Louisiana Purchase.

5. Jefferson Davis

President of the traitorous Confederate State of America, defender of the slavocracy. Some will object to my putting Davis in the list because he was, admittedly, hardly alone in rebelling against the United States, but he was the leader so he deserved to be deserves to be singled out by name, and he stands in for everyone else.

6. Nathan Bedford Forrest

A Lieutenant General in the CSA Army, part of the mass murder of black Union soldiers during the Battle of Fort Pillow, one of the Founders of the Ku Klux Klan

7. Alger Hiss

A traitor to his country and a spy for a regime dedicated to eradicating freedom.

8. J. Edgar Hoover

For the reasons Ed Morrissey listed five years ago:

He didn’t last 47 years as America’s top cop by playing fair. He used his influence and abused his power to accrue files on almost every political player, friend or foe, to use as blackmail to increase his personal power or as leverage for legislative and executive action. He became the closest thing America has ever known to an emperor and managed to die before his empire came crashing down around him. The tragedy of his life can be seen in his contradictions: a gay man who persecuted homosexuals; his undeniable love of country getting consumed by his thirst for power; his desire to enforce the law giving way to his paranoid domestic-espionage activities designed to derail political opponents, such as Martin Luther King and others he deemed dangerous. Hoover did good work as well in creating a first-class law enforcement agency, but his ego forced it to miss the rise of the Italian Mafia and his racism kept it lily-white far past his death.

9. Andrew Jackson

For the Indian Removal Act, the forced re-location of Native Americans that followed, and the horrible precedent it set for future Americans dealings with native tribes

10. Lyndon Baines Johnson

As if lying to the American people about Vietnam weren’t bad enough, he also set in motion the tax and spend philosophy that lives with us to this day.

11. Joseph McCarthy

A man who did more damage to the anti-Communist cause, and the reputations of countless innocent Americans, than any Communist ever did.

12. Timothy McViegh

Because of this.

13. Richard Nixon

Watergate, Cointelpro, the Pentagon Papers case, Daniel Elsberg, wage and price controls, and the largest expansion of federal bureaucracy since his predecessor.

14. Roger Taney

Fifth Chief Justice of the United States and author of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford

15. Woodrow Wilson

The man who ushered Progressivism through the American political system, involved America in a war in which she had no vital national interests and stake, and took it upon himself to remake the map of Europe in such a way that made a Second World War virtually inevitable.

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice several changes from the 2005 version. Why no Jimmy Carter this time, for example ? Because I consider Carter incompetent, not evil. Anyway, criticize away !

Jazz Shaw:

At one end of the spectrum we have Ed Morrissey’s contention that we should discount serial killers, mass murderers and their ilk, since they boil down to nothing more than “a body count.” While I can see how Ed’s explanation of being misled by John’s rather vague invitation into thinking we should primarily include political figures, I disagree that “worst Americans” would leave out the real monsters. They did far more damage than the raw number of corpses they stacked up. Every mass murderer who terrorizes entire cities like Beltway Sniper John Allen Muhammad and every serial rapist ruining the lives of dozens of women steals something important away from everyone. They take away our faith in a civilized system to protect us. They make us look at strangers with wary glances rather than welcoming smiles. They continue to kill our innocence, not just the bodies of those they defile. They are clearly some of the worst Americans.

But does the wrong-doing in question have to be intentional? Doug Mataconis – to take one example – rightly (in my opinion) leaves Jimmy Carter off of his revised list because he considers the Georgia peanut farmer to be “incompetent, not evil.” Where does the line from incompetence to criminal stupidity get crossed? Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic, was clearly not out madly dashing across the Atlantic looking for icebergs to crash into in the hopes of killing all of his passengers. (Not to mention himself.) He was, by all accounts, an experienced seaman with decades at the helm under his belt. But he made one massive, terminal mistake which took hundreds of lives. Was he evil and malicious? No. Should he land on this sort of list? It’s an interesting question.

But that brings us back to the question of politicians in general. If you approach this as nothing more than an exercise in partisan rock throwing, it’s easy enough to compile a list of politicians from “the other team” that you don’t like and lump them in here. This has little or no value. People who aspire to a life of public service, including high elected office, should be considered to be trying to serve and improve the country, even if some of us completely disagree with their philosophy and how they go about it. (If you’re looking for an excuse to really hate me, those of you I see on Twitter every day talking about Obama’s secret plans to destroy America because he’s some sort of Manchurian Candidate simply put me to sleep.)

But again, at what point does a bad plan cross the line to a criminally bad plan which, given your experience and position, you should have known better than to implement? Going back once again to the choices by the other entrants, almost everyone selected Jimmy Carter. (Except Doug, who had him on his original list from five years ago.) Look, I served in the military under Carter. His economic policies were a disaster and his tentative stance on the use of military force damaged our international standing, in my opinion. He was awful. But was he a “worst American?” Did he have malicious plans for the nation he duped into electing him?

No. As I see is, he honestly – if misguidedly – thought his fiscal plans would help. On the national security front I saw him as a God fearing man who honestly believed that he could both speak softly and hold off using the big stick, preferring a path of peace and diplomacy. It was unproductive and, in the end, largely damaging. But I still believe he meant well and I would not today put him on a list of villains.

I have a few bones to pick with some of the common choices on several of these lists as well. Why is anyone selecting Aaron Burr? Doug and Ed are unhappy because he shot Alexander Hamilton. It was a duel! Nobody made Hamilton show up and he had a gun as well. Reports of his “intentionally missing Burr” have been widely disputed. He is also accused of trying to set up some sort of Western Empire and leave the union. He was eventually cleared of those charges by the Supreme Court and many analysts of the period believe it was a plot by his political rivals. The man served his nation for a lifetime, was a Vice President got beaten up for it. Give him a break.

[…]

I won’t even waste space on those who select currently elected Democrats with whom they disagree for such a list. Rick Moran already took care of that.

Frankly, this is embarrassing. Putting the Clintons, Pelosi, Reid, Gore, Sharpton, and other contemporary Democrats ahead of someone like Nathan Bedford Forest who was at least partly responsible for creating the KKK after the Civil War and spent his spare nights riding around the countryside whipping, lynching, and burning at the stake innocent African Americans demonstrates an extraordinary ignorance of American history.

Everyone who opposed the Iraq war could just as easily assemble their own list and put George W. Bush somewhere on there. It’s pointless.

But enough of that. This has already gone on far too long. Let’s get to my list of some of the worst actors in American history. I’ll follow Doug’s example and go in alphabetical order, since it’s hard to say here who is the worst of the worst. Here are the dirty dozen.

1.) John Wilkes Booth – See Oswald, below

2.) Nathan Bedford Forest – If you don’t know who or what he was, head for Google.

3.) John Wayne Gacy – Anyone who rapes and kills that many children deserves a special place in hell. And on our list.

4.) Alger Hiss – Enough said

5.) Jim Jones – He didn’t just poison a ton of people. He did it under the pretense of speaking for God and upset the applecart of faith for many.

6.)Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Madoff – All three come in at a tie. Not unlike religious examples robbing us of our faith in God, they robbed thousands of their cash, hopes, dreams, and faith in an honest marketplace where people could realize the American dream.

9.) Timothy McViegh – Patriots… please.

10.) Lee Harvey Oswald – I don’t care what you thought of J.F.K. or the fact that he led to Johnson, the guy shot the president and sent shock waves through the nation.

11.) D.C. Stephenson – Grand Dragon in the Klan and friend of one of the most corrupt politicians in Indiana history, his crimes against the nation and his fellow man are legendary.

12.) John Anthony Walker – You want to talk about intentionally doing things to destroy your own country? His picture is by the term in the encyclopedia.

There you have it. Some of the worst we have to offer. Sleep well.

UPDATE: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

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