5/12/2009

Great financial advice

Obvious to people who are good with money, but for the rest of us, this is the best advice I've heard in a long time:


... "I realize $400 seems like a lot of money right now, but it’s not the end of the world. Get on a written, monthly budget, and give every dollar you make a name on paper before the month begins. You’ll have to pay some Stupid Tax, but you can take care of this in no time if you stop eating out for a while and have a monster, blow-out garage sale this weekend. Close the account, cut that card into tiny, little pieces, and never go back into debt again!" ...


Here's another great piece of advice I overheard years ago: "If you don't save money, you're stupid!"

5/08/2009

The Democrat War on Morality

I take my title from the ridiculously titled book, "The Republican War on Science".

Government policy decisions often, if not always, have a moral component. Intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals (who are very influentual in the Democrat party) try very hard to remove morality from any consideration of the value of a proposed policy...unless, of course, the moral position supports their idea.

As an atheist, I do not believe there is an absolute standard of morality dictated by an omnipotent supernatural being. So what am I talking about? Morality is whatever we say it is, right? Well, yes. The important thing that these "intellectuals" seem to forget is that we, as a society, do say what morality is.

Even if the ultimate source of our western (or American at least) morality is ultimately from Judeo-Christian influences, the fact remains that we have a moral code. Some aspects of this moral code are in dispute, some are under attack; however, there is still an underlying, albeit unspoken sense of what is right and what is wrong. Nearly everyone has it. Liberals and conservatives each agree on most questions of right and wrong. Who would argue against this list?

Wrong
Murder
Robbery
Rape
Torture
Imprisonment

Right
Fairness
Kindness
Saving a Life
Sharing
Freedom of Choice
Justice

Don’t all Americans find the practice of killing infant girls (in China) repulsive? Don’t we all find the radical Muslim practice of kidnapping and beheading westerners to be evil? Didn’t we all think the murder, in German death camps, of over 12 million humans to be an abhorrent and despicable action? Don’t we all think the deliberate starvation of entire populations in Africa to be evil? Can you remember how you felt in the hours and days after the attacks on America on September 11, 2001? Didn’t you cry, thinking of the thousands of murdered people, the families left without a father or without a mother, the sons, daughters, wives, husbands, and friends murdered by murderous fanatical religious freaks?

So, why do "liberals" and "conservatives" (as opposed to the political left and right, which are affiliated, but not necessarily the same) disagree on what is right and wrong? It appears to be a matter of perspective. Most people don’t think about why they feel the way they do, they just feel that way. If you are opposed to capital punishment but in favor of legal abortion, or vice-versa, it does not make you a bad person, even if demagogues (A.K.A. politicians) try to convince you otherwise.

Capital Punishment
Liberal: Killing is wrong, and allowing the state to kill for revenge is also wrong. Sometimes innocent persons are convicted and executed. Because of this, capital punishment should be eliminated.
Conservative: When an innocent person is killed, the murderer should pay with his life. To do otherwise is a mockery of principles of justice. The system is not perfect, but there are many safeguards built into our legal system, so the incidence of innocent people being executed is extremely rare. Though tragic, this is not a good reason to abandon the principle of executing murderers.

Abortion
Liberal: A woman has the right to decide what to do with her own body. It is a matter of personal freedom.
Conservative: A baby is the most innocent person there is. Aborting a baby is as evil as killing a newborn infant.

Torture
Liberal: We must never use enhanced interrogation techniques, because it is torture. Torture is wrong under all circumstances. Information obtained under torture is unreliable.
Conservative: When the lives of thousands of Americans are at stake, enhanced interrogation techniques should be used to protect lives. Aggressive interrogation has been effective in getting valuable, reliable information that has protected American lives.

…and so the debate goes. Both sides have merit, but often one side prevails and imposes its will on the other. This leads to discontentment, which politicians exploit for their own advantage. What should be done is compromise. This partly assuages the deeply felt feelings of each side of an issue. For example, abortion should be legal up to a certain point, but not after. Capital Punishment should be an option only when the case and evidence is reviewed by an impartial panel of judges. Enhanced interrogation techniques must only be used under the approval of a bipartisan panel of Senators and the President.

Morality is an important part of being human. Even criminals have their own moral code. Our laws and policies must be moral. If they are not, then people lose respect for the law in general, and ignore it. This will lead to social chaos.

5/01/2009

Andrew McCarthy's Letter to Attorney General Holder

Declining the invitation to endorse a pre-determined policy of releasing trained terrorists into the United States


By email (to the Counterterrorism Division) and by regular mail:

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Attorney General of the United States
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

This letter is respectfully submitted to inform you that I must decline the invitation to participate in the May 4 roundtable meeting the President’s Task Force on Detention Policy is convening with current and former prosecutors involved in international terrorism cases. An invitation was extended to me by trial lawyers from the Counterterrorism Section, who are members of the Task Force, which you are leading.

The invitation email (of April 14) indicates that the meeting is part of an ongoing effort to identify lawful policies on the detention and disposition of alien enemy combatants -- or what the Department now calls “individuals captured or apprehended in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations.” I admire the lawyers of the Counterterrorism Division, and I do not question their good faith. Nevertheless, it is quite clear -- most recently, from your provocative remarks on Wednesday in Germany -- that the Obama administration has already settled on a policy of releasing trained jihadists (including releasing some of them into the United States). Whatever the good intentions of the organizers, the meeting will obviously be used by the administration to claim that its policy was arrived at in consultation with current and former government officials experienced in terrorism cases and national security issues. I deeply disagree with this policy, which I believe is a violation of federal law and a betrayal of the president’s first obligation to protect the American people. Under the circumstances, I think the better course is to register my dissent, rather than be used as a prop.
Moreover, in light of public statements by both you and the President, it is dismayingly clear that, under your leadership, the Justice Department takes the position that a lawyer who in good faith offers legal advice to government policy makers—like the government lawyers who offered good faith advice on interrogation policy—may be subject to investigation and prosecution for the content of that advice, in addition to empty but professionally damaging accusations of ethical misconduct. Given that stance, any prudent lawyer would have to hesitate before offering advice to the government.

Beyond that, as elucidated in my writing (including my proposal for a new national security court, which I understand the Task Force has perused), I believe alien enemy combatants should be detained at Guantanamo Bay (or a facility like it) until the conclusion of hostilities. This national defense measure is deeply rooted in the venerable laws of war and was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the 2004 Hamdi case. Yet, as recently as Wednesday, you asserted that, in your considered judgment, such notions violate America’s “commitment to the rule of law.” Indeed, you elaborated, “Nothing symbolizes our [administration’s] new course more than our decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay…. President Obama believes, and I strongly agree, that Guantanamo has come to represent a time and an approach that we want to put behind us: a disregard for our centuries-long respect for the rule of law[.]” (Emphasis added.)

Given your policy of conducting ruinous criminal and ethics investigations of lawyers over the advice they offer the government, and your specific position that the wartime detention I would endorse is tantamount to a violation of law, it makes little sense for me to attend the Task Force meeting. After all, my choice would be to remain silent or risk jeopardizing myself.

For what it may be worth, I will say this much. For eight years, we have had a robust debate in the United States about how to handle alien terrorists captured during a defensive war authorized by Congress after nearly 3000 of our fellow Americans were annihilated. Essentially, there have been two camps. One calls for prosecution in the civilian criminal justice system, the strategy used throughout the 1990s. The other calls for a military justice approach of combatant detention and war-crimes prosecutions by military commission. Because each theory has its downsides, many commentators, myself included, have proposed a third way: a hybrid system, designed for the realities of modern international terrorism—a new system that would address the needs to protect our classified defense secrets and to assure Americans, as well as our allies, that we are detaining the right people.

There are differences in these various proposals. But their proponents, and adherents to both the military and civilian justice approaches, have all agreed on at least one thing: Foreign terrorists trained to execute mass-murder attacks cannot simply be released while the war ensues and Americans are still being targeted. We have already released too many jihadists who, as night follows day, have resumed plotting to kill Americans. Indeed, according to recent reports, a released Guantanamo detainee is now leading Taliban combat operations in Afghanistan, where President Obama has just sent additional American forces.

The Obama campaign smeared Guantanamo Bay as a human rights blight. Consistent with that hyperbolic rhetoric, the President began his administration by promising to close the detention camp within a year. The President did this even though he and you (a) agree Gitmo is a top-flight prison facility, (b) acknowledge that our nation is still at war, and (c) concede that many Gitmo detainees are extremely dangerous terrorists who cannot be tried under civilian court rules. Patently, the commitment to close Guantanamo Bay within a year was made without a plan for what to do with these detainees who cannot be tried. Consequently, the Detention Policy Task Force is not an effort to arrive at the best policy. It is an effort to justify a bad policy that has already been adopted: to wit, the Obama administration policy to release trained terrorists outright if that’s what it takes to close Gitmo by January.

Obviously, I am powerless to stop the administration from releasing top al Qaeda operatives who planned mass-murder attacks against American cities—like Binyam Mohammed (the accomplice of “Dirty Bomber” Jose Padilla) whom the administration recently transferred to Britain, where he is now at liberty and living on public assistance. I am similarly powerless to stop the administration from admitting into the United States such alien jihadists as the 17 remaining Uighur detainees. According to National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, the Uighurs will apparently live freely, on American taxpayer assistance, despite the facts that they are affiliated with a terrorist organization and have received terrorist paramilitary training. Under federal immigration law (the 2005 REAL ID Act), those facts render them excludable from theUnited States. The Uighurs’ impending release is thus a remarkable development given the Obama administration’s propensity to deride its predecessor’s purported insensitivity to the rule of law.

I am, in addition, powerless to stop the President, as he takes these reckless steps, from touting his Detention Policy Task Force as a demonstration of his national security seriousness. But I can decline to participate in the charade.

Finally, let me repeat that I respect and admire the dedication of Justice Department lawyers, whom I have tirelessly defended since I retired in 2003 as a chief assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. It was a unique honor to serve for nearly twenty years as a federal prosecutor, under administrations of both parties. It was as proud a day as I have ever had when the trial team I led was awarded the Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award in 1996, after we secured the convictions of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and his underlings for waging a terrorist war against the United States. I particularly appreciated receiving the award from Attorney General Reno—as I recounted in Willful Blindness, my book about the case, without her steadfastness against opposition from short-sighted government officials who wanted to release him, the “blind sheikh” would never have been indicted, much less convicted and so deservedly sentenced to life-imprisonment. In any event, I’ve always believed defending our nation is a duty of citizenship, not ideology. Thus, my conservative political views aside, I’ve made myself available to liberal and conservative groups, to Democrats and Republicans, who’ve thought tapping my experience would be beneficial. It pains me to decline your invitation, but the attendant circumstances leave no other option.

Very truly yours,

/S/

Andrew C. McCarthy

cc: Sylvia T. Kaser and John DePue
National Security Division, Counterterrorism Section