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09 February 2013

Britain's Blues


The U.K. is in a bit of a muddle.

By Conrad Black

The United Kingdom is rivaled by no other country as a continuous major power since the rise of the nation-state, but it is now slipping into a crisis of national purpose as serious as it passed through prior to the Thatcher years (1979–90). By the late 1970s, Britain had an unruly industrial-relations climate, was lumbered by a vast and hemorrhagingly unprofitable public sector, had a 98 percent top personal-income-tax rate, and was in danger of becoming a silly and backward place. Thatcher tamed the labor unions, radically reduced taxes, privatized almost everything, gave the Argentinians a good thrashing over the Falklands (restoring democracy to Argentina in the process, though it hasn’t worked very well), and played a front-rank role, with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, in the Western victory in the Cold War. Britain was restored to the place she has generally occupied since early Henrician times as one of the world’s most respected nations.

Much, though not all, of this has been squandered by Margaret Thatcher’s successors. John Major kept most of her accomplishments in place and won a fourth straight full-term majority for the Conservatives (the first a party has had since before the first Reform Act of 1832, which expanded the electorate). Then came Tony Blair and New Labour. Gradually, almost all taxes except those on individual and personal incomes were raised, and finally those were, too. The proceeds were poured into the public service, while, in a pattern familiar to Americans, standards of state education and public health care declined. What was new about Labour was that, for the first time, it was reelected to consecutive full terms (three terms), before being rejected under Blair’s successor, the long-serving chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, in 2011. No previous Labour government had lasted more than six years (Ramsay Macdonald, 1929–35; Clement Attlee, 1945–51; Harold Wilson, 1964–70; Wilson and James Callaghan, 1974–79). These 23 years in power were all that Labour had to show for the 73 years it had been the alternate party of government with the Conservatives prior to the election of Tony Blair in 1997, and four of the Macdonald years were in a rickety coalition dominated by the Conservatives and sponsored by a royal request from King George V.

It was an achievement for Labour to be consecutively returned to office three times, but it now appears to have been a testimony more to the immense success of the Thatcher-Major years that required a long time to squander, than to any masterly aptitude at governance by Labour. Blair was, as he remains, an amiable man and a reliable ally (as were Attlee, Wilson, and Callaghan), but by retaining Thatcher’s discipline of the unions and avoiding the traditional Labour addiction to punitive income-tax increases, he avoided being jettisoned on the customary fast track after four or five years of socialist nostrums. But old, far-left Labour replaced Brown after all parties lost in the election of 2011. The public was not sufficiently impressed with the Conservatives under David Cameron to give them a majority, and engaged in the rare self-indulgence of a large vote to the Liberal Democrats, who last were in government in peacetime in Macdonald’s ineffectual regime, and last led a government themselves under David Lloyd George in the piping days of Woodrow Wilson and Warren Gamaliel Harding. The country has its first peacetime coalition in over 75 years.

By imposition of a pantomime horse of austerity and stimulus, where the Conservative front and Lib-Dem back legs aren’t synchronized, the government has generated no economic growth and has suffered all of the standard erosion of popularity that afflicts governments trying to fight off a stagflationary recession. The aberrant support for the third party has collapsed, and the Liberal Democrats are barely holding their own against the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by the country’s most persuasive and articulate party leader, Nigel Farage. The UKIP advanced initially in outspoken opposition to Euro-integration, but is also a skillful populist articulation of middle-class values. And in current polls, Europe — though the British are unhappy with it and have long since given up on the Euro-federalist dream, which, at its most florid, predicted the return of preeminent world influence to the nations of the old continent standing on each other’s shoulders — ranked as a concern behind the economy, the welfare system, immigration, the deficit, and the National Health Service.

These polls show that only 22 percent of the British are positive about Europe, 19 percent are negative but wish to renegotiate some sort of membership, though not a federal or centralized one, and 26 percent are negative and want out altogether. Prime Minister Cameron personally has a 28 percent approval rating, an equal 28 percent don’t approve of him but don’t prefer the vintage Labour leader Ed Miliband (who has ditched any pretense to New Labour), and another 28 percent disapprove of Cameron so thoroughly that they do prefer Miliband. Overall, Labour leads the Conservatives 38 percent to 33 percent and the Liberal Democrats and the UKIP are both around 10 percent. But almost all the UKIP votes come from the Conservatives, and they are spread fairly evenly throughout the country.

Despite his problems, which were aggravated by his proximity to the much-mistrusted Rupert Murdoch organization in the hacking scandal last year, Cameron still leads on the major issue of the economy, 43 to 26 percent, and on the third issue, immigration, and on Europe. His standing on that last question has been reinforced by a promise of an in-or-out referendum in 2017. This was the best he could do, as his coalition partners would desert him if he tried such a referendum now. If Britain were to lurch into the arms of Labour at the next election, it would follow the Gadarene route to immolation as a serious force that France is now charging down under its new socialist president, François Hollande.

Cameron is trying to redress the errors of Blair and Brown, without recalling what are still popularly seen as the “uncaring” severity and excessive traditionalism of Thatcher. But the underlying strategic difficulty the United Kingdom faces is that the pre-Thatcher Conservatives under Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath (prime ministers 1957–63 and 1970–74 respectively) plunged headlong into Europe and ditched their long and very useful relationship with Britain’s senior associate states in the Commonwealth: Canada, Australia, India, Singapore, and New Zealand, which have all done much better than Europe in most of the intervening years, and are united with Britain in language, institutions, and a democratic inheritance (from Britain herself). Thatcher thought better of that and placed all her bets on the American alliance with Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. It worked, but it didn’t last. Obama has no interest in the special relationship, or what was called in the days of Churchill and Roosevelt, with reason, the Grand Alliance, and Britain is an orphan: no special ally, no coterie of kindred and flourishing states, and no room to grow in the European inn.

In their long and illustrious history, the British have met sterner challenges. But they will need a majority government with a clear mandate and a stronger leader than Cameron has appeared to be. The likeliest bet now is that if he falters, the folkloric star mayor of London, Boris Johnson, will get the call from the Conservatives, who have sacked virtually all of their leaders since the voluntary retirement of Stanley Baldwin in 1937. (Even Winston Churchill was eased out at 80, and Margaret Thatcher was pushed out for predicting exactly what has happened in Europe.) Whether or not Cameron stays, he will probably have to dump the Liberal Democrats as he dissolves Parliament for elections in two years, in favor of an arrangement with Farage. In such times, great statesmen of the past such as Walpole, the Pitts elder and younger, Fox, Palmerston, Russell, Disraeli, Gladstone, and Lloyd George flourished. As in most other countries, the current crop, except perhaps for Farage, does not appear to be cut from the same cloth. Britain always muddles through, but it’s dodgy.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of FreedomRichard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and the recently published A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at

The Problems of the White Paper

To linger on the hypocrisy is to miss the big picture. 

By Andrew C McCarthy

My, how the worm has turned. 

Seems like only yesterday that Eric Holder was inveighing against sweeping executive war powers. These were the Bush years, when Holder could readily be found caviling about such odious practices as “secret electronic surveillance against American citizens” and “detain[ing] American citizens without due process of law.” Back then, Holder declared these Bush war crimes so “needlessly abusive and unlawful” that the American people (translation: the Bush-deranged Left) were owed “a reckoning” against the officials who conjured them up.

But once he became attorney general in a Democratic administration, the ever-malleable Mr. Holder decided there was actually no problem killing American citizens without due process of law, based on intelligence gleaned from secret surveillance.

The breathtaking hypocrisy of the Obama Democrats is what screams off the pages of the “white paper” Holder’s Justice Department has served up to support the president’s use of lethal force against U.S. nationals who align with our foreign terrorist enemies. It bears remembering that Holder, like his Gitmo Bar soul mates, once volunteered his services to the enemy. At the time, he was a senior partner at a firm that was among the Lawyer Left’s most eager to provide free legal help to al-Qaeda enemy combatants in their lawsuits against the American people. Holder filed an amicus brief on behalf of Jose Padilla, an American citizen turned al-Qaeda operative who was sent to the United States by Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in 2002 to attempt a post-9/11 “second wave” of mass-murder attacks. 

Just so you get the gist of where Holder was coming from, an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief is not something a lawyer has to file on behalf of a client. Padilla already had other counsel. Holder was a party crasher, gratuitously intervening — exploiting his status as a former Clinton deputy attorney general — to steer the court toward his desired policy.

And that desired policy? Holder wanted terrorism relegated to the criminal-justice system, as it had been before Bush pivoted to a law-of-war paradigm. According to the pre-2009 Holder, if an enemy-combatant terrorist, particularly an American citizen, is encountered away from a traditional battlefield, the Constitution demands that he be given the rights of a criminal defendant. Executive action against him may be taken only under judicial supervision. Yes, Holder conceded, this might mean that the government will be barred from detaining and interrogating many a “dangerous terrorist.” And yes, it risks the reprise of 9/11’s slaughter of nearly 3,000 Americans. “But,” he blithely concluded, “our Nation has always been prepared to accept some risk as the price of guaranteeing that the Executive does not have arbitrary power to imprison citizens.”

Ah, but arbitrary power to kill citizens — now, that’s a different story.

We could go on all day about chutzpah. Holder and Obama used to sneer that Bush/Cheney counterterrorism posed a “false choice” between our security and “our values.” Now, they’ve decided not only that the commander-in-chief’s war powers extend beyond “hot battlefields” to anyplace on the planet the president chooses, but also that the last thing we need is judicial oversight. After all, the white paper declaims, “matters intimately related to foreign policy and national security are rarely proper subjects for judicial intervention” and “turn on standards that defy judicial application.”

Who knew? Indeed, who knew that Clarence Thomas — Clarence Thomas — had become Obama’s favorite Supreme Court justice? The Left used to point out gleefully that, in the critical 2004 Hamdi case, which reaffirmed that American-citizen enemy combatants may be detained without civilian due process, none of the other eight justices agreed with Thomas’s embrace of the Bush administration’s expansive take on executive war power. Now, Obama and Holder extensively quote Justice Thomas — as if the Left hadn’t spent eight years smearing him and Bush and every national-security conservative as a Constitution-shredding monster. 

It is tempting to dwell on Obama’s political posturing, on the fraud that runs through everything from Left’s condemnation of waterboarding to its precious fretting over Bush’s Gitmo “gulag” — as opposed to the Obama graveyard. To linger on the hypocrisy, however, is to miss the big picture. That requires us to look at three things.

The first is that, on the central question, the administration is right: The commander-in-chief does have the power in wartime to use lethal force against American citizens who join with the enemy, and there is no judicial recourse. The Obama/Holder blather about “false choices” was absurd, because no choice is involved at all: “Our values” are reflected in the Constitution, which calls for due process under the prevailing circumstances, not judicial process under all circumstances. When hostilities rage, “our values” include the laws of war. Under them, enemy combatants may lawfully be killed, captured, and detained without trial, or tried by military commission.

That goes for American enemy combatants, too — continued foot-stamping to the contrary from progressives and libertarians notwithstanding. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that American citizens who fight for the enemy may be treated like the enemy. Ever notice that the people forever insisting on judicial interventions are the first to ignore the courts when the rulings go against them?

The second big-picture issue is the substance of the Obama guidelines. Despite proceeding from a sound premise, the Justice Department white paper is dangerously misguided. Ironically, this is mostly because the administration is guilty of exactly the error the Left accused President Bush of, often unfairly: an executive imperialism that fails to respect Congress’s war powers and to seek legislative buy-in.

No credible person questions the following two propositions: (1) The president has not only the authority but the obligation to use any force necessary to repel attacks or prevent truly imminent attacks; and (2) when combat operations are authorized by Congress, which is endowed with the constitutional power to declare war, the president may use any force he judges necessary within the parameters of Congress’s authorization. In those two situations, if American citizens are killed while fighting for the enemy, there is no constitutional violation.

Nevertheless, outside these two situations, presidents can veer into lawlessness. Executive war-making is on thin ice, at best, if it exceeds Congress’s combat authorization (or if Congress has not given authorization), and if the United States is not otherwise under either attack or the imminent threat of attack. The Obama guidelines are heedless of these limitations.

The white paper suggests that, independent of congressional authorization, the president has some amorphous reservoir of authority — created by a combination of his general Article II powers and international law (particularly the latter’s recognition of a self-defense right) — to instigate military operations on his own. The administration would comfort us regarding this imperious claim by purporting to limit it to “imminent” attack situations, and stipulating that lethal force should be used against Americans only when capture is “infeasible.” But the guidelines provide Orwellian definitions of imminence and feasibility — such that these are not really limitations at all.

What emerges instead, at least in theory, is an unbound, unreviewable license to kill any American the commander-in-chief, acting through some unspecified subordinate, decides is dangerous.

Let’s try to be more concrete about it by considering a hypothetical based on the Libya war. Obama launched that war unilaterally: There was no congressional authorization, no threat of attack against the United States, and no vital American interest imperiled. Let’s say the president or, even worse, some unidentified subordinate decided some American mercenary in, say, northern Chad (a non-battlefield) was training non-uniformed forces to conduct covert operations in support of Qaddafi. The administration appears to take the position that the president or his mysterious subordinate could legitimately dispatch a drone to kill that American citizen.

This is plain wrong. That the Constitution, as construed by the Supreme Court, abides the wartime killing of American enemy combatants is not a bright green light. It is a reluctant allowance, a grudging resolution of a very close question. The Constitution remains, primarily, every American citizen’s protection against federal-government abuse. Foreign enemies threaten all Americans, and thus wide latitude must be granted to the governmental forces charged with defeating them. If this ends up meaning a citizen’s right to life must be denied because he threatens other American lives, the killing must be done consistent with the Constitution’s requirements. In the absence of an attack or imminent attack, that means there must be a congressional authorization. Consulting with the Security Council or the Arab League will not do. 

The ongoing war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates is legitimate under the Authorization of the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11. But the 2001 AUMF is not the showstopper it is portrayed to be by the white paper, by administration supporters, and by the national-security Right. As I’ve argued before (see, e.g., here), it is badly in need of updating.

To be sure, the AUMF is sweeping in terms of allowing the president to target “nations, organizations or persons” without any geographical limitations — Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen and Jose Padilla in Chicago were no less eligible for enemy-combatant treatment than Yasser Hamdi in Afghanistan. Yet the AUMF is narrower than commonly thought, and surely narrower than the Obama white paper intimates. That is because, to qualify as enemy combatants, the AUMF requires that these nations, organizations, or persons must either have been complicit in the 9/11 attacks or have harbored those who were complicit.

September 11, 2001, was a dozen years ago. Many jihadists who now threaten us did not join al-Qaeda and its affiliates until years after the attacks. In fact, some affiliates, such as the Pakistani Taliban, did not even exist on 9/11. To be sure, the AUMF went on to say that the reason Congress was authorizing combat operations was “to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” But that clause did not unmoor what is otherwise the AUMF’s literal grounding in 9/11. Certainly, the fuzzy “future attacks” language is a thin reed on which to rest the use of lethal force against Americans — or anyone else — who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, even if they are jihadist savages. I doubt many Republicans would have much use for judges who construed the Constitution with the same organic grandeur that colors the standard Republican reading of the AUMF.

This brings us, finally, to the last big-picture point: There is abundant opportunity in Obama’s hypocrisy. For a dozen years, we have engaged in heated debates about Bush counterterrorism practices. After four years of watching Obama enthusiastically adopt what he once condemned, we now know Bush detractors were animated by politics, not conviction. We now know that, across a broad spectrum of Obama progressives and national-security conservatives, there is consensus about an aggressive counterterrorism model.

Though neither the civilian nor the military justice system is a comfortable fit for modern international terrorism, we have wasted years slamming the square peg into these round holes. Instead, we should have been designing a new, hybrid legal framework for the modern realities of international terrorism: the need to detain jihadists who cannot be tried under civilian due-process standards; the need effectively to interrogate jihadist prisoners to whom Geneva Convention protections for honorable combatants do not apply; the need to conduct searching, rapid-fire cross-border surveillance; the need to capture and sometimes kill enemy operatives who lurk in the shadows, far from traditional battlefields — some of whom will inevitably be American citizens; the need to revise the AUMF to reflect the current state of the war and remove uncertainty — or illegitimacy — in the determination of who qualifies as an enemy combatant.

For many years, I have argued that we need a new national-security court to deal with the unique legal challenges of a war against transnational terrorists. If anything, the need is more urgent now than ever. No matter what the future of counterterrorism is, though, there needs to be congressional buy-in. President Bush could never deliver that: Democrats were too determined to smear for political purposes the strategies they abruptly embraced once they were accountable for the nation’s security. But President Obama could do it — he could deliver plenty of Democrats. Together with the strong Republican support that is guaranteed, we could very quickly have an enduring, constitutionally sound counterterrorism framework. We could craft legislation that provides broad executive discretion but avoids the dangerous excesses of the Justice Department white paper.

All President Obama has to do is lead. All he has to have, in dealing publicly with his anti-war, anti-anti-terrorist base, is the courage of the convictions he and his attorney general manage to summon up for secret white papers.

 Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which is published by Encounter Books.

Did You Know DHS Can Seize And Search Your Electronic Devices Without Any Suspicion, For Any Reason, Within 100 Miles Of A Border?

DHS Watchdog OKs ‘Suspicionless’ Seizure of Electronic Devices Along Border

Via Wired:

The Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights watchdog has concluded that travelers along the nation’s borders may have their electronics seized and the contents of those devices examined for any reason whatsoever — all in the name of national security.

The DHS, which secures the nation’s border, in 2009 announced that it would conduct a “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of its suspicionless search-and-seizure policy pertaining to electronic devices “within 120 days.” More than three years later, the DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a two-page executive summary of its findings.

“We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits,” the executive summary said.

The memo highlights the friction between today’s reality that electronic devices have become virtual extensions of ourselves housing everything from e-mail to instant-message chats to photos and our papers and effects — juxtaposed against the government’s stated quest for national security.

The President George W. Bush administration first announced the suspicionless, electronics search rules in 2008. The President Barack Obama administration followed up with virtually the same rules a year later. Between 2008 and 2010, 6,500 persons had their electronic devices searched along the U.S. border, according to DHS data.

According to legal precedent, the Fourth Amendment — the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures — does not apply along the border. By the way, the government contends the Fourth-Amendment-Free Zone stretches 100 miles inland from the nation’s actual border.

Civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union suggest that “reasonable suspicion” should be the rule, at a minimum, despite that being a lower standard than required by the Fourth Amendment. 

“There should be a reasonable, articulate reason why the search of our electronic devices could lead to evidence of a crime,” Catherine Crump, an ACLU staff attorney, said in a telephone interview. “That’s a low threshold.” 

The DHS watchdog’s conclusion isn’t surprising, as the DHS is taking that position in litigation in which the ACLU is challenging the suspicionless, electronic-device searches and seizures along the nation’s borders. But that conclusion nevertheless is alarming considering it came from the DHS civil rights watchdog, which maintains its mission is “promoting respect for civil rights and civil liberties.”

“This is a civil liberties watchdog office. If it is doing its job property, it is supposed to objectively evaluate. It has the power to recommend safeguards to safeguard Americans’ rights,” Crump said.

“The office has not done that and the public has the right to know why.”

Toward that goal, the ACLU on Friday filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding to see the full report that the executive summary discusses.

Meantime, a lawsuit the ACLU brought on the issue concerns a New York man whose laptop was seized along the Canadian border in 2010 and returned 11 days later after his attorney complained.

At an Amtrak inspection point, Pascal Abidor showed his U.S. passport to a federal agent. He was ordered to move to the cafe car, where they removed his laptop from his luggage and “ordered Mr. Abidor to enter his password,” according to the lawsuit.

Agents asked him about pictures they found on his laptop, which included Hamas and Hezbollah rallies. He explained that he was earning a doctoral degree at a Canadian university on the topic of the modern history of Shiites in Lebanon.

He was handcuffed and then jailed for three hours while the authorities looked through his computer while numerous agents questioned him, according to the suit, which is pending in New York federal court.

08 February 2013

Breaking: Would-Be Taliban Fighter Attempts To Blow Up BofA In Order Start A Civil War


 The targeted Bank of America building in Oakland

From PJMedia:

A would-be Islamic terrorist tried to ignite a civil war this morning by bombing a bank in Oakland, California, saying that “he wanted the bank bombing to be blamed on anti-U.S. government militias”; luckily, the FBI thwarted his plan:

A man who was hoping to start a civil war in the United States with a terrorist attack in the Bay Area was arrested early Friday after trying to detonate what he thought was a car bomb at a Bank of America branch in Oakland, federal prosecutors said.

Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, of San Jose was taken into custody near the bank at 303 Hegenberger Road after pressing a cell-phone trigger device that was supposed to detonate the explosives inside an SUV and bring down the building, prosecutors said.

His supposed accomplice was an undercover FBI agent who had been meeting with him since Nov. 30, according to an FBI declaration filed in federal court. The declaration said the FBI had built the purported bomb, which posed no threat to the public.

The FBI agent quoted Llaneza as saying he supports the Taliban and wants to engage in violent jihad.

In the Nov. 30 meeting with an agent who posed as someone connected to the Taliban in Afghanistan, Llaneza said he wanted the bank bombing to be blamed on anti-U.S. government militias, triggering a government crackdown, a right-wing response and a civil war, the FBI declaration said….

[Llaneza] laughed and hugged the undercover agent after the agent showed him the SUV in a storage unit rented by the FBI. Llaneza also stated he wanted to travel to Afghanistan so he could train Taliban fighters, according to authorities.

He's identified as a white male on his booking sheet.

Here is the official FBI press release about the incident, released a few minutes ago:

Criminal complaint.