Sunday, July 12, 2009

The release of the Irbil Five - Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)

Obama Frees Iranian Terror Masters. By Andrew C. McCarthy
The release of the Irbil Five is a continuation of a shameful policy.
NRO, July 11, 2009 7:00 AM

There are a few things you need to know about President Obama’s shameful release on Thursday of the “Irbil Five” — Quds Force commanders from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were coordinating terrorist attacks in Iraq that have killed hundreds — yes, hundreds — of American soldiers and Marines.

First, of the 4,322 Americans killed in combat in Iraq since 2003, 10 percent of them (i.e., more than 400) have been murdered by a single type of weapon alone, a weapon that is supplied by Iran for the singular purpose of murdering Americans. As Steve Schippert explains at NRO’s military blog, the Tank, the weapon is “the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator), designed by Iran’s IRGC specifically to penetrate the armor of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and, consequently, everything else deployed in the field.” Understand: This does not mean Iran has killed only 400 Americans in Iraq. The number killed and wounded at the mullahs’ direction is far higher than that — likely multiples of that — when factoring in the IRGC’s other tactics, such as the mustering of Hezbollah-style Shiite terror cells.

Second, President Bush and our armed forces steadfastly refused demands by Iran and Iraq’s Maliki government for the release of the Irbil Five because Iran was continuing to coordinate terrorist operations against American forces in Iraq (and to aid Taliban operations against American forces in Afghanistan). Freeing the Quds operatives obviously would return the most effective, dedicated terrorist trainers to their grisly business.

Third, Obama’s decision to release the five terror-masters comes while the Iranian regime (a) is still conducting operations against Americans in Iraq, even as we are in the process of withdrawing, and (b) is clearly working to replicate its Lebanon model in Iraq: establishing a Shiite terror network, loyal to Iran, as added pressure on the pliant Maliki to understand who is boss once the Americans leave. As the New York Times reports, Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, put it this way less than two weeks ago:

Iran is still supporting, funding, training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq — flat out. . . . They have not stopped. And I don’t think they will stop. I think they will continue to do that because they are also concerned, in my opinion, [about] where Iraq is headed. They want to try to gain influence here, and they will continue to do that. I think many of the attacks in Baghdad are from individuals that have been, in fact, funded or trained by the Iranians.

Fourth, President Obama’s release of the Quds terrorists is a natural continuation of his administration’s stunningly irresponsible policy of bartering terrorist prisoners for hostages. As I detailed here on June 24, Obama has already released a leader of the Iran-backed Asaib al-Haq terror network in Iraq, a jihadist who is among those responsible for the 2007 murders of five American troops in Karbala. While the release was ludicrously portrayed as an effort to further “Iraqi reconciliation” (as if that would be a valid reason to spring a terrorist who had killed Americans), it was in actuality a na├»ve attempt to secure the reciprocal release of five British hostages — and a predictably disastrous one: The terror network released only the corpses of two of the hostages, threatening to kill the remaining three (and who knows whether they still are alive?) unless other terror leaders were released.

Michael Ledeen has reported that the release of the Irbil Five is part of the price Iran has demanded for its release in May of the freelance journalist Roxana Saberi. Again, that’s only part of the price: Iran also has demanded the release of hundreds of its other terror facilitators in our custody. Expect to see Obama accommodate this demand, too, in the weeks ahead.

Finally, when it comes to Iran, it has become increasingly apparent that President Obama wants the mullahs to win. What you need to know is that Barack Obama is a wolf in “pragmatist” clothing: Beneath the easy smile and above-it-all manner — the “neutral” doing his best to weigh competing claims — is a radical leftist wedded to a Manichean vision that depicts American imperialism as the primary evil in the world.

You may not have wanted to addle your brain over his tutelage in Hawaii by the Communist Frank Marshall Davis, nor his tracing of Davis’s career steps to Chicago, where he seamlessly eased into the orbit of Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi, anti-American terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, and Maoist “educator” Michael Klonsky — all while imbibing 20 years’ worth of Jeremiah Wright’s Marxist “black liberation theology.” But this neo-Communist well from which Obama drew holds that the world order is a maze of injustice, racism, and repression. Its unified theory for navigating the maze is: “United States = culprit.” Its default position is that tyrants are preferable as long as they are anti-American, and that while terrorist methods may be regrettable, their root cause is always American provocation — that is, the terrorists have a point.

In Iran, it is no longer enough for a rickety regime, whose anti-American vitriol is its only vital sign, to rig the “democratic” process. This time, blatant electoral fraud was also required to mulct victory for the mullahs’ candidate. The chicanery ignited a popular revolt. But the brutal regime guessed right: The new American president would be supportive. So sympathetic is Obama to the mullahs’ grievances — so hostile to what he, like the regime, sees as America’s arrogant militarism — that he could be depended on to go as far as politics allowed to help the regime ride out the storm.

And so he has. Right now, politics will allow quite a lot: With unemployment creeping toward 10 percent, the auto industry nationalized, the stimulus revealed as history’s biggest redistribution racket (so far), and Democrats bent on heaping ruinous carbon taxes and socialized medicine atop an economy already crushed by tens of trillions in unfunded welfare-state liabilities, Iran is barely on anyone’s radar screen.

So Obama is pouring it on while his trusty media idles. When they are not looking the other way from the carnage in Iran’s streets, they are dutifully reporting — as the AP did — that the Irbil Five are mere “diplomats.” Obama frees a terrorist with the blood of American troops on his hands, and the press yawns. Senators Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl press for answers about the release of the terrorist and Obama’s abandonment of a decades-old American policy against trading terrorists for hostages, and the silence is deafening.

Except in Tehran, where the mullahs are hearing exactly what they’ve banked on hearing.

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (Encounter Books, 2008).

Democrats For a Flat Tax in California?

Democrats For a Flat Tax? By JOE MATHEWS
Some California legislators realize revenue from the rich is too volatile.
WSJ, Jul 11, 2009

Los Angeles

Karen Bass is an unlikely tax cutter. She's the Democratic speaker of the California State Assembly, a fierce defender of the labor movement, and an advocate for repealing a constitutional provision that requires that tax increases pass the state legislature with a two-thirds majority.

But as California faces a budget crisis that defies efforts to resolve it, there is a woman-bites-dog story developing with Ms. Bass at its center. By the end of the month, a commission she pushed to create is expected to recommend that the state adopt a flat (or at least flatter) personal income tax and cut or repeal corporate and sales taxes.

Normally, such proposals would be dead on arrival in Sacramento. But now many Democrats, including the speaker, are realizing that what they need is a tax base that will provide steady funding for their programs. In other words, they need a tax base that doesn't count on a large slice of revenue from taxes on a relatively small number of wealthy residents who can flee the state or who are themselves vulnerable to losing a substantial portion of income in a recession.

No one understands the political dynamics of volatile state revenues better than Ms. Bass. She's a progressive who has made finding more money for foster care and children's services a top priority. And after negotiating three rounds of budget cuts in the past year she has grown weary of deficit politics. So, determined to modernize the tax system, Ms. Bass is pledging to put whatever recommendations the commission comes back with to an up or down vote.

If that happens, California's tired budget debate -- which usually pits Democrats against Republicans -- will take on a new twist. This time the debate to watch will be among Democrats as they hash out whether taxes are too progressive to accomplish progressive political goals.

In a public meeting last month, a majority of the commission's 14 members -- seven of whom were appointed by Ms. Bass and her Democratic counterpart in the state Senate, the other seven by California's nominally Republican governor -- seemed to favor replacing the state's six income-tax brackets with a single 6% rate. The plan they mentioned would also eliminate corporate and sales taxes and replace them with a business net receipt tax.

"You have to admit," commissioner member Fred Keeley, a Democrat who is the treasurer of Santa Cruz County, said after the meeting, "that the package is a game changer."
In recent days, Mr. Keeley and other Bass appointees, have countered liberal objections with other proposals. But each adopts the logic of simpler taxation. One would create three income-tax brackets (0%, 4% and 7%). Another would cut corporate taxes and the income-tax rate for top earners while imposing a new fuels tax.

It remains unclear how much Ms. Bass will fight for the commission's recommendations. Underscoring the political sensitivity of tax reform, she has been cautious in recent public comments, emphasizing that she is "open-minded" about supporting the recommendations herself. She told me she didn't like the idea of a "flat tax" if it meant raising the tax burden on poorer and middle-class Californians. But she also said she worried about the state's heavy reliance on about 144,000 wealthy people to pay half of all income taxes for a state with a population of 38 million. "It's a crazy statistic," she said.

Late last year, Ms. Bass convinced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state senate's Democratic leader, Darrell Steinberg, to create the Commission on the 21st Century Economy with a mandate for tax reforms that would reduce volatility in state revenue. The Democratic appointees include state tax expert Richard Pomp and Berkeley law school dean Christopher Edley Jr. The governor's appointees include economists Michael Boskin and John Cogan, as well as businessman Gerald Parsky.

"One of the reasons why Californians go through the annual budget ritual in a way that is most years very, very frustrating is that our sources of revenue are far too volatile," Mr. Steinberg said at a December press event.

Other Democrats have made similar points. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently explained her state's problems to the New York Times by saying that 55% of state tax revenues come from income tax and 45% of that comes from the top brackets.

Susan Kennedy, a Democrat who serves as Mr. Schwarzenegger's chief of staff and who is the most important unelected official in the Capitol, was recently asked at a business event what the state tax system needed. "Flatness," she replied. "Our revenue stream is way too progressive."
But as the commission gets close to making recommendations, opposition is forming on the left. Liberal-leaning groups that study the budget argue that all taxes are volatile and that the state should raise taxes, particularly on property, to balance its budget. Public employee unions are demanding in blunt terms that Democrats make the tax code more progressive. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees recently asked legislators to sign statements supporting some $44 billion in new taxes, much of them on the wealthy and industry.

Robert Cruickshank, a contributing editor at the progressive blog Calitics, says of the commission's expected recommendations: "Most progressives are not going to support these kind of regressive solutions. You would see a fight if the Democratic legislature made a move to do this."

The commission poses a political quandary for Republicans. Joel Fox, a former president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, predicts that libertarians could embrace the flatter taxation while conservative populists might oppose the commission out of fear its reforms would increase government revenues.

But supporters of the commission's proposals are likely to get a fair hearing. Frustration with the California status quo crosses all ideological lines. Even those who disagree with the commission's thrust are glad to have something new to discuss. "I'm really glad they're trying something," said Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, a progressive Internet network with more than 700,000 members. He argues that the existing state tax system is too regressive. "It's important to push the discussion out."

Privately, some Democrats hope that the commission sparks a debate that will lead to a tax hike. These Democrats want to end the two-thirds vote requirement on tax hikes and lift limits on commercial property taxes put in place by Proposition 13 in 1978. But regardless of the aims of some heading into this debate, the result is that by starting a discussion on tax reform Democrats could create a flatter, simpler tax code for California. These are strange times in the Golden State.

Mr. Mathews, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of "The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy" (Public Affairs, 2006).

Schlesinger: Why We Don't Want a Nuclear-Free World

James R. Schlesinger: Why We Don't Want a Nuclear-Free World
WSJ, Jul 11, 2009