The Update

Location: Virginia, United States

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Is the European Union in the Interests of the United States? – June 28th – Heritage Foundation

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The Heritage Foundation continues to impress me with its special events calendar. Today I attended an all-day presentation on the European Union. The event was fascinating. I’d never been in a room with so many European politicians. There was a representative from Portugal, several from England, and one gentleman who walked out before I could discern his ethnicity. The event actually served – at least initially - as a hostile battleground for these foreign politicians to debate the EU.

The first speaker was Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. He made it very clear that he is not in favor of the EU and its constitution as they are. He feels overall that the institution is vehemently anti-American. The same views were expressed by all the speakers and panels that attended. Though the people at Heritage are strongly opposed to the EU and showed a clear bias in their choice of speakers, I don’t find that disturbing. In addition to providing me with a great deal of factual information, the day’s speakers thoroughly convinced me that their position is correct. Thus, I don’t think it was particularly necessary to have anyone representing the opposing viewpoint. Supporters of the EU were in the audience – very briefly – and were able to ask some very direct questions. Within the first half-hour several members of the European Parliament attempted to change the format from lecture to debate. I thought their manner was unnecessarily rude and disruptive. In any case, I felt the panel did a fine job of answering the MEP questions. In the end, their arguments made the EU supporters look pretty silly. However, the EU fans do deserve credit for sticking it out in an unfriendly environment for as long as they did.

After Sen. Smith spoke, the first panel took the stage. This panel gave a basic introduction to the EU and what it’s about. They believe it is intrinsically undemocratic, and its purpose it to undermine the US. Currently 80% of British legislation is decided by the EU, and, thus far, no EU legislation has been overturned by Parliament. Daniel Hannon made an especially impressive speech. By the end of the day I had built up great respect for Mr. Hannon, and I sincerely believe he is the greatest rhetorician I’ve ever seen in person. His presentation skill was phenomenal.

The second panel focused on the EU as it relates to US defense interests. Speakers argued that the EU is a threat to Anglo-American cooperation. Intelligence sharing, as well as strategic military cooperation with the British friends, is seriously compromised by giving the EU control over British treaties. Likewise, NATO is threatened, and there is a very real danger that European uniformity will mean no allies for the US. Finally, terrorism expert Youssef Bodansky argued that the EU can afford to update its intelligence system only by close cooperation with China.
The impact of the EU on the US economy was discussed by the next panel. Frankly, this was extremely boring, so I won’t spend much time on it. I was able to gather that the EU has enacted a plethora of regulations which hurt businesses. Otherwise, the economic jargon had the effect of soft music after a hearty meal. This session was the one sour spot in an intellectually stimulating day.

Panel four exposed a number of scandals that have occurred within the EU. Thus far, no one has been fired for participation in known scams. However, two people have lost their jobs for exposing scams. Ultimately, it was argued that the EU is a corrupting system. It has become a racket.

The day ended with a bang, as Judge Robert Bork headed a panel on the EU and American law. In the words of Judge Bork, “We now have a court that is divorced from the Constitution.” He specifically mentioned the fact that US courts have recently begun citing foreign precedents! This asinine practice is destroying the sovereignty of our own constitution and must cease immediately. Our legal system is based on the Constitution. Our courts must interpret the Constitution as it’s written and not according to some evolving standard.

After the event, I was privileged to shake hands with Judge Bork and thank him for his work in defense of the Constitution. It was truly one of the highlights of the day, and of my internship. To conclude, I simply say thank you to France and Holland.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Russia, Iran, and the Bomb: What Should the Bush Administration Do? – June 27th - Heritage Foundation

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Of the events I’ve attended with the ASCF this summer, I found today’s lecture on Iran the most intriguing. Author Joel C. Rosenberg forcefully addressed the problem of Iran and its desire for nuclear capabilities. He boldly argued that Iran is the most dangerous terror state on the planet, and that our security would be severely jeopardized should Iran obtain nuclear weapons. Mr. Rosenberg pointed out that US and British intelligence confirm the fact that Iran could be able to produce the type of uranium used in nuclear weaponry as early as January of 2006. Within only a few months, Iran could then assemble its own stash of nuclear weapons. Both Democrats and Republicans realize the danger this poses to US security.
Having argued that the situation in Iran truly is a crisis, Mr. Rosenberg addressed possible solutions. He believes the Bush administration has four reasonable options. The first option is diplomacy, which we are currently engaged in. We seek to negotiate a peaceful solution with the Iranian mullahs. Unfortunately, this strategy hasn’t worked so far, and there is a danger that lengthy negotiations could be used by Iran to buy time for their nuclear buildup. Another alternative Mr. Rosenberg labeled “democracy.” Essentially, the US would engage in a propaganda campaign to convince the Iranians to overthrow the current regime. Though the strategy could work in this case, it failed to rid Cuba of Fidel Castro. Also, there’s no guarantee that a new regime would give up the nuclear program. As a third option, the Bush administration could choose to simply accept the inevitability that Iran will eventually obtain nuclear weapons and work to convince its leaders not to use them. Though this would be the least expensive strategy, it also makes us look weak and gives the appearance of “rewarding bad behavior.” Finally, as a last resort, the US could take direct military action against the Iranian government. The least appealing option of all, this would receive fierce public opposition and would be costly in blood and treasure.
None of these options looks very good, as Mr. Rosenberg aptly pointed out. Unfortunately, he failed to mention which option(s) he believes President Bush should choose. Speaking for myself, ideally diplomacy will succeed in convincing the Iranians to disarm. Should negotiations fail, it seems the nation will be faced with a serious decision. Are we willing to risk the possibility of Iran using nuclear weapons and/or selling the technology to its terrorist friends? I, for one, am not comfortable with the idea of terrorists gaining access to nuclear bombs.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Congressman Dave Weldon - June 23

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Earlier this morning, my fellow interns and I had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Dave Weldon. I had done a fair bit of research on his background beforehand, and I was anxious to speak with him. A Republican, Congressman Weldon strongly supports the War on Terror. Also, being a physician by trade, he is very conservative in “family” or “life” issues. He is strongly Pro-Life. The Congressman worked to illegalize partial-birth abortion, ban cloning, and end embryonic stem cell research, and he was also a strong defender of Terry Schiavo. I wanted very much to commend the Congressman for his work on these issues. Unfortunately, his schedule is very busy and he was only able to entertain a few questions.
I did get the opportunity to ask the Congressman for his assessment of the War in Iraq. His answer was twofold. Congressman Weldon believes the war has two “fronts,” so to speak. On one hand we have the actual combat, and on the other there is the battle for public opinion. According to the Congressman, while we are making great progress in the former, we are not doing as well in the latter. Dr. Weldon pointed out that we have had no major terrorist attacks on the US since 9-11 and that al-Qaeda has nearly been wiped out. Still, the Congressman believes that reconstruction in Iraq poses a difficult problem. We must work to prevent Iraq from evolving into a battleground between the Sunnis and Shiites, while not forgetting other strategic objectives.
Congressman Weldon is also of the opinion that the mainstream media is very much anti-Bush. They publish an inordinate number of negative stories regarding Iraq. The media has also failed to point out the economic successes our country has enjoyed – specifically the low unemployment and a record number of minorities owning a home - which Weldon believes are a result of the President’s tax cuts. The final issue that Congressman Weldon touched on was Social Security. He mentioned the fact that Franklin Delanor Roosevelt - and now Alan Greenspan - argued that the system is unsustainable in its present form. Congressman Weldon believes introducing personal accounts would be a positive step in reforming the current system.
To wrap things up, I just want to mention once again my admiration for the Florida representative and the strong positions he has taken on such controversial issues. Congress needs more men like him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The EU Constitution: America Must Beware – Heritage Foundation - Dr. Liam Fox – June 22

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Today’s lecture was very well-done. Dr. Fox is a member of the Conservative Party and House of Commons in Britain. It was clear from the beginning that he is no fan of the EU Constitution. He mentioned that he and his fellow Englishmen are very opposed to the EU acting as an independent state. They are uncomfortable with the idea of the EU making treaties that would bind England or performing any other action that would excessively interfere with British affairs. Dr. Fox sees the Constitution as the antithesis of the US Bill of Rights. While the Bill of Rights uses negative language to limit the power of the state, the EU Constitution uses positive language and speaks of the institution's rights instead of citizen’s rights. Fox fears that the EU sees itself as a European rival to the US, and he indicated that several EU members harbor anti-American sentiment. Thus, reform of the EU is essential to US interests. The EU and its single currency, says Fox, will bring about economic crisis that could serve as a breeding ground for extremists who may find a home in terrorist camps. I found Dr. Fox’s presentation to be quite impressive and his arguments very convincing. America should take a serious look at the European Union, it's Constitution, and the direction it is going.

Capitol Tour - June 21

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Today I had the privilege of attending a tour of the Capitol building. The building has a rich history, some of which was conveyed to us by our chipper tour guides. It was an interesting experience to stand in the old Supreme Court room where great men like Chief Justice John Marshall once stood. There was also a substantial amount of artwork throughout the building. Unfortunately, having visited several world-famous museums in Europe, it was difficult for me to fully appreciate the Capitol’s artwork. The tour concluded with a real treat. My fellow interns and I were allowed to sit in on a House session. Because we were only able to stay for a few minutes, I wasn’t able to pick up much – other than the fact that they were discussing some aspect of intelligence. Still, it was neat to be in the center of the legislative process, and in a room that – before today - I’d only seen on TV.

Using Open-Source Information Effectively – House Subcommitte on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment - June 22

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Yesterday’s hearing on open-source information was an enjoyable and informative experience. Open-source information is unclassified info that is readily available to the public. It includes things like newspaper articles, books, television and radio. The Committee was examining the intelligence community’s ability to make use of this vast amount of information. Ultimately, it was concluded that various intelligence agencies have failed to make sufficient use of this open-source info. Though the info is available, the agencies neglect it by spending too much time analyzing classified info. Dr. John Gannon, the first witness, suggested that this situation be remedied. He also suggested that the DHS become a “full-player” in the intelligence community. This position was emphatically supported by Mr. Eliot Jardines, the second witness. Mr. Jardines advocated establishing and open-source intelligence (OSINT) network within the DHS. He also believes it is necessary that open-source intel be made more accessible for persons like Police and Fire Chiefs. I thoroughly enjoyed the testimony of these two men and subscribe to their position.
I also enjoyed the testimony of the third witness, Mr. Joe Onek, though I do not agree with some of his opinions. Mr. Onek spent time addressing the possibility of open-source intelligence being used in a way that might violate individual’s civil rights. He feared Muslim Americans might be targeted unfairly. However, Mr. Onek failed to give any grounds for his fears. He also suggested that open-source info might be used to by the government to attack political opponents. To solve these potential problems, Mr. Onek believes it is necessary to enact legislation that would prevent intelligence gathered for anti-terrorist purposes to be used elsewhere. For example, if the government is watching a suspect for potential terrorist activity and discovers that he is an illegal immigrant, it should not be able to prosecute him for this crime. To me, this solution is very problematic. Open-source information is open to the public by definition. To say that we should not be able to use this information to prosecute a criminal is, I think, ridiculous. It is my opinion that regardless of who is doing the looking or why they are looking, if someone legally obtains evidence – especially when it’s open to the public – it should be admissible in a court of law.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Civilian Contractors Who Cheat on Their Taxes – June 16th - Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

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This morning we attended a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. The topic wasn’t particularly interesting, but it was a great experience to be among senators, press, and important political figures of Washington. The hearing opened with statements by several of the committee members. These statements gave some basic information on the topic of contractors cheating on their taxes. One senator informed the audience that, “It is illegal for contractors not to submit their taxes,” and “Tax chiseling is not a new story.” Another senator declared that, “Federal contractors must be held accountable for their actions.” Of course I agreed with all of these statements, but they seemed rather obvious. The Senators and the witnesses, who were later sworn in, did delve deeper into the issue. It was at this point that the hearing became much more engaging. The dialog between the senators and the witnesses was much more interesting that the senators individual declarations. I mean no disrespect to the senators, but all three that read statements said the same thing. It was when the witness testified that everyone began looking for a solution to the problem. Prosecution of high-profile delinquent contractors was one obvious but very important step. The Committee also seemed anxious to tighten regulations that had previously allowed sneaky contractors to slip thru the cracks with millions of government dollars. The trip to the Senate was an interesting experience. I’m looking forward to visiting again – hopefully when a more exciting issue is being addressed.

Reagan and the 80's - Heritage Foundation - June 14th

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My fellow interns and I attended a series of brief talks on Ronald Reagan, at the Heritage Foundation. I admit I didn’t get as much out of the talks as I thought I would. Unfortunately, the talks weren’t as in depth as I was expecting. All of the speakers were great fans of Reagan, which wasn't surprising, and several had worked closely with him or written books about him. I share their attitude towards our former president. I also know that the ASCF worked closely with him and was a strong supporter. However, to me it seemed that the talks could all be summed up by saying, “Reagan was a great guy.” Frankly, I already knew that much. Each speaker took a slightly different angle on the former President, but they were all pretty vague. One speaker talked a lot on Reagan’s character, comparing him to Winston Churchill. I found his talk fairly interesting. Another speaker focused on how Reagan was seen by the Media. In general, I felt like all the talks were more on how Americans - particularly the media - perceived and perceive Reagan, rather than on the greatness of the former president himself. Overall, the talks were good – just not particularly interesting to me. Part of the problem was probably due to the fact that I was very young during the Reagan years and don't remember the politics of the time. Thus, I don't know as much about President Reagan as I should, and the speakers probably presumed its audience was more familiar with Reagan and his accomplishments than I am. In any case, I enjoyed the event. The free food afterwards was a nice treat too.