February 27, 2010
The Man Who Would Take Murtha's Seat for the GOPBy Alan Fraser
AT's Alan Fraser interviewed Lt. Col. Bill Russell, who is running for the congressional seat left open by the sudden death of Jack Murtha. This is the second of two parts. Part I here.
AT: Staying with the Global War on Terror for a moment...at The American Thinker, we cover a lot of issues...I won't say that we're one-issue voters, but national security is the most important topic that we get into. In August of 2009, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan gave a speech outlining the administration's thoughts on combating terrorism. The speech was entitled "A New Approach for Safeguarding Americans," and if I could for a moment, I'd like to read a couple of excerpts from that speech.
[O]ur fight against terrorists sometimes led us to stray from our ideals as a nation. Tactics such as waterboarding were not in keeping with our values as Americans, and these practices have been rightly terminated and should not, and will not, happen again. I believe President Obama is absolutely correct: such practices not only fail to advance our counterterrorism efforts, they actually set back our efforts. They are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists, increase the determination of our enemies, and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us. In short, they undermine our national security.
Col. Russell, what do you think about that point of view?
Col. Russell: One, I think that it is incredibly, incredibly naïve. A fun quote that always comes to mind when I hear some of these folks talk about counterterrorism and fighting the fight comes from Gen. George Patton, who said basically that they know less about fighting than they do about fornicating.
AT: (prolonged laughter)
Col. Russell: It is just incredibly naïve. One, waterboarding is not torture. It causes no permanent injuries. Yes, it makes the person very uncomfortable. Compare the process of pouring a little bit of water up someone's nose, in a very, very controlled environment...compare that to the brutal pictures that you can find on TMZ.com -- these are pictures taken from the al-Qaeda torture manual together with instruments of torture as well as the torture houses we found. The sheer brutality -- eye-gouging, the use of wire, blowtorches, truly medieval torture practices that incur permanent physical harm if not a very slow and painful death -- that is what torture is.
It makes my blood boil. For those of us who have seen some of these beheading videos that the enemy uploads to the internet...a lot of people don't appreciate that the technique that the terrorist use in beheading a human victim is the same method they use when they slaughter goats. When you are facing an enemy that is so cruel that they will fly planes into buildings to kill innocent civilians or saw the heads off of innocent people...all done in the name of terror. Those people are the ones doing the torturing. Instead of lamenting so much waterboarding, if the press would instead show the evil acts that these people are doing, it would counter the propaganda message of having a little bit of water poured up somebody's nose.
AT: I'd like to, if I could, read a few more excerpts from this speech given by John Brennan because in this speech, he was articulating President Obama's position on these matters:
Rather than looking at allies and other nations through the narrow prism of terrorism-whether they are with us or against us-the administration is now engaging other countries and peoples across a broader range of areas ...
Indeed, it was telling that the President was actually criticized in certain quarters in this country for not using words like "terror," "terrorism" or "terrorist" in [a speech he gave]. This goes to the heart of his new approach. Why should a great and powerful nation like the United SATes allow its relationship with more than a billion Muslims around the world be defined by the narrow hatred and nihilistic actions of an exceptionally small minority of Muslims?...
Likewise, the President does not describe this as a "global war"...describing our efforts as a "global war" only plays into the warped narrative that al Qaeda propagates. It plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world. It risks setting our Nation apart from the world, rather than emphasizing the interests we share.
Col. Russell: Once again, this is very naïve. When you've seen the kind of brutality that I've described, naïve is the only way to describe this approach.
Yes, there are folks we want to reach out to...who we want to bring over to our side. Identifying and showing the brutality is sometimes a preferred method. We should be showing and talking about all the terrible things this enemy is doing to the peace-loving people we want to reach out to.
Are you familiar with Margaret Hassan?
Col. Russell: She was a British national who was married to an Iraqi man. She was doing a lot of humanitarian work and volunteer work. The best way to describe her would be as the Mother Teresa of Baghdad, a wonderful woman who worked her entire life to help relieve people from suffering.
We found her execution video. She endured 5-6 weeks of torture in captivity...horrific treatment...and was, at the end, executed on videotape. My colleagues in Fallujah found what was believed to be her mutilated body near the place where they found her execution video in November of 2004. While the identification of the body was inconclusive, there were only so many Caucasian women of her age group in Fallujah at the time. Margaret Hassan was an example of how brutal this enemy will be to good people who pose no threat to them.
But we cannot afford to show weakness. The best way to put it is: As I walk the streets -- coming from a martial arts background, I have a black belt in jujitsu -- I know that when I encounter people, I can accomplish so much more with a handshake and smile. In terms of building relationships, this approach helps. But when you do meet a terrorist or thug or bully who is not going to be reasoned with, you've got to have the baseline tools with which you can project power and strength so as to nullify bad situations appropriately. And unfortunately, with the administration's approach, it seems that they want to emphasize only the soft side and the friendly side without understanding the reality that we are facing very brutal enemies, and we need to be prepared to stand up to them.
AT: Do you think the world from which the enemy comes recognizes the soft-glove approach...do you think they have respect for that approach?
Col. Russell: No. No they don't. There are a lot of things that go into their mindset. I spent a year and a half working in Riyadh Saudi Arabia directly with the Saudi Arabian National Guard as a trainer representing the American Army, and I got to see how they respect strength. I'm talking about from a cultural standpoint: They respect strength. They appreciate someone who can honor them and won't embarrass them, but if a person comes across as being too soft, or if he comes across as not knowing who his friends are while being too nice to his enemies...well, that will be a person who'll be lost at sea.
And that seems to be the way in which the current administration operates. They fail to recognize their friends. They fail to shore up their friends. And they fail to stand up to the enemy.
If the president says, "We are going to stay and fight until we defeat al-Qaeda; then we're going to leave"...if you broadcast the message that Americans are going to leave, you're saying that you're going to abandon your friends to the whims of the whatever remnants of the enemy remain. And the retribution from these brutal enemies is so harsh -- they take out entire families, they are incredibly brutal -- that the people that we're trying to help will show only passive resistance in the fight and passive, at best, support for the Americans -- and this is because they think that we are going to leave because we've told the world that.
The use of timelines -- not carrying fight to enemy, not isolating the enemy from the people we want to have on our side and with whom we want to form strong relationships...we are at a loss, and this administration seems hopelessly naïve in their approach and is operating in a vacuum of understanding of the nature of the enemy and the environment in which we are today living.
AT: Yes. Col. Russell, there is one more little excerpt I want to read from Brennan's speech that is very much consistent with what you have just articulated. He said that
[n]or does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against "jihadists." Describing terrorists in this way-using a legitimate term, "jihad," meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal-risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United SATes is somehow at war with Islam itself.
There are a couple of thoughts that come to mind with that kind of mentality. This seems to be an administrations that is to some extent preoccupied with what other people think about us...
Col. Russell: Yes.
AT: ...but doesn't seem to understand how other peoples think. In other words, they're concerned about what other people think about us, so "Let's use nice words...let's play nice...it's not a war against jihad...it's not a war against Islam...it's not a global war...let's apologize...let's Mirandize captured terrorists...so that they will all think nicely of us"...
Col. Russell: Yep.
AT: ...but I think, as you pointed out, what the enemy respects is strength...and consistency.
Col. Russell: Yes. And one of the things the president worries too much about was telegraphed in the speech he made when he went to Turkey: namely, the concern of us being characterized as "crusaders." He stated that America is not a Christian nation, and unfortunately, that blended right into an Arab perception of America. You see, they don't hate us because we are, quote, "a Christian nation."
Col. Russell: You know what the most popular American television show is in the Middle East?
AT: No...I don't.
Col. Russell: Baywatch.
AT: Baywatch? (prolonged laughter) So those who hate us hate us because we're decadent.
Col. Russell: Yes. They see us as decadent, and for those of you who enjoyed the movie "Borat," where the main character chases Pamela Anderson because he wants to marry her...in many ways, that is the Arab perception of America, that of a decadent, sinful nation that is corrupt and against Islam and everything that Islam promotes in terms of virtue, etc. The popular perception in the Arab street is that America is a decadent culture, and when you add to that the way they characterize our support to Israel and their propaganda message that we harm and kill Arab children and add the images of starving Palestinians...all being done by this decadent excessive culture...that is largely the perception of us.
By denying the Judeo-Christian roots of our founding and what was special about America's founding...that our founding fathers recognized that people are given certain rights by their Creator and the government was initially established not to grant rights, but to protect those rights that were endowed by God. That's the message that we should be talking about...of what makes America special. Because unfortunately, our image in the world, especially in the Arab world -- our image is defined by the most base and decadent of television shows that are broadcast out there. And another very popular show is "90210." These are the things that form their perception of us. And it just strikes to the heart of it when Obama stands up and says "No, we're not a Christian nation." In doing that, he undercut any sense of credibility and morality that we might have in that part of world.
AT: I think this is very ironic, the way that you're describing the perception of us in that part of the world, in which you've spent so much time. When Obama said what he said, their reaction must have been, "well, that's consistent with Baywatch." Maybe he's right... (laughter)
Col. Russell: (laughter) Yeah.
AT: ...but...wow...why emphasize it, particularly in a speech delivered in an Islamic part of the world?
AT: There are a couple of things I'd like to close with. One of them has to do with the Consumption Tax or Fair Tax, and the other has to do with your thoughts on developing the natural resources of Southwestern Pennsylvania. In one of your information sheets you state that
[s]outhwestern Pennsylvania can lead the United States to energy independence with clean coal, coal to liquid fuel, and development of its gas resources. When combined with the completion of the region's US highway networks, namely US 219 and US 43, the unshackling of Southwestern Pennsylvania's natural resources could lead to an infusion of up to $350 billion of real wealth creation into the area every single year.
Tell us about that.
Col. Russell: This gets to the heart of what we have here in southwestern Pennsylvania. This region unfortunately has become dependent in many ways on earmarks from Washington for many, many years, and that perception kept people voting a certain way. Now with Mr. Murtha's passing, anyone who stands up and says "we're going to bring home the bacon" the way he did would be simply lying. No one can do what he did because there simply is no more money to be handed out.
In addition, there was a consistent blocking of the use of natural resources. Whether it was the Department of Energy or the EPA, a lot of the excessive regulation prevented us from expanding the number of electrical plants and coal mines or the expansion of coal-to-liquid fuel. In terms of coal-to-liquid fuel, the Air Force of the United States has a need for an uninterrupted supply of high-grade jet fuel. This jet fuel could be made from coal; the technology to do this has been around since the 1940s. So from coal we could make jet fuel for our Air Force as well as for the entire airline industry. We can make gasoline at a much lower and unsubsidized cost compared to fuel that is made from corn. We have all of these magnificent resources available to us, but we're just not allowed to use them. We're like people who are standing before a sumptuous buffet while starving ourselves to death. Let's unshackle our coal industry.
And when you look at all of the second- and third-order effects from opening the mines, such as the things required to make mines run, the plants, the welding and fabrication, the revamping of our steel industry to build coal-to-liquid-fuel plants, as well as expanding our use of clean coal for electrical power-generation...these are all things that can help lead America to energy independence and thereby reduce our dependency on foreign oil. We are talking about the creation of real wealth; these would be jobs in which we are matching the demands of the market, and they would outlast any one single congressman and could lead to genuine economic development. If we were to build the infrastructure and just get the heck out of the way, while streamlining our tax system so that we're not killing businesses, we could be creating a lot of real wealth and produce real, long-lasting jobs that would lead to the growth of this area.
AT: Not only would southwestern Pennsylvania benefit, but energy independence is a national security issue, and this is another example where our domestic institutions are working against our best national security interests. We started this discussion today talking about the American media and how the enemy is using our media to sap the public of its will to fight. The more we are dependent on Arab oil, oil that comes from an unstable part of the world...a part of the world that exports violence and terrorism...the more easily we can be blackmailed by them.
Col. Russell: Yes. We are even seeing this effect on our economic strength. We had the Arab oil embargo in 1973. Now we have China, which has been buying our debt...that is another very long topic. What China has been doing to artificially keep its currency value low -- undercutting our businesses, attracting them to go to China, and then using the profits they've gained to buy up our debt -- they're in a position to blackmail us on that front as well.
All of this blends together because we've got to create real wealth, streamline our tax laws to bring things in line, and we've got to slash the heck out of some of the government's executive departments. First on the chopping block is the Department of Energy. We've got to push these functions back down to the states where they belong and then let the states figure out what to do. Regionally here in the Northeast, we've got a lot of great coal that can be produced; in the Midwest, say, in Iowa, knock yourselves out with your wind farms; North Dakota has shale oil; Alaska has ANWR; and we have offshore oil that can be developed. If we get the federal government out of the way, the states could make their own decisions, and, based on agreements with their surrounding states, we could develop our resources and become energy independent relatively quickly and become an energy exporter.
AT: I'd like to turn to one final topic, and that is the idea of a consumption or Fair Tax. Tax is something that I know a little bit about. I'm a tax accountant, and --
Col. Russell: And I want to put you out of work. (laughter)
AT: (laughter) -- I'm not going to argue with you on that because I think the income tax, historically speaking, has gotten to the point of being an embarrassment. But I do want to cross swords with you a little bit because I have a fear about a consumption tax or national sales tax...call it a value added tax. In Europe, most countries pay 20% (or close to that) in a value added tax on everything you buy (goods and services). You go to a dentist and you'll pay 20% over and above the cost to you of the dentist's work. And in Europe, they also have an income tax. And the concern on the part of a lot of Americans is that "well, we've already got an income tax. Now you're going to add a VAT?" But let's say you are going to replace the income tax with a value added tax; this is the best argument that proponents of a VAT can make, namely replacing the income tax with a national consumption tax.
Col. Russell: Yes.
AT: The problem with a national consumption tax is, as I see it, that it's kind of subliminal. When you go pay for your groceries, you see a little line item on the tape for the sales tax, but you hand over your cash or use your credit card, and you're not focused on how much you are paying in tax. You don't "feel" it. Buying gasoline is a very good example of this. Depending on the state, something like 30%-40%, maybe more, of what you pay at the pump goes to cover state and federal taxes. When I buy gas, I never think of the tax I'm paying. But I'll tell you one thing: When I pay my income tax and look at my tax return every year and see the withholding from my paycheck, or I write a check to the IRS, I'm very much aware of the level to which I am taxed.
To make this brief, the concern is that a national consumption tax becomes a money-raising machine of the government, and John C. Citizen never has that double-check on his senses annually as to how much he's actually being taxed and paying. What do you have to say to that?
Col. Russell: I would argue the exact opposite, because part of the problem with the income tax, particularly with the withholding, is that no one pays attention -- they just worry about how much their net take-home pay is after taxes. If you're self-employed, yeah, you do write that check. But if you're not self-employed, you don't write that check, and you're focused only on the net check.
One of the key pieces with the Fair Tax is the move to repeal the 16th Amendment to the Constitution...to completely kill the income tax. Because the way it was initially sold to the people, as an amendment to the Constitution, was that it would be a tax against only the top 1% of income earners. By now it is an enormous tax on the citizens.
But the other thing is that it's not just the actual act of paying the tax. You have to consider the impact of the tax itself on the system. When we export -- Congress cannot pass any tariffs or any taxes on goods that we export. When we export an item, automatically all of the income taxes, withholding taxes, and employment taxes -- all of those taxes are embedded in the cost of the item and are not separated out but are built into the export price, and this hurts our ability to compete in the world market. If you go to a consumption tax, exports no longer have these other taxes buried into the export price. The other thing concerns small business owners. I can tell you about the thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours have had to spend in order to show the IRS the mere fact that I did not owe any taxes. And when you look at that cost compared to what the cost would be under a system with a national consumption tax, there's no comparison. A consumption tax is much simpler. People can choose to purchase or not purchase. There are many ways in which such a system is less costly to the country. It also promotes a higher level of trade.
And the other thing is that it ensures that all people who participate in the economy pay their taxes. A person who is in the country illegally today, who is not paying income tax or withholding tax --when that person goes to buy something at the store, they wind up paying their fair share of tax. That's one of the problems we have with immigration today; you have a lot of people participating in the economy, drawing wealth out of the economy, but not paying any of the withholding or income tax while at the same time they enjoy the benefits of our social welfare benefits which they qualify for because they have no "income." In other words, they are working under the table; they're drawing off our welfare programs.
AT: There are a lot of things relative to a consumption tax that have to be worked out. For example, in Italy, where the value added tax is 20% on goods and services, their underground economy is nearly as large as their above-ground economy. And it is so large because so many people are trying to evade the heavy 20% consumption tax burden. Business transactions often are effectuated in currency...cash... in order to avoid detection. Well we've got a little disagreement on that.
Well sir, it has been a pleasure talking with you and on behalf of us at The American Thinker, I want to thank you, Col. Russell, for your service to this country, because without men doing the work that you've been doing, people like us at The American Thinker wouldn't have the freedom or ability to do what we do.
Col. Russell: Thank you very much, Alan; I appreciate it. You take care now, and have a wonderful day.
AT: Thank you and good luck to you.