Friday, May 28, 2004

I just witnessed what I think was a grackle killing and devouring what I think was a warbler. Brutal.
Always take Debka with a grain of salt. That said, their reports of intrigue are often too good not to read -- especially if they're prescient, which you would only know after the fact, which makes it all the more important to get the fix in now.

On that note, check out today's "special analysis," "Sharon Falls Flat on His Disengagement Plan":
The only way out of the fix now is for Sharon to take his defeat on the chin and hand in his resignation. Two other Israeli political elders, Shimon Peres and Yosef Lapid of Change, would also perform a great patriotic service by removing themselves from the political scene and leaving the field to fresher faces. A national emergency government could take over in the interim with two objectives: to bring the Israeli-Palestinian war to an end by removing Yasser Arafat and calling a general election.
The sense of it is that with Egypt (allegedly) and Jordan (on the record) telling Arafat that it's time to go, there's a historic opening here to move towards a negotiated peace. Finally . . .
I can only assume that "red alert" is used as a figure of speech here:
"Certainly we are going to be on red alert looking for those individuals," [FAA Administrator Marion] Blakey said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
I say this because the Department of Homeland Security Color-Coded Threat Advisory Levels are pretty specific:
A Severe [Red] Condition reflects a severe risk of terrorist attacks. Under most circumstances, the Protective Measures for a Severe Condition are not intended to be sustained for substantial periods of time. In addition to the Protective Measures in the previous Threat Conditions, Federal departments and agencies also should consider the following general measures in addition to the agency-specific Protective Measures that they will develop and implement:

-Increasing or redirecting personnel to address critical emergency needs;
-Assigning emergency response personnel and pre-positioning and mobilizing specially trained teams or resources;
-Monitoring, redirecting, or constraining transportation systems; and
-Closing public and government facilities.
A big deal, no?
Before you succumb to Gore-itis, as Bob Herbert apparently has, at least according to his retardo op-ed today, get back in the rational sphere with this reprint of an essay last year by Thomas P.M. Barnett called "The Pentagon's New Map" which connects geopolitical strategy to globalization in the big picture kind of way that you'd hope the people in charge see:
If you take this message from Osama and combine it with our military-intervention record of the last decade, a simple security rule set emerges: A country's potential to warrant a U. S. military response is inversely related to its globalization connectivity. There is a good reason why Al Qaeda was based first in Sudan and then later in Afghanistan: These are two of the most disconnected countries in the world. Look at the other places U. S. Special Operations Forces have recently zeroed in on: northwestern Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. We are talking about the ends of the earth as far as globalization is concerned.
And in the context of our global world, isolationism -- the dangerous kind proposed by people like Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan -- is not an option:
The knee-jerk reaction of many Americans to September 11 is to say, "Let's get off our dependency on foreign oil, and then we won't have to deal with those people." The most naïve assumption underlying that dream is that reducing what little connectivity the Gap [i.e., countries disconnected from global influences] has with the Core [i.e., countries plugged in to the world] will render it less dangerous to us over the long haul. Turning the Middle East into Central Africa will not build a better world for my kids. We cannot simply will those people away.
There's much, much more in the piece which goes a long way in getting beyond the mind-numbing rhetoric of the Maureen Dowds, Rush Limbaughs, Al Gores and, yes, John Kerrys and George Bushes that fill up so much of our daily reading. It's not about politics and it's certainly not about gotchas -- it's about the big ideas. (And it's not enough to say that Bush doesn't have a "big idea" based on his simple speeches -- one has to get beyond that.)

Barnett has a new essay in this month's Esquire called "Mr. President, Here's How to Make Sense of Our Iraq Strategy," which I'd be interested to read, but like I said, this one is a good place to start in reorienting oneself after a year or more of shrill, unsatisfying punditry. (Original link found here; there are more links there, too.)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Peggy Noonan obviously reads Deskjockeys:
It is a weird time in American history. Someday someone will capture it, in a great novel. Maybe in 2016, when we've caught all the terrorists, and we're at our children's and grandchildren's graduations.
I'm not sure I totally agree with her capture-first-ask-questions-later apology for what happened to the guy in Portland, but she nails a feeling -- especially the certain kind of "free association" that happens each day:
I should get a new dress for the graduation at the Saks sale. They could blow up the Lincoln Tunnel. Meg would love one of those little Chanel knockoffs from the street vender. If New York is bombed while we're in Boston, where will we stay? If Boston is bombed while we're at the graduation, how will we get home? Bring cousin Holly's number in northern Connecticut. Pick up mascara.
And then there's this:
When I go through the Lincoln Tunnel at a relatively quiet time in terms of government warnings I think, "Nothing will probably happen today, it's quiet." When I go through the Lincoln Tunnel at a terror alert time I think, "Nothing will probably happen today, there's security all over and the terror-cell guys in Jersey City are probably playing cards."
I tend to think of it in terms of Why would Al Qaeda bomb a northbound 6 train right now? If they were smart, they'd do A, B, C or D, but I'm feeling fine standing towards the back of a half-empty subway car . . . it goes on like that until you eventually get out of the subway and you're home or safe somewhere else. If it's low-level generalized fear, it's very low level, and very generalized.

And like I said yesterday, if the "Bush Regime" is manufacturing terror alerts to distract us from bad news in Iraq, we sould be so lucky. I tell you, though, I'm guessing the last thing the FBI wants to do is freak out people just before Memorial Day, so I'm more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The morning of Sept. 11 I was sitting in my office with a gentleman of a certain age who volunteered each Tuesday where I work. As news reports of unaccounted for planes repeated over the radio, and I wondered whether we should be heading home to safety, he seemed disconcertingly unperturbed.

The following week he offered sort of an apology for his glibness, saying that he later realized that the feeling he was having reminded him of how he felt during World War II -- and that during that time the feeling didn’t end until the war was over.

This was partly reassuring, as during those first couple of hours I wasn’t sure how one should respond, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that people responded in many ways during those first couple of days, none of which was correct or incorrect. Sooner or later, though, it seemed that the feelings of most sensible people I knew coalesced and there was some sort of responsible response to what happened; something not easily described, but clearly identified, akin to Justice Potter’s obscenity definition.

On the off chance (hopefully off chance) that the news about the most recent warnings of terror threats are prescient, or at least helpful in some way, I wonder how people will look back at 2001 to 2004. Because it seems to me there’s a great deal of Al Qaeda Fatigue going on. I suppose that Ralph Nader is one of the most notable people to suggest that the government is manipulating us through fear of Al Qaeda. As someone who doesn’t think this, I can only say that we should be so lucky. I’d gladly take government-engineered fear over the actual thing, but I just see Nader’s cynicism as some quaint Watergate-era relic. Like I said, we should be so lucky.

But getting back to the other shoe dropping -- the post-Sept. 11 response, in the context of the era of Al Qaeda Fatigue, will be studied and restudied years from now. That’s assuming, of course, that civilization is still around, but I have to assume that it probably will in spite of it all.

I was thinking about this last night while watching Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In case you’re wondering, it’s good, and I’ll leave it at that except to note a couple of things. First, the 55-minute opening monologue is a feat of endurance -- both for the audience and the actor, though Linda Emond deserved all the applause she received. Second, it’s important to note, as every reviewer has, that Kushner wrote the play before Sept. 11 -- and it’s obvious, but not for the obvious reasons. It takes place after Clinton bombed the Khost terrorist camps in August 1998, and you get the impression that Kushner read about this and wondered, as insulated artists do, what was with this exotic place, this “Afghanistan”? The geopolitics he writes about and the way he assimilates it seem indicative of someone who is struggling with what is going on. His response was to explore it and delve into it in a substantive way. And that is what makes art powerful.

This is in contrast to Christopher Shinn’s new play, Where Do We Live -- punctuation omitted on purpose -- which takes place before and after Sept. 11. Shinn’s response fails in one major way -- in the play he utilizes the viewer’s prior knowledge about Sept. 11 without commenting on it one way or the other; his point is relativism (thus the lack of punctuation). This is obvious when he plays excerpts from Bush’s speech announcing the invasion of Afghanistan. Many in the audience laughed, and I think Shinn would have enjoyed that, because as it came across, it wasn’t really supposed to be funny.

Where Do We Live might be a “think piece,” but it doesn’t get us too far in terms of really pondering what it means, or even “what it all means,” as you’d expect the self-obsessed characters to do. Shinn makes an observation -- what we see depends on where we live, physically or mentally -- making it half a play. I wonder whether he’ll come back to it later, like Kushner did with Homebody, because as it stands right now, the play provokes, but does little to make you think.

And although I haven’t seen it, and have no plans ever to see it, I have to wonder how history will treat Tim Robbins’ political farce, because the concept alone strikes me as arising from pure Al Qaeda Fatigue. Ditto for Michael Moore’s new Fahrenheit 9/11, which seems not far from utter propaganda -- will he be the Leni Riefenstahl of this era of Al Qaeda Fatigue?

What I’m getting at is this: there’s a story here, and it’s not being written. Whether it ever will is up in the air -- perhaps now isn’t the right time -- but someone needs to look a little deeper and at least try.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

If you read this, you probably are under the mistaken impression that I'm some kind of right-wing nut. (Though I suppose if you think supporting the war effort makes one a right-wing nut, then there's not much hope for you anyway.)

That said, I would totally vote for this ticket.
They are asshats. We'll know more about what actually happened or is happening in Iraq later . . . like years from now.
Skip Paul Krugman's dissembling of positive economic news and read Gregg Easterbrook's op-ed in today's Times regarding gas taxes. In it, he makes the case that we would have been better off had John Kerry's proposal to raise federal gas taxes by 50 cents moved forward; less money to Saudi Arabia, fewer accidents, fewer SUVs, etc.

Again, I want to know why an up-front user fee for vehicles that do not meet ramped-up federal mileage guidelines would not work? This way the tax is not regressive, and it would not affect the trucking industry -- higher trucking costs for goods would disproportionately affect lower-income consumers.

I just don't get it -- I doubt I ever will.
This post confirms what I was getting at back in April on my own vacation:
I threw an occasional glance at the headlines, but nothing seemed all that important. My life went on exactly as it had been going. No one I talked to seemed all that concerned about the news. . . . it served as an important reminder that neither journalists nor politicians, no matter how important, play a prominent in the lives of most Americans.

Monday, May 24, 2004

I can't see why fans would want to rip off artists by downloading music. I mean, especially when artists treat their fans so well:
Witnesses said Jewel went on a tirade of insults from poking fun at fat people to others with no teeth. At one point, she asked the audience to yell requests and then told them to "shut the hell up."

"I saw her live in Boston and it was the greatest show I’ve ever been to," Dion said. "I don’t know if she was having a nervous breakdown or what. She told everyone to stop looking at her teeth and look at her breasts."

Jewel was on stage for about an hour and played only four to five songs. Halfway through the show, Dion said Jewel began to talk about Zoloft and Paxil for about 10 minutes.

"I don’t know what that was all about," said Nicole Dion, who came from Canada to see the show. "I don’t know if she was on it or what. Maybe she didn’t take it."

YEESH . . .
What a way to start the week . . . Suspicions about a New Terrorist Attack Have U.S. Spies Scrambling:
In the weeks after the deadly March bombings of four commuter trains in Madrid by al Qaeda operatives, the supersecret U.S. surveillance network, Echelon, intercepted a number of messages from suspected terrorists suggesting planning for a massive, multipronged assault on the United States. When? Between this summer's political conventions and October, one month before the presidential election. The intelligence appeared to confirm information obtained from some seized al Qaeda computers and from several human sources, government officials say. Officials at the CIA and the National Security Agency, which runs the Echelon program, believe the information is credible but worry that the human sources were on the periphery of the now widely dispersed al Qaeda network. Nevertheless, the information pointed to two, perhaps three, targets, the sources say: New York, Washington, and Las Vegas. The objective of the suspected attack, the officials continued, would be not only to cause mass casualties and devastation of U.S. infrastructure but to roil the presidential race. The Madrid bombings, which killed 191 people and wounded 1,800, also toppled the Spanish government and triggered the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. "Since Spain," says a Bush administration official, "al Qaeda has had the feeling of 'We can do this. We can affect an election.'"

Some smart ideas here.
Sorry, Bruno, Mark Steyn beat you to it -- the Canadian Solution:
I'd prefer to go for ''asymmetrical federalism,'' which is a Canadian term, but don't let that put you off. What it means is that the province of Quebec has certain powers -- its own immigration policy, for example -- that the province of Ontario doesn't.

Obviously, any self-respecting American would regard it as an abomination if the state of Vermont had a completely different level of sovereignty from the state of New Hampshire. But not all nations are as harmoniously constituted as the USA. I'm not just talking your average banana-republic basket case. Take America's closest ally: the four parts of the United Kingdom -- England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales -- are governed completely differently, three of the four having ''national'' parliaments with widely varying degrees of power, and the fourth (England) having no parliament at all. Scotland has revenue-raising powers, Wales doesn't. There's no constitutional logic to it: It's merely the central government's utilitarian response to different local conditions.
It's coming . . . Iraq is the new Canada -- the Bruno and the Professors of the world can rejoice!

Friday, May 21, 2004

Noam Scheiber asks the tough question: "That said, it does complicate the practical and moral calculus considerably if the only way we could have caught Saddam was through these means--or at least some milder variant of them."

Click on the Byron York link, too, even if you think he's a right-wing nut.
Freaky and freaky. Police presence in and around the subway has increased, going back to the killing of Hamas spiritual head Sheik Yassin, but this stuff is starting to freak me out a little.

The Fox News story link notes this:
"The most important thing we have is people's awareness," said Richard Dietl, a former New York Police Department detective. "You've got to go out there and tell the police if you think something is wrong."
It is only slightly reassuring, especially in the run up to the Republican Convention and the November elections.

It seems like the low-level generalized fear after Sept. 11 is coming back . . . we'd be fortunate if it were only a government plot to reelect Bush -- I'd take that any day over real threats on soft targets.
Connecting the dots in the illegal drug trade, this time in Haiti. The policy considerations don't matter -- crack down or legalize, I don't care -- for the time being, personal responsibility demands that one not support the illegal drug trade. Anything less is immoral.
Here's an assignment for Bruno & the Professor, if they happen to be reading this. Mickey Kaus seems to be favoring the partition plan for Iraq:
Leslie Gelb and Jim Hoagland--who've written basically the same provocative change-the-course argument (in Thursday's WSJ and WaPo, respectively)--have a different answer. They argue the key to stability is a semi-partition that gives Iraq's three basic ethnic groups autonomy in their various regions, within a loose national federation--and that will protect the rights of minorities inside those ethnic regions. When it comes to securing stability and U.S. interests, elections, in this Gelb/Hoagland view, appear to be secondary to regional autonomy. Neither man calls for speeding up elections in any of the three regions. Hoagland doesn't seem to put much of a premium on democracy within the Shiite or Sunni areas--and you get the feeling that Gelb, although he calls for sticking with the elections "procedures already agreed upon by the U.S. and U.N.," also thinks that democracy may be one of the "Utopian" goals to which Bush needs to stop clinging.
Now I know Bruno and the Professor are big Canada fans. The assignment, should they care to accept, is this: in the past I've heard people say that Canada is much more federalist than the U.S. -- so what about making Iraq a Canadian sort of federation of provinces? Doesn't the prospect of "Canada-style federalism" have some cachet for the multilateralists among us? Bruno, tell me what Canadian federalism looks like . . . maybe this is the answer!
Which is the reason this op-ed is so funny:
After nearly five decades in academia, and five and a half years as a dean at a public university, I exit with a three-part piece of wisdom for those who work in higher education: do your job; don't try to do someone else's job, as you are unlikely to be qualified; and don't let anyone else do your job. In other words, don't confuse your academic obligations with the obligation to save the world; that's not your job as an academic; and don't surrender your academic obligations to the agenda of any non-academic constituency — parents, legislators, trustees or donors. In short, don't cross the boundary between academic work and partisan advocacy, whether the advocacy is yours or someone else's.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Just so you understand, outside of the rabid supporters, no one really cares whether Bush or Kerry is President. Peggy Noonan Woodward-izes a conversation indicative of this:
And oddly enough she's starting to feel a little like Mr. Bush can be let go because maybe he has already done the job he was meant to do. He did what we hired him for. He got us through 9/11, he led us through, he got the Homeland Security Department. He cleaned out Afghanistan. Then he moved into Iraq, he fought hard. And maybe that's the job he was supposed to do. And maybe now we can let him go. Maybe Kerry's supposed to handle it the next few years. He'll get us out of Iraq as soon as possible because he's a Democrat and they don't want to be there. He didn't put us in there, so he has no personal issues in getting us out. He'll work better with other countries because he's kind of their type--he's like Chirac, he probably kisses ladies' hands. He won't raise taxes too much, because the Republicans in Congress won't let him. He won't do anything radical, because the country won't let him. We could hire him for a few years, let him get things more stable, and then fire him. Put the Democrats in charge of the war; they don't like war. Put them in charge of the economy; Wall Street seems to bounce when they're in, funny thing.

So let me ask again to those who are shitting themselves over the prospect of beating Bush -- why? Do you think we'll somehow wake up January 21st with universal health care and world peace?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Here's part of what I was talking about when I said that most people let their understanding of things accrete in a subtle way, slowly over time. It's about way more than al-Sadr, Zarqawi and one stinking sarin shell.

Speaking of sarin shells, the New York Times editorial page seems rather glib about the recent discovery of a sarin shell. I'm not sure why, since Rumsfeld seemed to understate its significance, so it probably means it's a big deal . . .
I agree with this regarding the chutzpah of a federal commission that deigns to leave the capital to grandstand about walkie-talkies. "Scandalous! Scandalous!" Suck my dick, bub!

I first heard it on the radio, but it was worse when I saw it on television. This is because out of all the testimony yesterday, every news outlet -- from NPR to ABC to the local news -- every one highlighted the "tense exchange" between the commission and the former fire chief. John Lehman knew this, too. Fuck this bullshit.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Just in case you didn't catch the oblique reference to The Battle of Algiers yesterday, Christopher Hitchens explains it in full in his latest online essay:
I remember a debate I had with Michael Moore—the newly crowned king of the Cannes Film Festival—at the more modest location of the Telluride Film Festival in 2002. Ridiculing the Bush administration's policy, he shouted that it had gone into Afghanistan to get Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. "Mission NOT accomplished!" he added, to roars of easy applause. I asked myself then, and I repeat the question now: Would the antiwar camp have approved the measures necessary to ensure those goals? If they will the end, will they will the means?

This, if you haven't seen Algiers, is exactly what the main character argues in explaining why it was OK to basically torture insurgents. In showing why this is a no-win situation, Hitchens forces you to read between the lines (I'd almost say that he's "having his cake and scarfing it, too," as he put it).

All the same, he concludes:
[T]he battle against Islamic jihad will be going on for a very long time, against a foe that is both ruthless and irrational. This means that infinite patience and scruple and intelligence are required, as well as decisiveness and bravery. Given this necessary assumption, all short-cut artists, let alone rec-room sadists, are to be treated, not as bad apples alone, but as traitors and enemies.

On an intellectual level, you have to agree. That said, once you get beyond the seeming inappropriateness of these tactics as they relate to garden-variety theives and reserve troops, the question remains as to whether harsh tactics work and then whether they should be used. And that's a subject that hasn't been explored. Hersh may be right -- there may be much more to come.
An op-ed in today's Times, "For Conservatives, Mission Accomplished" by Economist writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge made me think about something Bruno and the Professor talked about on their weekly show last night.

Micklethwait and Woolridge note that Democrats "usually ignore the fact that the right has simply been far better at producing agenda-setting ideas":

From welfare reform in Wisconsin to policing in New York City, from the tax-cutting Proposition 13 in California to regime change in Baghdad, the intellectual impetus has, for better or worse, come from the right. As President Bush bragged at last week's party, the right is "the dominant intellectual force in American politics."

In short, Republicans and conservatives have an ideology and ideas on which to base policies and support candidates.

Last night, Bruno & The Professor were discussing John McCain and whether adding him to Kerry's ticket would help Kerry win in November. As I've written before, the notion that Democrats would be so focused on winning that they would run a Republican as VP is insane. Not only is it wishful thinking but it reveals their complete lack of ideology. What do they stand for? What is important to them? Can anyone say?

Many have noted that the Democrats' problem is that they lack ideas. And the more you hear about this elections, the clearer it seems that for Democrats, it's all about winning, or at least beating Bush. This is interesting in a horse race kind of way, but it's not a victory for reasoned public policy.

What, then, would a Kerry presidency look like? It's hard to say beyond "he's not Bush."

So if Kerry wins, will it be because people will have voted against Bush? And hasn't that been the Democrats' recent Presidential history? They seem to win because the Republican President failed. Carter won in response to Nixon's mess. Clinton won because Bush mishandled the economy. And if Kerry wins, it will probably be because of Seymour Hersh, al-Sadr and that Zarqawi fellow.

This should not be inspiring to Democrats. It's not especially inspiring to me as a voter.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Well, at least we know now which part of The Battle of Algiers the Pentagon was interested in . . .

Friday, May 14, 2004

The AP's Nedra Pickler wrote today about how Kerry's advisers are hesitant to pick Wesley Clark because they apparently believe that Clark spread the Drudge rumor about Kerry's alleged infidelities. Ryan Lizza writes about it today and reiterates his earlier claim that the accusation is false.

Lizza says he was one of the reporters to whom Clark spoke off the record during what he thinks is the conversation Matt Drudge reported.

My question is this: I'm pretty sure Vanity Fair repeats the story that Clark was the source of the smear in the big Bill Clinton story this month. If I recall correctly, the Vanity Fair story doesn't even use the qualifying language (e.g., "Kerry's advisers believe . . ."). Like I said yesterday, there are a bunch of crazy details in the piece. I'm surprised more people (besides Bill O'Reilly) haven't commented on the article. Is Graydon Carter that hated?

Bruno, borrow Michael's new Vanity Fair and check it out. Unfortunately VF articles aren't online, and I'm not really planning on reading it again, but it seems like there are a couple of nuggets in there that people are going to want to take notice of.
There is a government website for the official U.S. time!
I'm not too worried about media bias, and I feel that I am able to read or watch the news relatively critically without going overboard. I usually try not to take one particular story too seriously and instead let a general impression of issues accrete, which is how I suspect most people read the news.

You'll often hear people who, after reading a news article about which they have personal knowledge, will note how surprised they are at how much of the story was incorrect. And at that point, they'll add something along the lines of "makes you wonder what else they get wrong."

Josh Marshall has a snarky take about an excerpt of Bill Sammon's fawning new book about Bush, noting, among other things, that the President reads the sports page everyday but skims other sections, and then only for "media bias." He goes on to argue that Bush insulates himself from criticism and alternative viewpoints as if reading the New York Times op-ed page would somehow make it better. (Somehow I can't imagine Bush finishing a Maureen Dowd column only to summon his staff to reconsider foreign policy.)

Speaking of the Times, though, and supposed media bias, you start to wonder if the President is on the right track when you read about the paper's fatuous man-on-the-street interview. You can't spin a box score.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

In the midst of the tumultuous partisanship and rancor going on right now, Congress is set to fix education spending by fulfilling the federal government's legislated responsibility to fund special education costs.

An abbreviated explanation of this issue is that the Individual with Disabilities Education Act mandates that Congress pay 40 percent of local districts' special education costs. Currently Congress funds about half that amount. As special education costs rise, districts, which are legally mandated to offer special education to students that qualify, are forced to skimp in other areas. Relieving this burden will free up millions of dollars in districts.

This has the potential to fix education spending. I can't stress that enough.

Since it's not some sexy new program, the significance of this issue will be lost, but in dollar amounts, it is the equivalent of $10 billion a year towards education costs.

That's $10 billion a year.

If you do anything today, pause to consider how this small step will probably end up saving education in the U.S.
Another thing about Vanity Fair -- they have a piece in there this month with some rather tawdry pictures of Mean Girls star Lindsay Lohan (including one with a "Lolita" caption). Throughout the story they keep referring to her as "18-year-old" Lohan, which is apparently wishful thinking on Graydon Carter's part seeing that her birthday is July 2, 1986 . . . what a perv!

(I can't do this link at work, but maybe they comment about it?)
If you can stand reading so-called progressives (some, but not all on this thread) speculate that the CIA killed Nick Berg, check out this Democratic Underground thread. Then enjoy how Al-Jazeera spins such speculation. What a wonderful world.
I read the article on Clinton and his new book in the latest Vanity Fair. It's pretty good. Clinton kind of seems like a weird guy, though. The article paints him as clingy now that he's out of office and, although he's done some significant work in the area of getting AIDS medicine to the third-world, by the end of the piece he seems almost a tragic figure in terms of believing his own aura . . . I can't quite pin which character from literature he comes off as . . . it's on the tip of my tongue . . . maybe later.

They sure buried a couple leads. One being his behind-the-scenes angling for Clark in the primary (my recollection is that this has been speculated but never spelled out) and against Edwards because it will push Hillary's chances back to 2020 . . .

The biggest revelation -- and one that will negate all of Richard Clarke's effects on Bush -- is that Clinton apparently passed up three chances to get bin Laden. It's a story that makes the August 6 PDB look harmless.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Prime Minister of Bruno and the Professor's favorite country says that the Iraq's WMD threat was real! (He also says that they're missing because terrorists have them now, but that's another story . . .)

Monday, May 10, 2004

That said, an inappropriate reason for Rumsfeld to go is to mollify the international community and especially the Arab/Islamic world. The reasoning goes something along the lines of “it will show that the U.S. is serious about the charges of what took place at Abu Ghraib.”

Let’s get one thing straight -- a certain segment of world population will hate the U.S. even if President Dennis Kucinich disbanded the military, so in some ways kowtowing to world opinion is fruitless.

This is because of a difference of perspective. For many Americans, Abu Ghraib is a stain on the noble project of liberating Iraq. The problem is that the Arab world never believed this in the first place, so it doesn’t make a difference how much we grovel about Abu Ghraib.

Rumsfeld’s ouster would be more important to a domestic audience than a foreign audience because Abu Ghraib is just one more of a long line of misdeeds the world believes the U.S. has committed. I think this about the prison scandal because I don’t get the sense the so-called Arab Street is that taken by Sy Hersh’s journalistic credentials. The Street has been hearing journalists reveal Zionist plots forever now -- they’ve been hearing imams, Al-Jazzeera and every paranoid crackpot (e.g., Saudi Prince Abdullah) saying this for a while. It’s not like their ears automatically perk up because Sy Hersh has written something. Why fire Rumsfeld now when the Zionist baby eaters who ordered the war walk free? Point is, I’m unconvinced that Rumsfeld’s ouster will make them like us any more than they already don’t.
If you’re interested in advocating for Rumsfeld’s departure, Seymour Hersh’s
latest installment about Abu Ghraib is the place to go. Argue all you want about the rest of it, but this is the most persuasive stuff so far . . .
Blogger’s new site is basically incompatible with my crappy old browser (can’t do links, for example), which means that until I figure out how to update it I’m not sure I can share my deep, dark thoughts with you. Oh well. It has been fun . . .
Interesting Guardian article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1212197,00.html) talking about the sort of training British Special Forces use: “The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.”

Interesting because it makes you wonder whether the abuses were intentional.

That’s consistent with the Times’ article yesterday about the abuses, which (buried deep in the story) speculate that the photos now being circulated were used to threaten subsequent inmates.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I want to harp on this issue because it's a perfect example of why these guys are so stubborn about their public statements. News stories like this, for example: "However, when asked if he might step down as an example to remedy the damage done, rather than as any admission of direct involvement in what occurred, Mr Rumsfeld replied: 'It's possible.'"

I was listening to this part and I think it's a little unfair to the Secretary, who was bumrushed with a particularly dumb grandstanding question by Senator Bayh. Rumsfeld's terse response came after a longwinded, lame "question" about whether his resignation would show the world that the U.S. was serious about its reaction to the prisoner abuse and whether it would mitigate the bad opinion of the U.S. worldwide

That it figures so prominently in this BBC piece proves my point that Bush, et al. are keenly aware of the way the press, with the help of grandstanding politicians, spins issues.

And I'm listening to NPR, which also replayed this moment in today's hearings . . .
HMM . . .
This is interesting, too, in light of Rumsfeld's "explosive!" testimony. Note again the speculation about the lawyer leaking the report. And I wonder if "sock drawer" will rise to the level of terms such as "actionable intelligence," "the wall" and the like.
An idea: the Secretary of Defense himself leaked the report! (I'm not sure why he would do this, but still . . .)
Man, he should have been the Democratic nominee; he's speaking now during the Rumsfeld circus and his comments are helpful -- nonpartisan and the type of tone Congressional investigations should have. This is in stark contrast to Ted Kennedy, for example, who was on earlier and who sounded like he was in the middle of a stump speech.
I think he has a point here: "The lawyer for Sgt. Frederick, the senior non-com charged in both rank and age, was a defense attorney for some of the My Lai accused. Any bets on who handed Hersh the Taguba report?"

I seem to recall Hersh suggesting that the conditions at Abu Ghraib went beyond just a few bad apples and were perhaps systemic in nature; that would certainly support the above theory.
Oh boy, I can't wait for Donald Rumsfeld to appear before both branches of Congress today to apologize. So fun and such drama! How lucky for us to get to listen to one of these like every week or so.
In a week filled with bad marketing ideas, Michael Moore sure proved to be a cock as well.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Boosting teacher pay from the federal level vis a vis bonuses is near the top: "Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry pledged Thursday to channel $30 billion over 10 years to improve teacher pay as well as raise teaching standards, including bonuses of up to $5,000 for those who teach math and science or work in high-need schools."

No, seriously. I think teachers should be paid well, but $5,000 extra is unlikely to encourage more teachers to teach. If you wouldn't teach for $35,000, do you really think you'd be more likely to teach for $40,000?

Call it what it is: a kickback to the teachers' unions.

The federal interference in teachers' pay issues is even more disturbing. Is there any other profession that receives federally funded bonuses? If communities want to pay their teachers more, they would. That's local control.

Kerry hasn't said much that has really disturbed me, but this idea is completely idiotic.
CENTCOM admitted an investigation was underway back in January: "An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a Coalition Forces detention facility. The release of specific information concerning the incidents could hinder the investigation, which is in its early stages. The investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner. The Coalition is committed to treating all persons under its control with dignity, respect and humanity."

It's all about the pictures . . .

(Check out Mudville Gazette for a full timeline if you're interested.)
Kevin Drum shows that a picture is worth a thousand words: "U.S. soldiers reportedly posed for photographs with partially unclothed Iraqi prisoners, a Pentagon official told CNN on Tuesday."

"Tuesday" meaning January 21, 2004.

Take from this what you want. The "haters" I'm sure will say that it shows that Bush is either lying or totally incompetent when he said that he wasn't aware of the pictures. Others might say that it disproves John Kerry's contention that the Department of Defense didn't act quickly to do something about it.

To me, it shows what I think Drum intends (I think), which is that there is a huge difference between reading about abuses and seeing photographic evidence of it. When you see examples like this, stop for a second to consider other examples of abuse we hear or read about . . .
I'm listening to a special presentation on WNYC right now about the supposed "culture war" in the U.S. today.

Purely random Googling for "there is no culture war" brought up this op-ed in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader: "Culture war is a catchphrase that people like Dee [Wampler] and [former Alabama judge Roy] Moore use to stir the faithful up. There is no culture war. The war talk is used to keep those donations flowing by keeping the pot boiling."

Exactly. And I'm beginning to wonder whether the same is true on the "other side" of the ideological divide. The so-called culture war today is being fought on the extreme margins of debate. I defy anyone to show me how the Bush Administration is pursuing an "extreme" right-wing agenda. I guarantee you that if you look at the examples that come to mind, they fall far short of some kind of theocratic Wahabbi-like takeover.

We need to take a deep breath and pull back from the hyperbole, which is a point I always seem to harp on. When Bush's detractors paint him as a right-wing nut, it doesn't do much to convince me of the correctness of their positions. Quite the opposite, it only serves to make me distrust them even more.

The problem is that the solution -- being truthful and balanced -- undermines the seriousness of their causes, and when that happens, the donations stop flowing.

We need more radical moderates! Problem is, there's no special interest group for that yet.
Should Rumsfeld resign? Thomas Friedman is not at all rabid about Bush, but others are, and I wonder if they're using the Abu Ghraib fiasco as a pretext to hurt Bush politically. (And it goes without saying -- oops, I just said it! -- that turning this into a partisan issue isn't what's best for the prisoners victimized by our military personnel.)

Well, you say, Bush got us into this, he should suffer for it. Ultimately, this is pretty intellectually dishonest -- you wouldn't see that kind of clamor for Rumsfeld to resign if Bush were a Democrat.

Partisan harping about this is, politically speaking, a dumb move as well. If you start reshuffling Bush's team -- getting rid of Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and Cheney -- then you might be left with Condoleezza or Rudy as VP or Secretary of State. Kerry's best chance -- as he's recently shown, actually -- is to campaign against Cheney, et al. Removing Rumsfeld, Cheney and Ashcroft is probably the last thing Kerry would want.
Good op-ed/anecdote/warning in the Times.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Bush got some grief for using the steroids-in-baseball issue in his most recent State of the Union. Now Ralph Nader protests including advertisements on uniforms during the recent baseball games in Japan. Presidential subject, for sure. What does Kerry think?

I bet these examples will be featured in scholarly articles years from now.
It's sort of interesting in a dopey-man's-Vanity-Fair kind of way. Nothing new, I don't think -- State and Defense have always feuded with each other and I don't see how it's clear that Bush's Administration is the most extreme example of the squabbling (the 1980s and the Cold War, which the author brings up, seem much more contentious).

Then again, there's always the "colorful" detail like this: "Like a political earthquake, September 11 shifted everything, and Colin Powell found himself on new ground—on the far side of American policy, gazing across the Potomac at the Pentagon, at Rumsfeld strutting across the Parade Grounds with his granite jaw thrust skyward, Cheney and Wolfowitz tagging behind."

It reads like a graphic novel. Or just a plain old comic book. There's a funny passage about the disputed island of Perejil, too.
One of the things that has interested me lately is how Bush avoids apologizing for supposed misdeeds. I'm not totally clear why he shouldn't apologize, but my guess is that the Administration is concerned about the way such things play in the press.

What makes his appearance on Arab television so interesting then is that he doesn't appear to have apologized, per se (see Mickey Kaus today, for example). And what's more fascinating is that our superficial understanding of the appearance sort of -- if you squint your eyes and try to make out the blurry image -- seems like it's an apology. Best of both worlds -- like the Marines' non-pullout in Fallujah? We'll see . . .
He took Mickey Kaus's advice, which was what Ted Koppel's guests last night advocated, too. I wonder how it will play in the Middle East.
"Iran's Stirrings in Iraq."

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

You certainly won't catch me excusing the outrageous abuses that appear to have been perpetrated by our military in Iraq, but I have been confused as to why the pictures exist, as I wrote yesterday.

Stories of the Abner Louima "Giuliani Time"-style brutality (i.e., broomsticks) illustrate a simple thuggery that should disgust reasonable people. Stuff like that is obviously not right.

On the other hand, I wonder if those weird naked pictures with the shit-eating grinning female servicemembers were somehow intentional. I don't know if they violate the Geneva Convention -- a lot of interrogation tactics that seem cruel are actually acceptable -- but they probably do. Regardless, I want to understand what their purpose was.

To that point, something Andrew Sullivan noted jumped out at me: "[I]t's worth realizing that the nakedness and the sexual humiliation might be far more potent in a sexist, homophobic and patriarchal culture than in less sexually repressed societies. One of the most important things to remember about today's Muslim extremism is that it has taken what is the submission of women under Islam and turned it into a political pathology. Like most variants of fascism, it is deeply troubled by women's equality and by homosexuality. Hence the impact of these images could be psychologically devastating to many Iraqis - and far worse to those in countries where Islamism has made even deeper inroads."

Sullivan goes on to call it a public relations "catastrophe." I think he's right. But consider the psychological effect again in terms of "softening up" detainees. The image of the woman hanging over the human pyramid with the cigarette in her mouth and the thumbs-up sign seems pertinent here. I wonder if they showed that picture to the other detainees to "soften them up." There has to be some point to it. I wonder if that's what it was. The part of society that reads the New Yorker perhaps saw her as some kind of illiterate white-trash military thug. People in the Middle East obviously saw something else -- degradation, Western dominance, etc. This . . . remember this part at least.

Also of note is Mickey Kaus's idea to have Bush clearly state on international television that these tactics are not acceptable: "Some grand gesture would seem to be required. Why doesn't President Bush ask for three minutes on the U.S. networks, plus CNN and Al Jazeera and the other international satellite channels. He could look directly into the camera; and a) condemn and apologize; b) explain why this isn't what America is about; c) give his personal pledge to punish the perpetrators, describing those Americans already punished; and d) ask to be judged on the results."

I think he's right, too. Especially if this terrible situation directly translates into American deaths, as some are speculating, the President owes to all of us to keep us safe.
This was disconcerting to hear yesterday: "N.Y. SUITCASE SCARES SPUR TERROR 'DRY RUN' FEAR": "Police fear five empty suitcases left at Penn Station, New York FBI headquarters and other security hot spots in early April were a test by terrorists bent on a Madrid-type attack on commuter rails . . . ." The Post article makes it sound scary, but rest assured that the local evening news last night said that the authorities were "99 percent" sure it was unrelated to terrorism.

Which brings me to the notion of disinformation. I've often wondered whether the airplane groundings last Christmas were meant, in part, to let terrorists know that the authorities were on to them. It could be the same with the suitcases -- a sort of pre-emptive move.

And perhaps the same could be said of the situation in Fallujah. Right now there's confusion about what it all means. Is it a humiliating defeat for the Americans and we're doomed to fail or a cunning move on the part of the Marines and everything is under control?

I'm inclined to say, more often than not, that the authorities have things under control. By predilection I tend to assume that the suitcase finds are part of a disinformation campaign and that the Marines know what they're doing. Sometimes this becomes a cynicism about cynicism, which probably translates to a sort of conservative view of the world . . . funny how things like that work.

At any rate, let's hope that, in general, things are under control. This summer will be scary as shit in New York if they don't have it under control . . . here's hoping we can make it through the Presidential election without seeing the end of civilization as we know it. And if that happens, I swear I don't care who wins . . .
Shorter Robert Kagan: we can't cut and run.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Ted Rall is a big dick.

UPDATE: Ah, so apparently MSNBC took the cartoon down. Here's a capture of it. Shouldn't they have realized that it was tasteless?
Google's IPO intended to raise $2,718,281,828, an irrational number.
The new ABC/Washington Post poll showing Bush ahead of Kerry in the "personal attributes of compassion, values and likeability" gets to what I think will be the key issue in the upcoming Presidential election. It will come down to gut voting. Do you wonder whether Edwards was the better candidate in this respect? He might have been.
Seymour Hersh's story in the New Yorker about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison is disturbing, and tarnishes, to say the least, the many good things that have happened in Iraq.

Is there any purpose to "softening" prisoners like this? And why take pictures? So much about the story is strange, and disappointing.

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