Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Jet Blue travelers will be thrilled to know that the plane's DirecTV package now included Fox News Channel!

I got a chance to watch it this morning when the Fox & Friends show interviewed Darryl Worley, who performed with his country band at the convention last night. Best line (from memory) was when the Fox & Friends anchors asked him what he thought of the various rock bands on tour against Bush and he replied that it was just wrong and that "it's almost as if there should be some kind of law"! The anchors were quick to cover for him, throwing helpful softballs about free speech and such.

As much as I like the Fox News Sunday network program and the stuff I see on the weekend on the off chance I get to watch cable, I have to say that Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly are pretty over the top. I'll at least acknowledge that . . . the Fox & Friends anchors are just dippy.

I also watched a little of the Imus show on MSNBC -- I never realized how much they use Drudge for talking points -- they basically covered everything featured on Drudge this morning. Lame!
What to make of the news that an Al Qaeda follower detained in Canada is saying that they brought down the American Airlines flight that crashed in the Rockaways? (Forgive the nutty source -- I just can't find a good permanent link for the story other than the Post, whose links expire.)

I thought that it was a mechanical malfunction . . . right? It turns out that the final NTSB report is scheduled to be released this fall. Could this story be related to the release of the final report? Is someone trying to call attention to this key bit of information in order to get it out in the open? Or, more of a conspiracy, is it meant to innoculate the Administration against the story? Bonus Karl Rove followup angle: it (literally) shoots down the idea that we haven't had another 9/11-style attack.

Pertinent side note: I don't think the folks in Rockaway are buying the FAA's initial indications.
Watched a little of the convention last night with one of Seattle's finest talk radio hosts, which was a blast. Not much to say about the convention (the Michael Moore moment was funny!), but if you're remotely interested in following all the gory/goofy details, check out Reason's convention blog. Here's a representative excerpt:
This is the single week this year in which Karl Rove can walk into a Manhattan bar and get treated like Julian Casablancas. I'm just back from a College Republicans state chairs' party, held at a place called Windfall that looks like the love child of a sports bar and an old boys club. When Rove walks in to rally the troops, a boisterous "We Love Rove!" chant starts up, to be restarted when he finishes. His speech is a brief pep talk about the importance of active campus recruiting. He tells the crowd of a young man who had given up politics in favor of playing guitar in high school, but who, upon arriving at college, was approached by a friend to join the College Republicans. "He figured that if he played guitar and was political, he might get a date. And that young man was Lee Atwater." Quite a few people, unsettlingly, seem to find this genuinely inspirational.
It actually seems rather quiet from my out-of-the-way vantage point at 64th and Fifth, but apparently A31 is underway, so maybe that will change by the end of the day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

For what it's worth, here's some firsthand reporting: it appears that the Central Park Conservancy (the public-private entity that runs the park) is preparing for large crowds -- I noticed some metal barricades sitting in reserve, waiting to be used. So it could be that park officials are preparing as if there might be protesters showing up on Sunday. It could be that the barricades I saw have nothing to do with what may happen on Sunday, but readers should know that it is uncommon to see them sitting around.
I always assumed that Cheney was quick to take one for the team, but I was a little surprised that he came out (pun sort of intended) against the FMA. Adding that bit about his daughter was masterful, too:
Some analysts suggested the vice president's words were smart politics. They could be reassuring to moderates and independent-minded suburban voters concerned that the administration was intolerant in its attitudes toward gays.
Uh . . . ya think?!
Not because of Al Qaeda, rather this:
She's a statuesque redhead with green eyes who stands 5'7". Her measurements are 36-22-36 and she's posing topless for the October issue of Playboy magazine.

Oh, just one thing... she's a video game character.
I'm kind of speechless.
When it was proposed in the 1990s I was generally supportive of campaign finance reform. I'm beginning to think it is a bad idea, and unless we have total public financing of elections (remember to mark that box on your tax form!), efforts to constrain political speech seem problematic, if not unconstitutional.

The 527 groups seem worse than political action committees (those dreaded PACs!) ever were. I go back and forth about the allegations -- heard from both sides -- of illegal coordination. Sometimes I'm inclined to discount them; other times I think it's silly to continue the charade that these groups don't talk to each other. Isn't it ultimately sort of strange that they can't coordinate with each other?

Still, you've got to love Bush when he says stuff like this:
President Bush said Monday that he thought a new campaign-finance law governing this year's elections should have put an end to attack ads paid for by wealthy partisans, such as the ones attacking Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam War record.

"I frankly thought we'd gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill," Bush told reporters at his ranch near Crawford, Texas. "I thought we were going to once and for all get rid of a system where people could just pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising."
I love it when he plays dumb like that! It's too cute. The effect was only magnified when the photo of the President copping his distinctive "Golly, gee!" pose -- both hands cupping his midsection -- was added (not in the linked article, but others I read).
Even after the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center I remember thinking, "Wow, what a remarkable coincidence!"

I obviously reacted differently after hearing that two Russian domestic planes crashed just minutes apart, Russian denials notwithstanding ("Russia's main intelligence agency, however, said it had found no evidence of terrorism in initial investigations at the crash sites. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, said it was investigating other possibilities such as technical failures, the use of poor quality fuel, breaches of fueling regulations and pilot error, its press service told The Associated Press. Rain and thunder was reported in the regions where both crashes occurred.").

Next thought was that I hope this isn't the start of something big, but perhaps it might be:
Russia’s overnight emergency triggered elevated levels of security at the international airports of Europe and Israel, focusing mainly on passenger planes incoming from Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Israel’s Ben Gurion airport security is also carefully screening flights from eastern and southern Europe, Turkey, Hungary and Bulgaria.

The United States too, three weeks after raising terror alerts in New York, Washington and New Jersey over a threat to its financial sector, has also instituted extra-special precautions. American security authorities decided to be on the safe side and act as though the Moscow hijackings were the start of a series in places other than Russia, especially in view of their timing – four days before Chechnya’s presidential election on Sunday, August 28 and five days before the Republican National Convention opens in New York to nominate President George W. Bush as party’s presidential candidate and Vice President Richard Cheney his running mate.

Al Qaeda has issued threats against both events.

Some other interesting stuff is in the article, even if you're inclined not to believe Debka:
The terrorists also count on Russian security services’ responses to terror being cumbersome and slow. Tuesday afternoon, a small explosive charge blew up at a bus stop on the road to Domodedovo airport, injuring three people. Witnesses at the airport describe the security authorities’ response as hysterical and muddled, which the hijackers must have exploited to slip through to the targeted airliners. The small blast should have prompted the sealing off of the airport and its approaches and flight cancellations for redoubled checks - as would have happened in New York or London. National security services might also have been expected to assume responsibility at Domodedovo from the private firm in charge there, although Russian security is reputed to be so riddled with corruption that terrorists have an easy time operating anywhere in Russia, including Moscow.

So with that, I'll say that it's a fine day to take a cross-country plane trip, which is what we'll be doing after work! (Perhaps blog posts are the new kiss-and-tap-the-car-ceiling superstition!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Somehow I missed that Joe Piscopo has expressed an interest in running for governor of New Jersey! I'm starting to salivate over the prospect of the winner of the Ted Nugent/Rock 2012 Republican primary taking on Piscopo for the Presidency.
Alice Cooper explains it:
In the eyes of Alice Cooper, all the rock stars campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry are guilty of one thing: treason. The shock-rock legend, a staunch Republican who attends NBA games in Phoenix with Arizona Senator John McCain, was disgusted when he learned of plans by Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, R.E.M. and other bands to hold a series of concerts aimed at unseating U.S. President George W. Bush.

"To me, that's treason. I call it treason against rock 'n' roll because rock is the antithesis of politics. Rock should never be in bed with politics," says the 56-year-old Cooper, who begins a 15-city Canadian tour on Aug. 20 in Thunder Bay, Ont.

"When I was a kid and my parents started talking about politics, I'd run to my room and put on the Rolling Stones as loud as I could. So when I see all these rock stars up there talking politics, it makes me sick.

"If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal."
Thick irony alert: Alice notes that he's a moron, and he's voting for Bush . . .
How masterful was Bush speaking in front of pool reporters about the Swift Boat ads? This masterful. And this masterful. Or this masterful!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Today marks one year since DeskJockeys, the blog, was born. Thanks to Bruno for encouraging our deep, dark descent into political nihilism and a general disdain for the political process!

(Frank, I'm not sure who reads it besides you, but happy anniversary anyway!)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Is it any wonder why the Orioles suck? Look at this deal they initially agreed to with lifetime .340 power hitter, er, aging rock band Van Halen:
According to court papers, the Orioles around April 27 made an offer in writing for $1 million, which the band rejected. The Orioles came back with an offer of $1.5 million, plus 80 percent of ticket revenues and 80 percent of gross merchandise revenues, plus a budget for expenses and a non-compete provision that prohibited Van Halen from performing in other venues in the vicinity of Baltimore.
What in the fuck was Peter Angelos thinking? If I were an Orioles fan, I'd be pissed!
There's a lot of discussion about the obscure 21st Amendment lately as it relates to internet wine sales. This is a really interesting topic actually -- worth boning up on before the Supreme Court takes up the issue in December -- start with this post; there are five others in the series.

It is sometimes said that we're in the current 21st Amendment mess because the amendment's framers did not want to force dry states to allow people to import alcohol. Now, quick, think for half a second about how this relates to the gay marriage FMA . . . OK, half a second over.

Now (a couple of non-sequitur-negating mental gymnastics necessary first) . . . what would happen if Alaska legalized pot? And not this lame-o medical marijuana stuff, but full-on legalization? I imagine the feds would crack down, but can't you also imagine a 21st Amendment-like solution if public opinion demanded legalization?

Just for the record, as anti-drug -- anti-illegal drug, at least -- that I am, I think legalizing marijuana would be a good idea in theory. And either Alaska (or Hawaii) sound like good non-contiguous places to try something like this.
"Freeholder says governor is using sexuality to deflect criticism."
Friends, the problem is partisanship.

It is bizarre that in an era of declining party affiliation, partisanship seems so ubiquitous. I was talking to a friend last night who said that the problem with Fox isn't that it is conservative -- because it's not, per se -- but rather that it's partisan.

Perhaps we're no more or less partisan than in the past. Regardless, partisanship at the expense of ideology is the worst kind politics. And the best way to fulfill our inner Ralph Naders is to reject two-party binary partisanship.

(As an aside, the best so-called "progressive" web writers have, since at least 2002 for sure, seemed more like shameless partisan shills when compared to the best so-called "conservative" writers. Prove me wrong, but I'm feeling this more and more. And while you're at it, try to convince me that so-called progressive-liberal orthodoxy isn't dead, or at least how it's expressed through the directionless, moribund Democratic Party.)

I need a link here, so I'll add this link. That Times piece was fucking trash Moore bullshit. They might be helping partisans, but it's poision for free-thinking citizens who don't give a shit about political parties.

Oh, and before I forget: Politics is for losers, show business for ugly people.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Jeez, the guy's Presidency is on the line here -- you'd think these ingrates would consent to one freaking Olympic highlight!
Not UBL, but Iran. And not Bush attacking Iran, but the other way around! Is it bluster or strategic?
Like Jonathan Last, I wondered why the DNC kids changed from "Beat Bush" to "Elect Kerry" in what seemed like the last week or so. One commenter (disregard the other snarkier comments) passes this along:
I also asked one young man in Chicago why they were attacking the President rather than promoting their candidate in a positive manner. He told me that until the convention, they were not allowed by campaign law to promote Kerry, but attacking Bush allowed them to get around that restriction. I was told by the campaing worker not to tell anyone about this, since you never know who you are talking to and some Republican might put their little "secret" all over Fox News. He should take his own advice. Since the convention, they have been asking people to support Kerry.
Makes sense . . . the "Beat Bush" thing was dumb (and duplicative -- half the time people I overhear say that they already signed or gave or whatever), but one thing I'll treasure forever (seriously -- it's history!) was waiting in front of a movie theater in Manhattan where Fahrenheit 9/11 was playing and watching the Beat Bush kids accost passersby.
Important lesson number one for the day is to get the fuck over yourself. Al Gore, that means you! Have a beer -- or three dozen!

And hey, John Ashcroft, why don't you lay off the little guy!

Because what's the big deal if the twins attend a gay marriage? You got a problem with that?

Boys, look to John Kerry for a little guidance: See, he's got a sense of humor about this stuff!
Just because Bush suggests something doesn't mean it's necessarily a bad idea. View how partisans are lining up against the proposal to pull troops out of Europe and Asia -- case in point: the New Republic argues that we can't pull out because military families serve as good-will ambassadors. Please.

In the midst of this display of the complex factors that go into strategic military planning, is this priceless "to be sure" qualifier:
To be sure, sometimes things happen at U.S. military bases that damage, rather than help, America's world image. Our military personnel in Okinawa, where U.S. soldiers have assaulted Japanese civilians, are not well loved by their neighbors.
"Assaulted"? I think the technical term is "raping a pre-teen".
Did Kerry really say what this generally sympathetic piece says he said?

If it's true, it's hilarious: When asked about whether he'd repeat his vote authorizing the President to go to war he replied, "You bet I might have." So quintessentially Kerry! (Original link found here).

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

While we're on the topic of "cutting and running" (hereby anagrammed and shortened to "cunting"), if it could work in Iraq, then wouldn't it work doubly as well in Germany and South Korea? Despite what Rand Beers says? I think so!
A glimpse of Iran's psychotic side:
There are growing indications that Iran may be planning an attack on American soil. These indicators are not secret — they appear in speeches,newspaper articles, TV programs, and sermons in Iran by figures linked to the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other government officials, all discussing potential Iranian attacks on America, which will subsequently lead to its destruction.

A report on May 28 in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that an Iranian intelligence unit has established a center called “The Brigades of the Shahids of the Global Islamic Awakening.”The paper claimed that it had obtained a tape with a speech by Hassan Abbassi, a Revolutionary Guards intelligence theoretician who teaches at Al-Hussein University. In the tape, Mr. Abbassi spoke of Tehran’s secret plans, which include “a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization.” In order to accomplish this, he explained,“There are 29 sensitive sites in the U.S. and in the West. We have already spied on these sites and we know how we are going to attack them.”

It was reported that America expelled two Iranian security guards employed by Tehran’s U.N. offices on June 29, after the mission was repeatedly warned against allowing its guards to videotape bridges, the Statue of Liberty, and New York’s subway system.This was the third time the Iranians have been caught in such activities, which could be connected to the sites mentioned in potential plans to attack America.
You'd like to believe that diplomacy would work with the theocratic Iranian government, but rhetoric like this lends credence to the notion that we are actually in the midst of World War IV.
I guess Sadr decided to take his meds this morning:
Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced Wednesday he will leave the Imam Ali Mosque, after a threat by the government to "liberate" it from al-Sadr's militia.

In a letter from al-Sadr's office in Baghdad, al-Sadr said he agreed to three demands made to him Tuesday night by a delegation from the conference -- that he and his forces leave the mosque, disband his Mehdi Army and "enter into the mainstream political process."
Hope it holds up this time . . .
Cliff May at the National Review reports that Kerry told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that every Arab country has a stake in avoiding a failed Iraq. He notes that he wishes it were true but that it's not.

That's where the newest, and one of the best, examples of New Nihilism comes in -- Edward Luttwak's op-ed piece in the Times today. Country by country, Luttwak makes a case for cutting and running.

To go back to May's quick notes, he starts out noting that "Syria very much wants us to fail in Iraq – Dictator Bashar al Assad has said so, he said long ago that his aim would be to transform Iraq into another Lebanon." Luttwak doesn't address Syria, which is perhaps a glaring omission.

Moving on, where May wonders why the Saudis would want a tolerant and free democracy on their border, Luttwak argues that a threat to regional stability would trump that particular issue:
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would be greatly endangered by an anarchical Iraq, which might even allow Iran to invade its southern regions on the pretext of protecting fellow Shiites. Again, the threat of American withdrawal would be apt to concentrate minds wonderfully. The goal would be to get Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to replace the American taxpayer in aiding Iraq; the two could also jointly sponsor peacekeeping troops, in earnest this time, financially rewarding poorer Muslim countries with troops to spare. While deploying such soldiers across Iraq would be a very bad idea - they would be Sunnis of course, and most unwelcome to Iraq's Shiites - they would be fine for the recalcitrant Sunni towns.
May goes on to note that the "Iranians are not Arabs – but they working hard to ensure our failure." Luttwak takes a different view of Iran:
Likewise, while some say that the two major powers in the region, Iran and Turkey, would see an anarchical Iraq as an opportunity to expand their influence, that seems unlikely. Rather, a divided Iraq would be a base from which those countries' enemies - especially dissident Kurds - would be able to operate with impunity.

For now, with the United States viewed as determined to stay the course, the hard-liners in Iran can pursue their anti-American vendetta by encouraging the Shiite opposition, supplying Mr. Sadr's militia and encouraging Syria to help Islamist terrorists sneak into Iraq. But an American withdrawal would mean the end of any hopes for a unified, Shiite-led Iraq, which is Iran's long-term goal, and likely a restored Sunni supremacy, which is Iran's greatest fear.
Luttwak goes on to explain how Kuwait and Turkey also have much to lose. Perhaps the cut and run could work?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I was actually wondering this myself . . .
Civilization hangs in the balance, and more and more it looks like all hope is lost. Who knew Al Jazeera had a "Conspiracy Theory" section on their website? Or that the "McGreevey ‘sex scandal’ was an Israeli Intelligence operation":
. . . Foreign Policy/Intelligence Columnist Andy Martin uncovers some secrets to this regards, and asserts that McGreevey sex scandal was an Israeli Intelligence operation.

"People have been confused by the McGreevey sex scandal," says Martin. "But McGreevey's dilemma is not a gay sex scandal. It is an Israeli intelligence operation gone sour. This is not a scandal about 'sex.' It is a scandal about 'secrets', Martin says.

"McGreevey said he had sex. He did. Golan Cipel says he is not gay. He's not. They are both right. Mr. Cipel was a junior Mossad case officer, originally posted to New York under official cover. The Mossad is well known for using human sex toys. McGreevey was lured into a relationship that was intended to penetrate New Jersey's homeland defenses.

"Since 9/11 there has been barely suppressed anger at the fact Israeli intelligence knew about the hijackers and said nothing. Israelis have found themselves under suspicion and restricted by some intelligence channels. The state homeland security position was seen as a back door way of spying on anti-terror preparations in the New York-New Jersey area, and possibly nationally. . . ."
"Intended to penetrate New Jersey's homeland defenses." Beautiful . . .
There's an interesting article in the Times this morning about the "computer geek" the Pakistanis captured the other week.

Fascinating to see a glimpse of the Al Qaeda structure and the way the authorities try to shut it down, but the article itself was also interesting for the way it consciously tries to clarify the hubbub surrounding the supposed leak of the information:
The release of Mr. Khan's name - it was made public in The New York Times on Aug. 2, citing Pakistani intelligence sources - drew criticism by some politicians, like Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who charged that this leak might have compromised the search in Britain and Pakistan for Mr. Khan's Qaeda partners. (No officials in Britain, Pakistan or the United States have told The Times on the record that identifying Mr. Khan had such an impact).
But what's with that parenthetical? Do they mean to say that off the record identifying that information did have an impact? It will be interesting to see whether people pick up on this today or whether it's a stale issue . . .
A paper receipt for electronic votes cast is important, but is it really that important? I mean, important enough for Paul Krugman to explore his inner Michael Moore?

This issue has bothered me for a while. While it's important to have accurate vote counts, I just don't see it passing Josh Marshall's Clinton test -- at least to the extent that it's now part of the liberal-leaning, Vanity Fair piece generating ideological arsenal. It just seems like a distraction from real issues.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Norman Podhoretz writes about World War IV, and it's worth a read. (World War III, in case you missed it was the entire Cold War; in Podhoretz's view, World War IV has just begun and we're at about 1947 . . . and his piece comes, interestingly, on a day when Bush announces that the U.S. will undertake a radical redeployment of troops at European bases -- truly the end of World War III.)

The piece works well as a general overview of what Podhoretz calls the "Bush Doctrine." Before you laugh -- you haters! -- just know that Podhoretz makes a good case for that there is one to begin with before making the case for the doctrine itself.

Lots of salient points, but I'll just focus on one for now: Some commentators, including, most recently, Huey Lewis, talk about how Bush squandered the world's good will after 9/11. Podhoretz notes how skewed this is:
Unlike in Europe, where the attacks of 9/11 did elicit a passing moment of sympathy for the United States ("We Are All Americans Now," proclaimed a headline the next day in the leading leftist daily in Paris), in the realm of Islam the news of 9/11 brought dancing in the streets and screams of jubilation. Almost to a man, Muslim clerics in their sermons assured the faithful that in striking a blow against the "Great Satan," Osama bin Laden had acted as a jihadist, or holy warrior, in strict accordance with the will of God.

This could have been predicted from a debate on the topic "Bin Laden—The Arab Despair and American Fear" that was televised on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera about two months before 9/11. Using "American Fear" in the title was a bit premature, since this was a time when very few Americans were frightened by Islamic terrorism, for the simple reason that scarcely any had ever heard of bin Laden or al Qaeda. Be that as it may, at the conclusion of the program, the host said to the lone guest who had been denouncing bin Laden as a terrorist: "I am looking at the viewers’ reactions for one that would support your positions—but . . . I can’t find any." He then cited "an opinion poll in a Kuwaiti paper which showed that 69 percent of Kuwaitis, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians think bin Laden is an Arab hero and an Islamic jihad warrior." And on the basis of the station’s own poll, he also estimated that among all Arabs "from the Gulf to the Ocean," the proportion sharing this view of bin Laden was "maybe even 99 percent."

Surely, then, the chairman of the Syrian Arab Writers Associations was speaking for hordes of his "brothers" in declaring shortly after 9/11 that:

When the twin towers collapsed . . . I felt deep within me like someone delivered from the grave; I [felt] that I was being carried in the air above the corpse of the mythological symbol of arrogant American imperialist power. . . . My lungs filled with air, and I breathed in relief, as I had never breathed before.
This has been a beef of mine for a while -- anti-war types say that Bush blew all that good will, but I wonder if that good will was ever there to begin with. In France, perhaps, but not in Syria, not in Egypt, not in Pakistan . . .

In short, we're in a war, and it's going to be a while until it's over. His conclusion:
In 1947, we accepted the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history "plainly intended" us to bear, and for the next 42 years we acted on them. We may not always have acted on them wisely or well, and we often did so only after much kicking and screaming. But act on them we did. We thereby ensured our own "preservation as a great nation," while also bringing a better life to millions upon millions of people in a major region of the world.

Now "our entire security as a nation"—including, to a greater extent than in 1947, our physical security—once more depends on whether we are ready and willing to accept and act upon the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history has yet again so squarely placed upon our shoulders. Are we ready? Are we willing? I think we are, but the jury is still out, and will not return a final verdict until well after the election of 2004.
I believe it, actually . . . take a read -- it takes about an hour to read (!), but it's worth it, if only for historical reasons.
The recall referendum in Venezuela loses, Chavez stays in power and oil prices stabilize. The opposition, stunned by the defeat, claims election fraud, while commentators note that the defeat, ironically, helps Bush.
OK, so let's engage in some irresponsible speculation now -- I think if the ISG report is more of the same (e.g., no Iraqi WMD), then it will be released Saturday, September 11. If, on the other hand, the report contains a bombshell (e.g., the WMD are in Syria), then we'll see it, say . . . September 6!

I, of course, have zero knowledge of what I'm talking about -- just putting forth some guesses beforehand.
I'm a little surprised to see the Iraqi-WMD-in-Syria story pop up again -- in a major newspaper, too (yes, it's the Washington Times, but Rowan Scarborough has the same reliability as Bill Gertz, I think):
Saddam Hussein periodically removed guards on the Syrian border and replaced them with his own intelligence agents who supervised the movement of banned materials between the two countries, U.S. investigators have discovered.
The recent discovery by the Bush administration's Iraq Survey Group (ISG) is fueling speculation, but is not proof, that the Iraqi dictator moved prohibited weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into Syria before the March 2003 invasion by a U.S.-led coalition.
This is a significant turn of events. Even if you think that the idea that Iraqi WMD are in Syria is preposterous, it's telling that this story is surfacing -- the first time in a major publication, I think, though I could be mistaken. It could be a sign of how Bush might play the WMD thing in the run up to the election.

To that point, the piece notes that the Iraqi Survey Group -- the 1,400-member team investigating WMD in Iraq -- is set to report back in September. I'm not one to suggest suspicious timing, but the timing could be very relevant! Like I said, take note of it . . .
For better or worse what's going on in Najaf right now could be the turning point:
A wag once suggested that the War on Terror could end in either of two ways. The Islamic fundamentalist could become like the infidel and within a generation acquire the material wealth and technology whose lack has been their weakness. Or the infidel could become like the Islamic fundamentalist for a day and the end the fight as the fundamentalist would. I thought it was funny once.
As much as possible, keep your eye on what happens in the next couple of days. Even through the filters, we should get a sense of how this might turn out . . .

Friday, August 13, 2004

Only John Derbyshire could come up with this (literally) childish reaction to McGreevey's speech. I don't like to accuse someone of being homophobic, but Derbyshire seems never to fail to help one draw that conclusion:
Referring to my July 13 Corner posting about my daughter's discovery of the universal, metaphysical dichotomy between things eiuw and things non-eiuw, a faithful reader points out that the McGreevey resignation & speech confirms once and for all, as it it needed further confirmation, that the Democrats are the eiuw party.
What gives with him?
I'm linking to this story, "Under Eye of U.N., Billions for Hussein in Oil-for-Food Plan," solely to ramp up the Google numbers and let the Times know that we think it's important to uncover this angle of the Iraq War.
If you've been following what I've been thinking about regarding the 24-hour cable news channels, here's a good post.
First-rate kook, but what an entertaining kook! I actually didn't realize what the 17th Amendment did!
It was a masterful move on the part of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey to exploit his struggle with his sexual identity in order to deflect attention from the allegations threatening (that threatened) his administration:
"Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign," McGreevey said.
"Given the circumstances surrounding the affair" -- get real -- what he's doing here is evil.

Check out, for example, Josh Marshall:
Clearly, if the expected sexual harassment allegations are valid, then obviously it's just as bad as heterosexual sexual harassment. But, for the moment, leaving that as an open question, McGreevey managed to give some true nobility to a painful, ignoble moment.
Every responsible news story mentions the trouble he was in, but they all manage to connect it with the larger issue of gay politicians. Go back to the the CNN article, for example:
Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, called McGreevey's coming-out speech "poignant" and said its members' thoughts were with the governor and his family.

"We all know how difficult it is to come out as openly gay, whether to family or other loved ones," Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein said. "No one could imagine what it's like to come out to 300 million people -- this is totally unprecedented."
What a bastard for manipulating people like this -- instead of outrage that he (allegedly) had an affair with an employee, who was hired under suspicious circumstances, now McGreevey has sympathy. Which is fucking shameful.

This schizophrenia was also apparent on Nightline last night: Ted Koppel was trying to get his guests to talk about the specific allegations, but several of the guests they had were "gay experts." They had a gay politician (whose name I can't remember) who ran for Congress, I believe. They had Arianna Huffington, whose ex-husband came out.

To be clear, whether "we" can "accept" a gay governor is a valid issue. I just find it reprehensible that a politician would manipulate this important issue in this way. Our society could use some positive role models coming out. McGreevey, under fire for improprieties, is absolutely not that model. Fuck him.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Hitchens on Chalabi; the story is stranger and stranger . . . worth noting, also, that Hitchens' view of Chalabi has evolved since the Iranian allegations came out.

Partisans, please spare us the Chalabi gloating -- it's looking more and more like most of you/us know jack shit about what's going on here.

Hitchens and Drum both note CIA connections -- I'm not surprised that this story has that angle; don't forget the CIA/State vs. VPOTUS battle that girds all of these intrigue stories.
Dude, the situation with that freaky flight with the Syrian guys still doesn't seem to be resolved.
I forgot to post this yesterday, but it got me thinking about the Iowa Electronic Markets, among other things. This Nicholas Kristof piece, "An American Hiroshima," seems like an example of Reverse Chatter, where people hedge their bets in case something is up.

It seems like Reverse Chatter is always up around the Judeo-Christian-American holidays -- Fourth of July, Christmas, etc. -- that fin-de-siecle axious feeling. With the Kristof piece, I wondered whether he thought -- either consciously or subconsciously -- that he wanted to get this narsty bit of information off his chest before that pesky other shoe finally plops.
United for Peace and Justice's Sadrisitic on-again, off-again maneuvers are really annoying and unnecessarily unsettling. And even the Times Editorial Board thinks so:
The Bloomberg administration is permitting a handful of protests in Central Park, but it adamantly refused the requests of United for Peace and Justice, the organizers of the coalition planning the largest rally during the convention. Instead, officials came up with a plan that would let the demonstrators march past Madison Square Garden on Aug. 29, the day before the convention opens, and hold their mass rally - which could involve hundreds of thousands of people - on the West Side Highway. The city has been relying on the deal in making its plans to keep the city secure. Given that some 50,000 delegates and other visitors attached to the convention are expected in addition to all the demonstrators, that planning is no small task. If the protesters back out now, there is a real risk of disorder, and perhaps violence.

. . .

Making matters worse, there are reports that some demonstrators not affiliated with United Peace and Justice may "spontaneously" show up in Central Park on Aug. 29. All the protest organizers should denounce this idea. Bypassing the permit process in this way could lead to clashes between protesters and police. Civil disobedience should be used rarely, and a disagreement with the city over a protest venue does not warrant it.
So it's ironic that on the facing op-ed page, Dahlia Lithwick, who is filling in for Thomas Friedman (I guess Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was a one-time thing), is trying to make the case for the protestors, calling the response to them overblown:
Enormous national events will inevitably be terror targets. So will the president. But before we single out the anarchists and the environmentalists and the puppet-guys for diminished constitutional protections - before we herd them into what are speech-free zones - we might question whether they represent the real danger. If we don't recognize the distinction between passionate political speech and terrorism now, it may be too late to protest later.
United for Peace and Justice certainly isn't helping themselves . . .

Back to Lithwick's column, though -- Orin Kerr notes that Lithwick herself is unclear about one of the main points in her column -- that the Patriot Act creates a new crime called domestic terrorism:
The trouble is, it's not true. The Patriot Act does not create a crime of "domestic terrorism." In fact, there is no such crime. The Patriot Act created a statutory definition of the phrase "domestic terrorism" in 18 U.S.C. 2331(5), which was added to the preexisting definition of "international terorrism" found in 18 U.S.C. 2331(1).
Again, it's a problem when the ACLU, et al. blow their arguments out of proportion -- a credibility problem that makes folks like me unsympathetic to their cause.
Hey, what did I tell you? That Rove is a smart guy, huh? From today's Times, "Democrats Don't Plan to Block Confirmation of CIA Confirmee":
Privately, some Democrats said the nomination put them in a difficult political position. The C.I.A. has already gone two months without a replacement for George J. Tenet as director. The Democrats said that if they opposed the Goss nomination they expected that the White House would cast them as obstructionists who were delaying prosecution of the war on terror.
And the Democrats are out on the counteroffensive with some good spin, to boot:
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said the president might have been "looking for a fight" by nominating a politician. But, Mr. Schumer said, Democrats can avoid falling into that domestic-security kind of trap by accepting Mr. Goss, if the president accepted the recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The best way for Democrats to stay true to their principles is not to go after Goss, who I believe is a decent guy, but by focusing on the restructuring, which is more important than any single person," Mr. Schumer said.
Like I said the other day, I feel like this was an innoculation to avoid a confirmation battle. You've got to hand it to Rove -- he's smart. Bwahahaha!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Picking up on where I left off with that post yesterday about Ken Layne's comments about cable news only covering pregnant women getting killed, I stumbled on something.

Without going into too much detail, I have access to cable at the fitness room in our building, which means that I've been seeing a good deal of Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN. Last night I heard him say that the stories they were covering were "the top stories -- ones that you choose," or some such thing. So today I looked on CNN.com and sure enough there is a list of the most popular stories on CNN.com.

The tail wagging the dog angle, though, is that the most popular stories tend to be the most prominently displayed stories on the homepage. So if the Anderson Cooper show uses this list of most popular stories as a guide for their 7 p.m. show, then it's kind of a Catch-22, right?

I know when I visit CNN.com, if I click on anything, it's one of these "top stories." Hey, it's a problem, right?

Keith Olbermann's Countdown show on MSNBC also picks the "top stories," as this Howard Kurtz article explains:
Asked about the story selection, Olbermann says he and his "Committee of Irresponsible Persons" hunt for such offbeat topics, adding: "You can't argue that it's something people were not talking about."
Granted, but there's that weird Catch-22 again: if the networks all endlessly cover a story, then people will obviously talk about it, right?
"ABB," as in "anybody but Bush," according to this scary Bill Gertz article:
"The goal of the next attack is twofold: to damage the U.S. economy and to undermine the U.S. election," the official said. "The view of al Qaeda is 'anybody but Bush.'"
I'm guessing that's not an endorsement the DNC is eager to have!

Side note: yes, the Washington Times is a right-wing rag owned by cult nuts, but it's OK trust everything Bill Gertz writes about national security . . .

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Speaking of television news (was I?), each time I click on cnn.com or foxnews.com (bwahahahaha!), I can't help but think of this Ken Layne post I read the other day:
Anyway, this morning I was trudging through the mud flats where the desert used to be right behind the house -- a "new development" is being built, which means it's almost time to move again -- wondering why the teevee news loves the "missing what's-her-name" stories so much, when I never see anything about these worthless Court-TV events on the blogs. I look at a lot of these blogs. Lefty, Righty, legal, libertarian, jokey, group blogs ... blogs about books, movies, technology, comics, business, music, travel, dogs, specific cities or countries, food, etc. Blog writers and readers have got to be the biggest "news consumers" in the world, and yet I never see much of anything about these court cases & dead pregnant women. Was I missing something? Was there a secret world of blogs where people were as interested in these police melodramas as the news networks seem to be?
Layne did a little research, and it turns out that no blogs talk about these salacious "made-for-TV" stories:
I checked the DayPop for mentions of the two big U.S. murder stories that seem to take up about half the news time these days, and found just 15 blogs referencing Laci Peterson and 16 mentioning Lori Hacking.

Compare that to 940 matching George W. Bush and 1,330 talking about John Kerry. Iraq? 1,640 citations. These murder cases, which are always about a white suburban woman, don't show up in the Top 10 stories or news searches. Not even in the Top 40 news posts on the entire InnerNut.
Think what you want about blogs, but I say this says something -- namely, if no one gives a shit about Laci Peterson, then why do we have to hear about it so much? I've wondered silently for a long time about these stories, and wondered whether I should care more, but I want to say it loud and proud: I don't care. What's more, I wish news outlets would take this into account and let their coverage reflect that a little.
Perhaps I was a little harsh earlier when I said that certain haters could "go suck my giant neoconservative cock." Ditto for the following the comment, which compared them, perhaps unfairly, to bits of excrement. Had it not been for Reuters over-the-top "reporting," I probably would have said something closer to this.
Josh Benson, who is filling in for Noam Scheiber at the New Republic's etc. blog, has a smart piece today about stem-cell research, but one detail buried in there made me do a doubletake:
Whereas Laura Bush yesterday trumpeted her husband's authorization of $25 million to support stem cells, California voters are poised to throw $3 billion at the field in November when they vote on a bond issue to fund new research. Spearheaded by top California Democrats, the initiative would almost single-handedly reverse the effect of Bush's policies. While Kerry uses the issue to score points, Democrats in the Golden State are busy doing something about it.
Three billion!? Are they nuts? I had to check that fact, and sure enough, Proposition 71 would raise a buttload of money:
Prop 71 won’t increase or create any taxes. It authorizes tax-free state bonds that will provide an average of $295 million per year over ten years to support stem cell research at California universities, medical schools and research facilities.
I may be rusty on financial stuff (which is misleading, since I've never actually known much about financial stuff), but issuing bonds is still putting the state on the hook for debt, and $300 million a year is a shit-ton of money.

Which begs the question: They're not serious, are they? Wouldn't the State of California be better served by issuing bonds for, say, schools, roads or any of a number of things that are perhaps more important than stem-cell research?

I know Bush has been reticent to tackle stem-cell research, but come on -- California voters can't possibly be that swayed by Ron Reagan. Or can they?
I don't necessarily buy that the Bush Administration plays politics like some say, but I will recognize that politics come into play when we talk about politics, as per the conservative National Review:
Dems are saying that Goss is too partisan and that he was picked because he is from Florida. I.e. It is all about politics. Just ran into this link, interestingly, from last month: A Hill interview with Pat Roberts in which he says Goss won't be picked because Dems will take aim:

We do not want a partisan fight right before the election,” Roberts said.

“[Rockefeller] said he was too partisan and not acceptable,” Roberts said. “I don’t think Porter is too partisan or that he is unacceptable, but that doesn’t speak for the other side. Apparently, if you have the vice chairman firmly opposed to the nominee, I don’t think that’s a very good starting point.”

Well, now he's the pick. What happens? Senate Dems let him go through because they don't want to look like they are playing politics with the CIA. Or, the Dems somehow make this case that he is unqualified for the job (because he's not a Democrat?). I'm guessing the Bush camp, doing the right thing, can handle this one just fine.
Point being, when Tenet resigned, I was told by an armchair CIA analyst that Bush wouldn't pick a CIA head before the election so as to avoid a nasty confirmation process. Now we have Bush moving quickly on nominating a candidate. Message: they take intelligence seriously. And the fact that Goss is a Republican? I'm open to hearing more about him, but the stuff I've read says that he's is a legitimate, capable candidate. Thus, the only knock against him is that he's a Republican.

Now check out the true Karl Rove angle -- as opposed to all the fatuous conspiracy angles usually ascribed to Rove, I believe this one actually exists: by stonewalling Goss, the opposition runs the risk of playing politics. Any other "nonpolitical" candidate would be Borked by the Democrats, making Bush, et al. look bad. This kind of innoculation seems like a classic Rovian maneuver -- an interesting move, too!
(Or is it "red on red?" I can't remember . . .) One day after the Las Vegas mayor claims the feds never told them about terrorists surveilling casinos, the feds push back:
When the Justice Department obtained two videos suggesting terrorists had cased Las Vegas, Nevada, casinos, the discussions didn't center on public alerts or heightened security. Rather, authorities worried about the effects on tourism and the casinos' legal liabilities, internal memos show.

. . .

Though the FBI offered, most local law enforcement and casino security officers declined an invitation to view the footage after it was obtained in 2002, according to the memos and one of the prosecutors in the Detroit case.

One document obtained by The Associated Press quotes a federal prosecutor in Las Vegas as saying the city's mayor was concerned about the "deleterious effect on the Las Vegas tourism industry" if the evidence became public. The mayor said Monday he was never told of the footage.
Obviously the Mayor is pushing for Kerry -- Nevada is one of those battleground states -- but it is equally reprehensible that Ashcroft is smearing the mayor of Las Vegas in the media.
If, in fact, Karl Rove ordered the Al Qaeda suspect's name to be released to reporters in order to rescue the President's poll numbers, then obviously that's a horrible thing. The salient point here is that the world seems divided into two types of people: those who would read that Reuters story below and think, "Right, of course -- they're the most crooked, political Administration around" and those who resent the media and various bureaucrats manipulating the storyline for their own ends.
It's bullshit because here's an alternative explanation that sounds just as ridiculous -- yet just as believable: Everyone knows that Kerry is in hot water right now, so it makes sense for his allies at the CIA who want him to win to reveal a story that the Bush Administration jeopardizes national security for political aims. Of course -- everyone knows it's already true!

Your response should be the same as mine: Yeah, right. No one controls it that much.

And again, I'd caution that Pakistani intelligence has more to lose by a successful campaign against Al Qaeda, so it seems more likely to me that they would be the source of leaks rather than the bumbling Bush Administration. Unfortunately, asshats like Reuters are too quick to fill in the backstory.

They can all go suck my giant neoconservative cock. Pieces of shit.
Of course the Bush Administration leaked the name of an Al Qaeda mole for political purposes! They would have every reason to do so!

That's what Reuters is saying:
The unmasking of an al Qaeda mole after a U.S. security alert points to disarray within U.S. intelligence and could mean President George W. Bush is accused of playing politics with security, the top U.S. election issue.

Washington raised its security alert to high on August 1 and disclosed a man held in secret by Pakistan was the source of information that justified the alert.

U.S. officials next morning confirmed a media report naming the man as Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, a computer expert arrested secretly in July and used by Pakistan to track down al Qaeda militants in Britain and America.

Pakistani intelligence told Reuters that Khan was still working undercover when the U.S. security status was raised to orange and his name appeared in a U.S. newspaper.

Security analysts said the outing of the source was a major blunder that forced Britain to arrest 12 terrorism suspects in a hurry; nine are still in custody. Washington said the arrests, which included an alleged top al Qaeda figure, were a success.
That's just bullshit. Sure -- if you really think Karl Rove leaks the name of an Al Qaeda mole, then go ahead - fucking prove it. This story just seems so fishy -- and the "reporting" by such notably objective outlets as Reuters so blatantly biased -- that I don't believe it. I mean, I automatically don't believe it.

They talk about Bush's credibility problem -- the media isn't far behind. Just do me a favor and spare me the Washington leak bullshit . . .

Monday, August 09, 2004

I got one of these things the other night, a fold-out map of all things Republican-related:
Eight months ago, Paul Chan, a 31-year-old artist, began thinking about the tens of thousands of people from across the United States who are expected to arrive in New York at the end of this month to protest during the Republican National Convention.

For many of them, he realized, a foray into a large city might be a confusing and daunting experience. So, with two friends, Joshua Breitbart and Nadxieli Mannello, he began designing a reference guide called "The People's Guide to the Republican National Convention."

. . .

Included is information of the sort that could be of use to any traveler: a street map of Manhattan south of 59th Street and addresses of restaurants, bookstores, libraries and places to rent bicycles.

Other elements are specific to the convention: hotels where various state delegations will be staying, sites of official convention events, and times and locations of planned demonstrations. There are also the words of the First Amendment, phone numbers for the New York Civil Liberties Union and information about bail bondsmen.

The three creators said they spent $6,000 of their own money to print the guides, but are distributing them free.

"The main reason we made the guide is so that people have enough information to get in the way or out of the way," Mr. Chan said.
The story is a fluff piece, so it doesn't mention the other helpful information included in the map: the location of companies they define as "War Profiteers," for example.

One of the dippier things they have is a list of military-related facilities -- including the historic Seventh Regiment Armory on 67th Street on the Upper East Side. I would love to see protestors there -- even after 9/11 I'm not sure they really use it for much more than a parking garage for the New York State National Guard or the random weekend flower show.

It should be noted that one of the ironies left unsaid in the Times piece is that the map lists the Times as one of the RNC sponsors -- the implication being that the company is fair game for protestors, just in case, you know, they want to "get in the way," that is.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Christopher Dickey writes about Pakistan's "uncanny" ability to produce Al Qaeda suspects in Newsweek:
Is the Bush administration playing such cynical politics with our fears? Perhaps. But before we point that finger, maybe we should take a closer look at the Pakistanis. They’ve had an uncanny way of producing senior Al Qaeda figures when they’ve felt the heat from the United States, and seeming to miss them right in their midst when the pressure was lowered. The Bush administration may or may not have been telling the ISI it wanted a July surprise, or an October one. But it has plenty of good reasons to turn the screws on the government of President Pervez Musharraf all the time, and in every way it can.
Makes sense to me . . .
Geez, I almost forgot this troubling story about Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani's heart treatment. The last thing they need in Iraq is instability with respect to the Shi'ite leadership. Especially with a whack-job like Sadr champing at the bit. Fortunately, Ackerman seems almost confident that Sadr is on the way out -- perhaps the Mahdi Army's ill-advised offensive is related to Sistani's heart?
While we're on historical topics, in perusing the controversy about Michelle Malkin's new book about Japanese Internment, I was curious about something I didn't know: Japanese-Canadians were similarly relocated. And it's curious that Canadians seem (emphasis on "seem," because I'm just now digging into this topic) to have a preferred way of dealing with their national conscience -- Blame British Columbia!

Could it be? It's certainly the easy way out for this bastion of federalism. Take a look, for example, at this Canadian Broadcasting Corporation webpage about that period in Canadian history: "British Columbia wages war against Japanese Canadians."

I'm agnostic about Malkin's thesis. I haven't read much about the topic, and don't plan to read the book. It's obviously a contrarian view, judging by the criticism it has generated.
If I'm ever tabbed by the FBI as a "person of interest" for anything, I hope that my colleagues would back me up a little more vigorously than this:
"I just can't believe he'd be involved in anything like (anthrax) but who knows? Life's kind of funny," said William DiBerardino, a retired administrator at Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, where Berry was director of emergency services until 2001.
Gee, Bill, thanks . . . a lot.
The question in everyone's mind for the last three years is why we still haven't nabbed UBL. We know where he is, so it should be easy, right?

As I've written before, I don't think it is that easy. Bin Laden and his associated Al Qaeda and Taliban followers apparently have ensconced themselves in that lawless tribal region of Pakistan that they say is difficult to penetrate. To complicate matters, Musharraf's army seems to lack the legitimacy to operate in these areas.

A historical comparison -- obviously frought, but worth noting, I think -- can be found in the Pershing Expedition of 1916-17, in which President Woodrow Wilson ordered Pershing to apprehend Pancho Villa, the Mexican guerrilla fighter operating on the Mexican-U.S. border, apparently outside the control of Mexico's tenuous central government. Shorter version is that they never were able to get Pancho Villa and he successfully terrorized Americans on U.S. soil for years until he was killed, probably by the Mexican army, in 1923. Longer version here. And here's the relevant excerpt, for our ahistorical purposes:
Pershing was subject to orders which required him to respect the sovereignty of Mexico, and was further hindered by the fact that the Mexican Government and people resented the invasion. Advanced elements of the expedition penetrated as far as Parral, some 400 miles south of the border, but Villa was never captured. The campaign consisted primarily of dozens of minor skirmishes with small bands of insurgents. There were even clashes with Mexican Army units; the most serious was on 21 June 1916 at Carrizal, where a detachment of the 10th Cavalry was nearly destroyed. [Emphasis added]
In other words, capturing UBL -- much less disrupting Al Qaeda in Pakistan -- is probably harder than you think.

That so many of us ascribe terror alerts, Al Qaeda collars and threat announcements to Bush cynically manipulating the vote says more about the President's credibility problem than anything else. And that's obviously a big problem for him; a politician without credibility is sunk, I'd think. But for those of us who are interested in what actually happens, it's worth it to put this part of the battle in some context.
Before the golden age of Bill Clinton -- when the world (except those pesky Al Qaeda chaps) was fooled into somehow believing that Americans were the good guys -- there was the problem of the Ugly American -- that Cold War-era composite of a bumbling, incompetent world player. The Ugly American (among other things) assumes the world bows to American demands, on American timetables.

An interesting criticism of Michael Moore and his new movie involves not only his depiction of Saudis as mere caricatures -- self-evident bad guys -- but also his insistence that his foreign audience should be as concerned as he is about stopping the war in Iraq. This chauvinism hearkens back to that un-self aware Ugly American.

Another case in point: Kevin Drum embracing the New Republic's adolescent fantasy/logical fallacy of George Bush manipulating the Pakistanis to catch HVTs during the Democratic Convention:
At worst, the Bush administration is deliberately manipulating intelligence to scare everyone into voting for him. At best, the intelligence is real but the Bushies are doing everything in their power to hype it for partisan purposes. In the end, though, it probably doesn't really matter which, since in either case it's obvious that Bush treats national intelligence and the wider war on terror as little more than cynical campaign tools. The country would be a lot better off with a president who takes this stuff seriously.
Again, the uncritical assumption that if anyone is manipulating the capture of Al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan, it's obviously George Bush.

Yesterday I noted that the New Republic reprised their provocative story. I also noted hearing Steve Coll interviewed on WNYC along with the New Republic's Spencer Ackerman. Coll offered this alternative view of what perhaps happened in Pakistan. Ackerman was rather quiet for the duration of the interview. Today the story still carries top billing on the New Republic's site. Even if you don't see this as irresponsible journalism, at the very least it's sloppy journalism.

It's telling that reflexively anti-Bush partisans default to this simplistic geopolitical interpretation. To me it shows we seriously need to get the fuck over ourselves -- Karl Rove will never be that powerful.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I don't know . . . it still sounds suspicious to me, too!

Then there's this, and although it backs up a more benign version of the story, the final paragraphs strike a worrying tone:
I asked Mr. Kamel about the lyrics to a song called "Um al Shaheed" -- "Mother of a Martyr" -- that Mr. Mehana has recorded. It is not about suicide bombers, he insisted, but about soldiers who die in battle. Besides, if Mr. Mehana didn't do that old standard, "the people wouldn't like him." Mr. Kamel was raised Muslim but is now Catholic; he stated that suicide bombing bars you from heaven in both religions. "If you kill yourself, you're evil."

And on this subject Mr. Kamel said something I didn't expect him say: there are Middle Eastern bands out there with ties to terror groups. "I am a proud Arab American," he said. "But I don't deny there are some bad people" out there. He then named a couple of singers -- I will demur from repeating their names, but they appear to be quite prominent in Middle Eastern music -- whom he said had tried to enter the United States but were turned down because of alleged connections to [radical] Shi'a or to Hezbollah. One of them played at a party linked to Hezbollah. A rockin' affair that must have been.
(Both stories linked to here.)
To return to the New Republic real quickly here, the most provocative claim is that the White House pressured Pakistan to collar someone big during the convention:
According to an official with Pakistan's powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), a White House aide told ISI chief Ehsan ul-Haq during a spring visit to Washington that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July," during the convention.
That the anonymous source comes from the ISI seems relevant -- extremely relevant, actually. If it's true that Musharraf ordered the capture of an HVT because he wants to see Bush stay in power, then it makes sense that the ISI -- which is antagonistic towards Musharraf right now -- would be quick to want to make Musharraf (and Bush) look bad. And that bit of context seems pretty relevant -- it's irresponsible journalism not to point that out.

But hey, there's a silver lining here -- at least the ISI is trying to smear Musharraf in the media -- that's certainly a lot better than trying to kill him, which is how I assumed things work around that region!
Author Steve Coll is on with Ackerman and he puts forward an interesting interpretation of the New Republic's provocative story: it's not the White House pushing for a well-timed capture of Al Qaeda suspects but rather the Pakistanis, who want to keep the working relationship with the Bush Administration going. Capturing High-Value Targets at opportune times is the best way for Pakistan to accomplish this. If only they thought this strongly about Bush three years ago!

That conspiracy makes more sense than a Rovian puppetmaster pulling the strings from halfway around the world. And shame on the New Republic for Michael Moore-ing the story to make it sound like a foregone conclusion that the evil Bush Administration is behind the timing.
The radical moderates at the New Republic keep at this silly "July Surprise" issue. John Judis was on WNYC yesterday and Spencer Ackerman is on today in a couple of minutes. It's all Michael Moore's fault.
That's meant to modify "the good, the bad and the ugly," a bit . . . which is to say that, thanks to that ExxonMobil paid advertisement, I got the chance to finish today's Times op-ed page between Lexington and Fifth Avenue.

First the good -- Jeffery Goldberg's frightening piece about Israeli Eric Rudolphs seemingly hellbent on assassinating Sharon. The question is how serious a threat this is, and whether it could turn Israel into an apocalyptic end game between Muslims and Jews.

Then the good -- Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s first piece as August stand-in for Tom Friedman. Barbara Ehrenreich's month is over, and the African-American Studies Rockstar's month begins today with a piece about the African Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. It's good -- I just wish I cared more! Actually, one thing I've noticed is that good op-ed columnists -- Friedman coming to mind -- have a sense of how to transcend the issues and create a framework for their worldview. Part of Ehrenreich's problem was that she simply wrote about issues. The Gates piece today reads the same way. Friedman's strength -- and it's hard to pinpoint -- has to do with evoking a distinctive ideology. Pay attention to the two remaining months to see how difficult it is to do good op-ed commentary.

Finally, the ugly -- Bruce Springsteen deftly illustrating the "Best Seen and Not Heard" axiom, first applied to baseball players. I didn't see his media whoring on Nightline last night, but I'm not sure I missed anything important -- you know the script already. I don't have a problem with rockstars going out on tour because "for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out," but I expect the Times to be a little more judicious with its precious op-ed space.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I'd wear a turban everywhere if they actually did something like this!
Good New Republic piece about Kerry's Cowboy-like stances on the key issues:
Kerry won't answer multilateralist prayers on many other issues, either. Despite his strong record on the environment, like Bush he has never endorsed the Kyoto Protocol. On another multilateralist shibboleth, the International Criminal Court, Kerry's record is little different. He supported Bill Clinton's late signature of the ICC statute, but Clinton himself said at the time "I will not, and do not recommend that my successor submit the Treaty to the Senate for advice and consent until our fundamental concerns are satisfied." In other words, Clinton did not support or expect ratification of the treaty. And Kerry, like Bush, has spoken out repeatedly about the need to protect America's troops from ICC jurisdiction. He voted twice for the American Servicemembers' Protection Act, which even authorizes the president to free by force any Americans held by the ICC.
I have never understood -- beyond the knee-jerk reaction to it, I mean -- why people think Kyoto is such a good thing. There's an excellent case to be made that it's too expensive, that it is unclear whether it will work and that perhaps other projects -- clean water, for example -- are more worthwhile goals. I've stopped listening to Bush opponents who point to Kyoto as proof of his evilness, but it's worth noting every now and then just how stupid this line of reasoning is. Same for the International Criminal Court -- there are real issues there, too, but that topic tends to be sublimated into a Democratic talking point.

Back to the piece, though, I'm not sure I totally buy the author's conclusion:
So, President John Kerry would not immediately sign the ICC statute and the Kyoto Protocol, pull America's troops out of Iraq, or promise never to go to war without the UN's say-so. On all these issues, his positions are close to those of his opponent's. But this is not to say he would be no different from Bush. Kerry has been vastly different from Bush in the tone and style he uses to deal with America's enemies and friends. He has repeatedly charged that Bush wasted the world's goodwill after September 11, was needlessly brusque about rejecting Kyoto and the ICC, and treated the UN as a rubber stamp for the Iraq war rather than making a real effort to win its approval.
A big difference in "tone"? Who cares? Really -- who the fuck cares? The German Prime Minister would work with us provided we use the right tone? It's like your mom may have said to you as a child: "Say 'Please.'"

Now I understand that the shopkeeper in Paris perhaps reads an article and thinks "Cowboy," but the idea that Chirac really -- really -- gives a shit seems rather naive.

Again, though, to pick up on a recent theme: Kerry in office would be fine. Nothing substantive would change and maybe we'd get out of hearing about stem-cells and the FMA. But at the same time, it's telling that my thinking is moving in this direction -- and that should give "progressives" pause. But when the main goal -- the most important issue of our time -- is to oust Bush, don't be surprised when Kerry fails as some liberal beacon.
As you would expect, more details are emerging today about the recent threat announcement.

The Daily News notes that "The FBI is monitoring suspected Al Qaeda operatives and members of two allied terror groups in the New York City area, the FBI's New York director said yesterday":
Pasquale D'Amuro, director of the FBI's New York office and a veteran terrorism investigator, said the individuals under scrutiny here include people linked to Al Qaeda as well as Ansar al Islam and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

He said the monitoring began long before this weekend's heightened alert was announced.

While officials have said in the past that they were watching a handful of Al Qaeda suspects in the country, they have not said they were in the metropolitan area.

They also have not mentioned the Ansar al Islam and Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Meanwhile, the Times expands on its report yesterday that the information the alert was based on contained dated information, saying that it was new intelligence which contributed to the increased security measures:
The officials said the separate stream of intelligence, which they had not previously disclosed, reached the White House only late last week and was part of a flow that the officials said had prompted them to act urgently in the last few days.
The Times also has a fascinating look at the days and hours leading up to Sunday's announcement:
On Friday morning, the intelligence briefing that awaited Ms. Townsend at her White House office seemed alarming, two senior White House officials said. There were two disturbing developments: information being gleaned from a computer hard drive recently seized in Pakistan suggested that Al Qaeda had studied specific sites in New York and Washington. Another stream of intelligence information pointed to the possibility of a current threat to attack New York.

"We know very early on Friday morning we've got an issue, a very serious, live issue," said one of the officials, who asked to remain unidentified because of the information being discussed.
If you watch the West Wing, you'll have a visual image of the drama (which is part of why it's such a good show, regardless of your political views).

Meanwhile, Howard Dean continues to insist it's all political, er, could perhaps be politcial -- or at least questionable. I'm not sure who that is supposed to appeal to, but the Democrats need to dump that guy . . .

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Tom Junod's Esquire piece about Bush kind of sums it up:
It happened again this morning. I saw a picture of our president—my president—and my feelings about him were instantly rekindled. The picture was taken after his speech to the graduating seniors at the Air Force Academy. He was wearing a dark suit, a light-blue tie, and a white shirt. His unsmiling visage was grim and purposeful, in pointed contrast to the face of the elaborately uniformed cadet standing next to him, which was lit up with a cocky grin. . . . Although one man was essentially being asked to stake his life on the wisdom of the other, both were melded in an attitude of common purpose, and so both struck a common pose. With the cadet bent slightly forward and the commander in chief leaning slightly back, each man cocked his right arm and made a muscle. They flexed! I didn't know anything about the cadet. About President George W. Bush, though, I felt the satisfaction of absolute certainty, and so uttered the words as essential to my morning as my cup of Kenyan and my dose of high-minded outrage on the editorial page of the Times : "What an asshole."

Ah. That feels better. George W. Bush is an asshole, isn't he? . . .

Then I read the text of the speech he gave and was thrown from one kind of certainty—the comfortable kind—into another. He was speaking, as he always does, of the moral underpinnings of our mission in Iraq. He was comparing, as he always does, the challenge that we face, in the evil of global terrorism, to the challenge our fathers and grandfathers faced, in the evil of fascism. He was insisting, as he always does, that the evil of global terrorism is exactly that, an evil—one of almost transcendent dimension that quite simply must be met, lest we be remembered for not meeting it . . . lest we allow it to be our judge. I agreed with most of what he said, as I often do when he's defining matters of principle. No, more than that, I thought that he was defining principles that desperately needed defining, with a clarity that those of my own political stripe demonstrate only when they're decrying either his policies or his character. He was making a moral proposition upon which he was basing his entire presidency—or said he was basing his entire presidency—and I found myself in the strange position of buying into the proposition without buying into the presidency, of buying into the words while rejecting, utterly, the man who spoke them.
It's good, even if you shudder at the thought of Bush -- it helps, for one, to understand what was going on during the Cold War, what really scared people and why they probably felt that civilization might be in danger. Same thing now, and if you even remotely worry about the threat of theocratic terrorism, you'll understand it.

The article also explains why either Bush or Kerry will be fine. Say that, though, and people lose their shit . . . which is funny in the end.
Speaking of this cheery topic, this Drudgetastic story jumped out at me:
More financial institutions than previously disclosed may be at risk of attack, and an al-Qaida operative has told British intelligence that the group's target date is early September, intelligence sources said yesterday.

The operative, described as "credible" by British intelligence, told his debriefers that the attack would take place "60 days before the presidential election" on Nov. 2, according to a former senior National Security Council official. On Sept. 2 President George W. Bush is expected to address the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.
By the way, the stories about how the surveillance is "old" -- and the obvious implication that Bush is manipulating the alerts -- don't sway me much. I trust that more went into raising the threat level -- the expense and effort and heartache of raising the threat level in New York is absolutely not worth the Rovian poll boost. Plus, it's hard to see how damaging Bush's credibility could possibly be worth whatever small bump they would get in the polls. Common sense here, please.

But to go back to the point, the date -- September 2, when Bush is addressing the RNC -- is kind of masterful. Imagine what would happen if the alert level goes to red on September 2 and Bush is unable to make his speech -- he'd look terrible, cowing to terrorism. It's a tough call -- what do you do?

As for the story itself, it seems that the authorities are trying to get all the information they have out in the public, which seems like the right thing to do. If part of the war on terror is public relations, and the battle is being waged by both the government and Al Qaeda itself, then it makes sense that the government would want to let Al Qaeda know that they have a pretty good idea about their plans. Al Qaeda is probably working their hardest to undermine all of this, of course, but flooding the zone with what we know seems like a smart idea. And if it helps thwart an attack -- if they think it's "too hot" to do it -- then that is all the more reason to announce what we know.
The theory girding the irresponsible and cynical speculation about the political timing of terror alerts (Howard Dean, Paul Krugman today) goes something along the lines of a terror attack would raise the public's awareness of an issue that was one of Bush's strong suits. I suppose then if Bush's poll numbers were lower on terrorism then no one would complain?

Regardless, the question of which candidate a terror attack would "help" -- assuming you don't find the whole premise callous and sick -- seems like it could cut both ways. Today, Noam Schieber writes that it's not as clear as you'd think:
But wouldn't the political effect of a terrorist attack depend on public opinion toward George W. Bush at the time of the attack? If voters are generally sympathetic to Bush, then, I agree, an attack will probably benefit him. When people are high on Bush, they tend to view him as a strong, decisive leader. And that's the kind of president you want after a terrorist attack.
But if public opinion is trending against Bush, couldn't another terrorist attack reinforce that as well? Under this scenario, the terrorist attack might play the role that the budget deficit played in 1992, when people saw it as a symbol of a government that wasn't functioning properly. This time around, another attack might be seen as a symbol of the administration's screwed up priorities (too much focus on Iraq, tax cuts; not enough focus on the war on terror, homeland security), in which case it would clearly hurt Bush and benefit Kerry.
And I think it's important to note that if there were to be a big national disaster, I'm pretty sure people would be more motivated to exercise their patriotic duty and vote. This happened in Spain -- turnout was about ten percent higher than expected. And when voter turnout is high, I believe the vote tends to skew towards the Democrats. In short, I don't know that speculating on the effect of a terror attack on an election is worth much time.
The question is why the IMF and World Bank buildings were targeted. Sure, they're convenient symbols and they're close to the White House, but they may be targeted because they're more vulnerable than you'd think:
Federal counterterrorism officials have told officials at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund that they believe plans for a possible attack on the two financial institutions were so detailed that terrorists must have had inside help from employees, contractors or visitors with access throughout the buildings, officials at the two organizations say.

Some federal officials have expressed some doubt on how recent the information is that spurred the government to elevate the threat alert status on Sunday. Still other officials are pursuing what they see as the possibility of an inside job regarding the World Bank and I.M.F. by telling officials of these institutions that they are preparing to formally request some lists of their mostly foreign employees and contractors. Special requests are required because the records of these institutions have diplomatic immunity, though not all of their staff does.

But officials said the World Bank and the I.M.F., both members of the larger United Nations family, are reluctant to hand over employee lists.

"If the Iranian government asked for a list of our employees in Tehran we wouldn't comply," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "How could we turn around and give names to the United States government?"
I missed this story this morning until I heard Brian Lehrer talking about this particular bit of information on WNYC -- he's interviewing someone about the WTO, but this story was so surprising he and his interviewee got sidetracked.
John Podhoretz describes Al Qaeda Fatigue:
During our vacation, American political junkies and politically engaged people in the West fell back into the comforting old habit of imagining that the only things that matter are the things American politicians do.

Everyone on the Left — from soft liberals to Michael Moore — seemed to have decided that the problems faced by the United States were primarily or even solely the fault of George W. Bush.

The Right fell to squabbling and niggling about the way in which the War on Terror was being fought.

During their vacation, both Left and Right fell prey to a kind of arrogant American innocence. It was as though both ideological camps essentially came to believe it was within the capacity of the United States to envision every conceivable difficulty we can face.
(Original link found here.)

Monday, August 02, 2004

Good Hitchens piece from Friday on the specious argument that we're neglecting our infrastructure in order to rebuild Iraq's:
The further implication is that this is a zero-sum game, and that a dollar spent in Iraq is a dollar not spent on domestic needs. In other words, that this hospital or school in New Jersey or Montana would now be fully funded if it wasn't for a crowd of Arab and Kurdish panhandlers. Could anything be more short-sighted than that? Have we not learned that failed states turn into rogue states, and then export their rage and misery? Would we not prosper ourselves—if the question has to be stated in this way—if the Iraqi economy recuperated to the point where it could become a serious trading partner?
I'd just add one thing that bothers me when I hear this argument: the federal government doesn't even spend money on firehouses, schools or other municipal concerns. Acting like Bush just hands out checks for library books is, to be charitable, simplistic, if not outright misleading. As Hitchens notes, you're hearing it a lot lately -- mostly from Democrats working up talking points against Bush. Spare us the drama -- like everything else, when they oversell it is when I stop listening.
I did some digging and it turns out that the story about the architecture student is true:
On a warm June day in 1978, William J. LeMessurier, one of the nation's leading structural engineers, received a phone call at his headquarters, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from an engineering student in New Jersey. The young man, whose name has been lost in the swirl of subsequent events, said that his professor had assigned him to write a paper on the Citicorp tower, the slash-topped silver skyscraper that had become, on its completion in Manhattan the year before, the seventh-tallest building in the world.

LeMessurier found the subject hard to resist, even though the call caught him in the middle of a meeting. As a structural consultant to the architect Hugh Stubbins, Jr., he had designed the twenty-five-thousand-ton steel skeleton beneath the tower's sleek aluminum skin. And, in a field where architects usually get all the credit, the engineer, then fifty-two, had won his own share of praise for the tower's technical elegance and singular grace; indeed, earlier that year he had been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor his profession bestows. Excusing himself from the meeting, LeMessurier asked his caller how he could help.

The student wondered about the columns--there are four--that held the building up. According to his professor, LeMessurier had put them in the wrong place.

"I was very nice to this young man," LeMessurier recalls. "But I said, 'Listen, I want you to tell your teacher that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, because he doesn't know the problem that had to be solved.' I promised to call back after my meeting and explain the whole thing."
The question for the structural engineer, once he discovered that his building was structurally unsound, was what to do:
On the island, LeMessurier considered his options. Silence was one of them; only Davenport knew the full implications of what he had found, and he would not disclose them on his own. Suicide was another, if LeMessurier drove along the Maine Turnpike at a hundred miles an hour and steered into a bridge abutment, that would be that. But keeping silent required betting other people's lives against the odds, while suicide struck him as a coward's way out and--although he was passionate about nineteenth-century classical music--unconvincingly melodramatic. What seized him an instant later was entirely convincing, because it was so unexpected almost giddy sense of power. "I had information that nobody else in the world had," LeMessurier recalls. "I had power in my hands to effect extraordinary events that only I could initiate. I mean, sixteen years to failure--that was very simple, very clear-cut. I almost said, thank you, dear Lord, for making this problem so sharply defined that there's no choice to make."
In the end, LeMessurier did the right thing and the building was retrofitted. The article -- "The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis," by Joe Morgenstern and published in the New Yorker in 1995 -- is really worth reading -- if you have time, you should.

More about the ethical concerns here.

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