Sunday, February 29, 2004


What started out as a sunny getaway in Costa Rica turned into something much more exciting....


Friday, February 20, 2004

Out of Town....

See you next month.

Reminding us of her roots....

Mona Charen today brings back Newt Gingrich's proposal for replacing foster homes with orphanages. Er, I mean boarding schools. If properly funded, managed, and supervised, boarding schools could theoretically be a good thing for some kids who might otherwise languish in a dysfunctional "child protection" system. But the troubled history of state boarding schools, and the reasons such endeavors have been abandoned following prior efforts, should give one pause....


Let Loose the Hounds of....

According to the oh-so-insightful Charles Krauthammer, the Democrats are attacking poor President Bush when all he's done is let loose one (extraordinarily hypocritical) Internet ad, and one critical speech.... They're "crying wolf" over "how the Republicans are preparing to go negative in the general election with a campaign of singular viciousness against John Kerry." Let's see what some of his colleagues have to say on the matter in their latest editorials....
  • Robert Novak insinuates that Kerry is lying when he says he didn't know Jane Fonda back in the days when he was an anti-war protester (while allied with an anti-war group "whose diatribes against flag and country are shocking from the distance of three decades").
  • Oliver North whines about being attacked by Kerry over his illegal activities in the Iran-Contra scandal. "He says he held me accountable? How? When? Where? Right, Ollie - we remember. You got off on a "technicality" after being convicted at trial. Rub it in, why don't you. (North also attacks Kerry's military service, claiming it was short, and lies about Kerry's testimony to Congress about the war....)
  • Jonah Goldberg depicts Kerry as a wimpy "liberal" who would be afraid to use force, and whose election would be welcomed by "Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and their cronies.
  • Ross Mackenzie tells us that Kerry is a far-left "liberal" with an indefensible record and the inability to give a straight answer.
  • Paul Greenberg suggests that Kerry is waffling on the Iraq war, isn't willing to stand behind his record, and suggests that all of the Democratic candidates are lying when they say the White House described Hussein as an imminent threat
  • William F. Buckley Jr. hits Kerry with the backhand: "As for John Kerry, he can be trusted, never mind his cakewalks on army service, the Vietnam War, the national responsibility for deterring enemy activity, and a basic commitment to property rights."
  • David Limbaugh? The man's contempt for Kerry knows no focus.
Yup... Not one negative word. Thanks for tipping us off to that, Charles.


Thursday, February 19, 2004

Iraqi Women

Iraqi women are facing some difficult times - I don't know if I should be more impressed by them, or more scared for them.


Coulter Most Foul, II

A true conservative would own up to her misconduct and apologize. But no - like the "conservatives" she worships - including Joe McCarthy and George Bush, Jr. - that would be too much to expect from the likes of Ann Coulter. Her effort to claim that she "technically" told the truth is positively Clintonian.


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

"But That's Different"

A confessed drug addict and suspected felon, with the aid of the ACLU and a clever trial lawyer, is trying to get a judge to suppress on a "technicality" the records which are likely to result in the addict's criminal conviction - they claim that the records, although accurately reflecting the addict's conduct, were improperly seized by the prosecution and should thus be suppressed.

Rush Limbaugh, as you might expect, stands firmly behind the drug addict, the trial lawyer, and the ACLU.


For the Graphically Inclined

Inspired by the fake photograph of Kerry and Fonda, the London Guardian has started a contest, Shampaign moments, asking readers to:
Help liven up the build-up to the US elections by entering our photograph-doctoring competition. A selection of our favourites will be published on the site.
Happy editing.


AP Math: One, two, three, four, two....

No, not "Advanced Placement" - I'm talking about the Associated Press: Democratic Presidential Race Down to Two. Or, as they later say,
The Democratic race once had 10 candidates, but the field is now down to five, including Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton, three candidates who haven't won a single contest.
Five? Two? What's the difference?

Howard Kurtz explains,
The media are desperate for a two-man race -- not just because it's a better story line but because the alternative is no race, if Dean and Edwards keep splitting the non-Kerry vote.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Wall

Today's Toronto Star describes the massive wall that the Sharon Government is building, not along the Green Line border but often very deep into Palestinian land. The article points to at least the perception that the wall is diminishing terrorism - the reason I support Israel's right to build a wall on the Green Line - but also its horrendous effect on Palestinian civilians, as a result of the byzantine path of the wall into the occupied territories.

The World Court has agreed to hear litigation over the placement of the wall. Israel, anticipating a loss in that forum, is refusing to participate in the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Shaul Arieli, the last Gaza Brigade commander, is criticizing the present fence plan not on the basis of its extension into Palestinian lands, but on more pragmatic grounds: he fears that it will exacerbate terrorism.
Last week, he was called in for a closed session with senior officials of the National Security Council, chaired by Major General (res.) Giora Eiland. Some close associates of prime minister Ariel Sharon have also been listening to what he has to say. He tells all the same - the zigzag route of the fence drawn up by Sharon and the heads of the security establishment will create enclaves within the Palestinian zone, cutting off villages from the large Palestinian cities.

This will not only fail to prevent terror, it will propagate terror, particularly in the close environs of the separation fence. Aside from that, he makes it clear that there is no chance of the world accepting the route of the fence in its current version.

The planned route of the fence, part of which is already standing, was fed by Arieli into a computer, in accordance with updated data furnished by the defense establishment's Seam Line Authority.

The PowerPoint presentation shows, by maps and aerial photos that cover the entire West Bank, the alarming truth about the fence. When completed, some 300,000 Palestinians will be imprisoned between it and the Green Line, cut off from the large urban centers. Another 300,000 Palestinians will be adversely affected by being cut off from their fields or wells.

In the Jerusalem area, the fence will separate 270,000 Palestinians, who would live on the west side of the fence within the metropolitan area of Jerusalem, away from the rest of the Arab population in the West Bank.

* * *

"If you take a good look at the map," says Arieli, explaining what he believes are the real motives behind the fence route, "you'll see that there are also two settlements, Naaleh and Nili, within this enclave in the Budrus area. It's all intended to ensure that both of them will be west of the fence. The enclave in this area captured no less than nine Palestinian villages in the area between the deep-territory barrier and the separation fence that runs along the Green Line.

"The objective is for them to not have access to the State of Israel, for demographic reasons. Conversely, the Palestinian authorities will have a hard time supplying the residents of this area with health, education and legal services, not to mention jobs.

"The village residents will not be able to continue living under these sorts of conditions. They will abandon their homes and go to the big cities, at which point it will be possible to expand the borders of the State of Israel without paying the demographic price. It would be voluntary transfer."


Faux News in Russia

Apparently, Russia's television news service isn't very good at confronting the Putin Administration over its transgressions.

To think....


Monday, February 16, 2004

Strange Bedfellows....

The following events, of course, have nothing to do with the upcoming election campaign... unless you have a brain in your head and can see the obvious:
  • Bush went to Florida to set off a NASCAR race. ("The White House described Bush's overnight trip to Florida as non-political, meaning that taxpayers - not Bush's reelection campaign - will pick up the tab.")

  • Tony Blair is planning a trip to Washington for a series of photo ops with Bush.
That second story.... what to make of it? Tony Blair "modernized" Britain's Labor Party, dragging it kicking and screaming into the political center, and in the process marginalizing the stalwart Conservative Party. But at least as he has historically expressed them, whatever you make of his support for the war in Iraq, his politics are far removed from those of Bush.

At the same time he plans his own trip to Washington, Blair is reportedly discomfited by contacts between John Kerry and Gordon Brown, a Member of Parliament and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Tony Blair last week said that he had "learned enough... not to interfere in the American presidential election".

Nevertheless, Mr Blair is bound to become embroiled in the re-election effort of his ally in the Iraq war during a planned visit to Washington later this year.

Meanwhile, Brown supporters are quietly offering help and advice to the campaign team of the man seeking to unseat Mr Bush.
Like Bush, Blair's popularity has taken a beating in recent months, and he legitimately fears a leadership convention. He apparently believes that the reelection of Bush will strengthen his position as leader of the party, and thus permit him to stay on as Prime Minister. (For those of you not familiar with the process, in a parliamentary system the leader of the majority party is Prime Minister - and if the leadership changes as the result of a party convention, the new leader becomes Prime Minister.) Brown may be anticipating a leadership challenge, perhaps leading to the selection of Michael Howard as the new leader. (Or perhaps somebody else?)

More than ever, Tony Blair's future seems to be tied to that of President Bush. To the extent that Blair ever sincerely held a particular set of political values, like so many politicians before him he seems willing to sacrifice them all in order to cling to power.


Sunday, February 15, 2004

What Kerry "Should" Do

Today's Washington Post lectures John Kerry:
Now, with the nomination seemingly within his reach, the Massachusetts senator must begin to more fully explain where he stands on the major challenges facing the country.
He must?

Last I checked, the purpose of the primary process was the selection of a party's candidate. The purpose of the subsequent election process is to choose between the parties' selected candidates. There may be benefit to Kerry, and perhaps to voters, if Kerry were to set forth a more specific platform - but there is also risk of harm. And there is absolutely no reason he must provide a detailed plaform unless and until he receives the nomination.

Assuming, as the Washington Post clearly does, that Kerry will be nominated, the principal beneficiary of an early enunciation of a Kerry platform would be President Bush. Bush could (and would) immediately start spending the astronomical sums he has raised for his unopposed "race" for his party's nomination to attack Kerry's platform. That would benefit Bush far more than absurd, hypocritical attacks on Kerry as having taken money from special interests - charges which open Bush up to very credible charges of hypocrisy. It would certainly benefit Bush better than having Republican ankle biters like Matt Drudge try to dream up a Kerry affair with an intern.

The editorial also demands that Kerry explain how he will treat post-war Iraq:
More important, Mr. Kerry should clarify what he believes should be the objectives of the U.S. mission in Iraq going forward -- and what military and aid commitments he is prepared to make. In his last substantive speech on the subject, in December, the candidate called for replacing the U.S. occupation authority with a United Nations mission and recruiting NATO and other allied troops "so that we get the targets off the back of our soldiers." But there is no prospect of a U.N. administration; its envoys are instead negotiating the terms under which an Iraqi government will succeed the U.S. authority. The Bush administration has meanwhile invited NATO to share responsibility in Iraq, only to receive a cool response from Germany and France. Mr. Kerry spoke of "completing the tasks of security and democracy" in Iraq. But he hasn't yet offered a realistic plan for how he would do it or committed himself to the likely cost in American troop deployments and dollars. If he is to offer a credible alternative to Mr. Bush, he must explain how he would manage the real and dangerous challenges the United States now faces in Iraq -- without the fuzzing.
As a possible candidate, Kerry is in a poor position to make promises about what he would do. As a nominee, Kerry will be in a position to speak with world leaders as the alternative to Bush - and may in fact be able to promise that the coolness Germany and France display toward Bush will be replaced by a new era of cooperation - once Bush has been replaced with a President who has not attacked and belittled the leadership of those allies. Even accepting their pre-war conduct of those nations as reprehensible, even Bush should have realized that there was little chance of turning things around by spitting in their leaders' eyes.

Meanwhile, perhaps taking his lead from David Brooks, Thomas Friedman presents his dream interview between Kerry and Tim Russert. I agree that Kerry needs to, at some point, express firmly that the U.S. will not abandon Iraq before that nation is stable and ready for self-rule. I expect him to do that after he has a lock on the nomination - perhaps at the national convention in his acceptance speech.


It's All About Me!

Is it megalomania? In Thomas Friedman's challenge to Arab nations to reaffirm, and unconditionally extend to Israel, Prince Abdullah's peace plan - full normalization with Israel in return for full withdrawal from the territories - Friedman writes, "You are holding an Arab summit this March. I want you guys to invite Sharon and me to attend." I agree with Friedman that it would be a very positive move for the Arab nations to invite Sharon to their summit and unconditionally offer that plan, but... "and me"? Which nation does Friedman lead, again?


Saturday, February 14, 2004

The Credibility Gap Continues

So Bush has released what is claimed to be all of his Guard records, which for some reason
...left unanswered questions about what duties Mr. Bush – trained as a fighter pilot – performed in late 1972 and early 1973, and why he failed to take a flight physical, which resulted in his suspension from flying.
The Washington Post also noticed Many Gaps In Bush's Guard Records
The records show Bush was an eager fighter pilot who said he wanted to spend a lifetime in aviation. But they provide no evidence that he did any military service in Alabama, to which he had requested a transfer in May 1972 to work on a Senate campaign that ended in November 1972.
I am reminded of certain defendants during discovery who, knowing that they have something to hide, refuse to cooperate with discovery requests. Documents are painfully teased out of them through repeated "motions to compel" and court orders, but somehow never quite fit the request. When the defendand simply cannot avoid dislcosure any longer, perhaps at risk of default, the plaintiff receives a truck full of documents with the relevant page ostensibly hidden somewhere inside. (If you can't withhold it, maybe you can bury it.)

In the Gene Hackman movie Class Action, which is a highly fictionalized account of the Ford Pinto litigation, the defendant went a step further - they sent over the truckload of records, ostensibly "everything they had", but didn't include the "smoking gun" document. Of course, in that movie the plaintiff's lawyers suspected a "smoking gun" but couldn't prove it existed. Here, pretty much everybody knows that records of Bush's service exist somewhere, and pretty much everybody suspects that Bush knows exactly where they are - but that he is intentionally withholding records he thinks will be damaging. Otherwise, why wouldn't he have disclosed the records a long time ago? Why would he be dribbling them out, at first page-by-page and now in torrents, instead of simply offering an open file?

I think he should have put the issue to rest with the type of statement I suggested yesterday. But no, the President who ran on the platform, "I trust you", doesn't trust us enough to take responsibility for his actions.


Friday, February 13, 2004

Coulter Most Foul

The L.A. Times rebukes Ann Coulter for her latest lies:
The Heritage Foundation posts an Ann Coulter column saying a Kerry supporter, Vietnam vet and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, "did not give his limbs for his country" because the grenade that injured him was not hurled in combat. How absurd and insulting to all veterans.
Read what really happened.


... Because We Don't Really Care About Children

There's something of a furor in New Jersey, were a high profile failure of the child protective system has revealed systemic faults, top to bottom, in that system. Cries are going out for "reform". Head will roll. Whatever.

The fact is, failures like that occur every day, around the nation. The difference is that if they don't inspire a headline, nobody notices. Our nation is very good at caring about specific children - a baby who falls down a well, the sole survivor of an airline disaster, the four starving boys from this case - and many Americans will give in an extraordinarily generous manner to funds set up for these children. But when children fall into the amorphous classification of "other people's kids", or worse - the children of the poor - our generosity ends. Where, with a name and a face, we can overlook the parent's "fault" in how the child was raised, and can overlook the child's "fault" in being born into poverty. But when it comes to taking action which will help impoverished and disadvantaged children as a whole, we plug our ears and shut our wallets.

The faults with the New Jersey child protective system were very real. But the fault for those defects lies with the people of the State of New Jersey. And when a similar travesty is discovered within your state's underfunded, overburdened child protective system, as will all-but-certainly happen, you should be ready to accept your share of the responsibility.


The Credibility Gap

When I first heard G.W. Bush explain his rationale for a war in Iraq, and the whole "Hussein's a danger", "Hussein's in bed with Al Qaeda", "The post-war will be all candy and flowers" arguments, I was a bit more than skeptical. My gut reaction was that it was a deliberate snow job, to dupe the people into supporting a war of choice. As time went on, my perspective changed a bit - not on the fact that this was a war of choice, or that the evidence of Hussein's danger to other nations and supposed ties to Al Qaeda were being blown completely out of proportion, and certainly not the notion that the post-war occupation would be easy - but on the issue of Bush's credibility. I do think that Bush was overstating his case - in the law, we might deem it "zealous advocacy" - but that on the whole he truly believed what he was saying. (That's scary in its own right, certainly, but it doesn't make him a liar.)

Thus, scratch my head a bit when I read the Washington Post's "Most Think Truth Was Stretched to Justify Iraq War ":
Barely half -- 52 percent -- now believe Bush is "honest and trustworthy," down 7 percentage points since late October and his worst showing since the question was first asked, in March 1999. At his best, in the summer of 2002, Bush was viewed as honest by 71 percent. The survey found that nearly seven in 10 think Bush "honestly believed" Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Even so, 54 percent thought Bush exaggerated or lied about prewar intelligence.
That is, the nation's impressions of Bush's statements on Iraq are going in the opposite direction of mine.

I think this may be associated with the Bush Administration's refusal to take responsibility on the issue of Bush's Guard service, and their dancing around the issue of releasing records which would establish precisely how Bush completed his Guard service. The Bush Administration's evasions make it hard to believe that they aren't hiding something, even if you accept that he "completed" his Guard service in an acceptable manner. If I were Bush, I would accept the thirty seconds of pain (as I described a couple of days ago), by making a statement to the effect of,
As you know, questions have been raised about my service in the Texas Air National Guard. As you know, I have documented that I completed my service, and that I received an Honorable Discharge at the conclusion of my service. Now questions are being raised as to how I served out the last two years of my Guard duties.

At the time I served in the Guard, I was a young man. An immature man. And yes, I took advantage of the relaxed reporting and service requirements of the time, and completed my Guard duty in a manner which was better for me and my selfish personal goals than it was for the Guard and the nation. I am very proud of my service in the Guard prior to that time. But as I look back on it now, I am not proud of the choices I made during my last two years of service.

I have since learned many lessons in duty, responsibility, and humility. I regret and am deeply sorry for the mistakes I have made in the past. The man I am today would have acted very differently.
If he chooses not to clear up the clouds that hang over his credibility, they are likely to continue to darken.


Thursday, February 12, 2004

The Milosovic Trial

Although the political spin and conclusions set forth in this analysis of the Milosovic trial makes me choke, the author's larger point about the absurdity of the process seems valid. Not the question of whether prosecutors have overstated the strength of their case, or whether the defense has poked some holes in the prosecutor's initial statements - that's to be expected in pretty much any trial, let alone one as complex as this. But the fact that this trial has been going on for two years, and the fact that the clumsy and prolonged proceedings serve as a warning (although not necessarily the same ones inferred by the author) in relation to the nascent International Criminal Court.

In an era where international institutions are under attack, this type of proceeding provides no reassurance that international institutions can fairly or efficiently resolve something as mundane as a criminal prosecution - granted, a prosecution for war crimes, but on the basis of facts and allegations which are far less complex than the world's courts handle on a routine basis. It may well be that the ICC can overcome some of the institutional defects that make the tribunal so slow and clumsy, but if it cannot there really isn't much point to hand-wringing over whether the U.S. should or should not join. If the ICC's eventual prosecutions will look like this one, it will defeat itself.

It will be interesting to see if the U.S. sets a higher standard for justice and efficiency with whatever process it creates or permits for the trial of Saddam Hussein.


Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Economy

Should other nations follow our economic example? A couple of British columnists share their thoughts. Al Kennedy in The Guardian:
And are you spending enough? Because if you're only spending what you've got, that's not enough - you need to be IN DEBT. Not just a little bit overdrawn, I mean proper, wake up screaming, selling your underwear, Russian roulette in Soho basements to win back your kidneys debt.

Because we're going all out to reproduce the US economic miracle and you must play your part. Bush lowered interest rates, cut taxes for the super rich, slashed social programmes and solved his nation's problems. Cataclysmic borrowing, soaring unemployment and homelessness, soup kitchens, bankruptcy, increased racial segregation and collapsing access to medical care and education are all signs of a healthy economy; and Gordon Brown is so confident that Britain will thrive just as spiffingly under a Bush-style regime that he nobly helped keep the PM in place, ensuring Tony will be in charge when the arse fat hits the fan.
And Johann Hari in The Independent:
If you want a child from an estate to have a chance of getting to the top, all the academic research (reality, as opposed to dogma) indicates you have to spend public money on nurturing him or her. It's not quantum physics: you have to build quality childcare to ensure that the child is as stimulated before schooling as a middle-class kid; you must redistribute wealth to his or her school; you should employ access regulators to ensure the child gets into university. None of these is compatible with fetishising small government.

When it comes to the issue at the heart of British politics - the public services - Howard's philosophy has nothing to add. It is absurd to claim that vast sums could be saved by cutting back government waste. Lower taxes will obviously mean less money for public services. (And, yes, less freedom too, because more people will be stuck in agony on waiting lists, or trapped in illiteracy and ignorance). It's very simple: you gets what you pays for. We will only have European-quality public services if we have European levels of tax and spending. The Government is quietly, slowly nudging towards this target; Howard would slam us into reverse gear.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Standing In Agreement

Twice in two days I've read this type of statement from "conservative" columnists a couple of times:
The radical Muslims who criticize our culture as degraded and demoralizing have new proof for their charges. Who is going to answer them?
Is the argument supposed to be that sexuality in U.S. culture "causes terrorism" - much the same as the Bush Administration's ad campaigns accusing kids who use drugs of supporting terrorism? Is the argument supposed to be that Islamic extremists are justified in attacking our culture, because it really is "that bad"? Is it supposed to be an argument that our women should wear burqas, and walk a step or two behind their husbands?

Seriously, though, I think I know what the message is - but its proponents are afraid to just come out and say it: When it comes to our nation's popular culture, they stand in agreement with the "radical Muslims".


Sometimes The Answer Says It All

I hate to even speak about this non-issue - this post is not about Bush's Guard service so much as it is about honesty and responsibility - two values Bush claims are synonymous with "conservativism".

Sometimes you don't need a direct answer to spot deception or evasion:
"Did you use cocaine 23 years ago?"

"Did you use cocaine 24 years ago?"
"Certainly not."

"Did you use cocaine 25 years ago?"
"That, sir, is none of your business."
I can't get bent out of shape over the notion of Bush using his family's influence and connections to avoid military service through the Texas Air National Guard, as I can understand why (even though he supported the war) he would not have wanted to put his own life on the line. Characterize that as "selfish" if you will - but self-preservation is very much a part of human nature. There was a reason it was so difficult to get into the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war - because huge numbers of applicants also hoped to avoid the war. I'm not particularly impressed by the manner in which Bush apparently performed his Guard service, but as Richard Cohen points out, he would not have been alone in taking advantage of lax reporting requirements.

At the same time, Bush - the grown man... the President - should have the courage to be honest about his service. His non-answers and evasions on the subject, and selective amnesia about the last two years of his Guard service, speak loudly. They support the fair inference that Bush shirked his duties and, whether as a result of lax enforcement or political connections, nonetheless scored an honorable discharge at the conclusion of his dubious service. It appears to be very much within Bush's power to clear the smoke that is hovering over his military record.

Had Bush kept his mouth shut on this issue back in the 1999 campaign, or in recent months as the issue has again arisen, there might be something to a refusal to answer. However, he has not done so. He has suggested that he served honorably, and has suggested that his service is somehow parallel to the Guard service of today - that is, his joining a unit that he knew would never see battle is equivalent to joining a Guard unit presently on duty in Iraq. That, to me, is every bit as dishonest as proclaiming, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman". It's a word game meant to mislead, when the truth seems to be something else entirely.

Presumably, Bush can come up with a better explanation for his conduct during the war than Cheney's explanation of his own non-service ("I had other priorities in the '60s than military service.") - he's had at least four years to think about it. So how about it, Mr. President - how about putting this issue to rest, with an honest, responsible statement on the subject of your Guard service.


Monday, February 09, 2004

Preemptive War

Today, Joe Mowbray asks, "What if al Qaeda Had Been Hit Pre-emptively?":
Think about it: had the Taliban and al Qaeda been eliminated in, say, August 2001, 9/11 would not have happened. Not only would we have crippled the terrorist network operationally, but at least one of those leaders captured alive surely would have spilled the beans on the pending strike.

Before September 11, 2001, any attack on the Taliban would have been, by definition, pre-emptive—something that the left maintains, even after 9/11, is impermissible.
Well, no. None of that works.

First, Mowbray seems to believe that Al Qaeda is an organized entity with a central headquarters where all of its principals and operatives frequently and openly meet. "We can bomb the headquarters, take 'em all out, and it's over." Here we are, more than two years after 9/11, and more than two years into a concerted effort to eliminate both the Taliban and Al Qaeda - and both persist. Information on Al Qaeda's structure is anything but hard to find, and Mowbray would have done well to read it.

Second, we did strike at Al Qaeda preemptively, in 1998 under President Clinton. The most vociferous criticism came from the political right which accused Clinton of blowing up an aspirin factory in Sudan, and of "wagging the dog" to distract from the Lewinsky nonsense. I have yet to hear an apology, post-9/11, for those accusations. Let's not forget that, under Clinton:Third, this notion that any random Al Qaeda leader we managed to grab could have "spilled the beans" presupposes the top-down structure that simply did not and does not exist, and further presupposes that there was no failsafe - whereby if somebody "in the know" were captured the 9/11 plan would be put into immediate effect.

Mowbray then switches topics to Iraq:
With perfect hindsight, peaceniks would nitpick the analogy above. Saddam was contained, they argue. He had no weapons of mass destruction, they add. Though they made these arguments before the war, there is no way they could have known that. Peaceniks’ pre-war contentions, in fact, were nothing more than guesses wrapped in wishful thinking.

All available intelligence before the Iraq war pointed to Saddam having a WMD arsenal, and history showed that he had a disturbing willingness to use WMDs. And as his increasingly delusional novels made clear—including one he wrote literally as the world was readying for war—Saddam was drifting further and further from any connection to reality.
It is interesting how, although grudgingly conceding that the "peaceniks" were correct that Saddam Hussein was contained and toothless, their correct inferences were based only on "wishful thinking". (Implicitly, he suggests that there was no "wishful thinking" on the part of those like Dick Cheney who had lusted for years to invade Iraq - and whose assertions were ultimately proved wrong.) He attempts to support this with the fiction that pre-war intelligence uniformly declared Hussein to be armed and dangerous, and points to Hussein's history of (as a U.S. ally) using chemical weapons against his enemies. An ugly history, certainly - but not one that made him a danger to us.

In fact, there was ample evidence before the war that Hussein has effectively disarmed, and that between sanctions and the no-fly zones he had neither capacity nor desire to act against his neighbors or use chemical weapons against his own people. Given that reality, even among those of us who detested Hussein from the day we first learned of his atrocities (in my case, considerably before his infamous handshake with Donald Rumsfeld) took a more conservative approach to war, and were prepared to spend additional time advancing weapons inspections, building an international consensus to remove him, and building an international coalition to help with the post-war occupation and reconstruction.

The ultimate idiocy comes in Mobray's conclusion,
If the peacenik left finds restraint so commendable and Bush’s pre-emption doctrine so offensive, here’s a good question: Where are the cheerleaders praising Clinton for showing “restraint” after Khobar Towers, the East African Embassy bombings, and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole when he refused to respond to the gathering threat posed by radical Islam?
As any informed person knows, the threat of Al Qaeda was taken very seriously by the Clinton Administration. As any informed person knows, Clinton's strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan were a direct response to the embassy bombings. Any honest critic would acknowledge that the USS Cole was attacked shortly before Bush II took office, and that his administration is at least as responsible as Clinton's for failing to respond in a manner Mobray would now deem adequate. In fact, if Mobray is serious that the response should have been a full-scale preemptive war against Al Qaeda, surely he isn't such an idiot that he thinks Clinton could have initiated such a war during the last two months of his lame duck Presidency. Well... perhaps he is.


Taking Comments

A British weblog I read (linked at the right), Harry's Place, today announced a new policy on comments:
I think there have been some excellent debates here at times and some high standard contributions. Generally I think that thecomments box helps to create some interesting discussion and some sort of sense of a community of readers.

But as the number of readers and commenters has risen over the past months some problems have arisen. A few months ago 20 comments on a post was the highest we had managed - that was managable and fine. Now we have had several posts which have brought over 100 responses - that is tougher to deal with.

I simply don't have the time to monitor all the comments, to delete offensive posts and warn or ban the offenders to stop this site heading in an unpleasant direction. I'd rather spend my webtime reading other blogs and writing for this one than policing comments boxes. After all this isn’t a message board but a weblog.
Personally, I take a laissez-faire view of comments on weblogs. The weblog posts are the "official" content, and the comments section belongs to the "peanut gallery". For popular websites, the problems associated with permitting comments tend to be that the comments focus on the author instead of the site, that the volume of comments is so overwhelming as to make that feature meaningless, or that people "feed the trolls" and subvert the discussions.

I've been involved in online "public discussion forums" since the 1980's. I have seen how an influx of low-quality participants can subvert an online community. I have seen how a cliquish community can react with incredible hostility to the challenge of their ideas, no matter how reasonable the challenge. I have seen people of all ages develop reputations for their ability to cut through the nonsense and make incisive arguments.

I think blogging has an advantage over a static community, in that a local "troll" or person inclined toward consistently negative or disruptive comments is likely to get bored after a while and move on. Certainly there are some persistent trolls on sites like TalkLeft (and, as much as I hate to say anything that would encourage trolling behavior, about one post in ten one of the resident trolls makes a valid point). Certainly there are people who take advantage of the popularity of a site like Eschaton and spam links into discussions. But unlike a traditional online community where the negative participant can initiate discussion, unless they get a tangible reward from their conduct, most negative participants seemingly eventually get bored and toddle off to a better playground.

Another comment from Harry's Place:
The major problem is primarily with people adding comments to old posts from days or weeks ago. I don't spot these but they remain on the site and there have been a few recently that have been close to the mark in terms of decency. When these comments stay on the site they also appear on google and they don't reflect well on the site or the readers. I should point out that it is not longstanding or regular commenters who have been the problem.
I would venture that people are finding the old discussions through Google, and are showing up to add their thoughts. I think most readers are capable of distinguishing between a site's official stance and the wacky thoughts of such posters; but the easiest thing to do, if that is a persistent problem, would be to close any given comments thread (either manually or automagically) after a few days.

In any event, I like comments. So post some:


Sunday, February 08, 2004


No, not his claim that "I expected to find the weapons" - I suspect that is true. But how about this?
The appearance followed weeks of criticism from Democrats over the failure so far to find Iraq's cache of weapons.

"They could have been destroyed during the war," Bush said, speculating about reasons the reports might have been wrong. "Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out."
Perhaps Republicans don't mind the President treating him like they are stupid. Perhaps a huge percentage of American voters truly are that stupid. But really.


Saturday, February 07, 2004

Crony Capitalism

In The New York Review of Books, Paul Krugman gives us some insight into the Bush Family's history of crony capitalism.


Intelligence Inquiries

Let me see if I understand this....

The CIA, labasted during the build-up to the Iraq war as being too conservative in its assessment of Hussein's military capacity, is now going to be investigated for overstating Husseins' military capacity. The faux-intelligence agency set up by Cheney to help advance the Bush Administration's spin will not be subject to investigation, nor will the administration itself.

We are, I suppose, to forget that Paul Wolfowitz described how the "weapons of mass destruction" rationale was picked as a justification for invasion - not because it was the most pressing concern, but out of "bureaucratic reasons". The other rationales didn't resonate with the public, but the Bush Administration could sell a war for national security.

A more useful investigation would look at all of the Administration's reasons for going to war, not just the one they most vigorously advanced to the public. A more useful investigation would look not at how U.S. intelligence agencies came to overstate Iraq's possible threat, but how the Bush Administration picked and chose among reports (or pieces of reports) in order to sell the notion of Iraq as a threat.

But what am I saying? This is a commission created, controlled, and limited by Bush. And the last thing he wants is an investigation that would get to the root of why we really went to war. (Which is a shame, because I am still looking for an explanation that holds water.)


Friday, February 06, 2004

Sure they do....

After presenting a rambling, partisan caricature of the Democratic primary season, Michael Kinsley suggests,
The process the Democrats are putting themselves through resembles John Maynard Keynes's description of the stock market. The game isn't to figure out which stocks are most likely to do well but to figure out which stocks other investors think are most likely to do well. These other investors are thinking of other investors and so on. Keynes thought this helped explain the volatility of stock prices. Your judgment about other people's judgment, let alone other people's judgment about other people's judgment, is less certain and more subject to breezes of false or true insight and information than your judgment about your own judgment.

Something similar may be going on in the Democratic primaries. But the analogy breaks down, because only the Democrats are intent on figuring out what other people want. Republicans know what they want.
Oh, do they?

Let's look at the stereotype -
  • Republicans want smaller government, but support a President under whom the government has grown explosively.
  • Republicans want fiscal responsibility, but support a President whose fiscal policies are irresponsible and who has no interest in balancing the budget.
  • Republicans want a government that stays out of their personal lives, but support a President under whom state intrusions into privacy without legal process or probable cause have reached levels unseen since the revolutionary war, who supports replacing state services with "faith based" services, and who seems to support a constitutional convention to define "marriage". (A constitutional amendment to effect a purely social matter? That's not "conservative" by any measure.)
  • Republicans believe in state sovereignty and oppose nation-building, but support a President who initiated two of the grandest nation-building projects ever conceived.
  • Republicans want "working men and women" to be able to "keep the money they earn", yet support a President whose tax policy overwhelmingly favors the rich and intentionally ignores the fact that the "Alternative Minimum Tax" will soon claw back the minimal tax relief his administration afforded to the middle class.
  • Republicans oppose gun control, but support a President who will renew one of the most senseless pieces of gun control legislation ever conceived (banning certain guns based not on function but because they "look scary") - a measure originally signed into law by his father.
  • Republicans believe in free markets, but support a President who imposes a wide range of tariffs and duties to prevent foreign competition.
  • Republicans believe in a meritocracy, but support a President whose entire resume can be attributed to his family name and crony capitalism.
  • Republicans don't believe in the "welfare state", but support a President who has created the largest new entitlement program since the New Deal, and a Congress which reroutes billions of dollars from "blue states" to subsidize taxpayers in 'red states".
Perhaps Kinsley is arguing that Repubicans are like sheep, blindly following a leader based upon his false "conservative" promises while unable to recognize that they are being led astray. But they know what they want....
I'm a good conservative, a family man. I believe in fiscal responsibility. I'm a uniter not a divider. I will bring a new era of responsibility to American government.... But we must set our priorities, so I'll get to all of that stuff....

As soon as we get back from Mars.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Tempest in a C-cup

To summarize.....
  • Kathleen Parker - Janet Jackson's exposed breast wasn't just a breast. It's not as though she was lifting her eyelet smock to nurse the baby Jesus. Her breast was unsheathed in an aggressively sexual context to shock and titillate.
  • Cal Thomas - Sunday's, Super Bowl XXXVIII, featured a halftime show that could have served as backdrop for one of Caligula's orgies.
  • Brent Bozell - But on Sunday night, grandparents, parents and children were huddled around the set for the Big Game, an obvious time slot for "family hour" programming. Instead, Grandpa and 8-year-old Johnny are trying to process why they have to be infected with this communicable disease, this vile programming that should be known as the MTV virus.
  • Jonah Goldberg - My daughter isn't quite 1 year old yet, but in (God willing) 20 years, if some boy thinks he can use a "wardrobe malfunction" as an excuse for similar behavior, he'd better wear a pretty protective wardrobe himself.
  • Matt Towery - But the only thing about the halftime show that could be described as sensational was the letdown. It wasn't just that Janet Jackson -- looking and sounding too much like her brother Michael for my comfort -- gave the world a bawdy now-you-see it, now-you-don't peek at her breast. I was even more disappointed that the whole show demonstrated a haughty and self-indulgent lack of respect for the many families and children watching it.
  • Rebecca Hagelin - While we're subjected to body searches at airports, increased monitoring of communications, and constantly changing terror alerts – all to combat terrorists who would destroy our nation – we invite cultural terrorists into our homes and allow them to destroy our sensibilities and the innocence of our children.
  • Suzanne Fields - No one expressed caution in having her entertain on prime time network television, at halftime of the Super Bowl, the one night of the year that parents and children watch television together.
  • Ann Coulter - Janet Jackson said she decided to add "the reveal" following the final rehearsal, which I found pretty shocking. Not the reveal -- the fact that the number in question was actually rehearsed.
Wow. As Maureen Dowd puts it, "The Janet and Justin show was unbelievably tawdry, but also unbelievably banal — another rehearsed pseudoshock that the media, and now the government, gladly play along with." I wonder which candidate received the greatest contributions for the 2000 campaign from CBS and Viacom - Gore or Bush? I wonder why the "conservative" columnists are so quick to blame the arts community for the tawdriness of popular culture, while ignoring the fact that it is a Republican-led FCC that has stripped away the restrictions which formerly would have prevented this type of "family hour" display? Oh, no, I guess I really don't:
Despite Bush's general reticence, show business contributors have not neglected him. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he has received $740,000 from the industry. Of that, $270,000 came from entities representing TV and radio stations, more than three times the $81,000 they had given to Al Gore.
The New York Times covers Janet's breast (pun intended) through the eyes of a parent (who, unlike Fields, seems to take more interest in what her children see and do than a "one time per year" joint viewing of a single program):
The other objection is this: It seems that only the desecration of a sacred, adult-male-oriented rite can awaken Authority's outrage at the slime in which our children are daily bathed. (The Super Bowl isn't supposed to be about nudity, dammit! It's supposed to be about enormous men trying to maim each other's kidneys!) Janet Jackson's breast is probably the most wholesome thing your average 12-year-old has seen in a year of Sundays.

* * *

Popular culture, as every parent knows, is the air we breathe. And mediating it for our kids presents the ultimate slippery slope. One day my daughter is bopping to the tunes of Professional Virgin Britney Spears, whom she first heard in a Pokemon movie soundtrack; blink, and Britney is locking tongues with Madonna on TV.

So forgive me if I am nothing but sourly amused at the outrage over Janet Jackson's breast. It serves the hypocrites at all the official fonts of indignation right that they, and we, are nothing but pawns in the marketing of her new CD. Wake me when it's over.

Political Reality and Pakistan

So a Pakistani nuclear scientist and "national hero", who for years has openly lived in a manner far beyond his means, has "surprised" his government by admitting that he sold nuclear weapons technology to states including Iran, North Korea and Libya - but has reassured the government that he acted alone, and nobody in the government or military was aware of his actions. The Pakistani cabinet has recommended that he be pardoned, and the Bush Administration does not appear to be pressing for a full investigation or trial.

Does anybody really believe that this scandal doesn't run most of the way, if not all of the way, to the top of Pakistan's military and political hierarchies? "Wink wink, nudge nudge" is okay, if we deem the nation engaged in atrocious proliferation of the most dangerous weapons technology known to man as a "friend" in the "war on terror"? Or is it that they only sold the technology to two of the three nations in Bush's "Axis of Evil", and it only counts if you "hit the trifecta".


Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Seeing Dead People is One Thing....

But talking to them?

Besides - it's obvious that this is fiction. If there were a purgatory, that would evidence that there is also a hell. And if there is a hell, Mr. Nixon isn't in purgatory....


The New York Times Takes a Stand

To some, it won't sound like much. To some, it will sound like the obvious. To some, poison to the ears. Today, the New York Times editorializes:
Mr. Sharon wants to leave Gaza and tiny bits of the West Bank, perhaps trading back an Israeli Arab town, and call it a day. This will not do. For a Palestinian state to be viable, it will have to be made up of the entire West Bank and Gaza, with small adjustments.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The Future of Medicare

Today, the New York Times has awoken to what has long been obvious - In "Companies Limit Health Coverage of Many Retirees", the Times describes how more and more retirees are losing their health care coverage, and shares a projection from a Princeton health economist that "Twenty years from now, no company will offer retiree health care". Meanwhile, the projected price tag for the "prescription benefit" addition to Medicare has already been increased by from $395 billion to $534 billion over the next ten years - and that still assumes that employers won't be dumping their retirees into the plan, as obviously will be the case.

Paul Krugman dissects the Bush budget, asking,
So what will it take to get the budget deficit under control? Unless Social Security and Medicare are drastically cut — which is, of course, what the right wants — any solution has to include a major increase in revenue.
I think it is perhaps an overstatement to suggest that all of the right wants to drastically cut Social Security and Medicare, although it seems apparent that significant factions on the right see such cuts as necessary for maintaining Bush's enormous tax cuts for the rich. But here's the rub - the elderly tend to vote, and they're not going to vote for a President who reduces their Social Security benefits and slashes Medicare. Meanwhile, employers will continue to eliminate health insurance subsidies for retirees, dump their retirees into high cost pools, drop prescription coverage, and otherwise shift as much of the cost for retiree medical care onto the government.

It is possible to engineer cuts in Social Security - but only over time. Social Security was parodied on the Simpsons a few years ago, with Marge Simpson asking Homer's elderly father about his abundance of cash:
Marge: "Where'd you get all the money?"

Abe: "The government... I didn't earn it, I don't need it, but if they miss one payment I'll raise hell!"
The parody, of course, reflects that Social Security has never actually been a government savings program. It is a "pay as you go" program, floated by the contributions of working men and women, with today's retirees receiving far more in benefits than they paid in. But you can't simply cut off the money that many retirees expect, and have used in building their retirement budgets, even if they can "afford to survive" without it - not, that is, without an extraordinary political backlash. You have to phase in changes over time - which would mean instructing the workers who are presently paying for the program that it will ultimately be means-tested and that they might not receive any benefits, and warning workers presently in their forties to start budgeting for a retirement without Social Security benefits. (This on top of "... and you'll be paying for your own health insurance.")

No Republican administration is going to effect such cuts - not as long as the elderly keep voting in large numbers, and can swing a state like Florida from red to blue. And not as long as the working classes, thoroughly drilled in neo-Republican "me first" philosophy, would balk at paying for a social program they won't ultimately receive. At best, they can dream for a future Democratic administration which will clean up some of the budgetary mess Bush has created - so they can point to a fixed Medicare system and whine about "tax and spend" Democrats.


Monday, February 02, 2004

... But you can't fool all of the people all of the time

Courtesy of Lou Dobbs:


A Lie? A Half-Truth?

Jeff Jacoby sputters about bad language and crude jokes on television, lamenting that television censors don't take us back to the standards of the 1950's (perhaps in pursuit of a utopian 1950's culture that existed only on television - and for which some, for example women and minorities, might not yearn). He also attacks politicians (in fairness, including GW) for potty-mouthed comments. But his complaint about television, and the FCC's exclusing "the F-word" as used by Bono at the Golden Globe awards,
Bono's language was not "patently offensive," the FCC ruled in October, since he "used the word 'f---ing' as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation."

Got that? The F-word is okay as long as you use it correctly. The way Nicole Richie did: During Fox's live broadcast of the Billboard music awards last month, the co-star of "The Simple Life" uncorked this witticism:

"The simple life? Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It's not so f---ing simple!"

(FCC Chairman Michael Powell has urged the other commissioners to overturn their October ruling. A decision is expected soon.)
omits a very important fact.

The FCC has had a Republican majority since 2001. That is, it was by virtue of the votes of Republican appointees that Bono's use of the "F-word" was deemed acceptable, or at least excusable.

This reflects the schism between "cultural" conservativism and "free market" conservativism. The latter group dominates the FCC, and the rulings issued by that body suggest that they will bless pretty much any content on the basis that the market, not the FCC, should determine what is carried on the nation's airwaves. This has resulted votes where Democratic appointees have voted against ostensibly "bad content" that the Republican majority has nonetheless approved.

It is unlikely that Jacoby is not aware of the composition of the FCC, and the fact that it is Republican appointees who are, in his apparent opinion, poisoning the airwaves. Doesn't it seem likely that, had Jacoby not known this fact, he would have bashed the "liberal Clinton-appointees" as "ruining the culture"?


Sunday, February 01, 2004

Will They Ever Stop Lying....

GOP media consultant Jay Bryant revives the Grand Old Lie of the Dukakis presidential campaign:
As Governor, Dukakis had instituted a prisoner work-release program whereby violent criminals were allowed to spend part of their sentence under sub-minimum security conditions. This was supposed to help the inmates get ready to go back into society, but what it mainly helped them do was escape. This did indeed put them back into society, but unfortunately, a number of them proved to be just a teensy-weensy bit short of fully adjusted. One guy, named Willie Horton, raped a woman in Maryland, and he became the poster boy for what a bad idea the program was.
As any informed person knows, the furlough program was instituted by Dukakis' Republican predecessor, Francis Sargent. Whatever poor judgment Dukakis may have demonstrated in failing to work with the legislature to limit or repeal the program, it was nonetheless the brainchild of a Republican.

It is difficult for me to believe that Bryant doesn't know the facts.