Sunday, November 30, 2003

Staying With A Statistical Theme....

In "The Productivity Paradox", today's New York Times poses some interesting questions regarding the accuracy of worker productivity statistics, pointing out
For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.

The article theorizes that investment in new technology may be behind the upsurge:
This resulted in an increase of the portion of gross domestic product that went to capital spending. With the share of capital going up, it follows that the share of labor went down. Thus national output was produced with less labor in relative terms — resulting in a windfall of higher productivity. Once the migration from the old technology to the new starts to peak, this transitional productivity dividend can then be expected to wane.

The author briefly mentions "the growing use of overseas labor" as part of this "recent productivity miracle", but this mention brought a question to my mind - to what degree is the upsurge explained not by productivity gains, but by the fact that many hourly "white collar" positions are now being shipped overseas? When you call for product or service support, or receive a call from a telemarketer, or hire a company to perform some custom programming, often you will find yourself dealing directly (albeit invisibly) or indirectly with overseas workers. If we shift jobs which might fit a theoretical "35.5 hour" work week to nations such as India, do we artificially inflate our own nation's productivity? And at what cost?


Unemployment Statistics

Back when I was in high school, I went to a meeting mostly of adults where there was the obligatory introduction session - what's your name, and "what do you do?", the two things that seem to most define us in modern America. One person, for his avocation, stated, "I'm in government statistics", a clever euphemism for "I'm unemployed". But given the changes of the past two decades, I'm not sure that his claim would still hold true.

In "The Unemployment Myth", the New York Times presents a brief history of the manipulation of unemployment statistics by this nation's political parties, and makes a brief but compelling argument for reforms which would make unemployment figures meaningful.

One thing the article doesn't mention is the exclusion of "discouraged workers" from unemployment statistics, although I think it is implicit that any meaningful reform would take them into account.


Saturday, November 29, 2003

Victims of Crime

A week ago, Colbert King of the Washington Post wrote a column which described how a D.C. Superior Court Judge had sentenced a habitual criminal to probation and drug treatment, following his conviction for burglary. Mr. King noted:
The record shows that Scarborough has entered guilty pleas to three counts of burglary and one count of receiving stolen property. You also learn that he has been tied to more than 30 burglaries and has had four prior convictions, including possession of cocaine in 1998 and carrying a pistol without a license in 1997.

I am habitually cautious of editorials which declaim against judges as "soft on crime", as often the columnist doesn't understand the legal issues, or (worse) is misrepresenting the facts or issues so as to inflame his audience. However, I had to concede that Mr. King has a very strong point - in this case, the defendant really should have been incarcerated.

Today, Mr. King provides a follow-up editorial, in which he describes some of the feedback he received to his prior piece. Some of the feedback was very much on his side, while some of it was very much in support of the judge. Some of the rhetoric was unfortunate, particularly in my opinion as it related to justifying or excusing the defendant's conduct or the "slap on the wrist" penalty applied by the court. Some of the comments, such as the thought that the judge must be frustrated with the system, and that incarceration doesn't (necessarily) solve society's problems, do have some validity - even if I disagree with their application to this particular defendant.

When I managed a delicatessen during my undergraduate days, I had a number of incidents where I suspected or knew that an employee was stealing. Often the most egregious theft is by a newer employee, one who is hard to like, or one who anticipates changing jobs - but sometimes it's a long-term, trusted employee. It is, I think, difficult for people to understand what it is like to discover that somebody you know (or, at least, think you know) and trust turn out to be a thief. It didn't need to be my money for there to be a real sense of betrayal. During that time I was also the "victim" of a very peculiar burglary - and I guess I should count myself as fortunate in that it didn't change my personal sense of safety or make me feel like the sanctity of my home had been violated. But I do know people who, following a burglary, need a lot of time to regain a feeling of safety and security in their own homes.

When I later practiced criminal law, I represented a number of embezzlers, and also a number of burglars. I would like to say that I sensed great remorse, or that they were learning from their mistakes, but my dominant memories of the embezzlers are of those who couldn't understand why the prosecutor, judge and (ultimately) probation officer who prepared their pre-sentence report thought they did anything particularly bad. The "burglars" were a more eclectic group, and, due to Michigan's statutory scheme, I am lumping a number of categories of criminal under that label. But most took little responsibility for their actions, and I can't recall any who had a real grasp of the effect of their conduct on their victims.

I am certainly not arguing that probation should not be extended to embezzlers and burglars, particularly for a first offense. Even the Lord High Executioner accepted that the punishment should fit the crime. However, I do think that once a person goes through the system, that person should be imbued with the sense that the Sword of Damocles is now suspended by a hair above his or her head, and that they really don't want to come back before the court.

When a defendant in modern America has been connected with approximately thirty burglaries, and convicted of a number of them, probation simply is not an appropriate penalty. Which of the four basic goals of sentencing - punishment, retribution, rehabilitation, and deterrence - were advanced by giving this particular defendant probation?

To paraphrase the Governator, "He'll be back".


Friday, November 28, 2003

The AARP and Medicare "Reform"

The New York Times (courtesy of the Associated Press) informs us today that the "AARP Faces Revolt Over Medicare Bill". The article notes:
The law sets up competition between traditional Medicare and private plans, beginning in 2010. Activists worry that could lead to the privatization of Medicare and place the elderly in the hands of "insurance sharks" more concerned about profits than quality medical care. Elderly people have also questioned the AARP's motives, because it has a for-profit arm that earns royalties from the sale of health insurance.

Two pieces, not quite put together by the author....

The AARP is already huge in the health, life, and "Medigap" insurance business. Also, the AARP has been positioning itself as a provider of pharmacy services and as a drug vendor. What will this bill do, but put the AARP in the position of being an alternative provider, able to negotiate bulk discounts for member drug purchases, and providing "one stop shopping" for both insurance coverage and medication needs?

You think the AARP's approximately $150 million per year in revenues from insurance sales is impressive? If they manage to capture a significant piece of this new $400 billion Medicare entitlement and massively expand their role as a drug vendor, that's going to look like chump change.


Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Escaping the Quagm... Um, Long Hard Slog

The London Guardian today offers eight diverse viewpoints on how the U.S. (um, I mean, "the coalition") can move forward in Iraq. While I encourage you to read the whole presentation, here are some quotes:

"The historian - Paul Kennedy"
One wishes that the term "exit strategy" was not bandied about at all. Although the conservatives deny the comparison, it has deep echoes of Vietnam. Exit strategies from a conflict, such as Napoleon's retreat from Moscow or the British army heading towards Dunkirk, are often desperate, hand-to-mouth affairs, and full of Clausewitzian frictions. They smell of defeat, and defeatism. Most importantly, the open discussion by one side of various ways of making an exit gives a tremendous morale and propaganda boost to the opposition - all they have to do now is to hang on until the terminus date itself, and sharpen their knives.

"The negotiator - David Owen"
Sadly, the Democrats look as if they will campaign against the war in Iraq but, one hopes, majority opinion will stay firm. They know Iraq is already a far better place following the removal of Saddam. Second, Bush is the first US president to recognise that we have all been far too complacent about the Middle East's undemocratic Arab governments. Third, Bush believes - and I think he is right - that we will not obtain peace in the Middle East unless there is a democratic Palestinian state to take its rightful place alongside Israel. Success for the US and UK policies in Iraq will produce major reforms in the Middle East and create the climate for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. If the US and UK fail in Iraq it will further destabilise a Middle East where Saudi Arabia is looking very vulnerable and do immense harm to the cause of peace in Palestine and in Israel.

"The Iraqi - Mustafa Alrawi"
[T]he coalition has been hampered by its own mistakes. First, the disbandment of the army; second, the policy of de-Ba'athification; and third, above all, the creation of the governing council (GC). This unrepresentative, power-hungry and reactionary body has done a great deal to hold back political progress in Iraq.

"The Washington insider - James Rubin"
With conditions in Iraq deteriorating, there are three fundamental decisions that need to be made. First, what kind of role should the international community play? Second, what is the right force mix needed to defeat the growing insurgency? And third, how quickly should sovereignty return to a provisional Iraqi government?

"The Iraq expert - Said Aburish"
To correct the developing disaster in Iraq, we must replace the people on both sides who are responsible for it. The Iraqi peoples' growing nostalgia for Saddam is the strongest indication that the wrong Americans and Iraqis are running the show. My leading candidate for the chop is Dr Ahmad Chalabi, the American-appointed head of the governing council.

"The soldier - Tim Garden"
In Iraq, the scale of the security forces has been significantly greater than in Afghanistan. While the situation is not yet satisfactory, local despots cannot yet rule their areas unhindered. What is lacking is the sense of direction towards a new democratic Iraq. The Iraqi governing council is widely seen as an ineffectual creature of the US. While prudence means that the US has tried to include representatives of significant factions, they lack universal legitimacy. Now the US is set to hand power over to this council next July without fussing about a constitution or an election first.

"The defence expert - Dan Plesch"
The myth is that Iraqis need to be educated in democracy. The reality is that since the League of Nations mandate Iraqis have been allowed to take part in fake democracies, first to support a British-backed regime and then to elect Saddam's sham parliament. Elections were held repeatedly under Saddam. In many parts of Iraq, locally initiated elections have already taken place and provide the momentum for the election of a new government.

"The dissenter - Clare Short"
What we should do now in Iraq is what we should have done in the first place. Even after the rush to war and the deceit that went into it, it would have been possible to organise the reconstruction with international legitimacy and cooperation.


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

"You Don't Get It"

In a column which is very much worth reading, "Buzz Phrases That Deaden The Mind", Dick Meyer writes,
"Liberal bias" (LB) plays the exact same, irritating role for conservatives, Republicans and Clinton-Gore-haters. Michael Moore and Al Franken make good money with YDGI ["You Don't Get It"]. Ann Coulter, Bernard Goldberg, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and literally scores of talk radio hosts make good money on LB.

The Washington Post is biased. The Washington Times is not. Get it?

Once the LB card is played, there can be no retort. You don't have a position, you have only a bias. I have no bias, just the power of true facts and pure logic, ergo I win.

As elitist as YDGI is, LB is more clever. The transformation of the word "liberal" into an insult is one of the great feats of ideological alchemy of the history of American political ideas. George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were all liberal. But now the word is a socially acceptable ethnic slur.


Reaction Formation

Back during my undergraduate days, when taking one psychology class or another, I was introduced to the concept of "reaction formation". This psychological defense mechanism results in unacceptable impulses being converted to their opposite. The paradigm example was the anti-pornography crusader, who publicly laments the availability of 'smut' and 'obscenity', while simultaneously immersed (in a socially acceptable way) in the material he so deplores. (I won't refer to the "Meese Report" as a possible example, as that would be rude.)

Many will find cause to criticize the manner in which human sexuality is treated by the modern media. Whether it is the salacious "news" coverage of the Kobe Bryant or Michael Jackson sex assault allegations, the increasingly bizarre "dating" television programs or the "race to the bottom" in daytime TV with its "My eleven-year-old is out of control"-type prurient obsessions, or the attempt to revive or promote lousy television programming by adding suggestive jokes and content, there is plenty that will make many in our society uncomfortable. But obviously there are a lot of people who love, or love to hate, that type of programming - it is produced because it makes money. It could be argued that it holds up a mirror to American values - not those we profess, but those we actually live. It is the mainstream advertising dollar which causes this type of television to dominate the airwaves, not the fringe.

So back to reaction formation. When I heard about the Massachusetts decision which requires the state legislature to afford at least some form of marriage or "civil union" to gay couples, my reaction was essentially that it was good to afford gay adults the same rights in their relationships that we afford to heterosexual adults. It did not occur to me, as it apparently did to so many "conservatives", that recognizing gay marriage or civil unions would lead inexorably to the legalization of incest, polygamous marriage, or even adult-child relationships. And that leaves me wondering to what degree the "conservative" reaction is based upon ideology, and to what extent it is based upon "reaction formation" among the sexually obsessed who have sublimated their own desires but now project them onto the rest of society.

Leaving those thoughts behind for a moment, let's take a look at the latest from Cal Thomas, "Judging Michael Jackson and ourselves":
If Michael Jackson did, in fact, as it is alleged, have sex with a minor boy, what's wrong with that? The question is not meant to be cute; I am serious. If a male child was fondled or sodomized by Michael Jackson, why shouldn't he and the boy be allowed the orientation of their choice? If you disagree, who are you to impose your morality on them?

This statement is, according to Mr. Thomas, meant to outrage us - not because he is suggesting that Jackson's alleged victim "wanted it", but as an illustration of how "divorce, premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality, group sex, domestic partnerships and, soon, same-sex marriage" have become acceptable, with adult-child sex as, he supposes, the next likely target. He proceeds to lament the sexualized content of the latest "Abercrombie & Fitch Christmas Field Guide magazine, targeted to 10- to 13-year-olds", and provides us with his exact count of sexually suggestive images (although reciting that somebody else did the counting), and an abstract of the sexualized content.

And then Mr. Thomas protests, in relation to adult sex offenders,
Should we be surprised when some people act on the permission the media give them?

Yes, Cal, we should. Just as our violence-imbued media doesn't inspire otherwise law-abiding Americans to go on shooting sprees, and just as many people managed to watch and enjoy "Pulp Fiction" without running out to buy or try illegal drugs, seeing a child depicted in a sexually suggestive manner in no way constitutes "permission" to act unacceptably. Is Thomas commenting on how others might react, or is he speaking of his own reactions to such images, anticipating that others feel the same way? (It's not an unfair question to ask, given that he chooses to indict American society with his insinuations about such imagery.)

Before going on to misrepresent the significance of the diagnostic criteria set forth in the DSM-IV, Mr. Thomas continues,
The early sexualization of children has produced ever-earlier sexual activity (and pregnancy) among those children.

It has? Well, let's take a look at that assertion. As David Brooks notes in today's New York Times,
Teenage pregnancy and abortion rates rose in the early 1970's and 1980's, then leveled off and now are dropping.

(But why let the facts get in your way.)

Mr. Thomas then rails against sex education programs,
The sexualization of children is supported by state governments, many of which mandate sex education as early as kindergarten. School nurses dispense contraceptives and abortion advice without parental knowledge or approval. Teen magazines such as Cosmo Girl and Seventeen promote sexual activity for minor children. A British charity publishes a children's sex guide, "Say Yes, Say No, Say Maybe." It explains various positions and the excitement of intercourse.

It seems to me that "kindergarten sex ed" - which is inevitably going to focus on "good touch, bad touch" - would be something Mr. Thomas would endorse as protecting children from predators. But apparently it is better that children be ignorant even of "bad touches" than that they receive this insidious introduction to "sex education".

As for that British guide, which is apparently aimed at teens from fourteen to sixteen, the actual title of the publication is "Say Yes? Say No? Say Maybe?". Mr. Thomas misrepresents the title as if it is indifferent to what answer a teen gives. The actual title sends a very different message. And, given that "the excitement of intercourse" is one of the leading factors in why teens of that age end up engaged in unprotected sex, perhaps it isn't so bad that sex education materials address that issue? (In Mr. Thomas's world, though, perhaps it is better that teen sex be unprotected, to increase the odds that a "loose woman" will be "punished" with pregnancy....)


Monday, November 24, 2003

The 'Tabloidization' of the Media

Many years ago, during the William Kennedy Smith sexual assault trial, many news agencies chose to name the alleged victim and to publish details of her life. Even the New York Times chose to publish her name. The so-called "mainstream media" defended this conduct by reciting how it would somehow remove the stigma from sexual assault if victims were no longer treated as being in special need of protection from the public, or by claiming that it was somehow "unfair" that the accused was publicly named when the accuser's identity was suppressed.

But to me it seemed rather obvious that it was a colossal attempt to cash in on the story, and publication of the woman's name was not done out of concern for the greater good of victims of sexual assault, but was motivated by desire to compete for sales with the "lesser" tabloids who never pretended that their motivations were anything but commercial. (Some cynics suggested that the mainstream media was acting in complicity with the Kennedy clan, and named the woman to damage the prosecution case and perhaps even to "let people know what would happen" if they went after a Kennedy in the future.)

And then the trial ended, and the "noble experiment" to destigmatize sexual assault yielded to the traditional approach under which alleged victims were again permitted to be anonymous. (But you can still read how proud NBC News was for its decision to name Smith's accuser.)

There was an element of this salacious, pandering coverage in the first Michael Jackson molestation incident, where we received far too much detail about the police investigation, and enough information about the father of his alleged victim that, had Google been around at the time, it would have taken seconds to figure out his name.

More recently, the mainstream media appears to have been somewhat more charitable to the alleged victim in the Kobe Bryant case, leaving the publication of her name, picture, and the more salient details of her background to the "tabloid media". (Please excuse me if I missed some exceptions - I have been following the story only to the extent that I am unable to avoid it, due to wall-to-wall media coverage.)

But now there's what has already been billed as the "Trial of the Century" (for the new century) - accusations that the one-time "King of Pop", Michael Jackson, sexually abused a twelve-year-old guest on several occasions. And the child's name, along with details of his life, medical history, and the lives of his parents, is already creeping into the mainstream media. And I think we're spiralling down the same path we saw with William Kennedy Smith, where by the time this goes to trial the child's name will be routinely and prominently displayed in mainstream media coverage.

Fair or not, there is a stigma attached to being the victim of a sexual assault. I recall a case from a number of years ago, which gained only regional media attention, in which a child of about the same age as Jackson's alleged victim was sexually abused by his church minister. It didn't take the public disclosure of the child's name for all of his peers to know who he was, and he was viciously and relentlessly teased and ridiculed in the manner one might expect from junior high school boys. Whatever the merit of the "fairness to the defendant" argument or "this is an experiment to remove stigma" argument, adults are much better able to extricate themselves from the situations which result from the public disclosure of their names. Children can be expected to be trapped - and in the case of Jackson's alleged victim that trap is extending itself on a national scale. Should that probable history repeat itself in this case, this child and his family will likely have to move and change his name in order to even have a chance of future anonymity and normalcy.


Sunday, November 23, 2003

Second-Guessing the Dems

If I were a Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination, I might give an "Iraq speech" like this:
When I was first asked to speak to the issue, the question of whether or not we should go to war in Iraq was pressing. We had not yet launched our days and nights of "shock and awe", and our brave men and women in service had not yet rolled across Iraq's borders. Those days have now passed, and the question of "should we do it" is now a question of the past.

At this time, I am certain of the following: that we did Iraq and the world a great favor by removing the tyrant Hussein from power, never to return. Whatever the merit of criticism that we chose this war for the wrong reasons, we nonetheless chose this war and committed to a course of action. While it remains true that there are other tyrants in the world, the reality is that we are not able to remove them all from power. Many Americans strongly disagree with the choice to target Iraq, but Americans do agree that the Iraqi people – that all people – are deserving of freedom.

We now face an unfortunate reality, where many of the Bush Administration's staunchest defenders now concede that it took us into war either on faulty premises or false pretenses.
  1. Before the war we were told that Iraq had large stockpiles of horrendous weapons, and active programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. We were told that the Administration knew exactly where those weapons would be found. Now we are told that Iraq wished to have weapons programs, and that eventually we may produce evidence of those programs.

  2. Before the war, we were told that Hussein was an immediate threat to the world, and now we know that he was caged and impotent. As a tyrant he posed a continuing threat to his own people, but his neighbors and the world were safe.

  3. Before the war, it was wrongly suggested – particularly by Vice President Cheney – that there were clear ties between Iraq and those who attacked us on September 11. President Bush himself now admits that no such evidence exists – that there is no evidence to connect the war on Iraq with the war on those who attacked us.

Some who opposed the war, and some who supported it, are angry. They find it hard to believe that this was not deliberate deception by the Bush Administration. Some believed President Bush when he kept repeating through the election in 1999, "I trust you". Trust is a powerful word. People who truly trust you do not lie to you, and people you trust inspire anger and sometimes even enmity when they lie. Yet the Bush Administration has never trusted us.
  1. We aren't trusted to approve a war on Iraq, so we don't get to learn why it really occurred.

  2. We aren't trusted with our basic freedoms, so we get the so-called "PATRIOT Act".

  3. We aren't trusted with the background to this Administration's energy policies, even following a catastrophic blackout affecting much of our nation.

  4. And now, as the Bush Administration's devotion to its proposed reinvention of Iraq seems to be wavering, we aren't trusted with its plans for that nation – or even an honest answer to the question of whether it has plans. We are asked to trust that the Bush Administration is not winging it in Iraq, even as their policies seem more defined by President Bush's latest approval rating than by the realities faced by this nation's soldiers and citizens.

I thus call on the people of America to do the right thing. To do the only thing we can do in our present situation, and to advance our true war on those who attacked us.

  1. I implore Americans to press our nation's leaders to commit unambiguously to a development program in Iraq that will assure freedom for the Iraqi people, and lead toward a stable, progressive government for that nation.

  2. I implore Americans to commit to making our nation and this world a better, safer place, for us and for our children.

  3. I implore Americans to make our leaders promise that they will focus on attacking our real enemies – those who actually attacked us in the past, and those who intend to attack us in the future.

  4. I implore Americans to force our leaders to promise that when a member of our armed services has to lay down his or her life for our nation, it will be to advance the cause of freedom, and that we will respect our fallen soldiers and their families.

  5. I implore Americans to require our leaders to tell us what we need to know, for our own safety, for the safety of our families and loved ones, and for us to be able to make informed decisions about the direction our nation takes in our war on terror.

If President Bush, and the leaders of the House and Senate, cannot or will not commit to these most reasonable demands, I implore the American people to vote for better leadership in 2004.


Saturday, November 22, 2003

Master and Commander

Last night I saw the film "Master and Commander. Russell Crowe was well-cast as the obsessive captain, and most of the cast acquits itself well in bringing to life the sights and sounds (but fortunately not the smells) of a 19th century naval vessel.

Engrafted upon its lessons of loyalty, duty, and even fealty of crew to commander, we have a ship's doctor whose convenient frienship with the captain permits some rather anachronistic exchanges about authority. (On screen, it's almost reminiscent of Star Trek, with the captain entertaining and simultaneously dismissing the doctor's comments.) In the context of the period, the ship's mission, and the captain's personality, that dismissal is not surprising - particularly when the doctor's suggestions are absurd, such as dumping the ship's rum overboard such that the crew will be sober.

It is interesting to observe some of the reactions to this film in political quarters. In "Happily Seduced", William F. Buckley, Jr. takes a very romantic, almost yearning approach to the film, which to me suggests that Mr. Buckley spent a great many years of his childhood reading and daydreaming of nautical adventure. (The most salient criticism one might make of this film was that it was more about bringing that fantasy to life than it was about telling a story.)

In contrast, in "Success On the High Seas", Charles Krauthammer seems more enamored with the film's depiction of a military hierarchy, with blind allegiance owed to the commander (in chief), who is free to reward his men with double rations of rum or to order them tied to a mast and lashed in order to maintain order and discipline.
We are at war, and this is a film not just about the conduct of war but about virtue in war. Its depiction of the more ancient notions of duty, honor, patriotism and devotion is reminiscent of what we glimpsed during live coverage of the dash to Baghdad back in April but is now slipping from memory.

The film was first planned a decade ago, long before Sept. 11, long before Afghanistan, long before Iraq. But it arrives at a time of war. And combat on the high seas -- ships under unified command meeting in duelistic engagement in open waters -- represents a distilled essence of warfare that, in the hands of a morally serious man such as Weir, is deeply clarifying.

A fair observation at this point would be that, with only slight modification, this film could have been transformed into "Moby Dick" - the obsessive captain chasing his elusive prey to the furthest corners of the earth, to the ultimate doom of himself, his ship, and most of his crew.

Krauthammer can't help taking some of his usual, ill-considered potshots:
Even better is the fact that the hero in his little British frigate is up against a larger, more powerful French warship. That allows U.S. audiences the particular satisfaction of seeing Anglo-Saxon cannonballs puncturing the Tricolor. My favorite part was Aubrey rallying the troops with a Henry V, St. Crispin's Day speech featuring: "Do you want your children growing up and singing the Marseillaise?" It was met by a chorus of deafening "No's." Maybe they should have put that in the trailer too.

Perhaps Krauthammer has no sense of history, and is unaware of the fact that this film is set a mere generation after the French helped the U.S. achieve independence from England. Perhaps Krauthammer has never seen Casablanca, and its poignant use of the Marseillaise to drown out the singing of "Die Wacht am Rhein" by German (Nazi) officers.

But Krauthammer was simply reflecting his larger attitude - which appears to be that everybody (himself, presumably excluded) should engage in mindless deference to the commander (in chief), and that anybody is either the enemy or deserving of a lashing.


Friday, November 21, 2003

Conservative Cartoons?

In 1999, Jerry Falwell warned us not only of Tinky Winky (the "gay" Teletubby), but also of South Park:
South Park Invasion
The creators of South Park, the juvenile animated series that airs on Comedy Central, have released a set of trading cards depicting episodes from the series that are now being sold in toy, hobby and sports card stores across the nation.

Parents should be aware that the cards feature the same impudent and vile language as the series. God’s name is frequently taken in vain, other four-letter words are continually uttered, female characters are routinely referred to in vile terms and human waste named Mr. Hankey becomes a live, speaking character.

In addition, the character of Kenny is brutally massacred in every broadcast while the remaining characters respond, “Oh my God, they’ve killed Kenny.” Many of those killings are also depicted in the card series. The trading cards are the exact size of traditional sports cards, making it easy for kids to sneak them into the home.

What a difference a few years can make.... Now, apparently, South Park is an important icon in the transformation of the media from a haven for liberals - a victory in the "Culture Wars" - and is a primer of conservative values:
Not for nothing has blogger and former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan praised the show for being "the best antidote to PC culture we have." South Park sharpens the iconoclastic, anti-PC edge of earlier cartoon shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill, and spares no sensitivity. The show's single black kid is called Token. One episode, "Cripple Fight," concludes with a slugfest between the boys’ wheelchair-bound, cerebral-palsy-stricken friend Timmy and the obnoxious Jimmy, who wants to be South Park's Number One "handi-capable" citizen (in his cringe-making PC locution). In another, "Rainforest Schmainforest," the boys' school sends them on a field trip to Costa Rica, led by an activist choir group, "Getting Gay with Kids," which wants to raise youth awareness about "our vanishing rain forests."

And on it goes. And in case you think that's an anomaly, another commentator proclaims,
The show mocks mindless lefty celebrities and takes swipes at the gay lobby and the abortion lobby. Some examples: Getting Gay With Kids is a homosexual choir that descends on the school. And the mother of one South Parker decides she wants to abort him (“It’s my body”), despite the fact that he’s 8 years old. The weekly disclaimer on the show says it is so offensive “it should not be viewed by anyone.” This is a new paradigm in pop culture: conventional liberalism is the old, rigid establishment. The antiliberals are brash, funny, and cool. Who would have thought?

Here I was, thinking that the makers of South Park were out to offend, as much as possible, everybody. But now I find out that they are simply reflecting the new conservative version of "family values". The show's only black kid is called "Token"? They make fun of gays? They said San José, Costa Rica "smells like ass"? Why, I can see why America's conservatives can hardly restrain their laughter, as they react to the show with all of the insight and intelligence of Beavis and Butthead.... ("Hehehehehhehehhehheheheh. They said 'token'. Hehehhehehehehehehheheh.")

(Which, I guess, brings me back to my question of a couple of days ago - when are real conservatives going to reclaim their party? Or at least take the time to explain South Park's humor to those self-described "conservatives" who apparently "don't get it".)


Thursday, November 20, 2003


Following a variety of assertions about how Iraq had become a magnet for terrorists who might otherwise attack us on our own soil, a few weeks ago President Bush informed us that the resistance in Iraq was stepping up its attacks, with significant increases in the numbers of U.S. casualties, because they were "desperate" and losing.
The more progress we make on the ground, the more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity that's available, the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become....

This assertion was soon followed by admissions by others in the Administration that the Iraqi resistance was almost entirely home grown, was larger and better organized that previously (publicly) estimated, and a seemingly desperate scramble by the Bush Administration to reinvent its occupation and to transfer responsibility for its future to the UN or NATO.

Meanwhile, terrorist groups apparently backed by Al Qaeda have been repeatedly striking targets associated with the U.S. side of the occupation of Iraq, on the soil of nations which are associated to at least some degree with our occupation. It is difficult, perhaps even with the intelligence reports to which I have no access, to discern to what degree these terrorist attacks are associated with the "war on terror" as opposed to the "war on Iraq". Or if they are meant to illustrate that our war on Iraq was, in the words of a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, a sideshow to the war on terror.

Possible messages behind this series of terrorist attacks include:

  1. Any nation which allies itself with the U.S. in its [a] "war on terror" and/or [b] attempt to occupy and transform the government of Iraq will be subject to attack, whether on its own soil or on that of another nation associated with the [a] "war on terror, and/or [b] war on Iraq.

  2. Al Qaeda is surviving, perhaps thriving, despite the "war on terror", and it and its associated terrorist groups and cells will continue to strike at western targets, as well as targets belonging to or on the soil of Arab and Islamic regimes they view as corrupt.

  3. They will exploit any reasonable opportunity to attack their opponents, real or imagined, and, beyond the obvious declaration that "we're here and your 'war on terror' hasn't stopped us", will allow their targets to infer whatever message they choose to infer.

Of course, in the near complete absense of any form of democracy or free speech, it is difficult to gauge the reaction of the "man on the street" in Saudi Arabia to the attacks which have occurred within its borders. I have read that the attacks have diminished popular support for Al Qaeda. But I'm not sure that Al Qaeda has ever wanted to be liked, so much as feared, or that the respect it wants is anything but the "respect" born of fear. After all, entering into negotiations or attempting to appease international opinion would necessitate making compromises inconsistent with its values and ideals, and it appears that Al Qaeda and its member organizations remain sufficiently powerful in their own right that they don't feel any need to compromise or bend to popular opinion - even in the nations which help fund their efforts.

What the latest attacks perhaps highlight is what certain commentators on the Middle East have been observing for years - that the ultimate consequence of the refusal to condemn suicide bombings, and direct or tacit endorsement of suicide bombings as a tool to achieve political change, would result in a future where Arab nations would be confronted with radicalized internal populations which would not hesitate to use suicide bombings against their own governments. Now it seems that the proverbial chickens have come home to roost.

One last word on suicide bombings. In virtually all cases, these are not isolated, spontaneous, individual actions. There is a significant, sophisticated network behind these bombings, with a refined methodology for recruiting, training, arming, and locking suicide bombers into a particular course of action. The organizations behind these attacks were allowed to grow, and sometimes even funded by governments in the Middle East, with the goal of weakening other dissident groups, including secular opposition or resistance groups, or because their actions seemed to be directed only at other nations. It will be very difficult to extinguish these organizations, even with a very concerted "war on terror" that focuses on their infrastructure, key personnel, and the social and political conditions which help them recruit additional "volunteers". Yet it is perhaps that difficult, thankless, and largely invisible war that is the most important in any effective "war on terror".


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"Conservatives" = "Christian Coalition"?

On the issue of gay marriage, I have a staunchly conservative friend who takes the unequivocal position that it's really none of his business, and if two gay people want to get married it's really none of his business. Of course, his brand of conservativism is closer to that of Lincoln that to that of the "party of Lincoln". It is what he would call "classic conservativism", and what neo-cons and the religious right might deem "paleo-conservativism" - a conservativism that believes in small government, fiscal responsibility, and keeping the government out of our private lives. It is a social conservativism as well, but not the fascism that is presently confused with "conservativism" - his philosophy calls for hard work, loyalty, responsibility, honesty, and for keeping his nose out of his neighbor's business. It is hard to find fault with any of those values.

So when I read in the New York Times,
The [Massachusetts] decision [that gays have the right to some form of civil marriage] galvanized conservatives. Led by Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, denouncing what he called a "runaway judiciary," they vowed to seek a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage between gays. "This is not going to stop here — this is going to be in the forefront for a long time to come," said Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition.

I can almost picture him cringing. And I am reminded of his statement from about a year ago when, due to the fiscal irresponsibility, deception, and intrusive social policies of the Bush Administration - an adminstration he helped vote into office - he would likely stay home from the polls in the next election.

Sometimes it amazes me that conservatives - and not those pretenders who call themselves "conservatives" while frittering our nation's wealth in a manner that appalls even "tax and spend Democrats", while attempting to impose new restrictions on our personal freedoms or civil liberties, trying to limit state sovereignty on social issues, or trying to funnel additional state resources into religious institutions - don't stand up to this Administration and reclaim their party. It's a classic "deal with the devil" - aligning yourself with neo-fascists and the "Christian Coalition" may allow you to win elections, but ultimately you have to sign away your soul.

Pierre Trudeau, the late Canadian Prime Minister, when serving as Minister of Justice famously said (in relation, of course, to consenting adults) "the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." Any true political conservative knows that to be true. So will they willingly sell out their beliefs in order to help reelect a President who stands for... essentially no conservative values, and endorse his energized intrusion into the nation's bedrooms? Or will they reclaim their party? (Unfortunately, I think I already know the answer.)


Tuesday, November 18, 2003


While ostensibly focused on British policy, London's Independent recently ran an editorial which could as easily be addressed to Bush's parallel policies - "You can't just promote democracy in one Muslim country, Mr Blair". The author, who set aside his skepticism of the stated reasons for the war and who supported the invasion of Iraq in order to depose Hussein's tyranny, writes:
This is the war that we leftish hawks always wanted Britain to fight: not to eradicate mythical weapons but for democracy at the heart of the Arab world. It is the antithesis of the "clash of civilisation" thesis popular on the US and Israeli right. We define this not as a fight between a democratic Western civilisation and a totalitarian Islamic civilisation. No; it is a clash within the Muslim world, between those who seek democracy - the Iraqi people, supported by Britain and the United States - and those who oppose it - Saddam, his Baathists and assorted jihadist groups. Britain, Mr Blair argues, is not against Arab people. We are on their side against the dictators who suppress them.

And yet... Mr Blair, after this compelling call for Arab democracy, made an astonishing passing reference to "our Saudi friends". The use of this phrase reveals that we still have some way to go in persuading the Prime Minister that his democratic idealism - used to life-saving effect in Kosovo and Sierra Leone - cannot be selective.

He later observes,
Saudi Arabia is a textbook example [of Britain's active backing of tyrants]. It is run in a way that is antithetical to American values. It is an absolutist feudal monarchy - a form of government that America itself was founded to overthrow - which savagely denies its people any freedom of speech or thought. If a US president behaved for just an hour in the way the Saudi princes act every day, he would be impeached and jailed. But because there is an American interest involved - getting oil from the vast Saudi reserves - US presidents have cast aside American values. American money has been poured into a form of government that could not be less American, in order to keep oil on tap. This is a desecration of the American revolution.

When one looks at the butchery we presently support or ignore to facilitate the "war on terror", it raises the question of whether a decade or two from now our allies will once again be our mortal enemies. Saddam Hussein, backed by President Reagan, is now #2 on our "most wanted" list. Osama Bin Laden, reportedly recruited by the CIA in 1979 under President Carter, and at a minimum indirectly armed and supported by President Reagan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, is now #1 on that same list. Certainly, those were marriages of convenience - just as is our present support for the Saudi royal family or the barbaric leadership of Uzbekistan.


Monday, November 17, 2003

Racism? In GW's America?

In "The Wilder Effect", The Daily Standard comments on Bobby Jindal's defeat in the Louisiana gubernatorial race:
Why did Jindal lose after leading his Democratic opponent, Kathleen Blanco, in statewide polls in the weeks before the election? In a word, race. What occurred was the "Wilder effect," named after the black Virginia governor elected in 1989. Wilder, a Democrat, polled well, then won narrowly. Many white voters, it turned out, said they intended to vote for a black candidate when they really didn't. Questioned by pollsters, they were leery of being seen as racially prejudiced.

From a Republican perspective, pretty much everything was right about Jindal... except his skin color. The U.S. Indian population was very excited about this campaign, and Jindal received support and contributions from around the nation - even from loyal Democrats who, while opposed to his political philosophies, were excited at the prospect of finally gaining some level of electoral prominence.

There's a lesson here for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The Republicans need to get over themselves, and purge themselves of their racist roots - even if it means paying a short-term price at the ballot box. It truly appears that, despite nominating a brilliant and accomplished candidate with the full support of the national party, they were hoist by their own "southern strategy". I don't want to overstate this - Jindal was selected, nominated, and came close to being elected as a Republican. It's a minority of the party that remains obsessed with racial issues. Call it my bias, but I think that's a minority that both of the major parties should leave to wacko third party candidates.

The Democrats need to stop taking their loyal supporters so much for granted that they feel it necessary to ignore their political beliefs and vote or contribute to another party's candidate. Did they learn anything from Nader's polling in the 2000 race? Because I am not so sure that a Republican of any ethnicity with Bobby Jindal's stellar qualifications would fare so poorly against a Democrat in some of the states the Dems presently seem to take for granted.


Sunday, November 16, 2003

Conservatives and the Death Penalty

Dave Thomasson suggests that political conservatives should reexamine some of their orthodoxies in an honest manner, including traditional support for the death penalty.

Critical thinking by American new class of 'conservatives'? That would certainly be a welcome development.


A New Approach to Iraq - The 'Cut and Run'?

As all of my friends know, some of whom are probably bored to tears with my arguments, my biggest concern about going into Iraq was the aftermath. It was readily apparent that, no matter what military might the Iraqi's had, it was a fraction of that which was smashed to splinters by a much less capable U.S. military during the first Gulf War. (And there's honest no way to dispute this point: those who complained that Clinton had somehow undercut, weakened, and destroyed our military from the inside were proved wrong in a most decisive manner by its very capable performance in Afghanistan and Iraq.)

My concern was that the occupation would inevitably prove to be difficult, and that the Bush Administration would ultimately get queasy about actually staying to ensure that a new government took hold and that the country was stabilized before withdrawing. In one possible unpleasant end-game, that might involve leaving just enough troops to secure the oil fields, and the contractors assigned to rebuilding the oil wells and exporting Iraq's oil, while allowing the rest of the country to fall to chaos - after all, that would be the ultimate proof for the Bush Administration's critics around the world who believed that the entire exercise was fundamentally about the control of Iraq's oil resources. But perhaps even in that scenario, the continued U.S. military presence might stop Iraq from falling into civil war.

In what may be the worst possible outcome, following a premature U.S. (er, of course I mean "coalition") withdrawal, the new government collapses both on the basis of a lack of popular support, and on the fact that it doesn't serve the needs or desires of either the Shiite majority or the Kurdish minority. As the Shiite south splits from Iraq, taking with it Iraq's southern oil fields, suddenly the Wahhabi extremists of Saudi Arabia will become far less dependent upon extorting protection money from Saudi Arabia, and will have a ready source of financing for their endeavors (which include supporting Bin Laden, Al Qaueda, and Taliban-style schools to indoctrinate youths with their political brand of religious extremism.) Meanwhile, the Kurdish north, already a de facto Kurdistan, would have little interest in cooperating with the Shiite population - its former oppressor - and thus it seems likely that a Kurdistan would be declared. Absent a continued U.S. military presence, that may inspire a Turkish invasion of the north. And.... Well, there are many possible negative outcomes, and it is hard to picture anything good coming from a Bush Administration decision to "cut and run".

Thus, Fox News is telling us, "Bush: U.S. Will Not Cut and Run in Iraq".
The president said, however, that despite the risks involved in continuing the occupation in Iraq, U.S. forces will remain there as long as it takes to stabilize the country.

But at the same time, we have all heard his plans to reduce U.S. troop presence to 50,000 by next June, and to rush through the implementation of a broader transfer of power to a nominal Iraqi government. That is not consistent with the claim that we won't "cut and run", and smacks of pure politics - Bush is afraid that the growing resistance in Iraq will interfere with, and perhaps destroy, his reelection campaign, and thus he wishes to orchestrate a grand illusion whereby we do "cut and run", but leave enough troops in place to make sure that the puppet government stays in place until after the election, and that if Iraq does collapse into chaos it won't be until 2005 or 2006.

Meanwhile, should he lose the election, his successor will face the very unpleasant choice of continuing the "Iraqification" of Iraq, perhaps leading to the balkanization of that nation, or restoring troops to the region, and accepting an even higher casualty rate - as there can be no doubt that the growing resistance forces within Iraq will consolidate their power and refine their tactics given the type of breathing space the Bush Administration has now promised to give them. (This is the same reason I am skeptical of Hamas ceasefire offers - they seem far more interested in regrouping during those "ceasefire" periods than in actually working toward peace. Or, perhaps more correctly, given that they have no apparent interest in working toward peace, and have no chance of gaining international support or funding as a result of their cooperation, what motive could they have other than to regroup?)

The Bush Administration's sudden "about face" on Iraq, and its rush to create some form of "local" government, has of course not gone unnoticed by those who actually get paid to rant and ramble on these subjects....

The New York Times provides, A Better Army for Iraq which cynically concludes,
Bringing in Arab League troops to keep the peace may not be what Washington wants to hear. But it may be the most viable way to ease Mr. Bush's campaign worries while ensuring Iraq's long-term stability.

Also, in The Lessons of a Quagmire, a Times editorial observes,
The Iraqi guerrillas, like the Vietcong, realize that a conventional military victory is beyond their grasp. Their only hope is to continue ratcheting up the cost of the conflict until the desire of the American public to continue the struggle is shattered. This worked in Vietnam. It might - sobering thought - work today. Is the American will to sustain casualties greater than our enemies' ability to inflict them? Upon that question will turn the future of Iraq.

And, not that it's becoming an obsession, the Times also provides Iraq Goes Sour, which highlights mistakes and failures of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy through the present. (And no, they're not done yet....") Finally, in America's Gamble: A Quick Exit Plan for Iraq, The New York Times notes,
Mr. Bush has insisted that it is "inconceivable" that American forces will leave until a stable democracy is established. The question, which no one in the White House will yet answer, is how he will know when that moment has come.

Not that I can't recognize a rhetorical question, but... the answer seems to be "when Bush is certain that it won't cost him the White House".

To make you feel reassured, I'll conclude with Bush's comments toward the British who oppose his policies. In Feel Free to Protest, Bush Tells War Critics The Scotsman relates, "Defiant US President George Bush today told critics of war in Iraq they were "lucky" to be free to protest when he comes to Britain."
The White House say Mr Bush is"not fazed" by the prospect of mass demonstrations.

And today he told campaigners: "Aren't you lucky to be in a country that encourages people to speak their mind?"

Yes, they are. Perhaps Bush could make a similar statement about our right to protest his actions here at home. (Or are Americans no longer that lucky?)


My Kind of Town

I'm back from Chicago (not that you knew that I went), and thus will soon add some additional intemperate comments on the state of the world.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Capitalism Takes Hold in Eastern Europe

Whatever the case may be in Russia, capitalism is alive and well in Eastern Europe. Why, look how affordable child slaves are in Romania!

Back in the communist days, they were in short supply - and on the rare occasions when they were in stock you probably had to stand in line all day to get one. Thanks to supply side economics, it is now a buyer's market!


What Was the Principal Smoking?

When the "war on drugs" gets to be so "over the top" that the Heritage Foundation's "" distributes an editorial that not only condemns the police for an ill-considered raid on a high school, but mentions the ACLU as if it is doing something positive.... Maybe the groundwork is in place to start shifting toward a rational (dare I say "sane") drug policy?
The American Civil Liberties Union has said the raid was illegal, and the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division is investigating. In the meantime, McCrackin might consider taking some R&R, and the Goose Creek Police Department might goose-step on over to Tikrit. I hear our special-ops guys could use some backup.

The author, Kathleen Parker, also observes,
I don't mean to minimize the danger of drugs in our culture, and I don't blame school officials for taking the problem seriously. [Principal] McCrackin surely had a legitimate duty to try to stop illicit commerce on his watch.

But scaring young people to death, pointing pistols in their faces, handcuffing them for failing to respond quickly enough defines the phrase "over the top." McCrackin says he didn't know police would draw their guns - and police were just doing their jobs - so who's to blame? Surely someone.

British columnist Johann Hari recently wrote an editorial for the London Independent, " Conclusive proof that prohibition of drugs can never work", in which he details the devastation inflicted on Central American farmers as part of the "war on drugs" and observes,
Thirty years after Richard Nixon launched the "War on Drugs", heroin and cocaine have never been easier to buy on British and American streets.

One of Mr. Hari's past writings on the subject suggests that it is unlikely that we will soon see his pieces distributed via - but darn it, I wish politicians on both sides of the political fence would wake up to the realities, catastrophes, and failures of the so-called "drug war".

When, despite our expense of billions upon billions of dollars in interdiction, prosecution, and quasi-warfare in nations like Colombia doesn't change (or perhaps creates) a reality where it is typically easier for high school kids to buy illicit drugs than to buy alcohol, and where drug quality continues to rise even while prices remain stable or fall, it should be patent to everybody that the failed policies of the past three decades must be changed.

I say this not as somebody who has any desire to obtain or use illegal drugs - I don't - but as somebody who has seen a lot of lives wasted (and a surprising amount of institutional corruption) as a result of this "war", and who resents having his tax money wasted - no, make that frittered - in the name of this "war". Can we have some sanity, please?


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Steel and Orange Juice

Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration's duties on steel imports have been declared illegal by the WTO, setting up a possible U.S.-European trade war in the event that they are not revoked by December 15.


Monday, November 10, 2003

Republicans, Dems, and the Military

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, an editor of The Washington Monthly, describes the reading of two letters to a North Carolina mobilization ceremony, from NC Senators Dole and Edwards:
The Wolverines had invited both North Carolina senators, Democrat John Edwards and Republican Elizabeth Dole, to address them as they were sent off to six months of training and 18 months of war, but both had prior engagements. They sent letters instead, and the mobilization ceremony's MC, a North Carolina National Guard lieutenant colonel named Tom Harris, read both aloud, Edwards's first. It was five short sentences long.

"I write to wish you well as you assume a vital role in our nation's continuing war against terrorism," Edwards wrote. North Carolina Guardsmen represented the "best our nation has to offer." Edwards offered his "deepest thanks to you and your loved ones for the courage you so readily display and the sacrifices you so willingly make."

Dole's, by contrast, was wonderful, touching, and personal. She talked about the "trials" the soldiers would go through, and how proud and worried the families would be. She discussed the experiences of her husband, fighting through the mountains of Italy in World War II She wrote empathetically about the difficulties that families would face, and employers, and how crucial their small sacrifice was to the larger, so important sacrifice the men in the guard would be making. She mentioned the places the men in this company came from by name, and reminded them how proud they had made those towns. When Colonel Harris finished reading Dole's letter, the two women on my left were crying, for the first time in the ceremony, and the older gentleman in front of me began to applaud, quietly, to himself.

Any Democrat in the crowd or among the Wolverines would have cringed at the contrast. These letters are an unglamorous staple of life in political offices in Washington; 27-year old junior staffers, not Edwards or Dole themselves, wrote them. But they reflected quite clearly what many, many retired officers told me last month: The Republican majority in the military community is due less to any specific policies than to a sense that they "get" what the military is all about, while the Democrats don't. Elizabeth Dole's letter, compassionate and personal, "got" the military. John Edwards's perfunctory, bland sending off, which could have been a fare-ye-well to recently assigned airport security guards, did not.

Shouldn't that be rather obvious to a presidential candidate?


Sunday, November 09, 2003

Operation Christmas Child

Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser takes on U.S. evangelical Christianity.


Some People Just Don't Get It

MSNBC's Fareed Zakaria complains about skepticism toward Bush's speech on democratizing the Middle East,
Sometimes I think that president bush’s critics need to put up a sign somewhere in their rooms that reads: "Some things are true even if George W. Bush believes them."

What he is obviously missing is that the objections and skepticism are not directed toward Bush's words, but reflect the fact that Bush isn't being taken at his word. It is wonderful to speak of "compassionate conservativism", being a "uniter, not a divider", of a "clean skies" act to prevent pollution, of "leave no child behind" policies to fix our nation's schools, and of bringing democracy to the world.... But why is it that the reality always seems to fall so far from Bush's platitudes?

Also, isn't this the type of philosophy that caused "conservatives" to attack Carter as a wide-eyed dreamer? Yet when Bush adopts a similar philosophy, right-wing rags like the New York Post reinvent it as:
An eloquent, often moving restatement of American foreign policy at its most generous and idealistic, the speech put the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a historical context that went way beyond narrow conceptions of national interest or, for that matter, partisan politics.

What's the difference between "then" and "now"? Are the right-wingers who have spent two decades savaging Carter's foreign policy now tacitly admitting that he had it right? Or are they so ignorant of history, and so eager to save Bush from himself, that they'll glorify every word he utters no matter how inconsistent with his party's past practices and philosophies, and no matter how much at odds his words are with his actions?

When it comes to democracy and the Middle East, Bush can win over his skeptics by living up to his words. I won't hold my breath.


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Saturday, November 08, 2003

A House Divided

President Lincoln famously observed that, "A house divided against itself cannot stand". Perhaps that's true, but perhaps it is sometimes better for a house to divide.

One of the cornerstones of U.S. policy toward Iraq has been to maintain that nation as an integrated whole. This, of course, proves problematic when you recognize that the nation is divided into three distinct ethnic groups who don't trust each other, and who live in relatively discrete geographic regions - the Kurdish north (20% of the population), the "Sunni Triangle" (20% of the population), and the Shiite south (60% of the population). It is also problematic when the Shiite majority would probably vote for some form of Islamic theocracy over secular democracy, and the U.S. would prefer not to have another Shiite Islamic state situated next to Iran.

Another cornerstone of U.S. policy for the region has been to "keep Turkey out of the conflict" by preventing the formation of an independent Kurdish state in the north. Even while protecting the Kurds from Hussein during the period between gulf wars, through a northern "no fly zone", the U.S. actively discouraged the Kurds from taking action which would be seen as a move toward independence or statehood.

This approach reminds me of a couple of other nations - the former colonial India, and the former Yugoslavia. India held together under colonial rule, but as soon as the colonial power departed the nation divided along ethnic lines into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh - and India and Pakistan are still in conflict over Kashmir. Yugoslavia held together as a nation under the unifying control of Marshall Tito, but after his death it collapsed into an ugly civil war and split into Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia - with foreign troops remaining in place years after-the-fact to prevent renewed hostilities. Heck - even Czhechoslovakia split into Chechia and Slovakia after the fall of communism.

Perhaps, rather than trying to create an unnatural coalition among the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis, the Bush Administration should do something that would be more likely to bring lasting stability to the region. That is, recognize that Iraq is not likely to stabilize as a unified nation and that, if it is no longer desirable to impose a Hussein-style tyranny to hold the nation together, the better approach may be to divide Iraq into states which are more amenable to stable, democratic governance.

With a "sorry, Turkey - it has to be done", the Bush Administration could structure a Kurdish state made financially stable by a fair allocation of Iraq's northern oil fields. (Reasonable measures could be taken to reassure Turkey that this would not destabilize its southern regions or inflame its Kurdish population.) The aversion to a Shiite state may make the division of the rest of Iraq a political impossibility, but if the goal truly is to set up a model democracy for the Middle East, isn't "Kurdistan" a good place to start? And wouldn't it benefit Bush to be able to point to a stable, secure Kurdish democracy as he enters the 2004 election season?


Cloning Diplomatic Failure

  1. The Bush Administration severely limits embryonic stem cell research in the United States, permitting research only under sixty 'existing' stem cell lines.

  2. While acknowledging ethical issues, scientists and pharmaceutical giants complain that the limits will impede their research and may impede the future competitiveness of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, and lobbying efforts were stepped up.

  3. The Bush Administration commences a quiet battle, not to respond to those complaints, but to impose U.S.-style restrictions (or restrictions that are perhaps even broader) on the rest of the world.

  4. After initial efforst to force the desired language into a treaty failed, U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham announced that a partial ban "has never been a principle that we've been prepared to accept."

What a remarkable diplomatic team the Bush Administration has assembled. One diplomatic victory after another.


Friday, November 07, 2003

The Victor Writes The History Texts

In 1999, by a six to four vote, six of the eight Republicans on the Kansas State Board of Education chose to "reject evolution as a scientific principle", excluding evolution from the state's science curriculum.

If you regard that vote charitably, as an effort to avoid classroom controversy by removing facts from school books, perhaps it stands as a precedent for the reinvention of Iraq's school curriculum:
The first indicator of what a Saddam-free education will look like is arriving this month, as millions of newly revised textbooks roll off the printing presses to be distributed to Iraq's 5.5 million schoolchildren in 16,000 schools. All 563 texts were heavily edited and revised over the summer by a team of US-appointed Iraqi educators. Every image of Saddam and the Baath Party has been removed.

But so has much more - including most of modern history. Pressured for time, and hoping to avoid political controversy, the Ministry of Education under the US-led coalition government removed any content considered "controversial," including the 1991 Gulf War; the Iran-Iraq war; and all references to Israelis, Americans, or Kurds.

I recognize that the Bush Administration is not sold on the notion that those who don't know history are destined to repeat it, but... really.


Reaching Out to the Common Man

The modern Republican Party may be about cutting aid for the poor, stagnant wages and reduced government benefits for the middle class, and tax cuts and enormous profits for the rich, but for some reason they are seen as a party of the people. They do put on a good show - $1,500 hot dogs, and rallies where the rich are invited to dress down to look like "REAL WORKER types, etc." (with hard hats to be distributed on site).

Meanwhile, with what I would deem a poor choice of words for a political campaign, Dean suggests that the Dems reach out to the southern working class in a manner that is genuine, as opposed to the increasingly successful Republican charade. His critics on the right purport that this is a snobbish appeal to the "white trash vote". Perhaps Deans most vociferous critics on the left, and the wealthy and well-connected on the right who take time out from their $1,500 hot dogs to snivel that the Dems are elitist, should take note of the following from a letter to the New York Times:
No Southerner I've talked to — of whatever class or color — sees Dr. Dean's comments as anything other than an indication that he is willing to go after everyone's vote, including that of the working-class white male.

Perhaps both sides should take note of the fact that southerners are smart enough to know when a northerner is being condescending. And many are concerned that, despite a great Republican sales pitch, voting for Bush in 2003 is against their interests.

Perhaps Dean's biggest "sin" was his assumption that he could make reference to the Confederate Flag as something other than a symbol of slavery and institutionalized racism, and that people would understand (or at least not pretend to misunderstand) his actual intentions. Was the problem that he stereotyped the southern working class, or that he neglected to stereotype the northern liberal?


Thursday, November 06, 2003

Governments and Bathtubs

In A flood of red ink, The Economist says that the Bush Administration.... Well, it's sort of self-explanatory from the title, isn't it.
This time the turnaround will be much tougher. There will be no “peace dividend” from the end of the cold war (indeed, the pressure on military spending may continue to increase). America is unlikely to see another stockmarket bubble, with its surge in tax revenues. As baby-boomers retire, the pressure from entitlement spending will be more acute. Set against this background, the path back to a sustainable fiscal policy will be extremely painful, even without any dramatic fiscal crisis. Long after Dubya is back on his ranch, Americans will be trying to recover from the mess he created.


Two States, Or One?

In a "world opinion roundup" entitled Two-State Solution: A Casualty of War?, which seems to be more of a blog entry than either a report or an analysis, Washington Post staff writer Jefferson Morely presents a variety of viewpoints from a variety of sources on the viability of the "two state solution" for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Granted, I understand why Mr. Morley and his paper choose to tiptoe around these issues, given the typical reaction to any criticism of Sharon's military tactics and decision to support and expand illegal settlements (and here I speak of settlements illegal even under Israeli law) in the occupied territories, or the natural suspicions raised by Palestinian references to the region's demographics and their implications for a Jewish state of Israel.

Meanwhile, Bush is speaking about the importance of democracy in the Middle East. Does this mean that his Administration has changed its mind about the desirability of a Palestinian election?


A Bit Circular?

President Bush, quoted on
It is the practice of democracy, that makes a nation ready for democracy. And all nations should be on that path.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"We've Got Plenty of Nothing"

Is "nothing" plenty for you?

The Guardian asked "experts" from several countries for their ideas on how to improve the situation in Iraq and... "all they got was this lousy T-shirt".

(They also present what, in a strange way, pretends to be a more scientific set of suggestions. How were those "chances" estimated? And how much garbage does Dr. Bernhard May of the German Council for Foreign Relations believe is presently on the streets of Baghdad, such that its paid collection would constitute a nationally stabilizing job creation strategy? And did Danielle Pletka formulate her suggestion by using a tool similar to Dilbert's "mission statement generator"?
'Establish an understanding that there are liberal, democratic Iraqis who should be empowered with more control over the political and security wellbeing of the country'

· Chance of stability in 12 months: 50-75% as long as changes are made in tactics

I had no idea that the mere regurgitation of a string of buzzwords had such a high probability of creating instant peace "as long as changes are made in tactics".)


Outsourcing Illegality

Having been previously found to be employing illegal aliens for its cleaning crews, Walmart apparently hopes that outsourcing will create "plausible deniability".


"Extraordinary Rendition"

What's a little torture between friends? Or whatever Syria is these days.