Saturday, February 15, 2003

Welp, so much for Powell's Adai attempt; as MSNBC's Powell’s Bad Day points out, he's been outmaneuvered- and in some cases flatly contradicted- by others, including the French Foreign Minister and Blix himself.

One reason for the French victory Friday was Powell’s rather laid-back diplomacy during the week since his broadside at the Council. While Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, Vladimir Putin and de Villepin have spent the week traveling to and fro, forging coalitions, making speeches, Powell (who doesn’t like to travel) and Bush have stayed put. Even at the Security Council on Friday, de Villepin deftly played to the court of public opinion better than Powell. At one point, even while the Council was still in session, he left to launch a preemptive strike with the press staking out the meeting. Another reason: while the Blix report was mixed, it was much more positive than the Security Council’s last update, on Jan. 27. Referring to weapons of mass destruction, Blix said flatly, “So far Unmovic has not found any such weapons.” He noted new Iraqi cooperation, including the new law announced Friday morning banning WMDs from Iraq—which Blix noted had been suggested by him and the U.N.’s chief nuclear weapons inspector Mohamed El Baradei during their visit to Baghdad last week. Blix even tweaked Powell over elements of his dramatic Feb. 5 presentation. Referring to the suspected bio-chem site of which Powell had shown detailed before-and-after satellite photos, Blix dismissed the idea that the supposed presence of a “decontamination truck” was meaningful. “The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been routine activity,” he said.
Powell's impressive presentation appears to be almost flatly contradicted by Blix and Co. It's kind of sad, actually; were it not obvious that the presentation were both an attempt to justify a war that everybody already believes inevitable and a broadside shot at the U.N. itself, Blix might actually have been sympathetic to an American presentation that could have been used to pressure Iraq into even greater compliance. As it was, however, Powell ended up in a situation where the credibility of his assertions was matched up against that of Blix's findings, and is it any surprise that the one that neither belongs to a serially-dishonest administration nor is trying to back up an already decided course of action comes out ahead?

Even worse is the huge backfire that was the rhetoric about "old Europe":

Powell also paid for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s unfortunate jibe at “Old Europe” at week ago, a remark that turned into a hilarious football at the Security Council, mostly at America’s expense. De Villepin, the first of the permanent five to speak, gave an eloquent defense of the U.N. (and the inspections regime), concluding, “In the temple of the United Nations we are all guardians of an ideal, the guardian of a conscience,” he said. “This message comes from an old country, France, that does not forget ... all it owes to freedom fighters that came from the United States of America and everywhere.” His statement brought a sustained ovation from all parts of the chamber, including the press gallery. The Chinese foreign minister, speaking next, referred to his country as “an ancient civilization,” and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw comically countered with: “Britain is also a very old country. It was founded in 1066—by the French!” Powell, improvising, came back with: “America is a relatively new country, but it is the oldest democracy around this table ...” Unfortunately, that appeared to snub America’s most stalwart ally, Great Britain, which has had an operating parliament that outdates America’s founding by many years.
I was under the impression that the U.S. was technically the world's oldest liberal democracy, but it honestly depends on how you define those. Besides, whether true or not, it was a terribly lame attempt to defuse a pointed counter to Powell's own (likely scripted) rhetoric. It comes back to the central problem with the rhetoric coming out of the White House and its satellites and sycophants recently... what on earth is the point in trying to antagonize and demonize France? The rest of the planet is not going to be one bit more sympathetic than they already were, it won't win over the French in the slightest, and it's just going to cause the European powers to join ranks.

(Other, less powerful European states might align themselves with the U.S., but they have little reason not to do so and can just as easily ally themselves with "Old Europe" if they see a greater benefit in that.)

As the article points out, there still remains two options: let the inspections continue, or go in using the allies and resources that the United States already has. As the Bush administration has staked its credibility and reputation on going into Iraq, I imagine that it will be the second option that is pursued, but it would appear that the attempts by the U.S. to bully and/or cajole the U.N. to join them have dissipated, and the Americans will look even more imperial.

Somewhere in Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden is still smiling.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Krugman bluntly lays it out, as usual.

Fed chairmen aren't allowed to speculate about disaster scenarios, so let me do it for you. If the administration gets what it wants, within a decade — or perhaps sooner — the United States will have budget fundamentals comparable to Brazil's a year ago. The ratios of debt and deficits to G.D.P. won't be all that high by historical standards, but the bond market will look ahead and see that things don't add up: the rich have been promised low tax rates, middle-class baby boomers have been promised pensions and medical care, and the government can't meet all those promises while paying interest on its debt. Fears that the government will solve its problem by inflating away its debt will drive up interest rates, worsening the deficit, and things will spiral out of control.
Brazil? Brazil? This can't be real. It makes sense, and certainly fits the Bush administration's line of behavior, but it seems incredible that what was once the soundest economy in the world could go south so quickly.

(So much for the unimportance of the state, huh?)

Plus, Krugman voices something that has been bugging me for a while:

No doubt you're under intense pressure to be a team player. But these guys are users: they persuade other people to squander their hard-won credibility on behalf of bad policies, then discard those people once they are no longer useful. Think of John DiIulio, or your friend Paul O'Neill. It's happening to Colin Powell right now. (A digression: The U.S. media are soft-pedaling it as usual, but the business of the Osama tape has destroyed Mr. Powell's credibility in much of the world. The tape calls Saddam Hussein an "infidel" whose "jurisdiction . . . has fallen," but says that it's still O.K. to fight the "Crusaders" — and Mr. Powell claims that it ties Saddam to Al Qaeda. Huh? All it shows is that Al Qaeda views a U.S. invasion of Iraq as an excellent recruiting opportunity.)
The way that the Bin Laden tape is being played in the U.S. media and by the current administration is shocking; if anything the tape shows that Saddam and Bin Laden both share enmity to the U.S., but is nowhere near proof of any real link, no more than anything in Powell's presentation. More importantly- as Krugman points out- the rest of the world simply isn't going to buy it, and the wedge being driven in between the United States and everybody else goes that much farther.

Heck, the spectacle of Powell trying to say that this is proof might discredit the earlier testimony, even if it were correct.

Well, at least this shows one thing: the next time someone tells you they don't vote because "it doesn't matter", you can point at the mess that the American executive branch made and tell them that if they and a few hundred thousand like them had actually voted against the guy, he wouldn't be in there right now. And tell those that voted for Bush because they wanted lower taxes that, yes, this is indeed *their* fault. Nobody else's.
Well, Blix appears to be sticking to his story...he hasn't found weapons, nor evidence that weapons are being moved around, but doesn't have enough proof to conclude that the Iraqis have decommissioned and/or destroyed said weapons.

Around a week and change ago, I would have said "well, what about what Powell said"? After the deep questioning of the credibility of Powell's presentation that I've heard, and the outright contradiction of it by Blix (especially on Powell's "rolling labs" bit), a man whom doesn't seem particularly inclined towards apologizing for the Iraqis, and the low comedy that was the British dossier...

...well, let's just say I doubt that the Security Council is going to come around anytime soon.

Were it not obvious that Bush is going to invade anyway, the logical thing to do would be to implement the "more inspectors/UN troops in Iraq" proposal; even if there are proscribed weapons, it's unlikely that they would be in any usable condition anytime soon. As it is, however, it's perfectly clear that the Bush administration is willing to jettison the U.N., NATO, the goodwill of the other major powers, and the support of anything but self-interested client states in their anxiety to start this thing.

Once again, the question I continually worry about isn't Iraq... it's what comes after Iraq.
Screw the INS.

A Toronto woman coming home from India says she was pulled aside at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, accused of using a fake Canadian passport, denied consular assistance and threatened with jail.

In tears and desperate, Berna Cruz says she told U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) officers she didn't want to go to jail. She told them she had to get home to her two children and was expected to be at work the next day at a branch of a major Toronto bank where she works as a loan officer.

Instead of jailing her on Jan. 27, an INS officer cut the front page of Cruz's passport and filled each page with "expedited removal" stamps, rendering it useless.

She was photographed, fingerprinted, barred from re-entering the U.S. for five years and immediately "removed."

Not to Toronto, but to India, where she had just spent several weeks visiting her parents.

It took four days, and help from Canadian officials in Dubai and a Kuwaiti Airlines pilot, to get her back home.
If that isn't enough to make your blood boil, listen to this:

Cruz says an officer also asked here why her surname was not "Singh" and commented that it was clever of her to use a Spanish name. Cruz, who is separated from her husband, says she told the officers that her maiden name is Fernandez. It's not uncommon for Indian-born people to have Portuguese surnames, but the officers didn't seem to care, she says.

"They said, `You better tell the truth because we know this is not a valid Canadian passport. We'll throw you in jail,'" Cruz recalled.
So, any defenders of racial...excuse me, "cultural" profiling care to weigh in? I realize that the current U.S. government doesn't give a rats ass about Canadian-American relations and hasn't since the election, but this is indefensible. Let's face it; she was held because she was coming from India, was brown-skinned, and didn't fit the stereotype.

We have very high-tech technology out there to detect these kinds of tampered documents," said Gail Montenegro.
Oops. Guess Bush isn't interested in rebuilding Afghanistan after all.

(Thanks to Atrios for the link)

The United States Congress has stepped in to find nearly $300m in humanitarian and reconstruction funds for Afghanistan after the Bush administration failed to request any money in the latest budget.

One mantra from the Bush administration since it launched its military campaign in Afghanistan 16 months ago has been that the US will not walk away from the Afghan people.

President Bush has even suggested a Marshall plan for the country, and the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, will visit Washington later this month.

Washington has pledged not to forget Afghanistan
But in its budget proposals for 2003, the White House did not explicitly ask for any money to aid humanitarian and reconstruction costs in the impoverished country.

The chairman of the committee that distributes foreign aid, Jim Kolbe, says that when he asked administration officials why they had not requested any funds, he was given no satisfactory explanation, but did get a pledge that it would not happen again.
The International Development Agency said it was due to amount prediction problems; that they didn't know how much they'd need in 2002, when they started working on it. That, um, lacks credibility; I can see "less money", but "no money"? They should have at least had a working amount.

So as the situation in forgotten Afghanistan keeps getting worse and worse outside of U.S. controlled Kabul (however long that lasts), the Bush administration sets its sights on Iraq. This time, however, they're not even pushing PR about reconstruction. As several people on Atrios' message board said, "no wonder the europeans don't want you to bomb Iraq". They know the score.
To be honest, I've always been skeptical about the usefulness of protests, especially when the government in question is hostile to the entire idea (as the Bush administration undoubtedly is) and in the age where relatively accurate polling is the norm, not the exception.

Still, this is daunting.

60,000 in Japan? 150,000 in Melbourne? 100,000 in Germany? 50,000 in Paris? half a million in London and Barcelona? 100,000 in NYC, despite being the only North American city to be attacked by terrorists?

(Oh wait, right, forgot about McVeigh. Common thing these days, ain't it?)

I mean, desperately pathetic blogger arguments aside, this ain't just ANSWER and a bunch of Stalinist apologists. This is becoming a serious problem. Maybe not in Australia or the U.S. (where right-wing executives are, as I said, not going to care), Blair really has to take this seriously. His MPs are going to get skittish, and non-confidence votes aren't just a Thatcher thing. It's already happening:

In Britain, several lawmakers from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party will be among the protesters, including former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam, reflecting unease felt by many of Blair's centre-left and labour union supporters.
Labour unionists are going to take demonstrations seriously, and therefore so will Blair. I don't think this'll crack open the British/U.S. alliance "of the willing" right now, but I can't see the Brits backing the U.S. any farther than Iraq itself. Wherever the U.S. goes next (France?), it'll likely go alone.
Well, it would appear that the information that prompted the move to "high" alert was a lie.

Obviously, I'm glad that this is the case. I don't want to see another terrorist attack on North American soil (or anywhere, really, but that's a harder job), and I worry constantly about the reaction that such an attack would cause. It's better for everyone, especially North American Arabs and Muslims, that such an attack not take place. I don't want to think about what'd happen to them were there another attack, especially with the all-out invocation of a war on Islam that is already being advocated by some after just one attack.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Friendly advice to D-squared Digest:

Stop. Just, stop. Really, it's not worth it. The man is impervious to logic, reason, or any interpretation of reality that doesn't paint it as the bastard child of Tom Clancy and Westwood studios. I mean, he came right out and said that he only does the (minor) research necessary to back up his already-decided viewpoints, and this after coming out and saying that the only real font of knowledge someone needs to understand politics is a background in engineering.

And let's not forget the paranoid rants about my pseudonymous megalomania.

Really, you're smart, insightful, and funny. You have better things to do.

On the other hand, summarizing up his novel-length entries with this:

-I've never served in uniform.

-My dislike of the French is independent of any facts about the world.

-I have intricate knowledge of the command and control structure of the Iraqi Army, and astonishingly enough, the news is Good For The War Party!
might actually be worth it. But you forgot "I fear and loathe those with obvious pseudonyms". Make a note of it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I have been following (although not really writing about) the near-disintegration of the Powell case over the past week or so with no small amount of relish. First, of course, there's the British plagiarism, which hurt Powell's credibility. Then there were the questions about the context of the intercepted conversations, and the accuracy of the interpretation of those satellite photos. Then there was the news that the "agent" within that terrorist organization operating in Northern Iraq (which is not controlled by Saddam) was more a spy than a liason, thus making Saddam no more tied to said organization than anybody else with HUMINT resources within terrorist organizations. (Not to mention the news that apparently, the organization isn't overly tied to Al Qaeda).

Now, as the icing on the cake, we have proof that Al Qaeda likes Saddam about as much as bush does. I'll let Atrios sum it up:

Powell announces al-Jazeera has a tape which demonstrates a nexus of al Qaeda and Saddam. al-Jazeera says they don't. Then Powell claims they'll have the tape soon. They get the tape. They run it. Far from it demonstrating a link between OBL and Saddam, OBL says they should overthrow Saddam.
Finally, in about the clearest bit of evidence yet that Alterman has the "liberal" media nailed, we find out that MSNBC edited their own story because it clearly and devastatingly contradicted the Bush administration's attempts to link Saddam and Usama. At time of writing, they've claimed that the initial translation was "a mistake", but have torpedoed their own credibility by altering their stories without acknowdgement of the alterations. (A common problem nowadays; technology makes the truth easier to cover up than to ferret out, which is why one should be more than a little skeptical about pronouncements from this notoriously-averse-to-truthtelling administrations.)

Oh, and it looks like the next target might not be Saudi Arabia, Iran, or North Korea... but France and Germany, as the NATO alliance lurches on the edge of oblivion. Which, of course, would be WWIII. And the domestic economic indicators couldn't be worse, as Bush releases a budget that most serious economists simply stare in shock at.

It's hard to think of how the neo-conservatives could have screwed up their world domination coming-out party any more than they already have. If there's any consolation to be taken from this, it's that when all is said and done, there's no doubt that the movement will be utterly discredited, and the Union will be stronger for it.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Wow. According to this, Saudi Arabia is going to kick out the Americans and start democratic reforms. Not quite sure what to make of it, except that I worry it'll set the stage for Target: Saudi Arabia in about three years or so.
Found in an Eschaton comments thread:
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
-Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials
I didn't know this quote. I'm at a loss for words.
Hey kids! Wondering how much more Orwellian the situation can get in the United States? Are you thinking "the USA PATRIOT act was pretty keen, but I want more government surveillance on the citizenry"? Just plain worried about what your neighbour is doing, but not what your government is doing?

Well, I'd like to introduce you to USA-PATRIOT II: the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003". The Center for Public Integrity has the goods, and what a great set of goods they are:

Some of the key provision of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 include:

Section 201, “Prohibition of Disclosure of Terrorism Investigation Detainee Information”: Safeguarding the dissemination of information related to national security has been a hallmark of Ashcroft’s first two years in office, and the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 follows in the footsteps of his October 2001 directive to carefully consider such interest when granting Freedom of Information Act requests. While the October memo simply encouraged FOIA officers to take national security, “protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy” into account while deciding on requests, the proposed legislation would enhance the department’s ability to deny releasing material on suspected terrorists in government custody through FOIA.
All right! Looks like "disappearing" isn't just for Colombians anymore!

Section 202, “Distribution of ‘Worst Case Scenario’ Information”: This would introduce new FOIA restrictions with regard to the Environmental Protection Agency. As provided for in the Clean Air Act, the EPA requires private companies that use potentially dangerous chemicals must produce a “worst case scenario” report detailing the effect that the release of these controlled substances would have on the surrounding community. Section 202 of this Act would, however, restrict FOIA requests to these reports, which the bill’s drafters refer to as “a roadmap for terrorists.” By reducing public access to “read-only” methods for only those persons “who live and work in the geographical area likely to be affected by a worst-case scenario,” this subtitle would obfuscate an established level of transparency between private industry and the public.
Not only Orwellian, but also oddly silly... what's to stop people who "live and work in the geographical area" from letting others know what's going on? Unless they're forced to sign some sort of NDA? An NDA about their own government? Hey, there's a good idea!

Section 301-306, “Terrorist Identification Database”: These sections would authorize creation of a DNA database on “suspected terrorists,” expansively defined to include association with suspected terrorist groups, and noncitizens suspected of certain crimes or of having supported any group designated as terrorist.
As we've seen, the definition of "supporting any group designated as terrorist" can be extraordinarily vague. Sure, people who hand money over to Al Qaeda might qualify, but what about people innocently giving money to what they think of as charities? Is the U.S. government going to collect DNA information from all the Irish-Americans ("noncitizens", of course, just like enemy combatants, but read on) who have given money to charities that has eventually (unbeknownst to them) gone to the IRA? Or, for that matter, how does one define "support"? If they mean something like "moral support", then any Bush administration official with a relatively Coulterian bent might use this as an excuse to collect the DNA of every leftist/liberal they can get their hands on. (As long as they're not a citizen. Of course. But, again, read on.) Considering that the department of homeland security is going to be a patronage-driven Republican stronghold, I'd count on it.

Section 312, “Appropriate Remedies with Respect to Law Enforcement Surveillance Activities”: This section would terminate all state law enforcement consent decrees before Sept. 11, 2001, not related to racial profiling or other civil rights violations, that limit such agencies from gathering information about individuals and organizations. The authors of this statute claim that these consent orders, which were passed as a result of police spying abuses, could impede current terrorism investigations. It would also place substantial restrictions on future court injunctions.
So long, Judicial Review! It was overrated anyway. Despite the orders being passed due to acknowledged abuses, and despite the wholesale assault on the FOIA, and despite the widespread potential for abuse from the most politically-driven administration in decades (and any future administrations) and anybody who happens to work for them, it doesn't matter: they're simply not applicable in this Brave New World of the War on Terrorism.

Section 405, “Presumption for Pretrial Detention in Cases Involving Terrorism”: While many people charged with drug offenses punishable by prison terms of 10 years or more are held before their trial without bail, this provision would create a comparable statute for those suspected of terrorist activity. The reasons for presumptively holding suspected terrorists before trial, the Justice Department summary memo states, are clear. “This presumption is warranted because of the unparalleled magnitude of the danger to the United States and its people posed by acts of terrorism, and because terrorism is typically engaged in by groups – many with international connections – that are often in a position to help their members flee or go into hiding.”
Of course, since these are only suspected terrorists, this is essentially a wholesale assault on the presumption of innocence, and creates a huge opportunity for the government to use all that ill-gotten information to arrest people as suspected terrorists and hold them for indefinite periods of time. Don't worry. I'm sure this won't ever get abused.

Section 501, “Expatriation of Terrorists”: This provision, the drafters say, would establish that an American citizen could be expatriated “if, with the intent to relinquish his nationality, he becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United Stated has designated as a ‘terrorist organization’.” But whereas a citizen formerly had to state his intent to relinquish his citizenship, the new law affirms that his intent can be “inferred from conduct.” Thus, engaging in the lawful activities of a group designated as a “terrorist organization” by the Attorney General could be presumptive grounds for expatriation.
So now we have a government that can, at will, relinquish citizenship. Fortunately, the definition of "terrorist organization" is completely static, not open to abuse, and certainly would never be used as a political tool attacking marginal or radical political groups. I'm also sure that the section about the noncitizen DNA database and this section about summarily removing people's citizenship were not designed to work together. It's just coincidence.

And then there's this:

The USA Patriot Act allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share information gathered in terrorism investigations under the “foreign intelligence” standard with local law enforcement agencies, in essence nullifying the higher standard of oversight that applied to domestic investigations. The USA Patriot Act also amended FISA to permit surveillance under the less rigorous standard whenever “foreign intelligence” was a “significant purpose” rather than the “primary purpose” of an investigation.

The draft legislation goes further in that direction. “In the [USA Patriot Act] we have to break down the wall of foreign intelligence and law enforcement,” Cole said. “Now they want to break down the wall between international terrorism and domestic terrorism.”
Which means, of course, that any domestic group that gets labelled as "terrorists" by overly excitable government officials gets the full "international terrorist" surveillance whammy. (It probably isn't a good time to be a member of the Trotskyist league right now.) I'm sure this won't be abused either.

"Wait!", you ask. "As long as there's a public debate over this, this thing is doomed! There's no way the American public would stand for this, because they love their freedoms and are constantly questioning their government! How can we be sure that the process of ensuring our safety and the preservation of our precious freedoms won't get derailed"? Well, kids, the trick is not to tell anyone:

Cole found it disturbing that there have been no consultations with Congress on the draft legislation. “It raises a lot of serious concerns and is troubling as a generic matter that they have gotten this far along and tell people that there is nothing in the works. What that suggests is that they’re waiting for a propitious time to introduce it, which might well be when a war is begun. At that time there would be less opportunity for discussion and they’ll have a much stronger hand in saying that they need these right away.”
Ah, what relief. They'll just wait until the American public is distracted and push it through without anybody even realizing. It's not like the media isn't on board; as long as they get their access to war footage, they'll be quiet as mice. Even if they aren't, they'll just get called out as the filthy liberals that they are by the patriotic folks at the Washington Times, Fox News, and all the other patriotic news organizations out there.

So let's all be comforted by the knowledge that President Bush Is There To Protect You And Your Precious Rights. We don't need to worry about this. After all, the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms: George said so, right? How could he not be carefully protecting our freedoms if that's exactly what the terrorists are trying to get rid of?

I feel so happy about it, I can almost stop screaming.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Blix shoots back.

The chief UN weapons inspector yesterday dismissed what has been billed as a central claim of the speech the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, will make today to the UN security council.
Hans Blix said there was no evidence of mobile biological weapons laboratories or of Iraq trying to foil inspectors by moving equipment before his teams arrived.

In a series of leaks or previews, the state department has said Mr Powell will allege that Iraq moved mobile biological weapons laboratories ahead of an inspection. Dr Blix said he had already inspected two alleged mobile labs and found nothing: "Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found."

Dr Blix said that the problem of bio-weapons laboratories on trucks had been around for a while and that he had received tips from the US that led him to inspect trucks in Iraq. The Iraqis claimed that the trucks were used to inspect the quality of food production.

He also contested the theory that the Iraqis knew in advance what sites were to be inspected. He added that they expected to be bugged "by several nations" and took great care not to say anything Iraqis could overhear.

He said he assumed the US secretary of state would not be indicating sites that the inspectors should visit that he had not told them about. "It is more likely to be based upon satellite imagery and upon intercepts of telephone conversations or knowledge about Iraqi procurement of technical material or chemicals," he said.
In the past, the U.N. was the diplomatic battleground upon which the U.S. and U.S.S.R. fought the Cold War. Ironic, perhaps, that Iraq appears to be that same sort of background against which is playing out the growing conflict between the institution of the U.N. and that of the neoconservative executive branch of the United States government.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

It would appear that, despite Powell's best efforts today, the case for war is not being accepted by the other security council veto holders, or really anybody who wasn't convinced that war is necessary from the outset. I doubt that many in the security council believe that Powell's examples of Iraqi intransigence were wrong, although several were fairly circumstantial and subject to interpretation, and the tenuousness of the link between Al Qaeda really threw me; I was amazed it was added, as it seemed to weaken the rest of the case.

The problem is the reaction to the evidence. The Bush administration continues to argue that it means that war is the only option, whereas others interpret it as evidence that the inspection regime needs to be beefed up. In some respects I think the spectacle of what was essentially a strident American attack on the entire inspection process actually furthered this division; I know that when I read the transcript, the question that kept on popping up in my mind was "why wasn't Blix and Co. made aware of these issues", and the answer was that the Americans were setting them up; deliberately standing aside and gathering what they'd need to produce the attempt at a Adlai Stevenson moment that we saw today. I'm sure that Blix is spitting mad, for example; the same satellite tracking information that was used by Powell today could have been given to Blix weeks ago in order to give the inspectors an information edge that would have aided them in finding what they were looking for. The fact that this didn't happen says volumes about the American attitude towards inspections throughout the entire process, and the mentality involved: a desire not to disarm Iraq, but to justify the invasion.

In fact, this says a lot about the United States' opinion about the U.N. in general. It's no secret that the neo-conservative movement that forms Bush's political and intellectual base of support has little love or use for the U.N. This "gotcha" wasn't really aimed at Iraq (which was quick to deny everything, to nobody's surprise). It was aimed instead at the U.N. itself. The attack's nature is made abundantly clear by Powell's invocation of the continuing attempts by the Bush administration to imply that it is the credibility of the United Nations at stake, and that the United States has the ability and insight to be able to make that judgement (as well as to pose the question in the first place). While it may have been couched in the language of internationalism, today's presentation was a bullet aimed not at Saddam Hussein, but Kofi Annan: the U.S. is saying- in front of the entire world- that an uncooperative U.N. is both useless and dangerous- that if it stands against the United States it will be swept aside, just like Iraq. Maybe not militarily, because the U.N. isn't an organization whose legitimacy rests on force; but it will be cast aside, as the neoconservatives that now run the executive branch of the U.S. government begin to fully realize their ambitions.

So I leave this with just one question: after Iraq, what's next?
The first "Animatrix" short is now up at The official Animatrix site. I'd suggest doing a "view source" on the page with the "Large" version, as although it's huge and therefore best downloaded instead of streamed, it's both well produced and well encoded.

And, yes, it's very, very good. It can be criticized as somewhat derivative of Asimov, but I have little doubt that were Asimov alive to see it, he would have loved the Matrix.

I eagerly await the other shorts.
Has Richard Perle really said that France should now be considered hostile by the United States?

France is no longer an ally of the United States and the NATO alliance "must develop a strategy to contain our erstwhile ally or we will not be talking about a NATO alliance" the head of the Pentagon's top advisory board said in Washington Tuesday.

Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and now chairman of the Pentagon's Policy Advisory Board, condemned French and German policy on Iraq in the strongest terms at a public seminar organized by a New York-based PR firm and attended by Iraqi exiles and American Middle East and security officials.

But while dismissing Germany's refusal to support military action against Iraq as an aberration by "a discredited chancellor," Perle warned that France's attitude was both more dangerous and more serious.

"France is no longer the ally it once was," Perle said. And he went on to accuse French President Jacques Chirac of believing "deep in his soul that Saddam Hussein is preferable to any likely successor."
"Erstwhile"? He can't be serious. To characterize France's stance against the war in Iraq as an act actually hostile to the United States not only begs dozens of questions, but is disturbing and more than a little frightening in-and-of itself.

Although he is not an official of the Bush administration, Perle's position as the Pentagon's senior civilian adviser gives his harsh remarks a quasi-official character and reflects the growing frustration in the White House and Pentagon with the French and German reluctance to support their U.S. and British allies.
Indeed. It should be stressed that Perle may be a powerful satellite, but doesn't make U.S. policy. This doesn't mean that the U.S. is officially setting itself against France, and I rather hope they won't. Still, if France remains opposed to the war and the rhetoric from the U.S. attempting to discredit the U.N. (a judgement it is patently not objective enough to make) doesn't stick, the anger could turn from the body itself to the members of it.

One wonders how far this will go.
Oh, and one more thought, although not linked to any specific article: the point of the space program, fundamentally, is neither science nor commerce. The point is to have humans in space- to extend our reach off the planet as human beings through the medium and mechanism of human beings. While in the light of recent tragedy it can be tempting to say "why not just robots do it", I think that misses the reason why we should be up there in the first place. It's got to be done, and it has to be us; because if we ever shie away from it now that we have the opportunity and ability to do so, then we have already doomed ourselves to extinction. We've come too far to go back, and I think every single man and woman that has been in space understands that.

Besides, human eyes need to see the planet from space, now more than ever. In an age where what divides us looms large, the reality of (and fragility of) our shared home is something that is simply too important to be seen through a monitor. The Earth seen on a television is a special effect. The earth seen out a window is the embodiment of Beauty and Hope.
I hadn't yet read this excellent dismissal of Instapundit's McCarthyism by Max Sawicky before now, but having now read it, it's linkable if anything is.

The purism of IP and many others in re: ANSWER is wholly selective. In the case of Reynolds himself, it could not be more obvious that the basis for this selectivity is a determination to delegitimize anti-war sentiment. (On, he pretends to perform a neutral public service by providing a list of web sites pertaining to the war. Nearly all of them support the coming war.) Glenn Reynolds and others practice politics by the use of libel. Evidently they do not feel their arguments are good enough to carry the day. I don't blame them.
The reason why this whole thing is McCarthyite is not specific linkages, but intent. The intent is to discredit one's opponents by linking them with what one considers an evil ideology, so as to achieve one's policy goals. Glenn is doing this: transparently so. The problem, of course, is that communists simply don't fit the bill as "evil" as easily as Glenn attempts to argue: in a world where the Russians themselves are divided over Stalin's legacy and the legacy of Communism and are deeply disappointed in its successor, to try to push this sort of line is not only indicative of weak arguments (as Max says), but shows that Glenn is a rather surprising throwback in his positions. Glenn, red-baiting went out with the reds. If you're going to bash demonstrators for being something, I'd suggest Anarchists, not Stalinists.

As for the war itself... honestly, I'm increasingly of the opinion that a U.S. president could start a war with any country on the globe, given the resources and strident advocacy support that Bush enjoys. People have been asking how the same people who consider Bush an idiot could consider him dangerous. The answer, of course, is that support... Bush would be powerless without his pet newspapers, magazines, talk radio blowhards and CNN talking heads and everybody knows it. It isn't that the American people are stupid (they aren't, although the Kangaroo Jack thing is deeply disturbing), but that it'd be difficult for anybody to get out from under that barrage.

Still, it's a house of cards. Remove the neo-conservative support of the regime, and BushZilla becomes little Shrub once again. The second the liberal left pries the neo-conservative right away from its deathgrip on the political media, the pendulum is going to swing so far back to the left the U.S. will look like Sweden.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Neil Gaiman said it better than I ever could.

A few years ago, I was in Florida, driving up the east coast on highway A1A, which is as far east as you can get and not be in the Atlantic Ocean. It was night, and I was driving over a long bridge, when I saw something very beautiful in the sky. It started out like a streak of orange flame, and then, as it rose, it burned bluer and brighter than anything I'd ever seen -- the nursery rhyme line "like a diamond in the sky" suddenly had meaning, a huge, blazing, blue-white diamond of flame, and I pulled over to the side of the bridge and watched it rise and rise and rise; and realised I watching a space shuttle launch, one that had been delayed for days because of dodgy weather, and now it was launching and I was watching it, and I felt very proud to be part of something -- humanity, I suppose -- that had put that flaming diamond up there. And eventually it rose out of sight, and I drove north.

There are people dead now, and hurt, and pain, and questions. But I still feel proud to be part of the thing that made it.
There are many reasons he's my favorite writer. This is yet another.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

It will be interesting to hear the reactions of the governments who have sought to subvert American interests of late. Will they respond as true friends with unconditional support? Or will they merely mouth perfunctory expressions of sympathy and then try to use the moment to send the message that we cannot count on their support if we do not subvert our own national security interests to their own. Rest assured, Canada, Germany, France, we’ll be watching very carefully.
and this (no quotes, just general Glennuendo, misinterpretation, and general foreigner bashing) make me almost as nauseated as the disaster itself. Word to the wise: nobody cares if you feel insulted or not, and anybody with any sense of common decency and etiquette would just ignore a badly worded question and a few talk-radio loonies, due to having the elementary intelligence necessary to realize that CANADIANS ARE NOT GOING TO GLORY IN THE DEATH OF AMERICAN ASTRONAUTS, YOU MISERABLE LUNATIC BASTARDS. To insinuate otherwise is sadly pathetic.

And people wonder why I don't link to Instapundit.

Edit: What he said.

I don't know what bothers me more... the tragedy (which made me intensely nauseous and more than a little choked up), or the predictable neo-ludditic anti-space exploration response that is sure to follow.

To be honest, I can't focus on either. All I can see when I think about this is a charred NASA patch and a flight helment, found lying on a rural road in Texas.

I've never felt so helpless.

Friday, January 31, 2003

Hrm.. you know, although I'm not usually one to argue the "it's all a clever ruse" when it comes to the belligerence of the Bush administration, this whole Bush meeting with Blair thing really does seem like a dog-and-pony show, doesn't it? It's very convenient that Blair is "calming down" Bush and supposedly pleading for more time.

It'd make sense for both of them too, politically. Blair needs to mollify the increasingly unhappy British populace and government, and there's no doubt that Bush needs to keep both his conservative base and neo-conservative pet punditry happy. This helps achieve both their goals, without really affecting anything important.

Still, as it would appear that Iraq may be listening to Blix's complaints, any retention of inspections is a good thing. Wagged dog or not.
Hey folks. Sorry I haven't been updating much lately. One of the entries I did write, however, noted that Blix's report was somewhat mixed; that while Iraq was more cooperative than they had been in the past, they needed to be more forthcoming on documentation, leave behind what delaying tactics still existed, and allow for unfettered interviews by UNMOVIC.

Predictably, a lot of the media (and, of course, the Bush administration) had spun this into a justification for war, as opposed to something that Iraq should be compelled to rectify. Apparently, however, Hans Blix thinks differently, and is saying as much.

In a two-hour interview in his United Nations offices overlooking Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Blix, the chief chemical and biological weapons inspector, seemed determined to dispel any impression that his report was intended to support the administration's campaign to build world support for a war to disarm Saddam Hussein.

"Whatever we say will be used by some," Mr. Blix said, adding that he had strived to be "as factual and conscientious" as possible. "I did not tailor my report to the political wishes or hopes in Baghdad or Washington or any other place."

Mr. Blix took issue with what he said were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents.

Similarly, he said, he had not seen convincing evidence that Iraq was sending weapons scientists to Syria, Jordan or any other country to prevent them from being interviewed. Nor had he any reason to believe, as President Bush charged in his State of the Union speech, that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists.

He further disputed the Bush administration's allegations that his inspection agency might have been penetrated by Iraqi agents, and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad, compromising the inspections.

Finally, he said, he had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda, which Mr. Bush also mentioned in his speech. "There are other states where there appear to be stronger links," such as Afghanistan, Mr. Blix said, noting that he had no intelligence reports on this issue. "It's bad enough that Iraq may have weapons of mass destruction."

Well, we can leave aside that last one; Bush has been pushing that line for half a year now, and has provided no more convincing information now than back when he started. There is no reason to believe that the administration is telling the unvarnished truth on this, and several reasons (not the least of which being the PR usefulness of convincing Americans that Iraqis had anything to do with 9/11) to take the claims skeptically.

As it is, however, Blix's reaction seems to fit that mixed reaction that I had earlier. He is not convinced that Iraq's attitude has completely changed, but..

...continued to endorse disarmament through peaceful means. "I think it would be terrible if this comes to an end by armed force, and I wish for this process of disarmament through the peaceful avenue of inspections," he said. "But I also know that diplomacy needs to be backed by force sometimes, and inspections need to be backed by pressure."
My own personal feelings on this issue is that the pressure needs to be kept up on both Bush and Hussein. Hussein needs to be impressed with the severity of the issue; that the council will act if Blix is completely stymied. (To some extent this is taking place; supposedly Iraq will invite officials to Baghdad to "discuss issues". Considering that many of their other objections melted away using this same sort of process, I consider it a good sign.)

The Bush administration, on the other hand, needs to be reminded that the point of the inspections was not and is not to justify their pre-existing position, but to determine whether it's necessary in the first place. It is this role of determination from which stems the U.N.'s legitimacy on this matter, not whether or not it hews to the White House line (no matter what the unilateralist rhetoric of the right might imply). Fortunately, the Blair visit seems to be a sign that this is going on as well.

Oh, and one other thing. This South African disarmament comparison that is going around is utterly inane. Iraq is not South Africa, and Saddam Hussein is not Nelson Mandela. Despite that, there is absolutely no reason to believe that every country will be as forthcoming as South Africa was; that doesn't make inspections either impossible or undesirable, simply more difficult. Among other things, South Africa wasn't paranoid about the possibility of inspectors being spies for a hostile power. Iraq has excellent reason to exhibit such paranoia, and the reality of the possibility of espionage is one of the reasons why this whole process is different.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

David Neiwert has some great material on fascism: what it is, what it isn't, and how people and societies get there. Short answer: what it is is amorphous, nativist, and reactive; what it isn't is conservatism per se, solely Nazism, or characterized by goosestepping brownshirts. As for how socities get there, Neiwert has a chilling quotation from Milton Meyer's They Thought They Were Free:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.
Very disturbing, especially in light of the simple truth that fascism is not either Nazism or simple-and-easily-understood evil. It is a political position, one that was very popular in the early part of the last century and which can be as virulent as any other political meme. More so, actually, because fear is the meat and drink of fascism, and there's rather a lot of fear going around nowadays.
Well Well Well. It would appear that one of the keys on the wurlitzer is coming loose.

Though still in its infancy, a letter-writing campaign aimed at advertisers on "The Rush Limbaugh Show," has already claimed a few choice scalps -- and hopes to soon have other marketers saying "ditto."

Kicked off last week on the website of a group called Take Back The Media, the effort is generating a growing buzz among online progressives (or, if you prefer, "liberals") -- along with hundreds of angry e-mails to companies that sponsor what it calls Limbaugh's "hateful chortling and guffawing."

Micheal Stinson, a Vietnam-era veteran, is co-founder of Take Back The Media. Obviously never a Rush fan, Stinson and his cohorts were content to largely ignore the king of reactionary talk radio -- until he weighed in on the recent anti-war protests, calling participants "anti-American," "anti-capitalist" and "communists," among other terms.

"He just went too far," said Stinson. "Don't call me anti-American. I served this country."

When he decided to go after Limbaugh, Stinson said "we were told we would have to nip at his heels, to start by contacting local advertisers." He ignored that advice, however, and posted a list, complete with contact information, of top sponsors.

"Within 18 hours, RadioShack (RSH: news, chart, profile) had folded. Within 36 hours, Amtrak was gone and Bose told us they were no longer advertising on the show," Stinson said.
To be fair, at least one of these sponsors didn't actually know that they were backing Limbaugh, and pulled out because they (in the case of Amtrak) "do not sponsor political shows and ''in the future...will communicate [that] practice to' other partners.". On the other hand, Radio Shack was more explicit, saying that RS "strictly adheres to a policy of not intentionally buying advertising space on programs that might be political or socially controversial or that promote any one individual's agenda or point of view." Fits Limbaugh to a tee.

The article points out that this doesn't remove the vast listenership that said demagogue enjoys, but it may not matter:

So, can a few scrappy liberals really hurt him?

Depends. A lot of radio time is bought pretty much on a commodity basis, with advertisers looking for dayparts and regions rather than specific programming. Many may not even know where their ads appeared until after the fact. And, unless they have given their buyers up-front marching orders to avoid him (already not uncommon), Limbaugh's powerful ratings guarantee a piece of that action. Of course, there are plenty of other options that can deliver similar numbers.

Whether or not the boycott works to any meaningful degree is going to depend on how many more advertisers decide it is easier to switch than fight. According to radio buyers, some companies cave almost instantly in the face of even a little negative feedback while others need to experience a truly sustained and widespread level of complaints before they listen.

Still, they don't have to get them all to make a difference: If enough advertisers put out the word that the show is a forbidden zone -- and they are not rapidly replaced -- the program will lose much of its economic value to local stations and station groups regardless of how well its audience numbers are doing. Of course, the already-loaded Limbaugh is never going to have trouble putting food on the table, but he and his fans could end up in less desirable timeslots or on fewer outlets.
To be honest, I wouldn't want this to evolve into a situation where all political material is considered taboo and therefore ends up even more marginalized than it already is. I'd prefer balance to absense. Still, in an environment where the "agendas or points of view" (as RS put it) are all of the wingnut variety, anything that gives them pause is good, and framing these boycotts with the language of fairness as opposed to censorship would go a long way. Might even help Clear Channel see fit to actually syndicate a non-winger, which would be a nice change.

(Thankee to Atrios for the link.)

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I'm honestly tempted to join.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Kevin Drum has an interesting take on the announcement that the U.S. will pull out new info about Iraqi violations:

Over at RealClear Politics, Tom Bevan writes:

....the United States has announced it will release more evidence on Iraq's WMD programs.

This has all the markings of a set up by the Bush administration. They may not provide a "smoking gun," but you get the sense they have conclusive proof of Iraqi violations they've been holding back on. Biding their time while military preparations take place and the French and Germans make fools of themselves.

The amazing thing here isn't whether this is true or not, it's that Bevan can write this with such obvious approval. When did deliberately setting up your allies in order to make them look foolish become an admirable part of foreign policy?
Generally, it isn't. Thing is, I'm not sure that the Bush administration considers the French or Germans allies anymore. They (hopefully) aren't considered enemies, but the desires and goals of the French and Germans are far away from those that the Bush administration considers important.At the very least, they're competitors.

Then again, with the outright hostility that a lot of American pundits have been showing to both the Germans and the French, maybe the "enemies" tag isn't that far off.
David Ehrenstein goes point for point on the SOTU speech.

(If you'd prefer "pint for pint", go check out the drinking game thread at

Monday, January 27, 2003

Blix gave his report today.

Like many of these kinds of things, it was mixed. On the plus side, the Iraqis have not been overly belligerent, and appear to be cooperating with the inspectors without the sort of silly games that they were playing back during the last round of inspections. On the other hand, they haven't been as forthcoming with documents as they should be and could be, and have been less forthcoming than they could be about interviews:

Some 400 names for all biological and chemical weapons programs, as well as their missile programs, were provided by the Iraqi side. This can be compared to over 3,500 names of people associated with those past weapons programs that UNSCOM either interviewed in the 1990s or knew from documents and other sources.

At my recent meeting in Baghdad, the Iraqis have committed themselves to supplementing the list, and some 80 additional names have been provided.

In the past, much valuable information came from interviews. There are also cases in which the interviewee was clearly intimidated by the presence of an interruption by Iraq officials.

This was the background to Resolution 1441's provision for a right for UNMOVIC and the IAEA to hold private interviews "in the mode or the location" of our choice in Baghdad or even abroad.

Today, 11 individuals were asked for interviews in Baghdad by us. The replies have been that the individual would only speak at Iraq's Monitoring Directorate or at any rate in the presence of an Iraq official.

This could be due to a wish on the part of the invited to have evidence that they have not said anything that the authorities did not wish them to say. At our recent talks in Baghdad, the Iraqi side committed itself to encourage persons to accept interviews in private, that is to say alone with us. Despite this, the pattern has not changed.

However, we hope that with further encouragement from the authorities, knowledgeable individuals will accept private interviews in Baghdad or abroad.
There's no doubt that the Bush administration is going to take each and every negative bit of Blix's report and try to spin it into a justification for war. They've said they're going to do it, everybody knows they're going to do it, and the raw intimidation by the U.S. of countries that believe that the inspections are a little more than justification for U.S. doing what it was going to anyway. The question, of course, is whether anybody is going to call them on it when they do it.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Is Bill Bennett on drugs?

Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, a Democratic presidential hopeful, has complained that legacy preference "is a birthright out of 18th century British aristocracy, not 21st century American democracy." Well, if you're going to use that kind of language, the United States Senate in which Mr. Edwards resides, however restively, can be denounced as a birthright out of the House of Lords. It isn't very democratic that North Carolina, with a population of eight million, should have as many votes in the Senate as California, with its population of 34 million. So should we leave it that some legacies are O.K.?
Birthright? Huh? Last I checked, senators were elected by popular vote, and there is nothing in the U.S. constitution (or any definition of democracy I've ever read) that it always does come down to "one man, one vote". It certainly has nothing to do with birthright.

I realize he's desperate to defend legacy admissions (I could just smell the cooked numbers in his earlier statement that "the average SAT score of legacies admitted is just two points below the school's overall average", and his creative redefinition of affirmative action as "illegal discrimination" raised more questions than Socrates) but this is ridiculous.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Edit: According to Atrios' Comments thread, this source is of dubious credibility. I actually hope that they're full of it. This sort of "l'etat, c'est moi" arrogance is too frightening if true.

Unbelievable. Well, ok, not really.

Senior Pentagon officials are quietly urging President George W. Bush to slow down his headlong rush to war with Iraq, complaining the administration’s course of action represents too much of a shift of America’s longstanding “no first strike” policy and that the move could well result in conflicts with other Arab nations.

“We have a dangerous role reversal here,” one Pentagon source tells Capitol Hill Blue. “The civilians are urging war and the uniformed officers are urging caution.”

Capitol Hill Blue has learned the Joint Chiefs of Staff are split over plans to invade Iraq in the coming weeks. They have asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld to urge Bush to back down from his hard line stance until United Nations weapons inspectors can finish their jobs and the U.S. can build a stronger coalition in the Middle East.

“This is not Desert Storm,” one of the Joint Chiefs is reported to have told Rumseld. “We don’t have the backing of other Middle Eastern nations. We don’t have the backing of any of our allies except Britain and we’re advocating a policy that says we will invade another nation that is not currently attacking us or invading any of our allies.”

Intelligence sources say some Arab nations have told US diplomats they may side with Iraq if the U.S. attacks without the backing of the United Nations. Secretary of State Colin Powell agrees with his former colleagues at the Pentagon and has told the President he may be pursuing a "dangerous course."

An angry Rumsfeld, who backs Bush without question, is said to have told the Joint Chiefs to get in line or find other jobs. Bush is also said to be “extremely angry” at what he perceives as growing Pentagon opposition to his role as Commander in Chief.
Not surprising so far (although quite depressing), but here's the money quote:

“The President considers this nation to be at war,” a White House source says,” and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than an act of treason.”


...And in his will, Augustus also appointed Tiberius as his successor: our divine rulers have, since then, been successively evil, mad, foolish, and--now--all three.
-quoted from Lycius in "August": Sandman #30, by Neil Gaiman.

Sadly, we appear to have missed the three leaders of singular faults and, well, "hit the trifecta".

[Helen Thomas, veteran White House correspondent] seemed to have sympathy and affection for [every president] but George W. Bush, a man who she said is rising on a wave of 9-11 fear — fear of looking unpatriotic, fear of asking questions, just fear. “We have,” she said, “lost our way.”

Thomas believes we have chosen to promote democracy with bombs instead of largess while Congress “defaults,” Democrats cower and a president controls all three branches of government in the name of corporations and the religious right.

As she signed my program, I joked, “You sound worried.”
“This is the worst president ever,” she said. “He is the worst president in all of American history.”

The woman who has known eight of them wasn’t joking.
If I recall correctly, Nixon was of the opinion that the judgement of history will vindicate him. Once out of the sea of spin, fear, misguided patriotism and uncertainty about the future that the United States (and the world) is afflicted with, I wonder how history will judge the current President?

Vindication seems unlikely.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Sullivan on Krugman, according to Howie:

Online columnist Andrew Sullivan, a frequent Krugman antagonist, derides "the extreme partisanship, the self-righteousness and the moral condescension toward his opponents, who are obviously evil to him."

Edit: In same article:

For all his incendiary prose, Krugman seems almost startled at the passions he arouses. He gets disturbing e-mail ("I'm telling all my friends in the militia movement about you") along with grateful letters declaring "you're our only hope."
The guy does kinda look like Obi-Wan, doesn't he?
Ok, another great Tam piece, this time about the trend of tendentious conservative bloggers taking potshots at the anti-war movement:

MORAL EQUIVALENCE, PART 21351255685: A lot of warbloggers are slamming those anti-war protests that took place this weekend because some of the key organizers were ANSWER people, which is a front for the quite extreme Workers World Party, a communist organization that stupidly says nice things about North Korea and Castro...

Here's my argument on why the communist freaks of the left should be treated with less moral repugnance than the racist and fascist freaks of the right:

Communism, as an idea, is not prima facie evil. You may think that it is a really dumb idea that would in practice condemn many people to misery, and you may also think that its institutional application would require restrictions of basic liberties unacceptable to you (its proponents would disagree). But it is not a fundamentally evil idea, because it at least in principle respects the idea of equal basic human dignity, which must be the basis of almost any acceptable contemporary political theory (liberalism [both the progressive and classical varities], libertarianism, moderate conservatism, socialism, etc.)...

The same cannot be said for racism or fascism. As ideals, they are EVIL. Not just bad in practice, as communism often is, but simply EVIL. If you are a racist or a fascist, then I have an a priori desire to kick your ass. In short, our freaks tend to be stupid whereas your freaks tend to be evil. End of story.
I think the problem is a confusion of means and ends. Communism has laudable ends (allowing everybody to get out from under the rat race of the market, de-alienate themselves from what they produce, fulfill their full potential, and create a world where resources aren't controlled by the very few at the expense of everybody else), but the means by which they've tried to do this have been pretty damned bad, and it's a system that's open to hijacking by those who don't give a rat's ass about the goals but are just trying to build their own power (Stalin, among others). Marxism also tends to ignore the problem of these ends having unforeseen consequences, massively overemphasizes the effects of class, and misinterprets problematic situations that are supposedly to be solved having their own benefits that (in the eyes of most liberals and capitalists) far outweigh the negative aspects. I'd say communists are misguided, but I agree with Eric: not evil, unless one is so consequentialist that the U.S. (and to a lesser extent liberal capitalism) itself also becomes evil because of the unintended consequences of its fight against communism.

Fascism (whether of the national socialist flavour or not) and racism, on the other hand, are based on the sort of nationalistic chauvanism that deserves exactly the kind of thoroughly-administered ass-kicking that Eric wants to administer, preferably at the hands of the supposedly-inferior group in question. As a minority, Eric has a pretty legitimate beef. Were he to administer said savage beating, I'd be glad to help.
A simply great post by Eric Tam on a nonsensical and insulting piece by Robin Goodfellow about Canadian internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII. I'll cut to the chase, although I urge readers to check it out:

[A]s an Asian Canadian, I have personal reasons to be concerned about Canada's history of racism against Asians and about the Japanese internment. But I'm curious as to why RG decided to mention this dark blot on Canadian history at this time? Is it because RG was concerned that Canadians haven't worked hard enough to destroy racist attitudes toward its Asian citizens? This may be true, although it seems doubtful that it was RG's intent, given that RG doesn't seem to know a whole lot about Canada. Is RG trying to raise Canadians' consciousness toward a shamefully papered-over part of their past? Probably not, considering that we do a pretty decent job of reminding ourselves about it these days.

A more likely explanation is that RG was, in the most cynical way, trying to use the past suffering of Japanese-Canadians to excuse the present sins that America may be committing against its Middle Eastern citizens and landed immigrants out of a misguided notion of national security. If this intuition is correct, then I have an unequivocal message for RG:

Um, wow. Appropriate, certainly; although I didn't quote it (by all means, go and read it; it's instructional), Eric was clearly correct about the tenor of RG's post. Can't fault him for the language, either: sometimes a hearty "fuck you" or two really is warranted.

(Given the chance, however, I'll always prefer Shakespeare-style insults: the "thou art the witless bastard of an exceptionally talented village idiot and a none-too-choosy strumpet with the stench of the mongol horde's midden after a dinner of beans and prunes, and the uselessness of your mind is matched only by the impotence of your manhood" kind of thing.)

So, in short: Go Eric.
The draft debate bugs me. A lot. It's a debate that has huge problems at its core. It certainly isn't whether or not minorities are overrepresented in combat roles or not. Honestly, that's a sideshow, and something that's (relatively easily) fixable.

(Heck, if the Army gets their land-use robots, we might not have *people* doing those front line jobs. The Air Force might be ticked about having men replaced by machines, but I doubt the Army would.)

No, the problem is the subtext. "Jim N" on Atrios' comments board, while an obvious wingnut, is right in a fundamental sense: reinstating the draft would be abominably stupid for a whole host of reasons, and the whole "national service" thing would not only be a bureaucratic nightmare but a possible drag on the economy as well. The whole reason the draft thing has even come up, though, is the chickenhawk problem, and reinstating the draft isn't a solution!

The problem with chickenhawks, after all, isn't that they haven't served. Lots of people haven't served. Most people haven't served, and the idea of civilian oversight is that those who are elected don't need to have been military types to be leaders. Blurring the lines between government and military is a very bad idea, and would be yet another step along the path of the U.S. government turning into a Latin-style "democracy", where El Presidente's control over the military ensures his domination. Leaders don't have to be warrors.

What they do need to do, however, is give some bloody respect to the soldiers who have to fight for them. Respect for the grunts on the ground, realizing that war is an option of last resort and that it should be fought to minimize the casualties. Respect for the military's leaders, planners, and strategists, realizing that even though you're their boss, they know this better than you do, and you better damned well listen to them. Even if you disagree, you should take their ideas and concerns into account on a very real and personal level. No spin, no politiking, no ideologically-based neocon bullshit. And for the love of Christ, Rumsfeld, stop trying to do everything yourself. The war in Iraq is not a game of Starcraft; you don't need to micromanage everything.

Finally, you should respect not only those that you will place in harm's way, but those that you will harm. There are innocents killed in any war, but even the soldiers on the other side are too often simply cogs in the machine; as too many people learned during the World Wars, the soldiers on either side are no so different as one might think, regardless of the differences of their leaders. That doesn't make war impossible, but the reality that one is about to use deadly force should cause one to think long and hard about the consequences, risks, and side effects; something that the military (being the organization that is put in harm's way) is fully aware of.

I think this is the beating heart of the "no blood for oil" argument which is, yes, absurdly simplistic. It's the perception that the people who are making these decisions either don't know or don't care that they will be taking life. They are acting with utmost callowness, using arguments about human and civil rights only insofar as they support the pre-determined course of action, then discarding them when they are no longer useful.

(Witness the cynical appropriation of women's rights by the Bush administration when discussing an Afghan invasion that had absolutely nothing to do with women's rights. It may have been justified, and it may have been necessary, but that wasn't the reason that it happens and everybody knows it. Bush shot his credibility pretty badly when he started that line, and he's never recovered.)

Does this respect mean that war is never warranted? Nope, although it should be a rarity, a last resort, and something to be mourned, not celebrated. War is not success, but a failure: the failure of two parties to find any other means by which to resolve their conflicts. As nobody is perfect and situations can make war unavoidable these failures will happen like any other; but they should be recognized as such, and treated like such. That's one of the reasons why I think a realistic view of international relations is so important; the study of conflict and war exists in order to help mitigate and minimize the disruption, pain, death, and loss that are probably inevitable, and to search for a way out. That doesn't mean people should stick their heads in the sand, or that war is always avoidable, as ignoring it will only lead to greater suffering when it comes. What it does mean is that leaders, and citizens, should respect the consequences of their decisions. Not whether or not their political side or ideology is "right" or "wrong", or whether they personally stand to gain or lose...but whether or not the reason is compelling enough to risk inflicting pain, suffering, horror, and death.

The chickenhawks are those that don't bother to do that. That earns them my contempt. It doesn't, however, justify a draft.
Heh. I haven't been dealing much with the controversy surrounding John Lott (although I'm not overly impressed by his work), but kudos to Atrios for discovering both that the man employed a sock puppet on Usenet named "Mary Rosh" and (through a commenter named "A.C".) that he had employed this pseudonym to support his conclusions in gun debates.

Let's face facts. If Lott's conclusions didn't support the wingnuts, this would be the end of him; nobody could take him seriously even if his writing wasn't full of holes. As it is, at least there'll be a good (and highly amusing) counter when dealing with yet another proselytizing NRA type blathering on about Lott's findings.

Oh, and as someone who actually makes a point of acknowledging that he uses a pseudonym and doesn't try to cheat his way out of the repercussions of that choice by inventing a legitimate-sounding name..... haw haw.
This is disturbing. Apparently a judge ordered Verizon to hand over the identity of individual users.

Verizon argued that the shortcut was meant to apply to only a narrow set of circumstances and that its broad use would violate its subscribers' privacy and due process rights. The company had refused to comply with a subpoena.

But Judge John D. Bates of the Federal District Court in Washington wrote that Verizon's position "would create a huge loophole in Congress's effort to prevent copyright infringement on the Internet." Verizon said it would appeal the ruling...

...Judge Bates's ruling may play a pivotal role in allowing the industry to do that, legal experts said yesterday. "The court's decision has troubling ramifications for consumers, service providers and the growth of the Internet," said Sara Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon. "It opens the door for anyone who makes a mere allegation of copyright infringement to gain complete access to private subscriber information without the due process protections afforded by the courts."
I agree with Ms. Deutsch, and am horrified by this decision. It makes no sense; ISPs are even more simple carriers than they used to be (thanks to the bitter end of a lot of ecommerce attempts to exploit ISP power, and the decline of value-added ISPs like AOL) and are in many respects no different than phone carriers. The latter is protected, so why not the former?

More to the point, though, is that this sort of thing is horribly counter-intuitive. Are they going to arrest people for file-sharing? Do they know how many do it? The number of people they'd need to arrest would number in the tens if not hundreds of thousands... it'd dwarf even the drug war. It's not like they can even monitor the amounts being sent around... the users certainly can't, and while ignorance of the law is no excuse, ignorance of fact certainly can be, and would be relevant in this case.

And for that matter, does the RIAA really want the negative publicity that would come from arresting the thousands and thousands of teenagers that use these services? These are middle-class kids; their parents would be outraged, and preaching about the evils of copyright infringement is not going to mollify them; in fact, once they see the wealthy and borderline-corrupt face of the body that is responsible for their kids going to jail and find out about the ambivalent position of musicians themselves on the subject, they're only going to be angrier.

(And God help the RIAA if they even breath a word about equating copying music with terrorism. )

In any case, I'm disappointed by this ruling, and I doubt the Judge thought through the ramifications.
One of the things that annoys me the most about this entire pre-war situation is the perception of the U.N., or at least the spin job that is being used on the U.N. Case in point is a quotation in this article about Germany saying that they probably aren't going to back a war resolution. It makes sense; without a smoking gun, nobody is going to agree that it makes sense to invade. No one, that is, except those who are already determined to invade, and see the whole U.N. security council process as merely a tool of legitimation, not a real decision-making body. Still, the quotation bothered me:

Still, British Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane said Wednesday he was confident the United Nations would approve action against Iraq.

``The U.N. will accept its responsibilities in this matter and make sure that Saddam Hussein does not get away with what he has been getting away with for years,'' MacShane told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Perhaps I missed the memo.. when exactly did the Security Council and the U.N. itself become something that needed to be judged? Where this comes from is pretty obvious; it's a way of reinforcing that ridiculous line that Bush was pushing at the U.N. that it is the legitimacy of the U.N. that is in question, not the American invasion of Iraq. This is absurd, of course: the United States neither has the right, nor the authority, nor even the ability to objectively judge the U.N., and attempts to do so should be (and yet unfortunately have not been) roundly and thoroughly condemned by those outside the United States who do not agree that American exceptionalism is some sort of carte blanche. Instead we have a British minister acting as if the invasion of Iraq was something upon which the U.N. should or even could be judged. That begs the question; the whole point of gaining U.N. approval is not to grant legitimacy or deny legitimacy to the U.N. (which gains its legitimacy from the consent of its signatory states, consent that the United States cannot take away) but to decide whether or not the U.N. decides the invasion itself is legitimate under international law.

Thing is, that line might make more sense had the U.N. not acted. But it did act. It created the same resolution that the U.S. was crowing about earlier; a resolution now being conveniently discarded in the face of an inspections process that is taking too long to satisfy the impatience of the Bush administration. What exactly are the Germans, and French, and Russians, and Japanese, and Chinese, and Indians, and everybody else supposed to take away from this spectacle, except the idea that they, like the U.N., will only be tolerated so long as they don't actually say or do anything that the Bush administration (and, if its attitude outlives it, the U.S. government) finds objectionable, despite the obvious fact that the definition of what is or isn't objectionable seems to change whenever it's convenient?

Iraq is, in the end, relatively unimportant. It's important to the Iraqis, of course, and there are strategic and economic questions at play here. Still, the real question has always been what the invasion of Iraq means for the perception and reality of the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. More and more, I suspect that the answer to that question isn't a happy one.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Very good breakdown of the weaknesses of the pro-war arguments by Junius yesterday. I'll quote some of it here, then add my own comments: (Edit: Edited for quotation clarity.)

The case for war against Iraq is very weak. It has two components, neither of which stand up to serious examination. The first is that the US is entitled to make war as an act of pre-emptive self-defence. This clearly fails both because no-one has established that Iraq represents a credible threat to the US and because the putatively justifying doctrine, if generalized, would permit states to engage in actions which no right-thinking person would wish to sanction. Most obviously, a right of pre-emption as loose as that needed to justify a war against Iraq would also justify either an Indian first strike against Pakistan or a Pakistani first strike against India. (We philosophers would therefore say that this principle has counterintuitive consequences.)
I'd argue that they're counter-intuitive only to the absurdly narrow-minded, but I agree with Chris on the problems with the pre-emption doctrine being taken as justification by various regimes for various dubious military enterprises. I think Chris misses the point, however, in that the pre-emption doctrine is clearly meant by its creators to be applicable solely and exclusively to the United States, not to any other regime (whether democratic or not.) In this, it's far less of a expression of what the United States would consider to be good foreign policy and far more a simple declaration that the United States government can and will intervene whenever and wherever it sees fit, not caring about international law, international bodies, allies (who are allies only as long as they do not oppose the U.S.; witness the reaction of the Bush administration and its policy satellites to naysayers on Iraq) or even public opinion. If anybody else attempts to employ the doctrine, the U.S. can (and probably will) respond that the preemption doctrine is a privilege solely of the U.S. government, as it alone has the power and the moral authority to wield it. (Look at the "we will allow no rivals to appear" part of the Doctrine. It only makes sense if one believes that the only state with the right to hegemony or even Great Power status is the United States.)

A variant of the pre-emptive self-defence doctrine would emphasize not the direct threat posed by Iraq, but an indirect one: Iraq might give "weapons of mass destruction" to terrorists. But despite 18 months of trying, no real evidence of Iraqi-Al Qaeda co-operation has been produced. Again, a doctrine that justifies war against anyone who might give weapons to terrorists would also justify far too much. It would, for instance, have justified military action by a number of states against the US in the past, since the US has provided military assistance to a variety of irregular insurgent forces.
Heh. An angle I hadn't truly considered, but valid enough. Also addressable by the "American-exclusive" aspect of this; no other power has the moral authority to use preemptive force, and thus the United States cannot, by definition, be justly attacked using this doctrine. (Unless, of course, it attacked itself.)

The second main strand is the Saddam-is-evil/democratization argument. Saddam is evil, no question about that. This is a much better set of arguments in principle, but fails because, given the dramatis personae, there is no good reason to believe that the war will actually pursue democracy. I'm not a supporter of the view that it is never justifiable to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Sometimes such intervention can certainly be justified. A case in point was the ousting of Pol Pot by the Vietnamese (where did Dick Cheney stand on that one, by the way?). But an intervention in the name of democracy or human rights has to meet a very high bar of justification: after all this is a highly coercive use of state power which is certainly going to deprive many Iraqis of their lives, liberties and estates and others of their limbs and loved ones.
Indeed it is, which is why my reaction has always been "it's a power that is best agreed not to be used"; attempts to do so in the past led to the idea of sovereignty in the first place. It's easy to say that "Saddam is a bad, bad man and should be thrown out"... but the problem is that in making that decision as a leader, you therefore open up that decision to be made about others, and about your own government. This can lead to several, if not dozens of states invading others "for the good of the citizens"... chaos, and lots of it.

The United States government (and, yes, many Americans; American exceptionalism, good or bad, is an empirical reality) obviously thinks it's above that; that it has the ability and right to make this decision. The problem, however, is that all of a sudden the missteps of the U.S. government in the past and the power it wields now on the world stage can become justification for warring against it as a power acting unilaterally and illegitimately beyond its own borders. American exceptionalism is an idea that doesn't spread that much farther than the borders of the U.S. itself, so that justification isn't going to wash. Others will question it, and may even threaten it, using their own criteria of "good" and "bad" regimes. It may have a lot of military and economic power, but does it really want to spend those trying to escape a noose it tied together through its own badly conceived policy?

The human-rights-and-democracy argument currently looms large in the rhetoric of the pro-war faction, but it there any reason to expect that a war will bring democracy to the middle east? On past evidence, which is pretty much all we have to go on, no. The major players in the current US administration do not have a proud record of promoting and defending either human rights or democracy. They cannot be trusted. Cheney is a good example: he opposed Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the recognition of the ANC. What is more, their past engagement with the region, both with Saddam (pre-Kuwait invasion) and with the Saudis suggest that democracy and human rights are very low on their list of desiderata for the region. Ten years ago, they fought to throw Saddam out of Kuwait: the result was not a more democratic regime in Kuwait but the restoration of the status quo ante. The open contempt of the administration for "nation building" in Afghanistan also suggests that talk of democracy and human rights in Iraq is strictly a public relations exercise.
Again, this could become a serious problem if the "preemption doctrine" is turned against the United States; if the whole thing hangs on the moral superiority of the United States (which it assuredly does), then threats to that moral superiority undermine the entire enterprise, as it eliminates the exclusivity of the Doctrine.

All of this brings me to the predicament of British advocates of war. Max Hastings in the Sunday Telegraph is a good example. He concedes that the case for war is so weak as to be almost non-existent. But he is convinced that the US will embark on a war anyway and argues that it is better to be on-side with a superpower than carping on the sidelines. Strictly from the point of view of national interest, that may be right. But even if that is so, a doctrine that justified engaging in or participating in a war whenever it was in a country's national interest would again justify far too much. It would certainly justify, for example, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan whilst the US is preoccupied with an Iraqi invasion. An unpalatable conclusion? I think so.
Oddly enough, I actually disagree with this conclusion. In the eyes of the U.S. it wouldn't justify the invasion, because the Doctrine is solely reserved for the U.S. In the eyes of China this justification is hardly necessary; I'm sure that when given the opportunity they'll take it, and I think that it would rankle at the proud Chinese to be forced to adopt foreign doctrines in order to (as they would see it) return Taiwan to the fold.

As for the question of the Brits, though, it comes back to the idea of American exceptionalism. As long as the Brits stay in line with the U.S., they can grow as powerful as they wish as a part of the American-led military organization. If they contradicted the U.S., and remained powerful, they might be percieved as a threat; the power without the Right to go with it. I doubt they'd want that.

(By the way, for those wondering why I'm not overly fond of American exceptionalism right now, I was rather surprised to discover that the American U.N. Ambassador, Kevin Moley, defined the human rights standards by which countries should be asked to fulfill by pulling out a red book, pointing it to the cameras, and saying, "The best guarantee for human rights in the world is the Constitution of the United States." It may have played well at home. It was still an insult to each and every country that reveres human rights but does not accept the American Constitution as the best or final definition of such, and to hear it coming from the American Ambassador to the U.N., a body which has its own definition of human rights in a charter that the U.S. is a signatory to? If that isn't proof of the total embrace of American exceptionalism, what is?)