Friday, March 12, 2004

Good News... Very Good News

Although I'm still deeply troubled by the bombings in Madrid, I've got at least one phrase to keep my spirits up. Take it away, John:

"I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks".


He gets it. I would have never thought this possible even a year ago, but Kerry gets it.

Screw the polling numbers, they don't mean anything. This does. Bush is in far, far more trouble than I thought.

Bush goes negative

Well, that was fast. Honestly, this is silly; there's no way the effects of March anti-Kerry ads are going to be felt by November. Bush is blowing this cash for nothing.

More importantly, though, he's sacrificed the high road. That's just dumb; the best weapon a sitting president has in an election is the aura of being "above the fray" that the role of Head of State grants him; sacrificing that may be necessary when the fall rolls around, but in March? Not only will it weaken a key electoral tool, but it screws with the effectiveness of the presidency as well, as his "bully pulpit" will be even further sullied by an image of vicious partisanship.

I'm not sure which alternative is worse

The Madrid bombing (900 injured, and at least 197 dead as of last count), to be blunt, horrified me. Now, though, the question of "who did it" looms large. Instead of these bombings being being seen as clearly the work of Basque nationalists (as people had thought on Thursday), the question is now open as to who's responsible. It may be ETA (the chemical signature of the explosives corresponds with ETA) but it may well not be (the nature of the attack doesn't fit the ETA's profile).

A group affiliated with Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, but they're not credible; they also claimed responsibility for the blackout last year.

So, there are two possibilities here. First, ETA did it, which implies that the old style of attacks is dead. This doesn't necessarily mean that ETA is affiliated with Al Qaeda, although it does imply it; it may be that ETA is consciously attempting to mimic Al Qaeda. The CNN article says that they "have different goals" because the nationalism of ETA doesn't correspond with the Islamic theocratic goals of Al Qaeda, but that is really unimportant; terrorist organizations have made these pragmatic sorts of linkages for a very long time. It may well have been a response to the American War on Terror, too; a sort of "if we don't hang together we will surely hang seperately" logic would be logical in light of the war. It may also have something to do with the Chechnya conflict, as the Chechans have fairly successfully blended together Islamic fundamentalism and nationalism in ways that have (to some extent) eluded even the Arabs.

Second, Al Qaeda did it. This doesn't mean the ETA didn't have some involvement, but that Al Qaeda was the leading party. If that's the case, then the "revenge for aiding the U.S. in Iraq" scenario seems credible. The biggest problem with that scenario is that Al Qaeda didn't really have much to do with Saddam, but that doesn't really matter here, as Al Qaeda is certainly interested in the fate of Iraq now. Besides, I doubt an Al Qaeda attack in Spain would be aimed at Spanish eyes and Spanish ears- it would be aimed at potential allies as proof of Al Qaeda's remaining strength and at potential foes as an object lesson on the price of assisting the U.S. It also will create real tension and conflict in Europe, which I'm sure Osama wants; he's after a world war that Europe (until now) seemed bound and determined not to fight. Europe's significant Muslim minorities could be a powderkeg if Europe is seen as fully signing on to the United States' so-called "crusade"; the Europeans know that, and I'm sure Osama does too.

Right now, the most important job is figuring out who is responsible, so that the Spanish (and the world) know which of these scenarios they're dealing with.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Bush Really is a Uniter

Just look at who he brought together!

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, welcomed Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who once seemed his chief political roadblock, to his headquarters here on Wednesday with an ovation by scores of staff members. The two men talked for an hour behind closed doors, guarded by a phalanx of Secret Service agents — but not before Mr. Kerry hugged Dr. Dean and shook his hand for the cameras.

Dr. Dean made no official endorsement of Mr. Kerry but Democrats close to both men said they expect it to come before the end of the month, quashing any concerns in the party that Dr. Dean would not help the ticket.

"During the campaign, we often focused on what divided us, but the truth is we have much more in common, beginning with our fervent desire to send George Bush back to Crawford, Tex., in November," Dr. Dean said in a statement after the session. "I will work closely with John Kerry to make sure we beat George Bush in November and turn our country around."
It's good to hear this... really, really good. I had been worried about Dean deciding to "take his football and go home", but in retrospect I probably shouldn't have been. Both Dean and Kerry know that the paramount concern is unseating Bush, and I think Dean can take (and undoubtedly will) take a lot of credit for energizing the party base, effectively marshalling Internet Democrats, and showing that vigorous partisanship can be both effective and financially rewarding. There's been a lot of carping about how Kerry is "sailing through" the primaries, but I think the reason he's sailing through is largely because he learned the lesson that Dean was teaching. Having learned that lesson, he's overcome the chief flaw in his old electoral strategy- his former unwillingness to take a stand against Bush.

Plus, Dean will no doubt remember that he was the candidate of choice for a lot of Democrats, and that he probably would have been the candidate had taking Bush down not been seen as so vitally important. Assuming that he'd get a plum post, as Oliver speculates, the good Doctor will have done quite nicely for himself.

It's too bad that we'll never know how he would have fared, though.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Welcome Back to the Cold War

Or, at least, the American attitudes characterized by it. It would appear, at least according to this piece in the Toronto Star, that the United States is reverting to type in the Americas.

The United States, aided and abetted by Canada, has just sponsored a coup in Haiti. That's what the supporters of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide say. "Coup" is also the word that Jamaica's government uses to describe the weekend events in Port-au-Prince.

Certainly, it's hard to argue against this analysis. Aristide was a democratically elected president — one of only two in Haiti's 100-year history. According to Larry Birns of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Aristide's Lavalas party would almost certainly have won free parliamentary elections if the opposition had allowed the elections to take place.

This, incidentally, is one of the weirder elements of the Haiti story. Aristide wanted legislative elections. It was the opposition that blocked him.
It's not weird in the slightest. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were perfectly willing to set aside elections, or support non-elected vs. elected groups, as long as the supported group was closer to their side. After the fall of the Soviet Union, of course, things were supposed to have changed: the U.S. only engaged in anti-democratic practices because of the Cold War against an implacable foe of democracy was supposed to have made it necessary, but that foe is long gone, right?

Well, maybe the "foe" isn't the same one we thought it was. Meet the face of evil:

It's also hard to understand why Washington found Aristide so loathsome. True, he spoke for, and was supported by, the poor, a characteristic that U.S. regimes always find disturbing.

Indeed, a populist leader may easily become a demagogue, particularly if the civil rights the middle classes hold so dear — the right of property, the right to criticize government — interfere with the economic rights the poor demand, such as the right to eat.
This makes sense, and seems to be the concern that is animating American opposition to Hugo Chavez, as well, as this particular charade shows that it's obviously not Chavez' contempt for democracy that is the problem. (Aristide has his problems with democracy too- witness the 2000 elections- but armed insurrection goes just a little farther than that.)

I guess the real question is, then, whether or not Guy Phillipe got a wink from a U.S. official before starting the violence.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Schroeder and Bush

Is anybody else suspicious that the weak electoral showings for the SDF in Germany will increase German/U.S. tension? After all, if American-bashing worked the first time....

U.N. Sends Peacekeepers to Haiti

According to CNN, it looks like with Aristide's departure the U.N. is going to send peacekeepers into Haiti. Fortunately, it may not be necessary; the rebel leader has said that with Aristide gone, they "don't intend to fight anymore... the only problem we had was with Aristide". I'm not going to bet money on complete stability with Aristide's ouster, especially considering that "pro-Aristide gangs" have been causing trouble in the capital, but without American support, he's ready to have that proverbial fork stuck in him.

Regardless of that, I fervently hope that Phillipe was being honest. I've been worried about Haiti for a while, and any outcome that doesn't end up with Haiti in flames is much more positive than what I've been expecting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Political Change and Reinvigoration

Very nice piece by Stirling Newberry on Daily Kos about internet politics post-Dean.

As someone who has decided to put aside private life to pursue work in the public sector, I will tell you why: because there is nothing that we can do, here and now, that will make our lives better, our children's lives better and our nation better - than politics. For a long time politics was gridlock, say little and do less.

That's ending - with the events of the last 5 years, it is clear that action is better than inaction. What is also clear to the people on the inside - is that the old donor base is, well, old. To get a new one, they are also realizing that they have to change, as institutions, as people, as a party.....

....Right now projects are forming that will change the Democratic party at its core. We are working to draw message, ideas, energy - the high value work that Democrats have proven they are capable of - and bring them to the inside. The corresponding task for those of us who are "outside" is to learn the political system, learn the rules, the language, the restrictions, so we can begin targetting our force on issues and elections of importance. Kos is way out in front doing it - others are doing so as well.

But to make them work, it will require work. What the inside listens to is proof - we've proven we can push issues, get coverage, raise money. We have to learn what an international football player would call "finishing" - putting the ball in the net. To get a chance to do that, we have to build candidates, build coalitions, take seats on Democratic Committees. This will begin openning up the process.

With an open process creates an avenue for new ideas, and new ways of implementing old programs. It brings new faces, and new connections, a fountain of youth to restore to vibrancy the party as a progressive party.
I agree with much of this; I still think the "old school" view of politics has legitimacy, and there ARE lessons about "new politics" to be drawn from the Dean campaign.

The core idea of change and renewal, however, is the key insight here. I've been saying for a while that the Dean campaign is, in many respects, the Democratic equivalent of the Goldwater campaign for the Republicans; what I hadn't anticipated is that it will probably be 2003- not 2004- that is seen as the watershed year, because that was the year that non-traditional networks (whether grassroots or online) made their presence and importance known. One need only look at the ads on Eschaton, Calpundit or Daily Kos to see that politicians are taking these networks seriously.

Yes, Kerry is pretty much guaranteed to be the nominee. There's no doubt about that now. In most respects, though, that's what's so great about this. The Democrats don't have to lose a general election in order to be re-invigorated for a later one, like with the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns. the invigoration has already taken place, and the lessons of the Dean campaign can be applied to Kerry in the general election. Although I'm still not an enormous fan of primaries, if this is the result, then this primary may have been the best thing to happen to the Democrats since FDR.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

"Junk Science"

Nice takedown of Steve Milloy and his tendentious war on "junk" (read: perfectly legitimate but conservatively incorrect) science by Tim Lambert. Lambert's done an incredible amount of excellent work debunking true junk science, particularly the work of John Lott. He's turned his gaze on Milloy, and it's withering.

Most of the critiques don't surprise me- I've looked at Milloy's work before and found it wanting. What surprised me was this revelation about Milloy and real Astroturfing:

Given all of the above, it should come as no surprise that junkscience.com is another astroturf operation. As part of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Philip Morris agreed to release millions of documents about their operations. These detail how TASSC (The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition) was a front secretly created and funded by a PR firm acting for Philip Morris. Here is the key document (with annotations by Stewart Fist). TASSC and junkscience.com shared the same address and were both run by Milloy. Studies that find harmful effects from tobacco smoke seem to attract particularly venomous attacks from junkscience.com. PR Watch has the full story of Milloy’s history.
Ugh. The deeper you delve into the sort of thing, the worse it gets. I always have believed and always will believe that it's not the arguer but the argument that is important. Even if Milloy works for Phillip Morris, he may have a point. Still, this sort of willful misrepresentation bothers me a lot. At least with a pseudonym, you have to build your reputation honestly.