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?)

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Wow, I hadn't realized that Lawrence Lessig had a blog. Thanks to Atrios for highlighting it, and the piece he wrote on the Mickey Mouse decision.There's a ton I'd like to say about his analysis, but as I'm rather short on time right now, I'll simply point you in his direction and invite you to make your own comments in the comment section. I might come back to it later, however.
In response to an attempt by one "drstrangelove" to dig up dirt, Paul Krugman goes into pretty exhaustive detail about exactly aspect of his life. Very little dirt, sadly, but I can see how it can infuriate: the man's life sounds practically idyllic.
Y'know, when Steven Den Beste accuses someone of lying, he might want to actually catch them out in a lie:

The ad ends with the message: "Maybe that's why the overwhelming majority of Americans say to President Bush: Let the inspections work."

The overwhelming majority, eh? Could have fooled me; I sure see no such groundswell of opinion. And their contention sure isn't supported by the latest polls. Various polls have found the following:

More than half, 56 percent, said they support using ground troops against Iraq, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll. Six in 10 in the ABC poll oppose using ground troops against North Korea.

Just over half in the Gallup poll said the situation in Iraq is worth going to war over, while about four in 10 said it is not. A fourth in that poll said the situation with Iraq's weapons capabilities is a crisis, while more than half agreed with the description of it as a "major problem."

In fact, polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans in favor of direct military action in Iraq. Many of those want the military action to take place with UN approval, but that's not the same as saying that they want UN inspections to replace military action. The level of support for military action in Iraq has varied over the last year, but it has always been an absolute majority.
Let's open up that "many want the military action to take place with UN approval." The "many" is indeed the vast majority; the polls (no link, but there was no link in the quoted entry, either; disturbing considering the possible problems with that "ground troops" question) have consistently shown that the "overwhelming majority" of Americans have been reluctant to go to war unless the U.N. was clearly on board. That distinction that Steven makes is absolutely false, however, as the entire point of the inspections is to determine whether or not the U.N. sees the need to give that approval in the first place! So where, pray tell, is this distinction? The only possible way Steven's interpretation makes sense is if the inspections are just a pretense to "keep those foreign idiots happy", and I doubt this is what the American citizenry means when they say that the U.N. should be on board... I'm absolutely sure that that isn't how the U.N. sees things.

In that light, how on earth is that ad lying? The support of the American citizenry is conditional on the U.N. supporting the invasion. The support of the U.N. is conditional on the clear (aka "smoking gun") non-compliance of Iraq with the inspection and disarmament regime. Therefore, the support of the American citizenry is conditional on the (real, not America-forced) failure of inspections. Indirect, sure, but simple enough to understand. Except, maybe, for Steven Den Beste.
Without getting into specifics, a few conversations I've had today has reminded me that the most pernicious, misguided, and dangerous concept in politics today isn't militarism, unilateralism, American exceptionalism, or anything like that. It's economic determinism.

(In other words, if I hear one more idiot babble on about how everything comes down to economics, whether on the left or the right, I'm gonna get violent.)
Y'know, it's funny. I actually started my blogging career debunking Matthew Hoy's various diatribes about Paul Krugman and the supposedly liberal media in general. I left Hoy aside, though, because I realized that it was barely worth the effort; that I had better things to do. For that reason, I stopped reading and had lost track of Hoy. So it was with no small amount of amusement that I found that Hoy was still being roasted by TBOGG, a relatively new blogger himself, for the same old misinterpreting, overreacting, and just plain propagandizing:

For that matter, it doesn't have much to do with anything except for a perceived slight to the most oppressed of all religions: Christianity. Krugman, Kristof uses any opportunity to take a cheap shot at a class of people he's probably never met

Ready for the cheap shot? Here it is, in Kristof's own words:

So how can we undermine North Korean propaganda and totalitarianism? By imposing sanctions and increasing its isolation? Or by engaging it and tying it to the global economy?

The answer should be obvious, for there is no greater subversive in a Communist country than an American factory manager. People will hear stories from his housemaid's third cousin's neighbor's friend about how he has five pairs of blue jeans (!), a beer belly (!), blows his nose on tissues that he then throws away (!), and reads a Bible (!) and Playboy magazine (!!). Many a Communist will immediately begin dreaming of capitalism.

Did you catch it? Look again. Got a magnifying glass? Oh, hell...let's let Brother Hoy 'splain it all to you:

Krugman was one of the first to start it when he popularized the trend of using Attorney General John Ashcroft's name as a synonym for Bigfoot, Big Brother and Josef Stalin all wrapped up in one.

Now, I don't really count Kristof's little jab as a serious slam against Christianity -- but it's one of those little things that I think is indicative of many in the liberal media. A little jab at the Christians is OK, and maybe even the Jews (those Israelis being so pesky and all), but a similar skewering of blacks, Latinos, gays, women? I seriously doubt would have made it past the Times copy editors -- if doing it had crossed Kristof's mind in the first place.

Apparently it was Kristof's mention of a Bible that got Hoy's Deuteronomies in a twist. Blue jeans, beer, tissues, BIBLE, Playboy magazine. It used to be that Christians became martyrs by being crucified for their beliefs. These days, one little prick on the finger is all it takes for them to start screaming "Stigmata!".

You know, they just don't make martyrs like they used to.
The nicest thing about the growth of liberalism in blogdom, honestly, is the knowledge that even in one's absence, reactionary drivel will be (entertainly) dealt with.
Well, looks like the inspectors found something: specifically 11 empty warheads that could have contained chemical or biological weapons in the past.

U.N. arms inspectors say they have found a number of empty chemical warheads and another one that is still being evaluated.

The U.N. spokesman said Thursday the warheads were regarded to be in "excellent condition."

A U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission team visited the Ukhaider ammunition storage area, at a site 150 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, to inspect a large group of bunkers constructed in the late 1990s.

They discovered 11 empty 122 mm chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation.

The warheads were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s. The spokesman said the team used portable X-ray equipment to analyze one of the warheads and collected samples for chemical testing.

Diplomats at the United Nations took a cautious stance on the finding.
Now, let's not turn this into another "uranium on the border" debacle; while the warheads are interesting, both U.S. and U.N. officials are not calling this the smoking gun, and nor should they.

The Iraqis were dismissive:

Hossam Amin, head of Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate, dismissed any allegation that the find is significant, calling the material "forgotten."

"It is neither chemical, neither biological," Amin said. "It is empty warheads. It is small artillery rockets. It is expired rockets. They were forgotten without any intention to use them, because they were expired since 10 years ago."

He added that "this type of rockets were declared in 1996 and again in the new declaration."
Personally, this smells of spin control; I'm pretty sure that the Iraqis might be right in it being forgotten, but it's an embarassment either way, and yet another possible excuse that the United States might glom onto when and if it decides to invade Iraq.

Actually, in some respects, this information is somewhat good news. Not because it's a justification for invasion (it isn't), but because it shows that the inspectors can indeed find the sorts of things they're looking for, should it happen to be present. One of the key criticisms of the whole inspection process from the "invade now and ask questions later" brigade is that the inspectors are (apparently) too weak, powerless, and dimwitted to find anything the Iraqis don't want them to find. This little embarassment of the Iraqis shows that that is hardly the case. As someone who would prefer a successful inspection regime to a preemptive (and, in light of North Korea, somewhat opportunistic) invasion, I'm actually somewhat pleased.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Well, so much for the public domain. If Disney can legally extend their copyright retroactively now, they can in perpetuity; and if they can, then anybody else with cash can. Personally, my views on this echo the dissenting opinions of Stevens and Breyer:

Stevens accused the majority of "failing to protect the public interest in free access to the products of inventive and artistic genius."

He said the court abdicated to Congress "its principal responsibility in this area of the law."

Breyer said the law will restrict dissemination of copyright works in traditional forms and in new technology.

"It threatens to interfere with efforts to preserve our nation's historical and cultural heritage and efforts to use that heritage, say, to educate our nation's children," he said.

Breyer said the law benefits the private financial interests of corporations or heirs who own copyrights, but not the public.
What'll be really interesting is when this sort of thing starts smacking up against the reality of other countries not sharing the American interest in copyrights extending into perpetuity. Considering that the DeCSS kid is free and the Internet is only becoming more and more international rather than America-centric, I wonder whether or not the next faultline between states will be IP laws. Most will no doubt fall into line with the U.S., of course. Still, what happens if (and when) states that are interested in asserting their independence from the U.S. and its abdication of its responsibility to the public domain and the rights of information consumers decide to do things differently?

I mean it's not like the U.S. can go crying to the U.N. over something like this, and while the American market is important, it's probably not going to retain the absolute importance that it has right now; and Americans aren't going to want to have to deal with the repercussions of trade wars with countries whose products they desire, either, especially if the trade war is at the behest of, say, Disney and AOL/Time Warner. It seems a little far fetched right now to think that the conflict between the desires of American corporations and foreign states could become a serious issue, but it's another possible issue across which the U.S. and its foreign allies (and competitors) could become even more alienated.
The Kolkata Libertarian demonstrates an odd disconnection with Democracy regarding the commuting of 167 death row sentences:

I find it disgusting that one man... one man saw fit to overturn the decisions of hundreds of jurors, judges and cavalierly dismissed the hard work of an equal number of state prosecutors and their staff. What gets my goat is that this is such an unprecedented undermining of the legal process in this state. Yes, the death penalty system is flawed. No human endeavor ever is free from it. It is possible that the death penalty might not even be an effective deterrent to crime. The time to shelve it may have come. But this requires reasoned debate, not unilateral grandstanding. The debate over balancing the rights and the wrongs of the current system cannot be held hostage by a man who is himself stepping down from public service in a cloud of shame, scandal and corruption. What little moral authority he ever had has long since been squandered. Was he seriously hoping to regain some of it in the public eye? Perhaps..!
"One man"? Erm, One man and all the people who happened to vote for him. Not to mention that this entire notion that it "undermines the legal system" is nonsense; if the governer's actions were constitutional (which they undoubtedly were) then he was absolutely legally authorized to commute whatever sentences he wished, just as Bush (and Clinton, and Bush, and Reagan before him) were utterly legally authorized in pardoning whomever they wished by the system and the voters that decided to give those people the powers that the system allows them.

On the contrary, I think history will judge him as a scoundrel who has dealt a severe blow to the credibility of the legal system, and as a monster who took away the sad but only justice the families of the victims of these 167 murderers will ever have.
Aside from the nonsensical idea that this has any effect on the legal system that the legal system did not bring upon itself, the second part of this is deeply disturbing. Each and every one of those families got justice when the murderers (although nowadays, one is almost tempted to say "suspected murderers") were put behind bars. To assert that the only possible avenue of justice is the cold-blooded ending of life by the state is, in my opinion, more monstrous to contemplate than any number of commuted sentences. The business of the state is not blood feud.

Update: Digby weighs in.
Ah, it's so good to have Media Whores Online back, especially with great little entries like this:

Democracies and Orwellian Dictatorships
Have you noticed... Whatever you think of the issues in Israel, the country is far more in a state of war than the US... Yet the Israeli media don't seem to feel that Sharon must be treated with kid gloves, and it's considered OK for Labor to run ads comparing Sharon to a godfather?

Only in the US, where the war is phony, is criticism of our leader considered unpatriotic.
Actually, the difference of opinion about mideast issues between Americans and Israelis is very revealing, but MWO brings up a good point... why on earth would a nation under siege like Israel be more critical than the United States? Personally, I think it's the difference between a President and a Prime Minister; the first is both a political and symbolic position, whereas the latter is purely political. It's much (edit:this is what I get for posting at four A.M.)easier to brutally criticize a politician (whose job it is to be criticized) as opposed to the Man Who Symbolizes a People, where criticism of the President is tantamount to criticism of the people. It's a serious problem with American-style presidencies, one of the reasons why I'm not a huge fan of the system.

(Not that the Knesset doesn't have problems of its own, of course. It does. Truckloads. Just not this one.)

Then again, considering that a blatant political attack that was masquerading as an address to the nation was blacked out as inappropriate on Israeli TV when such things pass for information nowadays in the United States, the problem might go a little deeper than the symbolism of the role of the presidency. No surprise: trying to find single answers is a dificult and usually useless process. Problems often have a complex genesis.

Anyway, a request for MWO: now that you're back and that MWO is really recognizably a blog-format site, could you see fit to add permalinks to stories? It's a convenience that is sorely missed.
Atrios was impressed enough by David Neiwart's comments about Japanese internment in one of his comments threads to repost it on the site itself. That's one of the things I like about Eschaton: Atrios is willing to give the spotlight up to people who make a good point. The stuff about the fallacy of Japanese saboteurs during WWII is a must-read, but what especially caught my eye was this:

Paul Bird:
I agree that this is an area of concern, but I don't think it is necessarily intrinsically abusive provided that the threshold for what constitutes an enemy combatant remains high.

Actually, the courts have specifically deferred to the power of the executive branch to proceed just as it has. And the standards for what will determine who is an “enemy combatant” are being determined by the White House. Here is what Solicitor General Ted Olson told the Washington Post would comprise those standards:
"There won't be 10 rules that trigger this or 10 rules that end this. There will be judgments and instincts and evaluations and implementations that have to be made by the executive that are probably going to be different from day to day, depending on the circumstances."

I don’t know about you, but I am far from comforted.

Can you tell me for certain that this executive will not one day decide that antiwar protesters -- deemed “traitors” already in the popular press -- are worthy of the title “enemy combatants”?

If you can, then you have more confidence in him than I.

More to the point, I do not believe any president, regardless of party or skill, should be able either to wield such powers, nor should he be able to delegate them to as unaccountable an entity as the military.
The problem isn't that Bush himself will subvert this, but that since this power has been arrogated by the entire executive branch it opens itself up to abuse by the entire executive branch. Since that branch includes (among other things) the entirely partisan Department of Homeland Defense, the possibility (if not probability) arises that these sorts of decisions will be made not just without the people knowing, but without the senior administration knowing as well.

It's not even a comfort to say that "this will only last as long as the War on Terrorism". There's absolutely no indication that said war will end anytime soon, and it's quite likely that (like the Wars on Drugs and Poverty) it will be a neverending battle against something that never quite goes away, granting enormous power to the executive branch in perpetuity. Sure it might not be abused now when the hyperbole is thick and fast, but are people going to pay as much attention four, five, eight years from now? When they've become used to it? When it's become "just one of those things"?

I Remember that the biggest concern of many Russians during the reactionary coup of August 1991 was that despite the clear illegality of the action, the coup plotters might be able to get away with it, and after a few weeks or months the people might just "get used to it" and learn to live with it. They didn't, largely because of Boris Yeltsin's brave stand and the willingness of ordinary Muscovites to put their lives on the line and say "no". They did this despite Russia at the time being in a state of uncertainty and chaos that dwarfs anything the United States has faced since the civil war; to claim that the United States' security concerns nowadays even begin to match those of the disintegrating and impoverished Soviet Union is sheer lunacy. Is there anybody in Washington who would be willing to do the equivalent of climbing on top of a tank and declare the illegitimacy of these sorts of actions? Someone who could speak their piece without paying attention to the self-serving and vaguely authoritarian pronouncements about "national security" and "executive flexibility" that extend from movement conservatives who have nothing to lose, and everything to gain? Someone who could assert their loyalty both to the United States and the principles that are (at least theoretically) supposed to underpin its exceptionality?

For that matter, how sad is it that people even have to be reminded?

In any case, by all means check out Atrios' full quotation, and remember that when Franklin was talking about the pitfalls of exchanging security for freedom, he wasn't merely latching on to the right's beloved Second Amendment, and remember that rights that are reserved solely for "desirables" are, by definition, not the self-evident truths that the United States was supposedly built upon. A while back I lamented that it seemed that the commitment to freedom that supposedly made the U.S. different seemed to be conditional on the absolute territorial security that luck of geography has granted the U.S... but if those rights are merely luxuries that the geographically blessed enjoy, then why on earth should anyone not so blessed pay attention to the "shining beacon of freedom"?

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I'm not quite sure whether the news that the recording industry and technology companies have agreed to avoid legislation imposing anti-piracy technology is a good thing or a bad thing for users. While it's reassuring to find out that technology isn't going to be hampered by onerous (and ultimately futile) attempts to control copying of digital media, I somehow doubt that the RIAA is going to shrug and say "oh well". The upcoming lawsuit against the people who operate the Kazaa network shows that the route they take may be legal one, rather than a techological one, and in some respects it might be worse: the chilling effects of the possibility of lawsuits can and probably will have an even worse effect on software (and hardware) creators, as it's quite likely that they'll overreact and self-censor out of the fear of legal action. Technological controls can be worked around, after all, but there's no "workaround" for software and hardware that is never developed due to abject fear.

There's also the problem of the MPAA, which is quite willing to lobby for imposed technological controls. There's a distinct possibility that both chills on innovation (thanks to the RIAA) and technological hampering of user's rights (thanks to the MPAA) will work together to ensure that people might as well be renting or borrowing the DVDs, music, and software that they supposedly own. This won't stop the hard-core pirates, of course, but it could be a huge problem fro the rest of us.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Well, this is new.

Jesus 'healed using cannabis'

Jesus was almost certainly a cannabis user and an early proponent of the medicinal properties of the drug, according to a study of scriptural texts published this month. The study suggests that Jesus and his disciples used the drug to carry out miraculous healings.

The anointing oil used by Jesus and his disciples contained an ingredient called kaneh-bosem which has since been identified as cannabis extract, according to an article by Chris Bennett in the drugs magazine, High Times, entitled Was Jesus a Stoner? The incense used by Jesus in ceremonies also contained a cannabis extract, suggests Mr Bennett, who quotes scholars to back his claims.

"There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion," Carl Ruck, professor of classical mythology at Boston University said.

Referring to the existence of cannabis in anointing oils used in ceremonies, he added: "Obviously the easy availability and long-established tradition of cannabis in early Judaism... would inevitably have included it in the [Christian] mixtures."

Mr Bennett suggests those anointed with the oils used by Jesus were "literally drenched in this potent mixture... Although most modern people choose to smoke or eat pot, when its active ingredients are transferred into an oil-based carrier, it can also be absorbed through the skin".

Quoting the New Testament, Mr Bennett argues that Jesus anointed his disciples with the oil and encouraged them to do the same with other followers. This could have been responsible for healing eye and skin diseases referred to in the Gospels.

"If cannabis was one of the main ingredients of the ancient anointing oil... and receiving this oil is what made Jesus the Christ and his followers Christians, then persecuting those who use cannabis could be considered anti-Christ," Mr Bennett concludes.

Yeah, it's probably nonsense; High Times ain't exactly a refereed publication, and the Guardian doesn't mention these scholars or whether or not Bennett's article is the "study" they were mentioning. It's still amusing. If nothing else, it'd make for a great conversational topic.

(It could also serve as the basis for a really interesting and no doubt popular sect of Christianity, too, although the kind of intense fervor that usually characterizes the founders of religious sects and offshoots would seem to, well, be somewhat unlikely in this case.)

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

While I respect Kevin Drum enormously, I gotta take issue with this December post about Iraq and North Korea.

To the lefties: the fact that we are not attacking North Korea has no particular bearing on whether we should attack Iraq.

To the righties: there are no options for dealing with North Korea other than negotiation. Military action is not possible, unless you're thinking we should just unilaterally lob a nuke at Pyongyang.
I disagree with this for a very simple reason: Iraq and North Korea are actually alike in a lot of ways. Dislike in others, of course, but alike enough in their "morally dubious" leadership, rather large armies (at least in the past), poor treatment of their own people and past record of attacking other countries that they consider part of their own territory (S. Korea for one, Kuwait for the other), and both have bad records when it comes to honestly following disarmament agreements (although the Iraq situation is somewhat more complex than that) that they're closer than you'd think.

There's two questions here, though. First, are they close enough that a diplomatic solution for North Korea would work in Iraq? Aside from all the silly and self-serving spin coming from war backers about broken U.N. resolutions (since when have Republicans cared about the U.N.?), Iraq is about as trustworthy as North Korea is, so a diplomatic solution that would work in Pyongyang would, at least theoretically, work in Baghdad. So, I'd say yes.

The second question is a little rougher, and relates to that second bit that Kevin said, about "there are no options for dealing with North Korea other than negotiation". It raises the question: "if we can't invade North Korea, but can invade Iraq, then why use a diplomatic solution in Iraq when force is available?"

It's a legitimate question. Force is, of course, an option in Iraq: the United States can invade, kill Saddam, and install a new regime. It can be done. It likely will be done. It will have consequences, however, not all of which can be predicted; war's funny that way, and that's the chief reason why Clausewiczian attempts to reduce warfare to just another vehicle for policy are somewhat flawed. I've often said that if I had a magic wand to wave to remove Saddam, I would, but force is not that wand. It has unintentional consequences, and predictable side effects, both of which can be absolutely horrible. Force is (as Kosh would say) a triple edged sword, and just because it's available doesn't mean it should be used. The historical record would seem to imply that it is, in fact, something to be best avoided unless and until there is no other choice. The side effects are simply too great. Kevin said this himself: "Military action is always a last resort, partly for moral reasons and partly for practical ones."

This is where North Korea fits in, if North Korea and Iraq are indeed roughly similar. If a diplomatic solution is found in North Korea, then the choice in Iraq is between using a proven diplomatic solution to the problem of a dictatorial state pursuing nuclear weapons, or enacting an invasion whose side effects will be undoubtedly nasty and whose unintentional repercussions could be enormous. That choice is not one that should be made lightly, and not one that should be biased towards force. Diplomacy is not and should not be a choice made only when force is not available. War is not something to be desired for it's own sake, even if the entirety of the Bush administration's policy towards Iraq suggests otherwise. So my answer to that question is "it's not whether or not force is possible, but whether diplomacy is possible": if a diplomatic solution is possible, then it should be exercised, as warfare is a chaotic and unpredictable tool of last resort.

Of course, I could be wrong in my answers. Iraq might not be much like South Korea when it counts, and a diplomatic solution might not be possible for the one where it is for the other. The question of the U.N. resolutions is immaterial for this, as Saddam is in a different position than he was before, and in regards to the current and most relevant U.N. resolution on Iraq the Iraqis have been pretty complicit. The diplomatic solution in question might be simply unsuitable for the other as well, although I can't easily see why. To say that North Korea doesn't matter for the question of whether or not to invade Iraq, however, is entirely foolish, and I'm surprised that Kevin would think so. If an invasion can be avoided diplomatically, then it should be, and if the opportunity exists, it should be explored. North Korea is that opportunity, and no invasion of Iraq should take place unless and until it's proven that the diplomatic solution for the one is inapplicable to the other.

(This link came, BTW, from Paul Bruno, within the context of a discussion of the similarities and differences between Iraq and North Korea.)
The Horse Is Back!

(And I got a blogroll link from it! Thanks, MWO!)
You have got to be kidding me.

U.S. citizens overseas who take up arms against their country can be held as enemy combatants without the constitutional rights afforded other Americans, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond., Va., affirms the government's authority to detain indefinitely American citizens captured in foreign battles or those who participate in terrorist attacks against U.S. interests...

...Courts, the judges ruled, must be ``highly deferential'' to the government during wartime, even an unconventional war such as that against global terrorism. Hamdi, they added, is being held under ``well-established laws and customs of war.''
What exactly are these people saying? Civil rights are important only up to the point where they might actually be inconvenient? Since when has rights that are (at least theoretically) above and beyond the privilege of governmental action something that courts should be "highly deferential" about? The point of the whole thing is not that rights should be defended when it's easy, simple, and in line with the goals of the government, but that they should be defended even when... no, especially when it's a hassle that they'd rather not have to deal with.

One of the "unconventional" aspects of the War on Terror is that it's going to last an awfully long time. No matter what you think of it, that much is inescapable; whether it's the kind of shadow war that some envision or the country-by-country conquest/liberation/whatever that hawks are calling for. It may be a war that, like the war on drugs or poverty or whatever, becomes something that never quite stops; although it rises and ebbs like a river, it will become a permanent part of the landscape. However long it lasts the country is going to be (as defined here) "in a time of war". These judges, therefore, have just given the present administration-- and God knows how many future administrations-- carte blanche to do whatever they wish to whomever they wish, as long as they are classified as an "enemy combatant", a term that in itself defined solely (and inconsistently) by the American government.

And how does the point man on this issue respond?

Attorney General John Ashcroft applauded the decision, calling it ``an important victory for the president's ability to protect the American people in times of war."
Whee. So here we have Ashcroft setting the stage for the conflict between "the people" and it's own citizens. Well, let's be honest here; when he means "the people", he doesn't actually mean the individual citizens that make up the American public, because it's their rights that are being abrogated here; there is no "ein volk" to be set against the individual in a liberal democracy like the United States. He means, of course, the administration he belongs to: one fueled by a powerful spin machine, a quiescent and cowed media, an opposition party too scared and divided to serve as an effective opposition, a war that can be (and is) endlessly exploited and redefined to suit the administration's purposes, a new (and enormous) internal security department that is entirely (and deliberately) to be staffed by the White House's political appointees, demonstrated willingness to round up people under false pretenses (or at least set in motion the events that make the roundup happen), a total willingness to use all of this for political purposes, and now the apparent right to arrest, try, and presumably punish people secretly as "enemy combatants".

The appeals court in Richmond, Va., agreed that the case raises serious questions about the rights of citizens but concluded that, in wartime, the government's authority is supreme in deciding who may be held indefinitely.
Meaning, of course, that John Ashcroft, Richard Cheney, George W. Bush and Karl Rove's authority is supreme. Also meaning that these judges appear to not have the faintest clue what the hell is meant by "government", as they happen to be a part of it... but never mind. The point is clear, and I have little doubt that this will be extended to American citizens on American soil.

By the way... for those who will inevitably snipe that "your civil rights haven't been hurt yet, and neither have mine, so why are you up in arms over this?" I have a simple quote:

"First they took the communists away...."

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Sigh. I knew this would happen.

Just to clear things up:

This guy? Steve Schwartz? He ain't me. Nor, for that matter, is this guy. (Although the latter did get a valued place on Instapundit's blogroll, so he's one up on yours truly when it comes to that "steps from Sullivan" ranking thing.)

Still, just wanted to clear things up. I haven't switched away from Blogspot yet. Tempted, sure, but not yet.

The first Demosthenes has a good piece on Japan, BTW, dealing with the possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan. Personally I consider it much less likely than he does; one of the few things that Tom Clancy got right in Debt of Honor was the absolute abhorrence with which the Japanese view nuclear weapons. A push by Bush to nuclearize Japan would crystallize Japanese public opinion against the United States. It could still therefore lead to a renewed Japanese interest in arming itself, of course, but I doubt that the Bush administration wants an armed and hostile Japan.
Via Digby, a rather boneheaded statement by Howie Kurtz:

With close to zero foreign policy experience, the senator faces a certain credibility threshold in an age of terrorism. But so do some of the other candidates. Why do you think Joe Lieberman recently jetted off to the Middle East?

Yes, Dubya won the White House with similar inexperience on the international front, although people figured he had Poppy and Colin and Condi to guide him. But terrorism wasn't much of an issue in '00; now it's arguably the dominant issue.
Ah, once again Howie starts dodging his media beat and starts playing the Bush spin doctor. Not only does it attack Edwards for not having the same experience that Dubya doesn't have, but in trying to weasel out of that obvious problem Howie forgets one of the fundamental talking points of the right: that a president can learn foreign policy on his feet when need be. If Bush did it, Edwards can do it: despite the party's inability to demonstrate a coherent alternative view of foreign policy, there are lots of people within the Democratic party that can serve as mandarins for Edwards until he gets up to speed. The guy's bright; it won't take long.

Of course, Howie doesn't get into that. Indeed, barely any of the article that deals with Edwards actually implies that Edwards isn't sinking like the Titanic. Every quoted source was critical of the Senator. Does anybody actually think that Howie wouldn't have added at least a few Republican mouthpieces were the situation reversed? Saletan wasn't even remotely comperable; comparing Edwards to Clinton, especially in terms of liabilities, isn't doing Edwards a huge favor.

Oh, and he (vicariously) resurrects the hoary old "liberal media" meme in response to the idea of having clearly liberal media sources. The original piece is by Dan Kennedy, of course, but he quotes it verbatim:

Sorry, but it's not going to work. Conservatives might enjoy absorbing talking points from the Republican National Committee, but that's not how it happens with liberals. As I've argued before, there are liberal media – most of the mainstream media are liberal, as conservatives have long contended – but they work differently from the conservative media. Telling liberals what to think is like herding cats.

"The cutting edge of the liberal media are the Times itself and National Public Radio, the size of whose audience rivals Limbaugh's 20 million weekly listeners. The network newscasts, which can reach a combined total of 30 million viewers a night depending on what's going on in the news, are another outpost.

"But the mainstream media, though overwhelmingly liberal on cultural issues such as gay rights and reproductive choice, are moderate to conservative on economics and trade issues. Elite liberal opinion is as contemptuous of organized labor, for instance, as elite conservative opinion is. And the Times has been virtually alone in raising serious questions about the Bush administration's aggressive policy toward Iraq.

"The difference between the large, amorphous liberal media and the relatively small but cohesive conservative media is that the latter are ideologically in tune with the Republican Party and loyal to its candidates. The liberal media aren't going to take their marching orders from the Democratic National Committee. Even if they did, their audience would tune out."
Howie's only response? "At lightning speed". Not much to say about this, really, because it's mostly just resurrecting old gambits (like the "media is socially liberal and fiscally conservative", ignoring any connection between the two; or implying that the New York Times and NPR is as liberally biased as Rush Limbaugh is conservative, which is ludicrous and contradicted by Kennedy's earlier, better, and entirely-ignored-by-Howie work on the subject).

The only relatively new ideas here are that liberals can't work together and that people wouldn't watch openly liberal media, and on that Kennedy is going an awfully long way on some very slender evidence. It's a chicken-and-egg problem... is there no coordination between liberal groups because that's intrinsic to liberalism and/or leftism, or because it simply hasn't existed up until this point and liberals as a whole haven't recognized that it's necessary? It doesn't have to be and shouldn't be "talking points", necessarily, just a common message. There's room for flexibility.

Indeed, the contradiction between the "large, amorphous liberal media" and the "relatively small but cohesive conservative media" that he uses to justify it is based on his own definition of "liberal media", when the entire point is to back away from the mainstream media and create something else. He mistakes the quasi-semi-demi-liberal media as it (supposedly) exists now with the honestly liberal media that is the entire point of this discussion. The former wouldn't coordinate, because it desires the sort of balance that simply isn't an issue in the conservative media. The latter can coordinate, because it would be advocting a position, just as the conservatives are; the idea is simply to be less tendentious and more honest about it. They aren't the same thing, and trying to rely on the New York Times and NPR to advocate liberal ideas is what got American liberalism into the fix it's in in the first place.

Friday, January 03, 2003

From Atrios:

Interview with liberal radio host Randi Rhodes.

RHODES: Oh, I am so glad you asked. I am a ratings and revenue queen. Number 1 or 2 in the ratings usually. So what are the "mainstream" talking about? Well, they say Liberals don't make money because no one wants to hear them. Okay, let's think.

BUZZFLASH: Explain the allegations that Rush Limbaugh has stated, that if Clear Channel syndicated your show, he would take his program to another company. Could there be a Democratic or Progressive Rush Limbaugh type personality on the airwaves?

RHODES: Not at Clear Channel.

First, let me tell you where the story came from. I had two meetings with middle managers who both liked me and what I had done for our 'pod'. (At Clear Channel the territories are split up into 'pods'.) In two separate meetings I was told "The Rush story." Additionally, I should never expect to be syndicated by Clear Channel because Rush had said he'd just do what advertisers do. He'd go somewhere else. I was an unknown, he was a known.
Another oft-repeated conservative meme reputed by someone who'd know. It's not surprising, though; there's a marked tendency among a lot of "free-market advocates" to try to defend actions by companies in an imperfect market using arguments that would only work in a perfect one. Radio is an imperfect market because of the limited number of wavelengths available and the relative permanence of ownership of those wavelengths, and it lends itself well to concentration. Thus you get kingmaking groups like Clear Channel.

(The way to get around this, of course, is to make talk radio obsolete. Great idea, but it ain't gonna happen anytime soon. Digital radio isn't that popular.)

Hehe. I just saw the Two Towers a little while ago, so I can finally understandInstapundit's quotation of Sarah B.:
SOMEBODY IS INTO THE TWO TOWERS -- and especially Orlando Bloom as Legolas -- just a little bit too much:

On Friday night we saw The Two Towers, and when Legolas swung himself backwards onto that moving horse, I think I got pregnant.
Are you kidding, Glenn? You need to check out a few more message boards. It isn't even a female thing: I think the entire male membership of the Southing Awful forum has declared itself "gay for Legolas". Including the ones who hate Jackson's take on Faramir.

(For the record, I loved the movie, and didn't care one whit about the departations from Tolkien. Only thing I wish it had was more Ents, and I'm hoping the special edition will take care of that.)

Thursday, January 02, 2003

While I don't have any specific links for this, I've noticed something going on throughout the conservative blogosphere that is making me ask the question:

When is it, precisely, that people decided that Osama was dead despite the audio tape supposedly proving that he's alive? Did I miss something, or do old memes just die hard?
Hrm... it would appear that there has been another response to Marshall's piece, this time from PejmanPundit. Like Oxblog, he has some points, but they don't seem to really point where he thinks they do:

(I hate point-by-point, and don't call this a "fisking", but it seems appropriate:)

Josh Marshall believes that the recent elections of Gerhard Schroeder in Germany and the win of President-elect Roh in South Korea mean that "hostile reactions to America's newly strident and confrontational stance in the world are becoming an important force in world politics and an important force in the domestic politics of many of our allies."

This analysis is as old as dirt, and has been repeated in one form or another virtually since the Bush Administration came into office. And it is all wet.
Here we have the first problem; the security situation in the United States was very different before and after 9/11 in terms of the actions and perception of the Bush administration. They're 180 degrees from each other, except on the issues like Star Wars where old policy goals are being retrofitted for the War on Terror (or Whatever). Pejman is therefore saying that the world reaction to the United States has gone along with it both before and after these changes, despite several (like prioritization of terrorism) being practically opposite. Nor, for that matter, does he address the pre-9/11 situation; the post is entirely based on current events. So even if it's all wet now, it may not have been. Pejman overreached.

Marshall, of course, fails completely to point out that Schroeder's government is one of the most unpopular in German history, that it trails the Christian Democrats in polls by as much as 22 points in the polls, and that the serial promise-breaking Gerhard Schroeder has engaged in after the election has made him a national joke, and has made Germans who voted for Schroeder feel angry and betrayed. Just out of curiosity, if the election of Schroeder is an indictment of "America's newly strident and confrontational stance in the world," is Schroeder's sudden unpopularity a vindication of the American stance?
As I'm not as familiar with German politics as some, I don't know whether or not the failure of Schroeder's party after the election has anything to do with anti-Americanism or not. Unfortunately, judging by this response, neither does Pejman. In actuality, though, it might prove the very argument that Pejman seeks to disprove: that anti-Americanism saved the election for Schroeder. It's quite probable that anti-Americanism is at a low buzz right now thanks to the handoff to the U.N., and the Schroeder government is, of course, in power right now, so it has little need to antagonize the Americans and every reason to work with them. Without that anti-Americanism, the polls might have dropped, as people focus more on Schroeder's government itself and its failings. Unfortunately, then, Pejman's paragraph means nothing; it could mean that anti-Americanism is unimportant, or that it's critical. It's a washout.

As for Roh's election, Marshall refuses to consider the possibility that America's supposed unpopularity in the Korean peninsula may have more to do with the fact that South Koreans who personally remember America's assistance of their country during the Korean War are dying, and that the younger generation, which obviously has no personal memory of the assistance rendered by America to South Korea, is now the major decision-making force in South Korean politics. Additionally, Marshall fails to consider the fact that the reason Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy keeps getting a new lease on life (its newest lease being granted by Roh's election) is that South Koreans, being bonded by blood and family to the North, desperately want to have some form of rapprochement with the North. This sentiment may very well have helped elect Roh no matter who the American President, and no matter what the American policy on the global stage is.
I'm personally suspicious of "Demographics are Destiny" arguments such as these; there's a reason history books exist, and the example of Americans that are still quite bitter over the civil war despite it being ages gone implies that this process of historical amnesia is a much less compelling idea than it would seem. Indeed, Pejman fails to address the obvious fact that the war never ended, which would be as much a spur to rememberance if anything could be.

Pejman is closer when he mentions the desire of "rapprochement with the North", but fails to extend it to its logical foreign policy conclusion: that when this desire conflicts with American policy and rhetoric, it can fan the flames of anti-Americanism. It's not like this is a new thing, after all; rather a lot of anti-Americanism around the world (and even in the Americas) arises when the United States' foreign policy conflicts with the interests and desires of the citizenry of the country in question.

Pejman also engages in a "takedown" that doesn't work in-and-of itself:

And of course, Marshall doesn't allow the facts to get in the way of his invective. He offers us the following appealing scenario:

Think how much time and diplomatic capital might have been saved if the White House had figured out three, or six, or even nine months earlier that it's guns-blazing-screw-the-UN policy toward regime change just wouldn't work.

Well, the White House didn't take a "guns-blazing-screw-the-UN policy toward regime change" towards regime change. Instead, and rather cleverly, the White House helped create the diplomatic conditions that made a unanimous Security Council vote in favor of a new UN resolution on Iraq possible. And of course, it is entirely typical that this triumph receives no mention whatsoever. When the Bush Administration acts in a unilateral manner, it is bad. When it acts in a multilateral manner, it is ignored.
There's a timing mixup here; Josh was obviously talking about the summer when the Bush administration was arguing that it can and will invade Iraq unilaterally if it chooses, whereas Pejman is talking about the here-and-now, completely missing the point. The only way this can be resolved is if Pejman is actually arguing the "the Bush administration was playing everybody all along" argument, which is possible, but contradicted by Marshall's own work in Washington Monthly showing that the Bush administration is not nearly as skilled and Machiavellian as it and it's supporters like to portray it as. Other media sources (Time articles and the like) point to Marshall's conclusion being the accurate one: that the Bush administration burned a lot of political capital and diplomatic bridges with its rhetoric before it realized that the U.N. needs to be involved, and that unilateral invasion is something that is best avoided. That is, of course, what the multilateralists had been saying all along.

Besides, has everybody forgotten that Bush actually (and embarassingly) had to redefine the phrase "regime change" in order to acknowledge the possibility that Iraq might be as good as its word?

As for that "Bush just gets pissed on all the time" bit... please. That would be true if he were entirely and sincerely multilateral when it comes to Iraq, but that just ain't the case. The administration has been waffling back and forth between arrogating the right to decide when a U.N. resolution has been violated and saying that they'll listen to the Council on this. It has called Iraq "in material breach" dozens of times, despite those proclamations often involving issues (such as the no-fly zone) that have absolutely nothing to do with WMDs and that are only peripheral to the U.N. resolutions involving Iraq. The rhetoric of both the left and right acknowledges that the U.S. is probably going to go to war with Iraq no matter what, which makes the U.N. inspections a cheap charade. Why on earth shouldn't people criticize Bush for that? Faux-multilateralism is not multilateralism, no matter how convenient it is for the Republicans and their fellow travellers.

I really don't expect this meme to change anytime soon. After all, why should it when it fools at least some of the people some of the time (contrary to the old aphorism, this is a cynically effective political tactic)? But so much of the meme is wrong, and so much of it fails to stand up to the facts. One would expect those facts to at least get some hearing by left-of-center pundits like Josh Marshall. Then again, intellectual honesty must seem supremely boring when compared to the opportunity for cheap, rip-roaring partisanship.
Nah. Too easy.