Tuesday, September 30, 2003

As the Plame story grows (something I wasn't expecting a week ago), the right-wing defense appears to be coalescing as well, lurching between "She and Wilson deserved it" and blaming it on Clinton.

Another long-lasting defense, though, is that it was actually the CIA that was responsible, and predictably enough, we've got Donald Luskin haplessly attempting to defend El Presidente.

Allen and Priest write,

"When Novak told a CIA spokesman he was going to write a column about Wilson's wife, the spokesman urged him not to print her name "for security reasons," according to one CIA official. Intelligence officials said they believed Novak understood there were reasons other than Plame's personal security not to use her name, even though the CIA has declined to confirm whether she was undercover.

"Novak said in an interview last night that the request came at the end of a conversation about Wilson's trip to Niger and his wife's role in it. 'They said it's doubtful she'll ever again have a foreign assignment,' he said. 'They said if her name was printed, it might be difficult if she was traveling abroad, and they said they would prefer I didn't use her name. It was a very weak request. If it was put on a stronger basis, I would have considered it.'"

This means that, effectively, the CIA itself participated in leaking Plame's identity. Think about the sequence of events. Novak talks to administration officials who tell him about Plame. He has the integrity to call someone at CIA to confirm his risky story before he runs with it -- and they confirmed it! Instead of saying "Valerie who? We've never heard of anyone named Valerie" or simply that "We don't answer media inquiries about CIA personnel" -- the CIA itself confirmed it, and in so doing the CIA itself leaked it.
Once again, Luskin doesn't get it. Novak got the information from the Administration, and called the CIA to confirm it. The CIA says "don't print this name, it'll create problems" to Novak, but he just takes it as confirmation and publishes it anyway.

To Luskin, that's complicitness, but Luskin (predictably) doesn't understand what the CIA guy did: that the information would have been out anyway. The "confirmation" was solely in an attempt to dissuade Novak from printing the name. It wasn't treason, it was damage control: not political (as Luskin and his ilk are attempting) but an attempt to prevent a grave injustice from taking place for partisan ends. They couldn't say "we don't know anybody by that name", because Novak would have taken it as CIA caginess and ran the story anyway.

I know that Tom Maguire and others have been flogging this "CIA leaked it" argument for months now, but in the wake of the Allan story, it's time to let it go. We know the administration did it, we know that she was working covertly (being an analyst has nothing to do with that, and Dsquared aptly described why she MUST HAVE BEEN COVERT, which Luskin screws up as well), and we know that the CIA is ticked about it, as the Allan source was almost certainly Tenet.

Oh, and one more thing, Donald:

Finally, I note with particular distaste that Billmon sent me an email himself (herself? who knows... he/she doesn't have the courage or integrity to blog or email under his/her actual name), to which I responded. He/she posted my response on his/her blog without my permission. That's a no-no... a serious violation of the netiquette observed by all decent netizens, and a copyright violation to boot. I've written to Billmon insisting that my comments be removed. We'll see. I'm not expecting much from him/her.
Hey, Donald? You know jack about copyright. If he's responding to the comments and credits them properly, it's fair use. Whether you sent them as an email or not has nothing to do with copyright, as whether or not they're publicly available has nothing to do with whether you have a copyright. The question of whether or not it's acceptable to publish emails is up in the air (I caught some hell for doing it and gave hell to Steven Den Beste for doing the same, so I've been on both sides), but as far as copyright, he's in the clear.

(If he isn't, then blogging's illegal. As Billmon aptly said: "See ya in court, asshole". )

Monday, September 29, 2003

I had another thought after reading the transcript of the media scrum on talking points memo. The questioning was relatively harsh, but was still questioning... the reporters weren't calling "bull" on McClellan, and they still have to worry about whether or not they'll lose access and how they're going to frame this as a story. Most importantly, though, Bush isn't going to be directly questioned about any of this... there's no way he'd call a press conference.

It was reading that transcript that I just realized how important and necessary the concept of an official opposition is, and have a renewed appreciation of the Westminster parliamentary system.

Were this to happen in Canada or the U.K. (or any number of other parliamentary systems), Bush would be right there, out in front of the opposition, who aren't only asking questions but making the accusation... and he'd be forced to answer them. Yes, he'd probably resort to a party line, too, but watching Blair and the Conservatives during the post-war intelligence fracas shows just how different the situation is. Bush would be under fire all day, every day, and have to respond to the accusations personally... and if he flubbed up, it'd be all over the national media.

Instead, he cowers behind McClellan and his advisors, and is not only allowed to do so but practically encouraged to do so.

Sad, really.
By the by... wondering why I hadn't commented on this issue when I was chasing it the first time around?

Same reason as usual... computer problems. Power supply is making a noise only slightly less irksome than an angry and frightened cat. Yes, the same one I replaced last year around this time.

(At this point, I'm starting to think I can predict political bombshells by simply turning on my computer.)
The Plame issue has flared up again; Atrios suggests that going to the phone records might be the answer, and Calpundit has been doing a series of pieces on the issue tied together by one common theme: He's really, really, really ticked.

Meanwhile, Instapundit appears to be engaged in a desperate rear-guard defense of the administration, first complaining that the issue is "too complicated to understand", then calling it "farfetched", then quoting a piece by Jane Galt that tries to minimize the damage by comparing this to the witchhunt surrounding Clinton and attempting to pin it on irrational "Bush haters", Krauthammer style.

Personally, this doesn't smell like Lewinsky to me. It smells like Watergate; thanks to Bush's dwindling approval ratings, it may just end up that way, too. After all, a year ago Republicans who wanted to dump Bush would be slitting their own electoral throats. Now, it may be seppuku not to.

Edit: Dsquared wrote an excellent little reasoning set on this over in the comments thread for Galt's post:

Surely simple analysis of the meanings of the words involved can clear up the question of "was she an undercover agent?"

There are only two ways to not be an undercover CIA agent:

1) Not being a CIA agent
2) Not being undercover

If 1) were true, there would be no issue here, but it certainly looks like she was.

Since there is doubt about 1), 2) cannot be true.
A few of Galt's commentators were trying to say "it doesn't matter if she was outed, because she probably worked behind a desk". Even if she did, though, the question of whether someone is covert or not depends on whether their work is secret, not on what that work consists of.

And for the record: those that argue that this is remotely comparable to hiding oral sex are either deliberately disingenuous or are roving re-election squaddies.

Friday, September 26, 2003

This is the most bizarre sentence I've read today, courtesy of the president of the direct marketing association (apparently, against all laws of nature and logic, slime has a king after all):

"We don't think the government should have a role in regulating the kind of advertising activity that goes on."

That's great. Just hold that thought as I start selling cigarettes and liquor to preschoolers using porn clips that feature copious anal fisting and watersports. It'd still be more virtuous than what you're peddling.

I'm not participating in "talk like Bill O'Reilley day", but more power to 'em.
According to Joshua Micah Marshall, it looks like a Bush crony is helping people cash in on the war.

Here's the company's new blurb from their website ...

New Bridge Strategies, LLC is a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Its activities will seek to expedite the creation of free and fair markets and new economic growth in Iraq, consistent with the policies of the Bush Administration. The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in Washington, D.C. and on the ground in Iraq.

A 'unique company'? You could say that. Who's the Chairman and Director of New Bridge? That would be Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's longtime right-hand-man and until about six months ago his head of FEMA. Before that of course he was the president's chief of staff when he was governor of Texas and campaign manager for Bush-Cheney 2000.
Allbaugh was part of the president's so-called 'Iron Triangle' -- the other two being Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. And now Allbaugh's running an outfit that helps your company get the sweetest contracts in Iraq? That sound right to you? Think he'll have any special pull?

Visit the site to see their "interactive map of Iraq [which] will show areas of opportunity in the post-war rebuilding effort for specific industries."
One interesting tidbit that Josh didn't mention is that the website sez "New Bridge Strategies maintains a physical presence with staff on the ground in Beirut, Damascus, Geneva, Houston and Washington, D.C., and it has plans to expand into Iraq as soon as is possible." Does that sound to you like they're going to be calling the shots as to who runs Iraq, and how? Considering they'll be the gatekeeper for the corporations that are no doubt going to turn Iraq into the next Russia?

Maybe Bush's defenders are right. Maybe the defense department isn't going to run Iraq. They don't need to. "New Bridge Strategies" is going to do it for them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Ok, I can't give you a link because I didn't get this tidbit online, but can anybody suss out exactly when the (awfully convenient) rumor started that Yasser Arafat is, well, a big pedophile?

The only name I'm getting is one "Ion Mihai Pacepa", who was apparently a Romanian defector from Ceausescu's time. I find Pacepa's credibility pretty weak, considering he's a) a defector pumping up his own influence and b) a subscriber of the Coulterian "the left are all former Soviet plants" position, but maybe there's something else out there? Google searches turn up little on this guy other than excited references from people on your more rightist boards and a few NRO pieces with awesomely poor reasoning based on conveniently unverifiable information and extremely heavy guilt-by-association arguments. Other than that, no biographies, no information, no previous writings, nothing. All we get is "former Soviet bloc general".

Who is this guy?
Will Americans be once again able to enjoy properly-named French Fries?

No, but they're a little bit closer.

Germany had earned nearly as much enmity in the White House as had French President Jacques Chirac for stoutly opposing war with Iraq. But Mr. Schröeder has taken a lower profile on the matter since the war and seems now to be working to mend fences.

"We have had differences," Mr. Bush later said he had told Mr. Schröeder, "and they are over and were going to work together."

"We very much feel that the differences that have been, have been left behind and put aside for now," the German leader said. He added: "We have both agreed that we want to look into the future together, and so I would like to reiterate the point that Germany has a very strong — in fact a vested interest — in a very democratic Iraq."

Mr. Schröder said the two leaders did not confine their talks to international matters, but also talked about trade matters, saying the two countries' economies are "closely intertwined."
Despite the problems with Bush's "we did right, you did wrong, now come help us clean up" attitude, it looks like there will be common cause made on Iraq. This will be a good thing all around- it'll allow for some international involvement, it'll perhaps speed reconstruction, and (although it'll be like pulling teeth to get many Americans to admit this) it'll reinforce the importance and necessity of the U.N. as a mechanism by which disputes can be aired out and, perhaps, settled- even disputes between countries that have spent enormous time and effort vilifying each other.

It's this role that is the reason why the arguments I keep hearing about "how dare the evil Syrians/Egyptians/Whatever (strangely enough, rarely the Chinese) have a role to play in the U.N." are fundamentally unsound. The point of the U.N. is not to be a social club for countries that get along and agree on everything, including human rights and, yes, the importance of not arbitrarily killing people. The point is precisely the opposite... to keep the lines of debate and communication open through some sort of multilateral and multinational body so that states don't become dangerously isolated and paranoid.

(Bilateral communications aren't enough... an alliance can descend into xenophobia and paranoia as easily as a single country, and without open diplomatic discussions, leaders can end up making backroom deals that fall apart in the face of unpredicted public and diplomatic opposition.)

Still, these are just early steps, and there's no doubt that any further U.S. adventurism will split the Atlantic alliance wide open again. That the steps are being taken, though, is a welcome sign.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

From the same interview, an interesting tidbit (haven't read the whole thing yet, I'll post reactions tomorrow):

The idea that--first of all, irrespective of whether my wife is or is not what Novak alleged, therefore, there was no personal involvement. I think it's important to understand about this allegation, a couple of things. One: when they're talking about "senior administration officials", they're talking about the White House. The CIA does not "out" its own. It just doesn't do that.
Bolding mine, as it's significant. There have been some bloggers that have implied that it could have been an intra-CIA dispute that led to one faction in the CIA "outing" somebody in another, but I've never really bought that factionalism could lead to such a heinous breach of organizational culture, and Wilson is flatly denying it.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Best pair of lines I've read all week:

Josh Marshall: Where do you see our position right now?
Joseph Wilson: Well, I think we're fucked.
And he's an ambassador.

(Quite lengthy) first half of the interview here; equally lengthy second half here. Anybody else noticed that there's some really great interviews coming out of blogovia lately?

Welcome to the selling of Iraq.

I'm sure it'll work just as well as all the other privatization drives that we've seen over the last decade or so. The South Africans have loads to say about privatization of water, f'r instance.

The real question is... shouldn't it be the Iraqis that decide whether or not they want to go with this sort of organization? I don't necessarily agree with the lefties that pontificate about the depredations of neoliberalism, but they're right about one thing: privatization shouldn't be done at the point of a gun.
I had missed this very nice piece by Nathan Newman about the progressive nature of American taxes. It's interesting, especially in his folding of the concept of progressive taxation into Jefferson's idea of "a little bit of revolution periodically", as Nathan put it.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Slight connectivity problem, now dealt with.

(At this point, most readers probably think that I'm living somewhere with incredibly poor internet access, but that's not the case... I simply seem to have more of these problems than most.)

I'll write something more substantive soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Dual victory for gay and lesbian rights advocates in Canada these past few days: first, the Canadian Alliance's motion to restrict marriage to a man and a woman was defeated, and now a bill adding homosexuals to a list of groups protected by hate crime legislation passed in the House of Commons, 141-110.

This is excellent news on both sides of the border; not only is it a major boost to Canadian gays and lesbians, but provides additional support to Americans who still believe in the seperation of church and state and in the rightness of this particular issue.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Brad DeLong has an excellent piece on where the U.S. fiscal and current accounts deficit is likely to leave the U.S. While it doesn't directly reference Paul Krugman and his predictions, he comes to a similar conclusion, and believes that when it happens it'll come as a big surprise to many:

The other way the current account deficit could come to an end is if the inflow of capital into America comes to an end. As the late Rudi Dornbusch used to say, unsustainable capital inflows always last much longer than fundamentals-watching economists believe possible. The investors funding the capital inflow and the country receiving the money always think up reasons why this time the inflow is not unsustainable but is the result of permanently transformed fundamentals. That mass delusion, Rudi argued, keeps the inflow going long after it should come to an end. But when it does come to an end, the speed with which the capital flow turns around is much faster than anyone--even fundamentals-watching economists--believes possible.
DeLong doesn't believe that the United States will suffer the same fate as other countries- such as Argentina and Mexico- but will have a remarkably different effect on two groups: foreign investors and exporters, and American investors and consumers.

The currency crises in Mexico, East Asia, and Argentina primarily impoverished workers who lost their jobs and those who found their hard-currency debts owed to the industrial core suddenly a much greater burden, and secondarily rich country investors who found themselves renegotiating terms with insolvent creditors. A rapid decline in the dollar is likely to have a very different pattern of impact: to primarily impoverish workers whose products are exported to America and investors in dollar-denominated assets who see their portfolio values melting away, and only secondarily affect Americans who heavily consume imported goods or who work distributing imports to consumers.
Disturbing, because it means that the run from the dollar will be a stampede, and it could have a shockwave effect around the global economy. It also raises the question: if DeLong knows this, who else does, and is it possible that foreign countries might move away from the "buyer of last resort" and intensify their connection within regional trading blocs that the United States is politely refused membership in?

What happens when (or if) Japan, China, and Korea turn their back on the U.S.?
Ok, Clark's now officially in.

The big question everybody is asking is "how can a man with no political experience become president?" That question is somewhat misleading, however, as the answer is "he wins the most electoral votes".


The real question is "can he successfully campaign for the presidency"? Many are asking whether his inexperience at politics will lead him to pull a series of unintended gaffes that a more experienced politician would be able to avoid. Honestly, though, I'm skeptical as to whether this will actually happen. It's undoubtably true that Clark made this decision a long time ago; whether he was pulled into it by the "draft Clark" movement or not, he will have been preparing for months, and perhaps even longer. He's also being advised by people who have been involved in politics all their lives, and I doubt a former general would have problems knowing how to handle advisors.

Even if he wasn't a politician prior to this run, he's been in training to become a politician for a while now. This run has been thoroughly planned and gamed out, and this announcement is in a way the end of this training, rather than the beginning.
If anybody wanted proof about the bizarre loathing that Paul Krugman inspires in the right, he (or she) could simply turn here. It's a Daniel Drezner response to the interview that Paul Krugman had with Kevin Drum. It's not so much Drezner's own reaction, although he loses major points for linking to a Krauthammer column that works from the assumption that Bush is a moderate and attacks Bush critics for disagreeing, and for linking to the utterly discredited Donald Luskin as any sort of a serious counter to Krugman's comments.

No, it's the comments that follow the column.

It's awe inspiring watching the froth fly. He's called everything from "insane" to "dishonest and shifty"; from a "Marxist" to a "buffoon" to a "train wreck of a man". His commentary is derided as everything from "hysteria" to "unbearable" and "conspiracy-mongering" to the memorable "radio signals sent through his fillings". Pages and pages are filled with fulminations about Prof. Krugman's mental condition and the supposed "death" of the Democratic party due to its willingness to question Bush's policy over (I kid you not) "World War IV".

Even more awe inspiring is the unmistakable fact that there is not a single piece of decent evidence brought to bear to support any of this. The best we get is amateurish economics that either misses entirely the points that Krugman made, backhandedly reconfirms them (as was the case when somebody said that "deficits happen when expenditures are higher than revenues", neatly confirming the point that Bush is cutting revenues too far), or just astonishes in its bizarreness:

defecits, tax cuts, tax increases,
and the national debt
DO NOT have a major effect on the business cycle or the economy. That is just politcal HOGWASH!
Clinton raised taxes and lowered the defecit and the economy grew. Reagan did the opposite and the economy grew.

taxes should be a low and as fair as possible - and they are neither now.
And NO candidate is running on a principled tax platform that is truthful.
(That was an exact quote).

The political "analysis" was even worse.

In any case, the biggest problem here isn't that these guys are all BushCo operatives or stooges or whatever. It's that they are of the opinion that since they (for whatever reason) believe honestly and sincerely in the tenets of conservatism, nobody else who follows those tenets could be using them in a self-serving fashion or deliberately deceiving to hide their real agenda. The whole point of Krugman's interview and book is that sometimes one is confronted with the reality that, yes, this sort of thing really does happen, and there's a very good possibility that it's happening now. Saying "you're crazy, there's no way it could happen" reminds me of those who honestly believed that Lenin's call for "all power to the Soviets" was actually intended to concentrate power in the hand of local elected councils, instead of the Bolshevik party itself. When confronted with the reality, they simply couldn't believe it until the doors of the Kremlin were slammed closed in front of them.

So far I've yet to see a substantial critique of Krugman's basic thesis, which is that the tax cuts and spending hikes of the Bush administration are designed to allow a future government to not only touch the "third rail" of American politics- social security, but to rip it out entirely.

To say "it could never happen" and "anybody who thinks that could happen is crazy" assumes too much. It assumes that there are no conditions under which it could happen (which is nonsense), that there are no people with the desire to make it happen (which is also demonstrably untrue), and, crucially, that there is no way of getting to those conditions from current ones. It's that third element that Krugman is supplying- he's showing us precisely how one could get from point "A" to point "B", and that it's quite probably that that is exactly what's taking place.

The fact that the best response than anybody can come up with is repeatedly shouting "you're a crazyhead", as in this comments thread, demonstrates just how close to the mark he is.

Edit: And they've infested Kevin's comments as well, with much the same rhetoric and results. The only difference is that they keep hauling out arguments against Krugman that the man has long-ago dispelled: like income mobility, and the percentage that the rich pay vs. the poor, and the notion that the economy is bad because of all those durned terrists!!!.

They also, apparently, believe that there's no such thing as the environment.

Ah well, yet more proof that for all their yammering about a self-destructing Democratic party, it's the right wingers whose relevance and insight is slipping. As posters on Eschaton are wont to say, "Smarter Trolls, Please."
Clark's in. Now the race really starts.

(Really nice picture of him on the NYTimes site, by the by.)

A lot of this, I think, has to do with the growing perceived weakness of the President. Clark may have been being cagey because he wanted to make his announcement an event, but I think that he really wasn't sure whether he was going to run in 2004, because it may have been wiser to hold off and go up against (what would have seemed this summer as) an infinitely weaker opposition in 2008.

Most commentators, noticeably Kos, have come to the conclusion that it'll be a Dean/Clark/Geph/Leiberman battle, but I'm not willing to count out anybody yet; even Edwards could gain some momentum if events provide the opportunity, and any of the "big contenders" could easily flame out.

Kos, by the way, paints a a disturbing picture about a possible Clark campaign operative:

And remember Chris Lehane, who I called an asshole yesterday? Remember how I hoped he wouldn't end up on the Clark campaign, because he was such an asshole?

Well, Lehane and Fabiani are business partners. In fact, they are known as the "Masters of Disaster", specializing in public relations damage control. With campaigns, their MO is to create such disasters -- for their opponents, by tearing them down....Now with his Fabiani near the top of Clark's organization, it shouldn't be long before Lehane is working right alongside him.

The Clark plan is probably simple enough -- set themselves up as the anti-Dean. They probably figure Dean will take care of Gephardt (Iowa) and Kerry (NH) all by himself. So they'll give Dean a temporary pass and train their guns on Edwards and Lieberman. (Clark's announcement date was strategically timed to drown out Edwards' effort -- something I previously missed.)
So it's gonna be dirty, and it's gonna be Clark v. Dean. Kos' conclusion is that "it's not looking like a Dean/Clark or Clark/Dean ticket will be viable" and "keep an eye out for the competing Draft teams"... these bother me enough, but I can say with absolute certainty that the best and brightest hope that Bush has isn't a Dean candidacy (as certain Republicans really, really want us to believe)... it's a bruising, nasty, mudslinging primary battle that leaves the victor wounded and battered.

If Kos is right, the Clark campaign may be on the verge of giving that to him. That would mean that instead of saving the Democrats' chances in 2004, Clark (his campaign, if not the man) will bury them. If you're a Democrat, then it doesn't matter who you support: that scenario must be avoided at all costs, even if somebody has to roll over.

Bottom line: any one candidate's political ambitions pales in the face of the need to get Bush out. It's a question of what the country will look like in 2008, and returns us to the truth of what one of the most famous Democrats told America: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

While David Brooks' latest column begins with a wholly unconvincing argument that Dean would be an easy target for Republicans, he eventually abandons this partisan opening to write a somewhat-interesting piece about, well, partisanship.

Now, there is a Democratic liberal mountain and a Republican conservative mountain. Democrats and Republicans don't just disagree on policies — they don't see the same reality, and they rarely cross over and support individual candidates from the other side. As Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, has shown, split-ticket voting has declined steadily.
Brooks fails to point out, unsurprisingly, that this partisan shift is at least partially due to the heavy (and profoundly ideological) partisanship of legislators themselves, and that is due to a spectrum shift over the past 20 years, where Democrats have moved a little bit right and Republicans have moved a long way right, leaving a new "center" and the current divide. He also misses the fact that the anti-RINO movement is much stronger than the anti-DINO movement, by orders of magnitude.

The basic point is accurate, though, and he goes on:

The question is whether this evolution changes the way we should think about elections. The strategists in the Intensity School say yes. They argue that it no longer makes sense to worry overmuch about the swing voters who supposedly exist in the political center because the electorate's polarization has hollowed out the center. The number of actual swing voters — people who actually switch back and forth between parties — is down to about 7 percent of the electorate. Moreover, the people in this 7 percent group have nothing in common with one another. It doesn't make sense to try to win their support because there is no coherent set of messages that will do it.

Instead, it's better to play to the people on your own mountain and get them so excited they show up at the polls. According to this line of reasoning, Dean, Mr. Intensity, is an ideal Democratic candidate.

The members of the Inclusiveness School disagree. They argue that there still are many truly independent voters, with estimates ranging from 10 to 33 percent of the electorate. Moreover, the Inclusiveness folks continue, true independents do have a coherent approach to politics. Anti-ideological, the true independents do not even listen to candidates who are partisan, strident and negative. They are what the pollster David Winston calls "solutionists"; they respond to upbeat candidates who can deliver concrete benefits: the Family and Medical Leave Act, more cops in their neighborhoods, tax rebate checks.

By this line of thinking, Dean is a terrible candidate. His partisan style drives off the persuadable folks who rarely bother to vote in primaries but who do show up once every four years for general elections.
I agree with Brooks' description of the two "camps" (in general), but I think he (and the inclusionists) miss a few key points:

First: What the "intensity" school and the "inclusionary" school define as an "independent" can be and are very different things. Many (if not most) supposed "independents" are heavy "leaners"... although they can theoretically cross over, they're generally pretty loyal to one party or another, especially if their ideology or perceived interests makes it difficult for them to embrace the idea of voting for the "other party". It is possible to attract them, but at the cost of having to move either directly to the center or even over to the "other side". Even then, it's not a guarantee. The lower figure of 7-8%, I believe, better describes the number of true leaners.

Second: while it's certainly sexy within American political culture to describe oneself as "anti-ideological", it runs smack into the brick wall of reality: everybody holds an ideology. What one calls "ideological" usually refers to "ideology you don't support", and you're right back to the "heavy leaners" again. Brooks' advocacy of "solutionists" misses the point that almost every politician has a solution to whatever problem you care to name. The question is whether or not people will support that solution. Brooks' cited "solutions" are be unpalatable to those who don't share his ideological foundations, and their solutions would likely be unpalatable to him. (Arguing that "more cops in the neighbourhood" is a "solutionist" idea presupposes that the cops themselves aren't the problem. They can be, and often are. Just ask a few visible minorities.)

Third: Not all Americans vote. In fact, many don't vote. Brooks doesn't address the problem of the base "staying home", which is a serious danger when one is chasing swing votes. Ruy Teixeiras argued that trying to increase turnout isn't successful, and if one approaches it from such a global perspective, it may well be true; the idea is to increase turnout of groups that will vote for you, and the importance of that is undeniable. Coupled with the fact that the base pays attention to politics and swing voters often don't, this can make "chasing swing voters" a very poor decision; enough swing voters may be attracted to something as emphemeral as "personality" to make them a non-issue, but the attempt to attract them may alienate the base enough to have them stay home en masse.

Besides, Brooks forgets something: Dean's relatively centrist, and his supporters are fully aware of this. Brooks also forgets (or ignores) that Democrats can easily say that it is the Republicans that are acting partisan, not Democrats, and bring up a wealth of information to support the charge. Bush is more vulnerable now than he's ever been, and the mask of bi-partisan consensus that veiled Bush's partisan reaction to 9/11 is long dead.

Brooks' last mistake? Here:

The weight of the data, it seems to me, supports the Inclusiveness side. And the chief result of polarization is that the Democrats have become detached from antipolitical independent voters. George Bush makes many liberal Democrats froth at the mouth, but he does not have this effect on most independents. Democrats are behaving suicidally by not embracing what you might, even after yesterday's court decision, call the Schwarzenegger Option: supporting a candidate so ideologically amorphous that he can appeal to these swingers.
Aside from the fact that he doesn't explain what (if any) data "supports the Inclusiveness side", and the enormously questionable assumptions placed throughout this paragraph (again, unsupported by anything like proof), he managed to pull one enormous boner:

Schwarzenegger is losing.

Not much of an option, now, is it?

Monday, September 15, 2003

The California recall has been stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Apparently, the decision (which I haven't read yet) references Bush v. Gore extensively, and really focuses on the voting rights problems posed by the use of voting machines declared "unfit" by the secretary of state's office.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

This is incredible. According to Yahoo news, the U.S. is now demanding that Japan send troops to Iraq.

The U.S. is demanding Japan send its troops to Iraq early to help rebuild the war-torn country, a Japanese daily reported Sunday, the Kyodo news service reported.
Citing government sources, the Tokyo Shimbun said the U.S. is displeased with the uncertain outlook for sending the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq as Japan plans to delay the dispatch until next year due to the worsening security situation there, Kyodo reported.

While the U.S. says Japan is an independent nation and it should make its own decision on dispatching the SDF, it has expressed discomfort with Japan's failure to meet U.S. requests in "sweat-inducing areas," the newspaper said.
Great. So now the U.S. is demanding (not requesting, demanding) levies of troops? Like the "American empire" argument needed any further boosting?

And honestly, this really, really isn't a good economic idea. Japan's economy looks like it's growing again, and I believe that once Japan gets itself sorted out, it may well be the final piece in the puzzle in returning East and Southeast Asia to its role as the fastest-growing economic region in the world. Despite the very real (and very understandable) historical concerns that China and Japan have about each other, the combination of Chinese manpower and Japanese technological skill is a natural one, and the trip across the Japan sea is a much shorter (and therefore, cheaper) one than across the pacific.

It's also likely that the Japanese will move away from the peace constitution and return to the role of a traditional power, as the U.S. military budget becomes more and more strained. While this will undoubtedly create friction with China and Korea, the Japanese culture of today is a different place than the Japan of 1939, and their desired military role will undoubtedly change as well. Japan may well worry about China, but China has too much trouble with internal stability to think about foreign adventurism... and while North Korea is a threat, it's not as much of one as many Americans seem to believe.

While I don't see this arrangement sorting itself out relatively quickly, I do see it having been sorted out by the time the ducks come home to roost on the remains of the American budget. Assuming that American consumers stop being the "buyer of last resort" sometime in the near future (which is likely), Japan will be in a position to tell the United States exactly what it will and will not do for any American imperial ambitions. I suspect that they will remember this (honestly) imperialist insult when dealing with Americans in the future. I know I would.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

It looks like the Japanese economy is finally picking up again.

The government on Friday upgraded its assessment of the economy in September for the second month in a row, citing increased capital spending and a pickup in exports.
"The economy is showing movements toward incipient recovery," the Cabinet Office said in its monthly economy report, employing a more upbeat tone than in its August report, when it said the economy "remains roughly flat."

Economic and fiscal policy minister Heizo Takenaka said the economy, which has long remained flat, was finally entering a new phase.

...[t]he Cabinet Office attributed the September uptick to stronger capital spending, helped by an increase in exports, including exports to other Asian countries that had declined due to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome...

According to the report, exports are "showing incipient recovery," an upgrade from the previous report, when the office said they were "weakening."

Corporate profits are continuing to improve, an upgrade from the previous report, which says they were gradually improving.

While the employment situation continues to be severe, evidence of an incipient recovery can be seen, the report says. In the August report, the office said there were signs of an incipient recovery only in some areas.
This is excellent news... a recovery in Japan will do a lot for the world economy and the East Asian regional economy, and may help the U.S. economy as well. The report also said that the U.S. economy is recovering, although there remains the question of whether it will either head back downward or, perhaps, remain the sort of "jobless recovery" that bedeviled Bush's father. Perhaps it won't, which would be a big boost for Bush.

It depends, I suppose, on whether the deficit really does have a drag effect on the U.S. economy.

Friday, September 12, 2003

While perusing the Toronto Star, I came across a link to the site of one of the candidates in the Ontario (Canada) election, Dalton McGuinty. I looked at the site and found, oddly enough,
Dalton's blog.

The problem, though, is the same as a number of other political blogs: it's sparsely updated (just once a week or so, from the looks of it), doesn't really have the kind of personal information that makes candidate blogs so interesting, a lot of it is just warmed over partisan talking points, and is linked at the bottom of the main page, making it unlikely that people are going to run across it.

It's too bad, because the hectic pace of the Ontario election (it's a month from beginning to end) could make for a very interesting blog, even more so than the Dean campaign blog.

It's a pity, but none too surprising. There's usually a gap time between adopting a new medium and figuring out what makes it work. Dean clued in; others will too.
I somehow doubt this will end well.

Israel's security Cabinet said Thursday it would work to "remove" Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, a decision that could mean the Palestinian leader's expulsion from his Ramallah compound, the Israeli prime minister's office said.

Thousands of enraged Palestinians in Ramallah, Gaza City, Nablus, Tulkarem and Khan Younis took to the streets in protest.

In Gaza, throngs of Palestinians -- many of them firing rifles and pistols into the air -- marched through the city Thursday night chanting slogans such as "With our blood, with our lives, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Arafat" and "Listen, Sharon, Arafat is not going out."
I just finished seeing the throngs of people outside Arafat's headquarters on CNN, and I'm driven to wonder what, exactly, the Israelis plan to do. They can't simply bull their way into an armed mob... if they used nonviolent methods they'd get shot, and if they use lethal force it'll be seen as a massacre outside of the Israeli and American press. (Depending on the situation, they may even be right.)

Also, what do they plan to do with Arafat once they expel him? They pretty much have to let him go, and I'd argue that an Arafat who is free to travel outside the country is more dangerous than an Arafat still in the West Bank. At least now the U.S. and Israelis can keep tabs on him; if they choose to go through with this, he'll disappear and simply run the show from offstage. It certainly won't placate the Palestinians, who might well be willing to see the back of Arafat were it not in exchange for de-facto Israeli control. The American's can't be happy, as it'll make their job in muslim countries that much harder. Israel's painstaking attempts to gain the high ground, finally achieved with these latest attacks, will be also out the window with the expulsion of a man that is seen as unconnected with those attacks.

Plus, anybody that follows him up will lack perceived legitimacy, unless they are elected, and I can see elections ending up with Arafat winning on a write-in vote just as a symbol of Palestinian independence.

Yes, I was expecting a war. I've gotta say, though- this is one strange way to start it.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Well, it's the second anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11. I'm not planning on spending a lot of time and verbiage on the occasion (although I remain as saddened and disturbed by it as I ever was), but I'd like to link to at least one ongoing consequence of the attacks: health problems.

Yes, as DailyKos and others have pointed out, it's extremely likely that
the WTC fires poisoned the air of New York and, by extension, the health of New Yorkers.

The burning ruins of the World Trade Center spewed toxic gases "like a chemical factory" for at least six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks despite government assurances the air was safe, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The gases of toxic metals, acids and organics could penetrate deeply into the lungs of workers at Ground Zero, said the study by scientists at the University of California at Davis and released at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in New York.

Lead study author Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and engineering, said conditions would have been "brutal" for workers at Ground Zero without respirators and slightly less so for those working or living in adjacent buildings.

"The debris pile acted like a chemical factory," Cahill said. "It cooked together the components and the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids and organics for at least six weeks."

That's not the problem. The problem is that it was covered up. The EPA got leaned on by (Kos says) the NSA to declare the "all clear", despite serious questions about whether or not New Yorkers would be affected by this. This essentially amounts to the U.S. government hiding the evidence of a chemical attack; and that's unconscionable. Bush (for where else could this policy have come from?) didn't want New Yorkers to panic and wanted the New York economy back up and running again as quickly as possible. For that, Bush needlessly put the lives of millions of New Yorkers at risk, and there's no justification for that whatsoever. (The economy was already hit, and would have recovered... and everybody would have understood had Bush stated what was really going on.)

Thing is, it wouldn't be so bad if the cover-up had only happened back when the attacks happened, but it's still going on now; the New York Post is trying to politicize it by (naturally) claiming that Hillary Clinton is politicizing it; the "project, project, project" tactic remains as popular as ever.

The Post also hauled out notorious "junk science debunker" Steven Milloy to claim that everything is fine, but Milloy's been so roundly contradicted and humiliated in the past as to be useless- his credibility is shot.

(The howlers on his website about DDT alone places him squarely in the "crank" category, with little hope from escape.)

Sadly, Milloy's case is singularly weak here as well. He claims that:

-the EPA has said things are safe, which begs the question when discussing a coverup;

-"there have been no credible reports that...the air quality has caused any... harm to the public", which not only raises the question of what Milloy knows about "credible" but is blasted in the face of the report linked in the Yahoo story;

-the inspector general's "criticism is absurd because such data are impossible to obtain and isn't necessary because there's no indicatino of health problems", which is not only ludicrous (has he heard of air and soil samples), but contains the huge assumption that there are no health problems (which is unsupported) and that they'd appear quickly and obviously (which is ludicrious);

-The president is perfectly justified in telling the EPA to fudge the numbers because it's a government agency, and (I kid you not) "is an agency that spends most of its time chasing imaginary or infinitesimal health risks from the everyday environment... it's arguably not equipped to operate without supervision in an emergency"... which is the most insane load of tendentious partisan horseshit in the guise of science that I've heard since...


...the last time I read Milloy.

Other than the desire to drop Milloy into a vat of PCBs, the only thing I can get out of this is that the wingers are really unequipped to deal with this problem. If they were, they'd get a real scientist. As it is, Milloy's presence is probably the best sign yet that something real bad almost certainly happened in New York, and it got covered up.

Were he not relying on a fearful public's desperate belief that their president is trying to do the right thing, this issue alone would get Bush a ride out of town on a rail. As it is, it just provides more reason why he needs to be removed before he does even more damage.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Via TalkLeft: why am I not surprised at the news that Rumsfeld is going hold the Gitmo guys indefinitely without trial?

Rumsfeld said the 660 or so men held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base are imprisoned not as punishment but "to keep them from going back and fighting again and killing people." He said most would be held until the global war on terrorism is over - a fight that Rumsfeld has said could last years, if not decades.

The defense secretary said he expects some suspects to be tried before military tribunals but prefers that most continue to be imprisoned indefinitely.

"Our interest is in not trying them and letting them out," he said in a question-and-answer session after a speech to the National Press Club. "Our interest is in - during this global war on terror - keeping them off the streets, and so that's what's taking place."
Off the streets... and out of their homes. In their own countries. Which isn't America, or Cuba. Sure, it's a good idea to not let terrorists free, but there's one slight problem with that... Rumsfeld doesn't want to prove they're terrorists.

Nice to see that the tactics of some South Americans in the late 20th century are turning into the tactics of some North Americans in the early 21st century.

I had mentioned Riverbend's "Baghdad Burning" in an earlier entry, but I haven't really given her enough credit- it's stunning. It's well written, insightful, uncompromising, and autobiographical enough to really make her points hit home. Points like this:

The one thing I agreed with [Bush's speech on] was this: there are terrorists in Iraq. It’s true. Ever since the occupation, they’ve been here by the hundreds and thousands. They are seeping in from neighboring countries through the borders the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ could not protect and would not let the Iraqi army protect. Some of them are even a part of the Governing Council now. Al-Daawa Party is responsible for some of the most terrible bombings in Iraq and other countries in the region.

Yes. I blame America for that. We never had Al-Qaeda or even links to Al-Qaeda. Ansar Al-Islam are supposed to be linked to Al-Qaeda, but they were functioning in the northern territory with the two Kurdish leaders’ knowledge and blessings.

Then there’s this:

“The attacks you have heard and read about in the last few weeks have occurred predominantly in the central region of Iraq, between Baghdad and Tikrit -- Saddam Hussein's former stronghold. The north of Iraq is generally stable and is moving forward with reconstruction and self-government. The same trends are evident in the south, despite recent attacks by terrorist groups.”

Is he serious? Only yesterday an American armored vehicle was burned in front of the University of Mosul in the north. There have been an increasing number of attacks on British troops in the south- we hear about them everyday. As for Baghdad… it has become a common occurrence. Baghdad Airport is constantly under missile attack and we hear of similar attacks all over Baghdad… or maybe the person who gave him that little fact is the same one who told him where to find the WMD…

“Since the end of major combat operations, we have conducted raids seizing many caches of enemy weapons and massive amounts of ammunition, and we have captured or killed hundreds of Saddam loyalists and terrorists.”

Yes, we know all about the ‘raids’. I wish I had statistics on the raids. The ‘loyalists and terrorists’ must include Mohammed Al-Kubeisi of Jihad Quarter in Baghdad who was 11. He went outside on the second floor balcony of his house to see what the commotion was all about in their garden. The commotion was an American raid. Mohammed was shot on the spot. I remember another little terrorist who was killed four days ago in Baquba, a province north-east of Baghdad. This terrorist was 10… no one knows why or how he was shot by one of the troops while they were raiding his family’s house. They found no weapons, they found no Ba’athists, they found no WMD. I hope America feels safer now.

On top of it all, the borders between Iraq and Iran have been given to Badir’s Brigade to guard. Badir’s Brigade. Unbelievable. I thought the borders needed guarding to prevent armed militias like Badir’s Brigade from entering the country. We have a proverb in Arabic: “Emin il bezooneh lahmeh” which means “Entrust a cat with meat.” Yes, give the Iranian borders to Badir’s Brigade. Right on.

Just a couple of days ago, two female school principals were ‘executed’ by Badir’s Brigade in Al-Belidiyat area in Baghdad. They were warned to resign their posts so that a ‘sympathetic’ principal could replace them. They ignored the threat, they were shot. It’s that simple these days. Of course, that’s not terrorism because the targets are Iraqi people. Terrorism is when the Coalition of the Willing are targeted.
I don't normally quote so extensively, but I could honestly quote the entire blog and not feel guilty about it in the slightest. It's amazing, and shows that far from being the ignorant savages that many Americans seem to see the Iraqis as, they're intelligent, modern human beings, not that much different from their American "liberators". It's important to remember that, and Baghdad Burning is one of the best reminders yet.
Rosie DiManno, of the Toronto Star, has been a big booster for the Iraqi adventure from the get-go. She bought into all the arguments, repeated the "flowers and kisses" arguments, and continues to say that dictatorship (she calls it "genocidal", but I don't necessarily share that interpretation) is a fine sole reason for American conquest.

Now, however, she appears tied up in knots. Faced with the reality that the U.S. is going pleading to the U.N. for help, what's her reaction?

Humble does not become America.

It's also a very bad message to send to the rest of the world — that the only nation on earth with sufficient bite to back up its bark can be reduced to the position of supplicant when asking for assistance in an hour of need.

It would therefore ill behoove the United Nations — by which we mean its more aggrieved, nose-out-of-joint members — to make exacting and punitive demands on the United States after finally getting what it ostensibly most covet: A piece of power in Iraq, dressed up as multilateralism. Oil revenues, reconstruction contracts, political currency, a slice of the profitable pie that will eventually be Iraq when it emerges from this current chaotic period, a difficult passage clearly underestimated in its complications by the White House and the Pentagon.
"Humble ill behooves America"? "It's a bad message"? I haven't heard this argument from freepers. It not only misses the point that Bush is not America and a goodly proportion of the American people wanted no part of his foreign adventure, but this (and the rest of the piece) completely misses the fact that both the U.N. and its Security Council members have a real interest in not playing clean-up for the U.S.

Rosie argues that the people of Iraq deserve the help. This is true- they do. The Americans appear to be making a hash of it, judging by, say, Riverbend's account of her experiences. The question is whether the people of Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or any number of other potential U.S. targets for invasion deserve that, and the jury is most assuredly still out on that one. If the U.S. can be confident that the U.N. will come in to administrate (and most importantly fund) it's adventures, it has little to no reason not to put the neo-con's plans into action- it's politically and financially covered, and the costs to the U.S. itself can be easily backloaded until after Bush's second term. Foreign governments need to operate with the knowledge that Bush may get a second term, and has demonstrated that he's willing to tie any and all foreign adventures to the nebulous "war on terror" in order to get the American people onside. They can't afford this any more than America can, and certainly can't afford the instability that it will create in their regions and (in many cases) in their own populations.

(Rosie argues that the biggest and most important contributions would be from "India, Pakistan, and Turkey"- precisely the countries with the most to lose from inflamed Muslim anger. Just because it didn't happen for Saddam doesn't mean it won't- Saddam was a secularist running a divided country; Saudi or Iran would be an entirely different story.)

Honestly, though, I think she knows her argument is ludicrous:

It would have been far more preferable if Washington had gone to the U.N. in May, hard on the heels of its successful invasion, when Iraqi crowds were still cheering the troops' entry into Baghdad. That moment, when it appeared the U.S. didn't need the U.N., would have been the optimum time for multinationalizing the venture.

But potential allies squeezing America now for reasons vain and craven does no one any good and does Iraq a great deal of harm.
Rosie, the fact that they didn't do so has everything to do with this. When they thought it would be a cakewalk, everybody and his dog proclaimed the death of the U.N. Now that things are rougher, they come back to wheedle for money and help? I know what my response would be, and it would sure as hell not be overly diplomatic. The ambassador from "freedom" probably has loads to say about that. If the U.N. caves now, they're toadies- a rubber-stamp for the U.S. If they hold firm, however, then the modern necessity of reconstruction has just given the U.N. very real power. That's important, in the long run, and if the Iraqi people suffer because the U.S. put the U.N. in this position, it's on nobody's head but Bush.

Hate to remind people, but responsibility is kind of supposed to be his job.
Well, it looks like the RIAA has settled with Brianna. They didn't say what the settlement was for, but I can't imagine it being that much; her mother has to know that the suit would be a PR nightmare.

I wonder who's going to end up in their net next?

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I'm watching Biden's speech on foreign policy on C-Span 2... pretty good, and hits most of the important points (necessity of multilateralism, problems of pre-emption, the conflict between the neo-con dream and cold reality, etc.)
Atrios asks:

I know this the standard line these days, as getting the Amurkan people behind spending $87 billion to help those poor Ay-rabs out for humanitarian reasons is damn near impossible, but do people really believe it? I know the conservative Borg will keep spouting it, but can they honestly believe that we are now in Iraq to fight terrorists?
Switch that wording around: "We are in Iraq now to fight terrorists", and you'll get the reasoning. Remember, the rationale doesn't have to be consistent (hence the switch from WMDs to humanitarianism) as long as it fits a plausible interpretation of the situation on the ground.

In other words, we're now enmeshed in full-bore mission creep. Yes, the Powell doctrine was specifically designed to prevent that. The Powell doctrine is dead.
Looks like the RIAA is following through with the prosecutions. They've brought down one of the meanest, nastiest, biggest pirates on the net, responsible for sharing thousands of megabytes of illegal music files.

This filthy pirate's name? Brianna LaHara, and she's twelve years old.

When not at the playground with her friends, "Biggie Brianna" is trading music files from her home in New York. The little girl received one of the 261 lawsuits filed by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) on Monday, according to the New York Post. She may look like a sweet and innocent child, but the RIAA says it's only going after major copyright violators at the moment. So you make the call.

"I got really scared. My stomach is all turning," Brianna told the Post. "I thought it was OK to download music because my mom paid a service fee for it. Out of all people, why did they pick me?"

It turns out that Brianna's mum paid a $29.99 service charge to KaZaA for the company's music service. Brianna, however, thought this meant she could download songs at will. How naive!

When reporters charged into Brianna's home, she was helping her brother with some homework. She is an honors student at St. Gregory the Great school.

Brianna could face charges of up to $150,000 per infringed song, but we have a feeling this might be a tad unrealistic. We suggest the RIAA take all of her toys instead.
The Register is being a tad glib, as is their habit, but the basic sentiment is correct.

I don't think this is going to turn out well.

Monday, September 08, 2003

I can't believe I had missed this...JUSIPER is a group blog written by a set of PoliSci professors and academics with some very interesting and compelling material, including an excellent series on how Dean can win a general election (the latest entry is here- it's the third of four) and some other good stuff about payroll taxes and IR.

(Hat tip to electrolite.)
I was wondering what the media reaction would be to Bush's speech last night; from the looks of the reaction, it's not the reaction he's looking for- far from it. Even the Washington Times was downbeat, saying that "the speech comes amid growing doubts about America's ability to single handedly restore order in Iraq"... that's saying something.

No matter what happens to Bush, this is (paradoxically) becoming a huge boost for the United Nations. Bush and much of the American intelligentsia took a stand against the relevance and usefulness of the body, only to find themselves literally forced to return to the U.N. for help. Even if the U.N. security council does decide to assist them, people on both sides of the Atlantic will remember that the United States' unilateralist (if not imperial) rhetoric was blunted in the face of the cold, hard reality. It goes a long way to reaffirming the real, pragmatic necessity of multilateralism.

I doubt this is what Bush's compatriots wanted, but U.N. bashing is going to sound awfully hollow after this.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

A while back I had guessed that the "unaccounted for WMDs" may be simple bookkeeping errors. It would appear that ex-weapons inspectors agree.

Ex-inspectors now say, five months after the U.S. invasion, that the notorious "unaccountables" may have been no more than paperwork glitches left behind when Iraq destroyed banned chemical and biological weapons years ago.

Some may represent miscounts, they say, and some may stem from Iraqi underlings' efforts to satisfy the boss by exaggerating reports on arms output in the 1980s.

"Under that sort of regime, you don't admit you got it wrong," said Ron Manley of Britain, a former chief UN adviser on chemical weapons.

His encounters with Iraqi scientists in the 1990s convinced him that at times, when told to produce "X amount" of a weapons agent, "they wrote down what their superiors wanted to hear instead of the reality," said Mr. Manley, who noted that producing VX nerve agent, for example, is a difficult process.
This is hardly a surprise to anybody that knows anything about dictatorial or totalitarian regimes, especially in the third world. Right wingers are constantly saying that this is proof that capitalist democracies are superior, so it's somewhat of a surprise that this sort of simple and consistent explanation has been nowhere to be found.

I'll leave with Blix:

Chief UN inspector Hans Blix, as he left his post this summer, became more open in discussing discrepancies.

After the mid-1990s, "hardly ever did (inspectors) find hidden weapons," Mr. Blix reminded one audience.

"What they found was bad accounting.

"It could be true they (Iraq) did destroy unilaterally in 1991 what they hid."
... and with an example of Iraqi "non-compliance":

The Iraqis had begun scientific soil sampling, for example, to try to confirm the amount of VX dumped long ago at a neutralization site, and had filed an initial report March 17.

Three days later, however, the U.S. invasion intervened.
. Incredible as it may seem to those who buy into the cartoonish caricature of Saddam that survives to this day, he (or his underlings) may have well decided that they were better off without. They probably figured that not actually being a threat to anybody would be a pretty good way to stave off foreign conquest.

Ok, courtesy of Blog Matrix, I now have an RSS feed.

(This may be of limited usefulness, as I don't use titles, but then again it may not. I don't use RSS aggregators, actually, so I'm not quite sure as to how important that is or not.)
Although I hadn't commented in it, I do have to admit to being fascinated by this comments thread on Michael Totten's website about his latest "liberals vs. the left" post on which I commented earlier.

(By the by, one emailer charged me with equating Glenn Reynolds and Totten when I called them both "rightists" in the same sentence. Needless to say, I don't see them as equivalent; while I believe that Totten is hurting his own self-professed liberal/centrist position by doing the right's work for it, it's nothing like Glenn's out-and-out apologism for Bush and the Republicans.)

In any case, the dominant thread of this discussion was demands by right-wingers for liberals to abandon the supposed far left entirely; that they must do so, or lose any and all credibility for being associated with these people. There's one slight problem here, one of assumption: that one cannot be a leftist and remain a decent, caring person. I suppose that one can hold that position, but what's stunning is that they never provide a real reason for doing so!

Every time one reads an attack on the left in this thread (or, indeed, in much of the blogosphere), the attacks are based on the left's disagreement with certain ideas and concepts; the wisdom of unfettered capitalism, of pre-emptive warfare (or warfare as a tool of statecraft in general), of the structure and policy of the United States government, or any number of other conservative sacred cows. Thing is, any unbiased observer would figure out pretty quickly that most of these ideas are in contention, and that they are not by any means necessary to hold views about them that conservatives find acceptable to fit within commonly accepted ideas about morals and ethics.

So with that in mind, it raises the question: why should liberals distance themselves from the left? "Because conservatives think the left is wrong" isn't reason enough; conservatives shouldn't be allowed to define what is and isn't an acceptable political position- it grants them too much power. "because the left is immoral" simply raises more questions than it answers, and "because the left is anti-American" not only misses the distinction between criticizing the government as opposed to the people, but the distinction between attacking American culture as it is right now as unacceptable and attacking the American people as forever unacceptable. Saying "America sucks" could be perfectly legitimate, if there is a real reason why "America sucks".

Yes, that will make Americans, especially nationalistic Americans uncomfortable. There is no reason, however, why all political criticism and protest should make people feel comfortable, and rather a lot of reasons why it shouldn't. The problem is that being anti-American doesn't automagically make you wrong; America is at bottom a set of ideas, and ideas must exist in a constant state of contention or become stagnant and corrupt.

This is why I'm deeply bothered by this crusade by the right to try to divide up the left, even by those with only the best of intentions. The left is just as necessary to keep America strong as the right, and that left cannot be limited solely to those sections that conservatives are comfortable with. Even if they're America-hating socialists, it's been understood since John Stuart Mill that it's important that it is possible, however unlikely, that they might have a point, either by advocacy or example. For liberals like Michael Totten to allow conservatives to define what is or isn't acceptable is to watch America die by inches.

And that, friends, is unAmerican.
The blogosphere is a darker place with Dwight Meredith gone.

Well, at least his last piece was an excellent one, up to his usual standards, talking about the David Kay report and the various perspectives that Republican supporters and critics have on its likely contents. According to Dwight (and, originally, the Boston Globe), Kay is likely to announce that Saddam did not have WMDs, but had plans to reconstitute them on fairly short notice, "once freed of inspections and international sanctions".

Of course, that was about as likely as Bush selling the ranch and taking up modern dance.

Still, Dwight's piece hints at something that I wanted to bring out into the open- the relationship between Kay's report and Republican rhetoric. It's safe to say that the Republicans have known what Kay was going to bring out for a long time, and now that we have a pretty good idea what Kay is going to say, we finally have the explanation for the odd shift in rhetoric that has characterized Republicans lately.

I'm sure you've noticed it- everybody has. The shift from "WMDs" to "WMD programs" is something that's been noticed by Bush's critics and by the press corps. It's long been characterized as simply an attempt to bring down the bar, but the Kay report makes it pretty clear that the Republicans (and their media mouthpieces) haven't been simply lowering the bar, but setting a stage.

Although they've raised eyebrows with this shift, it's not going to automatically invalidate what they're saying in the eyes of the public, and those who believe they are liars anyway won't consider it anything new. (Bush true believers will simply go with it on the assumption that since he had WMDs, he obviously had WMD programs) It'll get filed away, and quickly forgotten or dismissed as "partisan bickering".

Then, of course, the Kay report comes out. That is the entire point of this "program" nonsense; it's so that Bush can claim that "he has the proof he needed all along". The press corps may not go along with it, but they'll be up against the Bush spin machine, that will trumpet Kay's report as true. And the thing is, Bush won't technically be incorrect- his latest claims were about "programs", and Kay's report will be about "programs", so he'll be immune to charges of falsehoods. Sure, people will point out that he's changed his tune, but that'll be old news, and too subtle a distinction to make it through the media gauntlet anyway.

The question, then, is whether it'll really matter. It'll probably give Bush one last boost, but then he has to deal with the situation now in Iraq chipping away at his popularity. I doubt he'll be able to so easily get away with fulfilling artificially lowered expectations in that case.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

The Washington Post is being optimistic; it's claiming "Hopes for Peace Diminished in the wake of Abbas' resignation.

I don't share that view; I'm sadly of the opinion that they're pretty much over and done with. I was of that opinion when I heard that Abbas resigned, and it was only confirmed with the immediate (and unsuccessful) attack on Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin, which will be an unmistakable signal to all concerned of exactly how things are going to go. (Of course, the bus bombing of last week was a pretty clear signal itself.)

So, in the words of Bugs Bunny, "this means wah". Israel's talk about expelling Arafat will likely come to pass , and I have little faith that the Palestinian Authority will survive him with Abbas gone. Without the Authority, the Israelis will have little choice but to take over regional administration themselves; the West Bank will devolve into out-and-out chaos otherwise, unless Hamas takes control.

Israel's attempt to try to control the Palestinians will be difficult at best, more likely impossible; obedience is required for control, and there is little chance that the Palestinian population will be at all obedient to the Israeli army. The violence will get worse, rather than better, as Palestinians attack Israeli soldiers and civilians at every opportunity and the increasingly frustrated Israeli army cracks down to repress the violence. All the while, peacemakers will lose power, and extremists will gain it, pointing at the acts of "the other side" (while conveniently minimizing their own) in order to justify more and more radical responses.

I suspect I know where this is going. I don't like it. But I'm starting to wonder if it's even possible to stop it.
Well, blogger is back up again. That's good news, although I'm not sure when they finally fixed it.

(Now if only YACCS would manage to do the same.)

Friday, September 05, 2003

When confronted with two potential nuclear powers, (Iran and Iraq) the United States government can't be belligerent enough- many expect Iran to be a target for "regime change" when and if the Iraqi adventure ends.

When confronted with another nuclear power (North Korea), this time pretty much confirmed, Bush can't bend backwards enough to assure both the North Koreans and (inevitably) the Chinese that things will be solved peacefully. Oh, and let's not forget the Chinese's human rights record makes Saddam look like Jefferson. And they've got nukes.

Suspicious observers will ask what the difference is. Some would say oil. Some would say Islam. Some would say geostrategy. All may be true, but all miss the point: the difference is the difference between having nukes, and wanting nukes. Want them, and you're a target. Obtain them, and you're untouchable.

This is not going to do the cause of anti-proliferation much good.
I just received a fairly angry email from Michael Totten over an earlier piece of mine calling him a "rightist". He said that he defines himself several times as "center-left" and therefore, by definition, can't be right-wing.

Indeed, Michael, center-left is not "by definition" rightist. The question is who does the defining, and what that definition consists of.

While self-definition is an important part of placing someone's political views, it is by no means definitive. Many conservatives define themselves as "libertarians" by endlessly twisting the definition of that term, and there are many columnists and commentators who, like Mickey Kaus, call themselves "liberals"; yet they adopt positions that draw far more from libertarianism and soft conservatism than anything even remotely resembling liberalism as Locke, Rawls, or Mill would have understood the term.

Often enough, this is part of a tactic of "strategic redefinition". They usually serve Republican/conservative ends by doing so, as they can attack "the left" from "the center". By doing so, they move both- they move the definition of the "acceptable left" to the right, and move the definition of "centrist" to the right. This also ends up redefining what had been been defined as "fringe opinions" on the right much closer to supposed "centrism" and respectability.

Do this enough, and you can change the political discourse to a shocking degree. Supply side economics is one of these ideas moved to respectability, another is pre-emptive warfare... but there are multitudes of others, more than can be easily counted.

Using Michael's own words, "by definition" it is an act that serves conservative ends, and only the most naive of liberals would either misunderstand or truthfully deny this. Those that are not naive know they are serving conservative ends and are, therefore, supporters of conservatism, insofar as they are deliberately turning moderate conservatism into centrism, and extreme conservatism (if not right-wing buffoonery) into moderation.

(Yes, there is a way out of this- by rejecting the "right-center-left" spectrum entirely. You can't do that and retain the terminology, however, and Michael both retains the terminology and uses it to attack the left.)

Michael, you came into prominence attacking the "left" and no small number of your posts have been targeted at the faults of "the left". It has been used by prominent conservatives, such as Instapundit, in order to support the actions and the rhetoric of American conservatism and individual conservatives, including president Bush. So I'm only left, "by definition", with one question:

Are you naive, Michael?

Thursday, September 04, 2003

LiP responded to my last entry about the "is Paul Krugman partisan or not" debate. Apparently I've hit home to some extent, as he does describe it as a "plausible case" that Krugman may simply be pointing out what others are afraid to, but points to other columnists such as Frank Rich and Michael Kinsley as being left-leaning but not nearly as partisan, willing to attack Democrats and Republicans alike. Leaving aside the actual worthiness of attacking both, one of the reasons that Krugman is considered so dangerous (and so interesting) is because he isn't a journalist, and therefore isn't overly worried about building the sort of superficial "fairness" between centrists and right-wing extremists that Eric Alterman aptly described as "working the ref".

It's also important to remember that Krugman's most powerful (and theoretically partisan) attacks are on economic issues, as economics is a subject that he knows much better than almost any of the other major newspaper columnists right now. His purely political articles are often considered somewhat weaker, although he's been getting better, and I personally believe it's because he's exploiting the liberal blogosphere's able work on such issues. (If his critics can do it, why not him?)

Getting back to LiP, though, it's more interesting looking at what wasn't discussed, which was my objections to his methods themselves (as opposed to questions of Krugman's partisanship.) It's not just about the environment in which the comments themselves are made, but about the very notion of trying to derive meaningful data from what amounts to word-counting. It's relatively simplistic: it merely counts the number of references in a column to a Democrat or a a Republican, assigns them a binary "plus or minus" for partisanship, and creates an eventual "partisanship index" derived from the numbers of "pluses and minuses".

As should be immediately obvious, this is woefully deficient. Operationalizing the concept of "partisanship" is tricky enough in the first place, but LiP's methodology systematically strips the inherently qualitative elements from columns. It misses the multiplying effects that things like sentence structure, tone, theme, and choice of words can have on the "partisanship" of a column. it punishes and rewards columnists based on merely the number of partisan references, leaving the severity of their references unremarked and untouched. This sort of methodology would be unacceptable when dealing with survey data, let alone the analysis of political texts; there's simply too much left out, and this raises serious questions as to the applicability of LiP's "index". It's like those income statistics that lump together people that make $100,000 a year and those who make $5 million when counting the number of "wealthy people" in the United States and the effects on them... it produces numbers that are simply untrustworthy.

(At the very least, there should be a weighted scale for the partisan remarks. The act of judging these things, however, is in-and-of itself such a qualitative act that it renders the whole quantification process pretty much useless.)

Politics isn't economics- it's hard to quantify, harder to quantify well, and extremely easy to quantify badly, leading to results that are either misleading, banal, or horrifically wrong. This is why the "Perestroikans" have been so bitterly criticizing the formalism in American political science, and why many of political theorists and researchers outside the United States tend to avoid quantification altogether. (Many Canadians tend to take a particularly dim view of the whole enterprise, for example.) Even your most doctrinaire APSA formalist, however, would likely look askance upon LiP. It simply leaves too much out.
This is, perhaps, beating a dead horse, but I'm still struck by the decline of both the relevance and creativity of rightist bloggers. Sure, nobody's surprised that Instapundit and Co. are reduced to hauling out pathetic strawmen, demonstrating intolerance of artistic expression that they disagree with, and ejaculating overwrought rhetoric about the "self-destruction" of the left, but weren't right-wing bloggers actually bringing up relevant news at one point? I realize I have my own biases here, but can anybody even make the comparsion anymore between Instapundit and, say, Atrios and the Atriettes?

(And, yes, he once again pulls out the "flypaper strategy" bit, the "irrelevant and inane comparison between Iraq and some unrelated part of the U.S." bit, and the "the U.N. is irrelevant because it won't do what America tells it" bit. Gawd. Sure, I harp on themes too, but at least I don't do it on a link blog where the point is to ferret out new things.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Ok. So let me get this straight. The United States wants U.N. help in Iraq, but isn't going to give up military command or any control over the country.

What are they offering? Frosty chocolate milkshakes?

I doubt the ambassador from "Freedom" was overly impressed.
I'd really like to sneak into these negotiations. Watching Bush go, hat in hand, to the security council to negotiate authorization of an international force would be fun indeed. He mocked them, declared them useless, ignored their cautions, and treated some of the permanent members as "evildoers" because they were against his Iraqi adventure. And now he's asking for their help.

The French reaction alone would be worth the trouble.
The phrase "compassionate conservativism" has become even more of a cruel joke: Bush is "relaxing" the rules that require hospitals to treat emergency patients regardless of their ability to pay. It removes hospitals of any obligation to have specialists on call, or even to have doctors on call at all, and doctors that are on call can still do elective surgery (!) and can be simultaneously on call at two or more hospitals (!), meaning that it's incredibly unlikely that either a specialist or a generalist will be on call when people need them.

And people still plan to vote for this guy?

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

This is an interesting idea... carbonated milk?

Mary Ann Clark, a registered nurse, said she was pained to see children drinking cola and shunning milk when she worked in schools so she decided to do something about it.

...The Clarks combined water and powdered milk to create a slightly fizzy, mildly milky-tasting drink with the nutritional value of skim milk and 40 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium.
Anybody tried this stuff?
Car Bomb Explodes Near Baghdad Police Headquarters

A car bomb at Baghdad's police headquarters killed an Iraqi police officer and wounded about 15 others Tuesday in a suspected attempt to assassinate the police chief, a key ally of the U.S.-led occupying authorities.

The blast, which sent thick black smoke into the sky, went off as more than 100,000 mourners packed into the holy city of Najaf for the funeral of a top Shi'ite cleric slain in the most deadly of the attacks plaguing postwar Iraq.

Much of the violence has targeted U.S. forces, who lost two soldiers in a landmine explosion Monday to take the number killed in action since the official end of major combat to 67. But Iraqis cooperating with the occupiers are also at risk.
So does this imply "desperation"? Maybe, maybe not, but it does further show Iraqi attitudes towards these attacks:

"Why didn't you do this on Friday?" screamed one man pulled aside and searched by the Iraqi police who surrounded the Imam Ali shrine and kept cars from approaching it.

"The sayyid (Hakim) and all the Muslims who died would still be alive."

Many Shi'ites believe supporters of Saddam, a Sunni Muslim who repressed them, carried out the attack. But they also blame U.S. forces for postwar insecurity. The throng trailing Hakim's coffin as it entered the shrine screamed: "No, no to America!"
Great- so the "Saddam can go to hell and Bush can follow him" meme (saw it, I think, on Where is Raed, but can't find the specific link) is now conventional wisdom. "A pox on both their houses" isn't exactly the reaction ShrubCo and the rolling re-election squad was promising, hmm? Makes sense, sure, but doesn't smell of tossed flowers to me.

And it's still only been four months. Where this ends up after a year, I don't even want to know.
Well, this is poor strategy::

Israel may have to decide on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's fate before year's end, Israel's Defence Minister said Tuesday, adding that expelling the Palestinian leader was the likely course.

Israel considers Mr. Arafat an obstacle to peace and has accused him of involvement in terrorism.

'Because this is the situation and because Arafat never wanted to reach an agreement with us ... I think that he has to disappear from the stage of history, and not be included in the ranks of the Palestinian leadership,' Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel Army Radio.

Mr. Mofaz said he favours expelling Mr. Arafat- at the right time.

'I believe that Israel made a historic mistake by not exiling him two years ago,' he said. 'With regard to the future, I think we will be compelled to deal with this issue within a relatively short period of time, very possibly even this year.'
I'm amazed at Mofaz's credulity and naivete- there are very good reasons why Israel has not exiled him. (I hope that I don't have to put quotes around "exile".)

As should be relatively obvious, he's not Israel's to exile. Like him or not (and many don't, to be sure), he was elected by the Palestinian people to be their president, and I haven't seen any significant challenges to the legitimacy of those votes. (Except perhaps that there hasn't been another election since, but there are some, um, extraordinary circumstances there.) He isn't as popular as he was, of course, but Abbas is neither popular nor elected. He may be more open to negotiation and that's both necessary and good, but it doesn't change things one whit.

If Israel removes him, any support that Abbas had will collapse, and the Palestinian people will move en masse to support of Hamas et al, and this is something nobody wants to see happen. Yes, Abbas and Arafat are definitely fighting it out for power right now, and Israel should take a role in ensuring that Abbas retains some- they still can't do it by threatening expulsion. Even the threat reconfirms Palestinian fears about the Israelis, and would work to ruin the goodwill and support that the Israelis derive from being the unquestionable non-cyclical "first target" after the ceasefire. It could even cause the already-embattled United States to distance itself somewhat, and that is something that Israel literally cannot afford.

Monday, September 01, 2003

I'm perhaps a little behind the times on this, but I hadn't linked to this and wanted to anyway:

The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in Ohio told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

The Aug. 14 letter from Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Inc. - who has become active in the re-election effort of President Bush - prompted Democrats this week to question the propriety of allowing O'Dell's company to calculate votes in the 2004 presidential election.

....In his invitation letter, O'Dell asked guests to consider donating or raising up to $10,000 each for the federal account that the state GOP will use to help Bush and other federal candidates - money that legislative Democratic leaders charged could come back to benefit Blackwell.

They urged Blackwell to remove Diebold from the field of voting-machine companies eligible to sell to Ohio counties.

This is the second such request in as many months. State Sen. Jeff Jacobson, a Dayton-area Republican, asked Blackwell in July to disqualify Diebold after security concerns arose over its equipment.
The response from Diebold and the Republicans was simply bizarre:

Diebold spokeswoman Michelle Griggy said O'Dell - who was unavailable to comment personally - has held fund-raisers in his home for many causes, including the Columbus Zoo, Op era Columbus, Catholic Social Services and Ohio State University.

Ohio GOP spokesman Jason Mauk said the party approached O'Dell about hosting the event at his home, the historic Cotswold Manor, and not the other way around. Mauk said that under federal campaign finance rules, the party cannot use any money from its federal account for state- level candidates.

"To think that Diebold is somehow tainted because they have a couple folks on their board who support the president is just unfair," Mauk said.
They're equating the Republican party to the Columbus Zoo? Saying that it's all right because "the party approached him" and because they can only use the money for Bush? I'm inclined to think that they really were caught with their pants down- if they were prepared for this, there's no way that they'd have such an incredibly lame response.

(What kind of broken thought process could have possibly prompted that howler about "unfairness"?)

Were the parties reversed, the conservatives would be screaming themselves into unconsciousness. Since it's their guy, though, it's apparently "no harm done", with maybe just enough of a response to innoculate against criticism without actually changing anything. The only way that they can salve their credibility is to demand that Diebold be disallowed from producing voting machines for at least the 2004 election, and to insist upon a voter-verifiable paper trail. Now.