Thursday, July 31, 2003

While usually a fan of Tapped, I have to take issue with this entry about the study of journalism at a university level:

Staffers at The Battalion, the Texas A&M student newspaper, are printing a mostly blank editorial page today to protest the school's plans to scrap the undergraduate journalism program. "The administration says it wants to produce quality journalists, but we think this blank page more accurately portrays their true commitment to journalism," True Brown, the paper's editor, told the San Antonio Express-News.

We appreciate the esprit de corps, but when it comes to undergraduate journalism programs -- and most other pre-professional undergraduate programs -- Tapped says: Scrap away. We can't think of a bigger waste of four years of college than to study journalism there. Journalism isn't an academic subject; it's a trade, one that almost anyone with the basic skill set -- clear writing and aggressive reporting -- can pick up in six months at a small metro daily. Really good journalism isn't easy, of course, but you don't get to be a good journalist by studying "journalism" in college. Better to study economics, or history, or English literature, or philosophy, or one of the other liberal arts. If you feel like you need a little schooling in the trade, spend eight months at j-school when you graduate.
This is wrongheaded, and there are several reasons why:

First, this money isn't going to be going towards liberal arts, and Tapped should know better. This money is going to be going into other pre-professional programs (especially the various business degrees), as those are the ones that get the alumni support, that get the support from administrators who are constantly haranguing (and harangued) about "useless college degrees" and that are chased by students whose interest in university is solely in the amount of cash they can make afterwards. This is entirely counterproductive- it's like a Political Science prof. complaining that studying English and Sociology is unnecessary, blissfully unaware that all their budgets are being cut to make way for a new Business/Economics wing.

Second, Tapped doesn't get to decide what is or isn't worthy of study. I imagine that there are those who think that studying, say, Computer Science at a university level is a waste as well, considering that one can learn to be a programmer in a shorter period of time than one can learn to be a decent journalist. The difference is that of concept vs. execution- a university degree is supposed to delve into the theoretical ideas behind something like journalism. If people deem those theoretical ideas worthy of study (and they do), then to arbitrarily say "it's not worth it" is presumptuous at the least.

Finally, the biggest problem with Tapped's point of view is that we've already seen the result of what Tapped has in mind, and it's the conservative opinion media. One of the biggest charges that Alterman, Brock, and others have laid at the feet of the various members of the Wurlitzer is that they care little for journalism in-and-of itself except in how it supports their ideology and/or their careers. While I don't believe in enshrining objectivity, respect for power of the media is something that all journalists should learn, and there is no guarantee that they'll learn anything like that with "on the job training" somewhere like the National Review, the Washington Times, the American Prospect, or any number of well-paying and well-connected but ethically dubious homes of right-wing "journalism". Besides, without any sort of theory of journalism to base the critique on, attempts to convince young conservative journalists to place their craft over their ideology are doomed anyway; they would be easily crushed by a load of relativist defenses. I don't want to see the Times become the rule, rather than the exception.

(No college worth its salt would allow J-students to only take courses on journalism, so the sort of wasted time that Tapped bemoans is unnecessary.)

Does this mean that I would study journalism, were I an aspiring student choosing a major? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I know that I'd be glad that the option remains available, and I think that if Tapped were in the same position, they'd feel the same way. I support the Battalion, and wish them well.

On the other hand, I entirely agree with their take on those clueless mouthbreathers at the College Republican conference:

"Let's hope these bigoted, pathetic little snits aren't our future."

I wish I were that optimistic.
Bush came out against gay marriage today:

President Bush said today that while he believed Americans should treat gays in a welcoming and respectful manner, he remained firmly opposed to gay marriages and that administration lawyers were working to ensure that the term 'marriage' would cover only unions between men and women.

At a Rose Garden news conference today, Mr. Bush used a general question from a reporter about his views on homosexuality to plunge into the hotly debated issue of gay marriage and offer reassuring words to many supporters. His response contained his trademark political mix of an expression of tolerance accompanied by a firm conservative position on the actual policy.
Now, personally, I believe this is going to end up a judicial matter, because gay couples will be able to go up to Canada to get married, and the question of whether or not that applies in the U.S. will inevitably come before the Supreme Court no matter what laws are passed in the meantime.

(I personally think that the SC will come down in favor of some sort of civil union arrangement, which is why there's this frantic effort to amend the constitution.)

Still, what really interests me is a seemingly unrelated question: is this a shot across the bow at Dean? At this point, Rove and Co. have to be taking him seriously whether they want to campaign against him or not, and the Bush admin may be trying to start framing the campaign as pro-gay marriage vs. anti-gay marriage, as that's the one issue where they must be pretty confident that they will maintain majority support vs. Dean. (The war is likely, but not certain.) If they don't want to run against Dean, this makes even more sense, because other Dems could take a shot at Dean's electability based on this issue.

(They might even have a point; apparently the Liberal Party of Canada has recieved bitter, nearly frothing letters and phone calls about the issue. This is especially significant as Canadians are much more laid back about these sorts of issues than Americans are, due to relative levels of religiousness.)

On the other hand, this may do wonders for Dean's financial situation. Advertisers have long acknowledged the buying power of gay and lesbian couples; it is that buying power that is one of the chief reasons that gays and lesbians are being courted fairly aggressively by corporate America and why they've gained the societal acceptance they have. They tend to have disproportionate disposable income, and many are (by necessity) political. Dean could parlay this civil union issue into stacks of campaign funding from both individuals and organizations; and if it's handled right (ie, largely though online individual donations), Dean could get the money without having to go into great detail as to why, so as to avoid a backlash.

This might not be a goal of the Dean campaign at all, of course; still there's one thing for sure: log cabin Republicans are an endangered species: and the sooner the Dems realize that, the sooner they can begin to take advantage of it. It's somewhat unfortunate, because one's sexuality should not even be an issue politically. In this United States, however, it's unavoidable.

Edit: I missed something about this, namely a statement by, well, the president of the Log Cabin Republicans:

Patrick Guerriero, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republican backers, said that Mr. Bush's remarks were "troubling to us," adding, "It seems like it's a political card being played for the radical right on a national stage." He said the 1996 act should have answered all of the conservatives' concerns. Mr. Guerriero said that Mr. Bush should take note that using such cultural war issues as homosexuality had failed in the past, notably for the re-election bid of the president's father.
Interesting... I had forgotten about that part of the Bush-the-Elder campaign. It makes sense, though, and would make even more sense now; a lot of Bush's less vocal support comes from people who aren't particularly cozy with social conservatism, and they are precisely the audience that would be most likely to bolt to a Democratic candidate if Bush started sounding like Falwell or Bennett.

That raises a question.. has anybody seen polling that cross-referenced attitudes on gay tolerance and marriage with the strengh of partisan identification? I'm curious to see how things may turn out.
Everybody knows at this point that Ann Coulter is either tendentious or out-and-out nuts, but now it appears she's just getting lazy:

But as Baghdad erupted in celebrations after receiving the news that Heckle and Jeckle were dead, liberals were still hopping mad that last January, President Bush uttered the indisputably true fact that British intelligence believed Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire uranium from Africa.

That was, and still is, believed by British intelligence. It also was, and still is, believed by our own National Intelligence Estimate service. The CIA, however, discounts this piece of intelligence.

The CIA did such a bang-up job predicting 9/11, the Democrats have decided to put all their faith in it. They believe the nation must not act until absolutely every agency and every last American is convinced we are about to be nuked. (Would that they had such strict standards for worrying about nuclear power plants at home.)
Discounting the "believed/learned" question, where exactly does Ann think the NIE comes from? Does she believe in intel gnomes?

And for that matter, why should these mystical NIE sources be trusted any more than the CIA when, um, they didn't predict 9/11 either? And what is the standard for acting? Should the United States start wars based on something somebody overheard in the Congressional cafeteria?

Leah over at Eschaton believes that this sort of thing is an excellent emetic. Personally, I think it should serve as a kind of bottom-rung IQ test. If this sort of twaddle can actually convince someone, it's pretty clear proof that they've got learning and logic issues; beliefs don't even enter into it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

There's an astounding piece on Billmon about the Dean campaign; about the financial tools which it is bringing to the table, about the groups that it appears to be targeting, and about its relation to the "emerging democratic majority" thesis (which is much more logical than the EDM authors would have you believe).

Most intriguingly, Billmon believes the Dean campaign's targeting of internet-savvy professionals may allow the Dems (and Dean specifically) to gain a new and lucrative source of donations:

The Internet, however, is the ideal medium for reaching [those people] just below the [wealthiest] 1%. The reasons should be obvious: These are some of the most wired people on the planet. They’re accustomed to doing financial transactions on the web. They’re also highly educated, skeptical, and likely to be left cold by the kind of simplistic marketing pitches that are the bread and butter of direct mail. And they’re often willing to put their mouths where their money is, and get directly involved in political campaigns --if they are motivated by a candidate or a cause they find appealing.

Most importantly, though, these people have disposable income – not as much as the upper 1%, to be sure, but enough to make them potentially a force to be reckoned with, as Howard Dean is busy proving.
Interestingly enough, he isn't a Dean supporter, and doesn't really believe that Dean is electable (although he doesn't get into it). He does, however, believe that the Dean campaign will be the guiding light for the Democratic party of the 21st century: focused on professionals along with its traditional constituencies (as laid out by the EDM thesis), using the Internet as a community-building and quasi-grassroots tool, and laser-focused on the "ground war". (This last one is key, as voter turnout is becoming as important an issue as voter preference).

Not mentioned in Billmon's article, however, is one concept I think that the Dems of the 21st century will need to embrace: confident difference.

2002 proved that trying to hide behind "me-tooism" isn't going to work, as Republicans have become very skilled at ensuring that the public believes Democrats stand for anything they say they don't stand for. The only way to deal with that is to seize the issue and build your own narrative, and the only way to do that is to be for something different that people can resonate with. They can't be afraid to state it either, because if they don't tell people what they're about, the Republicans will. And it won't be pretty.

Saying "I'm not" doesn't work. Saying "I am", however, does, and I think Dean's current success is partially due to recognition of this concept. No matter who wins the nomination, they can't be seen as the guy running against Bush and Bush's policies, and certainly can't be seen as the guy saying "I agree but..." because the "but" will be ignored. They have to be the guy running for something. Maybe not right now, because it's not so important (as I metioned earlier), but but figuring out "what makes me different" should be in the back of everyone's mind.

And yes, this includes national security. As a matter of fact, it must.
Bush appears to be assaulted from all sides on the missing pages. Not only are members of Congress calling for the release of the information, but now the Saudi Foreign Minister is as well:

President Bush rejected a personal appeal from Saudi Arabia's foreign minister yesterday to release a classified section of a congressional report that has fed accusations the kingdom aided the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal called it 'an outrage to any sense of fairness' that the 28 blacked-out pages were causing Saudi Arabia to be 'wrongfully and morbidly accused of complicity in the tragic terrorist attacks. '

This accusation is based on misguided speculation, and is born of poorly disguised malicious intent,' he said after a hastily arranged White House meeting.

Saud said his nation is being 'indicted by insinuation' and cannot reply to wordless pages. 'We have nothing to hide,' he said. 'We do not seek, nor do we need, to be shielded.'"
At first glance, my response was "why on earth would the Saudis be objecting to this?" It may be, however, that to use the term "Saudi support" is somewhat inaccurate.

Other sources that I've read on this subject imply that individual members of the royal family have given money to organizations that indirectly aided Al Qaeda, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the family as a whole or the Saudi Arabian government as a whole is responsible for these acts. They may have been unaware, or they may have been unable to stop it.

As it stands now, however, there's no way of us knowing one way or another. Faisal would be understandable concerned, however, if it looked like the conclusion that everybody has made is that the Saudis are basically bankrolling Al Qaeda. He doesn't their country to become a target for either economic or political backlash for the attacks, and this perception has not helped matters. Bush could assert that the Saudis have been supporters of the U.S. since the attack, but his poor current credibility (outside of traditional constituencies) and the question of Saudi beliefs before the attack will endlessly haunt any such assertion. With a lawsuit on the way, the Saudis aren't going to be satisfied by that, and neither is everybody else.

Don't get me wrong; I can respect that classified information should remain so, as it could endanger lives and the security of both the United States and its allies. I am also entirely aware (unlike others) that the Saudis are the one group in the region nigh-immune to the prospect of invasion, because of their hold over oil prices and the likelihood of an outraged Islamic backlash against the U.S. were they to be the new owners of Mecca and Medina.

In any case, there's only one way to resolve this: get the information out. If the Saudis want it out so badly, then Bush should accede to their wishes. Unless, of course, there's something else they're hiding...

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I wanted to respond to a comment that Armed Liberal made in regards to this Calpundit piece.

I need to go blog a bit on this as well, but want to leave one thoguht here - this is a proxy war, in which the Arab states - including up to a month or so ago, Iraq - were heavily subsidizing Palestinian terrorism as a tactic. It was ostensibly a good move, relatively cheap, deniable, and cost-free to their own people while maintaining the sense of combat that the totalitian state requires to survive.

Over the next 18 months, for one reason or another, that level of outside cash and logistical support is going to decrease substantially.

Time is on our side, for one.

In many respects, this is fair enough. It's important to remember, however, that support of the Palestinians is also a survival issue in that Palestinian refugees are significant destabilizers in several arab countries (and others where there are interests involved, such as between Syria and Lebanon). There is likely also the perception, justified or not, that a "non-resistant" Palestinian population would be taken advantage of by the Israelis, perhaps leading even to transfer. (Which is a Worst Case Scenario for almost every arab state in the Middle East.)

Anyway, the issue is where this goes. While they may be undemocratic, the leaders of most Arab states aren't stupid or irrational (to the extent that they would ignore situations that benefit them...witness Egypt's peace pact with Israel, and the ruthlessness with which most arab leaders have risen to power.)

If said Arab states get the impression that the Israelis are negotiating in good faith and that the Americans aren't trying to push the process to serve their own ends, then they'll likely do exactly what you said... throttle back on both the rhetoric and the cash supplies for the militant/terrorist groups. (They likely won't abandon either, but it'll go from a torrent to a trickle.)

On the other hand, if the Arab states perceive that Israel is attempting to take advantage of increasing Palestinian quiescence by enacting a slow takeover of "Judea and Samaria" by expanding settlements and claiming large "security zones", then they will start resisting. They'll worry about the prospect of Israel slowly pushing the Palestinian population slowly towards the Jordan river (and, presumably, over it), especially as the "Demographic Dilemma" becomes more and more pressing. Fearing the possibility of the Palestinians irrevocably destabilizing their own states, they'll feel forced to reopen the floodgates, but find a newer and more secure channel by which to do it.

Of course, then the U.S. will have to intervene militarily across the region if it wants to damp this down, and I honestly doubt whether that will work. The U.S. would be forced to occupy and "regime change" multiple countries simultaneously, likely without any sort of U.N. or foreign state support. Indeed, it'd break the two sides of the Atlantic apart for good.

The best solution, then, is for the Israelis and their American backers to entirely give up the rhetoric of assigning blame (not that both sides are necessarily equally blameworthy, but that it's useless and counterproductive), negotiate in good faith, dismantle the settlements, disavow the entire concept of "Greater Israel", (whether it be "Jews on one side of the Jordan, Arabs on the other", the League of Nations' promises, and the use of the term "Judea and Sameria" to describe the West Bank) and work from there.

Does this mean that Hamas and the like won't still scream about Israeli betrayal and the need for jihad to regain all of historical Palestine? Probably not. They might even attack again, which will be counterproductive from a utilitarian perspective, wrong from a moral perspective, and tragic from any perspective. Thing is, people will stop listening to them. Even if they dislike or even loathe the Israelis (although I suspect that opinion will fade away in the light of day), the Palestinians will move to the more peaceful relationship with their neighbours that they had prior to the current intifada, and the extremists will be starved of attention, manpower, resources and public support.

Like the Israelis, the Palestinians have better things to do than fight.
Tom DeLay is going to Iraq:

Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, never tires of reminding people that he is just a former pest exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex. But beginning this weekend, he will travel to the world's most complex and troubled region, meet with prime ministers, speak to a foreign parliament and, by his presence, remind the Bush administration to pay heed to its right flank as it seeks to make peace.

As he travels next week through Israel, Jordan and Iraq, he will take with him a message of grave doubt that the Middle East is ready for a Palestinian state, as called for in the current peace plan, known as the road map, backed by the administration and Europe.

'I'm sure there are some in the administration who are smarter than me, but I can't imagine in the very near future that a Palestinian state could ever happen,' he said in an interview today, as he prepared to leave for a weeklong official tour.

'I can't imagine this president supporting a state of terrorists, a sovereign state of terrorists,' he said. 'You'd have to change almost an entire generation's culture.'
This is no accident, and I believe that DeLay's "dissenting message" is not intended to hobble the White House in the slightest. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if someone in the White House authored it.

DeLay is serving a useful dual role here. By expressing his "grave doubts", he reassures the right wing (especially evangelicals) that the Republican party continues to support them. His attempts to "remind the administration" of an attitude that they're perfectly familiar with, however, is instead an attempt to make them look more centrist and reasonable.

The White House desperately needs that right now. Bush needs to pull the focus of the media away from the "sixteen words" and back onto the White House and its "Grand Strategy" for fighting the war against terrorism (by attempting to remake the Middle East). They know they're on shaky ground when it comes to parsing and justifications, but are confident that they hold the advantage as long as they aren't faced with a competing "Grand Strategy" from the Democrats. The more abstract the policy discussion, the better off the White House is.

The trick for the Democrats, then, is to deny Bush that opportunity. An element of that may well be sheer bloodymindedness, sticking to the simple questions of truth and spin that Bush's White House seems incredibly bad at dealing with. At the same time, however, it may be a good idea to follow up those jabs with a knockout punch- to formulate an alternative strategy for dealing with terrorism, third world security, and third world hostility to America without either aping Bush's position or denying that some course of action is required.

The thing is, I'm sure that if I know this needs to be done, then all the Democratic candidates and their campaign teams know this needs to be done. So why are they focusing on the small stuff? Why not bring out the big guns?

Probably for the same reason the Bush administration loathes leaks- they're playing their cards close to their chests, and don't want to reveal their hands too early. There's a long time between now and November 2004, and to put out an alternative foreign policy position now would be counterproductive at the very least. The situation could change, leading to candidates being hung by their own petards by ill-timed early statements. Bush's policy could change, meaning that their critiques and ideas become moot. Most damaging, though, is the prospect of granting the Bush administration over a year to not only figure out each and every permutation of attack that is available to the incumbent president, but to perhaps use the power of the presidency to alter the situation just enough that the candidate's policy becomes useless.

By sticking to the small stuff, then, the Dems can weaken Bush without exposing their own weaknesses too much, because the small stuff is known to everybody and because counter-offensives only exacerbate the Stanfield Effect.

(Plus, by picking which avenue of attack they want to persue, they can distinguish themselves from the other candidates without letting up on Bush. This is vital to keeping Democratic cohesion, and useful for highlighting the candidates who appear to be best able to make the accusations and make them resonate with the American people and the media.)

So for those saying "the Dems have no plan", I answer: they don't need to, and to push one right now would be incredibly foolish. 2004 won't be 2002... playing "Bush Lite" isn't going to work during an election where national security is king and Bush is making the medicare issue his own. Poor (if not deliberately deceptive) right-wing advice aside, the candidates are best advised to keep doing what they're doing now: attacking Bush's (politically sacred) credibility, getting donations for 2004, figuring out where they stand, and positioning themselves for the primaries by criticizing Bush, not each other.

(Free tip for Dem candidates: the Saudi issue is almost certainly a tar baby. It'll force you to not only place yourself to the right of the administration and play to its strengths, but dealing with the Saudi issue is going to be a delicate and difficult matter that should be avoided until truly necessary. It'll also probably tick off the base, and that's where the cash comes from.)
I'm glad to see that the "Shorter Den Beste" is alive and well at BusyBusyBusy:

Bush had to lie to get his war on, but I can discern his true motive and it is good.
So much pithier.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Ok, it doesn't appear that anything's broken....

adding that blogads strip wreaked havok with the tables a few times in preview, but it seems to be functioning well enough now. If there's any problems, let me know and I'll do what I can to make them go away.

Edit: It appears to be... tempermental... in mozilla. At least a few times it's broken the tables, but just as mysteriously works again. IE is fine.

For those who know HTML... does this sound like a CSS problem, did I screw up a "td" somewhere, or what?
MyDD responds to Donkey Rising's latest salvo against Dean's electibility.

I was thinking about responding to this on my own, but haven't quite decided how I'm going to approach it yet. DD's rebuttals are well formed, however, and worth a read.
Via Leanleft, I discovered just how powerful the Dean Internet machine can Really Be:

It's time for Vice President Cheney's luncheon with a handful of special interests in Columbia, SC, and so far 6,558 Americans have contributed $344,428.19 to the Dean Team v. Bush-Cheney challenge.

Today, you are demonstrating that the people are more powerful than the special interests. Let's continue to show how the grassroots will defeat George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in November of 2004. If 1 to 2 million Americans each contribute $100 to the Dean campaign, we will have raised enough money to beat back the special interests that fund the current administration.
Leanleft's Kevin notes, with some apparent incredulity, that "they did this with a website". It's not that surprising that political solicitation of funds is moving online, as other kinds of business did the same a long time ago. What really has struck me is that the paragraph above about "1 to 2 million contributions" is actually not entirely implausible. It's very unlikely that Dean will get that many donations through random visitors to the website, but television ads and print ads pointing to the website might be able to.

This is fascinating. From what I've seen, the contribution process on the website is fairly simple, and encourages small donations. The combination of ease of use and small amounts turns political donations into an impulse buy. One might not be willing to contribute thousands of dollars at a time, but people can spare 25 bucks here and there, especially if they feel that they're getting something for their money. It also means that the act of soliciting political donations can become a one-to-many enterprise, as candidates can be fairly confident that their calls for donations will reach people who will contribute back in turn. Weblogs are perfect for this- they combine the personal tone of a face-to-face chat with the ability to reach as many people as necessary.

(Yes, this sort of donation scheme is present on most candidates' websites, including Shrub; what seperates the Dean campaign is how well they seem to be taking advantage of it.)

What's really surprising, though, is that it appears to be a Democrat that is taking full advantage of this. Considering that the Republicans have been driving the game of politics in the United States for a generation, this really does break the mold. Even if the Dems don't decide on Dean, the solicitation tools that he's pioneering (like the meetups, the emphasis on online donation-gathering, the weblog integration, that sort of thing) will be prominent for a long while to come, and will benefit Democrats even more as more and more traditional Democratic constituencies (such as union workers, minorities, women, etc.) come online and take their place in what has been largely a white upper/middle class male's playground.

One more thing I've noticed. One of the most lionized character traits of Americans is an appetite for competition, right? The way that the Dean campaign has approached this fundraiser, as a "Beat Bush!" challenge, is a really brilliant way of using this to their advantage. There really isn't much point to trying to beat Cheney's fundraiser, but it gets people interested and involved in a way that simple pleas for support can't begin to match. It pits the scrappy Democratic outsiders against the Bush/Cheney machine, and that's something that people will put their money towards and be a part of. Americans love an underdog. Going overboard on these competitions wouldn't be smart, but it's a great tactic to use for big pushes.
Matt Yglesias is amused by something Jack Shafer has noticed about the NYTimes:

[Schafer] If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources, New York Times reporter Judith Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now. In the 18-month run-up to the war on Iraq, Miller grew incredibly close to numerous Iraqi sources, both named and anonymous, who gave her detailed interviews about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Yet 100 days after the fall of Baghdad, none of the sensational allegations about chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons given to Miller have panned out, despite the furious crisscrossing of Iraq by U.S. weapons hunters. [...]
Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller's stories.

It's interesting that none of the blogosphere's well-known New York Times-bashers seem to be on to this story. Why, it's almost as if the whole gang is just more interested in pushing the media to the right than they are in the integrity of news reporting. Shafer himself is the one exception to this trend that I'm aware of, picking on the Times pretty much all the time no matter what. Would that the rest of the Raines haters out there could show so much decency.
What's really interesting is that I imagine if you asked most of the NY Times critics, they'd never admit to "working the ref" on this (to use Eric Alterman's description). Indeed, they probably never thought of it, as they were undoubtedly of the opinion that those stories which aided the right were "welcome examples of rare objectivity" and focused on the more left-wing stories as "yet more liberal bias from the NY Times". Even if those stories were equal in number, it wouldn't matter, because the latter stories were the ones that got the attention, the writing, and the links... the other ones were quickly ignored. This is something that I think Alterman missed in What Liberal Media: the extent to which "working the ref" isn't a conscious strategy, but the natural result of the way that objective and opinion journalism interact with each other in situations where the opinion journalists cut sharply in one direction. The Times' wholesale retreat in the wake of Raines' resignation (which is the only way one can describe their choice of David Brooks as a regular columnist... he's yet another "affirmative action conservative" that never, ever has a counterpart in conservative media) is perfect proof not just of the effectiveness of the strategy, but how it simply stems from the situation.

The solution, I believe, is opinion journalism on the left that matches that on the right in reach, dedication, and perseverence. Equally important, though, is recognition that it is not just its attitude that makes the right's opinion journalism effective, but its very relationship with the mainstream media.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

From Antidotal:

From: George Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
To: George W. Bush, President of the United States

Re: Alibis and Fall Guys

Dear Mr. President,

With regard to the above, I would like to respectfully and humbly remind you that more is not necessarily better.

Yours in confidence, George Tenet
At this point, it barely seems to matter.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Steven Den Beste can still surprise me, I'll give him that. When confronted with a reader that asked why the American people needed to be mislead about the true goals of the war, his response was simply this:

They don't need to know, and can't be trusted to know.
If there were a way for Bush to share this little secret with [the American people] without it leaking out to the rest of the world, perhaps it would make sense to talk about it. But that's obviously impossible.

It is nearly always a mistake to reveal any information when there's no need to do so. That applies on every level, from the mundanity of operations all the way up to the grand strategic. That's especially the case in a war like this one, where the goal is so diffuse and which affects so many nations in so many ways.
The question, then, is simple. Was there a need to do so? Steven appears to believe so, but as I mentioned earlier, he has completely failed to even consider the negative ramifications of this act when making his case for deception. It not only means that foreign nations literally cannot trust the United States, but that the American people can't trust their government. This is absolutely unacceptable. This cannot happen.

See, Steven's case for deception only works if the reasons are absolutely flawless for that deception and the reasons for the act that the deception surrounds. There is, of course, a theoretical situation where this could be right and just, and it is explored in great detail in Plato's Republic and its concept of the "noble lie"... lies that are told because it helps society. Plato, unlike Steven, realized how dangerous such an idea really is, and the very concept of the philosopher-king stems in part from the necessity of absolutely surety in justifying these sorts of acts.

American presidents, however, are (notoriously in this case) nothing like philosopher kings- they must be elected by the people, and they are flawed citizens like everybody else. They can draw on a greater store of information than most, and can receive advice from the best and brightest on how best to go about doing what they do, but in the end they are still flawed human beings. That was the very reason why the United States decided on revolution in the first place. This, therefore, creates two enormous problems.

(He says that the invasion of Iraq is a "narrow case", but provides reasons that could be applied to any number of conflicts.)

First, this "need for secrecy" can place the country and its citizens in deadly danger of which it was not appraised and the reasons for which it was not really given. This could have easily happened in Iraq (Steven's gloating over the worst case scenario not having happened misses the point that it could have), and Steven's assertions aside, the American people are waking up to the realization that the quick war they were promised was not ever going to happen. In the future, however, things could be much, much worse; under Steven's rationalization, presidents become all-powerful whenever there is a claimed need for secrecy and some sort of conflict to justify it. This is disasterous.

Second, and more important, are the electoral implications. As presidents are flawed human beings, they can (and do) exploit their office to increase their chances for re-election and the election of their partisan partners. Steven himself brought this up a while ago when he was defending term limits, so he knows full well about this problem. Conflicts rarely follow the electoral cycle, so it is almost certain that elections will occur during some sort of conflict. A president could easily exploit conflict to benefit his party and harm the other, and this is almost precisely what happened in 2002. The 2002 election wasn't the reason for the war, but everybody knows that Bush and the Republicans exploited it to the hilt. This could become the rule rather than the exception, and it could pervert the operation of the American Republic by giving the party of the President an unstoppable advantage. Sure, that might benefit Bush right now, but would Steven be so prosaic if a Democrat managed to get in and cemented the Democratic party as solidly a ruling party as, say, the LDP in Japan?

Even worse if Steven's argument is valid, however, is the fact that there is no way that elections are meaningful, because the voters must make their choice "blind". They simply cannot properly evaluate the platforms of the candidates and the actions of the president, because they cannot understand the context within which those actions take place. Whether you support the president and his partisan candidates or not, this is a poor situation to be in; a president could be re-elected despite his plans being a danger both to American security and the international system, or be voted out despite having a brilliant (yet secret) plan for securing the safety of the American people. This could also happen on the Congressional level as well, as coattails sweep parties in and out of power. Sure, presidents might be able to explain their actions after the conflict is over, but perhaps not... some conflicts rage for decades, and Steven himself says that the War on Terror will likely do so. Elections become pointless, if not totally random. Without a functioning system of democratic election that can realistically take into account foreign policy, the Republic is not only a complete sham, but it is inevitably doomed.

Steven's case is, in a word, indefensible, and if he is correct about the Bush administration's actions then those actions are also indefensible. He is right in saying that honesty with the American people could make things much more difficult for presidents, but nobody said the job would be easily, and his claim that such honesty would involve unacceptable costs:

What price are you willing to pay for that? How many American soldiers are you willing to sacrifice? Are you willing to risk losing...
...misses the point, which is that under his justification, the Republic has already lost. The idea of the American Republic that is supposed to be its beating heart would lie dead and rotting.

That isn't "Jacksonian", Mr. Den Beste. It's not even Nixonian. Hell, it isn't even Machiavellian, because Machiavelli required leaders to sacrifice everything they hold dear (to "kill the sons of Brutus") for the sake of justice and for their people. It is, appropriately enough, the words of a Stalinist bureaucrat or a French Sun-King. "L'etat c'est Den Beste", as it were.


Thursday, July 24, 2003

Well, Jon's interview with Wilson tonight was interesting... not quite what I expected.

The first segment was predictable enough, with Jon getting Wilson's opinion on the Niger uranium story and remarking on the French control of Niger's uranium supplies. (Wilson was going to correct him, but the conversation moved on too quickly.) Wilson was careful to say that he didn't say that the documents were forgeries, but just that it simply couldn't have happened the way that the documents described. He also was attempting to dispel the "somewhere else in Africa" defense, naming off the other countries and his knowledge of them (with the implication that his judgement that Saddam wasn't really trying to get African uranium extended beyond Niger.)

The second segment, though, was the one where I expected the CIA outing story to be addressed. Jon was certainly leaning in that direction, asking "so what was the White House's reaction". Wilson, however, was extremely circumspect, saying only that "people are looking into allegations that were made about my family" and not going any further than that. Jon didn't press the issue, and although it somewhat frustrated me at first, I can respect that decision... he didn't want to alienate his guest, and Wilson had clearly made his choice.

It did, however, lead to what is, for me, perhaps the defining moment of this entire scandal . Wilson said that things were probably going to be patched up, and mentioned a letter Dick Cheney had sent him asking for his support to the tune of a cool grand. He then produced the letter, to Jon's amazement and delight, and showed Dick Cheney's hand-written signature on the letter. Funniest thing I'd seen all week.

Oh, one other thing: remember that little scandalette about the White House website? Where Bush's argument that "he couldn't look over each and every sentence" was directly contradicted by a picture of Bush doing that very thing with the 2002 SOTU? Jon brought it up, and it was a great bit.

Which only leaves one question, one that's been bugging me for something like a year now:

why the hell is the Daily Show only a half-hour long?

Honestly, it deserves more time.
Donald Luskin has gone to great, great lengths to try to hang Prof. Krugman on a single word: "covert". The entry was updated by Luskin later to reflect the fact that Plame was apparently, yes, a covert operative, but the premise of the whole thing was weak anyway: Krugman was relatively careful to hide this behind an "if these allegations are true", and everybody involved is surely smart enough to know that the only way the allegations matter is if Plame was a covert operative, as there's no harm in mentioning someone who is already "out". Men, dogs, biting and whatnot.

What really interests me, though, is one of the things that Luskin attacked, yet failed to follow through on:

We'll start with the first sentence: "And while we're on the subject of patriotism, let's talk about the affair of Joseph Wilson's wife."...there's no "affair of Joseph Wilson's wife" -- these two paragraphs are the attempt to invent one...

Another reader alerted me to an online column by David Corn on the website of The Nation, published on July 16, two days after the Novak column mentioned in Krugman's column. It has been quoted, discussed, and linked on several other websites -- none of great note, but arguably this constitutes an "affair."
He also attacks Krugman for having not properly sourced his information... a weak charge considering that Op/Ed columnists aren't usually expected to be as careful as news reporters on this, but it's somewhat fair.

Here's the kicker, though:

what if the reason Krugman picked up on it is because he read it here?

Well, not necessarily here... although I know the good Professor has read my humble blog in the past, I have no idea whether or not he's a regular reader. (If he is, I'd be happy to receive an email to that effect. Or, for that matter, a comment in the comments section.) This story, however, isn't really mine... it's been followed on Calpundit, Eschaton, Mark Kleiman's blog,the the History News Network and pretty much every else in the blogosphere. There was also widespread recognition that the only way that this thing matters is if she's a covert operative, so that might explain why Paul made the "covert" assumption that he did. Even the particular tack that he took on the story seems reminiscent of Blogovia's.

It also might explain the sourcing issues. It is quite possible that the Times is leery of having its columnists mention bloggers as sources, as it's one of the few media outlets that does use some sort of blogging (as far as I know) as part of its online content. That's not to say that Paul wouldn't be allowed to do it, period, but it may have had an influence. It would also explain why he was on this story so quickly, even (as Luskin asserts) before the Newsday article that confirmed that she was covert.

(Yes, it is possible that he decided to write based on the Nation article that kickstarted this whole thing, but I find that unlikely. Common foes aside, Krugman and the Nation have precious little in common, and he wouldn't call a single Nation article an "affair".)

So, once we leave aside the Luskin-esque dross, the real question is whether Calpundit, Atrios, and the rest of us have somewhat more influence than we previously believed. It's certainly possible, and it has precedent. Care to weigh in, Professor Krugman?
Ok, as it would appear somewhat necessary, I'm going to pull the "grab a former post from CalPundit's comment archives trick, regarding one (minute)man's lonely quest to build a case for the defense in the Plame affair.

Although I'm usually not that critical of the Minuteman (except for the reflexive Krugman bashing), I somewhat think that Tom Maguire's trying to cover for Bush.

When I first mentioned the story he was quick to attack Wilson's credibility on a story about his own wife's safety, the fact that the CIA apparently confirmed it (leaving aside the question of whether the administration officials did it or not) and whether or not she really was an agent (focusing on Wilson's refusal to "out" her himself as proof of this, despite his other attacks on Wilson's credibility).

Now that her job is confirmed, he's hairsplitting over "administration" vs. "governmental" which, while accurate, may not have been as carefully thought out in the other pieces on the subject (including Novak's.) He claims that there was a careful distinction made, but look at this paragraph from the Time story:

Government officials are not only privately disputing the genesis of Wilson's trip, but publicly contesting what he found. Last week Bush Administration officials said that Wilson's report reinforced the president's claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. They say that when Wilson returned from Africa in Feb. 2002... The Administration claims Wilson reported that the former Nigerien official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.
The topic sentence of this paragraph mentions "government officials", and the paragraph itself continually refers to "administration officials". Yes, there is a later section where they use the term "government officials" to refer to Tenet, but the damage is already done. Sorry, but either the Time people think that administration=governmental, or they're far, far too lazy to rigorously make that distinction. Either way, any argument of Tom's based on that article is riddled with holes.

Okay, original content again. The big problem here is that Maguire is assuming that journalists are going to be incredibly careful about what most people would consider a hairsplitting difference. Even a quick interview with anybody involved in these sorts of issues knows that journalists aren't that careful, and the original Novak piece can be interpreted in more ways than Tom seems to think. Besides, Novak remains a supporter of the administration in most respects, and almost certainly did not intend for this to blow up into a huge scandal. He may not be a big war backer, but I doubt that he's going to want to be instrumental in the downfall of the Bush administration. That would probably have an, um, somewhat noticeable effect on his career.

For all that I don't agree with him (and think that the Krugman bashing is Quixotic) I'm actually relatively fond of Tom's work and his blog. Plus, he likes Jon Stewart. I would almost prefer that his interpretation be correct as well, because if the allegations are true this goes far beyond misleading speechmaking, naughty Oval Office cigar games, or breaking into hotel rooms. Still, I don't think either is the case... I don't see the reason why the CIA would out its own agent, and intra-CIA conflict pales compared to the hatred the Agency now has for the Bushies.

Oh, and one more thing: since Time wasn't making the distinction properly, Tom, Krugman was right. It's fine, I don't need the apology, but I'm sure the good Professor would be fine with an apologetic email.

(Or perhaps a nice fruitcake? Lots of those going around right now.)
Oh, the tragedy of a fallen star.

Despite he and I having a long "history", and despite my having commented on Uday and Qusay in a fashion that clearly should have prompted a reaction, I was not included in Steven Den Beste's carefully contrived attack on those who were insufficiently joyous over the Hussein brothers' deaths.

I weep. Doesn't he care anymore? Don't I get a role in what Hesiod (who did get mentioned) aptly dubbed Den Beste's "neo-McCarthyist" attack on what Den Beste snidely calls "the loyal opposition"? What happened to the Clancy-loving conspiracy-mongering Bush-backing El Capitano that less than a year ago used to write incredibly long screeds about my fervent desire to, apparently, conquer the world?

I feel so unappreciated.

Still, I will contribute this: Steven should probably avoid saying things like this:

I think it says an awful lot about him that he thinks someone who liked to watch when men were fed feet-first into a shredding machine, so he could listen to their screams as they died, is a "lesser evil" than our current President.
...when at least one of the United States' "coalition allies" has a disturbing tendency to boil people alive. I imagine that they scream a lot too. After all, Steven wouldn't want to be seen as "objectively pro-boiling" now, would he?

Edit: Well, Steven did provide a link saying "Demosthenes comments". It's not lengthy, but it does make me feel like part of the team, and that's something. Not sure what it's "objectively pro-", but it's definitely something. As for the rest of Steven's writings, I find it extraordinarily interesting that he condones both misleading the American people and completely ignores the negative ramifications of American actions. Instead of saying "these negative things may happen, but these positive things outweigh them", he's claiming that each and every consequence of the war in Iraq is going to be unreservedly positive. (He mentions a "trickle of casualties", but places it within the context of demonstrating American resolve.)

This is, in a word, impossible. The real world doesn't work like this, and real analysis doesn't work like this. Propaganda, however, usually does; it's deeply ironic that Steven accuses Hesiod of "living in a dream world".
As a believer in pseudonymous commentary, I'm really interested in this new blogging service called invisiblog, which takes privacy and anonymity to the point of collecting no information about the bloggers in question and sending all the information through PGP and an anonymous remailer in order to keep one's identity secret. They believe they have good reasons to provide this service, and provide numerous examples:

q: Who needs that much anonymity?

a: Here are some examples of bloggers and web publishers whose life or liberty has been threatened, or could be endangered in the future:

* Salam Pax, a pseudonymous blogger claiming to be from Iraq, who posted a diary during the recent war. He has not posted since March 24; some suspect he was captured by Iraqi secret police before US forces reached Baghdad. Journalist Paul Boutin was able to trace Salam's emails to an ISP in Lebanon.

* Iranian blogger and journalist Sina Motallebi was arrested on April 19, and faces charges over the content of his weblog and interviews given to foreign media groups.

* Tunisian web journalist Zouhair Yahyaoui was arrested and imprisoned for publishing political commentary on his web site. Authorities allegedly used torture to force Yahyaoui to reveal his access passwords.

* Cuba recently imprisoned 75 dissidents and democracy activists, including a number of online journalists, for writing articles critical of the government. Many of them were turned in by informers amongst colleagues and even family. Some of their associates continue to publish on the web.
right now the whole thing is relatively primitive, but I'm very hopeful that they eventually create something whose services can (at least) rival Blogger. Here's hoping: although I like Blogger's minimal invasion of the privacy of users, they simply aren't set up for bottom-to-top privacy protection. Invisiblog is, and I'm looking forward to see what they come up with.

(There are already blogs on the site, but most are either tests or fairly banal. No matter. If the service is worth it, people will come.)
As noted by Atrios and others, questions are being raised about the operation that took down the Hussein brothers:

Certainly only a few diehards mourned the passing of Uday and Qusay Hussein; the regime’s Caligula and its Heir Apparent were if anything despised and feared even more than their dad. But as details became clearer of the raid that eliminated what the U.S. military calls High Value Targets (HVTs) Nos. 2 and 3, a lot of people in the intelligence community were left wondering: why weren’t they just taken alive?

At a news briefing today, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, squirmed his way past that question repeatedly. It was, he said, the decision of the commander on the ground based on the circumstances and his judgment—”and it was the right decision.”

But was it? Who beside the sons might have better information about the one HVT that really matters, Saddam? “The whole operation was a cockup,” said a British intelligence officer. “There was no need to go after four lightly armed men with such overwhelming firepower. They would have been much more useful alive.”

But Sanchez insisted it wasn’t overkill. “Absolutely not. Our mission is to find, kill or capture high-value targets. We had an enemy that was barricaded and we had to take measures to neutralize the target.

“Bollocks,” said one former Special Forces soldier. “A SWAT team could have taken them. It didn’t need a company.”
No idea whether this will have any traction... to be honest, I hadn't even thought of the "why did they kill them" angle until it began showing up in Blogovia and, apparently, the mainstream press. I had just somewhat assumed that the standing orders were that Hussein and his sons were not to be taken alive, and who would challenge that? Uday was insane and Qusay was as bad as his father, if not worse. I was (and remain) somewhat uncomfortable at the idea that leaders are fair game- too much opportunity for "payback"- but I harboured no illusions about the attitude that the American (and Iraqi) public would have upon hearing this news. If they had had the opportunity, the Iraqis would have probably done something much, much worse to mad Uday and "the Snake".

Still, considering the 9/11 report and its revealing of more Bush duplicity, and considering the possible ramifications of the "Wilson's wife" story, this particular question is likely to remain somewhat academic. The real question, as I mentioned earlier, is what it means to the political scene in Iraq and in the United States. It may seem trite to bring everything back to Bush and domestic politics, but the president isn't called "the leader of the free world" because of his oratorial skill... it's because he wields more power than any other single human being on earth. Given the nature of the man that power has been entrusted to, I'd say that the 2004 election matters a great deal no matter who you are or where you live.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Ok, what the hell was with Jon Stewart tonight? He had Dick Morris on, and let Morris walk all over him, pushing Fox-style anti-Clinton spin on 9/11 without letting Jon get a word in edgewise.

The constant parade of Wurlitzer operatives on the Daily Show is, frankly, getting a little tiring anyway. What's prompting this? Is Comedy Central afraid of the "liberal" in their midst? Is Jon's producer unhappy with the direction of the show? Is it Jon himself? I'd sure like to know, because one thing that television doesn't need is yet another outlet for wingers to shout down opposition.
A quick scan of Google News has revealed that although the Wilson's wife story hasn't really broke out in the U.S., yet, it's very likely to- there have been stories about it in both the Canadian press, an Indian newspaper and, predictably enough, the Guardian. Oddly enough, however, the latter source is being quite circumspect, burying it in another story and saying only that:

There have been attempts this week, allegedly by Bush administration officials, to undermine the status of Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the CIA to check up on the claims. He went public with his findings and has since been the subject of leaks by the administration.
Very, very evasive... not saying what the leaks were about nor why they're important. Odd that they'd be so circumspect when the Canadian syndicate ran the story straight:

Efforts by White House officials to intimidate those who questioned intelligence used to justify invading Iraq could be illegal and must be investigated, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said Tuesday.

Durbin demanded a Senate committee find out whether the U.S. administration illegally revealed the wife of former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson works as a CIA operative. Wilson, who disputed claims Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material from Africa, said angry officials made public his wife's name and occupation.
That's much more forthright, although they're still couching it in partisan terms and highlighting "whether" things had gone this way... as if it weren't utterly obvious what had actually happened.

The most important issue for me right now is whether or not this story gets traction in the U.S. media. If anything is to be done about this crime (if indeed a crime has been committed, although it seems very likely at this point), it will have to be supported by the U.S. media, because it seems extraordinarily unlikely that Democrats like Mr. Durbin will be able to break through Republican stonewalling without the prospect of a big nasty media stink to help move things along. Krugman's column helped, as has this international coverage, but this is fundamentally a domestic matter and as such must be ultimately brought to light by the domestic media.

By the way, listen to McClellan's denial:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied the assertion about Wilson and his wife.

"That is not the way that this president or this White House operates and I've seen no evidence to suggest there's any truth to it."
Notice how weaselly this is- it never denies that it's possible that it happened, only that it "is not the way this president operates" and that "he's seen no evidence". Perhaps Scott wants to make sure that it isn't his ass nailed to the wall if this thing gets pursued? Perhaps he simply doesn't know Bush well enough? Whatever the case is, this is a surprisingly weak denial. Maybe they're hoping it'll go away.

A suggestion to the good Senator from Illinois- don't let that happen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

As most readers are no doubt aware, American forces were able to track down and kill Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay. I doubt they'll be missed too much by either the Iraqis or the Americans, and it may well provide a boost for the President's flagging credibility, as he can show that he actually has accomplished something that both the administration and the American people believed was a key goal of the war.

The real story, though, is what happens in the days ahead. There are multiple interpretations of the nature of the guerilla war being waged against the American occupying forces, but one of the most popular right now is that Saddam and his former friends and allies are behind the attacks.

If that is true, then it would stand to reason that the attacks will change dramatically in intensity and numerousness in the days ahead- either they'll dwindle due to the perception that Saddam's regime is well and truly over and the Americans are there to stay (and due to messed up C&C), or increase due to anger among Saddam sympathizers that the Americans had killed the two most important Ba'athists after Saddam himself, including his protege Qusay.

If there is no real change, however, then this implies that the resistance is not solely Saddamist enterprise, but is much more populist in nature. Whether the Hussein brothers are alive or dead is unimportant except in a symbolic sense, and the possibility exists that while the Iraqis don't want the Americans to remain, they aren't particularly sorry that the brothers are dead. Sort of a "pox on both their houses" reaction.

While I doubt that this particular analysis will be a part of the public debate on this, I think it will be indirectly understood depending on what happens. If the American public sees that attacks continue despite the Hussein brothers deaths, then they'll start wondering what exactly will calm things down. If they believe the answer is "nothing", then support for the war, and for Bush, will likely continue to drop. If the attacks do relent, then it's likely that the public will get back onside with the Bush administration.

In the meantime, though, I'd expect a spike in approval ratings.
CalPundit has verified that someone in the Bush administration did something very, very bad:

A few days ago I blogged about a David Corn column in The Nation in which he suggested that the White House had exposed Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative in order to discredit Wilson himself. But Corn's column was hedged and it was unclear exactly who exposed Plame and exactly what Plame's role at the CIA was. Today, Wilson provides some additional information:

In an NBC News exclusive, Wilson says his family is the subject of a smear campaign. Wilson tells NBC News the White House deliberately leaked his wife’s identity as a covert CIA operative, damaging her future career and compromising past missions after he criticized the administration on “Meet the Press” and in the New York Times.

So according to Wilson, his wife was a covert operative, and it was White House officials who outed her.

Ugly, very ugly....
To put it mildly. Whoever did this is in very deep trouble, or should be... and as Calpundit's earlier entry pointed out, the sources are at the very least at the "deputy" level, and would not have leaked without the say-so of one of Bush's cabinet-level appointees?

So it raises the question: who was behind this?

(It wouldn't have been Tenet, obviously)

Was it Rice, who would be in line to go if the 16 words continue?

Was it Cheney, who was very likely the one pushing this thing?

Was it Ridge, although that seems unlikely?

Was it Bush himself?

And the key question: no matter who it is, will the same right-wingers that were all over Clinton's various supposed crimes come out against a person that was responsible for something far, far more serious?

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Meet the funniest sentence I've read all week:

So I'll refer you to Andrew Sullivan and James Lileks for more analysis.
That Glenn, he's such a kidder.
Calpundit is justifiably skeptical of Bill Kristol and his claims that Bush's "16 words" are part of a brilliant strategy to trap the democrats. He comments that:

Conservatives are justifiably tired of the "Bush is dumb" meme, but they have a stale and self-serving meme of their own that they really ought to put to bed. It goes something like this: "Bush is unbelievably clever and all his missteps are really just part of a cunning plan to trap Democrats into self immolation.

Isn't it funny? Every time the Democrats actually attack vigorously and seem to be doing some real damage, why, they're completely missing the point! They really ought to be attacking something else! The usual candidates — by some odd coincidence — are things even more hawkish and conservative than George Bush himself is willing to advocate (nuking Mecca, calling for the dismemberment of the UN, increasing the military budget 50%, etc.).

Sad, isn't it, that Democrats are attacking the president for the peccadillo of starting a war against a country that turned out to pose little or no threat to anyone? And sadder still that Democrats can't be an "intelligent, loyal opposition" like the Republicans always were when they were in the minority, isn't it? Sad indeed....
Calpundit is right, but I'll go farther. Actually, there is a grand strategy here, but it's actually pretty stupid not brilliant, and Kristol is a part of it.

(Let's remember, please, that Kristol is not an independent actor here. He is part of the president's rolling re-election squad, and everything he says should be evaluated with that kept in perspective. Grain of salt? We need whole silos. I'll make this clear: Democrats who take their advice from Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard are going to lose.)

At this point, I'm proposing a rule of thumb ("Demosthenes' Law", maybe, or maybe "Ellis' Law" for the guy that dubbed the term "rolling re-election squad"), a correllary to the Stanfield effect: The more we hear "it's only 16 words" from someone, the more likely it is that they're part of the rolling re-election squad, and the less likely it is that we should believe the speaker.

The strategy here is "if something goes bad, change the subject". It's been around since 2000, and since it worked fairly well then, they've been using it all the time whenever something comes up. After the election, they used it to silence criticism of that. After 9/11, the biggest argument you heard from the Republicans was "the world has changed and we need to stand together" whenever someone actually criticized Bush. When the Iraq war was being argued for, Bush and his sycophants and strategists flailed around trying to find whatever reason they could to convince the U.N. and the American people, and when the Iraq war had started, we endlessly heard "the war has started, we need to support the troops". After the occupation started, it was "war's over, move on". (Which was, of course, the real point of the "mission accomplished" stunt.)

Now that one of the flailings is being examined, what are we seeing? "It's not a real scandal. Move on" from everybody. Tellingly, though, one should look at who it's coming from, which are people, like Kristol, who have a ton to lose if this administration should lose power. Any "helpful advice" they're giving to the Democrats should be dismissed out of hand.

The reason why it's stupid, though, is because of what I've described as the "Stanfield effect". Every time someone like Kristol says "this isn't an issue" about something that so transparently threatens them and their political bosses, people are not going to buy into it; they will only remember "this thing seems to be freaking those guys out". The media will certainly respond, if only because the denial is news, and it will provide the opportunity to repeat the original charge, over and over and over again. That's why this strategy is abundantly stupid... people are going to remember the charge, not the defense, especially if the defense is "this doesn't matter". People (and the media) will decide for themselves whether this matters- the Bush administration and its flunkies can't tell them whether it will or not. With Clinton, they decided that it didn't matter, and with Bush, the media was far too cowed to do anything but report the spin. Times have changed.

So yeah, there's a strategy here, and it's worked (barely) before. Thanks to the occupation going nowhere, however, Bush isn't being seen charitably anymore, and the media ain't going to move on on Kristol's tendentious say so. To continue it is a clearly lame strategy, transparently so. Unfortunately, they may not have anything else. The rolling re-election squad is running out of ammo.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Very nice summary by Tom Tomorrow:

GOP mouthpieces can play down the lie all they want -- as if Bush had plenty of other juicy stuff to convince us that Saddam was about to nuke us all to hell.

Um... no. False. Wrong. What they're saying simply isn't true. So at least they and Bush have something in common.

It was just 16 words, they say, as if the dozens of other lies simply aren't there. And Watergate was just a 'third-rate burglary'...

Bottom line: we know -- we know -- that Bush and his flack claque PNAC had been planning military action in Iraq since long before 9/11.

And there's Bush, finally with his military in position, readying for the attack, the very day before his State Of The Union address... and suddenly (as we only later learn), pretty much everything else the White House has to paint Iraq as an imminent threat quite plainly falls apart, in ways the outside world already knows...

Gosh, what to do, what to do.

We all know what happened next.
This is why this matters- it was the only credible (as far as we knew) bit of evidence that Bush had that Saddam was even trying to develop nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons are at the center of any argument over WMDs (a term, I might add, that was originally popularized by Rumsfeld). Without it, Bush's case was toast, and he knew it. Those '16 words' were the critical evidence of the critical reason Bush had for going to war.

(No, humanitarianism isn't even on the map there. While Bush brought that up on occasion, the timing of the attack and the necessity of military action were predicated on the concept that Iraq was a threat. Until the WMD threat had already faded, humanitarian intervention was a distant second or third on the list, largely because he knew the U.S. citizenry would never support it.)

It comes down to one question: did Bush believe that information was false when he added it, or not? If he did, then he deceived the American people even if he was "technically correct". If he believed the information was true, then he didn't deceive the American people, but somebody else did. (It wasn't Tenet, because he had already come out against it.)

So, it comes back to that old refrain: "what did he know, and when did he know it"?
There are a lot of lefties who are grinning tonight, because it looks like that "blood for oil" thing may not have been that off the mark

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption and abuse, said today that documents turned over by the Commerce Department, under court order as a result of Judicial Watch's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit concerning the activities of the Cheney Energy Task Force, contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.
"So?" One might ask. "So... why would the energy task force have been poring over contracts for Iraqi oil fields when Iraq couldn't sell the stuff? The only way that makes sense is if they knew, way back in March of 2001, that Iraq was going to be able to sell oil again. There's only one way Cheney and Co. would ever have thought that... if the U.S. had removed Saddam from power.

Wonder if the media is going to glom onto this little tidbit too.
I should probably hold off on the quick comments, the Dean thing is more important, but...

When Instapundit claims that "Some of us are trying to help them out[Democrats], but I doubt they'll listen", a little Klaxon goes off in my head.

I honestly doubt that Instapundit (and Mark Steyn, whom he was quoting) are ever, ever "trying to help out" the Democrats. Might as well take advice from Grover Norquist.

Edit: I was going to turn this into a comments entry, but should probably put it where everyone can see it.

IP readers will have noticed that Glenn is pushing the "this doesn't matter and will come back to haunt the Dems" meme. It's stupid, enormously stupid. The media are the ones pushing this (except for the newly emasculated NYT), and there's little reason to believe this will hurt the Dems. On the contrary- any trial lawyer can tell you that if someone's credibility is damaged on one issue, it'll be damaged for any other, and it's all about perception when it comes to credibility. Trying to stir up backlash on this issue would be the height of stupidity for Bush and his campaigners, even if Blair stands by the intel. At this point, the CW is set (Bush wanted to invade, was willing to bend truth to do so) and attempts to assert otherwise are entirely Stanfieldian.

Other right-wing arguments, like "it was only 16 words", "it wasn't about Niger", "Wilson was fibbing", "it was technically accurate", "Blair is still supporting it" (could he possibly do otherwise?), and "Saddam Hussein is an evil, evil man" have either been made useless by conflicting administration stories, irrelevant by new news, or in the latter case can be quickly banished by snorting audibly and showing a clip of Mo Rocca's Magic Saddam Heads.

In any case, the reason liberals are pursuing this is because it shows how poor Bush's credibility really is. This is important; not only does it make a difference for the election and blunt Bush's supposed security advantage, but it sets the stage for the 9/11 report.

(That's the real kicker. Those like Glenn that say "why not pursue 9/11 anyway" miss the point. Rest assured, once that report comes out, it will be. Difference is, now that Bush has lost his halo, the media are going to be going over that thing with a fine toothed comb.)
Ah, there's nothing like a Steven Den Beste entry:

There's at least one indisputable fact about the situation: the mass torture and summary executions in Iraq have stopped.
Um, Steve? There are a number of American soldiers and pro-American Iraqi mayors that would strenuously beg to differ on the "summary execution" part.

Well, if they could.
Edit: Greetings to those coming here from and Dean 2004. I'm glad to see that my comments have provoked interest and, I hope, discussion.

Courtesy of Tapped, I've discovered that Ruy Teixeira agrees with his colleague John Judis' contention that Dean is practically unelectable. It's a long entry, but the meat comes in three related paragraphs, which I'll address here. I'm not a Dean fan, but I think that Teixeira and Judis are missing some things here.

(Aziz is almost certainly going to love this.)

The essence of Judis' argument is that, while Dean can fairly be said to represent the ethos of the country's increasingly influential professional class, which plays a leading role in today's Democratic coalition, his ability to appeal outside that group and other elements of the Democratic base is likely to be poor. His aggressive antiwar stance and liberalism on issues like gay marriage will turn off swing voters, especially white working class and culturally conservative voters, and especially in swing states the Democrats need to win to build an electoral vote majority.
There are several problems with this assessment.

The first problem is his contention that Democrats will have any trouble rallying their base. My answer to that is twofold: Campaign Finance and Dubya. The latter is going to ensure that Democrats will not sit on their hands if they have any inclination to vote at all. Most Democrats are likely aware that the Republicans are going for their throats... and if they aren't now, they will be when campaign season rolls around. The base should not be a problem at all if the campaigners are at all competent, and I've seen little reason to believe that Joe Trippi is anything but brilliant. The former, on the other hand, has meant that soft money is going to be concentrated on one thing: GOTV efforts. High turnout traditionally favors Democrats, and Democrats have (ironically enough) been the biggest victims of the soft money shutoff, so Trippi should be able to draw on both devoted activists and huge soft money flows.

The second problem is the idea that the antiwar stance will hurt him. I don't see it as one, not yet. It would have been, but events have caught up with Dean's position, and Dean backers have been gleefully noting the turnaround of other Democrats. Other Democratic candidates trying to attack Bush on national security will almost certainly have their votes thrown in their faces by Republicans and their lackeys calling them "inconsistent". Dean has no such problem. (Attempts to "triangulate" national security will be, of course, entirely ineffective).

The third problem is that civil unions will hurt him. It might have been- again, not anymore. The Supreme Court has, I think, hoovered up the blame for that particular issue, and Dean's position seems almost conservative now. It may be a weakness, but I doubt it's a dealbreaker, and Judis provided no hard evidence that this will be the case. Civil Unions aren't a sole-issue vote for most people... guns are, but on that issue Dean comes out ahead. (People for guns cast their vote based on that, but people against guns usually do not.)

Ok, next paragraph:

DR is pretty familiar with the EDM thesis and can assure TAPPED and MyDD that there is no contradiction. The key point is that political leadership involves building coalitions that reach outside your base and absorb independent and moderate voters who are leaning your way. Clinton's strength was being able to synthesize the views of professionals with those of older elements of the Democratic coalition and present that synthesis in a way that made enough independent and moderate voters feel it was safe to vote Democratic. That includes the white working class and culturally conservative voters Dean is likely to have the most trouble with.
I like Ruy's EDM thesis, but he's too wedded to it here. If America had high turnout, then I'd agree with him that the most important issue is building coalitions "outside your base" and "absorbing independent and moderate voters leaning your way". America, however, does not have high turnout, and it has noticeably low turnout in exactly the demographics that Dean is aiming for: young, left-leaning, working class, and minorities.

My response is to once again turn to Steven Schier's brilliant By Invitation Only, and draw a distinction between mobilization and activation... the former being the sort of broad based popular coalitions that Ruy refers to, and the latter being the deliberate targeting and political enabling of groups of likely voters that candidates believe will vote for them. Schier points out that the latter has been utterly dominant for at least a decade now, and that it is far less important that you have broad-based support than have supporters that are dedicated, will work for you, will pay for your campaign and will vote for you. Voters outside of these carefully chosen "activated groups" are generally ignored for a very simple reason- they're either almost certainly not going to vote for you, or not going to vote at all. To talk about "coalitions" is misleading: broad is dead and narrow is king.

So how does this relate to Dean? It relates to Dean because he appears to be attempting to "activate" groups that have been traditionally underserved- partially through the "straight talk" bit, partially by relying on Democratic anger, and partially by running a campaign that seems tailor-made to attract younger voters (though meetups and the like). Trippi's focus on activists is no accident. He's fully aware that the best way to activate groups that want to vote for you are activists, as "word of mouth" can sell a candidate as easily as a movie. Yes, this may only mean a 5-10% difference overall, but remember the last election. Even 1% is a win. Even if not quite enough independent and moderate voters move to Dean to give him a win, if they sit on their hands and if Dean can activate groups that hadn't previously voted, it will not matter. This also is the death knell of the "Dean=McGovern" argument, because politics in 1972 did not even remotely resemble politics now in these respects. Parties were stronger, elections weren't so candidate-driven, campaign finance was a completely different story, and "activation" tactics (as well as the incorporation of media) were much weaker. Oh, and there was no Internet. Just ask Jesse Ventura how important the Internet can be to insurgent campaigns.

Besides, Bush has done a great job of polarization, and as people are constantly pointing out, on issues the Dems come out ahead. Moderates that don't want to see Bush take the country even further right will go to the Dems, Dean or no Dean. Civil Unions won't change that.

Ok, final paragraph:

Really, it seems to DR that Dean supporters' main argument has to be that the Dean straight talkin', McCain mojo, aggressive alpha-male thing will obviate any need for the kind of electoral finesse displayed by Clinton. Independents will hear that straight talkin' and they'll rush to sign up, especially as the administration continues to dissemble on Iraq, etc. But DR believes that not all independents are created equal and that Dean's approach and persona is still likely to yield its most success with socially liberal, upscale independents in relatively liberal states.
I'll break this into two sections: the first two sentences and the last one.

The first two sentences, unfortunately, are bog ig'nint, and I'm surprised at Ruy's cavalier attitude here. Dean is clearly trying to position himself as the classic outsider, which is nothing new... but is also trying to tap into the "Perot/McCain/Ventura" group of people who dislike your standard "outsider" politician but are drawn to those who appear to have a "fresh" outlook. (The standard "outsider" is nothing akin to fresh nowadays. Witness Dubya.) It's not quite insurgent and not quite populist, but contains elements of both, and most importantly it activates previous non-voters, which is precisely what is at stake here. This sort of tactic won't win by itself, but any Dem candidate can count on heightened turnout in the face of political strife and uncertainty. Dean stands a good chance of scooping up votes. Still, this very sentence raises a question: Instead of pulling out this kind of nonsense, why hasn't Ruy looked and found out exactly what their argument is?

The flaws of the latter sentence are similar. Yes, not all independents are created equal. And? The assertion that Dean's approach will yield most of its success with "socially liberal, upscale independents in relatively liberal states" is entirely unsupported, and bears a faint whiff of having been pulled out from a very dark and unpleasant place. (The civil union/Iraq issues were already addressed above- it's telling that he ignored guns.) Ruy also seems to forget that the liberal--independent--conservative axis is only one of dozens that factor into voting choices. He's making too much of an near-arbitrary distinction. I will admit that Dean must avoid "running up the vote" in states he's likely to win simply as a Democratic candidate, but the belief that Trippi doesn't know what his candidate is up against is awesome in its arrogance. That ain't Democratic, Ruy. Just like any other candidate, Dean needs to find the proper groups to activate within each state. No, this wouldn't work if everybody voted. (Un?)fortunately, they don't.

The one other argument that wasn't contained in these paragraphs- that southerners won't vote for a northerner- does contain some merit. If that's a problem, though, we'll see it in the primaries, and in polling prior to the primaries. Dean supporters seem to believe that the "honest and angry" approach will bridge the north/south divide. Personally, I will respond with one question: isn't Kerry a northerner too?

Again, this is not to say that I support Dean, although I do believe that his fight for a full-throated, proud, and angry Democratic party is sound and necessary. The arguments presented here, however, are in my opinion weak political science... and the constant "Dean=McGovern" refrains are at times tired, lame, and tendentious. They illustrate the dangers of analysis based solely on historical comparisons- they tend to obfuscate the present through the clouded lens of the past. Sorry Ruy and John, but this time, I think you're all wet.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

In an attempt to improve readability, I've switched the background of the "blog" section of the page to straight black. Hopefully that will spare the eyes of some of my older and/or crankier readers.

(No, this isn't the template change I was talking about, just a quick switch. The template change will be to one of the new blogger ones, once I figure out which one I prefer.)
If what Bob Novak, David Corn and Calpundit say is true, it's possible that senior Bush officials (someone on Calpundit points out "deputy level or higher") may have blown the cover of a CIA agent for political purposes. This is terrible news if true. It threatens her life and the lives of others, it ruins her career, and (as Mark Kleiman points out), it's a crime punishable by five years in prison. Kleiman hopes that it's wrong, and that we aren't looking at the possibility that the Bush administration has sunk to a level of political depravity unmatched in American history.

I'm with Kleiman on this:

But this latest -- if true, which we, or at least I, don't know -- would involve a completely different magnitude of villainy. Deliberately outing one of your own spies as an act of political revenge would be a truly unforgivable deed, and one that wouldn't become any more forgivable if tomorrow MI5 produced an invoice for 300 tons of yellowcake with Saddam Hussein's signature and thumbprint on it as the recipient.
Somebody needs to follow this up. This must not be buried.
This was said by Zizka in one of Max Sawicky's comment threads about Jane Galt, but it could just as easily apply to any number of online right-wingers, including good ol' Instapundit:

I get the impression that she's a non-Democrat first and a libertarian second, and that nothing whatever could bring her over. At any given time she'll choose the most plausible possible reason for opposing the Democrats, shifting positions as necessary as the Republican position deteriorates, while always hanging on to some figleaf of libertarian independence.
I honestly can't think of anything I have to add to that.
Edit: It would appear that this is a hoax- Dave from the commentary threads linked to a snopes entry that debunks the hoax. I'll leave the entry up, and just say that I'm nothing but pleased that it turned out to be untrue.

This is pathetic:

MONTREAL-- Metallica are taking legal action against independant Canadian rock band Unfaith over what they feel is unsanctioned usage of two chords the band has been using since 1982 : E and F.

'People are going to get on our case again for this, but try to see it from our point of view just once,' stated Metallica's Lars Ulrich. 'We're not saying we own those two chords, individually - that would be ridiculous. We're just saying that in that specific order, people have grown to associate E, F with our music.'

Metallica filed a trademark infringement suit against the indie group at the US district court for central California on Monday. According to the drummer, the continued use of the two chords causes 'confusion, deception and mistake in the minds of the public'.

Ulrich states that he's not trying to prevent Unfaith from using the two chords, only that he feels Metallica should be credited for them whenever used, and is calling for 50% of all revenue generated from any song using them.

"It's nothing personal against them," he added. "We intend to enforce our rights with any band intending to use Metallica-branded chords in the future."
Words cannot describe how much contempt I have for Lars Ulrich and this nonsense suit. It is an insult to the professions of songwriting and performing, it renders farcical the entire concept of trademark and copyright, it sullies the reputation of metal/hard rock/whatever during a period where, frankly, musicians within that genre have enough trouble getting respected, and it makes Metallica look like a group of whiny children who are so afraid of irrelevance and their own lack of creativity and artistic skill that they have to launch a suit over a pair of guitar chords.

And all this in a day and age where sampling is not only tolerated, but understood as a way in which one type of music or kind of song can be manipulated and reinvigorated to become something entirely new and fresh. (It can also be tripe, of course, but that's the case with anything.) Napster was one thing, but this is quite another.

Metallica is beneath contempt.
Someone needs to let Frank Gaffney know that pulling out the "objectively pro-Saddam" trick isn't going to work anymore. Not that he hasn't given it a try:

Somewhere, probably in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is gloating. He can only be gratified by the feeding frenzy of recriminations, second-guessing and political power-plays that are currently assailing his nemeses: U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The hysteria surrounding charges that faulty British intelligence about one aspect of Saddam's nuclear weapons program -- and a Bush 2003 State of the Union allusion thereto -- may even be emboldening Saddam to believe the unimaginable: He might yet survive (physically and perhaps politically) the current pair of U.S. and British leaders, just as he did their predecessors in the wake of Operation Desert Storm.

It is hard to believe that Americans of any political persuasion would actually want to gladden the heart of so vile a tyrant as Saddam Hussein, let alone to encourage those who seek his return to power. This is particularly true in light of the evidence of his regime's odious predations that have come to light since Iraq's liberation.
The rest of the article is garden variety pro-Bush spin, worth neither your time nor mine. (For the curious, it attacks Democrats, misinterprets "learned", asserts the existence of WMDs to the consternation of a desperately begging question, blames the CIA, and assumes that since "everybody else did it" it must be ok.. despite the fact that "everybody else" didn't invade and conquer Iraq.) What grabbed me is how poorly this sort of attack on the loyalty of critics seems to fare these days- it may be present on a few of the blogs, but most of the president's supporters aren't brave (or stupid) enough to try to paint critics as "objectively pro-Saddam". Largely, this makes sense- Saddam is indeed no threat now, and the question is now whether he ever was and whether what exists in Iraq now is a worse threat. Cries of "treason!" fall on deaf ears. There are also huge problems in attacking the patriotism of those who are consciously moving to a position of advocating honesty and forthrightness, and even more in criticizing those whose questions are supported by soldiers and their families. It is more proof, however, that the media's position is shifting. Quickly.

Well, most of the media. The fact that the National Post is backing Bush isn't surprising, as it has been been a tireless champion of the neo-conservative project since its founding. What makes this Op/Ed newsworthy in-and-of itself is that it's so laughably ineffective and transparent that it's almost jarring. Yes, the National Post is in a steep decline that is on the verge of a death spiral (as the other Canadian national, the Globe and Mail, gleefully details whenever possible), and it always has had a problem with being less a purveyor of news than spin. It should be no surprise that weak and vaguely pathetic editorials would appear in its pages.

Still, it says something when your Op/Ed pieces would be an embarassment to a fifth-rate blogger.