Between the Lines
September 30, 2003
|More on Bush (and Clinton) hating
New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks we’ve graduated from culture wars to presidency wars – and that it’s not a good thing.
“The culture warriors were passionate about abortion, feminism or prayer in schools,” Brooks writes. “But with the presidency warrior, political disagreement, cultural resentment and personal antipathy blend to create a vitriol that is at once a descendant of the old conflicts, but also different.”
Contrary to the assertions of presidential “warriors” on both sides, Brooks says, “… most people in the last two administrations were well-intentioned patriots doing the best they could. The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves. And for those who are going to make the obvious point: Yes, I did say some of these things during the Clinton years, when it was conservatives bashing a Democrat, but not loudly enough, which I regret, because the weeds that were once on the edge of public life now threaten to choke off the whole thing.” (Note: the New York Times site requires free registration.)
When $87 billion just isn’t enough
It looks like the reconstruction of Iraq is turning into one big candy shop for the Friends of George, such as Halliburton, which still pays Vice President Dick Cheney over $100,000 a year, and Bechtel, another corporation joined to the administration at the wallet, while local Iraqi contractors get shut out of meaningful contracts. Now it seems that even the $87 billion requested by the administration for the next fiscal year won’t be enough to take care of everything.
Here are just a few of the things the administration wants to do with your tax dollars in Iraq:
-- $400 million for two prisons to house 8,000 prisoners. That’s $50,000 per prisoner. I don’t know which felons they plan on putting in these places, but it sure sounds like they’ll be better housed than the average Iraqi.
-- $100 million for a “witness protection program” at $200,000 per witness. Go figure.
-- $9 million for ZIP codes and postal automation.
-- $900 million to ship gasoline, propane and diesel fuel to Iraq, which has the second-largest proved oil reserves in the world.
Not all the money is going to Iraq. We’ve still got Afghanistan to take care of, too:
-- $8 million for an Afghanistan highway patrol.
-- $20 million to finance 200 election experts for six months, or $100,000 per expert.
-- $30 million for the protection of President Harmid Karzai.
There is no question that after unleashing devastating wars on Iraq and Afghanistan we owe it to those poor, beat up countries to restore vital basic services and perhaps provide a little extra. But are all the things on the administration’s shopping list really necessary?
And how many years will we be shelling out this cash?
Well, our troops in Afghanistan are digging in for a stay of at least another eight years.
Syria sticks its thumb in our eye
Just a few short months ago, we were threatening Syria with all kinds of dire consequences if this “rogue state” failed to get its act together and halt the flow of jihadis over its border into Iraq, where they use our troops for target practice. Well, that hasn’t happened.
Instead, Syrian President Bashar Assad is talking about sending part of his army to Iraq as peacekeepers! But not under U.S. command, of course.
Assad also denies, that he harbors terrorists or has weapons of mass destruction. Nor is he concerned about U.S. retribution.
"Aside from the accusations ... we have not had any tangible sign of military threats" to Syria, Assad said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “I don't believe the United States has any interest in repeating the same mistakes made in Iraq."
Smug, isn’t he? His attitude says a lot about our overstretched situation in Iraq.
Maybe he’s right
The former commander of U.S. Central Command, made an impolite suggestion about the war.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:25 PM
September 29, 2003
The Valerie Plame affair has blown up over the Bush White House like one of those mini-nukes the Pentagon wants to build to get bad guys out of their bunkers. The question is why it took so long.
The background: Valerie Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, the former diplomat who traveled to Niger at the request of the CIA to check into reports that Saddam Hussein had tired to buy uranium ore from the African country. Wilson concluded there was nothing to it and went public with the information, fueling the celebrated flap over Bush’s “16 words.” Within days, conservative columnist Robert Novak penned a column saying two “senior administration officials” had told him Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative. The only apparent motive was revenge: a cheap, and ultimately ineffective, attempt to suggest that Plame’s wife got her hubby sent on the mission, which wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t a spook herself.
Why this matters: According to today’s Post story, Plame “is a case officer in the CIA’s clandestine service and is currently working as an analyst on weapons of mass destruction … Intelligence sources said top officials at the agency were very concerned about the disclosure because it could allow foreign intelligence services to track some of her former contacts and lead to the exposure of agents.”
Also from the Post: “An administration official said the leaks were ‘simply for revenge’ for the trouble Wilson had caused Bush.” This assertion has CIA Director George Tenet’s fingerprints all over it. As I wrote shortly after this mess became public, "The CIA has been getting even for a lot longer than Karl Rove and Dick Cheney."
By now the leakers ought to be a bit concerned: It’s an aggravated felony to disclose the identity of an undercover agent, punishable by up to a $50,000 fine and 10 years in prison.
The key new revelations: After two and a half months as a shadow story, the Plame issue blew up bigtime over the weekend.
-- The CIA, according to the Washington Post, asked the Justice Department within a week of Novak’s column to consider a criminal investigation. The White House said today it had received no request for any information from the Justice Department. So Justice appeared to be trying to keep a lid on this scandal.
-- The dilatory Justice approach did not sit well with CIA Director George Tenet, who wrote a letter to the Justice Department requesting a criminal investigation.
-- Administration officials peddled Plame’s name not only to Novak but to at least five other reporters, four of whom called Joseph Wilson about it. So there are several people who know the names of these “senior administration officials.” Novak, who identified Plame in print, might feel some allegience to his sources and be disinclined to name them to a grand jury. But the others, who were called but didn’t use her name, might be more persuadable, particularly if they’re looking at jail time for contempt.
Why’d it take so long? Novak’s column became an instant sensation among bloggers, particularly those on the left. Oddly, the mainstream press – with the notable exception of the Washington Post -- largely ignored the story. Why? Here are a couple of possibilities:
-- Inability to advance the story. You can’t just recycle the same old stuff. The Post did write about the incident shortly after Novak’s column and stuck to the trail. But clearly it was a difficult one because of administration stonewalling.
-- Pack instincts: if nobody else is writing about it, why should I?
-- Laziness: Closely related to pack instincts. L should be the middle initial of much of the White House press corps.
-- Fear. Lazy reporters tend to worry about things like “losing access” if they write stories their sources don’t like, and the White House certainly doesn’t like this story; it’s in full CYA mode. Consider this exchange from today’s White House press briefing by spokesman Scott McClellan, who was asked if Bush’s senior advisor Karl Rove was a leaker:
McCLELLAN: He wasn't involved. The President knows he wasn't involved.
QUESTION: How does he know that?
McCLELLAN: The President knows.
QUESTION: What, is he clairvoyant? How does he know?
Read all about it: Many of today’s blogs are all Plame, all the time and are full of links to other reading on this issue. Here’s a list:
Mark A.R. Kleiman, who deserves a lot of the credit for keeping this story moving when few newspapers would touch it, has wrapups at his own blog site and at Open Source Politics.
Billmon at Whiskey Bar has been riding this horse all weekend and has his usual good analysis and some good links.
Joshua Marshall’s Talking Points Memo – which along with Kleiman’s blog did a lot of heavy lifting to bring this story out of the shadows -- has a long thread of excellent stuff, including a link to this story, which reports that Karl Rove was fired by Bush’s father, George H.W. – for an unauthorized leak -- to Robert Novak, no less! -- during the elder Bush's presidential campaign.
The blog Body and Soul has another link-filled narrative.
Daniel Drezner, a good mainline conservative blogger who usually supports the administration, is having a hard time with this one.
At National Review Online, Clifford May says everyone knew Valerie Plame was a spook, so it doesn’t matter, (a legally hazardous line to follow, as Josh Marshall suggests), and besides Wilson deserved it because he isn’t a toe-the-line neocon.
Also at NRO, Mark Levin takes the even more preposterous blame-the-victim line that Wilson caused the outing of his wife by going public with what he found out in Niger.
“While I'm all in favor of investigating national-security-related leaks,” he piously writes, “we'll never know if foreign-intelligence agencies, among others, had already learned of Plame's position thanks to the attention her husband drew to himself by taking the Niger fact-finding assignment in the first place. Like it or not, Wilson bears some responsibility for his wife's predicament.”
This doesn't even make the cut as lame. It's just a crock.
Well, this story has real legs now and we'll see how it plays out.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:15 PM
September 26, 2003
|Now it's French cards
Yesterday, it was the Russians. Now the French have a deck of cards. And, no, it is not complimentary to the Bush administration. Also, being French, this deck is more expensive than the Russian ($9.20 vs. $8.20).
As blogger Hoffmania puts it:
"We smashed cases of French wine.
"We chided them for being "Old Europe."
"Our government invented "Freedom Fries" and "Freedom Toast."
"Neocons crammed my e-mail with frog jokes and French-bashing cartoons.
"We boycotted French businesses (jeopardizing American workers).
"We embarrassed France at every opportunity.
"So of course, there's apoplectic national outrage over this."
The Frenchman who designed the deck is, however, a certifiable loon.
|Posted by tbrown at 02:05 PM
|Why some people hate Bush …
One of them is Jonathan Chait, a senior editor of The New Republic. He’s hardly alone. But he’s made the case far more forcefully and in greater detail than most who disdain the president. The opening paragraph of Chait’s essay will give you a feel for where he’s coming from:
“I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I'm tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he has come to his economic and political achievements and his utter lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at having done so. His favorite answer to the question of nepotism--"I inherited half my father's friends and all his enemies"--conveys the laughable implication that his birth bestowed more disadvantage than advantage. He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school--the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks--shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks--blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing-- a way to establish one's social superiority beneath a veneer of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a nickname without his consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.”
… and why others admire him
Since Chait’s tirade on Monday, there has been an continuing online debate between him and a steadfast Bush supporter, Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor of National Review.
“Not everyone would be brave enough to recount their harrowing descent into madness so vividly,” Ponnuru writes Chait. “You have to go pretty far into irrational Bush hatred to suggest, as you do in your article, that the Crawford ranch is phony, part of Bush's positioning as a rough-hewn Texan. He certainly seems to enjoy going there. But what do I know? Maybe he's only pretending to like his dog Barney, and kicks him when the door is closed.”
So, is Chait deranged? Is Ponnuru a shill for the administration? Check it out. There are some good arguments on both sides.
How to wreck an army
Joe Galloway, who I’ve linked to several times since the war in Iraq began, is one of the best war correspondents to ever strap on a helmet. In 1965, as a UPI correspondent in Vietnam, he spent a month with U.S. troops in the bloody battle for the Ia Drang Valley, rescued wounded soldiers under fire and became the only civilian awarded the Bronze Star during the conflict. And he watched as the U.S. Army was gradually ground to bits by the war – damage that took 20 years to repair.
Now he’s seeing it all again, and he has no doubt who’s to blame.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:54 AM
September 25, 2003
|Flush this, Ahnold
At last night’s food fight among five would-be governors of the great state of California, things got a little testy between Arianna Huffington, an independent, and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
Reuters reports that, “When the action star attempted to cut in during Huffington's answer to a question, she said, ‘This is the way you treat women, we know that.’
“The moderator, Stan Statham, called that a ‘direct and personal attack’ on Schwarzenegger and gave him a chance to respond.
" ‘I would just like to say that I just realized I have a perfect part for you in 'Terminator 4,' Schwarzenegger shot back … "
Here’s what he no doubt had in mind, as originally reported by Entertainment Weekly on the release of “Terminator 3”:
“… nothing in T3 bears Schwarzenegger's creative stamp more than his epic tussle with the Terminatrix, a battle that begins in a bathroom. The sequence was made longer and more elaborate thanks to the actor's largess -- and his singular imagination.
" ‘As we were rehearsing, I saw this toilet bowl,’ says Schwarzenegger, an impish smile crossing his face. ‘How many times do you get away with this -- to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl? I wanted to have something floating in there,’ he adds. Apparently, he was vetoed. ‘They thought it was my typical Schwarzenegger overboard,’ he says. ‘The thing is, you can do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman -- she's a machine! We could get away with it without being crucified by who-knows-what group.’ " Certainly not by the California Republican Women's Caucus, which actually endorsed this misogynist dolt because he “supports family.”
Just not female family, I guess.
Good news and bad news from Iraq
First the bad: not only is the Bush administration getting no offers of aid – especially in the form of much-needed troops to give ours some relief – but now it appears possible that the UN may pull out of Iraq altogether because of two bombings of its facilities. Exactly how we’re going to increase the UN’s role in Iraq if it doesn’t even have its feet on the ground there is a good question.
Now the good. Middle East Report has a Q&A with Isam al-Khafaji, an Iraqi social scientist who participated in the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council before resigning in frustration. Al-Kafaji offers constructive criticism of how he thinks the U.S. administration in Iraq could do better, remains optimistic about the future of his country and is adamant that Iraq is not Vietnam:
”The fact that people get killed -- both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians -- doesn't mean that there is a popular Iraqi resistance. This is no Vietnam. There are very few Iraqis being killed because there [sic] are seen as collaborators, and the number of American casualties is also very low. If you asked Iraqis whether U.S. troops should leave, the vast majority would say no. On the other hand, the rising number of attacks have already forced the Americans to swallow much, not all, of their arrogance. But is this ‘resistance’? No. Sometimes we confuse our emotions with the facts. A real popular resistance does not end up with one or two dead a day -- with my deep sorrow for each life lost. If this were popular resistance, there would be something like 50 dead a day.”
Those Russkies are really cards
The U.S. military had its deck of cards featuring most-wanted Iraqis from Saddam Hussein down. Now a Russian newspaper is selling decks of cards featuring members of the Bush administration (the prez is the Jack of Hearts). At about $8.20 each, the decks are said to be selling out in Moscow.
|Posted by tbrown at 10:39 AM
September 24, 2003
|Majority of Baghdadis support Saddam’s ouster, Gallup says
Gallup has conducted what it describes on its website as “possibly the most challenging project in Gallup's history,” conducting hour-long face-to-face polls with 1,178 people in Iraq's capital.
Unfortunately, detailed results of the poll are available only to subscribers to Gallup’s premium service. The polling company did, however, release a few interesting numbers:
-- Some 62 percent of those polled think ousting Saddam was worth the hardships they’ve suffered since.
-- Only 33 percent say the country is now better off than it was before the coalition invasion, while 47 percent say it is worse off. However, those polled were optimistic about the long-term: 67 percent said they believed the country would be better off five years from now than it was before the invasion, while only 8 percent said it would be worse off.
|Posted by tbrown at 02:36 PM
|The puppet talks back
This willl never do. Ahmed Chalabi, the current president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, is asking that Iraqis be given actual power to govern themselves.
Now you might suppose that this would not be such a radical idea, given all the rhetoric about liberating the Iraqis and making their country a shining light of hope for the Middle East. But there are some problems with Chalabi’s proposal.
One of them is Chalabi himself. He’s an Iraqi exile who left his homeland as a teenager and returned, figuratively at least, on the back of an American tank, so it’s fair to question how much support he has among Iraqis. He is also a crook, according to neighboring Jordan, which sentenced him to 22 years in prison in absentia for bank fraud (a charge Chalabi denies).
Then there’s the nature of his proposal: "We're saying sovereignty should come before elections . . . It doesn't mean that US troops leave or that [US governor] Paul Bremer leaves. It is symbolic," an anonymous aide told the Financial Times.
And very convenient for Chalabi. If this happens on his watch – the presidency of the Iraqi Governing Council rotates among nine of its members – he gets to become the putative president of Iraq without that messy formality of democracy, an election.
All of which puts Chalabi directly at odds with President Bush, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and the State Department (as with so many other things that have gone wrong in Iraq, Chalabi’s support comes primarily from neoconservatives in the Pentagon). Yesterday at the U.N., Bush said restoration of Iraq’s sovereignty should be “neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties” -- a comment that seemed aimed at France and Germany, which want an early handover to Iraqis. But the president may have had Chalabi in mind too; the glossy banker was occupying Iraq’s UN seat during Bush’s address.
Chalabi is trying to influence the upcoming UN consideration of what kind of aid to extend to Iraq and what timetable (if any) to establish for the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis. He is also going to testify before Congress next week and is expected to suggest that turning over sovereignty to Iraq sooner rather than later could save U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
So this puts the Bush administration in the uncomfortable position of having to oppose the head of the very government it appointed. And given the mood in Congress over the costs of rebuilding Iraq, Chalabi conceivably might gain some traction there. That could be a bad thing all around, for reasons detailed in this profile of Chalabi which was written nearly a year ago but now seems very prescient.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:13 PM
September 23, 2003
|Good grief, the so-called ‘flypaper’ strategy may be real
One of the goofier theories making the rounds of right-wing blogs after the war is that the U.S. actually wanted to attract the hundreds -- or is it thousands -- of Islamic jihadis who appear to have shown up in Iraq so our military could dispatch them there rather than in the streets of the U.S. (as if there aren’t enough of these nuts to cause problems in both places). This notion was propounded at length by Andrew Sullivan.
“What else did president Bush mean when he challenged the terror-masters to ‘bring 'em on,’ in Iraq?" Sullivan wrote. "Those are not the words of a man seeking merely to pacify a country, but to continue waging war against terrorism. On August 25, Donald Rumsfeld said to a group called the Veterans of Foreign Wars: ‘In Iraq moreover we¹re dealing not just with regime remnants but also with tens of thousands of criminals that were released from the jails by the regime before it fell, as well as terrorists and foreign fighters who have entered the country over the borders to try to oppose the Coalition. They pose a challenge to be sure but they also pose an opportunity because Coalition forces can deal with the terrorists now in Iraq instead of having to deal with those terrorists elsewhere, including the United States.’ Opportunity knocks.”
This just didn’t make any sense to me as a policy – the president inviting terror-masters to slug it out with our troops in Iraq. It would endanger our forces, cause trouble pacifying Iraq that might otherwise not occur and would in no way ensure that terrorists won’t strike again in the U.S.
My own thoughts were much more in tune with this rebuttal of Sullivan by Gregory Djerejian in his blog, Belgravia Dispatch:
“We went into Iraq to forcibly disarm Saddam of his WMD and unseat his regime. Not to have foreign jihadis and al-Qaeda open up fronts in Iraq so we could (allegedly) mop them up outside of Tel Aviv, London and NYC. There was no such strategy. There still isn't. And it wasn't (and isn't) unfolding. To so intimate is to be lapping up Pentagon propaganda without rational antenna up and about.”
That’s what I thought, too, until “fair and balanced” Fox News’ softball interview of President Bush last night. Here’s what he said about it:
" … I'm a man of peace. And obviously I would hope that we wouldn't have combat. I also live in a real world of being the president during a war on terror. So I guess I would rather fight them there than here. I know I would rather fight them there than here, and I know would rather fight them there than in other remote parts of the world, where it may be more difficult to find them." Here’s the full text.
So it looks like this actually might be a policy of some kind; the prez is so unspecific it’s hard to tell.
Want to know how we got here? See this play
My colleague, Lucy Mohl, writes:
For readers of this blog in the Seattle area, a night (or matinee) at the theater is due: Tony Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul" is in the middle of its run at Intiman Theatre. Anyone interested in the geo-political tectonic shifts of Afghanistan and the region needs to watch it like a refresher course in reality: these are living characters onstage, not body counts in a headline, playing out the scary prequel to 9/11.
"Homebody/Kabul" isn't just dramatically relevant; first written in the late 90's, at this point in history it feels necessary.
The production runs through October 11th.
Sure enough, when you give away confidential information about your customers, they get mad. They sue.
Bush gets a cool reception at the UN
Hardly surprising. Nor was Bush’s speech, which restated his justifications for the war in Iraq and requested help restoring civil affairs, including representative government, in Iraq, but no troops.
The Seattle Times home page has a link to video of Bush's remarks. Secretary General Kofi Annan, was critical of U.S. “unilateralism,” but also emphasized the need to root out terrorism.
Aussie newsman says administration knew there were no Iraq WMDs
John Pilger is an unapologetic lefty journalist from Down Under, and his reporting shows it. That doesn’t necessarily make him wrong, however. In a new documentary aired last night on London’s ITV, Pilger had tape and other information from a couple of years ago in which Secretary of State Colin Powell said Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice described his regime as weak and "militarily defenseless."
“In Cairo, on February 24 2001, Powell said: ‘He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours.’ …
“Two months later, Condoleezza Rice also described a weak, divided and militarily defenseless Iraq. ‘Saddam does not control the northern part of the country,’ she said. ‘We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.’ “
So, in the spring of ’01, Saddam was a weakling, no threat to even his immediate neighbors, much less us. He only bulked up after 9/11. Amazing, no?
The whole thing is here.
Update: Now there's this: Remember how the administration sent David Kay, former chief inspector for the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, to Iraq with a mandate to find Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? Good. Now forget it.
As recently as a couple of weeks ago the administration was saying Kay "continues to do his work. He's been compiling massive amounts of documents about Iraq's history of weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction program." Now, however, Rice says there probably will be no Kay report. (Link via Steven Aftergood's excellent Secrecy News newsletter.)
Incredible. She and Powell must have forgotten that they knew Saddam didn't have WMDs two years ago. Sure enough, I guess he still didn't have them.
As noted in this Asia Times piece, the reason Kay's report -- if he ever writes one -- is unlikely to see the light of day is that, "the Kay Report will mark the official retreat of US and British prewar claims. However unintentionally, it will be a direct refutation of official assertions that we had to go to war to prevent Saddam Hussein from using massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and possibly nuclear weapons....' "
What do the French want, anyway?
Again, the Belgravia Dispatch makes some informed suppositions based on French President Jacques Chirac’s interview with the New York Times.
The short take is that he wants to move toward shoring up France’s relationship with the U.S., which has been sorely taxed by the Iraq war.
Djerejian says Chriac’s assertion that he won’t veto a U.S. resolution on aid to Iraq “would be a pretty good outcome in terms of helping heal the ill feelings over all the spilt milk at Turtle Bay earlier this year. Still, if the French don't agree to more realistic sovereignty handover time frames--we will likely see an abstention. But they are telegraphing that before the negotiations get down and dirty--thus reducing their veto leverage mightily. So, especially viewed in that context, it's all pretty conciliatory fare that Chirac laid out in the interview.”
Oh, yeah – the California recall is back on again
See how this one plays for you.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:48 PM
September 22, 2003
|Are we talking to Saddam? Maybe
The story appears in the Sunday Mirror, a London tabloid where the chances of a story being accurate are about the same as getting heads 10 times straight in a coin-toss. However, this piece is detailed enough that it could represent something that’s actually happening.
“The Iraqi dictator is demanding safe passage to the former Soviet republic of Belarus,” the paper reports. “In exchange, he has vowed to provide information on weapons of mass destruction and disclose bank accounts where he siphoned off tens of millions of dollars in plundered cash.”
The Bush administration has said it would never “negotiate” with Saddam and, according to the Mirror, is talking with him through intermediaries in hopes of capturing or killing him.
Saddam reportedly is so desperate that he’s changing locations several times a day. Further – he’s run out of black hair dye!
We can only hope that U.S. troops soon capture this madman. It would be much sweeter, I think, to see him in chains than lying dead on those morgue slabs like his sons.
Then we’ll only have to worry about Iraq’s growing nationalist outrage at our presence and the 15,000 or so terrorists that reportedly have entered the country, mostly through the porous Syrian border, to kill our soldiers, UN officials and Iraqis who collaborate with us in trying to establish a new government.
Update: A spokesman for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division says it "has not had any contact with any former regime members regarding Saddam Hussein's disposition."
Revisiting the real Dr. Evil
Winds of Change has done an excellent roundup of the latest developments in the nuclear-weapons standoff between the Bush administration and Kim Jong-Il, the vicious lunatic who runs North Korea. Included are links to some really good English-language blogs on the Korean situation.
If you don’t have time for the whole briefing – there’s a lot – be sure to at least read blogger Tacitus’ review of the new book, “The Aquariums of Pyongyang,” written by by a Korean whose family moved from the Korean community in Japan to North Korea. The author’s mother wanted the family to take part in the grand experiment in nation-building under “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung, the father of current “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il. It’s a good introduction to the true horror of the Creepy Kingdom.
“Aquariums” author Kang Chol-Hwan spent 10 years in a slave labor camp at Yodok, where other members of his family were incarcerated as well – all except his mother, at whose insistence the migration to North Korea was made. She was never once allowed to visit the camp to see her family.
“I will not recount the experiences of the Yodok camp here,” Tacitus writes “Suffice it to say that only an Auschwitz or a Kolyma could outstrip the horrors of a Yodok. Suffice it to say that whereas Auschwitz and Kolyma are history, Yodok mercilessly grinds its human prey into skeletal shades even as you read this.”
Interestingly, Kang’s experiences in South Korea after his eventual escape there are more disconcerting to me than what happened to him in the North. You expect deranged dictators to treat their own populace harshly. You don’t expect the residents of South Korea, which has evolved into one of the supposed model democracies of East Asia to treat escapees from the vast terror camp north of their border with condescension and skepticism. But they do because the South is in such deep denial about the nature of the North Korean regime that it is now widely viewed as just a wayward piece of the nation that poses no threat to anyone.
“It was a terrible shock,” Kang wrote of what he experienced in the South. “I had been through so many awful things, and these people, who had lived their whole lives swaddled in perfect comfort, were looking skeptically down their noses at me! Clearly, my address was unfavorable to the North. Clearly, our testimony about the camps and the repressiveness of the Pyongyang regime would bolster the South's claim that it was the legitimate representative of the Korean nation. But so what? Did telling the truth necessarily mean having to oppose the government?”
Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to escape the conclusion that these attitudes, and the deep strain of anti-Americanism that now permeates South Korean life, are the direct result of our 50-year occupation. It’s a simple fact that everyone grows to hate an occupier – it just takes longer in some places than others. We still have 37,000 troops in South Korea who daily are subjected to indignities and sometimes violence. It is long past time for us to leave the Koreans to their own affairs. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has indicated that our forces there will be redeployed. The problem now is that it’ll have to be done delicately so that Kim Jong-Il doesn’t do something fatally stupid that would get many of our men and women – and perhaps hundreds of thousands of South Koreans – killed.
‘We don’t want to hear it … we prefer the myth’
TomPaine.com has an excellent interview with Chris Hedges, the veteran New York Times war correspondent, about his new book, “What Everyone Should Know About War.” The book is aimed in part at youths who may be considering joining the military and have little concept of what they’re getting into, in wartime at least.
In a Q&A with Tom Paine, Hedges talks about the psychololgical destruction of warfare (the page also has an audio link):
“Well, combat, despite what you see in the movies, no one can stand prolonged combat. Or let's say very, very few people can. You just don't stay that resilient. Eventually you break down. And from studies -- the studies that you've quoted, I think that's a World War II study -- they have found that after 60 days of continuous combat, 98 percent of the unit will have become psychiatric casualties. And the other 2 percent, will, according to the military psychiatrist, show symptoms or signs of aggressive psychopathic personalities. So, in short, after 60 days of combat, you'll either go crazy or you were crazy to begin with.”
“There's no shortage of veterans who come back and bear witness to war. Read 'Jarhead,' one of the latest examples of this, by Anthony Swofford, but we don't want to hear it. We prefer the myth. We prefer the flag-waving. We prefer these abstract notions of glory, honor, heroism -- terms that are rendered hollow in combat, if not obscene. And we prefer it for our own self-aggrandizement. We don't want to listen. That's part of the frustration, and part of the sadness of so many combat veterans who come back and are willing to bear witness despite their own pain, but are not only ignored, but are often shunted aside and are left to suffer alone, or with their families.” (Link via Antiwar.com Blog.)
Update: FBI says it wasn’t terrorists who shorted airline stocks
Last week, I sent readers here for a look at unanswered questions about 9/11. One of the questions was who made all the money shorting the stocks of United and American airlines just before 9/11. Well, the FBI now says it was hedge funds, which frequently take large positions in stocks they like or large positions against stocks they think have poor prospects. So maybe we can scratch Al Qaida off the list for this, at least.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:49 AM
September 19, 2003
|Screwing up a sure thing
I haven’t lit up a lot of pixels on the Texas congressional redistricting charade because at some level I believe the old saw that people get the government they deserve. In Texas that includes such marvels of human evolution as U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who apparently inhaled too many pesticides during his previous career as an exterminator, and George Bush’s successor as governor, Rick Perry.
To briefly reprise what’s been happening, the GOP, after three special sessions of the Legislature, finally managed to break the unity of a group of 11 Democratic senators who kept running off to places like Ardmore, Okla., and Albuquerque, N.M., to deny the Texas Senate the quorum it needed to conduct business. The business in this case was pushing through a GOP gerrymander that would replace the current Democratic gerrymander by redrawing congressional districts in a way that would guarantee Republicans another half-dozen seats in the U.S. House. With the Democrats back in the state Senate chamber they were able to proceed, and they did.
But now the Republicans are bickering so bitterly among themselves that there’s some question whether they’ll be able to come up with a plan that will get enough support to pass. Even the godfather of this thing, DeLay, couldn’t broker a peace.
Ultimately, the GOP no doubt will hammer something out. The stakes are too high to do otherwise. As David Beckwith, spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst put it, "There's a lot of ways to skin this cat."
Meanwhile, they’re almost as much fun to watch as the Seattle City Council.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:38 AM
September 18, 2003
|Wesley Clark and the Clintons: a Wes-Hillary (or Hillary-Wes) ticket?
Gen. Wesley Clark’s entry into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes has led to a whole lot of theorizing about why Bill and Hillary Clinton seem so happy about it.
It runs from what may seem sensible to centrist Democrats – an antidote to Howard Dean’s red-hot appeal to the party’s left wing because what makes him popular with the left may make him unelectable – to theories about Wes-Hillary, or even Hillary-Wes, ticket.
Peter Augustine Lawler, a professor of government, sets out the Wes-Hillary arguments in a commentary at National Review Online:
“Clark has to be regarded as the favorite for the nomination, and it would be a mistake at this point to regard him as an underdog in the general election,” Lawler says. “The main stumbling block to his success would be Hillary entering the race. As far as I can tell, her judgment is that the risk for her at this point is too high. She surely secretly hopes for a narrow Democratic defeat next year to clear the way for her in 2008. But political results can't be engineered that precisely, and don't be surprised if she doesn't adopt the amazingly low-risk strategy of making herself available as Clark's running mate. That would make her the presumptive nominee in either 2008 or 2012, depending on the general's skill and fortune.”
Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post media reporter, has rounded up a bunch of reporting, comment and speculation on Clark and the Clintons.
New terrorists in our midst
Now here’s some bad news. NBC is reporting that Ansar-al-Islam, a terrorist group that was thought to exist only in Iraq – and that we also thought we'd pretty much bombed out of existence early in the war – is now active right here at home:
“We do have an Ansar-al-Islam presence here in the United States,” said Pat D’Amuro, FBI assistant director and one of the agency’s top counterterrorism officials. “There’s enough intelligence information that we know that gives us great concern.”
NBC says it was told by “senior U.S. officials” that Ansar followers are under investigation in several cities, including New York, San Diego and Los Angeles.
The story also notes that, “Ansar used to be a small, mostly Kurdish terror group, operating almost exclusively in Iraq. But in the last few months, experts say foreign Islamic fighters have flocked to its side.” Before the war with Iraq there were many predictions of just such a boomerang effect.
There’s a new nuclear wannabe – Saudi Arabia
If chaos and destabilization of the Middle East are what the neoconservatives responsible for formulating our policy in that part of the world wanted – as Joshua Marshall argues in this piece published in April -- they’re certainly getting it. So far, things are playing out much as Marshall suggested they might.
Regimes in the Middle East are all jittery about the U.S. military presence in Iraq – and they’re doing things about it that are not in their long-term best interests or ours.
Iran is widely suspected of having embarked on a major clandestine nuclear weapons project (even as the Bush administration says it won’t tolerate a nuclear Iran). Now Saudi Arabia, its relationship with the U.S. in perhaps terminal decline, is considering acquiring nukes for “deterrance.” Whether a small nuclear arsenal actually will deter any potential enemy – especially Israel, which has long wanted to pay the Saudis back for their support of Hamas – is, of course, questionable. What is not questionable is that we don’t need any more nuclear-armed countries, especially ones like Saudi Arabia, whose government could collapse like the house of cards it is at any moment, leaving nukes in the hands of probably highly undesirable successors.
The British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the Saudi story, reports that, “United Nations officials and nuclear arms analysts said the Saudi review [of its defense options] reflected profound insecurities generated by the volatility in the Middle East, Riyadh's estrangement with Washington and the weakening of its reliance on the US nuclear umbrella.”
Our enemies the French
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is beginning to sound slightly deranged about the threat from the French. Yeah, they continue to try to thwart our every move on Iraq, which certainly is a kind of dangerous meddling that is likely to ultimately prove at least unproductive, and possibly quite expensive, for them. But are they really our enemies, or just rivals flexing their muscles while we’re preoccupied? (Note: the New York Times site requires free registration.)
Has JetBlue become Big Brother's chief enabler?
The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center has inspired a virtual tidal wave of computerized government attempts to invade the privacy of Americans in hopes of thwarting terrorists. One scary program that the feds plan to deploy next year is CAPPS II, which stands for Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System II. All airline passengers will be required to give airlines their full name, date of birth, address and home phone number before they can purchase a ticket. Then your friendly carrier will send that, and other information related to your travel including your credit card number, frequent flier number and itinerary into a file to the government. Your friends the feds will crunch all this information and give you a color-coded risk level: If you're green, welcome aboard; if you're yellow, be prepared to explain yourself; if you're red you're not going anywhere by air.
Now, it appears, JetBlue – the long-haul, cut-rate but comfortable airline that can take you from Seattle to New York for as little as $139 one-way – already has turned over some 5 million passenger records to the government for system testing.
JetBlue has issued a non-denial denial that is mentioned in the links in this item. But the full report of the government contractor that tested the data as part of the development of CAPPS II is available for download here and it specifically names JetBlue.
The privacy website dontspyon.us is in a state of high outrage.
“TSA [Transportation Security Agency] spokesman Brian Turnmail should stop treating the American people as if they were less intelligent than the seasonal fruits and vegetables he used to peddle,” fumes site editor Bill Scannell. “The 5 million JetBlue passengers whose rights were violated deserve to know the truth.
“JetBlue's CEO David Neeleman has a lot of explaining to do. He needs to stop hiding behind legalistic phrases like ‘currently under design’ and tell his customers exactly what his airline did with his customer's private information.
“As he is not is not being truly honest about the 5 million passenger records his airline gave up to the Feds, why should we believe him when he says he is not collaborating in CAPPS II?”
Personally, I think I’ll stick to the sardine carriers and avoid winding up in yet more government computers until it’s unavoidable.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:47 PM
September 17, 2003
|Frothing over the latte tax and dope
It took them a couple of decades, but Seattle voters finally found a tax they didn’t like. A proposal to tack 10 cents onto the price of every cup of espresso sold here in Starbuckland lost by about a 2-1 margin -- a very good thing.
One political strategist said that, “From Day One, I thought we don’t want to be a laughingstock.” Well, it’s far too late to worry about that, but at least we didn’t dump this flawed idea on small coffee vendors. Before the hate mail starts, let me say I’ve got nothing against kids, usually (I have two, so there are exceptions) but imposing a tax on coffee to pay for day care and preschool programs just doesn’t make sense.
The good citizens of our burg also gave landslide approval (nearly 59 percent “yes”) to an initiative that would make adult possession of marijuana for personal consumption the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority.
Nonetheless, Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske says that regardless of will of those silly voters the police will continue their current policies, which result in about 400 misdemeanor-possession cases a year. Defense attorneys are likely to take a somewhat different view of the significance of the vote.
Speaking of dope, growing it may best be left to those who know how
Health Canada, the government health-care provider north of the border, began selling marijuana to cancer and AIDS patients for symptom-relief in July, and now some users want their money back.
"It's totally unsuitable for human consumption," said Jim Wakeford, 58, an AIDS patient in Gibsons, British Columbia, according to an AP report. “Wakeford and Barrie Dalley, a 52-year-old Toronto man who uses marijuana to combat the nausea associated with AIDS, are returning their 1-ounce bags, and Dalley is demanding his money back -- about C$150 ($110 U.S.) plus taxes. Wakeford is returning his unpaid bill for two bags with a written complaint.”
Let’s look in our friends the French
They’re at it again. The Brits, who are just about as overstretched as we are in Iraq, nonetheless decided to send another 3,000 troops to prevent what Foreign Minister Jack Straw warned could become a “strategic failure.” To get them there, the UK defense department contracted with Corsair, a French air-charter service often employed for moving British forces around. Then, as first contingents were getting ready to leave, the French government suddenly ordered the Airbus 330 not to fly because of “safety concerns.”
The French Transportation Ministry said there were no safety issues and pointed a finger at the Foreign Ministry, the lair of the mendacious Dominique de Villepin. The bureaucrats there, of course, threw up their hands and denied there was any “political motive.”
Fortunately, not all the news from France is bad. Winds of Change has an interesting post from blogger Gabriel Gonzalez in Paris, who explores the coalesence of the French left around an intertwined theme of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and the much more hopeful emergence of opposition to this destructive brew among leading French intellectuals.
He quotes one of them, Pascal Bruckner, this way: “I see today in France a kind of destructive delusional sanctimoniousness (‘angélisme’). Some Europeans think they can escape the harshness of History by putting on display their good intentions or they reconstruct a progressive ideology though the demonization of the United States. Bush is compared to Hitler and we cozy up to the Islamists? We have not made much intellectual progress since the fall of Communism. Actually, we've even regressed."
If ideas like this spread, there may yet be hope of rescuing our historic alliance.
Microsoft’s contribution to the war effort
I’m not sure how I missed Microsoft’s contribution to our victory in Iraq, but here it is.
Will reality immitate The Onion?
The satire site offers this “news” about the Patriot Act:
Revised Patriot Act Will Make It Illegal To Read Patriot Act
WASHINGTON, DC—President Bush spoke out Monday in support of a revised version of the 2001 USA Patriot Act that would make it illegal to read the USA Patriot Act.
"Under current federal law, there are unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism, including the public's access to information about how the federal police will investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism," Bush said at a press conference Monday. "For the sake of the American people, I call on Congress to pass this important law prohibiting access to itself."
Bush also proposed extending the rights of states to impose the death penalty "in the wake of Sept. 11 and stuff."
|Posted by tbrown at 01:53 PM
September 16, 2003
|More bad news about Baghdad coverage
"I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did."
-- Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s top war correspondent
Amanpour fessed up on last week’s “Topic A With Tina Brown” on CNBC. The other panelists were satirist Al Franken and former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke. When Brown asked Amanpour if there was any point at which she felt she could not report, she replied:
"It's not a question of couldn't do it, it's a question of tone. It's a question of being rigorous. It's really a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body politic in my view, whether it's the administration, the intelligence, the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this was disinformation at the highest levels."
Clarke, unsurprisingly, dismissed that allegation out of hand. The really astounding response came from Irena Briganti, a flack for Fox News, who responded to Amanpour’s comments with this: "Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda."
Quite aside from her slander of Amanpour, whose work over many years from a number of difficult and dangerous places speaks for itself, this is a “choice” that could only have been dreamed up by the hacks of “fair and balanced” Fox. Don’t these idiots have even the slightest idea about the traditions of the craft they’re supposedly practicing?
Unfortunately, they all lie
The Bush administration seems so worried about the political implications of Iraq, the economy and the budget deficit that it’s having a hard time telling the truth about anything. David Corn of The Nation has a rundown on the latest fibs and whoppers.
“Is there some deadline approaching, after which Bush administration officials have to engage in honest debate?” Korn wonders. “It seems as if there has been a rash of misleading, deceptive, and disingenuous remarks coming from on high in recent days.”
But it’s not just Republicans who lie, as William Saletan reminds us in this piece at Slate.
“I have a message for my liberal friends, relatives, and colleagues: If you think Republicans play dirty and Democrats don't, open your other eye,” says Saletan.
“… Are Republicans nasty? Do they refuse to accept election defeats? Do they subvert respect for democracy? If so, they have no monopoly on these vices. They aren't the ones claiming that our current president ‘was not elected by the American people.’ They aren't the ones declaring ‘a nonmilitary civil war.’ And it was [Bill] Clinton, not a Republican former president, who asserted at the Iowa steak fry that the other party ‘tried to put more arsenic in the water.’ "
Yeah, they all lie. It’s politics. But it does appear that the long political season we’re now embarked on may prove one of the more shrill of recent memory.
Well, are we or aren’t we?
"As long as we're here, we are the occupying power. It's a very ugly word, but it's true."
-- Paul Bremer, head of the U.S. provisional government in Iraq.
"We are not occupiers. We have come under a legal term having to do with occupation under international law, but we came as liberators."
-- Secretary of State Colin Powell at a Baghdad news conference
Has a diet fad changed the economy?
The diet in question is the high-protein, high-fat Atkins diet. It’s being blamed (or credited perhaps) for all kinds of things.
“Suddenly, Wall Street is blaming the diet craze for all sorts of economic upheavals, and the deafening buzz is almost enough to drown out economic sense,” Charles Duhigg writes at Slate. “Time, the Economist, USA Today, and countless media outlets—marveling at the idea of slimming pork chops and heavy cream—have touted the commercial impact of the Atkins plan. The diet has been blamed for falling wheat prices and booming beef sales.
“But is there really an Atkins economy?” Find out here.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:46 AM
September 15, 2003
|Some harsh words for Baghdad correspondents
John F. Burns of the New York Times, who consistently filed great copy from Iraq before and during the war, has some very harsh words for some of his erstwhile colleagues there. In a piece in Editor & Publisher from an upcoming oral history of coverage of the war, Burns says some reporters in Baghdad bribed Iraqi officials and failed utterly in their responsibility to report the depravity of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium,” Burns says. “They never mentioned the function of ‘minders.’ Never mentioned terror.”
Burns – who, by the way, believes the war was justified on the basis of human rights violations alone – says that “ … I would say there are serious lessons to be learned. Editors of great newspapers, and small newspapers, and editors of great television networks should exact from their correspondents the obligation of telling the truth about these places. It's not impossible to tell the truth. I have a conviction about closed societies, that they're actually much easier to report on than they seem, because the act of closure is itself revealing. Every lie tells you a truth. If you just leave your eyes and ears open, it's extremely revealing.”
“There is corruption in our business,” Burns concludes. “We need to get back to basics. This war should be studied and talked about. In the run up to this war, to my mind, there was a gross abdication of responsibility.”
20 questions about 9/11
William Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News reminds us of how much we still don’t know about the events surrounding 9/11. What did the administration know and when? What ever happened to the anthrax investigation? Who were the people who made a bundle shorting the stocks of United Airlines the day before two of its planes slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center? And so forth. Check it out.
Global warming watch: a robin nests in Kaktovik
That’s on the Arctic Ocean, 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. New York Timesman Nicholas Kristoff reports that the local Inupiat Eskimos don’t even have a word for robin in their language. Winter temperatures have warmed by an average of eight degrees over the last three decades. Kaktovik’s 50-year-old airport is beginning to flood because of rising seas and may have to be moved.
“The U.S. Navy reports that in areas traversed by its submarines, Arctic ice volume decreased 42 percent over the last 35 years, and the average thickness of ice below water declined 4.3 feet,” Kristof reports. “The Office of Naval Research warns that ‘one plausible outcome’ is that the summer Arctic ice cap will disappear completely by 2050.” (Note: The New York Times site requires free registration.)
|Posted by tbrown at 01:23 PM
September 12, 2003
|I bet they send a "get well" card, too
Given how we treat our men and women in uniform, it’s a wonder we’re able to fill the ranks at all. Congress, thankfully, appears to have shelved an administration plan to cut hazardous-duty pay and other perks for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but no bill continuing the compensation has passed yet and until it has that pay can be considered threatened.
Then there’s this absurdity: soldiers wounded in battle who wind up in our military hospitals are being billed $8.10 a day for food. Furthermore, the government is threatening to turn our GI’s over to collection agencies if they don’t pay up. The justification for this is that all personnel receive $8.10 a day for subsistence as part of their pay. Thus, according to this "logic," the wounded are double-dippers if they don’t reimburse the government for their no doubt gourmet hospital chow.
It’s enough to make you cry – with outrage. If we’re going to send our troops to hellholes like Afghanistan and Iraq – and maybe Iran and North Korea; who knows? – then don’t we at least owe them relief from this kind of two-bit bureaucratic crap?
The Israeli-Palestinian mess may get a much messier
The Israeli government of Ariel Sharon wants to “exile” Yasser Arafat, a proposition that triggered large demonstrations yesterday. The influential Jerusalem Post takes things a step further: it wants Arafat killed.
“We must kill as many of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders as possible, as quickly possible, while minimizing collateral damage, but not letting that damage stop us,” a Post editorial says. “And we must kill Yasser Arafat, because the world leaves us no alternative.” (The Post site requires free registration.)
If Israel actually pursues this course, it’s likely we’ll see a firestorm bloodier than the one that has left 800 Israelis dead in the last two years from terror bombings. In fact, it is difficult to see Sharon’s eye-for-an-eye policy, and his continued support for the illegal settlement of Arab lands, as anything but an abject failure.
“The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice,” writes Avraham Burg, a Labor Party member of the Israeli parliament in the U.S. Jewish publication, Forward. “As such, the end of the Zionist enterprise is already on our doorstep. There is a real chance that ours will be the last Zionist generation. There may yet be a Jewish state here, but it will be a different sort, strange and ugly. … The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.”
You can see the apocalyptic arguments from both ends of the Israeli political spectrum. Our longtime ally may be at a critical turning point.
If diplomacy doesn’t halt Iran’s nuclear program, Israel might
The UN’s nuclear monitoring agency today ordered Iran to disprove by Oct. 31 suspicions that it is working to acquire nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency resolution was introduced by Australia, Canada and Japan. It was approved without a vote, as more than 20 of the 35 nations on the agency’s board approved it.
Iran did not. "We reject in the strongest terms this resolution," chief Iranian delegate Ali Akbar Salehi said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately the sponsors of the draft reacted in total disregard for principles of multilateralism and did not entertain our amendments."
Salehi said Iran would review its cooperation with the U.N. agency in light of the resolution, so a confrontation with the Iranian mullahs may not be far distant. The UN Security Council probably will take up the matter in November if Iran fails to cooperate. And there is always the possibility of more “pre-emptive” military action.
The U.S. has already said it would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Israel is also hinting that if diplomacy doesn’t halt Iran’s march toward nuclear status, the Israeli air force might try. This is not likely an empty threat: Israeli planes destroyed an Iraqi reactor in 1981 because of concerns that Saddam might get the bomb.
Finally, a proposal for Iraq that everyone seems to like
That probably is the kiss of death, but let’s look at the bright side for a moment. There’s a proposal making the rounds among think tanks, aid agencies and some politicians to create a fund from Iraq’s oil wealth to pay regular dividends to the Iraqi people. It would operate in a way similar to Alaska’s Permanent Fund, which pays every resident of the state between $1,000 and $2,000 every year, depending on oil prices and production.
The New York Times reports that, “American officials have projected that a properly functioning oil industry in Iraq will generate $15 billion to $20 billion a year, enough to give every Iraqi adult roughly $1,000, which is half the annual salary of a middle-class worker.”
Paying out all oil proceeds to the citizenry won’t happen, of course, but even $250 would go along way in that destitute country.
“Leaders of the American occupying force have endorsed the oil-to-the-people concept and said recently that they plan to discuss it soon with the Iraqi Governing Council,” the Times says.
We’re winning in Iraq, and Bush is getting no credit for it
So writes Mark Steyn in the London mag, the Spectator. As usual, his piece is well worth reading regardless of whether you agree with the premise.
Farewell to the real Man in Black
"I try to write lyrics that make sense to all kinds of people. I'm no message bringer. Mostly I just tell stories."
-- Johnny Cash, dead at 71
Fans should check this site (link via Instapundit).
|Posted by tbrown at 12:39 PM
September 11, 2003
September 10, 2003
|Elections are right around the corner. Fraud, too?
'Our analysis shows that this voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts. We highlight several issues including unauthorized privilege escalation, incorrect use of cryptography, vulnerabilities to network threats, and poor software development processes. For example, common voters, without any insider privileges, can cast unlimited votes without being detected by any mechanisms within the voting terminal.'
-- Analysis of an Electronic Voting System
Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Inc., told Republicans in an Aug. 14 fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.''
-- Associated Press
This isn’t a pretty picture. King County, and about a thousand other counties nationwide plus numerous cities, use Diebold touch-screen voting machines. We’ll fire them up here again next week for the state primary. Many locations in California will be using them next month for their loony gubernatorial recall. Unfortunately, the software that controls operation of the machines has been found to be seriously deficient and open to tampering, as the report above details (Diebold, unsurprisingly, denies there’s anything wrong with its system; read the links and decide for yourself).
Defective software is an unpleasant fact of modern life, as anyone on Microsoft’s mailing list for “critical updates” can attest. And it’s probably true that no complex program is perfect.
But the problem with Diebold’s voting machines is an entirely different universe than, say, e-mail viruses. We’re not talking about inconvenience or wasted time, here, but about the potential for undermining one of the cornerstones of representative government.
Vote fraud has always been a concern. John Kennedy may have benefitted from it in Illinois when he nosed out Richard Nixon for the presidency in 1962, and there are plenty of people who believe the same about George Bush beating Al Gore in Florida to get the electoral votes that pushed him over the top in 2000.
Now, however, we have more and more localities opting for electronic voting that is in some cases manipulable, often without any paper-ballot backup. This is particularly disturbing when you have the president and CEO of a company that makes such a flawed system engaging in partisan politics, as Walden O’Dell of Diebold does.
Bev Harris, who lives in Renton (a Seattle suburb), deserves much of the credit for discovering the Diebold problem, as this story by The Seattle Times Keith Ervin details.
Later, a hacker provided Wired News with a copy of Diebold's source code, raising another stink.
These and other problems have officials in some locales taking a harder look at the question of electronic voting and how it should be monitored.
Two Republican King County Council members representing Seattle’s Eastside suburbs earlier this month called for the establishment of an elected elections auditor after what appeared to be a clerical error by Diebold sent the wrong ballots to 98 voters in one community. And in Maryland and Ohio, officials have postponed purchases of electronic voting equipment until independent contractors they hired can complete risk assessments of any vulnerabilities.
This seems only prudent – particularly in light of this Sept. 4 posting by Bev Harris on the New Zealand web site Scoop (which was the first to highlight her earlier work on Diebold). It details a curious occurrence in a 2002 primary election in San Luis Obispo County, California, in which results from Diebold machines in 57 precincts seem to have been collected at 3:31 p.m., hours before the polls closed, and wound up on a Diebold company file-transfer site.
Also worth visiting are Harris’ web sites, blackboxvoting.com and blackboxvoting.org.
As all America waits …
Vice President Dick Cheney is to deliver remarks at the unveiling of a marble bust of former veep Dan Quayle outside the U.S. Senate chamber. As with many things Quayleish, the bust had a difficult birth. Roll Call reports that two of the sculpltors who worked on it died before they could finish. But it's done now. May it adorn in peace.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:28 PM
September 09, 2003
|Fun with math
OK, class, we’re going to talk about big numbers today: $87 billion more for the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and a budget deficit of at least $525 billion for fiscal ’04. In reality, the deficit most likely will be well over $600 billion because the Bush administration is already saying the $87 billion in new funding its asking for won’t be enough; it may need an additional $55 billion.
This is spending on a level that rivals the Vietnam war.
Now let’s reduce these numbers a little for those of us who have trouble getting our brains around the concept of a budget deficit of more than a half-trillion dollars in a single year.
First, let’s consider the small change, the $87 billion. That’s just about four times the entire budget of the state of Washington.
Put another way, the new $87 billion request for the war on terrorism means we’re spending this money at the rate of $238 million per day, almost $10 million per hour, $165,525 per minute and $2,759 per second.
Apply the math of the last paragraph to the $525 billion deficit, and it turns out the federal government as a whole is spending $1.4 billion per day more than it’s collecting in taxes, or about $60 million per hour, nearly $1 million per minute, or $16,647 per second.
That last number is enough to buy 5,549 $3 lattes for caffeine-crazed Seattleites, or enough each second to spring for one latte per day for 15 people for a year.
What’s it all mean?
President Bush’s speech announcing that the war is going to last longer and cost more has unleashed a torrent of punditry, and there’s something in it for everyone.
At Slate, William Saletan (who supported the war), takes issue with the president’s redefinition of what we’re doing in Iraq and what we might do elsewhere in the Middle East.
“Bush wants us to support his postwar Iraq policy as reflexively as we supported the war on al-Qaida in Afghanistan,” Saletan says. “That's why he delivered this speech just before the anniversary of 9/11. ‘Nearly two years ago, following deadly attacks on our country, we began a systematic campaign against terrorism,’ he recalled in his opening remarks. ‘America and a broad coalition acted first in Afghanistan … and we acted in Iraq.’
“How was our action in Iraq part of the campaign against terrorism? The old argument, which Bush repeated Sunday, was that Saddam ‘sponsored terrorism.’ But again, Bush offered no evidence that Saddam had done so in a way different from Iran, Syria, or even Saudi Arabia. Instead, Bush argued that regardless of whether terrorists in Iraq were at war with us two years ago, they are today.”
Hawkish blogger Andrew Sullivan responds that, “We had to start somewhere. Sitting back, doing intermittent global police-work, playing legal niceties with terrorists, schmoozing with the French - all this, after 9/11, would have been a loud signal to the terror-masters that we were weak and worth going after even more.”
At the neoconservative National Review Online, Max Singer elevates poor, beat up Iraq to a cosmically important “hinge of history” that requires a U.S. victory or the prospect of radical Islam dictating the nature of the first decades of this new century. The situation also may require action against Syria, Iran and perhaps Saudi Arabia, Singer says:
“The U.S. has no choice about fighting to resist its enemies in Iraq, and it has a good chance of success. But that struggle may well become so difficult and uncertain that it would be imprudent for the U.S. not also to use political action against the attackers at home. None of the governments involved have broad public support at home, and all use brutal police-state measures to stay in power.
“Iran is already included in the Axis of Evil. Syria is 'terror central' and involved in many attacks against Americans, as well as in drug smuggling and forging U.S. currency. Saudi Wahhabis are responsible for a major share of the growth of radical Islamism all over the world.
“If the sense develops among U.S. political leaders that we are in danger in Iraq and that Saudis are part of what is threatening us, it may well push a slowly developing U.S. movement toward a radical change in policy toward the Saudis over the top.”
Finally, Pat Buchanan says that while Bush is doing the right thing by seeking some international assistance with Iraq, the U.S. is, nonetheless, in what appears to be the beginning of a perilous “retreat under fire:”
“The glorious victory of April is history now. As summer turns to fall, Iraq takes on the aspect of Gaza. Soon, angry voices will be raised asking how we get out of Iraq, and just who got us in. The evening of recriminations is almost upon us.”
Shoot the messenger
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has dusted off the old “shoot the messenger” ploy, arguing that administration critics are hindering the war on terrorism.
But let’s step back for a second and consider whether the mainstream media has displayed any particular bias in covering the war, and if so what it was.
We have in hand two studies of how the media handled war coverage during the major conflict period (links via Eric Alterman). They find that the coverage was either even-handed (the conservative Center for Media and Public Affairs) or quite slanted in favor of the war (the more liberal Fairness and Accuracy in Media, or FAIR).
First, let’s hear from CMPA: “The broadcast network evening news coverage of the United States war with Iraq was evenly balanced between positive and negative coverage, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. However, the study found significant differences in tone among the broadcast networks, while Fox News Channel (FOX) differed less from the others than many commentators have suggested.”
Interestingly, CMPA says CBS, not Fox, was the most supportive of the administration.
Then there’s FAIR: “Since the invasion of Iraq began in March, official voices have dominated U.S. network newscasts, while opponents of the war have been notably underrepresented, according to a study by FAIR. …
“Nearly two-thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were pro-war, while 71 percent of U.S. guests favored the war. Anti-war voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and 3 percent of U.S. sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1.”
Of course, like all studies, these deal with the past – from March 19 through April 14 for CMPA and March 20-April 9 for FAIR.
So, have things changed significantly? They have in one major way for Rumsfeld: he’s now widely viewed as the official with the most responsibility for blowing the postwar cleanup in Iraq. Even his buddies at the Weekly Standard are saying it. Maybe that accounts for his distemper.
Are we forgetting about the oil in Iraq?
In the mail, was this from Scott in Ballard (a Seattle neighborhood for those of you elsewhere):
Just this: have people forgot that there is oil in Iraq? Oil, that we are going to get the revenue from! Lot's of revenue. Do the Bush haters (that drive, even SUVS) still not want this to happen? Will they then throw their cars away? Sure, just like the anti-fur (PETA for one) nuts! Against something don't do it! I'm sure they never wear leather anything, right? People are so short sighted it's ridiculous! It seems they want a quick fix, like they get in a 1/2 hour sit-com! Just doesn't work that way in real life! I believe, in my life, we'll see this revenue come back to us! Why not? Will the anti-war (facsists) still not want their money? Just like they didn't want their tax rebate, right? There is going to be mass money eventually heading in our direction. I wish these morons would move to Europe before it gets here. You know, the utopian heaven? But, rest easy. Their voting rights are still in tact. It just seems like they've lost them! They can still vote for another liberal, bigger government socialist soon! Losers! "I want to be like them, over there." Yep, the grasss IS greener, right?
-- Scott in Ballard
Scott may be right about oil revenue – eventually. And even if it’s only used for Iraqi reconstruction (the administration’s position so far), Iraq does have the second-largest knowon reserves after Saudi Arabia, so the income could be significant. But it looks like it’ll take a while to get it. The pipeline that takes Iraqi oil to Turkey for export has been sabotaged again.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:34 PM
September 08, 2003
|Our friends in the Persian Gulf
"When it comes to the Saudi-American relationship, the White House should be called the ‘White Tent.'"
-- Mohammed Al-Khilewi, a Saudi diplomat who defected to the United States
Maybe that’s about to change. Our erstwhile friends in the Persian Gulf seem to want us out of Iraq, even as President Bush is seeking to prepare Americans for a long, expensive stay. And they want the United Nations to set the schedule for our departure.
“We expect the UN Security Council to come out with a resolution setting out a timetable for the period of stay of the allied forces in Iraq,” Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad ibn Jassem Al-Thani said at a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers in Jeddah. The council is an umbrella group of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait formed to consider security matters of regional interest.
The council’s notion of what a UN resolution should contain differs dramatically from the UN resolution the Bush administration wants, which would leave the U.S. effectively in charge of all important military and governmental decisions in Iraq. Including, no doubt, when and under what circumstances, to depart.
U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, in particular, have chilled dramatically in recent months. The official report into the 9/11 attacks no doubt contributed. A 28-page section of the report was classifed because it reputedly details the involvement of Saudi family members in supporting terrorist groups, including Al Qaidi. In addition, of course, 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 plot were Saudi citizens.
“America is disengaging from Saudi Arabia,” writes Michael Wihbey in Britain’s conservative Spectator magazine. “To many observers this seems shocking, to others it is unthinkable, but all the evidence points to a dramatic change in relations.”
Online political ads?
“Bring ‘em on,” say 30 percent of Internet users. That's according to a poll on behalf of the Online Publishers Association, which also found that:
-- 60 percent said the would be likely to notice an ad for a candidate online.
-- 20 percent said they would rather watch a campaign commercial online than on TV.
-- 68 percent of voters who use the Web are likely to research a candidate’s position.
|Posted by tbrown at 03:07 PM
September 05, 2003
|Bush, ‘spending money like a man with a week to live’
Total U.S. government employment under President Bush is now more than 1 million higher than it was under President Clinton. Yes, 1 million higher. So says a new Brookings Institution on the “true size” of government, which includes the employees of private-sector contractors to the government and government grant recipients.
By this measure, government employment is now at its highest level since the end of the Cold War, Brookings says. This is more government than many conservatives bargained on.
Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, the hothouse of neoconservatism, says not to worry. “Sure, some conservatives are upset because he has tolerated a surge in federal spending, downplayed swollen deficits, failed to use his veto, created a vast Department of Homeland Security, and fashioned an alliance of sorts with Teddy Kennedy on education and Medicare. But the real gripe is that Bush isn't their kind of conventional conservative. Rather, he's a big government conservative.”
This is OK, Barnes says, because, “The essence of Bush's big government conservatism is a trade-off. To gain free-market reforms and expand individual choice, he's willing to broaden programs and increase spending.”
Not everyone on the right is as sanguine. “In general, Bush has been spending money like a man with a week to live,” Jonah Goldberg writes at Townhall.com. “The GOP-led Congress deserves some blame, too. But even when they overspend above his overspending, Bush refuses to use his veto power.”
Also at Townhall, Bruce Bartlett says that, “The Republican Party's conservative base is becoming increasingly restless with George W. Bush's unwillingness to restrain the growth of federal spending in any way.”
Bartlett also rejects the notion that the war on terrorism justifies increased government spending, and offers this contrast between Reagan and Bush:
“Bush is not the first president to face a serious threat to America's national security. The situation confronting Ronald Reagan in 1981 was far worse, with the Soviet Union at the peak of its power and a U.S. military that had been severely weakened by Democrats during the 1970s. As bad as today's terrorist threat may be, thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States were a much greater threat. Yet despite the need to rebuild America's defenses, Reagan never let it be an excuse to give up on controlling domestic spending.”
Lost jobs may be gone for good
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York says in a new study that the vast majority of the 2.7 million jobs lost since the recession began in 2001 will never come back because of changes in the U.S. economy. This means job-growth will remain anemic until new jobs are created in innovative sectors of the economy, according to the report’s authors, Erica L. Groshen, an assistant vice president at the New York Fed, and Simon Potter, a senior economist.
Their assertion was underscored by today’s unemployment figures, which showed another 93,000 jobs were lost in August, the seventh straight month of declines.
The New York Fed report also warns that the U.S. service sector, which has been looked to as the savior of the economy over the last couple of decades as manufacturing employment declined from 49 percent of the economy to its current 21 percent, is about to be hollowed out just like manufacturing has been as corporations ship more and more jobs – including white-collar ones – overseas.
Thus, while the economy is improving by some measures – increases in profitability at many companies and growing economic productivity – it continues its downhill slide in the pocketbook question most critical to most Americans: will I have (or be able to get) a job?
This has not been lost on the Bush administration, which is fully aware that unless the Iraq mess gets a lot messier, the pivotal issue for voters next year will be the economy. The President has been campaigning hard in favor of his economic program, which he asserts will lead to job growth. Nonetheless, it is a virtual certainty that Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to see total employment decline during his four years in office.
Economics blogger Brad DeLong’s site has a post that recalls the promises made for the Bush economic program earlier this year (5.5 million new jobs by the end of next year): “The big point is that the Bush Administration's employment projections last spring were completely, ludicrously, absurdly false. But there is also the smaller point: the employment situation is getting worse at a depressing rate.”
Footnote: Income inequality has grown dramatically in the last couple of decades, under Democrat Clinton as well as under Republicans Reagan and the two Bushes, as this chart from the Economic Policy Institute shows. The rich continue to get richer very quickly, while middle- and low-income households have seen scant gains.
|Posted by tbrown at 01:39 PM
September 04, 2003
|What’s wrong with this picture?
US turns to UN for help in Iraq
-- Christian Science Monitor
US derides 'chocolate makers' for EU military headquarters plans
-- Agence France Presse
It’s abundantly clear now that we can’t sustain our effort in Iraq because a.) we don’t have enough troops and b.) we’re broke, looking at a budget deficit of $480 billion for fiscal 2004 even as the Bush administration prepares to ask Congress for another $60 billion to $70 billion for Iraq expenses. So now we want the UN to bail us out -- but only if we remain in charge of everything and only if they sit still while our government flacks insult them as “chocolate makers.”
But at least the Uggabugga finds a way to get a laugh out of all this (link via http://www.cursor.org/ Cursor.
Powell’s palace coup
Today’s Washington Post has a story that suggests Secretary of State Colin Powell, after months of arguing for UN involvement that was resisted vigorously by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his aides, essentially staged a palace coup by getting the agreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support his position.
Supporters of Rumsfeld and his chief deputy Paul Wolfowitz, are alarmed. Jed Babbin of National Review Online, for example, argues that “to give control of Iraq to the U.N. will result in our defeat in Iraq because the U.N. is not committed to the defeat of terrorism. Many terrorist states — Iran, Syria, Libya, and North Korea, among others — are members in good standing. They and their sympathizers are able to control U.N. action."
Some good news from Iraq
The New York Times reports that the 101st Airborne Division, rather than the U.S. civilian administration in Baghdad, has taken effective control in Northern Iraq and, so far, is succeeding with some economic reconstruction and corking potential civilian unrest among the many ethnic groups there.
“The ethnic makeup of the north — a diverse blend of Arabs, Kurds, Turkoman and tribes — is less hostile to the American presence than the troublesome Sunni triangle around Baghdad, although it has the potential for ethnic strife,” reports the Times’ Michael Gordon. “But that only partly explains the military's relative success here.
“Other elements are the early deployment of a potent American force large enough to establish control, the quick establishment of new civil institutions, run by Iraqis, and a selective use of raids to capture hostile groups or individuals while minimizing the disruption to local civilians.
“Another factor has been an American commander who approached so-called nation-building as a central military mission and who was prepared to act while the civilian authority in Baghdad was still getting organized.”
Read it all here (free registration required) .
A new line of comic books?
Blogger Billmon visits Seattle, goes to Archie McPhee, and … well, see the posting for Sept. 2.
|Posted by tbrown at 10:55 AM
September 03, 2003
|While I was gone
I spent August on a long-scheduled leave, half of it working on my boat – a subject far too tedious to be blogworthy – the other half trying to enjoy the thing with my family. This was not difficult while floating around in Echo Bay on Sucia Island. Even in the San Juans, it was hard to miss the big headlines, such as the appalling bombing in Najaf that killed the leading Iraqi Shiite cleric who advocated working with the U.S., and scores of others, and the predictably inconclusive multi-lateral talks with North Korea about its nuclear pretentions.
There were other things happening, though, that escaped me since I wasn’t online much. Here are a few:
Valerie Plame: Did Karl Rove do it? Joseph Wilson, the former diplomat who blew the whistle on the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, publicly fingered White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove as one of two “senior admiistration officials” who revealed that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA agent (a case I've mentioned several times). Disclosing the identity of a CIA agent is a federal felony punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
Interestingly, Wilson lodged his specific charge against Rove at a public forum on Iraq intelligence sponsored by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in Shoreline (a suburb that borders Seattle) on Aug. 21, yet no one in the area seems to have reported it.
“At the end of the day,” Wilson said, “it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.”
This is, I think, a startling allegation that deserves a lot more investigation than it’s gotten.
Blogger Mark A.R. Kleiman, who has been on top of this story since the beginning, recaps the whole thing at a new web site, Open Source Politics.
Inslee’s congressional website has a link to a video of the forum where Wilson aired his charge. It’s at about one hour and 17 minutes into the video, so move the slider on your player to a point about 80 percent of the way through the tape. It was working fine yesterday, but today the server seems to be overloaded so you may need patience.
Salam Pax’s home raided by the U.S. Army: The widely followed Baghdad blogger reports that his family’s home was raided by U.S. Army troops, who thought Sudanese terrorists were meeting there (scroll down to the Aug. 29 entry). They turned out to be two Basra carpenters of African descent who were doing repair work in the kitchen. “Way. To. Go. You have great informers,” Pax writes.
New York Times slanted against Dean? Over at Oxblog, David Adesnik beats up the Times (he could pick a moving target – everybody has beaten up the Times lately) for reporting slanted against Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean. This is a possibility many conservatives no doubt would find remote. Adesnik, however, makes a good case. See the post for Aug. 28.
|Posted by tbrown at 11:45 AM
September 02, 2003
|They all did it – but is that an excuse?
Has President Bush lied to the American people. Yes. Often and gratuitously. But, then, so did his predecessors, Bill Clinton, Poppa Bush and Ronald Reagan.
The Washington Monthly has an entertaining roundup of fibs and whoppers told by these chief execs and has created a “Mendacity Index” purporting to rank the four presidents in terms of untruthfulness (hint: Clinton was not the biggest liar). If you take a few seconds, you, too, can vote. The magazine updates the results regularly. (Link via Talking Points Memo.)
Howard Dean is one, too
Or so asserts Justin Raimondo at his web site, Antiwar.com. Dean, the current darling of the Democratic left, used to portray himself as anti-war, but now sounds more imperial than the Bush administration hawks and “is turning into a disaster for the anti-war movement, and an embarrassment to his supporters,” Libertarian Raimondo writes.
He is particularly rabid on a Dean suggestion that the U.S. ought to write a new constitution for Iraq based on the American model with a few “Iraqi-Arab characteristics.”
“The ineffable arrogance of the idea that we can turn Iraq into the equivalent of the 51st state … is frightening coming from a serious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Coming out of the mouth of the supposed ‘anti-war' candidate, it is downright eerie. What is this, anyway? Have we suddenly fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum? Has all reason fled, with only madmen left behind? The campaign has barely begun, and already Dean is completely reversing himself and betraying his base.” Read it all here.
|Posted by tbrown at 12:52 PM
|| July 2006