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Between the Lines

July 27, 2004

An Oktyabr surprise?

How about this:

During the run up to Nov. 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces he's agreed to send, say, 40,000 troops to Iraq to lend a hand with suppressing the insurgency and restoring security.

The idea was first floated last month at Stratfor, the outfit that sells "strategic intelligence on global business, economic, security and geopolitical affairs."

Via The Agonist, here's some of what Stratfor had to say:

Moscow and Washington are quietly negotiating a request by the Bush administration to send Russian troops to Iraq or Afghanistan this fall, Russian government sources tell Stratfor. The talks are intense, our contacts close to the U.S. State Department say, and the timing is not insignificant. A Russian troop lift to either country before the U.S. presidential election would give U.S. President George W. Bush a powerful boost in the campaign.

Supposedly, the Russians "agreed in principle" to send up to three mechanized divisions and an airborne brigade, which would amount to around 40,000 troops.

Now the theme has been picked up and elaborated on at Asia Times by a columnist who calls himself Spengler, after the early 20th Century German philosopher. I haven't been able to deduce Spengler's identity; the closest I've come is this Wikipedia description of him as a "Jewish-American columnist for the Asia Times Online, whose particular focus is on America." In any case, here's the heart of his argument:

In exchange for a troop presence in Iraq, Russia would obtain a free hand in dealings with the countries of the former Soviet Union. It would gain leverage against a weakening Turkey in the Caucasus and Central Asia. And it would vastly enhance its leverage in negotiations over the placement of oil pipelines. Most important, perhaps, it would assert its old status as a global military power against the feckless Europeans. In short, the arrangement would benefit everyone, except of course the population of Fallujah [insurgency central in Iraq].
America's squeamishness in the face of large-scale civilian casualties mystifies the Russians, who know about such things. The remnants of the Chechen resistance have few friends, even among Arab governments. The General Assembly of the United Nations remained mute over the Chechen dead when Russia razed Grozny in 1999, killing or displacing about half of the population of 1 million. The Council of Europe, responsible for investigating human rights violations, suspended activity in Chechnya last year by agreement with Moscow. In January, the Saudis received the pro-Russian president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, who told alJazeera, "I think the most important factor is that Prince Abd Allah invited the leaders of the Chechen Republic. This is a definite recognition of the current authorities [being] friendly to Moscow."

In essence, we hire, cajole or induce the Russians to do the really dirty work.

The Russians have denied that they're sending any troops to Iraq or Afghanistan (where, let's recall, they were humiliatingly defeated by indigenous fighters and foreigners like Osama bin Laden, all of whom were supported with weapons and money by the U.S.).

The story, which has been perking along for a month or so, got new life when Hoshyar Mahmud Zebari, the new Iraqi foreign minister, visited Moscow for talks and said Iraq needed Russian troops as "peacekeepers." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that Russia would not send troops, but said his government was willing to help in other ways and left open the suggestion that security issues could be put on the agenda for a subsequent meeting in Iraq.

So. A trial balloon? Maybe. Just wacky theorizing? Possibly. But we live in strange times. We blog, you decide.

Posted by tbrown at 12:06 PM


Reality TV in Iraq

You'd think that by now real reality TV might have quenched the Iraqi thirst for Fox-like "reality" programs. Not so. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Iraqis can now watch something called "Labor and Materials." Here's how the Monitor describes it:

"Labor and Materials" is Iraq's answer to "Extreme Home Makeover" and the country's first reality TV show. In 15-minute episodes, broken windows are made whole again. Blasted walls slowly rise again. Fancy furniture and luxurious carpets appear without warning in the living rooms of poor families. Over six weeks, houses blasted by US bombs regenerate in a home-improvement show for a war-torn country.

You can see why Iraqis would like that.

Posted by tbrown at 12:01 PM


July 26, 2004

Summer with Saddam

Saddam Hussein is spending his time in solitary confinement writing poetry, gardening, reading the Qur'an and snacking on American muffins and cookies. One of his poems is about his arch-enemy George Bush.

So says Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, who visited the imprisoned dictator on Saturday, and talked about it with the London newspaper, The Guardian.

Despite decent quarters – an air-conditioned 10-by-13-foot cell – and three squares a day, Saddam is said to be a bit melancholic and has high blood pressure and prostate problems.

"He is looking after a few bushes and shrubs and has even placed a circle of white stones around a small palm tree," Amin says in The Guardian account. "His apparent care for his surroundings is ironic when you think he was responsible for one of the biggest ecocides when he drained the southern marshes."

Yeah, well, there were people in the marshes.

I'd like to see his Bush poem, though. You can bet there'll be a few psychology term papers on that some day.

Posted by tbrown at 12:48 PM


Blogging the Dems

This year's political conventions will be the first extensively covered by bloggers. How much zest they'll add to what real news that escapes from these choreographed exercises we'll soon see.

But if you want to tune in, here's a pretty good list of participating bloggers. Seattlelites should note that Natasha Celine, who writes at the group blog Pacific Views, also will be blogging for the King County Democratic Central Committee.

Democratic Girl doesn’t have much content yet, but looks like it'll provide some Flash diversion in the (likely) event of not much news.

Jay Rosen, the NYU thinker of pear-shaped thoughts at PressThink, will be there and is already he's trying to make convention cynics like me wake up to the fact that there must be news there somewhere. Otherwise, how come 15,000 newsies are there? It's certainly true that every convention produces something we didn't know before. Most newspeople dislike the conventions of the last 25 years or so because they no longer are actually contests of candidates. Those are all decided long before the delegates meet. Still, for political junkies, there'll be plenty of fodder, and Rosen thinks bloggers will be able to bring something new to the circus:

"I think the bloggers have something to add:

"They don't know in advance that what they are doing is meaningless; if they did, they wouldn't do it.

"They don't assume that a ritual is an empty ritual simply because it obeys a script, since this is the very essence of ritual, as any Boy Scout or churchgoer can tell you.

"Although we're told that 'bloggers wear their politics on their sleeves,' and things like that, politics is a personal matter for most of them -- not a professional interest. Their communication style is citizen-to-citizen, rather than expert-to-layman or media to 'mass.'

"Journalists are sent by their editors and bosses to cover the convention. Bloggers are 'sent,' in effect, by the people who read their accounts and find use for them. Some bloggers heading to Boston have been asking their users, 'What do you want to know about when I get there?' How many reporters do that?"

Posted by tbrown at 12:47 PM


Tsk, tsk

GOP veep Dick Cheney tells a U.S. senator to "go ^&@# yourself." Now Teresa Heinz Kerry tells a newsman to "shove it." The shovee, Colin McNickle, is the editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, funded by conservative moneybags Richard Mellon Scaife. If this keeps up, we won't be able to publish a family blog anymore.

Posted by tbrown at 12:43 PM


Maybe, professor …

… but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Posted by tbrown at 12:41 PM


July 22, 2004

Meanwhile, in Iraq …

Today we pay one of our periodic visits to Iraqi blogs to see what people there are thinking about. Not surprisingly, they've got a lot on their minds. The handover of authority to the government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the violence of the continuing insurgency, of course. But also high school finals, how the national team is doing in the Asian soccer championships and disgust with how TV shows depict everyday life.

Yes, as Iraq attempts to emerge from the nightmare of the Saddam decades and the fallout of war, everyday concerns seem to be showing up more frequently in Iraqi blogs. This has got to be a good thing.

Let's start with sports for a change.

Even soccer is political

At Iraq the Model, the joint blog of three brothers, Omar writes:

"In a dramatic match, the National Iraqi football team achieved victory upon the team of Turkmenistan 3-2 in our 2nd match in the Asian championship. … Now the Iraqi team has a second chance to qualify to the quarter finals of this championship …Till now, there’s no gunfire to celebrate the win but I saw convoys of cars carrying flags and playing traditional Iraqi music in the streets soon after the match ended. Congratulations to the Iraqi team. They worked hard and they deserve the win."

Kurdo at Kurdo's World, however, had some problems with the TV announcers. Kurdo, as you might guess, is a Kurd, an Iraqi minority brutally abused by Saddam's regime (and also harshly suppressed in neighboring Turkey).

Tuning into the game that preceded the one Omar wrote about, Kurdo "was excited and all warmed up to watch …The first line the commentator said was 'We are broadcasting the match of our brothers "The Arab Iraqi" team.'

"I said hang on a minute I am not an Arab. I have the right to say that I am a Kurd. OK simple. I changed the channel … "

To no avail. After three similar experiences, "This time I got angry. I said to myself, 'If the new Iraq is for all, then it shouldn't be called Arabic Iraq.' This is because me and another 9 other million people are not Arabs. And we are the indigenous people of this country. …

"This is why, the majority of Kurds support independence. Iraq is and will be an Arabic country. There is no place for us there."

The ethnic divisions in Iraq are among the daunting problems that the new Iraqi government will have to try to sort out if it is to achieve stability.

Are the terrorists losing?

Iraqis remain concerned about insurgent bombings – many of them aimed at Iraqis, not coalition troops. But some bloggers think it's good news that the insurgents are being forced to employ these tactics because it shows their fundamental weakness. Here's Sam at Mesopotamian:

"Yesterday they struck again, one car bombing and two assassinations of Government officials. This is the only thing they can do. They had hoped that they could develop their fight to control areas and confront the Iraqis in open warfare. But they are being defeated and forced to fall back to earlier tactics, and with much difficulty. The ROUNDUP has started. To be sure, they will be able to deliver some more sabotage and terror but the price they are going to pay is going to go up and up. We have always thought that the Iraqis are better able to take care of internal security. You could see that so clearly in recent days. The police raids on crime dens were such a graphic illustration of the difference. The intelligent recognition by the policemen of who is criminal and who is innocent was so apparent. The people in the street, mostly vendors and shopkeepers, were happy even as bullets were flying all over the place. … "

Omar at Iraq the Model also gives the new government good marks for its initial efforts to improve security, and reports that "the new observation this time is that some of the confiscated weapons and ammunition are not from the ususal origins you can see in Iraq (automatic rifles other than the Ak47, bazookas other than the RPG7 and other devices) and these weapons don’t belong to the stuff left behind by the old army after the 9th of April 2003." They were smuggled in, he concludes.

Smuggled weapons might sound like a bad thing, but Omar thinks to the contrary it may indicate that the supply of leftover weapons from the Saddam regime may be drying up: "This is a good sign indeed because when getting weapons becomes more difficult and a lot more expensive than before we should expect a decline in the frequency of terrorist attacks in Iraq."

Military justice

Zeyad, a Sunni Muslim dentist who lives in Baghdad and writes at Healing Iraq is encouraged that U.S. military justice appears to be catching up with four soldiers who participated in an incident that led to the drowning death of an Iraqi man.

"According to this report, the 3 soldiers who forced Zaydun and his cousin Marwan into the Tigris at Sammara resulting in the drowning of Zaydun are now facing charges of manslaughter, assault, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. A fourth soldier was charged with assault and making false official statements. A court hearing has been scheduled next Thursday, and further charges may be waiting the soldiers. …"

Zeyad has written much about this over the last six moths, and his persistent blogging – read by many Americans and other bloggers -- may have helped prod the investigation. "Thanks to everyone who sent letters to their officials and congressmen, thanks to the people and soldiers who wrote to me and to Zaydun's family expressing their support and encouragement, and thanks to the wonderful bloggers whose persistence and support made this possible," he writes.

The cynic

Not everyone, of course, is sanguine about the U.S. and its motives in Iraq. O at Iraqi Spirit recounts a conversation with a friend, A:

A: I’m sure you follow current events as much as I do

O: Yes

A: Haven’t you noticed how in every conversation that comes up, there are 3 words that are being used interchangeably regardless of the issue?

O: And what are they?

A: Freedom, Democracy, and Terror. For example the media ask a question about WMD’s and all you could hear is blah, blah, blah, freedom, blah, blah, blah, blah, democracy, blah, blah, blah, blah terrorism.

"Or another example for instance about AbuGhraib, the sound coming out of the politicians is blah, blah, blah, democracy, blah, blah, blah, lah, terrorism, blah, blah, blah, blah freedom."

He added that people are being brainwashed and cowed into over simplification of issues.

O: Surely all the words mentioned by you are important to us in the Middle East, and we can’t compromise on them. For example, Al-Qaeda is more of danger to us than they are to the west. While they are willing to compromise with the west (Spain as an example), the only compromise they will offer us is a total change in our way of life to adhere to their edicts, or our head gets chopped off.

A: That’s true, and I’m not disputing that we need those ideals in our societies, to have a better life to everyone.

But, I’m talking about western politicians over here; they mention those words on any occasion, while on the other hand they have allies such as the president of Uzbekistan, who boils political opponents, and conveniently forget to remind him of his human rights abuses, so why not have a universal standards applied to everyone instead of being selective about it?

O: Smiling and shaking my head knowing where this conversation going to lead, I reply:

“blah, blah, blah, democracy, blah, blah, blah, blah, terrorism, blah, blah, blah, blah freedom.”

TV is bad in Iraq, too

Ays (those are his/her initials; no bio information available) at Iraq at a glance is less than charmed by a new series called "Love and War."

" … this dramatic work supposed to show the everyday life of the Iraqis after the liberation since it’s the first dramatic work after the war, but I was shocked with the subjects and the way of dealing with such important change in Iraq, they concentrate on the bad events only and never mention anything related to many great changes in the life of Iraqis."

Ays figured out what was going on in a scene in which a man and woman who were engaged "stood in front of 'Saddam's tower,' a building in Al Yarmook neighborhood in Baghdad, with grieving musical background, then the actress looked at the tower with sad facial expressions and finally cried!

"Our neighbors, friends and we were so astonished and bewildered from this act! … Then my friend came to a conclusion of: they are Baathists! [Saddam supporters]"

Be quiet and study

Finally, this from high-school student Nabil at Nabil's blog.

"I am in my vacation but I am studying to be ready for the next year before college (12th grade) my life really become very sad because I don't have any days off except one day which is Thursday that day is my best day these days because I can go out with my friends and have fun, but the other days are very bad and full because somedays I have one lesson in the whole day and the lesson is about 2 hours and without electricity and somedays I have two lessons and the most day I hate is Wednsday because I have three lessons in that day and more than these lessons that there are exams and a very hard exams, the teachers said we have to give you a hard exams to insure that you become very good and you will do very good in the finals, and I am doing very good in those exams but I am tired of studying 8 hours per day or maybe less than that when I am bored, at all this is all for me and because of that I keep studying."

That whine sounds way too familiar, right down to the interminable run-on sentence.

Posted by tbrown at 01:32 PM


July 21, 2004

Well, back to the Old Deal

From time to time, I rant about how the U.S. – which got where it is by virtue of becoming the first big worker's paradise, a place where hard work actually could lead to a better life – is beginning to look more and more like a plutocracy, with a yawning gap between the very rich at the top and everyone else.

Today, Billmon has an excellent post on this subject, so I'll let him do the ranting.

It looks like John Edwards' "Two Americas" theme is beginning to get some traction.

Posted by tbrown at 11:30 AM


Campaign humor

The blog Jibjab has a very funny Bush/Kerry animation set to the tune of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Just about every insult these two have hurled, and a few they haven't yet, are in here. Be forewarned: you'll need a broadband connection.

Posted by tbrown at 11:26 AM


Berger update

I won't waste a lot of pixels on Sandy Berger and the missing memos, since everyone else is. Suffice it to say that Republicans are scandalized. Democrats, on the other hand, suspect the Berger investigation – which has been underway for nine months – was leaked to change the subject from tomorrow's 9/11 commission report, which will slam both the Clinton and Bush administrations for missing 10 opportunities to head off the 9/11 attacks.

Kevin Drum, the Political Animal, however, speculates that the leak actually may have come from a Democrat who decided it would best to air the problem now rather than later.

Oh, yeah. Berger did withdraw as an informal foreign policy adviser to John Kerry. Based on what we've heard so far, Berger doesn't seem to have actually withheld any documents the 9/11 commission needed, and it appears unlikely he'll be charged with a crime. So, though profoundly dumb, the Berger scandal is unlikely to have legs.

It does, however, torpedo Berger's ambitions for a high appointment if Kerry wins (he would have liked to have been secretary of state, it is said).

Posted by tbrown at 11:25 AM


July 20, 2004

Gunboat diplomacy

Pretty much unnoticed, the U.S. has deployed an unprecedented seven aircraft carrier strike groups to the Pacific within striking range of China. The intent appears to be to dissuade China from undertaking its oft-stated threat to invade Taiwan should that democratically governed island formally declare its independence from the mainland.

The Straits Times of Singapore (via The Agonist) gives some perspective on this deployment:

"ONE aircraft carrier is sent to a trouble spot as a reminder of US presence. This was done several times in the past, when tension was high in the Taiwan Strait.

"TWO carriers show serious concern, as was the case when China test-fired missiles over the strait in 1996.

"THREE OR FOUR are sent in combat situations -- as in the Gulf War in the early 1990s and the recent Iraqi war.

"Sending SEVEN carriers in peace time to the same region is unprecedented."

Rather than cowing the Chinese, however, the exercise may have the opposite effect.

"Needless to say, the Chinese are not amused," former newsman and Asia specialist Chalmers Johnson writes. "They say that their naval and air forces, plus their land-based rockets, are capable of taking on one or two carrier strike groups but that combat with seven would overwhelm them. So even before a carrier reaches the Taiwan Strait, Beijing has announced it will embark on a crash project that will enable it to meet and defeat seven U.S. carrier strike groups within a decade."

Johnson's piece is a bit alarmist. He also wishfully asserts that, "If left alone by U.S. militarists, China will almost surely, over time, become a democracy on the same pattern as that of South Korea and Taiwan (both of which had U.S.-sponsored military dictatorships until the late 1980s)." Well, we can always hope, but it's not a given.

In the meantime, the U.S. does have an important and uneasy role to play in trying to prevent hostilities between Taiwan (population 22 million) and China (population 1.2 billion), which would be enormously destabilizing and might lead to a naval conflict between China and the U.S. Whether massing naval power in the western Pacific is the best way to keep the lid on is, of course, the question.

Posted by tbrown at 12:29 PM


Sandy's pants

It's a bit unseemly, to say the least, and potentially criminal as well, to have Bill Clinton's former national security adviser, Sandy Berger, stuffing his notes about classified documents inside his jacket and into his ample waistband, then "inadvertantly" removing some of those documents from the national archive and "accidentally" destroying a few.

Berger also is an informal foreign policy adviser to John Kerry, so this is a stick in the eye for his campaign as well.

As we know, all this happened while Berger was reviewing classified documents in the National Archives from the Clinton years to determine what should be turned over to the 9/11 commission for its investigation. AP reports that:

"Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed the handwritten notes by placing them in his jacket and pants, and also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio.

" 'I deeply regret the sloppiness involved, but I had no intention of withholding documents from the commission, and to the contrary, to my knowledge, every document requested by the commission from the Clinton administration was produced,'Berger said in a statement to the AP."

And the 9/11 commission says it got everything it needed.

It's hard to be sure what, exactly, was going on here, but AP says that, "some drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration's handling of al-Qaida terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration are still missing …"

Hmmm. Clinton … al-Qaida … missing. Sounds like a coverup, doesn't it?

But was it? The threat in question was the so-called Millennium Plot involving Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested at Port Angeles after crossing from Canada with a car full of bomb-making materials.

The after-action report that Berger apparently purloined was written by Richard Clarke, then the administration counterterrorism chief, who apparently was harshly critical of government agency performance and offered some two-dozen suggestions on how things could be improved. But he says it doesn't make sense that Berger would try to hide versions of that memo because it was widely distributed throughout government.

There's also the somewhat curious timing of all this. The investigation into Berger has been underway since last October, with the FBI joining in January. How odd that it should come to light just a few days before the 9/11 commission releases its final official report on Thursday.

Well, more to come, no doubt.

Posted by tbrown at 12:28 PM


July 19, 2004

Allawi watch

There's a full-court press to deny last week's story that our new Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, summarily shot six or seven alleged insurgents to death in a police station while onlookers, including his armed U.S. escorts, watched. The Christian Science Monitor rounds up the latest developments here.

The Australian newsman who broke the story, Paul McGeough, vigorously defended it over the weekend. The credibility of the story rests on the purported first-hand accounts of two Iraqis who saw it all. Here's what McGeogh said about them:

"In an environment like Iraq it's very difficult to separate out what people are telling you from what they are hearing," he told the Nine Network.

"In these two cases, these two men sat before me. They spoke reluctantly, they spoke carefully and considerately.

"When I tested parts of their story they didn't suddenly provide information where none was available.

"They seem to me to be telling what they had seen, they were believable too.

"I had an independent set of Iraqi eyes and ears (of an interpreter) listening and watching on these interviews and that person, whom I have worked with for some time and who I trust, he found the stories believable."

Blogger Mark Kleiman says that if the shootings did occur they were not executions but murders.

Al-Sadr's newspaper reopened

In another development, Allawi allowed the reopening of the newspaper of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The closing of the paper by the then-head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremmer, touched off al-Sadr's militia uprising, which led to bitter fighting with U.S. forces. A statement said Allawi took the action because he believes in freedom of the press.

Middle East expert and blogger Juan Cole interprets it as an attempt to draw al-Sadr into Iraqi political life: "Allawi is clearly attempting to bring Muqtada and his movement in from the cold, and have them play a role in Iraqi civil and political society. The hope is that since the stick failed, perhaps carrots will be more successful."

Al-Zarqawi group puts a bounty on Allawi's head

A group led by suspected al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has offered a reward of $282,000 for the killing of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, according to a statement posted on an Islamist website. Small change compared with our $25 million offer for the head of Zarqawi – but still a lot of money.

Posted by tbrown at 12:02 PM


Justifications

There's been much said recently about how faulty intelligence may have led President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to bad decisions about Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction. I think there is plenty of evidence that Bush, at least, had determined to invade Iraq no matter what, including whether Iraq had the weapons or not.

Here's what our former chief weapons inspector, David Kay, had to say over the weekend:

"He told Britain's ITV network that Bush and Blair 'should have been able to tell before the war that the evidence did not exist for drawing the conclusion that Iraq presented a clear, present and imminent threat on the basis of existing weapons of mass destruction.'

" 'That was not something that required a war,' he said.

"He said the leaders may not have been sufficiently critical of intelligence on Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

'' 'WMD was only one and I think in their mind, not really the most important one,'' he said. ''And so the doubts about the evidence on weapons of mass destruction was not as serious to them as it seemed to be to the rest of the world.' ''

Exactly.

Posted by tbrown at 11:58 AM


Backing up Hersh

Seymour Hersh's allegation that youths were sodomized at Abu Ghraib is supported by this witness statement at The Washington Post's Web site (free site registration may be required). It is among the thousands of pages of documents submitted by Lt. Gen. Anthony Taguba as part of his report on the scandal. (Hat tip to reader Mike K.)

Posted by tbrown at 11:55 AM


In case you're counting

You may recall that after the Madrid train bombings, Osama bin Laden gave European nations assisting the U.S. in Iraq an ultimatum to stop within 90 days. By my calculation, that deadline was passed last Thursday.

Posted by tbrown at 11:54 AM


July 16, 2004

Kerry – not up to the war on terror?

A couple of days ago, I noted that blogger Gregory Djerejian, whose work I admire, thinks George Bush is al-Qaida's candidate for president because "is more likely to set off the civilizational clash that [Osama] bin Laden is hoping for."

Since I don't generally favor civilizational clashes, this sounded like one more excellent reason to vote for John Kerry. But Djerejian demurred, and promised to explain why. He starts on that today, and you can read the whole thing here. But here's the core of his argument, so far (more to come, he says):

"There's … a lot going on--and I'm not confident that Kerry a) fully gets the stakes and b) will field a national security team that will be up to the challenge."

Among the items he mentions are important ones that are not on the public radar yet, and may not be on Kerry's either: al-Qaida's attempts to establish footholds in failed states, which are certain breeding grounds for the despair it feeds on; its targeting of Nigeria, an important oil supplier, for jihad; and its possible plan to disrupt world oil trade by sinking ships in the Strait of Malacca, a critically important choke point near Singapore.

With threats like these developing, he questions whether Kerry has a world view spunky enough to address the challenges.

I've got to admit that I wonder, too. One of the most disappointing aspects of the Kerry campaign has been its lack of an articulate foreign policy. That's one reason why I like suggestions by Matt Yglesias, Dan Drezner and Bruce Bartlett that Kerry start naming names for key positions in his cabinet. It probably won't happen – it would give the Bush campaign a wealth of new targets with which to fog the campaign and would increase the chances of unpleasant closeted skeletons coming to light. But if Kerry doesn't take this path, then he owes the country a fuller exposition than we've seen to date of what his foreign policy would be. Seeking to re-engage our European allies and to use the UN when appropriate is all well and good, but it doesn't get to the overarching questions.

On the other hand, we know the record of the Bush administration. Starting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time (Iraq), while leaving dangerously unfinished the right war (Afghanistan). Frittering away U.S. credibility with major allies. Straining our limited conventional military forces to the point where we would be hard-pressed to respond credibly to a major threat. Contributing to the further destabilization of the Middle East. Abetting war profiteering. Setting the policy framework that allowed the abuses at Abu Ghraib. And so forth.

So what we have is a president who does not deserve re-election and a challenger who has yet to demonstrate why he deserves my vote (in foreign affairs, at least; on the domestic side there's no question).

Well, that's what campaigns are supposed to be for.

Posted by tbrown at 12:40 PM


Meanwhile, in the New Iraq …

The Sydney Morning Herald's chief correspondent in Baghdad has this most interesting story about our head puppet:

"Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings." (Free site registration may be required.)

The story is based on the testimony of two purported eyewitnesses, whom the paper located, who were guaranteed anonymity for obvious reasons, who were interviewed separately without the knowledge that the other had talked, and who were not paid for their stories.

Allawi, of course, denies all. But the story is long enough and detailed enough to be credible. Perhaps most telling is the U.S. response in the last paragraph of the story:

"An emailed response to questions from the Herald to the U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte, said: 'If we attempted to refute each [rumour], we would have no time for other business. As far as this embassy's press office is concerned, this case is closed.' "

That's not a denial, folks.

On the other hand, insurgent violence continues, if anything, to increase, and many Iraqis want it quenched, whatever it takes.

Posted by tbrown at 12:34 PM


July 15, 2004

'There are worse photos, worse videotapes, worse events'

That's Seymour Hersh talking about the torture at Abu Ghraib. Hersh, who uncovered the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and now reports for The New Yorker, gave a preview of what we can expect to hear about before long.

"Some of the worse that happened that you don't know about, ok. Videos, there are women there. Some of you may have read they were passing letters, communications out to their men. …

"The women were passing messages saying, 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened.' Basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has."

Hersh says that, "What we had was a series of massive crimes. … What happened are war crimes. … We have to stop looking at it as an academic debate about the Geneva Conventions."

There is streaming video of Hersh's speech here. The section quoted above begins at about 1:30. His whole speech is worth listening to if you have the time. It begins at 1:07.

Posted by tbrown at 12:08 PM


July 14, 2004

Who would benefit from a terror attack? Bush and al-Qaida

Gregory Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch picks up on a question by Dan Drezner about whether a new terror attack in the U.S. close to election day would benefit President Bush or John Kerry. Djerejian says Bush. I agree – unless there was immediate evidence that the attack was the result of some colossal administration screwup.

Djerejian cites his reasons, which all seem sensible to me, then concludes with this interesting twist:

"What's the deeper paradox in all of this?

"Al-Q wants Bush to stay in power.

"Which is yet another reason they are very keen to attack before the election, in my view.

"Bush, in UBL-think--given his more robust foreign policy and concrete purposeful view that al-Qaeda's catastrophic terrorism is an existential peril--is more likely to set off the civilizational clash that bin Laden is hoping for.

"Does this mean the smarter ones among us should be voting Kerry to deny UBL this ostensible tactical victory?

"No, not by a long shot.

"More on why later."

Now that's a piece I want to read.

Posted by tbrown at 12:22 PM


Scamming the scammers

If you've been on the Internet for more than a couple of weeks, you've probably received at least one letter from somewhere in the Third World pledging instant riches if you just fork over multiple thousands of dollars and some bank information to facilitate a little transaction.

Instead, of course, you lose your money.

One such letter oozed into my Inbox this morning from someone purporting to be Mrs. Rosemary Zamuntan of Zimbabwe.

"Please don't be offended or surprised to receive this mail which is sent without your prior permission since we do not know each other before now but we will meet soon because of my situation," Mrs. Zamuntan wrote. It took her a while, but she eventually got around to her pitch: I could make 30 percent of $46.5 million – in nice untraceable $100 bills! – if I'd just lend my mystery writer a hand with her "desperate situation."

Hmmm. That's about $14 million – a lot better than most state lottery payouts, and no taxman waiting at the counter for his share. Well, thanks, ma'am, but no.

A few minutes later I ran across a link to this BBC story, in which a Brit masquerading as Father Hector Barnett of the Church of the Painted Breast** hilariously strings along a Nigerian e-mail scammer, and even successfully extracts $80 from him! (Our hero suspects the money is most likely counterfeit, though.)

It's all pretty funny, and would be more amusing still except for the Beeb's admonition that, "Police estimate that every year, US citizens alone are conned out of some $200m[illion]." Proving once again that those crafty scammers will never go broke overestimating the gullibility of us Yanks.

** Bonus: Photos of painted breasts. Unfortunately, they're on guys.

Posted by tbrown at 12:19 PM


The amendment to ban gay marriage is dead … for now

As well it should be. The history of amendments to the U.S. constitution follows two main threads: modifying and regulating federal elections and granting additional rights to citizens. This proposed amendment would have run counter to this admirable tradition by restricting the rights of one group of Americans. It also would have meddled in an area of law that should be left to the states (38 of which have statutes dealing with the question).

Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate's 50-48 vote – 10 short of the 60 votes needed to keep it alive – doesn't mean the issue is going away.

"The institution of marriage is under fire from extremist groups in Washington, politicians, even judges who have made it clear that they are willing to run over any state law defining marriage," said Republican senatorial candidate John Thune in a radio commercial airing in South Dakota (he's running against Sen. Tom Daschle).

No, the U.S. Constitution is under attack by extremist quacks like him.

Besides, South Dakota has a statute banning gay marriage. What's he so worried about?

Posted by tbrown at 12:16 PM


July 13, 2004

Intelligence follies

It's hard to find a hero, or even someone you'd want to have coffee with, in the mucky prologue to the Iraq war. The U.S. intelligence community blew it, overstating the importance of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. An unclassified version of the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq released publicly drew a far starker picture of the presumed Iraqi threat than did the classifed version that was supposed to help the administration decide what to do. For its part, the Bush administration was determined to go to war regardless of what the intelligence showed anyway. Then there's former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who concluded after a brief investigation that it was unlikely that Saddam was trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. He now appears to have lied when he said his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame, was not involved in any way in promoting his trip to Africa. Regardless of what Wilson, or Plame, said or did, however, it was still ethically wrong – and may have been an indictable crime – for two "senior administration officials" to blow her cover by naming her to columnist Robert Novak, and the investigation into that case continues.

This summary doesn't even cover the (mis)use of prewar intelligence by the administration to bolster its case for war. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, conveniently, won't get to that until after the election.

What a mess.

There are, however, several blog posts and online articles on all this that make interesting, if sometimes discouraging, reading.

A sharp blow

First up, we have former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who with some buddies spent last weekend going over the Senate intelligence report:

"The Senate Committee report is meticulous. Its findings are a sharp blow to those of us who took pride in working in an agency where we could speak truth to power—with career protection from retribution from the powerful, and with leaders who would face down those policymakers who tried to exert undue influence over our analysis," McGovern writes.

"Although it was clear to us that much of the intelligence on Iraq had been cooked to the recipe of policy, not until the Senate report did we know that the skewing included outright lies. We had heard of 'Joe,' the nuclear weapons analyst in CIA’s Center for Weapons Intelligence and Arms Control, and it was abundantly clear that his agenda was to 'prove' that the infamous aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were to be used for developing a nuclear weapon. We did not know that he and his CIA associates deliberately falsified the data …

“ 'Who could have believed that about our intelligence community, that the system could be so dishonest?' wondered the normally soft-spoken David Albright, a widely respected veteran expert on Iraq’s work toward developing a nuclear weapon.

"I share his wonderment. I too am appalled—and angry. …

"Even Republican stalwart Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has conceded that, had Congress known before the vote for war what his committee has now discovered, 'I doubt if the votes would have been there.'

Shades of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which precipitated our plunge into Vietnam.

Why the rush?

Blogger Matt Yglesias notes that the Senate report says the NIE on Iraq's weapons program was compiled in three weeks, rather than the several months these documents usually consume.

"The report states that though this compressed time frame led to the inclusion of some errors, it didn't affect the 'bottom line' judgments. But still, why the rush?

"Well, the report couldn't be started earlier because, as [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card has explained, 'from a marketing standpoint, you don't roll out a new product in August' so the big push for war didn't get kicking until after Labor Day. At the same time, it had to be done soon because Karl Rove [Bush's political adviser] wanted the Congress to vote on a resolution before the election and, as a result, a due date of October 1 was set. The administration, then, was clearly looking for intelligence to bolster a case it had already decided to make (the draft resolution was submitted to Congress almost two weeks before the NIE was finished) rather than basing its case on intelligence. What's more, the NIE was put together during a period when the president was speaking almost every single day about the case for war.

"Under the circumstances," Yglesias argues, "it's not hard to see how CIA leadership could have concluded that only one sort of message would be welcome. It's also hard to see how having the president and his top aides speaking publicly on a daily basis about the urgency of the Iraqi threat doesn't constitute political pressure on the intelligence agencies to conclude that Iraq posed an urgent threat."

So does this mean the administration did pressure intelligence analysts to produce information that supported the war case. The Senate committee says no. But as Yglesias notes, ” Sometimes it's useful to read things for yourself,” and cites these passages from page 284 of the report:

Conclusion 83. The Committee did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or presssure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

[Redacted paragraph]

[Redacted paragraph]

[Redacted paragraph]

[Page break]

[Redacted paragraph]

[Redacted paragraph]

Conclusion 84. The Committee found no evidence that the Vice President's visits to the Central Intelligence Agency were attempts to pressure analysts, were perceived as intended to pressure analysts by those who participated in the briefings on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, or did pressure analysts to change their assessments.

[Redacted paragraph]

[Redacted paragraph]

[End of pressure discussion]

"That's good enough for me!" says Matt. Ditto.

Joe Wilson blows it

After President Bush asserted in his January 2003 state of the union address that Saddam had tried to buy uranium ore from Niger, Joe Wilson, who had been there a year earlier, triggered a storm of controversy with an op-ed piece for The New York Times in which he said he had found little to support that conclusion.
Now, however, Administration supporters are pointing to this Washington Post story, which says that what Wilson found in Africa reinforced rather than undermined the case that Saddam was trying to buy uranium and, further, flatly contradicts Wilson's oft-stated claim that wife Valerie Plame played no role in his mission.

I think the uranium question is going to require yet more time and reporting before we know for sure what happened. As the Post story notes, "Yesterday's report said that whether Iraq sought to buy lightly enriched "yellowcake" uranium from Niger is one of the few bits of prewar intelligence that remains an open question. Much of the rest of the intelligence suggesting a buildup of weapons of mass destruction was unfounded, the report said."

There seems to be less question that Wilson lied when he said his wife played no role in his trip to Niger.

"The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame 'offered up' Wilson's name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2002, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA's Directorate of Operations saying her husband 'has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.' The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson, the report said."

Wilson was not paid for his Niger trip, so if Plame's action involved any conflict of interest it would seem to have been minor. However, Wilson's public denial that she played any role in the trip has been an important facet of the political flap over the administration disclosing her identity, and Wilson's credibility is taking a big hit. As it should.

I think I'll hit the espresso stand by myself.

Posted by tbrown at 12:30 PM


July 12, 2004

To vote or not to vote

The blogosphere is agog today over the reports that our homeland defense czar, Tom Ridge, wants the attorney general, John Ashcroft, to figure out how to "legally" postpone this year's presidential election, should a terror attack make it "necessary."

I wrote about this at length three months ago when the first trial balloons were launched and nothing I've seen since has changed my mind: Postponing this election -- or any other -- is a bad idea on every ground. It's undemocratic. It would open the way to future abuses. And it would give the terrorists the thing they long for: tangible proof that they can disrupt the most fundamental process of representative government – and by extension any other important function of our society.

This is not a message we want to send.

Billmon does some verbal hand-wringing in this post about the perceived advantage a terrorist attack close to election day would give the Bush-Cheney ticket.

"Suppose that one week before election day, the United States is hit by a major terrorist attack - I mean a really big one, like a dirty bomb on the Washington Mall or a liquified gas tanker exploding in the port of a major American city.

"Suppose that on the eve of the attack, national polls and the electoral math both show Kerry-Edwards clinging to a narrow lead over Bush-Cheney, one that appears sufficient, barely, to put the Democrats back in the White House.

"Let's further suppose that a week after the attack, on the eve of the election, those same national polls show an enormous 'rally around the President' effect, one that pushes Bush's approval ratings back towards 80% - not only enough to guarantee Shrub a landslide reelection victory, but also enough to sweep the Republicans to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a 1932 or 1974-sized edge in our Chamber of People's Deputies.

"Under those circumstances, would you want the election to be held as scheduled? Or would you rather it was postponed for a month, until the initial shock had passed and the voters had had a chance to consider whether the administration's incompetence and the relative indifference of the GOP Congress to homeland security needs might not have contributed to the disaster?

"If your answer is yes, you definitely would want the election to go forward on the scheduled day, terrorist attack or no terrorist attack, then I guess you're entitled to regard any legal tampering as an automatic outrage.

"But if your answer is no, you would not want the election to go forward on November 2 under the conditions I have described, then you have to acknowledge that some kind of legal mechanism needs to be created soon to allow someone in a position of national authority to make the call to postpone the election."

I really think this is the wrong way of looking at the question. To begin with, one of the realities of government is that it will use the tools it has. That's the government imperative. I don't think we want, or need, to embark on a search for "emergency legislation" to alter election schedules, which is what DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission, is asking the Justice Department to consider. Emergency legislation is frequently bad legislation. And it's a lot easier to enact than to repeal. This would be particularly true of legislation authorizing the postponement (suspension? cancellation?) of elections in times of crisis. After all, as talking heads never tire of telling us, we're in a "war" that could last decades. Some at the right fringe are even calling it World War IV. I, for one, do not want hanging over us for some indeterminate, but lengthy, period the threat of some bureaucrat – or, more likely, some partisan hack (of either party) -- deciding we shouldn't vote because of some perceived or real crisis.

So, if Billmon's nightmare scenario occurs, what should we do. I think the appropriate response is to hold the election anyway. On schedule. Regardless of whether the results agree with my desires. And hope people turn out in record numbers.

If, as the result of some horrific attack, the president thinks an election should be delayed he should step forward and explain his thinking to the American people who, as the estimable pollster Andrew Kohut notes here (free site registration may be required), generally have done a pretty good job of sorting out questions that are crucial for the nation.

We also should remember that elections at all levels are regularly influenced by external events. That's reality. It's really quite impossible to forecast with any certainty the specific effect of such events on an election. As Jesse Taylor at Pandagon writes, "So then, we get to the real question - is this a wise idea? I say no - largely because anything that alters the election date makes sure to change the way that the electorate perceives the election. … They [al-Qaeda] want us to be fearful and distrustful of the basic avenues of American life. They want us to be afraid to go into buildings for work, to get on trains, to go to the polling place. The issue shouldn't be when we have elections in this scenario, but instead making sure that people vote, no matter what happens. That should be the debate here - not when we vote, but how we get people to vote, no matter the candidate, to show al-Qaeda that they can't shake our faith in our democratic system."

I'll conclude, as I did in my earlier post, with Abraham Lincoln's advice about the presidential election of 1864, held in the midst of the Civil War:

"We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. … the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people's government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility."

Let's preserve that possibility – for ourselves and, perhaps by example, for others.

Note: Blogger Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has a huge roundup of links on this subject.

Snark: I wonder how this would-be election tamperer would look in one of those Chanel suits popularized by this one. Nah. More the Brooks Brothers type, I guess.

Posted by tbrown at 12:49 PM


July 08, 2004

Yeah – kill those HVTs!

Those would be "high-value targets" like Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban government of Afghanistan we ousted after 9/11.

The New Republic Online has a piece today that claims the Bush administration has ordered the government of Pakistan to produce some of our most-wanted terrorists dead or alive before Nov. 2, and preferably on July 26, 27 or 28, the first three days of the Democratic National Convention.

This is either one hell of a story or the biggest New Republic screwup since Stephen Glass faked his way to fame at the mag in the late 1990s. I'd suspect the latter, except that the primary authors are John Judis and Spencer Ackerman, who know what they're doing.

Anyway, here's the gist:

"This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan." The message was delivered during visits by high-level U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and outgoing CIA chief George Tenet.

...

"This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November." The Bush administration denies, via National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack that there's any connection between the war on terrorism and the electoral calendar.

...

"But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election." Or else what? Well, we might not sell them some F-16s they want to maintain military parity with India, or Americans might elect John Kerry, who might resume a supposed historical Democratic tilt toward India.

One of three anonymous Pakistani source says, "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [Pakistani security chief Ehsan ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington."

McCormack, the NSC flack, replies: "I'm aware of no such comment." Which is somewhat short of a specific denial (but then we don't know precisely what question he was asked, either).

...

The rest is pretty much window-dressing to flesh the tale out a bit. As it stands, this is an interesting but half-baked tale that needs to be reported out, as we say in the biz.

Gregory Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch thinks it's a crock, and cites his reasons.

Read it all and decide for yourself.

Posted by tbrown at 02:14 PM


It's called diversification, stupid

John Edwards, Kerry's choice for vice president, is vulnerable on one major point: a relative lack of government experience. This should, and no doubt will, be examined during the campaign. But some of the other reasons being proffered to reject him are just plain ludicrous.

Exhibit 1: He claims he understands ordinary people, but, but … he's a millionaire! (So, of course, is President Bush, who claims he's an ordinary Joe despite having been born into a patrician New England family). Here's Edwards' story: His father was a millworker. His family scraped by. Edwards was determined to do better than that, paid his way through college – the first member of his family to get a degree – went to law school, became a good lawyer and got rich. In other words, he made The American Dream work. Isn't that what Americans are supposed to do?

Exhibit 2: Good God! He put part of his wealth into a mutual fund that invests in foreign companies! This makes him a hypocrite, according to columnist James Pinkerton, because some of those companies, unsurprisingly, have operations offshore (they are foreign after all) and some of them – gasp! – are pharmaceutical companies, a group that Edwards has criticized. Wow. It's hard to know where to begin with an argument this dumb. But let's try this: It's called portfolio diversification, stupid. Millions of ordinary Americans, including some who no doubt are worried about their jobs moving overseas, practice it daily in their 401(k) plans.

Exhibit 3: He's a protectionist, and all us good Americans believe in free trade. Yes, it's true that Edwards is not in favor of letting market forces determine every detail of American economic life. It apparently would shock people like this, but neither is George Bush. He unilaterally imposed tariffs on foreign steel (then repealed them after they were ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization), softwood products from Canada, Chinese-made bras and, most recently, jumbo shrimp from Vietnam. Edwards is more protectionist than I am, but so what? At this late date, no one, including Edwards, is going to put the toothpaste of globalization back in the tube.

Posted by tbrown at 02:10 PM


Anybody but Cheney?

Does the GOP just want to stay in the headlines, or is there a serious movement to dump Dick Cheney as veep? Either way, it's getting more entertaining daily. Now columnist Bruce Bartlett is suggesting Condoleezza Rice might be Bush's running mate this fall. She's a woman, she's black, she had an oil tanker named for her and she has even less government experience than John Edwards. What more could the GOP base ask?

Posted by tbrown at 02:03 PM


'Fraud, waste and abuse' possible at the Pentagon?

Tell me it isn't so. But it seems the blame lies primarily with a few thousand antiquated, unintegrated databases.

Posted by tbrown at 02:01 PM


We know public memory is short …

… but is it nonexistent? Jack Ryan – yeah, the guy who thought trying to force his actress wife into sex acts in public constituted a "romantic getaway" -- is considering getting back into the race for the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois.

Posted by tbrown at 02:00 PM


Fire up your TiVo: Wonkette on the tube

One of the most entertaining bloggers going, the brash, foul-mouthed Ana Marie Cox, a.k.a. Wonkette, apparently is going to cover the Democratic National Convention for MTV. Now that's entertainment.

Posted by tbrown at 01:58 PM


July 07, 2004

Because he can speak English

The strongest argument for John Edwards for veep is that he is by far the best campaigner we've seen this election cycle. For one thing, he can put together sentences in a language voters can understand. Here's the key paragraph from his "Two Americas" stump speech:

"Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life. One America -- middle-class America -- whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America -- narrow-interest America -- whose very wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even Congress and a president."

(If that last sentence sounds over the top, consider the latest break for those that don't need one: The House of Representatives probably will pass a bill that requires companies to list stock options as a business expense only for the top five company executives. Even those would be undervalued because businesses would be allowed to assume that the stock in question would have a permanently fixed value. Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and the investor by whom others are measured, writes in The Washington Post (free site registration may be required) that, "The only reason for making such an Alice-in-Wonderland assumption is to significantly understate the value of the few options that the House wants counted. This undervaluation, in turn, enables chief executives to lie about what they are truly being paid and to overstate the earnings of the companies they run.")

While campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Edwards made some of the same points even more forcefully. The Bush economic policy, he said, "the most radical and dangerous economic theory to hit our shores since socialism a century ago." Here's an excerpt from that speech (I can't link to the whole thing because the Edwards site became defunct overnight except for his statement in March withdrawing from the presidential contest ):

"… the true cost of the administration’s approach isn’t what they’ve done with our money, it’s what they want to do to our way of life. Their economic vision has one goal: to get rid of taxes on unearned income and shift the tax burden onto people who work. This crowd wants a world where the only people who have to pay taxes are the ones who do the work.

"Make no mistake: this is the most radical and dangerous economic theory to hit our shores since socialism a century ago. Like socialism, it corrupts the very nature of our democracy and our free enterprise tradition. It is not a plan to grow the American economy. It is a plan to corrupt the American economy and shrink the winners’ circle.

"This is a question of values, not taxes. We should cut taxes, but we shouldn’t cut and run from our values when we do. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan argued for tax cuts as an incentive for people to work harder: Americans work hard, and the government shouldn’t punish them when they do.

"This crowd is making a radically different argument. They don’t believe work matters most. They don’t believe in helping working people build wealth. They genuinely believe that the wealth of the wealthy matters most. They are determined to cut taxes on that wealth, year after year, and heap more and more of the burden on people who work.

"How do we know this? Because they don’t even try to hide it. The Bush budget proposed tax-free tax shelters for millionaires that are bigger than most Americans’ paychecks for an entire year. And just last week, Bush’s tax guru, Grover Norquist, said their goal is to abolish the capital gains tax, abolish the dividend tax, and let the wealthiest shelter as much as they want tax-free."

And they say Edwards is no attack dog. Well, I can hardly wait for the Cheney-Edwards debates (or, more likely, the Bush-Cheney explanation for why there won't be any).

Edwards doesn't wash well with the right, of course. Earlier this year, Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online took on Edwards, Kerry, Dean et al, in a piece in which he said, "In all seriousness, there is no constitutionally or morally acceptable program that could possibly eliminate the elemental social fact that some people will be better off than others. Sure, the divide between the haves and the have-nots can be narrowed, and you can certainly change how the system rewards people (not that a trial lawyer has much interest in that)." This is a totally bogus response, in that what Edwards is arguing for is equal treatment not equal outcome. But never mind. You can read Goldberg here.

Over the months, Edwards also has attracted considerable attention from late-night comics. Here's a round up of Edwards jokes.

Posted by tbrown at 12:44 PM


Speaking of jokes …

The First Amendment is becoming one.

"Two Bush opponents, taken out of the crowd in restraints by police, said they were told they couldn’t be there because they were wearing shirts that said they opposed the president." Orwell had thought crime; we have shirt crime.

Posted by tbrown at 12:27 PM


July 01, 2004

Saddam instructs

The one indisputably good result of the war in Iraq is that Saddam Hussein, a thug, sadist and mass-murderer who killed perhaps 500,000 of his fellow citizens, is no longer running the place. Today, he made his first appearance in an Iraqi court – and tried to establish himself as the man still in charge. Let's listen in:

"I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq."

-----

"Please allow me not to sign [charging papers] until the lawyers are present. ... Anyhow, when you take a procedure to bring me here again, present me with all these papers with the presence of lawyers. Why would you behave in a manner that we might call hasty later on?"

-----

"You know that this is all a theater by Bush, the criminal, to help him with his campaign."

-----

"The armed forces went to Kuwait [in reference to his 1990 invasion that led to the Gulf War]. Is it possible to raise accusations against an official figure and this figure be treated apart from the official guarantees stipulated by the constitution and the law? Where is this law upon which you are conducting investigations?"

-----

Asked if he could afford a lawyer: "The Americans say I have millions hidden in Switzerland. How can I not have the money to pay for one?"

-----

Here is one particularly vivid little detail in the story from which the quotes above were drawn:

"Saddam was heard before he was seen, his chains clanking as he walked down the corridor."

Sweet music indeed, especially for most Iraqis and Kurds.

Here's a link to a piece filed by John Burns of the New York Times, who was the print-media pool reporter at Saddam's court appearance (free site registration may be required). It's also worth visiting the video link on this page to get a feel for how Saddam looked and acted. He may be certifiable, but it was a bravura performance.

Posted by tbrown at 11:30 AM




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