Saturday, May 03, 2003

Pop Quiz  

There may be some amongst you who don't quite buy my claim that even the mainstream news sources in the US give a distorted, preposterously upbeat and pro-US picture of what is going on in the world. Okey dokey. Here's a little test for you folks.

Here's the beginning of two accounts of Colin Powell's latest excursion to Syria. Guess which one came from the NY Times and which came from the BBC. Both were available at the same time today (I grabbed the links at 4:30). Which came from which?

Here is Choice 1
Powell pushes for Syria action

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has called on Syria to back American plans to increase security in the Middle East.

He said there was a "new strategic situation" following the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the publication of an international "roadmap" for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The top US diplomat also said Lebanon should stop activities of Hezbollah guerrillas on the Israeli border and called on Syria to end its support.

But Mr Powell told reporters in Beirut on the final stage of his four-nation trip that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad had said only that the points he raised would be considered...Mr Powell adopted a tough tone and made it clear that the US expects Syria and Lebanon to comply with Washington's plans for the region.
Now, here's Choice 2.
Powell Says Syria Is Taking Action on Terror Groups

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, opening a new phase of direct American diplomacy in the Middle East, met today with President Bashar al-Assad and said afterward that Syria had begun closing the offices of at least some militant anti-Israel groups in Damascus as demanded by the United States.

Although Mr. Powell gave no details and Syria provided no immediate confirmation, a senior State Department official said that Syria had shut down the offices of three organizations that the United states considers terrorist. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, identified them as Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Syria has long maintained that the groups only kept information offices in Damascus. The State Department official also said that Syria was taking steps to ensure that members of the groups would limit their television appearances from Damascus.

In his visit to Syria, Mr. Powell said that "a new strategic situation" had emerged with the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq...

It appeared that the administration's message had already been heard in Syria. Speaking at a news conference in Beirut hours after a visit to Damascus, Mr. Powell said of the Syrian government: "They did some closures. I expect them to do more with respect to access and the appearance of various officials of organizations, and we've provided some other suggestions to the Syrians that they have taken under advisement. And I expect to hear back from them in the future."
So, how'd ya do? Tough quiz, ain't it?

What's that you say? Can't figure it out?

Hint: the one that says they've already begun to cooperate was published out of the US. The one that makes Powell sound like a blustering fool wasn't.

The Bush Doctrine: Go Awol And Pretend You're an Air Force Jet Jock  

Bush went AWOL from National Guard duty in the early '70's. If this shocks you, that Bush would blatantly lie and then hypocritically wrap himself in military pomp and circumstance, you don't understand the real Bush Doctrine. Here's a nice, detailed summary of Bush's disgraceful military record for all you doubters. It concludes:
"In short, for the several hundred thousand dollars we tax payers spent on getting [Bush] trained as a fighter jock, he repaid us with sixty-eight days of active duty. And God only knows if and when he ever flew on those days," concludes a military source. "I've spent more time cleaning up latrines than he did flying.
Here's the grift.

Bush says X, usually embracing a classic "good" liberal and/or apple pie issue. But the truth is Not X. The trick is that no one could possibly believe he'd lie about something that blatantly easy to dispute, therefore, his accusers are, if not lying themselves, taking stuff out of context and not being fair. Then he just sticks to the lie and ignores the unbelievers, except to belittle them.

He learned how to operate this way during his formative, character-building years as a Prep School Bad Boy. Claim the high road and lie. "Dad, look, we were just kids bobbing for apples at a Thanksgiving volunteers party. How could I possibly know some greasy punk poured a gallon of gin into it? It just tasted like punch. I'm no punk."

Then, when it happens again and he's hauled into the headmaster's office: "Dad, we've gone over this. How many times do I have to explain to you and Mom and the school? I am no punk! I refuse to be smeared by those who envy me because of my Dad's success. I won't stand here and be accused of being something I'm not by people who are not good enough to clean our latrines."

via Cursor. PS: This post was revised several times after posting. Not enough sleep last night is the current operative excuse.

UPDATE: Dave Neiwert has a terrific summary of Bush's record, as part of a takedown of the Wicked Witch of Greenwich here.

Isabella V.  

My current working hypothesis is that the pseudonym "Isabella V." who writes one of the most compelling blogs around, A Flight Risk references two of the most intriguing women of the 20th Century: Isabella Rosselini and V., the mysterious woman, or women, at the heart of Thomas Pynchon's first novel. Certainly, Isabella knows Rosselini from her knowledge of David Lynch films. As for whether she knows Tom's books, pure speculation, but if ever there was a blogger who should be familiar with his immortal Proverbs for Paranoids, it is she:
1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.

2. The innocence of the creatures is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.

3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.

4. You hide, they seek.

5. Paranoids are not paranoids because they're paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations .
Now, Sean Paul at The Agonist has received a cease and desist letter from lawyers representing her parents' interests. He has chosen to ignore it as well he should. Are the lawyers so innocent of how the Net works that they didn't realize that any attempt by Sean-Paul to remove his posts would cause an uproar in his online community and cause copies of them to be displayed all over the world?

You go, girl.

Dixie Women  

Quote of the Day
"If you're here to boo, we welcome that because we welcome freedom of speech," [Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines] said from the stage of Greenville, South Carolina's Bi-Lo Center Thursday night. "So we're going to give you fifteen seconds to get whatever you have out."

Instead, the 15,000-strong crowd erupted in cheers.
Y'know, finally I might be able to develop a real taste for country music. Of course, I bought one of their cd's and it's quite doubleplus good.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Billy the Better  

Oh, you have to read this. William J. Bennett, the self-appointed conscience of the nation who has published such trash as "Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey" and lectured all of us on how Bill Clinton corrupted American ideals - this very same William J. Bennett, right wing heavyweight and living symbol of morality, is a heavy duty gambler. Even worse, he's a certified loser.

And just how much of a loser is Betting Bill Bennett? A big loser. A very, very big loser. A loser to the tune of at least 8 million dollars.

And like all losers, he thinks he comes up even at the casinos, where he is a preferred customer that plays slot machines at, get this, $500 a pull. Once, he left the Mirage Resorts Casino in Vegas down $625,000. That's nearly 2/3 of a million bucks. In one night.

If Billy the Better really was the paragon of ethics he has always known himself to be, he could get a grip on his gambling jones and donate all that dough to charity. If, instead of dropping 625 g's at the slots he donated it to, say, The Children's Defense Fund, why they would be able to double the annual income of over 90 of the country's poorest black families. That's a lot of good to trade for just one night's entertainment.

William J. Bennett, hypocrite and loser.

[UPDATE] Last night, my smart spouse said that I had no right to schadenfreude over Mr. Bennett's gambling, as he clearly is an addict. And as usual, she is right. Unfortunately, whenever I think of poor Mr. Bennett I recall Austin Powers' immortal "There's a mole in the CIA."

And I can't help myself.

Kynn On Criticizing The Left  

I like Kynn's Shock and Awe blog a lot, from the clever idea of having two columns to his instinctively sensible attitude. When he criticized Michael Moore for exaggerating what happened at a book signing in San Diego, I sent him something of a mild nudge in the ribs:
In re: Michael Moore, I feel that since the right wing has spent years and years honing their skills at slicing and dicing leftwingers, we should leave that job to them. Why should we compete with expert butchers who certainly don't need our help to destroy anyone's credibility?

Instead, we should turn our attention to skewering right wing buffoons unmercifully, especially if they are in the government (Santorum comes to mind.). After all, Moore has no power or influence over anything. Santorum can make our life hell.
On his blog, Kynn responded by making two important points. First, he addressed the ethical dimension. It is extremely important that we speak up whenever we see people behaving poorly regardless of which party they belong to and even if they are on our side.

Kynn's other main point is that, from a practical standpoint, "only criticism from your own side really has any major effect ."

Of course, I agree wholeheartedly. I would add that the moderate and liberal side of the political discourse, almost by definition, believes that people should not preach to each other but rather discuss their views. We proudly encourage lively debate and discussion.

In contrast, the right has an unhealthy propensity to force everyone to "fall in line," as if civilian society should adopt the discipline of the military, as if secular society should adopt the unquestioned devotion of a cult.

Since the fall of 2000, the country has seen how the far right works. Whenever the incessant media barrage drops for a second, they are dismayed not only at the way the extreme right behaves but at the consequences of such behavior. Exhibit A: An economy teetering very close to total collapse.

Moderates and liberals, of course, comprise the majority of voters. The right wing extremists in Washington -and there is no other word to describe men like Perle, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Bush - know this. So in 2000 they tarted themselves up as utterly fake drag queens, but with none of the joy and humanity of the genuine article. After 2 1/2 years of Bush's terrible presidency, their mascara has now completely smeared.

In order to get them out in 2004, we should stress how seriously out there the Bushites are. If we can do this and not let up, there is a chance that the government will once more be in the hands of the majority of Americans instead of a right wing sect.

Could Brady Kiesling Be the Krugman for Foreign Affairs?  

One of the real advantages of a reader/writer as intelligent and articulate as Jeanne d'Arc is that it gives you the opportunity to clarify your own thoughts rather than futilely argue the "rightness" of them.

I think I may have a candidate for Jeanne's more literary, as well as knowledgeable foreign affairs columnist, That would be Brady Kiesling, the diplomat who resigned early this spring and wrote an extraordinarily beautiful letter to Colin Powell detailing the reasons. Kiesling has recently been giving many interviews and has published an article on his return to Greece since his resignation in the New York Review of Books. It remains to be seen as to whether he has the scope and the connections for broad foreign affairs writing, but he certainly has considerable literary gifts and a good deal of sensitivity.

Today is a daddy/daughter today over at Tristero World Headquarters. I think we're headed off to the Bronx Zoo, as it's gorgeous here in New York. So I probably wont post until evening, New York time, but Jeanne's comments as well as the interesting link and letter have led me to put the thinking cap back. There should be more later, including links to Kiesling's work.

Canadian Letter  

From a friend in Canada. For the US, the policy seems to be that maybe "real men want to go to Tehran" but true macho men have a jones for Ontario:

Well, your fearless leaders are at it again. David Murray, right hand man to the US's biggest anti-drug warlord, was in Vancouver yesterday reading the riot act to Canada (in what the CBC described as "apocalyptic language"). In an interview on CBC radio he was a little more subtle about the threats, but in his talk he delivered the same hypocritical two-faced double-talk that Canadians have come to expect from power-crazed US government thugs on a mission to get their own way, or else.

He started out by saying that "Canada is a sovereign nation with the right to set its own policies" blah, blah, blah, and then went on to, as CBC reported, "Read the riot act". Lots of threats about how it would impact business, traffic across the border, etc. He indicated that as a consequence "we [the US] would be forced to respond". Just like Ambassador Paul Celluci a month or so ago, he was talking out of both sides of his mouth. If we're such a great friend, why is it that the US is so openly belligerent? The reality is that we're a "conditional friend". We get friendly treatment when we're doing the bidding of those in power on Pennsylvania Avenue. If we do something because we actually think it's good, and it's not something the US administration likes, we don't get polite disagreement, we get threats and bullying.

Well, this Canadian thinks the US administration has, to a person, become victim of the most common workplace injury, the rectal-cranial inversion. In the McCarthy era it was paranoia that there was a communist under every bed, and for the last 20+ years it's the fear that smoking pot is going to destroy the fabric of society. To hear David Murray talk you'd think that the country would collapse if pot were decriminalized. What utter nonsense. How do people become so fixated on the false boogeyman?

You can buy alcohol in nearly every place in the US (I understand that there are still a few dry counties) and alcohol is, in my opinion, much worse for society than pot. And the case of alcohol should stand as evidence of the absurdity of trying to prevent something people are bound and determined to do. The US government tried prohibition and it failed. In the long run the prohibition against pot will fail too. I don't even smoke the stuff and I'd work for legalization. Largely because I'm tired of seeing the waste of money and resources to prosecute pot smokers for something that is less problematic than using the legal drug alcohol. There are much better uses for our tax dollars. We need to bring some good old common sense to the way we treat all drugs and those who use them. We need to take a page out of the Swiss book. We also need to address social ills that *cause* people to turn to drugs for an escape from the pain. But policies that address the fixing of those social ills would likely appear rather socialist leaning, so we'd likely get threats about them too.

We are socially a rather left leaning country. There is, or at least used to be a communist party in Canada, but I don't think I've ever met anyone who was afraid that communists were any threat to the nation. Nor do I know anyone who considers smoking pot to be a threat to the social fabric of the Canada. What is it in the US psyche that brings people to a pique of fear over these things? From where in the US psyche does the paranoia arise? Does listening to talk radio make your brain soft?

Personally, I'm fed up with the US attitude and behaviour on the international stage. If the US wants to be the shining example in the world, then I've got a bit of advice for the administration. First, hypocrisy doesn't bring you respect. You can paint your face like a two dollar whore, but we know what's under the rouge (no apologies for using a French word). Playing like a friend and acting like a thug may seem clever to you, but you're alienating the world at a rate I've not seen in my lifetime. Second, if you're going to try to sell your democracy and way of life around the world, try doing it by making your country something that everyone wants to emulate, not through use of military force, coercion, or economic sanctions. Third, if you consider a nation to be a friend, don't expect conformity to your policies. The world is a complex place and you need to live with differences. Binary objectivity is a flawed lens through which to view the world. Fourth, stop exploiting other nations and the people of other nations for your own commercial gain. And on the flip side of that coin, start treating your poor and dispossessed better. It's appalling that poverty exists in your country to the extent that it does. You can spend billions on weapons, but you don't mind seeing people living in the street - with no medical care! You can't seem to see yourself as you are seen by others; take a look in the mirror.

America, if you're such a great nation, why don't you start *showing* it. "Do not say things, what you are thunders o'er your head the while, so loud that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary".

Spot on.

I should point out that when he writes "you," my friend knows quite well that many, if not most, Americans are appalled at the Bush administration's behavior when they learn about it. But most Americans have no idea how far-reaching the incompetence and corruption of the Bush administration extends. What he sees that many Americans still don't see is the total assault on International as well as American values in all of their actions or neglect.

Unlike Canada, which has a rather feisty media in comparison, American mainstream media makes it nearly impossible for a citizen to grasp what is actually going on. Our media can be divided into two main segments.

The first is naked propaganda: Fox, Clear Channel, the right wing religious broadcasters and authors, and up and coming propaganda organs like MSNBC. They are fully aware of their corruption. Hence, they trademark clearly bogus slogans like "fair and balanced" to infuriate the rest of us.

The second media segment is the relatively more honest one. But here, too, under withering pressure from an administration that has open contempt for the law and for any traditions of ethical standards, the coverage is warped beyond recognition to a visitor to the US. During the run-up to war, for example, even a BBC viewer would have known that the US never had a chance in securing a followup resolution to UN 1441 or that the refusal of Turkey to allow US military access was a foregone conclusion. In the US, the New York Times, which was regularly fed blatant lies by Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld, ran article after article that assured its readers that "diplomacy was proceeding in a positive fashion."

The shock to the US public, therefore, when the bubble burst and the world refused to support Bush, was enormous. Because of the sense of inevitiability built up by even the Times coverage, the only conclusion an American could draw was that Turkey and the UN were behaving completely irrationally - hadn't this all been settled months ago?

Our media certainly can, and has, been skeptical of the government. But it has never had to deal with a homegrown proto-fascist government which will resort to any tactic to maintain control of media coverage - lying, extortion, confiscating letters, banishment of even the mildest critics, public humiliation. The Bushites will go so far even to issue vague, creepy threats with consequences left to the reporter's imagination. Although individual reporters are often aware of how seriously dangerous this administration is as it pertains to their specialties, only a few media folks see how pervasive the problems are. Exactly why this is so is a question I can't answer. I know many smart, honest people at the Times. But the simple inability to see the overall picture is breathtaking.

"No Humanity" In Rick Santorum  

This this follow up on Santorum was buried in the bowels of the NY Times A section. More insight into the character of the inclusive Senator from Pennsylvania:
Four parents of gay children had a fiery private exchange tonight with Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. The meeting did not go well, and Mr. Santorum, who has infuriated gays by likening homosexuality to incest and bigamy, left in a hurry, tripping over a chair, the parents said.

"What we tried to do in this meeting was reach him on a human level, and we found no humanity there," said Melina Waldo, a former constituent of Mr. Santorum who lives in Haddonfield, N.J. She said he was "condescending, belligerent, argumentative and arrogant."
Like the peace protests, the Republican powers that be have unilaterally declared the Santorum flap unimportant. One can only hope that both the peace protests and outrage against Santorum's perverted bigotry grow into something permanent and politically powerful that will make it far more difficult to take issues embarassing to the right wing off the national agenda.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

The Party of Sept 11  

Anyone who's been paying attention knows there's been a major cover up of pre September 11 intelligence that was ignored. And everyone knows the Bush administration was willfully neglecting al Qaeda in their first nine months to concentrate on Star Wars schemes. And there's probably more, a lot more. So the article linked to should come as zero surprise. What I liked however was this, in passing, little comment:
The White House is delaying the Republican nominating convention, scheduled for New York City, until the first week in September 2004—the latest in the party’s history. That would allow Bush’s acceptance speech, now slated for Sept. 2, to meld seamlessly into 9-11 commemoration events due to take place in the city the next week.
The seamless meld is the thing: we were vulnerable, but thanks to Bush and Co., not any longer.

If we have any brains at all, we will make it literally impossible for Bush to use Ground Zero for any kind of speech this year and next. If they have any brains, they'll make sure we can't get within 50 blocks of the site.

What Kind of Glue They Sniffing At the Times These Days?  

Pay no attention to how it appears. The Times reassures us that the terrorists have not won.
At first glance, it may look as if the United States is capitulating to one of Osama bin Laden's central demands by pulling nearly all American military forces out of Saudi Arabia. Actually, the decision is an encouraging sign that the Bush administration has the confidence and maturity to act in the long-term interests of the United States and Saudi Arabia, even if it means taking some heat for overlapping with Mr. bin Laden's agenda


Y'know, it's starting to make sense a little.

No Congressional Investigation In Leung Case  

So, JJ Smith got himself immunity. He's the fellow that handled Katrina Leung, suspected double agent. More importantly, there will be no investigation of her Republican Party ties. As a matter of fact, it's disappeared from the Times coverage entirely.

So, with Smith, at least, semi-immune, and his evidence confiscated, how much do you think we'll hear about the "Republican Johnny Chung" who donated to Bush, et al and probably served as a conduit for a lot of illegal ChiCom contribs?

War is NOT a Force That Gives Us Meaning  

This is part two of two posts inspired by Jeanne d'Arc’s thoughts about op/ed writers in the New York Times. Part one dealt with Paul Krugman. This post focuses on the war writing of Chris Hedges, who Jeanne suggests would make an excellent foreign affairs columnist, perhaps, because of his expertise in war, even a better one than Krugman.

Chris Hedges is a fine writer and seems a very warm, decent human being. But, at least when he writes about war, his own best qualities trip him up. With all the best intentions in the world, Hedges intellectualizes and romanticizes. He is, ironically, too good a person for the subject and he has very little to say, in fact, about war.

What is war?

War is the process of turning human beings into hamburger.

That is all war is. There is not a single “goal” of war that cannot be just as safely (or dangerously) pursued by other means. What characterizes war, what makes it unique, is its spectacular bloodletting.

It is said that the experience of war numbs you. If only war could anesthetize its victims. Instead, those poor souls who are literally touched by war are slaughtered or maimed while fully conscious. The pain and terror must be horrible beyond imagining. The only people that war directly touches who experience no pain are the ones who die instantly.

To describe war as anything more or less than pre-meditated human butchery is to completely misrepresent it, to mistake war for something that it is not, distorting the experience. War kills and mutilates people, then it stops. That is all.

As for the “glory of war,”or the Hemingway “trial under fire,” spare me. As for “wars of liberation,” don’t even start. Tell it all to that poor Iraqi kid who lost his entire family as well as three limbs. Tell it to his face, in his language.

Despite – or more accurately, because of - the full force of his ability and his personality, Hedges is incapable of confronting this awful reality. He has observed more war than anyone deserves to have seen of war. But he simply can’t see it for what it is.

Consider just the title to Hedges' book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. It is a marvlous phrase. In musical terms, its spoken rhythm is nearly a perfect hemiola, a subtle displacement of a triple beat pattern through a temporary use of duple meter.

But sophisticated, literary devices aside, what on earth is Hedges talking about? The more you try to wrestle with it, the less the phrase actually means. It is ambiguous, poetic, it's art. But is war truly a force that gives us meaning?

War is being caught in a machine gun crossfire with your 8 year old son who is crying beyond hysteria, while you watch as the bullets come nearer and nearer to him until they cut him in half.

Who is inhuman enough to approach you, when the fighting is over and you carry the boy’s body back to your wife, his mother… who would say to you then that war gives “us” meaning?

Unfortunately, this muzzy poeticizing is not only relegated to the title, nor does he intend the phrase to be ironic. Near the beginning of an excerpt from his book, Hedges writes, "...there is a part of me that remains nostalgic for war’s simplicity and high. The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it gives us what we all long for in life. It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living."

Hedges clearly sees himself as a seeker, looking for a higher purpose, a meaning. But war has no meaning beyond itself. Here is what one finds if one seeks “meaning” in war, thanks to Robert Fisk’s bravery and talent:
It was an outrage, an obscenity. The severed hand on the metal door, the swamp of blood and mud across the road, the human brains inside a garage, the incinerated, skeletal remains of an Iraqi mother and her three small children in their still-smouldering car.

Two missiles from an American jet killed them all – by my estimate, more than 20 Iraqi civilians, torn to pieces before they could be 'liberated' by the nation that destroyed their lives. Who dares, I ask myself, to call this 'collateral damage'?
Fisk describes what war is and how war actually feels, an outrage, an obscenity. There’s no high, no purpose, no meaning, no reason. By contrast, what Hedges describes is not war, it’s not even his feelings of being in a war. He is describing his serious, careful ruminations after the war is over.

As his title and the short excerpt shows, Hedges often uses "we" or "us." Given his obvious emotional warmth and humanism, it is a poignant usage, an attempt to draw “us” in, to feel the queasiness of being simultaneously repelled and attracted to war. But this “we” is not an invitation, but a wall, a barrier.

Psychologically, Hedges’ use of the first person plural is of course, a prime example of projection, a defensive mechanism that attributes powerful feelings and thoughts to others, who don’t share them. He says that war gives "us" what "we" all long for. But what he is really saying is that the horror of war gives him the illusion of a connection with other people.

It is certainly an illusion because we, that is, “I,” do not agree that war is what I long for to give me meaning. Surely, I am one of many, if not most “we’s”.

“We" - the frightened child, the father, myself - neither see nor seek meaning in war. And "we" seek to avoid it not for any complex psychological reasons but simply because it will kill us and kill those we love. We have no nostalgia for war. It is not what we long for in life. War cannot give us meaning.

It is a tribute to Chris Hedges' mental health that he is literally revolted by the types of images the probably more mercurial Fisk reports, that he is capable of devising a defense that protects him from war’s reality, that both keeps him sane and reaches out to others for a connection. But that is not the only way he protects himself and creates emotional distance between war and his feelings.

The wrought phrases, the elevated tone, the nuanced arguments, the sheer seductive humanness of his writing; all those rhetorical devices are also defenses – words, words, words, to quote Hamlet - to avert attention from the splatter of brains on the floor of the garage. What healthy being can possibly look at something like that for long? And Hedges is striving honorably, if desperately, to stay healthy.

So Hedges succeeds in overcoming his horror but fails to describe war. To his credit, the compassionate, sorrowful, and thoughtful Chris Hedges does not have the sick kind of moral strength required to portray war accurately. For war, its awfulness, is what Fisk says it is.

I think Jeanne d’Arc is wrong about Hedges’ potential on the op/ed page, as an addition to Krugman. Hedges can tell “us” a lot of moving things about the defenses a sensitive, educated person will employ to block out the filth of war. But if “we” want to understand what war is, we will need to read Fisk. And for an understanding of the forces and people that inflict war on those who don’t want it, Hedges’ emotional sympathy cannot possibly help. A dispassionate, even cold, analysis suits such a subject. Krugman’s approach, which mixes a summary of publicly available facts with an appropriate anger at being lied to about them, is well-nigh as good as it gets.

Could someone who knows more about foreign affairs than Krugman and who writes more elegantly focus on the single human story that stands for the universal and better portray these tormented, dreadful times?

Of course. But I can’t wish for a hypothetical “could” right now. I don’t have the stamina to wait. Instead, I’ll simply say that as long as Krugman can withstand the incredible stress of telling the truth under the paranoid eyes of Ashcroft, Cheney, and Bush, I will count myself, and all of us, very lucky.

Paul Krugman Vs. Foreign Meta-Policy Wonks  

Usually I agree with the eloquent writer whose nom de blog is Jeanne d'Arc. Yesterday, while critiquing Paul Krugman’s foreign affairs background, she wondered why another writer with far more international experience than Krugman, Chris Hedges, does not write foreign affairs op/eds for the Times.

I admire Jeanne enormously, she is a compassionate person, and her deceptively simple style conveys a moral sense that I aspire to share, one rooted in the sanctity of an individual soul. But I think she is wrong about both writers and in Hedges' case, very wrong. This post will focus on Krugman, a later one on Hedges, but it would do the reader well to read also Jeanne D'Arc's comments on both first. (Her permalinks are permahosed. The comments I'm referrring to are under April 30, 2003).

As Jeanne says, Krugman’s foreign affairs expertise seems more or less limited to reading the newspapers and distilling the truth. He is not, as Jeanne says, about as good as the best of Left Blogistan on war and international issues – he is far better and far more concise – but even so, her point is well taken.

Jeanne errs, I think, in believing that Krugman is analysing foreign issues. Rather, he is talking about domestic ones. He does not seek to understand Iraq, but rather the machinations of the US government. When Krugman discusses foreign policy, he is saying a reasonably intelligent person can indeed immediately grasp how utterly foolish the Rumsfelds, Cheneys and Wolfowitzes of the world are. In a world where a screwball like Richard Perle is actually listened to and obeyed, Krugman’s voice is a critical one.

In truth, “meta-policy” – wide, sweeping assessments of “what the US should do in the world,” which is what the Perle's of the world do instead of working – is the siren-call of American policy wonks, as they were for their German counterparts before 1914. Usually propounded by foreign affairs experts with enormously impressive credentials and reputations, they are remarkably bone-headed, even if they are usually not as obviously nuts as Perle’s “theories”.

The current issue of Foreign Affairs has ample examples. Read, for example, The Rise of Ethics in Foreign Policy co-written by Leslie Gelb, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, about as “widely respected” as it gets. He and his co-author argue that moral values - adherence to ethical standards of warfare, confronting dictators on human rights - are an important component of the US foreign policy. As 10 seconds of careful thought will tell you, this is wildly misleading if not simply dead wrong. Yet the temptation to indulge in this kind of specious generalization, to propose and see adopted a Grand Unified Theory of the world, is quite common, from writers who run the gamut from the ridiculous (Friedman, Fukuyama) to the sublime (Walter Russell Mead). *

None can face the uncomfortable fact that there really is no possible way to generalize about the world, let alone “chart a course into the future,” despite the pretenses of meta-policy. The only sensible way to deal with the world is via a non-ideological common sense strategy – a self-interested, flexible approach that deals knowledgeably with the present, that is informed by a deep understanding of the past, and that emphasizes diplomacy over arms.

This is what Krugman reminds his readers foreign policy should be about, not the cockamamie schemes of mini-Machiavellis. That’s what makes his remarks on war and international issues so vital. Foreign policy really is not rocket science, despite its pretenses to complexity. Krugman reminds us it's not even sophisticated economics. It may be more than simply knowledgeable negotiation, but it's not much more.

End of part one.

*In the current New York Review of Books, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., reviews Mead's award-winning Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World which describes, among other foreign policy traditions, a "Jacksonian" thread. As Schlesinger makes quite clear, and as Mead is forced to admit, Andrew Jackson himself wasn't a Jacksonian. While such intramural intellectual oneupmanships like this are more hilarious than substantive, it does make one wonder what else in Mead's brilliant, elaborate structure also is based on such a creative approach to reality.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

No, This Is Not The Daily Show. This One's For Real.  

Who do you think would be the worst kind of people for the US to hire to produce its official news for Iraq. Right wing religious "Christians," right? Guess what?
The U.S. government this week launched its Arabic language satellite TV news station for Muslim Iraq.

It is being produced in a studio -- Grace Digital Media -- controlled by fundamentalist Christians who are rabidly pro-Israel.

* * *

According to its web site , Grace News Network is "dedicated to transmitting the evidence of God's presence in the world today."

"Grace News Network will be reporting the current secular news, along with aggressive proclamations that will 'change the news' to reflect the Kingdom of God and its purposes," GNN proclaims.
"'Change the news' to reflect the Kingdom of God and its purposes." Whoa.

via a good friend.

Must See: Bush v. Bush  

I just started watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The first thing I saw was this unspeakably hilarious interview with Governor George W. Bush and President George W. Bush. As I write this, the sites been slashdotted because The Horse posted it. It's worth the wait.

The Sept 11 Political Convention  

Michael Tomasky makes an excellent point in The American Prospect, that as shoddy as Santorum's remarks were, the announcement of the date of the Republican Convention, so close to Sept. 11, was far worse. And where were the Democrats?
And what have the Democrats had to say about this? Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued one statement, and to be fair, it was toughly worded. (Although he did issue two official statements on the Santorum flap.) But aside from that, I've seen nada . So here we have it: The one inviolable political rule that supposedly emerged from 9-11 was that no one, and no party, was to seek partisan advantage from the tragedy. Yet the Republicans are doing exactly that, and the Democrats scamper like mice. They hand Bush the issue on a golden platter and say practically nothing. It just so happens that September 11 is a Thursday -- historically, the evening on which the party's nominee gives his convention speech. Do they really have the cojones to . . . one supposes they'll probably do it the week before, but why wouldn't they choose the 11th? It's OK with the Democrats!
But for those of us who have been participating in moveon's mediacorps initiative, he does impart some very good news, albeit from a rather unlikely source:
In Active Faith , his memoir of the rise of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed offers a useful model. In early 1993, during the gays-in-the-military brouhaha, The Washington Post , in a front-page article, referred to Reed's cadres as "poor, uneducated, and easy to command." Reed writes that when a copy of that article "churned through my fax machine that morning, I knew immediately that we had a major victory." After a little mobilization, the paper's fax lines were tied up for hours with unsolicited copies of Christian Coalition members' diplomas and tax returns. No apologies were demanded. Instead, a constituency was mobilized and an enemy put on notice that it was being monitored. That's how you change behavior.

Go To Altercation  

And click on his links today. Many, many good ones.

Tales of Bush's America: 1 Million Kids in Extreme Poverty  

As of the end of 2001, almost one million children were living in families with after-tax incomes that were one-half of the official poverty rate. So what does that mean, exactly?

That means that if that child is part of a family of three, that family has a disposable income of $6,700 a year.

That's in the US of A. In my middle-class world, that is all but an unimaginable, impossible life. Keerist.

Says the Children's Defense Fund, "Today's analysis further shows that safety nets for the worst-off families are being eroded by Bush administration policies that cause fewer extremely poor children of all races to receive cash and in-kind assistance."

By the way, those 1 million children living in extreme poverty? Like to guess which ethnic group/race they belong to? Hint: Tom Delay says their Daddy's and Mommies stole his spot in the military.

The Health Of Our Soldiers  

So we already knew that Bush was cutting veterans care benefits. Now tells us that no one in the government bothered to work up a physical before, let alone after, combat. Therefore, if something pesky like Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome develops, why, the government can simply say, sorry, it must have been a pre-existing condition.

Great way to cut costs. By short-shrifting those most deserving of the government's support when they need it.

NoKo: Liberal Oasis Gets It Right  

So I don't have to say much more, if anything about it.


Blast From the Past  

For a long time I've wanted to read Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. I had read her A Distant Mirror when it first came out a long time ago, which is about the 14th century, and loved it. The 14th century is, of course, dear to every modern composer's heart, because it is the first time that polyphony developed awesomely complex techniques and structures, culminating in the works of Machaut, in particular his Notre Dame Mass.

So while there was plenty of good reason for me to be interested in that period, the subject of The Guns of August, how Europe blundered into World War I, really held little appeal. Well, I was wrong. The story, as told by Tuchman, is riveting.

Very little of it is apropos, because it is about the struggle between several more or less equal powers with imperial ambitions. It is nearly impossible to imagine a world like that today, where there is one ruff tuff cream puff and... everyone else. Nevertheless, the story of the German battleship Goeben is a striking example of the law of unintended consequences, of the near-incredible stupdity and incompetence of an arrogant, self-centered worldview, and the slaughter that inadvertently follows.

For a variety of reasons, every statesmen in Europe knew that a huge war was inevitiable for at least 20 years. One important question to both the Brits and the Germans was whether Turkey would remain neutral, or support one or the other side. Turkey's neutrality was vital because of its proximity to and relationship with Russia, which Germany was most anxious to conquer.

The whole "Turkish question" was clouded over by what can only be called of racism, or more precisely ethnocentrism, in the views of both European powers. They simply hated Turks, physically and culturally, and furthermore felt that it was an essentially weak entity, a shadow of the mighty Ottoman Empire. So both Germany and Britain outdid each other in humiliating Turkey.

Britain was so arrogant as to literally steal two ships that it was building for Turkey. The Turks had behaved quite honestly, paid the downpayments, but Britain felt she needed the boats and that was that. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they did offer "to take under consideration" the financial issues Turkey faced. Translated: go ahead, I dare you to ask for your money back.

Faced with a Germany that was acting in equally bad faith, Turkey did what it is quite good at doing. It haggled, and finagled, and delayed, playing both superpowers off each other for the opportunity to stay out of the coming European war. Enter the Goeben.

Around the time war was declared, the Goeben was in the vicinity of the eastern heel of Italy (Italy was neutral and refused to allow the Goeben to refuel). As it was a powerful ship, the British Navy was empowered to intercept the ship and destroy it. Due first to political complications, then bad luck, then excess caution, several perfectly good opportunities over several months were missed to attack the Goeben. Then a miscalculation.

The British Navy thought the Goeben and another German ship would head West into the Mediterranean. Instead, it headed south and east in a feint, then headed north into the Dardanelles, and Turkey.

No one in Britain quite knew what to do. Still thinking they had some control over the situation, the Brits "insisted" that the German crews be replaced with Turkish crews, but the approached the German ambassador who held, as one can imagine, a rather dim view of the idea. Then some bright bastard got a great idea.

What if Germany were to "sell" the ships to Turkey? Laughter and delight all around. The ships would fly Turkish flags but keep their German crews. Best of all, the Turks and Germans would get to stick it to the British for stealing those Turkish ships. It was a delicious turn of the screw because Britain could hardly object.

But like many "bold," "audacious" foreign policy initiatives, it led to bad, bad things.

Y'see, Germany really needed Turkey on their side as they opened up the Russian front. But Turkey was trying to stay out of it. Impatient, the Germans forced the Turks hand with another "bold" move. While sailing the Turkish flag, the Goeben and the other German ship simply sailed up the coast of Russia and bombed several Russian cities, killing civilians.

It was an "audacious," of if you have principles, a disgraceful move. Because the Turks were now trapped. Britain demanded that the crews of the German ships be dismissed - they were, after all, flying under Turkish flags - or Britain would declare war on Turkey. But this was now impossible for the Turks, not the least of which because the German ships, now back in Turkish waters, could simply bomb the daylights out of the Turkish government whenever they felt unhappy about the course of the "diplomacy."

So Turkey was snookered into the Great War as a German ally, eventually bringing along Bulgaria, Rumania, Italy and Greece. I've been summarizing Tuchman, but let's turn it over to her to explain the consequences of all this utterly childish behavior:

"The cutting off of Russia with all its consequences, the vain and sanguinary tragedy of Gallipoli, the diversion of Allied strength in the campaigns of Mesopatamia, Suez, and Palestine, the ultimate breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the subsequent history of the Middle East, followed from the voyage of the Goeben."

As Churchill put it the Goeben brought "more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship."

And it started because a self-absorbed Christian nation, Britain, holding nothing but a racist contempt for the rights of a weaker Islamic nation, didn't anticipate that unanticipated consequences always follow bold moves.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Bin Laden's Primary Goal, US Out of Saudi Arabia, Is Now A Fait Accompli  

So today the beeb tells us the US is moving their bases out of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is home to some of Islam's holiest sites and the deployment of US forces there was seen as a historic betrayal by many Islamists, notably Osama Bin Laden.

It is one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born dissident - blamed by Washington for the 11 September attacks - to justify violence against the United States and its allies.
What they neglect to mention was that then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney promised to remove the troops promptly after Gulf War I (see this book, a major study of bin Laden published the summer before 9/11). Of course, Cheney will argue that the war didn't end until Saddam was toppled and, while, it will shock most of us to hear we've been at war with Iraq for some 13 years, expect the administration to proffer that as the defense for not getting out sooner.

Well now the troops are going and bin Laden can rejoice, where-ever he is. But by now, of course, that goal has morphed into others, particularly the re-unification of the Caliphate as it was in the earliest, most glorious days of Islam. How's bin Laden doing at achieving that incredibly grandiose, perhaps mad, goal?

Well, it's mixed, but he has cause for optimism. True, Iraq is, more or less, in the hands of infidels right now. But the entire Islamic world is now truly united by a common cause for the first time in who knows how long. By their hatred at the US. And he owes it all guessed it.


Hawash Update  

The Wall Street Journal has a front page article about Mike Hawash today, which goes into detail about his recent indictment for conspiracy. Unfortunately you have to pay to see it on the web so I'll summarize it here.

After he lost his job and his father died, the article says, Hawash's personality changed. He became much more religious (he is Muslim, originally a Palestinian, now naturalized American). This led to conflicts between his Christian-born wife which caused him, at least one time, to sleep outside the home in their car after an argument. He also travelled to Mecca, a Muslim obligation, but was disillusioned by the behavior of the crowds

In late October of '01, Hawash apparently paid off the mortgage of his house and transferred the deed to his wife's name. He took a trip abroad and returned a few weeks later.

The government alleges that, with 6 other people from Portland, Hawash travelled to China and then tried to go to Afghanistan to help the Taliban in their fight against the US. The six others have been charged as a terrorist cell. According the article, one of them may have worked on Hawash's lawn and neighbors recall some others at his house. While all are Muslim, Hawash comes from an upper middle class milieu, the rest are much poorer.

The case, as presented in the paper, poses more questions than it answers, troubling in its implications about Hawash, and also about the amount of evidence that may be available, which appears slim right now.

What is beyond question is that Hawash's detention without formal charging for months was an egregious violation of his civil rights. If Hawash did what they said, he deserves punishment. But if he is innocent, I hope he sues the government for all he can. There must always be a presumption of innocence.

UPDATE: TalkLeft has some of the story now.

Homeland Security Talking Points For Dems  

Mary over at the watch, aka mars-or-bust has some good advice for how Democrats should talk about National Security issues. She found her inspiration in the unlikeliest of sources...

Insert Calm, Understated Headline Here  

Let's draw our own conclusions about the implications of this latest Bush action in Iraq. The headline in the NY Times reads
American Forces Reach Cease-Fire With Terror Group
But this isn't any normal terror group by a long shot. This is a terror group that has nearly a twenty-five year history of killing Americans.
...its members killed several American military personnel and civilian contractors in the 1970's and supported the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
And in the agreement the US signed, what do the terms include?
United States forces agreed not to damage any of the group's vehicles, equipment or any of its property in its camps in Iraq, and not to commit any hostile act toward the Iranian opposition forces covered by the agreement.

In return, the group, the People's Mujahedeen, which will be allowed to keep its weapons for now,
Provided, of course, they don't fire on, or threaten Americans. And the article reassures us that they will start to disarm. Any day now.

Okay, sez you the firm believer in realpolitik, it's a nasty world, sometimes you have to make a pact with the devil. This happens all the time, I'm sure.

No, it doesn't.
The accord is apparently the first between the United States military — which in early April was bombing the group's Iraqi camps — and a terrorist organization, and it raises questions about how consistently the Bush administration intends to apply a policy that had vowed to crack down on terrorist groups worldwide.
That is putting it mildly. Well, let's now write the headline this latest outrage deserves:

Bush Signs Deal Not To Harm Terrorist Group That Killed Americans

Or, as the NY Post would put it, if it wasn't owned by Murdoch:

Bush Betrays US Victims of Terrorist Slaughter

Killers Get To Keep Their Weapons "For Now."

Exaggeration, you think? You might want to recall the way Clinton's "lack of moral clarity" was characterized during his two terms. These imagined headlines are mild in comparison.

There is simply nothing, absolutely nothing, this administration is incapable of doing. Something to remember for election time.

Krugman Is Spot On, As Always  

Today, Paul Krugman takes on the Bush administration's blatant admission that they lied about the reasons for the Iraq war. Krugman doesn't use the word "lie" himself, of course. Anyway, the entire column is great, but here's a small taste.
One wonders whether most of the public will ever learn that the original case for war has turned out to be false. In fact, my guess is that most Americans believe that we have found W.M.D.'s. Each potential find gets blaring coverage on TV; how many people catch the later announcement — if it is ever announced — that it was a false alarm? It's a pattern of misinformation that recapitulates the way the war was sold in the first place. Each administration charge against Iraq received prominent coverage; the subsequent debunking did not.
Exactly right.

Katrina Leung: What the NY Times Is Ignoring  

This New York Times article is a long, rambling discourse on accused double agent Katrina Leung. To save you the effort of slogging through all 1446 words, here's the gist. She was apparently one of the FBI's most important sources. Her intelligence on China went to every president from Reagan onwards. That's it.

There's something missing, however, from the Times report. Well, nearly missing, to be totally fair.

Three paragraphs from the end, the Times mentions that she is "a donor and fund-raiser for political candidates in California." But they do not mention that all those candidates were Republicans. In the final paragraph, they mention that Lieberman has asked that they looked into Leung's "political connections to Republicans."

The implication of all this is that her GOP contacts were fairly minimal and that Lieberman is merely politicking. That is not the case.

Leung, a Chinese double agent known to the FBI, arranged for, and probably delivered, illegal campaign contributions from the Chinese government. These contributions could easily have topped $2 million. To deflect attention, both Leung and J.J. Smith - her FBI handler and presumed lover - were enthusiastically involved in investigating alleged Chinese government contributions to Democrats, including the Clinton/Gore '96 campaign. As part of this cover-up, Leung and Smith permitted some of the most important go-betweens to flee the country and return to Hong Kong and China. Leung's support for Republican causes was so blatant that she held GOP fund-raisers in her house, contributed at least $20,000 (what has been found so far) herself to Republican campaigns (including Bush, Jr.'s) and traveled to China with former LA mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful.

All of the above is information can be gleaned from published reports on Leung and her activities, for example in this Washington Post article which I've linked to earlier. The notion that the investigation into Democrat illegalities was an attempt to deflect attention is my extrapolation from what is known of their activities. Given the poisonous atmosphere in the GOP during the Clinton years and the stated desire to destroy Clinton by so many Republicans, this is entirely plausible.

This is the story the Times is not telling its readers. Doubleplus scary.

[UPDATE] Atrios noticed that in the same article an unnamed prosecutor admits that at least some of the witnesses to illegal contributions to Democratic campaigns may not have even existed. Leung may have made them up.
"There were people we never found," the prosecutor said. "There were dead ends. Whether those were legitimate dead ends or artificial dead ends, we don't know."

Monday, April 28, 2003

Hawash Finally Charged  

As discussed earlier, Maher (Mike) Hawash, a software engineer has been held for weeks without charge. Before Bush came to office, it was considered an outrageous misuse of federal power to hold a prisoner without cause. Now, finally, as TalkLeft informs us, Hawash has been charged with conspiring to help terrorists. If he is guilty, I hope to hell he gets an appropriate penalty. If he is not guilty, I hope he is acquitted quickly.

Regardless of his guilt or innocence, it is neither legal or moral to detain American citizens indefinitely without trial. That the Bush administration did so does not speak to Hawash's guilt or innocence so much as to Ashcroft and his minions' interest in behaving more like the Gestapo than American law enforcers.
Federal authorities charged a seventh person Monday with plotting to aid al-Qaida and Taliban forces fighting U.S. soldiers after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Maher Hawash, 39, was charged with conspiracy to levy war and two counts of conspiring to provide material support to the two groups. He has been in custody since late March.

The Justice Department said Hawash was part of a Portland-based group of six other suspects who have already been charged in the alleged plan.

Back to 1900  

In the current issue of The Nation, William Greider asserts that Bush's goal is to eliminate the influence of 20th century social policy on the US, thereby rolling us back to the glory days of...William McKinley. Anyway, it's an excellent article and I think he's right, even if my knowledge of McKinley is rather, eh, challenged. The summary:
I do not believe that most Americans want what the right wants. But I also think many cannot see the choices clearly or grasp the long-term implications for the country.

This is a failure of left-liberal politics. Constructing an effective response requires a politics that goes right at the ideology, translates the meaning of Bush's governing agenda, lays out the implications for society and argues unabashedly for a more positive, inclusive, forward-looking vision. No need for scaremongering attacks; stick to the well-known facts.
Totally. To which I would add, tell it simply.

What's a Lie, Anyway  

I think when the Bushites deliberately, repeatedly distort and misreprent, it's safe to say they were lying about WMD proof.
The case for invading Iraq to remove its weapons of mass destruction was based on selective use of intelligence, exaggeration, use of sources known to be discredited and outright fabrication, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

A high-level UK source said last night that intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic were furious that briefings they gave political leaders were distorted in the rush to war with Iraq. "They ignored intelligence assessments which said Iraq was not a threat," the source said. Quoting an editorial in a Middle East newspaper which said, "Washington has to prove its case. If it does not, the world will for ever believe that it paved the road to war with lies", he added: "You can draw your own conclusions."

UN inspectors who left Iraq just before the war started were searching for four categories of weapons: nuclear, chemical, biological and missiles capable of flying beyond a range of 93 miles. They found ample evidence that Iraq was not co-operating, but none to support British and American assertions that Saddam Hussein's regime posed an imminent threat to the world.

On nuclear weapons, the British Government claimed that the former regime sought uranium feed material from the government of Niger in west Africa. This was based on letters later described by the International Atomic Energy Agency as crude forgeries.

On chemical weapons, a CIA report on the likelihood that Saddam would use weapons of mass destruction was partially declassified. The parts released were those which made it appear that the danger was high; only after pressure from Senator Bob Graham, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was the whole report declassified, including the conclusion that the chances of Iraq using chemical weapons were "very low" for the "foreseeable future".

On biological weapons, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, told the UN Security Council in February that the former regime had up to 18 mobile laboratories. He attributed the information to "defectors" from Iraq, without saying that their claims – including one of a "secret biological laboratory beneath the Saddam Hussein hospital in central Baghdad" – had repeatedly been disproved by UN weapons inspectors.

My Smart Spouse  

The other day, my wife and I were speeding down to see Al Pacino, Marisa Tomei, Dianne Weist, and David Straithairn in Wilde's "Salome." She brought up a recent post of mine and criticized me for my criticism. Her point was well taken.

A right wingnut named John Derbyshire, who is a rather accomplished mathematician, but otherwise muddy in his thinking, ended an essay on the importance of having ignorant and deluded leaders with this astounding phrase:
Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who “loathes the military” but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?
This is clearly irrational and illogical reasoning. In contemplating it, however, I noticed something that had skipped my notice the first time I looked at it.

Derbyshire, in posing his rhetorical question, had constructed an utterly outrageous straw man. He invites us to choose between GW Bush and Bill Clinton for president. No, he doesn't mention their names, but that is the clear implication from his description. But everyone knows that that is a choice that was never available and will never be available. His argument, at the bedrock level of rhetorical literacy, is literally corrupted by the hatred Derbyshire feels for Clinton's "amoral hedonism." (BTW, I disagree that Clinton is amoral, hedonistic, or loathes the military: I'm very curious where the latter quote was dug up).

But Amy says I was quibbling. It doesn't matter that a Clinton/Bush, Jr. race could never happen. The point Derbyshire's making has nothing to do with the actual availability of the choice.

She's, of course, 100% right. First, I should have pointed out that Derbyshire is making a specious relationship between personal moral codes and the skills required to lead the world's strongest country. I see no reason why anyone's personal life has much to do with success in this area. There have been great leaders who have been prigs (Rockefeller, whatever you think of his politics) and great leaders who do not fit into a either a liberal or a conservative's moral straitjacket (Jefferson, pulling a name out of a hat). To elect a president on the basis of their sex life is, to say the least, a bizarre way to choose.

However, I do think that intellectual breadth and flexibility is an utterly crucial aspect to a president's character. Anyone who understands that the origin of species occurs via natural selection is intellectually far more capable of comprehending the job of ruling the world than some credulous fool that believes, in the face of all evidence, that the world was created in 4004, B.C. The former is capable of evaluating knowledge and making an informed decision. The latter is reduced to relying solely on wise men whose opinions may or may not be based upon any genuine insight or understanding.

This is so blatantly obvious that I became interested in how Derbyshire could end up arguing the opposite. He does so by imploying a wide range of deliberatively deceptive rhetorical devices, many of which I don't know the official name for, but which I can recognize nevertheless.

The first is the ad hominem defense to support and to attack people. "A patriotic family man of character..." says Derbyshire about Bush. These are all Good Things. "An amoral hedonist and philanderer'" are Bad Things. This appeal to character puts our emotions into a lather, no matter who we support. But even if these ad hominem statements are true, neither characterization speaks to any qualities truly necessary for the job of president, namely intelligence, knowledge of the issues and the workings of goverment, political savviness, physical stamina, and tremendous self-confidence.

Realizing this flaw, Derbyshire attempts to bolster his argument with another parallel structure. It is however, a poorly constructed, indeed specious parallelism. Bush is said to have "ability," while Clinton "loathes the military." Leaving aside the substantive issues he brings up - does Bush really have ability? does Clinton really loathe the military? - this is apples and oranges, rhetorically. Derbyshire is reduced corrupting his parallel structure as he does not want to raise the dicey issue of Clinton's ability which, he knows, was considerable.

I think it is pretty clear that compositionally speaking, Derbyshire is a muddled thinker. To generalize, but I think it's a fair one, anyone who constructs an argument this poorly usually has little worthwhile to impart. That is, when you flip your attention from the corrupt rhetorical structure and examine its contents, more often than not, you learn that there is no "there " there. Certainly, this example, indeed the whole essay, supports such a generalization.

These ugly rhetorical tricks - ad hominems, apples and oranges, emotional triggering - are employed with promiscuous abandon in right wing discourse. The purpose is not to provoke thought but to stifle thought. The purpose is not to promote reasoned discussion, but to stifle dissent. There are so many obstacles to clear thinking that no one can, within a reasonable time possibly untangle it and respond. Such a wholesale assault on how arguments are presented can be rightly construed as a rape of rhetoric. It shows a broad disregard, if not contempt both for logic and the intelligence of their audience.

It is true that my training in music makes me very sensitive to issues of structure because that, after all, is what what music is, sound that has been structured. While I may err on the side of focusing on structure, I do think that a little more attention paid to how the right debases rhetoric will enable us to fashion a rhetorically appealing and emotionally powerful response.

But Amy is right. The least important issue is the straw man underneath it all, the fact that Derbyshire's rhetorical question was a fraud.

All I would add is that the straw man is one of many rhetorical errors that advance Derbyshire's overall agenda, which is to hide the very inconvenient fact that Bush, whatever his qualities as a family man, does not have the intellectual ability or training to make responsible decisions about anything too complex, let alone those needed to lead a country.

Katrina Leung and Campaign Finance Scandals  

Apparently, Democrats are afraid to open up the connections between Katrina Leung, her handler JJ Smith and Republican party funds received from the Chinese government because it will backfire on them. I can't possibly see how it could. Besides, it may be that the Republicans have a lot lot more to hide. From the Washington Post:
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), a leading Democratic candidate for president, has asked the Justice Department and FBI to investigate whether an accused spy may have illegally funneled Chinese government money into Republican coffers in the 1990s, according to a letter he sent Friday.
Katrina M. Leung, 49, recently jailed on charges that she was a "double agent" who passed classified information to the People's Republic of China, was a well-known political fundraiser for Republicans in Southern California. She and her husband have contributed $27,000 to national GOP causes since 1992.

* * *

In his letter to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Lieberman said the previous GOP majority on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee "chose to focus its investigation almost exclusively on individuals who had raised or contributed money to the Democratic presidential campaign of 1996."

* * *

FBI and Justice Department officials have not described any plan to pursue a full-fledged investigation of Leung's political activities, including her donations to Republicans.

* * *

Congressional investigators found donations had been made by one man, a multimillionaire businessman named Ted Sioeng who later fled the country, to several Republicans, including then-California state treasurer Matt Fong and a Republican think tank. But they also concluded that most of the suspect donations with trails leading to Asia went to Democrats.

That's why Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said that whatever Lieberman's intent, another campaign finance probe could be "harmful to Democrats. . . . I don't know how this helps his presidential campaign."

* * *

The case includes a handful of intriguing connections to the FBI's own investigation of fundraising abuses. Smith, for example, was the lead agent assigned to interrogate Johnny Chung, a major figure in the probe who said he had obtained some of the donated funds from a Chinese military officer. Also, at the time of the investigation, Leung publicly defended Sioeng, who was active in civic affairs in the Los Angeles area, calling the claims against him "nonsense."

The FBI and Justice Department only focused on Sioeng as a suspected Chinese agent at the insistence of Congress, and the FBI belatedly discovering it had material on him in its files. By then, he and his family had fled the United States.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), who led the congressional investigation, said in a recent interview that he wonders whether Leung's role contributed to the FBI's inability to find where more of the money originated. "It was kind of a mess, the whole investigation," he said. "The question is, did she dampen the FBI's ardor on campaign finance? She could have been significant. I'm trying to figure it out myself."

* * *

The U.S. intelligence community warned in 1996 that China planned to plow $3 million into U.S. elections to increase its influence with U.S. officials. The Washington Post reported on the plan the following year, saying that the money was supposed to have been allocated to the Chinese Embassy here and to various Chinese consulates.

While Congress and the media uncovered illegal fundraising by the Democratic National Committee, including hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled from Chinese sources, little evidence of an overall Chinese plan to corrupt the election was publicly produced.
If there is evidence, after a long investigation, that "hundreds of thousands of dollars" went to Democrats but the Chinese had a contribution war chest of $3 million for US political parties, then perhaps most of that money went to the Republicans? Couldn't possibly hurt to find out.

The Future  

Liberal Oasis alerts us to an elegant rant at Vanity Site. It's worth reading in toto, but the practical, going forward section is here. I've annotated it slightly with my own thoughts.

1. Find new voters from within the non-voting public. Only about half of the eligible voters actually vote. [On election day, help get them to the polls.]

2. Raise new issues which work to the Democrats' advantage, rather than continuing to play by the Republican rules. [And reframe old issues.]

3. Split off moderates from the Republican coalition. Rather than begging moderates to come over to us, I think that we should ask them how they can possibly support, for example, John Ashcroft. In other words, I propose a negative campaign.

4. Form new media and channels of communication. I think that this will require a greater time committment by many more people to specifically-political nuts-and-bolts work. The internet helps, but I think that a national newspaper (no, the New York Times isn't good enough) and a national TV network are really necessary.

5. The hardest one: figure out a way to combat the war fever and the anti-terrorism hysteria. While fighting terrorism and protecting the U.S. and its interests are legitimate activities, the Bush imperial program is blood-curdling. The Democrats cannot win by playing the Republican game.

The Incisive William Safire  

This Monday, William Safire uses the response to Gingrich to praise Invective's Comeback. Unfortunately, he seems to have forgotten how to read.
The State response [to Gingrich's criticism of the State Department] was ad hominem, attacking the speaker rather than his speech. Pitifully weak invective came from Elizabeth Jones, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who maintains our close friendship with France, Germany and Turkey. "What he said is garbage," our diplomat told Agence France-Presse. "He is an idiot and you can publish that."
"What he is said is garbage" sounds like an attack on his speech, albeit an unoriginal and not terribly focused one. Regarding Ms. Jones assertion that Gingrich is an "idiot," I don't agree that it was an ad hominen attack, but I feel that it is quite inaccurate. As I explained in an earlier post, Gingrich resembles a moron more than an idiot.

Sunday, April 27, 2003


The Bushites have no self doubt or empathy. Some are religious and believe they are on a divine mission, literally to bring the world closer to God. Others are irreligious and wish to remake the world into a place where their power, and therefore their safety, will never be called into question. What unites them, among other things, is an unwavering sense that the world order is broken beyond repair. They live in fear for their lives, their souls, or both.

9/11 proved they were right. For at least forty years, the far right has been screaming that liberals are blind to the danger. They are coming to get us, They cannot be stopped, the only solution is to strike first and obliterate Them. The rhetoric hasn't changed since the days of Goldwater and Lemay. What has changed is that they now have proof. The 9/11 attacks.

Or so they think.

It takes two to tango to make for a 9/11 style terrorist assault. It takes people committed to carry out the acts. It also takes a country that is not paying attention to its intelligence services.

Oh yes, it's a very dangerous world out there. That's why any responsible government crafts an intelligence service that assesses risk and responds to them. Almost by definition, intelligence services are not very competent.

But most adversaries are less so. In 2001, Bush (and by "Bush", I mean both the person and/or the entire administration) deliberately ignored the warnings that were coming from all over so they could focus on Star Wars Redux. When the attacks came, people said "Bin Laden is a super-terrorist, so how could anyone possibly predict such an atrocity?"

Simple. The truth is that bin Laden/al Qaeda are inept.* But the US government in the first nine months of 2001 was worse. They were deliberately neglecting the menace of al Qaeda (not because they were evil, but because they were pursuing their own agendas).By 10:00 am on September 11, however, the US intelligence service was back to its normal level of incompetence.

This has proved good enough to thwart all spectacular acts and most that are less spectacular (July 4, 2002 was the only terrorist attack in the US since 9/11; I think it is at least possible, if not likely, that the "successful" 9/11 attacks were only a fraction of those planned for that day or week, which, if they existed, were thwarted without public acknowledgment). This happened not because of Ashcroft's civil liberties assaults, but simply because now, the intelligence services are paying attention to terrorism again and being listened to.

So for forty years, Chicken Little squawked. One day in September it came true. The sky literally fell and now there's something concrete to point to. The fact that Chicken Little, through inattention, had more than a little involvement in why the sky fell has been swept out of sight.

Of course, I'm not acknowledging here the meta-reasons for the attacks, i.e., arguments that deal with critiques of US foreign policy. As I see it, they are not proximate causes, whatever their value in helping us understand the ecology that nurtures anti-US terror. The two important proximate causes, as I see it, are al Qaeda's vicious agenda and Bush's inattention to US intelligence information.

So now the far right has their "proof" and, if some eggs get broken along the way, well...the omelette is worth it, the far right will be safer. And so might the rest of the world.

To say the least, they are wildly wrong.

*Al Qaeda's incompetence takes many forms.

First, there is the erratic behavior of its "elite" fighters; the "cold, calculating" Atta took truly insane and unnecessary risks, as have many others, going back to the 1993 WTC 1 attacks. The average Qaedian may be a step more psychologically healthy than Zacarias Moussauoui or Richard Reid (the shoebomber), but not much more; such people are in no condition to wreak havoc with weapons more sophisticated than box cutters and homemade bombs.

Second, there is the sheer lack of education. Most of the rank and file are most likely to be literate on a 6th grade US level (Foreign Policy Magazine found notebooks made by students in terrorist camps in Uzbehkistan; while the teachers were knowledgeable about explosives and mines, neither teachers nor students were rocket science. The military knowledge, btw, was not much higher than what was taught as part of compulsory education in the Soviet Union.) Scientific literacy, I'm sure, must be much lower. The "smarter" Qaedians have spent a good deal of their youth memorizing the Qur'an, an impressive feat, but not one that helps one to acquire the skills let alone the mindset to locate, verify, acquire, store, maintain, distribute, and implement even moderately sophisticated technology, let alone devices as rare and complex as nuclear weapons, biological weapons, and chemical devices. Regarding the Pakistani scientists that have met with bin Laden, one needs to remember that it takes more than a handful of scientists to have an effective weapons program, let alone an advanced weapons program.

Third, there is the lack of money. Oh yes, bin Laden has a fortune, but it costs even more to set up a truly efficient international cartel, especially an illegal one. According the The Age of Sacred Terror, the dearth of funds has led to major problems with al Qaeda operations. To see what a well-funded group of bad guys can do, it is useful to look at the cocaine cartels in Colombia, who buy off entire governments, employ wiretaps and surveillance on their operatives, even have a fleet of well-staffed submarines. If the "war against drugs" in the US actually started to be effective, rather than simply helping to manipulate prices or eliminate rivals, their expertise would be seriously troublesome.

Two caveats:

Al Qaeda is very dangerous, nonetheless, and a cause for serious concern. There are a few very smart, quite rational, and creative people involved with bin Laden. They are quite capable of wreaking terrible havoc even with the overall low skill level of the group. They should not be overestimated, certainly. Or underestimated.

As Bush goes about finishing the work of antagonizing every last one of the 1 billion Muslims in the world - as well as infuriating everyone else - the likelihood that the competence of religious terrorists could very easily grow as the pool of recruits grows.

Civilian Body Count Over 2,500 Today  

The count of dead civilians that resulted as a result of the Iraq invasion has reached levels comparable to the 9/11 attacks. Every person that was killed in Iraq/US had a family. Every person that was killed deserved to live. bin Laden's henchmen killed our countrymen. Our countrymen killed Iraqis, whose government or people had nothing to do with the deaths of our countrymen.

Saddam Gone Is Very Good. But the Future Looks Very Bad.  

Once again, I cannot figure out upon what Thomas Friedman's reputation rests. He is at best a poor writer as his column today attests. And his ideas are either unoriginal or wack. Here it's the former - thank God there are no lemons or bubbles in his latest outing:
As far as I'm concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war. That skull, and the thousands more that will be unearthed, are enough for me. Mr. Bush doesn't owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the White House hyped this issue). It is clear that in ending Saddam's tyranny, a huge human engine for mass destruction has been broken.
Here we go again. One more rhetorical loyalty test.

Saddam was a terrible man who perpetrated atrocities. It is good that he is gone. I do not need Friedman, or a terribly arty picture of a skull, to tell me this. It's not the removal of Saddam that is at issue in keeping me, and others, from leaping with joy. It was the illegal, disgraceful, dangerously stupid , greedy, and underhanded way it was accomplished. This is not merely an objection to Bush's cowboy "style," it is a condemnation of egregiously stupid acts that will make the world a far more dangerous place, that will replace the horror of Saddam by unleashing forces that are literally beyond anyone's power of prediction, or control.
We can get rid of the sculptures of Saddam with one tug, but our job is to build a regime in Iraq that won't produce any more battered human skulls. That will be a huge task, which will need many helpers.
The arrogance, the breathtaking arrogance. It is not our job to build or destroy countries. It is our job, first, to defend our country and then, as forcefully as possible pursue international policies that do not add to the world's misery, perhaps even ameliorate some of it.

Regarding egregious human rights abuses, such as those in Iraq - which are not at all uncommon, tragically - it is our job, as moral citizens of the world, to be one voice of many that rallies the rest to a consensual decision regarding a solution. We reap the whilrlwind by actions like Iraq.

As for Iraq? As said before, the only possible path to any kind of sanity in this awful tragedy lies in three steps. The UN must take over the reconstruction efforts to put a working governement in place. US troops must leave immediately, by which I mean within a month.

But by far the most important step on that path, the one which cannot be avoided, is that George W. Bush and his entire government has to step down at the earliest possible opportunity, but no later than January 20, 2005.

The Usefullness of the Useless  

Kevin Drum is great at stimulating thoughts. It's a blast to have him around. Yesterday, he toyed with a question that was actually brought up in England recently, Why bother teaching advanced math?

Almost everyone justified math studies because of its usefulness, i.e., in professions. A few avoided the essence of the question by saying we should teach specific math subjects like stats, but the argument still reduces to one of utlity: by understanding standard deviation, we can catch out politicians easier. A math professor wrote a beautifully worded post that said, in essence, math's usefulness is that it teaches some important ways to think in general.

I deeply, strongly disagree with all these arguments. My response is below, addressed directly to the math professor.

Your defense of the utility of advanced math, that it teaches useful habits of mind, is very eloquent.

But in the absence of empirical studies, I am not convinced. In my field, music, arguments for utility are brought up all the time, in order to justify not cutting back further on the pathetic level of funding music receives.

But musical skills and the training of musical perception do not translate into other life skills, studies have shown. There is no "Mozart effect." I find it equally hard to believe that there is a "Poincare effect" or a "Leibniz effect" (sorry, Kevin).

The real reason to learn advanced math if you are not a mathematician, or music if you are not a musician is intrinsic to itself. It really is worthless and it is pointless to argue otherwise.

The notion that an education is or should be "useful" is rather a new idea and not necessarily entirely a good one.

The content of the modern widely available extended education - which is chockablock with inutility - derives from a time when formal education was rare and the subjects quite rarefied. Hence all sorts of silly things are taught today: calculus, literature, painting, music, even excercise that does not make us healthier, like football. They are all worthless.

Now, why should "my tax dollars" be spent on education and more of it?

Certainly not because of school's practical courses. That's easy and cheap. The skills required to know how to do your craft are, as they always have been, fairly minimal. It's just hunting and gathering tarted up. Even basic skills for citizenship are little more than learning how hunt in packs. Sure, it should be taught. But it couldn't possibly take 12 years to do it. There's just not a lot of knowledge to impart.

The real reason for a widely available and relatively extended period of education of the sort we have and wish to improve lies elsewhere, in a shared sense of the intrinsic, axiomatic importance of knowledge. It lies in the awareness that human beings and their concerns are intrinsically worthy, not because of their "purpose" in being better wage earners, better hunters and gatherers, but simply because that's a lot of what humans are concerned about: knowledge.

That's the real reason my tax dollars should be spent on schools that teach stuff like imaginary numbers or the periodic table or altered 7th chords.

A culture that values hunting and gathering but decries human values is precisely the culture the right wingers wish to inflict upon us. Hence, their hostility to public education funding. It has no practical value. Hence, their hostility to the arts.

To sum up: To argue a subject's usefulness is to argue on their terms: it is, for anything we really care about, a futile argument and we will lose it.

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