Saturday, May 31, 2003

Great Ideas In Foreign Policy: A Bad Idea.  

In his most recent post, Josh Marshall makes the point he's made numerous times before, and rightly, that the goal of the Bush administration was to "remake" the Middle East, but the only way they could sell the idea was to trump up the WMDs.

But then, Josh still believes that this idea, of preemptively invading countries to jump start democracy is still a good idea, referring us to his June, 2002 article. There he argues that neo-cons have a great idea, but they're too flaky. So to implement the great idea, talk to Powell about how to do it.

This argument was, and still is, profoundly flawed. The Butterfly effect, law of unintended consequences, blowback - whatever you want to call it, the fact of the matter is that countries and foreign policy are not predictable in the way that simplistic assumptions of the Perle type rely on. Josh agrees that Perle and Co. don't know very much about the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, but believes they have an "amazing" vision. This is wrong. The "vision" is not founded on facts but on little more than latenight college bull session reasoning. It cannot, and has not, worked as planned.

I like Josh Marshall a lot and he's studied this stuff more than I have. But! His June 2002 article itself reveals a deep flaw of the Great Idea.

Let's for a moment accept his premise that conquering the Middle East and imposing democracy is a great idea. Josh proposes locking the neocons out of strategy and getting Colin Powell to run the show.

What's wrong with that? Plenty. It has nothing to do with reality. A search of Josh's article turns up not a single mention of Donald Rumsfeld. He neglected to include that variable into his algorithm. A rather important one, considering that Rumsfeld, not Powell, runs Defense.

So the conquest of Iraq did not proceed as Josh imagined it, with huge amounts of troops. And it's taking a lot longer than anyone believed it would, except us Cassandras.

The problem is this. Little details, like forgetting who actually runs the war, plague Great Ideas In Foreign Policy. Little details like forgetting to include Afghanistan in the annual budget. Multiply that over the millions of decisions required to conquer a country, let alone a region, and it clearly becomes impossible to do, even with Powell in charge.

Great Ideas In Foreign Policy is an idea that has limited utility. It nearly always leads into trouble. Clinton's approach, not as sexy, is far more intelligent.

More at a later time.

Honest WMD Debate In Europe, Not Here  

Tony Blair is really feeling the heat over the missing WMDs, according to this article. Here in the US, tho, Bush's enablers have adapted the Hydra strategy: Pose a lame justification; when it gets knocked down, pose two more to take its place.

[UPDATE] Do I know whether there are WMDs in Iraq? I honestly don't know. Neither did Bush or Blair, but Bush at least didn't care.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Boycott Persian Rugs!  

So now Iran can be sued for the '83 Hezbollah Beirut Bombing. The judge called it the worst terrorist attack on Americans prior to Sept 11. What is it about Republican presidents that makes it so difficult for them to ward off these mega-terror incidents?

US/UK Death Toll In Iraq  

Daily Kos has an excellent breakdown of the count. In the last 28 day period, the death toll rose slightly.

Guess All Those False WMD Findings Worked  

41% of Americans said they believed that the US has found such weapons (34%) or were unsure (7%). Get your own copy of the polls in pdf format here.

For the record, as of the time of this posting, NO WMD's have been found in Iraq. Are there any? I wouldn't have the slightest idea. Did Bush know if there any? I don't think he had the slightest idea, but he didn't care.

via Cursor

UPDATE 6.02.03: In an email, Markus drew my attention to a mistake in the statistic summary in the first sentence. It is now correct. Thanks, Markus!

Hillary Clinton Is Different From You and Me  

The NY Times has an article about Hillary Clinton which notes the disappointment many on the left feel about her actions as Senator. I, too, am dismayed by her support of the Iraq war resolution and her seeming invisibility during the war itself. I wasn't that aware of during how she behaved during the Santorum flap, but she should be embarassed that she didn't take an forceful stand earlier. This is but one of many gay rights issues that she's ducked. It is exasperating. I expected more from her.

That said...

There are only two, possibly three, people alive in the US who are qualified to be president of the US: Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton. The country and the world deserve someone of this caliber running the country. (I include Powell not because I agree with his politics, but because as much as I would dislike seeing him President, he is, I think, qualified for it.)

Since Bill Clinton can't run and Colin Powell won't run, Hillary Clinton is really the only decent presidential candidate currently on the horizon. But she is more than decent. She has shown herself to be tough but without a vindictive streak, smart but not someone who gets bogged down in details, loyal but perfectly willing to use her ability to charm to forge coalitions with the most unlikely Republican partners. Finally, she has shown herself to be capable of learning from mistakes. She, of all people, knows full well how disastrous the health care debacle was and her role in it. Clinton has the political skills, the intelligence, and the experience to become one of the country's greatest presidents. And she knows it.

By prominently supporting gay rights and opposing the war right now, Senator Clinton would be doing an enormous amount of good and demonstrate the courage of her convictions. But what she risks by entering the flap over Santorum is becoming President in '08 which would put her in a position where she could do even more good for gays.

In the short run, Santorum can, and has, done a lot of damage. In the long run, however, Santorum is a loser. Not only because he's not terribly intelligent, but because there is no question that same sex marriages will probably become legal sometime in the next 30 years; at the very least, straight people in the US will continue to grow in tolerance of gays. For her to enter the fray on the Santorum level is to engage an utterly worthless opponent. By acknowledging him, Clinton diverts attention away from herself and her goals and plays on Santorum's shabby little field. Finally, by not calling for his resignation from leadership positions in the Senate, Clinton recognizes full well that keeping a fool like Santorum in plain sight, where he will certainly mouth off again and in even a more damaging way, can only help Democrats, including herself.

Clinton's short term goal, and she thinks of 6 years as "short term," is to disarm her blood opponents, the Republicans who nearly brought down the Clinton presidency. She believes she must build relationships that will make it very difficult for them to do the same when she becomes president. Her long term goal, that is, the achievements her presidency could bring, determine her day to day political calculations. That is exactly right.

Regarding the war, I cannot possibly understand where she is coming from. I've heard that privately she is exceedingly worried about the unlimited power Bush has abrogated for himself. Publicly, she has acted, to be perfectly frank, disgracefully. She knew better than to vote for that resolution in the fall of '02. She knew full well that all the "intelligence" propagated by the Bushites about Iraq was bogus. She also knew that the war could not possibly make us safer and that people would die. If I were Hillary Clinton, I would have stood on my principles and simply refused to go along.

But I am not Hillary and neither are you. She thinks very differently than we do. She makes political calculations that are simply beyond our capacity to make. We are not qualified for the presidency. She is, and the terrible decision she made about Iraq -terrible in many ways - is not a decision any of us will ever have to face. I, for one, am grateful for that.

Again: I hate the fact that she supported the war, I cannot understand how anyone can make that kind of moral calculus when lives are at stake. I'm extremely annoyed that she won't enthusiastically fight the good fight on behalf of gays and others who are currently being used as punching bags by right wing louts.

But when she runs in '08, I will vote for her, with enthusiasm. Because without a doubt, she, of all the people in national life today, may have the potential for greatness.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Katrina Leung Update  

The strange story of Katrina Leung no longer concerns many of the cool kids. Being decidedly uncool and unhip - especially now that the NY Times says the right wing is the New Black - I thought I'd check in as I think it is a major scandal in the making. Turns out that the trial has been delayed until November, but recently, Asia Times did an excellent summary of it.
Behind the headlines, there is plenty of discomfiture all around. It is yet another monumental embarrassment for the FBI and the Republican Party in the United States, whose leaders for years delivered blistering accusations of treason against the Democratic administration of president Bill Clinton for allegedly giving away state and military secrets to the Chinese. Now, it appears, if the charges against Leung are true, it was a highly placed Republican giving away the secrets, and FBI agents who were witting or unwitting participants. Certainly, with a Republican administration in power in Washington, DC, federal authorities and congressional leaders have gone inordinately quiet, to Democratic glee, after calling for a seemingly never-ending parade of public congressional hearings into allegations against the Democrats.

"Will the FBI look into Leung's donations to the Republican Party and her activist involvement with the GOP [Grand Old Party, or Republicans]? Don't bet the ranch on it," said a Democratic newsletter, Buzz/Flash News Analysis. The newsletter and other Democratic organs have repeatedly asked whether Leung had been passing along Chinese government money to influence the Republicans, as the Republicans, in a tit-for-tat, had charged the Democrats with doing during the Clinton administration .
If you read the whole article, you'll learn that Leung was not only sleeping with at least two FBI agents but apparently quite a few Chinese officials as well. That is far less important than her apparent role as a conduit for Chinese funds to the Republican Party and her role in the coverup of same at the FBI.

And here's a rare US mention these days of Leung's Republican Party connections, from a Washington Post columnist:
Now Katrina Leung, alleged Chinese spy, alleged seducer of FBI agents and confirmed generous donor to California Republicans, has joined Johnny Chung (donor to Democrats) and Wen Ho Lee (nuclear scientist) in the pantheon of accused malefactors in the complex U.S.-China relationship. But you don't hear many politicians -- certainly not many Republicans -- sounding dire warnings about her, nor about any other aspect of the Bush administration's increasingly collegial relationship with China.

Nine more US Soldiers Died This Week. Nine.  

That means total coalition casualties in Iraq increased by more than 4% this week alone.
In the ninth U.S. military casualty this week, an American soldier traveling with a convoy on a supply route north of Baghdad was killed today after coming under hostile fire, the Pentagon reported.
The soldier, who was not identified pending notification of family, was evacuated to the 21st Combat Support Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

WMD Hype Quotes By Bush And Friends  

From Billmon with thanks to Kevin Drum for the heads up:
Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

Dick Cheney
August 26, 2002

Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

George W. Bush
September 12, 2002

If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.

Ari Fleischer
December 2, 2002

We know for a fact that there are weapons there.

Ari Fleischer
January 9, 2003

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.

George W. Bush
January 28, 2003

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.

Colin Powell
February 5, 2003

We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.

George Bush
February 8, 2003

So has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad? I think our judgment has to be clearly not.

Colin Powell
March 8, 2003

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

George Bush
March 17, 2003

Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly . . . all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.

Ari Fleisher
March 21, 2003

There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. As this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them.

Gen. Tommy Franks
March 22, 2003

I have no doubt we're going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction.

Defense Policy Board member Kenneth Adelman
March 23, 2003

One of our top objectives is to find and destroy the WMD. There are a number of sites.

Pentagon Spokeswoman Victoria Clark
March 22, 2003

We know where they are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad.

Donald Rumsfeld
March 30, 2003

Obviously the administration intends to publicize all the weapons of mass destruction U.S. forces find -- and there will be plenty.

Neocon scholar Robert Kagan
April 9, 2003

I think you have always heard, and you continue to hear from officials, a measure of high confidence that, indeed, the weapons of mass destruction will be found.

Ari Fleischer
April 10, 2003

We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them.

George Bush
April 24, 2003

There are people who in large measure have information that we need . . . so that we can track down the weapons of mass destruction in that country.

Donald Rumsfeld
April 25, 2003

We'll find them. It'll be a matter of time to do so.

George Bush
May 3, 2003

I am confident that we will find evidence that makes it clear he had weapons of mass destruction.

Colin Powell
May 4, 2003

I never believed that we'd just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country.

Donald Rumsfeld
May 4, 2003

I'm not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein -- because he had a weapons program.

George W. Bush
May 6, 2003

U.S. officials never expected that "we were going to open garages and find" weapons of mass destruction.

Condoleeza Rice
May 12, 2003

I just don't know whether it was all destroyed years ago -- I mean, there's no question that there were chemical weapons years ago -- whether they were destroyed right before the war, (or) whether they're still hidden.

Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, Commander 101st Airborne
May 13, 2003

Before the war, there's no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical. I expected them to be found. I still expect them to be found.

Gen. Michael Hagee , Commandant of the Marine Corps
May 21, 2003

Given time, given the number of prisoners now that we're interrogating, I'm confident that we're going to find weapons of mass destruction.

Gen. Richard Myers , Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
May 26, 2003

They may have had time to destroy them, and I don't know the answer.

Donald Rumsfeld
May 27, 2003

For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.

Paul Wolfowitz
May 28, 2003

Bad News? Bury It And Fire The Messengers  

From the BBC
The Bush administration reportedly buried a report commissioned by the US Treasury which predicted a budget deficit of over $44,000bn and called for tax rises.
In a front-page story Britain's Financial Times said the report, which advocated tax rises, was left out of February's budget report as the White House lobbied for $350bn in tax cuts.

* * *

The newspaper said the study was "the most comprehensive assessment of how the US government is at risk of being overwhelmed by the 'baby boom' generation's future healthcare and retirement costs".

"It estimates that closing the gap would require the equivalent of an immediate and permanent 66% across-the-board income tax increase," the FT said.

* * *

The FT reported that former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who was sacked from the administration in December, commissioned the paper.

Two leading US Treasury economists headed the study - Kent Smetters, former Treasury deputy assistant secretary for economic policy, and Jagdessh Gokhale, a Treasury consultant at the time.
[UPDATE] Kevin Drum looked at everything pretty closely and he writes,"The FT piece pretty clearly implied that the report was suppressed for political reasons, and while this is a reasonable guess it's not really backed up by the interviews. They seem to have overreached on this one."

The important point is that given the Bush administration's propensity for suppressing bad news rather than reporting it honestly, they probably did suppress it for political reasons. But the interviews FT based their report on don't go quite that far.

George W. Bush Resume  

Past work experience:

  • Ran for congress and lost.
  • Produced a Hollywood slasher B movie.
  • Bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas, company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.
  • Bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using tax-payer money. Biggest move: Traded Sammy Sosa to the Chicago White Sox.
  • With fathers help (and his name) was elected Governor of Texas.
  • Accomplishments: Changed pollution laws for power and oil companies and made Texas the most polluted state in the Union. Replaced Los Angeles with Houston as the most smog ridden city in America. Cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas government to the tune of billions in borrowed money. Set record for most executions by any Governor in American history.
  • Became president after losing the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, with the help of my fathers appointments to the Supreme Court.

 Accomplishments as president:

  • Attacked and took over two countries.
  • Spent the surplus and bankrupted the treasury.
  • Shattered record for biggest annual deficit in history.
  • Set economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12 month period.
  • Set all-time record for biggest drop in the history of the stock market.
  • First president in decades to execute a federal prisoner.
  • First president in US history to enter office with a criminal record.
  • First year in office set the all-time record for most days on vacation by any president in US history.
  • After taking the entire month of August off for vacation, presided over the worst security failure in US history.
  • Set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips than any other president in US history.
  • In my first two years in office over 2 million Americans lost their job.
  • Cut unemployment benefits for more out of work Americans than any president in US history.
  • Set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12 month period.
  • Appointed more convicted criminals to administration positions than any president in US history.
  • Set the record for the least amount of press conferences than any president since the advent of television.
  • Signed more laws and executive orders amending the Constitution than any president in US history.
  • Presided over the biggest energy crises in US history and refused to intervene when corruption was revealed.
  • Presided over the highest gasoline prices in US history and refused to use the national reserves as past presidents have.
  • Cut healthcare benefits for war veterans.
  • Set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously take to the streets to protest me (15 million people), shattering the record for protest against any person in the history of mankind. (
  • Dissolved more international treaties than any president in US history.
  • My presidency is the most secretive and un-accountable of any in US history.
  • Members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in US history. (the 'poorest' multi-millionaire, Condoleeza Rice has an Chevron oil tanker named after her).
  • First president in US history to have all 50 states of the Union simultaneously go bankrupt.
  • Presided over the biggest corporate stock market fraud of any market in any country in the history of the world.
  • First president in US history to order a US attack and military occupation of a sovereign nation.
  • Created the largest government department bureaucracy in the history of the United States.
  • Set the all-time record for biggest annual budget spending increases, more than any president in US history.
  • First president in US history to have the United Nations remove the US from the human rights commission.
  • First president in US history to have the United Nations remove the US from the elections monitoring board.
  • Removed more checks and balances, and have the least amount of congressional oversight than any presidential administration in US history.
  • Rendered the entire United Nations irrelevant.
  • Withdrew from the World Court of Law.
  • Refused to allow inspectors access to US prisoners of war and by default no longer abide by the Geneva Conventions.
  • First president in US history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 US elections).
  • All-time US (and world) record holder for most corporate campaign donations.
  • My biggest life-time campaign contributor presided over one of the largest corporate bankruptcy frauds in world history (Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron Corporation).
  • Spent more money on polls and focus groups than any president in US history.
  • First president in US history to unilaterally attack a sovereign nation against the will of the United Nations and the world community.
  • First president to run and hide when the US came under attack (and then lied saying the enemy had the code to Air Force 1)
  • First US president to establish a secret shadow government.
  • Took the biggest world sympathy for the US after 911, and in less than a year made the US the most resented country in the world (possibly the biggest diplomatic failure in US and world history).
  • With a policy of 'dis-engagement' created the most hostile Israeli-Palestine relations in at least 30 years.
  • First US president in history to have a majority of the people of Europe (71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and stability.
  • First US president in history to have the people of South Korea more threatened by the US than their immediate neighbor, North Korea.
  • Changed US policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded government contracts.
  • Set all-time record for number of administration appointees who violated US law by not selling huge investments in corporations bidding for government contracts.
  • Failed to fulfill my pledge to get Osama Bin Laden 'dead or alive'.
  • Failed to capture the anthrax killer who tried to murder the leaders of our country at the United States Capitol building. After 18 months I have no leads and zero suspects.
  • In the 18 months following the 911 attacks I have successfully prevented any public investigation into the biggest security failure in the history of the United States.
  • Removed more freedoms and civil liberties for Americans than any other president in US history.
  • In a little over two years created the most divided country in decades, possibly the most divided the US has ever been since the civil war.
  • Entered office with the strongest economy in US history and in less than two years turned every single economic category heading straight down.

Records and References:

  • At least one conviction for drunk driving in Maine (Texas driving record has been erased and is not available).
  • AWOL from National Guard and Deserted the military during a time of war.
  • Refused to take drug test or even answer any questions about drug use.
  • All records of my tenure as governor of Texas have been spirited away to my fathers library, sealed in secrecy and un-available for public view.
  • All records of any SEC investigations into my insider trading or bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and un-available for public view.
  • All minutes of meetings for any public corporation I served on the board are sealed in secrecy and un-available for public view.
  • Any records or minutes from meetings I (or my VP) attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and un-available for public review.
  • For personal references please speak to my daddy or uncle James Baker (They can be reached at their offices of the Carlyle Group for war-profiteering.)

Compiled by Kelly Kramer. Current as of 4/25/03

Bob Herbert  

He truly has found his voice. A pity it had to come by having Bush as president.
We are closing schools and libraries in America, and withholding lifesaving drugs and medical treatment from the poor. The middle class is struggling ever harder to make ends meet, and reshaping its dreams of the future.

In Washington, they're celebrating.

NY Times: Tax Law Omits Child Credit in Low-Income Brackets  

I'm Shocked, shocked!
A last-minute revision by House and Senate leaders in the tax bill that President Bush signed today will prevent millions of minimum-wage families from receiving the increased child credit that is in the measure, say Congressional officials and outside groups.

Most taxpayers will receive a $400-a-child check in the mail this summer as a result of the law, which raises the child tax credit, to $1,000 from $600. It had been clear from the beginning that the wealthiest families would not receive the credit, which is intended to phase out at high incomes.

But after studying the bill approved on Friday, liberal and child advocacy groups discovered that a different group of families would also not benefit from the $400 increase — families who make just above the minimum wage.
For those who don't get the NY Times, however, the full impact of the way the law was reported in the paper will be lost. There was a huge picture of Bush signing the law. And the caption read "Tax Law Omits Child Credit in Low-Income Brackets." Somebody got some furious emails at the Times today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Evangelicals Trying To Convert Muslims  

Eeuch. What they don't understand about spirituality would fill several small galaxies.
a recent Saturday in a church fellowship hall here, evangelical Christians from several states gathered for an all-day seminar on how to woo Muslims away from Islam.

* * *

At the grass roots of evangelical Christianity, many are now absorbing the antipathy for Islam that emerged last year with the incendiary comments of ministers. The sharp language, from religious leaders like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jerry Vines, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has drawn rebukes from Muslims and Christian groups alike. Mr. Graham called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion, and Mr. Vines called Muhammad, Islam's founder and prophet, a "demon-possessed pedophile."

* * *

Evangelicals have always believed that all other religions are wrong, but what is notable now is the vituperation.

* * *

Evangelical scholars and leaders cite several reasons for their quickening interest in Islam: the American defeat of a major Muslim nation, Iraq, which may open it to Christian missionaries, while other Muslim nations remain closed; the 2001 terrorist attacks, which led many Americans to see Islam as a global threat; the greater numbers and visibility of Muslims in the United States, and the demise of Communism, once public enemy No. 1 for many evangelical organizations.

* * *

[The anonymous teacher] spoke of a childhood friend in Beirut who joined the Hezbollah terrorist network and showed off his victims' severed ears. Another friend, he said, was threatened with death by his father when he converted to Christianity. (The teacher did not mention the Phalangist Christian militias that helped stoke Lebanon's civil war.)

* * *

Pat McEvoy, a secretary at a high school in Columbus, said she had known very little about Islam before the seminar. Her school has an influx of students from Somalia, and as she walked through the hallways she regarded these immigrants as "a virtual mission field."

She said she felt an obligation to save them from an eternity in Hell.

"If I had the answer for cancer, what sort of a human would I be not to share it?" Ms. McEvoy said.

Pickering In A Nutshell: The Guy Misled Everyone On His Segregationist Ties  

Silver Rights has an excellent, excellent summary of the odious Charles Pickering. Read the whole thing and then write your congressfolks AGAIN to make sure he isn't confirmed.

I disagree with only one sentence in the article: "It would be hard to find a person less suited for the position [of a judge on the Fifth Circuit]". I have no doubt that Bush will find them. None at all. Not that I'm suggesting Pickering should be confirmed, just that Bush is a bottom-feeder and the swamp where Pickering came from has plenty of slimy creatures.

As Close As We'll Ever Get To The Official 9/11 Story  

I swear, this is NOT The Onion. There really, really is a film in production about 9/11 made with the full cooperation of the White House
A copy of the script obtained by The Globe and Mail reveals a prime-time drama starring a nearly infallible, heroic president with little or no dissension in his ranks and a penchant for delivering articulate, stirring, off-the-cuff addresses to colleagues.
But read the whole article if you dare. It stars Timothy Bottoms as the president.

Thanks, I guees, to Atrios for bringing the attention of the blogosphere to this epic in progress.

Arguing With The Right: Conservative Strategies  

[For some reason, this was posted prematurely. This is the complete version.]

In the same batch of letters referred to below is a minor anti-masterpiece of right wing rhetoric. It is important to look at the techniques carefully and in detail because they are deployed so rapidly that it is impossible to fend them off without a clear understanding of how many smoke and mirrors one is dealing with.

First, let's read the whole letter.The letter writer is referring to Paul Krugman's column, Stating the Obvious, which went into considerable detail about the disasters inherent in the Bush tax cut:
The hysterical hand-wringing by the left over the modest tax cut just passed by Congress would have some credibility if there were a reaction in the bond market, which is unforgiving when it comes to policy blunders (column, May 27).

A year ago, some asserted that rising deficits would send interest rates higher; yet interest rates continue to fall, showing that investors are not as concerned about deficits.

Reasonable people can disagree about the composition of this tax cut, but the need for stimulus is beyond question when an economy slides.

To worry now about reducing deficits is comparable to putting leeches on ailing patients 300 years ago: it will make the patient sicker. Thankfully, the bond market understands this.
There is not a single genuine argument in this letter. The closest one gets is the odd assertion that if we were to so little as even worry about deficits, let alone act to reduce them, we would be embarking on an extremely dangerous course. But that is an assertion, not an argument, and not a single fact is employed to back it up. The main strategies the author uses in his letter are all logical or rhetorical fallacies - that's right, all of his tactics add up to just so much poppycock. They include:

1. Ad Hominem attacks
2. Arguing from authority
3. Non sequitur
4. Straw man

Let's look closer:

Ad Hominem Attacks

There are an astonishing number of unpleasant disses deployed in four tiny paragraphs. Leftwingers are hysterics, handwringers, lacking in credibility, unreasonable, leeches, prone to make matters worse, and clueless.

All of this is backed up with...nothing. These are merely crude smears and name-calling based on no facts. The purpose is to totally discredit "the left" before even beginning the discussion and to continue to do so at every opportunity. Here are the details:

The author starts in immediately impugning the character of his unnamed opponents (neither Krugman nor anyone else is specifically mentioned): "The hysterical hand wringing of the left." Translated: "The left is hysterical. The left is a bunch of worry warts."

But because the attack is generalized, there is another level to these disses. The author is employing the common technique I call "above the fray." That is, he is saying "they are hysterical hand-wringers, but I am not, therefore you can trust me" a point he tries to reinforce in the next two phrases but again without troubling with facts. First he trots out the word "modest," dismissing the hysteria as a tempest in a teapot to "objective observers." Then, by deceptively posing as "fair and balanced" - he is nothing of the sort as is clear from the 2nd word in the letter onwards -he "concedes" that if the bond market reacted, then maybe they might have a point. This is just for show, of course, because the left would still be hysterical hand-wringers.

More subtle uses of ad hominem can be found. For example, here's some innuendo: "Reasonable people can disagree," but his opponents are not: by definition, hysterical left wing hand-wringers are unreasonable. Another innuendo can be found in the last paragraph, where he makes a grammatically incoherent analogy, comparing the mere act of worrying about tax cuts to leeches. He meant leeching, of course, but he wanted to use a more powerful form of the word. He wanted to say something extremely nasty but deny that he was doing so. What he is really saying is that the left are leeches who can only make the country worse. The reason for his grammatical error was simply his wish to have his cake and eat it too, rhetorically speaking.

But he's not done yet! There's one final little swipe. His last sentence "the bond market understands this" clearly implies that the hand-wringers don't understand at all.

Arguing from authority

There are, as with the ad hominem attacks, multiple levels of "authority" going on in the letter. The author claims that the only, or major, arbiter of policy blunders is the bond market. By using the word "unforgiving", he clearly implies that the bond market knows the truth, that it is not only a good authority but an authority that is always right, similar to the way Santa knows if you've been bad or good, similar to the way a fundamentalist claims the Bible is always right.

But, of course, the bond market, being a human creation and not the result of a good scientific experiment or robust mathematical proof, can be wrong. Since all authorities can make mistakes, they can be refuted merely by appealing to a different authority. And in fact, a governor of the Federal Reserve Board, in a speech before members of The Bond Market Trade Association said "...let me start by deflating the notion that an omniscient bond market always gets it right..." and then explains how he came to this conclusion. One needs logic, not authorities, to make an argument cohere. By relying only on an "unforgiving" authority here, his whole argument collapses like a house of cards.

I don't know enough about bond markets to argue how reliable they can be; for all I know, bond market performances are the most robust indicators of an economy, or then again maybe not. The issue is not what he's saying, but the way he tries to prove what he's saying. Again, the problem with arguments from authoritiy is that unless they are literally infallible, they can be wrong. And the behavior of the bond market today may in fact be one of those times. It is up to the letter writer to demonstrate that the reasons advanced by the Governor of the Federal Reserve do not apply. For that he needs to present facts for our evaluation, which he does not do.

The second level of authority is an assumption, more like a theft on the part of the letter writer of being the sole arbiter of what is good or bad. He claims that he is in a position to know what is going on and that he i is in a position to recognize hysteria and hand-wringing as opposed to genuine concern for example. More importantly, he claims he knows enough to proclaim the tax cut "modest." Notice that as a self-elected authority, the author merely asserts the "modesty" of the tax cuts, sidestepping Krugman's argument that they are in reality enormous cuts that have been disguised. Given the fact that not a single argument is presented to counter Krugman directly, there is no reason to trust his belief that the tax cuts are indeed modest and every reason to trust Krugman. Given the absence of facts and his resort to so many crude rhetorical tactics, it would be not unreasonable to suspect that our author -whatever his strengths - is no authority on taxes or deficits at all, but merely has a profound dislike of "the left" and is indulging his propensity for liberal bashing. For all I know, he may be right, but he isn't proving it at all in the way he argues.

Non sequitur

All of our author's ad hominen attacks on the left are non sequiturs, completely irrelevant digressions which add nothing to his claims either that the tax cuts are modest or the bond market knows what it's doing. But there is an even more glaring non-sequitur: "the need for stimulus is beyond question when an economy slides." That need for stimulus was never the subject at hand and he know it. I'll come back to that phrase in a moment.

Straw Man

The Straw Man is the tactic of deliberately misstating an opponent's argument, then arguing against the misstatement because that is easier to refute than the actual argument. It's a common tactic. Again, the important part of the Straw Man is the deliberate mischaracterizatio of an opponent's stance.

The first hint of a straw man (perhaps a straw fetus?) comes in the opening phrase, "The hysterical hand-wringing of the left." It begs the question, who are these lefties? At the end of the sentence, we are informed he is replying to Krugman's column of May 27. If we look at the column, however, we find that the only persons mentioned are the "normally staid Financial Times" who are so alarmed at Bush's tax cuts that they have been driven to categorically declaring, "The lunatics are now in charge of the asylum." Whatever the writers of FT are, they are not lefties, but our author - who surely knows this - counts on us not knowing that. He misrepresents their political stance and proceeds to attack FT as part of the hysterical left. They most assuredly are not.

We find the tactic repeated in the next sentence, "A year ago, some asserted that rising deficits would send interest rates higher..." Again, who precisely are these "some"? Does that include Financial Times? Krugman? The author's uncle? In this case, he is misrepresenting who he is arguing with, impugning a position to FT, Krugman, or his uncle for that matter, which they may not share.

(By the way, Bush uses this variant of Straw Man all the time. For example, in The Washington Post on April 23, 2003Bush said, "Some members of Congress support tax relief but say my proposal is too big. Since they already agree that tax relief creates jobs, it doesn't make sense to provide less tax relief and, therefore, create fewer jobs." Aside from the nearly unbelievable lapse in logic at the heart of this quote, and the intellectually dishonest use of the phrase "tax relief", notice again the appearance of "some." Precisely who are these congressfolks? We never learn, because Bush has managed to condense and caricature his opponents' numerous objections. After all, there are "some" in Congress who felt that his proposal was not too big, but totally wrong. He doesn't address anything substantive. The final insult to our intelligence is his totally drunken line of reasoning - if a little is good, more is better. It's astounding anyone lets him get away with this nonsense.)

A third, and more classic, example of a Straw Man employs the non-sequitur noted earlier, "Reasonable people can disagree about the composition of this tax cut, but the need for stimulus is beyond question when an economy slides." This was never in dispute. It is a gross mischaracterization of Krugman's column, or his entire argument over the past year, to claim otherwise. The Straw Man is there to imply, wrongly, that Krugman and others are arguing against the need to stimulate the economy. Of course, Krugman agrees there is a need for a stimulus. The question remains, what kind?

The point of this admittedly exhaustive analysis is to demonstrate how thoroughly logical fallacies are interwoven into the fabric of right wing rhetoric. How on earth can one respond to this? One thing is certain: while we can usefully refuse to acknowledge any further communique's from the author of this letter, it simply will not do to ignore such tactics when employed by anyone important in the Bush administration.

The first step, I think, is to point to the elephant in the room. Call attention to the use of an enormous number of rhetorical fallacies. Make it clear that you know they are common tactics used to deceive listeners into thinking an argument is stronger than it really is. Demand that the opponent stop resorting to such cheap tricks and stick to the facts.

The second step is to insist upon talking in specifics: who are the hysterics? Name them and describe their arguments and from that position, point out strengths and flaws.

The third step is to demonstrate that when one strips away all the logical fallacies, there is really no responsible argument with the facts if such is the case. Take the assertion that the US will now get what the author claims is a "modest" $320 billion tax cut but, as Krugman says, it is actually an $800 billion taxcut when looked at carefully. The author simply must confront and rebut the calculation, because no matter how much enjoyment the author receives from demonizing Krugman, the math is still the real issue.

Regarding his larger point, that worrying about deficits now will cause more harm than good, an opponent must be prepared to demonstrate with facts why now is the proper time to worry indeed and why ignoring deficits is far worse.

Most importantly, however is this: Nothing of substance can be addressed properly as long as the discussion takes place within a skewed framework unfairly constructed by an opponent's deliberate, unceasing reliance upon logical fallacies. There simply is no point talking facts while one is fending off so many distractions.

Therefore, it is essential, I believe, for anyone trying to argue with the right to demand a level playing field: no cheap smears, no cheap debating tricks, just facts. Let the chips fall where they may, then. For I am confident they will fall on our side.

Krugman's Question Answered  

Yesterday, Paul Krugman asked the question that history will surely acknowledge as the question of our time, "When will the public wake up?" Jeanne d'Arc followed up with the more pressing issue: "What do we do to wake them up?" And I asked my own question, not at all rhetorically: What would it look like, if the public did wake up?

And now today, a letter to the editor from Lola Ferris helps answer Jeann'e question (and Krugmans) and gives some idea of what the answer to mine might look like:
People will be aroused to anger at the train wreck ahead only when the Democrats in Congress start showing some guts and begin exposing this administration's plan. They should be putting their indignation in print, articulating it on talk shows and protesting it in every forum.

We elected our leaders to represent the interests of ordinary people, not to look the other way as government officials race our democracy down the road to ruination.
When the Democrats speak out, and forcefully, the people will wake up.

We are waiting. Now is the time.

It's The Same Old Song  

Well, I guess it worked well with Saddam. Nothing, but nothing the Iranians could possibly do will suffice.
The Bush administration said today that it had received word that Iran had recently arrested some Al Qaeda members operating in its territory, but that the actions had failed to ease American concerns about Iranian support for terrorist activities.

"The steps that the Iranians claim to have taken in terms of capturing Al Qaeda are insufficient," Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said, after news reports of the arrests from Tehran. "It is important that Iran live up to its commitments and obligations not to harbor terrorists."
The point, of course, is to frighten the Iranians, "Look what I did to Saddam. I'm perfectly prepared to do the exact same thing to you unless you do exactly what I say."

Bush is also counting on Iran taking one look at its borders and realizing: Oh dear, Iraq to one side, Afghanistan on the other, Bush has us surrounded.

But If I were Mr. Khameni, I would call Bush's bluff. First, I (meaning Khameni) don't like al Qaeda anymore than you do, probably even less 'cause I hate Sunni scum. me being Shia. Why on earth would I want al Qaeda in my country?

Second of all, who says we're surrounded by the US? Sure, you can launch an attack if you wanted to act stupidly, but you can't possibly follow through without using nukes and you will do everything possible never to start a nuke war. Everyone knows that Afghanistan and Iraq are in a state of near total anarchy. And the US has neither the will nor the manpower to maintain genuine order. So instead of two countries breeding bin Ladens like rabbits, there'll be three. And when you stop paying attention, we'll just take over Iraq. As for Afghanistan, who cares?

Third of all, the situation is not comparable to Iraq. Our country is in the middle of a complicated power struggle but one thing is certain: we don't want you to interfere. You will unite even the most ardent secularist with the most devout religious. This won't be a cakewalk and bribes won't work too well.

Finally, Mr. Bush, don't kid yourself, you can't afford it and we know it. And no one in the world is going to help you. Not even your poodle.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Write Judge Not To Sentence 3 Nuns To Jail  

Via Tom Tomorrow comes the story that three nuns face 8 years after being convicted of "sabotage."
On July 25, they will be sentenced to federal prison for obstructing national defense and damaging public property.
"We will joyfully accept the consequences of our civil resistance," Platte said.

The sisters admit to having been surprised by the guilty verdict last month. That snipping a hole in the chain-link fence surrounding a Minuteman III missile, praying and making crosses with their own blood could be considered acts of sabotage seemed ridiculous.

"I believe under the laws of the land and international law, we are not guilty," Gilbert said.
"There's no question," Platte said, "if we had a legal trial, we would have been acquitted. We had a political trial.

"We are political prisoners."

But the guilty verdict has not left them defeated. "You can jail the resister, but you can't jail the resistance," Platte said.
I've sent the following letter. Feel free to copy and use it yourself:

Judge Robert Blackburn
c/oSusan M. Heckman
Senior US Probation Officer
1961 Stout St.. Suite 525 Denver, CO 80294-0101

BY Fax (303) 844 5439

Dear Judge Blackburn,

I understand that Jackie Hudson, OP, Carol Gilbert OP and Ardeth Platte OP are scheduled to sentenced July 25, for defacing a Minuteman Missile.

Without in any way expressing support for their specific acts of protest, I fully support their opposition to the war which clearly arose from the frustration that millions of Americans share in making their opinions known to the Bush administration.

I believe that sentencing these nuns to any jail time would be an extreme punishment for the acts they did, which did not lead to endangering either lives or property.

Like the nuns themselves, I believe that the Iraq war is (not “was,” as it is far from over) a terrible catastrophe. So far, more than 140 US military soldiers have died, as have British troops. Two more US soldiers were reported killed today. The full measure of the slaughter visited upon the Iraqis has not been made public but civilian casualties alone number more than 7000; the Iraqi army casualties are uncounted by anyone. And to say the least, it will take at least 3 years to learn whether Bush’s preemptive attack made the US safer or more vulnerable, for 3 years is the time between the Gulf War and first bin Laden attack in America. Logic and commonsense point to the near certainty that attacking a country without provocation and slaughtering it citizens will spark retaliations, no matter how heinously that country was ruled.

I fervently hope that the situation that sparked the nuns’ protest will change.

Quote of the Day  

I think anyone who reads this book will never deny that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Sidney Blumenthal as quoted in The Daily Howler

BuyThe Clinton Wars right now.

Judge Mocks Woman Who Fainted In Courtroom  

You may have heard about that idiot in judge's robes who asked a woman out of the blue if she was a terrorist. She fainted when he asked her a second time. Not only is he refusing to apologize but he's mocking her in public.He should resign immediately.
SCOTT: Though he claims he was probably kidding, Anissa Khoder was so upset she started to choke and fainted in the courtroom. The judge wasn't moved.
CROSBIE: She could have received an Academy Award for that one. And then she started to ululate, which is what they do.

Stop George Website  

There is a new website which Cursor inform us has posters and stickers in pdf format. Just download them, load paper or blank stickers into your printer and tell the world we want Bush out. Go to Stop George and get started.

The Bribed Iraqi Generals And Some Very Good Questions  

More confirmation that Iraqi generals were bribed by the US.
A fascinating piece in the May 19 Defense News quotes Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, confirming what had until now been mere rumors picked up by dubious Arab media outlets—that, before Gulf War II began, U.S. special forces had gone in and bribed Iraqi generals not to fight.

"I had letters from Iraqi generals saying, 'I now work for you,' " Franks told Defense News reporter Vago Muradian in a May 10 interview.

The article quotes a "senior official" as adding, "What is the effect you want? How much does a cruise missile cost? Between one and 2.5 million dollars. Well, a bribe is a PGM [precision-guided munition]—it achieves the aim, but it's bloodless and there's zero collateral damage..."

How many Iraqi generals, representing how many brigades or divisions, were paid off? How much money passed hands? Where are these generals today? As a broader assessment, to what degree did the Republican Guard collapse because they were bombarded and outmaneuvered—and to what degree because their generals went on paid leave? This is not a matter of mere curiosity. If bribes played a major part, we should understand that the tactic may not work against more ideologically driven commanders—say, North Koreans (who would have nothing to buy with the money, in any case) or al-Qaida higher-ups (who have apparently turned up their noses at the $25 million reward for turning over Osama Bin Laden).

While we're at it, here's another question, about the continuing mystery of the missing weapons of mass destruction. When Secretary of State Colin Powell made his Feb. 5 presentation to the U.N. Security Council—the much-lauded but rejected pitch for taking action against Iraq—he played two tape recordings of intercepted conversations between Iraqi officers. On one, from Nov. 26, 2002, the day before U.N. weapons inspectors were to visit a certain site, an Iraqi colonel told a Republican Guard brigadier general, "We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left." On the second, one Republican Guard commander told another, "Write this down: Remove the expression 'nerve agent' whenever it comes up in wireless instructions." These tapes struck many at the time as persuasive evidence (I called it a "smoking gun") that a) Iraq possessed illegal weapons, b) was deliberately hiding them from the inspectors, and c) was not likely to give up the weapons on its own.

So, here's the question, which could now presumably be answered: Who were these officers on the tapes? Are they still alive? Were they among the Iraqi officers who were bribed before the war? Were they taken away someplace and interrogated—or could they be interrogated now—on exactly what was "evacuated" and just where those hushed-up "nerve agents" are? If not, why not? The U.S. intelligence officials involved in this intercept must have known, or could have found out, the identities of the Iraqis speaking. Is it possible that we let these A-list witnesses disappear?

Guess Who Was Main Source for Times WMD Reportage?  

Chalabi, a man convicted of fraud in Jordan. Cute.
The Chalabi connection surfaced when John Burns, the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning Baghdad bureau chief, scolded Miller over her May 1 story on the Iraqi without clearing it with him.

"I am deeply chagrined at your reporting and filing on Chalabi after I had told you on Monday night that we were planning a major piece on him -- and without so much as telling me what you were doing," Burns wrote that day, according to e-mail correspondence obtained by The Washington Post.

"We have a bureau here; I am in charge of that bureau until I leave; I make assignments after considerable thought and discussion, and it was plain to all of us to whom the Chalabi story belonged. If you do this, what is to stop you doing it on any other story of your choosing? And what of the distress it causes the correspondent who is usurped? It is not professional, and not collegial."

Miller replied to Burns: "I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper."

She apologized for any confusion, but noted that the Army unit she was traveling with -- Mobile Exploration Team Alpha -- "is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work. . . . Since I'm there every day, talking to him. . . . I thought I might have been included on a decision by you" to have another reporter write about Chalabi...

According to the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress was a key source of information about weapons for the Pentagon's own intelligence unit -- information sometimes disputed by the CIA. Chalabi may have been feeding the Times, and other news organizations, the same disputed information.

Miller has drawn criticism, particularly from Slate's Jack Shafer, for her reporting on the hunt for Iraqi weapons while she was embedded with the MET Alpha unit.

In an April 21 front-page story, she reported that a leading Iraqi scientist claimed Iraq had destroyed chemical and biological weapons days before the war began, according to the Alpha team. She said the scientist had "pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried..."

Since then, no evidence has surfaced to support these claims and the Alpha team is preparing to leave Iraq without having found weapons of mass destruction.


One of the reasons I began blogging was because I recognized soon after 9/11 that this administration was governing from the extreme right and no one appeared to say so in the mainstream. Luckily, that has changed. Unfortunately, the Bush administraion is so confident that they hardly even attempt to hide it.. Here's the finale of Krugman's latest column but as always, the whole thing deserves to be read.
Most people, even most liberals, are complacent. They don't realize how dire the fiscal outlook really is, and they don't read what the ideologues write. They imagine that the Bush administration, like the Reagan administration, will modify our system only at the edges, that it won't destroy the social safety net built up over the past 70 years.

But the people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need. The Financial Times, it seems, now understands what's going on, but when will the public wake up? 
What would it look like if the public did?

(blogging will be light today. much to do.)

Monday, May 26, 2003

On Hearing That The White House Poetry Symposium Had Been Cancelled  

Who'd ever think
That poets could raise such a stink?

(From a while ago, just didn't want to lose it).

Josh On Reviewing Iraq Intelligence (And The New York Times)  

It's really terrific when someone as smart as Josh Marshall saves you the trouble of analysing a complex situation:
First, let's stipulate that if we eventually find that Iraq had few if any continuing WMD programs, that would be a major intelligence failure....

If there was a failure it was not an intelligence failure, but a political one -- one among administration political appointees and those at the very highest level of the intelligence apparatus.

The story, again and again over the last eighteen months, has been of the intelligence bureaucracy generating estimates of Iraq's capacities that are pretty much in line with what we're now finding. Again and again, though, the political leaders sent them back to come up with better answers. The narrow facts of what I'm saying aren't even in dispute, only the interpretation, and then only at the margins...

[T]he politicals would not believe what the career intelligence types were telling them. The examples are almost too numerous to count -- on chemicals, biological, nuclear programs, al Qaida links, everything.

Our intelligence agencies have all sorts of problems. But they got this one pretty close to the mark. Anyone who acts as though we've got to examine why our intelligence agencies missed the boat on this one is either being willfully misleading or simply hasn't been paying attention.
As Josh well knows, he's ripping into the NY Times:
With doubts mounting about the accuracy of prewar American intelligence reports about Iraqi unconventional weapons, we are glad to see that the Central Intelligence Agency has begun a review of the spy assessments. The failure so far to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the prime justification for an immediate invasion, or definitive links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda has raised serious questions about the quality of American intelligence and even dark hints that the data may have been manipulated to support a pre-emptive war. These are critical issues that require thorough review not only by the C.I.A. but also by high-level oversight bodies in the administration and Congress.
So which is it, folks? Have you not read what Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker? Are you clueless? Or just pretending there wasn't a well-known problem with Rumsfeld's blindnesses before the war?

How the CIA Supported the Mujahadeen  

All thanks to Bob Harris for pointing out this review of a new book about US funding and support of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, the source of many of our troubles today. The book is called "Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History" by George Crile and, amazingly Mr. Crile believes the Afghan war against the Russians was a good thing. Apparently, he never heard about a fellow name bin Laden, let alone a political movement called Taliban. Here's the story from the review: details how a ruthless ignoramus congressman and a high-ranking CIA thug managed to hijack American foreign policy.

* * *

Today, the world awaits what is almost certain to happen soon at some airport — a terrorist firing a U.S. Stinger low-level surface-to-air missile (manufactured at one time by General Dynamics in Rancho Cucamonga) into an American jumbo jet. The CIA supplied thousands of them to the moujahedeen and trained them to be experts in their use.

* * *

From 1973 to 1996, Charlie Wilson represented the 2nd District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. Wilson's partner in getting the CIA to arm the moujahedeen was Gust Avrakotos, the son of working-class Greek immigrants from the steel workers' town of Aliquippa, Pa. Only in 1960 did the CIA begin to recruit officers for the Directorate of Operations from among what it called "new Americans," meaning such ethnic groups as Chinese, Japanese, Latinos and Greek Americans. Until then, it had followed its British model and taken only Ivy League sons of the Eastern Establishment. Avrakotos joined the CIA in 1961 and came to nurture a hatred of the bluebloods, or "cake eaters," as he called them, who discriminated against him.

* * *

Wilson was the moneybags and sparkplug of this pair; Avrakotos was a street fighter who relished giving Kalashnikovs and Stingers to the tribesmen in Afghanistan. Wilson was the more complex of the two, and Crile argues that his "Good Time Charlie" image was actually a cover for a Barry Goldwater kind of hyper-patriotism.

* * *

Once Reagan replaced Carter, Wilson was able to restore Zia's aid money and added several millions to the CIA's funds for secretly arming the Afghan guerrillas, each dollar of which the Saudi government secretly matched.

Although Wilson romanticized the mountain warriors of Afghanistan, the struggle was never as uneven as it seemed. Pakistan provided the fighters with sanctuary, training and arms and even sent its own officers into Afghanistan as advisors on military operations. Saudi Arabia served as the fighters' banker, providing hundred of millions with no strings attached. Several governments, including those of Egypt, China and Israel, secretly supplied arms. And the insurgency enjoyed the backing of the United States through the CIA.

Wilson's and the CIA's greatest preoccupation was supplying the Afghans with something effective against the Soviets' most feared weapon, the Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship. The Red Army used it to slaughter innumerable moujahedeen as well as to shoot up Afghan villages. Wilson favored the Oerlikon antiaircraft gun made in Switzerland (it was later charged that he was on the take from the Zurich-based arms manufacturer). Avrakotos opposed it because it was too heavy for guerrillas to move easily, but he could not openly stand in Wilson's way. After months of controversy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff finally dropped their objections to supplying the American Stinger, President Reagan signed off on it, and the "silver bullet" was on its way. The Stinger had never before been used in combat. It proved to be murderous against the Hinds, and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev decided to cut his losses and get out altogether. In Wilson's postwar tour of Afghanistan, moujahedeen fighters surrounded him and triumphantly fired their missiles for his benefit. They also gave him as a souvenir the stock from the first Stinger to shoot down a Hind gunship.

The CIA "bluebloods" fired Avrakotos in the summer of 1986, and he retired to Rome. Wilson became chairman of the Intelligence Oversight Committee, at which time he wrote to his CIA friends, "Well, gentlemen, the fox is in the hen house. Do whatever you like."

* * *

It may surprise Charlie Wilson to learn that his heroic moujahedeen were manipulated by Washington like so much cannon fodder in order to give the USSR its own Vietnam. The moujahedeen did the job, but as subsequent events have made clear, they may not be grateful to the United States.

Does Congress Read Its E-Mail?  

According to PC World, No. It's not surprising, it's just sad to have it confirmed.
More than 70 million e-mail petitions and other high volume electronic messages poured into Congress last year. Lawmakers say they treat e-mail the same as postal mail. Everything gets read and, if the content warrants it, gets a reply, they say.

But much of this e-mail is written and produced with no more than a touch of a button. And with so much flooding into the capital, many officials confess that such digital form letters carry less weight than other modes of correspondence, such as personal visits or postal letters.

According to a 1998 study by the oversight group OMB Watch, congressional offices give the most attention to personal letters. Next in priority are personal visits, telephone calls, faxes, and personal e-mails. Large-scale e-mail petitions that follow a prescribed form hover at the bottom of the list.

"Staffers can only pay so much attention and so much time to the messages they get," says Ryan Turner, an analyst for OMB Watch, which monitors government policy and practices. "A mass-produced e-mail message is not going to mean as much as a letter from someone that contains a heartfelt, impassioned appeal."

Turner adds that constituents do best to use a combination of methods to correspond with lawmakers. For example, follow up a letter with a phone call or vice versa.
Well, this isn't the whole story. The OMB study is from 1998, which is way before the anthrax scare. My guess is that now it takes several weeks to get that personal snail letter to your congressperson.

As for faxes, I will bet that most of those go received into a computer.

So snail doesn't work, email doesn't work, fax doesn't work. Nevertheless, it has to be done because if by any chance someone is paying the slightest attention to it and we slough off, the message won't get through.

That leaves phone and a personal visit. Phone calls can take a very long time and you will not get an opportunity to speak to anyone other than low level staff. As for personal visits, I would imagine that is very, very difficult to arrange. But I may just try it.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Quote of the Weekend  

Courtesy Bill Moyers:
"I was never called on to do what soldiers do; I'll never know if I might have had their courage. But a journalist can help keep the record straight, on their behalf. They thought democracy was worth fighting for, even dying for. The least we can do is to help make democracy worthy of them."

Incompetents Don't Know They're Incompetent  

Won't they ever learn?
The Bush administration, alarmed by intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda operatives in Iran had a role in the May 12 suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, has suspended once-promising contacts with Iran and appears ready to embrace an aggressive policy of trying to destabilize the Iranian government, administration officials said.
There are so many dumb assumptions in this idea that they can't be serious. But that's what I thought pre-Iraq. Anyway, here's four:

1. There is no glaring indication that the people of Iran want to revolt.

2. There is no compelling reason, despite the human rights abuses practiced.

3. There is no reason to believe that revolution in Iran would end up with a pro US and anti-Qaeda government.

4. The US has no right, without proof, to destabilize a foreign government.

Home Grown Fascism Watch  

via TalkLeft, the story of 8 Egyptian-born men arrested and accused of planning terrorism. They were innocent, and falsely accused. At least the FBI apologized and apparently Agent Fuentes understands the enormity of harm the accusation did on their lives.

Right Wing Postmodernism: Part Two  

I never bothered to see if anyone else had written about right wing postmodernism when I blogged about it here as it seemed too strange an idea for anyone to have ruined a successful career by propounding its existence. But I had an extra moment and decided to do a quick google. Amazingly, I found some things. Here are a few.

Let's start with perhaps the strangest political site I've ever seen: The Libertarian National Socialist Green Party, self-described postmodern conservatives. Here is the url. I'll deny them the link, however, for obvious reasons. It is difficult to tell if this site is supposed to be funny haha, but it certainly is funny peculiar.

And now for something completely different. Here's a discussion from The New Republic about the postmodern conservative mythmaking apparatus.
In postmodern public discourse, scholarship succumbs to show biz. And some of the ablest practitioners of such postmodern history are the people who call themselves conservatives. The self-proclaimed defenders of tradition are really a posse of mythographers. The "tradition" that they defend is usually a pastiche of invented traditions: a usable past culled from scraps of Movietone newsreels, Frank Capra films, and Life magazines. Out of such dross the American right has spun pure gold: the postmodern conservative narrative of American identity has demonstrated its power over a large part of our population, though the bulk of it is fantasy. Its heroes are men who played heroes in the movies: John Wayne, whose biography was a main selection of the Conservative Book Club, and Ronald Reagan, who convincingly simulated a president for eight years and is now on his way to historical canonization. Such icons may account for the sometimes hallucinatory quality of postmodern conservatism .

Perhaps the most influential mythic narrative composed by the contemporary right is the story of Americans and their guns. It is a Turnerian tale of frontier self-reliance. In British colonial North America, the story goes, boys learned to shoot almost as soon as they could wipe themselves. They had to: as men they would need good marksmanship to hunt food for their families, and to protect them from Indians and other hostile creatures. There was a flintlock over every fireplace. Small wonder that the colonial militia became such a fearsome fighting force; it was composed of crack shots, citizen soldiers who would learn guerrilla warfare from the Indians and practice it to perfection on the hapless British redcoats in the Revolution. Following the revolutionaries' victory, the Second Amendment to the Constitution affirmed every individual's right to bear arms--a right that has remained crucial to the protection of personal liberty against intrusive government power. The power of this narrative (backed by millions of dollars in advertising from the National Rifle Association) has been demonstrated repeatedly, most recently in this year's presidential election. From time to time, to be sure, scholars have questioned aspects of the gun narrative, particularly its constitutional claims. But no one has taken on the conventional wisdom as thoroughly as Michael Bellesiles in Arming America . He has created a debunking counternarrative the old-fashioned way, by means of exhaustive reseach. Whether research is enough to discredit postmodern conservatism remains to be seen.
In a long review of a work by Robert Bork, law professor James Boyle believes that Judge Bork represents the birth of the postmodern conservative. I think that is giving Bork too much credit, but the article, which I've not yet entirely read, describes Bork's postmodernism and rips into it with gusto. Here's a summary of the interesting relationship between pomo and conservative political philosopher Edmund Burke:
Post-modern work is marked by a scepticism about the limits of abstract, rational discourse. and about the accuracy of political theories built around the notion of "the subject," a rights-holding individual divorced form culture, tradition, language and history. Stylistically it tends to rely on what David Kennedy calls "ironic conformity" -- recreating tradition and history even as it uses them. Interestingly, Burkean conservatism is also marked by these three characteristics although it is, of course, very different in other ways -- being stodgier in sentiment, more reactionary in declared political vision, less pretentious in persona and infinitely superior in writing style. At first, the similarity seems bizarre. A moment's thought supplies a possible reason. Since each of these three characteristics was developed largely out of opposition to the dominant epistemology and political tradition of the age of reason, it is hardly surprising that they are encountered in works from both the beginning and the supposed end of that tradition... [B]oth Burkean and post-modern thought present a challenge to some of liberal rationalism's fundamental premises, rather than an argument within those premises...
The review concludes:
If Mr. Bork is the herald of a post-modern conservatism, we might actually begin to talk about these issues, to reveal what conservatism has to offer apart from a shoddy and unconvincing set of claims to have captured the true meaning of history, economics or institutional competence.
[UPDATE] Introduction edited after first posting.

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