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:: Monday, March 31 ::

WHAT IS 'A TIME OF WAR'?: Apparently the US has a new policy of automatically detaining all asylum-seekers from thirty-three countries plus the Palestinian territories until their applications have been processed. You're not supposed to know the part about the Palestinians being detained, though -- actually, you're not supposed to know the the names of any of the countries on the list due to "law enforcement and diplomatic sensitivities". (The New York Terrorist-Collabora... -- err, Times prints the list that human rights groups have pieced together in its article on the policy.)

One supporter of the new policy makes a seemingly fair observation:

David A. Martin, who was the general counsel for the immigration service during the Clinton administration, also said the new policy might be appropriate. "A categorical deterrence policy is in general a legitimate rationale," Mr. Martin said. "In a time of war and a time of risk, to impose it by nationality is defensible."
Since September 11 many Bush administration efforts to enhance our security have been justified by the appeal to consideration that we are in "a time of war". Among them: a new cabinet department, military tribunals, additional surveillance, a huge tax cut, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

Surely right now is a time of war. Tens of thousands of troops are on the ground fighting and we're attempting to overthrow another government.

But curiously, and to the probable surprise of some soldiers, the war didn't just start. Their own online archives reveal that the White House has used the phrase at least once every single month since September, 2001.

According to the White House we've been in "a time of war" since September 11. Surely we were in Afghanistan. But wouldn't at least some period of time between when Hamad Karzai took power there in December 2001 and the start of hostilities in Iraq in March 2003 count as something other than "a time of war"?

The United States is pursuing a crackdown on international Islamic terrorism that President Bush likes to call the "War on Terror". But since the present Iraq war isn't obviously related to September 11 in any other way than our increased resolve to fight anything that seems remotely threatening, is this really the same war? When the President says today that we're in "a time of war" which of these "wars" is he talking about?

In the context of the president linking virtually every action he takes to the gravity of "a time of war" (actual quote: "Hispanic Heritage Month is an important month for our country -- particularly now that we're at a time of war.") is this a reliable consideration when judging policy?

September 11 changed a lot of things, and certainly the challenge of terrorism requires vigilance. But with two clear levels of war being waged -- one low-intensity pitched battle against terrorist organizations with no logical conclusion, and another of massive bombing and ground troops seeking regime change -- isn't it time we raised the bar for what constitutes "a time of war"?

The Bush administration's continued abuse of this phrase may erode the public's ability to distinguish when the nation really does need to come together and when the president is simply posturing for votes on his tax cut -- leading people to ignore the phrase altogether. Or worse, Americans could take President Bush at face value and face another six years of "unity" government they might not otherwise have chosen. Either way, if Republican campaign strategy last fall and the president's rhetoric are any indication, it seems likely that when this war (no quotation marks there) in Iraq is over we'll still be in "a time of war" no matter how many troops come home.

:: posted by Joe at 18:30 ::
:: ::


Left in the West makes a very good point about Howard Dean and the nature of Ralph Nader's support in a contribution to the discussion of liberal extremism. Noting a distinction between an extremist candidate and extremist support, Left in the West writes:
[W]hy do I think Dean has something special? It's not because he's extremely liberal. It's not cause he's a conservative Democrat. It's cause he's exciting college students -- a key component of the Nader demographic. Dean has an independent streak that will, I believe, appeal to Nader's supporters who ... are not the straight liberals that people assume.
That's absolutely right. It is important to distinguish between the nature of the candidate and the surely eclectic nature of any significantly-sized group of voters. The more than two and a half million Nader voters can't all be the same.

There were surely many who supported Nader's policies. But his support was also based -- paradoxically, for a rather frail guy with a lazy eye -- on charisma. He spoke honestly about his views on what was going on in America and the world. Whether you agreed with him on everything or not, his utter lack of pretention and willingness to tackle big questions was admirable.

It is that thread of (to use the by-now-meaningless phrase) "straight-talking" that bolstered helped both Nader and candidacy of John McCain -- and what partly drives support for Howard Dean today.

It seems more than plausible that in 2000 a voter (perhaps even one writing a certain underappreciated blog) might have cast one for John McCain in the Republican primary, and one for Ralph Nader in the general election -- necessarily in a safely Bush state like, hypothetically, Virginia. It even seems likely that the same voter might have donated money he (or she) doesn't even have to Howard Dean the other day.

That said, the difference between McCain and Nader on the one hand and Dean on the other is that McCain and Nader ran shoe-string candidacies. Nader, of course, acknowledged -- and even relished -- the hopelessness of his candidacy. It emboldened his rhetoric and stoked his already-huge "outsider" cachet, something not exactly hard to achieve when your two main opponents are the son of a president and the son of a senator.

McCain, for his part, wasn't getting the kind of coverage that Dean is getting now until mid- to late-autumn in 1999. He skipped Iowa completely because he couldn't afford it and couldn't compete nationally once the dirty tricks and massive institutional support for George W. Bush slowed his momentum. At the point where it became clear to many that McCain was the guy, all the money had been committed to Bush and the endorsements had all been made.

Dean, by contrast, doesn't have a Candidate of Inevitability to overcome -- yet. Back in December we wrote that "the longer the media can hold itself back from ejaculating the 'front-runner' label all over one of the candidates, the better it will be for Howard Dean." No doubt this will happen at some point, but Dean is already ahead of the game relative to McCain. He also has set his sights on running a truly national campaign, and he will compete in Iowa.

The challenge for Dean will be to capture the essence of the McCain and Nader campaigns -- something he seems to be doing quite effectively -- while playing the inside game of building the organization and institutional support that those two candidates eschewed. The results of the next quarterly FEC fundraising report -- the deadline for donations to be included is today -- will say a lot about his efforts so far to do just that.

:: posted by Joe at 05:12 ::
:: ::


:: Sunday, March 30 ::

The inimitable Ezra Klein has a good post in response to our bit about liberal extremists. He points out another way to distinguish the relationship each major party has with its extremists:
Republicans don't mind their extremists because they help them win elections. Sure, Robertson and Buchanan can fuck around with primaries, but in the end, everyone votes Republican and they win. Our extremists lose elections for us. That's a big difference.
He rightly lays the 2000 "loss" -- it was, is and ever shall be worth noting that in many countries and even nearly every election in our own getting the most votes constitutes a victory -- and a second Bush presidency at the feet of Ralph Nader and the Greens. Klein calculates that with a shift of less than one percent of the Nader vote to Al Gore a Democrat would be in the White House.

There are two points worth making here. The first is that even the extremists that work within the confines of the Democratic Party don't always close ranks when defeated or otherwise disappointed.

One case in point has decided to run for president: Al Sharpton. Die-hard readers will recall that we wrote in January about one of the risks to Democrats of Sharpton's candidacy:
[A]nyone that gets fired up by Sharpton tends to end up sitting out the general election (see: his Senate primary loss in 1992, when the Republican went on to win in November despite Bill Clinton carrying New York State by sixteen points; and the race for mayor in 1997, when his primary challenge left a broke and debilitated Ruth Messinger to lose by seventeen points in the general). He's the kid in kickball who, after grounding out, storms off the field declaring that he's not playing anymore.
Sharpton's game is probably less noble than Nader's ostensibly principled rejection of the Democratic Party, but to the extent that Sharpton controls a constituency -- which, to be fair, it's not clear that he will in the presidential campaign -- the outcome is as exactly the same as the whiff of megalomania.

Frankly, Howard Dean has exactly the right idea with his "I'm going to tell the white guy with the Confederate flag decal on his truck that he needs to vote with us because his kid doesn't have health insurance either" approach. There are more than a few Green-types who have just as much (and perhaps more) hate for Democrats than do many Christian conservatives. Votes might be easier to pick up in other ways than co-opting Nader's shrill anti-corporate, protectionist platform. Nor, similarly, do Democrats need to pander to the hemp lobby.

Secondly, it's not clear that conservative extremists are any less vindictive. By their own account Republican conservatives cost George H. W. Bush the 1992 election by staying home. His tax increase and, perhaps even moreso, his general reasonableness and integrity branded him unclean in conservative extremists' eyes. It wasn't simply that these conservatives voted for Ross Perot; conservative participation in the election actually dropped -- significantly.

If each major party's relationship with extremists differs, it would seem that the difference is that Republicans have made an unholy -- and very electable -- alliance with theirs, while Democrats continue to struggle with scruples, principles and other navel-gazing endeavors. That the 2000 election was even close at all is testament to the "run from the center, govern from the right" Republican strategy. Whether the American public can muster the electoral equivalent of, in the president's own words, "Fool me once, uhhh ..." remains to be seen. If the right Democrat -- sorry, Senator Joe -- makes the Bush administration's rhetorical ruse a central issue of the campaign, Republicans may have rethink their relationship with their extremists.

:: posted by Joe at 05:17 ::
:: ::


:: Saturday, March 29 ::

Kevin Drum is tired of liberal extremists:
Let me put it another way: I'm convinced that the Black Panthers set back the cause of civil rights, PETA sets back the cause of animal rights, and vomit-ins are setting back the cause of peace activism. It's a free country, of course, and these folks can do what they want, but somehow we have to disassociate them from the Democratic party in the public's mind. I know perfectly well that Republicans have the same problem with the Christian right, but for some reason it doesn't hurt them among moderates as much as lefty extremism hurts Democrats. It's not fair, but it's a fact.

So there you have it: my problem with liberal extremism. It may not be an official part of the Democratic party, but it's an albatross around our necks anyway. We need to do something about it.
That something, according to Drum, could include the formation of a Center Party of some sort.

First things first: Drum is spot-on as far as the claim that far-left groups like PETA and the Black Panthers damage their cause. But what's interesting is that far-right groups like the Christian Coalition would, to a centrist (read: normal person), equally discredit their side.

Somehow they don't. Indeed, they are the driving force behind Republican victories. There is a crucial difference between Republicans and Democrats in how each party treats its extremists. For Democrats these groups are part of a cacophony of interests representing positions of greater or lesser ridiculousness. For Republicans they constitute the institutional, financial and electoral base of the party.

Indeed, it would seem that groups like PETA are largely ignored by an increasingly DLC-driven Democratic party. And even in campaigns that are far to the left of the DLC in nature and message, groups like PETA are not the driving force that wins elections.

Most Democrats join in the condemnation of extremists on their side. Most Republicans pander to them, because they are the key to their electoral success. Witness candidate Bush's visit to Bob Jones University (and his later irresponsible use as president of the word "quota" to describe the Michigan case). It goes without saying that a stumbling frontrunner for the Democratic nomination would be wasting his time making an appearance at a PETA rally.

So the Democrats are, for the most part, a centrist party and center-left moderates shouldn't be losing sleep over supporting them. If Democrats were to begin to employ the Karl Rove "don't listen to what we say in the campaign; watch what we do in office" bargain with the extremist devils, it would be another story.

But is there a better way? Probably, but not really within the confines of our constitution. Drum's reference of the Finnish Center Party neglects the fact that it's nearly impossible to sustain more than two parties in our system. ("Nearly" because sectional parties have been the exception for certain periods in US history. But it seems unlikely that three or more national parties with no specific geographic base could co-exist for any period of time.)

Some sort of proportional representation system for the House of Representatives -- where voters choose a party instead of a candidate -- would address the lack of a Center Party, and doesn't seem to be an obviously bad idea. Perhaps some sort of mixed system, with a certain number of single-member districts larger in size than the current ones and the rest of the seats chosen by party, would create a more dynamic political process without dismantling the connection between voters and their one accountable representative. Indeed, halving the power of parochial interests in House business in such a way might be a good thing in itself.

So long as the proportional side of the vote -- measured by nationwide percentages of the vote or even aggregated to the state level -- had a high enough threshold to prevent an endless array of parties and perpetually fragile coalitions (see: Israel), such a system might work. The stakes wouldn't be as high, of course, because whatever coalition in power in the House wouldn't "govern" as in a parliamentary system -- parties in a coalition would probably receive committee chairmanships -- but an orderly system would need a significant threshold.

It seems that the subject could use some more discussion. At the very least, Louisiana's run-off system -- where if no candidate receives fifty percent of the vote, the top two contenders face-off, meaning that the one who takes office will have received a majority of the vote -- is worth experimenting with in states with less bizarre political natures aside from the electoral system. It was surprising that the national attention the Landrieu run-off received last December didn't spark more interest in the system that caused it.

:: posted by Joe at 06:28 ::
:: ::


:: Friday, March 28 ::

The nomination of Priscilla Owen, a hyperconservative justice on the Texas Supreme Court, to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has been sent to the full Senate by the a Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. Owen has the distinct honor of being the subject of the first post on this blog, from way back in August. That post points to this TNR piece by Jason Zengerle, which makes an interesting argument about litmus tests:
There shouldn't be ideological litmus tests for judicial nominees. Which is exactly why Democrats should oppose Owen's nomination, since it appears that the bill of particulars NARAL cites [about a parental notification law in Texas] was precisely what endeared Owen to the Bush administration in the first place. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales -- who before going to Washington served on the Texas Supreme Court alongside Owen -- has acknowledged that Owen was chosen over another Texas Supreme Court justice, Deborah Hankinson, who ruled differently in several of the parental-notification cases. And as Neil A. Lewis reported in The New York Times this week, Hankinson -- a Republican appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by then-Governor Bush -- has told a number of people in the Austin legal community that "someone in the White House told her she was taken out of consideration explicitly because of her rulings in the teenage abortion cases."

In other words, if the Democrats confirm Owen they will be acquiescing to a litmus test, which will likely lead Bush to use that litmus test again. So if Democrats want the White House to stop nominating judges like Owen, then they have to show there is a penalty when it does.
He's precisely right. Owen's nomination is another example of the Bush administration doing something overtly, blatantly politically-motivated and then dismissively accusing the other side of "playing politics" when the move is opposed.

It has been widely reported that Gonzalez, while serving with Owen in Texas, wrote in one opinion that Owen's position in one case constituted "an unconscionable act of judicial activism." Today's Times piece explains her position in that case:
As a member of Texas's highest court, Justice Owen dissented from a ruling granting a minor an exception to the law that she had to notify a parent before she obtained an abortion.

Justice Owen said the teenager in the case had not met the law's requirement of maturity because she had not demonstrated that she knew that there were religious objections to abortion.

In her first committee hearing, Justice Owen said she had drawn the requirement that a girl recognize religious objections from Supreme Court rulings. Her opponents insisted that there had never been any such language from the Supreme Court and her making it a requirement in Texas demonstrated that she let her personal feelings about abortion influence her legal analysis.

After Democrats asked her to explain her assertion that she had relied on Supreme Court rulings, Justice Owen issued a written answer, which Democrats disclosed today. The complex answer, prepared with help from administration lawyers, said she had been referring to language in a 1979 Supreme Court case, Bellotti v. Baird, in which four justices, not a majority, said that abortion was an issue "that for some people raises profound moral and religious concerns."

Justice Owen said that language was cited with approval by a majority in another case two years later.

Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director of Naral Pro-choice America, an abortion rights group, said, "To say that Supreme Court language noting that some people may have religious views on abortion is 100 miles away from saying, as she did, that a religious requirement should be imported into the Texas law."
So if Gonzalez -- who as White House Counsel is ostensibly in charge of nominations -- favored another candidate and has had run-ins with Owen in the past, who might be behind the nomination? Zengerle has an idea:
[M]any speculate that it was not Gonzales but White House political adviser Karl Rove who, in his effort to shore up Bush's right flank, pushed Owen for the federal bench. After all, unlike Gonzales, Rove has worked quite well with Owen: He was paid close to $250,000 to oversee her successful 1994 campaign for the Texas Supreme Court. (The Texas governor appoints justices only when a vacancy arises; otherwise they run for six-year terms.)
Litmus tests may be generally bad as far as judicial nominees go, but there is at least one that does seem reasonable. Very simply, disqualification should be quick and undebatable for any nominee with an uncontrolled glassy-eyed penetrating stare --

-- which is a sure sign of insanity and zealousness and has no place on the federal bench.

But then again ...

:: posted by Joe at 09:48 ::
:: ::


:: Wednesday, March 26 ::

George W. Bush was quoted as saying the following during the campaign in 2000:
"I'm a free trader. I will work to end terriers and barriffs everywhere, across the world".
It is tempting to write this off as just (yet another) slip of the tongue. Clearly the president must mean tariffs and barriers. Really, this seems a far less serious a gaffe than his use of "devaluation" in place of "deflation" when talking about the Japanese yen, which sent investors rushing to dump the currency.

But given the record the president has established on trade, we can only conclude that he made free-trade "mistake" on purpose:
The United States lost a major trade dispute to Europe today, with the World Trade Organization ruling that the steel tariffs imposed by President Bush last year were illegal.

The administration said immediately that it would appeal the decision.
Surely the president wouldn't say one thing and do another -- especially in War Time -- so we must conclude that his unimpeachable integrity demands that he purposely flub his lines. The alternative is just too horrible to consider!

How refreshing it is to have an honest president, who bravely submits to the harassment of those who would call him names for the way he speaks, who goes to such lengths in the name of truth. God bless America.

:: posted by Joe at 19:20 ::
:: ::


Seldom does an American have a Senator they can be proud of whether they agree with him or not. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died today, was one of these gems of the chamber. Moynihan was one of the greats insofar as he embodied precisely what a Senator is supposed to be: thoughtful and independent-minded (and, of course, consequently long-winded).

Far too few Senators live up to the role of their office in our system, managing only the last of those three criteria. Senators Allen of Virginia, Dorgan of North Dakota, and McConnell of Kentucky -- to name only a handful of the many -- come to mind as the type of people who have, with the help of House-bred leaders like former Majority Leader Trent Lott, turned the Senate into just another partisan battleground over the past few years. Notable exceptions to this rule of fools include Senators Feingold of Wisconsin, Hagel of Nebraska, Jeffords of Vermont, McCain of Arizona, Specter of Pennsylvania, and the Dean of the Senate, Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Moynihan served in the administrations of four presidents -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- before being elected as a Democrat to the Senate in 1976. Before and after his career in the Senate he was criticized, often harshly, from both the left and the right. His academic approach to policy, informed by history and applying social scientific methods, often left him without support from either side's vested interests.

From the obituary in the Times:
While Mr. Moynihan's 24-year career in the Senate was not marked by legislative milestones, but by ideas, the legislative lion, Senator Kennedy, nonetheless once described him as an exemplar ``of what the Founding Fathers thought the Senate would be about,'' because of the New Yorker's breadth of interests, ``having read history, and thought about it, and being opinionated.''
Indeed, one might call Moynihan the prototypical blogger:
Mr. Moynihan was a singular scholar, less an original researcher than a bold, often brilliant synthesizer whose works compelled furious debate and further research.
Beginning with his work on race and ethnicity in the late 1950s and early 1960s and for the rest of his life, he made a career of intelligently challenging the conventional wisdom:
In January 1980, he told the Senate: ``The Soviet Union is a seriously troubled, even sick, society. The indices of economic stagnation and even decline are extraordinary. The indices of social disorder -- social pathology is not too strong a term -- are even more so. ... The defining event of the decade might well be the break-up of the Soviet Empire.''
It was a great loss for the New York and the Senate when he retired, and his passing on is great loss for America. To have him as the Senator from our home state from birth until after leaving for college was a privilege. Moynihan was as good a model as one can hope to have growing up of a life dedicated to progress and public service.

:: posted by Joe at 13:31 ::
:: ::


:: Tuesday, March 25 ::

We apologize for the brief hiatus. A brief weekend holiday in Denmark completed, postings to That Other Blog will resume their regular semi-regularity.

It is worth noting briefly that anti-war sentiment was far more visible on the streets of apparently not-so-gamle København, an ostensible US ally in Iraq, than in Stockholm, which opposes the war and thus finds itself firmly among what US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls "Old Europe." (The comparison isn't apropos of nothing -- That Other Blog is presently operating out of Sweden's lovely capital.)

The Danish Folketing is controlled by the conservative Liberal Party of Anders Fogh Rasmussen while Sweden's Riksdag is run by less-counterintuitively-named Social Democrats led by Göran Persson. This probably explains that, while anti-war demonstrations have occurred in both of these Scandinavian capitals, the anti-war message seemed more outward in Denmark. Danes are protesting against their own government and the US, while Swedes are just protesting against the United States. (We analyzed European support for the war in Iraq twice, once covering the Central and Eastern Europe and once covering the European Union.)

Several young mothers pushing strollers in Copenhagen had draped homemade NEJ TIL KRIG MOD IRAK! ("No to War on Iraq!") banners over the canopy and one man wore an anti-war knit (yes, knit) sweater, its stitched message proclaiming "NO WAR" in huge letters (in English) on the chest. Judging from those observations and the still-heavy pamphletting and posting of signs against the war, it would seem that continued opposition in Europe is far from the taboo it has become in the United States.

:: posted by Joe at 08:33 ::
:: ::


Before the war came to dominate the political scene, former governor of Vermont and current presidential aspirant Howard Dean was written off as a "long shot" candidate. The earliest polls -- which at that point in a campaign measure not support but simply name recognition -- put him at the bottom of the pack, which was enough "evidence" to stoke the conventional wisdom that he is "not a serious candidate."

Lacking actual reasons to explain this apparent lack of support (the polls must always Say Something; the poll-as-meaningless-name-recognition-measure does not fit into any easy narrative for journalists), his opponents took wild stabs in the dark with baseless accusations like that Dean is an "ultra-liberal." Quite the strange brand of ultra-liberal that consistently balances the budget as governor. By that standard, to be sure, President Bush is no ultra-liberal.

As the war drew closer, Dean became the "anti-war candidate" despite his protestations that he wanted Saddam Hussein disarmed, but with a truly global (as opposed to Anglo-Bulgarian) coalition. Now, with war underway, the narrative dictates that Dean will be "having trouble redefining himself" as something other than the anti-war candidate. Insofar as that was never really what he was, he shouldn't have much trouble with that. The real trouble will come from the media's definition of him, not his definition of himself. This part of the pre-defined story has already begun:
Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who has presented himself as an antiwar candidate, was back in Iowa, a state with a large and vocal antiwar wing among Democrats. It was the start of what an aide said would be a week like any other week in Dr. Dean's campaign.
This pieces leaves it there, strangely not explaining what exactly an typical week for the Dean campaign consists of, other than simply being in Iowa. The implication seems to be that Dean is off hiding in a state that still (still!) supports his supposedly anti-war message -- as if Iowa were an undisclosed location for peaceniks and not the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Sadly, besides the media, a rather large portion of those paying attention to the presidential race that this point fancy themselves politically astute for being able to identify the trends in this constructed storyline. The most cynical don't even believe the narrative; they make very much of the fact that they would prefer another candidate but use the prevalent conventional wisdom and their besserwisser powers of glib deduction to conclude that only this or that candidate can win.

To be sure, Al Sharpton isn't a candidate that can win a presidential election in the United States. But if people really believe in him, we're inclined to give them a strong, vocal, "Well, uhhh, okay." The same can't be said for Howard Dean. With Dean in a statistical tie with Senator John Kerry in the latest New Hampshire polling, it would seem that the narrative is dictating reason, rather than reason dictating the narrative.

Similarly, everyone needs to relax and step away from the afactual narrative about Dean and the war. Let's wait and see how much trouble he has firing people up before the sages declare it impossible. Whether you're for or against him you have to contend with the fact that this guy is for real. The press and his opponents would do themselves and the process well to recognize that.

:: posted by Joe at 04:40 ::
:: ::


:: Friday, March 21 ::

Google informs us that we coined the phrase "Axis of Semi-Evil" in this post of 10 February:
France -- to say nothing of Germany, which is now an official member of the Axis of Semi-Evil along with Cuba and Libya, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- needs a political communication consultant.
Traffic data reveal that someone performed a search for that phrase sans quotation marks, which yields about nineteen hits. When submitted with the phrase in quotation marks all of the superfluous hits are weeded out and only That Other Blog remains.

As we dispense with this Iraq silliness and gain strategic leverage over Iran, and with aircraft carriers heading in the direction of North Korea, we may soon find ourselves having to dip into the second-string of evildoers. Cuba and Libya seem firmly in place, but France -- never a nation to back down from a fight (unless it's either World War) -- may have supplanted Germany in the Axis of Semi-Evil as Chancellor Schröder has grown less bellicose. Check back here semi-regularly for updates on the official composition of the trio as global events develop.

:: posted by Joe at 23:14 ::
:: ::


Yes, we did just use that title.

What with the breakout of war and everything we hadn't until now had the time to view the c-span.org clip of Democratic presidential candidates speaking at the California party convention. A more thorough recap has been produced by some who were actually there, so we'll just offer a few impressions.

"Shoeless Joe" Lieberman -- besides selling out his team on the the war question -- gets the Field of Dreams award for managing to not actually be there, but give a speech anyway. He was booed.

John Edwards, who needs a haircut, is officially the most contrived candidate in the history of American politics. From now on his effectiveness will be measured this site relative to other presidential products of Hollywood. In this instance, walking to the podium with John Mellencamp's "Small Town" blaring from the PA system places him somewhere between Bill Pullman's "Aww, shucks!" dumbass faux-gritty squinting hucksterism in Independence Day and the later-career Alan Alda's inability to appear even remotely presidential (or deliver a line) in Canadian Bacon.

Howard Dean cleaned up. He gave an amazing speech and managed to scream in a new, more ballsy register. We did wince, though, when at the end, after working himself and the crowd up into a frenzy, he was so disastrously pleased with himself that he attempted to hold the "aaaaaaaa" on the end of his final "Americaaaaaaaaaaa!" far, far too long to appear even remotely sincere in his anger. The peacock arm-waving needs to stop, too.

But he's the guy. He also showed that he's the utter opposite of Edwards in every way by walking out to the recent JXL remix of Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation" ("A little more action..." goes the hook) -- though that may end up backfiring as the campaign progresses. After all, this president ran his 2000 campaign almost exclusively on the platform of a lot less action in White House.

:: posted by Joe at 12:26 ::
:: ::


:: Thursday, March 20 ::

Once again, libertarian thinking proves useful, even if the overall program is wrong-headed, selfish and politically unfeasible. In a case presently before the Supreme Court the libertarians have broken ranks with the social conservatives and formed an alliance with liberal civil rights groups. In doing so libertarians act as a control group in an experiment which tells us about fundamental principals driving liberals and conservatives. A note of warning: that last sentence sounded somewhat social scientific. Please do not mistake what follows for social science; it is a politically-motivated semi-delirius tirade against people we disagree with.

The Herald Tribune tells us that the case, which challenges a Texas law, could impact sodomy laws across the country:
The Texas case is a challenge to a law that makes it a crime for people of the same sex to engage in "deviate sexual intercourse," defined as oral or anal sex. In accepting the case, the justices agreed to consider whether to overturn a 1986 precedent, Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld a Georgia sodomy law that at least on its face, if not in application, also applied to heterosexuals.

While the Texas case has received enormous attention from gay news organizations and other groups that view the 1986 decision as particularly notorious, it has been largely overshadowed in a busy Supreme Court term by the challenge to the University of Michigan's affirmative action program. Programs like Michigan's allow preferential admissions treatment for members of minority groups and others underrepresented in student bodies. The justices accepted both cases on the same day last December, and briefs have been submitted along identical schedules. The Texas case will be argued next Wednesday and the Michigan case six days later, on April 1.
It is rich enough that the Cato Institute has filed a brief in support of the challenge by two men who are being defended by the Lambda Legal Defense Fund. But the comparison to the much-discussed Michigan affirmative action case is the key. Here's the idiot's guide to the debate on both issues:

  • Libertarians are against affirmative action because they don't want the government fussing with anything even half as invasive as that.
  • Conservatives say they are against affirmative action because everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law and that distinctions shouldn't be made on the basis of race.
  • Liberals are for affirmative action because they say that the government should take an activist role in righting social wrongs that government and society have conspired to produce and which society has failed to remedy on its own.

  • Libertarians are against sodomy laws because they don't want the government fussing with anything even half as invasive as that.
  • Conservatives are for sodomy laws because government should take an activist role in righting moral wrongs and "protecting" heterosexuality, marriage and/or decency.
  • Liberals are against sodomy laws because everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law and that distinctions shouldn't be made on the basis of sexual orientation.

    It's tempting to give the libertarians credit for at least being consistent -- "no government for me, thanks" -- and cynically write off both the left and the right. But if we look more closely we see that there is consistency to both the liberal and conservative position.

    Neither is motivated by the libertarian concern with the role of government, despite the fact that both the left and the right deploy this argument when it suits them. When we remove that smokescreen -- as we have by juxtaposing these two issues -- we see that in each instance conservatives seek the advantage of one group over another. That in one case (affirmative action) this means a hands-off social policy and in the other (sodomy laws) it requires the policing of the most private of behavior is immaterial. The consistent thread is the fear that the claims by other citizens seeking justice and equality threaten the factional group. In these cases the groups would be white people and heterosexuals -- which, it just so happens, conservatives are overwhelmingly likely to be.

    Jay Alan Sekulow of the Pat Robertson-affiliated American Center for Law and Justice -- what's that you say? A center for law and justice? And they're American? Whatever they say must be right -- says the center "decided to enter the case after concluding that acceptance of the gay rights arguments by the court might provide a constitutional foundation for same-sex marriage." The Family Research Council -- formerly headed by Gary Bauer, the most fetusesque presidential candidate since, well, Steve Forbes, who got into the 2000 race a couple of weeks before Bauer -- says that the Texas law represents "a reasonable means of promoting and protecting marriage -- the union of a man and a woman."

    Now, promoting marriage may be a worthy social policy. Tax incentives, day care, whatever; research seems to indicate that families are a good thing. But how do sodomy laws protect or promote it? Do they somehow prevent a harm to those already married? Do they somehow compel others to marry? An irrational fear of some "threat" to heterosexuality -- or even, ironically, the conservative's own choices of private sexual behavior -- drives support for sodomy laws.

    Similarly, undoing (as opposed to reforming or mending) affirmative action does not achieve equality and a society that pays no mind to race. The fact is that there have been for hundreds of years systemic legal and cultural efforts to create injustice based explicitly on race. Would it be better if the residue of these not-so-long-discarded policies disappeared and we didn't need to use race as a factor in correcting them? Sure. Is the eradication of that residue and the eventual adaptation of a truly race-blind society the goal? Absolutely. But ending affirmative action now, before remedying the pervasive economic and social effects -- poverty and its attendant social ills, mainly -- of these wrongs only serves to protect those whose who stand to "lose" their artificially and brutally gained advantage. This fear is at least rational (in a revolting way) but doesn't create any better or more just a policy than the other one.

    As you may have guessed if you've read this far, we think the liberals have got it right. Again, despite what you may hear in court in these two cases, the proper role of government has nothing to do with the ultimate policy preferences of liberals. Opposition to sodomy laws and support for affirmative action are two positions that seek to create a society of equal opportunity. In one case it requires a hands-off government which allows freedom of association; in the other it requires an activist program seeking to undo the wrongs done by an equally-activist government of the past.

    A word about affirmative action: it has at times been crudely and even counter-productively implemented. But in principle and in better instances of practice it represents an activist government seeking to achieve a society in which everyone starts with the same fair shake -- not an equality of outcomes, but equality of opportunity. Affirmative action doesn't presume inferior ability; it presumes an inferior economic situation and consequent inferior opportunities and societal tools -- good schools, a safe neighborhood, etc. -- to develop that ability.

    We think the coalitions in these cases reveal much about the fundamental ideology of the left and the right. Perhaps it is a testament to the power of libertarian thought that both parties grab it when they can use it. We don't know, actually. It's been a lot of hours since we last slept, so this may make interesting (if humiliating) reading another day. Critiques, scathing and otherwise, are welcome.

    :: posted by Joe at 18:45 ::
    :: ::


    We're pretty confident that the US military has things under control. This should prevent President Bush and other political higher-ups from conducting this war as they conducted the lead-up to it: haplessly and at a far higher cost than necessary without even achieving the stated goals. Things seem to be going well so far, and we hope they will for the duration.

    :: posted by Joe at 17:44 ::
    :: ::


    Is anyone else feeling early-'90s nostalgic at the word of Patriot missiles successfully intercepting Scuds? We've already got a Bush in the White House, but no word yet on whether Rodney King is willing get the piss beaten out of him for old times' sake. If you don't hear "Voices That Care" playing (constantly) somewhere in the distance, go back to Cuba -- you're not a real American.

    :: posted by Joe at 03:05 ::
    :: ::


    :: Tuesday, March 18 ::

    Paul Krugman makes an important point and, since the piece was published early this morning, portends the sneering dismissal of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle today by Johnny Bardine of Truth is a Blog in comments on an earlier post on this site. Krugman writes:
    What scares me most, however, is the home front. Look at how this war happened. There is a case for getting tough with Iraq; bear in mind that an exasperated Clinton administration considered a bombing campaign in 1998. But it's not a case that the Bush administration ever made. Instead we got assertions about a nuclear program that turned out to be based on flawed or faked evidence; we got assertions about a link to Al Qaeda that people inside the intelligence services regard as nonsense. Yet those serial embarrassments went almost unreported by our domestic news media. So most Americans have no idea why the rest of the world doesn't trust the Bush administration's motives. And once the shooting starts, the already loud chorus that denounces any criticism as unpatriotic will become deafening.

    So now the administration knows that it can make unsubstantiated claims, without paying a price when those claims prove false, and that saber rattling gains it votes and silences opposition. Maybe it will honorably refuse to act on this dangerous knowledge. But I can't help worrying that in domestic politics, as in foreign policy, this war will turn out to have been the shape of things to come.
    The Krugman article comes by way of Casus Belli, with whom we agree that the piece was inflammatory (but of course being inflammatory and being right are not mutually exclusive).

    :: posted by Joe at 12:43 ::
    :: ::


    The Economist notes this week (in an unfortunately pay-per-view article) that the United Nations has authorized the use of force only three times in its history: Korea, the first Gulf War and the recent campaign in Afghanistan. So defenders of Bush administration policy are right that going to war without Security Council support is no novelty.

    But when your main legal justification rests on the violation of UN resolutions it becomes far more necessary to attain UN support than for your "pre-emptive" war than, say, stopping a genocide or intervening to halt a civil war. That the UN system is such a vital part of the reason for this war means that failing to obtain its support is a proportionately disastrous outcome for the Bush administration.

    :: posted by Joe at 11:42 ::
    :: ::


    :: Monday, March 17 ::

    Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle has a couple of good lines in response to the president's speech:
    "I'm saddened," Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, said in a speech to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

    "Saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country. But we will work, and we will do all we can to get through this crisis like we've gotten through so many."
    The delivery was particularly good; the remark caught our attention on TV. Add a dash of support for the troops and tweak the "if you die your life is wasted" implication into a "George W. Bush is needlessly sending our boys into slaughter" sentiment, and you've got a decent message heading into Wednesday the nineteenth and beyond.

    :: posted by Joe at 19:07 ::
    :: ::


    Michael Gerson, head speechwriter for President Bush, writes a good speech. Indeed, one might say that his rhetoric tonight and in the past has outmatched the policy or moment in history for which it was written. And surely his words often diminish their speaker by the utter dissonance of President Bush speaking articulately and in complete sentences. He's good. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

    Gerson's speeches consistently up the rhetorical ante for less-clearly correct policies (less clear than, say, fighting Nazis or going after bin Laden) by giving them the urgency of nobler causes. By using his talent to lube the obfuscation machine that is the Bush White House, Gerson contributes to a general debasement of political language which leaves us without any sense of proportion. Witness the advent of freedom fries. Emotions are escalating on both sides of not only the war debate but over issues from judicial nominees to the environment to abortion. Something less Churchillian would be more appropriate much of the time.

    There is also the issue of his boss. Rumors notwithstanding, he can read, and he reads the speeches well. But is he really fooling anyone? Most everyone has heard him speak extemporaneously, and understand that he really means it when he says he's a man of action and, implicitly, not a man of words. In his more serious speeches, and particularly in this one, the president seems either confused or scared by text of his own speech. Tonight his eyebrows were frozen for fifteen minutes, crumpled above his nose in a pleading symmetrical peak; quite the strange war face.

    Gerson is fond of saying that his goal is "not to write a good speech but to write a good speech that is also his speech." Tonight seemed to drift away from that ideal. It may not solve the problem of that profound emptiness in the eyes of George W. Bush, but it would do his country and his president well to let the man speak his own language, whatever that is.

    :: posted by Joe at 18:44 ::
    :: ::


    President Bush, addressing the nation as we write this, just descended to the "can't see himself in the mirror" level un-self-awareness with the remark, about the process that has led us to the eve of war, that "our good faith has not been returned."

    Say what you will about the case for war, but the absolute clearest thing about this process has been that there was never any good faith from the Bush administration. This timetable was decided sometime last summer, if not sooner.

    If not for an even more duplicitous interlocutor in Saddam Hussein the US would find itself in an even worse diplomatic fiasco than the present one -- which is already a disaster. Only the undeniable, palpable evil of Saddam Hussein has kept at our side what few allies we still have. Good faith is precisely what now-former allies have found lacking in US foreign policy.

    Saul Bellow, in his 1982 The Dean's December, lends us an apt description: "That's how it works. You swindle a man and then grab even the sense of injury for yourself. A devouring man devours all there is."

    :: posted by Joe at 17:46 ::
    :: ::


    :: Sunday, March 16 ::

    Are we the only ones cynical enough to conclude that the obsession with the Elizabeth Smart "case" -- case being code for non-newsworthy event -- both before and after her rescue is really just an expression of society's latent pedophilia at the expense of this unfortunate, if cute and blonde, little girl?

    UPDATE: Perhaps this post merits some further explanation -- accusations of mass pedophilia usually do. This post was in response to Larry King, whose sexual normalcy is already up for debate with that chubby phallic microphone spinning around, taking up the whole screen during the opening titles of his show. Sunday night's installment of Larry King Weekend (the thoughtful, introspective spin-off of his hard-hitting weekday show where Uncle Larry comes out from behind the desk) featured wall-to-wall Elizabeth Smart coverage. He had on Patty Hearst offering her expertise on all things Patty Hearst-related. She also offered uninformed speculation and pseudo-psychological analysis of all things Elizabeth Smart-related.

    Actually Ms. Hearst was initially part of a feeling of relief one has when the opportunity to soak in some good ol' tabloid TV journalism arises after a long spell weather-heavy CNN International. But things quickly got worse. Every two or three minutes, apropos of nothing actually said, file video clips of a younger Elizabeth Smart were plastered across the screen, followed by posed pictures of a now-older rescued Elizabeth with some family members. Over and over, the same montage.

    This may be simple sensationalism. But some obvious questions point to a far sicker little-blonde-girl fetish. We're simply wondering whether any, well, ugly kids are getting kidnapped? Or blobbish-looking infants? Or children of any ethnicity other than white or socio-economic class other than suburban? The question of whether little boys are ever kidnapped -- you wouldn't know from any of the cable news channels -- touches the other side of the latent perversion spectrum. If no one is interested in the ugly kids, then surely the story of cute little boys kidnapped, with the "God only knows what those animals might be to doing to that child" undertone of kidnapping coverage, would sell to only the truly sick.

    Frankly, it's all sick. Larry King's exorbitant wealth and quasi-playboy reputation are prima facie evidence that there is in fact no justice in this world. In that cable news context, we're not sure there can be a presumption of any basic ethical standard. Is there any other base instinct which goes unpandered? Not so far. Is there any reason to give the benefit of the doubt here? We don't think so.

    :: posted by Joe at 18:52 ::
    :: ::


    :: Saturday, March 15 ::

    According to the New York Observer, these are "hyperbolic and misinformed times." In their current lead editorial, the editors let loose on both the president and his less than antagonistic opponents, specifically the ones who produce lopsided majorities on carte blanche war resolutions.

    This piece is itself a bit hyperbolic, but not at all misinformed -- and brilliantly written. The unsigned broadside manages to label President Bush as: smug, blustering, bullying, inarticulate, clueless, lost, mediocre, and intellectually-challenged. Democrats, not doing much better, are: lame, dumbstruck, hiding under toadstools, pusillanimous, and calculating. But the facts are spot on:
    The callow, smug, inarticulate man who was the lead player in a farce called "White House News Conference" gave us no new reasons to go to war, no sense of the dangers involved and no confidence in his leadership. The television appearance itself—more a blustering tape loop than exchange with the press—could only be called a national disgrace; President George W. Bush’s performance in front of a docile collection of game-show hosts posing as reporters ought to frighten all of us. We live in terrible times, dangerous times, and all this man can do is mouth platitudes and assertions put on his podium cards by his war-crazed handlers. Eight times he interchanged the war on Iraq with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and eight times he was unchallenged.

    Amazingly, in the immediate aftermath of the President’s disgraceful performance, news outlets described him as "solemn" and "determined." These pieces must have been put together before the President actually spoke, because there was nothing solemn or determined about him; "clueless" and "lost" would have been closer.

    It is astonishing that this mediocre President apparently has cowed the alleged opposition party, the Democrats, into reticence, as the elected officials who usually rush for the mascara for Sunday-morning talk shows have been hiding under Washington toadstools. [...]

    Somehow, the Bush administration’s cowboys have done the unthinkable. They have alienated friends, ruined international relationships, squandered the good will and sympathy that the Sept. 11 atrocities inspired, and turned America into a global villain. All of this, while Saddam Hussein smiles and watches the world turn in his favor, inheriting the gusts of international opinion that Mr. Bush has mind-bogglingly forfeited. Rarely in modern times has such a blundering swap taken place. A poll in an Irish newspaper recently found that the majority of respondents in that America-friendly country believed that George Bush was a bigger threat to peace than Saddam. It is not just those perfumed pansies in Paris who are alarmed by our behavior. Somehow Mr. Bush has contrived to have people the world over see this nation -- the nation that created the Marshall Plan and ended the Cold War -- as an international menace on matters of security, on the environment, on justice and on fair trade.

    With its Reagan-era bluster and frat-house machismo, the Bush administration has played into the hands of terrorists, breaking apart NATO and fracturing half-century-old relations with Europe that have persevered through all the roilings of post–World War II history. And the administration did it at just the very moment when the West has been targeted -- not by that wretched despot Saddam, but by the murderous followers of Osama bin Laden. Thanks to the President and his hubristic crew of ideologues, America and Europe are not united, as they should be, in the face of global Islamic militancy. Instead, many people talk about the end of America’s strategic alliance with Western Europe. Instead of France and Germany, some say, we will simply align ourselves with the post-Communist states of Eastern Europe -- like, say, Bulgaria.

    Osama bin Laden did not create this sad state of affairs. George W. Bush did.
    That is precisely what we said, but put far more felicitously. (And we apologize for pulling punches on Bulgaria; we'll really let them have it sometime soon.) Besides being completely right, the writer also managed to begin the piece with a quotation from Shakespeare's King John and later worked in the underused formation hubristic. We want to make out with whoever wrote this piece.

    If turns out to be a guy we'll be very conflicted and necessarily intoxicated, but we'll make our move anyway because fluid, genius prose like that -- when accompanied by sufficient tequila -- clouds one's sexual preference. (We really hope it's a girl, though.)

    :: posted by Joe at 10:14 ::
    :: ::


    :: Wednesday, March 12 ::

    It would seem (at least to those who aren't convinced that our system of capital punishment is broken, which it is) that the decision by the US Supreme Court to halt the execution of Delma Banks Jr. "only minutes before Mr. Banks was to have been given a lethal injection" indicates that the system is working and that the death penalty is fair.

    Yet for some reason we're uneasy about it getting so far before the self-correcting mechanisms of our glorious justice system kick in. Do we really want to come so close to having potentially innocent -- or even unjustly convicted -- blood on our collective hands that an executioner whose Swatch is running a little fast or an urgent need to use the loo by the Supreme Court clerk who is supposed to make the "stop" call could potentially make the difference?

    :: posted by Joe at 20:30 ::
    :: ::


    When the previous post was being written we hadn't even gotten to this article in the Post yet:
    A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that the 650 suspected terrorists and Taliban fighters held at a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have no legal rights in the United States and may not ask courts to review their detentions.

    The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, an important legal victory for the administration in its war on terrorism, means that the detainees can be held indefinitely without access to lawyers or judges.

    The attorneys for 16 detainees -- 12 Kuwaitis, two Britons and two Australians -- sought to force the government to explain in court why the men are being held. That motion, known as a writ of habeas corpus, establishes a court's authority over a person in custody.

    But the court rejected those appeals, citing a World War II Supreme Court case about German prisoners as precedent and ruling that because Cuba holds ultimate sovereignty over the leased military base, U.S. courts have no jurisdiction there.
    And in case you were wondering, even treaties like the Geneva Convention are not applicable to the detainees:
    The detainees "cannot seek release based on violations of the Constitution or other treaties or federal law; the courts are not open to them," [Circuit Court Judge A. Raymond] Randolph wrote.
    Given that the US doesn't recognize the Castro regime's legitimacy and anyway would not permit any ruling by its courts to be carried out on the base, it seems that these detainees have a problem. Who's responsible for them? Batista died in 1975, so no luck there. Is there a Batista government in exile somewhere in the US? If some old Batista cronies get together in the basement of the Miami Rotary and order these prisoners freed, will US courts then demand that the Bush administration comply?

    In comments on the decision, Attorney General John Ashcroft does what must be parody of himself by engaging in the kind of scary, martial double-speak that his critics mock so often:
    Ashcroft hailed yesterday's ruling as an "important victory in the war on terrorism.

    "In times of war, the president must be able to protect our nation from enemies who seek to harm innocent Americans," Ashcroft said in a statement. "As the D.C. Circuit recognized, the Supreme Court has held that this nation's enemies may not enlist America's courts to 'divert' . . . efforts and attention from the military offensive abroad to the legal defensive at home."
    At least the sap who writes his releases was self-conscious enough to throw some quotation marks around "divert". This is bad, bad, bad.

    :: posted by Joe at 05:13 ::
    :: ::


    The International Criminal Court formally opened for business yesterday, beginning a new phase in the efforts by 89 insolent rogue nations to bring down America.

    With China, India, Iraq and Turkey among the handful of countries besides the United States that have not ratified the treaty, only a few phrases that reference the names of countries look likely to survive this latest affront to American rightful hegemony. Several precious phrases were, however, saved by the far-sighted agreement of these nations that maybe we don't want to get too serious about prosecuting war crimes.

    Chinese food need not become Non-Commie Taiwanese food, the Cleveland Indians can avoid becoming the far less catchy Native Americans (as the french fry incident involving what is in fact Belgian spud design illustrated, even nonsensical usage is fair game), and as yet there will be no Sense of the Congress resolution recommending that your Thanksgiving dinner menu be "patriotically revised."

    With American "freedom fries" and the reverse lend-lease contribution by our British allies of "snogging" not quite catching on as replacements for the previously French versions of potatoes and making out, we're glad that at least Chinese lanterns may still adorn your less-tasteful suburban backyards and your more-tasteful college dorm rooms alike.

    More on the advance of this wicked, wicked plot to undermine our sovereignty:
    No American officials attended the ceremony, but some American legal experts did, among them Theodor Meron, a professor at New York University Law School who was recently appointed president of the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal, as well as two elderly lawyers who had played a role at the Nuremberg trials. One of them, Benjamin B. Ferencz, 82, said the current American leadership "seems to have forgotten the lessons we tried to teach the rest of the world."
    Clearly President Bush was right to not seek ratification of -- and then bravely "un-sign" -- the treaty creating the court, which was signed by Bill "I wanna give m'country away" Clinton. He must for the sake of liberty itself continue his campaign to prevent the court from holding American citizens hostage, using military action if necessary.

    So far he has "pressed many governments into deals to disregard any subpoena issued for an American citizen." According to the Times, "Washington has obtained such deals from 21 nations, mainly poor countries dependent on United States aid." This only proves that Americans are the only truly free people in the world. We must vigilantly guard against the prospect of Americans being detained by a foreign power for actions on the battlefield and denied their rights.

    :: posted by Joe at 03:47 ::
    :: ::


    By all accounts, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is both a better politician and a smarter guy than President Bush. So when we read things like this, we have to think that he knows something we don't:
    For weeks and months, a seemingly unruffled Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has weathered a gathering storm of discontent among members of his Labor Party who are incensed — or at least unsettled — by his lock-step alliance with President Bush.

    But recently, as Mr. Blair has acknowledged that he might join a war in Iraq without a new authorization from the United Nations, that unease has crystallized into something more ominous.

    Now, in by far the worst crisis for Mr. Blair since he took office in 1997, the dissent has given rise to a startlingly open debate about his political future.
    The odds are that Mr. Bush has something up his sleeve for the last-ditch, eve-of-war appeal for support. At least, for the sake of the international system and US relations with the world, we hope he does. And if he does, Mr. Blair is probably aware of it.

    It is hard to believe that Tony Blair would so matter-of-factly stake his political life on what has until this point been an awfully daft effort to build the international support he would need to survive all this. Let's hope that whatever it is that will be "revealed" the night before the bombs start falling will be significant enough to bring the world around. Mr. Blair apparently thinks it will be.

    :: posted by Joe at 02:58 ::
    :: ::


    :: Tuesday, March 11 ::

    All indications are that President Bush was serious when he said that the nations of the world must either be with us or against us. For the most part it seems the world has chosen the latter, and those still on the fence are feeling pressure from both sides. With the United States on the one hand and Europe increasingly at the head of the "against us" line, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe find themselves conflicted.

    As the Christian Science Monitor reports, both the US and the European Union offer impressive -- perhaps frightening is the word? -- incentives for support. The US holds out the carrot of NATO and a guarantee of territorial integrity from the world's lone superpower. The EU offers potential subsidies for the economy and a flood of investment as a new member in the huge free-market club right next door.

    Some don't like the choices:
    "It's not either/or; it's both," says Tadeusz Iwinski, foreign-policy adviser to [Polish] premier Leszek Miller. "We don't see the need to choose between Europe and the United States. That's like having to choose between your mother and your father."
    Adam Rotfeld, the Polish Deputy Foreign Minister, may be right when he calls the choice a "false dilemma" but this seems unlikely to earn Poland leeway from a US administration which has been behaving of late with all the diplomatic tact and maturity of a four year-old.

    In Western Europe support for US policy on Iraq has fallen out mostly along ideological lines, with the exception of Britain and France, whom you can use your pen to ink in to the "with us" and "against us" columns, respectively, for the duration. Use your pencil for the rest of Europe, because the composition of the government seems to govern the position of the other Western Europeans. As governments change, so will the support each side. The right supports the US, the left doesn't. As we pointed out after the "Gang of Eight" letter appeared in January, public opinion (which is pretty firmly against war all across Europe, even in Britain) doesn't seem to have much to do with policy:
    Italy's Berlusconi, for example, faces no less opposition to the war in his country than Schroeder does in Germany; it just doesn't happen to be his constituency, so he needn't pander to it.
    But Italy does not face the same choices as the countries of "New Europe". Already a member of both NATO and the European Union, neither side offers Italy any compelling incentive for support. So, as in the other Western European nations, ideology of the leader governs the choice.

    Poland, however -- along with the Czech Republic and Hungary -- is already in NATO but not yet a member of the European Union. With public support for enlargement not exactly ecstatic among present members and constitutional issues about how an EU at nearly twice its present size would function still unresolved, it would seem that the choice becomes slightly clearer. The view from Warsaw is probably clearest of the three as the government continues increasingly strained accession negotiations with Brussels:
    "Only America and NATO can give us external security," adds Bogdan Goralzyk, an adviser to foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. "But even more pressing is domestic security, which means modernization, and nobody but the EU can give us that."
    Several other countries still face a more harder choice. Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania all finds themselves "in, but not quite in" both the EU and NATO. Each is at its some stage in the accession process to both organizations -- a process that can be slowed down or derailed if the club has second thoughts about its membership.

    If after all of the posing at the UN is finished no new resolution materializes and the bombs start falling, leaders in Central and Eastern Europe will have to make some choices. We can't help but think that the following factors must be considered:

  • New security threats like terrorism are largely aimed at the United States and tend to occur, at least so far, in places other than Europe;
  • Traditional security threats like Germany and Russia, which in the past might have put a premuim on security for the nations that lie between those two former giants, are today virtually nonexistent;
  • Public opinion across Old and New Europe is either indifferent or hostile to US policy;
  • There will be even less ancillary economic benefit to siding with the US for security reasons as the US economy declines and the dollar loses value.

  • With those in mind, it would seem that the European Union is the slightly sweeter deal at the moment.

    Another fact to consider is that the US views NATO enlargement as in its own interests, whereas European Union expansion lies somewhere between hobby project and charity work for most of its members. The EU has very few tools of persuasion at its disposal and the prospect of membership is by far the heftiest. Despite the Bush administration's penchant for recriminations, the European Union deal is not only sweeter, but more likely to go sour.

    Of course, all of this was preventable -- and possibly still may be reversible. But if the way the Bush administration has handled itself so far is any indication -- threatening, polarizing, and allergic to compromise -- attitudes toward the US in even those countries that are presently "with us" seem likely to grow increasingly bitter.

    Thanks to Casus Belli for the initial CSM article.

    :: posted by Joe at 08:19 ::
    :: ::


    :: Monday, March 10 ::

    Hendrick Hertzberg submits -- and we wholeheartedly agree -- that no matter how quickly the regime in Baghdad falls the apparently inevitable war with Iraq can already be deemed a failure:
    After September 11, 2001, enormous crowds in Berlin and London and Paris, and even in Tehran, bore candlelit witness to their solidarity with wounded America. NATO, for the first time ever, invoked the provision of its charter declaring an attack against one to be an attack against all. With the blessing of the U.N. Security Council, the soldiers of a dozen countries fought alongside ours in Afghanistan. (Germans and French, among others, are still there.) Just a year and a half later, in almost every sizable city of Europe, North America, and the rest of the democratic world, the United States government became the target of what was apparently the largest coördinated one-day popular protest in the history of the world. In the Security Council, America’s adversaries suddenly include, for the time being, at least, its putative friends, old and new alike. And wherever pollsters ply their trade they find -- incredibly -- that the publics of the democratic world regard the United States as a greater menace to peace and safety than Iraq.

    How did it come to this? Some of the strain, as Robert Kagan argues, is structural, the natural result of asymmetries -- of military strength, of historical experience -- between America and Europe. And some is the consequence of European obtuseness, shortsightedness, hypocrisy, and wishful thinking. Russia and France (and, to a lesser extent, Germany) are not without blame in this crackup. Each in its own way is playing for advantage, worrying over its portion of influence in the world, calculating its economic stakes in Iraq and the Middle East generally. But it is the policies, attitudes, and ideological blindnesses of the Bush Administration that have turned a chronic but manageable alliance problem into an acute crisis. [...]

    The roots of that failure have been growing for two years. The Administration trashed the Kyoto environmental treaty, the A.B.M. treaty, and the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, and did so contemptuously and arrogantly, without offering compromises or remedies for their flaws; it demanded the ouster of Yasir Arafat while offering no resistance to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank; it defined the war on terrorism exclusively in the theological language of good versus evil, viewing any attempt to analyze terrorism politically as morally inadmissible; it undermined the power of the convincing reasons for confronting Saddam (such as his consistent failure to disclose and dispose of his weapons of mass destruction) by mixing them with unconvincing ones (such as his alleged coöperation with Al Qaeda); it created the impression that the U.N. effort to disarm Iraq has been a charade masking a predetermined plan to oust Saddam by force no matter what.
    Frankly, we believe that a war with Iraq would be justified on human rights grounds alone. A regime loses its sovereignty when it mass-murders its own people. Dictatorships have been the driving force behind international agreements that stipulate otherwise -- treaties founding the Organization of American States and the then-Organization of African Unity, for example -- but this principle has become increasingly accepted by the international community, as the interventions Kosovo and East Timor illustrate.

    Only practical geopolitical calculations can or should preclude something from being done about a murderous regime on the scale of Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- and that is precisely what is happening today. It's terrible that this president couldn't cobble together support on the issue of human rights alone; shame on France, Russia and the UN for precluding such a thing and shame on him for not even trying.

    President Bush was right, though, that he had a far better chance at building support for a war over weapons of mass destruction and violation of UN Security Council resolutions. (Hertzberg is also right that tossing the far less substantiated terrorism link has damaged the case as a whole.) We've been hawkish since way back in October -- even before we started capitalizing and using the pretentious "we" -- for human rights reasons alone. The WMD and rule of law issues have never been the primary motivation for us, but they are a convenient and convincing argument in persuading others. To each is own; Saddam needs to go.

    But President Bush has completely loused everything up. As Hertzberg illustrates, the mind-boggling diplomatic ineptitude he has shown has brought us to a place where the costs of going at Iraq outweigh the benefits. Saddam still needs to go. But not at the ever-escalating cost to our global stature and the international system.

    Could it have been done another way? Absolutely. As we said in this space in January:
    The United States bears the burden of leadership in this world whether its chooses to or not. This administration has shirked and abused that responsibility at every opportunity. There is an increasingly large gap between the ever-greater need for US leadership in global affairs and the depths to which this administration's irresponsible exercise of power diminishes us. They have not led.
    At this point, it's Bush that needs to go. Let the inspections continue until the inevitable revelations shame the Security Council into action, or until 2005 when another president can try his hand at the task -- apparently impossible for Mr. Bush -- of convincing everyone else in the world to do the right thing.

    :: posted by Joe at 14:32 ::
    :: ::


    :: Saturday, March 8 ::

    Torture is a serious subject, so we plan to tackle it seriously. Off-limits are bad puns about Egypt's self-proclaimed position atop of the pyramid of counter-terrorism or how the United States is in de-Nile about human rights abuses by the government of Hosni Mubarak.

    The same article linked in the previous post briefly discuses the situation in Egypt, where our ally client-government hasn't exactly mastered the art of the non-denial denial:
    An Egyptian government spokesman, Nabil Osman, blamed rogue officers for abuses and said there was no systematic policy of torture.

    "Any terrorist will claim torture — that's the easiest thing," Mr. Osman said. "Claims of torture are universal. Human rights organizations make their living on these claims. Their job is not to talk about the human rights of the victim but of the human rights of the terrorist or those in jail."
    We wonder whether Mr. Osman went on to say that claims of innocence were also universal, and that "insolent" judges, juries, and attorneys constituted an "iron triangle" of special interests that make their living on these claims and collude to prevent justice. We do know that he went on about terrorism:
    Mr. Osman declined to say whether Egypt had assisted with interrogations of Qaeda suspects at the request of the Americans. He would say only that both governments had cooperated in sharing information about terrorists and potential terrorist activities.

    "We are providing them with a wealth of information," he said.

    He said many of Egypt's antiterrorism initiatives, like military tribunals, had been imitated by the Untied States. "We set the model," he said, "for combating terrorism."
    The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has this to say about that model:
    [T]orture is systematically practiced by the security forces in Egypt, in particular by the State Security Intelligence.
    For more information on the Egyptian Model, see these reports on which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch make their living.

    :: posted by Joe at 20:39 ::
    :: ::


    The Times today has some excellent reporting on what exactly is going on with all these people we have in custody. One quote on treatment of prisoners borders on the Clintonian:
    The Western intelligence official described Mr. Faruq's interrogation as "not quite torture, but about as close as you can get."
    Well, as long as this unnamed source identified only by his civilization is sure, we'll take his word for it.

    Also worthy of honorary inclusion in the Jones v. Clinton court records: Col. Roger King, spokesman for the American-led force in Afghanistan, while discussing what methods can and cannot be legally used during interrogations, had this gem further illustrating the moral clarity of US foreign policy:
    He said sleep deprivation was "probably within the lexicon."
    Then, buried two-thirds into the piece, is this puzzler:
    Colonel King said that an American military pathologist had determined that the deaths of two prisoners in December were homicides and that the circumstances were still under investigation.
    Fans of morbid nomenclature will recognize "under investigation" most recently from its frequent use by the Israeli Defense Force to describe those situations in which Palestinians other than terrorists have been killed. (In other words, don't expect a press release on the results of the inquiry anytime soon.)

    There has been some debate recently about the use of torture -- no less serious a publication than the Economist wondered on its cover several weeks ago whether it can be justified, as if torture were a new technology on whose merits society suddenly needed to have a discussion.

    Striking up a debate about a long-settled question at the moment people would seem most likely to favor it for all the wrong reasons -- revenge, nationalism, racism, whatever -- seems irresponsible. But at least it is honest. If the US government decides that torture is the way it wants to go, let it say so, and let it say why. Let it make the case. All of this hedging on definitions and jurisdiction is a disgraceful dodge. It was hard enough to listen to this kind of weaseling when it was just about sex.

    :: posted by Joe at 19:31 ::
    :: ::


    :: Thursday, March 6 ::

    Please stop having Republicans write about the Democratic presidential candidate field for your unsigned &c. blog pieces.

    The latest -- sorry, but there really isn't another word for it -- bullshit involves calling on Sen. John Kerry to denounce Al Sharpton. Reasonable people understand that Sharpton is like the donut-wielding chubster Lard Lad in a certain Halloween episode of the Simpsons: the solution is the Paul Anka/Lisa Simpson jingle, "Just Don't Look". Ignore him and -- like Lard Lad -- Sharpton falls, his donut rolls away, and the Democratic Party is saved.

    But this goes beyond a simple disagreement on how to handle the Rev. To denounce Sharpton now -- when he's at zero in the polls and generating no news -- can only give him the publicity and faux-legitimacy he so feverishly craves but doesn't deserve. Its only real effect would be to play into the hands of those who'd like to define Democrats as the party with the "Sharpton Problem".

    One can only conclude that these "advice" posts are in bad faith. It's bad enough that &c. has degenerated into a string of glib political calculus posts of late; we could do without the disingenuous non sequiturs on what Democratic presidential contenders should be doing.

    :: posted by Joe at 17:21 ::
    :: ::


    :: Tuesday, March 4 ::

    Michael Walzer lays out the alternatives for an anti-war protestor:

    OPTION 1:
    [D]eny that the Iraqi regime is particularly ugly, that it lies somewhere outside the range of ordinary states, or to argue that, however ugly it is, it doesn't pose any significant threat to its neighbors or to world peace. Perhaps, despite Saddam's denials, his government is in fact seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. But other governments are doing the same thing, and if or when Iraq succeeds in developing such weapons—so the argument continues—we can deal with that through conventional deterrence, in exactly the same way that the US and the Soviet Union dealt with each other in the cold war years.
    OPTION 2:
    [A]rgue that the present system of containment and control is working and can be made to work better. This means that we should acknowledge the awfulness of the Iraqi regime and the dangers it poses, and then aim to deal with those dangers through coercive measures short of war. ... Defending the embargo, the American overflights, and the UN inspections: this is the right way to oppose, and to avoid, a war. But it invites the counter-argument that a short war, which made it possible to end the embargo, and the weekly bombings, and the inspection regime, would be morally and politically preferable to this "avoidance." A short war, a new regime, a demilitarized Iraq, food and medicine pouring into Iraqi ports: wouldn't that be better than a permanent system of coercion and control? Well, maybe. But who can guarantee that the war would be short and that the consequences in the region and elsewhere will be limited?
    We agree with Walzer both that the second is by far the best argument against the war and that the first is "overrepresented among speakers at the big demonstrations."

    Everyone should go read this article. But since we know you don't actually go read the articles we tell you that you must, we'll quote at length some more:
    Right now, even at this last minute, there still are alternatives, and that is the best argument against going to war. I think that it is a widely accepted argument, even though it isn't easy to march with. What do you write on the placards? What slogans do you shout? We need a complicated campaign against the war, whose participants are ready to acknowledge the difficulties and the costs of their politics.

    Or, better, we need a campaign that isn't focused only on the war (and that might survive the war) -- a campaign for a strong international system, organized and designed to defeat aggression, to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing, to control weapons of mass destruction, and to guarantee the physical security of all the world's peoples. The threefold constraints on Saddam's regime are only one example, but a very important one, of how such an international system should function.
    Walzer does gets a bit ahead of himself later in the piece, claiming that such an international system requires "that other states, besides the US, take responsibility for the global rule of law and that they be prepared to act, politically and militarily, with that end in view." We're not sure that the Bush administration's Iraq policy has the "global rule of law" as its goal any more than the foot-dragging French and Russians (through puddles of Total and Gazprom-brand Iraqi oil, respectively). But surely both sides need to do much more to avert what Walzer dubs this "preventable war."

    :: posted by Joe at 16:39 ::
    :: ::


    No, it's not because Bush is a terrorist -- he's not. But nor is it because they "hate our freedom." The rift between the US and Europe is much more complex than simple-minded sloganeering.

    In his review in Foreign Affairs of two new French books analyzing anti-Americanism in that country, Walter Russell Mead puts it nicely, if still a bit on the jingoistic side:
    America's failures and crimes are the patrimony of anti-Americanism, its treasures and its darlings. They inflame and disseminate anti-Americanism, but they are not its root cause. For that we must look to American success, American power, and America's consequent ability to thwart the ambitions of other states and impose its agenda on the rest of the world.

    France is not the only country in Europe or the world whose ambitions were frustrated by the British and American hegemonies. France is not the only country which, left to its own devices, would embrace a kinder and gentler, if slower, form of capitalist transformation than the one that the Anglo-Saxon model imposes. France is not the only country in which intellectual and social elites dread the restructuring and decentralization that the Anglo-Saxon model brings in its train. Nor is it the only country where the state fears the loss of authority and power to Anglo-Saxon-driven globalization, with its attendant requirements of low taxes, transparency, and equal treatment for foreign investors and firms.

    The challenge for Americans and non-Americans alike is not to end anti-Americanism; only the collapse of American power could accomplish that task. Today, the task is to manage pragmatically the resentments, irritations, and real grievances that inevitably accompany the rise to power of one nation, one culture, and one social model in a complex, divided, and passionate world.
    Even if you don't buy his explanation of the origin of the problem, it is hard to argue with his solution. The Bush administration has absolutely failed to "manage pragmatically" all of the "resentments, irritations, and real grievances" that are, probably, "inevitable." But far worse -- and far more dangerous for America and the global stability it has built over the last half-century -- President Bush has through ignorance, ineptitude and isolationism added many new "resentments, irritations, and real grievances" that may prove too great a burden for American power to bear.

    :: posted by Joe at 15:38 ::
    :: ::


    Senator Bob Graham is in. A former governor from the South, he marries two crucial qualities of the last two successful Democratic candidates which no other person in this race has. As a bonus, he is "outraged" at the Bush administration on all matters national security-related.

    Barring some unforeseen catastrophe during the primaries, he has assured himself a spot on the ticket. Bob Graham needs only to make a respectable third- or maybe even fourth-place showing in the first several primaries in order to secure himself the second spot. No matter who wins the nomination, he'll be an attack dog on terrorism and national security, equally serious and equally credible as Dick Cheney. And, of course, he's from Florida, where he remains hugely popular. All of this locks him up for the VP-slot, but don't count him out of the race for the nomination, because he could win it.

    Again, all of that is dependent on Graham not somehow disgracing himself in the next fifteen months. The most likely train wreck for the Graham campaign is, as you may have heard, the strange note-taking thing. The Times profile linked above prints the least-weird explanation so far:
    Then there are the notebooks, the daily logs of personal and political activities that Mr. Graham has kept for more than 25 years, their covers color-coded by season. In their thousands of pages, Mr. Graham records his weight, changes of clothes and other minutiae. In 2000, Time magazine made such sport of the logs that some Democrats thought the habit spoiled Mr. Graham's prospects of becoming Al Gore's running mate.

    Mr. Graham said he began carrying the notebooks during his first gubernatorial race, inspired by the example of his father, who always carried notebooks around his dairy farm, noting sick cows or fences in need of mending. Mr. Graham notes the names and needs of constituents, to remind himself to follow up.

    "I guess I err on the side of inclusion," he said, recalling how Time noted that on the night before one of his four daughters gave birth to her first son, "She wanted to watch a light movie, and so we watched, `Ace Ventura, Pet Detective,' and so I wrote that down."

    Mrs. Graham interjected with a gentle smile, "And you rewound it, too." She called the notebooks "an important tool," and noted that her husband's official portrait as governor shows him with one in hand.
    We're not sold, but we think the disorder can be downgraded from psychosis to neurosis. If he can't bring it down to foible before New Hampshire, it could be a problem.

    :: posted by Joe at 01:02 ::
    :: ::


    IN FOR IT:
    Via the Times we learn that brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard are in for the drubbing of their life on the gridiron courtesy of Coach Haden Fox's Minnesota State squad, also under the guidance of assistant coaches Luther Van Dam and Dauber Dybinski. God speed, gentlemen.

    :: posted by Joe at 00:22 ::
    :: ::


    :: Monday, March 3 ::

    Strange that it should make front-page news that the Bush administration has assured the world that a person in its custody will not be tortured and that the United States will abide by all the international laws and accords it has ratified.

    Even stranger was White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer's slippery qualification of even that promise:
    "The standard for any type of interrogation of somebody in American custody is to be humane and to follow all international laws and accords dealing with this type of subject. That is precisely what has been happening, and exactly what will happen." [Emphasis added]
    We are left to presume, of course, that "this type of subject" is not a "prisoner of war" or even a "suspect" but one of a growing number of detainees to whom, in the opinion of the Bush administration, no international laws and accords apply.

    Your crack White House Press Corps didn't bother to ask which, if any, laws and accords would be applied in this case. But hey, if you're not a terrorist, you've got nothing to worry about.

    :: posted by Joe at 14:51 ::
    :: ::


    We like Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) well enough. But about the only thing he would have offered to the 2004 presidential primary was to make the Connecticut primary interesting. Though he might have given a certain former governor of Vermont a run for his money in the "short guys with four-letter last names starting with D" demographic.

    :: posted by Joe at 11:44 ::
    :: ::


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