Sunday, November 30, 2003

Iraq War Reporters: Anthony Shadid

I've mentioned before that article on Iraq by the Washington Post's Anthony Shadid are always worth reading.

Shadid is one of the few Western reporters in Iraq who himself speaks fluent Arabic. It's probably no accident that his reporting has tended to show a less optimistic picture of American prospects in the war than the Administration would have liked.

Monday's Post has another of his reports:

Shiite Clerics Emerge as Key Power Brokers 12/01/03

This piece provides some context for how Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has emerged as possibly the most important political player in Iraq.

<< The Shiites, seen by occupation officials as the key to stability in postwar Iraq, are torn between politics and personalities. Some of the best-organized parties -- among them the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- have engaged U.S. authorities and taken part in the Governing Council. Others, such as the followers of Muqtada Sadr, a 30-year-old cleric whose father was a revered ayatollah, have come out defiantly against the occupation, devoting their attention to street politics.

<< But none of the parties claims the religious authority enjoyed by the grand ayatollahs, four of whom in Najaf are widely recognized as deserving the title marja al-taqlid, or source of emulation. Their authority among their followers is unquestioned. ...

<< Given Sistani's traditional reluctance to enter politics, the forcefulness of his recent opinions caught some by surprise. For months, the senior ayatollah, who has remained secluded in his home since the war's end because of fears for his safety, faced criticism from some Shiites for his lack of assertiveness. His reticence allowed more militant factions, such as that led by Sadr, to seize ground as public frustration mounted. >>

Chuckie Watch 20: Chuckie vs. Them There Europeans

Ole Chuckie gave me a good one for Chuckie Watch #20. The latest rant from Regnery Press political commentator and wannabe Nashville arbiter of Patriotic Correctness CHARLIE DANIELS is holding forth on them there Europeans who don't wanna support the Iraq War: Anybody's Terrorist (11/28/03).

This gives you a pretty good sample of why Chuckie is such an insightful commentator.  He says:

<< The naivety of the Europeans is literally beyond my comprehension. I wonder if they think that they are going to go through this thing unscathed. >>

Heck, Chuckie, I guess they just don't have political sophisticates like you around to light the way for them. Otherwise, they would understand what has to be done with them there terrorists as well as you do (my emphasis):

<< There can be no backing up and no quarter given. Nothing short of total inhalation is going to protect the world from these pus balls.

<< The only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. >>

Yep, them there unsophisticated Europeans don't know you got to inhale them terrorists to git rid of them.

50/50 Chance: A Sober Thought on the Present and the Future

The veteran folksinger, songwriter, labor activist, civil rights advocate and peacenik Pete Seeger at age 84 is still singing, putting out records and staying concerned about the state of the world.

His latest CD is the two-disk is called Seeds and it's the third installment of "The Songs of Pete Seeger" tribute series. On the first disk, Pete sings the lead on the songs. And the disk wounds up sounding like an antiwar rally. And that's a good thing. It's especially moving to hear "Bring Them Home," first performed in 1966 (in Berkeley) as an anti-Vietnam War protest, now acquiring new meanings and new words in the times of the Iraq War.

The last piece on the second disk is also a brief spoken piece by Pete. It's understated but very memorable. This is the full text:

I now figure, very seriously, that I think we have a 50/50 chance of having a human race here in a hundred years. This implies that any grain of sand might tip the scales in the right direction or the wrong direction, and each of us is but a grain of sand. So, in effect, I'm encouraging people to be active in some way.

Pete is a living link between the labor movement of the 1930s, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the antiwar movement the 60s and 70s and the antiwar movement of today. Plus he's a link for us to some of the best music in the American folk tradition. I'm told his 1966 album God Bless the Grass was the first American popular music album completely dedicated to environmental concerns.

Woody Guthrie's influence on popular music is arguably greater than Pete's. But it was primarily through Pete and his old group the Weavers that Woody's songs became widely known to the public.

These days, it seems to become harder and harder to separate politics and entertainment of any kind. And least of all with Pete's work. But even if you don't agree with his strong antiwar sentiments, his songwriting, his singing and the interpretations of his songs by other artists have a lot to offer.

Iraq War: Sunday SF Chronicle Articles

Will wonders never cease? The San Francisco Chronicle seems to be in definite danger of turning into a more substantial newspaper. The 11/30/03 edition has several notable pieces on the Iraq War.

This report on Haunting parallels seen between Chechnya, Iraq contains this tidbit:

<< "Only Americans deal with the resistance, not us. We don't have the power. This is the problem of the Americans," said Brig. Gen. Riyad Abbas al Karbuli, police chief of Fallujah, a town 30 miles went of Baghdad that has become a flashpoint of Iraqi resistance to the occupation. >>

In one of the most restive cities in Iraq, we can't even get the local police to assist in fighting the guerrillas? That says a lot.

Other notable articles include:

Iraq's chilling echoes of Vietnam by Gordon Livingston. A psychiatrist and Vietnam veterans looks at some common features of the war efforts.

No exit from Iraq for America's market men by Orville Schell. A provocative look at how the corporate-management approach to decision-making on Iraq may have had bad results.

War's 5-step transformation: From 'can-do' to 'get me out of here' by Frank McCulloch. A somewhat jaded reflection by a former Vietnam war correspondent.


Iraq War: Say What About Those WMDs?

Stuart Cohen's defense of the CIA National Intelligence Estimate which I referenced in the previous post also has this rather striking comment:

Those who conclude that no threat existed because actual weapons have not yet been found do not understand the significance posed by biological and chemical warfare programs in the hands of tyrants.

Let's see. If Iraq didn't have chemical or biological weapons, just how did they present any kind of imminent threat? This seems like an attempt to boost the Bush Administration's argument that Saddam had weapons programs, though not the actual weapons.

Although they've yet to find much of any evidence for ongoing programs even.

The article concludes with an argument that maybe someday, somewhere in Iraq we might still find some WMDs.  And it concludes with this odd and disturbing paragraph:

<< We must keep in mind that the search for WMD cannot and should not be about the reputation of US Intelligence or even just about finding weapons.  At its core, men and women from across the Intelligence Community continue to focus on this issue because understanding the extent of Iraq's WMD efforts and finding and securing weapons and all of the key elements that make up Baghdad's WMD programs— before they fall into the wrong hands—is vital to our national security.  If we eventually are proven wrong—that is, that there were no weapons of mass destruction and the WMD programs were dormant or abandoned—the American people will be told the truth; we would have it no other way. >>

The problem for Bush's preventive war doctrine is that unless the prewar intelligence on threats of this nature has a very high degree of credibility, it will be difficult for Congress, the people or our allies to put much stock in it.


Iraq War: Those Elusive WMDs

The CIA has posted a defense of its controversial October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on its Web site. (In case this one is discovered a month from now as "news," I'll mention that I saw a report of it in El Mundo.)

Written by analyst Stuart Cohen, it defends the NIE against a number of criticisms which have been levelled against it. I'll have to leave it to someone who knows way more about the politics of that particular dispute to sort through exactly who his analysis may be protecting and who criticizing.

But I was particularly struck by this passage:

<< The NIE judged with high confidence that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of the 150 km limit imposed by the UN Security Council, and with moderate confidence that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons.  These judgments were essentially the same conclusions reached by the United Nations and by a wide array of intelligence services—friendly and unfriendly alike.  The only government in the world that claimed that Iraq was not working on, and did not have, biological and chemical weapons or prohibited missile systems was in Baghdad. >>

Since it turns out that Saddam Hussein's regime seems to have been telling the truth about that, it highlights what a spectacular failure of intelligence the whole "weapons of mass destruction" claims were. Now, part of the article seems directed in particular at denying that the widely-reported direct intervention of Vice President Cheney with CIA analysts had any effect on the final product.

But I'm not sure which is scarier. The idea that the CIA let Cheney pressure them into lying about this. Or the idea that the CIA blew it completely on their estimates.

Either way, the situation will not be improved by further politicizing the analysis of intelligence, as some of the hardline hawks criticizing the CIA over this are trying to do.


Saturday, November 29, 2003

European Defense

Rummy is on his way to Brussels and one of the main items on his agenda is opposing the European Union's plans for a common European defense force.

The Frankfurter Rundschau reported on Saturday that Berlin, Paris and London had reached agreement on a basic approach. The question is, how much fortitude will Tony Blair have in standing up to Bush Administration opposition?

The London Independent described the situation rather uncharitably this way: "Although it was hailed as a 'breakthrough' by France, the text of the defence deal between London, Berlin and Paris has still not been agreed, apparently because Washington has not given the UK the green light to sign up."

It goes on to quote British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as describing himself as a "100 per cent signed-up Atlanticist" and adding that Tony Blair was "200 per cent." No wonder his critics call him Tony the Poodle.

Martin Winter in the Frankfurter Rundschau comments that over the long run, a common EU security policy cannot be sustained without the active participation of Britain. On the other hand, "It shouldn't be allowed to be driven here and there by British whims of a trans-Atlantic nature."

Iraq War: Not Just the Sunni Triangle

It's no secret to people who have been following the news that, despite the phony declarations from the Administration and its defenders, attacks on American troops have not been restricted to the Sunni areas of central Iraq, the so-called "Sunni triangle."

But according to this report, the Defense Department's internal information indicates that around 40% of the attacks on US troops since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" on May 1 have come from outside the "Sunni triangle" area.

Guerrilla war in Iraq spreading Boston Globe 11/29/03

<< Since the end of major combat operations on May 1, nearly 40 percent of attacks on US and coalition targets have been outside the Sunni Triangle, home to many remnants of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime, according to internal Defense Department reports obtained by the Globe.

<< The monthly breakdown is classified, but Defense Department officials confirmed that the number of attacks occurring in the far north, south, and far western Iraq -- areas outside the Sunni Triangle, which is immediately north and west of the capital of Baghdad -- has increased in recent months. ...

<< Since May, when major combat operations were declared over, a total of 2,227 guerrilla attacks took place in the Sunni Triangle, according to figures as of the end of last week. The rest of the country has had 1,416 attacks, most of them against occupation forces. >>


Iraq War Fans: Tom Friedman Gets Cosmic Again

I suspect that Tom Friedman knows better. But he became a cheerleader for the Iraq War. And now he seems to be more in denial about what a disaster it has turned out to be than many members of the Bush Administration. We know after Rummy's famous memo on the problems of the war leaked a couple of weeks ago, even Rummy recognizes at some level that it a mess. Probably an irredeemable mess for American foreign policy.

But here's poor Tom Friedman, spinning rhetorical fantasies: The Chant Not Heard New York Times 11/30/03. After complaining that antiwar protesters against Bush and Blair's policies in London didn't have enough slogans that echoed Bush and Blair's justification for preventive war against Iraq, he declares:

<< First, even though the Bush team came to this theme late in the day, this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. The primary focus of U.S. forces in Iraq today is erecting a decent, legitimate, tolerant, pluralistic representative government from the ground up. I don't know if we can pull this off. We got off to an unnecessarily bad start. But it is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad and it is a moral and strategic imperative that we give it our best shot. >>

This just makes me want to say, Tom, what are you smoking? Even Richard "Prince of Darkness" Perle isn't this much of a true believer. Hello? Halliburton? Weapons of mass destruction (that didn't exist)? "One of the noblest things this country has ever done"? Tony Blair's worried about being indicted by the International Criminal Court for waging what the Nuremburg principles called "aggressive war." And Tommy Friedman is pretending the whole thing is like a giant Peace Corps project. Wow!

He goes on to advocate escalation in Iraq. Which would require soldiers that we don't have, counterinsurgency training that they don't have, a draft that Bush is not going to institute until after the 2004 elections and/or allies that we don't have. Then he says that nurturing opposition to al-Qaeda's type of terrorism is our "real goal in Iraq."

He probably knows better. But blind faith seems to have taken over.


Iraq War: Problems on the Way to Iraqi Democracy

Sunday's Washington Post has an analysis of the current problems facing the proposed US transition plan in Iraq (or exit strategy, bug-out plan, whichever you prefer). It's co-authored by Walter Pincus, one of the Post's best reporters.

Faced with opposition to the current proposals from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shi'a cleric, Viceroy Jerry Bremer is now forced to reconsider. And it turns out, the proposed plan looks like something Tom DeLay might have designed for Texas. The plans for the initial elections were heavily weighted to favor the current members of the Iraqi Governing Council, hand-picked by the US:

<< One way or another, key council members are vying either to shape the transition or ensure the council remains intact and a powerful body, as the U.S. plan envisions. Because many of the 24 council members probably would not fare well in open elections, they pressured Bremer to establish an indirect three-step system to select a new national assembly, which in turn would pick a prime minister and cabinet, a process so complex that many Iraqis and U.S. experts doubt it will work.

<< A former U.S. adviser to Bremer described the plan as "an insane selection system of caucuses, like the Iowa caucus selecting those who will vote in New Hampshire."

<< The U.S. plan effectively gives the Governing Council a kind of remote control because it will have the deciding vote in local caucuses that will pick a national assembly.

<< "The Governing Council has a veto, and that's a bad system," said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst at the National Defense University. "It's also such a complicated formula that it seems almost guaranteed to keep power in the hands of the few, and that would not be a good thing for Iraqis to have as the first taste of elections. If they get a bad taste they may not want to do it again.">>


Iraq War: A Grim and Sad Report

I wonder what David "get-ready-for-atrocities" Brooks thinks about reports like this one, from Juan Cole's outstanding blog (11/29/03, my emphasis):

<< Guerrillas in Mosul killed a soldier with mortar fire that hit the 101st Airborne Division HQ on Friday. On Thursday, a US soldier had been shot to death inside a military base in Ramadi. US soldiers in Baquba shot dead two girls, Fatima and Azra, 15 and 12, on Thursday. They were collecting wood from a field in the middle of the day. US troops initially claimed that one of the girls had been armed, but this allegation does not appear to be borne out by the evidence. >>


Gianfranco Fini's Visit to Israel

Gianfranco Fini, head of the Italian political party National Alliance, the historical direct successor to Mussolini's Fascist Party and a participant in the current Italian governing coalition, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel this week. Fini is generally credited, even by Italy's Communist Party, with having successfully transformed the National Alliance into a genuinely democratic conservative party. (Spanish president José María Aznar is given credit for a similar achievement as leader of the ruling People's Party in Spain, the successor party to Francisco Franco's Falangists.)

This article from the liberal Israeli paper Ha'aretz reports on Fini's visit. Making history without remorse (Ha'aretz online 11/29/03). The article discusses how Fini had been expected to make an explicit apology for Italian participation in the Holocaust. But he avoided that formulation, in part because other political parties in Italy objected to his making such a statement on their behalf:

<< The fascist militants [in Italy] were insulted in the name of Mussolini and his "genuine" heirs. On the other side, the old-time partisans, leftists and Jewish representatives refused to allow Mussolini's heirs to apologize on their behalf for crimes against which the anti-fascist camp fought. >>

The article notes that, despite criticism of that aspect of Fini's visit, there was much to commend in the positions he took while in Israel:

<< At a press conference held after the visit to Yad Vashem ... Fini agreed, while answering a question to denounce the Salo Republic [German puppet regime, 1943-45] and to include it in the definition of "one of the disgraceful chapters in the history of our people."

<< In  response to another question, he even agreed to recoognize fascism as "absolute evil." Even if these statements were not included in his speech at Yad Vashem, they cannot be ignored. >>

The article also notes that Fini's statements in Israel may cause a rift in the National Alliance party, and that the fact that "Alessandra Mussolini (the dictator's granddaughter) was resigning from Fini's party may be an indication that a major rift is in the offing."

Iraq War Critics: Bruce Nussbaum

Bruce Nussbaum in his Business Week column has been a perceptive critics of the Bush Administration foreign policy. In the fall of 2002, he critiqued the new Bush National Security Strategy, which officially adopted preemptive war - really preventive war - as the country's official policy. In "Foreign Policy: Bush Is Half Right" (Business Week 10/07/02), Nussbaum warned:

<< Despite loose talk today about a benign new Pax Americana, many Americans and many more people overseas are uncomfortable with the image of an America acting unilaterally around the world, breaking treaties at will, giving lip service to allies and international institutions while claiming for itself the sole legitimate use of force anywhere, anytime it feels threatened. That is the text and subtext of much of the National Secruity Strategy report. >>

He noted that the report reflects a seemingly deep-seated suspicion of the international community. "Ironically, this international community is the very one the U.S. has spent decades building to spread American values of rule-of-law, democracy, and free markets all over the globe."

The arrogant disregard of allies and treaties is a dangerous departure for American foreign policy. "Certainly, all international agreements have flaws. But America, as a world power, is obliged to make them better, not simply dump them."

Although Nussbaum went along in this piece with the progagandistic use of "preemption" to describe what is really a preventive war doctrine, he accurately observes, "An American strategic policy of preemption without internationally agreed-upon rules could increase global violence and instability." He notes that Russia and China were already starting to use the "language of preemption" in justifying actions that the US may not approve.

He also raises a serious question about whether the notion of freezing US global superiority in place indefinitely is viable. He sees China as the most likely country against whom this policy might be invoked. But, in fact, a common European defense force is a more obvious danger from the standpoint of the Bush Doctrine in terms of immediate potential to be a counterweight to American military dominance.


Iraq War Critics: Steve Gilliard

I've praised Steve Gilliard's Weblog before. And it's still consistently good on Iraq War news and analysis. And often the informality of language that the blog format allows more than in formal journalistic formats adds a lot to the commentary. I thought of that when I saw his "Uh, no, they really did lie" post of 11/29/03 (you have to scroll down).

He's responding to the suggestion that maybe Bush and his advisers really did believe their claims about "weapons of mass destruction" prior to the war because they were relying on bad intelligence. Gilliard doesn't deny that there were intelligent failures. But he doesn't buy the "self-deception" idea. He says (with slight editing for AOL's terms-of-service restrictions):

<< I'm sorry, but that's a bunch of h*******t. They lied. They lied like teenagers caught with a bottle of Jack and a half dressed girl between their thighs. They lied about Saddam's intentions, his capabilities and his agressive posture and we knew it at the time. Saddam didn't want war and didn't do anything, or much of anything to provoke it. He'd buried his air force and didn't trust his commanders to have chemical weapons. ...

<< Not liking Bush is one thing. Questioning his policies is quite another. Iraq just didn't make sense. The French, who were going to participate as late as January, even sent the Clemenceau towards the Gulf, realized what a mistake this policy was going to be. They didn't trust the follow-on planning. And said so. Resulting in drawing all the heat when in fact, the Germans had the far more dogmatic position [against the war].

<< Now, we have too few troops, declining morale, and a growing resistance movement and the best we get from Bush is his standard "we gonna get them terraist sum uh bitches" speech, one belied by his sneaking into Iraq in the dark, turning out the lights in Baghdad and running away two hours later. Which says everything you need to know about security in Iraq. >>


Friday, November 28, 2003

God, Abraham and the Destruction of Sodom

Marcia Ellen, whose Weblog regularly has some of the most creative material I've seen among the AOL Journals (with cool graphics, too), raises an interesting question. In the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, why did God want to destroy the city? In her discussion, she makes the interpretation that, contrary to traditional Christian views, the great sin of the city was unbelief rather than homosexuality.

The book of Genesis, where the story appears, is fascinating. I'm partial to a reading of Genesis that sees it as a two-sided learning process, where Yahweh and the humanity that he created in his own image are learning to adjust to each other.

Prior to the destruction of Sodom, Yahweh appears to Abraham as a traveler and tells him what he is about to do. Then Abraham bargains with him to see how many righteous people it would take to persuade Yahweh not to destroy it. (Genesis 18: 16-33)

This story is the first time in the Bible that "justice" is mentioned. We read that Yahweh is thinking that he wants Abraham to be just. But it's not God who tells Abraham he has to be just. It's Abraham who tell God that he has to be just.

When Yahweh says he's going to destroy Sodom, Abraham's response is along the lines of, "What?!? You can't do that! That's not right!!"

One way to read this part of the story is, maybe it had never before occured to Yahweh that he should be just in dealing with human beings. (There was that nasty incident about the Flood prior to this.) But he created people in his own image. And they came up with their own ideas of how things should work.

God agrees to Abraham's bargain. Abraham still loses the city. But he tried.

Iraq War: 3rd ID Report - Where I Found the Link

When I saw where I found the link to the 3ID After Action Report, I almost revised my previous post. But I decided to leave it there to show the thought process I went through.

I had originally cited the place I first heard about the report, in the second-previous post before the one in which I quoted from the After Action report. It was in the New York Times Magazine! In an article by David Rieff that was cited all over the place by blogs critical of the war!

So, if the thing was discussed a month ago in the so-called "paper of record," how does it suddently resurface as a news story now for the Associated Press, PBS Newshour and the Christian Science Monitor? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to see the coverage (finally).

And I'll give myself a tiny bit of credit for looking up the report itself, because Rieff's article didn't include the Web address. (And I did pull the quotes I used directly from the report).

So maybe you do see stuff developed on Weblogs that the mainstream press is just ignoring, or severely underplaying. Searching for the source that it turns out I had already cited, I also found a few other articles from over the last month that used the report:

A Pentagon With No Papers by Fred Kaplan (Slate 11/07/03)

Logistic woes plagued Army division during, after [sic] Iraq war (Government Executive Magazine 11/11/03)

The truth behind the US's "Iron Fist" (Asia Times Online 11/20/03)


Iraq War: What Is Up With This 3ID Report?

Now I'm really curious what's going on with this Third Infantry After Action Report. It was one of the main items in the news summary at the beginning of the PBS Newshour for 11/28/03.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I linked to this same report nearly a month ago. But now it's being treated like fresh news. I didn't hack into any Pentagon computers to get it (John Aschroft take note!!). It was posted on the Fort Carson (CO) military Web site. The link that I used in the 11/02/03 post was no longer functioning today. But, a good Web resource on military and security issues generally, has "obtained" a copy of the report and has it posted on their site.

Also, following up on my last post, I've checked the archives of the Weblogs I mentioned there and several others, and haven't found where I first saw it referenced. Normally if I find an obscure document through another Weblog, I'll mention that I found it via that blog. But if the article is in one of the large news services or something like that, I don't necessarily do that. In this case, I must have figured that it's on a US government Web site, so how obscure can it be?

Since the major news organizations now appear to be discovering it for the first time weeks later, I guess the answer is, more obscure than I thought. But now I wish I had linked to wherever it was I saw it referenced so I would remember. Although I do sometimes check out government Web sites on my own, I remember seeing some comment at the time about how the document was marked "For Official Use Only," but was still posted in a publicly-accessible Web site.

I was posting some excerpts here because they related to points I had been making about the special demands of counterinsurgency warfare. But, shoot, if I had known that nobody but a few of us Weblog geeks was paying any attention at all to that report, maybe I should have written an article on the thing and tried to sell it to a magazine or something.

What are the reporters doing who are actually paid money to follow this stuff and write about it?


Iraq War: Mainstream Press Discover 3rd Infantry Division Report

Not to toot my own horn or anything. But as the great labor leader John L. Lewis liked to say, "He that tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted."

Several weeks ago now, I quoted some passages from the Third Infantry Division (Mechanzied) After Action report.

Today I see in the Christian Science Monitor's Weblog for 11/28/03 that that very report "was obtained by The Associated Press, the Washington security think tank Globalsecurity.Org and other outlets."

Well, gosh, I obtained it myself off the Web nearly a month ago.

Now, to be fair about this horn-tooting thing, as I recall I first saw a reference to it on one of the Weblogs shown in my Other Journals list on the main page of Old Hickory's Weblog. Probably Billmon, Steve Gilliard or Warblogging.

For that matter, it may have even been referenced in some other news article that I saw. I just got a grin out of the fact that the report somehow, someway, "was obtained by" news outlets - weeks later.


Iraq War: Now, Just How Credible is This?

Why does the Bush Administration have this obsession with denying the obvious?

Rice downplays security "problem" in Iraq AFP 11/28/03

<< President George W. Bush's national security adviser denied that the secrecy and security blanketing his trip to Baghdad showed how unsafe Iraq remains eight months after the US-led invasion. 
<< Concerns about rising insurgent violence led the White House to impose a vow of silence on media, lifting it only once Bush was safely away from the Iraqi capital after a mere two and a half hours spent confined at Baghdad airport.
<<  Some critics, including the presidential campaign of retired general Wesley Clark, said the brevity and cloak-and-dagger nature of the visit -- which the White House sold as a morale-booster -- actually showed how little Washington has accomplished in Iraq since taking control in April. >>

Wesley Clark was making a very valid point. But it seems that Condi Rice played right into his game. If she needed to respond at all, why didn't she just leave it at, "Obviously, Iraq is still a dangerous place, and that's no secret to anyone" (which she did say)? Instead she put it in a transparently defensive context, saying:

<< "[I]t's just not true that nothing has changed" since the March invasion [which, of course, no one has said].
<< "The Iraqis are taking control of their own future. Most of the country remains quite stable. The Iraqis are planning and looking forward to the transfer of sovereignty. They're taking over ministries, schools are opening, all of those things are happening," she said. >>

And why are Administration spokespeople so fixed on schools, schools, lots of schools? Iraq had schools under the old regime. Some development officials have complained that badly needed funds have been diverted from more urgent projects to cosmetic efforts like painting schools.

The Bush Administration has good reason to be defensive over their conduct of the Iraq War. But it's still surprising they've often so ham-handed about it.


Iraq War: Robert Fisk on David Brooks

I see that British journalist Robert Fisk has picked up on this David Brooks quotation I mentioned a few weeks ago (my emphasis):

<< It's not that we can't accept casualties. History shows that Americans are willing to make sacrifices. The real doubts come when we see ourselves inflicting them. What will happen to the national mood when the news programs start broadcasting images of the brutal measures our own troops will have to adopt? Inevitably, there will be atrocities that will cause many good-hearted people to defect from the cause. They will be tempted to have us retreat into the paradise of our own innocence. >>

Fisk's comment on Brooks' statement was as follows (Telling the truth won't set you free Seattle Post-Intelligencer 11/27/03):

<< What is one to make of this vile nonsense? Why is The New York Times providing space for the advocacy of war crimes by U.S. soldiers? I doubt the U.S. channels will broadcast any images of "brutal measures" -- they've already had the chance to do so and have declined. But atrocities?
<< Are we now to support atrocities against the "scum of the Earth" -- Brooks' word for the insurgents -- in our moral campaign against evil? >>

My take on Brooks' statement in my earlier post was that it represented "an unhealthy degree of enthusiasm for colonial-style war. Think the Phillipines, a century ago. It's really pretty disturbing to see respectable conservative pundits - we're not talking a junkie fanatic like Rush Limbaugh here - start manufacturing blanket excuses for war crimes."


Thursday, November 27, 2003

Iraq War: Winning Friends and Influencing Allies

The people of Spain, one of the few EU countries that supports the US in the Iraq War and even contributed some troops, believe by a majority of 85% that the war was not worth it. (El Mundo 11/28/03)


A new poll in Europe conducted by the Real Instituto Elcano found that Spain had the most negative view of the value of the war of any European population, although France's 84% was statistically equivalent. Spanish opinion in the poll was evenly divided between supporters of Spain's participation (38%) and opponents (37%), although that considerably less than a majority that actively supports it.


I suppose the Bush Administration could take some comfort in the fact that a larger majority of Spaniards view terrorism as a threat than see the US as one. But more people saw the US as a threat than Islamic extremism. American unilateralism is not viewed favorably by the Spanish people. Fifty-seven percent in the poll said US unilateralism was an "extremely important" danger for the interests of Spain.


And this is one of America's closest allies on the Iraq War.


California Politics: Schwarzenegger's Two-Week Drama - And Its Ambiguous Results

One advantage of actors in politics is that they have particularly approppriate experience for the dramatic aspects of governance.

I haven't seen any polling data, but I'm guessing that Gov. Schwarzenegger has succeeded in using drama to establish an image of integrity and credibility with a lot of his supporters. He fulfilled one of his key campaign promises, rescinding the vehicle license fee increase, on his first day in office. He called an immediate special session of the legislature, which focused public attention on state issues. He's close to a deal on repealing the law allowing undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses. And he's pushing forward with proposals for a "spending cap."

But dramatically focusing the public's attention on state government so quickly after the unusual recall election and his inauguration has some down sides for him. His team is new, and he's new to the process. His new finance chief, Donna Arduin, snubbed legislators by walking out of a budget hearing. Within hours of taking the oath of office, he was appearing before a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in his honor, telling the assembled businesspeople that he would be asking them for even more campaign money for a raft of initiatives. His first week, he appeared at the car dealership of one of his large contributors to hawk cars: "Go out there. Buy cars. Buy new cars. Buy used cars."

And he couldn't avoid scrutiny of his actual proposals for budget cuts. He sidestepped that during the campaign with phony talk about going after "waste," while Davis had just been battered by having to go through the difficult process of working out actual cuts and tax increases with the legislature. So now Schwarzenegger has started proposing cuts in state assistance to elderly people, the disabled, welfare mothers and universities. And that's just in the short run. Arduin just this week began projecting the cuts they want for the next budget year, including reduction for K-12 (kindergarten to 12th grade) education and universities. And she suggested that privatization of prisons would be examined.

Promising affluent California voters that we could have good public services without having to pay for them worked fine in the campaign. Now he has to face some cold realities of California's state budget.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

California Politics: Schwarzenegger Starts Budget Cuts

True to his proposal last week to rescind cost-of-living increases to welfare mothers - and in line with his finance director Donna Arduin's fondness for cutting health and welfare programs in other states she's worked - Gov. Schwarzenegger is finally starting to get specific about cuts. Oh, that stuff in the campaign about not cutting education? Edited out in the latest version.

Gov.'s Cuts to Hit Poor, Universities Los Angeles Times 11/25/03

<< Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected today to propose $3.8 billion in budget cuts over the next 19 months, including reductions in services to the poor and disabled, as well as in higher education programs.

<< The cuts, intended to help close a budget shortfall of at least $17 billion through mid-2005, would end art therapy for the developmentally disabled, scale back food stamp eligibility, reduce fees to doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients and eliminate recruitment programs at public universities. A draft was obtained by The Times. >>

After Gov. S rolled back the vehicle license fees to please his friends at the car dealers association and froze environmental and safety regulations to please business lobbyists, Republicans are very earnest in being willing to accept sacrifices for food stamp recipients and Medi-Cal patients (Medi-Cal is the state version of Medicaid, medical insurance for the indigent).

<< "It's almost like a necessary pain that we have to go through," said Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who will become Assembly Republican leader in January. "We have had a cancer growing on our budget and to cure this we are having to go through the chemo. It is painful, but we do have to shrink this tumor." ...

<< Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove) said the negative reaction to the cuts comes as no surprise: "I can't think of one group that is not going to squeal when the cuts are made," he said. >>

Gosh, it's inspiring to see how brave and determined these Republicans are to grit their teeth and accept that some of these old people are just going to have to go to nursing homes instead of getting in-home assistance.

Margaret Thaler Singer, Expert on Cults

Margaret Thaler Singer, a Berkeley psychologist best known for her research on cults and her efforts to educate therapists and the public on the particular dangers of cults, just passed away. The San Francisco Chronicle's obituary can be found here: Margaret Singer - expert on brainwashing.

That article includes a succinct quotation from her on the basic problem, "There are always sharpies around who want to hornswoggle people."

It also mentions that she revised her best-known book, Cults in Our Midst (1995), co-authored with Janja Lalich, to include information on cults and terrorism. In her books, she discusses ways in which cults use religious practices that may be common and not at all dangerous in ordinary contexts and misuse them to make people subject to coercive persuasion.

For instance, excessive meditation can not only make people susceptible to manipulation. It can cause lasting problems, such as recurring feelings of depersonalization and what she called "derealization" or "feeling removed from one's body or as if one were watching oneself." She calls these flashbacks "involuntary meditation."

Singer's work on cults is valuable, among other reasons, because she takes a secular and psychological perspective on what the actual experience of cult members and victims has been, based on actual case work and professional studies. She didn't use her work as a vehicle to advance a particular religious agenda. In fact, she stressed in her book that it was a mistake to see cults as a religious phenomenon.

<< [I]t is not at all the case that all cults are religious. A cult can be formed around any content: politics, religion, commerce, self-improvement techniques, health fads, the stuff of science fiction, psychology, outer-space phenomena, meditation, martial arts, environmental life-styles, and so on. Yet the misconception that all cults are religious has left many unaware not only of the variety of cult contents but also of the plethora of cults, large and small, that has spread throughout our society. >>

She was active in the anti-cult organization American Family Foundation (AFF).


Chuckie Watch 19: More on Chuckie and Anti-Semitism

Two Chuckie Watches in a row! This one gets back to an earlier theme. In The Silly Tip of the Iceberg (10/24/03), Chuckie wrote:

<< A few years ago members of the media tried to make Billy Graham look like an anti-Semite because of some long ago, taken out of context telephone conversation with then President Richard Nixon. Of course it didn’t work because anybody with a half ounce of gray matter knows that Billy Graham has spent his life proclaiming the gospel of a Jew, Jesus Christ and loves both Israel and the Jewish people. >>

Actually, it was last year, but why nit-pick? Not that Chuckie or the actual fans of his rants would care, but here is a better summary of that event, from When Religion Becomes Evil (2002) by Charles Kimball:

<< In early March 2002 a private conversation between evangelist Billy Graham and then-President Richard Nixon appeared on the thirty-year-old Oval Office tapes that were released to the public. Graham told the president that Jews had a "stranglehold" on the media that needed to be broken because it was "ruining the country." Nixon replied, "You believe that?" "Yes, sir," Graham responded. "Oh, boy. So do I," Nixon agreed, adding, "I can't ever say that, but I believe it." At this point Graham replied, "No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something." Graham also confides to Nixon, "A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. ... They know I'm friendly to Israel and so forth. But [Jews] don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them." Nixon's reply: "You must not let them know." On hearing of the tapes, Billy Graham immediately issued an apology saying that he did not recall making the remarks when he was fifty-three years old. >>

The Billy Graham of 2002 had the decency to make an apology. The Chuckie of 2003 didn't see how anybody could thank there was anything anti-Semitic about that nohow.

It's well known that the Watergate revelations provoked Graham into a serious rethinking of some of his positions. And he has never (publicly) encouraged the kind of bigotry or indulged in the kind of venom that Chuckie routinely does in his Soapbox rants.

Chuckie Watch 18: Chuckie vs. The Press on Iraq

Ole Chuckie must have been busy for the last couple of weeks, too busy to follow the latest on Fox News. Because in his Soapbox rant of 11/21/03, Letters, he's still flogging the idea that everything's going great in Iraq, it's just the bad reporting of the sinister Liberal Press that makes things look bad.

C'mon, Chuckie, that's like, so, two weeks ago! The Patriotically Correct line now for true-blue war lovers is that we're bringing down the Iron Hammer, crushing a walnut with a sledgehammer and all that, and it's about time we started kicking some ungrateful Iraqi booty, too!

Of course, Chuckie spents a lot of this one talking about how much our troops are being attacked. So maybe he's just having trouble integrating the latest approach with the previous one.

It's not so hard Chuckie: Just drop the old version and use the new one. Rummy says it, Fox repeats it and you believe it. Just go with the flow, Chuckie.

Chuckie Watch bonus: This article by Nick Confessore gives a good sketch of the publisher of Chuckie's book Ain't No Rag, Regnery Press: Hillary Was Right, American Prospect 01/17/00:

<< Welcome to the world of Regnery Publishing--lifestyle press for conservatives, preferred printer of presidential hopefuls, and venerable publisher of books for the culture wars. Call it--gracelessly but more accurately--a medium-sized, loosely linked network of conservative types, with few degrees of separation and similar political aims. Just don't call it a conspiracy. >>


Bush's Embarassing Visit to Britain

Jules Witcover, veteran political journalist and author of the new book Party of the People: A History of the Democrats, takes a look in his regular column at Bush's visit to Britain last week. He's not unique in seeing it as less than completely successful. But he brings his own considerable insight into Presidential politics to bear in describing his own view.

A jolly bad show for Bush in London Baltimore Sun 11/24/03

<< Instead of cheering crowds lining the streets for Mr. Bush, few Britons got a glimpse of him. What tens of thousands of souls did turn out for was a chanting, placard-pumping march through the heart of London protesting his untimely visit and, in their view, his unwarranted and unwanted war.

<< Coming around the 40th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, what a contrast it was with Mr. Kennedy's rousing, triumphant, public entry into Berlin in June 1963. Had Mr. Bush had an opportunity, in the fashion of Mr. Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, to proclaim, "I am a Londoner," you can only imagine the ensuing public uproar.

<< Protesters, by the nature of their job description, are given to excess. Still, the erection of a gold-covered papier-maché effigy of Mr. Bush branding a missile in Trafalgar Square, and its toppling to mirror the way the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad was brought crashing down, was a graphic commentary on how U.S.-British relations -- in the streets, at least -- have fallen. ...

<< The spectacle of the American president in tails wining and dining at Buckingham Palace, when he apparently has little time to attend the funerals of American servicemen killed in the war he started, only compounded the folly of his London rescue operation for Mr. Blair.

<< Even as Mr. Bush was undertaking it virtually undercover, the American dead being brought home in caskets also were being kept largely out of public view, lest the cost of his war policy in terms of the human loss be overly emphasized. Abroad and at home, stealth seems to be the standard operating procedure of this war administration. >>


Monday, November 24, 2003

JFK and Withdrawing from Vietnam

James Galbraith is fast becoming one of my favorite writers on economic and political topics. He's a professor at the University of Texas and the son of the famous economist and social commentator (John) Kenneth Galbraith, who is now in his mid-90s.

He has recently published two articles examining the evidence that John Kennedy had decided in 1963 to withdraw American troops from Vietnam by the end of 1965, and makes a convincing case that he did.

Kennedy, Vietnam and Iraq 11/22/03

Exit Strategy Boston Review Oct-Nov 2003

The Salon article talks more about the broader context of the decision; the Boston Review article gives more of the details on the historical record. Despite the title of the Salon piece, one of the things I like about both articles is that he is cautious in drawing current lessons from that historical moment. A refreshing change from the endless superficial historical analogies we've heard in connection with the Iraq War. As he puts it in Salon:

What is the importance of all this for us today? At some level, it is less than one might suppose. Kennedy's decision to withdraw U.S. advisors from Vietnam is not, in my view, the Rosetta Stone of the past 40 years. And because it was the right decision then certainly does not mean that it would be the right decision, right now, for Iraq. It is simply a stubbornly denied fact, which needs to be fitted into the larger mosaic of unresolved history of that time. It is a test of our own willingness to face history as it was.

He also highly recommends two books on the topic: JFK and Vietnam (1992) by John Newman and Death of a Generation (2003) by Howard Jones.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

California Politics: Perpetual Campaigns and Perpetual Elections

Gov. Schwarzenegger may or may not realize he's playing with fire in doing this. But this is a good article on his plan to use initiatives to strengthen his own executive power as governor. Part of what that means is that he will need to raise far greater amounts of campaign funds than even Gray Davis did. The writer comments that initiatives can be two-edged swords. He's right.

Schwarzenegger's Populist Beliefs Guide His Strategy Los Angeles Times online 11/23/03

<< Schwarzenegger could be supporting or sponsoring as many as four measures on the March ballot and as many as half a dozen next November.

<< If he goes forward, the governor will offer a new twist on the notion of modern politics as a "permanent campaign." He also will be embracing direct democracy with a fervor striking even for California, where politics has been dominated by citizens' initiatives for more than a generation. ...

<< Rather than disbanding his campaign aides, he has kept them in place. Last week, an official of Navigators, the Washington, D.C., political consulting firm of top Schwarzenegger strategist Mike Murphy, was scouting office locations in Sacramento. The governor also has asked campaign donors to "open their wallets" again for his ballot measures. ...

<< Using ballot measures to govern "turns the day-to-day business of democracy into big events that depend on marketing and large publics," said Martin Kaplan, director of USC's Norman Lear Center, which studies the intersection of politics and entertainment. ... >>

Ballot initiatives are just as subject to big money influence as elections for individual candidates. Especially if there are many of them.

But Schwarzenegger may find that not only Republicans and business lobbyists can sponsor ballot initiatives.

Roy Moore, Politics and Religion

The British religious scholar Karen Armstrong has pointed out in the context of the Middle East that one hazard of mixing religion and politics is that it can make compromise more difficult. If there's political dispute over boundaries, the two sides can cut a deal. Both sides can give something to get something.

But if both sides believe that God gave them that land, making a deal doesn't just involve some disappointment to a policial consituency. It means failing God. Or worse, betraying Him.

We can see examples of that in America, e.g., the pre-Civil War Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison refusing to participate in democratic politics because to him it meant tacit acceptance of a Constitution that endorsed slavery.

Supporters of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on his Ten Commandments monument seem to have fallen into a trap something like that in embracing his "states rights" defense in defying a federal court order.

Even the Christian Right legal beagles at the American Center for Law and Justice expressed frustration at More's decision to base his defiance on a segregation-era states rights argument rather than make use of more plausible legal strategies.

But militants from Operation Rescue rallied to his cause, dubious though the legal basis was. His Ten Commandments monument cause seems only tangentially related to Operation Rescue's main cause of opposing legal abortion.

The uncompromising spirit of religious radicalism may be providing a platform for a showboat in the form of Roy Moore on a cause that seems to offer little on either substantive issues of religious freedom or on "winning souls for Jesus."

California Politics: Still More Schwarzenegger Shorts

This is an important article about the new Governor's plan to use initiatives extensively:

Schwarzenegger to play to the public - He'll continue his campaign strategies to push programs San Francisco Chronicle 11/22/03

Jamie Court looks askance at the influence of special interests in Gov. S's appointments and actions during the first week:

The Governor's Wayward Broom Los Angeles Times 11/23/03

<< Among the scores of new rules that were frozen [by Gov. S] for six months — in order to be vetted for their effect on business — were regulations to limit pesticides, to create drinking water standards for arsenic and to publicly disclose on the Internet doctors' medical negligence settlements. >>

He goes on to discuss the likely orientation of several Schwarzenegger appointments when it comes to balancing public and private-business interests: food and agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura, former chairman of the Western Growers Association and opponent of environmental and farm-labor protections; Gov S's chief of stafff Patricia Clarey, most recently an HMO lobbyist; her deputy Cassandra Pye, formerly responsible for the Chamber of Commerce's political action committee; Richard Costigan, the head liaison with the legislature, a former Chamber of Commerce lobbyist.

A Latina professor doesn't see Gov. S as sympathetic to Latino concerns:

Ban licenses for illegals, woo bigots, lose Latino vote by Adela de la Torre Sacramento Bee 11/23/03

She notes that his promise to repeal drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants is popular. But it risks massively alienating Latino voters the same way Gov. Pete Wilson did with the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994, with potential far-reaching consequences for Gov. S's goals.

California Politics: More Schwarzenegger Shorts

This animated cartoon from the talented Mark Fiore is very good:

Capitol Cineplex 11/20/03

La Opinion has noticed that Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed at least one specific budget cut:

Gobernador pide cancelación de ajuste para beneficiarios de Asistencia Pública La Opinion 11/26/03

<< Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the legislature to cancel a cost-of-living adjustment for beneficiaries of Public Assistance (welfare) after the rescinding of the tripling in the cost of vehicle regisration. >>

The article goes on to explain that the legislature had tied a previous postponement of the cost-of-living increase to the increase in the car tax. The theory - a very sensible one in my view - was that if the government could afford to cut taxes, they could afford to make a cost-of-living adjustment to unemployed single mothers on welfare.

This editorial wonders when Gov. S is going to offer specifics - other than cutting welfare benefits to single mothers - on what budget cuts he wants:

Where's the plan? Sacramento Bee 11/22/03

<< When the state has a budget that's permanently out of balance -- Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill pegs the structural deficit at about $10 billion a year, an amount increased to $14 billion annually by Schwarzenegger's rollback of the vehicle license fee -- higher taxes, spending cuts or some combination of the two are the only sensible responses.

<< Schwarzenegger's alternative, such as it is, is to borrow. But proposing that the state issue $15 billion in general obligation bonds (with a life of up to 30 years) isn't a budget solution; it's a budget evasion. As state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, correctly says, it merely passes the buck to the next generation for this generation's mistakes. >>

It also questions the real value of the spending caps that Gov. S made one of his key campaign promises.

California Politics: Schwarzenegger Shorts

Reporters and commentators have been looking closely at Gov. Schwarzenegger's first week in office.

Schwarzenegger raising fast funds - and critics' ire Sacramento Bee 11/23/03

<< Schwarzenegger, who has four fund-raisers scheduled for December, continues to maintain that he is not beholden to special interests because he isn't taking money from labor unions or American Indian tribal groups with whom he might have to negotiate. ...

<< But Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, said Schwarzenegger was "even worse (than Davis) because he promised that he was going to be different. And then to try to make the argument that these groups don't have a vested interest in what happens at the Capitol, I think, is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate. Of course, they have a vested interest. That's why they're giving." >>

The article also includes a brief discussion on some problematic questions surrounding Gov. S's use of millions in bank loans to finance his gubernatorial campaign.

The following piece is an excellent summary both of the first week and of the bind that Gov. S has created for himself by the kind of campaign he ran compared with the practical choices he actually has in dealing with the state's budget problems.

Governor struggle with state's realities San Francisco Chronicle 11/23/03

<< Amid all this, Schwarzenegger reached out to lawmakers with personal meetings. He invited several of them to chat in a private Capitol courtyard, while he smoked cigars. Democratic lawmakers said he was warm and interested in their thoughts.

<< And then Schwarzenegger took to KFBK radio in Sacramento to threaten them:

<< "Have the legislators learned anything from this last election? If they didn't get it, there will be severe casualties come the election in March, severe casualties come November."

<< That threat caught lawmakers off guard given the chummy attitude earlier in the week. >>

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Afghan War: We're Winning Because They're Getting Away (?!?)

I know that everyone enjoys playing armchair general. And that doing that is much easier than the real thing.

But it's amazing to see senior Pentagon officials, military and civilian, make statements that are true if you're talking about conventional war, but bizarrely misleading in guerrilla warfare. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who I quoted in the last post, talked about the alleged progress in the Afghan War, where our allied government rules the capital city, and that only due to the NATO-led international force there:

<< He said U.S.-led forces were winning their war against "terrorists" in Afghanistan, despite nearly 400 people being killed in just over three months in the bloodiest period since the Taliban's ouster two years ago.

<< "The fact that the enemy is not pooling up in waves that can be attacked in large numbers to me means that in fact the coalition is being effective," Pace said.

<< There have been very few major clashes between U.S. forces and Islamic militants in the past two years.

<< In the most recent case, hundreds of Taliban were hunted down by U.S. forces and Afghan troops in the troubled provinces of Uruzgan and Zabul in August and early September, leading to the death of over a hundred rebels.

<< But generally U.S. operations, including the latest launched in the northeast earlier this month, kill few militants due to their apparent ability to blend into local populations or flee into the hills, often crossing into neighboring Pakistan.

<< "We will continue to pursue them to make sure that they don't re-establish any kind of a stronghold," said Pace. >>

The enemy's attacks are escalating. They're more and more successful. We're having a hard time killing or capturing them. But this is a good thing, you see, in Pentagon-speak, because it means that "the enemy is not pooling up in waves."  If the enemy would just come out and fight the way we prefer them to, we could kill them oh so much more easily. Gosh, I can't imagine why they might adopt a different strategy.

This is the way credibility gaps are made. And  haven't we been advertising Afghanistan for nearly two years as an example of success in the "war on terrorism"?

Iraq War: Life Imitates Satire

In the summer of 2002, I wrote a parody on the Kate Campbell online discussion group, to the tune of Jimmie Driftwood's "The Battle of New Orleans," a tribute to the military victory of Andy Jackson in that battle.

My version was a tribute to my man Rummy, and the chorus went like this:

Well, they fired their guns and ole Rummy kep' a'goin'
Wudn't any way he's gonna let Osama go
Held a press conference, said he was only funnin'
We didn't really care about gittin' him no mo'

Then on Friday, we get this:

<< A senior U.S. general said on Friday that al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden  had "taken himself out of the picture" and that his capture was not essential to winning the "war on terror."

<< General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at U.S. military headquarters just north of Kabul that the 11,500-strong U.S.-led force hunting al Qaeda and Taliban militants was not focusing on individuals.

<< "He (bin Laden) has taken himself out of the picture," Pace told reporters after visiting U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

<< "It is not an individual that is as important as is the ongoing campaign of the coalition against terrorists," he said. >>

Life imitates satire. Or maybe it's just that Rummy is a satire.


California Politics: Schwarzenegger Selling Cars

One of the Democrats' favorite lines about Richard Nixon was, "Would you buy a used car from this man?" The idea being that the used-car business is one where the credibility of the salespeople is particularly important. Since Nixon was such a shifty-eyed stiff he looked like he was lying even on the occasions when he wasn't, it was a telling question.

And this week there was Gov. Schwarzenegger, speaking at a car dealership whose owner and his wife had contributed over $50,000 to his campaign and inauguration.  "Go out there. Buy cars. Buy new cars. Buy used cars."

I could make the up the Republican excuses myself. There's nothing illegal about it. It's no different than what Davis did. There are no ethics rules against it, yadda, yadda, yadda. And under our increasingly pathetic system of campaign financing, all that's probably true.

But let's not kid ourselves about what's happening here. During the "Abscam" sting operation against Congressional corruption a couple of decades ago, one Congressman made the most memorable moment of the whole affair when he told an undercover FBI agent that money talks and b******t walks.

And what is developing in front of our eyes, at Galpin Ford like in Texas and in Washington, is crony capitalism. You want to play, you got to pay. Money talks and BS walks. Them that has, gets. You grease my palm and I'll grease yours.

Democracy can coexist with crony capitalism. Just look at Mexico. Mexico has been a democracy since the Mexican Revolution established the constitution of 1917. But it's only in recent years that the corruption endemic in the political system has been challenged sufficiently to make the ruling PRI party have to seriously contest national elections.

Pay to play. If you need the Governor to do a a publicity event for your business, cough up 50 grand or so for one of his initiative campaigns. Maybe you'll be as "lucky" as the good folks at Galpin Ford.

JFK (Pt. 2 of 2)

(Cont. from Part 1) Kennedy's foreign policy combined a willingness to use force and the threat of force when necessary with an understanding that reducing military tensions by negotiations and enforceable treaties was also critical to maintaining peace. His Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was the first major nuclear arms-control agreement. He also understood very keenly the danger of nuclear proliferation.

The Berlin crisis is now almost forgotten. But in 1961, the Soviet threat to block Western access to West Berlin was a crisis that could have set off World War III. Kennedy refused to agree to terms that would have allowed West Berlin to be absorbed into the German Democratic Republic (GDR; Communist East Germany).

When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and GDR Communist chief Walter Ulbricht decided to construct the Berlin Wall, which went up in August of 1961, that also meant that they had backed off their threats to block Western access to West Berlin. The wall itself was a horrible thing. But Kennedy's opponents in East Berlin and Moscow understood that he was willing to risk war to defend West Berlin.

Kennedy's most famous foreign policy crisis was, of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis. By reacting forcefully to the escalation of the nuclear threat represented by the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba, he succeeding in having them removed. By creating a decision-making process that thoroughly screened the various choices, he managed to select an approach that left American options open while allowing Khrushchev a way to back down without facing complete humiliation.

It's not surprising that Kennedy is remembered as a President that combined idealism and pragmatism, strength and restraint, aggressiveness and compassion, in a way that so many people remember in a positive way today. Both in America and abroad.

JFK (Pt 1 of 2)

It sometimes seems that what most people know about John Kennedy has to do with conspiracy theories around his assassination or fantastic stories about his love life. But polls for years have ranked him with Abraham Lincoln as the greatest American President.

It seems all out of proportion. Abraham Lincoln saved the Union, freed the slaves and saved American democracy by waging what could accurately be described as a revolutionary war. JFK was President less than three years, and died with much of his legislative program still pending.

But the continued popularity of imaginative tales about his sex life is probably connected to the high opinion of him as a President. Because what he did and what he represented in both words and actions have contributed to making him a legendary figure. And I think a big part of that is that the image people have of Kennedy is what they would like to think America is and how they would like America to be seen in the world.

His accomplishments in themselves were impressive. His tax reform made the tax system at the time more progressive, eliminating or reducing some tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy while providing tax refief for working families. And combined with a deliberate program to stimulate the economy, it laid the groundwork for a period of solid prosperity rivaled in US history only by the expansion of the 1990s.

His stand in favor of civil rights was a critical factor in restoring democracy to the Deep South states. African-American citizens were flat-out being denied the right to vote in much of the South, and were subjected to a crassly discriminatory system of segregation in schooling, housing, public facilities and public accomodations that affected every aspect of life. Lyndon Johnson unquestionably did more to achieve that goal than Kennedy did. But Kennedy's stand on issues like the integration of Southern state universities and his personal leadership on the issue made Johnson's civil rights program possible.

(Cont. in Part 2)

Friday, November 21, 2003

California Politics: The Governor's First Week

This news article in today's Los Angeles Times focuses in on what could turn out to be symptomatic features of the Schwarzenegger administration:

<< The governor even suggested [during his appearance at the Galpin Ford car dealership] that the public could register its opposition to tax hikes — and its support for Schwarzenegger — by purchasing automobiles as a demonstration of their support for his fee repeal.

<< "Go out there," Schwarzenegger implored. "Buy cars. Buy new cars. Buy used cars. Go out there and pay a reduced vehicle license fee. That's what we're celebrating here today." ...

<< After mostly staying out of sight during his transition into the governorship, Schwarzenegger seemed to relish a return to a more overtly political posture.

<< His North Hills rally closely mirrored events held during his gubernatorial campaign. ...

<< But the rally also showed how the governor's tune has changed — quite literally. His campaign anthem, Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," was ditched in favor of a new theme, "Takin' Care of Business," by the Canadian classic rock group Bachman Turner Overdrive.

<< The song gave the event a double-edged cast. Car dealers gave Schwarzenegger and his recall committee more than $489,000 during the recall, plus at least another $20,000 to the committee that organized his swearing-in.

<< Bert Boeckmann, owner of Galpin Ford, and his wife Jane, a Gov. Gray Davis appointee to the California Arts Council, each had given Schwarzenegger the individual maximum of $21,200. ...

<< Boeckmann said he supported Schwarzenegger not based on any specific promise, but because he had known him personally for some time and that "he was the one who could win who, by and large, I could be in agreement with."

<< Schwarzenegger has kept his political team in place to run any initiative campaigns he supports next year, and there were hints at Thursday's rally that there could be several. Six petition gatherers worked the crowd, with initiatives on taxes, immigrants and mandatory employer-provided health insurance. >>

California Politics: Raising Money

Gov. Schwartzenegger is working on raising money, both public and private.

After three days in office, he was already talking about raising taxes. Fixing the budget problems turns out to be not quite so easy as opening the books and doing an audit and figuring out where the "waste" is. A basic fact about government programs: one person's "waste" is normally another's "vital service."

But rescinding the $4 billion in car taxes was popular. Tax cuts normally are. It's figuring out how to cut programs and/or raise other taxes to pay for them that's the problem.

Schwarzenegger celebrated the car tax cut by an appearance at a Los Angeles-area car dealership, whose owner and his wife had contributed $52,400 to his campaign and inauguration. Cash for the candidate, tax cuts to comfort the comfortable, a publicity event for the donor. A good Republican package.

One of his events on his first day in office was to attend a luncheon sponsored by the state Chamber of Commerce, where he told the crowd, "I will be coming back to you and say: Open up your wallets again." He plans to use initiatives to pass proposals by a statewide vote that, under California's badly flawed initiative system, could then only be changed by another statewide vote or by the courts. He's going to need to raise lots of private money to pay for those campaigns.

One big issue that Schwarzenegger wants the legislature to put on the ballot for March (it's a "referendum" rather than an "initiative" if the legislature puts in there) is a $15 billion bond deal. But his finance department is saying that even that borrowing would leave a $10 billion budget gap for the upcoming budget year.

His finance director, Donna Arduin, was known in both New York and Florida for promoting solutions that provide short-term fixes for budget problems that leave the long-term problems in place. Another good Republican practice. After George W. Bush's stint as Governor in Texas, the Republican governor and Republican legislature had to take to raising revenues and slashing programs to plug the gaps he left.

Governor: Pass bond or raise taxes (San Francisco Chronicle 11/21/03)

Governor prepares to court donors (San Jose Mercury News 11/21/03)

Thursday, November 20, 2003

California Politics: Meet the New Boss - Same as the Old Boss?

The San Francisco Chronicle editorialists think that Gov. Schwarzenegger may not be such a drastic change from Gray Davis - in some ways.

Sacramento's same old songs

<< FOR A LEADER promising a "new day" in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has initiated his tenure with some disturbingly familiar political practices.

<< Schwarzenegger has already invoked two of the tactics that brought deserved ridicule on former Gov. Gray Davis: He is proposing to borrow billions of dollars to cover budget overruns and he is raising political money from special interests that have an enormous stake in gubernatorial actions.

<< He also seems to have a problem with math. Schwarzenegger instantly erased $4 billion a year in revenue by rolling back an increase in the unpopular vehicle license fee, and is talking about $2 billion in spending cuts -- and, even then, he suggested he would wait for legislators to serve up specifics.

<< Schwarzenegger did offer to forgo his $175,000 salary, which is nice symbolism, but not much of a down payment on a budget gap that is expected to exceed $10 billion.

<< It seems that Schwarzenegger continues to define "special interests" as groups that give money to his opponents. His claim of impeccable independence is undermined by his scheduling of at least five fund-raisers in December, just as he is drawing up his proposed state budget. ...

<< His actions will determine whether the recall election really produced a "new day" and genuine change -- or just a Gray Davis with charm. >>

The news media treated the recall more as a California sideshow and celebrity event than as a election about serious issues. But California is a big state with some big budget problems.

And Schwarzenegger's plan to use initiatives to bypass the legislature is likely to be much more problematic than he imagines.

California Politics: New Governor Raises Money

Arlo Guthrie once said of California, "Some things don't change, you know. Some things do." It's not clear yet exactly which is which with the new Governor's administration.

Governor Raises $1 Million Since Election (Los Angeles Times 11/18/03)

<< Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has raised more than $1 million since his election last month, including at least $360,000 from car dealers, developers, telecommunications firms and others who paid for Monday's swearing-in events.

<< Schwarzenegger said Monday he intends to raise more money to promote his agenda. >>

Dollars are still pouring in to governor (San Francisco Chronicle 11/19/03)

<< Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has raised nearly $1.3 million in campaign contributions since he was elected Oct. 7, including a $100,000 contribution from a company with a huge stake in the outcome of his effort to reform worker's compensation.

<< American International Group, of New York, gave Schwarzenegger the six- figure donation Thursday. The New York insurance giant is the largest of just a handful of underwriters of workers' compensation insurance in California. Schwarzenegger has made reform of the struggling workers' compensation system one of the top priorities of his new administration.

<< The company registered as a lobbyist on the two workers' compensation reform bills that passed through the Legislature earlier this year. Any decision that reduced profitability for insurance underwriters would harm AIG's interests in California. >>

California Politics: Some Schwarzenegger Appointments

Some of the key players newly-inaugurated Governor Schwarzenegger has selected include the following:

Donna Arduin - Finance Director. Senior staff includes: Mike Genest (deputy chief), David Harper (legislative liaison), and H.D. Plamer (Finance spokesman), the latter a former Pete Wilson finance official. All three were assistants to Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte, making what looks to me like a heavily partisan line-up in Finance. For more on Arduin's previous positions in New York and Jeb Bush's Florida, see Circuit-riding budget whiz comes to California.

Terry Tamminen - Secretary, state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tamminen has good credentials as an environmentalist. But the undersecretary will by James Branham, a PR person for Pacific Lumber. Maureen Gorsen, a former Wilson official, will be head of EPA law enforcement.

Dick Riordan - Education Secretary. A former mayor of Los Angeles, Riordan is considered a moderate Republican, but the teacher's unions were not pleased about his appointment.

Richard Costigan - chief legislative negotiator. He's a Chamber of Commer lobbyist.

Kimberly Belshe - Health and Human Services Secretary; former Wilson official.

Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub's Weblog is a good source for details on Schwarzenegger's appointments.

Missing from Bush's London Visit

Poor Tom Friedman. Not long ago, he was being called the leading columnist in America, the most influential, etc.

But he damaged his reputation pretty badly with his seemingly gullible attitude toward the Iraq War. He's been scrounging around to come up with some angle to rehabilitate himself, and a lot of it has been pretty pitiful. So I'm hesitant to even quote him.

But in his 11/20/03 column in the New York Times, he does focus on one aspect of the Bush-Blair alliance that has mystified me, on both sides:

<< But [the latest] policy shift [in Iraq] is not enough. It needs shifts toward Europe and the Middle East, too. It is amazing, British officials say, how little the Bush team has done to shore up Mr. Blair for taking his hugely important (and unpopular) pro-war stance. Mr. Blair needs the U.S. to drop its outrageous steel tariffs, to provide a workable alternative to Kyoto, to hand over the nine U.K. citizens held in Guantánamo Bay (which is a big story [in Britain]) and to let London play around with the E.U. on a European defense force, which is not a threat to NATO. But so far, he appears to be getting nothing.

<< Tony Blair was too principled for his own good. He was so convinced that the war was right, he never played hardball with the Bush team to get it to adopt the other policies needed to sustain British support, and which would also have increased Mr. Bush's authority throughout Europe. >>

I'm not at all sure that "principled" is the right word for Tony Blair's participation in the Iraq War, since he knew that the "weapons of mass destruction" claims were highly dubious, as was the status of the invasion in international law.

But Friedman points out a good set of quesions. Why is the Bush team doing so little to boost Blair? Or even to refrain from doing things that undermine him? And why is Blair putting up with all this without getting anything in return? (See also How Bush Betrayed Blair.)


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Iraq War: The Amazing Mr. Perle

Richard Perle, a leading Iraq War hawk and one of Rummy's key Pentagon advisers, was nicknamed "the Prince of Darkness" by his admirers.  And speaking of Administration figures who say amazing things, check out this report from the London Guardian:

<< International lawyers and anti-war campaigners reacted with astonishment yesterday after the influential Pentagon hawk Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal.

<< In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing." ["startling" indeed!]

<< President George Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq - also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defence permitted by international law.

<< But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.

<< French intransigence, he added, meant there had been "no practical mechanism consistent with the rules of the UN for dealing with Saddam Hussein". ...

<< Mr Perle's remarks bear little resemblance to official justifications for war, according to Rabinder Singh QC, who represented CND and also participated in Tuesday night's event. Certainly the British government, he said, "has never advanced the suggestion that it is entitled to act, or right to act, contrary to international law in relation to Iraq".

<< The Pentagon adviser's views, he added, underlined "a divergence of view between the British government and some senior voices in American public life [who] have expressed the view that, well, if it's the case that international law doesn't permit unilateral pre-emptive action without the authority of the UN, then the defect is in international law".  >>

To which I can only say, "Wow!"


Maybe They Just Can't Help Themselves

Sometimes I'm puzzled at what the Bush Administration is aiming to achieve by some foreign policy statement or action. Sometimes I'm pretty confident I get the basic picture. More often, I think I have a good idea what they're trying to do - on those issues I pay attention to, anyway - even if I don't agree with it.

Other times, I just shake my head and think, "What can they possibly hope to gain by this? What can they be thinking?" That was my reaction to Rummy's now-infamous reference to "old Europe" in the build-up to the Iraq War. Since they were trying to win support or at least neutralize opposition among the European nations, how did it make sense to just gratuitously tick people off?

I had the same reaction when I saw this news of Bush's current visit to London:

<< In the speech, Bush also derided France, particularly French President Jacques Chirac, for staunch opposition to many of his foreign policy goals.

<< He said France had long resisted American ideals, noting antipathy faced by the last US president to stay at Buckingham Palace, Woodrow Wilson in 1918, when he arrived in World War I Europe touting his so-called "14 points for peace."

<< "Many complimented him on his vision, yet some were dubious," Bush said of Wilson. "Take, for example, the prime minister of France. He complained that God, himself, had only 10 commandments."

<< He referred to comments at the time made by then French prime minister Georges Clemenceau who said of Wilson's 14 points: "Even the good Lord contented himself with only 10 commandments and we should not try to improve upon them."

<< "Sounds familiar," Bush said to appreciative laughter from an audience well steeped itself in rivalry with France.  >>

Is there an actual point to this kind of gratuitous insult, especially during a diplomatic trip to the country of Tony Blair, who must be Bush's most loyal ally outside the Republican Party?