Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Explosion at oil refinery in Texas City

The Chronicle has a good report, it was on all the news channels last night. It's unlikely to be terrorism, but it still underlies the need for Homeland defense rather starkly. The refinery is about 15 miles from my home.

God didn't make them do it

regardless of whether they invoke Allah Akhbar or Praise Jesus in justification of their barbarousness.

Let us set the record straight - from 1957

reprinted from the student paper The Tiger, of Little Rock Central High :


The Price We Pay

by Co-editors Georgia Dortch and Jane Emery

On the 25th of September, with few words and fixed bayonets, crack paratroopers of the U.S. Army quickly dispersed the crowds that had gathered around Central and carried out the court order for integration. No violent incidents, as had previously occurred, were reported.

No matter what our personal opinions may be, we cannot be proud of the violence that occurred around our school that made it necessary for the use of these Federal troops. Looking back on this year will probably be with regret that integration could not have been accomplished peacefully, without incident, without publicity.

But the future remains.

And with the future remain many questions. Will there be more violence? How long will troop-protected education be necessary? Will our own educations be retarded?

The only answer to all these questions is for each individual to maintain a sensible, peaceful neutrality; to accept the situation without demonstration, no matter what personal views are entertained; and to make these, your years in Little Rock Central High School, the happiest and most fruitful of your academic education.


Let's Keep the Record Straight

Just for the sake of the record, let us remind our readers that less than 1% of the population of Little Rock was in the crowd of people gathered in front of CHS when school opened Monday morning, September 23. In addition to that, many of the people in the crowd were not citizens of Little Rock. There was at no time any significant disturbance in the classrooms of the high school. From over the country there were a few photographers and reporters apparently seeking for a juicy morsel in the tense situation.

Again it is the case of where a minority group controlled the actions and even the thoughts of the majority. Wouldn't it be better for parents, townsmen, and strangers to let the law take its course and seek a remedy of the situation in some other way?

Kyoto-blogging: digicam dreams II

I want to clarify my intended usage for a digicam - not just for blogging my Kyoto trip, but also the intended use afterwards. My main usage will be: 1. taking print-quality still photos of vacations, trips, etc. 2. taking small video of my daughter for email and posting to the web for my family, 3. taking archival video of family events for burning to DVD, 4. casual "impulse" photography of sunsets, clouds, burning fires in downtown Houston, etc. and 5. "window seat" pictures from airplanes.

This means that I could settle for as low as 2 megapixels (1600x1200), which is about the right size for printing to an 8x10 sheet of paper (someone please correct me if I am mistaken). Also, since video ranks high up on my priorities, it occurs to me that I'm coming ath the problem from the wrong end. Perhaps what I need to look for is a video camera with stils-capability, not a stills-camera with video capability (clearly, the market for true combo devices is not mature).

A casual query through Amazon reveals the Canon Optura 300, which uses MiniDV tapes, but also does support MMC cards and MPEG-4. I need to look into this kind of device more, but there's a major problem: the price is way above my threshold. This approach seems to be a non-starter (I have no illusions that a UNMEDIA Donations Drive would bring me all that much cash :)

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Clarke and the al-Shifa plant

Dan Darling doesn't take Richard Clarke seriously, because he perceives an inconsistency regarding Clarke's support of the decision to bomb the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan during the Clinton Administration.

It's worth pointing out that Clarke has been consistent in arguing the strike was justified - even reiterating the point during his public testimony to the 9-11 Comission:

CLARKE: But when you sometimes do that, you get into trouble. President Clinton got into a lot of trouble, a lot of criticism for blowing up a chemical plant in Sudan. To this day there are a lot of people who believe that it was not related to a terrorist group, not related to chemical weapons. They're wrong, by the way. But the president had decided in PDD-39 that there should be a low threshold of evidence when it comes to the possibility of terrorists getting their access, getting their hands on chemical weapons. And he acted on that basis. And when he acted on that basis, he and his advisers were all heavily criticized. So what I was suggesting there and what I am suggesting here now is that while Sandy Berger is right and we should not rush to judgment after a terrorist attack as to who did it until there is ample intelligence evidence, not criminal evidence, on the other hand, we should feel free to attack terrorist groups without waiting for them to attack us if we make a policy and an intelligence judgment that they pose a threat.

My emphasis should address Dan's question of whether Clarke stood by his support for bombing al-Shifa - he clearly does. Dan argues that the al-Shifa plant was a tangible connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, which Clarke himself accepted (and accepts) as valid. Thus, Dan concludes, Clarke's argument today that the Bush Administration wrongly linked 9-11 to Iraq and that the war on Iraq has undermined the war on Terror is false.

if Clarke does indeed stand by the decision to attack al-Shifa, he can hardly blame President Bush for taking action against Iraq. Indeed, it would seem that he was simply agreeing with Clarke's earlier conclusions about a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq when he advised President Clinton to destroy the al-Shifa plant.

However, that conclusion is flawed, because the central terror threat of Al-Qaeda is not primarily a state-sponsored one. Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek article is essential reading on the difference between state-sponsored terror and Al-Qaeda). The Bush Administration's focus on Iraq - from the President on down immediately after 9-11 - is indicative of a strongly state-centric view of global terror which is dangerously outdated. Josh Marshall went back to Condi Rice's landmark article in Foreign Affairs in 2000 and found that the main foreign policy emphasis from the future National Security Adviser was not terrorism but missile defense - and discusses rogue states as the primary threat, with no mention of Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. Paul Wolfowitz had a similar attitude in a meeting a few months after inauguration that Clarke describes in his book:

Rice's deputy, Steve Hadley, began the meeting by asking me to brief the group. I turned immediately to the pending decisions needed to deal with al Qaeda. "We need to put pressure on both the Taliban and al Qaeda by arming the Northern Alliance and other groups in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, we need to target bin Laden and his leadership by reinitiating flights of the Predator."

Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld's deputy at Defense, fidgeted and scowled. Hadley asked him if he was all right. "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden," Wolfowitz responded.

I answered as clearly and forcefully as I could: "We are talking about a network of terrorist organizations called al Qaeda, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States."

"Well, there are others that do as well, as least as much. Iraqi terrorism, for example," Wolfowitz replied, looking not at me but at Hadley.

"I am unaware of any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism directed at the United States, Paul, since 1993, and I think FBI and CIA concur in that judgment, right, John?" I pointed at CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who was obviously not eager to get in the middle of a debate between the White House and the Pentagon but nonetheless replied, "Yes, that is right, Dick. We have no evidence of any active Iraqi terrorist threat against the U.S."

Finally, Wolfowitz turned to me. "You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."

I could hardly believe it, but Wolfowitz was actually spouting the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue.

Peter Bergen wrote a definitive article on the fallacy of Mylroie's claims in The Washington Monthly. Overall, the Bush Administration was operating on an a priori worldview that was heavily influenced by outdated Cold War thinking.

To some degree, Dan has reduced Clarke's argument ad absurdum to simply "Iraq and Al-Qaeda never had a link" when in fact Clarke has never stated such a belief. What Clarke has argued is that Al Qaeda's specific operations leading up to 9-11 were independent of Iraq, and part of the intelligence failure that led to 9-11 was because the Bush Administration did not pursue specific policies to coordinate information between agencies (policies which helped the Clinton Administration successfully prevent the Millennium bombings in December 1999).

Moreover, Clarke is arguing that post-9/11, the emphasis on state supporters of terror came at the expense of attention paid to the principal actors, who continue to elude capture or killing.

By the way, I strongly believe that no one is qualified to have an opinion on Clarke unless they have either read or watched the full testimony. Putting forward a specific point of dispute or critique is not a rigorous dismissal of Clarke's claims, the basis for which are founded in a far more thorough and fundamental critique of the Administration than the straw-men characterizations put forth by Administration apologists. Though he rarely disagrees with Bush Administration policies, Dan Darling is not an apologist. Neither, however, is he giving Clarke a fair evaluation if he bases his entire opinion of him on the sole matter of this pharmaceutical factory.

UPDATE 3/31/04: Dan responds. He found specific quotes by Clarke that asserted there was NEVER any evidence of a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, which seemd to me a contradiction in what had been until now completely consistent views, until I realized something - that Clarke's support for bombing the al-Shifa plant was based on his belief it was associated with Al-Qaeda, but not neccessarily Iraq. Dan linked to a Weekly Standard article that suggests there were phone calls between Sudan and Iraq, and a Slate article that mentions the plant owner had traveled to Iraq. Dan also links to a Global Security article by the infamous Laurie Mylroie whose claims have been utterly discredited. This is flimsy evidence upon which to hang a conclusion that Iraq was actively involved with Al Qaeda. It is possible that some Iraqi expertise found its way into Al-Qaeda hands, but a direct connection is too much of a stretch.

And it is irrelevant. Let's be clear that the issue at hand with Dan rests on why Clarke supported bombing al-Shifa, and whether that rationale held by Clarke is consistent with his current critiques of the administration. Dan believes Clarke was either wrong in 1998 or is wrong now. I believe that Clarke believes he was right in both cases, though he may have been factually wrong in 1998.

I was wrong in assuming Clarke had never denied any connection because to some extent I let my own biases filter my view, that at some level all these things are connected. But focusing on the specific issue of Clarke's credibility allows us to separate these threads for more accurate analysis.

There are a number of other (relatively minor) points with which Dan disagrees - go read the whole thing. Note that we are actually much on the same page on most of the broader points. I also very much want to hear Clarke's answer to the question Dan poses: "Why did you advise Clinton to bomb al-Shifa?" I suspect teh answer will be because of Al-Qaeda, so I propose a follow-up question: "Do you believe the expertise for bioagent production at al-Shifa is of Iraqi origin? If so, please explain the connections in light of your CBS assertion that there was never any link." The answers will be useful in clarifying the debate on this issue, but I still don't see it as central to the argument. On that score, I guess Dan and I have to agree to disagree.

The Millenium Plot

Juan Cole points out that the key to understanding Clarke's argument that the Bush Administration has not done enough to prevent terror is in understanding how the Clinton Administration prevented the Millenium bombings in December 1999. This is a point that Clarke himself has been making with precise consistency. Cole summarizes:

[Clarke] thinks going to such a heightened level of alert and concerted effort in 2001 might have shaken loose much earlier the information that the CIA knew that Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi were in the US. As it is, the INS wasn't informed of this advent and did not start looking for them until Aug. 21, 2001, by which time it was too late. Since they made their plane reservations for September 11 under their own names, names known to the USG, a heightened level of alert might have allowed the FBI to spot them.

So it just is not true that Bush was doing exactly the same thing on terrorism that Clinton was. He didn't have a cabinet-level counter-terrorism czar; he didn't have the routine of principals' meetings on terrorism; he didn't authorize Clarke to go to 'battle stations' and heightened security alert in summer of 2001 the way Clinton had done in December, 1999.

The second point is that the Bush Administration was too focused on state sponsorship of terror as opposed to recognizing Al Qaeda as an independent actor. The difference is critical - Fareed Zakaria explains the difference in a great Newsweek article. Kevin Drum also reminds us "a senior Bush State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden."

Monday, March 29, 2004

Defining Kerry

The main strategy of the Bush campaign is to "define" Kerry in the minds of voters. Interestingly, the same strategy was used by Howard Dean, such that there still is a deep reluctance to support Kerry among the further left of the Dean netroots. However, the Bush assault is far better funded and promises to be more devastating, given the incredible synergy between the Administration, the GOP, and the conservative media.

Kerry has been dutifully playing attack ads in a similar strategy, but the problem is that he hasn't defined himself, to offer a counter-narrative to the Bush one. This article in the WaPo takes Kerry to task on these grounds:

As the general election begins and Democrats play to a broader audience, Kerry is under pressure to define himself clearly and to offer voters a post-Clinton blueprint for a Democratic presidency.


"My greatest worry about the Kerry candidacy is that the competence and confidence it's demonstrated early on in rapid reaction to news of the day will come at the expense of an organized and systematic effort to tell the American people what John Kerry would do as president of the United States," said William Galston, a University of Maryland professor and former Clinton domestic adviser. "By the end of the campaign, if people can't spontaneously name two or three things that are big things that he would do differently, then I think the campaign will not have succeeded in getting across the whole message."

I tend to agree with Ezra that Kerry needs to delegate defending himself against the Bush attacks to a "shadow cabinet" of prominent Democrats. The advantage of this is that it frees Kerry to entirely focus on what he would do / why a Kerry Presidency would be different, and thus rise above the partisan pray (just as Bush has done). After all, there's only one Kerry with finite time to campaign, so his time is better spent on the positive and leaving the negative to surrogates.

Kyoto-blogging: digicam dreams

I've got a chicken-and-egg problem - I want to video- and photo- blog my upcoming trip to Kyoto, but I dont have a digital camera. The main reason is because I haven't found one that meets my desired specs and price constraints (see below). However, I am traveling to Japan, which is the epicenter of consumer technology - in the famed Akihabara district of Tokyo, you can buy the latest Japanese gadgets, months before they are released (if ever, and often not) in the US. Since my conference is in Kyoto, not Tokyo, I won't have any time to visit Akihabara until after the conference as I transit back to Narita International Airport for my return flight home. Thus the dilemma: I won't have a decent camera to blog the trip with until after the trip (assuming I can even find a cam that I like and that meets my spec. And which I can afford!). All I have is a tiny freebie digicam that came free with my laptop. It's less than a megapixel resolution and has pretty mediocre color. Somehow I think I might end up resorting to... film. sigh...

If only the selection here in the US was better! Here are my desired specs:

  • Price: ideally less than US$400
  • Speed: shutter time of < 1 sec for still shots
  • Still Resolution: 4 MP or above
  • Video: up to 640x480 and 30 fps, with stereo sound
  • Form-factor: one-handed, ultra-compact
  • LCD preview: swivel-type with enough rotation to do discreet shots from my lap
  • Media: tapeless, recording directly to solid-state (either Memory Stick Pro, Microdrive, or CF card)
  • Optical Zoom: 3x minimum. I don't care about digital zoom since I can replicate that in post-processing myself.

Sony DSC-T1Of course, I also want USB or Firewire connectivity to my PC, but that's essentially a given nowadays. One candidate is the Sony DSC-T1, which meets almost all my image specs, but not my physical specs. The audio recorded in video mode is monaural, a big drawback. The LCD screen is mounted on the back of the camera so you can't take discreet shots or flexible angles. The review at Steve's Digicams also mentions limited indoor flash quality and consistent red-eye effect, due to close proximity of the flash and the lens.

Panasonic SV-AV100Another good candidate is the Panasonic SV-AV100, but this unit doesn't quite meet my minimum video or still resolution needs. It's unclear from the specs whether the audio is monaural, and the unit comes with MP3 playback capability that I don't need and thus don't want to pay for. The price is also way above my limit.

Sanyo/Fisher C1The best candidate so far is the Sanyo Xacti C1, which also seems to be co-branded as the Fisher FVD-C1. These units are unavailable in the US, though they can be bought in Canada. These units meet my specs quite well, but the sticking point remains price. Unless I've got a rich Candian benefactor who's in a remarkably good mood, I'm simply going to have to wait for prices to fall.

There are a number of very cheap MPEG-4 combo digicams out there for well within my price point - for example, the Gateway DVS20, which is only $199, or the lesser cousin of the AV100, the Panasonic AV50 which is a bit more pricey at $399. These are great little cameras and while they don't meet my more exacting specs, are still highly functional units that can really facilitate casual photos and videos.

In fact I might just buy the cheap Gateway before I leave, out of sheer desperation, since funds are unlikely to materialize magically and prices don't have much time to fall before I leave in May. But if that happens, I'll feel obligated to stick with it for a long time. I need to buy one camera - I don't need (nor can I afford) to buy two.

The Creeping Fear

that's the rumored title to the third Star Wars prequel - which I am still boycotting.

SAVE STAR WARS! Boycott Episode III!

BTW, the Pod Race in Episode I still ruled, despite what all you naysayers claim (add Brian to that list). Just to stoke the fanboy flamewar, I shall reprint my argument from the comments of that previous post, that Episode I was a masterpiece, equal to Return of the Jedi:

I thought Episode 1 was a masterpiece, frankly, It had everything I expoect from Star Wars. The Pod Race was by far the most amazing action sequence in ALL of the Star Wars film canon. And the lightsaber duel at the end - including Qui Gon's death - was the glory days of the Jedi made real.

Episode II lacked the same depth. It was a bunch of highly detailed backgrounds, but lacked focus - it wanted to be too many kinds of movies. It wanted to be a love story, it tried to be a detective story, it hinted at political intrigue.

And the most important scene of all, where Anakin slaughters the tusken raiders, was done off-camera in a way that robbed it of its emotional impact.

Overall, I wouldnt say Episode 2 sucked. It was just bland. But the entire concept of these prequels is irrelevant to my feelings about the original trilogy. The original trilogy is part of my psyche. This trilogy - even if it was masterful and perfect - could simply never achieve that kind of mythic stature. Its simply 20 years too late.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Bush wants to raise taxes on corporations!

well, at least that's how the following would be interpreted by the GOP logic used against Kerry.

WASHINGTON � John Kerry, promising to create 10 million jobs and keep them in America, said Friday he would cut corporate taxes by 5 percent and eliminate tax loopholes that push jobs overseas.


The plan would face a series of obstacles should the Massachusetts senator defeat President Bush in November, starting with politically powerful corporations that benefit from the overseas tax breaks he wants to scrap.

Kerry also may be second-guessed by Democrats who would prefer to transfer his plan's savings to more targeted jobs initiatives or programs that benefit middle-class voters.

But he settled on a blend of loophole-cutting populism and business-friendly moderation, casting his package as jobs-producing tax reform. Polls show jobs are the top issue with most voters, and Kerry is viewed as best suited to improve the economy. Terrorism is the No. 2 issue, and most voters say they trust Bush most to protect the nation.


"John Kerry's plan to reshuffle the corporate tax code does nothing to help America's small businesses and entrepreneurs be more competitive," Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said.

Hello, you want to help small business? Lift the burden of health care from their backs by providing single-payer. That will free up more capital, generate more entrepeneurship, and have an immediate boost on jobs. I'd like to see a conservative economist I respect critique my logic, I think it would be a good debate.

Friday, March 26, 2004

A conservative's defense of FDR

This is a post at the old soon-to-be-obliterated Tacitus MT site that is well-worth preserving.Just in case it doesn't, I've got it archived here as a new comment.

mapping Al-Qaeda terror since 9-11

Garance Franke-Rute of TAP has compiled a list of terror attacks by Al-Qaeda. I've listed the ones that have occurred post-9/11 below and have also mapped them by country. Note that I am also including Iraq, since there is general agreement that Al-Qaeda was behind most of the larger terror attacks against the Shi'a in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. However I lack the resources to find reliable estimates of civilian casualties. Also note that I have omitted Israel because Hamas, not Al-Qaeda, is behind the murders there.

country list of terror attacks. click for victim mapThese attacks are also displayed graphically by country at right using the Visited Countries mapping application. Clicking that map will reveal another map of all countries who have lost civilians to Al-Qaeda attacks since 9-11, on or off their soil.

  • April 2002: Explosion at historic synagogue in Tunisia leaves 21 dead, including 14 German tourists.

  • January 2002: Kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

  • May 2002: Car explodes outside Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 14, including 11 French naval engineers.

  • June 2002: Bomb explodes outside U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 12.

  • October 2002: Nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, kill 202, including 88 Australian citizens and 23 Britons.

  • November 2002: Coordinated attacks in Mombasa, Kenya; 16 killed in a suicide bombing at a hotel, while surface-to-air missiles were fired at a chartered Israeli airliner.

  • May 2003: Suicide bombers kill 34, including eight Americans, at housing compounds for Westerners in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

  • May 2003: Four bombs targeting Jewish, Spanish, and Belgian sites in Casablanca, Morocco, killing 33 and injuring more than 100.

  • August 2003: Suicide car bomb kills 12, injures 150, at Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

  • November 2003: Explosions rock a Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, housing compound, killing 18 and wounding 122, including many workers from Egypt and Lebanon.

  • November 2003: Suicide car bombers simultaneously attack two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 25 and injuring hundreds.

  • November 2003: Two truck bombs explode outside the British consulate and the headquarters of the London-based HSBC bank in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 26 and injuring hundreds.

  • December 2003: Attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff.

  • March 2004: Train bombing in Madrid, Spain, kills 190 and injures more than 1,000.

  • March 2003 - March 2004: ongoing attacks against civilians in Iraq, especially large bombings in Najaf and Karbala against Shi'a pilgrims.

Ardent Bush partisans will try to paint the mere statement of these facts as the straw-man argument "Lefties blame Bush!" but this isn't about blame, it's about evaluating performance. As Garance notes, Al-Qaeda has evolved thanks to the breathing room it gained in Afghanistan while our attention has been focused on Iraq. The result has been an explosion in Al-Qaeda activity worldwide, stretching across the Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the South Pacific. The cancer analogy is apt - these are metastases, and the proliferation of al-Qaeda across the planet means that we are also at larger risk.

We cannot leave Iraq, however, so we are stuck in this situation for the forseeable future regardless of who wins the election in 2004. I think that 2004 needs to be a referendum on the success of the current Administration in containing and eliminating the worldwide threat of terror, not just move it off our shores for a brief interval. An interval that is rapidly drawing to an end:

The FBI issued an alert Thursday to tighten security in the petrochemical industry because of uncorroborated information that al-Qaida may try to blow up pipelines and refineries in Texas to influence the November presidential election.


The Houston region is home to four of the 10 largest refining facilities in the nation.

Of course, funding for Homeland Security is inherently constrained by the higher priority given to tax cuts, Iraq reconstruction, and falsely-advertised Medicare bills by the present Administration.

Thursday, March 25, 2004


FACT: Richard Clarke, during his testimony yesterday, is the ONLY government official to apologise for the failure of the government to prevent 9-11.

FACT: The Bush Administration has yet to deal substantively with Clarke's factual claims, instead waging a determined smear campaign against him. However, the attacks on Clarke are contradictory.

FACT: Condoleeza Rice still refuses to testify before the 9-11 commission. Josh Marshall points out why her separation-of-powers argument is false.

from the transcript of Richard Clarke on Larry King Live:

CLARKE: Time Magazine came out with a very explosive story saying, that, in fact, the White House hasn't done everything it could have done.

That in fact, that the administration had been handed a plan by me at the beginning of the administration to deal with al Qaeda and that they ignored it�

�Well, that hurt the White House a lot for obvious reasons. It was true.

And they asked me to try to help them out.

I was working for the president of the United States at the time. And I said, well, look, I'm not going to lie. And they said, look, can't you at least emphasize the things that we did do? Emphasize the positive?

Well, you had no other choice at that moment�

�if you want to stay inside the government and try to continue to change it from inside, you can stay on, do what they ask you to do, give a background briefing to the press and emphasize those things which they had done�.

But, you know, it seems very ironic to me that what the White House is sort of saying is they don't understand why I, as a special assistant to the president of the United States, didn't criticize the president to the press.

If I had criticized the president to the press as a special assistant, I would have been fired within an hour. They know that.

This is part of their whole attempt to get Larry King to ask Dick Clarke this kind of question. So we're not talking about the major issue.

KING: We're going to get to that in a minute. But who told you to do that briefing?

CLARKE: The national security adviser, the press secretary, the communication's director, they all talked to me, asked me to do the briefing and were telling me to spin it in a very positive way.

Former IL Governor (R) Jim Thompson and former Reagan Navy Secretary John Lehmann tried to nail Clarke on the supposed contradiction during the testimony yesterday (and if you haven't read the full transcript or seen the video on CSPAN, you're missing out on genuine history), and Clarke completely and utterly routed them. Clarke's credibility is rock solid.

I highly recommend Nick Confessore's analysis as well. His main point:

It does not follow that we can blame the Bush administration for 9/11. There's no guarantee that, had Clarke not been stripped of his authority to run "principals meetings" (that is, meetings of cabinet secretaries) on counter-terrorism, had Condi Rice pushed Clarke's concerns up the command chain sooner than one week before 9/11 (he requested a principal's meeting on the topic during Bush's first week in office), had key officials at the Pentagon not been blinded by their obsession with Iraq, had counterterrorism budgets not been cut at Justice, that we would have nabbed the 9/11 perpetrators before they acted. The administration deserves enormous discredit for ignoring what proved to be very good advice until it was too late. And voters should judge the administration's credibility and worth on national security matters in part based on that decision. But only the 9/11 perpetators are, ultimately, responsible for 9/11.

For me, at least, the key question is: When confronted with horrific evidence that you've been doing things wrong all along, do you then change what you're doing?

It is on that question that the magnitude of the White House's irresponsibility began to come into focus.

And that is exactly why Rice won't testify, why the Administration is stonewalling the 9-11 commission, and why they are trying to smear Clarke rather than respond to his claims directly and honestly. They have an empty hand.

Economic growth was overstated

file this under Bush Administration (Lack of) credibility:

America's buoyant economic recovery could largely be a statistical illusion, according to research released this weekend.

Last year's growth may be half the official figure, which would explain the lack of job creation which is damaging President Bush's re-election chances.

A growing number of discrepancies are emerging in America's economic numbers, including a dramatic over-estimation of manufacturing output. The latest analysis from Goldman Sachs suggests that the US economy may have grown by only about 2.2 percent in the year to the fourth quarter of 2003, considerably less than the official 4.3 percent.

political dynamite

via Yourish, comes this tidbit on independent-minded Arabs trying to express themselves whilst under the heavy yoke of state censorship and control:

The title of the provocative article was no less biting than its content: "A call to Arab women: A single life is a thousand times better than marriage to a man in this miserable East."

Up to about half a year ago, Al Huwayder had no reason to write on the Internet. She was an important journalist for the Saudi newspaper Al Watan, where with great daring she expressed her views about the status of women in Arab countries in general and in Saudi Arabia in particular.

Last August, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah ordered that her work at the newspaper be terminated because she "damaged the foundations of the nation and wrote about issues not permitted by Shari'a" (Islamic religious law)." Al Huwayder is not the only journalist to have been dismissed in Saudi Arabia. Three months earlier, for example, the editor of Al Watan, Jamal Khashoggi, was fired in the wake of a cartoon he published. The cartoon depicted a suicide bomber with an explosives belt tied around his waist and religious rulings shaped like sticks of dynamite rolled up inside.

If I could find a copy of that cartoon, I'd print it out as a keepsake. I love that metaphor. I think that political cartoons are possibly the most potent weapon in changing the public mood, triggering self-reflection along certain avenues - and making the state very, very cognizant of their vulnerability to the Will of the people.

Of course an angry, dismissive women castigating the castrated also helps a bit.

The Front-Runner's Fall

via Dean Nation alum Karl Frisch, The Atlantic Monthly has an in-depth article on the Dean campaign, written by insider and pollster Paul Maslin. It's an even-handed look that portrays Joe Trippi as a genius-enfant-terrible, Dean as an impetous and often unpredictable candidate, and the overall operation as one characterized by flashes of brilliance puntucated by - in hindsight - massive oversights. Maslin does not shy away acepting blame, either. Here's an important excerpt:

We were acutely conscious that any sustained flight of television advertising�we were considering running ads for two weeks�was going to take a big bite out of our cap. I assumed that we would proceed carefully and not consider airing anything until after the Fourth of July. So imagine my surprise when Howard Dean burst into our Burlington headquarters on the afternoon of Friday, June 6, followed not long after by Joe Trippi, and announced that we were going to "go up" in Iowa.

"Kerry's planning to go up," Dean said. "We've got to be there first. We can't let him get the jump on us."


Howard Dean and Joe Trippi, although their work styles were such that they rarely spoke to each other (and they would ultimately part ways), were nevertheless on the exact same tactical page most of the time�if not always for the same reason. And when they were, bold action usually ensued.


We learned dangerous lessons from those ads: that we could work fast, with virtually no preparation; that it paid to be bold; and that we could spend money at a time that no sane campaign ever would or ever had. In late August, after Dean had completed a triumphant national tour, Trippi decided to push more chips onto the table and persuaded us to spend a million dollars on advertising in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin. Jeani Murray, our Iowa state director, had a simple and blunt reaction: "And nothing for Iowa?"

This is a painful read in some ways. In hindsight we recognize the genius of Trippi's Iowa-New Hampshire gamble, given that it was exactly how John Kerry succeeded. The game plan was thus proven valid - but our team was the one that ddn't follow it. There's a lot more in this lengthy article that reveals how the flaws in execution, and the simple human flaws of the candidate and the campaign manager, combined to keep ultimate victory just out of reach.

It's essential reading. If you read nothing else today, read this essay now. And somehow, despite it being painful, it also comforts me... perhaps Dean's role all along was indeed to influence Kerry, and forge him into the better candidate. For the first time, I start to wonder if the Dean campaign could have taken on Bush after all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Tacitus v2.0 launches in beta

I dunno if it's supposed to be secret, but given that Tac posted to his main blog about it, I figure it can't be classified anymore. Check out - the new Scoop-driven site that will hopefully replace the creaking old Moveable Type implementation.

I'm a big advocate of threaded discussions, though there is predictable resistance to it from the regulars at TDO v1. I argue in the beta-test thread that threaded discussions make the conversations numerous sub-topics more accessible and will improve and enhance participation. However I should also note that there is also a "nested" mode, which is sort of a best-of-both-worlds approach to flat or threaded threads. Frankly Nested mode is my own default at both TestTacitus and DailyKos.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

yadda yadda yadda

Terry Holt, chief spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, has this to say:

"John Kerry's campaign seems to be summed up this way: I went to Vietnam, yadda, yadda, yadda, I want to be president."

yadda yadda yadda ? Serving in vietnam reduced to a meaningless gesture, to be dismissed? Billmon puts this in perspective.

Kerry's foreign policy plan

The full text of Kerry's speech outlining his approach to the War on Terror is on the official campaign website. But the central point is this:

I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the War on Terror; I believe he�s done too little.

The revelations by Richard Clarke that the Administration ignored terror prior to 9-11, and fixated on Iraq after 9-11, have supported Kerry's claim. Of course, the more important question is, what would Kerry do differently? Kerry makes his case first by pointing out that he would retain - and use - the option of force at the sole discretion of the United States without limitation by other governments:

If I am Commander-in-Chief, I would wage that war by putting in place a strategy to win it.

We cannot win the War on Terror through military power alone. If I am President, I will be prepared to use military force to protect our security, our people, and our vital interests.

But the fight requires us to use every tool at our disposal. Not only a strong military � but renewed alliances, vigorous law enforcement, reliable intelligence, and unremitting effort to shut down the flow of terrorist funds.

To do all this, and to do our best, demands that we work with other countries instead of walking alone. For today the agents of terrorism work and lurk in the shadows of 60 nations on every continent. In this entangled world, we need to build real and enduring alliances.

Allies give us more hands in the struggle, but no President would ever let them tie our hands and prevent us from doing what must be done. As President, I will not wait for a green light from abroad when our safety is at stake. But I will not push away those who can and should share the burden.

The rhetorical position of reserving the option of unilateralism while seeking multilateralism is frankly a difficult one to articulate. It's probably impossible to avoid being misrepresented as "Kerry gives the UN a veto over American defense.

Ultimately, what are needed are specific details, not general guidelines. First, Kerry will strengthen the military - though I would prefer he use the word "rebuild" :

The next President must ensure that our forces are structured for maximum effectiveness and provided with all that they need to succeed in their missions. We must better prepare our forces for post-conflict operations and the task of building stability by adding more engineers, military police, psychological warfare personnel, and civil affairs teams.

And to replenish our overextended military, as President, I will add 40,000 active-duty Army troops, a temporary increase likely to last the remainder of the decade.

I have a feeling that this will make Phil Carter very happy :) Phil has long been an advocate of increasing the number of Military Police MPs) especially in light of the increased duty of nation-building that our troops are being asked to undertake.

Next, Kerry focuses on intelligence capabilities, making a fairly controversial statement:

Second, if I am President I will strengthen the capacity of intelligence and law enforcement at home and forge stronger international coalitions to provide better information and the best chance to target and capture terrorists even before they act.

But the challenge for us is not to cooperate abroad; it is to coordinate here at home. Whether it was September 11th or Iraq�s supposed weapons of mass destruction, we have endured unprecedented intelligence failures. We must do what George Bush has refused to do � reform our intelligence system by making the next Director of the CIA a true Director of National Intelligence with real control of intelligence personnel and budgets. We must train more analysts in languages like Arabic. And we must break down the old barriers between national intelligence and local law enforcement.

Many would argue that the barriers between local law enforcement and national intelligence exist for a good reason. They are right, but this isn't a simple black and white issue. Kerry himself was investigated by the FBI during Vietnam for excercising is free speech, by President Nixon, so it's safe to assume he is sensitive to the potential for abuse.

I think that there's ample reason to be optimistic that the increased capabilities he describes won't be abused without attracting the notice of the civil liberties watchdogs - made far more effecient and effective thanks to the Patriot Act advocacy. I am currently not as concerned about the Patriot Act as I am about the creation of the "enemy combatant" precedent which allows the government to incarcerate citizens without due process - that's an executive branch excess as far as I am awar of and not a problem rooted in the Patriot Act itself. Kerry's failure to mention the case of Jose Padilla for example is troubling.

Next, Kerry focuses on the money trail:

Third, we must cut off the flow of terrorist funds. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the Bush Administration has adopted a kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money. If I am President, we will impose tough financial sanctions against nations or banks that engage in money laundering or fail to act against it. We will launch a "name and shame" campaign against those that are financing terror. And if they do not respond, they will be shut out of the U.S. financial system.

The problem with Saudi is that there are high-level actors there who are at the root of funding for terror and who still remain untouched by the government. Dan Darling has made an extensive case for the failure of the Saudi government to perform with due diligence on the matter. However, I am not convinced as Kerry seems to be that sanction against the Saudis will work, because their fear of destabilization from within is stronger, and we will always need some of the kid-gloves approach given their ability to affect the oil market (even if we were 100% independent of Saudi imports). Whether the Bush Administration is excessively kid-gloved, I am unqualified to comment upon.

A better solution with Saudi is to try and innoculate them against the religious fundamentalists within, by working with them on ther own counter-terror programs. But that's really a separate issue. The main gist of Kerry's program is the "name and shame" strategy and subsequent isolation from the US financial system - both long-overdue ideas which the Bush Administration does not seem willing to entertain.

Finally, Kerry focuses in the "root cause" of WMD:

Fourth, because finding and defeating terrorist groups is a long-term effort, we must act immediately to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. I propose to appoint a high-level Presidential envoy empowered to bring other nations together to secure and stop the spread of these weapons. We must develop common standards to make sure dangerous materials and armaments are tracked, accounted for, and secured. Today, parts of Russia�s vast nuclear arsenal are easy prey for those offering cash to scientists and security forces who too often are under-employed and under-paid. If I am President, I will expand the Nunn/Lugar program to buy up and destroy the loose nuclear materials of the former Soviet Union and to ensure that all of Russia�s nuclear weapons and materials are out of the reach of terrorists and off the black market.

That the Bush Administration has actually cut funding for this goal is astounding. It's far more important than national missile defense (a program I'd like to see Kerry repudiate).

There is actually more, including a critique of Bush for insufficient funding for homeland defense. Overall, though, it's the direction I feel we need to go.

Monday, March 22, 2004

the Bush Administration is weak on terror

This is another link compilation post for my own reference. Comments and suggestions welcome (especially you, Dan :)

Rand Beers - served as National Security Council special assistant to the president for combating terrorism under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II: resigned

Richard Clarke - served under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II - was top anti-terrorism adviser to Clinton and Bush II: resigned (biography, not all flattering)

Rice vs Clarke analysis by Josh Marshall, analysis and summary by Kevin Drum

Inconsistencies and gaps in official government record of 9-11

Timeline of Clinton and Bush Administration's efforts and priorities regarding terrorism from Center for American Progress

Ashcroft cut funding and priorities for counter-terrorism

Graphical timeline from UggaBugga

Condoleeze Rice (National Security Advisor to the President) refuses to testify before the 9-11 Investigative commission

example of plutonium smuggling out of former Soviet republics - Bush Administration has underfunded efforts to stop this problem (a true WMD imminent threat)


"Sheikh" Ahmed Yassin is the "spiritual leader" of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has performed terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians inside the Green Line (ie, inside the nation of Israel proper, not just out in the Occupied Territories).

Or, I should say, Yassin was:

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader and founder of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, was killed early Monday by an Israeli missile that struck him as he left a mosque in Gaza City, his family and Hamas officials said. They said at least two bodyguards had been killed with him.

Sheik Yassin, a symbol to Palestinians of resistance to Israel and to Israelis of Palestinian terrorism, was by far the most significant Palestinian militant killed by Israel in more than three years of conflict.

Black smoke curled over Gaza City as Palestinians began burning tires in the streets and demonstrators chanted for revenge. Mosque loudspeakers blared a message across Gaza of mourning for Sheik Yassin in the name of Hamas and another militant group, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.

Remember that to the Palestinians, Hamas is a champion striking back at an occupying power. The basic rationale for targeting civilians is that Israel is nominally a democracy and thus the civilians have ultimate responsibility for the actions of their government - in fact, as Steven den Beste puts it, there is no such thing as a civilian.

Intellectually, I accept the logic that legitimizes me and my family (including my 2 year old daughter) as targets for enemies of my country that seek to avenge wrongs inflicted upon them by my government, which I have the power to affect. The logic does not hold for oppressed people such as Arabs who are ruled by tyrants (themselves having gained power with American support during the Cold War) and who have no power over their governments beyond mass violence and civil unrest - an outcome that the tyrants avoid by feeding them a diet of anti-Semitic paranoia as a distraction.

Personally, the death of Yassin does not motivate me to weep tears of remorse. Far more significant tears were shed in mourning as the result of Yassin's life than in his passing.

I do think that Matthew is on to something. Not about the curious timing of the attack - after all, Sharon needs to pacify the right as he prepares for the Gaza pullout and as the security fence gets re-routed (I'm waiting for Jonathan to weigh in on this). Rather, on the long-term strategy - that the policy of killing the leaders of Hamas will have a net positive result. Ultimately, targeting spiritual leaders tends to validate their otherwise-poor arguments. It would have been better to isolate or perhaps even "disappear" Yassin rather than simply give him the martyrdom he longed for.

curious about my sneer quotes in the first sentence? The terms mean something very different to a Bohra. Very different indeed. I refer you to your library copy of Mullahs on the Mainframe.

"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it"

Destined to enter the lexicon just like "I invented the Internet", the above statement by Kerry looks bad on paper, but has a simple explanation. The video that was appended to the Bush campaign ad truncates Kerry before he finishes explaining to the audience that he voted for the initial bill (S.1689), but co-sponsored an amendment with Senator Joe Biden (S.AMDT.1796) and several others that would have helped fund the reconstruction by suspending some of the Bush tax cuts for the highest rate taxpayers.

When that amendment was rejected, Kerry voted against the final bill, because supporting it under those circumstances was to ignore theequally important issue of fiscal responsibility. The Congress should not be a blank check and rubber stamp for the President with which to wage war - the Congress holds the purse strings and has a responsibility to ensure that the concentrated power of the Executive is balanced by the distributed power of the people.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Mortal Konquest

"I declare the Eagle Fist all-styles, hand-to-hand combat world championship open once more. For the next 10 days, the world's mightiest fighters will come together here at Fang Island to compete for a prize of $1 million and the post of Associate Secretary Of Full-Contact Defense!"

Rumsfeld then declared the tournament open by symbolically shattering a block of obsidian with his prosthetic dragon's claw�the powerful weapon grafted onto his right wrist after 2003 champion Li severed his hand with manji butterfly swords.

"Who can deny that conflict is a purifying flame which sears away cowardice, hesitation, sentiment�all that which is unworthy in Man?" Rumsfeld said, stroking his albino cheetah.


The Eagle Fist Tournament has come under fire from critics in America who characterize the fortress, purchased at taxpayers' expense, as a grandstanding ploy to divert attention from Iraq and the stalled war on terrorism.

"What exactly is this meant to achieve?" reporter James Snyder asked, hours before he disappeared from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram building.


"It is difficult to associate horrors with the proud civilizations that created them: Sparta, Rome, the knights of Europe, the Samurai. They worshipped strength, because strength is the fundament for all other values. I shall find the strongest of all, and together, we shall shake the world to its very foundations."

The reason I love the Onion is not because it's comedy - it's because it's satire. To understand, read the last paragraph.

links on Iraq

Consider this post to be a draft for some links I am collecting for later. This post may be deleted, so if you want to comment, please leave a comment on the Disclosure post below instead.

an Iraq / Al-Qaeda link?

Osama bin Laden denounces Saddam

No secret meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi officials.

The War we should be fighting

Al Gore speech on security and national defense

pro-war liberals reconsider

Interview with Peter Bergen: part 1, part 2

An incomplete reply to Den Beste's Strategic Overview

Magneto Appeal
- and the lack of a counter-ideology

a critical assessment of the neocon rationale - Chaos is the goal (my analysis)

Why Iraq if not WMD?

Project for a New American Century has been advocating American military intervention in the Middle East since well before September 11th - in fact well before the present Bush Administration.

Egypt is the prize? WTF?

Team B returns

The Wrong War

distracted from the war on Terror, cause and effect

Evolution of Al-Qaeda v2.0, Terrorism, Inc., Phil Carter's analysis, second analysis, Peter Bergen interview, UN report on Al-Qaeda

Lack of planning pre-war, commitment post-war

requirements for proper nation-building (summary: we need more MPs!)

Bush will cut and run from Iraq (TNR), same fear from Weekly Standard

disclosure of information filters

For debate to be of any use, it must be informed. Yet the process of being informed is inherently a flawed one. What follows is my list of links that I consider essential and which have largely shaped my own thoughts on the domestic and political issues of the day. This list will help others understand what my biases and filters are as well as (hopefully) help diversify the range of information that others use. If other bloggers make similar lists, especially bloggers who disagree with me on many of my opinions, then I too will benefit.

I should also make one note about the role of blogs in this. Blogs allow for freedom from some of the limitations of print journalism. Especially when written by journalists, blogs are essential in helping clarify debate because they often can cut straight to the point without the structural meandering imposed by the print column format. Kevin Drum (formerly Calpundit, now writing for the Washington Monthly) has a specific example of the limitations I referred to. Many excellent professional journalists such as Ryan Lizza and Josh Marshall run blogs that are absolutely first-rate as a resources in helping to process the information overload from the media. These "professional" bloggers play a complementary role to "analyst" bloggers (examples; Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias) who have no formal journalist credentials and thus often lack access to the sources that the pros have. But the pros themselves are still bound by what they can say, whereas the analysts have fewer constraints. It is essential to sample both.

Here's my list, which is continually under revision, so please chime in with your recommendations in the comments! Also, I've enabled Trackback, so if you post a similar list to your blog, please ping me.

Media analysis and summary

Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog

debunks/responds to spin from major media outlets / journalists

ABC's The Note

irreverent daily roundup of links to opinion and analysis

Iraq War and Occupation

The New Republic's Iraq'd blog

run by Spencer Ackerman, a pro-war liberal. Here's an excerpt explaining the blog's purpose: "[I]f we believe that Iraqi democracy would be a model for the region, then the converse is also true ... Iraq'd will highlight developments in Iraq and the Middle East to call attention to this danger."

Juan Cole's Informed Comment

Professor at U Michigan who is an expert on Iraq and Shi'a. He reads the daily Arabic newspapers and provides translations to try and convey the attitudes of the Iraqis and Arabs towards the occupation more realistically than what we perceive through the US media filter. Basically, he provides a window into the Arab media filter.

Campaign 2004

The New Republic's Campaign Journal blog

run by Ryan Lizza, an excellent writer at TNR. The blog is devoted to the 2004 campaign and the specific media strategies that are being used by both sides.

Political Analysis Blogs

The American Prospect's TAPPED

Joshua Marshall's Talking Points Memo

Matthew Yglesias

Kevin Drum's Political Animal

Jim Henley's Unqualified Offering

Volokh Conspiracy

Steven Den Beste's USS Clueless



The American Prospect (print, online)

The Hill (print, online)

Center for American Progress (online)

Washington Monthly (print, online)

Salon (online)

Newspapers and Radio

The Washington Post


NPR All Things Considered


Note that the above isn't my blogroll, which is a list of links that I often read. Rather, it's a list of sources that influence my thinking. Some of them are indeed on my blogroll, but others are not, and I only go there when others bring it to my attention. They are all sources of info that I try to keep an eye on. No one said that keeping informed was an easy task!

Thursday, March 18, 2004

McCain defends Kerry

this is great, but why are the actual Democrats MIA?

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday he did not believe Democratic candidate John Kerry, a friend and Senate colleague, was weak on defense or would compromise national security if elected president...

"This kind of rhetoric, I think, is not helpful in educating and helping the American people make a choice," McCain said on "The Early Show" on CBS. "You know, it's the most bitter and partisan campaign that I've ever observed. I think it's because both parties are going to their bases rather than going to the middle. I regret it"...

"The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample doubts about his judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security," Cheney said in a speech Wednesday.

Asked on NBC's "Today" if he thought Kerry was weak on defense, McCain said: "No, I do not believe that he is, quote, weak on defense. He's responsible for his voting record, as we are all responsible for our records, and he'll have to explain it. But, no, I do not believe that he is necessarily weak on defense. I don't agree with him on some issues, clearly. But I decry this negativism that's going on on both sides. The American people don't need it."

When asked on "The Early Show" if Kerry's election would compromise national security, McCain responded: "I don't think that -- I think that John Kerry is a good and decent man. I think he has served his country."

McCain is a decent man. He's wrong on some issues, but he clearly is taking a stand.

Pizza, Await Allah Moon

thats an anagram of my full name. I think I interpret it as an injunction to remain patient during Ramadan fasting. Note that the "Aziz P" <-> "pizza" mapping also works, but sadly, finding decent pizza in Houston is a fool's game.

a two-edged sword

Bill and Dan have both made a case that Al-Qaeda desired the Socialists to win in Spain over the Aznar government. There is even evidence that suggests that ALQ actively planned the timing of their Madrid bombing with this outcome in mind:

A December posting on an Internet message board used by al Qaeda and its sympathizers and obtained by CNN, spells out a plan to topple the pro-U.S. government.

"We think the Spanish government will not stand more than two blows, or three at the most, before it will be forced to withdraw because of the public pressure on it," the al Qaeda document says.

"If its forces remain after these blows, the victory of the Socialist Party will be almost guaranteed -- and the withdrawal of Spanish forces will be on its campaign manifesto."

That prediction came to fruition in elections Sunday, with the Socialists unseating the Popular Party three days after near-simultaneous bombings of four trains killed 200 and shocked the nation.

Emphasis mine - messages left on Internet message boards can be notoriously unreliable. But let's take it as true - that suggests that ALQ wants to influence the Spanish election because they think (according to whatever internal calculus they are employing) that one outcome is preferable from the standpoint of their self-interest.

The outcry over the Spanish vote seems centered on the fact that the Spanish - in acting according to their own internal calculus - provided the outcome that happenned to coincide with ALQ's desired one. This is therefore taken as sending a positive message to ALQ which will presumably result in increased bomings immediately preceding elections.

First, I should note that neither Bill nor Dan have embraced the "Spanish appeased Al Qaeda" nonsense. Those who take this view perhaps unknowingly reveal their own bias and deep cynicism about the virtue of democracy, and betray a deep condescension towards the "masses". Brian earlier rightly decried this attitude by leftists, but falls victim to it as many others I respect seem to have.

But there is one idea that unites those on that spectrum - that doing what ALQ claims to want is a bad thing by definition. This is a false assumption. In fact it leaves you open to blinding misdirection - a domestic example is the "GOP wants Howard Dean to win" meme that was initiated by Karl Rove last summer - but which more thoughtful conservatives realized was a disaster in the making. That meme did contribute however to Dean's perception of unelectability, which initialized the negative context for his Dean scream.

The bottom line is that if you allow outcomes to be decided by Al Qaeda - good or bad - then they have already achieved their goal of influence. In reality, terror will continue and likely will accelerate during the campaign season worldwide.

The final nail in the coffin of the "influence elections" meme should be the story today that Al Qaeda prefers Bush:

In a statement sent to the Arabic language daily al-Hayat, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings that killed 201 people, also urged its European units to stop all operations.

"Because of this decision, the leadership has decided to stop all operations within the Spanish territories... until we know the intentions of the new government that has promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq," the statement said.

"And we repeat this to all the brigades present in European lands: Stop all operations."


The statement said it supported President Bush (news - web sites) in his reelection campaign, and would prefer him to win in November rather than the Democratic candidate John Kerry (news - web sites), as it was not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom."

In comments addressed to Bush, the group said:

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization."

"Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."

What is really going on here? Looking at it superficially, you could argue that this is a real letter, not an Internet posting, so that gives it marginally more credibility. That's a dumb argument, though. You could argue that this is a fake letter (the stand that LGF takes, which would actually be commendable if they didn't accept the internet posting above as gospel truth, but they have zero concern with their own credibility anyway). It's still not sufficient.

A better analysis however is the fact that these sources of information have the same effect - to sow seeds of a disinformation campaign on a far wider scale than Rove's successful broadside on Dean. The idea is to portray ALQ as an omnipotent entity that pulls the strings of our Western democracies in the minds of the Western electorate. This will have a single effect - not to make people vote for or against Bush/Aznar/etc but rather to make "What Would ALQ Do?" the dominant influence on the decisions we make in our free societies - a question which, since it is essentially unknowable, will detract from our ability to evaluate the facts on the merits.

Ultimately, the strength of a democracy is the ability to hold its leaders accountable for failure, and reward them for success. The ideal way to interfere with that process is to make the decision subject to irrational fear rather than clear assessment. That was true for Spain and it will be especially true for us.

UPDATE: Dan responds - much to chew on...

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Ged's not dead, baby

I missed the Dune miniseries on SciFi channel, since I don't have cable, and now it looks like there's another great translation of classic science fiction to the small screen that I'll have to queue up after it. Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea novels are coming:

SCI FI Channel, the largest provider of original movies and miniseries on television, announces production start on Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea. Produced by Hallmark Entertainment in association with Bender-Brown Productions, this four-hour miniseries epic will begin principle photography this spring in New Zealand. Adapted from award- winning novelist Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" book series, Earthsea is written by Gavin Scott (The Mists of Avalon) with Robert Halmi, Sr. (Dreamkeeper, Merlin), Lawrence Bender (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction) and Kevin Brown (Roswell) executive producing. Earthsea is slated to debut on SCI FI in December 2004.

Come to think of it, I'd rather watch Earthsea than Dune - after all, the latter has never been done before. This will really be exciting! (if done right)

Barack Obama for Illinois

It looks like CNN has stopped updating the delegate scorecard, which suggests that the impact of further delegates being assigned will indeed be significantly lessened. However, despte not really earning any additional delegates after Vermont, I think that the delegate campaign did have one success in that Kerry has clearly decided to try and utilize Dean as a visible spokesperson and part of the campaign - as Dean demonstrated on MTP on Sunday, he's good at it. Notably absent are Gephardt and Lieberman from similar roles, which means that the Dean movement retains it's influence. Tomorrow the focus will shift to the new organization, so I feel confident in finally dropping the active mantle of the delegate campaign.

One major event yesterday though was the primary victory of Illinois state Senator Barack Obama. Obama is an incredible candidate and will be one to watch. He makes for a natural Dean ally and I hope that Dean is able to assist him in winning the seat at stake in my original home state of IL. There's an excellent biography of Obama from the Washington Post that is a must-read - the man is an inspiring and principled candidate for office and he is exactly the kind of politician that can meet the raised bar of expectations of the Dean movement.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

the weakest link in the causal chain

Dan Darling responds to my earlier post on the Spanish election. A Must read!

I think that his basic argument is correct, that there was indeed a causal chain of events starting with the Madrid bombing and ending with the election of the Socialist party. That outcome may even have been, in the terrorists' minds, a desirable one (as the evidence that Dan brings forth certainly supports). Of course, we can extend the causal chain backwards ad infinitum, to whit: invading Iraq caused the Socialists to win! But thats a silly game. A more useful one is to follow the causal chain forwards:

Madrid bomb -> Spanish people reject terror in 2-million strong march of solidarity and will -> Aznar government actively tries to politicize the event, blaming ETA:

The PP knew that their antiterrorist policy (against ETA) was one of its main winning cards, and they didn't hesitate to blatantly manipulate the 11-M attack, suppressing information, calling people to demonstrate against ETA, knowing all the while that the Antiterrorist Information Brigade had as good as discarded ETA authorship a few hours after the attack. The antiterrorist police heads even threatened to resign at the madness of it all, and this was leaked to the opposition and the press.

And all the while the state TVE showing documentaries about ETA activities right until late Saturday night, on the eve of the election, and failing to report live on Minister Acebes informing about the Al-Q line of investigation which he had been forced to acknowledge � forced by his own angered police heads and by the media which had all the information but was withholding it just long enough for the Minister to do the decent thing. This heartless manipulation of the dead for political gain clinched it.

... -> Spanish electorate responds angrily by punishing Aznar for taking terrorism less seriously than domestic political opportunism.

By this chain of events, the critical link is the reaction to the bombing by the Aznar government, in shaling the electorate's mood. The victory for the terrorists was not the outcome of the vote, but the cynical reaction to it by the then-present government.

polling Iraqis

The new poll of Iraqi attitudes towards the occupation by ABC, German network ARD, the BBC and Japan's NHK seems at first glance to be a resounding validation of support.

However, the ethnic breakdown is very revealing. Josh Marshall summarizes:

For instance, 48% of Iraqis say the US was right to invade, versus 39% who say it was wrong. But the breakdown shows that 40% of Arab Iraqis say it was right while 87% of Iraqi Kurds say it was the right thing to do.

There's a similar disparity on the related question of whether Iraq was 'liberated rather than humiliated.' A third of Iraqi Arabs say yes, while 82% of Kurds answered in the affirmative.

In other words, a significant majority of Arab Iraqis still do not credit the US with success or even good will intent. The overwhelming support for the US invasion among Kurds is fairly obvious - the Kurds enjoyed almost total autonomy between the two Gulf Wars and the new interim Constitution is being widely criticized by Shi'a for giving the Kurds disproportionate power (something that Steven den Beste missed, it seems, in his analysis earlier).


Q. Did you feel you were blindsided by Dean's success?

Well, not blindsided. I mean, when I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, "I'm against everything"? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did.

-- John Kerry, Rolling Stone interview , 12/2/03

"Aw, Belgium, man.. BELGIUM!!!

-- Zaphod Beeblebrox

You know, in college I swore up and down like a madman. Perhaps I was not alone. In high school, not so much, but in elementary school it was all pure novelty. Now, as a parent, if I ever catch Sakina swearing irrespective of age I'll force her to learn Swahili as a punishment (assignment: translate the complete lyrics of Hakuna Matata).

I think all of us in our old agedness swear less because we have enough mastery of the language by now to come up with far more expressive modes of speech. But there are some occassions where it still just fits, such as this satire of personal Bush hatred by Liberal Oasis.

Do I even use profanity anymore? I am not sure, because it depends on whether it's the word used or the intent behind the word. Any word will do - frankly I am more likely to use "swatting" or "belgium" than I am to rely on the mainstays. Thats because they have started to mean the same thing to me, internally. So if I say "Belgium" in that context, am I not being profane?

Monday, March 15, 2004

caught pandering in Florida

Slate catches Kerry in a real pandering lie, not a nuanced position:

"I'm pretty tough on Castro, because I think he's running one of the last vestiges of a Stalinist secret police government in the world,'' Kerry told WPLG-ABC 10 reporter Michael Putney in an interview to be aired at 11:30 this morning.

Then, reaching back eight years to one of the more significant efforts to toughen sanctions on the communist island, Kerry volunteered: "And I voted for the Helms-Burton legislation to be tough on companies that deal with him."

�Peter Wallsten, "Kerry Stances on Cuba Open to Attack," in the March 14 Miami Herald

Kerry actually voted against the Helms-Burton bill, and later tried to qualify by justifying his vote agains the final passage because there were some things added that he didn't like.

I don't see the lie as any more malicious than a given lie by President Bush - both men seem to honestly believe what they say when they say it. I suspect that Kersimply assumed he had voted for the bill because he agreed with the original intent, and wanted to press his point so badly that he didn't bother with simple due diligence.

He'd better stop. I don't know what it is about the Cuban American community that makes Democrats collapse into withering piles of jello to try and appease them - Gore did something quite similar as I recall back during the 2000 election, also widely seen as pandering for pure political reasons.

The incident reveals Kerry's instinct to try and minimize risk - I wonder if he gets burned like this enough times, will the risk-aversion train him to stop? Let's hope so. The entire flap was especially pointless given that Kerry is leading Bush in Florida polling.

influencing elections

Steven den Beste's two-liner post is the perfect distillation of the response by those who supported the Iraq war. It's also a classic example of an a-priori opinion influencing the analysis of the facts.

The real argument (which SDB's post assumes, but does not explicitly state is better articulated by Dan Darling - that the terrorists have influenced the election.

But that's a false assumption. The Spanish people spoke en masse against Terrorism after the attacks - that was not the action of a frightened people willing to appease. It was a statement of defiance. The vote against Aznar, under whose leadership the terror attacks actually occurred, is a judgement on those merits.

If that government fails in its duty, then they should be held accountable. The Madrid bombings, like the Bali bombings, the Riyadh bombings, the attempts on Musharraf's life, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the other numerous examples of Al-Qaeda's operational success since 9-11 have demonstrated that the US-led War on Terror has essentially done nothing to hinder the global terrorist threat.

Equating the Spanish vote with apeasement is grossly condescending to the Spanish. I believe people are rational actors, and the intent of the Spanish electorate was expressed clearly in the streets of Madrid.

Let's extend the logic for a moment - Al Qaeda influenced the election in either case. Voting for Aznar, by the SDB logic, meant that some voter was driven by fear of terror to select a candidate who they otherwise thought was worse for the country. How do you distinguish Al-Qaeda's motives? Who was Al-Qaeda really trying to support? Is, as Dan states, Al-Qaeda happy tonight? How can anyone claim to know, absent a telepathic connection? Wouldn't their ideological goals be served by using ANY outcome of the Spanish election as an excuse to pursue their goals?

Matthew Yglesias has perhaps the most cogent insight:

But of course logic has nothing to do with this. The right would like to set up the following argument: If there are no attacks between now and the election, then Bush has defended us from terror and deserves re-election; if there is an attack between now and the election, then voting for Kerry would be appeasement.

UPDATE: I respect Bill's opinion but as Liberal Oasis points out (quoting Jason Burke, author of Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror), the actual outcome was probably irrelevant to Al-Q if you take their long-range motivation into account:

It�s a myth that they set out to bring the American nation, or any western nation�to its knees through military attack [or] asymmetric warfare.

The aim of attacks is to radicalize and mobilize those people in the Islamic world who have so far ignored or rejected their message.

The attacks are propaganda. That�s why they�re so spectacular, that�s why they�re designed to be mediatized so heavily�

�[Their goals] will be achieved, in the view of the militants, if the world�s 1.2 billion Muslims accept their ideas and act thereon�

�The call is...not saying directly to the West, �Back off. Go away. We�re going to bomb you until you go away.�

The call is direct to Muslims, �Rise up and together we will be able to free ourselves, liberate ourselves, have a just society.�

That�s why it doesn�t matter to them who is in office in Spain, or any other Western country. In the end, it�s not about us, it�s about themselves.

The victory for Al-Qaeda was that they succeeded in carrying out their attack - and got loads of media coverage for it. The Spanish government was held accountable.

Kerry proposes monthly debates

it won't happen, but would really be good for the Republic:

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, visiting the site of one of the most famous political debates in U.S. history, planned to challenge President Bush on Saturday to a "real discussion about America's future" in a monthly series of debates.

Kerry, already engaged in a running exchange of negative ads with Bush eight months before the November election, planned to deliver the challenge at the site of the historic Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates in Quincy, Illinois.

That series of 1858 senatorial debates between Douglas and Lincoln, who lost the Senate election but won the presidency two years later, is legendary in U.S. political history for elevating crucial issues like slavery and states' rights to the front of the U.S. political agenda.

Already, the ABK crowd has labeled Kerry the Douglas equivalent, but I don't think either candidate maps well to the Douglas-Lincoln axis. If anything, it wold be a debate between Teddy Roosevelt and William McKinley. Now that one maps pretty cleanly...