Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Bark At The Moon is carrying two stories that have received very little attention in the mainstream media despite the controversial figures involved (as usual, non-members of Salon have to watch a very brief web ad to gain access to the site for the day, but it is quick and painless with a big payoff).

The first story recounts the bizarre, life is stranger than fiction, tale of how in late March, the billionaire leader of the cultlike Unification Church, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was literally "crowned" as the new messiah and second coming of Christ in a Senate office building, surrounded by lawmakers from both parties.

After the coronation, which was complete with a crown handed to Moon by the white gloved Rep. Danny K. Davis, (D-Ill), Moon "told his bipartisan audience of Washington power players he would save everyone on Earth as he had saved the souls of Hitler and Stalin -- the murderous dictators had been born again through him, he said. In a vision, Moon said the reformed Hitler and Stalin vouched for him, calling him 'none other than humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.'"

Despite the Fellini-esque scene, it is important to note that Moon has mainstream support from many politicians and conservative groups, such as the American Family Coalition, and a group that he is affiliated with received approximately $500,000 through President Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives program. He is also the owner of the conservative Washington Times newspaper and the UPI wire service (is there a stronger argument against lax media consolidation laws?). But these legitimate connections do not justify the absurdity of a civilian being crowned as the next messiah in the government owned Dirksen Senate Office Building, nor does it explain the complicity of dozens of lawmakers that were present.

To fully appreciate the outrage that such an event should arouse, it is important to look at Rev. Moon's somewhat checkered past, and current ideological and religious doctrinal teachings. First, it is worth noting that he served time in the 1980's for tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. But hey, who hasn't made a mistake at least once in their life. Unfortunately, the story gets worse, especially when you look at some of the teachings of his "church."

The second salon story describes in more detail the beliefs of the Unification Church, as preached by the Church's leader, Rev. Moon. The name the "Unification Church" describes one of the basic tenets of Moon's theology, that all religions will eventually come together and be blended into one faith, of course under him. Part of his plans to "reconcile" all religions include removing the Christian cross from church walls, and from Christian symbolism, because he views the cross as an obstacle for Christians accepting him as the new messiah, and persuading Jews to sign apologies for giving Jesus over to the Romans. His views on Judaism go even further, claiming that the Holocaust was payback for the crucifixion of Christ: "Through the principle of indemnity, Hitler killed 6 million Jews."

Once he has unified all the world's religions under himself his next step will be to replace the U.S. Constitution with a system he calls "Godism." As noted in Salon, "The separation between religion and politics," he has observed on many occasions, "is what Satan likes most." His gospel: Jesus failed because he never attained worldly power. Thus, he has been sent to improve on Jesus's failures.

On "Godism" and the world theocracy that will bring about the "peace kingdom," Moon will proceed by "purifying our sex-corrupted culture, and that includes cleaning up gays and American women ("a line of prostitutes")."

Regarding homosexuals, who he refers to as "dung-eating dogs," he describes the "peace kingdom" as a place where "gays will be eliminated" in a "purge on God's orders" he says that will be like Stalin's.

Still, despite the anti-Semitic and anti-homosexual rhetoric, there have been no public condemnations of Moon or his church from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, not to mention the fact that some were even willing to attend his coronation. The secret to Moon's success lies in his campaign contribution largesse, and the influence he wields as owner of the Washington Times and the UPI.

As noted by Salon, "It might almost make sense for conservative congressmen to honor Moon in this way. After all, a writer in Moon's magazine Insight wrote in February that it's long past time for Republicans to thank the billionaire Korean preacher for his gifts. '[T]he continued refusal of Beltway conservatives publicly to acknowledge their steadfast patron is, of course, scandalous,' wrote contributor Paul Gottfried. Moon has sunk an estimated $2-$4 billion into the money-losing Times, and countless other causes - like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.'"

But maybe Gottfried's censure was premature. Under the rubric of the faith-based initiatives program, "Last summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave a $475,280 grant to fund Free Teens USA, an after-school celibacy club in urban New Jersey. Free Teens USA, like other Moon civic organizations, claims it has no ties to the Unification Church. But according to documents obtained by Salon under the Freedom of Information Act, the director and chief finance officer of the Free Teens USA club, as well as others listed on the group's board of directors, are former or present high-ranking Unification Church officials who omitted those leadership roles from their applications for the federal grant."

And then there is the fact that many of Moon's top aides have attained positions in the Bush administration. According to Salon, "Josette Shiner, who rose up through the Moon organization first as a Washington Times reporter and Moon disciple and later as editor of that newspaper, was named deputy trade representative earlier this year.

And in December of last year, Bush appointed David Caprara, a top official for Moon in Washington, to head the War on Poverty program AmeriCorps VISTA. Caprara had been director of Moon's American Family Coalition and was one of the Unification Church's top political operatives."

How can Moon's beliefs possibly square with the Evangelical Christian beliefs of President Bush and many in his cabinet, most notably Attorney General Ashcroft who famously "attended Moon's Inaugural Prayer Luncheon for Unity and Renewal" in 2000? How can Christians accommodate a man who claims to be the second coming of Christ, who also urges a campaign to remove all crucifixes from the religious landscape because they interfere with his ascendancy amongst Christians. Not to mention episodes such as this one described by Salon:

"Moon has taken out full-page advertisements in newspapers, transcribing his communications with the Spirit World, where figures from Confucius to former U.S. President James Buchanan have vouched that he is, indeed, the savior of humanity. Earlier this month, a two-page testimonial in the Washington Times quoted the 36 former U.S. presidents 'from the vantage point of heaven' (Moon, according to George Washington, is 'the messiah')."

I guess, even in matters of faith, the answer is: "In God We Trust."

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Gift Of Supply-Side Economics

Paul Krugman's column in today's New York Times touches on some aspects of the occupation of Iraq that have gone largely unreported, namely the engrossing preoccupation within the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Bush administration with remaking Iraq into the paragon of conservative supply-side economics, and, relatedly, the utter inexperience of the people who were tapped to oversee such a grandiose transformation.

The policy laboratory that was post-invasion Iraq was not only meant to give credence to the neo-conservative vision of post-Saddam Iraq as a catalyst for democratization in the greater Middle East, and thus, a validation of the doctrine of pre-emptive war, but Iraq was also going to be the shining example of how the unfettered application of conservative, free-market, privatization and supply-side economics would provide a superior economic model to those that are encumbered by public ownership, social welfare programs, government regulation and the influence of labor unions.

The focus on the conservative economic agenda was apparent from the first days of Paul Bremer's tenure as head of the CPA. According to a Washington Post reporter who shared a flight with him last June, "Bremer discussed the need to privatize government-run factories with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold." That was in the context of a nation that had no leadership (the Baathists having been removed from power), had a crumbling infrastructure with vital services such as water, electricity, healthcare and oil production all severely disrupted, the security situation was in shambles with rampant looting and crime, and the inattention to these pressing problems was providing fertile ground for the insurgency which took root in those crucial first months.

Nor does it appear that Bremer and his administration allies have lost sight of their economic priorities, as Krugman noted "as he prepared to leave Iraq, Mr. Bremer listed reduced tax rates, reduced tariffs and the liberalization of foreign-investment laws as among his major accomplishments. Insurgents are blowing up pipelines and police stations, geysers of sewage are erupting from the streets, and the electricity is off most of the time - but we've given Iraq the gift of supply-side economics."

As will be the legacy of the Iraq war, it will be difficult to separate the validity of the goals from the execution. It is increasingly unlikely that democracy will spread across the region from the example in Iraq, and it is also unlikely that the experience in Iraq will prove a decisive blow in the war against radical Islamic terrorism, but it is unclear whether this is the result of flaws in the theory as put forward by the war's proponents, or whether the execution of the war and subsequent occupation was so badly managed that a plausible goal failed to materialize.

The same can be said for the supply-side experiment. Maybe Iraq could have burst forward as an economic powerhouse in the Middle East, owing directly to the vast regime of privatization, low taxes and free market ideals. Unfortunately, it is likely that we will never know because the economic reform initiatives were also so poorly managed that Iraq will probably not be the paradigm of economic strength that was hoped for.

In his comprehensive and balanced appraisal of the successes and failures of the CPA, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post levels some thoughtful critique of Bremer and his associates regarding the economic plans.

He states, "Several current and former CPA officials contended that key decisions by Bremer favored a grandiose vision over Iraqi realities and reflected the perceived prerogatives of a military victor. Critics within the CPA also faulted Bremer for working to advance a conservative economic agenda of tax cuts and free trade instead of focusing on the delivery of basic services."

Another example of how the macro approach was ignoring the needs of ordinary Iraqis is that as we were trying to create a robust economic life in Iraq, we were doing very little to engage the Iraqi populace in the process. As Chandrasekaran points out, "CPA specialists had virtually no resources to fund projects on their own to create much-needed local employment in the months after the war. Instead, they relied on two U.S. firms, Halliburton Co. and Bechtel Corp., which were awarded large contracts to patch Iraq's infrastructure."

We missed a great opportunity to use the rebuilding of Iraq as a mini-Marshall plan spreading good-will throughout Iraq and bringing Iraqi's into the process through gainful employment. Considering the fact that one of Bremer's first moves was to disband the Iraqi army, thus leaving hundreds of thousands of Iraqis unemployed and armed, this was even more imperative. Instead, the political advantage of rewarding campaign contributors was put ahead of practicality. The results were nothing short of disaster.

What is possibly the most valid indictment of the CPA's efforts in all areas of management, including and especially in the realm of instituting the grand economic vision, was the shocking level of inexperience of those who were entrusted to carry off such a delicate and intricate maneuver, and the great extent to which the Bush administration and the CPA put cronyism and ideological conformity ahead of ability.

Aside from the fact that the overall architects of the invasion and subsequent occupation were woefully ignorant of the region they were exerting influence over, Chandrasekaran reported, "The CPA also lacked experienced staff. A few development specialists were recruited from the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. But most CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with posts going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House. 'It was loyalty over experience,' a senior CPA official said." [emphasis added]

Paul Krugman makes the following observation, "Still, given Mr. Bremer's economic focus, you might at least have expected his top aide for private-sector development to be an expert on privatization and liberalization in such countries as Russia or Argentina. But the job initially went to Thomas Foley, a Connecticut businessman and Republican fund-raiser with no obviously relevant expertise."

And how is this for irony: "In March, Michael Fleischer, a New Jersey businessman, took over. Yes, he's Ari Fleischer's brother. Mr. Fleischer told The Chicago Tribune that part of his job was educating Iraqi businessmen: 'The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review.'" [emphasis added]

Another article in the Washington Post, by Ariana Eunjung Cha, highlights some of the more bizarre hiring practices carried out by the White House, the Pentagon and the CPA.

Ariana Cha followed the travails of a group of young twenty and thirty something hires of the CPA in Iraq, a group whose utter lack of credentials was made up for only by their political connections and ideological beliefs. Included in this group was "Simone Ledeen, whose father, Michael Ledeen, a prominent neoconservative, told a forum that 'the level of casualties is secondary' because 'we are a warlike people' and 'we love war.'" Interesting pedigree for a reconstruction project. But consider the pool of applicants that the White House was selecting from. Cha noted that this group, though having "no foreign service experience," specific qualifications, or specialized skills soon realized what they had in common: "They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank."

This might partially explain this gripe by "retired U.S. Army Col. Charles Krohn [who] said many in the CPA regard the occupation 'as a political event,' always looking for a way to make the president look good."

As many top officials noted, "they represented everything that was wrong with the CPA: They were young, inexperienced, and regarded as ideologues." Given these facts, it is that much more surprising that, due to a combination of events, "six of the new young hires found themselves managing the country's $13 billion budget, making decisions affecting millions of Iraqis."

Although they lacked business backgrounds, these novices were the people put in charge of deciding which Iraqi's got paid, how much, when, and overseeing the logistics of an extremely complex operation and making sure the process worked.

Given the fact that these workers were in over their heads, it is no surprise that "the budget office had become a bottleneck."

Consider these criticisms from "Brad Jackson, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who worked with the CPA." He said "the budget team regularly asked other ministries at the last minute to produce information that would take hundreds of people half a year to gather.

'There were a lot of people who, being political science majors, didn't know what an income statement was, who were asking the impossible. . . . That was giving us ulcers, quite frankly,' he said."

If these kids were giving members of the CPA ulcers, imagine the effect they were having on the Iraqi population and the economy they were relying on for sustenance. Is it any wonder that the insurgency has proved so determined? So, the many grandiose visions of Iraq, from beacon of democracy to paragon of conservative economic ideals, will be relegated to the dustbin of history's "what ifs."

Being Vice President Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

"I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it."

-- Vice President Cheney, referring to a recent run-in with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate Chambers in which Cheney told Leahy to "Fuck yourself."

Monday, June 28, 2004

Pink Slip Suggestions

Why does Donald Rumsfeld still have a job?

The Bush administration's release last week of the many memos and legal opinions concerning what constitutes "torture" and whether or not the President is bound by anti-torture statutes, provided further evidence of what had already been leaking out to the press in a steady drip of information: that the administration was actively pushing the envelope of legal interrogation techniques by narrowly construing the definition of "torture," preparing legal defenses for the interrogators if and when such techniques were considered torture, and arguing that the President was beyond the reach of the Geneva Conventions and other treaties and statutes by virtue of his role as Commander in Chief. Regarding Rumsfeld, the Washington Post had the following observations:

"The documents confirm that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved a number of harsh interrogation techniques for use in Guantanamo in December 2002, including hooding, requiring nudity, placing prisoners in stress positions and using dogs. After military lawyers objected that these violated international law, Mr. Rumsfeld suspended their use a month later. But all these techniques, as well as the restricted practices now approved for Guantanamo, appeared in an interrogation policy issued for Iraq by command of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez in September 2003. Nearly word for word, the harsh methods detailed in memos signed by Mr. Rumsfeld -- which even administration lawyers considered violations of the Geneva Conventions -- were then distributed to interrogators at Abu Ghraib. The procedures in turn could be read to cover much of what is seen in the photographs that have scandalized the world."

Why does White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez still have a job?

Alberto Gonzalez is the legal architect of many of the most controversial aspects of the Bush administration's radical departure from the Geneva Conventions and other statutory prohibitions on torture. It was Gonzalez who declared, among other things, that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to the president. Once the public became appraised of the content of Gonzalez's extreme opinions, his own administration had to renounce them, as they did in a public fashion last week. But even still last Tuesday, amidst the news that the administration was discarding the earlier legal rationale, Mr. Gonzales reiterated one of the most controversial aspects of the legal reasoning: that the administration considers torture to be "a specific intent to inflict severe physical or mental harm or suffering." As the Washington Post accurately stated "That narrow definition, according to the administration's previous reasoning, would allow the infliction of pain short of death or organ failure, and even this would be acceptable if the pain were not the interrogator's primary purpose." That is a legally disgraceful opinion, and seems to run counter to the public refutation of the controversial legal opinions that the administration made last week. If Bush is serious about making a break from the administration's prior legal analysis on torture, maybe he should consider firing one of its chief proponents.

Why does Disney CEO Michael Eisner still have a job?

The embattled CEO of Disney has managed to chase away so many top executive with his heavy handed and confrontational managing style, that there was a recent shareholder/board revolt that resulted in him being stripped of his title of Chairman of the Board (he retained his CEO role). In what was his most disastrous business blunder, Eisner could not convince the enormously successful Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc.) to remain in a working relationship with Disney. Eisner went as far as to belittle Pixar's contributions to the company in negotiations, and his refusal to share profits with Pixar in a fashion that was agreeable to their CEO, Steve Jobs led to the parting of ways. In a bit of irony, now Disney has lost its market edge in of all things, animation.

The most recent Eisner stumble involved Disney's refusal to release Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, citing the movie's controversial content and possible impact Disney's association with such a title would have. Apparently, the company that brought you Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 decided that they didn't want to be linked to political criticism. Ultra-violence is acceptable for the mousekateers, but not the critique of the President. I suppose Disney considers political protest outside the scope of what are "American values."

Well, the bad news for Eisner is that the movie is already a record breaking box office success. According to the New York Times, Fahrenheit 9/11 became the highest-grossing documentary of all time in just its first weekend in release, taking in $21.8 million. Fahrenheit 9/11 beat out two popular comedies, White Chicks and Dodgeball, despite the fact that it was released on one third the number of screens.

In a somewhat surprising development, the movie is doing particularly well in Republican areas, a trend that runs counter to prior predictions. "We sold out in Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg," in North Carolina, Mr. Moore said on Sunday. "We sold out in Army-base towns. We set house records in some of these places. We set single-day records in a number of theaters. We got standing ovations in Greensboro, N.C.

"The biggest news to me this morning is this is a red-state movie," he said, referring to the state whose residents voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. "Republican states are embracing the movie, and it's sold out in Republican strongholds all over the country."

The Weinstein brothers, who bought the distribution rights from Disney, are laughing all the way to the bank. Harvey Weinstein initially predicted that the film would gross an unprecedented $50 million, but that number now appears like a gross underestimation ($21.8 million in the first weekend alone). Will this latest business miscue which will cost Disney millions cost Eisner his job? It should.

Musical Interlude

As a change of pace from the poli-critiques, I thought I would weigh in on life in the world of music. In particular, I would like to take on the Eminem phenomenon. In the middle of yet another insightful post by publius (he's worth checking out on a daily basis if you don't already), he drew an analogy between Eminem and Elvis. The comparison centered around the concept of a white musician utilizing a predominately black music form and bringing it to a wider white audience. I think I understand where publius was going with the analogy, but I still want to address some aspects of the two that are incompatible. First of all, Eminem is not nearly the pioneer that Elvis was. As publius notes:

Elvis sang "black music" and did so in the segregated South in the 1950s. It was incredibly controversial at the time. Even today, people accuse him of "stealing" black music, but I think he was quite courageous. It took some guts to sing that music in Memphis in the early 1950s, and to open that world to white American teens.

He is right about this, but can the same be said about Eminem? First lets put Eminem in historical context. Eminem released his first record, The Slim Shady LP, in 1999. Whereas Elvis was one of the first popular artists to perform rock 'n roll, by 1999 there had already been numerous successful hip hop artists, and hip hop as a genre had already gained international popularity, and had become an accepted fixture in the music industry complete with its own category at the Grammy Awards. Before Eminem there was Run DMC, KRS-1, LL Kool J, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Naughty By Nature, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Tupac, Will Smith, Busta Rhymes, Wu Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G., Outkast and many many others.

Granted Eminem is one of the few successful Caucasian hip hop artists, he is not the first (think Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass, etc.), and hip hop had already made inroads into the suburban white audience, and indeed the international audience prior to Eminem (Europe, South America, Asia, etc.). Suffice it to say that I don't think that it took "courage" for Eminem to perform hip hop in today's America the same way it took courage for Elvis to perform "black" music in 1950's America, particularly the south. Yes, being white he risked not being taken seriously in a predominately black art form, but that is hardly the same backlash that Elvis incurred for playing "satanic Negro" music across a racist landscape and scandalizing the nation with his hip gyrations.

In fairness to publius, I think I am taking the analogy more literally than he meant it. I don't mean to focus on these minor inconsistencies, but rather use the contrast between Elvis and Eminem to highlight a greater point: that Eminem is by far one of the most overrated musicians around today. As evidence of the herd mentality within music journalism, and journalism in general, it has become an all-too common declaration that, "Eminem is the best MC today." This gross misoverestimation [sic] can be attributed more to the power of group-think than actual rigorous critique.

The competition might be thinner these days than in the recent past, but there are at least two notable MC's that come to mind when the "world's greatest" title is thrown about. There are more, but for the purposes of this discussion I will focus on just two.

First, Mos Def, formerly one half of Black Star (Talib Kweli being the other half). If you listen to one verse from Mos Def it will become apparent that Eminem is out of his league. Yes Eminem is witty, he has pop sensibilities and his sarcastically defiant tone has some merit, but Mos Def is a poet. He can bob and weave in and out of topics like political theory, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and historical events, while tying in pop culture references running the gambit from popular movies, television ads to cartoons and sitcoms, with such ease and facility of expression that would leave Eminem scrambling for a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias. And on top of all that, Mos Def actually has something to say. Instead of picking on obvious and easy targets like boy bands and Britney Spears, Mos Def actually tries to constructively address real issues like race relations, poverty, global politics and social critique. He also displays the, unfortunately, rare ability to describe conditions in impoverished inner city neighborhoods without glorifying the pathologies that are symptomatic of such extreme living conditions. Furthermore, he manages to do it without resorting to cheap and nasty gimmicks like misogyny or homophobia.

Another obvious example is Jay-Z. Although decidedly less substantive than Mos Def, and more prone to give into the temptation to degrade women, Jay-Z's delivery, style and lyrical content is simply on a higher level than Eminem's. Much of Eminem's success can be attributed to the music provided by Dr. Dre, but in this arena Jay-Z can hold his own. Jay-z might also provide a better comparison because he has sold more records than Mos Def and, at least in the field of music, has achieved more popular success and notoriety.

Although there is a fair amount of subjective analysis involved when comparing artists, I think that Eminem owes part of his success to the novelty of his ethnicity in an otherwise homogeneous field. This has elevated his stature above where his skills deserve, but I think he has jumped the shark as a pop icon, and his star will soon fade.

That being said, Eminem has been able to ride the crest of popularity so effectively that he has become a household name, almost worldwide. But as is often the case with music, popularity does not necessarily correlate to quality in direct proportion. In the case of Elvis, his popular appeal did outpace his talent and in this regard the analogy to Eminem is apt. But in terms of contributions to music, Elvis has a legacy and Eminem will have none, and this is why it does Elvis a disservice to mention him in the same sentence as Eminem. History will reveal him as an over-rated artist who relied as much on controversy as skill, and even then the controversies that he stirred up were either the result of the musical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel (by singling out such pop fluff as the Backstreet Boys) or launching hateful, violence-laced attacks on women and homosexuals (not exactly a brave stand here either).

Saturday, June 26, 2004

One War Too Many

I had a conversation with a colleague in the blogosphere yesterday about the situation in Iraq, and in a larger sense, the merits of the decision to invade. As I was launching a two-pronged attack against the wisdom of the invasion on the one hand, and about the gross mismanagement of the rebuilding process on the other, I raised the issue of the effect of the invasion, and the subsequent occupation, on the mindset of Muslim men and women throughout the region. One of my arguments centered around the fact that the Bush administration greatly underestimated how the invasion and reconstruction would inflame the Muslim world, and how this radicalizing impetus has provided an enormous boon to the recruitment efforts of al Qaeda and the myriad like-minded splinter groups that have sprung up in their wake.

Not to mention the fact that these anti-American jihadist groups have become more respected, admired and supported by the populations in all nations across the Middle East and greater Muslim world, whereas liberal democratic reformers have been labeled as pro-American and thus completely discredited and silenced. Today, there is no greater stigma than to be considered pro-American in the Middle East, but this wasn't necessarily the case after 9/11, nor was it the case immediately after the invasion of Afghanistan. The problem is, though, that is harder to isolate these terrorist elements and neutralize them when they enjoy the support of the people. And of course, democracy and reform will not take root in a region where the concepts have become poisonous by association with the United States.

His response to my argument was, "Since you were for the invasion of Afghanistan, can you explain why the invasion of Afghanistan alone would not had the same impact?"

This is a good question, and one that requires more than a pithy answer. First, we must look at the historical context. The sympathy and good will felt toward the United States from the international community immediately after 9/11 was unprecedented. There was an outpouring of solidarity from all corners of the globe, from offers of cattle from Masai tribesman in Kenya and Qaddaffi publicly condemning the attacks from Libya, to public displays of unity in Europe and Australia. Many around the world, including to a somewhat lesser degree in the Middle East, believed that the US had a right, even an obligation, to respond to attacks launched by al-Qaeda and their patrons in Afghanistan, the Taliban.

Even the much maligned French contributed troops to the effort (some are still there today), and many other Muslim nations offered at least logistical support and use of airspace. NATO and the UN willingly, and without arm twisting, gave their imprimatur to the invasion, a symbolism that is not lost on all. Pakistan, a longtime supporter of the Taliban as a means of extending its sphere of influence in Afghanistan, was even willing to abandon its strategic goals, put aside religious and tribal allegiances, and cooperate with the United States' effort. The fact that much of the heavy fighting was conducted by Afghan Muslims in their own country also quelled fears and discredited theories of American/Israeli imperialism.

Even still, there were elements in the Middle East and greater Muslim world that were angered by the invasion of Afghanistan. This opinion was not ubiquitous or universally accepted, but was not altogether insignificant either. Nevertheless, the US had no choice but to accept the negatives, due to the obvious necessity of disrupting al-Qaeda's safe-haven and overthrowing its state sponsor.

But here is the crucial moment. Given the fact that Muslim passions were already somewhat stirred by the military incursion into Afghanistan, it was folly on a mammoth scale to almost immediately invade a second Muslim country, Iraq, which had no connection to the attacks on the US, and thus was not as justified in the World's eyes (especially the Muslim world's). Whereas the United States needed to improve our standing in the region and communicate our values to the Muslim street through skilled diplomacy, even-handed mediation in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute and a re-invigorated sense of purpose in assisting reform movements and democratization, we instead chose an unprovoked, pre-emptive military action which is ultimately far less persuasive or effective in winning hearts and minds. I cannot overstate the futility of this gambit, nor the deleterious effect it had on our standing and credibility in the World community, especially in regard to the war against radical Islamic terrorism.

The unfounded and, previously, easily discredited conspiracy theories of an American/Anglo/Israeli crusade, began to gain credence as two fronts of U.S./British military intervention emerged. All of a sudden Osama's wild ramblings began to appear prescient. Neither NATO nor the UN approved the invasion and World opinion, even non-Muslim, was against the war. The case that was made was an unconvincing amalgamation of humanitarian concern, Saddam's WMDs, shadowy "ties" to Al-Qaeda, and apparent "imminent" threat. The World remained skeptical, and a shaky coalition of mostly new entrants on to the World stage was formed, with nearly all member states contributing under a couple hundred troops each.

Soon, the media was broadcasting images of dead Iraqi civilians, including dismembered women and children, killed in the invasion. The horrors of war, and the deaths of neighbors and ethnic brethren, entered the living rooms of the Middle East. But even still, there was a chance to contain the PR damage due, largely, to the quick toppling of Saddam and optimism over the potential for democracy and freedom in the erstwhile despotic Iraq.

Unfortunately, yet predictably, the publicly given justifications for the war began to crumble. No WMDs were found. Public appearances like Powell's before the UN were revealed as farce, when the ominous warnings about mobile bio-weapons labs turned into the embarrassing reality of weather balloon filling stations on wheels. No significant links to al Qaeda were established, and the sole remaining justification, humanitarian relief/democratization, also began to erode. The mismanagement that ensued severely impacted the already somewhat negative image of the American occupation: there was a failure to restore water and electricity (electricity is still not at pre-invasion levels), there was and still is widespread looting and crime (while the ministry of oil remained tightly guarded), there still is a failure to provide security and stability, violent clashes occur daily that leave civilians dead in Fallujah, Najaf, Karbala, and elsewhere, etc., and then the jewel in the crown: Abu Ghraib.

Abu Ghraib shattered, at least for the Muslim public, the last remaining rationale: that the US invaded Iraq for humanitarian reasons. Of course Saddam was worse, by a country mile, but the US was trying to claim the moral high ground as a justification for war and this cannot be achieved by claiming our abuse, torture and murder of detainees was not as bad as Saddam's. Especially when the civilian deaths and prisoner abuse is occurring at the hands of an occupying "Christian" nation with a leader who regularly uses Christian crusader rhetoric, and the public is predisposed to mistrust and suspicion of the foreign power's motives. It might not be fair, but the images from Abu Ghraib will not be forgotten in the Muslim world for decades, and the rehabilitation of our image will take equally as long.

So, it is my contention that if we had not invaded Iraq while we were fighting a war in another Muslim nation, and especially while Afghanistan's fate was still so uncertain, we could have avoided the tidal wave of anti-Americanism that is engulfing the Muslim world, and greatly undermining our ability to fight the war on radical Islamic terrorism. On the contrary, if we had dedicated our time and resources to rebuilding a more stable peaceful Afghanistan (a daunting task even under the best of circumstances), we could have gone a long way to improving our image in the region.

In addition, diplomatically, we should have been providing every assistance possible to liberal democratic reformers wherever their efforts manifested. From a policy perspective, we should have used the sympathy and standing post-9/11 as leverage against recalcitrant Muslim states in order to speed the reform process. The threat of force would have remained a valuable bargaining tool, especially after Afghanistan, as would our justifiable insistence on change given the gruesome realities of the 9/11 tragedy. We could have injected a new sense of urgency into the stagnant pace of change.

Ironically, our military is so stretched thin today by the all-consuming necessities of Iraq, and our ability to enlist the support of allies so impaired, that using the threat of military action has been removed from our arsenal, or at least made far less palpable. As evidence, we should be confronting Iran for its dogged pursuit of nuclear weaponry and active interference in Iraq through the infiltration of Iranian intelligence officers whose purpose it is to embolden the Shiite militias and political groups, to the detriment of efforts to compromise. Instead, our threats and warnings have been tempered because the Bush administration is aware the our military capacity is too compromised to launch an attack on Iran, and worse still, Iran knows it.

As for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, one of the festering sores of Middle East relations, and a fertile well-spring of radicalized young Muslims, progress was and is imperative. The Bush administration needed to take a bold and courageous stance with both parties, and let them know that the conflict as it had existed had to end. He should have taken an active and politically fearless approach to creating even-handed solutions, while providing humanitarian aid to the suffering Palestinian populations.

I'm not suggesting that any of these diplomatic steps would have been easy, or completely successful, but have you seen how hard our current approach is? And under our current approach we are alienating large swathes of the populations that we are trying to appeal to. Even when diplomacy is less than perfect, if done with some skill, it inspires good-will, cooperation and progress not animosity, hatred and violence. At no other time in our history where these measures more crucial.

At the very least, we should have thought long and hard about the repercussions of invading another Muslim country at such a delicate time. And, further, whether the then current leadership, prone to choosing ideology over historical fact, and like-minded yes men over critical analysts, was up to the task. Of course, this is a nuanced outlook, and nuance seems to have become a bad word these days.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Jon Stewart Is En Fuego

Jon Stewart is in the zone. Just as it was that the jester in King Lear had the unique ability to observe the truth behind the subterfuge and artifice of the court that Lear was blind to, both figuratively and literally, so it is that Jon Stewart and The Daily Show have been exposing the truth behind the spin in such an unabashed way that they are shaming the "respected media." Here are some priceless moments (and links to others)

Please Engage In Auto-Erotic Stimulation

In December, John Kerry made some comments to a colleague at a campaign stop when he thought his microphone was off: "Let me tell you, we've just begun to fight," Kerry said. "We're going to keep pounding. These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen. It's scary."

President Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card responded to those comments:

"That's beneath John Kerry. I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language. I'm hoping that he's apologizing at least to himself, because that's not the John Kerry that I know."

As reported in the Washington Post:

On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney, serving in his role as president of the Senate, appeared in the chamber for a photo session. A chance meeting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (VT), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, became an argument about Cheney's ties to Halliburton Co., an international energy services corporation, and President Bush's judicial nominees. The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice.

"Fuck yourself," said the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency.

In a delightful bit of irony, The Washington Post also noted that, "As it happens, the exchange occurred on the same day the Senate passed legislation described as the "Defense of Decency Act" by 99 to 1."

Resisting The Monolith

As reported in today's New York Times, a federal appeals court based in Philadelphia handed down a decision that somewhat dealt a blow to the Federal Communication Commission's recently adopted rules for easing media ownership laws.

The new rules, which have the support of the Bush administration, were passed in June 2003 along party lines within the Commission with Republican commissioners, including Chairman Michael Powell the son of Colin Powell, in favor of the changes and Democratic commissioners opposed.

The controversial new rules would "have lifted a restriction on a company's owning both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same market. In the largest cities, the rules would have allowed companies to own as many as three television stations, eight radio stations and a cable operator, as well as a newspaper. And they allowed the largest television networks to buy more affiliated stations, although Congress rolled back that provision this year."

The court's decision held that since the FCC had not used proper methodology to determine the new ownership rules, and that it had a duty to do so in a manner that was not "arbitrary and capricious," it must develop a fairer method of analysis on which to base its rule changes.

"As an example of what the court deemed was a flawed analysis of the formula used by the commission, called a diversity index, the court said the index had concluded that in New York City, the Dutchess County Community College television station was accorded the same market share as the ABC station. The Dutchess station was also given greater weight than the combined share of The New York Times and a radio station, WQXR, that it acquired before the rule banning newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership took effect in 1975. The court also criticized the commission for giving too much weight to the Internet as an alternative source of local news."

While the decision did not say that the FCC couldn't ease ownership rules, implementing a more scientifically objective means of analysis will be time consuming, and it is likely that Powell's term will run out before such studies are concluded which makes it possible that this version of the rules change will die in committee so to speak.

Although temporary, this is a huge victory for the forces seeking to preserve a fair, vigorous and ethically responsible press in this country. I cannot overstate the importance of this issue in relation to the healthy functioning of democracy. The problem with media convergence, or consolidation, is that it limits the outlets for opinion, criticism and the dissemination of facts and ideas. A democracy is better served by a robust marketplace of ideas, where no one faction can influence the availability of knowledge. The potential for abuse is too high if we limit the major media outlets to a small handful of inter-related companies, and such abuse puts the very foundations of our republic in jeopardy.

Consider, as an example, the decision a few months back by Sinclair Media not to air the episode of Nightline during which Ted Koppel read the names of the 721 U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq up to that point. Sinclair was able to keep the program off the air on 8 of its stations for purely political reasons. Imagine if companies like Sinclair are able to own even more stations, and thus impose its editorial will on even more of the country. Imagine the repercussions if that problem is magnified in size and scope so that the major means of media dissemination are controlled by three or four corporations. A decision by any one of them would greatly impact the flow of ideas and jeopardize the crucial role of the media as another check on governmental power.

Furthermore, media coverage in the run-up to the war has recently been exposed as one-sided and dangerously monolithic, as was evidenced by several media sources acknowledging their transgressions with public apologies, and that was in the context of the media ownership rules as they stand without the changes proposed by Powell and the FCC. Such a major dereliction of responsibility on the part of the fourth branch of government would only be worse with fewer outlets and voices since the chances for dissent would be greatly diminished.

Consider also some of the tactics for dealing with the media employed by the current administration. They have brough secrecy to a new level, with unprecedented denials of access and restrictions of press conferences. The party line for the Bush administration has been that information on the activity of government is not for public consumption. One need not look much farther than Cheney's secret energy task force, but other examples abound.

In addition, they have been extremely successful at using the carrot and stick approach of "access to the White House" in order to browbeat many journalists into maintaining a less than critical tone in their coverage. It boils down to the threat that if you write a negative story, you won't get the same access as your less critical colleagues. In a profession where access and the scoop are everything, the intimidation has succeeded. Both of these problems would be greatly exacerbated in an environment where there are fewer voices to challenge them, and fewer outlets to intimidate. It would be easier to get two voices in lock-step than two hundred.

It is not only the left that is concerned with media consolidation. Many factions on the right feel equally threatened by the potential homogeneity of ideas. For these groups, local control of media outlets that reflect their values and beliefs is an important aspect of their citizenship and prerogatives.

Even though the Internet and other technological advancements increase the flow of ideas, it is a mistake to think that this provides adequate diversity of opinion and dissemination since in many respects the Internet serves as a high speed echo chamber of popularly broadcast news items, not necessarily a point of origin itself. Furthermore, much of the information on the Internet comes from established brick and mortar news establishments like newspapers (NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, etc.) and television news programs (,,, etc.) which are susceptible to the effects of consolidation.

I discussed, briefly, in an earlier post how Bill Moyers presented these arguments in a much more eloquent way than me, and I strongly recommend reading it to fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Calling All Blogs

To all new bloggers and blogger aficionados, the good folks at Showcase are doing a service to the blogosphere by highlighting new blog sites with featured posts. Please support if you're interested.

The Cuba Compartment

With the end of the Cold War, heralded by the collapse of the former Soviet Union and, with it, the lifting of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, U.S. foreign policy has experienced something of a paradigm shift. In truth, it was the final years of Soviet Communism, and the subtle changes in policy by Presidents Reagan and Bush, that created the first ripple that eventually became the sea change.

At a certain point, Reagan decided to engage the new leader in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was displaying a willingness to take an unusually fresh approach to the stagnant Soviet political model. Reagan normalized relations with the U.S.S.R., and opened a dialogue that had historic ramifications. He saw, in Gorbachev, a partner with whom he could push through nuclear arms treaties and other detente inspired bilateralisms that eventually led to the birth of a new Russia, as well as the unlikely outcome of former Soviet satellite states entering NATO and other pro-Western alliances and organizations only a little over a decade and a half later.

The U.S. began to interact vigorously, both diplomatically and economically, with the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, while at the same time expanding the same relationship with Communist countries in Asia like China and Vietnam. To this day, the economic and diplomatic relationships with China and Vietnam are encouraged by policymakers, and are credited, in large part, with the gradual movement these two countries are making toward free market capitalism and democratic reform. It has become the new paradigm that free trade with Communist countries provides an irrestible impetus for pro-democratic change, and thus should be pursued with enthusiasm. Thus far, the evidence has borne this theory out.

It is, however, noteworthy that this successful strategy was not adopted in dealing with every Communist country: specifically excluded were Cuba and North Korea. For the purposes of this discussion, I will deal with North Korea only on a cursory level by pointing out that North Korea's despotic leader Kim Jong Il is well aware of the effects of free market interaction on the power structures within previously closed societies. It is because of the very realistic fear of losing control of power in North Korea that he has been unwilling to open up his country and markets with any type of meaningful reforms. It is also worth noting that North Korea has been more isolated, secretive and inward looking than any of its Communist compatriots. Therefore, in dealing with North Korea, the new paradigm has not been given a chance to succeed, but not necessarily from a lack of will or initiative on our part, but precisely because it is so successful a strategy.

This leads the discussion to U.S. foreign policy regarding Cuba, the last remaining Communist country in the Western Hemisphere. Historically, the U.S. has had a confrontational relationship with Fidel Castro's Cuba, including the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, both occurring during the Kennedy presidency, with the latter crisis bringing the world closer to World War III than any other single incident in the 20th Century.

Economically, the United States has imposed a trade embargo against Cuba since 1962, three years after Mr. Castro seized power, though sales of food, medicine and other humane and benign items are allowed on a case by case basis. In addition, since 1962 the U.S. has incorporated a series of measures aimed at isolating Castro and starving his regime, such as travel bans to Cuba for American citizens as well as economic sanctions and penalties for foreign countries seeking to do business with the U.S. that also have business dealings with Cuba.

These historic policies, which mirrored the overall approach for dealing with all Communist countries during most of the Cold War, did not experience the same transformation that our relations with European and Asian Communist countries did during the last two decades of the 20th Century. Instead, the emerging conventional wisdom that opening up markets in Communist countries breeds democratic reform was rejected outright, and the old efforts to isolate Cuba were reiterated.

This counter-intuitive policy break raises several questions. Why this divergence in strategy? Why not adopt the program that appears to be meeting with success in areas as diverse as Vietnam and Poland? Is Castro's Cuba more repressive and violative of human rights than China, Vietnam or the European communist countries prior to their recent democratic transformations, thus making it more repugnant to transact business there?

I believe that most of the answers to these questions can be found in the strength of a relatively small voting block in Florida, namely the extremely active Cuban-American exiles.

As reported in a recent article in
the New York Times, Florida pollster Sergio Bendixen has observed that of the 600,000 Cuban-American voters in Florida "most Cuban-Americans who vote are rigidly anti-Castro." For these voters, taking a hard isolationist stance with Castro is an issue that they vote on with remarkable consistency, and any suggestion of normalizing relations is met with fierce opposition.

While appealing to this powerful and disciplined voting bloc in such an important swing state such as Florida (Bush v. Gore anyone?) is a bi-partisan goal, it is also worth mentioning that, according to Mr. Bendixen, "Of the 600,000 Cuban-American voters here, more than 80 percent supported Mr. Bush in 2000."

Perhaps Bush's support from this bloc can help to explain some of his hard-line policies regarding Cuba. "Last year, Mr. Bush banned cultural visits to Cuba organized by museums and other charitable groups, visits that President Bill Clinton began allowing in 1999." Also, "Congress voted to end the travel ban to Cuba last fall, but removed the provision from an appropriations bill after Mr. Bush threatened to veto it."

Most recently, Bush announced a series of rules that "limit Cuban-Americans to one trip home every three years and make it nearly impossible for most other Americans to visit the Communist island. They also restrict cash transfers and gift packages to Cubans."

"The rules, published over the last week, have been promoted by President Bush as a way to hasten the end of the Castro government and were formulated at the urging of Republican Cuban-American lawmakers and others" in Florida.

Considering how prominent a role the state of Florida is expected to play in the upcoming presidential election, the timing of Bush's announcement is probably not a coincidence. According to the Times, "Mr. Bush made his announcement seven months after he appointed a panel to recommend tighter sanctions and after Republican Cuban-American lawmakers complained that he should do more to bring down the Castro government. At the time, the lawmakers warned that Cuban-Americans might withdraw their support for Mr. Bush if he did not act boldly."

So what we have, in essence, is a policy designed to bring Castro and Communism down in Cuba, but the tactics being employed are not being dictated by the foreign policy experts who have seen success in action, but rather by a relatively small voting block that can influence elections in one state out of fifty. And the methods promoted by this group, isolating Cuba and cutting it off from the rest of the World, have been proven to be far less effective in achieving their stated goals than would normalizing economic and diplomatic ties, which hasten the establishment of free markets and democratic reform.

Some argue that Castro is a brutal and despotic dictator, and as such we should not deal with him. He is certainly repressive, totalitarian and brutal, there is no doubt about it. But is he any worse than China is today? What about China's extensive human rights violations, religious repression and gradual ethnic cleansing in Tibet? How about Vietnam and the European Communist states when we began normalizing relations with them? The answer is that Castro is no better or worse than other Communist leaders, and thus we should adopt the policy that is best suited to ending his reign (as in European Communist nations), or at the very least making it more humane and moving in the right direction (as in China and Vietnam).

As far as the policies we are employing now, they only make Castro stronger by allowing him to maintain centralized control over the entire economy, and thus the political and cultural institutions as well. We are keeping out the compelling allure of Western democratic capitalism, and this is doing Castro a favor. I don't doubt that these are not the goals of the Cuban-American bloc in Florida, but I think for them, because the wounds of Castro's coup are still so fresh, personal animosity has gotten the better of reasoned judgment.

Bush's latest overture has some very real human costs for American citizens as well. Consider these stories:

"Miriam Verdura could hardly wait to visit family in her native Cuba next month, her second trip since immigrating to southern Florida in 1999. But the Bush administration has dashed her plans with restrictions that start next Wednesday."

"Because she last visited in 2002, Ms. Verdura will be ineligible to return until next year. 'Bush's priority should first of all be to not keep Cuban families apart, because we suffer a lot,' she said."

"People are crying, saying, 'Please, can't you put me on a plane?'" Tessie Aral, vice president and chief executive of ABC Charters, said. "One said, 'I have to go because my mother is dying.' They can't wait another three years."

Kerry and My Life

Since the beginning of the election season there has been rampant speculation about the role that the Clintons will play. First, the rumor du jour was that Hillary was going to run for the Democratic nomination. Despite her immediate, and repeated, denials of her intention to run, the rumors persisted, with most speculating that she was being dishonest in her refutation. As the primary season progressed, and Hillary had not declared her candidacy, the rumors morphed into her waiting until late in the game to ride in like a white knight to save the Party from the lackluster crop of choices available. Hillary, of course, stayed true to her word and did not seek the nomination.

Then, there was the Wesley Clarke speculation. Clarke was everything from a Clintonian proxy that would enable the power couple to exert their influence over a Clarke White House (possibly choosing Hillary as a running mate), to a candidate whose purpose it was to weaken other candidates thus paving the way for Hillary's late entry into the race. Neither baseless claim came to fruition.

Now we are in the throes of the VP sweepstakes theories, and general campaign sabotage conspiracy. These play out thusly: the Clinton's are pushing anyone but Edwards because they are concerned that even if Kerry loses, the extra gravitas and notoriety that Edwards would gain in the process would make him a formidable foe in 2008 when Hillary would run. Secondly, the Clintons will withhold support for Kerry and secretly work to undermine his candidacy so that Hillary will not have to wait until 2012 to run for president (and even then, it would be likely that she would be running against Kerry's Vice President of either one term, if Kerry lost in 2008, or two if re-elected).

Amidst the frothy swirl of endless Clinton conspiracy pre-occupation, who should appear but Bill himself with the release of his much anticipated memoir: My Life. Naturally, such a momentous event involving Bill Clinton, in the heart of a presidential campaign, could not go by unnoticed, or without excessive dissection. So what is the group-think party line emerging from the punditry? The story goes like this: By releasing his book now, Clinton is going to take the spotlight away from Kerry, and thus hurt Kerry's campaign effort. Furthermore, this is likely intentional and a component of the overall sabotage design.

Allow me to disagree, and not only on the grounds that up until now almost all of the incessant Clinton carping has turned out to be, quite simply, wrong. I think that Clinton, as further evidence of his political acumen, has done Kerry an extremely valuable service. Clinton has effectively changed the subject from Reagan-era nostalgia to Clinton mania. As further testament to his deftness, his timing was impeccable. He waited until the country could properly mourn Reagan, and pay him his due respect, and then he moved in and cut off the self-indulgent rambling and overkill in its place.

Now, the country is focused on a very popular and successful Democratic former President, for a change, lending credence to Kerry and the Democratic party as a whole at a time when credibility is of tantamount importance to Kerry. Clinton has allowed the country to wax nostalgic about the Clinton years in addition to the Reagan-era, thus providing a counterweight of euphoric recall. This balance only helps Kerry not hurt him.

As for the claim that Clinton is soaking up the spotlight, I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, its June. There will be plenty of time for Kerry to capture the attention of the American people, including the debates, the Democratic Convention and his selection of a running mate (aside: anyone other than John Edwards would be a big mistake). And look at the context, this political season started earlier than any in history, and on top of that, Kerry was more or less anointed after Iowa, so there was little intrigue in the primary process as a whole, which makes hoarding the spotlight in June even less consequential.

Kerry seems to understand this, and has kept a somewhat low profile, at least partially out of fear of inducing election-fatigue, and also out of a desire to preserve much needed campaign funds for the impending brutal stretch run. Not to mention the fact that things are going so poorly for Bush and his embattled, scandal-ridden cabinet, that Kerry is taking Lee Atwater's advice and letting his opponent shoot himself without interfering. Enter Bill Clinton, who is allowing Kerry to stay on the sidelines, raise money not spend it, and all the while priming the country for the return of Democratic leadership and ideals.

The second most popular argument states that Clinton is hurting Kerry because he was such a luminary that it makes Kerry look pale in comparison. This might be somewhat true, but extremely overstated. I think that the same contrast in stature is highlighted between Bush and Reagan, and that the voting public has come to grips with fact that this race is between Kerry and Bush not Clinton and Reagan. The potential harm here does not outweigh the positives gained by the strength Clinton brings to the concept of Democratic leadership, as well as the reprieve Clinton's presence is providing for the Kerry campaign. His insertion into the body politic is a decisive net positive.

I think that the same people that promoted the earlier Hillary theories are spreading the My Life massacre scenario too. This speculation, like that which preceded it, will be proven false in time but one can't ignore the motives. Those discussing these fanciful topics are trying to change the subject from Clinton's popularity and success, cast him and his wife as a two person scheming power hungry cabal, and undermine the alliances and cohesiveness in the Democratic Party. Fortunately, saying that My Life is hurting John Kerry doesn't make it so.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Intermittent Humor - Part 2

More shameless political humor (with sound)

Oops We Did It Again

The Bush administration experienced a brief and, up until now, unprecedented moment of clarity yesterday when they actually admitted a mistake. As reported in The Washington Post, the acknowledgement of imperfection came with the release of a report detailing terrorist incidents that occurred in 2003. Yesterday's report provided a more accurate portrayal of the number of incidents than was previously underreported in the "Patterns of Global Terrorism" assessment compiled in April by the State Department, the CIA and the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC). It is not without a sense of irony that I note that the TTIC was "created by President Bush to produce efficient and comprehensive assessments of domestic and international terrorism."

The updated statistics show that 625 people died in terrorist attacks last year, not 307 as was originally reported. In addition, "the revised numbers show there were 3,646 people injured, not 1,593" and "there were 175 'significant' incidents, five more than first reported, and 208 incidents of all types, not 190."

The errors in the April report have been described by Secretary of State Colin Powell as "computational and accounting errors," that were in no way intentional. "Anyone who might assert the numbers were intentionally skewed is mistaken," said John O. Brennan, a 23-year CIA veteran and director of the TTIC.

Still, there were irregularities in the methodology that created some of the favorable numbers that appeared in the April report. For example, in the initial April report, "No attacks that occurred after Nov. 11, 2003, were included, and [allegedly] neither the CIA nor the State Department noticed. That meant omitting four bombings in Turkey that killed 61 people and an assault in Saudi Arabia that left 17 dead and 122 wounded." The inclusion of these incidents in yesterday's report partially explains the increase in incidents recorded, but even some of the methods used to compile the updated version might not be providing the full picture.

In specific, "Bush and top aides have blamed terrorists for deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, but few of those assaults were included in the total. The administration does not count attacks aimed at on-duty troops because they are combatants." This is a curious distinction to make for an administration that deliberately and persistently conflates the war in Iraq with the war on terror and conflates Iraqi insurgents with terrorists. This lack of distinction is especially salient considering that the administration has separate rules established vis a vis the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of detainees that are deemed terrorists, versus those deemed lawful comatants.

Some have suggested that the erroneous April report was manipulated for political purposes, since it showed an apparent slowdown in terrorist incidents, and these findings were seized upon by administration officials to tout the success of Bush's war on terror.

As the Post noted, "When the April report was released, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said it provided 'clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight.'" But yesterday, Powell was forced to admit that his deputy's statements "reflected the report as he received it."

So my question is, if the initial report was "clear evidence" that we were winning the war on terror, is the updated report "clear evidence" that we are losing the war, or at the least in a stalemate?

"Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), credited by Powell with alerting him to the problems in a May 17 letter, had accused the administration of skewing the data. 'This manipulation,' Waxman said at the time, 'may serve the administration's political interests, but it calls into serious doubt the integrity of the report.'

Reached yesterday, Waxman said of Powell, 'I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that they're simply incompetent, but even that's distressing.'"

Waxman picks up on a disturbing pattern in the actions of this administration that often leaves the public with two choices: incompetence or deception. Whether it be in the arena of war planning like estimates of troop strength required for the war effort, predictions for the length of combat, the overall cost of the war, expected reaction of the Iraqi populace and likelihood of insurgency, the influence of Iran in Iraq, the ease of establishing democratic institutions, the likelihood of democracy spreading from Iraq to other countries, the alleged existence of WMDs, the alleged collaborations with al-Qaeda and Saddam, the necessity for U.N. or NATO involvement, etc., the choice that we are left with is was the administration, and its highest officials, simply grossly incompetent in their predictions and planning or were they deliberately deceiving the American people?

I invite you to take your pick.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Stand By Your Man

The Associated Press, via The New York Times, is reporting that "Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz insisted Tuesday that Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi's organization provided information that helped U.S. forces in Iraq but conceded that some of Chalabi's recent behavior was 'puzzling.'"

The article continues, "Wolfowitz, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, denied that Chalabi was ever a favorite of the Pentagon, as he has been widely described."

In rushing to Chalabi's defense, Wolfowitz said referring to recent actions by the CIA, "I am surprised that he seems to be the target, for many years, of particular animus from some parts of this government"

So Wolfowitz is attempting to distance himself from Chalabi, while at the same time describing him as a productive source who provided intelligence that "saved American lives and enabled us to capture some key enemy targets."

I assume that the intelligence he is referring to would not be those items regarding Iraq's vast stockpiles of WMDs (including an extensive nuclear weapons program). Nor the alleged extensive collaborations between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Also, probably not the stuff that suggested that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators with flowers and candy, that no major insurgency would materialize, and that Chalabi enjoyed a popular mandate strong enough to assume the leadership of post-Saddam Iraq. Because I think that intelligence probably cost American lives, not saved them.

Heap Of Culpas

The New Republic's latest issue, entitled "Were We Wrong?", contains articles penned by supporters of the invasion of Iraq, from Senators McCain and Biden to Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria, who now attempt to objectively reassess their positions using the 20/20 vision that hindsight provides. The vast majority of them, in one way or another, are thoughtful and honest mea culpas.

Two such articles stand out to me because of their intellectual rigor, ideological consistency and overall balance. The first, by Paul Berman, contains the following quote regarding one of the potential negative outcomes of the war in Iraq, and its noted mismanagement:

"I am dreading what some people claim already to have learned from the blunders in Iraq. Even now, some people are saying: You see! There's no point in overthrowing dictators by force! (Though many dictators have been forcibly overthrown, to good effect--from Germany to Afghanistan.) And no point in trying to do good for anyone else! (Though humanitarian intervention has had its successes, from Kosovo to East Timor, not to mention Kurdistan.)

The U.S. failure in Somalia led to a different kind of U.S. failure in Rwanda. There will surely be Rwandas in the future--there is one right now in Darfur, Sudan (where the ethnic cleansers come out of the same mix of radical Islamism and Arab nationalism that has caused so much suffering in many other places, including our own places). Who in his right mind is going to call for U.S. intervention? Doubtless, in the future, when things are not so grim for us, some people will, in fact, call for U.S. interventions, and justly so. And yet, other people are going to say, Oh, right, and let's put Donald Rumsfeld in charge. And this will be a devastating reply."

Berman also offers a suggestion for remaining balanced in the face of partisanship and anger over the war effort:

"We could have applied the lessons of Kosovo, which would have meant dispatching a suitable number of soldiers. We could have protected the government buildings and the National Museum, and we could have co-opted Saddam's army--further lessons from Kosovo. We could have believed Saddam when he threatened to wage a guerrilla war in Baghdad. We could have prepared in advance to broadcast TV shows that Iraqis wanted to watch. We could have observed the Geneva Conventions. (What humiliation in having to write such a sentence!) We could have--but I will stop, in order to ask: What if, in mulling these thoughts, you find that angry emotions toward George W. Bush are seeping upward from your own patriotic gut?

Here is the challenge: to rage at Saddam and other enemies, and, at the same time, to rage in a somewhat different register at Bush, and to keep those two responses in proper proportion to one another. That can be a difficult thing to do, requiring emotional balance, maturity, and analytic clarity--a huge effort." [emphasis added]

Leon Wieseltier offers the following observation in his piece:

"If I had known that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I would not have supported this war. I am not embarrassed by my assumption that Saddam Hussein possessed the sort of arsenal that made him a clear and present danger: The alarming intelligence estimates were shared by many Western governments, so that the debate in the months preceding the war concerned the methods for disarming Iraq, not the reasons for disarming it...

But I was deceived. Strategic thinking must have an empirical foundation. You do not act against a threat for which there is little or no evidence. Yet that is precisely what the United States did. Saddam Hussein had no nuclear capability, and almost no nuclear program. If there is an adequate explanation for the disposition of his vast and documented hoard of chemical and biological weapons, I have not heard it; but the magnitude of the mystery surrounding his arsenal must not obscure the magnitude of the blunder that was committed in our description of it. Will some canisters or some vials still turn up in the desert? Perhaps, but I would not send a thousand American soldiers to their deaths for a debater's point. The arsenal that we said was there is not there. Whatever the merits of preemption, there was nothing to preempt. It really is as plain as that. An absence of regrets and recriminations on the part of a supporter of this war now amounts to an absence of intellectual honesty. The administration is reaping an alienation that it sowed. (It is very hard to forgive George W. Bush for the good fortune of Michael Moore.) Whether or not the president lied, he was not speaking the truth. He justified this war to the American people in a manner that will make it difficult for a long time to come to justify almost any war to the American people. In a time of genuine crisis, in a world riddled with savage enmity toward America and Americans, he was sloppy with our trust."

The Man From Mukhabarat

I will continue to maintain that Seymour Hersh is simply the best investigative journalist that this country has to offer for as long as he publishes articles of the high caliber that has become his trademark, especially in recent months. In his most recent work, appearing in the June 28, 2004 edition of The New Yorker, Hersh once again mines his rich lode of sources for information that is seemingly impossible to get from any other media outlet.

In this absolute must-read piece, Hersh sets out three different narratives: First, how the Bush administration has lost the political struggle in Iraq by allowing Iran to exert its influence over the Shiite majority. Second, how Israel has cultivated a powerful alliance with the Kurdish Iraqis, and how they are using this alliance to achieve strategic goals in the region that could potentially lead to widespread conflict and regional warfare. Third, how the Bush administration's choice for interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, was previously an agent for the Baath Party's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, while Saddam and the Baathists struggled for power in the 1970's, in particular how Allawi helped Saddam rise to power and was involved in assassinating Baath Party dissenters in Europe.

Hersh provides a rich account of how in July 2003, two months after the now infamous "Mission Accomplished" incident, the Bush administration was receiving dire warnings from Israeli intelligence about the potential for a robust and determined insurgency in the months ahead, given the influece that Iran was having over the Shiite majority in Iraq.

"Israeli intelligence assets in Iraq were reporting that the insurgents had the support of Iranian intelligence operatives and other foreign fighters, who were crossing the unprotected border between Iran and Iraq at will. The Israelis urged the United States to seal the nine-hundred-mile-long border, at whatever cost."

In what is yet more evidence of the poor planning and misperceptions in the run-up to the war, U.S. forces lacked the adequate troop strength to effectively seal off the lengthy border between Iran and Iraq. Rumsfeld's insistence on smaller, more technologically advanced fighting forces left the military with fewer options and a lessened capacity to address this overall strategic concern. The results are nothing short of a disaster.

As Hersh reports, "A former Administration official who had supported the war completed a discouraging tour of Iraq late last fall. He visited Tel Aviv afterward and found that the Israelis he met with were equally discouraged. As they saw it, their warnings and advice had been ignored, and the American war against the insurgency was continuing to founder. 'I spent hours talking to the senior members of the Israeli political and intelligence community,' the former official recalled. 'Their concern was 'You're not going to get it right in Iraq, and shouldn't we be planning for the worst-case scenario and how to deal with it?'

Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister, who supported the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq, took it upon himself at this point to privately warn Vice-President Dick Cheney that America had lost in Iraq; according to an American close to Barak, he said that Israel 'had learned that there's no way to win an occupation.' The only issue, Barak told Cheney, 'was choosing the size of your humiliation.' Cheney did not respond to Barak's assessment."

In essence, Iran has established so strong a foothold in Iraq's Shiite community, through proxies like Moqtada Al-Sadr and others, that the consensus among the international intelligence community is that there is no chance for the U.S. to win the struggle for political victory. The result is that we have made Iran, a country who the 9/11 Commission found to have actively worked with al-Qaeda on the Khobar Tower bombings that killed 19 Americans, is on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon, and has an extreme Islamist leadership, much stronger in the region by neutralizing its hostile neighbor to the west, and replaced it with what will eventually resemble a puppet of Tehran. This is a huge blow to the "war on terror."

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, and fearing the increased regional influence and imminent nuclear capabilities of Iran, Sharon's government in Israel has made a bold, risky and potentially catastrophic gambit: greatly "expanding on the long standing relationship with Iraq's Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan."

Citing numerous CIA and German intelligence sources, Hersh reveals how Israel is committing substantial sums of money, as well as elite commando training and oversight to the swelling ranks of the Kurdish militias known as the Pesh Merga. In this way, Israel is promoting a counterweight to the Iranian influenced Shiite majority in the south, which could deter Shiite control over the whole of Iraq. In addition, Israeli intelligence and military personnel are gaining a base in an area that permits them unprecedented access to conduct surveillance on the activities of regional enemies like Syria and Iran. In fact, Israeli forces are even using Kurdistan to launch "covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria" in order to monitor the progress Iran is making in pursuit of nuclear weaponry and to foment unrest among Syria's sizable 2 million strong Kurdish population (Syria's overall population is 17 million).

Predictably, these actions to empower the Kurds have "raised tensions between Israel and Turkey. It has provoked bitter statements from Turkish politicians and, in a major regional shift, a new alliance among Iran, Syria, and Turkey, all of which have significant Kurdish minorities." This is considered a "new alliance" because Turkey has very strong economic and diplomatic ties to Israel, and a historically hostile relationships with Syria and Iran. Israel's actions are causing a subtle paradigm shift in the region that could greatly upset the balance of power.

Turkey has reiterated its stance that any declaration of independence by Iraqi Kurds would provoke an invasion by Turkey, and now Syria and Iran have become more deeply embroiled in the fate of Kurdistan, due to its emerging alliance with Israel. The ingredients are there for regional conflict of massive proportions. The once sanguine prediction that democracy, with its spark emanating from Iraq, would spread across the greater Middle East like wildfire is apparently up in flames. It now appears more likely that destabilization of the region, like an earthquake whose epicenter is Baghdad, will scorch the region like napalm.

In the third stanza, Hersh uncovers the fact that there is also controversey surrounding the Bush administration's choice for interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, whose selection was "a disappointment to [Lakhdar] Brahimi," the U.N. special envoy tasked with the responsibility of choosing the make-up of the interim government that will take over after the June 30 handover.

"'Allawi helped Saddam get to power,' an American intelligence officer told [Hersh]. 'He was a very effective operator and a true believer.' Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former C.I.A. case officer who served in the Middle East, added, 'Two facts stand out about Allawi. One, he likes to think of himself as a man of ideas; and, two, his strongest virtue is that he's a thug.

Early this year, one of Allawi's former medical-school classmates, Dr. Haifa al-Azawi, published an essay in an Arabic newspaper in London raising questions about his character and his medical bona fides. She depicted Allawi as a 'big husky man . . . who carried a gun on his belt and frequently brandished it, terrorizing the medical students.' Allawi's medical degree, she wrote, 'was conferred upon him by the Baath party.' Allawi moved to London in 1971, ostensibly to continue his medical education; there he was in charge of the European operations of the Baath Party organization and the local activities of the Mukhabarat, its intelligence agency, until 1975.

'If you're asking me if Allawi has blood on his hands from his days in London, the answer is yes, he does,' Vincent Cannistraro, a [retired C.I.A. counterterrorism chief], said. 'He was a paid Mukhabarat agent for the Iraqis, and he was involved in dirty stuff.' A cabinet-level Middle East diplomat, who was rankled by the U.S. indifference to Allawi's personal history, told me early this month that Allawi was involved with a Mukhabarat 'hit team' that sought out and killed Baath Party dissenters throughout Europe. (Allawi's office did not respond to a request for comment.) At some point, for reasons that are not clear, Allawi fell from favor, and the Baathists organized a series of attempts on his life. The third attempt, by an axe-wielding assassin who broke into his home near London in 1978, resulted in a year-long hospital stay."

Is Allawi the best the Bush administration could come up? Is this the steady and restrained hand that will guide Iraq through its most precarious and delicate of transitions. Not if history is any indicator. Then again, why let history get in the way of a good plan.

Time Well Spent?

One of the many narratives to emerge from the initial findings of the 9/11 Commission involves the amount of time President Bush spent reading to a classroom of school children in Sarasota, Florida after his Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed him that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. Bush had learned about the first plane's impact prior to entering the classroom for the photo-op.

His reaction is significant. As reported by the Washington Post, "He doesn't move. Instead he continues to sit in the classroom, listening to children read aloud" for a full seven minutes before exiting the classroom and inquiring further as to the nature of events.

Bush claims that he did not want to frighten the children, nor did he want to convey a sense of panic. According the 9/11 Commission's report, "The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis . . . The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening."

His action, or perhaps more accurately seven minute inaction, raises an important question, though. Was this the most responsible thing for the Commander In Chief to be doing at a time when America was, ostensibly, under attack?

Bush's defenders are quick to argue in his defense that his reaction was proper. As Presidential scholar Fred Greenstein, a professor emeritus at Princeton, put it, "It certainly wouldn't present the right message if he turned white, rushed out, and kids started crying." Similarly, commentators such as MSNBC's Joe Scarborough argue that his reaction was better than running out of the room screaming with his hands up.

I am willing to concede that Bush's reaction was preferable to either of the alternatives posited by Professor Greenstein and Joe Scarborough, but are those really the only choices? Either sit there for the entire seven minutes or turn white and rush out screaming?

Is it so inconceivable that as the President of the United States he could have calmly stood up, offered a simple explanation that he was running late and had to leave and politely left upon hearing the news from Andrew Card? Would that have caused the children, who were unaware of the events unfolding, to start crying and grow fearful? Would that have portrayed the wrong sentiment to the rest of the country at a time when all television sets were glued to images of the twin towers engulfed in flames? Wouldn't the American people understood that the commander of our military forces had more pressing business to attend to?

Perhaps even more important though, is the issue of the potential danger his lack of attention might have exposed the nation to. For example, what if there were more planes, other than the one that hit the Pentagon and the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, that were highjacked that day? What if they were headed to other populated areas to cause massive casualties and death, and by waiting seven minutes he missed his window of opportunity to order those planes shot down before they could cause their intended carnage? In hindsight we know this not to be the case, but neither Bush nor those advising him were aware of the circumstances when he decided not to act for those seven minutes. No one appraised him of the facts at the time, nor was the complete picture clear anyway.

His failure to spring into action that day was a gross dereliction of duty at a time when the country needed decisive leadership. Could his immediate action have prevented the attack on the Pentagon? Probably not, but it is only luck and fortune that there weren't other tragedies that day that were able to unfold as the twin towers burned and the President sat in a classroom in Florida listening to school children reading from a book.

Monday, June 21, 2004

What's In A Name?

In a landmark case involving cherished civil liberties, the Supreme Court held today, in a 5-4 ruling, that people do not have the Constitutional right to refuse to give their name to a police officer if asked. In fact, such a refusal can be criminalized by statute.

The ruling was largely decided along ideological lines with Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and O'Connor in the majority and Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg and Souter in dissent.

As reported in the New York Times, "Asking questions is an essential part of police investigations," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. "In the ordinary course a police officer is free to ask a person for identification without implicating the Fourth Amendment."

The problem here, however, is not whether or not a police officer questioning a civilian, not pursuant to an arrest, has the ability or authority to ask for identification but whether the individual is compelled to answer. According to the Court's ruling, if a state statute requires an answer, then one must be provided.

The ramifications of this ruling are potentially far reaching. At the risk of overstating the issue, the problem with rulings like this is that generally in the realm of constitutionally protected freedoms and their interplay with law enforcement, when an inch is given a mile is taken. For an example in the extreme, what would prevent police from canvassing a political demonstration, demanding the names of protestors. Under this ruling, the protestors would be compelled to provide their names upon request. This could have a detrimental chilling effect on free speech and the right to assembly.

There are, unfortunately, elements in the law enforcement community, from the Department of Justice down to the cop on the beat, that seek to curtail Constitutional protections at every turn. To this group, not necessarily the majority, many of these fundamental rights are seen as impediments to the investigation, apprehension and prosecution of criminals. It is human nature to seek the power to do your job to the fullest, and it is with much prescient foresight that the framers, and subsequent amenders, knew that external checks, in the form of guarantees of personal liberties, were needed to abate the over-reaching zeal of state operators. These personal liberties are a crucial foundation to the rule of law, and the American way, but today that foundation showed a crack, a small fissure through which a dangerous precedent could emerge.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Pretty Hate Machines

Conservative pundit and bow-tied boy wonder Tucker Carlson was recently a party to an online chat hosted by The Washington Post, during which he leant his modern opinions and old-timey charm to a number of topics.

The discussion eventually turned to an incident involving the Fox news channel and Carlson. Apparently Carlson, as a joke, gave the phone number of the Fox news channel's Washington bureau claiming that it was his own, and in retaliation Fox news posted Carlson's actual home number. Apparently, some of Fox news's viewers made threatening and obscene phone calls to Carlson and his wife and kids.

This anecdote prompted a discussion on the lack of civility, especially in the midst of a highly polarizing political season. While Carlson acknowledged that both sides are guilty to some degree, he states, "I must say, though, that most of the hate I run across these days seems to be coming from the left. Check out some time if you don't believe me."

Journalist, author and blogger David Neiwert does a top rate job of investigating and examining the nature of the term "hate" as well as Tucker Carlson's claim that most of the "hate" is emanating from the left, in specific from Not only does Neiwart give an objective item by item appraisal of the contents of the website, but he also chronicles how pundits on the right, from Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage to Linda Chavez and Grover Norquist, regularly disseminate violence laced, accusatory, hate-filled rants against Democrats and others.

Here are some notable quotes:

Michael Savage, May 12, 2004 broadcast:

"Right now, even people sitting on the fence would like George Bush to drop a nuclear weapon on an Arab country. They don't even care which one it would be. I can guarantee you -- I don't need to go to Mr. Schmuck [pollster John] Zogby and ask him his opinion. I don't need anyone's opinion. I'll give you my opinion, because I got a better stethoscope than those fools. It's one man's opinion based upon my own analysis. The most -- I tell you right now -- the largest percentage of Americans would like to see a nuclear weapon dropped on a major Arab capital. They don't even care which one. They'd like an indiscriminate use of a nuclear weapon.

In fact, Christianity has been one of the great salvations on planet Earth. It's what's necessary in the Middle East. Others have written about it, I think these people need to be forcibly converted to Christianity but I'll get here a little later, I'll move up to that. It's the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings. ... Because these primitives can only be treated in one way, and I don't think smallpox and a blanket is good enough incidentally. Just before -- I'm going to give you a little precursor to where I'm going. Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I'd like to see done to these people, just so you understand that I'm not going to be too intellectual about my analysis here in terms of what I would recommend, what Doc Savage recommends as an antidote to this kind of poison coming out of the Middle East from these non-humans."

Rush Limbaugh:

"I'm going to tell you is what's good for Al Qaeda is good for the Democratic Party in this country today. That's how you boil this down. And it doesn't have to be Al Qaeda. What's good for terrorists is good for John Kerry. All you got to do is check the way they react. [3/15/04]

So the only real question is, if Al Qaeda's active and capable, what are they going to do? Because we know what they want: they want Kerry, they want the Democrats in power. They'd love that -- I mean, based simply on what they're saying and how they're reacting to what happened in Spain. I'm not guessing. [3/15/04]

They [Democrats] celebrate privately this attack in Spain. [3/16/04]

I mean, if you wonder -- if you want the terrorists running the show, then you will elect John Kerry, who is a bed brother with this guy who just won election in Spain. [3/18/04]

I'm telling you, we're in the midst of a huge liberal crackup. They are so motivated by the quest for power. They are so motivated by rage and hatred, that they are not in power. And they focus that on Bush. That they have aligned themselves unwittingly -- I'm going to grant them that -- with those who intend harm on this country. [3/24/04]

You don't hear the Democrats being critical of terrorists. In fact, you hear the Democrats saying, "We've got to find a way to get along with them." [4/5/04]

[Speaking about Democrats] I don't know who they are, I don't know what they believe, but I can't relate. I can't possibly understand somebody who hates this country, who was born and raised here. I don't understand how you hate this Constitution. I don't understand how you hate freedom. I don't understand how you hate free markets, but that's who elites are, because freedom and free markets challenge their power. It's the only thing I can come up with. I know it's much more insidious and hideous than that, but I still can't relate to it." [3/16/04]

Linda Chavez:

"The young Kerry seems to have fallen in the latter category, communist apologist. ... John Kerry deserves to make atonement to the Vietnamese people -- not for what he did as a young soldier but for what he has done ever since to justify communist tyranny in Vietnam and elsewhere."

Grover Norquist:

"If the Democrats win the Presidency, they can veto Republican advances. If they lose, they don't eat. The very sinews of their political power will decay with increasing speed. The Democratic coalition will be weaker, shorter, and poorer in 2008 than 2004. This sense of desperation explains the "hatred" and vicious attacks on Bush.

This should not surprise us. Expect the crescendo to grow through 2004. The other team isn't being unreasonable. It is reacting rationally to a real threat to its ability to function. Anything short of placing snipers on the rooftops of D.C. would be an underreaction by the Left.

Cornered rats fight. Hard."

And conservative bloggers too:

Amber Pawlik

"I don't really consider the Democrat party a party of the people anymore, nor do I consider the socialist Democrats (they are not "liberal", that's just a euphemism for socialist anymore [sic]) "nice people who are misguided." I consider them to be pure, raw evil, who want to destroy everything rational or beautiful in sight: success, prosperity, even the very security of the country."

Emperor Misha:

"Not saying anything in specific, mind you, but we'd be damn careful about showing our face in public if we were you. You just never know who that perfect stranger behind you in that alleyway might be. Could be a sibling or other relative of one of the fallen soldiers that you just took a dump on the grave of, and G-d only knows what might happen then.

Eric may not be famous enough to be a pick for the 2004 Dead Pool, but there's another signed Imperial Mug for the first LC to inform me that Eric Blumrich has died in a "tragic" accident.

Accidents DO happen, you know, and that's the kind of news that would definitely make my entire day."

The rest of the piece can be found here.

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