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saturday, october 2, 2004

David Brooks Is a Vegetable
 
davidbrooks.jpgAlthough he writes well for a vegetable, it's still a wonder to me that David Brooks can dress himself and sit down in a chair and compose English sentences at all. If P.T. Barnum were still alive, he'd put Brooks on display next to the Fiji Mermaid.
 
Of course, I'm only assuming that Brooks dresses himself and sits in a chair to write his New York Times column. Maybe somebody brings a laptop to wherever he's planted. Still, we know now that artificial intelligence is possible, because Brooks has it.
 
If you don't believe me, read today's column. Brooks manages to string together 763 words into grammatically correct sentences, but there is no evidence in them of human thought.
 
Brooks is deeply imprinted with The Narrative -- the storyline that present Senator Kerry as a weak, vacillating flip-flopper and Our Hero, the President, is a strong man of character who knows his own mind. The fact that The Narrative is an artificial contrivance of Republican political strategists is, of course, not something a vegetable could perceive. That's why Brooks's is an artificial intelligence -- he's only as smart as his programming.
 
Today, Brooks wrote,

Kerry can't make a decision; Bush makes them too quickly. Kerry changes his mind by the month; Bush almost never changes his mind. Kerry thinks obsessively about process questions, but can't seem to come up with a core conviction; Bush is great at coming up with clear goals, but is not so great about coming up with the process to get there.

Now, people who actually look at Kerry's record on Iraq find it to be quite consistent. (To make it simple, Ben P. outlines Kerry's Iraq record in bullet form on Daily Kos.) And people who actually look at Bush's record during his entire political career, including Iraq, find one flipflop after another (Juan Cole prefers the word zigzag). In fact, the more you look at Bush, the more he appears to be just a weed blowing in the winds of political expediency. But it takes human critical thought to see these truths, which puts them beyond Brooks.
 
Brooks argues that Bush sees the Big Picture and is guided by character and principle, but is weak on process. Kerry, on the other hand, has a grasp of process but doesn't understand principle. Brooks writes,

That's why he's been fuzzy about the big things over the entire course of his career. That's why he has changed his mind on big issues with such astonishing rapidity. That's why he gets twisted into pretzels, like vowing to continue fighting the Iraq war, which he says was a mistake to begin.

You'll notice that Brooks gives no evidence that Kerry has been fuzzy about the big things over the entire course of his career. The Narrative says this, so it must be true. Right?
 
There's at least one big thing Kerry has seen all along, as described in this Boston Globe article about Kerry's work to expose the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s:

On this and related issues, Kerry's relentless drive "came largely from Vietnam veteran syndrome," said former aide and investigator Jack Blum, describing the disillusionment that returning soldiers often felt as a result of that divisive war. "You come home and discover that people who are running the war are just interested in covering their ass; meanwhile, real people are dying real deaths. ... This was a very searing business."  ...

As the Iran-contra scandal unfolded, John Kerry would find an outlet for his prosecutorial skills, his thirst for media attention, and his still-simmering outrage over "seeing the government lie, and realizing the consequences" in Vietnam, as he recently put it.

(Regarding the "thirst for media attention": show me a politician who doesn't court media attention, and I'll show you one who has returned to his job in the private sector.)
 
In 1992, Kerry took on the "politically risky" duty of chairing a select committee investigating allegations of missing U.S. soldiers being held captive in southeast Asia. His work on this investigation brought him into close contact with Senator John McCain, who had been suspicious of Kerry. The two men became friends, and they worked together to normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
Kerry earned the "unbounded respect and admiration" of McCain, who, like others in the Senate, originally viewed Kerry with suspicion. "You get to know people and you make decisions about them," says McCain. "I found him to be the genuine article."
Certainly in the course of his Senate career, Kerry has made consessions to political expediency, but compared to Bush, Kerry is steady as a rock.
 
But let's go back to Brooks's comment about Kerry "vowing to continue fighting the Iraq war, which he says was a mistake to begin." This is the sort of comment that reveals an utter lack of critical thinking skills. Yes, it was a mistake to begin the Iraq war. But the mistake was made. We are there. Does Brooks think Kerry can turn back time and un-do the invasion? We are there. Since we are there, what should we do about being there? That's the question in front of whoever is inaugurated in 2005, and that's the question Kerry addresses when he discusses his plans for Iraq.
 
What big picture does Bush see? Or, put another way, how big a fool do you have to be to think you can eradicate "evil" by military force?
 
I don't think Bush sees pictures at all. He's not a perceptual guy. Bush has simple sentences -- Cut taxes. Invade Iraq. The why and the how and the potential impact of these things elude him. As circumstances change, he shifts his talking points to fit. First, we cut taxes because there's a budget surplus. But when the surplus disappears, we cut taxes to stimulate the economy. Whatever is going on in the economy, cutting taxes will fix it. See how that works?
 
Bush has used so many different excuses for invading Iraq he can't keep them straight. In the recent debate Bush was still saying that an invasion was necessary to force Saddam Hussein to "disarm," never mind that he had no WMDs to "dis." And it was stunning to hear him tie the invasion of Iraq to the September 11 attacks -- he disavowed that excuse several months ago, as I recall.
 
Brooks continues --
Bush, by contrast, is steadfast and resolute. But his weakness is statecraft. That is the task of relating means to ends, of orchestrating the institutions of government to achieve your desired goals.
His weakness is statecraft. The keyboarding vegetable almost stumbles onto something. What is it that presidents do? They do statecraft. They are executives who "orchestrate the institutions of government" to carry out the will of Congress and the people and protect the Constitution. A man who cannot do the "statecraft" thing cannot do the job a president is supposed to do.
 
Brooks concludes that even if Bush is not always competent (Brooks's words!), many people sense in him a "shared cast of mind" and want to keep him in office. 
 
In other words, Bush is still admired by idiots. And vegetables.
 
 
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2:09 pm | link

Bored?
 
I'm still looking for reactions to Thursday night's debate. Remarkably, some on the Right Blogosphere said they found it boring.
 
These are politics nerds, mind you. I can (sort of) understand someone not interested in politics being bored, but we're talking about people who have spent the past three or four years or more promoting Bush and his policies and arguing for a Bush victory in November.
 
History tells us that debates are often critical to the success of a campaign. These bloggers must know that. I could understand if they said they were disappointed or even angry. I could even understand it (sort of) if they believed Bush won the debate. If you're going to be delusional you might as well go all the way with it.
 
But bored? How very strange.
 
I googled for articles on the psychology of boredom. There are a lot of articles about boredom in the workplace and in marriages, but I don't think that's exactly what we're dealing with here. Boredom is also a symptom in adolescent depression -- sounds like we're getting warmer.
 
I found titles like "Boredom Proneness and Psychological Development" and "Cognitive Failure and Boredom: Dimensions and Correlates," but you have to pay for a subscription to something to read these.
 
Someone once told me that boredom can be a kind of resistance to something. When we don't want to be engaged by whatever's in front of us, we feel bored by it. That's me with professional baseball. That's other people with professional opera. The fault often is not with the baseball game or the opera, but with ourselves. For example, as a child I was a klutz at baseball and softball and really hated to be pushed into playing it, whether by peer pressure or the gym teacher, and my resistance to it now probably took root then. It's probable that if I started rooting for a particular team I'd get over being bored, because then I'd be engaged.
 
We are also bored with things that we think are over our heads. Maybe the thing isn't really over our heads if we made an effort to "get it," but we don't want to. Sometimes if we fail at something (especially in childhood) we build all kinds of psychological scar tissue around that thing and go through the rest of our lives not dealing with it, which is why I don't do math. In this case, we feel boredom with something because deep down inside it makes us anxious. That seems contradictory unless you understand boredom as a psychological barrier we put up between ourselves and something we don't want to engage in. (My neurosis surrounding numbers is so extreme that having to do math makes me feel bored and anxious at the same time, but I may be unusual.)
 
So what the bored righties were saying is that they did not want to engage in what was going on in front of them, which was their boy getting clobbered, and they experienced this resistance to engagement as boredom. Poor things.
 
 
 
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9:06 am | link

friday, october 1, 2004

Ends and Odds
 
Be sure to visit Talking Points Memo for the weird saga of the faux news story on the Faux News web. Carl Cameron just plain fabricated a story full of made-up, stupid quotes attributed to John Kerry. To get the whole story, start here and read up.
 
I've noticed some new Bush television ads (new to me, anyway, since I rarely see Bush ads here in New York) on the cable news shows (which I haven't been watching much recently). They don't seem to be on the Bush web site, possibly they are very new. They seem to be trying to answer some of the points Kerry made last night. One claims that Kerry and "congressional liberals" voted against security funding recently and against "the latest weapons and body armor" for the troops (I assume the latter is a reference to the $87 billion vote, but I'm not sure). These are in serious need of fact checking, but I don't have a transcript or video. Maybe some of you know which ads I'm talking about.
 
Finally, I know I've posted a lot of links today, so I'll just do one more. It's a real good'un. Jane Smiley writes "Abject Failure Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry" for Salon. Sample paragraph:
George W. Bush certainly doesn't want to be tried as a war criminal -- he made that clear when he abandoned the World Court on the war crime issue (a decision he proudly flaunted onstage Thursday night). Pundits around the world disapproved for this abstract reason and that, but what seems clear now is that, since Bush already knew that he was going to invade Iraq, he wanted to cover his rear, and didn't fancy seeing himself hauled to The Hague like Slobodan Milosevic. But he and Karl Rove seem to have taken a leaf out of Milosevic's defense manual -- don't admit you did anything wrong (to do so would be sending "a mixed message"), blame your enemies, and be as aggressive as possible in claiming the moral high ground. In fact, at this point, some illusionary moral high ground is the only defense Bush and Blair have, as Blair showed when he delved into his "reasons" for invading Iraq on Tuesday. Bush, in the debate, sounded as if he's been warned by his lawyer that to acknowledge mistakes is to lay himself open to a product liability lawsuit.
 
 
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8:47 pm | link

More Great Links
 
Digby has a list of news organizations and how to contact them to complain about pro-Bush spin of the debates. Do your duty!
 
My daughter Erin's debate blog is, of course, brilliant.
 
Juan Cole discusses Bush's "zigzags" on Iraq policy. Or should we say flipflops?
 
Update -- More more great links
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3:31 pm | link

Debate Commentary Roundup:
 
I realize this is no time to be over-confident. But I say it's no time to be under-confident, either. Our guy did good; their guy sucked. Don't let anybody say otherwise, because "otherwise" just ain't so.
 
Sour grapes in the Right Blogosphere: Kerry lied (about name of the KGB Headquarters in Moscow). Jim Lehrer is biased. Debates don't matter. Kerry is annoyiing. I never liked debates, anyway, and couldn't stand watching this one. Debates are boring. (Ever notice how easily righties get bored?)
 
Well, so much for the losers. On to real commentary:
 
He showed for all to see what a minor mind he goes around with. I looked at this guy Bush last night and thought about young people dying in Iraq because of him. And there will be more and more because he is a man sitting with a car full of people on the train tracks and he doesn't know enough to get off with the train coming. Watch the ages of the dead night after night, day after day - 21 ... 23 ... 19 ... 25 ... Anybody responsible for getting people this young killed is a national menace.
 
Dumb people always are.

Carol Towarnicky, Knight-Ridder:

Before tonight, and especially at their convention, the Bush-Cheney campaign did a masterful job in turning John Kerry into a cartoon character, a "French" long-winded dilettante who wouldn't be able to keep to the time limits and would change his position every time he opened his mouth.

They may have done the guy a favor - because the John Kerry who showed up tonight was none of those things. He spoke directly, simply, and really pointed toward the future, with a plan for Iraq. He looked like a president. This might make the folks who only knew the caricature start to wonder whether they can believe other things the Bush-Cheney campaign is telling them.

Scott Lehigh, Boston Globe:

LADIES AND gentlemen, you wake today to a whole new presidential race. Last night, John Kerry won as clear a debate victory as we've seen since Ronald Reagan outdueled Jimmy Carter in 1980.

The senator that Americans saw on stage was hardly the shilly-shallying caricature that George W. Bush had been lampooning on the campaign trail. Nor was he the flatfooted candidate who fumbled his way through a disastrous August. Instead, the Democratic challenger seemed more serious and substantive, more knowledgeable and confident, than the man who holds the job. ...

Although Bush had some moments, at too many points the president seemed reduced to repeating simple assertions that sometimes bordered on the petulant: that a commander in chief couldn't send mixed messages, that Kerry, too, had seen Saddam as a threat in the months before the invasion, that people had to understand that nation-building is hard work.

James Ridgeway, The Village Voice:

Contrary to all the press predictions, John Kerry easily overcame George Bush in Thursday night's debate, taking the attack from the very beginning and never once losing control. It was a knockout—with Bush going down almost immediately and never getting back on his feet. The president appeared confused, left to mumble aloud on the subject of Iraq, "It's incredibly hard work."

In debating terms, Kerry controlled the floor from start to finish with one rapid fire attack after another. Bush never was able to break through. His famous frat-boy disdain was reduced to goofiness. Kerry made him look by turns ignorant, deceitful, churlish, and just plain out of it.

Bush tried to use his campaign's flip-flop line against Kerry, but it went nowhere. Kerry had such a clear control of facts and argument that the charge fell almost immediately, a spent and useless weapon.

More comments -- I'll add to this throughout the day. This is just a preliminary list -- 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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10:55 am | link

Morning After
 
This is proof that I'm a politics nerd -- I've been up for about an hour as I keyboard, thinking about the debate last night, and I just now realized that today is my birthday. I had forgotten. (Well, it's not like I haven't had a few birthdays before. I've gotten to the point that I need a calculator to figure out how old I am. I was never good with big numbers.) 
 
It'll be a couple of days before we see any real impact in the polls (although some instant polls done last night gave Kerry a big boost). But when even the Right Blogosphere says that maybe Kerry did better than Bush, you know it wasn't even close.
 
The split screen really killed Bush last night. I was surprised at the split screen, because I understand Fox News controlled the cameras. Whoever it was at Fox who ordered the split screen is probably getting his ass handed to him this morning.  [Note: I was watching on CSPAN.] None of the Media Whores could say anything about it, of course, but it seemed to me that Bush's face far outdid his daddy's glance at his watch in the annals of presidential debate screwups.
 
Today, per Digby, the real work begins. You know that the Right Wing Noise Machine will be spinning like tops to erode Kerry's debate win. From Liberal Oasis:

The Bushies won't take this loss lying down.

They will selectively quote Kerry and twist his words around to try to steal tonight's victory.

(Though they didn't seem to have figured out a consistent line of attack immediately afterwards last night.)

Kerry's got a bit of a break, because any Bush attempt to counterspin the debate will fall into the little-read Saturday news.

But let's keep our guard up through the weekend.

 
I'll work up a debate reaction roundup later today.
 
 
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8:14 am | link

thursday, september 30, 2004

President Kerry
 
Kerry wiped the floor with Bush tonight. He was firm and direct. Bush was defensive and petulant. Bush often sounded as if he were faking answers. Well, he probably was faking answers.
 
I'm watching the Daily Show now for the best political commentary. And my man, General Wesley Clark, is saying that Bush seemed annoyed and arrogant. The right-wing blogs are trying to find something to criticize in Kerry, he says. I don't want to know what the right-wing blogs are saying. I'm saying Kerry must be very pleased right now.
 
I did a quick tour around the news shows right after the debates, and the usual whores were stumbling around trying to say that, well, maybe Bush won on style. Oh, please ...
 
11:09 pm | link

Moment of Zen
 
While you're waiting for the debate to start, enjoy a Moment of Zen. Follow these steps in order:
 
1. Read this opinion piece by Hugh Hewitt.*
 
2. See this cartoon.**
 
* Thanks to Kevin Drum.
** Thanks to Josh Marshall.
 
Update: I may attempt some real-time debate blogging at Open Source Politics. Posts go up more quickly there than here, so if I've got something to say during the debate I'll put it up there. But I'll be back here for post-debate blogging. (Is this two-fisted blogging, or what?)
 
8:15 pm | link

Oopsie!
 
Via Bob Fertik of Democrats.com -- an alert Dem named Paul Lukasiak found a proportionally spaced document from the Texas Air National Guard from 1971. It was discovered among documents (page 6) released by the Pentagon last Friday.
 
Somebody alert Little Green Footballs.
 
Several readers emailed this to me, which is a detailed analysis of the Killian memos backing up my contention that the memos could have been typed on a typewriter available in 1972. The type face does not appear to be true Times Roman, for example.
 
It appears the fat lady ain't sung yet.
 
1:26 pm | link

All the World's a Stage
 
Juan Cole writes that Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawir has strongly protested US air strikes against Iraqi cities. Al-Yawir compares the U.S. bombing of Iraqi cities to the Nazi tactic of "collective punishment." The Nazis would hold entire villages and towns responsible for any resistance activities there, and would carry out gruesome mass reprisals.
 
Collective punishment is forbidden by the 1949 Geneva Conventions:

Art. 33. No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

The use of air strikes against what the Bushies still insist is an unpopular insurgency does seem a bit, well, indiscriminate. But knowing the Bushies, the air strikes may have been ordered to pacify the insurgency pronto, by any means, before the November elections, if not before tonight's debate.
 
Others speculate that the bombings are designed to prepare the way for a U.S. ground offensive into insurgent-held areas. If this is the case, the timing suggests to me that the Bushies are planning to launch the offensive before November, not after. Could this be the October surprise we've been waiting for? I'm sure Flight Suit Boy would love to be able to celebrate a big military victory pretty soon.
 
Honorable mention: Liberal Oasis points to what might be the soft underbelly of the Bush campaign -- cockiness. They're a lot cockier than they were four years ago. Also, be sure to read Jeanne d'Arc's post on legalized torture at Body and Soul.
 
8:11 am | link

wednesday, september 29, 2004

Positive Thinking
 
Awhile back I wrote about this article in the July/August Atlantic Monthly, by James Fallows (who has done some great work this year), on Bush's and Kerry's debate style. Kevin Drum writes about it today. Time for a review.
 
Bush has been a remarkably successful debater in the past. He finessed Ann Richards articulately. His success against Gore is harder to analyze -- part Gore being overbearing, part post-debate spin. Bush was just impressive enough to persuade nearly half the electorate to vote for him..
 
Can he pull it off again?
 
Of course he might, but I think it's going to be a lot harder for him now. This is true in spite of the fact that if Bush manages to stand up straight and appear self-assured, no matter what he or John Kerry say, he'll be declared the "winner."
 
As Fallows indicates, Bush seems to be experiencing some kind of mental deterioration. He's gotten worse since 2000. And his fuse seems to have gotten shorter. If he loses his temper, or his focus, tomorrow night, especially while standing next to a cool, articulate Kerry, Bush's campaign would take a serious blow.
 
And what's he going to talk about? His stump speech, I'm told, consists of a stand-up act making fun of Kerry combined with happy talk about Iraq. If he tries the Kerry jokes tomorrow he'll look like an asshole (which he is), and I'm sure Kerry is ready to pounce with the facts about the increase in violence in Iraq, plus Colin Powell's recent glum assessment.
 
Still, we know that Kerry's performance will be picked apart and Bush's will be inflated into a victory, no matter what they do. Bush will be declared the "winner" if he stays on his feet and doesn't pick his nose on camera. When it's over, you'll be able to flip around the dial and watch Pat Buchanan declare that Kerry "didn't lay a glove on him," while the symbiot George Will/Peggy Noonan says, "Doesn't [Bush] look presidential?"
 
But if he loses his temper ...  well, we can hope.
 
11:19 pm | link

Shoot 'em Up
 
In yesterday's column, the great Jimmy Breslin interviews students returned from a distant, alien, inscrutable place -- Ohio.
 
Twelve high school students from the Urban Academy in Manhattan spent a week in Guysville, Ohio, doing election polling and living in the homes of other high school students.
 
It's a cute column, but also frightening. If offers a glimpse into why Bush is doing so well among the "heartlanders."

...one of them said, and the others seemed to agree, that many like Bush better than Kerry because he identified better with people in a working-class neighborhood.

This caused me to speak. "They must be demented to say that. Do you know what schools he went to? Working-class neighborhood. That's Phillips Academy. Then Yale and Harvard."

"On a legend scholarship," a girl said.

"Legacy. That means if your father went to school, you could get in on your last name. He had more than his father. He had his grandfather. The grandfather had millions when that counted as real money."

They said a lot of the students and their families did not watch any news on television, and what they did watch was Fox, which gives the news with a foaming mouth, and maybe Good Morning America in the morning. The paper seemed to be the Athens News that comes out twice a week. Because of this, the worst rumors have spectacular chances of success in the area. "I told them that it was ridiculous to connect Saddam Hussein with the World Trade Center," one of the students said.

Maybe the Democrats should hire Ross Perot to explain to the "heartlanders" that Osama and Saddam are two different guys who never got along with each other, much less worked together. "See, people, it's just this simple ..."

The Manhattan students brought up gun love early in the interview. They must have found Midwestern gun culture astonishing. Manhattanites as a rule don't rely on guns for protection, unless they own liquor stores in bad neighborhoods.

But years ago I lived in a suburb of Cincinnati, and I remember that usually whenever a squirrel set off somebody's home security alarm the menfolk of the neighborhood would come running out of their homes waving handguns, ready to shoot some fleeing perpetrator.

I remember this vividly because my infant daughter's room was in a corner of the house nearest the street and also nearest the home of one of the more rabid gun-waving neighbors. A few times I scooped her out of her crib and brought her into the middle of the house to keep her safer from stray bullets. Fortunately the posse never actually shot at anybody.

In NYC neighborhoods with high drug traffic it sometimes happens that a gunfight breaks out, and stray bullets kill an innocent child. This does not inspire New Yorkers to go out and buy their own guns to protect themselves. On the contrary, New Yorkers generally don't approve of people carrying guns for protection.

After living here awhile, I came to understand why. New Yorkers habitually seek safety in numbers. If you keep to areas where there are lots of other people, you are generally safer than if you are somewhere isolated. New Yorkers prefer subway cars and elevators with at least a couple of other people inside, even if the other people are strangers. They stay in well-lit, high-traffic areas.

In short, they insulate themselveds from harm with lots of nearby human flesh. Thick crowds of strangers that an Ohioan would find suffocating are comforting to a New Yorker. The thought that somebody in the flesh shield might whip out a gun and start shooting that flesh is more frightening to New Yorkers than the burglaries that worried my neighbors in Ohio.

I'm not personally opposed to gun ownership. If I lived in an isolated cabin in Montana I'd probably keep a loaded shutgun on the wall, too. But in densely populated areas, guns may not be the self-defense tool of choice. This is a point many "heartlanders" cannot grasp.

A U.S. Congressman from Indiana, Mark Souder, is pushing a bill to end gun controls in Washington, D.C. Harold Meyerson writes in today's Washington Post:

Souder's bill legalizes ownership of semiautomatic weapons and armor-piercing ammunition. How this would increase security around the White House and the Capitol is something that Souder and Co. have neglected to explain, but no matter. The House Republican leadership knows the bill won't pass the Senate. The only reason it was even introduced was to force House Democrats -- a number of whom represent gun-loving districts -- to vote on this nonsense.

Gun control may be one of the purest Metro-Retro issues. Gun control is favored by Metros, who live in dense population areas, but not by Retros, who like to keep strangers at a distance. Retros live in terror that crazy elitist lefties will take their guns away and leave them vulnerable and unprotected from grizzlies or strangers or whatever.

But Retros might want to stop attacking gun control laws in places where people actually want gun control laws, which is what they're doing when they use gun control as a national wedge issue. Gun control only works as a Retro wedge issue because it's a "litmus test" issue for them, but not for Metros. Manhattanites don't stay awake at night worrying about Ohioans with semiautomatic weapons, so long as the weapons stay in Ohio.

But if the Metros ever get fired up on the gun control issue ... bye bye, Uzis.

Note: New York City has a much lower violent crime rate than most other large cities in the U.S.

Update: From the Washington Post:

The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to repeal virtually all of the District's gun laws, urged by gun rights groups to deliver a victory before the November election over the vehement objections of Washington leaders who denounced what they called a historic violation of home rule.

Voting 250-171, the House approved the D.C Personal Protection Act, which would end the District's ban on handguns and semi-automatic weapons, roll back registration requirements for ammunition and other firearms and decriminalize possession of unregistered weapons and carrying a gun in one's home or workplace. The bill also would prohibit the District's elected mayor and council from passing gun limits that exceed federal law or "discourage . . . the private ownership or use of firearms."

The mighty federal government strong-arming local authority ... it's what made America great, huh?

7:54 am | link

tuesday, september 28, 2004

Some People Need to Catch Up II
 
Posted today by the ever-oblivious Glenn Reynolds:

UPDATE: Reader Bruce Bretthauer emails:

If people want you to blog about other things than Dan Rather, what about Sandy Berger removing files from the National Archives? Is he still connected with the Kerry Campaign? Why doesn't Kerry have Berger take "administrative leave" while those accusations are sorted out? Why doesn't MSM care about this? Is the MSM explanation another example of "fraudulent but true"?

They do seem to have let that one drop.

Berger was cleared by the 9/11 Commission in August, a fact somewhat underreported by the evil "liberal" media. Apparently there are no more "accusations" to "sort out." (No Democrat is ever exonerated, of course. Most righties remain certain Bill Clinton was guilty of something in the Whitewater scam.)

 
9:35 pm | link

Required Reading
 
David Neiwert at Orcinus has embarked on a six-part series called "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism" that is well worth reading. Here are links to the first two parts (note that David's permalinks are a little iffy; you might have to scroll around the page a bit).
 
 
 
I'm looking forward to Part 3: Pseudo-fascism and the GOP.
 
If David's essays don't upset you enough, be sure to read what Digby says about fixed elections.
 
11:05 am | link

Dumb and Dumber
 
The terminally clueless David Brooks argues with some straw man in his own head that democracy is good. 

davidbrooks.jpgI mention this case study because we are approaching election day in Afghanistan on Oct. 9. Six days later, voter registration begins in Iraq. Conditions in both places will be tense and chaotic. And in Washington, a mood of bogus tough-mindedness has swept the political class. As William Raspberry wrote yesterday in The Washington Post, "the new consensus seems to be that bringing American-style democracy to Iraq is no longer an achievable goal." We should just settle for what John Kerry calls "stability." We should be satisfied if some strongman comes in who can restore order.

The people who make this argument pat themselves on the back for being hard-headed, but the fact is they are naïve. They've got things exactly backward. The reason we should work for full democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is not just because it's noble, but because it's practical. It is easier to defeat an insurgency and restore order with elections than without.

Brooks argues that a democratically elected, popularly supported government would bring more stability to Iraq in the long run than an unpopular dictator.

Next week, Brooks will discover that snow mostly falls in winter and that soup won't burn your tongue if you let it cool off first.

But instead of sniping at Kerry, Brooks should explain democracy to his buddies the Bushies, because they're the ones undermining real democracy in Iraq. For example, Time magazine reports that the Bushies had planned to use the CIA to support favored candidates in the allegedly upcoming Iraqi elections.

Juan Cole comments:

... this sort of behavior by the Bush administration fatally undermines the ideal of democracy in the Middle East. If Muslims think that "democracy" is a stalking horse for CIA control of their country, then they will flee the system and prefer independent-minded strongmen that denounce the US. The constitutional monarchies established in the Middle East by the British were similarly undermined in the popular imagination by the impression they gave of being mere British puppets. This was true of the Wafd Party in Egypt in the 1940s and early 1950s, which the Free Officers overthrew in 1952 in the name of national indepencence. It was also true in Iraq, where in 1958 popular mobs dragged the corpse of the pro-British Prime Minister Nuri al-Said through the streets and finished off the British-installed monarchy.

Brooks quotes William Raspberry talking about "American-style democracy." Whatever the arguments of Iraq war hawks and warbloggers, the subtext is nearly always "Iraqis should be more like us."  Surely, the neocons from the Project for a New American Century assumed that once Saddam Hussein was removed, the ideals of Locke and Jefferson would bloom in Iraq overnight.  

But the neocons forget the Jeffersonian principle that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. All along the Bushies have treated Iraqis as either children or savages who can't be expected to want what's good for them. Rummy and his Pentagon team tried to hand Iraq over to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, for example. And much of the violence in Iraq today resulted from the bungling of interim governor Paul Bremer

Among other things, the neocons don't seem to have considered that, if given a choice, a majority of Iraqis might choose an Islamic government. If that's the case, seems to me no secular government will ever be legitimate to Iraqis.

Juan Cole explains much better than I can how U.S. meddling has already poisoned whatever chance the January elections might have had to produce a popular government. "Bush just wanted to buy himself an election, in the Bush tradition," he writes.

But David Brooks thinks that Bush policies favor democracy. Hoo boy, that's a good 'un. The Bushies don't like democracy in America; why would they want it for Iraq?

 
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6:25 am | link

monday, september 27, 2004

Those Were the Days
 
President John F. Kennedy toured Europe in June, 1963. I remember watching black-and-white television broadcasts of the touring President surrounded by ecstatic, cheering crowds. I was 12 years old, and awestruck, and I was certain that everyone in the world loved Americans. Well, maybe not the dour, fat men in charge of the bleak lands behind the Iron Curtain, but surely everyone else did.
 
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What a difference 40+ years can make.
 
Frederic Morton writes in today's Los Angeles Times:
Before Iraq, America's formidable appeal continued largely unabated. I never saw it embraced more ardently, poignantly, than on Sept. 12, 2001. I happened to be in Vienna, where from my hotel window I watched the entire city cry a collective tear for the America it was still crazy about. At the stroke of noon, all traffic froze. Nothing moved except long, black mourning banners unfurling from every government building as well as from many private houses. And the "Pummerin," the great bell of St. Stephen's Cathedral — a bell of ancient tradition that is so huge its swinging stresses the 15th century tower and is therefore rung just once a year, during midnight Mass on Christmas Eve — tolled a special requiem. Unforgettable, those plangent, plaintive peals echoed across a thousand roofs.

That day Vienna — along with much of Europe — trembled for the hope breathed by the word "America." An elastic, robust hope, lasting through war and peace, through irritations and disappointments.
 
But that was before Iraq. Now, Morton writes, America is viewed as a global bully.
To Europeans of nearly every stripe, the statue in New York harbor brandishes not a torch but a tommy gun. Lady Liberty has transmogrified into an ominous colossus. Here is the ultimate Godfather, enforcing with missile and aircraft carrier a protection racket on all seven seas. Here is an America shrugging armored shoulders at the ozone hole, at collateral damage, at its own poor, an America practicing domination in the name of freedom. Here is the land of milk and honey turned into the fortress of bottom line and bomb.
Bush supporters dismiss world opinion. saying Europeans don't like us, anyway. But Bush is the first American President in my memory who has to hide from the public when he goes abroad.
 
On The Blogging of the President, Jessie writes that Europeans are struggling to understand what's happening in American politics. Like marine biologists studying dolphins, Europeans stuedy us for clues that might explain our behavior.
The European press is grasping at what would normally be considered minutae. Why? Because they are at a loss to understand how America as a nation could even possibly be able to contemplate giving Mr. Bush a small minority of the vote, let alone a winning ticket. And, at a loss, they look to the process to explain things. “What,” they seem to really be asking, “is deluding Americans into this insanity?” It is an understandable question for people to whom WWII exists in living memory.
Jessie has some good points on the different ways Europeans and Americans view power and authority. "Bush taps into a language of sheer power," Jessie writes, "that 'going it alone'-if-we-have-to sense that plays to Americans’ sense of independence, freedom, and self-reliance—or, to put it bluntly, our sense of our selves, especially as opposed to the European culture we left behind."
 
I'm afraid he's right, and I'm afraid that's going to be the end of us as the mother of all superpowers. What goes up must come down. We are cruisin' for a bruisin'.
 
I've got a history book here that says more than 1 million people gathered in Berlin to hear, and cheer, Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. If a million Germans gathered to see Bush, it wouldn't be to cheer.
 
 
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8:51 pm | link

Some People Need to Catch Up
 
Glenn Reynolds is still, pathetically, clinging to dubious testimony regarding Bush's National Guard service. "BUSH VOLUNTEERED FOR VIETNAM," he writes. "yeah, we're living in Bizarro world."
 
This claim is based on the testimony of Colonel Ed Morrisey, who remembers that Bush "enquired" about serving in Vietnam, but was told he wasn't eligible because, at the time, he lacked enough flying hours.
 
Maybe that happened. Maybe it didn't. All we know for sure is that on his application for extended active duty with the U.S. Air Force, Bush checked a box next to an "Do Not Volunteer For Overseas." 

The Colonel probably doesn't remember that.

There's a nice account of Bush's National Guard years in today's Los Angeles Times. Highly recommended.
 
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9:21 am | link

sunday, september 26, 2004

Draft Dodging
 
Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek that the Bush Administration has no plans for a draft. "He knows that a draft would vaporize any remaining support for his Iraq policy," Alter writes. "This would be of concern to him even as a second-term, lame-duck president. One thing we've learned about Bush is that he has never taken a position that he knew beforehand would be politically unpopular, including invading Iraq."
 
One thing we know about Bush is that he's all about winning elections. The governing thing is just a prop. And if he wins in November, why would he care what we think?
 
And another thing we know about Bush is that he's not being honest about Iraq. His statements on Iraq are hallucinatory.
 
But I suspect Alter is right. Bush has no plans for a draft. Of course, he didn't plan for escalating violence in Iraq, either. He didn't plan for the car bombs that injured soldiers near Fallujah today, for example.
 
We can't be sure what Bush is planning, or even if Bush is planning. There is speculation that he plans a major offensive at the end of the year to pacify the insurgents. Bob Novak says there are plans to cut and run after the January elections. Whatever. Clearly, Iraq is spinning out of his control.
 
So there's no point asking if Bush has plans for a draft. The question is, what if he realizes he needs soldiers to actually defend America, and there aren't enough to go around?
 
Consider this: some of the same geniuses who got us into Iraq are now contemplating a "pre-emptive strike" on Iran.
...administration hawks are pinning their hopes on regime change in Tehran—by covert means, preferably, but by force of arms if necessary. Papers on the idea have circulated inside the administration, mostly labeled "draft" or "working draft" to evade congressional subpoena powers and the Freedom of Information Act. Informed sources say the memos echo the administration's abortive Iraq strategy: oust the existing regime, swiftly install a pro-U.S. government in its place (extracting the new regime's promise to renounce any nuclear ambitions) and get out.
And, if not Iran, there's always Syria. And Africa. And we might have to re-take Afghanistan. Meanwhile, North Korea is arming up, and the nutcase in charge there could lob a missile or worse into Japan or Alaska or Oregon any time now.
 
It may be that the Bush Regime has no plans to re-instate the draft. But they don't seem to plan well, do they? Our military resources are being chewed up in Iraq. Meanwhile, our entire policy toward North Korea seems to be getting Condi Rice to fake being in control.
 
Alter continues:

Every military expert agrees that the Army is already badly overstretched (the Air Force and Navy are fine). The National Guard and Reserves are in trouble. Guard recruitment is down 12 percent, and Reservists as old as their late 40s are being mobilized. Some heavy-duty arm-twisting is underway. According to the Rocky Mountain News, soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo., for instance, have been told that if they don't re-up to 2007 they will be shipped out pronto for Iraq.

James Fallows says pretty much the same thing in "Bush's Lost Year" in the current Atlantic Monthly:

We really have four armies," an Army officer involved in Pentagon planning for the Iraq War told me. "There's the one that's deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's the one that's left back home in Fort Hood and other places. There's the 'modular Army,' of new brigade-sized units that are supposed to be rotated in and out of locations easily. There's the Guard and Reserve. And every one of them is being chewed up by the ops tempo." "Ops tempo" means the pace of operations, and when it is too high, equipment and supplies are being used faster than they can be replaced, troops are being deployed far longer than they expected, and training is being pared back further than it should. "We're really in dire straits with resourcing," he said. "There's not enough armor for Humvees. There's not enough fifty-caliber machine guns for the Hundred and First Airborne or the Tenth Mountain Division. A country that can't field heavy machine guns for its army—there's something wrong with the way we're doing business."

"The stress of war has hit all the services, but none harder than the Army," Sydney Freedberg wrote recently in National Journal. "The crucial shortfall is not in money or machines, but in manpower." More than a third of the Army's 500,000 active-duty soldiers are in Iraq or Kuwait. Freedberg referred to a study showing that fifteen of the Army's thirty-four active-duty combat units were currently deployed overseas, and wrote, "That means that nearly as many units are abroad as at home, when historical experience shows that a long-term commitment, as with the British in Northern Ireland, requires three or four units recuperating and training for each one deployed." In the long run the U.S. military needs either more people or fewer responsibilities. At the moment, because of Iraq, it has very little slack for dealing with other emergencies that might arise.

See also this op ed by Howard Dean on why a draft might be necessary.

Thanks to Iraq, if a war flares up anywhere else in the world in the near future that requires our attendance -- hello, selective service.

There are emails going around warning of pending bills meant to re-instate the draft. My understanding is that these bills have no chance of passage now. But given that our military is being run by people who can't walk and eat pretzels at the same time, who knows about tomorrow?

Alter writes,

The threshold question before the election is this: which candidate is more likely to have so few international friends amid a crisis that he would have to move beyond the all-volunteer force? This question takes the seemingly arcane issue of burden-sharing and brings it home to the American heartland. If we need, God forbid, to occupy another country that truly threatens the United States, we will either do it with the help of our allies or with the conscription of our kids.

Young people and their parents need to think about this question real hard.

 
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6:25 pm | link

Visibility
 
By now you may have heard about today's New York Times magazine feature on bloggers. "Fear and Laptops on the Campaign Trail" by Matthew Klam.
 
The article contains some info and anecdotes that were new to me, and it's nice to see some attention paid to the liberal side of the blogosphere. Still, there is a lot about it that I find annoying. Well, OK, there is one big thing about it that I find annoying. And that is Wonkette.
 
I have nothing against Wonkette, aka Ana Marie Cox. I read her every now and then. I understand that she can be amusing. But she is not representative of women political bloggers, or political bloggers in general, and in the Times article she emerges as the Official Token Woman of the blogosphere.
 
How is it that blogging is so pre-Betty Friedan? Klam wrote about Josh Marshall's Ph.D.; he wrote about Cox's "peachy cream skin." The article makes it clear that the serious blogging is all done by The Guys.
 
(FYI, via Jeanne d'Arc of Body and Soul, Morgaine Swann of The Goddess has a new site called What She Said! that focuses on women political bloggers.)
 
You can read Kos's reaction to the article here. Steve Gilliard raises some issues here. I heartily second Barry Ritholtz's comments on BOP News. Stirling Newberry, who is mentioned in the article, adds some background here.
 
Update: Via Elayne of Pen-Elayne on the Web, who makes some good points, Jesse at Pendagon provides a mega-view of blogs and journalism -- both highly recommended.
 
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8:09 am | link


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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

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