Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, December 31, 2003  

The Real Person of the Year: George W. Bush

So, who should the person of the year be? As Mark noted in comments to that Time post below, it has to be George W. Bush. Or, as sticklers for accuracy will quickly point out--the Bush administration. Their work domestically in remaking government would qualify them alone, but they had, in the meantime, enough energy to mount a PR campaign for an invasion that violates 60 years of accepted international law--and then execute the invasion. Like the administration or loathe them, they had a fantastically influential year.

Let's review. In roughly chronological order, here are a few of the things the White House was up to over the past year:

  • Things start out with the war justifications: Iraq definitely possesses WMD and poses an imminent threat to the US. This forms the backdrop to the newly-unveiled pre-emption doctrine designed specifically to justify an attack on Iraq. In the months leading up to the invasion, members of the administration are unequivocal in their language about the Iraqi threat.

  • Bush submits a brief in support of a legal challenge to the University of Michigan's admissions policies. The policies encourage black enrollment; later, when the Supreme Court endorses Michigan, Bush praises the decision.

  • In response to Iraq's declaration that it had no WMD, Condoleezza Rice publishes "Why We Know Iraq is Lying" in the New York Times.

  • The Department of Homeland Security--the first organizational expansion of the Federal government in decades--comes into existence.

  • Bush delivers the State of the Union, in which he says that Iraq has sought nuclear material from "Africa"--a claim he later admitted was false.

  • Bush meets with Silvio Berlusconi, a man so corrupt he had to change Italian law to keep out of the pokey.

  • Bush releases his 2004 budget, which includes tax cuts for the wealthy and further expansion of the federal government. A half-trillion dollar deficit is projected. Later, in the face of criticism of the projected deficits, Bush restyles the tax cuts a "jobs package."

  • Colin Powell speaks to the UN and holds aloft fake vials of anthrax to demonstrate Iraq's danger; later, Bush declares that the UN's failure to endorse the invasion will threaten its "relevance."

  • Bush champions faith-based initiatives, rewriting the "establishment" clause of the first amendment.

  • Bush introduces the "Roadmap for Peace" in Israel. Distracted by the war in Iraq, the situation in Israel festers as bombings on both sides increase.

  • The US invades Iraq.

  • The Bush administration hints it may invade Syria.

  • Bush visits Africa, touting his AIDS relief package. Meanwhile, violence rages in Liberia, and the US refuses to act.

  • Bush proposes cuts for pay to military and decreased funding for education to military children. When the Senate pushes to offer full benefits to part-time reservists, the administration comes out in opposition.

  • The President asks for $74 billion in funding for the war, later adding $87 billion to the tab.

  • On May 1, Bush vamps in a flight suit and announces the end to "major combat operations" in Iraq in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner that he later denies hanging up.

  • Signing into law the latest tax cuts, Bush calls the legislation an "economic jobs and growth bill" that will help "those who suffer." Despite focusing his remarks on working families, the bulk of the cuts go to the wealthy.

  • Berlusconi visits Crawford.

  • Uday and Qusay Hussein killed in Iraq.

  • After major combat operations end, violence continues. In August, the number of soldiers killed in the "peace" exceeds the numbers killed in the war.

  • The Valerie Plame scandal begins when Robert Novak inadvertently "outs" an undercover CIA agent. The tip was apparently leaked to Novak in order to punish ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had called Bush a liar for mentioning the Iraq-Niger connection in his State of the Union Speech.

  • The UN is bombed in Iraq.

  • With Bush's backing, the FCC passes sweeping legislation that will allow further consolidation of media holdings. A horrified Senate overturns the rules in September.

  • Bush pushes his "Clear Skies" initiative, which will relax industrial pollution rules. Broad coalitions form to oppose the legislation, which languishes.

  • After forest fires rage throughout the Northwest, Bush successfully pushes through his "Healthy Forests" legislation, allowing increased logging.

  • As Iraq becomes an increasingly dangerous quagmire, Bush begins to court the "old Europe" he excoriated for not supporting his invasion.

  • Bush pushes his energy bill--a giveaway to coal, oil, and electrical companies--though even many GOP leaders find it irresponsible.

  • Late-term abortion act becomes law.

  • After last minute wrangling tips the balance, Bush gets his Medicare Bill passed, the first major expansion in decades. Later, Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan alleges that he was offered a bribe for his vote.

  • Bush visits the troops in Iraq clandestinely for Thanksgiving. The image of him standing in front of a roasted turkey is beamed throughout the world. It is later revealed that the turkey was fake--soldiers get a more meager meal.

  • Saddam Hussein is captured, and Bush's approval numbers jump up.

  • November growth skyrockets--the highest number since the early 80s. The Dow pushes over 10,000 and later the NASDAQ moves above 2,000. Deficits are below earlier predictions. Employment, however, does not improve.

  • Halliburton accused of overcharging the government in Iraq.

  • Libya pledges to abandon its own WMD.

  • Bush announces over the Christmas holiday that he will allow logging of the Tongass National Forest, America's last substantial stand of old-growth forest. Few hear the news.

  • The Bush administration dominated the news in all corners of the globe last year. Bush's Iraq invasion provoked tens of millions to protest. In 2003, the word "Empire" was readily applied to the US, and is accepted without controversy--in the Atlantic Monthly, Robert Kaplan even asserted that the American empire was a positive force in the world.

    Time chickened out by calling American soldiers their person of the year. They were but the instruments of a much larger force in the world: George W. Bush (and his administration), the real Person of the Year.

    [Note: I reread this post and discovered some language that wasn't quite English. I fixed it.]

    posted by Jeff | 8:30 AM |

    Tuesday, December 30, 2003  

    USA Today on blogging:

    In the 2004 election, the boys (and girls) on the bus have been joined by a new class of political arbiters: the geeks on their laptops. They call themselves bloggers. Their mission: to remake political journalism and, quite possibly, democracy itself. The plan: to run an end around big media by becoming publishers on the Internet.

    For some reason, they didn't contact this very powerful and influential blog in writing the story. Imagine.

    posted by Jeff | 2:54 PM |

    Time has selected "the American soldier" as its person of the year--the biggest cop-out since it selected "American Fighting-Man" in 1950. Strangely, though, it may be perfectly appropriate. The magazine has secured its irrelevance, choosing embedded, feel-good simplicity (read: Bush's bizarro-world reality) over a selection that might actually reflect the complexity and difficult times we live in. Even the magazine's description of its choice is an admission of copping out.

    To have pulled Saddam Hussein from his hole in the ground brings the possibility of pulling an entire country out of the dark. In an exhausting year when we've been witness to battles well beyond the battlefields—in the streets, in our homes, with our allies—to share good news felt like breaking a long fast, all the better since it came by surprise. And who delivered this gift, against all odds and risks? The same citizens who share the duty of living with, and dying for, a country's most fateful decisions.

    Scholars can debate whether the Bush Doctrine is the most muscular expression of national interest in a half-century; the generals may ponder whether warmaking or peacekeeping is the more fearsome assignment; civilians will remember a winter wrapped in yellow ribbons and duct tape. But in a year when it felt at times as if we had nothing in common anymore, we were united in this hope: that our men and women at arms might soon come safely home, because their job was done. They are the bright, sharp instrument of a blunt policy, and success or failure in a war unlike any in history ultimately rests with them.

    This is a magazine that's chosen Stalin (twice), Khomeini, Deng Xiaoping (twice), and Nikita Kruchev--though no one particularly thorny recently, of course. Neither Osama bin Laden nor Saddam Hussein have made the cover--despite provoking the US to war. Instead, Time has timidly retreated into a false shell of security. America's fightin' men (and women) can be depended on to save the day. If the next decade looks anything like the decade that started in 1950, wherein we retreated to a syrupy, Disney-like simalcrum, I'm not looking forward to it.

    Listen to how Time envisioned the world in 1950:

    As the year ended, 1950's man seemed to be an American in the bitterly unwelcome role of the fighting-man. It was not a role the American had sought, either as an individual or as a nation. The U.S. fighting-man was not civilization's crusader, but destiny's draftee.

    But in fact, I'm selling the editors in 1950 short--they at least appeared to have some insight. What's really creepy is how much of their description can be used today.

    Most of the men in U.S. uniform around the world had enlisted voluntarily, but few had taken to themselves the old, proud label of "regular," few had thought they would fight, and fewer still had foreseen the incredibly dirty and desperate war that waited for them. They hated it, as soldiers in all lands and times have hated wars, but the American had some special reasons for hating it. He was the most comfort- loving creature who had ever walked the earth—and he much preferred riding to walking. As well as comfort, he loved and expected order; he yearned, like other men, for a predictable world, and the fantastic fog and gamble of war struck him as a terrifying affront....

    No matter how the issue was defined, whether he was said to be fighting for progress or freedom or faith or survival, the American's heritage and character were deeply bound up in the struggle. More specifically, it was inevitable that the American be in the forefront of this battle because it was the U.S. which had unleased gigantic forces of technology and organizational ideas. These had created the great 20th Century revolution. Communism was a reaction, an effort to turn the worldwide forces set free by U.S. progress back into the old channels of slavery.

    The American fighting-man could not win this struggle without millions of allies—and it was the unfinished (almost unstarted) business of his government to find and mobilize those allies through U.N. and by all other means. But the allies would never be found unless the American fighting-man first took his post and did his duty. On June 27, 1950, he was ordered to his post. Since then, the world has watched how he went about doing his duty....

    Like all British observers of the U.S. Army, this observer was both envious and appalled at the bulk and variety of U.S. equipment and its "amenities." One Briton in Korea says that he saw tanks held up for hours by beer and refrigerator trucks. Another, who had been with U.S. troops landing in Southern France, said last week. "In France, I thought someone was just having his little joke when they brought the office wastebaskets ashore from the ship. But damned if they didn't do the same thing in Korea, too."

    ...More surprising—and disgraceful—was the fact that the American fighting-man in Korea, despite his country's vaunted industrial superiority, found that his government had not given him weapons as numerous or as good as he needed and had a right to expect.

    So congratulations, Time, you've offered up analysis with a 53-year-old layer of dust. I have an idea for who should have been the Person of the Year--and it wasn't the poor saps who were used as pawns in a game of international chicken. But more on that later this morning.

    posted by Jeff | 8:50 AM |

    Monday, December 29, 2003  

    The Congressional Budget Office (those radical nonpartisans) has a new report out on the state of the long-term budget outlook. Do I even need to say this?

    It doesn't look good.

    If taxation is restricted to the levels that prevailed in the past, the growth of entitlement spending will have to be substantially reduced. Restricting the growth of outlays for defense, education, transportation, and other discretionary programs would not be enough to ensure fiscal sustainability.

    Likewise, economic growth alone is unlikely to bring the nation's long-term fiscal position into balance.

    From the Executive Summary (.pdf).

    But of course, these things won't become profoundly obvious until after next November. By then, Republicans hope to have safely installed a plutocracy to ensure that it won't matter.

    posted by Jeff | 1:06 PM |

    On an unrelated note, it's time to start believing:

    "I've been around people who have lost a family member or have lost someone close to them and they say that person's there watching or angels, whatever. I would say two weeks ago I didn't really believe in that, but I think we'd better start believing in something."

    Brett Favre, after yesterday's stunning Arizona win

    Go Packers!

    posted by Jeff | 9:30 AM |

    I expected the accusations by Nick Smith of Republican bribery to die, along with accusations of all other Republican corruption. And while they have mostly, an article last week in the Washington Post revived the issue with new allegations, and they were repeated again today in the Arkansas News. From the Post piece:

    About 20 Republican congressmen -- all fiscal conservatives -- gathered nervously in a back room at the Hunan Dynasty restaurant on Capitol Hill on Nov. 21, trying to shore up their resolve to defy President Bush. It was the night of the big vote on the Bush administration's Medicare prescription drug bill, which they had concluded was too costly, and they began swapping tales about the intense lobbying bearing down on them....

    But the most dramatic account was given by Rep. Nick Smith (Mich.), who is to retire next year and hopes his son will succeed him. According to two other congressmen who were present, Smith told the gathering that House Republican leaders had promised substantial financial and political support for his son's campaign if Smith voted yes. Smith added that his son, in a telephone call, had urged him to vote his conscience, and with the support of dissident colleagues, Smith stuck to his no vote.

    Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.), who was present at the dinner, recalled Smith saying it was "people from leadership" who had offered the money. He said Smith did not say who it was, but he assumed it was someone who controlled a "large leadership PAC, who can raise a hundred thousand dollars by hosting a few fundraisers."

    "I think something happened," Gutknecht said. "If it happened, then somebody in the leadership is guilty of at least gross stupidity. . . . Whoever made that comment should resign."

    "It's all going to be just as Nick said," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.). "When you see people making more than a million dollars a year on K Street, there is just too much money in the process."

    Of course, the coverage happened over the holidays, when a minimum of people were reading about it (including me). So I guess I shouldn't expect it to exactly set the world on fire. You'd think some ambitious reporter who wanted to become the next Bernstein would dig around and find out who offered the bribe. That'd find its way on to the cover of the papers.

    posted by Jeff | 9:06 AM |

    Sunday, December 28, 2003  

    All right, this is probably the last of the lame "best of" offerings. Tomorrow I'll try to resume regular blogging. From June 15:


    Symbol (n) [from the Greek sumbolon: mark, token] 1. a thing conventionally regard as typifying, representing, or recalling something. (Oxford)

    Flag day is an odd thing. Other national holidays more obviously celebrate events or people--New Year's, MLK jr. Day--or concepts, as in Labor or Memorial Day. But for Flag Day we ritually celebrate a symbol. The flag, after all, represents the US. But we have a holiday for that--Independence Day. For flag day we honor not the country but one of the country's symbols.

    (Presumably, this means the positive elements of our liberal democracy--our Constitution, freedoms, government and so on. Yet we don't hold that opinion when we see the flags of other nations. China's, for example, reminds us more of the government's repression than its original, pure fidelity to human equality. Likewise, one could argue that the flag represents the whole of America, too--the Bill of Rights as well as slavery; the liberation of Europe and the horrors of Vietnam, and so on.)

    The US has always regarded its own government with something of the awe afforded to religion, and flag day is a psychological tell to this tendency. The flag, as representation of the sacred faith, is itself worthy of veneration. Normally we don't confuse the symbol with the thing it's symbolizing--tearing a picture in half is not like killing the person in the portrait. But that's not the case with the flag. For Americans, the flag is itself more than dyed and sewn cotton fiber. It is somehow imbued with the very sacred nature of the country.

    When the founding fathers cleared the continent of timber and Indians, they built a society based on values, rather than race. This may not have been the first such occasion, but it was certainly a rare thing. America's self-image has always been one of values: founded by "the people"--equal, not part of a medieval caste system--who wanted to create a more perfect union celebrating life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was a country of beliefs, not heritage. Though those beliefs have always been open to interpretation, the nature of being an American means only a belief in these ideas--nothing else is required.

    It's a strange quirk then that the religion of most of the early citizens in this country-of-ideas had an almost identical theology: it doesn't matter who you are or where you came from, just what you believe. The result was an emotional response to the beliefs of the country that mirrored the emotion people felt for their Protestant Christianity. Subsequent democracies, borrowing almost wholesale from the US Constitution, resisted this identification--partly because they hadn't knitted the country together solely from the fabric of thought, partly because they had other, pre-existing self-images about what it meant to be, say, French or Indian.

    So America has always deified itself, inadvertently, innocently, and unconsciously. So many examples exist, but veneration of the flag has always been the most provocative. That veneration leads self-proclaimed patriots burn the flag--either in celebration of the purity of the rights granted in the Constitution, or ritually, once a flag had become stained and tattered. The debate isn't as much about the sacredness of the flag as to the appropriate ritual with which it should be honored.

    But at the end of the day, the flag is nothing more than cloth, a symbol. What it represents--liberty or enslavement, opportunity or oppression--is a moving target. In American history we find all of them. As a symbol, the flag is only a reflection of the civic good we embody in our policies and actions. This weekend, I've heard a lot of discussion about how people plan to celebrate flag day. But thinking about the celebration of the flag (or even its ritual meaning) misses the larger point: it's not the symbol we should be considering, it's the policies of the country that flag represents. After all, a symbol can only reflect the thing for which it stands.

    posted by Jeff | 6:11 PM |

    Saturday, December 27, 2003  

    And while we're on mad cow, I heard the conservative spin this morning on NPR. The National Review's Rich Lowry was on Scott Simon's show in place of Dan Schorr to give analysis. In perfect form, he kept calling the mad cow disaster "devastating news for rural America." That's one way to put it. A particularly warm and fuzzy pro-rural view.

    A better way to put it is: mad cow debacle is devastating news for the Republican Party.

    The obvious reprecussions are: it could hammer the (possibly) recovering US economy and sink Dubya's mild renaissance. But more to the point, the presence of mad cow disease in America's food (see post below) is a direct result of Republican mismanagement, corruption, and greed. Who is responsible for the corporatization of the beef industry that makes tracking a lone cow (as seen in this example of mad cow disease) well nigh impossible? Who has fought at every turn to restrict regulation on beef? Who has obstructed efforts to test beef? Who was reluctant to control the way the beef industry manages its cattle (with regard to feed and health)? And who has underfunded regulation and testing where it did manage to survive?

    In fact, the Republicans have done everything they could to hamper efforts to stop mad cow disease from appearing in America. Democrats better hit them quickly, hard, and repeatedly and demand accountability. Because I tell you what, the great friends of rural America have already identified and begun implementing their strategy.

    posted by Jeff | 11:22 AM |

    Regarding the mad cow that was actually slaughtered and sent into the meat stream (meat stream--that's a delightful image, isn't it?)--officials and the media keep minimizing the danger. First the argument was that surely none of the meat had gone into food (either a lie or ignorance, but anyway issuing from the highest levels of government). No worries. Well, maybe the meat has gone out, but not as food. No worries. Oh, and anyway, even if you were inexplicably to have gotten a morsel, you're probably fine. I wonder--do you think Ann Veneman would have been serving beef (or even lying about it) if she lived in the Northwest? Cause some of us are pretty damn worried:

    Northwest residents probably have eaten meat from a Holstein with mad cow disease, agriculture officials said Friday, as several grocery chains recalled specific kinds of beef that could contain the cow's meat.

    On a personal note, after reading Fast Food Nation, I made a personal promise to refrain from eating beef until the entire beef processing industry was reformed. (By then I'd essentially quit calling myself a vegetarian, due to regular meaty lapses.) I was successful until last week, when I relapsed and had a burger while watching (the delightful) School of Rock at the Mission Theater. Which means: for the next ten years I'll be wondering if my brain is about to rot. I will not be proudly serving beef at Christmas or any other meal.

    And just for the record, we have yet another cabinet member on record lying to the public. Yeah, yeah, good ol' Ann may have been ignorant to her lie and so the NRO types will give her a pass. Fine, go ahead. But let me ask: did anyone actually believe the woman when she trotted out the official announcement? No administration has done more to erode public confidence than this one, and public safety is a perfect example of why it matters.

    posted by Jeff | 11:03 AM |

    Friday, December 26, 2003  

    A two-part "best of. This one was posted after heated debate on June 5, 2003.

    The argument goes like this: "Even though the President said he knew Iraq had WMD and knew where they were, it wasn't a lie (atlhough admittedly, it appears he was wrong). It was a failure of intelligence. His declarative sentences were expressing confidence in the intelligence, a confidence betrayed by our inept intel agencies. It wasn't a lie because he couldn't be expected to second-guess the CIA. His motivation was true and good."

    But this is exactly where the lie, ahem, lies: his motivation was not good and true. His motivation was to go to war. There may well have been a legitimate reason there, but we never heard it. Instead, we heard the administration repeatedly make the case--before the Congress, the UN and the American public--that Iraq had WMD and posed an imminent danger. (And a vast majority of people were convinced.)

    The tricky part is that the President has a unique responsibility to the public. He has the bully pulpit. When he stands before the American people and represents a policy position, citizens need to be able to trust the facts and motivation of that policy, particularly when it involves committing ourselves to war. The lie was not in misrepresenting the intelligence (we may never know who knew what and when), but in telling the American people that he was certain of these facts. He's the most powerful opinion-maker in the country, and he has to exercise that power responsibly.

    Instead, he offered confused rationales for the war based on bad intelligence, and asked the American people to trust him. He stood up and used his best plain-spoken, I'm-the-guy-who's-square-with-you argument. He told us that he couldn't tell us the whole story, but his word was his seal--he would stand behind this decision. Well, the people believed him.

    They have every right to say, "Look, Mr. President, you told us you were being square with us, and you weren't. You lied."

    posted by Jeff | 11:14 AM |

    And this was the post that caused the debate--from June 2nd.

    "Intelligence Failures"

    Actual Reality
    First, the facts: Bush lied. As did Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice. In the months and weeks leading up to the Iraq invasion, all are on record as saying some variant of "we know Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and we know where they are." For weeks now the US has looked--in those locations and elsewhere--and found not a single vial of anthrax. Clearly, they did not know where the weapons were (whether or not they knew if they existed at all).

    For posterity, here are a couple choice excerpts from the President. After Iraq declared it had no weapons of mass destruction (remember that?), the President said:

    The dictator of Iraq has got weapons of mass destruction. . . . We know what it means to disarm; we know what a disarmed regime does. We know how a disarmed regime accounts for weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein is not disarming, like the world has told him he must do.

    Closer to the invasion, Bush's rhetoric heightened.

    Great Britain, Spain, and the United States have introduced a new resolution stating that Iraq has failed to meet the requirements of Resolution 1441. Saddam Hussein is not disarming. This is a fact. It cannot be denied.

    Saddam Hussein has a long history of reckless aggression and terrible crimes. He possesses weapons of terror. . . .

    If the world fails to confront the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, refusing to use force, even as a last resort, free nations would assume immense and unacceptable risks. The attacks of September the 11th, 2001 showed what the enemies of America did with four airplanes. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with weapons of mass destruction.

    We are determined to confront threats wherever they arise. I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons. | link |

    This pointed speech was given after he'd trotted out Colin Powell, who had given the particulars of these weapons:

    Let's look at one. This one is about a weapons munition facility, a facility that holds ammunition at a place called Taji. This is one of about 65 such facilities in Iraq. We know that this one has housed chemical munitions. In fact, this is where the Iraqis recently came up with the additional four chemical weapons shells.

    Here you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers.

    How do I know that? How can I say that? Let me give you a closer look. Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says "security" points to a facility that is a signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker. The truck you also see is a signature item. It's a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong. This is characteristic of those four bunkers. The special security facility and the decontamination vehicle will be in the area, if not at any one of them or one of the other, it is moving around those four and it moves as needed to move as people are working in the different bunkers.

    | link |

    Alternative Reality
    The war is over, but the press is behaving like it's still embedded. Rather than investigate the administration's lies--perhaps because the prospect is too shocking--media are now happily using the Bushian language of "intelligence failures." As in, "Pressure mounts to find causes of intelligence failures." I Googled the phrase and found 193 references. In a week I expect to see ten times that amount.

    Serious journalists are on the scene. But they are the same folks who were questioning all the logic-defying war justifications in the first place. The alternative, bombs-bursting-in-air reality won the day. The FBI and CIA are already national scapegoats--how convenient will it be to place this at their feet?

    The President has again lied to the people. But this lie, unlike that made-for-Fox reality lie of President Clinton, is hard for Americans to confront. It's inconceivable that our President would blatantly make up facts to justify invading another country. And because two thirds of the population supported the invasion, accepting this truth means the country must admit they've been taken as rubes. The president's a liar? My patriotism has been taken advantage of? We put our soldiers in harm's way based on a lie?

    No. It can't be. Must be the damn CIA and their intelligence failure.

    posted by Jeff | 11:13 AM |

    I'm still in very slow motion. I've eschewed news and embraced relaxation and literature (that Dictionary of the Khazars I long-ago mentioned, and the new McSweeney's). I plan to continue to eschew news, too.

    I will confess to having foolishly followed my habit, and breezed by the Times this morning. Before pulling away in fatigue, I saw some interesting analysis from Safire (who remains the most interesting of the righties writing during the time of Bush), which I'll pass along here. Apparently alone among major editorial writers, Safire seems to sense the significance of the Dean campaign on bedrock politics. (He might be nearly alone, along with the bloggers whom he references, in being wrong about the whole thing, too.) One of the most interesting analyses I've read in awhile. You have to read the whole thing, so I won't excerpt here.

    And of course, if you're desperate there's this guy, who also dances to different music.

    Finally, Eric Bosse of Bushwhacked USA sent me an email, alerting me of his existence. The site seems like a good filter (funnel?) for the news, should you be seeking at this early date to dip your own toe back into the information stream. More power to you. I'll post another "best of" by way of tepidly offering content.

    Happy Holidays!

    posted by Jeff | 10:42 AM |

    Wednesday, December 24, 2003  

    You're a cold one, Mr. Grinch

    Here's a fine Happy Holidays from our fearless leader:

    Capping more than 10 years of intense controversy over the fate of some of the nation's last remaining old-growth forest, the Bush administration yesterday finalized the opening of 300,000 acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest for logging and other development.

    "This is the end of a very long process," said Mark Rey, undersecretary for natural resources and the environment at the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the national forest system. "We used the best scientific information available to strike a balance between protecting as much as we could . . . while maintaining a small part of the Tongass for use and management to sustain the 72,000 people who live in southeastern Alaska."

    This functions like a gut-shot to those of us who give a damn about the US's natural resources, and I'm guessing that's what it was intended to be. Bush plays his politics with bare knuckles. Nice to see that our last remaining substantial stand of old-growth will pay the price along with pesky liberals. What the hell--it's a decision that will take only five hundred years to reverse.

    And Merry Chritsmas to you, too!

    posted by Jeff | 9:11 AM |

    More "best of" posting. This one's from April 4th, 2003.

    “Support the troops”—but why?

    I’m feeling controversial today. So how about this: why support the troops? Okay, because you don’t want to be beaten to death on a public street. But besides that?

    I may or may not speak for a group of people who, like me, regard the military with suspicion. On the one hand, the need for a professional military, particularly when you’re a superpower, is well-established. On the other, there’s a whole group of us who don’t necessarily share the values, politics, or worldview of soldiers. In pubs, for example, we scuttle back to the longhairs rather than tarry at the bar talking to the guy in the crew cut who’s advocating invading France. All right, maybe he’s not a marine, but who can say?

    I understand the ambivalence: there are kids in Iraq right now who are scared to death they’re going to die. There are kids who have died and maybe even some who are dying. They’ve got families at home who are worried sick about them. Some of them just joined up to get an education. Others are middle-aged professionals away from their professions and spouses and kids. It’s hard to not feel supportive of people in tough situations like that. We’re human; we’re compassionate.

    But let’s look at the other side of the coin. We have a volunteer military, and everyone who joins is clear-eyed about what it means. It means you not only agree that the use of military force is a necessity, but you’re so convinced of it, you’re willing to die for that point. It’s not an accidental position. It’s a martial view of geopolitics. A perfectly legitimate one—the predominant one, in fact—but does mean that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe.

    But most significantly, to serve in the military means you’re willing to go to war for causes with which you don’t agree. When duty calls, the military is ready. Serving in the military isn’t participation in a consensual process. It couldn’t be, obviously. But again, it’s a choice freely made.

    And then at the end of it all, there is yet a final choice: serving in the US military isn’t like serving in the Iraqi military. If you don’t want to fight, you can choose not to. It’s a difficult choice, because it means shame and prison. But you won’t be shot. Many people have made a similar choice, and served their time. If a soldier believed a war was truly unjust, going to prison would be a noble alternative.

    The hawks flog the doves with this crap about not supporting the troops. By which they mean to emphasize one's deeply treasonous nature. But it is crap. The hawks flog everyone (including each other) with accusations of disloyalty. For me, the truth is the war is unjust, it may well have enormously negative effects, and has certainly resulted in the lost lives of innocents. And the people who are conducting the war are the troops—citizens who have made any number of active decisions that reflect their conviction that this war is a good thing. Support them? No. They’re wrong. (Which obviously does not mean I wish a single one would die.) We're all citizens, we all make our calls, and we don't always agree.

    posted by Jeff | 9:05 AM |

    Tuesday, December 23, 2003  

    I'm not really sure how I missed this, but a week ago, Diane Sawyer and the President had this exchange.

    DIANE SAWYER: But let me try to ask — this could be a long question. ... ... When you take a look back, Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt, Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, not programs, not intent. There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction. Secretary Powell said 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons and now the inspectors say that there's no evidence of these weapons existing right now. The yellow cake in Niger, in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn't have been in your speech. Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs. Again, the intelligence — the inspectors have said they can't confirm this, they can't corroborate.


    SAWYER: — an active —

    BUSH: Yet.

    SAWYER: Is it yet?

    BUSH: But what David Kay did discover was they had a weapons program, and had that, that — let me finish for a second. Now it's more extensive than, than missiles. Had that knowledge been examined by the United Nations or had David Kay's report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in material breach of 1441, which meant it was a causis belli. And look, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person, and there's no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that, and there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.

    SAWYER: Again, I'm just trying to ask, these are supporters, people who believed in the war who have asked the question.

    BUSH: Well, you can keep asking the question and my answer's gonna be the same. Saddam was a danger and the world is better off cause we got rid of him.

    SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still —

    BUSH: So what's the difference?

    There's more, but let's just pause for a moment to consider that last comment. What's the difference. Indeed, one imagines this is not a rhetorical question. And that is what's shocking. (But it's Howard Dean who's a little slow on foreign policy.) The exchange continues:

    SAWYER: Well —

    BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger. That's, that's what I'm trying to explain to you. A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be de — dealt with, and it was done after 12 long years of the world saying the man's a danger. And so we got rid of him and there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.

    SAWYER: But, but, again, some, some of the critics have said this combined with the failure to establish proof of, of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there's just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst.

    BUSH: Yeah. Look — what — what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate. ...

    SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?

    BUSH: What — I, I — I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that this country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.

    SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

    BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat and the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.

    SAWYER: And if he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction [inaudible] —

    BUSH: Diane, you can keep asking the question. I'm telling you — I made the right decision for America —
    SAWYER: But-

    BUSH: — because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait. ... But the fact that he is not there is, means America's a more secure country.

    posted by Jeff | 12:55 PM |

    The administration of moral clarity

    I assume this is all over the blogosphere (and not all over the corporate news).

    As a special envoy for the Reagan administration in 1984, Donald H. Rumsfeld, now the defense secretary, traveled to Iraq to persuade officials there that the United States was eager to improve ties with President Saddam Hussein despite his use of chemical weapons, newly declassified documents show.

    Mr. Rumsfeld, who ran a pharmaceutical company at the time, was tapped by Secretary of State George P. Shultz to reinforce a message that a recent move to condemn Iraq's use of chemical weapons was strictly in principle and that America's priority was to prevent an Iranian victory in the Iran-Iraq war and to improve bilateral ties.

    During that war, the United States secretly provided Iraq with combat planning assistance, even after Mr. Hussein's use of chemical weapons was widely known. The highly classified program involved more than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who shared intelligence on Iranian deployments, bomb-damage assessments and other crucial information with Iraq.

    The disclosures round out a picture of American outreach to the Iraqi government, even as the United States professed to be neutral in the eight-year war, and suggests a private nonchalance toward Mr. Hussein's use of chemicals in warfare. Mr. Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials have cited Iraq's use of poisonous gas as a main reason for ousting Mr. Hussein.

    What we need next is a little excavation--finding quotes wherein the Bushies talked about their own moral clarity in dealing with Iraq, while in the meantime slagging France and others for their dealings with the dictator. Supporting quotes from the rah-rah crowd, praising the moral clarity, would also be nice. Anyone got anything handy?

    Declassified Rummy documents here. now that I am more caffeinated and alert, I'm reminded of why Rummy's not such a nice guy.

    posted by Jeff | 10:02 AM |

    Paul Krugman calls out Bill Buckley and George Will:

    Last August, in a moment of supreme synergy, Mr. Perle, wearing his defense-insider hat, co-wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed praising the Pentagon's controversial Boeing tanker deal. He didn't disclose Boeing's $2.5 million investment in Trireme.

    Sure enough, Hollinger also invested $2.5 million in Trireme, which is advised by Lord Black. In addition, Mr. Perle was paid more than $300,000 a year and received $2 million in bonuses as head of a Hollinger subsidiary. It's good to have friends.

    The real surprise, though, is that two prominent journalists, William Buckley and George Will, were also regular paid advisors to Hollinger.

    This is fascinating because, as many of you will recall, the right has long attacked Krugman for his "connections" to Enron. There wasn't anything in those slanders (but that's rarely germaine to a right-wing hit project), but now the question will be: is there anything to Krugman's charges? Time and again, the right has pointedly assaulted Krugman, assuming he'd respond the same way most other timid lefties responded in the PD era ("pre-Dean")--by "aw shucks"-ing an apology cum justification. Are they reaping more of what they've sown? No doubt Will and Buckley will fire back. I look forward to the sparring.

    (Meanwhile, to give David Brooks his due props, today's article is right on the money. He's irritated that the other Dems aren't trying to demolish Dean--I wonder why?--but his analysis about the dynamic in the Democratic Party seems accurate. He has also (I think unwittingly) uncovered the reason the Dean campaign is very good for the party.)

    posted by Jeff | 8:45 AM |

    All right, my little Sigmunds, pull out your Psych 101 and have a go at this dream. Last night, my sleeping mind manufactured a little drama with Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and me. We were sitting in one of those darkened rooms of the "West Wing's" White House--plush leather chairs and pools of dim radiance. Rummy was on my left, Wolfie on my right. We were apparently all parked there for separate reasons--it wasn't a joint meeting. (Probably we were waiting to see the President. I was likely about to receive the "Defender of the Republic" award for the close watch I've kept on the administration.)

    Two things happened in the dream, but I can only clearly remember the second. In the first, Rummy had some issue with dead American soldiers--the PR problem was getting pretty bad. I offered a suggestion that now eludes me, and both Rummy and Wolfie were pleased. Rummy left.

    Seizing the moment, I then turned to Wolfie and gave him some advice. I told him that it would be a lot cheaper and save a lot more soldiers lives if the US invested directly in local Iraqi businesses ala Bangladesh's Grameen Bank. Again, Wolfie was pleased. He nodded as if struck by pure revelation.

    I remember them as nice fellows, decent enough to spend a few minutes with. It means, apparently, that I'm secretly a Republican and this Kucinich business is overcompensation. So forget everything I've said over the past year. Wolfie and Rummy are nice guys. Damn that liberal press.

    posted by Jeff | 8:26 AM |

    Monday, December 22, 2003  

    Like many bloggers, the time I have for blogging is going to be a little short over the next few days. I thought I'd take the opportunity to flash back on the some of the better posts of the past year. Not only is it timely for the calendar year, but also in terms of this blog's life, which got started on January tenth. I am selecting them partly on quality, but mostly because they're interesting or relevant now. I'll try to get back to regular blogging after Thursday--

    posted by Jeff | 3:30 PM |

    Originally posted March 18, 2003

    American Nationalism

    Nationalism (n) the conviction that the culture and interests of your nation are superior to those of any other nation. (Princeton)

    Last night I watched I Am Cuba, a 1964 Soviet-produced anti-American movie about the Cuban revolution. (And not because—as the suspicious among you might imagine—I was in an anti-American pique after the President’s announcement of unilateral pre-emption. Actually it was because a friend had loaned us that DVD, left the country, and is due to return tomorrow: I couldn’t face the prospect of confessing I hadn’t watched it in the five months he was gone. I was, of course, caught in the throes of an anti-Bush pique as well.)

    The film is a product of the socialist realism school, and it’s claim to fame is the extraordinary camerawork of director Mikhail Kalatozov. Deservedly so. But beyond that it’s a pretty lousy film, because the dogma is so obvious and cartoonish. It shows creepy American businessmen in the Batista era indulging their basest, capitalist-imperialist desires at the expense of hard-working Cubans. One narrative follows a prostitute whom we realize in 1.3 seconds is a metaphor for Cuba—prostituted to imperialists. And so it goes.

    The film’s failure as art is revealed in 2003 much more obviously than it would have been 40 years ago. The hypotheses that saturate the film—that capitalism is the root of all evil, and assorted manifestations—seem silly and quaint at best. Film is most successful when it challenges the viewer to think. I Am Cuba doesn’t, because all the issues are settled in our mind: the result is an oddity from a lost age with bitchin’ camerawork.

    Or maybe not. Watching a movie like I Am Cuba reminds us that so much of what we “know” is actually what we assume. It is instructive because we know that at one time, such a film—and films like it—were effective because people held different assumptions. Through the eyes of history, all nationalist rhetoric looks silly and quaint and often deadly dangerous. Nazi nationalism, particularly, fills me with dread because its so easy to see where it came from. Out of the desperation of WWI, Hitler fashioned a nationalism of pride and rage.

    So it was interesting to watch that film on the day our own President (sort of) declared war. Over the coming days and weeks, Americans will be thrown into deep ambivalence: support for the troops on one hand, resentment and fear that the whole endeavor is a massive debacle on the other. Polls already show that the country is rallying around the President and the troops. Presumably, when the slightest events turn negative, those numbers will drop, reflecting the fear and resentment.

    Standing on the edge of the abyss, I can’t help but think that the President’s arrogance is of the same, garden variety arrogance the world has seen so many times. I am willing to bet the farm that in 40 years, his nationalist rhetoric will look as quaint and silly as the Soviet Union’s does now. Americans are not patriots if they follow his blind arrogance—they’re nationalists. The commitment to the ideals of the Constitution are not embodied by a United States that invades countries pre-emptively and against the wishes of its allies. American nationalism is particularly alluring because we all participate in its manufacture—it doesn’t come from the propaganda ministry. But it’s still the same old nationalism. Real patriots question their leaders: patriotic leaders welcome the questions.

    Oppose Bush's folly.

    posted by Jeff | 3:23 PM |


    By the end of this year's congressional session, Republicans had tightened their already firm grip on the House and moved to marginalize Democrats' influence in both chambers by shutting them out of negotiations on the final version of major bills.

    They excluded Democrats from endgame bargaining over legislation to spur energy production. They allowed only Democrats of their choosing to participate in negotiations over restructuring Medicare -- Democrats who, it turned out, were willing to support the GOP-drafted version. And, after a bipartisan start, they barred Democrats from final decisions on the $328 billion spending bill for nonmilitary activities of government....

    "It's almost anything goes," said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around. . . . It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict."

    "It really is one-party, winner-take-all rule, almost like parliamentary government," with its top-down chain of command and strong party discipline, said James Thurber, a political science professor at American University.

    "Now Republicans have established the principle: We can do it without them," said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute.

    That Bush, he really is a uniter, not a divider.

    posted by Jeff | 9:59 AM |

    Saturday, December 20, 2003  

    After the gallows humor of Friday Satire, here's a nice sentiment from Madison's Capitol Times.

    When a federal appeals court in New York ruled that President Bush lacked the authority to detain indefinitely a United States citizen arrested on U.S. soil simply by declaring him an "enemy combatant," some of the headlines called the decision a setback for the Bush administration's war on terrorism....

    For a president who takes seriously his oath to abide by the Constitution, such a ruling would not be a burden. If it proves to be a burden for Bush, whose familiarity with the Bill of Rights appears to be woefully limited, so be it. But this is not the news that mattered....

    The news that matters is this: With these rulings, the courts have begun to reassert the primacy of the Constitution. They have reminded us that the intention of the founders remains the guiding principle of the land: The United States will be ruled by laws, not men. This simple precept, so cherished throughout our history, has been under serious assault since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and much of the Congress lost sight of the most basic of their duties - to defend the Constitution. A few members of Congress, most notably Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., did their best to remind official Washington that the Bill of Rights still applies.

    And now I'm off shopping ... for a couch (long story).

    posted by Jeff | 10:52 AM |

    Friday, December 19, 2003  


    Members of the Nobel Foundation are saying they've been innundated in the past weeks with petitions from supporters of George W. Bush to award the US President the Nobel Peace Prize. Founders of the "Peace President" movement say they wish to highlight the success of Bush's dual invasions. Forty-nine-year-old Jenna Thomson, a housewife from suburban Houston, organized the effort. "What kind of inconceivable harm might Saddam Hussein have done if not for the gentle humanity of this visionary leader?"

    Thomson, who had never voted before 2000, said she organized the movement to emphasize the President's successful foreign policy in the face of "liberal lies." "People like Michael Moore disgust me. He'd rather see terrorists like Saddam Hussein bomb another building than stand up to them. When the President invaded Iraq, fewer than 100 soldiers died. And how many lives did they save? Now that Hussein has been discovered, we truly do live in an age of peace. It's all thanks to Bush."

    Since the war ended, 321 US soldiers have died. Since the initial invasion, 460 have died.*

    The Nobel Foundation has so far received over 100,000 signatures. Each petition is emblazoned with a dove perched on a Tomahawk missile. While this iconography might seem to work against the President, Thomson said it is at the heart of their argument. "War in and of itself isn't a peaceful act. But it isn't all that violent, either, what with today's surgical weaponry. We felt the use of the Tomahawk emphasized the kind of peace President Bush is bringing to the Mideast."

    Critics of the movement called it "outrageous" and pointed out that between 4,000 and 10,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion.*

    Asked to comment, the President referred questions to his spokesman, Scott McClellan. "But I will say this. One of the things you've seen about our foreign policy is that I'm reluctant to use military power. It's the last choice, it's not our first choice. A free country, a peaceful country in the heart of the Middle East is in the interest of all nations. This is a transforming event. The emergence of a peaceful Iraq will transform the region in a positive way, that will make it more likely that the world is peaceful."**

    The Nobel Foundation said it would seriously consider the nomination.

    * Actual figures.
    **Actual quotes, from Tuesday's press conference

    posted by Jeff | 12:42 PM |

    Kerry's done. He's in such trouble that he's likely to raise less than Kucinich in the fourth quarter:

    Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) announced yesterday that he is putting $850,000 of his own money into his presidential campaign and will put more in as soon as he gets a mortgage on his home on Beacon Hill in Boston....

    Sources said Kerry was close to running out of money to finance his campaign. After getting off to a fast start, raising more than $7 million in the first quarter of 2003, sources said he is likely to raise between $1 million and $2 million in the final three months of the year, just when demands for travel, staff and television advertising are escalating rapidly.

    Between one and two million? That's shockingly low. Sometime after the first of the year, numbers will come out again, and the polling deficit in New Hampshire will narrow compared to the money deficit.

    I suspect Kucinich will raise more than that--he did last quarter, and his campaign is looking more robust than Kerry's. Kucinich has done something Kerry and Lieberman never did manage--he found a grassroots base. Because he polls so badly, he's inevitably thrown in the Sharpton and Braun camp. But those candidates have no base--do they even have a network of supporter websites? Kucinich is out working, setting up broad support.

    Part of the reason he hasn't gotten the press he needs to get the support in the polls (which will give him the press--that old vicious cycle) is because he hasn't raised that much money. Let's see what happens if he comes in as a credible second-tier candidate and finishes ahead of Kerry. Could be an important boost.

    posted by Jeff | 10:05 AM |

    Josh points us to a survey Nader's running at his website wherein one may voice an opinion about his potential candidacy. Early this morning (I was inexplicably awake before five--blogspot was down, naturally) when I filled out the survey, it asked me to submit personal information before it tallied my "for-the-love-of-God,-Ralph,-don't run!" vote. I was about to go on a rant about how he has no intention of listening to voters--he just wants to build up a mailing list. Strangely, now you can just submit your opinion anonymously.

    (Though actually, "no" is as robust an opinion as you're able to give. To add "for the love of God, Ralph, don't run!" you have to fill out the "comments" section. I urge you to do that, and particularly, mention if you voted for him in the past.)

    posted by Jeff | 8:22 AM |

    Thursday, December 18, 2003  


    If you want to help the liberal cause, you need to pull out your pocketbooks. But here's the really good news for Oregon residents: you can deduct the first fifty bucks (or $100 for couples) from your 2003 Oregon tax bill.

    The Oregon Bus Project describes the process:

    Currently, Oregon allows its citizens a tax credit ($100 for couples, $50 for individuals) for donations to political action committees, also known as PACs. But this credit is only available until December 31, 2003. If you don't make your PAC donation by then, you'll lose the opportunity to claim this special credit forever.

    It won't cost you anything - despite what you may have heard about getting something for nothing.

    Here's how it works: You send your $100 or $50 donation before December 31, and next April 13 as you're madly filling out your tax returns, you'll be able to take a credit for that same amount. That means you'll owe the state $100 or $50 less than you would have without making the donation.

    This works with any PAC, of course, not just the Bus Project. They're a pretty good choice, though, so I'll include information about them here. I'm happy to post a list of how to give to other worthy PACs if people send me along their contact info. This is a great opportunity, folks, so I hope you all take advantage of it.

    PO Box 15132
    Portland, OR 97293

    posted by Jeff | 11:41 AM |

    This is huge.

    President Bush does not have power to detain American citizen Jose Padilla, the former gang member seized on U.S. soil, as an enemy combatant, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

    The decision could force the government to try Padilla, held in a so-called "dirty bomb" plot, in civilian courts.

    In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Padilla's detention was not authorized by Congress and that Bush could not designate him as an enemy combatant without the authorization.

    After rulings against the DOJ yesterday, the Bush administration must be starting to feel a little picked-on. No doubt this will fire them up to be that much more intent on placing ideological judges on federal benches.

    (As a reminder, Talk Left has the last word on issues legal. Jeralyn has some nice stuff about the Ashcroft decisions. I expect her to begin posting on Padilla later today.)

    posted by Jeff | 9:52 AM |

    You may wonder why I'm a Dennis Kucinich supporter. It's in the water, apparently:

    The Ohio congressman boasts atrocious poll numbers in New Hampshire and Iowa but has struck a chord in Portland. Kucinich for President 2004 lays claim to the only local office for any presidential candidate (1420 SE 37th Ave.). This fervent following has a database of 600 volunteer names, including a core group of about 65 who have helped raise more than $150,000 with 2,000 individual donations in Oregon.

    posted by Jeff | 9:37 AM |

    Wednesday, December 17, 2003  

    Two weighty economic declarations you might like to consider. First, Max Sawicky distinguishes between "liberal" and "leftist" economic views among bloggers (this in response to Matt Yglesias's meditation on whether the blogoshpere is itself slanted right or left). His description is fairly partisan, but his view holds water.

    In general what should be called left v. liberal in economics comes down to market intervention. Liberals support tax and transfer policies and public spending but (relatively speaking) shy away from market regulation, especially in the realm of trade. Liberals think you should balance the budget over the business cycle, uphold a minimum wage, expand environmental protection, and absolutely leave trade alone. They also think you should let the Federal Reserve do whatever it likes, to preserve its "independence" (sic) from politics. For liberals, labor is just another "interest group" -- something to superintend and care for, given the limits implied by fiscal moderation, free trade, and Fed supremacy....

    The constructive leftist is amenable to deficit finance, as long as debt does not grow too fast. She is more amenable to regulation and a European-style public sector (i.e., 40 percent of GDP, rather than less than 30% as in the US). She would like to incorporate social clauses on human and labor rights and environmental standards into trade agreements. She would like to restructure the Fed towards democratic norms. She looks to labor for industrial action in defense of economic justice, not obedience to Democratic Party orthodoxy....

    The left is criticized for favoring "equality of result" rather than opportunity. The implication is that those so favored are undeserving, unqualified. This assumption is used to prove itself, in rebuttal to actual demographic data on qualifications. A fair selection process for jobs or other opportunities would roughly conform to demographics (including factors going to qualifications, such as education). When results are observed that diverge radically from what we could expect, there is a case for government intervention. Fairness or its lack derives from where the power to control selection is.

    I don't want you to think this is a fair summation of Max's point--it's not. It is one of the best posts I've read there, so do yourself a favor and go read it.

    Next we turn to Crooked Timber, where Dan Davies argues that econ ain't science, it's rhetoric. A hotly-contested point, as you might imagine.

    The point is this; economics is, as Deirdre McCloskey points out regularly, a form of rhetoric. At its heart, it is and has always been about the construction of a certain kind of argument, which is meant to be persuasive over human action. I state this without argument, in the knowledge that many people at work in the field believe that they are involved in a project of genuine scientific enquiry. I feel no argument of mine is ever going to carry the day on this issue, so if anyone wants to make the case for economics as a science, I’ll simply respond thus: "Sir, I gracefully concede that you yourself and your department are engaged in a value-neutral quest for scientific facts about the allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity. I apologise for having suggested otherwise. But would you at least grant me that the description 'A form of rhetoric … the construction of arguments aimed to be persuasive over human action' is a decent description of what all those other bastards are up to?"

    Brad DeLong, criticized in the article, rebuts.

    posted by Jeff | 12:45 PM |

    Call me sentimental, but I can't help but see something symbolic in this Ashcroft news. All of it coming out on the same day that Lord of the Rings comes out. A flood of bad news, like the flood that swamped the Uruk-hai at Isengard...

    Oh come on, like you didn't think of it, too.

    posted by Jeff | 11:59 AM |

    Johnny Ashcroft's Bad Day
    Part 1 - Moral Crusade

    The leader of the US Department of Justice found himself on the wrong side of the law yesterday -- four times. (Good thing he's not subject to the three strikes law, eh?) What the news reveals is further evidence that Ashcroft's an idealogue who uses the power of office to abuse laws he doesn't like and ignore laws inconvenient to his ends. Helluva guy to have running the DOJ.

    Let’s go to the big news first. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled yesterday that California's medical marijuana law is not subject to 1970's Controlled Substances Act. What's interesting is the basis for the ruling--interstate commerce:

    The court on Tuesday ruled that prosecuting medicinal marijuana users under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional in states that allow such use under the advice of a doctor, if the cannabis isn't sold or transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.

    "The intrastate, non-commercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician'' is different from drug trafficking, the court wrote in its majority opinion [the ruling was 2-1]. "Moreover, this limited use is clearly distinct from the broader illicit drug market.''

    This effort was Ashcroft's attempt to subvert state law (upheld by the California Supreme Court) in his continuing crusade to bend the law in order to punish those he finds immoral. He has a similar effort pending to use drug laws to punish doctors in Oregon who participate in the voter-passed and state-supreme-court-upheld Death with Dignity Act.

    posted by Jeff | 9:50 AM |

    Johnny Ashcroft's Bad Day
    Part 2 - Political Corruption

    Also yesterday, Ashcroft was fined for violating campaign finance reform laws in 2000, when, as an incumbent, he was so unpopular that he lost his senate seat to the deceased Mel Carnahan. Apparently even breaking the law wasn’t enough to woo Missourians (?) to his cause.

    The Federal Election Commission has determined that Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's unsuccessful 2000 Senate reelection campaign violated election laws by accepting $110,000 in illegal contributions from a committee Ashcroft had established to explore running for president.

    In documents released yesterday by the FEC, Garrett M. Lott, treasurer for the two Ashcroft committees, the Spirit of America PAC and Ashcroft 2000, agreed to pay a $37,000 fine for at least four violations of federal campaign law. Lott agreed "not to contest" the charges.

    posted by Jeff | 9:49 AM |

    Johnny Ashcroft's Bad Day
    Part 3 - Violating Defendants’ Rights

    It just gets better and better. Not only has the DOJ done a woeful job of capturing and prosecuting terror suspects, but in prosecutorial zeal, Ashcroft violates the rights of the suspects it does apprehend.

    U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was sanctioned by a federal judge on Tuesday for twice violating a court-imposed gag order in the Detroit terror trial….
    "Two serious transgressions committed in this case are simply one too many for the court to abide with no response," U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen wrote in an 83-page opinion. "More than a warning is necessary here."

    Rosen criticized comments Ashcroft made at two press conferences -- the first on Oct. 31, 2001, and the second on April 17 -- in which Ashcroft praised a government witness during the trial of four Arab immigrants in Detroit….

    In a Nov. 26 letter to Rosen that was made public Tuesday, Ashcroft apologized for what he said was an inadvertent violation of the judge's order.

    posted by Jeff | 9:47 AM |

    Johnny Ashcroft's Bad Day
    Part 4 - Violating Immigrants’ Rights

    And as a final bonus, NPR is reporting that the DOJ is being sued for targeting illegal immigrants, a civil (not criminal) violation.

    Immigration advocates file a suit charging that it is unlawful to use police crime databases to target illegal immigrants. The Justice Department began adding the names of immigration violators to the databases about two years ago as part of post-Sept. 11 reforms.

    Audio here.

    All of this is ripe for inclusion in the Dossiers. So it shall be.

    posted by Jeff | 9:05 AM |

    Tuesday, December 16, 2003  

    Department of Dubious Claims

    "[O]ne of the things, David, I think you've seen about our foreign policy is that I'm reluctant to use military power. It's the last choice, it's not our first choice. And in Iraq, there was a lot of diplomacy that took place before there was any military action. There was diplomacy prior to my arrival, diplomacy during my time here, and we tried all means and methodologies to achieve the objective, which was a more secure America, by using diplomatic means and persuasion."

    --George W. Bush, 15 Dec 2003

    posted by Jeff | 12:15 PM |

    Lieberman, digging his own spider hole: If Howard Dean "truly believes that the capture of this evil man has not made America safer, then Howard Dean has put himself in his own spider hole of denial."

    Kerry: "[S]till more proof that all the advisors in the world can't give Howard Dean the military and foreign-policy experience, leadership skills or diplomatic temperament necessary to lead this country through dangerous times." (Same source)

    What do you bet Bush smiled when he heard these comments? What do you bet they end up in an ad in about June, when Dean is the remaining candidate?

    posted by Jeff | 11:05 AM |

    The demure Mr. Brooks is finding it harder and harder to stay pleasant on the subject of Howard Dean. Brooks, the conservative the moderate press loves (NewsHour, NPR, NY Times), has become increasingly shrill on the subject.

    Howard Dean is the only guy who goes to the Beverly Hills area for a gravitas implant. He went to the St. Regis Hotel, a mile from Rodeo Drive, to deliver a major foreign policy speech, and suddenly Dr. Angry turned into the Rev. Dull and Worthy....

    Dean tried yesterday to show how sober and serious he could be. In fact, he has never appeared so much the dreamer, so clueless about the intellectual and cultural divides that really do confront us and with which real presidents have to grapple.

    So much for the pretense of objectivity.

    posted by Jeff | 8:36 AM |

    Why People Drink Coffee in the Pacific Northwest (Weather Report)

    Ah December, when the layer of clouds and weak sun conspire to make the days permanently twilight. This morning it was mostly dark at 7:30, by eight not what you'd call daylight--dark enough for the streetlights to still be on. The pavement remains wet, though it hasn't really rained in a day or two, demonstrating how little currency the sun has on the Portland earth.

    This is why we drink coffee--to try to pull out of the twilight. The sun will skitter low along the south sky and start dropping by four. Maybe a little bit of liquid sunshine, that's what the mind thinks. Ah, but lady coffee, she's a jealous mistress. Come May, when the sun is fighting gamely against the clouds, your body chemistry will already long have given itself over to the double short (Stumptown please--none of that Seattle crap). And that's why Northwesterners drink their coffee. Days like today.

    posted by Jeff | 8:08 AM |

    Monday, December 15, 2003  

    According to the pundit chatter, the discovery of a cowering Saddam Hussein is really bad news for Dean (they don't mention Kucinich, but by extension of the logic, it must be bad for him, too). I'm not sure they checked their math.

    With the election 11 months away, Hussein's capture will only be texture in the larger storyline, unless things are going swimmingly well. In that scenario, Bush can date the successful phase of reconstruction to his capture, and start planning for his next term in office. If things don't improve or worsen, how will the pathetic image of Hussein help Bush? Dean's hand (or Kucinich's) will be stronger in that case, not weaker. He can point out that Hussein never was a threat, and the pre-emptive war made things far worse in Iraq.

    To make the argument that this hurts Bush is to be pretty confident that things are going to improve from here on out. Wanna bet?

    [Update: The New Republic agrees. They argue it weakens Clark, but Clark--shockingly--disagrees. Salon has a longer piece describing how he breaks it down.]

    posted by Jeff | 12:23 PM |

    America's Saladin

    The scraggly man pulled from a hole yesterday was Saddam Hussein. His end was roughly as auspicious as his rule, his docile surrender symbolic of his threat to the United States. In the wake of 9/11, his towering reputation was enough to scare Americans into supporting a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Even before the situation in Afghanistan was resolved, and long before we had begun to put into place a reasonable offensive against international terrorism, the administration started calling him America's greatest threat.

    Every shred of evidence since the invasion has shown Saddam to be the pathetic figure who crawled from his hole two days ago. Before the invasion, the international community argued that he was that pathetic figure. A despot, yes, but a threat--far, far from it. The United States didn't listen. Instead, they aggrandized Saddam's reputation far better than he could. They called him a nuclear threat. How else could he have gotten that reputation? Americans announced that they were terrified of Saddam. How else could he have accomplished that?

    Saddam's threat existed because we believed in it. In the news conference the President is holding now, he continues to maintain that after 9/11, Saddam represented a "gathering threat." Even the language has the purple tint of mythology.

    Saddam always wanted to be thought of as the man who reunited Arabia, the leader who sparked the rise against the west. But beyond these delusions, he was a petty thug. Every accomplishment he can point to, the US was involved. He fought a long and pointless war against Iran using US arms and training. He stayed in power because of powerful friends in Washington. He invaded Kuwait and attracted international attention (but could only muster 100 hours of war). And then, after 12 years of being the big man of Arabia even while his country whithered under sanctions, he pulled off the remarkable trick of bringing his mythology to life. He had become a nuclear power, America's greatest threat. What a remarkable barometer of success.

    Saddam was a weak thug, but we created a mighty antihero. The guy who crawled out of the hole was the real Saddam. Now we're left with the mess our collective delusions have wrought.

    posted by Jeff | 8:49 AM |

    Sunday, December 14, 2003  

    Twelve and a half hours since I woke to the new of Saddam's capture, and I'm already weary of the story. I've listened to far too many "experts" tell me what this means already, and I did my best to avoid the news. Look, I'll break it down for you. One of four things will happen:

    1.) Things get better.

    2.) Things don't change.

    3.) Things get different.

    4.) Things get worse.

    Them's the possibilities. If I were interested, I could spend an hour scanning the editorial pages tomorrow for proponents of each. You know what? It's worse than opinion--it's pure politics. If anyone had ever known what was going to happen in Iraq, people would have been accurately predicting it all along. Hell, I did as well in predicting what would happen in Iraq as anyone I know--and I'm a random blogger from Oregon. The reason no one knows what will happen is this: our intel sucks, it has always sucked, and anyone who claims to be able to predict what will happen in this mess is full of it.

    posted by Jeff | 7:45 PM |

    Friday, December 12, 2003  

    A few numbers on the Bush Economy

    Federal Reserve's index of industrial production, October 2003: 112.7
    June 2000: 118.4

    Percent of manufacturing plants in active use, October 2003: 73.5
    2000: 80%

    Number of manufacturing jobs, October 2003: 14.5 million
    November 2000: 17.1 million

    Portion of the US economy accounted for by manufacturing: 1/7th

    Source: John Cassidy, December 15th New Yorker.

    posted by Jeff | 8:29 PM |

    Ralph Nader is dead. Not literally--politically. But man, he's really been the talk of the blogosphere over the past couple weeks. The Nader meme is like a virus--it flares up for awhile, appears to die, then flares up again. (I tell you what, if the man had gotten this kind of attention four years ago, he might have run a credible campaign.) Balloon Juice was on it today.

    (CNN) Nader has formed an exploratory committee for a 2004 run and said he would gauge his support through the success of fund-raising efforts and the number of volunteers who come forward.

    Let him run: he's dead. The Greens don't want anything to do with him and neither do the Democrats. Liberal voters feel alternately betrayed, disenfranchized, or embarrassed by him. Who's going to back him? In electoral politics, you get one good shot at it. After a half-assed run in '96, Nader got his serious shot in 2000. That's the last you'll ever see of him, "exploratory committee" or no.

    RIP, Ralph.

    posted by Jeff | 12:28 PM |

    And on that contracting issue, has anyone asked this question: what about the taxpayers? I mean, the alleged free-traders in the administration have been busily outsourcing every aspect of war (except soldiering) on the argument that competition will drive costs down.

    Oh right--that wouldn't exactly profit the administration directly, would it? Just the taxpayers and the country.

    posted by Jeff | 9:55 AM |

    Krugman's starting to sound as batty as I feel. The various K-haters are going to have a field day today. Talking about the Iraq contracting issue (Bush is refusing to allow the war refuseniks a chance to bid on reconstruction contracts) and James Baker's negotiations with the now-estranged allies, he writes:

    Maybe I'm giving Paul Wolfowitz too much credit, but I don't think this was mere incompetence. I think the administration's hard-liners are deliberately sabotaging reconciliation....

    In short, this week's diplomatic debacle probably reflects an internal power struggle, with hawks using the contracts issue as a way to prevent Republican grown-ups from regaining control of U.S. foreign policy. And initial indications are that the ploy is working -- that the hawks have, once again, managed to tap into Mr. Bush's fondness for moralistic, good-versus-evil formulations. "It's very simple," Mr. Bush said yesterday. "Our people risk their lives. . . . Friendly coalition folks risk their lives. . . . The contracting is going to reflect that."

    Care to hazard a guess about whether the K-haters will see it in these terms? I'm going to guess they won't. Shockingly.

    posted by Jeff | 9:50 AM |

    Thursday, December 11, 2003  

    SelectSmart has one of those quizzes which is supposed to tell you who your ideal candidate is. Take it and I'll bet you find what I did--that the questions aren't particularly good ones. (It identified Dean as the best choice for me [91%], with Kucinich second at 84%.) Someone ought to build a better quiz.

    You can tell from who won this straw poll that the liberal Democrats have self-selected themselves in far greater numbers:

    29% Dean, 29% Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat
    29% Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat
    17% Bush, President George W. - Republican
    7% Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat

    posted by Jeff | 2:33 PM |

    Apparently everyone is Googlebombing George again. Seems the story this time is that he's not only a miserable failure but unelectable as well.

    (Clarification on Googlebombing here.)

    posted by Jeff | 2:20 PM |

    We just had the annual office White Elephant gift exchange. I scored the sensational Ricky Martin CD (featuring the hit single "Livin' La Vida Loca"--English and Spanish versions), so things are pretty fine here.

    posted by Jeff | 2:09 PM |

    This isn't good.

    The day after Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich took ABC debate moderator Ted Koppel to task for avoiding questions that would be useful to voters in favor of questions about endorsements, money, and polls, ABC pulled its fulltime "embedded" reporter from the Kucinich campaign, a reporter who had been given no warning that such a move was coming and who had discussed at length yesterday with the Kucinich campaign staff her plans and her needs for the coming months.

    posted by Jeff | 11:05 AM |

    Wampum is taking nominations for the Second Annual Koufax Awards, a best blogs thingy. In the event that you should feel sufficiently delighted by, say, my Friday Satire pieces, you could--could--go nominate this blog for the "Most Humorous Post" award (Friday Satire being archived under "file" in the right-hand column of the blog). They also feature Best Post, Best Writing, and Best Blog. Not, of course, that I would presume to compete for any of those categories. It's just, you know, nice to be nominated.

    Was that blatant enough?

    posted by Jeff | 10:46 AM |

    Long before the Supremes ruled on McCain-Feingold, pols and PACs were preparing organizationally and rhetorically. A strategy PACs are pursuing is changing status. The NRA is considering becoming a "media outlet." (Hate the PAC, admire their moxy.)

    Rhetorically, the GOP appears to have figured out its play, too. In his dissent, Scalia argued that McCain-Feingold wouldn't keep money out of politics, but just solidify the power of incumbents. Last night on NPR, I heard the same thing from Bob Ney (R-OH), who bitterly denounced the law, echoing Scalia. The same thing is on his website, where he offers this analysis:

    The only winners are those few billionaires wealthy enough to fund ballot initiatives, influence elections and buy attack ads against groups such as the NRA and labor unions who are left unable to defend themselves. This law also protects incumbents and wealthy, self-funded candidates because it puts a premium on raising or having money and harms the ability of grassroots organizations to participate in our democracy. Only incumbents are able to hire the lawyers and accountants they need to advise them on how to get around this complicated and draconian law. Regular people will be intimidated and choose not to participate in politics for fear of running afoul of its provisions.

    If something about that strikes you as a little off (perhaps you recall headlines of gerrymanders in Pennsylvania, mid-decade redistricting in Colorado and Texas), you're starting to see the GOP's strategy emerge. Having gerrymandered every district down to specific homes (there's also a good article in last week's New Yorker on that), Republicans (generally, although Dems are at fault, too) have narrowed the competitive races in the US to about 30 (for congressional seats).

    That's a PR problem for the GOP. So along comes McCain-Feingold, which sort of sucks because it means the GOP is going to have to figure out new ways to get its political payoffs. Ah, but wait!--why not blame the incumbency problem on McCain-Feingold, demonizing a law that sucks for the corrupt, and hiding a an unrelated, but also corrupted process that looks pretty bad.

    In the next few days and weeks, the GOP are going to strenuously argue that McCain-Feingold is bad because it restricts "free speech." You have to ask yourself how much sense that makes coming from the party of John "Material Witness" Ashcroft, Dick "Undisclosed Location" Cheney, and George "No Need for an Investigation into Why I Lied My Ass Off to Conduct a Misguided Invasion" Bush. Let's just say that they have not, heretofore, been such enormous free speech advocates. You also might consider why it is that the party in control of both houses of Congress, the presidency, and the majority of statehouses, is so interested in making sure incumbents don't have too much power.

    All of that may incline you to think that campaign finance laws ain't so bad. You'd be right.

    posted by Jeff | 8:57 AM |

    Wednesday, December 10, 2003  

    Kucinich on the Gore endorsement:

    Kucinich reacted to Monday’s endorsement of Dean by Al Gore by insisting the Democratic nomination will be won by issues, not endorsements. "I think that the issues more than the endorsements are going to be what defines this election," Kucinich told me outside a Washington, D.C., fund-raiser Monday night. "And the issue that will define this election in the primaries as well as the general election is the issue relating to the occupation of Iraq. We must end the occupation of Iraq and we must bring our troops home and we can’t do it soon enough." He also added congratulations to Dean for getting the nod. Dean, like Kucinich, has been tagged for being too far to the left to seriously contend for the White House. The endorsement of Dean by such a prominent party figure could be an indication that "Republican lite" may no longer be so en vogue among Democrats, giving left-leaning Dems like Kucinich some hope. Perhaps that explains the congressman’s gracious remarks.

    Others were more predictable--they expressed surprise but dismissed it. Kerry, however, got catty: "“I respect Al Gore. I worked with him in the Senate, and I endorsed him early in his hard fought campaign for the presidency four years ago. But this election is about the future, not about the past."

    Sharpton remained amusing: "I don’t want to shock you, but I was not depending on Al Gore’s endorsement to do what I’m going to do in 2004."

    posted by Jeff | 11:29 AM |

    Random thoughts about McCain-Feingold through the years.

    Mitch McConnel
    By passing McCain/Feingold, I believe the United State Senate failed to uphold its oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The McCain/Feingold bill is full of constitutional infirmities ranging from restrictions on political parties to restrictions on outside interest groups. The Supreme Court has never upheld government regulation of the issue speech of parties, outside groups, corporations or unions. In fact, there are nearly two dozen federal cases in the past 25 years in which the federal courts have routinely and repeatedly struck down efforts to restrict issue speech.

    Orrin Hatch
    [The] bill is unconstitutional. [It] leaves all the first amendment rights for the public interest groups to speak and do whatever they want to and raise any kind of moneys they want to and takes away the first amendment rights from the two political parties. Have you ever wondered why all the Democrats love McCain-Feingold and hardly any Republicans do?

    Tom DeLay
    "I don't think there is enough money in the campaign finance system in America today."

    Denny Hastert
    "I have a hard time seeing the balance in the Senate bill because it unilaterally disarms one side. And I think there are some inherent flaws, some constitutional flaws in the Senate bill."

    "It has no chance of being upheld," said James Bopp, general counsel of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, who has successfully challenged similar state issue-ad laws in lower courts.

    posted by Jeff | 9:58 AM |

    McCain-Feingold Upheld

    A sharply divided Supreme Court upheld key features of the nation's new law intended to lessen the influence of money in politics, ruling Wednesday that the government may ban unlimited donations to political parties....

    Congress may regulate campaign money to prevent the real or perceived corruption of political candidates, a 5-4 majority of the court ruled. That goal and most of the rules Congress drafted to meet it outweigh limitations on the free speech of candidates and others in politics, the majority said.

    You will not be shocked to learn that it was the the partisan four (Scalia, Rehnquist, Thomas, and Kennedy--who, along with O'Connor, voted for Bush in Gore v. Bush) opposed it. The ruling is 300-pages long, so details will trickle out as people begin to understand the implications. In short, though, it's a massive victory for those who want to regulate money in elections, and in demonstrating that the earlier "money is speech" ruling is not inviolable. It may be hurting Dems in the short run, but it will benefit voters over time. Among the provisions upheld: soft money bans are okay and bans on hit pieces before an election are okay (this was expected to be ruled unconsitutional). That last one in particular should be important in slowing the erosion of trust in our elected officials.

    Break out the champagne.

    posted by Jeff | 8:30 AM |
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