matt's angry little thoughts
Sunday, March 30, 2003
 
AS WE WATCH THE BREAKDOWN of Rumsfeld's "effect-based" military strategy, we wonder how that could happen, because it worked so well in war games. Now we learn why: the games were rigged. Garbage in, garbage out. (And it's The Army Times breaking the story?)
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QUICK FOLLOWUP. In case it wasn't clear, my problem with Hampton Sides is that his behavior--in taking and then backing out of an embedding assignment, and turning his own decision into the topic of reportage--contributes to the dilution of the stream of information that informed citizens need. As I said, I don't begrudge his decision, because I would not voluntarily go anywhere near Iraq. Hell, the thought of driving 45 miles to Salem gives me the heebie-jeebies. But Hampton Sides' feelings and fears, though he's a sensitive guy, are not worth elucidating. His articles might serve in a small way as a prism for the horrors that US troops are being exposed to, but are primarily journalistic narcissism.
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Thursday, March 27, 2003
 
LET ME HEAP MULTIMEDIA SCORN. There's a dude--let's call him Hampton Sides--who is a journalist. His shtick these days--journalists can't just report any longer, now they need a shtick--is that he was going to be "embedded" with a group of Marines in Iraq. Wait, saith the blog reader, that's the shtick of lots of people. But the little nuance that separates Hampton Sides from the rest, o reader, is that Hampton Sides chickened out. He got to the point where they were hearing about precautions they would take in the event of a chemical weapons attack, and decided that "I couldn't do this." He just didn't get on the bus that would have taken him to his assigned Marines.

No problem. I would not want to be in Iraq, I think the war is wrong for a whole host of reasons, I've averse to the thought of being killed or maimed, sure. I buy the decision, and wouldn't criticize him for it. But this dude, this "Hampton Sides," has turned his rationale cowardice into a hook upon which to hang his journalistic hat. He had a piece in the March 20 New Yorker, narrating (what else) his decision to chicken out. He was even on fucking FRESH AIR, being interviewed for a goddamn HOUR talking about (what else) his decision to chicken out! I don't like Terri Gross, but even I pitied her, trying to fill an hour of interview time with some dude--let's call him Hampton Sides, just for kicks--talking about his chickenshit behavior. She even got on a tangent about what he's doing instead of being embedded with Marines in harm's way--he's safely esconced in the Marriott in downtown Kuwait City, describing how the teeming Pakistani "guest workers" are so diligent in their pampering of the foreign journalists who are themselves teeming in the Marriott, waiting for their next spoonfeeding of "news" from Supreme Allied Command, that an aforementioned teeming journalist cannot so much as put a spent banana peel on a plate before it is [whoosh!] whisked away.

Did I mention that I would have made the same choice? Or alternatively, that I never would have volunteered to be "embedded" in the first place? The issue here is that we have human beings in the armed forces who never had the option of choosing not to get on the bus to their "embed" location. These folks--folks with small lives, small-town lives, folks who would never write for the New Yorker or be intereviewed by the liks of Terri Gross--who joined the Army Reserves because it promised money for college for two weeks a year and one weekend a month, and find themselves today in a sandy muddy abyss, with bullets whizzing around and oily smoke clouding their vision, hearing nightmares about a bunch of mechanics who took a wrong turn going through a town and found themselves roughed up on Iraqi TV, paralyzed with terror because they just watched Baathist paramilitaries pop caps in the heads of their platoonmates.

So, that dude? Hampton Sides, let's call him? Fuck Hampton Sides.
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43 USED TO COMPARE HIMSELF TO TEDDY ROOSEVELT. TR said this:

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of
public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree
which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or
inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the
Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should
be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it
is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when
he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and
servile. 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. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else.
But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant,
about him than about any one else."

Kansas City Star, May 7, 1918


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EXCELLENT LONG ARTICLE HERE by Josh Marshall on the administration's overarching (and overreaching) war plans. The basic thesis is that the current action in Iraq is the opening move of a design to bring the US into a "world war between the United States and a political wing of Islamic fundamentalism." While it is sold to the public as an anti-cult-of-personality action against Saddam Hussein and his presumed and purported stocks of chemical and biological weapons, it is specifically calculated to draw us into wider conflict in the Arab world, the thinking being that such conflict is inevitable, so we should dictate the time and terms of the engagement. Quote:

"In short, the administration is trying to roll the table--to use U.S. military force, or the threat of it, to reform or topple virtually every regime in the region, from foes like Syria to friends like Egypt, on the theory that it is the undemocratic nature of these regimes that ultimately breeds terrorism. So events that may seem negative--Hezbollah for the first time targeting American civilians; U.S. soldiers preparing for war with Syria--while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks' broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments--or, failing that, U.S. troops--rule the entire Middle East."

Marshall's critique of the neocon plan for the Chapter 11 forced reorganization of the Middle East is valuable, but not as valuable as the exposure of the plan itself. Scary stuff.
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CHECK THIS OUT. [Warning -- law geekiness ahead -- warning]

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin "Nino" Scalia is known for making sure that his preferred arguments are elicited in hearings. This is a textbook example, from his questioning yesterday of the lawyer arguing in favor of the Texas law against homosexual sodomy, in Lawrence v. Texas. (excerpt via the Times, nice exegesis by Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.)

JUSTICE SCALIA Why do you think that the public perception of homosexual acts has not changed? Do you think it hasn't?

MR. ROSENTHAL The public perception of it?

JUSTICE SCALIA Yes, yes. Do you think there's public approval of it?

MR. ROSENTHAL Of homosexuals, but not of homosexuality activity.

JUSTICE SCALIA What do you base that on?

MR. ROSENTHAL I beg your pardon?

JUSTICE SCALIA What do you base that on?

MR. ROSENTHAL Well, even ——

JUSTICE SCALIA I mean I think there ought to be some evidence which you can bring forward.

MR. ROSENTHAL Sure.

JUSTICE SCALIA Like perhaps the failure of the federal Congress to add the sexual preference to the list of protected statuses against which private individuals are not permitted to discriminate, that addition has been sought several times and it's been rejected by the federal Congress, hasn't it?
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Wednesday, March 26, 2003
 
ANOTHER TRAGIC DAY.

Rest in peace.


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MORE BAD NEWS. Ashcroft plans to appeal a district court order that Jose Padilla is entitled to see a lawyer. Priest Holmes had hip surgery. Dennis Hastert demanded the administration immediately file a WTO challenge to the EU's moratorium on GMO foods. And a bunch of Candians are attempting a coup over at the governing body for international figure skating.
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IT'S A COMIX DAY. This Modern World, In Contempt, Get Your War On, Doonesbury. And a whole list.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2003
 
PAUL KRUGMAN'S PIECE IN THE TIMES today, titled Channels of Influence, is scary--apparently many of the pro-war rallies around the country (as well as smaller gestures such as the banning of Dixie Chicks songs) have been organized by Clear Channel, the corporate radio behemoth. And 43 and Clear Channel's CEO go way back...
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Monday, March 24, 2003
 
JOSIAH POST 1. Okay, I've been remiss in posting, mostly because I've been using my blogging energies on a debate with younger bro Josiah. Naturally, the only topic is war, war, war (what is it good for? absolutely nothin'). If you read all the way through this, you'll think the same thing I did--"don't those Whitman boys ever work?"

I post this email exchange without his identifying information, though of course if you try hard enough you can hunt him down:

MESSAGE 1
From: "Josiah"
To: Matt
Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2003 3:16 PM

> Matt - If the Western powers had shown the backbone of George W Bush in the
> 1930s when Italy, Germany and Japan had hostile intent towards their
> neighbors in the face of a divided League of Nations, World War II and all
> its horrors could potentially have been avoided. If/when the US wins this
> war with a minimal number of civilian casualties on both sides and sets up a
> stable democracy we'd be singing a different tune about the wisdom of his
> actions. Unfortunately, because we would never know the specific plans of
> Saddam's malicious intent, detractors of the president will never have to
> admit he was right.
>
> Josiah

MESSAGE 2
From: Matt
To: Josiah
Sent: Thursday, March 20, 2003 8:01 PM
so……you're trying to provoke me how? and why?

This, about Iraq: Iraq invaded Kuwait after US Ambassador April Glaspie
told Hussein that the US would not intervene in their longstanding
border/oilfield dispute, because it was "an Arab dispute." The US supported
Iraq militarily an monetarily when it was convenient to do so, ie, when Iraq
was fighting Iran. Any attempt at paralleling Saddam with Hitler is
laughable. He has been checked and contained for 12 years. There has been
no Chamberlain for Saddam.

We are in a much much worse and more serious predicament in North Korea; I
would be much more supportive of similar action on the Korean peninsula.

MESSAGE 3
From: Josiah
To: Matt
Sent: Friday, March 21, 2003 6:43 AM

I'm not trying to provoke you at all. You're just the highest on the
evolutionary food chain to chat with me about it.

The world is a complicated shade of grey and political and monied interests
require a nuanced approach to policy. Absolute brutality is not an option -
but unfortunately neither is pacifism. Pre-911, the world may have been
simpler. Perhaps we should've had "rogue statism" and "wmd" in mind sooner
but we didn't and so we must deal with that North Korean military guy that
wants to get his hands on that weapon that annihilates the world.

Finally, both Hitler and Saddam are totalitarian despots with designs for
domination outside of their own borders. Both killed their own people and
used weapons of mass destruction - those are pretty important similarities
for the comparison to be "laughable".

MESSAGE 4:
To: Josiah
From: Matt
Sent: Sunday, March 23, 2003 1:20 PM
First, read this:
commondreams.org/views03/0316-08.htm


Then, in order:

> both Hitler and Saddam are totalitarian despots with designs for
> domination outside of their own borders

Saddam has been effectively neutered and contained since Gulf War I.

> Both killed their own people

I assume you are talking about the Kurds, who have suffered
profound casualties under Saddam. However, his proven atrocities against
the Kurds are no more horrific than those of many other regimes, not only in
the middle east but throughout Asia and Africa. Many non-Western states,
including Iraq, essentially impose nation-state boundaries over areas
traditionally defined by tribal or ethnic boundaries. "Saddam killed his
own people" is nice rhetoric, but the Kurds, and the Shi'ites in southern
Iraq, are simply not "Saddam's own people." They do not self-identify first
as Iraqis. This does not excuse his massacres, but much of the
administration's propaganda is built around the idea that Saddam is a
unique, powerful threat whose inhumanity puts him in a class by himself.
But it's not true: if extreme violence against people within Saddam's
nation's boundaries--people who are hostile to his regime--is the credential
that makes us act now, then we also have a moral and political obligation to
act in Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Angola, Somalia, Ethiopia, and many other
godforsaken "nations."
The point is that even if you assume Saddam is a bad guy--and he is--and
you accept that he should go away--and most people do--the question then is
what costs are you willing to bear in order to make that happen. The
administration had war designs in Iraq pre-9/11, so it had already decided
that getting rid of him was worth a war, both in its economic and human
cost. The way the administration handled its goal of going to war in Iraq
has multiplied those costs. It remains to be seen just how weakened the UN
will be. NATO may well be crippled. In the space of a year, the US has
gone from an a position of enjoying nearly worldwide sympathy and unified
global support for its anti-terrorism campaign to a position of being seen
as the single "most dangerous nation" in the world.
We are the most dangerous nation, of course--we have the highest
military spending and strongest military, and our economic power is
unparalleled. If we are the most powerful, we are automatically the most
dangerous. But if this war results in the rest of the world, and
particularly the EU, redefining itself as an economic and political check on
the US, I defy anyone to say, regardless of the speed or low death toll of
"Operation Iraqi Freedom," that it was worth the cost.

> [both] used weapons of mass destruction

First, you have been coopted by the administration's skillful redefinition
of the term "weapons of mass destruction." There is only one kind of
"weapon of mass destruction": nuclear weapons. Iraq has none.
Significantly, North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Israel do. There remains
only one nation in history that has used WMD, the US. A lot of people,
including me, see the proliferation of nukes as much more scary--and
therefore worthy of action and attention--than anything Saddam has done.
Chemical and biological agents are odious ways to kill people, but their
odiousness comes from the fact that they kill indiscriminately--a cloud of
gas can find itself as easily into a hospital or a school as a bunker, and
people are at the mercy of the winds. They are not intrinsically more
lethal than, say, a Ryder truck filled with ammonium nitrate fertilizer and
diesel fuel. Chemical and biological weapons are scary, because it doesn't
take much VX gas dropped into a Japanese subway (has happened), or ricin
dispersed into a French subway (maybe almost happened this past week) to
kill a bunch of people who want nothing more than to get to work in time to
get a donut before they're gone.
In any event, Saddam used mustard gas on Iranians in a war in which we
supported him. Then he used it on Kurds, see above. In both cases, they
were wartime uses, which we theoretically condemn, but both sides used gas
extensively in both world wars. We had contemporaneous knowledge of both
Saddam's uses of gas, but did not intervene then. You live 200 miles from
the single largest depository of the US's own chemical weapon agents, a
"wmd" stockpile far greater than anything Saddam is accused of having.

mww

MESSAGE 5:
To: Matt
From: Josiah
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2003 7:47 AM
a few comments. I read the article, didn't particularly get much out of it
because it had an obvious slant / or an agenda. Like the opposite of
watching O'Reilly which I don't like to do either.

NATO and UN are no longer the same dynamic that they were when, driven by
neccessity, they were created. The UN more so sure, but NATO - come on, why
is NATO such a great thing when we are the only important power driven home
by France's recent defiance of its principals. So when someone says the
downfall of NATO, the downfall of the UN - I say Bah! Incidentally, the EU
is now more important that NATO. I acknowledge that commercial interests
drive our politics to a great degree.

I disagree with your statement that "because we are the most powerful, we
are the most dangerous." Not true. Maybe we're defining dangerous
differently so I'll define it: Most likely to inflict mass casualties on
civilians through WMD.

I give the use of "on his own people" no credence. I think the
weaponization of chemical and biological agents is horrific regardless of
who it used against - friend or foe. Russia's use of it recently was
appalling.

Those other nations that you cite, most African, are different because they
are so impoverished and resource-free that they will never (without giant
stockpiles of oil) be able to mount a threat to our soil.

Your claim that N Korea is a larger threat I agree with but the fact is we
can't do anything because they just might launch a weapon to hit La Jolla.
We must prevent Saddam from ever becoming a N Korea. Just as we must
prevent Israel, Pakistan etc from the same.

I'm not an apologist for the administration except for one thing - their
black and white opinion of the use of WMD is best for the world.

Josiah

MESSAGE 6:
To: Josiah
From: Matt
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2003 9:53 PM
comments interspersed below


----- Original Message -----
From: "Josiah"
To: "Matt Whitman"
Sent: Monday, March 24, 2003 7:47 AM
Subject: RE:


> a few comments. I read the article, didn't particularly get much out of it
> because it had an obvious slant / or an agenda.

Of course it had an agenda. Ari Fleischer doesn't have an agenda? Paul
Wolfowitz doesn't have an agenda? While the bombs are falling, the only
people who claim not to have an agenda are liars. I have an agenda, you
have an agenda.


> NATO and UN are no longer the same dynamic that they were when, driven by
> neccessity, they were created. The UN more so sure, but NATO - come on, why
> is NATO such a great thing when we are the only important power driven home
> by France's recent defiance of its principals.

Plenty of room to argue that it is the US acting in defiance of NATO's
principles. See what NATO was able to accomplish in Bosnia and Kosovo in
the 1990s. Effective suppression of civil wars which were causing far more
harm than Saddam's regime, with no US loss of face internationally.

> So when someone says the
> downfall of NATO, the downfall of the UN - I say Bah!

Yikes. You and Rumsfeld both. This is the most disturbing single thing I
have seen you type.

> Incidentally, the EU
> is now more important that NATO.

Agreed. Which is why taking the action we are taking--in open defiance of
the wishes of the world community and most of the EU--is risky. Good
article today in the nytimes regarding the likelihood that the period of
unipolar world leadership the US enjoyed from 1991-2002 is over, and what we
may now see is a kind of international union of nations united solely for
the purposes of checking the US, because the world community sees the US as
a bully state intent only on attaining selfish goals. To those who dismiss
the UN and NATO I ask, which would you rather see, a world working
simutaneously toward free, democratic and prosperous institutions, holding
the US as a model, or one united only by fear of the only superpower left?

> I acknowledge that commercial interests
> drive our politics to a great degree.

Bravo.

> I disagree with your statement that "because we are the most powerful, we
> are the most dangerous." Not true. Maybe we're defining dangerous
> differently so I'll define it: Most likely to inflict mass casualties on
> civilians through WMD.

But why? What difference is there between a nation willing to use mustard
gas to kill off elements of its civilian population versus one willing to
accomplish the same aims through small arms, or machetes, or bulldozers?

And how can you dispute that the most powerful by definition may be the most
dangerous? If we go astray, if we for blind or selfish or ideological
reasons target nations on the lighter side of the geopolitical grayscale, we
will crush them. Are we not dangerous to such nations?

> I give the use of "on his own people" no credence. I think the
> weaponization of chemical and biological agents is horrific regardless of
> who it used against - friend or foe. Russia's use of it recently was
> appalling.

I don't see US troops in fucking Chechnya. And categorically Russia is more
"dangerous" on a global scale than Iraq.

To repeat: Iraq has been effectively neutered for twelve years. Iraq has
not been getting more powerful over the past twelve years. Iraq has not
been building up its military in any significant respect over the past
twelve years. The Iraqi regime gassed Kurds as recently as 1998. But not
more recently. If that is the reason for going to war, we should have been
at war five years ago. BUT IT ISN'T. The US population as a mass does not
care whether a corrupt dictator 7000 miles away gasses people (or shoots
people, or systematically lops off the hands of people with machetes). This
is the fundamental problem: we are not at war right now because Saddam
gassed Kurds, or because Saddam defied any UN mandate to get rid of chemical
and biological agents (as yet unproved, but in any event not a reason which
separates the present from any time between 1991 and 2001), or because
Saddam and Osama are buddies (a lie), or because Saddam bought uranium from
Niger (now categorically proved to be a fraud), or invaded Kuwait (otherwise
we would have taken him out in 1991). All of these "reasons" are nothing
more than spin.

My opposition to the war comes down to this: I hate being lied to. I, and
the American people, deserve better. I hate the willful lack of
transparency. The US is at war for commercial and geopolitical reasons
which the administration is too cynical to admit. If Bush stood up in front
of the American people and said, "Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle told me
to say this: We are going to depose Saddam so that we can install a
theoretically democratic regime in Iraq, and in any event one friendly to
our business interests, with the end goal of exporting democracy and
free-speech values in a region devoid of appropriate role models, and
specifically to undermine the economic tribal despotism of our loathsome
'ally' Saudi Arabia, and not to mention that deposing the Baathist regime
would really shove a thumb up the asses of Russia and France, which is
always a good thing," then I still might not agree with the war as a method
of attaining the goal, but at least I would agree with the goal, and we
could engage in a rational debate about the way to attain it.

Instead, the mishmash of reasons offered up by the administration in
response to the natural questions of "Why Iraq?" an "Why Iraq now?" show the
essential contempt the administration has for the American people.

>
> Those other nations that you cite, most African, are different because they
> are so impoverished and resource-free that they will never (without giant
> stockpiles of oil) be able to mount a threat to our soil.

"…they will never (without giant stockpiles of oil) have inhabitants whose
mass suffering and death is worthy of our military intervention. Didn't you
read 'Black Hawk Down'"?

>
> Your claim that N Korea is a larger threat I agree with but the fact is we
> can't do anything because they just might launch a weapon to hit La Jolla.
> We must prevent Saddam from ever becoming a N Korea. Just as we must
> prevent Israel, Pakistan etc from the same.

A second and equally powerful criticism of the war is that the singleminded
focus on getting to war with Iraq kept the administration's eye off the
ball. NO ONE IN THE WORLD suggests that the US could have or should have
handled the current North Korean crisis (and yes, it is a crisis, though
it's not in the headlines, and maybe won't be until the bomb lands in La
Jolla) way, way better. North Korea is a regime ripe for the takedown.
North Korea is China, circa 1982, and was primed until recently for
wholesale co-option by the forces of market capitalism. Instead, we ignored
the whole Korean peninsula in favor of one international agenda item. It
remains to be seen just how we might suffer for this inexcusable omission.

> I'm not an apologist for the administration except for one thing - their
> black and white opinion of the use of WMD is best for the world.

And I disagree. Death is death, whether it comes from a plane into a
skyscraper, a bullet to the head, or malnutrition and cholera. "With great
power comes great responsibility." Further, "Power tends to corrupt.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

mww


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Thursday, March 20, 2003
 
LAST NIGHT'S BLAZER GAME was more surreal than usual. Courtesy of uber-hottie Trina's employer, I got to sit and eat and drink in a suite. That wasn't the extra-surreal part. Each suite in the Rose Garden has two TVs in it (plus one in the bathroom). When we arrived, one of the sets was tuned to CNN which showed an ominous green-tinted night vision view of Baghdad. The "leave in 48 hours, or die" ultimatum had passed an hour previous. We spent the half-hour before the game eating pretzels and watching the flash of antiaircraft artillery blink in the Iraqi sky.

The game was delayed for 43's address to the nation, which, like Rumsfeld's appearance this morning, was primarily a psy-ops manifesto directed to Iraqis. He got an uproarious ovation. Then a brave but underprepared young lady gurgled through the national anthem and got an uproarious ovation. These two things prompted a snarky comment from yours truly about Blazer fans drawing heavily from the Canby area. I guess the truth is that -- as a 3/18 Gallup poll reflects -- war really enjoys strong support among the public, just not in the urban-elite tech-savvy liberal intelligentsia circles in which MALT travels.

Then we spent the rest of the game alternating between watching the flickering flak on the TV screen behind us and marveling at Yao Ming's lack of an inside game on the court below. As it turns out, Arvydas Sabonis can't jump and runs forty meters in 12.5 seconds, but he's still a better player than the young Yao.


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Wednesday, March 19, 2003
 
I'LL ONLY POST ONCE TODAY. Lewis Lapham has a fine essay in the April 2003 Harper's. It's not online, so make do with this excerpt before you go out an get your copy from the newsstand:

"The question most often asked of the American mission to Iraq can be reduced to two words: 'Why now?' I've listened to numerous explanations--the weather, America's credibility at stake, Saddam about to poison Israel's reservoirs--but I suspect that the best answer is the simplest. War is easier than peace. The government elects to punish an enemy it perceives as weak because it's easier to send aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf than to attempt the harder task of making an American society not so wretchedly defaced by its hungry children, its crowded prisons, and its corporate thieves."


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Tuesday, March 18, 2003
 
THE US BUGGED AND SURVEILLED SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBERS. Oy vey, the integrity! Especially as Sunday, Bush claimed Iraq's bugging of inspectors was one of the grounds for war. (Thanks to Slate's Tim Noah for pointing this out.)
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WITH WAR LOOKING INEVITABLE, more and more stunned commentators are asking, David Byrne-fashion, "How did I get here?" How and why has the US found itself viewed by many at home and most abroad as a warmongering isolationist--a true "rogue state"? Is it more than simple will to power by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld? Does that Gang of Three relish the fracturing of NATO and the crippling of the UN? It's becoming a parlor game: assume that there is an "Iraq problem"; assume that it was possible (until the past couple of days) to "solve" the problem by multilateralist, UN- and NATO-based initiatives; figure out what went wrong, where. (See the link to Steven Weisman's story in my previous post.)

On that note, Paul Glastris sums up:

"[W]e do know that George H.W. Bush worked sincerely and energetically to put together an international war coalition and succeeded; Bill Clinton worked sincerely and energetically to put together an international war coalition and succeeded; and George W. Bush worked grudgingly and sporadically to do the same and failed."
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Monday, March 17, 2003
 
THE PEACE RALLY WAS NICE on Saturday. In today's Times Steven Weisman has an excellent long piece chronicling the missteps and hamhanded bungling that has led us to this point--bombs will fall in Baghdad in the next 24 hours. People will die. And it's partially because of the administration's arrogant "anointed" foreign policy, and partially because retreat from this idiotic precipice would cause the United States to "lose face."

Robin Cook resigned today as leader of the British House of Commons. He is in Tony Blair's own party, mind you. Can we really imagine any U.S. politician making such a stand? Particularly when the cost is real--as Commons Leader, he would make about £124,000 annually, while as a backbencher he will make about £55,000.
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Friday, March 14, 2003
 
FOXES GUARD THE HENHOUSE. Emma's take on Charles Starr, the Republican state senator who chairs the Education Committee, is a must-read. Starr gained some notoriety recently when in a letter to a constitutent he advised taking her kids out of public school. More to the story: he also recommends John Birch-er books that decry public schools for not putting Christ first. Eeps!
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Wednesday, March 12, 2003
 
NPR PLAYED A TAPE OF HOWARD DEAN the other day at a press conference in Iowa. Dean, of course, is a governor from some dinky state in New England who is way too liberal to ever get the Dem nod for President--or at least that's what you'd think if you believed what you hear from mainstream media, including NPR. Dean has an endearing McCainish way of shooting off his mouth, and for some time has been the only Dem running who has consistently taken the administration (and fellow Dems) to task not just on its mishandling of the multimational implications of the Iraq debacle, but on the fundamental hypocrisy and wrongheadedness of the original policy, mishandling or no.

Meanwhile, the people who Mickey Kaus has dubbed Balking Hawks--people who originally backed the use of force against Iraq, or do so in theory but not now, not in practice (a class of people which includes John Kerry, Josh Marshall and maybe at this point even Ken Pollack's book The Threatening Storm, if not Pollack himself)--continues to grow. The administration finds itself increasingly alone on the world stage--"Hell Bent On War" was the Newsweek cover story--and also isolated at home.

Dean, on the one hand, represents people who always thought this conflict was at best misguided and at worst avaricious, bullying, and hypocritical, and have watched in fascinated horror as a war plan took place in the face of consistent opposition, and perhaps only through confusion on the part of "regular American people" that Iraq was behind the September 11 attacks. And on the other hand, the Balking Hawks represent the domestic splintering of war unity that we see the administration causing on the world stage, and growing skepticism that whatever biological or chemical agents Iraq might have pose any threat to the US. Meanwhile, the administration points to Iraq's nuclear weapons program, even as the evidence that one exists falls to shreds.

Which brings us back to Dean, the brainy plainspoken progressive. Facing the press this weekend, he took question after question about his position on war. This guy is a former Governor of Vermont, a physician, whose main campaign plank is universal health care, and his frustration was obvious. At one point, he said "does anybody here want to talk about my plan for universal health care? OR the fact that the jobless rate continues to rise? Or is it just going to be Iraq, Iraq, Iraq?" His frustration was obvious. We should share it. The national dialectic is consumed with Iraq, the whys and wherefores, the hows and what thens. Meanwhile, things at home--the stuff that matters, or should--are going straight to fuckin' hell. As Garry Trudeau put it, "No child left behind, except in Oregon and a few other loser states." Deficits are back. Jobs? Gone. Health care? Ruined for the non-Botoxed classes. North Korea is gonna do whatever it takes to get our attention, and you get the impression that they really wish they had that giant space death ray to blow up the DMZ that was in the last Bond movie. I spent much of the Reagan years literally in fear for my life--remember that thousands panicked, thinking The Day After was TV news, rather than a TV movie. Don't get me started on budgetary policy. And those days are back--or maybe worse.

Josh Marshall summarizes the shambles of our international policy here:

"Could Al Gore really have done a better job getter France on board? Germany? ... I don't necessarily disagree with this point. But, frankly, I think it's beside the point. Or perhaps just misses the point.

"The issue here isn't that France opposes us. That doesn't bother me particularly. The real point is that everyone opposes us. Everyone.

"And don't give me any chatter about moral clarity and Churchill holding off the Huns alone at Dover. This isn't that kind of situation. We're in international affairs not just for today but for the long haul. And our political leadership in the world community matters profoundly.

"If we like, we can kid ourselves and believe that "old Europe" in the guise of France and Germany oppose us but "new Europe" supports us. But if we look at the question honestly we have to confess that this isn't true. The populations all across Europe oppose what we're doing. A collection of governments in Eastern Europe and on Europe's periphery support us, for a variety of reasons. Some do it because of an intra-European powerplay. Others for sincere belief that we're doing the right thing. Others for more mercenary reasons. In the short term, the reasons for their support don't matter so much. But if we think we can trade our old allies in for these new ones, then it matters a great deal that these governments are doing this in spite of the wishes of their populations, not because of them. One or two elections, and no more 'new Europe.' Fundamentally, alliances of democracies are founded -- like democracies -- on popular opinion...

"The real issue is that the world stage is now ripe for such exploitation. We are supremely isolated right now. That's the issue we need to contend with. When we can't get penny-ante states to give us their votes on the Security Council that should tell us something: not something about the rightness of policies, one way or another, but about the depth of our international isolation. The fact that France may be taking advantage of the situation on the international stage is a subsidiary problem."

[update: Slate compares the dovishness of declared Dem candidates in this article and chart. According to the article, Kucinich is dovier than Dean because Dean takes a harder stand on North Korea, which I think is apples and oranges; it also says that Sharpton and Moseley-Braun are super-doves, but they aren't serious candidates anyway. Arguendo whether Dean himself is, or is just a tenpin to be knocked over by the Kerry juggernaut.]
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Tuesday, March 11, 2003
 
OK, BLOGCHALKING NOW. This is my new blogchalk:
United States, Oregon, Portland, northeast, English, Matt, Male, 31-35.
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NEW NITWIT OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE.
(This is really Jack’s meme, I’m just borrowing it temporarily.) Bob Ney is a Republican congressman from Ohio. Bob Ney is pissed at those damn French for being an obstacle to war in Iraq. Bob Ney happens to chair the House Administration Committee. Bob Ney therefore controls the House of Representatives cafeteria, among other things. Bob Ney has decreed that no longer will right-thinking Congresspeople eat “French fries” in our American cafeteria, but will instead eat “Freedom fries.”

Bob Ney gets paid to do the work of the American people ($136,700 plus generous perks and benefits). The waste of this money is why Bob Ney is a NOTY candidate. If you would like to express your feelings to Bob Ney about this particular piece of peabrainery, perhaps you could email Bob Ney.

[Update: I beat Tim Noah to this one!]
[Update 2: I didn't beat Get Your War On--this one was posted 3/10/03.]


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Friday, March 07, 2003
 
I'VE BEEN SICK. Last week I got all those symptoms that Nyquil is supposed to cure. That's my excuse for not blogging. Of course, I've been pretty healthy this week, but because of missing time last week I've been slammed at work this week. And then again, when I was home sick I didn't blog--I played Avernum 3.

I realized, now that Jack has called me out for my blogging delinquency, that I have to just get back on the stick, so to speak. So note the following:

Jack's excellent discourse on the devastation that budget cuts, neglect, and legislative malice have wrought on Oregon's courts. That minor property crimes will simply not be prosecuted for the time being is particularly bitter to me, as yesterday I came out of the nest to find my car window broken and stereo stolen (they even took my parking change...).

Here is Josh Marshall's great piece on the administration's utter dithering paralysis when it comes to North Korea, which he attributes to "deadlock between the (pro-engagement) State Department and the (pro-confrontation) Pentagon and Office of the Vice-President."

And just for laffs, Linda's hilarious dialogue on "that guy." You know the one. Brooks is driving across the country, but if he read this, he would message me: "coffee came out my nose." So is that like ROTFL? CCOMN?
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