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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Iran

A lot of people reading my blog this week are interested in finding out who Josh Marshall and colleagues will name as the Niger uranium forgers. I speculated on that some months ago. And the hitmeter on that page keeps spinning.

Of course, anyone paying attention to the "mainstream" international news recognizes that Iran's nuclear program is receiving a lot of attention this month. Blogger journalist Laura Rozen, in fact, is "convinced Iran is set to become the foreign policy priority for the US in coming months."

President Bush long ago named Iran as part of the "axis of evil." The dubious state members are thought to seek weapons of mass destruction and support terrorism.

The terror angle is covered in the recent report about the 9/11 Commission findings in the Washington Post last weekend. The Commission, which rejected "operational" and financial links between Iraq and al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda, concluded that there were real links between Iran and al Qaeda.
In relation to Iran, commission investigators said intelligence "showed far greater potential for collaboration between Hezbollah and al Qaeda than many had previously thought." Iran is a primary sponsor of Hezbollah, or Party of God, the Lebanon-based anti-Israel group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
Much of the story reports about the 1996 Khobar towers bombing, which investigators have long blamed on Hezbollah and its Iranian backers.

Now, the Commission asserts an al Qaeda connection to the terrorist strike. But not everyone is buying it -- and we should appreciate the prospect of real debate:
U.S. officials who have worked on the Khobar case are more skeptical. A law enforcement source with knowledge of the case, who declined to be identified because of the ongoing criminal investigation, said authorities searched carefully for an al Qaeda connection but found no basis for it.

The broader notion of links between bin Laden's group and Hezbollah or hard-line elements in Iran's security forces has been a hot topic in U.S. law enforcement and intelligence circles for years. Many analysts have viewed such an alliance as dubious, largely because of ancient animosities between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Several leaders of al Qaeda, a Sunni organization, have issued rabidly anti-Shiite proclamations.
Some skeptics are willing to be named:
Daniel Benjamin, a national security official in the Clinton administration, said he was "still skeptical" of any link between al Qaeda and Khobar, arguing that the evidence shows "that Saudi Hezbollah was very much a creature of some in Iran."

"I don't quite see the need that this operation had for assistance from al Qaeda," Benjamin said. "Second of all, my understanding of the larger relationship between Iran and al Qaeda suggests that while there were plenty of contacts, many more than there were with Iraq, it was never clear they developed a serious cooperative relationship."
Former Clinton/Bush administration expert Flynt Leverett says that a tactical relationship is plausible, but "There are going to be serious structural limits to how much al Qaeda and Iran might cooperate."

In any event, it's not at all clear what the the US can do about either Iranian proliferation or terror sponsorship. While weaker evidence helped build a case for war against Iraq, there's no way the US can implement the "Bush Doctrine" any time soon. Matt Yglesias summarized the obvious problem caused by the war in Iraq. It
strengthened the hand of [Iranian] hardliners at home, weakened the US military threat, and created a new playpen for possible Iranian influence.

The upshot may be that there's not really a great deal to be done.
As I've blogged before, US hypocrisy on this matter does not help.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Populism, 2004

A non-blogging friend of mine has replied by email to my recent post on Kerry and the left.

However, I think he's ignoring my argument about Kerry's populism. And he missed the fact that I voted for Kucinich.

But Kucinich isn't a viable choice anymore. We can support Kerry, support Nader, or "sit this one out." I think the first is the obvious choice, the second helps Bush, and the third is a bad idea.

He has framed the debate as if I'm a liberal and he's a progressive populist. He is anti-NAFTA, WTO, and tax cuts for rich and pro-worker ownership, single-payer health care, and "a dose of healthy anti-imperial isolationism."

Liberals like me, he writes, worry a lot about gay marriage, legal abortions, strict separation of church-state, and affirmative action. He too supports these ideals, but they are not his primary concerns.

Most important, to his mind, the progressive-populist issues can win swing states like Ohio, while the liberal issues are all losers. I generally agree, which is why I said long ago that Kerry should pick John Edwards for Veep in order to employ his "two Americas" rhetoric.

My regular readers would probably note that I hardly ever mention the issues my friend says are liberal. Moreover, I too oppose the tax cuts for the wealthy, and support more worker ownership, single payer health insurance and a significantly reduced US role in international politics.

I would also work to fix the significant ills of NAFTA and the WTO. The US simply isn't going to dump them, however.

If that, and my support for Kerry, makes me a pragmatist, so be it.

Kerry, my friend says, is an elitist milquetoast free-trade liberal, weakened by his inside-the-beltway rich northeastern background. Yet, Kerry too wants to end the tax cuts for the wealthy, supports single-payer health insurance, and clearly argues to limit the extension of US power abroad.

Bush, of course, is a wannabe cowboy conservative, hiding his inside-the-beltway rich northeastern background.

Kerry voted for WTO and NAFTA, but supports significant reforms (some to make trade greener; as I repeatedly write, Kerry is an excellent environmentalist). Indeed, Kerry's call for enforcing trade agreements is quite popular, as measured by opinion polls.

Perhaps my argument was too ambiguous. I consider myself part of the left and I want my like-minded friends to support Kerry in order to influence his presidency. Kerry would arguably be the most progressive President since LBJ.

Read his speeches. He's talking about the very (populist) issues my friend says he cares about most: economic justice, jobs, health care, and restrained internationalism. Plus, Kerry's environmentalism can be populist too (in places like Oregon, New Mexico and Wisconsin). I'm not sure Ralph Nader realizes this based on what he just said about the Green Party national convention.

The left needs to frame issues in an appealing way, but the mantle of populism cannot be reserved exclusively for those that narrowly focus on globalization. After all, Pat Buchanan rejects NAFTA and the WTO, but I'm not ready to label him a populist.

Bush's travels

While on vacation, I forgot to mention that I was interviewed again by Shelley Emling for her story on President Bush's trip to Ireland: "Protests will greet Bush as he starts European trip."
"At this stage, whenever President Bush travels to a democracy, I'd expect some protests," said Rodger Payne, an expert on international relations at the University of Louisville. "In Ireland, some pop musicians like (singer-songwriter) Damien Rice have participated in concerts to fund the protests. However, I doubt many Americans will notice them."

Then again, he doubts whether many Americans will notice the EU summit either.

"It's hard to imagine a presidential trip to Ireland getting that much attention," he said. "To many, it will probably seem more like a summer vacation."
Kind of flippant, eh? Here's the paragraph from my original email:
In the US, we're getting a lot of TV coverage about Saudi Arabia, and Michael Moore's movie hasn't even opened yet. GIven the circumstances, it is hard to imagine a presidential trip to Ireland getting that much attention. To many, it will probably seem more like a summer vacation (i.e., less serious than the D-Day trip and not directly on-point to the troubles in Iraq and Saudi Arabia).
In addition to the North Carolina paper noted above, one in Palm Beach carried it too, that I know about.

Also, Emling had previously talked to me about Bush's D-Day trip to France:
Meanwhile, Rodger Payne, an expert on international relations at the University of Louisville, said that Bush likely would get a domestic boost — if not a boost abroad — from his Normandy visit.
"The focus of the trip is going to be on foreign policy and that's usually good news for any president — especially one trying to downplay unpleasant domestic news," he said. "These trips and meetings represent a great opportunity to control the political agenda, focusing attention on points the White House wants to disseminate. Any progress on European relations is gravy."
That story appeared in various places, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Monday, June 28, 2004

"It's the security, stupid"

Wow, my first day back from vacation (though we spent most of it driving), and there is lots of breaking news to analyze. Let me focus on the biggest story of the day and save the lesser stories (like the Supreme Court ruling on Gitmo and other stuff) for another day.

Today, two days ahead of schedule, Paul Bremer tossed the keys to Iraq to some unelected Iraqis and left town ASAP.

Early evening, I saw Norman Schwartzkopf (on "Hardball" I think) saying that this move will significantly improve the security situation in Iraq. Newsweek's Howard Fineman said later on the same program that the administration surprised everyone in part to "stay ahead" of the insurgents, implying that the violence might escalate just before the handover. After all, administration officials have been saying this all along and the press likes to parrot the official line.

Of course, Fineman says that Bush now has the UN and NATO behind his policy on Iraq, so it's hard to take him very seriously on these issues. It's almost as if the President had just made such a claim, and that Fineman was mindlessly repeating it.

Oh, wait, the President did claim something very much like this, in his interview with an Irish journalist:
Q Mr. President, I know your time is tight, can I move you on to Europe? Are you satisfied that you are getting enough help in Iraq from European countries? You have come together, you are more friendly now -- but they're not really stepping up to the plate with help, are they?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, first of all, most of Europe supported the decision in Iraq. And, really, what you're talking about is France, isn't it?"
That should be news in Germany, Belgium, Russia and other European countries. Polls showed overwhelming opposition, even where governments (Spain, the UK and Italy) supported the war.

Note that in the same interview President Bush claimed that "You've got a democracy in Pakistan," so he's clearly an unreliable source.

Anyway, we'll see whether the security condition changes on the ground in Iraq. As a political scientist might say, "that's an empirical question." For the future.

To his credit, Bremer, unlike most Americans in Iraq, traveled all over the country during his tenure -- though he had a large group of security guards attached to him.

Nonetheless, Brenner flew out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Jon Stewart had a funny bit on that on the "Daily Show."

I don't know if this really fits into this analysis, but I did want to note that last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz made an outrageous claim about the way Americans view Iraq security. He blamed the media!
On Tuesday, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Wolfowitz agreed with statements by Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., that the news media's focus on violence in Iraq has eclipsed reports of progress there.

"Because frankly, part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors. And rumors are plentiful," Wolfowitz said.
Naturally, he had to apologize pronto soon after saying that.

Does anyone really believe that Iraq has changed just because Allawi has the keys, sovereignty has been "restored" and the media has been spun? The troops remain and a new American big boss will soon be "helping" to run the show. John Negroponte is the new US Ambassador to Iraq and he'll be directing the biggest American embassy in the world. Somehow, I don't think he left the position of American Ambassador to the UN for something the administration views as less important.

Two months ago, I suggested Negroponte would be the American Viceroy. Will he be facing a continued bloody insurgency?

Until the troops leave, I'm afraid so.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

How far is it from Detroit to Nashville?

In 1992, John Dryzek published a very good article called "How far is it from Virginia and Rochester to Frankfurt? Public Choice as Critical Theory" (British Journal of Political Science).

Dryzek was linking two very different academic perspectives -- the kind of public choice work pursued by leading scholars at George Mason and Rochester and Frankfurt school critical theory.

Some would argue that these are mutually exclusive theories.

I thought about Dryzek's article yesterday when I was listening to a new CD I had just purchased for the drive back to Kentucky.

I've tweaked Dryzek's inquiry in the title of this post, but this is arguably the central question: What would the White Stripes sound like if Loretta Lynn was their lead singer and primary songwriter?

Unlike many such hypotheticals, however, the answer to this one is easily determined. Lynn's latest CD, "Van Lear Rose," was produced by Jack White -- and he both sings and plays on the album. Lynn wrote every tune, and she covers all the typical country themes.

It's my early favorite for alt-country album of the year.


I also bought "Elephant" and am wondering if I should have picked up the soundtrack to "Cold Mountain." Anyone have a thought about that?

I should be back in the office this week and ready to resume regular blogging.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Kerry and the left, continued

I found the New York Times article that some of my left-leaning friends referenced to prove Kerry's unsuitability as a candidate.

On June 25, Robin Toner's piece "Kerry's Campaign Theme is Leaning Toward Center" included these paragraphs:
His message, in part, is a return to the promise of Clintonian centrism: reducing the deficit, spurring economic growth, trying to ease "the squeeze on middle-class America," as Mr. Kerry puts it, from things like the cost of health insurance and college tuition.

Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council and a longtime Clinton aide, fretted openly during the heyday of Howard Dean last year that the party was moving to the left. Today, Mr. Reed describes Mr. Kerry approvingly as "a pragmatic centrist in the Clinton mode."

Familiar faces from the Clinton years, like the economic adviser Gene Sperling, are now at Mr. Kerry's side; James P. Rubin, a State Department spokesman in the Clinton years who advised Gen. Wesley K. Clark during the primaries, is now traveling with Mr. Kerry full time.
As I wrote yesterday, where else can the DLC go?

In any case, here are the very next paragraphs from the story:
But Mr. Kerry's message also reflects a very different time from the 1990's, framed by three unsettling years of terrorism, war and political division. Mr. Kerry's favorite refrain these days is a plea to "let America be America again." It is a quotation from a Langston Hughes poem that he uses to evoke the idea of restoration - for the economy, for a tax code that he asserts is increasingly unjust, for the dreams of the middle class and, perhaps most of all, for the country's foreign policy.

Mr. Kerry's basic campaign speech has a distinctive edge, reflecting the Democratic Party's fury at President Bush and his handling of an increasingly unpopular war.
Gee, how horrible to have a Democrat worried about an unjust tax code, the aspirations of the middle class and Bush's "go it alone" foreign policy.

Indeed, the Times reporter points out that this is a big applause line for Kerry:
"The United States of America should never go to war because it wants to. We should only go to war because we have to."
As I've argued before, Kerry may have voted for the congressional resolution about Iraq in October 2002, but there's no way he would have gone to war in March 2003.

Kerry is a long-time genuine Democrat. Some of the very same people currently worrying about his centrism were arguing last fall that he was too much of a "Massachusetts liberal" to be elected (they supported Dennis Kucinich).

The left needs to be part of the coalition that elects the next president. The Democrats have adopted some of Nader's positions from 2000 and have not nominated one of the DLC's preferred choices (Joe Lieberman would have been first, I think). John Kerry is a better small-g green than Ralph Nader. His environmental record in the Senate is first rate.

I've even put my money where my mouth is. Last week, for the first time ever, I contribued to a specific presidential candidate (rather than to the DNC or DCCC). I urge others to do so too. It's going to take millions to beat Bush.



Friday, June 25, 2004

Kerry's populism

Some of my left-leaning friends are starting to send emails to one another (and copying me) worrying about John Kerry's apparent centrist moves. This follows on a series of left-media articles suggesting that Kerry and Bush are the same.

The simple explanation for any centrist drift by Kerry is obvious: this is how one wins elections. Nader polls about 4%, while only about one-third of voters are declared Democrats. Thus, there are many, many more "centrist" independents (and Republicans) among non-Democrats than left-leaning Naderites.

Where would you look for votes if you wanted to be elected President of the US?

One press report linked Kerry to the Democratic Leadership Council, despite the Joe Klein column from a few weeks ago pointing out that the DLC is almost completely marginalized in this election cycle. Should we be surprised that the DLC now supports Kerry?

Where else can the DLC go?

As David Corn wrote in The Nation just a few weeks ago, Kerry has not overtly tried to woo the DLC. He's trying to win as many votes as possible, but he's not retreating from his long-time positions opposed by the group:
When Clinton in 1992 wanted to prove he was a "New Democrat," he promoted welfare reform and showcased his devotion to the death penalty. Kerry has done nothing so dramatic. (He is an opponent of capital punishment.) He has talked about deficit reduction and supported certain tax cuts (while opposing breaks for the wealthy). He has straddled the line between the DLC and the traditional Dems without causing much fuss. To triumph in the battleground states, is it better for Kerry to be a populist firebrand who excites the Democratic base or a center-chaser who nabs swing voters? This is more a question of theology than a correct-or-incorrect choice.
Corn then quotes one of Kerry's advisors, pointing out that the candidate has a long record of supporting equality and justice for working families.

There are numerous other Kerry virtues:

Kerry wants to overturn the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

He has called for a meaningful increase in the minimum wage. Indeed, he has a strong record on workers/jobs and a 90% career AFL-CIO vote index record.

He wants to significantly increase health care coverage.

Kerry has a genuinely good record on the environment and will strengthen, rather than rollback, past protections.

The complete plan for the first 100 days is on-line: National Education Trust Fund, end the "Era of Ashcroft," etc.

He hasn't called for withdrawal from Iraq, nor for pulling out of global trade agreements, but his views on these questions are clearly better than the position of Bush and the Republicans.

As Kevin Drum blogged, Dick Armey's group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, is trying to get Nader on the ballot in Oregon. Armey used to hold a Republican leadership position in the House of Representatives.

In short, Republicans recognize that helping Nader is tantamount to helping Bush.

If the left supports Kerry in 2004, there's every reason to believe that we can help shape his governing decisions. However, if the left abandons Kerry by "sitting this one out" or voting for Nader, then it really shouldn't be surprised if Kerry ignores their views more often than not.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Masters of disaster?

Remember Bill Clinton's "war room" in 1992? George Stephanopoulos and James Carville attempted to shoot down negative publicity about their candidate as soon as possible.

Generally, they were quite successful.

In 1993, documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus made a very good film about the political war room.

Now, in an odd twist, film maker Michael Moore has created his own war room to address negative publicity associated with his movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- and hired political consultants Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane to serve as his generals.
"We will allow no attack on this film to go without an immediate response," Moore said. "And we will go without mercy for anyone who slanders me or my work."
George Herbert Walker Bush recently called Moore a "slimeball," so the attacks are bound to receive a great deal of attention.

Some Bush supporters have petitioned the FEC to stop Moore from advertising his film -- on the grounds that it violates federal election law!

Readers may remember that I mentioned Fabiani and Lehane just a few days ago, since their work is highlighted in an Atlantic article on campaign opposition research.

The consultants think of themselves as "masters of disaster."

The best defense is a good offense? The National Security Strategy of the United States (September 2002) says so:
...we recognize that our best defense is a good offense...
I guess Moore has learned something by studying the Bushies.


Update: Dan Drezner has more.

Vacation updates

I'm in the DC area now, the beach part of the trip is over.

Yesterday, I had no access to my computer. At least today the internet connection is reasonably fast. Tuesday night it was 28.8. Ugh.

In case you missed it, a Washington Post reporter told the Plame investigators that his phone conversation with Scooter Libby on July 12, 2003, didn't pertain to their case:
[Glenn] Kessler said he told prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald that, during conversations last July 12 and July 18, Libby did not mention Plame or her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, or Wilson's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger to investigate whether Iraq tried to buy uranium there.
Kessler didn't reveal what he was discussing with Libby.

South Knox Bubba has published a list of the President's "accomplishments" on The American Street group blog. Some of the stuff is arguably over-the-top, but it is convenient to have the summary in one place.

The game last night was a lot of fun. I usually do not enjoy blowouts, but it was fun to catch up with an old friend (he pointed me to the Libby story in the Post) -- and the blowout rule doesn't apply when the Yankees are getting creamed (13-2 final). It also didn't apply for game 7 of the 1985 World Series.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Me on MLE

This is shameless, I realize, but it's been a tough week or two and this was pretty cool. Today, USA Today, on p. 5C (in the middle, just below the fold), published my piece on "MLE numbers gauge major prospects."

Unfortunately, I cannot yet find a web link.

MLE stands for "minor league equivalency" and the article is about forecasting performance statistics for rookie baseball players based on their minor league statistics.

I'm a member of the Statistical Analysis Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. Neal Traven, committee chair, looked it over and provided comments before it was published.

It's about 5 column inches, plus an accompanying chart!

Update: I found a copy of the article on keepmedia, and then I furled that to preserve a copy.

July 1, 2011 update: Find it here.

Monday, June 21, 2004

al Qaeda financing

Here's a line from the September 11 Commission report (as posted on the MSNBC website) last week that I missed in the news coverage I read:
There is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11 (other than limited support provided by the Taliban after Bin Ladin first arrived in Afghanistan).
That sort of minimizes Saddam Hussein's potential mischief, eh? What exactly did the administration think he was doing if it didn't include any financial support?

This bit on Saudi financing has been more widely quoted, but I wanted to include it here since I've often blogged about the Saudi connections to the Bush family and to terror.
Some governments may have turned a blind eye to al Qaeda’s fundraising activities. Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al Qaeda. Still, al Qaeda found fertile fundraising ground in the Kingdom, where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving is essential to the culture and, until recently, subject to very limited oversight.
Since Saudi Arabia has come under increasing violent attack by al Qaeda, they are less willing to look the other way.

As I've often pointed out, Pakistan, America's newest "major non-NATO" ally did support bin Laden up until 9/11:
Pakistan did not break with the Taliban until after 9/11, although it was well aware that the Taliban was harboring Bin Ladin. The Taliban’s ability to provide Bin Ladin a haven in the face of international pressure and UN sanctions was significantly facilitated by Pakistani support. Pakistan benefited from the Taliban-al Qaeda relationship, as Bin Ladin’s camps trained and equipped fighters for Pakistan’s ongoing struggle with India over Kashmir.
Given their nuclear proliferation record, I really hope the US is keeping a very close eye on the situation in Pakistan.

Finally, as my students can attest, I've long been interested in the alleged links of terrorists to the drug trade and "blood" diamonds. The 9/11 commission says this is mythical.
No persuasive evidence exists that al Qaeda relied on the drug trade as an important source of revenue, or funded itself through trafficking in diamonds from African states engaged in civil wars.
Hmmm, remember those Super Bowl commercials about how people who use drugs support terror?

Note: Thanks to Brad DeLong for reproducing most of an editorial from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which quoted the key first line above.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Vacation album

So far, the kids and I have trapped nearly a dozen of these that we can keep legally (and had to toss about as many back into the water):

I've heard from several people that it's a good year for crab, and our pots suggest that this is accurate.

OK, local media agree.

Since I'm not a sun-worshipper, this is about as good as it gets on this vacation, though I am going to see the sagging Orioles Wednesday at Camden Yards.

It's cap night versus the Yankees.


Saturday, June 19, 2004

Point-Counterpoint

In March 2003, when the US attacked Iraq, I did a lot of interviews for local media. In the very first one, for radio, I said that this war had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. Those were the first words out of my mouth.

Wednesday, the 9/11 Commission reported that they had found no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Saturday's Washington Post discusses the political implications of this finding. After all, Bush provoked war on the basis that Iraq was central to the war on terror.

Point:
[Vice President Dick] Cheney, on CNBC, said the media had been irresponsible in reporting the commission's findings. "What they [the commission] were addressing was whether or not they [Iraq] were involved in 9/11," he said. "They did not address the broader question of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda in other areas, in other ways."
Counterpoint:
In fact, commission spokesman Al Felzenberg on Friday confirmed that the commission was addressing the broader relationship. "We found no evidence of joint operations or joint work or common operations between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government, and that's beyond 9/11," he said.
Point:
Cheney said Thursday in a television interview that he "probably" knew things about Iraq's ties to terrorists that the commission did not.
Counterpoint:
Late last week, commission leaders invited Cheney to provide intelligence reports that would buttress the White House's insistence that there were close ties between Hussein and al Qaeda, a commission member said. Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton told the New York Times they wanted to see any additional information in the administration's possession...
Sounds like the 9/11 Commission is calling the administration's bluff.

Readers might want to note a Pew Research poll finding that Americans are more-and-more starting to see the Iraq war as a hindrance to the overall war on terror in their minds.



Friday, June 18, 2004

Vacation reading

I always take a big stack of reading with me on vacation and try to catch up on some materials that I should have seen weeks ago.

As an academic, I suppose this means that I should be taking a bunch of journals and reading the key articles -- but I don't.

I did bring Mother Jones, however, and want to point everyone to an hilarious piece by Al Franken in the March/April 2004 issue. Unfortunately, that link merely takes you to the first few paragraphs of the article.

Because this is the internet, however, there are other ways of reading the entire piece.

Some readers probably saw it: "Tearaway Burkas & Tinplate Menorahs," which is about Franken's USO Tour to Iraq and Afghanistan. He toured with his brother, another former SNL writer, some country singers, and a TV actress on a show that neither he nor I watch.

Franken writes with a lot of humor, but the travel diary is great too. Here's my favorite one liner:
So, our traveling troupe of show folk included musicians, composers, an actor, a writer, a comedian, singers, and dancers. My wife said to me before I left, "You don't see Bill O'Reilly doing a USO Tour."

"That's not fair, honey. O'Reilly has no talent."
Cheap, but effective.

Another article worth reading: Joshua Green's piece on campaign opposition research in the June 2004 Atlantic . He writes a great deal about the 2000 election, of course, and discusses how Wesley Clark's people (Chris Lehane) helped take out Howard Dean's candidacy and inadvertently helped make John Kerry the front-runner and candidate.

Mark Fabiani, another former debate (check 1979, which explains why I knew him only by reputation since I was a 1983 graduate), makes a cameo appearance in the article.

Green's story is not funny.

More like stomach turning, but fascinating. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The King is dead

Who saw Old Yeller? Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I'm sure! I cried my eyes out . . .
--Bill Murray, Stripes
Yesterday, my dog died...and I cried.

Elvis, our family dog, would have been 13 in a couple of weeks. His mother's owners told us that his litter had been born on the 4th of July!

Anyway, we picked him up on August 16, 1991, the 24th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. My wife and I planned to find an appropriate dog and name him Elvis, but we were quite surprised when the radio station played one song after another by the King the day we got him.

My brother-in-law asked me mid-summer 1991 how we were going to find a dog that looked like Elvis. I pointed out that Elvis wasn't a look, it was an attitude.

It was a big litter and we selected the one that was sleeping amongst the turmoil. We figured he'd be a calm dog -- and more important than his surroundings.

Elvis was an Aussie shepherd mixed with something. He was so much bigger than his 35 pound mother that I used to joke that the father must have been a horse. At his peak, he weighed about 90 pounds.

After the kids stopped dropping so much macaroni and cheese on the floor, he returned to a more reasonable weight of about 60 pounds.

At the end, he suffered from arthritis is his hips and the vet found a big lump in his throat that was making it difficult for him to breathe. The vet said there was nothing we could do.

He was easily the best dog I ever had, and he lived a happy life. On his final day, I took him for a very long walk to a local park. Rather than race around that park like he did when he was younger, Elvis sat midway up a hill and majestically surveyed his surroundings.

We'll miss him. I'll particularly miss him. My wife used to joke that he and I were closely attached, like the title characters in "A Boy and his Dog."

Unrelated trivia: Did you know that the film's star, Don Johnson, also attended the University of Kansas? Unlike me, however, he apparently did not receive a degree (though he may well have an honorary one now).

We're on vacation for awhile, so expect light blogging. I'll likely check in while the family is on the beach. I'm not a sun worshipper.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change

Sometimes, I like to see the international spin of a domestic story. So, here's the British Independent on the group of former diplomats and generals who want to see Bush lose the election.

Here's the purpose of the group's statement:
"We agreed that we had just lost confidence in the ability of the Bush administration to advocate for American interests or to provide the kind of leadership that we think is essential," said William Harrop, who served as the first President Bush's ambassador to Israel, and previously in four African countries. "The group does not endorse Kerry, although it more or less goes without saying in the statement."
The Independent's take on the story is quite brief.

The BBC version of the story identifies a few additional details about the individuals included in the group and notes that "known critics of the administration were deliberately excluded."

So, what former officials are on board?
They include William Crowe, who as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was America's top military officer and Admiral Stansfield Turner, a former director of the CIA.
Actually, a text box has more detail:
William C Harrop
Ambassador to Israel under Bush Sr

Gen Joseph P Hoar
Commander in chief of US Central Command under Bush Sr; supports John Kerry

Merrill A McPeak
Former Air Force chief of staff; supports Kerry

Jack F Matlock
Ambassador to the USSR under Reagan and Bush Sr

Adm William J Crowe
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Reagan and ambassador to UK under Clinton; has endorsed Kerry

Adm Stansfield Turner
CIA director under Carter; has endorsed Kerry
Like a lot of versions I've seen of this story, the BBC quotes one of the critics:
Phyllis Oakley, the former deputy state department spokesperson under President Reagan, told the BBC World Service's World Today programme that Mr Bush's Iraq policy had played a big part in their decision to publicise their concerns.

"But it goes beyond that to the whole thrust of his posture for the US and the world - to move away from the international structures that have been painstakingly built up over the years, away from our work with allies," she said.

Ms Oakley said it was a "dangerous posture" for the US to act as the "unilateral, sole superpower" that could impose its will on others.
The New York Times story is fairly short and is taken from an AP wire feed. It seems to be virtually the same story, in fact, that readers of the Independent had:
"We agreed that we had just lost confidence in the ability of the Bush administration to advocate for American interests or to provide the kind of leadership that we think is essential," said William C. Harrop, the first President Bush's ambassador to Israel and earlier an ambassador to four African countries."
That quote from Harrop appears in the UK paper, though he is additionally referenced as saying, "We just feel very strongly that the country needs new leadership."

I agree with that.

Tuesday night, David Letterman ran a video clip of George W. Bush defining the phrase "24/7." After Bush was shown stating the obvious, Letterman said, "I'm going to miss that guy."

Looters with Limos

If you miss the cold war, you probably long for the good old days when defense contractors could get away with crony capitalism because "the Soviet threat" (or do you prefer Red Menace?) justified non-market economic practices.

We had to hand out big no-bid defense contracts just to keep the giant military complex revved up all the time.

Now, of course, we merely have the "war on terror" and it's tought to identify the major opponents. Thanks to Iraq, however, the defense contractors are managing to survive and prosper.

The Looters with Limos blog hasn't had a new entry in almost two months, but I'm using the title for this post in tribute to its spirit.

More importantly, the New York Times finally seems to be on the theme with some gusto. Yesterday, the paper published Erik Eckholm's story, "White House Officials and Cheney Aide Approved Halliburton Contract in Iraq, Pentagon Says."

Basically, it turns out that the Vice President's office has been lying about some of the no-bid Halliburton contracts. He apparently did have prior knowledge of them and some highly placed political leaders did have to approve them.

Pentagon officials have spilled the beans.
In the fall of 2002, in the preparations for possible war with Iraq, the Pentagon sought and received the assent of senior Bush administration officials, including the vice president's chief of staff, before hiring the Halliburton Company to develop secret plans for restoring Iraq's oil facilities, Pentagon officials have told Congressional investigators.
Remember in the 2000 Vice Presidential debate when Cheney said "I can tell you, Joe [Lieberman], that the government had absolutely nothing to do with" his being "better off" than he was eight years ago?

Ha!

First, the denials:
Appearing on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" on Sept. 14, 2003, Mr. Cheney said, "And as vice president, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape or form of contracts led by the Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the federal government." He referred to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has managed oil infrastructure contracts.

Asked if he had been aware of Halliburton's noncompetitive awards, Mr. Cheney said, "I don't know any of the details of the contract because I deliberately stayed away from any information on that."

Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said of Iraq contracting in a news conference last October: "The decisions are made by career procurement officials. There's a separation, a wall, between them and political-level questions when they're doing the contracts."
Next, the Times reporting that at least one Democrat has a spine:
In a letter faxed Sunday to Mr. Cheney and given to reporters, Representative Henry A. Waxman, the minority leader of the panel, asked him for all records of his office's communications on the oil contracts and for records of Deputies Committee meetings where the Halliburton deals had been discussed.

"These new disclosures appear to contradict your assertions that you were not informed about the Halliburton contracts," Mr. Waxman, Democrat of California, wrote. "They also seem to contradict the administration's repeated assertions that political appointees were not involved in the award of the contracts to Halliburton."
The latest revelations refer to a specific $2 Billion contract, of which Halliburton received $1.2 billion.


Monday, June 14, 2004

Current Electoral Vote Predictor 2004

At journalist Josh Marshall's blog, I found this link to the Current Electoral Vote Predictor 2004
[Note: apparently, you have to page down to see this; anyone know how to shrink the gif?]


Dark blue is "safe," light blue is "weak" and white surrounded by light blue is "barely" Kerry. Red is for Bush.

Safe Kerry (147)
Weak Kerry (48)
Barely Kerry (95)
Barely Bush (51)
Weak Bush (49)
Safe Bush (144)

If these numbers hold, Kerry wins 290-244. I don't know why a few electoral votes are missing.

If Florida goes to Bush, he wins 271-263. Then again, switch just Wisconsin and Kerry wins 273-261.

Thus, it's close.

The Election Projection page (produced by a Bush supporter) had it Kerry 316, Bush 222 on June 12.

So far as I can tell, Larry Sabato still doesn't have his map or predictions available.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Another War College Warning

Jeffrey Record and Andrew Terrill of the Army War College have co-authored another interesting study about Iraq from their home at the Army's think tank (the Strategic Studies Institute). Actually, Record was a visitor in Carlisle (PA) last year; he normally resides at the Air War College in Alabama.

Like Records's previous study on Iraq and the war on terror, and one by Antulio Echevarria II on US warmaking, this report is receiving publicity because it is fairly critical and/or skeptical of the US mission in Iraq.

Indeed, this latest study aims to draw explicit comparisons to a famous quagmire. The title? "Iraq and Vietnam: Differences, Similarities and Insights."

Reuters had a story about the report in May, when it was released:
"In Vietnam, we were trying to prop up a government that had little legitimacy. In Iraq, we're trying to weave together a government and support it so it can develop legitimacy. Both are extremely hard to do," said co-author W. Andrew Terrill, of the War College's Strategic Studies Institute.
Legitimacy in the context of the Iraq war was the theme of one of my first few posts on this blog.

As Bob Johnson has noted, this study demonstrates that "it's not just a few left wing 'whackos' thinking along those lines."

Record and Terrill, of course, do not find many military parallels between Iran and Vietnam. Rather, they focus on the political similarities and foresee:
dire consequences if the political lessons of Vietnam go unheeded. "Repetition of those failures in Iraq could have disastrous consequences for U.S. foreign policy," it says.
Hmmm, what kind of political failures?

For some reason, the SSI link to the report doesn't always work, but the Reuter's story has these tidbits:
Given that Iraqis have known nothing but authoritarian rule since the country's inception, it's impossible to say whether U.S. policy will succeed, the authors say.

Insurgent violence could also grow after the June 30 handover, when the run-up to elections magnifies divisions among rival ethnic, religious and tribal groups, all well-stocked with weapons and ammunition.

"The main threat to state-building in Iraq lies not in the insurgency in central Iraq but rather in the potential for the recent uprising of Shi'ite militants to reignite, expand, and include large elements of that community, or the development of the kind of sectarian civil war that plunged Lebanon into near anarchy for almost two decades," the report says.
So, one major potential problem is internal to Iraq.

But another involves domestic US support for the war:
With U.S. deaths in Iraq now at 791 and taxpayer costs expected to soar above $180 billion, the authors are cautious about the longevity of U.S. public support.

"Americans could become very impatient should the rationale for a continuing and costly U.S. occupation of Iraq shift to a more direct focus on uplifting the Iraqi people, especially if the Iraq public appears ungrateful," their report says.
As I wrote some weeks ago, this support hinges at least in part on public diplomacy.

The polls, currently show that the public has turned against the war.

I guess Bush's recent speech at Carlisle, linking Iraq to the war on terror, flopped.

Another culture update

It's the weekend, my wife's brother and sister have been visiting, and I'm trying to recover from the Hit and Run.

So, it's time for another culture update.

Last weekend, the family checked out "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." I thought it was better than the second one (which I really cannot remember...though I recall that Kenneth Branagh was in it).

What should parents like me make of this line from the film? "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."


Trivia question: How many times did characters refer to Hermione as the most promising witch of her age?

Last night, my spouse, her siblings and I went to see Jeff Black and Kim Richey. The show was good, though jet lag and other maladies caused us to leave after about 90 minutes.


Finally, RIP Tony B.

Oh, and Ray Charles. Ray was singing alt-country with soul and passion long before Norah Jones ever recorded a note. Check it out.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Hit and run

About 6:35 eastern time Friday night, I was driving home from the office, thinking about the pizza and beer I was about to enjoy with my family. Suddenly a large tan car ('80s Buick maybe?) appeared in my lane -- heading straight at me.

The driver had apparently been driving too fast to make a right turn and was swerving a great deal. His traffic light was red, so I suspect he was making this turn in a last-ditch effort to avoid hitting the large SUV that was in front of me and about to enter the intersection.

Basically, there really wasn't much I could do except slam on the brake.

I was in a '92 Mazda Protege, which doesn't have airbags. Though my seatbelt restrained me (the cop said otherwise the steering column would have collapsed), I walked away with serious bruising and pain from hitting the steering wheel. The EMTs, who arrived very fast, quickly took me to the emergency room where I had four different chest X-rays to make sure that I didn't have internal injuries.

The police officer on the scene arrived about 8 pm to take my statement. He told me that the other driver had fled (on foot), but that the car was apparently not stolen. I forgot to ask the name of the owner of the vehicle -- or even what kind of car it was.

For a few seconds, the other driver and I were "eyeball-to-eyeball," separated by perhaps 8 feet of newly compressed automobiles. He looked a lot like the character "Chase" on the TV program "24."


For a few days, I'll be recovering from these bruises. Meanwhile, we have to figure out how to replace this "exceptional" car (that's how Kelly's Blue Book put it). It only had about 67,000 miles, so I was planning to use it for several more years, driving 6 miles each way to work. It was only worth 2 or 3 grand on the market, but it was worth a great deal to us.

Sigh.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Just Like Old Times

Do you miss the cold war?

If so, you are probably enjoying the 24/7 Reagan-Fest, which apparently cannot be interrupted for other news -- whether about the forthcoming presidential election or the torture memos.

Newspapers are reporting the latest figures on world military expenditures complied by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
World military spending surged last year, reaching about $956 billion (U.S.), nearly half of it by the United States as it paid for missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the war against terror...

Military spending rose 11 per cent in 2003, up 18 per cent from 2001, the last year for which figures were available.

The $956 billion spent on defence costs worldwide represents 2.7 per cent of the world's gross domestic product, according to the annual report.

"It's very close to the Cold War peak in 1987," said institute researcher and report co-author Elisabeth Skoens.

The United States led the world in defence spending, accounting for 47 per cent of the total, followed by Japan with 5 per cent and Britain, France and China, with 4 per cent each.
Isn't it great how the United States can reach cold war military spending levels without even bothering to have an opponent?

Who gets the credit for this mega-spending? Is it dangerous? Republican Senator Dick Lugar blames Bush and says it is.

I'll agree.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Flip flops

I've been thinking about John Kerry's alleged "flip flop" problem, which was documented in the latest LA Times poll.
when asked which candidate was more likely to flip-flop on issues, almost twice as many named Kerry than Bush.
I guess those Bush commercials have accomplished something.

The Bush campaign certainly wants to label Kerry a flip flopper. The President, in contrast, is to be viewed as a firm and decisive leader. These ideas, apparently, help make the "war on terror" a potentially winning issue for Bush. Americans want firm and decisive action against terrorism.

This is potentially quite bad for the Democrat: Kerry voted for the war and plays up his service experience. However, if voters want someone strong, and if there's no big difference between the candidates on security issues, why change? Stick with Bush. However, if Kerry reverses course and tries to use Iraq against the incumbent, he's simply a weak and opportunistic flip flopper. Vote for Bush.

Heads I win, tails you lose.

However, there's good new for Kerry in the latest poll data. First, he's beating Bush nationally 51% to 44%. Add Nader and it is 48% to 42% (meaning, apparently, that some Bush voters prefer Nader).

Even better, however, is this poll finding: the country wants a giant flip flop:
Nearly three-fifths believe the nation is on the wrong track, the highest level a Times poll has recorded during Bush's presidency.

Also, 56% said America "needs to move in a new direction" because Bush's policies have not improved the country.
The Times pointed out that the Bush people have perhaps gone overboard with the flip flop thing:
By a resounding 58% to 16%, poll respondents said the phrase "too ideological and stubborn" applied more to Bush than to Kerry.
As I blogged last month, even many conservatives think this administration is driven too much by ideology.

I think this data means that Kerry is succeeding in part because of his liberalism. You know, the classic definitions that imply an interest in reform and progress, willingness to change, and broad-mindedness.

Americans are basically liberal -- especially in the face of bad news. "Stay the course" only works if the course is good. In 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush could rely upon peace and prosperity to "stay the course" against Michael Dukakis.

We currently have neither peace nor prosperity. The country is longing for a flip flopper.

Furthermore, as Matt Yglesias points out:
Americans really do want the government to solve their problems, clean their air and water, educate their children, cure their sick, and keep them safe from terrorists and defective products.
These battles were fought and won in the 1980s, and Clintonism sealed it. In 2000, more Americans voted for these ideas than for Bush's ideas (concealed as they were in "compassionate conservatism," made up so as to sound more than a little bit liberal).

Bush is going to lose.

Billmon at the Whiskey Bar makes another related and interesting point about the election when he explains why Bush is not getting a bounce in the polls from the 24 hour Reagan-Fest.

Borrowing from the world of product advertising, Billmon notes:
But one of the concepts that stuck in my head was the idea of the "contrast gainer" - or, conversely, the "contrast detractor."

The idea is that product comparisons can be critical, particularly in visual ads. To use a crude example: If you put a bouquet of carnations next to a bouqet of flowers, the carnations look ... ordinary, drab even. But if you put the carnations next to a bucket of manure, they look vivid, fresh, colorful, etc. For carnations, manure is a contrast gainer; roses a contrast detractor.
Kerry is a good contrast to Bush, Bush is a poor contrast to both Reagan and Kerry.

Fortunately, Kerry isn't running against Reagan and the Republicans aren't going to be able to make Americans think that he is, even if the Bush campaign website features 100% Reagan photos and visuals.


Update: Speaking of "contrast detraction," I should have included Kevin Drum's line, "The problem with comparing Bush to Reagan is that Bush comes off as a mediocre painter trying to emulate Picasso."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

War emblems

Kentucky isn't really a central front in the war on terror, but 2 interesting recent stories make some strange connections.

First, remember the September 2001 flights out of the US (during a time when air traffic was grounded) filled with Saudi nationals? Well, the St. Petersberg Times is reporting today that the 9/11 Commission is interested in a flight that departed Tampa for Lexington, KY and then returned to Tampa. The Saudis on board, including "a prince," apparently departed the US from Lexington:
Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with most of the nation's air traffic still grounded, a small jet landed at Tampa International Airport, picked up three young Saudi men and left.

The men, one of them thought to be a member of the Saudi royal family, were accompanied by a former FBI agent and a former Tampa police officer on the flight to Lexington, Ky.

The Saudis then took another flight out of the country. The two ex-officers returned to TIA a few hours later on the same plane.
The story includes a fair amount of detail about how more than 140 Saudi nationals were allowed to leave the country that week. The local officials, however, say that none of the 3 Saudis on board the Tampa-Lexington flight were screened in any way. Either the FAA, FBI or White House likely approved the flight.

Another Saudi-Kentucky angle has also been circulating (most recently in this syndicated NY Daily News Story by Michael O'Keefe) for about a month (originally in a Baltimore Sun story by John Eisenberg). Prince Ahmed bin Salman, owner of 2002 Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem has been named as a conduit between the Saudi royal family and al Qaeda. The allegations are made in Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud and Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11, by journalist Gerald Posner. From Eisenberg:
According to Posner's book, it was Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaida's chief of field operations and a confidant of Osama bin Laden, who revealed a link between the prince and al-Qaida. Captured by American soldiers in Pakistan in March 2002, 6 1/2 months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Zubaydah was given sodium pentothal to make him talkative and questioned by Arab-Americans posing as Saudi interrogators.

From memory, Zubaydah provided the home phone and cell phone number of a Saudi royal family member and suggested his interrogators make the call.

"He will tell you what to do," Zubaydah said, according to Posner's account.

The phone numbers reportedly belonged to Prince Ahmed bin Salman.
Unger relies on Posner's account, along with his own followup investigation. He claims that the Prince's role was to keep terror out of Saudi Arabia, rather than to fund terror.

Zubayday allegedly named 2 other intermediaries and all 3 died within 4 months, one from a car crash, one from dehydration in the desert, and the Prince allegedly of a heart attack.

Some circumstantial evidence is also noted:
According to Unger's book, the late prince's father, Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, is "the powerful governor of Riyadh [Saudi Arabia] who had worked closely with Osama bin Laden ... during the Afghanistan war" with the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
What to make of these Kentucky connections? From the O'Keefe story:
"In the book, I don't draw conclusions," Posner agrees. "I don't have the final answers. I'm still trying to chase this down. But I think what this means is we need a more serious investigation of the Saudis. We need a push by the Bush administration to get more answers."
Maybe we'll hear more when Michael Moore's movie starts attracting US press attention.

Update: Snitch had this story in April and interviewed Unger. He says that the Prince was definitely on the manifest for the September 13, 2001, flight that left the country filled with Saudis. He also says that at least some of the round-up flights were supposed to have been grounded. The Tampa-Lexington flight, among others, has never been acknowledged by the Bush administration (including the FAA and FBI).

Time magazine apparently had the story about the Zubaydah interrogation -- and Steve Gilliard excerpted a lot of it on his news blog.



Ideas

The blogosphere is a great place for people to test ideas. Granted, a lot of blog entries merely link without comment to interesting news stories, but a fair number of posts come with analysis and critique, the bedrocks of political debate.

I decided to do a short run around the blogosphere -- pointing to interesting points bloggers have made, or ideas that merit more consideration. Some are more serious than others. At the moment, most bloggers I read regularly are focusing on either the so-called "torture memos" or the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

I haven't yet blogged about the most recent development in the prisoner scandal, the leaked memos, but others have. Mark A.R. Kleiman asks the key question about the Bush administration's latest position:
Let me be sure I have this straight: we're not torturing anyone, but revealing our legal position on what we can and can't do would weaken the fight against terror?
Phil Carter explains that a key torture memo's claim that "authority to set aside the laws is 'inherent in the president'" directly conflicts with the Constitution's "affirmative duty [on the President] to enforce the laws" (found in Article II, Section 3).

In passing, Gary Sauer-Thompson equates prison torture with terror. Given that hundreds of apparently innocent people were released from those prisons, this seems like a legitimate point.

Chris at Explananda fears that administration officials will not be held to account for their alleged misdeeds, and that this reflects the sad fact that a "separate law applies to people in power."

Because Bush's lawyers (no, not his private attorney consulted about the Plame affair) are talking about the so-called "Nuremberg defense" (just following orders), Digby has this perfect quip:
George W. Bush has been making comparisons between the "War On Terrorism" and WWII. I didn't realize that in this sequel we were the Germans.
Naturally, quite a lot of bloggers have been thinking about the Reagan legacy.

Dwight Meredith of Wampum has a long, but well-done, post on "Ranking the Reagan Economy." I don't want to spoil his conclusion, but let's just say some other (recently) re-elected presidents did better. Politus found a great quote that puts Bush's economy in perspective.

Actually, since Kevin Hayden of the American Street already did a nice run around the blogosphere about Reagan, I'll cut this short. Hayden has several of Reagan's less famous quotes:
In retaking People's Park from the Berkeley students, Reagan sent in the National Guard, proclaiming: "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with!"

"The state of California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity." was another thing he actually said as governor.

Another Reagan quote of note: "History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap."
Tex at UnFairWitness had a short post on "The Reagan loonie?" that just might create a bipartisan consensus for a Reagan coin.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Reagan

I don't have much to say about the passing of Ronald Wilson Reagan. Instead, I'll write a little bit about how his life influenced mine (it is my blog after all).

My graduate career (and, thus, my professional life) started in 1983, well into the Reagan presidency.

Ultimately, my dissertation was inspired by the Reagan administration. My thesis focused primarily on missile defenses (and the importance of public audiences in shaping policy), as did a few of my earliest journal articles. One piece, in fact, specifically analyzed a speech delivered by Reagan on March 23, 1983. At the time, this was known as the "Star Wars" speech, even though the President didn't use that term.

In fact, the average listener probably wasn't exactly sure what Reagan was discussing when he turned somewhat ambiguously to strategic defenses. Reagan included the relevant paragraphs at the end of a lengthy speech on "Defense and National Security." Throughout the overwhelming majority of this speech, Reagan outlined the need for elevated defense spending. As you might expect, a great deal of the speech was dedicated to outlining Soviet weaponry. That's how the arms race was justified in the US: they build, so we have to build.

Of course, as in the recent debate about Iraqi WMD, the threats were often inflated.

Here's an interesting quote from the March 23, 1983, speech that might have been useful in the 2002-2003 Iraq debate:
The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor.
Then again, America's actions have long been justified as defensive even when many observers might see them as offensive. In this address, Reagan mentioned US concerns about an airfield in Grenada with a 10,000-foot runway built with Soviet financing. In October of that year, American forces invaded Grenada and deposed Maurice Bishop.

Perhaps you saw the mediocre Clint Eastwood movie about it.

Anyway, back to the March 23 speech. Reagan was accusing the Soviets of "acquiring what can only be considered an offensive military force" and calling for greater American defense forces to counter it. Ultimately, he proposed strategic defenses:
After careful consultation with my advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I believe there is a way. Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?

I know this is a formidable, technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of this century. Yet, current technology has attained a level of sophistication where it's reasonable for us to begin this effort. It will take years, probably decades of effort on many fronts. There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs. And as we proceed, we must remain constant in preserving the nuclear deterrent and maintaining a solid capability for flexible response. But isn't it worth every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war? We know it is.

In the meantime, we will continue to pursue real reductions in nuclear arms, negotiating from a position of strength that can be ensured only by modernizing our strategic forces. At the same time, we must take steps to reduce the risk of a conventional military conflict escalating to nuclear war by improving our nonnuclear capabilities.

America does possess -- now -- the technologies to attain very significant improvements in the effectiveness of our conventional, nonnuclear forces. Proceeding boldly with these new technologies, we can significantly reduce any incentive that the Soviet Union may have to threaten attack against the United States or its allies.

As we pursue our goal of defensive technologies, we recognize that our allies rely upon our strategic offensive power to deter attacks against them. Their vital interests and ours are inextricably linked. Their safety and ours are one. And no change in technology can or will alter that reality. We must and shall continue to honor our commitments.

I clearly recognize that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy, and no one wants that. But with these considerations firmly in mind, I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

Tonight, consistent with our obligations of the ABM treaty and recognizing the need for closer consultation with our allies, I'm taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves. We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage. Our only purpose -- one all people share -- is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.

My fellow Americans, tonight we're launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history. There will be risks, and results take time. But I believe we can do it. As we cross this threshold, I ask for your prayers and your support.

Thank you, good night, and God bless you.
Despite what Christopher Hitchens wrote at Salon, Reagan did not end this speech "with the lame quip, 'May the force be with you.'"

In fact, Reagan apparently used that line when astronauts were about to fly in the space shuttle, which actually seems appropriate. Even Reagan's "evil empire" speech does not use the phrase inspired by that movie. Reagan referred to totalitarians as evil, but did not utter the word "empire" in the address.

And it was Reagan's foes who called the program inspired by the March 23 speech "Star Wars." The administration called the program the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In short, the Reagan legacy is complicated; informed (like the former President was) by myths and half-truths. My coauthored journal article about the "Star Wars" speech argued that it was an excellent response to the nuclear freeze movement, but a poor way to initiate defense policy given the negative reaction that could be expected from significant numbers of "defense intellectuals" and allies. After all, supporters had been proposing "anti-missile missiles" since the Soviets launched Sputnik -- typically in the face of significant opposition that was able for decades to hold off repeated efforts to secure deployment.

Ultimately, the SDI program also died before deployment, but when urged to do so by political leaders, the US body politic still regularly engages in debates about whether to deploy missile defenses. One of the Clinton-Gingrich confrontations that closed the government was partly about the appropriation of funds to deploy missile defenses. Donald Rumsfeld may have been named Bush's Defense Secretary because of his misleading Commission Report that inflated missile threats from proliferants.

You get the idea.

I ultimately broadened my scholarly interests by turning to questions about global environmental politics and international institutions. But the public debates about threats in the nuclear age, and the appropriate US responses to them, are ongoing and interesting.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Draft alert!

No, not that draft. Today is major league baseball's amateur draft.

And teams face an interesting, 9/11-related, globalization dilemma.

Basically, baseball franchises face a shortage of certain kinds of work visas for foreigners looking to find positions in the US. In Canada, home to a number of good amateur baseball prospects, this is a noteworthy problem::
Up until this year getting the required visa - an H2B visa, issued to a wide variety of seasonal workers - hadn't been an issue. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issue up to 66,000 of them per year, usually more than enough.

But growth in the tourism and landscaping industries has led to increased demand for H2Bs and last year the United States granted 13,000 over its quota. Amid the security-conscious environment post September 11th, the government vowed to be more vigilant in keeping tabs on the number of visas handed out.

This year the limit was met March 10 and the State Department said no more would be available for 2004.
I should note that this does not immediately affect Latin American players (who face their own problems) since they are not subject to baseball's amateur draft.

While only about a quarter of major leaguers are non-US born, nearly half of all minor league players are foreign. So this is a big deal because drafted players virtually always start their careers in the minors:
The quota on the visa foreigners require to play minor-league ball in the United States has already been met for 2004, meaning Canucks chosen Monday and Tuesday won't be able to start their pro careers down south this season. That has some clubs rethinking their draft-day plans when it comes to Canadians...
This 9/ll problem has been bubbling for a long time:
Major league teams began making their applications for 2004 visas last October and it's a good thing they got started early. The 30 teams received a total of 1,236 H2Bs and had they not been on the ball, their foreign minor-league prospects might have been forced to sit out the season (there was never a threat to foreign big-leaguers, who receive P1 visas reserved for elite athletes and entertainers).
Sure, it's not high priority news, but it is interesting to me...and security-related.

Plus, you know, I taught a course on "Globalization and Baseball" just last fall.


Proliferation of Hypocrisy

Friday, I blogged about the Proliferation Security Initiative.

Clearly, since 9/11, administration figures have worried openly about "mushroom clouds" emanating from Iraq, Iran's nuclear status, etc.

Yet, despite its rhetoric, the Bush administration's actions on nuclear proliferation are quite hypocritical.

For example, consider an essay web-published today by Scott Lynch, communications director for Peace Action, "Bush's Nuclear Hypocrisy Encourages Proliferation." In his piece, Lynch writes that the Bush administration is pursuing a "do as I say, not as I do" nuclear weapons policy that means the US is "ramped-up for a nuke building bender."

The US is seeking so-called bunker busters and low-yield nuclear weapons that will be more "usable" and task-oriented. Bush is also pushing legislation that would reduce the preparation time required for the US to again conduct nuclear tests from 36 months to 18 months.

Back in February, Robert Jensen of the University of Texas wrote a piece with a similar title, "Bush’s nuclear hypocrisy." As I have before, Jensen emphasized the failure of the US to comply with Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty:
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
In other words, according to the NPT, the US is supposed to be working towards "general and complete disarmament" rather than new weapons.

Like Lynch, Jenson highlights the bunker buster program.
Jacqueline Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation (a public-interest organization that monitors and analyzes U.S. nuclear-weapons programs) sums it up this way: “The U.S. is spending more money on nuclear-weapons research and development than ever before, giving its nuclear arsenal new military capabilities and elevating the role of nuclear weapons in its aggressive and unilateral ‘national security’ policy.” Cabasso cites ongoing work on such weapons as a “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” as clear evidence of U.S. intentions to pursue nuclear weaponry, not work toward its elimination.
Catchy name, eh? There's long been a pseudo-sexual side to naming weapons.

Jensen caught Bush in his own lies: "free societies are societies that don’t develop weapons of mass terror."

Similarly, Andrew Koch of Center for Defense Information (CDI) once argued on the CNN website that the "The US must lead by example." Koch was writing just after the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests and noted that India often specifically points to US failure to comply with Article VI of the NPT to justify its own decision not to join the anti-nuclear club:
perversely, the United States continues to pursue a hypocritical nuclear policy that encourages others to proliferate. One of several rationales for the Indian tests was to challenge the non-proliferation regime, which New Delhi views as discriminatory. What particularly peeked India's ire was the fact that the nuclear powers have not adequately fulfilled their obligation to move toward nuclear disarmament as promised under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Since the piece was published in 1998, it demonstrates that this is a long-term problem -- worsened by Bush, but bipartison nonetheless.

Earlier this year D. Ravi Kanth published "US hypocrisy on N-proliferation," in the Deccan Herald (which I found out is part of the South Asian Media Net). Kanth pointed out that the US has not only failed to ratify the CTBT, which since the 2000 NPT review conference has been recognized as the next step toward meeting Article VI requirements, but it also refuses to criticize Pakistan for its proliferation -- and, of course, wants to build the new weapons (such as the Penetrator).

These are not merely left-wing talking points. Even Carter administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recognizes that "American policy is the height of hypocrisy." Of course, that piece was published in the Times of India rather than the New York Times. And that's the same hawkish Brzezinski who armed the mujahadeen in Afghanistan before Ronald Reagan ever had the chance. In fact, he armed them 6 months before the Soviets invaded.


Disclosures I worked on a project with Steven Brion-Meisels who is a Board Member at Peace Action. I also interned at CDI back in the summer of '85.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Proliferation Security Initiative

A year ago (May 31, 2003), President Bush announced a Proliferation Security Initiative, which in the State Department's words "is an effort to enhance and expand efforts to prevent the flow of WMD [weapons of mass destruction], their delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern."

Eleven "core" countries initially joined with the US to initiate the PSI, but 60-80 states (reports vary) are currently meeting in Krakow to discuss implementation measures.

Since PSI is "an activity, not an organization," the US isn't seeking formal participation by other states. To the administration, it is multilateralism without pesky bureaucrats.

The original core countries adopted a "Statement of Interdiction Principles" on September 4, 2003. The US State Department claims that more than 50 countries have reviewed the SOPs (their acronym, not mine) and "share" the views expressed. Allegedly, all this is consistent with previous nonproliferation accords.

This seems to be how the PSI is supposed to work:
PSI is not focused on countries but on shipments to states and non-state actors of proliferation concern. Vessels of a state would be boarded only to the extent consistent with national legal authorities and international law.
Countries that challenge the legality of a specific claim can opt out of it. The range of proliferation activity covered is fairly broad:
The P.S.I. calls for its signatory nations to use existing laws and treaties to stop the spread of missiles and weapons parts by boarding suspect ships, raiding factories and asking states to stop suspect flights from entering their airspace.
It's not at all clear to me what happens if a consensual boarding is sought -- and denied. Embedded State Dept. neocon John Bolton seems to be the key US policy person on PSI, and he's got a fairly hawkish take on this issue.

By reading State's FAQ, I've learned that the countries are not going to share intelligence multilaterally (!), but the US will act only when it has a "solid case." Where have we heard that before?

Negative spin: To "enforce" nonproliferation standards (which generally have opt-out clauses) the US may end up employing force in a manner that not 100% consistent with international law. And like the Iraq adventure, states that disagree can just stand on the sidelines and watch.

As VOANews.com has announced, Russia recently agreed to join the PSI core states, bringing the total now to 15. In the past, Russia refused to join PSA because it thought the US would use this as cover to board ships unilaterally in order to search and seize suspicious material.

Leaders are expected to discuss the PSI at this month's G-8 meeting in Georgia. I'll be watching for news.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Former Debater in the News

A close friend from college (we were both on the debate team at Kansas) is right in the middle of the news about the Enron tapes.

Eric Christensen, a lawyer for a Seattle-area utility (and formerly a lawyer for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), is quoted several times in this story about how "Enron traders derided users."

Here's one of the juicy quotes transcribed by the utility:
In one transcript, a trader asks about "all the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers of California."

To which the Enron trader responds, "Yeah, Grandma Millie, man. But she's the one who couldn't figure out how to (expletive) vote on the butterfly ballot."

"Yeah, now she wants her (expletive) money back for all the power you've charged right up -- jammed right up her (expletive) for (expletive) 250 dollars a megawatt-hour," the first trader says.
OK, here's another one, from a different news story:
"He just f---s California," says one Enron employee. "He steals money from California to the tune of about a million."

"Will you rephrase that?" asks a second employee.

"OK, he, um, he arbitrages the California market to the tune of a million bucks or two a day," replies the first.
Eric is also quoted in this story:
"This is the evidence we've all been waiting for. This proves they manipulated the market," said Eric Christensen, a spokesman for the utility.
Eric was a great researcher, even in college. He and his colleagues were certainly determined:
Snohomish County PUD consultants listened to about 1,000 hours of phone conversations, which were recorded in August, September and December 2000 and January 2001, said Eric Christensen, assistant general council for the PUD. Additional conversations likely took place by cell phones, online instant messaging and Internet chat rooms, which traders used to conduct business.

The PUD filed transcripts of about 80 phone conversations with the FERC, Christensen said. The utility made nine of the conversations public online.
Way to go Eric!

Now, does Enron have any assets?


Note: In his senior year, Eric debated with Jim Reed, who is now something of a health law expert.