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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Wilco

Tonight, at the Louisville Palace Theater, I'll be listening to Wilco in concert.

This will be the second time I've seen them; the first time was in Vegas at the House of Blues.

Local band My Morning Jacket warms up.

I'm hoping for a good show.


Update: It was a very good performance, much better in my view than the Vegas show from '02. Of course, this is partly explained by their performance of numerous cuts from "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," the great album they released in 2002. Those songs are very familiar to me now, they weren't in mid-March of that year.

The venue was also very good.

For the final encore, MMJ came on stage with Wilco and the bands performed "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" together. Apparently, this was the last show of the tour.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Yuppie vices -- and global terror

Cross posted on Duck of Minerva.

First, the administration explained in a famous advertisement featured during the 2002 Super Bowl that buying drugs abets terrorism.

Then, in 2003, Arianna Huffington's "Detroit Project" ran ads claiming that owning an SUV indirectly aids terror; buying lots of gas provides lots of cash to the Iranians and Saudis.

Now, apparently, it turns out that feeding your baby fosters global terrorism. This link is explained by FBI Director Robert Mueller (quoted by Bradley C. Bower of AP) in today's Christian Science Monitor:
"Middle Eastern criminal enterprises involved in the organized theft and resale of infant formula pose not only an economic threat, but a public health threat to infants, and a potential source of material support to a terrorist organization."
Don't snicker, stolen infant formula is apparently a major criminal enterprise:
Theft of baby formula from store shelves has risen over the past decade, costing retailers billions of dollars. Formula was the fourth most-often-shoplifted item last year, according to a survey by the Food Marketing Institute, a Washington, D.C., trade group....

Calling it "a serious security issue" for retailers, the National Retail Federation unveiled its 200-page report highlighting "organized retail theft" of infant formula. At least seven of the report's 10 case studies detail fencing operations run by citizens of Middle Eastern origin.

"The rings I identified dealing in stolen infant formula are operated mostly by Middle Easterners," says Charles Miller, a loss-prevention consultant and author of the report. They typically organize the rings, pay the shoplifters (who are mostly from Latin America), repackage the formula, and resell it. Out of $30 billion in annual retail theft, about $7 billion of infant formula is stolen and resold for a tidy profit, Mr. Miller estimates.
Who knew? Bower points out in his story that Ebay had over 1000 offers for Enfamil baby formula this Monday.

The story quotes a number of skeptics about the terror link and the officials acknowledge that the connections to terror are largely unproven. They trace the cash to the people of Middle Eastern origin, then to their home countries...but the money trail is ultimately lost. Who knows what happens to this cash?

It's not for lack of trying. The CSM story references an alleged terror-related baby formula bust that coincidentally occurred on 9/11 in Texas, so this is something that state and federal officials have been following for years.

Of course, it could be that this illegally obtained money is simply used by family and friends back home to pay their bills. This is from a VOA story a few weeks ago:
About 80 percent of worldwide remittances are used for food, goods and services. Much of the rest goes into building better housing or buying properties.
Annually, tens of billions of US dollars are funneled out of the country by immigrants, temporary workers, and illegal aliens. Typically, these remittances are more significant than foreign aid or direct investment. It's a lot of cash to track.

Still, next time you need formula, you might want to buy from a regular store, rather than a private seller on Ebay or at the flea market.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What is it with Congress and baseball?

Earlier this year, Congress held hearings about steroids in baseball. A lot of people thought it was kind of strange for that legislative body to concern itself with something so unimportant. Shouldn't it spend more time worrying about major issues? You know...Iraq, health care, Social Security, etc.

Well, this week, some members of Congress are going even further. This time, their concern is quite transparently about partisan politics, and cannot be readily (or credibly) framed as a public policy concern.

Major League Baseball owns the Washington Nationals and plans to sell the team soon to one of seven or eight private groups that have bid on the team. The deal is expected to yield $300 to $400 million, so baseball is looking for especially affluent people. Remember, the President himself was once a minor partner in the Texas Rangers (a connection that advanced his political career).

One group bidding on the Nats includes billionaire George Soros as a minor investor. Soros, of course, is a well-known backer of Democratic politicians and progressive causes and groups. Some sources suggest he gave $20 million last year to defeat George W. Bush. This is from the Washington Post story, June 28:
some Republicans on Capitol Hill already are hinting at revoking the league's antitrust exemption if billionaire financier George Soros, an ardent critic of President Bush and supporter of liberal causes, buys the team.

"It's not necessarily smart business sense to have anybody who is so polarizing in the political world," Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) said. "That goes for anybody, but especially as it relates to Major League Baseball because it's one of the few businesses that get incredibly special treatment from Congress and the federal government."

Rep. Tom M. Davis III (R-Va.), who was a strong supporter of bringing a baseball team to Virginia, told Roll Call yesterday that "Major League Baseball understands the stakes" if Soros buys the team. "I don't think they want to get involved in a political fight."
You can always count on the Washington Times for the most colorful quotes:
"Soros is a political thug, and if he becomes an owner of the Nationals, I would recommend they be moved back to Montreal,"
conservative publicist Craig Shirley told Ralph Z. Hallow of The Washington Times.

Mr. Shirley added: "If Soros gets the Nationals, I think the president of France should throw out the first ball, not President Bush."
Pretty outrageous, eh? Here are the kind words from the Times story:
Beltway conservatives wouldn't boycott a Soros team, said R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor in chief of the American Spectator.

"The difference with liberals is that they have the political libidos of a nymphomaniac while conservatives have practically no political libido. Conservatives don't see everything as political. We'll go to the baseball game and not pay attention to who owns the team, though I suppose it would make a difference if the Nazis or the communists owned it. George Soros isn't that extreme -- just short of it," he said.
Ouch!

The Post story quotes an angry Democrat and one Republican who tries to claim that the opposition to Soros stems from his funding of efforts to legalize drugs. Yes, it links this ownership question to baseball's steroids problem.

So that angle takes this full circle, eh?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Would you rather have a Big Mac...or an F-16?

I'm teaching both International Security and American Foreign Policy this fall and have been thinking about what to cover in each class.

International security, of course, is a broader topic and people have all sorts of perspectives. Especially prior to the "war on terror," there was a vast literature developing on environmental security, human security, food security, etc.

To a large extent, the field has returned to its fascination with guns and bombs.

Here's something interesting from the Washington Post, March 26, 2005 (p. D12), that I missed when it was printed:
Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax...said the prospect of both countries [India and Pakistan] buying F-16s is a positive. "Two countries that have F-16s have never fought a war."
Wow! That sounds more absolute than "the democratic peace." Do you suppose the relationship simply reflects deterrence working successfully?

Thomas Friedman's theory is slightly different and borrows from earlier commercial theories of peace:
no two countries that have McDonald's have ever fought a war since each got McDonald's.
These theories may just be subsets of academic John Mueller's thesis: that war itself is obsolete because it is very costly and ineffective:
major war has been substantially discredited over the last century. Moreover, two important ideas have substantially taken hold: prestige and status principally derive from economic prowess (a quality often disparaged as debased and disgustingly materialistic by warlovers in the past); and war is a singularly ineffective and undesirable method for attaining wealth.

As a result, major war may be becoming truly obsolete--subrationally unthinkable. Countries like the once perennially hostile France and Germany reject war as a method for resolving their difficulties not so much because they determine it to be unwise after mulling over their options. Rather it is because--like dueling for quarreling aristocrats--war no longer occurs to them as a option to be considered.
Mueller argued in 1989 (warning, very large pdf file) that the wealthiest few dozen states in the world had not fought each other in war since 1945. I'm not 100% sure of Iraq's rank in 1991 or Yugoslavia's standing entering the 1990s, but Mueller's general thesis retains some persuasive power.

Organizationally, these various theories are relatively easy to fit into a syllabus: military strategy, economic dimensions, and norms.

Obviously, there are interconnections that warn against separating these ideas. Recall, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto once declared that "Pakistanis will make the bomb even if forced to eat grass."

If Pakistan really wanted to be secure, maybe its leaders should simply have built some golden arches. Then again, some find fault with that too.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The new look

Obviously, I decided to change the blog's template. I couldn't figure out how to get rid of that blank space and decided just to leap into something new.

I'd ask for your feedback, but I haven't got the comments working yet.

Stay tuned.


Update: I think comments are working now.

Change back from that regime?

Cross posted at The Duck of Minerva.

Earlier this week, the British government released data showing that the royal family costs each taxpayer just 61 pence ($1.12) per year. This was down £100,000 from last year, and is almost 60% less than the cost in 1991-92.

Apparently, Princess Di had expensive tastes.

The chief British government accountant put recent thrift in perspective for Reuters:
"We believe this represents a value-for-money monarchy," said Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse, who looks after the queen's finances.

We're not looking to provide the cheapest monarchy. We're looking at one of good value and good quality."
Some members of Parliament are nonetheless unhappy by certain questionable expenditures by junior members of the royal family. Prince Andrew, challenged last year for spending too much public money on golf vacations, spent £125,000 this year chartering one flight to the Far East. MPs would like to see the royals using public transportation, like, well, commoners:
Lawmaker Ian Davidson, a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party...described the royal train, used just 19 times over the year, as "a gross extravagance".

"We ought to have more of the royals using normal trains then perhaps they would put pressure on the powers that be to make sure the train service was improved for everyone," he told the BBC.
To me, it is interesting that the monarchy has been responsive to those demanding more openness and accountability. I have an academic interest in finding ways to make closed and unaccountable international institutions more democratic. After Princess Di parted with Prince Charles, and died, much of the media and general public turned on the royals.

Maybe one day conservative Republicans will be lauding the "value-for-money" World Bank or United Nations.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The new guy


While John Bolton may or may not be the next American Ambassador to the United Nations, his replacement is already working at the State Department as undersecretary for arms control and international security: Robert G. Joseph.


Tom Barry calls him Robert "First Strike" Joseph in an article for CounterPunch (also found at antiwar.com):
Joseph replaced John Bolton at the State Department as the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. Like the controversial Bolton, Joseph has established a reputation for breaking or undermining arms control treaties, rather than supporting or strengthening international arms control. Joseph, too, has long believed that U.S. military strategy should be more offensive than defensive.

Over his long career in government service starting soon after receiving his doctorate from Columbia, Joseph has advocated a military policy that extends beyond deterrence to preemptive first strikes. The Bush administration has given free rein to Robert Joseph's militarist and treaty-breaking convictions.
Barry calls Joseph a neocon, and he has certainly long been associated with that faction of the Republican party. Joseph has been in the Bush administration from the very beginning; indeed, he was partly responsible for the so-called "16 words" about Nigerian uranium that should not have been in the 2003 State of the Union address.

Joseph very much advocates research on and deployment of missile defenses, which have been a defense contractor boondoggle for decades. He is skeptical that new proliferant states can be deterred.

It might be more accurate to call Joseph a super-hawk. This is from an interview with Sandy Spector after 9/11:
Today's threats are vastly different. We are no longer talking about a superpower with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us. We are talking about a number of rogue states, each with handfuls of long-range missiles. None of these states seeks, in the Cold War context, to launch a first strike against us. Rather, they seek to hold our cities hostage and thereby deter us from coming to the assistance of friends and allies in key regions of the world. We believe that our deterrence concept must change to fit the times. It no longer makes sense to maintain thousands of nuclear weapons and the same counterforce offensive capabilities that we had in the Cold War. It simply does not fit the security environment of today. However, limited defenses against handfuls of missiles, rather than against hundreds or thousands of missiles, do make sense...

we believe a deterrent based exclusively on offenses is not going to be sufficient to deter the types of threats we face today. These threats are different. The leaderships of rogue states are different from the leadership of the former Soviet Union. The leaders of these states have demonstrated a willingness to gamble the lives of their nationals. We do not communicate with these states as effectively as we did with the Soviet Union. We also do not have agreed understandings with these states. That dynamic of deterrence is much different than in the Cold War. Quite frankly, the prospects for deterrence failure are greater now than they were in the past and therefore defenses are also needed to protect against the danger of its failure.
It looks like John Bolton has been replaced with a policy clone. The mustache isn't quite the same, but that's about it.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Car shopping and other frustrations

Sorry for the light blogging this week.

One reason: car shopping.

We're looking seriously at the Volkswagen Passat Wagon, with a diesel engine (TDI). Anyone have thoughts about this car? In the GL, it's very difficult to find. If we upgrade to GLS, there are many more out there, but it costs at least $1800 more than the GL and we don't really want a sunroof.

If we stick with the GL TDI 5AT (5 speed automatic transmission)...we're going to end up with either a black car or black "leatherette" interior. Note: Louisville is in day #2 of a stretch of 8 predicted 90+ degree days. We had a similar stretch earlier this month. In short, it's hot and a black car cannot be good in the heat (even the government says so).

While I'm complaining, does anyone know why yesterday's post had the large blank space?

That's happened before when I used a large photo or graphic, but I didn't use one yesterday.


Updates: (1) We bought the Passat Wagon GLS, without the diesel engine. Dealers receive a $2000 manufacturer rebate on that car and we managed to obtain a lot of that in our price. I like buying under dealer invoice and we did; (2) I think the blank space might be linked to Blogger turning off the counter. There's some weird code in the template right now.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Takings

I spent most of the 1990s studying global environmental politics. At one point, I was going to write a paper about the so-called "wise use movement" largely active in the western US. These are the libertarians and conservatives who fight government environmental regulations using populist rhetoric. The wise use movement is largely funded by large transnational corporations, especially those that buy animal grazing rights, mining leases, etc. from the federal government at below market prices. Some also manufacture off-road vehicles. Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church also funds the "movement."

The wise use movement is against government "takings" of private property.
They cite the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states in part: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." That clause is the basis for the concept of eminent domain, which allows government entities to take land for public projects by paying property owners the land's fair market value.
Typically, they argue that environmental regulations decrease private land values (by limiting uses) and thus constitute illegal government takings. Owners are not compensated for the theoretical future value of the developed land. Indeed, since they ordinarily keep their land, owners may not be compensated at all for the regulatory limits on its development.

The same crowd is against zoning restictions in some areas of the country, but most people accept those sorts of limits on property uses.

Anyway, I never wrote the "wise use" article, but have remained interested in takings. Back in January/February, Mother Jones published an article on local government use of eminent domain power to take private property in behalf of private developers. In other words, homes or businesses are being condemned and taken to build malls and condos.

That too is government "takings" and conservatives should be upset, right?

Apparently, they are!

Today, as the NY Times reported, the Supreme Court said these "takings" are A-OK:
The Supreme Court ruled today, in a deeply emotional case weighing the rights of property owners and the good of the community, that local governments can sometimes seize homes and businesses and turn them over to private developers.
It was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Stevens writing the decision. He was joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

This means that conservative Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas were outvoted. Ordinarily, that's a good thing, but this is an interesting case because a lot of local government officials seem to be in bed with developers who are looking out more for personal profit than the public interest.

Developers are the ones sending the mixed message. They won today, but they side with the western wise use crowd against government "takings" when regulations limit their ability to develop certain kinds of property (like wetlands).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Life maintenance day

After 5 months in Boston and nearly 6 months away...I needed a dental appointment and an eye doctor appointment.

And it's my 14th wedding anniversary.

See you soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bolton filibuster

Monday, the Republicans in the Senate again failed in their attempt to close debate and bring to a vote John Bolton's nomination as Ambassador to the UN.

This seems like a good opportunity to include another ridiculous Bolton quote, proving why his nomination is so controversial:
“If I were redoing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member, because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world -- the United States.”
That's from an interview with NPR's Juan Williams, June 6, 2000. How do you think Bolton would deal with the forthcoming discussions about UN Security Council reform?

Bolton would not only reject efforts by Germany, Japan, India and Brazil to gain a permanent seat, he would remove the veto and seat from France, China, Russia and the UK!

President Bush is standing behind Bolton and wants the Senate to bring his nomination to a definitive up-or-down vote (courageous to say in a body controlled by his party, eh?). While Bill Frist was apparently not enthused, he will apparently try again.

However, Bush could appoint Bolton during a congressional recess, allowing him to serve for nearly 18 months (until the end of this Congress).

Monday, June 20, 2005

Book thread

Cross-posted at the Duck of Minerva

Yesterday, Dan Nexon "tagged" me and the other bloggers at the Duck blog to participate in one of those circulating book threads (or "memes"). I am now supposed "to describe the 'five books I liked enough as a teen/young adult to read again as an adult.'"

Hmmmm. This is tough.

First, I'm older than the other guys and have thus had more time to re-read more books that I read as a teen/young adult. Theoretically, my list could be very long.

Second, and this is related to the last point, I have two children and have read many books aloud to them that I liked as a kid. I've also read books to them that I thought they might like, even if I didn't, in particular. This distorts my list towards a younger audience since my oldest child is not yet 12.

Third, however, I don't re-read very many books. Indeed, it is extremely rare for me to pick up a non-academic book that I've already read. More potentially interesting books are published in any given year than I can possibly devour. Why read ones I already know? This doesn't seem like an odd decision to me -- film critic Pauline Kael didn't even watch movies twice.

Those caveats aside, I'll produce a list:

1. 1984, by George Orwell. I read this book for the first time in the late 1970s when I was a teenager and thought it was cool that the title date was approaching. Plus, I was kind of a debate/policy geek, even in high school, and this book's lessons about power and politics seemed to explain a great deal about the world. Somehow, my copy was left at my parent's house when I went off to college, and I started re-reading it every summer when I came back to visit. While Winston's Smith life was engaging, I haven't read this book since....1984!

2. The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. This is one I read to my oldest daughter a couple of years ago. She is a big Harry Potter fan and has preferred reading to herself for some years now. Thus, I selected this one because I was confident she'd like it and that she would let me read it to her. Most often, she finishes books that we begin together.

3. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I suppose this is a predictable and clichéd choice, but I still remember being in a used bookstore as a teen and picking up the copy I continue to own...and sometimes read. In fact, I re-read parts of this book just a couple of years ago, ostensibly to see if it would be appropriate reading for my kids. I think I'll let them discover it on their own, though I guess this could be a "guy" book.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. We own perhaps 20 or 30 slim books by Dr. Seuss, but this is one of the few that I really like to read. Many of his other books are for reading to babies or really young children. I read The Butter Battle Book to my eldest daughter's classmates in spring 2003 when the US attacked Iraq, but that wasn't published until I was out of college so it doesn't count for this list. As an environmentalist, I like to read The Lorax to my children, but I don't really recall reading it as a kid. So that leaves the Grinch, a nasty and entertaining character. The book was great when I was a kid, and it's still pretty good (especially for reading to my younger daughter). The animated TV version was fun too, but the Jim Carrey movie was very hard to watch.

5. Ball Four by Jim Bouton. I realize this isn't fiction, but I read a lot of baseball books for diversion from my day job. Virtually every baseball book I read before 1984 was crap. This book is the exception and I've read it several times over the years. What happened in 1984? That's when I started reading Bill James. Now there's an author I read again and again. I own all of his abstracts back to 1983 and no summer passes without my flipping through one or more of them. I would like to own the ones published prior to 1983, but they're kind of pricey on the used book market.


Update: I forgot to tag anyone. How about N in Seattle, frequent guest blogger Paul, and Chris Young?

I would tag guest blogger Avery too, but he's kind of busy. Indeed, congratulations to Avery, who became a new Dad just in time for Father's Day. Now that's planning! All the best to mom Karen and son Adam too.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Consequences of Truth: Durbin edition

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin came under some heat this past week for going on the Senator floor and calling attention to some of the abuses at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The Chicago Tribune reported his words today:
Durbin read aloud from an FBI agent's detailed e-mail complaining about the "torture techniques" visited upon one Al Qaeda prisoner.

That e-mail described how the agent entered interview rooms to find "a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold."
The Tribune did not report the rest of the Senator's paragraph (read the entire speech if you'd like), also taken from the FBI agent's email:
On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
Durbin then delivered a powerful punchline, not unlike the one recently delivered by Amnesty International:
"If I read this to you, and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings," Durbin said.
For these words, Durbin has been crucified by the right.

Fellow Senator John Warner of Virginia said that he had demonstrated "a grievous error in judgment." White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan called the speech "reprehensible." Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called for his resignation!

Vice President Cheney also joined in this attempt to shoot the messenger:
I thought Durbin was totally out of line. I watched some of his comments on the floor of the United States Senate. For him to make those comparisons was one of the more egregious things I'd ever heard uttered on the floor of the United States Senate....it was so far over the top that I'm just appalled that anybody who serves in the United States Senate would even think those thoughts.
Now, apparently, Durbin has backed off a bit:
"More than 1700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and our country’s standing in the world community has been badly damaged by the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this Administration which add to the risk our soldiers face."

"I will continue to speak out when I disagree with this Administration."

"I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings: our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support."
I can understand that Durbin may fear that his words will be taken out of context and used against him, just as John Kerry's famous testimony during the Vietnam War was during the 2004 campaign season.

However, in his speech, Durbin pointed out that the Supreme Court eventually stood up to Abraham Lincoln when he suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War and that the US now very much regrets the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

America needs more people of conviction like Senator Richard Durbin. Contact his office and tell him that you support his attempt to speak truth to power. It appears he could use the boost.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Iran's Judith Miller -- or Laurie Mylroie?

Usually, when "The Daily Show" has a right-wing guest, Jon Stewart tips off his audience and tries to have some fun with the fact that the guest's views diverge from his. Last night, Stewart seemed to think that his show's visitor, Kenneth R. Timmerman, was a like-minded critic of the Bush administration -- annoyed that US foreign policymakers had attacked the wrong Middle Eastern country in 2003. Stewart, earlier this year said something that he nearly repeated last night:
"George W. Bush is not stupid. He invaded Iraq. They didn't have weapons of mass destruction or ties to Al Quaeda ... but Iran does. So he was only one letter off and that should be credited,"
Timmerman has just authored a new book Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, which was based on his access to "Iranian defectors and officials, and high-level sources in the U.S. government."

By the end of Timmerman's appearance on "The Daily Show," he was informing host Stewart of the evidence he had gathered from Iranian dissidents about the clear threat from Iran -- primarily nuclear proliferation and terror sponsorship. OK.

But Stewart became really polite and said "Goodnight" to his audience just after Timmerman revealed that Osama bin Laden had secretly plotted to take down the Twin Towers on 9/11 with the Iranian government. Timmerman claimed this was largely what the 9/11 Commission had found.

What? Why didn't Stewart call him on that? While the Commission found that some of the so-called Saudi "muscle" hijackers may have gone through Iran, this was because Iran didn't as a rule stamp passports of Saudi nationals traveling through to or from Afghanistan (p. 241):
"We have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 terror attack. At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation."
Did Stewart's staff drop the ball?

I've spent the past half day trying to figure out if Timmerman is the Judith Miller or Laurie Mylroie of Iran. Is he a journalist duped by defectors, or a wacko pushing his unsupported conspiracy theories on major media?

Timmerman's right-wing credentials are clear and I'm leaning to the parallel to Mylroie.

He writes frequently for The American Spectator, The National Review Online, the Washington Times, the New York Post, Human Events, Insight, etc.

Timmerman appears regularly on Fox News and MSNBC's Scarborough show.

His past writings have attacked the French betrayal of the US, John Kerry's plans to abandon the war on terror, Jesse Jackson, the media's biased coverage of the post-war search for WMD in Iraq, etc. He defends Ahmed Chalabi.

The book's publisher, Crown Forum, also puts out work by Ann Coulter and "the writers at NewsMax.com" (which is Fox News).

With neoconservatives Peter Rodman and Joshua Muravchik, Timmerman founded the Foundation for Democracy in Iran. Since its founding in 1995, the author has served as FDI's Executive Director.

Hmmmm. Maybe Timmerman is trying to be more like Michael Ledeen?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Beating around the Bush?

Cross-posted at Duck of Minerva.

The noted political scientist Aaron Wildavsky (now deceased) wrote in 1966 that the U.S. "has one President but two presidencies: one for domestic affairs and the other is concerned with defense and foreign policy." He continued, "Since World War II, presidents have had much greater success in controlling the nation's defense and foreign policies than in dominating its domestic policies."

While some challenge Wildavsky's argument, there is a lot of truth in it. This is because Presidents have tremendous power to dominate the national agenda, relatively immune from interest group and congressional politics. The President is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the top diplomat, and the head of a vast security and intelligence bureaucracy. Presidents simply have huge informational advantages over political opponents.

Vietnam (and Watergate) generated some important challenges to presidential power. Congress used its power of the purse to generate more than a few meaningful checks on the chief executive's authority. However, as events since 9/11 have demonstrated, it is quite difficult for a President's political opponents to achieve many successes when they are the minority party in Congress.

However, domestic opposition to the administration's policies is starting to grow.

As I've blogged before, an "Iraq syndrome" may well limit presidential freedom of action. The so-called "Bush Doctrine" seems to be effectively limited by the failings of its first test in the Middle East. Over 1700 Americans have died; well over $200 billion has been spent; and stability seems to be out of reach. Oh, and the lack of WMD does not help supporters of preventive war.

So, what opposition should you notice?

Well, to begin, 122 House Democrats have signed a letter to President Bush authored by Representative John Conyers concerning the Downing Street Memo, which I blogged about last week in this space:
If the disclosure is accurate, it raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own Administration.
The letter includes 5 questions directed at the current occupant of the Oval office. Bush may ignore them, but his opponents are using them.

Indeed, over half a million citizens signed petitions asking the President to respond to these questions. Conyers took them to the White House today. The Pew Research Center reported earlier this week that the general public has turned against Iraq:
The steady drip of negative news from Iraq is significantly undermining support for the U.S. military operation there. With the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq exceeding 1,700, there is widespread awareness of the rising American death toll. As a consequence, baseline public attitudes toward the war are gradually turning more negative. Support for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq continues to inch up ­ from 36% last October, to 42% in February, and 46% currently.
The web, of course. has played a key role in generating this opposition to Iraq policy. MoveOn collected signatures, others asked questions. From the Reuters story:
"All we're asking is to know the truth," said John Bonifaz, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org. "Some of his supporters want to say it's a question of failed intelligence. If that's all it was, so be it."

But if not, said Bonifaz, "then the American people and the U.S. Congress deserve to know."
Good luck trying to read their website; I couldn't connect. Apparently, the site is generating a million hits per day!

BTW, please don't think that I'm trying to discourage you, à la Yogi Berra: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."

In any case, this growing public doubt about Iraq feeds the congressional opposition. Today, according to press reports, North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones and Hawaii Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie submitted a resolution calling "for the Bush administration to develop a plan by the end of this year to pull out all American troops from Iraq and to begin the withdrawal by Oct. 1, 2006."

The White House already rejected this suggestion and the measure isn't expected to go very far in the Republican-dominated Congress. This is hardly surprising, given Dick Cheney's recent declaration that the Iraqi insurgency is "in the last throes."

However, we should expect Democrats to pound this issue for the foreseeable future. Rep. Maxine Waters has just announced the formation of an "Out of Iraq" caucus. With about 20 other House Democrats, the likely recruits of that caucus, Conyers also held a "forum" today (the Republicans wouldn't call a formal hearing) investigating the implications of the Downing Street Memo. At the forum, Conyers said: "If these disclosures are true ... they establish a prima facie case of going to war under false pretenses."

Don't read too much into Conyers' legal/Latin phrasing. While Ralph Nader and Kevin Neese wrote on op-ed in the May 31 Boston Globe urging a public debate about impeachment of Bush and Cheney, I do not expect Democrats to waste time and resources on such an endeavor.

After all, in 1974 and 1999, one party controlled the Congress while the other party held the White House. Bush isn't going to be impeached, but he is facing more serious and vocal opposition in Congress, backed by public opinion.

Bottom line: Iraq just might be a winning campaign issue in 2006 -- and 2008.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"No Estrogen Allowed"?

I'm back from the beach, where I was mostly surrounded by females: my wife, two daughters, my daughters' friends, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and niece. Whew.

As someone who carries a Y chromosome, I'm nonetheless offended by something I heard late last week while listening to WXXA-AM 790 in Louisville: "No estrogen allowed."

Seriously, that is the slogan used by the all-sports Fox radio station that broadcasts the Cincinnati Reds games locally.

Check out the station's website and you will find a photo of former University of Kentucky and Louisville basketball coaches Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum (who have a program on the station) -- surrounded by Hooters' girls. This is displayed prominently on the front page!

Two thoughts: this is a really odd phrase to use during a major league baseball game since about 45% of the ticket-buying fans are female. Indeed, some teams are launching new initiatives designed explicitly to increase the number of female fans for the game. Additionally, women are playing real baseball and increasingly serving as club executives and broadcasters.

Second thought: does baseball really want to be associated with the anti-estrogen world? Yesterday, I saw the signs for Hooter's Air in BWI airport. Really.

And Hooters is interested in sponsoring baseball...

Ugh.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

On the Beach

I may blog from this secluded spot in the next few days, but I may not.

I'll try to think big thoughts and get back to you.

Oh, yesterday I took in my first Washington Nationals game. Full report later.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Fixed around the policy"

Cross posted on the Duck of Minerva.

Two days ago, Steve Holland of Reuters asked Tony Blair and George W. Bush about the so-called "Downing Street Memo." You know, the leaked transcript from a secret British government meeting held during summer 2002:
"C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Lots of bloggers have commented about the lack of US coverage of this memo, despite the fact it came to light almost 6 weeks ago during Blair's re-election campaign.

Here's Holland's question at the press conference:
On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street memo from July 2002 says intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action. Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?
How did they respond? The world has been waiting.

As might be expected, Blair succinctly challenged the memo's claim by referring to his first-hand experience. Bush spoke almost inarticulately for a few sentences before repeating Blair's point.

Blair directly denied the key charge: "the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all." However, he also claimed that the motivation for war was the failure of Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN resolutions:
And the fact is we decided to go to the United Nations and went through that process, which resulted in the November 2002 United Nations resolution, to give a final chance to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn't do so. And that was the reason why we had to take military action.

But all the way through that period of time, we were trying to look for a way of managing to resolve this without conflict. As it happened, we weren't able to do that because -- as I think was very clear -- there was no way that Saddam Hussein was ever going to change the way that he worked, or the way that he acted.
Bush too claimed that Hussein brought the war on himself, even as Bush was trying his darnedest to avoid war:
And so it's -- look, both us of didn't want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option. The consequences of committing the military are -- are very difficult. The hardest things I do as the President is to try to comfort families who've lost a loved one in combat. It's the last option that the President must have -- and it's the last option I know my friend had, as well.

And so we worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully, take a -- put a united front up to Saddam Hussein, and say, the world speaks, and he ignored the world. Remember, 1441 passed the Security Council unanimously. He made the decision.
Typical of these sorts of presidential press conference, nobody asked a followup question. Indeed, the leaders took just one more question.

Given that inspectors were working relatively unfettered, that most of the world wanted to give them more time, and that Iraq had no WMD, the national leaders are making a pretty silly claim in June 2005. It was a weakened argument even in early 2003, after the IAEA and UNSCOM reported their major findings.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Security Council reform update

Evelyn Leopold of Reuters filed a report today about the future of the UN Security Council.

As I've discussed before, Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan have been seeking permanent seats on the Council. Apparently, these states have now given up the idea of attaining a veto -- and they've agreed not to challenge the veto held by the current permanent five members (the US, Russia, China, England and France).

Indeed, they've agreed not to address the veto for another 15 years!

The draft resolution that is circulating would add 10 more states to the 15-member Security Council. Six would be permanent and 4 nonpermanent. Developing countries apparently support the proposal since the story claims that over 100 nations will support the resolution (of about 130 needed). This makes sense because one or more developing countries might be made permanent members (India and Brazil first).

However, even if the currently proposed resolution passes the General Assembly, it has to be followed by a second resolution naming the new permanent members, and then two-thirds of states will have to approve a change in the UN Charter.

Even then, a veto from a single P5 state could stop the reforms. Apparently, the P5 states aren't 100% enthusiastic about the proposals:
Among the current five council powers, France and Britain support the candidacies of Germany, Japan, India and Brazil as new permanent members. China opposes any seat for Japan and Russia's position is unclear.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been organizing teleconferences with her counterparts among the five, has said Washington supports Japan. But adding only Japan in the council would be defeated easily in the General Assembly, which wants seats for developing nations.

"We have no position. We support Japan but it needs to be handled judiciously," Anne Patterson, the acting U.S. ambassador, told Reuters on Tuesday.
The first resolution may pass this summer, before the anticipated fall debate on broader UN reform.

Monday, June 06, 2005

DVDs

Our cable TV was disconnected in Somerville last Monday and our house in Louisville won't be connected until tomorrow morning.

Most of the family is suffering from this communication breakdown.

Friday, we did finally buy our first DVD player (other than the one in this computer, which really doesn't count).

So, I've been thinking about which movies I'd like to own permanently. Which are my all-time favorites and are worth repeat viewings? Of course, these are really separate questions because I have no intention of building a huge DVD library.

Consider this a short set of movie recommendations (though many are common favorites):

On VCR, I already own "Bull Durham," which I watch just about every year around the beginning of the baseball season. I consider it the best baseball film. My wife likes it too.

We also own "It's a Wonderful Life" on video and watch that every December.

"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" is a great movie and I could watch it annually, but usually don't.

Because of repeat viewing, I know just about every laugh line in "Ghostbusters" and most of them in "Stripes," so I guess those should be listed. While on vacation last summer, we actually bought "Ghostbusters" to play in my laptop's DVD player. We had a technical glitch, but I did watch the film again this weekend.

I'm a huge Humphrey Bogart fan. After all, he made some tremendous films: "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon" top the list. Oh, and "The Big Sleep" too.

Alfred Hitchcock was a really talented film maker. In 1988, my spouse and I rented just about all his movies after we bought our first VCR (our first "big" joint purchase). I particularly liked "Rear Window," with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, and "North by Northwest," with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

We also see just about every John Sayles movie: may I recommend "Eight Men Out" and "Matewan"?

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" is an obvious choice. I saw this one twice in theaters.

Caper and con artist flicks are fun too: "The Sting" everyone knows, but I enjoyed David Mamet's "House of Games" almost as much.

A lot of these movies are fairly old now. From the '90s, I watch "Groundhog Day" just about every time it comes on TV. Through my life, I stayed up late to view "Three Days of the Condor" even when I had to suffer through commercial breaks.

I must have had a thing for Faye Dunaway in the '70s. I've seen "Bonnie and Clyde," "Network" and "Chinatown" multiple times. Many, many times in all. And the caper flick: "The Thomas Crown Affair," was good too (I also liked the remake).

Kind of hard to believe Dunaway is 64...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Solzhenitsyn and Orwell: Still Relevant

Since 1991, I've been the faculty sponsor for the University of Louisville campus chapter of Amnesty International. Some years the students are very active, other years there really isn't much of a chapter.

In any case, I have a long-time interest in AI and have a lot of confidence in their human rights work. Needless to say, Amnesty has been unhappy with some Bush administration policies and practices against suspects in the "war on terror." From a CNN report:
"The U.S. is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons, into which people are being literally disappeared, held in indefinite, incommunicado detention without access to lawyers or a judicial system or to their families," [William] Schulz [Executive director of the Washington branch] said.

"And in some cases, at least, we know they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed."

...Amnesty International's report, released May 25, cited "growing evidence of U.S. war crimes" and labeled the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our times."
Because of my faith in Amnesty, I was more than a little dismayed by President Bush's remarks about the AI report when questioned about them during a Press Conference, May 31:
THE PRESIDENT: Terry.

Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, recently, Amnesty International said you have established "a new gulag" of prisons around the world, beyond the reach of the law and decency. I'd like your reaction to that, and also your assessment of how it came to this, that that is a view not just held by extremists and anti-Americans, but by groups that have allied themselves with the United States government in the past -- and what the strategic impact is that in many places of the world, the United States these days, under your leadership, is no longer seen as the good guy.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that is -- promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the "gulag" charge "reprehensible." Vice President Dick Cheney said he was offended.

Did any of these men address the specific claims? No, of course not.

Yesterday, I was reminded by Susan Nossel of Democracy Arsenal that the White House favorably and frequently cited Amnesty International reports during the buildup to the Iraq war. She linked to this appropriately titled Think Progress post: "The Bush Administration Was For Amnesty International Before It Was Against It." Blogger Faiz references several anti-Iraq statements by Rumsfeld that cited AI reports.

There's plenty more: Amnesty is referenced at least six times in Decade of Deception and Defiance, which the White House Press Office called a "background paper for President George W. Bush's September 12th [2002] speech to the United Nations General Assembly."
Amnesty International reported that, in October 2000, the Iraqi Government executed dozens of women accused of prostitution.

According to Amnesty International, the victims' heads were displayed in front of their homes for several days.

Amnesty International reported that Iraq has the world's worst record for numbers of persons who have disappeared or remain unaccounted for.

In August 2001, Amnesty International reported that Saddam Hussein has the world's worst record for numbers of persons who have disappeared and remain unaccounted for.
Obviously, there was some redundancy.

Given what has been revealed about Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, there's a certain irony in this one:
In August 2001 Amnesty International released a report entitled Iraq -- Systematic Torture of Political Prisoners, which detailed the systematic and routine use of torture against suspected political opponents and, occasionally, other prisoners. Amnesty International also reports "Detainees have also been threatened with bringing in a female relative, especially the wife or the mother, and raping her in front of the detainee. Some of these threats have been carried out."
I'm thinking about assigning 1984 for my US Foreign Policy class this fall.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Ducking out

I've been invited to write for the new International Relations group blog, Duck of Minerva. Thus, if you want to read what I'm writing, check over there too. So far, I've only posted an introductory entry.

Other contributors are Patrick Jackson of American University, Dan Nexon of Georgetown, and doctoral student Bill Petti of University of Pennsylvania. The list may grow.

I haven't yet decided if I'll be cross-posting everything, picking and chosing topics appropriate for each blog -- or abandoning this personal blog.

At this point, all options are open.

Suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Los Super 7

I know that a lot of people are visiting this site for the first time, thanks to a post about IR blogging by Dan Drezner.

Welcome.

Most of the time, this is an IR blog. I've blogged frequently about the war in Iraq, the problem of Iranian proliferation, the Bush Doctrine, and the legitimacy "crisis" of American foreign policy.

If you must have an IR angle, check out my dissertation advisor's latest article: "If teh Nuclear Taboo Gets Broken," which appeared in the Naval War College Review, Spring 2005.

Don't look for comment here though (yet). I'm still tired from my move and am trying to relax.

Just last week, over some beers with a friend in Davis Square, I realized that I hadn't purchased a 2005 CD (is it really June already?). To remedy that problem, I just opened a 2005 CD. If you haven't checked out Los Super Seven, I urge you to do so soon. Their "Heard in on the X" is great!

Note that I'm a fan of "Americana" music (especially alt-country, or what was called "cow punk" in the 1980s). Los Super Seven's CD is Tex-Mex music, performed by Delbert McClinton, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Raul Malo (of the Mavericks), Rodney Crowell (Johnny Cash's former son-in-law), etc.

It's like a highlighted tour of my record collection.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

1000 miles

One thousand miles is roughly the distance from Somerville, MA to Louisville, KY.

After spending much of the weekend packing up the two bedroom apartment, Monday was devoted to selling furnishings (primarily the beds and futon) and loading the van. About 5:30 that evening, my family headed south and west in two vehicles. I was driving the rented Dodge Grand Caravan.

About noon today, we arrived in Louisville, exhausted. The trip wasn't too bad, save for the nightmare just south of Pittsburgh.

Note to I-70 drivers: avoid the area from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the I-70 interchange. Find another route!

More later.