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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Medieval Gitmo

I've been in the UK for the past week, which explains the lack of blogging. Friday, the family and I visited the Tower of London, which is apparently the UK's largest tourist attraction.

About 15 years ago, my wife and I visited the Tower and I mainly recall seeing the Di and Charles wedding video (on a loop) and the crown jewels. Both made a fairly pleasing impression. It was hot that day and we walked to St. Paul's and worked up quite a thirst.

This time, however, we had more time to check out the various towers and I was really struck by what the place represented. At this site, hundreds of years ago, enemies of the state (crown) were imprisoned, sometimes tortured, and even killed for their beliefs. Most prisoners seemed to be held for their strong (and out of favor) religious faith, though all were seen as political enemies as well.

The Tower of London was a medieval Gitmo.

My kids took my picture by the Traitors Gate and we moved on to Covent Garden.


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Monday, August 18, 2008

Hypocrisy watch: Georgia edition

Because of Iraq, American officials are having a hard time explaining their opposition to Russia's intervention into Georgia.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, quoted by CNN on August 11:
This is completely unacceptable and crosses a line...The days of overthrowing leaders by military means in Europe -- those days are gone,"
Watch it here. As Jon Stewart pointed out last week on The Daily Show, the entire war would apparently have been OK outside Europe.

Secretary of State Condi Rice, August 13, 2008:
I am not going to sit here and judge each Russian military operation. I am going to say that when you start bombing ports and threatening to bomb airfields and bombing a city like Gori and bringing troops in a flanking maneuver on the western flank of Georgia and tying up the main roads between Georgia – between Tbilisi and Gori, that’s well beyond anything that is needed to protect Russian peacekeepers. And that is why Russia is starting to face international condemnation for what it is doing.

This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it. Things have changed. And so, what Russia, I think, is seeing is that to the degree that this is about South Ossetia, about even Abkhazia, let’s accept that it is time to move the forces back. Let’s accept that it’s -- first to end the fighting, move the forces back to August 6th, and then have an international mediation to try to resolve these conflicts within the context of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.
Watch it here. Rice almost seems to be implying that Russia could not justifiably attack Georgia simply because Russia is too weak in the post-cold war world.

President George Bush, August 15:
The days of satellite states and spheres of influence are behind us. A contentious relationship with Russia is not in America's interest. And a contentious relationship with America is not in Russia's interest.

With its actions in recent days Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world. Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century. Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations, or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation. To begin to repair its relations with the United States and Europe and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must respect the freedom of its neighbors.
Watch it here. Again, was the behavior only bad because Russia attacked a neighbor?

John McCain, August 13, 2008 (via Yglesias):
"In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations."
Watch it here.

Back in 2002 and 2003, a lot of critics (pdf alert) warned that states like Russia, India and Israel might take the logic of "preemption" from the Bush Doctrine in order to justify wars that would otherwise be seen as illegitimate.


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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trade with China

You probably already know that China is one of the United States's largest trading partners. Likewise, you probably also know that the US has an enormous trade deficit with China, annually importing hundreds of billions of dollars more worth of goods than it exports.

Do you know what the US imports from China and what it exports?

I ask because the standard answer does not provide the full picture.

Yes, the US imports lots of toys, clothes, and shoes from China. If you don't believe me, just check the labels on these products.

However, by doing business with China, "American" companies are also required to comply with many Chinese political practices that would be unacceptable in the US. Companies like Google, Cisco, and Microsoft essentially help China monitor and censor information. Clyde Prestowitz:
In fact, the global corporation acts as a conveyor belt to carry non-democratic values into democratic societies. This is not to say it can't work the other way around, but the power relationships are such that it's more natural for a Google to yield to China's Internet police than to defy them.
The US exports machine, appliance and airplane parts, seeds, and plastics to China.

However, the US also exports its inequality. Twenty-five years of integration into the global economy has made the distribution of wealth in China increasingly unequal. The World Bank recently reported on this topic, but the fact is obvious to anyone watching the Olympics. Consider all those empty seats in sold out sports venues:
Officials and observers offered several explanations for the empty seats. Some speculated that tickets reserved for sponsors and VIPs might be going unused in preliminary or qualifying rounds as officials with a claim to them wait for the finals.
I face the same problem every time I attend a AAA baseball game in Louisville. The overwhelming majority of box seats are empty -- sold before the season begins to local corporations and elites -- but the outfield area is often packed with fans like me who hold tickets only to that day's game.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ready, aim, ...Duck

Today, at the Duck of Minerva, I've posted "Global Strike Task Force" to explain my apprehension about Donald Rumsfeld's "transformation" of the military. Arguably, the US has become a "first strike nation" and now has the infrastructure firmly embedded to make that strategy possible. Times of politico-military crises are the most worrisome, for obvious reason.

August 7, I posted "Back to the Future IV" about Vladimir Putin's threat to reestablish Russian military ties with Cuba. I hinted that this might spell a new cold war -- and then Russia went to war with Georgia.



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China Hotline

President Bush was in China when Russia and Georgia went to war over the weekend; thus, he could talk to Chinese leaders directly if he needed to discuss the developing crisis.

However, if Bush had been in Washington, he could have used the new hotline linking Washington and Beijing. Reuters, February 29, 2008:
China and the United States formally agreed on Friday a long-planned hotline to improve communication between their two militaries.

Leaders of both countries agreed to establish a direct telephone link for quick communication in times of crisis during the APEC summit last September,
The article refers to the new hotline as a defense telephone link (DTL), so perhaps Secretary Robert Gates used the phone this past weekend. It was operational by April, according to the AP, as Gates participated in the first test.

The hotline has been in the works since at least 1998 and is said to be modeled after the one linking the US and former Soviet Union since 1963 (just after the Cuban Missile Crisis).


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Monday, August 11, 2008

Russia declares war on China & its NBC allies

OK, so the 2008 Olympics were supposed to be China's big "coming out" party. Twenty-five plus years of nearly double digit economic growth has made the Chinese a lot wealthier than they used to be. The Olympics provided a venue for demonstrating their cumulative success -- even if it is merely an inch deep.

Now, thanks to an increasingly horrifying war, Russia has spoiled China's party. Much worldwide media attention, which from China's perspective should be devoted to coverage of their Games, is now going to Russia and its war in South Ossetia and elsewhere in Georgia.

NBC will also like suffer as they committed $850 million to broadcast the games. NBC won't have all that much airtime to show war footage and will likey lose eyeballs to other 24 hour news stations.

The battle for "prestige politics" is thus between Russia (and its presumed allies in CNN/Fox/BBC) and China (with its NBC allies). China's moves are all played out in advance (the TV schedules were announced weeks ago), but Russia has a lot of latitude to make news.

Already, various parties are throwing around the terms "genocide" and "terrorist" to describe events on the ground.

What are you going to watch? Terrorism, or volleyball? (Well, maybe you'd say "volleyball," with the visuals in that story).

Genocide, or synchronized swimming?

By the way, my Duck of Minerva colleagues Dan Nexon and Charli Carpenter are doing a great job discussing the war (see also this and this, for other good perspectives on the conflict).


Note 1/4/12: Edited to remove a direct photo link at a reader's request.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dark Knights

Do Batman and his villain antagonists reflect their times? If so, what is the latest "Dark Knight" film trying to say about post-9/11 America? I've been thinking about that since last night, when I finally caught the latest film.

In the "self-reflexive" campy 1966 "Batman" movie and TV series, Batman was a good guy and Joker was a criminal, but both seemed fairly harmless. The "clown prince of crime" declared
A joke a day, keeps the gloom away!
Batman always saved the day and stopped the Joker and his criminal pals, but he was typically captured first and was almost always dependent upon some chemical antidote to a poison or some other modern invention.

Why was Joker a comical character and why did Batman depend upon what then passed for high tech? Well, the entire "Batman" TV series and movie was a parody of the era:
Batman incorporated the expressive art and fashion of the period in its sets and costumes. It also relied excessively on technological gadgetry transforming the show into a parody of contemporary life.
Remember the scene in "The Graduate" when young Benjamin is offered one word of advice? "Plastics."

That was essentially what "Batman" was saying about America in the mid-1960s. I'd add fake. Cheap. Disposable. Oil-based.

In the 1989 "Batman," by contrast, both Batman and the Joker were far more serious. Joker made modern life unlivable for the residents of Gotham City, but that's because he threatened individual lifestyles. Joker invented and distributed a toxic chemical additive that convinced people to give up their hair gel, deodorant, and makeup. Indeed, this Joker was born from a vat of toxins. His crime revealed the colorless and unappealing reality beneath the veneer of 1980's opulence and chemical dependence.

Batman was needed to clean up the mess. He was like Rudy Giuliani prosecuting high-profile mafia dons and insider traders -- and later closing down porn shops and graffiti artists. This is a line spoken by Joker, from IMDB:
Now, I can be theatrical, and maybe even a little rough - but one thing I am not, is a *killer*. I am an artist. I *love* a good party. So, truce. Commence au festival!
Batman closed down Joker's party and made it safe for citizens to enjoy their city's adornments.

Today, in the latest "Dark Knight," Batman is deadly serious and the joker is a Über-terrorist. Joker is not motivated by money; he sets fire to millions of dollars even after he has stolen from the mob. He wants to disrupt and destroy the fabric of modern civilization -- not merely expose its underbelly. The results are predictably loud and explosive. Some innocent people are casualties, but there's nothing especially personal about those deaths.

IMDB has this choice Joker monologue to bed-ridden and badly burned district attorney Harvey Dent:
You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just, do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, [Police Commissioner] Gordon's got plans. You know, they're schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I'm not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how, pathetic, their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say, ah, come here, when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I'm telling the truth.

It's the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did, to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hm? You know what, you know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger, will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all, part of the plan. But when I say that one, little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos.
The most unsettling aspect of the movie comes in the resolution of the story. Batman can only stop the Joker by employing secrecy, extrajudicial means, and rendition of foreign nationals. An important public servant becomes an outright criminal and the public is tempted to tolerate mass killing to preserve their own safety.

In the end, however, director Christopher Nolan seems to be at least somewhat hopeful. An oversized convict in an orange jumper seizes a bomb detonator away from a jail warden and tosses it out a window before the public official can kill 100s of innocent people to save his own skin.

That's something you should have done 10 minutes ago, the prisoner tells the warden.

Batman is still around at the end of the movie to continue his personal "war on terror," but his reputation is scarred. Presumably, neither his high tech toys nor his strong personal will can restore his public standing.

Presumably, the sequel will reveal how he seeks redemption.


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Friday, August 08, 2008

McCain's ad is "Painful"

John McCain released another new TV ad today: "Painful." The AP notes that it is airing in 11 key states targeted by the McCain campaign.

A female voiceover says, "Life in the spotlight must be grand, but for the rest of us times are tough. Obama voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000."

It is interesting that Senator McCain says "times are tough" for "the rest of us."

Who is he trying to kid?

McCain is not really like the rest of us, thanks primarily to his affluent heiress spouse, Cindy McCain. She is worth at least $27 million -- and may be worth $100 million. From ABC blogger Jake Tapper:
CNN this week [reported that]... she "is not only a wife to Senator John McCain, she is also his meal ticket. Her reported 2006 income of more than $6 million exceeded her husband's earnings 16 times over. That money pays for a wealthy lifestyle of high end condos, an Arizona ranch, flying in a corporate jet, and more."
The McCains apparently have 8 or 9 houses and access to a corporate jet.

The Senator wears $520 loafers.

The AP story also reveals the truth about the ad's tax details. Obama didn't vote for a binding policy that would have increased taxes -- and if he had, John McCain would have agreed with him just a few years ago:
The ad's most specific assertion — Obama voted to raise taxes on people making $42,000 — is based on a nonbinding Senate budget resolution early this year that the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 be allowed to expire in 2011 as scheduled. Obama has criticized the Bush tax cuts and called for ending them for the wealthiest taxpayers.

McCain didn't support Bush's tax cuts when they were passed but has said he supports them now. He contends that to allow the cuts to expire would be tantamount to a tax increase.
Someone not altogether committed to "truthiness" might ask Senator McCain why he flip-flopped on Bush's tax cuts. The far right has been attacking McCain about this since 2000.

In the primary season, Mitt Romney said McCain failed "Reagan 101" because of his past tax arguments.


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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Anthrax and Iraq

Michael Cohen of Democracy Arsenal argues that the anthrax attacks of fall 2001 were not especially meaningful in the Iraq debate:
They didn't use anthrax to sell the war; they used nukes! It simply belies reality to argue that the anthrax attacks and the White House spin that Iraq was responsible for them played a significant role in making the case for war. The evidence simply does not exist to make such a claim.
Is this correct?

Well, the fall 2001 anthrax attacks only killed a handful of people, but they provoked much wider fear, as that link to an AP poll reveals. A fall 2001 Newsweek poll also found significant concern -- linked directed to 9/11 and bin Laden:
MAJORITIES OF AMERICANS say it is at least somewhat likely that large numbers of people will die in future terrorist attacks, either through the use of conventional explosives (74 percent), anthrax mailings (57 percent), smallpox or some other disease (55 percent), according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll.

A clear majority (63 percent) of the public now attribute anthrax attacks throughout the world at least in part to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
Moreover, the administration was able to draw upon that fear to accuse Iraq of making and storing literally tons of anthrax -- capable of killing millions, they asserted. Officials didn't have to accuse Iraq of making the 2001 attacks. The prior attacks had what media scholars call a "priming" effect on the story:

Consider this statement from President Bush in Cincinnati, October 2002. The following is his first substantive point in the address about the alleged threat from Iraq:
"Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?

In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq's military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions."
Bush also pointed to Iraqi anthrax in the September 12, 2002, UN address and in his 2003 State of the Union address. Those were his three most significant speeches in the buildup to war. By March 19, his last pre-war speech more ambiguously referenced "weapons of mass murder."

Perhaps most importantly, anthrax played a very significant part in Colin Powell's UN Security Council presentation, which was itself critical in garnering editorial (and public) support for the war. Editor & Publisher found support on newspaper op-ed pages literally doubled overnight after Powell's presentation.
Iraq declared 8,500 liters of anthrax, but UNSCOM estimates that Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters. If concentrated into this dry form, this amount would be enough to fill tens upon tens upon tens of thousands of teaspoons. And Saddam Hussein has not verifiably accounted for even one teaspoon-full of this deadly material....

There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction.
Read back through Powell's remarks and you will quickly be reminded just how certain the threat was said to be -- and how colossally wrong they were.

In any case, I think it is safe to say that anthrax played an important role in the buildup to the Iraq war. These "weapons of mass destruction" were part of the fall 2001 hysteria and states like Iraq with WMD and linked to terrorists had to be stopped (NSS 2002).


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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Anthrax

Newspapers and TV networks are running various stories about the suicide of a scientist who worked for decades at the Fort Detrick, MD, research center. He was apparently considered the FBI's prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks and allegedly feared that he was about to be arrested.

Even more interesting, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald has a lengthy piece discussing "Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News." Greenwald takes the opportunity to explain the effect of some leaks to ABC that are highly troubling in retrospect. Someone lied to ABC, claiming that the anthrax included a chemical agent known to be used exclusively by Iraq.
as I've amply documented, those ABC News reports linking Saddam and anthrax penetrated very deeply -- by design -- into our public discourse and into the public consciousness. Those reports were absolutely vital in creating the impression during that very volatile time that Islamic terrorists generally, and Iraq and Saddam Hussein specifically, were grave, existential threats to this country.

...There can't be any question that this extremely flamboyant though totally false linkage between Iraq and the anthrax attacks -- accomplished primarily by the false bentonite reports from ABC News and Brian Ross -- played a very significant role in how Americans perceived of the Islamic threat generally and Iraq specifically.
Is this true?

I would argue that the anthrax attacks put Iraq front-and-center on the agenda in fall 2001, though as I've previously documented, the seed had already been planted. Indeed, the links between Iraq and 9/11 started to be asserted publicly on 9/11.

Greenwald notes that former AEI neocon Laurie Mylroie relied upon the ABC report.

As I documented on my blog in a series of posts back in September 2003, Myrloie was all over the news in fall 2001 linking the anthrax attacks to Iraq. Indeed, she and her allies were linking 9/11 and Iraq immediately. Here's a quick summary of my prior work:

Mylroie was on national television 40 times between 9/11 and December 31, 2001. Her thesis also got a lot of coverage in the nation's newspapers and opinion magazines, so there's a lot of stuff to sort out.

To begin, neocon ally James Woolsey was on ABC about 3 pm on 9/11 crediting Mylroie with linking Iraq to al Qaeda, the prior World Trade Center bombing, etc. He said Iraq could have been behind that day's attacks. The next evening, Mylroie was on CBS during its prime time coverage of the attacks rehearsing the range of her wild charges and calling al Qaeda a "front operation" for Iraq. Woolsey was on CBS later that night (west coast prime time) repeating the claims he'd made on 9/11. He was also on ABC again 9/12 making the same allegations and crediting Mylroie. Jim Hoagland mentioned Mylroie's "convincing case" in a Post op-ed on the 12th. It was widely syndicated around the country.

Mylroie herself had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the 13th, calling the 9/11 attacks an "act of war" likely linked to Iraq. She was then on FOX on the 14th, on C-SPAN on the 15th, and CBS again on the 19th. S was even quoted favorably on NPR that day. Once the anthrax attacks hit, she was very busy the next month or so, adding Canadian TV, CNN (multiple appearances), and additional appearances on ABC, Fox, C-SPAN, NPR and CBS. In October she was on various Fox News programs again and again and again.

I didn't find any appearances for Mylroie on NBC stations until December, but she made up the difference quickly with multiple appearances on MSNBC and CNBC.

Did this continue into the Iraq war debate? Well, in October 2002, Myrloie told PBS: "The Pentagon believes Iraq is behind the terrorism that began on September 11 and wants to include Iraq as a central target in our war on terrorism."

I think one could reasonably argue that the anthrax attacks primed the country to worry about dubious mushroom clouds in fall 2002 -- and about Iraq as the specific source of concern.


Note: I think my last post about anthrax was in December 2006. Does everyone recall that former Mylroie coauthor and NYT reporter Judith Miller is one of the journalists who received anthrax by mail?

Small world, eh?


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